Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mending Wall

Sonia Nazario is a Pulitzer-winning LA Times staff writer. From her vantage point, that of an expert on the motives of Latin American illegal immigrants, Nazario is convinced that legislative “solutions,” including green card rules and wall heights, “won’t make a difference” (Los Angeles Times, 4.2.06). Nazario says that only improved conditions in Mexico and Central America will stem the flow of illegal immigrants.


People often attack any fence along the southern U.S. border as a proposed “Berlin Wall,” as if it’s the same thing to keep people from coming in as it is to keep them from going out. But here’s the thing. The Berlin Wall worked. For 28 years, it hemmed in the East German people and kept the Soviet empire alive. Because it worked, the Wall lowered the temperature of the Cold War. Pre-wall, Communism was hemorrhaging people and talent through Berlin; post-wall, a stabilized Central Europe avoided world war.

To restrict illegal immigration, the U.S. can’t just build a fence. It also needs some kind of biometric identity card and tough treatment of employers who hire undocumented workers. And it should do as Nazario suggests; put more into helping Mexico and Central America develop their economies. But success requires the fence as well as trade assistance.

Another place a wall is making a difference is Israel. Again, it’s a wall to keep people out. We hope for a peace agreement involving Palestine, and we hope for Israeli cooperation in developing the Palestinian economy. But the Israelis, helped by their fence, are able to bring about peace themselves, at least in the short term. They no longer have to have Palestinian cooperation.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Breaking the Vicious Cycle

It’s a month since the Israeli elections, and Ehud Olmert is still working to put his cabinet together. Coalition building takes time.

Israel is at the center of the Middle East problem, and has been throughout its 58-year existence. Each generation brings new “Saladins” seeking—by liberating Jerusalem from the infidel—to become a hero to the region. First there was Egypt’s Nasser, then Libya’s Qaddaffi, then Iraq’s Saddam, and now Al Qaeda’s bin Laden and Iran’s Ahmadinejad.

These “heroes” have shaped the region's politics. They are threats to the U.S. as well as Israel, not only because they gain popularity on the “Arab street” by seeking to do Israel in, but also because they threaten to control the region’s oil.

The region needs economic development that puts young people to work. That alone will undermine anti-Israeli militancy. And economic development comes from governments that respond to popular needs. But the Middle East never gets to good government, because Israel begets Muslim “Saladins” who beget the U.S. counter action of protecting reactionary regimes in the name of “stability.” And reactionary regimes beget new despotic “heroes.”

Bush is trying to break this vicious cycle by supporting democracy, not despots. He knows that in the long run, it’s jobs for young people that will move the region forward.

Democracy + capitalism = peace.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's Iraq, Stupid

Bush’s poll ratings are extremely low now. His friends are giving him a lot of free advice. From Dick Morris, who used to work for Clinton, but is a well-known Hillary antagonist (New York Post, 4.17.06):

Really focus on energy issues: Come out for massive investment in ethanol production, delivery and vehicles, and more: retrofitting all gas stations for ethanol and hydrogen; a new push for nuclear power; heavy investment in clean coal technology, burying the carbon dioxide. Truly lead the nation away from petroleum.

Admit that global warming is happening, and launch major new programs to curb it: . . . mandatory upgrading of power plants to cut emissions and major investment in solar and bio-mass energy.

Build a wall, but let guest workers in: Right-wingers want a wall on our southern border; . . . Latinos would accept a wall if there were a . . . path to citizenship.

Put the drug fight front and center: Demand drug testing in schools with parental consent, and tax incentives for workplace drug testing. Link cocaine to terrorism, [adopt] tough measures to cut demand.

From conservative commentator Fred Barnes (Weekly Standard, 5.1.06):

. . . passage of a federal budget with at least minimal restraints on spending. . . stress the "culture of life" by noisily opposing abortion, cloning, and expanded federal subsidies for embryonic stem cell research. . . push to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and propose serious health care legislation.

Here’s the point these guys miss—Bush's presidency will rise or fall based upon what happens in Iraq. That's it. I would instead listen to former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, now in Israel (Wall Street Journal, 4.24.06):

Now that President Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only hope that his dissident spirit will continue to persevere. For should that spirit break, evil will indeed triumph, and the consequences for our world would be disastrous.

