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: CNN.com (12-13-10)
Somewhere in Texas, former President George W. Bush must be smiling. When President Obama and the Republican leadership reached a deal on extending all of the Bush tax cuts, including a generous exemption for estate taxes, the current president ratified a key policy from the former administration.
While Obama ran as the candidate who would fight to overturn Bush's record, a huge number of his policies remain in place.
This says a lot about President Bush. One of the key measures that we have to evaluate the success of a president is not simply how many of his proposals pass through Congress but also how many of his policies outlast his time in office. Many of Franklin D. Roosevelt's programs, including Social Security and the Wagner Act, survive into our time.
Though Harry Truman ended his term with his approval ratings in the tank, most of his key national security programs would define America's Cold War policies through the fall of the Soviet Union decades later. Lyndon Johnson pushed a host of policies such as Medicare and federal aid to education that survived the conservative revolution.
Thus far, President Bush has been doing well on that score....
Posted on: Monday, December 13, 2010 - 13:17
SOURCE: NYT (12-12-10)
LAST winter, the Department of the Interior issued regulations for the disposition of ancient American Indian remains and funerary objects that cannot be affiliated with modern tribes. Unfortunately, these new rules will destroy a crucial source of knowledge about North American history and halt a dialogue between scientists and Indian tribes that has been harmonious and enlightening.
The new regulations help carry out the 20-year-old Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law that was devised by tribes, scientists and museum officials. It was a compromise between the tribes’ sensitivity to having the remains of their ancestors excavated and analyzed and the archaeologists’ desire to learn what bones can reveal about ancient peoples’ diet, health, migration patterns, marriage practices and so on....
This was a welcome development, because relations between them had been touchy, at best. Many American Indians had questioned the need for research on their ancestors’ bones, and considered archaeological digs to be insulting, or simple theft. Tensions were often high. I still recall the moment in 1979, when I was starting out in archaeology, that two young Paiute men approached me in a bar in Fallon, Nev., flashing knives, and warned me not to “dig up” their grandfather....
Posted on: Monday, December 13, 2010 - 10:47
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (12-9-10)
It might not afford much solace for Hillary Clinton as she tries to minimize the appalling damage done by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, but much the same thing happened to the British Empire at the height of its power and prestige in 1878, and that incident could provide a way forward for her, should she have the magisterial self-confidence to take it.
The sheer rudeness of several of the WikiLeaks cables may be excruciatingly embarrassing for all the people involved, but that is the way most countries’ diplomats talk when they don’t think anyone’s listening. The greatest British ambassadors of the Victorian age—such as Sir William White in Constantinople, Lord Dufferin in St. Petersburg, and Lord Lytton in Paris—could be immensely caustic in their private reports back home. In the days before “joined up government” and electronic communication, they were very unlikely to be caught out. “The Tsar is stupid,” the Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury wrote to the British ambassador in Vienna in 1885, “Prince Bismarck’s nerves have become a little excitable, and there is a dark uncertain future which creates a constant state of inchoate panic.” Good relations with Russia and Germany would have been deeply compromised if any of his hundreds of remarks of that nature had ever been made public, or even his milder statement about the Russian Foreign Minister Gortschakov, that: “If some kindly fit of gout were to take him off we would move much faster.”...
Posted on: Friday, December 10, 2010 - 12:25
SOURCE: Salon (12-10-10)
With public attention focused on President Obama's compromise with Republican leaders to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, there has been less discussion about a feature of the deal that could have enormous long-term consequences: the payroll tax holiday.
Under the plan, which still must be approved by the House and Senate, the payroll tax would be cut by 2 percentage points for all wage-earners -- meaning that a worker making $40,000 would receive an extra $800 in his or her paycheck over the course of a year. The White House and its defenders are touting this as a way to boost the stalled economy, and it might just do that. But they're also playing with fire....
A key reason for the program's strength has been the sanctity of the Social Security tax, which has been treated as a special tax, distinct from income and corporate taxes, on the grounds that it is linked to a specific government benefit. Every year, Congress uses the funds collected from payroll tax contributions of workers to pay for the benefits of current retirees. "With those damn taxes in there," Franklin Roosevelt once declared, "no damn politician will ever scrap my Social Security program."...
But this time the situation appears to be different. President Obama and the congressional Republicans agreed to break with this precedent. In the future, proposals to further cut Social Security taxes -- including to do so on a permanent basis -- will certainly be on the table. Once politicians have tasted the political sweetness of tax cuts, they always come back for more. If they succeed, it will worsen the long-term budgetary challenges facing Social Security and create more room for opponents to attack. Indeed, simply by entering into a bipartisan agreement to change the way that Social Security taxes are discussed, the odds improve that one day, some politician might very well be able to scrap FDR's program.
Posted on: Friday, December 10, 2010 - 11:40
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (12-8-10)
...Many comparisons between Lincoln and Obama have no historical merit. One that has validity is that both made their national reputations through oratory rather than long careers of public service. Lincoln held no public office between 1849 and his election. Obama served briefly in the Illinois legislature and US Senate, but had no significant legislative accomplishment. It was speeches – of considerable eloquence and moral power – that propelled both into the national spotlight.
Obama's rather petulant response to liberal critics of his tax deal, however, reveals a fundamental difference between the two men. Obama accuses liberals of being sanctimonious purists, more interested in staking out a principled position than getting things accomplished. Lincoln, too, faced critics on the left of his own party. Abolitionists, who agitated outside the political system, and Radical Republicans, who represented the abolitionist sensibility in politics, frequently criticised Lincoln for what they saw as his slowness in attacking slavery during the civil war. In 1864, one group of Radicals even sought to replace Lincoln with their own candidate, John C Frémont.
