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 (11-8-10)
WHEN JOE Wurzelbacher, a.k.a “Joe the Plumber,” confronted Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign and criticized his tax plan, conservative pundits immediately used the encounter to raise questions about whether the Democratic candidate was a socialist. The actor John Voight wrote in the Washington Times that, “It seems to me that if Mr. Obama wins the presidential election, then Messrs. Farrakhan, Wright, Ayers, and Phleger will gain power for their need to demoralize this country and help create a socialist America.”
It was difficult for many Democrats to believe that the charges would stick. After all, Obama was anything but a socialist. Many liberals had been far more excited about the candidacy of Senator John Edwards because he was the only candidate willing to talk about issues like poverty and urban decline. If anything, Obama was more like Bill Clinton than Lyndon Johnson, part of a new generation of Democrats who were not invested in the orthodoxies of the 1960s....
Posted on: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 22:42
SOURCE: Dissent (11-8-10)
IF THE way to fight bad speech is with more speech, is the way to fight bad punditry with more punditry? Let me try. The Democrats’ drubbing on Tuesday has yielded the usual analyses, most of them, to paraphrase Mencken, simple, neat, and wrong: from the right comes the sneer that President Obama and the Democrats pushed an agenda that was too far to the left. The Left dangles the delusion that Obama tacked too far to the right. The center bloviates that this most gifted of communicators failed to sell his programs. These analyses misleadingly imply simple remedies: work with the Republicans, à la Clinton; boot the Blue Dogs and build a true progressive majority; rekindle a disillusioned electorate. All are easier said than done. One might as well tell Obama to get unemployment down to 6 percent. That would have done more for the Democrats this year than any of the above prescriptions.
I don’t purport to have a solution to the Democrats’ troubles, because there’s simply not much they can do. The problem lies mainly with the continuing fallout from the economic cataclysm of 2008. A robust jobs program, obstructed by the Republican minority of the 111th Congress, certainly won’t appear under the Republican majority of the 112th. The best we can hope for is some small steps, achieved through legislative trench warfare, that speed the sluggish recovery, and perhaps the Fed’s growing recognition that it too needs to do more....
Posted on: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 22:40
SOURCE: NYT (11-7-10)
I CAME to New York University in 1987 on a whim. The Thatcherite assault on British higher education was just beginning and even in Oxford the prospects were grim. N.Y.U. appealed to me: by no means a recent foundation — it was established in 1831 — it is nevertheless the junior of New York City’s great universities. Less of a “city on a hill,” it is more open to new directions: in contrast to the cloistered collegiate worlds of Oxbridge, it brazenly advertises itself as a “global” university at the heart of a world city....
I have lived in four such cities. London was the commercial and financial center of the world from the defeat of Napoleon until the rise of Hitler; Paris, its perennial competitor, was an international cultural magnet from the building of Versailles through the death of Albert Camus. Vienna’s apogee was perhaps the shortest: its rise and fall coincided with the last years of the Hapsburg Empire, though in intensity it outshone them all. And then came New York.
It has been my mixed fortune to experience these cities at twilight. In their prime they were arrogant and self-assured. In decline, their minor virtues come into focus: people spend less time telling you how fortunate you are to be there. Even at the height of “Swinging London” there was something brittle about the city’s self-promotion, as though it knew this was but an Indian summer....
Posted on: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 09:48
SOURCE: LA Times (11-7-10)
It's easy to suppose that the Republican wave will put President Obama on the defensive. But that would be a mistake. House Republicans may repeat then-Speaker Newt Gingrich's blunder and shut down the government, but their other weapons are distinctly small-bore. The new congressional committee chairmen will predictably launch investigations into real or imagined scandals, but this will cause political embarrassment, nothing more.
In contrast, presidents control a formidable arsenal that often permits them to act independently of Congress. They can take military action against Al Qaeda in Yemen or other places to preempt a terrorist attack, or invoke sweeping emergency measures if an attack succeeds.
They can also act unilaterally to transform domestic policy. This was impossible during the first 150 years of the republic. Until the New Deal, the president had no permanent staff. He governed through his Cabinet, largely composed of independent potentates who often resisted his demands. But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded Congress to give him six special assistants. Seventy years onward, these six have become 500, and presidents of both parties have vastly increased their powers.
President Clinton took it a decisive step further. Without gaining statutory permission, he authorized his staff to issue policy directives to the rest of the executive branch. After the Democrats lost Congress in 1994, Clinton used these new powers to maximum effect. He typically went into the pressroom himself to announce his staff's regulatory initiatives with great fanfare. By directing the bureaucracy to implement his program, he could make an end-run around Congress, but at a grave risk to the rule of law. As Elena Kagan put it when she was a Harvard law professor: "Presidents, more than agency officials acting independently, tend to push the envelope when interpreting statutes" — generating a tendency toward "lawlessness."
