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: Press-Register (Alabama) (2-8-09)
Of the many adjectives used to describe America’s new chief executive, none seems more fitting than the word "literate." Well before the Democratic nomination was decided last fall there were clear indications that in Barack Obama the nation had discovered something quite rare — an ambitious politician who both wrote books and devoured the work of serious thinkers. Articles in The New York Times and other publications revealed that Mr. Obama’s reading tastes ran to philosophy, theology and serious literature, with a smattering of history and public policy journalism. As Inauguration Day approached, press reports noted that the president-elect was studying both Lincoln and FDR as he prepared for the challenges of leadership in a moment of crisis.
History (and historians) can, in fact, offer useful guidance to the new administration. Over and above the television superstars providing historical commentary for cable news programs, one may point to a number of 20th-century scholars whose works speak to larger questions of policy and leadership.
During the 1950s, for example, a group of historians arose who stressed the uniqueness and the indigenous origins of American values and institutions. Their argument, which presumed a longstanding consensus on core values, had clear implications for Cold War policy makers. Daniel Boorstin, a leading spokesman for the "consensus school," argued in his 1953 book "The Genius of American Politics" that the uniqueness of American history offered a compelling argument against seeking to transplant American institutions to other parts of the globe. Instead of seeking to convert other nations to an "American theory of government," Boorstin urged the United States to lead by example. "In the past we have wanted to be judged not by what we could tell the world but by what we could show the world," Boorstin wrote. "It is our experience, not our dogma or our power, that may be the encouragement and the hope of the world." Apparently such books failed to make the reading list of those who formulated the "Bush Doctrine."
If Boorstin’s work offers a cautionary note for those seeking to repair the damage of post-9/11 foreign policy blunders, other writers speak with equal clarity about domestic politics. Much has been made of the parallels between the crisis facing Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and the circumstances confronting President Obama in 2009. The similarities are real enough but it is important to keep in mind that most of what is commonly called "Roosevelt’s New Deal" did not originate in the White House. In "The Roosevelt Presence" (University of California Press, 1998) and other writings, Patrick J. Maney has stressed that while FDR commanded the spotlight, Congress actually took the lead in drafting New Deal legislation. Only two of the 15 major programs enacted during the celebrated "first hundred days" actually originated with Roosevelt. What made Congress’ accomplishment all the more remarkable, Maney reminds us, was the lack of ideological cohesion at a time when the new Democratic majority contained a strong bloc of Southern conservatives who were opposed by Republican liberals from the Midwest. Then as now, partisan majorities did not translate into automatic legislative support. Maney also provides a lucid discussion of subsequent events including rising public impatience when initial New Deal measures failed to produce quick economic recovery and Roosevelt’s steadily deteriorating relationship with Congress in the years preceding World War II. "The Roosevelt Presence" is a relatively short book, and it should make for highly interesting presidential reading.
In America much can depend upon a president’s personal style. Certainly this was true of FDR, whose executive talents received vivid treatment by the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in his 1960 book "The Coming of the New Deal." Franklin Roosevelt, one learns, came to the nation’s highest office with a clear understanding that members of the executive branch must want his programs to succeed. As president he embraced a competitive approach to administration that encouraged open debate and healthy rivalry among highly talented subordinates. Unwilling to become a prisoner of Washington’s bureaucracy, he insisted upon having multiple sources of information outside of official channels. None of these statements, however, fully captures Roosevelt’s executive skill. "To visualize Roosevelt in action," Schlesinger explains, "one must conceive ... things happening all at once, in chaos and urgency, from NRA, AAA, relief, conservation, and monetary policy to disarmament, the Good Neighbor Policy, Manchuria, Ethiopia, and Hitler, an incessant series of explosions, major and minor, at the presidential desk, with the President nearly always in touch, generally in command, and never disturbed." Like President Obama, FDR had a full plate of problems. Temperament then was an indispensable ingredient of presidential success, as it is now....
Schlesinger’s insights about the presidency deserve particular attention because he combined the roles of scholar and political actor. He took an active part in the 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns before joining the inner circle of the Kennedy White House in 1961. Combining this practical political experience with deep research into the presidencies of Andrew Jackson and Roosevelt, Schlesinger had much to say about the nature of political leadership. He discerned the quiet power of intellectual demeanor and personal grace in his political hero Adlai Stevenson, whose two unsuccessful presidential bids have often obscured his enduring influence on the Democratic Party. In a diary entry of July 15, 1960, Schlesinger explained the matter as follows:
Under his [Stevenson’s] leadership a revolution took place in the Democratic Party. Almost single-handedly he wrought a transformation in the party’s ideas and style and sense of purpose. Thus no one [at the Democratic convention] in Los Angeles sounded like Harry Truman; all the contenders, even [Lyndon] Johnson were speaking in the spirit and often the idiom of Stevenson, and none more so than Kennedy. Under Truman the essence of the Democratic appeal was to promise benefits; under Kennedy it is to demand sacrifices; what conclusive evidence of the Stevensonian triumph! Kennedy is the heir and executor of the Stevenson revolution.
There is much to indicate that President Obama has an opportunity to play a similar role in refashioning the ideals and refocusing the energies of Americans who have grown weary or cynical about partisan politics. He has already made an excellent beginning, and success in this endeavor might prove his greatest legacy to his party and the nation.
Posted on: Friday, February 27, 2009 - 20:23
SOURCE: Special to HNN (2-27-09)
The United States and the World Economy are entering a phase which could aptly be called "The Great Compression." For the forseeable future, most people will be experiencing declining incomes, declining job prospects, declining home values, and if they are lucky enough to have them, declining stock portfolios and retirement accounts. With the world banking system crippled, and requiring dramatic infusions of funds from governments to prevent complete collapse, there is no chance of credit markets being unleashed to support a new wave of economic growth any time soon.. What we are likely to see, and that is only if government remain aggressively interventionist, is a reconfiguration and redistribution of economic resources so that most people have access to food, clothing, shelter and medical care even while their assets and incomes shrink. It is such government action, and that alone, which can prevent this crisis from turning into another Great Depression, where hundreds of millions of people around the globe experienced sudden and dramatic impoverishment and where the resulting unrest destabilized many governments and ultimately helped trigger World War II.
In this very dangerous period we are entering, ordinary citizens must become coldly realistic about their economic prospects as well as very clear about what demands they should be making upon governments and major employers.
One of the things we have to do is rethink how we allocate space. Right now, there is a glut of residential space among middle and upper class Americans even while there is a shortage of such space among working class Americans and the poor. Not only do wealthy Americans have second and third homes which remain vacant much of the year, but many middle class Americans are living in houses far too big for their needs, with rooms that are vacant or used for strictly recreational purposes. Given such unused space, it is unrealistic to think that in a time of declning incomes there will be a revival of the market for residential construction. Empty residential space will have to be reconfigured and redeployed before a demand for new space will emerge, as children move in with their parents, senior citizens move in with their children, or large private homes are divided ( legally or informally) into multiple family cooperatives. As for vacant or near vacant luxury high rises, community organizations and local governments should push for their convesion into affordable housing. New residential construction should not take place until we make better use of the empty space we have, and quite frankly capital starved banks will be reluctant to fund such construction when the demand for it is so weak.
The same redistributionist ethic should be applied to commercial real estate. As the debt fueled consumer economy shrinks, huge numbers of stores, auto dealers and shopping malls will become vacant. Until those spaces are converted to other uses, be it for arts programs, youth programs, or new businesses targeted to a radically transformed marketplace, there will be little or no demand for private commercial construction. For a very long time, virtually all new construction projects will have to be initiated and funded by governments through deficit spending.
With privately funded residential and commercial construction likely to remain at a near standstill for some time, businesses, non profits and government agencies should move into survival mode and keep as many people employed as possible. Laying off people should be the strategy of last resort. Before that
happens, businesses, and even hospitals and universities, should radically reduce the salaries and compensation packages of their top executives and managers, and employ wage freezes and unpaid work
furloughs for lower paid employees to keep as many of those people on payroll.
As for people with skill, capital and ideas, especially young people coming out of school, they should create new businesses, and cooperative enterprises, that provide services people need, even in hard times, or deploy new technologies in fields ranging from communications, to clean energy, to urban agriculture. There are tremendous opportunities for innovative entrepreneurship, even in this compressed economy, for those who are willing to accept modest economic rewards rather than the prospect of instant wealth.
The world ruled by the hope, and in some cases the actual prospect of endless consumption and personal luxury, is disappearing rapidly. A new world looms for those willing to define success by different rewards. Whether we can make a transition to this new world without producing massive violence, hardship and unrest depends on our collective ingenuity, flexibility, and ability to redistribute space and, income more equitably than we. have for the last 40 years. The sooner people recognize how much the economic climate has changed, and how they have to change as well, the better we all will be.
Posted on: Friday, February 27, 2009 - 14:28
SOURCE: Truthout.org (2-23-09)
Peter Peterson is coming to get your Social Security and Medicare. Peterson was the commerce secretary in the Nixon administration. He then went on to make billions of dollars as one of the top executives at the Blackstone Group, a private equity fund. Mr. Peterson is known as one of the top beneficiaries of the fund managers' tax break, through which he personally pocketed tens of millions of dollars.
Mr. Peterson has been using his Wall Street wealth to attack these social insurance programs for decades, but he recently stepped up his efforts. Last year, he spent $1 billion to endow the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to further his efforts.
In politics, it's not easy to counter the impact of $1 billion. In addition to its money, the Peterson crew enjoys the support of many important news outlets, most importantly The Washington Post, which pushes his line on both its editorial and news pages.
In fact, The Post even went so far as to identify Peterson's foundation by its boilerplate, an organization that "advocates for federal fiscal responsibility," instead of telling readers of its political leanings, the normal mode of identification for such organizations. (The Center for Economic and Policy Research was established "to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives.")
While the Peterson crew may have the money and the support of the media, the rest of us can rely on logic and ridicule to counter the attack. In this spirit, we have the Peter G. Peterson Intergenerational Fairness Tax Credit. (Mr. Peterson is apparently fond of having things named after him. In addition to his new Peter G. Peterson Foundation, he also has a think tank named after him, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics.)
The Peterson tax credit would essentially take the Peterson crew at their word. They claim that they are worried that huge tax burdens will leave future generations worse off than the generations that preceded them.
This isn't true. There is no plausible scenario, short of war or environmental disaster, that would leave future generations worse off than their parents or grandparents. But we don't have to argue with the billionaire; let's just give future generations the option to trade places with their parents or grandparents who made out so well.
This is where the tax credit comes in. The tax credit would allow an individual to trade her after-tax income for the after-tax income that someone born 20 or 40 years sooner would have earned at the same age. For example, if someone born in 1990 believes in 2020 that their grandparents got a better deal, they would simply check off the year 1940, and they would have their taxes adjusted so that they would have the same after-tax income of a person born in 1940, when they were also age 30.
Of course, the young ones would end up big losers in this story. Real wages, on average, will be more than 50 percent higher in 2020 than they were in 1970. Even if tax rates were, on average, 5 percentage points higher, workers in 2020 will still have after-tax wages that are more than 40 percent higher than their counterparts in 1970.
This means that anyone who chose to take advantage of the intergenerational equity tax credit would end up as a big loser. That is why it can help solve the deficit problem. If people check off the tax credit, they will pay more in taxes and, therefore, increase government revenue.
It might be hard to convince large numbers of people to voluntarily pay more in taxes. This is where the Peterson Foundation comes in. They are spending huge amounts of money trying to convince young people that they are being ripped off by their parents and grandparents. They are even promoting front groups of young people to advance this effort.
With his billion dollars, Peterson could convince a huge number of gullible young people to tax advantage of the intergenerational equity tax credit. Insofar as he is successful in this effort, he can help to generate billions of dollars that can be used for items like health care, preschool education, and other pressing needs.
So, let's join efforts with Mr. Peterson and encourage his followers to take advantage of the Peter G. Peterson Intergenerational Fairness Tax Credit. There is a word for taking money from willfully ignorant young people who would deny their parents and grandparents the Social Security and Medicare benefits they need to survive: justice.
