On McClellan’s Memoir

Over on my other blog, I’ve got a long, long post up about former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s new book.  In it, I describe McClellan as “a guy who will flack for whichever cheese is paying his fee.”  If you want to know what the hell that means, please, by all means, read it!


The Secret to Getting a Movie Deal

Yacht at CannesThe Daily Mail’s Liz Jones learns the secret to financing your movie, while trying to keep from getting seasick on a Cannes yacht party:

And while beautiful women all want to be in the movies, rich men all want to make them. I ask my producer friend whether a party is quite the right place, being so noisy, to pitch an idea to a mega-rich investor. He looks at me as if I’m mad. ‘We don’t pitch at the parties. We get them to trust us.’

And how do you do that? ‘We take drugs together.’ And when you do finally get to pitch, what.. . well, floats their yacht?

‘If you want your movie to get made, you have to pitch an idea that is either about the environment or about pornography. Basically, you have to make an investor feel either guilty or horny.’

And there’s always money for a movie about sin and redemption:

The most poignant moment, though, and one that seems to sum up what Cannes is all about, is when I sit in a booth with Mike Tyson. He has big, soft hands and is wearing an immaculate grey suit with an ironed white hanky in his top pocket.

Mike TysonHe is the subject of a documentary by James Toback, the film that receives the biggest standing ovation all week. I ask him to sum up what it’s about, and he says: ‘It’s about how I was really sweet and nice when I started out, then became a monster and lost all my money.’

And what are you like now? ‘Oh, I’m sweet again.’

As I leave his booth, I bump into two predatory blondes. ‘No black man has ever turned me down,’ says one, a glint in her eye. ‘He’s a hit, right? His film’s a hit?’

What’s Wrong With Appeasement? You Really Want To Know?

Chamberlain and HitlerMaybe some people have to have the tragic error of appeasement explained to them. Like Bruce Ramsey, a writer for the Seattle Times. Here is something he actually wrote Friday. I’ve left nothing out, contrary to usual blog practice. I don’t want anyone to think he mitigated his idiocy with lines I left out.

Democrats are rebuking President Bush for saying in his speech to the Knesset, here, that to “negotiate with terrorists and radicals” is “appeasement.” The Democrats took it as a slap at Barack Obama. What bothers me is the continual reference to Hitler and his National Socialists, particularly the British and French accommodation at the Munich Conference of 1938.

The narrative we’re given about Munich is entirely in hindsight. We know what kind of man Hitler was, and that he started World War II in Europe. But in 1938 people knew a lot less. What Hitler was demanding at Munich was not unreasonable as a national claim (though he was making it in a last-minute, unreasonable way.) Germany’s claim was that the areas of Europe that spoke German and thought of themselves as German be under German authority. In September 1938 the principal remaining area was the Sudetenland.

So the British and French let him have it. Their thought was: “Now you have your Greater Germany.” They didn’t want a war. They were not superpowers like the United States is now. They remembered the 1914-1918 war and how they almost lost it.

In a few months, in early 1939, Hitler ordered the invasion of what is now the Czech Republic—that is, territory that was not German. Then it was obvious that a deal with him was worthless–and the British and French did not appease Hitler any more. Thus the lesson of Munich: don’t appease Hitlers.

But who else is a Hitler? If you paste that label on somebody it means they are cast out. You can’t talk to them any more. And it has gotten pasted on quite a few national leaders over the years: Milosevic, Hussein, Ahmadinejad, et. al. In particular, to apply that label to the elected leaders of the Palestinians is to say that you aren’t going to listen to their claims to a homeland. I think they do have a claim. So do the Israelis. In order to get anywhere, each side has to listen to the other. To continually bring up Hitler, the Nazis, the Munich Conference and “appeasement,” is to try to prolong the stalemate.

I trust that Barack Obama does not possess the same historical ignorance.

Hitler telegraphed exactly what he intended to do in his book, Mein Kampf, written years before 1938. Also by then he had violated the Versailles treaty and begun rearming.

There was no evidence that Sudetenland wanted to be part of Hitler’s empire. Hitler had destroyed German democracy. Britain and France presumably understood the difference between democracy and dictatorship, since both countries operated under a democracy.

