Friday, April 30, 2010

Where are the tea partiers when we need them?

The government passes a law in which police are required to use an individual’s race, language or accent to determine whether or not the individual should produce government issued documentation. What do conservatives, who complain the expansion of governmental powers are a threat to the nation’s freedom, have to say about Arizona’s new immigration law? In fairness, a few Republicans have denounced the law or questioned its wisdom. But by and large the right wing of the Republican Party (which is to say the Republican Party) has either been silent or has jumped on the anti-immigrant bandwagon. There certainly have been no Tea Party rallies denouncing big government in Arizona.

Peter Beinart has this assessment in The Daily Beast:
Where are the tea partiers when we need them? For a year now, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and their minions have been warning that America is morphing into a police state. If government more heavily regulates insurance companies, they insist, or if it puts a price on carbon, personal freedom will soon be a distant memory. America will become Amerika, a totalitarian dystopia where citizens can’t even walk the streets without their government-issued identity papers, a place where police can detain people who have committed no crime just because they left their wallets at home. America will become, in other words, Arizona.

So where are Palin and Beck, those latter-day Paul Reveres, now that Governor Jan Brewer is doing to the southwest what President Barack Obama supposedly hopes to do to the nation? They’re blissfully unconcerned; they don’t see any threat to liberty at all. After all, it’s not as if Brewer is regulating the derivatives market.

Ain’t it always this way. For the better part of a century, American conservatives have declared that if you allow the government to raise your taxes and regulate your business, you will eventually find the secret police at your door. It’s an old argument, and there’s a certain logic to it. When the government taxes and regulates, it does impinge upon personal freedom. And if it taxes and regulates so massively that people can’t enjoy any of the fruits of their labor, then you may well be on the road to serfdom. Progressives have never believed that America’s comparatively puny welfare state threatened anyone’s basic property rights. And they have stressed the way in which government—by widening access to health care, for instance, or strengthening labor unions—can actually enhance freedom as it intervenes in the economy. But there’s a reasonable debate to be had. Theoretically, there’s no reason why the fight against higher taxes could not spur someone to champion individual liberty in every aspect of life.

Except that when the civil liberties tests come, the leaders of the American right usually fail. If opposing taxation and regulation is really the best preparation for battling oppressive government, then where was Henry Cabot Lodge when labor activists and German-Americans were brutalized during World War I? Where was William F. Buckley during McCarthyism? Where was Barry Goldwater during the struggle for civil rights? Where was Antonin Scalia during Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case that tested the constitutionality of a ban on gay sex? Where was Sean Hannity when the Bush administration eavesdropped on Americans without asking the FISA court? Where is Sarah Palin when Arizona writes harassment of the swarthy into state law?

None of this is to say that when it comes to protecting personal liberty, American progressives have always been on the side of the angels. From Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, they have committed, and tolerated, terrible abuses as well, especially in wartime. Nor is it to deny that there are principled libertarians like Ron Paul who are as committed to keeping the government out of America’s bedrooms as out of its wallets.

But the harsh truth is this. More often than not during the last century’s great struggles against government abuse, conservatives have married economic libertarianism with political authoritarianism. And the reason has been simple: Their ox wasn’t being gored. If conservatives were right that when government infringes upon your property rights it inevitably tramples other rights as well, you might expect the people who pay the highest taxes to be ones most likely to have their phones tapped or their doors broken down or their relatives detained without charge. But that is not the way it works. Historically, the Americans who find their civil liberties most frequently trampled are new immigrants, or political radicals, or religious minorities, or sexual nonconformists. And the people who defend them are not the people who most despise higher taxes; they are the people with the most inclusive conception of national identity, those who can see these despised and victimized aliens as equally deserving of America’s promise of liberty. That’s why Palin and Beck flunked the Arizona test. Championing liberty doesn’t require hating Washington; it requires empathizing with the most vulnerable people in society, the people government is most likely to abuse. And those aren’t the people being invited to the tea party.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

DR Congo: Rape capital of the world

The Democratic Republic of Congo has endured overlapping wars and violent conflicts for several years. There have been armies from a number of different countries and private militias roving the central African nation raping, looting, enslaving and killing with no one to stop them. The central government has been so corrupt and weak it has not been able protect its citizens.

