Roundup: Historian's Take
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: Jerusalem Post (Click here to see embedded links in this article.) (11-29-07)
Surprisingly, something useful has emerged from the combination of the misconceived Annapolis meeting and a weak Israeli prime minister, Ehud ("Peace is achieved through concessions") Olmert. Breaking with his predecessors, Olmert has boldly demanded that his Palestinian bargaining partners accept Israel's permanent existence as a Jewish state, thereby evoking a revealing response.
Unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as "a Jewish state," Olmert announced on November 11, the Annapolis-related talks would not proceed. "I do not intend to compromise in any way over the issue of the Jewish state. This will be a condition for our recognition of a Palestinian state."
He confirmed these points a day later, describing the "recognition of Israel as a state for the Jewish people" as the "launching point for all negotiations. We won't have an argument with anyone in the world over the fact that Israel is a state of the Jewish people." The Palestinian leadership, he noted, must "want to make peace with Israel as a Jewish state."
Raising this topic has the virtue of finally focusing attention on what is the central topic in the Arab-Israeli conflict – Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement, a topic that typically gets ignored in the hubbub of negotiations. Since nearly the birth of the state, these have focused on the intricacies of such subsidiary issues as borders, troop placements, armaments and arms control, sanctities, natural resources, residential rights, diplomatic representation, and foreign relations.
The Palestinian leadership responded quickly and unequivocally to Olmert's demand:
Erekat's generalization is both curious and revealing. Not only do 56 states and the PLO belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, but most of them, including the PLO, make the Shari‘a (Islamic law) their main or only source of legislation. Saudi Arabia even requires that every subject be a Muslim.
Further, the religious-national nexus extends well beyond Muslim countries. Argentinean law, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe points out, "mandates government support for the Roman Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth II is the supreme governor of the Church of England. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the constitution proclaims Buddhism the nation's ‘spiritual heritage.' … ‘The prevailing religion in Greece,' declares Section II of the Greek Constitution, ‘is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ'."
So, why the mock-principled refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Perhaps because the PLO still intends to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.
Note my use of the word "eliminate," not destroy. Yes, anti-Zionism has until now mainly taken a military form, from Gamal Abdel Nasser's "throw the Jews into the sea" to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "Israel must be wiped off the map." But the power of the Israel Defense Forces has prodded anti-Zionism toward a more subtle approach of accepting an Israeli state but dismantling its Jewish character. Anti-Zionists consider several ways to achieve this:
Demography: Palestinians could overwhelm the Jewish population of Israel, a goal signaled by their demand for a "right of return" and by their so-called war of the womb.
Politics: Arabs citizens of Israel increasingly reject the country's Jewish nature and demand that it become a bi-national state.
Terror: The 100 Palestinian attacks a week during the period, September 2000-September 2005 sought to induce economic decline, emigration, and appeasement.
Isolation: All those United Nations resolutions, editorial condemnations, and campus aggressions are meant to wear down the Zionist spirit.
Arab recognition of Israel's Jewish nature must have top diplomatic priority. Until the Palestinians formally accept Zionism, then follow up by ceasing all their various strategies to eliminate Israel, negotiations should be halted and not restarted. Until then, there is nothing to talk about.
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2007 - 15:47
Religious practices have often been tied to violence and torture, but this connection is often hidden within public discourse. That is the situation now in the United States with the debate about waterboarding, the religious meanings of which have yet to be articulated and explored.
The candidates in the current presidential campaign have taken starkly different stances on the practice of waterboarding. Some condemn the practice as outright torture; others have refused to condemn the practice if in an extreme case it could save millions of American lives. The topic has been divided into two separate but related questions: is waterboarding a form of torture, and, however torture is defined, are there situations in which waterboarding and other practices are justified?
The argument for possible justification turns on several assumptions: that we could infallibly know that someone had vital information that would in fact save millions; that torture would extract this information without distortion; and, finally, that if the information was secured truthfully and infallibly, it could be put to use in good time. None of these assumptions is warranted. Expert opinion and empirical evidence concur that torture is an ineffective means to gain reliable information. The scenario of the lone knower of the facts whose torture would save millions of lives is the stuff of bad spy movies and bad exam questions in ethics courses. In terms of the question of definition, matters are both legal and visceral. International conventions provide ample guidelines, and, as more than one commentator has noted, if waterboarding is not torture it is not clear what else to call it, the Bush Administration's penchant to alter definitions notwithstanding.
Less often observed is that the practice of waterboarding has roots in the Spanish Inquisition and parallels the persecution of Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation and the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation. Why did practices similar to waterboarding develop as a way to torture heretics—whether the heretics were Anabaptists or, in the Inquisition, Protestants of any stripe as well as Jews and witches and others?
Roman Catholics and Protestants alike persecuted the Anabaptists or "re-baptizers" since these people denied infant baptism in favor of adult baptism. The use of torture and physical abuse was meant to stem the movement and also to bring salvation to heretics. It had been held—at least since St. Augustine—that punishment, even lethal in form, could be an act of mercy meant to keep a sinner from continuing in sin, either by repentance of heresy or by death. King Ferdinand declared that drowning—called the third baptism—was a suitable response to Anabaptists. Water as a form of torture was an inversion of the waters of baptism under the (grotesque) belief that it could deliver the heretic from his or her sins.
In the Inquisition, the practice was not drowning as such, but the threat of drowning, and the symbolic threat of baptism. The tortura del agua or toca entailed forcing the victim to ingest water poured into a cloth stuffed into the mouth in order to give the impression of drowning. Because of the wide symbolic meaning of "water" in the Christian and Jewish traditions (creation, the great flood, the parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus and drowning of the Egyptians (!), Christ's walking on the water, and, centrally for Christians, baptism as a symbolic death that gives life), the practice takes on profound religious significance. Torture has many forms, but torture by water as it arose in the Roman Catholic and Protestant reformations seemingly drew some of its power and inspiration from theological convictions about repentance and salvation. It was, we must now surely say, a horrific inversion of the best spirit of Christian faith and symbolism. Is it the purpose of the United State nowadays to seek the conversion, repentance, and purity of supposed terrorists and thus to take on the trappings of a religious rite? The question is so buried behind public discourse that its full import is hardly recognized.
In the light of these religious meanings and background to waterboarding, US citizens can decide to reject any claim by the government to have the right to use this or other forms of torture, especially given connections to the most woeful expressions of Christianity; conversely, they can fall prey to fear and questionable reasoning and thus continue to support an unjust and vile practice that demeans the nation's highest political and moral ideals even as it desecrates one of the most important practices and symbols of Christian faith.
I judge that it is time for repentance, the affirmation of new life, and the humane expression of religious convictions.
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2007 - 15:11
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-29-07)
It gives a person a certain amount of faith in one's fellow Americans that McCain was booed by the Republican crowd for this piece of calumny. Comparisons to Hitler should be automatic grounds for a candidate to be disqualified from being president.
But then McCain is the same person who joked about bombing Iran. He thinks that killing all those children from the air would be funny?
McCain also repeated his standard lie that Iraqis would attack the United States if US troops were withdrawn from that country. He contrasted the Vietnamese Communists, who, he said, just wanted to build their workers' utopia in Vietnam once the US left, with Iraqis, who he continues to confuse with Usamah Bin Laden (a Saudi living far from Iraq who never had anything to do with Iraq).
Of course, back in the early 1970s, if you had asked McCain, he would have said we have to fight the Vietnamese because of the Domino effect, and if we lost there then International Communism would be in our living rooms. Now, he says the Vietnamese Communists weren't expansionist at all, and just wanted socialism in one country.
So then, John, if that was true and there was never any danger of a domino effect, why did we sacrifice 58,000 US lives and kill a million to two million Vietnamese peasants? You just admitted we weren't in any danger from them, even if they defeated us.
But since you were wrong about the domino effect with regard to Vietnamese Communism (which I remember arguing in a class debate as a teenager in 1967 was just a form of nationalism), how do we know you aren't just as wrong or wronger about your fantastic Muslim domino theory? After all, international communism was a big important political movement to which many governments adhered. Al-Qaeda is a few thousand scruffy guys afraid to come out of their caves, who don't even have good sleeping bags much less a government to their name.
McCain is so confused that he thinks Shiite Iran is supporting "al-Qaeda." When I think that people who say these crazy things serve in the US senate and are plausible as presidents of our Republic, I despair a little. (When I see a nut job like Tancredo on the podium, he of 'let's nuke Mecca,' I despair a lot, but that is a different story.)
McCain also insisted that we never lost a battle in Vietnam. He still doesn't understand guerrilla war. What battle did the French lose in Algeria? You don't lose a guerrilla war because you lose a conventional set piece battle. Then it would be a conventional war and not a guerrilla one. You lose it because you cannot control the country and it is too expensive in treasure and life to go on staying there.
Ron Paul was only allowed to reply briefly to McCain's outrageous and mean-spirited diatribe. Although the transcript says he was applauded for saying that it was only natural that the Iraqis would want us out of their hair, just as we wouldn't want somebody invading and occupying us-- I heard a lot of booing in response to that point.
At another point, Paul made the point that the quiet parts of Iraq -- the Shiite deep south and the Kurdistan area in the north-- are the places where there are no foreign troops to speak of. Unfortunately, he forgot the name of the Kurds and seemed to get confused, so I'm not sure he got the point across.
Here is the exchange.
"McCain: . . . I just want to also say that Congressman Paul, I've heard him now in many debates talk about bringing our troops home, and about the war in Iraq and how it's failed.
And I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II. We allowed...
We allowed ...
Cooper: Allow him his answer. Allow him his answer, please.
McCain: We allowed -- we allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement.
And I want to tell you something, sir. I just finished having Thanksgiving with the troops, and their message to you is -- the message of these brave men and women who are serving over there is, "Let us win. Let us...
Cooper: We will -- please. We will get to Iraq...
All right. Let me just remind everyone that these people did take a lot of time to ask these questions, and so we do want direct questions to -- the answers. We will get to Iraq later, but I do have to allow Congressman Paul 30 seconds to respond.
