Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: The News-Observer (NC) (9-6-10)
Even in our rancorous political times, virtually every politician and pundit in America would agree on one thing: The U.S. economy is not doing well these days.
To be sure, the prescriptions offered for our ailing economy vary wildly, but the chances for a successful therapeutic response would improve for all if would-be economic doctors got their diagnoses right.
Our manufacturing sector offers a case in point. If one listened mainly to the partisan drum-banging in Washington and the crude oversimplifications offered by media celebs and talk-show hosts on both the left and right...one would think that the United States is no longer a major manufacturing power....
Hold on a bit. While it is true that the relative role of manufacturing in the U.S. economy has declined significantly over the past 30 or 40 years and that the proportion of the labor force involved in manufacturing has fallen sharply as well, the U.S. is still the leading manufacturing nation in the world by virtually every standard.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 21:38
SOURCE: Project Syndicate (9-6-10)
The news that China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy did not come as a surprise. This is the major geo-political outcome of the Great Recession of the early twenty-first century – one that carries both economic hope and political fear.
First, the good news: the economic side of the case. China’s response of to the world economic crisis is the central reason why the financial turbulence that emanated from the US sub-prime debacle did not completely destroy the world economy and lead to a repeat of the 1930’s Great Depression....
The global hegemon [however] has never been loved by its neighbors. But the US gradually, if imperfectly, built up trust through multilateral institutions. Europeans did much better at reconciliation with their neighbors after WWII, in part because the malign and evil conditions of Nazi rule made it necessary to talk about the past in terms of moral categories rather than power politics.
In contrast to America’s engagement in multilateralism, or Europe’s search for reconciliation through a plethora of common institutions, power politics is much more a part of Asia’s twentieth-century legacy. The real challenge for China’s leaders will be to develop a coherent view of the world that does not scare the people just across the border.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 21:33
SOURCE: Wisconsin State Journal (9-7-10)
This week we observe a unique confluence of days sacred to Jews, Muslims and all Americans.
The convergence of the beginning of the Jewish New Year, the conclusion of the month of Ramadan fasts, and the ninth anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11 compel us to reflect on the current controversies ignited by those who wish to divide Americans on the basis of religion.
We are disgusted by recent attempts in various U.S. cities to intimidate Muslim Americans, people who wish simply to exercise their constitutional rights. Anti-Islam activities in New York City, Murfreesboro, Tenn., Sacramento, Calif. and elsewhere soberly remind us that hatred can fester in any locale....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 21:16
SOURCE: The Nation (9-7-10)
Last year it seemed almost impossible to walk through an airport without noticing someone reading a copy of Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The book captured the public's imagination through a vivid account of the personalities in the 2008 presidential campaign. For Americans who couldn't quite let go of the long campaign season, Game Change offered one last hurrah....
Yet about a year and a half later, as Game Change is released in paperback, the book reads differently. As many of Obama's supporters have become more sober about the president's ability, and his willingness, to change the way that politics works, we can read the book for the limits of the genre it represents, rather than for the saga of the candidates and the handlers.
The election narrative dates back to Theodore White's The Making of a President (1961). White's account of the 1960 election allowed readers to delve deep into the drama of the primaries and general election. Democrats offered White unparalleled access to their campaigns, and since he started covering the race early he captured John F. Kennedy from beginning of his national political emergence....
Although White himself never recreated the magic from the first book, the genre of writing that White popularized endured. When elections end, we expect an instant history to be published to help us understand what really happened. While the formula for the books has not varied greatly, there have been notable changes in the substance....
Game Change offered something fresh to this genre. The book, which sold out on its first day, was based on an enormous wealth of insider interviews where campaign operatives spilled some revelatory information about what had happened. The authors put forth an anthropological exposé of the circus of professional campaign operators who surrounded the candidates and ran the show. ... Game Change came full circle from White's examination of Kennedy. Whereas Theodore White had been fascinated by the candidates and their loyal team advisors, the genre had gradually pushed writers into the cold and impersonal professionalized world that candidates stepped into. Read from the perspective of 2010, we can look back at some of the Teddy White–like promise bestowed upon Obama upon his election with more skepticism and doubts.
Yet even with its more cynical look at the election process, Game Change suffered from some of the same limitations of the election narrative genre—rooted all the way back to Teddy White's heroic account—that exaggerate the possibility of change that elections can bring without fundamental reforms in the way that our institutions work. Election narratives are grounded on the same kind of belief about the possible impact of elections—thus their decision to focus so much attention on them above other parts of politics—that usually leaves Americans frustrated after the difficulties of governance begin....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 21:07
SOURCE: NY Post (9-1-10)
A letter from the CUNY college's administration to faculty says the assignment is an "effort to provide a common experience for this population of students." Appalled that this is the "common experience" that administrators aim to foster, faculty members alerted The New York Jewish Week to the scandal.
The book's author is Moustafa Bayoumi, an associate professor of English who teaches postcolonial literature and theory and ethnic studies. His work includes editing a volume in tribute to Edward Said -- the late Columbia University professor who argued that Western prejudice against Eastern cultures had morphed into an ideology of racist supremacy, directed against Arabs and Muslims.
Let me be clear: It might be perfectly legitimate to assign "How Does It Feel" -- if, for example, the college also provided its students with a contrasting opinion, one challenging the view that Americans and New Yorkers in particular are completely Islamaphobic....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 15:49
SOURCE: TomDispatch (9-7-10)
[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.]
The fall issue of Foreign Policy magazine features Fred Kaplan’s “The Transformer,” an article-cum-interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It received a flurry of attention because Gates indicated he might leave his post “sometime in 2011.” The most significant two lines in the piece, however, were so ordinary that the usual pundits thought them not worth pondering. Part of a Kaplan summary of Gates’s views, they read: “He favors substantial increases in the military budget... He opposes any slacking off in America's global military presence.”
Now, if Kaplan had done a similar interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, such lines might have been throwaways, since a secretary of state is today little more than a fancy facilitator, ever less central to what that magazine, with its outmoded name, might still call “foreign policy.” Remind me: When was the last time you heard anyone use that phrase -- part of a superannuated world in which “diplomats” and “diplomacy” were considered important -- in a meaningful way? These days “foreign policy” and “global policy” are increasingly a single fused, militarized entity, at least across what used to be called “the Greater Middle East,” where what’s at stake is neither war nor peace, but that"military presence."
