Saturday, July 31, 2004

Faits divers -- Coffee's pharmaceutical bennies

Y'all know that list of addictive substances that humankind has enjoyed for at least centuries but were on 20th Century Man's veboten list? Well another myth has hit the dust. The Chicago Tribune alerts us to the recent news that "evidence is growing on the health benefits of a cup of joe."

Though the virtues of coffee drinking may have been debated in the past, now there appear to be new reasons to rejoice over java. More and more studies have linked coffee consumption to a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, gallstones, colon cancer and potentially heart disease.

"Coffee has much more in it than caffeine," said Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Vanderbilt University's Institute for Coffee Studies, which conducts medical research on coffee and is funded by a grant from a consortium of coffee-producing countries. "It's a very complex beverage that contains hundreds of compounds, including many with antioxidant effects."

Though the tea industry has been touting its antioxidants, turns out coffee may contain even more--specifically polyphenols. One of the most potent antioxidants in coffee is called chlorogenic acid, which is partially responsible for the coffee flavor. Some reports estimate that more than 850 compounds are packed inside the humble bean.

Martin said that the roasting process appears to change the structure of the compounds in coffee--boosting the potential disease-fighting benefits. Martin, who is also a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Vanderbilt, is looking at the potential use of coffee compounds to treat addiction and depression. Past studies indicate that coffee may help lift moods, reduce anxiety and depression, and even reduce the risk of suicide.
[...]
Some of the strongest and latest research may be the connection between coffee drinking and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, a growing health epidemic that is closely linked to the rising rates of obesity.

In Finland, where coffee consumption is higher than anywhere else in the world, researchers found that coffee appeared to have a protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes. The more cups of coffee consumed, the greater the protection.

Published in the March 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study examined the coffee-drinking habits of 6,974 Finnish men and 7,655 women. After a 12-year follow-up, women drinking three to four cups of coffee a day experienced a 29 percent reduced risk of diabetes, while risk dropped by 79 percent for women who drank 10 or more cups a day.

For men in the study, drinking three to four cups of coffee a day was associated with a 27 percent lower risk for diabetes. Those men who drank 10 or more cups lowered their risk by 55 percent.

A second study examining an even larger population in the United States found similar results. After analyzing data on 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, Harvard researchers found that having six or more cups of coffee each day slashed men's risk of type 2 diabetes by 54 per-cent and women's by 30 percent compared to those who avoid coffee. Decaffeinated coffee had a weaker effect. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"The ingredients in coffee can actually improve sensitivity to insulin and glucose metabolism, which contributes to lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Frank Hu, senior author of the study and an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Hu said the exact mechanism is not fully understood--and more research is needed--but these findings are good news for people who drink a lot of coffee. He is now studying the role of coffee for people who already have diabetes.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Reflections on Originals - 1 -- Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Conversation Snips -- from Tacitus blog

Story by Nadezhda -- July 25, 2004

The Manchurian Candidate has come up several times recently on Tacitus. It was named frequently in the "favorite Cold War movies" thread. And with the current release of the remake with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, the original movie has reappeared in an open thread, garnering a strong con as well as an enthusiastic pro. My vivid impressions of the original will undoubtedly be altered by seeing the new version, regardless of whether I think the remake is great or awful. So here are my unsullied opinions of one of my all time favorite movies.

The original Manchurian Candidate is on my "must-see" shortlist not because of the plot (which is silly), or because the film is a great thriller that sells its story in spite of the plot, or because it resonates with a personal belief system of mine, or because it's powerful propaganda. If you want to see a great propaganda thriller, see Costa-Gavras' Z. Regardless of your political leanings, Z grabs a hold of you from the first moment of the opening credits, hauls you into its story, and doesn't let you go. Manchurian Candidate may also get under your skin, but more in the sense of making you squirm -- you're always aware that you're watching something from a distance even if you can't take your eyes off it.

Manchurian Candidate is the quintessence of a "style" movie, where the movie is propelled by its distinctive look and sound, acting technique, camera angles and rythmn. I've never come across another movie that is close to its peculiar style -- a bizarre blend of surrealism, noir and a "space invaders" B-movie with a touch of Hitchcock every once in a while. Although clearly the oeuvre of director John Frankenheimer, it's not a vision achieved in the editing room. The performances are of a piece with the director's vision and are uniformly outstanding.

The film is often over-the-top, its broad satire is almost cartoonish, yet as an experience, the film is disorienting and quite sinister. The dialogue and action in the entire film, until the climactic sequences, could have been a stage play. George Axlerod, the screenwriter who adapted Richard Condon'snovel (yes the Richard Condon of Prizzi's Honor), wrote for both stage and screen. His credits in the '50s and '60s are remarkably wide-ranging, from both the play and movie script for The Seven Year Itch and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? to screen adaptations of Bus Stop and Breakfast at Tiffany's ."

The actors' techniques match Axelrod's theatrical tone, using a broader style in speaking and moving than the usual less-is-more approach to movie acting. The physical arrangement of the actors feels as if they have been "blocked" by the director into stage positions with directions to 'move down stage left" or to use a prop as an action motive. The camera is not used to achieve a naturalistic movie style -- there is no sense that the camera is simply capturing the natural postures and motions of the characters it is observing. Given how distinctive the acting style is, it's a tour de force for the ensemble and the director that they achieved this collective "feel." When Janet Leigh and Frank Sinatra occasionally use a more naturalistic style, the contrast with the rest of the movie is unsettling, as Frankenheimer undoubtedly intended.

When the film cuts to the totally surreal brainwashing scenes, they initially come as a sharp jolt. They're totally off-the-wall and humorous, but the audience's laughter is a bit nervous. As the actual content of the brainwashing scenes becomes more and more disturbing in action, however, the shifts to those scenes are less and less a jolt because the "real" parts of the movie have become increasingly disorienting. Frankenheimer reverses the typical cinematic contrast between a clear everyday consciousness and a blurred "lost memory." The memory is in its way more vivid, and Sinatra's mixed up and blurred character only comes into focus as memory is restored.

