Archive for the History Category

Russell Berman

Candidates in Europe

The US Presidential election will be won and lost on the domestic economy, so Mitt Romney’s recent trip to three capitals –London, Jerusalem and Warsaw—provided some distraction in the summer lead-up to the party conventions and the start of the real campaign season in the fall. His itinerary gave the presumptive Republican candidate an opportunity to profile himself to the American electorate: as a successful executive who had organized the Salt Lake City Olympics, as a firm supporter of Israel (in contrast to President Obama who has refrained from visiting there while in office), and as an advocate of the liberty of Eastern Europe. The warm support from Lech Walesa this summer will serve him well in the ballot boxes of western Pennsylvania in November.

Yet Romney is not the first American presidential candidate to campaign through European capitals, and his travels abroad invite a comparison with Barack Obama’s tour just four years ago, especially the main event, the speech at the Victory Column in Berlin in front of an enormous crowd of 200, 000 or more. That demonstration of Obama’s charisma and popularity in Europe certainly strengthened his credibility among American voters, frustrated with the apparent fraying of the Atlantic alliance during the administration of George W. Bush. Obama promised to calm the waters, restore old friendships and build a robust cooperation between the US and Europe.

The Romney visit is a chance to reevaluate the Obama visit and ask: has Obama fulfilled the hope to change the trans-Atlantic divide?

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Victor Davis Hanson

The New Anti-Semitism

Not long ago, the Economist ran an unsigned editorial called the “Auschwitz Complex.” The unnamed author blamed serial Middle East tensions on both Israel’s unwarranted sense of victimhood, accrued from the Holocaust, and its unwillingness to  “to give up its empire.” As far as Israel’s paranoid obsessions with the specter of a nuclear Iran, the author dismissed any real threat by announcing that “Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis,” and that “Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran.”

It is hard to fathom how a democracy of seven million people by any stretch of the imagination is an “empire.” Israel, after all, fought three existential wars over its 1947 borders, when the issue at hand was not manifest destiny, but the efforts of its many enemies to exterminate or deport its population. I would not otherwise know how to characterize the Arab promise of more than a half-century of “pushing the Jews into Mediterranean.”

While it is true that Israeli forces stayed put on neighboring lands after the 1967 war, subsequent governments eventually withdrew from the Sinai, southern Lebanon, and Gaza—areas from which attacks were and are still staged against it. The Economist’s choice of “appealing” is an odd modifying adjective of the noun “enemy,” particularly for Iran, which has both promised to wipe out Israel and is desperately attempting to find the nuclear means to reify that boast.

Continue reading Victor Davis Hanson…

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Thomas Sowell

Super Tuesday

Many people are looking to the many primary elections on March 6th — "Super Tuesday" — to clarify where this year’s Republican nomination campaign is headed.

It may clarify far more than that, including the future of this nation and of Western civilization. If a clear winner with a commanding lead emerges, the question then becomes whether that candidate is someone who is likely to defeat Barack Obama.

If not, then the fate of America — and of Western nations, including Israel — will be left in the hands of a man with a lifelong hostility to Western values and Western interests.

President Obama is such a genial man that many people, across the ideological space, cannot see him as a danger.

For every hundred people who can see his geniality, probably only a handful see the grave danger his warped policies and ruthless tactics pose to a whole way of life that has given generation after generation of Americans unprecedented freedom and prosperity.

The election next November will not be just another election, and the stakes add up to far more than the sum of the individual issues. Moreover, if reelected and facing no future election, whatever political constraints may have limited how far Obama would push his radical agenda will be gone.

He would have the closest thing to a blank check. Nothing could stop him but impeachment or a military coup, and both are very unlikely. A genial corrupter is all the more dangerous for being genial.

The four remaining Republican candidates have to be judged, not simply by whether they would make good presidents, but by how well they can cut through Obama’s personal popularity and glib rhetoric, to alert the voters as to the stakes in this year’s election.

Continue reading Thomas Sowell…

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John Taylor

In a recent blog Paul Krugman, borrowing from the Economics of Contempt, takes on John Cochran and me for our interpretations of the events leading up to the panic of 2008, and in particular my point that it was not the Lehman bankruptcy per se that was the underlying cause of the panic but rather the ad hoc and unpredictable policy leading up to and following the bankruptcy. The only evidence Krugman gives against my point is a plot of the “B of A Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Effective Yield” over a two year interval in which the crucial timing of the day to day movements are barely visible.

I first wrote about the panic of 2008 (including the Lehman bankruptcy, the AIG bailout, and the rollout of the TARP) in my book Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged and Worsened the Financial Crisis, published three years ago in February 2009, which in celebration of the three year anniversary is now available as an e-book for only $2.40.

If you look at the charts in that book you will see a detailed consideration of the daily data. I focused on the spread between Libor and the overnight index swap (OIS), and showed that the major upward movements in this measure of stress occurred at the time of the TARP rollout. Moreover, this measure of risk peaked as soon as it was clarified that the TARP would be used for equity injections, suggesting that confusion about the TARP was a large source of the uncertainty and panic.

