The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Friday, October 31, 2003
Wild talk on Bolivian carve-up
Much as the exception proves the rule, the extremities of political discourse in a country give some confidence in locating its centre of gravity. (Suddenly a bell curve pops up in my mind's eye for some reason!)
An op-ed piece by one Andrés Soliz Rada canvasses the possibility that Bolivia may cease to exist.
Soliz  sounds the alarm with a patriotic blast from the past:
Bolivia enfrentó el mayor riesgo de desintegración nacional en la parte final de la guerra del Chaco. Si sus tropas no detenían al ejército paraguayo en la batalla de Villamontes, nada hubiera impedido que este ocupara Santa Cruz de la Sierra. La situación ya había abierto el apetito territorial de las oligarquías de Chile sobre Potosí y Oruro, de Brasil sobre Beni y Pando, de Argentina sobre Chuquisaca y Tarija y de Perú sobre La Paz. A modo de broma, suele decirse que los países vecinos no han podido descuartizar a Bolivia porque no saben cual de ellos se quedará con Cochabamba, el único departamento sin fronteras internacionales
Not that he's suggesting that Bolivia's 2003 neighbours will attempt a partition à la polonaise on the country. The threat is rather an internal one:
Hoy, en día, sin necesidad de una contienda bélica, Bolivia se halla, otra vez, en riesgo de perder su existencia, ya que, desde algunos puntos del país, se levantan voces destempladas que reclaman la "república aymara" o la "nación camba" . Lo anterior no es lo mismo que plantear mayor descentralización o autonomías racionales, en un marco unitario, que deben debatirse en profundidad, a fin de neutralizar el dominio de oligarquías racistas y de una anquilosada partidocracia, que, aliadas a la explotación foránea, han usufructuado del poder, salvo breves períodos, desde la Asamblea Constituyente de 1825.
I mentioned with some surprise (October 23) reports that leaders of the gas-rich Tarija department (and the agri-business-rich Santa Cruz department) were contemplating some form of secession. In fact, it seems to be turning out to be a key theme of the current politics in the country.
La Patria of Oruro, Bolivia has a short piece (apparently from Stratfor) on the conflict, actual and potential, between the kollas and the cambas : Racially,
Los Kollas tienden a ser en su mayoría de ancestro indígena, los cambas en cambio descienden de emigrantes europeos.Race is not everything, though:
Aunque las diferencias entre ambos están enraizadas en valores de raza o étnicos, también existen divisiones ideológicas y filosóficas profundas. Los kollas tienden a creer en el centralismo gubernamental - control estatal de activos de exportación y la intervención gubernamental en la actividad económica.
An AP piece (October 31) takes up the theme, quoting an ADN (right-wing) deputy Paulo Bravo, representing a poor district:
No pueden pretender una mayor autonomía sólo porque tienen un boom económico los departamentos de Santa Cruz y Tarija. ¿Y qué del resto?
Talk, needless to say, is cheap. As Wag the Dog action, the threat of secession (or some dilution of it) works for all sides: as a bogey for President Carlos Mesa, the parties in Congress, the La Paz establishment ; as a Holy Grail for peasant groups not able to provide more immediate benefits; as a distraction for the tarijeños whose lifeblood is currently clogged (thanks to the peasants) and can only flow in future at the discretion of said peasants - since any pipeline to the Pacific must pass through 'their' territory.
The politics required to achieve some sort of loosening of ties is far from clear to me right now. Who, for instance, are the tarijeños' representatives in Congress? Is there a Tarija Caucus, for instance? Who can they ally with to get some movement on - let's call it, further autonomy? What is Mesa's view on the point?
Is it an issue which is susceptible to solution by normal legislative means? Is it a matter for the Asamblea Constituyente which Mesa has agreed to hold ?
Mesa himself, it seems, is stoking the fires: he's reportedly said today that
Si este gobierno no tiene éxito, el mecanismo que nos ha cobijado durante 21 años, corre serio riesgo.
He's referring to the period of unbroken civilian rule. And, by implication, to the possibility of that period being broken by a return to military dictatorship.
However, according to another Stratfor-based piece in La Patria, the Bolivian military is as split as is civil society, and
ningún jefe militar parece tener la suficiente convocatoria dentro y fuera de las Fuerzas Armadas como para tomar y ejercer el poder político.
The temptation to treat the whole matter as a black box - strong for an outside observer as puzzled as I am right now! - is one I reject. Clearly, it's not politics as we know it in Gringo-land (which is in any case scarcely a paragon!); but neither is it a sort of voodoo comprehensible only to the initiated. There are no noble savages in Bolivia: Margaret Mead made some sense of the societies of the New Guinea head-hunters - this can't be that difficult, surely? Can it?
An interesting-looking piece getting down to the detail of the Asamblea Constituyente. Needless to say, getting the procedural stuff and the drafting right will be critical to the result: more research needed, I fear, to be in a position to make proper use of the piece.
And, in the Washington Times of all places, a well-meaning piece (October 31) from an MIT Ph D student outlining exactly why USG's coca-mania (beside which the Dutch Tulipmania seems positively sane!) is thoroughly counter-productive to the war on terror.
It's as compelling as the case against affirmative action. And has about as much political traction.
As an illustration of Bolivian politics as usual, an Indymedia piece from August 24 on the travails of the coalition supporting then President Sánchez de Lozada. The alphabet soup is a blur right now - and I suspect that the contents are ancient history. But the piece is useful in giving a flavour of the nuts and bolts of parliamentary politics in action. If the same stuff had been going on in a European country, you wouldn't be at all surprised.
A little tale of McCarthyism amongst the Chosen People...
I generally stay away from matters Israelo-Palestinian: never been there, know neither Hebrew nor the diglossia of Arabic, the world and his wife got there first.
So whether the vignette from today's Ha'aretz (October 31) is typical or an utter aberration, I know not. Either way, it is not without interest:
A French-born Jew, Lucien Lazare, had the temerity to translate, for inclusion in Le Monde, a piece by his son-in-law, Labor MK Avraham Burg, under the headline, Zionism is Dead. As a result, his co-religionists saw fit to cast him out of the synagogue he's worshipped at for 35 years.
Not proof, certainly, that the idea that Israel is an island of liberal democracy in a sea of reaction and authoritarianism is mere onanistic neocon fantasy; but prima facie evidence in favour of the proposition, perhaps.
The piece has some historical background on Lazare:
In 1936-38, Jewish immigrants had flocked to his home in Alsace trying to find refuge from their persecutors. His father spared no effort to find lodgings, food and work for them. Eventually the Jews of the city blamed his irresponsible acts for strengthening the anti-Semitism toward them. "Don't have anything to do with them and don't help them," he told him. "Those refugees aren't like us. They look too Jewish and there's not a chance that they'll learn French."
My understanding is that France received a good many Central European Jews in the pre-War period; and that the existing Jewish population - represented by the Union générale des Israélites de France (UGIF) - were, as the piece suggests, far from effusive in their welcome.
I also believe that, of the Jews taken from France and exterminated by the Nazis, the vast preponderance were refugees, rather than Jews born in France. (That would obviously need checking: for the moment, treat it as my hypothesis!)
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Bolivia and Uncle Sam: not much sign of grip so far
On the other hand, there may not be that much USG can do.
On Carlos Mesa's taking over the presidential limo, there were the usual bromides. Now, at the Americas Conference in Miami, White House Special Envoy for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich essays something of a Rummygram, according to the Miami Herald (October 30):
There are people in Bolivia who do not believe in democracy, and we cannot allow them to take over.
