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: Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers (3-8-10)
[Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.]
Almost 30 years after losing a war over the Falkland Islands, Argentina is once again warning Britain that it still wants back what it calls the Malvinas.
Argentina is now angry over a British company's oil exploration off the windswept islands in what it considers its own South Atlantic backyard.
Although nominally democratic, the unpopular Kirchner government in Buenos Aires has claimed that the sparsely settled islands are a symbolic matter of Spanish-speaking pride throughout Latin America — and is theirs because the islands once belonged to Spain in the 19th century.
In response to all this, the Obama administration announced that it would remain neutral. Aside from the fact that the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British, and our prior support for the Thatcher British government during the 1982 war, there are lots of reasons why our neutrality here is a bad idea.
Britain is a longstanding NATO member. It has bled side-by-side America in two world wars, Korea and two conflicts in Iraq, as well as presently in Afghanistan. And the United Kingdom still shares close linguistic, cultural and historical affinities with the United States....
Today there are many Falkland-like hot spots throughout the world. Yet the United States, not the International Court at The Hague, keeps North Korea from attacking our ally South Korea. The power of America, not the international community, persuades China not to squeeze our friend Taiwan. Europe is safe because of an American-led NATO — not due to any concern from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
In other words, America and its alliances keep friends safe. And the world is more peaceful and prosperous than at any time in history because dozens of nations count on our support and share our values....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - 00:09
SOURCE: SHAFR.org (3-8-10)
Like New York City in the 1970s, the government in Athens today stands on the brink of defaulting. The numbers are sobering: Greece’s budget deficit tops 12% of GDP, and the government owes €20.5 billion ($27.8 billion) in debt service payments between now and the end of May 2010. The Greek government under Prime Minister George Papandreou badly needs to restructure the debt in connection with its new, ambitious austerity program, which aims – desperately and implausibly – to bring the budget deficit down to 8.7% within the year. As with any mortgage holder seeking to refinance a loan, Greece would enjoy better terms if it could count on comfortably situated co-signatories. But thus far, Greece’s European partners have remained tight-lipped.
The response from Germany has been particularly self-righteous. Commentators depict the Greek crisis as the lamentable consequence of wasteful spending; exhibit “A” is the absurdly generous pensions system down in Hellas. The mood in Frankfurt has soured further in the face of revelations that earlier Greek governments conspired – with the help of Goldman Sachs – to hide the true fiscal situation from the European Central Bank. The verdict of Focus magazine was clear from the title story of February 22, 2010: “Fraudsters in the Euro-Family. Will Greece cost us our money?” This was accompanied by a crude image of Venus de Milo giving the finger to Europe....
For the time being, Angela Merkel’s Germany has pledged not to give “one cent” toward alleviating Greece’s plight. Such responses have a long tradition in the Federal Republic, dating back to the heyday of the West German economic miracle. To most Germans, then and now, trade surpluses were evidence of hard work and thrift, while trade deficits were a sure sign of laziness and moral decay. Writing “blank checks” to support Europe’s weaker economies could only invert this moral order, punishing virtue and rewarding vice. Recognizing that a collapse of Italy or Britain – the weaklings of the 1970s – would bring disaster to all of Europe, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt searched for creative ways to assist these countries without putting German taxpayers directly at risk. (Typically, this involved promoting action by the Bundesbank or the IMF.)...
The Germans have made a clear macroeconomic choice in the past decade. By holding down wages and working until age 67, they have improved their competitive position significantly – thus allowing the retention of jobs. Germans have, in short, chosen to work; Greeks have chosen leisure. With short working hours, early retirement, and a bloated state sector, Greeks can only enjoy a high-consumption lifestyle thanks to the stability of the Euro. By keeping interest rates down, the European currency has enabled Mediterranean countries to import huge volumes of goods from Germany. Greeks are, in effect, enjoying time off that Germans have denied themselves....
If European leaders, finance ministers, and central bankers cannot plausibly demonstrate a commitment to a single economic area, speculators may indeed bring down the Euro crashing down. So far, the effects of this winter’s crisis have been mild – a downward correction in the currency’s value that was needed anyway. But the Germans’ evident unwillingness to accept the full implications of the currency union must surely plant a seed of doubt in the minds anyone holding large quantities of Euros. Failure by Germany to signal an appropriate, and self-evident, degree of solidarity for their fellow Europeans in Greece could well throw the whole basis of the common currency into question.
This is why the prospect of IMF assistance to Greece is viewed warily by officials in Europe. In recent months, IMF stabilization packages have helped Hungary and Latvia tiptoe back from the brink. But those two countries were not members of the currency union. If the Europeans have to rely upon the IMF to sort out the problems in Greece, they will be abdicating responsibility and, in effect, demonstrating the insubstantial political basis of the common currency. One can only hope that Germans will come to take a broader view of the existing interrelationships between center and periphery in Europe. Back in 1975, President Gerald Ford endorsed federal support for New York City’s financial recovery – just weeks after telling the City, in effect, to “drop dead.”...
Posted on: Monday, March 8, 2010 - 17:40
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (3-7-10)
Voting in Iraq began early Sunday, and turnout appeared to be heavy. The BBC analysis is that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition will do well enough at the polls to again form the government, partnering with other religious Shiite parties. According to the Iraqi constitution, the party or coalition list with the largest number of seats, even if it is not a majority, will be given the first opportunity to form a government.
Al-Maliki, however, may well have to pay a price for remaining prime minister, if he can manage to do so, since that outcome would certainly require that he make a post-election coalition with the Shiite religious parties of the National Iraqi Alliance. The latter include the Sadr Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadr movement, said Saturday on the Iran-based al-Alam satellite channel that he would only support a prime ministerial candidate who agreed to accelerate the departure of the US from Iraq. Based on its performance in last year's provincial elections, the Sadr Movement could well get half of the seats gained by the National Iraqi Alliance; if Sadrists did that well, they could be essential to putting together the 51 percent al-Maliki (or any other prime minister) would need to govern. Scroll down to see a translation of Sadr's remarks, which are the first entry for Sunday below.
