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: Vanity Fair (12-1-08)
Planet Finance seemed to spin faster, too. Every day $3.1 trillion changed hands on foreign-exchange markets. Every month $5.8 trillion changed hands on global stock markets. And all the time new financial life-forms were evolving. The total annual issuance of mortgage-backed securities, including fancy new “collateralized debt obligations” (C.D.O.’s), rose to more than $1 trillion. The volume of “derivatives”—contracts such as options and swaps—grew even faster, so that by the end of 2006 their notional value was just over $400 trillion. Before the 1980s, such things were virtually unknown. In the space of a few years their populations exploded. On Planet Finance, the securities outnumbered the people; the transactions outnumbered the relationships.
New institutions also proliferated. In 1990 there were just 610 hedge funds, with $38.9 billion under management. At the end of 2006 there were 9,462, with $1.5 trillion under management. Private-equity partnerships also went forth and multiplied. Banks, meanwhile, set up a host of “conduits” and “structured investment vehicles” (sivs—surely the most apt acronym in financial history) to keep potentially risky assets off their balance sheets. It was as if an entire shadow banking system had come into being.
Then, beginning in the summer of 2007, Planet Finance began to self-destruct in what the International Monetary Fund soon acknowledged to be “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression.” Did the crisis of 2007–8 happen because American companies had gotten worse at designing new products? Had the pace of technological innovation or productivity growth suddenly slackened? No. The proximate cause of the economic uncertainty of 2008 was financial: to be precise, a crunch in the credit markets triggered by mounting defaults on a hitherto obscure species of housing loan known euphemistically as “subprime mortgages.”
Central banks in the United States and Europe sought to alleviate the pressure on the banks with interest-rate cuts and offers of funds through special “term auction facilities.” Yet the market rates at which banks could borrow money, whether by issuing commercial paper, selling bonds, or borrowing from one another, failed to follow the lead of the official federal-funds rate. The banks had to turn not only to Western central banks for short-term assistance to rebuild their reserves but also to Asian and Middle Eastern sovereign-wealth funds for equity injections. When these sources proved insufficient, investors—and speculative short-sellers—began to lose faith....
Since these events coincided with the final phase of a U.S. presidential-election campaign, it was not surprising that some rather simplistic lessons were soon being touted by candidates and commentators. The crisis, some said, was the result of excessive deregulation of financial markets. Others sought to lay the blame on unscrupulous speculators: short-sellers, who borrowed the stocks of vulnerable banks and sold them in the expectation of further price declines. Still other suspects in the frame were negligent regulators and corrupt congressmen.
This hunt for scapegoats is futile. To understand the downfall of Planet Finance, you need to take several steps back and locate this crisis in the long run of financial history. Only then will you see that we have all played a part in this latest sorry example of what the Victorian journalist Charles Mackay described in his 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
As long as there have been banks, bond markets, and stock markets, there have been financial crises. Banks went bust in the days of the Medici. There were bond-market panics in the Venice of Shylock’s day. And the world’s first stock-market crash happened in 1720, when the Mississippi Company—the Enron of its day—blew up. According to economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the financial history of the past 800 years is a litany of debt defaults, banking crises, currency crises, and inflationary spikes. Moreover, financial crises seldom happen without inflicting pain on the wider economy. Another recent paper, co-authored by Rogoff’s Harvard colleague Robert Barro, has identified 148 crises since 1870 in which a country experienced a cumulative decline in gross domestic product (G.D.P.) of at least 10 percent, implying a probability of financial disaster of around 3.6 percent per year....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 - 12:41
SOURCE: Salon (11-18-08)
Obama's quiet seriousness of purpose is a welcome contrast with George W. Bush's swaggering pronouncements about bin Laden being "wanted dead or alive," or his darkly comic standard answer to the question of why bin Laden has not yet been caught. "He's hiding," Bush likes to say.
And for those who believe Bush, obsessed with Iraq, has either not tried very hard or has secretly avoided capturing bin Laden, Obama's words are probably reassuring. Now American attention will return to the real author of 9/11, and a more determined effort might yield fruit. But the question is whether the new president should really focus his attention on bin Laden, and spend his political capital in a renewed attempt to bring him to justice. There are many reasons why a stepped-up and publicized pursuit of bin Laden may prove costly to Barack Obama.
The first is the danger of failing, just like his predecessor. After the bravado of the early post-9/11 period, and vows to catch his quarry, Bush came up empty. An enemy who struck at the beginning of his first term is still at loose in the Pakistani-Afghan borderlands at the end of his second.
Some in the region believe that Bush never caught his nemesis on purpose. A secular-minded newspaper in Afghanistan said in October that French troops in that country as part of the NATO contingent had for some time alleged that they were on the verge of capturing bin Laden when their American counterparts stopped them from doing so. The paper referred to a French documentary that featured interviews with the troops and that maintained that the Bush administration needed bin Laden to be at large in order to justify its military expansion into the region.
This theory is a more sinister variant of the view that capturing Osama was simply not very high on Bush's list of priorities, and that he put all his resources instead into destroying Saddam Hussein. Already in spring of 2002, as his administration geared up for what was supposed to be a swift and stunning victory in Iraq, Bush was trying to deflect attention from his failure to capture the author of 9/11. Bush downplayed bin Laden's importance, and said he didn't seem to be at the center of any command structure. He decried the supposed fallacy of focusing on "one person" and admitted, "I truly am not that concerned about him."
Should the next president now be playing up bin Laden's importance? Does bin Laden merit such attention? In a speech at the Atlantic Council last week, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden, largely concurred with the points Obama has been making about the continued centrality of al-Qaida in its Pakistani haunts to U.S. security concerns. Contrary to Republican politicians who still speak of Iraq as the central front in the "war on terror," Hayden forthrightly announced, "Al-Qaida in Iraq is on the verge of strategic defeat."...
Posted on: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 - 11:16
SOURCE: CNN (11-16-08)
... With his reputation severely harmed as a result of the campaign -- some Republicans furious at [John McCain] for having lost the White House with a poor campaign and some Democrats furious with the negative tone that his campaign embraced in September and October -- he will have an interest in building a positive legacy.
McCain's best bet would be to form a bipartisan alliance with Obama on as many issues as possible -- perhaps with an economic stimulus bill, immigration reform, exiting Iraq and new regulations on Wall Street....
In fact, there is a long tradition of this kind of cooperation in congressional history. We have seen how this can work on foreign policy.
Michigan Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, who coined the phrase "politics stops at the water's edge," worked closely with President Harry Truman in 1947 and 1948 to find support in the Republican Congress for the creation of the modern national security state.
In 1953 and 1954, Senate Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas worked with President Dwight Eisenhower on a series of foreign policy issues. The White House was under attack from conservative Republicans led by John Bricker, who sought to curtail executive power on foreign affairs.
Bricker proposed an amendment to limit the ability of the president to enter into international agreements without Senate consent. Many southern Democrats supported the amendment fearing that the U.N. Charter opened the opportunity for the president to expand civil rights.
Eisenhower thought the amendment would be extremely dangerous and handcuff the president when dealing with foreign policy. He turned to Lyndon Johnson, who brought along Senate Democrats to stifle the measure. Johnson hoped to make Senate Republicans seem like the obstructionists in Washington and to boost his own reputation as a leader.
Johnson's adviser, George Reedy, explained that the contrast of Republican intra-party warfare and "a dignified but pointed record on all issues" from the Democratic Party would be "potent campaign ammunition." The strategy worked. Johnson was selected as majority leader in 1954.
These alliances have also furthered the social agenda. As president in 1964, Johnson turned to Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen to help him push the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the Senate. In the 1960s, Southern Democrats, who chaired the major committees and were masters at using the Senate filibuster to block bills they opposed, were the chief opponents of civil rights.
So when Johnson pushed for the Civil Rights Act in 1964 he needed Republican support to break a filibuster. He found a partner with Dirksen, one of several Republicans who saw how the GOP could benefit from embracing civil rights as Democrats were divided.