There was already a flood of Jewish refugees. News of Hitler’s atrocities, albeit downplayed in the British and French press in order to massage public opinion, was still known to the U.K. and French leadership. Winston Churchill and his friends in British intelligence made sure of that. His parliamentary speeches exposed Hitler repeatedly. Prime Minister Chamberlain’s naivete about Hitler and his aims was willful. He had plenty of facts at hand to demonstrate to him that Hitler did not deserve the trust he was vesting in him.

Ramsey writes as if he thinks Hitler is unique in history, and that attempts to compare contemporary enemies to Hitler is…unfriendly? I can’t tell what he means by this: “If you paste that label on somebody it means they are cast out. You can’t talk to them any more.” I don’t think the comparison of “Milosevic, Hussein, Ahmadinejad” to Hitler is inapt, given what they did and what, in Ahmadinejad’s case, he’s openly threatened to do.

I realize the cries of “Munich!” have begun to bore some people. Bore, or agitate. It struck me as strange that Obama and other leading Democrats would rush to identify themselves as the targets of Bush’s remarks to the Knesset. Maybe Bush was trying to be crafty — which is always cute to watch, like watching a toddler try to kick a ball — but the smarter Democratic play probably would have been to say, “What he said.” Because appeasement is still something to be avoided, if you define appeasement correctly as:

  • Letting your enemy know you will do anything to avoid war.
  • Letting your enemy take this knowledge and use it to their advantage.
  • Making excuses for enemy actions and policies that violate law and conscience.
  • Giving your enemy concessions based on a flimsy rationale that ignores indisputable facts.
  • Convincing yourself that your concessions are trivial — a cheap way to avoid war.
  • Using PR spin to isolate domestic opponents to your appeasement policy as “warmongers.”
  • Continuing to make excuses for the enemy until you have no choice but to fight back.

That last point is the ultimate folly of appeasement. It is a policy pursued by peacemakers that leads inevitably to war. True, it postpones war, which is sometimes politically desirable to the appeaser, who might only be thinking of the short run, i.e. the next election. But it also gives your enemy time to get stronger, a process accelerated by the act of appeasement, which convinces some fence-sitters that the future belongs to the enemy and not to you.

No one calls him or herself an appeaser. It’s not a philosophy. It’s a verdict, based on objective facts. Saying “I’m not an appeaser” does not prevent you from acting like one. In the moment, it is often easier for a politician to be an appeaser than not to be one. It takes a lot of leadership strength to overcome appeasement’s gravitational pull. The truly chilling thing about Chamberlain’s appeasement was the wild public enthusiasm it generated among French and British citizens. Within two years, members of these cheering crowds would be slaughtered by Hitler’s forces.

The big question Obama will have to deal with when he takes office is whether to fulfill his promise of rapid withdrawal from Iraq, at risk of making it appear to the radical Islamic world that by doing so, he’s appeasing them. Perhaps there is a way to do it and preserve our strength in the region. But if there isn’t, he’ll have to show a lot of strength, the strength to look his most fervent supporters in the eyes and tell them he’s changed his mind. This decision will define his presidency, and it will come at him early.

Brakes on the Pendulum?

We seem to be coming out of the conservative era in American politics that was first glimpsed with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and zenithed with the elections of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.  Since George McGovern’s overwhelming defeat in 1972, Democratic candidates for president have all acknowledged the tide was against them.  Mondale and Dukakis claimed they refused to apologize for being liberals, while apologizing.  Carter and Clinton insisted they weren’t liberals at all, and Clinton really didn’t govern like one, achieving all his successes through triangulating the activist wings of both parties. The continued strength of the conservative current was demonstrated in 2000 and 2004 when a deeply flawed candidate, George W. Bush, managed to put his two sharper, smarter opponents on the defensive, forcing them into mistake after mistake. 

This election season feels different.  I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but I think the country is readier for a sharp left turn than at any time since the last liberal era began in 1932.  In 2008, I think you could get a lot of people to agree there are “malefactors of great wealth” to use FDR’s great phrase.  The economic issues that cut the deepest are aimed directly at industries and individuals who seem to have taken advantage of this country to accumulate their wealth, to the detriment of middle class people. The insurance companies.  Big pharma.  The oil companies.  Mortgage brokerages. Hedge fund managers. The presidents of financial institutions who make disasterous investments then drift away, carrying with both arms duffel bags full of severance money. 

