Tony Blair as Gladstone?

Salon magazine has just put up an interesting piece by Andrew O’Hehir entitled Lost in the Desert. It’s about Tony Blair and his disastrous decision to support Bush’s war, as portrayed in two new books: “Point of Departure” by Robin Cook, who resigned from Blair’s cabinet over the war, and Philip Stephens’ “Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader”. The article is fascinating, and Cook’s book looks like essential reading – I’m gong to order a copy from Amazon UK tonight.

Another straw in the wind

I caught a few minutes of Lou Dobbs on CNN this evening. He was interviewing Catherine Mann, from the Institute for International Economics, on the subject of trade policy and outsourcing jobs (see my blog entry about my epiphany. She went on and on about the economic benefits of increased trade, and you could see Lou Dobbs getting more and more incredulous. Eventually he asked her about the practical consequences for those whose jobs were outsourced; seemingly surprised, she acknowledged “short-term dislocations” and the need for “workforce flexibility”. Dobbs asked her if she was in effect saying that all we could do was spend a few extra dollars on retraining, but that otherwise this was inevitable, and she concurred.
Shortly afterwards, Lou Dobbs revealed the result of an instant poll on the CNN website: 93% of respondents said that outsourcing U.S. jobs is “a threat to the American way of life”, 1% said it was “no big deal”, and 6% said it was “the price of doing business today”. He closed by quoting Thomas Jefferson: “The selfish spirit of commerce … knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain.”
This issue is going to have political consequences. “Sophisticated” people may decry it as crude populism (and may even attempt to characterize it as “class warfare”), but 93% is significant, especially in a medium where the audience tends to be skewed to the right.
P.S. In editing this blog entry, I Googled “Institute for International Economics” and noticed that Ms. Mann’s latest publication is Policy Brief 03-11: Globalization of IT Services and White Collar Jobs: The Next Wave of Productivity Growth. This makes the point very nicely, I think: we’re going to get people chosing sides on whether outsourcing is, first and foremost, “productivity growth” or “a threat to the American way of life”. Which side are you on….?

I have an epiphany (revised)

Yesterday I was reading the latest edition of the Economist entitled The great hollowing-out myth. Now for me the Economist has an almost mythic status. Back in the period 1966-1970 I wanted to be an economist, and to write for the Economist. Even after I fell prey to the siren song of the computer business, the Economist remained the weekly journal by which all other journals were judged. It wasn’t just the exquisite prose (though I still regard the written style of the Economist as something to which all writers should aspire); it was also the clarity of vision, of a future in which the muddles and distractions of the present might wither away.
Back to this week’s article. It was about the consequences of “offshoring”, the outsourcing of various kinds of jobs to India – a fairly common topic these days. As I read it, I felt sure that there was something missing. I finished it, and re-read it to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t. There was not a single reference to wages (or salaries, or income) of workers in the countries from which these jobs were being outsourced. “That’s odd,” I thought. “Surely a significant consequence of outsourcing is that workers on the margin – those whose jobs are candidates for outsourcing – will experience significant downward pressure on their wages. And that’s going to have political consequences. All very well to go on about the Theory of Comparative Advantage, and about how the overall economy will benefit, but I’ve never met anyone who cast a vote based on an economic theory rather than their own wages and employment.”
I was still puzzled. How could the Economist have overlooked such an important factor? And then I picked up the March edition of Harper’s and read the piece by John Ralson Saul entitled The End of Globalism. And I realized that (drum roll) the era of the Economist is over. (Now that’s an epiphany!)
John Ralston Saul’s thesis is that for the last 30 years technocratic leaders have assumed that economics trumps politics, that globalism trumps nationalism. This, it was asserted, was inevitable, and so of course it provided an excellent excuse for not actually trying to solve real problems – problems such as the decline in real wages, third world debt, and the impending collapse of welfare and educational systems. And for a few years, everybody bought in to the idea.
Eventually a few daring countries decided to act in their own best interests, rather than what the IMF or the World Bank prescribed. Amazingly, the world kept spinning. And as the bubble popped, and the Twin Towers came down, it became clear that it’s every nation state for itself. Saul suggests that with the responsibilities that this will bring, people and national leaders will find that they have real choices which will have real consequences. They are not impotent cogs in a globalist machine. It may not be pretty – some of the nationalistic movements seem to be throwbacks to the end of the 19th century – but it seems to be a fact.
As for my”epiphany”: the Economist represents the philosophy of the era of globalism. That’s why it seemed so exciting and forward-looking back in the late 1960s: it was a harbinger of a great change, a “New World Order” that lasted 30 years (which is about the lifetime of all such things). But today it appears increasingly myopic, unable to apply the incisive critical skills with which it dissected the pre-technocratic world to the present circumstances. Vision has become conventional wisdom, which has in turn become unquestionable ideology.
Anyway, please read these articles, and think about what they mean. As John Ralston Saul writes: History will eventually give all of these contradictory signals a shape. But history is neither for nor against. It just is. And there is no such thing as a prolonged vacuum in geopolitics. It is always filled. This is what happens every few decades. The world turns, shifts, takes a new tack, or retries an old one. Civilisation rushes around one of those blind corners filled with uncertainties.