"We dare not temporize with the issue which is before us," Dirken said in a speech before the Senate, "it is essentially moral in character. It must be resolved. It will not go away. Its time has come."
Dirksen's role in the passage of civil rights defined his role in the history books....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 - 01:40
SOURCE: PoliticalAffairs.net (11-13-08)
In the aftermath of a truly historic election, the right-wing and its long-time centrist political allies have been trying to regroup and get a handle on just exactly what happened. Right-wing radio talk show hosts, after calling Obama every conceivable name and claiming that his victory would mean an end to civilization, are now contending that he “has no mandate to govern.”
Right-wing pundits now emphasize that President-elect Obama's congressional majority equals Bill Clinton’s in 1992, that his margin of victory fell below George H.W. Bush in 1988, and anything else they can think of to minimize what has transpired. Some are even trying to talk themselves into believing that Obama will be a one-term president, like Jimmy Carter, and will set the stage for a new Ronald Reagan to emerge.
It is not just the usual suspects of the right-wing media who are minimizing Obama’s triumph, however. The editors of Newsweek, for example, who traditionally claim to be “above” partisan politics, have proclaimed the US to be “still” a center-right country. Their logic is that Obama must “move to the center” (by which they can only mean the right) to govern. They insist that “radical” proposals like major social investments in jobs and infrastructure, revival of progressive taxation, enactment of anything beyond the most limited labor and social legislation, will fail because it has little real support among the people. The unspoken fear is that Obama will move to the left, and in the process move the center of politics to the left.
All of these arguments fly in the face of the evidence. Barack Obama received more votes in absolute numbers than any presidential candidate in history. While the rate of voter turnout fell far below the numbers one finds in the rest of the developed world, it was the largest vote in decades. Barack Obama’s 8 million plus popular vote margin was the biggest for any Democratic presidential candidate since Johnson’s 1964 landslide. Only Johnson in 1964 and Franklin Roosevelt in his four victories did better than Obama in percentage terms among Democratic presidential candidates since the Civil War.
Put in historical perspective, Obama distinguished himself significantly from other recent Democratic presidential winners. Unlike Carter who enjoyed large polling margins throughout much of the campaign in 1976, Obama did not nearly lose this election. Nor did he win in a three way race as Bill Clinton did in 1992 and 1996, during both of which Clinton failed to win a clear majority. Obama fared far better than John F. Kennedy's razor-thin majority in 1960 and Harry Truman's narrow upset victory over the Republican candidate in 1948.
Obama won a solid victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College and will have a solid majority in Congress.
Obama certainly has a mandate, and it is a mandate for change. Obama's slogan, “Change We Can Believe In,” was reminiscent of slogans like the “New Deal” of Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign and the “Great Society” banner under which Johnson won in 1964. In the latter cases, those slogans translated into the major policy domestic agendas of those administrations.
For the people who elected Obama and the increased Democratic majority, “change we can believe in” isn’t about bailouts for corporations and banks. It isn't about wearing American flag pins on your lapel while the military budget continues to escalate and bankers and corporate CEO’s wine and dine. “Change we can believe in” isn’t about a spruced up version of trickle down theory or the same policies behind a fresh face in the White House.
It is about reversing and repealing the policies that have both led to the immediate financial crisis and looming global depression. It is about ending the post-World War II policies that led to the long-term stagnation and decline of the labor movement. It is about creating a national public health care program more than 50 years after it was established in other major industrial nations, and handling a national debt which has increased 10 times since Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.
A “single payer” national health system – known as “socialized medicine” in the rest of the developed world – should be an essential part of the change that the core constituencies which elected Obama desperately need. Britain serves as an important political lesson for strategists. After the Labor Party established the National Health Service after World War II, supposedly conservative workers and low-income people under religious and other influences who tended to support the Conservatives were much more likely to vote for the Labor Party when health care, social welfare, education and pro-working class policies were enacted by labor-supported governments.
In addition, passing the Employee Free Choice Act to make joining a union easier and to expand the base of union voters who supported Obama by nearly 50 points on Nov. 4 seems only logical. It would also provide a massive boost for working families struggling with stagnant incomes, high health care costs, retirement costs and job insecurity.
The best way to win over the the portion of the working class in the South or the West that supported McCain and the Republicans is to create important new public programs and improve the social safety net. National health care, significantly higher minimum wages, support for trade union organizing, aid to education should all be on the agenda. These programs will improve the quality of our lives lives directly, giving us greater security and establishing the social economic changes that will bring reluctant voters into the Obama coalition. That is how progress works.
The right-wing propaganda machine will scream socialism, and that is also a good thing. Because the more socialism comes to be identified with real policies that raise the standard of living and improve the quality of life for the working class and the whole people, the more socialism will be looked at seriously. A stronger left that follows the tradition of the Communist Party in its unbreakable commitment to a socialist future and to educating people about the value and necessity of socialist policies in the present could follow.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 - 00:59
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (11-17-08)
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) was in Tehran. He sent word back that ISCI cabinet secretaries should vote for the agreement. Iran had earlier opposed the agreement, but appears to have been persuaded to cease lobbying Shiite members of parliament against it. Al-Hakim's group, along with the Islamic Mission (Da'wa) Party of the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, controls many of the Shiite votes in parliament.
Despite some reservations, the Kurdistan Alliance also voted for the agreement. Kurds were afraid it would limit their quest for semi-autonomy and control of more of Iraq. On the other hand, they very much want the US troops to stay, since they see them as protectors against Arab dominance.
Typically, the Kurdistan Alliance and the major Shiite parties can put together a parliamentary majority, so the agreement looks likely to pass.
Two members of the Sunni Arab fundamentalist coalition, the Iraqi Accord Front also voted for the agreement. (Update: Time says 2 IAF members voted for it, one against, and 3 were absentees.) One of the three parties in that coalition, the Iraqi Islamic Party, wants the agreement to go not only to parliament but also to a national referendum. Al-Zaman says that the leader of the IIP, Tariq al-Hashimi, is asking for the referendum because Shaikh Abdul Karim Zaydan, the spiritual counselor of the Muslim Brotherhood of Iraq, has given a fatwa against the agreement. The Iraqi Islamic Party is a branch of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Hashimi is therefore in the uncomfortable position of defying his own party's spiritual guide. If the measure went to a referendum, the IIP would be off the hook.
There is a dispute among Iraqi parliamentarians as to whether the agreement can be passed by a simple majority (i.e. 51% of those MPs present, assuming there is a quorum) or by a supermajority of 2/3s. Some are saying that they should pass legislation specifying which it is. The al-Maliki government maintains that this issue is decided by the president.
Al-Zaman says that President-Elect Barack Obama was shown the agreement and agreed to be bound by its provisions.
In contrast, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, expressed dismay that he was not shown the agreement before the cabinet vote. Iraq is a member of the Arab League, and the latter feels that any treaty that affects the sovereignty of one of its members is in its purview.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said that as soon as the agreement is passed, Iraq will go to the United Nations Security Council to ask to be removed from Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and for permission to abrogate Order 17 issued by US viceroy Paul Bremer.
Of order 17, , Tom Engelhardt wrote:
' Order 17 is a document little-read today, yet it essentially granted to every foreigner in the country connected to the occupation enterprise the full freedom of the land, not to be interfered with in any way by Iraqis or any Iraqi political or legal institution. Foreigners--unless, of course, they were jihadis or Iranians--were to be"immune from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their Sending States," even though American and coalition forces were to be allowed the freedom to arrest and detain in prisons and detention camps of their own any Iraqis they designated worthy of that honor.'
The Iraqi government believes it can by signing this bilateral agreement with Bush get back its full sovereignty and escape the humiliation of being in receivership to the United Nations and having Bremer's law give foreign carpetbaggers the run of Iraq. This belief explains why even the proud Nuri al-Maliki is willing to sign on the dotted line.
Dabbagh was emphatic at a news conference that"The Iraqi government has the right to request the abrogation of the agreement when its own security forces are ready, even if it is before the end of the stipulated timetable."
