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This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: CNN.com (1-3-13)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of "Governing America."
Although some Democrats are pleased that taxes will now go up on the wealthiest Americans, the recent deal to avert the fiscal cliff entrenches, rather than dismantles, one of Bush's signature legacies -- income tax cuts. Ninety-nine percent of American households were protected from tax increases, aside from the expiration of the reduced rate for the payroll tax.
In the final deal, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to preserve most of the Bush tax cuts, including exemptions on the estate tax.
When Bush started his term in 2001, many of his critics dismissed him as a lightweight, the son of a former president who won office as result of his family's political fortune and a controversial decision by the Supreme Court on the 2000 election.
But what has become clear in hindsight, regardless of what one thinks of Bush and his politics, is that his administration left behind a record that has had a huge impact on American politics, a record that will not easily be dismantled by future presidents....
SOURCE: National Review (1-9-13)
George Will’s address at Washington University in St. Louis on December 4 has been rightly hailed as a seminal statement on the role of religion in Western and especially American society, and on the conflicting constitutional ambitions and their consequences of two of George Will’s most eminent fellow Princetonians, James Madison and Woodrow Wilson. It is clear that George Will put a great deal of thought into the address, which required about 40 minutes to deliver, and as would always be the case with anything he thought seriously about, it is a learned, insightful, and stimulating argument. He makes three principal points: that, in most cases, religion is a desirable belief for a society in general to hold, one that benefits equally all members of that society, including those who, like himself, have no religious beliefs; that Madison, as chief author of the Constitution, instituted the system of checks and balances among three coequal branches of the government to restrain the federal government from too dirigiste an intrusion in the rights and freedoms and natural course of the lives of the citizens; and that Woodrow Wilson compromised this with the assertion of the federal government’s right and duty to be more directly interventionist than the authors of the Constitution wished.
George Will holds Wilson’s emulators responsible for unconstitutional deviations that have resulted in the wholesale acquisition, with the taxpayers’ money, of the political support of special-interest groups, and the redefinition of the role of government to one of almost unlimited tinkering and meddling in areas that the authors and initial adopting legislators of the Constitution did not intend and would not approve, a meddling that is objectively regrettable and, on balance, unsuccessful and dangerous.
In what must rank as one of the greatest intellectual tours de force ever written by an American journalist (and one that has very few rivals from journalists of other countries since Swift), Will establishes a sequence, starting from the recognition by the principal Founders of the country (Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and especially Madison, but not Hamilton, are mentioned), that religion is central to a concept of natural rights, as in the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that the “Creator” endows all men with “inalienable rights,” and that all are “created equal.” Will said in St. Louis that “natural rights are especially firmly grounded when they are grounded in religious doctrine.” Though Will effectively asserts that none of the Founders was religious at all, they invoked religion, rather as he does, as useful because it “fostered attitudes and aptitudes associated with, and useful to, popular government.” (He exaggerates: Washington, Adams, and even Hamilton had their moments of conventional religious practice, and the others did more at times than, as is claimed, just doff their caps to religion.)
SOURCE: Washington Monthly (1-1-13)
Thomas J. Sugrue is the David Boies Professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book is "Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race."
In 1973, my parents sold their modest house on Detroit’s West Side to Roosevelt Smith, a Vietnam War veteran and an assembly-line worker at Ford, and his wife, Virginia (not their real names). For the Smiths—African Americans and native Mississippians—the neighborhood was an appealing place to raise their two young children, and the price was within their means: $17,500. The neighborhood’s three-bedroom colonials and Tudors, mostly built between the mid-1920s and the late ’40s, were well maintained, the streets quiet and lined with stately trees. Nearby was a movie theater, a good grocery store, a local department store, and a decent shopping district. Like many first-time home buyers, the Smiths had every reason to expect that their house would be an appreciating investment.
For their part, my parents moved to a rapidly growing suburb that would soon be incorporated as Farmington Hills. Their new house, on a quiet, curvilinear street, was a significant step up from the Detroit place. It had four bedrooms, a two-car attached garage, and a large yard. It cost them $43,000. Within a few years, they had added a family room and expanded the small rear patio. Their subdivision, like most in Farmington Hills, was carefully zoned. The public schools were modern and well funded, with substantial revenues from the town’s mostly middle- and upper-middle-class taxpayers. All of the creature comforts of the good suburban life were close at hand: shopping malls, swim clubs, movie theaters, good restaurants....
For the Smiths it was a far different story. Detroit had been losing population since the 1950s, and especially after the 1967 riots there was massive “white flight” from the city. The neighborhood in which the Smiths invested went from mostly white to black within a few years, along with the rest of Detroit. For the city as a whole, those who remained were not as well off on average as those who left, meaning that even as the tax base shrank, the demand for city services went up, setting off a vicious death spiral. Soon, schools and infrastructure groaned with age, and the city’s tax base shrank further as businesses relocated to suburban office parks and shopping centers. By the end of the ’70s, the decline of the auto industry and manufacturing generally compounded Detroit’s woes, as production shifted to Japan or the South in search of cheaper labor and fewer regulations....