Moreover, it is not just al-Sadr. I detect a change in the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, now led by Ammar al-Hakim after the death from lung cancer of his father, Abd al-Aziz. The father had been sanguine about the presence of US troops in Iraq, and called for them to stay in the country, seeing them as a guarantor against the return of the Baathists (the secular Arab nationalists led by Saddam Hussein before his overthrow in 2003). Ammar al-Hakim was brought up in Iran and is close to Iranian hard liners. The US military once arrested him as he was sneaking across the border from Iran after a secret visit to Tehran that appears not to have involved any visas or border stations. In Ankara last winter, he referred to the US military as "occupation forces" and gave partial credit to ISCI for forcing them to withdraw on a timetable. But as late as January, even he was saying that the US presence in Iraq is not a major issue, since it has departed and the bases are being closed (he probably meant that it has decided to depart). He also, however, praised armed resistance to Israeli occupation and, on a trip to Beirut, laid a wreat at the tomb of Imad Mughniya, a radical Shiite whom the US and Israeli categorized as a terrorist.
Ammar has a say in who serves as the Friday Prayer leader and sermonizer at the mosque of the shrine of Ali in the holy city of Najaf, a position of great influence. It is now held by Sayyid Yasin al-Musawi. Al-Musawi's sermon on last Friday in Najaf contained a number of themes that suggest that ISCI may be returning to its Khomeinist roots. Al-Musawi praised political obedience to the Shiite grand ayatollahs, not just spiritual obedience. That sounded close to the Khomeinist principle of the guardianship of the jurisprudent, or rule of the ayatollahs, which prevails in Iran. And he warned of conspiracies against Iraqi independence, saying that these conspiracies were launched by 'global arrogance and the secularists.'
Now, 'global arrogance' is a technical term in political discourse among hard liners in Iran, and refers to the United States. I never heard an ISCI preacher use this phrase while Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim was leading the movement. Al-Musawi was warning of a US alliance with the secular National Iraqi List of Iyad Allawi aimed at keeping Iraq a colony of Washington....
Posted on: Sunday, March 7, 2010 - 20:11
SOURCE: Honolulu Star-Bulletin (3-4-10)
The Rev. Neal MacPherson's "Island Commentary" of Feb. 24 ("Israel deserves right to exist, but not at Palestinians' expense," Star-Bulletin) claims that he and his colleagues in the Hawaii chapter of the Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) desire "peace and security for Israel and also justice for the Palestinians."
Sounds eminently reasonable, as would be peace and security for the Palestinians and also justice for the Israelis.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, FOSNA's Web site and foundational documents belie such claims as they persistently blame only Israel for the violence and instability in the region and continue to demand that only Israel admit wrongdoings and compensate in various ways the Palestinian people....
There is no mention by FOSNA of Palestinian responsibility for violence and instability, either historical or contemporary terms. No mention of Palestinian hatred for Israelis and Jews, or of Palestinian militarism....
The Friends of Sabeel say that they recognize Israel and that they want peace, but their public statements and their official documents tell a different story. They want justice on their own one-sided terms. Making Israel the only villain in their melodrama and the Palestinians the only victims does neither side any good. The Palestinians have a right to their own legitimate, functioning state and nation, but not at the expense of Israel, Jews, justice, peace and the truth.
We have been down the deceptively straight road paved and trodden by MacPherson and his colleagues many times. It remains a dead end, a road strewn with wrecked dreams and bodies.
Posted on: Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 20:50
SOURCE: Gulf Times (Qatar) (3-6-10)
It is too simplistic to explain the current wave of concern about the euro in terms of Greece’s problems. Greece has massive fiscal and competitiveness problems, but Greece (2.25% of the population of the European Union) is smaller than California (12% of the population of the United States). And California, too, is suffering massive fiscal difficulties and declining competitiveness in some of the industries in which Californians were once pioneers.
The euro’s current problems are, instead, a reflection of unresolved Europe-wide and global problems. The common currency is the canary in the mine of the global exchange-rate system.
The euro precisely measures international tensions in that it is a bold experiment: a currency that is not linked to a state, but rather follows from international rules and treaties. It is a creature of the intellect rather than a product of power. It is a post-modern or post-sovereign currency. But in the aftermath of a crisis, countries put national interests above their willingness to go along with international rules....
There has always been a close relationship between European monetary integration and global problems. Europeans thought that their close geographic proximity and shared cultural inheritance might enable them to produce answers where global debates had become stalled. When things did not work out globally, a regional solution might be possible....
Today, as in the 1960’s or 1970’s, we face a fundamentally global problem of inconsistent monetary policies. Back then, Europeans complained that low interest rates in America were driving global inflation; now low US interest rates are blamed for driving irresponsible asset-price booms.
Indeed, low US interest rates, though an appropriate domestic response to the financial crisis, have pushed a global carry trade in which people borrow in dollars to fund investments in the apparently less crisis-hit large emerging-market economies. These large transactions are funnelled through the international banking system.
The answers to a global problem of this kind cannot be found on a European level. It will demand global co-ordination of monetary policies, and some form of global economic governance. Europe tried this combination, and found that even in a regional setting it could not be fully realised. Instead, an imperfect answer produced heightened vulnerability. The result is that Europe has made itself into the primary victim of the financial crisis.
