Tag Archives: digital revolution

Plugging, common sense and precision

It was inevitable, of course, that when The Digital Revolution spawned The Information Revolution, it would simultaneously open up The Misinformation Revolution.
If anyone, anywhere, anytime – except perhaps in China – can gap on the internet and pontificate, a great deal of what is there is bound to be even worse than nonsense, but poisonous. The only defense is a resort to history, which seems to have gone out of style as an academic discipline, and common sense.
Here are cases in point:
The CN-NPR war against the candidacy of Donald Trump, whatever your own views about The Donald, constantly harps on the theme of the minority vote which they conclude he will not receive. Mebbe. But it is well to remember that in the past – with the enormous exception, granted, of 2008 and 2012, and for obvious reasons — was never a major factor in elections. Even registered black voters notoriously did not vote, and the Mexican-Americans in the southwest, less half as much as they. It remains to be seen if Pres. Barack Obama’s face, and the incredibly honed digital machine his supporters built, has reversed these historic trends.
Speaking of Hispanics. There are none. There are Americans who language in their household – or perhaps their only language in parts of the Southwest – is Spanish, properly Castellano. But, for example, antagonism between Mexico and Cuba in the Spanish Empire was the feud to end all feuds. That carried on among their progeny in the U.S. The Florida and New Jersey Cuban minorities, because of the flight of many of them and their antagonism to the Castro regime, have in the past been Republican with notable exceptions, e.g. Bob Menendez, Democrat, New Jersey (2006–Present), Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey’s 13th district [993-2006]. The flirtation with Raúl Castro of the Obama Administration is likely to end the erosion which was taking place among younger Cuban Americans in recent years. Puerto Ricans is the largest Spanish-speaking minority in Florida; they cannot vote in federal elections in Puerto Rico. They tend to be Democrats because of the long affiliation the first popularly elected governor of the Rican Commonwealth Luis Muñoz Marín local social democratic party was tied to the Democrats’ New Deal on the Mainland. California Mexican-Americans, when they vote tend, to be indeed solidly Democratic, but the Bushes and the current governor, Greg Abbott, has cut heavily into their formerly Democrat base. By the way, all speak Spanish but most Mexicans will admit – unless they come from their own Caribbean coast, e.g. Tampico – that they have great difficulty understanding Cubans and Puerto Ricans’ Spanish.
The Trump campaign keeps trumpeting a “fact”; the candidate earned more votes than any GOP primary candidate in history , they argue, in his primary race with 17 opponents whom he liquidated [or did more or less so until Ted Cruz’ ghost showed up at the third day of the Republican convention]. The “fact” is indisputable, but in no small part explained by another fact: the current estimate of the U.S. population is 322.48 [not counting an unknown number of illegals], more than double the 163.03 million estimated in 1954. Obviously, what is considered the minority political party – kept under an Electoral College handicap by the huge and continuing Democratic majorities in New York and California – has gained spectacularly? With an unprecedented number of candidates all salivating at the possibility of running against a “third Obama administration masquerading as Hillary Clinton, that impetus would have been even stronger. There was large numbers of Democrats and independents, in the states where registration can be changed easily, switching their party affiliation to Republican to take part in the free-for-all.
The CNNers and NPRers are trumpeting the divisions of the just ended Republican Convention, again, as the first time ever, etc. In fact, in the modern era both political parties have been coalitions of regional forces – often at ideological loggerheads with one another but both more interested in power than more egests. The Talking Heads ignore, for example, the fact that the Democratic Party which ruled [under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman] for two decades was a coalition of segregationists [“The Solid South, Dixiecrats, etc], highly personal urban political “machines [Tammany in NYC, Hague in Jersey City, Daley in Chicago and Pendergrass in Kansas City – from which Truman, himself emerged], the AFL-CIO unions, socialists and Communists, and FDR’s “kitchen cabinet” of academic advisers. Furthermore, vice presidents – to “balance” ticket geographically – virtually disappeared with FDR’s firing of Henry Wallace, an Iowa and agricultural society icon, in 1936. [I know; I was writing editorials in my hometown weekly supporting Wallace and the AFL-CIO Political Action Committee!] So-called platform committees in both parties have been irrelevant in terms of influencing the candidates’ policy but simply a combat ring for battling. Party apparatchiks.
So what’s the lesson here? Obviously, don’t believe everything The Talking Heads say with great authority. [It’s something of a delight to listen to one noted female star that has suddenly blossomed into an expert on the Mideast!] Remember, — at least for the time being –Google, and there are dictionaries, the Britannica, to check them out. But most of all maintain your own skepticisms – everything on the Internet is not The Word!

