Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Young Muslims from Europe are traveling to the Middle East in growing numbers to join ISIS. They have been involved in the beheadings of Western hostages and are busy urging others to leave Europe and the United States as well to join their ranks.
There is, if seems, at least some level of support for this extremism within immigrant communities. A poll of British Muslims found that 27 percent had some sympathy for the motives behind January's Islamist attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. Eleven percent agreed that those who publish images of the Prophet Mohammed deserve to be attacked. The poll was conducted for the BBC between January 26 and February 20. There are about 2.8 million Muslims in Britain, about 4.4 percent of the population. "These are, as far as I'm concerned, worrying statistics," said Sayeeda Warsi, who was Britain's first female Muslim minister, before resigning last year over the government's policy on the war in Gaza.
In France, as the nation reeled from the terrorist attacks in Paris, reports filled the newspapers and T.V. newscasts of young Muslim students refusing to honor the dead, highlighting the sharp divisions in French society. Young Muslims in France live largely in a separate, segregated world. A 2012 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that France leads Europe in educational inequalities stemming from social and ethnic origins. France's National Council for the Evaluation of the School System has spoken of "school ghettos," referring to districts where dropout rates are high and performances exceptionally weak.
Starting in the 1950s, immigrants from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia began arriving in France. They were often sent to isolated housing projects that bred alienation. The expected smooth integration never took place. Despite a high unemployment rate, approximately 200,000 immigrants have arrived in France every year since 2004. Muslims now make up about 8 percent of the country, constituting the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Four out of ten French recently surveyed said they considered Muslims "to be a threat to our national identity." Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's increasingly popular National Front, referred to Muslims praying in the street as an "occupation" of France.
The failure of France and other European countries to assimilate their growing Muslim immigrant population into the larger society is sowing seeds of future turmoil. The exodus of young recruits to ISIS from the immigrant neighborhoods of Paris, London, Brussels, Copenhagen, and other European cities is a indication of further turmoil to come. These young people with British, Danish, and French passports are likely to return and emulate the terrorist attacks we have recently witnessed.
Americans are not immune from this phenomenon. The attack upon the Boston Marathon is one example. The numbers of young American Muslims who have joined ISIS are, thus far, small, but efforts to recruit in immigrant communities, as among Somalis in Minnesota, are growing. But our own society has some experience with assimilating immigrants from around the world, integrating them into our society, and making them Americans. As Herman Melville said in the 19th century, "If you shed a drop of American blood, you shed the blood of the whole world." For its own survival, Europe would do well to study our melting pot experience.
Some time ago, Professor Seymour Martin Lipset of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, criticized those who were promoting bilingualism and multiculturalism in American public schools:
The history of bilingual and bicultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension and tragedy. Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, and Lebanon - all face crises of national existence in which minorities press for autonomy, if not independence. Pakistan and Cyprus have divided. Nigeria suppressed an ethnic rebellion. France faces difficulties with its Basques, Bretons, and Corsicans.
Remembering the way American public schools served to bring children of immigrants into the mainstream, Fotine Z. Nicholas, who taught for 30 years in New York City schools and wrote an education column for a Greek-American weekly, notes:
I recall with nostalgia the way things used to be. At P.S. 82 in Manhattan, 90 percent of the students had European-born parents. Our teachers were mostly of Irish origin, and they tried hard to homogenize us. We might refer to ourselves as Czech or Hungarian or Greek but we developed a pride in being American. . . . There were two unifying factors: the attitude of our teachers and the English language. . . . After we started school, we spoke only English to our siblings, our classmates and our friends. We studied and wrote in English, we played in English, we thought in English.
Successive waves of immigrants have assimilated into the American society. They entered a United States that had self-confidence and believed in its own culture, history, and values, and was determined to transmit them to the newcomers. And the immigrants themselves wanted to become Americans. Our traditional response to the problem of assimilation, The Economist points out:
. . . was to treat each immigrant as an individual. . . . The essential American promise is that individuals will rise or fall on their own merits. . . . Waving the banner of diversity, opponents of the melting pot are in danger of promoting ethnic division as a matter of public policy. . . . The government should not only oppose legal distinctions between ethnic groups; it should also do more to build a common American culture through education. . . . If children are taught to see themselves as members of an ethnic group, rather than as Americans, the U.S. will rapidly become disunited.
If some in the U.S. have retreated from our melting pot philosophy, the countries of Western Europe have never properly embraced it. They seem not to know how to make their Muslim immigrants French, British, or Belgian. Perhaps they should have considered this dilemma more carefully before they opened their doors to these immigrants. They now have a lot of catching up to do.
It is important to remember that by coming to the U.S. and Western Europe, immigrants are voting with their feet for our system and our way of life. They should be helped to assimilate into our societies, not to recreate here and in Europe the very systems they have escaped at such high cost.
In his Wriston lecture on "Universal Civilization," V. S. Naipaul, the son of immigrant Indian laborers who grew up in post-colonial Trinidad and was educated in England, contrasts some of the static, inward-looking, insular, backsliding "non-Western" cultures with that spreading "universal civilization" that he finds to be based on Jefferson's idea of the pursuit of happiness. Discussing the essence of Western civilization, which sets it apart from others, Naipaul characterizes it in these terms:
The ideal of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system nor generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.
The American society traces the rights we take for granted back to the Magna Carta. The idea of trial by jury, due process of law and limits upon government power come from this ancient English charter. The fact that the majority of present-day Americans cannot trace their individual ancestry to England bears little relationship to the British nature of American culture. In America's British Culture, Russell Kirk argues that:
Two centuries after the first U.S. census was taken, nearly every race and nationality in the world had contributed to the American population, but the culture of America remains British. . . . The many millions of newcomers to the U.S. have accepted integration into the British-descended American culture with little protest, and often with great willingness.
The challenge for Western Europe is to assimilate its growing Muslim immigrant population into the French, British and other cultures and societies in which they now live. The American experience provides a model of how this might be achieved. If these immigrants remain isolated and alienated, Europe will face increasingly stormy days ahead.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor who went on to serve as Democratic U.S. senator from New York for nearly a quarter-century, issued a report warning of a crisis growing for America's black families. It reported a dramatic increase in out-of-wedlock births and one-parent families and warned of the "tangle of pathologies" which resulted. Among these were poor performance in school, increased drug use, and a growing rate of incarceration for crime.
"The Moynihan argument . . . assumed that the troubles impending for black America were unique," writes Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute.
. . . a consequence of the singular historical burdens that black Americans had endured in our country. That argument was not only plausible at the time, but also persuasive. Yet today that same "tangle of pathology" can no longer be described as characteristic of just one group within our country. Quite the contrary . . . these pathologies are evident throughout all of America today, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Single motherhood has become so common in America that demographers believe that half of all children will live with a single mother at some point before age 18. Research from Princeton University's Sara McLanahan and Harvard University's Christopher Jencks shows that more than 70 percent of all black children are born to an unmarried mother, a threefold increase since the 1960s.
In a new paper, McLanahan and Jencks assess the state of children born to single mothers, nearly fifty years after the Moynihan Report warned that the growing number of fatherless black children would struggle to avoid poverty. The report looks prescient. Black children today are about twice as likely as the national average to live with an unmarried mother. Research is confirming Moynihan's fears that children of unmarried mothers face more obstacles in life.
In the studies reviewed by McLanahan and Jencks, it was found that these children experience more family instability, with new partners moving in and out, and more half-siblings fathered by different men. The growing number of studies in this field also suggest that these children have more problem behaviors and more trouble finishing school.
The growing debate about income inequality ignores the evidence that shows that unwed parents raise poorer children. Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution calculates that returning marriage rates to their 1970 level would lower the child poverty rate by a fifth. There may be a partisan political reason why this point is not made more often. The Economist suggests that, "This omission may be deliberate. Democrats are reluctant to offend unmarried women, 60 percent of whom voted for the party's candidates in 2014."
There may be, some observers point out, a connection between government welfare programs and the breakdown of the family, as well as the declining number of men in the workforce. As late as 1963, on the eve of the War on Poverty, more than 93 percent of American babies were coming into the world with two married parents. According to the 1960 census, nearly 88 percent of children under 18 were then living with two parents. For the quarter century from 1940 to 1965, official data recorded a rise in the fraction of births to unmarried women from 3.8 percent to 7.7 percent. Over the following quarter century, 1965-1990, out-of-wedlock births jumped from 7.7 percent of the nationwide total to 28 percent. The most recently available data are for 2012, which shows America's over-all out-of-wedlock ratio had moved beyond 40 percent.
The trends discussed in the 1965 Moynihan Report for black families have now extended to American families of all racial backgrounds. Among Hispanic Americans, more than 30 percent of children were in single-parent homes by 2013, and well over half were born out of wedlock by 2012. Among non-Hispanic white Americans, there were few signs of family breakdown before the massive government entitlement programs began with the War on Poverty in the 1960s. Between 1940 and 1963, the out-of-wedlock birth ratio increased, but only from 2 percent to 3 percent. In 1960, just 6 percent of white children lived with single mothers. As of 2012, the proportion of out-of-wedlock births was 29 percent, nearly 10 times as high as it was just before the War on Poverty.
In his study, The Great Society at Fifty: The Triumph and the Tragedy, Nicholas Eberstadt argues that:
What is indisputable . . . is that the new American welfare state facilitated these new American trends by helping to finance them: by providing support for working-age men who are no longer seeking employment and for single women with children who would not be able to maintain independent households without government aid. Regardless of the origins of the flight from work and family breakdown, the War on Poverty and successive welfare policies have made each of these modern tendencies more feasible as mass phenomena in our country today.
The War on Poverty, of course, did not envision such a result. These were unintended consequences that, as we have seen, are often the case with many well-intentioned government programs. President Lyndon Johnson wanted to bring dependence on government handouts to an eventual end, and did not intend to perpetuate them into the future. Three months after his Great Society speech, Johnson declared:
We are not content to accept the endless growth of relief rolls of welfare rolls. . . . Our American answer to poverty is not to make the poor more secure in their poverty but to reach down and to help them lift themselves out of the ruts of poverty and move with the large majority along the high road of hope and prosperity.
In Eberhardt's view:
Held against this ideal, the actual unfolding of America's antipoverty policies can be seen only as a tragic failure. Dependence on government relief, in its many modern versions, is more widespread today, and possibly also more habitual, than at any time in our history. To make matters much worse, such aid has become integral to financing lifestyles and behavioral patterns plainly destructive to our commonwealth - and on a scale far more vast than could have been imagined in an era before such antipoverty aid was all but unconditionally available.
Any serious discussion of poverty and the growing gaps in income must confront the reasons why, for example, in the past 50 years, the fraction of civilian men ages 25 to 34 who were neither working nor looking for work has quadrupled and that for many women, children, and even working-age men, the entitlement state has become the breadwinner. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said "the issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it, but what it costs those who receive it."
At the heart of the social and economic decline we face at the present time is the breakdown of the family. Few in the political arena, in either party, are addressing this question. Unless they do, their proposals to move our economy forward and lessen the gaps in income and wealth are unlikely to succeed.
The attacks upon police for "racism" have been mounting as a result of the killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, and elsewhere. Many with a history of demagoguery when it comes to questions of race relations, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton among them, have done their best to keep this issue alive. Sadly, they have cast more heat than light on a question that is far more complex than their self-serving analysis would lead Americans to believe.
Recently, FBI director James Comey addressed this question. At the outset, he declared certain "hard truths," including the fact that the history of law enforcement has been tied to enforcing slavery, segregation, and other forms of discrimination. "One reason we cannot forget our law enforcement legacy," he said, "is that the people we serve and protect cannot forget it, either."
Mr. Comey also acknowledged the existence of unconscious racial bias "in our white-majority culture," and how that influences policing. He conceded that people in law enforcement can develop "different flavors of cynicism" that can be "lazy mental shortcuts," resulting in more pronounced racial profiling.
But he then warned against using police as scapegoats to avoid coming to grips with much more complex problems affecting minority communities, including a lack of "role models, adequate education, and decent employment," as well as "all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted." In his address at Georgetown University, Comey declared:
I worry that this incredibly important and difficult conversation about policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law enforcement officers when it should also be about something much harder to discuss.
Citing the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" from the Broadway show "Avenue Q," Comey said that police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently using a mental shortcut that "becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights" because black men commit crime at a much higher rate than white men.
Comey said that nearly all police officers had joined the force because they wanted to help others. Speaking in personal terms, he described how most Americans had initially viewed Irish immigrants like his ancestors "as drunks, ruffians, and criminals." He noted that, "Law enforcement's biased view of the Irish lives on in the nickname we still use for the vehicle that transports groups of prisoners. It is, after all, the 'Paddy Wagon.'"
If black men are committing crime out of proportion to their numbers, it is important to consider the reason. According to a report just released by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI), by age 17, only 17 percent of black teenagers live with two married parents. Professor Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociologist who is black, published an article in December in the Chronicle of Higher Education, lamenting that "fearful" sociologists had abandoned "studies of the cultural dimensions of poverty, particularly black poverty," and declared that the discipline had become "largely irrelevant."
Now, Patterson and Ethan Fosse, a Harvard doctoral student, are publishing a new anthology called The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth. In Patterson's view, fifty years after Daniel Moynihan issued his report about the decline of the black family, "History has been kind to Moynihan." Moynihan was concerned about an out-of-wedlock birth rate in the black community of 25 percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the equivalent rate for 2013 was 71.5 percent. (The rate for non-Hispanic whites was 29.3 percent.)
The inner-city culture that promotes the social dissolution that results in crime has been written about for many years by respected black observers. In 1899, the scholar W. E. B. Du Bois drew on interviews and census data to produce The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. He spent a year living in the neighborhood he wrote about, in the midst of what he described as "an atmosphere of dirt, drunkenness, poverty and crime." He observed in language much harsher than Moynihan's, the large number of unmarried mothers, many of whom he referred to as "ignorant and loose." He called upon whites to stop employment discrimination, which he called "morally wrong, politically dangerous, industrially wasteful, and socially silly." He told black readers they had a duty to work harder, to behave better, and to stem the tide of "Negro crime," which he called "a menace to civilized people."
In 1999, on the hundredth anniversary of Du Bois's study, Elijah Anderson published a new sociological study of poor black neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Code of the Street, and recorded its informants' characterization of themselves and their neighbors as either "decent" or "street" or, in some cases, a bit of both. In The Cultural Matrix, Orlando Patterson lists "three main social groups" - the middle class, the working class, and "disconnected street people" that are common in "disadvantaged" African-American neighborhoods. He also lists "four focal cultural configurations" (adapted mainstream, proletarian, street, and hip-hop).
Patterson views the "hip-hop" culture of the inner city as a destructive phenomenon, and compares MC Hammer to Nietzsche, contends that hip-hop routinely celebrates "forced abortions" and calls Lil Wayne "irredeemably vulgar" and "all too typical" of the genre. Thomas Shelby, a professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard, writes in The Cultural Matrix that "suboptimal cultural traits" are the major impediment for many African-Americans seeking to escape poverty. "Some in ghetto communities," he writes, "are believed to devalue traditional co-parenting and to eschew mainstream styles of childbearing."
In his speech on race in 2008, President Obama said that African-Americans needed to take more responsibility for their own communities by "demanding more from our fathers." Fifty years ago, Daniel Moynihan worried that "the Negro community" was in a state of decline with an increasingly matriarchal family structure that led to increasing crime. In the fifteen years after he published his report, the homicide rate doubled, with blacks overrepresented among both perpetrators and victims.
Orlando Patterson, in a recent interview with Slate, said: "I am not in favor of a national conversation on race," and noted that most white people in America had come to accept racial equality. But whether or not such a "national conversation" is useful, we are now in the midst of such an enterprise. FBI director Comey is contributing to that exchange. He asks:
Why are so many black men in jail? Is it because cops, prosecutors, judges and juries are racist because they are turning a blind eye to white robbers and drug dealers? . . . I don't think so. If it were so, that would be easier to address. . . . The percentage of young men not working or not enrolled in school is nearly twice as high for blacks as it is for whites. . . . Young people in those neighborhoods too often inherit a legacy of crime and prison, and with that inheritance they become part of the police officer's life and shape the way that officer, whether white or black, sees the world. Changing that legacy is a challenge so enormous and so complicated that it is, unfortunately, easier to talk only about the cops. And that's not fair.
American students are less proficient in their nation's history than in any other subject, according to results of a recent nationwide test, with most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.
Diane Ravitch, an education historian, was invited by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which conducted the test, to review the results. She said she was particularly concerned by the fact that only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education. Students were given an excerpt including the following passage and were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct:
We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
Ms. Ravitch declared: "The answer was right in front of them. This is alarming." Secretary of education Arne Duncan said, "The results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education."
Yet, if we are not teaching history in our schools, there is widespread interest in our history in the larger society. Biographies of figures such as Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson have all been best sellers in recent years. Television series about major historical events such as the Civil War have attracted large audiences.
Now, much attention is being given to a new study of the Declaration of Independence, Our Declaration, by Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Danielle's father, Bill Allen, is also an academic and scholar. He was one of the early black conservatives and has long opposed race-based programs that judged men and women on the basis of their race and ethnic background rather than their individual merit.
While many Americans think of Thomas Jefferson as the sole author of the Declaration, Danielle Allen points out that, "The monumental achievement of Thomas Jefferson is, ultimately, to have produced a first draft."
She notes that Jefferson shared his draft with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, who offered suggestions. It then went through the Committee of Five and on to Congress, that from July 2 to July 4 edited the Declaration extensively, "much to Jefferson's chagrin." Congress cut about a quarter of Jefferson's words, added some references to divinity and took out a section attacking slavery.
In Allen's view:
With changes such as these, with God edited in and a condemnation of slavery elided, Congress achieved a text that the men of that day and age could live with, including Jefferson, grumpily.
She views this process in positive terms. Jefferson, she writes, produced a work of such "philosophical integrity and unquestionable brilliance" that it could survive the "intense committee work." And, she argues, the committee work reflected the Founders' belief in equality.
This process of "democratic writing," coming after many months of discussion and argument not only in Philadelphia but throughout the colonies, is, Allen believes, worthy of celebration:
There is no other way for a free and equal people to chart its course. Our only chance to achieve collective happiness comes through extensive conversation punctuated here and there with votes, which will themselves over time, in their imperfection, simply demand of us more talk.
The Declaration declares the right of a people to create a government "most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." This in turn, writes Allen, rested on a radical notion: "As judges of our own happiness, we are equals," and, as a result, "the unrelenting work for which each of us, in face of this equality, must take responsibility."
The book Our Declaration is a line-by-line, often word-by-word commentary on our Founding document. The inspiration to write the book was stimulated by Danielle Allen's experience teaching the Declaration to night school students in Chicago. She writes about growing up in a mixed-race African-American family whose dinner conversations often turned to the Declaration and its pronouncement that "all men" are created equal.
The book has stirred some controversy. Reviewing Our Declaration in The New York Times Book Review, Professor Steven B. Smith of Yale writes:
This book makes three large claims about the Declaration of Independence, one that is profoundly true, another that is debatable, and a third, I would say, that is false. Its principal truth is that when Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal," this genuinely meant to apply to all, black as well as white. There is moral cosmopolitanism in the Declaration's language.
Second, Smith notes, is the considerable attention Allen devotes to the famous "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" clause. He asks:
How much does the Declaration depend on a theistic orientation? Jefferson and his colleagues speak of rights as being endowed by our Creator. An endowment suggests that these rights are not self-created but a gift. Yet as Allen correctly notes, the God invoked by the Declaration is certainly not the God of the Bible. . . . Allen seems to argue . . . that the language of divinity is entirely marginal to the text . . . she says the Declaration's language of "self-evident" truths is drawn not from Scripture but from logic. . . . She confidently affirms that one does not need to be a theist to accept the arguments of the Declaration. It is not at all clear that this confidence was shared by the authors of the text.
What Smith finds to be Allen's "least plausible" assertion is her claim about the "group writing" that went into the composition of the Declaration. She expresses the view that group writing shows how something called the "collective mind" contributes to the production of our shared moral vocabulary. Smith disagrees. He notes that Jefferson's original draft contained a strong denunciation of the slave trade as a "war against human nature," and writes that:
The passage was deleted by the Continental Congress as too inflammatory. . . . Jefferson's relationship to slavery was, as Allen observes, "maddeningly complex," but had his words not been compromised by the group, they would have rendered impossible later misrepresentations of the Declaration as expressing the economic self-interest of the slave owners.
Another area of debate has been Allen's belief that "equality" is central in the Declaration.
Traditionally, American society has seen the claims of liberty and equality as pulling in opposite directions. And in the battle between liberty and equality, the claims of individual liberty have held the dominant position. There is, of course, some historical evidence to back up Allen's claim. In Democracy In America, written in 1835, Alexis De Tocqueville wrote that, "Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom."
More often, however, we have understood "equality" to mean equal opportunity to go as far as our individual talents and hard work will take us, as well as equality before the law, and in the eyes of God, not equality of condition. In Capitalism and Freedom, economist Milton Friedman states that, "The 19th century liberal regarded an extension of freedom as the most effective way to promote welfare and equality; the 20th-century liberal regards welfare and equality as either prerequisites of or alternatives to freedom."
Whether or not one agrees with all of Danielle Allen's conclusions, the fact is that she has produced an important book. Her passion for each of the Declaration's 1,337 words is extraordinary. And to see Americans focusing on their history, exploring what Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and their colleagues really meant, is hardly a minor achievement in our era of popular culture and political correctness.
In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris, which included an assault on a kosher grocery store, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to France and urged French Jews to flee their country and emigrate - make "aliyah" - to Israel.
He declared: "I wish to tell all French and European Jews - Israel is your home." He said that he would convene a special committee to promote emigration from France and other European countries.
Yair Lapid, Netanyahu's former finance minister, said: "European Jewry must understand that there is just one place for Jews, and that is the state of Israel." This, of course, is what Zionism believes, that Israel is the "homeland" of all Jews and that those Jews living in France, England, the United States and elsewhere are really in "exile."
