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: Dissent (8-3-10)
Yesterday, at a dinner party of left-wing Italians, a radical friend with a provocateur’s smile suggested a toast to Gianfranco Fini. Gianfranco, whose very name was chosen to honor a fascist “martyr.” Gianfranco, who for decades has led the post-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano, and then the Alleanza Nazionale. Gianfranco, who as late as 1994 pronounced, “Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the century. There are periods in history when freedom isn’t one of the most important values.” But the toast did not provoke anybody. On the contrary. Eight left hands stretched out to clink glasses, and eight loud voices—fortified by the frequent anti-government protests of the last decades—called out in approving unison: “Gianfranco Fini!”
How was this unlikely toast possible?
It was possible because two remarkable stories, one that gives reason to hope and one that gives reason to fear, dovetailed over the last days. One of these stories recounts the utter demise of a respectable, democratic Italian Right. Democrazia Cristiana, the grand old party of postwar Italy, had its serious flaws, from a deep-rooted culture of corruption to an excessive closeness to the Vatican. But it also stood for a substantive political program and genuinely aimed to safeguard a limited form of liberal democracy. On the whole, it was a stabilizing force in an imperfect but democratic political regime.
Then the established parties crumbled during a particularly shocking corruption scandal in the early 1990s, and Silvio Berlusconi became the new face of the Italian Right. Berlusconi did not only bring to the Right the disdain for all tradition that is often said to be typical of self-made men; he brought to the Right a disdain for all tradition befitting a man who made his fortune by using his dominance of the airwaves to make anew the aesthetic preferences, material aspirations, and shopping habits of ordinary Italians....
Posted on: Monday, August 9, 2010 - 12:03
SOURCE: The End is Coming (Blog) (8-6-10)
Now that the World Cup of soccer has been won by Spain, much of the world and virtually all of North America will promptly forget about the sport altogether whereas they were buying merchandise and crowding bars as early as 7 AM to watch North Korea versus Senegal just a month ago. One person that has not forgotten and that used the World Cup as a topical addition to a seemingly endless speech last week is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Specifically, the President attacked the Western World’s belief in the divination powers of Paul the Octopus.
To refresh your memories or inform you outright, Paul was the name of an octopus that was routinely given a choice between feeding in one of two containers, each of which had a national flag on it. Feeding from a country’s container, It surprisingly picked Spain as winner against The Netherland for the final but also uncannily predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s matches correctly.
Now I am a strong believer in coincidence and don’t necessarily believe that the octopus is magical. President Ahmadinejad on the other hand thinks that the Western World strongly believes in the precognitive powers of Paul and thus Paul is not only “spreading western propaganda and superstition” but also is a symbol of “all that is wrong with the Western World”. In fact, his speculation goes as far as affirming that our Western leaders strongly believe in Paul (as opposed to the teachings of Allah (peace be upon him) in this case): “Those who believe in this type of thing cannot be the leaders of the global nations that aspire, like Iran, to human perfection”.
Now I believe this is a misunderstanding. Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and even Vladimir Putin do not think that Paul the Octopus is a prophet, a vizier or the reincarnation of a divine being. The octopus will (probably) not be drafted to the White House in order to determine a timeline for the Afghanistan pullout. Paul is a cute sideshow act and nothing more.
On the other hand, if President Ahmadinejad wants to criticize superstitious Western leaders that seemingly appreciate democratic councils and think tanks as much as Ouija boards, he only has to crack open one of our history books.
(I feel I should add a disclaimer here that by ‘superstition’, I am not including any religious beliefs that have been a common point of guidance for world leaders for millennia and are thus not ‘strange’ or ‘extraordinary’.)
Secret powers or superstitious pitfalls
Beginning our adventure at Versailles on the throne of Napoleon, the petit caporal shot up through military and political ranks in a short two decades to survive the French Revolution and impose his reign on most of Europe. Up until his final imprisonment in 1815 and death in 1821, Napoleon had (rightfully) relied on councils of nobles, bourgeois, generals and (wrongfully) family for advice but his actions were also often directed by two things: his fear of cats and the number 13. Whereas he would simply outlaw cats where he lived, his triskaidekaphobia seriously affected his tenure with such things as a professional fourteenth dinner guest on hand for whenever the table only had 13 patrons to the military operations that could never be conducted on the thirteenth of the month.
Venturing further into the esoteric, Mary Queen of Scots reigned from 1542 to 1567 and many accounts indicate that she made important decisions based on her tarot readings.
Moving on to a time where superstition was both the last thing to base decisions on and the only source of hopes, both sides of WWII had documented beliefs in superstition. Winston Churchill surrounded himself with cats that allegedly brought him good luck while he battled the apparent dark influences of the number 13, Friday and travel in general. Similarly across the Atlantic, President Roosevelt hated travelling along with Fridays and the number 13. One wonders how the two Allies met so often considering the restrictions (and we have records) of both men whom ‘could not’ travel or do much of anything on Fridays or at times that had anything to do with the number 13. Like Napoleon, FDR would go so far as to have his secretary on call as a fourteenth in case he was one of thirteen dinner guests around a table. On the Axis side of things, Hitler was terrified of cats and had them banned from all Nazi installations. His quest for the occult, including the search for the spear of destiny said to have pierced the side of Jesus Christ, became legendary but did not do much to help him in the end. I’m starting to see an unexpected pattern that cats are key to victory.
Keeping with America, the long tradition of democracy and transparency explains why we have so many documented superstitions for US presidents. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) believed in his dreams as visions and legend has it that he witnessed his own assassination days before it happened. He would go so far as to announce positive news about Civil War battles before messengers arrived because he had already ‘seen’ the good omens. The very superstitious Lincoln lives on today; it is said that he haunts a wing of the White House and roams the halls at night.