Lincoln, however, was openminded, intellectually curious and willing to listen to critics in his own party – qualities Obama appears to lack....
Posted on: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 16:32
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (12-9-10)
For professional historians the publication of the vast trove of diplomatic cables is a bittersweet affair.
No one outside of the Washington establishment and the myriad foreign leaders shamed by revelations of their penchant for hatred, hubris and pedestrian peccadillos can seriously argue that the release of these classified documents has done anything but good for the cause of peace and political transparency.
Whether about Iraq, Afghanistan, or the minuate of American diplomacy, they have shed crucial light on some of the most important issues of the day and will make it much harder for Western or Middle Eastern governments to lie to their people about so many aspects of the various wars on/of terror in the future.
Indeed, if there's anyone who deserves the next Nobel Peace Prize more than the courageous American soldier, Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have given the documents to Wikileaks in the first place, I'd like to know.
At the very least, given what a mockery President Obama has made of the principles for which the prize is supposed to stand - evidence of which, like pressuring Spain to drop criminal investigations into Bush administration torture, have only come to light thanks to the latest WikiLeaks release - the Nobel Committee should demand his medal back and give it to Manning or whoever the leaker is....
Posted on: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 13:14
SOURCE: National Review (12-6-10)
Julian Assange, the public face of WikiLeaks, is, among many things, cowardly. Courageousness would involve meeting with Iranian dissidents, Russian journalists, Pakistani Christians, or Chinese human-rights activists — and then releasing any confidential information that they might have about the torment institutionalized by their countries’ authoritarian regimes. That would be risky to Assange, however, since such governments do not customarily go to court against their leakers; they gulag them — or liquidate them.
So, instead, Assange navigates through the European northwest among the good-life elites whose economic and security protocols he does so much to undermine. Being summoned to a trumped-up Swedish hearing for being an exploitative cad who fails to wear a condom in his ephemeral hook-ups is not the same thing as being dragged into the basement of the Pakistani intelligence service or appearing in an orange jumpsuit on an al-Qaeda execution video. Why does not the peripatetic Assange at least drive about, say, the back roads of the Middle East, Mexico, or Central Africa in his quest for conduits to spread cosmic truth and justice?...
Posted on: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 13:06
SOURCE: Truthdig (12-9-10)
In our post-factual world, history has become another battlefield, with far-flung hostilities over cultural and political differences as well as the imperial adventures abroad. But, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked, we are entitled to opinions, not to our own facts....
...[W]e have Dick Armey, once a leader in proclaiming a “Contract With America” and currently head of Freedom Works, one of the more vocal incarnations of the tea party that provides a ready microphone for well-heeled right-wing backers and their views.
Armey now has given us a classic perversion of history. At a gathering to vent against President Barack Obama’s tax and health policies and alleged socialism, someone in the audience questioned how the movement could use the Federalist Papers, largely written by Alexander Hamilton, as any basis for its beliefs. After all, Hamilton, the questioner contended, was “widely regarded” as a strong nationalist, who advocated life terms for the president and senators, a strong national bank, protective tariffs, the assumption of state debts (to ensure their payment and thereby establish a creditable international standing), state governors appointed by the president, and the diminution of state authority to little more than an administrative role. That is History 101, of course, but a good question for those who insist on Hamilton as a patron saint of American “conservatism.”
Armey was incredulous, even contemptuous, and simply dismissed the questioner, as well as history. “Widely regarded by whom?” he asked suspiciously, and then answered his own question. “Today’s modern ill-informed political science professors … ? I just doubt that was the case, in fact, about Hamilton.” In the great tradition of Henry Ford, Armey simply would dismiss history as “bunk.”...
Posted on: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 12:43
SOURCE: NYT (12-8-10)
IS it, in fact, 1994-95 all over again? The atmospherics are certainly familiar. We have a Democratic president who appears to be tacking to the center to work with Republicans after being battered in the midterms. Jilted liberals, meanwhile, are left wondering how they could have been so blind about the man they had fallen for so hard.
The Clinton comparison has been much in the air after President Obama’s deal to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. But a more apt analogy for the present lies in 1990, not in 1994, and with George Herbert Walker Bush, not with William Jefferson Clinton.
It was in 1990 that Mr. Bush broke one of the most celebrated promises in modern American politics —“Read my lips: no new taxes,” as he put it in 1988 — in order to control federal spending. In the same way that Mr. Obama struck his deal to secure lower tax rates for the middle-class and win an extension of unemployment benefits, Mr. Bush gave on tax rates to get “pay as you go” rules — meaning that no further spending could be approved without compensating budget cuts or revenue increases. It was the beginning of the fiscal discipline that helped create the budget surpluses of the 1990s....
Posted on: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 11:08
SOURCE: American Interest (12-8-10)
America has everything it needs for success in the twenty-first century with one exception: a critical mass of thinkers, analysts and policy entrepreneurs who can help unleash the creative potential of the American people and build the new government and policy structures that will facilitate a new wave of private-sector led growth. Figuring out why so many of our intellectuals and experts are so poorly equipped to play a constructive role — and figuring out how to develop the leadership we currently lack — may be the most important single thing Americans need to work on right now.
Regular readers of these posts know that I think that the world is headed into a tumultuous period, and that the United States is stuck with a social model that doesn’t work anymore. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I don’t need to reproduce those arguments here; readers interested in the gathering storms can look here to see what I mean, and readers curious about the failure of the Blue Social Model can get started here.