Posted on: Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 19:10
SOURCE: Commentary Magazine (3-1-10)
The nexus between Jews and money, a topic of perennial curiosity for philo-Semites and anti-Semites alike, has drawn renewed interest during the economic downturn. With most attention riveted on the celebrities—investment titans and philanthropists brought low, con artists jailed, and economic wizards appointed to oversee the recovery—other aspects of the American Jewish economy have receded into the background. One such issue is the plight of the Jewish poor. Well before the recession, the national Jewish population study of 2000-01 claimed that “seven percent of American Jewish households have incomes . . . below the federal government’s official poverty line, and double that proportion, fourteen percent, have incomes that . . . can be considered ‘low income.’” That is below the national average, but the needs of these people are real and should be a primary concern of the organized Jewish community.
According to estimates of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, 350,000 of the 1.4 million Jews in the New York area live at or below subsistence levels; in Chicago, Jewish leaders believe that 20 percent of the local population is living close to the federal poverty line. Among the poorest are the elderly, Holocaust survivors, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and the most self-isolating pockets of Orthodox Jews, as well as individuals who earn a minimum wage or less because they are in some way disabled....
The high cost of Jewish living is evident even from so mundane an item as the grocery bill. Families observing the dietary laws must expect to pay a premium for kosher food. Poultry slaughtered according to Jewish ritual law costs 50 to 100 percent more than its nonkosher equivalent, and when it comes to beef, prices rise by many multiples. Monitoring the spending of an observant family in Houston, a recent CNN report noted the high kosher price differential. Among the anecdotes: a brisket purchased at a kosher store was over seven times more expensive than the same cut of beef at the nearest nonkosher supermarket. Even canned and bottled items sold at many supermarkets can cost several-fold more if they bear a kosher certification on their label. Prices routinely surge around the Jewish holidays, with no time more costly than Passover, an eight-day holiday that can set observant Jews back by many hundreds if not thousands of dollars owing to the numerous dietary practices.
Then there are membership fees. Synagogue dues can range from a few hundred dollars to well over $3,000 for the purposes of supporting a staff of professionals and maintaining physical facilities. (Some synagogues set the “suggested dues” for families earning more than $250,000 at $6,000 a year.) In addition, they impose a range of payments to help defray expenses for special programs, school tuition, and building funds. When all was said and done, the Jewish family in Houston featured on CNN expended $3,600 a year at its synagogue, which happens to be Orthodox—the Jewish subgrouping that tends to charge the lowest congregational dues. To this we might add a hidden cost: more traditionally observant Jews must live in easy walking distance of a synagogue because they will not drive on the Sabbath and holidays, precisely the days they are most likely to attend religious services. In a Jewish variation of the first law of real estate—location, location, location—the values of homes near synagogues tend to be more expensive....
As the various cost lines have risen, in some cases doubling over the past 10 years, the response has been predictable. Many regard day-school education as out of the question, the cost utterly prohibitive. Even within Orthodox communities, some parents feel compelled to pull their children out of day schools. Anecdotal reports suggest that some families interested in placing their children in Jewish educational settings decide not to proceed for fear of embarrassing encounters with scholarship committees. In a reversal of earlier patterns, when Jewish religious involvement was weighted toward the poor, increasingly in our own time only the well-to-do can afford to live fully as Jews, while many in the middle class are in danger of getting priced out.
If there was cause for concern a decade ago about how, as Gerald Bubis put it, Jewish families would respond when “cost becomes a barrier,” the affordability of Jewish living should be a central issue on the Jewish communal agenda today, given the staggering surge in costs coupled with the current economic climate. With some noteworthy exceptions, it is not....
Posted on: Friday, March 5, 2010 - 19:15
SOURCE: burtfolsom.com (3-5-10)
“I do not think that this country is ready to be treated like Russia for a while.” Thus wrote Henry Ford in 1933–after President Roosevelt, through the National Recovery Act, tried to legally force all carmakers to fix prices for their cars and agree not to give customers any discounts. GM and Chrysler went along with FDR, but Ford refused to be regimented by the federal government. “There is a lot of the pioneer spirit here yet,” he said.
Even today, more than 75 years later, we see the pioneer spirit in Ford Motor Company persist. The February results are in: Ford Motor Company outsold GM in cars and light trucks. In fact, Ford’s sales have been respectable during the last year while GM has steadily declined. Should we be surprised?
Not really. True, Alan Mulally is an excellent CEO for Ford and is very competent. But Ford’s decison not to take federal aid–just as Henry Ford did 75 years ago–gives the company a surprising edge. They can make the cars they want to make, do the advertising they want to do, and offer attractive financing to potential buyers. GM, with strong federal oversight, is not as free to run its business in the most efficient manner possible.
Put another way–privately run companies have strong advantages over government run (or subsidized) companies. The Ford example is one of many. John Jacob Astor, the first American to be worth $10 million, built his fortune on his privately run American Fur Company. A government-subsidized fur company was his chief competitor, and it eventually lagged so far behind Astor that Congress finally shut it down in the 1820s. In railroads, James J. Hill privately financed his Great Northern Railway–the only transcontinental railroad never to go bankrupt. By contrast, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads–with massive federal aid–both went broke during the 1890s and both consumed millions of taxpayer dollars in financing.
When people run their own businesses, they try to appeal to other people to buy their products. When the federal government gets involved, it skews the incentives. Soon we have CEOs trying to secure federal aid from Congress more than they are trying to make products people want to buy. The historical record suggests that a free economy works better for customers than an economy riddled with federal subsidies and a web of regulations. Three cheers for Alan Mulally and Ford Motor Company for illustrating this lession once more.
Posted on: Friday, March 5, 2010 - 18:08
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (3-5-10)
The writer Robert Penn Warren once wrote, "History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future."
Gov. Rendell apparently does not agree. His recent decision to cut more state funding for museums and historical sites should be of grave concern to anyone who cares about the future of Pennsylvania....
