Thursday, December 22, 2011

Simple Words, Complex Maneuverings

The series of events and trends which led to America's victory - really, the victory of Western Civilization - in the Cold War is long and complicated, and subject to various interpretations. To this day, historians disagree as to the precise amount of credit to be given to the various individuals involved - Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, to name a few of the individuals; but also larger movements among the ordinary citizens of regions like East Germany and Romania. There are also less obvious candidates: the American labor union movement, which steadily supported a courageous stance against the Soviets.

In any case, Reagan certainly deserves some credit. We'll let the historians decide exactly how much, but there can be no doubt that there was a certain sophistication hiding behind his simple and folksy facade. His goal was not only to win the Cold War, but to win it while keeping it "cold" - to ensure that no major armed conflict would break out.

To do that, he hit upon a subtle strategy. He would out-maneuver the Soviets economically. By applying pressure to the financial system of the USSR, and meeting them at every turn with no room for escape, he could engineer Russia's economic collapse - which is precisely what happened. Simply put, America built ever more expensive weapons, forcing the Soviets to do the same in order to keep up. Eventually, they simply outspent themselves - they couldn't afford to match our defense spending.

In the pre-1990 world, however, few would have believed that this was indeed the key to defeating communism's world-wide aggression. Those who recognized the threat believed that it would take a military confrontation. To convince citizens of that political view that he had the resolve to defeat the Soviet, Reagan developed an ingenious political vocabulary for which he is now famous. Early in his presidency, at his first press conference, he wanted a bold statement to set a diplomatic tone; he said that

the Soviets will lie, cheat, and steal to get whatever they want.
Reaction to Reagan's strong language was mixed; most citizens acknowledged this as a realistic appraisal of the situation, but the media establishment, largely controlled by left-liberals, feared that Reagan would anger the communists. Further into his presidency, he introduced phrases for which he would become widely loved and hated; he said that the Soviets
preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.
he continued:
I urge you to beware the temptation of pride - the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire.
Finally, in 1987, at the climax of the Cold War, Reagan stood in Berlin, and spoke to massive crowds, addressing the Soviet leader directly:
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Although these rhetorical flourishes became famous, it was an economic strategy which ultimately defeated the Soviet Union.

Ford Begins

It is always a telling moment when a nation receives a new leader. Much of what will happen is foreshadowed, and even swayed, by the tone of the transition - by the manner in which it is perceived and retold among the people.

Historian Douglas Brinkley describes the setting for Gerald Ford's first day as President of the United States:

Aside from Washington, Lincoln and FDR - America's big three - it's difficult to recall a president who took office amid less favorable circumstances. The true public courage exhibited that day didn't emanate from Nixon fleeing Washington but from Ford, who was anxious to heal a deeply divided nation. He was being asked to assume the presidency in a White House sinking in the quicksands of Vietnam and Watergate. Ford said "yes" not because he wanted power but because it was his duty.
Ford would prove to be unique and pivotal. Pivotal, because it was his task to somehow revitalize the American political psyche, which had been devastated by the events of the early 1970's. Unique, because,
unlike all his predecessors (save George Washington), he had never slogged through the mud of a presidential campaign. Thus arriving in the White House with neither an untoward gratitude for those who had supported him nor any lingering animosity toward those who hadn't, Ford gained an unobstructed view of his enormous and widely diverse constituency.
As if the problems of Watergate and Vietnam weren't bad enough, the nation's economy was encountering problems with inflation, which threatened to morph into a recession or a depression. The Nixon administration hadn't helped, because it had engaged in deficit spending. What to do? In January 1975,
Ford unveiled a new economic strategy centered around cutting taxes for most individuals and businesses.
In foreign policy, Ford's involvement in the Helsinki Accord remains controversial to this day. A treaty among thirty-five different countries, it was out of favor with conservatives because it didn't specify clearly enough its standards for human rights, and how those standards were to be enforced by the international community; it was out of favor with the liberals because it raised the issue of human rights at all, which might anger the Soviets.
Ford's participation proved controversial from the start. And it would haunt him ever after, losing him much crucial support among conservative Republicans. Yet, with their calls for openness and respect for human rights, the Helsinki Accords would mark the beginning of the end of the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Ford's attendance at the Soviet-sponsored conference substantially boosted the credibility of the ensuing Helsinki Accords, which became one of the finer legacies of his presidency. The agreement reflected everything that was best about Jerry Ford: long-term thinking,
his mid-western outlook which tempered pragmatism with principle, and his experience. Although leaving much to be desired, the treaty was perhaps the start of the pressure which would eventually cause the Soviet Union to collapse. Reagan's sophisticated out-maneuvering of the Soviet economy was not a departure from Ford's approach to the Iron Curtain, but an extension of it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Obama Said About Ford

Politicians are humans, which means that they are not consistent; more charitably, a wise politician may sometimes understand that consistency in ideology is not always his ultimate goal.

