Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
SOURCE: NYT (3-19-13)
Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore is an editor at Time Out Beijing.
BEIJING — My courtyard home in the heart of old Beijing has a view of the Drum Tower, which for centuries helped citizens keep track of the time.
The tower still rolls its drums daily for tourists. But over the past few weeks a different rumbling could be heard in the public square where it stands: the sound of sledgehammers knocking down surrounding buildings.
For years, the government has proposed leveling the zone around the Drum Tower and the neighboring Bell Tower, known in Chinese as Gulou and Zhonglou, respectively. In 2010, local media reported that except for the two towers, the area, a maze of snaking hutong alleyways and ramshackle courtyard homes, would be demolished to make way for a new “Beijing Time Cultural City” and underground mall.
That did not come to pass. But in late 2012, the government posted new notices ordering local businesses and residents to vacate by Feb. 24. My home, which is one hutong down from the square, will be spared, but dozens are slated for destruction. Many residents have already left; those who have stayed are demanding more compensation....
SOURCE: NYT (3-23-13)
LAST week, scientists sequenced the genome of cells taken without consent from a woman named Henrietta Lacks. She was a black tobacco farmer and mother of five, and though she died in 1951, her cells, code-named HeLa, live on. They were used to help develop our most important vaccines and cancer medications, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping, cloning. Now they may finally help create laws to protect her family’s privacy — and yours.
The family has been through a lot with HeLa: they didn’t learn of the cells until 20 years after Lacks’s death, when scientists began using her children in research without their knowledge. Later their medical records were released to the press and published without consent. Because I wrote a book about Henrietta Lacks and her family, my in-box exploded when news of the genome broke. People wanted to know: did scientists get the family’s permission to publish her genetic information? The answer is no.
Imagine if someone secretly sent samples of your DNA to one of many companies that promise to tell you what your genes say about you. That report would list the good news (you’ll probably live to be 100) and the not-so-good news (you’ll most likely develop Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder and maybe alcoholism). Now imagine they posted your genetic information online, with your name on it. Some people may not mind. But I assure you, many do: genetic information can be stigmatizing, and while it’s illegal for employers or health insurance providers to discriminate based on that information, this is not true for life insurance, disability coverage or long-term care....
SOURCE: NYT (3-23-13)
Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times.
WHEN prominent people in Washington spend an anniversary apologizing for being catastrophically, unforgivably wrong about a decade-old decision, you might expect that the decision in question had delivered their party to disaster or defeat. But last week’s many Iraq war mea culpas were rich in irony: one by one, prominent liberals lined up to apologize for supporting a war that’s responsible for liberalism’s current political and cultural ascendance.
History is too contingent to say that had there been no Iraq invasion in 2003, there would be no Democratic majority in 2012. (It’s easy enough to imagine counterfactuals that might have put Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office.) But the Democratic majority that we do have is a majority that the Iraq war created: its energy and strategies, its leadership and policy goals, and even its cultural advantages were forged in the backlash against George W. Bush’s Middle East policies.
All those now-apologetic liberals who supported the war in 2003 are a big part of this story, because without their hawkishness there would have been no antiwar rebellion on the left — no Michael Moore and Howard Dean, no Daily Kos and all its “netroots” imitators....
SOURCE: American Prospect (3-22-13)
Jeremiah Goulka writes about American politics and culture, focusing on security, race, and the Republican Party, of which he is a former member. He was formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, a recovery worker in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. He lives in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him at email@example.com. His website is jeremiahgoulka.com.
On the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, we may be witnessing a seismic shift in America's politics of national security. After decades of using hawkish positions for partisan advantage, the Republican Party is facing a foreign policy identity crisis. Its brand is still stained by the Iraq War and the Global War on Terror, and the once-fringe views of Ron Paul are becoming mainstream among the public and party activists, as shown by the response to Senator Rand Paul's March 6 filibuster and his success at this past weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference. This is liberating progressive Democrats to criticize the Obama Administration—now safely reelected—for its hawkish national security policies, and it might even free the party from some of its ceaseless fear of looking "soft" on terror.
