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: Philadelphia Inquirer (10-21-08)
Here's a simple way to understand the Republican descent: The party of Teddy the Rough Rider has become the party of Joe the Plumber.
Teddy the Rough Rider was Theodore Roosevelt, the GOP president who championed a strong central government and - surprise! - taxes on the rich. For many years, John McCain has identified Roosevelt as his political hero and role model.
But McCain made no mention of Roosevelt during his final debate last week with Barack Obama. Instead, he focused on Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio plumber who had confronted Obama during a campaign stop earlier this month.
You probably know the story. Wurzelbacher said he was looking to buy his own business, and he wondered whether his taxes would go up under Obama's economic plan. In response, Obama acknowledged that some people would see a tax hike. "When you spread the wealth around," Obama told Joe, "it's good for everybody."
In a subsequent interview, Wurzelbacher described this notion as "socialist." McCain himself didn't use that term during the debate, but he made it clear, in eight separate allusions to "Joe the Plumber," that his sympathies were with Wurzelbacher.
"We're going to take Joe's money, give it to Sen. Obama, and let him spread the wealth around," McCain complained. "I want Joe the Plumber to spread his wealth around."
Let's leave aside the question of whether Wurzelbacher - who owes more than $1,000 in back taxes - would actually pay more under Obama's plan. (He probably wouldn't.) The larger point here is that the Republicans have a new hero, and he's not Teddy Roosevelt.
There's a good reason for that. Roosevelt understood that his signature federal reforms - the Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and so on - created new costs. And he thought wealthy Americans should pick up a bigger portion of the bill.
"The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the state, because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government," Roosevelt declared in 1907. "Not only should he recognize this obligation in the way he leads his daily life and in the way he earns and spends his money, but it should also be recognized by the way in which he pays for the protection the state gives him."
That's why Roosevelt supported a graduated inheritance tax as well as the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which allowed the federal government to collect personal income taxes.
But let's be clear: Roosevelt was no socialist. Indeed, progressive taxation was often put forth as an alternative to socialism. In a time of growing economic inequality and labor unrest, supporters said, only a tax on the rich would stave off revolution.
And John McCain wasn't a socialist, either, when he rejected tax cuts for the wealthy back in 2000. "I don't think Bill Gates needs a tax cut. I think you and your parents do," McCain said during his battle with George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination.
Mocking Bush's calls for across-the-board tax relief, McCain made it clear just who would be relieved: the rich. "We give the millionaire a $2,000 refund," McCain explained. "Gov. Bush gives him $50,000."
Fast-forward to this year's campaign, and we find a new McCain. Rather than rejecting Bush's tax cuts, as Roosevelt would, McCain wants to make them permanent. Even more, McCain and his backers now deride anyone who disagrees with them as a "tax-and-spend liberal" - or even a socialist.
At a rally earlier this month in Wisconsin, one McCain supporter condemned Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as "hooligans." He went on to grumble that "socialists are taking over our country." McCain nodded appreciatively, and he later said the speaker was "right."
He wasn't, though. Teddy the Rough Rider knew that a century ago, when he insisted that well-to-do Americans should pay more than the rest of us. And McCain knew it, too, until he rode roughshod over Roosevelt's memory.
Demand progressive taxation in 1907, and you get your face carved onto Mount Rushmore. Advocate the same thing in 2008, and you're an enemy of hardworking plumbers. Go figure.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 - 11:04
SOURCE: Special to HNN (10-21-08)
When John McCain nominated Sarah Palin for Vice President, many political hands viewed this choice as a brilliant strategy to woo working class voters away from the Democrats. Palin's "tough girl" persona and take no prisoners approach to political leadership, coupled with an appealing aura of domesticity flowing from her role as a "hockey mom" and mother of five children, seemed to recast the Republican Party, which had presided over the largest give away to the rich in American history, as the Party of the common people. Palin has emphasized her populist credentials at every opportunity, telling adoring crowds, in carefully chosen campaign stops, that she is speaking for "Joe Sixpack" and surrounding herself with symbols of blue collar Americana like country music star Hank Williams Jr.
Because of Palin's charisma, and ability to excite the Republican based in the midwest and the South, who had initially been somewhat cool to his candidacy, John McCain has decided to use Palinesque rhetoric to enhance his own blue collar credentials, which need some burnishing after it was revealed that he owned 7 houses . In his final debate with Barack Obama, McCain made at least 20 references to man he called "Joe The Plumber," who, he claimed, would be severely penalized under Barack Obama's tax plan because he worked hard all his life and made enough money to buy the company he worked for. That the person he referred to, Joe Weltenbacher, turned out, upon investigation, to have no plumbing license and lack the capital to buy a port-o-san, much less a plumbing company, didn't faze McCain strategists. The repeated invocation of the figure "Joe The Plumber," showed that John McCain had the interests of the American working class at heart.
But what working class?
In a nation where the majority of workers are neither blue collar, white, nor male, repeated references to "Joe Sixpack" and "Joe the Plumber," are more exclusionary than inclusive. The white, muscular, gun toting, Nascar-watching, workers that McCain Palin rhetoric glorify as the heart, soul and conscience of America are a shrinking portion of the American workforce, dwarfed in number by the waitresses, nurses, secretaries, sales clerks, teachers and home health aids, of all racial backgrounds, who are overwhelmingly female, and the truck drivers, factory workers, construction workers ( including plumbers) who are Latino, Black, Asian, and South Asian
In a growing portion of the United States, the toughest, most dangerous work is being done by women and recent immigrants. Go to slaughterhouses and chicken processing plants, textile mils and commercial farms, hospitals and construction sites, warehouses and taxi barns. You'll see a lot of Jose's Oscar's and Maria's, Omar's Khalil's. and Karima's, Betty Lou's and Joan's. What you won't see is a lot of white guys named Joe.
By ignoring this reality in their choice of rhetorical symbols, Republican strategists hurt themselves in two ways. First, they make it seem as though non white and women workers ( Jose the Plumber, and Joan Sixpack) are less important to Republicans than white men, a message which the former groups seem to be taking to heart.. The latest polls show a majority of women, and over 70's of Latinos favoring the Obama/Biden ticket, a calculus which seems destined to produce a Democratic victory.
But secondly, these coded racial messages have helped incite a level of xenophobia and racial hostility at Republican rallies have not been seen in a Presidential election since the George Wallace campaigns of thee 60's. Threats and racial slurs directed at Obama supporters, the parading of openly racist symbols like monkeys and nooses, and chants of "terrorist" and "kill him" when Obama's name have appeared with stunning regularity at Republican presidential gatherings, even after John McCain has denounced such behavior, and are being echoed by a deluge of racially based images of what an Obama presidency would men for America that are being circulated on the internet.
In equating the interests of all American workers with those of white native born men, John McCain, and especially Sarah Palin, have unleashed some of the darkest impulses in the American character in a way that has not only damaged their candidacy, but has strained the social fabric to the breaking point.
Let us hope that American voters will see folly of their strategy, and defeat them so roundly at the polls that their racially coded approach will be permanently consigned to the dustbin of history.
Posted on: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 - 10:52
SOURCE: New York Review of Books (11-6-08)
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia's first post-Soviet president, from 1991 to 1992, has been dead for fifteen years. But in view of his responsibility for initially provoking the South Ossetian campaign to secede from Georgia—the conflict that set off last month's war with Russia—his brief but tumultuous reign merits some fresh scrutiny. Trying to understand the Ossetian, Abkhazian, and other minorities' alienation from Georgia without reference to the extreme nationalism of Gamsakhurdia is like trying to explain Yugoslavia's collapse and Kosovo's secession from Serbia while ignoring the nationalist policies of Slobodan Milosevic. Yet in all the debate over the causes of the Russian–Georgian war, Gamsakhurdia is rarely even mentioned.
Instead, when those responsible are cited, Vladimir Putin invariably comes first. As Russian prime minister he ordered Moscow's brutal offensive into Georgia, and earlier, as president, he tacitly supported both the South Ossetian and Abkhazian secessionists. Next comes Mikheil Saakashvili, the impetuous and vocally pro-American Georgian president who gambled on a lightning strike to retake South Ossetia under pressure of escalating artillery fire from the separatists there.
Others fault President George W. Bush for championing the further expansion of NATO—already viewed by Moscow as hostile, as well as a violation of an implicit promise made at the end of the cold war—to include its strategically vital neighbors Georgia and Ukraine. And then there is Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator who as nationalities commissar in the early 1920s laid the foundation for post-Soviet conflicts by pitting subject peoples against one another ("planting mines," as Georgians say) to strengthen the Kremlin's control.
But lying between the immediate and the distant past is the Gamsakhurdia era, beginning in the late 1980s, the years of Soviet liberalization and the rise of assertive nationalism that did much to shape subsequent Georgian politics—right up to the present. Gamsakhurdia, then mainly known in the West as a scholar and dissident, was also a fiery Georgian nationalist who, like Serbia's Milosevic, rode to power on a wave of chauvinist passions. Both were demagogues who manipulated justified popular grievances and crude popular prejudices to demonize "enemies"—a tactic that soon became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
hile Milosevic's "Greater Serbia" was to be built with territory seized from neighbors Croatia and Bosnia, where Serb minorities were supposedly in mortal danger, Gamsakhurdia's "Georgia for the Georgians" would be established by curtailing the rights and autonomies enjoyed by Georgia's internal minorities, privileges he saw as divisive vestiges of the Soviet system. And as he acted on that program—rising between 1988 and 1991 from opposition leader to parliamentarian to president, Georgian relations with the republic's Abkhazian and Ossetian enclaves went from being strained to being violent.
Gamsakhurdia's rhetoric provoked fear among all Georgian minorities—Adjars, Armenians, Azeris, Greeks, Russians, Abkhazians, and Ossetians. The latter two were especially concerned to protect their cultural rights and self-rule by means of the new opportunities offered by Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika. These included free speech, multiparty elections, the devolution of power to local parliaments, and in 1991 an invitation to redraw the USSR's constitutional basis in a new union treaty.
Gamsakhurdia and his allies responded with fury. Large rallies in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi denounced the Abkhazians and Ossetians as "traitors" and "pawns of the Kremlin" while groups of angry Georgians took their protests directly to the Abkhazian and Ossetian capitals of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. The resulting confrontations often turned violent. A 1989 move by officials in Tbilisi to shut down part of the university in Sukhumi and replace it with a branch of the Georgian State University set off more bloodshed. In response to this clash—and the Abkhazians' declaration of sovereignty—Georgian nationalists began an anti-Abkhazian rally that grew into a weeklong protest in downtown Tbilisi. That demonstration was violently suppressed by Soviet troops in April 1989 at a cost of twenty Georgian lives, further fanning Georgian passions and prompting a series of fateful steps by the Georgian parliament....
Posted on: Monday, October 20, 2008 - 20:20
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (10-18-08)
War is the final auditor of military institutions. Contemporary conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq create an urgent need for feedback based on actual experience. Analysis of the present combined with an understanding of history should help us improve dramatically the quality of our thinking about war. Understanding the continuities as well as changes in the character of armed conflict will help us make wise decisions about force structure, develop relevant joint force capabilities, and refine officer education and the organization, training, and the equipping of our forces.
But first we need to reject the unrealistic, abstract ideas concerning the nature of future conflict that gained wide acceptance in the 1990s. Flush with the ease of the military victory over Saddam’s forces in the 1991 Gulf War and aware of the rapid advance of communications, information, and precision munitions technologies, many observers argued then that U.S. competitive advantages in these technologies had brought about a Revolution in Military Affairs. It was assumed that there would be no “peer competitor” of U.S. military forces until at least 2020. Military concepts based on this assumption promised rapid, low-cost victory in future war. Ultimately, these ideas and their corollary of reduced reliance on military manpower became subsumed under “defense transformation.”