Virtually every other state museum or historical site in the commonwealth has either significantly reduced its hours or closed its doors. The list of closures includes the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh and the visitors center at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County....
Without history, our collective identity is erased. Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century observer of American democracy, understood this well. Americans, he said, are always in danger of producing a generation that "forgets its ancestors," whose members "acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone" and are "apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands." They have no sense of being part of a human community that has existed through time....
These cuts will also mean that people lose jobs. As a college professor who trains young men and women to work in public history, I am concerned about opportunities for those who want to dedicate their lives to historical vocations.
But I am even more concerned about what this drastic reduction in funding for historical places will mean for Pennsylvania, and for the ability of its people to face the future.
Posted on: Friday, March 5, 2010 - 11:51
SOURCE: PajamasMedia (2-27-10)
...1) Egalitarianism and equality trump all — whether freedom, individualism, or personal liberty. Usually a great deal of education, or capital tends to convince us that in a perfect world, people like us who have money or have wisdom, could make others like us, rather than allow them to continue to suffer in poverty and ignorance....
Tax avoidance, ample square footage, ample energy use, networking, insider influence, prep schools for one’s progeny? All these are no more common or rare among crusading egalitarians than among elfish elitist conservatives. That raises the question — is utopianism naïve, or is it a psychological mechanism that serves not just to alleviate guilt, but perhaps even to contextualize one’s own privilege? E.g., “my riches are really used to help others and only incidentally provide me with an ample lifestyle, that of course, allows me to be an even more effective advocate.” Angels need ample wings....
Posted on: Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 20:09
SOURCE: National Review (3-4-10)
Almost 30 years after losing a war over the Falkland Islands, Argentina is once again warning Britain that it still wants back what it calls the Malvinas.
Argentina is now angry over a British company’s oil exploration off the windswept islands in what it considers its South Atlantic backyard....
In response to all this, the Obama administration announced that it would remain neutral. Aside from the fact that the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British — and aside from our history of supporting Britain’s claim, including during the 1982 war — there are lots of reasons why our neutrality here is a bad idea.
Britain is a longstanding NATO member. It has bled side-by-side with America in two world wars, Korea, and two conflicts in Iraq, and continues to do so in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom still shares close linguistic, cultural, and historical affinities with the United States.
We do not support all that the British do; nor do they always support us. But our centuries-old friendship should earn Britain special support from us in its disputes, even in the relatively unimportant Falklands mess. If Britain is not considered an ally, then America no longer has real allies....
After the horrific carnage of the First World War, utopians wrongly swore that rival European alliances had alone caused the war, and so created the League of Nations. Enlightened world citizens legislating peace would do a better job than nationalist politicians who crudely had once sought security through balancing power and forging alliances. Hitler and the far more lethal Second World War followed instead....
So, until human nature changes, there are always going to be some nations that are more aggressive than others, seeking to take what they can by force. Groups of like-minded others will resist them for both principle and their own self-protection. And the majority of “neutral” countries will keep quiet, waiting to see who proves the stronger — and then opportunistically joining the eventual winner....
Posted on: Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 20:09
SOURCE: Asia Times (3-5-10)
Contrary to oft-stated accusations, Pyongyang leaders are neither irrational nor ideology-driven; they are a bunch of brilliant Machiavellians, very apt at exploiting the fears and controversies of their enemies and their partners alike....
However, over the past year or so, something strange has begun to happen in Pyongyang. The North Korean leadership has taken some actions that have clearly damaged the interests of the ruling clique. It seems that the once formidable manipulators have for some reason lost their ability to judge and plan.
The recent currency reform is the best example of such weird and self-defeating policy decisions. For years, the Pyongyang government has waged campaigns against the unofficial and semi-official markets that have played a decisive role in North Korea's economic life since the collapse of the state-run economy in the 1990s. As another move in this ongoing (and, perhaps, unwinnable) struggle, last November the government initiated currency reform that was meant to undermine the power of black-market merchants....
The unprecedented decision to raise wages doomed the entire affair from the start. But why was it done? Why was an otherwise standard package of well-tested measures saddled with this self-defeating (and, frankly, stupid) addition?...
Meanwhile, the North Korean government also did something it has never done before: it said "sorry" to the people. In January, Nodong Sinmun, a government mouthpiece, reported that Dear Leader Kim Jong-il felt bad for being unable to provide his subjects with the level of material affluence they were once promised....
In accordance with the new mood, a high-level official allegedly expressed his regret about the chaos created by the currency reform while addressing a large group of the party faithful. This might appear like normal behavior, but in a dictatorship that claims the possession of absolute truth and an infallible leader, such statements are very unusual - and, indeed, dangerous. They are likely to be seen as signs of fallibility and weakness, and every dictator knows that such signs should not be shown.
In other words, something has changed in Pyongyang recently - seemingly, after Kim's illness in late 2008, when he reportedly suffered a stroke. The most likely explanation seems to be biological: the increasing inability of the ailing dictator to pass reasonable judgments and control people around him....
At any rate, something unusual seems to be happening in Pyongyang and it's probably the time to think about the future a bit more seriously. We are heading towards serious changes, and unfortunately nobody seems prepared.
Posted on: Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 11:21
SOURCE: Financial Times (3-2-10)
Is state-sanctioned assassination justifiable, or does it somehow de-legitimise the state that undertakes it?...
When Britain was at war, Winston Churchill sanctioned the assassination by its Special Operations Executive of the SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the capture (and killing if necessary) of General Heinrich Kreipe on Crete; ditto Erwin Rommel. Just as with some Mossad operations, such as the disaster in Amman in 1997 when agents were captured after failing to kill Khaled Meshal of Hamas, not all Churchill’s hits were successful. But the British state was not de-legitimised in any way as a result.
