Herbert London is President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of New York University, and author of Diary of A Dean, Hamilton Books, and America's Secular Challenge, Encounter Books.
The Romney Hatchet Job
Attempting to parse the often-obtuse language in the New York Times has become an easier task than in the past due, in no small part, to the transparently hostile view of Republicans and the consistently admiring stance of President Obama.
Let me cite an interesting example from the 12/25/11 Jodi Kantor profile of Mitt Romney during his Harvard Business School years. She wrote:
And unlike Barack Obama, who attended Harvard Law School more than a decade later, Mr. Romney was not someone who fundamentally questioned how the world worked or talked much about social policy topics.
Several poignant questions emerge from this tendentious sentence: How can Ms. Kantor be sure that Barack Obama questioned how the world worked while a student at Harvard? How can she assert that Mitt Romney didn't discuss social policy topics? And what is meant by the word "fundamentally"?
In fact, Ms. Kantor cannot possibly answer any of these questions. No one can. Her assertions aren't based on fact, probably not even on hearsay; they are based entirely - I believe - on her confidence in what Obama may have written about himself. The contrast she limns is precisely what she wants reading audience to believe. And for many, it will be compatible with a deeply held impression. But is it true?
This was, after all, a front-page story designed to provide key insights into the character of a leading Republican candidate. As I see it, the article was a hatchet job that seemed to suggest Romney was only an ambitious student without deep convictions, a pragmatist who did not immerse himself in deep introspective thoughts.
Of course, drawing on the experience of man in his twenties to draw conclusions about his present convictions is faulty to begin with. However, despite two autobiographies very little is known about Barack Obama at Occidental College, Columbia, and Harvard Law School. His grades and transcripts have not been revealed and despite having been the editor of the Harvard Law Review, he did not publish articles about his legal reasoning or judicial preferences. This period in his life may have been fraught with philosophical examination, but Ms. Kantor doesn't know that.
The throw-away sentence in a long piece about Romney is revealing. What it shows is clear and abiding bias and an undeviating effort to exalt the President and indirectly undermine the Republican candidate.
It has been said by many before that the New York Times is an extension of the Democratic party. It is less a newspaper and more a partisan organ. Keep in mind the use of the word "fundamentally." It is a weasel word designed to provide cover. After all, Romney may have questioned how the world worked, but was it fundamental questioning? Since Ms. Kantor doesn't know, she merely assumes the case hiding behind the obscure word "fundamentally." Moreover, apparently she is sure that Obama questioned and talked and drank from the well of wisdom. (Those last six words are mine, but could easily be attributed to Ms. Kantor.)
Reading the New York Times with a jaded eye is necessary. It allows you to see that the "paper of record" is a public relations operation for the President, and has as much to do with news as an ad for Coke. Unlike Coca Cola, however, that promises to slake your thirst, the New York Times makes one thirsty for the news.
The End of the European Union?
At a 1999 conference sponsored by the Hudson Institute at Weston Park in England, Lady Margaret Thatcher was asked her opinion of the European Union. She replied, "It begins with false assumptions and will die of illusions." Lady Thatcher, as one of the advocates of Euro skepticism, hit the nail on the head. We are witnessing the unfolding, the dismemberment of a grand experiment conceived in well-meaning ideas, but fatally flawed by a false analogy.
Proponents of the EU such as Henry Kissinger argued it is far better "to make one call to Europe than many." The notion that Europe could be one nation like the United States overlooked tradition, culture, language, even the consent of the governed. When the U.S. faced the issue of unity, Jefferson said he would consent to the assumption of Massachusetts' debt if the capital of the new nation were located adjacent to Virginia. It was possible with a nation being formulated to make deals unrelated to an indelible past. Europe has had no such legacy.
What Europe did have was a series of assumptions about Germany. After World War II the Allied powers believed Germany had to be restrained as a giant Gulliver. The division of this nation into east and west was one constraining condition. It was also believed that if West Germany could be integrated into a European system, its imperial impulses could not be unleashed. Even German chancellor Helmut Kohl believed responsible German action was possible only in the company of allies. He called for a European Germany, not a German Europe, albeit history often has an ironic ring to it as recent events in Europe suggest.
With unification of the Germanys, NATO adoption, and the introduction of the euro, the plan for integration was seemingly put in place. Germany was sealed as a member in good standing of the West. But the West itself was unsettled. Cradle to grave security gave Europeans the impression they did not have to work in order to receive benefits. Less than half actually work and in southern Italy work has been unknown for three generations. With lavish benefits that Europeans came to expect, came a demographic nightmare in which birthrates fell well below replacement level. Who pays and who gets became a question every European leader had to address.
