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: VDH's Private Papers (1-25-11)
In a news-obsessed culture, sometimes the media simply ignores profound stories, such as the cause of the almost inexplicable — and quite brilliantly constructed — recovery of Obama’s poll ratings.
Just a few weeks ago, the negative impressions of President Obama’s performance, in most of the polls, outranked the favorable, and by anywhere from 3-6 points. All the buzz was of Jimmy Carter redux, and the November historic sweep, with even more to come in 2012. Now? Suddenly, Obama is enjoying about a 3-6 point positive edge (5.6 in the aggregate RealClearPolitics latest posting). That’s a dramatic reversal of some 6-12 points in just a few weeks.
Why no in-depth exegesis of that astounding development?
Obama’s recovery was not merely a result of the media-created blitz of December about “momentum,” “recovery,” and “triangulation” after the acceptance of the Bush-era tax rates, the approval of the START treaty, and the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That bump was only about 1-2 points, and by mid-January Obama still suffered higher negatives than positives.
So are things getting that much better?
So was the upswing due to falling energy prices? Nope — gas and heating costs are skyrocketing, and in part due to new federal restrictions on leasing of oil and gas coupled with an anemic dollar.
Good news on the deficit? Hardly. We’re on schedule to pile up more trillion-dollar-plus annual deficits, as Obama’s own departing economic gurus like Summers, Romer, and Orszag are strangely now warning us of the long-term consequences of their own flawed policies.
Foreign affairs breakthroughs? No again: Putin is still roguish and gleeful about taking us to the cleaners. Ditto looming crises with Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea. The Middle East is a tinderbox. Mexico is a failed state. We have no China policy and are merely passive-aggressive. The world is far scarier than in January 2009....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - 14:42
SOURCE: LA Times (1-24-11)
There's a move afoot to give the states the authority to repeal measures enacted by Congress and signed by the president. It's a bad idea. It's also dishonorable.
The measure, led by Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and taking the form of a proposed amendment to the Constitution, would allow the dis-enactment of "any provision of law or regulation" upon the vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures....
In 1832, South Carolina tried nullification, attempting unilaterally to refuse to abide by a federal law within its borders. It sought to undo a tariff enacted by Congress to protect American manufacturing, a policy that was good for the industrialized North but not beneficial to the agrarian South. It was only by virtue of the granite nationalism of President Andrew Jackson, himself a champion of the states, and Congress, which obliged him with appropriations for military action coupled with a reduction in tariff rates, that the Palmetto State was persuaded to back down.
Nullification was a mild and limited protest compared with the secession of 11 Southern states, an attempt to undo the electorate's decision to make Abraham Lincoln president. In the name of states' and minority rights (the very rights cited by Bishop and his followers), and in defense of slavery, the South dis-enacted a decision of the nation's majority. We know the consequences in lives lost and enduring bitterness.
There's no reason to think that Bishop is trying to constitutionalize nullification (or, as it was earlier known, interposition). He has other aims in mind, and he may never have considered his amendment's relationship to the past. But what he's seeking carries with it a heavy burden of historical failure and contempt. It also suggests that he's not confident of the ability of his party or his policies to gain legislative majorities in their favor by congressional action....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - 13:37
SOURCE: New Yorker (1-17-11)
It is written in an elegant, clerical hand, on four sheets of parchment, each two feet wide and a bit more than two feet high, about the size of an eighteenth-century newspaper but finer, and made not from the pulp of plants but from the hide of an animal. Some of the ideas it contains reach across ages and oceans, to antiquity; more were, at the time, newfangled. “We the People,” the first three words of the preamble, are giant and Gothic: they slant left, and, because most of the rest of the words slant right, the writing zigzags. It took four months to debate and to draft, including two weeks to polish the prose, neat work done by a committee of style. By Monday, September 17, 1787, it was ready. That afternoon, the Constitution of the United States of America was read out loud in a chamber on the first floor of Pennsylvania’s State House, where the delegates to the Federal Convention had assembled to subscribe their names to a new system of government, “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Then Benjamin Franklin rose from his chair, wishing to be heard. At eighty-one, he was too tired to make another speech, but he had written down what he wanted to say, and James Wilson, decades Franklin’s junior, read his remarks, which were addressed to George Washington, presiding. “Mr. President,” he began, “I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them.” Franklin liked to swaddle argument with affability, as if an argument were a colicky baby; the more forceful his argument, the more tightly he swaddled it. What he offered was a well-bundled statement about changeability. I find that there are errors here, he explained, but, who knows, someday I might change my mind; I often do. “For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better Information, or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.” That people so often believe themselves to be right is no proof that they are; the only difference between the Church of Rome and the Church of England is that the former is infallible while the latter is never wrong. He hoped “that every member of the Convention who may still have Objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own Infallibility, and to make manifest our Unanimity, put his name to this Instrument.” Although the document had its faults, he doubted that any other assembly would, at just that moment, have been able to draft a better one. “Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.”
Three delegates refused to sign, but at the bottom of the fourth page appear the signatures of the rest. What was written on parchment was then made public, printed in newspapers and broadsheets, often with “We the People” set off in extra-large type. Meanwhile, the secretary of the convention carried the original to New York to present it to Congress, which met, at the time, at City Hall. Without either endorsing or opposing it, Congress agreed to forward the Constitution to the states, for ratification. The original Constitution was simply filed away and, later, shuffled from one place to another. When City Hall underwent renovations, the Constitution was transferred to the Department of State. The following year, it moved with Congress to Philadelphia and, in 1800, to Washington, where it was stored at the Treasury Department until it was shifted to the War Office. In 1814, three clerks stuffed it into a linen sack and carried it to a gristmill in Virginia, which was fortunate, because the British burned Washington down. In the eighteen-twenties, when someone asked James Madison where it was, he had no idea.
In 1875, the Constitution found a home in a tin box in the bottom of a closet in a new building that housed the Departments of State, War, and Navy. In 1894, it was sealed between glass plates and locked in a safe in the basement. In 1921, Herbert Putnam, a librarian, drove it across town in his Model T. In 1924, it was put on display in the Library of Congress, for the first time ever. Before then, no one had thought of that. It spent the Second World War at Fort Knox. In 1952, it was driven in an armored tank under military guard to the National Archives, where it remains, in a shrine in the rotunda, alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Ours is one of the oldest written constitutions in the world and the first, anywhere, to be submitted to the people for their approval. As Madison explained, the Constitution is “of no more consequence than the paper on which it is written, unless it be stamped with the approbation of those to whom it is addressed . . . THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES.” Lately, some say, it’s been thrown in the trash. “Stop Shredding Our Constitution!” Tea Party signs read. “FOUND in a DUMPSTER behind the Capitol,” read another, on which was pasted the kind of faux-parchment Constitution you can buy in the souvenir shop at any history-for-profit heritage site. I bought mine at Bunker Hill years back. It is printed on a single sheet of foolscap, and the writing is so small that it’s illegible; then again, the knickknack Constitution isn’t meant to be read. The National Archives sells a poster-size scroll, twenty-two inches by twenty-nine inches, that is a readable facsimile of the first page, for twelve dollars and ninety-five cents. This item is currently out of stock.
