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: The Daily Beast (3-14-10)
Here is a newsflash from Texas: The conservative majority of the Texas State Board of Education adopted new guidelines for social-studies textbooks that reflect their conservative political views. The new guidelines will emphasize the Christian beliefs of the Founding Fathers. Students in Texas will be expected to learn about the emergence of the conservative movement in the 1980s and 1990s. The new textbooks are supposed to promote patriotism and respect for the “free-enterprise system.”
No surprise here. For many years, the Texas state board has been telling textbook publishers what should appear in the books that the state will buy for its students. Nineteen other states decide which textbooks will qualify for “adoption” in their public schools. Books that are not approved by the state board cannot be purchased with state funds. This is a very powerful lever to bring about revisions in the textbooks. The two most consequential of the so-called adoption states are Texas and California, because they have the largest number of students and therefore the most clout with publishers. When Texas or California speak, publishers listen and change their textbooks to comply....
In 2003, I described the absurdities of the textbook adoption process in a book titled The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Children Learn. I showed how all sorts of groups from different ends of the political spectrum have used the textbook adoptions to impose their agenda. Feminists went before state boards to demand the excision of all words, phrases, and images that were offensive to them; consequently, textbook publishers gathered long lists of words that were banned from textbooks (and tests, as well). Thus, children are spared ever having to see the word “actress” or “landlady” or “cowboy,” and they will never see a picture of a mom baking cookies.
For many years, the Texas board was swayed by conservative groups that insisted that words and phrases must be deleted from reading textbooks if they contained anything that criticized their idea of family values. They fought to remove stories about witchcraft, fantasy, disobedient children, permissive child rearing, as well as anything that criticized the nation and its laws. Any stories in which bad behavior went unpunished were excised. Guidelines in California and elsewhere discouraged the representation of poverty in poor nations, or a photograph of a cow that displayed her udders (too sexual), or references to birthday cake or hot dogs (not nutritious). Images that showed old people looking old or infirm or needing a cane or a walker were forbidden, on grounds that they were stereotypical. No, old people must be portrayed as fit and vigorous, preferably running a marathon or climbing a ladder to nail down a few loose roof tiles....
I concluded that the adoption process would always be politicized and that there was no way to improve it. I concluded that it should be abolished. It makes no sense to have an elected or appointed school board deciding which facts belong in history textbooks and which scientific ideas are valid. They do not have the qualifications to do this and they should not have the power to do it. No matter how many experts they call upon, this is a foolish way to revise textbooks....
Having a public agency decide which textbooks are right and what facts should be added or deleted is nonsensical. It is equivalent to having a public agency review movies and tell us which we will be allowed to see at taxpayer expense. Those who don’t agree with the ratings can see whatever they want, but on their own dime....
The major textbook companies rejected my idea because they are accustomed to the existing system. They dominate the existing marketplace. They don’t want a free market, where they would have to compete with dozens of other book publishers.
The only losers are the current generation of students, who will be treated to sanitized and inaccurate history textbooks. And our society, which will have another generation of citizens who were never taught to consider different points of view about issues.
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010 - 16:06
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (3-15-10)
...I believe that there has been a decline in academic standards overall in British higher education over the past two decades, but not for the reasons advanced by the AGR. The evidence for this decline is contained in the 2009 report, Students and Universities, of the then select committee on innovation, universities, science and skills. In my written and oral evidence to this inquiry, I identified the following factors as fundamental to this decline:
First, the league table culture that has permeated the senior leaderships of many British universities, resulting in intolerable pressures on academic staff to pass students who should rightfully fail and to award higher classes of degrees to the undeserving.
Second, pressures to maximise non-governmental sources of income, primarily from "full fee-paying" non-European students, to whom it is deemed prudent by these same senior leaderships to award qualifications to which they are often not entitled, so as to ensure future "market share".
Third, the increasing and increasingly stupid use of students' course evaluations as pivotal factors in the academic promotion process. To put it bluntly, a conscientious academic with poor student evaluations may find it difficult or even impossible to obtain promotion because her/his students do not like getting the low grades they may well richly deserve.
Fourth, the breakdown of the external examiner system, due partly to the near-universal modularisation of degree programmes and partly to the abysmal remuneration for work of this sort. The evidence given to the select committee of improper pressure on external examiners makes exceedingly grim reading.
Fifth, the relative leniency shown towards academic dishonesty, coupled with the tendency of university administrators to insist that plagiarism be viewed through the prism of what I believe is termed "cultural relativism".
So, let me be quite clear: I do not believe that "more" necessarily means "worse". But I do believe that more has come to mean worse because of the toxic combination of factors I have listed above, and which are obviously interrelated....
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010 - 13:17
SOURCE: NewsBlaze.com (3-15-10)
Prior to the 1990s, few scholarly studies of post-World War II American conservatism were published. Happily, this situation has changed in recent years. Much solid academic work has appeared which takes conservative thought seriously and attempts to explain its historical and cultural context. Jennifer Burns' new biography of Ayn Rand, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, is a welcome contribution to this growing body of literature. Burns has produced a thoroughly researched and critical (but fair) study of one of the conservative movement's most influential and colorful thinkers....
Hoping to work on a possible Broadway production of one of her plays, Rand and her husband moved to New York in November 1934. The city's frantic pace and intellectual life suited Rand better. During these early years in New York, Rand published her first book, *We The Living* (1936), which drew upon her experience in Leninist Russia. The hostile reaction to the book by many of New York's left-leaning intelligentsia convinced Rand that all was not well with American culture. Rand concluded that the rot of collectivism was infecting the home of rugged individualism. Though she voted for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, Rand soon became a harsh critic of the New Deal. She was introduced to the turbulent world of partisan politics by contributing to the Wendell Wilkie campaign of 1940.
In 1941, Rand wrote the booklet, "Manifesto of Individualism." Yet, it was her two published novels, *The Fountainhead* (1943), and *Atlas Shrugged*(1957), that catapulted Rand into celebrity. The first eventually became a best-seller and won favorable reviews even from critics not fond of Rand's philosophy. The second, though it sold well, was less fortunate; it was dismissed by many as heavy-handed and patently ideologically-driven....
Conservatives with Christian convictions may be inclined to dismiss Rand's personal story as a weird aberration, while cherry-picking those bits of her philosophy they find attractive (eschewing, of course, her obnoxious atheism). That would be a mistake. Rand's objectivism is of one piece and Burns's biography is in part a sobering cautionary tale for conservatives. The narrative offers at least three timely lessons worth noting:
One involves Rand's radical individualism. Americans have a well-earned reputation for being fiercely individualistic, but Rand's system is based upon a hyper-individualism developed to its logical (often absurd) conclusion. Burns includes a chilling account of how the young Rand wrote admiringly about a brutal, unrepentant serial killer named William Hickman, praising his uncompromising independence and bold willingness to flout societal norms. "What the tabloids saw as psychopathic, Rand admired," Burns comments (*Goddess*, 25)....
