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: Independent (UK) (1-11-09)
That has been accomplished to a fault, many would say as they watch the news from Gaza, where one image after another has caused deep revulsion. But then that rejection of martyrdom and victimhood may also explain what has puzzled as well as dismayed onlookers – the fact that Israel seems to be quite oblivious to international opinion.
In Muslim countries there is, of course, intense hostility to Israel, which, in return, has long since followed the Latin principle oderint dum metuant towards her neighbours: Let them hate us, so long as they fear us. Since there's no point in even trying to win their hearts and minds, they should be taught to respect brute force, a precept which, it should be admitted, has enjoyed considerable practical success.
The West is different, and European sentiment can be changed by events, as indeed it has been. Israel and Zionism were once very popular causes in Europe, not least on the liberal left, until the 1967 Six Day War and after. Since then, European sympathy has steadily ebbed away as Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982, and again in 2006, with the suppression of the intifadas between. And yet Israel shrugs off all strictures and rebukes. No criticism from relief agencies or the Red Cross makes any difference.
Even more strikingly, Israel has ignored the Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. One reason for this is that the only Western country that really counts is the United States, and Israel has for many years been able to rely on unconditional American support. Having threated to veto previous draft resolutions, the US took part in drafting the security council resolution calling for a ceasefire, and was evidently going to vote for it.
Then late on Thursday the American representative shocked other council members by abstaining. This volte face came on direct orders from the White House, after president Bush had spoken to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and the Israelis have taken abstention as permission to continue their action. "Israel is not going to show restraint," Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, told The Washington Post yesterday, understandably enough in the circumstances....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - 02:22
SOURCE: New Republic (1-13-09)
We are less than two weeks away from the end of the Bush era, but it is not too early to assess how this important presidency went so disastrously wrong. There are already shelves full of books criticizing Bush and his administration, and there will undoubtedly be more as records become available to reveal what will almost certainly be a generation's worth of damage that we have not yet even recognized. But the whole of Bush's failure is not simply the sum of his administration's parts. The key to his behavior is less ideology than a critical aspect of his character....
Bush, like Hoover, has blanketed himself with principles and commitments. But, unlike Hoover, he has built an administration that seems almost purposely designed to ward off any challenges to the President's goals and to protect him from the need to compromise with other areas of government. To a remarkable degree, the Bush White House has created defenses from other areas of government--Congress, the states, leaders of other nations, even other parts of his own administration--in a way that seem designed to create something like an autocracy. This was not because power itself has been Bush's principal goal. He was, apparently, a happy man serving in one of the weakest governorships in the country. But the accumulation of power in the White House has protected him from the need to negotiate and make compromises with others.
For whatever reasons--his difficult family history, his problems with addiction, his failed careers before entering politics, his strong religious convictions--Bush has seemed to be comfortable only when he could make quick and firm decisions, however complicated the issue, and then move on. Admitting mistakes or changing course seems almost contrary to his nature. The "unitary executive," which Dick Cheney has so energetically implemented and defended, was the perfect vehicle for Bush's tendency to prefer conviction over practicality. When Congress passed laws that challenged his convictions, the White House changed them through signing statements. When the Supreme Court struck down policies Bush believed in, the White House largely ignored the decisions. When military leaders pointed out the futility of wartime strategies, Bush ignored the generals and waited for Rumsfeld to replace them. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Bush was not only slow to act, but also never took any significant steps to repair the damage that his administration had done to the agency that was supposed to have helped rebuild the city. FEMA today is little better prepared for another Katrina than it was in 2005....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - 21:16
SOURCE: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com (1-14-09)
In this issue of the Windy City Times, the world learns for the first time that almost thirteen years ago, during his first campaign for office, Barack Obama answered a questionnaire with the phrase, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages.” The response appeared in a questionnaire that his campaign faxed to the office of Outlines—a local LGBT newspaper that purchased and merged with Windy City Times in 2000—on Feb. 15, 1996. Later that year, in its voter guide for the general election, Outlines summarized Obama's positions: “Supports gay rights, same-sex marriage; increased AIDS funding, abortion rights, affirmative action.”
Publisher and Executive Editor Tracy Baim retrieved the form from her archives while working on the Chicago Gay History Project. Her release of the document occurs at a unique time. On Jan. 20, for only the third time since the Stonewall riots, a new Democratic president will be sworn in. Some LGBT activists, infuriated by the president-elect's decision to invite evangelical pastor Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration, argue that Obama must do better than the last two Democratic presidencies, which they believe have resulted in pro-gay judicial appointments but too little else. Jimmy Carter was the first to invite gay activists to a White House meeting ( which he did not attend ) ; Bill Clinton was the first to pursue gay voters during his presidential campaign. Yet Carter said little to nothing in the course of Anita Bryant's national anti-gay crusade, and the Clinton years left us with the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
To put Obama's stunning statement in context, it helps to know how things were going for him in mid-February 1996: he was in the middle of a messy standoff with the 13th District's incumbent state Senator, Alice Palmer. After promising not to run for reelection and publicly endorsing Obama, a civil rights lawyer who had never held office, Palmer changed her mind in December 1995 and tried to get back into the race. For several weeks, neither candidate backed down, while local political leaders sought a resolution. The conflict would end in a matter of days, when Obama supporters successfully challenged the validity of signatures collected by Palmer's campaign. But on the day the fax went to Outlines, Obama was an unlikely candidate, up against a progressive incumbent in a very progressive district, who needed all the help he could get.
Earlier, in January, Obama had filled out his first known questionnaire on LGBT issues, which his campaign faxed to IMPACT Illinois, which was then the state's LGBT political action committee. Instead of asking about marriage directly, IMPACT asked candidates if they would support a resolution stating that “marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice” and that the state “should not interfere” with same-sex couples' right to marry. Obama's response, which appears to bear similarities to his handwriting on other documents from the period that have been released, was “I would support such a resolution.” Other answers, expressing unfamiliarity with HIV laws and with two openly gay candidates for office, reflect Obama's inexperience.
The two questionnaires are an artifact, of course, of a very different moment in Obama's history, but also in the history of the same-sex marriage debate. Beginning in 1995, after the highest court in Obama's native Hawaii began seeking to force that state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, legislators in statehouses nationwide stampeded to ban the practice preemptively. On Feb. 13, 1996, just two days before Obama submitted the questionnaire, Republican Peter Fitzgerald of Palatine had unveiled a “defense of marriage” bill in the Illinois State Senate. The bill was signed into law in May by Gov. Jim Edgar; soon, Bill Clinton would sign the federal DOMA, which remains on the books. Obama clearly stated his opposition to such laws.
Today, the president-elect says he does not support “legalizing same-sex marriages.” As late as his early 2004 interview with Baim in this publication, he added a qualification, saying, “I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue.” Since the 2004 election, same-sex marriage has become far more widely discussed, and more politically explosive, than in 1996. Meanwhile, with his every word under scrutiny, Obama phrases his policy positions meticulously. To his credit, Obama, whose parents' interracial marriage in 1961 would have been illegal in several states, has generally avoided the phrase “traditional marriage,” which has become popular among politicians who prefer not to mention the gay and lesbian people who are concretely helped or harmed by their decisions. On the other hand, the Warren debacle raises questions about his commitment to deliver for a constituency that overwhelmingly backed him against John McCain.
President Obama will be the first occupant of the Oval Office who has a real history with the LGBT community. Even Clinton, who famously embraced gay voters on the campaign trail in 1992, had never done so as governor of Arkansas. It will be a major change to have a president who has spent his entire 12-year political career in environments in which the LGBT community has been an organized constituency, and has sought LGBT endorsements in every campaign. What remains to be seen, though, is whether it is a change we can believe in.
HNN Hot Topics: Gay Marriage
Posted on: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - 20:58
SOURCE: Japan Focus (1-10-09)
The economic crisis that currently grips the world will have many consequences, not least for the US. A decade ago during the East Asian crisis, the US lectured East Asian elites on the shortcomings of ‘crony capitalism’ and close business relationships. Such claims look bizarrely anachronistic as the US government finds itself having to nationalise or bail-out large chunks of the domestic economy brought low by an inadequately regulated, predatory, but politically-influential financial sector. It is not just that the material significance of the US economy will be diminished as a consequence of this crisis, however, so will its ideational influence and authority. The Washington consensus centered on the dismantling of state regulation and the unfettered working of the market, had few admirers in East Asia even before the current crisis;  the current turmoil will further diminish its appeal and make alternatives more attractive. This diminution of the US’s overall ideological and economic importance compounded by its failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is likely to undermine its influence in East Asia and its standing as both a regional and a global power. One consequence of this process may be to strengthen the attractiveness of exclusively East Asian regional organisations—especially if China’s economic development continues to cement its place at the centre of an increasingly integrated regional economy. I suggest that the US’s hegemonic influence over East Asia is consequently likely to decline and so is the significance of the ‘Asia-Pacific’ region of which it is notionally a central part....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - 19:40
SOURCE: Nation (1-12-09)
What's in store for China in 2009?
If you'd asked me this question a year ago, my answer would have pivoted around the fact that several important round-number anniversaries will occur in a place where such dates often have great political currency. I'd have mentioned that the May 4th Movement, the first in what would become a long line of large-scale, student-led patriotic outbursts, took place in 1919. The People's Republic was founded on October 1, 1949. The biggest Tibetan Uprising began on March 10, 1959. Finally, the Tiananmen protests started in mid-April of 1989 and ended with that year's June 4 Massacre.
I'd have suggested that, in light of this, there was a good chance that one or more of the following six things would occur in 2009:
•Tibetans would take to the streets.
•There'd be a surge of youth activism focusing on protecting the nation.
•More demonstrations than usual would occur in cities, especially if the economy was as troubled as it had been in 1989, a time of inflation and rising unemployment.
•Dissidents would issue dramatic statements about the need for political reform, in an effort to reopen debates that had largely been tabled since 1989.
•Subtler moves in this direction would be made, such as calling for a reassessment of Zhao Ziyang, the top official purged in 1989 for taking too soft a line on protests.
•The government would detain gadfly figures, such as Tiananmen vet Liu Xiaobo, during the lead up to celebrations of the People's Republic turning sixty.
But something strange happened during 2008. Each of the potential 2009 developments cited above happened ahead of time.
•In March, Tibet was rocked by unrest.
•Throughout the spring, there were expressions of nationalist fervor.
•In September, the envelope-pushing magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu (Annals of the Yellow Emperor) published a piece that used daringly respectful language when referring to Zhao Ziyang.
•In November, due partly to the global economic downturn, a rowdy series of strikes, mostly involving taxi drivers, swept through Chinese cities.