Parchment is beautiful. As an object, the Constitution has more in common with the Dead Sea Scrolls than with what we now think of as writing: pixels floating on a screen, words suspended in a digital cloud, bubbles of text. R we the ppl? Our words are vaporous. Not so the Constitution. “I have this crazy idea that the Constitution actually means something,” one bumper sticker reads. Ye olde parchment serves as shorthand for everything old, real, durable, American, and true—a talisman held up against the uncertainties and abstractions of a meaningless, changeable, paperless age....
Posted on: Monday, January 24, 2011 - 17:24
SOURCE: CNN.com (1-24-11)
Many political analysts are urging President Obama to give a State of the Union Address that is conciliatory toward Republicans and that acknowledges that voters are unhappy with the direction of his policies.
Ever since he agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts in a compromise with Republicans, his poll numbers have been improving, and Obama has filled several key positions in his administration with moderate Democrats. There is reason to think that the president will continue this path....
Other presidents trying to recover from their party's bad performance in midterms have used the State of the Union Address to reach out to the other side. In January 1983, President Ronald Reagan was trying to cope with the significant boost in liberal House Democrats who had been elected in response to the poor economy.
During his State of the Union Address, Reagan did offer some concessions to Democrats. He acknowledged that his administration had underestimated the severity of economic conditions. Reagan said: "Curing those problems has taken more time and a higher toll than any of us wanted. Unemployment is far too high."
Like Reagan, President Clinton suffered a horrible midterm in 1994. The Republicans took over the House and Senate from Democrats, who had been in control of both chambers for all but six years since 1954. The situation for Clinton looked dire. R.W. Apple Jr. wrote in the New York Times of a "deflated Presidency."...
Posted on: Monday, January 24, 2011 - 13:52
SOURCE: Newsweek (1-23-11)
Ronald Reagan scored a comfortable victory in 1980, promising a new day in Washington and the nation. Then Reaganomics ran into brick wall. Unemployment—7.4 percent at the beginning of his term—was heading toward 10 percent by the summer of 1982. The gross domestic product declined 1.8 percent. On Election Day, voters punished him by taking 27 House seats from his Republican Party, including most of the ones gained in 1980. That gave the Democrats a 269–166 seat advantage—far greater than the 51-seat advantage Republicans enjoy today.
The day after that woeful election, Reagan’s aides sent him into a press conference with defensive talking points. He tore them up. “We’re very pleased with the results,” he said, claiming that the GOP had “beat the odds” for off-year elections (he went back to 1928 to make the claim). “Wasn’t he in worse shape for 1984?” he was asked. “I don’t think so at all,” he replied. Hadn’t it been a historically uncivil campaign? He agreed—because of all the opposition did to “frighten voters.”
Barack Obama gave a press conference the day after his “shellacking” too. The contrast to Reagan couldn’t have been more stark. Ignoring the fact that the electorate had pretty much been switching their party preference every two years since 1992, he conceded the loss as an epochal sea change. “I did some talking,” he said of his meeting with Republican leaders the night before, “but mostly I did a lot of listening.” When asked about jobs, he talked about the deficit. He then boasted that when it came to what was essential to recovery, he really didn’t have essential principles at all: the answers were not to be “found in any one particular philosophy or ideology.”...
Posted on: Monday, January 24, 2011 - 13:32
SOURCE: Newsweek (1-23-11)
Young Ron—as I still think of him, although he’s no longer the 20-something in red high-top Reeboks who eavesdropped with me through a cracked door at the U.S.-Soviet summit in 1985—is the only one of the four Reagan children to share their father’s sunny equanimity. Unlike his elder siblings (Maureen died in 2001), Ron seems free of that typical neurosis of presidential progeny, a feeling that Dad never cared as much for the family as for the electorate. All loved the old man with unresentful passion, but Ron understood him best. Frankly acknowledging to me (with thumb and fingertips held millimeters apart) that “our relationship is about this deep,” he had no stories to tell that matched, for example, Michael’s and Patti’s memories of incidents when their father simply failed to recognize them.
So when Ron suggests in his new book that Ronald Reagan may have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in office, I have to assume that he’s being as objective as he always was back in the days when we became friends. I can only say now, as I wrote in 1999, that I never saw any signs of dementia during the years that I observed Reagan in action, from May 1985 through his departure from the White House in January 1989.
Old age I saw; extreme fatigue, often; diplomatic occasions when his genius for telling the right joke at the right time deserted him; important meetings during which he read from cue cards like an obedient schoolboy. During one unhappy period, when the Iran-contra scandal coincided with prostate problems, the president was so withdrawn and confused that papers were surreptitously drawn up by staffers concerned that he might have to be declared “disoriented” and disabled under the 25th Amendment....
Posted on: Monday, January 24, 2011 - 13:30
SOURCE: National Review (1-21-11)
An evil psychopath, Jared Lee Loughner — a man with no discernible ideology or political affiliation, and declared by those who know him to be both unhinged and unacquainted with contemporary media — shot a U.S. congresswoman, murdered a federal judge, and killed five other innocent people, while wounding several more.
Almost immediately, prominent liberal journalists and several politicians in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures directly attributed Loughner’s rampage to the “climate of hate” in general and to the Tea Party, Fox News, Sarah Palin, conservatives in general, or the Republican party in particular.
The local Democratic sheriff, Clarence W. Dupnik — in a brazen display of the Bloomberg syndrome of posturing on cosmic issues as local crises go unaddressed — thought he could elevate himself into Nelson Mandela status by damning the Right for the violence. Then his narrative too imploded when it was learned that Loughner had had several run-ins with a negligent law-enforcement staff, with plenty of indications that he was not all there. Observers soon made the argument that if there was a preexisting climate of hate about which Dupnik was now a self-appointed expert, why then had not the sheriff provided a single officer to protect Congresswoman Giffords in her open-air fora within Dupnik’s jurisdiction?
In some ways, the most embarrassing demagoguery came from the secretary of state. While in Abu Dhabi, Mrs. Clinton — in a rather shameful sort of moral equivalence — apparently intended to impress her hosts and score political points at the same time. So without any evidence, she labeled Loughner an “extremist,” in a general call to quell political violence both in and outside the United States....