The breakdown of the social order war brings is no more evident than in the epidemic of rape of women and girls that is occurring in the DR Congo. According to a study by Oxfam, reported on in the Guardian:
Sexual violence has become increasingly pervasive in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where civilian rape has risen 17-fold in the past few years, says a report released today by Oxfam.

The study found that 38% of rapes were committed by civilians in 2008, compared with less than 1% in 2004. "These findings imply a normalisation of rape among the civilian population, suggesting the erosion of all constructive social mechanisms that ought to protect civilians from sexual violence," it said.

Armed groups, including the army and Congolese and Rwandan militias, have raped tens of thousands of women in Congo. But the report, Now, the World is Without Me, said about 56% of sexual assaults were committed by armed men in homes in the presence of the victim's families, including their children. About 16% reported were in fields, and 15% in forests. Incidents of sexual slavery were reported by 12% of women surveyed, with some held hostage for years.
According to the BBC:
The Democratic Republic of Congo is "the rape capital of the world", a senior UN official has said.

Margot Wallstrom, the UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, urged the Security Council to punish the perpetrators in DR Congo.

Rape remained a dominant feature of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo, with impunity being the rule rather than the exception, she said.

More than 8,000 women were raped during fighting in 2009, the UN says.

"Women have no rights, if those who violate their rights go unpunished," Ms Wallstrom told the UN Security Council on her return from DR Congo.

"If women continue to suffer sexual violence, it is not because the law is inadequate to protect them, but because it is inadequately enforced," she said.

The UN mission in DR Congo, Monuc, has been trying to deal with the problem by escorting women on their way to market, developing early warning systems and working with local officials, according to a UN statement.

In April, research on sexual violence in DR Congo's eastern South Kivu province produced shocking findings.

The report by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative showed that 60% of rape victims in South Kivu were gang raped by armed men, more than half of the assaults took place in the victims' homes and an increasing number of attacks were being carried out by civilians.

Eastern DR Congo is still plagued by army and militia violence despite the end of the country's five-year war in 2003.

Monuc troops have been backing efforts to defeat rebels linked to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, who are operating in eastern DR Congo.
Whether rape occurs as a weapon of war or as a common crime makes little difference to the women who are attacked. The social order has collapsed. Not only are they assaulted but their government has little to offer in the way of protection from being raped again.

You can read the entire stories cited above from the Guardian here and the BBC here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hollowness of the right's freedom-rhetoric

The right wing of the Republican Party has found asserting the cause of freedom and raising the specter of big government has become has become a useful rhetorical device to oppose and even block reform legislation by our elected representatives to make life better for the American people. If the “freedom talk” were truly based upon libertarian principles then an interesting debate might ensue but sadly it is quite hollow. These same conservatives promote state power to wage indiscriminate war against foreign nations, torture individuals suspected of terrorist activities, discriminate against immigrants who make the food on our tables affordable, and ban marriages between individuals whose sexuality they disapprove. They are libertarian only when it comes to hands off policies towards the powerful unelected financial interests such as Wall Street banks and insurance companies that affect all of our lives.

John Schwartz has written a very good essay (if somewhat longish) on the subject of “progressive politics and the meaning of American freedom” at the Democratic Strategist. Matt Yglesias has written the following response:
I was a philosophy major in college, and as such I came to appreciate the importance of the controversy between the libertarian conception of "negative liberty" (the absence of state coercion) and the modern liberal idea of "positive liberty" (the presence of opportunity). And John Schwarz has given us a brilliant tour of how this these contrasting conceptions of liberty—or, to use the more Anglo-Saxon term, "freedom"—can illuminate certain high-level disagreements of principle about public policy matters and how this dispute has played out in the history of American political rhetoric.

