ashthomas//blog: April 2004


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Clinton chooses world's most boring title for autobiography.
Bill Clinton's memoir, rather obviously titled "My Life", will be released in late June, according to a NYTimes report. Clinton's autiobiography has the potential to be one of the more exciting political books to come out about the nineties. Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars was a dramatic page-turner, and hopefully Clinton will be as indiscrete and reveal the secrets of what happens behind closed doors in the White House. The Lewinsky Affair and the other assorted sexual scandals that dogged Clinton's campaign and administration are, for me, the least interesting aspect. I am looking forward more to Clinton's side of the story of his election campaigns, the Republican Revolution that blocked his health care bill and almost cost him the election in '96. I am interested in his dealings with Blair and with Europe; with NATO and General Wesley Clark re the Yugoslavia; what he did about terrorist threats, esp. in the wake of the first WTC bombing and the Cole incident; and his deliberations about Iraq. Notice a pattern there? Yes, I admit, it is foreign policy that interests me most, with political intrigue a close second. Domestic policy is a distant third. Whatever focus Clinton takes, it is sure to be a fascinating glimpse into his mind and how it works. But really, "My Life"? Surely there was something catchier than this that ended up in his wastebasket.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Political influences
Today's political scandal concerns the Opposition Leader's apparent plagarism of Bill Clinton in a speech that Mr. Latham gave a couple of days ago. In that speech, Mr. Latham makes a number of remarks that bear a striking similiarity to those made by President Clinton in his 1997 State of the Union address. From Melbourne's Herald Sun:
In 1997, Mr Clinton said: "Every eight-year-old must be able to read."
On Tuesday, Mr Latham said: "Every infant child must be the beneficiary of reading programs."
Clinton: "Every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the internet."
Latham: "Every 10-year-old must be able to log on to the internet and manage information."
Clinton: "Every 18-year-old must be able to go to college."
Latham: "Every 17-year-old must be ready to extend their education into post-secondary qualifications."
Clinton: "Every adult American must be able to keep on learning for a lifetime."
Latham: "We want every adult to keep on learning for the rest of their lives."

The correlations are so astounding as to disqualify any notion of two speech writers stumbling across a similar way of expressing what are, really, quite non-controversial and bipartisan policy aims. I am inclined to agree with the assessment of Tony Abbott, who said in an interview with the ABC that "what's happened is Mr Latham or his researcher has gone to the Clinton speech and lifted with one or two cosmetic alterations."

To add another element to the story, the Labor Party has responded with an accusation that Prime Minister Howard is guilty of a similar offence. The accusation is that Howard lifted a paragraph from Kenneth Pollack's book arguing for the necessity of attacking Saddam Hussein's Iraq, The Threatening Storm. Bob McMullen made this statement today:
He quoted word for word from this book as if they were his own thoughts and his own ideas and he has been exposed monumentally. We have a case here of monumental double standards. The prime minister by his own standards owes the Australian people an explanation of why, without comment, attribution or reference, he based his case for war on the words of an obscure American academic and now pretends they were his words.

I am not sure how Kenneth Pollack, a distinguished expert on Iraq, formerly of Clinton's National Security Council and now Director of Research at Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, feels about being called an "obscure ... academic".

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Laura Miller on Fascism, Kakutani on Woodward.
Laura Miller reviews Robert O. Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism in Salon. It could be just academic territoriality, but the review was superficial and seemed to want to use the book, which is a scholarly history and analysis of fascism, for scoring political points. It is not necessary to bring George W. Bush into a discussion of this book, yet Miller does. For example, when commenting on fascism’s habit of bringing together traditional conservative elites and more radical, revolutionary elements drawn from the nationalist right and the non-Marxist left, Miller feels it is necessary to point out to the reader that Bush “belongs to what Paxton would call America’s ‘traditional elite’, the part of society that grudgingly collaborated with fascist parties rather than founding them”. Certainly she is technically right (at least in the first half of the sentence), but what is the purpose of pointing this out, if not to make the semantic if not logical connection between Bush, fascists and collaborators. To top it all off, Miller ends her piece by asking the question “Is George W. Bush a fascist?” Her reasoned and deliberate answer is “Nah. America in the early 2000s doesn’t resemble Germany in the 1930s much at all, really.” Indeed. In fact, it resembles it so little that to simply pose the question is nothing more than to unfairly compare Bush with inter-war fascists (unfair in whose favour I will leave it to you to judge). As for Paxton’s thesis itself, the Australian publication has been pushed back to June by the publisher, so I will have to wait to review it til later.