Posted on: Monday, January 24, 2011 - 12:59
SOURCE: End is Coming (Blog) (1-21-11)
Since 2007, the website Wikileaks has aimed to provide an anonymous way for individuals to reveal incriminating, irresponsible, immoral and/or unethical information about their employer or governement. More specifically, Wikileaks says that it accepts “classified, censored or otherwise restricted material of political, diplomatic or ethical significance.” As such, the whistleblowing intermediary website has been called the future of investigative journalism by some and an agent of international treason by others.
One of the founders and directors of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has been the poster-child for the organisation and for its legal obstacles (over 100 legal challenges defeated). Many of his supporters (and himself) see the man as a hero exposing unethical governments and corporations. On the other hand, Assange hides in very liberal countries (Sweden for the moment) to escape nations that would have his head for treason. Following the publishing of tens of thousands of files pertaining to the US Army in the Middle East along with thousands of diplomatic cables that should be highly classified, Assange has been accused of putting the lives of all US soldiers in danger, of humiliating several governments and of compromising national security, especially in America.
Assange’s lawyer even fights an extradition from Sweden as we speak with the defence that his client may face the death penalty for treason in the US. In the end, this may be overreaction. Putting the man to death, destroying his website or “disappearing him” seems more of the realm of fiction. In any case, Assange has informed us very publicly that, were any of these eventualities to happen, a passkey would automatically be made available online and we would gain access to an “insurance file” currently hosted on the Wikileaks servers. All we know at the moment is that this file contains 1.4 GB of classified information on the war in Afghanistan. Speculation proposes that the info contained therein would be heavily embarrassing for the US government and may damage international relations.
To this date, Wikileaks has revealed over 100,000 documents with notable revelations such as: proof of corruption in the Kenyan government, how certain Guantanamo Bay prisoners are hidden from the Red Cross and international observers, a list of members (and addresses) of the far-right British National Party, details on an oil scandal in Peru involving several government officials, the Saudi Royal family is a major financier of Al Qaida and what measures the British government is taking to prevents classified documents from appearing on Wikileaks. There have been many more but safe to say that the planet has not imploded from any of these revelations.
At its very core, Wikileaks protects whistleblowers, people that have the unenviable job of following their conscience and exposing higher-ups while facing the consequences. Often intimidated, routinely fired and made to look like libellous attention-seekers, very few countries have laws protecting these people. In fact, many more have laws protecting companies from whistleblowers. To take two examples, the United States has yet to make sweeping legislation protecting them so for the moment, each case is dependant on local precedent, individual state regulations and the mindset of single judges. Not far but on the contrary, Canada is the very worst Western country in this aspect. Having always refused to officially protect whistleblowers, Canada has had to wait for official inquiries to expose corruption, especially from its own government (Liberal subsidy scandal, the Conrad Black affair…). This means that the alleged wrongdoings go on for decades and even more as certain altruistic people try to expose them but are summarily fired and even prosecuted for slander in the meantime.
Wikileaks has revealed much from our past and present but it is its future in jeopardy that must preoccupy us. Wikileaks provides an international protection for whistleblowers and as a result is forcing honesty and transparency in countries that were never willing to do so with legislation. A group of illustrious Australian media professionals said it best: “In essence, Wikileaks, an organization that aims to expose official secrets, is doing what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret.”
In conclusion, here is a short list of the whistleblowers that preceded Wikileaks and that have been instrumental for historical change but almost always at the expense of the brave denouncer.
1) In 1859, Henry Dumont had witnessed the Battle of Solferino and decided to publish a book exposing the terrible suffering of battle wounded, the ineptitude of battle medics and the immediate need for a recognized neutral medical force on all battlefields. This directly resulted in the Swiss creation of the Red Cross.
2) During the Second World War, Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter, travelled to the United States to set the record straight about the Nazi occupation of Poland. Whereas Berlin claimed a humane occupation, Karski told President Roosevelt of abuse, oppression and death camps. His warnings were not taken seriously but they were proven right years later when the Allies freed the first camps.
3) In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg published “The Pentagon Papers” or an exposition of the Vietnam War and the elaborate deceptions that led to US involvement in South-East Asia. The Papers caused massive opposition to an already unpopular war and led to ending the war.
4) In 1972, Peter Buxton of the US Health Service revealed the ongoing of the Tuskegee experiments in which impoverished African Americans were infected with syphilis without their knowledge to study the course and effects of the untreated infection on the human body. Buxton’s snitching put a stop to these ridiculously unethical experiments that had been going on since 1932 in Macon County, Alabama.
5) That same year, associate director of the FBI Mark Felt became known as “Deep Throat” for revealing President Nixon’s illegal wiretaps and spying in the Watergate scandal which led to his impeachment.
6) The nation of Israel does not officially have nuclear weapons. That being said, Mordechai Vanunu revealed the specifics of the Israeli nuclear arsenal to the British Press in 1986. Assuming he was making it up, it would not explain his imprisonment in solitary confinement for eleven years and official restrictions that, to this day, prevent him from leaving Israel or even speaking with foreigners.
7) In 1996, Jeffrey Wigand had been VP of research and development for Brown & Williamson (an American tobacco company) for many years when he made an unscheduled appearance on the show 60 minutes. Flabbergasting his employers, he revealed to the world that cigarettes produced in his workplace were intentionally manipulated on a genetic level to maximize nicotine content and therefore chemical addiction. He became notorious following Russell Crowe’s portrayal of him in the movie “The Insider”. Harassment and death threats have been common for him ever since.
8 ) Linda Tripp does not fit our pattern of whistleblowers becoming selfless heroes but she nevertheless became one of the most remembered in 1998. She taped her friend Monica Lewinsky and exposed that the intern had perjured herself in court, lying about her indiscretions with President Clinton. Tripp suffered some governmental harassment following this but had it recognized by the courts that awarded her a sizeable settlement.
9) The 2002 Time magazine people of the year were all known for their whistleblowing: Cythia Cooper exposed the financial illegalities of Worldcom while Sherron Watkins did the same for Enron. Our trifecta was completed by Coleen Rowley of the FBI who exposed her agency’s slow action leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
10) Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani was only 26 but held a prominent job as a physician in Iran’s Jahrizak Detention Centre. He selflessly testified in court that political prisoners were being tortured in the centre, knowing that whistleblowers in Iran do not have a very high life-expectancy. Indeed, the authorities revealed his accidental death due to stress and miscellaneous injuries four days later (an investigation later proved he was poisoned.) We unfortunately have no way of knowing if Dr. Pourandarjani’s sacrifice changed how political prisoners are treated in Iran.
