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Eliot Weinberger articles
June 18, 2003 2:07 AM   Subscribe

What is happening in America? This recent article written by Eliot Weinberger originally appeared in Vorworts the magazine German Social Democratic Party. I believe Mr. Weinberger is this same author of the eloquent September 11th anniversary essay entitled New York: One Year After
posted by thedailygrowl (36 comments total)

 
As much as I dislike Bush (and for the record, I dislike him intensely), this piece seems full of the same old assumptions which don't actually explain themselves.

If someone wants to unpick Bush's reputation, pointing the finger at 'evangelical christians', cabals of shadowy influences and absurdly incorrect phrases such as 'the ruling junta who tell Bush what to say and do', is not going to do it properly.

Sorry, Mr Weinberger, but saying "perhaps one can only recite the facts, and I have mentioned only some of them here" seems awfully fatuous when your article is a series of unproven, paranoid assumptions.
posted by blastboy at 3:04 AM on June 18, 2003


Bush unpopular with the German Left. Film at 11.
Metafilter: All Bush hate all the time.
posted by grahamwell at 3:59 AM on June 18, 2003


"People aren't "filtering" the best and most interesting of the web to bring here, they're grabbing the first thing that happens to be on the web and supports their position, then they bring it here for the sake of furthering their point of view or starting a discussion."

-mathowie
posted by MrBaliHai at 4:37 AM on June 18, 2003


George Bush is the first unelected President of the United States

False. Gerald Ford, for example, was never elected, but served as President.
posted by crunchburger at 4:59 AM on June 18, 2003


Well, that was quick. All I had to do was get to the end of the first 'graf and its "ruling junta' reference, and it was "Check, please!" I appreciate the author revealing his axe grinding so soon in the essay.

What I don't understand this the point. All idiotarians like the author are doing is preaching to the choir. There are many, many trenchant criticisms of this administration that might persuade the uncommitted, but they don't want to bother.
posted by mojohand at 5:13 AM on June 18, 2003


People aren't "filtering" the best and most interesting of the web to bring here, they're grabbing the first thing that happens to be on the web and supports their position.

especially thedailygrowl, whose posts are all newsfilter all the time and whose FPP's outnumber his comments nearly 2 to 1.
posted by quonsar at 5:43 AM on June 18, 2003


Um, Crunchburger? The ghost of President John Tyler confers upon you his old title of His Accidency. Just for attitude.

Well, I thought it was an interesting article that takes a broad survey of the political climate right now, and summed it up accurately. Not original, but not incorrect. Sent it to my dad, in fact. Thanks for the link, thedailygrowl.
posted by DenOfSizer at 6:13 AM on June 18, 2003


I chose Ford because he was appointed, not elected, to the Vice-Presidency (after Agnew resigned) He then assumed the Presidency on Nixon's resignation. Ford was as unelected as a President can be.

I'm not sure how you took me to mean Ford was the first unelected President. The point is, Bush wasn't, and a factual error like that does not inspire confidence in the autor's other claims.

FWIW, my rant about GW Bush as 'unelected' may be found here.
posted by crunchburger at 6:32 AM on June 18, 2003


Come on, guys, this is a practical joke! That article shows all the signs of having been generated by a computer program, pulling random phrases from New York Times editorials or something similar. Do you guys really think someone could write and think that poorly? I'm surprised you all fell for it! ;-)
posted by oissubke at 6:34 AM on June 18, 2003


Does no one understand the concept of the electoral college? Why is it so easily dismissed?
posted by girard31 at 6:48 AM on June 18, 2003


I believe Mr. Weinberger is this same author of the eloquent September 11th anniversary essay entitled New York: One Year After

I hadn't read that piece until now. I'm glad I did -- I needed a laugh.

If you drill into Bush's skull, what you mainly find is a pool of oil. It's difficult to understand Bush --especially when he speaks-- but it is somewhat easier if one realizes that he sees the whole world exclusively in terms of the production and consumption of oil.

So eloquent. I must congratulate Mr. Weinberger on his astute analysis. It's always amazing to find someone who simply "knows" how others see the world. Thanks for the clarity, Mr. Weinberger. Now let me try my hand: If you drill into Mr. Weinberger's skull what you mainly find is a disorganized mass of kooky konspiracy theories and knee-jerk ideology. Hey! That is easy!