So far so good. But I think this issue is much less relevant to actual political practice than he seems to believe. In particular, I seriously doubt that Republican Party success at mobilizing freedom-rhetoric has much of anything to do with Barack Obama's falling poll numbers or public hostility to Obama's health care or cap and trade proposals. After all, these proposals existed during the 2008 campaign and were described then as threats to American freedom, but at the time those arguments had little purchase. On one level, the reasons behind the change are complicated. On another level, they're simple—the poor performance of the American economy has eroded people's trust in incumbents in general, Obama in particular, and the public sector writ large. There's good reason to believe that this will turn around if the economy turns around, but not otherwise.

Beyond narrow electoral considerations, I also think it's a mistake to too-closely identify the right's freedom-rhetoric with the formal philosophical conception of libertarian-style negative liberty. It is, rather, a slogan that's invoked as a gesture of ideological identity and solidarity that's largely devoid of semantic content—it plays a role similar to the one "yes, we can" (itself an echo of the United Farm Workers' "¡si se puede!") plays for Obama's supporters.

Consider that the proponents of right-wing "freedom" are not even slightly inclined to back elements of a libertarian agenda that conflict with conservative identity politics. When John Boehner says "most importantly, let's allow freedom to flourish" he's not suggesting we should open our borders to more immigrants or drop the vestigial Selective Service system or allow gay couples to marry or let Latin American countries sell us more sugar or reduce military expenditures. Indeed, the very same critics who castigate Obama for limiting Americans' freedom also accuse him of being insufficiently eager to torture people, unduly hesitant to detain suspects without trial, and too eager to take the side of black professors subject to police harassment for the crime of trying to enter their own home.

Which is just to say that Boehner is a conservative. He sides with the military, with law enforcement, with the business establishment, and with the dominant ethno-cultural group in the country. In the United States of America, people who adhere to these values like to talk about "freedom" but this has nothing in particular to do with any real ideas about human liberty.

Back in September of 1960, the leading lights of the nascent conservative movement met in Sharon, Connecticut to found Young Americans for Freedom and they proclaimed that "foremost among the transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force." A naive person might read that and conclude that William F Buckley, Jr was a strong proponent of federal anti-lynching legislation and other civil rights laws since, clearly, it was African-Americans in the Jim Crow South who were most subject to "restrictions of arbitrary force" and general lack of freedom. In the real world, a couple of lines down the Sharon Statement is talking about state's rights, "the genius of the Constitution - the division of powers - is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government." In 1962, YAF gave its Freedom Award to none other than Strom Thurmond, and in 1964 they helped organize the GOP nomination victory of Barry Goldwater, spearheading the party's turn away from its historic support of liberty for black people. Somewhat similarly, the far-right parties in the Netherlands and Austria are both called "Freedom Party."

Which is not to say that invocations of "freedom" circa 2010 are really about racism. It's just to say that in 2010 as in 1960 they're about conservatism in all its splendor and horror, and have little to do with serious disagreements about the nature of liberty.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fixing the budget deficit with prosperity

What’s the best cure for the deficit: Austerity or prosperity? Robert Kuttner argues fiscal alarmism confuses three different issues – the budgetary deficit fed by the recession, the long-term health of Social Security, and the rising costs of Medicare due to skyrocketing health care costs in general in the United States. Capping spending at this time -- during a recession -- is the wrong thing to do. He argues in favor of the prosperity cure in today’s L.A. Times:
Get ready for the dance of the deficit hawks.

The way they see it, the economy is headed for dangerous and uncharted fiscal territory because of rising deficits and debts, and therefore, we need extraordinary measures.

Tuesday is the opening meeting of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. And Wednesday, the billion-dollar Peter G. Peterson Foundation convenes its National Fiscal Summit, featuring prominent budgetary conservatives from both political parties, including key administration officials. Both groups are likely to come to the same conclusion: If Congress fails to hit a specific deficit target, then a cap on federal spending should kick in. Budget hawks tend to blame outlays such as Social Security and Medicare, and they are eager to put a lid on them.

But there's a problem with all this fiscal alarmism. It confuses three entirely separate concerns: the current large deficits, which are caused by the deep recession; the long-term health of Social Security; and the inexorably rising costs of Medicare and of healthcare generally. If you unpack these issues, a different picture and set of choices emerges.