Posted on: Friday, January 21, 2011 - 14:03
SOURCE: NYT (1-20-11)
DESPITE overwhelming evidence to the contrary, roughly one in five Americans believes that vaccines cause autism — a disturbing fact that will probably hold true even after the publication this month, in a British medical journal, of a report thoroughly debunking the 1998 paper that began the vaccine-autism scare.
That’s because the public’s underlying fear of vaccines goes much deeper than a single paper. Until officials realize that, and learn how to counter such deep-seated concerns, the paranoia — and the public-health risk it poses — will remain.
The evidence against the original article and its author, a British medical researcher named Andrew Wakefield, is damning. Among other things, he is said to have received payment for his research from a lawyer involved in a suit against a vaccine manufacturer; in response, Britain’s General Medical Council struck him from the medical register last May. As the journal’s editor put it, the assertion that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine caused autism “was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud.”
But public fear of vaccines did not originate with Dr. Wakefield’s paper. Rather, his claims tapped into a reservoir of doubt and resentment toward this life-saving, but never risk-free, technology.
Vaccines have had to fight against public skepticism from the beginning. In 1802, after Edward Jenner published his first results claiming that scratching cowpox pus into the arms of healthy children could protect them against smallpox, a political cartoon appeared showing newly vaccinated people with hooves and horns....
Posted on: Friday, January 21, 2011 - 10:49
SOURCE: Sun Sentinel (1-16-11)
Those who call themselves "constitutional conservatives" have odd ideas about what treating the Constitution conservatively means. We now hear calls for a constitutional amendment unprecedented in the radical change that it would work in our federal system, filled with potential dangers to that system, and with precious little justification.
This Repeal Amendment would empower a supermajority of two-thirds of the states to overturn any federal statute or regulation for being unconstitutional (or just for looking that way).
Two substantive points against the Repeal Amendment come to mind immediately.
First, look at our state legislatures. It's hard to feel any confidence in how they conduct their own business, let alone how they might use the Repeal Amendment to wreak havoc on the federal government. Second, the Repeal Amendment makes clear that the old constitutional war-horse, nullification — a doctrine claiming that a state has the power to nullify any federal law within its own borders — was and is just plain wrong. Why amend the Constitution to create this supermajority state-legislative repeal mechanism unless nullification is as bogus as Andrew Jackson said it was in the 1830s?...
Posted on: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 20:50
SOURCE: Huffington Post (1-20-11)
[Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, the Editor of the Journal of Asian Studies, and the author, most recently, of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know(published in April by Oxford University Press). A co-founder and regular contributor to The China Beat: Blogging How the East is Read, and a co-editor of China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance, he has contributed commentaries and reviews to various newspapers and to magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and the Nation.]
Except in the Windy City itself, where Hu Jintao heads today and will spend tomorrow, the reporting and speculative commentary on the Chinese leader's second visit to the United States has tended to focus on its just-concluding Washington leg. To me, though, the stop in Chicago seemed from the start the most potentially interesting and novel part of Hu's trip. After all, this is the first time that a visit to Chicago, an economically important crossroads city with a colorful history and famous architectural landmarks, has figured in the itinerary of the head of China's Communist Party. (UPDATE 1: a good discussion of why the Windy City makes sense as a place for Hu to be going has just appeared as the newest post at the consistently engaging and informative"Letter from China" blog maintained by former Chicago Tribune reporter turned New Yorker Beijing bureau chief Evan Osnos.)
Novelties in U.S.-China state visits, like this Chicago stop, matter in part because when a new thing takes place on one trip, a matching event often occurs during the next one. After Jiang Zemin gave a speech in 1997 at Harvard, for example, it seemed only natural that when Bill Clinton went to the PRC next, in 1998, he should give a talk at Peking University ("Beida" for short), a Beijing institution that likes to call itself the Harvard of China. So, it is worth asking this question now: What would be the most symbolically appropriate or simply most interesting Chicago-like stop that could be part of Barack Obama's schedule, if he makes another presidential trip to China?
To answer this question, I've prepared a little list of five possibilities for a second city (Beijing's got to be visited) that Obama could go to on his next trip, which would be a match for Hu's 2010 stay in America's Second City. These options range from the sensible and plausible to the intriguing but hopelessly far-fetched:
1) Chongqing. This is a booming Chinese metropolis, with a striking physical landscape due to a location on steep hills that shoot up beside the Yangzi River. One similarity to Chicago is that it has a famous and politically ambitious mayor, Bo Xilai, who, like the Windy City's latest Daley-in-charge, is the son of a famous political figure (his dad Bo Yibo took part in the Long March). Another appeal of Chongqing for a presidential visit is its historic significance for U.S.-China relations, as it was the wartime capital of Chiang Kai-shek's government back when Chinese and American armies were allied in the fight against Japan. The city's even sometimes referred to as"Chicago on the Yangtze"--the title of a smart recent article by Christina Larson (it's subtitle:"Welcome to Chongqing, the biggest city you've never heard of"--a bit misleading as there are big cities, including the next two on my list, that are probably a good deal less well known in the U.S. than Chongqing, even if some Americans are more likely to recognize the place name when rendered the old way as"Chungking").
(UPDATE 2: a good slide show focusing on variation among Chinese cities went up at the PBS Newshour site this afternoon; it has a striking image of Chongqing and shots of 3 of the 4 other urban centers on this list as well.)
2) Wuhan. This city is far down the Yangzi (Yangtze) from Chongqing, which is in China's far west. Location-wise, it's a better counterpart to Chicago, in the sense of being smack dab in the middle of a massive continent-sized country. In addition, the 1911 Revolution began with mutinies in Wuhan, and brought to power a president, Sun Yat-sen, who, like Obama, was fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln and spent part of his youth going to school in Hawaii. Downsides include the weather (at least for a summer Summit: it's called one of China's"furnace" cites for a reason) and the lack of either knock-out physical scenery (a la Chongqing) or world class buildings (another appealing option for photo ops).
3) Dongguan. Here, we move into still less probable territory, for this overgrown factory town in the Pearl River Delta is not linked to any famous moment in Chinese history or the history of U.S.-China relation. Nor does it register as an important metropolis in the internal politics of the Chinese Communist Party, contain any well-known architectural landmarks suitable for photo ops or sightseeing, or have a famous mayor. Donguan is, however, a metropolis where many of the goods bound for American big box stores are made, and so there's a match to the Chicago stopover by Hu including a focus on expanding economic ties between the two countries. In addition, a particularly interesting and powerful book on Dongguan, Leslie T. Chang's Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China brings up a Chicago parallel. Chang writes that the young women she interviewed often had life stories that reminded her of those of the heroines in Theodore Dreisser novels. And the eponymous protagonist of Dreisser's best known work of fiction, Sister Carrie, traced the trials and tribulations of a country girl who became a working woman in Chicago.