As a result, Gates’s message couldn’t be clearer: despite two disastrous wars and a global war on terror now considered “multigenerational” by those in the know, trillions of lost dollars, and staggering numbers of deaths (if you happen to include Iraqi and Afghan ones), the U.S. military mustn’t in any way slack off. The option of reducing the global mission -- the one that’s never on the table when “all options are on the table” -- should remain nowhere in sight. That’s Gates’s bedrock conviction. And when he opposes any diminution of the global mission, it matters.
Slicing Up the World Like a Pie
As we know from a Peter Baker front-page New York Timesprofile of Barack Obama as commander-in-chief, the 49-year-old president “with no experience in uniform” has “bonded” with Gates, the 66-year-old former spymaster, all-around-apparatchik, and holdover from the last years of the Bush era. Baker describes Gates as the president’s “most important tutor,” and on matters military like the Afghan War, the president has reportedly “deferred to him repeatedly.”
Let’s face it, though: deference has become the norm for the Pentagon and U.S. military commanders, which is not so surprising. After all, in terms of where our money goes, the Pentagon is the 800-pound gorilla in just about any room. It has, for instance, left the State Department in the proverbial dust. By now, it gets at least $12 dollars for every dollar of funding that goes to the State Department, which in critical areas of the world has become an adjunct of the military.
In addition, the Pentagon has taken under its pilotless predatory wing such previously civilian tasks as delivering humanitarian aid and “nation-building.” As Secretary of Defense Gates has pointed out, there are more Americans in U.S. military bands than there are foreign service officers.
If it’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then you can gauge the power of the Pentagon by the fact that, at least in Iraq after 2011, the State Department is planning to become a mini-military -- an armed outfit using equipment borrowed from the Pentagon and an “army” of mercenary guards formed into “quick reaction forces,” all housed in a series of new billion-dollar “fortified compounds,” no longer called “consulates” but “enduring presence posts” (as the Pentagon once called its giant bases in Iraq “enduring camps”). This level of militarization of what might once have been considered the Department of Peaceful Solutions to Difficult Problems is without precedent and an indicator of the degree to which the government is being militarized.
Similarly, according to the Washington Post, the Pentagon has managed to take control of more than two-thirds of the “intelligence programs” in the vast world of the U.S. Intelligence Community, with its 17 major agencies and organizations. Ever since the mid-1980s, it has also divided much of the globe like a pie into slices called “commands.” (Our own continent joined the crew as the U.S. Northern Command, or Northcom, in 2002, and Africa, as Africom in 2007.)
Before stepping down a notch to become Afghan war commander, General David Petraeus was U.S. Central Command (Centcom) commander, which meant military viceroy for an especially heavily garrisoned expanse of the planet stretching from Egypt to the Chinese border. Increasingly, in fact, there is no space, including outer space and virtual space, where our military is uninterested in maintaining or establishing a “presence.”
On October 1st, for instance, a new Cyber Command headed by a four-star general and staffed by 1,000 “elite military hackers and spies” is tohit the keyboards typing. And there will be nothing shy about its particular version of “presence” either. The Bush-era concept of “preventive war” (that is, a war of aggression) may have been discarded by the Obama administration, but the wizards of the new Cyber Command are boldly trying to go where the Bush administration once went. They are reportedly eager to establish a virtual war-fighting principle (labeled “active defense”) under which they could preemptively attack and knock out the computer networks of adversaries.
And the White House and environs haven’t been immune to creeping militarization either. As presidents are now obliged to praise American troops to the skies in any “foreign policy” speech -- “Our troops are the steel in our ship of state” -- they also turn ever more regularly to military figures in civilian life and for civilian posts. President Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, is a retired Marine four-star general, and from the Bush years the president kept on Army Lieutenant General Douglas Lute as “war czar,” just as he appointed retired Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry as our ambassador to Afghanistan, and recently replaced retired admiral Dennis Blair with retired Air Force Lieutenant General James Clapper as the Director of National Intelligence. (He also kept on David Petraeus, George W. Bush’s favorite general, and hiked the already staggering Pentagon budget in Bushian fashion.)
And this merely skims the surface of the nonstop growth of the Pentagon and its influence. One irony of that process: even as the U.S. military has failed repeatedly to win wars, its budgets have grown ever more gargantuan, its sway in Washington ever greater, and its power at home ever more obvious.
Generals and Admirals Mouthing Off
To grasp the changing nature of military influence domestically, consider the military’s relationship to the media. Its media megaphone offers a measure of the reach and influence of that behemoth, what kinds of pressures it can apply in support of its own version of foreign policy, and just how, under its weight, the relationship between the civilian and military high commands is changing.
It’s true that, in June, the president relieved Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal of duty after his war-frustrated associates drank and mouthed off about administration officials in an inanely derogatory manner in his presence -- and the presence of a Rolling Stone magazine reporter. ("Biden?... Did you say: Bite Me?") But think of that as the exception that proves the rule.
It’s seldom noted that less obvious but more serious -- and egregious -- breaches of civilian/military protocol are becoming the norm, and increasingly no one blinks or acts. To take just a few recent examples, in late August commandant of the Marine Corps General James Conway, due to retire this fall, publicly attacked the president’s “conditions-based” July 2011 drawdown date in Afghanistan, saying,"In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance."
Or consider that, while the Obama administration has moved fiercely against government and military leaking of every sort, when it came to the strategic leaking (assumedly by someone in, or close to, the military) of the “McChrystal plan” for Afghanistan in the fall of 2009, nothing at all happened even though the president was backed into a policy-making corner. And yet, as Andrew Bacevich pointed out, “The McChrystal leaker provid[ed] Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership a detailed blueprint of exactly how the United States and its allies were going to prosecute their war.”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, on a three-day cross-country “tour” of Midwestern business venues (grandiloquently labeled “Conversations with the Country”), attacked the national debt as “the most significant threat to our national security.” Anodyne as this might sound, with election 2010 approaching, the national debt couldn’t be a more political issue.