Second, Rand and her circle consistently demonized the state as the principal source of evil in the world. Such a caricature has been alien to Christian political theology from Thomas Aquinas, to Richard Hooker, to Leo XIII and Reinhold Niebuhr. Rand's anti-government stance can lead to troubling contradictions in a representative democracy, and Burns notes how Rand often slipped into an arrogant elitism. The rational faculty she increasingly emphasized in her thought was best exhibited by "the better species, the Superman," and not by that group of mindless citizens she dismissed as mere "human ballast" (Goddess, 114, 326, note # 7)....
Third, her elitism was connected to a myopic dogmatism that would have warmed the heart of any Stalinist. Sadly, some conservatives have occasionally exhibited some of the same unattractive characteristics of their opponents....
During the spring and summer of 2009, a few Tea Party protestors showed up at demonstrations with placards inscribed with the question: "Who is John Galt?" The reference was to a character in Atlas Shrugged who personifies the rugged individualist battling organizational conformity and statism. Jennifer Burns' insightful biography clarifies that Christian conservatives should be deeply suspicious of any movement that celebrates Ayn Rand's "superman."
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010 - 11:38
SOURCE: LA Times (3-15-10)
Why did it take four months for Europe's parent nations -- Germany and France -- to prop up the continent's prodigal son, Greece? And what can the European Union do when it comes to coping with such behavior with its other children?
There is little doubt Greece needs to face up to the part it played in its current financial mess -- in which its ballooning deficit threatened the stability of the nation and the euro. But it now appears that in the case of Germany, at least, the slow response was more than meets the eye. Chancellor Angela Merkel was not simply pandering to her fragile coalition and frustrated electorate. Instead, the Greek crisis turned into a three-part opportunity for Germany: The country has dramatically boosted its exports thanks to a weak euro, a German is now the front-runner to head the European Central Bank, and it can now justify cracking the whip on the rest of the Eurozone -- the group of nations that use the euro.
As Europe's biggest exporter, Germany has been hamstrung by a weak dollar and even weaker Chinese yuan. The devaluation of the euro relative to the dollar in the last three months by more than 10% has helped German exports recover from a devastating 19% drop in 2009. While Germany has traditionally been committed to a strong currency, Merkel has been content to let the export sector of the German economy benefit temporarily from the crisis. Call it the Greek stimulus. The old economic tanker is skillfully navigating its course....
One thing remains clear. The parents of the Eurozone want to solve Greece's problem without resorting to the direct -- and embarrassing -- involvement of the International Monetary Fund. In recent years, new EU member states such as Hungary and Latvia turned to the IMF when they needed assistance. But Greece is too close to home. Germany and Greece share the same currency and cannot risk its credibility in the long run.
What hasn't yet shattered the EU just might make it stronger.
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010 - 11:04
SOURCE: LA Times (3-14-10)
There have been two features that regularly mark the history of U.S. public schools. Over the last century, our education system has been regularly captivated by a Big Idea -- a savant or an organization that promised a simple solution to the problems of our schools. The second is that there are no simple solutions, no miracle cures to those problems.
Education is a slow, arduous process that requires the work of willing students, dedicated teachers and supportive families, as well as a coherent curriculum.
As an education historian, I have often warned against the seductive lure of grand ideas to reform education. Our national infatuation with education fads and reforms distracts us from the steady work that must be done....
Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform -- codified in its signature Race to the Top program -- that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better....
The Obama education reform plan is an aggressive version of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind, under which many schools have narrowed their curriculum to the tested subjects of reading and math. This poor substitute for a well-rounded education, which includes subjects such as the arts, history, geography, civics, science and foreign language, hits low-income children the hardest, since they are the most likely to attend the kind of "failing school" that drills kids relentlessly on the basics. Emphasis on test scores already compels teachers to focus on test preparation. Holding teachers personally and exclusively accountable for test scores -- a key feature of Race to the Top -- will make this situation even worse. Test scores will determine salary, tenure, bonuses and sanctions, as teachers and schools compete with each other, survival-of-the-fittest style....
Having embraced the Republican agenda of choice, competition and accountability, the Obama administration is promoting the privatization of large segments of American education and undermining the profession of teaching. This toxic combination is the latest Big Idea in education reform. Like so many of its predecessors, it is not likely to improve education.
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010 - 11:02
SOURCE: Politico (3-10-10)
All eyes are on Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She must persuade House Democrats to vote for the Senate health care bill with no changes. They must take it on faith that the upper chamber will add sought-after provisions using reconciliation. If Pelosi cannot make a deal, health care reform will fail.
To unite Democrats, most observers expect that Pelosi will have to cut deals the old-fashioned way — using pork. Critics warn that this could undermine support for reform — and for Pelosi. Indeed, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rushed through a series of agreements that included exempting Nebraska from paying Medicaid increases (for Sen. Ben Nelson) and giving $300 million in Medicaid funding to Louisiana (for Sen. Mary Landrieu), Republicans lambasted them as the “Cornhusker Kickback” and the “Louisiana Purchase.”...
In 1957, for example, Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson ushered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through the Senate. The first major civil rights bill since Reconstruction, the measure strengthened federal voting rights protections. Most important, it laid the groundwork for bolder legislation in the 1960s. “Once you break the virginity,” Johnson predicted, “it’ll be easier next time.”...
To overcome...challenges, Johnson persuaded a group of western Democrats to support a watered-down compromise that some Southerners were willing to live with (by not filibustering). In exchange, Johnson corralled Southern votes for the construction of a federal dam in Hells Canyon, between Idaho and Oregon. With this deal in place, the bill passed....
Legislators need pork to make things happen, especially in an age when chronic obstruction has so weakened the legislative process that policy breakthroughs are almost impossible. This does not excuse all kinds of deal making, nor should we ignore that deals sometimes go too far.
But we must also acknowledge that legislative coalitions are extraordinarily difficult to achieve. It is unrealistic to expect that legislative leaders won’t use one of the few tools at their disposal to get things done.
In the coming days, Pelosi might well use this tool if she wants to bring the health care negotiations to a successful conclusion.
Posted on: Friday, March 12, 2010 - 17:07
SOURCE: BBC History Magazine (3-11-10)
Let’s come straight to the point. What is history in schools for? I ask because the answer, though currently widely debated, seems to be far from obvious to our rulers, or even to some who teach the subject. I’m not wholly surprised: I myself don’t believe most of the reasons that are usually produced.
