Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: http://www.metimes.com (12-22-08)
U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "The world cups its ear to hear the rattling of rockets. It listens less closely to the sounds of peace and well-being which emanate from the slow but steady improvement in world health and nutrition."
These words ring true even today. When we listen to news reports from Iraq, seldom do we hear about the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the country. Yet, the ability of Iraq's new democracy to feed its people is one of its critical benchmarks for success, particularly when it comes to children. Having school feeding available to all Iraqi children is critical. Unfortunately, this is not the case at the moment.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) released a report in early November showing that while access to food had improved in Iraq, much work needed to be done. One of the report's recommendations called for "Food for education among the poorest areas" which would institute school lunches and take home rations for the most vulnerable Iraqi children.
The WFP had been providing school meals for Iraqi children up until the middle of 2006. The meals consisted of high energy biscuits and take-home rations of vegetable oil as a means to encourage parents to send their children to school. According to WFP representative Robin Lodge, "We succeeded in reaching about 1.2 million in 2005 and things were going well in the first half of 2006, when we reached 530,000."
But then it all came to an end. In 2006 Iraq's new minister of education requested different types of foods for the program. WFP was unable to provide these foods and talks broke down on how to proceed with school feeding. Food for Education was therefore suspended and no substitute was provided by the Iraqi government. According to Lodge, "There has been no systematic school feeding in Iraq since we suspended our program in September 2006."
In Iraq, "16 percent of the surveyed households" cited economic hardship as a reason for children missing school. The WFP report also emphasized "concern about the dropout to work among students under 15 years of age." Providing meals at school with take home rations is just the incentive that can encourage parents to send their children to school. School feeding is a type of economic, nutritional and educational stimulus package for families.
WFP hopes to resume school feeding in Iraq but can only do so at the Iraqi government's request. The government of Iraq should work with the WFP on building universal school feeding. The United States should encourage an agreement. These are the less dramatic steps toward peace that are so desperately needed in Iraq and other countries around the world.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 - 21:05
SOURCE: Open Democracy (12-24-08)
As president Victor Yushchenko's rating plummets further there is a chance that Kiev's political elite may agree to form a parliamentary republic.
In a poll by FOM-Ukraina in mid-November 2008, Viktor Yushchenko's popularity reached a new low. With 3% of the respondents saying they would vote for him in elections, Ukraine's current President trails not only far behind his main contenders Yulia Timoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich. Yushchenko's support is also below the percentage of popular backing that such minor politicians as Arseny Yatsenyuk, Petro Symonenko and Volodymyr Litvin currently receive. It has been clear to most observers for a couple of years now that Yushchenko's chances for a second term are, at best, dim. One hopes that now even the detached President and his myopic aides will acknowledge that a re-election of the incumbent is beyond reach. As bitter as this might be for the hero of the Orange Revolution, this circumstance also provides the Orange camp with a window of opportunity to complete its second push for democratization started four years ago. In 2009, Ukraine will have a rare chance to get rid of its ill-construed semi-presidential system.
After the fall of the USSR, most countries emerging from it adopted a slightly transfigured version of the Soviet executive structure in which the respective republic's First Party Secretary was replaced by the President - a model that had been provided by Gorbachev, on the Union level, already in 1989. In the aftermath, this transmutation was, in public, rationalized as an adoption of the"French model of government." In reality, the division of executive power between the President and Prime-Minister in much of the post-Soviet world had little to do with learning from France's experiences, but was, instead, the result of idiosyncratic power-struggles in each of the former Soviet republics. The seemingly novel configurations of institutions in the central apparatuses of the Newly Independent States were christened"parliamentary-presidential" or"presidential-parliamentary" though, in most cases, these political systems were or, still, are neither.
Rather, they constitute(d) autocracies or oligarchies with a rubber-stamp or/and toothless parliament, and with a"Head of Government" who is no head and does not govern, but is merely the country's highest ranking bureaucrat, and often plays the role of a scapegoat, in the case, things go wrong.
In Ukraine, this started to change in late 2004 when it were, oddly, the opponents of the Orange Revolution who - out of ad hoc calculations - initiated a partial shift of prerogatives from the President to the Prime-Minister as well as to the Rada thus creating something close to real semi-presidentialism. As important as this transfer of power was for the re-democratization of Ukraine, it did not solve, but merely transformed the problem. Since then, Ukraine has a divided government with a duumvirate, at its top. To understand that this is unsatisfactory is not something that Ukrainians need to be explained by political scientists. Since 2005, the country has experienced such agonizing conflicts between the President, on the one side, and its two" cohabitating" Prime-Ministers (Timoshenko, Yanukovich), on the other, that there are, probably, few Ukrainians left who think that this political solution has been good for their homeland.
What (not necessarily foreign) political scientists could and should be still telling Ukrainians is that this problem is, contrary to what many believe, not something unique to Ukraine. One often hears from both younger and older citizens of Ukraine that democracy does not properly work there because of the low political culture, moral inadequateness or similar deficiencies of Kiev's political elite. While hardly anybody will disagree, these shortages are not the only and, probably, not even the main reason for last years' destructive confrontations between Ukraine's power-holders. International experience shows that these clashes President vs. Parliament, the Head of State vs. the Head of Government are inherent to duumvirates, in general, and typical for semi-presidential regimes in emerging democracies, in particular. Ukraine's chaotic politics of the last years has, contrary to commonly held opinion there, less to do with the culture of its nation, than with the structure of its state. The problem with semi-presidentialism - everywhere and not only in the post-Soviet world - is that it elevates conflicts between political parties or camps into confrontations between the branches of power or constitutional organs. An old democracy like France is able to deal with these tensions and euphemistically calls the conflict emerging from different parties occupying the country's highest posts" cohabitation." In young democracies and especially in post-colonial ones like Ukraine, the stakes of the decisions to be taken by the top officials are, however, much higher. Here minor inconsistencies in the voting behaviour of the electorate or in the coalition building of the parties or factions may transform into major political stand-offs that, in the worst case, come close to civil war (like in Russia in September-October 1993). Contrary to what many in the post-Soviet world believe, the Prime-Minister of Britain or Chancellor of Germany have more power, in their national contexts, than the President of the United States - at least, in those situations in which the President's party does not have a majority in Congress.
It should be noted that not only Moscow's"political technologists", but also a number of serious international political scientists advocate presidentialism, and see this form of democracy as superior to parliamentary systems - the world oldest democracy, the US, being the obvious example. However, concerning the specific challenges that young democracies are facing, study after study has shown that the stronger a new republic's parliament is the better are the chances that genuine political pluralism will survive and that the novel system of government will consolidate. Notably, these findings are not outcomes of theoretical considerations by experts who may have a preference for this or that form of government. Instead, the inference that parliamentarianism is better for an emerging democracy than a presidential or semi-presidential system is based on empirical research and results from more or less wide-ranging cross-national investigations.
The conclusion for a country like Ukraine is that, in order to become a more stable and effective democracy, it should transform sooner rather than later into a parliamentary republic. While political conflicts will continue to be fought ferociously in such a system, they will happen within the parliament, and not between parliament and president. Coalition building will become the major feature of the political process, and replace such strategies as brinkmanship, intimidation and bluffing prominent during intra-executive confrontations in semi-presidential systems. Parlamentarians able to build bridges between political opponents and not ideologues whipping up their political camps will take center-stage. Apart from that, for Ukraine, simply saving the costs of another round of elections, and having only one national poll every four years will help to save much money and energy that is dearly needed to further reform and stabilize this young nation-state.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 - 17:58
SOURCE: Special to HNN (12-23-08)
" If the recession ends in June 2009, as many economists are forecasting, it would have lasted 18 months, making it the longest recession in the post-World War II period".--AP, December 23, 2008
One of the most frustrating things about reading economic news these days is the disconnect between published reports on the health of the banking system, the housing market, manufacturing and retail sales and the timetable economists are offering as to when the recession will end. I have yet to see a single piece of encouraging news coming from any of those sectors, yet it is hard to find a single economist willing to say that recovery won't begin until 2010, and possibly not then!
I'm not an economist, but I can put two and two together and they don't make five! With job losses just starting to spread to retail trades and government employment, and with problems with commercial real estate and credit card debt inhibiting banks willingness to lend no matter what bailout funds the federal government provides, where is the revival of consumer demand needed to pull us out of the recession going to come from?
Let's look at employment. Consumer demand has already taken a huge hit because of the freezing up of credit and losses in stock portfolios and retirement funds , But nothing hurts consumer demand like unemployment and the big jobs losses have just begun!. Let's take government employment. Generally, there is a lag of at least a year between when an economic downturn hits the private sector and when it impacts the public sector. Almost every state, and many city governments are suffering budget crises that will require them to lay off workers. Most of those layoffs won't begin until next spring- some won't take place till next fall. How, pray tell, is the economy going to pull out of a recession at the same time that hundreds of thousands of government workers are joining the ranks of the unemployed.
Now look at retail sales, especially those specializing in "big ticket" items like automobiles, electronic appliances, entertainment systems and the like. Unless consumer credit is miraculously unfrozen, how many consumers, traumatized by job losses, salary freezes and declining home prices, are going to go out and buy automobiles and flat screen tv's. Declining sales are going to force many auto dealerships and retailers into bankruptcy, creating a major new addition to the jobless ranks, along with people who work in hotels and restaurants.
These are all job losses that, for the most part, haven't taken place yet! How consumer demand is going to rise in the midst of such radical shrinkage in the labor market is a mystery I have yet to decipher.
But wait a minute, thanks to the infusion of $300 billion dollars in bailout funds from the federal government, plus the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates to near zero, won't the banks start lending to consumers again so that Americans can resume their old habit of "shopping till they drop."
That would be nice present for the new year, but for that to be possible, one would have to believe that most of the bad loans and toxic financial products on bank balance sheets have already been written off and that they ready to start fresh. In fact nothing could be farther from the truth! Not only are there still hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars in credit default swaps still unaccounted for, but banks face a new wave of defaults on credit cards and commercial real estate that may equal the looses they took on home mortgages!. An article in yesterday's financial section estimated that bank write offs for bad debt in 2009 are likely to double those in 2008! Given what's coming, to imagine that banks are going to loosen restrictions on credit, especially for consumers, in the next 6 months, is to defy credulity!
So folks, to quote from one of my favorite rappers, Eminem -- "let's do the math" If unemployment continues to rise, stock portfolios continue to shrink, and commercial and consumer credit remain frozen at current levels, where is a new burst of consumer demand going to come from?
The stimulus package the Obama administration proposes, if it passes without substantial modification, will create 2.5 million new jobs, but it will take at least two years to fully implement and replace only half of the jobs lost in the current recession. It is a valuable and necessary step to take--but at best it will stop the bleeding, not lead to a new period of economic growth.
We have to face facts. Nothing policy makers can do will bring back the era of easy consumer credit that has fueled economic growth during the last twenty years.
We are going to face a long period of economic stagnation that will require new ways of thinking about what a healthy economy is and generate new forms of enterprise, undergirded by a new value system, that avoid the kind of waste and profligacy of an society that made the SUV and the McMansion the symbols of collective economic well being.
American consumerism, in its current form, may be a casualty of this crisis. If we want something better- and equally dynamic- to replace it, we need to start thinking about alternatives now.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 - 14:44
SOURCE: Common Dreams (liberal website) (12-21-08)
"No matter how powerful our military is, we will not be powerful if we lose the war of ideas."
- Senator Joe Biden, soon after 9/11; cited in Ira Teinowitz, "Congress will support the war of ideas" (Advertising Age, 6/17/2002)
"We're in a war of ideas."
- Donald Rumsfeld, cited in Bill Gertz, "Rumsfeld pushes 'new sense of urgency'; 'War of ideas' needed to defeat the terrorists," (The Washington Times, October 24, 2003)
War has long been a term used by governments to mobilize their populations. In the twentieth century, for example, "war of ideas" was in circulation when referring to America's conflicts with Germany and Russia. Lately, this verbal construct, used off and on by a number of pundits and politicians since 9/11, has enjoyed something of a resurgence -- thanks to statements made by the current Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman.
Glassman's emphasis on the "war of ideas," for which he advocates the use of Internet social networking to discredit "violent extemism," has received, on the whole, a positive reception in the United States, with some exceptions; but should a "war of ideas," on or off cyberspace, be part of how we Americans determine our country's role in the world during the new millenium?
1. To understand the deceptive nature of the term "war of ideas," it helps to go back to Plato -- as Alfred North Whitehead famously said, Western philosophy is but a "series of footnotes to Plato." In Plato's Gorgias we gather from Socrates that persuasion is not dialogue, and indeed that rhetoric and philosophy are in a state of tension if not opposition. Following this train of thought, it becomes evident that Glassman's "war," by definition a win-or-lose conflict rather than an intellectual exchange, has nothing to do with ideas as such. It has to do -- and wouldn't terrorists find much in common with the Under Secretary's bellicose, unsubtle, hit-'em-hard approach? -- with changing behavior to advance one's interests: in other words propaganda, a weapon of war which, at its most rudimentary, appeals to atavistic emotions, not the inquisitive intellect.
2. To suggest -- as Glassman's "war of ideas" does -- that violent extremists are capable of ideas is to give them intellectual credit that they seldom deserve. To be sure, some of the terrorists' statements are taken seriously in some societies, but that is because they inflame the spirits rather than enlighten the mind, for often regrettable but understandable reasons. And words, which in discourse are a vehicle for thought, are at most of secondary importance to terrorists. What they most believe in, as a means of getting their way, is the propaganda of the deed (the more violent the better), a phrase traced back to a 19th century Italian revolutionary. How ironic, then, that Mr. Glassman's predecessor, Ms. Karen Hughes, referred to "diplomacy of deeds" as a central part of her agenda, and that Dr. Condoleezza Rice, while teaching at Stanford, stated that "I tell my students that policy-making is 90 percent blocking and tackling and 10 percent intellectual."
