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Archive for 30 julio 2014

President Warren Harding’s Love Letters Open to the Public

HNN  July 29, 2014

29wh_headerThe Library  [of Congress] today opened to the public a collection of approximately 1,000 pages of correspondence between 29th U.S. President Warren G. Harding and his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips. The letters, which have been locked in a vault in the Library’s Manuscript Division since their donation in 1972, can be viewed online here.

The letters were written between 1910 and 1920 during an affair that began in 1905 between then-Ohio Lt. Gov. Warren Harding and family friend Carrie Fulton Phillips. The vast majority of the letters were written by Harding, many while he served in the U.S. Senate (1915-1921). Phillips is represented mainly by drafts and notes. The Library has recently obtained additional material from the Phillips/Mathée family, which is also now available online here.

Taken as a whole, the correspondence sheds light on a man in love on the eve of his presidency and a country on the brink of World War I. Examples include:

      • Harding to Phillips, on the back of his portrait photo, Dec. 24, 1910: “My Darling, There are no words, at my command, sufficient to say the full extent of my love for you …”
      • Harding to Phillips, Jan. 26, 1915, from San Francisco’s Palace Hotel (where Harding died in 1923), regarding their correspondence: “Won’t you please destroy? You are not always careful with letters, and if you destroy, you won’t need to be careful.”
      • Harding to Phillips, Jan. 11, 1917, on prohibition for the District of Columbia. Harding votes “no” believing that the citizens of the District should decide for themselves: “Just now I am catching the very devil by mail for my attitude on prohibition in the district. I hope you do not wholly disapprove. I voted as I said I would when asking for my election and have kept the faith.”
      • Harding to Phillips, March 25, 1917, about the looming war vote: “I have pondered the situation with soberness and solemnity ever mindful of the great responsibility. How unthinking and unfair you are when you accuse me of playing politics! I represent a state with hundreds of thousands of German Republicans. Nobody knows better than I do that I seal my political fate by displeasing them. I know it makes me a one-term official to oppose their desires, but I prefer to perform a duty in good conscience even though I know it means the end of my public service.”
      • Harding to Phillips, April 1917, concerning their arguments about the war: “You quote that silly lie about my having said ‘a little scrap might be a good thing’ Can you think me so dumb-headed as to say a thing like that to a pacifist delegation, even if I thought it? In my address I refuted that statement in Cincinnati where some unthinking or unintelligent liar originated it. Clearly it was a fair sample of the easy lying in these hysterical or inconsiderate times.”
      • Phillips’ notes in response to the previous letter, May 1917: “The ‘silly lie’ denied made in Cin. Speech—you said it to me. I didn’t know it was said by you till then. I only speak of the thing you said to me.”. . . “What is it we’re fighting for, democratic principals? Yes, that’s it—and liberty! –and humanity! We had a Negro equality man under democracy lynched yesterday—Great pretexts, these, of ours!”
      • Harding to Phillips, Feb. 17, 1918: “Let me lecture you a bit. It is quite all right for you to express yourself freely on war matters to me. This does not say you are right, but there is no harm in free expression to me. I can understand. But do, please, I beg you, be prudent in talking to others. . . . Remember your country is in war, and things are not normal, and toleration is not universal, and justice is not always discriminating.”
      • Harding to Phillips, Feb. 2 1920: “We have blundered. We will not talk about the blame. I accept my full share of it. We did blunder. I give you the most tribute that a man can. There was no cheating. We both understood. We were both married. No lies were told. We felt the sense of family obligations. Happily there has been no irreparable damage.”

Phillips kept the letters hidden in a box in her home in Marion, Ohio, where they remained unseen for nearly 40 years. Upon Phillips’ illness and subsequent death in 1960, the correspondence was discovered by a court-appointed lawyer, who made the collection available to a potential Harding biographer in 1963. The use of the letters by the biographer was thwarted by a lawsuit brought by the president’s nephew, Dr. George Harding. An Ohio judge closed the papers on July 29, 1964, and after extended litigation, the Harding-Phillips letters were purchased by Dr. Harding from Phillips’ heirs. In 1972, Dr. Harding donated the letters to the Library of Congress for safekeeping, with the stipulation that the Library keep the papers closed until July 29, 2014—50 years from the day the Ohio judge first closed them.

The Library held a symposium on July 22 to discuss the Harding-Phillips correspondence and what it reveals about Harding’s character and political views; his relationship with his wife; and implications for national security during World War I, given Phillips’ German partisanship. Moderated by Manuscript Division Chief James Hutson, the panel included Library archivist Karen Linn Femia, who processed the correspondence; Dr. Richard Harding, a grandnephew of the president, who described the family’s reaction to the opening of the president’s personal correspondence; and James Robenalt, author of “The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War.” Members of the Mathée family provided a written statement that was read at the event. A webcast of the program can be viewed at go.usa.gov/5Mbd.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs, publications and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov.

The Library  [of Congress] holds nearly 69 million manuscript items, including the papers of 23 American presidents, from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. Many of these items are accessible on the Library’s website.

 

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U.S. most take honest look at costs of spaceflight

Jonathan Coopersmith

The Houston Chronicle July 23, 2014

nasaThe harsh criticism by the National Research Council of NASA‘s unfocused and underfinanced plans to send astronauts to Mars is not new (“Adrift: As NASA fixates on Mars, rivals shoot for the moon” – Page A1, Sunday). Since 1969, NASA has unsuccessfully struggled with three underlying problems. First, every president and Congress wants the glory of human spaceflight without being willing to pay the cost. No president has wanted, as Richard Nixon stated, to be known as the president who stopped sending American astronauts into space. When Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, it conclusively ended the space race. This American victory also destroyed the political justification for spending $26 billion (over $100 billion today) to send men to the moon.

