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: WSJ (1-9-08)
George W. Bush's visit to Israel today -- the first of his presidency -- has many Israelis confused. Is he coming to advance the peace process begun six weeks ago at the Annapolis Summit, that 83% of Israelis see as fruitless? Or is he aiming to fortify Israel against a mounting Iranian nuclear threat that American intelligence services claim no longer exists? The visit spotlights the blurring of the administration's Middle East policies, leaving many of its friends -- Israel included -- confused.
Israel's bafflement is deepened by the fact that Mr. Bush's agenda departs from a more than 30-year tradition. Unlike Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all of whom visited Israel, Mr. Bush will not address the government on the grounds that that would obligate him to speak before the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Parliament.
Mr. Bush also abandoned the protocol of receiving the head of the Israeli opposition, in this case Benjamin Netanyahu, who will likely be Israel's next prime minister. And while Mr. Bush's predecessors came to Israel following diplomatic achievements -- Nixon after the separation of forces in the Yom Kippur War, Mr. Carter after the Camp David Accords, and Mr. Clinton after the Wye River Memorandum -- Mr. Bush has none to his credit.
Further bewildering for Israelis is the fact that Mr. Bush's policies previously seemed unequivocal. He repeatedly affirmed America's support for Israel's identity as a Jewish state, and so ruled out the Arabs' demand for the resettlement of millions of Palestinians within Israel's pre-1967 borders. He further recognized the reality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and insisted that any agreement take that reality into account.
Most importantly, Mr. Bush had reversed the once-sacrosanct formula through which the Israelis first ceded territory to the Arabs and only then received peace, insisting that the Arabs first eschew terror and recognize Israel's existence before regaining land. The president upheld Israel's right to defend itself, while stressing the Palestinians' duty to dismantle terrorist infrastructures and abjure violence. "The Palestinian people must decide that they want a future of decency and hope," he declared last July, "not of terror and death."
Since Annapolis, however, much of this paradigm has been jettisoned. Mr. Bush hasn't reconfirmed Israel's status as a Jewish state, and failed to comment when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice compared the Palestinians' plight to that of African Americans in the Alabama of her youth -- implicitly likening Israelis to Southern racists....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 - 14:04
SOURCE: Journal News (7-8-07)
When did the Irish become white? In the demographic analyses of the composition of the American population at present and for the future, there is no separate category for the Irish; they are included in the white population along with the English. That would be quite a surprise to both groups back when the Irish first began arriving in large numbers in the 1830s and 1840s.
When did the Italians and the Jews become white? And the other ethnic groups of the Ellis Island immigration? They weren't white when they arrived here in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The names that were used for them can't be listed here. It was a time of quotas and restrictions for the people who dressed funny, spoke funny, smelled funny and ate strange foods.
When did the Germans become white? They weren't white when they began arriving in large numbers in the 1720s. Hard to imagine that Germans were once Hispanic! Ben Franklin was furious at the presence of signs in two languages. Why couldn't they learn English like real Americans?
When did the Scotch-Irish become white? They weren't white when they first arrived here around the same time and in the same places as the German immigrants. Indeed, the people of the elitist colleges founded by the Puritans, Anglicans and Presbyterians in the 17th and 18th centuries still look down on the backcountry plainfolk, code name NASCAR people, as subhuman degenerates, not as fully civilized as they are.
One measure of a people becoming accepted in America is when one of them becomes president. John Kennedy became the first and only Irish president approximately 120 years after the arrival of the Irish immigrants. The first and only German president was Dwight Eisenhower, 163 years after the election of the first American president. There has never been an Ellis Island president although one is doing well in the polls now. Andrew Jackson was the first of many Scotch-Irish presidents, so even though they are looked down upon they are no stranger to the White House.
Another way to determine the acceptance of a people is through music and entertainment. The Irish rioted during the Civil War rather than fight in a war between the English of the North and the English of the South. But by the time of World War I, George M. Cohan, later to be cinematically played by James Cagney, was churning out patriotic songs. Irving Berlin did the same for Ellis Island Americans in World War II as every Hollywood platoon had a soldier from Brooklyn and Frank Sinatra sang the songs that America wanted to hear. After the war not just an Italian but a Sicilian made "It's a Wonderful Life" as the immigrant Italians built their dream houses in Bailey Park.
Sex is another way to signify acceptance. Italian Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe. She also married Jewish Arthur Miller and was involved with the Irish Kennedys. It is almost as if Marilyn's unsung roll in American history was to legitimate the presence of ethnic minorities in this country. In more general terms, intermarriage has been a key marker of the melting pot at work. The Irish-Italian marriages of yesteryear have become the Anglo-Hispanic relationships of the present. As it turns out, what both sides have in common in these marriages is that they are Americans by choice who celebrate Thanksgiving and July 4, speak English, and want to build a better tomorrow in this world for themselves and their children. What could be more American?
So here we are at the beginning of the 21st century wondering about the future composition of the American population. Are there problems that need to be addressed? Yes. Serious problems involving control of the borders and the status of people already here? Yes. Is Washington capable of the common sense, intelligence, imagination, wisdom, creativity, and political will required to solve these problems? Don't be ridiculous. That's absurd. Are we the people capable of it? Perhaps if we were to think back about what has happened so far in our history as peoples of different religions and ethnicities embraced the American Dream as Americans by choice even if they weren't Americans by birth, we will have more faith in the future of America. This story continues but the space to tell it here has run out.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 - 13:28
SOURCE: NewsHour (1-8-08)
JEFFREY BROWN: And for that, I'm joined by our panel of presidential historians, Michael Beschloss, Richard Norton Smith, scholar-in-residence at George Mason University, and Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.
Well, Michael, last week on the program talking about Iowa you referred to the historical significance of the front-loading of this campaign. So put New Hampshire into that historical context.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Well, you know, New Hampshire, I guess like everything else, it just is not what it used to be. It used to be the first test of what people thought about presidents and also gave you a good idea where the public was.
Maybe the most vintage New Hampshire primary was 1968, Eugene McCarthy, the anti-war Vietnam war candidate, was running against an incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson, almost won, the first big sign that Vietnam was going to be a big issue in presidential politics that year.
In recent years now, you not only have the Iowa caucus first, but also a very small amount of time between those two events, now, of course, five days. And in recent years, I think it has not been by accident that in 2000 and 2004, on the Democratic side, New Hampshire confirmed the result of the Iowa caucuses.
JEFFREY BROWN: Ellen, how did New Hampshire become so key to this process? Where do you set it in history?
ELLEN FITZPATRICK, University of New Hampshire: Well, it goes really back to the early 20th century and the construction of the primary system itself, which was a reform of the progressive era.
The idea was to try to take the decision over who the party's nominee would be out of the smoke-filled rooms and away from the party bosses and to give it to the people.
And what has happened, New Hampshire put that process in place. The legislature approved it in 1913. And over the course of the 20th century, each time it modified the rules, it did so in ways to open access to more and more voters to participate in the process.
It drew on a strong tradition of local government and, in fact, was designed to coincide initially with the annual town meeting. And it has been said that the idea was the frugal New Hampshirites wanted to save money and only light the town hall twice -- excuse me, light it once, when they could have the primary and the town meeting on the same day. That's how it got to be in March initially.
EFFREY BROWN: So, Richard, what other examples from the past do you like to look to, especially to help us understand the current situation?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University: Well, New Hampshire has been both a springboard and a graveyard for presidential candidates, and sometimes for presidents.
Remember, two presidents, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, after doing badly in New Hampshire, both let it be known that they would not be seeking re-election.
The other side of the coin, in 1976, Gerald Ford eked out a 1,000-vote victory at the last minute over Ronald Reagan. If he had lost in New Hampshire, arguably that campaign would have been over before it began.
And then, of course, you have candidates who come out of seemingly nowhere. In 1984, for example, when Walter Mondale won very handsomely in Iowa, but all the media coverage was about who would come in second, and would Gary Hart meet the mythical threshold to be a serious candidate in New Hampshire? Not only was he a serious candidate, but he actually defeated the establishment candidate, Walter Mondale.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Michael, another thing that this state is famous for is independence, that "Live Free or Die" motto on the license plate.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, it was actually the first sovereign nation in 1776, after New Hampshire withdrew from the British empire, and that tradition is there. And you see a lot of these insurgents. You see a Gene McCarthy doing well, a George McGovern, a Gary Hart.
It's not by accident. I think part of it is the character of people in New Hampshire. The other thing is it is so easy for independents, for instance, to go in -- we're seeing it today -- and vote in a Democratic primary that you oftentimes have a result that is largely shaped by people who are not traditional Democrats.
Independents sway outcomes
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Ellen, this time around, of course, we're hearing so much about change, that mantra, change, change, change. How does that fit into the historical context of the independents of that state, the anti-establishment?
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I think that's a very powerful tradition in New Hampshire, and the 1968 election comes to mind, as well, in that this was an opportunity to have a national conversation, and to begin it in New Hampshire, about the war in Vietnam and whether it would continue as it was going or whether an insurgent group in the Democratic Party could actually unseat a sitting president.
And the New Hampshire voters, many Republicans wrote in Eugene McCarthy in that primary, really responded to that. And instead of accepting what was assumed would be a victory by Lyndon Johnson really had the occasion to debate the war and responded powerfully to the huge upsurge in young people who came to New Hampshire to campaign. We're seeing some of that today.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Richard, that independent streak sometimes means that those who do well in New Hampshire don't necessarily do well in other states.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Well, that's true, but it's also where the independents go. I mean, we all know that in 2000, for example, the Al Gore people thought there was a real chance that they were going to lose the New Hampshire primary to Bill Bradley.
Their polls were suggesting that if independents broke the way they thought they would, for example, that Bradley, who had a very much this kind of insurgent appeal, would win.
In fact, at the last minute, the independents voted overwhelmingly for John McCain, and it really was the end of the Bradley candidacy and it was the making of John McCain. And we're seeing if history repeats itself tonight.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Although you can always over-interpret this. You know, 1968 Gene McCarthy did really well. Everyone said, "New Hampshire is against the Vietnam war." Later investigations showed that a lot of people who voted for Gene McCarthy actually thought that they were voting for Joe.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Ellen, you want to jump in?
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Well, I don't know if that's entirely fair.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It's true. What can I do? You're University of New Hampshire. I think you're part of the loyalties, Ellen.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I don't know. It is true, though, that you have in New Hampshire extremely independent voters, not just by the fact that there's a large number of independents, but even within the parties they have been unpredictable. And it gives a kind of power to the whole conversation.
Remember, too, that of the last 14 presidential elections the person elected in 12 cases did win the New Hampshire primary.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK, we'll leave it there. Ellen, Richard and Michael, thanks very much.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 - 12:00
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (1-8-08)
Liberal fascism sounds like an oxymoron – or a term for conservatives to insult liberals. Actually, it was coined by a socialist writer, none other than the respected and influential left-winger H.G. Wells, who in 1931 called on fellow progressives to become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis." Really.
His words, indeed, fit a much larger pattern of fusing socialism with fascism: Mussolini was a leading socialist figure who, during World War I, turned away from internationalism in favor of Italian nationalism and called the blend Fascism. Likewise, Hitler headed the National Socialist German Workers Party.
These facts jar because they contradict the political spectrum that has shaped our worldview since the late 1930s, which places communism at the far left, followed by socialism, liberalism in the center, conservatism, and then fascism on the far right. But this spectrum, Jonah Goldberg points out in his brilliant, profound, and original new book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Doubleday), reflects Stalin's use of fascist as an epithet to discredit anyone he wished – Trotsky, Churchill, Russian peasants – and distorts reality. Already in 1946, George Orwell noted that fascism had degenerated to signify "something not desirable."
To understand fascism in its full expression requires putting aside Stalin's misrepresentation of the term and also look beyond the Holocaust, and instead return to the period Goldberg terms the "fascist moment," roughly 1910-35. A statist ideology, fascism uses politics as the tool to transform society from atomized individuals into an organic whole. It does so by exalting the state over the individual, expert knowledge over democracy, enforced consensus over debate, and socialism over capitalism. It is totalitarian in Mussolini's original meaning of the term, of "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." Fascism's message boils down to "Enough talk, more action!" Its lasting appeal is getting things done.
In contrast, conservatism calls for limited government, individualism, democratic debate, and capitalism. Its appeal is liberty and leaving citizens alone.
Goldberg's triumph is establishing the kinship between communism, fascism, and liberalism. All derive from the same tradition that goes back to the Jacobins of the French Revolution. His revised political spectrum would focus on the role of the state and go from libertarianism to conservatism to fascism in its many guises – American, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and so on.
As this listing suggests, fascism is flexible; different iterations differ in specifics but they share "emotional or instinctual impulses." Mussolini tweaked the socialist agenda to emphasize the state; Lenin made workers the vanguard party; Hitler added race. If the German version was militaristic, the American one (which Goldberg calls liberal fascism) is nearly pacifist. Goldberg quotes historian Richard Pipes on this point: "Bolshevism and Fascism were heresies of socialism." He proves this confluence in two ways.
First, he offers a "secret history of the American left":
Woodrow Wilson's Progressivism featured a "militaristic, fanatically nationalist, imperialist, racist" program, enabled by the exigencies of World War I.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's "fascist New Deal" built on and extended Wilson's government.
Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society established the modern welfare state, "the ultimate fruition" (so far) of this statist tradition.