There should be, but no longer is, something startling about all this. Generals and admirals now mouth off regularly on a wide range of policy issues, appealing to the American public both directly and via deferential (sometimes fawning) reporters, pundits, and commentators. They and their underlings clearly leak news repeatedly for tactical advantage in policy-making situations. They organize what are essentially political-style barnstorming campaigns for what once would have been “foreign policy” positions, and increasingly this is just the way the game is played.
From Combat to Commentary
There’s a history still to be written about how our highest military commanders came to never shut up.
Certainly, in 1990 as Gulf War I was approaching, Americans experienced the first full flowering of a new form of militarized “journalism” in which, among other things, retired high military officers, like so many play-by-play analysts on Monday Night Football, became regular TV news consultants. They were called upon to narrate and analyze the upcoming battle (“showdown in the Gulf”), the brief offensive that followed, and the aftermath in something close to real time. Amid nifty logos, dazzling Star Wars-style graphics, theme music, and instant-replay nose-cone snuff films of “precision” weapons wiping out the enemy, they offered a running commentary on the progress of battle as well as on the work of commanders in the field, some of whom they might have once served with.
And that was just the beginning of the way, after years of post-Vietnam War planning, the Pentagon took control of the media battlefield and so the popular portrayal of American-style war. In the past, the reporting of war had often been successfully controlled by governments, while generals had polished their images with the press or -- like Omar Bradley and Douglas MacArthur -- even employed public relations staffs to do it for them. But never had generals and war planners gone before the public as actors, supported by all the means a studio could muster on their behalf and determined to produce a program that would fill the day across the dial for the full time of a war. The military even had a version of a network Standards and Practices department with its guidelines for on-air acceptability. Military handlers made decisions -- like refusing to clear for publication the fact that Stealth pilots viewed X-rated movies before missions -- reminiscent of network show-vetting practices.
When it came time for Gulf War II, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the military had added the practice of putting reporters through pre-war weeklong “boot camps” and then “embedding” them with the troops (a Stockholm Syndrome-type experience that many American reporters grew to love). It also built itself a quarter-million-dollar stage set for nonstop war briefings at Centcom headquarters in Doha, Qatar. All of this was still remarkably new in the history of relations between the Pentagon and the media, but it meant that the military could address the public more or less directly both through those embedded reporters and over the shoulders of that assembled gaggle of media types in Doha.
As long as war took its traditional form, this approach worked well, but once it turned into a protracted and inchoate guerrilla struggle, and “war” and “wartime” became the endless (often dismal) norm, something new was needed. In the Bush years, the Pentagon responded to endless war in part by sending out an endless stream of well-coached, well-choreographed retired military “experts” to fill the gaping maw of cable news. In the meantime, something quite new has developed.
Today, you no longer need to be a retired military officer to offer play-by-play commentary on and analysis of our wars. Now, at certain moments, the main narrators of those wars turn out to be none other than the generals running, or overseeing, them. They regularly get major airtime to explain to the American public how those wars are going, as well as to expound on their views on more general issues.
This is something new. Among the American commanders of World War II and the Korean War, only Douglas MacArthur did anything faintly like this, which made him an outlier (or perhaps an omen) and in a sense that's why President Harry Truman fired him. Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Ridgeway, et al., did not think to go on media tours touting their own political lines while in uniform.
Admittedly, Vietnam War commander General William Westmoreland was an early pioneer of the form. He had, however, been pushed onto the stage to put a public face on the American war effort by President Lyndon Johnson, who was desperate to buck up public opinion. Westmoreland returned from Vietnam in 1968 just before the disastrous Tet Offensive for a “whirlwind tour” of the country and uplifting testimony before Congress. In a speech at the National Press Club, he spoke of reaching “an important point where the end begins to come into view,” and later in a televised press conference, even more infamously used the phrase “the light at the end of tunnel.” Events would soon discredit his optimism.
Still, we’ve reached quite a different level of military/media confluence today. Take the two generals now fighting our Afghan and Iraq wars: General Petraeus and General Ray Odierno -- one arriving, the other leaving.
Having spent six weeks assessing the Afghan situation and convinced that he needed to buy more time for his war from the American public, in mid-August Petraeus launched a full-blown, well-organized media tour from his headquarters in Kabul. In it, he touted “progress” in Afghanistan, offered comments subtly but visibly at odds with the president’s promised July 2011 drawdown date, and generally evangelized for his war. He began with an hour-long interview with Dexter Filkins of the New York Times and another with Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post. These were timed to be released on August 15th, the morning he appeared on NBC’s Sunday political show “Meet the Press.” (Moderator David Gregory traveled to the Afghan capital to toss softball questions at Washington’s greatest general and watch him do push-ups in a “special edition” of the show.) Petraeus then followed up with a Katie Couric interview on CBS Evening News, as part of an all-fronts “media blitz” that would include Fox News, AP, Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, and in a bow to the allies, the BBC and even NATO TV, among other places.
At almost the same moment, General Odierno was ending his tour of duty as Iraq war commander by launching a goodbye media blitz of his own from Baghdad, which included interviews with ABC’s “This Week,” Bob Schieffer of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, CNN’s “State of the Union,”PBS Newshour, and the New York Times, among others. He, too, had a policy line to promote and he, too, expressed himself in ways subtly but visibly at odds with an official Obama position, emphasizing the possibility that some number of U.S. troops might need to stay in Iraq beyond the 2011 departure deadline. As he said to Schieffer,"If [the Iraqis] ask us that they might want us to stay longer, we certainly would consider that.” Offering another scenario as well, he also suggested that, as Reuters put it, “U.S. troops... could move back to a combat role if there was ‘a complete failure of the security forces’ or if political divisions split Iraqi security forces.” (He then covered his flanks by adding, “but we don’t see that happening.”)
This urge to stay represents one long-term strain of thinking in the military and among Pentagon civilians, and it will undoubtedly prove a powerful force for the president to deal with or defer to in 2011. In February 2009, less than a month after Obama took office, Odierno was already broadcasting his desire to have up to 35,000 troops remain in Iraq after 2011, and at the end of 2009, Gates was already suggesting that a new round of negotiations with a future Iraqi government might extend our stay for years. All this, of course, could qualify as part of a more general campaign to maintain the Pentagon’s 800-pound status, the military’s clout, and that global military presence.
