In assessing the motives and actions of Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton compared them to Adolf Hitler’s. Almost always a mistake. After 12 years in power, Hitler was dead, having slaughtered millions and conquered Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. And Putin? After 13 years in power, and facing a crisis in Ukraine, he directed his soldiers in the Crimea to take control of the small peninsula where Russia has berthed its Black Sea fleet since Napoleon. To the Wall Street Journal this is a “blitzkrieg.”
But as of now, this is a less bloody affair than Andrew Jackson’s acquisition of our Florida peninsula. In 1818, Gen. Jackson was shooting Indians, putting the Spanish on boats to Cuba and hanging Brits. And we Americans loved it.
Still, there are parallels between what motivates Putin, a Russian nationalist, and what motivated the Austrian corporal. Hitler’s war began in blazing resentment at what was done to Germany after Nov. 11, 1918. The Kaiser’s armies had defeated the Russian Empire, and the Italians at Caporetto, and fought the Western Allies to a stand still in France, until two million Americans turned the tide in 1918. When Berlin accepted an armistice on President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, not a single Allied soldier stood on German soil.
But, at Paris, the Allies proceeded to tear a disarmed Germany apart. The whole German Empire was confiscated. Eupen and Malmedy were carved out of Germany and given to Belgium. Alsace-Lorraine was taken by France. South Tyrol was severed from Austria and given to Italy. A new Czechoslovakia was given custody of 3.25 million Sudeten Germans. The German port of Danzig was handed over to the new Poland, which was also given an 80-mile wide strip cut out of Germany from Silesia to the sea, slicing her in two. The Germans were told they could not form an economic union with Austria, could not have an army of more than 100,000 soldiers, and could not put soldiers west of the Rhine, in their own country. Perhaps this Carthaginian peace was understandable given the Allied losses. It was also madness if the Allies wanted an enduring peace. Read More…
Republicans who don’t want to be doomed by demographics were likely to be found at “Reaching Out: The Rest of the Story,” a panel discussion of strategies for engaging with non-traditional voting blocks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. In their consideration of model behavior and missteps, the panelists revealed how politicians’ fears and errors feed each other in a vicious circle.
When politicians head out of the “country clubs and rotary clubs” that Jason Roe, the panel’s moderator said that some of his colleagues were reluctant to leave, they’re moving from a place of strength to uncertainty. Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, tried to correct a misapprehension that holds politicians and activists back from reaching out, “There’s a misconception that, in order to be on Univision you need to be able to speak Spanish, and that’s not true, you can have a translator.”
Relying on a translator is a humbling act. Barack Obama and the other attendees of Nelson Mandela’s funeral didn’t have the expertise to realize that the supposed ASL interpreter was, in fact, miming meaninglessly. That error was at least egregious enough to not be misinterpreted, but, when politicians need translation, they may end up being subtly misunderstood, so that damage is done without calling attention to itself or prompting a correction.
Attempts at self-reliance can be just as perilous as placing your trust in others. Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to use his elementary Spanish to connect with the people he served as mayor of New York City were treated as a running joke, even inspiring a parody twitter account (@ElBloombito) who was prone to utter Spanglish phrases like, “El nuevo mayoro shovelingo no es un big dealo. Yo use shovelos all el time! How else can yo buildo castles de sando at mi Bermuda beachcasa?”
And if this weren’t enough to scare politicians away from going beyond the cultures in which they’re fluent, they would have been truly disheartened if they had stopped by one of the panels later in the afternoon, “Opposition Research in the Age of the Grid” where Lloyd Miller of Directive Research was ready to how any momentary gaffe could be retrieved and exploited. Read More…
Concerns expressed at CPAC’s “Common Core, Choice, and Accountability” forum are much touted in conservative debate: there is widespread fear that Common Core is a guise for the centralization of education. What was thrown into sharp relief at the panel was the great growth of this viewpoint amongst conservatives, tea partiers, and libertarians at the grassroots level.
Panelists worried mainly about the centralization of standards (and how that will affect curricula), the widely protested promotion of informational texts in English classes, and the gathering of student information, supposedly tracking kids through the entirety of their school and college education (Phyllis Schlafly, Founder of Eagle Forum, compared this to George Orwell’s 1984).
Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke was the panel’s moderator. She said Common Core’s supporters in the conservative party are “well-intentioned,” but added that the standards have been “heavily incentivized by the Obama administration,” and are “setting us on a course for national curriculum.”