A firm favourite with government at the moment is the idea of ‘identity’ or – if you want to be really multicultural and daring – ‘identities’. In this view, an essentially fissiparous society is held together by allowing every group to see where it ‘fits’ into the overall narrative. Possibly: though it seems to me that this is at least as likely to focus pupils on what divides them, rather than what unites them.
It wouldn’t be the first example of well-meant policies resulting in the opposite of what was intended. Years of studying Nazism haven’t necessarily resulted in any great conversion to the need for mutual tolerance and understanding. As successive ambassadors from the Federal Republic have complained, a consequence for some pupils has instead been the legitimising of anti-German sentiment. This is what happens when history and citizenship get confused....
The real problem, it seems to me, is that education has lost its direction. We once took it for granted that everyone ought to know some history, just as they ought to know some science, or be able to read, write or manipulate numbers. It wasn’t that it was ‘useful’, or contributed directly to the gross domestic product. It was simply one of the distinguishing characteristics of a civilised human being.
Nowadays most educational leaders are terrified of this sort of value judgement, if they understand it at all. They know all about the latest educational fad; they know all about ‘managing’ [by which they mean skewing] data; they’re expert at pretending that all will be well once the next expensive initiative has been implemented. But you try asking them what it’s all for.
Posted on: Friday, March 12, 2010 - 14:13
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (3-9-10)
An author’s first reaction to the news that the president of the United States is reading one of his books is, naturally enough, admiration for the man’s superb taste in prose. Then come qualms. What if he gets bored and badmouths it on Jay Leno? What if he is seen using the paperback edition to swat horseflies at Camp David?
“I’m reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt right now,” Obama said yesterday in Pennsylvania. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed tout de tweet that it’s my The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Well, that’s nice, but the president can’t have gotten very far into it, because right there in the prologue it says how TR detested being called “Teddy.” Maybe a blob of cigarette ash obscured that particular sentence.
Apparently, the 44th president admires the 26th because TR was an early apostle of health-care reform—not to mention draconian regulation of banks and interstate corporations, inheritance taxes, and protection of the environment by executive order. These things are a matter of record, although TR’s progressivism was actually much more radical after he left the presidency in 1909. He didn’t call for national health insurance until he ran for a third White House term in the famous Bull Moose campaign of 1912. His platform was so radical that many of its proposals were not enacted until the New Deal administration of his fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And even FDR couldn’t push the medical plank through, for fear of endangering Social Security....
George H.W. Bush thought enough of TR to ask David McCullough (another Roosevelt biographer) to come to the White House and lecture on him. In 1994, Bill Clinton went through a tree-hugging “Teddy” phase so ardent it was a wonder he didn’t start wearing pince-nez. Then there was “W,” who worshipfully admitted that he modeled himself on the Rough Rider. Whenever he did that, it reminded me of the New Yorker cartoon of a professorial type saying to a much younger man, “Just because I was your favorite teacher doesn’t make you my favorite student.”...
I’m flattered that Obama is reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, instead of those fascinating 15,000-page bills Congress keeps sending him. But I’d respectfully suggest that he will learn more about the Rooseveltian executive style in the book’s sequel, Theodore Rex. Perhaps just the opening chapters, Mr. President, describing TR’s first year (1901-1902) in office? They show how, in swift but carefully timed succession, TR—a consummate manipulator of the press—dramatized and identified himself with the major issues of his day: racial prejudice, antitrust power, reclamation policy, Supreme Court reactionism, labor/management strife, and so on. Some of the details are dated now, but what is dateless and of particular relevance to Obama is TR’s karate-chop style. He chose the issue, chose the moment, then struck with all his might. Having struck, he went on to other things, leaving the legislative and the judiciary and a wildly excited press to debate, and maybe push through, the reforms he sought....
Posted on: Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 20:11
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (3-8-10)
Sympathy for the Greeks is in short supply. But their European partners need to come up with a better response and this will require getting to grips with the deeper roots of Greece’s predicament. I do not refer to the widely touted claim that Greece is a serial defaulter; the research paper (by Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff) that introduced the idea suggests that Greece’s record over the past 100 years is not exceptional. (Its only default in the 20th century came in 1931-32, a time when it was scarcely the only one to run into difficulties.)
The real constant in modern Greek history is the extraordinary degree of foreign interference in its domestic life. Greece’s first king (a Bavarian) was imposed upon it, and its first political parties were named simply for the three powers most involved in its affairs. The severity of the Nazi occupation – with tens of thousands dying of famine in a single winter, and hundreds of villages burned – was a wartime extreme. More routine but less well known is the extent to which first the British and then the Americans sought to control Greece’s government ministries, intelligence agencies, military and royal court through diplomats, missions and advisers. The touch of what Greeks call the “foreign finger” was felt right up to the dictatorship of 1967. One way of understanding the democratic consolidation that has taken place since that regime collapsed in 1974 is as an effort to restore autonomy to a country that had known little of it.
This process has worked better than anyone could have expected. For more than 20 years, a sort of two-party system has operated smoothly and the army has been marginalised as a political factor: alarmist talk during the past few weeks of a return of the tanks cannot be taken seriously. The irony, however, is that membership of the European Union has both helped and hindered. It raised the standard of living and smoothed the restoration of democracy. But the inflow of funds allowed Greeks to ignore structural economic problems. Foreign aid in itself was not the problem: in the late 1940s Greece got more Marshall Plan funds per capita than anyone else in Europe, its productivity soared, manufacturing expanded and growth was high. But in the early 1980s labour costs and foreign indebtedness started to rise sharply – between 1979-85, total indebtedness rose from 8 to 42 per cent of gross national product. The real debt problem for Greece is of comparatively recent vintage and connected to its integration into Europe.
The establishment of democracy after 1974 served to highlight the Achilles heel of the Greek state – its chronic lack of fiscal reach. As far back as independence in 1830, the public finances have relied upon high indirect taxation, elusive invisible earnings and recourse to loans. One might blame mountains for this or the experience of Ottoman rule. But with a few honourable exceptions, the politicians have continued deploying public sector employment as a surrogate welfare net and instrument of patronage. Lavish EU funds have enabled a stop-go debt cycle that has seen Greek governments flee cap in hand to Europe for emergency aid, enact draconian stabilisation measures in return and then loosen the reins when electoral pressures built up.
This time one hears the chickens coming home to roost...
Posted on: Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 19:08
SOURCE: InsiderIowa (3-10-10)
Last week in Texas, Rick Perry registered a definitive triumph in the Republican gubernatorial primary, capturing 51 percent of the vote in a fiercely contested three-person race. His comfortable victory offers a unique window into the upheaval currently roiling American politics.
When Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison decided back in 2008 to challenge Rick Perry for the governorship, she emerged as the favorite to unseat an incumbent who, seemingly, had overstayed his welcome and appeared vulnerable. The senator, poised, proven, and enormously popular, confidently entered the contest on an intimidating winning streak—unbeaten in five statewide races dating back to 1990.
Throughout much of 2008 and 2009, “Kay,” as she is affectionately known all over Texas, consistently out-polled the purportedly dull-witted and unprincipled “Governor Goodhair.” By the close of the contest, every major Texas daily and a whole host of Lone Star heavyweights (including President Bush-41, Barbara Bush, Dick Cheney, and Nolan Ryan) endorsed the challenger to no avail. When the voters finally cast their ballots, Senator Hutchison found herself not only in second place but twenty percentage points off the leader....
Did the Tea Party movement resurrect Perry?
Yes and No. In reality, the race featured a bona fide Tea Party candidate, Debra Medina, who persistently excoriated the incumbent governor as a pseudo-conservative—unreliable on state sovereignty and hopelessly addicted to high taxes, big spending, and politics as usual. Attractive, articulate, and an accomplished woman in her late forties, Medina struck many observers as a stouter version of Sarah Palin....
But, alas, March 2, Texas Primary Day 2010, arrived as an anticlimax: Hutchison, 30.3; Medina, 18.5; Perry 51 percent.
What happened to the Tea Party challenge?
In the end, Medina’s meteoric rise in the primary led to national recognition, which, ironically, derailed her upstart campaign with corresponding swiftness. During a fatal February interview with Glenn Beck, Medina bizarrely refused to repudiate the “9/11 Truther” paranoia. In one excruciating moment, the anti-establishment insurgent came away mortally punctured and careening wildly out of control—her campaign for mainstream Republican voters in Texas effectively dead....
Why did Perry win?
The most persuasive answer in this case happens to be the simplest. Texas dramatically emerged an island of stability in a tumultuous sea of uncertainty. Rick Perry happily ran for reelection as governor of arguably the most prosperous and fiscally responsible state in the Union and positioned himself as the embodiment of responsible, conservative, business-friendly government.
Detractors will argue that the Governor takes too much credit for the miraculous Texas prosperity—but that is how the game works. In fairness, his opponents would have merrily castigated him for mismanagement, if the economic fortunes of the Lone Star State had fallen into distress during his watch....
Posted on: Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 13:14
SOURCE: WSJ (3-9-10)
I have been a historian of American education since 1975, when I received my doctorate from Columbia. I have written histories, and I've also written extensively about the need to improve students' knowledge of history, literature, geography, science, civics and foreign languages. So in 1991, when Lamar Alexander and David Kearns invited me to become assistant secretary of education in the administration of George H.W. Bush, I jumped at the chance with the hope that I might promote voluntary state and national standards in these subjects.
By the time I left government service in January 1993, I was an advocate not only for standards but for school choice. I had come to believe that standards and choice could co-exist as they do in the private sector. With my friends Chester Finn Jr. and Joseph Viteritti, I wrote and edited books and articles making the case for charter schools and accountability....
As No Child Left Behind's (NCLB) accountability regime took over the nation's schools under President George W. Bush and more and more charter schools were launched, I supported these initiatives. But over time, I became disillusioned with the strategies that once seemed so promising. I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for....
Since the law permitted every state to define "proficiency" as it chose, many states announced impressive gains. But the states' claims of startling improvement were contradicted by the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Eighth grade students improved not at all on the federal test of reading even though they had been tested annually by their states in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007....
In short, accountability turned into a nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else. Colleges continued to complain about the poor preparation of entering students, who not only had meager knowledge of the world but still required remediation in basic skills. This was not my vision of good education....
The current emphasis on accountability has created a punitive atmosphere in the schools. The Obama administration seems to think that schools will improve if we fire teachers and close schools. They do not recognize that schools are often the anchor of their communities, representing values, traditions and ideals that have persevered across decades. They also fail to recognize that the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers.
What we need is not a marketplace, but a coherent curriculum that prepares all students. And our government should commit to providing a good school in every neighborhood in the nation, just as we strive to provide a good fire company in every community....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - 14:46
SOURCE: Tony Platt at GoodToGo (Blog) (3-10-10)
While on a trip to the east coast from my home in Berkeley I get the news that yet another Native American site on California's northwest coast has been vandalized.
Between the 1780s - when Thomas Jefferson dug up a huge cemetery containing a thousand human remains - and the 1970s, when the Red Power movement began to put amateur and professional archaeologists on the defensive, the discovery and excavation of native skeletons was promoted as good sport, entrepreneurial initiative, and sound science. Minimally 600,000, and maybe as many as one million, graves were excavated. Millions of artifacts from graves ended up in museums, private collections, and cabinets of curiosities, while body parts were sent to universities for scientific analysis.
The looting of graves and illegal trading in native artifacts for profit continue, despite an array of local, state, and federal laws. Of twenty-four people currently under indictment in Utah for trading in artifacts worth millions of dollars, two have committed suicide, as has the federal government's key witness, Ted Gardiner, who told his son about the time "diggers dug up a human skull and just tossed it aside. He saw a lot of things that disgusted him." On the coast of northern California, where I spend a great deal of time, small-fry looters regularly track down and dig up Yurok, Tolowa, and Wiyot sites, hoping to strike it rich.
The legacy of two centuries of grave looting is a deep sense of resentment among Native American organizations that has only been slightly alleviated by the efforts of universities, museums, and government during the last twenty years to account for and, in some cases, repatriate human remains and funerary artifacts. The U. S. Senate's recent apology for "ill-conceived policies" and Obama's face-to-face meeting with representatives of the country's 564 federally recognized tribes - "I get it, I'm on your side," said the president - is a good beginning at reconciliation.
But most tribes still do not feel that they can publicly acknowledge sites of burial grounds for fear of looting, and the public record is mostly silent on the history of desecration. Where are the memorials, monuments, and ceremonies witnessing this tragic past? New York offers a possible model.
The Negros Buriel Ground, as it was called in colonial New Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries, was located outside the city's palisades in a few acres of marshy, godforsaken land. Here, before sundown, Africans and their descendants were allowed to bury their dead - perhaps as many as 15,000. By 1991, this same piece of land was now prime real estate in Lower Manhattan, surrounded by corporate offices and city hall, close to Ground Zero, the perfect site for the new federal building at 290 Broadway. The huge 30-story building was opened in 1994, but its original conception was significantly changed following the unearthing of human remains during the early phase of construction.