The current deficits — about 9% of gross domestic product — are mainly the consequence of the financial collapse and the resulting decline in tax revenues. As those deficits pile up, the national debt increases.

Debt seems frightening. But in a deep recession, we need economic stimulus far more than we need to control deficits. Because of collapsing revenues, state and local budgets are in free fall, with California leading the way. Most states have constitutional requirements to balance budgets, which means they are slashing programs and raising taxes, exactly what we don't need during a recession. They have few options, though, without help from the federal government.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 committed federal spending of $787 billion, spread over four fiscal years. But during the same four years, the state and local shortfall will be at least $600 billion. Once you factor in the state cuts, the federal stimulus starts seeming pretty paltry.

There are two basic roads to fiscal balance. We can cut spending, raise taxes, depress the rate of growth — and balance the budget at a lower level of economic output. Call it the austerity cure.

Or we can have more deficit spending in the short run, get economic growth back on track and only raise taxes and trim spending once we have a strong recovery. With that approach, we get fiscal balance at a higher level of economic output. Call it the prosperity cure.

World War II is history's great example. Detractors of President Franklin D. Roosevelt contend that it wasn't the New Deal that cured the Depression but the war. And they are mostly right. For all of his public works spending, FDR's deficits in the 1930s were pretty modest, typically 4% or 5% of GDP. Then came the war, with deficits as large as 29% in a single year.

The war mobilization put 10 million people back to work, with another 12 million in the armed forces. It recapitalized American industry, invested massively in technology, and GDP increased nearly 50% in four years. When the war ended, pent-up consumer demand set off the postwar boom.

In 1945, the public debt was about 120% of GDP, more than double today's level. But for 30 years the economy grew faster than the debt, and by the mid-1970s, the debt had declined to about 26% of GDP. We need that kind of massive recovery commitment today — minus the war.

In the short run, we need to spend several hundred billion dollars more, on state and local fiscal relief and job creation. But President Obama's embrace of the deficit hawks has painted him into a corner where major new spending seems irresponsible.

And what about Social Security and Medicare? In fact, the much-advertised Social Security shortfall is only about one-half of 1% of GDP over the next 75 years. A slight increase in the taxable wage base, or better yet, a faster growth in wages, and we get balance.

It's true that Medicare is eating up an ever-larger share of the federal budget. But that's in part because it is located in a massively inefficient healthcare system. At some point, says Andy Stern, one of the few liberal members of the Obama fiscal commission, we will have to choose between capping Medicare by turning it into a meager voucher, or acknowledging the system's larger inefficiencies and replacing it with true national health insurance.

Nations with comprehensive health insurance, notes Stern — the retiring national president of the Service Employees International Union — spend about 10% of their national income on health, while we spend about 16%. It would a charming irony if a commission dominated by budget hawks became a stalking horse for national health insurance.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Looking at the Middle East through the lens of terrorism

Tom Ricks interviews historian Geoffrey Wawro and asks about the American perspective of the Middle East:

Best Defense: What are the essential facts that Americans don't understand about the Middle East?

Geoffrey Wawro: Americans look at the Middle East through the lens of terrorism. This is analogous to the Cold War tendency to view the Middle East as a place under perpetual threat from Communism. In fact, most Middle Eastern peoples detest terrorism, and their security services are committed to its destruction. Unfortunately, states like Iran, Syria, Libya and Iraq under Saddam play a double game. Although frightened by terrorist extremism, they succor groups that they can wield tactically against their enemies, chiefly Israel. In the event of a U.S. war with Iran, those groups -- like Hezbollah -- would be unleashed against Americans and U.S. interests as well. What this means for Americans, is that we must proceed delicately. It is foolhardy to imagine we can "rid the world of terrorism," if only because terror attacks are an asymmetric weapon wielded by weaker states against stronger ones. Syria is certainly a "terrorist state" in the sense that it gives cover to anti-Israeli terrorist groups -- which Damascus regards as no more objectionable than Israeli F-16s -- but it is also a country that we can do business with, solidifying gains in Iraq, managing Lebanon and the Kurds, and fighting al-Qaeda. This complexity, with its strong odor of amorality, exasperates Americans, but is an ineradicable piece of the Middle Eastern landscape…

