Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Education and Elections

Does education influence how people vote? Obviously, yes, it does. But the nature of that influence is not always clear.

Multiple and sometimes divergent agendas are at work in educational institutions, and the actions taken to further those agendas may either in fact further them or unintentionally work against them. Some of the agendas are public, others hidden.

Educational institutions themselves are not monolithic, and so the aggregate results of all schools tells us little about any one school.

CNN reports that, in the 2004 general election, the only educational category in which John Kerry won a majority was among those who did not complete high school. As educational levels ascend, the percentage of ballots cast for Kerry declines.

In that same election, moving up to the next category, those who completed high school, George W. Bush’s percentage increased to 52%, while among those who attended college, he obtained 54% of the votes. In those same two categories, Kerry received 47% and 46% respectively.

Comparing these results to the 2000 election, Bush received more votes in every educational category in the 2004 election.

A study completed by Elon University shows that in the 2008 election, Obama’s biggest win was in the category of those who didn’t complete high school; he obtained 54% of those votes. Among those who graduated from high school, Obama’s share of the ballots declined to 46%, and in the category of those who attended college, only 41% voted for Obama.

Mitt Romney, in that same year, received only 36% of the vote among those who did not graduate from high school. Among high school graduates, his percentage increased to 44%. At the university level, 48% of those who attended college, and 49% of those who graduated from college, voted for Romney.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Demographic Diversity and the Historical Impact of Christianity in U.S. History

The history of Christianity in the United States, and its impact on culture and politics, has been both significant and complex. From asserting that “all men are created equal” and launching the abolitionist movement which ended slavery, to long tradition of private-sector charity which helps those in poverty both in the U.S. and around the world, the Christian faith has had a concrete impact on American history.

Perhaps one of the most puzzling aspects of this history is the word ‘Christian’ itself. Although it means, simply and directly, a follower of Jesus, it has often been used cynically, by those who have no desire to act as Jesus would act - those who call themselves ‘Christians’ but in fact are not, acting in selfish and destructive ways.

Thus the word has led to a great deal of confusion.

Further misunderstandings have been generated by those who would link the word to cultural and traditional practices, rather than to the simple and direct ideas of Jesus. The United States is a the great melting pot of social influences from Asia, Africa, and Europe. People from all of these heritages have been followers of Jesus and have impacted the history of the United States.

Demographers inform us, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, that Christianity in the United States is becoming increasingly diverse: a majority of people in the U.S. identify themselves as Christians, but the category “white Christian” is now a minority.

The number of Asians, African-Americans, and Latinos who identify as Christians have grown rapidly over the decades. The definition of ‘Christian’ has no connection to race, to ethnicity, or to cultural heritage.

Demographers have documented the not only the growth of Christianity among various demographic groups, but the relocation of this belief system to different segments of the population. A media outlet known as RNS reports:

“The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture,” said Dan Cox, research director for Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

The growing numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians who identify as ‘Christian’ will create new social, cultural, and political contexts for a core of ideas which has spread from group to group.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hiding Oscar's Guilt

Academic freedom is a special subset of the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of belief. Like all such freedoms, it involves an internal tension: it can be used against itself if it is used to promote totalitarian efforts.

To be associated with the Communist Party (CPUSA) was not merely to be engaged in the free exchange of political ideas. The CPUSA’s stated goal was, at least during key Cold War years, a “violent revolution” to overthrow the United States government.

To be a member of the CPUSA, or to be a supporter or sympathizer of it, was to advocate death and destruction as inevitable and necessary - the death of United States citizens and the destruction of infrastructure on U.S. soil. The CPUSA was involved in espionage, smuggling classified information out of the country to the Soviets; involved in subversion, influencing policymakers inside the federal government to weaken the security which protected the lives of U.S. citizens; and involved in sabotage, preparing in various ways for the anticipated violent revolution.

Soviet agents - ‘moles’ - obtained significant posts within the government. Alger Hiss, for example, advised President Franklin Roosevelt on foreign policy matters, nudging FDR to make decisions which were against the interests of the United States and in the interests of the Soviet Union.

The CPUSA was quite clear about its goal. In its own printed materials, it stated:

The communist party will systematically and persistently propagate the idea of the inevitability of and necessity for violent revolution and will prepare the workers for armed insurrection as the only means of overthrowing the capitalist state.

Thus being a member, supporter, sympathizer, or ‘fellow-traveler’ of the CPUSA was not a matter of holding various beliefs or expressing political opinions. It was an act of violence, a disregard of human life, and a deliberate effort to reduce the liberties of U.S. citizens.

Cataloguing examples of how the notion of “academic freedom” was subverted and exploited by Soviet agents, historian M. Stanton Evans, also known as “Stan” Evans, writes:

One further instance in this vein is worth a bit of notice, as it illustrates not only the ignorance problem but the unwillingness or inability of some who write about such matters to get the simplest facts in order. In this case the offender was the New York Times, which in May 2000 published an obituary of a recently deceased New York professor with a domestic Cold War background. This ran on the Times obit page under a four-column headline.