There’s a lot of work ahead to enable the United States to meet the coming challenges. I’m reasonably confident that we remain the best placed large society on earth to make the right moves. Our culture of enterprise and risk-taking is still strong; a critical mass of Americans still have the values and the characteristics that helped us overcome the challenges of the last two hundred years....
No, what worries me most today is the state of the people who should be the natural leaders of the next American transformation: our intellectuals and professionals. Not all of them, I hasten to say: the United States is still rich in great scholars and daring thinkers. A few of them even blog....
Posted on: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - 12:44
SOURCE: Huffington Post (12-6-10)
[Joseph A. Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at California State University, Sacramento.]
The State Department documents that WikiLeaks is making public expose the desire of many mainstream journalists and commentators to stand up and be counted as the dutiful water-carriers for the prerogatives of United States foreign policy. Rather than focus on the substance of the diplomatic cables, American journalists tend to either frame the story as being about the"over-classification" of documents or the personal motivations and private life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Lost in the media static are many tidbits of information such as the squandering of U.S. tax dollars to enrich Afghan officials like the former vice president, Ahmed Zia Massoud, who was ushered through customs in Dubai carrying $52 million; or the spectacle of corrupt Sunni Arab sheikdoms (including Saudi Arabia) joining forces with Israel in demanding the United States attack Iran; or Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili nearly snookering the U.S. into a shooting war with Russia; or the double-dealing with terrorist organizations by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Even when the New York Times reports on the substance of the documents its editors couldn't resist pumping up the volume on the alleged sale of nineteen North Korean missiles to Iran, only to walk back the story a couple of days later.
Nearly forty years ago, Daniel Ellsberg exposed the official lies behind the Gulf of Tonkin"incident" that provided the rationale for the Vietnam War. A few years later Senator Frank Church's committee revealed the Nixon Administration's role in engineering the coup d'etat that overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. In October 1986, when a cargo plane was shot down over Nicaragua carrying the American mercenary, Eugene Hasenfus, and a month later a Lebanese newspaper, Al-Shiraa, printed a story about secret U.S. arms sales to Iran it led staffers of Reagan's NSC to concoct false chronologies and destroy thousands of documents. Observing this recent history, one could reasonably conclude there might be a pattern here: Government lies are exposed causing a momentary shock on the part of the public, followed by a renewed effort from toadies in the press to facilitate a relapse of amnesia.
Republican Representative Peter King of New York wants WikiLeaks to be labeled a"terrorist organization." Joe Klein of Time magazine says:"If a single foreign national is rounded up and put in jail because of a leaked cable, this entire, anarchic exercise in 'freedom' stands as a human disaster. Assange is a criminal. He's the one who should be in jail." And not to be outdone, the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer wants Assange prosecuted under the World War I-era"Espionage Act" for the crime of"sabotage," and offers up this gem:
"I'm not advocating that we bring out of retirement the KGB proxy who, on a London street, killed a Bulgarian dissident with a poisoned umbrella tip. But it would be nice if people like Assange were made to worry every time they go out in the rain."
Krauthammer's reference to the KGB is fitting: The old Soviet news outlet, TASS, couldn't have asked for more obedience to the State from its"journalists" as American commentators like Krauthammer have shown in their attacks on WikiLeaks.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, (FAIR), the journalism watchdog group, printed in its December issue of its monthly magazine Extra! a summary of an exchange that took place on October 22, 2010 between ABC News's Diane Sawyer and Martha Raddatz when the first trove of WikiLeaks documents came out. After Raddatz summarized some of the revelations, which included"deadly U.S. helicopter assaults on insurgents trying to surrender . . . the Iraqi civilian death toll far higher than the U.S. has acknowledged . . . graphic details about torture of detainees by the Iraqi military." Sawyer's next question was:"I know there's a lot of outrage about this again tonight, Martha. But tell me, anything more about prosecuting the WikiLeaks group?" FAIR also quoted the former Bush State Department official and contributor to FoxNews.com, Christian Whiton, who called for the U.S. government to label Assange an"enemy combatant" and take"non-judicial actions" against him. FAIR's conclusion:"It's hard to think of another country where the opposition news media complains that the government doesn't assassinate enough journalists."
Massimo Calabresi's Time cover story on Assange is dedicated mostly to the familiar Beltway musings about"over-classifying" documents, and claims Assange"may have something of a martyr complex." PBS hasn't been much better. On the Charlie Rose Show of November 30, 2010, Rose's lengthy conversation with Time managing editor Rick Stengel largely ignored the substance of the leaked cables in favor of psychobabble about what makes Julian Assange tick. Stengel, who recently interviewed Assange via Skype, referred to the Australian computer hacker as"dangerous,""delusional" and"naive."
. . . CHARLIE ROSE: Are you admiring of him?
RICK STENGEL: I think what he's doing is extremely destructive. It's
certainly lessening U.S. security in all kinds of ways. On the other hand,
he is a kind of revolutionary figure, and there are bound to be all kinds
of people who admire him, who see him as somebody who is trying to rectify
this inequality in the world.
And he would say -- you know, he looks at things not so much in terms
of hard power but soft power to use that calculation. Soft power is
information. So he looks at the U.S. and says the U.S. is a hyper-power in
terms of the amount of information that America has from its diplomacy,
from its espionage, from its intelligence, from its human intelligence.
And he sees that as creating disequilibrium in the world. He looks at
everything in terms of that kind of information. So he would say that he's
trying to equalize it.
CHARLIE ROSE: He essentially says"I'm on the side of"?