A Chorus of Military Intellectuals
Pentagon foreign policy is regularly seconded by a growing cadre of what might be called military intellectuals at think tanks scattered around Washington. Such figures, many of them qualifying as “warrior pundits” and “warrior journalists,” include: Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security and Petraeus adviser; former U.S. Army officer Andrew Exum, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, founder of the Abu Muqawama website, and a McChrystal advisor; former Australian infantry officer and Petraeus adviser David Kilcullen, non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security; Thomas Ricks, formerly of the Washington Post, author of the bestselling Iraq War books Fiasco and The Gamble, Petraeus admirer, and senior fellow at the same center; Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, the man Gates credits with turning around his thinking on Afghanistan and a recent Petraeus hiree in Afghanistan; Kimberley Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War, an adviser to both Petraeus and McChrystal;Kenneth Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution;andStephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and another Petraeus as well as McChrystal adviser.These figures, and numerous others like them, are repeatedly invited to U.S. war zones by the military, flattered, toured, given face time with commanders, sometimes hired by them, and sometimes even given the sense that they are the ones planning our wars. They then return to Washington to offer sophisticated, “objective” versions of the military line.
Toss into this mix the former neocons who caused so much of the damage in the early Bush years and who regularly return at key moments as esteemed media “experts” (not the fools and knaves they were), including former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz,former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) L. Paul Bremer III, and former senior advisor to the CPA Noah Feldman, among others. For them, being wrong means never having to say you’re sorry. And, of course, they and their thoughts are dealt with remarkably respectfully, while those who were against the Iraq War from the beginning remain scarce commodities on op-ed pages, as sources in news articles, and on the national radio and TV news.
This combined crew of former warriors, war-zone bureaucrats, and warrior pundits are, like Odierno, now plunking for a sizeable residual U.S. military force to stay in Iraq until hell freezes over. They regularly compare Iraq to post-war South Korea, where U.S. troops are still garrisoned nearly 60 years after the Korean War and which, after decades of U.S.-supported dictators, now has a flourishing democracy.
Combine the military intellectuals, the former neocons, the war commanders, the retired military-officer-commentators, the Secretary of Defense and other Pentagon civilians and you have an impressive array of firepower of a sort that no Eisenhower, Ridgeway, or even MacArthur could have imagined. They may disagree fiercely with each other on tactical matters when it comes to pursuing American-style war, and they certainly don’t represent the views of a monolithic military. There are undoubtedly generals who have quite a different view of what the defense of the United States entails. As a crew, though, civilian and military, in and out of uniform, in the Pentagon or in a war zone, they agree forcefully on the need to maintain that American global military presence over the long term.
Other than Gates, the key figure of the moment is clearly Petraeus, who might be thought of as our Teflon general. He could represent a genuine challenge to the fading tradition of civilian control of the military. Treated as a demi-god and genius of battle on both sides of the aisle in Washington, he would be hard for any president, especially this one, to remove from office. As a four-star who would have to throw a punch at Michelle Obama on national television to get fired, he minimally has significant latitude to pursue the war policies of his choice in Afghanistan. He also has -- should he care to exercise it -- the potential and the opening to pursue much more. It’s not completely farfetched to imagine him as the first mini-Caesar-in-waiting of our American times.
As of yet, he and other top figures may plan their individual media blitzes, but they are not consciously planning a media strategy for a coherent Pentagon foreign policy. The result is all the more chilling for not being fully coordinated, and for being so little noticed or attended to by the media that play such a role in promoting it. What’s at stake here goes well beyond the specific issue of military insubordination that usually comes up when military-civilian relations are discussed. After all, we could be seeing, in however inchoate form, the beginning of a genuine Pentagon/military production in support of Pentagon timing (as in the new bases now being built in Afghanistan that won’t even be completed until late 2011), our global military presence, and the global mission that goes with it.
In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, you can see that Pentagon version of an American foreign policy straining to be born. In the end, of course, it could be stillborn, but it could also become an all-enveloping system offering Americans a strange, skewed vision of a world constantly at war and of the importance of planning for more of the same.
To the extent that it now exists, it is dominated by the vision of figures who, judging from the last near decade, have a particularly constrained sense of American priorities, have been deeply immersed in the imperial mayhem that our wars have created, have left us armed to the teeth and flailing at ghosts and demons, and are still enmeshed in the process by which American treasure has been squandered to worse than no purpose in distant lands.
Nothing in the record indicates that anyone should listen to what these men have to say. Nothing in the record indicates that Washington won’t be all ears, the media won’t remain an enthusiastic conduit, and Americans won’t follow their lead.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 14:32
SOURCE: Truthdig (9-6-10)
“It is time to turn the page,” President Barack Obama said as he announced the “end” of combat operations in Iraq. Meanwhile, those who brought us that unnecessary war remain committed to such policies and, if returned to power, are likely to carry them out. Sadly, the president neither confronted nor repudiated his critics. They are shameless and unrepentant for designing the Iraq War, and they now call for a resumption of the policies that have resulted in a series of long, bloody and eventually unwinnable wars. It was not just the time to mark the departure of American troops; it was also the president’s moment to forcefully challenge and repudiate the policies that led us into what he once called “dumb wars.” He took a pass.
The day of the president’s speech, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton anticipated and criticized Obama and reiterated why we went to war. Wolfowitz had the prime space of the New York Times Op-Ed page, while Bolton appeared in the Daily Beast, with his usual meat ax, in a piece entitled “Obama’s Lose-Lose Policy.”
Wolfowitz, it should be remembered, promised that American soldiers would be welcomed as liberators, that Iraqi oil would pay the costs of the war, that occupation would be as easy as that of post-1945 Germany and Japan, and that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki (who would be dismissed) was “wildly off the mark” when he estimated that an occupation would require several hundred thousand troops. Wolfowitz simply failed to anticipate the Iraqis’ now seven-year-long “insurgency.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 13:47
SOURCE: I.H.T. (9-6-10)
Many commentators and activists have reacted with fury to the French government’s expulsion of hundreds of Roma, or Gypsies, to Bulgaria and Romania. Many critics liken these expulsions to the deportations of Jews organized by France’s Vichy regime during World War II. It’s hard to know what is more outrageous: the policies practiced by President Nicolas Sarkozy or the analogies proffered by his critics.