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2009 - 21:22
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (2-20-09)
Faced with the financial meltdown of the Great Depression, the Hoover administration created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation that poured taxpayers' money into the coffers of the influential Wall Street banks in an effort to save them from bankruptcy. Like today's Bush/Obama administrations, the Hoover administration used the"too-big-to-fail" scare tactic in order to justify the costly looting of the national treasury. All it did, however, was to simply postpone the day of reckoning: almost all of the banks failed after nearly three years of extremely costly bailouts schemes.
In a similar fashion, when in the mid- to late-1990s major banks in Japan faced huge losses following the bursting of the real estate and loan-pushing bubble in that country, the Japanese government embarked on a costly rescue plan of the troubled banks in the hope of" creating liquidity" and"revitalizing credit markets." The results of the bailout plan have likewise been disastrous, a disaster that has come to be known as"Japan's lost decade."
Despite these painful and costly experiences, the Bush/Obama administrations (along with the U.S. Congress) are following similarly ruinous solutions that are just as doomed to fail. This is not because these administrations' economic policy makers are unaware of the failed policies of the past. It is rather because they too function under the influence of the same powerful special interests that doomed the bailout policies of the Hoover and Japanese governments: the potent banking interests.
Despite its complexity, the fraudulently obfuscated and evaded solution to the currently crippled financial markets is not due to a lack of expertise or specialized technical know-how, as often claimed by economic policy makers of the Bush/Obama administrations. It is rather due to a shameful lack of political will -- the solution is primarily political.
Specifically, it is due to government's unwillingness to do what needs to be done: to remove the smokescreen that is suffocating the financial markets, open the books of the insolvent mega banks, declare them bankrupt, as they actually are, auction off their assets, and bring them under public ownership -- since taxpayers have already paid for their net assets many times over.
To put it even more bluntly, the deepening and protraction of the crisis is largely due to policy makers' subservience to the interests of Wall Street gamblers -- shirking their responsibility to protect people's interests.
Saying that the solution to the current financial crisis is simpler than it appears is not meant to downplay or make light of the problem. It is, rather, to point out that Wall Street gamblers have made the solution relatively simple by digging their own grave, doomed themselves to bankruptcy, thereby leaving nationalization as the only logical or viable solution.
This is no longer simply a radical, leftist or socialist demand. It is now demanded by many economists and financial experts on purely pragmatic or expediency grounds. For example, Joseph Stiglitz, the 2001 recipient of Nobel Prize in economics and former Chief Economist of the World Bank, points out:
The fact of the matter is, the banks are in very bad shape. The U.S. government has poured in hundreds of billions of dollars to very little effect. It is very clear that the banks have failed. American citizens have become majority owners in a very large number of the major banks. But they have no control. Any system where there is a separation of ownership and control is a recipe for disaster. Nationalization is the only answer. These banks are effectively bankrupt.
Likewise, Mike Whitney, a very incisive Wall Street observer, writes:
Most people who've been following the financial crisis know what needs to be done. It's no secret. The insolvent banks have to be nationalized. They have to be taken over by the FDIC, the shareholders have to be wiped out, bondholders have to take a haircut, management has to be replaced and the bad assets have to be written down. There's no point in throwing public money down a rathole just to keep zombie banks on life support.
In Europe, which is similarly mired in a huge financial swamp, some policy makers are now openly calling for"Chapter 11" and/or nationalization solution. For example, in an article published in the 12 February 2009 edition of Corriere Della Sera, the Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti calls for a bankruptcy reorganization of the insolvent financial institutions:
If the crisis is not a liquidity but an insolvency crisis..., the medicine is not merging failed banks with other failed banks, it is not in the switch or swap between private and public debt, it is not in creating artificial, additional private demand. If you are doped, the remedy is not more dope. . . . Saving everything is a divine mission. If one thinks to save everything, through the last resort of governments, through public debts, you end up with saving nothing and at the end, you even lose public budgets.
As noted earlier, partisans of"bailout-the-banks-at-any-cost" use the"too-big-to-fail" scare tactic in order to justify trillions of giveaway bailout dollars. Disingenuously used for nearly 20 months since the financial bubble exploded in mid 2007, this rationale is now totally discredited, as the fraudulently shifting schemes of rescuing the insolvent banks have proven both ineffectual and dangerously costly -- not only in terms of hollowing out our national treasury and condemning us to bankruptcy, but also in terms of further prolonging and deepening of the crisis.
Another bogus rationale for the shifting schemes of the bailout scam, according to its champions, is that"this is an altogether new and very complicated crisis." Accordingly, they claim that"while we are committed to finding a solution, it will take a long time before we see a market turnaround because it is an unprecedented problem and may, therefore, involve lots of learning by doing"!
It is hard to say which is worse: (1) this is a sincere argument, that is, they are genuinely committed to finding a solution based on national interests but have not yet come up with one; or (2) they are disingenuous, and are deliberately engaged in obfuscating issues and confusing the people in order to protect the interests of Wall Street financial gamblers at the expense of national interests.
If they are right in their claim that they are genuinely committed to finding a solution based on national interests but have not yet found one (after nearly 20 months), then it is safe to say that they are a bunch of incompetent knotheads who are totally ignorant of the theoretical foundations and empirical lessons of bank failures and/or bank nationalizations, and should, therefore, not be at the helm of our economic decision-making apparatus. But if their argument is disingenuous, then they are playing politics with our national interests in order to serve special interests -- a case of crime and punishment.
There are good reasons, however, to believe that the confusion and uncertainty that the Bush/Obama team of economic experts has created in the financial markets is largely due to these experts' misplaced priorities and allegiance, not their"sincere but unsuccessful" efforts. It is a problem of having some huge elephants in our nation's financial policy-making room. Mike Whitney aptly calls Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner"a Trojan Horse for the banking oligarchs":
The banking lobby has already set the agenda. All the hoopla about 'financial rescue' is just a smokescreen to hide the fact that the same scofflaws who ripped off investors for zillions of dollars are back for their next big sting; a quick vacuuming of the public till to save themselves from bankruptcy. It's a joke. Obama floated into office on a wave of Wall Street campaign contributions and now it's payback time. Prepare to get fleeced. Geithner is fine-tuning a 'public-private' partnership for his buddies so they can keep their fiefdom intact while shifting trillions of dollars of toxic assets onto the people's balance sheet. They've affixed themselves to Treasury like scabs on a leper. Geithner is 'their guy,' a Trojan horse for the banking oligarchs. He's already admitted that his main goal is to, 'keep the banks in private hands.' That says it all, doesn't it?
Timothy Geithner, Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, and their cohorts at the helm of the Bush/Obama financial decision making machine are very smart individuals. They are among top Wall Street masterminds. The problem is that, at the core, they are committed, first and foremost, to protecting the interests of Wall Street financial giants. Indeed, it is safe to say that they are disguised lobbyists of those financial firms. No matter how hard they try to camouflage their bailout schemes, or how many different names they use for those schemes, their starting point is always protection of the insolvent banks.
Just note the fact that while they have changed the name of their bailout scam a number of times, the primary objective has not changed. The initial bailout plan, which announced the giving away of $700 billion dollars of taxpayers' money, was called Troubled Assets Rescue Plan (TARP).
Half way through TARP, that is, when it became clear that Wall Street gamblers were simply grabbing TARP money and hoarding it, Bush's Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson repackaged the scheme and renamed it as taxpayers' investment or purchase of"preferred shares of troubled institutions." In plain language, this simply means paying" cash for trash," as Michael Hudson, former Wall Street economist and Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri (Kansas City), aptly puts it. Furthermore, owning"preferred shares" of a bank means not having a say or an input in the control or management of the bank -- that is, ownership without control.
As the American people have gradually become aware of and resistant to these fraudulent rescue plans, the schemers have become more cunning: they have now labeled the latest version of the bailout scam"private-public" investment partnership.
This"private-public" partnership scheme, as formally announced by the new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on 10 February 2009, is designed to accomplish two things: first, to justify the giving away of the remainder of the TARP money; second, to pave the way for additional bailout giveaways -- purportedly to the tune of $2.5 trillion.
Formally, the"private" component in this so-called partnership investment means that hedge funds, private equity funds, and investment banks would now join the government in purchasing the toxic assets of the troubled banks. While this is designed to show that"private participation" in the rescue scheme would diminish the need for public money and, accordingly, reduce taxpayers' burden, in reality, it would not; because the projected private investment is conditioned upon public funding and/or guarantees of that investment. In other words, the so-called private participation in the bailout scam is essentially a roundabout way of public funding of the scam.
To camouflage this pile of dirt, as well as to underhandedly pave the way for asking additional $2.5 trillion of public money for Wall Street's zombie banks, was bound to make the"private-public" partnership scheme vague and unpersuasive. Not surprisingly, the moment Geithner announced the plan the market stampeded, as investors clearly saw right through the gaping holes of the Machiavellian plan--by the time Geithner was done with his press conference, the Dow Jones stocks fell 382 points.
A government"of the people, by the people, for the people" would start from the goal of finding a solution to the financial crisis that is based on national interests, and then would look at the implications of such a solution for the insolvent banks. Instead, the Bush/Obama administrations start from the objective of saving the insolvent banks, and then look for a"solution" that would accommodate this objective!
When asked why he was selecting an economic team of neoliberal economists who played critical roles in bringing about the current financial meltdown, President Obama gave a most bogus, obfuscating and, uncharacteristically stupid, reason:"I have to choose from the pool of experts who know how financial markets work."
Yes, Mr. President, they certainly know how Wall Street financial giants work. The problem is that they are disguised lobbyists of those financial giants.
There is strong evidence that not only does President Obama's team of economic advisors owe their professional advancement to the Wall Street cartel of financial firms, but also the President himself is greatly indebted to the cartel for its behind-the-scene promotion of his presidential candidacy, and for their generous contributions to his campaign. Contrary to Barack Obama's claim that his campaign was not funded by Washington lobbyists, evidence shows that the campaign"received over $10 million in contributions from Wall Street, the largest contributors by far."
According to Pam Martin, a Wall Street veteran of 21 years and now an investigative reporter, the top seven donors to Obama's campaign were Wall Street financial giants. These seven (in order of money given) were:
Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse. There is also a large hedge fund, Citadel Investment Group, which is a major source of fee income to Wall Street. There are five large corporate law firms that are also registered lobbyists; and one is a corporate law firm that is no longer a registered lobbyist but does legal work for Wall Street. The cumulative total of these 14 contributors through February 1, 2008, was $2,872,128, and we're still in the primary season.
Political and/or policy implications for the American people are clear: Wake up before it is too late.
If this sounds conceited or condescending, I apologize. I have no doubts that the people will eventually wake up to the tremors of this brutal economic crisis -- as many who have lost their jobs and their homes already have. The important thing, however, is to wake up now; to wake up before it is too late -- before the rapidly gaping cracks in our economy turn it into a sinking Titanic.
It is time to wake up now before Wall Street Financial Giants and their government -- yes, it is primarily their government -- destroy our economy and bankrupt our nation in their reckless commitment to rescue financial zombie firms at any price.
There is, however, no reasonable price that can rescue the insolvent Wall Street gamblers; they have simply accumulated too much bad debt to be bailed out. The only price seems to be the further hollowing out of our treasury, the mortgaging of our (and our children's) future, the worsening and prolonging of the crisis and, ultimately, the complete breakdown of our economy -- and very likely of the entire world.
So, once again, it is time to rise up before it is too late; to rise up and demand (not beg or appeal to politicians, which has been proven to be futile) people's rightful ownership of the insolvent banks, as we have already paid for their net assets many times over.
It is equally important to demand nationalization of the Federal Reserve Bank (just as central banks are publicly-owned in most countries of the world). There is absolutely no reason for a private entity (called the Federal Reserve Bank) to be in charge of the indisputably most important national economic decision-making: creation, control and management of the nation's money. It is utterly preposterous for the government to have granted a private bank the right to print our money, and then borrow it back from the bank at interest! (Interest payment on national debt is the third largest item, after military spending and Social Security outlays, in the Federal budget.)
Once the all-important task of money creation is brought under public control, and the insolvent Wall Street zombie banks are nationalized, the government can then use the publicly-owned banks and issue loans at reasonable rates, thereby unfreezing credit markets and rekindling investment and economic activity.
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2009 - 21:08
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (2-24-09)
The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings, and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.