RICK STENGEL: He would say he's on the side of the common man who is
cut off from any kind of authority over his own destiny. So he's somewhere
CHARLIE ROSE: So he's giving people a power to have leverage against
the system, the establishment?
RICK STENGEL: Yes, the system, the establishment. I mean, he -- he
is against centralized power. He's an anarchist in that sense.
CHARLIE ROSE: So he's an anarchist or just in that sense?
RICK STENGEL: You know, the definitions all kind of blur. I think he
-- I don't know what he would say in terms of what his ideology is. I
think he's an anarchist in the sense that he wants to bring down
institutions, bring down centralized power, bring down governments. I
don't know --
CHARLIE ROSE: Bring down governments? He wants to bring down the
RICK STENGEL: You know, Charlie, I'm not going to say that. You
know, that would be for the attorney general to decide. But --
CHARLIE ROSE: But did he say it? Did he say that"my goal is to
bring down the U.S. government?"
RICK STENGEL: No. I mean, one of the things I asked him, for
example, I said we talk a lot about American exceptionalism these days for
all kinds of reasons, and you seem to be an American exceptionalist in the
sense that you feel that the U.S. is exceptional for being the source of
all evil and damage in the world. Do you accept that?
And he said -- he said, no, I don't. He said the U.S. for centuries
was actually a source of good in the world. He talked about the
constitution. He talked about it coming out of the French Revolution. He
talked about federalism and the United States as being a great model for
governments around the world.
But he sees the U.S. since 1945 as being a source of harm throughout
CHARLIE ROSE: Because of -- not imperialism?
RICK STENGEL: He would say imperialism. He would say cultural
imperialism, information imperialism, and diplomatic global political
CHARLIE ROSE: How did he become who he is?
RICK STENGEL: He was born in Australia.
CHARLIE ROSE: He moved 30 plus times.
RICK STENGEL: His mother was a kind of anarchist.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, exactly.
RICK STENGEL: And she taught him to distrust authority and
centralized power. She succeeded admirably. He would -- he believes that
centralized power disenfranchises people and that insofar as he can
undermine that power, he's helping people.
CHARLIE ROSE: And he believes America's evil?
RICK STENGEL: He believes, I think -- I think he is an American
exceptionalist in the sense that he believes that the U.S. more than any
other country is a force for this disequilibrium in the world.
I asked him --
CHARLIE ROSE: Disequilibrium has to do with power.
RICK STENGEL: With power, but power for nefarious purposes, he would
say. I mean look at what he's talked about in terms of what he's trying to
expose. He said he's trying to expose American hypocrisy, American lies,
American deception. That's what he would say the leaks are about. . . .
The above tête-à-tête reveals establishment thinking at its most unconscious and internalized.
One of the only journalists with a relatively large following who has handled the WikiLeaks revelations in a way that is consistent with the tenets of professional journalism has been Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!. She has delved into the substance of the documents free of the psychobabble and voyeuristic obsession with Assange. The rest of the herd, with some exceptions, have been either wasting precious airtime or column inches trashing Assange or discussing how best the government can shield itself from future whistle-blowers.
The fact is Julian Assange possesses no security clearance and doesn't work for the United States government. He could not have"leaked" anything even if he wanted to. The documents in question are not private. They are official correspondence by federal employees and therefore are public property (and will be treated as such when they become a normal part of the national archives). Missed in the blather about WikiLeaks is that whoever inside the government might have leaked the documents probably did so out of a sense of civic engagement or even duty. Besides, if the motives of U.S. foreign policy are as pure as our leaders claim they are, then what's the big deal if these documents see the light of day?
Ah, you say, diplomacy doesn't work that way. Secrecy is necessary to protect the lives of Americans and their allies working abroad in often-dangerous situations. We've heard that before."Lying does not come easy to me," Oliver North told the Iran-Contra committee."But we all have to weigh in the balance the difference between lives and lies." North, who played a key role in setting up a privatized CIA run out of the NSC, claimed he had no choice but to lie to Congress to prevent the Soviet Union from knowing about their secret operations. But when the committee's attorney confronted North with evidence from his own memos indicating that the Soviets already knew about the secret arms sales to Iran, it was clear that North was trying to hide his illegal activities, not from the Soviets, but from the Congress and the American people.
This penchant for secrecy that produces the"over-classification" problem reveals a kind of tacit recognition on the part of official Washington that U.S. citizens would object if they knew what was really going on. That understanding among elites is a kind of backhanded compliment to the decency of the American people. In 2002 and 2003, our government lied us into a debilitating war and occupation in Iraq that has cost us dearly in blood and treasure, as well as damaged our international standing. The American people have every right to be skeptical about what their government tells them. Julian Assange and his organization seem to be committed to the simple idea that citizens living in a democracy have a right to know what their government is doing in their name.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 15:31
SOURCE: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (12-7-10)
“We are about to embark upon a great crusade, a crusade to restore Americanism, and return the control of our government to our people.” Sounds very modern, but this was Sen. James Eastland of Mississippi in 1955, leading the fight against the integration of public schools that the Supreme Court had ordered the year before.
We hear a lot of talk from conservatives lately about how the federal government has been trampling on the freedoms of Americans, and the need to “take back America.” It all sounds very familiar.