Paul: Absolutely. The real question you have to ask is why do I get the most money from active duty officers and military personnel?
What John is saying is just totally distorted.
(Protester shouts off-mike)
Paul: He doesn't even understand the difference between non- intervention and isolationism. I'm not an isolationism, (shakes head) em, isolationist. I want to trade with people, talk with people, travel. But I don't want to send troops overseas using force to tell them how to live. We would object to it here and they're going to object to us over there.
The rest is here. This is what Ron Paul said about Iraq:
"Paul: The best commitment we can make to the Iraqi people is to give them their country back. That's the most important thing that we can do.
Already, part of their country has been taken back. In the south, they claim the surge has worked, but the surge really hasn't worked. There's less violence, but al-Sadr has essentially won in the south.
The British are leaving. The brigade of Al Sadr now is in charge, so they are getting their country back. They're in charge up north -- the Shia -- the people in the north are in charge, as well, and there's no violence up there or nearly as much.
So, let the people have their country back again. Just think of the cleaning up of the mess after we left Vietnam. Vietnam now is a friend of ours -- we trade with them, the president comes here.
What we achieved in peace was unachievable in 20 years of the French and the Americans being in Vietnam.
So it's time for us to take care of America first.
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2007 - 14:25
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-29-07)
As we get closer to the Iowa Caucuses, the volume here in Iowa continues to grow. Candidates all over the place, complaints about attacks, polls showing dead heats, and so on, are making things interesting. None of that, however, is much different from the last time around, or the time before that, etc…
What is different, at least it seems to me, is the focus by the media on how HARD it is to caucus in Iowa. Well, at least that’s the subtext for the stories coming out about the confusing, complicated process that caucus goers have to endure on a cold winter night. What’s more interesting, however, is that campaigns are working very hard to assure everyone that caucusing is actually EASY, it’s no trouble at all. Just go to your local school, library, government building, or whatever, and find the [insert candidate name here] leader, who will show you what to do. What to do mostly involves (according to the campaigns) moving to the correct corner when told to do so. For a great example of this effort, see Obama’s “Caucusing Made Easy” website at http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/ia_caucus_center/.
As it turns out most of this focus is on the Democrats, for good reason. The Democratic caucus IS more complex than the Republican one. For one thing, Republicans simply cast a secret ballot – they actually VOTE for their choice and their votes are counted. They’ll do other business too – presumably discuss the candidates before they vote, elect delegates to the county convention and the county central committee, and debate and vote on resolutions to be forwarded to the county platform committee. As it turns out, it really IS easy to caucus if you are a Republican.
But if you are a Democrat, don’t listen to the media claims that the caucus is confusing and arcane. It IS these things, but only for those who are actually running it! There IS math involved, but only for those actually running it. For all other caucus goers it is a great opportunity to come out and chat with friends and neighbors and be counted. You do have to pay some attention, listen to instructions to move to the area designated for your candidate, and be awake enough to be counted, but otherwise it actually isn’t hard. Just like the Republicans, Democrats will discuss the candidates, indicate their preferences (though by publicly standing up for their candidate, not by secret ballot) and then elect convention delegates, county central committee members, and debate platform resolutions. None of that is all that hard for anyone to do.
Where does it get tricky? Well, Democrats talk about “alignment” and “re-alignment” and “preference groups,” and “caucus math” so the language gets tricky. But when they talk about “alignment” into “preference groups” it just means “stand up, move to the corner for your preferred candidate and be counted”. Once you move to your candidate’s area, you can just chat some more while the precinct captain is counting you and reporting the count to the caucus chair. If there are enough of you in your candidate’s corner, you can just stay put while someone announces it is time for “re-alignment.” Re-alignment simply means you can change your mind and be counted for a different candidate or you can stay where you are. Most people stay where they are and get counted again. The only trick comes if your candidate is not “viable” – that is if not enough of your friends and neighbors support your candidate. Again, the caucus leaders need to know how to calculate this – the caucus goer does not. But if your candidate does not have enough support, you may be forced to pick a second choice – or not be counted at all. And you may also be subject to people from other candidate groups coming over and trying to convince you to join them. But if you don’t want to join them (and you probably don’t) just smile, point to the button or sticker you are probably wearing, and say “that’s my [guy/gal].” It’s Iowa, so you DO have to smile!
Finally, it’s over – that is, a final count is made and the delegates are divided up in proportion to the support each candidate has (more or less; again, someone else will do the math!) Your preference group will then elect people (from your group) to be delegates to the county convention for your candidate.
Whew! That’s not so hard, is it? OK, maybe as I re-read this it doesn’t sound as easy as I thought. But it really is. Honest. Just go, pay attention, move to the right spot, elect your delegates, and that’s pretty much it. But stay for other party business, too. After all, you’re already out of the house.
So no more talk about how complicated it all is. OK?
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2007 - 14:24
SOURCE: Lew Rockwell website (11-28-07)
Many conservatives have said that they agree with Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul on just about everything, but they just can't see things his way when it comes to dealing with the Middle East. Paul's views – correctly or incorrectly perceived – could well be a deal breaker for some in the base of the Republican party who look for strong presidential leadership to protect us from foreign threats. This open letter is an attempt to persuade you that Paul has been, and continues to be, right about the terrorist threat and what should be done about it.
Ron Paul understands something that the other candidates from both parties apparently cannot: Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda is a relatively small organization with limited reach. The attack of September 11th was a desperate act from a desperate group who has failed miserably in their quest to conquer and unify the Islamic world. They do not control a single state on earth. By all indications Bin Laden, al Zawahiri and their closest followers remain isolated in the no-man's-land between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Al Qaeda is not an Islamo-fascist caliphate on the march, but they have attacked us and remain a threat. It is al Qaeda – not extremism everywhere – that Dr. Paul means to fight. Responding appropriately demands a cold and objective assessment of the situation, not unchecked, knee-jerk emotion.
Let us start with the question"Why did they attack us on September 11th?"
Dr. Paul's fellow GOP candidates may publicly denounce him all they want for his view that the September 11th hijackers, their accomplices and financiers were motivated by a hatred of American policy in the Middle East. The terrorists themselves cite U.S. support for Israel and an indefinite military occupation of the Saudi desert, necessary for the enforcement of the blockade and no-fly zones against neighboring Iraq during the 1990s.
Similarly, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a primary architect of the Iraq invasion, explained to Vanity Fair magazine soon after the fall of Baghdad, in May, 2003, that the ability to move the bases from Saudi Arabia to Iraq was a great benefit of the war because it detracted from one of bin Laden's motivations for attacking the U.S.:
"There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed – but it's huge – is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It's been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things."
According to authors Lawrence Wright, Terry McDermott, Michael Scheuer, Loretta Napoleoni and James Bamford, the purpose of al Qaeda terrorism, and specifically the September 11th attacks, was to provoke a reaction. Bin Laden and his partner Zawahiri have both explained that they already saw the U.S. as being in a state of war with them, but through their own governments and from far away North America. Their strategy was to hit us hard enough to provoke a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. Essentially, their goal was to recreate their war against the Soviets a generation before – a war that they, of course, consider to be the primary cause of the USSR's collapse. In other words, they meant to lure our military to their sandtrap to bleed our treasury dry, forcing our empire out of their region for good.
In this sense, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's decision to keep the invasion"light and fast" – at least at first – was smart insofar as it would deny the terrorists the quagmire they sought to provoke. Unfortunately, the administration's decision to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq stole defeat from the jaws of victory, ridding the largest Arab state of its secular and formerly Western-backed dictator and creating a second chance for bin Laden to claim gains against the United States.
Years before 9/11, In February 1998, Dr. Paul told the Congress:
"Mr. Speaker, the Saudis this past week expressed a sincere concern about an anti-American backlash if we start bombing Baghdad. We should not ignore the feelings of the Saudis. If a neighbor can oppose this bombing, we should be very cautious."
Later that year, while Bill Clinton was shooting cruise missiles at antibiotics factories and empty training camps in Afghanistan, Ron Paul spoke from the floor of the House of Representatives, warning the public and the Congress that our policy was in fact making enemies of our former friends, the mujahedeen warriors of Afghanistan (who he had opposed funding in the first place during his stint in Congress in the 1980s):
"Osama bin Laden and his Afghan religious supporters were American allies throughout the 1980s and received our money and training and were heralded as the Afghan 'Freedom Fighters.' Even then, bin Laden let it be known that his people resented all imperialism, whether from the Soviets or the United States. ...
"[T]he region's Muslims see America as the imperialist invader. They have deeply held religious beliefs, and in their desire for national sovereignty many see America as a threatening menace. America's presence in the Middle East, most flagrantly demonstrated with troops and bases in Saudi Arabia, is something many Muslims see as defiling their holy land. Many Muslims – and this is what makes an extremist like bin Laden so popular – see American policy as identical to Israel's policy; an affront to them that is rarely understood by most Americans.
"Far too often, the bombing of declared (or concocted) enemies, whether it's the North Vietnamese, the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Sudanese, the Albanians, or the Afghans, produces precisely the opposite effect to what is sought. It kills innocent people, creates more hatred toward America, unifies and stimulates the growth of the extremist Islamic movement and makes them more determined than ever to strike back with their weapon of choice – terror."
You can see now why Ron Paul did not endorse Bill Clinton's endless bombing campaigns back then and why he opposed the war in 2003. He saw the consequences of U.S. policy on their way back when most were caught up with the dot-com bubble and White House sex scandal.
Between these two warnings from Dr. Paul about the possible terrorist blowback from U.S. foreign policy, Osama bin Laden had re-released his 1996"fatwa" against the United States. Titled"Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places" (the Arabian peninsula), he invoked support for Israel, the occupation of Saudi Arabia, the backing of local dictatorships and the continuous bombing of Iraq as his major grievances against U.S. policy.