Reality vs. Virtual Reality

In the mid-1960s, I quit taking photographs for publication for my employer, US News & World Report, in addition to my writing. With my trusty little 35mm Leica body and Nikor lenses, I had blossomed from a rank amateur to become quite proficient. There were even battlefield pictures although I was not, as we said then, a “bang-bang reporter”. I was doing more overall reporting and analysis of a complicated political as well as military war in Vietnam and still nominally “covering” the rest of South and Southeast Asia.

I quit for several reasons. I found that I was beginning to look at everything around me through an imaginary camera rangefinder, even before I put it to my eye. Just as I early in my reporting career had decided that voluminous notes were an impediment to writing a good story – important elements of “the story” would go in one ear and into my writing fingers and forgotten not to be adequately reconstructed from what was supposed to be a record. But if I listened carefully [and took down figures], I was more apt to get the essential significance and even the most important of the details of the story I was trying to follow and to write. That now seemed to be what was happening with my camera: I was losing the overall perspective on the scene I was observing with my attention drawn to how to record it with the camera..

There was another reason, as well. I found that nothing lied as much as a photograph, even perhaps more than words. Photographs are, after all, a minisecond of history of the scene presented. [It’s why I have always wondered if photography really is an art form; isn’t most of the best of photography accidental? When the new machine driven lenses with rapid shutter speeds came into mode, we joked that now Margaret Bourke White would bankrupt Time, Inc., with her film costs. She had already been noted as pointing her camera in a direction and taking photographs as fast as possible, eventually selecting one she thought better represented the scene.]

An iconic Madonna-like photo I took of a tribal mother in Laos with her child and the mist floating in behind her head was magnificent. [It was later included in a photographic insert in my book, A Sense of Asia, Chas. Scribner & Sons, 1969]. In fact, what the photograph camouflaged was the deplorable situation in that village including my Madonna figure’s surroundings – its lack of sanitation and food, the high prevalence of tuberculosis and other diseases, and frequent murderous attacks by the Vietnamese Communists.

The digital revolution has magnified all these contradictions, of course.

The recently widely broadcast video of a man being taken down by police looks incredibly brutal. But when even conservative commentators such as Bill O’Reilly and Charles Krauthammer jump on the leftwing bandwagon to condemn the police, they are reacting to only a visual account of a portion of the whole episode. [It seems to have been ignored by most, for example, that a choke hold contracts the larynx and the victim is not able to talk, not even to say he is choking.] Instinctively, most people respond to a man, however strong, being subdued by several other men [in this case policemen] as a bullying episode.

A judge has so far refused to permit the publication of the proceedings of the grand jury which failed to return an indictment on a policeman or policemen in the affair. Quite rightly. Secrecy of grand jury testimony is absolutely essential in our justice system precisely to protect those who would not otherwise testify to the possibility of a crime being committed and therefore to go forward to a jury trial were they not given anonymity.

But we already know that the victim in this scene was an offender with more than 30 arrests, some for serious crime, and, in fact, he was out of prison on bail when this footage was taken. We also know from other sources that the police acted on complaints of nearby storekeepers of the competition of illegal tax-free cigarettes he was peddling and his obstruction of access to their entryways. None of that wider “picture”, of course, comes through in the video. [It’s not even apparent in the film that the sergeant in charge of the police detachment is a female African-American.] Nor is there any indication from the photograph that the victim here suffered from several significant health issues [with perhaps the exception of obesity] which brought on – as well as this encounter with police – his fatal heart attack after he was taken into custody. It’s encouraging although generally ignored by the media and the demonstrators that the view of the victim’s daughter expressed publicly was that she did not believe the episode was a racial issue.

The digital revolution is adding to this kind of conundrum. The growing prevalence of hidden or obviously displayed cameras in virtually all public areas is going to add to the controversial nature of photographs. A camera which records the license plate and the timing of a car violating a red light is going to be incontrovertible proof of lawbreaking. But I suspect that the increasing installation of cameras in police cars and on the bodies of policemen as often as not is going to only add to the controversies surrounding arrests and physical altercations.

Even with technology advancing by the day, the camera will only display and record a portion of the police encounter with the object of surveillance. At some future stage, perhaps, encryption and instantaneous data checking and transmission will reach such a stage that facial recognition will immediately search and deliver police records on any individual under scrutiny. But even then the capacity of the policeman, even in a situation requiring less immediate action, to absorb all this information would be doubtful.