Over the course of the movie the zone of action gets narrower and narrower as the sense of claustrophobia builds. In the shots of the early crowd scenes, though crowded and unpleasantly raucous, the camera shows individuals and a sizeable portion of the crowd. By the time the film reaches the garden party, the crowd disappears visually; the sounds of its presence outside the room where Raymond is waiting underline his isolation. Raymond is most isolated in the biggest crowd scene of all, at the climax, where the crowd is just a wall of light and noise surrounding his narrow oblique field of vision. The techniques of a chase scene and a big crowd don't open the film up; they accentuate the tightening focus on Raymond and the sense of walls closing in.

Frankenheimer also plays masterfully with time to build tension through the climax. He doesn't just use the simple ticking clock -- will the hero get there in time. As the plot unfolds, the pace of events speeds up. Time between the episodes shown in the film shortens, and eventually the plot hurtles forward so rapidly that events overlap in time. Yet the tempo within each scene slows down. The early scenes are expository, and convey a great deal of background information and character introductions in short order. The middle scenes move the plot along fairly briskly. But toward the end, the "plot event" in each scene is no longer primary. It's the psychological events that are important to the camera, whether recording a character's solitary psychological moment or observing the dynamics of complex relationships. This contrast between an accelerating plot and a slowing internal tempo is one of Frankenheimer's key techniques to ratchet up the tension.

For those who have not seen the original movie, there is no particular reason to see it for its story or, to my way of thinking, for its "historical interest" as a satiric political commentary on the Cold War '50s. Apart from Frankenheimer's virtuosity (and my favorite performance by Sinatra), the compelling reason to see the original is Angela Lansbury. She was only 37 years old when she made The Manchurian Candidate, just 2 years older than her "son" Laurence Harvey. She was not made up to look very old, and he was not made up to look young. But from the moment they appear together, Lansbury's maternal dominance is so absolute, the viewer never questions their relative ages, and no further theatrical tricks or special effects are required. To quote AMG's online review:

[T]he film belongs to Lansbury. Her Mrs. Iselin remains one of the screen's most terrifying maternal presences, a queen bee intent on clearing the hive of anyone who stands in her way.

Once seen, never forgotten.


Comments by alk -- July 25, 2004

The dialogue and action in the entire film, until the climactic sequences, could have been a stage play.

David Mamet has the same signature style of theatricality. I just saw The Heist with Gene Hackman and even though I was unaware that this was another Mamet film, I recognized the staging and the dialogue and was not surprised when the credits rolled. Every movement, literally, is packed with intent. It is a very lean style. (John Sayles is an interesting contrast because he has an equally talented ear for dialogue, but his movies emerge without the theatricality, and yet there is no sense that something is missing.)

This contrast between an accelerating plot and a slowing internal tempo is one of Frankenheimer's key techniques to ratchet up the tension.

Not unlike real life. I was in an accident in which my car hydroplaned 540 degrees (1.5 full circles.) I remember vividly how slowly the car spun and I think my mind focused on the spinning to avoid thinking about what I would do if it ended up in the creek adjacent to the road. The endorphin response elicited by fear has multiple effects, I am supposing.

Angela Lansbury. For those who are honest enough to admit that they do not believe in the personal power of female personalities, I recommend her performance. Certainly her 'maternal dominance was absolute,' but I saw it as but one manifestation of an indomitable will worthy of Shakespeare.


Maternal not the only facet -- Nadezhda -- July 25, 2004

I quite agree about Angela Lansbury. I emphasized her absolute "maternal domination" because I was focusing on the viewer's immediate suspension of disbelief that Harvey is her son. But the other facets of her indominatable and overpowering intelligence are also on display as she uses one or another aspect of her immense femininity to manipulate everyone who comes near. Her will is like a force field that radiates from her, almost visible. Occasionally the viewer is given a glimpse of the gears at work as she shifts from one role to another, but that's only because she's started to get impatient with the weak reeds she's forced to use as tools. And you watch her impose her will on her self, regain her composure, and return to do battle. An awesome (in the old-fashioned sense) performance.

Your comments about Mamet's intent-laden dialogue got me thinking some more about the contrast between, on the one hand, what I called the cartoonishly broad satire and over-the-top plot and on the other, the collection of bravura performances. These characters, even the pathetic buffoonish Senator Iselin or the gushing ingenue Jocie, aren't cartoons or cardboard characters. The theatrical dialogue and staging, and of course the brilliant use of black and white, somehow intensifies them, so a short exchange of dialogue or a single gesture holds concentrated meaning -- though sometimes the meaning is a mystery or at least difficult to decipher (I'm thinking especially of Janet Leigh).

Though I'm an enormous fan of Sinatra the singer, I'm less taken with him as a movie star. The one exception is Manchurian Candidate. Again, it may be its very theatricality that suits him so well. His charisma isn't oversized, he doesn't have to dilute himself to fit on the screen, and the edgy intensity of his character plays against the internal energy of the other characters in the ensemble.

Although Lansbury owns the film, she doesn't blow the rest of the performances "off the stage." Her fire may burn hotter and brighter than the others, but the others have internal fires as well. Quite an accomplishment by Frankenheimer to get the actors to complement each others' performance tone, style and energy levels so extremely well.


Saw it again Saturday night -- JerseyCityJoan -- July 26, 2004>

It's everything you say and more.

Nadezhda, have you ever seen Frank Sinatra in 1954's Suddenly? It's no Manchurian Candidate, but it's another showcase for his acting talent, I think. An added pleasure is to see average people driving cars the size of Goodyear Blimps.


Thanks for the tip -- Nadezhda -- July 29, 2004

I'll have to find Suddenly. Looked it up on AMG, and it sounds very interesting, though a colorized ol' Brown Eyes would be disconcerting.

I was especially struck by one part of the AMG review:

While its confinement to one set and workmanlike direction give the project the feel of a photographed play, the principal characters are fleshed-out well enough to be compelling for the brief running time of the film.