These regulatory power grabs were facilitated by another development that began in the Nixon administration...
Posted on: Monday, November 8, 2010 - 08:31
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (11-6-10)
We live in a mendocracy.
As in: rule by liars.
Political scientists are going crazy crunching the numbers to uncover the skeleton key to understanding the Republican victory last Tuesday.
But the only number that matters is the one demonstrating that by a two-to-one margin likely voters thought their taxes had gone up, when, for almost all of them, they had actually gone down. Republican politicians, and conservative commentators, told them Barack Obama was a tax-mad lunatic. They lied. The mainstream media did not do their job and correct them. The White House was too polite—"civil," just like Obama promised—to say much. So people believed the lie. From this all else follows....
When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins. When it becomes "uncivil" to call out liars, lying becomes free.
And dammit, the essence of Obamaism as an ideology is that it is Uncivil to Call Out Liars.
So you find him at a press conference, the day after the midterm elections, saying with all apparent sincerity that he agreed the majority of Americans participated in a "fundamental rejection of his agenda"—who, that is, implicitly believe he raised their taxes.
When he really lowered them.
Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2010 - 14:33
SOURCE: Gazette.net (MD) (11-5-10)
...[N]ever before in the history of the United States has such a sweeping victory by one political party elicited so little joy and such minimal expectations. The American voters rejected the leadership of the Democratic Party that controlled the presidency and both Houses of Congress....
Above all, this year voters repudiated the government of the United States. This is the third consecutive election in which the voters ousted the party in power. However, dissatisfaction with government extends more deeply into the American past.
According to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, at the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, some 78 percent of the American people trusted their government "most of the time." During the next 15 years, faith in government plunged steadily downhill and reached a low of just under 30 percent in the administration of President Jimmy Carter. From the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 through the first year of George W. Bush's presidency, trust in government fluctuated, but never exceeded 50 percent....
This repudiation of government reflects a paradox that is deeply engrained in our culture. Americans expect their government to provide tangible benefits such as old-age pensions, unemployment compensation, disaster relief, border security and protection from foreign threats. They expect their government to ensure a prosperous, steadily growing, full-employment economy. Some even expect government to enforce standards of personal morality. Yet, Americans also cling tenaciously to contradictory traditions of self-help, limited government and fiscal responsibility....
Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2010 - 14:20
SOURCE: Dissident Voice (11-5-10)
Jeff Huber on Antiwar.com wrote Monday about the Yemeni toner cartridge bomb story: “…if there’s a single substantiated syllable in that entire narrative, I have yet to encounter it in the New York Times. In a series of articles from 29, 30, and 31 October, our newspaper of tarnished record created enough cognitive dissonance to drive the Dalai Lama to a therapist’s couch.” I think that a bit of an exaggeration, but what have the NYT and other mainstream press organs told us?
On Thursday, October 28, intelligence officials in Saudi Arabia informed U.S. intelligence officials that UPS and FedEx packages carrying explosives had been mailed from Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, to Chicago via two airplanes. They provided the tracking numbers. (It was later revealed that they acted on a tip from a former member of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP. He was subsequently identified by AP as Jabir al-Fayti, a Saudi national.) The UPS cargo plane stopped in Qatar, then Dubai, where local officials quickly discovered the device inside a Hewett-Packard printer. The FedEx cargo plane stopped at East Midlands Airport in England, where the other bomb was found. At 10:45 President Obama was briefed about the situation.
On Friday, cargo planes arriving in Philadelphia and Newark were searched, and in Brooklyn a UPS truck was stopped and inspected. No bombs or explosives were found. Meanwhile U.S. and Canadian fighter jets accompanied a passenger flight from the United Arab Emirates to New York, where the aircraft was searched. Nothing suspicious was found here either. In the afternoon Obama made a statement from the White House, praising U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials and declaring, “The events of the past 24 hours underscores the necessity of remaining vigilant against terrorism. The American people should be confidant that we will not waver in our resolve to defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates and to root out violent extremism in all its forms.” He added that the packages had been mailed to “specifically two places of Jewish worship in Chicago.”...
Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2010 - 14:17
SOURCE: Mmegi Online (11-7-10)
Other countries, such as Greece, needed to have a full-blown crisis in order to prompt such adjustment measures, whereas Britain was acting prudently and preemptively. If Britain, with a relatively low share of public debt to GDP (64.6%) is worried, the implication is that many other countries should be much more concerned.