•In December, a group of Chinese intellectuals, including Liu Xiaobo, issued Charter 08, a bold call for political reform. That same month, Liu was detained.
Two main points are worth making about all this.
First, it doesn't undermine the notion that tracking anniversaries is important. After all, many of the 2008 events mentioned above had some kind of tie to an anniversary--just not a 2009 one.
The timing of the Lhasa riots, for example, coincided with the March 10 date--just the forty-ninth rather than fiftieth one. Charter 08 was issued to mark an anniversary--the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights rather than the twentieth anniversay of the June 4 Massacre. And the crackdown involving Liu's detention was launched when the Communist Party was gearing up to celebrate a birthday--just the thirtieth of the start of the Reform era rather than the sixtieth of the Communist period.
Second, the 2008 arrival of things that seemed to be on the horizon for 2009 somehow fits with the mood of how things have been going in China. Ever since giant countdown clocks began appearing in Chinese cities in the mid-1990s, ticking off the seconds until Hong Kong "returned to the embrace of the ancestral homeland," China has seemed a country that, for better and for worse, has been stuck in fast-forward mode. Chinese leaders have promoted this image of the country, and outsiders have embraced or feared but not dismissed this notion.
Evidence of this phenomenon takes many forms.
There are, for example, the Beijing and Shanghai museums that present the rapidly changing urban landscapes of these cities not as they are but as they will be in 2010 or 2020. And there are the new countdown clocks that have gone up since the 1997 Hong Kong handover ones reached zero. Like those that until recently encouraged people in Beijing to focus on the upcoming start of the Olympics on 08/08/08, and those that now remind people in Shanghai that in less than 500 days the city will play host to China's First World's Fair, the 2010 World Expo.
The same impatient mindset has also shown through in the marketing and international consumption of "farewell cruises" down the Yangzi River. These played to what might be called anticipatory nostalgia. Foreign and domestic tourists alike gazed keenly at villages that would have been far less interesting to them, had they not been so intensely aware that the Three Gorges Dam project would soon lead to the complete submersion of all the fields and houses they were seeing.
Even during the Olympics, there was sometimes a sense of things happening before they were supposed to. This was not just because some of the sights and sounds of the 08/08/08 Opening Ceremony turned out to have been pre-recorded, but also because, after years of advance speculation about whether protests would erupt during the Olympics, the most notable acts of disruption turned out to be those that took place during the pre-games torch relay.
In other words, perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised to see China's 2009 start while the calendar still read 2008. Many of the cascading traumas, tragedies and triumphs of China's Year of the Olympics were certainly unexpected, but we should probably begin to take it in stride when things happen ahead of schedule in the PRC--and be ready for more developments that, for better or worse, jump the gun during China's Year of Anniversaries.
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: Monday, January 12, 2009 - 23:10
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (1-11-09)
Over the past three years, Americans have witnessed Barack Obama's affection for, and occasional obsession with, Abraham Lincoln. He launched his presidential campaign in Lincoln's hometown, has made frequent pilgrimages to the Lincoln Memorial, and quotes or paraphrases Lincoln in most of his speeches. In selecting his Cabinet, he has relied heavily on the model of a "Team of Rivals," the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin's bestselling book describing Lincoln's supposed brilliance at managing his Cabinet. He even will take the oath of office on the same Bible Lincoln used.
Obama has been inspired by Lincoln's graceful resolve in facing personal and political crises. And like his predecessor, Obama will take the reins of a deeply troubled America at a potentially transformative moment.
But before Obama delivers his Inaugural Address which will set an important tone for his administration---before he draws on Lincoln's example one more time---he would do well to consider why so many Lincoln supporters lost faith in him after his Inaugural Address. Among these critics, none was as penetrating as Frederick Douglass.
In many respects, Obama is more Douglass' descendent than Lincoln's. Both men are children of one black and one white parent, both rose from the humblest origins to become world-famous before the age of forty, and both are among the greatest orators of their generation. And both men learned early on how to use words as powerful weapons.
As a former slave and radical abolitionist, Douglass never agreed with Lincoln's conservative antislavery views. But he had been impressed with Lincoln's firm stance against a belligerent South in his debates with Stephen Douglas. When Lincoln received the 1860 Republican nomination, Douglass joyously predicted that he would be elected president, since the Democratic Party had split along sectional lines. And on Election Day, Douglass was hopeful that Lincoln could bring the change the nation needed.
During the four months of transition (reduced to two months in 1933 with the Twentieth Amendment), seven states seceded and the Confederacy was formed. Throughout this crisis, Lincoln refused to endorse any compromise scheme that would violate his campaign promise to prohibit the spread of slavery. Douglass was much impressed, and said that "Honest Old Abe" was an accurate reflection of Lincoln's words and actions.
But Douglass' faith in Lincoln evaporated with the Inaugural Address. In fact he was so upset over Lincoln's Address that he planned a trip to Haiti, with an eye toward emigrating there and encouraging other blacks to do the same.
Why? Because the speech was "little better than our worst fears," Douglass complained. Instead of rebuking Southerners as traitors, Lincoln "courted their favor." He vowed to uphold the draconian Fugitive Slave Act, which many Northerners considered unconstitutional. He promised to suppress slave insurrections. And he declared that he would never interfere with slavery in the states. Douglass was outraged and called Lincoln "an excellent slave hound."
Even worse, the Inaugural was a "double-tongued" address, for it renounced Lincoln's campaign promise of working toward the "ultimate extinction" of slavery, Douglass said.
Congress had just passed a new constitutional amendment in the hope of wooing Southerners back into the Union. Although it was never ratified, this "first" Thirteenth Amendment was the exact opposite of the actual one that abolished slavery (in 1865). It was an unamendable amendment guaranteeing slavery in the states forever. Lincoln affirmed it in his Inaugural, declaring: "I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable."
Lincoln's inaugural destroyed Douglass' hope for change. Only the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter a month later stopped Douglass from going to Haiti. With the war, he believed, the chance to destroy slavery had "come at last," whether Lincoln embraced that goal or not.
Why did Lincoln defend slavery so vigorously in his Inaugural Address, thus alienating abolitionists and progressives in his party?
His goal was to reach beyond partisan wrangling and national divisions for common understanding. He wanted to appease slaveholders, prevent the upper slaveholding states from joining the Confederacy, and save the Union.
He also made the mistake of heeding the advice of his "team of rivals," especially Secretary of State William Seward. His first draft of the Inaugural was far less conciliatory than the one he delivered. In it he opposed the new Thirteenth Amendment, saying he liked the Constitution as it was. He treated Southerners with a firm but understanding hand, and had he delivered this draft, Frederick Douglass (and many other supporters) would have been far more sympathetic to him and his dilemma.
It was Seward who told Lincoln to "strike out" the sentence that opposed the constitutional amendment protecting slavery. He also told Lincoln to soften the ending, and suggested a final paragraph. Lincoln followed this advice as well. He borrowed many of Seward's words, but had a much better ear than Seward and created with his new ending an elegant plea for reunion. "We are not enemies, but friends," he told Southerners. And he characterized North and South as being irrevocably united by "the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land."
To Douglass, the "mystic chords of memory" ignored the cries of four million blacks in chains. The beauty of Lincoln's language masked the brutality of his content.
Lincoln's Inaugural Address should serve as a cautionary tale against heeding the advice of a "team of rivals." Lincoln accomplished none of his objectives with it, and he alienated radicals and progressives throughout the North. Despite his efforts to placate the South, rebels interpreted the Inaugural as a declaration of war, and the upper slaveholding states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas soon seceded.
Obama's attempt to replicate a Lincolnian "team of rivals" makes sense as way to employ bipartisan politics to accomplish his goals. But he also needs to understand that Lincoln's management of his wartime Cabinet was far more a failure than success, especially when heeding members' advice, as he did in his Inaugural Address.
Seward was not the only Cabinet member who misled him. Lincoln selected as cabinet members men with huge egos who couldn't work together, and three of them resigned. Attorney General Edward Bates left in part because he felt marginalized, and he cited the administration's "open contempt of Constitution and law" and "ignorance of policy and prudence." Treasury Salmon Chase was continually disloyal and even tried to win the Republican nomination over Lincoln in 1864 before resigning. And Secretary of War Simon Cameron put personal interests ahead of his country, resigning in disgrace over charges of corruption.
Over time, Lincoln increasingly made his own decisions rather than rely on his Cabinet. This was especially true in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
As a result, Frederick Douglass eventually forgave Lincoln for trying to appease the South while ignoring blacks---his natural allies because they were the Confederacy's worst enemy.
Douglass met Lincoln three times in the White House, and the two men put aside their vast differences and came together as friends. Their friendship was chiefly utilitarian: Lincoln needed Douglass to help him destroy the Confederacy; and Douglass knew that Lincoln could help him end slavery. But by the end of the war, they also genuinely liked and admired each other.
While Douglass was ready to leave the country after Lincoln's first Inaugural, he considered the Second Inaugural one of the great works of American literature. In this speech, Lincoln imagines a wrathful God wreaking vengeance against slaveholders. After the ceremony, Douglass attended the reception at the White House. Lincoln asked Douglass what he thought of his address, adding, "there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours."
"Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort," Douglass said.
Their profound shift from enemies to friends stemmed in large part from Lincoln's abandonment of his "team of rivals" model of leadership, coupled with his realization that he needed radicals and progressives--especially blacks--on his side.
Douglass' response to Lincoln's Inaugural Addresses thus offers a salutary lesson for Obama: as he tries to move beyond partisan politics, he needs to be careful not to alienate his natural allies and renounce his campaign promise to "bring the change our country needs."
Posted on: Monday, January 12, 2009 - 22:42
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (1-13-09)
Right on, Professor Zimmerman! Keep up the great work!
Wrong again, Professor Zimmerman! Get a real job!
Welcome to the wacky and wonderful world of op-ed writing. For the past decade, I've published two opinion pieces a month in newspapers around the country. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, meanwhile, I've received thousands of e-mail responses from my readers. And here's what I've learned: Opinion pieces rarely change opinions.
If this column confirms what you believed before, you'll praise it. But if it contradicts your preconceived ideas, you'll condemn it. By the end of the column, you'll have pretty much the same viewpoints as you did at the start.
How do I know that? It's not just the unrelenting partisanship of my e-mail correspondents, who almost never admit to a flaw – or a change – in their own ideas.
It's also the conclusion of Drew Westen, an Emory University psychologist who conducts brain scans of Democrats and Republicans. No matter what your party, Westen has shown, your brain doesn't let mere facts get in the way of opinions.