Bush has low poll ratings, maybe because he is fighting the right battle.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Surprise: TIME's "Ten Best Senators" Boosts Liberals

Do I trust TIME to profile the “10 Best Senators” (4.24.06)? Would you? (If you do, see post on TIME’s coverage of the environment, “Global Warming: How Worried?”)

Well, not only are Republicans six of the ten best senators, Republicans are only three of the five worst. Pretty fair, huh?

No, not fair, in fact. TIME has a cute second category called “Up and Comers,” where it squeezes in three more Democrats (including Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, the Democrats’ politically-correct 2008 “Dream Team”) against just two Republicans. Though Democrats’ numbers in the Senate are at their lowest since 1930, the result of honoring 15 top senators, minus 5 bottom senators, is a net plus 5 for Democrats (7-2) and plus 5 for Republicans (8-3).

But that’s not all. The two Democrat “losers” don’t figure in any future Senate: Mark Dayton is retiring, and if Dan Akaka's primary opponent beats Akaka because of TIME, he will keep the seat Democratic anyway. So just set aside the two worst Democrats. The article now honors seven Democrats and five (net) Republicans.

The five (net) Republicans are all moderates, to TIME, the best kind of Republican. That’s because the three conservative Republicans TIME recognizes are offset by the three “worst” Republicans, all conservatives (including one, Montana’s Conrad Burns, whom TIME’s treatment may help knock off this Fall).

And of the seven honored Democrats, six are liberal, including one liberal, Kent Conrad, who faces a tough fight in a Red State (North Dakota), and will use TIME’s favorable rating in his campaign. The only moderate Democrat TIME honors is Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, who would have to be moderate anyway to hold his Deep South seat.

So to summarize, the best senators include six liberal Democrats, five (net) moderate Republicans, and one moderate Democrat from an old Dixie state. For 2006, the article tries to help one liberal Democrat and hurt one conservative Republican, a net gain of two for liberal Democrats. Good going, TIME.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Agronsky and Company (1974)

If the House goes Democrat in November, Bush will almost certainly be impeached. Wasn’t Clinton, for so much less?

In an earlier era, presidents were impeached for true criminal acts like subverting the constitution and bribing witnesses. Not only the House, but the Senate as well, was safely Democratic in 1974. Still, it wasn’t easy for any of those legislators to take on a sitting president. It was all serious, solemn, and bi-partisan at base, because the point wasn’t just to impeach a president, it was to convict him, and that required two-thirds of the Senate, including many Republicans.

In those serious times in Washington, in the aftermath of a failed war and with a failing presidency, journalists emerged for the first time as players, giving their opinions on television and by so doing, shaping day-to-day events in the nation’s capital. The time was 1974, the place was a local public television show called “Agronsky and Company,” and the stars were host Martin Agronsky, TIME’s chief Washington correspondent Hugh Sidey, a moderate, the moderately liberal Elizabeth Drew, the moderately conservative but pro-impeachment George Will, the conservative James J. Kilpatrick, and the liberal Carl Rowan.

These people had clout. The show had clout. The cast was serious, balanced (taken as a whole), and polite. As with Woodward and Bernstein, who were serious journalists who did their homework guided by first-rate editors, Agronsky and Company were pioneers, and they were careful enough to get it right.

Journalists today long for the day-to-day influence over events that Agronsky and Company journalists had in the mid-1970s. Journalists think today's problem is that Republicans run everything and don’t listen to Democrats. So they are doing what they can to oust the Republicans, and bring in Democrats who will listen.

But is more partisanship the answer to a too-much-partisanship problem? In the long run, influence comes through persuasion, through the hard work of listening, gathering facts, and winning over, the kind of work the Agronsky and Company players understood.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Global Warming: How Worried?

I know global warming is real. But how much does the MSM distort facts in order to frighten us into leaving Iraq and shifting resources into an Al Gore-led, global climate control regime?

I read the TIME cover story, “Be Worried, Be Very Worried” (4.3.06). I quickly ran into two alarmist-leaning factual distortions that, for me, put the whole enterprise into question.

From TIME:

just last week the journal Science published a study suggesting that by the end of the century, the world could be locked in to an eventual rise in sea levels of as much as 20 ft.

Here’s the source summarized at the EPA website:

Two new climate modeling studies reported in the journal Science (24 March 2006, pp. 1747-53) suggest that global sea level could rise faster than previously thought. . .[T]eams of researchers used evidence gathered from corals and sediments of sea level changes during the last interglacial period (approximately 130,000 years ago) to reconstruct and model how sea levels might respond to a warming climate over the next 140 years. Their simulations suggest that the climate in Greenland could become as warm by 2100 as it was during the last interglacial. . . lock[ing] in conditions leading to an eventual sea level rise of as much as 20 feet in the coming centuries. . .