For those determined to see bin Laden as simply a cold-blooded murderer who hates us because we are free, what is important to understand is that no matter what he actually believes, his message is one of specific complaints against U.S. policy. And it is this, as Ron Paul noted back in 1998, that makes bin Laden's message useful in gaining new recruits to his"jihad."
Even though some on TV complain that recognizing these facts somehow implicitly excuses the actions of those who attacked the United States, this, of course, is a red herring. Nothing could excuse the acts of September 11th. A Congressman identifying the motives at play is not justifying the attacks any more than when a local DA tries to figure out why someone has committed any other crime. If we believe that the terrorists are motivated to attack us because we have freedom, or have yet to invade their countries and give them freedom, then our policy prescriptions for multiple regime changes across the Middle East can only make matters worse. With opinion of the United States falling all across the world, and especially in the Muslim world, the continued presence of U.S. combat troops on Arab soil makes attacks against this country much more likely, not less. Paul voted to give the president the authority to use military force against bin Laden's group in Afghanistan and has repeatedly stated that were he president, actually doing so would be a top priority.
Not only did Paul foresee the problem with terrorism stemming from our continuous bombing campaign in the 1990s, he also predicted the consequences in Iraq were Saddam and the Ba'athists to fall. In the February '98 speech quoted above, he also asked:
"And even if we do kill Hussein, what do we do? We create a vacuum, a vacuum that may be filled by Iran. It may be filled by some other groups of Islamic fundamentalists."
The invasion of Iraq created what the CIA calls a"training and recruiting ground" for al Qaeda wannabes in that land, though it seems the low numbers of so-called"foreign fighters" being brought into"al Qaeda in Iraq" have had even less influence than the skeptics had predicted.
These al Qaeda wannabes in Iraq have worn out their welcome with the local Sunni insurgency and have not been able to mount attacks outside Iraq. The local Sunnis tolerated them only as long as they were useful in fighting the occupation and were able to flick off"al Qaeda in Iraq" like a switch when they felt like it, as seen in the 20062007"Sunni Awakening" in provinces where they had been welcomed.
The president threatens that if the U.S. withdraws, Osama bin Laden and his followers could somehow take over Iraq and create a new terrorist state bent on attacking the America. This just does not hold water. Osama's movement remains small and marginal. The" central front" in the fight against them is in the Waziristan region of Pakistan, not in far away Iraq.
The end of Saddam's rule has also empowered Iran, which has used the democracy provided by the American occupation to get their proxies elected to power. The Bush administration apparently tolerated this for no other reason than that the pro-Iran factions needed the U.S. occupation and so welcomed it, while the nationalist Shi'ite leaders like Muqtada al Sadr insisted on withdrawal. Were the American occupation to end, it is much more likely that nationalist types such as Sadr's Mahdi Army would drive the Iranians back to Persia.
Ironically, the U.S. has spent 2007 accusing Iran of backing and waging war against American forces in Iraq through the Sadrists, who are not Iranian proxies and who are not fighting the occupation. They have provided no evidence that this is the case and our Shi'ite allies in Iraq have nothing but praise for Iran's support of their government.
When it comes to Iran, Ron Paul's view isn't much different than that of Gen. John Abizaid, George Bush's former head of Central Command. The General stated recently that Iran is not much of a threat and still would not pose one were they to obtain nuclear weapons – an achievement they are years away from, according to Mike McConnell, Bush's National Intelligence Director.
The Iranians pose no real threat to Israel or the West. Their nuclear enrichment equipment is nothing more than first-generation crap bought second-hand from the Pakistanis, every bit of which is monitored by international inspectors. Ninety percent pure Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 is needed to make an atom bomb; the Iranians have yet to enrich their uranium higher than 4 percent and could not do so in the presence of the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors and sensors. Harvesting plutonium from their nuclear reactors would take years and likewise could not even begin without everyone knowing.
Iran's much touted"support for international terrorism" has nothing whatsoever to do with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or the September 11th attacks on this country. Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. While often times extremely violent, these groups are not global in their reach, are not enemies of the United States and pose no threat to this country.
It has been claimed that the president of Iran, who actually holds the power of a glorified Secretary of the Interior, has threatened to"wipe Israel off the map," in a speech in October, 2005. But according to those who are fluent in Farsi, he said no such thing. What he said was that the"regime" over Jerusalem would one day"vanish from the page of time." This was not even a subtle or implied threat, much less a promise of imminent attack. The fact also remains that Iran has no capability to destroy Israel, conventionally, with nukes they don't have or through nearly powerless groups like Hamas.
No country in the world would attempt to"annihilate" Israel. The politician who did so would be dooming himself and his entire nation to perish in nuclear flames. Israel has at least 300 nuclear bombs and the delivery systems necessary to"wipe Persia off the map" in the space of an afternoon. As Paul has noted, the U.S. triumphantly faced down the Soviet Union (who actually were an existential threat), while our modern day think-tankers say the only way to deal with nearly-helpless Iran is with preemptive war.
Many Americans believe they need the government to defend them from"radical Islam," but those who hold truest to enforcing the strictest interpretations of Islam as a way of life have no chance of gaining or maintaining real dominance over humanity in the 21st century. Even if 100 impossibilities found Osama bin Laden leading the new caliphate in the Middle East, it would be as doomed as Communism was in the last century. Do we really fear that a stateless band of pirates in exile in the Hindu Kush will destroy us? Have we so much confidence in the capabilities of those who had to steal our planes in order to launch their Kamikaze attack and so little belief in the resilience of our own civilization?
Speaking of (Japanese Shintoist and Buddhist) Kamikazes, why should we believe that terrorism is intrinsically connected with Islam at all? Suicide bombings are rife in Sri Lanka where neither side is Muslim. By contrast, radical Islam is prevalent in Sudan, where it has no relationship to the current widespread violence (both sides are Sunni Arabs) and there has never been a suicide bombing. Did radical Catholicism motivate the IRA?
In the book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Dr. Robert A. Pape's research shows that suicide terrorism is a strategic response to occupation by foreign armies, plain and simple. The only role religion plays in this struggle, according to Pape, is that the willingness of the occupied to resort to suicide attacks increases when the occupying army is made of people who come from far away, look different and believe differently due to the fear that their entire way of life will come under attack.
Americans are the same way. Our irrational fear that Arab Islamic terrorists from the Middle East are coming here to force us all to convert to Wahhabism has convinced us to spend thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, pass piles of new laws and nearly break our defenses in our efforts to preempt them. Now that's suicide.
The hyperbole about"radical Islam" has also helped to obscure divisions among those who oppose the U.S. in the Middle East and Central Asia. Even presidential candidates speak as though al Qaeda, the Ayatollahs in Iran, Sunni radicals in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon are all one unified threat that must be"preempted." This may be good for defense manufacturing firms and votes, but if we can't even tell who our adversaries are, what distinguishes one from another, how are we supposed to win the fight?
A recent local newspaper story from Dr. Paul's Texas Gulf Coast district quoted one of his constituents complaining that if Paul were elected president and withdrew U.S. troops from the Middle East, we would have no oil at all. This is just not the case. In fact, it is the economic theory of mercantilism that Adam Smith refuted in The Wealth of Nations back in 1776.
It is not necessary for the Japanese, Chinese or Swiss to send armies to the Middle East in order to get the petroleum their economies demand. They simply buy it on the market like anything else. The only reason one would need the Marine Corps to"secure" the oil is to ensure which companies get to do the pumping and distributing. The fact that the price of oil is now approximately triple what it was before the war ought to tell us that someone is benefiting. But who? Is it you and me? Or is it politically connected big-wigs such as oil company shareholders and executives? The oil will always be for sale. Even if unfriendly regimes sit on the wells and sell only to others, it will free up other supplies elsewhere in the market and we'll be just fine.
It is a mistake to think of Ron Paul's foreign policy as some sort of liberal exception to the rest of his conservative outlook. Instead, his views follow the tradition of the Old Right Taft Republicans. They opposed foreign interventionism for the same reason America's founders did – out of caution for the inevitable domestic detriments that accompany permanent military establishments. It has only been since the Vietnam War era that the antiwar position has been perceived as the province of hippies and leftists. Paul's prescriptions for dealing with the world are the most conservative in the race. Meanwhile, the current National Security Strategy – unlikely to change substantively under Giuliani, Romney or Hillary administrations – is itself a radical doctrine, called"Hard Wilsonianism" by its closest adherents. Paul's policy is to pull back the empire in order to preserve the republic and the Constitution from the radical changes brought about by avoidable conflict. These are conservative principles of independence and prudence, friendly relations and open trade. As Gov. George W. Bush once advised,
"[U]se of the military needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious. ... I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying, 'We do it this way. So should you.' ... I think the United States must be humble ... in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course."
Sooner or later the U.S. must leave Iraq – for financial reasons if nothing else – and the jihadists will attempt to claim credit for it no matter when it happens. Leaving Iraq and the larger Middle East as a matter of principle, however, is the only way to do so with any hope of restoring some of the integrity that has been lost since the invasion. Dr. Paul believes we have no business maintaining a world empire and that its consequences cost us far more than the gains. A withdrawal from Iraq under a Ron Paul administration would not be a victory for the terrorists, but an event to which they quickly become irrelevant bystanders.
When someone finally captures or kills Osama bin Laden and his few hundred followers, the larger"Global War on Terrorism" must end as well. The sooner the U.S. disengages from the Middle East, the quicker al Qaeda's support will dry up. International cooperation from the various national police forces and intelligence agencies will be plenty to handle the problem. The more America intervenes in the affairs of others, the more blowback we can expect to suffer, but it is not too late to put our country back on the right track.
Copyright © 2007 LewRockwell.com
Posted on: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - 17:11
SOURCE: New Republic (11-12-07)
It is impossible to understand the current Second Amendment debate without lingering over Burger's words. Burger was a cautious person as well as a conservative judge, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court is unlikely to offer a controversial position on a constitutional question in an interview on national television. (Chief Justice John Roberts is not about to go on Fox News to say that the claimed right to same-sex marriage is a fraud on the American people perpetrated by special interest groups.) Should we therefore conclude that Burger had a moment of uncharacteristic recklessness? I do not think so. Burger meant to describe what he saw as a clear consensus within the culture of informed lawyers and judges--a conclusion that was so widely taken for granted that it seemed to him to be a fact, and not an opinion at all.