Some Western observers have assumed that the 2011 date is non-negotiable once the agreement is signed, but that is not true. Insisting on a provision that any side could bring certain articles of the agreement to a premature close was one reason the Iraqis sent the agreement back to the US a month ago.
In other news, the Iraqi High Electoral Commission has permitted the placing on the ballot of a measure that would amke Basra a regional government in its own right, analogous to Kurdistan. If this measure went through, Basra would own all new oil fields that are discovered and developed.
Posted on: Monday, November 17, 2008 - 16:42
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-17-08)
In planning his transition to the presidency, Barack Obama could do no better than follow the precedents for governing set by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Congressional Democrats should heed the FDR model as well. Roosevelt not only won an unprecedented four presidential elections, but he also transformed the Democrats from a weak minority to American’s dominant party. From 1933 to 1981, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for 44 of 48 years.
Roosevelt succeeded as a policy maker and politician by following four simple rules that ought to guide the Obama administration as well.
1. Strike Early. Newly elected presidents are strongest in the early days of their administration before buyer’s remorse sets in for the public and opposition in Congress has a chance to organize and gain strength.
FDR steered Congress 15 major bills through Congress in his first hundred days. Obama will not match that record – no president has done so. However, he should use his transition time to develop a roster of proposed legislation for his first hundred days. If possible, he should clear his bills with the Democratic congressional leadership and committee chairs during the transition period.
Roosevelt also used his executive powers during the first hundred days. For example, FDR issued executive orders that took the nation off the gold standard and declared a national bank holiday that closed insolvent institutions for four days. Likewise Obama could reverse Bush-era executive orders that restricted access to presidential records, subjected anti-war dissidents to possible confiscation of their property, and weakened anti-pollution laws, restricted access to family planning, and limited stem cell research. He could also announce plans to close Guantanamo Bay, honor the Geneva Conventions, and reject the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war.
2. Bring the People With You. Congress is like Wall Street. It operates on fear and greed. Members of Congress will be fearful of challenging a president who has public backing and greedy to enact popular laws that they can bring to their constituents in the midterm elections of 2010.
FDR pioneered the direct communication between a president and the public through his fireside chats on the radio. He also worked through the conventional media by holding twice weekly press conferences.
Obama should use his oratorical skills and mastery of new media to sell his program directly to the American people. But he should also follow the other FDR precedent and make himself far more accessible to the press than President George W. Bush.
3. Think Big and Broadly. The watchword for FDR’s policy-making was “bold, persistent experimentation.” FDR had no fear of implementing big ideas that ensuring bank deposits, regulating the stock market, guaranteeing collective bargaining rights, or providing old age insurance and minimum wages. He was also willing to explore different approaches to recovery from the Depression and reform of the economic system. FDR kept what worked such as banking regulations and Social Security and discarded what did not, such as attempts to form industry-wide codes on wages and production under the National Recovery Act.
Today economists are offering solution to our economic woes that range from nationalizing the banks to letting the markets work their magic free of government interference. Obama should recognize that there is no consensus answer to recovery and reform and experiment with a mix of market and regulatory approaches.
4. Don’t Govern from the Middle. Great presidents don’t move to the middle they move the middle to them by changing the conversation about government and implementing programs that work. That is what FDR did for liberal governance in the 1930s and Ronald Reagan for conservative governance in the 1980s.
No political leader in the history of the government has gained major political success or produced fundamental changes in national policy by attempting to move to the middle. Rather the so-called “center” of American politics is the graveyard of mediocre one-term presidents like William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter. The centrist presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton won two terms in office, but they both lost control of Congress in their first term and failed to pass on the presidency to a candidate of their party.
By following the example of FDR Obama can prove that it is possible to learn from history and not merely be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Posted on: Monday, November 17, 2008 - 16:25
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (11-28-08)
Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro earned a Ph.D. in anthropology with an 800-page dissertation about blacksmithing in Indonesia. She spent long stretches of time learning to love and rescue the cultures and communities of total strangers, at the cost of not always being around while her son was coming of age in Hawaii. Yet she had an indelible impact on him, teaching him to appreciate cultural diversity and have faith in people's ability to understand each other across borders and identities.
The fact that Barack Obama's mother was a cultural anthropologist has been noted with curiosity and amusement. A few commentators dismiss her anthropology credentials by describing her as part of a radical American fringe, while others represent her favorably, but as "unconventional," "free-spirited," or "bohemian." That reputation is based on her two brief (and interracial) marriages and her wanderings through Javanese villages in an era when the stay-at-home mom was the public model of the American mother. Many now find it difficult to comprehend her passion for her adopted culture and her desire to live for years among the subjects of her research and advocacy work, though what she did was nothing out of the ordinary within anthropology.
As a cultural anthropologist, I think Obama's family background is something to celebrate. But even more important, I think the time is ripe for cultural anthropology to become a fundamental part of American education and public culture. Anthropology needs to be taught alongside math, science, language arts, and history as early as elementary school and definitely throughout the high-school years. Its insights about the perils of ethnocentrism, racialization, and exoticized stereotypes need to become part of our everyday vocabulary.
Students shouldn't have to stumble upon cultural anthropology, as I did, in their last year of college. I remember being thrilled to discover an academic discipline that focused on the complications of developing empathy with people who hold different worldviews. And I was enthralled by the idea of fieldwork, which calls for immersion in the day-to-day existence of people who might initially seem strange and incomprehensible, so that by grappling with our differences through face-to-face interactions, we might move beyond dehumanizing portrayals of "the Other." For a Cuban-Jewish immigrant like me, who'd become all too familiar with the fraught experience of explaining who and what I was to others who wanted to box me into a single identity, the study of cultural difference was absolutely liberating.
I eventually learned that the discipline's origins were not as humanistic as my ideals. Anthropology's fascination with cultural diversity arose in the early 20th century from Westerners' ruthless pursuit of colonial power and the arrogance of their presumed cultural superiority. The role of anthropologists was to elucidate the worldviews of "savages" in the third world before those cultures were swept away by modernity and capitalist development. Then in the 1950s and 60s, testimonies about the Holocaust revealed savagery in the heart of civilized Europe. Decolonization liberated Africa and Asia, and those who were once colonized began to ask, who was calling whom savage?
The discipline survived that crisis, and anthropologists became expert interpreters of cultures in transition....
Posted on: Monday, November 17, 2008 - 16:14
SOURCE: http://www.historiansagainstwar.org (11-11-08)
Paul Krugman calls for Obama and his advisors to push an expanded version of the New Deal (see the link below by Mark R. Hatlie). According to Krugman, they should boldly throw caution to the winds and “figure out how much help they think the economy needs, than add 50 percent. It’s much better in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus.”
Obama should reject this advice. If he listens to Krugman, the likely result will be a wave of stagflation that makes the experience of the 1970s look mild by comparison. Such a prescription would both continue and accelerate Bush’s fiscally reckless policy of propping up malinvestments through massive increases in spending, deficits, and easy credit by the Federal Reserve. As the continuing fall of the stock market and the rise of unemployment indicate, more bailouts and more “shock socialism” do not work. Obama made a fatal mistake in failing to oppose the aptly described billionaire bailout.
This call for a hyper New Deal rests on a flawed view of history. According Krugman, the only reason Roosevelt failed to bring recovery was because he spent too little, not too much. At the same time, he tries to have it both ways by stating that the crisis of the 1930s would have been “much worse” without the New Deal.
A key problem with Krugman’s analysis is that it does not adequately explain why the decade-long New Deal era depression lasted so much longer than previous depressions. Prior to the 1930s, depressions (as in the sharp and short downturn of 1921 and 1922) had typically lasted for two to three years. The predominant anti-depression policy before Hoover and Roosevelt was to cut spending, balance budgets, and let prices, profits, and wages readjust to more sustainable levels. Yet Krugman regards this older approach for curing depressions as “much worse” than the New Deal. The logical implication of his argument is that the New Deal, modest as it was, would have made the Great Depression at least somewhat shorter than previous downturns. The fact that it did not stands as a stunning indictment of FDR’s policies.