Second, beyond the 60,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Iraqis killed in the Vietnam and Iraqi wars, is another, less visible casualty: NASA’s ambitious plans for the human exploration of space. The political desire not to raise taxes to cover the rising cost of the Vietnam War meant NASA’s budget peaked in 1966. Nearly three decades later, George W. Bush‘s invasion of Iraq deprived his 2004 Vision for Space Exploration of the money it needed to succeed.

Third, spaceflight is expensive. Just reaching orbit costs about $10,000 per pound (by comparison, when I fly from Bush Intercontinental Airport to another U.S. location, I pay about $2-4 per pound of me). Space itself is a harsh, unforgiving environment. It’s not called rocket science (actually rocket engineering) for nothing. Sending astronauts into space is especially expensive: People demand life support and higher reliability systems.

When the Bush administration in 2004 decided to retire the shuttle in 2010, the decision was made on grounds of safety and to free money for its Vision for Space Exploration. Achieving the Vision’s goals of sending astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars was predicated on not significantly increasing NASA’s budget, a decision criticized – correctly – at the time as unrealistic. The Obama administration canceled the Vision in 2009 because it was significantly behind schedule and over budget, partly due to underfunding from the Bush administration, which – having decided not to increase taxes to pay for the Iraq War – tried to minimize federal spending elsewhere.

Under Obama, NASA has pushed commercialization of rockets to send cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. Ironically, a president criticized as “socialist” has promoted opportunities for private enterprise against the opposition of some Republican lawmakers who normally claim to favor market over government enterprises. The budget battles, sequestration and government shutdown hit NASA especially hard.

The problems are not all political. Since 1981, NASA has spent over $21 billion on rocket programs that it canceled. The space agency, like the military, has been guilty of excessive optimism about costs and technology development. Apollo was the only human space program to come in on budget because NASA AdministratorJames Webb doubled the estimate from his engineers and then told the White House and Congress that if they were not willing to pay that amount, then don’t start.

What can be done? First, Congress, the president and NASA need to be honest with each other and the American people about the cost of space exploration. If the country is not prepared to invest in human spaceflight, then perhaps it is better not to start at all. Underfunding projects usually results in higher total costs, delays and even cancellations, wasting the talents of skilled engineers, scientists and managers.

Second, to reduce the cost of reaching orbit, NASA should set and meet a goal of $100 per pound to orbit (and settle for $500) by 2025. If successful, this long-term research and development will radically change the economics of space exploration and exploitation. Because developing low-cost access to space will demand many years and billions of dollars, this is a legitimate and worthy goal for government, similar to the development of the interstate highway system. Indeed, the civilian rockets that launched satellites and astronauts since the 1960s owe their genesis to the $12 billion spent from 1945-57 (over $90 billion today) by the military developing rockets.

Third, Congress should fully fund the Commercial Crew Program so Boeing, SpaceX or Sierra Nevada can build a new generation of spaceships to carry astronauts into low-Earth orbit. Now, NASA pays Russia approximately $70 million to launch each American astronaut to the space station.

Finally, at the risk of sounding facetious, stay out of wars of choice. In addition to the loss of so many young men and women, the Vietnam and second Iraqi wars consumed trillions of dollars, sucking resources and opportunities away from our country. Perhaps a few more dollars to the State Department may do more for NASA than anyone realizes.

Jonathan Coopersmith, an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University, teaches the history of technology

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What Went Wrong with the American Experiment?

by Jim Sleeper

HNN  Juy 27, 2014

What so loudly we hailed
For centuries most Americans have believed that “the shot heard ‘round the world” in 1775 from Concord, Massachusetts heralded the Enlightenment’s entry into history. Early observers of America such as G.W.F. Hegel, EdwardGibbon, and Edmund Burke believed that, too. A new kind of republican citizenwas rising, amid and against adherents of theocracy, divine-right monarchy, aristocracy, and mercantilism. Republican citizens were quickening humanity’s stride toward horizons radiant with promises never before held and shared as widely as they were in America.

The creation of the United States really was a Novus Ordo Seclorum, a New Order of the Ages, a society’s first self-aware, if fumbling and compromised effort to live by the liberal expectation that autonomous individuals could govern themselves together without having to impose religious doctrines or mystical narratives of tribal blood or soil. With barely a decorous nod to The Creator, the founders of the American republic conferred on one another the right to have rights, a distinguished group of them constituting the others as “We, the people.”

That revolutionary effort is not just in trouble now, or endangered, or under attack, or reinventing itself. It’s in prison, with no prospect of parole, and many Americans, including me, who wring our hands or wave our arms about this are actually among the jailers. We haven’t yet understood the shots fired and heard ‘round the world from 74 American schools, colleges, and military bases since the Sandy Hook School massacre of December, 2012.

These shots haven’t been fired by embattled farmers at invading armies. They haven’t been fired by terrorists who’ve penetrated our surveillance and security systems. With few exceptions, they haven’t been fired by aggrieved non-white Americans. They’ve been fired mostly by young, white American citizens at other white citizens, and by American soldiers at other American soldiers, inside the very institutions where republican virtues and beliefs are nurtured and defended.

They’ve been fired from within a body politic so drained of candor and trust that, beneath our continuing lip-service to republican premises, practices, we’ve let a court conflate the free speech of flesh-and-blood citizens with the disembodied wealth of anonymous shareholders, and we’ve let lawmakers, bought or intimidated by gun peddlers and zealots, render us helpless against torrents of marketed fear and vengeance that are dissolving a distinctively American democratic ethos the literary historian Daniel Aaroncharacterized as “ethical and pragmatic, disciplined and free.”