The Green Berets follow the trail blazed by Butch and Sundance? Not quite.
Reich said he was not suggesting the United States should intervene unilaterally in Bolivia. 'I was referring to the Organization of American States' democratic charter,'' he said. That is the regional treaty committing the member nations to the collective defense of democracy.
Perhaps Chile and Paraguay  could form a coalition of the willing and send in a bunch of their guys to watch Mesa's back. There'll be throngs of grateful citizens in the streets - just like for the Yanks in Baghdad...
Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation - whose About Us page still carries a quote from Rush Limbaugh, I notice - has what it's pleased to call an Executive Memorandum by its very own Stephen Johnson (formerly a denizen of the State Department) which outlines the story so far in Bolivia, and recommends action for USG.
This seems to come down to:
Not exactly a counter-revolution of the old school!
Part of the problem is that USG does not deem Bolivia to be that important, strategically: compared with Colombia, for instance - #3 recipient of military aid - its War on Drugs take from Uncle Sam is paltry (Johnson mentions $100m a year). How many USG personnel (of various types!) are actually in country at this moment, I wonder?
And, when it comes to hydrocarbons, it comes well behind that other risk of Red Revolution, Venezuela in strategic importance.
Are things so very different from 1952 when the revolution in Bolivia took place without any US intervention at all? In fact, Eisenhower and Dulles were able to classify the ruling MNR as fascist-, rather than communist-leaning, and thus justify a generous programme of aid .
Defining what the US strategic interest is in Bolivia, and precisely what it can do to secure that interest, are more questions for the ever-lengthening list. (My current guess is pretty much nada in each case.)
[An op-ed in La Razon of La Paz caught my eye - the guy suggests Mesa is way too pliant and too much of a media whore. Which had rather been my impression, too.]
A piece in El Universal on the Otto Reich speech. After his democracy crack he added 
Pero no les estamos diciendo a los bolivianos lo que deben hacer, porque ellos tienen el derecho soberano para decidir.
He had something of a go at the ruling class:
Los bolivianos tienen los recursos, gente muy capaz e inteligente, pero no se puede ocultar que sus líderes han mantenido marginadas por centenares de años a las poblaciones indígenas.
He says that Indians in Bolivia and elsewhere should be brought into public life; but warned that
los bolivianos deben pensar "en la sabiduría de escuchar a los que dicen que deben mantenerse los recursos naturales bajo tierra en lugar de usarlos para adquirir salud, nutrición y educación".
I wonder who he has in mind?
And suggests consideration of the deuxième tour in elections, as in France - a dig at Bolivia (amongst others) for its system under which, if no one in a presidential election gets a majority, Congress chooses from the top two candidates (Sánchez de Lozada only got 22% of the vote).
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Wounded Iraq vets: the story still hasn't caught fire
It's nearly a week ago (October 23, to be precise) that I mentioned the story of the poorly treated wounded men shipped back from Iraq to Fort Stewart, GA: there was the intrinsic interest of the story, of course. But, mostly, I was puzzled how both media and politicians had given such manna from heaven a wide berth.
(It wasn't that the story wasn't out there: it was that it was out there, but the herd - pols and hacks - were busy on other matters.)
Returning to the story, I find - relying on Mr Google as ever - very much of the same. There have been the odd few articles (16 datelined - by Google - October 24 or later). A piece about one guy at Fort Stewart in the process of being invalided out of the army after being wounded in Iraq who, it seems, having gone on leave, was arrested as a deserter after the Kafkaesque system in operation down there had left him assuming he didn't need to return.
And Mr Shakedown himself, Jesse Jackson, has a piece in the Chicago Sun-Times (October 28) which mentions the Fort Stewart problem - it kicks off with the situation of Shoshanna Johnson - he names her Shoshona! - a member of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company shot in the ankles and taken prisoner by the Iraqis at the same time as her rather more famous - and blonde and pretty... - colleague, Jessica Lynch.
Strangely, Old Shakedown doesn't even mention Johnson's race - but it's perhaps surprising that none of the Dem presidential hopefuls, not even Al Sharpton - whose particular variety of hollering nigger is generally every bit as raucous and persistent as that once practised by the likes of Theodore Bilbo and 'Cotton Ed' Smith, have not latched onto her case.
(And, yes, I'm not alone in asking the question. There's me and this other guy, in fact...)
Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee has paid the Fort a visit - the USA propaganda feed has the official boilerplate.
One senior pol went on record on the Fort Stewart case: Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) did so in the Democrat Radio Address over the weekend (October 25) - the existence of which had, I'm afraid, passed me by - an equal airtime thing on account of the Presidential broadcast, I assume.
But if he was expecting to lead a charge of legislators against Administration incompetence in taking care of those who had suffered for their country, he was sadly mistaken!
I still think the Fort Stewart farrago is a great story, and the fact it still has no head of steam behind it I find bizarre in the extreme. At any rate, there remains to be found an explanation for the muted response which rises to the level of plausibility.
Bolivia: the Atacama Corridor - and now the Peruvian Hong Kong?
Bolivian President Carlos Mesa is living in sufficiently interesting times at home, one might have thought. But then, foreign affairs so often proves a welcome distraction from domestic difficulties.
I mentioned on October 20 that Bolivia had lost its Pacific coastline to Chile as a result of the 1879-84 Guerra del Pacífico. Not unnaturally, Mesa - the populist president without a popular mandate - has been stoking the irredentist fires - up to a point. According to an AP piece from October 26, the new canciller (or foreign minister) Juan Ignacio Siles wants
una salida al mar por territorio chilenowhich
debe ser libre y soberana, "pero tal vez habría que añadirle un tema muy importante: que sea útil".
Chile, unsurprisingly has been disinclined to accede: a gas terminal, yes; sovereign, no.
The piece says that
Bolivia, además, tiene facilidades otorgadas por Chile para el uso de instalaciones portuarias en Antofagasta y en el puerto de Arica para exportar sus productos, como consecuencia de un tratado de 1904 que puso fin a la guerra.
That is, the treaty of October 17 1904 , under which , according to the Catholic Encyclopedia,
Bolivia ceded all claims to a seaport and strip of the coast, on condition that Chile constructed at her own charges a railway to Lapaz from the port of Arica, giving at the same time to Bolivia free transit across Chilean territory to the sea. A cash indemnity of £300,000 was also paid, and certain stipulations were made with regard to the construction of other railways giving access from Chile to the Bolivian interior.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries have, it seems, been broken for 25 years on account of the dispute.
So who should step forward to play white knight but neighbours to the north, Peru! According to El Mundo (October 29),
Perú volvió a ofrecer ayer a Bolivia "cualidad marítima" por 99 años renovables y el puerto de Ilo para las proyectadas exportaciones bolivianas de gas natural a mercados de ultramar...
Cualidad marítima is not, so far as I can tell, a term of art in international law , but just refers to giving the country a coastline.
As the piece points out, Peru and Bolivia were once (1836-9) a single country - the Confederación Peruboliviano - and, under Spanish rule, the area which is now Bolivia had been governed from Lima . The offer came during celebrations of the 167th  anniversary of that - unpromisingly brief - marriage:
Se trata de un espacio de más de 1.000 hectáreas, donde La Paz podría instalar plantas de licuefacción además de una zona económica bajo leyes y administración bolivianas.