3. Meanwhile, what, exactly, are our American "ideas" in the "war of ideas?" -- and, indeed, what are the ideas of the US-politically acceptable Middle East moderate "locals" who can fight the evil "them" for "us," to follow the contentions of Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy? To seek to define America through certain principles ("life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness") is all well and good, but to reduce the United States to a fixed set of ideas it "fights for" simplifies the complexity and changeability of the United States. In fact, what perhaps most characterizes the U.S. is that it contains a multitude of differing and evolving ideas, rather than permanent ideas everyone agrees upon. The notion of an American "war of ideas" is, therefore, an attack on ideas in the United States, as it implicity limits their infinite variety. As Mr. Glassman himself wrote in 1997: "Of course, not every new idea ... will be a good one. But the trial-and-error process of learning is essential to the progress and plenitude of American life. Whether in science, technology, business, or popular culture, we cannot know in advance which experiments will succeed. For a political class dedicated to technocratic planning, that is a scary idea."
4. In the long term, a crude propaganda campaign thinly disguised under the term "war of ideas" may in fact discredit the U.S. far more than its "enemies" by confirming what violent extremists claim -- that America is not truthful about what it does, what many in the world are predisposed to believe, given the Bush administration's hypocritical record in Iraq and elsewhere. As a noted scholar, known for not mincing words, informed me by e-mail, Glassman's war of ideas is simply "dumb." "Because," he explains, "the most subversive thing we can do is be ourselves, guilelessly and unapologetically. Wars of ideas are not our style." (He also notes, on a less idealistic level, that "as any poker player knows, you don't win the game by announcing that you are out to win the game." I would only add to this observation that seasoned propagandists, approve of them or not, know that the best propaganda is the least propagandistic: subtlety, not bombs or a loudly-proclaimed "war on ideas," is the best propaganda, especially in the long-term. Just ask the BBC.)
5. One of the most important articles to appear, a few weeks after 9/11, was by Douglas McGray in The Christian Science Monitor (September 26, 2001), under the headline -- "Don't Oversell an 'Idea War'" -- and with the following wisdom: "Richard Nixon ... declared 'war' on drugs ... Even earlier, President Johnson's administration declared 'war' on poverty ... These wars are 'ideas wars,' in which leaders appropriate the language of war to rally political support and signal big budget commitment. ... Meanwhile, the real fight against terrorism, an ongoing combination of thankless police and intelligence work -- more like like fighting crime on a global scale than waging war -- could get overshadowed."
6. Full disclosure: I was a public diplomacy Foreign Service officer during the Cold War and its aftermath (1981-2003), serving mostly in Eastern and Central Europe (Prague, Krakow, Tallinn, Kiev, Belgrade, Moscow). The Agency that provided me with a paycheck, the USIA (United States Information Information Agency), claimed to be engaged in a "war of ideas" with the Soviet Union (according to Washington headquarters, depending on the political season). Neverthess, I felt that my role "in the field" was not, directly (stupidly?) to confront Soviet-thug-thoughtlessness -- which had nothing to do with Marx, after all a serious philosopher -- but rather meet with persons, from all sides of the political fence and sectors of society, who were concerned with ideas, including about the human condition and America's relation with their country. My guide for these cherished meetings was far more Plato's dialogues than any official statements about the "war of ideas." And no one in DC headquarters ever bothered to fire me, perhaps because ideas are never considered that important in Washington to begin with.
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2008 - 15:35
SOURCE: Newark Star-Ledger (12-21-08)
Good old Chicago. Thanks to garrulous Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, we have just learned that in the home town of President-Elect Barack Obama, who has promised us a regime dedicated to change, nothing seems to have changed.
I write as lifelong student – and survivor-- of Democratic politics, Jersey City division. We always felt close to Chicago. In the early 1930s, our leader, Mayor Frank Hague, was up against the wall. He had lost most of his money in the Crash of 1929. He had backed Al Smith instead of FDR in the 1932 Democratic Convention. He had barely won reelection in 1929 and his foes in and out of the party were gathering to demolish him in the upcoming city election.
My father, Teddy Fleming, one of the Mayor’s right hand men, told me what happened next. Hague picked up the telephone and called his pal Ed Kelly, the boss of Chicago. “Ed, “ he said. “I need two million bucks fast.”
“You’ll have it tomorrow,” Ed replied
The next morning a dapper gentleman, fresh off the overnight train from Chicago, arrived at Jersey City’s City Hall with two million delicious greenbacks in a suitcase. A revived Frank Hague easily won reelection. Ed Kelly helped him make peace with President Roosevelt, who delivered all the jobs in the WPA and other Federal programs into the Mayor’s care in New Jersey. That made him an unbeatable titan for most of another two decades. These same Washington goodies were, of course, also handed to Ed Kelly to distribute in Illinois. Throughout the 1930s, Ed toured Chicago and its environs giving a very successful speech entitled: “Roosevelt Is My Religion.”
Is this as bad as it sounds? Maybe not. Last spring, the New Jersey Historical Commission gave me a Lifetime Achievement Award for writing American history. I responded with a brief speech entitled: “Us Against Them.” I explained that this was the motto of Jersey City’s politics in my boyhood. It was us, the Irish-Americans and their Italian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian and Jewish allies against the hypocritical mean-spirited white Protestants of New Jersey, who thought they were entitled to run things because their ancestors had been around in 1776.
One might assume this philosophy would produce a lifelong political cynic. For a while it did. I agreed with another famous boss, Huey Long of Louisiana, that people were born corrupt and stayed that way. But in 1970, at the age of 43 I had a unique experience. I met ex-President Harry S. Truman. He had liked my biography of Thomas Jefferson and selected me to help his daughter Margaret write his biography I spent several weeks in Independence over the next year, talking to him and Mrs. Truman about his political career.
It soon dawned on me that here was a man who began as a candidate of Kansas City Missouri’s Boss Tom Pendergast, leader of one of the roughest, toughest, most corrupt political organizations in America. Yet HST never took a cent of dirty money from Pendergast, and he stood up to him when crooked contractors tried to build lousy highways on the cheap in Truman’s bailiwick. He won Boss Tom’s respect and his nomination for the U.S. Senate, which led to the vice presidency and his “accidental” presidency when FDR died in 1945.
As president, Mr. Truman amazed cynics and skeptics with his honesty and courage and vision. Perhaps his most daring decision was his insistence on a civil rights plank in the 1948 Democratic Convention. Four southern states, led by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, seceded from the party. Party cynics pleaded with them, pointing out that President Roosevelt had had similar planks in the platform in all four of his nominating conventions. “Yes but Truman means it!” Thurmond said.
For black Americans 1948 was a turning point in their long and often torturous struggle for equality and respect. President Lyndon Johnson made that clear when he signed his landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He invited Harry Truman to stand beside him at the ceremony.
I voted for Harry Truman and that plank in 1948. Thinking about it in 1970, face to face with the man who was responsible for it, I realized that the old motto of my boyhood, “Us Against Them,” had expired in that election.
That enabled me to appreciate – and applaud -- a lot of things that had changed and were changing in my native New Jersey. Governors like Richard Hughes and Brendan Byrne had proved that Irish-Americans could think and act and lead on behalf of all the people in the state. Soon, thanks to reading a lot of history, I got a perspective on Frank Hague and my father and their generation that enabled me to explain them to myself and a lot of other people -- without minimizing their flaws. They were part of our past, part of the long often angry struggle of both ethnic Americans and blacks to win recognition of their humanity and right to a fair deal.
Looking back at the history of the presidency, it is remarkable how often the voters chose men who did not seem promising to the educated elite. The so-called best people were appalled by that hot tempered roughneck from Tennessee, Andrew Jackson. They took an equally dim view of Abraham Lincoln, with his weird Kentucky accent and Aw Shucks style. In New Jersey they dubbed him “The Brainless Bobolink of the Prairie.” If ex-haberdasher Harry Truman could emerge from Kansas City’s Pendergast machine and achieve presidential greatness, I think we can continue to hope President-elect Barack Obama of Chicago can do it too.
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2008 - 14:13
SOURCE: http://www.marginalrevolution.com (12-18-08)
I'd like to drive home the point that the case for fiscal policy has not yet been made by its advocates.
I believe that most current advocates of a huge fiscal stimulus have two major arguments in mind. The first is that "when resources are unemployed, in principle government spending can put them back to work, times are dire so we need this." The second is the Galbraithian point that public sector expenditure has been starved for a long time so in principle there are plenty of good ways to spend money through government. In the predominant mental model on this topic, it is believed either of these arguments suffices to justify a large fiscal stimulus. In the debates I sometimes find that when one claim is criticized there is a mental switch back to the other.
Don't let those switches distract you. My point is simple: it is very hard to find examples of successful fiscal stimulus driving an economic recovery. Ever. This should be a sobering fact. The New Deal doesn't count because fiscal policy wasn't very expansionary then. American participation in World War II doesn't count. Nazi Germany during the 1930s doesn't count. (Read Matt Yglesias's response; the point however is that maybe Hitler couldn't have easily spent the money on something else in a rapid and effective fashion; if he could have they why can't we find more examples of a fiscal-policy lead recovery elsewhere?). I'll cover Japan in the 1990s and other examples soon.
Don't be mesmerized by a static, aggregated AD-AS diagram into thinking surely it must be easy. Whether the government can target unemployed resources effectively, and deliver the right stimulus in time, is a major question and so far the evidence isn't so convincing. Keep in mind there are good reasons why truly major fiscal stimulus hasn't been tried very often.
Here's Free Exchange on the research behind fiscal policy. They write:
Today, Mr Cowen links to a(nother) piece of macro research on stimulus multipliers that finds in favour of tax cuts before declaring that "the science isn't there", to support deficit spending as stimulus.
The point is not that I think tax cuts are much better than government spending as stimulus; I don't. The NBER piece I cited considers the possibility that tax cuts bring a multiplier of as large as five. I say no way. The point is not to argue for tax cuts. The point is to note that this is the best research that the highly reputable NBER can come up with on the topic. What does that say about prevailing standards of evidence and proof in the area as a whole? It means they are very weak and that we know very little. This is not "the evil and corrupt WSJ Op-Ed page," this is the NBER and the researchers have done as good a job as others on this topic or maybe better. And what they have produced still isn't very believable.
The bottom line is this: we are being asked to believe that a big, trillion or even multi-trillion fiscal stimulus can boost the current macroeconomy. If you look at history, there isn't good reason to believe that. Any single example, such as the Nazis, can be knocked down for lack of relevance or lack of correspondence to current conditions. Fair enough. But the burden of proof isn't on the skeptics. It's up to the advocates of the trillion dollar expenditure to come up with the convincing examples of a fiscal-led recovery. Right now we're mostly at "It wasn't really tried." And then a mental retreat back into the notion that surely good public sector project opportunities are out there.
So what you have is the possibility of faith -- or lack thereof -- that our government will spend this money well.
And that is under "emergency" conditions, with great haste ("use it or lose it"), with a Congress eager to flex its muscle, and with more or less one-party rule.
For me, that's not enough.
Posted on: Saturday, December 20, 2008 - 17:10
SOURCE: NYT (12-20-08)
OW that India and the world are over the initial shock of the terrorist attacks last month in Mumbai, efforts to understand what happened and prevent future calamities are being hampered in ways familiar to Israelis like myself, who have lived through far too many such events: pointless efforts to place blame, and a failure to put the attacks in the proper historical context.
First, contrary to much punditry in India and the West, these attacks did not indicate the emergence of a new form of terrorism. Actually, after decades in which terrorism had evolved mostly in the direction of suicide bombings, Mumbai was a painful reminder of the past.
The multiple hostage-takings and shootings, carefully planned and executed, were a throwback to the wave of hijackings and hostage situations that were the trademark of terrorists in the Middle East from the 1960s until the 1980s. The most famous of these events, of course, was the attack on the Israeli delegation at the 1972 Olympic Games.
In Munich, the Black September terrorists succeeded in capturing the attention of TV viewers around the world for a whole day. They knew most TV networks had sent crews to cover the Games and thus would broadcast the hostage situation as it unfolded.
The terrorists in Mumbai were even more successful, in that they created a drama that lasted much longer. They did so by aiming at high-profile targets like the hotels that are hubs for Western tourists and businessmen. They knew that viewers around the world would be glued for days to the constant stream of images on their TV and computer screens.
In addition, that the majority of the Mumbai terrorists landed from the sea was another ugly flashback. For years, terrorists favored arriving at Israel’s beaches on speed boats to take hostages in residential neighborhoods....
Posted on: Saturday, December 20, 2008 - 16:02
SOURCE: http://americanexception (blog) (12-20-08)
It's too early to know how Barack Obama will govern which is why each of his cabinet appointments has been followed by rounds of tea-leaf reading by pundits, pols and regular folk . But I think that his selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inaugural, maybe more than anything so far, highlights one of the central problems that Obama will face as president.
The Warren pick is exactly the kind of move you'd expect from a figure who rose to national prominence in 2004 by telling the country that there is not a black america, nor a white america, but the United States of America (that may be the single most italic-worthy sentence of the current millenium.) The problem is that it is not true. We want it to be and more than any politician in recent history, Obama is the beneficiary of a vision of America that we believe in but which does not exist. At least not yet.
But there is a flipside to the kind of political ecumenism that Obama is advocating, one that Clinton raised but (as with many of her critiques) failed to gain any traction. The short version is this: there are things we will have to fight about and we can have change or we can have national unity, but probably not both.