It's about time. One can't help wondering what took so long, since this is clearly a winning issue: opposition to the Global War on Terror abroad and civil liberties infringements at home in large part won the Senate for Democrats in 2006, the White House for Democrats in 2008, and the House of Representatives for Republicans in 2010. But once elected, there is something about Washington that turns most everyone into a military-industrial establishmentarian, and all those promises to trim Pentagon waste, fight for civil liberties, and maybe even restrain American imperialism get forgotten.
Here is where Paul's filibuster and the response to it are instructive: they highlight where America is today. He clearly touched a major nerve. Half the country is ready for real change—and not just on drones. According to a 2009 Pew poll, 49 percent of Americans thought the "U.S. should mind its own business" and 76 percent thought we should "concentrate on our own national problems" more than on international leadership. In 2011, 55 percent of respondents told Pew that it wasn't necessary to give up civil liberties to curb terrorism. Some 45 percent of respondents to a January 2012 Pew poll thought a smaller military could be just as effective as the one we have; 58 percent told Gallup last November that they wanted major cuts in military spending. And 66 percent said that no countries—including the United States—should have nuclear weapons (in a 2005 Associated Press/Ipsos survey)....
SOURCE: Crisis Papers (3-23-13)
Bernard Weiner, a poet, playwright, photographer and Ph.D. in government & international relations, is co-founder and co-editor of The Crisis Papers website (www.crisispapers.org). For two decades, he was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle. To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org .
So here we are in the Spring of 2013, nearly five months after Barack Obama's re-election and the Senate added new liberal members, and not much has changed. And it doesn't look like anything major will change.
Wall Street once again is engaged in reckless financial games, the Congressional Republicans are still behaving like tantrum-prone children who can't get their way and are willing to take the economy and government down with them, the global climate is creating weather havoc everywhere while carbon emissions are essentially unchecked, the Israelis and Palestinians are locked in stasis, even the mildest gun regulation bills face little chance for success when pitted against the NRA, Europe continues to force "austerity" on the backs of the middle-class while the wealthy continue their essentially free ride, the GOP leadership's post-election "autopsy" urges a change in tone as they try to expand the base but Republican office-holders and candidates can't seem to stop themselves from continuing to behave like ignorant, arrogant louts. And so on, etc. etc. Rinse and repeat.
It seems an appropriate time for a good, old-fashioned sum-up of historical context and analysis as to how we got to this scary place and how things potentially could change. See what you think:
EARLIER "REVOLUTIONARY" FERMENT
Back in "The Sixties" (roughly the late-1950s to the early-1970s) we rebellious young activists shared a key belief: The foundations on which the ruling elites and institutions rested were so obviously rotten, corrupt and immoral that our "revolution" -- our worldwide revolution from Chicago to Prague to Mexico to Paris -- would topple the "Establishment" in favor of a more just, peaceful, equitable system of governance and economy and politics.
What we naive radicals hadn't factored-in to our ambitious vision was the tenacious reserve strength of the ongoing financial and political "system," and its willingness to use any means necessary to push back at the major changes taking place and being proposed -- including the use of force against those with the temerity to try to alter the "system" in major ways. These physical attacks included deadly force; see the Kent State and Chicago Black Panther slaughters.
Some major victories did come our way
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed. (3-25-13)
A magazine ad campaign running in my hometown quotes a youngster who wants to study computer science, he says, so he can "invent a robot that will make his bed for him." I admire the focus of this future genius. I, too, remember how the enforced daily reconstruction of my bed—an order destined only for destruction later that very day—somehow combined the worst aspects of futility, drudgery, and boredom that attended all household chores. By comparison, doing the dishes or raking the yard stood out as tasks that glimmered with teleological energy, activities that, if not exactly creative, at least smacked of purpose.