This, of course, is an ideological construct that has no relationship to reality. The overwhelming majority of American Jews, for example, have always believed that Judaism is a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and that rather than being in "exile" in America, they are fully at home. This view has been expressed repeatedly in our history. In 1841, at the dedication ceremony of Temple Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, Rabbi Gustav Poznanski declared: "This country is our Palestine, this city our Jerusalem, this house of God our temple."
There is widespread dismay in France at the Israeli notion that French Jews are not really French and their real "home" is Israel. The horrors of terrorism that have been inflicted upon Paris and elsewhere are being confronted by the governments involved. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, "If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure."
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, said that far better than emigration to Israel, would be the preservation and protection of Jewish life in the many countries Jews call home. He regretted that
. . . after every anti-Semitic act in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statement about the importance of aliyah rather than employ every diplomatic and international means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe.
He said: "The Israeli government must stop this Pavlovian response every time there is an attack against Jews in Europe."
Yonathan Arli, Vice President of CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish institutions in France, says that he believes Jews should remain in France, which is their home. "We have had a Jewish community living here for more than a thousand years," he said.
We went through bombing attacks, the Holocaust, acts of terrorism, and we are not about to leave now. We just want to be safe.
Writing from Paris in The Forward, Laurent-David Samama notes that while some French Jews might be considering emigration:
. . . others - including young Jews like me - feel that making aliyah is a too-easy escape; it's simply not the answer. Those of us who remain in Paris, Marseille or Lyon are determined not to let the terrorists win. Throughout French history, Jews have experienced many periods of crisis. We've always overcome them, and we will overcome them again. Now more than ever . . . there is another communal faction that believes France needs us to stay here, to play the role of social whistleblower.
Smadar Bar-Akiva, executive director of JCC Global, a network of Jewish community centers, declared:
Jews in France clearly feel that last week's events were a turning point in their lives. Yet the calls for French Jews to pack their bags and make aliyah are disturbing and self-serving. . . . It will be more constructive to help French Jewry continue the educational and social work they are already doing.
Uri Avnery, the leader of Israel's peace movement, Gush Shalom, noted that:
The blood of the four Jews murdered in the kosher supermarket was not yet dry when Israeli leaders called upon the Jews of France to pack up and come to Israel. Israel, as everybody knows, is the safest place on earth. This was an almost automatic Zionist gut reaction. . . . The basic belief of Zionism is that Jews cannot live anywhere except in the Jewish state, because the victory of anti-Semitism is inevitable everywhere. Let the Jews of America rejoice in their freedom and prosperity - sooner or later they will come to an end. They are doomed like Jews everywhere outside of Israel. The new outrage in Paris confirms this basic belief. There was very little real commiseration in Israel. Rather a secret sense of triumph. The gut reaction of ordinary Israelis is: "We told you so!" and "Come quickly, before it's too late."
Israel is doing its best to make Jews feel unsafe in their native countries. In mid-January, the Israeli embassy in Dublin posted an image on Facebook showing the Mona Lisa wearing a hijab and carrying a large rocket. The line underneath read, "Israel is the last frontier of the free world." In a similar vein, the Arab Affairs correspondent of Israel's Channel 10 broadcast a fear-mongering "investigation" from London supposedly proving that the city was overrun with Islamic extremists.
Writing in Mondoweiss, Jonathan Cook points to the similar worldview of Zionists and traditional anti-Semites:
Israeli politicians of both right and left have parroted his (Netanyahu's) message that European Jews know "in their hearts that they have only one country." The logical corollary is that Jews cannot be loyal to other states they live in, such as France. . . . In this regard, Netanyahu and the far right share much common ground. He wants a Europe free of Jews. The far right wants the same. . . . One Israeli commentator noted pointedly that Israeli politicians like Netanyahu "were helping to finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.
Sadly, the Israeli government has never recognized that Jewish citizens of France, the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries are not "Israelis in exile." Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly called upon American Jews to make a "mass aliyah" to Israel. No other foreign government argues that millions of Americans, because of their religion, are in "exile" in the United Stated and that their real "homeland" is that foreign country.
Such claims distort the meaning of Judaism almost completely. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center was "a contradiction to Judaism's ultimate purpose." He wrote:
Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which can be localized in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a "nationality" in the sense of modern nationalism. . . . No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit. . . . It cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as Scripture said of Torah, "Its measure is greater than the earth."
Israel should be content to be the "homeland" of its own citizens, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and stop attempting to speak in the name of millions of men and women who are citizens of other countries. No other country does this. And its call for French Jews to abandon their country at a time of crisis is unseemly in the extreme. Claude Lanzmann, the widely respected French Jewish filmmaker, best known for his Holocaust documentary film Shoah, said, quite wisely, that following Benjamin Netanyahu's advice would have only one result, giving Hitler, who did his best to rid France and all of Europe of Jews, "a posthumous victory." *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
In recent days, in the wake of a number of questionable interactions between the police and black men, there have been demonstrations, sometimes violent, proclaiming that "racism" is embedded in the American society. Addressing these protests, President Obama said that racism is "deeply rooted" in our country.
In an interview with BET early in December, Mr. Obama declared:
This is something that is deeply rooted in our history. When you're dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias . . . you've got to have vigilance. . . .
Those who proclaim that America is a "racist" society do not tell us which other countries - either contemporary or historical - they are comparing it to. If they did look around the world - or through history - they would find that our society, although flawed as is every human endeavor, is unique - not for drawing lines between people but for embracing something quite different. American nationality is not based on common race, religion, or ethnic background, but on a commitment to live in a free and open society, with the fulfillment of the responsibilities of citizenship. Americans come in all colors, religions, and backgrounds. Japanese, Swedes, Nigerians and most other nations do not.
Those who proclaim the "racist society" thesis often go back to the question of slavery, as if this inhumane practice was an American invention. From the beginning of recorded history until the 19th century, slavery was the way of the world. Rather than some American uniqueness in practicing slavery, the fact is that in 1787, when the Constitution was being written, slavery was legal everyplace in the world. What stands out is that in the American colonies there was strenuous objection to slavery and that the most prominent framers of the Constitution wanted to eliminate it at the very start of the nation.
Slavery is as old as recorded history. Most people in the ancient world regarded slavery as a natural condition of life, one that could befall anyone at any time. It existed among nomadic pastoralists in Asia, hunting societies of North American Indians, and sea people such as the Norsemen. The legal codes of Sumeria provide documentary evidence that slavery existed there as early as the 4th millennium B.C. The Sumerian symbol for slaves in cuneiform writing suggests "foreign."
The poems of Homer supply evidence that slavery was an integral part of ancient Greek society, possibly as early as 1200 B.C. Plato opposed enslavement of Greeks by Greeks, regarding bondservants as essentially inferior beings. His pupil Aristotle considered slaves as mere tools, lucky to have the guidance of their masters. At the time of Pericles, Athens had 43,000 citizens, who alone were entitled to vote and discharge political functions, 28,500 metics, or resident aliens, and 115,000 slaves. A century and a half later, Demetrius of Phalerum took a census of the city and counted only 21,000 citizens, 10,000 metics and 400,000 slaves.
The Bible ratifies slavery, although it called for humane treatment of slaves. In England, 10 percent of the persons enumerated in the Domesday Book (A.D. 1086) were slaves, and these could be put to death with impunity. Portugal imported large numbers of African slaves to work her estates in the southern provinces and to do menial labor in the cities from 1444 on. By the middle of the 16th century, Lisbon had more black than white residents. In 1515, the Portugese king ordered that they be denied Christian burial and thrown into a "common ditch" called "Poco dos Negros."
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, not a single nation had made slavery illegal. As they looked back through history, the framers saw slavery as an accepted and acceptable institution. It was not until 1792 that Denmark became the first Western nation to abolish the slave trade. What stands out historically is that so many of the leading men of the American colonies of that day wanted to eliminate it - and pressed vigorously to do so.
Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris were in the forefront of the opposition to slavery and the slave trade. One of the great debates at the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade. George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal:
This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British government constantly checked the attempt of Virginia to put a stop to it. . . . Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. . . . Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country.
While many criticized the framers for not eliminating the slave trade immediately, others understood that they had set in motion an opposition to slavery that would bear fruit in the future. Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut stated:
Slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country. Provision is already made in Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition has already taken place in Massachusetts.
Professor Samuel Huntington points to the truly historic meaning of the Constitutional Convention and its product:
This is a new event in the history of mankind. Heretofore most governments have been formed by tyrants, and imposed on mankind by force. Never before did a people, in time of peace and tranquility, meet together by their representatives and, with calm deliberation, frame for themselves a system of government.
It took a Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the civil rights movement, and legislation ending racial discrimination to move our society toward the goal of color-blindness, to judging each citizen, as Martin Luther King urged, on the content of his or her character, not the color of their skin. Today, black Americans face no glass ceilings. We have a black president and attorney general and have had two black Secretaries of State. Things are not perfect, and they never will be. But we should sometimes pause and remember how far we have come.
In a recent interview with New York Magazine, comedian Chris Rock, who is black, discussed his daughters:
I drop my kids off and watch them in the school with all these mostly white kids, and I got to tell you. I drill them every day: Did anything happen today? Did anybody say anything? They look at me like I am crazy. . . . My kids grew up not only with a black president but with a black Secretary of State, a black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a black Attorney General. My children are going to be the first black children in the history of America to actually have the benefit of the doubt of just being moral, intelligent people. . . . The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced.
Ellis Close, who is black, wrote a book, The Rage of a Privileged Class, in 1993 in which he argued that many successful black Americans "were seething about what they saw as the nation's broken promise of equal opportunity." More recently, Close, a Newsweek columnist, wrote:
Now, Barack Obama sits in the highest office in the land and a series of high-powered African-Americans have soared to the uppermost realms of their professions. The idea of a glass ceiling is almost laughable. Serious thinkers are searching for a new vocabulary to explain an America where skin color is an unreliable marker of status. . . .
The history of the world, sadly, shows us people at war with one another over questions of race, religion, and ethnicity. Today, radical Islamists are killing people because they are of another religion. In Israel there are efforts to define the state as legally "Jewish," thereby making its 20 percent non-Jewish population less than full citizens. Russia has invaded and absorbed Crimea to absorb its ethnic Russian population. Anti-immigrant parties are gaining strength in Sweden, Denmark, England, Germany, and other European countries. When Britain left India, millions of Muslims were forced to leave Hindu-majority India and form Pakistan - at the cost of an untold number of lives. We have seen millions of Armenians slaughtered by Turks. We have witnessed genocide carried out by Nazi Germany, by Rwanda, by the Khmer Rouge. We could fill pages with a record of such horrors.
Those who glibly call America a "racist" society are not comparing it to anyplace in the real world, either historically or at the present time. They are comparing it to perfection and here, of course, we fail, as would any collection of human beings. But our collection of human beings includes men and women of every race and nation. There are problems and difficulties but the real story is our great success in molding a nation from people who have journeyed to our shores from every place on earth. As Herman Melville said many years ago, "If you shed a drop of American blood, you shed the blood of the whole world." This, not "racism," which, after all, is prevalent in one form or another, everywhere, is America's genuine achievement. Occasional eruptions of intolerance should not obscure this greater reality.
The killings of two police officers in New York City has focused attention upon the anti-police rhetoric which, in the view of many, helped to create an atmosphere in which such an action could take place.
The New York gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on social media that he intended to kill cops, and was angry about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who were killed by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.
Police in New York believe that Mayor Bill de Blasio has helped create an anti-police atmosphere in the city. After two police lieutenants were attacked by protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge, de Blasio described them as having been "allegedly assaulted," terminology which many police officers found offensive.
There have been a number of instances in which the mayor's statements have antagonized the police. Earlier in December, de Blasio spoke to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News about his fears for his biracial son:
It's different for a white child. And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, "Look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don't move suddenly, don't reach for your cell phone," because we knew, sadly, there's a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.
This echoed previous statements the mayor had made, going back to a campaign ad in which he pointed to his Afro-wearing teenage son to explain his opposition to the New York Police Department's controversial "stop and frisk" tactic, which entailed stopping hundreds of thousands of people a year for what was deemed suspicious activity. The vast majority of those targeted were nonwhite and innocent of any wrongdoing.
The new mayor, the first Democrat to be elected in New York for twenty years, represents a sharp turn from the close alliance between his predecessors, Rudolf Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, and law enforcement. Recriminations against de Blasio began within hours of the news that officers had been shot at point-blank range as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, and that the gunman had been motivated to kill them as retribution for the deaths of black men at the hands of police.
A video of the arrival of de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton at the hospital, where officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos had been taken, showed dozens of police officers silently turning their backs. "There's blood on many hands . . ." said Patrick Lynch, president of the largest police union,
. . . those who incited violence on the street in the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it shouldn't be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.
Former New York City officials are critical of what they call the "anti-cop" environment created by the White House, activists such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as well as Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Eric Holder. "We've had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police," said former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. "They have created an atmosphere of severe, strong, anti-police hatred in certain communities, and for that, they should be ashamed of themselves."
Former New York Governor George Pataki said that Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Holder have frequently used divisive "anti-cop rhetoric." Relations between Mayor de Blasio and uniformed police officers have become so strained that "he probably needs an intermediary to go between himself and the unions, maybe a religious leader," said former New York police commissioner Ray Kelly. "I don't know how receptive the unions would be."
Steven Cohen, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, says that:
The mayor needs to understand he's not an advocate anymore. He's an executive, and that means he has to act more as the mayor of the entire city than as the leader of a faction that helped him become mayor.
The fact is that the effort to stir hostility to the police, particularly in minority communities, is both divisive and based on a misunderstanding of reality. This does not mean, of course, that there are not occasional missteps by police officers, some of which have a racial element. These should be investigated and prosecuted, when appropriate. The larger picture, however, is quite different.
Neither of the police officers killed in New York was white. The officers in the patrol cars of New York City come from 50 countries and speak scores of languages. The Police Department, The New York Times reports:
. . . looks more like the city than ever. In two generations, as the city was becoming ever safer, the Police Department utterly changed its makeup.
Minorities make up the majority of the New York Police Department.
Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Writes in City Journal:
. . . a lie has overtaken significant parts of the country, resulting in growing mass hysteria. That lie holds that the police pose a mortal threat to black Americans - indeed that the police are the greatest threat facing black Americans today. . . . President Obama announced that blacks were right to believe that the criminal-justice system was often stacked against them. . . . Eric Holder escalated a long-running theme of his tenure as U.S. Attorney General - that the police routinely engaged in racial profiling and needed federal intervention to police properly. In an editorial justifying the Ferguson riots, The New York Times claimed that "The killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African American life, and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast."
In fact, MacDonald points out:
Police killings of blacks are an extremely rare feature of black life and are a minute fraction of black homicide deaths. The police could end all killings of civilians tomorrow and it would have no effect on the black homicide risk, which comes overwhelmingly from other blacks. In 2013, there were 6,261 black homicide victims in the U.S. - almost all killed by black civilians - resulting in a death risk in inner cities that is ten times higher for blacks than for whites. None of those killings triggered mass protests; they are deemed normal and beneath notice. The police, by contrast, according to published reports, kill roughly 200 blacks a year, most of them armed and dangerous, out of about 40 million police-civilian contacts a year. Blacks are in fact killed by police at a lower rate than their threat to officers would predict. In 2013, blacks made up 42 percent of all cop-killers whose race was known, even though blacks are only 13 percent of the nation's population. The percentage of black suspects killed by the police nationally is 29 percent lower than the percentage of blacks mortally threatening them.
Prior to leaving New York to attend a White House summit on policing, Mayor de Blasio told the press that a "scourge" of killings by police is "based not just on decades but centuries of racism." After the Staten Island grand jury declined to indict an officer for homicide in Eric Garner's death, de Blasio declared:
People are saying black lives matter. It should be self-evident, but our history requires us to say "black lives matter." It was not years of racism, but centuries of racism.
He said he worries "every night" about the "dangers" (his biracial son Dante) may face from "officers who are paid to protect him."
The mayor seems to misunderstand the reality of today's New York City. There is no institution more committed to the idea that "black lives matter" than the New York City Police Department. Thousands of black men are alive today who would have been killed years ago had the data-driven policing under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg not brought down the homicide levels of the early 1990s. The police in New York fatally shot eight individuals last year, six of them black, all posing a risk to the police, compared with scores of blacks killed by black civilians.
Al Sharpton, who now is pictured standing as a key advisor beside both President Obama and Mayor de Blasio, first rose to fame by promoting the story that a black teenager, Tawana Brawley, was sexually assaulted by white law enforcement officials. There was not a word of truth to this story. Al Sharpton has never stopped his racially divisive agitation. Yet now he is welcome at the White House and at City Hall. At one New York protest, marchers chanted, "What do we want? Dead cops." Two public defenders from the Bronx participated in a rap video extolling cop killings. At a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, a group of people tried to throw trash cans onto the heads of officers on the level below them. Social media is filled with gloating at the deaths of the two New York officers. A student leader and a representative of the Afro-American Studies Department at Brandeis University tweeted that she has "no sympathy for the NYPD officers who were murdered today."
In Heather MacDonald's view:
The only good that can come out of this wrenching attack on civilization would be the delegitimation of the lie-based protest movement. Whether this will happen is uncertain. . . . The elites' investment in black victimology is probably too great to hope for an injection of truth in the dangerously counterfactual discourse about race, crime and policing.
Historically, contempt for those in uniform who protect us - and keep society safe - is nothing new. In his poem "Tommy," about the poor treatment encountered by British soldiers - except when "it comes to fightin'" - Rudyard Kipling wrote - as if he had contemporary police officers in mind:
O makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken dodgers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red lines of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red lines of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
The terror attacks in Paris raise many questions about how prepared the West, including our own country, is to confront Islamist terrorism, particularly in the face of thousands of young people holding French, British, American, and other Western passports who are now in the Middle East fighting with groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Before long, many of them will return, and events such as we have witnessed in Paris - and also at the Boston Marathon, the Madrid and London subways, and in Ottawa and Sydney - may proliferate.
In France, the assault on the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical journal, came at a time when tension was already growing between mainstream French society and its large Muslim immigrant community, the largest in Europe. The current best-selling book in France is the novel Submission by Michel Houellebecq who imagines France in 2022 with a Muslim president. Another best-seller at the present time is The French Suicide, in which journalist Eric Zemmour argues that the 1968 student uprisings and immigration, among other things, have set France on a path to ruin.
"I think this anxiety is the idea of seeing France give up on itself, of changing to the point of no longer being recognizable," said the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, whose 2013 book, The Unhappy Identity, discussed the problems immigration poses for French identity and cultural integration. "People are homesick at home," he says.
Both Zemmour and Houellebecq approach the subject differently, but speak to the same anxiety. Christophe Barbier, the editor of L'Express, says, "It's the same book, in that both talk about the same subject: the irreversible rise of Islam in society and politics."
France has, it seems, failed to assimilate its immigrant population and transmit to them the Western values of, among other things, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. In many neighborhoods, city officials have virtually ceded control to Islamists. Soeren Kern, an analyst at the Gatestone Institute and author of annual reports on The Islamization of France, declares that:
The situation is out of control, and it is not reversible. Islam is a permanent part of France now. It is not going away. I think the future looks very bleak. The problem is a lot of these younger-generation Muslims are not integrating into French society. Although they are French citizens, they don't really have a future in French society. They feel very alienated from France. This is why radical Islam is so attractive because it gives them a sense of meaning in their lives.
The Muslim population of France reached 6.5 million, or 10 percent of its 66 million people. Some Muslim activists predict that France will be a Muslim-majority country in the not too distant future. Gatestone reports that an intelligence document leaked to Le Figaro said that Muslims are creating a separate public school society "completely cut off from non-Muslim students." Over one thousand French supermarkets are selling Islamic books that call for jihad and the killing of non-Muslims. Last year, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said:
We are fighting terrorism outside of France, but we are also fighting an internal enemy since there are those French who fit into the process of radicalization. This enemy must be fought with the greatest determination.
One of the two brothers involved in the Charlie Hebdo killings traveled to Yemen in 2011 and received terrorist training from al Qaeda's affiliate there before returning to France. Said Kouachi, 34, spent several months training in small arms combat, marksmanship, and other skills. Both French and American officials were aware that Kouachi had trained in Yemen, inspired by Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who by 2011 had become a senior operational figure for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Before he was killed in an American drone strike in Sept. 2011, he repeatedly called for the killing of cartoonists who insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
France has struggled for years to keep track of extremists while avoiding measures that would alienate ordinary Muslims and increase the risk of a violent response. Jonathan Laurence, author of The Emancipation of Europe's Muslims, reports that intelligence services in European countries had so many residents with jihadist sympathies that it was very hard to separate those who merely offer verbal support for groups claiming to fight for Islam from those who are prepared to take up arms. "Mass surveillance of an entire community is not an option because civil liberties also need to be balanced with the potential benefit it will gain," said Laurence.
The Islamic State has attracted a large number of European-born Muslims, and some Americans, to Syria and Iraq in recent months and is seen to be encouraging blowback terrorist attacks in the countries from which they come and whose passports they carry. Targeting Charlie Hebdo was
. . . . deftly chosen: not a religious symbol, but a symbol of what democratic freedoms are, exactly where the Islamic State wants to drive a wedge between European Muslims and their fellow citizens. . . .
said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French scholar who studies Islamic extremism.
In Filiu's view, the "plan backfired because of the unanimous condemnation of this heinous attack in France and throughout the Muslim world." He said that the widespread expressions of disdain toward the incident from Islamic leaders across Europe, several of who publicly called for tolerance, were underscored by the fact that one of the 12 people killed in the attack was a French policeman who was Muslim.
"As a Muslim, killing innocent people in the name of Islam is much, much more offensive to me than any cartoon can ever be," wrote pro-democracy activist Iyad El-Baghdadi in a statement that was re-tweeted more than 26,000 times in a single day.