Long before Sept. 11 he was discussing the overthrow of the Taliban so that Unocal could build a pipeline through Afghanistan from Kazakhstan to Pakistan. (The current U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan --the equivalent of ambassador-- was Unocal's chief consultant on the project.) The only country in the Western Hemisphere that has attracted his attention is Venezuela, where he tried to overthrow Hugo Chavez, because that's where the oil is. He has no interest in Palestine and Israel, because they have no oil.

It seems Mr. Weinberg's mind-reading abilities are only eclipsed by his ability to predict the future. In hindsight, his prescience is obvious: We now have the great Unocal TransAfghan pipeline, Venezuala remains high on Bush's agenda, and Bush has absolutely no interest in Israel and Palestine.

A mind-reader and a prophet! Miss Cleo, step aside.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:51 AM on June 18, 2003


So other than the phraseology of "junta" or the dispute about elected or appointed, is anything else the author said inaccurate?
posted by bas67 at 6:51 AM on June 18, 2003


It seems to be like this: Americans cannot face up to reality. Americans don't give a damn on how the rest of the world sees them, or how american policies affect the rest of the world. Dismiss as much as you like, 90% of what Weinberger says is true (published, written, exposed etc). Instead you attack the one who is posting, the publication the text appears in, the so called "leftism" of MF, anything, in fact, to avoid understanding more of your government's policies, or of the world in general.
O.k. then, keep thinking you have a democratically elected president, your government is a democratic one, yours is a force for good, and all this nonsense, while you have your freedoms stripped away, while you are fed rubbish about orange and red alerts, while you see your economy going down the drain, while you're amassing a frightening array of WsMD, while you feed with your actions the rage of every lunatic in the world, while you're duct-taping your doors and windows.
Ignorance is strength!
posted by acrobat at 7:19 AM on June 18, 2003


As acrobat points out, the goose-stepping in this thread is more of a positive signal than Weinbergers paranoia. From the perspective of the other side of the Atlantic, perhaps I can say this without the feds turning up at my home, or being harassed during my next innocuous flight.
posted by walrus at 7:26 AM on June 18, 2003


People get defensive when they get criticized.
posted by moonbiter at 7:30 AM on June 18, 2003


bas67: So other than the phraseology of "junta" or the dispute about elected or appointed, is anything else the author said inaccurate?

I really don't have the time, but just scanning through on first read, I found plenty:

religious organizations are being given funds to take over educational and welfare programs that have always been the domain of the state

I know of no instance in which a religious organization has been given funds to "take over" an educational or welfare program previously run by the state. If he's implying that religious groups have received funds to support their own educational or welfare programs while the state programs continue, that's not what he said.

he has surrounded himself with evangelical Christians, including his Attorney General, who attends a church where he talks in tongues.

Not necessarily provably false, but so what? Does that make those individuals ineligible? Talk about infringing on the separation of church and state...

where international treaties no longer apply to the United States

I know of no treaty the U.S. has signed that it later claimed "no longer applied."

and where-- for the first time in history-- this country reserves the right to non-defensive, "pre-emptive" strikes against any nation on earth, for whatever reason it declares

I've never heard "for whatever reason it declares." And if you take that out, the statement is otherwise false, since the U.S. has never claimed that it didn't have the right to take offensive action if necessary.

Non-citizen young Muslim men are now required to register and subject themselves to interrogation

Not true. There was no forced interrogation.

the Bush administration has been filling every level of the complex judicial system with ultra-right ideologues, especially those who have protected corporations from lawsuits by individuals or environmental groups, and those who are opposed to women's reproductive rights.

Not true, and it ignores the fact that all nominees have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Most of all, America doesn't feel like America any more. The climate of militarism and fear, similar to any totalitarian state, permeates everything.

Not true. "Similar to any totalitarian state"? "permeates everything"? Give me a fucking break.

Bush is the first American president in memory to swagger around in a military uniform

Not true. He wore a jump suit for a flight in a jet fighter, then changed into a suit and tie for his speech. Clinton was seen wearing similar attire during a visit to an aircraft carrier.

Every few weeks there is an announcement that another terrorist attack is imminent

Every few weeks? I think there have been three Code Oranges in the last year and a half. And it's never been implied (let alone "announced") that another terrorist attack is "imminent".

citizens are urged to take ludicrous measures, like sealing their windows, against biological and chemical attacks, and to report the suspicious activities of their neighbors.

How ludicrous -- report the suspicious activities of your neighbors! Everyone knows it's best to ignore suspicious activities! "Honey, what's Fred doing with 50 barrels of Nitrogen and a Ryder truck?" "Just ignore him, honey, and go to sleep."