Disregarding for the moment whether an adult computer scientist will have the same attitude toward bed-making as his past, oppressed self, the dream of being freed from a chore, or any undesired task, by a constructed entity is of distinguished vintage. Robot-butlers or robot-maids—also robot-spouses and robot-lovers—have animated the pages of science fiction for more than a century. These visions extend the dream-logic of all technology, namely that it should make our lives easier and more fun. At the same time, the consequences of creating a robot working class have always had a dark side.
The basic problem is that the robot helper is also scary. Indeed, a primal fear of the constructed other reaches further back in literary and cultural memory than science fiction's heyday, encompassing the golem legend as much as Mary Shelley's modern Prometheus, Frankenstein, and his monster. At least since Karel Capek's 1920 play R.U.R.—the work that is believed to have introduced "robot" into English—the most common fear associated with the robotic worker has been political, namely that the mechanical or cloned proletariat, though once accepting of their untermenschlich status as labor-savers for us, enablers of our leisure, will revolt....
SOURCE: WaPo (3-22-13)
Gregory B. Craig, a Washington lawyer, was White House counsel from January 2009 to January 2010.
On Aug. 6, 1965, I was working in Coahoma County, Miss., trying to register new voters at the courthouse in Clarksdale. For many weeks, I and other civil rights workers in our project had been knocking on doors, persuading African Americans to go down to the courthouse, stand in line, risk retaliation, take a detailed written test and, inevitably, be rejected as unqualified. We would then ask each rejected applicant to sign an affidavit. We collected those affidavits and sent them in bundles to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. The purpose of this effort was to show that African Americans in the South wanted to vote and that this particular person had been prevented from registering for no reason other than his or her race. That summer, we persuaded 500 African American citizens in Coahoma County to try to register to vote. Four or five passed the test. The rest signed affidavits. We prayed that federal officials would read the affidavits and do something about the situation....
Many months later, I asked one of my Harvard professors — a distinguished legal historian who was also the biographer of Oliver Wendell Holmes — whether there was any concern about the constitutionality of Congress passing a law that imposed requirements on some states when it did not impose the same requirements on other states. He said: “No. We fought a very bloody war about that same question: the proper role of the federal government when it came to protecting the rights of an American citizen. The South lost that war; and in 1870 the country, to make itself absolutely clear on that issue, adopted the 15th Amendment. That amendment put the issue to rest.”...
SOURCE: NYT (3-24-13)
Kenneth F. Scheve Jr. is a professor of political science at Stanford University. David Stasavage, a professor of politics at New York University, is the author of “States of Credit: Size, Power, and the Development of European Polities.
Under the deal struck by President Obama and Congress to avert the “fiscal cliff,” the estate tax — long targeted for elimination by Republicans — survived, but in a substantially diminished form.
In 2001, the year George W. Bush became president, individual estates over $675,000 were taxed and the top rate was 55 percent. Now, the maximum tax is 40 percent and only individual estates worth more than $5.25 million are taxed (a figure that will now be automatically adjusted for inflation).
The estate tax has a history as long and controversial as the income tax. Its first modern version appeared in the federal tax code in 1916, three years after the ratification of the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax. Advocates of the estate tax see it as a crucial tool for raising revenue and a buffer against the sharp, nearly inexorable rise in inequality over the past four decades. Opponents, who call the levy “the death tax,” say it penalizes savers, harms growth and interferes with parents’ ability to pass on their wealth to their children....
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (3-22-13)
Emily Schmall is a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires who covered the ascension of Pope Francis for the New York Times.
BUENOS AIRES — Hundreds of spectators stood through the chilly night in the city's Plaza de Mayo, the iconic park in front of the Catholic cathedral and government palace, to watch a live Vatican transmission of the ascension of the Argentine pope, Francis. The mass finally began shortly after 5 a.m., to a roar of cheers and chanting in unison: ‘Argentina! Argentina!'