You can read the entire interview here.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Governor McDonnell and the Lost Cause of Confederate History Month

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s Confederate flag waving has, quite rightly so, landed him in hot water. He is now backtracking on his Confederate History Month proclamation by amending it (quite courageously 150 years after the fact) that slavery was bad. From today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch:
After two days of poundings by Democrats, Gov. Bob McDonnell apologized for omitting a reference to slavery in his proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month and amended it to include a condemnation of "the evil and inhumane practice."

The governor said in a statement that his proclamation "contained a major omission."

"The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War," McDonnell said in a statement yesterday afternoon.
An omission?

Let’s get one thing straight. Confederate History Month is not about history. It is about mythology. It is a backdoor approach to promoting the “Lost Cause” version of the American Civil War and Reconstruction.

McDonnell originally left out any reference to slavery in the original proclamation about Confederate History Month because “he wanted to include issues he thought were most ‘significant’ to Virginia”. In 1860 approximately one out of three Virginians were slaves and a major factor in secession by the political elite was to make sure that one-third stayed enslaved. It was pretty significant at the time. For those who still deny slavery as a significant issue leading to the Civil War, historian James McPherson points out:
With respect to the governor’s statement that "Obviously it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia," I suppose his statement is accurate in a literal sense.

The war did involve slavery, and it did involve other issues, and I am sure that his statement focused on what he thinks are most significant for Virginia--whether they really were or not.

What is misleading about the statement is that slavery was at the core of the events that provoked the secession of the first seven states from December 1860 to February 1861.

If it had not been for the election of an antislavery party to the presidency, there would have been no secession, no firing on Fort Sumter, and no secession by the other four states (including Virginia) that followed the first seven out after Fort Sumter.
The vote in favor of secession at the Virginia convention on April 17, 1861, was 88 to 55.

Most of the anti-secession votes came from the Shenandoah Valley and from the mountainous counties of western Virginia (which eventually became West Virginia), where slavery was of less importance than in the Piedmont and Tidewater regions that voted strongly for secession, and where slavery was a crucial part of the socioeconomic order.

In fact, there was a pretty direct correlation between the percentage of slaves and slaveholders in a given district and its support for secession.
The truth is the plantation class in the South manipulated the political institutions of the region to secede from the United States in order to preserve their right to own slaves and successfully managed to rally the population to take up arms against their own country in order to protect privileges of the plantation class. The loss of the war did not end the conflict but gave rise to domestic terrorism via the KKK and a century of second class citizenship for former slaves enforced by the laws and customs of Jim Crow. That’s the reality that gets glossed over by promoters of Confederate heritage.

Governor McDonnell took a giant step backwards for Virginia by declaring April (the month of Virginia’s secession in 1861) as Confederate History Month and tiny baby step forward by amending the proclamation with a statement that slavery was not O.K. His apology for his “omission” is better than nothing at this point but it would have been better had he chosen not to honor this regrettable episode in history in the first place.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Palestinian resistance and Israeli intransigence over the West Bank

The West Bank has a land area of 5,640 square kilometers (including East Jerusalem). It borders Israel on the east and Jordan, just across the Jordan River, on the west. The territory was part of Jordan until it was seized by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 and has been occupied by the Israeli military as part of the occupied territories since then.

Israelis see the area as a defense buffer to their west while Palestinians see the territory as part of their homeland in any proposed two-state solution. The West Bank has been the site of a great deal of conflict and violence between Israelis and Palestinians exacerbated by the establishment of Israeli settlements throughout the territory. The reaction of the Palestinian population to the occupation and settlements has been to resort to violence but that may be changing according to a story in the New York Times:
Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested. Goods produced in Israeli settlements have been burned in public demonstrations. The Palestinian prime minister has entered West Bank areas officially off limits to his authority, to plant trees and declare the land part of a future state.