Many Americans are adapting to living with variants of force and fraud that erupt in road rage; lethal stampedes by shoppers on sale days; security precautions in their homes against the prospect of armed invasion; gladatorialization and corruption in sports; nihilism in entertainment that fetishizes violence without context and sex without attachment; the casino-like financing of utterly unproductive economic activities such as the entertainment I’ve just mentioned and the predatory lending that has tricked millions out of their homes; the commercial groping and goosing of private lives and public spaces, even in the marketing of ordinary consumer goods; and the huge, new prison industry that Americans have created to deter or punish broken, violent men, most of them non-white, only to find schools in even the whitest, “safest” neighborhoods imprisoned by fear of white gunmen who’ve often been students themselves.

Abroad, meanwhile, thousands more shots, fiendish and celebratory, are being fired into the corpses of American national-security and nation-building projects by terrorists and fanatics we were told had been decimated. These projects cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, limbs, homes, and hopes, including those of American soldiers, contractors, and idealists. Their sacrifices can’t justify retroactively what shouldn’t have been undertaken in the first place.

Stressed by all this republican derangement, millions are spending billions on palliatives, medications, addictions, and even surveillance designed to protect them from themselves. All those vials, syringes, security systems, and shootings reflect the introduction of what Gibbon called “a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire…” until Roman citizens “no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honour, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and trusted for their defence to a mercenary army.” Only a few late-Roman republicans recalling their old freedoms, concluded, with Livy, that “We have become too ill to bear our sickness or their cures.”

What went wrong?
You might argue, and quite rightly, that “We, the people” have always subverted the truths we’d held to be self-evident, beginning with slavery and continuing with plutocracy. Yet somehow the republic kept experiencing what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom,” thanks only partly to the fortuitous confluence of two oceans’ protection, a vast continent’s ever-alluring frontier, and unending streams of aspiring immigrants:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates will stand
A mighty woman with a torch
Whose flame is the imprisoned lightning,
And her name: Mother of Exiles

True enough, the republic thus limned by Emma Lazarus in “The New Colossus,” her poem for the Statue of Liberty, needed those exiles for its burgeoning labor market. And it still had a guiding aristocracy of sorts, but supposedly “an aristocracy of talent and virtue,” as Jefferson put it, and not one of blood and ill-gotten wealth. True, too, certain lingering Puritan beliefs had nourished in the embattled farmers (and, even long before 1775, in some of the Puritans themselves) a conviction that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. That injunction to defy worldly power sometimes in the name of a Higher Power legitimated individual conscience and autonomy, right up through the non-violent defiance of the best of the civil-rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s.

But the American emphasis on individual conscience and autonomy also gestated a liberal capitalist republic that has reduced individualism to market exchanges in ways that are now destroying both individuals and the society. A liberal capitalist republic has to rely on its citizens to uphold voluntarily certain public virtues and beliefs that neither the liberal state nor markets can nourish or defend. The liberal state isn’t supposed to judge between one way of life and another, after all; and markets reward you as a self-interested consumer and investor, not as a citizen who might put such interests aside at times to advance a greater good that self-interest alone can’t achieve.

The moral silence and often bankruptcy of states and markets leaves citizen-leaders to be nourished and trained all the more intensively in institutions that stand somewhat apart from the state and markets. The Puritan founders of America’s oldest colleges understood this, but they expected that those colleges’ graduates would serve a theocratic state that would control markets and everything else. We’re right to dismiss the Puritans’ theocracy because it was repressive and hypocritical. But we’re wrong to have lost a side of its animating spirit that would have kept markets from controlling and devouring republican government and even our bodies and ourselves.

Symptoms and scapegoating
Having miscarried republican self-discipline and conviction so badly, we find ourselves scrambling to monitor, measure, and control the consequences, such as the proliferation of mental illness and the glorification and marketing of guns, as if these were causing our implosion. They aren’t. They’re symptoms, not causes — reactions to widespread heartbreak at the breakdown of what Tocqueville called republican habits of the heart that we used to cultivate.

Equally symptomatic, not causal, are self-avowedly “deviant” and “transgressive” gyrations by people who imagine that the sunset of civic-republican order heralds a liberating, Dionysian dawn. Even our war-makers’ and mongers’ grand strategies and the growing militarization of our domestic police forces are more symptomatic than causal of the public derangement that’s rising all around us.

But turning the bearers of such frightening symptoms into our primary villains or scapegoats would only deepen our blindness to the disease, which is as old as the biblical worship of the Golden Calf and as new as Goldman-Sachs. It runs deeper than anything that anyone but the Puritans and their Old Testament models tried to tackle.

I’m not suggesting we can or should return to Puritanism! Anyone expecting to recover that faith and way of life is stumbling up dry streambeds toward wellsprings that have themselves run dry. But we do need wellsprings that could fortify us to take risks even more daunting than those taken by the embattled farmers. We’d somehow have to reconfigure or abandon empty comforts, escapes, and protections that both free-market conservatives and readers of Salon are accustomed to buying and selling, sometimes against our own best hopes and convictions. Sloughing off our bad old repressions, we’ve been swept up by swift market currents that turn countercultures into over-the-counter cultures and promote a free-for-all that’s a free-for-none as citizens become customers chasing “freedoms” for sale.

Our cure would also require re-weaving a fabric of public candor and comity strong enough to resist the rise of ressentiment, a public psychopathology, once associated with the rise of fascism, in which insecurities, envy, and hatreds that many have been nursing in private converge in scary public eruptions that diminish their participants even in seeming to make them big. Ressentiment’s “little-big man” seeks easy targets for frustrations borne of exploitation by powers that he’s afraid to face and reckon with head-on. Blaming scapegoats warps his assessment of his hardships and options and drives him to wreak vengeance on them as soon as there are enough little-big men (and women, of course) to do so en masse under a Glenn Beck or a Sarah Palin.

