Thursday, May 5, 2016

Reflections on Trump

I just heard (props to C-Span radio) a bit of Trump's speech in Charleston, W.Va.  It was a series of disconnected assertions of the sort that typify his speeches: "we're going to win, win, win"; "we're going to negotiate great trade deals"; "we're going to have lots of people enter the country, but legally"; "we're going to bring back jobs"; "we're going to get rid of Common Core"; "we're going to repeal Obamacare"; "we're going to crush [or some similar verb] ISIS"; and, of course, "we're going to make America great again."  And he said to West Virginia miners: "get ready, you're going to be working your asses off [i.e., when Trump becomes President]." 

The slogan "we're going to make America great again" is empty without some conception of what makes a country great.  Does Trump have such a conception?  Would America be great if the coal industry were again engaged in large-scale strip mining and laying waste to the landscapes that Trump has probably never spent any time in?  Where does Trump stand on controls on emissions from coal-fired power plants?  How can one give a speech in West Virginia, a state whose economy is probably just as dependent on tourism as it is on coal (if not moreso) and not even nod in the direction of saying something about the state's physical beauty and natural attractions (if he did, it wasn't in the part of the speech I heard)?  Does Trump realize that climate change means that doing little or nothing to transition to non-fossil-fuel energy sources is signing a death warrant for future generations?

Instead of flying from New York to Charleston, giving a speech, and leaving, Trump should go to some small, depressed towns in southern West Virginia, for example in McDowell County, and he should talk to people who live there and actually know something about the region and the challenges facing those communities.  But that would require a degree of curiosity and openness to experience that Trump shows no evidence of possessing.  His entire career has been a matter of "winning" and attempting to advance the fortunes of Donald Trump.  Fans of Trump like to point out that as a businessman Trump has hired thousands of workers.  Who are they?  How are they treated and paid?  What is the turnover rate?  Are they going to vote for Trump?

A central question in this election is whether the way to "make America great again" is to hire as President a demagogic misogynist who embodies the worst aspects of a system that generates waste, inequality, and environmental destruction on a planetary scale.


Paul Campos (here):
The French revolution’s slogan was “liberty, equality, fraternity.” The Reagan revolution’s guiding principles have been “stupidity, celebrity, plutocracy” – and Trump is the ultimate example of all three.
Whether this is exactly right might be debatable, but it's snappy and, as they say, close enough for jazz (do they still say that?).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The first dog in space

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  Soon after that, the U.S. tried to match the feat, unsuccessfully.  To quote Rick Perlstein's description in Before the Storm, p.69:
In 1957 Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would imminently catch up to the United States in the production of meat, milk, and butter.  The Soviets began testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.  Then, in October, Russia sent its bleeping medicine ball around the planet.  America's space-race debut was rushed to the launching pad, where it rose five feet before disintegrating into a fireball (headline: "FLOPNIK").
Compare the somewhat different impression of this episode given by Martin McCauley's Russia, America and the Cold War, 1949-1991 (Longman, 1998):
The space age was launched on 4 October 1957 when Sputnik circumnavigated the globe every 96 minutes.  It was a staggering achievement for Russian science to propel an 83.6 kg satellite into space for three months.... It was followed by another eight Sputniks which scored a dazzling list of firsts, the first dog in space, and so on.  Russian rocket technology was the best in the world and threatened to alter the balance of world power.... As events were to show, Khrushchev became dangerously over-confident.  Everything was not as it seemed.  Eisenhower had actually prevented America from being the first in space.  The capacity had been there but the U.S. President was concerned about sending a space vehicle over enemy territory.  He wanted the Russians to go first and then the Americans would follow.  Had the U.S. gone first, it might have lowered the tension of the ensuing five years. [p.31]
Eisenhower wanted the Russians to go first?!  No wonder Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society) thought Ike was a tool of international Communism (note to the humor-impaired: joke).             

More seriously, why, if the capability was there, did the first U.S. effort to match Sputnik disintegrate practically on the launch pad?  Presumably because the capability hadn't been operationalized (or actualized, if you prefer that word), and then the U.S. rushed its response, with predictable results.

By the way, I feel sorry for the first dog in space (mentioned in the McCauley quote above); I hope it was given a suitable reward.  Ditto for the terrified-looking monkeys that the Soviets launched into orbit -- at least as I recall, from seeing pictures.