The youthful New Left revolutionaries of the 1960s brought about "an Americanized updating" of the European Old Right.
Hillary Clinton hopes "to insert the state deep into family life," an essential step of the totalitarian project.
To sum up a near-century of history, if the American political system traditionally encouraged the pursuit of happiness, "more and more of us want to stop chasing it and have it delivered."
Second, Goldberg dissects American liberal programs – racial, economic, environmental, even the "cult of the organic" – and shows their affinities to those of Mussolini and Hitler.
If this summary sounds mind-numbingly implausible, read Liberal Fascism in full for its colorful quotes and convincing documentation. The author, hitherto known as a smart, sharp-elbowed polemicist, has proven himself a major political thinker.
Beyond offering a radically different way to understand modern politics, in which fascist is no more a slander than socialist, Goldberg's extraordinary book provides conservatives with the tools to reply to their liberal tormentors and eventually go on the offensive. If liberals can eternally raise the specter of Joseph McCarthy, conservatives can counter with that of Benito Mussolini.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 22:09
SOURCE: WSJ (1-8-08)
It was fated, or "written," as the Arabs would say, that George W. Bush, reared in Midland, Texas, so far away from the complications of the foreign world, would be the leader to take America so deep into Arab and Islamic affairs.
This is not a victory lap that President Bush is embarking upon this week, a journey set to take him to Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, the Saudi Kingdom, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Bush by now knows the heartbreak and guile of that region. After seven years and two big wars in that "Greater Middle East," after a campaign against the terror and the malignancies of the Arab world, there will be no American swagger or stridency.
But Mr. Bush is traveling into the landscape and setting of his own legacy. He is arguably the most consequential leader in the long history of America's encounter with those lands.
Baghdad isn't on Mr. Bush's itinerary, but it hangs over, and propels, his passage. A year ago, this kind of journey would have been unthinkable. The American project in Iraq was reeling, and there was talk of America casting the Iraqis adrift. It was then that Mr. Bush doubled down--and, by all appearances, his brave wager has been vindicated.
His war has given birth to a new Iraq. The shape of this new Iraq is easy to discern, and it can be said with reasonable confidence that the new order of things in Baghdad is irreversible. There is Shiite primacy, Kurdish autonomy in the north, and a cushion for the Sunni Arabs--in fact a role for that community slightly bigger than its demographic weight. It wasn't "regional diplomacy" that gave life to this new Iraq. The neighboring Arabs had fought it all the way.
But there is a deep streak of Arab pragmatism, a grudging respect for historical verdicts, and for the right of conquest. How else did the ruling class in Arabia, in the Gulf and in Jordan beget their kingdoms?
In their animus toward the new order in Iraq, the purveyors of Arab truth--rulers and pundits alike--said that they opposed this new Iraq because it had been delivered by American power, and is now in the American orbit. But from Egypt to Kuwait and Bahrain, a Pax Americana anchors the order of the region. In Iraq, the Pax Americana, hitherto based in Sunni Arab lands, has acquired a new footing in a Shiite-led country, and this is the true source of Arab agitation.
To hear the broadcasts of Al Jazeera, the Iraqis have sinned against the order of the universe for the American military presence in their midst. But a vast American air base, Al Udeid, is a stone's throw away from Al Jazeera's base in Qatar....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 22:04
SOURCE: Commentisfree (Guardian blog) (1-3-08)
Win, lose or draw, Hollywood's striking writers have written finis to one long-running episode in American cultural and intellectual history. For years the most sophisticated prognosticators writing about the global economy have assured us that in our creative, cyber-oriented world new forms of work and enterprise would put an end to the old conflicts and controversies that once plagued industrial America. Contests over money, power and status, not to mention strikes, unions and hard-nosed bargaining sessions, were increasingly played out. They were so rust-belt, certainly out of place in the hip and hyper-innovative world spawned by new media, iPod downloads and hyper-educated workers.
Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's first secretary of labour, forecast an America in which legions of newly minted "symbolic analysts" made the United States globally competitive once again, even as they transformed the old corporate hierarchies into a system that was "more collaborative, participatory, and egalitarian than is high-volume, standardized production." Likewise, Peter Drucker, the celebrated founder of modern management theory, declared that in the 21st century the "most valuable asset" of the corporation "will be its knowledge workers and their productivity." And the best-selling New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argued that a world-wide communications revolution had made educated labour even more valuable. "There will be plenty of good jobs out there in the flat world for people with the knowledge and ideas to seize them."
If ever there was a group of men and women who fulfilled the expectations of Reich, Friedman and other hopeful pundits, the membership of the Writers Guild of America would seem to meet all the key criteria. They have almost all gone to university, and they are all highly literate in English, the language that is far and away the most important in world commerce, science and entertainment. They labour in an industry that has tripled its employment during the last quarter century and which is one of the few export powerhouses that can be clearly labeled "Made in America." And most important, the products they create on their keypads and drawing boards, or in the furious banter that explodes around a conference table, are nothing less than that of the imagination itself.
But here we are in the third month of an increasingly bitter strike by 12,000 TV and film writers. The issues at stake seem high tech and futuristic: the extent to which writers will earn royalties and residuals from the sale and distribution of creative product on the web and in other new media formats. But this kind of conflict is nothing new.
For centuries workers have sought to win a share of the money that came pouring forth when new forms of production or distribution transformed the old way of doing things. Artisan weavers of early 19th century Britain have been forever denounced as "Luddites" because their machine-breaking rampages failed to win for them a share of the productivity and profits generated by the steam-powered looms then being deployed by a new class of textile magnates. But a century later wagon-driving teamsters successfully bargained their way from horses to trucks, winning for a few 20th century decades a middle-class income and the security that a union contract can provide.
The same dynamic has been at work in Hollywood. In the early 1930s when the revenue stream generated by radio broadcasts and film production expanded rapidly, writers and actors sought to win their share. A strike by radio script writers, mainly New York based, ended in failure, so they earned no residuals when Amos and Andy and The Lone Ranger proved so popular in the Depression decade and after.
But other "knowledge workers" of that era did a lot better. Taking their cue from the great organizing drives and strikes mounted by industrial workers in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Akron, a whole cohort of union-like "talent guilds" sprang to life for reporters, teachers, architects and engineers. In Tinseltown itself writers, actors and directors like Frank Capra, John Howard Lawson, Eddie Cantor, Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery formed their own guilds, sometimes inspired by radical visions of a new society, but more often they merely sought to give to their careers some of the autonomy and remuneration that ambitious and creative people have always craved.
No one can foresee how the current writers strike will end. But one thing has been settled: regardless of the technology they manipulate, the skills they have mastered, or the global companies for which they work, this 21st century brand of knowledge worker can hardly escape the gritty economic tensions that have faced every generation of men and women who exchange their labour for their livelihood.
And if such conflicts can still arise in trend-setting Hollywood, then no sector of America's burgeoning knowledge economy is exempt.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 19:18
SOURCE: TPM Cafe (1-6-08)
“The liberal blogosphere goes wild!” whooped conservatives, wildly, at widespread outrage over Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.’s desperate gift of a weekly Times op-ed page column to neo-conservative field marshal Bill Kristol. Surprisingly, Kristol will continue to edit Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard and to grace Fox News even while joining his former Standard soulmate David Brooks and conservative Book Review and Week in Review editor Sam Tanenhaus tomorrow, January 7, at the Times.
Sulzberger’s family-owned news corporation is bracing for assault by Murdoch’s family-owned News Corporation, and, like a general fighting the last war (Vienna’s Hapsburgs, 1914?), Arthur is feinting rightward to save his newspaper from being Dan Rathered or Howell Rainsed off the field by Murdoch’s soon-to-be pumped-up Wall Street Journal.
But trying to beat journalism’s Lord Voldemort at his own game lets down Times readers and dooms the Sulzbergers to follow the Bancrofts, who lost the Journal to Murdoch because they’d lost not only their sharp entrepreneurial elbows but their civic-republican souls.
What’s at risk for journalism in this sad new Times strategy, and why is Sulzberger pursuing it?
The risk should be clear to anyone needing good reporting: News organizations that compete only for market share learn that sensationalism and subtle titillation sell best. So they tweak the news to bypass your brain and go for your viscera on their way to your wallet. As they grope you to keep you reading or watching, they scramble your and others’ thinking about news and with it, public discussion.
That leaves the republic’s immune system more vulnerable to anti-republican agendas and impulses and to demagoguery -- like Kristol’s early and sustained war-mongering on Fox. A serious study cited last year by Paul Krugman found late in 2003 that 80 percent of those who relied mainly on Fox for news believed that clear evidence had been found linking Iraq and Al Qaeda; that WMD had been found in Iraq; and that world public opinion had favored Bush’s war. Only 23 percent of PBS and NPR audiences believed those untrue things.
Anyone who's watched Kristol knows he promoted these untruths doggedly. He also assured viewers that the war’s aftermath would require only 75,000 U.S. troops and $16 billion a year. Even after Abu Ghraib, he accused anti-war critics of hobbling America’s mission to spread democracy. Far more than any other public intellectual I know, Kristol has American blood on his hands.
Fox ratings may be high, but good journalism is about more than quarterly bottom lining. Its purpose is to help public life go well, but most journalists are employed by media corporations with other purposes, and Times publisher Sulzberger, a fickle and somewhat perverse moralist, has never struck the right balance between the profit imperative and civic-republican trust. He rode color-coded “diversity” to absurdity with Howell Raines (as I demonstrated in my one and only contribution to Kristol’s Weekly Standard, on August 11, 1997!). More recently, we saw Sulzberger slobbering over ex-Times con artist Judith Miller outside a prison.
Now he thinks he’s being clever in hiring Kristol, and certainly the Times should publish smart conservatives to keep liberals honest. But Kristol has accelerated the decline of honesty even more than David Brooks or Sam Tanenhaus.
Most conservatives already know this. Take a peek behind their gloating over liberal consternation about Kristol's deal with the Times: Whether they’re Main Street Republicans, courtly paleo-cons, Ayn Randian libertarians, or the crypto-theo-cons who’ve been infecting The Atlantic Monthly with the vapors of a magisterium, circa Pius XII, most conservatives dislike and mistrust Kristol and the other prophets of “national greatness” and “liberate-the-world” conservatism whom Sulzberger has called in for his Armageddon with Murdoch.
Neo-cons like Kristol would scoff at any suggestion that republican freedom depends not mainly on warriors and wealth but ultimately on an elusive strength, borne of vulnerability, that risks trust in ways that elicit trust in return. Kristol once told me he thought that a Yale Daily News column of mine in which I’d argued just this was “silly.” Maybe it was; against neoliberal innocents like Thomas Friedman who think the world is flat, Kristol and other self-styled tough guys remind us usefully that it’s crooked and dark; against New Dealers like Krugman who’d have us achieve goods in common which we cannot know alone, they remind us that self-interest greases engines of prosperity.
But Kristol & Co. get stuck in these half-truths, arrested intellectually and characterologically. Politically smart but civically unintelligent, they give us decorum without decency, folksy humor without civic trust, religiosity without faith, duplicity without forbearance, resentment without justice.
They haven’t a clue how unarmed, impoverished nobodies like Ghandi, Mandela, and the Eastern European dissidents and their followers brought down vast national security states like the one they want for America, or how Martin Luther King, Jr. brought down what even Clarence Thomas called the “totalitarian” regime of the old South. Told of such movements, they batten immediately upon their flaws and corruptions; and they find them; and they miss the point.
Even last week’s conservative toasts to Kristol had an oddly hollow ring, and something seemed forced about the glee at most Times readers’disgust. Conservatives know that, having lost credibility with an “ownership society” that’s ending home ownership for millions, a foreign policy that has diminished us abroad and a governing ideology that had Blackwater policing flood-ravaged New Orleans, they’re now losing even their cachet as rebels against the liberal media. Embarrassed by what they see in the mirror, some turn away to point fingers at leftists who’ve been too far out of the picture to deserve blame or credit for their self-destruction.
Watch Jack Shafer, for example, a libertarian blowhard ensconced too long at Slate, point his finger compulsively away from the mirror: “Who’s Afraid of Bill Kristol? Nora Ephron, Josh Marshall, Jane Smiley, David Corn, Erica Jong, Katha Pollitt, and Nearly Every Liberal With a Blogging Account,” reads the headline of his comment. Like most other conservatives, Shafer dislikes Kristol, whom he calls “a political operator” who “likes to brawl and make enemies….”; liberals “get it right when they call Kristol a naked opportunist.”
Still, he shrugs lamely, “Kristol, love him or hate him, writes good copy.” “Copy” is newspaper jargon for a reporter’s story on its way to his editors and the press, but in using it for Kristol, Shafer unwittingly gives it a darker double entendre. In Kristol, he claims, “the Times gets a political specialist, not a journalist, similar to the deal the paper cut in 1973 when it hired PR flack and Nixon spear-chucker William Safire. Safire, a self-described libertarian conservative, weathered the same catcalls from the liberal establishment that Kristol hears today.”
Not quite. Safire left Nixon skullduggery behind and transcended partisan phrasemaking at the Times, but Kristol will keep working as a political operator who feigns candor and flexibility only to score.
No Nixon hired Kristol to draft, on the letterhead of his Project for the New American Century, a letter to President Bush just hours after 9/11, declaring that “any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism. The United States must therefore provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition…. even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack [of 9/11].”
