Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: The Atlantic (6-22-12)
Last week, a local chapter of the International Keystone Knights of Ku Klux Klan proposed adopting one-mile stretch of highway in north Georgia. The possibility of Klan members picking up roadside litter and getting credit on a highway sign provoked as much confusion as outrage. One reporter asked, "Is the latest effort to adopt a highway an introduction of a new era of a kinder, gentler Klan or merely an effort to gain attention?"...
...The Ku Klux Klan is the oldest hate group in the United States. It emerged between 1865 and 1870 in response to the trauma of the South's war loss and the supposed threat posed by newly freed slaves. Founded by Civil War veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee, the Reconstruction Klan began as a social organization, but soon raided homes, committed acts of violence, and interfered with elections....
In between these two eras [the 1860s and the post-civil rights Klans], however, there was another Klan. It rose half a century after the first Klan had faded away, spurred into existence by D.W. Griffith's film Birth of Nation and the efforts of minister William Simmons. Along with 15 others, including two elderly men from the original Klan, Simmons officially resurrected the movement on Thanksgiving night of 1915, borrowing the image of the burning cross from Griffith's film. Members of the new Klan emphasized Protestant virtues alongside white supremacy, declaring themselves superior to Catholics, Jews, and African-Americans. The second Klan boasted four million members in 1924, proof of the powerful appeal of both white racial pride and Christian nationalism in early 20th century America....
Posted on: Friday, June 22, 2012 - 11:11
SOURCE: NYT (6-21-12)
Posted on: Friday, June 22, 2012 - 09:30
SOURCE: National Review (6-21-12)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author most recently of The End of Sparta.
The indecisive Greek elections could be summed up in two general themes: Greeks want to stay in, and expect help from, the euro zone. But they still do not want to take the medicine necessary to stop borrowing billions of euros from northern Europeans, who want a radical reform of the Greek tax code, deregulation of the labor market, fiscal discipline, massive cuts in bureaucracy, and greater transparency — all unlikely given Greece’s history and contemporary culture.
So what lies in the future for Greece as it is slowly eased out of the euro zone and its civilization goes into reverse?
In theory, with the ability to devalue the drachma and be freed of enormous debts, the Greeks could return to business as it was practiced in the 1970s. In those sleepy days before the massive transfers of northern European money, I lived in a Greece that was a Balkan backwater without advanced surgery, autobahns, suspension bridges, sleek subways, or a modern airport. In that era of genteel poverty, divorce, abortion, drug use, and crime were rare in Greece. Now, all are commonplace. Back then, rural Greece was more Middle Eastern than European.
Yet the main problem with returning nostalgically to a world long gone is not the creeping return of Third World–like poverty, but rather the psychological shock of Greeks losing the European lifestyle that is now considered a birthright. For Greeks not to live like people in Munich or Amsterdam now would be far more cataclysmic in political terms than it would be had they never gotten hooked on Mercedeses, iPhones, and lattes in the first place...
Posted on: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 13:00
SOURCE: CNN.com (6-19-12)
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. He is the author of "Leaving Without Losing: The War on Terror After Iraq and Afghanistan" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Follow his blog.
(CNN) -- At the Group of 20 summit in Mexico, President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin had their first face-to-face meeting since Putin resumed the Russian presidency in May. The joint statement they issued afterward indicated several issues (including Iran and Syria) that the two sides would seek to cooperate on, but it did not announce any significant agreements to do so.
More telling were the visual images when the two presidents were together; Obama appeared to be doing his best to project an image of warmth and friendliness, while Putin was stiff and reserved, as he usually is with other world leaders. It appeared that Obama was earnestly seeking to befriend Putin, but Putin was not reciprocating.
Why would Putin behave this way? It may be because, unlike Obama, he may not be looking for opportunities to cooperate, nor be embarrassed about forgoing them. He appears to have a much more transactional approach to foreign policy, running something like this: Washington wants Moscow to adopt the American approach to Iran and Syria and several other issues. But it is unwilling to make concessions to Moscow to get it....
Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 16:39
SOURCE: Newsweek (6-18-12)
Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just been published by Penguin Press.
The Arab Spring has plunged Syria into a bloody civil war. Now, with allegations flying that the Russians are supplying helicopters to the odious regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, a familiar debate is underway. Should we intervene?
There can be no morally credible argument against intervention—by someone. Leaving Syria to descend into the kind of sectarian violence that devastated neighboring Lebanon in the 1980s would condemn hundreds of thousands to premature, violent death. Syria is five times the size of Lebanon. The risks of leaving it to degenerate into a failed state are surely higher than the risks of intervention.
But why should it be the United States that once again attempts to play the part of global cop?
Since the early 1970s, the Middle East has absorbed a disproportionate share of American resources. Particularly since 9/11, it has consumed the time of presidents like no other region of the world. Yet it is far from clear that this state of affairs should continue, for three good reasons...
Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 12:50
SOURCE: National Review (6-14-12)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author most recently of The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ancient Sparta turned its conquered neighbors into indentured serfs — half free, half slave. The resulting Helot underclass produced the food of the Spartan state, freeing Sparta’s elite males to train for war and the duties of citizenship.
Over the last few decades, we’ve created our modern version of these Helots — millions of indebted young Americans with little prospect of finding permanent well-paying work, servicing their enormous college debts, or reaping commensurate financial returns on their costly educations.
Student-loan debts now average about $25,000 per graduating senior. But the proportion of youths 16 to 24 who are working (about 49 percent) is the lowest since records have been kept. The cost of a four-year college education can range between $100,000 and $200,000 depending on whether the institution is public or private. Only 53 percent of today’s college students graduate within six years. Student time spent writing and reading in college has plummeted....
Posted on: Friday, June 15, 2012 - 15:53
SOURCE: Al Jazeera (6-13-12)
Neve Gordon is the author of Israel's Occupation and can be reached through his website.
Be'er-Sheva, Israel - South Africa's recent demand that products originating in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights remove the label "Made in Israel" is extremely significant - much more so than the European Union's decision to deny these products preferential status and subject them to customs duty.
Indeed, in 2001, the European Commission decided to implement the rules of origin clause in its Association Agreement with Israel, noting that "places brought under Israeli administration since 1967... are not entitled to benefit from the preferential treatment under the Agreements". The EU decision aimed to correct an alleged case of massive fraud involving the regulations on rules of origin, which appear in the trade agreement. Consequently, only goods produced inside the internationally recognised borders of Israel would be eligible for a reduced tariff rate, while those produced outside would pay customs' duty as required by law....
The South African decision not only undermines the fraudulent practice of labelling products made outside Israel as if they were made in Israel, but more importantly, it empowers consumers by allowing them to shop in a way that accords with their moral convictions. If the United Kingdom and Denmark follow suit, then other countries will also likely join the bandwagon, making it possible for international civil society to help - in concrete ways - put an end to Israel's occupation.
Posted on: Friday, June 15, 2012 - 14:44
SOURCE: Robert Mann's blog (6-13-12)
When it comes to the Watergate scandal, the Washington Post has some explaining to do.
Why is the paper ignoring some very serious questions about the reporting methods of its two most famous former reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (W/B)?
As you may have read, the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in is this Sunday, June 17, and there is already much in the press about the scandal and its meaning for American politics and journalism.
At LSU, the Manship School of Mass Communication and the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs got ahead of the curve on Watergate. We sponsored one of the first retrospectives on the scandal on April 23.
It was a lively discussion among Barry Sussman, the Washington Post‘s special Watergate editor (he directed Woodward and Bernstein); Earl Silbert, the original Watergate prosecutor (he put the burglars in prison); and Max Holland, a journalist and historian who has published an exciting new book about “Deep Throat,” the confidential source for many of the Post’s stories. The book is Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat. [See a brief video of the program here.]
Max’s book, and another by journalist Jeff Himmelman, Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, have raised serious questions about the veracity of W/B’s reporting and their subsequent book about the scandal, All the President’s Men.