In either case, Barack Obama, in January 2007, gave a speech in honor of President Gerald Ford. It is instructive to read, in a case where the two individuals differed so greatly, what one elected official says to honor another elected official. Obama began by noting that

President Ford shouldered his burden with a unique sense of humility and good humor, in an office not known for nourishing those traits. President Ford's unusual combination of courage, strength, and conviction led America out of a deep crisis, healing our wounds and strengthening our Constitution in the process.
Ford's easy-going nature made him a friendly figure, even to those who disagreed with his policies. It was Ford's character, as much as his policy decisions, which led America out of a most troubled era; the Ford administration oversaw the aftermath of Watergate as well as the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Obama noted that
Gerald Ford was a self-made Michigander who worked part-time jobs as a young man to help support his family, and later to put himself through Yale Law School. A man of many talents, he could have been a professional football player, or lived well as an attorney. But instead, he chose a life of service, first as a decorated naval officer, then a 24-year Member of Congress, leader of his party in the House of Representatives, and Presiding Officer of this Chamber as Vice President.
Ford relied neither on his family's wealth, nor on handouts from a government program; he could have earned more money as an athlete or a lawyer, but chose to give up financial gain to help shape the nation's future. As president, he continued to set aside his personal chances to benefit from his circumstances or from his office, and instead made decisions which would help the country, and not help himself:
Domestic turmoil and foreign policy challenges marked the mid-1970s, and President Ford addressed them both. History has favorably judged his actions to move the country beyond the Watergate scandal, although he paid a heavy price at the time. He also acknowledged the severe economic difficulties faced by millions of Americans and worked head-on to alleviate them.
The "heavy price" to which Obama alludes was the election of 1976; the qualified Ford lost to the at most marginally competent Carter based mainly on public reaction to Ford's handling of the Watergate situation. Obama embraced Ford's interpretation of the Helsinki Accords:
His backing of the Helsinki Accords, while controversial, gave important support to dissidents living under Soviet rule who sought respect for their human rights.
Obama returned to the theme of Ford's character. At the end of Ford's career, and the end of Ford's life, his policy decisions may have been of the greatest benefit to the nation, but it was his personal nobility which made him most beloved.
Throughout his life, Gerald Ford handled the responsibilities and challenges that circumstance thrust on him without losing his Midwestern openness and sensibility. To many who disagreed with him, he still came across as a comforting figure who had the Nation's best interests at heart. Central to this ability to connect with people was his self-deprecating sense of humor, summed up by the quip, "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln." And while he may not have been a Lincoln, he certainly was not a common President. America is a better place because of him, and we all owe President Ford and his wife, Betty, a tremendous debt of gratitude.
It will be a most interesting exercise to see how Obama's words about Ford would apply to Obama himself: will Obama use these same words to describe his own career?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FDR's Weakness at Yalta

When the leaders of the allied powers met at Yalta in 1945 - one of several such conferences, including Potsdam and Tehran - historians have noted a certain ease with which President Roosevelt made significant concessions to Stalin. Was this caused by his ill health, or by the presence of known Soviet spies within the U.S. government?

The Washington Times notes that
Given that State Department officer Alger Hiss was with the U.S. delegation, in a relatively minor role, suspicions have long lingered as to whether he had a hand in the concessions FDR made to Stalin. Based on the Soviet documents Mr. Plokhy obtained, the answer is “no.” Stalin, et al., seemed not even aware of Hiss.One explanation is that Hiss spied for the GRU, the intelligence service of the Red Army, whereas Yalta was under the purview of its rival, the NKVD.
S.M. Plokhy, a Harvard historian, is clear that Alger Hiss was a Soviet agent, but also that he probably had little or nothing to do with FDR's willingness to yield to Stalin's demands. Hiss was certainly guilty of undermining the U.S. government in various other situations, but not at Yalta. It turns out that there were other Soviet spies among the allied powers:
But intelligence gave the Soviets a clear advantage at Yalta. The infamous Cambridge Five spy ring - think Kim Philby - sent to Moscow papers concerning the British-American positions on Poland.The British traitor-diplomat Donald Maclean, stationed in Washington, kept Moscow apprised of U.S. bargaining strategies. As Mr. Plokhy writes, “His documents were often considered so important and time-sensitive that instead of being sent to Moscow by diplomatic mail they were coded and dispatched by cable.”
The Soviet agents kept their activities going long after Yalta, and these activities were not limited to destabilizing western democracies, and thereby endangering their freedoms: the activities included re-writing history:
The Soviet documents revealed a good deal of “rewriting of history,” always to Stalin’s advantage. For instance, although at Yalta Stalin was a staunch advocate of “dismemberment” of Germany after the war, he assigned blame to the West, not wishing to rile his East German subjects.
Initially enthusiastic about cooperation of the allied powers at Yalta (and at the other conferences, as well), American diplomats soon began to realize that they had been tricked:
Most of the American delegation left Yalta in exuberant moods. FDR confidant Harry Hopkins spoke of the “dawn of a new age we had all been praying for and talking about for so many years.” Secretary of State Edward Stettinius claimed that the Soviets “made greater concessions” than did the United States or Britain.
But a few months later, Averell Harriman, who had served as ambassador to Moscow, bluntly warned the new president, Harry S. Truman, that “Stalin is breaking his agreements,” and that there was a new “barbarian invasion of Europe.”
The Yalta conference, which could have laid the foundation for world peace and the expansion of international democratic liberties, instead was another step on the road toward the Cold War, and toward Stalin's domination of the war-ravaged nations in eastern Europe.

Divorce in America: Personal Pain, Political Principles

Just as an increasing divorce rate was one of many factors which destabilized the Roman Empire, so it is also causing political and economic problems in the United States. These problems have been accelerated by certain changes in the divorce laws in each of the fifty states.

Those who have sought to change these laws have often reasoned that a marriage, or the destruction of it, is a personal and private matter, and as such, has no effect on the body politic as a whole, and is therefore not properly an object of interest for the political process.

But they have reasoned wrongly: although a personal matter, divorce is not a private affair. It impacts society and economy. The effects touch many lives - people who knew neither husband nor wife in the case will bear some of the burden.