Kristol got 40 other armchair warriors (click the link to see their names) to sign the letter, which went out to Bush on 9/20. He has continued relentlessly and dishonestly ever since to promote and expand this perverse logic. That doesn’t sound like the columnist Bill Safire to me, and Shafer changes the subject to ridicule the above-named leftists for having “grand mal seizures” over Kristol.
But read Josh Marshall’s brief comments on Kristol,which Shafer links to prove his point, and decide who’s having the seizure. Shafer concludes that angry liberal “Times readers who expect the paper's columnists to mirror their views may not like the idea of an alleged war criminal like Kristol infesting its pages…. But they're the same people who'd boycott a restaurant just because it starts serving an entrée they hate.”
Maybe it’s indigestion, Jack, but, whatever it is, please take a break and ask yourself why you’re doing this. Remember that when Paul Bremer had to be spirited secretly out of the Green Zone, no leftist anti-war movement or liberal Congress had forced the United States to fight with one hand behind its back, as in the Vietnam War. No Jane Fonda had visited Baghdad to lend aid and comfort to the enemy and demoralize our troops in the field. You know perfectly well that Iraq-war progenitors and propagandists like Kristol had done that all by themselves.
So How will Kristol ply his trade at the Times? Deftly, with a faintly forced geniality and even some of the humorous self-deprecation you see in this revealing transcript of a talk he gave in December, 2004 at Harvard’s Kennedy School about Bush’s and Republicans’ recent triumph.
Kristol is nothing if not ingratiating toward audiences more liberal than he, but I hope that his first Times column tomorrow, January 7 won’t recycle one of his ice-breakers like the oft-told tale about how, while teaching at Harvard in 1984, he’d voted for Reagan and for what he thought was the Republican opponent to his district’s impregnable Democratic congressman, House Speaker Tip O’Neill. The next morning, curious to know how many votes O’Neill’s Republican challenger had gotten besides his own, Kristol learned that O’Neill hadn’t even had a Republican opponent and that, as he told his Kennedy School audience, “it turned out that I had voted for the communist [laughter].”
Kristol then joked about his own sorry efforts in electoral politics as campaign manager for the black conservative Alan Keyes and as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, not to mention as a supporter of John McCain against Bush in 2000. Virtually every candidate and cause he’s supported has been a failure, indeed a disaster. But, high on the Republican triumph of 2004, Kristol worked deftly, with self-deprecation, and caveats, to accustom his K-school listeners to a permanent Republican majority:
“I don’t think… that the wool was pulled over Americans’ eyes [in this election], or that… they were bamboozled by Fox News, much as I’m happy to take credit for all that bamboozling that Fox News does, to say nothing of The Weekly Standard and other organs of dread right wing media….[laughter]”
Rather, he said, this is “the culmination of a 36-year rolling Republican realignment during which time they’ve come to slight majority status” and may be the majority party for decades to come: “[N]o one knows what’s going to happen in 2008, …. [b]ut in the short term, 2006, and this is important for Bush’s chances of governing successfully, there’s very little chance the Democrats will take back Congress. Again, anything could happen.”
But, again, Kristol has planted the seed he meant to plant. Confident as a wily Jesuit of the inevitability of his truths, he’s a master at reeling in doubters gently. He left to sustained applause. Again, though, too, the seed bore no fruit.
And, again, one does have to question Sulzberger’s judgment, unless one imagines, as I don’t, that he’s Macchiavellian enough to offer conservatives a scaffold on which to hang themselves. More likely, this is yet another of hapless Arthur’s efforts to mix republican morals and market share.
Defending that effort, and growing defensive about it, Times editorial-page editor Andrew Rosenthal sounds like Jack Shafer in taunting liberals angered by Kristol’s investiture. Interviewed by The Politico,Rosenthal ridiculed “this weird fear of opposing views” and affected to be shocked, shocked that people who champion tolerance so strongly would judge his publishing Kristol “a bad thing. How tolerant is that?”
This reeks of a distinctive New York Stalinist/neo-con idiom that, for all its ideological twists and turns, hasn’t changed since the 1930s. It was taken up immediately by Kristol: “I was flattered watching blogosphere heads explode,” he told The Politico. “It was kind of amusing.” He couldn’t resist adding that while “[contributing]to the diversity of the Times is a worthwhile goal,… anyone threatening to cancel subscriptions” over his column “can toughen up and take it.”
Kristol was marinated in this mixture of piety, pugilism, and political duplicity by his father, the neo-con godfather and former Trotskyite Irving Kristol, whom we can thank for the famous apothegm, “A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.”
Sorry, Irving, Bill, Andy, and Jack: Leftists and liberals just aren’t available for compensatory bashing these days. Their often-maladroit and counterproductive reactions are precisely that -- reactive, not causal, as in the case of the anti-Iraq war movement, which can’t be blamed for anything that has gone wrong. Scapegoating liberals in anthropologically perfect reenactments of the Salem witch trials that displace the sins of the powerful onto dissenters isn’t quite as reliable a default option as it used to be.
And if Arthur ever finds enough wisdom to bring on a few civic-republican voices to supplement the lonely Paul Krugman against Kristol, Brooks, and Tanenhaus, he may even sustain his newspaper’s profits as well as its pride.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 17:13
SOURCE: Far Eastern Economic Review (supplement) (1-8-08)
When historians of the future look back on 2007 from a decade or so down the road, what will they single out as the year’s big China story? They’ll certainly have plenty of options to choose from, since the international press has carried a dizzyingly wide range of China headlines lately, dealing with everything from toy recalls to carbon emissions, space exploration to currency controls, Beijing’s Olympic preparations to Pudong getting the world’s tallest skyscraper.
There have been so many print, broadcast and online reports devoted to the P.R.C. this year, in fact, that our future historians might decided that a sense of the non-stop newsworthiness of the world’s most populous country was 2007’s biggest China story. Western fascination with and concern about the P.R.C. has been growing for years. But it’s reached a tipping point. Previously, when China made global headlines for months on end, there was something specific you could point to, like Nixon going to Beijing or Tiananmen. But that’s not the case now.
This upsurge in media attention made 2007 a busy year for China specialists who struggle to stay abreast of reports about the country we study. But in my case, there was an added dimension. My latest book, “China’s Brave New World—And Other Tales for Global Times,” came out mid-year, claiming to provide non-specialist readers with stories, information, and analytical tools to help them put Chinese developments into perspective. Hence, I’ve been worried ever since completing the writing in 2006 that breaking news would make it obsolete—before it appeared or while it was just a few months old!
Thankfully, despite the plethora of 2007 China stories, this hasn’t happened.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming clairvoyance. I didn’t expect 2007 to be a year when we’d worry about tainted toothpaste, Mia Farrow would dub the Beijing Games the “Genocide Olympics,” Beijing would launch a moon shot, and horrific reports would surface of slave labor being used to man brick kilns. In a largely prediction-free book, I didn’t assert that 2007 would be the year Macao surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenue and Ang Lee would join the long list of famous directors who’ve made Shanghai films. And as for that city, often called a “Paris of the East,” I definitely didn’t foresee that it’d be visited in 2007 by a famous Paris of the West — Paris Hilton — whose assessment of it was quoted by Chinese and Western news agencies alike: “Shanghai looks like the future!”
On the other hand, one prediction I made has definitely already started coming true. I wrote in the book that many of the “questions about” the P.R.C. that had recently gotten increased attention were “likely to loom larger still during the months and years to come,” as the Beijing Games and Shanghai World Expo drew nearer.
And 2007 has not made obsolete one of my main arguments: that the strange long-term love-hate relationship between the United States and the world’s most populous country is still going strong. American thinking has long been distorted by the interplay of two fantasies. One, a dream of Americanization, in which China is imagined as a “land of decent people on the verge of converting to our ways and buying our products in record numbers—just as soon as they overcome the lingering hold of a few outmoded traditions.” The other, a demonizing nightmare of China as a “big, bad place that poses a threat to all that we hold dear.” Both are still very much in play.
This doesn’t mean that, were I writing “China’s Brave New World” now, it would be exactly the same book. After following events in 2007, I’d stress more strongly that this is a time in the U.S. when dark nightmare visions of a “China threat” are more prevalent than rosy dreams of a Chinese conversion. I’d use the brick kiln reports to flesh out discussion of the Dickensian aspects of the regime’s embrace of an “anything goes” form of capitalist development.
Finally, I’d add something to “Faster than a Speeding Bullet Train,” a chapter that focuses on Shanghai. I refer there to a number of people who have recently described the city’s 21st century incarnation as excitingly or disturbingly futuristic. If the book does well enough to warrant a second edition, a certain hotel heiress’s name will get a place on the list.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 16:37
SOURCE: Novak website (12-17-07)
Jonathan Last was happywith most of my post on Mormonism the other day, but he did object to one point. Before holding that a person’s religion is fair game for public comment during an election, I had written, it would be necessary to make a number of distinctions and to make explicit a number of assumptions. Last then asked whether these criteria had been met by the words from Father Richard Neuhaus that he had cited before, which appeared in First Things last April:
I believe that many Mormons are Christians as broadly defined by historic markers of Christian faith. That does not mean that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christian. It is indisputably derived from Christianity and variations on Christianity, but its distinctive and constituting doctrines are irreconcilable with even a very liberal construal of biblical Christianity. It is, as Rodney Stark and many others have argued, a new religion and, by the lights of historic Christianity, a false religion. It is true that there are Mormon scholars who are working mightily to reconcile the LDS with Christianity, and one wishes them well, but they have their work cut out for them.
It is not an unreasonable prejudice for people who, unlike Alan Wolfe et al., care about true religion to take their concern about Mormonism into account in considering the candidacy of Mr. Romney. The question is not whether, as president, Mr. Romney would take orders from Salt Lake City. I doubt whether many people think he would. The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is it legitimate for those Americans to take these questions into account in voting for a presidential nominee or candidate? The answer is certainly yes.
Last found this quite satisfactory even according to my criteria, and asked if I agree with it. Actually, I do not agree with it. I did not want to get into all that in replying briefly to Last’s first post. I would just as soon not argue publicly against a dear friend like Richard, but challenged on it twice in the pages (so to speak) of his own online blog, I think I must.
To begin with a little historical background. Often, the Founders of the United States used to distinguish between true religion and false. The question of truth was important to them. When it came, though, to explaining how religious liberty in America would actually work, the Virginia Assembly voted against adding to the phrase “the Holy author of our religion” the clearly identifying name, “Jesus Christ.” They did so exactly because they had gone far enough in identifying the source of their own reasoning about conscience, they thought, a clearly Christian way, not found in other world religions. They did not want to go so far as to limit the reach of this reasoning only to Christians, but wished to make Muslims, Buddhists, and even nonbelievers feel at home here, too.
When General Washington asked Charles Carroll of the Continental Congress what Catholics would want from a new independent state, Carroll replied without hesitation “No religious test for public office.” The whole Carroll family had been barred from public office in Maryland where there was just such a religious test, intended to bar Catholics like the Carrolls.
To this tradition Fr. Neuhaus is adding a new test: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? Of course, any private citizen is free to invent any new religious test that he desires, in deciding whom to support in an election — but one would hope that he would be restrained by canons of good judgment, prudence, and concern for the public good. If Mitt Romney would make a great president, why deprive the nation of his services? And if he does become a great president, he would give a lot more credibility and prestige to the United States, and to religious believers in general, than simply to his own church. In any case, why should any of us begrudge the Mormon church the satisfaction of basking in the glory earned by one of its sons? In fact, as one of my Jewish friends puts it, contemplating the strong families and good citizens that Mormon families tend to produce: “Hell, I’m voting for Romney because he is a Mormon.”
Would the prestige of the Mormon Church rise with a good performance by Mitt Romney? This is true of the close associations of any and every president of the United States, of whatever faith or of none. This new test is not constitutional, and if it has been employed at any time in our presidential history I am, except for one possible instance, unaware of it. During the election of 1800 some parties, asserting that Jefferson was an atheist, on that (false) ground urged that he be rejected by the electorate. He was not. He became president, and not at all a bad one. (It is probably true that Jefferson was the second or third least religious of the top one hundred Founders, but he nonetheless supplied the Marine band at public expense for the largest Sunday religious service in the United States at that time, held for some years in the U.S. Capitol building.)
The example Father Neuhaus gives as a reason to oppose a candidate because of his religion is this: Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? I feel fairly certain here that Neuhaus does not object to voting for presidential candidates whose faith he does not consider “true” in the full sense that he considers the Catholic faith “true.” The distinction that I suspect he wishes to make is between theological views concerning the nature of God, the human community’s relation to God, and the conscience and dignity of the human person, on the one hand — on which matters he is less comfortable with Mormons — and, on the other hand, those theological views that include God’s relation to political and social matters, and perhaps even to those moral matters that are of necessity regulated by public law, such as abortion and euthanasia.
Much more would have to be said here. The short version of it is this: I agree that questions may well be raised in good faith about a person’s religion in respect to some doctrines of that religion that bear upon social and political matters and public law. For instance, it once seemed to me permissible to inquire whether the Quakerism of Richard Nixon would, on pacifist grounds, prevent him from leading the country during a just war; except that, in that case, Nixon’s prior record rendered such a question moot. A presidential candidate’s religious views on capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, the taking of peyote, and other such public issues would seem to be legitimate grounds for raising questions or clarifications. It seems legitimate, too, to question a Muslim about his take on jihadism, suicide bombers, threats against cartoonists, shar’ia law—and about a new conception of Islam showing its compatibility with this republic’s own laws and institutions. I construe all such tests as tests of political and social policy, and perhaps legal and public moral policy.
