Farewell, the American Century

In a recent column, the Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen wrote, “What Henry Luce called ‘the American Century’ is over.” Cohen is right. All that remains is to drive a stake through the heart of Luce’s pernicious creation, lest it come back to life. This promises to take some doing.

When the Time-Life publisher coined his famous phrase, his intent was to prod his fellow citizens into action. Appearing in the February 7, 1941 issue of Life, his essay, “The American Century,” hit the newsstands at a moment when the world was in the throes of a vast crisis. A war in Europe had gone disastrously awry. A second almost equally dangerous conflict was unfolding in the Far East. Aggressors were on the march.

With the fate of democracy hanging in the balance, Americans diddled. Luce urged them to get off the dime. More than that, he summoned them to “accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world… to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.” [continued…]

Truth commission to proceed despite Obama’s wishes

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans to proceed with a special commission to investigate alleged Bush administration abuses of power, despite lacking President Barack Obama’s support, according to a report Tuesday.

Sen. Leahy called for a “Truth Commission” in February to probe Bush administration policies on torture, interrogation and surveillance and to — as he puts it — “get to the bottom of what went wrong.” Such an idea would be modeled around truth commissions established in South Africa and Chile, which offered immunity to officials who committed abuses in exchange for the truth. [continued…]

Conyers, Nadler request special prosecutor on torture

Congressmen John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler have written a letter to the Attorney General requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor on torture.

“While I applaud the Obama administration for releasing these torture memos in the spirit of openness and transparency, the memos’ alarming content requires further action,” opined Nadler, who chairs the House Judiceary Committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “These memos, without a shadow of a doubt, authorized torture and gave explicit instruction on how to carry it out, all the while carefully attempting to maintain a legal fig leaf. [continued…]

Official defends signing interrogation memos

Judge Jay S. Bybee broke his silence on Tuesday and defended the conclusions of legal memorandums he had signed as a Bush administration lawyer that allowed use of several coercive interrogation practices on suspected terrorists.

Judge Bybee, who issued the memorandums as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel and was later nominated to the federal appeals court by President George W. Bush, said in a statement in response to questions from The New York Times that he continued to believe that the memorandums represented “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the thin line between harsh treatment and torture.

As the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, Mr. Bybee signed two memorandums in August 2002 that discussed the legal limits on American interrogators seeking to apply pressure on captured operatives of Al Qaeda. [continued…]

Hannity waterboard offer: Olbermann increases the pressure

The debate over torture is getting personal for two of cable TV’s prime-time hosts. After Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity made a seemingly impromptu offer last week to undergo waterboarding as a benefit for charity, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann leapt at it. He offered $1,000 to the families of U.S. troops for every second Hannity withstood the technique.

Olbermann repeated the offer on Monday’s show and said in an interview Tuesday that he’s heard no response. He said he’ll continue to pursue it.

“I don’t think he has the courage to even respond to this _ let alone do it,” Olbermann said. [continued…]

The bourgeois revolution

For years, political theorists have argued that developing a healthy middle class is the key to any country’s democratization. To paraphrase the late political scientist Samuel Huntington: Economic growth and industrialization usually lead to the creation of a middle class. As its members become wealthier and more educated, the middle class turns increasingly vocal, demanding more rights to protect its economic gains.

But over the past decade, the antidemocratic behavior of the middle class in many countries has threatened to undermine this conventional wisdom. Although many developing countries have created trappings of democracy, such as regular elections, they often failed to build strong institutions, including independent courts, impartial election monitoring, and a truly free press and civil society.

The middle class’s newfound disdain for democracy is counterintuitive. After all, as political and economic freedoms increase, its members often prosper because they are allowed more freedom to do business. But, paradoxically, as democracy gets stronger and the middle class grows richer, it can realize it has more to lose than gain from a real enfranchisement of society. [continued…]

Palestinian rivals to try once more for an accord

The rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas ended a fourth round of reconciliation talks here on Tuesday without success, but agreed to convene one more time to try to reach an accord.

Egypt, which has been mediating the talks, set May 15 as the new deadline for reaching an agreement, according to Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas leader based in Damascus who participated in the meetings.

“We cannot just talk for the sake of talking,” said Mr. Abu Marzouk, the deputy political chief of Hamas, in an interview here. “To continue without results is a disaster on the national level.” [continued…]

Israel-Palestine is already a de facto single state

Critics of the one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict see it, at best, as utopian and unachievable, and at worst, as the dismantling of Israel, the denial of the right of Jewish self-determination and the ultimate expression of the new antisemitism.

The idea certainly doesn’t find favour among the Palestinian and Israeli populations, as the One Voice survey results showed. The two-state solution, despite the failure of years of peace negotiations to bring it about, still seems to be the preferred option of significant majorities on both sides.

Nevertheless, there are increasing doubts that it will ever come about, even though it is the choice of the international community, and more voices are now calling for a “one-state” solution as the only way of protecting the human rights of the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank. And as such voices are heard more often, so too are the critics’ predictions that it would spell national suicide were the single state to be adopted. [continued…]

Hezbollah looks for election win that could shake up Lebanon

With quiet campaigning and moderate talk, Hezbollah is building its strength for Lebanon’s June 7 parliament elections — and the militant Shiite Muslim group and its allies stand a good chance of winning.

That could mean a stunning shake-up for one of the Middle East’s most volatile countries, replacing a pro-U.S. government with a coalition dominated from behind the scenes by Hezbollah, the political movement and guerrilla group widely seen as the proxy of Iran and Syria in Lebanon. [continued…]

Iraqi premier says leader in insurgency is in custody

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said Tuesday that Iraqi forces had recently arrested a leader of the Sunni insurgency who had been in league with members of Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath Party.

Iraqi officials say the insurgent, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown group that American intelligence officials say is led by foreigners.

The government has not provided proof of his capture since announcing the arrest on Thursday, beyond showing a photograph of a man with a trimmed beard wearing a black T-shirt. In 2007, Iraqi officials announced twice that Mr. Baghdadi had been captured and killed. A spokesman for the United States military, which has suggested that he might not exist, said Tuesday that the military could still not confirm his arrest. [continued…]

Living with the Taliban

At my daughter’s annual school parents’ day in Lahore, the tension was palpable. An innocuous annual event had transformed into a maximum security operation. Parents filed in their hundreds past security guards, metal detectors and bag searches to see their children perform songs. One more year like the last one and next year there will be no parents’ day. Another month or two like the previous ones and there might be no school left open. Pakistanis may be scared of a future comprising daily doses of floggings, beheadings, daisy-cutters and drones; but if your children cannot go to school, the future has ceased to be.

Pakistan is facing an existential crisis at multiple levels. The Taliban have already taken over large parts of the North-West Frontier province (NWFP). They have imposed their authority in Swat and adjoining areas through summary executions – including beheadings – of state officials and political opponents, and intimidation of the population. Girls’ schools have been shut down, women are not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by male family members, polio immunisation programmes have been halted, and nongovernmental organisations have been expelled. Music and film have been banned, and stores trading in them have been destroyed. All men have been required to grow beards. Bombs go off all over the country. [continued…]

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