Today, the federal building is symbolically overshadowed by its relatively small neighbor, the African Burial Ground National Monument that was officially opened to the public on 5 October 2007. It's possible to visit the federal building without walking past or seeing the monument. But with the recent opening (27 February 2010) of the monument's companion Visitor Center on the ground floor of the federal building, it's now almost impossible to ignore the presence of a cemetery of slaves in the heartland of capitalism.
With public memorials to tragedies past, it's very difficult to integrate heart and head. Typically, as in the case of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D. C. or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, they propel us into the "cool sepulcher of the past," as Walter Benjamin put it, and provide an opportunity for sorrowful reflection. When museums try to make us feel and think, as in the case of the Holocaust Museum in the nation's capital, they typically fail: the flood of feelings crowds out thoughtful engagement.
The African Burial Ground in New York manages to integrate our senses and straddle the usual divide between affect and cognition. You can pay your respects to the dead by entering the memorial, marked by a hefty, tomb-like granite structure, then walking into a memorial circle, or standing next to seven raised grassy mounds and seven newly planted trees where the remains of 419 bodies have been re-interred. President Bush conferred upon the memorial the status of a National Monument in February 2006. This means that it's taken seriously: on the day that I visited the memorial last week, a National Parks ranger was on duty and a Homeland Security van parked out front.
The nearby Visitor Center is geared up for teaching a steady stream of schoolchildren, community groups, and tourists. Here, we learn - as we did last year at the New York Historical Society's groundbreaking exhibitions - about the importance of slavery to New York's economic development and that the trading in human beings was a national, not Southern tragedy. There is also detailed information about the daily lives of Africans living in New York hundreds of years ago, the result of scientific analysis of human remains made by anthropologist Michael Blakey and colleagues at Howard University. Despite longstanding suspicion by African American organizations towards scientists - remember the Tuskegee experiment? - a collaborative and mutually respectful relationship was forged in this case. There's hope, then, for partnerships between Native Americans and anthropologists, despite the deep wedge of distrust.
The Visitor Center includes considerable information about the history of the memorial, in particular the role played by protest in shaping its development and outcome: how community organizations forced Congress to put a halt to excavations; how Mayor Dinkins established a Blue Ribbon committee to propose models of remembrance; how hundreds of community volunteers were trained to teach visitors about the site's history; how the design of the memorial was a public process; and how the transportation from Washington, D. C. and re-interment of human remains in New York was marked by ceremonies of formal dignity. "You may bury me in the bottom of Manhattan," said Maya Angelou at one such ceremony. "I will rise. My people will get me out. I will rise out of the huts of history's shame."
This visit to the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York leaves me hopeful that it's possible to create memorials that are dignified and educational, and that science can enhance the humanity of history. But as I head back to California to work with a coalition to protect Yurok cultural legacies on the northwest coast, I'm also mindful that it took almost twenty years of struggle and political organizing to begin to do justice to New York's enslaved past.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - 12:18
SOURCE: Arizona Daily Sun (3-10-10)
...Let's take France, whose health care ideals are probably most similar to our own. The French share Americans' disdain for any restrictions on patient choice of providers; they won't stand for waiting lists like the British and Canadians; they see almost exclusively private-practice physicians for ambulatory care; and they want everything their doctor prescribes covered by their insurance, including multi-day hot springs visits. In short, the French have never stood idle if their government threatened to come between them and their doctors.
So how, then, did a centrist French government in 1930 succeed at passing health care reform during the Great Depression with proto-fascists and communists sniping respectively from the right and the left?
First, doctors were key. France's doctors were politically powerful and could have stopped reform dead in its tracks, as the AMA did in the US of the 1930s. The difference: French reformers purposefully rallied doctors to the reform bill by bolstering physicians' power over medical decision-making, protecting everyone from the vagaries of insurance. People loved it....
What about insurers? France's first major legislation of 1930 stood on a grand bargain with France's private health insurers. They dropped their opposition to government-mandated insurance for industrial workers because the reform cast private insurers as the main vehicles though which premiums would flow. What we today call a "public option" was only necessary in regions where private insurers proved insufficient. From the French point of view, the Senate healthcare reform bill follows a well-trod historical path.
It's also critical to understand that France's healthcare system did not have a Big Bang. Instead, several governments led by different parties added to its depth and scope. In the mid-1930s, a socialist-led government brought farmers and agricultural workers into the system. After the Second World War in 1945 a center-right leader, Charles de Gaulle, spearheaded the creation of a large public insurer, Securite Sociale, resulting in what we would recognize as a Medicare-for-all system. Yet de Gaulle also went out of his way to assure the financial health of a competitive private health insurance industry, which today covers the French citizenry against risks and co-payments that are not covered by Securite Sociale. The self-employed joined the system in the 1960s. But not until 2000 did France achieve universal coverage. The lesson here is that we have a long road ahead of us, and that a mixed public-private system is what will please most of the people most of the time.
France's health care system is widely popular and was ranked as the best in the world by the World Health Organization in 2001 because of its universal coverage, responsive healthcare providers, patient and provider freedoms, and the health and longevity of the country's population. The United States ranked 37th. A more recent 2008 Commonwealth Fund study looked at how well healthcare in the world's 19 leading industrialized nations helped their citizens avoid death from maladies that shouldn't kill them, e.g., hypertension, appendicitis, cervical and colon cancers. Again, France came in first. The United States ranked 19th....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - 12:02
SOURCE: Baltimore Sun (3-10-10)
For the first time, a U.S. president has canceled the main future human spaceflight program, leaving NASA without a direction, soon without a vehicle to fly people in space, and with its role as world space leader in doubt.
How did we get into this predicament, and is there a path toward regaining the kind of space eminence Americans have taken for granted?...
The shock of the Soviets' first satellite, Sputnik goaded a reluctant President Dwight Eisenhower into establishing a small civilian space program. With the Cold War in full swing, President John F. Kennedy established the moon landing as a way to compete safely with the Soviets and grew the fledgling NASA into a huge and well-funded enterprise.
This rising tide carried a number of other boats with it, and satellites and space probes multiplied and became more sophisticated. However, the human spaceflight program always dominated the NASA budget, itself a tiny percentage of the national budget....
President Barack Obama, despite canceling the future human spaceflight program, has proposed increasing NASA's budget and has promised (without revealing the details) a new and exciting program.
Presidents have always used space as an instrument for their broader programs and agendas, but usually without much public debate or even notice. This is different. The old, well-worn paradigms and plans are probably off the table, but the new ones are just emerging, in piecemeal fashion....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - 11:55
SOURCE: TomDispatch (3-10-10)
[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His latest book, The American Way of War (Haymarket Books), will be published in May.]
Hubris? We’re bigger than that!
