Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kremlin cracks down on journalists, dissidents and minorities in Crimea

Since taking over, the "anti-fascist" Russian government in Crimea has proven it is the truly fascist regime, by jailing and intimidating journalists, allowing pro-Putin brownshirts ("self-defense militias") to act freely without legal accountability, persecuting minorities such as Crimean Tatars and Jews, and discouraging the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages.

Indeed, the non-existent "threat" from Praviy Sektor in Crimea has passed without incident, Putin has seized his Crimean pearl... and yet these pro-Russian thugs still strut around, enjoying carte blanche. Obviously they serve a useful purpose for Putin; they do the dirty work that law enforcement or regular troops shouldn't do -- like bullying journalists and kidnapping and torturing troublemakers.  

May 30, 2014 | Kyiv Post

The entrance to the Simferopol Trade Union building, which stands opposite the Cabinet of Ministers on Lenin Square, has been obstructed daily by members of so-called Crimean self-defense militias since March.

These men, dressed in camouflage and armed with police batons and sometimes guns, wander into the building freely, where their frequent destination is the office of the Center for Investigative Journalism. “We’ve all come across them,” says journalist Tatiana Kurmanova wearily. “They make no concrete demands. They just have the effect of scaring us – imagine the first time when they came in here with pistols, looking at everything.”

The center, financed through grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign donors, was one of the first media organizations to receive such unwanted attention in Russia-controlled Crimea. If Russian President Vladimir Putin remains in control of Ukraine's peninsula and follows the same policy for Crimea that he does with the rest of the Russian Federation, then foreign-funded projects -- in particular those with USAID funding - will be targets for shutdown. 

The Crimean self-defense members marched into the journalism center's office on March 1, two days after soldiers without insignia appeared throughout the peninsula and set in motion the Russian invasion and occupation or – as Russian law would have it - annexation of Crimea. The self-defense militias, ungoverned by any law, have since become a permanent fixture of daily life in Crimea, patrolling streets, guarding transport hubs and government buildings, demanding to see the documents of passersby – and harassing journalists.     

While attacks on media have abated somewhat since March, when the Center for Investigative Journalism recorded 85 incidents, Crimea has by no means become a safe place for journalists. 

In the last six weeks, Andrey Krisko, who heads the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission, has registered nine serious incidents of harassment of journalists, involving personal harm, damage to equipment and illegal detention for more than three hours. He experienced one such incident himself, when he was physically prevented from taking pictures of a journalist arguing with self-defense forces on May 17. Later, he found out the journalist had been followed and detained. 

Most cases, Krisko said, concern not single but groups of journalists, and all cases involve the self-defense militias. Some cases have been widely publicized, like that of journalist Osman Pashayev on May 18. Pashayev was filming the Crimean Tatar meeting commemorating 70 years of their deportation, and the hundreds of riot police guarding Simferopol city center, when self-defense forces detained both him and his Turkish cameraman. They were held for 10 hours, had all their equipment taken away, and were denied access to lawyers until a threatened appeal to the prosecutors office. 

Kurmanova thinks there are probably many more such incidents involving the self-defense and Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB under its Russian acronym, but journalists working for Crimean government media do not want to publicize them. Most of the journalists who have spoken publicly, like Pashayev, left Crimea afterwards as soon as they could.

Meanwhile several Crimean civil activists who supported the EuroMaidan Revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and protested against Russian occupation are currently detained by the FSB. 

The FSB said on May 30 that film director Oleg Sentsov, Alexandr Kolchenko, Oleksiy Chyrniy and Hennadiy Afanasyev are under arrest charged with being members of Ukraine's ultra-nationalistic Right Sector and suspected of plotting to stage acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks in several cities of the peninsula. 

Kateryna Serhatskova, a journalist and coordinator of an initiative group to help Sentsov, says Sentsov, Kolchenko, Chyrniy and Afanasyev have never been members of Right Sector.

"For those who have doubts: these guys have never been members of the Right Sector and prepared no terrorist attacks, these are absolutely peaceful people, who maintained the integrity of Ukraine. Now confessions are being forced out of them, and probably one of them will admit his guilt all in all. It's outrageous nonsense. No comment," Serhatskova wrote on her Facebook page on May 30, according to Interfax-Ukraine news service. 

The whereabouts of two more activists, Timur Shaimardanov and Leonid Korzh, reported missing by the Ukrainian organisation Ukrainian House on May 28, are unknown

The effect of this intimidation has been to effectively silence critical or opposition media to the Russian annexation within Crimea. TV channel ATR and the website 15 Minutes, both owned by Crimean Tatar businessman Lenur Islyamov, have greatly cut down on their live programming and news coverage since March.

The only other independent agencies left, the Center for Investigative Journalism and the Radio Liberty-supported project Crimean Reality, both have regular problems with the self-defense militias.

“This situation when there are these groups that don’t answer to anyone, that aren’t controlled by any law, means it’s impossible to say journalists can work professionally here,” says Krisko. “The risk of damage to equipment or personal attacks, as well as fear of censorship, means that those who want to give objective information simply can’t.”

In methods reminiscent of Soviet tactics, smear campaigns, censorship and simple exclusion by news sources are also silencing journalists who might want to show a less one-sided, pro-Russian view of current affairs in Crimea. Kurmanova and her colleagues regularly receive online threats and hate mail since the beginning of March. 

