Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Anxieties of the Republican Majority

Now that the Republican Party will hold a majority in both houses of Congress come January, the big challenge will be facing the reality that the GOP must govern and - the horror - come up with legislative proposals to address the nations problems.  This from the party that opposes anything and everything that Barack Obama and the Democrats propose but which has offered no real plan for alternatives to things ranging from the Affordable Health Care ct to how to deal with children born in this country to illegal immigrant parents.  Saying "no" and opposing everything is easy.  Now it's time to see concrete proposals and alternatives.  Not surprisingly many in the GOP (outside the Kool-Aid drinking party base) are anxious.  Here are highlights from a piece in Politico:

Outwardly, Republican rhetoric toward the president hasn’t softened much, especially since Obama’s speech Thursday night. The consistent meme is that he is behaving like an unconstitutional monarch.

What has changed is the underlying balance of power in the party and, perhaps, the terms of debate within the GOP over how to deal with the Democratic Party and its surprisingly aggressive leader. Obama might be behaving like a usurping monarch without a mandate, in the eyes of the newly powerful GOP, but no one is seriously threatening to impeach him — as Republicans have repeatedly done in past years. Nor, despite the angry rhetoric, does there seem to be a serious possibility of government shutdown.

Call it thoughtfulness — or call it confusion. All in all, the mild, somewhat subdued response to Obama’s immigration move is evidence that the uncompromising GOP insurgency that so paralyzed Washington in 2013 has lost some potency.

Even some of the House’s most conservative members have little appetite for a government shutdown, saying that while they’re determined to level sharp criticism against the president, they’re not thinking about going much further than that. According to the head of a national, GOP-aligned Republican group, party leaders strongly suspect that Obama is trying to goad conservatives into throwing a fit: “I think the president is counting on a Republican overreaction, where it really takes over the agenda of the new Congress. … I think this president is counting on an overreach.”

The immigration issue, of course, is also about the reckoning of 2016, which is a lot closer than it was during the shutdown crisis. With the race for the White House rapidly approaching, a growing number of Republicans are concerned about alienating Latinos, whom many in the GOP see as a natural constituency.

In 2014, Latino turnout was seen as low across many crucial races. But that’s likely not to be the case in a presidential election. In 2012, Obama amassed an astonishing 71 percent of the Hispanic vote to 27 percent for Mitt Romney, who had declared during the primaries that he would make it harder for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. to get jobs, leading them to “self-deport.” Party leaders legitimately fear a kind of demographic death for the GOP if it doesn’t find a way to appease the burgeoning Hispanic population, particularly since the 2010 census showed, for the first time, that white births are now a minority in the United States.

Some influential conservatives are outraged by what they see as the latest GOP retreat in Washington.

Tea Party Patriots, the conservative group that supported several challenges to Republican incumbents, has demanded that McConnell pledge to block every presidential nomination or appointment (save for the national security ones) in response to his executive action. The group has already blasted out fundraising appeals that hammer McConnell as soft on “amnesty.”

But it’s not just in Washington that the party seems more divided than ever on immigration. Speaking Wednesday in Boca Raton, Florida, at the Republican Governors Association meeting, Ohio Gov. John Kasich sounded to some like an apostate.

“My sense is: I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it,” he said. Maybe Kasich, like Nixon going to China, is that rare pol who’s confident that he — with his conservative pedigree dating to the Gingrich revolution — can move to the center on an issue that has much of the rest of the Republican Party in a barely contained uproar. But it’s also likely that Kasich, who is said to have presidential ambitions, is trying to look over the horizon to 2016, and prodding his still-confused party forward on immigration.
The GOP needs to show that it can govern.  Equally, it will need to decide between embracing objective reality or the lunacy of the Christofascists/Tea Party base.  The party leadership cannot have it both ways.