Whether ressentiment erupts in racist violence, sectarian fanaticism, anti-Communist witch hunts, totalitarian show trials, politically correct cultural revolutions, or sadistic escapism, its most telling symptoms are paranoia and routinized bursts of hysteria. Under the ministrations of gifted demagogues, its grievances and pain assume a fleeting brilliance that soon collapses, tragi-comically or catastrophically, on its own cowardice and lies.

Its targets often shift. The 9/11 attacks brought a reprieve of sorts to African-Americans, the republic’s most enduring scapegoats, when the burden of white censure pivoted toward Muslims. Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam lost credibility, but so did whites such as the neoconservative Daniel Pipes, who kept on insisting years after 9/11 that the first black president was a Muslim and a friend of terrorists.

The slipperiness of scapegoating became clear to me in 1993, as I wrote about a deranged black gunman, Colin Ferguson, who’d opened fire in a Long Island Rail Road car, killing six passengers. Even while holding him responsible, I saw him bearing symptoms far more widespread than his private demons. Noting Ferguson’s enthusiasm for a politics of rage, paranoia, and death threats then prominent on a black radio station and in demagogic street politics, I warned that even deranged loners are sometimes better attuned to our subconscious hatreds and fears than we care to admit. That was true, too, of Jared Loughner, the white paranoid-schizophrenic and anti-government fantasist who killed a U.S. District Court judge and six other people while trying to kill but severely wounding US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others in 2011.

While apocalyptic religious and racist ranting can provoke emotionally disturbed people, so can journalism and entertainment that massage hatreds too diffuse to be called racist, religious, or ideological. Some school shooters nursed the depictions of violence and lust that are pumped incessantly into young Americans’ horizons with the help of new technologies and investment strategies that ride reckless misreadings of the First Amendment. This hasn’t been done with malevolent intent as often as it’s been done in a kind of civic mindlessness by media corporations incentivized and indeed forced by market pressures to bypass our brains and hearts on the way to our lower viscera and wallets by exaggerating fears of armed home invasion, government takeover, and vengeful victory by gunplay.

The invisible disease
Relatively few young Americans follow these siren songs into acts of destruction. But the public fetishizing of sex and violence without context or caring dampens many others’ faith in society during their formative years. You don’t need to know a lot of developmental psychology or anthropology to know that children crave culturally coherent tests of prowess and loyalty in symbolic rites of passage that ratify their communal belonging. When such rites and symbols fail, some flail about, seeking order in private delusions, Dartmouth College fraternities, and public orchestrations of ressentiment.

In 1775, most American communities still filtered such basic generational and human needs through traditions that encompassed kinship bonds and seasonal rhythms. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine could urge readers like them to take their recent experiences of monarchy “to the touchstones of nature” and decide whether they would abide the empire’s abuses. Today, those “touchstones of nature” – and with them, republican convictions about selfhood and society — have been torn up by runaway engines and developments in technology, communications, and even intimate biology that would terrify Paine, Adam Smith and John Locke, not to mention those who fired the first shot at Concord. This time, we’re all in bed with the enemy.

In The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism 40 years ago, Daniel Bell – no anti-capitalist, but prophetic enough about the worship of Golden Calves — argued that free markets no longer make free men because “economic liberalism has become… corporate oligopoly, and, in the pursuit of private wants, a hedonism that is destructive of social needs.” He warned that consumer capitalism displaces the needs that the early republic filtered through nature’s rhythms and kinship traditions. It displaces those needs with ginned-up “wants” that “by their nature, are unlimited and insatiable…. [T]he rational calculation of efficiency and return” displace “the principle of the public household,” strip-mining and selling off fragments of cultural narratives.

Without civic wellsprings and narratives deep and compelling enough to strengthen a society’s adhesives and disciplines in the hearts of its young, neither free-market conservatives nor world-is-flat neoliberal cosmopolitans can reconcile their professed commitments to ordered, republican liberty with their knee-jerk obedience to riptides of destructive investment that are dissolving republican virtue and sovereignty before our eyes.

No wonder we’re losing our vision, in both senses of the word:

▪ Our business press was too blind to see that a tsunami of predatory lending would wreck the national economy and throw millions from their homes. ▪ Our market-addled Congressional committees and blue-ribbon commissions on national intelligence couldn’t discover, until Edward Snowden revealed it, that public surveillance had taken on an all-devouring life of its own.

▪ Our foreign-policy savants across the ideological spectrum were too blind see that the Soviet Union was so much weaker than American Cold War propaganda and hysteria insisted that it imploded in 1989. The fabled “missile gap” that John F. Kennedy ran on in 1960 was as imaginary as Saddam Hussein’s WMD, but anyone who tried telling either of those truths was charged with a “failure of nerve” or worse by the blind war-mongers in our midst.

▪ Neo-conservative and Vulcan conservative advocates of using American military force to spread democracy abroad couldn’t see that their strategy was doomed because democracy isn’t woven that way and because it was destroying democracy at home in ways that, if unchecked, will destroy the republic whose strengths they’ve so badly misconstrued and betrayed.

▪ Our consumer society, addicted to cheap comforts and quick fixes, can’t see its own Orwellian ensnarement by commercial censors, and it couldn’t take Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” about global warming seriously enough to offset the onrushing damage with the serious sacrifices we have yet to make.

▪ Our gilded political consultants, pollsters, and campaign donors were too blind to see the boiling undercurrents that have swept away House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Nor can they see that Cantor’s political demise presages an inflammation of ressentiment so wild that the coming, specious, “Who Lost Iraq?” debate will be accompanied by the shot that some military veteran who feels betrayed will fire at a politician who’s been left holding the empty bag of our civic-republican hopes.