The researchers emphasize that without a more complete understanding of the mechanisms behind the recent increase in glacial flow, predictions of future sea level rise rates are uncertain. But current trends do suggest that ice sheets may be more sensitive to a warming climate than previously thought, and that sea level rise could proceed at rates up to 3 feet per century.

Comment: 20 foot sea rise by 2100 or 3 foot? TIME’s carefully worded misimpression boosts the near-term danger by 17 feet!

From TIME:

in the past 35 years the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has doubled while the wind speed and duration of all hurricanes has jumped 50%.

Here’s the source summarized at the EPA website:

The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has increased by 80 percent worldwide during the past 35 years, according to a study in the 16 September 2005 issue of Science (vol. 309, pp. 1844-1846). Hurricanes in these two highest storm categories, with winds of 135 miles per hour or greater, now account for roughly 35 percent of all hurricanes, up from around 20 percent in the 1970s. . . But the researchers found no global long-term trend in the overall number of hurricanes, and the total number of hurricanes per year has actually declined in most of the world since the 1990s, at a time when sea-surface temperatures have risen the most. Furthermore there was no increase in the intensity of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, just an increase in their number.

Comment: “Doubled” or 80% more? And TIME fails to mention, even though the world’s sea-surface temperatures are rising, that the total number of hurricanes is declining and that Category 4 and 5 hurricanes have failed to increase in intensity.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Kerry's Secretary of State Rewrites History

In today’s Washington Post, Richard Holbrooke decided to revise U.S. history. His action is perhaps not surprising. Holbrooke would have been Secretary of State if Kerry had won, and probably if Gore had won as well. He doesn’t have much use for Bush’s foreign policy. It’s unfortunate he has to be dishonest about history as well, however.

Holbrooke wrote:

The major reason the nation needs a new defense secretary is . . .the failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be fixed as long as Rumsfeld remains at the epicenter of the chain of command. Rumsfeld's famous "long screwdriver," with which he sometimes micromanages policy, now thwarts the top-to-bottom reexamination of strategy that is absolutely essential in both war zones. Lyndon Johnson understood this in 1968 when he eased another micromanaging secretary of defense, McNamara, out of the Pentagon and replaced him with Clark M. Clifford.

Cute, the little thing about a "failed" strategy in Afghanistan, but let's not digress.

Johnson “eased. . .McNamara out of the Pentagon” not to change policy, but because he feared McNamara was about to resign because of his opposition to Johnson's Vietnam strategy, a strategy Holbrooke supported. McNamara was tortured to the point of distraction by the agony of Vietnam and his role in it. Johnson didn't want McNamara resigning during the President's campaign for re-election. When McNamara left, he in fact did contribute to the very political crisis Johnson sought to avoid--McNamara's departure helped push Robert F. Kennedy to run for president, and Kennedy's action lead Johnson to give up on his failed presidency. Clifford's appointment, however Holbrooke chooses to spin it, ended up as a footnote to Johnson's "cut and run" exit from Washington.

McNamara, true to his deeply-held concept of loyalty, left without giving a reason, but not a soul in what Holbrooke calls “Washington” (an arrogant, elitist word for Holbrooke's own Washington establishment) had any doubt that McNamara had simply had enough. He was a tortured, spent man.

Most important, Holbrooke flips the fact that McNamara, not Clifford, commissioned the "Pentagon Papers," the complete and thorough "top-to-bottom reexamination of strategy" regarding Vietnam, the failed Vietnam strategy Johnson and Holbrooke supported, the way Rumsfeld supports the flawed Iraq strategy.

Thank goodness Holbrooke isn’t Secretary of State, and thank goodness the Secretary we have treats history with more respect.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

To Win, You Need 50%

It’s still Holy Week. I was struck by an item on the "NBC Nightly News" last week (April 7). It said Christians had just had to absorb three (nasty) surprises: 1) The Da Vinci Code’s soaring popularity and its author’s triumph in a London court, 2) the fossil discovery of a “missing link” between sea- and land-based reptiles, and 3) discovery of a 2nd Century “Gospel of Judas” that painted Jesus’ betrayer in a favorable light. For some reason, the story editor decided to leave out publication of a fourth “surprise”—a scientific finding that prayer had no healing effect on heart disease victims.