The unprecedented duration of the depression also represents an indictment of Herbert Hoover’s approach. This was because Hoover intervened too much not, as Krugman would have it, too little. Krugman’s article neglects the relevant point that Hoover had pursued a mini-New Deal from 1929 to 1933 via programs such as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Federal Farm Board. It was Hoover, not Roosevelt, who was the first president to reject the advice of the “leave it alone liquidationists.” Instead of letting malinvestments (or toxic assets in today’s parlance) readjust at a lower level, he desperately propped them up. In great part because of Hoover’s high wage policies, real wages were actually 12 percent higher in 1932 than in 1929! Meanwhile, of course, unemployment advanced to record levels as businesses saved on payroll costs by laying off workers. Perhaps if Hoover had listened to the advice of the so-called “liquidationists,” the depression would have been over by 1931.
More troubling, at least for opponents of war, is Krugman’s dubious contention that “What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs.” The evidence does not support the view that that war was beneficial for the economy. In a seminal article for the Journal of Economic History, Robert Higgs convincingly challenged the Keynesian theory of World War II as put forward by Krugman and others.
While unemployment disappeared during the war, it was hardly a step forward. Moving men and women from the unemployment lines to the killing fields of Anzio did not represent economic progress in any meaningful sense. During the war, Americans at home suffered from rationing, shortages, more accidents on the job, longer hours, and many other measures of economic deprivation. Moreover, as Higgs points out, “real personal consumption declined. So did real private investment. From 1941 to 1943 real gross private domestic investment plunged by 64 percent; during the four years of the war it never rose above 55 percent of its 1941 level; only in 1946 did it reach a new high.”
According to Higgs, genuine prosperity did not begin to return until the last months of 1945 and 1946. This prosperity occurred under a policy of reverse Keynesianism which included massive reductions in spending because of demoblization, rapid steps toward price decontrol, and scaled back deficit spending.
Higgs sums it up:
World War II, the so-called Good War, has been a fount of historical fallacies. One of the greatest—and one of the most pernicious for subsequent policymakers—is the notion that prosperity prevailed during the war. Although Americans might have been dying in the Pacific and European theaters of war, people on the home front actually benefited from the war, because it propelled the economy at long last out of the Great Depression. This view of the war would be sufficiently egregious if it were true, but despite the claims of historians for the past half century, it is not true.
Obama's best hope to bring lasting recovery is to let the economy go through a short, but sharp, readjustment. He needs to remove the malivestments not, contra Krugman, perpetuate them. Obama can faciliate this readjustment to a more sustainable level by cancelling the bailout, cutting spending, and pruning deficits. Another worthy goal would be to dismantle the Federal Reserve which helped to create this mess through its easy credit policies.
Most of all, however, Obama should end our costly empire by closing down our overseas bases and bringing home the troops. Only then, can we start to get our financial house in order and move towards genuine economic well being.
RESPONSE BY ALONZO HAMBY
(posted on Richard Jensen's Conservativenet 11-11-08)
My own take is that this is at best a 50-50 blend of fact and fallacy.
The Beito-Higgs critique is at its strongest in arguing that both Hoover and Roosevelt intervened in the economy in a number of egregious ways: One or both attempted to stabilize wages and prices through informal and/or formal cartel-type arrangements that tied the industrial economy in knots. Hoover delivered a blow to world trade by signing the Smoot-Hawley tariff. Roosevelt never attempted a general lowering of tariffs; rather he established a reciprocal trade policy that was mostly a cosmetic concession to the traditional free trade wing of his party. He also decided against commitment to international currency stabilization, a decision that further damaged international trade. Both Hoover and Roosevelt raised taxes, thereby sucking money out of the private economy. The New Deal gave free rein to a militant labor movement that disrupted the economy through strikes and work stoppages and had probably brought general wage levels above their market value, also putting a drag on recovery.
All that said, it needs to be understood that the New Deal farm programs did bring a measure of recovery to the agricultural sector--in this case likely more than if the process of liquidation had been allowed to run its course. The New Deal work programs wasted some money, and were only temporary pallatives, but along the way they produced a lot of necessary and useful infrastructure.
Beito and friends seem to assume that World War II did not need to be fought. One is left to wonder how they might have felt about a world in which Germany and Japan dominated the Eurasian land mass, were major naval forces in the Atlantic and Pacific, and were striking out to achieve influence in Africa and Latin America. Do they really believe hemispheric isolation was a promising alternative and that the United States had no interests in opposing Hitler and the Japanese imperialists? Are we going to hear that the Nazis and Soviets would have fought to an exhausting draw? That the Japanese would have overreached and bogged down into endless war in East Asia if we had done nothing?
Geopolitical issues aside and returning to the economy, most Americans at home pretty clearly came out of the war with more money and savings than they had at its beginning, and they were willing to spend it. At the beginning of 1945, there were widespread expectations of a postwar boom and bust, as had happened at the end of World War I. Instead, there was a boom, punctuated only by periodic mild recessions.
One can argue about how relevant that historical record is to present-day problems. The New Deal as an economic recovery program was clearly a failure, but it seems to me that it failed not because of stimulative spending but because of other policies that largely negated that stimulus. The World War II stimulus was much larger, and the mass shortages of consumer goods led to forced savings that were there to be spend in 1945. To these also, one must add the impact of various GI benefits.
I also am a little nervous about the huge sums of money being thrown around by the present administration and uncertain about how much good it will do. I suspect the impact will be mixed, think some bailouts need to happen, and question some others. If the end result resembles that of the post-World War II era, we can be happy and argue about whether it happened because of, or despite, the Bush-Obama handouts.
Posted on: Monday, November 17, 2008 - 12:12
SOURCE: German blog Atlantic Community (11-16-08)
On the occasion of this weekend's G-20 meeting in Washington, the global economic crisis seems more entrenched than ever. Calls for the return to a Bretton Woods-like system can be heard around the world. The Washington Post has said that a new Bretton Woods "could reform the IMF" (October 20). The Times of London has reported Prime Minister Brown's call for a new international financial architecture (November 14). Le Monde has printed favorable coverage for a "Bretton Woods acte II" (November 14). Before getting caught up in the momentum of "reform", the incoming administration of President-elect Obama should carefully heed the lessons of history.
The Bretton Woods system was set up in July 1944 by 44 nations in New Hampshire. The system allowed the recovering economies of Europe to accumulate U.S. dollars--including postwar American aid such as the Marshall Plan--which could be converted to gold at the rate of 35 dollars an ounce, guaranteed by the U.S. Treasury's gold reserves. The American guarantee was maintained in exchange for other countries' obligations to ensure monetary discipline at home.
The United States did not have this same discipline imposed upon it, so American debts could be paid by issuing new currency. During the late 1950s and 1960s this occurred with greater frequency as a result of ballooning American foreign aid programs, Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives, and the funding of growing American involvement in Southeast Asia. After 1958, the total number of dollars in circulation had eclipsed the gold held in reserve, a violation of a key tenet of the Bretton Woods system. This ultimately set in motion a series of monetary crises throughout the 1960s.
After a gold crisis in 1960, the Eisenhower administration worried that the entire Atlantic alliance might collapse. The Kennedy administration once mused that payments deficits worried the president more than nuclear weapons, and President Lyndon Johnson was concerned that he might be blamed for a global economic depression. This system was also painful for American consumers. Expansionary monetary policies without a devaluation of the dollar attracted imports, causing inflation, increased prices, and reduced exports. Thus, even in its purest form, the Bretton Woods system had a certain amount of instability built into it from the beginning.
Knowing that American gold reserves could not withstand a mass conversion of dollars into gold, throughout the 1960s American policymakers created a series of political inducements to compel Europeans (and later, Japanese) to hold onto their dollars rather than exchange them for gold. Beginning in 1961, the U.S. negotiated "offset" agreements with West Germany. In 1963, the Group of Ten leading industrial nations began discussions to develop a new monetary system, without success. Then, in 1968, Special Drawing Rights were created in an attempt to meet shortages in liquidity.
