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: Salon (2-23-11)
For years, American workers’ wages have stagnated even as they produced more. Since 2008, they have been socked with staggering new bills for bank bailouts and hammered by a Great Recession brought on by the very same banks. Now public sector workers are confronted by a new crop of Republican governors who want to put an end to unions. Union workers in Wisconsin have already conceded all of Governor Walker’s draconian demands. But they want to hold on to their right to bargain so that they won’t be at the mercy of the whims of political appointees or rogue school boards. Tens of thousands have swarmed Madison to show their support for the working people of Wisconsin.
Conservatives are tasked with coming up with a narrative that makes villains out of these working folks and heroes out of the powerful people who aim to squeeze them for what’s left of their economic security.
This is not easy. And you have to admire their ingenuity. Amity Shlaes, ever the eager revisionist, has whipped up a widely parroted narrative that contains just enough truth to give it the ring of plausibility. It goes like this: Governor Scott Walker is a paragon of virtue who will soon be embraced by the American public, just like his union-crushing predecessors Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. According to Shlaes’s account, Coolidge, then governor of Massachusetts, stood boldly against badly abused Boston policemen who walked off the job in 1919 and left the city unprotected against looters. After firing the policemen, Coolidge became a national hero and was promptly swept into the Vice President’s office on a wave of popular admiration. When President Warren Harding died, Coolidge took office and it was suddenly Morning in America....
Posted on: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 16:59
SOURCE: Legal History Blog (2-22-11)
[Mary L. Dudziak is the Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.]
One of the more curious turns in post-9/11 legal scholarship was the embrace of the work of German theorist and “Nazi fellow-traveler” Carl Schmitt. References to Schmitt proliferated in an ongoing discourse of exceptionality (the idea that normal time had been ruptured by non-normal time). Schmitt’s most widely invoked quote was that the “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.” This seemed to fit the post-9/11 context perfectly, since President Bush had declared that an exceptional moment, a wartime, had commenced with the September 11 attacks. Italian philosopher Georgio Agamben was also turned to. He draws from Schmitt’s theory of sovereignty to develop a radical critique of the modern state, arguing that states of exception tend to become normalized. (The scholarly consensus is described here.)
For American scholars, the ongoing character of the new security age was evidence that an emergency regime was being normalized. Schmitt’s work, drawing from the experience of Weimar Germany, served as an important warning of what can happen when security concerns stemming from war or crisis seep into domestic politics. But the turn to Schmitt and Agamben reinforced a discourse of exceptionality, seeing the post-9/11 years as a departure from normal times. Consistent across this literature was the idea that time had changed on September 11, that it had ushered in a new era.
Citations to Schmitt in legal scholarship steadily increased. A search of the Westlaw legal periodicals database shows twenty-four citations to Schmitt in 2001, twenty-nine in 2002, fifty-one in 2003, and eighty-six in 2009. Important and influential works invoked Schmitt’s ideas.
[These numbers and the chart are based on a search in the Westlaw Journals and Law Reviews database. The search was conducted using a common technique for scholarly impact surveys: a search for carl /2 schmitt. False hits were removed from totals. Many thanks to Paul Moorman of the USC Law Library for help with this.]
While some of this work draws upon Schmitt’s articulation of a state of exception and applies it to various contexts, other works critically engage Schmitt in the context of a wider literature on governmental power. Panels on Schmitt at scholarly conferences were heavily attended. Some some scholars pushed back. Bruce Ackerman argued that reliance on Schmitt made discussions of emergency power melodramatic when they need to be taken seriously. Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule saw the embrace of Schmitt as tied to an undue focus on Weimar. That history had received too much attention, they argued. “Weimar was an unconsolidated and institutionally shaky transitional democracy” of the early twentieth century. Its relevance for contemporary democracies, which tend to be more stable, “is not obvious.” But curiously, rather than turn away from Schmitt, they drew from what they considered to be the “marrow” of his ideas, and incorporated that marrow into their analysis of executive power. This illustrates the way invocations of Schmitt became a language for discussions of executive power, even for scholars who decried his influence.
A more searching critique of Schmitt’s influence in American political thought appears in John Brenkman, The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought since September 11. The political problem posed by Schmitt’s theorem, as Brenkman puts it, is that “since the rule of law rests on the capacity to suspend the rule of law if necessary, whoever declares a state of exception will almost inevitably claim that it is necessary for the preservation of the rule of law and indeed the body politic itself,” even if the claim is specious. However, claims of emergency do not necessarily lead democracies to unravel. “Political systems can be resiliently self-correcting, especially as the public’s sense of emergency wanes or the government’s claim of necessity is thrown into doubt.” More fundamentally, Brenkman argues that Schmitt and Agamben’s formulation of the sovereign as he who declares the exception obscures “the little wedge created by the distinction – and hence the potential gap – between declaration and claim, act and justification, rule and legitimacy.” It is here, “along these hairline fractures in the discourse of power” that Brenkman finds “the very possibility of a political realm and of democracy.”