The picture of unfettered capitalism painted by the most prominent capitalists on the business scene is not a pretty one.  It was said the magic of the market would benefit all of us.  Lately, it hasn’t, so the conservative warnings against the damage high taxes do to the economy ring hollow.  Politically, it would seem to be a perfect time for a political movement attacking capitalism — in the American formulation, the “excesses” of capitalism.  We don’t really have an intellectually coherent Left in this country in the 19th-century European sense.  But we do have a political location where capitalism’s disappointed, disaffected and disgusted can unite — the Democratic Party.  

And, they are about to nominate the most unapolegetically liberal candidate since McGovern in Barack Obama.  In doing so, they are specifically rejecting a continuation of the successful Clinton legacy.  Today’s Democrats largely no longer find Clinton’s reign to be such a success. Oh, it’s tied in with his and her ethical problems, but even his pure policy plays were either more wins for conservatism (welfare reform, NAFTA), symbolic changes in a liberal direction (the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take time off to care for a sick child — at their own expense), or big flops (do I need to remind anyone about health care?).

If you believe Obama, his administration will bring back liberalism in a big way.

Do you believe him?  Check that: I’m not doubting his sincerity.  I think he wants an activist government to create greater security for middle-class voters.  My question is: If he wins, will he be able to pull it off?  Will he take advantage of Democratic majorities in both houses (something Clinton had, but squandered after just two years) and get health care reform passed?  Will he really go after the oil companies and mortgage companies?

Or is that going to be impossible?

This is what I’m dying to find out. Have the pitiless realities of the global economy rendered liberalism obsolete?  Can Milton Friedman be repealed?

I sense the American voters are anxious to find out.  They’d like to believe — “yes we can” — that we can use the tools of government to construct a fairer, more secure, more democratic and more sustainable economy than the one we have now.  Will that belief survive the first two years of an Obama Administration?

If so, Obama could be the next FDR.  But does that seem realistic to you?

P.S. I realize McCain is still close in the polls and might win.  He’s got the national security issue about as locked up as a candidate can, and his domestic-policy views are closer to liberalism than any Republican has tried for decades.  He’s not to be written off by any means.  If this election is about homeland security and national defense, he wins.  

Or: He wins if the American public decides it isn’t ready to revive liberalism.

Or: He wins if the American public concludes Obama doesn’t have enough experience to back up his promises.  

The Brutal Reality of “Getting Tough” on Illegal Immigrants

So, you say you want to get the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants out of the country.  All of them. They’re all lawbreakers and they shouldn’t be here.

How are you going to do that if an illegal doesn’t want to leave?  It’s not the same thing as arresting a domestic criminal and imprisoning them.  We have an infrastructure to facilitate that.  Deporting 11 million people is another thing.  How do you do this?  Literally drag them onto a plane accompanied by a bunch of federal officers, and shoot them full of powerful drugs so they’ll be compliant?

Turns out, that’s what we’ve been doing for years, according to the Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein and Dana Priest:

An analysis by The Post of the known sedations during fiscal 2007, ending last October, found that 67 people who got medical escorts had no documented psychiatric reason. Of the 67, psychiatric drugs were given to 53, 48 of whom had no documented history of violence, though some had managed to thwart an earlier attempt to deport them. These figures do not include two detainees who immigration officials said were given sedatives for behavioral rather than psychiatric reasons before being deported on group charter flights, which are often used to return people to Mexico and Central America.

Even some people who had been violent in the past proved peaceful the day they were sent home. “Dt calm at this time,” says the first entry, using shorthand for “detainee,” in the log for the January 2007 deportation of Yousif Nageib to his native Sudan. In requesting drugs for his deportation, an immigration officer had noted that Nageib, 40, had once fled to Canada to avoid an assault charge and had helped instigate a detainee uprising while in custody. But on the morning of his departure, the log says, he “is handcuffed and states he will do what we say.” Still, he was injected in his right buttock with a three-drug cocktail.