There is one pole in American politics in which figures like Rove and the late Lee Atwater flourish, the one in which the country is fractured and deliberated pitted against each other, where the term "wedge issue" isn't even considered a pejorative.
At the other extreme is a kind of touchy-feely centrism that glosses over real differences in the name of unity -- and that "unity" is often a disservice to groups/causes with legitimate grievances. Given that we've been at the first pole for eight years we may be rushing toward the opposite one.
It's been my observation that change usually begins on the political margins and has to fight its way to the center. Organized labor was considered a bunch of un-American radicals for decades before the Wagner Act in the 1930s. Civil Rights groups sat on the fringe for a half-century before gaining enough influence for Truman to denounce lynching and integrate the military. Domestic violence was once a fringe issue.
Groups advocating "change" whether of the FDR sort or the Reagan doesn't usually come from the center (unless maybe the "change" is realizing that there actually is a center.) The most important changes of the 20th century -- social security, civil rights, legalized abortion -- have evoked huge controversies and lasting divisions before they came to be generally accepted (that has yet to happen with abortion but it probably will.)
So we get to Obama's fundamental paradox: how do you preserve national unity and institute change simultaneously? That's a hard trick to pull off.
As per Warren, Obama was elected by people who are by and large at least moderately pro-choice and he had the benefit of high levels of support from the gay and lesbian community. For the latter folks, legalized marriage is "the change we need." On the other hand Obama's invitation to Warren is meant to convey a kind of just the kind of post-partisanship that he promised.
I always find the Sunday political shows interesting when, in the name of decorum and public relations, people with radically different agendas share a kind of chummy, cozy friendship of old college friends. The implications are "Yes, I know you support a war in which hundreds of thousands of people will die for reasons that remain unclear, billions will be recklessly spent, and American prestige will crater but that doesn't mean you're a bad guy."
In the name of national unity, the liberal Adlai Stevenson chose the segregationist John Sparkman as VP on the 1952 Democratic ticket. Black Democrats were rightfully furious. Unity is just as often a buzzword for those quiet periods where little changes.
Rick Warren's invitation is not as bad the Sparkman choice -- he's making a prayer, not policy. But it raises the memory of groups being left in the cold in the name of unity.
Barack can have change or he can bridge the divsions in American politics. It's possible but highly unlikely he -- or we -- can have it both ways.
Posted on: Saturday, December 20, 2008 - 14:58
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (12-15-08)
Once upon a time, the military-industrial complex was loaded with household-name companies like General Motors, Ford, and Dow Chemical, that produced weapons systems and what arms expert Eric Prokosch has called, "the technology of killing." Over the years, for economic as well as public relations reasons, many of these firms got out of the business of creating lethal technologies, even while remaining Department of Defense (DoD) contractors.
The military-corporate complex of today is still filled with familiar names from our consumer culture, including defense contractors like iPod-maker Apple, cocoa giant Nestle, ketchup producer Heinz, and chocolate bar maker Hershey, not to speak of Tyson Foods, Procter & Gamble, and the Walt Disney Company. But while they may provide the everyday products that allow the military to function, make war, and carry out foreign occupations, most such civilian firms no longer dabble in actual arms manufacture.
Whirlpool: Then and Now
Take the Whirlpool Corporation, which bills itself as "the world's leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances" and boasts annual sales of more than $19 billion to consumers in more than 170 countries. Whirlpool was recently recognized as "one of the World's Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute." The company also professes a "strong" belief in "ethical values" that dates back almost 100 years to founders who believed "there is no right way to do a wrong thing."...
Posted on: Friday, December 19, 2008 - 22:07
SOURCE: Boston Globe (12-14-08)
THE PRESIDENT was so down in the dumps that aides decided to surprise him with a party. With the economy sputtering and his foreign policy under siege, the president's pals thought a light-hearted evening away from the White House would buoy the boss's spirits.
Cabinet officers and cronies took turns toasting the chief executive, their playful gibes drawing cathartic laughter. Finally, the administration's gray eminence, the architect of its national security structure, rose to speak. The old warrior was as feared as he was admired. Chatter came to an abrupt halt.
"The full stature of this [president] will only be proven by history," he said, "but I want to say here and now that there has never been a decision made under this man's administration, affecting policies beyond our shores, which has not been in the best interest of this country. It is not the courage of these decisions that will live, but the integrity of the man."
Guests were stifling tears as the president stood to respond. But words wouldn't come; he was too moved.
In the sweetest fantasies of today's Republicans, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would be the stars of this scenario. Alas, the president to whom the poignant toast was directed was Democrat Harry Truman. And as documented by David McCullough's "Truman," the encomium was delivered by Truman's secretary of state (and later defense) George Marshall.
Watch, their apologists argue, history will vindicate Bush and Cheney just as it exonerated Truman and Marshall. It may take a couple of decades, but future McCulloughs will come to recognize that the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq was transformative - and that torturing suspects was the only real way to fight terrorism.
Neo-cons can stop fantasizing now. Bush is no Truman, Iraq is no Cold War, and Dick Cheney is no George Marshall. The rehabilitation of Bush and Cheney is not going to happen in any foreseeable lifetime.
Why not? Well, for starters, look at the attributes Marshall ascribed to Truman.
"The best interest of this country." Like it or not - and many liberals, to their detriment, did not - the Cold War against the Soviet Union had to be waged and won. After four years of fighting fascism, the last thing Americans in the late 1940s wanted was another war. But Truman and Marshall understood that the United States had no choice but to respond to Soviet aggression.
Bush and Cheney, on the other hand, had choices in prosecuting the war on terror - and invariably made the wrong ones....
Posted on: Friday, December 19, 2008 - 21:33
SOURCE: Special to HNN (12-19-08)
He has his own blog at http://nasir-khan.blogspot.com through which he can be contacted.]
Almost the whole world has condemned the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Such terrorism has also, once again, reminded us how important it is to combat the forces of communalist terror and political violence in the Indian subcontinent. But what is often ignored or suppressed is the fact that there are deep underlying causes of the malaise that erupts in the shape of such violent actions; the unresolved Kashmir issue happens to be the one prime cause that inflames the passions and anger of millions of people.
However, to repeat the mantra of “war on terror” as the Bush Administration has done over the last eight years while planning and starting major wars of aggression does not bring us one inch closer to solving the problem of violence and terror in our region. On the contrary, such short-sighted propaganda gimmicks are meant to camouflage the wars of aggression and lay the ground for further violence and bloodshed. The basic motive is to advance imperial interests and domination. The so-called “war on terror” is no war against terror; on the contrary, it has been the continuation of the American imperial policy for its definite goals in the Middle East and beyond. Obviously any serious effort to combat terror will necessarily take into account the causes of terror, and not merely be content with the visible symptoms. The key question that has kept India and Pakistan on a dangerous course of confrontation since 1947, when the British raj came to an end and as a last act of charity to their subjects the imperial rulers agreed to divide India along communal lines that was to prove a Pandora’s Box for the coming generations. We had witnessed their double-dealings in the process when they gave their blessings and patronage here and there and a lot of mischief wherever possible especially while they drew the boundaries between the two emerging countries. The recipients of favours reciprocated in kind: the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten was made the first Governor-General of Free India! This carefully crafted expedient arrangement served its purpose well for one country at the cost of the other.
At the time of partition, the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by the Hindu Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh who was the great-grandson of Gulab Singh, to whom the British, under the terms of the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) had sold the entire valley of Kashmir. Because the overwhelming majority of Kashmir was Muslim, it was thought that Kashmir will join the new state of Pakistan. When the Kashmiris from what is known Azad Kashmir and the tribal fighters from the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan started guerilla offensive on the state to bring pressure on Hari Singh to join Pakistan, he asked Lord Mountbatten for help, who agreed to give military help if the ruler joined India. Thus started the first war between India and Pakistan that finally stopped in 1949 when the newly-formed United Nations Organization arranged a ceasefire. The Line of Control was established that has remained the de facto boundary between the Indian-controlled Kashmir and ‘Azad’ (Free) Jammu and Kashmir (but called Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by the Indians).
To affect a ceasefire, in 1948, India took the matter to the Security Council of the United Nations against Pakistan. As a result the Security Council passed three resolutions in 1948 and 1949 that also acknowledged the rights of the people of Kashmir about whose land the two countries were fighting . According to the resolutions, India and Pakistan were to hold plebiscite in Kashmir so that the people could decide their own future. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised that the people of Jammu and Kashmir would gain independence when the peace was restored. After the end of the hostilities, he did not keep his word; neither were the terms of the resolutions ever fulfilled. The Indian government granted a special status to Kashmir that allowed more internal autonomy. This was thought to pacify the people when Kashmir’s ruler joined India. But the promise to hold plebiscite was not kept and the successive Indian governments have adamantly held that Kashmir is an integral part of India, and all demands of the Kashmiri people for plebiscite or defying Indian occupation were presented as internal Indian matters. No third party was allowed to speak on behalf of the Kashmiri people or voice their legitimate demands under the UN Charter or the UN resolutions. Meanwhile India and Pakistan fought over Kashmir another war in 1965.
The grievances of Kashmiris had accumulated over the decades. Kashmiri leaders challenged the legitimacy of the Indian occupation and in 1989 they started armed struggle to evict the occupiers. Mass arrests, disappearances and violence followed in the wake of the military crackdown. India deployed more than 500,000 soldiers to suppress the Kashmiri Muslims.
According to conservative accounts Indian forces brutalized the whole population and killed about 78,000 people but according to the Kashmiri sources the number of those killed was around 100,000. In this militant struggle, Kashmiri Hindu minority, commonly called Pandits also became the victims of militants; according to the state government over 200,000 fled the valley. They sought refuge in Jammu and some fled to India. The conditions under which the Pandits have lived since their displacement have been deplorable. But it is heartening to see that all sections of Kashmiri Muslims and their leadership are now pleading for the return of their Hindu brothers to their homeland.
After 18 years of brutal military occupation, the Indian government was faced with a new situation. The Kashmir Jehad Council called for an end to armed struggle and instead appealed to all militant freedom-fighters to use only non-violent and peaceful means to achieve liberation from India. The call for Azadi (freedom) is getting louder which the Indian machine guns and their marauding forces are not able to drown. But the Indian rulers have shown little willingness to listen to the people and have kept a tight military stranglehold over the Kashmir Valley.
The Kashmir conflict has caused untold misery and destruction in Kashmir, both in life and property. It has also been the key cause of tension between India and Pakistan as rivals. The tremendous drain of resources incurred by the two countries on military buildup and arms-race including the acquisition of nuclear bombs is a result of their confrontation over Kashmir. The official propaganda each government has directed against the other created enmity, distrust and hatred in the respective populations of these countries against their “mortal enemy”. This has gone on for over six decades and there is no end in sight. This has poisoned the minds of Indian and Pakistani people. As a result we see political polarization and perennial tensions amongst the people that stand in the way of settling the issues like Kashmir and the normalization of relations between the two neighbours. In addition, another ghastly development has been the rise of political and religious extremism in India and Pakistan.
The growth of religious and political extremism in India and Pakistan is not new. But what is new is the general acceptance of extremist tendencies in the social and political fabric of the two countries. The preachers and high priests of communalism and hatred influence the mainstream politics.
In India, some political parties have been closely allied with communalist militant political Hinduism or Hindutva. The Sangha Parivar is the umbrella organization for all Hindutva parties. The avowed aim of Hindutva has been to assert Hindu supremacy and Hindu communalism in India by identifying India with Hinduism and Hindu rule. Hindutva organizations are influenced by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which stands for a Hindu majoritarian rule. The Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) is the leading political party of India that stands for Hindutva doctrine and Hinduising the entire country. Jawaharlal Nehru had once warned that if fascism would arrive in India, it would arrive in the form of majoritarian (Hindu) communalism. His words and warning were almost prophetic.
Of course, the main targets of Hindutva have been the Indian Muslims in the first place, followed by low-caste Hindus--formerly “Untouchables” (!) and now called Dalits--, and Christians. Over 150-million Indian Muslims are a religious minority in India. Since the unfortunate circumstances that led to the partition of India in 1947, Indian Muslims have come under enormous pressure. They have gradually found themselves at the mercy of Hindus, politically marginalized and socially alienated in their own country. Even their national status and loyalties became suspect. They are “Muslims first”, so how can they be “true Indians”? And, why are they in Hindu India anyway if they don’t like India or complain about their lot in India? They can just pack up and go away. They are ‘Pakistanis’ and should migrate to their own country!
Such views and political developments in India have left Indian Muslims in an extremely difficult situation. In 1992, Hindu militants destroyed sixteenth-century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya while the state authorities stood idle by. The then Indian prime minister promised to re-build the mosque. The promised was not kept. Instead a temple was raised on the site of the destroyed mosque that provoked religious frenzy and communal passions. Three thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the ensuing riots.
Two thousand Muslims were massacred in 12002 in Gujarat, which was a full blooded pogrom which took place under the state government run by the BJP. The New Delhi rulers did not intervene to stop the massacre of Muslims.
Attacks on Muslim holy places and people have increased in the recent years. In one recent attack by Hindutva activists on a mosque a Hindu lieutenant-colonel of the Indian army was arrested for his involvement in the attack.