Where does this hairline fracture appear in legal thought, and how is it managed? Legal scholars writing about the post-9/11 era, like those engaging the Cold War and other conflicts, tend to take external events that generate a crisis, like wars, as a given. The crisis appears to exist out in the world, outside the realm of law, and it is the legal scholar’s task to take up the way those external events affect the law’s functioning. The crisis exists, and law reacts until the crisis goes away. This way of thinking is reflected in the current exceptionality discourse which assumes that we are in a form of crisis time that differs from normal time. But following from Brenkman, the exception derives not only from something external, but in the wedge between “declaration and claim, act and justification.” The need for legitimacy puts the possibility of politics in the middle of the identifying of a state of exception. The crisis isn’t external to the world of politics that law occupies. Instead, exceptionality derives from something internal and political: the framing or articulation of crisis, and its justification.
Along that hairline fracture, in that political space, lies the construction of the idea of wartime. It is there that the narrative work is done, framing an episode as a war, and placing it in the legacy of great American conflicts. For all the challenges of George W. Bush’s presidency, he succeeded completely in this most fundamental task: rallying the nation behind the idea that we were at war.
The greatest challenge to the exceptionality thesis was simply the facts on the ground. If the war on terror was a rupture of normal time, then it was inherently temporary, and would last only until normal times returned. As the era pressed on, Americans turned their focus to their daily lives, even as American troops continued to patrol dangerous territory in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as American unmanned war planes bombed targets in Pakistan. This was not the normalization of a state of exception, for ongoing smaller-scale wars had been a feature of American international relations since at least the Cold War. It was instead the passage of what had become normal time in America.
More on this topic will appear in War Time: A Critical History.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 16:52
SOURCE: American Interest (Blog) (2-22-11)
Is America in a race to the bottom, or are we going through what the Austrian born economist Joseph Schumpeter would call a process of “creative destruction”?
As readers over thirty will remember, Ronald Reagan used to tell the story of two boys: a pessimist and an optimist. A psychologist put the pessimistic boy in a roomful of toys; he sat around morosely worried that if he played with the toys they would break and he would be blamed. He put the optimist in a room with a big pile of horse manure; the boy started eagerly digging. The psychologist asked why and the boy answered that with all that manure on the floor there had to be a pony in there somewhere.
Your attitude toward that story probably predicts what you think about the protests in Madison — and a lot else besides. If you think America is in a race to the bottom as low wage labor in China and elsewhere puts more and more pressure on our middle class living standards here in the US, you probably believe that the Republican attack on public employee unions in Wisconsin is part of a general assault on working people in the United States — and you think this is something we need to fight. You likely think that the decline of the American middle class will destroy our prosperity and stability and that the public unions are one of the last forces standing in the way of an all out corporate assault on what’s left of the American way of life.
I can’t call this view stupid; my first book, Mortal Splendor, argued that the forces of globalization (though the name hadn’t been invented yet) were breaking up the social compact in western Europe and the United States, and that the resulting breakdown and class war threatened America’s stability and prosperity at home and would undermine our position overseas. That book was written almost thirty years ago; it was one of the first to point up the consequences of global industrialization for blue collar workers in the west. I pointed out in that book and in other pieces I wrote at the time that real wages for non-supervisory private sector workers had begun to stagnate in 1973; that was in 1985 and still today the hourly and weekly wages for American workers in inflation-adjusted dollars are less than they were almost 40 years ago....
Tens of millions of Americans aren’t just reading about American decline; they are living American decline. Access to middle class jobs is getting harder — and the jobs still around are less stable. Public services are slowly declining; cash strapped states and towns can’t provide the kind of education that could open more doors. Roads and bridges aren’t being maintained. Retirements are less secure. Health care is more problematic than ever as insurance prices rise — and fewer jobs offer decent plans. College tuition has exploded; we have a generation of college students carrying mortgage-sized student loans even as they scramble for elusive jobs in a snakebit economy.
And there’s more. The wealthiest in our society have gradually been pulling away from the rest of us — not just because so many of them are getting so rich, but because more of them are focused on the global economy and the health of the global system than on the prosperity of the United States of America. This is not just a US phenomenon; around the world we’ve seen the rise of the “Davoisie”, a global elite whose members have more in common economically and often culturally and morally with their fellow jet setters than with the non-jet-setting citizens of their own home countries. Their wealth, power and connections make them disproportionately powerful in this and many other countries; as a result, in the US and elsewhere policy tips more toward the Davos agenda of cosmopolitan globalism than towards national policies aimed first and foremost at promoting the interests of the citizens of the world’s countries....
I see those arguments and have felt their force for thirty years. I’m not, however, convinced that they ultimately make sense. I’ve been thinking about globalization and the future of American prosperity and power since writing Mortal Splendor and in those thirty years I haven’t so much changed my mind about the problems we face as come to a better understanding of the roots of American prosperity — where the ponies are and how they grow.
