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Ross Douthat: This is a liberal war. Blame Bill Clinton.

This is an intervention straight from Bill Clinton’s 1990s playbook, in other words, and a stark departure from the Bush administration’s more unilateralist methods. There are no “coalitions of the willing” here, no dismissive references to “Old Europe,” no “you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Instead, the Obama White House has shown exquisite deference to the very international institutions and foreign governments that the Bush administration either steamrolled or ignored.
And, years after their Presidencies, shall we compare their approval ratings, ability to end wars and their economic successes?

David E Hoffman:

The terrible sequence of events in Japan — massive earthquake, and then a tsunami — make the nuclear crisis different from Chernobyl in 1986. The Chernobyl accident was not a consequence of a natural disaster, but happened at the hands of people. The design of the reactor was such that it lacked a protective containment; once it exploded, radioactive debris was ejected into the air. So far, at least, the Japan nuclear crisis does not appear to have reached this level of danger.

Still, Chernobyl is worth pondering for another reason. The accident demonstrated the importance of full transparency at moments like this. Chernobyl was a ramrod against the Soviet Union's whole system of obfuscation and secrecy. It reinforced the value of glasnost or openness in the mind of the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

When we try to understand the events in Japan, both now and in the months ahead, we ought to ask: have we learned the lessons of Chernobyl?

Scary stuff. And a call for openness.

Japan Times:

Some foreign media coverage of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has been so extreme it has fanned fears of a deadly radiation cloud descending on Tokyo and turning residents into walking zombies, before drifting across the oceans to menace the United States and Ireland.

According to another "fact," authorities have been warning those in a position to leave Tokyo to flee the city immediately, because another severe quake or an eruption at Mount Fuji could spark a meltdown at the "Shibuya Eggman nuclear reactor" — which in reality is a live house, or concert hall, in Tokyo.

Laugh if you want, but a large number of domestic and overseas critics charge that such fear-mongering is responsible for causing the international panic over the Fukushima plant, and for persuading many foreign and Japanese residents of Tokyo to leave, either temporarily or permanently.

This was totally predictable. When you try to hyper-manage the news, events run away from you. If you can't trust the authorities, and if the authorities aren't talking, rumors start to fly.

Here's a 1979 piece, to follow both Hoffman's about Chernobyl (a must read) and Sunday's risk communication post about Fukushima. Written by Peter Sandman and Mary Paden for CJR, it covers the reporters' dilemma about Three Mile Island:

The typical Three Mile Island story seesawed carefully between the looming threat of disaster and the industrious optimism of the experts. Imagine yourself at your breakfast table Saturday morning reading this A.P. overnight (we’ve put the bad news in roman type, the good news in italics):


 Scientists struggled to cool down the stricken Three Mile Island nuclear power plant today, but authorities said the chances of a catastrophic melt-down were “very remote” and assured 130,000 nearby residents they were safe.

    While technicians tried to “bleed” a bubble of radioactive vapor threatening the plant’s damaged nuclear core, Gov. Dick Thornburgh said at a news conference late yesterday that no general evacuation of the area is necessary “at this time.”

    After the tensest day since Wednesday’s plant accident, Harold Denton, director of operations for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, somewhat eased the mounting worries of local residents when he said there was “no immediate danger to the public.”

Like most T.M.I. coverage, this is fair, understandable, and accurate; concerned but calm. It is also almost mythic: paladins labor night and day to overcome the forces of chaos. Missing from the story is whether they knew how.

There are lessons to be learned from both.

Paul Krugman:

Last week, at a House hearing on financial institutions and consumer credit, Republicans lined up to grill and attack Elizabeth Warren, the law professor and bankruptcy expert who is in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ostensibly, they believed that Ms. Warren had overstepped her legal authority by helping state attorneys general put together a proposed settlement with mortgage servicers, which are charged with a number of abuses.

But the accusations made no sense. Since when is it illegal for a federal official to talk with state officials, giving them the benefit of her expertise? Anyway, everyone knew that the real purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers.