In one printout of Nageib’s medical log, next to the entry saying he was calm, is a handwritten asterisk. It was put there by Timothy T. Shack, then medical director of the immigration health division, as he reviewed last year’s sedation cases. Next to the asterisk, in his neat, looping handwriting, Shack placed a single word: “Problem.”

When he landed in Lagos, Nigeria, Afolabi Ade was unable to talk.

“Every time I tried to force myself to speak, I couldn’t, because my tongue was . . . twisted. . . . I thought I was going to swallow it,” Ade, 33, recalled in an interview. “I was nauseous. I was dizzy.”

As he was being flown back to Africa, his American wife alerted his parents there that he was on his way. His father was waiting at the Lagos airport. It was the first time in three years that they had seen one another. Shocked by how woozy the young man was, his father decided not to take him home and frighten the rest of the family. Instead, he checked his son into a hotel.

Ade was in the hotel for four days before the effects of the drugs began to abate.

Ade had no history of mental illness warranting the use of these drugs, nor of violence.  He was in the US as a student.  According to the post, he pleaded guilty to a felony after he was arrested in a car driven by his cousins where fraudulent checks were found.  At the hotel in Lagos, a family doctor wanted to treat him for his grogginess.  But US officials didn’t see fit to leave information about which drugs they had put in his system.

Ade’s pulse was dangerously low, and when he tried to walk around the hotel room, “he leaned on the wall,” (the doctor) said. “He was talking, but a slurred kind of speech.”

According to the Post’s research, the injection probably contained Haldol, which is used for schizophrenics when they are in acute psychotic states.  Of course, there was another notable use for Haldol.  It was the drug adminstered by the Soviet Union to the dissidents it housed in psychiatric prisons.

Read it all, because there’s much more, including this bit of black humor:  The federal government’s pitch to recruit the required medical escorts to keep the injections coming.

To recruit medical escorts, the government has sought to glamorize this work. “Do you ever dream of escaping to exotic, exciting locations?” said an item in an agency newsletter. “Want to get away from the office but are strapped for cash? Make your dreams come true by signing up as a Medical Escort for DIHS!”

That brings up the issue of cost.  We’re paying for ICE personnel and a medical escort to fly each one of the deportees back to their home country.  Which, for the violent or truly insane might be warranted.  But not for all 11 million, most of them working or enrolled in school.

Goldstein and Priest of done us a big favor, putting the flesh on the easy arguments of the immigration hardliners.  There are economic arguments on both sides, and reasonable people can come down on the side that says illegals undermine the wage structure.   What this story demonstrates is that the illegal immigration issue is two distinct problems, and we haven’t got a clue on what to do about the biggest part of it: What to do about the people here now; how to address them and keep our souls.

Oklahoma City Memorial — Rainy

Here’s the rainy version of the monument shown in the post below:

OK City Memorial on a rainy day

I took this photo on my way to a reception that I was surprised to see anyone attended, seeing as how a tornado had (possibly) just struck Oklahoma. Just an hour or two earlier, sirens were blaring, and I saw this kind of stuff on my hotel TV:

The No Big Deal Tornado

They shrug these things off in Oklahoma City, but first they have to go into full-scale panic mode on the TV news. That curled appendage above Britton — what the meteorologist called a “hook echo” — was the alleged tornado, one of two. But my colleagues at this conference never saw this, and blithely got on a bus heading to the Memorial Museum.

I waited til the tornado watch was over, and then took off by foot, carrying a borrowed umbrella. Took me so long to get there, I missed the reception. My friends were surprised when I told them about the tornado, although they admitted hearing a couple of sirens.

I’ll admit it: I’m more afraid of tornados than earthquakes. That’s probably why I live here and not there. I was in a tornado once, when I lived in Barrington, Illinois. Deep in my psyche, I have post-tornado traumatic stress syndrome. I was too young to remember anything about it, but my mother says she took me and my brother, then a baby, into the cellar to wait it out. The cellar was flooded. I stood in the water next to my mother while she held the baby. There was a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, flickering on and off. My mom thought if she could just reach the lightbulb and tighten it, it would stay on.

But she couldn’t quite reach it, and that’s why all three of us are alive today. Happy Mother’s Day!