I wrote in my first post on Madison that I don’t think that restructuring state government is about the race to the bottom: it’s the way to avoid a race to the bottom. That answer needs a bit more elaboration. The world is in a race: a race to be the most efficient and innovative. Cheapness is one way to win this race: cheap labor can be an advantage.
But America shouldn’t compete on the basis of cheap labor: we are not nor should we try to be the Walmart of Work. So the first question becomes how do we compete in ways that don’t involve endlessly ratcheting down wages and benefits? And the second, related question is how can we generate enough demand for American workers so that market forces drive incomes up from year to year and decade to decade?...
Posted on: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 16:36
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (2-22-11)
The refusal of the people to kiss or ignore the rod that has chastised them for so many decades has opened a new chapter in the history of the Arab nation. The absurd, if much vaunted, neocon notion that Arabs or Muslims were hostile to democracy has disappeared like parchment in fire.
Those who promoted such ideas appear to the most unhappy: Israel and its lobbyists in Euro-America; the arms industry, hurriedly trying to sell as much while it can (the British prime minister acting as a merchant of death at the Abu Dhabi arms fair); and the beleaguered rulers of Saudi Arabia, wondering whether the disease will spread to their tyrannical kingdom. Until now they have provided refuge to many a despot, but when the time comes where will the royal family seek refuge? They must be aware that their patrons will dump them without ceremony and claim they always favoured democracy.
If there is a comparison to be made with Europe it is 1848, when the revolutionary upheavals left only Britain and Spain untouched – even though Queen Victoria, thinking of the Chartists, feared otherwise. Writing to her besieged nephew on the Belgian throne, she expressing sympathy but wondered whether "we will all be slain in our beds". Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown or bejewelled headgear, and has billions stored in foreign banks...
Posted on: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 05:22
SOURCE: Legal History Blog (2-17-11)
[Mary L. Dudziak is the Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.]
With the tenth anniversary of September 11 coming up this year, we are sure to see efforts to take account of the past decade. There will be tireless repetition of the idea that “everything changed” on September 11. But it should also be an occasion for meaningful examination of the era of 9/11 as a moment in history. This is the first of a short series of posts on post-9/11 American legal thought (and it is part of the “wartime” project that some readers will be familiar with).
Legal scholars argued over Bush administration policies, of course. But underlying these expected disagreements were divisions over just what the post-9/11 environment was, with debates over whether “war” or “state of emergency” was the better way to frame the sort of security environment Americans found themselves. Many adopted the wartime frame and supported an expansion of executive power, emphasizing the idea that wartime justified government action to address the danger. Some international law scholars countered that the war on terror did not fit the definition of war under international law. This mattered since the switch from peace to war triggered the application of the law of war and international human rights protections. Bruce Ackerman argued that this era was not a war, but an emergency. Before long “emergency” or “crisis” became dominant ways of describing the era. Some scholars re-characterized wartimes in American history as emergency times, and at least one important scholarly paper about the impact of war on American courts was renamed, substituting “crisis” for “war.”
Underlying the disagreement about how to characterize the post-9/11 era was the concern that “wartime” called for the suspension of normal restrictions on executive power. Searching for workable analogies, Mark Tushnet argued that
the long duration of the “war on terrorism” suggests that we ought not to think of it as a war in the sense that the Second World War was a war. It is, perhaps, more like a condition than a war -- more like the war on cancer, the war on poverty, or, most pertinently, the war on crime. Suspending legality during a time-limited war is one thing. Suspending it during a more or less permanent condition is quite another.
The play in the terms of post-9/11 scholarship reveals a broader issue. Like the Cold War era, there was a lack of fit between the conceptual categories of wartime and peacetime and the geopolitical era which scholars confronted. An essential element of a traditional wartime was that war was temporary. And in the past, war was most commonly defined as a conflict between nations, not between a nation and a social group or an ideology. The state had dropped out of many definitions of war by the end of the 20th century. But the war on terror also seemed to defy the idea that war was limited in time.
Most legal scholars responded not by jettisoning the old categories, but by renaming and re-imposing them, retaining the distinction between normal times and exceptional times. For example, in a 2005 essay, Samuel Issacharoff and Richard H. Pildes described the dividing lines not as between wartime and peacetime, but between “normal times” and “times of heightened risk to the physical safety” of citizens. Post-9/11 scholarship persisted in the assumption that normality is a state of existence outside times of danger. “Wartime” and “peacetime” broke down, but the basic temporal structure (normal times, ruptured by non-normal times) largely remained in place in legal thought, even if it seemed unclear whether normal times would ever return.
While many drew comparisons between the post-9/11 era and other wartimes, for Benjamin Wittes, the era had a different character, for the war on terror was “a conflict unlike any that this country has ever faced.” For Wittes, it was reasonable for the Bush Administration to adopt a war model after 9/11, but later in the decade the war on terror had “entered a different phase” in which “traditional warfare had given way to something more elastic.” As the immediacy of September 11 receded, the nation seemed to enter an ambiguous era that was neither wartime nor peacetime. For the most part, however, scholars, courts and lawmakers continued to employ the old categories, although wartime had been renamed as crisis time.