Given the focus of both alk's and my comments on the theatrical qualities of The Manchurian Candidate, any thoughts as to whether that may be a common factor in both Sinatra performances you found especially strong?


Comparing the Candidates -- note to alk from Nadezhda -- July 29, 2004

Stole this post title from a nice review of the remake by Julian Sanchez in Reason Online. Given our shared admiration of Angela Lansbury, thought you'd find the intro para interesting:

Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate, a remake of John Frankenheimer's paranoid 1962 classic, pulls off two cinematic miracles. First, it gives you reason to compare a performance by Meryl Streep unfavorably with one by the one-time star of Murder, She Wrote. Second, it manages to make you vaguely regret having seen the original. Not because the remake is bad, but because it's actually pretty good.

Still Sanchez makes it sound worth going to see, at least by comparison with most moviehouse summer fare.


It's on the DVD list -- alk-- July 29, 2004

I am not one of those who was allowed to grow old without getting, well, old, and quirky. I do not attend movies anymore because I am too crabby to tolerate the popcorn, slurping, and frantic whispering in the dark.

It will be interesting to see if Hollywood responds to the new international dynamic by remaking more Cold War movies. There was a brief flirtation for awhile with WWII themes, but my guess is that this was a temporary diversion driven more by nostalgia than an artistic awareness of Cold War deja vu.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Party landscape - 2 -- Clinton's legacy to both parties

Conversation Snips Reflections on Clinton's speech -- Navy Davy at Tacitus, July 27, 2004

I have no opinion. The only speech I saw wuz Clinton's. I find him to be a great B.S. artist. I certainly don't hate him, but I juss don't see the allure. But, I acknowledge it could be me. Here is my question, though, with 1 assumption: Let us assume that politics is a zero-sum game (like a teeter-totter, Dems only gain at GOP expense, and vice-versa). Question: Wuz Clinton, on the whole, better for the Dems or better for the GOP? For the life of me, I still cain't get an answer: Obviously, he maxed out at 2 terms for the Presidency and ended the Carter-Mondale-Dukakis axis of evil, er, retract that, axis of incompetence. This HAS to be good for the Dems. But, when he came to office in 1992, the Dems controlled
    (a) White House, (b) Senate, (c) House, (d) majority of legislatures, and (e) majority of governorships.
Every single one of those indicators has flipped to GOP. So, my current working theory on Clinton is that: (a) both sides think he is good for them (one side is wrong), hence, (b) he remains reasonably popular makin' millions of $$, writin' unreadable books and gabbin' in prime time.

Clinton better for Dems than for GOP -- reply to Navy Davy by Nadezhda -- July 27, 2004

The glib answer, my dear friend Navy Davy, is "that's the wonders of triangulation" -- make everybody happier, and walk off a winner (or in this case a wealthy man). All politicians are B.S. artists, but Clinton is an artiste.

More seriously, Clinton was good for the Democrats and potentially bad -- in the long run -- for the Republicans.

For the Democrats, he got a bunch of monkeys off their backs. Would you have imagined in 1992 that 12 years later the country would agree that the Dems are the party of fiscal responsibility? Granted, Bush & co have helped that flip-flop in perception along, but Clinton gave his party credibility on the issue.

Second, he made headway on separating the Dems from the image of anti-war demonstrators. The military folks may have hated his guts as a "draft dodger" (though how they give W a pass at the same time I'm baffled -- I'm not bothered by either's history re Vietnam). But Clinton improved things on the pay and veterans front, and the vaunted forces we used to such effect in Afghanistan and Iraq weren't built by Rumsfeld in a year. He may not be seen as a great CIC, but the anti-war stigma of McGovern has faded significantly from the party.

This has allowed for the reemergence of influential "Truman Democrats" (see 1 below) on foreign policy matters: a strong military, engaged abroad, with the internationalist bent of more traditional Republicans with whom they shared the "bipartisan consensus" on foreign policy through much of the Cold War. Biden is the most visible example in the Senate, though there are many others who increasingly fall within this category (or at least don its mantle). This is the tradition that both Kerry and Hillary are claiming for their own. If Clinton hadn't taken pains to shift the overall positioning of the Dems on military budgets (yes, a Cold War peace dividend but much smaller than the "peace" wing wanted), weapons systems and overseas engagement (e.g. in Kosovo), the Dems would have been out-to-sea when 9/11 came along. Instead, they had a lot of people who were personally credible on mounting a vigorous military response in Afghanistan. (I'm not talking about the Liebermans of the world here, who are much more in the Scoop Jackson line, with Israel as a more important touchstone for their policy orientations.) (see 2 below)

With welfare reform, Clinton declared "the era of big government is over," and gave the centrists some principles about the limits on government to hold the far left of the party in check. At the same time, he made a good case for there being some important things government must do, and when they do them they should be done well. The most obvious case is FEMA, which was one of the most widely hated agencies in the entire government when Cliinton took over, and became the poster child for effective government.

I'd also suggest he changed a lot of the ways the federal gov't did things with the states and locals and reduced much of the tension in tone and relations. Clinton had been a governor, and he was very clued in to what governors need from the feds and what they don't need. He had a lot of Republican governors and mayors pretty happy with him by the time he left the WH. It may have helped those Republicans (the vast majority "moderates"), but it also helped the Dems. The mayors especially were no longer screaming to high heavens that the feds were creating more problems not helping them solve the ones they already had. The economy and the declining crime rate helped a lot, but politics also reduced tensions with the big cities, thereby removing a key polarizing theme for Republicans with surburban/exurban voters.

Clinton gave the Dem's a vocabulary that allows them to talk about social issues in something other than angry, outraged tones against an enemy. Connected to the welfare reform moves and redefining government's role, he talked about a basic social contract that the American dream is if you "work hard and play by the rules" you'll have opportunity to fulfill your (and your children's) potential and that there's a safety net (e.g. health care, child welfare, etc ) when life knocks you down for a while and help to get back on your feet (e.g. job training/placement for displaced workers from trade).

