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: http://www.democratiya.com (summer) (6-1-08)
I left the University of Texas to study in Paris during the summer of 1966 because I wanted to learn how to make a revolution—or at least to understand the Marxist theory that had been identified with this skill. This decision is not so strange if one recalls the kind of political education and culture of a young American, like myself, who had participated in the civil rights movement and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. Our protests against segregation had some successes, but our criticism of the Vietnam adventure seemed to fall on deaf ears. It seemed that we were caught in a trap by trying to use the language of liberalism against the liberal system and its anti-communist rhetoric—a practice that only seemed to reinforce the problems we were trying to solve. We had wanted to win 'bourgeois rights' when it now seemed that it was the socio-economic reality of capitalist-imperial America that was truly evil. What we needed instead was, it seemed, a vocabulary that would permit a radical transformation of the liberal system; not just racial integration but a new and superior form of equality that did not stop at the border.
Why France? France, in the shared imagination of critical Americans, incarnated the true revolution. It was the place where 1789 had become 1793, when a 'bourgeois' demand for political rights became a radical demand for economic equality that was finally consecrated in the first step toward a global revolution in 1917. The French revolutionary tradition was the more striking when contrasted to the liberal one that had given birth to the United States. In spite of its grand rhetoric, the latter had not even put an end to slavery in 1776 and was only now recognizing the injustice and social divisions that had condemned a part of the population to a segregated existence that was separate and unequal. For us, the myth of revolutionary France was further reinforced by the support found there for 20th century anti-colonial movements, including that of Vietnam, where the U.S. had stupidly picked up a lost cause because of its reflexive anti-communist foreign policy. A reflection of the power of this symbolic myth that linked France and revolution: one of my first 'touristic' visits in Paris brought me to the Stalingrad metro station! Why? Because one of our basic criticisms of American liberalism was that it minimized the role of the Soviet Union in the defeat of Nazism. That a Parisian metro station would be so-named signified that political culture in France was not blindly enrolled in an anti-communist crusade.
France also represented for us the land of critical philosophy, principally that of Sartre (Althusser had only recently published For Marx and Reading Capital, and structuralism had not yet crossed the Atlantic ). Sartre was the anti-bourgeois par excellence. Although he was not really a political philosopher (despite his grand existential-Hegelian-Marxist Critique of Dialectical Reason ), his was a moral stance built on the denunciation of what he called 'les salauds,' who manipulated the freedom that is essential to the humanity of the individual (including their own). Sartre was the Voltaire of his time; and we young intellectuals in the U.S. demanded nothing better than, with Voltaire, to 'écrasez l'infâme' (although we wanted to find the material means to realize the task). In stark contrast, Anglo-American analytic philosophy, which confined itself to analyzing ordinary language and abstract logic, led only to the confirmation of existing social relations. 
Finally, Marx's work was available and hotly discussed in the French language, while it was scarcely translated in the U.S. (where, for example, I had no choice but to buy my three volumes of Capital in the English edition published in Moscow, as only volume 1 was easily available in U.S. bookstores). Indeed, this was the time (after de-Stalinization) when 'revisionists' in Eastern Europe were discovering the writings of young Marx, and Western critics were using them as weapons against the dominant ideology of the communist parties. ...
In the years that followed, one could have the impression that revolutionary enthusiasm had itself thrown the revolutionary spirit of May into the famous dustbin of history. It seemed to many to be what Lenin had denounced in 1920: 'an infantile disorder.'  But as Marx liked to say, the old mole just keeps digging. Maybe I remain too much of an optimist, but I can't help but think that the candidacy of Barack Obama signifies the return of another Left, different from our own, and different also from the social-democratic dream represented by the New Deal.  This new Left (if that's what it becomes) intends to be a post-racial movement that refuses orthodox identity politics. It is awakening in young people (and others) a taste for the political, and it is reviving the demands for real democracy that animated the integrationist civil rights movement and the old American SDS. Would I have recognized this if I had not gone to study in France?—before events and experiences showed me that the revolutionary spirit I looked for in France can appear anywhere—and disappear so quickly that it does not even have time to recognize itself for what it truly is: the spirit of democracy.
Posted on: Saturday, May 31, 2008 - 17:16
SOURCE: Far Eastern Economic Review (5-31-08)
It was springtime in the eighth year of a young century and the Olympics would begin soon in an old capital. No medals would be awarded until the summer, but the ’08 Games were already shrouded in controversy due to talk of a boycott linked to the host country’s policies in a territory it controlled. Meanwhile, a different sort of boycott call had gone out several weeks earlier when Chinese people grew angry at a foreign power.
This sounds like a recap of the China events that were making headlines before the tragic earthquake hit Sichuan. But the paragraph applies equally well to the situation exactly a century ago, when the start of the first London Olympics neared, some Irish athletes threatened not to compete, and Chinese were boycotting Japanese goods.
And there would soon be another 1908 occurrence, a gesture of defiance during the Opening Ceremonies, which could have a 2008 counterpart. When the American team paraded, they refused to bow before the King.
Reading newspaper accounts from 1908 can cause déjà vu. Though it also reveals many contrasts between those days and ours.
It shows, for example, that the Olympics were not then what they are now in terms of the attention generated and the sports involved. Only a fraction of the teams and journalists converging on Beijing went to London in 1908, and the athletic competition that generated the most controversy that summer was a “Tug of War” contest.
There’s also much that differentiates Ireland’s history from Tibet’s. To cite just one example, many Irish nationalists demanded complete independence in 1908, while in 2008 the Dalai Lama is simply asking for more cultural autonomy for Tibetans.
The recent call by some Chinese for a boycott of French Carrefour stores—partly to demonstrate displeasure with France because a Chinese torch carrier was roughed up by protesters in Paris—is also different from the 1908 struggle against Japan. That earlier boycott, for example, was much bigger and had nothing to do with the Olympics....
Posted on: Friday, May 30, 2008 - 20:02
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (5-22-08)
History and Policy
“History” crops up a lot in our conflicts with violent jihadists. A war on terror was proclaimed, and then rejected, because the term was belatedly deemed as descriptively meaningless as a “war on Blitzkrieg” and as futile as a “war on drugs.” Among alternatives that have been put forward are “the long war,” “the first global terrorist war,” the counter campaign against the “global jihadist insurgency,” and an “anti-Islamic extremism” battle.
Commentators and politicians seek to give our opponents a historically familiar face by substituting steel helmets for the chequered keffiyahs and turbans. We have heard about “Islamofascism” and “Islamobolshevism,” both of which terms risk boxing our thinking into the past even as they give needless offense to Muslims by claiming that they are latter-day Nazis.
Since we are also engaged in a “war of hearts and minds,” there has been much talk of a Cold War, running parallel to three wars—in Afghanistan, Iraq and against the “global jihadist insurgency.” As an American commentator recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, if we take 9/11 as the equivalent of 1947, we are only six years into a struggle that may abate in 2043 if our descendants are fortunate.
Jonathan Evans, the director of MI5, claims that “culture” will play a significant role in this generation’s conflicts with jihadists without spelling out what that means. These claims would be more credible if there was more money for public diplomacy, which in the U.S. receives a significant percent of the vast Defense budget. But the West need not be concerned how it represents itself, if that merely means dispatching the Boston Symphony Orchestra once more, to prove that there is more to us than MTV or Baywatch. If the problems are primarily in the Muslim world, then we need to be doing things like supporting an Arabic Booker Prize and gradually expanding a liberal artistic and media culture in the Arab world. A large cosmopolitan bourgeoisie constituency exists in Cairo; our task is to discreetly help organize them, perhaps along the lines of Freedom House’s role in the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine. For they will be one of the building blocks from which a more pluralistic greater Middle East will emerge.
During the Cold War, great enterprises like the Congress for Cultural Freedom confronted state propagandists in the eastern bloc. Now we have international media like al-Manar, as-Sahab, and al-Jazeera, plus 6,000 or so jihadist websites, along with chat rooms and social networks, often the real sites of auto-radicalization among young Muslims. Given the confusions in our own culture, how do we project a single view of Western society’s values? What do we do about the growing number of people who inhabit a virtual world where, as in The X-Files, everything is a hidden conspiracy?
No significant section of Western elite opinion is sympathetic to the jihadists, as many were to Marxist-Leninism in the 1930s, but throughout Europe and even in the U.S. there are left-liberals whose hatred of the U.S. is so ingrained that they have become apologists for the most reactionary elements within Islam. Think of the activist human rights lawyers who are prepared to believe every crime ascribed to the U.S. or UK governments and their collusive involvements with terrorists. British lawyer Madassur Arani has an entire West London practice dedicated to frustrating attempts by UK security services to recruit agents from within the British Muslim community. Her website gives step-by-step advice on how to resist recruitment.
There is also a larger penumbra of people who have migrated from the extreme Left to supporting parties that are halfway houses to the Islamists, e.g. George Galloway’s Respect Party. In 2006 we had the spectacle of middle-class demonstrators bearing placards reading “We are all Hizbollah now,” and more recently of the Archbishop of Canterbury seeking to make common cause with Muslim clerics by contemplating the licensing of enclaves of “soft” sharia law, a concession that would wholly undermine the Common Law of England while paving the way to “hard” sharia law in future.
Islam in Europe is a proselytising religion which asserts its presence—most recently with demands for amplified muezzin in a predominantly non-Muslim suburb of Oxford or a 12,000 capacity mega-mosque to be situated next to London’s 2012 Olympic complex. There are also quotidian acts of minority-within-a-minority self-assertion, ranging from schoolgirls insisting on wearing the hijab and jilbab to imams petitioning National Health Service hospitals insisting that patients’ beds be turned to Mecca five times a day, to female Muslim NHS surgeons refusing to scrub their bare arms.
Throughout Europe, we are witnessing the gradual emergence of Muslim no-go areas, of enclaves based around nodal mosques and community centres, and public housing projects or rows of private terraced housing from which the indigenous population is decamping. Lax immigration policies, cheap flights and phone calls, and satellite TV mean that many immigrants do not make the mental break with “home.” They simply transplant their home village to British cities.
So far, governments, notably in Britain and the Netherlands, have responded with state programs to inculcate local values through such things as formal citizenship tests. In these countries in particular, there has been a rapid abandonment of multiculturalism, but no commensurate attempt to uproot its massive bureaucratic expression in education, the media, and local government.
Cultures of Terrorism
Amid the incessant debate about the U.S.-led war in Iraq, we have lost sight of the fact that terrorists are the problem. Their culture and way of life invariably result in chaos, death and, when they succeed, the hardwiring of political violence into the resulting political system, as we can see in Hamas’s reign of terror in Gaza. Unfortunately, the glamour extends far beyond the small numbers of youths who with bewildering speed auto-radicalize to the point of becoming active jihadis.
Two great novels, Fydor Dostoevsky’s Possessed (1872) and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907), highlight the moral squalor in which terrorists operate and the murderous chaos they inflict on those around them. Their subscription to a “higher” cause serves to camouflage the congruence of the psychopathological and the political.
Like the Irish loyalists before them, the jihadists have a culture in a limited, fashionable sense. The (Christian) Lebanese singer Julia Boutros has raised millions for Hizbollah with songs that set the sermons of Hassan Nasrallah to music. Both Hamas and Hizbollah have developed visual cultures—colorful posters of the leaders and their martyrs, plastered all over Gaza or South Beirut, the suicide bombing videos; Al-Qaeda inspired jihadists have a common iconography involving lions, stallions, certain flowers, mountains, trees, as well as masked men with swords. The jihadists have developed computer games for youth that usually involve killing President Bush or U.S. soldiers, and they are currently exploring 3-D programs with a view to lessening the risks of bomb-making and reconnaissance. The primary role of the internet in these circles is to forge a surrogate sense of Islamic nationhood by showing Western “Crusader-Zionist” aggression and the “defensive” jihadi response of suicide bombings and cutting people’s heads off. According to Marc Sageman, Internet chat rooms are especially dangerous in sealing off participants in a partisan reality where emotions are unmediated and especially intense—as one can see from Japanese sites that have been responsible for teenagers killing themselves.
“Culture” in the deeper sense encompasses the rationales for terrorist violence as well as the individual and organizational sociology of terrorist groups. Many terrorists act out of a frustrated desire to “do good”—physician terrorists include Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri and the NHS doctors who incinerated themselves trying to blow up Glasgow airport in 2007. Most European jihadis come from technical education backgrounds rather than the arts and have a very limited grasp of Islamic theology.
The backgrounds of some prominent inciters of jihad in Europe suggest that terrorism may be a compensatory mechanism for a life of dissolution. Abu Hamza, currently awaiting extradition to the U.S., worked as a bouncer at a London strip joint. In Paris, Omar Saiki “went to bars and frequented prostitutes more often than he attended the mosque or went to listen to Abu Qatada’s sermons…. Saiki was typical of those who have landed in the Islamist movement by ‘accident’ and whose zeal redoubles when they find themselves in terrorist cells which provide them with a remedy for the frustrations felt by a whole group of North African men.”
Low-level European jihadists are not people of great sophistication. Take Parviz Khan, the Birmingham welfare recipient recently convicted in England of conspiring to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. As a young man, Khan had shown no interest in religion. He drank, smoked, went clubbing and supported a local soccer team. All changed when he went to Pakistan, after which he began shipping night-vision goggles and camouflage gear. Conversations MI5 bugged in his home show his efforts to beat his worldview into his five-year-old son Abrar, who like his siblings was living in a mock mujahadeen camp in the family’s living room:
Abrar: ‘I love Sheik OBL. Khan: ‘Allah and?’ Abrar: Sheikh Abu Hamza. Khan: ‘And who else do you kill?’ Abrar: ‘Bush I kill’. Khan: And who else?’ Abrar: Blair- I kill’. Khan: ‘And?’ Abrar: ‘Both, I kill’. Khan: ‘I speak, my son. Who else you kill? Kuffar.’ Abrar: ‘Yeah, kuffar’. Khan: ‘What do you do with these people?’ Abrar: ‘Shoot them’. Khan: ‘How do you kill them? Cut their neck. Show me. Good.’