The University of Virginia - Searing Allegations of Campus Rape

It has been decades since I graduated the University of Virginia, first with a history major and then with a law degree.  During my days at "UVA," I attended many a fraternity party and it is not without reason that the school is known as a party school despite the rigorous academics that are the norm.  This week, Rolling Stone published a story that has sent the University administration reeling and let to the unusual move of the suspension of all fraternity and sorority activities until January 9, 2015.  The story alleges a gang rape in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house (pictured above).  I did not belong to Phi Kappa Psi but did attend some parties there from time to time (I initially belonged to Zeta Psi and shifted my allegiance to Kappa Sigma later).  Back then, let's just say the Phi Kappa Psi parties were wild even by UVA standards.   

I don't know if the allegations of the rape are true or not, but I do know two things: (i) like most institutions, UVA tends to place maintaining its reputation above all else and (ii) here in Virginia, too often the authorities, including the police, tend to put too little effort into protecting the rights of minorities, gays, and yes women.  In the latter regard, we have a bunch of aging white male Republicans in the General Assembly striving to maintain control of women's uterus yet paying little attention to the other needs of women.  The male chauvinism can be intense, especially when Republicans hold power.  The problem is part of the overall problem of needing to drag Virginia fully into the 21st century and insuring that ALL Virginians are protected be they male or female, gay or straight, white or belonging to to a racial minority.  

The Rolling Stone articles is in many ways not accurate - e.g., most students are from average family backgrounds and while there are still self-imagined "Southern aristocrats," things today are far more egalitarian than 40 years ago - and doesn't paint an unbiased picture of the university.   Here are some article highlights that seem off the mark:
But the dearth of attention isn't because rape doesn't happen in Charlottesville. It's because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal. Some UVA women, so sickened by the university's culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it "UVrApe."

"University of Virginia thinks they're above the law," says UVA grad and victims-rights advocate Liz Seccuro. "They go to such lengths to protect themselves. There's a national conversation about sexual assault, but nothing at UVA is changing."

Prestige is at the core of UVA's identity. Although a public school, its grounds of red-brick, white-columned buildings designed by founder Thomas Jefferson radiate old-money privilege, footnoted by the graffiti of UVA's many secret societies, whose insignias are neatly painted everywhere. At $10,000 a year, in-state tuition is a quarter the cost of the Ivies, but UVA tends to attract affluent students, and through aggressive fundraising boasts an endowment of $5 billion, on par with Cornell. "Wealthy parents are the norm," says former UVA dean John Foubert.

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who has filed Title IX complaints and lawsuits against schools including UVA, argues that in matters of sexual violence, Ivy League and Division I schools' fixation with prestige is their downfall. "These schools love to pretend they protect the children as if they were their own, but that's not true: They're interested in money," Murphy says. "In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he's held accountable."
Thankfully, the story does contain a small amount of somewhat balanced language:
S. Daniel Carter, who as former director of public policy for the advocacy group Clery Center for Security on Campus is a national expert on college safety, points out that UVA's sexual assault problems are not much worse than other schools; if anything, he says, the depressing reality is that UVA's situation is likely the norm. Decades of awareness programming haven't budged the prevalence of campus rape: One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, though only about 12 percent report it to police.
UVA president Teresa Sullivan denies the administration sweeps sexual assault under the rug. "If we're trying to hide the issue, we're not doing a very good job of it," she says, noting that this past February UVA hosted the first-ever sexual-assault summit for college administrators. It's true that recently, while under close government scrutiny, the school has made some encouraging changes, including designating most UVA authority figures as mandatory reporters of sexual assault and teaming up with student activists to create a bystander-intervention campaign. Students praise UVA's deans as caring folks who answer late-night calls from victims and even make emergency-room visits.
Am I saying that things cannot be improved at UVA?  Certainly not.  But,  I cannot help but suspect that if UVA were a lesser tier school, this story would never have been written.  Especially, if the S. Daniel Carter is correct that its problems are not out of the norm.  I further know that of my family members who attended the University, none to my knowledge ever encountered anything like what this article would have readers believe is a rampant problem (my oldest daughter graduated from UVA with an undergraduate degree and I have 6 other relatives - not counting my former wife and her family members - who have attended UVA).  Were we all living in a vacuum?

