Thursday, October 11, 2007

When Did You Stop Beating the Economy, Mr. Carter?

He's back in the news, Jimmy Carter is, this time accusing the President of torture and lying. Might be interesting to interview a guy like him, who now says he has no regrets - none. If a real, crusty, hard-hitting reporter – not anyone like the obsequious Chris Matthews -- but if a real reporter were to ask the former President some tough questions, just imagine how that discussion might go. Below, is our guess.

Of course, that will not ever happen. Writers have made the case that the mass media largely created Carter, who then turned out to be one of the most disastrous of American Presidents, clearly the worst in our lifetime.

That fact should be a bit instructive to us all as we begin to give serious consideration to our choices in the fall of 2008!

The Wikipedia link for Jimmy Carter, for example, notes the 1980 biography of the former President by Lawrence Shoup, The Carter Presidency and Beyond, in which Shoup argued that Carter was truly a creation of the mass media:

The media discovered and promoted Carter. As Lawrence Shoup noted in his 1980 book The Carter Presidency and Beyond:

"What Carter had that his opponents did not was the acceptance and support of elite sectors of the mass communications media. It was their favorable coverage of Carter and his campaign that gave him an edge, propelling him rocket-like to the top of the opinion polls. This helped Carter win key primary election victories, enabling him to rise from an obscure public figure to President-elect in the short space of 9 months."

As late as January 26, 1976, Carter was the first choice of only 4% of Democratic voters, according to the Gallup Poll. Yet "by mid-March 1976 Carter was not only far ahead of the active contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, he also led President Ford by a few percentage points," according to Shoup.

Some of that attitude still persists today. So, the following parody interview article will not appear in the paper, nor will anything like it -- though it would be nice to imagine, even if just for a few minutes!

Carter Denies He "Tortured" Americans, Others, with Disastrous Policies
His explanations falter though when pressed on the economy, Mugabe --

10/10/2007 -- Smarting from news that the United States’s trade deficit had again improved, and that unemployment was dropping to record levels, former President Jimmy Carter testily denied the suggestion that, while President, he had, in effect, tortured large segments of the American public with his economic policies.

In an interview, he was pointedly asked,
"Mr. Carter, given the fact that your economic policies, and arguably your foreign policy, caused so much dislocation and pain, why should the American people not simply conclude that, to that extent, you indeed tortured them?"
"Just because unemployment was at a record high while we were in office, was not my fault," he insisted.

"And, this current President," he added, immediately trying to change the subject, "he has tortured people, and he denied 1 million minority people in Florida the right to vote in 2000, too," he added. Carter, however, once again could not offer evidence of either accusation -- and not even a scintilla of evidence that one person was ever denied the right to vote, let alone a million as he has frequently claimed over the years.

Asked about the fact that during his one-term presidency the country was beset by runaway inflation, alarmingly high interest rates, extremely high unemployment, massive oil and other fuel shortages, and an overall stagnant economy, and that, in addition, we struggled through several major world crises, including the humiliating Islamist student invasion of the American Embassy in Tehran, which he failed to resolve, Carter countered by blaming it all on the attitude of the public.

"Look, people just couldn’t get used to the idea that we had a crisis of confidence in this country. It wasn’t my fault – it was the country’s fault," he said, raising his eyebrows and licking his lips for emphasis, both signature Carter gestures of contempt.

He also quickly pointed out that he made that abundantly clear at the time by giving the American people a good old-fashioned "kick ‘em when they’re down" speech (called the "malaise" speech) during which he bluntly told the American people, in part:

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
"So don’t try and blame me," Carter added, with the indignant flash of anger visibly showing in his face. "They tortured themselves!" he insisted.
"I’ll remind you that I asked my young daughter Amy what we should do, and she gave me good, sound advice. But the country made fun of that. And they made fun when that rabbit viciously attacked me in the canoe that time, too!"
Then he added, "Just because the prime interest rate rose to 21.5% in my Presidency," effectively dashing the economic hopes of millions of Americans to own their own homes, or to start their own businesses, "does not mean I tortured them. Again, I remind you that I raised taxes through staggered increases while on my watch." And, then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "and I would also point out that I substantially increased payroll taxes for Social Security, too! Okay? And, I cut the heart out of portions of the defense budget, as well. And I tried to get the Salt II Treaty approved." (Even the Democrat-controlled Senate balked at ratifying that accord.)