SOURCE: Washington Monthly (1-1-13)
Louis P. Masur is a professor of American studies and history at Rutgers University and the author of "Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union."
A couple of years ago, speaking to a bipartisan group of college students about the Emancipation Proclamation, President Barack Obama commented, half jokingly, that if the executive order were signed today, headlines would scream, “Lincoln Sells Out Slaves.” His observation spoke not only to our sensationalist news culture, but also to the rocky reputation of the Proclamation itself, a document that has been both praised and damned by politicians, scholars, and activists on both sides of the ideological aisle since Lincoln announced it in 1862 and then signed it 150 years ago this year, on January 1, 1863.
The reasons behind the ups and downs in the Proclamation’s reputation are various. From the outset, it was roundly and predictably condemned by Democratic opponents, who characterized it as a brash and sweeping abuse of presidential power. Perhaps less predictably, Northern abolitionists also condemned it, but for the opposite reason. They argued that it didn’t do enough, didn’t go far enough. Since the Emancipation Proclamation applied only to those slaves in rebel-held territory, abolitionists complained that it abandoned thousands of slaves, including the four loyal slave states: Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky. Of the four million slaves in America at the time, the Proclamation applied to only about 3.1 million of them. It would take another three years and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865 to abolish slavery throughout the United States. Adam Gurowski, a Polish radical working as a translator in the State Department at the time, despaired that “the proclamation is generated neither by Lincoln’s brains, heart or soul, and what is born in such a way is always monstrous.”
Despite Gurowski’s prediction, in the decades following the Civil War, until the middle of the twentieth century, the reputation of the Emancipation Proclamation expanded in most Americans’ estimation, reaching a rather exalted status in the American history textbooks in many of our childhoods. But then, in the 1960s, the Proclamation’s reputation began to shrivel again. Some historians began to find the prose wanting. It irked them that the Proclamation was written in legalese as a military measure, not as an expression of moral conviction—evidence, they thought, that the document was “merely” the product of political calculation and compromise. Lincoln was found wanting, too. Steeped in the realities of the nineteenth century, Lincoln’s racial attitudes seemed out of step with the times....
SOURCE: The Nation (1-12-13)
Rick Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008).
I had other plans for how to spend my Saturday. I had other plans for my next blog post here at The Nation. Then I learned my friend Aaron Swartz had committed suicide, facing a baseless, bullying federal indictment that might have sent him to jail for decades, and fate demanded this be a day to remember.
I remember him contacting me out of the blue—was it in 2005?—and telling me I needed a website, and did I want him to build one for me? I smelled a hustle, asking him how much it would cost, and he said, no, he wanted to do it for free. I thought, What a loser this guy must be. Someone with nothing better to do.
How long was it before I learned instead that he actually was a ball of pure coruscation, the guy who had just about invented something called an “RSS feed” and a moral philosopher and public-intellectual-without-portfolio and tireless activist and makeshift Internet-era self-help guru and self-employed archivist and what his deeply inadequate New York Times obituary called “an unwavering crusader to make that information free of charge”—and, oh yes, how long was it after I heard from him that I learned that he was, what, 20 years old?...
SOURCE: PJ Media (1-13-13)
Ron Radosh is a PJ Media columnist and Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.
There is a real not so covert war going on in our nation’s capital. It is not that of the Obama administration to put into the office of Secretary of Defense a man with a questionable record, but that of Chuck Hagel’s supporters to end all opposition—by raising the cry of “McCarthyism.”
That old standard bugaboo of the Left is being used again, this time as a mechanism to try and discredit all those who have brought forth very valid reasons as to why Senator Hagel should not get appointed to the position, despite his nomination. For those who have not been paying attention, here is a brief summary of the various reasons presented by those who oppose Hagel’s nomination
1. He has publicly spoken about how the “Jewish lobby” intimidates members of Congress. Of course, there is a pro-Israel lobby that has the support of most of the public in our country, and is composed not only of Jews, but of many evangelical Christians.
2. He not only opposed the Iraq war after first supporting it, but later voted against declaring Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups. He also argued on behalf of negotiations with them....
SOURCE: ChinaFile (1-13-13)
Rachel Beitarie is a Mid-East born and long-time Beijing-based freelance writer. She has published extensively in Israeli publications and has also contributed to venues such as Foreign Policy, Circle of Blue, and the China Digital Times.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Professor of Chinese History at UC Irvine, the author of books such as China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford, 2010), and co-editor of the forthcoming Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land (to be published in September 2012 by the University of California Press).