As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants, and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.) If the present economic disaster turns into what President Obama has referred to as a"lost decade," the result could be a global landscape filled with economically-fueled upheavals.
Indeed, if you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania), and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome, and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations -- none as yet in the United States -- your map would already look aflame with activity. And if you're a gambling man or woman, it's a safe bet that this map will soon be far better populated with red and orange pins.
For the most part, such upheavals, even when violent, are likely to remain localized in nature, and disorganized enough that government forces will be able to bring them under control within days or weeks, even if -- as with Athens for six days last December -- urban paralysis sets in due to rioting, tear gas, and police cordons. That, at least, has been the case so far. It is entirely possible, however, that, as the economic crisis worsens, some of these incidents will metastasize into far more intense and long-lasting events: armed rebellions, military takeovers, civil conflicts, even economically fueled wars between states.
Every outbreak of violence has its own distinctive origins and characteristics. All, however, are driven by a similar combination of anxiety about the future and lack of confidence in the ability of established institutions to deal with the problems at hand. And just as the economic crisis has proven global in ways not seen before, so local incidents -- especially given the almost instantaneous nature of modern communications -- have a potential to spark others in far-off places, linked only in a virtual sense.
A Global Pandemic of Economically Driven Violence
The riots that erupted in the spring of 2008 in response to rising food prices suggested the speed with which economically-related violence can spread. It is unlikely that Western news sources captured all such incidents, but among those recorded in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were riots in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.
In Haiti, for example, thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince and demanded food handouts, only to be repelled by government troops and UN peacekeepers. Other countries, including Pakistan and Thailand, quickly sought to deter such assaults by deploying troops at farms and warehouses throughout the country.
The riots only abated at summer's end when falling energy costs brought food prices crashing down as well. (The cost of food is now closely tied to the price of oil and natural gas because petrochemicals are so widely and heavily used in the cultivation of grains.) Ominously, however, this is sure to prove but a temporary respite, given the epic droughts now gripping breadbasket regions of the United States, Argentina, Australia, China, the Middle East, and Africa. Look for the prices of wheat, soybeans, and possibly rice to rise in the coming months -- just when billions of people in the developing world are sure to see their already marginal incomes plunging due to the global economic collapse.
Food riots were but one form of economic violence that made its bloody appearance in 2008. As economic conditions worsened, protests against rising unemployment, government ineptitude, and the unaddressed needs of the poor erupted as well. In India, for example, violent protests threatened stability in many key areas. Although usually described as ethnic, religious, or caste disputes, these outbursts were typically driven by economic anxiety and a pervasive feeling that someone else's group was faring better than yours -- and at your expense.
In April, for example, six days of intense rioting in Indian-controlled Kashmir were largely blamed on religious animosity between the majority Muslim population and the Hindu-dominated Indian government; equally important, however, was a deep resentment over what many Kashmiri Muslims experienced as discrimination in jobs, housing, and land use. Then, in May, thousands of nomadic shepherds known as Gujjars shut down roads and trains leading to the city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, in a drive to be awarded special economic rights; more than 30 people were killed when the police fired into crowds. In October, economically-related violence erupted in Assam in the country's far northeast, where impoverished locals are resisting an influx of even poorer, mostly illegal immigrants from nearby Bangladesh.
Economically-driven clashes also erupted across much of eastern China in 2008. Such events, labeled "mass incidents" by Chinese authorities, usually involve protests by workers over sudden plant shutdowns, lost pay, or illegal land seizures. More often than not, protestors demanded compensation from company managers or government authorities, only to be greeted by club-wielding police.
Needless to say, the leaders of China's Communist Party have been reluctant to acknowledge such incidents. This January, however, the magazine Liaowang (Outlook Weekly) reported that layoffs and wage disputes had triggered a sharp increase in such"mass incidents," particularly along the country's eastern seaboard, where much of its manufacturing capacity is located.
By December, the epicenter of such sporadic incidents of violence had moved from the developing world to Western Europe and the former Soviet Union. Here, the protests have largely been driven by fears of prolonged unemployment, disgust at government malfeasance and ineptitude, and a sense that"the system," however defined, is incapable of satisfying the future aspirations of large groups of citizens.
One of the earliest of this new wave of upheavals occurred in Athens, Greece, on December 6, 2008, after police shot and killed a 15-year-old schoolboy during an altercation in a crowded downtown neighborhood. As news of the killing spread throughout the city, hundreds of students and young people surged into the city center and engaged in pitched battles with riot police, throwing stones and firebombs. Although government officials later apologized for the killing and charged the police officer involved with manslaughter, riots broke out repeatedly in the following days in Athens and other Greek cities. Angry youths attacked the police -- widely viewed as agents of the establishment -- as well as luxury shops and hotels, some of which were set on fire. By one estimate, the six days of riots caused $1.3 billion in damage to businesses at the height of the Christmas shopping season.
Russia also experienced a spate of violent protests in December, triggered by the imposition of high tariffs on imported automobiles. Instituted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to protect an endangered domestic auto industry (whose sales were expected to shrink by up to 50% in 2009), the tariffs were a blow to merchants in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok who benefited from a nationwide commerce in used Japanese vehicles. When local police refused to crack down on anti-tariff protests, the authorities were evidently worried enough to fly in units of special forces from Moscow, 3,700 miles away.
In January, incidents of this sort seemed to be spreading through Eastern Europe. Between January 13th and 16th, anti-government protests involving violent clashes with the police erupted in the Latvian capital of Riga, the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, and the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. It is already essentially impossible to keep track of all such episodes, suggesting that we are on the verge of a global pandemic of economically driven violence.
A Perfect Recipe for Instability
While most such incidents are triggered by an immediate event -- a tariff, the closure of local factory, the announcement of government austerity measures -- there are systemic factors at work as well. While economists now agree that we are in the midst of a recession deeper than any since the Great Depression of the 1930s, they generally assume that this downturn -- like all others since World War II -- will be followed in a year, or two, or three, by the beginning of a typical recovery.
There are good reasons to suspect that this might not be the case -- that poorer countries (along with many people in the richer countries) will have to wait far longer for such a recovery, or may see none at all. Even in the United States, 54% of Americans now believe that"the worst" is"yet to come" and only 7% that the economy has"turned the corner," according to a recent Ipsos/McClatchy poll; fully a quarter think the crisis will last more than four years. Whether in the U.S., Russia, China, or Bangladesh, it is this underlying anxiety -- this suspicion that things are far worse than just about anyone is saying -- which is helping to fuel the global epidemic of violence.
The World Bank's most recent status report, Global Economic Prospects 2009, fulfills those anxieties in two ways. It refuses to state the worst, even while managing to hint, in terms too clear to be ignored, at the prospect of a long-term, or even permanent, decline in economic conditions for many in the world. Nominally upbeat -- as are so many media pundits -- regarding the likelihood of an economic recovery in the not-too-distant future, the report remains full of warnings about the potential for lasting damage in the developing world if things don't go exactly right.
Two worries, in particular, dominate Global Economic Prospects 2009: that banks and corporations in the wealthier countries will cease making investments in the developing world, choking off whatever growth possibilities remain; and that food costs will rise uncomfortably, while the use of farmlands for increased biofuels production will result in diminished food availability to hundreds of millions.
Despite its Pollyanna-ish passages on an economic rebound, the report does not mince words when discussing what the almost certain coming decline in First World investment in Third World countries would mean:
"Should credit markets fail to respond to the robust policy interventions taken so far, the consequences for developing countries could be very serious. Such a scenario would be characterized by... substantial disruption and turmoil, including bank failures and currency crises, in a wide range of developing countries. Sharply negative growth in a number of developing countries and all of the attendant repercussions, including increased poverty and unemployment, would be inevitable."
In the fall of 2008, when the report was written, this was considered a"worst-case scenario." Since then, the situation has obviously worsened radically, with financial analysts reporting a virtual freeze in worldwide investment. Equally troubling, newly industrialized countries that rely on exporting manufactured goods to richer countries for much of their national income have reported stomach-wrenching plunges in sales, producing massive plant closings and layoffs.
The World Bank's 2008 survey also contains troubling data about the future availability of food. Although insisting that the planet is capable of producing enough foodstuffs to meet the needs of a growing world population, its analysts were far less confident that sufficient food would be available at prices people could afford, especially once hydrocarbon prices begin to rise again. With ever more farmland being set aside for biofuels production and efforts to increase crop yields through the use of"miracle seeds" losing steam, the Bank's analysts balanced their generally hopeful outlook with a caveat:"If biofuels-related demand for crops is much stronger or productivity performance disappoints, future food supplies may be much more expensive than in the past."
Combine these two World Bank findings -- zero economic growth in the developing world and rising food prices -- and you have a perfect recipe for unrelenting civil unrest and violence. The eruptions seen in 2008 and early 2009 will then be mere harbingers of a grim future in which, in a given week, any number of cities reel from riots and civil disturbances which could spread like multiple brushfires in a drought.
Mapping a World at the Brink
Survey the present world, and it's all too easy to spot a plethora of potential sites for such multiple eruptions -- or far worse. Take China. So far, the authorities have managed to control individual"mass incidents," preventing them from coalescing into something larger. But in a country with a more than two-thousand-year history of vast millenarian uprisings, the risk of such escalation has to be on the minds of every Chinese leader.
On February 2nd, a top Chinese Party official, Chen Xiwen, announced that, in the last few months of 2008 alone, a staggering 20 million migrant workers, who left rural areas for the country's booming cities in recent years, had lost their jobs. Worse yet, they had little prospect of regaining them in 2009. If many of these workers return to the countryside, they may find nothing there either, not even land to work.
Under such circumstances, and with further millions likely to be shut out of coastal factories in the coming year, the prospect of mass unrest is high. No wonder the government announced a $585 billion stimulus plan aimed at generating rural employment and, at the same time, called on security forces to exercise discipline and restraint when dealing with protesters. Many analysts now believe that, as exports continue to dry up, rising unemployment could lead to nationwide strikes and protests that might overwhelm ordinary police capabilities and require full-scale intervention by the military (as occurred in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989).
Or take many of the Third World petro-states that experienced heady boosts in income when oil prices were high, allowing governments to buy off dissident groups or finance powerful internal security forces. With oil prices plunging from $147 per barrel of crude oil to less than $40 dollars, such countries, from Angola to shaky Iraq, now face severe instability.
Nigeria is a typical case in point: When oil prices were high, the central government in Abuja raked in billions every year, enough to enrich elites in key parts of the country and subsidize a large military establishment; now that prices are low, the government will have a hard time satisfying all these previously well-fed competing obligations, which means the risk of internal disequilibrium will escalate. An insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, fueled by popular discontent with the failure of oil wealth to trickle down from the capital, is already gaining momentum and is likely to grow stronger as government revenues shrivel; other regions, equally disadvantaged by national revenue-sharing policies, will be open to disruptions of all sorts, including heightened levels of internecine warfare.
Bolivia is another energy producer that seems poised at the brink of an escalation in economic violence. One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it harbors substantial oil and natural gas reserves in its eastern, lowland regions. A majority of the population -- many of Indian descent -- supports President Evo Morales, who seeks to exercise strong state control over the reserves and use the proceeds to uplift the nation's poor. But a majority of those in the eastern part of the country, largely controlled by a European-descended elite, resent central government interference and seek to control the reserves themselves. Their efforts to achieve greater autonomy have led to repeated clashes with government troops and, in deteriorating times, could set the stage for a full-scale civil war.
Given a global situation in which one startling, often unexpected development follows another, prediction is perilous. At a popular level, however, the basic picture is clear enough: continued economic decline combined with a pervasive sense that existing systems and institutions are incapable of setting things right is already producing a potentially lethal brew of anxiety, fear, and rage. Popular explosions of one sort or another are inevitable.
Some sense of this new reality appears to have percolated up to the highest reaches of the U.S. intelligence community. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 12th, Admiral Dennis C. Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence, declared,"The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications... Statistical modeling shows that economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period" -- certain to be the case in the present situation.
Blair did not specify which countries he had in mind when he spoke of"regime-threatening instability" -- a new term in the American intelligence lexicon, at least when associated with economic crises -- but it is clear from his testimony that U.S. officials are closely watching dozens of shaky nations in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Central Asia.