The intelligence agents of states – sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not – have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as “rogue”. In 1985 the French Deuxième Bureau sank Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior trawler, killing photographer Fernando Pereira, without anyone denouncing France as a rogue state. Similarly, in 2006, polonium 210 was used to murder Alexander Litvinenko without Putin’s Russia being described as “illegitimate”. That kind of language is only reserved for Israel, even though neither Pereira nor Litvinenko posed the danger to French and Russian citizens that was posed to Israelis by the activities of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
The reason that such double standards still apply – more than six decades after the foundation of the state of Israel – is not because of the nature of that doughty, brave, embattled, tiny, surrounded, yet proudly defiant country, but because of the nature of its foes. Even though one has to be in one’s seventies to remember a time when Israel didn’t exist, nevertheless there are still those who call the country’s legitimacy into question, employing anything that happens to be in the news at the time – such as this latest assassination – to try to argue that Israel is not a real country, and therefore doesn’t really deserve to exist. Real rogue states such as North Korea might be loathed and criticised, but even they do not have their very legitimacy as a state called into question because of their actions....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - 19:57
SOURCE: Minding the Campus (3-3-10)
But even more disturbing is the growing evidence that Jewish students are having a most confused response to this development. One has to look only at the announcement by J-Street- the self-described left of center antidote to AIPAC- that it would not call its campus chapters "pro-Israel" because that would limit their ability to gain members among Jewish students, as proof for how support of Israel is seen by many campus Jews as a position they do not wish to be identified with. The question that arises is what has happened to produce such sentiment?
Jewish students, like their non-Jewish counterparts, have grown up in a largely left-wing culture, in which the education they have received in high schools throughout the country, especially in the area of history or what used to be called civics, has been taught to them by teachers whose degrees are from left-leaning education schools. Or, perhaps, their teachers have been influenced by the view that the United States is the most evil nation in the world, which they in turn learned from people like Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky. It is therefore not surprising to find the names of familiar left-wing Jewish figures on the nation's campuses playing a prominent part especially in the disinvestment campaign. As Dennis MacShane, A Labour member of Parliament, put it in a 2007 Washington Post op-ed, "American universities have provided a base for Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said, among others, to launch campaigns of criticism against Israel, and the bulk of the West's university intelligentsia remains hostile to the Jewish state."...
Compounding the problem is confusion over the meaning of the First Amendment. Even if some Jewish students are shocked and horrified by the growing anti-Semitism, their belief in free speech as guaranteed in The Bill of Rights leads many to say that opposing events such as Israel Apartheid Week, the disinvestment campaign, or even ads arguing on behalf of Holocaust denial, puts them in a position of standing against a basic American Constitutional right.
In fact, as is the case with the many ads taken in college papers by Holocaust deniers over the past few years, or the ads in favor of disinvestment in Israel, free speech was never in jeopardy. A newspaper has a right to reject any ad submitted to it as inappropriate; the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to have one's views printed wherever they seek to place it. Supporters of a controversial view have a perfect right to print their own leaflet, distribute it and submit it where they wish, no matter how reprehensible their argument. They have a right to publish and disseminate their own views in their own organ of opinion. Yet some editors readily published ads submitted by Holocaust deniers, out of fear that to reject it would violate First Amendment rights....
Given the well known attempt a few weeks ago to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's address at UC-Irvine in California, it is clear that campus authorities have to do more than they are to curb real attempts to suppress free speech by Israel's opponents, and to protect the rights of those Jewish students who seek through peaceful means to bring a pro-Israel viewpoint to the campus. The tough response by UC-Irvine's president, who made it clear that his campus will not tolerate such interruptions and blatant anti-Semitism, is a good sign that perhaps others will follow his example. It is certainly about time.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - 19:57
SOURCE: Politico (3-3-10)
When David Broder praised Sarah Palin’s speech at the National Tea Party Convention as “perfect-pitch populism,” real Populists were surely spinning in their graves.
In the 1890s, American farmers and other activists rocked corporate power in a populist revolt. Now, the Washington Post columnist has passed the populist mantle to Palin. If they could, the Populists would protest this misuse of their name....
The Populists were all about economic justice. They demanded government regulation of railroads, banks, telecommunications and insurance. And if that failed to curb corporate abuses, they wanted public ownership or at least a “public option.” They demanded a federal stimulus to get the economy out of the terrible depression of 1893-97....
Yet the populist reputation has suffered a cruel fate. In the 1950s, historian Richard Hofstadter discovered a “cranky” side of populism. “Progressive populism,” he suggested, had morphed into the conservative intolerance of McCarthyism.
It didn’t matter that this never happened. It didn’t matter how many scholars had showed that there was not a scintilla of evidence for a populism/Joe McCarthy connection. The damage was done....
If we want to make sense of the storms brewing in American politics, a little history can’t hurt. The conservatives haven’t adopted gold as their symbol by accident. They are today’s gold bugs.
They proudly follow in the footsteps of the “sound-money” enemies of Populism. Of the conservative bloc that fought Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Of the militant Republicans of the McCarthy cabal, who exposed Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower as traitors. Of the Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan wing, who promised to free America from Social Security and government slavery.
But many Americans have different concerns. They want government action to put the unemployed back to work, to stem the tide of foreclosures and evictions, to regulate the financial industry, to provide health care security and to repair schools and infrastructure.
For such people, there’s another historical tradition they need to know about: It’s called Populism.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - 11:09
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (3-2-10)
...According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 36 percent of American children between the ages of 8 and 18 have a computer in their bedroom. The rest have to go elsewhere in the house - or outside the house - to get on the Internet.
With school-issued computers, however, they won't have to. And millions of kids are getting them. In 2006, a study of the nation's 2,500 largest school districts found that one-quarter of them provided "one-to-one computing," as student-laptop programs are called. Fully half of the districts expected to have such a program in place by 2011....
