Thursday, December 21, 2006

The DeFacto Closing Of The Flagships And Possible Replacements For Them.

December 21, 2006

Re: The DeFacto Closing Of The Flagships And
Possible Replacements For Them.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

For reasons relating to the closure of our law school’s office over the holidays, as explained in yesterday’s post (Wednesday, December 20th), I am writing this blog despite not having all the information one would like. The fundamental impetus for the post is a recent article about flagship state universities.

Desiring to join the supposedly “elite,” which only a few state schools have managed to do, it seems that state flagships are raising tuition and lessening the amount of aid available to those who can’t afford them (while giving more aid to the well-off). Those who can’t afford them include minorities and the poor of course, but today include lots of others besides, such as the lower middle class and, quite often, the middle class.

This strikes me as forsaking the very purpose for which state universities were founded -- a purpose vitally served when it became possible for Congress to pass the Morrill Act, which provided for the land grant state schools. Passage became possible in the early 1860s because southerners, who had precious little public education at any level in their own mostly ignorant states and opposed federal assistance to higher education, had walked out of Congress and gone South (where they should have but unfortunately did not stay, if you take my meaning). The state schools were to aid the people of their respective states by providing them with the education they needed in order to advance. In this they succeeded greatly. In one case, indeed, the so-called Wisconsin idea became nationally and maybe even world famous; it referred not just to the education provided, but also to the service provided a state’s citizens by the university.

Now, because academics are almost always in thrall to the siren song of elitism -- particularly because riches are not a possibility for most of them -- the governing idea has changed. Now it is to become “elite”: to have students with the highest possible SAT scores, to have professors who do the maximum possible research and gain national reputations from it, to get as much grant money as possible (so that everyone can pretend to be MIT, I suppose). As well, university presidents are to make a million dollars or more, or at least $750,000, or, at minimum, a paltry six hundred thousand or so: these figures are what your school pays if it is elite, after all. All this is pretended to be in service to the people of a state. But lost in it is the concept of good teaching for students of a state so that they may learn effectively, or even any teaching for state students who don’t “qualify” to be “elite.”

The failure to teach students who do not “qualify” as “elite,” and the effect it will have on the existence of two Americas, are profound things. This country has had relative social peace most of the time because it seemed, even to the poor and laboring classes, that there was hope for advancement. Much of the time, I would say most of the time, they were fooling themselves, but, fooling themselves or not, this is what was widely thought -- especially before it usually became vital in the last half of the 20th Century to get a college degree in order to advance. (As late as 1940, over half the country did not have even a high school degree.) But now we are where we are; even a college degree is an assurance of little; and lack of a college education is widely thought to usually condemn one to the ranks of the poor.

Moreover, although 70 percent or some other large percent of our colleges are defacto open admission schools, where one got a degree can be, and often is, as important as the fact that you did get one. In these circumstances, the defacto closing of the flagship state schools to the poor and minorities does not bode well for social peace. Nor should it. But academics are what they are, so, unless legislatures step in to put a stop to it, the defacto closing in order to become ever more “elite” is likely to continue.

What, then, can be done, if anything? There seem to me two possibilities: One is a vast improvement in academic standards and rigor at the nonflagship state schools, the usually open admission schools, that do educate minorities and the poor. The point would be to make those schools of such rigor and quality that a degree from them would come to be seen as a mark of accomplishment equal to the mark given (often falsely) by a flagship degree. But given the ideas prevailing today in academia, given the focus on pleasing the “customer” and getting his money, this alternative does not seem promising to me. It may even be other worldly.