Meanwhile two journalists from the Yevpatoria council-funded newspaper Yevpatoria Health Resort, who had been less than enthusiastic about Russian occupation, became subject to an attempted witch hunt in May when rival journalists sent a letter accusing them of being spies and provocateurs to the city council.

"We don’t demand the exile of these people from their town and their profession," according to the letter. "But we Yevpatorians do not need these masked ‘fifth columnists’ in our hometown, and paid from the town budget!"

It concludes by saying that if the town council does not remove them from the paper, "we will appeal to the FSB demanding they protect us Russian citizens from journalists openly conducting subversive activities." 

[ People writing donos on their enemies and professional rivals -- this is behavior straight out of the USSR!  Alas, how quickly, under Russian rule, some Crimeans have fallen back into their bad old Soviet ways!.... -- J ]

The two journalists have so far held on to their jobs, and did not want to comment further on the incident. Since the end of February, when a new Crimean parliament was announced, journalists from the Center for Investigative Journalism have not been able to get parliamentary accreditation. Lawmakers refuse to speak to them, or call them "American spies." The Crimean Cabinet of Ministers’ press service does not answer their calls. They are not informed of meetings and press conferences, or are denied entry.

“There’s a very clear difference between journalists from Russian media who can get into the offices of officials and anywhere else with no problem, and journalists from Ukrainian media who might ask awkward questions,” says Kurmanova. “We’re like white crows; no one wants to talk to us. Before it was all organised, we could write a request for information, or set up filming. Now we get our information in bits and pieces, grabbing officials outside buildings, if they agree to speak.”

Shevket Ganiyev, editor-in-chief of Crimean Tatar programming at the Crimean state broadcasting company TRK, was excluded from news coverage through a different method: He and his director were simply sent home for a month’s holiday. 

Ganiyev’s small amount of allotted live broadcasting had already been taken off air with no warning in March, before a hastily-organised referendum on joining Crimea to Russia. Ganiyev and his colleagues, who like most Crimean Tatars openly opposed the referendum, then agreed with TRK management (which openly supported it) that his department would boycott working at TRK until after the referendum.  When his team came back on air, they were subject to much closer control. 

On April 24, they were told they could not make any mention at all of Crimean Tatar governing body the Mejlis, or of Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov in their programming. This has meant the editorial has had to ignore events widely covered in the international media – including Russian.

“If there’s news in Russian media and we are not allowed to talk about it, how can any journalist accept this as normal?” asks Ganiyev. “We’re not just banned from talking about the Mejlis as good or bad. We are not even allowed to cover facts.” 

The same day as the ban, Ganiyev and the editorial director were asked by TRK management to take a month’s leave.

“Of course they didn’t say so, but I think they had to send us on holiday because then our collective would be easier to control,” says Ganiyev. “May was a worrying time for them [the Russian authorities - J] because of the 70th anniversary of the [Crimean Tatar] deportation and events connected with that. I think they were scared and tried to protect themselves.” 

Ganiyev was back at work from May 28, but he and his team have no idea what the future will bring amid the general upheaval at TRK, which was formerly funded by the Ukrainian government but is now is a state of stasis. For the Crimean Tatar editorial, this is yet another set-back in their fight for more airtime in their own language. Their live airtime was reduced over a year ago to 13 minutes news a day, and their recorded programming is exclusively about cultural and social matters.

We’re hostages in this situation,” says Ganiyev. “For us, the most important things are to preserve our work places and editorial so that we can broadcast in Crimean Tatar language. If tomorrow they kick us out and bring in new journalists who are convenient for them and who speak in incorrect Crimean Tatar they’ll be pleased, because it will start the assimilation of our language.” 

Under the Ukrainian license still being used at TRK, Crimean Tatar language is allotted seven percent of overall airtime. Ukrainian language programming before March was even more limited. Since March, one of just three weekly Ukrainian language programmes has switched to Russian. Svetlana Datsenko, editor of one of the two remaining Ukrainian programmes, said she had also been asked to switch to Russian. “If there are three equal state languages in Crimea then there should be proportional coverage, 33 percent for each language,” Ganiyev points out. But neither he nor Datsenko have much expectation of that happening. 

The new head of TRK, Boris Nemets, is from Crimean government head Sergei Aksyonov’s Russian Unity party, as is the new Crimean minister for information. The party’s key campaigning platform is Russian language rights.

As Crimea moves rapidly towards adopting Russian legislation, the situation for a free media is only set to get worse.

On top of harassment and exclusion, staff of the Center for Investigative Journalism have a whole array of logistical problems to deal with. Their salaries, paid from foreign donors, are frozen as the Crimean banking system has collapsed. 

They have been told to vacate their rented offices by the end of July. Russian legislation, which comes into force in Crimea in January, requires that their organisation register as a foreign agent, and completely bans their main donor, USAID. Increasingly repressive Russian laws can shut down opposition websites, and impose prison sentences on anyone questioning Russian territorial integrity (which would include Crimea) in the media.