The facility would remain under Peruvian sovereignty - but, then, it's not land that the Peruvians pinched from Bolivia in the first place, so no gripes there. And Lima is prepared to be generous to snatch servicing Bolivia's natural gas exports from Chile:
El representante peruano insistió en que su gobierno está dispuesto a cubrir las diferencias de coste, por mayor distancia (unos 200 km) en la construcción de un gasoducto entre el emporio gasífero de Margarita, en el extremo sur de Bolivia, y el puerto de Ilo, con relación a su competidor, el chileno de Patillos.
So what's Lima's game? Why should it be so keen to leap in with hard cash to put one over Santiago?
Meanwhile, there is a side issue in the privatisation of the ports of Arica and Antofagasta which has got the dockers out on strike. La Paz, according to Economía y Negocios of Santiago (October 29), has complained that the decision to privatise has violated its rights under the 1904 Treaty - which guarantees Bolivia the use of these ports.
There is also some nonsense about the credentials of Bolivian diplomats in Santiago.
And the significance of all of this for the Mesa presidency? Perhaps, adapting Dr Johnson, once is surprised not at the substance of these foreign issues but that he has any time to entertain a foreign policy at all!
STRANGE BUT TRUE
The shares (stock) of Antofagasta, the British-registered Chilean mining company, were traditionally known in London stock exchange circles as Fags. There are a good many of these quaint slang terms: South African gold mining shares were called kaffirs.
For the ceremonial of the Peru-Bolivia bash, this and this.
Mesa - who is a historian as well as a journo - was effusive about Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz who set up the short-lived union:
La actitud de Santa Cruz fue mirada con recelo por muchos sectores en ese entonces. "Toda esa polémica, todo ese debate sobre el sentido de la obra crucista pasa por una incomprensión: no entender que que fue un hombre que miraba el futuro, sobre la base de la lección que Simón Bolívar le había dejado", recordó.
An attempt at achieving statesmanship by association? Mesa needs all the help he can get, from friends alive or dead!
Meanwhile, checking in with Klein, I note on page 116 that the reason for the Confederación Peruboliviano coming to an end was an invasion - by the Chileans! Is there a pattern emerging here, I wonder...
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Land invasions: has Bolivia caught Brazil Disease?
In a country as chock-full of peasants as Bolivia, what is euphemistically referred to as land reform is bound to be to the fore in times of crisis.
The first reforms of substance took place following the revolution of 1952 : with the exception of intensively farmed land in lowland Santa Cruz department, the haciendas were confiscated and given over to the peasants. Whereupon, it seems, the peasants became a satisfied power in Bolivian politics and, for some time, even took the side of the conservatives .
That was then... And now, it seems, Bolivian peasants are following the lead of their colleagues in Brazil's Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra or MST  in mounting DIY land grabs .
President Carlos Mesa, according to AFP,
ha destacado una comisión a Santa Cruz (900 km al este de La Paz) para negociar con el Movimiento de los Sin Tierra una salida concertada al creciente problema, una "bomba de tiempo", según analistas locales.
The populist Mesa's idea of negotiation sounds more like abject surrender:
La misión oficial tiene por objeto legalizar la toma de tierras en los departamentos (provincias) de Santa Cruz, Cochabamba y La Paz por parte de labriegos desposeídos.
There's plenty for everybody! seems to be the Mesa government's policy. You grab the land, and we'll legalise it.
These occupations are something of a slam-dunk for those - of whom Felipe Quispe (he of the 90 day deadline) might be one - looking a means to escalate the current conflict to a full-blown civil war: either Mesa lets the occupiers stay in place, and confirm to Whom It May Concern - the Bolivian military, for instance, and Uncle Sam - that the country is in the charge of a Boneless Wonder; or else there's a nasty outbreak of lead poisoning, and the golpistas have the propaganda they need to persuade their people of the need to move to the armed struggle.
What there is not - in the stories I've seen - is quantification, in numbers of farms, acreage, numbers occupying, and similar 5 Ws stuff: are these just a handful of symbolic targets selected to keep the rank-and-file happy that the revolution is on the way, or a serious attempt at a land grab?
On quantification of occupations, detto fatto! A piece from October 25 quotes the chief of El Movimiento Sin Tierra, Angel Durán, as saying that
en los últimos días han sido tomadas dos propiedades en Tarija que, unidas a las nueve ocupadas desde el año 2000, suman alrededor de 35.000 hectáreas.
At first blush, numbers like that seem to go well beyond the merely symbolic. It would be interesting to see just what sort of organisation is running a campaign like that.
In what seems a mirror-image of the indecisive leadership being demonstrated by Mesa, hard-man Quispe has doubled the period of his ultimatum! Formerly 90 days, he now says Mesa has 180 days to shape up or be shipped out.
Give it a fortnight, and Quispe will be insisting he serves out the rest of his predecessor's term in full...
Or is he lulling Mesa into a fall sense of security, whilst preparing the revolution for Tuesday fortnight? Strangely, I haven't a clue...
Monday, October 27, 2003
Bolivia: more useful sources
The sort of moronic cartoon commentary in resolute opposition to which the Plawg stands is supplied by the photogenic and ubiquitous Naomi Klein in the Guardian today. Referring to the immediate past president, she says
Fortunately for Mr Sanchez de Lozada, there are plenty of other Miami residents who know just how shocking and shameful it feels to lose power to the leftwing resurgence in Latin America. So many, in fact, that he could form a local support group for sufferers of post-revolutionary stress disorder.
Clearly, the Catskills beckon!
Early indications from the preliminary copytasting I've managed on some of the (PDF) material online confirms that Bolivia as a fascinating subject (even absent the possibility of its spearheading a continent-wide Red Revolution!) is well worth the investment of time.
Take, for example, Herbert Klein's Concise History of Bolivia  - which sketches the unusual geography of the country and its effects on its development from prehistoric times to just before the arrival of the Spanish. It has a useful diagram showing a section through the country - showing the altiplano - the high plateau, between two Andean ranges, where La Paz is located, falling away to the tropical regions of the east. And gives a flavour of the Aymara civilisation that preceded that of the Incas (or Quechuas).
(The relationship between the these two main Indian groups  is clearly critical - though I can't pretend to have done much more than grasped that salient detail! Clearly - at a connect the dots level - the whole thing screams divide and rule. Earlier pieces here have noted the mutual antipathy between Indian leaders Felipe Quispe - identified with the Aymaras - and Evo Morales - identified with the Quechuas. (Clearly. that's a cartoon make-shift, pending a proper analysis!)
I've noted before the resentment of Bolivians towards Chile for having annexed the Atacama corridor - thereby depriving Bolivia of its Pacific coastline - following the Pacific War of 1879-84: I'm hypothesising that the fact that, five or six hundred years ago, the Ayamaras were conquered by the Incas/Quechuas (is Quechua some kind of euphemism?), there is a similar ill-feeling between the two - what do we call them? Tribes sounds wrong.
There might be a valid comparison to be made with the variety of anti-English sentiments to be found in the Celtic fringe: in the last two centuries (in general) it was only the Irish who found it necessary to express their loathing by actually killing Englishmen!), whereas the Scots nursed their hatred in peace, crying all the way to the bank to the proceeds of their imperial exploits - opportunities provided by the government in London.
Is Aymara-Quechua antipathy more like the Scots or the Irish attitude to the English?)
Klein's is a 2003 publication and a mere $14 from Amazon in paperback: to judge from the online extract, not a bad investment for those interested. (I see my local library has invested in a copy - here's to socialism!)