In an attempt which may have been well-intentioned, changes in divorce laws were introduced to make the process more humane. It was apparent that divorce proceedings in court were painful, complex, and sometimes ethically questionable. To this end, a series of laws were introduced under the heading of 'no-fault' divorce. The Washington Times reports:

One reason was that, in a fault system, a divorce required at least one spouse to prove that the other had committed adultery, abandonment or abuse. This meant hiring a private detective and/or collecting incriminating evidence for the court.

Or - and this happened far too often - couples who both wanted the divorce had to resort to manufacturing evidence - faking abandonment, for instance. This kind of fraud insulted the court, legal professionals complained.

And then there were the genuinely ugly divorces, in which both spouses hurled blame and evidence at each other. Everyone suffered, including the children.

Thus, the noble purpose of no-fault divorce was to remove the contentious, annoying legal requirement for couples to prove anything other than their desire to divorce. After all, the thinking went, if marriage was the union of two people, and one person wanted out, then the union was no longer viable.
Or so it seemed. But there were serious errors in this attempt to humanize the divorce process. First, there was an underlying assumption that it can be humanized; divorce is, in fact, a necessarily unpleasant thing. Even in those rare cases when it might be the morally correct thing to do, it cannot be anything but painful. On a deeply philosophical level, this corresponds to the notion that there is such a thing as a necessary evil. On a common-sense level, it is plain that any effort to re-arrange a family structure involves the disassembly of a human fabric, which is sorrowful, even if that fabric is to be eventually reconstructed into a better pattern.
Instead of making divorce humane - which it can never be - the batch of 'no-fault' divorce laws increased social disintegration and personal emotional pain by increasing the divorce rate:
“The key to understanding the problem is to recognize that the grounds for divorce did not go from fault to no-fault; they went from mutual consent to unilateral,” said Allen Parkman, University of New Mexico economics professor and author of books on divorce.

Under the fault system, “most divorces were negotiated and eventually [happened] based on mutual consent,” Mr. Parkman said. But once one person could legally end the marriage, “there was no longer any need for negotiations.”
Although divorce is a personal matter, it is not a private matter. The personal events have consequences for the entire community.
According to “Stolen Vows,” a 2002 book by Judy Parejko, the California lawmaker (James A. Hayes) who championed no-fault divorce was embroiled in a bitter divorce from his stay-at-home wife and mother of his four children. Removing fault didn’t help Mr. Hayes in his divorce, but it certainly crushed the “negotiating power” of other stay-at-home wives, Ms. Parejko wrote.

With the introduction of unilateral divorce proceedings, any incentive for a spouse to re-think his or her desire for a divorce was weakened. This leaves all spouses, and all marriages, in a riskier environment.
With marriages at risk, the economy is at risk, and with societal fabric lacking integration, the political process lacks integration. Just as divorce was one of many complex factors which weakened the Roman Empire, so it is also weakening America.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to Fix the Economy

The brilliant presidency of Gerald R. Ford is instructive: we can learn much by studying how one of America's best leaders did things. When confronted by economic problems in the form of inflation, Ford saw that the best course of action was for the government to do less: economies can and do heal themselves, as long as they are not hindered by regulations and other types of interventions. Historian Yanek Mieczkowski recounts that in his

anti-inflation program, Ford unveiled on of his little-known but lasting legacies in government retrenchment: deregulation. At the Conference on Inflation, some economists had urged the president to reduce onerous regulations to control inflation, so early in his administration Ford set out on this mission.

Like every president, he needed cooperation from Congress to enact some of his measures. This proved possible, because leaders from both parties

conceded that Ford was on to something. They worried that some regulatory agencies acted favorably toward industries - not consumers - and realized that Ford capitalized on a perception that developed after the Great Society and Watergate, that government tends to foul things up.

The Ford administration reviewed various federal agencies, and various industries, and drew up plans to phase in deregulation in industries from trucking to airlines:

Ford's tax force developed ambitious plans for deregulation, covering almost every conceivable industry: chemicals, automobiles, food processing, communication, finance, and more. Many of his plans were implemented after he left office.

During Ford's presidency in the 1970's, but also for more than a decade after it, both the Congress and later presidents

showed the bipartisan support for his ideas: the airlines were deregulated in 1978; trucking in 1980; cable television in 1996. This was one of the unsung successes of the Ford presidency; he envisioned an economic environment with more freedom and laid the groundwork for later deregulation.

In his state of the union message, he linked deregulation to lower taxes: taxes are, after all, a form of regulation, even if they are primarily merely a form of confiscation. He explained that

the way to a healthy, non-inflationary economy has become increasingly apparent. The government must stop borrowing so much of our money. More money must remain in private hands where it will do the most good. To hold down the cost of living we must hold down the cost of government.

To put this theory into action,

a tax cut emerged as the best policy alternative. It would avoid government pump priming, give consumers more money to spend, and provide a quicker jolt to the economy than government spending. Philosophically, a tax cut was compatible with Ford's belief in returning money to the people. He was also concerned with "tax drag." Inflation not only took money from Americans through higher prices, but also acted as a tax increase. Price rises outstripped the pace of salary and wage increases, so that while real income dropped, inflation nonetheless pushed wage earners into higher tax brackets, forcing them to pay a double penalty of higher prices and higher taxes.

Although it is tempting to give all the credit to Ford (and the blame to both Nixon and Carter, who dabbled in regulation and intervention), it must be remembered that Congress ultimately holds the purse strings. Deregulation and tax cuts need both the executive and legislative branches to succeed.