Technology notwithstanding, the moral of my story – if there is one – is that we inevitably fall back on common sense, training and a sense of duty which inspires someone to become a policeman in the first place. Protecting citizens in increasingly hostile environments – not only with criminals also better equipped but increasingly concentrated in crime-ridden ghettos is going to become even more difficult, I fear, especially when those who should know better are joining the anti-police Greek chorus.

Why is everything going wrong?

It isn’t.

There is an old axiom in the news business – or what is left of it as traditional newspapers die to be replaced, for the moment at least, by amateurism on the internet and its social networks – that good news is not news. So we get a steady diet from the media of the worst/most dramatic happenings, now delivered in seconds across the world, and in apocalyptic terms. For nothing is as common as the young [or willfully ignorant] journalist who writes about this or that particular happening as “the first time ever”, “the biggest ever”, or “it is in [whatever other way] unique”. More times than not, the event is a repetition, however singular in its own way in time and space, of something that has happened before. As clichés go, “there is nothing new under the sun” is not a bad one.

But in direct contradiction, I was astonished at a recent Fortune magazine item: entrepreneurs in California have launched a $220-million assembly line – and photographs do make the completely automated selection, weight and packing facility the size “of four football fields” look something like Henry Ford’s old original. It will send to market 800 bags of fruit or 18 million “mandarins” harvested daily. That’s a new undertaking in what is all but a stagnant economy, with massive unemployment, and a Washington economic policy at war with business. Mind you, I doubt the little fruit which it and another rival company are developing almost overnight in California – already reaching half the households in the U.S. according to Fortune — will taste as good as the little old fashion Florida tangerine or that most delicious of all fruits, the Japanese mikan. But it will give large numbers of the American people more access to a cheap [in real terms] citrus than they have ever had. And that, my man, is progress in the face of the welter of bad news all around us.

Okay, now that I have dispensed with the Pollyanna, what is going wrong and why?

For it is not to say that we are in the midst of a cataclysm of troubles, at home and abroad, or again, to deny we have seen far deeper crises. Think of Abraham Lincoln’s outlook at the eve of the civil war. Or, as I recently was telling a friend, it was my duty as a 15-year-old high schooler in January 1942 to go from classroom to classroom reciting a narrative on world events erupting out of Pearl Harbor. It was a grim list of defeats and retreats by the U.S. and its allies. Britain had survived the Blitz, eight months of bombing of civilian targets, but just. Hitler had launched [and we did not know it was to be a disaster] the largest military adventure of all time against the Soviet Union. Two of Britain’s vaunted battleships had been sunk off Malaya’s east coast anticipating the fall of Singapore, what Winston Churchill called the worst defeat in British military history. Most of our Pacific fleet had been sunk at Pearl Harbor with only the aircraft carriers luckily absent at sea. It was the worst of times.

That’s, of course, what we used to call “the old Buddhist argument, things could always be worse. We could be in a 1914 situation – although I think the current widespread comparison highly deficient – and facing such calamities. But for the moment, our concerns of the worst and longest recession in the post-World War II American economy – with its repercussions for rest of the world – and a spate of regional conflicts, however bloody and ugly, around the world, is not the terrible conflict of World War II.

Truth is the carefully manicured narratives of past history usually present a straight-line story of what we now see as the major issues. But during the time those events were transpiring, the contemporaries probably felt the same way we do today, harassed by a whole series of displacements and conflicts, some of them bearing directly on our own lives.

Still, having listed all these caveats, it is appropriate, I believe, to look around and see what is happening and make our guesses as to why:

1] The world since 1945 had learned to live with one major, dominating power, the United States. Not only had it not seen at home the depredations which had scourged Europe and Asia, but it had grown new muscle in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s economic mobilization for war despite the tragic loss of 416,000 lives in combat. The overwhelming majority of industrial and agricultural production lay with the U.S. and whether it chose to use it or not, gave it the power to try to decide world events.

In the midst of the worst zig in the business cycle since the Great Depression of the 1930s. we have an administration in Washington – in part representing a war-weary electorate and an increasingly redistribution of world power – with the most nexperience president and adminmistrative team in modern U.S. history. To add to the difficulties, Pres. Barack Obama believes he has received two mandates to “transform” the American economy and political scene. A part of his program is to increase the “redistricutive” mechanism of the U.S. government through heavier taxation and regulation.