And Republicans were clearly also hoping that if they threw enough mud, some of it would stick. For people like Ms. Warren — people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened — threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their antiregulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand.

Gregory Rodriguez:
One might think that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami would further our sense of humility in the face of nature. But the earthquake and the tsunami — as well as Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami and tragic earthquakes in Pakistan, Haiti and New Zealand — might also have the opposite effect. In the wake of these catastrophes, Americans could revert to the old-fashioned impulse to master nature.

"When you encounter large-scale natural disasters, you recognize how much of our security and well-being is secured by competent engineering," a liberal Washington journalist tweeted and told me last week. In other words, when nature turns on us once too often, we may decide it's better to fight back than to defer.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Someone on twitter asked : (5+ / 0-)
    Shld we also strike China for slaughtering ppl of Tibet? Playing the gendarme of the world doesn't allow you to have double standards
    2 minutes ago Favorite Reply Delete

    Republicans secret dream = the impeachment of Bo the Dog LOL

    by LaurenMonica on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 05:18:48 AM PDT

  •  post on TEPCO's record coming up (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rontun, DRo, MartyM, Floande, annieli, Larsstephens

    later this am...

    "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

    by Greg Dworkin on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 05:21:36 AM PDT

  •  What's happening in Wisconsin these days? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rontun, Sagebrush Bob, sherlyle

    Ideology is an excuse to ignore common sense.

    by Bush Bites on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 05:23:38 AM PDT

  •  Douthat spews nonsense (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Floande, sherlyle, alrdouglas

    Ross Douthat is at his weaselly self again with the backhanded poke at Democratic Presidents. He is so enamored of John Wayne style “cod-piece” posturing that foreign military interventions now have to be rated according to their virility-index whether they are initiated by Democratic or Republican Presidents.

    This is what Repugs do whether they are mouthbreathing teabaggers or sly pen-wielders like Douthat. It’s all about relentlessly pushing the meme about “effeminate” Democratic Presidents versus “macho-muscle” Repugs. Thus actually SOLVING a foreign policy conundrum is given no value at all. It’s all about the manner in which the problem is attacked, not the quality of the solution.

    Plus, Douthat seems to have conveniently forgotten that it is Democratic Presidents who have to come in after Repug Presidents to clean up the foreign policy and military disasters that follow in the wake of Repug trigger-happy “manly-men” wars.

    He forgets that Repugs make foreign policy advances much more difficult to achieve because their wars raise the levels of Anti-Americanism so high that it takes real strength and diplomatic de-toxification strategies to make any headway in dealing with a hyper-cynical global community.

    Has he ever heard of “blowback”? Didn’t thinks so, so he can afford to talk so glibly.

    "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them." -- Pres. Obama (1/20/2009)

    by zizi on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 05:27:31 AM PDT

  •  I'm increasingly that people are (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annieli, Egalitare, alrdouglas

    conservatives -- i.e. opposed to change -- because they lack a sense of time as a continuum of past, present and future.  They do not conceptualize a sequence and, therefor, have no idea what the future means or, by extension, the relationship between cause and effect.
    In other words, they exist in an ineffable present and that's a very scary place to be in.  Not only do you not know what happens next, you don't even understand what people are talking about when they refer to the future.
    To get an idea of what I'm referring to, compare your junk drawer with an orderly file cabinet in which everything is stored alphabetically and sequentially.  The conservative brain is a junk drawer.  They reach in to get stuff.  Whether what they find is what they can use is a crap shoot.

    by hannah on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 05:28:14 AM PDT

  •  And now a word from Barack Obama (5+ / 0-)

    "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." — Senator Barack Obama

  •  Have you had your breakfast yet? (0+ / 0-)

    If so, go ahead and look at what our soldiers do to civilians' bodies while we're liberating their country from their evil overlords:

    US Soldiers Posing With Dead Civilians from Der Spiegel Article

    This won't happen in Libya, because we're not putting our jackboots on the ground according to the Emperor.