Schlafly said this issue has gained a lot of steam on the local level: “The moms are coming out of the woodwork on this issue.” She warned against the Common Core English Standards’ new emphasis on informational texts: “informational reading morphs into liberal propaganda,” she said, pointing to the College Board’s new “Spring Board” curricula as an example.
Robert Enlow, President of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, called Common Core “yet another mechanism by which those who think they know more can tell parents what to do.” Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute, denied that the initiatives are truly state-led, calling it “a remarkable claim.” He pointed to Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, and the strong incentives (in the form of grants and waivers) offered to those who adopted Common Core. He believes these incentives were, in actuality, arm-twisting bribes and blackmail. “There are friends among us who say this is truly conservative. That is ludicrous,” he said.
Stergios also criticized the standards’ emphasis on informational texts: “Reading between the lines of literature teaches kids about meaning,” he said, adding that it teaches important lessons on irony and nuance. “When’s the last time you read a textbook and laughed?”
The panelists received a strong and passionate reception from their audience. There were several Tea Partiers and mothers in attendance, all of whom expressed strong agreement with Schlafly’s points. One mother expressed great fear over Common Core, and what it may encourage in the future.
Unfortunately, many of her fears may not be grounded. Common Core is a creature touted and rebuked across party lines, and myths cluster around it like a deep fog. The panelists expressed some realistic concerns with Common Core—but their rhetoric was perhaps too strong on certain points. One of the reasons Common Core has become the “most heated debate over education,” as Burke put it, may lie at the fault of such rhetoric. There is need for more “informational texts” on Common Core itself, before the debate can achieve any real lucidity.
Gentrification has consequences, as Ed Leibowitz’s Wednesday piece in Politico Magazine makes clear. Los Angeles is notorious for its rampant homelessness problems, and Skid Row was one of its most prominent corners of poverty, “an economic black hole in the middle of the city, where the helpless and hopeless washed up and would remain, very much out of sight and out of mind.” But as an urban boom has swept the U.S. in the past decade, things are changing:
… for several decades, the only signs of commercial life along this stretch of Main Street were dive bars, grimy convenience stores and gritty “single-room occupancy” hotels, home to the poorest of the city’s poor. Yet today the sidewalks bustle outside shops selling vegan cinnamon ice cream, $50 bottles of Rioja, artisanal cupcakes and those designer products for one’s pooch. Hipsters with beards worthy of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg emerge from lobbies of restored loft buildings where a two-bedroom apartment can go for as much as $3,000 a month … Skid Row, the homeless capital of the United States, is going upscale.
Where will the homeless go if Skid Row becomes an expensive hipsterville? This is a key question in Leibowitz’s story. He points to several efforts by non-profits and government agencies to procure housing for the homeless. Yet their efforts are often expensive—consider Gateway Apartments, a new $28 million housing complex just opened for the homeless. Leibowitz says its units “look like dorm rooms for college students who have won the campus housing lottery.” Homeless applicants must be chosen from a pool of applicants to live here. Is this better than procuring cheaper housing for a greater amount of people? Will Gateway housing be permanent, or do organizers intend to eventually cycle out current tenants to make room for more? How do they fairly judge which homeless people are “worthy” of housing?
Alice Callahan, director of Las Familias Del Pueblo in Los Angeles, has some of these concerns: ”We’re just choosing this homeless person over that homeless person, and we are saying the other one will stay on the sidewalk because we’re not offering them anything,” she tells Leibowitz. Callahan has helped numerous homeless procure cheap housing through her efforts. She sees a finite amount of housing available, and 5,000 Skid Row inhabitants who need a home.
In his excellent piece ”The Answer to Homelessness,” published in the March/April edition of TAC’s magazine, John Stoehr reported on Utah’s efforts to help the homeless—an initiative many conservatives are applauding due to its considerable success. Although the state gives away free housing, it’s still saving money: “When Utah officials added up the amount going into medical treatment and law enforcement, the cost to the state per homeless individual was more than $216,300 a year in 2007 dollars, according to Housing Works. The cost of housing, rent assistance, and full-time case management, meanwhile, was just $19,500.”
The state has decreased homelessness by 74 percent, and has saved money in the process. The problem, however, is that Utah is currently targeting a homeless population of 3,000 statewide—Skid Row alone has 5,000 homeless residents. Additionally, housing in Utah is likely to be cheaper overall than housing in Los Angeles. Nonetheless: there ought to be ways in which L.A. could imitate Utah’s efforts. By transitioning people into permanent housing, creating fair rent agreements, and offering the assistance of a full-time case worker, Utah has created a replicable model. The key, in L.A.’s case, may be figuring out logistics in a city where cheap housing is quickly diminishing.