A different alternative is one being attempted by our school. Having over eighteen years experience at providing rigorous legal education at low cost to people from the working class and minorities, we have asked the authorities of Massachusetts for permission to open an undergraduate program, specializing in history, that will replicate the rigor of the law school and, by means of using the same administrative and pedagogical techniques as the law school itself, will be low cost -- only $6,000 per year, which is peanuts in the world of academe today. An undergraduate degree from this school will be a mark of diligence and excellence. Other small groups of dedicated people could do what we are doing, whether they specialize in history, literature, psychology or any other field (so long as it is not one that requires huge expenditures for complex equipment and laboratories, but rather is a “book based” field (with “books,” these days, being comprised partly of works available on the internet). My frank guess is that, because of the professional conservatism of most academics, the possibility of small groups of people starting small, rigorous, inexpensive colleges to give fine education to people excluded from the flagships (and, of course, from the Ivies and Little Ivies as well) is a better and more likely alternative than the possibility of change in the open admission schools.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

1898 Redux

December 20, 2006

Re: 1898 Redux.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

This post is being written on Wednesday, December 20th. It will be typed today and will be posted today or tomorrow. For three reasons, it is being written though information on the subject it covers is less complete than one would like. One of the reasons is that our law school will be closed from December 23rd to January 1st. So there will be nobody to type and post the blog during that time. I myself, as often mentioned, do not type and can barely turn on a computer (which is an improvement over the recent situation of not even being able to turn one on), so I am dependent on MSL’s office staff for all this. Another reason is I have been reading again -- this time in a biography of William Jennings Bryan -- about the dispute over American imperialism that began with the Spanish American War. It was then that America made the decision for imperialism that it still follows and that has become so disastrous and in need of change today. Lastly, and most crucially, we are on the verge of another expansion of our imperialistic actions, sponsored by the White House and the wacked out John McCain, a man who is not necessarily what he pretends to be.

We have been hearing recently about a projected (McCainian) expansion of the number of troops in Iraq. It is as if November 7th never occurred. We have likewise been hearing about a possible expansion of the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, the better to fight terrorism all over the world in the future. But what is at stake, one thinks, is not really “merely” an expansion of the number of troops in Iraq and/or the size of our ground combat arms. These expansions, rather, and especially the one regarding the size of the Army and Marine Corps, constitute an unconsidered decision to continue along the imperialistic trail we have been on since 1898. For unless we intend to intervene all over the world, why do we need a bigger army and more marines? Shall we contemplate invading Iran, Syria, North Korea, countries in Africa or the Middle East where there is terrorism, civil war and genocide, Venezuela, and wherever? Unless we wish to contemplate such things, there is no need for a bigger army.

Two points from history are relevant here. One is that during, after and because of the Spanish American War, many leading citizens began to warn us of the kind of people we would become if we went down the imperialist road. These leaders included Bryan, Carl Schurz, Mark Twain, Grover Cleveland, Charles Francis Adams, William James, Benjamin Harrison and others. We went down the imperialist road and we became the kind of people these opponents said we would become. We are militarized, uncaring of life elsewhere, bigoted against opponents, always looking for a fight while pretending to peace, and persuaded that we have the greater word of God. Conditioned to think war is the answer, we accordingly inflate small threats into supposedly gigantic ones justifying significant wars-- as if terrorism, which has existed since at least the 1800s, is a threat the size of WWII or the size of Stalin’s challenge afterwards. As a people we listen to the siren song of geopolitical numbskulls like Bush, Cheney, Johnson and their ilk, until, as it did to the Japanese and the Germans, stupidity overtakes us in the form of disaster. Another way to say the same thing might be to say that we follow the militarized lead of politicians who are tools of wealthy corporations that make gigantic sums from war and that contribute mightily to there being two Americas economically.

The philosophy we have followed for 100 years and more is, in reality, the one at stake now. If we unconsideringly do what numbskulls like Bush and McCain want us to do, we implicitly may once again, as around 1900, set the course for a century, set a course that most probably will end in our semi-destruction or a partial dictatorship. Such has been the end, after all, of most empires. Only Britain seems to have avoided such an end, albeit only by giving up empire - - and, indeed, it would not have survived Hitler but for the United States.