Last weekend, Nicholas Kristof wrote in the pages of The New York Times that he feels moderately confident China will experience resurgent economic reform and probably political reform as well under the leadership of recently installed Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. Some forecasts about China’s future are easy to dismiss. But Kristof knows the country well and we take his predictions seriously. We don’t, however, find them persuasive. Here’s why:
Kristof’s key argument is that Xi Jinping will turn out to be more deeply committed to a reform agenda than his predecessor, Hu Jintao, and he and his colleagues will move China back onto a path of economic liberalization while also loosening up the political reins. We’d like to share this optimism, but we find it hard to do so. One reason is that, as Ian Johnson’s careful New York Times piece on Xi’s career to date shows, China’s newest top leader doesn’t have a track record of making bold moves. Admittedly, leaders on upward trajectories these days often play it safe, but even within what is a generally risk-averse context, Xi’s actions have been at the cautious end of the spectrum.
The search for clues that Xi is a secret proponent of reform gives us a strange sense of déjà vu. Much of what Kristof is saying now was said about Hu Jintao a decade ago, when he was the new leader about whom we knew very little. And just as Kristof now sees it as a hopeful sign that a progressive figure is likely to be elevated to a high post in Xi’s administration, China’s outgoing premier Wen Jiabao was seen then as someone likely to keep Hu moving in liberalizing directions....
SOURCE: NYT (1-10-13)
RETURNING home from a visit to Russia in 1774, the philosophe Denis Diderot wrote that in France, he could not “help but think that I’ve the soul of a slave in a country where men are called free,” whereas in Russia he “had the soul of a free man in a country where men are called slaves.”
Has Gérard Depardieu had similar thoughts of late?
On Sunday, President Vladimir V. Putin welcomed the French actor to Russia with a newly issued Russian passport. Mr. Depardieu, outraged by the French Socialist government’s proposed 75 percent wealth tax, had walked out on his country. A fan of Russia’s low taxes, he also praised its “great democracy”: “I love your country, Russia — its people, its history, its writers. I love your culture, your intelligence.” Mr. Putin’s increasing authoritarianism went unmentioned.
In the centuries since French celebrities began washing up on its shores, Russia has used them to affirm itself as a center of European culture, as well as to poke its finger in the eye of Western nations. Russia has always needed its Depardieus, just as much as they needed Russia....
SOURCE: TomDispatch (12-20-12)
Ira Chernus is a TomDispatch regular and professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the author, among other works, of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin and the online collection “MythicAmerica: Essays.” He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.
Here’s the question no one is asking as 2012 ends, especially given the effusive public support the Obama administration offered Israel in its recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza: Will 2013 be a year of confrontation between Washington and Jerusalem? It’s on no one’s agenda for the New Year. But it could happen anyway.
It’s true that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process appears dead in the water. No matter how much Barack Obama might have wanted that prize, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed him at every turn. The president appears to have taken it on the chin, offering more than the usual support for Israel and in return getting kloom (as they say in Hebrew). Nothing at all.
However, the operative word here is “appears.” In foreign affairs what you see -- a show carefully scripted for political purposes -- often bears little relation to what you actually get.
While the Obama administration has acceded to the imagery of knee-jerk support for whatever Israel does, no matter how outrageous, behind the scenes its policies are beginning to look far less predictable. In fact, unlikely as it may seem, a showdown could be brewing between the two countries. If so, the outcome will depend on a complicated interplay between private diplomacy and public theater.
The latest well-masked U.S. intervention came in the brief November war between Israel and Gaza. It began when Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader deeply involved in secret truce talks between the supposedly non-communicating foes.
Destructive as it was, the war proved brief indeed for one reason: the American president quickly stepped in. Publicly, he couldn’t have sided more wholeheartedly with Israel. (It felt as if Mitt Romney had won, not lost, the election.) In private, though, as he pressured Egyptian President Morsi to force Hamas to a truce, he reportedly pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just as hard.
The truce agreement even had an Obama-required twist. It forced Israel to continue negotiating seriously with Hamas about easing the blockade that, combined with repeated destructive Israeli strikes against the Palestinian infrastructure, has plunged Gaza so deep into poverty and misery. Talks on the blockade are reportedly proceeding, though wrapped in the deepest secrecy. It’s hard to imagine Israel upholding the truce and entering into a real dialogue to ease the blockade without significant pressure from Washington.
Washington is also deeply involved in the tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) in the West Bank. When P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas asked the U.N. General Assembly to accord Palestine observer status, Israel publicly denounced any such U.N. resolution. The Obama administration wanted to offer a far softer resolution of its own with Israeli approval. The Israelis gave in and sent a top official to Washington to negotiate the language.