In Himmelman’s book, former Post editor Ben Bradlee voices doubts about the truthfulness of Woodward’s account of his clandestine encounters with Deep Throat. Himmelman also uncovers another troubling discrepancy in the Post’s reporting, which is examined here. (To its credit, the Post has published stories about Himmelman’s far-less-sensational allegations.)
Holland’s book, however, is far more troubling for the Washington Post and the two reporters.
Holland uncovered the missing piece of the Deep Throat story and reveals that personal ambition motivated Felt — the then-assistant FBI director — to become the most famous secret source in American history.
The book destroys the image of Felt as honest truth seeker peddled by W/B in their book, in their subsequent movie of the same name and in countless interviews since. In that regard, Holland’s research features greater detail and is far more specific about the reporting methods of W/B.
Felt, it turns out, was mostly just an ambitious backstabber determined to get the FBI’s number-one job by using leaks to destroy his boss, L. Patrick Gray.
And now, just yesterday, Holland published a fascinating piece in The Daily Beast about Woodward and Bernstein and the questionable “new journalism” techniques they seem to have employed when writing their book. [Find the story here.]
One passage from Holland’s piece is particularly troubling. It regards evidence the author discovered in the papers of Alan Pakula, the director of the film, “All the President’s Men (ATPM).”
The document, Holland writes,
may be the most disconcerting of all, more so than any finding of augmented quotes, elided information, or rose-colored accounts. It concerns erroneous presumptions that Woodstein themselves harbored and infused into ATPM.
Deep Throat’s motive, of course, is the obvious example of an embedded misperception. In the end, such subjectivity was probably the New Journalism’s greatest weakness. If what matters most is one’s own judgments, as with Woodward’s perception of Mark Felt’s motive, it encourages a false omniscience that the old journalism is expressly designed to avoid.
But Woodward wasn’t the only half of the duo offering up illusions; Bernstein was propagating them in equal measure. Consider the interview in which Bernstein describes the Post’s approach to CRP [Committee to Re-Elect the President] employees:
“We started narrowing down the list to who would be the most valuable people to see, lower-level people, and we started going out at night and banging on doors. It was, I guess, the big difference between what we did and what the FBI did, and where the FBI was so unsuccessful was that they interviewed people only at the committee, and in the presence of committee lawyers, who were trying to get them to go with the cover story as it was. We saw them at home … where there were, you know, not similar kinds of pressures.”
Every perception here about how the FBI went about its job is untrue. Months before the Post duo contacted CRP employees like Judith Hoback, the bureau had already interviewed them privately and repeatedly, away from CRP lawyers. FBI agents interrogated Hoback alone on six separate occasions, more so than any other CRP employee, and always out of earshot of CRP lawyers. From the moment bureau agents and federal prosecutors realized that CRP attorneys would insist on being present, they resolved to advance the investigation within the confines of the grand jury, where no defense lawyers were permitted.
Federal prosecutors and agents never truly learned anything germane from The Washington Post’s stories—although they were certainly mortified to see the fruits of their investigation appear in print. The FBI’s documents on Watergate, released as early as 1992, bear this out. The government was always ahead of the press in its investigation of Watergate; it just wasn’t publishing its findings.
The Washington Post remains the paper of record for all things Watergate. And the upcoming 40th anniversary calls for a look back.
But the Post’s coverage of Watergate has been disappointing — in particular, its woeful neglect of Holland’s book, which the paper has not reviewed in the three months since its publication. In that time, a slew of Watergate-era figures, ranging from John Dean to Pat Buchanan, have written that the book is notable and the book has been reviewed in a dozen or more publications.
A commemoration of Watergate last Monday, which was podcast on Washington Post Live, was another occasion in which the newspaper’s approach very disappointing. The anniversary should have prompted thoughtful reflection, and not just self-congratulation.
The LSU forum in April sparked discussion by students and professors for days. It was much more useful and interesting to offer our students and the Baton Rouge community a variety of viewpoints, and even clashing perspectives, as opposed to the recitation of tired anecdotes that marked the Post event.