Kerry on Iraq

In an earlier posting, I offered some language which I thought provided a reasonable explanation of Kerry’s vote on Gulf War 2. I contacted the Kerry organization about this (and, to be fair, sent an equivalent email to the Edwards camp). Someone from the Kerry team replied quickly and pointed me at this piece from Truthout last December. Here’s the relevant quote:
“This was the hardest vote I have ever had to cast in my entire career,” Kerry said. “I voted for the resolution to get the inspectors in there, period. Remember, for seven and a half years we were destroying weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In fact, we found more stuff there than we thought we would. After that came those four years when there was no intelligence available about what was happening over there. I believed we needed to get the weapons inspectors back in. I believed Bush needed this resolution in order to get the U.N. to put the inspectors back in there. The only way to get the inspectors back in was to present Bush with the ability to threaten force legitimately. That’s what I voted for.”
“The way Powell, Eagleberger, Scowcroft, and the others were talking at the time,”
continued Kerry, “I felt confident that Bush would work with the international community. I took the President at his word. We were told that any course would lead through the United Nations, and that war would be an absolute last resort. Many people I am close with, both Democrats and Republicans, who are also close to Bush told me unequivocally that no decisions had been made about the course of action. Bush hadn’t yet been hijacked by Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney and that whole crew. Did I think Bush was going to charge unilaterally into war? No. Did I think he would make such an incredible mess of the situation? No. Am I angry about it? You’re God damned right I am. I chose to believe the President of the United States. That was a terrible mistake.”
Pretty damn close, I think. Of course Kerry was wrong in one crucial respect – Bush had already been got at by Cheney, Wolfowitz et al, as Paul O’Neill makes clear in Ron Suskind’s book. It would be interesting to ask Kerry about this.

Liberal and its opposite

I just realized that there was something missing from the tagline at the top of my blog, so I added it. Liberal.
Now “liberal” is an odd word in the US. Back home in England it has (at least) three meanings: “a member of the Liberal Democrat party”, “large or generous” (as in “a liberal helping of roast beef”), and “free and progressive in outlook”, as in “liberal democracy” or “liberal arts”. In the US, the first of these is irrelevant, the second is rarely used, and the third has been twisted into a pejorative term by those on the political right – so much so that true liberals are nervous about describing themselves as such.
So to all of those that perversely and ahistorically seek to use the term “liberal” as an insult, I offer this challenge: if you despise the term “liberal”, then presumably you must embrace its opposite – “illiberal”, meaning narrow, mean-spirited, and ungenerous. Can I expect all of you to claim this odious term for yourselves and your political leadership? I hope so. It surely fits….

How Kerry can explain his votes on Iraq

Many folks (especially pundits, Howard Dean, and right-wingers) seem to think that Kerry’s votes on Iraq mean that he cannot legitimately criticise Bush on the subject. I think that’s utter nonsense. Here’s one way he could answer those critics. I realise that this text may be a bit too strong — after all, only 20% of Americans actually believe that Bush lied, while another 35% think he merely “exaggerated”. Nevertheless what follows seems to me to be an entirely self-consistent position for Kerry to take:
“I voted to authorize the 2nd Gulf War because I believed the case that the Administration had presented, that Saddam Hussein represented a clear and present danger to the United States. The idea that the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, the National Security Adviser, and the Secretary of Defense would mislead the Congress and the people over such a crucial matter was something that never even entered my head. What kind of man would undertake a pre-emptive and unilateral war, and would order American troops into battle, to kill and be killed, to slaughter Iraqi civilians, to destroy our standing among the United Nations, and to dramatically increase the likelihood of terrorism against ourselves and our allies, without incontrovertible evidence?
Yet, tragically, I was wrong. The President had no such evidence. His own Intelligence staff warned him of this. Whether you consider him guilty of deliberate lying or merely of exaggerated and wishful thinking, the fact is that the President did not tell us the truth. He misled us in order to persuade us to support an unjust war, a war unconnected to the tragedy of 9/11, and a war which, according to members of his own Cabinet, he had decided to fight as long ago as January, 2001. I trusted the President — we all did — and he abused that trust”

US/UK spying at the UN

Over in London, the Observer has just run a story providing details of US and UK spying at the UN and how it was used to derail an attempt to delay military action against Iraq.
Now in the UK, the relevant ministers are certain to be asked whether they approved the spy operation (in which case their explanations/excuses will be eagerly awaited) or not (in which case the question is simply “who’s in charge?”). Either way, it’s more bad news for Blair.
But will any US media pick it up? Will Bush or Rumsfeld or Powell be asked to explain why America conducts covert operations against the representatives of sovereign nations at the UN? If not, why not?
The story is here.

Off to England

I’m off to England later today, and I’ll be gone for a week with only limited Internet access. Hence no blog updates. Instead of packing, I’ve been distracted by several items:

  • The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk by Susan McDougall. Compelling, funny, horrifying, infuriating. (Not with her, with Ken Starr.) I hope that one day a member of Starr’s fascist inquisition gets a fit of conscience and spills the beans on just how corrupt his operation really was….
  • Warszawa, the new limited-edition live CD by Porcupine Tree. A thrilling performance for Polish Radio in front of a studio audience. I never thought they could perform Voyage 34 live, but it works so well…..