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We are fortunate to have a guest post today from Robin Averbeck. Ms. Averbeck is a doctoral candidate working on the community action programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration, and has some insights appropriate to the current interest in Charles Murray’s new book and the idea of a culture of poverty. It’s always a privilege to work with a student whose research is interesting on its own terms and also engages current events in an intriguing way.

In the winter of 1963, the sociologist Charles Lebeaux argued that poverty, rather than merely a lack of money, was in fact the result of several complex, interrelated causes. “Poverty is not simply a matter of deficient income,” Lebeaux explained. “It involves a reinforcing pattern of restricted opportunities, deficient community services, abnormal social pressures and predators, and defensive adaptations. Increased income alone is not sufficient to overcome brutalization, social isolation and narrow aspiration.”1 Lebeaux’s article was originally published in the New Left journal New University Thought, but also appeared two years later in a collection of essays by liberal academics and intellectuals called Poverty in America. In the midst of Johnson’s War on Poverty, the argument that poverty was about more than money – or, as was sometimes argued, wasn’t even primarily about money – was common currency in both liberal and left-leaning circles.
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So Colonel Daniel Davis criticizes the American effort in Afghanistan (a criticism I don’t agree with, by the way)? Watch as (it sure seems) the Pentagon media machine spins up to discredit him through cooperative media folk, in this case, Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy (and formerly the Washington Post). First comes the reasoned response, from a professor at the National War College:

I was prepared for a real critique and came away profoundly disappointed. Every veteran has an important story, but [Davis'] work is a mess. It is not a successor piece to HR McMaster’s book on the Joint Chiefs during Vietnam, or Paul Yingling’s critique of U.S. generalship that appeared in Armed Forces Journal a few years back. Davis is not a hero, but he will go into the whistleblower hall of fame. If years hence, he doesn’t make full Colonel, it will be construed as punishment, but there is nothing in this report that suggests he has any such potential.

Then, two days later, comes the character assassination:

For a reservist, Lt. Col. Danny Davis (author of the recently touted and then critiqued report on the Afghan War) sure gets around. I was told yesterday that when he was a major, he proposed that the United States conduct a ground invasion of Iran by air dropping an armored division northeast of Tehran and then doing a tank assault into the city.

I also was told that he proposed to General Abizaid that he be promoted to lieutenant colonel and put in command of the lead tank battalion in the assault.

Note the blinding passiveness of “I was told” and “I also was told.” Note how Ricks refers to Davis as “Danny” (in the text and the title) a diminutive coinage that seems to be particular to Ricks. Other news stories have (as far as I can tell) universally referred to him as “Daniel Davis.” Note how Ricks finishes him off by quoting an awkwardly-written email from Davis. Davis shouldn’t have sent the email that way, but Ricks quotes the whole thing, grammatical errors, capitalization problems and all.

All this doesn’t make Davis correct, of course, but it’s an impressive effort nonetheless.

Welcome to the big leagues, Lt. Colonel. I trust you’ve given up on your ambitions to make full Colonel?

(See also this fascinating comment in the post thread.)

Some of the best works on the American Empire are being done by reporters and publicatioins exclusively focused on the various branches of the US military. Sean Naylor, of the Army Times, is an example. His six part series on covert American activities in Somalia is an enormously valuable insight into the nuts and bolts of global imperial efforts, missions that will go on long after the United States has left Iraq and Afghanistan. An excerpt:

The official referred to Joint Special Operations Command’s notion of “the unblinking eye” — using intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to keep a target under constant watch. In Iraq and Afghanistan, JSOC was “developing the concept of ‘we don’t want any blinks in our collection’ — the unblinking eye,” the senior intel official said.

But the wars in those countries deprived commanders in the Horn of the overhead assets they needed, “so in Somalia, it was a blink all the time,” the official said, adding that commanders “would go days without any kind of overhead collection capability” they controlled.

Not a military-focused organization, but still intensely informative is The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based non-profit that “bolsters original journalism by producing high-quality investigations for press and broadcast media.” They’ve created a timeline of known American actions in Somalia.

A map of the world, split into American unified combatant commands:

Unified command world map

We are not only safer than we think, we are safer than we have ever been, say Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen.

The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can be managed with existing diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser extent, military tools.
This reality is barely reflected in U.S. national security strategy or in American foreign policy debates.

By exaggerating threats, we overemphasize the need for defense spending. It’s a dynamic we saw during the Cold War though there, Zenko and Cohen say, the threat was genuine if overhyped. Here, they argue, it’s nearly nonexistent.

Zenko and Cohen also say, “Such hair-trigger responsiveness is rarely replicated outside the realm of national security, even when the government confronts problems that cause Americans far more harm than any foreign threat.” I don’t know about this. What about inflation- and deficit-hawkery?

Anyway, the takeaway is not only that we are a nation of cowards, but that we are a nation of cowards shooting ourselves in the feet.