Meanwhile a law legalizing the self-defense militias has already passed its first reading in the Crimean parliament. According to Kurmanova, it grants the militias a wide range of powers to stop, search, confiscate and detain, with minimum responsibilities. As state media in Crimea produces a soothing stream of information about a bright Russian future, ignoring the economic and social problems since annexation and downplaying or disregarding non-Russian ethnic groups, it is little surprise that Kurmanova and Datsenko from TRK both plan to leave Crimea for mainland Ukraine by the end of the summer.

“We had strict editorial standards and I suppose that’s why it's hardest of all for us, because now no one here needs such editorial standards,’ says Kurmanova. “It’s easier just not to ask questions and to keep quiet.”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Beinart: Obama has made America MORE popular abroad

Apropos, this week I heard Sen. Ted Cruz on Hannity's show after a senatorial junket; Cruz was talking about anonymous "whispers" from foreigners asking, "What has happened to America?" On Fox and talk radio it's practically gospel that America's global popularity is in decline thanks to Obama.

So Beinart reminds us of the facts:

For more than a decade, the Pew Research Center has been asking people around the world about their opinion of the United States. The upshot: In every region of the globe except the Middle East (where the United States was wildly unpopular under George W. Bush and remains so), America’s favorability is way up since Obama took office. In Spain, approval of the United States is 29 percentage points higher than when Bush left office. In Italy, it’s up 23 points. In Germany and France, it’s 22. With the exception of China, where the numbers have remained flat, the trend is the same in Asia. The U.S. is 19 points more popular in Japan, 24 points more popular in Indonesia, and 28 points more popular in Malaysia. Likewise among the biggest powers in Latin America and Africa: Approval of the United States has risen 19 points in Argentina and 12 points in South Africa.

Indeed, "the guy in the White House retains a personal brand that outshines America’s as a whole:"

Again, the numbers come from Pew, which has been asking people in key countries every year whether they have “confidence” in America’s president to “do the right thing in world affairs.” Obama’s popularity is down since 2009. Still, in Mexico and Argentina, the president’s 2013 numbers (the most recent we have) are 33 percentage points higher than Bush’s in 2008. In South Korea, the margin is 47 points. In Japan, it’s 45 points. In Brazil, it’s 52 points. In Britain, it’s 56 points. In France, it’s 70 points. In Germany, it’s 74 points.

In case you’re reading quickly, 74 points isn’t Obama’s approval rating in Germany. It’s the gap between his approval rating and Bush’s. In George W.’s final year in office, 14 percent of Germans had faith that the president of the United States would do the right thing internationally. Last year, 88 percent did.

The conservative comeback to this overwhelming evidence is that world leaders are turning against Obama and America, even if foreigners aren't. Well, that's almost impossible to measure or substantiate; as are Cruz's alleged "whispers."

But this gets back to my point made long ago that the U.S. should be more concerned what the people in other countries think of us. If indeed these countries are democratic, then that's what ultimately matters. And even in the countries that aren't democratic -- there tends to be a disturbing overlap of anti-American terrorism with autocracy, especially in the Mideast and North Africa.

Not to say that the job of commander-in-chief is to be popular, but... it's certainly not to be unpopular abroad. That only hurts us among our allies and adversaries alike.

And then there's the last line of anti-Obama defense: "But Obama doesn't deserve to be so popular; he hasn't done anything!"  That may be true, it's debatable. But maybe it's more about what he hasn't done or said, and what he has said. Future U.S. presidents, take note!  

Regardless, if this is the international bonus that we get by having Obama in office, let's not look a gift horse in the mouth!  Let's be happy and accept it!  To feel otherwise is just bitter partisanship.

By Peter Beinart
May 30, 2014 | The Atlantic

You have no business challenging scientists

For my conservative friends who fancy themselves level-11 paladins at Googling self-affirming summaries or excerpts of somebody's scientific articles, this article will dismay and disappoint. That's the point [emphasis mine]:

Read all the online stuff you want, Collins argues—or even read the professional scientific literature from the perspective of an outsider or amateur. You'll absorb a lot of information, but you'll still never have what he terms "interactional expertise," which is the sort of expertise developed by getting to know a community of scientists intimately, and getting a feeling for what they think.

"If you get your information only from the journals, you can't tell whether a paper is being taken seriously by the scientific community or not," says Collins. "You cannot get a good picture of what is going on in science from the literature," he continues. And of course, biased and ideological internet commentaries on that literature are more dangerous still.

That's why we can't listen to climate change skeptics or creationists. It's why vaccine deniers don't have a leg to stand on.

So you and I can't debate scientific research because we're not scientific experts, we're not part of the scientific community. We can only acknowledge or ignore the scientific consensus. But that's not a real debate; it's recognition vs. denial.

If you feel left out then, well, tough. That's the choice you (or your parents) made when you decided to study business or psychology instead of a higher education in a hard science. You're also left out of the NFL, NASA and a lot of other closed groups that influence your life. Deal with it. Maybe in some other group or hierarchy you're a big deal, just not in this group.

The good news is twofold.  First, these guys really care about what they do; there is intense international competition and human rivalry; yes, corporations do have their say in it all; and somehow, little by little and through intense collaboration (not through "eureka" moments) scientific knowledge is advanced all the time. Indirectly, we all reap the rewards of their collective efforts.

Second, the policy debate belongs to us: we must decide what to do about the reality of man-made climate change, for example. Certainly we should consult with scientists, economists and other experts, but ultimately what we do about it is ours, a political decision.  