There are very serious questions about the Post’s reporting of Watergate and the methods employed by Woodward and Bernstein. No one suggests that they do not deserve most of the accolades coming their way. But the two reporters, and the paper for which they wrote, should not be above scrutiny and some honest self-evaluation.
By ignoring an important book that raises some very serious questions about the Post’s reporting of Watergate, the paper is acting a bit more like the Nixon White House than the great newspaper it once was.
Posted on: Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 16:07
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (6-13-12)
Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist.
I hope that one day ex-president Bashar al-Assad will stand before the international criminal court charged with crimes against humanity. None of the violence used by other forces in what has become Syria's civil war can diminish his primary responsibility.
Remember that this started as a wave of non-violent demonstrations, in the best manner of the original Arab spring. Assad had the option of responding with significant reforms, which he toyed with; of opening negotiations; or of allowing a peaceful transition, with an honourable, comfortable exit for himself and his family. Instead, he chose to retain power by brutal repression, as his father did before him, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians. While his elegant, British-educated wife, Asma, trod marbled floors in her Christian Louboutin heels, his soldiers and shabiha militia thugs battered innocent women and children into the dust.
Syria's popular opposition maintained non-violent discipline for a time, in the face of extreme repression; then lost it. With defections from the army, and weapons coming in from outside, this became first an armed rising, then a civil war – with an embattled regime, fractured opposition, Alawites, Sunnis and their external supporters, all facing off in a complex, sometimes murky conflict. As well as the massacres of civilians, we now learn, sickeningly, that the army and militia have used children as human shields. Some rebels, too, have reportedly recruited underage soldiers. But as Assad himself said in a TV interview before this all started, the responsibility for what happens in Syria comes back to him...
Posted on: Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 13:19
SOURCE: American Interest (blog) (6-12-12)
Walter Russell Mead is the Henry Kissinger senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. He also writes a blog for the American Interest.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 15:33
SOURCE: Madman of Chu (6-12-12)
Andrew Meyer is associate professor of history at Brooklyn College.
Dear President Obama,
I write out of concern for the ongoing conflict in Syria. Your actions in Libya demonstrated that the United States can, in consort with our allies, effectively project armed force in support of our values and interests. The strategic situation in Syria is clearly very different, and your prudence up to this point has been well warranted by the circumstances. However, the crisis has become so dire that we are compelled to take action, despite the real risks.
The regime of Bashar al-Assad, with its recent indiscriminate massacre of civilians, has fallen back on the use of unrestrained terror as the last remaining bulwark of its sovereign power. Such a government has put itself beyond the reach of any genuinely political process, it is not an entity that can be engaged diplomatically. The only way to revive a political process in Syria and to restore effectiveness to diplomatic means is to aid the development of a robust military alternative to the Assad machine. It is thus imperative that the international community rally to support the Free Syrian Army with funding, training, and weapons, so that they may protect the Syrian populace and force the Assad regime to refrain from committing wholesale slaughter.
Arguments against such a policy are of course valid. We do not know the precise composition of the Free Syrian Army, and some of its members are no doubt hostile to the U.S. and Israel. Support of the Free Syrian Army would anger Russia and antagonize Iran. Such caveats are undermined by the dramatic nature of the current crisis, however. Little can be done to destabilize the situation further than it has already become, and there is nothing that can be done to ameliorate the crisis that will be accepted by either Russia or Iran.
This being an election year, any action you take will no doubt come under unfair criticism from your political opponents. I would urge you, however, to show the same strength of leadership in the case of Syria as you showed in Libya. If the Assad regime is able to reestablish itself through naked terror, the cause of the Arab Spring will be set back dramatically, a consequence that will rebound to the severe detriment of the U.S. and her allies. Audacious action is required to secure the progress that the people of Syria and the Arab world at large have fought so bravely to achieve.