In the early 1960s, white citizens spontaneously formed local organizations to preserve racial discrimination in the South. They soon abandoned explicit claims of white superiority and began to use other language to defend racist practices. When federal marshals prevented white mobs from attacking James Meredith as he entered the University of Mississippi in 1962, a Citizens’ Council editorial claimed, “Ole Miss has not been integrated! It has been invaded and occupied by the United States Army.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 15:23
SOURCE: Truthdig (12-7-10)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s visit to Iran was in part an attempt to reach out to a major foreign patron of his country’s Shiite Hezbollah Party. Hariri’s father, Rafiq, was mysteriously blown to kingdom come in 2005, and a United Nations tribunal is now rumored to be leaning toward implicating Hezbollah. Many Lebanese are terrified that the tribunal’s findings might set Kalashnikovs clattering again in Beirut, given that the Hariris are Sunni Muslims linked to Saudi Arabia, and their followers could attack Lebanese Shiites in reprisal. Lebanon, a small country of 4 million, is more than a third Shiite, but Christians and Sunni Muslims have formed the political elite for two centuries.
Hariri’s consultations with the ayatollahs in Tehran were an attempt to seek Iranian help in keeping Hezbollah militiamen in check (many Lebanese Shiites look to Iran as their external patron, just as many Sunnis look to Saudi Arabia and Christians to France and the U.S.). The talks also aimed at reconfirming Iranian pledges of economic aid to Beirut. In return, according to one anonymous Iranian source who spoke to Agence France-Presse, Hariri would throw his support behind Iran’s “development of nuclear capabilities for civilian and peaceful purposes.”...
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 15:22
SOURCE: CHE (12-5-10)
In the last few years, leadership programs have sprung up in remarkable numbers at colleges and universities across the country. Institutions as diverse as Creighton University, Arizona State University, and Highland Community College, in Illinois, now offer leadership training and opportunities to their students. Some universities and colleges, like Gonzaga and the City University of Seattle, have developed degree programs in leadership, and many more such programs are being planned. It seems that every university Web page and presidential message now highlights leadership opportunities for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The idea is that leadership—like scientific disciplines, for example—consists of a set of skills, methodologies, and ideas that can be taught. The difference is that unlike, say, biology, leadership should inform all aspects of life. Leadership programs teach important life skills, such as introspection, cultural sensitivity, moral acuity, people skills, and decision-making acumen....
Students are flocking to these programs because they recognize the importance of leadership in ways that older generations may not. Today's students are graduating into a world that is much riskier than the one we knew. We are beginning to recognize that our current economic crisis goes much deeper than the recent drop in the stock market. Our students will find themselves in what I call a micropreneurial age. They will have multiple jobs and even multiple careers during their lifetimes. Many will work for small firms, and a growing percentage will be consultants and freelancers for most of their working lives.
In short, they will need to be equipped to make their own opportunities. They need the skills, knowledge, and qualities that leadership programs cultivate: self-reliance, social and cultural capital, appreciation for lifelong learning, creativity, conflict-resolution and team-building skills, ethics, understanding of economics, and more. Leadership programs recognize that the career ladder of old is broken. In the past, companies could be counted on to develop leaders by ushering bright employees into management-training programs. Today such programs are few and far between. Colleges and universities must do the job....
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 15:19
SOURCE: The Atlantic (12-6-10)
Can you have more in common with a person almost twenty years younger than with somebody one year older? That's the logical conclusion of conventional journalism about the "Baby Boomers," which has been a staple of journalists and editors ever since my friend Landon Jones' Great Expectations (1980). And it has just come into relief in a feature in USA Today.
None of the scholars or lay people interviewed in the article considers the possibility that the variety of experience of the older and younger Baby Boomers should lead us to question the validity or power of the concept. I wondered whether the writer might be overlooking dissenters, so I did a Google search for "myth of the baby boom" (just four results) and "myth of the baby boomers" (10 results, some duplicates). In an age of universal revisionism, when so many new books deny everything from global warming to natural selection, I couldn't even find a single instance of the question "Is the baby boom a myth?"...
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 14:25
SOURCE: CS Monitor (12-6-10)
As he resets his administration in the wake of the midterm election, President Obama faces crucial choices for new leadership at the Pentagon. Five offices will have to be filled next year: secretary of Defense (if Robert Gates insists on leaving), and four of the six Joint Chiefs, including the chairman and vice chairman, and uniformed heads for the Army and Navy.
Even though the White House (if recent accounts are accurate) felt pressured or poorly served by the military during the Afghanistan strategic review in 2009, Mr. Obama will have to resist the temptation to choose people on the basis of “compatibility.” This is code for the kind of collegiality and worse still, pliability, that would be dysfunctional for effective civil-military relations.
What the president needs are people of deep knowledge and wide experience who possess originality and independence of mind, and the courage to proffer advice based on the most objective calculations of various choices in policy, personnel, and decisionmaking.
After the friction of last year, he has to be able to trust Pentagon leaders not to hide alternatives, withhold unpleasant truths, or engage in any manipulation....
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 14:10
SOURCE: Huffington Post (12-7-10)
[Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at email@example.com.]
More tax breaks for the rich in exchange for another year's worth of unemployment benefits for the desperate: Now there's a compromise that makes me proud to be an American. My father wouldn't have been surprised. He grew up during the Great Depression and worked in factories before he was drafted and served in the Army during World War II. Dad told me that the harder he worked (physically), the less he got paid. And he told me there was nothing like repetitive and physically-grueling factory work to make you want to improve yourself. By becoming a civil servant (a firefighter), he escaped the factory and its dismal pay for a job that paid enough to provide five children with a lower-middle-class existence.
Today's political elites seem to think that the proper way to stimulate economic growth is to empower the exploiters. That way, some of their enormous wealth will trickle down on the little people. My father knew from experience that it usually wasn't money that trickled down from the high heights of the rich.