The other major theme Clinton bequeathed to the Democrats (which Teresa Heinz Kerry quoted explicitly tonight) was that he "called upon the better angels of our nature" with his mantra "we can do better." The Republicans have been having a hard time finding a post-Reagan political vocabulary that defines the American idea and inspires a new generation. They do fine in the foreign policy and war on terror arena, where they're quite comfortable with their vocabulary. But the rest of it is too trapped in Atwater-ian code words (like "values" and "strength") that are used as part of the culture war against Democrats, and that the Democrats are trying like crazy to steal over the next 100 days.

Clinton helped to dilute some of the interest-group-based definition of party politics. The party of Mondale and Dukakis was indeed a collection of separate fiefdoms. Running for the nomination meant collecting the support of key gatekeepers for very distinct segments of the party. The platform was produced by horse-trading among those separate groups, and no one was paying attention to how their pieces fit together with the party's position as a whole. On the race and ethnic front, again he shifted the tone away from a bunch of selfish groups, whining about victimization, squabbling among themselves for power and out of touch with mainstream American culture. Everyone points to his Sister Souljah moment, which was indeed important. But Clinton was also a gifted salesman of "diversity within unity" that was on display last night, with the watchwords inclusion, opportunity, and respect. BirdDog wrote a hat tip to Clinton on that very matter in a good post last week.

Finally, Clinton disappointed many in the Democratic party because he didn't treat the executive branch like a patronage spoils system to be handed out to various groups -- the enviros didn't "get" EPA and Interior, the blacks didn't "get" HUD, etc. Sure he was sensitive to making visible diversity appointments. But when it came to running things, the WH called the big-picture policy shots. The result for the party itself is that groupings within the party can't just focus on their little balliwick and insist on their maximalist position. The most effective groups now cover a range of ideas on policy matters within which their pet issues are framed. The Dems have a long way to go to catch up with the Reps in the think-tank department, but Clinton certainly pushed along the process of putting ideas back in the center of Dem politics.

The long of it (when was I ever short in anything but stature?) is that the best evidence of Clinton's success is that "super-progressive" bunch of Democrats who only agree with the right-wing types on one thing -- Clinton was a slippery devil. In their case, they think he betrayed the party's principles and they're going to get the party back on track with Kerry. They'd better get out of their dream world or go back to Nader. Dean declared the battle for the heart and soul of the party over tonight. Most of Carol Moseley Braun's speech tonignt could have been given at the Republican convention. And even Nancy Pelosi has gone Clintonite on them.

There's a civil war yet to play out within the Republican party that, in a number of ways, is a result of how Clinton played his second term, and how Republicans responded. Gingrich's revolution was as much about generational shifts in both parties as about the Contract with America. Clinton's poor handling of hot-button issues in his first two years made the size of the debacle larger for the Dems, but it was past time for a changing of the guard, especially in the House. Forty years in the secure womb of incumbency isn't healthy for any party. The changing of the guard hasn't finished for the Democrats -- the continued influence of the dinosaurs in the NAACP is a good example -- but a new generation is emerging that's reasonably attractive (and heavily influenced by Clinton's approach).

After the 1994 revolution's dust settled, the Republicans wound up with a far more right-wing leadership in Washington than would otherwise have been expected. They were the revolution's leaders, and they'd pulled along with themselves many of their followers on the right wing of their party. This gave them a power base that allowed them to ignore traditional Republicans (both moderates and classic conservatives) at all but the governor's mansions and city hall (e.g. Pataki and Guliani). They had reached where they were by being radicals of the right, and Clinton pushed them even further to the right. He took much of the Republicans' traditional middle ground, and the new conviction politicians couldn't bear to do business with Clinton on his terms.

The disconnect between the Republican party in the executive branch at the state and local level and the Washington-based party has grown increasingly. (see 3 below) The impeachment just further radicalized the right wing, distancing themselves from the great majority of the public. History is not going to look kindly on that little exercise from the standpoint of the nation as a whole. But it's also going to show that the impeachment leaders didn't do their party any favors either. The Republican convention line-up of speakers is a case in point. They're going to showcase the popular moderates who are viewed as accomplished "do-ers" not the power pols in the House or leaders of the more right-wing groups. But when it comes to setting the agenda in Washington, the folks on the podium aren't where the action is. Yet it's the speakers who are the way the Republicans can compete as a party (setting aside, of course, the rally-around-the-commander-in-chief angle of this particular election) with the party Clinton tried to leave in place.

    1. since I was born and raised in Independence, Mo, I know of what I speak.

    2. pace "Fox and Friends," Clinton Democrats can't be accused of being part of the "hate America first" crowd. The posture he adopted abroad in his second term made him the most popular US president since JFK even though it was premissed on the US having a special leadership role militarily and in situations like the Middle East -- on which many who liked Clinton disagreed with his support of Israel. Just as he critqued America at home by issuing the challenge that "we can do better," he didn't claim abroad that the US was always right. Rather, that the US is by its nature a force for security, freedoms and progress, but that "we can do better."

    3. I'm going to set aside the state legislatures. That gets awfully complicated and varies from state to state, but broadly, have to explain why the Republicans are increasingly electing far right legislators and centrist governors. Clinton probably had the same sort of radicalizing effect on the folks who are running for state legislators as he did on the Gingrich-Armey camp followers in Washington.


Reply to Nadezhda from alk -- July 28, 2004

Would you have imagined in 1992 that 12 years later the country would agree that the Dems are the party of fiscal responsibility? Granted, Bush & co have helped that flip-flop in perception along, but Clinton gave his party credibility on the issue.Big time with a lot of help from Robert Rubin.... he made headway on separating the Dems from the image of anti-war demonstrators. ... He may not be seen as a great CIC, but the anti-war stigma of McGovern has faded significantly from the party.Somewhat.

Any progress made by Clinton along the lines you suggest has been muted, at least in the public arena if not in the arena of political operatives, by the anti-Iraq war coalitions. Secondly, the Democratic Party has yet to make a clear and convincing case for the conditions governing the application of Nye's `soft power' as an ultimate political solution to modern conflict. This is of concern in a nuclear age subject to the violence that emerges from disenfranchised developing societies.