The narrative presented in this obituary proceeded to mangle the facts about Oscar Shaftel, a known communist sympathizer. Shaftel had cooperative working relations with known communists, and testimony had been given under oath concerning his involvement with the CPUSA.

Although Oscar Shaftel was, at the very least, a security threat, the obituary attempted to depict him as a victim:

This article said Shaftel, once a teacher at New York’s Queens College, had lost his job back in the 1950s when he refused to answer “some questions” about alleged Red connections posed by the “investigations subcommittee of the Senate Internal Security subcommittee.”

Instead of noting that Shaftel was fueling efforts toward a violent revolution which would cause the deaths of United States citizens and a reduction in their civil liberties, the obituary dwelt on the alleged hardship endured by Shaftel as a result of his choice to voluntarily identify with a group of violent extremists.

The text of the obituary more than plays into the hands of the international communist conspiracy which maintained a substantial espionage network inside the United States between 1919 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 / 1991. The reader may well wonder why, a decade after the fall of Soviet communism, efforts were still made to protect, hide, and justify the efforts of Stalinist operatives working in the U.S.

Perhaps the momentum of the Soviet spy network outlived the Soviet Union itself. Although the Soviet regime had collapsed and disappeared, its operatives still needed to cover their tracks to escape the legal consequences of their actions. Although Oscar Shaftel was now beyond the reach of the law, perhaps his associates feared detection if his facade were to fall.

So the obituary deflects the reader’s attention from Shaftel’s relevant activities, and instead works to generate sympathy for him.

The obit then went on to offer a lengthy tribute to Shaftel, describe his lonely years of exile, and suggest that, despite this ill treatment, his gallant spirit had remained unbroken.

If, however, the reader sets aside the emoting of the text, and examines its propositional content, then the text quickly collapses under the weight of its own errors and misrepresentations. Stan Evans notes that “the errors in this story were stunning, starting with the bedrock fact that” alleged sufferings of Shaftel were impossible. Shaftel was depicted as the victim of non-existent organizations.

Oscar Shaftel was not a noble hero for the principle of academic freedom. He was, knowingly or not, an instrument of Soviet aggression.

The text contains flat violations of fact. It named a committee which did not exist. It wrongly identified the senator of another committee. The people, events, and processes listed in the obituary

had nothing to do with the late professor, the committee that brought him to book, or his alleged hardships. Indeed, there was no such thing as “the investigations subcommittee of the Senate Internal Security subcommittee.” The security unit, as the name clearly says, was itself a subcommittee (of the Judiciary Committee), its chairman at the time of the Shaftel hearing Sen. William Jenner of Indiana.

Attempting to set the record straight, Evans then contacted the newspaper about the errors in the obituary. The sluggish bureaucracy of a large institution - the Times has shrunk since the date in question - always makes such corrections difficult.

Was there more to the delay in correction than merely the sluggishness of a large bureaucracy? Was the misdirection about Oscar Shaftel deliberate?

Almost as odd as the obit itself were the events ensuing when, in my self-appointed role as part-time ombudsman on such matters, I wrote the Times about it, giving the facts above related, plus some pertinent data on the case the Times account omitted. Over the course of a month and a half, I sent the Times three different missives on the subject without having a letter printed or receiving an answer, made two references to it on C-SPAN talk shows, and enlisted the aid of the late media critic Reed Irvine, who wrote directly to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger trying to get the thing corrected.

As is always the case with news media, retractions do little to repair the damage created by the original published error. Corrections of factual error are not given prominence in electronic or print media, and create little interest among readers.

For historians, however, the retraction did create an acknowledgement that the newspaper had printed a collection of factual errors.

This apparently did the trick, as the Times at last provided on September 1 (the Friday of the Labor Day weekend) an obscure retraction, tucked into a corrections box between two numbingly soporific items (confusion of Mexican local politicians in a photo, misidentification of birds in Brooklyn). This confessed in bare-bones terms that the Times had erred as to the name and chairman of the committee that heard Shaftel. It thus took six weeks, half a dozen efforts, and the labors of two people to get a terse, nit-sized correction in no way comparable in scope or impact to the original mammoth error.

A narrative about a single, error-ridden obituary and its retraction is not a major piece of world history. It remains obscure, even to specialists in Cold War espionage.

But the facts accumulate to indicate a puzzling pattern: a decade or more after the fall of the Soviet Union, a coordinated effort continues to minimize the total threat posed by the Soviet espionage network which operated inside the United States prior to 1989, and to conceal the activities of individuals who were agents, knowing accomplices, or unwitting dupes.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Historians Seek Cold War Data

Historians exploring the Cold War era face a double challenge when trying to collect accurate and reliable evidence.