Quote of the Day: Catholic Church Neurosis on Sexual Issues

The New York Times in its opinion section has a debate going on the Catholic Church and marriage that includes allowing gay marriage and ending priestly celibacy.  One of the position statements made is by Daniel Maguire,  a professor of moral theology at Marquette University who was ordained a priest in 1956 but left the priesthood and later married and now has two children and seven grandchildren. He is the author, most recently, of "Christianity Without God: Moving Beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative."  Here's the pertinent quote:

Peter, whom some consider to have been the first pope, was a married man according to the Bible. Had popes and priests followed his lead who could doubt that we would have a different church today?

Christianity strayed from the healthy sexual joy that Judaism offered in its poetic Song of Songs. Instead, influential neurotics like Augustine, who binged on sex in his youth, cast the negative shadow of his penis-obsession on the subsequent Christian view of human sexuality. The result? Women were a threat to the officially celibate male leaders; this poisoned the hierarchical attitude toward women. This is not the whole story of Catholic sexism, but it is a part.
The more one reads about the Church's 13th century "natural law" and  its obsession with all things sexual, the more one discovers that some of the "leading Church fathers" were seriously mentally ill.  Augustine is but one of the cavalcade of neurotics.   These psychologically disturbed men would have gotten along well with nutcases like tortured, self-loathing closet  cases Rick Santorum and Ken Cuccinelli.

Sunday Morning Male Beauty

Republicans Finally Admit There Is No Benghazi Scandal

One has to wonder what the reality free members of the GOP base will do now that Republicans have finally admitted that there was no Benghazi scandal after a two year endless search for a grand conspiracy.  But at last tThe House Select Intelligence Committee—controlled by Republicans—has finally released its report that concludes that there was no conspiracy or scandal - after, of course, the midterm elections have safely pasted.  Will the report sway the irrational elements of the GOP base?  Probably not.  After all, these folks still haven't accepted the reality that Barack Obama was born in America.  Mother Jones looks at the release of the House Committee report.  Here are excerpts:
For two years, . . .  Republicans have been on an endless search for a grand conspiracy theory that explains how it [the Benghazi attacks] all happened. Intelligence was ignored because it would have been inconvenient to the White House to acknowledge it. Hillary Clinton's State Department bungled the response to the initial protests in Cairo. Both State and CIA bungled the military response to the attacks themselves. Even so, rescue was still possible, but it was derailed by a stand down order—possibly from President Obama himself. The talking points after the attack were deliberately twisted for political reasons. Dissenters who tried to tell us what really happened were harshly punished.

Is any of this true? The House Select Intelligence Committee—controlled by Republicans—has been investigating the Benghazi attacks in minute detail for two years. Today, with the midterm elections safely past, they issued their findings. Their exoneration of the White House was sweeping and nearly absolute. So sweeping that I want to quote directly from the report's summary, rather than paraphrasing it. Here it is:
  • The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi....Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support....
  • Second, the Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks. In the months prior, the IC provided intelligence about previous attacks and the increased threat environment in Benghazi, but the IC did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.
  • Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa'ida, participated in the attacks....
  • Finally, the Committee found no evidence that any officer was intimidated, wrongly forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement or otherwise kept from speaking to Congress, or polygraphed because of their presence in Benghazi. The Committee also found no evidence that the CIA conducted unauthorized activities in Benghazi and no evidence that the IC shipped arms to Syria.
It's hard to exaggerate just how remarkable this document is. It's not that the committee found nothing to criticize. They did. The State Department facility in Benghazi had inadequate security. Some of the early intelligence after the attacks was inaccurate. The CIA should have given more weight to eyewitnesses on the ground.

But those are routine after-action critiques, ones that were fully acknowledged by the very first investigations. Beyond that, every single conspiracy theory—without exception—was conclusively debunked.

Late on a Friday afternoon, when it would get the least attention, a Republican-led committee finally admitted that every single Benghazi conspiracy theory was false. There are ways that the response to the attacks could have been improved, but that's it. Nobody at the White House interfered. Nobody lied. Nobody prevented the truth from being told.

It was all just manufactured outrage from the beginning. But now the air is gone. There is no scandal, and there never was.
Why does the cynic in me now suspect that the GOP base will claim that the GOP controlled report was the result of a conspiracy?  