I for one tip my hat to these scientists and don't imagine that I can tell them their business. As I've said before, if there were any justice in the world, we'd have statues dedicated to physicists instead of athletes in our cities....

By Chris Mooney
May 30, 2014 | Mother Jones

Commencement season: Time to pile on Millennials

Ever since the 2012 "you are not special" commencement speech at Wellesley High School went viral among conservatives, it has become fashionable among some to browbeat young millennials, who are supposedly the most self-centered generation in American history (after the Baby Boomers), into pessimistic realism.

There is some truth and good intentions in all this parental "tough love," but the fact that it's coming from the same parents who, up to commencement time, coddled and molded said millennials is a bit odd, to say the least, if not downright hypocritical.  

Yet it's just about what you'd expect from the (formerly) most self-centered generation in American history -- to blame their children for being "deluded" instead of blaming themselves for deluding them.  

I mean, these kids didn't raise and praise themselves.  The same helicopter parents who have told these students for years they were so special are now back-lashing against... themselves?... and telling these kids that their days of awards and assistance falling from the sky are over with??

(I strongly suspect that the awards/honors/praise allegedly bestowed on Millennials is way overblown. There is always a bell curve, and somebody is always more praiseworthy or praised than somebody else. Hence the law of averages tells us that most kids probably never got any awards or accolades for anything. So I suspect but cannot prove that a lot of this anti-millennial rhetoric is directed at the socio-economic cream of the millennial generation from the cream of the Baby Boomers. The question is, why are Boomers suddenly reversing themselves? One theory is that they see our post-Great Recession economic reality and want to quickly steel their children to be ready for it, while avoiding taking any responsibility for the housing bubble, rising student debt, youth unemployment and Great Recession upon themselves. As for the non-cream, it's a convenient pre-emptive excuse by the ruling Boomers for the historically bad troubles that youngin's are graduating into: they are too coddled and cocksure to successfully take on the "real world" awaiting them.  But I digress....) 

Fine.  I for one give today's kids enough credit that they'll figure the real world out on their own without adults' piling on to their economic-demographic burden, a burden they didn't ask for or create themselves. Young grads today have the added advantage of having seen their parents' successes -- and failures -- hopefully to duplicate the former and avoid the latter.

By Alexandra Petri
May 21, 2014 | Washington Post

Zakaria: Liberal arts (still) matter

I meant to post this sooner. Commencement season has just passed and the rest of us long-ago grads get to reap commencement speakers' collective wisdom....

I still remember a debate from college English when it was my turn to lead the class discussion. Socratically, I led the class to agree that the point of an education was to learn "the best which has been thought and said" in the world. 

Certainly what we hear today is just the opposite: we should all become coders and engineers... except, funnily enough, the children of America's very rich and elite, who still study the humanities as the best training for enlightened citizenship and leadership....

Here's a still timely excerpt from 19th-century social and political philosopher Matthew Arnold:

For a long time, as I have said, the strong feudal habits of subordination and deference continued to tell upon the working-class. The modern spirit has now almost entirely dissolved those habits, and the anarchical tendency of our worship of freedom in and for itself, of our superstitious faith, as I say, in machinery, is becoming very manifest. More and more, because of this our blind faith in machinery, because of our want of light to enable us to look beyond machinery to the end for which machinery is valuable, this and that man, and this and that body of men, all over the country, are beginning to assert and put in practice an Englishman’s right to do what he likes; his right to march where he likes, meet where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot as he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes. All this, I say, tends to anarchy....

Replace the word "machinery" with "computers" or "technology" and you're talking about the modern world. And "threaten as he likes, smash as he likes" is about as succinct a description of concealed-carry and right-to-carry laws as I could think of. Indeed, the Tea Parties and libertarians embody the "individual-as-hero" way of thinking today.

UPDATE (05.06.2014): Here are similar thoughts and sentiments from St. John's College president Christopher Nelson, reviewing Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters by Michael S. Roth. Nelson and Roth agree that a "liberal education" has meant different things, historically, to different people, especially in America.

What is the Earthly Use of a Liberal Arts Education?
By Fareed Zakaria
May 23, 2014 | Huffington Post

You are graduating at an interesting moment in history -- when the liberal arts are, honestly, not very cool. You all know what you're supposed to be doing these days -- study computer science, code at night, start a company, and take it public. Or, if you want to branch out, you could major in mechanical engineering. What you're not supposed to do is get a liberal arts education.

This is not really a joke anymore. The governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina have announced that they do not intend to spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts. Florida Governor Rick Scott asks, "Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don't think so." Even President Obama recently urged students to keep in mind that a technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history. Majors like English, once very popular and highly respected, are in steep decline.


But it is important to have a healthy sense of the value of a liberal education. But first, a point of clarification. A liberal education has nothing to do with "liberal" in the left-right sense. Nor does it ignore the sciences. From the time of the Greeks, physics and biology and mathematics have been as integral to it as history and literature. For my own part, I have kept alive my interest in math and science to this day.