By reducing regulations - keeping the government from meddling with the economy's natural processes to heal itself and return to equilibrium - and lowering taxes, Ford removed the obstacles to prosperity, and laid the foundation in the 1970's that would be the basis for the strong and healthy economy of the 1980's. Ford's energizing of the economy would be temporarily dampened by Jimmy Carter, but like a healthy body returning itself to homeostasis, prosperity emerged after Carter left office.

Nixon's Biggest Mistake

Although the Watergate scandal was the incident which ultimately removed Richard Nixon from the presidency, it may not have been his worst blunder. While the scandal did damage the public psyche and created high levels of cynicism and distrust toward the government, he risked even greater damage to the country by means of certain economic policies. History professor John Robert Greene explains:

Virtually uninterested in economics, Richard Nixon nevertheless had reacted to the inflation of the early 1970's in a novel fashion. Acting on the advice of his secretary of treasury, John Connally, Nixon broke from the conservative laissez faire economics practiced by past Republican administrations, and on 15 August 1970 he froze wages, prices, and salaries for a period of ninety days. Renewing the freeze through April 1971 had helped little,

and it became clear that this type of interventionist policy was a failure. The cure for inflation, like any other economic malady, would prove to be an approach of simply letting the organism work itself out. Like a plant or an animal returning to homeostasis, a national economy returns eventually to equilibrium if allowed to do so. Any regulation by the government, at best, delays the return of prosperity, or at worst, prevents it entirely.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the Side of the Winners

The man, who was supposed to bring victory for Germany with his "wonder weapon," the V-2, experienced the end of the war in comfortable peace. In the town of Oberammergau he enjoyed, under the watchful eye of the SS, the spring weather in the company of his colleagues from the military experimental station at Peenemünde: "we sat on our mountain, and below, through the valley, moved the Allies." Wernher von Braun had already been prepared for a while to go over to the enemy. On May 2, 1945 - the radio had just announced Adolf Hitler's death - he sent his brother on a bicycle into the valley to the American troops. "My country had lost two world wars," he wrote. "This time I would like to be on the winner's side."

The victors would grant him this wish. Yesterday's enemy became a friend and helper, and so the history of Wernher von Braun is not only about the opportunism of the individual, but rather also about the opportunism of a great nation: after 1945, the American brought more than a thousand German scientists - rocketeers, aviation engineers, and biologist specializing in space flight - into the country; an operation which began under the code name 'Overcast' and which was carried forward for more than twenty years as 'Project Paperclip.'

Wernher von Braun would lead his German scientists to create both America's military missile program and its peaceful civilian space exploration missions. As NASA's leading engineer and researcher, his triumphs would extend from manned landings on the moon to unmanned spacecraft reaching Jupiter, Neptune, and beyond. And it all began with a bicycle ride through the beautiful mountain countryside of southern Germany!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Abuse Stops Here

A nation which demonstrates weakness, or which shows that it lacks the will to defend itself, will not long endure. During one period of history in 1975, the United States risked such a fate, until courage and nerve of President Gerald Ford demonstrated to the world that we were willing to protect the lives of our citizens.

Professor John Greene at Cazanovia College, explains that American flirted with passivity at the same time that the barbaric government of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge was becoming ever more aggressive. The bloodthirsty thugs who took illegitimate control of Cambodia's government had not only proved that they were willing to murder millions of their country's own citizens, but they had also captured an American ship, the Mayaguez; they assumed that America's lessened posture, in the wake of its humiliation in Vietnam, meant that the United States would not dare to defend itself:

This was not the first hostile action of the new Khmer Rouge government in the weeks following American withdrawal from Cambodia and Vietnam. Ten days prior to the Mayaguez incident, they had seized and released several Thai fishing boats; eight days earlier, they had fired on a South Korean ship and unsuccessfully attempted to board her; six days before, several South Vietnamese craft had been confiscated, and five days before, a Panamanian ship had been stopped and detained for thirty-six hours. Nor was it the first seizure of an American commercial vessel. Over the preceding twenty-three years, Ecuador had seized twenty-three vessels and had beaten and shot at numerous American crews. Rather than react in a hostile fashion, previous administrations had paid fines to secure the release of the ships.
America had turned onto a dangerous path: allowed pirates or hostile regimes to capture our ships, and then paying ransom money to get them back. This pattern of activity only encourages more piracy and more attacks on our ships.

To change this pattern would require boldness. President Gerald Ford is the leader who decided that America should stop taking abuse and stand up to protect the lives and freedom of its citizens.

Mere hours after the capture of the Mayaguez, President Ford ordered the U.S. Marines to land on a small island owned by Cambodia, and at the same time ordered the Air Force to being bombing over Cambodia. Quickly, the Khmer Rouge released both the ship and its sailors.

President Ford had demonstrated that he would take decisive action, and that he would not allow Americans to be bullied. The United States gained, or regained, some respect among the nations of the world.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Obtaining Full Civil Rights for African-Americans

The general outline of the struggle by the Blacks for civil rights in the United States during the 1950's and 1960's is well known: Martin Luther King, voting rights, desegregation, and bus boycotts. But in addition to these general notions, more specific facts can shed light on the details of the process by which African-Americans gained full access to the rights first delivered to them a century earlier, immediately after the Civil War: in the late 1860's and early 1870's, Blacks had more access to voting and other civil rights than they would have in the 1930's or 1940's. Things had actually regressed rather than progressed. When the Democrat party gained control of the federal government, in the forms of Woodrow Wilson and FDR, segregation was introduced into many social institutions. (Wilson actually discouraged Black students from applying to universities.) It would not be until the late 1940's that progress toward civil rights would resume: Eisenhower began integrated the Army, forcing Truman to finish the process. When Eisenhower moved from being a general to being a president, he continued the integration process: he ordered the famous 101st Airborne unit to integrate the high school in Little Rock, Arkansas - when the governor of the state, a member of the Democrat party, had refused to integrate the school, and had in fact sent the state's police to keep Black students out.