Defense transformation advocates never considered conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq—protracted counterinsurgency and state-building efforts that require population security, security-sector reform, reconstruction and economic development, building governmental capacity, and establishing the rule of law. Our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the 2006 Lebanon war, provide strong warnings that we should abandon the orthodoxy of defense transformation and make appropriate adjustments to force structure and development.
Policy and Strategy Must Determine Force Development
U.S. force development should be driven by how our forces might be employed to protect vital national interests. Prior to 9/11, “capabilities-based” defense analysis reinforced shallow thinking about war and disconnected war from policy and strategy. The belief that surveillance and information technology could lift the fog of war elevated a desired military capability to the level of strategy. After 9/11, military operations were not clearly subordinated to comprehensive plans that aimed to achieve policy goals and objectives.
It is illogical to acknowledge an uncertain strategic environment yet believe in assured results in military operations. War’s conduct and outcome depend in large measure on subjective factors such as the will of the people, the wisdom of political objectives, and consistency between those objectives and military strategy.
The U.S. government must develop improved interdepartmental capabilities for planning and executing complex operations, emphasizing operational design that begins with a comprehensive understanding of the environment and the enemy. Joint forces must be designed not only to defeat identifiable enemy forces, but also to impose security and undertake the wide range of activities necessary to achieve political objectives. Until civilian departments within the U.S. government expand deployable capabilities in order to establish local governance and rule of law, develop police forces, improve basic services, build institutional capacity, and set conditions for economic growth and development, the U.S. military will continue to bear responsibility for those missions.
Counterterrorism Demands a Broad Range of Capabilities
Notwithstanding terrorist organizations’ improved use of communications and their access to increased destructive capacity, they still find it hard to operate without a safe haven, state sponsorship, or tacit support from nation-states or communities therein. As counterterrorism efforts improve, networked movements like Al Qaeda become less effective as they are forced to operate in a more dispersed manner. For this reason Al Qaeda continues to emphasize control of geographic space, whether in Pakistan, Somalia, or a particular region within Iraq. Considering the terrorist threat as merely a law enforcement, homeland defense, or intelligence problem overlooks terrorist organizations’ immediate sources of strength and support, such as freedom of movement and the ability to plan, organize, and prepare for operations in a safe location.
Iran’s engagement in proxy wars through terrorist and insurgent groups in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan demonstrates that the greatest danger to international security may lie at the intersection between hostile states and terrorist organizations. That is why the U.S. Joint Force must expand its ability to deter, coerce, or defeat nations that either threaten U.S. vital interests or attack those vital interests through proxies. It must also improve its ability to take on a wide range of missions, including interdiction of terrorist movement and support; raids against leadership and support bases; and counterinsurgency, peace support, and state-building operations in places that terrorists would like to use as bases of operation.
Fighting Under Conditions of Uncertainty
Initial military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq illustrated more continuities than breaks with previous conflicts. Surveillance and information technologies failed to deliver the promised “dominant battlespace knowledge” as enemy forces employed traditional countermeasures (e.g. dispersion, concealment, deception, and intermingling with civilian populations) to Coalition technological capabilities. While long-range surveillance and precision-strike capabilities were essential to both U.S. campaigns, over-reliance on these capabilities complicated the transition from major combat operations and limited our forces’ effectiveness. At Tora Bora, for example, surveillance of the difficult terrain could not compensate for a lack of ground forces to cover exfiltration routes. After a 16-day battle, many Al Qaeda forces, probably including Osama bin Laden, escaped across the Pakistan border.
Conventional “legacy” Army organizations, designed to fight under uncertain conditions, proved critical in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in March 2002 and in the attack into Baghdad a year later. But some of those organizations have since been eliminated or redesigned, based in part on the assumption that future tactical and operational environments would be marked by a high degree of certainty. Although the divisional cavalry squadron of the Third Infantry Division, a unit designed to fight for information, protect against surprise, and ease the forward movement of follow-on forces, was invaluable during the attack toward Baghdad, that formation and all others like it have since been eliminated in favor of small, lightly armed reconnaissance squadrons designed to use mainly aerial and ground sensors to develop situational awareness out of contact.
The major offensive operation that quickly toppled the Hussein regime in Iraq clearly demonstrated the possibilities associated with new technology, as well as the effects that improved speed, knowledge, and precision can have in the context of a large-scale offensive operation. However, the initial phases of the operation also revealed important continuities in warfare that lie beyond the reach of technology. Unconventional forces will continue to evade detection from even the most advanced surveillance capabilities. Moreover, what commanders most needed to know about enemy forces, such as their degree of competence and motivation, lay completely outside the reach of technology.
Post-9/11 experience highlights the enduring uncertainty of combat and the need for balanced air, ground, and maritime forces that can both project power from a distance and conduct operations on the ground to defeat the enemy and secure critical terrain. Yet some observers continue to portray the impressive performance of new technologies and airpower in Afghanistan and Iraq as decisive and consistent with the prewar belief that these capabilities had revolutionized the nature of armed conflict. Defense programs have not been altered significantly despite experiences that expose fatal flaws in the assumptions that underpinned many of those programs.
We must develop new joint and service operational concepts that are consistent with the enduring uncertainty and complexity of war. Rather than “capabilities-based,” these concepts ought to be based on real and emerging threats and connected to scenarios that direct military force toward the achievement of policy goals and objectives.
In doing this, we must avoid viewing force design as a zero-sum game among the services. Precision strike, information, and surveillance technologies cannot substitute for balanced joint forces, but they are nonetheless vitally important. Technological improvements have delivered a higher level of situational understanding. Without dominance at sea or supremacy in the air, U.S. ground forces would be extremely vulnerable to enemy action. Additionally, U.S. air and naval strike capabilities make it difficult for enemy ground forces to concentrate, except in very complex terrain or urban areas. Moreover, the ability of small U.S. forces to bring overwhelming firepower to bear upon contact with the enemy permits our forces to operate with confidence while dispersed across wide areas.
However, recent conventional combat experience also suggests that we should reject the notion that lightness, ease of deployment, and reduced logistical infrastructure are virtues in and of themselves. What a force is expected to achieve once it is deployed is far more important than how quickly it can be moved and how easily it can be sustained. As we endeavor to improve ground force capability, we must therefore increase airlift and sealift capabilities.
Counterinsurgency and Stability Operations
The United States is likely to become engaged in future conflicts against armed groups that employ tactics and strategies similar to those it is facing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have also confirmed that the key battleground in these conflicts is the population.
Some commanders and defense officials were slow to recognize the character of the conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Initial emphasis was on an attrition approach to the complex problem of growing insurgencies. Using technical intelligence and surveillance capabilities, U.S. forces attempted to defeat networked enemy organizations through attacking leadership and reducing critical capabilities. This approach viewed the enemy as a complex system that could be collapsed if the right nodes were destroyed. A “raiding” approach to counterinsurgency, combined with the rapid generation of Iraqi security forces, seemed to promise quick results and compensate for insufficient Coalition troop strength to secure the population. This approach elevated an important capability to the level of strategy. Resources were dictating strategy, rather than the other way around.
As indigenous security forces came under increased enemy pressure and insurgent groups replaced their killed or captured leaders, commanders moved off large bases and conducted area security operations to protect the population, isolate the insurgents, foster political and economic development, build security forces, and help establish the rule of law. However, lacking sufficient forces to secure the population in critical areas, many commanders were only able to continue raiding operations to disrupt the enemy. Meanwhile, insurgent forces were able to coerce the population, establish safe operating bases in areas beyond Coalition reach, incite sectarian conflict, and prevent Coalition and Iraqi forces from establishing the security necessary for economic and political development. A lack of troop strength also compelled dispersed Coalition forces to move continuously along routes they were unable to secure, a main cause of large numbers of casualties from roadside bombs.
Population security must be the focus of counterinsurgency operations. Technology can assist greatly in that effort, but it cannot substitute for a sufficient strength of land forces. In weak or collapsed states, indigenous forces cannot provide security on their own. Recent combat experience has demonstrated the need to develop in military forces the critical skill sets relevant to state-building and developing security forces, even though this will take time.
Obstacles That Undermine Learning from Conflicts
Unfortunately, parochial agendas and narrow perspectives threaten to impede the effort to repair the intellectual foundation for defense modernization and adjust force development. Some analysts maintain that current operations either are derived from flawed policy or unimportant to U.S. vital interests. For example, U.S. Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap argued recently that the Iraq War is an aberration—an ill-advised “hearts and minds campaign.” He suggested that America should eschew conflicts like those in Afghanistan and Iraq in favor of “scenarios” that call for the destruction of an adversary’s “capacity to project power.” In Dunlap’s construct, war could once again be made simple, fast, inexpensive, and efficient by divorcing military operations from policy or limiting the application of military force to targets capable of “projecting power.” Instead of “colossal, boots on the ground efforts,” the United States should rely on “air strikes to demolish enemy capabilities complemented by short-term, air-assisted raids and high-tech Air Force surveillance.” Divorced from its political context, the problem of future war could be solved by America’s “asymmetric advantages.” The argument has appeal, in part, because it defines war as we might prefer it to be.
Those who advocate a return to 1990s thinking also assert that U.S. airpower and the delivery of “effects” from long range (e.g., bombing) are more “culturally compatible,” because these capabilities represent America’s “asymmetrical advantage.” Air Force Lieutenant General David Deptula has argued that increased investment in asymmetric capabilities would permit U.S. forces to “project power without projecting mass.” While it is clear that air, space, and cyber systems deliver valuable speed and flexibility, it is not clear how those systems alone will deliver sufficient capability to overcome countermeasures, defeat determined adversaries, or achieve political objectives.
Another argument used to support the orthodoxy of the RMA is that remotely delivered effects would make war less risky, less costly, and even more humane. Dunlap and Deptula, among others, cite the targeting of U.S. land forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They seem to attribute combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to the mere presence of U.S. forces rather than the possibility that these forces pose a threat to enemy organizations and designs hostile to U.S. political goals. Deptula and Dunlap fail to consider the enemy’s ability to react and adopt countermeasures that complicate our ability to remotely deliver effects. One wonders what kind of remotely delivered capability might secure people from terrorists living in their midst, reconstitute a police force, or interdict concealed vehicle bombs aimed at crowded marketplaces. Dunlap and Deptula suggest that the United States reexamine the degree to which it will accept “collateral damage,” but do not explain how bombing suspected targets without the ability to secure the population or discriminate between combatants and noncombatants would support U.S. objectives in current or potential conflicts.
Finally, Deptula and Dunlap, among others, argue that future war will be fundamentally different. For example, Deptula states that “the profound effects of globalization and the information revolution are mirrored, if not magnified, in the realm of conflict—where they have recast the nature of our adversaries, redefined the fabric and scope of the battlespace, and reinvented the tools and techniques used to conduct warfare.” The assumption that future war will lie mainly in the realm of certainty has obscured differences between business and war. It fosters the belief that the influence of information technology on business and the economy is directly transferable to war. Prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the RMA movement was driven in large measure by that belief, reinforced by computer simulations that failed to replicate the conditions of war. Faulty analogies and flawed experiments were mutually reinforcing. However, the continuous interactions with the enemy in war and uncertainties associated with those interactions are fundamentally different from business interactions.