Internationally, the President attempts to step back from the role Washington has taken during the whole post-World War II period. He proposes to “lead from behind”, imitating the old adage that the dagger being at its most powerful when it is still in the scabbard. The President and advisers believe they are sophisticated enough to arrange new patterns of world relationships which would require no U.S. military application of force while we tend to our own somewhat dilapidated infrastructure and meet the demands of a new post-digital revolutionary age.

But the question that goes begging is whether Washington may well have done is to remove itself from regional conflicts [except as feckless mediators] throughout the world leaving a large vacuum permitting the play of the always present destabilizing and destructive forces.

2] The Cold War is over and with it, largely, the alternative a vast bureaucracy forcing a top-down social engineering on a goodly section of the European population under the name of Communism. That was supposed to result in “a peace dividend” for the U.S. economy and the American people. That has not come to pass, in part because the largest part of maintaining world order and stability continues to fall on the shoulders of the Americans. Also an old threat to Western dominance and civilization, the Arab/Muslim fanatic, has again risen to become an international menace.

Using much of the same technology which has enriched Western life and the newly developing economies, the jihadists have learned to project terror into the very heart of non-Muslim societies as well as exacerbate age-old bloody feuds among the Prophet’s followers. Having failed to make the transformation into modern societies, the Arab countries and other Muslim societies are again ravaged by old tribal and ethnic conflicts. But these threaten to spill over into other parts of the world as repeatedly Islamic terrorist acts, successful, or unsuccessful have dramatized. The failure of U.S. military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan to dramatically curtail these terrorist activities seems likely to continue to be a preoccupation of the U.S. and its allies into a distant future.

3] The digital revolution has unfurled technology beyond the wildest dreams of even its most astute advocates. [I am reminded of an old piece of advice from a friend when interviewing an academic on Latin America: “Remember he knows far more than he understands”.] In fact, it has created a second industrial revolution in which technology – sometimes even at minimum expense – has disrupted the whole schedule of work. Jobs and even careers thought essential to industrial societies for generations are being eliminated overnight. The complications are infinite as the Obama Administration’s ham-handed effort to reform U.S. medical services has demonstrated. Yes, medical expenses have grown disproportionately to the rest of society’s costs – although they may be slowing temporarily because of the economic recession. But is it not obvious that increasing applications of expensive new science to our aches and pains would do just that?

The unanticipated events and unintended consequences of this technology is upending the entire world, including setting up new relationships within the American domestic society as well as among nations. Nothing could be more indicative of the new situation than the internet which arose almost by accident and now dictates an increasing part of our economic and social life. That means that government policy, so often written to placate particular sections of the electorate, is often upended by the new technologies. No clearer example exists than the attempt of the Obama Administration to dictate energy goals has been totally vanquished by the introduction of new technologies with the shale gas revolution..

Life has never been simple – not since the first caveman hit the second caveman over the head with a club as they wrestled for the same piece of meat or the affections of a blonde playmate. Common sense tells us that despite the huge and unknowable advances in technology that will continue to be the order of the day.

So, make the best of it. There is a jungle out there and we all must gird our loins to cope. But that has been the nature of life on this planet from its inception. It behooves us to make the most of it and get on with the job of living even in these troubled, as they always are, times.


The death of The Washington Post

The death of The Washington Post

“In the good, old days” a reader’s world was filled with newspapers, several coexisted competitively in a single urban area and even in the rural hinterlands. The choice for a subscriber for dawn home delivery by a boy on a bicycle or picked up at the local newsstand enroute to work was based on one’s “worldview”, however vague. It was a filter for what was then considered a welter of reporting of events out there in the wide world, although in America before World War II largely confined to North American happenings.

Needless to say, that day is long since going, going, gone, for an institution that has been with us for three centuries, or maybe even earlier if you count something the Chinese, as usual, invented along with movable type. But it was not until the 19th century that newspapers took on the importance which The American Founders ascribed to them. That was summed up in Thomas Jefferson’s famous dictum: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”. Jefferson was writing to a fellow Virginia politician to endorse the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution including guarantees for freedom of the press. They were designed to meet the objections then – and now – of those who opposed big government and feared its depredations.

But even Jefferson, later, as president and the object of vitriolic and often personal newspaper attacks, was to denounce their perniciousness, especially after his brief love affair with the French Revolution. The idea, so often floated by misguided historians as well as journalists, is ridiculous that American politics has not always been infused with unlimited invective and lack of compromise. And America has had periods of a highly partisan press before. But what characterizes our contemporary scene is the unanimity of view, the lack of original reporting [or opinion], and the ultimate in the wolf-pack syndrome.