In the spirit of the holiday season, here's a story from my Dad that recounts his attempt to get a dime pay raise at the local factory. Consider it a parable for the realities our working classes face day in and day out in this country:
It seems that Mike Calabrese on his own asked Harry Callahan [one of the owners] for a pay raise and he was refused. Mike decided to organize the men members and go down in a group. In our group he got ten men to approach Harry C. for a raise. But when it was time to"bell the cat" only three fellows went to see Harry. Well Mike said he couldn't join the group because he had already tried to get a raise. I knew I was being used but I was entitled to a raise. Well Harry said to me,"What can I do for you men?" So I said to Harry: 1) Living costs were going up; 2) We deserved a raise. So Harry said,"How much?" and I said ten cents an hour would be a fair raise. So he said I'll give you a nickel an hour raise and later you'll get the other nickel. We agreed. So, I asked Harry will everyone get a raise and he replied,"Only the ones that I think deserve it."
Well a month later I was drinking water at the bubbler and Harry saw me and said what a hard job they had to get the money to pay our raises. Well, Willie, Harry Callahan and his brother Sam and their two other Italian brother partners all died millionaires. No other truer saying than,"That the rich have no sympathy or use for the poor."
Today, Americans are uncomfortable calling attention to pay discrepancies and exploitation because it smacks of class warfare or even Marxism. It's true that some of the worst abuses have been curbed (for example, my father worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. without the benefit of overtime pay or time-and-a-half), but today's workers are simply scared: scared that their jobs will be outsourced, scared that they'll be fired; scared that they'll be replaced by automated robots. Thus they put up and shut up.
So, what's the moral to the story? Our president promised hope and change."Hope" has come in the form of more tax breaks for the rich. And" change"? To paraphrase my father: No truer saying than"that politicians have no sympathy or use for the poor."
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 13:56
SOURCE: TomDispatch (12-7-10)
[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).]
America’s heroes? Not so much. Not anymore. Not when they’re dead, anyway.
Remember as the invasion of Iraq was about to begin, when the Bush administration decided to seriously enforce a Pentagon ban, in existence since the first Gulf War, on media coverage and images of the American dead arriving home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware? In fact, the Bush-era ban did more than that. As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote then, it “ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers' homecomings on all military bases.”
For those whose lives were formed in the crucible of the Vietnam years, including the civilian and military leadership of the Bush era, the dead, whether ours or the enemy’s, were seen as a potential minefield when it came to antiwar opposition or simply the loss of public support in the opinion polls. Admittedly, many of the so-called lessons of the Vietnam War were often based on half-truths or pure mythology, but they were no less powerful or influential for that.
In the Vietnam years, the Pentagon had, for instance, been stung by the thought that images of the American dead coming home in body bags had spurred on that era’s huge antiwar movement (though, in reality, those images were rare). Nor were they likely to forget the effect of the “body count,” offered by U.S. military spokesmen in late afternoon press briefings in Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital. Among disillusioned reporters, these became known as"the Five O'clock Follies." They were supposedly accurate counts of enemy dead, but everyone knew otherwise.
In a guerrilla war in which the taking of territory made next to no difference, the body count was meant as a promissory note against future success. As it became apparent that there would be no light at the end of the tunnel, however, that count began to look ever more barbaric to growing numbers of Americans.
Body Bags and Body Counts
At the time of the first Gulf War, as part of a larger effort to apply the “lessons” of Vietnam, the Pentagon attempted to prevent any images of the American dead from reaching the home front. More than a decade later, top officials of George W. Bush's administration, focused on ensuring that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” and a triumph, consciously played an opposites game with their version of Vietnam. That included, for instance, secretly counting the enemy dead, but keeping mum about them for fear of recreating the dreaded “body count.” General Tommy Franks, who directed the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, bluntly insisted, “We don’t do body counts.” But it wasn’t true, and in the end, President Bush couldn’t help himself: his frustration with disaster in Iraq led him to start complaining about being unable to mention how successful U.S. forces were in killing the enemy; finally, compulsively, he began to offer his own presidential body counts.
But an irony should be noted here. There was another lesson from Vietnam which didn’t quite fit with those drawn from body bags and the body count. American troops had been treated terribly by the American public -- so went the postwar tale -- and particularly by the antiwar movement which reviled them as “baby killers” when they came home and regularly spat upon them. Often ignored in this mythic version of the antiwar movement is the fact that, as the 1970s began, it was being energized by significant numbers of Vietnam vets and active duty GI’s. Nonetheless, all this was deeply believed, even by many who had been in that movement, and everyone, whatever their politics, vowed that it would never happen again. Hence, the troops, and especially the dead, were to be treated across the board and in a blanket way as “American heroes,” and elevated to almost god-like status.
So, while President Bush carefully avoided making public appearances at Dover Air Force Base as the coffins were being unloaded (lest someone confuse him with Vietnam-era President Lyndon Johnson), much publicity was given to the way he met privately and emotionally -- theoretically beyond the view of the media -- with the families of the dead.
In a sense, whatever proscriptions were placed on imagery of the dead, the American dead were all over. For one thing, no sooner did the Bush administration shut down those images than war critics, following their own Vietnam “lessons,” began complaining about his doing so. And even if they hadn’t, every newspaper seemed to have its own “wall of heroes,” those spreads filled with tiny images of the faces of the American dead, while their names were repeatedly read in somber tones on television. Similarly, antiwar activists toured the country with displays of empty combat boots or set up little cemeteries honoring the war dead, even while making the point that they should never have died.
