Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
SOURCE: TomDispatch (4-2-13)
Washington has vociferously denounced Afghan corruption as a major obstacle to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. This has been widely reported. Only one crucial element is missing from this routine censure: a credible explanation of why American nation-building failed there. No wonder. To do so, the U.S. would have to denounce itself.
Corruption in Afghanistan today is acute and permeates all sectors of society. In recent years, anecdotal evidence on the subject has been superseded by the studies of researchers, surveys by NGOs, and periodic reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). There is also the Corruption Perceptions Index of the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI). Last year, it bracketed Afghanistan with two other countries as the most corrupt on Earth.
None of these documents, however, refers to the single most important fact when it comes to corruption: that it’s Washington-based. It is, in fact, rooted in the massive build-up of U.S. forces there from 2005 onward, the accompanying expansion of American forward operating bases, camps, and combat outposts from 29 in 2005 to nearly 400 five years later, and above all, the tsunami of cash that went with all of this.
Last month, when an Afghan court sentenced Sher Khan Farnood and Khalil Ullah Ferozi, the chairman and chief executive of the Kabul Bank, for looting its deposits in a gigantic Ponzi scheme, the event received some media attention. Typically, however, the critical role of the Americans in the bank’s murky past was missing in action.
Founded as a private company in 2004, the Kabul Bank was promptly hailed by American officials in Afghanistan as a linchpin in the country’s emerging free market economic order. In 2005, action followed words. The Pentagon, paymaster for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), signed a contract with the bank to disperse the salaries of ANSF soldiers and policemen.
With that, the fledgling financial institution acquired an impressive cash flow. Moreover, such blatant American support generated confidence among better-off Afghans. Soon enough, they were lining up to deposit their money. Starting in 2006, the surging inflow of cash encouraged Farnood and Ferozi to begin skimming off depositors’ funds as unsecured loans to themselves through fake front companies. Thus was born the world’s largest banking scam (when calculated as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product) with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul acting as its midwife.
How It All Happened
There exists a statistical connection between the sums expended by Washington in Afghanistan and worsening corruption in that hapless nation. It is to be found in the TI’s Corruption Index. In 2005, Afghanistan ranked 117th among the 158 countries surveyed. By 2007, as American greenbacks poured into the country, only two of 179 nations surpassed it in corruption. Since 2011, it has remained at the very bottom of that index.
What changed between 2005 and 2007? By the spring of 2006, the Taliban insurgency had already gained control of 20 districts in the southern part of the country and was challenging U.S. and NATO forces in the strategic Kandahar area. With a sectarian war by then raging in U.S.-occupied Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld felt that he could increase the American military presence in Afghanistan only marginally.
This started to change when Robert Gates took over at the Pentagon in December 2006. He began bolstering U.S. combat units there. As a result, forward operating bases multiplied, as did combat outposts and military camps. Building new sites or upgrading old ones on the double meant that the Pentagon started awarding contracts to local Afghan construction companies unaccustomed to handling such tasks quickly. They, in turn, subcontracted tasks out to those who greased their palms. With the infusion of ever more piles of Pentagon dollars, corruption only spread.
Later, each of these bases and outposts had to be supplied with food, water, fuel, and other necessities as well as war materials. In addition, the Pentagon accelerated its program of bolstering the nascent Afghan security forces by covering the full cost of training, equipping, and paying its personnel, as well as building bases and outposts for them. As a consequence, contracts to Afghan transport companies ballooned, as would contracts to Afghan private security outfits to protect the trucks hauling provisions and materials in that increasingly war-torn country.
So, of course, did the opportunities for graft.
Between 2005 and 2007, when American combat forces in Afghanistan doubled, the Pentagon’s budget for the Afghan War leaped from $17.2 billion to $34.9 billion annually. ANSF personnel also doubled, from 66,000 to 125,000 troops and policemen, though at a relatively marginal cost to the Pentagon. At $16,000 a year, the burden of maintaining an Afghan soldier was a paltry 2% of the $800,000 it cost to maintain his American counterpart.