President McKinley (1897-1901) wore his lucky red carnation at all times on his lapel. He would frequently give the carnation to people he met to bestow the good luck unto them but had to drop everything afterwards in order to get another one. It was (probably) a coincidence that in Buffalo during the Pan-American expo, he gave his carnation to a young girl and was then promptly shot. He died eight days later convinced the lack of a carnation was to blame.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) was positive he saw a UFO and proudly said so during his political campaign. He even promised to declassify all documents pertaining to extraterrestrial activity were he ever elected president. Speculation has it that he simply saw a particularly bright planet Venus but the man was convinced. Election seemed to have changed his mind as he never spoke of the matter again. On the other hand, he never declassified anything on extraterrestrial life so the possibilities are that there was nothing or something to hide…
Finally we have the granddaddy of all superstitious world leaders as recorded by history. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989). His wife Nancy consulted sporadically with an astrologer, a common thing following the more esoteric times of the 60s and 70s. What was definitely uncommon was that President Reagan came to rely on the astrologer, one Joan Quigley, for executive decisions. The president was reportedly trying to avoid a curse that saw the death or assassination while in office of all US presidents elected in 1840, 1860, 1880, 1900, 1920, 1940 and 1960. Following John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on Reagan in May of 1981, Mrs. Quigley became (by many accounts) the second most important person in the country after the President. Reagan’s former chief of staff even went on to confirm that the President’s schedule had to be routinely confirmed with the astrologer for final approval. In effect, when protestors in the eighties proclaimed that the White House wasn’t listening, they had no idea…
In conclusion, President Ahmadinejad accuses the wrong Western leaders of superstition and gives way too much credit to Paul the Octopus. With varying degrees, from President Truman’s lucky horseshoe in the Oval Office to President’s Reagan’s executive seer, superstition has been taking out the punch out of democracy for centuries now. We believe these leaders represent the people but they might just as well rely on the stars, their phobias and their gut feelings to lead a country. All in all, I agree with the Iranian President that superstitions are a bad thing for world leaders but whereas he and I see these things as ridiculous, frivolous and downright insulting at times, that is only because we do not believe in them. The same argument and logic could apply to religious beliefs but that is a topic for another blog.
Posted on: Monday, August 9, 2010 - 11:46
SOURCE: LA Times (8-8-10)
Steve and I have been together 32 years, yet after a recent trip to Vancouver, we're newlyweds. And while I'm a 66-year-old professor of American studies, this particular Canadian journey taught me fresh lessons about myself and my country....
I've taught the power and necessity of ritual for my 38 years as a professor of American culture. I've also taught the need to see matters in historical perspective. As boys, neither Steve nor I ever expected to marry another guy. Instead, we were barely able to admit how much other guys turned us on and how much we yearned just to be with them. Being young and gay back then was almost always marred by denial and shame.
Things are immeasurably better. When I first started teaching, the American Psychiatric Assn. considered me mentally ill just for being gay. And in the year Steve and I became a couple, 1978, Californians voted on a ballot measure that, if passed, would've ousted Steve, as an openly gay person, from his profession as a public school teacher.
Here's the professor professing: Things are better now, and not simply for LGBT people but for our whole society, which has become not only more tolerant but also more mature and morally sound as gay rights have slowly but surely increased.
So what truly generates the resistance to marriage between people like Steve and me? The "threat to marriage" rationale is patently bogus. But clearly there are many threats to marriage in modern life; the institution is truly in some jeopardy. Those who oppose same-sex marriage have something to explain in the fact that their sentiments are strongest in precisely those states where marriage and family life are already in the most difficulty, as measured by rates of divorce, spousal abuse and pregnancy outside marriage. I swear, Steve and I have had nothing to do with that....
Posted on: Monday, August 9, 2010 - 11:18
SOURCE: Huffington Post (8-6-10)
[Joseph A. Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at California State University, Sacramento.]
"Always Be Closing" is the slogan of"Premiere Properties," the fictional Chicago real estate office in David Mamet's play, Glengarry Glen Ross."Always Be Closing" is not only the theme of Mamet's examination of the tyranny of the"bottom line" over human relationships, but also appears to be the driving principle behind the"University" of Phoenix's administrators who crafted guidelines for their enrollment officers. So cynical are Phoenix's instructions to its underlings they might even defy Mamet's imagination. The goal is simple: rope in as many unsuspecting students as possible into as much bankruptcy-proof financial debt as possible:
Getting Them to Apply NOW
Remember. . . .
*Students don't buy benefits
*They buy to ease or avoid pain
*Finding and burrowing into that pain moves the sale to a CLOSE
*Also, the close of the sale is really just a beginning
Any institution that calls itself a"university" yet tells its enrollment officers to"burrow" down deep into the"pain" of its students with the aim of hooking them into government-subsidized debt to rake in the profits not only doesn't deserve to be accredited, but should be barred from having any access to federal student aid programs.
It turns out that if a for-profit" college" can" close" the sale (enrollment) of a student who only stays in school for a couple of weeks it gets to pocket a big share of that student's federal aid. Pretty Sweet, Uh?
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is right now trying to change this unsatisfactory situation. In the last 10 years enrollment in these for-profit diploma mills, which have their hands deep inside the till of federal student aid programs, grew from 600,000 to two million students. The federal financial aid to students at the for-profit"universities" has gone from $4.6 billion in 2000 to more than $23 billion in 2010. And the"University" of Phoenix and other"for-profits" won't even release their dropout rate numbers!
When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) under George Kutz recently sent out"secret shoppers" to enroll in the"University" of Phoenix, and other for-profit" colleges," it found that 100 percent of the time -- in fifteen out of fifteen cases, (and all caught on video tape!) -- the enrollment officials followed the"Always Be Closing" guidelines. Fifteen out of fifteen times they refused to answer students' basic questions, denied them the opportunity to speak with a financial aid counselor, and even refused to provide them with information about the size of the loan they were about to sign and the timetable for repayment.
The incentives are all wrong. Instead of being there to help students receive an education at an affordable cost to better prepare them to join the workforce, these"for-profits" are employing the most egregious money-grubbing tactics to bilk their students and the federal government. How's that for an Alma Mater? Senator Harkin and the GAO's work has exposed once and for all how utterly corrupt these for-profit"universities" and" colleges" really are.
At a time when the faculties of public colleges and universities are being told by their administrators how they should imitate the for-profits like the"University" of Phoenix because they represent some sort of idealized"private sector" efficiency model Senator Harkin's and the GAO's revelations are all the more stunning. In California, the community college brass recently tried to ram through a transfer of credit deal with Kaplan as a way to stretch its budget. Luckily, the faculty senate refused to go along. Harkin and the GAO have just driven a stake in the heart of the monster that insists on privatizing public colleges and universities.
The"University" of Phoenix, which is owned by something called"the Apollo Group," (probably named after the moon landing because its profits are astronomical), has resisted providing documents to Harkin's committee, the most important body in the federal government dealing with education. And where is Arne Duncan our vaunted Secretary of Education? Too busy privatizing public K through 12 schools to be bothered with reining in the for-profits that are ripping off America's college students.
The only"student learning outcomes" these for-profit corporations posing as colleges recognize are those that fill their own pockets with tax dollars that are supposed to be going to deserving students who just want an education.
Posted on: Friday, August 6, 2010 - 19:06
SOURCE: National Review (8-6-10)
In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote an allegory about a series of small-town would-be heroes who the gullible public claimed resembled the Great Stone Face on the side of a New Hampshire mountain. The citizens assumed that these men would have a granite-like ability to stand firm against whatever dangers the people faced. (“About this time there went a rumor throughout the valley, that the great man, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a resemblance to the Great Stone Face, had appeared at last.”) The most confident and charismatic of these quick-fix characters — Mr. Gathergold, Old Blood-and-Thunder, and Old Stony Phiz — always in the end proved failures, as the people finally learned that they did not have the qualities they ascribed to the face on mountain....