Now go back to that map on your wall with all those red and orange pins in it and proceed to color in appropriate countries in various shades of red and orange to indicate recent striking declines in gross national product and rises in unemployment rates. Without 16 intelligence agencies under you, you'll still have a pretty good idea of the places that Blair and his associates are eyeing in terms of instability as the future darkens on a planet at the brink.
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2009 - 20:16
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (2-26-09)
After a conflict of more than a quarter of a century of terrorism and civil war that killed 70,000 people, Sri Lankans finally think they have defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), perhaps the world’s most murderous terrorist organization. Why and how a small country of 21 million succeeded in defeating such a group where much bigger powers have failed is a good lesson for those who study terrorism and counterinsurgency. These lessons are primarily political and legal, but also military and diplomatic, and they include both successes and pitfalls in a small country’s road to peace and development.
Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean country the size of West Virginia, has a diverse population—81 percent is Sinhalese, most of them Buddhist; some 11 percent are Tamils, who are generally Buddhist, either immigrants from India or native. Eight percent of the population are Muslims. As is so often the case in the former British Empire, the native group most adept to Western education and adaptable to British interests—in this case the Tamils—were disproportionately represented among the educated at the time of independence (1948), and thus resented by the majority. Free elections repeatedly brought to power Sinhalese populists/socialists. Tamils were pushed aside and the majority language declared the only official one. The result was, and to some extent remains, Tamil resentment and demands for autonomy, at least in the northern (Jaffna) and Eastern (Trincomalee) areas where they predominate.
Key to understanding why the LTTE lasted for so long and why India was involved in Sri Lanka on and off at various times is the fact that some 60 million Tamils live in three southern Indian states, primarily Tamil Nadu, and many of those support the LTTE out of ethnic solidarity. Equally, if not more, important, there is a large (ca. 800,000) Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, mostly in Canada, the UK, Australia, the U.S., and southeast Asia. This diaspora is radicalized and, like most diasporas living in safety, more radical than co-nationals in the country of origin. It still provides the funds, propaganda support, and public relations vital to the LTTE’s survival.
The LTTE pretends to fight for a separate Tamil state (Tamil Eelam) in the northern and eastern parts of the island, and it has actually established a de facto state in those areas for almost a decade, complete with administration, courts, taxation, education, etc.—until it lost it all following the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) offensive since the beginning of 2008. What did that “state” look like?
“Though receiving considerable popular support, the LTTE regime was (is) a command state. It has always been a military outfit and the insurrectionary war situation hardly encouraged anything other than dictatorship, but [Vellupillai Prabhakaran]’s personal proclivities and the veneration he received as a demi-god would have accentuated this characteristic. Command state meant (means) command economy. State enterprises in transport, restaurants, etc. augmented the returns from taxation and import duties. A critical dimension of its local resources was the supply of monies from the SL government in Colombo, namely, salaries and pensions paid to a wide range of Tamil-speaking administrators, including health officials, who were employees of the central state.”
To begin with, the LTTE, despite its claims and effective propaganda, does not represent the Tamils. It never submitted itself to elections; to the contrary, it is a quasi-cult terror group, subservient to the whims of one person, Prabhakaran. His decisions, rather than any nationalist goal, send people to their death, train them for death, preferably from childhood, and have long murdered any moderate or nonviolent Tamil politician in the country. In that, and many other respects, the LTTE are similar to other cult-like revolutionary terrorists, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of Abdullah Ocalan in Turkey and Abimael Guzman’s Communist Party of Peru, a.k.a. Shining Path. Compared to those, Stalin and Mao had and officially claimed fewer powers. To comprehend LTTE, imagine Jim Jones’ Temple cult of Guyana in possession of a “navy” and “air force,” as well as (at its height) some 20,000 fanatical and armed zombie followers.
Prabhakaran imposed a blood tax on the people under his control. Each family had to provide a son to the LTTE—a pattern condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN. LTTE made every follower bear a cyanide pill (thus few “Tigers” were ever captured) and established special units, such as the “black Tigers,” for murder and assassination. In fact, until the early 1990s, the LTTE led the world in suicide bombings, with victims including a president and many ministers of Sri Lanka, as well as a former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi (1991). Unsurprisingly, the UN, EU, U.S., and India all declared the LTTE a terrorist group. Still, in the rich West, pro-LTTE groups were allowed to collect funds (and occasional recruits), always illegally and under threat, usually under the pretext of “freedom of expression” but, in places like Canada, for electoral considerations.
The result was that for two decades the LTTE was one of the world richest terror groups, able to create its own “navy” and “air force”—two bad ideas turning against itself as it happened. That wealth and Prabhakaran’s unlimited ambitions led the LTTE to establish a conventional military force, helped, officially and economically by the do-gooders from Norway—a wealthy country with overseas ambitions and best intentions, serving as a “mediator” between Sri Lanka and the LTTE. It was precisely the Norwegian mediation that , for almost a decade, allowed the LTTE to establish its de facto state in the north and east and Prabhakaran to use that for creating his totalitarian “state” there.
With an economy based on tourism, rubber, and tea and heavily dependent on foreign aid, Sri Lanka was obviously vulnerable to terrorism, especially in regard to tourism—and to the influence and sensibilities of Western donors. The latter, as usual, are themselves “sensitive” to the enormously effective, and wealthy, pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora and the international “human rights” lobbies—such as AI and HRW. Each of those, over time and for its purposes, acted to prolong the conflict, protect the LTTE, and thus have more Sri Lankans killed. At no time is that deadly coalition’s impact more obvious than now, when the LTTE is on its deathbed.
By the end of 2007, the Sri Lankan electorate was tired of a war that never ended, of a de facto division of the country; and of the war’s continuing when a major part of the LTTE, under a defecting leader (second in command to Prabhakaran, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, a.k.a. “Karuna”) was ready to cripple the “Tigers.” He did so, and is now the official leader of eastern region—and as a former “Tiger” he effectively controls, legally or not, a key area.
Under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa is conveniently the defense minister, and under the very competent military leader Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, the Colombo government decided that the Norwegian-mediated “peace process” only led to more terrorism from the LTTE, the de facto partition of the island, and no solution to the Tamil problem. The result was its formal withdrawal from the “process,” its declaration of LTTE as a “terrorist organization,” and a serious military campaign aimed at the destruction of the “Tigers” as an armed force.
Starting last year, the SLA’s better trained and armed elements—some 50,000 altogether—began a steady offensive against LTTE-controlled areas in the north and northwest (the east, following Karuna’s defection, was already “Tiger “free). By January 2009 Kilinochchi, Prabhakaran’s “capital,” and Mullaitivu, his last major stronghold, fell. From a height of over 7,000 square miles, the LTTE area of control shrank to some 30 square miles– all surrounded by the military, from land and sea. While there are conflicting views over Prabhakaran’s fate, it is most likely he is still in that area—after all, he is a wanted man by the Interpol and most area countries. It is in this environment that the so-called “human rights” NGOs and their political supporters are actively, whether willingly or not, supporting the survival of the LTTE.
Most sources, from AI to HRW, the Red Cross, and even Colombo, agree that some 200,000 or more civilians are trapped in the shrinking LTTE-controlled area. AI’s Yolanda Foster admitted that"We just don’t know what’s been happening in the last few weeks in Sri Lanka. Her HRW colleagues, based on the same information, condemned the Sri Lanka regime for “failing to distinguish between the trapped civilians and the rebels.” The government, she noted, has launched “indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians” who are trapped in the war zone, shelling hospitals and other designated humanitarian “safe zones.” She also admitted that, “Cornered and desperate, the Tamil Tigers, have responded by using civilians as human shields and forcing others, including children, into service as fighters and porters on the battlefield.”
If there are indeed some 200,000 or more civilians in the 30 square miles under LTTE control (that would make that area one of the most densely populated in the world, at 6.6 people per square mile), how is the army going to separate them from the LTTE cadres? Can any army do that? Obviously not, which is why the “solution” advocated by the NGOs and, more logically, by the Tigers’ propaganda machine in the West and southern India, is a “cease-fire,” ostensibly to allow the evacuation of civilians. That is why LTTE sympathizers are demonstrating in India, England, and Canada, ostensibly in favor of a cease fire—one that would allow the LTTE, once again, to escape final defeat, come back and, of course, repeat the circle again: civilian hostage taking, use, manipulation and indoctrination included, as well as rearming. We have seen this movie before, and many Sri Lankans, mostly Tamils, have paid with their lives for it.
On the other hand, the government intends to establish rehabilitation camps for Tamil refugees from Tiger controlled-areas—and impose security controls as well. Many of those refugees are traumatized by LTTE and war conditions, but some, like a recent female suicide bomber disguised as a refugee, are infiltrators who have to be neutralized, which takes time and individual interrogations. The NGOs’ answer to this common sense? “The LTTE’s grim practices are being exploited by the government to justify its own atrocities…. High-level statements have indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks.” What are the government “atrocities”? Temporary camps, with schools and clinics, for some two years for civilians formerly under Tiger control and indoctrination—and plausibly infiltrated by terrorist cadres.
Ultimately, the issue is quite simple, both morally and practically. The eradication of the LTTE, at least as a conventional force, saves civilian lives. Misguided or, in the case of pro-Tiger diaspora groups, dishonest calls for a ceasefire would inevitably lead to more civilian casualties and a revival of terrorism. Reason, rather than pacifist or irrational thinking as manifested by the human rights establishment, would suggest that their efforts should be directed toward aid to Sri Lanka for the reinsertion of Tamil civilians and not toward throwing a line to the sinking LTTE.
For more than a decade Western liberal elites gave the LTTE a pass under the pretext that they represent real grievances of Sri Lanka’s Tamils. Ottawa, Washington, and Delhi closed their eyes to their own Tamil citizens’ being forced or manipulated into paying for the murder of civilians in Sri Lanka, despite officially declaring the Tigers a terrorist group. Military sanctions were imposed on Colombo, aid was conditioned on tolerance of, or “peace negotiations” with, Prabhakaran—and the Tiger cancer grew. All of this pushed the government in Colombo into some dubious friendships (Iran and Venezuela come to mind), counterproductive and unnecessary if common sense in London or Ottawa would have been the main policy criterion.
Ultimately, Western views and policies vis-à-vis Sri Lanka prove that humanitarian feelings and “human rights” are no policy alternative to common sense, and that even small countries, if desperate enough, could solve their secessionist/terrorist problems even despite the powerful human right NGOs pressures to commit national suicide. Second, and most important and with wider implications, short term, obsessive preoccupation with “civilian casualties” is often a death sentence to civilians in a civil war. The longer the war, especially when the victor is obvious, the more civilian casualties. Hence a military solution is, in some circumstances, the best way to save civilian lives. In general, pacifism, disguised as “human rights” or not, always leads to more death, especially in remote, third world, small countries vulnerable to the influence of AI or HRW. Ending a war—by force if need be—protects more civilians than prolonging it under any pretexts.
- ^ Michael Roberts, “Dilemma’s At War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” http://www.ices.lk/about/events/Cricket_Aug08.shtml, citing O’Duffy (2006) and Rajesh Venugopal).
- ^ Ciaran Walsh, “25 years of civil war in Sri Lanka may see an end,” February 16, 2009 http://www.russiatoday.com/news/news/37364
- ^ Somini Sengupta and Mark Mcdonald, Civilian Deaths Up in Sri Lankan War, New York Times, February 21, 2009.
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2009 - 19:39
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (2-26-09)
This isn’t a popular position, but I am all in favor of partisanship.
I know, the prevailing zeitgeist is that we are moving into an Obama-led post partisan world. We saw some of it here in Iowa, back in the now distant days of the Obama Iowa Caucus campaign. Part of the secret of Obama’s win in Iowa was that he reached out beyond the tradition party based lists of “likely Iowa Caucus goers,” and invited both independents, and Republicans to caucus for him. At least some part of the significant increase in Democratic voter registration in Iowa in 2008 is attributable to Republicans who reregistered on Caucus night so they could attend their local Democratic caucus. After that time Obama’s campaign rhetoric – even in the primaries – continued to include a call to put aside partisanship and to come together for the greater good.
Who can resist this siren call? What could be better than coming together to work in concert to address our country’s challenges? And so I feel a bit curmudgeonly in saying that I remain proud to be a partisan, proud to support a point of view that I think is the right one, the one that will lead to a better tomorrow for our nation.