Up next: The turn to Schmitt.
Posted on: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 01:12
SOURCE: CNN.com (2-21-11)
(CNN) -- The thought of any sustained opposition and open dissent in Libya boggles the mind of even the most seasoned observers of Col. Moammar Gadhafi's tightly controlled country.
Since he came to power in a bloodless coup in 1969 that replaced the pro-Western Sanusi monarchy, Libya's leader has ruled with an iron-fisted hand that left almost no chance for any opposition to coalesce.
Quite contrary to what we normally perceive in the West, the way in which Gadhafi was able to cement this highly authoritarian system into place relied not only on pure, brute force -- although that has always remained the ultimate deciding factor -- but also on two other factors.
One was an intricate system of divide-and-rule that balanced families, tribes and the country's provinces against each other. The second was by cloaking himself in an anti-Western and particularly anti-U.S. mantle that, initially at least, resonated among many of his fellow citizens after disastrous national legacies that included a brutal colonial period and a monarchy that was perceived as utterly corrupt, both financially and ideologically.
That combination protected Gadhafi's Jamahiriya -- a country that in his theory is run directly by its citizens -- against destabilization and proved unassailable until last week....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 20:57
SOURCE: Bridging Differences (Blog) (2-22-11)
As I write, thousands of teachers are staging a protest in the state capitol in Wisconsin. Others stand with them, including the Green Bay Packers, other public-sector workers, and even public-sector workers who are not affected by the proposed legislation, namely, firefighters and police. The teachers and other public-sector employees are speaking out against Gov. Scott Walker's effort to destroy their collective-bargaining rights. Gov. Walker demanded that the teachers pay more for their health benefits and their pension benefits, and they have agreed to do so. But that's not all he wants. He wants to destroy the union.
I wrote an article about this contretemps for CNN.com, not realizing that the teachers had already conceded the governor's demands on money issues. The confrontation now is solely about whether public employees have the right to bargain collectively and to have a collective voice. Monday's New York Times made clear, both in a column by Paul Krugman and in its news coverage, that the union is fighting for its survival, not benefits.
It's time to ask: Why should teachers have unions? I am not a member of a union, and I have never belonged to a union, but here is what I see. From the individual teacher's point of view, it is valuable to have an organization to turn to when you feel you have been treated unfairly, one that will supply you with assistance, even a lawyer, one that advocates for improvement in your standard of living. From society's point of view, it is valuable to have unions to fight for funding for public education and for smaller class sizes and for adequate compensation for teachers. I recently visited Arizona, a right-to-work state, and parents there complained to me about classes of 30 for children in 1st and 2nd grades, and even larger numbers for older students; they complained that the starting salary for teachers was only $26,000 and that it is hard to find strong college graduates to enter teaching when wages are so low.
I have often heard union critics complain that contracts are too long, too detailed, too prescriptive. I have noticed that unions don't write their own contracts. There are always two sides that negotiate a contract and sign it. If an administration is so weak that it signs a contract that is bad for kids, bad for the district's finances, or bad for education, then shame on them.
The fight in Wisconsin now is whether public-sector unions should have any power to bargain at all. The fight is not restricted to Wisconsin; it is taking place in many other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois. The battle has already been lost in other states.
I have been wondering if advocates of corporate school reform, such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Michelle Rhee will come to the aid of the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who were quick to applaud the firing of teachers in Central Falls, R.I., will now step forward to support the teachers in Wisconsin. I have been wondering if Secretary Duncan, who only a few days earlier had led a much-publicized national conversation in Denver about the importance of collaboration between unions and management, will weigh in to support the teachers. I am ever hopeful, but will take care not to hold my breath.
If there is no organized force to advocate for public education in the state capitols of this nation, our children and our schools will suffer. That's the bottom line. And that's why I stand with the teachers of Wisconsin. I know you do, too.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 19:06
SOURCE: Dissent (2-21-11)
AS I sit here at my computer, the button I wore today is still on my shirt. It was given to me by the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin organizer on my campus so I could show my solidarity with others who are protesting our newly elected governor’s agenda this afternoon on campus, in Madison, and across the state. It has a picture of Wisconsin’s state capitol building with a question in bold above it: W.T.F? Those who know me know I rarely swear. But really, W.T.F.? There is no other way to put what is going on in this state. W.T.F., like those other great cursing acronyms—S.N.A.F.U. and F.U.B.A.R.—says it all.
In all seriousness, and with tears in my eyes, I am trying to make sense of this, and it’s hard to do.
As a historian of the United States who has written about unions and working people, I know the history. Since last November, I’ve been reading how a Blue state has gone Red. That’s too simplistic and an inaccurate characterization of the past and present. Rather, we need to see Wisconsin as a front in the political and economic war that has swept though our nation. It has a very long history—if only it were new!—in this country and in Wisconsin.