When you are confronted with evidence that contradicts your point of view, the parts of your brain that regulate emotion – not reason – light up. And instead of changing your former opinions, you actually experience a happy sensation by rejecting the information that doesn't fit them.
Mr. Westen's research reminds us how little of our political behavior reflects conscious thought, judgment, or deliberation. And he brings us back to the granddaddy of American political commentators, Walter Lippmann, who anticipated Westen's findings nearly a century ago.
As America grew in size and complexity, Lippmann wrote, the average citizen lacked the time, inclination, and ability to understand important public questions.
Specifically, Lippmann urged, Americans must abandon "the intolerable and unworkable fiction that each of us must acquire a competent opinion about all public affairs." Most people made political judgments on a whim, without real information or consideration. Better to cede complex issues to a "specialized class" of experts, Lippmann argued.
Of course, this solution spawned questions of its own. Who would select and certify these experts? Wouldn't the experts possess their own biases and blinders? And what would happen when they disagreed with one another?
Most important of all, wasn't his proposal deeply antidemocratic? How could Lippmann's "specialized class" govern without proper checks and controls from an informed, engaged citizenry?
It was impossible, as even the hardboiled Lippmann was forced to admit.
That's why he concluded his magnum opus, "Public Opinion," with a paean to the same common man that the book had disparaged.
"It is necessary to live as if good will would work," Lippmann wrote.
It was a lukewarm endorsement of average citizens, to be sure. But Lippmann could not live without them.
Neither can I. Like Blaise Pascal, who believed in God because the dangers of disbelief were greater, I place my faith in the wisdom of the American people. And I try to do my own small part in enhancing that wisdom, by writing op-eds that challenge readers to look anew at what they see.
Does it work? Now and again, I do receive messages from readers who tell me that my piece changed the way they think.
The majority of respondents remain squarely in the "Right On" or (more commonly) the "Wrong Again" zone, writing to confirm what they believed all along. But maybe they, too, are doing more thinking – and more changing – than their e-mails let on.
After all, our history is replete with examples of collective moral progress. And pamphleteers – the op-ed writers of their day – helped speed it along, with the logic and power of their prose.
Start with Thomas Paine, who helped persuade Americans that their problem lay not just with the particulars of British rule; it lay in monarchy itself, which was inimical to human decency and dignity.
Or consider Frederick Douglass, whose broadsides and speeches reminded Americans that slavery violated their founding credo: All men are created equal. "What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?" Douglass asked, in his famous Fourth of July address in 1852. "Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?"
And then there was Susan B. Anthony, who indicted American men – including antislavery campaigners – for their oppression of women. "Many Abolitionists have yet to learn the ABC of woman's rights," Anthony wrote.
Consider Abraham Lincoln, Eugene V. Debs, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In different ways, every great American freedom fighter urged us to heed what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" – especially our ability to reason. Only when all citizens thought for themselves – unencumbered by cant, prejudice, and propaganda – would Americans become truly free.
In my op-eds, then, I try to scrutinize my own views. As a lifelong Democrat, I incline toward the left-liberal side of most political issues. So I try to criticize liberals, whenever I can, subjecting my own biases to the same type of rigorous examination that I'd like others to adopt.
In my heart, I believe in the ability of everyday citizens to deliberate public questions with reason, fairness, and intelligence.
And if you disagree, send me an e-mail. We'll talk.
Posted on: Monday, January 12, 2009 - 22:23
SOURCE: NYT (1-10-09)
... Economics textbooks, including Mr. Samuelson’s and my own more recent contribution, teach that each dollar of government spending can increase the nation’s gross domestic product by more than a dollar. When higher government spending increases G.D.P., consumers respond to the extra income they earn by spending more themselves. Higher consumer spending expands aggregate demand further, raising the G.D.P. yet again. And so on. This positive feedback loop is called the multiplier effect.
In practice, however, the multiplier for government spending is not very large. The best evidence comes from a recent study by Valerie A. Ramey, an economist at the University of California, San Diego. Based on the United States’ historical record, Professor Ramey estimates that each dollar of government spending increases the G.D.P. by only 1.4 dollars. So, by doing the math, we find that when the G.D.P. expands, less than a third of the increase takes the form of private consumption and investment. Most is for what the government has ordered, which raises the next question....
MIGHT TAX CUTS BE MORE POTENT? Textbook Keynesian theory says that tax cuts are less potent than spending increases for stimulating an economy. When the government spends a dollar, the dollar is spent. When the government gives a household a dollar back in taxes, the dollar might be saved, which does not add to aggregate demand.
The evidence, however, is hard to square with the theory. A recent study by Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer, then economists at the University of California, Berkeley, finds that a dollar of tax cuts raises the G.D.P. by about $3. According to the Romers, the multiplier for tax cuts is more than twice what Professor Ramey finds for spending increases.
Why this is so remains a puzzle. One can easily conjecture about what the textbook theory leaves out, but it will take more research to sort things out. And whether these results based on historical data apply to our current extraordinary circumstances is open to debate.
Christina Romer, incidentally, has been chosen as the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the new administration. Perhaps this fact helps explain why, according to recent reports, tax cuts will be a larger piece of the Obama recovery plan than was previously expected....
Posted on: Sunday, January 11, 2009 - 20:15
SOURCE: TPM (Liberal blog) (1-9-09)
One night in the 1960s, drunken teenagers in Palmer, Massachusetts decided to spook kids at a Jewish, Hebrew-speaking summer camp. They hurled bottles and catcalls, terrifying 12-year olds in their beds. Two Israeli camp counselors raced into the woods like raging bulls, intending to give the townies more than an escort to the local cops. They didn't catch them, but they set up martial patrols, scaring the campers as much as the rowdies, who never returned.
I am not telling this story to be comical or exculpatory at a time when the UN and the Red Cross have reinforced Darryl Li's claim, presented here on Jan. 4, that Israel has turned Gaza from a Bantustan into an internment camp and worse. I am telling it to offer a glimpse into a part of the Israeli psyche, a mindset that antedates the rockets of today and of 2006, the suicide bombings of 2002 and even the war around Israel's founding in 1948.
It's a mindset that often misjudges its circumstances and responds dysfunctionally: In 1995, the Israeli law student Yigal Amir said that he'd assassinated Yitzhak Rabin because Rabin would"give our country to the Arabs" and"we need to be cold-hearted." In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Jew from Brooklyn, massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer, prompting me to take a stand that was also a confessional. (Called, "Massacre in Israel Forces a Hard Look Inward," it's the fourth and last item on the pdf.)
We all know where this mindset comes from. If we're honest, we also know that there's a dysfunctional mindset among Arabs that antedates Israel's outrages: (It wasn't Israel, for example, that blocked a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza from 1948 to 1967.)
Each side now thinks that it's a Warsaw Ghetto resisting the Nazis - Palestinians against a racist, expansionist horde of real-estate speculators and militarists, Israelis against a raging sea of 100 million Arabs whose demagogues act as if .01 percent of the Middle East can't be home to a people Immanuel Kant tellingly called"these Palestinians who are living among us," thereby tapping swift, dark undercurrents that would soon surface across Europe.
Each side is right enough about the history to be impervious to the other's moralizing and emoting, especially when the moralizers shrug or keep silent about 1948-1967, or about certain massacres, and suicide bombers or aerial bombings. M.J. Rosenberg reminds us of George Orwell's observation that"All nationalists [and their apologists, I would add] have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts.... Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, ... assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side ... The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."
Even some who acknowledge their own side's excesses consider them justified in the excruciating balance of history and necessity. So say apologists for the desperation behind the suicide bombings and rockets that have hit Israel. And so say apologists for Israel's responses, the walls and policies that have turned Gaza, especially, into an internment camp. But Orwell's comment reminds us that selective moralism can prove as dysfunctional and destructive as the atrocities it ignores or tries to excuse.
Pondering this ancient and awful habit, I can't help thinking of certain high-born WASP and Jewish writers of the 1930s and 1940s, so guilt-ridden or enraged about the American bourgeois duplicity in their own upbringings that they couldn't see through Stalin, even as millions writhed in his prisons and graves. The self-proclaimed enemy of their own despised pasts had become their friend. Orwell had to contend with such myopia in 1944, when his Animal Farm couldn't find a British publisher because the politically correct, parlour left couldn't tolerate even his thinly veiled send-up of the USSR.
Similarly, some new leftists of the 1960s -- bred in at least modest comfort, as the Port Huron Statement famously noted, and somewhat guilt-ridden about it -- considered the dysfunctional Black Panthers and some of the worst Third World demagogues to be noble because they gave good rhetoric and some social services. But it wasn't only the left: Many conservative Britons and Americans cottoned to Hitler and Mussolini before 1939; others later became apologists and enablers of Chile's Pinochet or the Argentine junta, or of Ahmed Chalabi and worse.
Years ago I examined such delusional apologists for oppression on both right and left, while reviewing Paul Hollander's neo-connish but smartly aimed Political Pilgrims. I commend this review to anyone whose fine-spun rage at their American and/or Jewish pasts has driven them to seek deliverance either in Jewish nationalism and hatred of Arabs in the blinding clarity of the Judaean desert, or in the loathsome submission for which Allah's enforcers Hassan Nasrallah, Khaled Mashaal, Ismail Haniyah, and Mahmoud Zahar are preparing both Shiites and Palestinians, all the more so if Israel disappears.
Let me explore, in this and the next few paragraphs, a few reasons why the leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas do get a rather generous pass from critics of Israel who have long found the Jews a remarkably attractive dumping ground for their displaced self-loathing. Then I'll get back to Israel's dysfunctions.
From New Zealand and Australia to South Africa and Canada and the U.S, not to mention London, excoriating the Jews seems an almost genetic compulsion in an annoyingly large proportion of English-speaking whites whose forebears seized other people's lands and slaughtered and enslaved the peoples themselves -- not because the Brits were seeking refuge from annihilation at home but because they were as rapacious then as they are hypocritical now.
I once stopped an Australian who was ranting on and on about the Israelis by telling him,"I agree with you completely that all whites should leave Australia" -- something he hadn't said --"for doing what you say the Israelis have done, except for the fact that some of you came to Australia in chains when the British first began appropriating it for a penal colony." In the recent movie"Australia," that country indulges in a grand, lachrymose reminiscence about its safely dead or subdued Aborigines, much as Americans waxed poetic about Indians a few decades after their final submission. Mightn't what Israel is doing remind them rather too closely for comfort of something they actually did far more brutally and completely and were never condemned or corrected for doing?