The Pentagon institutes the "Total Information Awareness" program to collect data on the ordinary activities of ordinary citizens (credit card charges, library book withdrawals, university course enrollments) and when this is perceived as going too far, they change the name to "Terrorist Information Awareness" and continue to do the same things.

False. I'm not a fan of the program, but it's not collecting data on credit card charges or library book withdrawls of ordinary citizens.

Critics are warned to "watch what they say" and lists of "traitors" are posted on the internet.

By whom? Not the government (yeah, yeah, I know, Ari Fleisher once told Bill Maher that he should be careful -- got anything else?)

Finally, as has happened with Afghanistan, very little news of the chaos that has followed the Great Victory.

WTF? That's all that's been on the news for the last two months. New York Times: Complete coverage: After the war

There's more, but like I said, I really don't have the time. If I'm wrong on any of these points, I'll be happy to either respond with a citation, or offer a genuine mea culpa.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2003


Still, the author paints a picture of 'life in America' that is more than slightly hysterical. At least in middle America, there is hardly a 'climate of militarism and fear, similar to any totalitarian state, permeate[ing] everything.'

Sure, as a liberal libertarian atheist I have to deal with the occasional flag-wrapped ultra-patriotic / ultra-religious asshat, but it's hardly as if the brown shirts are coming to get me. Most people are still reasonable in their faith, their politics, and in the eye-rolling way they regard such idiocies as color-coded threat levels.

Sure, we have a lot of ignorant and stupid citizens, but let's face it: by definition 50% of any population is of below-average intelligence. All I can say to those on the east side of the Atlantic: America is not lost yet, folks. There is a significant number of people in this country that will not let it come to that.
posted by moonbiter at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2003


pardonyou?: I do have two quibbles...

I know of no treaty the U.S. has signed that it later claimed "no longer applied."
I _think_ (and I may have this wrong) that this is exactly what happened with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, because of said treaty's ban on missile defense programs.

False. I'm not a fan of the program, but it's not collecting data on credit card charges or library book withdrawls of ordinary citizens.
Once again, I don't know the inner working of TIA, but as a general data-extraction principle, it's a safe bet that they ARE collecting data on ordinary citizens... after all, if the data is being used to spot terrorists, the determination of just who is a terrorist wouldn't be made until after the data had been gathered.
posted by COBRA! at 7:59 AM on June 18, 2003


I _think_ (and I may have this wrong) that this is exactly what happened with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, because of said treaty's ban on missile defense programs.

The ABM treaty specifically provided that either side could withdraw on six months' notice, and that's what the U.S. did in December 2001. In doing so, the U.S. was complying with the treaty, not saying "it no longer applies to the U.S." See here. Depending on your interpretation, Weinberg was at best misleading, and at worse patently wrong.

Once again, I don't know the inner working of TIA, but as a general data-extraction principle, it's a safe bet that they ARE collecting data on ordinary citizens...

Maybe data, but not credit card transactions or library withdrawls. I can't even imagine the (rightful) furor that would occur if that were the case -- think of how much has been said about the Patriot Act's provisions relating to libraries, which require some reasonable suspicion and oversight. If I'm wrong, someone let me know.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:11 AM on June 18, 2003


I think it has always been fashionable to express some dislike of Americans, for as long as I've been around. The roots of it go back to at least WW1, in the same way that Americans seem to have disliked the French since WW2.

But, you know, whenever I got to meet real live Americans, they always seemed such nice folks, even overly nice. So much so that Americans as individuals seemed particularly likeable, but the idea of America as a nation was still a bit of a worry.

Everybody was genuinely horrified by September 11. Of course they were...

Then there was the phase where Americans seemed to suddenly realise that a lot of people in the rest of the world didn't like them that much.

And in a few short months, really, the sort of vague resentment turned into full-blown fear and genuine concern.

I wonder if this recent behaviour is a response to the sudden awareness that not everybody agrees with the way that American governments have treated the rest of the world.

As an outsider, I look at what seems to be happening in the US right now, and I'm scared and worried. That people are writing about their concerns seems a natural thing to do.

But whatever your opinions or political leanings, it's pretty clear that current US foreign policies aren't winning the US any friends, and the friends it has are losing faith pretty rapidly.
posted by chrisgregory at 8:15 AM on June 18, 2003


Point taken on the ABM. Good call.

But with TIA... it's a data-mining operation. So the data being gathered would be credit card transactions, library withdrawals, and what have you. Patterns are looked for within all of this information. The wide-net data-mining aspect is what differentiates TIA from a more traditional intelligence/law enforcement program.
posted by COBRA! at 8:16 AM on June 18, 2003


If he's implying that religious groups have received funds to support their own educational or welfare programs while the state programs continue, that's not what he said.