In this period, opportunities for corruption rose exponentially. Why? In part, because the Pentagon was unable to protect the supply convoys of its Afghan contractors, something that would have required tens of thousands more U.S. troops. The distance between the main supply center at Bagram Air Base near the capital Kabul and the city of Kandahar in the Taliban-infested south was 300 miles; and the Taliban heartland in Helmand Province lay another 100 miles from Kandahar. Since Afghanistan lacks railroads, the only way to transport goods and people was to use the roads.
The Bagram-Kandahar highway was peppered with roadblocks, each manned by the armed fighters of the dominant warlord, who collected an arbitrary “transit tax.” The only way the transport companies could perform their job was by buying safe passage from the rulers of the highway and so parting with bribes of approximately $1,500 per truck between Bagram and Kandahar, and another $1,500 between Kandahar and Helmand. All of this came from the cash the Pentagon was so profligately doling out.
The warlords and private security contractors, in turn, gave bribes to the Taliban for the safe passage of these convoys. In essence, therefore, the Pentagon was helping finance its enemy in order to distribute necessary supplies to its bases. In addition, on “safe” roads, checkpoints were often manned by Afghan policemen, who extorted bribes by threatening to pass advance information about a convoy on to the Taliban.
This process became an important element in systematic graft on a grand scale triggered by the $60 billion a year that the Pentagon was, by 2009, spending on its Afghan War.
Then there were the petty bribes that ordinary Afghans regularly pay to civil servants and policemen. These are extracted from citizens for favors or preferential treatment by officials in public service ministries when it comes to such basics as gaining entrance to school for a child, securing a bed in a hospital, or getting a driver’s license or building permit. They represent a commonplace phenomenon not just in Afghanistan, but also elsewhere in South and Southwest Asia.
While ignoring Pentagon-financed sleaze on an industrial scale, the NGOs and UNDOC go through the ritual of quantifying corruption in the country by questioning a sample of Afghans regarding the small bribes -- popularly called baksheesh (literally, “gratuity”) -- they pay to public officials. They come up with such earth-shaking conclusions as that 50 percent of the population paid a bribe in 2012, “down” from 58 percent in 2009 (the year of the previous survey).
A 2009 survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) focusing on petty or administrative corruption put the total for such bribery nationally at $1 billion -- less, that is, than half the $2.16 billion that the Pentagon disbursed in a single gigantic contract under the label of “Host Nation Trucking” for ferrying supplies to its bases.
Soaking the Pentagon-funded Security Forces
Another major source of systematic corruption: the filching of Pentagon money via salaries paid to “ghost soldiers” and policemen, recruits enrolled in the Afghan security forces who don’t exist. Here, too, Washington’s funds became the basis for embezzlement and “Afghan” corruption.
Up to 90 percent of Afghan troops and police are illiterate, and about a quarter of the force deserts annually. This has provided rich opportunities for commanders to pad their lists of soldiers with so-called ghosts, keep them on the books, and pocket their salaries. (It is worth recalling that this practice became similarly widespread in the South Vietnamese army during the American war in Vietnam.)
Besides filching salaries, enterprising police and army commanders have made money by reselling Pentagon war materials. For instance, according to documents leaked by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, a police chief in the eastern town of Zurmat reported fictitious firefights with the Taliban, and upon being restocked with thousands of rounds of ammunition, sold them to a bazaar merchant. Another provincial police commissioner purloined food and uniforms, while leaving his men cold and underfed in the winter. Such acts led to the creation of a significant black market in U.S. military equipment and goods of every sort.
In its drive to win the hearts and minds of Afghan villagers, the Pentagon’s policymakers also gave cash directly to U.S. officers to fund the building of wells, schools, and health clinics in areas where they were posted. The stress was on quick, visible results -- and they were indeed quick and visible: the funds generally ended up in the pockets of rural power brokers with little oversight and no accountability, particularly when the American officer involved usually left the area after a relatively brief tour of duty.