In 2008 Barack Obama ran as a moderate liberal, offering assurances on instituting sound financial governance, getting out of Iraq, repealing the Bush anti-terrorism protocols, and making government work for the little guy by taking over some private enterprise — that is, offering government-run health care, subsidized student loans, and new and extended entitlements. A Newsweek grandee, Evan Thomas, declared Him “sort of God.” He caused another pundit, Chris Matthews, to experience leg tingles. And the world anointed Him a Nobel laureate for good intentions.
After 19 months, a once cool, laid-back Barack Obama — beloved by Oprah in his mesmerizing ability to make the enraptured faint at his sermons — now polls about 45 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval — nearly a 20-point swing in less than two years. Currently, a generic Republican challenger enjoys on average a six-point edge in the polls — quite a turnabout from the twelve-point spread that Democrats mounted in January 2009.Public approval of Congress ranges from about 10 to 20 percent — the Democratic-led Congress getting even lower marks than the pre-2006 Republican one.
One might say the public has changed its opinion of Obama, but it seems more likely that the public is beginning to see Obama as it finally did Bush. The hard Right always felt about Obama as the hard Left did about Bush, but now independents seem simply to have rechanneled their Bush anger to Obama anger — something that has bewildered Team Obama, who cannot gain any traction by blaming the current malaise on the Bush legacy. Voters apparently don’t see the corrective to Bush’s deficit budgeting in Obama’s yet higher spending and larger government....
Posted on: Friday, August 6, 2010 - 15:28
SOURCE: TomDispatch (8-5-10)
[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), has just been published.]
Consider the following statement offered by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a news conference last week. He was discussing Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks as well as the person who has taken responsibility for the vast, still ongoing Afghan War document dump at that site."Mr. Assange,” Mullen commented, “can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”
Now, if you were the proverbial fair-minded visitor from Mars (who in school civics texts of my childhood always seemed to land on Main Street, U.S.A., to survey the wonders of our American system), you might be a bit taken aback by Mullen’s statement. After all, one of the revelations in the trove of leaked documents Assange put online had to do with how much blood from innocent Afghan civilians was already on American hands.
The British Guardian was one of three publications given early access to the leaked archive, and it began its main article this way: “A huge cache of secret U.S. military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents. They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes...” Or as the paper added in a piece headlined “Secret CIA paramilitaries’ role in civilian deaths”: “Behind the military jargon, the war logs are littered with accounts of civilian tragedies. The 144 entries in the logs recording some of these so-called ‘blue on white’ events, cover a wide spectrum of day-by-day assaults on Afghans, with hundreds of casualties.” Or as it also reported, when exploring documents related to Task Force 373, an “undisclosed ‘black’ unit” of U.S. special operations forces focused on assassinating Taliban and al-Qaeda “senior officials”: “The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women, and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.”
Admittedly, the events recorded in the Wikileaks archive took place between 2004 and the end of 2009, and so don’t cover the last six months of the Obama administration’s across-the-board surge in Afghanistan. Then again, Admiral Mullen became chairman of the Joint Chiefs in October 2007, and so has been at the helm of the American war machine for more than two of the years in question.
He was, for example, chairman in July 2008, when an American plane or planes took out an Afghan bridal party -- 70 to 90 strong and made up mostly of women -- on a road near the Pakistani border. They were"escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates." The bride, whose name we don’t know, died, as did at least 27 other members of the party, including children. Mullen was similarly chairman in August 2008 when a memorial service for a tribal leader in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan’s Herat Province was hit by repeated U.S. air strikes that killed at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children. Among the dead were 76 members of one extended family, headed by Reza Khan, a"wealthy businessman with construction and security contracts with the nearby American base at Shindand airport."
Mullen was still chairman in April 2009 when members of the family of Awal Khan, an Afghan army artillery commander on duty elsewhere, were killed in a U.S.-led raid in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan. Among them were his"schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, employed by a government department.” Another daughter was wounded and the pregnant wife of Khan's cousin was shot five times in the abdomen.
Mullen remained chairman when, in November 2009, two relatives of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture, were shot down in cold blood in Ghazni City in a Special Operations night raid; as he was -- and here we move beyond the Wikileaks time frame -- when, in February 2010, U.S. Special Forces troops in helicopters struck a convoy of mini-buses, killing up to 27 civilians, including women and children; as he also was when, in that same month, in a special operations night raid, two pregnant women and a teenage girl, as well as a police officer and his brother, were shot to death in their home in a village near Gardez, the capital of Paktia province. After which, the soldiers reportedly dug the bullets out of the bodies, washed the wounds with alcohol, and tried to cover the incident up. He was no less chairman late last month when residents of a small town in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan claimed that a NATO missile attack had killed 52 civilians, an incident that, like just about every other one mentioned above and so many more, was initially denied by U.S. and NATO spokespeople and is now being “investigated.”
And this represents only a grim, minimalist highlight reel among rafts of such incidents, including enough repeated killings or woundings of innocent civilians at checkpoints that previous Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal commented: “We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.” In other words, if your basic Martian visitor were to take the concept of command responsibility at all seriously, he might reasonably weigh actual blood (those hundreds of unreported civilian casualties of the American war the Guardian highlighted, for example) against prospective blood (possible Afghan informers killed by the Taliban via names combed from the Wikileaks documents) and arrive at quite a different conclusion from Chairman Mullen.
In fact, being from another planet, he might even have picked up on something that most Americans would be unlikely to notice -- that, with only slight alterations, Mullen’s blistering comment about Assange could be applied remarkably well to Mullen himself. “Chairman Mullen,” that Martian might have responded, “can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he is doing, but the truth is he already has on his hands the blood of some young soldiers and that of many Afghan families.”
Killing Fields, Then and Now
Fortunately, there are remarkably few Martians in America, as was apparent last week when the Wikileaks story broke. Certainly, they were in scarce supply in the upper reaches of the Pentagon and, it seemed, hardly less scarce in the mainstream media. If, for instance, you read the version of the Wikileaks story produced -- with the same several weeks of special access -- by the New York Times, you might have been forgiven for thinking that the Times reporters had accessed a different archive of documents than had the Guardian crew.
While the Guardian led with the central significance of those unreported killings of Afghan civilians, the Timesled with reports (mainly via Afghan intelligence) on a Pakistani double-cross of the American war effort -- of the ties, that is, between Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, and the Taliban. The paper’s major sidebar piece concerned the experiences and travails of Outpost Keating, an isolated American base in Afghanistan. To stumble across the issue of civilian deaths at American hands in the Times coverage, you had to make your way off the front page and through two full four-column Wikileaks-themed pages and deep into a third.