To Callahan, the gentrification of Skid Row paints a rather callous portrait of the encroaching elites. But this urban growth needn’t become opportunity for apathy and cruelty. Much depends on the way Skid Row’s new inhabitants treat their homeless neighbors. While some may desire to push out the homeless, others may help support them.
“There’s a price that we are paying for homeless,” Sam Tsemberis said in 2012. “Not noticing is costing not only the people still homeless on the streets but it’s costing us. If we take for granted the feeling of seeing a homeless person and walking by, we have to shut down part of ourselves in order to tolerate the pain we’re walking past.”
Urban growth in L.A. is good—but the plight of the homeless mustn’t be ignored in its wake. Such disinterest doesn’t just affect the homeless: it has detrimental consequences for the elites, as well.
A glut of Ph.D.s and endlessly rising college tuition prompted Hollis Robbins to wonder in the Chronicle of Higher Education if we should revive the tradition of the private tutor at the post-secondary level.
As a matter of economics, why not consider the option of hiring a single professor to teach a first-year curriculum to a small number of students? At the level of the individual student, it may make sense to some families. Rather than spend $50,000 for a year of college at a selective private institution, one could hire a single Ivy League-trained individual with a doctorate and qualifications in multiple fields for, say, two-thirds the price (far more than an adjunct professor would make for teaching five courses at an average of $2,700 per course).
The idea becomes more attractive with multiple students. A half-dozen families (or the students themselves) could pool resources to hire a single professor, who would provide all six students with a tailored first-year liberal-arts education (leaving aside laboratory science) at a cost much lower than six private-college tuitions, and at the level of a real salary for a good sole-proprietor professor.
If Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like those offered by Udacity and Coursera assume that education is primarily a question of transferring skills, which can be learned and practiced with or without personal supervision, the latter-day Septimus Hodges envisioned by Robbins reinfuse the idea of apprenticeship to education.
An apprentice, immersed in the work of her mentor, has the chance to learn things that her teacher may not know how to verbalize. In Edward Frenkel’s memoir Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, he describes his apprenticeship in mathematics, where professors set him problems to work, and invited him to departmental lectures where he could learn not only how to use the theorems that had been threshed out of conjecture, but the process by which they were generated and tested, and the aesthetic standards that many of his fellow mathematicians believed were a guide to truth.
Trying to teach Frenkel mathematics solely though textbooks and lectures, brilliant as he was, would have made as much sense as teaching blacksmithing out of a book. No matter how detailed the diagrams and instructions, the book would capture only the elements of the discipline we knew how to pin down into what Daniel Kahneman would call System Two thinking—the work we do deliberately, not instinctively.
Many college classes feel like they could be eclipsed by MOOCs because they’re taught at such a remove from the teacher’s own experience of their discipline that apprenticeship is impossible. Apprenticeship is more common in the last two years of college and graduate school, when students have worked through the introductory material in their hundred person lectures and move on to seminars with professors. Robbins’s reform would be intended to bridge this gap (he imagines that after one or two years with a tutor, students would join normal universities as transfer students). Read More…
Rarely do opinion pieces in college newspapers emerge as subjects of national controversy, but a recent essay by Harvard student Sandra Y.L. Korn has generated widespread denunciation among conservatives. Her essay—entitled “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom“—argues for dispensing with longstanding commitments to “academic freedom” in favor of what she calls “academic justice.” Academic freedom permits the airing and defense of any and all views, but she rightly notes that some views have come to be largely unacceptable in academia today. Since such views are not only socially unacceptable, but often discouraged or even prohibited as a matter of university policy, why should they not also be banned when they are articulated as findings of faculty research?
If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom’? Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of ‘academic justice.’ When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
As might be expected, Ms. Korn’s essay has provoked strenuous criticism, including accusations of “academic totalitarianism,” investigations into her personal background aimed at exposing her as a limousine liberal, and criticism from at least one highly visible blusterer in the conservative media.
The default position of these conservatives is that Ms. Korn is attacking the sacred holy of the academic enterprise—academic freedom. In other words, mainstream conservatives have adopted the view of … John Stuart Mill, the lion of liberalism. The same John Stuart Mill who stated that most stupid people are likely to be conservative. And perhaps he had a point. Because academic freedom is not a particularly conservative principle. Academic freedom has been the vehicle by which the universities have been transformed into liberal bastions today, but it is now the inviolable principle that conservatives are rallying around in their denunciation of a Harvard undergraduate. True to form, and as I have argued in a previous column, American conservatives tend to be subject to drift, and almost inevitably end up occupying the territory once held by liberals when they move leftward. Their rallying to apparently contentless “academic freedom” is a particularly vivid case in point.