No less significantly, dying Americans were actually news. I mean front-page news. If American troops died in a firefight or thanks to a suicide bomber or went down in a helicopter, it was often in the headlines. Whatever else you knew, you did know that Americans were dying in the wars Washington was fighting in distant lands.
One November’s Dead
Well, that was Iraq, this is Afghanistan. That was the Bush era, these are the Obama years. So, with rare exceptions, the dead rarely make much news anymore.
Now, except in small towns and local communities where the news of a local death or the funeral of a dead soldier is dealt with as a major event, American deaths, often dribbling in one or two at a time, are generally acknowledged in the last paragraphs of summary war pieces buried deep inside papers (or far into the TV news). The American dead have, it seems, like the war they are now fighting, generally gone into the dustbin of news coverage.
Take November in Afghanistan. You might have thought that American deaths would make headline news last month. After all, according to the website icausualties.org, there were 58 allied deaths in that 30-day period, 53 of them American. While those numbers are undoubtedly small if compared to, say, fatal traffic accidents, they are distinctly on the rise. Along with much other news coming out of the planet’s number one narco-state, ranging from raging corruption to a rise in Taliban attacks, they trend terribly.
To put those November figures in perspective, if you add up all the Americans who died in Afghanistan in any November from 2001, when the Bush administration launched its invasion, through 2009, you get a total of 59, just six more than last month. Similarly, if you add up American deaths by year from 2001 through 2007, you get 475, as this is being written six more than have died so far in 2010. (Note that these figures don’t include deaths categorized by the military as “potential suicides” that might in any way be linked to Afghan tours of duty. There were 19 potential suicides reported in September and nine in October among soldiers on active duty; 10 in September and 16 in October among reserves not on active duty. November figures have yet to be released.)
Given the modest attention focused on American deaths here in the U.S., you might almost imagine that, from the Washington elite on down, Americans preferred not to know the price being paid for a war, already in its tenth year (twentieth if you include our first Afghan War of 1980-1989); one that the Obama administration has now agreed to extend through 2014 for U.S. “combat troops” and possibly years beyond for tens of thousands of non-combat trainers and other forces who will be in no less danger.
After all, in two different incidents in November, Afghans turned their weapons on Americans trainers and eight U.S. troops died. (In the past 13 months, this has happened to Western trainers six times.) These stories, too, generally haven’t made it off the inside pages of papers.
In understanding how this relative lack of attention is possible, it’s worth noting that the American dead tend to come disproportionately from easy-to-ignore tough-luck regions of the country, and disproportionately as well from small town and rural America, where service in the armed forces may be more valued, but times are also rougher, unemployment rates higher, and opportunities less. In this context, consider those November dead. If you look through the minimalist announcements released by the Pentagon, as I did recently, you discover that they were almost all men in their twenties, and that none of them seem to have come from our giant metropolises. Among the hometowns of the dead, there was no Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or Houston. There were a range of second-level cities including Flagstaff (Arizona), Rochester (New York), San Jose (California), Tallahassee (Florida), and Tucson (Arizona).
For the rest, from Aroostook, Maine, to Mesquite, Texas, the hometown names the Pentagon lists, whether they represent rural areas, small towns, parts of suburbs, or modest-sized cities, read like a dirge for places you’d never have heard of if you hadn't yourself lived in the vicinity. Here, for instance, are the hometowns of the six U.S. trainers who died in a single incident in late November when a “trusted” Afghan policeman opened fire on them. (Whether he was a Taliban infiltrator or simply a distraught and angry man remains an unanswered, possibly unanswerable, question): Athens (Ohio, pop. 21,909), Beaver Dam (Wisconsin, pop. 15,169), Mexico (Maine, pop. 2,959), Quartz Hill (California, pop. 9,890), Senoia (Georgia, pop. 3,720), Tell City (Indiana, pop. 7,845).
Here, as well, are some, but hardly all, of the other hometowns of the November dead: Chesterfield (Michigan), Chittenango (New York), Conroe (Texas), Dalzell (South Carolina), Davie (Florida), Fort Smith (Arkansas), Freeman (Missouri), Frostburg (Maryland), Greenfield (Wisconsin), Greenwood (Louisiana), Mills River (North Carolina), Pago Pago (American Samoa), Sierra Vista (Arizona), Thomasville (Georgia), and Wyomissing (Pennsylvania).
Back in early 2007, Demographer William O'Hare and journalist Bill Bishop, working with the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, which specializes in the overlooked rural areas of our country, crunched the numbers on the rural dead from America’s recent wars. According to their study, the death rate"for rural soldiers (24 per million adults aged 18 to 59) is 60% higher than the death rate for those soldiers from cities and suburbs (15 deaths per million)." Recently, sociologist Katherine Curtis arrived at similar conclusions in a study using data on U.S. troop deaths in Iraq through 2007. There’s no reason to believe that much has changed in the last three years.
Keep in mind that a number of the soldiers who died in November had undoubtedly been in Afghanistan before, probably more than once, and had they lived (and stayed in the military), they would surely have been there again. The reason is simple enough: the full weight of the American war state and its seemingly eternal state of war lands squarely on the relatively modest numbers of “volunteers,” often from out of the way places, who make up the American fighting force.
The New York Times’s Bob Herbert, for instance, wrote an October column about an Army Sergeant First Class who died in Afghanistan while on his 12th tour of duty (four in Iraq, eight in Afghanistan). By 2014, had he lived, he could easily have been closing in on 20 tours. As Herbert indicated, he wasn’t typical, but multiple tours of duty are now the norm.