4) Lhasa. This is the most outlandish idea of all, but Tibet's most famous city would in some ways be best match of all for a place Obama could go next time he was in the PRC, simply to return the favor that Hu has done him by going the American city that played the central role in his own early political career. For in the 1980s, while Obama was cutting his teeth politically as a community organizer in Chicago, Hu began his ascent to the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party as a Beijing's representative in Tibet. Of course, what he was involved in was very different from community organizing, as his most important act in Tibet was to spearhead the harsh repressive campaign that"restored order" there after protests broke out in Lhasa and other Tibetan cities in 1989, not long before the start of the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that captured the attention of television viewers around the world.
5. Shanghai. This final possibility doesn't pose the kind of political problem that Lhasa does. And like Chicago, it's got links to a World's Fair (since the 2010 Expo was just held there), has striking neo-classical buildings built early in the 1900s, and is associated with a notorious gangster of the last century (Shanghai's"Big Eared Du" is as well known in China as Al Capone is in the U.S.).
The problem is that Obama went to Shanghai last time. Surely he wouldn't want his second visit to be a complete rerun? And as fond as I am of Shanghai, the Chinese city I've visited and written about most, I too would hate to see him return there. For news coverage of presidential travels offers an opportunity to expand the store of images that come to mind when Americans think about China, and there's a recurring tendency, despite the ramped up reporting on the PRC, for people here to underestimate how diverse and varied that country is. So, if Lhasa's too dicey, Dongguan's too new, and Wuhan's too lacking in photo op backdrops, here's hoping that Chongqing gets the nod.
Posted on: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 17:41
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (1-20-11)
Gov. Robert Bentley, the new governor of Alabama, created a firestorm of controversy on Monday when he said that if you are not a Christian he does not consider you his brother or his sister.
He added, “… so anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their saviour, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister…” Ironically, he was speaking for Martin Luther King Day at an African-American church, and was probably attempting to stress religious commonalities as a way of stressing that he opposes racial prejudice. Unfortunately for him, not all Alabamans are Christians....
Since 1965 in particular, large numbers of immigrants have come in from Africa and Asia who practice religions beyond the classic ‘Protestant-Catholic-Jew’ trinity. Thus, the Hindu American Foundation and the Muslims were among those who protested, along with Jews. There are about one million Hindus in the US, 2 million Buddhists, and about 5-6 million Muslims if you count children. They are clearly as committed to a public civil religion discourse as are Catholics and Jews.
It seems to me that the groups that protested Bentley’s statement have some international responsibilities. Would the governor chief minister of Gujarat in India be willing to say that Muslims are his ‘brothers and sisters’? Would Avigdor Lieberman in Israel accept Palestinian-Israelis as his ‘brothers and sisters?’ How many Pakistani Muslim politicians would speak of brotherhood and sisterhood with the country’s 3 million Hindu citizens? Maybe some letter-writing to those figures is in order, too.
Posted on: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 13:52
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (1-19-11)
Perhaps the best way to understand former Haitian dictator and would-be president-for-life Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's quixotic return to his homeland after 25 years in exile in France is through William Faulkner's classic observation that "The past is never dead. It's not even the past."
What better proof than the stunning spectacle of the once porky, now gaunt 59-year-old shuffling from the airport after a perfunctory meeting with the cooperative immigration officials who accepted his expired diplomatic passport, and the police convoy that protected him on his route to his luxurious Karibe Hotel in a Port-au-Prince suburb, where he stood on the balcony and waved regally to beaming supporters and bemused journalists? A quarter-century earlier, this man had fled Haiti under military guard, reviled by his people and a pariah to the international community.
But Duvalier left behind Duvalierism, a system of government too profoundly entrenched to truly eradicate. And it's Duvalierism, with or without its figurehead, that explains, among other tragedies, the near paralysis of the René Préval government's response to the 2010 earthquake that killed nearly 300,000, decimated the civil service, smashed buildings, and obliterated the landscape. More recently, it explains the government's attempt to pervert the electoral process by engineering the victory of Jude Celestin, Préval's protégé.
Posted on: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 11:43
SOURCE: National Review (1-20-11)
After the recent Tucson shootings, Pima County sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, a Democrat, almost immediately and without evidence claimed that conservative anti-government speech had set off alleged killer Jared Lee Loughner.
Yet the more the unfolding details informed us that the Communist Manifesto — and Mein Kampf — reading Loughner was mentally unstable, apolitical, and without discernible interests in contemporary issues, the more the flamboyant Dupnik went on television to expand his cast of culpable characters. He finally ended up blaming everyone from Tea Party opponents of President Obama to talk-show host Rush Limbaugh — and became an instant celebrity and hero to left-wing partisans.
Just as disturbing as the incoherence of Dupnik’s demagoguery was his apparent professional incompetence. As the sheriff’s nationally televised blame narrative imploded, it was also disclosed that Loughner had a long record of aberrant behavior and substance abuse in Pima County — known to local law enforcement, including Dupnik’s own department.
More disturbing still, if Dupnik were right that a pre-existing climate of conservative-engendered hate was not only pervasive in Tucson, but might also prompt an unstable person to kill, why had he not dispatched at least one of his 500 officers to patrol the open-air public event sponsored by Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?..
Posted on: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 09:56
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (1-19-11)
'The Kleenex Revolution"? Somehow I think not. Unless, that is, you follow Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. In a televised denunciation of the popular uprising that has deposed his friendly neighbouring dictator, he ranted: "Even you, my Tunisian brothers, you may be reading this Kleenex and empty talk on the internet." (Kleenex is how Gaddafi refers to WikiLeaks.) "Any useless person, any liar, any drunkard, anyone under the influence, anyone high on drugs can talk on the internet, and you read what he writes and you believe it. This is talk which is for free. Shall we become the victims of Facebook and Kleenex and YouTube?" To which, since the speaker is another dictator, I devoutly hope that the answer is "Yes". Let Kleenex wipe them away, one after another, like blobs of phlegm.
But will it? What contribution do websites, social networks and mobile phones make to popular protest movements? Is there any justification for labelling the Tunisian events, as some have done, a "Twitter Revolution" or a "WikiLeaks Revolution"?
A remarkable young Belarussian activist-analyst, Evgeny Morozov, has just challenged the lazy assumptions behind such politico-journalistic tags in a book called The Net Delusion, which went to press before the Tunisian rising. The subtitle of the British edition is "How Not to Liberate the World". Morozov has fun deriding and demolishing the naively optimistic visions which, particularly in the United States, seem to accompany the emergence of every new communications technology. (I remember an article a quarter-century ago entitled "The fax will set you free".)
