Category Archives: Politics

To Educate, or Not to Educate? (1/2)

How we should orient education resources and tools in the 21st century. Recently the Boston Review hosted a debate the posed the very question: What is Education for?

Harvard Graduate School professor Danielle Allen, in the lead essay, argues the education should focus on participatory readiness – so a explicit political (lowercase p) mean to create an end where students are properly trained to be civic agents. Allen in a well-argued piece asserts that the current paradigm is vocational training – we equip students to learn skills and in particular technical skills based on hard science; these skills are enough to help ameliorate all sorts of injustices and inequalities in our society and world.

Allen, at her most pointed and simple reminds us that: “We surely need the STEM fields to navigate this new landscape. But if the STEM fields gave us the mass in “mass democracy,” the humanities and social sciences gave us the democracy.” I think is without-a-doubt true. And a brilliant succinct way of tying this dichotomy up with a nice artistic bow. Of course we need STEM but we also need the liberal arts to help us become well-rounded citizens.

Deborah Meier, Senior Scholar at NYU’s Steinhardt School, responds to the initial outing writing that she “sympathizes” with the first argument. She goes a bit further saying that our schools and their obsession with “test scores” has made the lack of civic agency even worse. “Our current educational paradigm barely recognizes, in the most fundamental sense, what being a person is about.”

Debra Satz, Professor of Ethics in Society and Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, agrees with Allen on principles but just doesn’t think education can do what Allen is asking it to do. “Egalitarian redistributive justice” is not the “first reason that comes to mind” on why we should teach liberal arts. Satz also argues that vocational training updated for the 21st century would, in fact, do what Allen wants which is more resources to schools. “Vocational education arguably requires not only computer science and coding, but also the ability to write, analyze, and communicate; knowledge of foreign cultures and languages; and a greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving rather than rote memorization,” asserts Satz. Fair point here, I think.

Jeffrey Aaron Synder, Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at Carleton College, argues that “it’s the economy, stupid.” Preparing students to enter the labor market has always been what the education system is about and with 15% of the country in poverty, this should remain preeminent, according to the professor.

Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, argues in the same vein that Satz did: what Allen calls for is simply “too much for civic education to bear.” Reich says we should start with bringing civic classes back. This is something I’ve been arguing for for awhile now. We don’t need people majoring in politics in droves; we need people to understand civics and this should be incorporated throughout our entire educational journey regardless of the paradigm debate. Also, citing legendary political scientist Robert Putnam, civic organizations outside schools are important. We should probably stop bowling alone, basically, and reengage with our neighbors.

Carlos Fraenkel, author of Teaching Plato in Palestine, pushes for the Brazilian model: In 2008, “the Brazilian parliament affirmed that philosophy is necessary for democratic citizenship. Now, by law, every student studies philosophy in that country’s high schools.” Not a certain philosophical school, argues Fraenkel, but philosophy of practice; “semantic and logical tools that allow us to argue well and dialectical virtues that allow us to focus on truth-finding rather than on winning an argument.” This is also an idea that I really agree with.

Lelac Almagor, a Charter school English teacher, argues that class matters and that low-income students deserve an elite education. There is no stark dichotomy of STEM vs liberal arts. We need it all. So Almagor is in the same ballpark as Satz here.

Lucas Stanczyk, political scientist, argues that we should listen to what C.E.O’s are saying is the problem: creativity. How do we foster creativity? Liberal arts and not STEM. What is education for, according to Stanczyk: “It is to help people escape a life of vapid consumerism by giving them capacities to appreciate richer pursuits and to produce their own complex meanings.” His arguments are way to all over the place to be cohesive enough to analyze. Although his C.E.O. point is his best.

I’ll be back soon with a 1000 word response to all of this myself; I think about this often and there is much here to chew on.

(Two responses I am leaving without comment (except for this one) because their essays, IMO, were only tangentially related to the original essay and I found them (mostly) irrelevant. Read them here: (1), (2).)

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Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World

Book review: Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World (2015) by the president of Eurasia Groups Ian Bremmer (PhD; Stanford)

I find NYU political scientist and Time magazine editor-at-large Ian Bremmer fascinating. He is able to hold a conversation about modern affairs in a way that is authoritative yet casual and analytically brilliant and intellectually challenging. His latest book, his ninth, is his first book completely focusing on the foreign policy strategy of the U.S. I also vehemently (often, but not always) disagree with a lot of what he says; I am drawn to thinkers who challenge, provoke, and simply, to those who I disagree with. I believe this is how we grow as a thinker and is how we understand other perspectives.