It is important for Europe's long-term well being that all Muslims are not demonized, but that radical Islamists are isolated and carefully monitored. Muslims will clearly play an important role in Europe's future. In Germany, it is projected that there will be 4.8 million Muslims in 2020. The number will account for roughly 6 percent of the nation's total population, up from 4.5 percent in 2000. Even bigger surges are underway in Britain, Spain, and France, according to a Pew Research Center study. Muslims are projected to make up 6.5 percent of Britain's population by 2020, up from 2.7 percent in 2000.
The difference between traditional Islam and the radical religion promoted by the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other extremists is something non-Muslims often do not understand. The Koran, for example, does not anywhere forbid creating images of Muhammad, although there are later commentaries and traditions that do -"Hadith" - to guard against idol worship. This is hardly unique. The Old Testament forbids "graven images." The word "blasphemy" does not appear in the Koran. Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan points out that:
There are more than 200 verses in the Koran, which reveal that the contemporaries of the prophets repeatedly perpetrated the same act, which is now "blasphemy or abuse of the prophet.". . . but nowhere does the Koran prescribe the punishment of lashes, or death, or any other physical punishment. . . . In Islam, blasphemy is a subject of intellectual discussion rather than a subject of physical punishment.
Historically, Islam has not been an intolerant religion. In 1492, when the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, they were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim countries. When the Spanish Inquisition was killing men and women for their religious beliefs, Jews and Christians found much more tolerance and religious freedom under Islam. Now, unfortunately, many Muslim majority countries look very much like medieval Spain. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Egypt, Turkey, and Sudan have all used blasphemy laws to jail and harass people, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Saudi Arabia forbids the practice of any religion other than its own Wahhabi version of Islam.
Europe has a choice. It can try to assimilate its Muslim immigrants into Western society, transmitting the values of freedom, democracy, and tolerance of diverse views. It can, in doing so, use America as a model, in which immigrants from every part of the world, of every race, religion, and ethnic background have been transformed into Americans, Muslims included. Or it can isolate immigrants, telling them that they can never be "French," or "German," or "British," and alienate young people so that they are driven into the hands of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
If European countries did not intend to assimilate immigrants into their societies, they should not have permitted them to enter. Now that they are there, and appear increasingly alienated, it is essential that positive steps be taken to avoid future chaos. And it is important that Muslims themselves isolate the extremists in their community and become determined to become full citizens of the countries in which they live. As those engaged in jihad in the Middle East return to Europe, a perfect storm will be faced unless positive steps are taken. If those who rail against immigrants, and Islamic fundamentalists, come to dominate their respective communities, Europe's future will be bleak. This may be a lesson to take away from the Paris terror attacks.
The heated debate over the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on our government's use of torture is often asking the wrong questions. The report is being criticized for not having interviewed CIA personnel involved in the program. This is a legitimate criticism. The report is criticized for categorically stating that no worthwhile information was obtained by such procedures. We have no way of knowing whether this is true. The CIA argues that it is not.
The real argument against the use of torture is not that it is ineffective in gaining worthwhile information, which most experts argue is the case, but that it is illegal, immoral, and in violation of American values. Both liberals and conservatives should be in agreement on this matter. Liberals object to inhumane treatment of prisoners, and conservatives are concerned about out-of-control big government, conducted in secret.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War and suffered years of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, declared that America never engaged in torture against German and Japanese prisoners of war during World War II, against North Korean prisoners during the Korean War, or against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong prisoners during the Vietnam War. We put on trial those who were guilty of torturing Americans. Torture, McCain declared, is not the American way. Beyond this, he noted that, "I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence."
Ironically, one of the reasons repeatedly stated by President George W. Bush for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the maintenance of "torture rooms" by Saddam Hussein. Andrew Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, and an analyst for Fox News Channel, says of the Senate report that:
. . . it is damning in the extreme to the Bush administration and to the CIA leadership. It offers proof that the CIA engaged in physical and psychological torture, some of which was authorized - unlawfully, yet authorized - most of which was not. The report also demonstrates that CIA officials repeatedly lied to the White House and to Senate regulators about what they were doing and they lied about the effectiveness of the torture. If the allegations in the report are true, we have war criminals, perjurers, computer hackers and thugs on the government payroll.
The fact is, as Judge Napolitano points out:
All torture is criminal under all circumstances - under treaties to which the U.S. is a party, under the Constitution that governs the government wherever it goes, and under federal law. Torture degrades the victim and the perpetrator. It undermines the moral authority of a country whose government condones it. It destroys the rule of law. It exposes our own folks to the awful retaliatory beheadings we have all seen. . . . It is a recruiting tool for those who have come to cause us harm.
Historically, in wartime, we have done things we later regretted. Civil liberties have been abused. Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War. During World War II, we imprisoned more than 127,000 Japanese-Americans. Similarly, after the attacks on 9/11, there was uncertainty and fear, which led to the actions recorded in the Senate report. "Still," The Washington Times noted editorially:
. . . it's difficult to argue with John McCain . . . a man who learned something about torture and its limits in the notorious North Vietnamese prison the American prisoners called, with grim irony, "the Hanoi Hilton."
Defending the release of the Senate report, which was opposed by many of his fellow Republicans, Sen. McCain said:
What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation technique were indispensable in the war against terrorism. I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure, torture's ineffectiveness, because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.
We now know that 26 of those detained - and tortured - were held in error. One of these, Mohamed Bashmilah, was held in secret prisons for 19 months. He was kept shackled alone in freezing-cold cells in Afghanistan, subjected to loud music 24 hours a day. He attempted suicide at least three times, once by saving pills and swallowing them all at once; once by slashing his wrists; and once by trying to hang himself. Another time, he cut himself and used his own blood to write "this is unjust" on the wall.
Until 9/11, the U.S. had officially condemned secret imprisonment as a violation of basic international standards of human rights. But like the program on torture, it was set aside in an effort to prevent another attack. In one case, Laid Saidi, an Algerian identified in the Senate report as Abu Hudhaifa, was held in Afghanistan for 16 months. The Senate report says that he "was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was not the person he was believed to be."
John Sifton of Human Rights Watch notes that:
You have an agency that has been presenting itself to Congress and the public as very professional, on top of everything. The report shows that they were flying by the seat of their pants. They were making it up as they went along.
In a democratic society, non-elected government bureaucrats are responsible for carrying out the laws passed by our elected representatives in the Congress, which are thusly executed by the executive branch. In the instance of torture, we see something quite different - secret government with men and women who have not been elected by anyone, engaged in actions which are illegal, and keeping such action secret from elected officials. For four years, according to CIA records, no one from the agency ever came to the White House to give President George W. Bush a full briefing on what was happening in the dungeons of Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. For four years, interrogators stripped, slammed, soaked and otherwise abused their prisoners without informing the president - or the congressional oversight committees. Finally, in April 2006, the CIA director gave President Bush his first briefing about interrogation practices being used since 2002.
In that briefing, the president was told about one detainee being chained to the ceiling of his cell, clothed in a diaper and forced to urinate and defecate upon himself. The president is reported to have "expressed discomfort." According to the Senate report, "The CIA repeatedly provided incomplete and inaccurate information" to the White House. But it may be that the White House, and the congressional oversight committees, really didn't want to know exactly what was going on, in which case they are equally culpable.
We must, of course, recognize the fears that were widespread after 9/11 - as was the fear after Pearl Harbor. People fearful of another brutal attack often act in ways that, in a more tranquil time, would never be considered. As Sen. McCain said:
I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. . . . But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which the report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.
Even in the worst of times, concluded McCain, "We are always Americans and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us." With the Senate report we are acknowledging before the world that in a moment of great tension and fear, we violated our own deeply held principles. We always used to say, "Americans don't torture." Hopefully, we can say this again and make certain that our government is not conducted in secret but in the light of day, as was intended by the Founding Fathers. *
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Majority Leader, and long-time defender of Wall Street, including bailouts of failed firms with taxpayer money, was defeated by the voters of Virginia's Seventh Congressional District. Rather that continue to fill out his congressional term until January, Cantor abruptly resigned and joined the Manhattan-based global investment bank Moelis & Company as vice chairman and managing director and will serve as a "strategic counsel." He will receive a reported $3.5 million in cash and stock.
"The news that Eric Cantor has taken a job on Wall Street comes as little surprise," says Kevin Broughton, national communications director for the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.
After Dave Brat's upset victory in June, many analysts accused Cantor of paying more attention to Wall Street than to the people of Virginia's Seventh District. He certainly didn't waste any time validating that theory.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) was not surprised. He said:
He's got a lot of private-sector friends he has done favors for. So I think it would be easy for him to become Eric Cantor Inc. and make a few million dollars a year.
Cantor's attractiveness to Wall Street has nothing to do with any experience managing large amounts of money. Before his first election as a state legislator in 1991, he practiced law in his family's real-estate development firm in Richmond. As The New York Times pointed out:
What he brings to that world are the connections he built in what is still known, innocently enough, as public service. From his first assignment on the Financial Services Committee, Mr. Cantor courted the favor and donations of Wall Street. He . . . personally eliminated a requirement that hedge funds disclose how they gather market-sensitive intelligence. . . . He has been well-rewarded, raising more than $3 million since 1999 from the securities and investment sector. In the last few years he has been the top congressional recipient of its generosity.
Representing Wall Street and big business, Cantor was perhaps the most persuasive advocate in Congress for the Export-Import Bank, which subsidizes certain large corporations. The Bank will exhaust its charter on Oct. 1. The new House Majority whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) opposes renewing the Export Import Bank charter, as does the new majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have mounted an all-out campaign to save the Bank, but without Cantor's influence, they may not succeed.
In Congress, Eric Cantor and others in the leadership showed contempt for any members who challenged the traditional influence of Wall Street, the subsidization of big business, and the bail-out of failed enterprises. Consider their treatment of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). Last December, after Amash repeatedly opposed Republican budgets, congressional leaders removed him from the House Budget Committee. At a town-hall meeting in Middleville, Michigan he told those assembled: "I was kicked off the budget committee for wanting to balance the budget."
After law school at the University of Michigan, Amash began to receive daily e-mails from the Mackinac Center, a free market think-tank. "They were always pointing out how Democrats and Republicans in Lansing voted the same way on economic matters," he says.
It seemed like everyone was for industrial policy - targeted tax breaks and subsidies rather than lowering tax rates and letting markets work. I wanted to know if any economic philosophers shared my views. So I entered a few search items into Google and found myself on Hayek's Wikipedia page.
From there he went on to read The Road to Serfdom and other classics.
Sadly, Eric Cantor is far more typical of Congress than Justin Amash. Ideas and the public interest seem to take a back seat to personal advancement and enrichment. And Eric Cantor is hardly alone.
In 2009, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, made the first of three purchases of Visa stock. Visa was holding an initial public offering, among the most lucrative ever. The Pelosis were granted early access to the IPO as "special customers" who received their shares at the opening price, $44. They turned a 50 percent profit in two days. Peter Schweitzer, a scholar at the Hoover Institution, points out that the Pelosis got their stocks just two weeks after legislation was introduced in the House that would have allowed merchants to negotiate lower interchange fees with credit card companies. Visa didn't like the bill, and Pelosi kept it bottled up for two years. During that time, the value of her Visa stock jumped 200 percent while the stock market as a whole dropped 15 percent. "Isn't crony capitalism beautiful?" Asks Schweitzer.
Soon after he retired from Congress in 2011, one of the leading liberals in Congress, Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-MA) started his own lobbying firm with an office on the 16th floor of a Boston skyscraper. One of his first clients was a small coastal town that agreed to pay him $15,000 a month for help in developing a wind energy project. While in Congress, Delahunt personally earmarked $1.7 million for the same energy project. According to The New York Times:
Today . . . his firm . . . stands to collect $90,000 or more for six months of work from the town of Hull . . . with 80 percent of it coming from the pot of money he created through a pair of Energy Department grants in his final term in office.
Members of Congress, with safe seats, now seem willing to give them up to become lobbyists and make millions. This is what Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and Trent Lott (R-MS) did. Others, such as Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO) wait to be defeated before selling their services to various special interests to influence their former colleagues.
In July, former Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) was hired as a lobbyist by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) whose interests he had long promoted in Congress. The MPAA is led by former Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT).
Former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich often criticizes big government, but has been happy to be a highly paid lobbyist in support of enlarging government dramatically when out of office - or not seeking it. Conservative columnist Timothy Carney notes that:
When Newt Gingrich says he never lobbied, he's not telling the truth. When he was a paid consultant for the drug industry's lobby group, Gingrich worked hard to persuade Republican congressmen to vote for the Medicare drug subsidy that the industry favored. . . . Newt Gingrich spent the past decade being paid by big businesses to convince conservatives to support the big government policies that would profit his clients.
Congress, for many of its members, seems something quite different from an opportunity to serve the public interest and work for the good of the community. They seem to view it as a farm team for the riches to be earned in the future by persuading their former colleagues to serve the interests of their new masters. Of course, as members of the farm team, players like Eric Cantor were doing their best to impress their future employers with bailouts, subsidies, tax breaks, whatever it took to get in their good graces and qualify for future lucrative employment. It is the rest of us, citizens and taxpayers, who pay for this corruption of our system.
Until Americans understand how this bipartisan political game works, we are unlikely to change it. Republicans and Democrats are co-conspirators in this enterprise. Thus far, we have let them get away with it. And some, like Eric Cantor, are making it pay very nicely.
Congress for good reason is held in disrepute by most Americans. The latest Gallup Poll tells us that only 8 percent of Americans think Congress is doing a good job. It is difficult to imagine who these 8 percent might be, other than relatives or employees of those holding office.
But if Congress has no inclination to fulfill its constitutional responsibility when it comes to going to war, or to balance the budget, protect our borders, or do the many other essential tasks which are left undone, it has been successful in one area. Both Republicans and Democrats, in bipartisan cooperation, have done their best to legalize their own conduct that, in many cases, used to be viewed as corruption.
In an important new book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United, Professor Zephyr Teachout of Fordham Law School argues that corruption is the most pressing problem our democracy faces. In her view, corruption, broadly understood as placing private interests over the public good in public office, is at the root of what ails American government.
The Framers themselves predicted that corruption would be a constant threat. George Mason warned "if we do not provide against corruption, our government will soon be at an end." In James Madison's notebook from the summer of 1787, the word "corruption" appears fifty-four times. Teachout writes that, "Corruption, influence, and bribery were discussed more often in the convention than factions, violence, or instability."
By corruption the Founders of the country did not mean simply the exchange of cash for a vote, what the Supreme Court in Citizens United came to call "quid pro quo corruption." Teachout reports that the word "corruption" came up hundreds of times in the Constitutional Convention and the ratification debates, yet "only a handful of uses referred to what we might now think of as quid pro quo bribes," constituting "less than one-half of one percent of the times corruption was raised."
The Framers believed that corruption involved using public office for private ends, which was the opposite of public virtue. A republican form of government required that men act as citizens concerned for the public good, not as private, self-interested individuals. The philosopher Baron de Montesquieu, who had great influence on the Founding Fathers, maintained that:
The misfortune of a republic . . . happens when the people are gained by bribery and corruption: in this case they grow indifferent to public affairs, and avarice becomes their predominant passion.
James Madison believed that without civic virtue,
. . . no theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.
Professor David Cole of the Georgetown Law School notes that:
The concern with corruption, broadly conceived, has remained a dominant theme of American law and politics. Indeed, because of these concerns, lobbying itself was treated as illegal for much of the nation's history. This seems inconceivable in today's political culture, in which "K Street" lobbying dominates Washington's political and financial economies alike. But until the 20th century, lobbying was considered contrary to public policy. Some states such as Georgia made it a crime. And even where lobbying was not a crime, courts refused to enforce contracts for lobbying on the ground that such conduct was contrary to public policy.
Consider the 1874 case of Trist v. Child in which the Supreme Court declined to enforce a contract for lobbying. N. P. Trist, an elderly man too frail to travel to Washington, hired a lawyer, Linus Child, to try to persuade Congress to authorize payment of an 18-year-old debt owed to Trist. Trist told Child he would get one quarter of the recovery as his fee. When Child succeeded, however, Trist's son refused payment, and Child sued to recover the fee.
The Supreme Court declined to enforce the contract. Lobbying was contrary to public policy because the lobbyist was paid to advocate not for the public good, but for someone's private interest. It risked corrupting the political process. The Court reasoned that if individuals were allowed to hire lobbyists, soon corporations would be doing so, a practice "every right-minded man would instinctively denounce."
The Court declared:
If any of the great corporations of the country were to hire adventurers who make market of themselves in this way, to procure the passage of a general law with a view to the promotion of their private interests, the moral sense of every right-minded man would instinctively denounce the employer and employed as steeped in corruption, and the employment as infamous.
Now, in 2014, we see a much different picture, in which Republicans and Democrats, self-proclaimed "liberals" and "conservatives," work closely together not to advance the public interest, but to promote their own - and they have made it all legal.
In 1974 only three percent of retiring or defeated members of Congress became lobbyists. Today, that number is 42 percent for members of the House and 50 percent for Senators. In 2010 Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), after writing in The New York Times about the "corrosive system of campaign financing," joined with Andrew Card, the former Bush chief of staff, in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against corporate regulatory reform. After BP's oil spill in the Gulf BP recruited a former top spokesman for Dick Cheney and the Democratic fund-raiser Tony Podesta as lobbyists.
Two of the top three political action committee donors to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are the same: Comcast and AT&T. The former Republican Senate leader Trent Lott and former Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt are united in lobbying for GE. And members of Congress often go to work, for million dollar salaries for the very industries they were responsible for regulating while in Congress. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantors regulated banking in Congress, and is now at work on Wall Street. And this clear conflict of interest is legal, because members of Congress, in bipartisan agreement, have made it so.
Trust in our democracy is eroding. In 1964, 29 percent of voters believed that government was "run by a few big interests looking out for themselves." By 2013, that view had grown, with 79 percent feeling that way. In 2006, 59 percent of Americans were convinced that corruption in government was widespread; by 2013, that number had jumped to 79 percent.
Since Congress writes the laws, we have seen members of both parties simply make legal what would ordinarily be viewed as simple corruption. Consider Leadership PACs, which permit politicians to solicit and spend money without the same restrictions they face when using their campaign committees. According to Peter Schweitzer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, these groups have become slush funds that enable lavish lifestyles while they exist, in theory, to help members of Congress finance their own campaigns and help political allies. He cites such examples as these: Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) presided over a leadership PAC that spent $10,000 on golf at Pebble Beach, nearly $27,000 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and $107,752 at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Senator Roy Blount (R-MO) spent $65,000 at a resort at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) used his leadership PAC to spend $64,500 on a painting of himself. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) used hers to pay for catered parties at her home several times a month.
Beyond the abuse of money, members of Congress regularly pass laws for the rest of us from which they exempt themselves. In the recent controversy over the Affordable Care Act, Americans learned that congressional staff members were to receive subsidies not available to other Americans, many with lower incomes. Traditionally, Congress has exempted itself from laws and regulations it imposes upon other Americans - from Social Security, to affirmative action, to occupational health and safety rules. Recently, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a constitutional amendment stating: "Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress."
Much time is spent lamenting the "gridlock" in Congress. But there is bipartisan cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, when it comes to making legal what has historically been viewed as corruption, and which most Americans properly understand to be corruption today. This is something the Founding Fathers feared. Their fears have become our current reality, to the detriment of all, except the favored few who have enriched themselves at the public trough, and cleverly avoid any penalty for doing so by making their self-serving acts perfectly legal. *
The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who is black, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri led to days of demonstrations, rioting, and looting. There has been criticism of the overwhelming police response, as well as charges that racism was involved in the death of this teenager. Beyond this, many have proclaimed that this incident shows us that America is a "racist" society, and that talk of racial progress and a movement toward a genuinely "color blind" society is false.
Exactly what happened in Ferguson will be determined by a thorough investigation, including participation by the FBI and the Department of Justice. If there was wrongdoing by the police officer involved, this will be documented and appropriate action will be taken. In the meantime, we can only withhold judgment on what actually occurred.
What we can properly lament, however, is the manner in which a chorus of voices is immediately heard after every negative event telling us that racism is alive and well in almost every sector of our society. The reality is far more complex.
Typical of this phenomenon is a column in The New York Times by Charles Blow, who is black. He declares that:
The criminalization of black and brown bodies, particularly male ones, from the moment they are first introduced to the institutions and power structures with which they must interact. . . . Black male dropout rates are more than one and a half times those of white males, the bias of the educational system bleeds easily into the bias of the criminal justice system, from cops to courts to correctional facilities. The school-to-prison pipeline is complete.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released "the first comprehensive look at civil rights from every public school in the country in nearly 15 years." Attorney General Eric Holder said:
The critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well documented among older students but actually begin during pre-school.
The fact that more young black men drop out of school, that they are over-represented in our criminal justice system, and that they are more often subjected to school discipline, is not necessarily an indication of "institutional racism" in our society, as Mr. Blow and so many others rush to proclaim. There are other, much more plausible explanations.
By 2004 federal data showed that black Americans, 13 percent of the population, accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 51 percent for murder. Most of the victims of these violent criminals were also black. If black men are over-represented in our prison population, the reason appears to be that they are guilty of committing an over-represented amount of crime. Commentator Juan Williams, who is black, laments that:
Any mention of black America's responsibility for committing the crimes, big and small, that lead so many people to prison is barely mumbled, if mentioned at all.
In a column titled "Our Selective Outrage," The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, who is black, notes that:
The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown has rightly provoked widespread outrage, drawing international media attention and prompting a comment from President Obama. The same should be true, but tragically is not, of the killing of 3-year-old Knijah Amore Bibb. Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri; Knijah died the following day in Landover, Maryland. Both victims were African American. Both had their whole lives before them. The salient difference is that Brown was shot to death by a white police officer, according to witnesses, while the fugitive suspect in Bibb's killing is a 25-year-old black man with a long criminal record.