Or while state programs are cut.

I know of no treaty the U.S. has signed that it later claimed "no longer applied."

Look at that land under your feet. Got it?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:49 AM on June 18, 2003


Look at that land under your feet. Got it?

Fine. But you know and I know that has nothing to do with this article. Weinberg is criticizing the America of today, he's not complaining that in the eighteenth century America reneged on its agreements with the native people.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:03 AM on June 18, 2003


Fine. But you know and I know that has nothing to do with this article. Weinberg is criticizing the America of today, he's not complaining that in the eighteenth century America reneged on its agreements with the native people.

Fine, but you know and I know that a group of people that fails to ackowledge or take collective responsibilities for its darkest moments as well as its triumphs can hardly be trusted when questions of new dark moments arise.

The US saying "we won't violate treaties, we aren't out to steal land" is like Papua New Guinean chief saying "oh, I ain't gonna eat ya." It is not necessarilly untrue, but it is creepy and silly to hear.

I get the feeling that people in Germany and Italy understand that they have blemishes on their shared histories that they need to acknowledge and learn from. That some people [not you, pardonyou?] froth at the mouth when they hear the word "genocide" in reference to our systematic killing and ethnic cleansing of Indians is proof that we have reached no such point.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:37 AM on June 18, 2003


pardon who?: The significance, in my mind, of the TIA is the suspension of the requiement for probable cause.
Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act extends the capabilities of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by enabling anyone within the FBI down to the rank of Assistant Special Agent in Charge to request a court order for tangible items sought for an investigation "to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

Further, the American Library Association has been fighting this un-American surveillance and advising libraries not to maintain records of withdrawals as a means of preventing such records being seized.

While I do believe in our common defense against terrorism, just shouting "terrorist" should not be sufficient grounds for suspension of traditional liberties. The USA PATRIOT Act gives the FBI and the CIA greater rights to wiretap phones, monitor e-mail, survey medical, financial and student records, and break into homes and offices without prior notification. It creates a new crime of domestic terrorism that is so broadly defined that it may be applied to citizens acting legally to express their dissent.
posted by ahimsakid at 9:38 AM on June 18, 2003


First of all, TIA is not the Patriot Act. Second, where did you get the idea that I'm a fan of the Patriot Act? I think there are very real problems with it, and it should be subject to criticism and scrutiny.

What I oppose are screeds that misstate and/or overstate. That makes me question the author's motives. And I also happen to agree with Strunk & White who said:
Do not overstate. When you overstate, the reader will instantly be on guard, and everything that preceded your overstatement, as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in his mind because he has lost confidence in your judgment or your poise. Overstatement is one of the common faults. A single overstatement, wherever or however it occurs, diminishes the whole, and a single carefree superlative has the power to destroy, for the reader, the object of the writer's enthusiasm.
(Of course, if I had my way that paragraph would appear at the top of the MeFi front page).
posted by pardonyou? at 9:48 AM on June 18, 2003


Pardon: You're right. It is what it is. I was guilty of extending the scope of my objections.
And you're also right that, since it's in development the TIA is not actually collecting data on us yet (they say).
So we can trust them to protect our liberties while they have access to the data flows, right? In their words:

TIA’s research and testing activities are only using data and information that is either (a) foreign intelligence and counter intelligence information legally obtained and usable by the Federal Government under existing law, or (b) wholly synthetic (artificial) data that has been generated, for research purposes only, to resemble and model real-world patterns of behavior.

The Department of Defense, which is responsible for DARPA, has expressed its full commitment to planning, executing, and overseeing the TIA program in a manner that protects privacy and civil liberties. Safeguarding the privacy and the civil liberties of Americans is a bedrock principle. DoD intends to make it a central element in the Department of Defense’s management and oversight of the TIA program.

The Department of Defense fully complies with the laws and regulations governing intelligence activities and all other laws that protect the privacy and constitutional rights of U.S. persons.


A recent illustration of the danger, according to the ACLU report, is the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, which seeks to sift through a vast array of databases full of personal information in the hunt for terrorism. “Even if TIA never materializes in its current form,” Steinhardt said, “what this report shows is that the underlying trends are much bigger than any one program or any one controversial figure like John Poindexter.”
posted by ahimsakid at 10:09 AM on June 18, 2003


All idiotarians like the author

Sorry, did you actually just use the non-word "idiotarian" without irony?
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:31 AM on June 18, 2003


not to derail ...