Moreover, efficiency in war means barely winning, and in war, barely winning is an ugly proposition. In war one seeks to overwhelm the enemy such that he is unable to take effective action; the business principle of maximum payoff for minimum investment does not apply. The complexity and uncertainty of war require decentralization and a certain degree of redundancy, concepts that cut against business’s emphasis on control and efficiency.
We need to reject the assertion that future war will differ fundamentally from recent and ongoing conflicts in order to protect future commanders from what could become a tendency toward risk aversion and over-control. Assuming information superiority might lead some commanders to conclude that making near-perfect decisions based on near-perfect intelligence is the essence of command. Commanders must be capable of conceptual thought and have the ability to communicate a vision of how the force will achieve its objectives.
Potential adversaries are developing technological countermeasures to attack components of emerging capabilities. Recent examples include the Chinese demonstration of an anti-satellite capability and Russian cyber attacks that reveal the vulnerability of information systems. Future adversaries will likely develop countermeasures that pose a significant threat to U.S. surveillance, information, communications, and precision-strike capabilities and the network on which those capabilities depend.
The above factors militate for the development of balanced joint forces capable of operating against determined enemies that will attempt to evade and attack our technological advantages. But theory continues to triumph over practice, due largely to informal relationships between defense contractors, the DoD, Congress, and think tanks, some of whom built client bases on marketing or lending legitimacy to flawed concepts. Moreover, conflicts of interest present obstacles to unbiased experimentation. The stark contrast between actual experience and the results of tests and experiments argues for a critical examination of joint and Defense experimentation and the practice of using experimentation results to justify Defense programs.
Implications for Land Forces
The U.S. Army, despite having fought for six years under conditions that run counter to the orthodoxy of defense transformation, is still finding it difficult to break away from years of wrongheaded thinking. The Army brigade organization, designed using mainly computer simulations to validate a smaller, lighter, more efficient organization that could “see first, understand first, act first, and finish decisively,” has not undergone significant revision. That “quality of firsts,” based on the assumption of dominant knowledge in future war, has gone largely unchallenged. Indeed, the quality of firsts, despite being exposed as unrealistic by combat experience, continues to provide the primary conceptual justification for the Army’s Future Brigade Combat Team (FBCT) organization and some acquisition programs.
Recent combat experience has had no discernible effect on the FBCT or current Army Brigade Combat Team (BCT) organizations, largely because of flawed doctrinal concepts and a continued fixation on futuristic experiments in constructive simulations even as U.S. forces are at war. Forces equipped only for self-defense under the assumption that information superiority will protect them and permit the destruction of the enemy at a great distance are certain to suffer a high number of casualties when they engage in close combat. In war, the enemy makes decisions that help determine when, where, and how our forces will fight. If a force optimized for operations under conditions of information superiority loses communications, it could become isolated and unable to access remote fires. Any ambiguity will necessitate reallocating sensors and an analysis effort to avoid risks associated with encountering the enemy unexpectedly. While much of the transformation literature stresses speed, adaptability, and initiative, the force’s inability to overmatch the enemy in a close fight will predispose leaders toward waiting for information rather than taking resolute action in uncertain conditions. Ironically, a force that was supposed to be fast and agile will operate ponderously.
The factors underpinning uncertainty in war are mainly land-based. As defense analyst C. Kenneth Allard has observed, operations on land provide challenges “for which technology at best provides only incomplete answers.” Indeed, people live on land, and land is where political, social, and cultural factors interact with geography and determined enemies to generate profound uncertainty. U.S. Joint Forces must be prepared to fight and win under conditions of uncertainty.
It is time to discard flawed idealized visions of future war and the assumptions that underpin them. New doctrine based on logical projections into the near future should provide the conceptual foundation for joint and service force design. Civilian and military defense leaders should eliminate the practice of contracting out their intellectual responsibilities. In particular, defense contractors should not produce and test operational concepts that can later be used to justify the purchase of their systems or products. We might declare a moratorium on joint and service experimentation so these programs can be audited and alternative means developed to justify acquisition programs. Forces ought to be designed explicitly to fight under conditions of uncertainty and to achieve effectiveness rather than efficiency. This will entail tolerating a higher degree of redundancy. We should build sufficient logistical and lift capacity to sustain and transport forces for what they are to accomplish in wartime. In particular, the disparity between the doctrinal foundation for Army forces and recent experiences demands a thorough review of Army organization. Instead of creating more of the same BCTs as the Army grows in strength, leaders might conduct a comprehensive review of the BCT design and strengthen those organizations based on recent and ongoing experience.
New technologies and “spin outs” from acquisition programs have contributed significantly to the combat effectiveness of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan; technological modernization and innovation should be pursued with undiminished vigor. Understanding both the capabilities and limitations associated with these technologies, however, is essential to shaping the future force.
1. ^ See Stephen Biddle, “Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy,” Strategic Studies Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pa., November 2002, esp. pp. 1-3; and Stephen Biddle et al., “Iraq and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy,” August 2003, U.S. Army War College, at www.globalsecurity.org.
2. ^ Major General Charles Dunlap, “America’s Asymmetric Advantage,” Armed Forces Journal, Sept. 2006.
3. ^ Ibid.; Deptula, “Air and Space Power Going Forward.”
4. ^ Ibid.
5. ^ Mark Rocke and David Fitchitt, “Establishing Strategic Vectors: Charting a Path for Army Transformation,” Association of the U.S. Army, April 2007, at www.ausa.org/pdfdocs/special/may07.pdf
6. ^ C. Kenneth Allard, “Information Warfare: The Burden of History and the Risk of Hubris,” in The Information Revolution and National Security: Dimensions and Directions, ed. Stuart J. D. Schwartzstein (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1996).
Posted on: Monday, October 20, 2008 - 19:55
SOURCE: Deborah Lipstadt blog (and JTA) (10-19-08)
I am one of those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. I was a Hillary supporter. I did not support Senator Clinton because she was a woman but because I liked her policies and record. But as is often the case in life, my hopes were not to be. Once that became clear I sat on the sidelines, watching and wondering. Now I am firmly in the Obama/Biden camp. I have been both pushed and pulled in that direction. I am there as an American, a woman and a Jew.
John McCain is a firm pro-lifer, having voted against choice more than 120 times in his career. His running mate opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these beliefs, I object to having someone's personal views forced upon everyone else when it entails such a private family matter.
Furthermore, this view potentially conflicts with Jewish law, which holds that when there is a threat to the life of the mother, her life takes precedence over that of her fetus -- and leaves abortion decisions up to a woman and the rabbi with whom she consults. Many traditional rabbis take into consideration the issue of mental stress on the mother, permitting abortions in the case of Tay-Sachs and other genetic diseases.
Were McCain and Sarah Palin to write their pro-life beliefs into law, their policy could create both a direct obstacle to Jewish law and severe invasions into our private lives.
McCain's views on abortion are not, however, my primary reason for not supporting him. I find myself diverging with him on a far broader array of issues.
The Torah repeatedly instructs us to care for the "widow, orphan, poor, and the stranger." It is fundamental to Judaism that those who are blessed with "more" have an obligation -- not a choice -- to help those who have less. Taking care of the needy in Jewish tradition constitutes doing tzedaka, not charity. There is a world of difference between the two.
The root of charity is "caras," as in dear -- caress, care. The root of tzedaka is justice. Jewish law prefers that people give charity lovingly and kindly. But Jewish law teaches, even if you don't care to give, that you are obligated to do so. How then could I support McCain, who has voted against the minimum wage at least 10 times? How could I support someone who believes in the privatization of Social Security? Can you imagine what would be happening today as the economy lurches toward implosion to people who depended on private Social Security accounts? Social Security is a contract a society makes with its citizens: We will help you when you are old and needy.
How could I support a candidate, McCain, whose health-care program would leave millions uninsured and tax the health insurance benefits we now receive from our employers? How could I support someone who supports more tax cuts for the very wealthy and almost nothing for the middle class or the poor?
And then, of course, there is Israel, to which so many of us are deeply and viscerally connected. Groups of Jews who oppose Barack Obama want to strike fear into people's hearts on this issue. Why else would I regularly receive e-mails from them -- I like to know what the other side is saying -- referring to BHO, as in Barrack Hussein Obama?
Obama's record has earned him praise from AIPAC and Israeli leaders, as well as condemnation from Palestinian leaders. The recently defunct, solidly pro-Israel New York Sun declared in an editorial earlier this year: "Mr. Obama's commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America."
Moreover, the paper noted, "he has chosen to put himself on the record in terms that Israel's friends in America, at least those not motivated by pure political partisanship, can warmly welcome."
Leaders in Israel -- on both sides of the political spectrum -- do not fear Obama's commitment to Israel. Israeli leaders from Ehud Barak to Benjamin Netanyahu were impressed by Obama. Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader, told the Jerusalem Post that he was "impressed with Obama's understanding of the Iranian threat and that they both agreed that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable." Netanyahu also said that he and Obama agreed on the importance of "preventing a nuclear Tehran" and that "when it came to stopping Iran there were no politics."
What about the famous "experience" conundrum? Obama's familiarity with the issues has impressed many people, including the veteran journalist David Horowitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post. Horowitz compared his recent interviews with President Bush and Senators McCain and Obama.
When he met a few months ago with Bush in the Oval Office, the president -- who at this point is "presumably as expert on Israeli-Palestinian policy as he is ever going to be" -- brought with him "no fewer than five advisers and spokespeople during a 40-minute interview," Horowitz wrote.
On his whirlwind visit to Israel, "McCain, one of whose primary strengths is said to be his intimate grasp of foreign affairs, chose to bring along Sen. Joe Lieberman to the interview" and "looked to Lieberman several times for reassurance on his answers and seemed a little flummoxed by a question relating to the nuances of settlement construction."
Horowitz's meeting with Obama was markedly different. Obama "spoke with only a single aide in his hotel room." (The aide's only contribution was to suggest that Obama and Horowitz switch seats, so the Post photographer would have better lighting.)
Obama did not lack for Middle East advisers. Dennis Ross, President Bill Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East and one who is widely respected for his knowledge and commitment to a secure peace settlement, and Daniel Kurtzer, the former ambassador to Israel and Yeshiva University graduate and its former dean, were "hovering in the vicinity," Horowitz wrote, but they were not in the room. Horowitz observed that Obama "knew precisely what he wanted to say about the most intricate issues confronting and concerning Israel, and expressed himself clearly, even stridently on key subjects."
Contrast that with Sarah Palin's rote repetition three times during the Charlie Gibson interview of precisely the same phrase about Israel that "We can't second-guess Israel." Is that all she has to say? Can she only speak in sound bites? Does she have any knowledge of the nuances of the situation?
The same thing happened in the vice-presidential debate. Palin spewed a lot of talking points -- two-state solution, no second Holocaust, embassy in Jerusalem -- but demonstrated no real familiarity with the situation.
I firmly believe that those who know the history and nuances of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the track record of the different players cannot help but come down on the side of a safe and secure Israel. But in order to help broker a real peace, they must know much more than rote talking points.
Many Jews, myself included, were deeply disturbed by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's most controversial comments, but there is nothing in Obama's record to indicate that he adheres to Wright's views. I was glad to hear Obama forcefully and publicly denounce them.
Contrast that with Palin, who sat in her church while a Jews for Jesus leader, David Brickner, preached that terrorism in Israel is God's "judgment" against Jews for failing to accept Jesus? Maybe she said nothing because she did not understand the implication's of Brickner's words, but that would be even more disturbing.
When Palin first ran for mayor of Wasilla, she did so as the town's "first Christian mayor." What does that have to do with being mayor? Is this someone you want a heartbeat away from America's oldest president, a man who has had multiple bouts with cancer?