I hope this message finds you well. Thank you for your attention on this matter.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 16:42
SOURCE: NYT (6-9-12)
Posted on: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 15:43
SOURCE: openDemocracy (6-10-12)
Jim Sleeper, a writer and teacher on American civic culture and politics and a lecturer in political science at Yale, is the author of The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York (W.W. Norton, 1990) and Liberal Racism (Viking, 1997, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). More of his articles and commentary are available at jimsleeper.com ↑.
When the Yale College Faculty passed a resolution in April ↑ condemning the "lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore, host of the proposed Yale-National University of Singapore College" and urged "Yale-NUS "to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society," Yale's president Richard Levin declared that the resolution -- passed in his presence and over his objection -- "carried a sense of moral superiority that I found unbecoming."
Levin then unbecame what he ought to be as president of a liberal-arts university by going to Singapore and giving a speech at the end of last month, the same month in which that authoritarian corporate city-state had committed yet another of its abuses against basic civil liberties that have been monitored and condemned by many international observers and advocates -- liberties that, as the Yale faculty resolution emphasized, "lie at the heart of liberal arts education as well as of our civic sense as citizens" and "ought not to be compromised in any dealings or negotiations with the Singaporean authorities."
When Levin gave his speech touting the appointment of the ill-prepared but energetically pliable Yale professor Pericles Lewis as Yale-NUS' first president, Singapore had only recently prevented Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), from leaving the country ↑ to give a speech of his own at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Not only wasn't Chee allowed to leave Singapore; the International human rights lawyer Bob Amsterdam, counsel to the SDP and Chee's representative internationally, was detained and turned back ↑ at Singapore's Changi Airport when he tried to visit Chee on May 20, days days before Levin's visit.
So the Yale faculty resolution was right on target, and Levin's reaction to it was way off. Singapore's action prompted Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation, to publish an open letter, here ↑ in the Huffington Post, to Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, urging the government to grant permission to Dr Chee to attend the event:
"In the last 20 years he has been jailed for more than 130 days on charges including contempt of Parliament, speaking in public without a permit, selling books improperly, and attempting to leave the country without a permit. Today, your government prevents Dr. Chee from leaving Singapore because of his bankrupt status.... It is our considered judgment that having already persecuted, prosecuted, bankrupted, and silenced Dr. Chee inside Singapore, you now wish to render him silent beyond your own borders."...
Posted on: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 13:46
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (6-10-12)
Moshe Dann is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Israel.
On December 18, 2009, Aluf Benn and Amos Harel, writing in Haaretz, offered one of the most important insights into Israeli policy regarding the Iranian nuclear threat.
“When Netanyahu was finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, he urged Sharon to focus on the struggle against Iran. When Netanyahu resigned over the disengagement plan, and Sharon left Likud and established Kadima, Netanyahu told Sharon that if he acted against Iran before the election, Netanyahu would support him. Sharon did not act.” (Neither did Netanyahu – MD).
“The uranium conversion plant in Isfahan has an important function in the chain of Iran’s nuclear program. It first went into operation in 2004... [and] since 2004, hundreds of kilograms... were sent to the enrichment plant in Natanz [stored in] underground tunnels.”...
In hindsight, the decision not to bomb the Iranian facility was a gigantic mistake that changed the course of history....
Posted on: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 13:20
SOURCE: Tabsir (Blog) (6-12-12)
Daniel Martin Varisco is professor of anthropology at Hofstra University.
The news today is that Yemeni government troops and local tribal militia have finally dislodged the ultra-conservative Ansar al-Sharia from their base in the southern towns of Ja’ar and Zinjabar. These cities had been under de facto control of the rebels for over a year, with the military weakened during the long drawn-out political turmoil that eventually led to the removal of Ali Abdullah Salih. According to al-Jazeera, “Since the offensive began, 485 people have been killed, according to an AFP tally combined from different sources. This includes 368 al-Qaeda fighters, 72 soldiers, 26 local armed men and 19 civilians.” Without question this is a major blow to a group that used foreign fighters and was increasingly at odds with local tribes. During their tenure both towns had become virtual ghost towns where a distinctively non-Yemeni form of Islamic law was mandated by force. Details thus far are rather skimpy. but it appears that the remaining individuals of Ansar al-Sharia fled east to al-Shaqra.