People wrapped themselves in the yellow and white Vatican flags being hawked alongside Francis buttons, calendars, key chains and posters.
While Francis circled St. Peter's Square in the white pope-mobile, two students of the Catholic University, Federico Chaves and Jonathan Tiberio, both 26, swapped anecdotes about the former Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, an advisor at their campus, who set up a program at the university for students to teach English and computer classes as volunteers in some of the city's poorest slums.
"We're anticipating change at the Vatican because of what he did in Argentina. He worked with everyone, atheists, homosexuals....He's shown a commitment to bring the church closer to the people, to assimilate it into life," said Chaves, an economics student....
SOURCE: The National Interest (3-22-13)
Gordon N. Bardos is a Balkan politics and security specialist based in New York.
Don’t laugh—but maybe Joe McCarthy was on to something. And the problem might be even more serious than he realized. Stepping back from contemporary policy debates reveals that Marx’s materialist view of history and Lenin’s voluntarism have been the ideological basis for many of our imperial misadventures from the Balkans to the Mideast to Central Asia.
Actual commies are probably not crawling Washington’s hallowed halls. But a very Marxist-Leninist understanding of human nature and historical change has nevertheless had a significant impact on U.S. foreign-policy making in recent decades. Some forty years ago, Walker Connor, one of the deans of the study of ethnic nationalism, had already observed (and decried) the ”propensity on the part of American statesmen and scholars of the post-World War II era to assume that economic considerations represent the determining force in human affairs.” This “unwarranted exaggeration of the influence of material factors” on the world is of course a direct outgrowth of Marx’s belief that existence determines consciousness....
The functional contemporary equivalent of Lenin's Bolshevik elite is what Samuel Huntington and Peter Berger have variously described as “Davos Man” and “Davos Culture”—the multilingual, globe-trotting, advanced-degree holding, CNN-watching, Hilton Hotel-staying, international organization-employed cadres who go from trouble spot to trouble spot imposing the neoliberal state- and nation-building agenda on recalcitrant and often ungrateful natives....
SOURCE: Time Magazine (3-19-13)
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, it’s time for some perspective on the path we have traveled. We went into Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction, then to avenge September 11, then to build a foothold of freedom in the Arab world, none of which seemed to materialize. Our military, though the strongest force on earth, was challenged in ways we never thought possible. The front lines disintegrated into an asymmetric war. We realized the shortcomings of “shock and awe” and began pursuing “hearts and minds” instead. But for all the comparisons to the generation at war in Vietnam, today’s veterans have a lot more going in their favor than we may appreciate.
The pendulum has swung far from the post-Vietnam era days when there was a clear inability on society’s part to separate the soldier from the cause. At Mai Lai, LT Calley served as the example upon which people based their judgments of soldiers. In Iraq, the soldiers involved in Abu Ghraib and Haditha were regarded as anomalies who were simply the bad apples who dishonored the good work the rest of the force was doing....
SOURCE: Foreign Policy (3-21-13)
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
...When Franklin Roosevelt took the United States into World War II, he did so on the basis of very clear strategic reasoning. As outlined by the 1941 "Victory Program," he understood that if Germany defeated the Soviet Union and was able to consolidate the industrial power of Europe, it might pose a potent long-term threat to U.S. security. That logic led him to back Great Britain through Lend-Lease and to work assiduously to bring the U.S. into the war. Going to war was a big step back then, it's no accident that this was the last time Congress issued a formal declaration of war.
Today, U.S. military superiority gives presidents the freedom to fight wars of choice (or whim), which allows foreign policy gurus to sit around and think up lots of interesting ways to use American power. We even have drones and special forces that permit us to conduct acts of war without anyone being fully aware of what we are doing. Yesterday: Kosovo, Colombia, Iraq, and Libya. Today: Afghanistan, Yemen, and a few other places. Tomorrow, maybe Syria or Mali. And these same ambitious experts can always come up with a rationale for these activities, because smart people can always invent some sort of connect-the-dots scenario suggesting why failure to act might eventually lead back to something unfortunate happening to somebody or something we care about. But this sort of worst-case reasoning -- the life blood of our national security establishment -- isn't really strategy at all. It was the kind of thinking that led us into Iraq, and it's still alive and well today.