Later, the State Department’s Agency for International Development (USAID) took over this role. As with the Pentagon, most of the money it distributed ended up in the pockets of those local power brokers. By some accounts, USAID lost up to 90 cents of each dollar spent on certain projects. According to a Congressional report published in June 2011, much of the $19 billion in foreign aid that the U.S. pumped into Afghanistan after 2001 was probably destabilizing the country in the long term.
Staggering amounts of U.S. taxpayer dollars allocated to aid Afghanistan were spent so quickly and profligately that they circumvented any anti-corruption, transparency, or accountability controls and safeguards that existed on paper. However, those who amassed bagsful of dollars faced a problem. Afghanistan’s underdeveloped $12 billion economy -- a sum Washington spent in that country in a single month in 2011 -- did not offer many avenues for legitimate profitable investment. Therefore, most of this cash garnered on a colossal scale exited the country, large parts of it ending up in banks and real estate in the Gulf emirates, especially freewheeling Dubai.
U.S. Diplomats Ignored Kabul Bank Shenanigans
Kabul Bank caught the essence of all this in a single Afghan institution, the brainchild of an Afghan who stood out as a man for all seasons. In their enthusiasm to welcome the founding of an ambitious private bank, American officials, wedded to their free market theology, overlooked the shady background of Kabul Bank Chairman Farnood. An ethnic Uzbek, he moved to Moscow during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Toward the end of that decade, he started an informal money transfer business or hawala that would prove useful for drug smugglers who wanted to transfer their cash into Afghanistan and the adjoining Socialist Republic of Tajikistan.
Before the Russian authorities shut down his outfit for money laundering in 1998, Farnood escaped to Dubai. As the main hub of the hawala business covering Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and the Indian subcontinent, it was a perfect refuge for him. There he also became known as a sharp poker player.
The Russian interior ministry pursued him, but by 2007, when it got Interpol to issue an arrest warrant for him, he was the honorable chairman of Kabul Bank (with his former bodyguard, Ferozi, as its chief executive officer). And his bank had acquired nearly a million customers, including 250,000 Afghan security soldiers and policemen. Unsurprisingly, the interior ministry in Kabul ignored the Interpol warrant. So apparently did the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
When news of his jaw-dropping embezzlement and Ponzi scheme broke in September 2010, USAID officials expressed surprise and shock. They would have had to be blind and deaf not to have seen or heard the dark rumors about their star financial institution that had already been swirling around Kabul’s diplomatic and financial circles. They could not, however, maintain the charade of ignorance once WikiLeaks published Kabul embassy cables, some of them dating from 2009, mentioning the bank’s scandalous transgressions.
By September 2010, almost $1 billion had gone missing from the bank, with Farnood and Ferozi pocketing $900 million, significant amounts of which they invested in luxurious villas in Dubai. Last month, a few liberal Western journalists made a point of the way Afghan judges had dropped the most serious charges of embezzlement, forgery, and money laundering against Farnood and Ferozi, convicting them instead of “breach of trust.” However, none of the journalists or commentators pointed out the inconvenient fact that U.S. officials had heartily approved of the bank’s founding, had helped raise its stature and improve its cash flow, and had later overlooked the egregious misdeeds of its prime founders.
In the next two years, as Washington draws down its forces in Afghanistan and the situation there disintegrates further, there will undoubtedly be more stories about “Afghan” corruption. Given that, it’s well worth recalling the following facts: it was the U.S. that flooded the country with military and aid funds, while expediently skipping any process of oversight, and so turned Operation Enduring Freedom into Operation Enduring Corruption.
SOURCE: The National Interest (3-29-13)
Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His most recent book is Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians.
A passel of punditry has emerged recently questioning whether the Republican Party will soon recover from the foreign-policy incompetence of the George W. Bush presidency. Some pundits foresee a long period of eclipse before the party will recapture the full confidence of the American people, so seared have they been by the U.S. fiasco in Iraq and the ongoing muddle in Afghanistan. Thus, in this view, the GOP’s fate is set—a long winter of minority-party status.