In Pakistan, fundamentalist religious parties have felt duty-bound to monopolise Islam, but they have never at any time gained much support in the masses. Their poor electoral results in various elections have clearly demonstrated that. However, Pakistani Muslim clerics have gained much notoriety for their inter-religious invective. The Sunni preachers direct their anger at the “infidel” Shias and the Shia preachers reciprocate by calling the Sunnis “infidels”! This leads to an unending cycle of violence and acrimony in the name of Islam. But the danger posed by militant Islamist groups in stirring violence and hatred is beyond doubt. However, the Indian treatment of the Kashmiri Muslims and the unresolved Kashmir issue because of Indian intransigence is universally condemned by all Pakistanis; it also provides an opportunity to the militant groups like Lasher-e-Taiba and others who exhort their followers to avenge the grievances of their Indian co-religionists at the hands of Hindutva militants as well as to make a stand for the freedom of Kashmir by all means, including violence. This is exactly what happened last month in the Mumbai attacks.
For the last six decades India has maintained its occupation of the Kashmir Valley by political manipulation and brutal military force. The massacres of the Kashmiri Muslims by Indian forces amount to war crimes under international law; however, the ultimate responsibility for this genocidal policy lies with the New Delhi rulers. If Indian government wants to continue with the occupation of Kashmir and also expect that people of Kashmir will forego their demands for freedom because they face a great military and economic power like India, which has extended its cooperation with other imperialist powers like America and Zionist Israel, then one thing is certain: the situation will get worse; violence and terror will flourish.
The 10-million Muslims of the Kashmir Valley want independence from Indian colonial rule and oppression. The best course left for India is to make a break with its previous policy, and accede to the to the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. This will not weaken India; instead, it will show the strength of Indian democracy as well of the humane aspects of Indian cultural tradition.
Whether the people of the Kashmir Valley decide to join India or Pakistan, or they opt for full independence should be for them to decide. No matter what decision they make to determine their future as stipulated by the UN resolutions should be their and their alone. However, it is far from certain that they will choose to join Pakistan, but if they do so that should not worry India. In such a case, Hindu Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh will certainly join India. Thus, by a wise and courageous step Indian leaders can create the political conditions under which a new era of good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan can materalise if they allow the people of the Kashmir Valley to control their own destiny instead of the inhumane treatment and humiliation at the hands of the Indian state and its armed forces. Once the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan is removed then the two former rivals and “enemies” can become friends and concentrate on socio-economic problems of their people within a peaceful atmosphere. An independent and self-governing entity in the Kashmir Valley will bring hope and good-will to its neighbours. By removing the biggest unresolved problem of Kashmir that has fueled hostility and has caused immeasurable damage, the two countries will also be able to contain the forces of communalism and religious fanaticism that plague India and Pakistan.
Posted on: Friday, December 19, 2008 - 20:58
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (12-19-08)
I present below the top 10 reasons for which President-Elect Obama should stick to his guns and withdraw US troops from Iraq despite any resistance he may get from the US officer corps and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
In fact, it was little noted in the US press that Gen. Ray Odierno, US commander in Iraq, said at Balad on Sunday,"I expect us, frankly, right now, to be out with our military forces by 2011." So what I am saying does not necessarily run counter to the views of the concerned commanders.
Nevertheless, Odierno's comment contradicted the impression he and his colleagues went on to give the rest of this week. Gareth Porter reviews the evidence that the US military command is trying to get around the provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement that Iraq has concluded with the United States.
The agreement, for instance, calls for all US combat troops to be out of Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009. But on Dec.12, Gen. Ray Odierno said that thousands of US troops would remain in the cities. Apparently combat troops doing joint operations with their Iraqi counterparts will just be re-categorized as support troops.
MP Ahmad al-Masoudi, a leader of the Sadr Movement, which has 30 seats in parliament, slammed Odierno's remarks. The Sadrists had been opposed to the SOFA, considering it a Trojan Horse for the legitimation of US troop presence in Iraq.
Porter also points to George Will's report of Gates's views on a long-term US troop presence in Iraq:
' He [Gates] stresses, however, that there is bipartisan congressional support for"a long-term residual presence" of perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and that the president-elect's recent statements have not precluded that. Such a presence"for decades" has, he says, followed major U.S. military operations since 1945, other than in Vietnam. And he says,"Look at how long Britain has had troops in Cyprus." '
Suspicions of US military resistance to both Obama's and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's plans for US troops to withdraw from Iraq were fueled by an NYT report on the withdrawal plan presented by Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno to Obama that envisioned combat troops remaining after May, 2010, Obama's own deadline. Still, to be fair, not getting out by May 2010 is not the same as not getting out by December 2011.
It should be noted that what seems to have provoked Odierno's own attempt to keep US troops in Iraqi cities through 2009 is his concern that they are needed to ensure that the referendum and 2 elections scheduled for 2009 actually take place and are aboveboard. My guess is that Odierno is afraid that if the US presence is too diminished by December of 2009 when the federal parliamentary elections are scheduled, Iran might well engage in massive vote-buying and install a government hostile to US interests.
On the other hand, Odierno does not appear to share Gates's hopes that 40,000 troops could stay in Iraq in the medium to long term, given the statement he made at Balad that I started with.
Here are the reasons for which a long-term US presence-- of the sort Gates is said by Wills to have advocated-- is completely impractical.
1. The Status of Forces Agreement passed by the Iraqi parliament explicitly calls for all US troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. In fact, the Iraqi cabinet and parliament and notables such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani all wanted a shorter timetable than that. This schedule is the maximum they will put up with.
2. The US military cannot stay in Iraq against the will of the elected government. Those who doubt this principle should look at what happened two decades ago in the Philippines. Or consider Uzbekistan's withdrawal of permission for US to use its bases, in 2005. The diplomatic cost of staying against a country's will is generally too high for Washington to take that risk. Gates can wish for a change of heart on the part of the Iraqi government, but it is highly unlikely to happen.
3. The fatwas or formal legal rulings of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani must be obeyed by all adult Shiites who follow him (the majority in Iraq). He wants US troops out. He pressured al-Maliki to bargain hard over the SOFA, and he was reportedly not happy with the infringement on Iraqi sovereignty in the final version of the SOFA. One fatwa from Sistani could put hundreds of thousands of angry Shiites in the streets protesting any remaining US bases, and there would be no way for the Iraqi government to resist such a demand that it ask the US to leave.
4. The Sadr Movement would never accept a permanent US base in Iraq. The British contingent in Basra took constant mortar and rocket fire from the Mahdi Army, until ultimately the shellshocked Iraqi neighbors of the base in downtown Basra sked the British to move out to the airport. They did so, and went on taking mortar fire out there. They are being withdrawn by June of 2009 by PM Gordon Brown.
5. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and its Badr Corps paramilitary would never accept a long-term US presence, since they want to assert control over Iraq themselves. It was touch and go whether they would accept the SOFA, which gives the US military more prerogatives and leaves them in the country longer than ISCI would like.
6. The Sunni Arab guerrillas will never accept a long-term US base. They would also find ways of hitting it, and its very presence would fuel and prolong the Sunni insurgency.
7. Iran would never put up with a long-term US base in Iraq, and would certainly supply Iraqi guerrillas with the weapons needed to hound and harass US troops.
8. Syria would not want a long-term US base, and the Syrian Baath has enough assets in Iraq to ensure that US troops would be under constant attack.
9. The international Salafi Jihadi movement (what the US tends to call al-Qaeda, but the latter is only one part of this larger movement) will be galvanized by any attempt of the US to stay in Iraq for the long term militarily, and a US base in Iraq will produce constant terrorism. The way the US came to Iraq, as an act of unprovoked aggression, left the US presence without any legitimacy, and the Salafi Jihadis will make use of that condition of Illegality to challenge any base.
10. There is no safe place for an American base. A US base near Baghdad would have to be supplied from Kuwait and southern Iraq, and those supply lines could always be cut by angry Shiites and Iran. A US base near Basra in the south would face the same constant attacks and harassment that the British suffered. A US base in Kurdistan would have to be supplied via Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. But Turkey is in conflict with the Kurds, a conflict that could become hot and result in supplies being cut off to the US base. The US military would be in an impossible situation if Turkish-Kurdistan violence broke out, since Turkey is a NATO ally but the Kurds are the only Iraqis that might want a US presence. Moreover, US backing for Baghdad and Nuri al-Maliki's assertion of authority over Kurdish populations outside Kurdistan in Iraq proper have caused the Kurdistan leadership to rethink whether they really want an interfering US military in their area.
A long-term US base in Iraq is a crackpot Neoconservative fantasy that is highly unlikely to be realized. Like all Neocon fantasies, even if it could be realized, it would cause endless trouble and further wars.
President-elect Obama, keep your pledges and redeem the United States by seeking friendship with Iraq rather than supremacy in Iraq.
Posted on: Friday, December 19, 2008 - 16:04
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-18-08)
As we mark the 30th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's launching the country's world-changing economic reforms, I want to address the $65 quadrillion question of China's peaceful rise. Some reactions I've had to columns I recently wrote from China indicate a large potential for misunderstanding, especially among Chinese readers, so let me make the argument plain.
Start at a possible bad end. When great powers rise and fall, there's an increased danger of war - not today or tomorrow, but in a timescale of decades. That proposition does not imply any judgment on Chinese culture or national character. It merely reflects a recurrent pattern of history, seen across thousands of years in many different regions and cultures. The war may not be started by the ascendant power. It may be started by the declining power, with defensive aggression. It may even be against someone else. (The hegemonic transfer from Britain to the US came as both were fighting Nazi Germany.)
There is nothing remotely original or offensive in this line of thought. The very notion of "peaceful rise", launched by a leading Communist party thinker a few years ago, was predicated on the same insight: that, historically, nations' rises have often not been peaceful. (The preferred official term may now be "peaceful development", but "peaceful rise" is analytically much sharper.) So that's the long-term risk: war. But the long-term opportunity is equally large: imagine one-fifth of humankind organised in a single modern, prosperous state, playing a constructive part in a co-operative international system and tackling trans- national challenges, such as global warming, which threaten us all. So the stakes are huge, either way.
Now let's be clear on one thing. What China does, whether it goes on rising and if so, how, is mainly up to the Chinese: legally, since theirs is a sovereign state; morally, since peoples have a right to shape their own destinies; but also practically, since the capacity of anyone else to influence the evolution of such a large, self-referential country is limited. Limited, but far from nil. This is not the 17th century. The prospects for the Chinese economy in 2009 depend directly on what happens in the American and European markets for Chinese exports. So we who are not Chinese have not just a stake, but also a hand in this story.
I have therefore come up with this shortlist of four keys to China's peaceful rise, attaching to each point a rough guesstimate of the division of responsibility (DoR) between us. In the confines of a column, my list is necessarily selective and of telegraphic brevity. I offer it with the health warning that on this subject I depend heavily on the expertise of others, and on Chinese voices interpreted or self-translated into English. Since, however, those experts and Chinese voices profoundly disagree among themselves, we outsiders still have to make up our own minds. Anyway, to stir debate, here are my four keys to China's peaceful rise. I welcome all responses, however critical, from those who are experts on China or, better still, are Chinese themselves...
Posted on: Thursday, December 18, 2008 - 07:34
SOURCE: Nation (12-17-08)
As the officials of the Bush administration pack up in Washington and move into their posh suburban homes around the country, will they be able to rest easy, or will they be haunted by the fear that they will be held accountable for war crimes committed during their reign?
There are many reasons to anticipate that the incoming Obama administration and the new Congress will let sleeping dogs lie. Attention to criminal acts by the former administration would probably anger Republicans, whose support Obama is hoping to win for his first priority, his economic program. Democratic Congressional leaders have known a great deal about Bush administration lawlessness, and in some cases have even given it their approval--making an unfettered review seem unlikely.
Some of Obama's own top appointees would undoubtedly receive scrutiny in an unconstrained investigation--Obama's reappointed defense secretary Robert Gates, for example, has had responsibility not only for Guantánamo but also for the incarceration of tens of thousands of Iraqis in prisons in Iraq like Camp Bucca, which the Washington Postdescribed in a headline as"a Prison Full of Innocent Men," without even a procedure for determining their guilt or innocence--unquestionably a violation of the Geneva Conventions in and of itself.
But the repose of the Cheneys, Bushes, Gonzaleses and Rumsfelds may not turn out to be so undisturbed. In his notorious torture memo, Alberto Gonzales warned about"prosecutors and independent counsels" who may in the future decide to pursue"unwarranted charges" based on the US War Crimes Act's prohibition on violations of the Geneva Conventions. While no such charges are likely to be brought anytime soon, neither are they likely to vanish. In the short run, Obama and his team face inescapable questions about the legal culpability of the Bush administration. And in the long run, such charges are likely to grow only more unavoidable once the former officials of that administration have lost the authority to quash them.
In April Obama said that if elected, he would have his attorney general initiate a prompt review of Bush-era action to distinguish between possible"genuine crimes" and"really bad policies."
"If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated," Obama told the Philadelphia Daily News. He added, however, that"I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve."
Obama's nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, speaking to the American Constitution Society in June, described Bush administration actions in terms that sound a whole lot more like"genuine crimes" than like"really bad policies":
Our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance against American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the use of procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution.... We owe the American people a reckoning."
While attention has focused on whether, once president, Obama will move quickly to close Guantánamo, shut down secret prisons, halt rendition and ban torture, there's a less visible struggle over whether and how to provide a reckoning for war crimes past.
A growing body of legal opinion holds that Obama will have a duty to investigate war crimes allegations and, if they are found to have merit, to prosecute the perpetrators.
In a December 3 Chicago Sun-Timesop-ed, law professors Anthony D'Amato (the Leighton Professor at Northwestern University School of Law) and Jordan J. Paust (the Mike & Thersa Baker Professor at the Law Center of the University of Houston) ask whether president-elect Barack Obama will have"the duty to prosecute or extradite persons who are reasonably accused of having committed and abetted war crimes or crimes against humanity during the Bush administration's admitted 'program' of 'coercive interrogation' and secret detention that was part of a 'common, unifying' plan to deny protections under the Geneva Conventions."