Up front, he presents an interesting argument that Russia is not really a serious threat to the U.S. but that the U.S.-EU relationship could become tense due to Europe needing Russian financial customers, energy, and defense contracts. A provocative claim and one backed up with empirical data. The U.S. trades with Switzerland and Belgium, for example, more than with Russia (U.S. Census). Bremmer is worried about China who sometime during the next decade will become the largest economy but will still be “poor, potentially unstable, and authoritarian.” Whether we are talking about Russia aggression; or Chinas’ rise; or global warming (which Bremmer does not cover really at all, to my dismay); or the threat of terrorism; possible disease epidemics; or the refugee crises, America needs to choose a coherent strategy. Bremmer argues there are 3 potential choices.

Incoherent America (1990-2015)
Bremmer’s main argument is that post-Cold War through to this year, America has not had a coherent foreign policy strategy and the sole remaining superpower made mostly bumbling mistakes built on ignorance, hubris, and blurry vision and spotty goals like the Somalian intervention (Clinton); expanding NATO (Clinton/Bush 43); and the War on Terror + Bush tax cuts (Bush43/Obama). On Obama, Breemer argues that in his first term, he had a more coherent strategy but that quickly dissolved and “President Obama refused to commit to any foreign policy framework to help him make difficult decisions.” This brings us to 2015, the 2016 presidential campaigns, and the future. We need a strategy, not just tactical ideas but a coherent strategy to guide the country and to signal to the world our strengths and values. Bremmer often meets with foreign ministers from allies and enemies alike and they all say: we don’t know what America stands for. This is a problem.

Option #1: Independent America
Here Bremmer delineates the disaster that has been the rise of the military-industrial complex and the costs, human and fiscal, of American acting as the one true superpower. The author cites a 2013 Harvard study showing that when all is said and done, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will cost our country nearly $7 trillion. Americans in hundreds of polls have shown our disapproval of national building, war, “free trade” deals like NAFTA, and so on and so on. Americans are fatigued and understand that we need to nation-build here at home. Independent here refers to the fact that American citizens want America to make decisions that prioritize our interests; not our allies or our neighbors even. We need to go our separate ways and to worry about our needs such as infrastructure, education, and caring for our veterans now they are back home from a decade of war. This strategy is bolstered by being supported by the American public in poll-after-poll-after-poll.

This brings us to Bremmers’ – or Americas’ rather – second option.

Option #2: Moneyball America
Moneyball Americans view Independent America as isolationists. This view of America sees that we “must lead coalitions of the willing,” and “U.S. foreign policy must promote and protect global growth, both by minimizing the risk of war and by giving as many countries as possible a stake in stability through commerce and investment.” Moneyballers, based on the Oakland A’s famous baseball approach, “rel[y] on a cold-blooded, interest-driven approach to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s investment.” Value over values. We need to “maximize returns on minimal investment.” This is a business-minded approach. We should view foreign policy like businesses view venture projects. Regarding the three leading Middle East powers, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, we should – in my loose summation – play all three cards. Or: American should use its hand to balance powers. Don’t get caught up in too many nets; have an exit strategy.

Option #3 Indispensable America
This final option is probably the option that most Americans are familiar with. America must lead. America is the shining light on the hill. America is the best-est most brightest country in the world. I’m being a little breezy here. On a serious note: this option is realistic. In Bremmers’ words through the glasses of a proponent: “Americans can only be more secure in a world where democracy, rule of law, access to information, freedom of speech, and human rights are universally recognized and protected, because these values create lasting strength, resilience, security, and wealth in the societies that establish and protect them.” Basically someone must lead and that someone has to be the U.S., according to this viewpoint. Regarding debt and money: “The United States can pay its debts by simply printing more money.” This is probably the sentence I agree with the most in the entire book, but that’s for a different time perhaps. In summation, this strategy is the most historically and realistically coherent, in my opinion.

What strategy should we choose?
In the beginning of the book, Ian produces a 10-question quiz and he asks the reader to take it. After each chapter/strategy-option, he reprints the quiz with highlighted answers based on the arguments of each option. According to the questions (an ex: U.S. spy capabilities: a) will always be a double-edged sword. b. Threaten our privacy. c. Are vital for protecting America. I chose a, by the way which is in alignment with Independent America, for example.) I have a mumbled complicated and overlapping (read: non-strategy strategy) answer. 10% of me is an Independent America; 50% of the time I agree with Moneyball America; 30% of the time I align with the Indispensables.

This is interesting because while reading the book, I mostly agreed with Independent America as the most wise choice of the three; followed closely by the Indispensable chapter. In reality, the way Moneyball was presented, I do sort of think about problems in my life and in politics in this way. So what did the author choose? Professor Bremmer actually chose Independent America as the wisest choice; he does so reluctantly mind you.

