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A New Revolution?

January, 2007
By John Huckans

Meet the new Congress! Same as the old Congress? We won’t know for a while, but people won’t get fooled again if they keep up the pressure and don’t allow the same old lobbyists to run U.S. foreign policy as they have for the last fifty years. Dare we hope that some good might come from the recommendations of the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group, despite all the pressure from remote-control warriors to have others carry out their military plans?

Some of you remember Jim Baker for his willingness to talk with this country’s adversaries—in some cases adversaries of our own making. While in the first Bush administration he visited Syria at least 12 times, won the respect of Syrians from all levels, and showed that engagement and open discussions are more productive than unhelpful “axis of evil” rhetoric that tends to make enemies out of potential friends and allies. A good case could be made that people who encourage “wars of choice” or “pre-emptive war” make up the real axis of evil.

It hasn’t been a very good year for the neo-cons. Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, David Frum (author of the infamous “axis of evil” speech) and others have been scrambling to distance themselves from the disastrous consequences of a situation they worked so hard to bring about, and in a recent Vanity Fair piece they criticized the administration and its conduct of the war, although mainly on tactical rather than moral grounds.

Robert Kagan and William Kristol, in a guest opinion piece in the Financial Times of November 13th, remain enthusiastic about giving war a chance: “There is much easy talk of how a victory strategy in Iraq has been rendered impossible by Tuesday’s elections. This is nonsense. First, victory in Iraq is a national priority, and to abandon it because of a loss in House and Senate seats would be irresponsible.” From what I read, many middle-aged men and women are serving in the military these days so there’s still time for Mr. Kagan, Mr. Kristol and other “fortunate ones” to report to their local recruiting office.

International affairs columnist Gideon Rachman comments in the November 21st Financial Times: “In an article for Foreign Policy Magazine that is almost as surreal as an Ali G. interview, Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute acknowledges a whole string of errors and misapprehensions that lay behind the decision to invade Iraq. But then—with scarcely a pause for breath—he urges President George W. Bush ‘to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office.’ ”

(Neo-conservatives used to call themselves “former liberals who had been mugged by reality” and their movement was largely made up of outspoken armchair warriors who weren’t afraid to fight to the last drop of someone else’s blood. On the flip side, I suppose a neo-liberal might be a former conservative who has been blind-sided by morality. Libertarians, thought of as being fiscal conservatives but laissez faire or liberal in their approach to social policy, may come closest to the neo-liberal position)

Early in 2003, few people agreed with our position that to invade Iraq would be to invite disaster for everyone involved—nowadays, if recent polls are any indication, we’re no longer in the minority. At the time some people argued that the road to peace in the region went through Baghdad—others made and still make the case that the road to peace has always gone through Jerusalem, more specifically a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the creation of a genuine Palestinian state that is not simply an ever-shrinking patchwork of disconnected Bantustans or tiny Indian reservations.

If the road to 911 was more than 50 years in the making, and many observers believe it was, the only lasting result from the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq (costing thousands of lives and nearly 350 billion dollars so far) has been to encourage more of the same. The Iraq Study Group correctly recommends direct discussions with leaders of all countries in the region—not just those that meet with the approval of the powerful Washington lobbies that have done so much to corrupt the executive and legislative process over the years. A serious re-examination of and a radical change in policy would also help marginalize religious fundamentalists and theocrats who find in the American military presence in their region a helpful tool in inciting their followers to carry out murderous and indiscriminate sectarian violence. And when the madness finally subsides, it may occur to all but the most diseased fanatics that any religion or religious position that advocates violence in its name is not only unworthy of consideration by any humane or rational person, but gives religion itself a bad name.

One must hope that in its remaining two years the Bush administration may rethink and change its Middle East policy to one that is truly even-handed and unbiased—what remains to be seen is whether the new Congress can find the backbone and moral integrity to ignore domestic lobbies and permit its implementation.

Who Really Cares…

Is the title of a new book subtitled “America’s Charity Divide—Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters” (New York, Basic Books, 2006). The author, Arthur C. Brooks, (a native of Seattle and presently professor of public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School), in the course of his research on charitable giving “…uncovered some hard truths about American culture, politics and economics…(and) was surprised and disturbed by many of the facts and trends that emerged in the course of my research.”

Some of the findings that emerged flew in the face of commonly accepted shibboleths about which groups are generous in their giving and which groups are not. For example, in defining “charity” as a giving of time as well as money, it turns out that people that attend church regularly and reject the idea that it’s the government’s job to be in the business of income redistribution are “twice as likely…to give money to charities in a given year, and will give away more than one hundred times as much money per year (as well as fifty times more to explicitly nonreligious causes)” as people who never attend a house of worship and strongly believe that the government should reduce income differences.

The analyses use every conceivable measuring device—age, sex, income, ethnic background, politics, race, geography, etc.—as predictors of who gives and who doesn’t. (One controversial finding—in general, red states tend to give more than blue states). One might easily conclude that “conservatives” are generous with their own money while “liberals” are generous with other people’s money.

Also, not only do “the working poor in America give more of their money—not less—to charity than middle-class people” but also “a working poor family without welfare support gives, on average, more than three times as much money to charity each year as a family with the same total income that receives welfare support.”

Incidentally, it also turns out that when including both public and private charitable giving, the United States gives far more (in total and per capita) than do European nations.

With sixty-five pages of appendices, notes, and an index, this work could have ended up as an academic study destined to be read only by other students of charitable giving. However, with all of the counter-intuitive findings, the author was encouraged to juice up the prose and present it as a book for the general reading public. I foresee a vigorous public debate that may help sell a lot of books.

Albany’s Back!

The last time I participated in or attended the Albany Antiquarian Book Fair was when it was held at the Albany Institute of History and Art. In those days, George Lowry of Swann Galleries sometimes conducted a benefit auction on the Friday evening preceding the Fair. At the time (in the 70s) it was the second or third oldest regional antiquarian book fair in the country (Rochester was the first), and the location, ambience and newness of the experience made it all quite magical. After a time, the event left the Institute (possibly because of the renovations and new construction) and became a traveling road show that constantly changed venues in and around Albany.

On this past November 12th (a Sunday), the Fair returned to the newly renovated State Armory (now owned by a private developer) on Washington Avenue in downtown Albany, just two buildings up from the Institute itself and not far from the state capitol. The building is impressive (inside and out), the facilities are still new and the catered food was excellent. With free parking everywhere and a steady stream of fairgoers throughout the day, the decision of the steering committee and the Oliver & Gannon partnership to move the event to Sunday proved to be a sound one. For more on this see the follow-up report in our Noteworthy section.