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (3-21-13)
Khadija Patel is a journalist and columnist with The Daily Maverick, an online publication based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Fifty three years to the day of the Sharpeville massacre, when police gunned down 69 people outside a police station south of Johannesburg, it's a national holiday in South Africa. Like other countries, we have successfully confined the horrors of our past to museums and national holidays. Few complain about a day off. But the brutality, mindless violence, injustice and oppression that catalysed into the Sharpeville massacre is still echoed in the experience of South Africans to this day.
When the police gunned down 34 miners in Marikana last August, opposition politicians, analysts and commentators likened the shootings to the Sharpeville massacre. State officials however bristle at such a comparison. They argue it was not a massacre at all, that it was a tragedy pitting violent workers against the police, leaving the police with no other option but to shoot. Police commissioner Victoria Piyega is currently under cross-examination from the Farlam commission into the Marikana massacre. She argues police were acting in self-defence. She points out that two police officers were killed ahead of the police opening fire on workers....
SOURCE: WSJ (3-19-13)
Roy Scranton, an Iraq veteran, was an artilleryman in the Army. He is co-editor, with Matt Gallagher, of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.
This week we look back and think about what it meant that we invaded Iraq ten years ago. What kind of story do we tell? What’s our narrative? It’s not an easy question, but it’s an important one, because the stories we tell about how we got where we were turn into stories about where we’re going.
Some might think this is a job strictly for history. Since 9/11, if not before, people have talked about reality outstripping fiction, as if fiction can’t keep pace with events. More, we’re all tired of government duplicity, overblown product claims, scripted reality shows, and faked memoirs. When someone tells us they’ve made something up, we’re apt to feel what David Shields called “reality hunger”: Don’t sell me the well-crafted fake, buddy, give me the real deal.
I’ve encountered something like this in talking to people about the anthology of short fiction by recent veterans (and one military spouse) that I’ve edited, “Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.” “Why fiction?” people ask, and sometimes they mean “Why write fiction about these contentious events that have yet to be fully understood?” Other times, they mean “Why write fiction at all? Why not just tell the truth?”...
SOURCE: NYT (3-19-13)
THE costs of the second Iraq war, which began 10 years ago this week, are staggering: nearly 4,500 Americans killed and more than 30,000 wounded, many grievously; tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis wounded or killed; more than $2 trillion in direct government expenditures; and the significant weakening of the major regional counterweight to Iran and consequent strengthening of that country’s position and ambitions. Great powers rarely make national decisions that explode so quickly and completely in their face.
It may seem folly to seek a silver lining among these thunderclouds. But there are three flickers of light that offer some hope that the enormous price was not paid entirely in vain. These coins offer a meager return on our enormous investment, but not collecting them would be an insult to the memory of all that we have lost.
The first lesson is for America’s politicians, from both parties, who pushed our country into a war that we did not need to fight for dubious reasons that were eventually proved false....
SOURCE: WaPo (3-21-13)
Anne Applebaum is a Washington Post columnist.
Twenty years ago, I visited South Africa and got lost. I set out from my hotel in Durban in search of a small black college where some leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) party were meeting before the country’s first post-apartheid elections. I drove around Durban’s white suburbs for hours, looking for a building that was not on my map because, technically, it was not in Durban. It was in KwaZulu, one of the black “homelands” that existed alongside but legally separate from the white neighborhoods. When I stopped for directions, nobody I asked had ever heard of the college, even though it was only a few miles away.
