Welcome to our Commentary page, home to our articles on political and social issues, business and the economy, government, history and opinion.
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Welcome to our Commentary page, home to our articles on political and social issues, business and the economy, government, history and opinion.
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I was watching the news as the Taliban sweeps fledgling state Iraq, so recently “liberated” from the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. Are they again to become a failed state due to their own religious factionalism, enslaved yet again by new opportunistic warlords?
“Worst case scenario,” I thought, “they’ll fall to a new dictatorship. But, how long do dictatorships really last? Since ancient Greece, Rome and Persia, I can’t remember a real dictatorship that made it to a hundred years.”
I soon realized, there IS a hair-splitting difference between a dictatorship and a totalitarian regime. Regimes, under a succession of dictators, such as the USSR, last under a century in modern times. And then we have “authoritarian regimes” in which some freedom is tolerated but rigidly monitored, all the way down to “benevolent dictatorships” and kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia, where the king is still head of state and nominally the final authority.
China, once one of the bloodiest dictatorships after millennia of emperors and the indignity of the British Opium Wars, seems at the time to be a special case. North Korea, with its three generations of hereditary Kim Jongs, is almost universally held to be one of the most brutal and detestable regimes, with each generation of “Dear Leader” being crazier than its predecessor.
And finally, we have that resurgent scourge of Huns, the terrorist armies, who, having seen territory they want, simply take them and execute the opposition.
How long do dictatorships last, on an average?
My guess for maximum longevity in recent times was about right. I did some research and analysis.
To make much sense of the conclusions of this piece, you really should first quickly peruse this list at Conservapedia.com “List of Dictators.”
Their website states “The following is a list of national leaders (heads of state and/or heads of government) commonly regarded as modern dictators.” The list is mind-boggling. Look at it. You can see some patterns that dovetail with what we remember of of history, but they don’t lend themselves to easy statistical analysis.
What I liked was that their list included dates dictators were in power. I wanted durations of their reigns over time.
What is their average, high and low reign as absolute ruler? Are there any patterns over time? Would it be fair to say dictatorships are today on the decline world-wide?
I exported their web table to an Excel spreadsheet, calculated each dictatorship’s term in power, and I tried to do some simple analysis. I graphed the most significant result: dictatorships are almost always short-lived aberrations, though frequently followed by new aberrations. I could see no particular evidence they are on the wane; what changes is where and when they sprout, like poison mushrooms after a rain.
I think you could make a case that chaos and authoritarian regimes flourish after an occupying power vacates, or is forced out of, a geographical area. But this is tough to prove. Given the scholarly difficulty of tracking down the history of every individual shifting country on the list, I didn’t try to quantify my conclusion.
I’d have liked to see graphed breakouts by region, and more by century or historical period, but in most cases it is easy enough to see those patterns in the Conservapedia listing.
I compiled my chart by counting the number of occurrences of 0 years, 1 year, 2 years and so on, all the way up to a 47 year maximum duration of power. There were 230 entries total. There were a few multiple entries representing multiple terms by the same despot. My graph only answers my original question, “How long do dictatorships last, on an average?”
No modern dictatorship ever lasted 100 years. I see no clear trend showing dictatorships are dwindling world-wide. The new hotspots are Africa and the Middle East. I found 220 distinct “modern dictators.”
You’ll find a graph of my “how long do they last?” results below.
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Urban renewal, or economic imperialism? In Corsica, some residents resorted to dynamiting empty mansions to intimidate the wealthy from taking over their neighborhoods and homes. In San Francisco, we see increasing unrest among the poor and middle classes, for it is no longer a city where the poor and middle classes are permitted to live, let alone welcome…
FRANCE: STRIFE WITH SPECULATORS – Real estate prices on the Mediterranean island of Corsica are extortionate. A little cottage can set you back 400,000 euros. The Corsican authorities have passed a law requiring anyone who wants to buy a house there to have lived on the island for at least 5 years. The move is a response to people from mainland France and abroad buying up properties as holiday homes, causing prices to spiral. As a result, many Corsicans can no longer afford to buy property there. But now a few communities are fighting back, and threatening to enforce pre-emption rights – including the village of Cuttoli near Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon.
SAN FRANCISCO TENDERLOIN PROTESTERS RALLY AGAINST TENANT EVICTIONS: The Tenderloin is the seediest, highest-crime district in The City. Arrests do little to curb assaults, robbery and drug trafficking. Yet a 1 bedroom studio, a 475 square feet apartment, lists for $2295 monthly. Residents protest being evicted and displaced as wealthy yuppies renovate whole districts at bargain prices.