If this country is to be reasonably safe, we need to give up this crap about marching in anywhere and everywhere and having armed forces big enough to do it. We are going to have to concede that most of the time the solutions, if any, will be better reached by peaceful means, as painful as the incompetence and delay of the politicians and so-called diplomatists truly are. We are going to have to give up imperialism and militarism in favor of diplomacy abroad and improving our own nation in all the ways it desperately needs improvement at home.

As said here recently, there are countries in whose defense we should join. We are tied to them by long time considerations of values, economics, morals and interest. We have mutual defense treaties with some of them and maybe should have such treaties with others. They are -- not surprisingly in view of their many similarities with us -- generally capable of themselves handling most, though not all, threats they could face. But agreeing that we should, if necessary, join in the defense of Britain, France, Israel, Japan, etc. is far different from standing as the imperialist knight errant ready to rush to the rescue of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Indonesia or a host of other third world nations.

It was said of Truman that he made a mistake, and invited attack by North Korea, when he in effect said there was a line that we would defend and excluded South Korea. Maybe. Maybe not. In any event, our choice is between drawing a line on the one hand and being ready to militarily rush anywhere and everywhere on the other. This, when considered, is not really a difficult choice to anyone who thinkingly wishes America well. The problem with the wackos like Bush and McCain is that they do not thinkingly wish America well. And Bush, particularly, does not want the rest of us to think either. Would you want us to think if you spoke to God and made decisions in your gut? Considerations of long term strategic goals have no places in the mindset of such a character nor of those who follow his lead. Their view is only of immediate tactics, and their view of tactics is driven by militarism.

There is a second point from history that is relevant to all this. It comes from Lincoln. He once said, roughly, that if all the armies of Europe were to land on our shores led by Napoleon, they could never water their horses in the Ohio unless we destroyed ourselves. That is pertinent today. There is no terrorist group or groups and no nation or nations that can overcome us if we do not destroy ourselves by endless adventuring around the globe sponsored by Bush and his successors. If we engage in those adventures our people will be ever more split. As with Viet Nam there will ultimately be marches in the street, bombings of buildings and maybe more and worse as people who do not belong to the small Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith class get ever more fed up with sending their kids to war or going to war themselves. (By the way, as we saw in Viet Nam, the insane Rangelian idea of a draft promotes rather than prevents a Johnsonian, Nixonian, Bushian ability to make war whenever and wherever, because a bigger army is available upon Executive order, is available at the stroke of a pen.) There is nothing like war to cause a nation to split apart, ultimately violently, which was a road we partially traveled during Viet Nam and down which other countries, including republics and democracies, have traveled in the past. Whether we are going to travel such a road is very possibly at stake right now, as the Congress begins, in 2007, to determine whether to go along with Bush and McCain and ignore November 7th. One fears the truth is that even a Democratic Congress lacks the courage to say “Stop. No more money for war in Iraq except to defend troops while they immediately withdraw. And as for you, Bush, impeachment is the order of the day.”

As it turns out, it was roughly about the time of the Spanish American War that we began the huge decline in voting that led to today’s failure of roughly half or more of our citizens to vote in presidential elections. The corrupt politics of the Gilded Age had much to do with leading to this. People realized that they could do little to improve the situation by voting. And so, one might say, paraphrasing Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, imperialism came. And stayed. We face a similar problem today, when we start with an already low percentage of voters in the population. The pols and the big money boys want to reverse November 7th by executive fiat. If they succeed, what will be the point of voting in the future? All that can stop them now are the Democrats. Are the Democrats up to it? We shall see. One fears they are not unless there is a two to five million man and woman protest march on Washington. Maybe people who believe in peace better start planning that march.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

Friday, December 15, 2006

Comment on column on GWB's mental state

From: Sherwood Ross
Sent: Tuesday, December 12, 2006 10:45 PM
Subject: Response to your column on GWB's mental state

December 12, 2006

Dear Dean Velvel, pardon the long-winded comment inspired by your column. -- Sherwood