Lest someone assume that I am contemptuous of her deep religious commitment, let me stress that it is the contrary. In my work and life I find myself more comfortable with those who are deeply committed to their faith -- whatever that faith may be -- than those who are totally unconnected and, even worse, contemptuous of those who are. I just don't want them imposing their faith on me.
Finally, let's talk about the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the middle of many people's election ballots. Jews have prospered in this country in countless and unimaginable ways. America has given us tremendous opportunities. While no one should vote for Barack Obama because he is black, the fact that a black man is a nominee for the highest office in the land constitutes an affirmation of the fact that at long last, some of the final barriers of discrimination are crumbling. For Jews it is yet another reminder of the blessings this country has offered them and other minorities.
For me, the choice is clear.
Posted on: Monday, October 20, 2008 - 18:15
SOURCE: Japan Focus (10-14-08)
... Because only Japan and Germany challenged in war the Anglo-American world order in the first half of the 20th century, and experienced traumatic defeat and occupation, no other world region has evolved similarly situated core states. After its historic victory over the political alternative that Fascism posed to Anglo-American hegemony in the middle of the 20th century, U.S. foreign policies sought to anchor its Japanese and German clients firmly within America's emerging imperium ( Lake 1988).
Gavan McCormack (2007, 79–80) writes: "...it is hard to escape the feeling that they [U.S. officials today] functioned rather as proconsuls, advising and instructing, while seeing Japan still as an imperial dependency, rather like General MacArthur a half-century earlier, who was acclaimed a benevolent liberator even while treating the Japanese people as children." An assessment that was correct for the late 1940s is wrong half a century later. In the case of Japan as much as Germany it is a mistake to argue that this client status remains intact. Eventually both states left their client status behind, becoming regional powers in their own right and supporters of the United States. Each is intent on exercising economic and political power indirectly, thereby simultaneously extending the reach and durability of the American imperium (Katzenstein and Shiraishi 1997, 2006; Katzenstein 1997). These two supporter states were of vital importance in keeping Asia and Europe porous rather than closed regions. Their attachment to the American imperium was steady, first in the name of anti-Communism, and subsequently in the name of globalization and counter-terrorism. Yet the difference in the geo-strategic context—as yet no politically viable East Asian Community, no large immigrant Muslim population in Japan, a geographically proximate perceived national security threat in the form of North Korea, and a deep suspicion of an increasingly powerful China—has left Japan a more dependable supporter state of the United States than Germany. The bipartisan Armitage-Nye report of October 2000 illustrates how far American policy has come to recognize Japan's strategic importance for U.S. foreign policy in East Asia, and how far it has left behind policies that regarded Japan as a client (as in the 1950s) or the subject of external pressure politics (as in the 1980s) (Green 2007: 147).
This is not to deny that as history changes, so may the character and standing of these two supporter states. Japan and Germany are increasingly removed in time, although not necessarily in terms of their memory, from their traumatic national defeats. After 9/11 the Bush administration's sharp turn toward a militant and unilateralist policy has given rise to strong opposition among mass publics abroad (Katzenstein and Keohane 2007). For example, democratization in South Korean politics gave rise to an anti-Americanism that has been accentuated greatly by the abrasive political style of a hapless U.S. diplomacy (Steinberg 2005). Anti-Americanism among the young in particular has risen to heights that would have been inconceivable in the late 1990s. In China, American-inflected globalization is embraced while anti-hegemonism, especially its behavioral manifestations, continues to be a powerful oppositional ideology that resists American primacy. While it is not as virulent or racist as anti-Japanese sentiments, this anti-Americanism is a powerful latent force that is readily activated around many issues and most certainly around the volatile issue of Taiwan (Johnston and Stockmann 2007).
Japan is a notable exception to these changes in East Asian popular attitudes. In the mid- and late 1950s Japanese anti-Americanism ran so deep, in the form of opposition to the US-Japan Security Treaty, that President Eisenhower cancelled his visit in 1960, after the Japanese government informed the White House that a full mobilization of Japan's total police force could not guarantee the physical security of the Presidential motorcade from Haneda airport to the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo. Since the end of the Vietnam war anti-Americanism has virtually disappeared as Japan's party system has moved to center-right, and as a new national consciousness has taken hold of a younger generation psychologically no longer moved by the dominant concerns of the 1950s and 1960s and unnerved by North Korean nuclear-reinforced bluster and China's rise. At a popular level the relationship between Japan and the United States is free from rancor. Despite sustained protests against American bases in Okinawa, public opinion polls typically show above 60 per cent of the Japanese public favoring the United States, about twice as large as corresponding numbers for various European countries (Pew Global Attitudes Project 2007; Tanaka 2007).
Furthermore, as the character of the American imperium changes, its two supporter states are unavoidably repositioned in the matrix of Asian and European politics. There exists thus no reason why the role of these supporter states could not be filled by others. If Germany were to be submerged totally in a European polity (which seems very unlikely) and if Japan's GDP were surpassed, eventually, by China's (which seems very likely, but not imminent), together with other historical changes affecting Asia, Europe, and the United States, this might eventually transform the role played by traditional supporters and other regional pivots. In the case of France and China, for example, the magnitude of such changes would have to be very substantial. These two states are crucial pivots. But it is hard to imagine how they could replace Japan and Germany any time soon as Asia's and Europe's supporter states.
Alliance with the United States has provided the political and strategic foundations for Japan’s economic rise in the American imperium (Ikenberry and Inoguchi 2003, 2007). To be sure, with the passing of time Asia has become more important as war and occupation receded and as Japan's reconstruction and economic clout made it Asia's preeminent economic power. But it was Asia viewed from Tokyo through an American looking-glass. There was more than a whiff of the historical role that Japan sought after the Meiji restoration—casting itself in the role of interlocutor between Asia and the West.
Since 1945 Japan has experienced a phenomenal rise. Its economic fortunes were helped greatly by serving as the Asian armory in America's global struggle against Communism, first in Korea in the 1950s and subsequently in Vietnam and Southeast Asia in the 1960s. The collapse of the Bretton Woods system and the two oil shocks of the 1970s set the stage for the economic rise of Japan in financial markets. The 1980s were the decade of Japan's global ascendance as an economic superpower, ending in a speculative bubble that collapsed into economic torpor lasting more than a decade. In manufacturing Japan's technological prowess is no longer unchallenged in defining East Asia's economic frontiers. Japan has a mature economy that is trying to cope with an aging and thrifty population and with being one of the two main sources of credit for the United States. This completed the transformation of Japan's strategic relationship with the United States from client to supporter state.
Japan has been important in supporting, both directly and indirectly, U.S. policies in a variety of ways (Krauss and Pempel 2004; McCormack 2007; Pyle 2007; Hughes and Krauss 2007). It helped refurbish the institutional infrastructure of international financial institutions following the Asian financial crisis of 1997, became for a while the world's largest aid donor, and played a central role, especially in the mid-1980s, of intervening in financial markets to realign the values of the world's major currencies. Since the 1980s Japan has accommodated the United States on issues central to the functioning of the international economy, with evident reluctance in opening Japanese markets for goods, services and capital and with an air of resignation in amassing close to a trillion dollars in reserves, substantial portions of which have helped to finance perennial U.S. budget and trade deficits....
Posted on: Sunday, October 19, 2008 - 11:54
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (10-19-08)
When McCain calls Obama a"socialist," is he Red-baiting?
Republicans back in the 1950s through the 1980s routinely accused Democrats of being"Communists" or hinted around that they were fellow travelers or 'soft on communism.' Richard M. Nixon, the grand dragon of dirty tricks, described the Democratic standard bearer in 1952, Adlai Stevenson, as a man with a"PhD from Dean Acheson's cowardly college of Communist containment." Nixon never did anything to contradict the policy of containing communism (one supposes the alternative was a nuclear war) and he decades later opened Communist China.
Fabulously wealthy arch-conservative Godfather Richard Mellon Scaife notoriously called journalist Karen Rothmeyer a 'f*cking Communist c*nt' when she asked him about his funding practices.
These charges of"Communism" against mainstream American politicians and journalists would have made no sense to the public save for the propaganda activities of the much less reputable Far Right, which was a small but disproportionately important part of the American right wing.
It is therefore not suprising that a Republican senator from Florida comapared Obama's taxation policies to Communism.
McCain has known close associations with the nuttier of the far right political cults, such as Gen. John Singlaub's"US Council for World Freedom."
But McCain is after all a senator and has to mince words to remain a viable candidate. Let us listen to his brother, Joe McCain, who, according to Nicholas F. Benton of The Falls Church News recently characterized Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia as Communist territory, causing some prominent N. Virginia Republicans to resign:
' 'Yesterday, Falls Church City Councilman David Snyder, a former mayor who's been on the City Council since 1994 and is the most prominent Republican elected official in the City, announced in a letter submitted to the News-Press (printed elsewhere in this edition) that he's disassociated with the Virginia GOP. Snyder accented his letter with angry comments made to the News-Press in a phone interview yesterday. He said that well-publicized comments by GOP Presidential candidate John McCain's brother, Joe McCain, in Alexandria last weekend was the"final straw." Joe McCain, speaking at a rally in support of his brother's campaign, said that Northern Virginia is a" communist country.""Such a label is deeply offensive for all of us," Snyder said in his letter."This is yet another reminder of the neo-McCarthyism now so much a part of the political debate." He concluded,"The Virginia Republican Party, under whose tent these comments were made, is not a party with which I wish to be associated for this and many other reasons, unless and until it returns to the principles of its once revered former leaders, such Abraham Lincoln and Dwight David Eisenhower." '
McCain's pattern of associations, with Singlaub and G. Gordon Liddy, and the bizarre, even nutty pronouncements of his brother Joe, raise the severest questions about McCain's fitness to be president.
As for socialism, when the Republican administration is having the government buy bank stocks, that cow is out of the barn.
Posted on: Sunday, October 19, 2008 - 11:38
This Ramadan, Muslims and Arabs across the United States have come face to face with questions of identity and portrayal, as 28 million copies of the movie Obsession: Radical Islam's War against the West were distributed in fourteen swing states, in a blatant and large-scale misrepresentation of Muslims. The DVDs were distributed by seventy newspapers including The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and were also mailed directly to registered voters shortly after the anniversary of 9/11. The Detroit Free Press and two other newspapers refused to circulate the DVD because "distributing the piece would have been irresponsible and harmful."
And the film is, indeed, harmful. The disclaimer at the beginning, that the movie is about radical Islam and not the majority of Muslims who are peaceful, is forgotten ten minutes into the movie when Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab, says, "What is worrying is that there's a silent majority that is not speaking out in a very strong voice against these groups. And I hope it's only out of fear and not out of sympathy with people like Osama ben Laden." This quote summarizes the message of the movie: Americans have no way of knowing which Muslim is an extremist who agrees with Osama ben Laden and which one is peaceful, and therefore ought to be suspicious of every Muslim.
Aside from its prejudiced message, the movie makes several unfounded claims. Walid Shoebat, "former PLO terrorist," claims that there are as many Muslim supporters of terrorism as there are Americans, and that these Muslims are all over the world. Following footage of the pilgrimage in Mecca, the narrator asks, "[W]hat percentage of the Islamic world supports jihad?" Abu Toameh answers, "The Muslim world consists of more than one billion people," and Daniel Pipes says that ten to fifteen percent support radical Islam. He continues, "That is not to say that only ten percent are anti-American or anti-Zionist. No, that's much larger."