McAuliffe: Same-Sex Marriage Equality Aids Economic Development

Statements by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe must be causing spittle flecked shrieks and convulsions at The Family Foundation, Virginia's leading Christofascist organization that seeks to return Virginia society to the 1950's.  Last week McAuliffe announced the creation of a new LGBT tourism task force aimed at attracting more LGBT travelers to Virginia.  LBGT tourists as a group  tend to stay longer and spend more on their vacation than other tourists.  Yet heretofore, other than the city of Richmond over the last few years no effort has ever been made to attract LGBT travelers.  Indeed, the Virginia Beach oceanfront area with its police state atmosphere and obsession with "family tourism" has done all but put out a "gays not welcome" sign.  Now, McAuliffe is lauding same sex marriage equality in Virginia as enhancing the state's hand at economic development.  Here are highlights from the Richmond Times Dispatch:

Gov. Terry McAuliffe told a local business organization Thursday that he considers same-sex marriage equality to be good for economic development in the state.
McAuliffe signed an executive order last month directing state agencies to comply with legalized same-sex marriage in Virginia.
And earlier this week, he announced the creation of an LGBT Tourism Task Force that will focus on showcasing Virginia as a friendly destination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender visitors.

McAuliffe said one of his priorities as governor is to foster “a climate that is open and welcoming to everyone.”

“My point, and the signal I try to send to everybody, is if you want to come to Virginia, and you want to start a business, we want you,” he said in a speech to about 150 members of the Greater Richmond Chamber.

“If you want to come here and create economic activity, I want you here,” he said during the meeting, held at the Williams Mullen law firm office in downtown Richmond.
“We really have to diversify our economy,” he said, after noting that cuts in federal defense spending could cost the state 150,000 jobs.

Feel the Love: Liberty Counsel - Gays Are Diseased

Liberty University and the toxic Liberty Law School are a blight on Virginia and long term I suspect will be a detriment to the city of Lynchburg.  What progressive, decent business will want to be based in a city where a university that rants against modernity and longs to see gays back in the closet and blacks back on the plantation is located?   A taste of the gay animus that plagues Liberty was provided by the amicus brief filed by Liberty Counsel in gay marriage case now pending before the 5th Circuit Court of appeals.  Liberty Counsel's main arguments for bans on same sex marriage: (i) gays are diseased and a health risk, and (ii) mob majority rule should trump minority rights.  One would think the brief had been drafted by Joseph Goebbels for the Nazi regime.  Simply substitute the word "Jew" for "gay."  The full brief can be found here.  Here are some excerpts:

Not only is there no bodily good or function toward which two same sex bodies can coordinate, but there are in fact inherent harms associated with same sex unions.  Gay and bisexual men (who have sex with other men) are about 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who only  have sex with women.” These increased rates of disease cannot be attributed to “stigma” or discrimination, since the rates of AIDS infections is the highest in California which offers homosexuals broad protection from discrimination.  Instead, there is a biological basis for the high incidence of anal cancer and other diseases among those who engage in homosexual behavior . . 
The personal, social and financial costs of these homosexual-specific health problems concern not just those who engage in homosexual activity, but also the larger community of citizens who help provide services and who must bear part of the burdens imposed by the health challenges. It is eminently rational, if not compelling, for the voters of Florida to seek to minimize the deleterious effects of these conditions on public health, safety and welfare by affirming that marriage in Florida remains the union of one man and one woman. In addition, same-sex relationships, particularly relationships involving two male partners, carry greater risks for domestic violence than do marriages. 
Even if one were to believe what Liberty Counsel claims, stable, monogamous same-sex relationships greatly reduce promiscuity and related health concerns.  Moreover, banning same sex marriage doesn't automatically equate to less same sex activity.  Nor does it address the biggest cause of HIV exploding in the African American community: closeted and married men having unsafe "down low" sex and then spreading HIV to their girl friends and wives.  Hence, we get to Liberty Counsel real argument: the majority should have the right to determine the rights of minorities:
To hold that the FMPA does not even pass rational basis would be to hold that 5 million Florida voters acted irrationally in voting for the Amendment. Furthermore, such holding would essentially proclaim that billions of people in every government and major religion worldwide, as well as every state in the union from the founding until 2003, were irrational in their universal support of man-woman marriage. (Marriage was defined as the union of one man and one woman by every government, world religion and state until 2003.) Such a conclusion is breathtaking.
Part of me longs for the day when Christians have become a minority.  Then we can employ Liberty Counsel's argument to strip them of civil rights.  Now that would be divine justice!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obama Holds Upper Hand on Immigration

