The Last King of the Iron Curtain

Socialism was supposed to create a new socialist man—a fellow or gal whose labor was unalienated, who was freed from want, who had time off to read, to fish, to play, to parent. He would be healthier, longer-lived, better educated and wiser than his counterpart under capitalism. To a considerable degree, social democracy (or even its attenuated American cousin, New Deal liberalism) has accomplished some of those goals (higher pay, more time off, widespread education) if not all of them (unalienated labor, widespread wisdom). But what the comrades used to call “true socialism”—that is, communism—not so much. And most certainly, not the creation of a new socialist man. If it had, thousands or millions of citizens in communist countries could be entrusted with the reins of government. Instead, leadership in the few remaining communist countries looks increasingly dynastic. In North Korea, Kim Jong Il has been succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un, even as Kim Jong Il succeeded his father,...

Language in Exile

As long as we are speaking of cultures that have simmered in exile, let's turn to Tibetans, whose leaders have consulted with Jewish and Israeli leaders about what it takes to keep a diaspora culture alive. One of the answers: keep alive the language. Hebrew was essentially a language on ice, used primarily in religious services but not to communicate, rich with symbolism but lacking words for anything related to post-exile life—until early Zionists performed CPR and turned it into a living vehicle, actually spoken daily (usually very, very quickly and disputatiously) (#joking). Whatever you think about Israel, reviving Hebrew was a remarkable and nation-making feat. It bound a shattered and dispersed set of people back together in linguistic rhythms that were simultaneously foreign and familiar, in distinctive alef-bet characters that were indisputably their own. The political Tibetan community in exile has taken this lesson deeply to heart. Do read this report on a recent conference...

There Goes the Last War Justification

AP Photo/Hadi Mizban
Well, that didn’t take long. One day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, the nation appears on the brink of reverting to sectarian conflict. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the arrest of Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi for allegedly ordering and funding the assassinations of Shiite officials, and asked the parliament to pass a no-confidence vote that would enable him to dismiss Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak. Both Hashemi and Mutlak are Sunni politicians aligned with the Iraquiya coalition, which is largely made of Sunnis and such secular Shiites as the coalition’s leader, Ayad Allawi. Maliki’s Dawa Party and its allies (including the backers of Moktada al-Sadr) consist largely of more religious Shiites. Maliki has also deployed tanks outside the Green Zone homes of Hashemi and Mutlak. Like a jack-in-the-box, Iraqi’s sectarian divisions popped up the moment American forces took their leave. The sheer speed with which Iraq reverted to its house-divided status makes...

Vaclav Havel on Kim Jong-Il

Via @beingbrina, here is the Velvet Revolutionary's comment on Dear Leader, in the Globe and Mail, 2004.

Good vs. Evil

Former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, died Sunday at 75 years of age. AP Photo/Peter David Josek
Vaclav Havel helped to bring down a totalitarian regime; Kim Jong-Il ran one. One was imprisoned repeatedly for refusing to conform to even the smallest of the lies foisted upon him by communism—and in doing so, inspired his fellow citizens to join him in throwing it off. The other, delusional, starved his citizens of food and reality, and leaves them weaker, more desolate, and more in danger than when he found them. One, armed with only his sentences and his moral compass, was drafted to preside over the transition to democracy, an acting job that did not naturally suit the artist in him; despite that ill fit, he helped restore a small, literate, and highly educated country in the heart of Europe, a country that had been successively crushed by two of the 20 th century’s most evil figures, Hitler and Stalin. The other was born into his destructive power and used it to expand the pantheon of smaller evil figures, joining such luminaries of darkness as Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Muammar...

The Monster Rebels against Its Master

The Israeli government is fine with "breaking the rule of law"—as long as it's state-sanctioned.