Here's Rousseau: "...since... [animals] share to some extent in our nature by virtue of their having sensations, it will be judged that they must also participate in natural right, and that man is subject to some kind of duties toward them.  Indeed, it seems that if I am obligated to do no evil to my fellow man, it is less because he is a rational being than because he is a sentient being -- a property that, because it is common to both animals and men, should at least give the beast the right not to be needlessly mistreated by man." (Discourse on Inequality [Preface], Oxford World's Classics edition, trans. Franklin Philip, p.18)


Btw, Russia has a new cosmodrome, i.e. space launch site. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reading between the lines

From South Asia Daily for April 25:
Officials confirmed on Monday that the Indian government canceled the visa of Chinese dissident leader and Uighur activist Dolkun Isa on April 23 after pressure from Beijing (Reuters, Time, BBC). Isa is the chairman of the Germany-based World Uighur Congress and was due to attend a conference next week in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala. Uighurs are an ethnic minority community from China's western Xinjiang region and have a long history of discord with Beijing. They are Muslims and regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. Chinese authorities consider Isa as a terrorist and criticized India when the visa was issued. Previous media reports indicated that Delhi granted Isa a visa after China blocked India's bid to get the UN to put Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar on its terrorist list.
And why would China have blocked India's effort to put Azhar on the UN terrorist list? Presumably because Pakistan opposed the move, and China was doing Pakistan, in effect, a favor.  I can't imagine what other reason Beijing would have.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Ever had one of those "****, I haven't heard that song in ******* decades!" moments?  If you're of a certain age, you probably have, even if, like me, your connections to pop music are tenuous.  Anyway, I had such a moment this afternoon, when this
came on at the end of Fresh Air.  (The occasion was the death of Billy Paul, who sang it.)  I could do without all the strings in the recorded version, but it's a sufficiently good song that no orchestration can spoil it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Chipping away at India's water problems

This NewsHour piece from several days ago is interesting.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Heard a talk today by the author of this.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

One (questionable) prescription for U.S. policy in the Mideast

I was just listening to a rebroadcast on C-Span radio of a panel discussion from earlier in the week at the Hudson Institute. Michael Doran [Wiki entry here], a senior fellow at Hudson Institute who served on G.W. Bush's National Security Council (and has a PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton), argued that the U.S. is neglecting and/or dissing its traditional allies, e.g. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and that the Obama admin and the leading Repub candidates are perpetuating illusions about the Iranian and  Russian role in the region. 

In an analysis noteworthy for its complete candor about the presumptive desirability of American hegemony, Doran said that while the U.S. doesn't share the same values as the Saudi Arabian rulers or (increasingly) Erdogan of Turkey, they have shown themselves to be "status quo" powers (Doran's phrase) who accept a continuing American hegemonic (Doran's word) role in the Mideast, whereas Iran and Russia are "revisionist" powers who want to diminish America's influence and generally make trouble for the U.S.

His prescription? More support for and collaboration with the U.S.'s "traditional allies." He made no mention of Saudi Arabia's recent actions (i.e. fairly indiscriminate, from many reports, bombing) in Yemen, for which it's been widely criticized. No mention of the amount of military aid the U.S. gives to, and/or arms sales the U.S. conducts with, Saudi Arabia. Doran criticized what he said were the false assumptions underlying the Obama admin's policy in Syria and the region but didn't offer a specific alternative beyond (1) more support for 'traditional allies', (2) more support for 'moderate' groups in Syria, and (3) a focus on the area of jidahist activity stretching from Baghdad to Aleppo (his phrase) without a single-minded focus on ISIS.

The main strategic goal should not be the defeat of ISIS, he argued, but the countering of the Russian-Iranian combination and its "network of militias" so as to facilitate the groundwork for a new regional order (or words to that effect). Of course the '03 invasion of Iraq was also supposed to lay the groundwork for a new regional order. We know how that worked out.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


For those with access to Perspectives on Politics, the article in the current issue on the UN, Haiti, and cholera looks esp. interesting.  Don't have time to write about it now but will do so later (where "later" = probably not for several weeks).

On another subject: the economist Lester Thurow has died.  He was writing about inequality well before it was a fashionable subject for most mainstream academic economists.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reading notes

I'm making a rather slow start on Before the Storm [link], despite its excellent research and -- in many passages, though not all -- very good writing.  Learning a lot about the details of U.S. politics around the time when I was born.  Where else, for instance, would I be likely to find out that "in 1957, Republican National Committee chair Meade Alcorn put one of his best men, the affable Virginian I. Lee Potter, to building a [Republican] rank and file in the South in a project called 'Operation Dixie'" (p.47)?