Continue reading John Taylor…

(photo credit: Squiggle)

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Victor Davis Hanson

Greek Tragedies

There are a lot of new twists to the old story of massive demonstrations in Greece. This is the first time in my life (I first went to Greece in 1973) that I can remember Greek rioting and demonstrations that were not anti-American. Oh, there have been a few contorted efforts to blame the Wall Street “Jews” for the 2008 meltdown that in turn supposedly called in Greek credit, but it is a half-hearted attempt, and for the most part the Greeks seem bewildered that they cannot properly fault the U.S. for much of anything in their present disaster — so unlike the old days of the 1967 coup, the colonels, the Cold War, the American support for Israel, the oil boycotts of 1973, the 1974 Cyprus disaster, the bombing of a kindred Orthodox Milosevic, etc. But it has been a generation since the Greeks have had much to do with the U.S. The Greek lobby is long retired from the Congress. The Obama administration is enthralled with Turkey. Former prime minister and U.S. citizen Andreas Papandreou long ago cut any remaining close ties with the U.S. in a flurry of anti-American and pro-Soviet rhetoric designed to appeal to popular anti-Americanism. The Greek diaspora in the U.S. is mostly third-generation, intermarried, and assimilated, and the net result is that we are now spectators, not players, in the present tragedy.

The end of utopianism is certainly causing far more furor than had the utopian dream never materialized, so the anger against Germany in the popular press (“Gautleiters,” “The Fourth Reich”, “Dachau!”, etc) is far greater now than had the Germans and their friends never loaned the Greeks nearly $400 billion in the first place. What is strange to watch is the nature of the Greek furor: that the Germans are probably eventually willing to forgive hundreds of billions almost seems to enrage Greeks all the more — for their debtors’ unwillingness to go all the way by forgiving the entire huge sum. The thinking is almost, “Well, if they have that much money to forgive, why not forgive it all?”

Continue reading Victor Davis Hanson…

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Thomas Sowell

The Progressive Legacy: Part III

The same presumptions of superior wisdom and virtue behind the interventionism of Progressive Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in the domestic economy also led them to be interventionists in other countries.

Theodore Roosevelt was so determined that the United States should intervene against Spain’s suppression of an uprising in Cuba that he quit his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to organize his own private military force — called "Rough Riders" — to fight in what became the Spanish-American war.

The spark that set off this war was an explosion that destroyed an American battleship anchored in Havana harbor. There was no proof that Spain had anything to do with it, and a study decades later suggested that the explosion originated inside the ship itself.

But Roosevelt and others were hot for intervention before the explosion, which simply gave them the excuse they needed to go to war against Spain, seizing Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Although it was a Republican administration that did this, Democrat Woodrow Wilson justified it. Progressive principles of imposing superior wisdom and virtue on others were invoked.

Wilson saw the indigenous peoples brought under American control as beneficiaries of progress. He said, "they are children and we are men in these deep matters of government and justice."

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Thomas Sowell

The Progressive Legacy: Part II

"Often wrong but never in doubt" is a phrase that summarizes much of what was done by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the two giants of the Progressive era, a century ago.

Their legacy is very much alive today, both in their mindset — including government picking winners and losers in the economy and interventionism in foreign countries — as well as specific institutions created during the Progressive era, such as the income tax and the Federal Reserve System.

Like so many Progressives today, Theodore Roosevelt felt no need to study economics before intervening in the economy. He said of "economic issues" that "I am not deeply interested in them, my problems are moral problems." For example, he found it "unfair" that railroads charged different rates to different shippers, reaching the moral conclusion that these rates were discriminatory and should be forbidden "in every shape and form."

It never seemed to occur to TR that there could be valid economic reasons for the railroads to charge the Standard Oil Company lower rates for shipping their oil. At a time when others shipped their oil in barrels, Standard Oil shipped theirs in tank cars— which required a lot less work by the railroads than loading and unloading the same amount of oil in barrels.

Theodore Roosevelt was also morally offended by the fact that Standard Oil created "enormous fortunes" for its owners "at the expense of business rivals." How a business can offer consumers lower prices without taking customers away frombusinesses that charge higher prices is a mystery still unsolved to the present day, when the very same arguments are used against Wal-Mart.

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Thomas Sowell

The ‘Progressive’ Legacy

Although Barack Obama is the first black President of the United States, he is by no means unique, except for his complexion. He follows in the footsteps of other presidents with a similar vision, the vision at the heart of the Progressive movement that flourished a hundred years ago.

Many of the trends, problems and disasters of our time are a legacy of that era. We can only imagine how many future generations will be paying the price — and not just in money — for the bright ideas and clever rhetoric of our current administration.

The two giants of the Progressive era — Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — clashed a century ago, in the three-way election of 1912. With the Republican vote split between William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt’s newly created Progressive Party, Woodrow Wilson was elected president, so that the Democrats’ version of Progressivism became dominant for eight years.

What Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had in common, and what attracts some of today’s Republicans and Democrats, respectively, who claim to be following in their footsteps, was a vision of an expanded role of the federal government in the economy and a reduced role for the Constitution of the United States.

Like other Progressives, Theodore Roosevelt was a critic and foe of big business. In this he was not inhibited by any knowledge of economics, and his own business ventures lost money.

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Victor Davis Hanson

Civilization in Reverse

In Greek mythology, the prophetess Cassandra was doomed both to tell the truth and to be ignored. Our modern version is a bankrupt Greece that we seem to discount.

News accounts abound now of impoverished Athens residents scrounging pharmacies for scarce aspirin — as Greece is squeezed to make interest payments to the supposedly euro-pinching German banks.

Such accounts may be exaggerations, but they should warn us that yearly progress is never assured. Instead, history offers plenty of examples of life becoming far worse than it had been centuries earlier. The biographer Plutarch, writing 500 years after the glories of classical Greece, lamented that in his time weeds grew amid the empty colonnades of the once-impressive Greek city-states. In America, most would prefer to live in the Detroit of 1941 than theDetroit of 2011. The quality of today’s air travel has regressed to the climate of yesterday’s bus service.

Continue reading Victor Davis Hanson…

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