We are flying almost totally blind, punched bloody by a Hand we keep insisting is Invisible. We can see only the sickness of the gunmen and of the proliferation of their guns. Treatment of those symptoms is urgently needed, but it will be insufficient to curb the wrecking ball that global capitalism has become on our willfully blind watch, and triage won’t renew the civic fabric.

Exemplary defiance
Whenever republican candor and courage have seemed about to succumb like this to tribal and theocratic delusions or to force and fraud in the past, some citizens have roused others to fend off threats to republican premises and practices:

▪ In 1776 a young schoolteacher named Nathan Hale was caught trying to track and expose the military and intelligence operations of the only established, legitimate government of his time. But just before his hanging he said, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” and became an incarnation of a nascent republic.

▪ Hale’s dignity in adversity, unfathomable to many of us these days, anticipated that of Martin Luther King, Jr. and black churchgoers who walked unarmed and trembling toward armed men and dogs with nothing but their faith and their long-shot strategy to de-legitimate the seemingly impregnable segregationist establishment of their time by appealing to republican principles and an American civil religion whose theology was as vague as that of the founders.

▪ Hale’s dignity also anticipated that of three Yale seniors I came upon one wintry morning in 1968 as they gave university chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr. their military draft cards to announce their resistance to the U. S. Government on behalf of the American republic.

“The government says we’re criminals, but we say the government is criminal for waging this war,” said one of the seniors, struggling to find his voice against a gusting wind and against fear. For all we knew, these guys were about to be arrested on the spot, and some of us felt arrested morally by their example because they were ready to pay the penalty of law in order to affirm their commitment to honest law itself.

Coffin, who held to a Calvinist theology that, like King’s, saw resistance to tyranny as obedience to God, was present to bless a courage that few national-security state conservatives understand, in the idiom of an American civil-religion few neoliberals and post-modern leftists understand. When he quoted Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night; rage, rage, against the dying of the light,” that civil religion seemed to awaken briefly from slumber and to walk and talk again, re-moralizing the state and the law, and the silent, wild confusion I was feeling gave way to something like awe. (I described this experience in The Washington Monthly in 2000, during the protracted “election” of George W. Bush.)

▪ Hale’s courage also anticipated Edward Snowden’s. Both young men may have been impetuous and otherwise flawed in some respects, but they showed that resistance to corrupted power requires not only prowess, means, and will, but an elusive, republican sensibility that’s cultivated in civil society and confirmed in little daily interactions long before it emerges in demonstrations of civic courage that startle and move other citizens.

With a wonderment somewhat like Hegel’s, the German political philosopher Jurgen Habermas marveled at this “constitutional patriotism” in American citizens who possessed what Gibbon described as “that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honor, the presence of danger, and the habit of command.”

When I tell young millennials these stories, though, many of them listen pretty much as they would to tales about knights in shining armor, long ago and far away. Much closer to them are the school shootings and internet mayhem that make brave citizenship seem archaic, implausible, and irrelevant to self-discovery and social change.

Yet republican expectations do have ways of re-surfacing whenever “We, the people” begin to imagine what our lives would be like, singly and together, if we had to live without them. Not everyone can be seduced or intimidated away from them. But, with so many Americans are generations removed from any easily recoverable religious or ethno-racial identity or other adhesive, we have to ask: Where are the touchstones or narratives strong enough renew public virtues and beliefs that neither markets nor the liberal state do much to nourish or defend?

Nourishing a new liberal order
The question should prompt a quest for a political culture that isn’t too commercial and vapid and that isn’t held together only by demagoguery and delusion. No reconfiguration of today’s capitalism will be possible without something better than that. Yet no think tank, legislature, or foundation can carry that quest or that reconfiguration to a just conclusion. Nor can an Occupy Wall Street that isn’t grounded in something deeper than its own noble effort to be the change it wants us all to make.

Nor can our “illness” be cured by champions of a new foreign-policy “realism” such as Robert Kagan, who urge us to face the inevitable challenges of a world where only willpower and force can sustain the liberal order that many Americans take for granted. That’s right as far as it goes, but it begs the question of where willpower comes from and what, within the liberal order itself, is sapping that willpower.

Quoting Michael Ignatieff, Kagan speculates candidly that liberal civilization itself “runs deeply against the human grain and is achieved and sustained only by the most unremitting struggle against human nature.” Perhaps, Kagan adds, “this fragile democratic garden requires the protection of a liberal world order, with constant feeding, watering, weeding, and the fencing off of an ever-encroaching jungle.” But he can’t seem to face the challenge posed by the new shots heard ‘round the world from America: the jungle and its encroachments begin not only abroad but within our own garden.

What seems our greatest weakness could be one of our greatest strengths, although it, too, won’t be enough: even 150 years after the founding, the philosopher George Santayana wrote that Americans still heralded the Enlightenment’s entry into history precisely because they’d “all been uprooted from their several soils and ancestries and plunged together into one vortex, whirling irresistible in a space otherwise quite empty. To be an American is of itself almost a moral condition, an education and a career….”

Although there’s plenty to regret and respect in the traditions we’ve lost, there’s no turning back from the “moral condition” and “career” we face as citizens. We have no choice but to keep faith with the republic and one another. If Americans have a manifest destiny now, it’s to lead in weaving a new republican fabric that markets can serve but not subvert.

In 2008, Barack Obama seemed to incarnate so brilliantly the promise of weaving our diversity into a new republican discipline — he even invoked Puritan and biblical wellsprings in some of his speeches — that many people ‘round the world considered him a prophet who would satisfy their hunger for new narratives. Probably no national political leader ever can do that. The narratives the world needs will have to come from other prophets and leaders yet unsung. I do think that Americans will be strong among them, if only because we’ve had so much experience generating that hunger by generating the civic-republican-capitalist effort that has failed.