I once confronted a genteel New England WASP who called Palestinian suicide bombers"incredibly brave martyrs" -- and who owns a colonial home on the banks of Connecticut River, which his forebears swindled from the Pequots before slaughtering them. I assured him that I will give his address and his child's Manhattan address to incredibly brave American Indian suicide bombers, should any arise to redress the outrages he still profits from. He told me that I had been hurtful, but I had thought it hurtful of him to admire the blowing up of parents and children who were no different from him and his kids, except that possibly they were more innocent.
I am not claiming that one imperialism justifies another. I am doubting that Israelis are the imperialists it pleases their European and American critics to think they are when really the critics are writhing in their own pasts. The Jews certainly didn't come to Palestine as the British did to colonies all over the world. The British colonizers weren't fleeing mass slaughter or expulsion, as the Jews were. The British had no historical ties or religious claims to South Africa, Australia, Canada, New England, or the other places they seized and now call home. Shouldn't they leave?
Jews in Palestine are different enough to remind us of one more historical irony their critics assiduously ignore: The Jewish nation-state was modeled somewhat along the lines of the ethno-racial nation-states that had pushed Jews out in the 1920s and '30s while reconstituting themselves from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian, and German empires. These new European entities' celebrations of"blood and soil" nationalism made their centuries-old Jewish communities feel the ground shifting under their feet and convinced them they could be free only in a nation-state of their own.
Hello? Is this really so hard for anti-Israel demonstrators in the streets of Berlin, Paris, and London to understand? Apparently, it is. Europeans, having learned the folly of"blood and soil" solidarities during the Gotterdammerung of World War II, and justly proud of the European Union, now instruct Jews whom they displaced beforehand that their nation-state is out of fashion, an anachronism in a trans-national, global-capitalist world. Yet Jews are now surrounded by peoples touting an Arabist"blood and soil" solidarity that again renders them outsiders, even in their own ancestral land.
So the Jews are an anomaly, and, given the history I've just cited, it's tempting to tell their European and American critics,"Get used to it, and if you're wondering why this anomaly exists, look into yourselves, and give the Israelis a little lag time."
But while it's tempting to say this, I can't insist on it. Israel is becoming an anachronism, for reasons that must be faced by those of us who aren't as hypocritical as its moralizing critics. It is an anachronism partly because of the psyche or mindset I first encountered in Palmer, Massachusetts -- that understandable but dysfunctional defensiveness toward a world that has liberalized in some ways but that also excuses or even encourages some Arabs for going in the opposite direction.
Israel has come closer than any state in the Middle East, even Turkey, to being a European-style social democracy -- even, at least partially, for those of its Palestinians who vote and receive social services that are the envy of Arabs elsewhere. But, caught almost alone regionally in the riptides of global capitalism and in its own Spartan defensiveness against the demagogic rage rising around it, Israel may wind up abandoning its"social democracy" for a Singapore-like market economy, and it has already returned hatred for hatred in ways that only deepen hatred and that erode democracy at home.
As long as Israel occupies lands it conquered almost defensively in 1967 but now claims historically and entrepreneurially, it further erodes its democracy, and, for demographic reasons alone, it can remain a Jewish state only by abandoning any pretense of democracy at all.
Can Israel back out of this tightening vise of embattlement, abandonment, and demography? It can't do so alone. But read some of the columns in the daily newspaper Haaretz to see what many Israelis think, and pay heed to the best of the country's public intellectuals and veteran policymakers, from Abraham Burg to Shlomo Ben-Ami to Aharon Barak, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court. (One of Israel's best resources is the credibility of its dissidents, who are anything but parlour leftists, having done their army service and been part of public life in many ways.)
It's impossible to imagine a significant shift in Israel's policies absent something like a civil-war with its own West Bank settlers, especially the budding Yigal Amirs and Baruch Goldsteins. Until this question has been settled, Israel's policies will be incoherent because it will not have decided what kind of country it is going to be. But even the tens of thousands of Israelis who understand what is needed will never carry a traumatized and demagogued public without some shift in the equally dysfunctional mindset that rules Gaza and that has only been reinforced by its Israeli counterpart.
Israel needs a lot of disguised help from the very Arabs toward whom it has behaved too often as those Israeli camp staffers in Massachusetts did toward the community around them. Some help has been offered anyway in the Arab peace plan (which may reflect Arab states' fears of Hamas and Hezbollah more than it does any great hope for lasting peace with Israel). And help might come from Palestinian leaders like Marwan Baghrouti, who no more deserves to be the political prisoner he is now than did King or Mandela, and from Palestianian lawyers like Hassan Jabarin.
Finally, though, and decisively, Israel will need a lot of tough love from the United States, far more than from"the international community," much of which is marinated in hypocrisies like those mentioned above. Only the United States has enough credibility and clout with Israelis to make them face their own fanatical settlers and the darkest parts of their psyche and to test the more promising of Arab initiatives and leaders.
As of January 20, the U.S. will have in Barack Obama the necessary wisdom to push Israel in this direction. But will he, and we, have the will? Or will we let both Israel's neo-con apologists and Hamas' American counterparts make us, too, dysfunctional?
Jim Sleeper: It's Time For an Orwell in Gaza
Posted on: Sunday, January 11, 2009 - 19:58
SOURCE: Special to HNN (1-11-09)
The carnage in Gaza produced by Israeli bombs and mortars, has left many people around the world, including this writer, thoroughly disillusioned with Israel and its leaders. The disproportionate infliction of suffering on the residents of Gaza, relative to the victims of Hamas rocket attacks in Israeli towns and cities, suggests that there are no limits to the violence Israel will use to protect its security interests.
What makes the violence worse is the moral immunity that Israel and its supporters demand that Israel be granted because of the historic suffering of the Jewish people. In a era when genocide and ethnic cleansing have become worldwide issues, affecting people from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, to Eastern and Central Africa, Israeli arguments about the unique vulnerability of Jews to persecution and assault lack the credibility they once had in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
To ask that Israel be given carte blanche to ride roughshod over the rights of Palestinians, whether inside Israel or in adjoining states, or inflict limitless damage on Israel's international enemies, because the world owes the Jewish people special consideration for their near extermination at the hands of the Nazis,
has started to wear thin even among those who admire some of Israel's accomplishments
The global community of nations cannot long survive if it grants individual states immunity from
international law and commonly accepted standards of civilized behavior because of their citizens history of persecution.
That being said, it is hard to find a liberation movement less effective in exposing the moral and ideological weaknesses of its enemies than Hamas.
At a time when the Arab minority within Israel is growing in size, confidence, and visibility, and the problematic features of a Jewish state which gives special legal status to one religious group over all others are becoming more and more striking, Hamas has built a resistance movement based on Islamic principles and Islamic law, and embraced violence as its major tactic for overthrowing the Jewish state.
This puts secular progressives in Israel, and around the world, in something of a quandry. While Hamas tactics assure that the cause of the Palestinian people remains visible to the world and that Israelis pay a price for their persecution of Palestians, it simply proposes replacing one ethnocentric, religious state with another.
This vision of the future has several strikingly negative consequences.
First, it unites even the most progressive Jewish citizens of Israel in support of a state they are profoundly critical of because there is no place for them in the society Hamas envisions.
Second, it undermines any emerging alliance between Israeli Arabs and progressive Israeli Jews for the transformation of Israel into a secular democratic state where no group has special priviliges.
Third, it turns the conflict in the region into a competition between two ethnocentric, theocratic movements each of which rejects the claims of the others, assuring that the outcome of the conflict will be determined by military force, leaving little or no role for the international community other than arming one or the other side.
There is no way out of this spiral of violence without embracing an entirely new vision of what the region
should look like, and a new array of tactics which can bring that vision to fruition.
The centerpiece of that vision is a secular democratic state, or states, in historic Palestine, in which all citizens, irrespective of their religion have equal rights and equal status, and no religious group has a special status. Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists would all be welcome in such a federation of states. Claims for compensation for land seizures during the creation of Israel or during the construction of Israelia settlements would be settled by international courts. Israel, as currently constituted, would cease to exist, but the nearly six million Jewish residents of region would remain with their rights protected, but their special status no longer defended by a unitary national state.
The struggle to create such a state, or federation of states, would be primarily achieved through non violent direct action on the part of both Jews and Arabs who do not want to be ruled by a theocratic state, whether Jewish or Muslim. The model for such a movement would be the Civil Rights struggle in the
United States and the struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Such a movement would expose the moral bankruptcy of both Hamas and the Israeli government, and if it worked, would significantly reduce violence in the region and the threat of global war.
And impossible dream? Yes. But think of the alternative. Current politicies, taken to their logical extreme, lead to genocide, ethnic cleansing, and a possible nuclear war involving Israel, Iran and the United States.
If the residents of Israel/Palestine don't learn to embrace non violence, they will blow themselves up
and take the rest of us with them.
Posted on: Sunday, January 11, 2009 - 19:36
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (1-11-09)
Commentary on the Israel-Hamas war has tended toward partisan pleading, making the moral case for or against Israel. That's a crucial debate but not the only one; there's also a need for a cool strategic assessment; who is winning, who is losing?
Hillel Frisch argues that Hamas (which he calls"a small isolated movement that controls a small strip") has"grossly miscalculated" by antagonizing the Egyptian government and making war on Israel. He concludes Hamas has embarked on"strategic suicide."
Perhaps, but scenarios exist in which Hamas gains. Khaled Abu Toameh notes the powerful and growing support for Hamas around the Middle East. Caroline Glick offers two ways for Hamas to win: a return to the status quo ante, with Hamas still in charge of Gaza, or a ceasefire agreement whereby foreign powers form an international monitoring regime to oversee Gaza's borders with Israel and Egypt.
As this suggests, an assessment of Hamas' war record depends primarily on decisions made in Jerusalem. Those decisions being the real issue, how well has Israel's leadership performed?
Disastrously. Jerusalem's profound strategic incompetence continues and heightens the failed policies since 1993 that have eroded Israel's reputation, strategic advantage, and security. Four main reasons lead me to this negative conclusion.
First, the team in charge in Jerusalem created the Gaza problem. Its leader, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert immortally explained in 2005 the forthcoming unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza:"We [Israelis] are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies."
Olmert had a vital role in (1) initiating the Gaza withdrawal, which ended the Israel Defense Forces' close control of the territory, and (2) giving up Israeli control over the Gaza-Egypt border. This latter, little noted decision, enabled Hamas to build tunnels to Egypt, smuggle in matériel, and launch missiles into Israel.
Secondly, Olmert and his colleagues failed to respond to the barrage of rockets and mortar shells. From the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 until now, Hamas has launched over 6,500 missiles into Israel. Incredibly, Israelis endured nearly eight attacks a day for three years; why? A responsible government would have responded to the first rocket as a casus belli and immediately responded.