Indeed, the most lamentable cost of unceasing threat exaggeration and a focus on military force is that the main global challenges facing the United States today are poorly resourced and given far less atten- tion than “sexier” problems, such as war and terrorism. These include climate change, pandemic diseases, global economic instability, and transnational criminal networks—all of which could serve as catalysts to severe and direct challenges to U.S. security interests. But these concerns are less visceral than alleged threats from terrorism and rogue nuclear states. They require long-term planning and occasionally painful solutions, and they are not constantly hyped by well-financed interest groups. As a result, they are given short shrift in national security discourse and policymaking.

Which is to say, Zenko and Cohen write, we should stop going nuts over the one percent (or less) threats and concentrate on the 99 percent. Which is a nice translation of the Occupy rhetoric to foreign policy.

I’ll be running the 30th edition of the Military History Carnival over at Cliopatria on March 1. Submit the best of military history on the web here by February 27.

State Bill 1467:

IF A PERSON WHO PROVIDES CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL ENGAGES IN SPEECH OR CONDUCT THAT WOULD VIOLATE THE STANDARDS ADOPTED BY THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION CONCERNING OBSCENITY, INDECENCY AND PROFANITY IF THAT SPEECH OR CONDUCT WERE BROADCAST ON TELEVISION OR RADIO:
1. FOR THE FIRST OCCURRENCE, THE SCHOOL SHALL SUSPEND THE PERSON, AT A MINIMUM, FOR ONE WEEK OF EMPLOYMENT, AND THE PERSON SHALL NOT RECEIVE ANY COMPENSATION FOR THE DURATION OF THE SUSPENSION. THIS PARAGRAPH DOES NOT PROHIBIT A SCHOOL AFTER THE FIRST OCCURRENCE FROM SUSPENDING THE PERSON FOR A LONGER DURATION OR TERMINATING THE EMPLOYMENT OF THAT PERSON.
2. FOR THE SECOND OCCURRENCE, THE SCHOOL SHALL SUSPEND THE PERSON, AT A MINIMUM, FOR TWO WEEKS OF EMPLOYMENT, AND THE PERSON SHALL NOT RECEIVE ANY COMPENSATION FOR THE DURATION OF THE SUSPENSION. THIS PARAGRAPH DOES NOT PROHIBIT A SCHOOL AFTER THE SECOND OCCURRENCE FROM SUSPENDING THE PERSON FOR A LONGER DURATION OR TERMINATING THE EMPLOYMENT OF THAT PERSON.
3. FOR THE THIRD OCCURRENCE, THE SCHOOL SHALL TERMINATE THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE PERSON. THIS PARAGRAPH DOES NOT PROHIBIT A SCHOOL AFTER THE FIRST OR SECOND OCCURRENCE FROM TERMINATING THE EMPLOYMENT OF THAT PERSON.
B. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS SECTION, “PUBLIC SCHOOL” MEANS A PUBLIC PRESCHOOL PROGRAM, A PUBLIC ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, A PUBLIC JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, A PUBLIC MIDDLE SCHOOL, A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL, A PUBLIC VOCATIONAL EDUCATION PROGRAM, A PUBLIC COMMUNITY COLLEGE OR A PUBLIC UNIVERSITY IN THIS STATE.

Note that in the bill as written the “speech or conduct” is not limited to the classroom. By current FCC standards, I believe this means that, were I a professor in Arizona and this bill were to pass, I could say “shit” after 10 pm at night, but never say “fuck.” I won’t even explore the conduct side of things.

Paging George Carlin.

The dark secret behind the bucket:

(I know that it’s vintage 2009. Still awesome. h/t Kevin Levin)

The New York Times reports that the US Constitution is losing influence, based on a starting point of an unsourced Time report claiming in 1987 that “Of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

But in Time, there are no specifics. And it is hard to imagine a framer looking at the Senate (which lets you invent a state by drawing a box on the map where nobody lives and give it two Senators) or the Electoral College (about whose craziness do we really need to say anything?) and saying “Mmm, I want me some of that hot Constitutional jury-rigging.”

Were the Timesmen perhaps just counting all constitutions that have an independent president?

It turns out the actual study the NYT links is more narrow, and interesting, than Time’s blithe remark: it’s about rights. The scholars used the world’s constitutions to generate a “generic” list of rights, then calculated the similarity of actually existing constitutions to the generic list. Here’s the table of those most and least like the generic constitutional rights.

The US is not on either side. Here’s the table showing wherein the US differs from the generic constitution (which spans a page break in the article, so is split here).

“Generic” is not of course “better,” but it’s curious that we diverge so much from our fellows in guaranteeing rights – though hardly surprising in the areas of unionization and property rights.

220px John Tyler by George P A Healy
Dude!

John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, may not have been a particularly remembered executive (except perhaps as the trailing end of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too“), but he, his children, and grandchildren quite nearly cover the span of the American nation. Tyler himself was born in March, 1790, just over a year after the Constitution, having been duly ratified, came into force. He lived until 1862, dying in the greatest test of that nation (and also the war of the greatest American general, although Tyler tried to join up the wrong side).