Jim Sleeper, a writer and teacher on American civic culture and politics and a lecturer in political science at Yale, is the author of “The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York” (W.W. Norton, 1990) and “Liberal Racism” (Viking, 1997, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). More of his articles and commentary are available at jimsleeper.com. This article was first published on Open Democracy.

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The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and US Imperialism

July 29, 2014 Imperial and Blobal Forum

The_Tragedy_of_American_DiplomacyWilliam Appleman Williams is considered the founder of the “strongly influential” Wisconsin School of U.S. foreign relations imperial history that took root from within the History Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Williams’s book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, first published in 1959, was the first of many revisionist imperial histories of American foreign policy that appeared amid what would become the broader radical New Left movement.

Beginning with Tragedy, Wisconsin-School-inspired revisionist histories suggest that, owing to the distinctive nature of American capitalism, imperial presidents embarked upon a bipartisan quest for foreign markets with broad business and agrarian support, culminating in the acquisition of both a formal and informal American empire. Williams termed it “Open Door imperialism,” an American manifestation of “the imperialism of free trade.”

In this episode of the Centre’s Talking Empire podcast series, hosted by Professor Richard Toye, I discuss the significant historiographical influence of Tragedy, particularly how it and subsequent New Left imperial revisionist histories helped overturn longstanding conceptions of American imperial expansion. As a result, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy continues to retain a dominant position within the study of American imperial history and historiography.

Episode 10: The Tragedy of American Diplomacy

Professor Richard Toye interviews Dr. Marc-William Palen about William Appleman Williams’s Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959) and its long-term influence within American imperial history and historiography.

For the Interview click here.

 

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Why Do We Have an Illegal Immigration Problem from Central America? We Should Know. We Helped Create It.

William Schell, Jr.

HNN   July 25, 2014

By now we have all heard and read of the expediential growth in Central American refugees fleeing to the US which has evolved, almost overnight, into a form of human trafficking. Why would a 15 year old girl set off on her own enduring unspeakable hardship and abuse to get to America? Why would families sell everything in order to pay people smugglers to bribe border guards and slip them past checkpoints to the US border where they often simply turn themselves in?

First the Push factors–the collapse of government and the rule of law in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador and the rise of gang rule. Gangs seize children with family in the US and hold them until the relatives pay up. In addition to this ransom, families must pay smuggling charges.

And the Pull factors—children wish to join parents while smugglers (who charge for their services) put out the word that the US allows illegal migrant children to stay if they make it across the border and turn themselves in.

The current US policy—for which the Obama Administration is taking the heat—has bi-partisan origins in the 2007 immigration reform law originally backed by many conservatives including Sen. John McCain of Arizona.  But now McCain and other Republicans, pressured by Tea Party radicals, oppose the very law they called for and created.

Shortly after the passage of the law, the plight of these migrant children was told in HBO’s “Which Way Home” (2009) directed by Rebecca Cammisa. The film “followed several unaccompanied child migrants as they journey through Mexico en route to the U.S. on a freight train they call “The Beast.” It tracks the stories of children like Olga and Freddy, nine-year-old Hondurans who are desperately trying to reach their families in Minnesota, and Jose, a ten-year-old El Salvadoran who has been abandoned by smugglers and ends up alone in a Mexican detention center, and focuses on Kevin, a canny, streetwise 14-year-old Honduran, whose mother hopes that he will reach New York City and send money back to his family. These are stories of hope and courage, disappointment and sorrow.”

“Which Way Home” is a must see for anyone who wants to understand the current crisis.  The child immigrant problem is rooted in US Cold War Policies that fueled civil wars in Central America which displaced thousands in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  Illegal Central Americans then came to the US where there arose social networks that soon evolved into MS-13, the 18th Street Gang, and other street gangs that financed themselves selling drugs. The US law enforcement then acted to arrest and deport gang members, thus turning what had been local-regional gangs into transnational criminal organizations which now traffic humans as well as drugs.

Thus the very policy being proposed by congressional conservatives to “solve” the problem (deportation) was/is a major contributor to its creation.

According to Central American migration researcher, David Bacon “media coverage focuses on gang violence in Central America, as though it was spontaneous and unrelated to a history of U.S.-promoted wars and a policy of mass deportations. In truth, the United States’ meddling foreign policy and a history of the U.S.’s own harsh immigration measures are responsible for much of the pressure causing this flow of people from Central America.”

But while almost all of the reporting and commentary on the immigration crisis has focused on the now, the roots of that now lie in the informal Central American empire created in the early 20th century by American investment in plantations, ports and railroads. The classic example is the United Fruit Company known as la frutera which dominated Guatemala. When nationalists sought greater control of their own affairs, American muscular Dollar Diplomacy removed them and supported compliant dictators backed by US trained “national guards.” This is how the Somoza “dynasty” of Nicaragua came to power.

After WWII, as Cold War anti-communism came to define US foreign policy, Jacobo Arbenz came to power in Guatemala.  When in 1954 Arbenz’s reformist, socialist government took and paid for United Fruit Co. properties to enact a land reform, the CIA overthrew him in what was dubbed “Operation Success” (planned and executed by E Howard Hunt of Watergate infamy). It should come as no surprise that major UFC stockholders were John Foster and Allen Dulles, respectively US Sec. of State and head of the CIA.

Fearing the spread of communism, Washington trained Central American officers at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protect elite interests.  Upon return to their home countries, they organized the paramilitary “death squads.” In El Salvador there was La Mano Blanca (the white hand) and ORDEN.  In Guatemala peasants were equated with Communists and simply eliminated by the thousands. All of this with Washington’s tacit acceptance, if not outright support.