Yet in the history of modern France, the wartime Vichy regime has no monopoly on xenophobic reflexes and exclusionary policies. Over the course of the 20th century, it was French republican governments that laid the administrative and legal foundations for official discrimination against Gypsies....
Thinkers from Plato to Tocqueville have commented on the dangers inherent in the rule of the majority — especially when the majority is swayed by the passionate actions and speeches of the few. The lot of Gypsies in contemporary France and Romania is a case in point. While these states do not subject their Roma populations to the punitive policies pursued by Pétain’s France or Ceausescu’s Romania, they do relegate them to the margins of their societies....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 11:31
SOURCE: CNN.com (9-7-10)
With the real possibility of a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, many Democrats are starting to argue for budget cuts.
In New Hampshire, Democratic Senate candidate Paul Hodes has called for $3 billion in cuts, saying, "For too long, both parties have willfully spent with no regard for our nation's debt."
This criticism will become louder this week with the president's proposal for a $50 billion infrastructure package to improve the nation's roads, airports and railways. These budgetary pressures will only intensify if the political strength of conservatives increases following the midterm elections.
But Democrats need to proceed with caution and avoid the pressure to target federal spending before the economy shows signs of stronger recovery. They should recall what happened in 1937 when a member of their party, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, decided to reduce federal spending to please fiscal conservatives and demonstrate that the New Deal had succeeded....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 11:29
SOURCE: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (9-7-10)
Journal-Courier columnist Jay Jamison writes that everyone should “shut up about race.” But I won’t.
I will keep talking about race because Jacksonville’s history is permeated by race. While slavery dominated the South, Jacksonville had a significant free black population in a section of the city called Africa, south of College Avenue. Before the Civil War, abolitionists, many at Illinois College, clashed with defenders of slavery. But race as a defining element of social life in Jacksonville was not only an issue of the 19th century. Well into the 1960s, black people in Jacksonville were openly discriminated against in downtown stores. Racism is a living memory for many black and white residents of Jacksonville.
I will keep talking about race because we keep learning more about how racism in the United States operated. James Loewen’s eye-opening book, “Sundown Towns” (2005), describes how small towns all across America kept African Americans out by passing laws that non-whites had to leave by sundown. These communities remained segregated into and past the 1960s. In Illinois, according to the 2000 census, Scott County and Mason County still had no black households, and Stark County had one....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 11:28
SOURCE: The Atlantic (9-7-10)
For a movement that's always been touchy about being labeled elitist, the food movement has been surprisingly outspoken lately about the virtues of expensive food. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Michael Pollan sang the praises of sustainable eggs that cost eight dollars a dozen and delectable peaches that go for $3.90 each. Such prices would seem less shocking, he assured readers, if conscientious consumers were willing to "pay more, eat less." Likewise, when asked to explain how average (i.e., not famous and rich) consumers could actually be expected to spend more on food in the midst of a recession, Alice Waters was as clear as she was unabashed: "Make a sacrifice on the cell phone or the third pair of Nike shoes." So there.
Needless to say, the backlash—as Pollan and Waters must have known it would be—was swift. Anthony Bourdain, who dedicates a full chapter of his latest book, Medium Raw, to attacking Waters's airy idealism, scoffs at the idea that people should be willing to spend more on food: "She annoys the living shit out of me....
But I wonder: Are we taking the food movement's king and queen to the woodshed prematurely? As someone who thinks Pollan and Waters are "damnably" wrong about a lot of things, I would actually defend them here on the grounds that in promoting expensive sustainable food they're really lamenting the artificial cheapness of industrial food. In fact, they've dedicated their careers to attacking the underlying political apparatus—namely subsidies—maintaining our remarkably inexpensive supply of crap food....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 11:24
SOURCE: DanielPipes.org (9-7-10)
[Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.]
The furor over the Islamic center, variously called the Ground Zero Mosque, Cordoba House, and Park51, has large implications for the future of Islam in the United States and perhaps beyond.The debate is as unexpected as it is extraordinary. One would have thought that the event to touch a nerve within the American body politic, making Islam a national issue, would be an act of terrorism. Or discovery that Islamists had penetrated U.S. security services. Or the dismaying results of survey research. Or an apologetic presidential speech.
But no, something more symbolic roiled the body politic – the prospect of a mosque in close proximity to the World Trade Center's former location. What began as a local zoning matter morphed over the months into a national debate with potential foreign policy repercussions. Its symbolic quality fit a pattern established in other Western countries. Islamic coverings on females spurred repeated national debates in France from 1989 forward. The Swiss banned the building of minarets. The murder of Theo van Gogh profoundly affected the Netherlands, as did the publication of Muhammad cartoons in Denmark,.
Oddly, only after the Islamic center's location had generated weeks of controversy did the issue of individuals, organizations, and funding behind the project finally come to the fore – although these obviously have more significance than does location. Personally, I do not object to a truly moderate Muslim institution in proximity to Ground Zero; conversely, I object to an Islamist institution being constructed anywhere. Ironically, building the center in such close proximity to Ground Zero, given the intense emotions it aroused, will likely redound against the long-term interests of Muslims in the United States.
This new emotionalism marks the start of a difficult stage for Islamists in the United States. Although their origins as an organized force go back to the founding of the Muslim Student Association in 1963, they came of age politically in the mid-1990s, when they emerged as a force in U.S. public life.
I was fighting Islamists back then and things went badly. It was, in practical terms, just Steven Emerson and me versus hundreds of thousands of Islamists. He and I could not find adequate intellectual support, money, media interest, or political backing. Our cause felt quite hopeless.My lowest point came in 1999 when a retired U.S. career foreign service officer named Richard Curtiss spoke on Capitol Hill about"the potential of the American Muslim community" and compared its advances to Muhammad's battles in seventh-century Arabia. He flat-out predicted that, just as Muhammad once had prevailed, so too would American Muslims. While Curtiss spoke only about changing policy toward Israel, his themes implied a broader Islamist takeover of the United States. His prediction seemed unarguable.
9/11 provided a wake-up call, ending this sense of hopelessness. Americans reacted badly not just to that day's horrifying violence but also to the Islamists' outrageous insistence on blaming the attacks on U.S. foreign policy and later the election of Barack Obama, or their blatant denial that the perpetrators were Muslims or intense Muslim support for the attacks.