With rare exceptions, this was typical of initial American coverage of last week’s document dump. And if you think about it, it gives a certain grim reportorial reality to the term Americans favor for the deaths of civilians at the hands of our forces: “collateral damage” -- that is, damage not central to what’s going down. The Guardian saw it differently, as undoubtedly do Afghans (and Iraqis) who have experienced collateral damage firsthand.
The Wikileaks leak story, in fact, remained a remarkably bloodless saga in the U.S. until Admiral Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who has overseen the Afghan War since he was confirmed in his post in December 2006) took control of it and began focusing directly on blood -- specifically, the blood on Julian Assange’s hands. Within a few days, that had become the Wikileaks story, as headlines like CNN’s “Top military official: WikiLeaks founder may have 'blood' on his hands” indicated. On ABC News, for instance, in a typical “bloody hands” piece of reportage, the Secretary of Defense told interviewer Christiane Amanpour that, whatever Assange’s legal culpability might be, when it came to “moral culpability... that’s where I think the verdict is guilty on Wikileaks.”
Moral culpability. From the Martian point of view, it might have been considered a curious phrase from the lips of the man responsible for the last three and a half years of two deeply destructive wars that have accomplished nothing and have been responsible for killing, wounding, or driving into exile millions of ordinary Iraqis and Afghans. Given the reality of those wars, our increasingly wide-eyed visitor, now undoubtedly camping out on the Washington Mall, might have been struck by the selectivity of our sense of what constitutes blood and what constitutes collateral damage. After all, one major American magazine did decide to put civilian war damage front and center the very week the Wikileaks archive went up. With the headline"What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan," TIME magazine featured a cover image of a young Afghan woman whose nose and ears had reportedly been sliced off by a “local Taliban commander” as a punishment for running away from an abusive home.
Indeed, the Taliban has regularly been responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians, including women and children who, among other things, ride in vehicles over its roadside bombs or suffer the results of suicide bombings aimed at government figures or U.S. and NATO forces. The Taliban also has its own list of horrors and crimes for which it should be considered morally culpable. In addition, the Taliban has reportedly threatened to go through the Wikileaks archive, ferret out the names of Afghan informers, and “punish” them, undoubtedly spilling exactly the kind of “blood” Mullen has been talking about.
Our Martian might have noticed as well that the TIME cover wasn’t a singular event in the U.S. In recent years, Americans have often enough been focused on the killing, wounding, or maiming of innocent civilians and have indeed been quite capable of treating such acts as a central fact of war and policy-making. Such deaths have, in fact, been seen as crucially important -- as long as the civilians weren’t killed by Americans, in which case the incidents were the understandable, if sad, byproduct of other, far more commendable plans and desires. In this way, in Afghanistan, repeated attacks on wedding parties, funerals, and even a baby-naming ceremony by the U.S. Air Force or special operations night raids have never been a subject of much concern or the material for magazine covers.
On the other hand, the Bush administration (and Americans generally) dealt with the 9/11 deaths of almost 3,000 innocent civilians in New York City as the central and defining event of the twenty-first century. Each of those deaths was memorialized in the papers. Relatives of the dead or those who survived were paid huge sums to console them for the tragedy, and a billion-dollar memorial was planned at what quickly became known as Ground Zero. In repeated rites of mourning nationwide, their deaths were remembered as the central, animating fact of American life. In addition, of course, the murder of those civilian innocents officially sent the U.S. military plunging into the Global War on Terror, Afghanistan, and then Iraq.
Similarly -- though who remembers it now? -- one key trump card played against those who opposed the invasion of Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s “killing fields.” The Iraqi dictator had indeed gassed Kurds and, with the help of military targeting intelligence provided by his American allies, Iranian troops in his war with Iran in the 1980s. After the first Gulf War, his forces had brutally suppressed a Shiite uprising in the south of Iraq, murdering perhaps tens of thousands of Shiites and, north and south, buried the dead in mass, unmarked graves, some of which were uncovered after the U.S. invasion of 2003. In addition, Saddam’s torture chambers and prisons had been busy places indeed.
His was a brutal regime; his killing fields were a moral nightmare; and in the period leading up to the war (and after), they were also a central fact of American life. On the other hand, however many Iraqis died in those killing fields, more would undoubtedly die in the years that followed, thanks to the events loosed by the Bush administration’s invasion. That dying has yet to end, and seems once again to be on the rise. Yet those deaths have never been a central fact of American life, nor an acceptable argument for getting out of Iraq, nor an acknowledged responsibility of Washington, nor of Admiral Mullen, Secretary of Defense Gates, or any of their predecessors. They were just collateral damage. Some of their survivors got, at best, tiny “solatia” payments from the U.S. military, and often enough the dead were buried in unmarked graves or no graves at all.
Similarly, in Afghanistan in 2010, much attention and controversy surrounded the decision of our previous war commander, General McChrystal, to issue constraining “rules of engagement” to try to cut down on civilian casualties by U.S. troops. The American question has been: Was the general “handcuffing” American soldiers by making it ever harder for them to call in air or artillery support when civilians might be in the area? Was he, that is, just too COIN-ish and too tough on American troops? On the other hand, little attention in the mainstream was paid to the way McChrystal was ramping up special operations forces targeting Taliban leaders, forces whose night raids were, as the Wikileaks documents showed, repeatedly responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians (and so for the anger of other Afghans).
Collateral Damage in America
Here, then, is a fact that our Martian (but few Americans) might notice: in almost nine years of futile and brutal war in Afghanistan and more than seven years of the same in Iraq, the U.S. has filled metaphorical tower upon tower with the exceedingly unmetaphorical bodies of civilian innocents, via air attacks, checkpoint shootings, night raids, artillery and missile fire, and in some cases, the direct act of murder. Afghans and Iraqis have died in numbers impossible to count (though some have tried). Among those deaths was that of a good Samaritan who stopped his minivan on a Baghdad street, in July 2007, to help transport Iraqis wounded by an American Apache helicopter attack to the hospital. In repayment, he and his two children were gunned down by that same Apache crew. (The children survived; the event was covered up; typically, no American took responsibility for it; and, despite the fact that two Reuters employees died, the case was not further investigated, and no one was punished or even reprimanded.)
That was one of hundreds, or thousands, of similar events in both wars that Americans have known little or nothing about. Now, Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst deployed to eastern Baghdad, who reportedly leaked the video of the event to Wikileaks and may have been involved in leaking those 92,000 documents as well, is preparing to face a court-martial and on a suicide watch, branded a “traitor” by a U.S. senator, his future execution endorsed by the ranking minority member of the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on terrorism, and almost certain to find himself behind bars for years or decades to come.