Robinson points to statistics showing the dimensions of the problem. According to the FBI, in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, 2,614 whites were killed by white offenders, and 2,412 blacks were killed by black offenders, similar numbers. "But," writes Robinson,
. . . the non-Hispanic white population is almost five times as large as the African American population, meaning the homicide rate in black communities is staggeringly higher. . . . We need to get angry before we have to mourn the next Knijah Bibb.
It is not "white racism" which causes black-on-black crime, and it may be something other than racism that causes disciplinary disparities and the number of school dropouts, The breakdown of the black family is a more likely cause for such disparities.
In 1940, the black rate of out-of-wedlock birth was around 14 percent. Now, it's 75 percent. In 1870, right after slavery, 70 to 80 percent of black families were intact. Today, after segregation came to an end and the enactment of legislation making racial discrimination illegal, and myriad affirmative action programs, 70 percent of black children have single mothers, and estimates are that an even larger percentage will grow up without a father in the home.
Blaming the problems we confront on "racism" misses the point of the real dilemmas we face. Attorney General Holder does black Americans no favor by ignoring the disintegration of the black family in explaining disparities in school dropouts and disciplinary problems. White racism is not, somehow, compelling out-of-wedlock birth in the black community, a far more plausible causative factor in statistical disparities than blaming an amorphous "institutional racism."
What was missing in the response to developments in Missouri, which included rioting and arson, and cries of "No Justice, No Peace," was "the calming voice of a national civil rights leader of the kind that was so impressive during the 1950s and 1960s," writes author Joseph Epstein:
In those days, there were Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the National Urban League, Bayard Rustin of the A. Philip Randolph Institute - all solid, serious men, each impressive in different ways, who through dignified forbearance and strategic action, brought down a body of unequivocally immoral laws aimed at America's black population.
The NAACP, the Urban League, and the SCLC still exist, notes Epstein,
. . . . yet few people are likely to know the names of their leaders. That is because no black leader has come forth to set out a program for progress for the substantial part of the black population that has remained for generations in the slough of poverty, crime, and despair. . . . In Chicago, where I live, much of the murder and crime that has captured the interest of the media is black-on-black and cannot be chalked up to racism. Except when Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell, or Shelby Steele and a few others have dared to speak about the pathologies at work, and for doing so these black figures are castigated.
Soon enough, exactly what happened in Ferguson, Missouri will become clear and the matter will be resolved through our legal system. It will take a much longer time before our society begins to confront the real causes of the racial disparities and pathologies which are all too easily, and falsely, attributed to "white racism." Until we do, the sad story of Ferguson is likely to happen again and again.
The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, unleashed by the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, is being made worse by the involvement of the usual racial demagogues such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who wasted no time making their way to Missouri.
Exactly what happened in this case is not yet known. Investigations by local police, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department will, in the end, make all of this clear. If the police officer in this case acted improperly, he will face the criminal justice system, as he should.
But the Sharpton/Jackson rhetoric makes things worse, encourages violence, and is far from the truth. Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal, who is black, points out that:
There's this false narrative being pushed out there by folks like Michael Eric Dyson and Al Sharpton and the rest of the hustlers that black men live in fear of being shot by cops in these neighborhoods. That too is nonsense. I know something about growing up black and male in the inner city and it's not that hard to avoid getting shot by a cop. They pull you over, you answer their questions and you are on your way.
In Riley's view,
The real difficulty is getting shot by other black people, if you are a young black man in those neighborhoods. That is something we need to talk more about. Cops are not the problem. Cops are not producing these black bodies in the morgues every weekend in Chicago, in New York, and Detroit. That's not cops. That's other black people killing black people.
Al Sharpton, who now has his own show on MSNBC and presents himself to the world as a clergyman, "Rev. Al," has built his career on denigrating the police. He first became famous in 1987, with his biggest lie about police officers.
The facts of the case, which he falsely used to accuse white police officers of racism and brutality, are these: Tawana Brawley, 16, was found November 28, 1987, outside an apartment in Wappingers Falls, New York that had recently been vacated by her family. Her body was smeared with feces and had racial slurs written on it. She claimed she had been held captive for four days and raped by a group of white men, some of who were police officers.
Sheriff's deputies took Brawley to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie. After examining her, a female doctor determined that she had not been raped. A rape kit exam later confirmed this.
Miss Brawley, with the advice and encouragement of a group of advisers, Al Sharpton prominent among them, refused to testify before a grand jury. In October 1988, a grand jury concluded that Brawley had apparently concocted the entire story. The 170-page report said that there was "no evidence that any actual assault had occurred," and suggested that the girl herself was responsible for the condition in which she was found after a four-day disappearance.
During the period between November, 1987, and the grand jury report almost a year later, the Brawley family refused to cooperate in any way with the investigation, accusing authorities of engaging in a racially-motivated "cover-up."
The grand jury declared:
. . . there is nothing in regard to Tawana Brawley's appearance on November 28 that is inconsistent with this condition having been self-inflicted.
The panel also found that there was no evidence whatever of a cover-up by law enforcement officials. Miss Brawley's mother, Glenda, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for defying a subpoena to testify before the grand jury, but she defied arrest by living in a church.
For nearly a year the Brawley case was in the news. The American judicial system and, in particular, law enforcement agencies in New York, were accused of "racism." Without a bit of evidence, the media took such charges seriously and transformed Miss Brawley's "advisors" - Sharpton and lawyers Alton Maddox, Jr. and C. Vernon Mason - into celebrities and, in New York City, almost household names. They appeared on the leading T.V. shows of the day (Phil Donohue's, Morton Downey's, Geraldo's) and were featured in Time and Newsweek, The New York Times and The Washington Post, not to mention the regular banner headlines in such tabloids as The New York Post and The Daily News.
Echoing what we are hearing in Missouri at the present time, radical attorney William Kunstler went so far as to say that it really didn't matter whether the alleged attack on Tawana Brawley ever took place. He declared:
It makes no difference any more whether the attack on Tawana happened. If her story was a concoction to prevent her parents from punishing her for staying out all night, that doesn't disguise the fact that a lot of young black women are treated the way she said she was treated. The advisors now have an issue with which they can grab the headlines.
What Sharpton and his colleagues proceeded to do was raise a great deal of money to achieve "justice" in the Tawana Brawley case, just as they are doing now in Missouri. Investigating this hoax cost the taxpayers of New York approximately $1 million.
The real story, of course, was that there was no story. Perry McKinnon, who broke ranks with the advisors, declared that: "The Tawana Brawley story may be that there is no Tawana Brawley story." He said that he went to Newburgh, fifteen miles from Wappingers Falls, and found youths who claimed that they had seen Brawley in the neighborhood partying at the time of the alleged abduction. Al Sharpton is alleged to have told McKinnon that, almost from the outset, he believed that Tawana Brawley's story "sounded like bull ____."
Yet the media and much of the civil rights establishment eagerly embraced the Brawley hoax. In article entitled "The Brawley Fiasco" (New York Magazine, July 18, 1988), Edwin Diamond writes that "the great paradox" of the entire affair is that it had been "encouraged by the authorities and the media." He declares:
For months, "the white power structure" - as Sharpton calls it - all but propped up the "advisors'" shaky scenarios. The governor and the attorney general, their eyes on electoral politics as well as the case, gave the appearance of trying to avoid offense to any constituency, black or white. The New York television stations and the city's three tabloids, all locked into tight competition, amplified almost every wild utterance from the Brawley camp. Reporters muttered privately about McCarthyite big-lie techniques, but the Brawley family's spokesmen had access to what the media wanted: the story everyone was talking about.
Al Sharpton's Tawana Brawley hoax cannot be considered victimless. There were victims. One, of course, was the truth itself. Others were those who suffer from the real racism which may exist in American society and which will be taken less seriously in the face of false cries of a phony case such as this. Those who embraced the lies of the Brawley case, particularly those in the media who promoted and transmitted them, have trivialized racism in the most extreme manner.
Now, in 2014, we have a 24-hour cable news megaphone. Sadly, Al Sharpton continues to fan the flames of racial division along with his current colleagues. Many younger Americans may not know that Sharpton's career was built on the big lie of the Tawana Brawley case. Before they take seriously what he says today, they should review his record. Heat, not light, is his trademark.
Hopefully, justice will be done in Ferguson, Missouri. The racial demagoguery of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the others make the search for the truth more difficult. They would do well to heed President Obama's words: "Let me call once again for us to seek some understanding, rather than simply holler at one another." Hollering, however, is what they continue to do, and they have found a way to make it pay. It is the rest of us, and truth and justice, who are the losers. *
New York City's mayor, William De Blasio, repeatedly tells us that he is a "progressive," committed to making life better for minorities and the poor. Yet, ever since coming to office in January, he has launched a crusade against a vehicle that has the ability to rescue poor and minority children from failing public schools. That vehicle is charter schools, which are elementary or secondary schools that receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, requirements, and regulations that apply to other public schools.
Last year, 82 percent of the students at a charter school called Success Academy, in Harlem, passed citywide mathematics exams, compared with 30 percent of the students in the city as a whole.
The first Success Academy opened in 2006, and the network, which is supported by both private and public funds, is now the largest charter-school group in New York City, with a thousand employees and 22 schools. Last fall, Mayor Bloomberg approved 45 proposals for 2014, including eight for Success Academy schools that wanted to "co-locate" - that is, move to underused space in public school buildings. Now, Mayor De Blasio has reversed nine of those decisions.
Andrew Malone, the principal of Success Academy Harlem Central, points out that on state tests, Success Academy students score far above average. "And yet, no one from the Mayor's office is asking us, 'How do you do it?'"
Charter schools around the country, argues Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University,
. . . have given thousands of low-income minority children their only shot at a decent education, which often means their only chance at a decent life. . . . Why would anybody who has any concern about minority young people - or even common decency - want to destroy what progress has already been made?
Dr. Sowell, who is black, notes that:
One big reason is the teachers' unions, one of Mr. De Blasio's biggest supporters. . . . The teachers' unions see charter schools as a threat to their members' jobs, and politicians respond to the money and the votes the teachers' unions can provide. The net result is that public schools are often run as though their main function is to provide jobs for teachers. Whether the children get a decent education is secondary, at best. . . . Not all charter schools are successful, of course, but the ones that are completely undermine the excuses for failure in the public school system as a whole. . . . Charter schools take power from politicians and bureaucrats, letting parents decide where their children will go to school.
The fact is that in an era of more enlightened teacher union leaders, charter schools were welcomed. When Albert Shanker headed the New York teachers' union, he viewed himself as an education reformer, not an advocate of a status quo that was failing poor and minority students. He believed that charter schools were to be viewed as "laboratories" of success - models for traditional public schools to emulate.
Paul Hoss, a retired public school teacher and author of Common Sense: The Missing Link in Education Reform, asks:
If Success Academy charter schools have proved to be so helpful to so many poor minority youngsters across New York City, why have neither the Bloomberg or De Blasio administration ever attempted to take this model to scale so more youngsters could benefit? . . . How about putting politics aside and doing what's best for the children of your great city?
Even many liberals have expressed dismay with Mayor De Blasio's hostility to charter schools. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes:
De Blasio seems cool on charter schools. He has said they have a "destructive impact" on the school system and in his campaign, demanded that they pay rent for using public school facilities. As a result, charters have become emblematic of the "two cities" mantra - one really rich, the other disproportionately poor. The rich are characterized as having their way with the school system for their own benefit. The hostility is so illogical it has to be based on raw resentment. Pardon me for suspecting that some charter school critics would rather hurt the rich than help the poor.
Under Mayor De Blasio, in Cohen's view,
New York is witnessing progressivism run amok. So far the damage has been minimal and the pushback has been fierce, but charters are in a real fight. Say what you will about New York or Washington charters, but by the usual measurements - test scores, etc. - they are succeeding, some of them stunningly so. Maybe in time the gains will prove ephemeral and failure is just over the horizon. Still, that's better than the old system. With it, failure was a certainty.
Consider the record of the Eagle Academy schools, a consortium of five schools, four of them in New York and one in Newark. The schools educate boys, mostly black and poor. The schools operate in conjunction with their own foundation, which raises about $1 million annually to help pay for the staff required to hold longer school days, offer intensive college counseling, and provide mentoring programs. Last year, on standardized tests for students in the sixth to eighth grades, only about 13 percent of black boys scored as proficient as opposed to just under 30 percent for students citywide. Across its network of schools, Eagle sent 82 percent of last year's graduating class to college, a rate significantly higher than college enrollment for black male students across the country.
The founder of New York's Success Academy, Eve Moskowitz, says that:
I have some sympathy for the view that says, '"Why can't we have one system that works for everyone?" But, speaking empirically, our system is broken. . . . I've offered to speak with the mayor many times. We disagree on some things, but I take him at his word when he says he wants to work on inequality. Although a little humility in his part would help.
Giving poor and minority students a choice of where to go to school - a choice which more affluent students already have - should be a natural cause for a "progressive" like Bill De Blasio to embrace. Why he finds himself on the opposite side, is something he will have to explain if he continues his campaign against New York's charter schools. The same is true for the Obama administration, which has cut spending for charter schools in the District of Columbia, and whose Justice Department has intervened to try to stop the state of Louisiana from expanding its charter schools. Charter schools and other forms of school choice - such as vouchers - may not be a panacea, but they do appear to be an important step in the right direction.
Recently, Jon Utley, a friend of this writer for more than forty years, celebrated his 80th birthday. During his life, Jon has been a successful businessman, a prolific writer, a commentator for Voice of America, and now serves as publisher of The American Conservative. After living for fifteen years in Latin America, Jon published widely on Communism and third world economic development, including for, among others, The Harvard Business Review, The Washington Post, and The Times of the Americas.
Jon's personal story is that of a man who, from the beginning, was touched by the tragedies of the 20th century. It begins with his mother, the prominent author Freda Utley, also for many years a close friend.
Born in England, Freda's social conscience in the 1920s and early 30s caused her to accept the Communist answers to the social problems of that time. Later, she married Arcadi Berdichevsky, a Russian Jew, and went to live in Moscow, where she witnessed the realities of what Communism in practice was really like. After her husband was arrested by Stalin's police, she returned to the West and told the world the truth about Communism in her book, The Dream We Lost.
Jon was two years old when his father was taken by the Moscow secret police in the middle of the night and was sentenced to a Soviet labor camp. We now know that Arcadi was executed two years later for being one of the leaders of a hunger strike, a fact that Jon discovered only several years ago when he traveled to Russia to learn the fate of his father. At a birthday celebration for Jon at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C., I was one of the speakers. Among other things, I declared that, "Every man who has an untold story, needs a son like Jon to discover the truth and tell it to the world." Jon took a film crew from Boston College to Russia and produced an excellent motion picture telling the story of his father's fate.
Freda Utley discovered the evil of Communism while many intellectuals in the West were of the opinion that a workers' paradise was being created in the Soviet Union. She became a "premature anti-Communist," and her life was radically altered as a result. When she came to America, she found that, despite her impressive academic credentials, the doors to the academy were closed to her, as were most literary outlets.
Her father used to recount a story about his bachelor days. His "laundress," as the temple charwomen were called, had come to him one day with a woebegone face and said: "Sir, you have seen my pretty daughter?" "Yes, and a nice attractive girl she is." "Well, Sir, a terrible thing has happened; she has fallen and I don't know what to do." After Freda's father had commiserated with her, she remarked with a Juliet's nurse smirk: "She would fall again for a trifle."
In her memoir Odyssey of a Liberal, written in 1970, Freda points out that,
In later years I often recalled this story because it seemed apposite to the behavior of many liberal "fellow travelers" of our time. After first falling for the lure of Communist promises of a good time to be had by all and later disillusioned with "Uncle Joe Stalin" after the war, they are still today all too ready to "fall for a trifle," whenever it suits the Kremlin's purpose to appear conciliatory.
Freda Utley presented some insight into two of the intellectual giants of her time, George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell. Shaw was blind to Communism's real nature, while Russell understood it very clearly. She recounts that when she returned to England in 1931 for a brief visit, she stayed with the Russells in Hampshire and
. . . I believed that the horrible society I was living in (Russia) was Stalin's creation and that if Lenin had lived or if Trotsky's policies had been followed, all would have been well. Bertie would bang his fist on the table and say, "No! Freda, can't you understand even now that the conditions you describe followed naturally from Lenin's premises and Lenin's acts. Will you never learn and stop being romantic about politics?
Later on, when Freda tried to enlist the help of George Bernard Shaw in gaining her husband's release from the Soviet prison, Shaw wrote on July 8, 1937, that
. . . five years will not last forever, that imprisonment under the Soviet is not as bad as it is here in the West; and that when I was in Russia and enquired about certain engineers who had been sentenced to 10 years for sabotage, I learnt that they were at large and in high favor after serving two years of their sentence.
Freda Utley's path diverged from those intellectuals who remained unaware of Communism's true nature because she put her own beliefs to the test. She writes that
. . . it was precisely because they never fully committed themselves to the Communist cause that they continued to believe in it. Those of us who fully engage ourselves in the causes we believe in submit our ideals to the hard test of personal experience. By publicly professing our opinions, we risk being proved wrong, or being defeated, and have to take our punishment. But those who refrain from risking their "lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" in any cause . . . have no right to call themselves idealists or liberals.
Jon has followed in his mother's footsteps in being an individual of high principle who has tried to learn from history - and to think for himself, rejecting the ideological blinders worn by too many on both the left and right. When the Cold War ended, there were some, in his view, who wanted to keep us on a war footing, and searched for new enemies to fight. Jon became a vigorous opponent of what he viewed as costly and unnecessary military adventures, as in Iraq. Devoted to individual liberty, he lamented the embrace of so many who called themselves conservatives for the Patriot Act, which put limits on individual freedom in the name of "national security." He opposed the idea of an American "Empire," and embraced the ideal of the American "Republic."
Freda Utley lamented the manner in which Palestinians were dispossessed in 1948 as a result of the creation of Israel. She noted that
Most of my enduring friendships have been with Jewish men and women. . . . Today, survivors of the Nazi concentration camps supported by international Jewry have themselves become super-nationalists convinced that their salvation lies with a "blood and soil" Israeli state in Palestine, founded at the price of expulsion and expropriation of its Arab inhabitants. The Zionists have repudiated the international outlook of the Jews who were my closest friends.
Jon, who strongly identifies with that part if his background which is Jewish, seeks a just peace in the Middle East which would be fair to Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Palestine and has long urged an even-handed U.S. policy in the region.
A graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Jon speaks four languages. After studying in Germany during the Allied occupation, he learned French in Paris. Later, he worked in Latin America. While based in Peru, Jon became a foreign correspondent for Knight-Ridder newspapers and married his Peruvian wife Anna.
In Febuary, 1936, Freda wrote a letter from Moscow to her mother in England. Jon was two years old:
We wished so much that you were here to see Jon. We were having dinner. First, he climbed upon his chair himself, took a plate, put it down in front of him and demanded tatoes (potatoes). He ate them beautifully himself with a fork, and then, when he had finished, he reached for cigarettes, took one, put it in his mouth and said, "mak, mak" (match). All perfectly serious and naturally! So you see what kind of grandson you have! You always said he shouldn't smoke till he was 3. It was so funny we couldn't stop laughing. He has begun to say quite a lot of words. He also says "come here" as "Komm" (German) Sude (Russian). He speaks a lot - a real Utley says Arcadi - but one can't tell what language he is trying to speak.
Now we all know what kind of grandson Freda's mother had. He has kept the ideals of his mother and father alive and has brought them into the 21st century. They would all be proud.
Jon arrived in America when he was five. He still remembers sailing into New York City and seeing the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. We were certainly lucky to get him.
Happy birthday, Jon. All of us look forward to many more. *
The March 2013 issue of Philadelphia Magazine features a cover article, "Being White In Philly," with the sub-head, "Whites, Race, Class and the Things That Never Get Said."
Written by Robert Huber, the article explains how white and black Philadelphians live in largely separate worlds - and rarely communicate frankly with one another.
According to Huber:
White Philadelphians think a great deal about race. Begin to talk with people, and it's clear it's a dominant motif in and around our city. Everyone seems to have a story, often an uncomfortable story, about how white and black people relate.
The author provides a number of examples of such inter-actions. In one case:
Dennis, 26, teaches math in a Kensington school. His first year there, fresh out of college, one of his students, an unruly eighth grader, got into a fight with a girl. Dennis told him to stop, he got into Dennis's face, and in the heat of the moment Dennis called the student, an African-American, a "boy." The student went home and told his step-father. The step-father demanded a meeting with the principal and Dennis, and accused Dennis of being racist. The principal defended his teacher. Dennis apologized, knowing how loaded the term "boy" was and regretting that he'd used it, though he was thinking, "Why would I be teaching at an inner-city school if I'm a racist?" The stepfather calmed down, and that would have been the end of it, except for one thing: The student's behavior got worse. Because now he knew that no one at school could do anything, no matter how badly he behaved.
Relations between black and white Philadelphians, in Huber's view, are characterized by:
Confusion, misread intentions, bruised feelings - everyone has a race story. . . . There's a dance I do when I go to the Wawa (a convenience store) on Germantown Avenue. I find myself being overly polite. Each time I hold the door a little too long for a person of color. . . . On one level such self-consciousness and hypersensitivity can be seen as progress when it comes to race, a sign of how much attitudes have shifted for the better, a symbol of our desire for things to be better. And yet, lately, I've come to fear that the opposite might be true: that our carefulness is, in fact, at the heart of the problem.
Fifty years after the height of the civil rights movement, more than 25 years after electing its first African American mayor, Huber argues that Philadelphia:
. . . remains a largely segregated city, with uneasy boundaries in culture and understanding. . . . Everyone might have a race story, but few whites risk the third-rail danger of speaking publicly about race, given the long, troubled history of race relations. . . . Race is only talked about in a sanitized form, when it's talked about at all, with actual thoughts and feelings buried. . . . Race remains the elephant in the room, even on the absurd level of who holds the door to enter a convenience store.