I think it is not right to ask a candidate to defend each and every ruling of his church in the past. The Kennedys pressed matters of past history during Romney’s race for the Senate, and even more recently. And then called it “off limits.”
Thus, although I have agreed with Father Neuhaus on most matters for a great many years, I do not, alas, agree with the views he stated in the two paragraphs (above) which Last asked me to evaluate. But I can imagine Father Neuhaus coming at some point to endorse Governor Romney for president, if the race goes in certain ways. I do not take the questions he raised eight months ago as his final word.
In another vein, a writer in The Weekly Standard, a former Mormon, urged publicly testing candidates even about purely theological matters — transubstantiation, baptism by immersion, circumcision, and other particular practices or beliefs of various faiths — just to see how, by the criteria of Enlightenment and liberal correct reasoning, the candidate “reasoned” about such matters. This, I think, makes Enlightenment and liberal political philosophy a new orthodoxy. And that test would provide a very narrow gate into republican self-government. By that test, only a small part of the population of the United States might pass. Most Americans have a much larger definition of “reason” and the “reasonable” than that.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 16:20
SOURCE: WSJ (1-4-08)
In 1932, H.G. Wells, the British socialist, gave a speech at Oxford urging the progressives of his time to become "liberal fascists." As the phrase suggests, Wells favored, to say the least, an authoritarian solution to society's problems. Not surprisingly, he admired both Mussolini and Stalin. He was also an intellectual hero for American liberals, including Franklin Roosevelt. Jonah Goldberg cites Wells's speech as the origin of his own book's provocative title [Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning]. In "Liberal Fascists," Mr. Goldberg argues that American liberalism -- dating from the Progressive era of the early 20th century to the present -- can be best understood as a softer, smiling version of European fascism. Modern liberalism, in Mr. Goldberg's view, prefers a bullying, moralistic, oppressive statism to individual freedom.
Mr. Goldberg rightly notes that American liberals have long been aggressively uninterested in the darker elements of their own tradition. One purpose of his book, he says, is to make them interested again. All well and good. But he confesses that he also wants to pay back all those "know nothing" liberals who have tried to smear conservatives as fascists in recent years and who have likened the Bush administration to an evil dictatorship. ("Bushitler" is one of the kinder epithets.) Alas, Mr. Goldberg's second purpose -- a kind of counter-smear -- undermines his first.
Mr. Goldberg begins his argument by noting that Mussolini -- who brought fascism to power in Italy in 1922 -- emerged from a militant socialist background. Such a background was not untypical of European fascists, who understood themselves to be nationalists rather than internationalists (of the Bolshevik variety). Though avowed enemies, Brown and Red socialism -- the national and international types -- had far more in common with each other, in their grim statism, than with liberal democratic capitalism. They were both organized around the principle that parliamentary democracy was a fraud -- that the working class, unable to grasp its own predicament, was best served by an elite that knew what was best for it.
For Mr. Goldberg, this socialist pedigree is important to understanding the kind of "liberal fascism" that made its way to America. He claims that for American progressives -- including Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- Bismarck's Prussia was a lodestar: It featured a welfare-state apparatus and authoritarian control over society and culture. "Progressives," Mr. Goldberg argues -- self-consciously borrowing the rhetoric of Marxists -- "did many things that we would today call objectively fascist, and fascists did many things they would today call objectively progressive."
Thus Mr. Goldberg sees in the progressive impulse a presumptive right to ensure the overall well-being of the populace -- with intrusive and potentially dangerous results. He observes that Hugh Johnson, the head of FDR's ill-fated 1934 National Recovery Administration -- which proposed a corporatist solution to the ills of the Depression -- was an ardent admirer of Mussolini and hung a looming picture of Il Duce in his NRA office. Going back to the late 1920s, Mr. Goldberg notes that Herbert Croly of The New Republic, whose book "The Promise of American Life" was a founding document of modern statist liberalism, defended Mussolini by comparing fascist violence to the (implicitly justified) martial means by which Lincoln preserved the Union.
Croly was also something of a eugenicist, saying that the state needed to "interfere on behalf of the really fittest." And indeed, American liberalism once had a strong eugenicist strain. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a close ally of the white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard, the author of "The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy." Eugenics was at the time the natural expression of the Progressives' public-health movement. Mr. Goldberg does not hesitate to note that it proved to be an inspiration for the Nazi Party.
There is some truth to Mr. Goldberg's comparisons, but it is limited. By cherry-picking liberal transgressions -- or noting continuities between unappealing statist regimes and Progressive agendas -- he demonizes American liberalism unfairly and ignores a counter-history. The social safety-net reforms of David Lloyd George, during the Liberal Party governments in Britain from 1906 to 1914, mattered more to American Progressives and New Dealers, as a model, than Bismarck ever did. But Lloyd George goes unmentioned in "Liberal Fascism," as does a key political moment.
The term "liberal" came into common use following World War I, in reaction to the postwar Red Scare and to Wilson's wartime conscription and autocratic measures (e.g., jailing people for their antiwar sentiments). In his seminal book, "Liberalism in America" (1919), Harold Stearns defined the new liberal creed by its "hatred of compulsion," its "tolerance" and its "respect for the individual." It was from this anti-Progressive strain of liberalism that we get both the modern First Amendment, rightly beloved by liberals and conservatives alike, and (perhaps to Mr. Goldberg's chagrin) the American Civil Liberties Union.
In short, liberalism in America is an unstable mix of statist and libertarian tendencies. ...
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 15:58
SOURCE: Special to HNN (1-8-08)
As the temperature drops outside, it is time once again to return to that exciting topic, global warming. Scientists who prophesy the emergence of global warming can not be doubted by a mere historian. Research in Science relating to icebergs shows that scientists are always right. (For those readers who are not historians, we do research by reading books and prestigious journals such as Science.)
In 1999 icebergs disappeared, and Science published an article in which some scientists declared that global warming was the culprit. And, of course, they were correct.
However, icebergs, being contrary, had vastly increased by 2002. Science printed another piece that year in which some scientists explained that global warming was responsible for the bergs’ resurgence. As scientists, they had to be right. Isn’t global warming a marvelous theory? No icebergs? Global warming! Many icebergs? Global warming! No matter what happens, global warming explains it.
Why are some scientists so fixated on global warming? Scientists in higher education really want to spend their time puttering around in their expensive labs fiddling with their very expensive equipment. Unfortunately for their preference, colleges usually insist that scientists actually teach students. Disappointed scientists are not only required to instruct eager graduate students who want to save the environment. No, administrators actually want scientists to teach introduction to science classes, populated by tattooed freshmen—some of whom have enough metallic attachments to make even the bionic woman jealous.
It should not surprise anyone that scientists want grants to save themselves from teaching. When they toss their data into computers, they have a quandary. If the results show no crisis, grants will not appear and the metallic freshmen beckon. If their computers predict a crisis such as global warming, grants will flood in (along with the increase in ocean levels), and scientists can happily escape to their labs.
How can anyone dispute what scientists say? Some centuries ago, scientists believed that the sun revolved around the Earth. Who could argue with that? More recently, scientists believed that a person’s health was determined by the balance of bodily liquids such as blood; bleeding would help a sick patient. A non-scientist would have to have a lot of gall to question that. For decades, scientists correctly insisted that Pluto was a planet. Now scientists assert that Pluto is not a planet. And they are right.
Global warming, I suspect, is starting to lose its ability to secure grants. Most likely,
scientists will discover some other crisis. Another ice age is a possibility, but something more dramatic is probable. My guess is that a scientist will announce that there is a good chance that a giant asteroid will destroy us all. Scientists, armed with their grants, will once again retreat to their labs to save the planet. That scenario sounds like the plot of a movie sure to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 15:55
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (1-4-08)
While most Americans were preoccupied with the holidays, Bowl games, and the Iowa caucus, Kenya had a presidential election. As African elections go, it went off pretty well. There were long lines, and a record number of people were estimated to have voted. While there were some reported problems—shortage of ballots, attempted intimidation, etc.—it worked well enough at the local level. Raw results showed that the challenger Raila Odinga defeated the incumbent Mwai Kibaki by about a million votes and that most of Kibaki’s cabinet members were voted out in the accompanying parliamentary poll. So far so good.
Somewhere between the local polling stations and the Kenyan Electoral Commission in Nairobi, incumbent president Kibaki simply stole the election and had himself declared winner. It was no more subtle than that. The Election commission hastily met and announced that Kibaki won. No public tallying, poll watchers or transparency of any sort. Kibaki quickly had himself sworn in for his second term as president, and the opposition went mad. There have since been a series of riots, killings and arsons, which have largely paralyzed Kenyan society. The opposition shows no signs of backing down, and Kibaki has indicated no interest in negotiating about the results.
This is the second presidential election since former president Daniel Arap Moi (a member of the Kalenjin tribe, a small tribe distantly associated with the Maasai) was forced to retire in 2002 and give up single-party rule after 24 years in office. Moi had taken over the office as vice president after the first postcolonial president, Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, died in office. At the time Moi took office, he was considered a placeholder until the Lou and Kikuyu tribes could sort out which of their many political leaders would be next to inherit the presidency. Moi turned out to be a clever political operator, and through manipulating tribal hatred and a liberal use of bribery, stayed in office long after anyone thought possible. He would probably still be in office, but the end of the Cold War had brought demands by the Western aid donors for a fair multiparty election, which Moi had no chance of winning.
The first true multi-party election was held in 2002. Kibaki (a Kikuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya, centered in the Mt. Kenya-Nairobi area), with Odinga (a Luo, second largest tribe, found in western Kenya), combined into a coalition which easily won both the presidential and parliamentary elections. Part of the pre-election platform was an agreement that Odinga and Kibaki would share power and that a new constitution would be written providing more power to the prime minister. (Under current Kenyan law, the prime minister is largely a figurehead; the real power resides in the presidency.) Once Kibaki was sworn into office in 2002, he quickly disowned the pre-election accord and excluded Odinga and members of the Luo tribe from any meaningful positions of power. After removing Odinga as political rival, Kibaki then continued to obstruct the rewrite of the Constitution until the effort largely collapsed in confusion and left him with the powers of the presidency intact.
Kibaki’s performance in office has been abysmal. Corruption has spiraled out of control during his tenure, provoking complaints and threats from normally complacent donor countries. (Kenyan political wags note that several of Moi’s more notorious “bagmen” have been “rehabilitated’ under the Kibaki administration, prompting some of them to wonder if they are being brought back for their experience in “advanced thieving”.) The protests about corruption have been led by Great Britain, with the U.S. following along with supporting statements about the need for reform. But no stern measures have been taken by any of the major donor nations, and even the current farce of a “free election” has not resulted in a denunciation, only an expression of concern about the results. (The U.S. State Department had congratulated Kibaki on “his victory” early on, only to quickly back off after knowledgeable observers pointed out that they might want to rethink that position.)
Kenya is usually described by the media as a strategic ally, whose stability is vital to U.S. interests. That is pretty much overblown hype. Kenya is useful but hardly irreplaceable to U.S. policy. It has always had “good press” in the U.S. for two rather odd reasons, one romantic the other logistic. The romantic stems from the many Americans who have been to Kenya. As a result, it is the only African country with which they have any familiarity. Kenyans are a friendly, wonderful people, and the countryside itself is every bit as stunning as the movies portray it, and then some. Americans go there on vacation and have one of the most memorable and exciting experiences of their lives. They fall in love with the very small and largely orchestrated part of Kenya they are shown by their safari guides. I will refrain from cataloging the number of otherwise hardheaded Americans I have seen come to Kenya and then lose themselves in the romance of “Out of Africa”. The place is magic.
The logistical cause is that living in Nairobi, until now, is a lot nicer than living in Kampala, Dar as Salaam, or any other city in East Africa you care to name. As a result, NGOs, charities and U.S. government agencies have located large numbers of their staff in Kenya and use Nairobi as a regional base. (This diplomatic/NGO economic activity is a significant part of the Kenyan GDP.) Since the various aid and NGO organizations are the best-known voices about Africa, at least in the U.S. political context, their opinions carry weight. Aid organizations are no different from any other organizations. If large parts of your infrastructure are invested in a place; the country suddenly becomes important, nay vital. Unfortunately, these groups are unlikely to risk their “good standing” with the Kenyan government by backing any serious international moves to correct the situation. It seems that those on the side of the angels may have clay feet this year.
Kenya is a useful ally in Africa and a country with which the U.S. should cultivate good relations, but it is neither strategically important nor vital to U.S. interests. Other East African countries can replace the ports and airfields currently available to the U.S. military in Kenya. Kenya has been a useful listening post for events in Somalia, but this role can also be picked up elsewhere. U.S. economic activity in Kenya is minor. The main foreign economic players in Kenya are the United Kingdom and India. So far, the UK has been the only donor country pushing for some sort of power sharing compromise, although the European Union seems to be headed that way. The U.S. has badly fumbled its response to the situation and has confused the average Kenyan. It is hard to puzzle out what U.S. policy is at this point, even for me, and I follow the matter closely.