The struggle between the rich and their politicians and the working class was there at the beginning of the state. The first labor union in Wisconsin predated the state’s admission into the union by a year. Wisconsinites were always active partisans in the struggle to shape the political economy. At times, this struggle was peaceful; at other times, it was not. In 1886, while workers in Chicago were fighting for an eight-hour day and in the midst of the Haymarket Massacre, workers outside Milwaukee were staging their own protests for industrial democracy at the Bay View rolling mill. On May 4, 1886, National Guardsmen fired into the crowd of strikers, killing seven....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 16:31
SOURCE: WaPo (2-21-11)
"Each revolution must be assessed in its own context, each had a distinctive impact. The revolutions spread from one point to another. They interacted to a limited extent. . . . The drama of each revolution unfolded separately. Each had its own heroes, its own crises. Each therefore demands its own narrative."
That could be the first paragraph from a future history of the Arab revolutions of 2011. In fact, it comes from the introduction to a book about the European revolutions of 1848. In the past few weeks, quite a lot of people - myself included - have drawn parallels between the crowds in Tunis, Benghazi, Tripoli and Cairo and the crowds in Prague and Berlin two decades ago. But there is one major difference. The street revolutions that ended communism followed similar patterns because they followed in the wake of a single political event: the abrupt withdrawal of Soviet support for the local dictator. The Arab revolutions, by contrast, are the product of multiple changes - economic, technological, demographic - and have taken on a distinctly different flavor and meaning in each country. In that sense, they resemble 1848 far more than 1989.
Though inspired very generally by the ideas of liberal nationalism and democracy, the mostly middle-class demonstrators of 1848 had, like their Arab contemporaries, different goals in different countries. In Hungary, they demanded independence from Austria's Habsburg rulers. In what is now Germany, they aimed to unify the German-speaking peoples into a single state. In France, they wanted to overthrow the monarchy (again). In some countries, revolution led to pitched battles between ethnic groups. Others were brought to a halt by outside intervention....
Posted on: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 10:37
SOURCE: Frog in a Well (Blog) (2-21-11)
[Alan Baumler teaches East Asian history at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.]
Jeremiah Jenne has a post up at Fallows1 where he looks at the possibility of a Jasmine Revolution in China. He concludes that it is not that likely, as the CCP is a bit more hip to the dangers of that sort of thing, given the history of protest in China, especially May 4th and the date nothing happened in 1989. I think he’s right about that, but I think the reasons why become clearer if you think about analogies for what is happening in the Middle East. Some people are tossing around 1848 in Europe, which works in some respects, but for an Asian analogy I think 1911 and the overthrow of the Qing works somewhat better.2 The Qing dynasty was not overthrown by Sun Yat-sen and his band of revolutionaries, but ultimately by the various provincial assemblies the declared for the revolution after the Wuchang uprising. A series of provincial elites decided, sometimes for different reasons, to abandon the Qing. It is not that surprising that Yuan Shikai became the first effective leader of the new state, since what was happening was not a mass uprising or a tidal wave of democracy but rather one part of the elite dumping the dynasty and quickly establishing a new government. This is pretty clearly what has been happening in Egypt, with the military choosing to at least get rid of Mubarak, even if they are not sure what will come next. In Libya at least part of the army seems to be standing with the government, and in Morocco all of it. There is even a Twitter/Facebook parallel with the role of the telegraph in spreading news of the revolution in 1911.
Obviously there are lots of differences as well. The Arab World may be a reasonably coherent cultural area, but its countries are not Chinese provinces. Imperialism is still around, but in a very different form. So why does this comparison matter? I think it matters some because the main thing that encouraged elite factions in 1911 to settle their differences quickly was the fear of foreign invasion. For whatever reasons (and we really can’t know yet) the Egyptian elite decided fairly quickly that whatever the future would be it would not involve Mubarak or his sons. I can’t think of anything really forcing a rapid resolution in, say Bahrain, other than the fact that chaos is bad. In 1911 the “masses in the street” were the new armies and modern educated people, who conservative modernizers had good reason not to kill. Unfortunately I don’t see much reason for the rulers of oil states to care how many students or poor people they kill. If a Jasmine Revolution did break out in China it is hard to see how it would lead to a split in the elite, and likely they would be willing to kill as many of the dispossessed as they could afford ammo for. Still, hope springs eternal, and Jasmine Revolution is a good name, even if it does not seem likely to be coming soon.
- Yes, a post at Fallows site at the Atlantic. Mark Twain published in the Atlantic. It’s only a matter of time before Jeremiah’s friends get a call from VH-1′s Behind the Music about the young, idealistic, talented, scholar-blogger who may still exist somewhere inside the bloated mass of excess and degradation he will have become by about 2014 [↩]
- Obviously I say this with very little real knowledge of what is happening right now in Egypt or Libya, but this is the internet. [↩]
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 22:30
SOURCE: Politico (2-21-11)
So public employees are legally protected from managerial caprice. But as anyone who has dealt with a government bureaucracy knows, such rules require enforcement. You can hire a lawyer, but for the vast majority of low- and middle-income public servants, a union is far more powerful and effective.