This was the system that Richard Nixon inherited in 1969. Nixon ignored the advice by Milton Friedman and Paul Volcker that the change in administration was an ideal time to overhaul Bretton Woods. Friedman argued that the dollar must be set free from the burden it carried as the pivot to the system. Ignoring advice to act in 1969, Nixon announced his New Economic Policy on August 15, 1971. Considered to be the mortal blow to Bretton Woods, Nixon suspended the conversion of dollars into gold, and included a host of other domestic initiatives (e.g. wage and price controls) and international programs (e.g. import taxes) that were in the spirit neither of Bretton Woods nor Nixon's conservative beliefs.
The lesson here for the Obama administration is that references to a "new Bretton Woods" must be understood carefully. Many calls for such a system appear with little context, and do not take into account the fact that the system depended on perennial manipulation, or that it was solvent for less than half of its existence. In 2009, there are too many unanswered questions. What would the currency pivot and reserve asset be? What will the responsibilities of membership be? What will the mechanism of enforcement be? What will the penalty for not playing by the rules be? Calls for reform are simple, but answering these questions are much more difficult. The system was unable to meet the liquidity demands of the 1960s, and it appears dramatically more out of step today.
Posted on: Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 20:12
SOURCE: Special to HNN (11-16-08)
The refusal to support an emergency loan to General Motors during the final days of his administration may go down in history as the most arrogant and ill informed decision George Bush has taken during his entire presidency- other than his decision to invade Iraq.
The General Motors Corporation is the anchor of an entire region, with factories and parts plants employing large portions of the population in Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky while its dealerships and suppliers are a major source of employment in every portion of the nation. Allowing this company to go bankrupt, and risk dissolution, while the federal government is rescuing banks and insurance companies who employ a fraction of the workforce General Motors does, displays a staggering insensitivity to the human costs of unregulated markets and laissez faire economics
If General Motors fails, factories and dealerships will close, hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs, hundreds of thousands more will lose their pensions. But that's only the beginning of the hardship. Business districts dependent on GM workers and their families will be abandoned and boarded up,,towns and municipalities will be forced into bankruptcy. and tens of thousands of homes owned by GM workers and retirees will go into foreclosure. The psychological costs of this trauma may be even greater. Every lost job, every lost pension, every failed business, leaves deep scars, some of which last a lifetime, and puts families and communities in jeopardy.
Just look at cities like Youngstown Ohio, Homestead Pennsylvania and Flint Michigan which were hit by factory closinngs in the 1970's and 1980's .They have not recovered TO THIS DAY, Their factory districts are still scarred with vacant lots and piles of rubble, large sections of their residential neighborhoods look like ghost towns, their business districts are shabby and struggling, and young men stand idle outside bars and groceries.
That this happened, episodically and incrementally in cities across the nation in the 70's and 80's is one of the great tragedies in modern American history.To allow it to happen again, on a much larger scale, because of refusal to use 25 billion dollars from a 700 billion dollar bailout package on the grounds it was meant for banks, not an automobile company, is simply unconscionable.
Only someone who has never walked the streets of Flint, or Youngstown, or Buffalo, or North Philadelphia.could make a decision like that. I would like to take Mr Bush and Mr Paulson on such a walk. Let them see the boarded up factories, the weed filled lots, the aba ondoned churches with stained glass windows once lovingly constructed with the contributions of thousands of immigrant workers. Let them visit the schools and look into the eyes of the men on street corners who have long given up on looking for work.
Take that walk with me,, Mr President and Mr Secretary, and then tell me, and the people who live in Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, that we have to let "the market" resolve the fate of General Motors,
When factories close and industries fail, we lose income, we lose confidence, we lose pride, we lose hope we lose a sense of purpose.. James Mc Murtry, in his song, "We Can't Make it Here Anymore:" lays those consequences out with brutal clarity
That big ol' building was the textile mill
It fed our kids and it paid our bills
But they turned us out and they closed the doors
We can't make it here anymore...
Posted on: Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 19:19
SOURCE: Newsweek (11-24-08)
It is no surprise that President-elect Barack Obama says he has been rereading the words of Lincoln; the 16th president has been a source of solace—and guidance—for American leaders for well more than a century. Like Stevenson, whose ancestor had been a Lincoln campaign manager, Theodore Roosevelt had listened to tales of his family ties to the great man since he was a child: his father had worked in Lincoln's government and escorted the president and Mary to church.
Roosevelt hung a Lincoln portrait above the fireplace of his White House office, intoning that he aspired—"so far as one who is not a great man can model himself upon one who was"—to do "what Lincoln would have done." Eager to expand his own authority, he pointed to Lincoln's seizure of unprecedented power during the Civil War, insisting that he belonged to the "Lincoln-Jackson school" of presidential might.
However, Roosevelt sometimes privately derided the faith in the people's wisdom that was such a hallmark of Lincoln. Fearing "the tyranny of the mob," TR felt that Americans were best ruled by well-born, elegantly schooled presidents like himself. He told his sister that 51 percent of the time, the people's voice may be the "voice of God," but the rest of the time it was "the voice of the devil … or a fool."
Much of Franklin Roosevelt's interest in Lincoln focused on how he could steal the first Republican president from the pantheon of Republican icons for political exploitation by Democrats. He said the Republicans had broken their ties to Lincoln by becoming the party of big business. He did not explain how the racism of Southern Democratic senators or his opposition to an anti-lynching bill equipped his own party to claim the Great Emancipator....
Posted on: Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 13:51
SOURCE: Truthdig.com (11-12-08)
Barack Obama’s victory on Nov. 4 may have rung down the curtain on the Civil War, a war that did not end at Appomattox as the history books have it, but instead has raged and festered within American political and cultural life ever since. Victory has many fathers and mothers. Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Viola Liuzzo, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner are just a few of the memorable people who labored to reverse the long tide of American racism. They are prominently and rightly remembered in the history books.
The 36th president of the United States seems strangely absent in the current celebrations. Perhaps Lyndon B. Johnson is not fondly remembered. When Bill Clinton ritualistically invoked his patron saints among his Democratic predecessors, he rarely mentioned LBJ.
Johnson today is best remembered for plunging the nation deeper into the quagmire of Vietnam. He pursued a war that deeply divided us at home and left an angry scar across the nation. But LBJ alone is not responsible for that war. Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy made the initial commitment. Johnson’s successor, Richard M. Nixon, willfully maintained the war for four more years, resulting in 25,000 more American deaths and untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese—despite his knowing for four years that we could not “win.”
Vietnam was a painful lesson for the limits of American power, but one brazenly brushed aside by George W. Bush and his neocon co-conspirators in 2003 as they went hunting for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Sadly, the misinformed nation largely acquiesced, as it, too, had forgotten its history.
In domestic affairs, LBJ found his place. A longtime virtuoso for the give and take of the legislative process, he scored notable policy successes, many of which remain with us despite the promises of Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich to eradicate all memories of those achievements. But Johnson deserves our best memories for his contributions to reversing racism. Those triumphs provided the tools that certainly made Obama’s victory possible.
Johnson prodded, cajoled and pushed the Democratic majority in Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year. Yes, pushed, for that illusory Democratic majority included the likes of such staunch segregationists as Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., Richard Russell, D-Ga., and John Stennis, D-Miss., among other old-line Southern Democrats.
LBJ needed a coalition and left a rich legacy for “reaching across the aisle” and working in a bipartisan manner. The Republicans, far different from their successors of today, considerably enabled the great civil rights victories. Their leader, Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., like LBJ, was a connoisseur of congressional processes and politics. An icon of the Republicans’ conservative Midwest base, Dirksen was no stranger to the traditional practices of his party, especially its unwritten contract with its like-minded fellow-conservative Southern Democrats. Dirksen generally disdained principles but proudly included “flexibility” among his few. Like Johnson, he recognized the moment—“an idea whose time had come,” using Victor Hugo’s words that became a theme of the civil rights movement.