This brings us to the role of excitement, most crisply expressed by the nineteenth-century Russian nihilist who dreaded a life of endless suppers of grilled lamb cutlets. Despite their leaden New Left ideology, the Baader-Meinhof group that plagued West Germany consisted of dissatisfied middle-class kids bored with the country’s stolid consumer culture. Certainly they felt guilt about the Nazi era and about the Palestinians or Vietnam, but their crimes—including bombing Jewish cultural centres—were often committed in a drug-induced haze as they sped along the Autobahns in stolen BMWs reverberating with the music of Eric Clapton or Ten Years After.
In Europe, most terrorists are products of the expanded higher education sector who are disappointed when their low-level qualifications do not translate into rewarding careers, let alone the capacity to dictate our foreign policy. They are also recruited from the expanding underclass, with its subculture of absent fathers and prolific mothers. Richard Reid, the Afro-Caribbean shoe bomber currently incarcerated at a supermax prison in Colorado, converted to Islam while serving one of many sentences for petty offenses. The Brotherhood provided the warmth and purpose his life had not known, the entry stage on a trajectory that finished when he was prevented from exploding the bomb concealed in his shoes.
The frisson of conspiracy and life in the revolutionary underground is often joined by another powerful motive: a burning resentment against the affluent. The Jemaah Islamiyah team who killed more than 200 people in 2002 when they bombed Paddy’s Bar on Bali were strongly motivated by the desire to incinerate what they called “white meat.” In Britain, the Islamist terrorists recently jailed in the wake of “Operation Crevice” were similarly driven by the desire to visit carnage on what they called “dancing slags” out and about in a South London discotheque. It is not enough to inhibit human behavior with disapprobation, as supremacist Islamists do when they are dominant; they must seek out and obliterate the offenders.
But there is more involved in killing people. A former Red Brigade terrorist admits that “arms have a fascination of their own, it is a fascination that makes you feel in some way more virile.” German or Italian leftwing terrorists did not pore over Marxist-Leninist tracts, but preferred Alain Delon gangster flicks or Sam Pekinpah’s existential splatter-movie “The Wild Bunch.” Apparently, after a hard day’s training in Afghan camps, Al Qaeda recruits were shown Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Worryingly, European security agencies think that the continual replaying of scenes of violence on 24-hour news channels is in itself all the incitement some people need.
There is a terrible narcissism in these circles—the idea that they are chosen to give History a huge jolt—and if we are intent on deglamorizing terrorism, History is a good place to start.
Global Jihad and Europe
Terrorist groups can be based on a military-style hierarchy, or a loose franchised network. As with Al Qaeda, terrorist groups can evolve from the first structure to the second under pressure of external necessity, only to reestablish the hierarchy and the training camps again, as Al Qaeda seems to be doing in North-Western Pakistan. It can also exaggerate its global reach through regional affiliates: hence Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and, if it is to be believed, Al Qaeda in Britain. It is seeking to appropriate local conflicts, to reorient these fighters against Western targets by redirecting the alleged source of local ills.
Clearly, a prime aim of Western policy should be to reverse this process—to disaggregate local causes from attempts to incorporate them into a globalised Islamist insurgency. This is why it is necessary to resist all efforts by, for example, the Russian or Chinese governments to lump their problems with the Chechens or the Uighurs under “our” global war on terror.
Another response to external pressure has been to shift fronts, so that if the organization is suppressed in Algeria or Morocco, it will soon bob up in the Sahel. A series of shady deals seem to have allowed the jihadists to reestablish some sort of presence in Yemen. That strategy will change again should Al Qaeda regain a territorial base in some collapsed state—this is one of the reasons it is imperative to continue fighting the Taliban and to maintain operations in and around Somalia and Yemen.
In some respects Al Qaeda is beginning to resemble the (ineffectual) Black International founded in London in 1881, which claimed to be behind worldwide anarchist activities which were unrelated except in the type of person responsible. Even the Internet had its forerunners in the form of newspapers (the Dynamite Press) and posters explaining bomb manufacture. British security services speak of “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence, since the group’s primary function is to exhort Muslims everywhere to undertake violence. British intelligence calculates that some 2,000 individuals are currently engaged in conspiracies of one kind or another; similar figures probably exist in other western European countries.
Terrorist groups have internal structures and hierarchies. Most revolve around a charismatic leader, whether bin Laden or merely the most charismatically emphatic in a smaller cell. Different risks and legal punishments attach to raising funds, laundering money, or planting a bomb, which is a potential weakness in an organization like Al Qaeda, where only Egyptians or Libyans are the strategists, while Moroccans and Yemenis do the dirty work. That is why we need to encourage a process of reversion from the global jihad to the local conflicts from which the jihadis originally came.
Although Europe undoubtedly hosts some professional Al Qaeda terrorists, in practice we are witnessing auto-radicalising groups who seek to fight in Afghanistan or Pakistan but are deemed all but useless on a foreign battlefield. At that point their contacts in Afghanistan or Pakistan stress the necessity of bringing chaos to the tax-paying/voting enemy on the home front—a process of “green-lighting” attacks that have mercifully been frustrated. The latest major conspiracy, frustrated in January 2008, was that of eleven Spanish-based Pakistanis and Indians who were plotting to blow up Barcelona on March 11.
Implications for the U.S.
The current condition of Europe has triggered much alarmism, with talk of a neutralized “Eurabia,” a future Muslim Holocaust, or “Last Days.” The overheated transatlantic rhetoric can only give our enemies cause for hope. I hope the rhetoric will tone down under the next U.S. administration, although I can’t vouchsafe for those who get into government in Berlin or Brussels.
Terrorists offer no hope, only a dead end, as can be seen by the air of decay that surrounds earlier views held with no less passionate intensity. We need a much more universalist approach to the chaos and suffering jihadists have inflicted around the world, most notably on their fellow Muslims. Not only do the jihadists spread chaos and death, but in some peculiar way this is their element. We need to pick up on the revulsion often expressed in the Arab world to, say, the 2005 bombing of the Amman wedding that wiped out entire families. We need to publicize the ways in which otherwise anti-coalition Sunni insurgents have mutinied against the reign of terror which foreign jihadists inflicted on parts of central Iraq, and which the Taliban is seeking to restore in Afghanistan.
We should be countering the jihadist grand narrative of universal Muslim victimhood with a broader message of hope. Until we can offer a more positive vision of the future for the societies concerned (especially young males age 15-35), we will see no end to this conflict. The Pentagon chiefs’ current interest in “global branding” is in this sense fully justified.
Less attention should be paid to Islamic studies and the vain expectation of a Euro-Islamic “reformation,” while more emphasis should go into stimulating and expanding other forms of cultural activity, from literature to pop music as well as small-cap business ventures of the sort the Egyptian and Saudi governments are using to wean former jihadis from their wrong turn in life.
We tend to allow the noise emanating from the Islamists to drown out the substantial numbers of people in these societies who are not unlike ourselves. We need to encourage the Muslim world to speak through other voices than its clerics. We should not avert our eyes from these people because we are reliant on the Bouteflikas, Mubaraks and Musharrafs in the war on terror or as dams against the tidal flood of Islamists who we imagine would win fair elections. Likewise, Western oil and gas companies could play a much greater role than they do in ensuring that revenues from these resources are shared out more equitably or invested in new sectors that could give work and purpose to millions of unemployed males in these societies.
The educated cosmopolitan bourgeoisie are one element in the block of people who may eventually replace the autocracies and absolutist monarchies of the greater Middle East. Other elements may be moderate Islamists or those of the ruling elites who realize the game is up. We need to know whether support for fundamentalist parties is a form of protest vote against widespread corruption in such societies. Judging by the lack of success of Islamist parties in the recent Pakistani elections, this subject needs to be urgently investigated. Of course, this is not Eastern Europe or Spain making a transition to democracy. The institutional framework for civil society is virtually nonexistent. Nor is it Indonesia, Turkey, or Pakistan where powerful militaries can stabilize the transition process. Iran after 1979 shows the worst-case scenario. That is the outcome we need to avoid when massive change sweeps those regions.
The majority of the world’s Muslims are in Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey, where, with the exception of Pakistan, the nation distinguishes itself from the purported global ummah of the radical Islamists. Recent developments in Indonesia and Turkey are encouraging—notably the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs’ attempts to drop sections of the Hadith better suited to medieval times. Paradoxically, while Europe should be witnessing the growth of a similarly modernized Euro-Islam, Gulf money is ensuring a sort of Arab recolonization through the dissemination of the most retrograde forms of Islam. We should therefore insist that the Saudis stop clerics on their payroll from propagating doctrines which are inimical to Western interests and demand the complete cessation of Saudi monies being put into mosques, madrassas and Middle Eastern studies departments in the West until we are persuaded that this money does not represent a subversion of our values. The more authoritarian French have put in place mechanisms to monitor what is said in Friday sermons, with the withdrawal of funding—and the right of foreign imams to remain in France—as the penalties for noncooperation.
I do not foresee any resurgence of cultural Christianity in Europe in the near future. Christianity has been so squeezed from our school curricula that soon it will be as mysterious as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Compared to the noise generated by aggressive atheism and secularism, Christianity is pretty timorous in Europe. I cannot foresee any circumstances where churches hopelessly suffused with secular liberalism are going to make a defensive Western ideology, a neo Christendom, part of their pitch to refill empty pews, no matter how many mosques appear on their doorsteps. Europe lacks the sort of muscular lay Christian intellectual that America has in the shape of a George Weigel and many others; we have muscular atheist scientists.
Nor do I foresee either a strong, confident political identity at the European federal level, when citizens of major states have voted so negatively against it. Nor do I see that countries which are themselves mostly federal, composite, mini-empires, are going to have any success in rebuilding core national identities. When our government essayed this recently, the Scots and Welsh were immediately on their feet protesting their separateness. Much the same might happen in Belgium, Italy or Spain.
One response to terrorism is obviously that of the police and security services. As in the U.S. it took time to introduce coordinated thinking and structures, MI5 and MI6 have been encouraged to cooperate; MI5 has established 8 regional sub-offices; and the Special Branch has been merged into a single Anti-Terrorism Branch. There are also cross-bureaucratic organizations working at countering radicalization, and intra-European intelligence efforts seem to have gone past the stage of regular meetings. In Britain, prevention of terrorism legislation derived from the thirty years war against the Provos has been tightened by the Blair/Brown governments, although on every occasion such measures have been contested by the civil liberties lobby and liberal senior judges in the House of Lords, some of whom seem to imagine they are living in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.
Judging by the amount of restiveness indigenous peoples (including Chinese, African, Afro-Caribbean, Hindu and Sikh immigrants) are expressing at the incremental demands of assertive Islamists, it will be a rash politician who fails to accommodate such sentiments in making policy. Indeed, we are likely to sound more Australian in the future—i.e., politicians of all party persuasions will sound like a united front in making it clear that there are lines in the sand regarding the liberal democratic nature of our societies. Interestingly, liberal Protestant clerics seem to provoke the clearest responses. It was made abundantly clear to the Dutch bishop “Tiny” Mertens when he suggested calling God “Allah” and to Rowan Williams with his donnish enthusiasm for licensing sharia law that these were steps too far.
Across Europe, conservative parties have found an anodyne way of talking about immigration as “population movements” that neuters charges of racism that in themselves no longer work with the debate-silencing effects they had even a decade ago, especially since it is older immigrants who often lead the way in calling for restrictions. Borders will be policed by dedicated policemen, there will be stronger efforts to ensure that immigrants master the relevant local language, and a more graduated, extended process of achieving citizenship after fulfilling various reciprocal requirements. In other words, citizenship is going to be conditional or probationary. We could go further in restricting access to state benefits, it being striking that so many of those plotting to kill us accept substantial welfare entitlements.
Of course, actions by the state are nothing besides stealthier secular processes that are just as apparent in urban middle-class Tehran as they are in Madrid, Munich or London. Economics may result in the adjustment of Muslim families to European nuclear norms, just as education and social mobility will mean that future generations seek to escape what are tantamount to ghettos. Let’s all hope so, for the sake of all our countries.
Posted on: Friday, May 30, 2008 - 18:10
SOURCE: Times Literary Supplement (5-28-08)
Quite apart from the distinctly thin documentary foundation of Hitchens’s footnote-free case for the prosecution – which quotes from little more than a few dozen primary documents, all from US archives – The Trial of Henry Kissinger suffers from a strange absence of historical perspective. It would in fact be much easier to implicate a number of Kissinger’s predecessors in civilian bombings, coups d’état and support for murderous regimes. Unlike the case of Chile, to give a single example, there is no question that the Central Intelligence Agency had a direct hand in the coup that overthrew an elected government in Guatemala in 1954. It also played an active role in the subsequent campaign of violence against the Guatemalan Left. Many more people (around 200,000) died in this campaign than were “disappeared” in Chile after 1973 (2,279). In any case, Richard Nixon was not the first President to seek to influence Chilean domestic politics. Both of his immediate predecessors did so. Yet you will search the bookshops in vain for “The Trial of John Foster Dulles” or “The Trial of Dean Rusk”.
The more books I have read about Henry Kissinger in recent years, the more I have been reminded of the books I used to read about the Rothschild family. When other nineteenth-century banks made loans to conservative regimes or to countries at war, no one seemed to notice. But when the Rothschilds did it, the pamphleteers could scarcely control their indignation. Indeed, it would take a great many shelves to contain all the shrill anti-Rothschild polemics produced by Victorian antecedents of Hitchens and his ilk. Which prompts the question: has the ferocity of the criticism which Kissinger has attracted perhaps got something to do with the fact that he, like the Rothschilds, is Jewish? (Nota bene: this is not to imply that his critics are anti-Semites. Some of the Rothschilds’ most fierce critics were also Jews. So are some of Kissinger’s.)
Jeremi Suri’s Henry Kissinger and the American Century puts Kissinger’s Jewishness centre-stage in an interpretation of his life that stands out among recent books on the subject for the extent and depth of the author’s research. Unlike Hitchens (to say nothing of Robert Dallek and Margaret Macmillan, two other writers who have recently published books critical of Kissinger), Suri has done some real digging before rushing into print. He cites documents from sixteen different archival collections. His sixty-seven pages of notes are a model of academic rigour. I should at this point declare an interest: I am currently researching a biography of Kissinger based (in part) on his own private papers at the Library of Congress, to which Suri did not have access. I hope this lends credence, rather than the reverse, to my positive judgement. Though I do not agree with all Suri’s conclusions, I salute his scholarship. This is surely the best book yet published about Henry Kissinger. (Jussi Hanhimäki’s 2004 study of Kissinger’s foreign policy is more comprehensive on Kissinger’s time in office, but is much less insightful.) Unlike so many previous writers – particularly those journalists steeped in the blood of the Nixon administration – Suri actually makes an attempt to understand his subject in the appropriate historical context rather than simply joining in the never-ending hunt for “smoking gun” quotations....