An example of a good review is Michiko Kakutani's review of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. Woodward's is the latest in a series of revelatory works on the Bush administration's lead-up to and handling of the Iraq War. Each of these books, such as Suskind's telling of Paul O'Neil's story, or Richard Clarke's memoir, will one day prove to be invaluable sources for when the full is eventually told. I look forward to a cross between these books and the more scholarly policy analyses like Daalder and Lindsay's America Unbound or Gordon and Shapiro's Allies At War, when the narratives are assembled and the commentaries evaluated to show a complete history of the war. In the meantime, Woodward's Plan of Attack, like his previous book, Bush at War, serves as an intimitate look inside the corridors of power. As Kakutani writes,
The president agreed to be interviewed in depth by the author about how and why he decided to go to war against Iraq. Mr. Woodward, an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, says the president also made it clear that he wanted administration members to talk with him, and that he interviewed more than 75 key players. Thanks to this wide access, 'Plan of Attack' has a more choral-like narrative than many of the author's earlier books, which tended to spin scenes from the point of view of his most voluble sources. And while Mr. Woodward -- who has long specialized in forward-leaning narratives that are long on details and scoops, and short on analysis -- does not delve into the intellectual and political roots of the war cabinet, he does pause every now and then to put his subjects' actions and statements into perspective. The resulting volume is his most powerful and persuasive book in years.

Contemporary histories from journalists like Woodward, which will eventually be supplemented with the authorised biographies and memoirs that will surely appear when the administration is replaced (whether this November or four years from now), are significant for they provide insight into the decision makers and their processes before the events themselves have been played out in full, thus giving the reader a better portrait of the time than that which will be presnted when people have the luxury of time and hindsight.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Secular Centrist.
According to the Harvard Institute of Politics IOP Political Personality Test, I am a Secular Centrist. Secular centrists are apparently:
Strongly supportive of gay rights.
Believe strongly in the separation of church and state.
Less supportive of affirmative action than most college students.
Less likely to be concerned about the environment than most college students.
Less likely to believe in basic health insurance as a right than most college students.

Except for the last one, that is a pretty good description of my beliefs. Maybe it is a result of growing up in a welfare state, but I believe in state-provided health care, although I also believe in the state encouraging people to acquire private health insurance if they can afford it.

The press release describes Secular Centrists as being 29% of the college student population and the most independent (although least likely to vote). They split their support between Bush and Kerry. Traditional liberals are the biggest group (32%), and I would fall into that category except for their position on the "Bush Doctrine" of preemption (they are against it; I am supportive of it). But of course a questionaire that only asks eleven questions can only be a very general indicator.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Faces of War.
You must look at this image.

Friday, April 02, 2004

McEwan refused entry to U.S.
Booker Prize and National Book Award winner Ian McEwan (one of my favourite authors, although I prefer his short stories to his novels - except the ones that he structures as connected short stories) was refused entry into the U.S. at the U.S.-Canadian border. McEwan was entering the country without a visa to give a series of lectures. Apparently the immigration official thought that McEwan needs a visa to do so, and that McEwan was therefore not allowed to cross the border. "I am talking about my work, and who can talk about my work better than me? I am not coming to the US to practise as a novelist, I am coming to talk about being a novelist," McEwan said, from which I infer that the problem was that the border official interpreted lecturing as work and that an Englishman would need a visa allowing him to work in the U.S. This is not the first time a writer has had visa problems entering the U.S. Last year two Australian entertainment journalists were not allowed through customs after it came out that the were entering the U.S. to conduct interviews. It is obviously an ambiguous wording of the definition of work, especially when it comes to intellectual work such as public speaking and writing, that is causing the problem. Hopefully the misunderstanding will be cleared up quickly and McEwan will be allowed to continue on his way.

Wonkette interview.
Ana Marie Cox, the world-famous Wonkette, is the subject of a profile at MediaBistro. It is a very interesting insight into the young woman who churns out day after day of humour-laced political venom - her background, how she goes about getting tips for stories, etc. Worth a read.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Let slip the blogs of war.
Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit has an article in the current National Interest on "The Blogs of War". He talks about how the Iraq War is the first internet war, in much the same way that the Gulf War was the first CNN-war. Reynolds goes on to discuss the importance of bloggers around the world as an independent source of news and information, and how the blogsophere serves as a contemporaneous fact-checking service on the big media outlets. The article highlights yet another way in which blogs are changing the nature of journalism and creating a more-informed and criticallly aware public.