Flash forward to this past March, when the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit enthusiastically embraced the very view that Burger had described as a "fraud." In the process, the court struck down several handgun restrictions in the District of Columbia. And so the Supreme Court is now being asked to decide whether the Second Amendment creates an individual right to own guns. There is a decent chance that the Court will say that it does. Whatever the Court says, we have seen an amazingly rapid change in constitutional understandings--even a revolution--as an apparently fraudulent interpretation pushed by "special interest groups" (read: the National Rifle Association) has become mainstream. How on earth has this happened? Was Chief Justice Burger just wrong?...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 21:10
SOURCE: Guardian (11-26-07)
On the Richter scale of notoriety, Harold Davidson, rector of Stiffkey, still rates near the top. Having been defrocked in 1932 for conducting a sex life exotic even by modern Church of England standards, he resorted to increasingly desperate methods to retain the attention to which he had become addicted.
His final gambit, in 1937, was to appear in a cage of lions at an amusement park in Skegness. One of the beasts, named Freddie, took exception. It mauled him before a large audience, which must have gone home feeling that the show had been worth twice the ticket money. The rector died two days later.
I have no idea whether Luke Tryl, the current president of the Oxford Union, has heard of Harold Davidson, but he favours the rector's methods. Tryl's society yesterday achieved priceless column inches in the Sunday papers, under the headline "Row as Oxford Union votes to hear Irving".
The Irving in question is, of course, David, recently liberated from an Austrian prison in which he served a sentence for Holocaust denial. The Oxford Union has invited him, along with the British National party leader Nick Griffin, to address a meeting tonight on free speech. A vote of the entire Oxford Union Society membership endorsed these invitations by two-to-one, at the cost of seeing several other prominent speakers withdraw.
The union, and for that matter all student debating societies, nowadays finds it difficult to generate publicity and lure audiences. In consequence, like TV broadcasters, it resorts to increasingly desperate measures to achieve sensation. The Irving invitation has induced the national media to take notice of tonight's Oxford event, in a fashion unthinkable if instead Harriet Harman or David Davis were the featured attractions.
It is hard to doubt that the union's motive in providing a platform for Irving and Griffin is a cynical one. Yet this still leaves me unconvinced that their appearance is heinous. Griffin leads a political group that possesses significant public support, chiefly for its opposition to mass immigration.
One of the most plausible charges against liberal Britain, and indeed against the government, is that they ignore the view of a host of people, especially in traditionally working-class areas, who are enraged by what is happening, and believe their own interests are being sacrificed to the incomers. Last year's book The New East End, by Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron and Michael Young, coolly but vividly illustrates the phenomenon.
It seems good for Oxford students to be exposed to the views of Griffin and his BNP, rather than spend their educational lives in a warm bath of Guardian decency. Members of the Union Society must be a sorry lot indeed if they are likely to catch the plague of intolerance and racism from a single evening's exposure to Griffin.
David Irving is interesting in a different way. Because I write books about the second world war, I have read almost everything he has published. Back in the 1970s, I applied to him for assistance in making contacts in Germany, and received this in full measure.
When I turned up at the doors of old Nazis, including Hitler's most intimate surviving aides, bearing an introduction from the sage of Duke Street, my welcome was ecstatic. "Ach, Herr Irving! A wonderful man. And what may I do for you, Herr Hastings?"...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 20:38
SOURCE: NYT (11-27-07)
IT’S hard to see Americans as under-washed. Sales of antibacterial soap, tooth whiteners and “intimate hygiene” products (wipes and sprays) are skyrocketing. Scientists actually connect the rising rates of asthma and allergies in the West to our overzealous cleanliness. And yet, in a compulsively sanitized culture, cleaning one part of the body — the hands — seems to be more honored in the breach than the observance. Studies show that hospital doctors resist washing their hands, and gimlet-eyed researchers report that only about 15 percent of people in public restrooms wash their hands properly.
Our ancestors would have been bewildered by this discrepancy between relentlessly scrubbed bodies and neglected hands. Depending on their era and culture, they defined “clean” in a wide variety of ways. A first-century Roman spent a few hours each day in the bathhouse, steaming, parboiling and chilling himself in waters of different temperatures, exfoliating with a miniature rake — and avoiding soap. Elizabeth I boasted that she bathed once a month, “whether I need it or not.” Louis XIV is reported to have bathed twice in his long, athletic life, but was considered fastidious because he changed his shirt three times a day.
But through all these swings of the hygiene pendulum, one practice never went out of style — humble, ordinary hand-washing. Which was fortunate, because hand-washing is the one cleansing practice canonized by modern science, a low-tech but effective way to prevent getting and passing on the common cold and infections from Clostridium difficile to MRSA, SARS and bird flu....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 27, 2007 - 20:31
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes blog (11-26-07)
The cover of the Nov. 24 Economist shows a picture of Bush under a bold headline that reads"Mr Palestine." The subtitle deems him"The only man who could make it happen" – with"it," of course, being a Palestinian state. The title is especially provocative when one recalls that for many years Yasir Arafat was the one known as"Mr. Palestine."
But the nickname is apt, for soon after becoming president in 2001, Bush indicated an intention to sponsor the creation of a Palestinian state, this being his solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since then, he has steadily made that his goal.
I have often criticized him for this, in particular after his major June 2002 speech. At present, I worry that his erroneous course will culminate in a misbegotten and perhaps disastrous parley at Annapolis. I foresee no good coming of this meeting and what follows it.
At best, circumstances will render it harmless, another forgotten"peace" gambit, like those of the the Geneva Accords, the Quartet, the Roadmap, the Mitchell Report, the Tenet Understandings, the Abdullah Plan, and the Zinni, Wolfensohn, Ward, and Dayton missions (and who knows how many plans the world and I have forgotten).
At worst (to quote myself from a month ago),"I see a possible crisis in U.S.-Israel relations of unprecedented proportions – worse than 1975 or even 1957." Such a crisis would not only harm Israel, but also the United States, and the Middle East as a whole.
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 20:34
SOURCE: NYT (11-26-07)
WHY do people — gay or straight — need the state’s permission to marry? For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.
For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.
In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.
Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.
The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.
By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.
In the mid-20th century, governments began to get out of the business of deciding which couples were “fit” to marry. Courts invalidated laws against interracial marriage, struck down other barriers and even extended marriage rights to prisoners.
But governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents. Courts and hospitals required a marriage license before granting couples the privilege of inheriting from each other or receiving medical information.
In the 1950s, using the marriage license as a shorthand way to distribute benefits and legal privileges made some sense because almost all adults were married. Cohabitation and single parenthood by choice were very rare....
Perhaps it’s time to revert to a much older marital tradition. Let churches decide which marriages they deem “licit.” But let couples — gay or straight — decide if they want the legal protections and obligations of a committed relationship.
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 19:04
SOURCE: WSJ (11-26-07)
Herewith some thoughts about tomorrow's Annapolis peace conference, and the larger problem of how to approach the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, "What is the conflict about?" There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.
If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.
If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.
PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that's not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success. Without genuine acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated....
If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed. And in light of the past record, it is clear that is and will remain the issue, until the Arab leadership either achieves or renounces its purpose -- to destroy Israel. Both seem equally unlikely for the time being.
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 16:48
SOURCE: WSJ (11-26-07)
After a recent Democratic presidential debate, Barack Obama proclaimed that were he to become president, he would talk directly even to America's worst enemies. One could imagine President Obama as a kind of superhero taking off in Air Force One for Tehran, there to be greeted on the tarmac by the villainous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Was this a serious foreign policy proposal or simply a campaign counterpunch? Hillary Clinton had already held up this idea as evidence of Mr. Obama's naiveté. Wasn't he just pushing back, displaying his commitment to "diplomacy"--now the most glamorous word in the Democratic "antiwar" lexicon?
Whatever Mr. Obama's intent, history has given his idea a rather bad reputation. Neville Chamberlain springs to mind as a man who was famously seduced into the wishful thinking that seems central to the idea of talking to one's enemies. Today few Americans--left or right--would be comfortable with direct talks between our president and a character like Mr. Ahmadinejad. Wouldn't such talk only puff up extremist leaders and make America into a supplicant?
On its face, Mr. Obama's idea seems little more than a far-left fantasy. But perhaps it looks this way because we are viewing it through too narrow a conception of warfare. We tend to think of our wars as miniature versions of World War II, a war of national survival. But since then we have fought wars in which our national survival was not immediately, or even remotely, at stake. We have fought wars in distant lands for rather abstract reasons, and there has been the feeling that these were essentially wars of choice: We could win or lose without jeopardizing our nation's survival.
Mr. Obama's idea clearly makes no sense in a context of national survival. It would have been absurd for President Roosevelt to fly to Berlin and talk to Hitler. But Mr. Obama's idea does make sense in the buildup to wars where survival is not at risk--wars that are more a matter of urgent choice than of absolute necessity.
I think of such wars as essentially wars of discipline. Their purpose is to preserve a favorable balance of power that is already in place in the world. We fight these wars not to survive but--once a menace has arisen--to discipline the world back into a balance of power that best ensures peace. We fight as enforcers rather than as rebels or as patriots fighting for survival. Wars of discipline are pre-emptive by definition. They pre-empt menace to the peaceful world order. We don't sacrifice blood and treasure for change; we sacrifice for constancy....
If Mr. Obama's idea was born of mushy idealism, it could work far better as a hard-nosed moral brinkmanship. Were an American president (or a secretary of state for the less daring) to land in Tehran, the risk to American prestige would be enormous. The mullahs would make us characters in a tale of their own grandeur. Yet moral authority would redound to us precisely for making ourselves vulnerable to this kind of exploitation. The world would witness not the stereotype of American bullying, but the reality of American selflessness, courage and moral confidence.