In the end, the U.S. had no success; the stronger resolution passed overwhelmingly. Israel promptly retaliated by announcing that it would build 3,000 additional housing units in various settlements on the West Bank. To make the response stronger, the Israeli government indicated that it would also make “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for new Israeli settlements in the most contentious area of the West Bank, known as E1. Settlements there would virtually bisect the West Bank and complete a Jewish encirclement of Jerusalem, ending any hope for a two-state solution.
Washington Can Lay Down the Law
There is a history of the Israeli government publicly announcing settlement expansions for symbolic political effect, and then, under U.S. pressure, pursuing only limited construction or none at all. Some observers suspect Netanyahu is now playing the same game.
As the New York Times reported, “For years, American and European officials have told the Israelis that E1 is a red line. The leaked, somewhat vague, announcement... is a potent threat that may well, in the end, not be carried out because the Israeli government worries about its consequences.” Prominent Israeli columnist Shimon Shiffer was more certain. “Netanyahu,” he wrote, “does not plan to change the policies of his predecessors, who assured the Americans Israel would not build even one house in problematic areas” like E1.
Maybe that’s why Netanyahu sounded so tentative on the subject in an interview: “What we’ve advanced so far is only planning [in E1], and we will have to see. We shall act further based on what the Palestinians do.” Israeli officials admitted to the New York Times that the move on E1 was “symbolism against symbolism.”
But several European nations took the E1 threat seriously and responded with unusually sharp criticism. Some Israeli insiders claimed that Obama’s hidden hand was at work here, too. The American president, they speculated, gave the Europeans “the green light to respond with extreme measures... The European move is essentially an American move.” If so, it was all done in private, of course. (The White House publicly denied the claim.)
However Peter Beinart, editor of the Open Zion page at the Daily Beast and author of The Crisis of Zionism, claims administration officials have told him that such behind-the-scenes maneuvering is Obama’s new strategy. Publicly, Washington will “stand back and let the rest of the world do the confronting. Once the U.S. stops trying to save Israel from the consequences of its actions, the logic goes, and once Israel feels the full brunt of its mounting international isolation, its leaders will be scared into changing course.”
As Beinart suggests, international isolation is what worries Israelis most. A cut-off of U.S. military aid would be troubling indeed but in itself hardly fatal, since Israel already has the strongest military in the Middle East and a sizeable military-industrial-high-tech complex of its own.
What Israel needs, above all, from the U.S. is diplomatic support to protect it from international rejection, economic boycotts, and a diplomatic tsunami that could turn Israel into a pariah state. Political analysts have long assumed that any Israeli leader who loses the protection of the U.S. would pay the price at the polls.
That’s why some insiders, like Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, think Obama can “lay down the law” to Israel on E1 -- behind closed doors, of course. The influential Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer puts the situation in the simplest of terms: “It is clear who is boss.”
Obama’s New Diplomatic Weapon
The rules of Israel’s political game, however, may also be changing. And that’s a key to understanding why 2013 could be the year of confrontation between the leaderships of the two countries. Netanyahu has allied his Likud party with the strongest party to its right, Yisrael Beitenu. To seal his victory in the upcoming election on January 22, he’s put his political fate in the hands (or talons) of his country’s hawks.
If he wins (which everyone assumes he will), he’ll have to satisfy those hawks -- and they don’t care about shrewd secret bargaining or holding on to allies. What they want, above all, are public displays of unilateral strength made with much fanfare, exactly like the recent settlement-expansion announcement and the accompanying threat to turn E1 into an Israeli suburb. Many observers have suggested that the primary audience was Netanyahu’s new, ever-more-right-wing partners. Plenty of them still don’t trust him, especially after the ceasefire in Gaza under pressure from Washington.
Most analysts saw the Israeli announcement as a public punishment of the Palestinians for their success at the U.N. The BBC’s Kevin Connolly had a different interpretation: Israeli hawks felt that letting the U.N. vote pass without some strong response “would be seen as a sign of weakness.”
Israeli political life has always been haunted by a fear of weakness and a conviction that Jews are condemned to vulnerability in a world full of anti-Semites eager to destroy them. The hawks’ worldview is built upon this myth of insecurity. It demands instant retaliation so that Jews can show the world -- but more importantly themselves -- that they are strong enough to resist every real or (more often) imagined threat.
To keep the show going, they must have enemies. So they seek out confrontations and, at the same time, “actually welcome isolation,” as the venerable Israeli commentator Uri Avnery says, “because it confirms again that the entire world is anti-Semitic, and not to be trusted.”
“For the sake of his target voter,” writes another Israeli columnist, Bradley Burston, “it's in Netanyahu's direct interest for the world to hate Israelis” and for Obama to be “fed up and furious with Israel. That is, at least until Election Day.”