A liberal education -- as best defined by Cardinal Newman in 1854 -- is a "broad exposure to the outlines of knowledge" for its own sake, rather than to acquire skills to practice a trade or do a job. There were critics even then, the 19th century, who asked, Newman tells us, "To what then does it lead? Where does it end? How does it profit?" Or as the president of Yale, the late Bart Giamatti asked in one of his beautiful lectures, "what is the earthly use of a liberal education?"

I could point out that a degree in art history or anthropology often requires the serious study of several languages and cultures, an ability to work in foreign countries, an eye for aesthetics, and a commitment to hard work -- all of which might be useful in any number of professions in today's globalized age. And I might point out to Governor Scott that it could be in the vital interests of his state in particular to have on hand some anthropologists to tell Floridians a few things about the other 99.5 percent of humanity.

But for me, the most important earthly use of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to write.  In my first year in college, I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough. I realized that coming from India, I was pretty good at taking tests, at regurgitating stuff I had memorized, but not so good at expressing my own ideas. Over the course of that semester, I found myself beginning to make the connection between thought and word.

I know I'm supposed to say that a liberal education teaches you to think, but thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. The columnist, Walter Lippmann, when asked his thoughts on a particular topic is said to have replied, "I don't know what I think on that one. I haven't written about it yet."

There is, in modern philosophy, a great debate as to which comes first -- thought or language. I have nothing to say about it. All I know is that when I begin to write, I realize that my "thoughts" are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them. It is the act of writing that forces me to think through them and sort them out. Whether you are a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and brings clarity and order to your ideas.

If you think this has no earthly use, ask Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Bezos insists that his senior executives write memos -- often as long as six printed pages -- and begins senior management meetings with a period of quiet time -- sometimes as long as 30 minutes -- while everyone reads the memos and makes notes on them. Whatever you will do in life, the ability to write clearly, cleanly and -- I would add -- quickly will prove to be an invaluable skill. And it is, in many ways, the central teaching of a liberal education.


The second great advantage of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to speak and speak your mind. One of the other contrasts that struck me between school in India and college in America was that an important part of my grade was talking. My professors were going to judge me on the process of thinking through the subject matter and presenting my analysis and conclusions -- out loud. The seminar, which is in many ways at the heart of a liberal education - and at the heart of this college - teaches you to read, analyze, dissect, and above all to express yourself. And this emphasis on being articulate is reinforced in the many extra-curricular activities that surround every liberal arts college -- theater, debate, political unions, student government, protest groups. You have to get peoples' attention and convince them of your cause.

Speaking clearly and concisely is a big advantage in life. You have surely noticed that whenever someone from Britain talks in a class, he gets five extra points just for the accent. In fact, British education -- and British life -- has long emphasized and taught public speaking through a grand tradition of poetry recitation and elocution, debate and declamation. It makes a difference -- but the accent does help too.

The final strength of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to learn. I now realize that the most valuable thing I picked up in college and graduate school was not a specific set of facts or a piece of knowledge but rather how to acquire knowledge. I learned how to read an essay closely, find new sources, search for data so as to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and figure out whether an author was trustworthy. I learned how to read a book fast and still get its essence. And most of all, I learned that learning was a pleasure, a great adventure of exploration.

Whatever job you take, I guarantee that the specific stuff you have learned at college -- whatever it is -- will prove mostly irrelevant or quickly irrelevant. Even if you learned to code but did it a few years ago, before the world of apps, you would have to learn anew. And given the pace of change that is transforming industries and professions these days, you will need that skill of learning and retooling all the time.

These are a liberal education's strengths and they will help you as you move through your working life. Of course, if you want professional success, you will have to put in the hours, be disciplined, work well with others, and get lucky. But that would be true for anyone, even engineers.

I kid, of course. Remember, I grew up in India. Some of my best friends are engineers. And honestly, I have enormous admiration for engineers and technologists and doctors and accountants. But what we must all recognize is that education is not a zero sum game. Technical skills don't have to be praised at the expense of humanities. Computer science is not better than art history. Society needs both -- often in combination. If you don't believe me, believe Steve Jobs who said, "It is in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts -- married to the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing."

That marriage -- between technology and the liberal arts -- is now visible everywhere. Twenty years ago, tech companies might have been industrial product manufacturers. Today they have to be at the cutting edge of design, marketing, and social networking. Many other companies also focus much of their attention on these fields, since manufacturing is increasingly commoditized and the value-add is in the brand, how it is imagined, presented, sold and sustained. And then there is America's most influential industry, which exports its products around the world, entertainment, which is driven at its core by stories, pictures, and drawings.


You will notice that so far I have spoken about ways that a liberal education can get you a job or be valuable in your career. That's important, but it is not its only virtue. You need not just a good job but also a good life.

Reading a great novel, exploring a country's history, looking at great art and architecture, making the connection between math and music -- all these are ways to enrich and ennoble your life. In the decades to come, when you become a partner and then a parent, make friends, read a book, listen to music, watch a movie, see a play, lead a conversation, those experiences will be shaped and deepened by your years here.

A liberal education makes you a good citizen. The word liberal comes from the Latin liber, which means "free." At its essence, a liberal education is an education to free the mind from dogma, from controls, from constraints. It is an exercise in freedom. That is why America's founding fathers believed so passionately in its importance. Benjamin Franklin -- the most practical of all the founders, and a great entrepreneur and inventor in his own right -- proposed a program of study for the University of Pennsylvania that is essentially a liberal arts education. Thomas Jefferson's epitaph does not mention that he was president of the United States. It proudly notes that he founded the University of Virginia, another quintessential liberal arts college. 