Perhaps, but not necessarily. Certainly, these pundits are correct in perceiving the magnitude of the blow sustained by the party when it lost its identity as the country’s most sober and adroit manager of U.S. foreign affairs. But these analyses miss a fundamental reality of U.S. presidential elections. They’re largely referendums, which means the GOP can recoup when—but only when—two things happen: first, an incumbent Democratic administration forfeits its standing with voters through a faltering presidential performance; and, second, the succeeding Republican president recaptures voter confidence with a winning four-year term.
The prediction of an inevitable dark period for Republicans was captured in three recent articles of note. An Iraq veteran and think tank fellow named Phillip Carter, writing in The Washington Post, notes that for three decades voters trusted Republicans more than Democrats on national security. Then came the Iraq War. "It shattered Republicans’ monopoly on national security and eroded service members’ allegiance to the GOP," writes Carter. He marshals polling statistics to demonstrate just how far the GOP has fallen when it comes to voter trust on issues of war and peace....
SOURCE: The National Interest (3-29-13)
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.
A decade ago President George W. Bush invaded Iraq. U.S. forces quickly triumphed. But that counted for little when Secretary of State John Kerry visited Baghdad last weekend seeking Iraqi assistance against Syria’s Bashar Assad. What Washington thinks doesn’t matter much in Baghdad these days.
Most Americans recognize that blame for the Iraq debacle lies with the Bush administration. It was a foolish, unnecessary war followed by a myopic, bungled occupation. No wonder Washington is finding benefits from its policy of being illusive at best.
Yet the leading cheerleaders for the war remain undaunted.
Of course, even they acknowledge that there have been problems. For instance, the Hoover Institution’s Fouad Ajami, a prominent defender of intervention in Iraq, admitted that as U.S. troops came home Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “was beginning to erect a dictatorship bent on marginalizing the country’s Kurds and Sunni Arabs and even those among the Shiites who questioned his writ.” Moreover, Ajami cited an Iraqi cabinet minister who observed that “With all the money the U.S. has spent, you can go in Iraq and you can’t find one building or project built by the U.S. government.”...
SOURCE: NYT (3-30-13)
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (3-28-13)
Costas Douzinas is a law professor at Birkbeck, University of London. His books include The End of Human Rights and Human Rights and Empire. His Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis will be published in April 2013
The "new world order" announced at the end of the 1980s was the shortest in history. Protest, riots and uprisings erupted all over the world after the 2008 crisis, leading to the Arab spring, the Indignados and Occupy. A former director of operations at MI6, quoted by Paul Mason, called it "a revolutionary wave, like 1848". Mason agreed: "There are strong parallels – above all with 1848, and with the wave of discontent that preceded 1914."
Many on the left have been more circumspect. The philosopher Alain Badiou welcomed the Arab spring but did not think it would lead to a "rebirth of history". For Slavoj Žižek, 2011 was the "year of dreaming dangerously". A melancholy of the left descended as the protest wave started receding. But on this occasion the pessimism was premature. Resistance against austerity and injustice is again in the air. In Bulgaria and Slovenia, protesters unseated the government. In Italy, the overwhelming anti-austerity vote has shaken the parties committed to the Berlin orthodoxy. Large marches and rallies in Portugal and Spain have undermined governments and policies and a new push for anti-austerity unity is emerging in Britain. In Greece, the parties that brought the country to its knees and are now administering policies causing the well-documented humanitarian catastrophe and rise of fascism are on the brink of exit.
