June 7th, 2004

Good Timing?

Here's the latest missive being sent out to Bush campaign volunteers:
Dear Charlie,

America has lost one of its greatest leaders.  President Reagan's optimism and vision restored America's spirit and helped to spread freedom and democracy.

On behalf of President Bush's campaign I would like to offer our sincerest condolences to Nancy Reagan and the Reagan family. Our nation mourns with you.

In this time of mourning, I encourage you to go to www.GeorgeWBush.com to read some of President Reagan's greatest speeches.   

Sincerely,

Marc Racicot
Chairman,
Bush-Cheney '04
It's almost as handy as pulling Bin Laden out of wherever he's hiding. And Bush's people aren't afraid to say so, either:
"Even in his death, Ronald Reagan's timing is incredible," said one leading GOP insider, who -- like many interviewed for this story -- spoke on condition of anonymity. "He offers the chance for Bush to resurrect himself. ''
At least no one can accuse me of fostering a left-wing conspiracy theory.

As far as those "greatest speeches" go, does it matter to anyone that Reagan performed them -- ably, to be sure -- but did not write them?

Why not stream the performances instead of giving Peggy Noonan and the rest of the speechwriters short shrift?
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Torture Away

My former fellow elected officer of UC Berkeley's graduate student government, Jess Bravin, has this story on the Pentagon's plans for torture in today's Wall Street Journal. I learned a ton about politics, particularly in California, from Jess who was always ready with the right mixture of encouraging and ironic words. It's nice to know that people like him are writing for the Journal.
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The Call of the Cascades

Here's a story about the dangers of climbing Mt. Ranier. Kim and I didn't make it very far past the first big snowfield when we hiked it in September, 1994. But even from our pumice-covered perch above it, fortifying ourself for the trip back, we felt distinctly uneasy. The explosive percussion of falling ice in the distance didn't help matters. Of course, September is one of the most dangerous times to climb the mountain, since the mountain is at its most thawed.

Anytime I read about cascade volcanos, I think about my good friend Joel's harrowing piece centered on the Mt. Hood disaster of May, 1986, which only his imperfections as a math student spared him from suffering. The piece is reprised in the first chapter of his book Jerusalem Calling too, one I can self-interestedly recommend with great enthusiasm, since I edited it.

Back when we did the Seattle reading for the first Bad Subjects book in January, 1998 -- within days of the prenatal origins of Skylar, come to think of it -- Joel and I spent the night with guitar player/composer Ross Thompson's brother Giles and his family. Giles lost both his legs below the knee in the disaster. But he lived. Hearing his recollection of the disaster while replaying Joel's piece in my mind was one of the most intense experiences of my life and one which made Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air, which Kim read to me on a camping trip, way more immediate than it otherwise would have been.

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A Little M & E

While distracting myself during the task of selecting a T-shirt to wear today, I pulled a collection of political writings by Marx and Engels off the shelf and found their review essay on world events of 1850. Here's what they have to say about slavery in the United States:
The golden age and the iron age are long past; it was reserved for the nineteenth century, with its intelligence, world markets, and colossal productive resources, to usher in the cotton age. At the same time, the English bourgeoisie has felt more forcefully than ever the power which the United States exercises over it, as a result of its hitherto unbroken monopoly of cotton production. It has immediately applied itself to the task of breaking this monopoly. Not only in the East Indies, but also Natal, the northern region of Australia and all parts of the world where climate and conditions allow cotton to be grown, it is to be encouraged in every way. At the same time, that section of the English bourgeoisie kindly disposed towards the Negro has made the following discovery: 'That the prosperity of Manchester is dependent on the treatment of slaves in Texas, Alabama and Louisiana is as curious as it is alarming.' (Economist, 21 September 1850) That the decisive branch of English industry is based upon the existence of slavery in the southern states of the American union, that a Negro revolt in these areas could ruin the whole system of production as it exists today is, of course, an extremely depressing fact for the people who spent 20 million Pounds a few years ago on Negro emancipation in their own colonies. However, this fact leads to the only realistic solution of the slave question, which has recently been the cause of such long and violent debate in the American Congress. American cotton production is based on slavery. As soon as the industry reaches a point where it cannot tolerate the United States' cotton monopoly any longer, cotton will be successfully mass-produced in other countries, and it is hardly possible to achieve this anywhere today except with free workers. But as soon as the free labour of other countries can deliver sufficient supplies of cotton to industry more cheaply than the slave labour of the United States, then American slavery will be broken together with the American cotton monopoly and the slaves will be emancipated, because they will have become useless as slaves. Wage labour will be abolished in Europe in just the same way, as soon as it becomes not only unnecessary for production, but in fact a hindrance to it.
When reading the neocons who note that all of Marx's predictions were wrong, it's important to distinguish between his and Engels's more exhortative writings and the concreteness of pieces like the one quoted above. Our own highly-paid economic analysts are no different, really.

Having said that, though, a consistent weakness of Marx and Engels's thinking does manifest itself in this passage. They struggle to account for political action that runs counter to short-term economic reason, such as the drive to abolish slavery in both the British Empire and the United States. While their analysis would surely have proven right had economic "nature" taken its course, the Civil War accelerated matters considerably.

We should also pay attention to the ambiguity of the phrase "free workers." While wage labour may have triumphed over outright slavery in many cases, the wages of those "free workers" are often so low that they don't even provide the basic requirements of food and shelter. The global economy continues to derive its energy from the differential between haves and have-nots.

Still, I find this passage quite useful in the context of current debates about sweatshop labor and the like.
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