This has allowed for the reemergence of influential "Truman Democrats" ... on foreign policy matters: a strong military, engaged abroad ... they had a lot of people who were personally credible on mounting a vigorous military response in Afghanistan...Just as he critqued America at home by issuing the challenge that "we can do better," he didn't claim abroad that the US was always right. Rather, that the US is by its nature a force for security, freedoms and progress, but that "we can do better."

Clinton's astute `ear' should not be used to disguise the international recalcitrance in forming meaningful strategic alliances, the hypocrisy of the UN as the dominant institutional for resolution of international conflicts, and the outright antipathy towards the U.S. that is very real. My suggestion is that his studious and deeply intuitive approach would not have been sufficient in the long term, given the exposure of international complicity as one of the fundamental facilitators of ME instability. The status quo was masking the accelerated development of a number of hostile trends that had no good terminus.

With welfare reform, Clinton declared "the era of big government is over," and gave the centrists some principles about the limits on government to hold the far left of the party in check.

Tricky. The Right version is that Clinton stole their thunder on welfare reform.

The most obvious case is FEMA, which was one of the most widely hated agencies in the entire government when Cliinton took over, and became the poster child for effective government.

Interesting. Did not know that about FEMA.

I'd also suggest he changed a lot of the ways the federal gov't did things with the states and locals and reduced much of the tension in tone and relations. ...The economy and the declining crime rate helped a lot, but politics also reduced tensions with the big cities, thereby removing a key polarizing theme for Republicans with surburban/exurban voters.

Possibly a superficial easing of tensions since the problem seems to rest on the burgeoning number of unfunded mandates, many of which are environmental that still weigh heavily on State budgets, nearly all of which are running deficits.

Clinton gave the Dem's a vocabulary that allows them to talk about social issues in something other than angry, outraged tones against an enemy. The Republicans have been having a hard time finding a post-Reagan political vocabulary that defines the American idea and inspires a new generation. They do fine in the foreign policy and war on terror arena, where they're quite comfortable with their vocabulary. But the rest of it is too trapped in Atwater-ian code words (like "values" and "strength") that are used as part of the culture war against Democrats, and that the Democrats are trying like crazy to steal over the next 100 days.

Hit the nail on the head.Clinton helped to dilute some of the interest-group-based definition of party politics.The perception still lingers.

Finally, Clinton disappointed many in the Democratic party because he didn't treat the executive branch like a patronage spoils system to be handed out to various groups -- the enviros didn't "get" EPA and Interior, the blacks didn't "get" HUD, etc. ... The Dems have a long way to go to catch up with the Reps in the think-tank department, but Clinton certainly pushed along the process of putting ideas back in the center of Dem politics.

Agree absolutely about the think tank discrepancy. No comparison.

...the best evidence of Clinton's success is that "super-progressive" bunch of Democrats who only agree with the right-wing types on one thing -- Clinton was a slippery devil.

The Democratic Party should be grateful for that. I doubt I will live long enough to find out, but I would be interested in how history ultimately treats Bill Clinton.

The changing of the guard hasn't finished for the Democrats -- the continued influence of the dinosaurs in the NAACP is a good example -- but a new generation is emerging that's reasonably attractive (and heavily influenced by Clinton's approach).

Shame about Kweisi Mfume. I thought he had the potential to be a rising star, which makes me think that the qualifier of `very liberal' that dogs Barak Obama could be something to seriously consider.

After the 1994 revolution's dust settled, the Republicans wound up with a far more right-wing leadership in Washington ... They had reached where they were by being radicals of the right, and Clinton pushed them even further to the right. He took much of the Republicans' traditional middle ground....

Yep.

[The Republicans are] going to showcase the popular moderates who are viewed as accomplished "do-ers" not the power pols in the House or leaders of the more right-wing groups. But when it comes to setting the agenda in Washington, the folks on the podium aren't where the action is. Yet it's the speakers who are the way the Republicans can compete as a party (setting aside, of course, the rally-around-the-commander-in-chief angle of this particular election) with the party Clinton tried to leave in place.

Delusional strategy (although I don`t doubt the analysis.) Simply will not work.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Art & science of politics - 1 -- The Big Dog can still bring it

Conversation Snips -- from Tacitus blog

Review of Clinton speech at DNC by Nadezhda -- July 26, 2004

Since I've been writing movie reviews this week, I'm in the performance analysis mode. It was awfully nice to be reminded what a truly gifted politician can do. Optimistic, self-deprecatingly funny, everything about the future in the affirmative, cutting criticism of the opponent mostly delivered with a smile and a wink, calls to our better selves, and the cadence of a black preacher, with its repetitions and rising pitch and volume, that engages the crowd and makes the appeal feel uplifting. Audience comes away with a smile, energized, and feeling good about themselves and the world in general.

He wove the Convention's "unifying themes" of strength at home, respected abroad, through the entire speech, but avoided sounding like a mantra. He made it concrete and personal to Kerry rather than abstract. Not an easy thing to do. Also not easy to do, take complex ideas and express them in a very accessible fashion but still keep at least a suggestion of the important complexities.

Some of the themes and vocabulary that people will remember and also stand a chance of changing the way some of the debates are framed by the media (and also in Dem ads and talking points) in favor of the Democrats:

Converting the "tax cuts for the rich" criticism from a "class warfare" outrage into sending a thank you note to the Republicans for taking care of him once he left office! And the cost of greater border inspection just $5000 from each of the rich folks' tax cuts. Quite brilliant.

Not a fight between good and bad people, but between strongly held beliefs about how to achieve shared goals -- and if you like their ideas, well send them back to Washington. Not original, but well executed.

Americas want to be united, not divided. They need America divided, we want America united. (Take that, Karl Rove and "energize your base" strategy. Also, refreshing to hear in the year of red and blue states.)

Reserving his only pointed criticism of Bush personally when he got edgy about Bush not taking advantage of 9/11 to unify at home and abroad. That wasn't a partisan shot by Clinton -- he really believes Bush tragically missed the boat. So it was delivered more in sorrow than anger and came across well because sincere. (Always Reagan's strong point as well -- reserved the drama for the stuff he totally believed.)