Obama owes the Israeli prime minister nothing after the recent U.S. election season in which Netanyahu practically campaigned for Mitt Romney and publicly demanded that the U.S. threaten an attack on Iran –- a demand that the administration publicly rebuffed. The president might finally be fed up, and so in a mood to ratchet up private pressure on the Israelis.
If Obama is planning to put more heat on them, he will undoubtedly wait until after their election. Then, in the late winter months of 2013, before spring comes and Netanyahu can revive the possibility of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, the president might well provoke a showdown.
He has good reason. If he can secure a definitive halt to settlement expansion, he can bring the Palestinians back to the table with a promise to press Israel to negotiate seriously for a two-state solution. In a chaotic region where the U.S. seems to be losing ground weekly, Washington could score sizeable foreign policy points, especially in improving relations with regional powers Turkey and Egypt.
And faced with Netanyahu’s new post-election government, Obama would find himself with a new diplomatic weapon in his arsenal. Suppose -- an administration aide might suggest to an Israeli counterpart -- the U.S. publicly reveals that it’s allowing, perhaps even pushing, other nations to isolate Israel.
Some Israeli hawks would undoubtedly welcome the chance to proclaim Obama as Israel’s greatest enemy and demand that Netanyahu resist all pressure. But Israeli centrists -- still a large part of the electorate -- would be dismayed, or worse, at the thought of losing Washington as their last bulwark against international rejection. The fear that Israel could become a pariah state, blacklisted, embargoed, and without its lone invaluable ally would be a powerful incentive. They’d insist that Netanyahu show flexibility to avoid that fate.
Netanyahu would find himself caught in a political battle he could never hope to win. To avoid such a trap, he might well risk yielding in private to U.S. pressure, with the understanding that the two allies would publicly deny any change in policy and the U.S. would continue to offer effusive public support. (The Israelis could always find some bureaucratic excuse to explain a halt -- even if termed a “delay” -- to settlement expansion.)
Battle on the Home Front
That prospect should be tempting for Obama, but he has domestic political risks of his own to weigh.
There’s a common misconception that the administration worries most about “the Jews.” The latest polls, however, show 73 percent of U.S. Jews supporting Obama’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nearly as many want him to propose a specific plan for a two-state solution, even if it means publicly disagreeing with Israel. Nor is there too much reason to worry about Jewish money, since most Jewish contributors to the Democrats are liberals who are pro-Israel but also pro-peace.
Nor are Christian Zionists the big problem. They do have some clout in Washington, but not enough to make Obama fear them.
The administration’s main worry is undoubtedly the Republican Party and especially its representatives in Congress. Recent polls by CNN, the Huffington Post, and Pew indicate that Republicans are roughly twice as likely as Democrats to take Israel’s side, while Democrats are about five times as likely to sympathize with Palestinians. Men, whites, and older people are most likely to support Israel unreservedly in the conflict.
In the U.S. presidential campaign, Republicans were eager to play on the traditional American belief in Israel’s insecurity: an innocent victim surrounded by vicious Arabs eager to destroy the little Jewish state. Obama, the GOP charged, had “thrown Israel under the bus.”
But the issue never gained real traction, an indication that the domestic political climate may be changing. Another small sign of change: a relatively weak measure threatening a cutoff of funding to the Palestinians, which in the past would have sailed through Congress, recently died in the Senate.
If Obama and the Democrats come out of the “fiscal cliff” process looking strong, they will feel freer to put real pressure on Israel despite Republican criticism. The more they can keep that pressure hidden from public view, while mouthing all the old “we stand with Israel” clichés, the more likely they are to take the risk.
In such a situation, Israeli right-wingers might well give their GOP allies enough evidence to rip off the mask. Then, Obama would have to speak more candidly to the American people, though his honesty would surely be well tempered with political spin.
Our goal, he might say, has always been to make Israel secure, something long ago achieved. We’ve ensured that Israel maintains such a huge military advantage over its neighbors, including its Iron Dome missile defense system, that it is now effectively safe from any attack. And we’ll continue ensuring that Israel maintains its military superiority, as we are required to do by law.
But now at long last, he would continue, we are showing our friendship in a new way: by bringing Israel and its Palestinian neighbors to the negotiating table so that they can make peace. Israelis shouldn’t have to live eternally in a fortress. We refuse to condemn them to that kind of future. We are instead taking steps to help them be free to flourish in a nation that is genuinely secure because it has made peace. Some may call it tough love, but let everyone understand that it is an act of love.
Whether Obama believed such talk or not would hardly matter. Public theater deftly meshed with private diplomacy is the key to peace. And confrontation in 2013 could be the first step on the path toward it.
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (1-2-13)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Men dressed as women - at the Mummers Parade! Can you believe it?