But drastic attempts at fiscal consolidation immediately evoke memories of the Great Depression. Andrew Mellon, the United States Treasury Secretary at the time, talked about liquidating workers, farmers, stocks, and real estate in order "to purge the rottenness out of the system." In Britain back then, Philip Snowden, a small man with a narrow, pinched face, who needed a cane to walk, seemed to want to remake the British economy in his physical image.
Given these historical analogies, a slew of heavyweight Keynesian critics are warning that the world is about to repeat all the disasters caused by bad fiscal policy in the 1930's. But this interpretation of the Great Depression, common though it is, is misguided.
In the first place, the critics get their history wrong. US President Herbert Hoover's administration did not initially respond to the depression by emphasising the need for fiscal austerity. On the contrary, Hoover and other figures argued in a perfectly modern, Keynesian fashion that large-scale public-works programmes were needed to pull the economy out of the trough....
Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2010 - 14:16
SOURCE: PBS (11-5-10)
Immediately after the 2010 midterm elections, the National Right to Life Committee declared the results a victory for the pro-life cause, claiming that 65 seats in Congress had switched from pro-choice to pro-life. The Family Research Council likewise declared that voters had soundly rejected President Barack Obama’s efforts to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Voters in Iowa recalled three state Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Across the nation, Christian conservatives claimed victories for their cultural causes after seeing Tuesday’s election results. Why, then, did most of the media—and the Republican Party leadership—say so little about religion in the election analysis?
Republicans gave the public the impression that the party was ignoring social issues in this election cycle because they knew that they could win without relying on the so-called “wedge issues” that are popular with a component of their base but that have the potential to alienate a broader electorate. Nearly 40 percent of Republican voters are conservative evangelicals who can be mobilized on cultural issues, but the GOP risks alienating moderates and independents by emphasizing the Christian right’s positions on gay rights and abortion. John McCain, for instance, increased his support among Christian right activists by choosing the conservative evangelical Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, but the choice cost him support among moderates....
Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2010 - 14:14
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (11-7-10)
This somewhat awkward phrase is, to my mind, the best description of the emotional and moral impact of Wikileak's release of 400,000 classified US military documents.
In the wake of the GOP "landslide" in the US midterm elections, most commentators have moved on from this all-too-troubling and familiar story. But their doing so only reinforces the basic problems that the release of the documents has revealed - an almost brazen disregard for reality and willingness to ignore the lessons of history for political expediency and economic and strategic gain.
And Barack Obama's post-election "move to the centre" and unwillingness to face the core systemic issues that helped lead to this electoral debacle will only strengthen the Republicans and diminish further the US' global standing....
Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2010 - 14:01
SOURCE: NYT (11-7-10)
SO we have had three “wave” elections in a row: control of both chambers of Congress changed hands in 2006, as did the presidency in 2008, and the House flipped back to Republican domination last week. All this apparently incoherent back-and-forth has left the political class reeling and set the commentariat aflutter.
Explanations for our current political volatility abound: toxic partisanship, the ever more fragmented and strident news media, high unemployment, economic upheaval and the clamorous upwelling of inchoate populist angst.
But the political instability of our own time pales when compared with the late 19th century. In the Gilded Age the American ship of state pitched and yawed on a howling sea of electoral turbulence. For decades on end, “divided government” was the norm. In only 12 of the 30 years after 1870 did the same party control the House, the Senate and the White House....
Posted on: Sunday, November 7, 2010 - 10:36
SOURCE: WSJ (11-5-10)
Great Britain desperately needed to sign a 50-year defense pact with a close ally to protect her dwindling military resources and retain the power to project force in the world. A comprehensive deal with a key, trustworthy partner involving nuclear intelligence, aircraft carriers, joint expeditionary forces, satellite communications, cyber-warfare capabilities, and air-to-air refueling and drone technologies has been badly needed given Britain's vicious defense cuts. The Anglo-French Pact that was signed on Tuesday covers all these areas and more. The only problem is that it was signed with the wrong country.
Just as it did diplomatically at the time of the original Entente Cordiale in 1904, Britain has managed to tie herself into a comprehensive arrangement with a power that is declining militarily even faster than herself. France spends less on defense even than Britain, has only one aircraft carrier to Britain's two, has at best a revolving-door relationship with NATO's integrated military structure, failed dismally at its last serious military endeavor (Bosnia, where it effectively sided with the Serbs), contributes far smaller forces in Afghanistan than Britain despite having a larger army, and tried to prevent the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. (It was General Schwarzkopf who remarked that "Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without an accordion.")