And this, it seems to me, is the problem with “post-partisanship”: the reality is that there are, in fact, two diametrically opposed perspectives on what it takes to make “progress” towards a “good life” for all Americans.
On one side – the one opposite of my position – is the belief that rampant individualism, looking out for ourselves, and letting the chips fall where they may is the answer, that somehow the invisible hand of an unfettered marketplace will lead society to the good life. Never mind that many individuals for significant systemic reasons cannot actually fulfill this individualist American dream.
To my view, the serious irony in this position of individualism is that many individuals cannot make it through little fault of their own, yet it is argued that society (the group!) is better off if these individuals are left on their own to sink or swim.
On the other side – the one I subscribe to – government exists for the good, to help offset the inequities of a free market and of human greed, which have become quite clear over the past year. Government makes mistakes, of course, since it is a human institution, but its role in society is at least in part to ensure that individuals do not fall through the cracks. Obviously I am vastly oversimplifying both positions, and there are people who claim they can blend the “best” of both worlds. Moreover, there are good, principled people on both sides of this divide.
Basic positions irreconcilable.
For the most part I believe these basic positions are irreconcilable. They go back a long way in American history, and our two major political parties have always been structured more or less around the basic question of whether government is a force for good or a force for bad. How do you cross a divide like this?
I give great credit to Obama for trying, and I do believe the American public as a whole actually believes that government plays an important and valuable role in society. But at the level of political elites – not just in Washington, but throughout the country – the incentive structure is not in favor of bi- or post-partisanship. Those who are motivated to run for office, who represent a tiny portion of the American public, will always be more intense in their preferences, more focused on their ideologies, and more committed to seeing their own ideological vision come to fruition than the public overall. Moreover, on a practical level, given my own preferences, it seems that political “compromise” and “bi-partisanship” usually means Democratic principles are compromised to move closer to Republican positions, rather than the other way around.
The result of Obama’s initial foray into bipartisanship simply reinforces my belief in partisanship. Who wrote the stimulus bill? Effectively three Republican Senators. Why? Because of the twin desires for “bi-partisanship” and the ridiculous gentleman’s agreement in the Senate to give the minority outsized power behind the scenes rather than to force them to actually stand up and filibuster in public. Had Harry Reid simply told the Republicans that they would have to come to the Senate floor day after day to sustain an actual filibuster I suspect the American public would have turned on the Republicans quite quickly for being obstructionist in this time of economic disaster. Instead we get a watered-down bill that many economists believe is simply not big enough to make a lot of difference.
And beside a watered-down bill, what did we get?
We got Republicans vilifying Obama for not bringing them into the “process,” which is simply a gross exaggeration of the truth – shall we say a partisan exaggeration? And we got those very same Republicans who refused to play nice now claiming credit for bringing goodies to their states.
So in the end it sounds like the old partisan ways of doing business are just as prevalent as ever, no matter what Obama might like. But unlike most of the punditry, I do not have a problem with that. The voters clearly elected the Democrats after eight years of the Bush White House, most of it with a Republican Congress. They did so because they believed – at least in this election – that the Democratic vision for America is the right one going forward. It is incumbent then on Democrats to actually put that vision into place, even if it means continuing to play partisan politics.
Americans may say they don’t like partisanship. But to put it bluntly, just because Americans don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t good for them.
Partisanship gives us clear choices about what vision of the good life we subscribe to. Post-partisanship muddies those choices, makes them less clear, and in the end is probably doomed to failure anyway, given the more than 200-year-old fundamental argument in American society: government as a force for good or a force for bad?
But let me be clear on one last point. Being partisan does not mean being nasty, negative, or simply mean. One can be – I hope! – partisan with respect for the sincerely held positions of the other side. In the end that’s what I think is missing these days from American politics. It’s not that we need post-partisanship. What we need is respectful, thoughtful partisanship with open honest debate. And that’s a whole ‘nother set of problems!
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2009 - 16:05
SOURCE: China Beat (blog) (2-25-09)
I never thought I’d see “Free the Uighurs” on the editorial pages of major U.S. newspapers, but there it was last Thursday in the Washington Post (Editorial, February 19, 2009, p. A14) and Monday in the Los Angeles Times (Editorial, Feb. 23, 2009). Of course, the editorial was not discussing Uyghurs in China, but the seventeen Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo, whom a federal appeals court ruled could be brought to the U.S. only by an act of the executive branch, not the courts. The Post urged the Obama administration to do the right thing by these men, whom the Bush administration acknowledged years ago were not “enemy combatants” but whom it could neither send back to China nor find a third country willing to take.
It was not that long ago that references to Uyghurs hardly ever appeared in the international press. From the late 1980s through the late 1990s there were occasional stories, when reporters given rare opportunities to travel to Xinjiang sought out silk road exotica and separatism—story lines they seem to have settled on before their trip. It was not hard to flesh out the template with colorful minority clothing, mutton kabobs and some young guy in the bazaar complaining about the Chinese. The rare actual violent incidents were exciting—they fit the imagined narrative that Xinjiang was a “simmering cauldron” or “powder-keg waiting to blow.” But they were harder to write about, as information was scant and mainly filtered through PRC state media, which was then intent on minimizing any local unrest or dissent. Internally, in the late 1990s Xinjiang Party officials still worried about the Xinjiang issue becoming “internationalized”—in other words, emerging, like Tibet, as a global cause célèbre.
After September 11th, 2001, China abruptly reversed course, deliberately publicizing the issue of Uyghur dissent as “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism,” and explicitly linking potential unrest in Xinjiang (the region was in fact quiet from 1997 through 2008) to Al Qaeda and the U.S. “global war on terror.” This linkage was accomplished through a document issued in English by the State Council in January 2002, official press reports, and print and broadcast interviews with Chinese leaders. The message was much reiterated in subsequent years; state media and PRC leaders proclaimed Uyghurs to be the main potential security risk to the 2008 Olympics (in the spring before and during the Olympics, there were in fact three incidents of what seems to have been politically-inspired violence involving Uyghurs in Xinjiang.)
The U.S. government, international media and anti-terrorism think-tanks contributed to the re-branding of Uyghur dissent as a “movement” motivated by Islamist thinking and linked to “international terror organizations.” Stereotyped notions about Islam and a paucity of solid firsthand information about Xinjiang made plausible the idea that Al Qaeda-type Uyghur jihadis were “waging” a “militant” “resistance” against Chinese authorities, even in absence of anything like a terrorist attack for over a decade. Because every “movement” needs an acronym, concerns crystallized around ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), one of several groups mentioned in the Chinese State Council document. The U.S. listed ETIM as an international terrorist organization in 2002 and mistakenly attributed to it all the violent acts reported by the PRC as having occurred in Xinjiang for the ten years prior to 1997, though Chinese sources themselves up to that point had not attributed any specific acts to ETIM (they did so subsequently). The U.S. thus made ETIM the name to conjure with.
Now the “Uyghur issue” is well and truly internationalized, thanks to U.S. and Chinese policies and rhetoric over the past several years. Indeed, at the moment it stands at the crux of U.S.-Chinese relations. In order to close down Guantanamo prison, as President Obama has pledged, detainees who cannot be repatriated must be resettled elsewhere. In order to convince third countries to accept Guantanamo detainees, the U.S. must first show willingness to resettle some itself. Politically, the Uyghurs are the easiest choice among the detainees for U.S. asylum: they were determined by the Bush administration to harbor “no animus” towards the United States; there is a measure of Congressional support for their resettlement thanks in part to effective lobbying efforts by the Uyghur America Association (itself funded by the U.S. government through the National Endowment for Democracy); and the Uyghur community here is eager to help in the detainees’ transition.
Of course, the PRC government strongly opposes resettling Uyghurs from Guantanamo in the U.S. or anywhere else, and wants them sent back to China. As Li Wei, from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, put it in an interview with NPR’s Anthony Kuhn (Morning Edition, Feb. 20, 2009), “what would the American government think if China sheltered people who threatened America's national security?” Li makes a reasonable point: if China publicly resettled Al Qaeda trainees from Afghan camps, the U.S. would take this as a major affront.
So now, with the Obama-era U.S.-China relationship still unformed, an act critical to realizing the president’s promise to shut down Guantanamo will also, like it or not, be seen as his major first act related to China: granting asylum to a group of men China has repeatedly and publicly denounced as violent terrorist members of ETIM. The Chinese public and most Chinese academics, party-members and officials sincerely believe Uyghur terrorists pose a grave security threat to China. ETIM is their Al Qaeda.
Moreover, despite the fact that no country and no serious scholar disputes the legality of China’s sovereignty in Xinjiang, some Chinese believe the U.S. supports and foments Uyghur terrorism in order to destabilize China. American academics who write about Xinjiang have been (falsely) accused in Chinese publications of working with the U.S. government to provide “a theoretical basis for one day taking action to dismember China and separate Xinjiang” (Pan Zhiping, in his introduction to the internal Chinese translation of Frederick Starr, ed. Xinjiang: China's Muslim Frontier). We should not underestimate the perception gap between the U.S. and China over Xinjiang and the Uyghurs. In China, the issue is as radioactive as the sands of Lop Nor.
Thus, while the U.S. press has discussed the Guantanamo Uyghurs mainly as a domestic U.S. political and legal issue, their fate could have a great impact on U.S.-China relations at this critical time. The legacy of the Bush administration’s China policy is often treated as broadly positive, thanks to the role played by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and resultant stress on economic affairs. However, the Guantanamo Uyghurs are another huge mess Bush got us into. Thanks to Bush-era mistakes and the fuzzy but dangerous notion of “global war on terror,” the Obama administration faces yet another potential crisis—one in U.S.-China relations—right off the bat.
The U.S. should recognize that while resettling the seventeen Uyghurs here may be the only way to break the Guantanamo log-jam, to do so will mean asking China to swallow something extremely unpalatable. If a blow-up in U.S.-China relations can be averted, it will be because American diplomats handle the issue with the extreme sensitivity it merits, and because China chooses to overlook U.S. hypocrisy and place the greater interests of good Sino-U.S. ties over their entrenched rhetorical position on Xinjiang. In so doing they will help us put yet another Bush-era disaster behind us and move on.
 On the mistakes in the public US statement accompanying the U.S. listing of ETIM, see my"Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: a Critical Assessment," East West Center policy studies #6, Washington D.C.: East West Center, 2004.
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2009 - 15:47
SOURCE: The New Nixon (blog) (2-24-09)
There is no escaping Richard M. Nixon. He did so much to shape the politics and policy of the last half-century that every president will end up echoing his words. Take President Obama’s address last night.
The president spoke of reducing dependence on foreign oil through conservation and the use of solar power. According to UCSB’s invaluable database of presidential documents, the first president to make public mention of solar energy was RN. In his 1971 energy message to Congress – the first such presidential message ever – he said:
The sun offers an almost unlimited supply of energy if we can learn to use it economically. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation are currently re-examining their efforts in this area and we expect to give greater attention to solar energy in the future. The key to meeting our twin goals of supplying adequate energy and protecting the environment in the decades ahead will be a balanced and imaginative research and development program.
President Obama decried “the crushing cost of health care” and spoke of people going broke to get well. So did President Nixon in 1972. “Relative affluence is no ultimate protection against health,” he said in a message to Congress. “A single catastrophic illness can wipe out the financial security of almost any family under most present health insurance policies.” He proposed “a comprehensive national health insurance program, in which the public and private sector would join, would guarantee that no American family would have to forego needed medical attention because of inability to pay.”
President Obama called for greater access to higher education. In 1970, President Nixon said:
No element of our national life is more worthy of our attention, our support and our concern than higher education. For no element has greater impact on the careers, the personal growth and the happiness of so many of our citizens. And no element is of greater importance in providing the knowledge and leadership on which the vitality of our democracy and the strength of our economy depends.
President Obama promised an Iraq policy that “responsibly ends this war,” just as RN spoke of “peace with honor” in Vietnam.
Most striking, President Obama emphasized that Americans are not quitters. Quitting was abhorrent to RN, as he said as early as the Checkers speech. And in a 1974 speech, he said: “The American people are not a nation of quitters. We are a nation that will keep fighting on until we succeed.”