Who is doing the killing? Most of the deaths and arsons until now are a result of inter-tribal fighting—the majority tribe in an area setting on the minority tribe; Luo in Kikuyu areas and Kikuyu in Luo areas. Americans simply do not seem to understand what tribalism means in an African context. Tribalism is racism just like the Klu Klux Klan was. Kikuyu “know” the Luo are stupid and dirty, and since they are not “cut’ (the males circumcised in their early teens), they are not really people. The Luo “know” the Kikuyu are greedy and treacherous. And it goes on, with each tribe “knowing” the subhuman traits of its neighbors. Ascendancy in political office has always been seen in a tribal sense in Kenya and is viewed as the chance for the tribe in office to “eat” (cronyism, patronage, bribery and corruption). The Kikuyu have had their turn under Kenyatta and Kibaki, and the Luo now believe it is their turn to “eat”. This said, it is also true that the sort of confusion Kenya has seen recently brings out the thieves and opportunists in any country. Looting and private score-settling are certainly happening--though sorting the thievery out from genuine outrage over a stolen election and a sense of entitlement betrayed is going to be a matter for history.
What is going to happen next? The two protagonists do not make for hopeful predictions. Odinga leads the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), an alliance of the Luo and other minority tribes. In fact, it is a one-man show. Odinga acts as the glue holding together the many factions that want to boot the Kikuyu from power. Odinga sees himself as both a politician and a revolutionary. (He was educated in East Germany and named his son after Fidel Castro.) In the past, Odinga has allegedly been associated with several half-baked coup plans, including the 1982 Air Force revolt, though there has never been any concrete proof of his involvement. Odinga has ample reason to distrust Kibaki and his advisers simply because they have repeatedly lied to him in the past. Unfortunately, taking Odinga’s claims to court is simply a non-starter in Kenya. While I would not want to say that any Kenyan judge could be bought, they can certainly be rented for very reasonable rates. Kibaki, with the resources of the presidency, has a much bigger wallet than Odinga.
For Kibaki, this is the last hurrah. He has spent his adult life striving for the presidency and is unlikely to relinquish his second term to an upstart Luo like Odinga, no matter how much the Western aid donors or the Kenyan public howls. He has corrupt but capable advisers (the “Mt. Kenya Mafia”) around him and a firm grip, at least so far, on all the levers of power. There is some question about Kibaki’s health, both mental and physical. He has had some health scares in the past and has been strangely uncommunicative to all parties since the election. At this distance, it is impossible to tell whether this isolation is a problem of some sort or a political tactic. Any compromise Kibaki would entertain will almost certainly be unacceptable to Odinga, and at the moment, Kibaki has stated there will be no discussion with anyone until the protests stop. Odinga is unlikely to abandon his only weapon, street protest, and Kibaki is not going to make a gracious exit for the sake of the nation.
With meaningful negotiations unlikely and outside diplomatic actors either unwilling or unable to shift Kibaki, the current violence can only continue. Odinga will not back down and Kibaki will not give in. The violence will not stop until Kibaki either jails Odinga or drives him into exile. (Odinga had several bouts of exile during Moi’s presidency, and he was singularly ineffectual as an outside agitator.) But while Odinga’s arrest or exile would temporarily calm the situation, in the end it would simply set the stage for escalating inter-tribal violence.
There is some precedent in Kenyan politics for having your political opponents “poisoned while trying to escape”; such an act would set off even worse violence. We can hope something better will happen; the country certainly deserves better.
Names, places, and people to know
Tribal Breakdown by Candidate
(not all-inclusive— there are many minor tribes in Kenya)
Kibaki - Kikuyu, Meru, Kamba
Odinga - Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Coast Swahili/Muslim
Eldoret - town in western Kenya located in the Rift Valley, majority population Kalenjin and associated tribes, site of the reported church burning with Kikuyu victims.
Kisumu - western Kenya Luo heartland
Mombassa - coastal port city, majority Swahili/ Muslim population, site of Swahili on Kikuyu violence.
Mt. Kenya - central Kenya, Kikuyu heartland.
Nairobi - capital and a Kikuyu city, slums around the city are a mix of all tribes now engaged in a free-for all.
Nairobi slums (Mathare, Kibera, and Kamakunja) - These shantytowns ring Nairobi and are of mixed tribal populations. They are without exception dirt poor, lacking any infrastructure such as sewer or water supplies. They are flashpoints for violence and at the height of tensions are “no-go” areas even for the GSU.
Kenyan Police and Forces
Administrative Police - Traffic cops, poorly trained and equipped. Uniform is white shirt and blue trousers.
Regular Police - light blue shirt, dark blue pants, day-to-day criminal police, poorly equipped and led, poorly respected because of their constant extortion of bribes from the average Kenyan. Probably responsible for most of the deaths at government hands up to this point. They present the real possibility of committing panic-induced killings when confronted by violent protests. The Kenyan police consider firing live rounds over the heads of protesters a normal and accepted practice.
General Service Unit (GSU) - well equipped and trained, generally well led. Camouflage uniform with red beret. The “hard boys” of the Kenyan police. They have a well-deserved reputation for cracking heads. They seem to operate on the unofficial directive “If you make us get off the trucks, someone is going to the hospital.” Despite this, they have excellent fire discipline and experience in handling civil disturbances. Despite their fearsome reputation, they have earned grudging respect by the civilian population. The GSU does not engage in the petty bribery of the average Kenyan police officer. The Kenyans might expect to get their heads cracked by the GSU, but they know they will not be robbed. The GSU also has a history as an equal opportunity riot force. They are recruited across tribal lines and will launch a baton charge at any tribe or socio-economic group with equal enthusiasm.
Kenyan Army - Apart from some elite units, which are as good as any in Africa, most of the Army is suitable only for bands and parades. The Kenyan army has no equipment or training to handle civil disturbances. If the Kenyan Army is deployed to the streets in anything other than a support role to the GSU, there is a real possibility of a disaster in the making.
National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) - The external/internal intelligence agency of the Kenyan government, highly trained by African standards. During the Moi presidency, they were highly politicized and employed in brutally crushing political dissent. Reforms under Kibaki seem to have eliminated most abusive practices. They have not been heard from in this crisis, though one can assume they are maintaining a watching brief and have a good knowledge of Odinga’s activities.
Jomo Kenyatta - the first postcolonial president of Kenya, a Kikuyu. Died in office in 1978.
Jaramogi Odinga Odinga (Double O) - First postcolonial vice president and father of Raila Odinga. Luo leading politician and patriarch until his death in 1994.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 - 15:52
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (1-5-08)
The French philosopher Michel Foucault called the unfolding of history the "exteriority of accidents," which was his way of saying "shit happens." Any historian will tell you that political assassinations are not surprising or new. As grade school students we all learned that Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated, shot with a pistol by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater. And Booth was part of a "conspiracy."
Charles Guiteau assassinated President James Garfield in Washington, D.C. with a handgun. And Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, also with a pistol. There was an assassination attempt on President Theodore Roosevelt.
Introductory history textbooks often claim that World War I was sparked by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. And the Bolsheviks assassinated Czar Nicholas II and the entire Romanoff family to make sure they never returned to power.
Anarchists tried to kill Attorney General G. Mitchell Palmer, which sparked the "Palmer Raids." There was also an assassination attempt against President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt while he was giving a speech in Miami, Florida.
Leon Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico with a pickaxe because he had the temerity to stand up to Josef Stalin. And in Nazi Germany, there was the "Night of the Long Knives," or the "Roehm Purge," which was nothing more than a coordinated set of political assassinations.
In the United States in the modern era, the Central Intelligence Agency played a role in the assassination of the democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, as well as the Domican Republic's Rafael Trujillo. There were also at least eight documented attempts by the CIA to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
In June 1963, the NAACP's first field secretary for the state of Mississippi, Medgar Evers, was assassinated. In South Vietnam, a CIA-engineered coup d'etat ended in the assassination of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. (The U.S-backed General Duong Van Minh didn't want to risk the return of the Ngo brothers in a "re-coup.")
And then followed the most spectacular assassination in American history in Dallas, Texas when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot in the head by a high-powered rifle in Dealey Plaza.
In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem, the result of an internal beef within the Nation of Islam. And then three years later, in Memphis, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., honored today with a national holiday, was killed with a rifle outside of room 306 on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Eight weeks later, New York Senator Robert Francis Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel after winning the California Democratic primary.
In 1972, former Alabama Governor and presidential candidate George Wallace was the victim of an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed. In 1973, Chilean President Salvador Allende was assassinated in yet another CIA-engineered coup. In 1975, there were two assassination attempts against President Gerald Ford. And in November 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk both were assassinated. (Dianne Feinstein owes her political career to these killings.)
President Ronald Reagan was almost assassinated early in his first term.
In 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was spectacularly assassinated while reviewing his own troops in a stadium. In 1983, Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was assassinated, which precipitated the U.S. invasion of the island. And on March 8, 1985, the CIA tried to assassinate Hezbollah chief Sheik Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. Lebanese agents working for the CIA detonated a car bomb filled with 440 pounds of explosives outside a Mosque in Beirut killing 80 innocent people but missing the elusive Shia cleric. The assassination attempt was in response to Hezbollah's suicide bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in October 1983 that killed 241 U.S. servicemen and wounded 60 other Americans. (You can read all about this incident where CIA Director William Casey bares his soul in Bob Woodward's Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, which is his best book.)
In 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin was shot in the stomach with a pistol and killed by a right-wing Israeli assassin who was proud of his deed. (The Israel government as conducted "targeted assassinations" of Palestinian leaders for over 40 years.) In February 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated with a car bomb. And most recently, on December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while waving to an adoring crowd in Rawalpindi.
Every nation on earth has had their share of political assassinations. One might trace such acts back to Brutus's assassination of Caesar in ancient Rome. Or maybe to the internecine conflicts that Machiavelli describes in Medici Florence. During the French Revolution there were so many political assassinations that historians often lose count.
So, as a historian, I don't understand why people, including many of my colleagues, seem to believe that political assassination in the United States in 2008 is an impossibility; something that only crackpots and lunatics contemplate.
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2008 - 23:50
Friend and neighbor Father Andrew Greeley, sociologist, novelist, and columnist, reminded me in a recent e-mail that he liked to be called a "Catholic," not a "Roman Catholic." In his January 2nd Chicago Sun-Times column, he elaborates: "My crowd has been calling themselves 'Catholic' for 17 centuries. The adjective "Roman" added in the American context is a slur, sometimes unintentionally conveyed in the tone of the one using it. It hints that we are somehow foreign and perhaps subversive. It came into use when the 'publics' started to recite the Nicene Creed and their leaders had to explain that the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' of the creed wasn't us." He then goes on to comment on how the media have allowed some "Evangelicals" to preempt the space once labeled "Christian."
There is no question that Protestant meanies in America once spit out variants such as "Roman" (without "Catholic") or "Romish" or "Romanist" or, worse, "Papist" or "Jesuitical," with purely pejorative intent. Turn over a plank and you may still find some creepy-crawly critters, anti-Catholic to the core, who speak or write that way. But I would argue that today, "Roman" is used neutrally or even positively. First, it is not an "American" usage; as shown in almost all ecumenical documents involving Roman—oops!—Catholics with the World Council of Churches. There, "Roman Catholic Church" is standard, as it is when there is dealing with the distinct Eastern Catholic Churches. (There are also "Anglo-Catholics," and others who have some sort of identifier.) "Roman" also appears in some papal and conciliar documents issued from Rome. And we "publics" did not "start" using the Nicene Creed in recent America. "My crowd," Evangelical Lutherans, have recited, professed, and I hope lived the Nicene Creed with the "catholic" phrase in it for centuries.
Names are important, as I had to remind a friend who thought discussion of names was insignificant compared to cosmic events like " Iowa" and "New Hampshire ." Wars start over pejorative and sometimes even innocently used labels. "Catholic" and "Roman Catholic" are not the only complexities these days. More urgent, most urgent, is the task of dealing in a fair way with the many, many brands of Christians who get lumped together as "Evangelicals," especially in political discourse, where they get miscast simply as "the Christian right." More examples: Luther and Lutherans did not choose their name. None of us liked being label "ecclesial communities" instead of "churches" by Pope Benedict XVI, but we'll live with it. "Mainline Protestants" didn't and don't like their name, which is usually used pejoratively by non-Protestants, most of whom never liked and few ever use the accidentally applied term "Protestant" itself. But hang around inter-faith and Christian ecumenical crowds and you will find that today "Roman" before the word "Catholic Church" is used mainly by its friends. You can tell by the tone, which is never condescending or motivated by suspicion of another crowd.
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2008 - 23:13
SOURCE: NYT (1-4-08)
WHEN, in May 1991, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India was killed by a suicide bomber, there was an international outpouring of grief. Recent days have seen the same with the death of Benazir Bhutto: another glamorous, Western-educated scion of a great South Asian political dynasty tragically assassinated at an election rally.
There is, however, an important difference between the two deaths: while Mr. Gandhi was assassinated by Sri Lankan Hindu extremists because of his policy of confronting them, Ms. Bhutto was apparently the victim of Islamist militant groups that she allowed to flourish under her administrations in the 1980s and 1990s.
It was under Ms. Bhutto’s watch that the Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, first installed the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was also at that time that hundreds of young Islamic militants were recruited from the madrassas to do the agency’s dirty work in Indian Kashmir. It seems that, like some terrorist equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, the extremists turned on both the person and the state that had helped bring them into being.