The most famous public-sector strike in the 20th century demonstrates this. In 1968, sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., were public employees covered by civil service rules. But they were also all African Americans, humiliated on the job daily by white supervisors and other officials. A typical grievance: When it rained, they had no place to take shelter.q
One February day, two workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, had climbed inside a truck’s garbage compartment to escape a heavy downpour. An electrical malfunction put the hydraulic ram into action, crushing both men in the most gruesome fashion.
In response 1,300 black men in the Memphis Public Works Department walked off the job on Feb. 12, inaugurating an epic struggle that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the city. On Mar. 18, before an overflow crowd of 10,000, King declared, “All labor has dignity.”
Three weeks later, an assassin struck down King in Memphis — but not before the sanitation men had given enormous momentum to the cause of municipal unions in their city and throughout the country....
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 19:35
SOURCE: CNN.com (2-21-11)
Since the late 1940s, it has been an American custom for pollsters and publications to release a ranking of U.S. presidents.
Usually based on a survey of historians and journalists or of the public, the ranking informs readers about who the "best" and "worst" presidents are. In an age when we are constantly desperate to craft Top 10 lists for every part of our lives, this approach to political history is appealing.
But rankings don't tell us much about presidential history. The rankings are weak mechanisms for evaluating what has taken place in the White House....
There are many flaws with the system. The first is that presidential reputations vary over time. Any ranking simply captures how people view the presidents at a given moment. It is not a definitive measure. Although there are a few presidents who constantly hover at the top, such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, most experience significant fluctuations over time.
Take the case of Dwight Eisenhower, who was president from 1953 to 1961. Initially, many observers believed that Eisenhower was a weak leader, someone who exerted little influence over his Cabinet and who essentially allowed his advisers to call the shots. But research in the presidential archives (where the White House deposits its records for scholars to examine) later revealed that this perception was totally incorrect.
Political scientist Fred Greenstein and historian Robert Griffith both found that behind the scenes, Eisenhower maintained a strong hold on decision-making. In what he called the "hidden hand presidency," Greenstein presented Eisenhower as an effective decision maker who maintained control over his Cabinet....
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 19:29
SOURCE: The Atlantic (2-21-11)
First of all I want to thank Jim for giving me this opportunity. My usual audience consists of two classes of Chinese history students per semester and a handful of loyal readers who follow my blog, Jottings from the Granite Studio.
There has been a lot written in the past 24 hours about China's still-born "Jasmine Revolution," and I agree with those commentators who feel the chances of an Egypt-style revolution are very remote -- at least in the short term.
First of all, while many in China are griping about inflation, rising food prices, and the great difficulties in finding affordable housing in China's booming cities, there is a general sense -- especially those in urban areas -- that life is steadily improving.
That's not to say there are not conflicts and contradictions in Chinese society. Each year there are thousands of cases of unrest, local demonstrations, and violent clashes between the disaffected and those felt to have benefited unfairly from the system or against the system itself. But despite all the sparks, the tinder never catches, and the reason is that China's leaders have learned from history.
On May 4, 1919 students protesting the cession of Shandong Province to Japan as part of the Treaty of Versailles took to the streets of Beijing. They were soon joined by workers, journalists, merchants, and the common people of the city...and then the movement spread to Tianjin, to Shanghai, and to Guangzhou. The government wobbled and eventually collapsed in the face of massive popular opposition and unrest....
The CCP knows that they could never hope to suppress every single act of defiance in a country as large and diverse as China, so they have instead chosen to invest time, money, and energy in preventing these acts from linking together, either vertically across class lines or horizontally across geographic space. Chinese government Internet controls (the Net Nanny) are aimed less at clumsily blocking information than at disrupting the kind of online sites or platforms through which disparate groups of people can come together to organize and plan....
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 17:50
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (2-21-11)
I am watching Aljazeera Arabic, which is calling people in Tripoli on the telephone and asking them what is going on in the capital. The replies are poignant in their raw emotion, bordering on hysteria. The residents are alleging that the Qaddafi regime has scrambled fighter jets to strafe civilian crowds, has deployed heavy artillery against them, and has occupied the streets with armored vehicles and strategically-placed snipers. One man is shouting that “the gates of Hell have opened” in the capital and that “this is Halabja!” (where Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered helicopter gunships to hit a Kurdish city with sarin gas, killing 5000 in 1988).
Two defecting Libyan pilots who flew to Malta confirmed the orders to strafe the crowds from the air and said that they declined to obey the order. Other pilots appear to have been more loyal.
YouTube video shows buildings on fire or burned out in the capital, or with holes in the walls, evidence of violence through the night and into the morning. There are reports of a massacre of protesters in the central Green Square of Tripoli, with “too many bodies to count.”...
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 17:43
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (2-14-11)
On February 12, 32 years this week, Iran proclaimed its revolution a success: the Shah was gone, the military had been decimated, and a new era could dawn.