Your column questioning the sanity of George Bush is appropriate. Too often, those who support dictators do not recognize the man they admire is mentally unbalanced. Americans in the 1930s would listen to radio news excerpts of Hitler's rantings and think "that guy's crazy." They didn't understand Hitler's words made good sense to millions of his followers.
He was telling his public what many Germans wanted to hear: how Germany had been victimized in the peace settlement after World War I; how the German army could have gone on fighting except that it was "sold out" by the Socialists and Jews behind the lines. What Americans referred to as Hitler's "ranting," German listeners regarded as oratorical drama. Hitler's racial theories sound crazy to Americans today but Hitler was articulating what many Europeans, including large numbers of British and French, thought at the time. And what millions of Americans also believed at the time, and practiced. Anti-semitism had been virulent in Europe for centuries before Hitler. At the pulpit of a misguided minister it had but limited impact. In the damaged brain of a man who had been gassed and subjected to years of trauma in the trenches during World War One, it was a fixation that would become the "final solution." The brain-damaged politician may appear quite sane; he can be conversational and plausible in private yet fiery in public and his true believers will perceive him as dynamic. He can appear not to be too militant when campaigning for office, but once elected he will press his psychotic schemes forward. Recall that when Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 he did not immediately move to destroy Germany's Jewish population; he bided his time. Only after his dictatorial powers were consolidated, did Hitler carry out his plans to wipe out German Jewry. How was it that Americans could listen to Hitler and grasp he was a madman yet Germans could not? Is it possible that in the last two presidential elections much of the world could listen to the words of George W. Bush and recognize the man, like Hitler, was also brain-damaged (from alcohol and substance abuse), but 50-million Americans or so only heard him articulating their own views? Did Bush give any signal to the public before he was elected in 2000 that he intended to make war on Iraq? Yet some students of the president say he and his inner circle had long plotted the attack. Like Hitler, Bush did not give his plans away.

Those who believe a comparison between Hitler and George Bush is far-fetched might recall that, after six years in office, Hitler had wiped out 70,000 Poles. (He claimed in 1939 Poland attacked first, a lie; just as Bush claimed Hussein had WMD, also a lie.) It is characteristic of mentally unbalanced individuals to lie frequently and perhaps so often they can no longer tell truth from fiction. Bush has killed at least as many Iraqis as Hitler killed Poles, and perhaps as many as 600,000, depending on whose figures you accept. If Bush is not impeached and makes nuclear war against Iran, as he has threatened, the death toll during his term of office could reach millions, as the nuclear residue in the Middle East is carried by the winds around the world. Unfortunately for Americans, the president now has suffered rejection after rejection, deepening those feelings of inferiority long recognized in him by his own family, and he has become increasingly isolated. This is disturbing in a man who evinces little concern for others, as his stage appearance in New Orleans revealed. Hitler, of course, had no concern for others. He allowed teen age boys in 1945 to stand up to the Soviet tanks rolling into Berlin, just as Bush lets the bravest of American youth die every day in Iraq.

The United States of America has not been in such trouble ever before in its history because there is a mentally distressed individual in the White House possessing dictatorial powers conferred on him by Congress who has lost sight of any moral compass. Americans should recognize dictatorship does not necessarily appear in the same form in succeeding generations. Hitler went to war for "living room." A more sophisticated George W. Bush made his oil grab under the cloak of bringing "democracy" to Iraq even as he has aroused every civil liberties group in America for stripping our citizens of their inalienable rights. One business executive I respect who knows George W. Bush personally, and supports the Iraq war, told me what a wonderful man his friend the president is. Hitler, too had his admirers in the business community--- at first. That's because insanity can take many forms and have many levels of severity, and it may not be readily apparent. In sum, both Hitler and our president have experienced brain damage. That did not prevent either of them from being widely admired by their people. Perhaps the most ominous difference between them is that Hitler did not have his finger on the nuclear trigger. George Bush does and he has threatened to use it against Iran, an "evil" nation that spends $4-billion annually on arms, compared to our $400-billion and is threatening us by attempting to make one atomic bomb when we have 30,000. Is this the ranting of a lunatic or not? And, if it is, what are we, the people, going to do about it?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sanity, Competence, And The Latest Washington Crock About Iraq.