This book is a fantastic primer and summary of the world that awaits us. As someone who is graduating with a B.A. in political science in just a few months, I knew all of the facts presented here; I know the arguments, history, and context and therefore, I could have used a more complex book. I definitely think climate change is the existential issue of our lives; thus I always want climate change discussed more. Always. However, I am not casting aspersions. This book is great for all Americans to read. Whether you think nation-states are inherently bad and you are an anarchist or whether or not you are a international institutionalist who thinks nation-states should yield to a world government, Superpower is written as the world is, not as any of us want it to be. America will be the world’s most powerful country, in many ways, for the foreseeable future. I recommend this book to political science students; government and business leaders; and all other engaged and responsible citizens across the country.

US-Pakistan: Magnificent Delusions: Part 1

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, The United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
by Husain Haggani. PublicAffairs. 413 pp.
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Learning about geopolitics, international affairs, and U.S. – and other countries – foreign policy has had a dramatic impact on how I think about politics; policy; propaganda; history; human beings; democracy; war; and so forth. The Pakistani-U.S relationship is one that I am drawn to particularly. It also has been one of the prime examples of what I just described because this relationship reveals so much. Learning about Pakistan-U.S. relations has colored how I think about 21st century life; and not just in strictly the political realm.

Former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, released Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding in 2013. There is a quote from Aesop’s Fables that begins the book that is worth reprinting here too because it distills this dynamic in a colorful way:

A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and we then know how to meet him. Aesop, Aesop’s Fables.

As with many U.S. contemporary relationships, the US-Pakistan relationship is one that developed during the Cold War; oh yes, the time period of the Bay of Pigs; Iran-Contra; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the failed coup in Chile, then the successful coup in Chile in 1973, for example. Another common theme: “The United States initially poured money and arms into Pakistan in the hope of building a major fighting force that could assist in defending Asia against communism,” writes Haqqani. Pakistan has also assisted the U.S. in its “war against terrorism” since 2001; albeit in a “half-hearted” way. The author, and former political prisoner of the Sharif government (1997-1999), writes that “radical Islam, Pakistan’s military, and US-Pakistan relations” have thoroughly transformed Pakistan’s trajectory. US-Pakistan are allies but “not friends” and he says both countries have divergent and separate interests. Also: This relationship “is a tale of exaggerated expectations, broken promises, and disastrous misunderstandings.”

The Nation-State of Pakistan is Only 70 Years Old: From 1947-onward
I intend to focus on the 21st century in my studies but Haqqani provides interesting details about the creation – a partition of British India into a Hindu state and a Muslim state – and evolution of the state of Pakistan. After the Indian partition of 1947, the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent were divided into thirds with one-third remaining in India; another third becoming Pakistan; and the last third which would eventually live in what is now Bangladesh, created in 1971. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, “expect[ed]” that the US would “build its economy and military in return for Pakistan mobilizing Muslim nations against the Soviet Union.” After WWII, American officials supported Indian independence from Britain but thought that dividing the subcontinent more by separating the Muslims and Hindus “opened the doors for perennial conflict.” American had no appetite for “conjuring a new Asian country based on religion,” observed historian Stanley Wolpert, writes Haqqani. Jinnah was persistent and he didn’t trust that 100 million Muslims would be adequately protected in India. “The original demand was for multiple independent state of Muslim-majority provinces of India,” reveals Haqqani.

Although Jinnah envisioned  a separate state for Muslims in South East Asia, including in his vision was a secular state: “In course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, in the political sense as citizens of the State,” he said in a speech. However, after Jinnah’s death in September 1948 from tuberculosis, in a reprint of this speech “the government republished [it] but excised” the aforementioned part of his secular state dreams. The Muslim populace now had dreams of their own for this state, for this state to be an Islamic one.

Partition was rough. Unlike what became India, Pakistan had no institutional infrastructure and “virtually no industry.” Pakistan received 30% of British India’s army, 40% of its navy, and 20% of its air force. Borders were not drawn in a way that Pakistan found fair. This led to war and conflict; conflict that – to this day – has been basically permanent. This also led to the orientation of the military as the dominant political player in Pakistan. A superpower ally was needed. Who would come to the rescue? Jinnah believed it would be England but he also had admiration for the United States.