Thirdly, a committee of the French parliament published an important technical report in mid-December, establishing that"there is no longer doubt" about the military purposes of the Iranian nuclear program, and that it will be up and running in 2-3 years.
The waning days of the Bush administration, with the current president nearly out the door and the president-elect yet in the wings, offers a unique moment to take care of business. Why did Olmert squander this opportunity to confront the relatively trivial danger Hamas presents rather than the existential threat of Iran's nuclear program? This negligence has potentially dire repercussions.
Finally, from what one can discern of the Olmert government's goal in its war on Hamas, it seems to be to weaken Hamas and strengthen Fatah so that Mahmoud Abbas can re-take control of Gaza and re-start diplomacy with Israel. Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi captured this idea in a recent article title:"Palestinians need Israel to win: If Hamas gets away with terror once again, the peace process will be over."
Bitter experience, however, invalidates this thesis. For one, Fatah has proven itself a determined enemy intent on eliminating the Jewish state. For another, Palestinians themselves repudiated Fatah in 2006 elections. It strains credulity that anyone could still think of Fatah as a"partner for peace." Rather, Jerusalem should think creatively of other scenarios, perhaps my"no-state solution" bringing in the Jordanian and Egyptian governments.
More dismaying even than Olmert's ineptitude is that the Israeli election a month from now pits three leaders of his same ilk. Two of them (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) currently serve as his main lieutenants, while two (Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu) failed badly in their prior prime ministerial stints.
Looking beyond Olmert and his potential successors comes the worst news of all, namely that no one at the upper echelons of Israel's political life articulates the imperative for victory. For this reason, I see Israel as a lost polity, one full of talent, energy, and resolve but lacking direction.
Posted on: Sunday, January 11, 2009 - 19:13
SOURCE: Harper's (1-1-09)
In the eight years since George W. Bush took office, nearly every component of the U.S. economy has deteriorated. The nation’s budget deficits, trade deficits, and debt have reached record levels. Unemployment and inflation are up, and household savings are down. Nearly 4 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared and, not coincidentally, 5 million more Americans have no health insurance. Consumer debt has almost doubled, and nearly one fifth of American homeowners are likely to owe more in mortgage debt than their homes are actually worth. Meanwhile, as we have reported previously, the final price for the war in Iraq is expected to reach at least $3 trillion.
As bad as things are, though, this is just the beginning. The Bush Administration not only has depressed the economy and racked up unprecedented debt; it also has made expensive new commitments to the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, to disability compensation and education benefits for veterans, to replenishing the military equipment consumed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and simply to paying interest on the debt itself.
The president is not solely to blame for American profligacy, of course. Congress approved inequitable tax cuts and spending binges, and the Federal Reserve and other regulators, along with the mortgage industry and millions of consumers, share responsibility for the housing collapse. Nonetheless, the outgoing administration has made a series of unwise economic choices that together will add up to a burdensome legacy.
Using conservative assumptions, we calculate that the bill for Bush-era excess—the total new debt combined with the total new accrued obligations— amounts to $10.35 trillion. This legacy will have long-term consequences for America’s prosperity, but it also will weigh heavily and immediately on the Obama Administration, which will need to spend money fast to get the economy moving again.
When George W. Bush took office, he inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion and a bright fiscal future. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan government agency responsible for estimating future expenditures and revenues, projected a cumulative budget surplus of about $5.6 trillion between 2002 and 2011, if the country stayed on track—which of course it did not. What happened instead was that the administration successfully pushed for not only two rounds of massive, inequitable tax cuts but also a 59 percent surge in government spending. The result has been the largest budget deficits in U.S. history, and estimates of the current deficit are climbing even as we go to press. In September, before the financial meltdown, the CBO projected the deficit for fiscal 2009 to reach $438 billion—about the same level as it was in 2008—but in October, Peter Orszag, the director of the CBO, predicted the deficit would reach $750 billion, and we believe that number could go higher still. Such increases are the result of several factors:...
Posted on: Sunday, January 11, 2009 - 18:08
SOURCE: WSJ (1-9-09)
It seems that most of the West's news reporters and pundits agree with Islamists everywhere that an Israeli victory in Gaza is impossible. They decry Israel's defensive attack on Hamas, prophesying an inevitable strengthening of Islamism among Palestinians and a dark future for the Jewish state.
How do our commentators come to this conclusion? They point, most frequently, to Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and echo Hezbollah's claim that it won a great victory. Indeed, this narrative goes, in launching their rockets at Israel, Hamas leaders were imitating Hezbollah's winning strategy.
In fact, Hezbollah was thoroughly shocked by the Israeli bombing campaign, and its supporters, who mostly live in southern Lebanon, are not likely to tolerate another wave of destruction caused by another Hezbollah attack. Even the inconclusive Israeli ground actions in Lebanon, which never involved more than six companies (roughly 600 men), resulted in the loss of some 400 Hezbollah fighters in direct face-to-face combat while Israel suffered only 30 casualties.
Of course, none of this prevented the Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah from claiming that he had won a great victory for God. Had his victorious claims actually been true, Israel should have been deterred from attacking Hamas. And by his logic, Israel would have cowered in fear of thousands of more rockets from Hamas, and the even more powerful rockets that Hezbollah would launch in tandem. Nasrallah certainly encouraged Hamas to attack Israel in language that implied he would intervene if a war ensued -- a credible promise had he really won a victory in 2006.
But as soon as the fighting started in Gaza, Nasrallah reversed the terms of his declarations -- threatening Israel if it attacked Lebanon (which of course nobody in Israel would want to do). When three rockets were fired from inside Lebanon on Thursday, Hezbollah wasted no time assuring the Israelis that it had nothing to do with it, and that it did not even have that type of rocket in their inventory. This is a familiar trope of the Palestinian experience. There is always some extremist leader ready to instigate the Palestinians to fight, implicitly promising his valiant participation -- until the fighting begins and the promises are forgotten in fear of Israeli retaliation....
Posted on: Friday, January 9, 2009 - 20:04
SOURCE: Wilson Quarterly (Winter edition) (1-8-08)
... Lincoln’s moral integrity was the strong trunk from which all the branches of his life grew. His integrity had many roots, including his intimate knowledge of the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. He may not have read Aristotle’s Treatise on Rhetoric, but he embodied the ancient Greek philosopher’s conviction that persuasive speech is rooted in ethos, or integrity. Lincoln would advise contemporary politicians that the American public knows when they are acting out a political role and when they are speaking with integrity, or what people now call authenticity.
Lincoln wrote candidly of his “peculiar ambition” in his first announcement for public office, in 1832. Barely 23, he offered a definition of ambition worth passing on: “that of being truly esteemed by my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” Over the years, Lincoln learned to prune the strong branch of personal ambition so that it did not grow out of proportion to his service to others. The biting satire the young Lincoln occasionally dispensed gave way over time to the magnanimity he expressed in the closing benediction of his second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
The 16th president would counsel Obama to resist the growing demands to act quickly in response to the admittedly dire crises facing the nation in 2009. During the long interregnum between his election and his inauguration on March 4, 1861, Lincoln found himself under tremendous pressure to declare his policies on the growing Southern secession movement. The pressure only increased when he embarked on a 12-day train trip from Springfield to Washington in February 1861, which allowed him to speak to far more Americans than any previous president. And they expected to hear answers from him.
Lincoln would probably tell Obama that he too had been accused of being distant in the face of pressing political problems. As president, Lincoln emerged as a leader who kept his own counsel. Members of his own party accused him of neither convening nor consulting his cabinet enough.
I think Lincoln might offer a word of caution as President Obama puts in place several layers of economic and national security advisers in today’s admittedly more complex administrative structure. On the one hand, Lincoln would applaud Obama for emulating what he did— surround himself with strong leaders who would provide differing points of view. On the other hand, Lincoln might offer a gentle warning that Obama has appointed far more cooks than he did in the White House kitchen, which could end up spoiling his recipes for change.
With historical imagination, I can envision Lincoln putting his arm around Obama when offering this advice: Be comfortable with ambiguity. On a blue state/red state map, too often the question becomes, Are you for it or against it— gun control, abortion, immigration reform? Ambiguity is too often seen as a weakness, an inability to decide. Not so for Lincoln. Ambiguity became for him the capacity to look at all sides of a problem. Ideologues are the persons who lack the capacity to see complexity in difficult issues. Lincoln voiced this ambiguity in a private memo to himself that was found only after his death. As he pondered the meaning and action of God in the Civil War, he wrote, “I am almost ready to say this is probably true— that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.” At the very moment that Lincoln, in private, offered the affirmation that God willed this ongoing war, he did so by admitting the partiality of his vision—“almost” and “probably.” Ambiguity is the mark of humility, not weakness. The question for the next four or eight years will be whether the American public can appreciate a president whose political autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, is filled with self-deprecating stories of his partial vision and even conflicting viewpoints....
Posted on: Friday, January 9, 2009 - 17:58
SOURCE: TPM (Liberal blog) (1-4-09)
The essay appeared last February in Middle East Report, but it's making the rounds again because its clarity and comprehensiveness outweigh its blind spots. Below I post half of it with my comments, but click the link and read it all.
Li writes that Israel's promises to avoid a "humanitarian crisis" reflect its long descent from treating Gaza as a bantustan to abandoning yet controlling it as a holding pen. He gets polemical at times, and some of his analysis is wrong. But he's right that Israel's "disengagement" from Gaza in 2005 is, not "a one-time abandonment of control" but "an ongoing process of controlled abandonment, by which Israel is severing the ties forged with Gaza over 40 years... without allowing any viable alternatives to emerge."
This strategy seeks "neither justice nor even stability, but rather survival -- as we are reminded by every guarantee that an undefined 'humanitarian crisis' will be avoided."
A chilling charge. Li doesn't mention Israel's donation of greenhouses and housing it left behind in 2005, but he notes coldly that "Since its beginnings over a century ago, the Zionist project of creating a state for the Jewish people in the eastern Mediterranean has faced an intractable challenge: how to deal with indigenous non-Jews -- who today comprise half of the population living under Israeli rule -- when practical realities dictate that [Palestinians] cannot be removed and ideology demands that they must not be granted political equality."
This produced, he says, "the general contours of Israeli policy from left to right over the generations...: First, maximize the number of Arabs on the minimal amount of land, and second, maximize control over the Arabs while minimizing any apparent responsibility for them.
"On the first score, Gaza is a resounding success: Although it covers only 1.5 percent of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, it warehouses one out of every four Palestinians living in the entire country. But on the second count, Gaza's density has made it very difficult to manage and its poverty makes it an eyesore before the world community." That has "forced Israel to revise its balance of responsibility and control several times. Each phase of this ongoing experiment can be understood through spatial metaphors of increasingly constricted scope: bantustan, internment camp, animal pen."