Praise of Kerry very effective damning of Bush (especially insatiable curiosity and listening to those who disagree -- strength and wisdom aren't incompatible).

The most important word throughout was "choice" used in different ways. And it was "choice" in a nuanced sense, not a choice between black or white. The two most important usages were vis a vis foreign policy -- that it's not just a stark difference between "my way or the highway" or "weak on terrorism;" and the voter's choice, again asking for thoughtful consideration, not chosing good vs evil.

Definitely triangulating like mad, and quite effectively I thought.

Clinton should have defused a lot of fretting about his role this year. In any event, after tonight's speech it would be hard to keep him on the sidelines, but he's carved out a role for himself (at least initially) as cheerleader of the troops, not leader of the party.

Reminded the crowd he was president for 8 years, yet still just Bill, most enthusiastic Democratic volunteer and policy wonk, not "elder statesman."

Turned himself into the biggest cheerleader of all for Kerry -- "Send me!"

Lowered expectations of Kerry as a stage performer compared to Clinton and made that a virtue -- emphasis on seriousness, thoughtfulness, wisdom.

The big problem for the Democrats remains -- Kerry in fact is not a great performer, and it will be hard for him to follow Clinton (though mercifully there will be 2 nights in between) and Edwards may also be a hard act to follow. But Edwards will be there to get the cheers going when Kerry enters the auditorium, so a high energy performance can help Kerry if they play it right. For Kerry's sake, just hope somebody like Edwards edits the acceptance speech.

I'll be following with interest whether other speakers or talkingpoints pick up on some of Clinton's themes. The important folks don't waste their time listening to speeches, but none of them missed the Big Dog, and even the most egomaniacal political consultant still knows Clinton's the one with the best ear for what sells and how to package it.


Reply by alk -- July 26, 2004

Converting the "tax cuts for the rich" criticism from a "class warfare" outrage into sending a thank you note to the Republicans for taking care of him once he left office!

Not a fight between good and bad people, but between strongly held beliefs about how to achieve shared goals -- and if you like their ideas, well send them back to Washington. Not original, but well executed.

It might not be original, but it is very rare to find problems framed in terms of alternative solutions that do not derive their validity or worth from the identity politics of race and ethnicity and/or class distinctions. The sooner the `geniuses' who run the campaigns understand that the American electorate can no longer be approached with the transparent and often insulting psychological wrapping that now passes for political strategy, the sooner we will begin to attract and elect representatives who understand that their purpose is to solve problems, with or without the `stuff it, f^ck it' side show that remains as an unfortunate remnant of a once fine journalistic profession.

Americas want to be united, not divided. They need America divided, we want America united. (Take that, Karl Rove and "energize your base" strategy. Also, refreshing to hear in the year of red and blue states.)

Reserving his only pointed criticism of Bush personally when he got edgy about Bush not taking advantage of 9/11 to unify at home and abroad. That wasn't a partisan shot by Clinton -- he really believes Bush tragically missed the boat. So it was delivered more in sorrow than anger and came across well because sincere.

I happen to agree that Clinton's criticisms are sincere simply because he is too smart to suborn his thinking to a purely partisan venue. Another `Clintonism' is the suggestion that Bush failed to move to the moderate center during the 2002 elections and thereby hurt his chances of expanding support for 2004. The subject is discussed on RedState and it is surprising to me that so many on the Right either refuse or seem constitutionally incapable of absorbing his message that some very large percentage of the American electorate is solidly entrenched in the middle. WRT the suggestion that the Bush administration failed to leverage the post 9/11 good will, it seems to me from my distance that the good will had neither depth nor breadth. I also question along those same lines the false security provided by unity as suggested by traditional rules of gamesmanship. It becomes a caveat to me that the leadership of this country not overweight its international portfolio with unity as the expense of self-reliance.

Praise of Kerry very effective damning of Bush (especially insatiable curiosity and listening to those who disagree -- strength and wisdom aren't incompatible).

Certainly they are not, but the question for me is the depth of the wisdom brought by Kerry and his team. I understand that there is ultimately one candidate who will bring one team of advisors, but my skepticism derives from the Democratic Party itself as an unreliable guardian of the country's security. Again at RedState, comes the observation that the majority of the electoral representatives at the Democratic convention are anti-war, unlike the American population, which compels Kerry and Edwards to maintain a very delicate and, yes, nuanced, position regarding Iraq and the larger WoT. It is not only appropriate but critical to question the extent to which this world view will influence foreign policy under a Kerry administration.

The most important word throughout was "choice" used in different ways. And it was "choice" in a nuanced sense, not a choice between black or white. The two most important usages were vis a vis foreign policy -- that it's not just a stark difference between "my way or the highway" or "weak on terrorism;" and the voter's choice, again asking for thoughtful consideration, not chosing good vs evil. Definitely triangulating like mad, and quite effectively I thought.

Been here so many times before. For some the causus belli was obtained; for others it was not. I am not ashamed to support a candidate who will strike a black and white stand against physical aggression, particularly the kind that emerges, with careful and coordinated planning, after 12 years of diplomatic gamesmanship. I will not support a candidate who extrapolates the harsh dichotomies of good and evil into an overall strategy, not do I believe this is what the Bush administration has done. (I remind those who might need reminding that the magnitude of the threat was not initially acknowledged by the anti-war coalition, yet the position at present seems to be one of, yes, a real threat exists, but how to disable the threat with minimal sacrifice.) The achievement of a democratic Iraq will exert long-term consequences in the ME that will extend far beyond the black and white criticism that now hovers over the Iraq debate.

And I agree completely with Clinton's 'ear' and what sells.


One Quibble -- Reply to alk> by Kimmit-- July 27, 2004

The sooner the `geniuses' who run the campaigns understand that the American electorate can no longer be approached with the transparent and often insulting psychological wrapping that now passes for political strategy,

The geniuses who run campaigns saw Dean crash and burn while Kerry rose; the transparent and often insulting psychological wrapping is extremely effective in this media-driven age.