"Under the US Constitution, the president is expressly and unavoidably bound to faithfully execute the laws." The 1949 Geneva Conventions"expressly and unavoidably requires that all parties search for perpetrators of grave breaches of the treaty" and bring them before their own courts for"effective penal sanctions" or, if they prefer,"hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party."
The statement is particularly authoritative--and particularly striking--because Paust is also a former captain in the United States Army JAG Corps and member of the faculty at the Judge Advocate General's School.
Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights says that one of Barack Obama's first acts as president should be to"instruct his attorney general to appoint an independent prosecutor to initiate a criminal investigation of former Bush Administration officials who gave the green light to torture."
Parallel to the legal community, members of Congress and president-elect Obama are trying to chart a strategy that avoids the appearance of seeking to punish Bush administration officials without appearing blatantly oblivious to their apparent war crimes. According to the AP's Lara Jakes Jordan,"Two Obama advisors say there's little--if any--chance that the incoming president's Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage." Instead,"Obama is expected to create a panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission to study interrogations, including those using waterboarding and other tactics that critics call torture."
Asked if Bush administration officials would face prosecution for war crimes, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy flatly said,"In the United States, no," but he does intend to continue to investigate Bush administration officials and their interrogation policies."Personally, I would like to know exactly what happened. Torture is going to be a major issue."
Continue the Cover-Up?
President-elect Obama may well seek to delay taking a stand for or against such accountability actions. But he is likely to be confronted early in his administration by choices about whether to continue or terminate legal cover-up operations the Bush administration currently has under way.
For example, the Bush administration has blocked the civil suit against US officials by Canadian Maher Arar for his"rendition" to Syria and his torture there by invoking the"state secrets" privilege. According to Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, they have appointed a prosecutor to investigate the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations, but the investigation is limited only to whether crimes were committed in relation to the destruction of the tapes--not whether what was being videotaped is a crime. The administration has refused to cooperate with the trial of twenty-six Americans, mostly CIA agents, who kidnapped a terrorism suspect in Milan and flew him to Egypt where, he says, he was tortured. And they have refused to provide secret documents to the British High Court in the case of Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed that may demonstrate that US officials were complicit in his torture in Morocco.
If the Obama administration continues the Bush administration's efforts to prevent investigators from investigating and courts from hearing such cases, it will rapidly become part of the cover-up. If it begins to, at a minimum, stop obstructing such proceedings, the result could be a rapid crumbling of the wall of silence the Bush administration has tried so assiduously to build around its"war on terror."
A bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 11 will make it far more difficult to evade the responsibility of holding Bush administration officials legally accountable for war crimes. Released by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain after two years of investigation, the report concluded:
The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own.... The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.... Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.
In an interview published in the Detroit News, Senator Levin said he was not responsible for deciding whether officials should be prosecuted for authorizing torture, but he admitted that there is enough evidence that victims of abuse could file civil lawsuits against their assailants. Levin also suggested that the Obama administration"needs to look for ways in which people can be held accountable for their actions."
An Accountability Movement
Outside the Beltway, a movement to hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture and other war crimes after they leave office is gradually emerging. It received a boost when over a hundred lawyers and activists met in Andover, Massachusetts on September 20 at a conference entitled"Planning for the Prosecution of High Level American War Criminals." The conference created an ongoing committee to coordinate accountability efforts. At the close, conference convener Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law noted more than twenty strategies and specific actions that had been proposed, ranging from the state felony prosecutions proposed by former district attroney Vincent Bugliosi to the international prosecutions pioneered by the Center for Constitutional Rights' Rumsfeld cases; and from impeaching Bush appointees like Federal Judge Jay Bybee to public shaming of torture-tainted former officials like ohn Yew, now a professor at the University of California Law School.
One of proposals discussed at the Andover conference was the creation of a citizens' War Crimes Documentation Center, modeled on the special office set up by the Allied governments before the end of World War II to investigate and document Nazi war crimes. Such a center could be the nexus for research, education and coordination of a wide range of civil society forces in the US and abroad that are demanding accountability. It could bring together the extensive but scattered evidence already available, to compile a narrative of what actually happened in the Bush administration. It could help or pressure Congress to conduct investigations to fill in the blanks. It could pull together high-profile coalitions to campaign around the issue of accountability for specific crimes like torture. If Obama does initiate some kind of investigating commission, such a center could provide it with information and help hold it accountable.
A Moral Education
There are a myriad of reasons for urgently holding the Bush regime to account, ranging from preventing unchallenged executive action from setting new legal precedent to providing a compelling rationale for the immediate cessation of bombing civilians in the escalating Afghan war.
But the issue raised by Bush administration war crimes is even larger than any person's individual crimes. As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense,"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right." The long history of aggressive war, illegal occupation, and torture, from the Philippines to Iraq, have given the American people a moral education that encourages us to countenance war crimes. If we allow those who initiated and justified the illegal conquest and occupation of Iraq and the use of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo to go unsanctioned, we teach the world--and ourselves--a lesson about what's OK and legal.
As countries like Chile, Turkey and Argentina can attest, restoration of democracy, civic morality and the rule of law is often a slow but necessary process, requiring far more than simply voting a new party into office. It requires a wholesale rejection of impunity for the criminal acts of government officials. As Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) put it,"We owe it to the American people and history to pursue the wrongdoing of this administration whether or not it helps us politically.... Our actions will properly define the Bush Administration in the eyes of history."
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: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 22:42
SOURCE: WSJ (12-17-08)
By his own admission, Bernard Madoff has catapulted himself into the major leagues of Wall Street fraud. That is no small accomplishment, given some of the more famous frauds of the past. But a $50 billion Ponzi scheme is no small thing.
To be sure, the number of still unanswered questions is huge. How could a Ponzi scheme last as long as this one and reach so fantastic a sum? Why didn't he take the money and decamp to some extradition-free country instead of admitting the fraud and waiting for the cops to show up? And, of course, how could so many sophisticated people be fooled for so long by an operation that, at least in retrospect, had red flags all over it?
Ponzi schemes, where early investors are paid dividends out of the money put in by later investors, usually last only a few months. Charles Ponzi's eponymous scheme in 1919 started with just 16 investors and $870. Six months later, there were 20,000 investors who had put in $10,000,000. Ten million was a whole lot of money in 1919 and when it attracted attention, Ponzi soon found himself with a five-year jail term and the dubious honor of adding his name to the English language for a type of fraud he hadn't even invented.
Most Ponzi schemes are penny-ante affairs, such as chain letters, that bilk their victims out of a few dollars each. Even Charles Ponzi's investors put in an average of only $500 each. But Wall Street's most famous Ponzi scheme was, like the present one, no small affair. And its principal victim was a man few associate with Wall Street at all -- Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses Grant Jr., known as Buck, had been trained in the law and tried several businesses without success before coming to Wall Street. There he was befriended by Ferdinand Ward, a typical all-hat-and-no-cattle fast talker whom Grant was too naive to recognize as such. They soon formed a brokerage firm named Grant and Ward.
Ward hoped to trade on the Grant name and when Gen. Grant moved to New York in 1881, four years after serving as president, he came into the firm as a limited partner, investing $200,000, virtually his entire net worth. Many people, hoping to profit by a connection with the former president's access to power in Washington, opened accounts with the firm.
When Ward attempted to borrow money from the Marine National Bank, its president, James D. Fish, wrote Grant, who, as naive as his son, replied "I think the investments are safe, and I am willing that Mr. Ward should derive what profit he can for the firm that the use of my name and influence may bring." Grant meant it only in a general sense, but Fish thought the fix was in on government contracts going to companies that Ward said he controlled.
But Grant, as honest as he was foolish about business matters, had flatly refused to lobby for government contracts. So Ward just lied and solicited investments from Grant's friends and well-wishers, promising large dividends to come from lucrative government contracts with the firms he was investing in. He then took the money and speculated with it. He kept the promised large dividends flowing by paying them out of the money new investors put in.
It worked for awhile and, with the help of thoroughly cooked books, Grant and his son thought they were both seriously rich, worth $2 million and $1 million respectively. Grant began to go downtown regularly to the Grant and Ward offices, where he would greet new investors, who were suitably impressed to meet him. He didn't have a clue what was really going on....
Posted on: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 22:07
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (12-17-08)
Worlds shudder and collapse all the time. There's no news in that. Just ask the Assyrians, the last emperor of the Han Dynasty, the final Romanoff, Napoleon, or that Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff. But when it seems to be happening to your world, well, that's a different kettle of fish. When you get the word, the call, the notice that you're a goner, or when your little world shudders, that's something else again.
Even if the call's not for you, but for a friend, an acquaintance, someone close enough so you can feel the ripples, that can do the trick. It did for me two weeks ago, when a close friend in my niche world of book publishing (at whose edge I've been perched these last 30-odd years) called to tell me that an editor we both admire had been perp-walked out of his office and summarily dismissed by the publisher he worked for. That's what now passes for politeness in the once"gentlemanly" world of books.
His fault, the sap, was doing good books. The sort of books that might actually make a modest difference in the universe, but will be read by no less modest audiences -- too modest for flailing, failing publishing conglomerates. If you were talking in terms of cars, his books would have been the equivalent of those tiny"smart cars" you see in increasing numbers, tucked into previously nonexistent parking spots on city streets, rather than the SUVs and pick-ups of the Big Three. It may be part of the future, but who cares? Not now -- and too bad for him.
It wasn't really him, of course. He was just a small fry, like most of us, in the bloated universe of entertainment. As with so many workers at the moment -- and it doesn't matter whether you're talking about the downturn in restaurant hires or the cuts made by that sports titan, the National Football League (about 150 jobs), or the public radio oufit NPR (64 jobs, two shows) -- his firing was a by-product of economic and funding catastrophes elsewhere.
He went down during what publishing people are calling "Black Wednesday." On that day, 35 people were axed by publisher Simon & Schuster (owned by CBS), while two key figures at Random House (owned by the German multimedia giant Bertelsmann), who headed two of its largest groups"resigned" as part of a"reorganization" -- a vague word that covers a multitude of sins. This will undoubtedly result in further head-rolling in the weeks or months to come.
Then, of course, there was Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (The name is a little publishing history lesson, a fusion of two recently conglomerated houses of distinction. It reminds me of newspaper names from my New York City childhood like the World-Telegram and Sun -- once the New York World, the Evening Telegram, and the New York Sun.) Just the week before Black Wednesday, its owner, the Irish private-equity firm Education Media & Publishing Group Ltd., saddled with an ocean of debt, made publishing history by instituting a "freeze" on the acquisition of new books. If you're not in the tiny world of publishing, that may not ring too weirdly, but what is a publishing house except a staff, a backlist (those books already published and still in circulation), a set of books being published (that is, a catalogue), and those signed on for the future? Without future books, there is no publishing.
On Black Wednesday, Education Media completed the deal by decimating Houghton's staff. Its publisher had already resigned, assumedly in protest or dismay. Evidently, sooner or later, the"house" will go on the auction block, the assumption perhaps being that, in the present economic environment, a distinguished publishing house with a long history is more saleable as a valuable backlist than as a living, breathing entity. Houghton-Mifflin (Harcourt) R.I.P.
A friend (and author) called me recently after visiting a large bookstore in Northern California and, his voice suitably hushed, told me that, on a weekday, he had been the only customer in sight. That's typical of the nightmarish tales about traffic in bookstores and book sales now ripping through my world as 2008 ends.
So it goes, the late Kurt Vonnegut might have said.
Publishing houses are certainly bleeding and those that haven't yet started to take staff and books out to the woodshed, axe in hand, are going after end-of-the-year bonuses, raises, and who knows what else, while management girds its loins for"the inevitable." After all, in malls across America, the chain bookstores are getting mauled (just like other retailers). Traffic at many bookstores nationwide has evidently slowed to a trickle. Book orders have reportedly fallen off a cliff. It's now being said that, in this Christmas season, no popular book is selling so well as to be unavailable. In other words, if you want it, it's going to be at your local Barnes & Noble. For publishing, that's like an obituary.
Think of those auto showrooms that were selling a couple of cars a week and are now lucky to sell a couple a month, then think books. And it's not just that books aren't selling, comparatively speaking, but that they're winging their way back to publishing houses in startling numbers and, evidently, even more startlingly to university presses. Rumor has it that some academic publishers are experiencing unheard of return rates that can go as high as 90%. (A unique aspect of the book business now guaranteed to add up to hell-on-Earth for publishers is that bookstores can return unsold product to manufacturers without penalty.)
Think of it this way, those book versions of SUVs and pick-ups, all those Ford Explorer-type volumes, often so costly to put under contract but churned out so confidently for so long by the oversized giants of the publishing world, are now mostly sitting in their mall lots idling -- or, as you read this, they're winging their way back to publishers' warehouses.
How Not to Read a Newspaper
To put this in perspective, the corporate giants of publishing, and their serried ranks of groups, divisions, imprints, and boutique operations, all those formerly independent houses swallowed whole from the 1970s through the 1990s, are but drops in the overflowing economic bucket of bad times. Thirty-five people beheaded? A mere bag of shells, as Jackie Gleason used to say.
For a little perspective, just consider the jobs headlines of the last couple of weeks: In a major reorganization, announced on December 8th, Dow Chemical revealed plans to cut 5,000 jobs and close 20 plants, sending about 11% of the chemical giant's workforce down the human drain. The company also plans to"temporarily idle 180 plants and prune 6,000 contractors from its payroll."