However, the author's skills notwithstanding, so far I'm not thoroughly engrossed, the way one sometimes can be by a good novel or even a work of history.  I'm hoping that will change as the narrative moves into the early 1960s and then the 1964 campaign.

ETA: One thing (among others) that comes through clearly in the first 50 pp. or so of the book is the extent to which the emergent or reconstituting U.S. Right in the 50s and early 60s found a key constituency in family-owned and/or privately-held manufacturing and other businesses, a sector that still exists but is presumably a good deal smaller today than it was then. Indeed Perlstein opens the first chapter with a sketch of the political views and trajectory of one such (hypothetical) businessman. Here's one actual example of many: In '59, on the eve of Khrushchev's visit to the U.S., we're told that "Milwaukee's Allen-Bradley Company bought a full page in the Wall Street Journal: 'To Khrushchev, "Peace and Friendship" means the total enslavement of all nations, of all peoples, of all things, under the God-denying Communist conspiracy of which he is the current Czar.... Don't let it happen here!'" (p.52)  Pretty clearly only a family-run or closely-held business would have felt able to spring for this kind of full-page ad in the WSJ -- a big publicly-traded company presumably would not have done this sort of thing, even if some of its executives might have shared the same views. (I use the word "presumably" because I'm not sure that this speculation is correct, but it seems fairly logical.)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lahore bombing

I had not heard of the group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in Lahore that killed at least 65 people (evidently mostly Christians, who were intentionally targeted).  Wiki says that the group split from the main Pakistani Taliban organization (the TTP) in 2014.  It is not entirely clear from the Wiki entry exactly what Jamaat-ul-Ahrar's current relation to the TTP is.

ETA 3/28: According to the NewsHour tonight, most of the victims were Muslims.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Quote of the day

I was taking another look recently at a 1994 essay by Sankaran Krishna[*] that I cited in my diss. (some years ago).  This passage strikes me as a nice summary of at least one aspect of Nehru's worldview: 
Despite his firm belief in the timeless existence of a spiritual and civilizational entity called "India," Jawaharlal Nehru nevertheless felt compelled to begin his appropriately titled Discovery of India with a solid and physicalistic description of her "natural" frontiers.  Nehru's imaginative geography depicted impassable mountain ranges, vast deserts, and deep oceans that produced a "natural" cradle for what became India.  Anxiety regarding the physical boundaries of the nation gets inscribed early in Nehru's Autobiography.  The narrative script that runs through that definitive work in imagining India clearly traces her downfall to porous frontiers and, more importantly, to an unfortunate timing by which disunited and fragmenting India encountered the cresting and united civilization of the British.  The encounter not only produced colonial rule but also with it, Nehru argued, the sources of India's eventual redemption: modernity, science, the rational spirit, and, most importantly, national unity.
Notice the tension between, on the one hand, the reference to "impassable" mountains and "vast" deserts and, on the other hand, the reference to "porous frontiers."  The mountain ranges clearly weren't impassable enough, nor the deserts vast enough, to prevent multiple conquests of the subcontinent.

The idea of 'natural frontiers' has a long and somewhat checkered history.  Although natural features of the landscape do play some role in how the territorial boundaries of states have evolved, that role I think is a secondary or even tertiary one -- that is, I incline to the view that it's secondary in terms of boundaries' actual on-the-ground history, as distinguished from the often larger role 'natural frontiers' play in the legitimating myths of some nation-states.[**] 
*Sankaran Krishna, "Cartographic Anxiety: Mapping the Body Politic in India," orig. published in Alternatives v.19 n.4 (Fall 1994), reprinted in Challenging Boundaries, ed. M. Shapiro and H. Alker (U. of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 193-214.  The quotation is from p.195 (endnotes omitted).

**The relevant literature is fairly extensive and I won't go into it here (though I'm probably willing to do so in the comments if someone wants).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Trump and foreign policy

According to the front page of this afternoon's (digital edition) WaPo, Trump has announced a team of five foreign-policy advisers, a group apparently chaired by Sen. Sessions (R-Alabama), who has endorsed Trump.  Because I'm too cheap to take a WaPo sub, I haven't read the article.  The headline refers to a 'non-interventionist' foreign policy, which could mean a number of different things, and of course what looks like 'non-interventionism' to the WaPo might be anything that deviates from the quasi-messianic tradition in U.S. foreign policy that the newspaper's editorial board has been, with occasional exceptions, a fan of for the last, hmm, let's say 60 years (give or take).