Only if you believe Dean had a chance -- Reply by alk> -- July 27, 2004

My opinion, of course, but I don't see either party ever electing another 'ousider' who cannot work with the Washington establishment. Clinton survived for two terms on sheer smarts and raw will. I do see it happening in federal and state house and senate seats and I have cautious hope that the next generation will be better, but I am too old to bet much on that horse. The world will soon belong to you. Good luck.


Dean -- Comment by M Aurelius -- July 28, 2004

Dean, or rather his campaign, proved beyond a doubt just how weak the CW campaign geniuses are. Dean's was the case of a home burgler breaking into Fort Knox after finding some basic flaw. Then, surprised by his own success, is unable to take any gold because he never actually planned for the case he might be in reach of it.

This lesson will surely be exploited by better and more preapred candidates in the future. Only strategic fools can dismiss the lessons of Dean phenomenon (which is different from dismissing Dean himself). Probably, the Internet will turn into the basic tool of early "base building", or "core gathering", and as campaigns consolidate they will partly transition to more traditional methods. The bugs of this transition phase have to be worked out, but that's the model.

Monday, July 26, 2004

US military costs 1 -- GAO says Iraq getting out of hand

By way of Hit & Run, a new GAO report says Iraq and Afghanistan are producing cost overruns not simply because of the greater than expected duration and intensity of the conflicts. And it's affecting readiness as well, as the Pentagon robs Peter to pay Paul. Per WaPo:

The U.S. military has spent most of the $65 billion that Congress approved for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is scrambling to find $12.3 billion more from within the Defense Department to finance the wars through the end of the fiscal year.... Already, the GAO said, the services have deferred the repair of equipment used in Iraq, grounded some Air Force and Navy pilots, canceled training exercises, and delayed facility-restoration projects. The Air Force is straining to cover the cost of body armor for airmen in combat areas, night-vision gear and surveillance equipment, according to the report. The Army, which is overspending its budget by $10.2 billion for operations and maintenance, is asking the Marines and the Air Force to help cover the escalating costs of its logistics contract with Halliburton Co. But the Air Force is also exceeding its budget by $1.4 billion, while the Marines are coming up $500 million short. The Army is even having trouble paying the contractors guarding its garrisons outside the war zones, the report said.
GAO report here.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Iraq governance 1 -- Benefits and costs of order

Political Animal passes along good news from Baghdad in a piece by Paul Wiseman of USA Today (via James Joyner). The locals are starting to obey the traffic cops.

Before, you found hardly anyone listening to you," the 27-year police force veteran says. Kadhum, 48, spent his days flailing around in 105-degree heat, sometimes waving his pistol in a futile attempt to make motorists follow his commands. "Now, by barely moving my hand, I get respect."
There are several possible explanations, none mutually exclusive. The most hopeful interpretation is legitimacy -- that the formal handover of sovereignty really made a difference in the public's attitude toward authority, as reflected the broad support for the interim government shown by recent polls. Another explanation that relies on the "absence of the US" rather than its presence is improved efficiency from doing things the Iraqi way rather than the US way or, probably worse, a muddle of the two. Talking about the Iraqi police more generally, Wiseman notes:
[I]n many ways their jobs have been made easier. Now that U.S. forces have mostly retreated from the streets, Iraqi police have more authority to respond to threats in their own way. No longer do they have to coordinate with U.S. commanders. They can set up roadblocks or pursue criminals without waiting for U.S. approval. What's more, "the American presence had become a risk for us," says police Sgt. Mohammed Adnan Saleh, 30. Working with U.S. military forces made Iraqi police a target for anti-American insurgents.

Palestinians - 2 -- Arafat's legitimacy attacked from all sides

Is Arafat starting to be seen as dispensable -- by the Palestinians? by the international community?

Bret Stephens Jerusalem Post, July 22, 2004

In January, I happened to sit next to a former senior diplomat, a man of honorably Leftish views now at the helm of an important think tank, at a dinner at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. We talked mainly about Yasser Arafat. "Frightful man," he said, speaking from a well of personal experience. "But - really - who else is there? There's no way of getting around him. He's the man you've got to do business with."

Arafat may be an iconic figure, but contrary to widespread Israeli perception he is not an especially popular one on the international diplomatic circuit. He has not set foot in the White House in four years. Among Arab rulers, he is detested. In Europe, he is tolerated.

Arafat has remained relevant for three reasons.

    First, because he's seen as the man who commands unquestioned Palestinian allegiance.
    Second, because he's seen as the man without whom nothing can be done.
    And third, because he's seen as the man without whom things would only go from bad to worse.

In the past week, however, these assumptions have been sorely tested. Much has been made of outgoing UN envoy Terje Roed Larsen's criticism of Arafat in his report to the Security Council. But Larsen's criticism - too little, too late, for most Israelis - is a mere echo of what is being said openly about Arafat on the Palestinian street and in Arab newspapers.

Former prime minister Mahmoud Abbas told Newsweek in June that he and Arafat are no longer on speaking terms, a startling thing for such a longstanding and high-ranking PLO official to say. The attempted assassination this week of former PA information minister Nabil Amr, another vocal Arafat critic, did nothing to quell the mounting internal challenge to Arafat's authority, but instead spurred the sense of outrage at his leadership habits.

"The PA under Mr. Arafat has started crumbling," wrote Ahmed Al-Jarallah in the Arab Times, July 19. "The Palestinians themselves have started questioning the need for its existence Mr. Arafat should quit his position because he is the head of a corrupt authority. There is no point for him to remain in politics . He has destroyed Palestine."

Thus goes the first pillar on which Arafat's relevance rests. However much Arafat may be referred to as the "elected leader" of the Palestinians, the legitimacy of that long-ago election (for a term that expired years ago) rests on the perception that Arafat's leadership continues to enjoy broad popular support. Now that the perception is changing, so too is the automatic imputation of legitimacy, with knock on effects on the second pillar of Arafat's relevance: His supposed ability to deliver.