Only two years ago, a leaked French government document stated that "most" of France's tanks, helicopters and jet fighters were unusable and its defense capabilities were "falling apart." Yet this is the nation that the British government has chosen to hitch itself to for the next half-century, in a world in which Russia has adopted a 65% increase in its defense budget over three years and is building six new nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and eight ballistic missile submarines, while China is creating a new generation of submarines, stealth aircraft, long-range surface-to-air missiles and guided intermediate-range ballistic missiles...
Posted on: Friday, November 5, 2010 - 18:58
SOURCE: Huffington Post (11-3-10)
Yesterday, we went to the polls and cast our votes. The act of voting reassures us that we still live in a democracy. This is true in name only. For we are not a democracy; not even a republic. We are an empire.
The imperial reality is there to see. Bloated government bureaucracies. A "defense" establishment that continues to grow like topsy. Multinational corporations that we celebrate and empower as our First Citizens. Poisoned political rhetoric that dissuades people from voting. An undereducated populace consumed by real cares and distracted by phony entertainment.
We're offered a simulacrum of "choice" (Democrats vs. Republicans), where in reality both parties are in thrall to elite interests (partly because politicians themselves are either in the elite, or they want to be in the elite). "Choice" yesterday often devolved to whether we wanted to drink Budweiser (the Republican brew) or Bud Lite (the Obama brew). Tired of the watered down, "Lite" version, this time many voters opted for the Republican brew.
A few people saw beyond the simulacrum and voted for what amounts to political micro-brews (Green, Libertarian, what have you). But the two major parties have a lock on the marketplace - they dominate commercial advertising and state propaganda, the levers of governmental power, the entire electoral process - so they continue to promote a product that most of us are more or less willing to buy (it's easier, after all, than making your own home brew).
How do we restore true choice? Put differently, how do we return to the (imperfect) republic that we once were, instead of continuing down the imperial road that we're on? How do we pivot before we plummet off of the precipice?
For make no mistake: We are on an imperial road. Whichever major party controls Congress, we act globally to protect selfish needs and to advance selfish agendas. As a nation, we've allowed our citizen-soldier militias to morph into professional legions and private mercenary forces that fight wars on our imperial periphery. Meanwhile, we're distracted from war's costs and results by "bread and circuses" reminiscent of Imperial Rome, our version being fast food and even faster (and more forgettable) entertainment.
A nation that fails to provide affordable health care and adequate education to all, even as it throws away trillions of dollars on unwinnable wars, is a nation on a road to irrelevance. On some level, I think we know this. Maybe that's why we need so much patriotic pageantry - so many huge flags spread across baseball fields, so many renditions of "God Bless America" echoing in our coliseums - as compensation for our sense of unease.
So, what's in our future? A revolution by the people in the name of greater liberty, equality, and fraternity? Not bloody likely, given our collective passivity. A fascist takeover? Also not likely, because it's not necessary: The elites are already in control.
What we need are radical critiques followed by radical change. But we won't get there with a president and with Progressives adrift, hopelessly triangulating toward the center, in the spirit of "cooperation" and "bipartisanship" with a newly Republican House.
So here's my message: We need the courage of our convictions. Feeble accommodation and feckless triangulation toward the Center-Right will only empower greater extremism - and even more debilitating versions of imperialism.
And that's not what I voted for yesterday.
Posted on: Friday, November 5, 2010 - 12:35
SOURCE: TomDispatch (11-1-10)
[William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. His books and articles focus mainly on the military, technology, and society]
A new isolationism is metastasizing in the American body politic. At its heart lies not an urge to avoid war, but an urge to avoid contemplating the costs and realities of war. It sees war as having analgesic qualities -- as lessening a collective feeling of impotence, a collective sense of fear and terror. Making war in the name of reducing terror serves this state of mind and helps to preserve it. Marked by a calculated estrangement from war’s horrific realities and mercenary purposes, the new isolationism magically turns an historic term on its head, for it keeps us in wars, rather than out of them.
Old-style American isolationism had everything to do with avoiding “entangling alliances” and conflicts abroad. It was tied to America’s historic tradition of rejecting a large standing army -- a tradition in which many Americans took pride. Yes, we signed on to World War I in 1917, but only after we had been “too proud to fight.” Even when we joined, we did so as a non-aligned power with the goal of ending major wars altogether. Before Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Americans again resisted the call to arms, looking upon Hitler’s rise and other unnerving events in Europe and Asia with alarm, but with little eagerness to send American boys into yet another global bloodbath.