While it is true that the recruitment of jihadists had started before she took office and that Ms. Bhutto was insufficiently strong — or competent — to have had full control over either the intelligence services or the Pakistani Army when she was in office, it is equally naïve to believe she had no influence over her country’s foreign policy toward its two most important neighbors, India and Afghanistan.
Everyone now knows how disastrous the rule of the Taliban turned out to be in Afghanistan, how brutally it subjected women and how it allowed Al Qaeda to train in camps within its territory. But another, and in the long term perhaps equally perilous, legacy of Ms. Bhutto’s tenure is often forgotten: the turning of Kashmir into a jihadist playground....
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2008 - 18:00
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (1-7-08)
Last week in Iowa, on election night, I was a neutral observer in a very polite little caucus. I stood at the back of a high school Spanish classroom with posters illustrating simple concepts and phrases en espanol. My favorite was a sketch of a thermometer with only a little tiny band of red crossing near zero. “Hace Frio,” it read, and wasn’t that the truth?
Iowa was bitter cold this caucus week. As I drove through snow-covered neighborhoods, I wondered whether we might come across the immobile forms of parka-wearing college students, flash frozen where they conferred on the sidewalks with clipboards in their hands, an ice sculpture form of human statuary – “A Study in Canvassing” – to commemorate the efforts required to move a democracy.
The real risk of frostbite notwithstanding, nearly 240,000 Democrats went to their caucus sites. In my own Spanish classroom, 67 gathered to conduct the business of precinct 4. Prior to this year, they had never topped 50.
As I stood there in the room, I tried to conjure in my mind the realization that in 1781 other rooms across the state, a quarter of a million Democrats were meeting. I tried to appreciate, to feel and comprehend, this common exercise in democratic action, but I could not. It seemed impossible that all of this could be coordinated. There was only this one little room of 67 people from rural East Iowa, choosing our party’s presidential candidate.
As soon as the usual business of electing a chair and secretary were dutifully performed and the doors solemnly closed at the appointed hour, the room was divided into preference groups – Obama 23, Clinton 19, Edwards 17, Biden 5, Dodd 2, and Richardson 1.
Only the big three were over the 15% viability threshold so a series of very polite conversations ensued with the Biden, Dodd, and Richardson supporters – several of them college and high school aged kids voting in their first election. Both the Clinton and Obama camps had organizers in the room, and the Clinton representative grew quite heated before a caucus-goer from the Obama camp quietly but strongly insisted that this would be a polite conversation.
The outside volunteer retreated, leaving the conversation to two locals – one for Obama and one for Clinton. Patient but well-rehearsed one-liners were exchanged – “She is ready to lead from day one.” “Only he offers us a chance for fundamental change.” The Edwards group, after two polite attempts to enter the conversation, took 1 back to their corner, and as time was called, the Obama and Clinton camps split the remaining seven.
Obama 27, Clinton 22, Edwards 18.
With little chance that anyone else would move, the business of calculating the division of 6 delegates began, and when the conversation around the front table broke up, the Chair announced that the delegates would be distributed equally, two for each candidate. If Obama had reached 29, the division would have been three, two, and one.
Despite beating Edwards by a ratio of 3 to 2, Obama ended this caucus with equal delegates. Despite claiming 9 votes between them, Biden, Dodd, and Richardson received nothing.
After voting the resolutions, we emerge into the hall, meeting the caucus-goers from precinct 3, convened down the hall in the library. There a smaller group of 47 reached a very different result. Obama 15, Clinton 15, Edwards 14 with 3 nonviable Biden voters who refused to budge and became essentially lost votes.
With five delegates to split, they awarded Obama 2, Clinton 2, Edwards 1. Caucus math can be brutal, and yet, there was no other workable solution. When all blandishments failed to shame the Biden caucus-goers into choosing a viable candidate, these Iowans accepted the results with patience and good grace.
One voter’s decision equalled one delegate in that room. In fact, if Edwards’ supporters had persuaded the three recalcitrant Bidens to join them, they might have converted a one vote loss into a 3, 1, 1 victory. That one move, if they could have made it, would have increased Edwards’ statewide margin over Clinton by more than 25%.
In my one high school in eastern Iowa, 114 Iowans gave Obama 4 delegates, Clinton 4, and Edwards 3. If it were a popular election, the result here would have been Obama 33%, Clinton 30%, Edwards 27%, Biden 7%, and Dodd almost 2%. But of course, Biden and Dodd got no delegates here, and in many other precincts like these.
There you have it – Biden and Dodd, serious Senators of 62 years experience, eliminated from the national contest, even though they did have substantial support, essentially erased by Iowa’s 15% threshold requirement.
Clinton now must answer for her embarrassing “third” place finish even though she only finished seven delegates behind Edwards and even though, in many rooms (including precinct 3 in the little eastern Iowa town where I observed the proceedings), one voter’s decision can mean one delegate.
In these little rooms across Iowa, one whole year of earnest, restless, and feverish campaigning culminated in polite conversation, divisions and re-divisions into corners, and imprecise math. The result, multiplied over 1781 independent rooms, surprised the rest of the nation and shrank the Democratic field by half.
In one sense, it is Rousseauian small democracy at its best. In another sense, it is indecipherable chicanery. It is immensely consequential.
Welcome to the paradoxes of American presidential selection.
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2008 - 15:36
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com (1-7-08)
In a recent analysis,"Was Barack Obama a Muslim?" I surveyed available evidence and found it suggests"Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father." In response, David Brock's organization, Media Matters for America (MMfA), which calls itself a"progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media," has criticized one of my sources of information.
MMfA contends in"Daniel Pipes relied on disputed LA Times article to revive Obama-Muslim falsehood," that"key aspects" of a March 16, 2007, Los Angeles Times article I quoted were later challenged by another newspaper account,"History of schooling distorted," by Kim Barker in the Chicago Tribune on March 25.
Falsehood? That's a strong word.
To assess MMfA's claim, let's review its preferred article and examine what Barker has to say on four topics related to Obama's Indonesian years, 1967-71:
- His attendance at a Catholic school;
- His attendance at a public school;
- His step-father, Lolo Soetoro; and
- His friend, Zulfan Adi.
To start with, about the Catholic school, Fransiskus Strada Asisia, which Obama attended 1967-70 (words in square brackets are added by me):
Interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia, despite being listed as a Muslim on the registration form for the Catholic school, Strada Asisia, where he attended 1st through 3rd grades. At the time, the school most likely registered children based on the religion of their fathers, said [Israella Pareira] Darmawan, Obama's former [1st-grade] teacher. Because Soetoro was a Muslim, Obama was listed as a Muslim, she said.
The enrollment form from the Catholic school, which has been cited as evidence that Obama was a Muslim in Indonesia [including by the Los Angeles Times], also was rife with errors. It listed Obama as an Indonesian, listed his previous school incorrectly and failed to list his mother, Ann, at all.
Barack Obama with his public school classmates in Indonesia.
When Obama attended 4th grade in 1971, Muslim children spent two hours a week studying Islam, and Christian children spent those two hours learning about the Christian religion.
During a recent visit to this public school, Barker found that
Weekly religious classes are required for all students, whether Muslims, Christians or Hindus, under the government curriculum. A new shiny mosque is in the corner of the courtyard."The Muslims learn about Islam, prayer and religious activity," said Hardi Priyono, the vice principal for curriculum."And for the Christians, during the religious class, they also have a special room teaching Christianity. It's always been like that."
About Obama's step-father, Lolo Soetoro and his religiosity, Barker writes:
In their first neighborhood, Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers, a few neighbors said. But Soetoro usually was too busy working, first for the Indonesian army and later for a Western oil company."Sometimes Lolo went to the mosque to pray, but he rarely socialized with people," said Fermina Katarina Sinaga, Obama's 3rd-grade teacher at the Catholic school, who lived near the family."Rarely, Barry [a nickname for Barack] went to the mosque with Lolo."
Barker learned from his friends and family that Lolo Soetoro, who died in 1987, was"much more of a free spirit than a devout Muslim" and"hardly the image of a pious Muslim."
His nephew, Sonny Trisulo, 49, said Soetoro always liked women and alcohol. One of his health problems was a failing liver."He loved drinking, was a smart and warm person, the naughtiest one in the family," Trisulo recalled.
As for Zulfan Adi, cited in the Los Angeles Times piece:
Zulfan Adi, a former neighborhood playmate of Obama's who has been cited in news reports as saying Obama regularly attended Friday prayers with Soetoro, told the Tribune he was not certain about that when pressed about his recollections. He only knew Obama for a few months, during 1970, when his family moved to the neighborhood.
Does any of the above information from the Chicago Tribune article refute my analysis, as MMfA contends? It raises questions about two details in the Los Angeles Times account (the accuracy of the Catholic school's registration form and the reliability of Zulfan Adi as a source on Obama). But on the larger issue of Obama's religious practices during his Jakarta years, it confirms the Times account. Note in particular three excerpts from Barker's article:
- "Interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia" – implying he was an irregularly practicing Muslim.
- "Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers, a few neighbors said" – confirming that he did pray in the mosque.
- "Obama's 3rd-grade teacher at the Catholic school, who lived near the family [said that] ‘Rarely, Barry went to the mosque with Lolo'" – confirming that Obama attended mosque services.
All this matters, for if Obama once was a Muslim, he is now what Islamic law calls a murtadd (apostate), an ex-Muslim converted to another religion who must be executed. Were he elected president of the United States, this status, clearly, would have large potential implications for his relationship with the Muslim world.
In sum: Obama was an irregularly practicing Muslim who rarely or occasionally prayed with his step-father in a mosque. This precisely substantiates my statement that he"for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father."
Therefore, what MMfA calls the"Obama-Muslim falsehood" is in fact confirmed by both articles as truthful and accurate.
Calling this a falsehood is in itself a falsehood.
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2008 - 14:40
SOURCE: Oxford University Press (OUP blog) (1-2-08)
In her end-of-the-year column, The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, reviewed some dismal statistics: since she started in her job in 2005, the Post’s daily circulation has declined by 45,000. At the same time, the Post’s web site registered a 15% increase in viewers. A decade earlier, when the Post first launched its online news service, publisher Donald Graham summed up the imperative in three words: “classifieds, classifieds, classifieds,” but the drift toward news on the Internet has drained away larger retail advertising as well. Newspapers across the country have reported similar slumps in circulation and advertising revenue.
The current plight of the daily newspaper mirrors earlier cycles in the news business. Newspapers were a booming business–with racks of competing papers in most larger cities–when a radio station in New York ran the first paid commercial in 1922. It was a ten-minute program promoting a housing development in Jackson Heights, Queens. Newspapers did not take radio seriously as a competitor until the Great Depression of the 1930s, when their advertising revenue dropped while radio’s share rose. Advertisers sensed that the hard times had stimulated the public’s appetite for radio news. “Instead of seeking diversion from his troubles, as you’d expect,” one radio programmer marveled, “the average American seems to hanker for bad news.” The American Newspaper Publishers Association responded by pressuring the wire services–Associated Press and United Press–to deny their news reports to radio news programs, a an embargo that encouraged radio networks to develop their own news gathering operations.
The arrival of television after World War II undermined both newspapers and radio. Until then, afternoon newspapers had been the most profitable by far. Advertisers poured money into them in order to reach commuters on their way home from work. Then people stopped buying papers and started tuning into the evening TV news broadcasts. As ad revenue fell, afternoon newspapers either switched to morning editions or went out of business. By 1963, advertisers were reading surveys showed that more Americans relied on TV than newspapers as their chief source of news, and were allotting their funds accordingly. Some major newspapers survived principally by buying television stations whose profits compensated for the papers’ lost revenue.
Radio suffered from the same drain from television. The networks ran their radio and TV productions as separate and competing entities. As more advertisers turned to television, radio slashed its rates and promoted itself as the new low-priced medium. That approach failed to turn the tide, and in 1956 CBS radio reported its first unprofitable year ever, dropping into a seven-year slump. By 1960 radio revenue had fallen 75 percent from its peak in 1948. Radio canceled its soap operas and serials, and many stations turned to 24-hour news for low-cost programming.
Listeners, viewers, and readers have proved themselves notoriously fickle in their loyalties to established news media, and younger generations have led the way in switching to new media. Their purchasing power in turn attracts advertisers. History suggests that despite the quality of its product the Post’s circulation statistics will continue to sink, and that the Internet will both dominate and change the news business significantly.
Posted on: Thursday, January 3, 2008 - 20:15
SOURCE: Counterpunch (1-2-08)
"Al-Qaeda is now as much a Pakistani phenomenon as it is an Arab or foreign element," declares Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan's Daily Times. It is not just the Arabs, Uzbeks and other foreigners who fled from Afghanistan into Pakistan in the wake of the U.S. invasion of late 2001. It draws in Pakistani tribesmen, Punjabis, Urdu speakers. What was once a group foreigners (numbers unknown) enjoying Pashtun hospitality under the Taliban in Afghanistan has struck roots in neighboring Pakistan. It's hard to say whether or not Pakistan is now its main base, since it is also reviving in regions of Afghanistan quietly retaken by its Taliban hosts over the last couple years. But it seems the people of the frontier provinces of Pakistan, with deep ethnic and cultural ties to Afghanistan, are deeply upset about the cowboy imperialism of the U.S. that has brought so much suffering to the region. These provinces are often described as "lawless," since the Pakistani state has never really brought them under central control and has relied upon tribal leaders to maintain stability. But now they are the most unstable areas in a country increasingly destabilized in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.