In the Middle Ages, when wealthy power elite wanted a piece of property, they simply used armies to take it.
Today, they use “perfectly legal” economic strong-arm tactics to force existing residents out. Landlords, police and sheriffs handle all that messy, unseemly business of serving eviction notices, warrants and arrests. In the end, the wealthy get what they want, and displaced residents are forced to try to find someplace else to live, else join the growing ranks of homeless.
I don’t have the answers. But we are going to have to find them. It seems obvious that improving a neighborhood and simply taking it over are two different things. Increasingly, this problem is going to become a problem of good government – and governance. We’re being pushed back closer and closer to the feudal economy.
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We’ve all read today that retired four-star General Eric Shinseki just resigned as head of the Veterans Administration. As reported by the New York Times:
In a speech Friday morning to a veterans group, Mr. Shinseki apologized and described the V.A. he led as having “a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity.” He vowed to fix what he called a “breach of integrity” and said he had already initiated the firing of top managers at the Phoenix medical center, where allegations of mismanagement first surfaced.
But his contrition and promises of action came too late to save his job.
It is too soon to gauge the extent to which Mr. Shinseki can really bear responsibility for those decades-long failures of the VA to professionally care for our nation’s military veterans. Budget cuts and unethical medical practices both do a great disservice to both our veterans, and to the thousands of highly competent, dedicated doctors and medical assistants who struggle to provide care in a dysfunctional and understaffed system.
In my opinion, and the opinion of many, Shinseki’s most visible failure was in not acknowledging and addressing these deficiencies more visibly and proactively. But with his departure, we now face the prospect that our do-nothing Congress can now say the problem has been fixed, and move on to what it does best.
My own personal VA story is trivial by comparison, but I see it as a tiny snapshot of a small part of a much bigger picture. I’m a Vietnam veteran (1963-1964), but VA ineptitude caused my application to be denied in 2009, 2010 and 2013. I’m still waiting. My honorable discharge documentation is in order. For the military time period in which my documentation was issued, it’s accurate to say it has always been in order. The VA told me they “believed” me, but they could find no evidence that I was in fact a Vietnam veteran … Continue reading
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“There is a legitimate concern about large institutions, be they government or others, who haven’t really delivered the America everybody thought we were on our way to,” acknowledged John R. McKernan Jr., a former Maine governor who leads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. But, he said, that fear is “totally misplaced” when it comes to the Common Core.
~~ New York Times, “Republicans See Wedge in Common Core,” April 20, 2014.
This interesting article mainly focuses on the opposition to the Common Core educational approach, which is opposed by Tea Party conservatives who want to replace public schools wholesale with privately funded schools whose curricula they can control, and by some liberal groups, such as teachers, who want to see a divorce between educational testing and onerous teacher performance evaluations.
The larger issue is growing mistrust of Big Government, and/or Big Business.
The opposition to the Common Core also captures another shift since the Bush administration: While long contemptuous of an expanding federal government, some Republican activists are growing wary of big business, too, including figures like Bill Gates, the billionaire Microsoft founder whose foundation supported the development of the standards.
The facts of the matter are clear. Government hasn’t adequately delivered on its promises of equality, fairness, equal access, and equal opportunity for all to achieve the American Dream.
The elephant in the room here is Big Business. Somewhat arbitrarily, we can map the start of The Big Rip with the dismantling of the old Anti-trust laws, which happened, counterintuitively, in the Democratic Clinton Administration. This breached the geologist’s “angle of repose,” that steepest angle of a debris slope at which a boulder, or a massive pileup, will not slide downhill.
We’ve watched the buildup of a new breed of corporate and financial giants who dwarfed the old “military-industrial complex,” about which Eisenhower warned our nation. We saw monster rogue corporations like Enron. In 2008 we saw the established premier banking cartels of the country almost bring the country and economy to its knees, and the world with it: Chase-JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide, almost every big name financial institution you can think of, and more that you can’t.
Recently, the right-biased Supreme Court handed down its infamous Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. The decision was manna from heaven for the Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch (“Mr. Coal Is Your Friend”) billionaires and their corporate empires. The Kochs can contribute half a trillion dollars to state and federal election campaigns, and I can contribute $25 annually.
The law, in its majesty, has decreed that corporations, being people, are finally able to participate equally with me and you.
Big Government has not delivered on all its promises; NO. But Big Business has delivered on its promise to dismantle democracy, freedom of speech, and the American Dream. If anybody had been listening, they’ve been warning us all along.