I have three comments: 1) negative MSM stories on Christianity usually come out during Holy Week, not the week before, 2) the “missing link” story is way too much of an inside joke, since it has to relate, literally, to the “Darwin” fish-with-legs metal symbol anti-Fundamentalists often affix to the rear of their Volvos, and 3) MSM separation from American religious faith is going to cost Democrats.

One who wouldn’t agree is Kevin Phillips, well-known political commentator and author of American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (Viking), now #2 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list. And one I agree with is Betsy Newmark, an AP history and government teacher in Raleigh, NC, who blogs at “Betsy’s Page”. She wrote the following about Phillips:

I happen to be one conservative who is not religious in the slightest, but I have the deepest respect for those who have a strong faith. I think Phillips' whole premise is hogwash.

If Phillips is so worried about the Republican Party becoming the religious party, perhaps the problem is not that religious people are becoming Republicans, but that they are not feeling welcome in the Democratic Party. This is a point that Hugh Hewitt makes very powerfully in his new book, Painting the Map Red. Let me just quote from page 94:

"The attempt to scare America into voting against Republicans because of the absurd charge that their followers want a 'theocracy' may be the biggest electoral mistake of the past fifty years. It is simply impossible to persuade majorities of Americans that they and their neighbors want mullah-style government because they and those neighbors oppose gay marriage or think that devout Catholics can make great great judges. The deep offense given to people of faith upon being charged with extremism and kinship with the Taliban and the Iranian mullahs is sinking deeper and deeper into the consciousness of the American electorate.

"It is a slander with few parallels, and the rote denials of religious bigotry when confronted with the record cannot undo the deserved reputation of the left, and especially leading pundits of the left, for religious bigotry."

Hugh could have read Kevin Phillips' mind.

Rumsfeld Screwed Up. Long live Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld shares major blame for U.S. military errors in Iraq. But the screw-up was a joint effort that involved several at the Pentagon, plus Bush and Chaney. Retired generals are fingering Rumsfeld because they believe someone should take a fall, and they know it’s not going to be the elected President and Vice President.

So Rumsfeld stays. And why not? Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, a veteran of insurgencies in Kosovo and Iraq who could have been promoted but instead retired last November, is perhaps the most effective voice calling for Rumsfeld’s ouster. But Batiste says it would be a disaster for the U.S. to “cut and run” from Iraq. So as far as the military is concerned, we’re not “bugging out,” Rumsfeld or no Rumsfeld.

Batiste believes the war would go better with a new leader and a fresh start. For sure. The fresh start we need, though, is a unified Iraq government—an Iraqi political, not U.S. military, challenge.

Politics messed up the Iraqi effort from the start. Bush wanted a victory in Iraq in 2003, not war in election year 2004. So we had to start liberating Iraq before the 2003 desert hot season, way before the U.S. could have managed any Colin-Powell- type army build-up. And anyway, how were we to build the big army Shinseki and others wanted? A draft? Even more “weekend warrior” call-ups? A super-expensive recruitment effort? It would have been nice had Turkey or other allies added troops, but they didn’t.

Rumsfeld told Bush what he wanted to hear—we could win in Iraq without a big army. He was wrong. Let’s win anyway.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

4.7% Unemployment is Good News

Unemployment is at 4.7%. While we are at war now, the U.S. still enjoys a peacetime economy, without the manpower shortages war in Korea and Vietnam produced.

Republicans are in charge of congress now, as they were from October 1997 to July 2001, America’s last period of sustained low peacetime unemployment. In peacetime, unemployment hasn't been this low with Democrats running congress since one month in 1973, October, just before the Yom Kippur War. That conflict between Israel and Arab countries generated the first oil crisis, which damaged the U.S. economy and drove unemployment up the next month. To find any sustained period of low peacetime unemployment when Democrats controlled congress, one has to go back 48 years to October 1957, on the eve of the 1958 recession.

There is a reason to associate Republican congresses with low unemployment— taxes. Whatever they might do about the deficit, Republicans favor low taxes, which help businesses hire more workers. Economic studies of tax policies at the state level, and of nations outside the U.S., correlate low taxes and job creation, just as the European variety of high taxes drives up unemployment.