As for the men who oversaw the endless wars that produced that video (and, without doubt, many similar ones similarly cloaked in the secrecy of"national security"), their fates are no less sure. When Admiral Mullen relinquishes his post and retires, he will undoubtedly have the choice of lucrative corporate boards to sit on, and, if he cares to, lucrative consulting to do for the Pentagon or eager defense contractors, as well as an impressive pension to take home with him. Secretary of Defense Gates will undoubtedly leave his post with a wide range of job offers to consider, and if he wishes, he will probably get a million-dollar contract to write his memoirs. Both will be praised, no matter what happens in or to their wars. Neither will be considered in any way responsible for those tens of thousands of dead civilians in distant lands.
Moral culpability? It doesn’t apply. Not to Americans -- not unless they leak military secrets. None of the men responsible will ever look at their hands and experience an “out, damned spot!” moment. That’s a guarantee. However, a young man who, it seems, saw the blood and didn’t want it on his hands, who found himself “actively involved in something that I was completely against,” who had an urge to try to end two terrible wars, hoping his act would cause “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms,” will pay the price for them. He will be another body not to count in the collateral damage their wars have caused. He will also be collateral damage to the Afghan antiwar movement that wasn’t.
The men who led us down this path, the presidents who presided over our wars, the military figures and secretaries of defense, the intelligence chiefs and ambassadors who helped make them happen, will have libraries to inaugurate, books to write, awards to accept, speeches to give, honors to receive. They will be treated with great respect, while Americans -- once we have finally left the lands we insistently fought over -- will undoubtedly feel little culpability either. And if blowback comes to the United States, and the first suicide drones arrive, everyone will be deeply puzzled and angered, but one thing is certain, we will not consider any damage done to our society" collateral" damage.
So much blood. So many hands. So little culpability. No remorse.
Posted on: Friday, August 6, 2010 - 14:08
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (8-2-10)
Shimon Peres, Israel’s 87-year-old president doesn’t usually arouse antagonism among Europeans.
A tireless peace advocate for decades, and architect of the Oslo Process for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize, he has long presented Israel’s moderate face to the outside world.
Yet last week he provoked anger among British politicians and Anglo-Jewish leaders when he told a Jewish website that the British establishment had always been “deeply pro- Arab ... and anti-Israel,” and that this was partly due to endemic anti- Semitic dispositions. “I can understand Mr. Peres’ concerns, but I don’t recognize what he is saying about England,” said James Clappison, vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel. “Things are certainly no worse, as far as Israel is concerned, in this country than other European countries. He got it wrong.”
But did he? While few arguments have resonated more widely, or among a more diverse set of observers, than the claim that Britain has been the midwife of the Jewish state, the truth is that no sooner had Britain been appointed as the mandatory power in Palestine, with the explicit task of facilitating the establishment of a Jewish national home in the country in accordance with the Balfour Declaration, than it reneged on this obligation...
Posted on: Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 18:24
SOURCE: CNN.com (8-2-10)
Despite all the questions surrounding the war in Afghanistan, congressional Democrats have not challenged the administration's policies since President Obama announced a surge of troops in 2009....
Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7. The House unanimously supported the measure, and in the Senate the vote was 88-2. Johnson was elated. He watched his poll numbers rise. The resolution, according to Johnson, was like grandma's nightshirt, because it "covered everything."
There were many people in the summer of 1964 who were warning the president to avoid escalating the war in Vietnam. Most remarkable was the intensity of the opposition in Congress that came from across the political spectrum. The criticism came from all sources.
Liberal Democrats such as Frank Church of Idaho said the intervention was dangerous and unnecessary. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield had asked the president, "What national interests in Asia would steel the American people for the massive costs of an ever-deepening involvement of that kind?"...
Democrats can't continue to write a blank check for this president. They must use the power of oversight and investigation to start addressing the problems with the war strategy and to create pressure on the administration to strengthen its military plans for the coming year. They can't simply trust the president do just to the right thing. Too often, when Congress has remained silent, presidents have made huge mistakes -- and it has taken decades for the nation to recover.
Posted on: Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 18:22
SOURCE: Project Syndicate (8-4-10)
The stress tests applied to American banks last year are widely credited with restoring financial stability in the United States and removing the fear that major financial institutions might fail. Europeans hope that the recent publication of the results of stress tests that were applied to their own banks will have the same effect. But, while the results of the tests may be good for the financial sector, they may be bad for the real economy. The financial crisis is over, but the age of general economic slowdown is only just beginning.
Financial crises have two sorts of effects on the real economy. In the acute stage of the crisis, there is so much nervousness and anxiety that it is almost impossible for anyone to borrow. The inter-bank market dries up, as banks lose trust in one another. Only central banks – typically lenders of last resort – lean against the hurricane-strength winds.
It was the complete collapse of trade credit that sent global commerce into a tailspin for half a year after the failure of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. At moments like these, financial crises look like a heart attack – wreaking immediate and devastating damage to the whole of the economic body....
Regulators and governments view the main purpose of financial stress tests as being to persuade some institutions of the urgent need to improve their capital ratios. But major new injections of capital into the banking system are unlikely, owing to lingering fear from the recent financial past.
Instead, the easiest way to improve capital ratios is to cut lending. That was what happened in the major industrial countries in the 1930’s, where an acute crisis in 1931-1933, with some government recapitalization, was followed by a decade of contracting bank lending to private firms....
Posted on: Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 13:57
SOURCE: Berthoud Recorder (8-4-10)
New media have shaped our political culture. Some, like talk radio and all-news cable stations, are developments of older, established technologies. Others, like internet blogs, are based on comparatively new technologies. Yet, both venues have provided congenial habitats for that enemy of reasonable, constructive political discourse: the ideologue....
In the 1960s and 1970s, most of the ideologues I encountered were on the political left. Some were Marxists who refused to accept the existence of political prisoners in China or Cuba. Others were radical feminists who declared that all men were potential rapists. Recently, however, conservatives seem to have become more like the ideologues they criticized 40 years ago. They have long excoriated “knee-jerk liberals,” but have many conservatives actually become knee-jerk ideologues on the right? There are a few warning signs that the transformation may be well underway.
For instance, conservatives denounced Clinton for intervening in Bosnia but championed Bush’s intervention in Iraq. Or, as another example, conservatives supported cutting taxes when the country was fighting two expensive wars but, soon after, denounced dangerous deficits.
These are merely two examples that point to the triumph of blind partisanship....
Posted on: Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 13:52
SOURCE: Penn Live (8-5-10)
Americans have lost faith in President Barack Obama and his economic policies.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents to a Washington Post-ABC News poll reported that they did not have confidence in the president “to make the right decisions for the country’s future.” More than half (54 percent) disapproved of his handling of the economy.