Posted on: Thursday, May 29, 2008 - 15:51
SOURCE: Salon (5-28-08)
Not long ago, the John McCain campaign dropped a prominent Arab-American businessman from its Michigan state finance committee because of allegations that the man was an "agent" of Hezbollah. The charges, made by a right-wing blogger, were unsubstantiated, but fears of being associated with Arab terror caused Republican knees to jerk, and cost Ali Jawad his position. All politics, even national politics, is local, and Jawad's abrupt dismissal may cost McCain many votes among Southeastern Michigan's large Arab-American community. But more important, Arab-Americans across the country are looking for changes in domestic and international policy that McCain seems unwilling to pledge -- and they are concentrated in swing states that he will need to win this fall. Does John McCain have a problem with Arab-American voters?
Recent polls show a tight race between either Democrat and McCain in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, all states where Arab-Americans account for an appreciable percentage of the vote. Such polls have limited utility with November so many months away, but that it will be a close election in those key states seems clear. In a tight election, the votes of a well-placed minority -- Arab-American votes -- can be crucial....
Arab-Americans are both very likely to vote -- their turnout is 20 percent higher than that of the general population -- and they are concentrated. Two-thirds of them live in just 10 states, including the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, Arab-Americans have made up 2 percent of the electorate in recent elections. That sounds like a small proportion, but in a close race it can make a difference. In 2000, Bush won the Arab-American vote over Gore by 7.5 percentage points. Bush took Ohio that year by only 165,000 votes. He and Gore virtually tied in Florida in the popular vote.
The Arab-American presence is most significant in Michigan. An estimated 300,000 Arab-Americans reside in the southeastern portion of the state. More than a third of Michigan's Arab-Americans have Lebanese ancestry; most of that population is Shiite. Another third of the state's Arab-Americans are Iraqi, and many of those residents are Christian.
In other words, up to 5 percent of Michigan's vote is Arab-American. The Democratic candidate has won the state in each of the last two presidential elections by no more than 200,000 votes. Recent polling suggests that in a head-to-head contest between John McCain and Barack Obama, the two would split the state down the middle. Many analysts believe that the Democrats cannot win in November without winning Michigan....
Posted on: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 20:32
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (5-28-08)
Former White House press spokesman Scott McClellan has come to the realization that Bush's presidency veered badly off course and that the Bush White House was in"permanent campaign mode"-- by which he appears to mean that the honesty and transparency necessary to govern were foregone in favor of constant propaganda of the sort it is only decorous for an out-of-power candidate to deploy.
Now if only we could get past the idea that a temporary campaign mode is legitimate, if by" campaign" one means propagandizing.
' “History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided: that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now when we can more fully understand its impact. What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.” '
Gee, that's not what I hear from John McCain. But of course, he might be in"permanent campaign mode."
The former official cannot quite let go of the idea that Bush had good intentions but was misled:
' “I still like and admire President Bush,” McClellan writes. “But he and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war. … In this regard, he was terribly ill-served by his top advisers, especially those involved directly in national security.” '
But elsewhere he says,
' Bush was “clearly irritated, … steamed,” when McClellan informed him that chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey had told The Wall Street Journal that a possible war in Iraq could cost from $100 billion to $200 billion: “‘It’s unacceptable,’ Bush continued, his voice rising. ‘He shouldn’t be talking about that.’”'
But if Bush had been honest and sincere, only misled, then wouldn't he want to know why Larry Lindsey had come to that conclusion (he under-estimated the cost by about a factor of 10)? No, Bush was about suppressing anything but his own party line.
McClellan's revelations about the 'permanent campaign mode' and Bush's anger at straight talk on costs help explain the current narrative about Iraq shaped by his spinmeisters. On the one hand he is telling us that the Iraqi Army imposed itself on Basra and Mosul. On the other, the Pentagon comes out and says violence has fallen to March, 2004 levels in the country as a whole. But if the Iraqi army is engaged in hard-fought battles for control of entire cities with a tenacious insurgency, surely violence levels would be up? Then you start to notice that there haven't actually been any battles in Mosul.
In the permanent campaign, as in the permanent war, assertions made to the public about how well the victory is going do not have to be consistent or make sense.
McClellan lays to rest the myth of the 'liberal media.':
' “If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. “The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. … In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.” '
He clearly seems surprised that network news, owned by rightwing corporations obsequious toward the US government, did not cover the rationales for the war critically! Was he expecting GE to instruct NBC to move to the left? (Though to be fair, NBC has recently gone some way toward redeeming itself, with Matt Lauer's recognition in 2006 that Iraq had fallen into civil war, and with MSNBC's backing for Keith Olbermann's courageous and honest evening magazine show. Bush's White House is signalling to General Electic that it should rein NBC in; the rich and powerful are not used to hearing criticism from channels owned by their friends and the beneficiaries of their largesse.)
Then there is this about Plamegate:
' “There is only one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss,” he writes. “It was in 2005, during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, and it sticks vividly in my mind. … Following [a meeting in Chief of Staff Andy Card’s office], … Scooter Libby was walking to the entryway as he prepared to depart when Karl turned to get his attention. ‘You have time to visit?’ Karl asked. ‘Yeah,’ replied Libby.
“I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately. … At least one of them, Rove, it was publicly known at the time, had at best misled me by not sharing relevant information, and credible rumors were spreading that the other, Libby, had done at least as much. …
“The confidential meeting also occurred at a moment when I was being battered by the press for publicly vouching for the two by claiming they were not involved in leaking Plame’s identity, when recently revealed information was now indicating otherwise. … I don’t know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic? Like the whole truth of people’s involvement, we will likely never know with any degree of confidence.” '
The only time two people have to try hard to get their stories straight is when they have done something wrong and are planning to lie about it.
A primer on the Plame scandal is here.
Oh, and about that"permanent campaign mode" thing. That's nothing compared to the"permanent war mode."
Posted on: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 20:29
SOURCE: VictorHanson.com (5-27-08)
After the convulsions that followed the postwar collapse of European imperialism in Asia and Africa, we had once again become accustomed to the idea that the map as we knew it was static and fixed. The emerging global village was supposed to have transcended endless nineteenth and early twentieth-century squabbling, ethnic rivalry, and religious sectarianism that had led to the bloody creation and destruction of nation-states.
Then came the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union. Suddenly all those weird -stan (“country”) suffixes — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan — that we once read about only in nineteen-century novels of British imperialism or remembered from old weathered atlases were back again. Surely no one in the 1980s thought we would ever see again an independent Croatia, Slovakia, or Serbia, the latter remembered in our textbooks only in the context of having something to do with the cause of the First World War.
For all the eloquent eulogies over the demise of the nation-state, these nineteenth-century relics reappear almost yearly. Just when we thought that the former Yugoslavia could not fragment into any more national entities, suddenly an independent Kosovo appeared — apparently a result of the Muslim, Albanian-speaking majority wanting nation-state status. The so-called Middle East crisis once morphed from a border dispute between Israel and Jordan into fighting with independent Palestinians over the West Bank. And now it has devolved again into a sort of tripartite gunfight between Israel, the West Bank, and the newly emerging Gaza.
Either out of fear of terrorism, or anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism, or due to calculations about demography and petroleum, the world singularly condemns Israel for occupying the West Bank. It forgets that there are just as serious disputes over borders, occupations, and national sovereignty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, fights of Greeks and Turks over Cyprus, and Japanese complaints over a Russian presence in some of the Kurile Islands.
Countries as diverse as Spain and China were not eager to recognize the newly autonomous Kosovo from fear that a “me too” effect would birth infants like a Basque state, Catalonia, and Tibet....
Posted on: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 01:06
SOURCE: Real Clear Politics (5-25-08)
Vietnam is the only war in American history never to end. The War of 1812 was contentious, especially in the Northeast, but no presidential election was fought over it beyond 1812. The Mexican War stirred great passions and slopped over into the 1848 election but has hardly been heard of since, except if you are taking a course in 19th-century America. World War I was debated in 1916 (mostly as a question of how to keep the nation out of it) and in 1920 (mostly as a question of how to return to normalcy after the war), but its impact on American elections was basically nil.
Not Vietnam. It's been a major theme in six American elections -- a remarkable feat when you consider that not one person who fought the Vietnam War ever has been elected president. Compare that with World War II, which touched seven American presidents (nine, if you count Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman) but which was an issue in at most one election, the contest in 1944, and even then it was not a major point of contention, as Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York, the GOP nominee, didn't substantially question FDR's prosecution of the war.
The question for 2008 is whether America can finally bring the Vietnam War to an end. It has looked that way so far this year. The Democrats conducted 21 presidential debates and hardly a peep was heard about Vietnam. Not only that, hardly a disparaging word was heard about the 1960s, another hardy perennial in American politics.
It helped that one of the leading candidates, Sen. Barack Obama, was born in the first year of the Kennedy administration and was only 6 during the Tet offensive. No one questioned what he did during the war. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn't eligible for the draft, so she couldn't have dodged it even if she had wanted to.
Now, as we brace for a confrontation that is likely to be between Mr. Obama and Sen. John S. McCain, there will be little contention over Vietnam. As a Naval airman in the war, Mr. McCain was shot down over North Vietnam and endured five years of brutal imprisonment in Hanoi, making him one of the bona fide heroes of the war and shaping his life after his release. No one will question Mr. McCain's service in Vietnam, and even Democrats acknowledge that it provides him with an aura that no New Frontier baby can match.....
Posted on: Sunday, May 25, 2008 - 23:41
SOURCE: Truthdig.com (5-20-08)
George W. Bush appears in Israel, speaks to its parliament, and, in his familiar, muscular manner, reiterates his determination to use our military prowess to ward off aggressors. What a guy! His international cowboy act toppled Saddam Hussein, our onetime friend, who for more than 20 years stood as a surrogate counterweight to the ambitions of Iran. Now Israel, Bush’s newfound friend, is left naked and vulnerable to Iran, and with a new threat of nuclear war in the region. For all our trouble, Saddam is dead and Iraq is nothing more than an oil well (when it is being pumped), hardly serving our interests—or Israel’s. Except, perhaps, as another military base.
Bush’s constant posture as the great friend of the Israelis is absurd. Who destroyed Iraq—that buffer state for Israel against the threat from Iran, the 1991 Scuds notwithstanding? Are the Israelis supposed to rely on the current Iraqi government, that bulwark of democracy with its close ties to Tehran?
Bush’s appearance has aroused nearly universal condemnation, if not embarrassment. Even John McCain, another newfound friend, has sought some distance. Alas! There always is Joe Lieberman. Bush has a place at his table for newfound friends.
Two wars are not enough for this president. He seems eager for a third, or a fourth, before we are rid of him, and he can doom his successor to perpetual war or the perpetual agony of retreat. Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah—he will not talk or negotiate with the likes of such characters. Our George is no appeaser. Bring ’em on.
But Bush is unwilling to carry a big stick—or even speak loudly—to deal with Burma’s corrupt, repressive military as that nation reels from natural calamity. Or with the glaring evidence of genocide in Sudan. And what about Zimbabwe’s “democracy” Does he have a blind eye or have we underestimated him? Maybe after all he recognizes some limits on American power?
We have focused almost exclusively on Bush’s remarks as an indirect assault on Barack Obama and his other critics. That is immaterial, for Bush’s text perpetuates the wrongheadedness and false assumptions of our posture in the world today. He berated those who would negotiate with terrorists and radicals. “We have heard this foolish delusion before,” he told the Israelis. “That delusion was the false comfort of appeasement,” one long discredited by history, he added. But his history is flawed, as often is the case.
Appeasement is one of those charged words, all too often distorted and devoid of any historical sense. Appeasement is automatically linked in our minds to the coming of World War II, almost as if it were the cause. We famously dredge up British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s flight to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler, in the forlorn hope of deterring him from his aggressive course in Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain returned to Britain, standing under the now-symbolic umbrella, waving a piece of paper, and proclaiming “peace in our time.” A year later, England found itself at war with Hitler. Talking had ended, and the lesson was there for all to see: Talking, negotiating with terrorists or radicals, is only futile.
Rescuing Chamberlain from history is a formidable task, but let us be fair. The Western powers first backed down when Hitler invaded the Rhineland in 1936 to restore the lands to German sovereignty. At the time of the Czechoslovakian crisis, the reality was that England and France simply lacked the military capability to confront Hitler. With no capability, there could be no resolve. But after Chamberlain returned, England began to rearm, resulting in a better-prepared nation to withstand the Nazi air assault in 1940.
We indeed should remember the lessons of the past, but let us understand them fully and completely, devoid of slogans and posturing. Trying to talk sense to Hitler without any military preparation indeed proved fruitless. The United States in 1938, as militarily incapable as the British and French, proved unwilling to pursue any course other than neutrality.
George Bush speaks in a different world. Certainly, the United States today is not without military force, and certainly, given our adventures of the past several decades, we are not unwilling to unleash it—wisely or otherwise.
Beyond Bush’s perpetuation of historical fallacies, we are left with the emptiness of his slogans. We talk, in fact, to the still-extant parts of the “axis of evil” quite regularly. Recent agreements with North Korea did not result from moving around tea leaves. We talk to the Iranians, back-channel or on the ambassadorial level in the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Consider the Israelis, usually quite realistic toward understanding facts on the ground. They talk to Hamas and Hezbollah intermittently, negotiating prisoner exchanges, and exactly what else we do not entirely know. And no one knows this better than the members of the Knesset. A rare moment of politeness undoubtedly permeated that otherwise chaotic chamber as they listened to Bush’s nonsense. Obama has said, “I want to have direct talks with countries like Iran and Syria because I don’t believe we can stabilize the region unless not just our friends but also our enemies are involved in these discussions.” Syria? How interesting. We know Syria proved a ready recipient for the rendition of alleged terrorists to make them “talk.” (Apparently at that time, we were not yet in our own torture mode.) So, shall we allow Syria only to torture on our behalf, or shall we pursue peace with Syria?