In fact, the current sycophancy – to use the most polite term – of the Washington media in lapping up Obama Administration propaganda is rare in the annals of American journalism. For the press, of course, has always played a central role as critic. As early as the late 18th century, in Europe the term, “the fourth estate”, was applied to the then printed news reports as an informal institution of government, the others being the nobility, the clergy and the burghers or two town leaders. It was an ever questioning  press which often kept the balance in the highly complicated juxtapositionimg which The Founders wrote into the Constitution to preserve America’s unique individual freedom, even as compared with Mother England.

That’s why the sale of The Washington Post is a thunderclap in the growing demise of this critical institution of the past. For whatever the incredibly successful and innovative Amazon’s Jeff Bezos does with his purchase, it will not be a conventional American newspaper. The death of the national capital’s only for-profit daily is symptomatic of what is happening to newspapers throughout the country with falling circulations and collapsing advertising revenues. [I exclude The Washington Times which continues to be highly subsidized by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and its business affiliations and The Washington Examiner which appears to be on life-support from its wealthy owner.]

Dropping a daily appearance, combining distribution and other services among themselves with special legal anti-monopoly protection, changing formats to more sensationalist or other editorial gimmicks, have not been enough. The New York Times, once the nation’s journal of record, is retreating. The calamitous sale of its relatively recently acquired The Boston Globe is a portent of future events. It still preserves its role as the unofficial leaker for government in Washington. But it has abandoned all pretense not only at objectivity but any attempt to present a rounded menu of daily events. How long its semi-official role will continue, one asks, if a sitting president uses a late night comedy show to make a statement on the closing of two dozen embassies around the world in the face of terrorist threats? Nor is their much hope for the current pattern of internet publication subsidized by their print owners.

No, newspapers as we have known them are not long for this world.

In many ways, The Washington Post’s recent history as a prominent publication was not that of most great American newspapers which once rolled up enormous fortunes for their, usually, family owners, as much as anything else from the simple “want ad”. It began its prominence as a plaything for the somewhat frenetic wife of a wealthy New York banker. The drain, apparently considered insurmountable recently, has been too much for the scion of bankers.

When future histories of the 20th century are written, some of the newspaper’s legendary successes are likely to be seen in a quite different light. “Watergate” was, indeed, “a second rate burglary”. The newspaper’s pursuit of it coupled with mishandling by the Administration drove Richard Nixon from office. Probably one of the most astute if unsympathetic presidents, it was a tragedy. Historians will remember some of the footnotes of the Nixon legacy: for example, his decision not to contest the obvious 1960 Chicago election fraud which gave the presidency to John F. Kennedy, even at the urging of all his advisers. It spared the nation a constitutional crisis. One can only speculate in that rather useless fashion what a Nixon presidency rather than the flamboyance if total policy inadequacies of “Camelot” would have meant for America. But as Frederick Engels wrote, history repeats itself, first as drama, the second time as comedy. Florida’s 2000 “hanging chads” was adjudicated by the Supreme Court rather than the House of Representatives as required by the Constitution, again with a turn of events one could speculate on endlessly. .

Replacing The Washington Post and other newspapers’ traditional role is the cacophony of the internet with no filters at all. Virtually anyone, any time, with whatever lack of training [or talent] can and does mount his own perch to shout. [A case in point: my own http:yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com!] Worse, so-called “aggregators” collect these important pieces of information and opinion or the constant drivel of trivia, as the case may be, often used as bait for something very akin to the old-time snakeoil salesman. Lies, exaggerations, prejudice, misinterpretations are as ever the commodity of the day.

As always, technology is neutral, and so is the incredible miracle of the worldwide web. It permits research and communication in a way no serious newspaperman could have dreamed even a decade ago. But, as never before, the vast flow of words often turns into very modest contributions to the popular culture. Furthermore, it becomes a tool for everything from extortion to Islamic terrorism.

The audience, of course, is slippery. Most Americans under 35 never got “the newspaper habit”, the ritual of reading a newspaper either at breakfast or enroute to work in mass transportation or hearing it quoted on a car radio. Blaring contemporary music – a recent Dutch technical musicology study showed how it increasingly abandons the accoutrements of Western music – generally replaces the search for information about what is going on in the world. The ultimate descent into semi-illiteracy may well be The Twitter.