For all this, we have to thank George W. Bush. Was his administration unaware of the fact that Islamist militants driven from Afghanistan would receive a welcome across the border? That both the Taliban and al-Qaeda would find this zone a prime recruiting ground? That the continuing occupation of Afghanistan and "counterinsurgency" war would insure high sympathy for the Islamist forces? That the government of Pervez Musharraf, caving into U.S. threats and cooperating with the U.S. imperial project, would find itself weakened, ever more despised by its people? That the dictator having seized power in a coup would not seek, under stress, to further augment his power by such measures as tampering with the judiciary and declaring martial law? That such measures would only deepen the Pakistani crisis?
Did Bush, or the neocons surrounding him and whispering in his ears, expect that the entire Afghan people would be grateful for the U.S. bombing, occupation, restoration of the Northern Alliance and installation of a powerless puppet in Kabul? That the neighboring Pakistanis would share their joy and appreciation for the American presence? That the Taliban would just disappear? That Pakistan's military and Inter-Service Intelligence (having helped create the Taliban and maintaining warm ties with it, but forced to sever ties with it lest---as the Americans threatened---they be "bombed back to the Stone Age") would following their about-face eagerly make war on these former allies and coreligionists?
I cannot answer these questions. I'm inclined to think Bush may have really thought he could get away with his invasion of Afghanistan (and then Iraq) without producing all this blowback. I'm less inclined to think that the bulk of the neocons (recognizing some differences among them) were so naïve. Frankly, I don't think they care that much. They're willing to generate infinite "create chaos" in the Muslim world, repeating on Fox News with their affected learnedness, smug impatience with conventional wisdom, and general contempt for the "reality mode" that things are going well in the "war on terror." That the U.S. needs to courageously, heroically take further action, such as an attack on Iran, or strikes against targets in Pakistan, to produce more chaos.
The recent NIE has apparently, to the deep chagrin of the neocons praying for an Iran attack, reduced the likelihood that that attack will occur. (I don't want to suggest we lower our guard against such an eventuality, but plainly conflicts within the elite have stymied the neocons' effort to produce regime change in Tehran during Bush's presidency.) But now some of them are campaigning for intervention in Pakistan to fight the Islamic extremism Bush policy itself daily fosters. This is their madness at its peak. Pakistan is no Iraq, bled for a decade by sanctions before invasion. Nor is it even Iran, hobbled by limited sanctions grudgingly imposed by the world as a result of U.S. arm-twisting. It's a country of 165 million people twice the size of California, bordering India, China and Iran as well as Afghanistan. Its military is the seventh largest in the world, and of course, possesses nuclear weapons. The top brass, while secular and often western-educated, has strong links to Islamists. Among the masses, admiration for Osama bin Laden is high.
The editors of the New York Times, that "newspaper of record" that brought us the massive fear-mongering disinformation campaign about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, has following Bhutto's assassination editorialized that the Bush administration needs to do something about Pakistan. It has, the editors declare, the "option of using American prestige and resources to fortify Pakistan's badly battered democratic institutions. . . must now call for new rules to assure a truly democratic vote"---as though the unelected U.S. president has any business telling other countries how to conduct fair elections. "The United States cannot afford to have Pakistan unravel any further American policy must now be directed at building a strong democracy in Pakistan." Is not the subtext here that if Musharraf disappoints the administration, he should lose aid, and thus have less ability to fight the bourgeoning Islamist forces in his country, producing more unraveling, thus providing a pretext for U.S. military action?
In a perhaps not unrelated development, neocon and chief Iraq War propagandist Bill Kristol has been hired by the New York Times as a columnist in 2008. He told Fox News last July, "I think the president's going to have to take military action there over [in Pakistan] in the next few weeks or months. Bush has to disrupt that [al-Qaeda] sanctuary. I think, frankly, we won't even tell Musharraf. We'll do what we have to do in Western Pakistan and Musharraf can say, 'Hey, they didn't tell me.'" Notice how he leaves the Pakistani people and their reaction to such "action"---military aggression against a sovereign state--- entirely out of the picture.
This is madness compounding madness, offered as respectable commentary in the mainstream press.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 - 23:55
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (1-2-08)
If you don't mind thinking about the Bush legacy a year early, there are worse places to begin than with the case of Erla Ósk Arnardóttir Lilliendahl. Admittedly, she isn't an ideal"tempest-tost" candidate for Emma Lazarus' famous lines engraved on a bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. After all, she flew to New York City with her girlfriends, first class, from her native Iceland, to partake of"the Christmas spirit." She was drinking white wine en route and, as she put it,"look[ing] forward to go shopping, eat good food, and enjoy life." On an earlier vacation trip, back in 1995, she had overstayed her visa by three weeks, a modest enough infraction, and had even returned the following year without incident.
This time -- with the President's Global War on Terror in full swing -- she was pulled aside at passport control at JFK Airport, questioned about those extra three weeks 12 years ago, and soon found herself, as she put it,"handcuffed and chained, denied the chance to sleep… without food and drink and… confined to a place without anyone knowing my whereabouts, imprisoned." It was"the greatest humiliation to which I have ever been subjected."
By her account, she was photographed, fingerprinted, asked rude questions --"by men anxious to demonstrate their power. Small kings with megalomania" -- confined to a tiny room for hours, then chained, marched through the airport, and driven to a jail in New Jersey where, for another nine hours, she found herself"in a small, dirty cell." On being prepared for the return trip to JFK and deportation, approximately 24 hours after first debarking, she was, despite her pleas, despite her tears, again handcuffed and put in leg chains, all, as she put it,"because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law."
On returning to her country, she wrote a blog about her unnerving experience and the Icelandic Foreign Minister Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir met with U.S. Ambassador Carol van Voorst to demand an apology. Just as when egregious American acts in Iraq or Afghanistan won't go away, the Department of Homeland Security announced an"investigation," a"review of its work procedures" and expressed"regrets." But an admission of error or an actual apology? Uh, what era do you imagine we're living in?
Erla Ósk will undoubtedly think twice before taking another fun-filled holiday in the U.S., but her experience was no aberration among Icelanders visiting the U.S. In fact, it's a relatively humdrum one these days, especially if you appear to be of Middle Eastern background.
Take, for instance, 20-year veteran of the National Guard Zakariya Muhammad Reed (born Edward Eugene Reed, Jr.), who, for the last 11 years, has worked as a firefighter in Toledo, Ohio. Regularly crossing the Canadian border to visit his wife's family, he has been stopped so many times --"I was put up against the wall and thoroughly frisked, any more thoroughly and I would have asked for flowers…" -- that he is a connoisseur of detention. He's been stopped five times in the last seven months and now chooses his crossing place based on the size of the detention waiting room he knows he'll end up in. It took several such incidents, during which no explanations were offered, before he discovered that he was being stopped in part because of his name and in part because of a letter he wrote to the Toledo Blade criticizing Bush administration policies on Israel and Iraq.
The first time, he was detained in a small room with two armed guards, while his wife and children were left in a larger common room. While he was grilled, she was denied permission to return to their car even to get a change of diapers for their youngest child. When finally released, Reed found his car had been"trashed." ("My son's portable DVD player was broken, and I have a decorative Koran on the dashboard that was thrown on the floor.") During another episode of detention, an interrogator evidently attempted to intimidate him by putting his pistol on the table at which they were seated. ("He takes the clip out of his weapon, looks at the ammunition, puts the clip back in, and puts it back in his holster.") His first four border-crossing detentions were well covered by Matthew Rothschild in a post at the Progressive Magazine's website. During his latest one, he was questioned about Rothschild's coverage of his case.
The essence of his experience is perhaps caught best in a comment by Customs and Border Protection agent made in his presence:"We should treat them like we do in the desert. We should put a bag over their heads and zip tie their hands together."
Or take Nabil Al Yousuf, not exactly a top-ten candidate for the"huddled masses" category; nor an obvious terror suspect (unless, of course, you believe yourself at war with Islam or the Arab world). According to the Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer, Yousuf, who is"a senior aide to the ruler of the Persian Gulf state of Dubai," always has the same"galling" experience on entering the country:
"A U.S. airport immigration official typically takes Yousuf's passport, places it in a yellow envelope and beckons. Yousuf tells his oldest son and other family members not to worry. And Yousuf -- who goes by 'Your Excellency' at home -- disappears inside a shabby back room. He waits alongside the likes of 'a man who had forged his visa and a woman who had drugs in her tummy'… He is questioned, fingerprinted and photographed."
Despite his own fond memories of attending universities in Arizona and Georgia, Yousuf has decided to send his son to college… in Australia. Knickmeyer adds:
"A generation of Arab men who once attended college in the United States, and returned home to become leaders in the Middle East, increasingly is sending the next generation to schools elsewhere. This year, Australia overtook the United States as the top choice of citizens of the United Arab Emirates heading abroad for college, according to government figures here."
This is what"homeland security" means in the United States today. It means putting your country in full lockdown mode. It means the snarl at the border, the nasty comment in the waiting room, the dirty cell, the handcuffs, even the chains. It means being humiliated. It means a thorough lack of modulation or moderation. Arriving here now always threatens to be a"tempest-tost" experience whether you are a citizen, a semi-official visitor, or a foreign tourist. (After all, even Sen. Ted Kennedy found himself repeatedly on a no-fly list without adequate explanation.) Think of these three cases as snapshots from the borders of a country in which the presumption of innocence is slowly being drained of all meaning.
News from Nowhere
So far, of course, we've only been talking about the lucky ones. After all, Erla Ósk, Zakariya Muhammad Reed, and Nabil Al Yousuf all made it home relatively quickly. In the final weeks of 2007, a little flood of press reports tracked more extreme versions of the global lockdown the Bush administration launched in late 2001, cases in which, after the snarl, the door clanged shut and home became the barest of hopes.
Take, for example, a December 1st Washington Post piece in which reporter Craig Whitlock revealed one more small part of the CIA's global network of secret imprisonment. We already knew, among other things, that the CIA had set up and run its own secret prisons in Eastern Europe and probably in Thailand; that it had a network of secret sites in Afghanistan like "the Salt Pit" near Kabul; that it may have used the"British" island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, as well as American ships, naval and possibly commercial, to hold prisoners beyond the purview of any authority or even the visits of the International Red Cross; that it ran an air fleet of leased executive jets (including some from Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, which made it back into the news in December because of a lawsuit launched by the ACLU); that these were used to transport terror suspects it snatched up off city streets or battlefields anywhere on the planet to its own"black sites" or which it"rendered" in"extraordinary" manner to the jails and torture chambers of Syria, Egypt, Uzbekistan, and other lands whose agents had no qualms about torturing and abusing prisoners.
Whitlock, however, added a new piece to the CIA's incarceration puzzle: an"imposing building" on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan. This turns out to be the headquarters of the General Intelligence Department, Jordan's powerful spy and security agency (and the CIA's closest Arab ally in the Middle East). Known as a place where torture is freely applied, it has been a way-station for"CIA prisoners captured in other countries." The first terror suspects kidnapped by Agency operatives were, it seems, flown to Jordan and housed in that building before Guantanamo was up and running or the Agency had been able to set up its own secret prisons elsewhere. There, the prisoners were hidden, even from the International Red Cross. To cite but one case Whitlock mentions:
"Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a Yemeni microbiology student, was captured in a U.S.-Pakistani operation in Karachi a few weeks after 9/11 on suspicion of helping to finance al-Qaeda operations. Witnesses reported seeing masked men take him aboard a Gulfstream V jet at the Karachi airport Oct. 24, 2001. Records show that the plane was chartered by a CIA front company and that it flew directly to Amman. Mohammed has not been seen since. Amnesty International said it has asked the Jordanian government for information on his whereabouts but has not received an answer."
Also in December, because of that lawsuit against Jeppesen, we got our first insider's account of the CIA"black sites" (and, thanks to Salon.com, even architectural plans for a few of the interrogation rooms and prison cells at those sites, all of which seem to have cameras in them). It was here that"high-value targets" were incarcerated, isolated, and subjected to various"enhanced interrogation techniques."
Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni, was picked up by the Jordanians in Amman in 2003 and tortured into signing a"full confession" (to acts he had not committed). He was then turned over to the CIA and flown to Kabul (and possibly Eastern Europe as well) where he was imprisoned. He has offered in-depth accounts that give a sense of what those"enhanced interrogation techniques" the Bush administration sponsors so enthusiastically are all about at a personal level. In the end, while in CIA custody, Bashmilah was driven to several suicide attempts, including one in which, using a bit of metal, he slashed his wrist and wrote,"I am innocent," on a cell wall in his own blood.
Here is just part of a description he offered Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! of being prepared for transport by CIA air taxi into black-site hell:
"And then they put… like little plugs inside the ears, plastic. And then they put gauze on that, on the ears. And then they taped that with very strong adhesive tape. And then they put a hood over my head. And then, on top of that, they put a headphone. This is as far as the top of my body was. And then they handcuffed me with a chain, and also they chained my ankles. Then they put a belt above the pants, and then they tied the hands and the ankles to that belt. This was after being slapped and kicked until I almost fainted."
In his cell in a secret prison in Afghanistan,"[i]n the beginning, it was totally dark. It was as if you were inside a tomb. Then, after that, they would turn a light on. Above the door, there was a camera. And there was constant loud music." From then on, neither the lights, nor the music went off. As Mark Benjamin of Salon.com wrote,"His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake… Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. 'I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me,' Bashmilah wrote in his declaration…
"After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him [in Yemen] with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered."