The Congressional Republicans, in slavish whore like obedience to the racists in the GOP base who hold open hatred for (i) Barack Obama because of his skin color and (ii) Hispanics  - and other racial minorities - , continue to threaten Obama with impeachment (even though there would be too few votes in the Senate to prevail), government shutdowns, law suits, and other spittle flecked reactions.  The irony is that among the GOP complaints is that Obama has indulged in excessive use of executive orders.  The chart above shows the lie to this claim with Obama having to date signed fewer executive orders than Chimperator George W. Bush, and every Republican President since Chester A. Arthur (who left the White House on March 4, 1885).  Sadly, with the rise of the Christofascists in the GOP truth and honesty went out the window.  Now, if a Republican member of Congress lips are moving, like the "godly Christian" crowd the safest assumption is that he/she is lying.  

A piece in the Virginian Pilot looks at the reality of where the GOP finds itself in terms of stopping President Obama's executive order on immigration.  It is noteworthy that a MAJORITY of Americans want immigration reform.  It's principally the racist GOP party base that opposes immigration reform.  I just wish that news outlets would call a spade a spade and stop using the term "conservatives" as a smoke screen for the racists in the GOP base.  Here are article highlights:
President Barack Obama has the upper hand in the fierce struggle over immigration now taking shape, with a veto pen ready to kill any Republican move to reverse his executive order, Democrats united behind him and GOP congressional leaders desperate to squelch talk of a government shutdown or even impeachment.

With the public favoring changes in the current immigration system, the Republicans' best short-term response appears to be purely rhetorical: that the president is granting amnesty to millions, and exceeding hisconstitutional authority in the process.   Beyond that, their hopes of reversing his policies appear to be either a years-long lawsuit or the 2016 presidential election.

Neither of those is likely to satisfy the tea party adherents in Congress - or the Republican presidential contenders vying for support among party activists who will play an outsized role in early primaries and caucuses just over a year away.

"We alone, I say it openly, we the Senate are waiting in our duty to stop this lawless administration and its unconstitutional amnesty," said one of them, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. In remarks on the Senate floor, according to his office, he was channeling Cicero, the ancient Roman orator.  In a portion of the oration that Cruz did not mention, Cicero referred to a Roman Senate decree calling for a conspirator against the Roman republic "to be put to death this instant."

More than 2,000 years later, impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate stand as the sole established remedy against high crimes and misdemeanors by any president.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate leader Mitch McConnell want none of that. Nor are they interested in provoking a government shutdown as a way to block spending needed to carry out Obama's order, viewing that as a poor way to embark on a new era of Republican control of Congress.

The political debate is well underway, although the two parties seem to be appealing to different segments of the electorate. Polls show that the country as a whole and especially Hispanics favor allowing immigrants to remain in the country and work even if here illegally. Conservatives tend to prefer deportation.

"The critics are going to call it amnesty," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., predicted correctly on Thursday in advance of Obama's speech. "But as Sen. Rubio has reminded us, doing nothing - leaving the current system in place - is amnesty."

Obama's order didn't go that far. It calls for suspending the threat of deportation for millions, but without the promise of a green card that bestows permanent legal status, much less citizenship.
I continue to be ashamed that I was ever a Republican.  I take honesty and integrity seriously - these are lost concepts in today's GOP.  

World War I: Prelude to Disasters that Continue Today

Map of Europe - August 1914 - click image to enlarge
I will be the first to admit that I am a history nerd.  I've always loved history because, in my view, it explains how the world has gotten to its current situation and, if one will bother to understand it, how to avoid the same mistakes of the past.  Sadly, most politicians - particularly Americans - and rulers around the world seem to never learn from history's lessons.  Anyone with a knowledge and understanding of the history of the Middle East could have predicted the disasters that ensured (and continue to unfold) in Afghanistan and Iraq which have now spread to envelop more of the Middle East.  One of America's biggest problems is one of hubris and a misguided belief in "American exceptionalism."  Americans think they know better than others and that they can succeed where others have failed.  The truth s that America is no different that other countries despite the xenophobia of the Christofascists in particular.  