December 11, 2006

Re: Sanity, Competence, And The Latest Washington Crock About Iraq.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

To my surprise, the recent post raising the issue of George Bush’s sanity received a reasonable amount of response. The posting questioned his sanity on the ground that he is in denial about Iraq -- that he is living in an Iraqian dreamworld that exists only in his head, not in the real world. Much of the response went much further. Responses simply said Bush is nuts, had been for a long time, and had long been thought to be by the responders. One response called attention to two, three and four year old articles and books by people with training in psychiatric or psychological matters. Those writers pointed to several reasons for doubting Bush’s sanity. Most interesting perhaps was the idea that he suffers from a condition called ‘“dry drunk.’” Essentially, this means that even if one eventually stops drinking, as Bush did, years of alcoholism cause irreversible damage to brain chemistry. Results of this damage include such Bushian traits as rigid judgmentalism, irritability, impatience, grandiosity, obsessive thought patterns, incoherent speech and other unlovely characteristics. Bush also seems to have characteristics that, whether or not they are characteristic of “dry drunks,” are symptomatic of people who don’t fully have a grip. These include immense anger, exploitativeness, arrogance, lack of empathy, and difficulties arising from relationships with one’s father.

Aside from writings in former years questioning Bush’s sanity, it was fortuitous that, a few days after my posting, Frank Rich wrote a long piece in the Sunday New York Times in which he said that Bush is not merely in denial about Iraq, but is “untethered from reality” regarding it.

Now, this writer doesn’t know much about psychiatry, so I can’t opine on the correctness of those who wrote two, three and four years ago that Bush has symptoms associated with lack of sanity. Their points do seem to make common sense, at least to one who is uninitiated, and one does know that living in a dream world disconnected from the actual world is not usually regarded as the quintessence of sanity. Frankly, if legislators, the press, or doctors had any guts -- which they usually don’t -- they would be discussing the question of Bush’s sanity. Naturally, such discussion would be blasted by Bushian supporters as being opinions arrived at without personal examinations of or conversations with the subject, and sometimes by mere laymen. But these days, with the vast amount of information available or attainable about persons, doctors, at least, do opine in lots of medical areas even without personal examinations. And it’s not as if the subject is unimportant, you know. On the contrary, it is entirely possible, maybe even very likely, (1) that what has gone on with regard to Iraq has been driven by psychological factors far more than by anything rational; and (2) that citizens and legislators would more readily curb our government’s wacked out actions if they began to understand them to be the product of (misshapen) psychological characteristics, not of fact and logic. Indeed, one suspects that, 50 or 75 or 100 years from now, historians will see the last four years in terms of psychological phenomena regarding Bush, other leaders and the general body politic, not in terms of alleged imperatives of fact and reason. Today, after all, we think there was a certain amount of insanity -- a certain amount of psychological malfunction and malformation -- that drove characters like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other evildoers. Why can’t the same be true of Bush and his crowd -- and of some of their followers too?

To one trained in arts of thought, the amazing thing was that a man like this could become President. One wondered how he could have been picked as the nominee and then elected. After all, it was clear early-on that he not only had been a long time drunk, but had failed at every business venture, so that time and again he had to be rescued by Daddy’s friends and wanna be friends. Recently, I read a claim that conservative Republicans, desperate to win in 2000, picked him to be the nominee early-on because they thought him a good salesman. This could make some sense, especially given his family background and his good ol’ boy personality, a type of personality Americans love even when divorced from brains, about which Americans usually care very little. (Bush’s good ol’ boy, salesman persona stood him in particularly good stead four years later against the unlovely Kerry.) But better knowledge of why and how Bush got to be the nominee in 2000 will have to await future research by historians. It is an interesting question, though.