Or think of GM announcing that it will idleall its North American assembly plants during some part of the first quarter of 2009, while turning out 60% fewer vehicles. Or the 3M company, which announced cuts of 1,800 on the same day Dow issued its bad news. Talk about a"black" day! Or the Sony Company at about the same time, announcing that it would" cut 8,000 employees worldwide over the next year, slash investment in its electronics business by 30 percent, and close roughly half a dozen of its 57 manufacturing sites around the globe." We're talking 5% of Sony's workforce. Or Bank of America, which made public a massive "workforce reduction" scheme: 30,000-35,000 jobs eliminated globally over the next three years, as part of a reorganization after absorbing Merrill Lynch. I mean, we're talking slaughter here. And given the staggering U.S. job-loss count in November, 533,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the fact that the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits jumped to a 26-year high in early December, you know that this is just scratching the surface of the disaster.
Chemicals, cars, finances, even post-its. That's major stuff. Books? They're such modest (and, at best, modestly profitable) objects, even if the book has the remarkable ability to teleport readers into worlds not their own. I mean, if you really want to talk about the destruction of companies in the reading game, then try a business where it's been hell on Earth for years: newspapers.
Talk about collapsing worlds, newspapers were a disaster area long before the greatest downturn"since the Great Depression" hit. The bad news about the news has been flooding in for years, even if it's worsened under the weight of more general economic tough times. If, for instance, you were even reading a newspaper in print on Tuesday, December 9th (and, if you're under 25, odds are you weren't), then you undoubtedly caught the story about the debt-ridden Tribune Company, a news monster which owns, among other properties, the Los Angeles Times (almost half its staff lost since 2001), the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune (almost a third of its staff lost since 2005), and even the Chicago Cubs, filling for"bankruptcy."
The company even had the nerve to claim that bankruptcy meant it could" cease all severance payments and deferred compensation to employees who have been laid off." (Pity the poor reporters who took those buyouts.) It also hired the investment bank Lazard and the law firm Sidley Austin as consultants. In case you're worried, they surely will get paid. (Up front, if they're smart.)
All this means is that another bunch of newspaper workers -- a dwindling crew -- is now in essentially the same situation as the workers who sat in and won their severance pay at Chicago's Republic Windows and Doors factory after they were given only three days notice to vacate. Don't expect sit-ins or fight-back victories at the LA Times anytime soon, however.
Only the week before the Tribune filed, America's largest newspaper company Gannett announced a 10% cut in its workforce due to"declining revenue," on top of a 3% cut last August (neither evidently being part of the 5%"trim" at its flagship paper USA Today in late November). And don't get me started on the rest of America's newspapers. At least 30 of them are for sale right now, including the 149-year-old Rocky Mountain News, which lost $11 million in the first nine months of this year, with few buyers in sight.
In the style of some black hole, the vortex of the Internet has, for years, been sucking in young readers and, more important for the finances of journalism, ads, which account for four-fifths of all newspaper revenue (with disappearing classifieds accounting for half of that). Under the extra pressure of hard times, the decline in ad revenues is now turning into a deluge. In the third quarter of 2008, national newspaper advertising reportedly dropped by 18%. When it comes to the news in print, you wonder who will be left minding the store. Poor Detroit's main papers are cutting home delivery to three days a week, another national first, and it can't be long before a major U.S. city lacks its own daily. Maybe the question now is: What store?
All of this certainly adds up to a nightmare for a guy just young enough to be running a political website, but old enough to have the habit of reading two newspapers in print a day. Still, none of this got to me, not even those 533,000 jobs lost, the way the firing of one editor I knew did.
And that, I suspect, is typical. For most of us, most of the time, the world is a remarkably parochial place. I read newspapers, use post-its and Saran Wrap, and drive a car (sometimes). But I've probably edited and put into circulation several hundred books. That's my world. And now it's beginning to look like the time of the bloated publishing conglomerate is nearing an end, with an unknown effect on the time of the book itself.
The Ad and the Book
In my career as an editor, a mere few decades, I've seen publishing transformed from the equivalent of a cottage industry -- the term"publishing house," of course, once implied a freestanding entity -- to the subbasement of giant entertainment conglomerates. I've watched those conglomerates swallow up houses large and small, creating book companies filled to the rafters with various publishing groups, divisions, imprints, and boutique operations.
All of this happened as bookstores, too, morphed from largely independent cottage operations into giant chains that kept expanding their vast book emporiums into ever newer territory. And all of this, in turn, was possible only because the computer was transforming everything in the publishing process except the book itself. (A typical Barnes & Noble book palace couldn't, for instance, exist without computer systems to keep track of stock.) And for those ever expanding stores, the publishing conglomerates just kept spewing out new catalogues and new volumes. After all, there were all those bookshelves to fill nationwide, forever.
In scale, even the largest of modern publishers with a global reach isn't exactly a GM or a Citigroup or an AIG, in part because, unlike the car, banking, or insurance, the book represents such a quirky, small-scale, labor-intensive process to create and produce, but also to absorb. Demanding a significant investment of time and energy on the part of the consumer, it has always fit somewhat awkwardly into the world of mass entertainment. Still, there's a comparison to be made. As bloated as their larger cousins, the big corporate publishing outfits seemed to feel that, when it came to the future, they were immune.
Now you can't exactly blame a business for not predicting the future, since we humans are generally terrible seers. But when the future stares you in the face, as with the three automobile giants over the last decade, or when, as with publishing, it even offers you a helpful illustration of what might be in store for you, aren't you culpable of something?
After all, when it came to illustrations, the newspaper's decline wasn't exactly a well-kept secret. But there were, I suspect, three key factors that cushioned book publishers from believing that that future would be theirs, and so from truly facing the challenge of the Internet and of the screaming wallpaper of the burgeoning entertainment universe.
The first was the ad. Book publishers seemed invulnerable to the fate of the newspaper, in part, because the ad played no part in the book's financial success.
There's a piece still to be written on the book and the ad. The ad, after all, has colonized everything in our world from gas pumps to urinals, bars to doctor's offices, taxis to your sneakers and cell phone, not to speak of every imaginable printed form, including the cereal box and the back of your supermarket receipt, and yet, strangely enough, it never successfully colonized the book.
This, in our world, has to be considered some kind of unnoticed miracle. Yes, the early book sometimes had quack medicine ads in it and, for years, certain paperbacks had ads for other books (by the same publisher) at the back, but the book largely resisted the ad. Even after publishers, rushing to join the other mass forms, began wrapping book covers around anything from movie novelizations to material that had once been confined to"police gazettes" or Hollywood fan mags, the ad still -- against all logic -- stayed away. The authority of the book seemed, by some mysterious process, to resist it.
Back in the 1990s, ad whiz Chris Whittle launched a series of books on serious subjects by select high-flying authors for select high-flying corporate readers and leaders. These were filled with glossy Fedex ads. But when the publisher W.W. Norton picked up the series for the book trade, the ads were dropped. In 2001, the jewelry firm Bulgari paid Fay Weldon for extensive"product placement" in her novel fittingly entitled The Bulgari Connection, and that caused a little media brouhaha. Each of these, however, proved not an inroad, but a stunt.
(On the other hand, any future successful e-book reader, whether the Amazon Kindle or something else, will surely have ads; but then again, if any one device really catches on, in its next generations it is bound to"generalize": that is, you'll be able to read books on it, but also undoubtedly catch what's left of newspapers, check your email, text friends, and probably take photos too. In other words, you'll be in a new universe which, for better and worse, will only partially resemble book reading as we've known it -- and worse yet, from the publisher's point of view, the technology will be the property of someone else.)
Because the ad played no part in the book, there was nothing of obvious financial value for the Internet to suck out of book operations, except, of course, the attention of readers. This left publishers, even if not thinking directly about the ad and the book, feeling relatively immune to the otherwise erosive and corrosive qualities of that new world.
In addition -- factor two -- the chain bookstore was still expanding in the early years of this century, reaching into new cities and new neighborhoods. This seemed to ensure an expanding future for the book business (despite a yawning lack of evidence that Americans were, on average, reading more books).
The blindly hopeful nature of all this was brought home only in the last few months as books went dead in those very same stores, and the chains began cutting back every which way. One of the two major chains, Borders, losing money hand over fist, is now"reorganizing," which may actually mean hanging on by a thread. As the trade publication Publisher's Weeklyput the matter, Borders"has become more selective in its buying, aggressively reducing the size of its inventory." "Steep cuts in inventory" is another way of putting it and obviously not good news for those inventory providers, book publishers. By now, both chains may also be closing some less profitable stores.
As with GM, it was always easier and far more immediately profitable for the big publishers just to keep selling those"SUVs" until their business model went into the toilet rather than try to prepare for a new world. And -- factor three -- there was one last bit of history that helped foster the illusion of future book prosperity. It was well known in the business that, during the Great Depression, books, like movies, had done splendidly. They were an inexpensive bit of entertainment and distraction, consumable at home, at a time when not much else pleasurable was going on in a rugged world. Ergo, books would be no less recession-proof in the next big downturn.
There was no reason to believe otherwise… unless you happened to focus on just how many dazzling entertainment options had, in the interim, entered the American home at prices more than competitive with the book. After all, most Americans can now read endlessly on the Internet, play video games, download music, watch movies, and even write their own novels without stepping outside; and keep in mind that the $27.95 hardcover and the $15.95 paperback on the shelves of that mall store, once you drive there, aren't exactly the inexpensive objects of yore.
Publishers nonetheless clung to this bit of Depression-era lore for dear life as economic bad times bore down. And, unlike with the newspaper, it's been those bad times that have suddenly brought the axe down on book publishing. But publishers now firing staff, folding up or merging divisions, and shutting down boutique operations in order to last out the bad times shouldn't be fooled twice. The return of economically better times (someday) is unlikely to mean the return of the book world of these last few decades.
Small independent publishers, which often have trouble surviving even in good times, are nonetheless more agile, more experimental, and closer to the Internet revolution than the big houses. They are capable of turning on a dime, while the conglomerates -- with their long lead times (often 8 months to a year to put a book in the store) -- probably can't turn on anything, which leaves them losers in an Internet world in which yesterday's news might as well be last year's.
Think of that old image of shrew-like mammals scooting around among the feet of the soon-to-be-extinct dinosaurs. For instance, Chelsea Green, a small publisher in Vermont having its best year ever, reports that it delivered a new book by Robert Kuttner, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, from final manuscript form into the hands of readers in a matter of four weeks, and so just in time for the Democratic Convention, which is remarkable. There perhaps lies one future for the book.
I can't claim to be exactly surprised by all this. After all, in my 2003 novel The Last Days of Publishing, I imagined -- because this wasn't exactly a feat of genius (except perhaps for publishing management) -- many of the things that are now happening to the book and the business (even an editor being perp-walked to an axing, something that, back then, hadn't yet happened in the business).
I meant that title with a certain irony, because the end of the book, or even of reading itself, had been predicted and fretted about for so long. And yet, more than 550 years after the first Gutenberg Bible appeared, the printed book, still an unsurpassed technology for delivering information and experience, isn't leaving the scene soon. It's always worth remembering that, when those first printed books began to circulate in Western Europe, the previous form, the illuminated, hand-copied manuscript, did not disappear, despite what you might imagine. It lasted at least another century as a high-end collectible, which was largely what it had long been anyway.
The book remains a techno-wonder that not even the Kindle has yet surpassed. But it's a wonder in a very crowded entertainment universe in which habits, reading and otherwise, are changing fast. Add to that a world plunging into the worst of times and you have a combustible combination. The chain bookstore, the bloated publishing house, and the specific corporate way of publishing that goes with them are indeed in peril. This may no longer be their time. As for the time of the book, add on another century if you want, but in our ever restless universe it does seem to be shortening.
This Monday, as I was working on this post, MacMillan, owned by the other German publishing giant Holtzbrinck, which owns St. Martin's Press, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, the paperback house Picador, and Henry Holt, which, in turn, houses Metropolitan Books, the small imprint for which I work part-time, fired 64 of its employees. I'm still here, but again my tiny world shuddered.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 17:33
SOURCE: NYT Magazine (12-14-08)
... Keynes’s prescriptions were guided by his conception of money, which plays a disturbing role in his economics. Most economists have seen money simply as a means of payment, an improvement on barter. Keynes emphasized its role as a “store of value.” Why, he asked, should anyone outside a lunatic asylum wish to “hold” money? The answer he gave was that “holding” money was a way of postponing transactions. The “desire to hold money as a store of wealth is a barometer of the degree of our distrust of our own calculations and conventions concerning the future. . . . The possession of actual money lulls our disquietude; and the premium we require to make us part with money is a measure of the degree of our disquietude.” The same reliance on “conventional” thinking that leads investors to spend profligately at certain times leads them to be highly cautious at others. Even a relatively weak dollar may, at moments of high uncertainty, seem more “secure” than any other asset, as we are currently seeing.
It is this flight into cash that makes interest-rate policy such an uncertain agent of recovery. If the managers of banks and companies hold pessimistic views about the future, they will raise the price they charge for “giving up liquidity,” even though the central bank might be flooding the economy with cash. That is why Keynes did not think that cutting the central bank’s interest rate would necessarily — and certainly not quickly — lower the interest rates charged on different types of loans. This was his main argument for the use of government stimulus to fight a depression. There was only one sure way to get an increase in spending in the face of an extreme private-sector reluctance to spend, and that was for the government to spend the money itself. Spend on pyramids, spend on hospitals, but spend it must.
This, in a nutshell, was Keynes’s economics. His purpose, as he saw it, was not to destroy capitalism but to save it from itself. He thought that the work of rescue had to start with economic theory itself. Now that Greenspan’s intellectual edifice has collapsed, the moment has come to build a new structure on the foundations that Keynes laid.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 15:30
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (12-17-08)
Here's a news flash: According to recent reports, seven of 10 African American voters in California supported the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Surprised? You shouldn't be.