For more than a decade sovereign debt exceeded aggregate GDP, with politicians unable to control expenditures. To do so would have translated into electoral defeat. So the illusion continued until the annual deficits piled so high they could not be ignored. Here is where the default scenario begins. Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy have accumulated debts that cannot possibly be met by the IMF and the European Central Bank. Default is the only real option, notwithstanding band-aids such as the refinancing of the banks.
The upcoming German election will offer some glimpses into the future. Germany is the most successful economy in Europe; but as much as Ms. Merkel would like to retain the EU she realizes there are limits to what Germany can do and is willing to do. This election will be a referendum on the union with Merkel's adversaries asking whether a hardworking entrepreneur in Hamburg should be supporting a shiftless welfare recipient in Palermo. If the answer to this question is yes, Merkel will be defeated and Germany will soon be on the poverty line with Greece.
There is little doubt that European socialism has failed. Welfare, as the Europeans experienced it for at least two generations, is over. Austerity is in the air, so too is serious discussion of a return to national currencies. How can Europe even pretend to be democratic when political leaders cannot exert control over fiscal and monetary policies? The euro will be the dead canary in the European mine destroyed by irresponsible spending.
What Europe needs is not a bailout from the Chinese or the Americans or even the IMF, but pro-growth policies that liberate European ingenuity from the shackles of onerous regulation and extortionate taxes. The pleasure ride Europeans enjoyed is behind them. Now they must roll up their sleeves and let the hard work begin. To do any less is to relegate Europe to the ash heap of history, a wonderful museum with a dead present and an empty future.
Israel and the Existential Threat
For a variety of reasons, including a misguided infatuation with soft power, neither the United States nor Israel has exercised the legitimate right of anticipatory self-defense against Iran. As a result, Iran's entry into the nuclear club is a virtual fait accompli. In Israel, a nation already targeted for annihilation, self-defense is limited to contingency plans, active defense, and deterrence. However, each case is fallible.
Contingency plans make sense when preemption is an option. Should there be an attack on Israel, retaliation is the only option. Active defense is useful since it can confuse the planning of the enemy, but it is difficult, alas impossible, to know how many missiles will penetrate defenses in the midst of war. And last, deterrence is workable only if Iran is unwilling to risk the loss of life. If a theological scenario enters the nuclear equation, the prospective loss of innocent life may not deter.
In its latest report, in 2011, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations." However when effective preemption or anticipatory self-defense is unstable, survival is largely dependent on missile defense from Arrow and Aegis destroyers. These systems in Israel are being perfected but they are not perfect. Hence Israel, as a way to enhance deterrence, might change its nuclear posture from "deliberate ambiguity" to counter-city targeting and cumulative penetration capability. As noted, this isn't a panacea, but it may well be that Iranian commentary about a nuclear conflagration as a prelude for the return of the Mahdi has rhetorical, not practical, application.
Certainly Israel would like to avoid these contingencies, relying instead on the United States to deter or, if that fails, destroy the nuclear sites. At the moment, the U.S. seems to be resigned to an Iran with nuclear weapons. The Obama administration either believes Iran is not a serious threat or that sanctions will at some point, so damage the Iranian economy that deployment is rendered nugatory. With Germany, Switzerland, China, and Russia violating the sanctions regimen, this hardly seems a viable course of action.
A nuclear Iran may be unthinkable, as every leader from Obama to Sarkozy, has noted. But action doesn't necessarily follow a promise. President Bush argued that his presidency would be deemed a failure if he left office and Iran had nuclear weapons.
Iran may be a threat to Europeans capitals and a long-term threat to the U.S. but it is a proximate threat to Israel now. It is the shadow that blocks Israeli sunlight. There are other issues in Israel including the Palestinian question; yet there is only one existential issue: the Iranian nuclear threat. Whether it is six months, one year, or several years away from completion, the Iran nuclear juggernaut is moving ahead serving as a Damoclean sword over the heads of the Israeli people.
Israeli batteries at the Iron Dome and Arrow facilities remain confident. They have every reason to feel this way. The troops are strong and their devotion to the security of the Israeli people is unshakable. Still there are the unknowns - penetration ratios, effectiveness in battle, unpredictable conditions. Yet every commander I met in my recent trip to Israel expressed the belief that they will do whatever is necessary to protect the Israeli nation. In Israel, it often seems that God is nearby. Despite the destruction of the First Temple and the attempt by the Romans to destroy the Second Temple, the Jewish people managed to prevail. When I said to one officer that Iran could have the means to destroy Israel, he said "Never again!" Need I say more?
Having Holder Resign
According to law and precedent the U.S. Attorney General is obligated to act independently; to represent the legal interests of the administration in a manner that holds law above politics and ethics above expediency. But in the case of the incumbent, Eric Holder, we have seen evidence of poor judgment, ethical violations, and questionable political actions.