Yes, I know. But keep reading.
"From 1967 to the first intifada of 1987-1993, Israel used its military rule to incorporate Gaza's economy and infrastructure forcibly into its own, while treating the Palestinian population as a reserve of cheap migrant workers. It was during this stage of labor migration and territorial segregation that Gaza came closest to resembling the South African 'bantustans' -- the nominally independent black statelets set up by the apartheid regime to evade responsibility for the indigenous population whose labor it was exploiting.
"During the Oslo phase of the occupation (1993-2005), Israel delegated some administrative functions to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and welcomed migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe to replace the Gazans. ... Permits for travel to Israel and the West Bank, once commonly granted, became rare. Ordinary vehicular traffic ceased..... Israel erected a fence around the territory and commenced channeling non-Israeli people and goods through a handful of newly built permanent terminals like the ones that have recently come to the West Bank.
"It was during this period that Gaza under Israeli management most resembled a giant internment camp. The detainee population was, to a certain extent, self-organized and appointed representatives to act on its behalf (the PA) who nevertheless operated under the aegis of supreme Israeli military authority, within the framework of agreements concluded by Israel and a largely defunct Palestine Liberation Organization (which are now basically agreements between Israel and itself).
"The failure of the settlement enterprise and the ferocity of the armed resistance during the second intifada beginning in the fall of 2000 undoubtedly contributed to the decision to remove settlements and withdraw soldiers." But "[D]isengagement did not change Israel 's effective control over Gaza and hence its responsibility as an occupying power under international humanitarian law.... Israel continued to patrol Gaza's airspace and seacoast, and ground troops operated, built fortifications and enforced buffer zones inside the Strip.... The taxation system, currency and trade remained in Israel's hands; water, power and communications infrastructure continued to depend on Israel; and even the population registry was still kept by Israeli authorities.
"Israel's response has been simple, if disingenuous: If responsibility for Gaza arises from Gaza's dependency on Israel, then it would be more than happy to cut those ties once and for all. And this is exactly what Israel started doing after Fatah's military defeat in Gaza at the hands of Hamas in June 2007.... In any event, in Gaza the Oslo experiment in indirect rule seems to be over. Israel now treats the territory less like an internment camp and more like an animal pen: a space of near total confinement whose wardens are concerned primarily with keeping those inside alive and tame, with some degree of mild concern as to the opinions of neighbors and other outsiders."
This is Li at his most polemical but also at his most factual: Read the complete essay to see his account of how the border crossings are run and what the consequences are.
Then he writes, "[T]he logic of "essential humanitarianism...." promises nothing more than turning Gazans one and all into beggars -- or rather, into well-fed animals -- dependent on international money and Israeli fiat. It allows Israel to keep Palestinians and the international community in perpetual fear of an entirely manufactured "humanitarian crisis" that Israel can induce at the flip of a switch (due to the embargo, Gaza's power plant only has enough fuel at any one time to operate for two days. And it distracts from, and even legitimizes, the destruction of Gaza's own economy, institutions and infrastructure.... The notion of 'essential humanitarianism' reduces the needs, aspirations and rights of 1.4 million human beings to an exercise in counting calories, megawatts and other abstract, one-dimensional units measuring distance from death.
"As Israel has experimented with various models for controlling Gaza over the decades, the fundamental refusal of political equality... has taken on different names.... During the Bantustan period, inequality was called coexistence; during the Oslo period, separation; and during disengagement, it is reframed as avoiding "humanitarian crises," or survival. These slogans were not outright lies, but they disregarded the unwelcome truth that coexistence is not freedom, separation is not independence and survival is not living."
Li argues that although "half of the people between the Mediterranean and the Jordan live under a state that excludes them from the community of political subjects, denies them true equality and thus discriminates against them in varying domains of rights. Israel has impressively managed to keep this half of the population divided against itself -- as well as against foreign workers and non-Ashkenazi Jews -- through careful distribution of differential privileges and punishments and may continue to do so for the foreseeable future."
Li concludes with a telling but "tacit reminder of the intimacy that persists through 40 years of domination. The people of the southern Israeli town of Sderot... were unpleasantly reminded of this intimacy when, one morning in 2005, they awoke to find hundreds of leaflets on their streets warning them in Arabic to leave their homes before they were attacked. The Israeli military had airdropped the fliers over neighboring parts of the northern Gaza Strip in an attempt to intimidate the Palestinians there, but strong winds blew them over the frontier instead."
Three things are rather obviously missing from Li's clear, cool assessment: The pre-1967 history of Israelis and Palestinians; the post-2009 future Li wants for the area; and the existence of Hamas, which, we are left to assume, is what it is because Israel's policies have been what they've been.
Well, Li can't cover everything in a 2800-word essay (and, if you've read this far, please do read all of what he wrote). But some contextual markers from him in these three areas would have advanced the discussion and perhaps his arguments. On the three areas I've mentioned, let me just note here that:
1.Li mentions Jewish history only with the words, "Since its beginnings over a century ago, the Zionist project of creating a state for the Jewish people in the eastern Mediterranean...." Correct, but, shall we say, minimalist, with a soupcon of a suggestion that they don't belong there. Perhaps Ashkenazi Jews who came to Palestine of the 1920s and '30 should have returned to the warm and welcoming bosom of Europe? Some of my Lithuanian-Jewish ancestors actually knew the geography of Palestine far better than they knew that of the Baltic provinces they finally fled.
Why was that? Does Li know why Immanuel Kant dismissed the Jews of his time as "These Palestinians who are living among us."? (On that, for the philosophically as well as historically inclined, I commend the Israeli philosopher Yirmiyahu Yovel's Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews.) Does Li know that 40% of Israel's Jews grew up speaking Arabic, or hearing their parents speak it, because after Israel's founding they became refugees from centuries-old homes in Algiers and Cairo and Baghdad?
2. If it is correct to reduce the Jewish historical context to a few words, as Li did in his essay, wouldn't it have been just as correct to note that Palestinian demands for liberal rights and for self-determination in a nation-state arose only as the Zionist demands did? Were there any such Palestinian demands under Ottoman rule? Doesn't Palestinian liberalism come from the 20th-century West, if not, indeed, from the Jews? Isn't that what makes this such a tragedy? If not, would Li tell us which Arab state wants a Palestinian state to exist even now?
True, the answers are more complicated than my questions imply, for most nations in the Middle East are post-colonial fictions, anyway, and that opens a door to a long and, for the left, a fraught debate about whether there should be nation-states at all, and, if not, what "national liberation movements" are for. Li quite rightly poses the broader, more urgent problem of political equality for Palestinians, both as individuals and as a community. Israel speaks with a forked tongue on the subject, and Li is justified and effective in spotlighting the "right" fork.
But what solution does he seek? What kind of Israeli responsibility, or Israeli-Palestinian interdependency, does he envision? This matters if we really want to end Israel's depredations in the occupied territories and, to a lesser but very real extent, among its own 1.5-million Arab citizens within the 1967 borders. Does Li seek Israel's dissolution in a bi-national, democratic state whose majority would be Palestinian? So I infer, but can he say with a straight face that, under Arab rule, justice would finally displace revenge, as it has not under Israeli occupation?
Li knows that Israelis, who've actually worked rather hard and suffered to build their hybrid Jewish/democratic state, insist they see no signs of any similar inclination among Palestinians. To what extent are they right? To what extent are they just racist? To what extent are they rationalizing their own cruel, bone-headed obsession with their own security at the expense of everyone else's?
3. To sort out this question about Israeli perceptions -- and it always helps to read the scorching reportage and columns in Haaretz, israel's New York Times -- we'd have to open a door to the third black hole in Li's essay: Hamas.
Suffice it to say here that, revolted though I am by young American-Jewish fanatics who move to Judea and Samaria because they think God promised it to them, I am no less weary of watching young American writers displace a certain cold rage at suburban America, however well-justified that rage may be, onto Israel as an implantation of that way of life into the Muslim ummah but who never get around to imagining how the human rights and personal freedoms they champion would fare under Hamas or Hezbollah even if every Jew returned to the warm and welcoming bosom of Europe.
This is a tragedy, in every sense, and Israel's latest attempt to escape it is doomed, no matter the military outcome. Li is right to challenge Americans, and perhaps especially Jews, to take off the blinkers and see what Israel has been doing. But if he thinks that Israel can dissolve itself, or be dissolved by others, into a greater liberalism or humanism the he and a few noble advocates want to herald in the Middle East, let him sketch out for us how that might happen.
Let him show Israel and its enemies how to climb back up the ladder, from animal pen to internment camp to Bantustan, to....? It's not as if, just because Hamas and Hezbollah have been providing social services and a certain kind of schooling, they are showing us liberals the way. There are other ways, described best in Johathan Schell's The Unconquerable World, which acknowledges, however, that for every movement led by a Ghandi, King, Mandela, Havel, or Michnick, there are people's liberation movements that are as destructive and as doomed as their oppressors.
Posted on: Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 18:50
SOURCE: CNN (1-5-09)
Executive power has been one of the defining characteristics of President George W. Bush's administration.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and many members of the White House pushed to expand executive power -- as much as any specific domestic or foreign policy -- from the beginning of the administration.
The Bush administration formed in a direct conversation with the presidential politics of the 1970s. Several members of the Bush administration came of professional age working in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
They watched an assertive Congress respond to the Watergate scandal by revitalizing legislative power through the War Powers Act of 1973, the Budget Reform of 1974, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Independent Counsel Act in 1978.
The Bush administration thought vesting Congress with so much power was dangerous, because it saw the legislative branch as inefficient. Building on efforts since President Ronald Reagan to reverse the congressional reforms of the 1970s, the current White House spent enormous political energy, before and after 9/11, trying to reclaim power for the executive branch.
The expansion of presidential power is not unique to the Bush administration. It began early in the 20th century and, despite some exceptional periods such as the 1970s, continued steadily throughout.
But in several respects, this expansion was bigger in scale and scope than under previous presidents. For example, as a way to agree to legislation without agreeing to follow the intention of Congress, Bush issued statements when he signed bills -- doing so far more frequently than preceding presidents.
When Congress passed a bill banning the use of torture in December 2005, Bush added a signing statement allowing him to bypass the law in his role as Commander-in-Chief.
Bush also used executive orders to achieve policy objectives without obtaining congressional consent. Most of the president's national security programs were also conducted under high levels of secrecy and sometimes ignored rules such as those spelled out by FISA....
The chances for restoring a better balance of power remain unclear. There was a notable silence on the issue during the 2008 presidential campaign....