But there is a calling even higher than citizenship. Ultimately, a liberal education is about being human. More than 2,000 years ago, the great Roman philosopher, lawyer, and politician, Cicero explained why it was important that we study for its own sake -- not to acquire a skill or trade -- but as an end unto itself. We do it, he said, because that is what makes us human: It is in our nature that "we are all drawn to the pursuit of knowledge." It is what separates us from animals. Ever since we rose out of the mud, we have been on a quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe and to search for truth and beauty.

So, as you go out into the world, don't let anyone make you feel stupid or indulgent in having pursued your passion and studied the liberal arts. You are heirs to one of the greatest traditions in human history, one that has uncovered the clockwork of the stars, created works of unimaginable beauty, and organized societies of amazing productivity. In continuing this tradition, you are strengthening the greatest experiment in social organization: democracy. And above all, you are feeding the most basic urge of the human spirit -- to know.

Meyerson: Why the EU's far-right is rising

Not that many Americans care about the recent elections to the EU parliament, but...

... Anyway, here's a message for my pro-Russian friends who are concerned about "Sudden Fascist Syndrome" in Ukraine:

Europe’s new far right is, at one and the same time, the continent’s analogue to our own tea party and the leading cheerleader for Russian President Vladimir Putin. With the divisions of the Cold War now safely confined to museums, a new transnational right is emerging, defined by a belief in a national volk and its traditions and a disdain for, if not loathing of, any neighbors — Muslims, Jews, social democrats — who either aren’t part of that volk or don’t believe in the politics of intolerance. Hence the spectacle of Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s U.K. Independence Party, and our own Pat Buchanan, expressing their admiration for Putin’s war on the moral flabbiness that comes with elevating democracy over traditional values — rotten though those values may be.

Looking deeper at the EU's existential crisis, Meyerson blames, first and foremost, as many others such as Paul Krugman have, the unworkable nature of the EU constitution's deficit spending and currency rules.  Essentially, the EU is too much like the Confederate States of America and not enough like the United States of America.

The EU must evolve to be more like the U.S. -- a fiscal and foreign policy union as well as a currency and trade union -- or else lose its weakest members... or worse, as many Europeans fear, collapse into the dustbin of history, just like the American Confederacy.

By Harold Meyerson
May 29, 2014 | Washington Post

Zakaria: 'Obama doctrine' is right for today

I doubt that Obama's foreign policy moves add up to a coherent doctrine; nevertheless, it's true that Obama does what most Americans want on any given foreign policy issue, which is, basically, not much.

The "problem" with Obama's popular approach to foreign policy, from the perspective of U.S. pundits and wonks, is that "doing what the public wants" is almost always the opposite of "leadership." Furthermore, the U.S. must "lead" on every major issue and geo-political crisis, say U.S. pundits; failing to be seen as "in-charge" automatically diminishes U.S. influence. 

They believe U.S. presidents are supposed to drag the public and Congress by the ears into foreign adventures if that's what's necessary; to them that's what being commander-in-chief is all about.

The fundamental danger of American overreach never crosses their minds. (We're seeing a tiny taste of it now in the VA scandal, with a system pushed beyond capacity, and a GOP Congress that has refused to spend more money on our troops in the name of fighting the deficit).

Considering that the media, academia and think tanks almost universally cheered on the Great War on Terror and the disastrous invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, they have little or no credibility left when it comes to telling the public they are wrong.

Of course I disagree with some of Obama's foreign policy moves, especially on Ukraine -- he should be sending military supplies at least -- but nothing Obama says or does makes me worry for our future the way Dubya did. 

"Prudence" is the operative word that skipped a few presidencies: from father over the head of Bubba and Dubya to Obama who cleaned up their imprudent messes....

By Fareed Zakaria
May 29, 2014 | Washington Post

Gov. Beshear to Mitch McConnell: Obamacare is working

Excellent!  This is from a Democratic governor in a Red State who isn't afraid to tell it like it is to his conservative constituents:

[O]ver 421,000 Kentuckians have signed up for health insurance through "kynect" -- about 75 percent of whom didn't previously have insurance and about 52 percent of whom were under age 35.

That's almost 1 in 10 Kentuckians.

...[I]f each of the over 421,000 people who signed up via "kynect" could grab 10 minutes of Sen. McConnell's time to explain what health care coverage means for their families, and if the Senator had the endurance to listen 24/7, it would take eight years to hear from each enrollee.

I'll say it again, "Big Government" programs like ACA and Social Security aren't just debits, they aren't just financial obligations, they represent real assets -- because they sustain and improve millions of real Americans' lives. Somebody living longer and being more productive -- that's harder to quantify in dollars and cents the same way we can track federal spending, but heck if it isn't just as real.

(Every other corporation says, "Our people are our most important asset;" and this is even truer for the U.S. Government of its citizens!)  

It's high time Republicans stopped ignoring half our nation's balance sheet, i.e. ignoring the assets that government produces and sustains all around us.