ETA: More on this at some later point. There'll be plenty of time to discuss Trump's positions between now and the general election (assuming he's the Repub nominee).  For now I'll just say that even if particular Trump foreign-policy positions, e.g. on the disposition of U.S. forces abroad, should turn out to be closer to my views than certain of Clinton's foreign-policy positions, the way Trump has campaigned and what he has said about (among others) Muslims and Mexicans completely disqualifies him, imo.  So at this point if he adopted, say, Posen's Restraint word-for-word and made it his foreign-policy platform it wouldn't matter, from my standpoint.  (There is of course a long Repub tradition, albeit lately mostly submerged, of skepticism about and opposition to the U.S.-as-world-orderer, going back at least to the '30s and the America Firsters and the TaftitesIn the opening of Before the Storm, which I've begun to read, Perlstein calls Taft's foreign-policy approach "anticommunism for isolationists.")         

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Obama and Cuba

When the histories of the Obama admin are written, I'll be surprised if the change in relations with Cuba is not seen as one of the most important foreign-policy initiatives of his eight years, if not the most important.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Quote of the day (division of bad predictions)

"Some Hindus dream of going back to the Vedas, some Muslims dream of an Islamic theocracy.  Idle fancies, for there is no going back to the past.... There is only one-way traffic in Time."

-- Nehru in The Discovery of India, as quoted in Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation, p.25 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Too tired: always a good excuse

Spent a bit of time this evening catching up on (i.e., a mixture of reading, skimming, and not even that) some unread back issues of FP's South Asia Daily.  Some nuggets of interest, as per usual, but I'm too tired to relay any of them right now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Was Zionism a case of 'national liberation'? (Walzer vs. Falk)

National liberation movements are usually thought of as movements against colonial rule.  Although Zionism doesn't fit that template, Michael Walzer in The Paradox of Liberation (discussed here) nonetheless treats Zionism as a national liberation movement.  The implicit (or sometimes explicit) justifying steps are that: (1) the Jews are a people or "nation"; (2) their condition of 'exile' constituted a form of 'national oppression'; (3) Zionism as a political movement sought to end the condition of exile and hence counts as a case of national liberation.  

In a critical essay on The Paradox of Liberation published online last year, Richard Falk argued that since the establishment of the state of Israel involved, among other things, the (unjust) displacement of Palestinians from land they occupied, Zionism was not a national-liberation movement in the sense that the Indian and Algerian independence movements were.  Falk acknowledged Ben-Gurion's statement in 1947 to a meeting of his political party (quoted by Walzer on p.99 of Paradox) that "[i]n our state there will be non-Jews as well, and all of them will be equal citizens, equal in everything without any exception, that is, the state will be their state as well."  However, Falk wrote: 
In my view, it is questionable in the extreme whether this idealistic goal ever represented the actual intentions of Zionist leaders. It should be evident to all that such egalitarianism was never expressive of Israeli policies and practices on the ground from even before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Walzer for his part (Paradox, p.100) judged that "[t]he invasion of the new state in 1948 by five Arab armies must count as one of the reasons, perhaps the crucial reason, why none of the governments over which Ben-Gurion presided lived up to the commitments he described."

My own position may fall somewhere in between Walzer's and Falk's, though I'm also not entirely convinced that the actual gulf between them is quite as big as Falk thinks (though it may be).  Certainly they differ on various historical and normative questions, but it's not clear that their views on the current way forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are all that radically different.  But to hash these issues out thoroughly would require too long a post than I have time for right now and also a more detailed knowledge of the relevant history than I can command without some substantial research (which I have no present intention of undertaking).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Williamson's disgusting screed

Repellent as Trump is, this piece from Nat'l Review, as excerpted here, is just as repellent.  

Quote of the day

All of the data suggests that illegal immigration has slowed dramatically, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has declined, more Mexicans are exiting than entering the United States .... “The border is much more secure than in times past,” R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has said. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Weird headline of the day

Spotted in WaPo (though didn't read accompanying article): "North Korea claims it could wipe out Manhattan with hydrogen bomb."  This is weird on at least a couple of levels, one of which is that a hydrogen bomb (even, I think, a 'small' one, if that adjective even makes sense here) would wipe out a hell of a lot more than Manhattan. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Linkage: yet another piece on Obama and foreign policy

Drezner comments here on Goldberg's essay (which I haven't read).

Where did 'national liberation' go wrong?