And the Israelis? They have been in lengthy negotiations for years with Syria. The promise of a settlement between the two has long been in the offing, and that—not John McCain, to be sure—might well be the Iranians’ worst nightmare. Is talking the “foolish delusion” that Bush so self-righteously, so self-assuredly, proclaimed? Fortunately, the Israelis don’t think so. Or for that matter, even this administration. Whom is Bush kidding? No diplomacy, no peace.
Posted on: Sunday, May 25, 2008 - 18:46
SOURCE: NYT (5-25-08)
OVER the last few months, the contest between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination has been compared to the bitter feud between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass, two of the most famous progressive reformers of the 19th century.
They had been colleagues and friends through two decades of public service — Douglass, the former slave who gained international fame as a writer, editor and activist, and Stanton, who began her career by organizing the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. They had worked closely together on a variety of social reform issues, particularly abolition.
But in 1869, Douglass and Stanton were torn apart by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution, which stipulated that the right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude. Gender remained a perfectly legal reason to keep someone off the voter rolls.
During the Civil War, many women, including Stanton, had willingly put aside the fight for women’s rights to campaign for the emancipation of the slaves. After the war, they had even stood by patiently when, in 1866, Congress passed the 14th Amendment, defining citizens specifically and solely as “male” — the first use of the word “male” in the Constitution. The politicians soothed the women’s rights advocates by assuring them their turn would come soon.
But in 1869, when outraged women demanded to know why they were not included in the right to vote, they were informed by their allies in Congress that public opinion left room for just one minority group to make it through the door of suffrage and that this was “the Negro’s hour.”
Stanton felt shocked and betrayed that, once again, women were being left behind while black men advanced. When Douglass reluctantly supported the 15th Amendment as written, Stanton responded with a series of furious attacks, ridiculing the idea of giving the vote to the “lower orders” of men, including blacks, Irish, Germans and Chinese, while native white women were denied it. Her campaign to reject the amendment created a bitter schism in the long alliance of abolitionists and suffragists, and within the suffrage movement.
Now that Senator Obama has nearly clinched the nomination, this historical analogy is being used to support a variety of points: that in the “oppression sweepstakes” women always “lose” to blacks, that when thwarted in their ambitions, white women will resort to angry racism, that liberal coalitions are mere screens for self-interested identity politics that fracture whenever real power is at stake. But the analogy is flawed and so are the lessons we’ve been drawing from it....
Posted on: Sunday, May 25, 2008 - 17:13
SOURCE: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (5-25-08)
Last year, an international study confirmed what American teachers already know: They're poorly paid. The average starting salary for an American high school teacher is roughly $32,000; with 15 years of experience, it goes up to $44,000.
In Germany, new teachers begin at $45,000! That's right: In their first year, German teachers earn more than Americans who have been toiling for a decade and a half.
As a fraction of America's wealth, the numbers look even worse. Veteran high school teachers in America earn almost exactly the same wage as our nation's per capita gross domestic product. Japanese teachers earn 50 percent more than the per capita GDP, while German and Dutch teachers make 75 percent more. In Switzerland and Korea, teachers earn twice the per capita GDP.
Then there's Africa.
On this continent, many teachers simply can't survive on what they make at school. When Africans run out of money, they say they're "broke as a teacher." Some teachers even try to keep their job a secret, and with good reason: Landlords refuse to rent to them, assuming they won't be able to pay on time.
The bleakest news comes out of Zimbabwe, where hyperinflation has reduced the average teacher salary to about $10 a month. That's why 25,000 teachers left the country last year and schools report 150,000 vacant teaching posts. People who remain in the profession supplement their income with other pursuits, including prostitution.
"I'm very ashamed and always regret it afterwards," one teacher and part-time prostitute told a British reporter, "but otherwise we would starve."
Believe it or not, life for Zimbabwean teachers is getting even worse. In the wake of the nation's disputed March 29 elections, President Robert Mugabe's supporters have been assaulting teachers who served as polling officers. In the event of a run-off, teachers say, Mr. Mugabe wants to make sure they're out of the way.
The tactic seems to be working. Another 1,700-plus teachers have fled the country over the past two months. Others have been forced to pay "repentance fees" -- in money or cattle -- for allegedly aiding the opposition.
The irony is that Mr. Mugabe himself was once a teacher, first in Zimbabwe and then here in Ghana. But he left the profession, a Ghanaian columnist wrote last year, and lucky for him. "If he had remained in Ghana," the columnist quipped, "he would still be a teacher -- hungry, ill-paid and overworked."
To be fair, Ghana's average teacher salary has been creeping up, to around $200 a month. But that's still not enough to support a family, especially when many teachers also purchase books and other instructional materials from their own pockets. So they leave the classroom for other jobs or leave the country, migrating to better-paying schools in Botswana and South Africa.
As the American situation reminds us, however, underpaying teachers is not just a matter of national wealth. Countries that value teachers pay them a decent wage by local standards. But in Ghana, as in America, nearly every kind of professional makes more than a teacher. And in both countries, most people seem to think that's OK.
"Sacrifices made by teachers have gone unappreciated, because of the perception that the teacher's reward is in heaven," a Ghanaian teacher union official complained in 2006, after an unsuccessful 10-week strike. "Let us enjoy part of that reward here on Earth."
Teachers aren't holding their breath for that to happen. Shortly after gaining its independence in 1957, Ghana committed itself to free and compulsory public education. But the country couldn't produce enough trained teachers to handle the influx of new students. So it hired "pupil teachers" -- that is, older students -- to watch over the younger ones. It also relaxed requirements for entering the profession, leading Ghanaians to conclude that "anybody could teach" -- and for a pittance, at that.
Here, too, Ghana has followed in America's footsteps. In the early 19th century, free public education in America spread so rapidly that schools hired any warm body they could find. Over time, states began to mandate formal preparation for teachers. But these requirements still haven't risen to the same level that other developed countries demand.
So teacher status lags, too. "Those who can't do, teach," laughed Woody Allen in his classic film, "Annie Hall," "and those who can't teach, teach gym." Germans and Japanese don't get the joke, but Americans do.
We simply can't shake the idea that anyone can become a teacher -- and that we don't have to pay them much.
On the other hand, it could be worse. American teachers have every right to complain about their low salaries compared to their counterparts in the developed world. But if they look to Africa, they might also count their blessings.
When I suggested that American teachers were poor, one of my colleagues here scoffed. "Poor?" she asked. "Try coming to Ghana." I'm glad that I did.
Posted on: Sunday, May 25, 2008 - 16:35
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (5-23-08)
With her overwhelming victory in Kentucky on May 20, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has completed her sweep of the crucial primary states adjoining the Ohio River -- and the fight for the Democratic nomination has entered its final phases. Having picked up a net gain of nearly 140,000 votes between Kentucky and Oregon, Clinton is now well poised to win the Puerto Rico primary on June 1 - and clinch a majority in this year's popular vote, even if the disputed returns from Michigan are discounted. Under those pressures, the Barack Obama campaign and its sympathizers have begun to articulate much more clearly what they mean by their vague slogan of" change" - nothing less than usurping the historic Democratic Party, dating back to the age of Andrew Jackson, by rejecting its historic electoral core: white workers and rural dwellers in the Middle Atlantic and border states.
Without a majority of those voters, the Democrats have, since the party's inception in the 1820s, been incapable of winning the presidency. The Obama advocates declare, though, that we have entered an entirely new political era. It is not only possible but also desirable, they say, for Democrats to win by turning away from those whom"progressive" pundits and bloggers disdain variously as"Nascar man,""uneducated,""low information" whites,"rubes, fools, and hate-mongers" who live in the nation's"shitholes."
Having attempted, with the aid of a complicit news media, to brand Hillary Clinton as a racist -- by flinging charges that, as the historian Michael Lind has shown, belong"in black helicopter/grassy knoll territory," Obama's supporters now fiercely claim that Clinton's white working class following is also essentially racist. Favoring the buzzword language of the academic left, tinged by persistent, discredited New Left and black nationalist theories about working-class"white skin privilege," a vote against Obama has become, according to his fervent followers,"a vote for whiteness."
Talk about transformative post-racial politics.
In fact, all of the evidence demonstrates that white racism has not been a principal or even secondary motivation in any of this year's Democratic primaries. Every poll shows that economics, health care, and national security are the leading issues for white working class voters - and for Latino working class voters as well. These constituencies have cast positive ballots for Hillary Clinton not because she is white, but because they regard her as better on these issues. Obama's campaign and its passionate supporters refuse to acknowledge that these voters consider him weaker -- and that Clinton's positions, different from his, as well as her experience actually attract support. Instead they impute racism to working class Democrats who, the polls also show, happen to be liberal on every leading issue. The effort to taint anyone who does not support Obama as motivated by racism has now become a major factor in alienating core Democrats from Obama's campaign. Out with the Democratic Party of Jefferson, Jackson, F.D.R., Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, and in with the bright, shiny party of Obama - or what the formally"undeclared" Donna Brazile, a member of the Democratic National Committee and of the party's rules committee, has hailed as a"new Democratic coalition" swelled by affluent white leftists and liberals, college students, and African-Americans.
The Democratic Party, as a modern political party, dates back to 1828, when Andrew Jackson crushed John Quincy Adams to win the presidency. Yet without the votes of workers and small farmers in Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as a strong Democratic turnout in New York City, Jackson would have lost the Electoral College in a landslide. Over the 180 years since then, only one Democrat has gained the presidency without winning either Ohio or Pennsylvania, with their large white working-class vote. (The exception, Grover Cleveland, managed the feat in 1892, and only barely lost Ohio - but he was dependent on the post-Reconstruction solid South.) Beginning in 1964, when the Democratic solid South dissolved, every successful Democratic presidential candidate has had to carry both Ohio and Pennsylvania, even when Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton picked up southern states.
Northern white working-class defections to the Republicans grew steadily in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Republican's Watergate debacle temporarily halted the trend, but the disasters of the Carter presidency, especially its mishandling of economic woes and foreign policy, accelerated the defections in 1980. In his two successful races, Ronald Reagan won the support, on average, of 61 percent of white working class voters, compared to 35 percent for his opponents, Carter and Walter Mondale. (Both times, Reagan carried Ohio and Pennsylvania handily.) As the caricature of"Reagan Democrats" as racist militarists hardened among"new politics" advocates, they strove to make up the difference by creating an expanded base among African-Americans, college-age, and college educated voters. The result was yet another humiliating defeat for the Democrats in 1988.
Bill Clinton's shift to a centrist liberalism stressing lunch-pail issues--"Putting People First"--won back a large number of Reagan Democrats in 1992, enough so that, by the time Clinton won his second term in 1996, Democrats could claim parity with Republicans by winning a slim plurality among non-college educated working class white voters. But the perceived elitists Al Gore and John Kerry lost what Clinton had gained, as George W. Bush carried the white working-class vote by a margin of 17 percent in 2000 and a whopping 23 percent in 2004.
This year's primary results show no sign that Obama will reverse this trend should he win the nomination. In West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as Ohio and Pennsylvania, blue collar white voters sent him down to defeat by overwhelming margins. A recent Gallup poll report has argued that claims about Obama's weaknesses among white voters and blue collar voters have been exaggerated - yet its indisputable figures showed Obama running four percentage points below Kerry's anemic support among whites four years ago.
Given that Obama's vote in the primaries, apart from African-Americans, has generally come from affluent white suburbs and university towns, the Gallup figures presage a Democratic disaster among working-class white voters in November should Obama be the nominee.
Yet Obama's handlers profess indifference - and, at times, even pride -- about these trends. Asked about the white working-class vote following Obama's ten-point loss in Pennsylvania, chief campaign strategist David Axelrod confidently told an National Public Radio interviewer that, after all,"the white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections going back even to the Clinton years" and that Obama's winning strength lay in his ability to offset that trend and"attract independent voters... younger voters" and"expand the Democratic base."
Apart from its basic inaccuracy about Clinton's blue-collar support in 1992 and 1996, Axelrod's statement was a virtual reprise of the Democratic doomed strategy from the 1972 McGovern campaign that the party revamped in 1988. The main difference between now and then is the openness of the condescension with which many of Obama's supporters - and, apparently, the candidate himself - hold the crude"low information" types whom they believe dominate the white working class. The sympathetic media coverage of Obama's efforts to explain away his remarks in San Francisco about"bitter," economically-strapped voters who, clinging to their guns, religion, and racism, misdirect their rage and do not see the light, only reinforced his campaign's dismissive attitude. Obama's efforts at rectification were reluctant and half-hearted at best - and he undercut them completely a few days later when he referred derisively, on the stump in Indiana, to a sudden"political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true."
Culturally as well as politically, Obama's dismissal of white working people represents a sea-change in the Democrats' basic identity as the workingman's party - one that has been coming since the late 1960s, when large portions of the Left began regarding white workers as hopeless and hateful reactionaries. Faced with the revolt of the"Reagan Democrats" - whose politics they interpreted in the narrowest of racial terms -"new politics" Democrats dreamed of a coalition built around an alliance of right-thinking affluent liberals and downtrodden minorities, especially African-Americans. It all came to nothing. But after Bill Clinton failed to consolidate a new version of the old Democratic coalition in the 1990s, the dreaming began again - first, with disastrous results, in the schismatic Ralph Nader campaign of 2000 and now (with the support of vehement ex-Naderites including Barbara Ehrenreich and Cornel West) in the Obama campaign.
Obama must assume that the demographics of American politics have changed dramatically in recent years so that the electorate as a whole is little more than a larger version of the combined Democratic primary constituencies of Oregon and South Carolina. While recent studies purport to show that the white working class has, indeed, shrunk over the past fifty years, as a political matter its significance remains salient, especially in the battleground and swing states--states like Ohio and West Virginia where Obama currently trails Senator John McCain in the polls. One of the studies that affirms the diminishing proportion of blue collar whites in the electorate, written for the Brookings Institution by Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abamowitz, concludes[pdf], nevertheless, that"the voting proclivities of the white working class will make a huge difference and could well determine who the next president will be."
Teixeira and Abramowitz estimate that the Democratic candidate will need to cut Kerry's deficit of 23 percent in 2004 to around 10 percent if he or she is"to achieve a solid popular vote victory." By those lights, Obama, if nominated, is almost certainly destined to lose unless he can suddenly reverse the trend that his own dismissive language and his supporters' contemptuous tone has accelerated during the primaries.