Posted on: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - 18:33
SOURCE: CNN (2-25-09)
In Tuesday night's speech, President Obama attempted to calm the nation, explaining how his programs will stimulate the economy and create a foundation for long-term economic growth.
Obama sought to explain what went wrong, starting with the elimination of regulations on the purchase of homes that people could not afford. Obama explained that it is "only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament."
The president's speech was badly needed. And President Obama is right, we need to understand how we arrived at this moment. But one speech is not enough.
Americans are more frightened about the economy with each and every new day. Jobs are being lost, stock prices are falling and home values plummeting.
According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, about half of those surveyed said they were seriously worried about losing their jobs and two-thirds expressed serious concern that they would not be able to pay their bills.
Americans are not sure what has gone wrong. Under those conditions, it will be difficult to restore confidence in the future. The conventional wisdom says that presidents should be the leaders to use the bully pulpit and explain to Americans the nature of any crisis that we face.
But history shows that Congress has played an extremely important role in shaping public debate in times of crisis and bringing to light crucial information. Although congressional hearings are often derided for grandstanding, the power of investigation is one of the most important functions Congress has played.
For every example of congressional excess, such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anticommunist witch hunts, there have been moments when Congress demonstrated its ability to explain and to educate.
Congress has been central to the investigation of political corruption. One of the most famous moments in the history of the institution took place in 1973 when the southern Democrat Sam Ervin, known for his folksy speech, chaired Select Committee hearings into the scandals surrounding President Richard Nixon.
The committee put together the various pieces of the Nixon White House's scandalous behavior, providing the fullest picture of the corruption that defined that presidency.
The investigation, watched by millions, revealed the cover-up that had taken place as well as a much wider web of illegal activities. The hearings altered popular understanding of what Watergate was about -- namely that Nixon's wrongdoing was potentially far more serious than they had thought.
Congress has also helped raise questions and gather data about foreign policy. In 1966, Arkansan Sen. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dragged members of President Lyndon Johnson's administration before his committee to expose some of the weaknesses that were only starting to become apparent in the administration's Vietnam policies. Criticism about the war, which had been confined to college campuses, started to spread into middle-class, suburban homes.
Most relevant to today, Congress has investigated the causes behind economic downturns, using the power of investigation to raise public concern and improve knowledge of the economy.
This was the case with the famous Pecora Commission, the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency formed in the period between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March. It was a commission that lasted through May 1934.
The commission set out to discover what had led to the stock market crash in 1929. Committee Chairman Duncan Fletcher of New Jersey placed Ferdinand Pecora, the committee's chief counsel, in charge of the investigation.
Pecora, a tough New York prosecutor, proved to be a masterful interrogator. "I looked with astonishment," said his staffer John Flynn, a former journalist, "at this man who, through the intricate mazes of banking, syndicates, market deals, chicanery of all sorts, and in a field new to him, never forgot a name, never made an error in a figure, and never lost his temper."
Pecora brought some of the most prominent figures from Wall Street to speak with the commission and to answer difficult questions.
Americans learned that the tycoon J.P. Morgan had not paid income taxes for three years. Even worse, tax evasion was common among the wealthy. In his new book on FDR's Hundred Days, Adam Cohen recounts how the hearings revealed how National City Bank had caused enormous problems by mixing commercial and investment banking, reaping huge profits as customers were persuaded to make terrible investments.
Preferential treatment on stock, Americans learned, was routine as certain clients on Morgan's "preferred list" were given the best offers. By the time it closed, the commission produced thousands of pages of data about the inside operations of the financial world.
As a result of the Pecora Commission, public pressure for banking reform greatly intensified. The 1929 crash seemed like much less of a mystery when Pecora was done.
Congress passed historic banking regulations during the New Deal, including the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, the Securities Act of 1933, and the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, all of which vastly expanded the role of the federal government in overseeing and regulating Wall Street.
Partisan warfare in the 1990s, including the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, made many Americans cynical about congressional investigation, as it seemed to be just another tool in the bitter culture of Capitol Hill.
But Congress can help us learn. We need another Pecora Commission, another Fulbright Committee, another Sam Ervin to use the power of Congress to shed light on the causes of our current economic meltdown.
Congress needs to learn more, not only about the kind of criminal activity for which Bernard Madoff is being charged, but also the legal practices -- such as risky home loans -- that created dangerous bubbles and put families at risk.
If voters and politicians are going to be able to evaluate legislation that is being proposed on a weekly basis, citizens must understand what has gone wrong.
This will be the first step toward restoring the confidence that the country needs if it is to start a better day.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - 18:23
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (2-25-09)
Why do we love those unlovable men of the 1950s and early '60s?
You can see them in the award-winning TV series "Mad Men" or in the blockbuster movie, "Revolutionary Road." Organization men by day, they took the 7:51 a.m. train to work in their long trench coats and dark hats. But at night they became hard-bitten tough guys, looking for curvy women to love--at least for an evening.
Locked in their domestic prisons, wives suffered in silence or pleaded in vain for some kind of emotional support. Their husbands were "providers," of course, but only in a narrow economic sense. They didn't go in for any of that touchy-feely stuff.
Maybe that's why we can't get enough of them. In a culture saturated by public displays of intimate information, there's something very seductive about a man who keeps everything bottled up inside.
But there's more. Behind the cult of the '50s man lies the fallacy of progress: the idea that the present must always be more advanced, sophisticated, and insightful than the past. And that's the real seduction here. By gazing backward at the repressed '50s men, we can congratulate ourselves at how far we have come.
Only, we haven't. And here's how I know: A few years ago, I read my mother's love letters from the 1950s.
It was a strange experience, to say the least, but it made me reconsider what I thought about '50s men.
Other historians have been doing the same. Most recently, University of Maryland historian James Gilbert showed that men of the 1950s were much more complicated – and much more expressive – than our stereotypes would suggest.
My mother's letters came from 11 different suitors. All of them were white, middle-class and college-educated. And they displayed an emotional range that many men today would envy.
Listen to Murray Schechter, who desperately wanted to marry my mother. "I really want to just let myself go – and write what I feel – that's perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life," Murray wrote in November 1952.
But he pressed on. "I sometimes think the word love is inadequate to express all the tender and stirring emotions I feel – it's the little things – the sound of your voice – the way you walk – your eyes. I can't stand being alone."
For men, then, the '50s were indeed a period of profound emotional restriction: It was hard to write what they felt. But they did it, anyway. In the same breath, these men acknowledged the constraint of their times and resolved to overcome it.
And it wasn't always pretty. "I'm sorry that I'm so bitter – but I can't help it," Murray wrote my mother, just before she terminated the relationship. "I really feel that with all this difficulty between us – since I love you so much – that my life is just going to hell right under me."
Or consider Peter Lewisohn, another jilted suitor. "Guess I'll just revert back into my impregnable shell, for the present anyway." Peter's very need for shelter from emotions showed how deeply they had touched him.
Still other correspondents poked fun at the popular notion of the poker-faced male. "Look, Baby, this is hard for me to do," wrote Paul Zimmerman. "We been goin' together for awhile and I guess I can talk to you, but this is still hard. Yeah, honey, hard.... Sure, it's gonna be dangerous and chances of me ever comin' back to you are about 1,000,000 to one. But hold back what you feel."
Murray Schechter and Peter Lewisohn are pseudonyms, of course; Paul Zimmerman is not. He's my father. So I also found out a lot about how he negotiated the key emotional rule of '50s culture: Hold back what you feel.
Sometimes, as in the passage above, he did it through humor and satire. But at other times, he was much more direct. Shortly after he asked my mom to get married, my dad began to wonder if he had made the wrong decision. And then he righted himself.
"I can't see how I ever could have doubted my need for you, or your meaning to me," he wrote my mother, in April of 1957. "You are the one who is going to make me a complete individual, and for this I'm grateful in advance."
I'm grateful, too, for having the parents that I did. (We don't choose them.) And I'm grateful that they let me see these letters, which taught me more about them – and the 1950s – than I ever knew. Maybe it's time we stopped patronizing '50s men, and started listening to them instead. We've got a lot to learn.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - 17:27
SOURCE: Daniel Pipes website/Jerusalem Post (2-25-09)
On the political level, its raison d'être was based on the canard that Muslims in the United States suffer from bias and are victimized. That idea took formal expression in 2000, when the Senate passed a resolution inveighing against the"discrimination" and"backlash" suffered by the American Muslim community, an insulting falsehood then and now.
On the ideological level, Bridges TV was a fraud, pretending to be moderate when it was just another member of the"Wahhabi lobby." Endorsed by some of the worst Islamist functionaries in the country (Nihad Awad, Ibrahim Hooper, Iqbal Yunus, Louay Safi), it was an extremist wolf disguised in moderate sheep's clothing.
On the financial level, Bridges TV marketed itself to investors on the basis of an imaginary population of 7 million-7.4 million U.S. Muslims, or 2-3 times the actual total, making the station commercially unviable from day one.
Finally, on the familial level, Bridges TV pretended to be based on what critic Zuhdi Jasser calls the"public marital partnership" of the station's first couple; Muzzammil ("Mo") Hassan proudly related how his wife Aasiya Z. Hassan spurred him to create Bridges TV. He was the hard-charging founder responsible for finances and marketing; she expressed her devotion to Islamic ideals and culture as the station's program director.
In fact, reports Aasiya's divorce attorney, the couple had"physical confrontations off and on" during their entire eight-year marriage and these recently escalated to Muzzammil issuing death threats. Salma Zubair, who says she is Aasiya's sister, writes that Aasiya"lived her 8 years of married life with fear."
Aasiya began divorce proceedings on the grounds of" cruel and inhuman treatment" and won an"Order of Protection" on Feb. 6 to force Muzzammil out of their shared house, enraging him; according to the local police chief, Muzzammil" came back to the residence and was pounding on doors and broke one window."
Muzzammil S. and Aasiya Z. Hassan in happier times.
A reliable source informs me – and this is breaking news – that the police found Muzzammil repeatedly told his wife that she had no right, under Islamic law, to divorce him. They also quote him stating that Aasiya, because beheaded, cannot reach paradise.
Muzzammil's defense lawyer says his client will plead not guilty, presumably by reason of insanity.
A great battle looms ahead on how to interpret this crime, whether as domestic violence or honor killing. Supna Zaidi of Islamist Watch defines the latter as"the murder of a girl or woman who has allegedly committed an act that has shamed and embarrassed her family." Deeply alien to Westerners, this motive has paramount importance in traditional Muslim life.
In a Middle East Quarterly article,"Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?" feminist theorist Phyllis Chesler delineates eight differences between these two concepts, including the identities of perpetrator and victim, the circumstances of the murder, the degree of gratuitous violence, the killer's state of mind, and family responses.
Did Aasiya die in a crime of passion or to reinstate a family's reputation? Was the violence generic or specifically Muslim? The Islamic Society of North America opts for domestic violence while the National Organization for Women's New York State chapter sees an honor killing.
The crime at Bridges TV fits neither model exactly, suggesting we need more information to determine its exact nature. But as the forces of political correctness inevitably bear down to exclude an Islamic dimension to the murder, the motive of family reputation must be kept alive. Enough with the pleasant deceits – time has come to utter hard truths about Bridges TV.
Feb. 25, 2009 update: This article builds on two weblog entries, one started in when Bridges TV began operations,"Were Investors in 'Bridges TV' Misled?" and the other,"Bridges TV, a Wife's Beheading, and Honor Murder," started wih the announcement of Aasiya Hassan's murder. For further developments in the case, see the latter entry.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - 17:19
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (2-23-09)
Seven years ago, in his State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush warned of an “axis of evil” that was engaged in assisting terrorists, acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and “arming to threaten the peace of the world.” In Bush’s telling, this exclusive new club had three members: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Bush’s policy prescription for dealing with the axis of evil was preemption, and just over a year later he put this doctrine into action by invading Iraq.
The bad news for Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, is that he now faces a much larger and potentially more troubling axis—an axis of upheaval. This axis has at least nine members, and quite possibly more. What unites them is not so much their wicked intentions as their instability, which the global financial crisis only makes worse every day. Unfortunately, that same crisis is making it far from easy for the United States to respond to this new “grave and growing danger.”