According to the Pew Charitable Foundation's Global Attitudes Project, people in Muslim countries predominantly view Islamic extremism as people in the West do, and are concerned that it poses a threat to their own countries. The film fails to point out that according to quantifiable data, more Muslims oppose terrorism, especially suicide bombings, than ever in the past. Nonie Darwish, the daughter of a "martyr," tells us that Jihad means "to conquer the world for Allah." But Muslim leaders and scholars of Islam have repeatedly stated that Jihad does not mean holy war. Muslims have defined and redefined this term countless times – to give only one example, the Muslim gay and lesbian community has claimed the term for their struggle for LGBT rights. They, like many other Muslims, understand jihad according to its literal meaning: struggle, and in most cases it is internal struggle.
The movie then claims that Muslims who do not agree with the terrorists are killed, even though Muslims have spoken out publicly against extremism without being killed, in the US and abroad, profesors and laymen, mullas and secular Muslims alike. The American Muslim, a journal that was established in 1989, states that its mission is the "promotion of peace, justice, and reconciliation for all humanity." One section on their website, "Muslim Voices Against Terrorism and Extremism" boasts hundreds of articles.
Muslims and Arabs across the United States are speaking out against this misrepresentation, and they are joined by clergy across many denominations. The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance in Washington D.C., issued a public statement in which he wrote, "We firmly believe that everyone has a right to an opinion. But when a cynical attempt is made to influence our nation's presidential election by stoking fear of one religious group we believe the media along with public officials, such as the Federal Election Commission, must establish who is trying to influence our politics through religious bigotry."
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) investigated the Clarion Fund, which distributed the film, and found that "it is a front organization for an Israeli-based group, Aish HaTorah International." CAIR filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission to investigate a foreign-based group trying to influence the outcome of the American elections. Because of its 501(c)(3) status, Clarion Fund "can't engage in partisan politics," according to NPR's 2008 Election Campaign Secret Money Project. But that is exactly what it does by distributing the film in such a way, inciting fear and prejudice among Americans and rendering the moderate Muslim and Arab majority invisible and voiceless.
Posted on: Friday, October 17, 2008 - 16:12
SOURCE: Nation (10-15-08)
A few months ago, an article in The New York Times Magazine portrayed Barack Obama's presidential candidacy as marking the"end" of traditional black politics and the emergence of a new generation of black leaders whose careers began after the civil rights struggle, and who strive to represent not simply black voters but the wider electorate."For a lot of younger African-Americans," wrote Matt Bai,"the resistance of the civil rights generation to Obama's candidacy signified the failure of the parents to come to terms, at the dusk of their lives, with the success of their own struggle--to embrace the idea that black politics might now be disappearing into American politics in the same way that the Irish and Italian machines long ago joined the political mainstream."
Bai's analysis assumes that until recently only one kind of politics existed among African-Americans: a politics focused solely on race and righting the wrongs of racism. Yet divisions among black politicians are nothing new. Some politicians have defined themselves primarily as representatives of a black community; others have identified with predominantly white, nonracial parties like the Populists, Socialists or Communists. Some have been nationalists who believe that racial advancement comes only through community self-determination; others have worked closely with white allies. These differences go back as far as debates among black abolitionists before the Civil War. Then, as now, black politics was as complex and multifaceted as any other kind of politics, and one of the valuable implications of the new book Capitol Men (although its author, Philip Dray, does not quite put it this way) is that Obama's candidacy represents not so much a repudiation of the black political tradition as an affirmation of one of its long-established, vigorous strands.
Of the thousands of men and women who have served in the Senate or as governors since the ratification of the Constitution, only nine have been African-American. Three of the nine hold office today: Senator Obama and Governors David Paterson of New York and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. Well over a century ago, during the turbulent era of Reconstruction, they were preceded by another three: Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce, both senators from Mississippi, and P.B.S. Pinchback, briefly the governor of Louisiana. The gulf between this trio and Obama, Paterson and Patrick is a striking reminder of the almost insurmountable barriers that have kept African-Americans from the highest offices in the land. It also underscores how remarkable, if temporary, a transformation in American life was wrought by Reconstruction. Revels, Bruce and Pinchback were only the tip of a large iceberg--an estimated 2,000 black men served in some kind of elective office during that era. The emergence of these men in the aftermath of the Civil War was living proof of an idea expressed after an earlier period of turmoil and bloodshed:"all that extent of capacity" of ordinary people, invisible in normal times, wrote Tom Paine in The Rights of Man,"never fails to appear in revolutions."
For many decades, historians viewed Reconstruction as the lowest point in the American experience, a time of corruption and misgovernment presided over by unscrupulous carpetbaggers from the North, ignorant former slaves and traitorous scalawags (white Southerners who supported the new governments in the South). Mythologies about black officeholders formed a central pillar of this outlook. Their alleged incompetence and venality illustrated the larger" crime" of Reconstruction--placing power in the hands of a race incapable of participating in American democracy. D.W. Griffith's 1915 film Birth of a Nation included a scene in which South Carolina's black legislators downed alcohol and propped their bare feet on their desks while enacting laws. Claude Bowers, in The Tragic Era, a bestseller of the 1920s that did much to form popular consciousness about Reconstruction, offered a similar portrait. To Griffith and Bowers, the incapacity of black officials justified the violence of the Ku Klux Klan and the eventual disenfranchisement of Southern black voters.
Historians have long since demolished this racist portrait of the era. Today Reconstruction is viewed as a noble if flawed experiment, a forerunner of the modern struggle for racial justice. If the era was tragic, it was not because Reconstruction was attempted but because the effort to construct an interracial democracy on the ruins of slavery failed. Capitol Men begins by calling Reconstruction a"powerful story of idealism," one Dray tells by describing the careers of the sixteen black men (including Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce) who served in Congress between 1870 and 1877.
Popular histories like Dray's, aimed at an audience outside the academy, have tended to infuse their subjects with drama by focusing on violent confrontations rather than the operation and accomplishments (public school systems, pioneering civil rights legislation, efforts to rebuild the shattered Southern economy) of the biracial governments established in the South after the Civil War. One thinks of recent works like Nicholas Lemann's Redemption, a compelling account of Reconstruction's violent overthrow in Mississippi; Stephen Budiansky's The Bloody Shirt, a survey of violence during the entire period; and LeeAnna Keith's The Colfax Massacre, about the single bloodiest incident in an era steeped in terrorism by the Klan and kindred white supremacist groups.
Dray's previous books--well-regarded studies of lynching (At the Hands of Persons Unknown) and of the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964 (We Are Not Afraid)--fit within this familiar pattern. But in his latest work, Dray moves beyond violence, a vital but limited way of understanding the era's political history. Perhaps because it concentrates on the careers of a few individuals, Capitol Men is episodic and somewhat unfocused. It does not really offer an assessment of Reconstruction's successes and failings. Still, Dray is an engaging writer with an eye for the dramatic incident and an ability to draw out its broader significance and relevance to our own times.
One such episode involves Robert Smalls, who in 1874 was elected to Congress from Beaufort County, South Carolina. Twelve years earlier, Smalls had piloted the Planter, on which he worked as a slave crewman, out of Charleston harbor and delivered it to the Union navy, a deed that made him a national hero. In 1864, while the ship was undergoing repairs in Philadelphia, a conductor evicted Smalls from a streetcar when he refused to give up his seat to a white passenger. Ninety years before a similar incident involving Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, Smalls's ordeal inspired a movement of black and white reformers to persuade the Pennsylvania legislature to ban discrimination in public transportation.
Equally riveting is the 1874 confrontation between Alexander Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy, then representing Georgia in the House of Representatives, and another black South Carolinian, Congressman Robert Elliott. The subject of their exchange was a civil rights bill banning racial discrimination in places of public accommodation. Stephens offered a long argument based on states' rights as to why the bill was unconstitutional. Elliott launched into a learned and impassioned address explaining why the recently enacted Fourteenth Amendment justified the measure (which was signed into law by President Grant the following year), then reminded Congress of an infamous speech Stephens had delivered on the eve of the Civil War:"It is scarcely twelve years since that gentleman shocked the civilized world by announcing the birth of a government which rested on human slavery as its cornerstone." Elliott already had proved that he refused to be intimidated by whites: in 1869 he whipped a white man in the streets of Columbia for writing inappropriate notes to his wife. A black man assaulting a white man in defense of his wife's good name was not a common occurrence in nineteenth-century South Carolina.
Many of the black Congressmen spoke of the abuse they suffered while traveling to the Capitol. Joseph Rainey was removed from a hotel dining room; Robert Elliott was refused service at a restaurant in a railroad station. Even when they reached Washington, hazards remained and insults swirled about them. A number of black Congressmen faced death threats and defended themselves by posting armed guards at their homes. In the House, one Virginia Democrat announced that he was addressing only"the white men," the"gentlemen," not his black colleagues. Another spoke of slavery as a civilizing institution that had brought black"barbarians" into modern civilization. Black Congressman Richard Cain of South Carolina responded that his colleague's definition of" civilizing instruments" seemed to encompass nothing more than"the lash and the whipping post."
The Congressmen Dray profiles came from diverse origins and differed in their approach to public policies. Some had been free before the Civil War, others enslaved. Some favored government action to distribute land to former slaves; others insisted that in a market society the only way to acquire land was to purchase it. Some ran for office as representatives of their race, others as exemplars of the ideal that, with the end of slavery and the advent of legal equality, race no longer mattered. Reconstruction's black Congressmen did not see themselves simply as spokesmen for the black community. Blanche Bruce was one of the more conservative black leaders; yet in the Senate he spoke out for more humane treatment of Native Americans and opposed legislation banning immigration from China.
Like Obama, many of the sixteen black members of Congress discussed by Dray had enjoyed opportunities and advantages unknown to most African-Americans. Revels had been born free in North Carolina and later studied at a Quaker seminary in Indiana and at Knox College in Illinois. Bruce was the slave son of his owner and was educated by the same tutor who taught his white half-siblings. He escaped at the outset of the Civil War, organized a black school in Missouri and was a Mississippi newspaper editor and local officeholder before his election to the Senate. Some Congressmen had enjoyed unique privileges as slaves. Benjamin Turner's owner allowed him to learn to read and write and to run a hotel and livery stable in Selma. Others, however, had experienced slavery in all its brutality. Jeremiah Haralson of Alabama and John Hyman of North Carolina had been sold on the auction block.
None of these men fit the old stereotype of Reconstruction officials as ignorant, incompetent and corrupt. All were literate, most were seasoned political organizers by the time of their election and nearly all were honest. One who does fit the image of venality was Governor Pinchback of Louisiana, whose career combined staunch advocacy of civil rights with a sharp eye for opportunities to line his pockets. Pinchback grew up and attended school in Cincinnati. In the 1850s he worked as a cabin boy on an Ohio River steamboat. He fell in with a group of riverboat gamblers and learned their trade. He turned up in New Orleans in 1862 and expertly navigated the byzantine world of Louisiana's Reconstruction politics. Pinchback was undoubtedly corrupt (he accumulated a small fortune while in office) but also an accomplished politician.
Reconstruction ended in 1877, when President Rutherford B. Hayes abandoned the idea of federal intervention to protect the rights of black citizens in the South, essentially leaving their fate in the hands of local whites. But as Dray notes, black political power, while substantially diminished, did not vanish until around 1900, when the Southern states disenfranchised black voters. Six more African-Americans served in Congress before the end of the nineteenth century. Some of their Reconstruction predecessors remained active in politics. Robert Smalls, of Planter fame, served as customs collector at Beaufort until 1913, when he was removed as part of a purge of blacks from the federal bureaucracy by Woodrow Wilson, the first Southern-born president since Reconstruction.