A piece in The Daily Beast looks at two new books that examine how hubris and a lack of any serious true long term plan on the eve of and during World War I set the stage for many of today's problems not to mention the blood bath of World War II.  What happened during World War I - a war that many expected to be over in 6 months when it began - ought to make all politicians think in terms of the long game and not short term policies that will excite their party's base and/or policies that ignore the historic realities of the regions where America would seek to impose its will.  As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Right now, there is plenty of reason to be very afraid. Both books ought to be mandatory reading for every politician in Washington and every senior military officer.  Here are some article highlight (I encourage readers to read the entire piece):

During the first half of the 20th century European civilization embarked on a journey into the abyss: it moved from being the epicenter of sophistication, civilization, high culture, and knowledge, to become home to the most savage episodes of collective-barbaric-violence ever witnessed in the history of mankind.

World War I was a catastrophic turning point for humanity: 70 million men were mobilized to fight; nearly 10 million perished; communities were annihilated, and massive populations were displaced across Europe. The so call “war to end all wars,” paradoxically, created a more violent planet than what had existed before the first shots were fired.

Much of Europe in 1914 resembled a world of cosmopolitan tolerance, noble aesthetics, grand opera houses, and paternal kingdoms—which in some cases, but not all, ruled with benevolence, providing the subjects were loyal and obedient to their masters. By the time the Great War had ended just four years later, however, the sweep of democracies that had replaced the Tsarist, Habsburg, Ottoman, and German empires resembled something closer to Dante’s Inferno: a chaotic-hellish nightmare razed to the ground. And any semblance of normality that had previously existed seemed to have evaporated.

So did this seemingly stable world, which inherited its rational values from key Enlightenment thinkers— who believed in the progress of humanity— tumble into chaos by mere chance? Or was there any truth to Leon Trotsky’s remark that while history offers no guarantees, it is not without logic.   

Technology played an important role in helping to destroy the existing social order. In his 1901 book, Anticipations, the British science fiction author H. G. Wells predicted the decay of political systems across Europe, describing how the mechanization of warfare—which developed rapidly in tandem with modernity—would bring about unprecedented violent changes to the world.

Horrific suffering and horror emerged across both the eastern and western fronts during this period. And by 1918 there had been a tumultuous upheaval of the four dynasties that dominated East and Central Europe. Politics across the continent would never be the same again.

As early as 1905, French sociologist Emile Durkheim warned that while a war between his own nation and Germany would be the “end of everything,” an even darker force was presenting itself in the East: revolutionary socialism.

[I]t would return European civilization back to a period of darkness not witnessed since the Middle Ages.

The sudden collapse of these societies is what the late British historian Eric Hobsbawn referred to in his book The Age of Extremes as “capitalist in its economy; liberal in its legal and constitutional structure; bourgeois in the image of its characteristic hegemonic class; glorying in the advance of science, knowledge and education, and profoundly convinced of the centrality of Europe [whose] major states constituted the system of world politics.”

To fully comprehend the short century that Hobsbawn has famously referred to as the “Age of Catastrophe”—that is the years 1914-1989—we need to understand how, and why, the existing social order dramatically disintegrated, almost without warning, as the First World War concluded.

{t}wo new books by two distinguished British historians both take a fresh approach in analyzing the conflict.

In the introduction to Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War 1914-1918, Alexander Watson claims this is the first modern history book to narrate the Great War from the perspective of the two major Central Powers.

The war began a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohneberg, by Serbian terrorists, on June 28, 1914. And it was existential fear, rather than feelings of certainties in the central powers’ military capabilities, that propelled the conflict into existence in the first place.