P.S. -- Unless something changes soon, I'll become an Obamacare "customer" in June. I've already shopped for plans and consulted on the telephone with kynect representatives, who were very friendly, helpful and knew their stuff. I was impressed, especially compared to the experience of calling an insurance provider for answers!

By Gov. Steve Beshear
May 29, 2014 | Huffington Post

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cox: McConnell's win is a victory for the Tea Parties

My friends in the Tea Parties won't see it this way, but Cox is right: Bevin, et al, have successfully moved the GOP even farther to the Right. Indeed, McConnell is consistently rated as one of the most conservative voters in the U.S. Senate:

McConnell didn't win because he became a Tea Party member – he's so conservative, he didn't have to. (A vote analysis casts him as one of the top 25 conservative members of the Senate, and Tea Party darling and intrastate rival Paul is at number 19.) Instead, McConnell's win just shows how easily the GOP grows over its fringes.

What's happening in the Republican party is the worst of both the Tea Party and more traditional "free-market" (but never really as free as advertised) economics: an aggressive "pro-business" agenda combined with radically retrogressive social policies.

But I don't expect the TP maximalists to take any heart from Bevin's loss.... Even worse, most of them will probably hold their noses and vote for Mitch against his formidable Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

UPDATE (30.05.2014): Here's middle-of-the-road political analyst Bill Schneider over at Reuters saying much the same thing as Cox on the same day: "How far right can Republicans go?"

By Ana Marie Cox
May 21, 2014 | Guardian

Rachkevych: Ukraine's 'Praviy Sektor' is Russia's latest bogeyman

Way to go, Mark!  Хороша робота!

By Mark Rachkevych
May 22, 2014 | Kyiv Post

All dictators need an enemy, real or imagined. It’s the telltale sign of an authoritarian state and one that Russian President Vladimir Putin embraces to Orwellian proportions. Appropriately, his latest external enemy is Praviy Sektor, one of the most visible militant nationalist groups that provided security​during the EuroMaidan​ Revolution​ and defended it from police brutality.

The loosely-structured coalition has since registered as a political party, and its leader Dmytro Yarosh, a native of Russian-speaking Dniproderzhynsk in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, is running for president. 

At the Ukraine Crisis Media Center on May 22, Yarosh described Ukraine as a “neo-colonial” state that only started building an independent nation after EuroMaidan ousted the corrupt and criminal regime of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych in late February. His brand of nationalism is one of a positive, empowering aspiration akin to a liberationist movement. And he views the 100-day revolution as the final shattering of Russo-Soviet tendencies in Ukraine based on comrade capitalism instead of institutional state-building. 

Russia’s Kremlin-controlled media started demonizing the group in the early stages of EuroMaidan. Praviy Sektor became synonymous with neo-fascist, a term that Russia gratuitously uses for its enemies and those who pose a threat to its interests.

Rightfully so.

Moscow’s free public relations – its state-owned English-language Russia Today news channel alone has a $400 million yearly budget – elevated the nationalist group to such heights that it overshadowed the pluralistic fiber of EuroMaidan.

Today, millions of eastern Ukrainians who historically favor watching Russian TV channels, fear Praviy Sektor is at their doorstep getting ready to slit their throats. Many attacks on Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists alike get attributed to Praviy Sektor in Russia’s propaganda campaign. Journalists months prior in Crimea also reported on the ominous Praviy Sektor scare among the local population as the Kremlin bloodlessly annexed the peninsula.

As Ukraine’s former ruler and oppressor, Russia historically vilifies any group or individual who has ever tried to break away from its grasp. The practice goes back centuries.

Starting in the 18th century, with czarist Russia’s increasing encroachment on Ukraine’s quasi-independent state, Cossack leader Hetman Ivan Mazepa forged an alliance with Swedish King Karl XII who was waging war against Peter the Great. Russia never forgave Mazepa’s “betrayal” and its history books say the act violated the two nations’ “fraternal brotherhood.”

By contrast, a pact that Cossack leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky signed with Russia a century earlier is viewed by mainstream Russian historians as the start of a beautiful relationship that re-united the two Slavic entities. To Ukrainian nationalists, the Pereyaslav Treaty marked the beginning of Russian domination over much of Ukraine that eventually devastated the Cossacks’ once flourishing lands and subjugated them to Moscow.

Next on Russia’s villification hit list was Semyon Petliura, who headed the Ukrainian People’s Republic Army and for a time the Directory government of the UNR when Ukraine briefly gained independence in the wake of World War I. Eventually Bolshevik Russia took over more than half of modern-day Ukraine’s territory while he emigrated to Paris in 1924 where he was assassinated. Again, mainstream Russia glosses over this period of Ukraine’s statehood and many Ukrainians believe their nation’s first capital was Kharkiv before it was moved to Kyiv – a purely Soviet historiography of events.

Incidentally, writer Mikhail Bulgakov who was a young adult living in Kyiv when Petliura came to power, hated the very idea of an independent Ukrainian state. He felt the same way about Petliura whom he called a “wonderful bookkeeper.” Towards the end of his short story “The City of Kyiv” he wrote: “May the memory of Petliura be damned.”