Something is stirring in the West Bank. With both diplomacy and armed struggle out of favor for having failed to end the Israeli occupation, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, joined by the business community, is trying to forge a third way: to rouse popular passions while avoiding violence. The idea, as Fatah struggles to revitalize its leadership, is to build a virtual state and body politic through acts of popular resistance.

“It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister, referring to a campaign to end the purchase of settlers’ goods and the employment of Palestinians by settlers and their industries. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”

The new approach still remains small scale while American-led efforts to revive peace talks are stalled. But street interviews showed that people were aware and supportive of its potential to bring pressure on Israel but dubious about its ultimate effectiveness.

Billboards have sprung up as part of a campaign against buying settlers’ goods, featuring a pointed finger and the slogan “Your conscience, your choice.” The Palestinian Ministry of Communications has just banned the sale of Israeli cellphone cards because Israeli signals are relayed from towers inside settlements. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is spending more time out of his business suits and in neglected villages opening projects related to sewage, electricity and education and calling for “sumud,” or steadfastness.

“Steadfastness must be translated from a slogan to acts and facts on the ground,” he told a crowd late last month in a village called Izbet al-Tabib near the city of Qalqilya, an area where Israel’s separation barrier makes access to land extremely difficult for farmers. Before planting trees, Mr. Fayyad told about 1,000 people gathered to hear him, “This is our real project, to establish our presence on our land and keep our people on it.”

Nonviolence has never caught on here, and Israel’s military says the new approach is hardly nonviolent. But the current set of campaigns is trying to incorporate peaceful pressure in limited ways. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, just visited Bilin, a Palestinian village with a weekly protest march. Next week, Martin Luther King III is scheduled to speak here at a conference on nonviolence.
In the meantime, Israel’s right-wing foreign minister is threatening to annex parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements if Palestinians declare independence. This from the Huffington Post:
Israel's hard-line foreign minister warned Palestinians against plans to unilaterally declare independence next year, saying in an interview Tuesday that such a move could prompt Israel to annex parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements.

Avigdor Lieberman also made harsh comments about Turkey, Israel's increasingly alienated ally, saying the Turkish prime minister was coming to resemble Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Lieberman, who heads an ultranationalist party, has become known for a belligerent tone that has earned him critics abroad and inside Israel.

His remarks Tuesday on Palestinian independence took aim at a Palestinian policy that has emerged as U.S. attempts to restart peace talks have stalled.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose Western-backed administration has a limited governing role in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, announced plans to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, possibly as early as 2011 – even without a peace deal.

Lieberman warned that if Palestinians declared independence, Israel could revoke 1990s peace agreements or annex parts of the West Bank.

"Any unilateral decision will release us from all of our commitments and will allow us also to make unilateral decisions," Lieberman was quoted as saying by the Ynet news Web site. "For example, imposing Israeli sovereignty on certain areas, cutting off all kinds of ties and transfers of money and a string of benefits and agreements put into place since the (peace) accords."

An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said it is Israel's long-standing policy that unilateral moves by the Palestinians would draw similar action from Israel. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Netanyahu's office released no official comment on Lieberman's remarks.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war – as part of their future state. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in the two areas before peace talks can resume.

Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been on hold since late 2008. The Obama administration has pressed Israel to stop building. The Jewish state has imposed a 10-month slowdown on West Bank construction, but the order does not include east Jerusalem.

"I think we have to make clear to Obama that we are not only not freezing construction in Jerusalem, but after the 10-month freeze we will go back to building" in the West Bank, Lieberman said.
You can read the entire New York Times article here and the Huffington Post article here.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The fictions of the conservative rewrite of history

Interpretation and re-interpretation is what makes history interesting and useful. It is always helpful to view individuals and events from the past through different lenses. However, there is a difference between re-interpreting the evidence from the past and disregarding the evidence from the past

There are a growing number of self-identified conservatives who, apparently believing the history of this country does not support their positions, have taken to rewriting history so that it falls more in line with the party line they are peddling despite what the evidence may be.