The mob numbered about 200 young and angry people. Some had covered their faces. They gathered on a West Bank road near midnight and hurled stones at passing cars. Israeli troops, including the commander of the division in charge of the area and his deputy, rushed to the spot. One of the rioters opened the commander's jeep door and hurled a brick at him. Another shouted, "Nazi" at the deputy commander and hit him with a rock. The rioters finally left. A few minutes later, several dozen of them—mostly teenagers—forced open the gate of a nearby Israeli army base. The sentries failed to stop them. At the parking lot outside the headquarters, they broke car windows and slashed tires. When a squad of soldiers chased them from the base, they blocked the road leading to it. Clashes between the Israeli army and locals in the West Bank aren't a new story. The apparent twist in these incidents, which took place on the night between this Monday and Tuesday, is that the rioters were Israelis—...

Legislative Legerdemain

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
So you think congressional Republicans are the only right-wingers who like to append their pet (and sometimes, wedge) issues—like the Keystone pipeline—to must-pass legislation like the payroll tax-cut extension? Guess again—it looks to be a trans-Atlantic syndrome. Turns out that David Cameron, Britain’s Tory prime minister, went to Brussels for the EU summit last week with exactly the same strategy. As the heads of government of the other 26 member states debated German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposal to regulate national budgets more tightly (itself a wildly irrelevant idea to the crisis of Greek, Italian and Spanish solvency, but that’s another story, which I wrote about in today’s Post ), Cameron cleared his throat and proposed a series of measures designed to protect the City—the London-based banks that dominate the British economy and helped bring about the crash of 2008. Cameron was operating under the theory that the Germans and the French so desperately needed unanimous...

Conflict's Resolution

The end of the Iraq War marks a victory for progressives, but tough work lies ahead.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama stood with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the South Court Auditorium of the White House to announce that “ a war is ending .” Two days later, the president visited Fort Bragg to offer an encomium to post-9/11 veterans. “Your service belongs to the ages,” he told the assembled troops. By the end of the year, all U.S. combat troops in Iraq will have slipped across the border into Kuwait, and America’s war in Iraq will be over. The president’s political staff carefully crafted the public-relations campaign around the war’s end. The issue, after all, is a political IED. Obama had to take credit for keeping a campaign promise while avoiding the appearance of enjoying a political victory lap among the ashes of a war that cost 4,483 American lives. The president also had to avoid portraying the end of the war in any way that conjures memories of George W. Bush’s fatefully premature victory ceremony in 2003—the now-infamous display of hubris...

My "Friend" Is Travelling with Me

Following up on Hillary Clinton's announcement last week that foreign aid would be tied in part to nations' LGBT rights records, the Christian Science Monitor took a look at the state of those rights across Africa, reporting that almost all 54 countries criminalize homosexuality. (Notable holdouts are South Africa and Rwanda, which have had their own brushes with legal hatred, even if they're not necessarily welcoming on the ground.) Homos, check out the map before you travel— "or should I say, before you ask for just one double bed for you and your "friend."

Fearless in Uganda

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be hunted and hated for your sexuality? Read Mac McClelland's indispensable report in Mother Jones on being out and gay in Uganda. It's a brilliant portrait, simultaneously intimate, terrifying, and inspirational. Mac makes it impossible to see these men and women as foreign "others" facing the unimaginable; she makes it easy, rather, to relate to each one. For instance, reading this made me feel like I'd hung out with these women or their American incarnations: She wants me to hide her identity, not because she's afraid of arrest or vigilantism but because we spend much of our time talking about how she has two girlfriends and one of them doesn't know that. We retire to the little cement patio in the back while, inside, a meeting commences among a pack of lesbians who look about as much like a pack of lesbians as a pack of lesbians can, polo shirts and baseball caps and shoulders squared. In fact, I think I've dated one of these gals. Even...

Britain Hesitates

David Cameron's veto of an EU integration plan reveals England's deep skepticism about the union.