Why? Laptop programs reflect a long tradition of gee-whiz technological enthusiasm in American education. To fix the schools, the argument goes, find a new gadget. This notion's most famous proponent was Thomas Edison, who helped invent motion pictures and also started a company to market them in the schools.
"I believe the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system," Edison predicted in 1922, "and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks."
In the 1930s, observers made the same claims for radio; in the '50s, for television. And today we invoke computers as the latest technological savior of our educational system.
Of course, nothing can save education - save the people who actually deliver it: teachers. But Americans don't trust them. Indeed, the constant search for the next technological fix shows how little faith we place in classroom teachers.
And our young people are listening. Over the past four decades, as my New York University colleague Sean Corcoran has shown, a declining share of the most talented college graduates have chosen to enter the teaching profession.
There's only one way to reverse that trend: Raise teachers' starting pay to make the field more attractive to the best students. That would be expensive, and it wouldn't show results overnight. But if we're truly serious about transf
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 17:56
SOURCE: TomDispatch (3-2-10)
[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.]
Iraq remains a mess from which the U.S. military seems increasingly uninterested in withdrawing fully and Afghanistan a disaster area, but it’s never too soon to think about the next war. The subject is already on the minds of Pentagon planners. The question is: Are they focusing on how to manage future wars so that they won’t last longer than the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II combined?
There’s reason to worry, especially since the lessons of both Iraq and Afghanistan are clear: it takes years after a war has been launched for the U.S. military to develop tactics that lead to stasis. (“Victory” is a word that has gone out of fashion.)
Here, then, are three modest suggestions for recalibrating the American way of war. All are based on a simple principle -- “preventive war planning” -- and are focused on getting the next war right before it begins, not decades after it’s launched.
1. Make the Apologies in Advance
Who can doubt that the American way of war has undergone changes since, in December 2001, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers using precision-guided weapons essentially wiped out a village celebrating a wedding in Eastern Afghanistan? Of 112 Afghans in that wedding party, only two women survived. Similarly, in August 2008, in the village of Azizabad in Herat Province, at least 90 Afghans, including 60 children, were killed in a series of U.S. air strikes, while in May 2009, up to 140 Afghan civilians died in a U.S. bombing attack in Farah Province.
Understandably, such “incidents” have done little to endear the U.S. and its allies to Afghans. Until recently, the U.S. military would initially deny that civilians had even died; if the incident refused to go away, military spokespeople would then admit to small numbers of civilian deaths (often blamed on the Taliban), while launching an “investigation” and waiting for the hubbub to die away. Apologies or “regrets” came late and grudgingly, if at all (along with modest payments to the relatives of the dead). Back then, being American and at war in distant lands meant never having to say you were sorry.
More recently, Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal has changed the rules, curbing air strikes (though not drone strikes), warning his troops to prevent civilian deaths, and instituting an instant expression of “regrets” for such deaths. One thing, however, has changed only marginally: the civilian deaths themselves.
In mid-February, for instance, 12 civilians died when two U.S. rockets slammed into a compound near the city of Marja in Helmand Province. The following day, five Afghan civilians digging at the side of a road in Kandahar Province were killed in an air strike after being mistaken for insurgents planting a roadside bomb. Then, in Uruzgan Province, U.S. Special Forces troops in helicopters struck a convoy of mini-buses, killing up to 27 civilians, including women and children.
After each of these incidents, regrets were quickly expressed, investigations launched. In the case of the mini-buses, McChrystal apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai personally and then went on Afghan television to make his apology public. (“I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans. Most importantly, I express my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We all share in their grief and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”)
Unfortunately, a policy of repeated apology is unlikely to prove much more successful than the previous stonewalling tactic as long as civilians die, which they will, given the American style of war. It may be too late to correct this in Afghanistan, but the next war is another story. My suggestion is simple: in the future, the U.S. military should issue a blanket apology before going to war, and the first waves of U.S. planes should not drop bombs but abjectly worded leaflets. These would take responsibility in advance for future civilian deaths and pre-apologize for them.
There is a partial precedent for this. In both the Korean and Vietnam wars, American planes regularly dropped leaflets warning peasant farmers that they were living in “free fire zones” and should beware or move out. In this case, the pamphlets would make clear that the United States is going after “the evil-doers” and admit that, despite our ever more precise weaponry, we will unfortunately kill a certain percentage of you in the process. (“The U.S. military expresses our deepest, heartfelt condolences to the future victims and their families. We will all share in their grief and, when they die, will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”) We should also announce in advance at least a $1,500 solatium payment for any relative, spouse, or child who perishes, as well as carefully calibrated sums for the loss of limbs, eyes, and the like.
After this, whenever civilians die, the military would simply refer interested parties to the prewar statement. This should guarantee a cleaner, more effective way of war.
2. Pre-Build the Bases, Prisons, and Embassy Complexes
Thanks to nine years in Afghanistan and seven in Iraq, it’s easier to grasp how the American way of war actually works. A striking (if little discussed) aspect of it is the base-building that accompanies it. In the years of fighting, the Pentagon built several hundred bases in each country, ranging from tiny outposts to massive American “towns.” It also constructed multiple prisons and holding centers (some secret), and for each war, a nearly billion-dollar regional command center, which we still inaccurately call an “embassy.” The one inIslamabad, Pakistan, is only now under construction.
Much of this was done on the fly and in response to events. For the next war, it would be more logical to prepare in advance. Again, there is a partial precedent. In recent years, the U.S. has pre-positioned equipment at small bases and other locations around the world, so that, should a sudden desire to intervene arise, the means are relatively close at hand. This strategy should be significantly expanded. The Pentagon and the U.S. Intelligence Community could agree on the four most likely places for future interventions. Say, Yemen, Colombia, Nigeria, and Kyrgyzstan, and start laying the groundwork now.