By now, everyone should know that most black Americans are culturally conservative. But many white liberals don't want to know.
Consider their reaction to the Nov. 4 vote on Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California. After the measure passed, opponents were quick to attribute black support to a "robo-call" featuring the voice of then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Others said African Americans were confused, thinking they were voting to legalize same-sex marriage rather than outlaw it.
Of course, we can never know why any individual voted in a particular way. Surely, some black voters were perplexed by the strange wording of the referendum, just as other voters may have been. And since black voters turned out in unprecedented numbers to support Obama, some of them probably were swayed by the phone call using his voice.
But why would they be swayed? The answer lies in the Obama comment quoted in the robo-call: "I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman," he said. "Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God is in the mix."
Prop 8 critics called the robo-call deceptive because it didn't mention that Obama opposed the referendum. But he also opposes gay marriage, as the quote richly illustrates. And so do most African Americans, for the same reason Obama cited: It violates their faith. God is in the mix.
That doesn't make those black voters correct, of course. I'm personally offended by Proposition 8, which violates the fundamental tenet of my own faith: equal respect and dignity for all human beings.
But I'm equally offended by the blithe characterizations of black support for the measure. It should not be fobbed off on confusion or propaganda. To blame ignorance or the Obama robo-call is to be deeply ignorant of African American history.
On every hot-button cultural question since the 1960s - not just gay marriage - black Americans have leaned right.
Recall the 1962 Supreme Court decision prohibiting prayer in public schools. Although the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and several other civil-rights leaders supported the ruling, most African Americans rallied against it.
"In these times of disquietude, we should all pray for guidance each day," one African American reader wrote to a newspaper, "and schools are no exception." The civil-rights struggle was a deeply religious movement, she added, so how could it succeed without religious education?
To other African Americans, school prayer was an issue of democracy, not just faith: Since most citizens favored school prayer, the courts had no business depriving them of it. "As it is a 'free' country, and the majority rule, I think that they should prevail," another black reader wrote.
By putting the word "free" in quotation marks, the writer signaled that a majority-white America still had not granted racial justice to its black minority. In the same breath, however, he also insisted that schools should follow the wishes of the Christian majority - no matter what the non-Christian minority wanted.
Into the present, African Americans have continued to invoke both lines of argument. At times, they cite their own struggles for justice as a racial minority; at others, they cast themselves as part of the majority. But one thing has remained constant: their traditional cultural values.
In 1993, three decades after the school-prayer decision, hundreds of black and white students walked out of class at a high school in Jackson, Miss. The reason? The school had fired its African American principal for allowing the recital of a prayer piped through the public-address system.
So there's nothing exceptional about black support for Proposition 8. From school prayer and abortion to capital punishment and gay marriage, African Americans overwhelmingly back the conservative side.
You might find good reason to bemoan that; I certainly do. But if you want to change it, you'll have to take black politics and history more seriously than the opponents of Proposition 8 did. Anything less would patronize African Americans, which is the very worst way to persuade them.
Posted on: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 15:15
SOURCE: Transcript of an interview on the News Hour (12-15-08)
JUAN COLE, University of Michigan: Well, I wish he were right. It would be so wonderful for the Iraqis if he were right. But virtually none of that is true.
Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed, [of] the majority of it[s] Sunni Arabs. There are lively fights between Arabs and Kurds in the north. Prime Minister al-Maliki is being accused by the Kurds of developing a militia among Arab tribes people loyal to the prime minister that has come into conflict with the Kurds.
Social peace is very far away. Four hundred attacks a month, still several hundred civilians killed every month. Three bombings in Baghdad, wounding nearly 20 people, on the very day that Bush was in Baghdad.
In comparison to the almost apocalyptic violence of a year-and-a-half ago, sure, there is improvement in some of the statistics. But if this were any other country in the world, it would be considered a very serious crisis. . .
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Cole . . . Will Iraq be ready on the SOFA date in 2011?
JUAN COLE: Well, I don't know whether Iraq will be ready on the SOFA date, but it's very clear that the Iraqi people want the U.S. troops out of their country.
They were initially approached for a status-of-forces agreement by the Bush administration with no deadline for or timetable for U.S. withdrawal. They were offered a SOFA in which the U.S. would continue to control Iraqi air space, the seas around Iraq, would decide when and where to launch unilaterally military operations in the country, would arrest Iraqis at will.
All of those provisions were knocked down by the Iraqi cabinet, by the Iraqi parliament, by Grand Ayatollah Sistani. So they don't want U.S. troops there in these kinds of numbers, in this kind of role. And they've spoken, really, as a matter of national sovereignty in that regard.
Whether the U.S. withdrawal will allow a resurgence of violence is a question we can't know the answer to. But it should be pointed out that, while the United States has been there, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, have died in violence. Entire cities have changed their social complexion through violence. There's been ongoing killing and destruction.
So the U.S. presence has not been a guarantee of social peace in any case.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, what have the Iraqis, Professor, concluded about the state of Iraq this many years on? No matter whether they agreed with the U.S. or U.S. strategy or intentions for the region, do they find the country a more livable, safer, freer place, as the president said over the weekend?
JUAN COLE: Well, I don't think anybody in Iraq thinks it's safer. Iraq was very dangerous during the Saddam period for anyone who was involved actively in politics. But for people who weren't, there wasn't a danger in sending your child to school or in going shopping.
People report on the ground that the wealthy in Iraq still bring bodyguards when they go to the mall. And so, no, it's not. It's not safer. There's social discontents with regard to security.
And, you know, freedom does not consist in simply elections. The elections that have been held so far were such the people didn't even know the identities of the representatives for whom they were supposedly voting.
So, I mean, I think Iraqis have mixed feelings when you talk to them. Most people were happy to see the back of Saddam Hussein, but they were humiliated by a foreign military occupation.
What being a Muslim Arab has been about in the 20th century was getting rid of European colonialism. Nobody liked to see the analogue of that from America coming into their country.
And I think they feel that the United States made severe errors that exacerbated the situation and caused enormous destruction.
The U.S. has been bombing civilian tenement buildings. It's conducted large-scale military operations in civilian areas. There have been so many deaths, and few Iraqis have been left untouched by this.'
Posted on: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 12:34
SOURCE: Truthout.org (11-25-08)
Sen. Barack Obama ran an amazing, historic campaign. So amazing, in fact, that initial attempts to calmly analyze his victory have generally fallen short. Some media and academic experts talk as if Barack Obama came out of nowhere. There have been claims that his triumph is without historical precedent, and that the tactics and strategies his campaign employed on the way to victory were sui generis. Other commentators argue that Obama as a politician represents a complete break from earlier generations of African-American leaders. A day after the election, Time Magazine's Joe Klein asserted that Obama's post-racial victory opened up a brand new space for political participation in our society. Klein writes,"It is a place where the primacy of racial identity - and this includes the old Jesse Jackson version of black racial identity - has been replaced by the celebration of pluralism, of cross-racial synergy."
These efforts to place Obama outside of history are only possible in a society that treats history like yesterday's garbage. In reality, Senator Obama comes from a rich tradition of peoples who have fought and died for freedom in the Americas and in the broader Atlantic world. Yes, Obama's campaign was sophisticated and run on a base of youthful energy. Most of the tactics of this campaign however were borrowed from prior social movements, including the civil rights and labor movements, the women's movement and old-school political campaigning. For example mi esposa canvassed for the Obama campaign four or five days a week for several months in Gainesville. My wife learned many of her organizing skills - as I did - working with the United Farm Workers of America many years ago.
Likewise, there were many Obama activists who had campaigned for the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. It is impossible to imagine Senator Obama's victory without the precedent of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. The Rainbow excited and recruited tens of thousands of gay, Latino, Native American, white, Asian, and African-Americans into electoral politics, social movements and union organizing in the US in the 1980s. The Rainbow sustained and supported numerous progressive politicians, including Paul Wellstone, Tammy Baldwin and Harold Washington. The Rainbow Coalition - and Jackson as leader - had many limitations. Even so, the organization provided one of the few spaces for progressive movement organizing to take place in the Age of Reagan. The Rainbow increased working-class voter registration, promoted Shirley Chisholm for vice president, stood in solidarity with the Pittston coal strike, and was a counterweight to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. Rainbow activist Ronald Walters remembers the sense of excitement during Jackson's campaigns:
"No one else at that level was talking about environmental racism, 'no first use' of nuclear weapons; antiapartheid (remember, the ANC was a 'terrorist organization'); the Arab-Israeli situation." No other candidate had an economic policy based on major investment and cuts in the military, a program Bill Clinton would run on in 1992 (though abandon forthwith). None advocated extension of the Congressional health plan to all Americans. None regarded gay rights as inherent in a larger moral claim and not simply something to be pandered to. None twinned race and class so naturally."
Progressive Asian-American activists played a key role in the development of the Rainbow. Butch Wing recalled that Jackson"... really impressed us because he really wanted to involve other communities.... His support base and experience was in the African-American community, but he expanded. He began the conversation about coalitions.""More importantly," One Asian-American writer to the New York Times noted in 1984,"the Jackson candidacy has opened up a necessary dialogue between the black and Asian-American communities." Quite a few of these activists, including newly elected San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Eric Mar, ended up as successful politicians and community organizers working for or endorsing Obama. Eddie Wong looked back at his time with the Rainbow Coalition as formative in his contemporary work with the Asian and Pacific Islander Leadership Council for Senator Obama:
"Twenty years ago, as I stood in the bitter cold in a parking lot in Sioux City, Iowa, I saw a sight I thought I'd never see. A crowd of white meat-packers, big beefy men and their wives and children, shuffled their feet in quiet anticipation. They shielded their eyes against the low winter sun, stamping their feet for warmth on the frozen ground. They were waiting to hear my boss, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States."
Joe Klein's clumsy effort to shape-shift Jesse Jackson into a black-identity-politician-only-concerned-about-black-people ignores Jackson's longstanding commitment to the struggles of Latino farm workers, poor whites and others. Who can forget the photograph of Jesse tenderly comforting an emaciated César Chávez during the farm labor leader's Fast For Love or his beautiful oration at César's funeral in 1993? It was only fitting that Jackson sent a congratulatory message to President-elect Obama that reflected his own understanding of movement history:"The martyrs and marchers worked to tear down the walls that kept us apart. Now Obama has access to the bridge to bring us together. This bridge leads us closer to closing the disparities and inequality in our national family. We have been led to the promised land. But we still have work to do. YES WE CAN is his slogan. President Obama,"Yes we will."
Jackson's letter reminds us that Senator Obama's campaign victory was fueled not solely by new youth activists, but by an intergenerational social movement of campaign workers. If you look deeply into the ranks of"Obama's Army," you will find veterans of the UFW, CORE and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of the 1960s. Juan Williams suggested that many older African-Americans would refuse to vote for Obama. The Fox News analyst predictably blamed the"black political and community activists still rooted in the politics of the 1960s civil rights movement ..." for their opposition to the Illinois senator. Yet, when I took a team of University of Florida students to do oral histories of the Sunflower County Freedom Summer Reunion in Mississippi in early September, we found that SNCC veterans - black and white - were unanimous in their support for Obama. The highlight of the reunion was a rousing address given by SNCC icon Congressman John Lewis, whose major theme was that we should all return to our home communities and cast our ballots for Barack Obama. Contra Juan Williams, the politics of the 1960s movements made this presidential moment possible. The Sunflower County gathering in the middle of the Mississippi Delta reminds us that the mainstream media will try to freeze out of the Obama victory party the millions of grassroots Obama supporters who do not listen to NPR or subscribe to The New York Times. This will be done in order to convince the new president to veer right in domestic and foreign policy. Progressives must fight like hell to make sure that this does not happen. Never forget that our elders in unions as well as Christian, Islamic and Jewish civic organizations have been fighting for social justice all of their lives. This is their time, too.
Black Florida and Barack Obama
For all of the talk of a newly tolerant white electorate, the majority of white people in America voted for John McCain. In contrast, 96 percent of African-Americans who voted cast their ballots for Senator Obama. Why did so many older black people support a candidate whom many in the mainstream media categorized as"post racial"? In Florida, black voters helped Obama become the first northern Democrat to carry Florida since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This is especially poignant as Florida was one of the toughest of all Jim Crow states and African-Americans have had their votes stolen in the Sunshine State more times than any historian can count. Black Floridians endured massacres at long-forgotten places like Rosewood, Ocoee and Wildwood. Florida boasted the highest lynching rate in the nation, and the state's vicious penal system earned it the moniker of"American Siberia." African-American, Jewish and Italian immigrants frequently found themselves trapped in a system of debt peonage designed to bolster the profits of white business supremacy.
In spite of all of these obstacles, black Floridians organized numerous movements for justice and created an expressive culture of survival that produced some of the finest literature and music, along with some of the greatest social justice activists of the 20th century. Of the many Floridians who prepared the way for America's First Black President, we'll start with Zora Neale Hurston. A child of an all-black town and an artist of the sublime, Hurston's magnificent novels, such as"Their Eyes Were Watching God," upheld the dignity of all women. Her anthropological works, such as"Mules and Men," defended the humanity of impoverished turpentine workers, phosphate miners and sharecroppers. The truly forgotten Americans. Who has ever led a life more useful than Zora did? She died in poverty, and her literature is now read by millions worldwide! Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Zora Neale Hurston.