In the decades since World War II, however, “isolationism” has been turned inside-out and upside-down. Instead of seeking eternal peace, Washington elites have, by now, plunged the country into a state of eternal war, and they’ve done so, in part, by isolating ordinary Americans from war’s brutal realities. With rare exceptions (notably John F. Kennedy’s call for young Americans to pay any price and bear any burden), our elites have not sought to mobilize a new “greatest generation,” but rather to keep a clueless one -- clueless, that is, as to war’s fatal costs and bitter realities -- unmobilized (if not immobilized).
Such national obliviousness has not gone unnoticed. In a recent New York Timesop-ed headlined “The Wars that America Forgot About,” former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw asked the obvious question: Why, in an otherwise contentious political season, have our wars gone so utterly undebated? His answers -- that we’re in a recession in which people have more pressing concerns, and that we’ve restricted the burdens of war to a tiny minority -- are sensible, but don’t go quite far enough. It’s important to add that few Americans are debating, or even discussing, our wars in part because our ruling elites haven’t wanted them debated -- as if they don’t want us to get the idea that we have any say in war-making at all.
Think of it this way: the old isolationism was a peaceable urge basic to the American people; the new isolationism is little short of a government program to keep the old isolationism, or opposition of any sort to American wars, in check.
Americans Express Skepticism about War… So?
When you’re kept isolated from war’s costs, it’s nearly impossible to mount an effective opposition to them. While our elites, remembering the Vietnam years, may have sought to remove U.S. public opinion from the enemy’s target list, they have also worked hard to remove the public as a constraint on their war-making powers. Recall former Vice President Dick Cheney’s dismissive “So?” when asked about opinion polls showing declining public support for the Iraq War in 2008. So what if the American people are uneasy? The elites can always call on a professional, non-draft military, augmented by hordes of privatized hire-a-gun outfits, themselves so isolated from society at large that they’ve almost become the equivalent of foreign legionnaires. These same elites encourage us to “support our troops,” but otherwise to look away.
Mainstream media coverage of our wars has only added to the cocoon created by the new isolationism. After all, it rarely addresses the full costs of those conflicts to U.S. troops (including their redeployment to war zones, even when already traumatized), let alone to foreign non-combatants in faraway Muslim lands. When such civilians are killed, their deaths tend to take place under the media radar. “If it bleeds, it doesn’t lead,” could be a news motto for much of recent war coverage, especially if the bleeding is done by civilians.
To end our wars, we must first endure their Gorgon stare.
Only the recent release of classified documents and videos by WikiLeaks, for instance, has forced our media to bring the mind-numbing body count we’ve amassed in Iraq out of the closet. If nothing else, WikiLeaks has succeeded in reminding us of the impact of our vastly superior firepower, as in a now infamous video of an Apache helicopter gunship firing on non-combatants in the streets of Baghdad. Such footage is, of course, all-too-personal, all-too-real. Small wonder it was shown in a censored form on CNN.
Where’s the benefit, after all, for corporate-owned media in showcasing others’ terror and pain, especially if it’s inflicted by “America’s hometown heroes”? Our regular export of large-scale violence (including a thriving trade in the potential for violence via our hammerlock on the global arms trade) is not something Americans or the American media have cared to scrutinize.
To cite two more willful blind spots: Can the average American say roughly how many Iraqis were killed or wounded in our “liberation” of their country and the mayhem that followed? In mid-October, U.S. Central Command quietly released a distinctly lowball estimate of 200,000 Iraqi casualties (including 77,000 killed) from January 2004 to August 2008. That estimate (lower by 30,000 than the one compiled by official Iraqi sources) did not include casualties from major combat operations in 2003, nor of course did it have any place for the millions of refugees driven from their homes in the sectarian violence that followed. The recent WikiLeaks document dump on Iraq held at least another 15,000 unacknowledged Iraqi dead, and serious studies of the casualty toll often suggest the real numbers are hundreds of thousands higher.
Or how about the attitudes of those living in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan subject to the recent upsurge of U.S. drone strikes? Given the way our robotic wars are written about here, could most Americans imagine what it feels like to be on the receiving end of Zeus-like lightning bolts?
Here’s what one farmer in North Waziristan in the Pakistani tribal borderlands had to say: “I blame the government of Pakistan and the USA… they are responsible for destroying my family. We were living a happy life and I didn’t have any links with the Taliban. My family members were innocent… I wonder, why was I victimized?”
Would an American farmer wonder anything different? Would he not seek vengeance if errant missiles obliterated his family? It’s hard, however, for Americans to grasp the nature of the wars being fought in their name, no less to express sympathy for their victims when they are kept in a state of striking isolation from war’s horrors.