He shows that claims for the contribution of Twitter and Facebook to Iran's green movement were exaggerated. These new technologies can also be used by dictators to watch, entrap and persecute their opponents. Above all, he insists that the internet does not suspend the usual workings of power politics. It is politics that decides whether the dictator will be toppled, as in Tunisia, or the bloggers beaten and locked up, as in Morozov's native Belarus...
Posted on: Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 09:51
SOURCE: TomDispatch (1-18-11)
[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). You can catch him discussing war American-style and that book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.]
“Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it. Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible jet impinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire.
“Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling, and their supporters turning to run...”
That, as H.G. Wells imagined it in 1898, was first contact with a technologically superior and implacable alien race from space, five years before humanity took to the air in anything but balloons. And that was how the Martians, landing in their “cylinders,” those spaceships from a dying planet, ready to take over ours, responded to a delegation of humans advancing on them waving a flag of peace and ready to parlay. As everyone knows who has read The War of the Worlds, or heard the 1938 Orson Welles radio show version that terrified New Jersey, or watched the 1953 movie or the Stephen Spielberg 2005 remake, those Martians went on to level cities, slaughter masses of humanity using heat-rays and poison gas, and threaten world domination before being felled by the germs for which they were unprepared.
Germs aside, Wells’s Martians did little more than what earthly powers would do to each other and various “lesser” peoples in the 112 years that followed the publication of his book. Now, a group of scientists writing in an “extraterrestrial-themed edition” of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A in Great Britain warn us that we should ready ourselves for the possibility of alien contact. We should, in fact, “prepare for the worst” which, according to contributor Simon Conway Morris, could be summed up this way: thanks to neo-Darwinian laws of evolution assumedly operative anywhere, such aliens, should they exist, would probably be more or less like us.
Long before Morris, Wells understood that the most dangerous aliens weren’t in space, but right here on planet Earth, and concluded that he lived among them. When he wrote his ur-alien-invasion novel, he was evidently using the British “war of extermination” againstthe Tasmanians as his model.
Of course, we in the United States have few doubts about who the aliens on this planet are: Them! (the title of a classic 1954 sci-fi movie about monstrous mutant ants that infest the sewer system of Los Angeles). In my childhood, “them” was “the commies,” of course. Now, it's certainly Muslims or jihadists or Islamo-fascists.
When one of them commits some nightmarish act, whether a slaughter at Fort Hood in Texas, the planting of a car bomb in New York City's Times Square, or the donning of an underwear bomb for a flight to Detroit on Christmas day, our response is a shudder of fear and loathing, followed by further repression. After all, each of those acts is imagined as part of a barbaric and fiendish pattern inimical to our safety. Perhaps because it’s assumed that they are mentally ill (“fanatic”) en masse, that being “a loner” isn’t part of their culture, and that individuality is not one of their strong points, the heinousness of the act is focused upon rather than the potentially damaged nature of the individual who acted.
It’s only when a Timothy McVeigh or a Jared Loughner emerges from the undergrowth that problems arise and reactions change. (Keep in mind that McVeigh’s crime, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people, was initially blamed on Arab terrorists and that, had Loughner gotten away from that Safeway in Tucson, similar warnings might have been raised.) It’s only then that the bizarre individuality, even the twisted humanity, of such acts comes to the fore and so mental illness becomes a possible explanation. It’s only then that, instead of fear and panic, we “grieve” as a nation and engage in a “conversation” about the state of ourselves.
Not surprisingly, the police mug shot of Loughner featured on the front-page of my hometown paper (and probably every other paper in America) was the equivalent, for the American conversation, of manna from heaven: a smiling maniac, the Grim Reaper gone bonkers, someone who had visibly absorbed left, right, and every kind of fringe into his dream world and conveniently come out a “nihilist.”
In the Crosshairs
Whether it’s obvious or not, all of this avoids a different kind of conversation about slaughter and mania. After all, thought of from a Wellsian perspective, it’s always possible that the Martians could actually be us (or us, too, at least) -- and not just the madmen among us either. Welles was a rarity on this issue. When it comes to thinking of ourselves as “them,” normally it just doesn’t come naturally.
At a moment when a single horrific incident, the killing of six Americans and the wounding of 13, including a member of Congress, looms so much larger than life and has for days become “the news,” when our world has been abuzz with media discussions about civility in U.S. politics, crosshairs and where they were placed, the president’s role as"national healer," and various profiles in courage among the living and dead, when the focus, in other words, is so overwhelming, you have to wonder what’s hidden from sight.
One out-of-sight matter to consider might be those crosshairs -- not on a symbolic political map but over actual humans beings, resulting in multiple deaths. I’m talking about our war in Afghanistan.
To give an example, on January 10th, according to a New York Times report, a “team” (whether American or NATO we don’t know) “conducting a patrol” in the village of Baladas in central Afghanistan"spotted 'nine armed individuals setting up what appeared to be an ambush position.'" That team called in a helicopter strike, killing three Afghans and wounding three others. According to a statement from “a coalition spokesman,” the six casualties turned out to be “innocent people... mistakenly targeted.” According to local Afghan figures, they were members of “a local police team... on their way to meet a unit of the American Special Forces for a joint patrol.” Condolences have since been offered and a NATO “assessment team” was sent to the site to “investigate.”
Classified as a case of “friendly fire,” the incident represents one small-scale slaughter that got no attention here. Like almost all such reports from Afghanistan, the names of the dead and wounded were not recorded (undoubtedly because there was no reporter on the ground to ask). And it goes without saying that no one in our world will grieve for those dead, or praise them, or offer “healing” words about what their example should mean to the rest of us. About their fate, there will be no TV reports, no conversation on underlying issues, not a shred of discussion, not here.
A week ago, it’s reasonable to assume, 99.9% of Americans had never heard of Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords; even fewer knew of federal judge John Roll who died in that Safeway parking lot; and none (other than family and friends) had heard about nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, tragically shot down while learning firsthand how U.S. politics works, or Daniel Hernandez, the congresswoman’s intern, who ran towards the gunshots to offer help. Now, we all “know” them as if they were neighbors or friends. Victims of a nightmare, they have been memorialized repeatedly, giving us the feeling that there is something better to American life than Jared Loughner.
In the process, the coverage of the Tucson massacre has been, to say the least, unrelenting. From a media point of view, it’s also had its ghoulish side: Think of it as the OJ moment -- the discovery that focusing on a high-profile nightmare 24/7 glues eyeballs -- meets the more recent massive downsizing of newspapers and TV news. All of this makes"flooding the zone" (covering a single, endlessly reported event) cheaper, less labor intensive, and far more appealing than blanketing the world.