In every presidential election they have won, the Democrats have solidified their historic link to white workers, not dismissed them. Obama and the champions of a new party coalition appear to think that everything has suddenly changed, simply because of the force of their own desires. In any event, Obama had shown no ability thus far to attract the one constituency that has always spelled the difference between victory and defeat for the Democratic Party. The party must now decide whether to go along with Obama and renounce its own heritage -- and tempt the political fates.
Posted on: Saturday, May 24, 2008 - 12:07
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (5-23-08)
As the Democratic primaries near their end, supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have used a time-honored yet unexpected device to attack each other: old-fashioned redbaiting.
At the Philadelphia presidential debate in April, George Stephanopoulos asked Obama about his relationship with the Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, who with his comrades bombed several government buildings in the 1970s. Obama protested that he knew Ayers as a neighbor and professor of English (actually, he teaches education) whose "detestable acts" when Obama was eight were no reflection on "me and my values."
But as soon as it was her turn to speak, Obama's opponent piled on. Ayers and Obama had served together on the board of the Wood Foundation in "a paid directorship position," noted Clinton. It was legitimate to raise questions about their relationship, she insisted, since Ayers's bombings had resulted in people's deaths. This line of attack may have been shortsighted on Clinton's part, considering that her husband pardoned two imprisoned members of the Weather Underground before leaving office, but the Clinton campaign didn't back off.
Before you could say Comrade, Clinton's close adviser Sidney Blumenthal was emailing out blog posts, articles, and reports from a wide array of conservative sources. Blumenthal's missives went to "an influential list of opinion shapers--including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers," as the left-wing activist and professor Peter Dreier reported on the Huffington Post (May 1).
This was shocking in its own way. Blumenthal, the very man who coined the term "vast right-wing conspiracy," Dreier noted, by circulating articles from the conservative media, was attempting to exploit "that same right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama."
Blumenthal sent out pieces from the ultra-conservative Accuracy in Media (AIM)--"With Obama, It's the Communism, Stupid," "Obama and the Fifth Column," "Is Barack Obama a Marxist Mole?"--as well as items from more mainstream conservative publications, such as a Fred Siegel cover story from National Review, Fred Barnes's "Republicans Root for Obama" from THE WEEKLY STANDARD, and an older City Journal article by Sol Stern reporting Bill Ayers's current role in developing a radical curriculum for K-12 teachers ("Ayers's texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation's ed schools and teacher-training institutes").
Particularly grating to Obama supporters was Blumenthal's airing of AIM's allegation that Obama had sought to hide the influence a Communist mentor had on him as a young man. In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, Obama mentions a certain "Frank," a black poet friend of his white grandfather's who was a "contemporary of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes" and had once had "some notoriety." Frank gave the young Barack some "hard-earned knowledge" (such as that "black people have a reason to hate. That's just how it is"). As Obama set off for college, Frank told him that college was "an advanced degree in compromise" and that he should not "start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way."
It was easy for students of American communism to figure out that this was Frank Marshall Davis, a Chicago writer and Communist activist who moved to Hawaii in the late 1940s. That Davis sought to advise the young Obama as he prepared to leave home hardly proves that Davis was a major influence on Obama or that the young man accepted his Communist views. Obama's withholding of Davis's full name, however, does suggest that he worried it might cause him problems in his political career--as if Davis were another difficult uncle like Jeremiah Wright.
At one time, left/liberal people would have vigorously objected to all this redbaiting. But Obama's supporters responded in kind. Hadn't Clinton opened the door, as Bill Ayers's brother argued on the Huffington Post (April 17), by engaging in "the most base version of McCarthyism"? If Obama had left-wing connections in his youth, why not bring forward Clinton's own hidden past? Let's see who the real leftist is!
First to attack was New Left elder statesman Tom Hayden, who told readers of the Nation magazine's website (April 22) that Clinton herself had been as far left as one could get. And unlike Obama, she did not have the excuse of being eight years old when the New Left radicals were in their prime. Hayden revealed that Hillary "was in Chicago for three nights during the 1968 street confrontations" and that at Yale Law School in 1970 she chaired a meeting where students voted to join a national strike against the Vietnam war. The same year, during the trial of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale for murder, Clinton oversaw Yale law students who were following the proceedings and looking for signs of government misconduct. Most significantly, Hayden writes, Clinton went to work after law school for the San Francisco law firm that defended the Panthers, led by Robert Treuhaft, a former member of the Communist party.
Hayden, of course, sees these activities as "honorable" and asks a simple question: "Doesn't the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whom Hillary attacks today, represent the very essence of the black radicals Hillary was associating with in those days?" Now she has become a "guilt-by-association insinuator," who is "engaged in a toxic transmission onto Barack Obama of every outrageous insult and accusation ever inflicted on her by the American right." Furious at this betrayal, Hayden calls her "Lady Macbeth."
Hayden's sally was followed by one from Clinton's biographer Carl Bernstein on the Huffington Post (May 2). What upset Bernstein was that Clinton was evading the truth about her own past radical activities and associations.
These began at Wellesley, Bernstein wrote, when "she exhibited an academic fascination with the Left and radicalism." Later at Yale she was associate editor of an alternative law review that depicted "policemen as pigs and murderers." Yet, notes Bernstein, in her 2003 memoir, Clinton breathed not a word of her activity on behalf of the Black Panthers, nor was she honest about why she went to work for the Robert Treuhaft law firm. Treuhaft told Bernstein that Clinton came to the firm because it was a "Movement law firm" and she was "in sympathy with all the Left causes." Treuhaft commented that back then, "we still weren't very far out of the McCarthy era." Bernstein adds, "And might still not be, to judge from the 2008 presidential campaign."
It is just as silly, Bernstein concludes, to tie Obama to the Weather Underground as it is to call Clinton a Stalinist. Yet Bernstein and the others have inadvertently opened up two legitimate lines of inquiry: What remains of their old radical ideals in both candidates' present thinking, and how far is each willing to go in exploiting the other's past? If scrutiny of these matters is fair game for them, it can hardly be off limits for the press and the voting public.
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2008 - 21:25
SOURCE: The Immanent Frame, a Social Science Research Council blog (5-19-08)
The East Coast media establishment—both “conservatives” and “liberals”—continue to ask the same question about Senator Barack Obama: why did he keep his membership at Trinity United Church of Christ, where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was the pastor? The question is asked as though Obama is naïve and Wright is a madman, neither of which is true. But what I find rather more amusing, or perhaps alarming—at least from a religious perspective—is that most of the media personalities who ask this question appear to have never belonged to any kind of religious community themselves. And this is, to a large extent, why there is so much misunderstanding about the relationship between Obama and Wright.
Senator Obama attended Trinity United Church of Christ not simply because of Reverend Wright, but in order to belong to a religious community that offered both the promise of personal community and a transcendent vision—a vision of how people who profess a belief in God through Jesus Christ should live together in service to one another and to those around them. That vision of community came through the organizational, oratorical, and musical talents of the church’s senior pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
It was Wright’s vision to pull the black middle-class back into the orb of the church. Wright recognized in the mid-1970s a growing disaffection among the black middle-class toward the style of black Protestant churches, which were still heavily rooted in rural folkways and led by clergymen without much formal education. He correctly analyzed the problem, and when he took over the small congregation on the far Southside of Chicago, around 1975, he sought to address the growing black middle-class, who needed a sense of community in the midst of the many contradictory forces plaguing urban America. He understood that spiritual formation was the tonic necessary for the unique daily struggles that black Americans faced.
As more blacks achieved middle-class status, Wright set out to provide for his parishioners a spiritual house that would lead them to engage the poor, specifically the black poor, as well as to provide a place to be accepted outside the gaze of a hostile and racialized society—which the city of Chicago was when he was called as Trinity’s pastor, and indeed still is today. Obama joined the church, and stayed at Trinity for twenty years, for the same reason that thousands of other Chicagoans were drawn to it. Here was a community that offered acceptance and faith. Rather than seeing them as the exception, as well-educated black Christian believers, Trinity gave its members both acceptance and the comfort that being Christian was intellectually plausible as well as consistent with having black or brown skin. Trinity’s motto was: “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” This was an affirmation—being a black American and a Christian belonged together.
Senator Obama not only gained a place of worship by belonging to Trinity, he also found an ethnic community. Black Protestant church communities continue to be cultural spaces where what it means to be black in America is defined. It should come as little surprise to anyone who pays close attention to religious communities that ethnic and religious identities are often developed and defined in tandem. A careful survey of Irish or Mexican-American communities, for instance, will find a close link to Roman Catholic parishes. In other instances, Protestant communions such as German Mennonites or the Dutch-based Christian Reformed Church in North America play a vital role in shaping ethnic identities. Ethnic forms of Christianity have a way of informing communal self-identification—and ethnicity has a way of strongly shaping a church’s Christian theology.
Trinity in Chicago is yet another instance of this linkage between ethnicity and religious community. It is clear from Senator Obama’s autobiographical description of his life’s journey that he was looking for a spiritual home. Being mixed race in the United States is one of the most intensely racializing experiences. Yet as a matter of historical record, it is not all that unique in the history of black America—having mixed racial heritage is a part and parcel of what it has meant to be black in the United States. Both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington were of mixed “racial parentage,” and they tried to provide a reconciliatory bridge to white America, yet to little avail—the United States Supreme Court voted to uphold racial segregation and the South ran roughshod over the civil liberties of black voters throughout the region at the turn of the 20th Century.
Needless to say, times have changed. Nevertheless, Senator Obama needed to find a spiritual home outside the racializing gaze that permeated his life and the lives of so many mixed race children of black and white parents. He found that home in Trinity, both as a space of worship and as an ethnic space. It was a place where he was allowed openly to come to terms with his own unique voice as a man, a husband, a father, and a public official. This helps to explain why Trinity was so important in Obama’s life.
Even though Obama was a member of Trinity, it would be wrong to assume that he and Reverend Wright never had genuine differences. Religious communities, just like political ones, are filled with tensions and debates-about styles of worship, direction, social justice concerns and theology. As Obama mentioned in his important speech on race in America—given this March in Philadelphia—he and Wright were not of the same generation. Obama, socially, is a cosmopolitan, urbane and learned. As a matter of political tact, he recognized the need to draw black, brown, yellow, and white together across the racial divide.
Wright is more deeply rooted than Obama in the black bourgeois culture, black church history, and black freedom struggles, and he sees his first allegiance as a religious leader being to black Americans. As a result, these two black men have two different strategies for achieving rather similar goals—social justice, racial equity and human rights in America and abroad. At the National Press Club a couple of weeks ago, Wright charged that Obama was merely a politician, as though that was a negative. However, Wright—as a pastor in the black church tradition—is a politician too. Yet the kind of politics each must exercise is distinct. Obama, on the one hand, as a matter of practicality, must build a consensus of lawmakers and all Americans to advance more just social policies. He must appeal to a broad spectrum of people and interest groups in order to achieve his legislative goals. In running for the presidency, Obama looked to the nation-state at large, not simply to his ethnic religious community. In fact, with his coalition building among different groups across the country, Obama has reached back and drawn on the older model politics of the New Deal. Obama has done a better job of what Jesse Jackson tried to do in his “Rainbow Coalition” in 1984 and 1988. He has held together a coalition of blacks, whites, and some browns, to keep a lead in delegates-and perhaps to achieve the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Wright, on the other hand—as a major religious leader within the black community—exercises what the historian James Melvin Washington called the “symbolic political aspirations of black Christendom.” Wright’s politics are rooted in evangelical theology and the political revivalism that catalyzed the civil rights generation. “Revivals,” Washington wrote, “function as planned events that intentionally try to reclaim some idyllic moment of group cohesion for communities whose identities are under siege.” They use “liturgies forged in the crucible of the slave regime, segregation, depressed urban ghettoes, and rural shanties to fight assaults upon the psychic well-being of black people.”
Wright’s political revivalism is derived from a much larger Protestant principle. As Washington writes, quoting the theologian Paul Tillich, “the most important contribution of Protestantism to the world in the past, present, and future is the principle of prophetic protest against every power which claims divine character for itself—whether it be the church or state, party or leader.” This style of politics, especially when it comes from a progressive and fiery black clergyman, finds little resonance among the average white voter in America. Wright’s style reminds average white voters of black anger, and for many of them this is a sign of entitlement, rather than an assertion of legitimate criticism. As Washington noted in assessing Jesse Jackson’s first bid for the Democratic nomination in 1984, if the politics that drive black ministers do not “translate into a larger following beyond their own racial boundaries, they usually did not succeed.”
Unlike Obama’s campaign, Jesse Jackson’s campaign in 1984 and 1988—to which the former President Bill Clinton compared the Obama campaign in the South Carolina primary earlier this year—was never really intended to defeat his chief opponent, Walter Mondale. What Jackson successfully did was galvanize black voters to be a counterforce to President Ronald Reagan’s domestic policies, which in point of fact made all working-class people, no matter what color they were, poorer and in the long run more vulnerable to unregulated and avaricious economic policies. What Jackson recognized at the time, using old-fashioned black political revivalism as a tool, was that it was in black people’s interest to politically galvanize to have a voice in shaping the future policies of the Democratic Party, which by 1984 was quickly aligning itself with neo-liberal economics to simply win back the presidency and governorships. Jackson’s progressivism, however, was quickly dismissed, due to his political relationship to Louis Farrakhan and Farrakhan’s intemperate anti-Jewish rhetoric. In addition, Jackson did himself a great disservice in his infamous “Hymie town” remark about New York City.
Obama’s narrative, unlike Jackson’s, is tied neither to the history of the American South nor to the long and bitter antagonism between blacks and white working-class ethnics in the North. And Obama’s own personal trajectory initially freed him from being branded in the same manner as Jackson. When Bill Clinton compared Obama to Jackson in South Carolina, however, he arguably sought to dredge up white fear, just as it was dredged up in 1984 against Jackson. Clinton called Obama a “kid,” which for some was tantamount to referring to him as a “boy.” As former Clinton advisor Donna Brazile later said of Clinton’s remarks, “As an African-American, I find his words and his tone to be very depressing.” Yet it was Obama’s relationship to Trinity and to Wright that tied him most clearly and forcefully to the history of racial antagonism in the United States, and to the political tradition with which Jackson is associated.