In November, parade organizers announced that 10 self-described "drag queens" would accompany the String Bands along Broad Street from Washington Avenue to City Hall today. They're also expected to perform at the Convention Center between the acts of the Fancy Brigades.
Philadelphians greeted the news with a collective yawn, because cross-dressing has long been a staple of Mummery. Starting in the 1920s, feminine-attired "wenches" paraded down Broad Street paihttp://hnn.us/node/add/hnnred with tuxedo-clad "dudes." And until the 1970s, when women were finally allowed to participate in the parade, the Comic Division had a separate category for female impersonators.
But the wenches and dudes also wore blackface, adding a note of bigotry to the event. And real transvestites - as opposed to people who cross-dress just for the day - have faced extraordinary prejudice in Philadelphia and elsewhere across history, which makes the Mummers' embrace of them all the more remarkable....
SOURCE: LA Times (1-10-13)
Tom Engelhardt, cofounder of the American Empire Project and author of "The End of Victory Culture," runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com.
We got Osama bin Laden — and now we'll be getting him again on cinema screens across the nation, as "Zero Dark Thirty" hits neighborhood multiplexes. Lauded and criticized, that film's the talk of the town. Is it also the first of a new genre? If so, here are my five nominations for other CIA films.
Let's start with the CIA's 1953 coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, whose democratically elected government had nationalized the country's oil industry. It couldn't be oilier, involving BP in an earlier incarnation, the CIA, British intelligence, bribery, secretly funded street demonstrations and (lest you think there'd be no torture in the film) the installation of an autocratic regime that went on to create a fearsome secret police that tortured opponents for decades after. All of this was done in the name of what used to be called "the Free World." That "successful" coup was the point of origin for just about every disaster and bit of "blowback" — a term first used in the CIA's secret history of the coup — in U.S.-Iranian relations to this day. Many of the documents have been released, and what a story it is!...
SOURCE: Bloomberg News (1-8-13)
Robert E. Wright is the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy at Augustana College in South Dakota and the author of numerous books, including, with David Cowen, “Financial Founding Fathers: The Men Who Made America Rich.”
The recent announcement that Wall Street’s most iconic institution, the New York Stock Exchange, would be acquired by Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange Inc. (ICE) seemed weighted with symbolism.
For one thing, it represented another marker in the decline of New York City as the center of global finance. It also suggested that the world of trading and exchanges was entering a uniquely modern age of technology-driven consolidation. You may recall, for example, the mergers that the NYSE conducted with Archipelago Holdings Inc. (2006), Euronext NV (2007) and the American Stock Exchange (2008).
Since the NYSE (then called the Stock and Exchange Board) first merged with another exchange shortly after the Civil War, its history has always been characterized by competition and consolidation. It suggests that financial exchanges respond to evolving economic conditions like any other industry, and that bigger often isn’t better....
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (1-8-13)
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK, Pennsylvanians, let's see a show of hands: How many of you were harmed by the NCAA's sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal?
Gov. Corbett says you were, so he's suing the NCAA, which slapped a $60 million fine and a four-year bowl ban on Penn State last summer. Corbett initially accepted the sanctions, but he changed his tune last week, arguing that the penalties "irreparably harm the citizens and the general economy of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania." But Corbett's suit doesn't provide a single piece of evidence to support that claim.
What the complaint does suggest is something much darker: that a Sandusky-style atrocity could have occurred at any number of football-worshipping universities that make coaches into idols. In an attempt to exculpate Penn State, Corbett has actually indicted us all....
SOURCE: National Review (1-2-13)
George W. Bush left office in January 2009 with one of the lowest job-approval ratings for a president (34 percent) since Gallup started compiling them — as compared to Harry Truman’s low of 32 percent, Richard Nixon’s of 24 percent, and Jimmy Carter’s of 34 percent — and to the general derision of the media.
At times the venom accorded Bush in popular culture reached absurd — and even sick — levels. Alfred A. Knopf, for example, infamously published Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint, a pathetic riff on shooting Bush. Gabriel Range’s unhinged 2006 "docudrama," The Death of a President, focused on an imagined assassination of President Bush (imagine the outcry should any filmmaker today update that topos). A sick Charlie Brooker op-ed in the Guardian called for another John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald to kill Bush. Jonathan Chait of The New Republic more or less permanently ruined his reputation by writing an adolescent rant on "the case for Bush hatred," one that began creepily with "I hate President George W. Bush." Try substituting another president’s name for Bush’s and see what the reaction of The New Republic would be.
All that hysteria once led to Charles Krauthammer’s identification of "Bush Derangement Syndrome" — a pathology in which the unbalanced seemed to channel all their anxieties, frustrations, and paranoias onto George W. Bush. And yet, following 9/11, Bush had calmly led the nation and enjoyed one of the highest positive appraisals of any president since the advent of modern polling, when for months he registered a 90 percent approval rating; indeed, he averaged a 62 percent approval rating over his first four years.