No charges, no lawyers, no judge. This is increasingly the norm of -- and a legacy of -- George Bush's world. In this way, the snarl at the borders melds with the screams of terror in cells worldwide.
Embedded Reports from the Dark Side
A new Pentagon term came into use in the Bush era. With the invasion of Iraq, reporters were said to be"embedded" in U.S. military units. That term -- so close in sound to"in bed with" -- should have wider uses. You could, for instance, say that Americans have, since September 2001, been"embedded," largely willingly, in a new lockdown universe defined by a general acceptance of widespread acts of torture and abuse, as well as of the right to kidnap (known as"extraordinary rendition"), and the creation and expansion of an offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, all based on the principle that a human being is guilty unless proven (sometimes even if proven) innocent. What might originally have seemed like emergency measures in a moment of crisis is now an institutionalized way of life. Whether we like it or not, these methods increasingly define what it means to be an American. In this manner, despite the"freedom" rhetoric of the Bush administration, the phrase"the price of freedom" has been superseded by the price of what passes for"safety" and"security."
Media coverage of such subjects reflects this. The cases above, all reported in December, barely scratch the surface of this universe. Just a glance at other December stories -- some barely attended to, or dealt with by minor outlets or in humdrum ways, but many well covered in major papers and still causing little consternation -- indicates just how normalized all this has become.
A legacy can often be framed in words. So here's a little rundown of just some areas in which, when it came to torture, kidnapping, and offshore imprisonment, 2007 ended in a deluge, not a trickle:
Destroyed Tapes: One issue connected to torture -- sorry,"enhanced interrogation techniques" -- did get major coverage last month, the revelation on the front page of the December 6th New York Times of the destruction, in 2005, of hundreds of hours of CIA videotapes of the first two major interrogations, including waterboardings, of al-Qaeda operatives -- in this case, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. In the weeks that followed, responsibility for the decision to destroy those tapes has been creeping ever higher, with four key lawyers connected to the White House and the Vice President's office brought into the mix in mid-December, and reports that the chief of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, Jose A. Rodriguez, who ordered their destruction, may soon testify before Congress under immunity and implicate as yet unnamed higher-ups.
As with all such cover-up stories, this one can only get worse. It has already been reported in the Wall Street Journal that the faces of more senior CIA officials, not just low-level interrogators, may have been caught on those tapes from the administration's secret torture chambers. We are sure to learn that these were hardly the only interrogations taped by the Agency. As yet, by the way, almost all attention has gone to the destruction of the tapes, little to why they were made in the first place. As December ended, however, Scott Shane of the New York Timeswrote a piece,"Tapes by CIA Lived and Died to Save Image," with this telling line from the CIA's then number three official, A. B. Krongard:"You want interrogators in training to watch the tapes." Think about that a moment. The Justice Department, which, along with the CIA's Inspector General, launched an investigation of the tape destruction under pressure, also attempted to shut down congressional investigations of the same -- unsuccessfully.
Kidnapping Is the Law: According to the British Sunday Times,"A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned it." According to that lawyer, the precedent"goes back to bounty hunting days in the 1860s." This applies, it seems, not just to terror suspects in extraordinary rendition cases, but to white businessmen wanted for, say, fraud."The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington." International human rights lawyer Scott Horton writes at his No Comment blog:
"This is not U.S. law, it is a Bush Administration hallucination as to U.S. law… The sort of nightmare which refuses to recognize the sovereignty of foreign states or the solemn commitments of U.S. governments over the last two centuries in treaties and conventions. The sort of nightmare that refuses to recognize the 'law of nations' referred to by the Founding Fathers and incorporated into the Constitution."
Innocence at Guantanamo: New military and court documents were released in December, thanks to a suit by lawyers representing Murat Kurnaz, that further illuminated the case of the 19-year old German citizen who" chose a bad time to travel." Kurnaz was captured by the U.S. Army in Pakistan in 2002 and transported to Guantanamo. There, within months, according to the Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig,"his American captors concluded that he was not a terrorist." This was the consensus of intelligence officials. He was nonetheless declared a"dangerous al-Qaeda ally" by successive military tribunals at the prison and was not released until August 2006 when he was flown to freedom in Germany"goggled, masked and bound, as he had been when he was flown to Guantanamo Bay."
Evidence from Waterboarding: According to Josh White of the Washington Post, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann,"[t]he top legal adviser for the military trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees told Congress… that he cannot rule out the use of evidence derived from the CIA's aggressive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding." He even refused to say that waterboarding would be illegal if used by the interrogators of another country on U.S. military personnel. In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, like his boss Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Mark Filip, the administration's nominee for second-in-command at the Justice Department, also refused to take a stand on waterboarding, even though he called it"repugnant."
Torture Veto: In December, President Bush threatened to"veto a House [of Representatives] bill that would explicitly ban a variety of abhorrent practices. The bill would require U.S. intelligence agencies to follow interrogation rules adopted by the armed forces last year."
Torturers speak out: In December, two figures connected with U.S. torture practices spoke out. John Kiriakou, a CIA agent involved in capturing top al-Qaeda operatives, gave interviews to ABC and NBC News in which he called waterboarding"torture," regretted its use ("we Americans are better than that"), and also insisted that"[t]his was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and justice department." In the meantime, Damien Corsetti, a former private in the U.S. Army who served as an interrogator in Kabul, Afghanistan (and was nicknamed the"king of torture" and"the monster" by his colleagues at Bagram prison), gave an interview to the Spanish paper El Mundo, describing the beatings and torture techniques used there. ("They tell them they are going to kill their children, rape their wives. And you see on their faces, in their eyes, the terror that that causes them. Because, of course, we know all about those people. We know the names of their children, where they live -- we show them satellite photos of their houses. It is worse than any torture.") He also claimed that 98% of the prisoners, as far as he could tell, had nothing to do with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and observed,"In Abu-Ghurayb and Bagram they were tortured to make them suffer, not to get information out of them." Both men denied themselves torturing or mistreating anyone.
Justice Moves Fast: The Justice Department, which dragged its feet on those destroyed CIA videotapes (and then tried to submarine a congressional investigation of the same), nonetheless reacted strongly to the horrors of torture in another context. Its officials moved swiftly to investigate whether former agent John Kiriakou, in giving that interview about waterboarding to ABC News, had"illegally disclosed classified information in describing the capture and waterboarding of an al-Qaeda terrorism suspect." Consider that a message about priorities from the powers that be.
Iraqis in American Jails: Latest estimates are that up to 30,000 Iraqis are now held in American prisons in Iraq. While this figure falls 10,000 short of the number of Iraqis American commander Gen. David Petraeus believed might be arrested during the"surge" months in Baghdad and elsewhere, it does add up, as Juan Cole points out at his Informed Comment website, to 0.1% of what's left of the Iraqi population, or approximately one out of every 1,000 Iraqis.
Think of these eight stories as themselves only the tip of December's melting iceberg of news on such topics. You could no less easily write about lawyer Andrew Williams, a JAG officer with the Naval Reserves, who resigned his commission in response to the unwillingness of Gen. Hartmann"to call the hypothetical waterboarding of an American pilot by the Iranian military torture." In a letter to The Peninsula Gateway of Gig Harbor, Washington, Williams wrote in part:
"Thank you, General Hartmann, for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition…. Waterboarding was used by the Nazi Gestapo and the feared Japanese Kempeitai… Waterboarding was practiced by the Khmer Rouge at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison. Most recently, the U.S. Army court martialed a soldier for the practice in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.
"General Hartmann, following orders was not an excuse for anyone put on trial in Nuremberg, and it will not be an excuse for you or your superiors, either. Despite the CIA and the administration attempting to cover up the practice by destroying interrogation tapes, in direct violation of a court order, and congressional requests, the truth about torture, illegal spying on Americans and secret renditions is coming out."
Or you could mention the news that the"Australian Taliban," David Hicks, the sole person actually convicted on terrorism charges at Guantanamo, was released after serving a nine-month sentence in Australia (and five years of non-sentence time in Cuba); or the first reports on the Internet of speculation in Washington that George Bush himself might have viewed parts of those CIA interrogation tapes, or the Washington Post report that, in 2002, four key Congressional figures, including Nancy Pelosi, had been given"a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk," including waterboarding, without objections being raised. Or… but the list is almost unending.
The Bush Legacy
As a people, we Americans have not faintly come to grips with how centrally the Bush administration has planted certain practices in our midst -- at the very heart of governmental practice, of the news, of everyday life. Many of these practices were not in themselves creations of this administration. For instance, the practice of kidnapping abroad --"rendition" -- began at least in the Clinton era, if not earlier. Waterboarding, a medieval torture, was first practiced by American troops in the Philippine insurrection at the dawn of the previous century. (It was then known as"the water cure.")
Torture of various sorts was widely used in CIA interrogation centers in Vietnam in the 1960s. Back in that era, the CIA also ran its own airline, Air America, rather than just leasing planes from various corporate entities through front businesses. Abu Ghraib-style torture and abuse, pioneered by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s, was taught and used by American military, CIA, and police officials in Latin America from the 1960s into the 1980s. If you doubt any of this, just check out Alfred McCoy's still shocking book, A Question of Torture. Even offshore secret CIA prisons aren't a unique creation of the Bush administration. According to Tim Weiner in his new history of the Central Intelligence Agency, Legacy of Ashes, in the 1950s the Agency had three of them -- in Japan, Germany, and the Panama Canal Zone -- where they brought double agents of questionable loyalty for"secret experiments" in harsh interrogation,"using techniques on the edge of torture, drug-induced mind control, and brainwashing."
And yet, don't for a second think that nothing has changed. Part of the Bush legacy lies in a new ethos in this country. In my childhood in the 1950s, for example, we knew just who the torturers were. We saw them in the movies. They were the sadistic Japanese in their prison camps, the Gestapo in their prisons, and the Soviet Secret police, the KGB, in their gulags (even if that name hadn't yet entered our world). As the President now says at every opportunity, and as we then knew, Americans did not torture.
Today, and it's a measure of our changing American world, a child turning on the TV serial"24" or heading for the nearest hot, new action flick at the local multiplex knows that Americans do torture and that torture, once the cultural province of our most evil enemies, is now a practice that is 100% all-American and perfectly justifiable (normally by the ticking-bomb scenario). And few even blink. In lockdown America, it computes. The snarl at the border fits well enough with what our Vice President has termed a"no-brainer," a"dunk in the water" in the torture chamber. There is no deniability left in the movies -- and little enough of it in real life.
American presidents of the Vietnam and Latin American war years operated in a realm of deniability when it came to torture and other such practices. No American could then have imagined a Vice President heading for Capitol Hill to lobby openly for a torture bill or a President publicly threatening to veto congressional legislation banning torture techniques. Call it the end of an era of American hypocrisy, if you will, but the Bush legacy will be, in part, simply the routinization of the practice of torture, abuse, kidnapping, and illegal imprisonment.
George W. Bush didn't invent the world he inhabits. He, his top officials, and all their lawyers who wrote those bizarre"torture memos" that will be hallmarks of his era chose from existing strains of thought, from urges and tendencies already in American culture. But their record on this has, nonetheless, been remarkable. In just about every case, they chose to bring out the worst in us; in just about every case, they took us on as direct a journey as possible to the dark side.
It's not necessary to romanticize the American past in any way to consider the legacy of these last years grim indeed. Let no one tell you that the institution of a global network of secret prisons and borrowed torture chambers, along with those"enhanced interrogation techniques," was primarily done for information or even security. The urge to resort to such tactics is invariably more primal than that.
Words matter more than one would think. In the Bush era, certain words have simply been sidelined. Sovereignty, for instance. If, in principle, you can kidnap anyone, anywhere, and transport that person into a ghost existence anywhere else, then national sovereignty essentially no longer has significance. This is one meaning of"globalization" in the twenty-first century. On Planet Bush, only one nation remains"sovereign," and that's the United States of America.
If you want to test this proposition, just take any case mentioned above, from Erla Ósk's landing in New York on, and try to reverse it. Make an American the central victim and another country of your choice the perpetrator and imagine the reaction of the Bush administration, no less the American media and the public (no matter what Gen. Hartmann may be unwilling to say about the waterboarding of an American serviceman).
Or consider another word that once had great resonance in American culture, not to speak of its legal system: innocence. Americans prided themselves on their"innocence" -- even when mocked as"innocents abroad" -- and took pride as well in a system based on the phrase,"innocent until proven guilty."
Despite their repeated, thoroughly worn denials about torture, the top officials of this administration remade themselves, in the wake of the attacks of 9/11, as a Torture, Inc. And their actions since then have gone a long way toward turning us, by association and tacit acquiescence, into a nation of torturers, willing to accept, in case after case, that a"war" against"terror" supposed to last for generations justifies just about any act imaginable, including the continued mistreatment and incarceration of people who remain somehow guilty even, in certain cases, after being proven innocent.
This is the American welcome wagon of the twenty-first century. If you really want to catch the spirit of the Bush legacy one year early, try to imagine the poem an Emma Lazarus of this moment might write, something appropriate for a gigantic statue in New York harbor of a guard from Mohamed Bashmilah's living nightmare -- dressed all in black, a black mask covering his head and neck, tinted yellow plastic over the eyes, a man, hands sheathed in rubber gloves, holding up not a torch but a video camera and dragging chains.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 - 23:39