It’s new business activity that generates new jobs, and low taxes help business invest in the future.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Christianity and Freedom

It’s Holy Week, so some reflections on the relationship between Christianity, capitalism, and democracy.

This blog is developing a picture of the dominant American elite—liberal, well-to-do, roughly 1/5th of the population, in control of the Democratic party, the media, the public bureaucracies, entertainment and the arts, academia, the Third Sector, and influential in big business and liberal, “mainstream” religion. Yet while religion can be liberal, liberals, by and large, aren’t practicing Christians. Liberals live comfortably in our increasingly secular world, often finding life's meaning in a New Age spirituality separated from life’s daily struggles.

The Greco-Roman gods were human in form but capable of extraordinary achievements. TIME typically honors one modern god a week on its cover. The liberal elite, in the spirit of noblesse oblige, takes seriously its responsibility to do God’s work on Earth (think Bono in Africa) in contrast, most particularly, to profit-seeking capitalists and bigoted Christian fundamentalists.

Christianity, in my eyes, is about faith, a personal relationship between each believer and God. We are humbled by the knowledge that God’s grace—knowledge brought to us through Christ, a poor Jewish carpenter—frees us to move beyond ourselves into a larger community of believers that puts faith into action. A personal relationship with God is important because it places every individual on an equal footing, encouraging each to contribute to the community’s political, economic, and/or spiritual development.

Christianity, in its early years, in the 16th Century of Martin Luther (see post, “Martin Luther at 500”), and today, isn't top-down, but is instead about equality before God leading to free will. By honoring each person as a unique creature of God, and emphasizing each person's direct, private relationship to God, Christianity encourages free individuals to lead productive lives. And it's freedom that makes capitalism and democracy work.

Friday, April 07, 2006

This Blog Remains Modest

Here’s confirmation that this blog can be on target. As my post “The MSM (Part I)” earlier suggested, Fox’s conservative bias is freeing the MSM to go more blatantly to the left, at least according to former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal, 4.6.06):

Is the appointment of [well-known liberal] Katie [Couric] an acknowledgement by CBS that it doesn't feel it has to care anymore about political preferences, that the existence of Fox News Channel has in effect freed up the network broadcasts to be what you and I might call more politically tendentious and they might call edgy? . . . After all, if America is one big niche market, liberals make up a big niche.

And Tom Friedman, as I did (“A Good Fence, More Good Neighbors”), played his comments on immigration reform directly off Robert Frost’s line from “Mending Walls” that “Good fences make good neighbors” (New York Times, 4.6.06):

Good fences make good immigration policy. Fences make people more secure and able to think through this issue more calmly.

Friedman is probably also aware of the irony in so quoting Frost, whose poem is really about the sadness of building walls between people. In the case of Mexico though, strengthening the walls will help immigrants.

Friedman, bless him, in the same article becomes the first MSM commentator I've seen to view with alarm the non-stop demagogic filth daily pumped out by CNN’s Lou Dobbs. Dobbs already claims credit for killing the Dubai port deal, and is now going after illegal immigrants, in the name of protecting “middle class Americans.” Friedman alludes to Dobbs' sorry show when he writes:

Porous borders empower only anti-immigrant demagogues, like the shameful CNN, which dumbs down the whole debate.

Reportedly, Dobbs’ ratings are up since he began his demagoguery.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"Aspirational" v. "Euro-American" Cities

Joel Kotkin is author of The City: A Global History. In his articles “American Cities of Aspiration,” Kotkin divides America between said “aspiration” cities and “Euro-America.” (Weekly Standard, 2.14-2.21.05). “Cities of aspiration” embrace growth and new opportunity, care less about zoning, have a permissive business climate, and perhaps most important, have affordable housing.

Cities of aspiration include Atlanta, Phoenix, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Florida along the Gulf Coast. Because housing is cheap and business easy to start, such cities have no trouble attracting good people—the numbers of college graduates moving to these cities is mushrooming.

“Euro-America” means Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia; all of which—like Paris, Milan, Rome, and Amsterdam—are either stagnant or losing population. Boston is losing college graduates, especially those over 30. New York has fewer private-sector positions than it had in 1969. San Francisco is the city with the highest percentage of income stemming from dividends, rent, and interest. In the Bay Area, barely one in ten households can afford to buy a median-priced home—which takes an income of $125,000. Seattle has half as many children as it had with the same overall population in 1960.