The one-term President who lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan in 1980, was reminded that his successor, had solved the Carter economic crisis, restored and even increased the defense budget, and dramatically increased our standing on the world stage through substantially reduced tax rates.
"How do you respond to those who say that Ronald Reagan thus induced a complete turn around in the economy, ushering in the then-largest post war expansion of the nation’s economy, and thus laid the foundation for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, and our victory in the Cold War?"
Carter shook his head derisively, waiving off any such suggestion. "Wrong. Everyone knows it was all because I insisted that everyone live up to impossible or largely unachievable standards on the world stage that we are where we are today," he asserted, again without offering any specific proof for his claims whatsoever.

"I solved the problems in the Middle East – they gave me the Nobel Prize . . . me! And now, with just a little bit more name-calling and open hostility toward Israel, I believe we will win."

Asked exactly what we would "win" Carter became a little vague. "The respect of our former adversaries, for one thing," he suggested.

"Like Iran?" he was asked. "We should negotiate with them," he said. "But didn’t you try and fail at that, sir?" "These things take time," he responded, again with raised eyebrows.

"You forget, I personally intervened in Africa and Central America to help bring a new generation of leaders to the fore," he offered.

Setting aside the obvious questions about the former President’s role in aiding the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the interviewer probed on the lesser-known subject of African political leaders.

"You gave a start to leaders ... like, Robert Mugabe?" Carter was asked. The questioner then noted that as President, Jimmy Carter personally intervened in Zimbabwe back in 1979 to electorally promote the eventual accession to power as Prime Minister of openly Marxist Robert Mugabe, whose continuing regime today as President is beset with massive corruption, suppression of any political opposition, totalitarian social policies, mismanagement of both land reform and the economy, and the complete deterioration of human rights. Mugabe’s policies have caused an economic collapse and massive starvation over the past decade in Zimbabwe, with an inflation rate that is indisputably the highest in world history – predicted to run to 1.5 million % by the end of this year.

And as a follow up, Carter was asked, "So, should the people of Zimbabwe – that is, those who have managed to survive -- also lay some of the blame for their on-going tortured lives at your feet as well, Mr. Carter?" The questioner pointed out as a basis for his question, the fact that the life expectancy rate for women in Zimbabwe now stands at 34, having been 63 just a few years ago. The life expectancy for men is 37.

"Dick Cheney is a disaster," the former President icily intoned, choosing to ignore the question completely. "And," he added, waiving his finger at the interviewer, "you can take that to the bank!"

"Which bank," the questioner retorted, "Bert Lance's bank?"

# # # # #

(At this point, the former President, suddenly recalling a prior commitment, abruptly terminated the interview.)

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sputnik - Half a Century Ago

(Update: 10/04/2007, below)

In two days, we will commemorate an extraordinary technological marker in our modern history, the launching of the first man-made satellite into space, Sputnik I, by the Soviet Union. It happened fifty years ago, during the long-planned International Geophysical Year, or IGY, an eighteen month long scientific endeavor highlighting eleven geophysical, or "earth" sciences. It was an achievement that at the time quite electrified the world, and initiated an international competition that became known as the Space Race.

A recently retrieved copy of the article that appeared the next day, October 5th, in the New York Times, gives a good indication of the surprise and concerns that the launch immediately raised. It included quotes, for example, from scientists assuring people that the satellite could not be used to drop atomic or hydrogen bombs from the sky! Viewed in the context of the Cold War, which had really begun a decade earlier with the Truman Doctrine responding to Soviet aggression in Europe, that launch was seen as a startling wake-up call within the United States, and a propaganda coup for the Soviets.