One of the issues one would expect to be critical in any sort of peasant insurrection would be what is euphemistically referred to as land reform. A useful summary of the history of land reform in Bolivia is in a World Bank paper Políticas de tierras: el caso de Bolivia. It seems that the haciendas were largely expropriated without compensation at the time of the 1952 revolution, but it seems to remain a live issue.
On the absurd War on Drugs, a July 2002 paper (PDF) Coca and Conflict in the Chapare from WOLA  has plenty of useful 5 Ws detail on the US-incited efforts of the Bolivian government to eradicate coca cultivation, and the reaction from the cocaleros.
There is a good deal of stuff on the Bolivian economy, but nothing close to being a primer. As always, the immediate problem is to get hold of aggregate statistics that are just detailed enough to be useful - and some studies not otherwise of immediate interest can be valuable for the statistical tables and charts they have.
For instance, there are a number of papers on the CAF site - use a Google filetype:pdf search to get at them. A paper  on indicators of competitivity in the Bolivian economy has tables, but also equations.
And there's a 2001 paper on foreign direct investment in Bolivia.
On the question of government institutions, the influence of Indian forms and methods on efforts to decentralise and devolve power is of interest: a 2000 paper and one from 2001 give a flavour. It seems at first glance that the existence of, and competition between, parallel structures of government at various levels may prove to be something of a theme: I can't be certain until I can move from surveying the material to actually reading some of the damned stuff!
On 'high politics', again there is some suggestive material: USAID's Modernizing Bolivia's Legislature paper : useful recent history on Bol politics in this paper on relative stability since the last junta handed over to civilian rule in 1981 . A paper on Gobernabilidad Democrática y Reforma Política en Bolivia and one entitled The Consolidation of Polyarchy in Bolivia, 1985-1997 dealing with much same period.
I can't pretend to have done much more with most of these papers than the equivalent of inspecting a tome on a visit to a secondhand bookshop : they're just the most interesting of a pretty random selection produced by Mr Google, and warrant, if not deep study, then serious skimming!
Friday, October 24, 2003
A weekend's hiatus
For the next two or three days, I shall be out of blogging range. Please feel free to browse...
Bolivia: screeds of the left deserve a look
There is plenty of online agitprop from unreconstructed Marxists of one groupuscule or another churned out as if it were still 1968 and revolution in the West was still possible . It's a genre I normally avoid.
But, in attempting to acquire an understanding of the Bolivian situation, there may well be useful material on far-ish left sites. A couple of examples:
On the Rebelión site, a piece entitled Etnogénesis y estratogénesis del movimiento social boliviano, which, despite the pretentious title, offers what seems to me a useful explanation of the genesis of the two distinct groups currently led by Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe.
And a piece on the same site by Eduardo Galeano, historical guru of the Latin American poor , with more historical background.
There's an interview (October 23) with Quispe. He really hates Morales - calling him un burro que no sabe nada. He's making out that Morales is the sell-out, whereas he's the real revolutionary McCoy. (He was a terrorist/guerrilla/freedom-fighter once.)
But a piece entitled Revolución Boliviana: terminó el primer round from the Partito Obrero site, from Argentina - currently showing a thumbnail GIF of a front page with a 48 point head Peones de Bush  - condemns both the Morales and the Quispe strain of revolt: both are concerned with installing some species of democracy - which is the enemy of revolution.
[A caveat lector for all this stuff would imply that there was some stuff - the offence-free material now on offer at Peter Beinart's kinder, gentler, New Republic , for instance - that the reader could safely swallow whole, without the application of any editorial process whatever .]
Thursday, October 23, 2003
The muted reaction to poor treatment of wounded US servicemen
Of course, nothing should be surprising about the screwy sense of priorities evident in the news agenda of the various sections of the world's media. This, strangely, is.
UPI had a pretty shocking report  (October 17) - bylined Mark Benjamin UPI Investigations Editor from Fort Stewart GA that started:
Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see doctors.
There are several levels of interest here. First, the Jayson Blair Memorial Question: how far can one believe the piece? Failing evidence on the point, and given that its accuracy does not seem to have been challenged by the DOD, I'm prepared to take it at face value for the moment.
Second, objectively, the story demands further investigation. No one, whether they supported the war or not, would like to see US sick and wounded service personnel treated in the way alleged. Nothing trivial or wacko about it.
Third, from the media viewpoint, the story has tabloid news values out the wazoo - people in pain, apparent callous indifference of jobsworths in authority, angry relatives. But it has the cover of a serious news story - failures in the military health system, the background of things not going well in Iraq. High ratings and a Pulitzer!
Lastly, the story is surely a gift for the Little League - and not only a peacenik like Howard Dean: surely even Joe Lieberman could get some righteous indignation going! And the great thing would be, it wouldn't need to be synthetic.
So, what's the score, media-wise? Rather like the Valerie Plame story in August, it's there, but no sign of take-off. For instance, the St Louis Post-Dispatch (October 22) says that
Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond intends to press the Army to make sure wounded veterans from the Iraq war are provided full medical care, in light of reports that they are being rushed through some facilities or not receiving sufficient care.
We have the Army PR operation denying (October 23) that there was an
order of precedence for medical care, in which the National Guard and Reserve come last.
Though - UPI October 20 - there was enough to the story for
The Army [to say] it is sending doctors to Fort Stewart, Ga., to help hundreds of sick and injured soldiers, including Iraq veterans, who say they are waiting weeks and months for proper medical help.
As far as the wider context is concerned, a TomPaine piece (October 21) mentions earlier failings in US military health care - for instance GAO reports saying that a law requiring health checks of personnel to spot Gulf War Syndrome symptoms was being ignored.
A piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (October 22) quotes Col John Kidd from Fort Stewart:
[he] said the reservists' and guard members' complaints that they play second fiddle to full-time soldiers are caused not by a double standard, but by a severe shortage of physicians and other medical personnel.
But fails to highlight the low level of casualties that the Iraq war produced: if a casualty rate of around one or two a day  is stretching services, how would they manage if things weren't going so well?
And, did the DOD know that there wouldn't be enough medical staff to cope with even a moderate level of casualties before they started the war?
This story is surely a complete slam-dunk for pols and hacks alike: how can you be accused of being unpatriotic when you're supporting Uncle Sam's own armed forces?
And what about the anti-Rumsfeld forces in the Administration itself? We've had the USA Today Rummygram leak - why aren't guys like - to pick a name at random - Gen Eric Shinseki  taking the chance for revenge?
As for the Plumed Knights of the blogosphere, again the story has charted but without remotely the same energy devoted to it as to the (relatively trivial) Gregg Easterbrook saga. (The largest Plume noted the original UPI story on October 17, and that he had emailed Dr. William Winkenwerder  with questions. No indication that the good doctor has yet favoured him with a reply.)
Of course, there could be a Sixty Minutes special coming up this weekend. But, to date, coverage of the story - very much not for the first time - has me bemused.
Gen Shinseki left the Army while I was looking the other way. However, I doubt whether that exhausts the field when it comes to Pentagon dissenters.
Deceased Southern Governors Section: more on Arkansan Sid McMath - and now Texan Preston E Smith
I'd be meaning to get back to this neck of the woods, and, belatedly, here we are.
In my October 6 piece, I queried whether McMath's exit as governor in 1953 after four years had been due to the growing furore about the schools desegregation case that eventually became Brown v Board of Education (of Topeka, Kansas, of course).
The furore resulting from earlier stages of the schools case had  contributed to the demise of (relatively) liberal US Senators Frank Graham (D-NC) and Claude Pepper (D-FL) in 1950 (my piece December 7 2002): I was curious whether the same might have been true for the (relatively liberal) McMath.