South Africa is so different today as to be unrecognizable. Living restrictions are gone, neighborhoods that were once all white are integrated, the homelands are no more. At a Johannesburg mall, black and white shoppers buy sneakers and eat frozen yogurt together without caring that such a thing was once unthinkable. In newly prosperous Soweto, Nelson Mandela’s house is a museum crowded with black and white tourists. Outside Pretoria, a black guide showed me around the less-crowded “Great Trek” monument, built in 1937 as a shrine to white Afrikaner supremacy. “It is a difficult history,” he agreed. “But we have to know all of it.”...
SOURCE: NYT (3-21-13)
SOURCE: The New Statesman (3-21-13)
Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted
If tomorrow, God forbid, I were to cause the death of an innocent man with my car, minutes after sending a series of texts on my mobile phone, I’m guessing I’d spend the rest of my life riddled with guilt. What I wouldn’t do is go on television and lay the blame for my subsequent 12-week imprisonment at the door of . . . wait for it . . . the Jews. Yet that’s what the Labour peer Nazir Ahmed did in April 2012 – less than five years after causing a car crash on the M1 in which Martin Gombar, aged 28, was killed.
“My case became more critical because I went to Gaza to support Palestinians,” he says to his Pakistani interviewer in Urdu, in a video recording obtained by the Times. “My Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels opposed this.” The judge who put him behind bars, Lord Ahmed claims, was appointed to the high court after helping a “Jewish colleague” of Tony Blair’s during “an important case”....
It pains me to have to admit this but anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace. Any Muslims reading this article – if they are honest with themselves – will know instantly what I am referring to. It’s our dirty little secret. You could call it the banality of Muslim anti-Semitism....
SOURCE: The Nation (3-21-13)
Ten years ago, as the US invasion of Iraq began, and I was the editor of Editor & Publisher, I turned to veteran war reporter (then still at The New York Times) Chris Hedges for insight on what was going on—and what was likely coming. On most questions, his was a minority voice. Also, as it turned out, quite prescient.
He told our reporter Barbara Bedway that the US military's use of embedded reporters in Iraq had made the war easier to see and harder to understand. Yes, "print is doing a better job than TV," he observed. "The broadcast media display all these retired generals and charts and graphs, it looks like a giant game of Risk. I find it nauseating." But even the print embeds had little choice but to "look at Iraq totally through the eyes of the US military," he pointed out. "That's a very distorted and self-serving view."
To Hedges this instantaneous "slice of war" reporting was bereft of context. After a few days passed and the US made its relenteless way toward Baghdad, he told Bedway that reporters have a difficult time interviewing Iraqi civilians, and many don't even try, he says: “We don't know what the Iraqis think." The reporters are "talking about a country and culture they know nothing about…. My suspicion is that the Iraqis view it as an invasion and occupation, not a liberation. This resistance we are seeing may in fact just be the beginning of organized resistance, not the death throes of Saddam's fedayeen....
SOURCE: National Review (3-21-13)
Michael Bowen is the author of The Roots of Modern Conservatism.
The Republican National Committee’s “autopsy” of the 2012 election, the work of the Growth and Opportunity Project, has received a great deal of criticism from conservatives since its release on Monday. Their general take seems to be that, as Brent Bozell put it, establishment Republicans are trying to “out-Democrat” the Democrats.
While it remains to be seen how much buy-in the report will receive from the Right, it is worth noting that the proposed solutions parallel those offered by establishment Republicans immediately after World War II. Since the GOP had been in power when the economy collapsed in 1929, many voters equated it with the poverty and suffering of the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt did nothing to disabuse the public of this notion while he built the Democratic party into a liberal juggernaut.
With Roosevelt’s death and the end of hostilities in 1945, politics started to normalize, and the Republicans developed a new plan for victory. That year, RNC chairman Herbert Brownell and the 1944 presidential nominee, Thomas Dewey, hired pollster Claude Robinson to assess the party’s image with an eye to the 1948 election....