During that life, he fathered fifteen children, the latest, Pearl Tyler, coming only two years before his death in 1860. Her mother, Tyler’s second wife, Julia, was thirty years John’s junior. The youngest children of that union, Lyon, Robert, and Pearl, lived well into the 20th century, Pearl dying the last of all in 1947.

Two of Lyon Tyler’s son are, as of 2012, still alive, and living in the ancestral mansion “Sherwood Forest,” Lyon Jr., and Harrison. They are the third generation of a family that spans the Republic (and is trending on Twitter), and makes it personal in their memories. I can’t help but imagine that it is that deep sense of America that informs Harrison Tyler’s judgment of Newt Gingrich: he’s a “big jerk.”

It’s positively constitutional, it is.

(Full genealogy here).

The DSCC will give you a bumper sticker saying “This is a blue car” for your $5 donation. That’s a pretty good bumper sticker. But if you really wanted to be a brie-snorting decadent coastal fifth columnist, as a friend points out, it would say, “Ceci n’est pas une voiture rouge.”

The best part of Bob Dole’s sandbagging of Newt Gingrich – and a distinctly Doleful touch – is this passage:

if we want to avoid an Obama landslide in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney

Not, mind you, “if we want to win” – just “if we want to avoid an Obama landslide.”

Loooong-time readers of this blog will be unsurprised that I agree with Charles Pierce about Tim Thomas’s right to refuse an invitation to the White House. Thomas’s politics aren’t mine. In fact I’ll go so far as to say they’re loopy. But it’s perfectly honorable to say “no thank you” to a White House invitation for political reasons. Especially when you do it with reasonable class.

I think I’d be softer on an invitation to a private function. One does perhaps have a duty to advise a president. But ceremonial functions are fair game for refusals as statements.

Roald Dahl, Aldous Huxley, JG Ballard, and lots of others have turned down an hono(u)r from the Crown.

The occupation of UC Berkeley’s anthropology library ended Saturday evening when campus administrators agreed to meet the demands of protesters and restore the library’s hours.

Or so it seems. No, I’m not talking about Joe Paterno again [spits]. I’m talking about the description of the United States as a Grand Experiment in democracy or sometimes as a lower-case grand experiment in democracy. I always assumed that one of the founders* said that, that it was a quote in other words. But no, it seems that’s not the case. Unless I’m missing something — which is entirely possible; no, really, it’s entirely possible — the whole thing is a charade.

* Probably Jefferson [spits], right? I mean, he’s usually the guy who said the stuff about the things, isn’t he? But apparently not in this case. Unless, again, I’ve missed something. Which is to say, this is chance for you to note that somebody is Wrong on the Internet! And not just any somebody, but me.

If you don’t hear the key phrase here in John Cleese’s French accent, you’re dead inside.

The bill also would criminalize ‘outrageous minimization’ of the Armenian genocide.

Garton Ash, presumably wearing his poker face, points out only that “minimization” will be hard to figure, leaving out “outrageous” altogether.

I have no love for Rick Santorum, but the Times’ lead on the Iowa caucuses recount is quite impressive in its naked slant towards Romney:

Mitt Romney’s eight-vote victory in the Iowa caucuses will be rescinded on Thursday, following a two-week review by the state’s Republican Party that found that Rick Santorum actually finished 34 votes ahead of Mr. Romney, two party officials confirmed.

So Romney was the winner when he was ahead by eight votes, but Santorum only “finished…ahead” when his lead was 34? The Times might defend itself by pointing out that the Iowa GOP isn’t going to certify a winner because they can’t be sure of votes from eight precincts, but, as Nate Silver pointed out, Santorum almost doubled Romney’s total in those precincts when counted on caucus night. The Times does not mention that. I guess being the presumptive nominee has its advantages.**

*There was a joke in my house growing up that the Times would not report things about Cornell particularly well. It was that “upstate” school. The classic example was that a Cornell victory over Harvard in football (rare enough!) would be reported by the paper as “Harvard Loses.”

**Though I’m sure that Gail Collins will connect Iowa to Romney’s dog, somehow.

the government ratified measures that will bar anti-evolution groups from teaching creationism in science classes

Don’t get excited, fellow Americans – in the UK. A country where a physicist, Brian Cox, can have a prime time television special featuring major stars. A country with crap reality tv, tabloid press, and science. Behold.

It pleases me that the 12th place finisher in the Republican primary in New Hampshire was…Barack Obama.

Socialism is alive and well in the GOP.

(Of course, that’s a slippage from his 2008 result, when he finished 7th in the Republican primary, and a severe slippage from John Kerry’s 2004 result when he came second)

Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action was White shows how government social programs of the New Deal and immediately afterward skewed heavily toward white people – and, as the title indicates, this early “affirmative action” occasioned no objection from the paler members of the citizenry. It was only later, when government programs aimed to help Americans with darker skins, that principled libertarian objections became so popular among white folks.
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Friend of the blog, Ian Lekus, is featured over at Tenured Radical:

This just in from Ian Lekus, the outgoing chair of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History (CLGBTH): queer activities at the AHA abound…

Click over for a roundup of the CLGBTH activities at the AHA.

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