Less amazing than Bush’s selection, but remarkable nevertheless was that in mid 2004 an academic, an apparently very well known sociologist at the prestigious Northwestern University, wrote a piece expressing puzzlement that persons he called “progressives” despise Bush, puzzlement at why “a fair population of these bright and articulate Americans hate” him and why “so many thoughtful people hold a belief that is surprising - - and troubling - - to the vast majority of Americans.” The professor then answered his own puzzlement thusly:

. . . George Bush is Forrest Gump. He has led a charmed life, in which mediocrity, error and failure have had no consequences other than to produce success. An indifferent student, Bush attended both Yale and Harvard, escaped service in Vietnam, escaped disgrace despite drunken driving, failed as an oil magnate only to be promoted to head the Texas Rangers baseball team, and lacking political experience, became governor of Texas. His family and mentors paved the way for this untalented scion of privilege. Bush was the frat boy who never grew up.

To the professor all this was not reason enough for progressives to dislike Bush. Rather, they should make judgments based on Bush’s policies. But the professor seems to have ignored the policies. As said here in a blog, dated August 23, 2004, on the professor’s view:

Saying that “political animus” should not be “tied to issues that are removed from policy” and that “bitterness toward the follies of youth” should not “determine our politics,” [the professor] says there is enough to argue about by considering a president’s successes, failures, misdeeds. But Bush’s failures and misdeeds are matters that have contributed - - mightily - - to “progressives” disliking him intensely. In particular, his defense and foreign policies have outraged them. From telling the rest of the world to lump it, to spurning international courts, to incredible misjudgments about Iraq from start to finish, to untruths and total unwillingness to admit mistakes about such matters, Bush has outraged those who now deeply, viscerally dislike him.

To my mind, it is remarkable that an apparently renowned professor of sociology (no less) at an eminent school should have had so little appreciation of the distaste intelligent people have for the fact that Bush’s life refutes fundamental values we grew up with: hard work, competence, intelligence, modesty. His life, with its drunkenness, serial failures, lack of competence repeated salvation via Daddy and Daddy’s friends, all followed by the presidency no less, and by disastrous ill-considered policies, makes a joke of the values we absorbed as youths and still try to live by. That “the vast majority of Americans” may have been “trouble[ed]” by our distaste for Bush two and a half years ago is, if true, simply symptomatic of a point made earlier; they don’t care about brains. Nor are they put off by the spectre of the brainless advancing via family rather than talent, work, and honesty.

Of course, today, with the situation in Iraq having descended to where it now is, even “the vast majority of Americans” may now by troubled by the idea that the brainless can advance by privilege alone, or at least that this one example of the mentally inept could do so. Academics are perhaps no longer alone in their contempt for the man these days. And one wonders what the Northwestern professor himself thinks now. It would be a cheap shot, I suppose, to say that one has seen or heard of no more op eds by him.

Now, the fact that we’ve seen the harm that can be wrought by the unintelligent and the incompetent ought to have a bearing on our politics in the future. (Although whether it will or not is unknowable.) We should in future make it a sine qua non for high office that a candidate have shown intelligence and judgment at something, somewhere. Maybe high intelligence could be suitably shown by great academic success, at least if unencumbered by failure in the practical world. Or perhaps high success in the practical world in a position that truly requires brains for success, not just a pleasant personality, could be a sufficient talisman. However a judgment may suitably be made, intelligence, coupled with judgment, should affirmatively be an object of inquiry and assessment. And so should honesty, because dishonesty has produced as much disaster as sheer stupidity and incompetence (with a combination of them being deadly, viz. Bush).
Naturally one might object that a requirement of intelligence, judgment and honesty would eliminate most politicians from running for high office. That could easily be true today given the way the political game is now played. If so, the answer is to demand that the game be played differently, not to elect the dumb or dishonest out of despair over the possibility of doing better.

* * * *

Questions of honesty and intelligence, and of the need to do better, are, one notes, implicated by the report of the Iraq Study Group, the report which has been the focus of so much hype and discussion, so much sturm und drang, in the last few days. Much as one may despise George Bush, one has to say that the ISG’s report seems absurd in some ways. At this point it has become pretty clear that the report is nothing but a political document cobbled together politically in the image of James Baker, the first George Bush’s Mr. Fixit. The report is merely the latest Washington crock about Iraq.