On the other hand, the coverage of the “friendly fire” incident in Afghanistan has been, to put it politely, relenting.
Close to 100% of Americans knew nothing about that incident when it happened and close to 100% know nothing about it now. Of course, in the fog of war tragic mistakes are made, intelligence gets screwed up, targeting goes awry, deadly mishaps occur. So six local Afghan police mistakenly killed or wounded by a helicopter hardly turn us into slaughtering maniacs (though imagine the attention, had six policemen been shot down anywhere in the United States).
To put this incident in perspective, however, consider five similar “friendly fire” incidents reported from Afghanistan in the five weeks preceding January 10th, none of which got significant attention here.
On December 8th in Logar Province, two missiles from a U.S. air strike “mistakenly killed” two Afghan National Army soldiers and wounded five as they were moving to help NATO troops under attack. The Afghan Defense Ministry “condemned” the strike. (“As a result of a bombardment by international forces... two soldiers... were martyred...”)
On December 16th in Helmand Province, another air strike killed four Afghan soldiers as they were leaving their base, yet again a case identified as mistaken targeting. Typically, an investigation was launched (though the results of such investigations are almost never reported).
On December 23rd, “in an attempt to intercept suspected insurgents,” a “NATO helicopter” reportedly strafed a car in a convoy heading for “an event hosted by the head of a local council in [Faryab Province in] northern Afghanistan.” A policeman and the brother of former parliament member Sarajuddin Mozafari, a local politician, were killed. Two policemen and a civilian were reported wounded. The governor of the province, Abdul Haq Shafaq, was among the guests and aided the wounded. Associated Press reporter Amir Shah quoted the governor this way:"'We are so angry about this,' Shafaq said, describing the dead as innocents. He called for an investigation into the incident by the attorney general.” (Said U.S. Air Force Col. James Dawkins in response to the event:"While we take extraordinary care in conducting operations to avoid civilian casualties, unfortunately in this instance it appears innocent men were mistakenly targeted... we deeply regret this incident.")
On December 24th, there was a “night raid” in Kabul. (The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai regularly condemns such American night raids.) Evidently thanks to mistaken intelligence, two private guards were killed and three wounded when commandos from coalition forces raided the headquarters of the Afghan Tiger Group, “a supplier of vehicles to the United States military.” (From the New York Timesreport on the incident comes the following quote: “’It was murder,’ said Col. Mohammed Zahir, director of criminal investigations for the Kabul police, who arrived at the scene shortly after the raid began and said both victims had been shot in the head.”)
On January 5th in Ghazni province, another night raid resulted in the deaths of three Afghans whose bodies were paraded through Ghazni City by angry fellow tribesmen shouting “Death to America.” Local officials indicated that the three were indeed innocent civilians; the Americans claimed they were “insurgents.”
Massacres like the one in Tucson are more common than Americans like to imagine, but still reasonably rare. The repetitious deaths of “innocents” in Afghanistan are commonplace in a way that Americans generally don’t care to consider. Add up the casualties from all six of these incidents between December 8th and January 10th and you get 16 dead (and 13 wounded).
Next, put together the mistaken targetings, the American denials or expressions of condolence, the predictable announcements of investigations whose results never seem to surface, as well as the minimalist coverage in the U.S., and you have a pattern: that is, something you can be sure will happen again and again on as yet unknown days in 2011 to as little attention here.
And keep in mind that such “incidents” have been the norm of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pakistani tribal borderlands for years. There have been hundreds or (who knows?) even thousands of them (not that anyone is counting). And yet, let’s face it, if we were to look in the mirror, one thing is certain: we would not see a grinning, demented monster staring back at us.
Here's a question: Why don't the dead of our foreign wars register on us, particularly the civilians killed in numbers that, if attributed to our enemies or past imperial armies, would be seen as the acts of barbarians? After all, when a Taliban suicide bomber kills 17 Afghans and wounds 23 in a bathhouse, including a senior police border-control officer, we know just what to think. It wouldn't matter if those who sent the bomber claimed that he had made a “mistake” in targeting, or if they declared the other deaths regrettable “collateral damage.” When we attack with similar results, we hardly think about it at all.
I can imagine at least three factors involved:
Tribalism: Yes, we consider them the tribal ones, but we have our own tribal qualities, including a deep-seated feeling that what’s close at hand (us) is more valuable than what’s far away (them). The valorizing of your own group and the devaluing of those outside it undoubtedly couldn’t be more human. Who doesn’t know, for instance, that when it comes to media coverage, one blond American child kidnapped and murdered is worth 500 Indonesians drowned on a ferry?
Racism/The Superiority Factor: This subject is no longer raised in connection with American wars, and yet it’s obviously of importance. If 16 Americans had been killed and 13 wounded in six mistaken-targeting incidents even in distant Afghanistan, we would be outraged. There would be news coverage, Congressional hearings, who knows what. If there had been the same number of dead Canadians or Germans, there would still have been an outcry. But Afghans? Dark-skinned peoples from an alien culture in the backlands of the planet? No way. Our condolences every now and then are the best we have on tap.
The American Way of War: Once upon a time, we Americans responded to air war, especially against civilian populations, as barbaric and, shocked by its effects in Guernica, Shanghai, London, and elsewhere, denounced it. That, of course, was before air war became such an integral part of the American way of war. In recent years, American military spokespeople have regularly boasted of the increasingly “surgical” and “precise” nature of air power. The most impressively surgical thing about air war, however, is the way it has been excised from the category of barbarism in our American world. The suicide bomber or car bomber is a monster, a barbarian. Drones, planes, helicopters? No such thing, despite the stream of innocents they kill.
No wonder when we look in the mirror, we don’t see the grinning face of a maniac; sometimes we see no face at all, quite literally in the case of the Pakistani tribal borderlands where hundreds have died (always “militants” or “suspected militants”) thanks to pilotless drones and video-game-style war.
In a safe in Jared Loughner’s parents’ house, investigators from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department found documents with the words"I planned ahead,""My assassination," and"Giffords." The words of a madman. When a Taliban suicide bomber strikes, we know that we are staring off-the-charts brutality in the face. When it comes to our killings, it’s always another matter.
And yet, even if every one of those Afghan deaths was “mistaken,” there was nothing innocent about the killings. If something happens often enough to be a predictable horror, then those who commit the acts (and those who send them to do so, as well as those who have the luxury of looking the other way) are responsible, and should be accountable.
After all, week after week, month after month, year after year since September 11, 2001, the deaths have piled up relentlessly. Towers and towers of deaths. Barely reported, seldom named, hardly noted, almost never grieved over in our world, those dead Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis had parents who assumedly loved them, friends who cared about them, enemies who might have wanted to target them, colleagues and associates who knew their quirks. We’re talking so many Safeways' worth of them that it’s beyond reckoning.