Among some of the more amusing fictions promoted by the reactionary spin is that Alexander Hamilton favored small and decentralized government. The truth is that he was an advocate for a strong centralized federal government, a national U.S. bank, the appointment of state governors by the federal government, and the elections of Senators proportional to the population. He was hardly in tune with so-called states’ rights.

McClatchy News has this piece on the conservative rewrite of the American past:
Here are five recent examples of new conservative versions of history:

Reaching for an example of how bad socialism can be, former House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said recently that the people who settled Jamestown, Va., in 1607 were socialists and that their ideology doomed them.

"Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow," he said in a speech March 15 at the National Press Club.

It was a good, strong story, helping Armey, a former economics professor, illustrate the dangers of socialism, the same ideology that he and other conservatives say is at the core of Obama's agenda.

It was not, however, true.

The Jamestown settlement was a capitalist venture financed by the Virginia Company of London — a joint stock corporation — to make a profit. The colony nearly foundered owing to a harsh winter, brackish water and lack of food, but reinforcements enabled it to survive. It was never socialistic. In fact, in 1619, Jamestown planters imported the first African slaves to the 13 colonies that later formed the United States.


At the same event, Armey urged people to read the Federalist Papers as a guide to the sentiments of the tea party movement.

"The small-government conservative movement, which includes people who call themselves the tea party patriots and so forth, is about the principles of liberty as embodied in the Constitution, the understanding of which is fleshed out if you read things like the Federalist Papers," Armey said.

Others such as Democrats and the news media, "people here who do not cherish America the way we do," don't understand because "they did not read the Federalist Papers," he said.

A member of the audience asked Armey how the Federalist Papers could be such a tea party manifesto when they were written largely by Alexander Hamilton, who the questioner said "was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government."

Armey ridiculed the very suggestion.

"Widely regarded by whom?" he asked. "Today's modern, ill-informed political science professors? . . . I just doubt that was the case, in fact, about Hamilton."

Hamilton, however, was an unapologetic advocate of a strong central government, one that plays an active role in the economy and is led by a president named for life and thus beyond the emotions of the people. Hamilton also pushed for excise taxes and customs duties to pay down federal debt.

In fact, Ian Finseth said in a history written for the University of Virginia, others at the constitutional convention "thought his proposals went too far in strengthening the central government."


Theodore Roosevelt was long an icon of the Republican Party, a dynamic leader who ushered in the Progressive era, busting trusts, regulating robber barons, building the Panama Canal and sending the U.S. fleet around the world announcing ascendant American power.

Fox TV commentator Glenn Beck, however, says that Roosevelt was a socialist whose legacy is destroying America. It started, Beck said, with Roosevelt's admonition to the wealthy of his day to spend their riches for the good of society.

"We judge no man a fortune in civil life if it's honorably obtained and well spent," Roosevelt said, according to Beck. "It's not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it only to be gained so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community."

Actually, Roosevelt said, "We GRUDGE no man a fortune ... if it's honorably obtained and well USED." But either way, Beck saw the threat.

"Oh? Well, thank you," Beck said with scorn during his keynote speech to the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. The presidential suggestion that the wealthy of the Gilded Age should contribute to the good of society was a clear danger that must be condemned, Beck said.

"Is this what the Republican Party stands for? Well, you should ask members of the Republican Party, because this is not our founders' idea of America. And this is the cancer that's eating at America. It is big government; it's a socialist utopia," Beck said.

"And we need to address it as if it is a cancer. It must be cut out of the system because they cannot coexist. ... You must eradicate it. It cannot coexist."

There's no doubt that Roosevelt was a domestic policy liberal by today's standards. In a 1910 speech in Kansas, he acknowledged that his "New Nationalism" meant "far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had."

The 26th president insisted, however, that he wanted the government to guarantee opportunity, not a handout.

"The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare," he said.

"Give him a chance, not push him up if he will not be pushed. ... Help any man who stumbles; if he lies down, it is a poor job to try to carry him; but if he is a worthy man, try your best to see that he gets a chance to show the worth that is in him."

In his autobiography three years later, Roosevelt went on to dismiss the tenets of socialism as taught by Karl Marx as "an exploded theory."