Wright’s politics could be easily linked to Jackson’s—with the net effect being that Obama’s presidential bid was to be dismissed, the candidate sullied by his association with what some would consider negative black politics. But this politics is not negative—indeed, it represents the most progressive politics that America has had to offer. Each of these men—Jackson, Wright, and Obama—has called for fair play, and programs that help workers, children and the elderly. All of them want to renew our inner cities and rural areas. They have come out of a black tradition of progressive politics, which is informed by black Social Gospel theology. Many leading black clergy and political leaders informed by Christianity have followed in this grand tradition, a tradition that has emphasized that God cares for the whole of society. Proponents of the black tradition of the Social Gospel have been numerous, they have been a progressive force for good, and they existed long before Martin Luther King, Jr. became enshrined as a static hero of the left and the right in American memory. As an elected official, Obama stands in this tradition, too.
The real story about Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright is not Obama’s long membership at Trinity United Church of Christ. The real story is how two Christian men—who hold strong theological convictions, but who have different styles, political realities, and constituencies—have been forced to butt heads in the course of this contested primary, in their attempt to make America a more spiritually whole, just, and safe place to live for all.
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2008 - 20:11
SOURCE: Nixon Blog (5-23-08)
Mr. Bush, speaking on a visit to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel, told the Israeli parliament that, “some seem to believe we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before.” Then he evoked images of Nazi tanks cascading into Poland in 1939 decrying “the false comfort of appeasement has been increasingly discredited by history.”
Would-be Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, has continually reiterated his views on meeting with the bad guys. He insists that what he wants to do is very much in the spirit of his hero and the man he wants to be when he grows up - John F. Kennedy. In his January 20, 1961 inaugural address JFK said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
But as Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins pointed out in their recent op-ed piece appearing in the New York Times, when Kennedy tried to put this into practice very early in his administration, it only served to convince his Soviet counterpart, Chairman Nikita Krushchev, that the youthful and “charismatic” U.S. president was a diplomatic light-weight.
There is a great argument to be made that the 1960’s would not have been as tense as they were if the June 1961 summit meeting had never taken place. The Berlin Wall challenge a couple of months later and Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 seemed to flow from how Nikita sized-up Jack in Vienna.
Barack Obama apparently has little understanding of history – particularly the issues that confronted JFK’s generation (“tempered by war”). Or maybe it’s just that he’s not interested in letting the past, with its clear patterns, inform the present – or future.
Eleven minutes after David Ben Gurion announced the birth of the modern State of Israel, President Harry S. Truman signed a document officially recognizing the new nation. The single typewritten page, on display these days at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, shows the President’s cursive corrections - including a wording change from “new Jewish state” to “State of Israel” - and the directive “Approved May 14, 1948.”
This was a bold step for the American president, one opposed by powerful members of his own administration. His Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, was so strongly opposed to this that he told his boss that he might not vote for him that November.
But Harry Truman was a savvy politician with an autodidactic appreciation for history – ancient and recent. As a boy, when his chronic near-sightedness kept him from some strenuous activities, he would lose himself in books. According to historian Michael Beschloss, among his favorites was a “gold-trimmed, four-volume history called Great Men and Famous Women.” One of the men chronicled was Cyrus the Great, King of Persia who “enabled the Jewish people to leave their exile and go back to Palestine.” It’s possible that this ancient story may have been on Truman’s mind as he dealt with the Jewish-Palestine issue. More recent history, particularly the events of the late 1930’s, may have also influenced his presidential decisions.
Appeasement was never really a “bad” word until it became forever identified with the foreign policy failures in Great Britain under the premiership of Neville Chamberlain. The word itself simply means to pacify or soothe. Most of us understand that there is a measure of this required for peaceful and civilized living and discourse.
But when appeasement met Adolf Hitler, it was manipulated, twisted, scorned, and ultimately dismissed. To put it in the words of Sean Connery playing a character in the 1987 movie The Untouchables, Mr. Chamberlain had brought a knife to a gunfight in Munich.
To make matters worse, his knife was crafted out of a very thin sheet of paper.
Harry Truman was a senator from Missouri when all this was going on and he watched in horror as Great Britain seemed to be officially determined to feed Europe to the Nazi alligator one bite at a time. He also knew and noted that the policy of appeasement was not just in play over the fate of Czechoslovakia, but it also had another deadly and dreadful application – one that would impact the Jewish people.
The British government released a White Paper on the issue of Palestine in May of 1939. Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration and during the period British Mandate they had been largely supportive of Jewish migration to Palestine and the idea of a Jewish state there. In essence, the new policy statement changed all of that. It advocated severe limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine; this at a time when European anti-Semitism was reaching critical mass.
By the way, this new policy was a big hit in Berlin.
Winston Churchill saw it differently. He spoke to the House of Commons on May 22, 1939 “as one intimately and responsibly concerned in the earlier states of our Palestine policy,” and insisted that he would not “stand by and see the solemn engagements into which Britain has entered before the world set aside.”
Senator Truman also issued a forthright condemnation that was inserted into the Congressional Record:
“Mr. President, the British Government has used its diplomatic umbrella again,” (this being an unmistakable dig at Chamberlain) “…this time on Palestine. It has made a scrap of paper out of Lord Balfour’s promise to the Jews. It has just added another to the long list of surrenders to the Axis powers.”
When George W. Bush spoke to the Knesset about appeasement, he was speaking to the children and grandchildren of a generation that had gone through unspeakable horror. And the road to holocaust had been paved with appeasement. Yet some supposedly bright people apparently think that a U.S. president sitting down with someone who calls Israel a “stinking corpse” could have some constructive result.
When Harry Truman, in a singular act of political courage, and against the advice of men he admired, recognized the new State of Israel, there is no doubt that he had a sense of the past. The internal world of thought, nurtured as a child through the reading of history, was very present in the man. Shortly after leaving office in 1953, while visiting a Jewish school in New York City, he was introduced as “the man who helped to create the State of Israel” – Truman interrupted and said: “What do you mean ‘helped create?’ I am Cyrus! I am Cyrus!”
Sadly, some in Great Britain were slow to learn. It would take eight months before the Labor government could muster the courage to acknowledge the fledgling nation. Though out of power, Churchill returned to wilderness form as he decried this failure again and again. Speaking to the House of Commons in December of 1948 he mocked the idea that his country had not yet officially recognized Israel:
“The Jews have driven the Arabs out of a larger area that was contemplated in our partition schemes…They have established a government which functions effectively. They have a victorious army at their disposal and they have the support both of Soviet Russia and of the United States. These may be unpleasant facts, but can they be in any way disputed? Not as I have stated them. It seems to me that the government of Israel which has been set up in Tel Aviv cannot be ignored and treated as if it did not exist.”
As in the days of Truman and Churchill, so it is today – some will see appeasement as a panacea. But wiser people know better.
The key is to keep the wiser people in charge.
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2008 - 19:41
SOURCE: Huffington Post (5-21-08)
A few years ago, while doing research for my book, The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry that Defined a Generation, I asked President Clinton to highlight his differences with Speaker Gingrich. "If you want to understand the differences between me and Newt you have to go back to the 60s," he told me. "If you think the 60s were generally good, chances are you are a liberal. If you think the 60s were bad, chances are you're a conservative."
That perceptive observation not only tells us a great deal about the politics of the 1990s, it provides useful insight into the issues that will shape the fall contest between Barack Obama and John McCain. While Iraq and a struggling economy may dominate the public debate, the real fight will be over the unresolved conflicts of the 1960s.
Just as the military battle between North and South in the 1860s molded American politics for the rest of that century, so the cultural civil war of the 1960s has defined politics in our time. The clashes between protesters and police in the streets of Berkeley, Chicago, and Detroit were far less violent than the bloody battles between Union and Confederate armies that took in place at Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Both civil wars, however, produced a generation that was scarred by the memory of the struggle, deeply divided over its meaning, and determined to win a long-term fight for the hearts and minds of the American people.
The deep generational fissures forged during the 1960s never healed. They were obscured during the 1970s by stagflation, and during the 1980s by the elevated fear of Soviet expansionism. The Cold War ended, however, just as some in the 60s generation were ready to assume positions of power in the 1990s. In the 1960s they fought in the streets; now they fight in the Halls of Congress, in blogs, and in joint television appearances as "talking, or more typically, "shouting" heads.
What are they fighting about? The ideological struggle over the meaning of the 1960s boils down to a debate over what I refer to as a "culture of choice." The clashes over Vietnam, racial rioting, and student protesting have faded into memory, but they have left a lasting impression on the nation. Taken together the social movements of the decade expanded the range of individual choices people have about the way they live their lives. The civil rights movement dramatically expanded options for African-Americans. Along the way, it spearheaded other empowerment movements, especially for women and homosexuals. The range of choices expanded beyond political rights into the world of culture, where many young people questioned all forms of authority and loosened the rules of behavior that had guided their parent's generation. That cultural revolution had a ripple effect that touched nearly every institution in society.
The dramatic changes prompted a backlash among traditionalists who complained that "counterculture" values had seeped into every institution of American society, breeding permissiveness and eroding the moral glue that held society together. Neoconservative thinkers focused on the public policy consequences of a culture that valued liberation over responsibility, claiming that the abandonment of older values such as family, hard work, and discipline have produced an epidemic of divorce, poverty, and crime. At the same time, religious fundamentalists probed the moral and religious results, claiming the culture of individualism led to moral decay.
Over time the Democratic Party has embraced, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the "culture of choice." Despite differences in style and temperament, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama emphasize the value of diversity and individual expression and stress the positive side of the "rights revolution" in America. Not surprisingly, the groups that have benefited most from the political and legal advances of the decade -- African Americans and women -- form the electoral backbone of the Democratic coalition.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, has become home to conservatives who advocate a "culture of authority." They have turned the decade into a metaphor for a constellation of issues that resonated with millions of Americans who feared the erosion of traditional values and authority in society. For them, mention of the "60s" produces subliminal images of privileged students burning the American flag, radical feminists assaulting the family, militant minorities rioting in the streets, arrogant intellectuals mocking cherished values and blurring the distinction between right and wrong, and faceless government bureaucrats wasting hard-earned tax dollars
while people on welfare did not have to work.
The clash between these two competing views of the 1960s reached a fever pitch during the impeachment debate in the final years of the Clinton administration. "Why do you hate Clinton so much?" an interviewer asked a prominent conservative. The response: Because "he's a womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, war-protesting, draft-dodging, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating baby boomer. That's why." Conservative journalist David Frum claimed that Clinton's personal behavior exemplified the pernicious legacy of the 1960s' sexual revolution. "[W]hat's at stake in the Lewinsky scandal," Frum wrote, "[is] the central dogma of the baby boomers: the belief that sex, so long as it's consensual, ought never to be subject to moral scrutiny."
It's possible that the two major candidates this year will be able to move the nation beyond the battle over the 1960s. In many ways, McCain was too old, and Obama too young, to participate in the youthful rebellion that shaped the decade. When President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, which marked the symbolic beginning of the troubles of the decade, McCain was already 27 years old. Obama was only two. In addition, polls have shown that many Americans, especially young voters, have responded to Obama's plea for moving beyond the culture wars. At the same time, McCain has been a vote but not a voice for the conservative backlash against the 60s. He also has a proven track record of being willing to reach across the aisle and build coalitions with Democrats, which is rare in the polarized atmosphere in Washington.
Despite their best intentions, however, both men will find it difficult to transcend the cultural divide forged during the 1960s. McCain will realize that the only way to win over voters disaffected with the Bush administration is to make Obama into a threatening figure, and the easiest way to accomplish that goal is to transform him into a child of the 60s. Even when not specifically mentioning the decade, both candidates will be sending subtle signals to their warring armies. Obama will stress the language of choice, praising America's cultural diversity. McCain will talk about responsibility, both at home and abroad, and the importance of traditional values. While Obama praises new rights, McCain will emphasize old rules. As much as the two major candidates will talk about the future, they will find themselves trapped in the past.
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2008 - 10:37
SOURCE: Nation (5-20-08)
Two thousand and eight was to have been an auspicious year for China. But the year has been anything but.
In January, a wave of polite demonstrations over planned urban development washed over Shanghai. Then freak snowstorms left 200,000 citizens stranded and angry over the government's failure to deal with the emergency. Next, demonstrations and riots broke out in Lhasa, Tibet's main city, and beyond. The flame of the Olympic torch relay was nearly doused by international protests and threats of a boycott. And now the catastrophic Sichuan earthquake has claimed more than 40,000 lives, rendering millions homeless and raising fears of significant damage to the country's infrastructure.
And it's only May. No matter what happens next, 2008 is shaping up to be one of the most eventful and tragic years in recent Chinese history. And the way the Chinese people and the Communist Party leadership have risen to meet these unforeseen events challenges us in the West to rethink our often distorted view of China. Here are five lessons that are emerging:
1. China's economics, politics and social structures are undergoing profound and rapid change.
This is obvious, but many outside critics of China continue to insist that when it comes to politics, the continuation of Communist Party is still the country's defining characteristic.
Unquestionably, there are continuities going back to the era defined by Chairman Mao: the Party retains its monopoly on power, periodically uses draconian measures against those it deems threatening and seeks to control the media. But Mao's cult of personality no longer prevails; the regime now presents itself as worthy of support primarily because of what it can accomplish, as opposed to the purity of its ideology; and China's leaders are showing far more flexibility toward certain kinds of dissent.
The government's restrained response to the "strolls" by middle-class residents of Shanghai concerned about the impact the expansion of a high-speed train would have been much more surprising thirty years ago than it was three months ago. The same goes for Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's decision to publicly acknowledge that the government should have done more to protect travelers stranded by late January and February's harsh winter storms.
And even the most skeptical observer needs to acknowledge the night-and-day contrasts between the current earthquake response and the cover-up that followed the Tangshan earthquake of July 1976, which hit just a few months before Mao's death. When that earlier disaster struck, Beijing rebuffed offers of foreign aid, claimed that Mao's ideology was all the country needed to deal with the catastrophe, and tightly controlled access to the affected area.
2. It is misleading to compare today's China to Nazi Germany at the time of the 1936 Berlin Games or the Soviet Union at the time of the 1980 Moscow Games.
These two historical analogies, often invoked by human rights activists who call for a boycott of the Beijing Games, generate a great deal of heat but precious little light. Here are just a few places where each analogy falls apart:
Communist Party leaders in China today, like their Soviet counterparts in 1980, can be said to head a propaganda state. But Chinese journalists have shown much more independence in their coverage of many news events, including the current crisis in Sichuan, than Soviet journalists did a quarter-century ago. And Beijing now is trying much harder to court public opinion than Moscow did then (see Lesson One).