Civilians repeatedly killed at checkpoints; 12 Afghans including a four-year-old girl, a one-year-old boy, and three elderly villagers shot down near the city of Jalalabad when Marine Special Operations forces, attacked by a suicide bomber, fired wildly along a ten-mile stretch of road in April 2007; at least 12 Iraqi civilians (including two employees of Reuters) slaughtered by an Apache helicopter on a street in Baghdad in July 2007; at least 17 Iraqi civilians murdered by Blackwater contractors protecting a convoy of State Department vehicles in Nisour Square, Baghdad, in September 2007.
Any recent year has such “highlights”: a popular Kabul Imam shot to death in his car from a passing NATO convoy with his 7-year-old son in the back seat in January 2010; at least 21 Afghan civilians killed when U.S. jets mistakenly fired on three mini-buses in Uruzgan Province in February 2010; five civilians killed and up to 18 wounded when U.S. troops raked a passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in April 2010; and 10 Afghan election workers killed and two wounded last September in a"precision air strike" on a “militant’s vehicle.”
And that, of course, is just to scratch the surface of such incidents. Wedding parties have repeatedly been obliterated (at least seven in Afghanistan and Iraq), naming ceremonies for children wiped out, and funerals blown away.
Bodies and more bodies. All “mistakes.” And yet, knowing the mistakes that have happened and assured of the mistakes to come, our leaders are still talking about U.S. “combat troops” staying in Afghanistan through 2014; our vice-president is pledging us to remain “well beyond” that year; one of our senators is calling for “permanent bases” there; our trainers are expecting to conduct training exercises in 2016; and in the meantime, our Afghan war commander is calling in more air power, more night raids, and more destruction.
Nowhere do we see the face of a madman grinning, but the toll across the years is that of a cold-blooded killer. It’s the mark of barbarism, even if we’re not fanatics.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 20:45
SOURCE: Dissident Voice (1-18-11)
Recently the organizers of the Stuttgart conference and especially those who signed the Stuttgart declaration came under sever criticism from various writers and politicians in Germany and were exposed at time even to typical German center left abrasive language.
Setting aside the insignificant aspects of the dialogue – the style and the bizarre focus on one particular person who signed the declaration – it is important to stress the main issues and the principal points that made this conference such a significant contribution to the struggle for Palestine.
The scene of activism in the struggle of Palestine has an orthodoxy on the one hand, and a new challenging movement, on the other. The Orthodoxy based its vision of peace on a two states solution and on a deep conviction that a change from with the Israeli society, through the ’peace camp’ there, will bring about an equitable solution. Two fully sovereign states would live next to each other and would also agree on how to solve the Palestine refugee problem and will decide jointly what kind of a Jerusalem there would be. It also included a wish to see Israel more of a state of all its citizens and less as a Jewish state – but nonetheless retaining its Jewish character.
This vision was clearly based on the wish to help the Palestinians on the one hand and on realpolitik considerations on the other. It was and is driven by over sensitivity for the wishes and ambitions of the powerful Israeli party and by exaggerated consideration for the international balance of power and in particular it is calculated in a way that would fit the basic American position and stances on the issue. It is however a sincere position and in this respect it is different from the position of the political elites of the West which were much more cynical when they pushed forward a softer version of this Orthodox view – these politicians knew and still know that this discourse and plan allows Israel to continue uninterrupted the dispossession of Palestine and the Palestinians and is not in any way a credible formula for ending the colonization of Palestine....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 17:06
SOURCE: The Post and Courier (1-18-11)
One hundred and fifty years ago, South Carolina seceded from the Union and put the nation on the path to its bloody civil war.
The NAACP and media commentators argue that plans by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the origins of the Confederacy ignore slavery's role in the Civil War. Confederate celebrators rebut that the Rebs fought for noble causes like states rights and defending home and family against Northern invaders, and that the North hardly went to war to end slavery. Lincoln waited until mid-war to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
Why can't neo-Confederates and their critics find common ground? The problem is that both sides simplify the past. Let me explain.
Lincoln hated slavery, but he and his Republican party insisted they had no intentions of using federal power to dismantle slavery in southern states. Republicans knew the Constitution had clauses protecting slaveholders' interests, although it avoided using the actual term "slavery." Lincoln, a lawyer, did not believe his party had the right to violate the Constitution, and knew the clauses had been included so Southern states would ratify the document in the first place. Neither Lincoln nor his party endorsed the abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry to free the slaves....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 17:02
SOURCE: State (SC) (1-17-11)
I have spent the past six months trying to support the campaign and then the governorship of Gov. Nikki Haley. As a historian of women in the United States, nothing warms my heart more than when women gain seats at the tables of power. Though her politics were often a bit to the right of my own, and I had concerns about her grasp of the complexities of the issues facing our state and her overly partisan approach, I was happy that a woman and an Asian-American had been elected to the highest office in my state.
Unfortunately, Gov. Haley’s inaugural address destroyed any illusions I had that she had a good grasp of the state’s history and the challenges it faces in the coming four years. A competent governor ought to surround herself with competent researchers who will provide solid background for her speeches. Gov. Haley has failed right off the bat. Her inaugural address is riddled with inaccuracies and superficial statements about our state’s complex, rich and important history that suggest a shallow understanding of our past, present and future, undermining her credibility even before she has an opportunity to accomplish anything positive for our state....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 16:59
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (1-16-11)
One sign read "Game Over". But in fact, the game has barely started.
The Facebook generation has taken to the streets and the "Jasmin Revolt" has become a revolution, at least as of the time of writing. And the flight of former President Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia is inspiring people across the Arab world to take to the streets and warn their own sclerotic and autocratic leaders that they could soon face a similar fate.
As the French paper Le Monde described it, scenes that were "unimaginable only days ago" are now occurring with dizzying speed. Already, in Egypt, Egyptians celebrate and show solidarity over Tunisia's collapse, chanting "Kefaya" and "We are next, we are next, Ben Ali tell Mubarak he is next." Protests in Algeria and Jordan could easily expand thanks to the inspiration of the tens of thousands of Tunisians, young and old, working and middle class, who toppled one of the world's most entrenched dictators. Arab bloggers are hailing what has happened in Tunisia as "the African revolution commencing... the global anti-capitalist revolution."
Around the turn of the new millennium, as the Arab world engaged in an intense debate over the nature of the emerging globalised system, one critic in the newspaper al-Nahar declared that an "inhuman globalisation" has been imposed on the Arab world when its peoples have yet even to be allowed to develop a "human" nationalism. Such a dynamic well describes the history of Tunisia, and most other countries in the Arab/Muslim world as well....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 16:23