Correspondent and fellow blogger John Adams has kindly supplied further particulars:
Brown v. Board of Education wasn't what brought McMath down--it really was a corporate-created 'scandal', courtesy of Middle South Utilities, that did it.
He has more at his own blog.
Online, there is a series of five oral history interviews with Sidney McMath on the Arkansas Educational Television Network site: tape 3 has a discussion of Middle South Utilities and the electrical supply problem in general, as well as links to the other tapes in the series.
There is also a transcript of testimony given by McMath to an (unspecified) Congressional committee in October 1954 covering much the same ground.
Both of these sources look, at first glance, to have substantial information. Unfortunately, they, together with John Adam's blog, are the only sources Mr Google supplies for "middle south utilities" mcmath.
Meanwhile, Preston Smith has died at 91 (his official bio): in Texas politics - in Austin - on and off from 1944, he only became governor in 1969, in succession to John Connally, after Connally had decided to retire.
After waiting for so long for the top job, Smith had lousy timing: his tenure coincided with the Sharpstown Stock Fraud Scandal of 1971-2, and
labeled an unindicted coconspirator in a bribery casehe fell in a general clear-out of incumbents in the November 1972 general election.
I'm curious - but not sufficiently to peel off to research it right now! - to know where Smith fitted in in Texan politics. He goes back far enough to coincide with names like Coke Stevenson, Allan Shivers and Ralph Yarborough - as well as Connally and Landslide Lyndon Johnson. Reading Robert Caro's Master of the Senate - which obviously dealt with Texan politics tangentially - I recollect that that some weird stuff was going on in the politics of the Lone Star State in that era. (Plus ça change...)
That, too, for another time.
Bolivia: some topics of interest
One or two points to note for future reference:
The Sendero Luminoso connectionWe know that ex-President Sánchez de Lozada thought Sendero were active in Bolivia. And, for plausibility, on a scale from one to ten, a Sendero connection with the recent revolt would rate an 11.
But still no sign yet of any actual evidence - that I've seen, at least .
Revolt against the revolt from gas-rich areasThe gas war lacks support in the Department of Tarija, in which lies the vast bulk of gas reserves. Local leader of Tarija City , Roberto Ruiz, was apparently dead against the strategy of the national peasant groupings (under Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe): a piece from September 22 has him saying that
el gas "es usado como bandera de lucha para aglutinar demandas sectoriales" y que la gente ha salido a las calles "en pos de sus propias reivindicaciones".
On Morales, he's quoted thus:
A Evo Morales "le interesa muy poco el gas, no lo conoce ni lo entiende", aseguró Ruiz, que añadió que el parlamentario "es sólo uno más de los políticos demagogos y chauvinistas" que hay Bolivia.
Both of the last two words seem to have much the same meaning as their English counterparts; these are not exactly fraternal sentiments!
Little wonder, then, that (El Mundo of Santa Cruz October 23 - and this) Tarifa and Santa Cruz departments  - with Roberto Ruiz to the fore - are fighting the proposed binding referendum on the project to export natural gas through Chile to the US (amongst other countries).
The stance seems to be: first have constitutional reform, and then settle the gas question. And there seems to be a veiled threat of something from 'Deputy Mayor' of Santa Cruz, Germán Antelo, talking about the gas-rich areas defending their own resources:
El hecho de que no se lo permita, puede ser peligroso para la unidad de este país. Lo que pasa es que son 178 años de manejo centralista de Bolivia y los resultados de ello son las masas de campesinos que no han tenido hasta la fecha una oportunidad. Aquí hay posiciones racistas, fundamentalistas, donde hasta la bandera boliviana la han cambiado, por ello creemos que estamos con la lectura adecuada.
(The Katanga Option (secession) - which it crossed my mind that he might have been talking about - seems ruled out by geography alone: Tarija and Santa Cruz departments are not contiguous, and how would they get their gas to the outside world, etc, etc. A gas strike would go contrary to their basic demand: let the gas flow now! So what did he mean?)
(There's a background piece on the gas war - in Spanish on a Brazilian site! - which looks as if it might be useful. )
The parties strike backA Página 12 piece today mentions that the MNR - the party of Sánchez de Lozada and the largest in the lower house of Congress - is meeting to decide whether, since their leader has fled the country, they ought not to elect a new one! Congress is back in session starting tomorrow, and MNR members are split on how to deal with the new apolitical government of Carlos Mesa:
El dirigente de este partido y presidente de la Cámara de Diputados, Oscar Arren, respaldará al nuevo gobierno, pero la diputada del MNR Teresa Paz ha anunciado que no lo apoyará.
(It also mentions that the defensor del Pueblo - chief prosecutor, I assume - Iván Zegada has resigned, under pressure for not having intervened over the government's handling of the revolt.)
El Alto, La Paz's poor neighbourA piece from June 9 in La Prensa of La Paz with some background: from the description of the conditions, there can be little wonder at the enthusiasm for the revolt there. The piece notable for being engagé - but not with the peasants. The final graf for a flavour :
Los demagogos primero, los condepistas luego y ahora una ensalada de agitadores del Movimiento al Socialismo junto a maoístas, senderistas, etc., han conseguido perpetuar el estado de miseria de ese abigarrado conjunto urbano denominado “El Alto”.
On the Tarija secession question, a Reuters piece from August 15 2002 says that, back then, that was, more or less, what they were threatening:
Sectores cívicos amenazaron declarar "autónomo" a uno de los nueve departamentos de Bolivia si fracasa un millonario proyecto de exportación de gas a mercados de Estados Unidos y México.
The flesh may be willing, but the geography still seems to be against them!
A piece from January 31 gives a flavour of relations between the Tarija crowd and the wider peasant movement - and between Roberto Ruiz and Evo Morales. At one point, it says, Ruiz
propuso a los comités cívicos de Potosí, Sucre, Pando, Beni y Santa Cruz conformar un bloque del sur y del oriente que exija al Presidente la erradicación de la hoja de coca del Chapare y destrabar el proyecto de exportación del gas hacia Estados Unidos.
Demanding that the coca fields be blitzed would, I suspect, be high up on the list of things most likely to give Morales conniptions!
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
At last, an editor who gets it - in Brattleboro, VT
Romanesko has the story and the links.
The editor of the Brattleboro Reformer, Kathryn Casa, published a letter which said that
Jews are running the town, and the state, and the country for that matter.
Now, I don't know the south Vermont town from a hole in the ground: but I suspect that an objective study would show that Jewish influence there is less than all-pervasive.
You can imagine an only mildly tarted-up version of Ms Casa's reply to the Beinarts of her burg voiced by James Stewart in a c1940 Frank Capra film, over a Dmitri Tiomkin score:
Publishing a letter is in no way an endorsement of the letter writer's position. We run many letters that we find offensive, as long as they are free of overt name-calling and libelous material. The reason we do so is because they represent the diversity of opinions that constitute our community, even those opinions that are unpalatable; to err, as it were, on the side of free speech.
From the New Republic, the New McCarthyism; from the Brattleboro Reformer, the Old Republic. The sterling tradition of the small American newspaper, most famously represented by William Allen White's Emporia Gazette, has a new champion.
New York Observer does it again!
Sridhar Pappu's piece  on the new editor of the New York Daily News, Martin Dunn  says he
called for a "newsroom without walls."
For some reason, I thought of the captain of Bob Newhart's USS Codfish:
...looking back on the mutiny, I think a lot of the trouble stemmed from the fact that you men weren't coming to me with your problems... as I told you, the door to my office is always open. I think you know why it's always open -- that was stolen, I'd like that returned.