Finally, the Cypriot government agreed the unprecedented haircut of bank savings but was forced to renege after MPs of all parties under pressure from the public voted against it and ruling party MPs had to abstain. This was the first formal rebuff of austerity, something that the obedient governments of southern Europe had not dared. When the government finally accepted the European blackmail, it presented it as unavoidable and, under instruction from Germany's foreign minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, refrained from putting it to parliament or the people. The words "democracy" and "referendum" create panic in the corridors of Brussels. But the symbolic value of a small nation rejecting the initial troika blackmail and protecting the savings of ordinary people is immense. The European debate has concentrated on the protection of savings. The protection of our democracy is perhaps more important.
SOURCE: Time Magazine (3-22-13)
Franklin (Chuck) Spinney retired from the Defense Department in 2003 after a military-civilian career spanning 33 years. The latter 26 of those years were as a staff analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In the summer of 2002, during the lead-up to the Iraq war, a White House official expressed displeasure with an article written by journalist Ron Suskind in Esquire. He asserted that people like Suskind were trapped “in what we call the reality-based community,” which the official defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.”
Suskind murmured something about enlightenment principles grounded in scientific empiricism, but the official cut him off, saying, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore … We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” [Emphasis added.]
This is a revealing statement about the mentality in the Bush White House before the Iraq war.
Think about it: in effect, the official is claiming the mind of a decider, who is tasked with making decisions to cope with the constraints of the real world, has the power to create a new reality over and over again. Therefore the decider need not be worried about matching his actions against those constraints, or even observing those constraints, before making his decisions.
Arrogant? To be sure.
Unusual inside the Beltway? Not really, based on my experience in the Pentagon....
SOURCE: The Atlantic (3-25-13)
James Fallows is a columnist for The Atlantic.
As I've written repeatedly in this space, journalism is fleeting, and so too is the renown and influence of nearly all its practitioners. Thus it is possible that, even though Anthony Lewis was a powerful twice-weekly presence on the New York Times's op-ed page for more than 30 years, many of today's readers may not recognize his name or, on the occasion of his death at age 85, fully appreciate what he brought to journalism and public life. (CPJ photo.) He deserves to be remembered.
I first learned about and followed Tony Lewis's work when I was a college student, during the late Vietnam War years, when through his NYT column he was a leading critic of the LBJ and Nixon approaches to the war. Then I learned about his book Gideon's Trumpet, which (as Andrew Cohen has very eloquently explained) had a profound effect on prevailing understanding of the law itself, of the Supreme Court's role in interpreting the law, and on the potential of truly literary journalism to improve the law and civic life more generally....
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (3-25-13)
Paul Begala is a Newsweek/Daily Beast columnist, a CNN contributor, an affiliated professor of public policy at Georgetown, and a senior adviser to Priorities USA Action, a progressive PAC.
...To be a conservative today is to fear tomorrow. But most Americans don’t want to go back to 1955. There was no Medicare—and one in four seniors were impoverished. There was no integration in the South—and Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi. Rosa Parks was arrested for sitting in the front of a bus. There were no oral contraceptives, much less abortion rights. The Supreme Court was 100 percent male, 100 percent white. The Senate was 100 percent white and 99 percent male. There were some good things that happened in 1955: rock and roll is generally thought to have been born that year, with Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”; the Salk vaccine was approved; and Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California.
Of course, I rather doubt Roger Ailes would like to pay 1955’s top marginal tax rate of 91 percent. I also doubt that my right-wing friends would like to see the labor movement return to its 1955 strength. The AFL and the CIO merged in 1955, and membership in unions was about 300 percent higher than it is today.
Seems to me a few things were better, many things were worse. I was not yet born, but I don’t think I’d trade our messy, imperfect, Obama-led democracy today for Mr. Ailes’s supposedly halcyon days of 1955. The truth is, as Carly Simon said back when I was young: “These are the good old days.”
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (3-26-13)
Iain Martin is one of Britain's leading political commentators. A former editor of The Scotsman and deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph, he's currently writing a book about the financial crisis.
...In Graham Stewart's superb history of Britain in the 1980s (Bang!), he captures the sense of outrage when Margaret Thatcher expressed grave reservations about the reunification of Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall....