The Times article noted the immediate Soviet boasts:

It said in its announcement that people now could see how "the new socialist society" had turned the boldest dreams of mankind into reality.
So it was on October 4, 1957, that the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik I, or literally, "co-traveler-1" a small man-made satellite, into earth orbit. It was the first such man-made earth orbiting satellite ever. The Soviets wanted to be first, and had scaled back plans for a more sophisticated device, settling on a small satellite with no mission payload. It transmitted radio signals for 22 days, when it went silent on October 26, 1957. The small satellite, approximately 23 inches in diameter, plus antennas, stayed in orbit until it re-entered the earth's atmosphere on January 4, 1958, almost four months later. It was small enough that in passing over it could be viewed by ground observers only with the aide of field glasses.

Two months after the first launch, the Soviets successfully launched a second, and significantly larger earth orbiting satellite, Sputnik II, on November 3, 1957, one with a mission payload and a female dog named Laika on board. Because of mechanical problems associated with a block not separating properly, it was many years later publicly revealed that she likely did not survive more than a few hours because of over-heating. But they had put the first living animal in space, paving the way for manned space flights. Sputnik II was large enough that it could be seen with the naked eye. Newspaper accounts at the time record the excitement of observers checking for scheduled "pass overs," and then watching it as the bright yellow moving star passed overhead.

Sputnik I had not been the first time a man-made rocket had reached what we call space, which begins about 62 miles above the surface of the earth. That had taken place years before.

In 1944, a V2 rocket was launched from Peenemünde on a vertical test shot sub-orbital trajectory to an altitude of 176 km (109 miles), well beyond the 100 km (62 miles) altitude generally considered to be the border of space (see Kármán line).

And earlier in April of 1957, the United States Navy had launched a "satellite" payload to an altitude of 126 miles. But Sputnik I was the first object to reach first cosmic velocity, or the speed that is required for an object to achieve earth orbit from the earth -- approximately 17,500 miles per hour. It moved slightly faster than that, and over its entire lifetime traveled a total of about 60 million miles.

Meanwhile, the failure of the United States to be the "first" in space, set off a public debate here, and further highlighted embarrassing "mis-launches" of rockets in the Vanguard series. Most notable, for obvious reasons, was the attempted Vanguard launch on December 6, 1957, made in the wake of the Sputnik launches. It only made it about four feet in the air and then dropped back, crashed, toppled and exploded on the launch pad. It was viewed by the public right on TV, for everyone to see. The "payload" itself fell free and the slightly damaged satellite can still be seen at the National Air and Space Museum.

The United States quickly switched rockets, and finally successfully launched its first satellite, the Explorer I, aboard a Juno I rocket on January 31, 1958.

Radiation recordings from that Explorer I satellite were later confirmed to have detected an enormous radiation belt, charged particles in space held in place by the earth's gravitation, later named the Van Allen radiation belt.

The discovery of the Van Allen Belts by the Explorer satellites was considered to be one of the outstanding discoveries of the International Geophysical Year.

The satellite instrumentation for Explorer I had been designed and built by Dr. James Van Allen from the University of Iowa. Though the batteries went dead in a matter of months, Explorer I stayed in orbit for over 12 years.

One of the previously ill-fated Vanguard series of satellites was finally launched on March 17, 1958, with the TV-4 satellite, a remarkable technological achievement, one that continued to transmit data until years later in 1964. In fact, the satellite itself is still in orbit today, and is expected to last in orbit for a total of 240 years!

For the world back them on that early October day, fifty years ago, a remarkable change took place, and the space race was off and running. Very much on people's minds was the concern that the Soviet Union had somehow gained an insurmountable lead in the development of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs. The Soviets took every opportunity to promote their "technological superiority" around the world. People even speculated about whether the "mysterious beeping" of the radio signals from Spitnik I was some form of secret code! President Eisenhower was queried repeatedly at his next press conference about the national security implications of the launch. And three years later in the Presidential election of 1960, an alleged "missile gap" was a hot issue.

But as we look back now, having clearly outpaced the Soviet technology, and outlived both the Cold War and the Soviet Union, what is clear is that the communications revolution that emerged from those first satellite launches, is what still completely dominates our world.

Ten years ago, the New York Times published an on-line presentation commemorating the Sputnik I launch, including many of the stories and a chronology from the time. It is well worth paging through today.

Update: 10/04/2007 pm -- The BBC also has an on-line version of their story from that day. The on-line version also has an interesting chronological feature, "Timeline: Space" also worth checking.

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