Once upon a time, America’s Global War on Terror was an analgesic. Recall those “shock and awe” images of explosions that marked the opening days of Iraqi combat operations in 2003. Recall as well all the colorful maps, the glamorous weapons systems, and the glowering faces of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein interpreted and explained to us on our TV screens by retired U.S. military officers in mufti. In this curiously sanitized version of war, weapons and other military arcana were to serve to ease our pain at the tragedy we had suffered on 9/11, while obscuring the “towers” of dead we were creating in other lands.
In fostering analgesic war and insisting on information control, our elites have, yet again, drawn a mistaken lesson from the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, even if it took years, free-to-roam and often skeptical reporters finally began to question the official story of the war. Violent images came home to roost in American living rooms at dinnertime. Such coverage may not have stopped the killing, at least not right away, but it did contribute to a gutsy antiwar movement, as well as to a restive “silent majority” that increasingly rejected official rhetoric of falling dominoes and lights at the end of tunnels.
Iraq and Afghanistan, by way of contrast, have been characterized by embedded (mostly cheerleading) reporters and banal images of U.S. troops on patrol or firing weapons at unseen targets. Clear admissions that our firepower-intensive form of warfare leads to the violent deaths of many more of “them” than of “us” -- and that many of them aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, our enemies -- are seldom forthcoming. (An exception was former Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal’s uncommonly harsh assessment of checkpoint casualties:"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.")
“We don’t do body counts on other people,” said a cocky Donald Rumsfeld late in 2003 and, even though it wasn’t true (the Pentagon just kept its body counts to itself), an obliging Pentagon press corps generally fell into line and generally stayed there long after our new wars had lost their feel-good sheen. Clearly, military and political elites learned it’s better (for them, at least) to keep vivid images of death and destruction off America’s screens. Ironically, even as Americans seek more lifelike and visceral representations from ever bigger, brighter, high-def TVs, war is presented in carefully sanitized low-def form, largely drained of blood and violence.
The result? Uncomfortable questions about our wars rarely get asked, let alone aired. A boon to those who want to continue those wars unmolested by public opposition, even if a bust when it comes to pursuing a sensible global strategy that’s truly in the national interest. In seeking to isolate the public from any sense of significant sacrifice, active participation in, or even understanding of America’s wars, these same elites have ensured that the conflicts they pursued would be strategically unsound and morally untenable.
Today, Americans are again an isolationist people, but with a twist. Even as we expand our military bases overseas and spend trillions on national security and wars, we’ve isolated ourselves from war’s passions, its savagery, its heartrending sacrifices. Such isolation comforts some and seemingly allows others free rein to act as they wish, but it’s a false comfort, a false freedom, purchased at the price of prolonging our wars, increasing their casualties, abridging our freedoms, and eroding our country’s standing in the world.
Posted on: Friday, November 5, 2010 - 12:35
SOURCE: Alternet (11-4-10)
In the wake of the election, progressive movements and their members are debating what went wrong. Some say the media amplified the bizarre statements of the Tea Party. Still others argue that Obama didn’t offer sufficient leadership or remind us what he had actually achieved during his first 18 months in office. Many blame no one, knowing that midterm elections bring a backlash, regardless of who is in power.
All of these are basically true. But something gets lost in this wringing of hands or resigned acceptance of inevitable defeat. Barack Obama ignited a hope for change and then squandered the opportunity -- right in the middle of high unemployment, terrible economic anxiety, and widespread fear of a declining America -- to hold tightly to the terms of debate that vaulted him to power and might have resulted in many fewer Democratic losses.
But he is not alone. Progressives all over the country sat back for 18 months without pushing him to guard those terms of debate, namely those of equality, fairness, decency, and a society that must depend on the state to protect the poor and the vulnerable. During his presidency, FDR confided to unions and progressive activists that they had to “force” him to do things that would be politically unacceptable. Progressives didn’t do that during the last eighteen months. Had they pushed much, much harder, we might have kept more people in their homes, and had a national jobs program that would have softened the terror of having no livelihood.
It is true that Obama faced an obstructionist Republican Senate minority. But he would have changed the terms of debate if he had allowed Republicans to filibuster and read telephone books for two weeks over the question of taxes. Imagine the spectacle. Americans would have perked up their ears, a new national conversation could have eclipsed the Tea Party, and many people would have agreed that the wealthy didn’t need tax cuts and that they should expire.
History reminds us that any social movement that changes the terms of debate will eventually change the national conversation....
Posted on: Friday, November 5, 2010 - 10:24
SOURCE: Politico (11-4-10)
Regardless of how many seats change hands in the election, one result is already clear: The tea party movement will, for the immediate future, influence the direction of the Republican Party.