I agree with Ms. Korn—academic institutions inevitably are dedicated to some substantial commitments, and (often with difficulty) attempt to “patrol” those boundaries, if not with sticks, more often by populating their institutions with people who generally share those commitments. “Academic freedom” was the means by which the substantial commitments once held mainly by religious institutions were initially destabilized and eventually rejected, and provided the cover for their replacement with a new set of commitments. “Academic freedom” purports to be an openness to all views and opinions, but itself contains an implicit philosophy that eventually becomes manifest in, well, Sandra Korn (who is entitled to the confident assertion of the victory that has been won on today’s campuses by her teachers). Read More…
Late last night, McClatchy reported that the CIA inspector general has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the CIA illegally monitored Congressional staff investigating the Agency’s secret detention and interrogation programs. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent four years and $40 million investigating the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques in secret overseas prisons, producing a reportedly “searing” 6,300 page finding excoriating the Agency’s actions.
As part of this investigation, intelligence committee staff were required by the CIA to use Agency computers in a secure room in Langley to access millions of sensitive documents. Congressional investigators reportedly agreed to use those computers under the condition that their work not be monitored by the CIA, in accordance with due respect for the separation of powers and the integrity and independence of the investigation. Apparently, the spy mentality proved too strong to resist, as earlier this year the committee determined that their work had in fact been monitored in possible violation of their agreement.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report was finalized 15 months ago, and submitted to the CIA for classification vetting. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is now asking President Obama to strip the vetting control from the CIA, which may have been dragging its feet in allowing the release of a document that, according to McClatchy,
details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, according to public statements by committee members. It also shows, members have said, how the techniques didn’t provide the intelligence that led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) apparently was referring to this situation back on Jan. 9 when he asked CIA Director John Brennan whether the federal statue banning unauthorized computer access applied to the CIA. Brennan demurred.
McClatchy describes the situation following the criminal referral by the Inspector General to be “an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers.”
It must have been nearly 26 years ago, in the spring. On a Saturday, I was playing golf with my new boss, Owen Harries, editor of The National Interest. We were puzzling over Gorbachev, who was sounding and acting so damned reasonable. “It’s just counterintuitive” said Owen, and I of course concurred. Gorbachev’s behavior seemed to contravene everything I had learned in my fifteen or so years of reading intensely about Soviet communism, and Owen’s education was of course deeper still. That long bibliography, passionately devoured and fervently embraced: Adam Ulam, Medvedev, Orwell, Koestler, Raymond Aron, Solzhenitsyn, Nadezdha Mandelstam, dozens of articles in Commentary, Encounter, National Review-–all soon to be shifted to my mind’s attic. My Columbia University dissertation devoted to some minor but fascinating corner of the cultural Cold War, suddenly as timely as if it concerned the War of the Roses. I had come to The National Interest (then published by Irving Kristol) in no small part to fight communism, and now what was I going to do?
And yet of course, one couldn’t deny what a blessing it was. Suddenly the United Nations could get things done; we weren’t going to have an accidental civilization ending war; and Russia (Tolstoy, vodka, etc) could be appreciated without being some sort of dupe. On the first day the subway opened after 9/11, I overheard a young pretty blonde woman, Russian accent, flirting with her American beau as they stood in line to buy farecards. “So, ve are now going to be allies.” Poignant and delicious. And yet sad were the Yeltsin years: Russia seeming to disintegrate into alchoholism, falling birthrates, a great civilization, a core part of everyone’s mental architecture of the world, coming apart at the seams.
Looking around the American media in the past few days, I realize I am not very much in step with my countrymen. Stephen Cohen makes some sensible points about Putin’s obligations to Russia on PBS, saying basically, look Putin is not entirely the bad guy here, and no one should be trying to push Western institutions right up to Russia’s borders, and any responsible leader would have acted similarly , and the reaction–look at the comments!– is a kind of full-blown of rage. What drives it? Or more precisely, what is the motivation to try to drive the sphere of Western influence right up to Russia’s borders? Is it because our ambitions (and whose, exactly?) are insatiable? Because that seems to be it: we aren’t satisfied with the liberation of the satellites of Eastern Europe, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, former Cold War flashpoints and now NATO members; with the reunification of Germany and under Western auspices, so that Berlin is now a virtual capital of Nato; with the Baltic states as NATO members too. There seemed to be no end to it. We have learned from Robert Gates’s memoirs that at the time, Dick Cheney was advocating not only for the dismantlement of the Soviet empire (accomplished) but of Russia itself. Cheney then lacked the power to try carry this out, but what would have been the plan if he had? Read More…
Chaos erupted on Saturday afternoon at a Kunming railway station, in the Yunnan province of southwestern China. Ten men and women carrying scimitars and meat cleavers descended on unsuspecting passengers, slicing and stabbing at random. Unreleased photos depict multiple victims lying in pools of their own blood. All told, 130 people were injured and 30 were killed. Four suspects were shot and killed at the scene; one is currently detained while recovering from injuries. It is believed that there are currently five suspects are still at large. There was a heightened security presence at both the Kunming railway station and in Beijing on Monday. President Xi Jinping harshly condemned these acts, which have been classified as acts of terrorism. A vigil was held on Sunday to honor the dead and wounded.