We’ve now been at war with, or in, Iraq for almost 20 years, and intermittently at war in Afghanistan for 30 years. Think of it as nearly half a century of experience, all bad. And what is it that Washington seems to have concluded? In Afghanistan, where one disaster after another has occurred, that we Americans can finally do more of the same, somewhat differently calibrated, and so much better. In Iraq, where we had, it seemed, decided that enough was enough and we should simply depart, the calls from a familiar crew for us to stay are growing louder by the week.
The Iraqis, so the argument goes, need us. After all, who would leave them alone, trusting them not to do what they’ve done best in recent years: cut one another’s throats?
Modesty in Washington? Humility? The ability to draw new lessons from long-term experience? None of the above is evidently appropriate for “the indispensable nation,” as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once called the United States, and to whose leaders she attributed the ability to “see further into the future.” None of the above is part of the American arsenal, not when Washington’s weapon of choice, repeatedly consigned to the scrapheap of history and repeatedly rescued, remains a deep conviction that nothing is going to go anything but truly, deeply, madly badly without us, even if, as in Iraq, things have for years gone truly, deeply, madly badly with us.
An expanding crew of Washington-based opiners are now calling for the Obama administration to alter its plans, negotiated in the last months of the Bush administration, for the departure of all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. They seem to have taken Albright’s belief in American foresight -- even prophesy -- to heart and so are basing their arguments on their ability to divine the future.
The problem, it seems, is that, whatever may be happening in the present, Iraq’s future prospects are terrifying, making leaving, if not inconceivable, then as massively irresponsible (as former Washington Post correspondent and bestselling author Tom Ricks wrote recently in a New York Times op-ed) as invading in the first place. Without the U.S. military on hand, we’re told, the Iraqis will almost certainly deep-six democracy, while devolving into major civil violence and ethnic bloodletting, possibly of the sort that convulsed their country in 2005-2006 when, by the way, the U.S. military was present in force.
The various partial winners of Iraq’s much delayed March 7th election will, we were assured beforehand, jockey for power for months trying to cobble together a functioning national government. During that period, violence, it's said, will surely escalate, potentially endangering the marginal gains made thanks to the U.S. military “surge” of 2007. The possibilities remain endless and, according to these doomsayers, none of them are encouraging: Shiite militias coulduse our withdrawal to stage a violence-filled comeback. Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs is likely to increase and violently so, while al-Qaeda-in-Iraq could move into any post-election power void with its own destructive agenda.
The Warrior-Pundits Occupy the Future
Such predictions are now dribbling out of the world of punditry and into the world of news reporting where the future threatens to become fact long before it makes it onto the scene. Already it’s reported that the anxious U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, “citing the prospects for political instability and increased violence,” is talking about “plan B's” to delay the agreed upon withdrawal of all “combat troops” from the country this August. He has, Ricks reported on Foreign Policy's website, officially requested that a combat brigaderemain in or near the troubled northern city of Kirkuk after the deadline.
As 2009 ended, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was suggesting that new negotiations might extend the U.S. position into the post-2011 years. (“I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see agreements between ourselves and the Iraqis that continue a train, equip, and advise role beyond the end of 2011.”) Centcom commander General David Petraeus agrees. More recently, Gates added that a “pretty considerable deterioration” in the country’s security situation might lead to a delay in withdrawal plans (and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has agreed that this is a possibility). Vice President Joe Biden is already talking about re-labeling “combat troops” not sent home in August because, as he put it in an interview with Helene Cooper and Mark Landler of the New York Times, “we’re not leaving behind cooks and quartermasters.” The bulk of the troops remaining, he insisted, “will still be guys who can shoot straight and go get bad guys.”
And a chorus of the usual suspects, Washington’s warrior-pundits and “warrior journalists” (as Tom Hayden calls them), are singing ever louder versions of a song warning of that greatest of all dangers: premature withdrawal. Ricks, for instance, recommended in the Times that, having scuttled the “grandiose original vision” of the Bush invasion, the Obama administration should still “find a way” to keep a “relatively small, tailored force” of 30,000-50,000 troops in Iraq “for many years to come.” (Those numbers, oddly enough, bring to mind the 34,000 U.S. troops that, according to Ricks in his 2006 bestseller Fiasco, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz projected as the future U.S. garrison in Iraq in the weeks before the invasion of 2003.)
Kenneth Pollack, a drumbeater for that invasion, is now wary of removing “the cast” -- his metaphor for the U.S. military presence -- on the “broken arm” of Iraq too soon since states that have “undergone a major inter-communal civil war have a terrifying rate of recidivism.”For Kimberley and Frederick Kagan, drumbeaters extraordinaires, writing for the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. must start discussing “a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011,” especially since that country will not be able to defend itself by then.
Why, you might well ask, must we stay in Iraq, given our abysmal record there? Well, say these experts, we are the only force all Iraqis now accept, however grudgingly. We are, according to Pollack, the “peacemakers, the lev[ee] holding back violence... Iraq’s security blanket, and... the broker of political deals… we enforce the rules.” According to Ricks, we are the only “honest brokers” around. According to the Kagans, we were the “guarantor” of the recent elections, and have a kind of “continuing leverage” not available to any other group in that country, “should we choose to use it.”
Today, Iraq is admittedly a mess. On our watch, the country crashed and burned. No one claims that we’ve put it back together. Multi-billions of dollars in reconstruction funds later, the U.S. has been incapable of delivering the simplest things like reliable electricity or potable water to significant parts of the country. Now, the future sits empty and threatening before us. So much time in which so many things could happen, and all of them horrifying, all calling out for us to remain because they just can’t be trusted, they just don’t deliver.
The Sally Fields of American Foreign Policy
Talk about blaming the victim. An uninvited guest breaks into a lousy dinner party, sweeps the already meager meal off the table, smashes the patched-together silverware, busts up the rickety furniture, and then insists on staying ad infinitum because the place is such a mess that someone responsible has to oversee the clean-up process.
What’s remained in all this, remarkably enough, is our confidence in ourselves, our admiration for us, our -- well, why not say it? -- narcissism. Nothing we’ve done so far stops us from staring into that pool and being struck by what a kindly, helpful face stares back at us. Think of those gathering officials, pundits, journalists, and military figures seemingly eager to imagine the worst and so put the brakes on a full-scale American withdrawal as the Sally Fields of foreign policy. (“I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”)
When you have an administration that has made backpedaling its modus operandi, this rising chorus in Washington and perhaps among the military in Iraq could prove formidable in an election year (here, not there). What, of course, makes their arguments particularly potent is the fact that they base them almost entirely on things that have yet to happen, that may, in fact, never happen. After all, humans have such a lousy track record as predictors of the future. History regularly surprises us, and yet their dismal tune about that future turns out to be an effective cudgel with which to beat those in favor of getting all U.S. troops out by the end of 2011.