The question remains, of course, of whether this is a major blow to Ansar al-Sharia and its affiliated partner al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or a skirmish. Given the massive external support now being given to the central government, I strongly suspect that this is the beginning of the end for Ansar al-Sharia as a fighting force. It has survived thus far on weapons looted from the army with almost no direct outside support apart from an influx of foreign fighters from Afghanistan and Somalia. The agenda of Ansar al-Sharia, like that of AQAP, has failed to find fertile ground among the bulk of the population with outright antagonism from most tribal leaders. It has flourished primarily due to the weakness of the government over the past year.
Yet, as a historian, I am reluctant to sign an obituary for this or any other violent anti-government movement in Yemen. For the past week I have been reading the 14th century Yemeni historian al-Khazraji’s account on the rise and fall of the Rasulid dynasty in Yemen. The Rasulids were Turkish retainers that came along near the end of the 12th century with the Ayyubid soldiers of Turanshah, the brother of the famous Saladin. When the last Ayyubid ruler left Yemen in the middle of the 13th century, the Rasulid dynasty took off and became quite wealthy and unmolested by outside forces for the end of that century. Indeed, Marco Polo called the sultan he had heard about in Yemen, namely al-Muzaffar, one of the richest rulers in the world. With a kingdom based largely in the Red Sea coastal region and southern highland town of Ta’izz, the Rasulids were able to extract major customs revenues from the busy port of Aden, a major stopping point along the Red Sea/Indian Ocean trading network. Like modern Yemen, they even created a coast guard to protect ships involved in the trade from the pirates of that day.
I mention the Rasulids because by the middle of the 14th century there was major rebellion within Yemen against their rule. The sultans ruled with an iron fist combined with incredible largesse in trying to win friends. Local emirs and tribal leaders were wooed with colorful robes and cash or else had their heads chopped off if they rebelled. Yemen at that time was impossible to control, so the various mercenaries of the sultan would be sent out on forays with the right to pillage to their heart’s content. The main concern of the Rasulid leaders was to extract revenues from the population and this was often burdensome. In all of this the sultans maintained an outward show of Muslimness, sending gifts to Mecca and building mosques and religious schools. But they were ruthless and fought much among themselves. One sultan, al-Mujahid, had almost all of his adult sons rebel against him at one point or another.
If anything, Ansar al-Sharia was created in the mode of the Rasulids rather than the local people. They talked religion but ruled with contempt for the lives of anyone who dared go against them. Yet the Rasulids were shrewd in a way that Ansar al-Sharia has not been in practice. If a rebel was cornered and sued for peace, he was often granted it, to live and fight another day. The sultans knew that they did not have the manpower to physically enforce their commands across the country, especially in the mountainous tribal north, where the Zaydi imams were usually able to gain the support of the powerful tribes. The Rasulids also thrived on trade and so worked to make the roads and sea lanes safe for merchants. But they hanged rebels and lopped off heads as though such a public display would discourage further rebellion. For the most part it did not, just as reinstituting harsh “medieval” penalties has not made friends for Ansar al-Sharia.
Pundits who think that Ansar al-Sharia and AQAP represent a wave of terrorism sweeping Yemen fail to understand Yemen’s history and diversity. It is not surprising that Ansar al-Sharia evolved in the south, which has had major grievances against the government of Salih. Unification turned out to be a disaster for southerners and the port of Aden, with its great potential, languishes. But channeling anger against the government in the north is not the same as calling for a new caliphate. Any historian who knows how all the previous caliphates and wannabe political ummahs actually worked would certainly not want to bring back such a travesty. Past Muslim rulers, as the many writings of learned Muslim scholars attest, were often ruthless brutes far worse than contemporary dictators. A Taliban-style wave is not about to emerge in Yemen, despite the economic and political problems facing the country. In large part this is because so much of the country is still rural and local communities operate on the basis of customary law, which still has powerful sanctioning capability. There are regional differences, to be sure, but no major ethnic divides as one finds in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Nor has the Sunni-Shi’a split been a major rallying point in Yemen’s recent history, apart from the imported anti-Shi’a salafi support engineered by Saudi Arabia.