American scholars, columnists, bloggers, media personalities, and activists became knowledgeable about Islam, developing into a community, a community that now feels like a movement. The Islamic center controversy represents its emergence as a political force, offering an angry, potent reaction inconceivable just a decade earlier.
The energetic push-back of recent months finds me partially elated: those who reject Islamism and all its works now constitute a majority and are on the march. For the first time in fifteen years, I feel I may be on the winning team.
But I have one concern: the team's increasing anti-Islamic tone. Misled by the Islamists' insistence that there can be no such thing as"moderate Islam," my allies often fail to distinguish between Islam (a faith) and Islamism (a radical utopian ideology aiming to implement Islamic laws in their totality). This amounts not just to an intellectual error but a policy dead-end. Targeting all Muslims conflicts with basic Western notions, lumps friends with foes, and ignores the inescapable fact that Muslims alone can offer an antidote to Islamism. As I often note, radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution.
Once this lesson is learned, the new energy brings the defeat of Islamism dimly into sight.
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 10:23
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (9-6-10)
It won't be a good Labor Day for America's jobless. August's employment report showed the economy was still losing jobs (54,000 of them in the month), underscoring the weakness of the recovery.
Politicians debate the consequences of the budget deficit, but it's the trade deficit that accounts for meager American growth and employment. Global imbalances - especially the U.S. trade deficit and Chinese surplus - were at the root of the financial crisis in 2008.
For the past 40 years, American leaders assumed high-tech services, finance, and housing could sustain prosperity. They stood by as East Asian and European governments promoted manufacturing and manufacturing exports. Too much U.S. investment went into non-tradables: finance, housing, retail, personal services....
America does have industrial policies by default: Sugar, housing, finance, and pharmaceuticals get breaks, for example. But we need to ask whether those are in the nation's interest.
To begin to rebalance, we could reduce aid to the housing industry through tax deductions, mortgage guarantees, and other incentives. That could be coupled with an infrastructure program employing construction workers no longer needed in housing. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest should lapse not to reduce the deficit, but to fund infrastructure, which could be the core of a manufacturing renewal....
Posted on: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - 00:48
SOURCE: Eugene (OR) Register-Guard (8-25-10)
Late in 2001, the president and Congress designated Sept. 11 as Patriot Day, a discretionary day of remembrance for the nearly 3,000 people killed by terrorists in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.
It was a sincere but odd tribute, given that the victims were no more and no less patriotic than the rest of us. They had not sought to give their lives for their country. They were a diverse group of unsuspecting and innocent victims. And the United States already had a Patriots’ Day, which commemorates the Minutemen who fought at Lexington and Concord, Mass., igniting the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.
Americans who aggressively oppose a proposed Islamic cultural center in New York City two blocks from ground zero seem determined to confirm Dr. Johnson’s dictionary definition: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said, for example, “I think it’s inappropriate. ... From a patriotic standpoint, it’s hallowed ground, it’s sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn’t ... degrade or disrespect that in any way.”
How might a 13-story community center that will include a conference hall, a culinary school, a basketball court, a swimming pool, and, yes, a place of worship that caters to the Muslim community (but is open to all), constitute a degradation?
It depends on how we define “hallowed ground,” how we look upon Muslims and their faith, and how we regard the U.S. Constitution and the most basic principles of American democracy and freedom.
The former World Trade Center site is not “hallowed ground” in any formal sense. It has not been officially designated as holy — and in any case, which of our many religious authorities would we authorize to sanctify it? It is, tragically, a terrain marred by violence and death — a place of mass murder that will continue to cast shadows.
But should it become a vast mausoleum, a permanent memorial to American victimhood? Or should it be rebuilt and rededicated to the creative spirit and dynamism that has long characterized New York City as America’s economic capital?
What about the surrounding blocks? Are they sacred? They do include the soaring Woolworth’s Building, an architectural masterpiece once the tallest building in the world, and Mammon central — the New York Stock Exchange.
But this “hallowed ground” features other exemplars of American free enterprise: numerous fast-food restaurants, bars, nail salons, vacant storefronts, the New York Dolls Gentleman’s Club, an off-track betting establishment and street corner peddlers hawking trinkets and T-shirts. If this urban space is sacred, what is profane?
The perpetrators of the mass murder on Sept. 11, 2001, do not represent worldwide Islam. Americans tend to lump Muslims together, but Islam is the second largest religion in the world and is varied theologically, ethnically and geographically. More Muslims live in Indonesia than any other country, and some 80 percent of Muslims reside outside of the Middle East. More than 5 million Muslims live in the United States; they are as diverse and “American” as America itself.
As it happens, Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam or spiritual leader promoting the community center (now called the Park51 project), is such an ambassador of peace and toleration that the U.S. State Department employs him abroad in its efforts to promote America and its values to an increasingly suspicious world.
We should reject guilt by association — especially the imaginary (and bigoted) association of American Muslims with the likes of al Qaeda. The Department of Defense certainly recognizes the difference, having scheduled Muslim prayer services in the Pentagon’s memorial chapel that was built near where 184 died in 2001.
Most importantly, the false patriotism of Park51 opponents violates the U.S. Constitution and Americans’ indispensable right to religious freedom.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religious practice and protects our particular religious observances from interference and repression. Such toleration and freedom was championed not merely for its own sake but because our framers recognized the diversity of believers in the United States.
In our pluralistic country, no faith is safe if any faith is oppressed on the one hand, or officially institutionalized on the other.
Fear does not change this formula for freedom, and Americans should display enough courage and confidence to uphold their laws and their principles against fear-mongering demagogues.
What would be the implications of government repression of a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan? Who’s next? “Patriotic” Americans should be careful what they wish for.
We should be sensitive to the feelings of 9/11 mourners, some of whom oppose the Park51 project. But we must also serve the higher purpose of American law, liberty and truth.
We should not indulge the ignorant views of some who demonize Islam and fearfully abandon the Constitution. And we should not endorse the craven politicians who cultivate fear, misdirect American wrath, endanger American freedom and compromise our reputation throughout the world.
Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2010 - 20:18
SOURCE: Huffington Post (9-4-10)
"All politics are local," Tip O'Neill famously said, and the political smoke signals being sent up locally going into the 2010 midterms all point to systematic failure on the part of the governing party. Democratic constituencies have been forced to sit back while the politicians they elected are helpless in the face of an unprecedented attack on public institutions.