When in 1972 in Nicaragua an earthquake destroyed nearly 90% of the capital of Managua the ruling Somoza family, America’s major regional ally, siphoned off relief money and sold plasma and other medical relief supplies on the black market, provoking a general uprising supported by even the upper classes. The revolution was followed by fair elections that brought a mixed government to power dominated by the Communist Sandinistas just as Ronald Reagan became president.  To depose the Sandinistas Reagan funded the CONTRAS, composed of former Somoza military members.

In 1983, the U.S. Congress prohibited funding the Contras. But the Reagan administration continued to do so covertly and illegally by selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the Contras (the Iran–Contra affair). Despite Washington’s attempt to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, in 1990 it held free and fair elections. Proof? The Sandinistas lost to an opposition coalition led by Violeta Chamorro.

But Reagan’s effort to depose the Sandinista government spread war throughout Central America—especially El Salvador where ORDEN’s leader and presidential candidate, Roberto D’Aubuisson, arranged the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero after Romero called on the military to “Stop the repression! No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.”

When the Cold War ended, the damage done by Washington’s policies led to rapacious dictatorships that wrecked the governments and economies of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador opening the way for the rise of American-linked gang rule by extortion from which the people fled.

And so we return to where we started. Why do we have an illegal immigration problem? We are merely reaping what we have sown.

William Schell, Jr. is a professor of history at Murray State University in Kentucky.

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Why a Contrarian History of the United States Is

Ilan Stavans

HNN July 20, 2014

 

ImperfectI’m not a historian by trade, nor do I want to be one. Historians must rediscover the past with rigor: with objectivity, attempting to humanize it. But the past cannot be exclusively the purview of historians; for better or worse, it belongs to all of us.

I’ve often been struck by the triumphalist single-sidedness—and, at times, nearsightedness—of American history. This, so the argument goes, is an exceptional nation made of exceptional individuals. What makes us exceptional as a country is the conviction that the United States has a responsibility above all other nations, that we are better—wiser, more ethical—than everyone else.

I didn’t grow up with this tacky indoctrination. I’m an immigrant from Mexico. After years of wandering, I chose to come to the United States in 1985, when I was in my early twenties. The reasons were simple: passionate about the life of the mind, I wanted to be part of an open society, to add my voice to it, to live where things mattered. Thirty years later, I frequently find myself complaining of the closing of the American mind: how intolerant it has become, its apathy toward other cultures.

Immigrants are like converts to a new religion. To be embraced, they need to undergo a dramatic process of adaptation. They need to shed their old clothes and dress up in new ones. They feel their choices—indeed, their entire existence—is being questioned all the time. So they must explain themselves to others.

I wrote A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States because, this being a nation of newcomers, I’m tired of the hypocritical way immigrants are constantly being described today in public discourse. And in the way they are seen as an appendix in the nation’s past. The focus is always on the “great white men” who created this nation, on how we imitated the political principles of the French Revolution, on how emancipation made us more humane. Freedom is the buzz word: nowhere on earth are people more free than here.

Really? Freedom, in my view, is wasted on Americans. Not because we’re free do we always know what to do with our freedom. Although, in truth, we aren’t as free as we pretend to be. Look at how corporate America constantly manipulates our taste. Look at our inefficient, lethargic, bankrupted political system, defined by leaders more interested in their reputation than in the well-being of the electorate. Is it true that we vote for them when immense amounts of money, frequently coming from anonymous sources, are shamelessly funneled to brainwash voters?

I don’t worry about the future because everything that happens always happens in the present. But the past does concern me. For it is how we explain ourselves that makes us act the way we do. So a revision of the past is crucial. Needless to say, there is no narrative of history—mine included, of course—that isn’t biased. What matters isn’t how subjective we are but how committed we are to skepticism. That is the basic message of my book: don’t take what you hear about our past on face value; and don’t leave it to others to tell it to you. Question everything about it: why it is what it is and how it came to be so.

The only value that is truly American is contrarianism: the right to go against the current.

A Most Imperfect Union isn’t a people’s history, as the New York Times has generously described it. I’m not an alumnus of the Howard Zinn approach to the past. Yes, the book focuses not only on the Founding Fathers and the figures of the Civil Rights Era but on those who are often left out, “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Yet it’s also about the history of sexuality in America, the history of food, the history of our toys, our relationship with the dead, the history of our dreams, the history of how we tell history.

Plus, it is American history with a Latino bent. The book isn’t written in traditional prose but in cartoons. In 2000, I collaborated with syndicated-cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz in Latino USA: A Cartoon History. We came to know each other serendipitously. After seeing Alcaraz’s satirical work in LA Weekly, I sent him a fan letter. Soon after, we decided to collaborate on a book-long retelling of Hispanic history in the United States. My purpose then was to cover an area rarely explored by historians: the coalescing nature of Latino life north of the Rio Grande. Up until then, that story was often compartmentalized into national sub-narratives: Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Dominican-Americans, Puerto Ricans in the mainland, and so on. But the true mission was more complex: to ask if Latinos actually have a shared, usable past; and, if so, what kind of past that might be.

To our surprise, the volume became a runaway success, adopted into high-school and college courses across the country. On occasion, Alcaraz and I, in our email correspondence, talked about a sequel. It wasn’t a serious proposition until John Sherer, the publisher of Basic Books, asked us to prepare a 15th-anniversary edition of Latino USA. When the possibility of embarking on a new project came up, it felt to me as if A Most Imperfect Union, rather than a sequel, could be seen as a chapter of this larger, more ambitious endeavor, the first having been a tree and the second the forest in which it stands. Now there is talk of doing, at some point soon, an even more epic installment: a cartoon history of the world, again from a skeptic’s viewpoint.