Many racial interactions reported in this article show ill-will being demonstrated on both sides of the racial divide. White students in predominantly African American schools, for example, report being singled out for a variety of race-based harassments. The level of racial division and segregation in contemporary Philadelphia, which is mirrored in many other American urban areas, is, in many ways, incongruous with a society in which we have elected - and re-elected, a black president. Throughout contemporary America - in government, business, sports, entertainment, every sector of society, men and women advance on the basis of individual ability, regardless of race. Yet, for many, segregation remains an unfortunate fact of life.
"We need to bridge the conversational divide," concludes Robert Huber:
. . . so that there are no longer two private dialogues in Philadelphia - white people talking to other whites, and black people to blacks - but a city in which it is okay to speak openly about race. That feels like a lot to ask, a leap of faith for everyone. It also seems like the only place to go, the necessary next step. . . . Meanwhile when I drive to North Philly to visit my son (a Temple University student who lives in a predominantly black neighborhood), I continue to feel both profoundly sad and a blind desire to escape. Though I wonder: Am I allowed to say even that.
Philadelphia Magazine and Robert Huber have given us much to think about - as our country becomes increasingly diverse. Unless Americans of all races and ethnicities begin to speak openly and frankly with one another we will lack the cohesiveness necessary to bind our society together. We have come a great distance from the years of segregation, through which many contemporary Americans lived. This article shows us that there are still problems to be addressed and resolved - on the part of both white and black Americans. We have made significant strides in moving toward a color-blind society - something men and women of good will have long hoped to achieve. That some problems still remain does not make our achievements any less significant and noteworthy, and we continue to provide an example to the world - where the very idea of American nationality is not based upon common race, ethnic background or religion - but on a common commitment to live in a free and open society and bear its responsibilities. In this sense, despite problems that exist, America is genuinely something new and unique in the world.
This Father's Day, I was invited by my son Burke and his fiance, Amelia, to attend a performance by Bill Cosby at Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts in Northern Virginia. Cosby proclaimed himself "old" - soon to celebrate his 76th birthday - but he sat on stage for nearly three hours, without a break, and there was never a lull in the laughter.
Cosby is truly an American original. Born in Philadelphia, he and his family lived in the Richard Allen Homes, a low-income housing project. He started shining shoes at nine and later found a job at a supermarket. Despite their hardships, Cosby's mother stressed the value of education and learning. She often read to Bill and his brothers, including the works of Mark Twain. While a student at Temple University, he landed a job as a bartender at a coffee house. He told jokes there and eventually landed work filling in for the house comedian from time to time at a nearby club. The rest is history.
In 1965, when he was cast alongside Robert Culp in the "I Spy" espionage series, he became the first African-American co-star in a dramatic series. At the beginning of the 1965 season, a number of stations declined the show. It quickly became a hit.
He later starred in his own sitcom, "The Bill Cosby Show," and was one of the major performers on the children's T.V. series, "The Electric Company," and created the educational cartoon comedy series, "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids," about a group of young friends growing up in the city.
During the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in "The Cosby Show," which aired eight seasons from 1984 to 1992. It was the number one show in America for five straight seasons (1985-89). The sitcom highlighted the experiences and growth of an affluent African American family. In 1976, Cosby earned a Ph.D in Education from the University of Massachusetts. His dissertation discussed the use of "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" as a teaching tool in elementary schools.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Bill Cosby in the book, The 100 Greatest African Americans.
One thing Bill Cosby has little patience for is political correctness or the politics of racial polarization embraced by some in the black community.
In 2004, on the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby addressed three thousand of black America's elite at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Cosby called on black Americans to keep their self-help traditions alive. His speech challenged black Americans to take a hard look at poor parenting and the cultural rot preventing too many black children from throwing off the veil of ignorance covering them, including disproportionate fatherlessness, bad schools, high rates of unemployment, and lives wasted in jails. In his talk, Cosby was critical of African Americans who put their priorities on sports, fashion, and "acting hard," rather than on education, self-respect, and self-improvement. He pleaded for black families to educate their children in many different aspects of American culture.
Speaking of the generation of civil rights leaders, be declared:
. . . these people opened doors, they gave us the rights. But today. . . in our cities we have fifty percent dropout (rates among young black men) in our neighborhoods. We have (the highest percentage of any American racial group with) men in prison. No longer is a person embarrassed because (she is) pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father.
Cosby told his audience that the problems weighing down black America fifty years after the Brown decision, had nothing to do with white people or the racism of the past. "We can't blame white people," he said:
They've got to wonder what the hell happened. . . . These people who marched and were hit in the face with rocks and punched in the face to get an education and today we got these knuckleheads walking around who don't want to learn English. . . . These people are not funny any more, And that's not my brother. And that's not my sister. They're faking and they're dragging me down because the state, the city . . . have to pick up the tab because they don't want to accept that they have to study to get an education.
The immediate reaction to Cosby that night was a standing ovation. Later, he came under attack from some in the civil rights establishment. The respected black journalist Juan Williams noted that:
Cosby had broken with the civil rights establishment's orthodoxy of portraying blacks as victims. That was the reason no other modern black leader or personality had previously pointed out the obvious problems bedeviling black America. Cosby had broken the code of silence.
Three weeks after he ignited the debate, Cosby kept a commitment to appear at the annual convention of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Speaking to the Chicago activists, Cosby responded to criticism that he had betrayed the black community by exposing problems of the black poor to the world:
Let me tell you something. Your dirty laundry gets out of school at two thirty every day. It's cursing and calling each other nigger as they walk up and down the street. They think they're hip. They can't read; they can't write. They're laughing and giggling and they're going nowhere.
When he was pressed about taking the pressure off white people and continued racism, he got fiery. This is the time to "turn the mirror around," he said.
. . . Because for me it is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen in their seat, it keeps you frozen in the hole you are sitting in.
His words were greeted with thunderous applause.
Juan Williams writes that:
The essence of the negative behavior he was railing against was behavior that the NAACP, the black church, the Jesse Jackson activists, and the black intellectuals had long ago decided not to address. Not one civil rights group took up Cosby's call for marches and protests against drug dealers, pregnant teens, deadbeat dads, and hate-filled rap music that celebrates violence. The only saving grace was that he had built up such a deep reservoir of goodwill that the official black leadership still didn't launch a public attack. They simply ignored him.
In his book Enough, Williams writes:
Cosby recounted to this author a conversation among teenaged boys he visited in a classroom. The boys told him they did not expect to live beyond the age of twenty-eight - some of them said twenty-five. "If you don't expect to be alive beyond twenty-five, it is easy to do certain things, like make a lot of babies without worrying about taking care of them," said Cosby. "You don't care if you give AIDS to a woman. And the women don't care if they have baby after baby, because they don't believe they are going to raise those babies." And there is no shame, he added. When he grew up in Philadelphia, Cosby said, a man who got a woman pregnant without marrying her often left town or went in the military or to a reform school. Now it's acceptable behavior, celebrated in hip-hop's corrosive culture.
Bill Cosby is an American original. Now, approaching 76, he is touring the country with his show. It was a treat to see him on Father's Day.
In February, President Obama launched an initiative for black young men. As he announced a $200 million, five-year initiative, "My Brother's Keeper," he declared:
I didn't have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.
He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a "moral issue for our country" as he presented troubling statistics: black boys are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read, and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim. "These statistics should break our hearts," he said, "and they should compel us to act."
The president challenged black men to do better themselves, and said they must not make excuses for their failures or blame society for the poor decisions they have already made:
You will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society's lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future. It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say if the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype. Nothing will be given to you.
In a show of support, leaders from more than a dozen nonprofit foundations and executives from some of the nation's largest companies joined the president, along with Magic Johnson, the retired basketball superstar, and Gen. Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State.
The initiative features $200 million worth of commitments by organizations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies to invest in programs that help young black and Hispanic men.
Some black critics have argued that the problems faced by young African Americans are primarily a result of racism in American society. Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke, for example, said the president's initiative did not focus enough on the more systemic forms of racism in America. He said:
These young men weren't killed because of structural situations that didn't give them opportunities. It's other kinds of racism that those boys were dealing with. The initiative is not addressing those things.
No problem in society can be properly addressed if it is misdiagnosed. To blame "racism" for the problems of young black men addressed by President Obama is to miss the point of what is, in fact, taking place in contemporary American society. This is not to say that no racism exists - that it has been completely eliminated from our society. Sadly, wherever men and women of diverse backgrounds live together, tensions are often to be found. It is to say, however, that the real dilemma is more complex.
The reality is, as the respected black economist Walter Williams points out:
. . . that black Americans as a group have made some of the largest gains over some of the highest hurdles in the shortest time of any group in history. If black Americans were a nation, they would be the sixteenth richest on earth. Some of the richest, and most famous, people in the world are black Americans. Colin Powell led the mightiest army in human history. In 1865 neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed this kind of progress was possible in a little over a century, if ever. As such it speaks to the intestinal fortitude of a people and, just as important, to the greatness of the nation where such gains were possible - gains that would have been impossible anywhere except in the United States.
Yet, Williams notes:
For many blacks, these gains are elusive - perhaps for 30 percent of our community. It does the poor no favors to blame their problems on racism - which has been diminishing as the pathologies got worse. In 1940, the black illegitimacy rate was around 14 percent. Now, it's 75 percent. In 1870, right after slavery, 70 to 80 percent of black families were intact. Now, only 30 percent of black kids live in two-parent families. Some 51 percent of homicide victims are black, as are 95 percent of their killers. You can't blame this on white people. The rotten schools black kids attend are mostly in cities where black adults are in control and spending a lot of taxpayers' money on those schools.
Census statistics indicate that nearly 70 percent of black children have single mothers, and estimates are that an even larger percentage will grow up without a father in the home. As comedian Bill Cosby said during a visit to Milwaukee, a city with a high murder rate, black children are hurt by the absence of parents and eagerly follow any example of leadership - from gangs to older friends to parents who offer bad examples. So they get a gun, and then, as Cosby described it
. . . you're asking for trouble . . . you have guns in the hands of people who are already angry because they've been abandoned by a father or mother, or they have lives with very low self-esteem, the anger level is so high.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times in June 2004, Cosby asked:
What can the future hold for us with a 50-percent high school dropout rate in many urban areas and with a 60-percent illiteracy rate among inmates and a prison population that is 45 percent black?
His goal in speaking out at the time of the commemoration of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, said Cosby, was to "ignite righteous indignation" as a basis for action against this scourge. He was embraced by Washington, D.C.'s police chief Charles Ramsay (now police chief of Philadelphia). Ramsay, who is black, declared:
I'm with you 100 percent. Behavior has to change. Responsibility for your own behavior has to change. We have people who just let TV and video games and music raise their kids and instill values . . . and then we wonder why we have a problem.
Within the black community more and more respected voices are speaking out against those who tend to blame the problems we face upon "white racism." In his book Enough, the journalist and commentator Juan Williams laments that in the face of mounting crime rates:
. . . civil rights and black church leaders pointed a finger at white cops, prosecutors, judges, and jailers as the source of the black crime problem. They said the increase in incarcerated black people was largely the result of an unfair increase in sentences for drug possession and drug dealing as part of the late-1970s and early-1980s "war on drugs.". . . Instead of speaking out against gangs, drug dealers, and pimps - and the clothes and hip-hop music that celebrated these outlaws as black heroes - left-wing intellectuals preached against the sins of the white racist American establishment.
Williams laments that:
Never a word was spoken about the need for black Americans to take up their own war on drugs and on crime as a matter of personal responsibility. And no one testified that crime by black hands undercut the advances in racial justice and the opportunities opened up by the great civil rights movement. . . . By 2004 federal data showed that black Americans - 13 percent of the population - accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 51 percent of murders. Most of the victims of these violent criminals were their fellow black people. . . . Oddly, the increase in the black prison population begins around the time of the 1954 Brown decision. At the start of the 1950s, 65 percent of all state and federal prisoners were white and 35 percent were black. At mid-century, poverty, bad housing, racist cops, legal discrimination, and high unemployment all were cited as the reasons that the percentage of black people in prison was more than triple the percentage of black people in the nation. By the end of the century the percentage of white prisoners had declined to 35 percent, while the black inmate population approached 50 percent. Something terrible had happened.
If the "My Brother's Keeper" initiative seeks to examine the real dynamics at work in the problems faced by young people in minority communities, all of us will be the beneficiaries. If it simply recites the clichs of the past, it will not move us forward. All Americans have an interest in promoting the upward mobility of all our citizens. But a proper diagnosis of the problems we face is essential if we are to succeed.
The subject on everyone's lips at the present time seems to be growing income inequality and a decline in upward mobility. President Obama appears ready to make this question central to the remainder of his term.
There are, of course, many examples of excess at the top. JPMorgan Chase, after a year immersed in scandal, has decided to award its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, $20 million in compensation for 2013. This amount is 74 percent higher than the $11.5 million he earned in 2012. Under his leadership, JPMorgan suffered a series of major legal setbacks, including a record $13 billion settlement with the Justice Department. JPMorgan, under Dimon's leadership, paid this amount to resolve allegations that the bank knowingly sold faulty mortgage securities that contributed to the nation's financial crisis. Other senior executives at the bank got lush compensation packages as well.
Wall Street, which played fast and loose with the nation's economy, was bailed out by the U.S. Government. American taxpayers were called upon to pay the bills for financial institutions that failed. This is hardly free enterprise at work. What would Adam Smith - or Milton Friedman - think of the concept of "too big to fail?" They might have a name for it, but it wouldn't be free-market capitalism. The excessive salaries earned by those who presided over failed institutions which taxpayers rescued is certainly a legitimate cause for concern.
Still, wretched excess by a few at the top has little to do with our larger economic problems. It is important that we not misunderstand the real challenges we face.
While many politicians argue that upward mobility in our society has declined, the evidence seems to paint a different picture. According to a large new academic study, the odds of moving up the economic ladder have not changed appreciably in the past 20 years.
Both President Obama and Republicans such as Rep. Paul Ryan have recently argued that the odds of climbing the income ladder are lower today than in the past. Yet, a new study, based on tens of millions of tax records, finds that the mobility rate has held largely steady in recent decades.
Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard and one of the authors, suggests that any advances in opportunity provided by expanded social programs have been offset by other changes in economic conditions. Increased trade and advanced technology, he points out, have closed off some traditional sources of middle-income jobs.
The study notes that "it is not true that mobility itself is getting lower," said Lawrence E. Katz, a Harvard economist and mobility scholar who was not one of the study's authors, but has reviewed the findings:
What's really changed is the consequences of it. Because there's so much inequality, people born near the bottom tend to stay near the bottom, and that's much more consequential than it was 50 years ago.
Incorporating results from a previous study dating back to the 1950s, the authors concluded that that "measures of social mobility have remained remarkably stable over the second half of the 20th century in the U.S."
A leading voice on mobility issues, Manhattan Institute economist Scott Winship, said that he found a similar trend in mobility - no change for children born in the 1980s compared with those born in the 1940s - using a different set of data.
"The facts themselves are pretty unassailable," said M.I.T. economist David Autor. For example, the study found that about 8 percent of children born in the 1980s who grew up in families in the bottom fifth of income distribution managed to reach the top fifth for their age group today. The rate was nearly identical for children born a decade earlier. Among children born into the middle fifth of the income distribution, about 20 percent climbed into the top fifth as adults, also largely unchanged over the last decade.
One factor that few have discussed is how the decline of the American family has had an impact on economic mobility. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of single-parent families and out-of-wedlock births that have harmed the upward mobility of working-class families.
Some liberals seem to have a vested interest in misunderstanding the real problems we face - as do some conservatives and their allegiance to large business interests. New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio speaks of New York as being composed of "two cities," one rich and one poor. One of the speakers at his inauguration called it "a plantation." Time columnist Joe Klein, hardly a conservative, calls this "myopic inaccuracy."
In Klein's view:
New York contains multitudes. It is the very opposite of a plantation. For the past 25 years especially, it has been a fierce incubator of opportunity for a kaleidoscope of new immigrant groups who have come and worked hard and succeeded. Studies show that the American Dream of upward mobility is more alive in New York than in much of the rest of the country - a fact that its new mayor should not only acknowledge but also crow about.
Another respected columnist, also not a conservative, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, declares that:
Conservatives are, I think, correct to highlight family stability as a fundamental issue that goes to the welfare of children as much as food stamps or anything else. Children raised by a single parent are more than three times as likely to live in poverty as those raised by two parents, according to census data. After Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the issue in 1965 in the context of black families, he was condemned in liberal circles as intolerant, if not a racist. Over time, though, there has been a growing appreciation that he was ahead of his time, and as the Urban Institute notes, the percentage of white babies born to unwed mothers is now the same as it was for black babies when he sounded his alarm.
Almost 36 percent of births in recent years in the U.S. were to unmarried women, according to census data. The birthrate for unmarried women is up 80 percent since 1980. Census data also shows that a majority of high school dropouts having babies are unmarried; only 9 percent of college graduates are. Two-thirds of black women giving birth are unmarried; just over a quarter of white women are.
How to improve marriage rates is something we don't seem to know how to do. Perhaps there is a way to improve parenting skills. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution argues that if we could teach the weakest parents to behave like average parents - by reading more to their children, speaking more, using consistent, encouraging discipline - then millions of children might have more secure attachments, more structure, and a better chance at upwardly mobile careers.
Robert Putnam of Harvard believes that when we design early education programs, they need to be "wrap-around" - to have formal and informal programs that bring parents in and instill communal skills. With teenagers, more guidance counselors are needed to help them understand how to advance and to respond when their needs are not being met. Putnam emphasizes skills for toddlers and teenagers. Human capital development is, in his view, what is really necessary to improve mobility and to help those who are born with disadvantages to advance.
There is no doubt that the twin problems of income disparity and the stagnation of the middle class must be addressed. But the many causes - technological advances, free trade with countries such as China, whose factories do not have to meet our environmental and other standards, and the decline of the American family - and of our educational system - must be understood as ingredients in the problems we face. Too much of our political rhetoric, unfortunately, tends to downplay the complex factors at work in order to come up with simple "solutions," which are unlikely to have positive results since they seem to purposely misunderstand the real and complex, dynamics at work.
It was recently announced that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would join Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm - although Mr. Geithner had no experience whatever in the private equity field.
Writing in The New Republic, Noam Scheiber noted that
It's hard to believe that Geithner, with no investment or private sector experience, would be worth the millions he will surely earn each year if he didn't also turn heads at the highest levels of government.
The financial industry is one of the largest lobbying groups in Washington. It has always pushed for fewer controls, and has largely succeeded. Two important changes were the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, which ended the separation between commercial and investment banking, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which legally banned the Securities and Exchange Commission from regulating over-the-counter derivatives. The main lobbyist for the 1999 law, Sanford Weill, then head of Citigroup, now admits that, "I don't think it's right anymore." Bill Clinton now says that he regrets not having tried to regulate derivatives.
These pieces of legislation, we now know, led to our financial crisis - and the eventual bailing out by taxpayers of failed banks and financial institutions. Eighteen months before the financial collapse, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a report called "Sustaining New York's and the U.S.' Global Financial Services Leadership," which warned that if Wall Street were re-regulated, the financial industry would move to London.
It is interesting to see how politically connected banks received larger bailout loans from the federal government during the 2008 financial crisis than banks that spent less on lobbying and campaign contributions. This is the conclusion of a new analysis by Professor Benjamin Blau of Utah State University. His findings were based on data from the Federal Reserve Board and published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Blau noted that it was "unlikely" that the Fed intended "to provide political favors to banks with the most political connections." But the pattern was clear. Banks that received bailout loans spent 72 times more on lobbying in the decade before the meltdown than banks that got no loans. Blau also found that 15 percent of the banks that received loans employed politically connected individuals. Only 1.5 percent of banks with politically connected employees got no loans.
In the case of Timothy Geithner, states Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a Wall Street watchdog group:
Geithner's spin through the revolving door to cash in on his "public service" will enrich himself, further erode public confidence in government, and give the finance industry more access and influence at the highest levels of government worldwide.
Josh Green of Bloomberg Businessweek writes that:
For all the criticism directed his way, Geithner was the exceedingly rare example of the idea that you can be a talented, high-level regulator and public servant and exist entirely apart from Wall Street financial interests. That won't be true any longer.
Washington, of course, is awash with lobbyists of all kinds - spending literally billions of dollars to get government to do their bidding. Companies spent about $3.5 billion annually on lobbying at the end of the last decade, a nearly 90 percent increase from 1999 after adjusting for inflation, according to political scientist Lee Drutman in his forthcoming book, The Business of America Is Lobbying.
"A growing number of companies," says Drutman, "became fully convinced that having a large-scale Washington presence was a good strategic decision."
According to recent research, lobbying pays off in a major way. Research shows that the more a company spends on influence, the lower its effective tax rate and the higher its stock returns, compared with competitors. A company called Strategas has developed an index to follow the stock performance of the 50 companies that lobbied the most last year. That index outperformed the rest of the market by 30 percent.
Lobbying, lawyers, and government contractors have fueled the extraordinary prosperity of the Washington area, while the economy in the rest of the country has stagnated. During the past decade, the Washington region - including suburban Maryland and Virginia - added 21,000 households in the nation's top 1 percent. No other metro area came close.
The Washington Post reports that:
The signs of the new Washington are everywhere - from the Tiffany & Co. store that Fairfax County development officials boast is the most profitable in the country to the new Tesla dealership in Tyson's Corner. Every morning on the Beltway, contractors, lobbyists and some of the country's highest-paid lawyers sit in the nation's worst traffic. Sports talk radio crackles . . . with the latest ads from Deltek, a firm that advises companies on "capture strategies" for winning government contracts.
The revolving door keeps turning - and government keeps growing and keeps serving the interests of those who so generously finance the campaigns of both Democrats and Republicans so that no matter which party is in power, the special interests will have friends to call upon. Wall Street's investment in politicians has certainly paid handsome dividends, as the bank bailout has made clear to all. It is, as a result, not too difficult to understand why a private equity firm would hire a former Treasury Secretary with no experience in the field. It is business as usual - as business is now conducted.
Liberals across the country are looking to Bill de Blasio, the newly elected mayor of New York City, to transform the city's government into a closely watched laboratory for populist theories of government that have never before been enacted on such a large scale.