Posted on: Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 18:45
SOURCE: Larry Sabato's CrystalBall newsletter (1-8-09)
How best to balance the need for change with the assurance of continuity? Ceremony. Of all our national rites of passage, none has more significance than the inauguration of a President. The simple oath of office, stretching back 220 years, links Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, and Founders in an unbroken line. Now there's a security blanket for an anxious citizenry, especially those who didn't vote for the new President.
We have added many pieces to the straightforward oath. Massive crowds, prayers and choirs, poems and salutations galore, 19-gun salutes and vast inaugural parades and balls--all of these are considered de rigueur for a new President. The tiniest ceremonial part can generate controversy, as we have just seen with Barack Obama's selection of evangelical Christian preacher Rick Warren to deliver the invocation.
Americans expect to see the new and old Presidents together in a show of unity, however forced or phony. An unhappy, vanquished John Adams left town in the wee hours before his victorious successor, Thomas Jefferson, was sworn in on March 4, 1801. In the present day it would be considered very bad form for the outgoing Chief Executive to skip the incoming's oath-taking. The two Presidents do not have to like one another and do not have to chat in the car from the White House to the Capitol on Inauguration Day. Herbert Hoover and FDR said barely a word in 1933 during their short journey, and neither did Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. The image of harmony was what counted.
Of all the inaugural puzzle parts, the most commented upon is 'the speech'. The inaugural address can be a discourse for the ages or an oration for the present moment. Generally, expect the latter. A quick read of all inaugural addresses leads to an inescapable conclusion: very few have been memorable.
George Washington's second was so short (four sentences prior to taking the oath) it couldn't be called an address. Almost all the others relied upon a formula that guaranteed oblivion. The new President detailed proposals about the transient issues of the day, mixed with campaign boilerplate and empty platitudes about politics. William Henry Harrison in 1841 was the wordiest ever, taking an hour and forty five minutes in a snowstorm without warm clothing. Some said (incorrectly) that the longest inaugural produced the shortest Presidency. Harrison's death occurred a month afterwards, from pneumonia, but the disease was almost certainly contracted in his third week in office. Harrison's anti-Jacksonian inaugural address, partly the work of Daniel Webster, was adorned with allusions to the Greeks and the Romans. It made the case for the preeminence of the legislative branch as well as "sound morals". Yet it contained not a single sentence worth repeating here.
Occasional lines from inaugural addresses make their way into the public consciousness. Historians remember Thomas Jefferson's attempt at bipartisan reunification in the wake of the divisive 1800 election, "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists." Abraham Lincoln's first address on March 4, 1861 would surprise contemporary citizens who think of Lincoln only as the "Great Emancipator," for the new President hoped to avert a full-fledged civil war by being shockingly tolerant of slavery's continuance. He appealed to "the better angels of our nature" and sought mainly to urge that the "bonds of affection" between North and South not be broken.
The bloody Civil War changed all that. Lincoln's unforgettable second address on March 4, 1865, included a sentence with which all Americans are familiar. Just five weeks before his assassination, Lincoln declared, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds..." Tragically for the United States of Lincoln's day and generations thereafter, the President's plea was rejected by John Wilkes Booth (who actually attended the swearing-in at the Capitol and whose image in the crowd was captured by a photographer).
Three score and eight years later, Americans heard the next enduring inaugural speech. At the depths of the Depression, with a run on the banks threatening to demolish what was left of the nation's economic superstructure, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed at the outset of his address, "All we have to fear is [dramatic pause] fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." FDR's entreaty made a difference. Before March 4th, citizens had never been so apprehensive, anxious, and desperate. Then a strong leader gave them hope, and rallied his countrymen at a moment when a quarter of the people were unemployed and millions were starving.
In reading the inaugural addresses, one is struck that in the broad sweep of American history, there is arguably only one speech that transcends the concerns of the moment and speaks to every generation anew, from beginning to end, without becoming dated. That one is John F. Kennedy's. It was almost an address not delivered, at least not to a large outdoor crowd--a vital backdrop that enabled JFK to project the power and vigor he sought for his administration. Heavy snow overnight on January 19, 1961 nearly led to a cancellation of the outdoor ceremonies and parade. But Kennedy's team insisted on going forward, and the youngest elected President knew he had the oratorical flourishes to inspire a nation. Kennedy's is an address that should first be read in its entirety and then watched for effect. Intoxicating sentences touch the heart and stir the soul in a lyrical fashion worthy of the inauguration's featured poet, Robert Frost. Here are just a few:
"Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans..."
"...[W]e shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty."
"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
"Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."
"All of this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."
"Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are--but a call to bear the burden of a long, twilight struggle, year in and year out, 'rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation'--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself."
"The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."
"And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
"With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God's work must truly be our own."
I was a Catholic schoolboy watching JFK on a black-and-white television on that Inauguration Friday. The teachers, the priests and the nuns, my classmates, all of us knew instantly that we had watched something truly special. No doubt the excitement of seeing a Roman Catholic finally break the religious barrier at the White House contributed to the rush of the moment. Many of us went home, grabbed the evening newspaper (which was a staple in those days), and committed the speech to memory. After all these years, I wrote most of the excerpts printed above from the 1/20/61 recording in my head.
It wasn't just the prose. A brilliant speech was made unforgettable by Kennedy's masterful delivery. President Kennedy, elected with one of the slimmest pluralities in history, feared by many in the Protestant majority for his 'ties to the Vatican', regarded as a callow youth insufficiently experienced to be Chief Executive, launched his administration not with an election but a speech. And his popularity soared from that instant. You could almost hear many Americans breathing a sigh of relief, accepting that, maybe, just maybe, the country was in capable hands and the Pope wouldn't be running the United States after all.
With a Presidency that eerily lasted only the thousand days he had mentioned in his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy never had a chance to build a lasting record. However, the inaugural legacy he left has haunted every one of his successors. The speeches of Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and Richard Nixon in 1969 and 1973 were pedestrian in their prose and dull in their delivery. Nothing at all remains in the public mind from their inaugural days in the sun.
My first opportunity to attend an inaugural in person came in 1977. My political mentor at the time, former Virginia Lt. Gov. Henry Howell, had been one of the first major politicians outside Georgia to endorse a little-known ex-governor by the name of Jimmy Carter. Those of us on Howell's staff thought the boss had gone a bit bonkers to back this certain loser. The rest is written in the history texts, and Howell was forgiving enough to share his front-section seats with a few of us doubters. Expectations were sky-high for Carter, but with all due respect to the former President, it was one of the worst-delivered inaugural speeches in the television age. Only Carter's salute to outgoing President Ford roused the crowd, and the new President mumbled and stumbled his way through the rest. There was no JFK rebirth that day.
Some of Carter's successors offered better addresses, for sure. Ronald Reagan could have held an audience's attention by reading the telephone directory, and he produced more than a few stellar speeches during his Presidency. Yet neither of his inaugural gambits soared. The first was overshadowed by the simultaneous release of the American hostages by Iran, the second by weather so frigid that the outdoor ceremonies were cancelled and Reagan's address was given to a small group of VIPs huddled inside the Capitol--which ruined the effect. George H. W. Bush would be the first to admit that he cannot deliver a speech well, and he didn't on January 20, 1989. The only lingering memory of that day was Bush's reaching out, literally and figuratively, to the Democratic leaders of Congress. They shook Bush's hand, all right, but almost immediately began undermining his legislative proposals. Bill Clinton delivered two polished addresses in 1993 and 1997 that no one recalls. George W. Bush was too weak from the divided overtime election of 2000 to propose anything electrifying in 2001, and he was too divisive and burdened by Iraq in 2005 to bring the country together. His inaugural addresses, like so many of his predecessors, were just words on parchment.
The gold standard remains Kennedy. Every President in the television age has been, and will continue to be, measured against his address. Even in grainy black-and-white, after the passage of nearly a half-century, his remarks thrill.
Barack Obama has been compared to Kennedy--an association avidly encouraged by his staff (when they are not mentioning Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt). Like JFK, Obama has moved millions with his exhortations. Obama was embraced by Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy at a critical moment in the Democratic primary campaign. Wags have claimed that Camelot is being replaced by Obama-lot.
But the pressure is on Obama. The videotape won't lie. Can Obama rhetorically match or exceed JFK when he finishes the oath-taking and steps up to the microphone later this month? Obama's inaugural address won't determine the success or failure of his time in office. Yet as Kennedy demonstrated, it can do a great deal to rally a nation and help a President move his agenda forward in the early days.
Posted on: Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 18:12
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (1-8-09)
The “Is Roland Burris a Senator?” game has just taken a shocking turn toward the past. When turned away from the Senate chamber, the reasons given were that “his credentials were not in order” because his appointment by the Governor of Illinois had not been certified, as required by law, by the Secretary of State of Illinois.
This is not the first time that we have faced a major controversy based on the obscure legal question about whether or not Secretaries of State, when charged by law with certifying and delivering state appointments, have some discretion, perhaps even some constitutional duty, to intercept and prevent improper or questionable appointments to offices of public trust. We may be facing the most improbable of replays because this case is now looking like Marbury v. Madison all over again.
Quite possibly the most famous but least understood of the great Supreme Court precedents, Marbury (1803) is widely believed to be the case that “created,” or at least “recognized,” the existence of judicial review in the U.S. constitutional system. However, many people don’t realize that Chief Justice John Marshall’s decision in Marbury marked, at least in the first instance, how weak the courts were when faced with direct conflicts of authority between themselves and the executive or legislative branches. In the incipient Burris case, it is not clear that the courts could exercise any more power now than Marshall’s court did then.
Let’s look at the facts of the earlier case in a very short form: William Marbury was appointed Justice of the Peace for the District of Columbia in the waning hours of the John Adams administration, one of many judicial officers who were appointed by the outgoing president and confirmed by the lame duck Senate in the panicked rush that preceded the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson as President. His appointment appeared to be clear of all of the constitutional hurdles, but federal law at the time required that commissions like Marbury’s be stamped with the Great Seal and then delivered by the Secretary of State. The outgoing Secretary of State - and incoming Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court - John Marshall did not have the time to perform this duty, and the new Secretary of State - James Madison - declined to do so on the argument that the appointment of these “midnight judges,” while perhaps technically legal, was certainly suspect. An outgoing administration, defeated at the polls and facing minority status in both houses of Congress as well as the loss of the presidency, seizes power in the judiciary by clever shenanigans.
Who could approve?
Madison’s disapproval of the Adams appointments is not at all unlike the widespread disgust now expressed about a presumptive felon and soon to be ex-governor making such an appointment to the Senate on behalf of all the people of Illinois.