[T]he major losses of the First World War profoundly changed the political landscape of central Europe indefinitely.  The ramifications of this can still be seen today. One needs only to look at the violent culture that pervades in places like Ukraine, and some of the Balkan states—where respect for the rule of law is minimal, and ethnic tensions run extremely high—to see how they are a direct result of the politics of the First World War.

Watson also reminds us that the armistice signed at Versailles in November 1918 humiliated Germany into taking full responsibility for the war, as well as landing them with incredible debt that crippled the German economy and brought on massive hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic of the ’20s. In turn, this economic catastrophe subsequently led to the rise of the Nazi party.

Because the region was such a diverse mix of ethnicities, the self-determining-homogenous nation states that the American president, Woodrow Wilson, rather naively wished to see flourish actually sent this part of Europe into complete chaos, rather than creating the stability that he had predicted. . . . ethnic conflicts in the countries that emerged in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire nearly doubled after 1918.

If Watson’s book focuses predominantly on the voices of ordinary citizens across Central and Eastern Europe who actually fought in the war, Adam Tooze’s The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 views the conflict from a geopolitical perspective.

Tooze is intent on analyzing this period from a revisionist perspective. He wants to make sense of how the politics of World War I shaped the interwar period and led to the nightmare of 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and all hell broke loose.

Tooze’s thesis continually comes back to a single point: how the United States emerged from the conflict as the most dominating force in the world economy. In this sense, he argues, it is unique as a nation. In no previous era in human history had one country ever completely dominated world finance with such ease.

In Tooze’s view, the political landscape that emerged from World War I was a failed ideological liberal-progressive project launched primarily by Woodrow Wilson, who used America’s position of privileged detachment to frame the transformation of world affairs.

Wilson wanted to end imperialist rivalries in European politics. And only a “peace without victory”—the goal he announced to the U.S. Senate in January 1917—could ensure that the United States would emerge as the undisputed arbitrator of world affairs.

Tooze provides the reader with numerous questions here, such as: What had gone so wrong after 1918? Why was American policy miscarried at Versailles? Why did the world economy implode in 1929? And why did the Western Powers lose their grip in such a spectacular fashion in the decade following the end of the war?

By way of answering these questions, Tooze guides us through the numerous diplomatic and economic catastrophes that emerged from World War I. Eventually we start to get a well-rounded and extremely comprehensive insight into why Wilson’s American foreign policy was so misguided.

Wilson placed his faith 100 percent in American capitalist values, which he believed were natural byproducts of American exceptionalism: the idea that the United States is guided by God’s will to be morally and spiritually superior to the rest of the world.

But Wilson was gravely mistaken when he placed his faith in the idea that “markets and business would replace politics and military power.’ As Tooze writes, “the consequences of this push to depoliticize the world economy were perverse.
Wilson’s biggest mistake was to place “the self-determination of peoples’” at the center of his post-war vision. While this slogan may have made for healthy wartime propaganda, and increased his popularity in the short term, it was an extremely na├»ve view of how the emerging order would eventually play out on European soil. And it merely delayed the apocalyptic maelstrom that followed rather than preventing it.

Both authors suggest that today we must recognize that a failed American foreign policy during this time only helped to aid the drastic ideas that emerged in the coming decades.

Following the Great War, tolerance across Europe would be replaced by extreme hatred. And ideas promising utopian living—in the form of both fascist and communist politics—would fairly quickly come to shape the new era: which was a zero sum game style of politics.

Back in 1918, as the remains of 10 million corpses began decomposing into the bloody soil of a world that would be forever changed, there were constant cries from statesman, citizens, and civil society of “never again.”

But if history teaches us anything, it’s that the past doesn’t prevent us from making the same mistakes, over and over again.

With each passing day the battle in the Middle East between Islamic State militants and the West more closely resembles Europe’s religious wars of the 17th century, and global stability once again looks increasingly under threat.

Therefore one can only remain optimistic: hoping that the brighter sides of our humanity, which increases our altruistic side as a species, will somehow overcome fear and hatred at all costs.
A first step in avoiding disaster is for American politicians to cease always believing that they/America knows best and toss aside the hubris embodied in the myth of American exceptionalism.   Will this happen?  Likely not, especially among the Republican Party base.

the fruits of hubris