The attack was linked to Uighur separatists, who hail from the Xinjiang province in northwest China, directly north of Tibet. Tensions have flared between the Han Chinese and the Turkic Muslim ethnic groups in the region for the last several years, each conflict bringing severe government crackdowns. Because of tight restrictions on reporting, there is speculation as to whether the government has exaggerated the Uighur terrorism in order to justify the use of violence. But there does seem to be legitimate unrest that is swept under the rug.
As recently as last October, Uighur separatists claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Tiananmen Square. The square represents both the heart of Chinese power and dissidence—25 years ago the square was the site of mass student demonstrations advocating for democracy. A photo of the suicide bombing features a single pillar of smoke stretching in front of Tiananmen tower, where the portrait of Mao Zedong looks impassively on. It is not yet known if one or several groups carry out these acts of violence, or if these groups coordinate their efforts.
The Xinjiang region consists of 45 percent Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim, and 40 percent Han Chinese. The Han Chinese are the dominant ethnic group in China, making up 94 percent of the population. As China’s population rises, the Chinese government has facilitated moving some of the Han population further West, to the consternation of the local Uighur population. The inhabitants of Xinjiang, a part of China heretofore known as an “autonomous region” consider the resettlement both a political and cultural imposition, and fear the loss of their culture by an ethnic hegemon.
Reports of armed attacks from Xinjiang began in 2008, when a woman detonated a bomb in protest of a prominent local businessman who died while in police custody. In 2009, multiple reports emerged of stabbings via hypodermic needles. Protesters took to the streets to display their disapproval with the ensuing investigation. Three years ago, 18 men took over a police station, shouting religious slogans and taking several hostages with knives and bombs. Fourteen of them were killed in a police confrontation.
The inherent opaqueness of such unrest is either incomplete or partially confirmed. In the midst of all the incomplete information, one fact remains clear: the unrest is no longer contained to a remote corner of China. The people responsible for committing this violence have brought the battle to the front and center of Chinese—and international—politics.
With Vladimir Putin’s dispatch of Russian troops into Crimea, our war hawks are breathing fire. Russophobia is rampant and the op-ed pages are ablaze here. Barack Obama should tune them out, and reflect on how Cold War presidents dealt with far graver clashes with Moscow.
When Red Army tank divisions crushed the Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956, killing 50,000, Eisenhower did not lift a finger. When Khrushchev built the Berlin Wall, JFK went to Berlin and gave a speech. When Warsaw Pact troops crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, LBJ did nothing. When, Moscow ordered Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski to smash Solidarity, Ronald Reagan refused to put Warsaw in default. These presidents saw no vital U.S. interest imperiled in these Soviet actions, however brutal. They sensed that time was on our side in the Cold War. And history has proven them right.
What is the U.S. vital interest in Crimea? Zero. From Catherine the Great to Khrushchev, the peninsula belonged to Russia. The people of Crimea are 60 percent ethnic Russians. And should Crimea vote to secede from Ukraine, upon what moral ground would we stand to deny them the right, when we bombed Serbia for 78 days to bring about the secession of Kosovo? Across Europe, nations have been breaking apart since the end of the Cold War. Out of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia came 24 nations. Scotland is voting on secession this year. Catalonia may be next.
Yet, today, we have the Wall Street Journal describing Russia’s sending of soldiers to occupy airfields in Ukraine as a “blitzkrieg” that “brings the threat of war to the heart of Europe,” though Crimea is east even of what we used to call Eastern Europe. The Journal wants the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush sent to the Eastern Mediterranean and warships of the U.S. Sixth Fleet sent into the Black Sea. But why? We have no alliance that mandates our fighting Russia over Crimea. We have no vital interest there. Why send a flotilla other than to act tough, escalate the crisis and risk a clash? Read More…