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For those of us who watched this weekly news commentary round-table regularly, Inside Washington aired its last show today, after 25 continuous years. It will be greatly missed.
Host Gordon Peterson ably anchored the program. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many, the fair and level-headed Peterson stood head and shoulders above most other anchors on many similar shows that attempt to bring us the same thing.
Regular panelists Colbert “Colby” King, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Shields, Evan Thomas, and Nina Totenberg all contributed incisive commentary, reflecting news of the day from their respective political perspectives. Given the often strong views of most panelists, and their ability to defend same, I would say I have never seen any other show where panelists were so likeably civil, and generally stayed on-topic, even in the heat of debate.
All panelists, including Charles Krauthammer (with whom I might most often have taken a different view), supplied valued and principled discussion. They could be counted on to bring to us succinct points, and entertaining commentary, and they were all genuinely interesting and likable human beings – not to mention, outstanding journalists.
News shows come and go over the years, but the loss of Inside Washington seemed to me a particularly heavy blow to balanced and to-the-point news analysis. It is truly rare to find commentary articulating both sides of an issue so well that we can gain a clear and unbiased grasp of the positions of each party to a dialog. I can only add that I will always miss this show, and I wish to express my own gratitude to host Peterson and all of the panelists for bringing us 25 years of superlative broadcasts.
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He who cannot forgive … breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” ~~ old African proverb
There are many finer tributes to Nelson Mandela than this one. I join so many others in feeling sorrow at the passing of a revered and inspirational world leader, but I never expected to compose this essay at all. Something happened to change my mind.
This week has witnessed a huge outpouring of fine tributes worldwide, honoring and remembering the death of Nelson Mandela. Some of these can be found on Facebook, posted or shared by many admirers. I admit I wasn’t prepared to encounter a comment to a Facebook post which actually profaned that memory. I engaged briefly with that poster. Considering his past history of online acting-out, I finally just blocked him.
It’s not the first time I’ve blocked someone, but it’s the first time I’ve ever blocked someone twice in a row.
The first time, this person we’ll just call “Charlie” made some egregiously offensive remark – one of those gratuitous remarks seemingly made just to be as off-the-wall unpleasant as possible. And it fit a pattern. Basically, it was a credible imitation of what a skinhead would sound like. So, I said, “this person is outta here,” and I blocked him.
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In recent news, the widow of the poor unfortunate old Arafat authorized the exhumation of his remains for further forensic testing. The rumor that he had been poisoned had never gone away. Arafat died in 2004, or was murdered, depending on which rumors you believe. So far, two forensic teams have completed investigations of this case. Swiss, Russian and French scientific teams gained access to the remains for independent analysis in November 2013.
According to Aljazeera, “Swiss scientists who conducted tests on samples taken from Yasser Arafat’s body have found at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium in his remains. The scientists said that they were confident up to an 83 percent level that the late Palestinian leader was poisoned with it, which they said “moderately supports” polonium as the cause of his death.”
According to Reuters, “The French report concluded that some of the radioactivity could be explained by the presence of radon gas in the tomb where Arafat was buried. The Swiss experts said on the contrary that the level of radon gas was due to the radioactivity in his body.”
The French team found the radioactive gas radon on the outside of Arafat’s clothing. If, Reuters cited the French finding accurately, the French said they found “some of the radioactivity could be explained by the presence of radon gas,” there is no explanation for the phrase “some of the” unless there were also other sources of radioactivity.
Having the advantage of unlimited access to the results of the autopsy, which was conducted in Paris where Arafat died, the French said that Arafat died of a stroke which was a complication of a severe bacterial infection, which was the original 2004 finding. So, they ruled the cause of death to be illness.
Thorium and uranium decay byproducts include radium, and its decay product radon. Radon has a half-life of 3.8 days. Polonium is a radioactive metal found naturally in uranium and thorium ores.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, “Polonium-210 (Po-210) is a radioactive element that occurs naturally and is present … Because Po-210 is produced from the decay of radon-222 gas.”
This directly contradicts the Swiss opinion as reported by Reuters, that “the level of radon gas was due to the radioactivity in his body.” If the Swiss were quoted accurately, that would represent a huge disconnect with physics.
Polonium is produced from the decay of radon, not the other way around, so radon is not “the smoking gun” for polonium poisoning.
On the other hand, if it is true that radon detected on the burial clothing was just the result of naturally occurring concentration, it would be unreasonable to expect French scientists to report an even tinier trace of polonium, a naturally occurring decay product.