Mr. de Blasio entered politics as an aide to former Mayor David Dinkins and was a firsthand witness to the failed policies of that left-leaning administration. The waves of crime and racial tension that plagued the Dinkins administration put Democrats in the political wilderness for 20 years. The successful tenures of Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg ushered in an era of business-minded executives who made the city safe, clean, and prosperous.
Under Mayors Guiliani and Bloomberg, the 20-year drop in crime is the sharpest in the nation. The liberal writer Jack Newfield once wrote that if the murders in New York go below 600 a year, there should be a ticker-tape parade for the Police Department. Last year, murders in New York fell below 340, in a city of 8 million. By contrast, Newark, with a population of 277,000 ended 2013 with more than 100 murders.
During Mayor de Blasio's inauguration on January 1, speaker after speaker saw fit to denounce outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was sitting only feet away. It started with the invocation, at which the Rev. Fred Lucas, senior pastor at the Brooklyn Community Church, called New York City a "plantation." He and other speakers freely used other slavery and racially-charged metaphors in calling for a Reconstruction and an Emancipation Proclamation. "End the civil wars and usher in a new Reconstruction era," Lucas said.
First to speak was the singer Harry Belafonte, who was seriously in error about history. He declared that, "New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world." That is clearly the opposite of the truth.
"New York is one of the first states to significantly reduce its entire correctional population," according to a 2013 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
It reduced the number of people in prison and jail, and on probation and parole. This drop was driven exclusively by declines in New York City's correctional population.
The title of the report is "How New York City Reduced Mass Incarceration: A Model for Change?" The study found that, "New York City sending fewer people into the justice system reduced mass incarceration in the entire of state."
Mr. de Blasio proclaims himself a "progressive" and declares his commitment to "equal opportunity." Yet, as The Washington Post pointed out editorially, "Achieving this goal is not just a matter of taxing and spending but also of institutional reform - especially in education."
Here, Mayor Bloomberg earned high marks from most New Yorkers. He challenged teachers' unions and expanded school choice and accountability. He closed large neighborhood schools that were performing poorly and replaced them with hundreds of smaller schools and public charter schools. When Bloomberg became mayor in 2001, fewer than half of New York City's high school students graduated in four years. That figure is now 61 percent, even though standards are more difficult. Fourth grade reading and math scores have risen. Sadly, the new mayor seems to side with those who would bring the Bloomberg reforms to an end.
What is de Blasio thinking when he promises to limit charter schools' access to publicly owned buildings and promises a moratorium on closing low-performing schools? He also wants to end Bloomberg's A-F report cards for schools. His choice for schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, is a prominent critic of the Bloomberg reforms.
The tone set at De Blasio's inauguration was even criticized editorially by one of his strongest supporters, The New York Times. The paper lamented "backward-looking speeches both graceless and smug" and pointed, in particular, to the new public advocate:
Worst among them, but hardly alone, was the new public advocate, Letitia James, who used her moment for her own head-on attack on the 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In doing so, she made a prop of a 12-year-old girl named Dasani, who had to hold the Bible and Ms. James's hand as Ms. James called for a government "that cares more about a child going hungry than a new tax credit for a luxury development."
Dasani was profiled in a series of articles in The Times illustrating the plight of homeless families. Editorially, The Times declared:
Ms. James turned her into Exhibit A of an Inauguration Day prosecution: The People vs. Mayor Bloomberg. So did the pastor whose invocation likened New York to a "plantation," and Harry Belafonte who strangely laid the problem of America's crowded prisons at the feet of the former mayor, an utterly bogus claim, while saying Mr. Bloomberg shared responsibility for the nation's "deeply Dickensian justice system." . . . Mr. Bloomberg had his mistakes and failures, but he was not a cartoon Gilded Age villain. He deserved better than pointless and tacky harangues from speakers eager to parrot Mr. de Blasio's campaign theme.
The only gracious voice on the scene was that of former President Bill Clinton, who administered the oath of office. Clinton thanked Bloomberg, who took over the city in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and had to deal with the recession that hit the country in 2008, for leaving New York stronger than he found it. When he followed, de Blasio also gave a nod to the former mayor, but by then the negative and hostile tone had been set.
Why did Bill Clinton administer the oaths of office to New York's mayor and bring Hillary with him? De Blasio has, it seems, become a beacon to those in the Democratic Party's progressive wing, who have often been disappointed by President Obama. Other than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the party's left wing sees few political leaders willing to promote their agenda. With the Clintons on hand, the de Blasio inauguration has added significance and seems to be an effort to position a potential Clinton presidential race further to the left.
Politico reported that de Blasio will buttress the coming presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. It noted de Blasio's ties to the Clintons and argued that the new mayor will shore up her liberal credibility. "As church people say, he can 'witness' for them," says Democratic strategist and former adviser to Bill Clinton, James Carville. "He can talk about her, how she stands up for people. It could be very, very helpful."
Under Michael Bloomberg, New York City thrived. It became safe and prosperous. He turned the $6 billion deficit he found upon taking office into a $3 billion surplus. The problems of inequality upon which de Blasio based much of his campaign are real, but are not unique to New York, nor were they the result of city policies. Statistics show even greater inequality in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. (where Michael Bloomberg never served as mayor). New York City has not had a liberal Democratic mayor for 20 years. When he served in the Dinkins administration, de Blasio saw a different, dangerous, degraded city. He will be of little use to Hillary Clinton or anyone else if he turns his back on 20 years of real progress in New York. Let's hope he will abandon the divisive rhetoric of his campaign and continue to move the city forward as his most recent predecessors have done.
Government's performance in recent days has been dismal. This is hardly new. One of the reasons for President Obama's election, after all, was dismay with President George W. Bush's eight years in office. During that period we went to war in Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist, taxpayers bailed out failing banks on Wall Street, Medicare was expanded with an unfunded drug benefit, and government deficits reached all-time highs. Things, we were told, couldn't get worse.
Somehow, the current administration seems to be doing its best to show that things can continue on a dangerous downhill spiral. The Affordable Care Act, hailed as President Obama's landmark achievement, is in a shambles. Not only does its website not work, but promises made by the president that Americans would be able to keep their policies, have been shown to be untrue.
In mid-November, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Obama with the lowest approval rating of his presidency. Only 39 percent approved of his performance. Fifty four percent disapproved. These numbers are similar to those of a Pew survey that showed the president's job approval at 41 percent with 53 percent disapproving.
Public disillusionment with government goes far beyond healthcare. We now know that the surveillance program of the National Security Agency appears to be out of control. Even liberal defenders of the administration find it difficult not to express their criticism. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, for example, wrote of
. . . the NSA's apparent goal of knowing everything. The agency collects information as massively and indiscriminately as possible on the theory that if you assemble a database of all the world's communications, the few you seek - those involving terrorists - will be in there somewhere. This is . . . a massive invasion of privacy. . . . While NSA analysts were sifting billions of phone records, they were unaware that one of their own contract analysts, some guy named Snowden, was about to spill all the precious beans.
It seems that almost every day we learn of some government program that is not working - or has gone awry. In mid-November - to cite one recent report - a federal report concluded that there is no evidence that airport checkpoint personnel have any basis for judgment when they scan a line for suspicious passengers. In a report to a House subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office says there is no evidence it's effective for Transportation Security Administration officials to scan crowds for signs someone might be a terrorist. The GAO report recommends that Congress stop funding for the program - which has cost $878 million thus far.
In recent years, many Americans have forgotten the Founding Fathers' view that power is a corrupting force. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison declared:
It may be a reflection of human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
The deliberations of those who created the American Republic are instructive. Among the works carefully studied by the founders was Polybius' historical analysis of Roman character and the Roman Constitution, written about the middle of the 2nd century B.C. That system incorporated both checks and balances upon political power and provided for separation of political functions. The Roman Constitution, said Polybius, was not formed upon abstractions but developed out of the circumstances of the time of troubles in which the people of Rome found themselves.
This was the "mixed government" praised by Aristotle, but which Aristotle had thought almost impossible to maintain on a grand scale. The Roman experience, writes Russell Kirk in The Roots of American Order, was
. . . mentioned repeatedly in the constitutional debates in Philadelphia. The consequences of Roman centralization had their part in discouraging schemes for a central, rather than a federal government in America - quite as the Greek disunity had a part in the arguments against a mere loose confederation. . . . And in the 18th century climate of rationalism, American knowledge of the effects of Rome's religious and ethical decline upon the social order did something to secure American attachment to the free exercise of religion. . . . Rome's example of decadence was a cautionary lesson. . . . But also Rome's legacy of law was part of the American inheritance.
A more direct influence upon the Founders was the history of England and, in turn, their own history of self-government in the colonies. The Common Law, which evolved over centuries, was, Kirk points out:
. . . the foundation of order . . . also it was the foundation of freedom. The high claim of the commentators on the common law was this: no man, not even the king, was above or beyond the law.
Activist government - involved in every aspect of people's lives - was the opposite of what the Founding Fathers had in mind. At the beginning of his Administration, Thomas Jefferson wrote a friend that:
. . . the path we have to pursue is so quiet that we have nothing scarcely to propose to our Legislature. A noiseless course, not meddling with the affairs of others, unattractive of notice, is a mark that society is going on in happiness.
In recent years, whether those in power were Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, the power of government has increased, as has the percentage of the gross national product disposed of by the state. The deficit has skyrocketed. Those out of power often speak of cutting government. Once in office, however, they do precisely the opposite. Both of our political parties are far removed from the fear and suspicion of power that the Founding Fathers shared.
Shortly before his death, Russell Kirk, whose book The Conservative Mind was one of the most influential of our time, noted that, "As an instrument of order, the Constitution would be more successful than any other written device in the history of mankind." He warned, however, that:
One of the more pressing perils of our time is that people may be cut off from their roots in culture and community. . . . Moral and social order, or a vast part of it, may be destroyed by a few years of violence or a few decades of contemptuous neglect. Then hope is lost for many generations; for order is a kind of organic growth, developing slowly over many centuries.
Today's Washington would be no surprise to the Founding Fathers. Human nature being what it is, they expected it. The only thing that might surprise them is the faith that some Americans still place in government power. Now that skepticism is growing, the Framers may feel that freedom is a bit more secure. Skepticism of power, after all, is something they made sure to bequeath to future generations of Americans.
In the 1970s, a U.S. Senate committee found widespread abuses at the NSA, the CIA, and other agencies, including programs to spy on Americans. An NSA program called Project Shamrock, for example, had persuaded three major American telegraph companies to hand over a record of most of their traffic. By the time the program ended, in 1975, the NSA had collected information on 75,000 citizens. This information was shared with the CIA, which was conducting its own domestic intelligence program, Operation Chaos.
In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which forbade the intelligence agencies to spy on anyone in the U.S. unless they had probable cause to believe that the person was "a foreign power or the agent of a foreign power." The law established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and, in 1976, Congress created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The NSA and other intelligence agencies are instructed to keep the committee, as well as a similar one in the House, "fully and currently informed."
As a result of material leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, we now know a great deal more about how government intelligence agencies are actually working. The provision of the 2001 Patriot Act that allowed for the collection of American phone records was publicly described as analogous to a grand jury subpoena by the Department of Justice, suggesting individual secret warrants. Secret interpretations, however, told a different story. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate oversight committee, said:
Tell me if you've ever seen a grand jury subpoena that allowed the government, on an ongoing basis, to collect the records of millions of Americans.
Intelligence officials have not hesitated to lie to the American people and their elected representatives, even under oath, about what they have been doing. In March, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, was asked by Sen. Wyden, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions of Americans?" He replied, "No sir, it does not."
David Keene, editorial page editor at The Washington Times, notes that:
He could not have attempted such an answer after the Snowden revelations, but at the time, Mr. Clapper may well have thought he'd gotten away with keeping what his minions were up to from the Senate committee charged with overseeing our intelligence operations. Mr. Clapper himself is a career military man. . . . He is, no doubt, a patriot as his defenders claim, but his disregard for the niceties of the law and the Constitution reveal him as a man who should not be in the position of power he now occupies.
In early December, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) called for Clapper's resignation and insisted that he be prosecuted for perjury. Mr. Sensenbrenner has been outraged by the manner in which the NSA and the Obama administration have expanded the meaning of language in the USA Patriot Act, which he drafted. A former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he points out that oversight of activities of the executive branch is a core mission of Congress and that lying to a congressional committee is illegal.
What the Snowden material revealed was a massive, secret national security state - spending $52.6 billion a year, with more than 30,000 employees at the NSA alone. There is, of course, clearly a need for government intelligence. Electronic intelligence was traditionally focused on foreign governments. But those who attacked us at the World Trade Center were private individuals, born abroad and living in the U.S. The NSA shifted its focus and turned inward.
In the years since 9/11, the subjects of NSA collection grew to include patterns within entire populations, including data that can literally retrace the steps of individuals years before they became subjects. The challenge, explained one NSA document, was to "master global networks and handle previously unimagined volumes of raw data for both passive and active collection."
Since 2006 the U.S. government has gathered and stored transaction records of phone calls made in the U.S. For a time, the government collected similar metadata on Internet traffic as well. It harvested and stored hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts on services like Yahoo and Facebook. A program called Dishfire collected text messages from around the world and a database called Tracfin captured credit-card transactions.
While some have made Edward Snowden a hero for revealing the extent of government surveillance programs, the fact is that he himself has violated the law and may have harmed our efforts to combat the very real terrorist threat we face. Matthew Olson, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, points out that, "We have seen, in response to the Snowden leaks, al-Qaeda and affiliated groups seeking to change their tactics."
Still, in the name of protecting national security, we may lose far more than we gain if government agencies are permitted to invade the privacy of millions of Americans - and lie to our elected representatives in the Congress about what they are doing. When electronic surveillance began, with the telegraph and radio, the only way to record an intercept was by writing it down. Now, new technologies permit wholesale copying, sorting and storage of billions of records a day.
In 2010 the House and Senate, without debate, passed a one-year extension of the expiring Patriot Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner, author of the original Patriot Act, wrote in The Los Angeles Times that he and a majority of his colleagues did not know how the law was being used before they voted to endorse it. In 2011, the Patriot Act was extended again, this time until 2015. Sen. Wyden, speaking in the Senate, declared:
I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry. "Did you know what this law actually permits?" "Why didn't you know before you voted on it?"
In an article in The New Yorker asking "Why won't the president rein in the intelligence community?" Ryan Lizza writes that:
The history of the intelligence community. . . reveals a willingness to violate the spirit and the letter of the law, even with oversight. What's more, the benefits of the domestic surveillance programs remain unclear.
In Sen. Wyden's view, the continued revelations about what government agencies are really doing are helping build momentum for changing the law:
We pick up more support as more and more of this comes out. After a decade, we think this is the best opportunity for reform that we're going to have, and we're not going to let it go by.
A coalition of conservatives and liberals, including Wyden, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the extension of the Patriot Act. They lost this time, but they were asking the right questions about the limits of government power in a free society. Government, it seems clear, has exceeded such limits - under both the Bush and Obama administrations.
History shows us that those who seek to expand power and diminish freedom usually have a variety of good reasons to set forth for their purposes, in this case "national security." In the case of Olmstead vs. United States (1927), Justice Louis Brandeis warned that:
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachments of men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
Today's "beneficent" reason to limit our freedom is "national security." It may be called "The Patriot Act," but the real act of patriotism may be, finally, to limit its scope and authority.
The death of Nelson Mandela has taken from us an extraordinary leader, one who embraced reconciliation rather than revenge, and provided his country with an opportunity to move forward without the bloodshed and strife that has characterized other parts of the African continent.
He used the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to heal deep wounds and usher in an era of peace after decades of racial conflict. On a continent with leaders who remain in power for life, Mandela became a role model, stepping down from the presidency after one term.
Apartheid was formally initiated in South Africa in 1948. In his memoir, Mandela recalls that:
I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.
Through the 1940s and early 1950s, Mandela organized and agitated on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC). Initially inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's teachings, Mandela was committed to nonviolent resistance. He practiced law and by 1952 he had become president of the ANC's largest branch, in the Transvaal. He was arrested for the first time in 1952 while organizing an ANC defiance campaign. A court decreed that he could not be in the presence of more than two people at a time. Such repression drove him underground. In 1961, Mandela and others in the ANC formed an armed wing, arguing that all forms of non-violent protest had by then become illegal. This group, Spear of the Nation, carried out an underground campaign of sabotage.
In 1963, Mandela and his colleagues were charged with treason, but when the case went to trial, the charges were changed to sabotage and conspiracy. They were convicted and expected to be hanged. At sentencing, in the last public statement he would make until 1990, he said:
During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have described the cherished ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Instead of death, he was sentenced to Robben Island prison where he would spend 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment confined to a tiny cell and forced to do hard labor in the prison quarry. As unrest against apartheid grew in South Africa, and around the world, in 1982 Mandela was transferred to the Pollamoor Prison on the mainland near Cape Town. A few years later, a series of secret talks took place between Mandela and President P. W. Botha, who offered to release Mandela if he renounced violence. Mandela would not.
South Africa's government began tentative talks with the ANC in exile, led by Oliver Tambo, Mandela's old law partner. These talks led to Mandela's release in 1990. South African President F. W. de Klerk and the National Party thought in 1990 that Mandela could be freed and that a formula could be negotiated that would leave the white minority with a veto power over black rule. But Mandela's release set in motion a chain of events that would lead to free and fair elections and majority rule four years later.
Mandela rejected those in the black community who wanted revenge for the years of apartheid and, instead, called for reconciliation and the creation of a democratic, multi-racial society. He allowed white civil servants and soldiers to stay in their jobs. In 1996, Parliament approved a new national constitution, including a bill of rights guaranteeing protections that most South Africans had never imagined.
That same year, Mandela launched the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Rather than trials, as at Nuremburg after World War II, Mandela's government fostered truth telling and amnesty. Killers who confessed would not be prosecuted. It insured that the seeds of more racial hatred would not be planted.
Mandela sought to bridge the divide between blacks and whites. When South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, he encouraged blacks to support the Springboks, the national rugby team from which blacks were largely alienated and were viewed by many as a symbol of white rule. When the Springboks won a final over New Zealand, Mandela wore a Springbok shirt and presented the trophy to the team captain. This gesture was widely seen as a major step toward racial reconciliation.
On the day of his inauguration, May 10, 1994, Mandela stood at the podium near South Africa's last apartheid-era president, F. W. de Klerk. A year earlier, they had shared the Nobel Prize for what the Nobel committee called "their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundation for a new, democratic South Africa."
It is important to remember the leadership of President de Klerk. Many white South Africans did not want to give up power and move toward a multi-racial, democratic society. They had power and military strength on their side. An apartheid regime could more than likely have been maintained for some time, at great cost. But de Klerk and the majority of white South Africans decided to take a chance on freedom. Without such partners, Mandela's legacy might not have become what it is.
Paul Taylor, The Washington Post's correspondent in South Africa from 1992 to 1995, notes that:
Mandela's main partner, President Frederik W. de Klerk, was a shrewd Afrikaner who had the foresight to understand that the grotesque apartheid system he once championed was destroying his country, and he had the fortitude to stick with his surrender-without-a-fight strategy through four arduous years of start-and-stop negotiations, even as the deal grew less attractive for the white minority that had put him in power.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, this writer was a frequent visitor to South Africa and was a regular contributor to a group of Afrikaans-language newspapers, including Die Burger in Cape Town and Beeld in Johannesburg. I had the opportunity to meet with South Africans of all races and to travel widely in the country.
I remember many late night conversations with my Afrikaner friends, in particular, in which I heard the same question many times:
We know apartheid is wrong and immoral. The question is, how can we bring it to an end without becoming a one-party dictatorship as have the other countries in Africa which emerged from colonial rule?
The refrain was often heard in those days of "one man, one vote, one time" with regard to newly independent African countries.
In the end, it became possible to move away from apartheid and become a multi-racial democracy because whites of good will, a majority of white South Africans, but with a significant minority resisting such changes, found a partner with whom to move forward in a positive direction in Nelson Mandela. Without Mandela, it is difficult to see how South Africa could have progressed in the positive way it has thus far.
There is, however, concern that South Africa, in the years since Mandela left office, has not been fulfilling the promise of those years. Racial and economic inequalities remain great and many black residents still lack basic necessities such as electricity, proper housing, and clean water. Education and healthcare remain poor.
There is growing disillusionment with the ruling ANC. Today, the party and its leadership are facing allegations of corruption and of ignoring the needs of impoverished blacks, the constituency that Mandela fought to emancipate and empower.
The Economist reports that while race relations are improving and extremist groups, both white and black, have faded away:
. . . in many other respects, the ANC is floundering. Corruption is pervasive, with a permissive tone set at the top. President Jacob Zuma was previously tainted by an arms-deal scandal, though charges against him were dropped on technicalities. More recently he has been lambasted for the taxpayers' fortune spent on glorifying his rural homestead. An official report on the matter has been declared top secret. Just as big a blot on the ANC record is unemployment. Thirty-seven percent of working-age people . . . are jobless. . . . Black-empowerment schemes to redress apartheid's injustices have been widely abused to enrich ANC-linked people. Mr. Zuma's relatives and pals have hugely benefited. . . . The rate of rape is horrifying. Public hospitals are so bad that people say you go there to die, not to recover.
Mamphela Ramphele, an anti-apartheid veteran, has set up her own party out of frustration with the ANC. She says that public education is worse than it was under apartheid. Through corruption and incompetence, she reports, tens of thousands of textbooks go missing every year.
William Gumede, an analyst who has written extensively about Nelson Mandela, declares that:
In all of the great liberation movements there is the problem of producing great leaders to take over. But in this case, there has really been a failure to pass the torch.
What the future holds for South Africa, or for any of us for that matter, cannot be known. The future will unfold in ways none of us ever imagined, What we can know, however, is that Nelson Mandela provided a rare example of magnanimity and good will, and tried to set his much suffering country on a path of achieving dignity and freedom for all of its residents. Now it is up to them. In our troubled world, this is no small accomplishment. *
In his much discussed Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a lot to say about the concept of American "exceptionalism."