Yet, as with all presidents, with time and a successor come perspective...
SOURCE: WaPo (12-24-12)
Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.
SOURCE: Dissent (12-18-12)
Saul Cornell is the Paul and Diane Guenther Chair in American History at Fordham University.
In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, many Americans are wondering when we can begin a calm and rational public discussion of gun policy. Once upon a time in America, even Republicans favored robust regulation of firearms. Richard Nixon supported gun control and the Brady system of checks was enacted during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. In contemporary America, Republicans have rejected this heritage and so have most Democrats. Republican candidates vie with each other to prove their “Second Amendment credentials,” and Democrats either remain mute or mouth their own insipid Second Amendment platitudes. This capitulation to gun rights extremism has pulled public discussion about guns far away from a sensible debate. The time has arrived for an informed discussion about guns in America. Such a discussion must be based on credible research, not ideological manifestos.
When faced with demands for new regulations, gun rights advocates have typically responded with two equally distorted claims: gun regulation does not work, and the Second Amendment precludes robust gun regulation. Let’s have a look at each claim.
There is a considerable body of reliable scholarship, as opposed to the junk science of gun rights advocates, that gun laws do work. No set of laws can eliminate gun violence, but the point is to reduce violence at the lowest possible cost to gun owners. Expanding background checks to include all gun sales and limiting the number of guns one can purchase at a time are good starts. (Hardly any states limit handgun purchases, and those that do limit them to one a month—only twelve handguns a year!) Safe storage laws also save lives. The notion that, in a town that prior to this tragedy had a single homicide in the last decade, assembling an arsenal in your home would make you safer, particularly in a home in which a deeply disturbed young man was living, is precisely the type of twisted gun rights logic that has gone unchallenged for too long.
The Second Amendment poses no barriers to reasonable regulation. Under any theory of the Second Amendment, including the wacky one adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller—the case that effectively erased the militia clause of the amendment and adopted the gun rights movement’s fantasy version of American history—almost any reasonable gun regulation would pass constitutional muster. Guns have been regulated since the first colonists landed on America’s shores. In the decades after the adoption of the Second Amendment, gun regulation got more strict, not less. The Second Amendment actually tilts toward regulation, not away from it; without something akin to gun registration, how could you muster a militia?...
SOURCE: NY Daily News (12-19-12)
SOURCE: NursingClio (12-21-12)
Thomas A. Foster teaches in the History Department at DePaul University. His new book, Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America, features 72 historical documents that trace the history of sexuality in America from the colonial period to the present
As you may well be aware, there is a spa in New York City that sells vajazzling. The flash and style of adding sparkling, jewel-like plastic to denim can also be accomplished for the vagina. Is our current, historically unprecedented, public focus on the vagina finally succeeding in creating a female cultural counterpoint to the penis? Are we nearing total equality of the sexes?
The popular emphasis on the vagina is certainly on the rise. The explosive popularity of the Vagina Monologues, now regularly performed on college campuses, made many more comfortable with the V word. Social critic Naomi Wolf has recently argued for the existence of the “mind-vagina”connection. Commercials coyly refer to the letter V for various feminine products and sitcoms and singers laud their own embrace of the vajayjay as a way of indicating equal sexual footing with men. “Designer” vaginas are also part of this new emphasis. Cosmetogynecology is one of the fastest growing types of cosmetic surgery.
Such an embrace of the vagina, which appears to be productive on the one hand, may unfortunately also only further obscure the importance of the clitoris. Certainly a double standard still needs to be challenged. But the penis is not simply a symbol of power it is also the center of male sexual pleasure.
In popular culture, sex is inextricably linked to youth and modernity, so most people don’t think about History when looking for sex advice. Generally, advice from History relates to topics of governance and state building. But we would do well to remember that previous generations actually were familiar with sexual intimacy (we have proof!) and even gave it some thought.
‘The Compleat Midwife’s Companion’ by Jane Sharp, 1724.
Forty-five years ago, activist and author Anne Koedt wrote powerfully about the reasons our society had embraced only the vaginal orgasm and had rejected the clitoral orgasm as immature. In her 1968 essay “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Koedt argued that the clitoris is the “center of sexual sensitivity” and is the “female equivalent of the penis.” She contended that other sensations perceived to be orgasmic are virtually always experienced through the clitoris. (This was not a brand new argument. As I have written elsewhere, Jane Sharp, author of a midwifery manual in the seventeenth-century also argued that the clitoris was like the penis and the source of female pleasure.)