I wrote A Most Imperfect Union because I too am obsessed with the question of perfection in the United States. Why are we obsessed with the word?

I wrote it because I want to thank America for opening its door to me and because I want to keep the door open to others, though not without offering some cautionary greetings. The country has been good to me; and I want to think that I’ve been good to the country as well.

I now know it’s easy to complain about how innocuous that conversation on ideas in America has become. A much harder —and more significant— task is to change its tenor.

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. He is the author of “A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States” (Basis Books, illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz). His new book, “Reclaiming Travel” (Duke University Press, with Joshua Ellison), will be out in the spring.

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Black Southern Voters, Poised to Play a Historic Role

Nate Cohn

The New York Times   July 18, 2014

Southern black voters don’t usually play a decisive role in national elections. They were systematically disenfranchised for 100 years after the end of the Civil War. Since the days of Jim Crow, a fairly unified white Southern vote has often determined the outcome of elections.

This November could be different. Nearly five decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voters in the South are poised to play a pivotal role in this year’s midterm elections. If Democrats win the South and hold the Senate, they will do so because of Southern black voters.

The timing — 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 49 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act — is not entirely coincidental. The trends increasing the clout of black voters reflect a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. White voters who came of age as loyal Democrats have largely died off, while the vast majority of black voters have been able to vote for their entire adult lives — and many have developed the habit of doing so.

This year’s closest contests include North CarolinaLouisiana and Georgia. Black voters will most likely represent more than half of all Democratic voters in Louisiana and Georgia, and nearly half in North Carolina. Arkansas, another state with a large black population, is also among the competitive states.

Southern black voters have already made their mark on this year’s midterm elections. Last month, Senator Thad Cochran defeated a Tea Party challenger with the help of a surge in black turnout in a Republican run-off in Mississippi.

Black voters in the South have played an important role in a handful of federal elections since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the presidency with the help of black voters in the Deep South. Democrats also won many competitive Senate seats in the South in 1998. Black voters have even played a decisive role in some states that will be crucial this November: They represented about half of Senator Mary Landrieu’s supporters in Louisiana 2002 and 2008; and in North Carolina in 2008, nearly half of President Obama’s supporters were black.

But there has not been a year since Reconstruction when a party has depended so completely on black voters, in so many Southern states, in such a close national contest. President Carter, for instance, won by a comfortable margin in most of Dixie, with strong support among white voters. In 1998, Senate control was not at stake, and Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina was icing on the cake.

If Democrats win this November, black voters will probably represent a larger share of the winning party’s supporters in important states than at any time since Reconstruction. Their influence is not just a product of the Senate map. It also reflects the collapse in Southern white support for Democrats, an increase in black turnout and the reversal of a century-long trend of blackoutmigration from the South.

State-level Democrats performed fairly well among Southern white voters in the decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. A majority of white voters were still self-identified Democrats who formed their partisan allegiances when white supremacist Democrats ruled Dixie. As a result, Southern Democrats did not usually depend on black voters, who generally turned out at lower rates than white voters.

That era has come to an end. Today, the overwhelming majority of voters, white and black alike, reached voting age after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Southern politics are now defined by the post-Civil Rights era: The old generation of Southern white Democrats has almost entirely departed the electorate, leaving white voters overwhelmingly Republican. Mr. Obama won about 15 percent of white voters in the Deep South in 2012.

Democrats lamented low black turnout for decades, but Southern black turnout today rivals or occasionally exceeds that of white voters. That’s in part because black voters, for the first time, have largely been eligible to vote since they turned 18. They have therefore had as many opportunities as their white counterparts to be targeted by campaigns, mobilized by interest groups or motivated by political causes.

Mr. Obama is part of the reason for higher black turnout, which surpassed white turnout nationally in the 2012 presidential election, according to the census. But black turnout had been increasing steadily, even before Mr. Obama sought the presidency. In 1998, unexpectedly high black turnout allowed Democrats to win a handful of contests in the Deep South; in 2002, Ms. Landrieu won a Senate runoff with a surge in black turnout.

The Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act unleashed a wave of new laws with a disparate impact on black voters, including cuts in early voting and photo-identification requirements.

These laws will disenfranchise an unknown number of eligible voters, but probably not so many as to have a big effect on election results. In Georgia, where a voter ID law has been in place since 2007, the black turnout rate has increased to nearly match that of whites.

The post-Jim Crow era also led to the end and eventual reversal of the Great Migration, the exodus of blacks from the South to escape racist laws and seek better economic opportunities. The South was home to about 90 percent of the nation’s African-Americans until the beginning of the 20th century. By 1970, 53 percent of blacks lived there.

This trend reversed in the decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Today, 57 percent of black Americans live in the South; more than one million black Southerners today were born in the Northeast.

Nowhere has the remigration done more to improve Democratic chances than in Georgia, where Democrats have a chance to win an open Senate seat this November. Since 2000, as the black population has risen, the share of registered voters who are white has dropped to 59 percent, from 72 percent.

The Democratic nominee in Georgia is Michelle Nunn, a candidate symbolic of generational change in her own right. She is the daughter of Sam Nunn, a conservative Democratic former senator from rural, downstate Georgia who was first elected in 1972. If Ms. Nunn wins this November, it will be with only a handful of the rural, Southern white voters who adored her father.

The state’s growing black population will give her a chance to win with less than one-third of the white vote, a tally that would have ensured defeat for Democrats just a few years ago. Her pathway to victory would be unrecognizable to her father, who never won re-election with less than 80 percent of the vote.

 

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