Although what followed turned out very differently than what the Egyptians are hoping for, Iran's was one of the great revolutions of the 20th century, and Egyptians might well look to it for inspiration in their effort to oust an entrenched regime and gain new rights.
Today, the Egyptian military has assumed command, with promises of free and fair elections. Does this mean the demonstrators can go home and trust their army? Egypt and Iran are very different, their aspirations and media eons apart, and, one hopes, the future the Egyptians construct will be more democratic and safe for those reaching for popular victory.
Nonetheless, for those along the Nile facing quickly changing events, the Iranian revolution offers some useful lessons.
Lesson one: Revolutions take time
From the day when the Iranian revolution is generally thought to have begun, sparked by the death of 400 people in a theatre fire in Abadan, Iran's main oil city, to the pronouncement of victory on February 12, 1979, a year and a month had elapsed.
Demonstrations took place both in winter snow and searing summer heat, people were shot, the uprisings after their initial newsworthiness was no longer featured by the international media. But the rallies continued and grew, the people hung on, the sacrifices they had already made driving them to over-turning a military regime.
In Egypt, we are seeing the demands shift as the true purpose of the uprising becomes clear – to remove the regime, not just its many Gorgan-like heads. Mubarak's resignation, and the shift into military hands, may mean little. Changing a regime is a lengthy process, requiring vision and organisation, and, as the Iranian demonstrators discovered, tenacity....
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 17:40
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (2-20-11)
The Egyptian revolution has already achieved extraordinary results: after only eighteen intense days of dramatic protests. It brought an abrupt end to Mubarak's cruelly dictatorial and obscenely corrupt regime that ruled the country for more than thirty years. It also gained a promise from Egyptian military leaders to run the country for no more than six months of transition - the minimum period needed for the establishment of independent political parties, free elections and some degree of economic restabilisation....
How dangerous would intervention - probably not overt, but in the form of maneuvers beneath the surface of public perception - really be? The foreign policy interests of these governments and allied corporate and financial forces are definitely at serious risk. If the Egyptian revolutionary process unfolds successfully in Egypt during the months ahead, it will have profound regional effects that will certainly shake the foundations of the old post-colonial regional setup - not necessarily producing revolutions elsewhere but changing the balance, in ways that enhance the wellbeing of the peoples and diminish the role of outsiders.
These effects are foreseeable by the adversely affected old elites, creating a strong - if not desperate - array of external incentives to derail the Egyptian revolution by relying on many varieties of counter-revolutionary obstructionism. It is already evident that these elites, with help from their many friends in the mainstream media, are already spreading falsehoods about the supposed extremism and ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood seemingly intent on distracting public attention, discrediting the revolution -and building the basis for future interventionary moves, undertaken in the name of combating extremism, if not outrightly "justified" as counter-terrorism efforts.
It is correct that, historically, revolutions have swerved off course by succumbing to extremist takeovers. In different ways this happened to both the French and Russian revolutions - and more recently to the Iranian revolution. Extremism won out, disappointing the democratic hopes of the people, leading to either the restoration of the old elite or to new forms of violence, oppression, and exploitation.
Why? Each situation is unique and original, but there are recurrent patterns. During the revolutionary struggle, opposition to the old regime is deceptively unifying, obscuring real and hidden tensions that emerge later to fracture the spirit and substance of solidarity. Soon after the old order collapses - or as in Egypt - partially collapses, the spirit of unity is increasingly difficult to maintain. Some fear a betrayal of revolutionary goals by the untrustworthy managers of transition. Others fear that reactionary and unscrupulous elements from within the ranks of the revolution will come to dominate the democratising process. Still others fear all will be lost unless an all out struggle against internal and external counter-revolutionary plots - real and imagined - is launched immediately.
And often, in the confusing and contradictory aftermath of revolution, some or all of these concerns have a foundation in fact.
The revolution does need to be defended against its real enemies, which definitely exist - as well to avoid imagined enemies that produce tragic implosions of revolutionary processes. It is in this atmosphere of seeking to consolidate revolutionary gains that the purity of the movement is at risk, and is tested in a different manner than when masses of people were in the streets defying a violent crackdown.
The danger in Egypt is that the inspirational nonviolence that mobilised the opposition can, in the months ahead, either be superseded by a violent mentality or succumb to external and internal pressures by being too passive or overly trusting in misleading reassurances.
Perhaps, this post-revolutionary interval - between collapse of the old and consolidation of the new- poses the greatest challenge to yet face this exciting movement led by young leaders who are just now beginning to emerge from the shadows of anonymity. All persons of good will should bless their efforts to safeguard all that has been so far gained - and to move forward in solidarity toward a sustainably humane and just future for their society, their region, and their world.
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 17:39
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (2-21-11)
Over the past three weeks the Israeli media has been extremely interested in Egypt.
During the climatic days of the unprecedented demonstrations, television news programmes spent most of their airtime covering the protests, while the daily papers dedicated half the news and opinion pages to the unfolding events.