Unlike this sketch , I don't think much of early 60s Newhart is online.
[Yet another tip from the indispensable Romanesko.]
New Republic Minister of Truth to wed
And a nice Jewish girl, to boot!
Fresh from legislating that, henceforth, no content will appear in his rag that is in any way offensive (piece of October 21), Peter Beinart, overlord - I nearly said Führer - of the Republic is to marry a tax attorney called Diana Hartstein, according to that fruitful source of unlikely nuggets, the New York Observer .
The Observer's Anna Jane Grossman says it'll be a Sephardic ceremony . Oh, and the bride is a serious babe. (She makes no comment on Beinart's qualities as an amatory companion: does that mean he's a complete dog, or am I reading too much into it?)
The Plawg's best wishes to them both: and may he take his conjugal duties so seriously as to foreclose his career in journalism, thus permitting the Republic to jettison his milquetoast pussy-footing offend no one policy, and get onto some real journalism.
(Is Beinart a Jew ? And why do I feel I (or, should I say, even I?) needed the cover of the Jewish wedding with Ms Hartstein to ask the question? A demonstration of just how poisonous the Beinart Doctrine really is!)
Bolivia pantomime: bottom rail on top?
[Scroll down for half a dozen pieces on Bolivia in the last few days.]
The excellent Miguel of La Paz has a couple of thoughtful pieces on new President Carlos Mesa's problems with legitimacy and authority - the perils of populism as a substitute for both - and on the victorious extraparliamentary groups racheting up their demands:
El Alto [La Paz's slum city twin] wants a new international airport. Evo [Morales] demands an immediate end to coca eradication. [Jaime] Solares (leader of the COB, the Bolivian Workers Federation) demands an abrogation of a constitutional provision that allows workers to join or not join unions. Essentially, he'd turn the country into a closed-shop, w/ all workers answering directly to the COB.
The cocaleros under Morales, the peasants under Felipe Quispe, the workers under Solares - they've got the Big Mo, it seems, and Mesa - having decided that to cut himself off from party political allegiance, and hold the pols at arm's length - has only one place to turn.
A CNN Español piece describes a scene pretty close to a real-live English pantomime (rather than the metaphorical kind rather commoner in politics in the Mother Country):
En un masivo acto en la Plaza San Francisco, en el centro de La Paz, en el que sorpresivamente se presentó el mandatario para escuchar las demandas indígenas, varios de los principales dirigentes del reciente alzamiento popular dejaron claro que si no se cumplían sus reivindicaciones volverían a las calles.
I suspect that Mesa (bio) was not exactly in his element: here, pretty much, was the manpower equivalent of tanks on his lawn. And Felipe Quispe was on hand to drive the point home:
El presidente puede ser nuestro amigo. Pero puede ser nuestro amigo si cumple todo lo que le pedimos.
And he had some wily-peasant shtick to wow the crowd and put quintessentially middle-class professional man Mesa one down:
Quispe pidió a los manifestantes que se quitaran los sombreros y en tono muy ceremonial intentó hacer jurar al presidente que iba a cumplir con sus demandas, pero el mandatario, un ex periodista e historiador de gran capacidad oratoria, esquivó el desafío entre sonrisas y, a cambio, habló ante los manifestantes.
With one word from Quispe, the massed ranks doff their hats and Mesa swears to love, honour and obey (chiefly the latter) .
The Prez, to judge from his reply, has cojones:
Yo les mentiría si les prometo cosas que no voy a cumplir.
Which, being translated, is, I should coco! He won the crowd round, it says, from whistling to applauding him.
And then he played the big, fat race card (and to think I was getting to like the guy's style!):
Soy un mestizo que quiere a Bolivia. Por eso he venido a pedirles que pacifiquemos al país.
(For the record, the guy's face is mostly hidden by a great, partly white beard .)
I get the impression of a Mr Smith Goes To Washington with a salsa beat: a guy with no party political background who thinks politics is usual is both corrupt and dispensable, and chooses to go amongst the people, cutting out the pesky middle-man of constitutions and elections, and such.
Miguel says that
One by one, vice ministers, prefects, ambassadors, and bureaucrats are resigning, despite appeals for them to stay.Unsurprising, perhaps, given Mesa's apparent MO.
Res novae indeed in La Paz. He points to a piece in La Razón of La Paz in which
El líder del movimiento indigenista "etnocacerista" de Perú, el mayor en retiro Antauro Humala, aseguró ayer, desde Lima, que un número no precisado de reservistas del Ejército viajó a Bolivia para "apoyar" al movimiento que terminó con el gobierno de Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.
I've no idea what the movimiento indigenista "etnocacerista" is - I can't even make head or tail of the word etnocacerista . But the intervention must be cause for concern - even if it's only a handful of Peruvian 'jihadis' crossing the border for an activity holiday.
The Razón piece refers to the confrontation on September 20 at Warisata (which I mentioned on October 20) and says the Peruvian's story calls into question the Bolivian governments version of events at the confrontation it's not explict, but, if there were Peruvian army revolution tourists at Warisata (presumably with firearms), that would tend to explain the use of live ammo by Bolivian security forces. No comprendo.
Humala also mentions the magic words Sendero Luminoso - to whose current position in Peru I plead total ignorance. Is this like in the 1960s young guys from Liverpool pretending to live in the same street as the Beatles? Or are there serious links now forged between peasant organisations in Bolivia (like Quispe's CSUTCB) and Sendero?
Meanwhile, Al Giordano discusses
the proposal by coca growers that families be allowed to grow one "cato" (a 40-by-40 meter plot) of coca without being persecuted by police or invaded by the military.
Under Ley 1008, areas where coca has been traditionally grown (in Chaparé and the Yungas) for chewing or use as tea, a limited acreage is, or was, legally permitted - this summary dating from 1995 says 12,000 hectares.
Giordano quotes a piece suggesting that Mesa is prepared to negotiate on a cato for everyone. Miguel's pieces suggest Morales has racheted up to a full moratorium on eradication.
Which leads to the obvious question, what are the links between the Bolivian narcos and all these tribunes of the people: Morales, Quispe, Solares and co? Unlike, say, Cruz Bustamante, their campaigns don't have expensive TV spots to pay for. On the other hand, the organised crime/politics combo is utterly traditional all over (yet another field in which the norteamericanos led the world!).
And how far are these peasants groups in de facto control of rural areas? For instance, half of Colombia - more or less, dependent on the military situation - is outside the control of the government in Bogotá: how wide, and how deep, is the La Paz government's authority over areas of Bolivia out of easy reach of the main urban centres?
How is USG dealing with the new dispensation? A couple of sentences of boilerplate from the stand-in State Department spokesman (October 21) - otherwise, silence radio, so far as I can tell.
Finally, well worthwhile keeping an eye on Newley Purnell blogging from Ecuador, but with plenty of Bolivian goodness - and saying, I blush to say it, nice things about mine!
About Giordano's claim that President Luci Gutierrez of Ecuador could be next to go, he is sceptical.
California State Assembly: worst website in the world?
There is a piece in the New York Times - which will shortly be snatched into the pay-only laager, so is scarcely worth linking - bastards! - which promises a revenge Dem bill to make recalls harder.
I want to check the state of the CA Assembly to see whether Arnie's veto will stick. I go to Google - natch, and struggle. 1998 results, fine; 2202 results, yes, but San Diego County only!