First, there are the missing or unavailable data: many items located in various archives are still categorized as ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ - and historians are not permitted to inspect such documents. Even invoking the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a bill sponsored by Donald Rumsfeld and voted into law by Congress, isn’t enough to force disclosure of these texts. Documents vital to national security are normally kept classified, but one wonders about FBI memos from the 1940s. Such papers can hardly be essential to national security almost seventy years later, but they would have historically relevant information.

Beyond those files which are not disclosed are those which have simply disappeared. In the various archives of the federal government, evidence is simply and unaccountably missing: documents which are known to have detailed the Soviet espionage network which existed inside the United States. Who removed them, presumably in order to destroy them, and why? Whoever did it must have had high-level security clearances, or had expertise in circumventing or cracking the security systems around such documents.

Second, a sea of misinformation and urban legend has filled the void created by missing or unavailable evidence. Where the facts are not known, fictions are created, either by well-meaning speculation in the new media, or by intentional misdirection via the Soviet operatives inside the United States. The great historical irony is that fables created to hide the spy network have outlived that network by more than a quarter of a century.

As historian M. Stanton Evans, also known as “Stan” Evans, notes, “some of these stories are simply fabrications.” Invented narratives are filled with details of things which various Americans or Soviets “supposedly said, or did, that can’t be confirmed from credible records.”

Evans points out that “in particular, there seems to have been a cottage industry that cranked out purported statements by” various political leaders. These statements are designed to credit or discredit, to polish or tarnish, the reputations of these politicians by making them seem variously wise or foolish. But such statements “have no known valid basis.” One example is a purported

comment that welcomed the support of the Communist Party in the Wisconsin Republican primary of 1946 against Sen. Robert M. La Follette Jr. Nobody has ever been able to verify this quote, despite a considerable effort to do so, and it is almost certainly bogus.

Despite the bizarre nature of the alleged statement, and despite the fact that there is no verifiable source for it, “it has been recycled many times in treatments of” Cold War political debate.

The organized disinformation campaign, designed to confuse the public about Soviet tactics and intentions, had other instruments in addition to the fabricated quotes. “On top of such inventions, and more common, are episodes from” the political narratives of the time, which are partially factual, but either spun and interpreted so as to play into the hands of the Soviet attempt to discredit American leaders, or which omit central elements.

These omissions allow for narratives to be told “that did in fact occur but are presented in such a way as to be unrecognizable to anyone somewhat familiar with the record.” Many Cold War “factoids are of this nature, many resulting from the work of the Tydings panel, fons et origo of countless errors.”

While much of this is the product of a malicious Soviet effort, other aspects of Cold War mythology

are just plain mistakes, some fairly obvious, some more subtle and harder to disentangle. These often stem from jaw-dropping ignorance of the subject matter.

Good-natured and well-intentioned, the occasional errors of reporters and journalists are usually quickly corrected. But concerning Cold War events, the correctives are sometimes documents still under lock and key as “classified,” or are simply missing, having been purloined from the archives. In the absence of any accurate data, these errors live on, being naively quoted or reprinted, year after year. Such errors shape the characterizations of

happenings in the Cold War or of American history and institutions. A few such miscues are of serious import, some merely goofy, but all add to the smog bank that veils the story.

During the Cold War era, both part of the federal legislature - the House and the Senate - formed various committees to protect the nation from the activities of the Soviet espionage network. It is an important feature of the Constitution that each chamber of Congress function independently and separately from the other: this ensures the “check and balance” needed so that both sides can balance or correct the other.

Yet this relatively simple concept of government was mangled by those who sold Cold War fiction as fact. Stan Evans writes:

We are informed, for instance, by two of the nation’s leading dailies — the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post — that there was once a weird mutant entity of the U.S. government.

This “mutant” was created when these newspapers published stories which reported that a senator was the leader of the

“House Un-American Activities Committee.” It seems inconceivable, but is obviously so, that there are people writing for major papers who don’t know we have a bicameral legislative system, so that a senator wouldn’t head a House committee. And while such bloopers are amusing, they can have effects that historically speaking aren’t so funny.

From someone employed to be knowledgeable about United States government and politics, such an gaffe is breathtaking. Yet historians are forced to confront such error-ridden texts. It is difficult, in the face of such lamentable sources, to construct accurate accounts of the Cold War era.

The Los Angeles Times printed its story about a senator leading a House committee on December 29, 2002. The Washington Post did the same on July 18, 2004. Stan Evans collects and identifies these quotes about the Senate’s House Un-American Activities Committee. A third newspaper managed to print this oxymoron on August 11, 1999, when the New York Times defined ‘HUAC’ as a senator’s group.

If the public record contains errors as basic as muddling the Senate and the House of Representatives, it is to be expected that historians will have a difficult task in attempting to document the Soviet espionage network inside the United States, and in trying to map its infiltration of the federal government.