If we were snubbed, if all our entreaties to peace were flouted, if war became inevitable, then we would have the moral authority to fight as if for survival. Either our high-risk diplomacy works or we have the license to fight to win. In the meantime, we give our allies around the world every reason to respect us.
This is not an argument for Mr. Obama's candidacy, only for his idea. It is a good one because it allows America the advantage of its own great character
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 16:42
SOURCE: Jewish Week (11-23-07)
‘American Jewish groups are aggressively attempting to rally support for isolating Iran until it ends its suspected nuclear weapons program,” the JTA recently reported. “They are lobbying Congress, reaching out to friendly nations overseas and seeking allies in the U.S.”
Will Israel and its American Jewish surrogates actually prevail in their efforts to isolate Iran by increasing sanctions, which rarely work, if Tehran does not give up its nuclear program? I hope they do, but if sanctions and threats don’t work, what then? And if it is to be war and, like Iraq, it goes sour, who then will be blamed?
Those raising the ante against Iran — while two other failed wars grind on — can never surpass Vice President Dick Cheney’s constant drum beating for war. Nor can they surpass the administration’s stream of uncorroborated allegations and leaks to a sycophantic mass media, which is now playing the identical shameful role it did when it served as the White House’s echo chamber before Iraq.
Cheney-Bush and Co. and its neoconservative cheerleaders are the same people who brought us the Iraq casualty lists (whose coffins we aren’t allowed to photograph). Daily we are bombarded with fear and dehumanization of Muslims. Iran’s paranoid president has become yet another “Hitler” (a la Saddam Hussein) and Iran is now said by Bush-Cheny and Co. to endanger the Western world, by which they mean nuclear bomb-saturated Israel.
This administration and its incompetent neoconservative advisers see relations with Iran in simple Manichean terms, though surely there are other U.S. goals than “protecting” Israel. Oil, U.S. domination of the Middle East and regime change are never mentioned. But people who know very little about such things talk of a successful U.S. bombing campaign. Neocon ideologues invoke baseless fantasies of something dubbed “Islamofascism,” a meaningless term conflating all Muslims as potential terrorists.
It’s beginning to sound a bit like August 1914 after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke and his wife the previous June by a Serbian nationalist. European states unexpectedly found themselves mobilizing their reserves and preparing for war. The search for détente and a cooling off of tensions went nowhere as hawks on all sides predicted a short conflict and victory. Many millions died over the ensuing four years in a war devoid of purpose save preserving imperial possessions and the wealth the war generated. Few then realized that the carnage and peace treaties would ultimately pave the way for Nazism, Communism and World War II.
Thankfully, not everyone outside Washington and New York’s pugnacious circles agrees, and the press has had numerous articles questioning the sanity of going to war with Iran.
Should, however, America’s hawks prevail, here’s one nightmarish scenario: U.S. and Israel bomb Iran and Iran counterattacks against Israeli’s Dimona nuclear facilities and even against Israel proper. A third war, consequences be damned, starts against millions of non-Arab Iranians who, in the 1980s, absorbed half a million deaths in a savage war against Saddam’s Iraq (then America’s favorite dictator). Many more Middle Eastern terrorists are created. Iran retaliates with long-range missiles against the U.S. Fifth Fleet blockades the Gulf of Hormaz, attacks U.S. forces in southern, Shiite Iraq, and incites Hezbollah and Hamas to go on the offensive. And what if Chinese and Russian ships arrive at blockaded Iranian seaports and refuse to turn back? If war comes, and it is more than a series of aerial attacks, reluctant draftees may again be called on to replace the military’s depleted and exhausted ranks, swelling the casualty lists, and producing a Vietnam-like series of turmoil on campuses, dread among suburban families, and lots of unhappiness in elite neocon homes never eager to send their young to war.
Then why not encourage Israel to attack as it did at Osirak in Iraq in 1981, when it blasted Saddam’s nuclear reactor? The situation is now far more complicated because the Iranians, reportedly, have widely scattered their missile sites. But if Israel, threatened — and it very well may be — by Iran’s eventual or actual possession of a nuclear bomb, believes it is in its national interest to fight, so be it. Israel, with its estimated 200-300 nuclear bombs and sophisticated weaponry can take care of itself. It is also far from clear — especially after Iraq — that most Americans will support sending GIs into combat to defend so powerful a military state as Israel.
Are there cooler heads here, in Iran and in Israel? Or is diplomacy outmoded? After Flynt Leverett left the National Security Council, he wrote in the New York Times that in 2003 the U.S. rejected an Iranian offer that was sent through the Swiss government by a reformist Iranian government, and signed by Ayatollah Khameni. It was an effort to open a broad diplomatic dialogue aimed at settling differences.
Meanwhile, the Iranian press recently quoted the Teheran Ayatollah Kashani saying publicly that Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Seyed Al Khamenei, “the highest authority having the power of issuing decrees and having the first say in decision makings and politics, has explicitly banned production and use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
We will never know if the aborted 2003 offer was serious, and we will never know if Iran is serious now unless Bush and Cheney agree to consider it seriously. This is hardly a replay of Munich, but realpolitik. After all, if a modus vivendi of sorts can be reached with North Korea, why not with Iran too?
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 13:22
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) Click on SOURCE for embedded links. (7-23-07)
Nearly every four years, millions of Americans who belong to that minority that cares about politics fall in love with an insurgent candidate for president. In 1964, conservatives swooned over Barry M. Goldwater; four years later, anti-war liberals rallied to Eugene McCarthy or Robert F. Kennedy. More recently, Patrick Buchanan thrilled one section of the GOP but spooked everybody else; while fans of Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, and Howard Dean seemed poised to defeat better-funded and better-connected Democrats.
Despite their obvious ideological differences, each of these figures cultivated the same image: a politician who candidly and aggressively takes on his party's establishment by defying its conventional wisdom. Each might have echoed Goldwater's slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right," if the Arizona senator hadn't suffered such a debacle at the polls against that consummate insider, Lyndon B. Johnson.
This time around, the only credible insurgent is Barack Obama. He's handsome, young and eloquent, and promises to transcend "divisive ideological politics" and to "develop innovative approaches to challenge the status quo." His remarkable biography is just as much a challenge to Hillary Clinton's as are those headlines on his website. If Americans truly want to avoid a quarter-century of presidents belonging to two white Protestant families, they could not find a better standard-bearer than a former community organizer whose father was African, stepfather was Indonesian, and mother identified strongly with the civil rights movement.
But is Obama an insurgent who can win? History isn't on his side. Since 1964, no dissenter against either party's establishment has been nominated. George S. McGovern can be considered only a half-insurgent, since there was no establishment candidate in 1972. Humphrey, Muskie, and Jackson split the old Cold War constituency within the party -- and Wallace, until he was shot, took away what was left of the white South.
The last true insurgent Democrat to get his party's nod was William Jennings Bryan, back in 1896. Bryan railed tirelessly and eloquently against both the incumbent president of his own party and against Republican nominee William McKinley. But his strength among small farmers and white workers in the West and South could not overcome the GOP's money and appeal in the industrial heartland.
Of course, Obama's base of support is quite different from that of the Great Commoner. In opinion polls, which Hillary Clinton has consistently led, he draws more support from professionals and college graduates than from working and lower-middle class people, who are the majority of voters. Obama's aversion to memorable sound-bites and his talk of compromise with Republicans can remind one more of the wonkish Tsongas or Bradley than of a visionary figure like RFK or a combative one like Dean, much less a populist like Bryan. "Obama girl" videos aside, it's not clear if he can win the love of most Democrats -- or will be able to carry that support into the general election campaign....
Barring a dramatic series of changes, the Democrats should enter the general election campaign with an excellent chance of winning the presidency and building on their majorities in Congress. Either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton could become a fine chief executive. But only one of them will not have to defend what happened the last time their party held the White House or worry about proof of a spouse's infidelity showing up on YouTube. And only an Obama victory will show world that Americans have rejected the arrogant, inept policies that destroyed the broad support the U.S. received after the attacks of 9/11.
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2007 - 12:54
SOURCE: Counterpunch (11-23-07)
The Swat District in Pakistan's Northwestern Frontier Province, dominated by the Swat Valley, watered by the River Swat, surrounded by snow-capped mountains rising as high as 20,000 feet, has been compared to Switzerland in its breathtaking beauty. Only 684 square miles in area (two-thirds the size of Rhode Island), with a population of 1.5 million, it has little commercial agriculture or industry but is rich in history as well as natural scenery. Until recently, it has been a mecca for the archeologist and for the tourist. Both are drawn largely by the presence of Buddhist artifacts, including great Buddhas carved into the mountainside, similar to those crafted 1500 years ago in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
Conquered by Alexander the Greek and his Macedonians in the 320s BCE, this region became part of the Mauryan Empire. Emperor Ashoka in the mid-third century BCE promoted the spread of Buddhism here, and in the second century BCE the local Greek King Menander may have been a convert. (The Questions of Menander---supposedly a conversation between the king and a Buddhist monk---is unique among ancient Buddhist texts in its dialogue form, characteristic of Greek philosophical texts, and may have actually been composed originally in Greek.) Later the Kushan Empire centering on the Gandhara region encouraged the emergence of an Indo-Greek Buddhist style of sculpture. The Swat Valley was at the cutting edge of one of the most extraordinary syntheses in art history: Buddhist content and classical realistic western sculpture. The Buddha, earlier represented symbolically (as a footprint), came to be depicted as a Greek deity or king, standing or seated in meditation.
This, for example, is the 23-foot high Buddha of Jenanabad, one of the finest examples of Gandharan art, as it appeared until recently.
Here's how it has looked since October 8.