In conversations with Palestinians and in the Arab press, a recurring theme is that Arafat - when not merely serving his own purposes - actually serves Sharon's. "Israel is satisfied with the situation of a Palestinian leadership that is the sole legitimate one but at the same time does not participate in the real negotiations," wrote Ahmed al-Rab'i in Al-Sharq Al-Aswat, June 26. "The greatest service Arafat can do for the Palestinians is to submit his resignation and throw down the gauntlet to Israel and the Quartet." (Translation by Memri.)

The argument here is especially powerful because it suggests that Arafat is a collaborator, if an unwitting one. The more this view gains traction, the less use Arafat is to anyone: He can only regain Palestinian sympathy by asserting his radical bona fides; he can only regain Western sympathy by promising accommodation. The alternatives are, or ought to be, mutually exclusive.

Previously, when Arafat found himself in this position, his response was to do as little as possible, waiting to be rescued by events as the chaos he sowed engulfed his domestic rivals and begged for his decisive intervention.

One such event was the General Assembly's vote on Monday - backed by every member state of the newly enlarged European Union - calling for the dismantlement of Israel's security fence. This was a nice diplomatic victory for the PA, but it's not at all clear whether it will prove to be the lifeline Arafat seeks. His efforts to impose law and order in Gaza have backfired spectacularly. Then too, by now Palestinians are so accustomed to scoring victories in Turtle Bay that another hortatory gesture of international support will not impress them overly much.

We may have reached a point when the chaos of Palestine will weaken Arafat rather than strengthen him, as it has in the past.The international community is slowly beginning to recognize that Arafat isn't keeping the worst-case scenario (a Hamas takeover) at bay, but rather that he is the worst-case scenario. Among Palestinians, one senses not only a genuine hunger to get beyond Arafat, but the feeling that it may at last be possible to do so. Certainly, the isolation enforced on Palestinian towns and cities by Israeli closures and roadblocks has created a class of local elites ill-disposed to surrender their newfound power and prestige to the rais who's done so little on their behalf.

Arafat has survived so many challenges to his authority in his four decades at the helm of the PLO that it seems incredible he won't survive this one. Still, the idea that he's dispensable has taken hold in the Arab mind. It may yet seize Western minds, too.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Palestinians - 1 -- Is liberation nigh?

In the long list of controversial foreign policy positions of the Bush Admin, I have disagreed with almost all, either on substance or the manner of implementation, e.g. Kyoto. There is however one policy I have heartily endorsed: the refusal to do business with Arafat.

Arafat, and the old PLO generation that returned with him from Tunis, have repeatedly demonstrated their complete lack of interest in promoting the well-being of the Palestinian people. Their only interest in the "peace process" is that it provides the structure that enables them to maintain an iron grip on power. As the "legitimate" representatives of the Palestinians, all the funds that come from outside the territories to support the Palestinian population or their conflict with the Israelis flow through the hands of Arafat and his cronies. Without the "peace process" Arafat isn't a legitimate leader -- just the godfather who controls the money and muscle.

The anti-Israeli violence has suited Arafat well, allowing him to divide and conquer, whether through patronage or force, any serious potential opposition. It has been so vital to him, he's been willing to have PMs resign over the matter of reforming the so-called security services. But it looks like the Palestinians, at least in Gaza, may have finally reached a tipping point.

Palestinian gunmen issued a fresh challenge to Yasser Arafat's rule on Monday in a standoff that followed a weekend of growing violence in the Gaza Strip, demanding police leave a compound so they could set it alight.

On Sunday, at least 18 people were wounded when scores of gunmen battled forces loyal to the Palestinian president's new security chief in Gaza, his cousin Moussa Arafat -- a member of a Palestinian old guard widely viewed as corrupt. The level of violence between Palestinians was unprecedented since Arafat's Palestinian Authority took control of most of the Gaza Strip in 1994 under interim peace accords with Israel.

"This corruption is like a cancer," gunmen shouted at a rally at the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, underlining the depth of feelings in a crisis that prompted Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie to resign on Friday.Calls for reform have soared amid a brewing factional power struggle in Gaza in anticipation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's planned withdrawal of troops and settlers from the occupied territory by the end of 2005.

[...]
In another blow to the Palestinian president's prestige, the commander of the Palestinian coastguard, Juma Ghali, tendered his resignation. Security sources said Ghali was protesting against Moussa Arafat's appointment and instability in Gaza. "People are simply fed up," Sufian Abu Zaideh, a Palestinian deputy minister, told Israeli Army Radio.

The conflict is not a simple matter of a revolt by guys in white hats, either from the view of Israelis or Palestinians. This weekend's Jerusalem Post offered an analysis by Khaled Abu Toameh:

Some Palestinians said over the weekend that they do not regard the chaos in the Gaza Strip as a power struggle between "the good guys" and "the bad guys." They pointed out that the Fatah gunmen who are pressing for reforms and democracy are the same men who have been acting as judges, juries, and executioners for many years.

A Palestinian legislator in Ramallah on Saturday warned against attempts by "armed thugs" to take a ride on the anti-corruption campaign. "Many of these gunmen have no right to talk about reforms and transparency," he said. "Nor do some of those who are using them to advance personal interests."

Though it's far too early to predict either who will wind up as new leaders or when, there's cause for a glimmer of optimism if this signals the beginning of the end for the Arafat crowd. It will likely be both long and messy before effective leadership emerges. I'd bet it will take at least two rounds of changes before anything stable appears. Almost certainly a major generation shift will be key -- not to the generation immediately following Arafat but rather the generation that came of age in the territories after the PLO was forced out of Lebanon. Ulitmately, a significant part of the Palestinians' "liberation" is going to have to be led from within by those who want to build an economy and society for themselves rather than skim the cream off of handouts that account for more a third of GDP.

Whether you're a strong partisan of either the Israelis or the Palestinians, or take a "plague on both their houses" approach, the possibility that change may be starting on the Palestinian side should be encouraging for the long view.