The Republicans carried the move toward from integration from the 1950's into the 1960's: when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was presented to Congress, Cengage's history textbook tells us, it was clear to President Johnson that

the Democratic Party would continue trying to block it. Consequently, he and his allies in the U.S. Senate courted crucial Republican support for curtailing a

Democrat-led filibuster. Finally, the Republicans defeated the Democrats, passed the Civil Rights Act, and ensured that African-Americans in the south would have their full civil rights. Martin Luther King's dream was fulfilled by his friends, the Republicans in Congress. Despite the anti-Black sentiments of the Democrat Party, the Republicans won, ensuring equality for all Americans.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flying Spies Save Lives

During the Cold War (1946 - 1990), aircraft flying around the world gathered data about potential threats to the lives of Americans, and this data helped defense planners design ways to protect us. The Washington Times reports that

Beginning with the first manned U-2 flight in 1956 and culminating with satellite missions that produced detailed images of the vast Soviet landmass, the "eyes in the sky" closely monitored Soviet missile and atomic programs, permitting arms-limitation agreements that truly benefited all of mankind.

Sometimes we think of military intelligence as part of war, but it is much more about keeping peace. Rather than win a war, it is better to make sure that the war never happens in the first place, and that's largely what happened between the United States and the Soviet Union. Much of the airborne surveillance was organized by President Eisenhower,

whose repugnance at the thought of a nuclear war led him to push for the overflight programs even though he realized the risk of provoking a confrontation with the Soviets. As Richard Helms, the director of central intelligence, later summarized, "For the first time, American policymakers had accurate, credible information on Soviet strategic assets ... It was the greatest bargain and the greatest triumph of the Cold War."

Eisenhower knew that a nuclear war would be unspeakable horrible, and that the full power of military intelligence could save the human race from this frightfulness. Keeping millions of families peacefully safe, however, had its price.

The flights were highly dangerous. Crew members, chiefly drawn from the Air Force and Navy and their signal units, were briefed on the perils involved. According to a National Security Agency historian, "Of the 152 cryptologists who lost their lives during the Cold War, 64 were engaged in aerial reconnaissance." Families of the downed airmen were never told what happened to them, only that they had been on "secret missions."

Of course, out of all the spy pilots shot down, not all of them died. The most famous pilot was captured alive: Francis Gary Powers. He airplane was attacked by Soviet defenses on May 1, 1960. He was taken prisoner as he parachuted to safety. Although the Soviets pretended to be shocked and offended by the fact that the United States was taking photographs over their land, they were in fact even more active in spying on us: their network of on-the-ground spies in America exceeded any activity we managed to organize in Russia.

The Cold War is now over, and we were saved from having to face a nuclear war by the sophistication and bravery of military intelligence gathering.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Whittaker Chambers - Friend or Foe?

In the complex world of counter-espionage and double-agents, it is difficult to sort out who is on whose side. Whittaker Chambers, technically a member of the Communist Party and paid by the Soviet Union to undermine and sabotage the U.S. government, is remembered largely as a friend to the United States, because he eventually helped expose the spy rings operated in America. The Washington Times writes that Chambers

is remembered for testifying before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948 about the penetration of the Soviet spy apparatus into the highest level of the U.S. government. He detailed his own involvement as a courier for the communists and fingered Alger Hiss - a friend, former State Department official and (at the time of Chambers' accusation) president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - as a fellow operative.

The evidence against Alger Hiss was both shocking and undeniable: not only an employee of the federal government, but one who had access and influence in foreign affairs. In the course of revealing evidence against Hiss, Whittaker Chambers lost his career and reputation. Spies are useless, once they have revealed themselves in public. Chambers told about his activities in court, sacrificing his career in order to protect America from Communist spies.

Chambers was viewed as a hero who stood up under considerable pressure, in a sense destroying himself in order to witness to the truth about an inhuman system that had beguiled many.

Whether in the year 1948, or in the year 2011, systems like Communism and Socialism present themselves as viable and kind-hearted options. One must look past the rhetoric about helping one's fellow human being (who could argue against that?) in order to see that these systems are built upon flawed assumptions about human nature, and are doomed, despite any good intentions, to become ruthless tyrannies.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Growth Resumes

After the Great Depression and WWII, the United States could look back on thirty-six difficult years (1929 - 1945). Resuming a peacetime economy, people were eager for prosperity. Cengage's history book tells us that

Newer U.S. industries, such as chemicals and electronics, quickly came to dominate the world marketplace. The Corning Glass Company reported that most of its sales during the mid-1950's came from products that had not even been on the market in 1940. General Electric proudly proclaimed that "progress is our most important product."