There's no good news for Democrats this election season because there's no good news. Yet it's hard to believe that the American people this November are going to return the party to power that not too long ago lied the nation into war, doubled the national debt, and collapsed the economy. When has a political party ever been returned to power so soon after destroying the lives and livelihoods of so many people?
There was a window of opportunity to bring Wall Street to heel and to bolster the neglected and maligned public sector institutions, but President Obama chose instead to play nice with the Republican nihilists in the Senate who don't care about anything other than fooling enough people to win the next election and squeezing every ounce of political gain out of each 24-hour news cycle. It's hard to believe that even in our duopoly people would be stupid enough to return the Republicans to power after they killed the American dream for so many millions of our fellow citizens. In a normal country, the Republicans would be out of luck for at least a half dozen election cycles.
Then again, the Republican Party has the Koch brothers and every other rich bastard showering it (directly and indirectly) with money; the Supreme Court augmenting its Bush v. Gore disgrace with Citizens United opening up even larger floodgates of corporate political cash; right-wing talk radio from sea to shining sea; Fox "News," and an enormous echo chamber, etc. Most mainstream media commentators talk about the angry Right as if it were a full-fledged social movement. But in reality, it's just an elaborate exercise in ruling-class power, the rich versus everyone else, much of it cloaked in Astroturf and liberal sounding "public policy" groups like "Americans for Prosperity," etc. The Oligarchs control such a loud megaphone they can drown out everybody else. They're sophisticated too. Vilifying ACORN, and public schools, and the role of government (unless it's serving corporations and rich people).
In 1988, Michael Dukakis made a fatal error when he failed to defend the term "liberal" when Lee Atwater and Poppy Bush were savaging him and dirtying up the word. Now we're losing the word "progressive" too. Twenty years later, it appeared for a time that Obama was going to reclaim the legitimacy of government action on behalf of working people and the downtrodden. It appeared that he was going to reclaim the liberal tradition in this country so maligned by both parties since the days of Jimmy Carter.
But he didn't. And now his party might pay the price.
Often missed in the mainstream commentary about the angry political climate is the fact that it was "conservative" ideas, "conservative" policies, and "conservative" governance that brought the country to the sorry state it finds itself in today. Deregulation for corporations like Goldman Sachs, DeCoster egg farms, and British Petroleum; privatization of vital public services including "national security"; tax cuts for the Oligarchs and corporate behemoths; the wholesale denigration and denuding of vital government functions relating to health and safety and infrastructure; grossly inflated budgets for warfare that are rife with waste, fraud, and profiteering while social programs were slashed that might have helped average folks; not to mention the dumbing-down and Atwaterization of our political discourse.
The entire eight years of the George W. Bush presidency proved what terrible stewards of the common good contemporary Republicans have become. Chalmers Johnson describes Bush in the introduction of his new book, Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope. Bush, Johnson writes,
...was a man superficially well enough qualified to be president. The governor of a populous state, he had also been the recipient of the best -- or, in any case, most expensive -- educations available to an American. Yale College and Harvard Business School might have seemed like a guarantee against a sophomoric ignoramus occupying the highest office in the land, but contrary to most expectations that was precisely what we got. The American public did not actually elect him, of course. He was, in the end, appointed to the highest office in the land by a conservative cabal of the Supreme Court in what certainly qualified as one of the most bizarre moments in the history of American politics... The history books will certainly record that George W. Bush was likely the single worst president in the history of the American republic. Nonetheless, they will also point out that he merely accelerated trends long under way, particularly our devotion to militarism and our dependence on the military-industrial complex. (p. 3; 5)
There are no longer any truly "teachable moments" in America anymore because for a moment to be "teachable" there must be a populace willing to learn something new. Everything that happens to this country -- terrorist attacks, economic collapse, war, bungled responses to natural disasters, oil spills -- is absorbed, spun, manipulated, and chewed up until it doesn't mean anything anymore. It all just becomes more political fodder for the Right to win tactical points in 24-hour increments. Call it death on the installment plan. In the diseased and dysfunctional politics of contemporary America we can see how otherwise sensible people are tricked into fighting against their own interests.
From 1995 to 2007 the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives. Creepy men like Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and Jack Abramoff pillaged the treasury and bankrupted the nation while pretending to be more pious than the rest of us. Any criticism of Bush, we were scolded, was a criticism of "America"; to criticize the President in "war time" (even when he was prancing around in a Top Gun costume on an aircraft carrier) we were told was "unpatriotic" or downright "treasonous." This knee-jerk jingoism ruled the roost. Yet the moment Obama became president no criticism or accusation was out of bounds, "war time" or not.
Right now public schools, public parks, public health, and public safety are all being gutted before our eyes and the Democratic politicians at the local and national levels have thus far been powerless to stop any of it, and in many cases they have been its enablers and "bipartisan" co-conspirators. Even the previously sacrosanct "first responders" (police and firefighters) are being downsized, laid off, "furloughed," or forced out with early retirement. Look at Sacramento for instance, a Democratic city in a Democratic district in a Democratic state where Democratic constituencies are getting creamed. Where are the Democrats we elected who were supposed to stop the bleeding of the public sector?
While Obama was trying to play nice with Wall Street he allowed the Republican Right to blame our current economic catastrophe on public employees, Fannie and Freddie, unions, taxes, and regulations. The Democrats have already lost the 2010 midterm elections because they have already lost the narrative. And if they do lose big this November it will be because they appeared helpless to stop the draconian cuts in social programs that have eroded the quality of life at the state, county, and municipal levels, which are what people who vote in midterms are going to be thinking about the most. The Republicans didn't have to "nationalize" the midterm elections because this time around the "local" politics are playing out in their favor.
Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2010 - 18:07
SOURCE: The New Republic (9-6-10)
Once upon a time, The New Republic ran detailed, empathetic articles about the lives, ideas, and activism of American workers. “They seem easygoing, good-humored and straightforward Southerners,” wrote Edmund Wilson in a 1931 essay about the coal-miners of West Virginia, “so much in the old tradition of American backwoods independence that it is almost impossible to realize they have actually been reduced to the condition of serfs.” In 1966, Maury Maverick Jr. joined a mass march by Texas farmworkers that ended on Labor Day, on the steps of the state capitol building. Two of the Mexican-Americans in that throng, reported Maverick, planned to remain on those steps “to say the rosary eight hours a day, every day in the week until Governor [John] Connally and the legislature pass the $1.25 minimum wage.”