Brainwave! I try the California State Assembly site. Nada. Let me tell you guys, the most important thing in the game is the score - in this case, how many Dems and how many GOP - and that is nowhere to be found. There is not even a webmaster email for me to point this out. These guys are due an Arnie fisting, and light on the lube!
There is, glory be, salvation in a page where some prescient individual - Pulitzer over here, please! - has recorded the state of the parties in each house in every state legislature. It can be done...
(The numbers shown are 48-32 and 26-14, by the way - if these are right, and they vote on party lines, close but no cigar on overturning an Arnie veto - Article 4 §10 of the Constitution.)
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Bolivia: did a lynching start the 'revolution'?
Being alive to the perils of breaking news - distance plus speed plus ignorance plus language barrier equals bear trap - as well as slow off the mark, I didn't really tune in the farrago out there until the street action was pretty much over. The chance of a gringo at 6,000 miles distance making much sense of facts on the ground was nil.
However, my interest was somehow aroused by a piece October 19 in the blog of La Paz resident Miguel which I mentioned on October 17. He was quoting an op-ed piece on the revolt (October 19) in La Razón of La Paz by Bolivian journo Agustín Echalar - who is not in party mood.
What hit me was this
...the strike organized by Felipe Quispe in Omasuyos and nearby originated in a demand that had no moral support. It asked the freeing of a local authority that had abused his power, causing the death of two people. Of course, the other side's version, that of the side that came out on top, was that an injustice had been done to communal justice, since a cattle thief deserves torture, abuse, and death.
Or, in the original,
...la huelga organizada por Felipe Quispe en Omasuyos y alrededores estaba originada en un reclamo que no tenía ningún soporte moral, se pedía la liberación de una autoridad local que había hecho abuso de su poder, causando la muerte de dos personas, claro, la versión del otro lado, de ese otro lado que ha salido triunfante, era que se había hecho justicia comunal, porque un ladrón de ganado sí merece tortura, vejación y muerte.
This does two things: it would be a striking, even iconic, demonstration - if true - that the Bolivian peasants are not secular saints or mere objects of the political manoeuvering or ideological posturing of white men (domestic and foreign), but, like the gringo, run from very good to very bad; and it picks two individuals out from the mass of humanity and gives them an identity.
Not names, unfortunately. And a man with no name - for net purposes - very often might just as well never have existed! But individuals, nevertheless, with a chunk of narrative to go with them: the one a cattle thief, the other some kind of local leader who - if the story is right - had the thief lynched.
Surely so pivotal an event in the scheme of things would be traceable, even without names?
I can trace one reference: to wit, a piece of September 22 from Los Andes of Mendoza, Argentina. After describing the events at Warisata  on September 20, it says
Por su parte, el gobierno llamó al restablecimiento de la paz y convocó a un "imprescindible" diálogo nacional, aunque advirtió que hará respetar la ley a los campesinos que mantienen una huelga de hambre en contra de la venta de gas por Chile y en demanda de la libertad de uno de sus dirigentes, acusado de asesinar a un ladrón de ganado.
And that's it.
Why don't the wretched papers name the peasant leader, at least? How close is he to top man Felipe Quispe? What hand did Quispe have in the lynching (assuming there was one)? Is vigilante justice commonplace in rural Bolivia? Is it like the Old South, with solid citizens standing by while the dead is done, or otherwise condoning it?
The Bolivian peasants have striven for the moral high ground - and, clearly, in a tranche of Western opinion - they have it in spades. If it turns out that their organisations act like the southern branch of the KKK, that would put a rather different complexion on things.
Plus, it's annoying the hell out of me just not knowing the truth! Linchamiento, ¿sí o no?
Is lynching part of the Bolivian tradition, you may ask? There are odd snippets online that suggest it may be so: Professor of Anthropology at Holy Cross College (Worcester, MA) Daniel M Goldstein won an award for a study Vigilante Justice and the Challenge to Global Security. A teaser for an article in American Ethnologist says
Vigilantes in the marginal communities of a Bolivian city take the law into their own hands both to police their communities against crime and as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction with the state and its official policing and justice systems. In this article, I examine an incident of vigilante violence (lynching) in one such Bolivian barrio to explore the ways in which vigilantism acts as amoral complaint against state inadequacy, challenging state legitimacy and redefining ideas about justice, citizenship, and law in the process. I also analyze the range of discourses that surrounds lynching in contemporary Bolivian society, exploring the interpretive conflict that results as barrio residents attempt to counter official representations of the meaning of vigilantism in their community.
A page on a USAID-funded project Ciudadanos Trabajando por la Justicia
...that is aimed to achieve measurable understanding, acceptance and support for the reformed justice system in Bolivia.(good luck with that!) mentions
crime-that result from mistrust, misuse and misunderstanding of the justice system (such as lynching)
There's a piece from August 28 on a Sánchez de Losada plan to form kid's patrols to fight crime (!) which comments that the patrols
would have a difficult go of it in a country where "popular justice" includes lynching
And a story of a TV cameraman who supposedly incited the lynching of a suspected rapist in Santa Cruz.
And a final piece for good measure.
All amounting to prima facie evidence, I think, that lynching is not quite as foreign to Bolivia as Free Love to Vatican City!
Easterbrook affair: New Republic gives the Italian two-handed salute
[D'you know, I think I may have pandered to a stereotype of lack of Italian valour there, born of Sixth Army experience during World War 2. Tough.]
Two things need to be separated: the presence of Easterbrooks's original post on the TNR site; and the reaction of TNR to the furore.
On the first point, we're back with the company email problem. Any company has a valid interest in protecting itself: an email sent from its address is as good as if sent on the company's letter-heading on the very heaviest and best paper money can buy. No one should send any email that they would be unhappy having read out in open court. What employees send from their own addresses is their business: from the company's, not so much.
Same goes for newspaper blogs. They engage the responsibility - to borrow a nice French phrase - of the paper just as much as if they were set in hot metal and run out on a linotype machine, front page, above the fold. If the paper chooses not to edit the blog, it only has itself to blame .
Did TNR edit Easterbrook's piece? (It did edit the West Hollywood homosexuals piece that Mickey Kaus wore a hair shirt for (my piece yesterday).)
The TNR response to the Easterbrook furore - which we have today in the form of A Letter to our Readers bylined The Editors - is cringing and cringemaking.
Of course, Easterbrook had already apologised - my piece on October 17 - so leaving no real room for any Voltairean defending to the death on the part of TNR management.
Even so, one feels that an apology drafted by the ADL could not have been more abject than today's offering.
Those of a nervous disposition should look away now:
...Easterbrook referred to "Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else." Many readers found the remark offensive. They were right.
There's a quantification issue here, of course: letter writers and ranting bloggers do not a valid sample make. The piece refers to the many readers's emotional response - finding the remark offensive - and, in the next sentence, seems to offer an objective finding that it was.
Worst of all, it seems to conclude that, by being offensive, it ought not have to have been published.
It goes on to say that
...Easterbrook's comment is false and ugly...
Is the remark false at all? My knowledge of logic is not what it should be: but surely, of the variety of types of utterance human speech is capable of, only a statement is capable of falsification?
In that context, it seems to me that quotation in the TNR piece is thoroughly misleading: the original reads
Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence?
The TNR grovel includes just a snippet::
In the course of his denunciation, Easterbrook referred to "Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else."
The square brackets are, of course, a giveaway that the quote has been adjusted. But it seems to me that, in the process, the sense has been altered, too: in the apology, Easterbrook is making an assertion that there are Jewish executives who worship money above all else.