Review of:
Michael Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions. Yale Univ. Press, 2015. 178 pp. (including notes and index).

Movements for "national liberation," which seek to free a people or "nation" from colonial rule or from other kinds of statelessness or national 'oppression', have a sometimes complicated relationship to the traditional culture and religion of the "nation" on whose behalf they act.  That relationship is the focus of Walzer's The Paradox of Liberation, which considers three national-liberation movements -- the Algerian FLN, the Indian National Congress, and Labor Zionism -- all of which achieved their goal of founding independent, (more-or-less) secular states only to be met with fundamentalist religious reactions roughly 25 years after independence.   

Walzer's main argument is that these three movements, in their drive to create "new men" and "new women" and new polities, were too dismissive of the religion and culture of the peoples they were seeking to liberate.  Of the leaders of these movements, only Gandhi consistently spoke to 'the people' in a traditional religious idiom (p.20).  Although the FLN and early Zionists made some religious noises (the FLN said it respected "Islamic principles"), their "long-term political agenda" was not "significantly influenced by their people's religion" (p.22).  According to Walzer, "[i]t is the absolutism of secular negation that best accounts for the strength and militancy of the religious revival" (p.109).   

On this account, the results of this "secular negation" were: an Islamist movement in Algeria that led to civil war in the 1990s; the growing strength of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in India (where the BJP, the political party of this movement, currently is in power); and ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel (and its offshoot, the settler movement).  Walzer thinks an attitude of "critical engagement" with traditional religion on the part of the national-liberationists could have led to the creation of some kind of middle ground (though he doesn't use that phrase).  

Walzer's examination of the histories of these movements, however, suggests that this would not have been easy.  With respect to the case about which he is most deeply concerned, he acknowledges that the gulf between political Zionism and "the mentality of exile" (p.39) of traditional Judaism "was very wide, and it wasn't easy to find continuities" (p.46).  Indeed, as Walzer points out, a key part of Zionism's self-definition was and is its rejection of the traditional commitment to waiting for the Messiah and all that idea implied in the way of passivity and (perceived) weakness.  "[T]he anti-Semitic stereotype of the pale, stooped, fearful Jew is also a Zionist stereotype" (p.47), and Zionists replaced this stereotype with the image of the strong, self-sufficient pioneer.  Ironically perhaps, a rather similar image was later appropriated by the Orthodox Jewish settlers of the occupied territories, who see themselves as warriors for a cause.  The difference is that the Labor Zionists envisioned a state in which all citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, would enjoy the same rights and to which, as a result, they would feel the same ties (see the quotation from Ben-Gurion on p.99).

Within the secular 'negation' of tradition, it is, Walzer writes, "[t]he demand for gender equality [that] poses the greatest challenge to traditional religion and is probably the most important cause of revivalist zealotry in all three...cases" (p.115).  Citing the work of (among others) the Indian scholar Uma Narayan, he argues that the solution is to connect the quest for gender equality to "national narratives and religious traditions" (p.119), as some feminists are already trying to do.  The implication is that those who are unwilling to do this cannot succeed and will only generate an increasingly intense backlash.  

Hindu nationalism, ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and the political versions of fundamentalist Islam (whether, say, in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or, in perhaps the most extreme form, with ISIS) can be seen as part of a global religious revival, but The Paradox of Liberation, largely because of its case-study approach, pays little attention to such global dimensions.  The strongest criticism of this book will likely come from some on the left who will see Walzer as too accommodating of tradition and won't be mollified by, for instance, his quotations from Gramsci (see p.124) or his discussion of some Marxist and postcolonialist critiques of his argument.  Even if one disagrees with or is skeptical of Walzer's position, the book provokes thought and has the advantage of being very short, and the notes contain useful references for those interested in the histories of, and debates surrounding, the three 'revolutions' and 'counterrevolutions'.  In addition, there is a postscript on the American Revolution and why it differs from the three main cases.

ETA: There's some good material in the book's postscript that I may address in another post. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The neocons weigh in

Various Repub members of the "national security community" have delivered a blast at Trump (h/t).  A glance at the list of signatories reveals some big neocon names (though not all are neocons).  This open letter is going to have no effect on Repub primary voters.  As to the substance, many (not all) of the points are, imo, valid, but that's partly because they're pitched at a high level of generality.  It's mildly amusing, in a black-humor sort of way, to see so many supporters of the G.W. Bush admin expressing grave concern about Trump's remarks on torture.

ETA: NYT notes some people who didn't sign the open letter.