Pinchback and Bruce moved to Washington, where they became leaders of the city's black elite and arbiters of federal patronage appointments for African-Americans. Bruce worked tirelessly but unsuccessfully to persuade Congress to reimburse blacks who had deposited money in the Freedman's Savings Bank, which failed during the Panic of 1873. Like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in our own time, the bank was a private corporation chartered by Congress that enjoyed the implicit but not statutory backing of the federal government. Its counterparts today are being bailed out with billions of taxpayer dollars, as they have been deemed too big to fail. The Freedman's Savings Bank was too black to rescue.
The last black Congressman of the post-Reconstruction era was George White of North Carolina, whose term ended in 1901. From then until 1929, when Oscar DePriest took his seat representing Chicago, Congress remained lily-white. Not until 1972, with Andrew Young's election in Georgia and Barbara Jordan's in Texas, did black representation resume from states that had experienced Reconstruction. Today the Congressional Black Caucus numbers forty-two members, seventeen of them from the states of the old Confederacy. But the pioneering black predecessors have been all but forgotten. I know of only two examples of public recognition in their home states--a school named for Robert Smalls in Beaufort and a Georgetown, South Carolina, park named for Joseph Rainey. Reconstruction's Capitol men deserve to be remembered, not least because without the political revolution they embodied, it would be impossible for a black man today to be a candidate for president.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
Posted on: Friday, October 17, 2008 - 14:59
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (10-17-08)
I guess now I know what it is like to live in a battleground state. I got both of the calls transcribed below (you can listen to the audio at Talking Points Memo) this week. They came to my southwest Virginia home right before the dinner hour.
“Hello. I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats aren’t who you think they are. They say they want to keep us safe, but Barack Obama said the threat we face now from terrorism is nowhere near as dire as it was in the end of the Cold War. And Congressional Democrats now want to give civil rights to terrorists. John McCain and his party allies understand the threats we face. When you vote, vote for the team you can trust to keep America safe. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee at 202-863-8500.”
“Hello. I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home and killed Americans. And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee at 202-863-8500.”
I guess that John McCain’s resolution that he is going to run a race grounded in “facts” rather than negative insinuation lasted less than 24 hours. How are these scripts meaningfully different than the “we need to be afraid of an Obama presidency” comment that McCain denounced last Friday? What happened to “I don’t care about an old, washed-up terrorist”?
I cannot imagine the rationalization.
Read the first call’s script through quickly. Is there any escaping the insinuation that Obama and Ayers worked “closely” on planting the bombs rather than on the board of an educational foundation that is run by a McCain supporter? If even remotely true, how could McCain live with his own claim that Obama is a “good family man” and that they only “disagree on issues”?
John McCain seems unable to decide whether he is ready to go into the pit in order to win the election. He disavows any intention to suggest that the Democrats are anything other than “honorable men (and women) and citizens,” claims he has denounced everything that Republicans have said that might be out of bounds, and then accuses his opponents of being directly affiliated with terrorist activities and suggests that they are only pretending to care about keeping Americans safe. The cognitive dissonance is bizarre.
It may be a long last three weeks.
Posted on: Friday, October 17, 2008 - 13:53
SOURCE: TPM (Liberal blog) (10-16-08)
and Visiting Professor of History, U.C. Berkeley.]
For months, women's groups across the country have been petitioning--practically begging--the moderators of the presidential debates to include questions that addressed, specifically, the problems that women face at work and in their families.
As early as August 14, 2008, The Women's Media Center in New York launched "Show Me the Women," an email petition campaign reminding all three moderators that women are part of the "diversity" of this country. Bob Shieffer even invited the WMC to offer questions. MomsRising.com, which emerged out of MoveOn.com, also launched an email campaign to persuade the moderators to include women's and family's issues in the debates.
Did it work? Not really.
I would argue that any discussion of universal health care is of course a "women's or family issue." As is the collapse of the economy, which according to recent studies, has hurt women workers the worst. Energy independence also falls into this category, as does our national security policies. All of these--and more--affect women and men, children and families.
But there are specific issues that affect women's lives differently. And if people ignorantly view half the population as a "special interest group" or as part of "identity politics," they have yet to embrace the gender revolution that has upended our culture and society during the last thirty years.
Some examples. Sen. Joe Biden practically skipped over his historic role in legislation the Violence against Women Act. To his credit, Sen. Barack Obama mentioned the importance of women's earning the same as men, their right to control their own reproductive health, and his support for early education. But he didn't discuss the desperate Care Crisis experienced by working mothers--women who are expected to take care of the young, the elderly and the disabled while they provide for their families. Nor did he discuss policies such as paid family leave or twenty other family friendly policies that women's groups have advocated for decades.
I've worked as a waitress. In fact, that's how I got through my undergraduate education. I met many Josephines and none of them imagined, like Joe the plumber, that they would ever earn $250,000. If they're lucky, they earn just barely enough to provide for their families.
As Obama has insisted, they are the ones who need his proposed tax cuts. So why did he and Sen. McCain continually talk to Joe the Plumber, who was a Republican and had already made up his mind? Why didn't Obama change the subject and talk about Josephine the waitress? Or Jane, the single mom, who has just lost her home? Or Joanna, who has just lost her job and has no health care?
When all the examples are of men's travails, guess who feels excluded, indeed invisible.
And what a politically foolish move on both their parts. Both political parties know that women are the ones who are going to swing this election. Fortunately, from my point of view, Obama is enjoying a rather generous gender gap, with far more women supporting him than McCain.
But don't take women for granted. Court us; don't ignore us. Woo us with things that really matter; don't insult us. We have very, very long memories.
Posted on: Friday, October 17, 2008 - 13:33
SOURCE: madmanofChu (blog) (10-16-08)
At last night's debate, John McCain unveiled a new line of attack against Barack Obama, the "Joe the Plumber" offensive. The plumber in question is Joe Wurzelbacher, a resident of Holland, Ohio who posed a question to Obama on the campaign trail this Sunday. Joe was concerned that under Obama's tax plan, a business he plans to purchase that has revenues of $250,000-280,000 dollars would have its taxes raised. The entire exchange was caught on camera, Obama goes through the specifics of his tax plan with Joe in rather extensive detail. In the end he suggests that, with capital gains cuts and other small-business incentives built into Obama's plan, Joe may actually see his taxes cut, though he could not guarantee that without looking at the particulars of Joe's business.
All of this might have been less than a footnote to history, except that Obama uttered three words which are a lightning rod of American political discourse: "spread the wealth." A cursory survey of the blogosphere and pennings of the commentariat reveals that these remarks of Obama's will be among the most misquoted in the annals of American politics. Republicans will hammer away at these thee words to craft them into a singular message: "Obama wants to take your hard-earned money away and give it to other people."
This kind of rhetoric is always good for stirring up partisan anger. It bears no relation to what actually passed between Obama and Joe Wurzelbacher on the campaign trail in Ohio, however. Obama never told Joe that he wanted to "spread his wealth around." If you watch the video and listen carefully to the exchange, the context in which the three dread words are uttered is this:
OBAMA: My attitude is, if the economy is good for folks from the bottom up, it's going to be good for everybody. If you've got a plumbing business, you're going to be better off if you've got a whole bunch of customers who are going to pay to hire you. Right now the economy is so pinched that business is bad for everybody, and I believe that when we spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.
So there you have it. Obama is not talking about taking Joe's money away and giving it to those in need, he is talking about spreading purchasing power to a broader segment of the economy so that service providers like Joe will have an expanded revenue base. This makes good economic sense, and is about as "socialist" as a BLT with cheese is kosher.
Mr. Wurzelbacher has evidently, in subsequent interviews, decried Obama's ideas as socialist and detrimental to the American dream (though, it is interesting to note, as of this writing he has yet to endorse John McCain). Joe is an appealing and likable figure, and it would not surprise me if this fifteen minutes of fame translates into a career move from plumbing to politics. I think that John McCain's attempt to use Joe as a political icon will ultimately backfire, however.
Some people, like Joe himself, will watch his encounter with Obama and come away with the impression of insidious socialism. My guess is, however, that if the video of Obama's conversation with Joe Wurzelbacher gets the airplay it should, it will reinforce the positive impressions that the electorate has been building about Obama himself. Here is a man who, as of Sunday, had been on the campaign trail for a grueling two years, enduring constant attacks to his judgment and character. Confronted with a direct and challenging question about his policy he was not irritated or dismissive, but candid, earnest, and respectful. He addresses Joe's concerns with rigorous detail and minimum rhetoric, every inch the statesman who is sensible of his personal accountability to the voter. If that is not the kind of person we should have as our president, I do not know who is.
Posted on: Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 21:55
SOURCE: Sandbox, a blog run by Martin Kramer (10-15-08)
The greatest Middle Eastern success in public relations opinion-shaping in the last forty years has been the Palestinian self-definition of themselves as a separate people and as victims of Israel and the West. The entire world, it appears, has been convinced. Europeans and many Americans, not to mention members of the Muslim umma, trip over each other offering sympathy and buckets of money to the Palestinians. The United Nations makes unique arrangements for the Palestinians, and numerous UN bodies devote themselves solely to the needs of the Palestinians. And those same Europeans and Americans, and the members of those UN organs, risk apoplexy in their violent denunciations of Israel—Israel the bully, the oppressor, the colonialist, the racist—for thwarting the Palestinians.
Palestinians and their partisans, such as those who will meet at the "Edward Said Conference" at Columbia University on November 7-8, explain their unfortunate situation as a result of Western imperialism and colonialism, which, they explain in terms of "postcolonial theory," are rationalized and encouraged by disparaging "orientalist" stereotypes of Arabs and Middle Easterners. The responsibility for any and all current disabilities of the Middle East, according to postcolonial theory, rests with Europe and America, whose interventions have only victimized and destroyed Middle Eastern society and culture.
There is a certain inconsistency in the Arab and Muslim narrative about imperialism and colonialism. About the period of the 7th to the 18th centuries, when the Arab Muslim Empire spread by the sword from Arabia across all of the Middle East and North Africa to Morocco in the west, to Sicily, Portugal, Spain, and France in the north, and to Central Asia and India in the East, followed by Ottoman conquests in Europe, the narrative of imperialism and colonialism is triumphalist. Endless slaughter, forced conversion, slavery, and wholesale expropriation of property were all for the glory to God, and all good. But the rise of the West, and its relatively brief and limited interventions in the Middle East, are viewed as the height of evil. Why? Because God choose Muslims as his True Followers, and as such, they have a right—no, a duty—to dominate.
The stagnation of the Muslim world in the 19th and 20th centuries, and its relative weakness in relation to the rising West, are today blamed by Palestinian and Arab partisans on Western intrusion in the region. But those directly facing the rising West at the time, the Ottomans and later the Persian Crown, knew that they had fallen behind, and sought Western civil and military technology and goods, and Western administrative and legal systems, in order to modernize and better face the challenge. This response is more consistent with our understanding of human life than the "postcolonial" argument that all is the fault of someone else, in this case, the West. One of the great Marxist students of imperialism, the anthropologist Eric Wolf, demonstrated that local peoples, at least those not murdered or enslaved, are not passive receivers of imperial and colonial culture, but shape their response according to their own culture and vision.
Narratives of victimization, such as the Palestinian one, neglect to account for the active Arab response to the Jews and to Jewish immigration. Explaining all by Western imposition robs the Arabs of Palestine of their agency, and infantalizes them. In reality, Palestinians responded actively: Elite landowners sold the Jews land, while the populace in general closed ranks against the Jews. Following the tribally-based principle of those closer uniting against those more distant, the opposition to the Jews was both organizational and religious. Jews were not kinsmen and, worse, were infidels.