Is Ansar al-Sharia on the ropes? I certainly hope so and the advancement of government troops on the remaining fighters will soon tell us how soon this nightmare will end.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 11:13
SOURCE: Financial Times (UK) (6-8-12)
Niall Ferguson is a British historian and Nouriel Roubini is an American economist.
Is it one minute to midnight in Europe?
We fear that the German government’s policy of doing "too little too late" risks a repeat of precisely the crisis of the mid-20th century that European integration was designed to avoid.
We find it extraordinary that it should be Germany, of all countries, that is failing to learn from history. Fixated on the non-threat of inflation, today’s Germans appear to attach more importance to 1923 (the year of hyperinflation) than to 1933 (the year democracy died). They would do well to remember how a European banking crisis two years before 1933 contributed directly to the breakdown of democracy not just in their own country but right across the European continent.
We have warned for more than three years that continental Europe needs to clean up its banks’ woeful balance sheets. Next to nothing has been done. In the meantime, a silent run on the banks of the eurozone periphery has been under way for two years now: cross-border, interbank and wholesale funding has rolled off and been substituted with European Central Bank financing; and "smart money" – large uninsured deposits of wealthy individuals – has quietly departed Greek and other "Club Med" banks.
But now the public is finally losing faith and the silent run may spread to smaller insured deposits...
Posted on: Monday, June 11, 2012 - 09:50
SOURCE: Alternet (6-5-12)
Over the last six months, reports of the faltering U.S. jobs market have inundated the media. Last Friday's bleak numbers showed unemployment ticking up a tenth of a point, from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent. But largely absent from the discussion are the American cities where the jobs crisis is nothing new -- areas that have been experiencing an ongoing unemployment nightmare since well before the financial crash.
We can call them America’s "dead zones" —metropolitan and micropolitan areas where the unemployment rate has been at least 2 percentage points higher than the national average for five, 10 or 20 years.
Conventional wisdom assumes that economically distressed areas exist only in inner-city slums or rural backwaters. But dead zones, although plagued by persistent high unemployment, rarely fit those stereotypes. Rather, they come in all shapes and sizes; these cities are not necessarily crime-ridden or poverty-stricken. In fact, many dead zones have median incomes at or even above the national average. Instead, they share sustained, and in many cases are begrudgingly resigned to, high unemployment rates regardless of the national business cycle.
In general, between 25-35 percent of their residents’ incomes are provided by government aid, compared to 17 percent nationwide. Between 25-40 percent live on $30,000 a year or less. The workforce in most dead zones has a low education level, with more than 50 percent possessing just a high-school degree or less. Most jobs in dead zones are in low-end service industries, especially retail. Such jobs offer few prospects for upward mobility or skill enhancement.
A few dead zones are on the right track, while others are clearly headed down the wrong track. Shining a spotlight on five specific cases gives us clues to the scope of the predicament, and also potential solutions. We'll compare Henderson, North Carolina; Seneca, South Carolina; and Kokomo, Indiana with dead zones that seem doomed to further stagnation – Hanford, California and Natchez, Mississippi....
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2012 - 14:56
SOURCE: Economic Policy Institute (6-5-12)
One hallmark of the first 30 years after World War II was the “countervailing power” of labor unions (not just at the bargaining table but in local, state, and national politics) and their ability to raise wages and working standards for members and non-members alike. There were stark limits to union power—which was concentrated in some sectors of the economy and in some regions of the country—but the basic logic of the postwar accord was clear: Into the early 1970s, both median compensation and labor productivity roughly doubled. Labor unions both sustained prosperity, and ensured that it was shared. The impact of all of this on wage or income inequality is a complex question (shaped by skill, occupation, education, and demographics) but the bottom line is clear: There is a demonstrable wage premium for union workers. In addition, this wage premium is more pronounced for lesser skilled workers, and even spills over and benefits non-union workers. The wage effect alone underestimates the union contribution to shared prosperity. Unions at midcentury also exerted considerable political clout, sustaining other political and economic choices (minimum wage, job-based health benefits, Social Security, high marginal tax rates, etc.) that dampened inequality. And unions not only raise the wage floor but can also lower the ceiling; union bargaining power has been shown to moderate the compensation of executives at unionized firms.