Ethnic prejudice continues to play a disturbing role in China's policies toward Tibetans. But this prejudice has more in common with how Western empires of the past viewed and treated colonial subjects than how Hitler viewed and treated Jews. And China no longer has an adulated leader in the style of Mao, who claims his ideology is a sacred creed worth dying for (see Lesson One again).
3. When evaluating China's response to the earthquake, avoid false analogies.
China certainly has some important things in common with a variety of partially closed societies in which one ruling party holds a monopoly on power. But it is misleading to liken it to Burma and North Korea. These may be neighboring countries with which China has historic ties and close relations. But both come much closer than does China to qualifying as totalitarian rather than simply authoritarian states.
One sign of how inept the Burma analogy is how China's leaders responded to the earthquake. They allowed internationalist journalists into the affected areas and welcomed foreign aid. By contrast, when responding to the cyclones that hit their country, Burma's military strongmen kept all foreign reporters out and treated offers of humanitarian aid with intense suspicion.
Like Burma but unlike China, North Korea has tried to suppress information about disasters, including large-scale famines. It is also a country where veneration of a supposedly perfect leader, Kim Jong-il, is a central feature of the political order. Looking at developments in North Korea may justly bring to mind analogies with China in the days of the horrific Great Leap Forward famine of the late 1950s and early 1960s and the Tangshan earthquake, both of which occurred when Mao's personality cult resembled Kim Jong-il's. But hardly the PRC today. (Again, see Lesson One.)
4. International opinion matters to China's leaders, but what what the Chinese people think matters more.
It is true that Chinese municipal and national leaders do not need to compete in open elections. But the opinion of their own people--especially the urban middle class and Internet-savvy youths--matters a great deal. When China's leaders perceive resentment among these groups, they tend to modify policy, as they did by tabling plans for the high-speed train line in Shanghai after the January protests. Or they make public relations gestures. Or do a combination of these two things. At such times, they act something like officials who expect to stand for re-election.
The special importance of domestic opinion was illustrated by the international uproar over the Olympic torch relay. Complaints about this ritual from the European Union and the United States only seemed to harden the government's determination to carry on. But in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, something different happened. When some Chinese Netizens complained about the celebratory tone of state media coverage of the torch relays, the government quickly shifted gears, calling on state media to adopt a more somber tone and introduce a moment of silence to honor earthquake victims into displays of the torch at each new stop on the route. The relay became an event in which pleas for donations to support earthquake victims figured prominently. And after calls by Chinese bloggers and independent-minded journalists for the government to make even more dramatic changes to the torch plans, a three-day moratorium on the relay has been called to show respect for the suffering in Sichuan.
5. The government may manipulate public opinion, but cannot entirely control it.
There is no question that nationalistic textbooks and other state publications and pronouncements have influenced how some Chinese think about their country's place in the world. This can spawn jingoistic flare-ups when the public feels the outside world is being unfair to China. It is also true that public opinion regarding Tibet, a region of which many residents of the PRC have only second-hand knowledge, is shaped to a large extent by official propaganda. And many Han Chinese felt a hard line was justified after widespread media coverage of Tibetan protesters in Lhasa engaging in violence.
But love of country continues to be a double-edged sword in China. During each recent nationalistic upsurge--from the 1999 anti-American agitation that followed NATO bombs hitting the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade to the recent anti-French demonstrations triggered by pro-Tibet protesters in Paris who roughed up a disabled torch carrier--the government has not so much stage-managed the outburst as scrambled to jump ahead of public sentiment and channel anger. The Party feared, in each case, that complaints about foreigners would merge with complaints about domestic issues--as occurred at many points in the twentieth century, sometimes leading to the downfall of officials or entire regimes.
There has been considerable public criticism in China of celebratory images of the torch relay as the country reels from the Sichuan earthquake. This illustrates yet again that love of country can take many forms. It also shows that Chinese audiences can be very critical consumers of state media. It is worth noting that Chinese journalists working in the competitive field of newspapers and magazines know that the earthquake story is significant for their readers. Reporters rushed to Sichuan even when the government was encouraging them to rely on images and text provided by official agencies. And some newspapers and websites continue to mix coverage that hews to official lines and that diverges from it--for example, highlighting the degree to which shoddy building practices, due to corrupt ties between construction companies and local officials, have contributed to the collapse of so many schools.
In China's Brave New World (2007), my most recent book, I devote one chapter to taking a playful look at how baffled Mao would be by contemporary China. He's surprised to see a Shanghai with far more skyscrapers than Manhattan, by a Beijing with scores of McDonald's and by bookstore shelves containing translations of works by Western liberal philosophers and by reports of capitalists being welcomed into the Communist Party. The book came out less than a year ago, but I'm already wishing I could revise that chapter. There are so many things to add--such as the regime's decision to let National Public Radio reporters file reports from earthquake-ravaged parts of Sichuan.
Given how fast China has been changing and continues to change, we too have a right to be baffled. Perhaps the biggest challenge of this very inauspicious year is for us in the West to find new ways to think about the world's most populous country. A good first step would be to discard the cold-war lenses that have distorted our vision, and look with fresh eyes at a protean nation still in the process of being born.
Posted on: Thursday, May 22, 2008 - 21:26
SOURCE: China Beat (5-22-08)
One of the intriguing aspects of the appalling crisis created by the earthquake in Sichuan on May 12—whose death toll as I write is over 40,000 and still rising—has been the role played by rumor. Just four days before the quake, the Sichuan provincial government issued a notice designed to quell “earthquake rumors.” Three days after it, on May15, Xinhua news agency announced that seventeen people had been arrested for circulating malicious rumors, and the Ministry of Public Security revealed that its bureaus in eleven provinces and municipalities had discovered more than forty messages on the internet that “spread false information, made sensational statements and sapped public confidence.”
In the weeks leading up to May 12, warnings of an imminent earthquake emanated from various quarters. Most significantly, Li Shihui, a scientist at the laboratory of geo-mechanical engineering of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, claimed on his blog that in April the seismologist, Geng Qingguo, vice-chair of the Committee for Natural Disaster Prediction at the China Geophysical Institute, had predicted a quake of 7 or more on the Richter scale in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture of Sichuan. On April 30, he claimed, the Committee for Natural Disaster Prediction had passed on a confidential report about his prediction to the China Seismology Bureau. Others less qualified posted warnings of an earthquake on their blogs, although most were vague on detail. On May 7, allegedly, a geological worker from Wuhan posted a notice on the internet predicting that an earthquake would strike on 12 May: “the epicenter should be quite near Wuhan. I hope Wuhan residents who see my blog will inform all relatives and friends and take precautions.” Another blogger claimed to have an uncle working in the Sichuan Seismological Bureau: “Even when there were already signs indicating an earthquake, the Sichuan Seismological Bureau still suppressed and failed to report the information, completely disregarding people’s lives.” On the basis of internet chat and reports in the press, a slew of rumors began to circulate that caused many citizens to contact their local earthquake prevention and disaster relief boards. Anxiety seems to have run particularly high in Aba county, specifically mentioned as the epicenter in Geng Qingguo’s unpublished report, and significantly, a major center of pro-Tibetan riots a couple of weeks earlier. The authorities were quick to deny the rumors. On May 9, the Sichuan provincial government issued a statement:
"May 3, 8pm. The Abazhou Earthquake Prevention and Disaster Relief Board got calls from members of the public, asking whether news that an earthquake would strike Suomo town in Maerkang county was true. The authorities quickly demanded that the Maerkang Earthquake Disaster Prevention Bureau take measures to find out where the rumor came from and to refute it, so as to stop the rumors from spreading further… The Abazhou Earthquake Prevention and Disaster Relief Board and the other cadres managed to clear up the misunderstanding in time, and life of the locals is back to normal."
On May 12 the statement was pulled from the provincial government website.
Much public concern derived from rumors—many of them fed by reports in the press—about animals behaving strangely. In Mianzhu, sixty miles from the epicenter in Wenchuan county, bloggers reported that over a million butterflies had migrated weeks before the quake. According to a report in Huaxi Dushi Bao (Western China City News) on May 10, in Mianyang, the second largest city in the province, thousands of migrating toads descended on the streets, many being crushed to death by vehicles and pedestrians. On May 13, 2008,
Dajiyuan (the Chinese-language version of Epoch Times, the Falungong-sponsored newspaper) published a photograph of thousands of toads crawling out of the Tongyang canal in Taizhou, faraway in Jiangsu province, crossing the Dongfeng bridge “in orderly fashion.” Other warning signs, not involving animals, were, according to the Chutian Dushi Bao, that the Guanyin pool in Enshi in Hubei was suddenly drained of 80,000 tonnes of water on April 26. Whirlpools began to form at about 7 a.m., a roaring noise was heard, and within five hours the entire pool had dried up.
Many of these rumors and internet postings claim authority on the basis of science. Scientists have long hypothesized that animals can predict earthquakes, suggesting variously that they can sense the ultrasonic waves generated by a quake, that they can pick up low-frequency electromagnetic signals emitted by subterranean movements, or that they can detect changes in the air or gases released by movements of the earth. The US Geological Survey, however, which has conducted many studies of the phenomenon, remains skeptical. By contrast, Chinese earthquake scientists, who are among the best in the world, generally give greater credence to these hypotheses. Indeed during the Cultural Revolution, these hypotheses almost acquired the status of scientific certainty. Zhang Xiaodong, a researcher at the China Seismological Bureau, has confirmed that his agency has used natural activity—mainly animal activity—to predict earthquakes twenty times in the past twenty years. This, however, represents a fraction of the earthquakes that have beset the country during that period. The most famous case in which scientists predicted an earthquake on the basis of unusual animal behavior and changes in ground-water levels occurred in Haicheng, a city of a million people in Liaoning, on February 4, 1974. From December onwards, people began to report dazed rats and snakes that appeared “frozen” to the roads. From February there were numerous reports of cows and horses appearing restless, of chickens refusing to enter their coops, and of domestic geese taking flight. As a result, the authorities evacuated the city just days before a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck. Serious doubt on the capacity of animals to give warnings of earthquakes arose the following year, however, when the second most lethal earthquake in history, measuring 7.6 magnitude on the Richter scale, hit Tangshan in July 1976.
The discourse about animals and earthquake prediction appears to be highly modern: it circulates via the press and the internet, it invokes scientific argument, and raises uncomfortable political questions about the culpability of the authorities in not responding to warning signs and the advice of scientific experts. Yet it is rooted in a much more ancient discourse about omens. For thousands of years, Chinese people have attributed supernatural significance to unusual or destructive natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, comets or eclipses. These phenomena, for example, are systematically recorded in the Hanshu, alongside facts of political importance, and are interpreted variously by chroniclers as warnings of coming danger, warnings to the Son of Heaven not to undertake a certain course of action and, not least, as divine punishment for actions the emperor has undertaken. As is well known, the Mandate of Heaven rested on the emperor’s ability to maintain humankind in harmony with heaven and earth, so the occurrence of freakish natural phenomena was easily interpreted as a sign that the emperor had invoked divine displeasure. I do not wish to argue that there are millions of Chinese today who interpret such natural phenomena in this way. But I do want to suggest that there are millions—especially, in the countryside and among the elderly, although by no means confined to these groups—who take unusual or destructive natural phenomena as omens of some sort, i.e., that they have a supernatural significance in excess of any naturalistic explanation.
The salient characteristic of omens is that they have no fixed and obvious meaning, and it is through rumor that the debate about their meaning is transacted and argued over. If most of the rumors surrounding the current earthquake appear to draw on an essentially “secular” discourse, it is evident even from press reports that older discourses of omens are also being mobilized in the bid to explain the warnings that “heaven” gave in the weeks preceding the earthquake. The account in Dajiyuan about the toad migration in Mianyang, for example, tells us that the immediate reaction of many village people was: “What kind of omen of disaster is this?” It reports that many rural people were anxious and that the forestry department sought to assuage their fear by explaining that the toad migration was entirely natural, caused by the fact that rising temperatures and substantial rainfall had led to unusually high levels of breeding on the part of the toads. In Taizhou, scientists offered a slightly different explanation, saying that the toad migration was due to a rise in temperature and a lack of oxygen in the ditch water where the toads normally spawn. But the response of bloggers to these reassurances was dismissive. “It’s obviously an omen.” “Officials say that there are environmental factors behind it, but that just shows how ignorant they are.”
Why do many consider toads so richly ominous? After all, compared with the fox or the snake, the toad occupies a rather marginal place in China’s rich tradition of folklore, drama, opera and song. As a creature of warty mien, associated with dark, damp places, it does not obviously inspire affection. In “Talking Toads and Chinless Ghosts: the Politics of Rumor in the People's Republic of China, 1961-65,” an article that appeared in American Historical Review [111:2 (2006), 405-27], I discussed the symbolic associations that toads conjure up. The subject of that article was a rumor that circulated between 1962 and 1963 across a huge swath of China, starting in the northeast and reaching Shanghai a year later. This told of a conversation overheard between two toads which prophesied that old people would perish within the year unless young people baked toad-shaped buns for them. The most obvious message of the rumor, which came in several variants, was that the young should take better care of the elderly in circumstances where, in the wake of the Great Leap Forward famine, many old people may have felt their entitlement to food was no longer secure.
More relevant to the rumors around the Sichuan earthquake, however, is my argument that it is the symbolic meaning of the toad rumor that is all-important, rumor being an inherently emotional form of communication in which the affective charge often goes well beyond the propositional content. In Chinese folklore, the toad is linked to Chang E, goddess of the moon, and this sets up a chain of signifiers that links water, darkness and moon. Each of these signifiers is powerfully coded as yin within popular culture; and I suggested that the subliminal message of the toad rumor of the early 1960s was to indicate that there had been an alarming surge in yin forces. Since 1949, and especially since the Great Leap Forward, it had become increasingly difficult for people to observe the traditional rituals that serve to make ling—the power of supernatural entities—efficacious in the world and that, by extension, ensure balance cosmic balance. The toad rumor reminded people that unless rituals were observed, further chaos such as that that had resulted from the famine could be expected. I have come across no evidence in current reports about the Sichuan earthquake that indicate that the toad migrations are being interpreted in exactly this way. However, as powerful signifiers of yin forces, it seems reasonable to infer that the toad migrations play on fears that the natural and social worlds are out of joint: a fact dramatically highlighted when chaos erupted from the bowels of the earth.