Although "Fast and Furious" has been described as "one of the most incompetent and murderous operations ever undertaken in the name of the Justice Department," all the Attorney General will say is he closed the barn door now that the horses have fled. In a recently withdrawn letter from the Justice Department to Congress, Holder denies lying about the program:
. . . because it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie.
Operation Fast and Furious was organized by the Phoenix division of the ATF (U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). This agency knowingly implemented a strategy of "gun walking" in the hope of discovering where the guns ultimately end up and using the weapons in order to build a case against the Mexican drug cartel. Ultimately 2000 guns were transported over the border with these weapons used in various crimes including the murder of the U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry.
During his testimony Holder denied any knowledge of the operation albeit recently culled evidence suggests this assertion is untrue.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the self-proclaimed mastermind behind the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania attacks. Moreover, he has planned terrorist attacks ranging from the World Trade Center in 1993, to the Philippines, Thailand, Israel, Singapore, and Indonesia. In 2001, he became the chief of operations for al Qaeda.
During the end of the Bush administration, five detainees had been charged in military tribunal, but they indicated that without a full trial they would not plead guilty. Once President Obama came into office, the tribunal was halted. In fact, he and the Attorney General halted all trials at Guantanamo that examine detainee policies.
In April 2011 Holder cleared the military prosecutors to bring charges against Mohammed and his co-defendants. But this happened only after the Obama administration faced tremendous pressure to drop the civilian court trial.
On his second day in office President Obama banned secret overseas prisons and established a closing date for the Guantanamo Bay detention center. In August 2009 the Justice Department released a secret report of CIA's interrogation program. Obama took pains to stress that the decision to prosecute would be from U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and not from the White House.
Holder used this authority to investigate for possible criminal prosecution CIA operatives who interrogated terrorists in overseas locations. He noted that those who acted in "good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel" had nothing to fear. However, his office was determined to examine whether agents acted in good faith. Aside from the chilling effect on the CIA and the impropriety of forcing individuals through investigations with virtually no chance of conviction, reversing a prosecutorial decision of a prior administration is a dangerous precedent.
In Philadelphia, two members of the New Black Panther Party were accused of voter intimidation when they stood outside a polling place on Election Day wearing military outfits and expressing racial slurs. One of these men was carrying a nightstick. They were allegedly trying to prevent white voters from casting a ballot so the Democratic candidates would win. A lawsuit was filed against this party and the two men by the Civil Rights Commission in the Department of Justice. However, soon after, the DOJ dropped the case claiming there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. Some have claimed that the decision was based on a desire to protect the civil liberties of minorities. One former voting chief at the Civil Rights Division said that pressure from the NAACP and some within the DOJ accounted for the decision.
Whether Mr. Holder exercised poor judgment, or concessions to extremists, or outright racial bias, he has demonstrated a clear partisan stance inconsistent with his role and the Constitutional provisions he swore to uphold. Hence, he should be asked to resign and perhaps to explain his faulty decision making. Americans deserve a Justice Department that delivers justice instead of narrowly constructed decisions designed to maintain Democratic Party control.
Is the College Experience Worth It?
Writing in the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education (11/4/11) Pamela Haag asks "Are Elite Colleges Worth It?" Relying on a couple of recent books such as Richard Arum's Academically Adrift and Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus' Higher Education? she contends the college mystique has been shattered or at least called into question. A study by economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger finds that going to a selective college makes little difference in future earning power once inherent abilities are taken into account.
Of course, the argument is often made that the networking afforded through a selective college has invaluable payoffs. I find this contention somewhat dubious since the forging of connections seems more dependent on personality type rather than college affiliation. Facebook now provides that network for any reasonably resourceful person.
While Haag is concerned with elite institutions, there is a nagging more general question: Is college education worth the price? A decade or so ago, the answer would be obvious, and for a population striving for success from the bottom of the proverbial income ladder, it is still obvious. What has changed is that for many middle-class students this rite of passage offers very little in the form of income enhancement or even learning opportunities. As Academically Adrift contends, a significant portion of college cohorts do not enhance intellectual cognition as a result of the college experience.
Driving this question of value is the competitive global environment that relies on knowledge, innovation, and technology. If the United States is to succeed in the future, it must capitalize on its existing strengths, and train a workforce with sophisticated skills. At the moment, it is unclear that these goals are being met. On one matter there is consensus: a sizeable portion of higher education funds is wasted and college isn't, or shouldn't be, for everyone.