These advancements in technology led to changes in economics. The notions of "working class" and "middle class" and "upper class" were no longer quite accurate. Factory workers often enjoyed a middle class lifestyle, and people at all levels saw themselves as enjoying economic mobility - the opportunity to change their income levels. Given the high level of economic freedom, people often did not fit, or want to fit, into a simple 'class' structure of low, middle, and upper. Some ideologies, however, have been slow to grasp the waning of the class structure. Temple University's Mark Levin writes:

The Marxist class-struggle formulation, which pits the proletariat ("working class") against the bourgeoisie ("wealthy merchant class"), still serves as the principal theoretical and rhetorical justification for the Statist's assault on the free market. But it is an anathema to the free market in that the individual has unto himself the power to make of himself what he chooses. There is no static class structure layered atop the free market. The free market is a mutable, dynamic, and vibrant system of individual interactions that engages all aspects of the human character.

To maintain the freedom of individuals to shape their own economic roles, and with them, their cultural and social roles, depends upon a free market: allowing people to make decisions about buying and selling:

the free market is a vital bulwark against statism. And it would appear the Statist agrees, for he is relentless in his assault on it. Indeed, the Statist’s rejection of the Constitution’s limits on federal power is justified primarily, albeit not exclusively, on material grounds.

Although inefficient and indirect, allowing millions of people to make their own economic choices adds up to a whirlwind of business activity which ultimately brings prosperity to both the individual and the nation.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Making of a First Lady

While the wife of the president has no power or authority under the U.S. Constitution, she has long held an influential and symbolic role. One need only think of Mary Todd Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Jackie Kennedy to see this. What makes a successful First Lady? Barbara Bush writes that "one summer," as a graduate student at the University of Texas after completing her Bachelor's Degree, she

spent nearly every day reading the classics of Russian literature, traveling through the frigid, snow-laden novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

An appreciation for world literature is an important cultural skill, given that the First Lady is often involved in diplomatic receptions. While working on her Master's Degree, she recalls spending days in the library school,

a treasure trove of rare manuscripts from Shakespeare's First Folio to manuscripts by the Bronte sisters and John Keats and the page proofs from James Joyce's Ulysses. I was learning about the conservation of books in a place with some of the most beautiful pieces of literature in the world.

Representing, even if unofficially, the United States, the First Lady needs to be conversant with history and culture.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clinton Applies Federalism

One of the successes, or apparent successes, of the Clinton administration was a welfare reform program, President Bill Clinton, according to Cengage's history book,

used his 1996 State of the Union address, his last before having to stand for reelection, to declare that "the era of big government is over" and began working with congressional Republicans to fulfill his goal of overhauling the social-welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) represented a series of compromises. Clinton voiced concern over cuts in the food stamp program and in benefits for recent immigrants, but he embraced the law's central feature. It replaced the AFDC program, which had long provided funds and services to poor families headed by single unemployed women, with a flexible system of block grants to individual states. The new program, entitled Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), allowed the fifty states to design, under general federal guidelines, their own welfare-to-work programs.

This move, as a political compromise, contained both good and bad. Allowing fifty different states to explore program possibilities allowed for expansive experimentation and creativity, much more than a rigidly-dictated program from the central government. There was also an attempt to change the emphasis from supporting families to empowering families to support themselves. Welfare program had previously done great damage, by intimating to men that they need not support their families - a man could father a child and leave, knowing that his family would be paid for by the government when he chose not to support them.

Both Clinton and the congressional Republicans took their cues from the federalist principle: the ability of the individual states to make their own decisions in certain matters. As Temple University's Mark Levin writes,

Whatever kind of experimentation states and local communities may engage in, it is correct to say that they serve as useful examples for adoption, modification, or rejection by other states and localities. In the 1980s, Oregon's welfare reform experiment was so successful that it became a model not only for other states, but also for the federal government. Milwaukee's experiment with school vouchers sparked similar efforts across the country. Experimentation properly understood is a dynamic characteristic of federalism, which exists among, between, and within the various states. That is not to say that all experimentation produces desirable results. When Maryland passed a computer-services tax, its burgeoning technology sector threatened to relocate to neighboring Virginia, which had no such tax. Maryland repealed the tax. But other states learned from Maryland's experience.

Whatever Clinton's motives - he certainly did not believe or agree with his own words about reducing the size of government, given that he endorsed a program of socialized health care - and whether or not the 1996 welfare reform was a success - the data are ambiguous - we can see the principle of federalism at work in this political event.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Clear Message About Civil Rights

In the summer of 1957, New York's Madison Square Garden was filled nightly, as famous preacher Billy Graham delivered his encouraging messages. Graham was already famous as a spiritual mentor, but this summer added a new twist: he boldly advanced the cause of civil rights. To the amazement of many, he invited the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at his events. Rice University's William Martin describes the impact:

The implication was unmistakable: Graham was letting both whites and blacks know that he was willing to be identified with the revolution and its foremost leader, and King was telling blacks that Graham was their ally.

Billy Graham represented the hopes of millions of American Christians, both African-Americans and whites. They wanted more than racial equality: they wanted to live and work together with people of various races. Graham gave concrete form to what millions were thinking:

his voice was important in declaring that a Christian racist was an oxymoron.

Graham's working partnership with Martin Luther King angered many racists. The racists, in turn, maligned Christians and their desire for racial harmony.

This action led many southerners to turn against Graham, but he did not waver. Instead, he subsequently traveled to Birmingham, Little Rock, and other strife-torn cities in the South, calling on Christians to recognize that the ground at the foot of the cross is level and that God is no respecter of persons.