Rather than excitement at watching history in the making, however, the dominant attitude here, particularly on television, was of anxiety-- a sense that the developments in Egypt were inimical to Israel's interests. Egypt's revolution, in other words, was bad news.
It took a while for Israel's experts on "Arab Affairs" to get a grip on what was happening. During the early days of unrest, the recurrent refrain was that "Egypt is not Tunis".
Commentators assured the public that the security apparatuses in Egypt are loyal to the regime and that consequently there was little if any chance that President Hosni Mubarak's government would fall....
Israeli commentators are equivocal on the issue of Egyptian democracy. One columnist explained that it takes years for democratic institutions to be established and for people to internalise the practices appropriate for democracy, while Amir Hazroni from NRG went so far as to write an ode to colonialism:
"When we try to think how and why the United States and the West lost Egypt, Tunis, Yemen and perhaps other countries in the Middle East, people forget that. The original sin began right after WWII, when a wonderful form of government that protected security and peace in the Middle East (and in other parts of the Third Word) departed from this world following pressure from the United States and Soviet Union... More than sixty years have passed since the Arab states and the countries of Africa were liberated from the 'colonial yoke,' but there still isn't an Arab university, an African scientist or a Middle Eastern consumer product that has made a mark on our world."...
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 17:34
SOURCE: I.H.T. (2-21-11)
The rise of the Tea Party movement has been the most controversial and dramatic development in U.S. politics in many years. Supporters have hailed it as a return to core American values; opponents have seen it as a racist, reactionary and ultimately futile protest against the emerging reality of a multicultural, multiracial United States and a new era of government activism.
Nonetheless, the Tea Party movement has clearly struck a nerve in American politics, and students of American foreign policy need to think through the consequences of this populist and nationalist political insurgency.
As is so often the case in the United States, to understand the present and future of American politics, one must begin by coming to grips with the past.
The Tea Party movement taps deep roots in U.S. history. It is best understood as a contemporary revolt of Jacksonian common sense — the idea that moral, scientific, political and religious truths can be ascertained by the average person — against elites perceived as both misguided and corrupt....
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 16:34
SOURCE: Truthdig (2-21-11)
There is a kernel of truth in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s claim of a “budget shortfall” of $137 million. But Walker, a Republican, failed to tell the state that less than two weeks into his term as governor, he, with his swollen Republican majorities in the Wisconsin Legislature, pushed through $117 million in tax breaks for business allies of the GOP. There is your crisis.
The state Legislature’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau—Wisconsin’s equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office and a refuge for professional expertise and nonpartisanship—warned Walker and the Legislature that the measure would create a budget gap. There is your shortfall—and not one resulting from established public employee benefits. Before the tax giveaways, the fiscal agency predicted a surplus for the state.
Now the governor has offered a proposal simple and clear in its intent, and patently dishonest. Walker wants state workers to contribute to their pension fund and is calling for an increase in their payments for medical insurance. Make no mistake: The governor’s “budget repair bill” has little to do with a budget shortfall and everything to do with breaking unions, starting with public employees and then perhaps moving on to others as well.
During his run for governor, Walker had substantial financial support from the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists who have funded various anti-Obama, anti-science, and anti-national government movements. In short, they are opposed to anyone and anything that might diminish their exorbitant profits. And for the Kochs, destroying labor unions is in the top tier of their to-get-rid-of list....
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 16:19
SOURCE: Newsweek (2-20-11)
In my favorite spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, there is a memorable scene that sums up the world economy today. Blondie (Clint Eastwood) and Tuco (Eli Wallach) have finally found the cemetery where they know the gold is buried. Trouble is, they’re in a vast Civil War graveyard, and they don’t know where to find the loot. Eastwood looks at his gun, looks at Wallach, and utters the immortal line: “In this world, there are two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns … and those who dig.”
In the post-crisis economic order, there are likewise two kinds of economies. Those with vast accumulations of assets, including sovereign wealth funds (currently in excess of $4 trillion) and hard-currency reserves ($5.5 trillion for emerging markets alone), are the ones with loaded guns. The economies with huge public debts, by contrast, are the ones that have to dig. The question is, just how will they dig their way out?...
The U.S. needs to do exactly what it would if it were a severely indebted company: sell off assets to balance its books.
There are three different arguments against such asset sales. The first concerns national security. When Dubai Ports World bought the shipping company P&O in 2006—which would have given it control of facilities in a number of U.S. ports—the deal was killed in Congress in a fit of post-9/11 paranoia. The second argument is usually made by unions: private or foreign owners will be tougher on American workers than good old Uncle Sam. Finally, there’s the chauvinism that surfaced back in the 1980s when the Japanese were snapping up properties like Pebble Beach. How could the United States let its national treasures—the family silver—fall into the hands of inscrutable Asian rivals?
Such arguments were never very strong. Now, in the midst of the biggest crisis of American public finance since the Civil War, they simply collapse....
Posted on: Monday, February 21, 2011 - 16:01