The black protests that began with college students sitting at a segregated North Carolina lunch counter ultimately had to find their expression in concrete achievements. After Birmingham, Ala., police unleashed their fire hoses and dogs on protesters, President Kennedy addressed the nation on what he called the moral question. Johnson knew it was more than that.
Kennedy’s request for legislation got mired in Southern obstructionism, but his successor quickly responded and made the cause his own in ways Kennedy never could. Johnson provided the necessary passion, skill and energy that eluded Kennedy. After suffering an eight-month-long filibuster, LBJ finally secured the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but a crucial voting rights section had been gutted, and blacks remained at the mercy of local customs and state officials who creatively found ways to deny them the right to vote.
In March 1965, the president addressed Congress, asking it to resume work on civil rights, but now to focus specifically on voting rights. His speech deserves to be better known. Unlike Kennedy’s “moral” plea, Johnson knew firsthand how exploitation explained the racial divide in America. Poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, lack of dignity—all resulted from the exploitation of one group by another. Johnson knew it from his own experience, as he said. In his speech, he promised several times, “We shall overcome.” With a style and cadence that became so familiar to us in 2008, Johnson added: “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.”
After the voting rights bill passed, presidential aide Bill Moyers found LBJ rather downcast. “Why?” Moyers asked. “Because, Bill,” the president replied, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”1 It is true that Strom Thurmond, Newt Gingrich and the Southern Democrats who became Republicans indeed profited from the 1965 legislation.
Johnson was right, but only for a short run. Forty-odd years is not terribly long, given the eventual payoff in 2008. The Voting Rights Act broke down prevailing Southern laws and customs barring black voting, and soon black votes and officeholders rose dramatically in the South. But not until Obama’s run in 2008 did the black vote reach such incredibly high figures, both for registration and turnout.
Two weeks after his inauguration, President Obama will begin the celebration of the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial. By his example, he marked this year’s LBJ centennial in a very special way.
1 Robert Dallek, “Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President,” P. 170.
Posted on: Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 02:44
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (11-28-08)
It was Wednesday, the day after, and I wanted the election news, so absorbing for so long, now wondrous, to keep coming and coming. Trying to squeeze every drop of meaning from the morning paper, making my Web-site rounds, I was listening to my local NPR station when the host asked, "Is there a new progressive patriotism in America?" Calls flooded in proclaiming a resounding Yes, and I began figuring out how to put an American flag on my front door.
Saturday evening, my wife, Donna Schaper (a United Church of Christ minister who serves a storied activist church in Greenwich Village), and I were tuned into A Prairie Home Companion when Garrison Keillor launched into a patriotic medley. I turned to Donna and said, "You've got to do something patriotic in church tomorrow: 'America the Beautiful' or 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'" She proposed "God Bless America" — and I objected: "too over the top."
Let me back up. Born in 1951, pure midboomer, I grew up moving every year or two because my father was a career naval officer. I used to love his crisp white uniforms and dreamed, briefly, of becoming the first Jewish admiral — until I found out Uriah Phillips Levy had already claimed that honor. I learned to play "Stars and Stripes Forever" on my clarinet. And I supported the Vietnam War vigorously until the fall of my senior year in high school, when my friends and teachers began to convince me otherwise, and my father fought a losing battle against my "too liberal" environment.
The war took over everything. (Say "the war" to anyone in my generation, and the only one that registers is Vietnam.) Deeply influenced by the now-late William Appleman Williams's The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959), I became a historian mostly to understand how U.S. history had given rise to the Vietnam War. And I wanted nothing more to do with patriotism. I was ashamed of the pillage that followed the flag in Vietnam. I saw the emblem brandished at pro-war rallies, dividing our country into deep factions. It pained me to hope for an American defeat in Vietnam, but every alternative struck me as worse — for everyone.
For the next four decades, I felt profoundly marginalized by mainstream American political culture. Including the flag. I studied the "100 percent American Campaign" born in World War I-era domestic repression, and saw how the American Legion wrapped itself in the flag as its thugs beat up and killed labor radicals. Sure, civil-rights marchers had carried American flags, but by the time of the big Washington antiwar marches, those symbols had all but disappeared. Then we got Richard M. Nixon's partisan patriotism, with its flag lapel-pin totem....
So when Donna interrupted her own order of service last Sunday to ask her pianist to play "God Bless America," I said (to myself) "Oh, no!" — but began, haltingly, to sing. And as I sang, emotion that I didn't expect, and didn't even know might be there, welled up inside me, and the tears flowed; I'd forgotten a handkerchief and didn't care and just kept singing. And did I have company! I spoke to a dozen other people about my own age at coffee hour afterward, including several academics; all had resisted at first ("I've hated that song," one historian told me) and then given in, joyfully and tearfully. A longtime leader of the Village Independent Democrats had brought a batch of flag-lapel pins — I grabbed one, and the rest were gone by the end of coffee hour. What's going on here?...
Posted on: Friday, November 14, 2008 - 21:03
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-14-08)
As always, the Johnny-come-lately pundits can’t agree with one another. We’ve heard that McCain lost because he wasn’t conservative enough or because he was too conservative. We’ve heard that he lost because he picked the unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate or because he didn’t let Palin be Palin in the campaign. We’ve heard that he lost because he futilely accused Barack Obama of associated with terrorists or because he didn’t devote enough time and energy to attacking Obama’s questionable associates. We’ve also heard that he was heading for victory until the economic meltdown of the past too months or that he never really had a chance to win the general election.
You should take all of these post-facto explanations and follow the philosopher David Hume’s recommendation for works of superstition: consign them to the flames.
As readers of this blog know, the defeat of the party holding the White House was predictable long before John McCain and Barack Obama were selected as their party’s nominees. See, Lichtman “The 13 Keys to the White House: Why the Democrats Will Win,” Britannica Blog, posted October 4th, 2007.
The Keys to the White House, a historically-based prediction system first pointed to the defeat of the incumbent Republicans in a paper presented at the conference of the International Institute of Forecasters in June of 2005 and in a paper published in the February 2006 edition of Foresight: The International Journal of Applied Forecasting. In a paper presented at the August 2007 conference of the American Political Science Association and a paper published in the Fall 2007 edition of Foresight, I used the Keys to predict that the Republican candidate would receive 46 percent of the two-party popular presidential vote. According to the latest count, McCain has netted 46.6 percent of the two-party vote.
The lesson of the keys is that the American voters are far smarter and more pragmatic than the pundits would have us believe. The voters keep their eye on the big picture of presidential performance and vote out of office an incumbent party that fails to govern effectively. The failures of the Bush administration and the defeat of any Republican candidate for president were evident years before the either the nomination contests or the general elections campaigns began.
Posted on: Friday, November 14, 2008 - 12:49
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (11-13-08)
As he embarks on the uphill struggle to translate dreams into realities, one strategic goal President-elect Barack Obama should embrace on his inauguration day is that of a world freed from the threat of nuclear weapons. In doing so, he can build on an impressive body of detailed, bipartisan, unofficial policy planning in the United States. He can expect an enthusiastic response from hundreds of millions of his supporters around the world who are hoping he will think and act big. He can be equally sure of crocodile smiles masking determined opposition from several countries that possess nuclear weapons, as well as other states and dark forces who would like nothing more than to have them - and, in some cases such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, are actively working towards acquiring them.
This dream is almost as old as nuclear weapons themselves. Many of the essential elements of what is being proposed today can be found in the so-called Acheson-Lilienthal report of 1946, written in part by the nuclear scientist Robert Oppenheimer but soon buried under the rising cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, which brought us to the edge of nuclear catastrophe. It emerges again, from the left, in the manifesto drafted by Bertrand Russell in 1955 and signed by Albert Einstein. And again, from the right, in Ronald Reagan's spontaneous offer to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit of 1986, to which that Obama of the Soviet politburo responded: "We can do that. We can eliminate them."