The usual private contractors -- Fluor, DynCorp, and KBR -- should be rounded up to build the necessary 1,400 bases and accompanying prisons under a global multi-billion dollar LOGCAP contract to be divided among them. At the same time, the State Department would put those future mega-embassies out for bid to U.S. architectural firms so that the now-typical fortress-like designs (with their near-billion-dollar price tags) would be ready to go.
With full-scale base-prison-embassy complexes ready in four strategically located regions, future invasions would have a reasonable shot at not dragging out for decades.
3. Pick the Right Natives
It’s noticeable that the U.S. military always seems to get stuck with the wrong natives. Take the current campaign in Marja:
Afghan National Army (ANA) troops are regularly described as unable to read maps, incapable of “planning a complicated patrol” or resupplying themselves, poor at small unit maneuvering, poorly trained, refusing to stand night guard duty and sometimes even to fight, high on drugs, riddled with corruption, unable to aim their weapons, “years away from functioning effectively on their own,” and as C.J. Chivers of the New York Times recently summed matters up, totally inadequate when it comes to “transporting troops, directing them in battle and coordinating fire support [or] arranging modern communications, logistics, aviation and medical support.” And keep in mind that the soldiers sent into Marja are reportedly the best the ANA has available. All this, despite multi-billions of dollars and years of effort invested in Afghan army training. (And the Afghan police, for multi-billions more, make the Afghan army look good.)
On the other hand, perhaps a few hundred Taliban fighters stayed in Marja and fought. Descriptions of them invariably reflect grudging admiration. They are considered capable of planning and executing complex small-unit maneuvers as well as “sustained and complex attacks,” of resupplying themselves, of “surprisingly accurate” sniper fire, and of not being corrupt. In Marja, it was repeatedly said that “outnumbered and outgunned” Taliban fighters were “mounting a tougher fight than expected” or engaging in “determined resistance,” that they represented, in the words of Centcom commander General David Petraeus, a “formidable” force.
For those old enough to remember the Vietnam War, you could replace such descriptions of “our” Afghans with “our” Vietnamese and “their” Afghans with “their” Vietnamese without breaking stride. One explanation for this is that indigenous people react differently when fighting a foreign occupying force rather than aiding it. However, as U.S. forces are incapable of occupying a country thanks to our exceptionally good intentions (of which we are well aware), another explanation makes better sense: In the kinds of countries we’re likely to invade, there are evidently two races (or the equivalent) of natives -- think of them as like the Eloi and the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine -- and we always pick the wrong one.
So before the next invasion, we should make use of small teams of anthropologists and social scientists from the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System, already trained to help the military with local cultural problems. They should be inserted in the country or region in question to identify which natives are best suited for learning small-unit maneuvering and the other skills over which the enemy always seems to have such a monopoly.
Of course, a fourth planning possibility would involve not launching such wars in the first place. But that path would conflict with a basic American can-do spirit that this country prizes, so suggestions 1 through 3 are undoubtedly a more practical way to proceed.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 17:39
SOURCE: The Australian (3-2-10)
With the release of the draft national curriculum, it can be said that history's time has finally come.
For many years the study of history was on the retreat in schools in many parts of Australia, being supplanted by various forms of social studies. But now it has become one of the big four alongside English, mathematics and science.
The effect of this change of status will be enormous. History teachers will need to be trained and this will affect the study of history at universities. A generation of Australians will grow up who cannot avoid studying history....
Although there is an occasional mention of studying key individuals in the document, there is a much greater emphasis on groups, societies and people. One gets the feeling, reading this document, that it understands history in terms of movements and forces rather than the individuals who compose those societies.
In year 9, students will get to grind their way through world population movements and the Industrial Revolution, including "the factory system and its effect on productivity, consumption, social structure, labour conditions and the division of labour", leading to slavery and convict transportation. Nothing here, so far as I can tell, about the inventors who made the great inventions of the period, the entrepreneurs who developed the industries or the humanitarians who sought to remedy the evils of the age.
When individuals are ignored in the study of history the consequence is a rather dry and general account of the actions of humanity, an abstraction that is compounded by an over-emphasis on method....
The real question is: Will this curriculum excite students in their study of the past so that they leave school with a real love of history? I doubt it. It is too stodgy, focusing far too much on abstract social forces and the acquisition of the skills of the historian. History is about people. Students are excited by the stories of real people, individuals to whom they can relate. That should be the starting point for the teaching of history.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 13:44
SOURCE: WSJ (3-2-10)
While China's National People's Congress is a rubberstamp legislature, its annual plenary session—which kicks off Friday—affords a good window into the thinking of the nontransparent Chinese Communist Party elite. This year's theme is the economy, stupid.
That in itself isn't new, but the economic focus is shifting. While the 2009 NPC harped on attaining an 8% growth rate, the priority for this year's session is to ensure a more equitable distribution of national income. In a talk with China's netizens last week, Premier Wen Jiabao said "while it is the government's responsibility to expand the 'pie' of national wealth, it is the government's conscience to distribute it in an adequate manner." Mr. Wen warned that "if wealth in a society is concentrated in a minority of people, this society will be neither just nor stable."...
Parts of what the Chinese media call a "new deal" have already been announced. The government raised the minimum wage in cities from Beijing to Guangzhou by 10% or more early this year. The Wen cabinet has indicated that old-age benefits for peasants will be tried out this year and will be made available to all by 2015. The Health Ministry said last week that hospital fees—particularly for prescription drugs—would be reduced in 16 cities. And the Education Ministry promised that by 2010, the government would finally achieve the goal—first stated in 1993—that spending on education would reach 4% of GDP.