In the original, he is asking a rhetorical question, to make an argument. And, from the original - though not the doctored extract in the TNR apology - it is clear that the point he is making is not an allegation that Jewish executives worship money but rather that they promote the adulation of violence. The omission seems - to go no further - apt seriously to mislead: Jews are not stereotypically adulators of violence.
And, be the argument false or not, what should the fact that it is ugly have to do with whether it should have been published. Many stories are ugly: a piece detailing the - alas - common practice of female genital mutilation is almost guaranteed to be ugly - does that mean that the TNR should ipso facto not publish it? The history of slavery in the United States is a mine of ugly stories - are those not to be told for fear of giving offence?
And, coming well within living memory, one knows well the offence taken by Americans, North as well as South, even college-educated, at the discussion of miscegenation, and the absurd laws once widely enforced to prevent it. The archives of the period are not, I believe, available online; but I suspect they would show that TNR was ridiculing and castigating the regime that cosseted such susceptibilities well before those laws ceased to have effect .
TNR clearly embraces self-censorship for the avoidance of giving offence. How will we know where it has trimmed - literally and metaphorically! Will only certain groups benefit from its indulgence, or will the sensibilities even of heterosexual, Caucasian males be given due allowance?
May one take some hint from the fact that, of the 670 or so words in the piece, around 270 are devoted to rebutting the argument that Easterbrook or TNR or both are antisemitic. (For which assertion the evidence - so far as I'm aware - has yet to be put before the public.) If the ADL could have drafted such assiduous self-abasement, then so might someone wishing to suggest the diametrically opposed bias.
It occurs to me to ask what complaints the TNR have received from Arab-Americans in the last year or two - in the period following 9/11, say. How many said that they found something they had read offensive? What replies were given to such allegations?
The final paragraph of the piece is, perhaps, the most nauseating:
But we know that reputations are, by their nature, fragile things. So, as we apologize to you today, we also rededicate ourselves to keeping the faith of our readers in our old and proven commitment to decency in American life, and in the critical discussion of it.
You can be critical in TNR - but you must be decent! TNR relocates to Pleasantville; Ronald Reagan is shilling for General Electric, Lucille Ball is messing up but always clean, and don't please mention the Guatemala coup because United Fruit would find it offensive.
Now we know.
I have now realised why, of an altogether shameful and depressing piece of prose, the final paragraph was the worst: its use of the D-word:
...we also rededicate ourselves...
In concocting this servile obeisance, the scribes at TNR have had the utter gall to allude to the Gettysburg Address!
(There are, of course, several versions of the speech. But in the generally accepted Bliss version there are no fewer than six uses of various forms of the verb to dedicate, each placed with precision for rhetorical effect.)
On second thoughts, it is only natural that the writers would seek to attempt to mask the taste of their vile effort with a seasoning of Lincoln.
Though, had Lincoln possessed their level of fortitude and commitment to the cause, one little doubts that Jefferson Davis would have been in residence in the White House long before November 1863!
Monday, October 20, 2003
Does Eisner get an ADL speech-chilling award or something?
No doubt that, amongst those on offer, the First Amendment is my favourite. Free speech, yay! But the first corollary is, of course, that no one has to publish what he doesn't want to .
And that's all that Disney have done (Mickey Kaus has picked up the baton for links and such). Some prehensile-tongued apparatchik, I suspect, anticipating the boss' wishes, rather than Disney boss Michael Eisner himself, got the New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook fired from his ESPN gig. And hats off to him: it's a move with no downside and all sorts of benefits.
It's a warning to all concerned to watch their step. Objectively, Easterbrook was an amoeba in the Disney firmament - the Mouse couldn't feasibly axe, say, Drew Carey (when his show was performing) - but his removal shows intent, a willingness to ignore whinging from the usual suspects, a demonstration that content is being scrutinised and will be cleansed.
But it's also testing the reaction of the wider public: do they know? do they care? My guess is, No and No. Have Disney done private polling on the issue, I wonder? When was the last big campaign of nationwide support for a First Amendment case? I suspect that, on most First Amendment cases taken to the Supreme Court, majority opinion would favour the party wishing to curtail free speech . It always seems to be some weirdo wanting to burn crosses or distribute porn on the net who's protesting about free speech - why do they even let those people go to court...
All the more reason, when the First Amendment is clearly on the side of the Mouse, why a symbolic defenestration would cause no public alarm. One of the great American dichotomies - of which Gunnar Myrdal's American Dilemma is perhaps the best known - is that the society with the greatest legal protection for diversity in expression is also one which prizes conformity highly .
Flipping to the ABC News page, one sees the line-up of Eisner's news output. I'm sure there are Chinese walls, and Eisner is no William Randolph Hearst. Still, network news is an expensive business, especially when wars and elections are there to be covered, and even the impression of a hand reaching down from the heavens to grab Easterbrook warmly by the throat...
The key to understanding the process is that we are talking about influences operating at the margin. A news show has 22 minutes a night to fill; even with don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-them segments, that means tons of really great stories get left out of each show. When a difficult piece comes up, it's not as if leaving it out would leave 90 seconds of dead air. Or a report on the Podunk County Fair. No one will notice the difference. The old Stanley Baldwin motto applies: Safety First.
That's the power of chilling speech: it doesn't require a squad of Pinkerton men with clubs and shotguns, or a court order and marshals. No one gets marched into Room 101. It's not visible as an exercise of power at all. Like all good covert operations, it has the essential feature of deniability.
But what goes around, comes around. As, say, with activism in the Supreme Court, it cuts both ways. Liberals of very little brain who applaud the concept in Brown (the schools desegregation case) conveniently gloss over the child labour cases of a few decades earlier. And, quite conceivably, those who are supporting Disney in its courageous stand against Easterbrook (Goliath wins one at last!) may live to regret that front-office muscle may have made news guys even less likely to go out on a limb than before.
Reading to the bottom of the Kaus piece, it's mostly about characterising Easterbrook's effort. After canvassing various people's suggestions, Kaus quotes Volokh with approval:
Easterbrook's espousal of this theory did not suggest any real hatred, hostility, or bigotry, only moral error.
Factual error is open to all of us to identify: but moral error implies some sort of external authority, animate or inanimate, by which moral truth may be distinguished.
Now there, surely, is a thoroughly un-American idea: didn't the Pilgrims leave England to escape just that sort of authority?
Even allowing there to be such a thing as moral error, how should it be dealt with?
Kaus provides us with a little story about a New Republic piece of his own:
I wrote that discrimination against homosexuals in West Hollywood bars was less outrageous than, say, discrimination against blacks in the South, because homosexuals in West Hollywood had acquired money and power.And what happened?
After the piece was printed, one of TNR's top editors let me know he thought the argument was offensive, and I realized after some resistance that he was right. I wasn't fired, though. I was busted and I learned something. That's what's supposed to happen...That's what should have happened with Easterbrook.
Now, of course, TNR management are as much entitled as Michael Eisner to control what their media outlets publish. (Though clearly the Kaus piece passed through some sort of editorial process that would have weeded out, say, a call to assassinate the President.)
But Kaus seems to be suggesting, not that his piece ought to have been edited out not because it didn't fit with TNR's agenda, but because it was intrinsically and objectively morally bad.
And it was bad merely because the
the argument was offensive.
And, on that basis, it should not have been published at all. By anyone.
And, most chillingly - pun very much intended - of all, he says he
Give this boy a Loyalty Oath! Oops, he's got one already.
Surely Kaus's piece must be satire...
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