Koedt wrote partly in response to alarm over what was believed to be a growing problem — frigid women. She argued that the very idea of vaginal orgasm stemmed from Freud’s own hang-ups and his belief in the inferiority of women to men. Koedt railed against a 1960s society that had largely accepted the notion that women who did not respond orgasmically to good old-fashioned intercourse, were somehow flawed and actually suffered from a psychological problem that needed treatment.
Dovetailing with the women’s health movement, she argued that ignorance of women’s bodies needed to be addressed to help equalize men’s and women’s social roles and to properly ensure the health and welfare of women.
Today, significant segments of the country still do not support total equality for men and women – not in a range of areas (especially social roles) and an over-emphasis on the elusiveness of female orgasm endures, partly fueled by the tired view of women’s bodies and women themselves as Rubik’s Cubes (enjoyable for some but not all). Our society is still very invested in the depiction of men and male bodies as transparent and raw (witness the immense popularity of Ultimate Fight Club) and women and women’s bodies as alluring and mysterious.
Koedt conceded that some orgasms can be experienced from “sexual fantasy” but she maintained that even though the “cause is psychological” the physical sensation, be it “localized” or “more diffuse,” “necessarily takes place in the sexual organ equipped for sexual climax – the clitoris.” Ditto for the sensitivity of labia minor and “vestibule” of the vagina. (Those who agree with Koedt argue that the so-called G Spot may well be a sensitive area because of nerves that extend from the base of the clitoris.)
Koedt also pointed out that there are few nerve endings within the vagina. She provocatively contended that women “need no anesthesia inside the vagina during surgery, thus pointing to the fact that the vagina is in fact not a highly sensitive area.” Recently, Dr. Charles Runels has developed the O-Shot, a blood-product injection that sensitizes the vagina near the Skene’s glands, essentially surgically implanting a G-Spot, or O-Spot as it’s been called. The FDA has yet to verify the claim. (One wonders why we wouldn’t all just have it installed on the back of our hands.)
Today, the debates around vaginal orgasm are more complicated. They do still, as Koedt argued in the 60s, partly stem from the view of women as designed for male pleasure. The billion-dollar porn industry, an industry largely made up of men developing sexually arousing material for other men, is not driven by the sexual concerns of women.
However, the debates today are also framed as being about the legacy of Sexual Liberation and Feminism in that they emphasize equality of the sexes and women’s entitlement to fulfilling intimacy.
The “damage” that was being done to women in the 1960s, according to Koedt, by making them feel inadequate because of so-called “frigidity,” also endures; for many it is now compounded by the pressure for women to experience G Spot climax or ejaculation.
The current celebration of the vagina may well help dispel shame and discomfort around openly discussing women’s bodies and women’s sexuality. But even here it seems the word vagina has become its own euphemistic term, masking clitoris, vulva, and labia. And as has long been established, the vagina is not the counterpart to the penis.
Second Wave feminists in the 1960s critiqued the Sexual Revolution’s emphasis on liberating men and emphasized the importance of treating men and women as equal. Many writers, like Koedt, focused on the clitoris and a call to reconfigure understandings of normative heterosexual sex as a pathway to women’s sexual liberation.
Not all will agree with Koedt’s argument but those on all sides of the vaginal versus clitoral orgasm debate can surely find common ground in Koedt’s basic call for “mutual enjoyment” and an end to allowing others to push you to define yourself based on what they deem to be “normal.”
The US has loudly condemned the practice in other countries of removing the clitoris from adolescent girls, comfortably labeling the surgery barbaric. Re-considering Koedt’s classic essay should also give us pause. By not celebrating the clitoris alongside the vagina, perhaps we are committing a cultural clitoridectomy in our own backyard.
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-20-12)
Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of Britain joining what was then just the European Economic Community, there is only one good way forward for the tortuous domestic politics of Britain's so-called European policy. This is for the leaders of the three main parties in the Westminster parliament to commit themselves to hold a straightforward "in or out" referendum once the shape of the new European Union that is emerging from the eurozone crisis, and the terms available in it for Britain, have become clear.
Since the eurozone is now likely to be saved, but only quite slowly, step-by-step, à la Merkel, and since Britain's position can only be clarified once the political consequences of saving the eurozone have emerged, that moment will arrive some time in the life of the next parliament: between 2015 and 2020, on current plans.
This is what David Cameron's tantrically delayed Europe speech, which he has now scheduled for mid-January, should promise. If Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have the guts and gumption, they will beat Cameron to it and steal his thunder – not to mention, some of Ukip's lightning. All of them can quite reasonably refer to the exhaustive review of the "balance of competences" between the UK and the EU being conducted across Whitehall, and to be completed only in 2014, as a starting point for the conversation across the Channel. There would then be a settled national position. We, the people, will have the chance to decide whether we want to be in or out, as soon as we have an answer to the essential prior question: "In or out of what?"..