So the dream has never died. But arguably we are further from it today than we were even at the height of the cold war. As Ivo Daalder, one of Obama's advisers on this issue, notes in a recent article in the Foreign Affairs journal, there are now more than 25,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and nearly 3,000 tons of fissile material - enough to make 250,000 bombs - stored in more than 40 countries. The US and Russia still maintain, on round-the-clock alert, strategic missiles capable of devastating each other's cities at 30 minutes' notice. In 1995 Russia mistook the launch of a test rocket in Norway for a submarine-launched nuclear missile aimed at Moscow, and came within two minutes of ordering a retaliatory nuclear strike on the US.
Yet that's almost the least of our nuclear worries. Far more likely is a rogue state or a terrorist group getting its hands on a few kilograms of enriched uranium or plutonium, and crafting it into a crude but still devastating bomb. And here's the new, 21st-century twist to this old story: to face another great challenge of our time, that of global warming, we will need more enriched uranium, not less. Until we achieve affordable mass usage of inexhaustible sources of energy such as the sun, using more nuclear power is one of the ways we can slow the growth of our carbon dioxide emissions. The International Energy Agency has called for 1,400 new nuclear power reactors by 2050. The devil lies in this detail: if you have the facilities to enrich uranium to the level needed for civil nuclear power generation, it's but a small step to producing weapons-grade uranium. One small step for the nuclear scientist, one giant leap for the terrorist and the tyrant.
So one reason the dream must be revived is that the nightmare, which seemed to recede after the end of the cold war, is getting closer again. Today it may be many small nightmares rather than one nightmare to end all nightmares, but small is hardly the appropriate word. In the US, the issue returned to salience with a remarkable op-ed article titled "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons", published in the Wall Street Journal in January 2007 and signed by four grand old men of American foreign policy - two of them Democrats, two Republicans: George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn. Detailed thinking has been carried forward by an initiative based at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University (where I write these lines) and the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington. Encouragingly, this has been a significant plank in the foreign policy part of Obama's electoral platform. The president-elect has promised to "make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of US nuclear policy".
The question is: how? Different models are canvassed in detail, but everyone agrees that you have to do two big things. You have to persuade the states who already have nuclear weapons - whether or not they are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty - to commit themselves to reduce, rapidly and radically, and eventually to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. Zero is the goal. And you have to create an international, comprehensive, verifiable and enforceable regime covering, one way or another, the production, storage and use of all nuclear fuel in every corner of the world, so that none of it gets into the wrong hands. Each of these is, on its own, a tall order. But you have to do both.
Britain has already signed up in principle to the logic of zero, although at the same time justifying the modernisation of its nuclear deterrent by a very broad rationale of keep-hold-of-nurse in an uncertain world. But what about France, China or India? Let alone Israel and Pakistan. And, of course, Russia. Russia and the US between them account for 95% of the world's nuclear weapons. Without Russia, you won't get far. Of late, Russia has not been happy with the west in general, and the US in particular. Among its particular gripes are the promise of Nato membership for Georgia and Ukraine, and the stationing of US-led missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. It will require statecraft of a high order, from European capitals as well as from Washington, to persuade Russia to regard this as a joint project for humankind and not just another western plot.
For historians, there's a particular paradox in the missile defence angle. As you can see from the now declassified records of the Reagan-Gorbachev conversations at the 1986 Reykjavik summit, what kiboshed the briefly flowering consensus on eliminating all nuclear weapons was the Soviet Union's implacable opposition to Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative and Reagan's equally unshakeable commitment to proceeding with it. Twenty-two years on, missile defence, the nephew of SDI, may become an early diplomatic obstacle to reviving the Reykjavik dream...
Posted on: Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 12:20
SOURCE: Conservativenet (11-12-08)
In the days of Robert La Follette, Sr., Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, it meant a middle-class reformism that favored honest government, the employment of professionals and experts in administration and policy-making, and a more equitable society characterized by justice and opportunity for all classes and groups. In those days, more often than not, "liberal" still meant small government and laissez-faire, connected vaguely with the Jeffersonian tradition.
From the 1930s on "liberal" began to displace "progressive" as the preferred term for the reforming groups of the century. I think the rationale was a far broader definition of the "term liberty" to include material well-being, as in Roosevelt's Four Freedoms.
By then also "progressive" was taking on a somewhat different usage. The Communist party of the United States (and the Comintern) after 1935 sought unity with (and influence over) "the progressive forces" of Western nations in a "Popular Front" against fascism (a term the CPUSA interpreted very broadly after 1945). One US result was the Progressive party of 1948, a vehicle largely controlled and manipulated by the CPUSA in the interests of the Soviet Union. The Progressive party of 1948 was, appropriately enough, rejected by the political heirs of the the leader of the Progressive Party of 1924, the elder La Follette.
After 1948, "progressive" fell into disuse among reformers. Today, a good many. e.g., E. J. Dionne, want to resurrect it because "liberal" has taken on a bad odor in the larger political dialogue.
My own sense is that neither term is very good. The controlling impulse of today's Democratic party is akin to European social democracy, pressing more toward equality of condition than equality of opportunity.
I don't expect, however, to see our President-Elect, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, or assorted Democratic intellectuals adopt the term "social democratic" any time soon.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 22:29
SOURCE: National Review Online (11-12-08)
Some columnists are now putting Europe, Russia, China — and the whole world — on moral notice: we Americans did the right thing in electing the first African-American president and a charismatic, hip, commander-in-chief. They must now, too — or else!
Our divine edict from on high is simple: O wide world of little faith: Don’t blow it! So Europeans buck up for Barack, and get back in Afghanistan! Illiberal Russia, hands off those democracies on your borders and don’t make Barack do something we will all regret later! China, keep Barack’s air clean and don’t dare burn any more dirty coal!
The world may be temporarily awestruck with the wise and all-powerful Obama, but it’s not quite ready to coalesce into a kinder, gentler global family — one people, under one Messiah, indivisible, with peace and justice for all.
In fact, Vladimir Putin doesn’t care a whit that Barack Obama is a path-breaking African-American, much less the first person of color to be an American president. The Chinese can’t quite appreciate in translation Obama’s mellifluous cadences. France’s cool Sarkozy isn’t swayed much by the Obama sunglasses, snazzy polo shirt, or nifty outside jump shot.
All these states have interests — not deities. For the most part, either their enmity with or fondness for the United States antedated George Bush. The world’s mental map wasn’t erased away when Bush took power. Being the planet’s most powerful democracy, and a free and confident world peacekeeper, either excites admiration or earns envy — and even the most crude or the most elegant American president can’t change much that simple fact of global human nature.
To the small degree Obama’s superior charm and style will improve things, the Russians may toast, backslap, and bear hug Obama — before seeking to body slam him against the wall on Polish anti-missile sites. The smiling Europeans will scurry around mumbling “Yes, but of course!” — as they shirk even more. An unhinged President Ahmadinejad will endlessly write rambling letters to Barack Hussein Obama as the last centrifuges come on line. The jihadists will sigh rather than swear as they continue to try to blow us all up. ...
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 22:19
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (11-11-08)
Reports in The New York Times have revealed the existence of a hitherto secret counterterrorism campaign conducted by U. S. troops in Pakistan, Syria, and other countries. The campaign reputedly dates from 2004 and has included nearly a dozen raids conducted by special operations forces that swoop into a target area, wield death and destruction, and then as quickly make their escape.
We can safely assume that the governments of Syria and Pakistan, not to mention the organizations targeted by these attacks, have known about these activities for some time. In other words, "secret" in this context means keeping the American people in the dark about actions taken in their name. We can only speculate about various sources, whether acting independently or at the behest of high authorities, have chosen at this juncture to spill the beans.
In truth, the existence of such a program, fully consistent with the Bush administration's penchant for using force and for defining executive authority in the widest terms, hardly qualifies as surprising. True, these raids, which have regularly trampled on the principle of national sovereignty, makes all the more laughable the Bush administration's condemnation of Russia for violating the sacred sovereignty of Georgia. Yet at this point no one pays much attention when the United States claims to stand on principle.