Arab opposition to the Jews, expressed in riots and pogroms, was ratchetted up in the face of Jewish desires for national autonomy and independence. After all, it was believed that any part of the Dar al-Islam must remain under Muslim dominance forevermore. And for a thousand years, Jews under Islam had been a subservient and despised minority, cowering under the power of their Muslim masters. The Arabs in Palestine thought that the Jews could not and would not stand up to them, and they acted on that well established cultural principle. Honor would allow nothing less.
The Arabs acted according to their tradition, according to their lights. They refused compromise with inferiors; they refused to divide and share, rejecting a UN settlement. Instead, they strove for complete victory, as their ancestors had. However, the thousand-year-old conditions did not obtain. The Jews they faced were not dhimma, and they did not cower; against the odds, and with little outside help, they fought and won. The Arab states answered the call, but were ineffectual, and failed. The "Nakba" was self-induced by the Arabs. They demanded all or nothing, and got nothing. But they have continued to hold to the rejectionist position, taking an annihilationist stance toward Israel and the Jews. So in reality the self-induced "Nakba" is self-perpetuating. The successful agitprop that obscures this both to the world and to themselves is also a result of Arab agency. The Edward Said Conference will carry on in the same tradition.
Posted on: Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 18:44
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (10-16-08)
He especially lost points, as Rachel Maddow pointed out, by dismissing concerns about the health of the mother in the decision to end a pregnancy. In that stance he sounded like Sarah Palin, who wants to make women bear their rapist's child. As I pointed out in Salon, the current McCain-Palin stance on abortion is identical to that in fundamentalist regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Obama was calm, cool, collected, gracious and cautious. He knows that he is ahead by some 10 points or more, and that the race is now his to lose. He sought to avoid being combative or making mistakes. He even praised Sarah Palin, knowing that it looks bad to beat up on a woman. (Bush senior debated Geraldine Ferraro aggressively in 1984, at one point condescendingly saying, 'let me help you with that, Mrs. Ferraro. After the debate, Bush's people tried to play Joe Six-Pack, putting out the word that he had 'kicked ass,'-- not realizing that working class men would not use that phrase for a contest with a woman. Bush's ticket went on to win, but he was not at the top of the ticket then and he made a bad impression.)
There is no room for complacency. This is a strange election in a strange time, and polls are notoriously untrustworthy more than a day or two out. People need to come out and vote.
But it is now not crazy to say that the likelihood is that Obama will win and that he will have a strong majority in the House and 57 or so in the Senate, so that the Republicans will find it difficult to block his policies (he will need three or four liberal Republican senators for important votes unless it really is a landslide.)
Obama said repeatedly that the U.S. faces the most dire economic crisis since the Great Depression. That may be so, but it is not a depression yet. There has not been a run on the banks (though there easily could have been), and unemployment has not skyrocketed to 25 percent (except in Flint, Michigan but that is an older story). The market is behaving erratically and a lot of people will likely have to postpone retirement (assuming that they don't lose their jobs). Something like ten percent of mortgages were in danger before the big credit crisis hit. I hesitate to think what it must be now.
It seems pretty obvious that Obama will need a New New Deal, but more focused on mortgages and liquidity than on state-supplied jobs.
The major foreign policy initiative undertaken by FDR in his first term, the Good Neighbor Policy, was to withdraw from heavy-handed intervention in Latin America, which reversed earlier policies of sending expeditionary forces and knee-jerk support for rightwing local elites. The Roosevelt administration got out of Haiti and openly spoke of the illegitimacy of interloping into the domestic affairs of other sovereign states.
Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy, write Tom Barry, Laura Carlsen, and John Gershman
' specifically renounced most previous justifications for U.S. military interventions—including preemptive strikes to ensure political stability, occupations to force payment of foreign debts, retaliation for expropriation of U.S. investments, and the promotion of democracy. He ordered the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops in the Caribbean Basin, ending the long and shameful history of military interventions and occupations there. Speaking at a regional conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, in December 1933, Secretary of State Hull said that one of the core principles of the Good Neighbor Policy was nonintervention: “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.”
A year later Roosevelt reassured the still-skeptical nations of Latin America and the Caribbean by saying, “The definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.” '
A president Obama will withdraw from Iraq, perhaps faster than the timeline that the that Bush and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have just agreed to (2011 at the latest). It seems obvious that Obama and al-Maliki will work very smoothly together.
This move could be a step toward a new Good Neighbor policy in the Middle East. Obviously, Iraq is only one piece of the puzzle. But Obama's willingness to talk to all the regimes in the region where it is called for (and he never said he wouldn't do preparation for such negotiations) could lead to other breakthroughs.
Given the world's increasing energy crisis and the consequent ever closer entanglement of the US with the region, an Obama Good Neighbor Policy in the Middle East may be as important for the destiny of our country as the domestic economic initiatives he launches.
Posted on: Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 18:22
SOURCE: Special to HNN (10-16-08)
As I watched Barack Obama maintain his poise in last nights debate, in the face of insults and patronizing comments from Senator McCain, and watched McCain get angrier and angrier when Obama refused to respond in kind, I thought of other moments in American history where African Americans achieved important victories by maintaining almost superhuman discipline in the face of extreme provocation.
One important such moment came when Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball. With the eyes of the whole world upon him, and with much of white America wanting him to fail, Jackie Robinson, for more than three years, did not allow himself the luxury of a single public outburst in response to insults and abuse from opposing teams, fans, and occasionally, his own teammates. As Roger Kahn, who covered the Dodgers in those years, tells us in his remarkable book "The Boys of Summer" Robinson was cursed, spit on and spiked, had pitches thrown at his head, bombarded with insulting, often sexual, references to his loved ones and family, and barred from restaurants and hotels his teammates were welcome in. Not once did he explode in rage and rarely did his performance on the field suffer.
Barack Obama's persona has resembled Jackie Robinson's throughout this campaign, but never more so than last night. At many points in last night's debate, while McCain kept lobbing insults in Obama's direction and Obama denied himself the luxury of even a grimace, I couldn't help but think that I was seeing a display of courage and self-discipline that resembled the finest moments of Jackie Robinson's odyssey. Not only did Obama resist the temptation to insult McCain or his running mate, even though both presented extremely tempting targets, he enhanced his own credibility by producing clear, detailed comments on issues ranging from energy, to education, to health care, to abortion. He not only won points with the
American public by addressing matters that were important to them, he rattled McCain so much that he became testy and petulant, raising question about McCain's fitness to lead during a time of grave economic hardship when Americans will be looking for reassurance as well as sound policy decisions.
Obama's disciplined performance, and McCain's enraged response, also recalled the different responses of the Black and white communities in Montgomery Alabama to the bus boycott that took place in that city during 1955 and 1956. When leaders of Montgomery's Black community, headed by Rev Martin Luther King Jr, decided to boycott that city's buses till the humiliating treatment of black passengers was ended, and use non violent methods to achieve that goal, Montgomery elected officials, and their supporters in the white community, thought they could crush the movement easily. They tried arresting the boycott's leaders, using economic coercion against its participants, and tying up the movement's assets in expensive lawsuits. When those methods failed, extreme elements in the white community began threatening the lives of movement leaders and bombed the home of Martin Luther King. But King, though fearful for the lives of his loved ones, refused to end the boycott and through the force of both his words and his personal example, kept his followers committed to non-violence, sustaining a movement that lasted over 350 days- without a single violent act by Black boycott supporters-until a federal court finally declared Montgomery bus segregation unconstitutional. This remarkable display of collective discipline by the Black community of an entire city changed the course of American History, setting the stage for the student sit ins, the freedom rides, the Birmingham protests of 1963, and other heroic examples of non-violent direct action which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Last night, as he has done throughout his entire campaign, Barack Obama reclaimed that legacy of heroism and discipline, and made it applicable for our own time. By refusing to let insults and provocations distract him from talking about every important issue he will have to face as President, Obama powerfully enhanced his own claims to leadership while making his opponent seem too angry and small minded for the office he is seeking.
In doing so, he too is changing the course of American History.
Posted on: Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 13:42
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (10-16-08)
We can learn from comparisons with the past only if we approach them with some — but not too much — irony. Here are some descriptions of past elections. Each is spun in such a way as to heighten its relevance to the one going on right now and in order to produce some enjoyable controversy:
1932: Republicans control the presidency when the economy takes a nosedive of unprecedented proportions. There’s no confidence in the incumbent (Hoover) being able to deal with the crisis; everybody thinks the country is moving in the wrong direction. The attractive Democratic challenger (FDR) wins a largely “negative landslide” and takes advantage of “unified government” to do a lot more than he ever mentioned during the campaign. His eloquent reformist self-confidence reassures the people; his actual policies probably, on balance, prolong the Depression.
1948: The popular, uncharismatic incumbent (Truman) leads a party that’s clearly been in office too long. The other party captures control of Congress in 1946. Polls show a smooth challenger (Dewey) with a substantial lead. Incumbent focuses a “Give ‘em hell” campaign on a “do-nothing” Congress. He surges and confounds the expert s with an upset.
1952: The same incumbent (Truman) has extremely low approval ratings, largely because of an unpopular war that’s dragged on . His party nominates a classy guy (Stevenson) who can’t really distance himself enough from his party’s record. The Republicans nominate a confident, likeable guy (Eisenhower) who promises to do what it takes to end the war. He wins by a landslide. (I actually think there’s a lot to this comparison, although McCain seems more Eisenhower and Obama more like Stevenson.)
1960: The Republican incumbent (Eisenhower) is boring and not rhetorically gifted. People clearly want change, to get the country moving again, without any clear of view of what that means. The Democrats nominate a good-looking young guy (with a beautiful wife) with little experience and a lazy, mediocre record as Senator (JFK). His speeches are inspirational, and he also inspires confidence because most of the party’s establishment experts are advising him. He’s a Harvard guy who appeals to intellectual snobs. He’s a member of a demographic group (Catholics) that’s a key part of the Democratic coalition, but has never had a president. The experienced Republican candidate (Nixon) looks odd — even unhealthy — during the debates. The Democratic challenger very, very narrowly wins.
1968: The Democratic incumbent (LBJ) is unpopular because he can’t end a war that threatens to drag on forever and for failed domestic policies. The Democratic candidate (Humphrey) is a man with lots of experience in the Senate but is clearly sloppy and otherwise undisciplined The very smart and competent Republican challenger (Nixon) promises to have a plan to end the war. The coalition that elected in the incumbent starts to come back together for Humphery, who campaigns enthusiastically until the end. But it’s too little, too late. (The relevance of this comparison is McCain’s best hope.)
1976: The party of the incumbent (Ford) is utterly discredited by corruption. As a candidate, he is experienced and somewhat respected but quite inarticulate and a bit bumbling. The Democratic challenger (Carter) presents himself as an outsider and a wholly new kind of candidate who transcends politics as usual. The Democrat is way ahead for a while. But Ford closes quickly because he creates real doubts about his opponent’s character and temperament. If the campaign had lasted another week, the president would have stayed in office. (I think McCain took this comparison too seriously for a week or two: Obama is far more likeable than Carter.)
1980: The Democratic incumbent (Carter) is blamed, with plenty of evidence, for making America weaker in many ways—and especially for embarrassing ineptitude in Iran, an oil crisis, an economic downturn, and for a general national malaise. The Republicans, seemingly stupidly, nominate one of the most extremely conservative members of their party (Reagan). The incumbent looks like he might hold on, until the candidates, late in the campaign, finally have a debate. It turns out that the voters only needed reassurance that the challenger was not a crazy extremist—and Reagan came off as a calm and reasonable guy—to turn to him as safe and needed change. Support for the incumbent collapses, and Reagan wins by a near-landslide. (This comparison is obviously relevant. Two differences between 1980 and 2008, of course: The economic crisis and the first debate occurring much earlier, meaning the McCain collapse occurred earlier. McCain’s ghost of a chance: He’s not literally dead, only collapsed, and he had the time to come back that Carter didn’t.)