I do not argue that this is the “real” meaning of the migrating toads, rather that it is one possible reading that is easily overlooked when the discourse about the portents of the earthquake appears on the surface to be so largely secular. Yet the response of the abovementioned bloggers suggests that at least some prefer a supernatural explanation of the omen to a naturalistic one. That said, we must acknowledge that since 1949, scientific or quasi-scientific explanations of natural phenomena have gained huge ground within popular culture. During the Cultural Revolution, for example, the idea that animals can foretell earthquakes became widely understood as proven fact, since ordinary folk were encouraged to watch for strange behavior on the part of animals and report it to the authorities. This was justified more generally in terms of ordinary people seizing scientific endeavor from the hands of “bourgeois” experts. It thus seems likely that there is a widespread assumption that animal behavior does predict earthquakes. Yet such an assumption can exist—with a greater or lesser degree of felt contradiction—with supernatural understandings of earthquakes as omens.
In a forthcoming piece, “Fear and Rumor in the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s” [Cultural and Social History, 5:3 (2008): 269-88], I examine two types of rumor that flourished in the 1950s, both of which were vehicles of fear and anxiety. The first were secular rumors of an imminent third world war or an atomic attack; the second were supernatural rumors about demonic invasions. I reject the temptation to see the first as a “rational” type of rumor and the second as an “irrational” type, arguing that millions of people in the 1950s, especially in the countryside, made little distinction between the two, seeing both as reflecting the fact that the cosmic order that regulates interaction between the human and spirit worlds was out of kilter. In the intervening half century, it is quite likely that supernatural explanations have lost much of their attractiveness. Increased technological control over nature, combined with basic scientific education, has helped to entrench within popular culture the conceptual distinctions characteristic of the post-Galilean world between man and nature, the natural and supernatural worlds, and cause and effect. Nevertheless, it seems likely that many can accept such distinctions and still believe that supernatural beings or forces have the capacity to intervene in nature. Similarly, they believe that supernatural events often connect directly with secular politics. At the time of the Tangshan earthquake, for example, talk of supernatural omens abounded, and many were quick to link these to this-worldly events, such as the deaths of Zhou Enlai, Kang Sheng and Zhu De in the preceding eight months and the death of the Great Helmsman himself, six weeks after the earthquake.
The harsh response of the authorities to the current bout of rumor-mongering reminds us that even the weirdest rumors can be seen as an implicit—if not always intended—challenge to authority. Rumor flourishes in situations of uncertainty, where people feel that it is dangerous not to know what is going on. A critical element in the current crisis around the Sichuan earthquake—at least in its build-up—was the absence of information ordinary people considered reliable or credible. Sharing stories about the strange behavior of animals created spaces in which they could share knowledge and gain a measure of psychological control over an ambiguous and threatening situation. Given that the government puts a premium on the control of public discourse, even the strangest supernatural rumors may be seen as political insofar as they represent a form of unauthorized speech—“an attempt at collective conversation by people who wish to enter their sentiments into a public discourse” (Anand Yang). Regardless of the intentions of the rumor-mongers, rumors ipso facto represent an objective challenge to the regime’s monopoly of news and information. Unlike official news, moreover, rumors travel horizontally rather than top down, setting up a “chain pattern of communication” that bypasses the vertical lines of communication of the centralized party-state.
But it is clear also that some who are circulating “news” via the internet or the press are engaged in a much more conscious effort to discredit the government, particularly by suggesting that it deliberately suppressed information about the impending earthquake in a bid to avoid panic in the run-up to the Olympic games. In the past, earthquakes have regularly stoked up distrust of the government. It is widely believed, for example, that leading scientists and geological monitoring centers issued warnings in advance of the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, but that neither the China Earthquake Association nor the government took them seriously. Popular confidence in government was further undermined in the wake of the Tangshan earthquake when party leaders refused to acknowledge the scale of the calamity or accept international relief. In the wake of the current earthquake, at least one blogger has been quick to look back to this time: “I am one of the survivors of the Tangshan quake. Tangshan people are extremely hostile towards the National Seismology Bureau because of their failure to predict such a devastating earthquake…Now 32 years later, they have again failed to predict the Sichuan quake. The head of the bureau should resign.” Meanwhile Chang Ping, recently sacked deputy editor of the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Dushi Bao, has argued in the pages of that newspaper that the current epidemic of rumors surrounding the earthquake is evidence of the need for much greater freedom of information. In a context where the Chinese government has been applauded around the world for its openness in handling the crisis, such criticism will probably come to nothing. But there is always unanticipated political fall-out from earthquakes in China. So watch this space.
Posted on: Thursday, May 22, 2008 - 18:20
SOURCE: Slate (5-22-08)
For all the excitement he has generated, Barack Obama—should he maintain his delegate lead over Hillary Clinton—will be the Democratic Party's weakest standard-bearer since primaries became the necessary route to securing the presidential nomination. No candidate has ever concluded these preliminary contests with so many rank-and-file Democrats against him. Obama badly needs to win over Clinton supporters, some of whom deeply resent the demonization of her as hysterical, ruthless, and racist and are talking of bolting or staying home in November.
The easiest way for Obama to unify the party would be to make Clinton his running mate. Indeed, the idea of a "dream ticket" or "unity ticket" has been in the air for months. CNN's Wolf Blitzer proposed it, to deafening applause, in January. In March, Mario Cuomo pushed the idea in the Boston Globe.
But do unity tickets happen? And do they work? Primaries have had a major influence on nominations since only 1952, and in that period the top two rivals have reconciled on a dream ticket just twice, when John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson as his running mate in 1960 and when Ronald Reagan brought George Bush onboard in 1980. That rarity doesn't bode well for the creation of an Obama-Clinton ticket. It does, however, augur well for victory for an Obama-Clinton ticket. For both the Kennedy-Johnson and Reagan-Bush fusions offer models of how a divided party can turn debilitating rifts into assets.
The Kennedy-Johnson ticket represented the triumph of cold pragmatism over chilly personal feelings. In 1960, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson wielded more power than anyone in Washington other than President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Early on, he had regarded his younger colleague with admiration. But as JFK emerged as a front-runner for 1960, Johnson's view of his Senate colleague soured. He made it no secret that he thought Kennedy too young, too ambitious, and too unaccomplished for the presidency.
Kennedy reciprocated in kind. To gain credibility, JFK chose to compete in the 1960 primaries, while Johnson counted on a deadlocked convention that would let him call in favors amassed from his years of Senate deal-making—still a plausible nomination strategy in those days. Led by Bobby Kennedy, JFK's camp taunted LBJ for sitting out the preliminary contests.
As the July 11 convention neared, things got uglier. Johnson tried to orchestrate a "stop Kennedy" movement, hoping that those delegates loyal to him and those supporting Adlai Stevenson could together deny Kennedy a majority on the first ballot and create an opening. Johnson and his surrogates cast doubt on JFK's electability, on his capacity for hard work, and, most controversially, on his claims to be in good health. On July 4, Johnson ally India Edwards publicly stated (correctly) that Kennedy had Addison's disease, a severe kidney ailment. Bobby Kennedy denied the charge, the New York Times denounced it as dirty campaigning, and the ploy backfired. Meanwhile, Ted Kennedy and others whispered that LBJ hadn't recovered from his 1955 heart attack.
Johnson formally announced his candidacy the next day. The mudslinging continued. Bobby accused LBJ of relying on the Teamsters union to muscle his way to the nomination, while Johnson brought up Joseph Kennedy's support for the appeasement of Hitler. More promisingly, LBJ challenged Kennedy to debate before the Massachusetts and Texas delegations to the convention. Kennedy accepted but never let his claim on the nomination be questioned. As Johnson carped about Kennedy's absenteeism from the Senate and his civil rights record, a self-satisfied JFK positioned himself above the fray. The next night, as the roll was called, and the delegates began stating their preferences, Johnson foresaw the outcome and left the convention floor. By the time Kennedy secured his 806-to-409 lead in the delegate count, a dejected LBJ was in his hotel room, seemingly destined to enjoy only enmity from the Kennedys in the future.
But since his own nomination had been uncertain, Kennedy hadn't chosen a running mate. He didn't think Johnson would want the vice presidency—arguably a demotion—but neither that surmise nor the pre-nomination ill will dashed the possibility. Some Kennedy aides thought LBJ would help the ticket more than any other running mate, given his pull with farmers and Southerners, particularly Texans. A series of twists and turns (laid out in its most comprehensive and comprehensible form in Jeff Shesol's book Mutual Contempt) saw the prospect of the unity ticket rise and fall and rise again. Johnson was nominated the next day, though Kennedy's waffling left considerable bad feeling.
The choice of a vice president rarely tips an election, but in 1960 it surely did. (When a race is as close as 1960—Kennedy beat Nixon by 0.2 percent—any number of things can tip the election.) Johnson proved to be a zealous and effective campaigner, even as he privately badmouthed Kennedy to reporters. His firm control of the Texas state party organization was critical to the Democrats' success there. His very presence on the ticket probably helped the Democrats win six other Southern states that would soon become reliably Republican.
If Johnson's value to the Democrats in 1960 is undeniable, George Bush's importance to Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980 is less clear-cut. But it, too, showed the wisdom of reconciliation after a hard-fought nomination battle. One of the most hostile altercations came just before the New Hampshire primary. Bush, having won the Iowa caucuses, wanted to debate Reagan one-on-one, but he then refused to share the costs, leaving Reagan to foot the bill. (Outside sponsorship might have constituted a donation to the two front-runners' campaigns.) But on the night of the debate, Reagan showed up with the other Republican contenders in tow. When the moderator, a local newspaperman named Jon Breen, tried to silence him for speaking up on behalf of the excluded Republicans, Reagan memorably growled, "I'm paying for this microphone, Mr. Green." (Reagan, it happens, was recalling an eerily apt line from Spencer Tracy in State of the Union, accounting for why he altered the moderator's last name.) The footage of an aggressive Reagan and a paralyzed Bush played on TV news for another 48 hours—humiliating Bush and confirming in Reagan's mind his adversary's reputation as a wimp. Reagan took New Hampshire easily.
Apart from John Anderson, an old-style liberal Republican who stayed in the race as a gadfly, the other candidates soon dropped out. Though Reagan won most of the remaining contests, Bush stayed competitive throughout the spring. He continued to do well among party regulars troubled by Reagan's often strident right-wing rhetoric, his lack of foreign-policy experience, and his divisive presidential bid at the 1976 convention, which some felt had contributed to Gerald Ford's ultimate defeat by Jimmy Carter. Stressing his own conservative credentials, Bush tried to define his opponent as out of the mainstream—famously mocking his embrace of what Bush called "voodoo economics." But Reagan soldiered on, and in late May, Bush dropped out.
Bush would have been the natural choice for vice president had not efforts been made to create a different "dream ticket"—one with former President Ford as Reagan's understudy. The Reagan-Ford negotiations rivaled the Kennedy-Johnson dance of 1960 in their intricacy, but they finally crumbled when Ford said in a live interview with Walter Cronkite that he envisioned something like a "co-presidency" (Cronkite's term). As a result, any reconciliation between party regulars and conservative activists came to rest on the selection of Bush.
Some players on both sides wondered if Bush, who had supported the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights, could run with a man who opposed both. And Reagan personally harbored other doubts. "If he can't stand up to that kind of pressure," he said to an aide, referring to the New Hampshire debate, "how could he stand up to the pressure of being president?" But the need for unity prevailed. When Reagan called with the offer, Bush happily agreed to endorse the party's (anti-abortion, anti-ERA) platform "wholeheartedly," and the two went on to victory. Although Reagan's 44-state blowout suggested that any running mate would have sufficed, the choice of Bush did, at a minimum, help make him palatable to moderate voters.
It's unclear whether Obama shares the qualities that Kennedy and Reagan showed in forging their unity tickets: the self-assurance not to fear being upstaged, the magnanimity to overlook the primary-season fisticuffs. And it's equally unclear whether Clinton would even want to sit through eight years of an Obama presidency and then, at age 68, endure another 16 months of hell of the sort she's now finally concluding—with no greater chance of emerging victorious. Surely, for her, the more gratifying course would be to achieve the historical first of having her name placed in nomination for the presidency at the Democratic convention and gaining a near-majority of ballots. With dignity, she could then pursue other distinctions, whether Senate majority leader or associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Then again, in 1960 the smart money said that Lyndon Johnson would never settle for the vice presidency, either.
Posted on: Thursday, May 22, 2008 - 17:50
SOURCE: AmericanThinker.com (5-17-08)
And the Saudis are only NOT helping, they are hurting.
The Saudis have let their output fall from 9.5m to 8.5m bpd over the last two years, camouflaging the move behind the accession of Ecuador and Angola to the group (which boosted nominal supply). OPEC failed to compensate for a 330,000 bpd drop in Nigerian production in April, allowing the market to tighten further.
Saudi behavior baffles none other than Dr Fadhil Chalabi, a former OPEC secretary-general and now director of the Centre for Global Energy Studies:
"They have about half a million barrels a day of good crude that they could put on the market. The puzzle is why they are not doing it. The soaring price is obviously telling us that the world needs more oil,"he said."I can't understand why the Saudis would risk their strategic relationship with the US over this."They need the US more than ever given the growing influence of Iran in the region," he said.
Prior to President Bush's visit, the Saudis put out the word out that they would promise Bush to produce more though they would not help lower the price of oil regardless of Congressional threats to proceed with legislation penalizing the OPEC producers' cartel for"anti-competitiveness practices". But when Bush arrived they rebuffed him completely arguing that they had already increased production by 300,000 barrels per day earlier this month. Consequently, the Saudi oil minister insisted, all is well:
"Supply and demand are in balance today... The fundamentals are sound."
Ouch! but why?
The short answer is: OPEC, including the Saudis, want to prevent oil from becoming obsolete. Alternatively, they want to make as much money as possible as long as possible and to be able to use their sovereign wealth funds to maintain the economic leverage they currently enjoy.
And what will it take to change their mind? For what are they bargaining?
That answer can be found in the Financial Times editorial entitled Time to convene a summit on oil ...
Posted on: Thursday, May 22, 2008 - 17:37