Nobody claimed that Marbury did anything improper, but it was widely believed that those who created his position and appointed him to it did. Like Burris, he was deprived of a choice position on account of the presumed improprieties of those who appointed him. Marbury sued, as Burris presumably will, claiming that even though there were (and are) laws requiring action by the Secretary of State to complete official appointments, those laws do not allow any discretion for the Secretary of State(s). They are clear commands that the Secretary of State must take action to complete the appointments and a Secretary of State who fails to do so, does not prevent the appointment but only violates his own public duty. Marbury sued in the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, an order to act, that would force Madison to complete the sealing and delivery of his commission.
The Supreme Court accepted most of Marbury’s reasoning but ultimately (and this is what college freshmen often get wrong about the case) denied that it had the power to intervene in the dispute. Overturning a congressional law that (arguably) gave the Supreme Court the power to issue writs just like the one requested, John Marshall declared that yes, Marbury had a right to the office, and yes, Marbury was entitled to the commission, but no, the Court could not issue a mandamus to make Madison act. The Court’s decision seemed to concede that the judiciary could not make the executive branch deliver what it would not deliver. Thus, while laying the groundwork for the great power of judicial review, the case actually ended in the Court’s admission of its own weakness.
Now we return to Mr. Burris’s plight.
Perhaps he is correct that the Illinois Secretary of State cannot choose to withhold certification. Legally, there may be no discretion involved in the Secretary of State’s act, and perhaps, Burris has every legal right to the office of Senator. But let’s assume for a moment that the Senate majority is unmoved by these arguments, that they stand by the judgment that Burris’s appointment was “tainted” or improper, and that it is now incomplete. They can refuse to seat Burris, and even though Burris will sue, it is an open question whether the Court can now do what it could not do in 1803 - Can it force one of the other branches of the federal government to accept the judiciary’s judgment about who is properly appointed to an office under the other branch’s direct control?
Here, I have to say (the oft-cited but equally misunderstood Powell v. McCormack notwithstanding), Burris may face a fate not unlike Marbury’s. If the Senate relents and allows him to be seated, and there are some signs they may now plan to do so, all may yet end well for Roland Burris. But if the Senate leadership is really willing to stand by the judgment that the Illinois Secretary of State has effectively enjoined Burris’s appointment (much as Madison did Marbury’s), we may be reminded that for all of the judiciary’s apparent strength, the courts may not be any stronger in this regard than they were in 1803.
In 1803, rather than risk looking impotent when Madison simply ignored a mandamus directed to him, the Court found a way not to order anything that it could not enforce, and I suspect that faced with similar intransigence, should we make it that far, we may see this history repeated. I think that rather than watching the Senate ignore a court order that Mr. Burris be seated, courts might just decide that there is some good reason not to decide this case, or at least not to decide it quickly and to hope that another resolution saves them from ever having to do so.
I cannot say whether Marbury’s loss was tragedy, but we may safely say that this time, it is looking more and more like a farce.
Posted on: Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 17:12
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (1-8-09)
Analysis. The fighting in Gaza is closely linked to two other conflicts: Israel’s relationship with Syria and Iran’s role in the region. All three conflicts need to be solved in order to achieve peace.
Israel’s attack on Hamas in Gaza has led to Syria breaking off the semi-official peace negotiations with Israel, the strengthening of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s popularity, the weakening of the pro-western governments of Egypt and Jordan, and an upswing in recruits ready to join the many extremist groups in the Middle East.
Everything indicates that a peaceful and constructive development of the situation has been pushed even further into the future.
This outcome is in sharp contrast to the positive developments of the 90s, when the Israeli-Palestinian peace process contributed to the Israeli-Syrian rapprochement and the election of the moderate Khatami as president of Iran.
If the region is to exit the current death spiral, it will be necessary to exploit the synergies that a coordinated approach to the situation would open up.
The First Conflict: Palestine-Israel
The Palestine-Israel conflict is now 50 years old. The diplomatic track that the Oslo Process represented has collapsed, and the parties are instead attempting to improve their relative positions by military means.
Hamas is no longer interested in continuing the cease fire with Israel, as long as the blockade of Gaza is still in effect. Meanwhile, Israel seeks to weaken Hamas as much as possible with the invasion of Gaza, and concurrently achieve results with the moderate, but increasingly irrelevant, Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas has no faith in reaching a diplomatic solution with Israel and wishes to repeat the success of Hezbollah in Lebanon in achieving a balance of power with Israel, leading to Israel accepting and recognizing Hamas as a negotiating partner and accepting Hamas’ demands as Hamas improves its position of strength.
These increasingly violent developments lead the Israeli population to fear, however, that a Palestinian state will not protect them against terrorism, which is why the majority of them backs the attacks on Gaza.
But the support for the hard Israeli line is also caused by the increased prominence of the ultra-orthodox and strongly nationalist element of the population relative to the secular and more moderate element.
The reason for this is partly demographic in that the ultra-orthodox are increasing their numbers far more rapidly than are the secular, and partly that many moderate Israelis are leaving the country for more peaceful parts of the world.
The Second Conflict: Syria-Israel
The Syria-Israel conflict has not moved either since Israel conquered the Syrian Golan in the ’67 War. Although the border between the two countries has been calm, Syria has been pressing Israel by supplying Iranian weapons to Hezbollah through the Damascus airport.
The desire of Israel to establish peace with Syria and hand back the Golan thus is directly related to Israel’s desire to stop this traffic and end Syria’s longstanding alliance with Iran.
There is just the problem that if Syria enters into a peace agreement with Israel in a situation where neither the Israeli-Palestinian question nor the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program is resolved, the Alawite minority government in Syria will soon be challenged by an unsavory alliance between Iran and its own Islamist dissidents–and will face a very uncertain future.
Since the Syrian regime is not in the habit of committing suicide, an isolated agreement between Syria and Israel is not likely.
The Third Conflict: Iran
The third point of conflict is Iran: Iran's nuclear research program involves the use of centrifuges for enrichment. Should the regime close the fuel cycle, and should it decide to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, the 2005 National Intelligence Estimate of the US government suggested that Tehran could have a warhead in as little as a decade. If this happens, the balance of power in the region will be significantly altered. Israel’s current regional monopoly on nuclear weapons will be broken, and Israel will be inclined to delay such a development with military attacks on the Iranian nuclear installations.
This in turn may lead to Iran convincing Hezbollah to attack Israel on the one hand, and on the other to attack US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq with help from Iran’s allies in those countries. Finally Iran will most likely seek to disrupt the oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz.
Increased western sanctions against Iran will be perceived by many as yet more proof of the unholy alliance between the West and the Zionists against Islam–and this will strengthen the hawks in Ahmadinejad’s environment and weaken the moderate forces.
In such a situation Iran and the Islamic terrorists will do everything in their power to prevent an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement.
Therefore the three conflicts are closely linked. Without progress in one, it will also be very limited what progress can be achieved in the other conflicts.
A Coordinated International Approach
Conversely, a coordinated international approach, including both Iran and the Arab states, could lead to progress on one track, then on the next and result in a de-escalation of the conflict level in the entire region.
Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track will, for example, increase the probability of Syria and Iran showing themselves more willing to negotiate. Progress in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program will make it less important for Iran to derail the negotiations between Israel and Syria and between Israel and the Palestinians and will also dampen Israel’s fear of Iran.
Finally, progress in relations between Syria and Israel will weaken Hezbollah and thereby also Iran, thus making Iran more cooperative on the nuclear question.
The international community has many opportunities to influence developments in the region and ought to use these to promote a coordinated solution. Economic incentives, security guarantees, and deployment of peace-keeping forces to Palestine are just some of the means that can be employed.
Diplomatically, the multilateral approach used by Bush Senior in the 90s would be the correct one–with the addition of resolve in checking the expansion of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the will to declare how the solution to the Palestinian problem ought to look.
Two things are clear: The region itself cannot solve its problems, and the separate approach to each of the three conflicts that has been used so far is inadequate.
Posted on: Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 08:32
SOURCE: Salon (1-8-09)
The neoconservatives first laid out their manifesto in a 1996 paper, "A Clean Break," written for an obscure think tank in Jerusalem and intended for the eyes of far right-wing Israeli politician Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party, who had just been elected prime minister. They advised Israel to renounce the Oslo peace process and reject the principle of trading land for peace, instead dealing with the Palestinians with an iron fist. They urged Israel to uphold the right of hot pursuit of Palestinian guerrillas and to find alternatives to Yasser Arafat's Fatah for the Palestinian leadership. They called forth Israeli airstrikes on targets in Syria and rejection of negotiations with Damascus. They foresaw strengthened ties between Israel and its two regional friends, Turkey and Jordan.
They advocated "removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," in part as a way of "rolling back" Syria. In place of the secular, republican tyrant, they fantasized about the restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, and thought that a Sunni king might help moderate the Shiite Hezbollah in south Lebanon. (Yes.) They barely mentioned Iran, though it appears that their program of expelling Syria from Lebanon and weakening its regime was in part aimed at depriving Iran of its main Arab ally. In a 1999 book called "Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein," David Wurmser argued that it was false to fear that installing the Iraqi Shiites in power in Baghdad would strengthen Iran regionally.
The signatories to this fantasy of using brute military power to reshape all of West Asia included some figures who would go on to fill key positions in the Bush administration. Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, became chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, a civilian oversight body for the Pentagon. Douglas J. Feith became the undersecretary of defense for planning. David Wurmser first served in Feith's propaganda shop, the Office of Special Plans, which manufactured the case for an American war on Iraq, and then went on to serve with "Scooter" Libby in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.
The neoconservatives used their well-funded think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP, an organ of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Hudson Institute, among others, to promote this agenda of the conquest of Iraq as a solution of all ills....
As a result of the deliberate destruction of the peace process by the Israeli right and by Hamas, a two-state solution seems increasingly unlikely. This tragic impasse, one phase of which is now playing out with sanguinary relentlessness, was avoidable but for the baneful influence of the neoconservatives and their right-wing allies in the U.S. and Israel.
The neoconservatives had prided themselves on their macho swagger, their rejection of namby-pamby Clintonian multilateralism, and on their bold vision for reshaping the Middle East so that the Israeli and American right would not have to deal with existing reality. In the cold light of day, they look merely petulant and arrogant. The ancient Greek poet Bion said that boys cast stones at frogs in sport, but the frogs die in earnest. The neoconservatives were the boys, and the people of Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon have been their frogs. The biggest danger facing the United States is that there will be no true "Clean Break" -- that the neoconservatives will somehow find a way to survive the Bush administration, and continue to influence American foreign policy.
Posted on: Thursday, January 8, 2009 - 08:23