Remember how the Taliban destroyed the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, in Afghanistan, in March 2001? Well, this Buddha in Swat was attacked twice last September by forces led by a local cleric named Maulana Fazlullah, who heads the "Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law," aligned with the Taliban. On October 8, the Pakistani Talibs succeeded in obliterating its face with dynamite. This was not widely reported in the U.S. press, perhaps because it would have so dramatically demonstrated how Taliban influence far from waning has spread outside Afghanistan, and is even leading some Pakistanis to attack their national treasures.
The Buddhist law of karma states that willed actions have inevitable consequences. Evil actions produce more evil. There is a strange karma at work nowadays, making everything worse everywhere in Southwest Asia. George Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001, to capture Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," crush al-Qaeda and topple the Taliban regime. He in fact failed to capture bin Laden, and U.S. intelligence reports conclude that al-Qaeda is stronger now than in 2001. Meanwhile the Taliban relying on new recruits controls large swathes of Afghanistan, kills "Coalition" soldiers in record numbers (218 so far this year, including 111 Americans, compared with 191 including 98 Americans in 2006), and expands operations in Pakistan. The Taliban is rooted in the Pashtun tribes who straddle Afghanistan and Pakistan and have little use for the border. They are linked by a common language (Pashto) and culture centering around the Pashtunwali or traditional code of conduct (preceding even the arrival of Islam, which is to say dating at least to the Buddhist period) which more than any other value emphasizes hospitality to visitors (melmastia).
Perhaps the Bush administration didn't consider this when it drove al-Qaeda and the Taliban across the border during the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, or when in March 2002 Bush told a White House press conference in March 2002, "I truly am not that concerned about" bin Laden. Since March of this year administration officials have been voicing mounting alarm over Taliban and al-Qaeda gains in the border area, even speaking ominously about possible U.S. attacks on Pakistani soil. These statements have produced immediate denunciations from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, partly no doubt to assure the public that the unpopular regime opposes an U.S. attack, and partly to dissuade Washington from attacks that would exacerbate the current anti-American sentiment in the country. This has risen precipitously in recent years.
The Pashtuns of the Northwestern Frontier provinces, including those of Swat, have plainly extended hospitality and provided sanctuary to many on the U.S. wanted list, probably including Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden. As the Taliban resurges in Afghanistan, it abets its progress, placing Pakistan's dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a terrible bind. He has deployed troops unfamiliar with the region to attack local Taliban supporters, at Washington's insistence, but they have fared poorly and his efforts have only produced more local support for the Islamists and more opposition to his government. According to the New York Times, the U.S. Army's Special Operations Command plans to" train and equip the Pakistani Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force that has about 85,000 members coming mostly from border tribes" and to recruit Pakistani tribal leaders to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But how will they do this in a region where bin Laden is even more highly admired than in Pakistan as a whole, where his approval rating as of September was 46 percent, compared with 38 percent for Musharraf and 9 percent for Bush?
Citing the growing security threat, Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the Pakistani constitution November 3, prompting an all-around political crisis in a nuclear-armed close ally of the U.S. He had apparently planned to do this in August but was dissuaded by Washington. Now he is taking a big risk. He may fall, and the Islamist iconoclasts or their backers in the Pakistani military could move into a power vacuum, as Islamists gained control over Iran following the overthrow of the hated Shah. Or power might pass to Benazir Bhutto who would, like Musharraf, need to steer a careful course between cooperating with the U.S. in its "war on terror," and posing as a nationalist and defender of moderate Islam. In the face of near-universal hatred for the Bush administration in Pakistan, and suspicions that its war is in fact against Islam in general, the prospect for a Taliban seizure of power in parts of Pakistan is very real. The Bush administration, unable to control the events it has triggered, is in a state of consternation.
How did this happen? What are the causes and effects behind the Talibanization of the frontier? One can either trace the bad karma forwards or backwards. If we do the former, we might start with the first big U.S. intervention into Southwest Asian history: the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. (Having nationalized the country's oil industry, he was falsely declared a "Communist" by U.S. politicians and media.) But let's proceed backwards towards that point.
The al-Qaeda and Taliban presence in Pakistan stem from the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan stemmed from the al-Qaeda 9-11 attacks on the U.S.
The al-Qaeda 9-11 attacks stemmed from the establishment of U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia (more than any other cause).
The establishment of U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, which were never accepted by the Saudi people but seen as a travesty in the land of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, stemmed from the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq in 1990.
The first President Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq and destroy its military stemmed from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.
That invasion of Kuwait stemmed mainly from quarrels between Iraq and Kuwait concerning Iraq's debt to the latter.
Iraq's debt to Kuwait stemmed from its heavy borrowing from its neighbor during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and Kuwait's refusal (backed by the U.S.) to forgive the debt after the war.
That war stemmed from Saddam's supposition that Iran was weak, and that Iraq could adjust the border between the two countries by military force.
Saddam's optimism stemmed in part from his two meetings during the war with Donald Rumsfeld, who offered and provided him with U.S. military assistance.
U.S. desire to assist Saddam stemmed from the policy objective of overthrowing the Iranian government.
This objective stemmed from the overthrow of the pro-U.S. Shah in 1979 and the emergence of an anti-U.S. Islamist regime.
The acquisition of power by the Islamist regime stemmed from the hatred of the Shah, who had been overthrown in 1979 in the most genuine, mass-based revolutionary upheaval in the history of the Muslim world.
The Shah's return to the throne 26 years earlier stemmed from a U.S. imperialist calculus that he would be the best man to look after U.S. interests in the Gulf region.
This is of course a simplified backwards-looking chronology. It leaves out a lot, including the deep background fact that the whole map of the Middle East was drawn up by British and French colonialists after World War I. (This is why Kuwait is separate from Iraq, why Kurdistan never became a state, why Lebanon's Christians wield disproportionate political power, etc.) Some might of course blame me for laying out a "blame America first" perspective covering the period from the CIA coup in Iran, but what government deserves more blame for the current crises from Lebanon to Pakistan? I might add that the very existence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban stem from the U.S. effort throughout the 1980s into the 90s to mobilize Islamists for a jihad against the Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan. The conscious deployment of jihadis versus secularist "communists" during the late Cold War era led directly to the emergence of such groups. The Afghan resistance lionized by Reagan was not by and large progressive in any sense; it opposed the education of girls, the establishment of clinics, land reform, curbs on clerics' powers, lifting of Islamic dress regulations. It was filled with religious fanatics as opposed to American as Soviet meddling in their affairs. After the Soviets were driven from Afghanistan, many wound up attacking the U.S. This is what the CIA calls "blowback." It's the bad karma of imperialism.
But back to the Swat Valley and its Buddhist heritage. Mullah Fazlulah, whose "Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law" dates back to the early 1990s, reportedly now has some 4,500 militants under his influence. He inveighs against UNESCO-administered polio inoculations, CD shops, and girls' schools, and apparently spearheads the effort to erase Swat's non-Muslim past. Anyone advocating U.S. strikes against Pakistan (a number of neocons have done so over the last nine months) will mention all these things in order to emphasize the enemy's caveman otherness. But we should ask such people: Why are the Mullah Fazlulahs on a roll right now? What is the cause, what is the effect?
Why do these religious fanatics want to target priceless, irreplaceable Buddhist art? Why have some Muslims in this region, who have lived contentedly in the shadow of these images for many centuries, only within recent years started blowing them up? (The last effort to destroy them was in the seventeenth century, during the reign of the uncommonly intolerant Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb.) According to Peshawar Museum archeologist Zainul Wahab, "the militants say [the statues] are 'symbols of evil.'" The Swat Islamists are aware that the Qur'an forbids the depiction of the human or animal forms in religious art (although some "miniature paintings" showing these in books has been allowed, notably in Shiite Persia) as a safeguard against idolatry. (See Qur'an 6:74, 14:35, 22:30, etc.) But why these actions, now?
The Bamiyan episode may hold some clues. In July 1999, Mullah Omar actually ordered that the Buddhas be preserved. They were not being used as objects of worship (there being no Buddhists in Afghanistan in centuries). Moreoever, "The government considers the Bamyan statues as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitors. The Taliban states that Bamyan shall not be destroyed but protected." But in March 2001 a new decree called for the destruction of all such images. Mullah Omar explained to a Pakistani journalist in April 2004, "I did not want to destroy the Bamiyan Buddha. In fact, some foreigners came to me and said they would like to conduct the repair work of the Bamiyan Buddha that had been slightly damaged due to rains. This shocked me. I thought, these callous people have no regard for thousands of living human beings - the Afghans who are dying of hunger, but they are so concerned about non-living objects like the Buddha. This was extremely deplorable. That is why I ordered its destruction. Had they come for humanitarian work, I would have never ordered the Buddhas' destruction."
It sounds entirely illogical. The westerners, Omar reasons, were more concerned with saving a statue than with saving people in a country at war for sixteen years, vying with Ethiopia as the world's most impoverished state---and so the Bamiyan Buddhas must be destroyed. Totally irrational. But it indicates a connection between extreme Islamist actions and global power structures. Omar would not agree with this interpretation of recent history, but the fact is the Soviet Union, taken by surprise by the leftist coup in 1978 in Afghanistan but determined thereafter to support a secular, progressive modern regime, sent in troops in 1979 to protect that regime from backward Islamists like Omar. And the U.S. threw its weight enthusiastically behind the jihadis, half the CIA money flowing to the notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar now targeted for assassination. In 1993 the Northern Alliance warlords (principally Tajiks and Uzbeks) captured the capital, castrated and hung the last secular ruler who had taken refuge at the UN compound, proclaimed victory over anti-Islamic forces and set about constructing their new order. They fell into infighting among themselves and Hekmatyar, a Pashtun at one point named Prime Minister, laid siege to Kabul. The chaos ended in 1996 when the Taliban, supported by Pakistani military intelligence, took the capital and imposed the draconian regime deposed in the U.S. attack five years later.