This is not to suggest that the tea party is likely to become the party’s principal voice or even have a long-term impact on the GOP’s policy initiatives and candidates. But, in the short run, its current popularity and enthusiasm are an irresistible force driving the Republicans further to the right — especially on issues such as cutting taxes and reducing government’s role in the economy and in social programs like the Obama administration’s health care reforms.
The historical parallels are compelling. When grass-roots discontent from farmers and laborers suffering in the 1893 depression ignited a Populist Party in the South and the West, demanding “radical” economic and social reforms, William Jennings Bryan, their charismatic spokesman, was able to overwhelm the Democratic Party establishment and capture the presidential nomination in 1896 and 1900. But even though Bryan received more than 6 million of 13.5 million votes in both elections, he never came close to winning the White House....
Posted on: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 18:00
SOURCE: Time.com (11-15-10)
Is China making an unprecedented leap to the top of the global economic hierarchy? Yes, Martin Jacques asserts confidently in his buzz-generating When China Rules the World. He sees the country, which recently passed Japan to become the world's No. 2 economy, rising smoothly to the top spot by continuing to follow a thoroughly distinctive, Confucian-tinged development path. No, say China skeptics like economist John Markin and hedge-fund honcho James Chanos, with equal self-assurance. They predict that bursting bubbles will lead to a Chinese equivalent to Japan's "lost decade" of the 1990s. To them, as George Friedman pithily puts it in his best-selling The Next 100 Years, which is sometimes displayed near Jacques' tome in airport bookstores these days, China is just "Japan on steroids."
While we're too aware of how regularly — and speedily — bold forecasts about China are proved wrong to offer one of our own, our research into 19th century America and contemporary China, respectively, leads us to flag a third possibility: China could stumble but keep climbing upward, much like the U.S. did about a century and a half ago. We find today's China less reminiscent of Japan in the 1980s than it is of the U.S. in the 1850s....
The U.S. was then, as China is now, a predominantly rural country undergoing a massive shift toward an urban, industrial economy. By the 1850s, the U.S. was en route to becoming the workshop of the world, rapidly churning out cheap yet high-quality textiles, clocks, guns and other goods. The British dubbed this miracle the "American system of manufactures," and it became the envy of the world. Much as China's capacity for producing seemingly endless quantities of cheap goods is now earning it the ire and admiration of other countries....
Posted on: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 17:44
SOURCE: Politico (11-4-10)
In the aftermath of the massive Democratic losses on Election Day, the tea party movements have proved that their efforts made a significant contribution to the Republican victories. Though only a few true tea party candidates were actually elected — most prominently Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida — there can be no doubt that the movement’s energy and anger were perhaps the crucial factor.
President Barack Obama worked hard in the last weeks of the campaign. But his message was — as it has been for many months — without much passion and without much impact. It is not surprising that Obama did little to mobilize the right. What is surprising is how little his campaigning mobilized his own constituency. This leaves Democrats with the question of how to go forward in the face not only of defeat but of discouragement.
It is in times like these that a leader is most needed, and Obama is the only option. What can he learn from the challenges — and successes — of his predecessors?
Seventy-six years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt found himself confronted with a tea party of his own. He was two years into his presidency and six years into the Great Depression. Unemployment was close to 20 percent, and the unprecedented efforts to provide relief to the jobless were far from enough to make a real difference. Roosevelt’s great experiment in economic reform — the ambitious National Recovery Administration — was floundering. He had significant achievements, to be sure. FDR had shored up a tottering banking system, passed important financial reform, stabilized the agricultural economy and launched a bold public works program. But he also faced challenges by a bewildering number of protest movements that seemed to threaten his presidency.
Huey Long, the former governor of Louisiana and, by 1934, a senator, was leading an improbable movement to redistribute wealth. “Share Our Wealth” attracted broad support across much of the country with Long’s promise to guarantee every family $5,000 in wealth and annual income of $2,000 to $2,500 a year — funded by confiscatory taxes on the rich....
Posted on: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 15:35
SOURCE: Seattle Times (12-31-69)
NOW that the midterm elections are over, we can better grapple with the true costs of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission and the immediate outpouring of cash that shaped the elections' outcome.
The 2010 decision determined that corporations and labor unions are entitled to free speech protection under the First Amendment.
Skeptics following the Citizens United decision suggested the only thing corporations cannot do now is vote, but perhaps the effectiveness of their spending suggests that, indeed, they have found a way to vote by buying enough airtime to make impossible meaningful discussions about candidates and policies. In effect, they determine what opinions can be heard....