He wrote that:
It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, addressing Putin, noted that:
I'm guessing what went wrong here is your translators let you down when they defined exceptional for you as luchshyy (better) rather than razlichnyy (different).
Few remember that in the 1920s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin chastised members of the Jay Lovestone-led faction of the American Communist Party for their heretical belief that America was independent of the Marxist laws of history "thanks to its natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions." American Communists started using the term "American exceptionalism" in factional fights. The term slowly moved into more general use.
The term - and the concept - has a long history. American exceptionalism is the theory that the U.S. is qualitatively different from other nations. In this view, America emerged from a revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called "the first new nation," developing a unique ideology based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, and republicanism. The English writer G. K. Chesterton pointed out that "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed."
The theory of exceptionalism can be traced to Alexis de Tocqueville, the visitor from France in the 1830s, who wrote in Democracy In America that "The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional."
America is more than simply another country. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:
Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.
In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote that "We are the heirs of all times and with all nations we divide our inheritance." If you kill an American, he said, you shed the blood of the whole world.
Many of our leading thinkers have speculated about American uniqueness, from the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson declared that:
The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride the people legitimately, by the grace of God.
In his book, The Liberal Political Tradition in America (1955), Harvard political scientist Louis Hartz argued that the American political tradition lacked the left-wing/socialist and right-wing/aristocratic elements that dominated in most other countries because colonial America lacked any feudal traditions, such as established churches, landed estates, and a hereditary nobility.
Historians David Potter, Daniel Boorstin and Richard Hofstadter followed Hartz in emphasizing that political conflicts in American history remained within the tight boundaries of a consensus regarding private property, individual rights, and representative government. The national government that emerged was far less centralized than its European counterparts.
There are also Puritan roots to the idea of American exceptionalism. The Puritans believed that God had made a pact with their people and had chosen them to provide a model for the other nations on earth. One Puritan leader, John Winthrop, expressed this idea as creating a "city upon a hill" - that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world.
Historian Gordon Wood writes that:
Our beliefs in liberty, equality, constitutionalism and the well-being of ordinary people came out of the revolutionary era. So too did the idea that we Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy.
Thomas Paine's Common Sense expressed the belief that America was not just an extension of Europe but a new land, a country of nearly unlimited potential and opportunity. These sentiments laid the intellectual foundations for the revolutionary concept of American exceptionalism and were closely tied to republicanism, the belief that sovereignty belonged to the people, not to a hereditary ruling class. Religious freedom characterized the new republic in unique ways - at a time when major nations had state religions.
The U.S. is unique in that it was founded on a set of republican ideals (not wholly realized in its early days, in particular, with the existence of slavery) rather than on a common heritage, ethnicity or ruling elite. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln declared that America is a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
During the radicalism of the 1960s, when many young critics of America denounced their own country, although they knew little of its history, author Mario Puzo wrote:
What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries . . . whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn't get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering, why not? And some even became artists.
As a young man growing up in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, "For a thousand years in Italy no one in our family was even able to read." But in America everything was possible - in a single generation.
It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her own dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself, and looking back she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.
In 1866, Lord Acton, the British Liberal party leader, said that America was becoming the "distant magnet." Apart from the
. . . millions who have crossed the ocean, who shall reckon the millions whose hearts and hopes are in the United States, to whom the rising sun is in the West?
Vladimir Putin seems not to understand that America has been a nation much loved. Germans have loved Germany. Frenchmen have loved France. Swedes have loved Sweden. This, of course, is only natural. America has been beloved not only by its own citizens but by men and women throughout the world who have yearned for freedom. America dreamed a bigger dream than any nation in the history of man, and welcomed men and women of every background who shared that dream and wanted to be part of it.
American exceptionalism, Mr. Putin may eventually come to understand, lies in the fact that our ancestors came from every corner of the world - with every race, ethnicity, religion and language represented. Our free society - this great mixing together - has produced unprecedented creativity and ingenuity. It is not for no reason that America looms so large in the world. As the German Jewish song-writer, Kurt Weill, who found refuge here during World War II, wrote, " Every name is an American name." That very fact alone makes America unique - and exceptional. Perhaps most revealing is the fact that Americans themselves don't think this is unusual at all.
At many universities, it has been said that the teaching of Homer, St. Thomas, Shakespeare, Freud, and Einstein is the perpetuation of the power of "dead white males" over women and minorities.
It is, of course, a contemporary illusion that particular works of art, literature or music are, somehow, the possession of only those who can trace their lineage to the creators of such culture. Shall only Jews read the Old Testament? Only Greeks read Plato and Aristotle? Only those of English descent read Shakespeare, and only Italians appreciate Dante or Leonardo da Vinci?
Western culture is relevant to men and women of all races and backgrounds, particularly those living in the midst of our Western society. The distinguished black intellectual W. E. B. DuBois recognized this reality when he wrote more than one hundred years ago:
I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line, I walk arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously, with no scorn or condescension. So, with Truth, I dwell above the veil.
Ironically, one dead white male who remains in vogue among campus radicals in the U.S. - as well as with radical movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America - is Karl Marx.
What has been widely overlooked by those who are keeping the Marxist flame alive is the blatant racism of Karl Marx. Largely unknown to his non-white and non-Western admirers is the contempt in which Marx held all non-European peoples and cultures.
Much has been written about the fact that Marx, although of rabbinical descent on both sides of his family, was a dedicated anti-Semite. In fact, his book, World Without Jews is considered by many to be a forerunner to Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Little, however, has been written about Marx's racial views, the contempt in which he held not only non-whites, but whole groupings of Europeans, especially the Slavic peoples.
In his book Karl Marx: Racist, Nathaniel Weyl shows how Marx privately developed an entire racial hierarchy and racial view of history by the 1860s. In the middle of that decade, Marx was casting about for some scientific or pseudo-scientific justification for his racial notions, which he found in the work of Pierre Tremaux. He and his friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels went so far as to advocate wars of extermination against Slavic peoples and the destruction of Russia. How ironic that the Soviet Union proclaimed itself a "Marxist" state.
"Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels," Weyl writes:
. . . were neither internationalists nor believers in equal rights for all races and peoples. They opposed the struggles for national independence of those races and peoples that they despised. They believed that the "barbaric" and "ahistoric" peoples who comprised the immense majority of mankind had played no significant role in history and were not destined to do so in the foreseeable future. They regarded them as obstacles to the forward sweep of history. They considered them as objects rather than subjects. They were people who ought to be conquered and exploited by the more advanced nations. Some of these inferior stock were people who ought to be eradicated and swept from the surface of the earth.
Marx took from Hegel, another German philosopher, the idea that certain races, peoples, and nations were "ahistoric." Either they had never played any role in history and never would, as in the case of black Africans, or they were insignificant peoples whose history was irrelevant, or they were frozen at civilizational levels at which the more advanced portions of mankind had already left them behind.
"There were ideas," Weyl notes:
. . . which Marx would adopt and transform. . . . Publicly and for political reasons, both Marx and Engels posed as friends of the Negro. In private, they were anti-black racists of the most odious sort. They had contempt for the entire Negro race, a contempt they expressed by comparing Negroes to animals, by identifying black people with "idiots" and by continuously using the opprobrious term "nigger" in their private correspondence.
Marx, for example, wrote to Engels on July 30, 1862, about one of the leaders of socialism in Germany and his rival, Ferdinand Lasalle, whom he referred to as, "that Jewish nigger, Lasalle." He wrote:
It is now absolutely clear to me that, as both the shape of his head and his hair texture shows - he descends from the Negroes who joined Moses' flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the paternal side hybridized with a nigger) . . . The pushiness of the fellow is also nigger-like.
Marx even championed slavery in North America. When Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, probably the leading socialist thinker in France at the time, published a book called The Philosophy of Poverty, Marx replied with a vitriolic rebuttal entitled The Poverty of Philosophy (1874). Proudhon had advocated the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. Marx replied:
Without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world and you will have anarchy - the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.
In the U.S., socialists early in the 20th century adopted Marx's racist views. On September 14, 1901, the Social Democratic Herald characterized black Americans as inferior, depraved elements who went around "raping women and children." In an article in the paper dated May 31, 1902, Victor Berger, one of the national leaders of the Socialist Party, wrote that "there can be no doubt that the Negroes and mulattos constitute a lower race."
It is ironic that the most acceptable white male in the curriculum for "diversity" on many campuses is Karl Marx, who was himself a bigot. At one time, Marx referred to a Creole man who married his niece as a "gorilla offspring." Marx also approved of European imperialism in Asia because he considered the Asian culture so inferior that it was incapable of entering historic development without a European push. Of China and India, he said they were "semi-barbarian and semi-civilized" and had "no history at all, at least no human history."
Marx's colleague Friedrich Engels was equally racist in his views. When he learned that Marx's son-in-law, who had some African ancestry, was running as a socialist in a district that also contained the Paris zoo, Engels observed:
Being in his quality as a nigger a degree closer to the rest of the animal kingdom than the rest of us, he is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of that district.
In his address to the freshman class at Yale in 1990 - which is as relevant, if not more so, today - Donald Kagan, at that time Professor of History and Classics and Dean of Yale College, declared:
The assault on the character of Western civilization badly distorts history. The West's flaws are real enough, but they are common to almost all the civilizations known on any continent at any time in human history. What is remarkable about the Western heritage . . . are the important ways in which it has departed from the common experience. . . . It has asserted the claims of the individual against those of the state, limiting the state's power and creating a realm of privacy into which it cannot penetrate. . . . At its core is a tolerance and respect for diversity, unknown in most cultures.
Our unity as a nation is threatened, in Kagan's view, by those who would replace the teaching of our history and culture with some other "multi-cultural" curriculum:
. . . . American culture derives chiefly from the experience of Western Civilization, and especially from England. . . . I say this without embarrassment, as an immigrant who arrived here as an infant from Lithuania. . . . Our students will be handicapped in their lives after college if they do not have a broad and deep knowledge of the culture in which they live and the roots from which they come. . . . As our land becomes ever more diverse, the danger of separation and segregation by ethnic group . . . increases and with it the danger to the national unity which, ironically, is essential to the qualities that attracted its many people's to this country.
Given the racial attitudes of Karl Marx, it is an irony of history that he remains immune from criticism on the part of those non-whites and non-Europeans for whom he expressed such distaste. Of course, as it has been said many times, the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. It is high time that we pay attention to the past so that we do not repeat its mistakes - or make heroes of those for whom we should have contempt. Karl Marx would be a good place to begin.
The latest public opinion polls show that only 8.4 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress conducts business, while 84.7 percent disapprove.
Approval of Congress is at a new low in 40 years of polling. Beyond this, Americans' approval of their own representative in Washington is under water for the first time, and a record number of registered voters are inclined to look for someone new in 2014. Only 25 percent of registered voters say they are inclined to re-elect their representatives to Congress. This is true for Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.
The role that money plays in our political life deserves increased scrutiny. A new book from a conservative advocate of tighter campaign finance regulations seeks to draw attention to a number of questionable - but legal - activities that place the spotlight on Capitol Hill.
The author is Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, whose earlier book focused on how members of both parties enriched themselves by trading stock based on information they obtained by virtue of their position in Congress. The book helped lead to the Stock Act, which banned insider trading for representatives and senators.
It is Schweizer's hope that his new book, Extortion, will push Congress to address loopholes in the campaign finance system, including the banning of "Leadership PACs," which permit politicians to solicit and spend money without the same restrictions they face when using their campaign committees.
In Schweizer's view, these groups have become slush funds that enable lavish lifestyles while they exist, in theory, to help members of Congress finance their own campaigns and help political allies.
The book details the extravagant spending of both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) presided over a leadership PAC that spent $10,000 on golf at Pebble Beach, nearly $27,000 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and $107,752 at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Sen. Roy Blount (R-MO) spent $65,000 at a resort on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) used his leadership PAC to spend $64,500 on a painting of himself. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) used hers to pay for catered parties at her home several times a month.
Peter Schweizer accuses Congress of running an "extortion racket." Writing in The New York Times, he notes:
Consider this: of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year, roughly 5 percent become law. Why do legislators bother proposing so many bills? What if many of those bills are written not to be passed but to pressure people into forking over cash? This is exactly what is happening. Politicians have developed a dizzying array of legislative tactics to bring in money. Take the maneuver known inside the Beltway as the "tollbooth." Here the speaker of the House or a powerful committee chairperson will create a procedural obstruction or postponement on the eve of an important vote. Campaign contributions are then implicitly solicited. If the tribute offered by those in favor of the bill's passage is too small (or if the money from opponents is sufficiently high), the bill is delayed and does not proceed down the legislative highway.
Another tactic is what Beltway insiders call "milker bills." Schweizer describes them this way:
These are bills designed to "milk" donations from threatened individuals or businesses. The real trick is to pit two industries against each other and pump both for donations, thereby creating a "double milker" bill. President Obama and Vice President Biden seemed to score big in 2011 using the milker tactic in connection with two bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. By pitting their supporters in Silicon Valley who opposed the bills against their allies in Hollywood who supported the measures . . . Obama and Biden were able to create a sort of fund-raising arms race.
Schweizer points out:
The reason these fund-raising extortion tactics succeed is that politicians deploy them while bills are making their way through Congress, when lawmakers possess maximum leverage. That's why at least 27 state legislatures have put restrictions on allowing state politicians to receive contributions while the legislatures are in session.
Beyond the abuse of money, members of Congress regularly pass laws for the rest of us - from which they exempt themselves. In the recent controversy over the Affordable Care Act, for example, Americans learned that congressional staff members were to receive subsidies not available to other Americans, many with far lower incomes. Traditionally, Congress has exempted itself from laws and regulations it imposes upon other Americans - from Social Security, to affirmative action, to occupational health and safety rules.
Recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a constitutional amendment stating:
Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.
This amendment also contains two provisions that apply that same principle to the executive branch and judicial branch of the federal government.
Sen. Paul declares:
Under this amendment, Congress, federal judges and even the White House will no longer be able to exempt themselves from the laws they create, uphold or sign - as they all regularly do now in a plethora of ways. . . . Obviously, amending the Constitution is no small task. It requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and must be ratified by at least 38 states. However, which politicians will now publicly say they truly think Washington should be exempt from the laws it makes for the rest of us? What possible excuse would members of either party come up with for not supporting this amendment?
When Americans view Congress with dismay, they have many reasons for doing so. When the Affordable Care Act was first being promoted, Nancy Pelosi, as House Speaker, said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it." Now we can see where passing bills no one has read can lead.
One question that remains to be answered is: who exactly are the 8.4 percent of Americans who do approve of the job Congress is doing?
The Washington association that lobbies for lobbyists wants to change its name - eliminating the term "lobbyist."
The American League of Lobbyists has decided to call itself the "Association of Government Relations Professionals." In a letter to the group's 1,200 members, Monte Ward, the group's president, noted that:
The new brand will seek to fully represent the broad range of responsibilities that a government relations professional practices daily.
Groups often change their names when those names become a burden. In 2006, the Association of Trial Lawyers became the American Association for Justice. But the negative role of lobbyists in today's political environment cannot so simply be removed from public view.
Political scientist Thomas R. Dye points out that politics is about battling over scarce government resources: who gets them, where, when, why, and how.
The Washington Post estimates that in recent years there have been 13,700 registered lobbyists in a nation's Capitol "teeming with lobbyists." In 2011, The Guardian reported that, in addition to registered lobbyists, thousands more unregistered lobbyists are likely to exist in Washington. The ratio of lobbyists employed by the health care industry compared to every elected politician was 6-1.
Wall Street lobbyists and the financial industry spent at least $100 million in one year to court regulators and lawmakers, since they were finalizing new regulations for lending, trading, and debit card fees. JPMorgan Chase has an in-house team of lobbyists who spent $3.3 million in 2010. The American Bankers Association spent $4.6 million on lobbying. A trade group representing hedge funds spent more than $1 million in one quarter trying to influence the government about financial regulations, including an effort to try to change a rule that might demand greater disclosure requirements for funds. Amazon.com spent $450,000 in one quarter lobbying about a possible online sales tax as well as rules about data protection and privacy. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has major defense contracts, pours millions into lobbying.
Between January and September 2011, Boeing spent $12 million lobbying, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. Additionally, Boeing has its own political action committee (PAC) that donated more than $2.2 million to federal candidates during the 2010 election cycle.
According to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a series of violations of the law, one of the best ways to "get what he wanted" was to offer a high-ranking congressional aide a high paying job after they decided to leave public office. When such a promise of future employment was accepted, according to Abramoff, "we owned them." His own conviction on corruption charges led to the convictions of 20 lobbyists and public officials, including Rep. Robert Ney and former deputy Interior Secretary Stephen Griles.
In the Abramoff case, he represented an Indian casino that was worried about the possible ill effects of legislation on its gambling business. Abramoff lobbied actively against his own casino client as a way to increase their fears of adverse legislation. He also overbilled his clients as well as violating rules about giving gifts to congressmen.
Abramoff may be an extreme case. But those lobbyists working within the letter of the law often subvert our system of representative government in other ways. Lobby groups, for example, sometimes write legislation - which is then submitted by members of Congress. Bloomberg News reports that lobbying is a
. . . sound money-making strategy for the 20 largest federal contractors. The largest contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., received almost $40 billion in federal contracts in 2003-4 and spent $16 million on lobbying expenses and campaign donations. For each dollar of lobbying investment, the firm received $2,517 in revenues.
Perhaps most shocking is the revolving door between members of Congress and the entire lobbying enterprise. There was a time - in recent memory - when members of Congress who retired or were defeated returned to their homes. A few still do. But more and more do not.
Public Citizen reports that the lucrative world of K Street means that former members of Congress with even "modest seniority" can move into jobs paying $1 million or more annually.
In 2005, Public Citizen published a report entitled "The Journey from Congress to K Street." It found that since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who left government to join private life have registered to lobby. A similar report from the Center for Responsible Politics found 370 former members were in the "influence peddling industry," with 285 officially registered as federal lobbyists and 85 others who were described as providing "strategic advice" or "public relations" to corporate clients. These include Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.
In one case, Bob Livingston of Louisiana stepped down as Speaker-elect and resigned his seat in 1999. In the six years since his resignation, The Livingston Group grew into the 12th largest non-law lobbying firm, earning nearly $40 million by the end of 2004. During the same time period, Livingston, his wife, and two PACs contributed over $500,000 to various campaigns.
It is not only former members of Congress who move on to lobbying. A 2011 study found that nearly 5,400 former congressional staff members had become federal lobbyists over a 10-year period.
Former Rep. Richard Gephardt in 2007 began his own lobbying firm called "Gephardt Government Affairs Group" and in 2010 it was earning close to $7 million in revenues with clients such as Goldman Sachs, Boeing and Visa. Senators Robert Bennett and Byron Dorgan became lobbyists as did former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Senator Trent Lott didn't wait for retirement to become a lobbyist, but resigned from the Senate to do so. In 2010, former Rep. Billy Tauzin earned $11 million running the drug industry's lobbying organization, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. When he was in Congress, he was chairman of a committee regulating this same industry.
Barry Hessenius, in Hardball Lobbying for Nonprofits, writes:
The structure of representative government, elected by the people, was to be our system's built-in protection of the whole of us - fairly elected office-holders were to represent their constituent groups, free from any obligations to special interests. Unfortunately, money has corrupted the system and compromised both the fairness of the electoral process as well as the independence and impartiality of elected officials.
Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Republic Lost, suggests that the money and persuasive power of special interests has insinuated itself between the people and the lawmakers. He quoted Rep. Jim Cooper who remarked that Congress had become a "Farm League for K Street" in the sense that members of Congress were focused on lucrative lobbying careers after Congress rather than on serving the public interest while in Congress.
Americans often wonder why their government seems out of control and why we cannot stop subsidizing large corporations, or agricultural conglomerates, or failed banks. Perhaps a careful look at the role played by lobbyists - and the millions of dollars they invest in promoting the interests of their clients - will point us in the right direction. Unfortunately, members of Congress who are looking forward to a large payoff on K Street after public service, are unlikely to resist the influence of lobbyists and those they represent.
The American League of Lobbyists may change its name, but its role in challenging the very essence of genuinely representative government is likely to continue - to the detriment of us all. *
By any standard, Washington is increasingly dysfunctional. President Obama has not submitted a budget and Congress has not adopted a budget. Under our present sequester, government employees are losing one day of work a week, whether their roles are essential or not. Congress refuses to go to the trouble of differentiating. And now there are threats once again of closing the government if particular programs are not enacted. Congress left Washington for an August vacation, ignoring the country's vital business.
A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows that Congress' approval rating fell to an all-time low of 12 percent. If the government shuts down in the fall, it could go to zero. President Obama's approval rating is also in decline, now at 45 percent.
But in Washington itself, our permanent political class is alive and well. This summer's widely read book, This Town, by The New York Times' Mark Leibovich, helps to explain the reality - in which Democrats and Republicans, self-proclaimed "liberals" and "conservatives," work closely together - not to advance the public interest, but to promote their own.
In 1974, only 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today, that number is 42 percent for members of the House and 50 percent for Senators. There is widespread inter-connectedness at the top in Washington. Alleged spokesmen for the right and left may heatedly debate on cable television, but the reality on the ground is far different.
In 2010, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), after writing in The New York Times about the "corrosive system of campaign financing," joined with Andrew Card, the former Bush chief of staff, in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against corporate regulatory reform. After BP's oil spill in the Gulf, it recruited what Leibovich calls a "bipartisan dream team" that included both a former top spokesman for Dick Cheney and the Democratic fund-raiser Tony Podesta.
Two of the top three political-action-committee donors to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are the same: Comcast and AT&T. The former Republican Senate leader Trent Lott and former Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt are united in lobbying for GE. Increasingly typical is the bipartisan lobbying firm of Quinn, Gillespsie, & Associates. Jack Quinn, who had been Bill Clinton's White House counsel, joined with Ed Gillespsie, a principal drafter of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, and a former aid to Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who recently received $8 million in severance from the tea-party group, Freedomworks, are now working together to advance a variety of special interests. Their idea, which many others share, is that administrations come and go, but they will be successful regardless.