As we marvel at the wit and grace of Michelle Obama, let us not forget perhaps the greatest Floridian of all, Mary McCleod Bethune. The child of former slaves, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls (which later became Bethune-Cookman College), in 1904. A tireless diplomat of education, Bethune became a citizen of the world and had numerous honors bestowed on her that were normally reserved for heads of state. Bethune was also a president of the National Association of Colored Women, and she became an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the face of Ku Klux Klan violence aimed at her, Mrs. Bethune urged black Daytonans to"Eat Your Bread without Butter, But Pay your poll taxes and vote!!" Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Mary McCleod Bethune.
As we marvel at the politically engaged youth volunteers in the Obama campaign, let us remember two young black Floridians, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore. In 1934, they organized the first NAACP county branch in Brevard County. They were school teachers dedicated to educational equality. They were also extraordinary political activists who knew the value of community organizing. In the late 1940s, the Moores helped organize one of the most effective voter registration campaigns in the history of the United States. (Without using the Internet!) In 1951, as they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary over the Christmas holiday, they were assassinated by the Ku Klux Klan. Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore.
Black Florida has given this nation some of its greatest community and social justice organizers. James Weldon Johnson, Howard Thurman, Eartha White, Patricia Stephens Due - the list is virtually endless. For the sake of brevity, I'd like to discuss just one more great Floridian. Born in 1889 in Crescent City, A. Philip Randolph was one of the most important labor leaders in American history. Randolph was the founding president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that African-American railroad workers created through twelve long years of struggle and sacrifice (1925-1937). Randolph used the power and numbers of the union to threaten a mass march on Washington in 1941 to protest against discrimination against black workers in wartime industry factories. President Roosevelt begged Randolph not to march, arguing that it would damage the US war effort. Randolph called off the march in return for a guarantee of the creation of a federal commission that would investigate job discrimination claims - the Fair Employment Practices Committee. Numerous members of the union went on to become pivotal civil rights activists and political leaders, including C.L. Dellums (father of Rep. Ron Dellums), and E.D. Nixon, a leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.
In 1963, Randolph and several key African-American labor leaders including Bayard Rustin and Cleveland Robinson, president of New York's powerful District 65 Union, planned a March on Washington that was initially to be aimed at the AFL-CIO's headquarters in protest of union discrimination against African-Americans and other minority workers. John McCain's campaign accused Barack Obama of being a Socialist. A. Philip Randolph WAS a lifelong socialist. In fact, the March on Washington was made possible by the rank-and-file organizing work of many Socialist organizers. When this Native Son of Florida proposed marching on the Capitol Mall, President Kennedy - like Roosevelt - asked Randolph to call the march off. Randolph refused and demanded that Kennedy more forcefully push for a new Civil Rights Act. But Randolph and the other organizers were thinking about much more than civil rights. They titled this event: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Asa Philip Randolph's speech at the March on Washington initially received far greater attention than Martin Luther King Jr.'s"I have a Dream" speech. In his address, Randolph forcefully discussed the legacy of slavery, as well as the economic dimensions of civil rights. He asserted:"The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality." This is a line we would do well to remember today. Also, please note this striking passage:"It falls to the Negro to reassert this proper priority of values because our ancestors were transformed from human personalities into private property. It falls to us to demand new forms of social planning, to create full employment, and to put automation at the service of human needs, not at the service of profits - for we are the first victims of unemployment." Prophetic words indeed that point the way towards a new understanding of economics. President-elect Barack Obama Stands on the shoulders of A. Philip Randolph.
The Myth of Post-Racialism
The idea that we've moved to a post-racial period in American social history is undermined by an avalanche of recent events. Hurricane Katrina. The US Supreme Court's dismantling of Brown vs. Board of Education and the resegregation of American schools. The Clash of Civilizations thesis that promotes the idea of a War against Islam. The backlash facing immigrant workers. A grotesque prison industrial complex. A brilliant misdirection centering on race took place in the decade between 1998 and 2008. While Americans were being robbed blind and primed for yet another bailout of the banks and investment sectors, they were treated to new evidence from Fox News and poverty experts that the great moral threats facing the nation were greedy union workers, black single mothers, Latino gangbangers and illegal immigrants. When the $2.7 trillion-dollar bailout bill came due, the big investors yelled:"gotcha!" No welfare reform for Wall Street. Hard work, like taxes, is for the little people.
Was Sen. Barack Obama's victory an example of post-racial politics? Not according to the exit polls, which demonstrate the crucial role of race and class in this election. Black and Latino support was crucial in Obama's victory in key states including Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida. Nationally, 55 percent of white Americans voted for Sen. John McCain, with the white college graduate vote split nearly evenly for the two major contenders. In sharp contrast, 67 percent of Latinos and 63 percent of Asian-Americans voted for Obama. In Florida, Obama won a remarkably high percentage of the Hispanic vote - currently estimated at 57 percent - even though some conservative Cubanos in South Florida featured car bumper stickers that read:"Cuba Voted for Change in 1959." On the day after the election, the Miami Herald observed that Senator Obama was the"First Democrat[ic] candidate to Win Florida's Hispanic Vote."
On the day before the election, however, the Duval County School Board in Jacksonville joined what appears to be a growing racial backlash in the US. The board voted along racial lines to keep the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville. White board members ensured that the name of the Ku Klux Klan leader and slave trader will be proudly displayed over a school with a majority-black student body. The school was originally named in Forrest's honor as an early white protest against the Brown vs. Board Supreme Court ruling that outlawed school segregation. This is another reminder that America's past continues to informs its present.
Before we go too deeply into exploring the idea of post-racialism, I have some preguntos. What do we actually mean by post-racial? As progressives, we fight for equality, dignity and economic security. Is racial equality the same as post-racial equality, and what would a post-racial society really look like? Would such a society require that we dispense with Toni Morrison, Martín Espada, Alice Walker, Herman Melville and others whose greatest works center on the experience of race and the human condition? Would the post-racial utopia stop us from celebrating El Dia de los Muertos because it is too"Mexican"? Would such a society demand that I trade in my African-influenced Arturo Sandoval and Miles Davis albums for Michael Bolton? (No disrespect intended.) Does post-racial history mean that plantation tours will celebrate the wealth of the big house while avoiding the slave quarters in order to make everyone feel good about themselves? Suddenly, the post-racial utopia sounds downright Orwellian.
Latinos and Politics
In hindsight, the Latino-led labor insurrections of 2006 provided the first hints of the beginning of a sea-change in American as well as Florida politics - one that is even now only just beginning to be felt. The mass marches and walkouts provide a glimpse of the aspirations of major segments of the Latina/Latino working class even as they demonstrate these workers' centrality to our economic life. Latino workers led strikes even prior to the big May Day demonstrations. ''In South Florida and Immokalee, things (harvesting) pretty much ground to a halt," said G. Ellis Hunt Jr., the president of Hunt Bros. Inc., a Lake Wales grower and packinghouse owner with more than 5,000 grove acres split equally between Polk and Immokalee." Lucas Benitez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in South Florida explained that Latino farm laborers were engaged in a protracted struggle for wages and dignity."It's a fundamental problem in Immokalee that the workers get no respect from the growers," the farm worker leader noted."The growers think they have peons, not employees. To find solutions to other problems, we must break down that barrier." Demonstrators in cities such as Fort Meyers vigorously expressed their opposition to US House Resolution 4437, which threatened to turn undocumented workers and their supporters into felons. Many observers compared H.R. 4437 to the infamous Fugitive Slave Act. The days of the silent, long-suffering Latino worker are over.
The 2008 election demonstrates that we no longer live in a world where race is a black and white thing. From Florida to Washington State, Latino working-class political power is on the rise. Much of the support for Barack Obama came from Latinos in labor organizations such as SEIU, Unite-HERE, AFSCME and other unions, as well as the reenergized Los Angeles, New York and Chicago labor federations. The head of the Los Angeles Labor Federation, Maria Elena Durazo, was one of the first major Latina leaders to endorse Obama during the Democratic primaries. A former migrant field worker, Durazo's parents were activists in the United Farm Workers and her family learned community organizing skills from César Chávez and Delores Huerta. Explaining her endorsement, Durazo noted,"'On a personal level [Obama] embodies the slogan we use a lot, César Chávez's 'Si, se puede.' (Yes, we can.") He has proved it by the way he inspires voters."
Latino civil rights organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense fund were early endorsers of the Obama campaign. On a larger scale, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, composed of 26 major Latino organizations, denounced the 2008 Republican Party Platform"for its support of anti-immigrant unworkable immigration policies ... that tear families apart, divide communities, and fail our nation." These organizations defined the 2008 presidential election in part as a struggle against racism and xenophobia. If the Democratic Party retreats from this struggle it will pay dearly in 2010.
Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy is reaching a point of diminishing returns for the GOP. The strategy of winning elections by taking white votes from the Democrats by playing on white racial fears failed for a variety of reasons. First of all,"non-white" voters are increasing in significance all across the country. In addition, many so-called white Reagan Democrats have been driven out of the Republican Party by the GOP's embrace of deregulation, privatization and religious fundamentalism. The youth vote generally trended towards Obama, but, lacking organizational affiliations, the future voting habits of these voters is unclear. Most hopefully, white union members voted 67 percent in favor of the Illinois senator. In These Times rightly notes that"If more voters belonged to a union, Obama would have won more decisively, even among white voters." Students of community organizing, take note please.
Community Organizers Needed!
The rise of Barack Obama to the office of president of the United States is a breathtaking event, but it is not an individual achievement. Senator Obama, of all people, understands this, and this is why he emphasizes time and time again his background as a community organizer. His opponents showed their true stripes by denigrating this aspect of Obama's resume. The new GOP understands community organizing to be the anti-thesis of the greed-first hyper-individualism they peddle as a philosophy. A. Philip Randolph was a community organizer, and so too is Maria Elena Durazo. Each of them represents a potentiality and a possibility that a great mass movement - such as that proposed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 - will rise up to end all excuses for social and economic cruelty that currently pass for politics in this country. We live in a time of economic crisis and uncertainty, yes. However, it is also a time - much like the early 1930s - when the"experts" in Wall Street and in the Ivory Tower that normally control our society have been knocked down a few rungs on the ladder. It is currently in our power to take advantage of this vacuum to forge a new kind of political and economic future, but this moment is not going to last forever. If President Barack Obama remembers that he rests on the shoulders of giants, he may even become part of the solution.
 Joe Klein,"Obama's Victory Ushers in a New America," Time.com, November 5, 2008.
 As she notes on her Web site, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin was"The first openly gay or lesbian person to be elected to the US House who was not already an incumbent." She still lists her affiliation with the Rainbow Coalition on her official site: http://www.nndb.com/people/350/000032254/.
 Adolph Reed,"The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon: The Crisis of Purpose in Afro-American Politics" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986).
 JoAnn Wypijewski,"Rainbow's Gravity," The Nation, July 26, 2004. http://www.alternet.org/story/19332/rainbow's_gravity/?page=entire.
 William Wei,"The Asian American Movement" (Temple University Press, 1993), 251-256.
 Neela Banerjee,"A Lifetime of Activism," AsianWeek.com, Feb. 23-March 1, 2001.
"The Impact of Jesse Jackson," New York Times, April 15, 1984.
 Eddie Wong,"The Man and the Moment," Asian Week: The Voice of Asian America (December 15, 2007), http://www.asianweek.com/2007/12/15/the-man-and-the-moment/ (Accessed November 19, 2008).
 Rev. Jesse Jackson Congratulates the Obama/Biden Presidential Victory, November 4, 2008. Rainbow Push Coalition press release.
 Juan Williams,"Obama's Postracial Rainbow Coalition," StarTribune.com, November 30, 2007. http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/11983076.html.
 Paul Ortiz,"Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920" (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2005).
 Will Jones,"For Jobs and Freedom: The Negro American Labor Council, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Radicalization of Postwar Liberalism," lecture at the UC-Santa Cruz Center for Labor Studies, February 14, 2008.
 Manuel Pastor, Robert D. Bullard, James K. Boyce, et. al.,"In the Wake of the Storm: Environment, Disaster and Race After Katrina," (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). John Brown Childs, ed.,"Hurricane Katrina: Response and Responsibilities" (Santa Cruz, CA: New Pacific Press, 2007); M. Shahid Alam,"Challenging the New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on the"War Against Islam" (Islamic Publications International, 2007); David Roediger,"How Race Survived US History: From the American Revolution to the Present" (London: Verso, 2008).
 In These Times, http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4035/obama_and_the_union_vote/.
 Casey Woods,"Obama Wins Florida's Hispanic Vote," Hispanic Business.com, November 5, 2008.
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/campaign-2008/story/759005.html (Miami Herald, November 6, 2008.
 White Extremists Lash Out Over Election of First Black President, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2008; Racial Backlash Follows Obama's Election, The Gainesville Sun, November 16, 2008; After Obama's Win, White Backlash Festers in US, Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2008.
 Board Keeps Klan Leader's Name at Jacksonville High School, The Gainesville Sun, November 5, 2008.
 Local Workers Protest for Rights, The Ledger (Lakeland, FL), April 11, 2006;"Latino Giant" Awakens: Demonstrations Gaining Strength, New York Daily News, March 28, 2006; Immigrants Go Back to Work in South Florida After One-Day Walkouts, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 3, 2006.
 Obama Gets Major Labor Endorsement, The Los Angeles Times.com, January 16, 2008, http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-labor16jan16,0,656548.story; Randy Shaw, César Chávez and the Roots of Obama's Field Campaign, In These Times, November 6, 2008. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4024/cesar_chavez_and_the_roots_of_obamas_field_campaign/.
 David Moberg, Obama and the Union Vote, In These Times, November 10, 2008. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4035/obama_and_the_union_vote/.
Posted on: Monday, December 15, 2008 - 23:48