Two Remain
Post-WWII saw two super powers emerge: the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Washington did not want to alienate India and they also were occupied with reconstruction and containing Soviet expansion. Jinnah made statements that made it clear he preferred U.S. aid and allyship; he had unkind words for communism and went on a charm offensive, sending envoys to the U.S. Pakistan sought a $2 billion loan for refugee help; the U.S. ended only providing 0.5% percent of that. Moreover, Pakistan also had a huge list of military needs. President Harry Truman was not taking the bait and an informal arms embargo, to both India and Pakistan, was enacted.

Internal Divide
Liberals in Pakistan wanted to shrink the military and hoped for industrial and technical help from Eastern Europe; leftists in Pakistan were skeptical of relying too much on the U.S. as it could “lead to ‘economic subjugation’ and ‘political tutelage to America’.” Government elites in Pakistan petitioned America for help in every imaginable way. There was even a campaign of fear, in a sense, designed to push Washington in the Pakistani direction. Therefore, U.S. diplomats were eager to listen. Fears of anti-Americanism due to its perceived support of Israel and of a “single remark in a news report” interpreted as American misunderstanding of what Pakistan was trying to create has precipitated “many US clarifications, explanations, and apologies,” that are continuing to this day. America early on was worried about increased fanaticism following the death of the founder. Succinctly put by Haqqni: “Pakistani public opinion was being shaped against the United States long before US foreign policy provided Pakistanis a reason for anti-Americanism.” The US felt, and it seemed to be true, more or less, that Pakistani elites leaned toward “the West” while leftists and populist movements “still considered western nations imperialistic.”

Quid pro Quo
Pakistan insisted to the Americans that they would seek the help of the Russians. One problem: the Soviet Union wasn’t all that interested. However, eventually through an Iranian mediator, Pakistan and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations. The US was also playing with different decks of cards. Publically, US officials made it clear that Pakistan was important. Simultaneously, a State Department memo to the White House argued that, perhaps, the most valuable asset of Pakistan is one of a parking lot for US aircraft. The memo warned to keep this on the down low “since it negates our oft-expressed interest in helping the region for economic reasons.” Remember: this was the beginnings of the Cold War where any- and everything goes.

New Delhi and Karachi met – a year apart – for meetings with US leaders. Pakistani media painted Liaquat’s, who would be the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, visit in nationalistic ways; Liaquat was there for business and fighting for arms, for ex., to bolster Pakistani integrity and security. The media painted him as an emerging nationalistic hero. Locals didn’t know that Liaquat drinked liked Westernerss – drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam. I learened from reading this excellent book that Liaquat promised to have no military at all if they could rely on American protection. This is huge. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was not about to make that promise. The Korean War was beginning and Pakistan promised support if, again, America would make a “unlimited” promise to them. America could not do this and insisted that they didn’t need Pakistani help. Besides, the U.S. argued, Pakistan should help under the responsibility of the UN Charter anyways. In the end, the U.S. did have the upper hand here and was not going to alienate India or Afghanistan. The Truman Adiminstration said that Washington was not “pro-Indian, pro-Israel nor anti-Muslim.” This is realpolitik, folks.

In the end of this beginning era of geopolitics that we now understand as the Cold War, the US State Department was finding India difficult to work with. Moreover, in 1951 Liaquat was assassinated by a local who found him un-Islamic. Liaquat was seen as the successor of Jinnah. Now: the future of Pakistan was in the air; with no charismatic leader emerging, things were about to get even messier.

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This was a review/summary of the beginnings of the historic creation of Pakistan and the partition of the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent parts of Magnificent Delusions. The years discussed were 1947-1951. Part 2 is now published. *If you see any mistakes, typos, plagiarism, etc., let me know. I’m writing this simply for self-understanding.*

on the First Republican Primary Debate of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

I watched the Fox News-hosted first Republican primary debate of the 2016 season and it was….alright. It was about what I expected only the candidates dialed down the crazy; at least rhetorically that is. And remember this is relative to past Republican primaries. Before I give my complete rundown, I’m gonna go over what some prominent thinkers and publications had to say, too.

The senior editor of the New Republic Jeet Heer tweeted: 

Heer also thought that the big losers were Bush and Walker. The editors of The Atlantic wrote that Rubio “gave one of the best performances of the night,” but they also thought that Jeb Bush made a strong impression. I have to agree with Chris Hayes, however, who tweeted: 

The impression I got from Bush was that of a stiff who literally was terrified of saying the wrong thing. He looked nervous and does not do well in the spotlight.

D.D. Guttenplan, for The Nation, opined that “…unless Trump self-destructs, the rich seam of anger opened by his campaign might well bring him back here next year as the GOP nominee. Because on the basis of their performance tonight no one on that stage is capable of stopping him.”