When Bush’s speechwriters coined the phrase “axis of evil” (originally “axis of hatred”), they were drawing a parallel with the World War II alliance between Germany, Italy, and Japan, formalized in the Tripartite Pact of September 1940. The axis of upheaval, by contrast, is more reminiscent of the decade before the outbreak of World War II, when the Great Depression unleashed a wave of global political crises.
The Bush years have of course revealed the perils of drawing facile parallels between the challenges of the present day and the great catastrophes of the 20th century. Nevertheless, there is reason to fear that the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression could have comparable consequences for the international system.
For more than a decade, I pondered the question of why the 20th century was characterized by so much brutal upheaval. I pored over primary and secondary literature. I wrote more than 800 pages on the subject. And ultimately I concluded, in The War of the World, that three factors made the location and timing of lethal organized violence more or less predictable in the last century. The first factor was ethnic disintegration: Violence was worst in areas of mounting ethnic tension. The second factor was economic volatility: The greater the magnitude of economic shocks, the more likely conflict was. And the third factor was empires in decline: When structures of imperial rule crumbled, battles for political power were most bloody.
In at least one of the world’s regions—the greater Middle East—two of these three factors have been present for some time: Ethnic conflict has been rife there for decades, and following the difficulties and disappointments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States already seems likely to begin winding down its quasi-imperial presence in the region. It likely still will.
Now the third variable, economic volatility, has returned with a vengeance. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s “Great Moderation”—the supposed decline of economic volatility that he hailed in a 2004 lecture—has been obliterated by a financial chain reaction, beginning in the U.S. subprime mortgage market, spreading through the banking system, reaching into the “shadow” system of credit based on securitization, and now triggering collapses in asset prices and economic activity around the world...
Posted on: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 11:11
SOURCE: NYT (2-22-09)
PEOPLE everywhere are talking about the Great Depression, which followed the October 1929 stock market crash and lasted until the United States entered World War II. It is a vivid story of year upon year of despair.
This Depression narrative, however, is not merely a story about the past: It has started to inform our current expectations.
According to the Reuters-University of Michigan Survey of Consumers earlier this month, nearly two-thirds of consumers expected that the present downturn would last for five more years. President Obama, in his first press conference, evoked the Depression in warning of a “negative spiral” that “becomes difficult for us to get out of” and suggested the possibility of a “lost decade,” as in Japan in the 1990s.
He said Congress needed to pass an economic stimulus package — as it ultimately did — to prevent this calamity.
The attention paid to the Depression story may seem a logical consequence of our economic situation. But the retelling, in fact, is a cause of the current situation — because the Great Depression serves as a model for our expectations, damping what John Maynard Keynes called our “animal spirits,” reducing consumers’ willingness to spend and businesses’ willingness to hire and expand. The Depression narrative could easily end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The popular response to vivid accounts of past depressions is partly psychological, but it has a rational base. We have to look at past episodes because economic theory, lacking the physical constants of the hard sciences, has never offered a complete account of the mechanics of depressions.
The Great Depression does appear genuinely relevant. The bursting of twin bubbles in the stock and real estate markets, accompanied by huge failures of financial institutions and a drop in confidence, has no more recent example than that of the 1930s....
Posted on: Sunday, February 22, 2009 - 19:57
SOURCE: Detroit Free Press (2-22-09)
For the first time in three decades, we have a president who has pledged to put urban and metropolitan issues at the forefront of the national political agenda. Given the current economic crisis, and its devastating impact on metro Detroit, it's not a moment too soon.
For the past three decades, American urban policy has been a shambles. Beginning in the Reagan years, the federal government steadily cut spending on cities, while industry fled, infrastructure crumbled and populations grew poorer. Federal tax, housing and transit policies subsidized helter-skelter suburban growth, leading to the loss of farms, forests and wetlands, and to the rise of costly long-distance commuting. Meanwhile, cities were left to fend for themselves.
Without government support, cities turned to the private sector to address the most pressing urban problems. Urban development took two paths. One was splashy downtown revitalization geared to tourists, professionals, artists and well-to-do empty-nesters that gave downtowns a new lease on life. But the benefits of upscale development did not trickle down to the working-class majority of city dwellers. And the downtown bubble burst in cities from Las Vegas to Detroit, leaving an aftermath of vacancies and foreclosures.
The other path was forged by small-scale community development organizations, which grew out of the civil rights and black power battles of the 1960s and 1970s. With foundation grants and government support, they built affordable housing, community centers and, occasionally, stores. But overall, they did not transform the city. Community groups had the will but not the capacity to stem the massive urban disinvestment and depopulation.
Barack Obama -- the first president from a big city in more than a century -- comes to the White House with hands-on experience in urban issues. As a community organizer on Chicago's ravaged South Side, he saw the possibilities of community participation and empowerment, but the limitations of small-scale redevelopment.
As a budding politician, he attended fund-raisers in the city's gentrified North Side neighborhoods and worked closely with major downtown developers. And as a resident of one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the United States, he saw the corrosive effects of the balkanization of Chicagoland into two metros: one mostly white, with good schools and public services, the other mostly minority, with failing schools, a decaying infrastructure and rising taxes.
President Obama's first urban policy steps have been promising. He announced the creation of a White House Office of Urban Policy, a signal that cities will be a federal priority for the first time in decades. The nearly $800-billion fiscal stimulus package does not target cities specifically, but provides funding for school renovation and infrastructure improvements, public transit improvements and disadvantaged students and workers. The stimulus will certainly provide much needed jobs and help cash-strapped municipalities deal with years' worth of deferred maintenance.
And, though it has not been heralded as an urban program, the stimulus package's $3-billion appropriation for medical research will provide a lifeline for the research and teaching hospitals whose viability is essential to city economies. Detroit, like Obama's Chicago and nearly every other old industrial city, depends on its "meds and eds" -- that is, hospitals, universities and schools -- as an alternative to lost manufacturing jobs. They are the bulwark of today's urban economies.
But the success of the Obama administration's urban policy won't simply rest on its ability to solve the economic crisis. American cities and metropolitan areas are at a crossroads. Obama's urban policy has the potential to do much more than bail out cash-strapped municipalities. The new administration has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent cities and metropolitan areas.
That will require thinking outside the box. Downtown redevelopment has a place -- but it cannot be the cornerstone of a new urban policy, unless it is directly tied to job creation. Community economic development is crucial, but it needs to be done on a much larger scale -- and must include building affordable housing where the jobs are -- in the suburbs.
And, most important, planning needs to be regional, not just local. So long as neighborhoods compete with downtowns, cities compete with suburbs, and suburbs compete with each other for scarce resources, our metropolitan areas will remain divided by class and race and be economically inefficient.
The federal government has the power to provide incentives for regional collaboration. President Obama has long talked about unity -- about transcending the divisions that separate Americans by race, religion and party. It is time to include our metropolitan areas in that vision of unity.
The current crisis is a metropolitan one -- and the solution will come in policies that are appropriate to the scope and scale of the economic and social problems that we all face together.
Posted on: Sunday, February 22, 2009 - 19:43
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (2-21-09)
In the last few days voices as disparate as John McCain's speechwriter, Mark McKinnon, and former President Bill Clinton have suggested to President Obama that he put a more optimistic mien on his presidency. I suspect that Bill Clinton's advice is meant to be constructive and, other than contemplating the colossal chutzpah of anybody associated with John McCain telling anybody to be optimistic, I cannot speculate on McKinnon's motive.
At first cut, this advice sounds right because American history suggests that presidential optimists such as Roosevelt, Reagan and Clinton tend to be more successful than presidential pessimists, notably Carter and George W. Bush. This is not a hard rule, but just a trend. Nonetheless, Reagan's cheerful, morning in America disposition allowed him to remain well liked virtually throughout his presidency in spite of some of his views and policies being quite unpopular. Reagan's popularity on the heels of Carter's discussions of national malaise is quite instructive in this regard. Similarly, Franklin D. Roosevelt was much more successful with his approach of "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were with their approach that might be summed up with the line from the advertising posters from the 1980s remake of The Fly "Be Afraid, be very afraid."
For Obama the question of whether he should be more optimistic is somewhat different, and not just because the current economic situation is uniquely dire. To some extent this is a matter of style. Obama doesn't need to be more optimistic because he already is so essentially forward-looking and hopeful. In addition to being a young president with a young, happy family and confident, unflappable disposition, Obama's election, in the midst of this economic crisis, was itself a major triumph of optimism, for many the first such triumph during a particularly gloomy period in our history. Accordingly, Obama has an enormous reservoir of optimism on which he can draw. His presidency is based around the notion of hope. If he was more explicit about this feeling, constantly making upbeat predictions about the economy, or other overt statements of optimism, he would risk sounding foolish and lacking in seriousness and gravitas.
A more practical reason for Obama to avoid being too optimistic is that raising expectations would be very damaging for him and his party. As the party in control of the executive and both houses of congress, the Democrats will be held responsible by voters for our economic recovery. The chances of a meaningful economic turnaround by the midterm elections, or perhaps even the next presidential election, are not good almost regardless of what the Obama administration does. Therefore, the party's future success depends on Obama being frank about economic realities with the American people. Obama would do well, to borrow a phrase from George Wallace, to keep the expectations so low even the goats can get them.
If Obama is truly committed to change, being more optimistic may not help him in that effort. Americans voted for Obama because they were acutely aware of the problems the country faces. If, in the first months of his presidency, Obama were to begin minimizing those problems and saying things are getting better, it might actually undermine his chances of continuing legislative success. One or two bills, even big ones, will not be enough to solve our problems, for Obama to suggest otherwise would not be optimistic; it would be disingenuous.
The current economic crisis is not simply due to a lack of consumer and investor confidence, although that is part of the problem. There are broader structural problems that need to be addressed and decades of bad policies that need to get reversed. As difficult and depressing as it is to believe, the economy probably still needs to get worse before it can get better. Americans are well served by a president who understands that and conducts himself accordingly.
The lesson that Obama should take from Roosevelt, Reagan and even Winston Churchill is not optimism, but resolve. The key message from Obama should not be that things aren't as bad as they seem or that we are about to turn the corner, but that it may take time, and it will not be easy, but that we will right our economy and get back on our feet. It is hard to imagine a president who understands the true strength of America and the truly unique opportunities this country can offer better than Barack Obama. Barack Obama does not need to be reminded, by anybody, of the extraordinary resilience of the US, and of its people, but he should not be misleading anybody by avoiding the difficult truths about what is really occurring, how we got to this point or what it will take to right our economy.
Posted on: Sunday, February 22, 2009 - 19:41
SOURCE: NYT blog (2-18-09)
At the start of his presidential term in 1913, Woodrow Wilson said prophetically, “It would be the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.” Although he managed to win passage of major progressive reforms, including the Federal Reserve Act, his presidency was soon overwhelmed by problems abroad: first in Mexico, with American troops seizing the port of Vera Cruz in April 1914, and then in Europe, where the First World War erupted that August.
Obama will learn, as his predecessors did, that foreign crises are an unavoidable part of the job.
Likewise, every president since Franklin Roosevelt found himself compelled to focus on foreign dangers. Unlike Wilson, F.D.R. was not averse to fixing his attention on overseas troubles. But during his first hundred days, when the Great Depression pushed rising tensions abroad to the recesses of his thinking, Roosevelt, declaring first things first, put economic nationalism above international cooperation and gave the back of his hand to the London Economic Conference.
Harry Truman’s first 100 days were exclusively focused on foreign affairs. However much postwar demobilization beckoned, ending World War II had to be Truman’s first business: finishing off the Nazis, trying to contain Soviet power in Eastern Europe and Germany, and deciding about the use of atomic bombs against Japan were among the greatest initial tests any president ever faced in the opening months of his term.
Dwight Eisenhower’s trip to Korea as president-elect in December 1952 and John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 were defining events, signaling that no modern president could expect to spend four or eight years in office without pressure to decide overseas matters of life and death.
Like Wilson, from day one of his presidency Lyndon Johnson thought of himself as a domestic reformer and lamented the foreign calls on his attention that distracted him. It wasn’t long before one aide described Johnson as wishing “the rest of the world would go away and we could get ahead with the real needs of Americans.” And Lady Bird Johnson said that mounting foreign problems “do not represent Lyndon’s kind of presidency.” Johnson gave voice to his discomfort with world problems when he joked: “Foreigners are not like the folks I am used to.”