AP Photo/Yves Logghe
European leaders went one better this time. Not content with failing to resolve the debt crisis tearing through the eurozone and threatening a global recession, they have now managed to create a new source of instability: the rift between Britain and the rest of the European Union, whose consequences may prove to be momentous indeed. It was a long time coming. The tension between the eurozone “ins” and the ten non-Eurozone “outs” has been building throughout the debt crisis, which has forced the states belonging to the common currency to take extraordinary—and yet woefully insufficient—measures to keep the euro from spectacularly collapsing. In the Brussels summit that ended yesterday, France and Germany, drivers of the push toward an ever closer union, were unable to persuade British Prime Minister David Cameron to back their plan for greater fiscal integration. The deal-breaker was a demand by Cameron for special treatment for Britain’s lucrative financial-services industry. Though...

From London, With Angst

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy chronicles the last days of Britain as a superpower.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Spying is popularly conceived of as a glamorous line of work. The James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission Impossible films are all cocktails, trysts, gunplay in the tropical sun, and evil brought to heel. The audience gleefully absorbs the antics of the hero-spy, a romantic figure who easily escapes the institutional harnesses of his superiors. Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy takes place in a different world. There is no super spy here, just a vision of the claustrophobic, embittered world of the intelligence community and its human cost. Based on the novel by John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor is concerned with the hunt for a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the highest levels of the British intelligence establishment, an agency known at “The Circus”. (Le Carré’s work popularized “mole” as a term for a double agent.) Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, Tinker Tailor ’s rumpled, aging hero. Smiley, enmeshed in a corrupt institution, represents an elite obsessed with perceived...

All in the Family: Teens, Sex, & Politics

Yesterday's Plan B shocker, in which the Obama administration sold out women's health for what appear to be clearly political reasons, has jaws dropping all over the country. James Fallows wrote that now it's the administration's turn to be anti-science by overruling a mass of testimony that allowing Plan B to be sold over the counter wouldn't harm teen health and would help improve women's lives in general. Michelle Goldberg explains the science and writes that the decision was "nakedly political." Linda Hirshman compared the putatively progressive call to link foreign aid to a country's efforts on LGBT rights, on one day, with the decision to overrule "the unanimous recommendation of the experts at the Food and Drug Administration to let young teenage girls buy the morning-after pill Plan B, like the condoms boys use, directly off drugstore and supermarket shelves without a prescription": "It is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they...

The Wrong Fix

AP Photo/Bernd Kammerer
Yesterday, both Bob Kuttner, here in the Prospect , and I , in my Washington Post column , noted that the deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy struck to save the Eurozone will inflict years of austerity on European nations that are already mired in depression. Spain, for instance, has an unemployment rate of about 20 percent and a youth unemployment rate that is approaching a mind-boggling 50 percent. It needs a massive Keynesian jolt to its economy, not budgetary constraints that will condemn it to a decade or quarter-century of penury. Both Bob and I also noted that the Merkel-Sarokzy solution was based on a misdiagnosis of Europe’s woes. Some of Europe’s current basket cases were actually running budget surpluses in the years before the Lehman meltdown. Ireland and Spain weren’t overspending at all—but the banks and investors speculating on their housing markets most certainly were. When their banks went under, their economies collapsed,...

Starving Homophobia

Is it right to deny foreign aid to countries that discriminate against gays and lesbians?

AP Photo
Yesterday the Obama administration brought LGBT rights to the top of its foreign-policy agenda, announcing it would tie the receipt of foreign aid to a country’s treatment of gay and lesbian citizens. “Gay rights are human rights,” Hillary Clinton said in a rousing speech to the United Nations in Geneva. “It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.” As one would expect, the GOP quickly jumped on the opportunity. Rick Santorum assailed the president for "promoting gay lifestyles" around the globe, and Rick Perry quickly followed with a statement denouncing the administration's "war on traditional American values." By now the right’s sky-is-falling alarmism on gay issues has come to seem quaint. The new policy puts some bite behind the administration's effort to promote LGBT rights worldwide. While it may not cause an immediate about-...