An Epitaph from the Graveyard of Empires
In October 2009, six months after the Pentagon rescinded its ban on coverage of the arrival of the war dead, in an obvious rebuke to his predecessor, President Obama traveled to Dover Air Base. There, inside the plane that brought the American dead home, he reportedly prayed over the coffins and was later photographed offering a salute as one of them was carried off the plane. (Eighteen were unloaded that day, including three containing dead agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration.) It was a moving ceremony and, as Byron York, columnist for the conservative Washington Times, pointed out not long after, the president wasn’t alone. Thirty-five media outlets were there to cover him. Like so much that has had to do with the Obama era, as York also noted, this particular post-Bush version of a sunshine policy didn’t last long in practice (though the president himself continues to talk about the American war dead).
Now that the dead can be covered, with rare exceptions few seem to care. For those who want to keep a significant American presence in Iraq, continue our war in Afghanistan until hell freezes over, and expand the Global War on Terror (stripped of its name in the Obama years but bolstered in reality), it’s undoubtedly more convenient if the dead, like their war, remain in those shadows. In the Bush years, the dead, despite bans, seemed to be everywhere. In the Obama years, except to the wives and children, parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors they leave behind, they seem to have disappeared into the netherworld like the “shadows” we sometimes imagine them to be. In this, they have followed the war in which they fought to a premature graveyard of American inattention.
Last Friday, President Obama paid a surprise four-hour visit to American troops (including the wounded) at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, one of the vast American towns-cum-bases that the Pentagon built in that country -- in this case, ominously enough, onthe ruins of a Russian base from the disastrous Soviet war of the 1980s. There, in an address to the troops, he tiptoed to the edge of Bush-style predictions of victory, assuring “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” that “you will succeed in your mission.”
Be careful what you wish for. In a war in which it costs $400 a gallon to deliver fuel to an energy-guzzling military at the end of embattled supply lines thousands of miles long, another seven or eight years to a “victory” that leaves the U.S. in control of Afghanistan (Afghanistan!) while paying for a 400,000-man strong, American-trained army and police force, might be the worst fate possible.
When it came to an explanation for why we were pursuing such a war so tenaciously over decades, the president simply reiterated the usual: that our goal was never again to let that country “serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America.” These days, when it comes to the “why” question (as in “Why Afghanistan?”), that’s about as much as this administration is likely to offer. It seems that explanations, too, and even the need for them have disappeared into the shadows.
Today, the true horror of those dead may lie in the fact that Americans aren’t even calling for an explanation. It’s possible, in fact, that the Afghan War is now being fought largely due to the momentum that a war state in a perpetual state of war builds for itself, but who wants to hear that? After all, that’s no way to “support our troops.”
The president felt absolutely sure of one thing, though. He told the Americans gathered at Bagram “without hesitation that there is no division on one thing, no hesitation on one thing -- and that is the uniformed support of our men and women who are serving in the armed services. Everybody, everybody is behind you, everybody back home is behind you."
Behind them? Maybe. But if so, we’re talking way, way behind. Americans may support the troops to the skies, but they are taking no responsibility for the wars into which they are being endlessly recycled until, assumedly, they are used up, wounded, or killed.
And by the way, don’t hold your breath for the day when some new Maya Lin begins to design an Iraq or Afghanistan Wall. For America’s small town “heroes,” it’s surge and die. A grim epitaph from Afghanistan, that proverbial graveyard of empires.
Posted on: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 - 13:52
SOURCE: NYT (12-3-10)
WHILE it is too soon to offer any meaningful perspective about the impact of the WikiLeaks disclosures on American foreign policy, it is not too early to reflect on what the leaked diplomatic cables say about the public’s understanding of how diplomacy works.
WikiLeaks’s justification for releasing confidential State Department materials is that the more the public knows about how our government conducts its foreign relations, the better the outcome will be. This is an old idea: Woodrow Wilson advocated “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at.” But history also shows that open diplomacy is often fatally flawed.
Secrecy is an essential part of any negotiation: no corporate merger, complicated legal settlement, amicable divorce or serious political compromise could ever be reached without a reliable level of confidentiality.
But secrecy is nowhere more essential than in foreign relations. For example, had the various diplomats negotiating the end of the cold war and the unification of Germany had to deal with public revelations of the disagreements, half-baked proposals and reckless language in their internal communications — like Margaret Thatcher’s opposition to German unification versus Helmut Kohl’s determination to achieve it — substantive talks would have been impossible.
Posted on: Monday, December 6, 2010 - 16:51
SOURCE: Newsweek (12-3-10)
Are the Palestinians the last Zionists? It would seem so. The situation of Israel has become surreal. Just as we Israelis are making a stupendous effort to ensure the dissolution of the Jewish state, envisioned by Theodor Herzl in 1896, by hanging onto the occupied territories, the Palestinians, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are working to ensure the survival of the Zionist enterprise by striving to establish a Palestinian ministate in the West Bank and Gaza....
Following the Holocaust and the wars to establish Israel, it is understandable that we Jews deal cautiously with our Arab neighbors. But we have moved into the realm of paranoia. It is time to seize the remarkable opportunity before us. Peace with Egypt, the strongest Arab state, laid the foundations; peace with Palestine and Syria, backed by the Arab and Muslim nations, will finally place the roof on the Jewish house. The Obama administration’s effort to establish a small Palestinian state, accompanied by withdrawal from the Golan Heights and peace with Syria, will finally ensure survival of the state of Israel. Why are we Israeli Jews trying so hard to prevent it?
Posted on: Monday, December 6, 2010 - 16:38