Jack Quinn says:
We never lost a wink of sleep hypothesizing what the effect of the election outcome might be on the firm. We have a good group of Republicans and a fantastic group of Democrats.
Alex Pareene of Salon argues that while hyper-partisanship is one reason people have a negative view of Washington, there is a larger source of that contempt:
. . . the capital's permanent, unshakable, elite over-class, many of whom are involved in the process by which corporations and the rentier rich tighten their control over the levers of power and use that control to extract as much wealth from the nation's laborers and taxpayers and natural resources as possible.
Even many of the populist tea-party revolutionaries elected in 2010 quickly began raising funds from the very corporations and special interests they had been criticizing. They recruited lobbyists to staff their congressional offices. The tea-party backed senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, hired an AT&T and Citigroup lobbyist as his chief of staff.
In 2008, Barack Obama declared that:
When I am president, I will start by closing the revolving door in the White House that's allowed people to use their administration job as a stepping-stone to further their lobbying careers.
It hasn't worked out that way. Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, is now at Citibank. Jake Stewart, the Treasury Department's counselor, is now a spokesman for Goldman Sachs. David Plouffe, the campaign manager and senior presidential adviser, went on to become a consultant for Boeing and GE. Or consider Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director who helped Michelle Obama set up her program to fight obesity in children. She is now a consultant with food manufacturers and media firms to block restrictions on commercials for sugary foods targeting children.
Writing in New York Magazine, Frank Rich notes that:
It's clear that the president himself has been either passive or ineffectual when it comes to exerting any moral authority over the White House Alumni who've been streaming through the revolving door.
In his book, Mark Leibovich describes a Washington inhabited by a "permanent feudal class" - a phrase he attributes to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) - "It's not Democrats. It's not Republicans, it's just a class."
He describes it this way:
Journalists are part of it. Lobbyists are part of it. Hangers-on and wannabes are part of it. This class, like every other ruling class, has one primary aim toward which all efforts strive: staying in power by any means necessary.
Rather than devoting themselves to the political objectives they were elected to pursue, the only goals of the men and women described by Leibovich are fame, power, money, and being at the center of whatever is happening. In this view, today's partisan gridlock has become just another narrative playing out in the spectacle of politics - another way for the ruling class to generate fame and wealth through endless talk-show appearances and speaking engagements.
To cover Washington allows you to live in the very, very wide gap between what the actual truth is, and how people are trying to manipulate the truth. They speak in the language of spin, obsequiousness, obfuscation.
What surprised Leibovich most, he says, is that no one has challenged his underlying premise. Rather than taking him to task for exposing them, the players in the book love the publicity:
I've gotten e-mails from people who are not portrayed well in the book - former senators, former congressmen, people who have been here a long time, who are sending me far more humble e-mails, than I would have expected. I was hoping, or expecting, that someone would make some kind of argument for why it's not as bad as I say, or why there's more nobility than I describe, or why I'm not such a bad guy, not me personally, but why Senator X who's now Lobbyist X is now multi-zillionaire X. For all the noise there's been about the book, I've been much more stunned by the silence from the sectors that should have their backs up a little bit.
In the mid-1950s, there were 5,000 registered lobbyists in Washington. Now, there are more than 12,000 - and many thousands more who have reclassified themselves as "consultants." Untold numbers are former members of Congress, former congressional staff members, and White House officials. They spend as much as $3.5 billion annually. The amount they manage to divert from the government's $3.5 trillion annual budget makes their own expenditure seem trivial.
Terry McAuliffe, now the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, is now being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, for using political influence to gain visas for foreign investors in a company with ties to both McAuliffe and Hillary Clinton's brother, Anthony Rodham. And Hillary Clinton's long-time aide Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner, was discovered by Politico in May to have taken on other clients, including Tenco, a "global advisory firm," founded by former Clinton aide Doug Brand, while she was being paid as a consultant at the State Department. This, it seems, is how our permanent, bipartisan political class conducts itself.
Perhaps someday, when more Americans come to understand how Washington's permanent political class really works, we can move beyond the partisan rhetoric of cable television and confront the real problems we face. That day, unfortunately, seems to be in the distant future. But Mark Leibovich has performed a notable service in pointing us in the right direction.
Without trust in the truthfulness of government officials, it is impossible for the elected representatives of the people to conduct public business in a manner the public will consider honest.
Recent revelations about government surveillance programs, and the inaccurate statements made about them - some under oath - indicate that we have a serious problem.
In July, the top lawyer in the U.S. intelligence community made a rare public appearance and pointed out that much of the information being distributed about government surveillance programs was wrong. "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on," said Robert Litt, citing a line attributed to Mark Twain. "Unfortunately, there's been a lot of misinformation that's come out about these programs."
Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was talking about news organizations. But details have emerged from the exposure of hundreds of pages of previously classified NSA documents indicating that public statements about these programs by senior U.S. officials have often been misleading, erroneous, or simply false.
The same day that Litt spoke, the NSA removed from its web site a fact sheet about its collection activities because it contained inaccuracies discovered by lawmakers.
A week earlier, President Obama said, in a T.V. Interview, that oversight of the surveillance programs was "transparent" because of the involvement of a special court. "It is transparent," Obama said of the oversight process. "That's why we set up the FISA court."
A remark by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jr. drew the most attention. During a congressional hearing in March, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked whether the NSA collected data on millions of Americans. Clapper, under oath, replied, "No, sir."
According to The Washington Post:
. . . an examination of public statements over a period of years suggests that officials have often relied on legalistic parsing and carefully hedged characterizations in discussing the NSA's collection of communications. Obama's assurances have hinged, for example, on a term - targeting - that has a specific meaning for U.S. spy agencies that would elude most ordinary citizens.
On PBS's "Charlie Rose Show," President Obama said:
What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls and the NSA cannot target your e-mails.
Still, the Post points out:
. . . even if it is not allowed to target U.S. citizens, the NSA has a significant latitude to collect and keep contents of e-mails and other communications of U.S. citizens that are swept up as part of the agency's court-approved monitoring of a target overseas. The law allows the NSA to examine such messages and share them with other agencies if it determines that the information contained evidence of a crime, conveys a serious threat, or is necessary to understand foreign intelligence.
President George W. Bush at times engaged in similarly careful phrasing to defend surveillance programs. In 2004, while calling for renewal of the Patriot Act, Bush sought to reassure critics by saying "the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order." At the time it had not been publicly disclosed that Bush had secretly authorized NSA surveillance of communications between U.S. residents and contacts overseas while bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).
When the wiretapping operation was exposed in the media two years later, Bush defended it as a program "that listens to a few numbers, called from outside the U.S. by al-Qaeda affiliates." Later revelations made clear that the scope was far greater than he suggested.
Members of Congress tasked with overseeing national security policy say that a pattern of misleading testimony by senior Obama administration officials has weakened the ability of Congress to properly oversee government surveillance. Officials, they report, have either denied the existence of a broad program that collects data on millions of Americans or, more often, made statements that gave them the impression that the government was conducting only narrow, targeted surveillance operations.
Two Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) say that even in top-secret briefings officials "significantly exaggerated" the effectiveness of the program that collected data on Americans' e-mail usage.
At least two Republican lawmakers have called for the removal of intelligence chief James Clapper. A letter to Clapper sent in June from 26 senators from both parties complained about a series of statements from senior officials that "had the effect of misleading the public" and that "will undermine trust in government more broadly."
"The national security state has grown so that any administration is now not upfront with Congress," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. "It's an imbalance that's grown in our government, and one that we have to cleanse."
In Sen. Wyden's view, a number of administration statements have made it:
. . . impossible for the public or Congress to have a genuinely informed debate about government surveillance. These statements gave the public a false impression of how these authorities were actually being interpreted. . . . The secret body of law authorizing secret surveillance overseen by a largely secret court has infringed on Americans' civil liberties and privacy rights without offering the public the ability to judge for themselves whether these broad powers are appropriate or necessary.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), an author of the Patriot Act, and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he thought he and his colleagues had created a sufficiently narrow standard for seeking information. The government is allowed to collect only data that is "relevant" to an authorized terrorism investigation, "The relevancy requirement was intended to be limited," says Sensenbrenner. "Instead, what we're hearing now is that 'relevant' was expanding."
Calling it a "stretch of the English language" for the administration to consider millions of Americans' phone records to be "relevant," he asked, "How can we do good oversight if we don't get truthful and non-misleading information?"
Telling less than the truth to the American people and their elected representatives is hardly new. We were led to war in Iraq because of alleged "weapons of mass destruction" which, we later discovered, did not exist. And, consider the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that led to the war in Vietnam.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was put before Congress by President Lyndon Johnson on Aug. 5, 1964, purportedly in reaction to two allegedly "unprovoked" attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin on Aug. 2 and 4. Its stated purpose was to approve and support the determination of the president in taking all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against U.S. forces.
Both houses of Congress approved the resolution, the House by 414-0 and the Senate by 88-2. The resolution served as the principal constitutional authorization for the subsequent escalation and the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
While the Aug. 2 attack was said to be "unprovoked," it later became known that the U.S. destroyer Maddox was actually engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers in sync with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese Navy and the Laotian Air Force. In 1995, Vo Nguyen Giap, who had been North Vietnam's military commander during the Vietnam War, acknowledged the Aug. 2 attack but denied that the Vietnamese had launched another attack on Aug. 4 as the Johnson administration claimed.
A later investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed that the Maddox had been on an electronic intelligence mission and also learned that the U.S. Naval Command Center in the Philippines had questioned whether any second attack had actually occurred. In 2005, an internal NSA historical study was declassified. It concluded that the Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on Aug. 2 but that there may not have been any North Vietnamese Naval vessels present on Aug. 4. The study concluded:
It is not simply that there is a different story of what happened. It is that no attack happened that night.
In 1965, President Johnson commented privately, "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there." One of the Navy pilots flying overhead on Aug. 4 was Squadron Commander James Stockdale, who gained fame later as a POW and as Ross Perot's vice presidential candidate. He said:
I had the best seat in the house to watch the event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets - there were no PT boats there. There was nothing there but black water and American firepower.
As time went on, members of Congress saw the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as giving the president a blank check to wage war and the resolution was repealed in 1970.
We have real enemies at the present time, as we have had in the past. There may indeed be a need for a variety of surveillance programs. But for democracy to work, the elected representatives of the people in the Congress must not be lied to by non-elected government officials. If Americans are to trust their government, that government must be trustworthy. We have been lied to before, and have paid a heavy price. Having a society in which citizens question the truthfulness of their own government weakens us. Only our enemies gain from such lack of trust.
Detroit is the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy. Its long-term debts are estimated at $18.2 billion. Of this about $9.2 billion is in unfunded retirement benefits.
The causes of Detroit's financial collapse are largely the result of its own unfortunate history of corruption and financial excess, and only partly caused by global economic trends and their impact upon the auto industry.
Detroit has been a one-party city for many years, never a good thing. The last Republican mayor, Louis Miriani, was elected in 1957. Since 1970, only one Republican, Keith Butler, has been elected to the city council. When one political party - whether Democratic or Republican - keeps an iron grip on political power for decades, we can observe a recipe for disaster.
Racial politics has also played a part in Detroit's decline. In 1974, the city's newly elected black mayor, Coleman Young, declared of the local police:
It is time to leave Detroit. Hit Eight Mile Road. And I don't give a damn if they are black or white, if they wear Superfly suits or blue uniforms with silver badges. Hit the road.
Thus, the first African American mayor of Detroit equated the police with criminals. White flight, which began after the rioting of the late 1960s, accelerated. In 1970, Detroit's population was 1.5 million. Forty-four percent was black, 54 percent was white. By 1990, the city's population had fallen to slightly more than l million with African Americans accounting for 78 percent and whites only 20 percent.
Mayor Young rewarded his base. The police force became 50 percent minority and efforts to steer city business to black-owned companies resulted in two federal corruption probes in the early 1980s. While Young himself was never charged, his police chief, William Hart, was convicted of embezzling $2.4 million in police funds in 1992.
Young's successor, Kwame Kilpatrick, resigned in the midst of a "pay-to-play" and sex scandal in 2008. In March, he was convicted on 23 counts, including racketeering and bribery. The city rapidly deteriorated. Its homicide rate doubled from about 30 per 100,000 residents in 1970 to 60 per 100,000 by 1990. Today, according to FBI statistics, Detroit is the most dangerous big city in America, with a crime rate five times the national average.
Editorially, The Detroit Free Press laments:
Decades of mismanagement and bad practices, coupled with catastrophic market declines, have altered the pensions from a reliable way to assure retirees' futures into a massive financial burden.
Clearly, Detroit is in a state of collapse. Charlie LeDuff, a reporter at the TV station WHBK, and author of, Detroit: An American Autopsy, reports that:
I know of an 11-year-old boy who was shot, the bullet going clear through his arm. The cops stuffed him in the back of a squad car and rushed him to the hospital. That's how we do it. There was no ambulance available. About two-thirds of the city's fleet is broken on an average day. I know a cop who drives around in a squad car with holes in the floorboards. There is no computer, no air-conditioning, the odometer reading 147,000 miles. His bulletproof vest has expired. His pay has been cut 10 percent. I knew a firefighter who died in a fire, but not from the fire. He died when the roof of an abandoned house collapsed on him and his brethren could not find him because his homing alarm was broken and did not sound. He suffocated.
Recently, Detroit's 911 dispatch system went down for 15 hours, and no one seemed to care. When the system is running, the average wait for assistance is 58 minutes. Firefighters cannot use hydraulic ladders on fire trucks to do their jobs unless there is an "immediate threat to life." Charlie LeDuff urges his fellow Americans to:
. . . come visit Detroit. . . . Come take a look at your future. Come give the tires a kick. And if you want your money back, come strip copper pipes and wiring from the abandoned buildings - if you can find any copper. Chances are, someone beat you to it.
Year after year, politicians worked closely - not only in Detroit but in cities across the country - with powerful labor unions, especially public-sector unions, that give money to elect the politicians who negotiated their contracts with unsustainable health and pension benefits.
The Economist declares that Detroit's bankruptcy
. . . is a flashing warning light on America's fiscal dashboard. Though some of its woes are unique, a crucial one is not. Many other state and city governments across America have made impossible-to-keep promises to do with pensions and health care. Detroit shows what can happen when leaders put off reforming the public sector for too long.
Nearly half of Detroit's liabilities stem from promises of pensions and health care to its workers when they retire. According to The Economist:
American states and cities typically offer their employees defined benefit pensions based on years of service and final salary. These are supposed to be covered by funds set aside for the purpose. By the states' own estimates, their pension pots are only 73 percent funded. That is bad enough, but nearly all states apply an optimistic discount rate to their obligations, making the liabilities seem smaller than they are. If a more sober one is applied, the true ratio is a terrifying 48 percent. And many states are much worse. The hole in Illinois's pension pot is equivalent to 241 percent of its annual tax revenues; for Kentucky, 141 percent; for New Jersey, 137 percent.
By one recent estimate, the total pension gap for the states is $2.7 trillion, or 17 percent of GDP. This underestimates the problem because it omits both the unfunded pension figure for cities and the health-care promises made to government workers. Governors and mayors have long offered generous pensions to public employees -buying votes today and sending the bill to future taxpayers. Beyond this, some public employees are promoted just before retirement or allowed to pick up many hours of overtime, raising their final-salary pension for the rest of their lives. Some unions win cost-of-living adjustments far above inflation. A watchdog group in Rhode Island calculated that a retired local fire chief would be given $800,000 a year if he lived to 100. More than 20,000 public employees in California receive pensions of over $100,000.
The Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College reports that states' pensions are 27 percent underfunded. That adds up to a shortfall of $1 trillion. At the same time, they are paying only about four-fifths of their required annual contribution. On a more realistic discount rate of 5 percent, the CRR estimates the shortfall may be $2.7 trillion. A similar calculation by Moody's, a ratings agency, says that pension plans are 52 percent underfunded.
Banking analyst Meredith Whitney, who predicted the financial crisis of 2007, predicts a chain reaction of dozens of cities becoming insolvent. Even less pessimistic experts forecast further credit downgrades, which will raise borrowing costs for cities and drive them deeper into debt. Chicago was just downgraded and Fitch, a major ratings agency, is considering a broader re-evaluation of local government debt on the basis of the situation in Detroit.
The promises of Detroit's politicians have for some time outgrown the economy on which it rests. Since 2011, other cities - such as Stockton and San Bernardino, California - and Jefferson County, Alabama - have declared bankruptcy. Others are now waiting in the wings.
Opportunistic politicians and greedy unions are responsible for Detroit's total collapse, and the dire straits of other cities and states. Surely, those who brought about this economic collapse are hardly the ones to guide us in the future. Where the leaders we need to reverse course are to be found is difficult to imagine in our increasingly dysfunctional politics. Unless something changes - and quickly - the economic stability of our society does not appear to be promising. Today, the chickens of past policy excesses are coming home to roost, as they always do. What were these politicians and union leaders thinking?
A military jury has found Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist, guilty of carrying out the largest mass murder at a military installation in U.S. history. He was found guilty of 13 charges of premeditated murder, and 32 of attempted murder.
Major Hasan was born in Arlington, Virginia to Palestinian parents. He attended Virginia Tech and began his military medical school training in 1997, two years after he began active duty. For months and even years before the attack at Ft. Hood, his views on Islam had turned extreme. In December 2008, ten months before the shooting, he sent the first of 16 messages and e-mails to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, American-born cleric who encouraged several terrorist plots. He asked Awlaki whether Muslim American troops who killed other American soldiers in the name of Islam would be considered "fighting jihad, and if they did die would you consider them shaheeds?" an Arabic word for martyrs.
Mr. Awlaki never replied to that message. But in 2010, in an interview with the mental health panel that evaluated him, Hasan appeared to answer his own question. He told the panel that if he died by lethal injection, "I would still be a martyr."
Shortly after 1 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2009, Hasan walked into Ft. Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center with two guns, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" (meaning "God is great!") and opened fire. Twelve people who were killed were soldiers waiting for medical tests; the other was a civilian who tried to tackle Hasan.
The shootings have raised a number of questions. A series of failings by the Defense Department were evident. A Pentagon report concluded that the Defense Department was unprepared for internal threats, as was the F.B.I. On one occasion, Hasan gave a presentation to senior Army doctors in which he discussed Islam and suicide bombers and warned that Muslims should be allowed to leave the armed forces as conscientious objectors to avoid "adverse events."
The F.B.I. was also aware that Hasan had exchanged the e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a leading figure in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. The F.B.I. dismissed the e-mails as legitimate research and the Defense Department was never informed.
A more important question, perhaps, relates to the refusal by our government to call the shooting a terrorist attack and to categorize those killed and injured as victims of terrorism, which denies them important benefits. Instead, the Defense Department has categorized the shooting as an episode of "workplace violence."
One of those injured in the Ft. Hood attack, Shawn Manning, a retired Army staff sergeant and mental health counselor, described the attack:
I was waiting for a medical exam before what would have been my third deployment overseas. I was texting my wife when I heard the shout of "Allahu Akbar!" I looked up to see a man in Army fatigues firing a pistol. His fourth or fifth shot went into my chest. As screams broke out around me, I collapsed to the ground. The bullet had punctured my lung and I was gasping for breath. As I lay there, he shot me five more times in my back and legs.
During his recovery Manning learned:
. . . that the Army had classified the shooting as nonpolitical workplace violence instead of a terrorist attack. The language used to describe the attack may seem meaningless, but it is very meaningful to the victims and their families. Because the Army decided that our wounds were not "combat-related," a number of benefits are being denied to the victims and their families, including certain health and disability ones. In some instances, the designation even resulted in victims receiving smaller salaries than we would have received during our deployment. . . . I have watched other victims and their families be denied disability benefits and treated indifferently by the Army. . . . But it is a mistake to think that the terrorism designation is just about benefits. It is also about the government acknowledging its complicity in the attack. Before the shooting, the Army knew that the gunman was an Islamic religious extremist. After the attack, a bipartisan Senate report concluded that the Defense Department had evidence that Hasan "embraced views so extreme that it should have disciplined him or discharged him from the military, but DoD failed to take action against him."
Before, during and after his attack, Hasan made his jihadist goals clear. In May 2012, Congress placed a clause inside the Defense Appropriations Act requiring the Pentagon to award Purple Hearts to the Ft. Hood victims. Congress was told that President Obama would veto the appropriations bill and so leave the Pentagon without a budget unless the clause was removed. The administration was determined then - and is determined now - to describe what was clearly a terrorist act as "workplace violence."
On the first day of his trial, Hasan admitted that he perpetrated his murderous assault because he is a jihadist who "switched sides" in the war. He told the court that he conducted the attack as an act of war against the United States.
Why has President Obama and his administration attempted to obscure the real motives of the perpetrator in the Ft. Hood murders? There appears to be an effort by the administration to claim "victory" in the war on terrorism, a claim that would seem less persuasive if continued acts of terrorism were to occur. After the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, the administration initially referred to what we now know was a premeditated, pre-planned attack, as mob violence in response to an anti-Islamic video on YouTube.
Refusing to describe acts of terrorism as what they are is hardly a strategy designed to make Americans more secure or to cause Americans to believe what they are told by their government. Immediately after the Ft. Hood attack, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, then commander of III Corps at Ft. Hood, said preliminary evidence didn't such suggest that the shooting was terrorism. Cone said this even though it was immediately known that before he started shooting, Hasan called out "Allahu Akbar!" He called himself a "Soldier of Islam" in his business cards. What was Gen. Cone thinking?
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Shawn Manning believes that Hasan's conviction is a step toward justice but is surely correct in concluding:
That journey won't be complete until the government tells the truth about the attack, provides proper support for the victims, and takes measures to ensure that these mistakes won't happen again. *