When Charles Powell, Thatcher's private secretary, summoned a group of leading historians to Chequers, on 24 March 1990, to discuss the implications of reunification, the news leaked. Powell had prepared a paper for the occasion which summarised the German national characteristics as "angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complex (and) sentimentality." The historians were generally appalled. In her public and private utterances the Iron Lady, a creature of the Cold War, seemed incapable of adapting to historic changed circumstances. Many Tory MPs were horrified that their leader and her inner circle seemed so out of step with mainstream continental opinion....
Conditioned by the aftermath of the Second World War and the Great Power interplay of the decades that followed, Thatcher missed that Germany had become a largely pacifist nation which rejected its martial past. But the idea that unification, followed by European monetary union, would strengthen Germany to the point that it would again dominate the continent looks pretty prescient now....
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (3-25-13)
Polly Toynbee is a columnist for the Guardian. She was formerly BBC social affairs editor, columnist and associate editor of the Independent, co-editor of the Washington Monthly and a reporter and feature writer for the Observer
...Here we are in the worst crisis of our lifetime, in the depths a long slump with no end in sight – demand dead, companies hoarding cash, most cuts still to come and bound to depress future growth. The bottom half lose most as real wages fall, while rents, food and fuel prices rise. Nothing gets better as deficit and debt soar. What better time for Ken Loach's new documentary, Spirit of 45, a patchwork of old documentaries and memories of the coming to power of the postwar Labour government, full of hope. In a breathless few years, Labour implemented its remarkably radical programme, creating the NHS, nationalising coal, steel, rail, road transport and electricity, initiating a mighty house-building programme. Loach's film is a hymn to the Labour party manifesto of 1945 – the tone would make as good a text for 2015 as back then.
Calling for no more of the depression and slump that crippled the country after the first world war, the manifesto berates the "hard-faced men" who "controlled the banks, the mines, the big industries, largely the press and the cinema. They controlled the means by which most of the people learned about the world outside … Great economic blizzards swept the world. The interwar slumps were not acts of God or of blind forces. They were the sure and certain result of too much concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few" who "felt no responsibility to the nation". "The Labour party stands for freedom … but there are certain so-called freedoms that Labour will not tolerate: freedom to exploit other people, freedom to pay poor wages and push up prices for selfish profit, freedom to deprive people of the means of living full, happy, healthy lives." To read it again is to breathe in the spirit of optimism and dispel today's fatalism that says very little can ever change, whoever is in power. National debt then was more than 200% of GDP, dwarfing today's 73%, yet all this was done in a ravaged nation....
SOURCE: Religion Dispatches (3-22-13)
RD Senior Correspondent Haroon Moghul is a Fellow both at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Haroon is completing his doctorate at Columbia University and is the author of The Order of Light (Penguin, 2006). He's been a guest on CNN, BBC, The History Channel, NPR, Russia Today and al-Jazeera.
I didn’t want to write on the occasion of the Iraq War’s tenth anniversary. So much has been written, and so much of it dully offensive, structurally racist, or profoundly heartless, that I thought it better to skip the subject altogether. What, really, could I say to capture how we should feel? But the woman who commands my building’s front desk in the late night hours is Iraqi.
I found this out when, a few days ago, she helped me with the freight elevator. Some folks were buying furniture from me, and while we waited, we started talking. Five years ago, if I remember right, she came to this country. I could not imagine what it would feel like for an Iraqi to find refuge in America, and I wasn’t about to unleash those feelings with a silly, ill-timed question.
The introvert finds refuge in his words. But the emotions he cannot speak he sends out to far more people than would hear him otherwise. Domino effects. When I got back to my building yesterday after spending the evening at a bookstore, writing, trying to forget the war’s exact tenth anniversary, there she was as she should be, on her shift. A casual salam, an inquiry after her day, and she passed on the package waiting for me. David Rohde’s Beyond War. David Rohde, who’d reported on the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica, advising America to think beyond war when it came to the Middle East...
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....