In the interim---between 1993 and 2001---the U.S. basically ignored Afghanistan. Washington had relished the opportunity to (as President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinsky put it) "bleed the Soviets, the way they bled us in Vietnam." But once the Soviets were gone, the U.S. lost interest. It recognized the new Northern Alliance-dominated government, but provided little aid. Its principal interests in Afghanistan were "drugs and thugs" -- discouragement of opium production, and containment of mujahadeen who having ousted the Soviets were now venting hostility towards their former infidel allies. After the Taliban took power in 1996, the oil firm UNOCAL through its representative Zalmay Khalilzad hosted Taliban officials in the U.S. to discuss pipeline construction. Colin Powell negotiated an aid package specifically for opium eradication. But while U.S. allies Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Oman recognized the Taliban and sent some aid, the U.S. and the west in general did little to alleviate hunger in Afghanistan. Hence, perhaps, the mullah's indignation.
He no doubt thinks the west doesn't have its priorities right. But is his thinking about art so distant from that of the architects of the Iraq War, who failed to protect the Baghdad Museum from looters, calling the looting "creative chaos"? Or the U.S. military whose vehicles have crushed artifacts in Babylon dating back to the time of King Nebuchadnezzar II? Or the U.S. troops who used the ninth-century Malwiya Minaret in Samarra as a lookout and sniper post, drawing a bomb attack that damaged its top tier? I don't sense that preservation of culture looms large among the priorities of the Bush administration; it's concerned with conquest, not art and religion. The Pakistani state meanwhile ostensibly seeks to preserve the Buddhist images of Swat. But as a police official at the police station closest to the Buddha of Jenanabad put it, "Due to the precarious law and order situation in the area we are confined to the police station and could not go to the place." The state is spread thin and its top priority is to protect itself.
So other Buddhist sites in Swat, including the Butkara stupa and Takht-i-Bahi Buddhist monastery ruins, remain under threat, at the mercy not only of religious fanaticism but the absence of a state apparatus preoccupied elsewhere. Both of these problems are aggravated by the U.S. invasion of the region. The current wave of Islamist violence was unleashed by U.S. imperialism, itself born out of capitalist competition between states dating way back to the nineteenth century. That's when the major western powers, having carved up China into concessions and colonized the Pacific, divided Africa and Southeast Asia. Russia and Britain vied for control of Afghanistan, with Britain ultimately winning control over its foreign affairs. But the British imperialists were unable to obtain colonial control of Afghanistan despite two bloody wars for that purpose (1839-42 and 1878-80). In May 1919 the Afghan khan Amanullah attacked British forces, who responded with the first aerial bombardment (on Kabul) in Afghanistan's history. Fighting ended inconclusively with an agreement in which Britain acknowledged Afghanistan's self-determination in its foreign relations. (That was just after revolutionary Russia had established relations with the country.)
In 1857, Friedrich Engels described the First Anglo-Afghan War as an "attempt of the British to set up a prince of their own making in Afghanistan" that was doomed due to the Afghans' "indomitable hatred of rule, and their love of independence." This I submit is an issue larger than any kind of religiosity. People don't like being invaded. They don't like it when their close kin across an artificial border created by imperialist mapmakers are invaded. The Pashtuns of the Swat Valley are angered by the toppling of the Taliban, and no doubt by U.S. support for Musharraf and by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And if they are like Muslims throughout the Middle East, they turn to Islamic extremism in part due to frustration with poverty and lack of economic opportunity. These are the results of imperialist globalization; the Swat Valley is rich in minerals and has significant agricultural potential but the state has not promoted all-round development, relying instead on tourism. Outrage at military strikes, the growing civilian death toll in Afghanistan, and the lack of jobs and income in Swat combines with religious passion to attract young men into pro-Taliban groups. Now these groups are defying neocon plans for the region, rebelling against the Pakistani state, and attacking Buddhist images. But these Pashtun assaults are only the proximate cause of the Jenanabad Buddha's defacement. The deeper karmic causes lie, in time and space, far outside the beautiful Swat Valley.
Posted on: Sunday, November 25, 2007 - 20:27
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (11-22-07)
What's wrong with American liberalism? What happened to the self-assured, optimistic, and practical Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy? Why has Joe Lieberman, their closest contemporary incarnation, been run out of the party? How did anti-Americanism infect schools, the media, and Hollywood? And whence comes the liberal rage that conservatives like Ann Coulter, Jeff Jacoby, Michelle Malkin, and the Media Research Center have extensively documented?
In a tour de force, James Piereson of the Manhattan Institute offers an historical explanation both novel and convincing. His book, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism (Encounter), traces liberalism's slide into anti-Americanism back to the seemingly minor fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was neither a segregationist nor a cold warrior but a communist.
Here's what Piereson argues:
During the roughly forty years preceding the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, progressivism/liberalism was the reigning and nearly only public philosophy; Kennedy, a realistic centrist, came out of an effective tradition that aimed, and succeeded, in expanding democracy and the welfare state.
In contrast, Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower lacked an intellectual alternative to liberalism and so merely slowed it down. The conservative"remnant" led by William F. Buckley, Jr. had virtually no impact on policy. The radical right, embodied by the John Birch Society, spewed illogical and ineffectual fanaticism.
Kennedy's assassination profoundly affected liberalism, Piereson explains, because Oswald, a New Left-style communist, murdered Kennedy to protect Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba from the president who, during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, brandished America's military card. Kennedy, in brief, died because he was so tough in the cold war. Liberals resisted this fact because it contradicted their belief system and, instead, presented Kennedy as a victim of the radical right and a martyr for liberal causes.
This political phantasm required two audacious steps. The first applied to Oswald:
- Ignoring his communist outlook by characterizing him as an extreme rightist. Thus, New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison asserted that"Oswald would have been more at home with Mein Kampf than Das Kapital."
- Reducing his role to insignificance by (1) theorizing about some sixteen other assassins or (2) spinning a giant conspiracy in which Oswald was a dupe of the mafia, the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Castro Cubans, White Russians, Texas oil millionaires, international bankers, the CIA, the FBI, the military-industrial complex, the generals, or Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson.
With Oswald nearly deleted from the narrative, or even turned into a scapegoat, the ruling establishment – Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, and many others – proceeded to take a second, astonishing step. They blamed the assassination not on Oswald the communist but on the American people, and the radical right in particular, accusing them of killing Kennedy for his being too soft in the cold war or too accommodating to civil rights for American blacks. Here are just four of the examples Piereson cites documenting that wild distortion:
- Chief Justice Earl Warren decried the supposed"hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots."
- Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield raged against"the bigotry, the hatred, prejudice and the arrogance which converged in that moment of horror to strike him down."
- Congressman Adam Clayton Powell advised,"Weep not for Jack Kennedy, but weep for America."
- A New York Times editorial lamented"The shame all America must bear for the spirit of madness and hate that struck down President John F. Kennedy."
In this"denial or disregard" of Oswald's motives and guilt, Piereson locates the rank origins of American liberalism's turn toward anti-American pessimism."The reformist emphasis of American liberalism, which had been pragmatic and forward-looking, was overtaken by a spirit of national self-condemnation."
Viewing the United States as crass, violent, racist, and militarist shifted liberalism's focus from economics to cultural issues (racism, feminism, sexual freedom, gay rights). This change helped spawn the countercultural movement of the late 1960s; more lastingly, it fed a"residue of ambivalence" about the worth of traditional American institutions and the validity of deploying U.S. military power that 44 years later remains liberalism's general outlook.
Thus does Oswald's malign legacy live on in 2007, yet harming and perverting liberalism, still polluting the national debate.
Posted on: Thursday, November 22, 2007 - 18:24
SOURCE: Bakersfield Californian (11-11-07)
Sacramento-based consultant Dave Gilliard is trying to revive an initiative to divvy up California's electoral college votes by congressional district rather than give all to one candidate as in the present winner-take-all method. The initiative was considered all but dead last month when GOP consultants abandoned the effort after the bad publicity about contributions from a donor to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.
Intended for the June ballot of 2008, the measure, if passed, would dramatically affect the outcome of the November presidential election in California. Those districts in the Central Valley that normally go Republican would then actually delivered Electors for the final count. If successful, the initiative could garner 20 of California s 55 electoral votes for a Republican presidential candidate.
The conspicuous absence of any effort to change the "winner-take-all" system in Republican states advertises the blatant partisanship of the proposed ballot measure. California was the big lure with its large number of electors predictably going to the Democrats. Were Electors chosen by Congressional districts in Florida or Texas, Democrats would then pick up Electors that will all probably go to the Republicans in 2008.
Even if passed, the initiative will be challenged because the U.S. Constitution explicitly gives to the state legislatures the authority to appoint electors to the Electoral College which chooses the president .
But there's merit in the plan were it applied to all states. Awarding Electors on the basis of the vote in separate districts is excellent, notwithstanding its questionable association this time. What could be more democratic than breaking up large blocs of state Electors, often won by a few thousand votes in the general election. California Republicans as well as Texas Democrats deserve to win Electors that they've voted for.
This important reform would require campaigns in all of the states, but if the largest ones - California , Texas , New York , Florida , and Pennsylvania , changed their "winner take all" rules, the others would surely follow suit. Nebraska  and Maine  already divide the presidential vote among districts.
The Electoral College is the least popular element in the Constitution just because it intervenes between voter and the actual election of the president, as the 2000 election so clearly demonstrated. The deliberations at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 reveal the delegates' grave reservations about letting voters choose the president directly. Electors, they assumed, would be well-known to voters and would have the sophistication and wisdom to choose more wisely than ordinary citizens.
Today the Electors have no choice of voting wisely; they themselves are chosen by the party that wins.
Getting rid of the states' "winner-take-all" provisions for awarding Electors would mitigate somewhat the other undemocratic feature of the Elector College. States get electors based on the number of representatives, a rough equivalent of population. But in addition, the drafters of the Constitution gratuitously gave every state two Electors to match their senators. This means that the seven states with only one member of Congress has its elector strength trebled with the addition of the senatorial Electors. This 300% increase narrows to a 3.6% addition for California. This disparity is why there is always a chance of a presidential candidate winning the election through the Electoral College while losing in the popular vote.