On a good day, one can believe that – since we are only at the beginning of the vast digital revolution – we are seeing the birth of new and beneficial modes of communication. The new newspaper with enormous benefit for our culture and governance may be developing in a way no one now can predict. But we appear to be some time away from that — although in a world that appears to move ever more quickly, we do not know even that.




Obama’s foreign policy: Look the other way to avoid disaster

Whatever the motives by all parties behind the Libyan intervention, the worst fears expressed in the UN resolution “authorizing” the use of force are coming true.

At this writing, half a million civilians in Libya’s third largest port-city of Misurata feel the blast of Muammar Qadaffi’s only half-crippled firepower. Pitifully, they include tens of thousands of Black African illegal migrants trying to get to Europe –hostages like oil in Qadaffi’s blackmail games with the Europeans. Two Western journalists’ deaths dramatized what could well turn into the kind of humanitarian catastrophe the UN trumpets but repeatedly fails to prevent. [A harbinger of a coming catastrophe, ignored by the media, was loss of 200 souls on a refugee ship in early April.]

Misurata is emblematic as the rebels’ outpost in the west close to the Libyan capital, 500 miles from their Benghazi stronghold in eastern Cyrenaica, proof Qadaffi rules largely by terror.

But the Obama Administration has failed to hand off to NATO the dictator’s ouster for which Washington itself along with the Europeans and most Arab states repeatedly calls. Half-hearted attempts to arm the rebels – first with “non-lethal” equipment and later with armed drones – are too little and too late to end what Washington admits is stalemate.

At the UN Security Council, opposition from China and Russia [and hypocritical India] always ready to sabotage Western initiatives, blocks expanding sanctions, including tens of billions Qadaffi’s family still dispenses. They help bribe African states – long on Qadaffi’s dole — who call for a negotiated settlement to rescue the regime. It also whets Russia and China’s appetite for re-initiating lucrative weapons sales to Qadaffi.

This fiasco is only the most flagrant in a growing list of Obama foreign policy disasters. Granted most crises are long in the making, nevertheless, Mr. Obama’s indecisiveness in all but his adamant refusal to fulfill the U.S. role as leader of the Western alliance aggravates every Mideast problem:

· Washington’s obstinate pursuit of accommodation with Syria, perhaps the Arab world’s bloodiest regime, has come a cropper as opponents test whether Dictator Basher al-Assad will escalate current dozens of killings against peaceful demonstrators to the tens of thousands during his father’s reign or abdicate to proliferating Muslim radicals.

· The Obama Administration’s insistence on pressing the issue of outposts in the West Bank, putting the Jewish state’s security at risk, has brought a near Washington-Jerusalem breakdown, endangering the U.S.’ only stable alliance in the region, further negating Israeli-Arab compromise.

· Washington’s indecision in fostering a Mubarrak transition opened the floodgates to the Moslem Brotherhood [whom only Mr. Obama’s Arab experts characterize as “moderate”], weakening Cairo’s military leadership and jeopardizing Egypt’s opposition to Iranian regional expansion.

· The Administration’s belated tepid support for Tehran’s dissidents has not only emboldened the mullahs to strengthen their terrorist tentacles to the Mediterranean and into Afghanistan, but encouraged the Germans, Indians, and of course, the Chinese, to continue flaunting economic sanctions.

· The President’s pretentious “outreach” rhetoric only strengthened the Arab/Muslim “victimization” complexes and symbolic bows to the Saudi monarchy have soured with what Riyadh sees as sabotage of its interests in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen resulting in its noncooperation on boosting OPEC quotas thereby hiking petroleum prices.

· Everywhere U.S. prestige is taking a shellacking, not only from its opponents, but increasingly becoming suspect to European allies who suddenly have been set adrift without their traditional recourse to American leadership and firepower, in the midst of their own Euro/EC crisis.

The approaching electoral season’s probable concentration on domestic concerns is likely to give the Obama Administration some respite from foreign policy critics. Grounding his campaign headquarters in Chicago – to mask his dependence on its political base among the chattering classes on both coasts – may help obscure international issues. Indeed, American foreign policy since its emergence on the eve of World War I as a major player on the world stage has too often been piquancy for violent fluctuation between withdrawal and forced engagement.

But in the 21st century the digital revolution has sounded the death knell of many older perceived choices with instantaneous communication, globalize economics and space age weapons of mass destruction missilery. And, in the end, what may well be building is a new and unforeseen crisis – at the level of Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Turning away may not be a real option the American public will have this time.