President Obama and his top political advisers are puzzled by these negative numbers. They believe that voters have not credited them with their many achievements: stopping job losses, rescuing the financial system, and passing health care and financial reform.
Unfortunately, what the president does not seem to understand is that he promised Americans much, much more than he has delivered....
What is shocking is President Obama’s inability to connect the dots between his campaign promises on jobs and industries, mortgage relief and fairer policies for Main Street Americans on the one hand, and the current voter anger on the other.
Until he does and takes serious and sustained actions to address these basic issues, voters will continue to believe that the president is not making the right decisions for the country’s future, and that he is not doing a good job handling the economy.
Posted on: Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 13:47
SOURCE: DanielPipes.org (8-3-10)
[Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.]
I visited Toronto in early March 2010 and as I left the country I passed through the usual security check at Pearson International Airport. What made it different is that the next passengers after me in line were a man, a small child, and a person in niqab. (I write"person" rather than"woman" as I hardly know who was under the niqab outfit.)
Curious how the niqabi's hidden identity would be handled, I looked back as the trio was dealing with the security agent. To my astonishment, the agent did not demand to see the niqabi's face but was content to see those of the man and child. I wanted dearly to video this procedure on my mobile phone but dared not, thinking that this could well get me hauled in on some charge that I, ironically, was breaching security.
This experience comes to mind as I follow a current story about a similar situation at Montreal's Trudeau International Airport. The Toronto Sun explained on August 1 how Mick Flynn of Bradford, England, was boarding a flight there on July 11
when he witnessed two women with their faces covered board an Air Canada Heathrow bound flight without being asked to remove their veils. In fact, in the video that Flynn has posted online, a man traveling with the group hands in all the passports and is the only one to interact with airline staff while two veiled women simply walk through.
Unlike me, Flynn did something about this outrage: "I complained at the desk—and again as I boarded the plane—asking if the pilot was happy that two women boarded without being identified. Both members of staff whom I spoke to were flustered and clearly embarrassed."
In a public statement, Air Canada insisted that"Airline passengers have already undergone multiple security checks before arriving at the boarding gate. A final check is made at the gate prior to boarding in order to confirm passengers on the flight." This, of course, is mumbo-jumbo. Then, to make the story even richer, Air Canada has threatened a lawsuit against Flynn for his video.
A day later, the Sun followed up with a report from Pearson:
A veteran airline worker at Canada's busiest airport said few veiled Muslim women are forced to reveal their faces before boarding flights. The long-time frontline worker at Toronto's Pearson International Airport said there is no clear-cut policy given to airline workers on how to deal with this and other sensitive issues. … employees working with various airlines in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa said that checks often occur at the luggage check counter, if at all, and that women who refuse to show their faces are simply allowed to board.
The veteran Pearson worker said there are many factors that have led to what he deems a security risk: The lack of a clear policy from airline management, worries about political correctness, and often aggressive behaviour from men traveling with veiled women. "In general, what happens is the woman stands at the back, the man comes up with the documents. He's quite aggressive and leaves little room for airline workers to challenge him. … So, why would a general worker who is paid $12-$15 per hour take this upon themselves?"
Transport Minister John Baird issued a statement promising to look into the matter. "If the reports are true, the situation is deeply disturbing and poses a serious threat to the security of the air travelling public. If our current security policies in this area are deemed to be lacking, our government will take the necessary steps to protect the safety and security of the travelling public." Today, Baird came out with a more assertive statement:
"I'm the minister of transport, they validate my ID every the time," Baird told Ottawa radio station CFRA."I do have one cabinet colleague that was denied entry to a plane because he forgot his valid ID at home. … We're going to get the facts first and then we're going to take all the action necessary to make sure that the current regulations are followed and followed to the letter."
As for setting up special rooms where Muslim women can remove their veils away from other passengers, Baird dismissed the idea as unworkable. "I have no intention of establishing special rooms at every single gate so that we can validate someone's identification," said Baird."This is Canada, we're an open society, we're a society where men and women are treated equally."
(1) It's hard to say something original about this preposterous situation. Obviously, niqabis must not get a free pass onto planes. If anyone wants a few dozen reasons why, just go to my blog on"Niqabs and Burqas as Security Threats."(2) For an amusing counterpoint, also dated Aug. 1, note the complaint of Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, who recently attended a United Reformed Churches in North America synod in London, Ontario:
apparently, American Reformed ministers are viewed as a security risk by Canadian authorities! Here I am getting frisked in front of a bunch of my fellow ministers and synod attendees on the same flight out with me (hence the photo). I'll bet the security people were looking for Cuban cigars—the contraband most likely to be found on a Reformed minister's person.
(3) It's fascinating to see the impact of a single low-quality video. Next time, I must not let the opportunity pass me by. (August 3, 2010)
Posted on: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 17:59
SOURCE: VDH's Private Papers (8-3-10)
Recent polls show that more than 70 percent of the public holds an unfavorable view of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wins about a 10 percent approval rating; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has similarly rock-bottom poll numbers.
Why this astounding — and growing — disdain for our lawmakers? After all, Congress has had plenty of scandals and corruption in the past, such as the House post office and check-kiting messes the Charles Keating payoffs, and the Abscam bribery.
But lately, Congress seems not merely corrupt, but — far more worrisome — without apparent concern that it has become so unethical....
It is understandable, but not healthy, for a democracy to have little respect for legislators such as these. So, how could these self-absorbed grandees show voters a little contrition?
A good start would be to ban the egomaniac naming of monuments, parks, buildings and roads after living senators and representatives. The rest of us don't expect to have things named after us at work or school for simply doing our jobs. Congress should not either....
Posted on: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 15:43
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (8-2-10)
It’s been one disaster after another this week in Pakistan. The WikiLeaks documents opened raw wounds in Pakistan’s agonizing relationship with the United States. A plane crash on the outskirts of the capital of Islamabad killed 152 people. UK Prime Minister David Cameron ostentatiously attacked Pakistan for exporting terror and ‘looking both ways’ in the fight against religious extremism as he visited New Delhi to promote British trade with India. And now the worst monsoon floods in a century are ripping through the country, with more than 1,100 known dead already, and possible casualties in isolated and cut off communities several times as high. More rains are on the way as I write; rainclouds are sweeping in toward Islamabad across the Margalla Hills as the people downstream in Sind brace for swollen rivers to burst their banks.
Unusually, the United States has been a bit player in this latest deluge of disaster. While some Pakistanis suspect official involvement in the WikiLeaks, nobody much blames the US for the plane crash, or for David Cameron, or for the monsoon. But the longer I stay here, and the more people I meet, the more I understand that the gulf between Pakistani and American perceptions and priorities is deep. For both sides, the alliance is vital, but for both sides the alliance right now isn’t working particularly well. While American pundits and politicians express doubts over Pakistan’s loyalty and its longtime links to radical extremists, Pakistan is on the boil with conspiracy theories about sinister American plots and feelings about the US run the gamut from bewildered disappointment to burning rage.