    "The greatest scholars are not usually the wisest people." --Geoffrey Chaucer

    by citizen4truth on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 05:42:25 AM PDT

  •  Krugman & Warren -plus ca change (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Warren is like a latter-day Frances Perkins, Labor Secretary under FDR.  Perkins was instrumentalin bringing us increased union rights and Social Security.

    Like Warren, Perkins ran afoul of the Republicans in Congress, way back in the 30s.  

    In fact, they tried (unsuccessfully) to impeach her.

    As long as Warren refuses to back down, she will be a target.  Stay tuned:

    Frances Perkins .... vision found concrete expression in such landmark reforms as the Wagner Act, which gave workers the right to organize unions and bargain collectively, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established for the first time a minimum wage and a maximum workweek for men and women. Perkins also chaired the Committee on Economic Security, which developed and drafted the legislation that became the Social Security Act in 1935.

    As secretary of labor during the 1930s and early 1940s, Perkins....consistently supported the rights of workers to organize unions of their own choosing and to pressure employers through economic action....It was also the unflappable Perkins who advised President Roosevelt to ignore the pleadings of state and local officials for federal troops to quell the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. The successful resolution of that strike as well as countless others during her tenure as labor secretary laid the foundation for the rebirth of American labor.

    Perkins' actions on behalf of labor angered many conservatives, however. In 1939, the House Un-American Activities Committee brought an impeachment resolution against her after she refused to deport Harry Bridges, the head of the west coast longshore union. The impeachment proceedings eventually were dropped for lack of evidence.

    "There is nothing to be learned from history anymore. We're in science fiction now." -Allen Ginsberg

    by NCJan on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 08:08:34 AM PDT

  •  Tpm has an excellent (0+ / 0-)

    Article(?) written by an academic student of Japan who happened to be in Japan when the earthquake struck.

    This person is basically no fan of the way Western media has handled coverage of the series of disasters that have fallen on Japan and it is a short and good read.

    TMP article

    He also points to a good critique of just the cable coverage here found in the SF Chronicle

    Wall Street: Too big to fail and too big to jail.

    by dotsright on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 08:31:44 AM PDT

    •  very interesting (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Japanese people and government officials will have to spend many years investigating all that went wrong in this accident. I feel it is likely that many at TEPCO and in the government will be found at fault for inadequate preparation, overly optimistic projections, willful ignorance, and just plain lying to the public. This will be an investigation in which the Japanese media will play an important part. But the non-Japanese media should also look at itself and see where it went wrong―so that it can better prepare for a similar accident which, unfortunately, is not altogether impossible in the United States as well.
      American media, certainly, does sensationalize. s

      See death panels, see killer flu.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 10:23:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  And the Japan disaster wasn't caused by people? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Chernobyl accident was not a consequence of a natural disaster, but happened at the hands of people.

    Admittedly, the earthquake and the tsunami were the direct cause of the problems with the nuclear reactors in Japan, but people made the decision to build the reactors to withstand a 7.0 earthquake only, and people made the decision to make the reactors withstand a lesser level of tsunami than was experienced. Understandably, the decision was made on a cost vs risk basis, but people built the reactors in an earthquake zone. So, in truth, the nuclear disaster in Japan was caused by people, helped along by the earthquake and tsunami.

    "The word bipartisan usually means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out." George Carlin

    by lynneinfla on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 08:46:52 AM PDT

  •  Krugman should have an msnbc show (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    he could take the eight pm slot from odonnel"

  •  Douthat's best comment (0+ / 0-)
    But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence.

    A.  What does he mean by "so-called?"  If there is more than one nation involved, isn't that by definition international?

    B.  Bush had 7 years to complete Afghanistan and 5 years to complete Iraq.  Both wars still continue 2+ years after he left office.  Not sure how you can call the action in the Balkans duringht 1990s glacial and tactically incompetent compared to what has happened in the Middle East that last 10 years.

    "Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together" - James Madison

    by SierraDrinker on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 11:33:46 AM PDT

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