Few remember anymore, but we went through a version of this 40 years ago in Vietnam. There, too, Americans were repeatedly told that the U.S. couldn’t withdraw because, if we left, the enemy would launch a “bloodbath” in South Vietnam. This future bloodbath of the imagination appeared in innumerable official speeches and accounts. It became so real that sometimes it seemed to put the actual, ongoing bloodbath in Vietnam in the shade, and for years it provided a winning explanation for why any departure would have to be interminably and indefinitely delayed. The only problem was: When the last American took that last helicopter out, the bloodbath didn’t happen.
In Iraq, only one thing is really known: after our invasion and with U.S. and allied troops occupying the country in significant numbers, the Iraqis did descend into the charnel house of history, into a monumental bloodbath. It happened in our presence, on our watch, and in significant part thanks to us.
But why should the historical record -- the only thing we can, in part, rely on -- be taken into account when our pundits and strategists have such privileged access to an otherwise unknown future? In the year to come, based on what we’re seeing now, such arguments may intensify. Terrible prophesies about Iraq’s future without us may multiply. And make no mistake, terrible things could indeed happen in Iraq. They could happen while we are there. They could happen with us gone. But history delivers its surprises more regularly than we imagine -- even in Iraq.
In the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind that not even Americans can occupy the future. It belongs to no one.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - 10:54
SOURCE: WaPo (3-9-10)
In December 2009, the Obama administration settled a 13-year old legal dispute over the federal government’s management of American Indian land trust accounts that date to the late 19th century. The $3.4 billion settlement addressed the frauds and failures of government oversight of Indian monies. It also provided a measure of justice to American Indians, who, despite the poor treatment accorded them in matters such as trust accounts, racial discrimination, and treaty violations, have acted patriotically in the name of an America that champions cultural pluralism, minority rights, and international law.
American Indians demonstrated this patriotism in multiple ways during the 20th century. They served their country in World War I in the name of Wilson’s call to “make the world safe for democracy.” A new generation fought overseas in World War II for the four freedoms proclaimed by President Roosevelt. Yet when they returned to New Mexico in 1945 the Navajo Codetalkers and Ira Hayes (Pima), who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima, were denied the right to vote.
American Indian veterans and politicians demanded that the United States reward their service as well as uphold 19th century treaties to preserve America’s moral reputation as it assumed a prominent role in shaping post-war international relations....
American Indians’ motivations for serving their country remain constant in the 21st century. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Leonard Gouge (Muscogee Creek) explained why he was serving in the army by saying that in “supporting the American way of life, I am preserving the Indian way of life.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 19:33
SOURCE: activehistory.ca (3-3-10)
What if my supervisor disagrees with what I write? What if someone in the community sends me a nasty email? What if the editor ignores my article?
There are plenty of excuses young historians turn to when they convince themselves not to write opinion pieces for the newspaper. But, there are even more good reasons why they should: what if it makes government reconsider policy related to my research? What if I can convince Canadians to think differently about a topic for which I am passionate? What if my research makes a tangible difference because I put it where people would read it?
An opinion piece – sometimes called an “Op-Ed,” is a great way for a young Canadian historian to engage the general public. I’m not talking about a letter to the editor; instead, an op-ed is generally a 500-1000 word essay that addresses a timely and newsworthy issue, which appears in the editorial section – frequently “Op”posite the “Ed”itorial. Any Joe Schmoe can write a letter to the editor; when selecting an op-ed, editors generally seek someone with expert knowledge. And that’s just what academics are....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 18:39
SOURCE: Tablet Magazine (3-9-10)
Israel’s left-wing parties, primarily Labor (but also the farther-left Meretz), were dealt a mortal blow by Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the two-state compromises successively offered by Ehud Barak, then Israel’s prime minister, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in July and December 2000, and by the Palestinians’ violent follow-up, the launching of the Second Intifada. If there is no Palestinian Arab peace partner, then what’s the point in voting for peace-mongering parties? All Israel’s left-wing parties are selling is pie in the sky.
Clinton settled into a comfortable retirement, but the Israeli left failed to recover from the events of 2000. The Labor Party, which since 1948 has traditionally received between one-third and one-quarter of the votes in each general election and often formed and led Israel’s coalition governments (1949-1977, 1984-1986, 1992-1996, 1999-2001), emerged from the February 2009 general elections with about 11 percent of the vote (13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset or parliament) and is currently a junior partner (though Barak is defense minister, a key portfolio) in the very right-wing coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Even the ultra-right-wing Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, enjoys a stronger parliamentary base (15 seats). Meretz has three.
But there is one major respect in which the current political map inaccurately reflects Israeli public opinion and its ideological and political underpinnings. Most Israelis, to judge by nearly every opinion poll, want peace with the Arabs based on a “territorial compromise,” meaning granting Palestinian sovereignty over the Gaza Strip and the bulk of the West Bank (the desired fate of East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its sacred sites, is more problematic); most Israelis have tired of ruling the Palestinians. These positions have been prompted by historical events and demographic realities. But also, in some measure, by the drumbeat of peace movement activities over the decades since Israel’s conquest of the territories in 1967....
...[I]t was not the shortcomings or failures of these dozens of peace organizations...that resulted in the absence of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This result was mainly due to Palestinian rejectionism and intractability. There was never, as there still is not, a credible, serious Palestinian partner for peace with Israel, not before 1948, and not since. In the years 1920-1948 no Palestinian leader would contemplate either a bi-national, one-state arrangement with the Jews based on political parity or the partition of Palestine into two states, one for the Jews, the other for the Arabs. Indeed, in 1937, the Arab leadership flatly rejected the two-state solution, proposed by the British Peel Commission, which would have given the Zionists only 17 percent of Palestine. The pre-eminent Palestinian national leader during the 1930s and ’40s (and arguably in the 1920s as well), Haj Amin al Husseini, rejected all talk of compromise and consistently advocated substantially reducing the number of Jews already in the country (i.e., by mass deportation, or worse).
Nothing has changed since. The 1950s were a hiatus, while the Palestinians licked their wounds from 1948. But when they re-emerged politically under Yasser Arafat and Fatah/the PLO in the 1960s, and during the following two decades they flatly rejected all talk of a two-state solution, preferring the replacement of Israel either in one fell swoop or in stages by a Palestinian Arab state, possibly to include a small Jewish minority....