"Too many thoroughly well-meaning men and women in the America of today glibly repeat and accept," he wrote, "various assumptions and speculations by Marx and others which by the lapse of time and by actual experiment have been shown to possess not one shred of value."

In addition, Roosevelt didn't advocate government ownership of the means of production, the definition of socialism.


It's long been debated how well Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal government programs countered the Great Depression, but now a prominent conservative has introduced the idea that Roosevelt CAUSED the Depression.

"FDR took office in the midst of a recession," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. "He decided to choose massive government spending and the creation of monstrous bureaucracies. Do we detect a Democrat pattern here in all of this? He took what was a manageable recession and turned it into a 10-year depression."

A year before, Bachmann went to the House floor to blame FDR and what she called the "Hoot-Smalley" tariffs for creating the Depression.

"The recession that FDR had to deal with wasn't as bad as the recession (President Calvin) Coolidge had to deal with in the early '20s," she said.

Coolidge cut taxes and created the roaring '20s, Bachmann said.

"FDR applied just the opposite formula: the Hoot-Smalley act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions. And of course trade barriers and the regulatory burden and of course tax barriers.

"That's what we saw happen under FDR. That took a recession and blew it into a full-scale depression. The American people suffered for almost 10 years under that kind of thinking."

The truth? Historians agree that tariffs hurt trade and worsened the depression.

However, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act — not Hoot-Smalley — was proposed by two Republicans, Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis Hawley of Oregon. A Republican House and a Republican Senate approved it. President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, signed it into law.

The facts also show that the country was in something far worse than a "manageable recession" in March 1933 when Roosevelt took office.

Stocks had lost 90 percent of their value since the crash of 1929. Thousands of banks had failed. Unemployment reached an all-time high of 24.9 percent just before Roosevelt was inaugurated.


Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., burst onto the national stage in the early 1950s with accusations that he had a list of names of known Communists in the federal government. He didn't name them, was censured by the Senate eventually and his name became synonymous with witch hunts — McCarthyism.

Now, the end of the Cold War has opened up spy files and identified many Communist spies who operated inside the government during the era. Some conservatives argue that this proves not only that McCarthy was right, but also that he was a hero and that he was smeared by liberals, the news media and historians.

"Almost everything about McCarthy in current history books is a lie and will have to be revised," conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said.

"Liberals had to destroy McCarthy because he exposed the entire liberal establishment as having sheltered Soviet spies," conservative commentator Ann Coulter said in one interview.

"The myth of 'McCarthyism' is the greatest Orwellian fraud of our times," she said in another. "Liberals are fanatical liars, then as now. The portrayal of Senator Joe McCarthy as a wild-eyed demagogue destroying innocent lives is sheer liberal hobgoblinism. ... If the Internet, talk radio and Fox News had been around in McCarthy's day, my book wouldn't be the first time most people would be hearing the truth about 'McCarthyism.' "

Yet even some prominent conservatives say that McCarthy's defenders go too far, and that even from a conservative perspective, McCarthy was no hero and damaged the country.

"A dangerous movement has been growing among conservative writers to vindicate the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy and his campaign to expose Soviet spies in the U.S. government," Ronald Kessler wrote for the conservative Web site

"The FBI agents who were actually chasing those spies have told me that McCarthy hurt their efforts because he trumped up charges, unfairly besmirched honorable Americans and gave hunting spies a bad name."

Kessler said the release of secret Cold War files under the Venona Project confirmed that there were Soviet spies in the U.S. government.

"The problem was that the people McCarthy tarnished as Communists or Communist sympathizers were not the real spies," Kessler wrote.

"The cause of anti-communism, which united millions of Americans and which gained the support of Democrats, Republicans and independents, was undermined by Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin," wrote William Bennett, who was the conservative secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan.

"McCarthy addressed a real problem: disloyal elements within the U.S. government. But his approach to this real problem was to cause untold grief to the country he claimed to love," Bennett wrote in his book "America: The Last Best Hope."

"Worst of all, McCarthy besmirched the honorable cause of anti-communism. He discredited legitimate efforts to counter Soviet subversion of American institutions."
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