Chris Cillizza, on his “The Fix” column on The Washington Post online, trumpeted Marco Rubio and Donald Trump as the winners. His losers? Rand Paul and Scott Walker. The takeaway from his piece is that he never mentioned the words ‘Jeb’ or ‘Bush’. This brings me to my thoughts regarding last nights first Republican primary debate.

Winners

Donald Trump. The id and the base of the GOP loves him because he sounds just like them. Simply put, this is why I think he won because his xenophobic, misogynistic and hateful remarks are appealing to Republican primary voters. Moreover, he has to be a winner because many questions were based on responding to remarks that Trump made earlier. When your name is mentioned in as many questions as the Democratic frontrunner, you are doing well.

Chris Christie. He throws out numbers that are ostensibly true and he is viewed as a straight-shooter who at least has plans, policies, and is not afraid to get dirty. Looks like he is going for the 9/11 vote constituency which I didn’t realize was a thing anymore. I could have just wrote: see Trump above. I think this guy is one to worry about.

Marco Rubio. He scares me. I don’t wanna overstate this because it looks like people are but this guy can talk. Rubio is quick on his feet; he gives details; and he comes across as serious. He is probably one gaffe away from all of this following down but as of right now, he definitely comes across as someone who knows what’s going on. This is a true plus.

Losers

Jeb Bush. I think Jeb Bush lost because, in my opinion, any debate where he doesn’t steal the show and really reflect a serious candidate who can lead the country, is a loss for Bush. Bush said that we could grow our economy by “lift[ing] our spirits and hav[ing] high, lofty expectations for this great country of ours.” You think this type of performance against Hillary Clinton will amount to a win? Not a chance. Bush also comes across as one tough question away from basically throwing up his hands and saying: well, that’s all I got, folks. Take it or leave it. On a serious note: Bush proudly claiming that he defunded Planned Parenthood while Governor of Florida is going to seriously hurt him in the general election. Hillary will not let this slip. Also, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Florida ranks among the very bottom of all 50 states regarding women’s health.

Ben Carson. Carson knows his audience and he literally seemed like he memorized cultural warrior and right wing talking points and relied on the fact that this would be enough. Again, it might be what his audience wants to here (a co-worker FBed that she was voting for that guy and that she didn’t care what anyone thought) but he came across to the rest of us as someone stuck in a weird delusional twilight zone. Speaking of delusional:

Rand Paul. I don’t take most of these candidates seriously; I think they have no chance of winning a national election. Paul who, while still in those aforementioned camps, is someone who palpably makes my blood boil. He is dumb; proud of it; and is everyone’s libertarian uncle while simultaneously wanting to be the cool kid at the table so badly. He’s a charlatan and I’m glad that he did so poorly.

The United States of America. Need I say more? OK, I will. All of these candidates except for a few exceptions sound. the. exact. same. and. what. they. are. saying. is. horrifying.

Better luck next time

Mike Huckabee (who delivered the most gross line of the night: “The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.”).
John Kasich.
Scott Walker.
Ted Cruz (I think Cruz might be a sociopath.).

What to Read on Greece: A Primer; update: From “No” to “Oh” to “WTF?”.

Here is a list of quality books, articles, essays, etc. regarding Greece, the debt referendum, and the future of the European Union. *updated Aug. 9, 2015*
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1. Greece: What is to Be Done? (2013) by Karl Heinz Roth, published be Zero Books.

2. “Greece Referendum,” by Timothy B. Lee, Vox.com

3. “What Comes After Oxi?,” by Nantina Vgontzas, Jacobinmag.com.

4. “End Greece’s Bleeding,” by Paul Krugman, The New York Times.

5. “What Would Happen to Greece If it Leaves the Euro?,” by Jordan Weissman, Slate.com

6. “Greece,” by Steve Randy Waldman, on the blog interfluidity.

The following were written after Greece accepted bailout terms that double down on austerity.

7. “From the Absurd to the Tragic,” by Stathis Kouvelakis, Jacobin.com, July 10, 2015.

8. ” ‘Tsipras Has Just Destroyed Greece,'” by Yves Smith, nakedcapitalism.com, July 10, 2015

Things are not looking good for democracy and the EU:

9. “Killing the European Project,” by Paul Krugman, The New York Times, July 13, 2015

10. “The EU’s Democracy Problem,” by Joshua Keating, Slate.com, July 13, 2015

11. “Greece: The Struggle Continues,” an interview between Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of Syriza, and an editor from Verso books, July 14, 2015. This is substantive, learned, and deeply informative.

People often blame the government; it’s – as always – not that simple:

12. “The Myth of the Bloated Greek State,” by Deborah Boucoyannis, Foreign Affairs, Aug 6, 2015