Given this reality, Israel’s peace movement—and Israel’s peace-minded political leaders, from Rabin and Peres, through Barak, Sharon (who evacuated the Gaza Strip), and Olmert (who, in negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, reportedly offered the Palestinians more than Clinton had, and, of course, was turned down flat)—cannot be held to account for the failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians (or, indeed, Syria, which, in 1994-1996 and again in 1999-2000, even when offered the Golan Heights, refused to sign on the dotted line). Hermann’s book—a work of otherwise fine political analysis and synthesis—never really makes this clear, which is its great failing.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 18:09
SOURCE: American Conservative (4-1-10)
...The most striking point about these battles was that nobody found them striking. In Jos, as in countless other regions across Africa and Asia, violence between Christians and Muslims can erupt at any time, with the potential to detonate riots, civil wars, and persecutions. While these events are poorly reported in the West, they matter profoundly. All the attention in the Global War on Terror focuses on regions in which the U.S. is engaged militarily, but another war is raging across whole continents, one that will ultimately shape the strategic future. Uncomfortably for American policymakers, it is a war of religions and beliefs—a battle not for hearts and minds but for souls....
Yet over the past century, the spread of new religious forms worldwide has created the potential for violence wherever a surging Christianity meets an unyielding Islam. Riots such as those in Jos are one result; terrorism is another. Generally, Muslims have been the aggressors in recent conflicts, but Christians have their own sectarian mobs and militias.
However blame is apportioned, the two faiths have been at daggers drawn, often literally, for decades. As Eliza Griswold discusses in her forthcoming book, The Tenth Parallel, you can trace the fault by following the latitude line of ten degrees North. (Jos, conveniently, stands almost exactly at ten degrees.) A tectonic plate of religious and cultural confrontation runs across West and Northwest Africa, through Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. A decade ago, Indonesia witnessed some of the worst fighting, as Muslim militias launched bloody assaults on that nation’s Christian minority, some 25 million strong. For decades, the overwhelmingly Christian Philippines has suffered constant insurgency from a ruthless armed movement concentrated in the Muslim south. Mob attacks and pogroms have raged in Malaysia. In Africa, the Sudan is probably the best-known theater of mass martyrdom, while Nigeria remains deeply polarized. And that is not to mention ongoing killings in countries like Uganda and Kenya....
To appreciate this transformation, consider Nigeria. In 1900, the lands that would become that nation were about 28 percent Muslim and 1 percent Christian. Confident in their numbers, Muslims did not need even to think about Christians as rivals. For Muslims, the pagan population represented an inferior state of being, peoples to be ruled and, often, enslaved. One day in the future, the heathens might join the modern religious world, but it would be the world of Islam. But then things went wrong. By 1970, Muslims had increased their share of the population to 45 percent. But that 1 percent Christian minority had expanded incredibly, also to 45 percent. A land that seemed firmly under Muslim hegemony was suddenly split down the middle....
This was the package of nightmares that faced Muslim communities from the 1970s onward, at exactly the time that a new countermovement, quite as radical in its own way, emerged from the Middle East. The key date was 1979, the year of the Iranian Revolution, but also of the radical coup against the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The Saudi regime survived that assault but in a chastened mood. Anxious to prevent a repeat performance, the Saudis made their devil’s bargain with the Islamists: go and do what you like around the world, and we will bankroll you, but stay out of our own beloved kingdom. That was the point at which Gulf oil money began rolling around the Muslim world, funding mosques and madrassas following the hardest of Islamist lines. By the end of 1979, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, sparking a war that would become a vehicle for training jihadis worldwide.
The outcome was a new and highly militant form of Islam, impatient with old-style moderate forms of faith and fanatically opposed to Christian incursions into continents seen as Muslim realms. For these militants, the growth of Christianity was proof of the failure of the old Muslim regimes. In the words of radical theorist Sayyid Qutb, these regimes had shown themselves infidels at heart, and it was up to true Muslims to condemn them as such (takfir) and remove themselves spiritually (make hijra) to a new and purer activism. In 1989, a revolutionary Islamist regime took power in the Sudan. The same year, at Abuja in Nigeria, a conference on Islam in Africa outlined a program for successful Islamization. That event entered Christian folklore, and one does not have to travel far on the continent to hear claims of all manner of secret plans to destroy Christianity across Africa and create a caliphate. If Islamists denounce the Christians as tools of America, Christians everywhere see the hand of Riyadh....
This culture clash, so crucial to the fate of whole continents, has not impinged on the American consciousness. Stunningly, the crying need for interfaith peace in Africa and Asia featured not at all in Barack Obama’s much-touted speech in Cairo last June. Of course, American options are limited. The more that Western nations try to interfere directly in defense of Christians, the easier it is for Muslims to portray their enemies as imperialist agents. That is not a counsel of despair. American administrations can achieve something by pressuring allegedly friendly regimes like the Saudis to stop sponsoring anti-Christian propaganda across the Global South. But ultimately, resolving this conflict will depend on Africans and Asians themselves—if only Washington and Riyadh can refrain from pouring fuel on the hostilities.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 15:08
SOURCE: CNN.com (3-9-10)
...Republicans have a long history in the 20th century of having to defend their record of opposition to popular programs. President Dwight Eisenhower famously told fellow Republicans to accept Social Security in the 1950s or suffer the political consequences. "Should any political party," Eisenhower said, "attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history."
During his campaign for the presidency in 1980, Ronald Reagan had to defend himself against charges that he had opposed the creation of Medicare in 1965.
A second danger is that Republicans have been so focused on health care, they have lost precious time dealing with the internal divisions and ideological weaknesses that were exposed in 2008. After that election, most Republicans were prepared to take a hard look at what had gone wrong. Some pointed to the fact that the party had been in power for so long, it became accustomed to the trappings of power as well as to the electoral benefits of government spending
Republicans were also aware that their party had run out of steam in terms of generating ideas to solve the problems that America faced in the 21st century.
When confronted with issues such as climate change or health care, Republicans instinctively turned to slogans about the free market that didn't offer much in the way of concrete solutions. This marked a stark contrast to the 1970s, when Republicans had emerged as the party of ideas after investing in think tanks like CATO and the American Enterprise Institute to challenge liberal dominance.
Moreover, the divisions among the different elements of the Republican Party have hampered Republican efforts in recent primary battles such as Texas and Florida. Without compelling ideas to unite Republicans -- such as Reagan's promotion of supply-side economics and anti-communism in the 1980s -- the party will continue to have a difficult time coming together....
A recent leaked document from the Republican National Committee suggests that the party is planning to base its 2010 campaign on fear and negative attacks, rather than hope and ideas. Sometimes, in the enthusiasm over a battle, armies can lose sight of the war.
Republicans might have regained their fighting spirit over health care, but the strategy could prove to be costlier than they expect.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 11:39