Johnson felt the press corps intentionally tried to embarrass him during his first 100 days, questioning his competence and attentiveness to external problems. So he took pains to tell reporters in January 1964, “I am spending more time on foreign affairs than on any other subject. I have had 175 separate meetings … have made 188 telephone calls…. I’ve met twice with the National Security Council. I’ve had Secretary [of Defense Robert] McNamara at the White House 30 times. I’ve met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff three times in 60 days. I’ve had Secretary [of State Dean] Rusk here 51 times…. I am often called in the middle of the night … with late information on developments abroad.”
Because all this activity did not convince the pundits of Johnson’s competence as a foreign policy leader, he was especially careful about his management of the first international crises he faced as president: challenges from Cuban and Panamanian nationalists to United States power in their countries.
In February 1964, Fidel Castro’s government in Havana cut off water supplies to the American naval base at Guantánamo Bay in response to American restrictions on Cuban fishing boats in American territorial waters. Recalling Kennedy’s disaster at the Bay of Pigs, Johnson wanted to avoid a response to Castro that made him look like a militarist eager to pick a fight with Communist Cuba or an appeaser who lacked Kennedy’s skill in standing up to an aggressor as during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Johnson showed himself to be judicious and firm by ordering the Pentagon to quickly make the base’s water supply self-sufficient.
Panama was a more difficult problem. Fighting between Panamanian students and American residents in January 1964 that killed some two dozen students and four Americans moved Panama’s President Robert Chiari to break relations with the United States. Warned by Senate leaders not to give in to demands for a renegotiation of the 1903 treaty granting a 99-year lease on the Canal Zone, Johnson saw the dispute as a test of his resolve to resist radical pressures around the globe. As with Cuba, he did not want to be seen as either a hothead or an easy mark of foreign pressure. While promising to meet Chiari’s demands for discussions about the treaty, he insisted that Panama first restore diplomatic relations. At the same time, he scored points with American hawks by belittling Panama as no bigger than St. Louis and defying pressure from the Organization of American States to be more forthcoming with Panama by saying that the O.A.S. couldn’t pour urine “out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.”
Can Barack Obama find any lessons for his initial conduct of foreign policy in Johnson’s first hundred days? Whether or not he is conscious of the Johnson experience, Obama so far seems to be imitating Johnson.
Like Johnson, he seems determined to blunt suggestions that he is a novice in world politics. Although saying nothing about how much time he is spending on foreign affairs, President Obama has addressed questions about his knowledge of the world by surrounding himself with more seasoned advisers than himself: Vice President Joseph Biden, the former chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton accords for Bosnia, who is special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan; George Mitchell, the mediator of the Northern Ireland settlement and now the president’s representative to the Middle East; and Gen. James L. Jones, the National Security Adviser.
By announcing his intention to close the Guantánamo prison in the next year and to reverse the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, Mr. Obama satisfies his party base while also proceeding slowly enough to show that he will assure against freeing anyone who might prove to be a renewed threat to the United States.
The announcement of 17,000 more troops for Afghanistan this week, and of expanded powers for the National Security Council suggest that, like Johnson, Mr. Obama is determined not to allow conservative critics get to the right of him on major national security matters.
He will want to remember, however, that foreign policy in general, and wars in particular, have played havoc with presidential reform programs — whether progressivism and World War I, or the New Deal and World War II, or the Fair Deal and Korea, or the Great Society and Vietnam. As Johnson so painfully learned in the 1960s, guns and butter are easy to promise but almost impossible to deliver at the same time.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 18:40
SOURCE: WSJ (2-18-09)
When President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law yesterday, he was adding to what is already almost guaranteed to be the largest deficit in American history. In January, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the deficit this year would be $1.2 trillion before the stimulus package. That's more than twice the deficit in fiscal 2008, more than the entire GDP of all but a handful of countries, and more, in nominal dollars, than the entire United States national debt in 1982.
But while the sum is huge, it is not in and of itself threatening to the solvency of the Republic. At 8.3% of GDP, this year's deficit is by far the largest since World War II. But the total debt is, as of now, still under 75% of GDP. It was almost 130% following World War II. (Japan's national debt right now is not far from 180% of that nation's GDP.)
Still, it's the trend that is worrisome, to put it mildly. There have always been two reasons for adding to the national debt. One is to fight wars. The second is to counteract recessions. But while the national debt in 1982 was 35% of GDP, after a quarter century of nearly uninterrupted economic growth and the end of the Cold War the debt-to-GDP ratio has more than doubled.
It is hard to escape the idea that this happened only because Democrats and Republicans alike never said no to any significant interest group. Despite a genuine economic emergency, the stimulus bill is more about dispensing goodies to Democratic interest groups than stimulating the economy. Even Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) -- no deficit hawk when his party is in the majority -- called it "porky."
It was not ever thus. Before the Great Depression, balancing the budget and paying down the debt were considered second only to the defense of the country as an obligation of the federal government. Before 1930, the government ran surpluses in two years out of three. In 1865, the vast debt run up in the Civil War amounted to about 30% of GDP; by 1916 it was less than a tenth of that.
There even was a time when the U.S. made it a deliberate policy to pay off the national debt entirely -- and succeeded in doing so. It remains to this day the only time in history a major country has been debt free. Ironically, the president who achieved this was the founder of the modern Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 17:36
SOURCE: OpenDemocracy (2-18-09)
and Visiting Professor of History, U.C. Berkeley.]
Ever since Barack Obama won the presidency, American women - battered by the George W Bush administration's assaults on their rights - have sensed the possibility of change and mobilised to make sure that the new president hear their voices and recognise their needs.
No surprise here. During any great political transformation, women have almost always demanded greater equality. In the midst of the American revolution, Abigail Adams famously warned her husband that the new republic must not ignore the needs and rights of half the population. "Remember the Ladies," she wrote to him. "Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."
Adams understood that women become very angry when liberal change is in the air, but realise they will not be among its beneficiaries. It happened during the French revolution and during the 1960s, for example. It's happening again.
That's why advocates of women's equality quickly mobilised to press the Obama administration to reverse Bush's policies and to make sure he included women in whatever "new" New Deal might be necessary to keep the United States from sliding into the Second Great Depression.
For his part, President Barack Obama has proved that he "gets it", that he understands women's lives and seeks to improve their economic prospects, domestic dilemmas, and reproductive rights. Within the first month of his presidency, for example, he reversed Bush's "global gag rule" on funding contraceptive and reproductive-health services to women across the planet. This will result in many fewer abortions and deaths, and give women much greater control over their lives.
He also signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed a Supreme Court decision that prevented women from suing for equal pay after six months; and he expanded the Children's Health Insurance Programme (which Bush had refused to do), thus setting an important precedent for universal healthcare, at least for children.
But advocates for women workers have felt great anxiety about whether the Obama administration would make sure that women - along with men - would be included in the $787-billion stimulus package that on 17 February 2009 completed its passage through both houses of Congress. It's not that they don't care about male workers; on the contrary, they know that men have been hit harder and more quickly because they work in manufacturing and construction. That leaves many women as breadwinners who cannot support their families on the salaries they earn in the economic sectors they traditionally inhabit.
As early as April 2008, the Senate committee on health, education, labour and pensions (chaired by the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy) issued a report entitled "Taking a Toll: The Effects of Recession on Women"; this argued for a safety-net for women, who usually have fewer assets, earn less than men, work in more part-time jobs, and increasing cannot provide for their families.
In the summer, Gwen Moore - the Democratic congresswoman from Wisconsin, who once received welfare as a single mother - teamed up with other like-minded women to reframe the stimulus package by trying to persuade the Democratic National Convention that poverty is a women's issue and that a forthcoming Obama administration must expand the safety-net that vanished when former President Clinton eliminated "welfare as we know it" in 1996.
A raised voice
Alongside these initiatives, concerns about whether the recovery plan would help single women workers and working mothers surfaced repeatedly during the last few months. Feminist economists voiced public concerns that the new administration’s “shovel ready” recovery plan focused too exclusively on male jobs. In a widely quoted op-ed, author and former philosophy professor Linda Hirshman asked: “Where are the jobs for women in the stimulus planning?” (see “Where Are the New Jobs for Women?”, New York Times, 9 December 2008).
There is no doubt that women could be quickly trained for such construction projects, as occurred during the second world war. But would Congress fund this?
Remembering the gender and racial discrimination that characterised the New Deal, 1,200 women historians and economists (including myself) urged President Obama not to repeat FDR's mistakes of directing most jobs to white men. Their petition asked the president to require affirmative action for all federal contractors, and to set aside apprenticeship and training programmes in infrastructure projects for women and people of colour. They also argued that more money should be spent on projects for health, childcare, education and the social services, the economic sectors where women traditionally work.
The voices of women insisting upon such equality in the recovery plan have been loud and insistent, even though the establishment media have tended to ignore them. Leaders of national women's groups were quick in grabbing a seat at the table of Obama's transition team and lobbied hard for the stimulus legislation to include women workers as part of the recovery plan. Blogs and essays written by women have ricocheted through cyberspace, urging Congress to include women and minority workers, along with white men, in the stimulus package.
And what was the result? It depends on how you view the entire stimulus plan. Many well known economists have argued that the recovery plan needed to be much larger. More than one-third of the funds, moreover, went to tax cuts, which will provide less of a stimulus than spending. As a result, women and other low-wage earners didn't get nearly enough jobs.
The back-story is that President Obama has been held hostage by troglodyte Republicans who still believe that a dismantled federal government, a free and unregulated market, and tax cuts for the wealthy are the solution to America's economic collapse. Using the tactic and rhetoric of "bipartisanship", the new president chose to make serious compromises in order to secure sufficient votes from these Senate Republicans. For all his efforts, he received almost no Republican votes.
When Republicans fumed about money to fund comprehensive contraception, for example, Obama and other Democrats decided to strip it from the bill to secure necessary Republican support. (Conservative Republicans not only oppose abortion; their war against contraception has been vehement and persistent.) Most reproductive-rights activists, however, are confident that Obama will quickly insert it in another piece of legislation.
Republicans also cut programmes that disproportionately target women and children, including Head Start for low-income children, Violence Against Women, school improvement and food stamps and aid to states, all of which stimulate the economy by supporting the "social" infrastructure, not only the physical infrastructure. The irony is, as Mimi Abramovitz writes: "Contrary to popular wisdom, spending on services like health care and education produces a bigger bang for the economic-stimulus buck than billions of dollars devoted to roads and bridges. Japan's Institute for Local Government, a nonprofit research group, says that Japan learned this truth the hard way."
Posted on: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 14:22
SOURCE: NYT (2-16-09)
“THIS is not a time for partisanship,” declared Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, when he accepted President Obama’s invitation to serve as commerce secretary. By last week, Mr. Gregg had changed his mind, citing “irreconcilable conflicts.” For historians, this outcome was predictable: Bipartisan dreams have been crashing into political reality from the earliest days of the Republic.
Only a few months after his first election, George Washington dropped by the Senate to solicit advice about a treaty — but all he got was a loud and agitated debate between the senators. Already they were breaking into factions. Washington, who believed that partisan strife would be “fatal” to the new nation, marched out with what one observer called “a discontented air of sullen dignity.”
Now it’s President Obama’s turn. He seems eager to put aside small political differences and to restore a culture of cooperation in Washington. But it’s going to be a long, hard effort because, well, that golden bipartisan era never existed.
The popular myth of getting past politics, in its modern form, dates back to the 1880s, when reformers known as Mugwumps challenged the corrupt bosses, powerful parties and political machines. The rough-and-tumble party politicians sneered at these well-educated, upper-crust activists: “namby-pamby, good-goody gentlemen who sip cold tea” and “forget that parties are not built by deportment or ladies’ magazines or gush.” And while the Mugwumps eventually achieved a lot of their reforms, their larger aspiration — nonpartisan politics — always slipped out of reach.
Yet modern Mugwumps keep searching for a nonpartisan golden age to emulate. They point, for example, to the early years of the cold war when foreign policy consensus repudiated isolationism and engaged the world. That elite consensus never reached as far as Congress, where the House Un-American Activities Committee was hunting Joe McCarthy’s slippery list of Reds and traitors....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 - 23:07