The Kremlin also lavished free publicity upon Stepan Bandera who headed the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during and after World War II. The militant organization’s main goal was to attain Ukrainian independence. Many of its members fought with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), an underground resistance movement that fought Nazi Germany and Soviet forces until the mid-1950s. The USSR’s propaganda machine demonized Bandera to such an extent that his name still instills fear in many Russians today. Indeed, the term Banderivtsi is another Russian code word for an independent-minded Ukrainian.

In fact today, Putin doesn’t recognize the interim government in Kyiv and his media minions often refer to it as a “junta” or a “banderite regime.” These hollow labels will continue to be sputtered until a government appears in Kyiv that is either “friendlier” to Moscow, loyal, or willing to be controlled by it. Any other option means to be branded a “fascist” by the world’s most bona fide fascist state ruled by a former KGB lieutenant-colonel who constantly needs a phantom enemy to justify his criminal acts.  

Coates: The case for reparations

This landmark essay is long, I know. But so is American history. Maybe not in years, relatively, but in certainly in events -- and in inventive injustices against blacks.

Some of my Republican friends will snap back at me without reading this, or just ignore it,  but really, REALLY, you need to read this. If nothing else, it's a fascinating history lesson that -- no, sorry Common Core -- our lib'rul public education system still doesn't teach us.

To quote Coates's essay selectively to discourage reading it would be a further injustice.  Still I can't resist quoting this, taken out of context, but still wonderful rhetoric:

Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. We believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don’t look.

And this statistic: think about the wealth created, with compound interest, and what it would be worth today!:  "By 1840, cotton produced by slave labor constituted 59 percent of the country’s exports."

And this:

“In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together,” the Yale historian David W. Blight has noted. “Slaves were the single largest, by far, financial asset of property in the entire American economy.”

Before we leap from justice to practicalities, let's consider Coates' compelling -- I daresay spiritual -- definition of reparations:

Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.

Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.

And without quoting, I can guess why Coates spends so much of his essay on the history of Chicago, because our President was a community organizer there. For all you whites who think cities like Chicago and Detroit "just happen," you need to read this.

Additionally, Coates offers us the amazing example of the turnaround effect German reparations had on the economy -- and morale -- of the state of Israel.

Finally, if you'd dismiss Coates's essay because it was written by a black guy, then I'd urge you to read these two articles at Bloomberg and Slate, respectively. 

UPDATE: So my Republican buddy wrote back almost immediately, and predictably, with this:
I actually believe reparations would be just.  But I also know it wouldn't fix our race problems, nor would it fix the wealth gap long term.  The black family has been broken down by leftism.  They abort 40% of their babies, and the left has done everything to teach them they can't help themselves.  They are stuck in schools run by Democrats where they will be lucky to learn to read.
If you give an uneducated person a lot of money, they will blow it.  The white man will convince the people who get the money that they need to spend it on making their ride look phat.  The money will end up back where it started because the only thing they were taught in school was that the glaciers are going to melt and that Obama rides Unicorns and shoots rainbows from his wrists.
To which I replied:
This is what Coates meant, when I said not "to leap from justice to practicalities." Cash payments might not be the only form of reparations.  Read the article. For example, off the top of my head, taking Coates's example of how FHA loans discriminated against blacks while doubling the rate of white home ownership, part of reparations could be for black home ownership -- and not just guaranteed loans, but something more tailored and smart.
Reparations could be for special job training centers, special black enterprise zones, special black small business loans... use your creativity....  

UPDATE (03.06.2014): Ta-Nehisi Coates replies to critic Kevin D. Williaomson at National Review of his essay "The Case for Reparations" with "The Case for American History." Here's my favorite excerpt:
The governments of the United States of America—local, state and federal—are deeply implicated in enslavement, Jim Crow, redlining, New Deal racism, terrorism, ghettoization, housing segregation. The fact that one's ancestors were not slave-traders or that one arrived here in 1980 is irrelevant. I did not live in New York when the city railroaded the Central Park Five. But my tax dollars will pay for the settlement. That is because a state is more than the natural lives, or occupancy, of its citizens. People who object to reparations for African-Americans because they, individually, did nothing should also object to reparations to Japanese-Americans, but they should not stop there. They should object to the Fourth of July, since they, individually, did nothing to aid the American Revolution. They should object to the payment of pensions for the Spanish-American War, a war fought before they were alive. Indeed they should object to government and society itself, because its existence depends on outliving its individual citizens.
A sovereignty that dies with every generation is a failed state. The United States, whatever its problems, is not in that league. The United States' success as a state extends out from several factors, some of them good and others not so much. The mature citizen understands this. The immature citizen claims credit for all national accolades, while disavowing responsibility for all demerits. This specimen of patriotism is at the core of many (not all) arguments against reparations.
And this, Coates's conclusion:
"The people to whom reparations were owed," Williamson concludes. "Are long dead." Only because we need them to be. Mr. Clyde Ross is very much alive—as are many of the victims of redlining. And it is not hard to identify them. We know where redlining took place and where it didn't. We have the maps. We know who lived there and who didn't.
This was American policy. We have never accounted for it, and it is unlikely that we ever will. That is not because of any African-American's life-span but because of a powerful desire to run out the clock. Reparations claims were made within the natural lifetimes of emancipated African-Americans. They were unsuccessful. They were not unsuccessful because they lacked merit. They were unsuccessful because their country lacked the courage to dispense with creationism. 

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
May 21, 2014 | The Atlantic