Posted on: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 15:33
SOURCE: Huffington Post (11-4-10)
Democrats are still absorbing the electoral drubbing they suffered at the polls this week. As the New York Times reported, nearly every congressional district in America voted more Republican in 2010 than in 2008. Republicans rode a wave of well-financed and carefully orchestrated (but no less genuine) public anger at a struggling economy that shows little signs of improving. Gleeful conservative pundits are already predicting that the election marked the beginning of the end of the Obama presidency. Dispirited Democrats worry they may be right.
But are they?
The Republican victory of 60 seats in the House ranks with other midterm landslides in 1938, 1946, and 1994. Each time, the incumbent Democratic president went on to win two years later -- Roosevelt secured a third term in 1940, Truman won in 1948, and Bill Clinton went on to defeat Bob Dole in 1996. Historical contingencies played a role in the comebacks.The mobilization for war boosted FDR, and a lackluster and overconfident Thomas Dewey played into Truman's no-holds-barred campaign strategy in 1948. Newt Gingrich's self-inflected wounds made Clinton's job easier. All three were helped by an improving economy.
The 1994 midterm election may be the most relevant, however, and it may suggest a possible strategy for Obama to regain the lost momentum of his presidency. Then, as now, the fight for ultimate control in Washington over will be over the budget.
For the the next few days and weeks, both sides will play nice, mouthing all the appropriate words about "reaching across the aisle" and seeking "genuine bipartisanship." In reality, they will be maneuvering, positioning themselves for the big prize in 2012. The presumptive new speaker, John Boehner, may be more inclined to bipartisanship than the fiery Newt Gingrich, but he will be under enormous pressure to improve the party's chances to gain the White House in the next election. Making deals, and blurring the ideological lines separating the two parties, is not a recipe for winning presidential elections.
The stage is set for an intense ideological battle. The real test will come next year when House Republicans are forced to produce their own budget. During the campaign, GOP candidates made vague and contradictory promises to cut taxes and reduce the deficit while protecting popular middle class entitlement programs such as social security and medicare. As nearly every economist will tell you, the math doesn't add up. It is politically attractive, but mathematically impossible to cut taxes, reduce the deficit and leave social security and medicare intact. In drawing up their budget, House Republicans will need to make tough, and politically painful, choices.
The process itself promises to be messy, exposing the deep divisions within the party. The post-Reagan Republican party is divided into two groups: those who cling to the supply-side notion that cutting taxes will solve most economic problems; and those who believe that cutting spending and balancing the budget should be the top priority. Social conservatives add another combustible element to the mix.
Finding some common ground will involve patience and compromise. But compromise is not high on the agenda for most of the new class of 2010. They are not going to Washington to make deals. Like their counterparts in the "class of 1994," they are more ideological, less willing to engage in the backroom horse-trading needed to reach deals and get legislation passed.
Even if Republicans can reach consensus on the budget, the final product will be vulnerable to attack. Until now, Obama has been fighting against a poll-tested Republican mirage. Beginning next year, even before he has an opponent, he will have issues. If House Republicans fail to take aggressive steps to balance the budget they will appear hypocritical; if they cut sensitive middle class entitlement programs, while also reducing taxes on the rich, they will be labeled as heartless.
There is a much bigger problem confronting the Republicans. It has to do with their simple-minded view of how Americans view government. Many years ago two political scientists observed that Americans are philosophically conservative but operationally liberal. A belief in small government and low taxes is a part of our DNA. But especially in the days since the New Deal, we have also come to expect the federal government to solve many of our problems. This contradiction manifests itself in numerous ways. Any benefit that you receive from Washington is considered a God-earned right; the money someone else gets is called waste and fraud. Many older Americans are happy to cash their social security checks while fretting about the threat of creeping socialism. Its not that we are hypocritical; we are just conflicted.
Republicans seem to appreciate only the "small government" side of the equation, which works better as a campaign strategy than as a governing philosophy. In the budget battles of 1995, Gingrich never questioned his "mandate" to balance the budget and reduce taxes on the wealthy, even if it meant cutting the rate of growth in medicare spending. President Clinton responded by brilliantly co-opted the rhetoric of limited government, while positioning himself as the defender of the middle class social programs. Instead of ignoring the contradiction, Clinton embraced it.
Eventually, Gingrich learned his lesson, moved toward the center, and worked with the Clinton White House to pass important legislation. But it took two politically costly government shutdowns to purge some, but not all, of the House Republicans of their hubris.
In 2010, Republicans appear poised to repeat the mistakes of the 1990s. The question is: Will Obama be tactile enough to use it to his advantage?
Posted on: Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 15:11