Much of college education is a waste of time with students taking courses of limited value or courses that have been diluted to accommodate notions of mass education. A once favorably disposed public is now raising questions about cost and results. It appears as if the college "bubble" will burst soon tearing down the once inviolable ivy walls. Almost everyone maintains an expensive college education is not a guarantee for higher real wages and it may not be worth going into debt for it.
Teenagers looking for a Moses to liberate them from boring classes and lead them to the promised land of prosperity are likely to be very disappointed with the college experience. In fact, contemporary illustrations yield a very different road to success. The dropout has become a central cultural figure who has pursued interests and financial success without the benefit of a college degree. This class of entrepreneurs includes: Bill Gates, Larry Page, Michael Dell, David Geffen, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Ralph Lauren, Jerry Yang, and Mark Zuckerberg among others. Henry Ford never had any formal education and he was certainly not alone among his successful cohorts.
Clearly one can easily produce a list of successful college graduates, but there is conventional opinion emerging that success and college degrees do not necessarily coincide. Peter Thiel of PayPal is presently offering fellowships for youngsters not to attend college, but to develop innovative ideas instead. I don't suppose that this will catch on, but one never knows.
As the price of higher education escalates beyond the rate of inflation, parents eagerly seek government loans and subsidies, but the main effect of government student aid programs is not a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to students, but from taxpayers to academic institutions. When government increases subsidies to colleges, it inflates student purchasing power thereby allowing colleges to raise tuition, ultimately leading to a demand for more government student aid. This circular process is an artifice that keeps tuition high and pricing competition low.
Considering the tuition cost of a quarter of a million dollars at most private universities over a four-year period, it is not surprising that many are considering non-attendance or less expensive alternatives. Despite media hoopla, there is not a rush to shun a college education, but that may be a scenario in the making. Unless colleges can demonstrate a relationship between cost and value, many students are likely to opt out of the higher education experience in the not too distant future.
The Vanishing Western Tradition
It is astonishing that those in the West are living through the near extinction of their civilization. For students in the Academy today, the western civilization history course, virtually a standard curriculum offering 30 years ago, has disappeared.
This survey course covering classical antiquity to the present was the glue, the all-embracing narrative, that gave coherence to everything else the university taught. At the very least, students came away from this course with a partial recognition of their civilization and its monumental achievements.
Now western civilization survey courses have been eliminated from the general education requirements, replaced in large part by courses and programs that either undermine traditions in the West or balkanize the curriculum.
Latino studies, for example, exalt the accomplishments of Spanish-speaking people. Black studies emphasize the plight of blacks in white societies. Women's studies superordinate the role of women. However, white studies denounce male-dominated, colonial societies. American history, on the rare occasion it is required, tells a story of conflict, exploitation and imperial goals. Third World studies is ostensibly a rehearsal of abuse and unfair dominance by the West.
Is it any wonder poll after poll demonstrates students are alienated from their own culture? Clearly many of those who will eventually assume leadership positions are no longer learning about their civilization's triumphs and its singular role in transforming the human condition.
According to a National Association of Scholars report issued in 2011, "The Vanishing West: 1964-2010," only two percent of colleges offer western civilization as a course requirement. Remarkably western civilization is rarely even required for history majors. By contrast, most institutions from 1964 through the seventies did have this requirement. In 1987 Jesse Jackson led Stanford protestors in a chant of "Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture's got to go." The purpose of this demonstration was to eliminate a course on western civilization, and, mirabile dictu, Jackson and his claque were successful. From the triumphs of the West, e.g. individual rights, the rule of law, minority rights, free markets, the search for truth, the separation of church and state emerged a form of curriculum apologetics for racism, imperialism, sexism, colonialism. The course that stood as the foundation stone in the curriculum was shattered like piecrust by an ideological bandwagon.
In the absence of this foundation, the curriculum began spinning out of control into a phantasmagoria of offerings, many narrow in scope, many trivial in nature and many adhering to notions of political correctness.
Considering the Zeitgeist, it is unlikely the curriculum trend can be reversed easily. But it is worth asking: if the purpose of education is to be literate about our past, shouldn't some emphasis be put on the transmission of culture, especially the culture students inhabit? Shouldn't historians consider a fundamental responsibility for preserving our civic culture and the historical memory of our civilization?
Unless we are nihilistic, these questions should be answered in the affirmative. Redressing the wrongs of curriculum revision will not occur overnight. But those in the Academy would be remiss, alas culpable, if some effort to reintroduce western civilization into the college course of study were not entertained.
Matthew Arnold once noted that universities have an obligation to teach the best that is known and thought. However, he engaged in a lamentation, Dover Beach, when he realized the direction the Academy was taking. "But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar." As I see it, the time has come to hear a chorus of restoration and approval so that the West and its accomplishments are once again appreciated. *