In recent decades, however, the magazine’s interest in the laboring population seems limited to union leaders who struggle to revive their movement and fail at the task. Take, for example, the archived articles by Jonathan Cohn and John B. Judis featured on the website this Labor Day. There were, of course, sound journalistic reasons to profile a new president of the AFL-CIO like John Sweeney or the head of the Teamsters Union (particularly if his name is James P. Hoffa Jr.) or the impact on unions of the rise of the Chinese manufacturing colossus....
Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2010 - 11:45
SOURCE: The Atlantic (9-3-10)
Is the 1995 decision of the Department of Justice, the Washington Post, and the New York Times to publish the Unabomber Manifesto coming home to roost? Yes, it may have saved lives by prompting Theodore Kaczynski's brother to investigate similar quirks of style and identify him to the FBI as a possible suspect. But it also set a dangerous precedent. Terrorism gets attention. When a mentally disturbed man, allegedly James J. Lee, tried to take hostages with threats of explosions at the Discovery Channel headquarters in suburban Maryland, only the gunman was killed, by a police sniper.
Of course the cases are different. Lee was anything but stealthy, announcing his protest to the world apparently peacefully before going over the edge. Theodore Kaczynski never published a rationale for his decades-long undercover terror campaign until 1995, when he unleashed a crisis in air transportation with new threats, resentful that the Oklahoma City bombing had upstaged him.
Most initial academic and popular reaction to the manifesto ranged from condescension to scorn. It seemed to be a mediocre imitation of radical environmental philosophers like the Norwegian Arne Naess, with some Frankfurt School pop psychology thrown in, a caricature of the self-hating academia. But it was easier to imprison Kacynski than to ignore his work. David Gelernter, seriously injured by one of his mail bombs and leading critic of media presentation of the Unabomber, castigated the media at the time, but to little avail....
Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2010 - 10:33
SOURCE: CS Monitor (9-3-10)
...[A]s the economy loses steam, and President Obama's poll numbers sag, the ultimate humiliation in this summer of Democratic discontent is to find Republicans trumpeting 2010 as "The Year of the Black Republicans."
This trend defies modern identity politics. In the 2008 election, 95 percent of black voters chose Obama. Yet the attraction between blacks and the Republican Party is not so strange as it seems.
For a century after emancipation in 1863, black voters routinely lined up behind the Republican Party as the party of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Republican presidents held open federal patronage appointments as virtually the only public offices open to Southern blacks during the Jim Crow decades. Republicans in Congress sponsored civil rights legislation in 1866, 1871, 1875, and 1957, plus the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill in 1918. In the 1930s, as New Deal Democrats began cultivating African-Americans, the Republican hold on African-American voters began to fracture. It broke down completely in the 1960s after Democratic President Lyndon Johnson endorsed the civil rights and voting rights legislation of 1964 and 1965. In 1964, 94 percent of black voters lined up behind Johnson, and every Democratic candidate since has enjoyed strong black support.
But today, many blacks have different hot-button issues: school choice, job creation, family values. And on these issues, black voters have not been well served by the Democratic leadership. After the 2004 presidential election, Democratic pollster Ron Lester warned that "there is a lot of compatibility and similarity between a lot of the positions that black folks take in terms of social issues and issues advocated by the Republicans."...
Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2010 - 10:09
SOURCE: NYT (9-5-10)
Jefferson Cowie, an associate professor of labor history at Cornell, is the author of “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class.”
TODAY we celebrate the American labor force, but this year’s working-class celebrity hero made his debut almost a month ago. Steven Slater, a flight attendant for JetBlue, ended his career by cursing at his passengers over the intercom and grabbing a couple of beers before sliding down the emergency-evacuation chute — and into popular history.
The press immediately drew parallels between Mr. Slater’s outburst and two iconic moments of 1970s popular culture: Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell” rant from the 1976 film “Network” and Johnny Paycheck’s 1977 anthem of alienation, “Take This Job and Shove It.”
But these are more than just parallels: those late ’70s events are part of the cultural foundation of our own time. Less expressions of rebellion than frustration, they mark the final days of a time when the working class actually mattered....
The overt class conflict of the late ’70s ended a while ago. Workers have learned to internalize and mask powerlessness, but the internal frustration and struggle remain. Any questions about quality of work life, the animating issue of 1970s unrest, have long since disappeared — despite the flat-lining of wages in the decades since. Today the concerns of the working class have less space in our civic imagination than at any time since the Industrial Revolution....
Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2010 - 08:25
SOURCE: National Review Online (9-2-10)
The post–Cold War New World Order is rapidly breaking apart. Nations are returning to the ancient passions, rivalries, and differences of past centuries.
Take Europe. The decades-old vision of a united pan-continental Europe without borders is dissolving. The cradle-to-grave welfare dream proved too expensive for Europe’s shrinking and aging population.
Cultural, linguistic, and economic divides between Germany and Greece, or Holland and Bulgaria, remain too wide to be bridged by fumbling bureaucrats in Brussels. NATO has devolved into a euphemism for American expeditionary forces.
Nationalism is returning, based on stronger common ties of language, history, religion, and culture. We are even seeing the return of a two-century-old European “problem”: a powerful Germany that logically seeks greater political influence commensurate with its undeniable economic superiority.
The tired Israeli-Palestinian fight over the future of the West Bank is no longer the nexus of Middle East tensions. The Muslim Arab world is now more terrified by the re-emergence of a bloc of old familiar non-Arabic, Islamic fundamentalist rivals....
How is America reacting to these back-to-the-future changes?
Politically divided, committed to two wars, in a deep recession, insolvent, and still stunned by the financial meltdown of 2008, our government seems paralyzed. As European socialism implodes, for some reason a new statist U.S. government wants to copy failure by taking over ever more of the economy and borrowing trillions more to provide additional entitlements.
As panicky old allies look for American protection, we talk of slashing our defense budget. In apologetic fashion, we spend more time appeasing confident enemies than buttressing worried friends.
Posted on: Friday, September 3, 2010 - 14:07