1996: A smart Democratic incumbent (Clinton) seems to have given us peace and prosperity, but character issues persist. The Republicans go with a very old man (Dole) with a most admirable record of service—both in the military and in the Senate. The Republicans decide to focus their campaign on honor. Big-mistake, people vote peace-and-prosperity over character.
Posted on: Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 13:20
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (10-16-08)
Among the ways in which freedom is being chipped away in Europe, one of the less obvious is the legislation of memory. More and more countries have laws saying you must remember and describe this or that historical event in a certain way, sometimes on pain of criminal prosecution if you give the wrong answer. What the wrong answer is depends on where you are. In Switzerland, you get prosecuted for saying that the terrible thing that happened to the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman empire was not a genocide. In Turkey, you get prosecuted for saying it was. What is state-ordained truth in the Alps is state-ordained falsehood in Anatolia.
This week a group of historians and writers, of whom I am one, has pushed back against this dangerous nonsense. In what is being called the "Appel de Blois", published in Le Monde last weekend, we maintain that in a free country "it is not the business of any political authority to define historical truth and to restrict the liberty of the historian by penal sanctions". And we argue against the accumulation of so-called "memory laws". First signatories include historians such as Eric Hobsbawm, Jacques Le Goff and Heinrich August Winkler. It's no accident that this appeal originated in France, which has the most intense and tortuous recent experience with memory laws and prosecutions. It began uncontroversially in 1990, when denial of the Nazi Holocaust of the European Jews, along with other crimes against humanity defined by the 1945 Nuremberg tribunal, was made punishable by law in France - as it is in several other European countries. In 1995, the historian Bernard Lewis was convicted by a French court for arguing that, on the available evidence, what happened to the Armenians might not correctly be described as genocide according to the definition in international law.
A further law, passed in 2001, says the French Republic recognises slavery as a crime against humanity, and this must be given its "consequential place" in teaching and research. A group representing some overseas French citizens subsequently brought a case against the author of a study of the African slave trade, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, on the charge of "denial of a crime against humanity". Meanwhile, yet another law was passed, from a very different point of view, prescribing that school curricula should recognise the "positive role" played by the French presence overseas, "especially in North Africa".
Fortunately, at this point a wave of indignation gave birth to a movement called Liberty for History (lph-asso.fr), led by the French historian Pierre Nora, which is also behind the Appel de Blois. The case against Pétré-Grenouilleau was dropped, and the "positive role" clause nullified. But it remains incredible that such a proposal ever made it to the statute book in one of the world's great democracies and homelands of historical scholarship.
This kind of nonsense is all the more dangerous when it comes wearing the mask of virtue. A perfect example is the recent attempt to enforce limits to the interpretation of history across the whole EU in the name of "combating racism and xenophobia". A proposed "framework decision" of the justice and home affairs council of the EU, initiated by the German justice minister Brigitte Zypries, suggests that in all EU member states "publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes" should be "punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between one and three years imprisonment".
Who will decide what historical events count as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, and what constitutes "grossly trivialising" them?..
Posted on: Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 11:48
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (10-17-08)
The American Dream sounds like apple pie and motherhood. Everyone is for it.
But when everyone endorses an ideal, whether it's the American Dream, equal opportunity, or justice, you can be pretty sure that they disagree about what the ideal means, and that the appearance of agreement is being achieved by talking past one another.
There are at least two competing versions of the American Dream, and they are not only different but mutually incompatible. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that they will both need to be reinvented if our children and grandchildren are to inhabit a livable planet.
In one version, this country is the place where anyone who builds a better mousetrap can get rich. To do that, the mousetrap builder will need a lot of help: workers to make the mousetraps, salespeople to put them in the hands of consumers, and security guards to prevent the world from beating a path to the inventor's door and helping themselves. In order to get rich, mousetrap developers will also have to pay their workers far less than they make themselves. Otherwise there won't be enough money left over from mousetrap sales to make the inventor rich.
This version of the American Dream emphasizes individual talent and effort. It favors freedom and opposes government regulation. And it belongs to the Republican Party.
Democrats have another version of the American Dream: Everyone who works hard and behaves responsibly can achieve a decent standard of living. But the definition of a decent standard of living is a moving target. For those who came of age before 1950, it usually meant a steady job, owning a house in a safe neighborhood with decent schools, and believing that your children would have a chance to go to college even if you did not.
True, lots of people who worked hard and behaved responsibly didn't realize this dream. Blue-collar workers were laid off during recessions through no fault of their own, and their jobs often disappeared when technological progress allowed employers to produce more stuff with fewer workers. Still, more and more people achieved this dream between 1945 and 1970, so the Democratic version of the American Dream had broader appeal than the Republican version, in which a smaller number of people could get much richer.
Since the early 1970s, however, all that has changed.
The American economy has been under siege. Real per capita disposable income has continued to grow, but the average annual increase has fallen, from 2.7 percent between 1947 and 1973 to 1.8 percent between 1973 and 2005. Of course, even a 1.8-percent annual increase in purchasing power is far more than the human species achieved during most of its history, and it is also far more than we are likely to achieve in the future unless we do a lot of creative accounting.
What transformed the political landscape was not the slowdown in growth but the distributional change that accompanied it. From 1947 to 1973, the purchasing power of those in the bottom 95 percent of the income distribution rose at the same rate as per capita disposable income, about 2.7 percent a year. Among families in the top 5 percent, the growth rate was 2.2 percent. From 1973 to 2006, however, the average annual increase in the purchasing power of the bottom 95 percent was only .6 percent. The top 5 percent, in contrast, managed to maintain annual growth of 2.0 percent, which was almost the same as what they enjoyed before 1973.
That's a lot of numbers, but what my students at the Kennedy School call the "take-away" is pretty simple: After 1973, when economic growth slowed, America had a choice. We could have tried to share the pain equally by maintaining the social contract under which living standards had risen at roughly the same rate among families at all levels. Or we could have treated the slowdown in growth as evidence that the Democratic version of the American Dream didn't work, and that we should try the Republican version, in which we all look out for ourselves, some people get rich, and most get left behind.
We chose the Republican option....
Posted on: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - 09:51
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (10-15-08)
The volatile stock market and credit freeze focus the mind on crisis management. But this calamity is connected to 30 years of policies that encourage low wages.
After World War II, it was believed that high wages were good for the economy as well as workers. But a new economic model came into favor after 1980.
Its signatures were low taxation, deregulation and free trade. Its logic was that capital freed from government and unions would produce prosperity for all. It benefited such industries as defense, financial services and real estate, while it hobbled manufacturing.
The new economic agenda really took off in the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of China and India doubled the global labor force. The financial-services industry bankrolled factories that employed these workers, further weakening organized labor, and cheap imports flooded the rest of the world.
Corporate profits soared as productivity increased and wages stagnated (except for the period from 1995 to 2000). The financial-services industry now accounts for a little more than 20 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, compared with about 12 percent for manufacturing. The financial industry's share of corporate profits, meanwhile, rose from 10 percent in the early 1980s to 40 percent in 2007.
The banks invested in production abroad and extended credit at home so that Americans could continue consuming. They were helped by the Fed, which lowered interest rates after the tech bubble burst in 2000.
Too much of that money went into the housing market because the United States had outsourced manufacturing for more than 20 years. As the economist Paul Krugman put it in 2005, "These days, Americans make a living by selling each other houses, paid for with money borrowed from the Chinese." Rising house prices allowed people to refinance and get money for other purchases.
Today's plummeting housing prices demonstrate that there is a limit to this model of growth. Whether the government will pursue wage-based growth strategies depends on the next president and Congress.
The New Deal, sneered at for the last 30 years, has regained some respect. Nevertheless, after approving the bank bailout and promising future regulation, Congress refused to extend unemployment benefits for nearly one million Americans whose benefits are expiring.
There is talk now of a new stimulus package to aid the unemployed as well as struggling state and local governments. But after the patient is stabilized, what will take the place of the financial-services and real-estate industries (which certainly will not - and should not - lead the economy)?
Will government play a role in these decisions? Or will the market and the banks determine the answer?
Bad times matter, but so do politics. The postwar economy failed to maintain prosperity at the end of the 1970s. Ronald Reagan responded with a new economic model that was secured by the prosperity of the 1990s.
Recent market failures offer the next president an opportunity to change that script. Real change will require returning to wage-based growth strategies and abandoning the policies that got us into this mess.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - 09:47
SOURCE: USA Today (10-15-08)
A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak about the presidential elections at a student dormitory. I said yes, of course, but only on the condition that some John McCain supporters showed up.
The discussion was OK, so far as it went, but it didn't go far. Everyone expressed some degree of disdain for McCain and fealty to his opponent, Barack Obama.
Welcome to another day of campaign 2008 on campus. Out there in the real world, I'm told, the election is hotly contested. But here at the university, it's all Barack, all the time. And that's a recipe for boredom.
It's also a formula for a lousy education. Last time I checked, universities were supposed to challenge students' biases and preconceived opinions. Based on what I've seen, however, we're falling down on the job. At least here in New York, the students are gaga for Obama, and we're not doing anything to defy them.
Part of the problem stems from professors' own political biases, of course. Don't get me wrong: We're not the crazy-eyed Marxists whom you've read about in the papers. As a recent study by sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons has confirmed, American university professors are mostly moderate-to-liberal rather than radical.
But that also means we tend to support Democratic office-seekers, in overwhelming numbers. Even in Texas, hardly a bastion of liberal politics, the Houston Chronicle reported in May that professors contributed three times more money to Democratic presidential candidates than to Republicans. And on some campuses, the skew was much greater than that. At Rice and Texas Christian, for example, a whopping 97% of campaign contributions went to the Democrats.
That wouldn't be a bad thing, necessarily, if we could put aside our biases when we enter the classroom. But it's much easier said than done, as any honest professor will acknowledge.
And that's because we have two different purposes, which often lie in tension with each other. As researchers and writers, we're supposed to establish a strong point of view. But as teachers, we're supposed to help other people develop their own.
How can you do both? There's no simple answer, of course. With the elections just a month away, however, I'd like to offer a few modest proposals for infusing our classes with the same political energy that we've witnessed outside of them:
Sympathize with the devil: If you can't stomach McCain, teach yourself as much as you can about him. Whenever one of your students makes a pro-Obama comment, you'll be prepared to take McCain's side. Trust me, it works.
Bring the outsiders in: Too many of us still operate like solo practitioners. If you can't argue cogently for McCain's positions, invite a speaker who will.
Vary the menu: Ask students to write a campaign brief for the other guy. Or require them to interview someone from the opposing party. Either they'll develop new perspectives, or they'll come up with better rationales for their old ones.
Don't campaign on campus: There's no reason to wear your opinions on your sleeve, or on your lapel. I wouldn't go as far as the University of Illinois, which briefly banned faculty from wearing campaign buttons this fall. But I'd urge all professors to go easy on the campaign paraphernalia, which will only make it harder for students to disagree with you.
And if you need a model for this type of instruction, look no further than the man you want in the White House. Barack Obama taught law for 12 years at the University of Chicago, where he developed a reputation for rigorous open-mindedness. He challenged everyone, especially the students who agreed with him. Too bad more of his supporters can't follow his example.
Posted on: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - 09:23