I came to Pakistan already well versed in some of the standard American complaints about the alliance; being here has been one long crash course in Pakistan’s complaints about the US. They aren’t, in my opinion, all well founded, but they are important and they deserve to be heard. Over my next few posts, I’ll first lay out some of Pakistan’s concerns as I’ve come to understand them, then lay out American concerns about Pakistan — and then make some suggestions about what, given the tension between these two dissatisfied allies, we can do.
For better or for worse, this is a basic part of my method in trying to understand what is going on in the world. In countries like the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Cuba in the 1990s, across the Arab and Islamic worlds in the last ten years and here in Pakistan now, I do my best to try to understand what it is that people object to in American foreign policy and, at times, American culture and life. Before I arrive, especially on a first visit, I’ll read up on the history and on contemporary issues and try to get a sense of the economic situation. On the basis of that reading I’ll come up with some working hypotheses about what is going on, or going wrong, in the relationship. Once on the ground, I spend as much time as possible absorbing the local news media, interacting with journalists, officials, students, intellectuals and diplomats to test and refine my hypotheses. I keep at this until I find that more and more of the local people I meet with think that I ‘get it’, and it’s at that point that the conversations get really interesting.
In Islamabad, Pakistan’s purpose-built capital picturesquely sited at the foot of heavily wooded hills, I’ve been meeting with students and academics at Pakistan’s premier national university Quaid-i-Azam, journalists, analysts, and senior military officials — some with links to the ISI, the shadowy Pakistani intelligence agency cited in the WikiLeaks documents and other sources as the contact point between the Pakistani government and various extremist and violent groups. I’ve visited think tanks like the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI), had tea with retired cabinet officers, argued with Pakistani journalists and quizzed US diplomats to get their views on the most troubled international partnership in America’s alliance system.
I’ve still got more people to meet and more to learn, but at this point — about halfway through the trip — four big issues stand out among the problems that Pakistanis describe in the relationship. It would take a whole book, and a lot more experience and knowledge than I have, to give a comprehensive picture of what Pakistanis think about the United States, and people have different ideas about how and why the US has done Pakistan wrong, but these four concerns come up over and over again...
Posted on: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 08:50
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (8-3-10)
What does it say about the chances for American success in Afghanistan and the larger global 'war on terror' - which despite the Obama administration's official name change to "Overseas Contingency Operations" remains deliberately far removed from any contingency that might hasten its end - that the wives of the military's most senior commanders better comprehend the reasons for the continued difficulty in pacifying the country than do their husbands?
The military wives, it seems, have as a group given their stamp of approval to the now ubiquitous bestseller Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Renin. Many of their husbands have also read the book at their urging, and according to The New York Times, recently cashiered General Stanley McChrystal met with Mortenson several times.
Mortenson's message is as simple as it is eloquent: build schools, not bombs. The idea fit well with McChrystal's civilian-focused counterinsurgency strategy; but despite the obvious logic, not to mention economy of such a concept - the cost of keeping one soldier in the country for one year could pay for 20 schools - the Obama administration is committed to further militarising rather than deescalating the war.
They fail to grasp that you cannot win the "hearts and minds" of a people when you are not merely occupying them, but supporting a massively corrupt and violent elite while killing a significant number of civilians on a routine basis.
More broadly, it was recently announced that the Obama administration is trying to loosen export controls for American-made weapons so that the US - whose weapons sales, by some estimates, equal if not surpass those of the rest of the world combined - can expand its dominance of the international arms market even further.
So much for the changes in the US' relationship with the Muslim world promised by Obama last June in Cairo. And needless to say, if the Italians, French, Russians, Brits or Chinese could get a bigger piece of the weapons sales pie, they would demonstrate as little scruples about what they sell to whom as has the US....
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 19:08
SOURCE: Huffington Post (8-3-10)
Like many colleges today, my institution has a program to introduce new students to higher education. What's surprising, perhaps, is how little we take for granted with respect to student maturity and preparation. We don't expect they'll know how to take notes (or even that they're aware they should take notes). We remind them how to behave in a classroom setting (texting, cell phone calls, and similar disruptions are proscribed). Even before they meet obstacles to learning, we alert them to counseling services that are standing by to help, as well as tutoring centers to aid with study and writing skills.
Given rising tuition costs, perhaps students deserve (or, at least they've come to expect) all these helping hands. But I wonder if a hand-holding approach to education is ultimately stunting rather than aiding them. Is all this coaching -- all these support networks -- truly helping students to mature and become responsible, self-motivating adults?
We can shed some light on this by contrasting a student-centered, help-is-on-its-way approach in college to what is expected of young enlistees in the military. The differences are, in a word, striking. After a few months of training (as opposed to years of education), we send eighteen- and nineteen-year-old enlistees overseas and task them with negotiating bewilderingly complex "human terrain" in hostile places like Iraq and Afghanistan. As they operate high-tech equipment worth millions, these "strategic privates" are entrusted to make near-instantaneous, life-or-death decisions under pressure.
Could the contrast be any starker? As we lend helping hands to immature or ill-prepared college students in the most benign of settings, we challenge young troops to make deadly choices in the harshest and most confusing of settings. As we're at pains to remind students to pay attention, to take notes, even to show up for class, we think little about deploying young troops thousands of miles from home to the world's deadliest hotspots, expecting them to behave with discretion, maturity, and valor.
A contrast this stark sets me to thinking. I wonder, for example, how many young adults join the military precisely because they'll be entrusted with responsibility (and firepower) without Mommy, Daddy, and our "Nanny State" hovering over them. Critics may see the military as authoritarian and limiting, yet young recruits may see it as liberating: as building self-reliance and resiliency in a setting free from helicopter parents, feel-good counselors, and similar "mean well" interceders.
Another stark dichotomy is the resources we devote to fostering respect for diversity among new college students versus those devoted to new troops in the same age group. Even as we strive for greater multi-cultural sensitivity and tolerance among students, we simply deploy new enlistees to countries with dramatically different cultures, expecting them to acquire cultural sensitivity on the fly in a process akin to osmosis, if not trial-by-fire. The result is predictable: Young troops, as made evident in this account by Ann Jones, are often oblivious to inappropriate, often counterproductive, behavior.
The paradox is clear: We coddle young college students even as we throw young troops into the breech. To students, we explain difficult concepts in the most basic of English, even as our troops confront the most complex of situations while wrestling with Pashto or Dari. We field a legion of "interpreters" to help students to succeed, yet we still lack language and cultural interpreters to help troops to succeed.