European cities are great places to live, if you can afford it, and so is Euro-America. Those who own homes in these cities are the modern landed gentry, happy to keep things as they are, even if it means slow growth, poor public schools, and high taxes financing a ponderous bureaucracy.

Kotkin, who lives in Los Angeles, sees the evolution of that city from “aspirational” to “Euro-American” as a trend favorable for the latter group. L.A. is troubled by lost open space and neglected schools and roads, which has led to the lock environmentalists and public sector unions have on that city's politics. Still, he believes companies, entrepreneurs, and individuals will seek out cities where they don’t have to pay for inefficient public-sector bureaucracies, and where they are free to pursue happiness privately.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Iraq: Stability or Democracy?

Here’s my latest highly abbreviated form of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)

2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 40
March: 25

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (weekly average)

1965:* 30
1966: 97
1967: 177
1968: 263
• = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Note please—the Vietnam KIAs are weekly, not monthly, averages.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar: 2.50
Goal: 2.50
actual: 2.00 (3/06)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,100 (3/06)

Asked of Iraqis (1.31.06): “Do you think that Iraq is generally headed in the right direction, or the wrong direction?”

“Right direction”: 64%

Gen. Anthony Zinni, who headed the military’s Central Command (which has direct authority over Iraq) at the end of the Clinton administration, has written a book about Iraq, Battle for Peace. He was on “Meet the Press” yesterday. A good Army man, Zinni strongly and effectively made the case for firing Rumsfeld because he wouldn’t put the recommended high number of troops into Iraq the Army knew were needed to combat any insurgency that grew up in the aftermath of Saddam’s overthrow. Had we established and maintained order, Zinni said, we could have headed off the current Sunni-based insurgency.

Zinni also argued that we should be pursuing stability in Iraq, not the democracy the (second) Bush administration seeks to establish. Here Zinni lost my sympathy, as he talked about the need to have an “educated electorate,” to have government first and democracy later instead of the reverse, and as he ridiculed an Iraqi voter who asked a poll worker who she should vote for. When the official responded by reading the names on the ballot and had reached the seventh of 160 parties, she said, “That’s the one!” Presumably Zinni preferred she listen to all 160 names before voting.

Zinni said it takes time, and investment from the “stable world,” to build a democracy. Guess Zinni somehow never visited India, the world's largest democracy, while running his Central Command.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Beginning of History

Throughout history, most people have been uninvolved in the storyline. There was history, and there were the nasty, brutish, short lives led by most everybody else.

Athens was the first democracy. But in the 6th Century BCE, at most one-tenth of Athenians participated, even though Athens didn't use property qualifications to limit the franchise. Half its people were slaves, and of course Athens excluded its many foreigners and all women. As noted here earlier (see post "Moving Forward"), 24 centuries after Athens in 1900, only 8% of the people voted in Britain’s parliamentary elections. True democracy is very new indeed.

We must also consider the world’s population, which was less than 900 million during the French Revolution--the first time the masses truly seized and held power anywhere. The world now hosts 6.5 billion people. History before 1789 was about elites in a world with few who could read, small armies, and lots of trees.

Napoleon nearly conquered Europe because he was able to draw on the full resources of France’s population. The 19th Century was about trying to get the French-released genie back in the bottle, using reform to fight revolution. But then came world war. Both world wars were total wars involving entire nations and each war profoundly expanded democracy. It would have been impossible to deny power to people who had themselves sacrificed so much.

And people don’t want war. So there is a close identity between democracy and peace.

Capitalism is the system that decentralizes economic decisionmaking, the same way democracy decentralizes political power. Capitalism empowers the masses to make money on their own. With the rise of China and India in this century, we truly realize what an economic asset each person represents—the more, the better.

Hitler was the horror of the 20th Century. He rose to power within a democracy, and drew his support from a city-dwelling, educated population. His ideology was psudo-science; a warped version of genetic selection. The technologically superior war machine he constructed in Germany helped inspire similarly totalitarian state structures in the U.S.S.R., Japan, China, and elsewhere, and gave us the most destructive war the world has ever seen.

As a population becomes conscious of the power it holds in its hands, things can go wrong. And militant Islam is a bigger threat than nationalism (National Socialism) gone haywire—the militants have a religion, inhabit a large region, draw on a history of humiliation, and are close by two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves. We are in the fight of our lives at the dawn of real history, the history of entire engaged populations either clashing or somehow working toward a common purpose.