More germane is the question of who exactly we are killing. Having learned about this secret war being conducted on their behalf, Americans now have an obligation to find out more. That obligation is both moral and political. The moral obligation is to ascertain whether or not the people we are killing are in fact terrorists, that is, members of organizations engaged in actively plotting attacks against the United States. If we are killing people who are not terrorists, then these special operations attacks are profoundly wrong. Indeed, in that case, they amount to little more than state-sponsored terrorism of the sort that Washington quickly and rightly condemns in others.
The political obligation is of a different sort. The issue here becomes one of effectiveness: even if these operations are actually netting some bad guys, are we in fact reducing the overall terrorist threat as a consequence? Or are the attacks merely creating propaganda opportunities that Islamists exploit to promote anti-Americanism, while recruiting new jihadists to replace those just eliminated? Can we be certain, in other words, that we are not simply engaging in an endless game of whack-a-mole?
In this regard, recent U.S. operations not directly related to this program of secret raids should set off alarm bells. In Afghanistan, site of an overt war that has taken a turn for the worse of late, U.S. and NATO forces have been involved in a series of incidents in which they have killed not Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters, but innocent civilians. No reasonable observer is accusing coalition forces of intentionally targeting non-combatants. Yet whether attributable to incompetence or negligence or simply the fog and friction of war, the evidence that we are routinely killing the wrong people in Afghanistan is becoming difficult to refute. In the most recent example, earlier this week a U.S. combat aircraft assaulted what turned out to be an Afghan wedding party, killing nearly forty civilians.
In Pakistan, site of a semi-covert war conducted mostly by remotely-controlled, missile-firing drones, U. S. officials insist that we are indeed killing terrorists even as Pakistani officials tell another story. Who is telling the truth -- whether the truth is even fully knowable -- is anyone's guess. What cannot be disputed is that the chief observable result of these Predator attacks has been to bring Pakistan perceptibly closer to the brink of internal collapse. In short, even if every accusation of killing innocent Pakistanis is false, the attacks are producing results that are the inverse of what they are intended to do.
Americans should not rush to render an adverse judgment of this program of secret attacks. Yet neither should they accept at face value official U. S. explanations or what they get from leakers offering a partial and selective version of the story. There is a need here for sober stock-taking, which must begin with a thorough-going, no-holds-barred investigation. There are two key questions. Are we doing the right thing? Are we doing the smart thing? Alas, don't look for the Pentagon, the Congress, or the media to provide answers to these questions.
Instead, add another item to President-elect Obama's already crowded agenda.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 22:04
SOURCE: Phiadelphia Bulletin (11-12-08)
Ali ibn Abi-Talib, the seventh-century figure central to Shiite Islam, is said to have predicted when the world will end, columnist Amir Taheri points out. A"tall black man" commanding"the strongest army on earth" will take power"in the west." He will carry"a clear sign" from the third imam, Hussein. Ali says of the tall black man:"Shiites should have no doubt that he is with us."
An Iranian in Tehran sports a badge of Barack Obama. (AP: Hasan Sarbakhshian)
Back down on earth, the Muslim reaction to Obama's victory is more mixed than one might expect.
American Islamists are delighted; an umbrella group, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Election, opined that, with Obama's election,"Our nation has … risen to new majestic heights." Siraj Wahhaj, Al-Hajj Talib Abdur Rashid, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Muslim Alliance in North America responded with similar exuberance.
Hamas, and Islamist movements in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, Indonesia and the Philippines delighted in Obama's election. Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch generalizes that jihadists and Islamic supremacists worldwide showed"unalloyed joy." The New York Times finds public reaction in the Middle East mostly"euphoric." John Esposito of Georgetown University emphasizes the Muslim world's welcome to Obama as an"internationalist president."
But plenty of other Muslims have other views. Writing in Canada's Edmonton Sun, Salim Mansur found John McCain the"more worthy candidate." Yusif al-Qaradawi, the Al-Jazeera sheikh, endorsed McCain for opposite reasons:"This is because I prefer the obvious enemy who does not hypocritically [conceal] his hostility toward you… to the enemy who wears a mask [of friendliness]." Al-Qaradawi also argued that twice as many Iraqis died during Bill Clinton's two administrations than during George W. Bush's.
For tactical reasons, the influential Sunni sheikh Yusif al-Qaradawi wanted John McCain to win.
Iraqis are intensively divided about Obama's plan quickly to withdraw U.S. troops from their country. That plan, plus promises to end U.S. dependence on Middle East oil and to negotiate with Iranian leaders, rattled the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf governments.
Some commentators argue that Obama cannot make a real difference; an Iranian newspaper declares him unable to alter a system"established by capitalists, Zionists, and racists." Predictably, the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff confirmed Palestinian perceptions of an omnipotent Israel lobby. A commentator in the United Arab Emirates went further, predicting Obama's replication of Jimmy Carter's trajectory of flamboyant emergence, failure in the Middle East, and electoral defeat.
In all, these mixed reactions from Muslims suggest puzzlement at the prospect of a U.S. president of Islamic origins who promises" change," yet whose foreign policy may buckle under the constraints of his office. In other words, Muslims confront the same question mark hanging over Obama as everyone else:
Never before have Americans voted into the White House a person so unknown and enigmatic. Emerging from a hard-left background, he ran, especially in the general election, mostly as a center-left candidate. Which of these positions will he adopt as president? More precisely, where along the spectrum from hard- to center-left will he land?
Looking at the Arab-Israeli conflict, for example, will Obama's policies reflect Rashid Khalidi, the ex-PLO flak he befriended in the 1990s, or Dennis Ross, his recent campaign advisor and member of my board of editors? No one can yet say.
Still, one can predict. Should Obama return to his hard left roots, Muslim euphoria will largely continue. Should he seek to make his presidency a success by moving to the center-left, many – but hardly all – Muslims will experience severe disillusionment.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 21:16
SOURCE: Time Magazine (11-5-08)
For 10 exhausting months, Americans worried that Barack Obama might be too inexperienced to serve as President. On Nov. 4, a majority of voters decided that he is in fact"ready to lead"--or at least that he had better be. This suggests that Americans know their history. When it comes to presidential success, experience isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Does Experience Matter in a President?
Given the recent Sturm und Drang over the experience question, one might imagine that American Presidents have mostly followed the Johnson/Nixon model, clawing their way from House to Senate to the vice presidency before landing in the Oval Office. In truth, American presidential politics has often been a rookie's game. Some presidential newcomers have hit the ball out of the park, delivering moments of true political greatness. (Think Abraham Lincoln.) Others have offered up inning after inning of rookie mistakes.
As a group, White House rookies tend to fall into three categories. First come the military heroes--Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower--who ventured a leap into electoral politics only to produce lackluster administrations. (The great exception is George Washington, whose success in office remains uncontested but whose"rookie" status could hardly be helped.)
Next come the technocrats like William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover, who both arrived with long résumés of appointed posts but virtually no electoral experience. This category might also include Jimmy Carter, who despite several years in the Georgia legislature and governor's office maintained an essentially bureaucratic outlook toward White House affairs. All three proved wanting as popular leaders, unable to rally mass support for their programs. All three were limited to a single term.
In the last category are the charismatic youngsters: 42-year-old Teddy Roosevelt, 43-year-old John F. Kennedy, 46-year-old Bill Clinton. Of our many presidential rookies, they have been among the most ambitious, championing transformative programs for national change. They have also marked the presidency with their outsize personal traits: Roosevelt's masculine bluster, Kennedy's legendary charm, Clinton's much discussed indiscretions....
[HNN Editor: Gage goes on to compare Obama with Abraham Lincoln, who'd served in the Ill. state legislature and served a single term as a member of Congress, and Woodrow Wilson, who served just two years as NJ governor before election as president. She thinks the Wilson example may be the most relevant.]
Like Obama, Wilson had spent his adult life immersed in university politics. Wilson's essays on American history feature the voice of a professor, not a machine candidate. Obama is himself something of a Wilsonian progressive, a man who puts his faith in transparency and voluntarism rather than New Deal--style interest-group wrangling. He also maintains some of Wilson's reserved and intellectual approach to managing the national welfare....
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 16:21