Does no one understand the concept of the electoral college? Why is it so easily dismissed?

b/c it's inherently undemocratic (yes, i know the USA is not a democracy, but it damn well should be by now) and was intentionally designed that way. it's an embarrassment.

almost every modern democracy has adopted a "one person, one vote" principle. i can't think of any that hasn't, aside from the USA.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:24 AM on June 18, 2003


My initial reaction to this essay was like many of the commenters quite negative due to the rhetorical excesses. But then, especially after readon pardonyou?'s detailed rebuttal (which was quite logical and reaonable), I started having a different reaction.

Lately, numerous observers have seen a common pattern in statements from Bush, Rumsfeld, and others where the truth is treated as a minor annoyance and the speaker simply says what he desires to portray as the truth assuming it will be accepted by the audience as such. In this essay, the author is (to my eyes at least) doing much the same thing but from the other end of the political spectrum.

And I'm not sure that this is a bad thing. After all, the neocons' rhetorical tactics are working, judging by (American) opinion polls, and if we who believe these guys are insanely dangerous don't start pushing back, Bush will get a second term in a cakewalk.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:32 AM on June 18, 2003


After all, the neocons' rhetorical tactics are working, judging by (American) opinion polls, and if we who believe these guys are insanely dangerous don't start pushing back, Bush will get a second term in a cakewalk.

But I don't fear the impact of the neocons because of ideology or belief. My beef is totally logical: their "total war" could quite literally destroy the world. They have already created material loss in quality of life for Americans. We shouldn't have to base our case on platitude. It is all there in black and white.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:51 AM on June 18, 2003


i'm going "Pax Americana" and launching a pre-emptive strike on myself b4 somebody else does.

Math Against Tyranny, or a (general) mathematical analysis of why the electoral college is a good thing.

i understand the argument, but i still think there's a better, perhaps proportional voting system that would equalize rural and urban votes and also prevent a "tyranny of the majority." oh, and the baseball analogy is pure crap.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:55 AM on June 18, 2003


THE REAL AXIS OF EVIL
posted by specialk420 at 12:18 PM on June 18, 2003


Do not overstate. When you overstate, the reader will instantly be on guard, and everything that preceded your overstatement, as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in his mind because he has lost confidence in your judgment or your poise.

Now apply that to anything ever uttered by a politician.
posted by archimago at 12:29 PM on June 18, 2003


I get the feeling that people in Germany and Italy understand that they have blemishes on their shared histories that they need to acknowledge and learn from. That some people ... froth at the mouth when they hear the word "genocide" in reference to our systematic killing and ethnic cleansing of Indians is proof that we have reached no such point.

You know, man, that's a good call, and something I've been thinking about for a while.

It's as if the far right of Ann Coulter and her ilk refuse to believe that God has ever been anything but on America's side. I live in a community where if you were to suggest publicly that the U.S. has, over the course of its history, occasionally acted in a manner that might have displeased the Almightly, the fire and brimstone poured upon your head would melt it.

It really is as if some people come from the land of America=all good, always, always has been.

This piece made my knee jerk uncontrollably, but I do think Americans would do well to realize that they are distrusted by much of the rest of the world, and not all of the reasons for this are complete bullshit.
posted by kgasmart at 1:48 PM on June 18, 2003


The Math Against Tyrrany article which mrgrimm links to, and the analysis it cites, relies on what I feel is a false premise. The analysis correctly concludes that an EC-type system results in a greater average voting power (over all voters) than a popular vote, where one person's voting power is roughly defined as the likelihood that the result of the election will depend on that one person's vote.

The math is sound, but I reject the premise that a greater average voting power is necessarily better than a lesser average voting power. The problem is, the greater average voting power achieved by the EC is at the expense of every voter having equal voting power, which is the case in a popular vote. With the EC, some voters have a greater voting power than others, and it is this which I find an unacceptable price for the greater average voting power.

To see the fallacy that a greater average voting power is a good thing, we need only consider what I call a "lottery-style" election. Each voter writes the candidate he is voting for on a slip of paper, and all the slips are collected in some huge basket. One slip of paper is randomly selected, and the person whose name is written on that slip wins the election.

If you do the math, it turns out that this leads to an average voting power which is much greater than even the electoral college. Of course, the price is that the voting powers of various voters is as unequal as it could possibly be. If you accept that premise that a greater average voting power gives a "better" election result, then you logically ought to support a lottery-style election. Yet I haven't seen anyone seriously advocating this.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:53 PM on June 19, 2003


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