Over the second 30 years post-WWII—an era highlighted by an impasse over labor law reform in 1978, the Chrysler bailout in 1979 (which set the template for “too big to fail” corporate rescues built around deep concessions by workers), and the Reagan administration’s determination to “zap labor” into submission—labor’s bargaining power collapsed. The consequences are driven home by the two graphs below. Figure 1 simply juxtaposes the historical trajectory of union density and the income share claimed by the richest 10 percent of Americans. Early in the century, the share of the American workforce which belonged to a union was meager, barely 10 percent. At the same time, inequality was stark—the share of national income going to the richest 10 percent of Americans stood at nearly 40 percent. This gap widened in the 1920s. But in 1935, the New Deal granted workers basic collective bargaining rights; over the next decade, union membership grew dramatically, followed by an equally dramatic decline in income inequality. This yielded an era of broadly shared prosperity, running from the 1940s into the 1970s. After that, however, unions came under attack—in the workplace, in the courts, and in public policy. As a result, union membership has fallen and income inequality has worsened—reaching levels not seen since the 1920s.
By most estimates, declining unionization accounted for about a third of the increase in inequality in the 1980s and 1990s. This is underscored by Figure 2, which plots income inequality (Gini coefficient) against union coverage (the share of the workforce covered by union contracts) by state, for 1979, 1989, 1999, and 2009. The relationship between union coverage and inequality varies widely by state. In 1979, union stalwarts in the northeast and Rust Belt combined high rates of union coverage and relatively low rates of inequality, while just the opposite held true for the southern “right to work” states. A large swath of states—including the upper Midwest, the mountain west, and the less urban industrialized states of the northeast—showed lower-than-national rates of inequality at union coverage rates a bit above or a bit below that of the nation. More importantly, as we plot the same relationship in 1989, 1999, and 2009, those states move as a group towards the less-union coverage, higher-inequality corner of the graph. The relationship between declining union coverage and rising inequality is starkest in the earlier years (between 1979 and 1989). After 1999, union coverage has bottomed out in most states and changes in the Gini coefficient at the state level are clearly driven by other factors, such as financialization and the real estate bubble.
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2012 - 14:22
SOURCE: CNN.com (6-4-12)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" (Times Books) and of the new book "Governing America" (Princeton University Press).
Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- President Barack Obama's re-election campaign got off to a rocky start with his attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, the private investment fund....
But the first few weeks of attacks have backfired. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising star of the Democratic Party, said that he didn't agree with the strategy, calling the ads "nauseating" and defending venture capital. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick made similar statements about private industry, fueling the impression Obama's surrogates were not on the same page as him....
In short, the attacks don't seem to be working, at least thus far. Why? The first reason is that these kinds of ads are tricky for Obama to pull off since they open him up to attack as much as they allow him to inflict wounds on Romney....
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2012 - 08:08
SOURCE: NYT (6-7-12)
Robert Zaretsky is a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College.
“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.” Were he viewing the political scene in France, all that Marshall McLuhan, the prophet of the irresistible rise of image, would add to this prescient remark is: “Or she could ever be.”
Marine Le Pen is the latest victim, or beneficiary, in a French firefight over images. During a recent concert in Tel Aviv, as Madonna launched into her song “Nobody Knows Me, ” a series of images flashed across the huge screen behind her, including shots of Hu Jintao and Sarah Palin.
In this dubious pantheon also appeared a shot of Marine Le Pen — the far-right French politician — with a swastika adorning her forehead. The image lingered for just a second, but as images are wont to do, its impact continues to ripple....
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2012 - 07:58