The Christians in the 1950's would not be deterred by the anger of the bigots, and Graham travelled to those cities which were the epicenters of civil rights activities. Graham and King supported each other until King's death in 1968.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How the U.S. Got Involved in Yugoslavia

The country of Yugoslavia was formed in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles. Several small countries were glued together to become one larger state: Bosnia Herzogovina, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo. These smaller countries weren't exactly happy about begin merged together, and it took the ruthless grip of dictator J.B. Tito to keep the citizens part of one country against their will. When Tito died, and Communism in eastern Europe began to disintegrate, Yugoslavia dissolved itself into the smaller nations again. Fighting also broke out, as the animosities which had been held back since 1919 erupted again. As these small nations warred with each other, President Bill Clinton had to decide if, and how, the United States would be involved. Harvard's Thomas Woods explains:

"Throughout the 1990's," writes correspondent Srdja Trifkovic, "the U.S. government aided and abetted al-Qaeda in the Balkans, long after [Osama Bin Laden] was recognized as a major security threat to the United States." The Clinton administration, which should have stayed out of the conflict in the first place, consistently supported the cause of the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs, a policy whose end result was "the strengthening of an already aggressive Islamic base in the heart of Europe that will not go away."

The word 'Balkans' refers collectively to the six small states because they are nestled in and around the Balkan mountains. President Clinton was giving money, weapons, and other assistance to al-Qaeda at the time that the plans for the attack on the World Trade Center were being formulated.

In the course of assisting the Bosnian Muslims, moreover, Clinton aided in transporting thousands of mujahideen - radical Islamic fighters - to the region from the Middle East. When the fighting was over, most of them refused to go home, disappearing into the local population instead. U.S. officials from Clinton's day to the present have identified the mujahideen as a source of instability and terrorism in Europe, and European diplomats of all stripes have complained that Bosnia has become an important terrorist staging ground. Greece has declared that al-Qaeda agents in Bosnia are a threat to its national security.

Although Clinton was aiding (wittingly or unwittingly) an enemy of the United States, it turned out that much of the damage was done to European nations: attacks on subways and trains in England and Spain, assassinations in Denmark, and other strikes were organized in Bosnia.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Unintended Consequences

History teaches us repeatedly that governmental actions often have the very opposite of the desire consequences: attempts to reduce drug use result in more drugs being abused; attempts to improve education lead to lower student achievement. So also with poverty, as Harvard's Thomas Woods explains:

The classic study of 1960's social policy, which practically defined the terms of welfare reform in the 1990's, was Charles Murray's Losing Ground. That book advanced the provocative thesis that the Great Society programs, as well as increased AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) availability, were themselves largely to blame for the stagnation of the poor. These programs, in short, were not only expensive, but they were also counterproductive.

President Johnson had used the slogan "The Great Society" in presenting his welfare programs, which prompts Woods to ask: "The truth about welfare: Did Johnson's programs make poverty worse?"

Poor people have the best chance of getting out of poverty when the government does not try to help them!

Harmony in Progress Toward Civil Rights

In narratives about the advancements made in the 1950's as America sought to give civil rights and legal equality to all its citizens, conflict and violence often appear. There is, however, another side to the story: friendships between Blacks and whites, camaraderie between African-Americans and those of European heritage. These relationships were both the fruit of, and the means to, advancement in the area of civil rights.

One example of such collegiality is the cooperation between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. This collaboration was natural, because they were both professional clergymen, and agreed on both civil and spiritual issues. Historian William Martin, at Rice University, writes:

Leaders of the New Evangelical movement had urged evangelicals to revive the 19th-century practice of active involvement in social reform. Graham had not only spoken out on the major domestic issue of the time, racial segregation, but since the early 1950s had refused to allow segregated seating in his meetings. He went a step further in New York, persuading a young African American preacher, Howard Jones, to join his team as an associate evangelist.

Billy Graham often spoke in large public facilities (sports arenas, movie theaters, and auditoriums), and in some southern cities, these buildings were clearly segregated, with a "white" area and a "colored" area. Graham took a bold step by announcing that he would allow no segregated seating in his gatherings. This made a Graham the target for anti-Christian hate groups, like the KKK. But he didn't stop with that:

More dramatically, at a time when sit-ins and boycotts were stirring racial tensions in the South, Graham invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to discuss the racial situation with him and his colleagues. Then, before a capacity crowd at the Garden, he invited the black leader to join him on the platform and to lead the congregation in prayer. In his introduction, he said, "A great social revolution is going on in the United States today. Dr. King is one of its leaders, and we appreciate his taking time out of his busy schedule to come and share this service with us tonight."

In some southern cities, a black man and a white man speaking together to a mixed audience was truly revolutionary. King and Graham, however, worked together in a way which was natural and comfortable. Their collaboration proved powerful.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freeing Citizens from the Control of Government

One way to analyze any political situation is this: to ask, of any action, candidate, or legislation, does this represent a step toward more control from the government, more interference and regulation of everyday life, or is it a step toward more freedom? Columbia University's Professor Thomas Woods writes:

In this respect, Ronald Reagan, elected to the first of his two terms in 1980, was different. As he memorably observed, "Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem." Reagan's popularity, coupled with his support for privatization, his confidence in the American entrepreneurial spirit, and his belief in the moral superiority of the free market went a long way toward making these positions, ridiculed and despised during the 1960's and 1970's, intellectually respectable again.