Of course this raises the question of how to dispose of these senate Electors if the total state vote were divided among district winners. Let the winning party have them. As we promote democracy abroad, we must do everything that enhances democratic elections at home. Thanks to the Republican drive to get its due in California, we now know how to improve the vote count in all states.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - 01:29
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-20-07)
Senator Hillary Clinton has had to face questions about her toughness. The Boston Herald quotes Tobe Berkowitz, associate dean of Boston University’s College of Communication: “If you’re not tough enough to take the slings and arrows from Barack Obama, how are you going to deal with Putin or Chavez?” Senator Clinton helped herself with a confident performance in last week’s debate, but such concerns will probably resurface. Some say that the toughness issue is sexist, and that a male candidate would not face the same kind of questions. There may be merit to that point, but in fact male candidates have had to deal with the toughness issue. It came up in 1992, and the candidate in question was named Clinton. After the election, the New York Times ran an article titled “Is Clinton Tough Enough?” Journalist Leslie Gelb wrote: ” Mr. Clinton bridles when his toughness in exercising power is questioned. But he knows people think he isn’t tough.” Earlier in the year, Clinton acknowledged the issue when discussing his nomination fight against Jerry Brown: “If I’m not tough enough to deal with him, I probably shouldn’t be elected president.”
Another ghost recently appeared on the Republican side. Mitt Romney recently told the Wall Street Journal editorial board that the executive branch of the federal government has a poor organization chart.
Running a government organized like this is, he explains, impossible. “So I would probably have super-cabinet secretaries, or at least some structure that McKinsey would guide me to put in place.” He seems to catch a note of surprise in his audience, but he presses on: “I’m not kidding, I probably would bring in McKinsey. . . . I would consult with the best and the brightest minds, whether it’s McKinsey, Bain, BCG or Jack Welch.”
Actually, something similar happened in 1992 under the first President Bush. Incoming chief of staff Samuel Skinner enlisted management consultant Eugene Croisant to review White House operations. In the Washington Post, Marjorie Williams reported:
It was a classic political blunder. For one thing, it made the staff feel as if the grim reaper were stalking the corridors for a nerve-racking two months, as Croisant ambled into people’s offices and settled down for cozy, hour-long chats about just exactly what they did there. For another thing, it betrayed Skinner’s naivete about exactly what he was walking into. He made it sound as if it were just a matter of getting the right structure in place, designing the right flow chart.
Skinner failed to realize that corporate techniques do not always work in government. He ended up merely adding another layer to the White House bureaucracy, and the resulting organizational paralysis hastened his own exit.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 14:19
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-19-07)
Conservatism has always been about the purposes of government rather than the size or scope of government. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that George W. Bush has built a form a conservative big government during his presidency.
However, big government poses a serious political problem for conservatives because it contradicts their rhetorical defense of limited government, states’ rights, fiscal responsibility, and individual freedom. Conservative big government also differs from the liberal project of using government to reform society from the bottom up, funding welfare benefits, regulating business, empowering labor and minorities. The Bush administration began from the top down, subsidizing business and expanding its global reach, shielding corporations, and backing robust military, intelligence, and police forces. For decades, Republicans had complained of Democrats who created cadres of dependent voters: recipients of welfare and Social Security, members of federal employee unions and beneficiaries of affirmative action programs. Liberals, libertarians, and some conservatives charged that President Bush has created corporate dependents instead.
During Bush’s first term, federal spending grew by 17 percent in constant dollars, compared to 11 percent during Bill Clinton’s two terms. Discretionary domestic spending under Bush increased even more rapidly than total spending, “exactly the opposite of what was promised by Republican leaders when they first came to power in the 1990s,” wrote conservative fiscal analyst Stephen Moore. The federal government’s share of GDP rose to 19.9 percent in 2005, after declining from 22.1 percent to 18.4 percent during the Clinton years.
Conservative big government opened fissures between the wealthy and other Americans. Income inequality shot ahead at a record rate between 2002 and 2005, reaching levels unknown in America since the eve of the Great Depression. In 2005, the top 10 percent of earners collected 44.3 percent of income, compared to 32.6 percent in 1975 and about equal to the 43.8 percent in 1929. The top 1 percent collected 17.4 percent compared to 8.0 percent in 1975 and 18.4 percent in 1929.
New elements of conservative big government emerged in the second term. The administration confirmed in late 2005 that the president authorized the National Security Agency to wiretap Americans without warrants, bypassing requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. In July 2005, the administration won passage of an energy bill that subsidized big energy companies. The administration gained a renewed Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that gave the executive branch authority to define persons, possibly including U. S. citizens, as “unlawful enemy combatants” who could potentially be detained indefinitely. Aliens who were defined as unlawful enemy combatants and were tried by military tribunals could be denied protections of the Geneva Convention against torture, habeas corpus rights to challenge their imprisonment, and safeguards against the use of coerced and secret testimony.
“Have Republicans become the party of torture, secret prisons, and indefinite detention?” asked libertarian author James Bovard in The American Conservative magazine, which Pat Buchanan had founded in 2002. “The new law – far more dangerous than the more controversial Patriot Act – is perhaps the biggest disgrace Congress has enacted since the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.”
Yet a new conservative leader would still depend on campaign contributions and other political support from corporate interests that would demand paybacks from government. Such pressures would pose once again the contradiction between the Right’s defense of free markets and its backing for corporate loans, subsidies, tax breaks, no-bid contracts, and other forms of special treatment from government. A new leader would be entwined in the dilemma of how to advance the conservative goals of protecting national security and upholding morality and decency in society without a large and meddlesome state that contradicted the Right’s defense of personal freedom and small government. The future of the conservative movement may well depend on whether the next Republican presidential nominee can find a way out of these dilemmas.
I await your thoughts.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 02:36
SOURCE: New York Sun (11-19-07)
President George Bush’s recent love fest with French President Nicolas Sarkozy made headlines around the world. The new president was reversing a decade of America-hating and America-obstructing by French politicians and diplomats. He amazed pundits from London to Washington to Moscow by getting elected as an open admirer of America. Almost no one seems to have noticed that this reversal is one more chapter in the long, dizzying history of America’s relationship with France.
In my new book, The Perils of Peace, there is an interlude in the opening chapters that more than justifies this description. As Philadelphians celebrated the news of the victory at Yorktown in 1781, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Robert R. Livingston, sat in his office, sorting his mail.
With a gasp Livingston read a letter from Benjamin Franklin, the American ambassador to Paris. It was a bitter blast, informing him and Congress that the famous philosopher and scientist was resigning in disgust. Why? He was tired of being criticized in Congress for being too subservient to France.
Franklin had written the letter in May and it had taken the usual three months to cross the Atlantic. The coincidence of its arrival only underscored the irony of the situation. At Yorktown a French army and fleet had made victory possible. There were 29,000 French soldiers and sailors in the battle, and only about 9,000 Americans. In the years since 1778, when Franklin had persuaded the French to sign a treaty of alliance, America had borrowed or received as gifts $40,000,000 dollars from her only ally – the equivalent of about $600,000,000 in today’s depreciated greenbacks. Yet there were Americans like John Adams who told the French Foreign minister to his astonished face that they were lucky to have the Americans on their side.
Adams’s letters from Europe were read on the floor of Congress. Almost every one was an attack on Franklin as well as France. The stumpy Bostonian was insanely jealous of him. He had the 77 year old savant sleeping with half the women of Paris. He was joined by another Franklin hater, Congressman Arthur Lee of Virginia, who spewed vitriol about a French plot to betray America’s independence. The agitated French ambassador to the United States tried to deal with the situation by putting key members of Congress on his secret service payroll. And we mutter today about the dark doings of the CIA in foreign countries!
Fast forward to the presidency of George Washington, a decade later. The French Revolution had become the Reign of Terror, deluging the streets of Paris and other cities with blood. In Philadelphia, the new nation’s capital, President Washington looked out his window at thousands of protestors crowding the city’s streets, waving placards, screaming insults and curses at him. Why? He had refused to join the French in their war with England. He had declared America neutral.
According to the protestors, that made him a traitor to the cause of worldwide liberty. When Washington left office in 1797, the Aurora, Philadelphia’s leading newspaper, wrote that it was an event that should make every American rejoice. “The man who is the source of all the misfortunes of our country, is this day reduced to the level with his fellow citizens, and is no longer able to multiply evils upon the United States.”
Fast forward another two and a half decades. The Marquis de Lafayette, who had spent a million dollars of his own money and ducked bullets in the bargain, returned to the United States to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of America’s independence. He visited every state and almost every major city. It was a love feast all the way, climaxed by a dinner given to him at the White House by President John Quincy Adams. John Adams’s son saluted the Marquis as the embodiment of France’s generosity and friendship during America’s eight year struggle to achieve a free country.
When the first doughboys reached Paris in 1917, General John J. Pershing led them to Lafayette’s grave and a colonel who spoke French declared: “Lafayette, we are here!” The American march through the streets of Paris was a wildeyed triumph. Over a million people jammed the sidewalks and screamed adulation. Hundreds threw flowers from rooftops and telephone poles. Women rushed into the ranks to bestow fervent kisses. No foreigners in the history of France ever received a more heartfelt greeting.
The GIs who liberated Paris and the rest of France from the Nazis’ grip in 1945 received a similar welcome. But General Charles de Gaulle, who kept the spirit of resistance alive during the dark years after France’s collapse in 1941, felt compelled to chart an independent postwar course to restore French pride and self confidence. During the Vietnam War, he repeatedly urged America to abandon the struggle, and tensions accumulated between Paris and Washington.
In 1968, I toured the Argonne region, working on an article for American Heritage about the AEF’s bloody struggle there in 1918. It cost well over half of the 50,000 doughboys who died in World War I. In the town of Varennes, I met a group of Frenchman who warmly approved what I was doing. One of them said: “Don’t pay any attention to those ---- ---- ---- in Paris. Around here we will never forget you saved us from the Germans, not once, but twice!” Whereupon each man in the group shook my hand.
That story may explain why Nicholas Sarkozy was elected president of France.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 02:31