The NPC will be Beijing's platform for unveiling more such proposals. Goodies for the fast-rising "middle class," which makes up 23% of the population, are in the works. Beijing has pledged to cool down runaway real-estate prices, which have the past year surged by some 30% along the prosperous coastal rim. So far, 20-odd cities have vowed to build more "welfare housing" for lower-income groups. Policies to help China's disaffected "post-1980s generation"—who find it hard to cope with the high costs of urban living—may also be announced at the Congress....
...According to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar Yu Jianrong, social unrest has worsened because the level of exploitation has increased. For example, farmers in the past merely had to contend with taxes and levies. Now, Mr. Yu said in a recent speech in Beijing, "corrupt officials are grabbing rural plots of land with the help of criminal gangs." The respected agronomist added that social justice remained illusory because "the CCP has monopolized—and is closely guarding—all political power."...
Beijing always hopes its NPC will present a pleasing photo-op of a secure leadership doing its best to improve life for the people it governs. This year it will benefit from the lifting of the global economic cloud that hung over last year's session. But the leadership is hardly out of the woods.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 13:28
SOURCE: Life During Wartime (2-28-10)
Joshua Brown, co-director of the New Media Lab, is also Executive Director of the Center for Media and Learning/American Social History Project (ASHP) at the CUNY Graduate Center. Before assuming those duties in 1998, Brown served as CML/ASHP's Creative Director, supervising the conception and production of the organization's varied and award winning"old" and new media projects since 1981, Among his past and current ASHP/CML credits are: co-director of the ten-part"Who Built America?" documentaries series; co-author and visual editor of the Who Built America? textbook and CD-ROMS; creative director of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, a digital history of the French Revolution; co-executive producer of History Matters, a U.S. history Web site; and co-executive producer and co-writer of The Lost Museum, a Web-based 3-D exploration/archive of P. T. Barnum's American Museum.
A Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University, Brown is the author of Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America (University of California Press, 2002), co-editor of History from South Africa: Alternative Visions and Practices (Temple University Press, 1993), and author of numerous articles and essays on visual culture and U.S. history. In addition, his cartoons and illustrations appear in popular and scholarly publications as well as digital media. Brown received Columbia University's 1994 Bancroft Dissertation Prize as well as grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 10:39
SOURCE: The End is Coming (Blog) (3-1-10)
Vancouver 2010 is almost over with a few weeks of Paralympic games to go that will close this new Canadian adventure. The organizing committee, after a few weeks of holding their breaths, have looked up at the medal standings and let go a great collective sigh of relief. You see, Canada has hosted the Olympics twice before and both endeavours were arguably complete disasters for the host nation. Indeed, before the staggering 26 medals, 14 of which are gold, that Canada has racked up this time around, it was the only nation to host the games and to win 0 gold medals. And they did this twice.
In 1976, the Eastern Canadian metropolis of Montreal welcomed the games after a frantic six years of construction and preparation. The first omens of doom came when the specially built “Olympic Stadium” was ripe with technical problems and wasn’t actually completed in time for the games. A decade of renovations and repairs later, it was finally finished and with many more massive design flaws and breakdowns, the tax money of Canadians in general and smokers in particular (a special tax on tobacco product was introduce to pay for the huge 1976 deficit), the stadium was finally paid for…by 2005. Many unforgettable sporting and political accomplishments accompanied these Games but specifically, Canada did not win a single gold medal, and only won 11 podium places in total. It is with a 27th place finish in the medal standings behind Trinidad and Tobago, a broken stadium and crippling debt that Montreal 1976 closed.
Further along in 1988, the Canadian Olympic Committee was much more confident that we could win a WINTER Olympic gold medal in a country where winter is almost a sport in itself. Calgary in the Western Prairies was chosen and ready in time to welcome the Olympic events (along with the truly astonishing exhibition sport of “Disabled Alpine Skiing”). The weather was perfect and the final audit revealed a profit from the endeavour. Unfortunately, absolutely no one was smiling. Hosting the games and having even created a few of the sports being practiced, Canada finished 13th in the standing with only 5 medals, none of them gold. Compounded by a fourth place finish in Hockey, Canada quickly wanted to forget these games and succeeding federal governments were weary of ever hosting the event again.
When it came time once more to consider the possibility, the provincial and federal governments in Canada had to weigh the benefits (economic fallout, worldwide publicity, tourism visibility and dollars, the prestige of it all) with the ominous possible disadvantages (deficit, security risks, dangers of live presentations, weather problems, disappointing medal count). Quebec City thus failed to convince the International Olympic Committee of its bid for 2002 but Vancouver eventually defeated South Korea and Austria for the 2010 Winter Olympiads. The Canadian Olympic Committee now had experience on how to throw an exciting Olympiad with minimal deficit but something had to be done to assure the nation a gold medal on home soil to end a string of humiliating no shows on the top step of the podium. This is how the federal government got involved as soon as Vancouver was confirmed and the last 6 years saw the Canadian “Own the Podium” programme that injected massive amounts of funds into sports funding, recruitment and training. The result as you can see is quite evident in Canada’s best Winter Olympic standing of all time and the most gold medals ever won by a participating nation in any Winter Olympic Games.
Canada has seemingly broken its unique curse that accompanied the Olympic nomination but it now passes on the torch and the stress of performing to London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games (A single medal, gold, in Vancouver) and to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Games (Worst gold medal performance ever for 11th place in Vancouver including an earth shattering 6th place finish in Men’s Hockey). Good luck to the next organisers, Canada finally gets to sleep with its Olympic head held high (that is, until someone else in the country has the brilliant idea to bid for the games once again).
(PS: I dedicate this post to Karine Dion, enthusiastic friend and peer that kept the Facebook community on the edge of its seat for the past two weeks.)
Posted on: Monday, March 1, 2010 - 13:27