Economists have documented situations in which deregulation has generated lower prices for consumers: telecommunication, travel, energy, and agricultural commodities. Prosperity for ordinary Americans is created by reducing government interference in private activity.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ike Brings Civil Rights

The turbulent and formative events of the civil rights movements in the United States took place during Eisenhower's presidency, and he was central in many of them. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was organized by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1955. The famous supreme court decisions about school integration were handed down in this era (notably, Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954), and President Eisenhower took steps to implement them. Eisenhower also introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to Congress, and signed it into law. He did the same with the Civil Rights Act of 1960. Eisenhower also protected and promoted the "Little Rock Nine" in 1957. Oxford's Michael Korda writes:

The year 1957 began with what was in the 1950's and 1960's a familiar problem: trying to get a civil rights bill passed in some meaningful form. Ike has received very little credit for his efforts on behalf of civil rights.

Korda suggests that Eisenhower received little credit for securing civil rights for the Black community "because he avoided rhetoric and dramatic gestures, and instead quietly insisted on enforcing the law." It should be noted that Eisenhower and the Republican majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives had to overcome the resistance of the Democrats in order to pass this legislation and ensure civil rights for African-Americans. As a Republican,

he had always believed in "the right to equality before the law of all citizens ... whatever their race or color," and during World War II he had moved to desegregate Red Cross clubs in his theater of command, and taken the even more radical step of sending "Negro replacements" into "previous all-white [combat] units," four years before Truman's order to desegregate the United States armed forces. He was firm in his belief that black citizens' right to vote had to be enforced; he had no doubt that the Warren court's decision on schools desegregation was right, and that Supreme Court decisions must have "a binding effect ... on all of us if our form of government is to survive and prosper"; and he was impatient with senators (including Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy) who were slowing down and compromising the passage of his civil rights bill by "interminable speeches" and amendments intended to disembowel it.

Note well that LBJ and JFK first opposed the civil rights legislation directly, and when that failed, took up the tactic of attempting to water it down with amendments. Ike demanded full legal equality for African-Americans. Korda writes that

he wanted the desegregation of the schools to proceed surely.

Note also that Ike integrated the soldiers under his command years before Truman requested integration. Civil rights were to be assured to all citizens

("with all deliberate speed," as the Supreme Court itself had ruled), with due regard for the feelings of everybody concerned, and without causing a constitutional crisis. In this he was to be bitterly disappointed - he underestimated the strength and the anger of the segregationists in the South, and perhaps also the determination of blacks to have a showdown on the subject of schools.

As Eisenhower began to perceive how the leaders of the Democratic Party (Governors like George Wallace of Alabama and Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Senators like LBJ, and Party leaders like "Bull" Connor) were opposing integration and civil rights, he raised the stakes, and used the full force of the federal government to ensure legal equality for African-Americans in the south. Ike would eventually send the famed 101st Airborne Division to protect Black schoolchildren in Little Rock's Central High School. He would allow nothing to stop the the U.S. Constitution's promise, in the 14th amendment, of full and equal citizenship.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Who's to Blame for the Electric Car?

By mid-2011, several companies have introduced either pure electric cars or hybrids. Some observers condemn President Obama for these vehicles, saying essentially that it's his fault that such items are on the market. But former GM executive Bob Lutz sees it otherwise:

The Chevy Volt — which we started on in 2007, so it was hardly a product of the Obama administration

has been criticized as a result of Obama's takeover of General Motors. But as Lutz is here pointing out, that is impossible, given the chronology of events. Lutz characterizing the public's reception of the Volt as

‘See, that’s what you get when the government owns an automobile company. They produce this silly little electric vehicle that nobody wants and then, to make people want it, they have to put a $7,500 tax credit on it. Isn’t that just exactly what you would expect from a left-wing, socialist government?’

This perception, both of the Volt, and of the tax credit, says Lutz, is fundamentally wrong:

Well, a couple things wrong with that. The Obama administration had zip to do with the Chevrolet Volt, and the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles was put in by the Bush administration.

Understanding what Lutz says, then, we see that Bush carries some of the blame - if not for creating the tax credit, then at least for allowing the tax credit to be created. As is common in such situations, there is enough blame to share: Bush, the Congress, and Obama. Because, although Obama created neither the Volt nor it tax credit, Obama's demands for higher fuel efficiency will warp market dynamics:

Now, with the upcoming very severe fuel economy regulations, there will be, of course, government-mandated pressure to adopt these technologies and they’re going to have to be sold to customers whether they want them or not. So that presumably will help battery companies.

Of course, it is overly-simplistic to blame either Bush or Obama for much of this: the Congress has done the majority of the damage. Too often, presidents become targets and are blamed for actions which they did not perform, which could not stop, and which were conditioned by circumstances beyond their control.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Reagan Difference

Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan's presidency was a major turning point in the twentieth century. He - along with Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and a few others - ended the Cold War with a decisive economic victory which caused the Soviet Union to collapse. His revolutionary ideas about lowering taxes instead of raising them created jobs for millions of workers and raised their wages steadily. But how can we accurately define the ideas that made him different than most other politicians of his era? Professor Thomas Woods (Harvard and Columbia) writes:

Ever since the New Deal, no successful American presidential candidate had run on an anti-government, pro-freedom platform; certainly none had governed that way. This was true even of the Republicans of the postwar period: Eisenhower had been a moderate in domestic policy, and Nixon, who seriously considered establishing a minimum income for all Americans, bordered on liberal.

Reagan saw his task as freeing the individual and society from excessive government interference: individuals should be free to make their own choices, even if they take risks and occasionally pay the price for a bad decision, because freedom, in the long run, is not only more empowering to the individual, but the rewards outweigh the risks and the good outcomes and consequences outnumber the bad ones; societies should be free from government interference, reminding us that both John Locke and Thomas Paine had set the founding tone for this country by pointing out that government and society are not the same thing.