So far, there is no news report that either Swiss or French have exchanged results of their independent investigations, why they did or didn’t attach any particular relevance to the radioactivity connection, or detailed reasons for their conclusions. The French report is still preliminary at this writing, because news of it was leaked.
A number of obvious questions seem to remain unanswered. There is no clear consensus whether the radiation source was polonium or radon; they attributed it only to naturally occurring radon where it collects in underground spaces such as tombs. In either case, radioactivity is hazardous to the health, and there is a huge discrepancy between the highly abnormal polonium concentration found by the Swiss, and naturally occurring levels of radon found by the French.
If the Swiss scientists identified polonium by a combination of chemical tests and spectroscopy, a mistaken identification seems extraordinarily improbable. Also, the idea that they could mistakenly measure an 18-times concentration of that metal is quite implausible.
Samples for the independent tests would have been taken at the same point in time. It would be difficult to hypothesize that one set of samples contained polonium and the other did not. It will be interesting to learn what Russian scientists find.
Signs of radiation sickness would, all other things being equal, strike the elderly or infirm first. Arafat was both. The effects of radiation exposure are cumulative, and can affect the immune system in many ways. The effect of even medical radiation dosages on the immune system is already well known in hospitals.
Following this line of logic, it would appear that, if a strong source of radiation was actually present in or on the ailing Arafat, a “bacterial infection” might easily have resulted.
Staph infections, for example, are frequently contracted right in the hospital. This hypothesis would argue strongly in favor of a murder verdict, not against the medical facilities, but on unknown persons who might have caused the hospital death through a hard-to-trace chain of events initiated by poisoning Arafat with a radioactive substance.
Analysis appears further complicated by ambiguous news reporting on such a highly technical scientific subject.
Finally, there’s the unresolved question of who might have murdered Arafat. For the foreseeable future, this is a cold case that will never be solved without new discovery.
The popular theory in the Middle East, outside of Israel, is that the Israeli Mossad was responsible for this. Arafat became an internationally respected leader and a stabilizing force in Palestine, after co-brokering the Camp David Accords with Prime Minister Rabin. Arafat was most heavily criticized by Islamists, PLO leftists and Hamas for being too lenient in negotiations with Israel. This would tend to place Israel lower on a theoretical list of suspects, and PLO dissidents and similar militant factions, relatively higher.
The device of polonium poisoning is also associated with a number of sensational assassinations in Northern Europe, suspected to be the work of Soviet or Russian agents. But since scientific experts cannot even agree on evidence for or against these theories in the mysterious Arafat affair, blame is usually attributed to the political motivations of the accuser. If Arafat died as a result of foul play, there does not yet seem to be compelling evidence for any particular cause or agency.
Alex Forbes, December 4, 2013
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“To many, the Vietnam War defines their view of the nature of US international policy.”
“Kennan agreed: the United States was supporting the French in an undertaking that ‘neither they, nor we, nor both of us together can win’.”
A good short read. As a Vietnam Vet I was aware of some of this in later years. Follow this link first, then “The OSS and Ho Chi Minh” in my preceding post.
What a different world it might have been if we had applied the principles of the Marshall Plan to Indochina as well as Europe! The plan in Europe worked miracles. The plan in Indochina was a disaster from beginning to end.
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Book by Dixee R. Bartholomew-Feis. University Press of Kansas
The OSS and Ho Chi Minh
“Some will be shocked to find out that the United States and Ho Chi Minh, our nemesis for much of the Vietnam War, were once allies. Indeed, during the last year of World War II, American spies in Indochina found themselves working closely with Ho Chi Minh …”
Good book review. An enlightening short read. We trained Uncle Ho, and the fighters that became the Viet Cong, in guerrilla warfare. The international face of American diplomacy hasn’t usually been our Secretary of State, it’s been the Pentagon. Check it out.
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White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
By Peggy McIntosh
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks. – See more at blogsite http://www.decolonizingyoga.com:
Author McIntosh’s candor and clarity of thought caught me somewhat by surprise. I have never read a fraction of the vast resources of literature and scholarly works on the subject of race. I have read enough to know that many Americans, including many white Americans like myself, are not only able to say with certainty racism is still with us, but exactly why, and how destructive it is for all of us in this great democracy of ours. My experience is largely anecdotal, but I have lots of it.
If you are or have ever been curious how crudely medieval views on race and culture have survived to the twenty-first century, a deadly virus in a modern world of both miracle antibiotics and people who choose not to take them, I think you will find Mcintosh’s full article a refreshingly clear read.
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