In hand-holding our college students and overloading our troops, we're compromising our educational efforts as well as our military ones.
And whether in school or in war, the result could very well be a failing grade.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 18:34
SOURCE: Easily Distracted? (Blog) (8-2-10)
So, more wailing and gnashing of teeth about Andrew Breitbart.
The New York Times has a piece on plagiarism that reviews an increasingly prominent argument that contemporary college students simply don’t know that copying the words of another writer verbatim is plagiarism, that they’ve grown up in a different kind of textual environment that will eventually produce new norms for everyone.
I’m sympathetic to certain versions of this claim. I’d agree that many students are taught poorly how to cite online material. I’d agree that there really are new kinds of text-making practices in digital environments that arise out of networked or collective systems for sharing information.
What we’ve come to understand as plagiarism is a relatively short-term consequence of a highly individualized and relatively recent conception of authorship, creativity and property rights. Many years ago, I was surprised to find that 18th and 19th Century European travel writers sometimes committed what I saw as outright plagiarism, reproducing or directly paraphrasing work by an earlier traveller. Over time, I began to realize that for some writers, this was a “best practice”: if you didn’t have time to visit an area along your route, but someone else had, then include what they had to say, but fold it into your own authoritative account.
But I’m enough of a devotee of our recent view of authorship and creativity (and property) to think that the norms established around plagiarism during the 20th Century need some kind of continuing defense, just with sufficient awareness of the changes in textual production and circulation.
What really worries me is what’s happening to the larger purpose of the analytical writing which tempts some to plagiarism. The thing I’m honestly afraid of is that we’ve come to a point where the professional value of learning to build strong arguments based on and determined by a command over solid evidence is in rapid decline....
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 18:26
SOURCE: Balkinization (Blog) (8-2-10)
Everyone should read George Packer's piece in the current New Yorker (though it's possible you need to be subscriber to get it), on "The Empty Chamber: Just how broken is the Senate"? The answer is very. The filibuster is only part of the problem. The article begins with the lunatic Senate Rule XXVI, paragraph 5, which requires unanimous consent for any committees to hold hearings after two in the afternoon when the Senate is in session. If senators were in fact required to be in the chamber, this would pass the minimum rationality test. But, since they are not, it is truly and utterly lunatic, serving only to give yet another arrow to obstructionists who want to destroy the capacity of the Senate to operate (and, most certainly, to engage in the kind of oversight for which committee hears are necessary). Then there are holds.... Packer also focuses a lot on the personalities of the people (particularly hard-right Republicans).
Packer sugggests that there is very little hope for the "constitutional option" to change the filibuster rule at the beginning of the next session, since too many senior Democrats like it (so they can make sure that Republicans can't pass their own programs when the time comes).
No sane country designing a constitution today would establish an institution like the United States Senate. The fact that we are suffer under it is the best illustration of what political scientists call "path dependance," the ability of bad decisions in the past (recall that James Madison hated the "Great Compromise" that brought us the Senate, which should give reverential "originalists" at least some pause, or, at least, they should explain why the Senate is any more legitimate than the 3/5 Compromise that entrenched the power of slaveowners, the other "Great Compromise" that made the Constitution possible).
Once again, I am reminded of Carl Schmitt's great writings on the Weimar Parliament during theh 1920's. No one seriously believes tht the Senate is any longer a forum for genuine "debate," which, among other things, requires the possibility that someone will actually change his or her mind as a result of some persuasive argument made by someone else, independent of polticial party. No one shows up, most of the time, and when they do show up they read speeches drafted by staff (who are often even more ideologically driven than their ostensible bosses). I am, of course, grateful that the Senate was able to pass (inadequate) health and financial regulation bills, but they are incapable of confronting any of the other challenges that face us.
Who can be optimistic about the future of this country? (I challenge, incidentally, our right-wing friends who participate in the discussion to name the particular Republican or libertarian they wish to take the helm, unless, of course, they are true anarchists who believe we can do without government at all.)
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 18:26
SOURCE: Rustbelt Intellectual (Blog) (8-2-10)
Not too long ago I attempt a little piece of research. I wanted to know how many military bases the United States maintained overseas. Answer?
Suffice it to say that the number runs well into the many dozens if not several hundreds. They range from the venerable and infamous, like Guantanamo Bay, to the much more recent and volatile, like the staging areas in several of the 'Stans that the military has used for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bulk are left over from the Cold War when the United States established this global military presence to counter the Soviet threat.
Last time I checked, however, the Cold War is over. In fact, the college students I now teach were all born after the end of the Cold War. For them it might as well be ancient history, like the Victorians, or the War of 1812. And yet we remain saddled with this Cold War military infrastructure. Tens of thousands of soldiers in places all over the world, costing us hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
The bloated Pentagon budget has been the budgetary elephant in the room as Congress frets about deficits, debt and spending cuts. Nor is that obese budget liable to be put on a serious diet, given how geographically spread out military spending is, and how important it is to the economy of the those red states whose politicians complain loudest about government spending.
Yet surely the vast number of overseas installations is an easy place to start the slashing. What possible justification can there be, after all, for keeping 65,000 troops in Germany?! Or even in South Korea, whose own military is now one of the most advanced in the world?
Surely there must be a way to tap into the nativism and xenophobia currently abroad in the land and turn it toward a movement to bring our troops home from these far flung places. Americans are famously suspicious of foreign places and we don't like foreigners. So can't we put those forces to work for good instead of evil and use it to shrink the American military presence around the world?
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 18:18
SOURCE: Informed Comment (8-3-10)
President Obama reaffirmed on Monday that the US would have all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of August, in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated by the Iraq parliament with the Bush administration in the latter’s last months. He said that the final 50,000 would all be out of Iraq within 18 months.
T.S. Eliot wrote in “Hollow Men,” that “This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.” And so too does the US combat mission in Iraq, initiated by George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney in March, 2003 to promises that US troops would be garlanded and greeted as liberators by exultant Iraqis. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that the US troop strength would be down to about a division, some 25,000 men, by fall of 2003. Even in September of 2010, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, over 3000 dead US troops, over 30,000 seriously wounded ones and over a trillion dollars later, there are still going to be twice that number.
The US did not ‘win’ the Iraq War. It simply outlasted it. It was strong enough to remain, during the Sunni guerrilla war and the Sunni-Shiite Civil War, until the Iraqis exhausted themselves with fighting. But the massive violence provoked by the US occupation so weakened the Bush administration that it was forced to accept a withdrawal timetable dictated by the Iraqi parliament, in part at the insistence of deputies loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr and others connected to Iran.
But the US combat mission in Iraq will likely draw to a close without there being an Iraqi government in place....
Posted on: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 - 16:45