Admitting that it could come to nothing and that Iran’s statements are contrary to their recommendations, ISG members say we should talk to Iran and Syria in order to try to solve the Iraq problem. Well, unlike George Bush, I’m not against talking to anyone, and I agree with Baker that you can’t accomplish anything without talking to people. And we and the British do owe Iran a major apology for what we did to Mossadegh, which is the foundation act of Iran’s hatred for us. But to think that Iran and Syria - - these former members of the axis of evil - - will help us out of the Iraq mess? And will help create an overall Middle East settlement? What world is Baker living in? Iran and Syria are making out very nicely from the Iraq mess, thank you. Why would they want it to stop, especially since it is causing immense difficulty for what they or their buddies call The Great Satan and, with regard to Iran, is preventing us from giving more focus to its drive for nukes.

Indeed, if I were George Bush I would point out - - it might be nasty but it’s the fact - - that the ISG wants us to talk to the country, Iran, which will shortly be holding an international conference, of so called experts, dedicated to showing that the holocaust never happened. And Baker wants us to talk to that country in order to make peace?

With regard to Syria, Baker & Co. suggest that we could get Syria on our side (so to speak) by persuading Israel to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria. Well, some have suggested that Syria may now be far more interested in controlling Lebanon, where it apparently arranges for the assassination of leaders, than in the Golan. But how about Israel: would it be willing, in exchange for a piece of paper called a peace treaty, to return the Golan, which cost it a bloody battle, to a once and perhaps still murderous regime that long sought its destruction, may still seek it, and could seek it again in the future so that Israel might then have to fight another horrible battle for the Golan, which would be a highway into Israel for the Syrians? Boy, I don’t know about that. Nor do I think that an American guaranty of Israel’s security could do the trick. Israel believes it must depend only on itself; as Jews the Israelis have a 2000 year history cautioning this. It also knows that the US didn’t stick it out in Viet Nam and isn’t going to in Iraq. (We shouldn’t have stuck them out. But this doesn’t alter the fact that we didn’t and won’t, which is all that is of concern to the Israelis. Charles de Gaulle wanted his own force de frappe (his own nuclear deterrent) because he knew it was foolish to trust us to ride to the rescue of France in a potentially nuclear war. He was right, and the Israelis will doubtless heed the example, which applies whether or not Iran, like the Soviets, becomes a nuclear power.)

Then there is the question of whether we can politically and militarily accomplish by early 2008 - - or for that matter by 2012 - - what the ISG hopes we can accomplish. Can a united Iraq arise by 2008? Can its military become capable by then of putting down an insurgency or a civil war? One gathers that even many of the commission’s own military experts were dubious. Why shouldn’t one be dubious? How can we do by 2008 - - do in a year - - what we couldn’t do in three or four? How can we do it in a completely split, riven, violent tribal society? Baker’s idea is silly.

Then there is the fact that the ISG asserted that Bush must follow all 79 of its recommendations. This is as out of touch with reality as Bush is. What in the world got into people who are supposed to be the wise men (and women)? Baker apparently wants to be defacto Secretary of State, and he got a bunch of other old men and women to go along with him and absurdly say that all 79 of their recommendations must be followed.

The ISG also made a huge deal out of the fact that its recommendations are bipartisan. Of course, this bipartisan consensus is in reality nothing other than a piece of Bakersque political engineering - - he got Democrats to go along with an absence of a timetable (and one Democrat, the disreputable Chuck Robb, wanted, like John McCain, to put more troops in Iraq). But aside from this, if the claimed consensus is wrong, why should we care that it is bipartisan? Why should we care even if all the Republicans and Democrats in Washington were to get behind it and make nice - - which already, of course, is failing to happen? For a long time Viet Nam was bipartisan. For quite a while Iraq was bipartisan. And they are probably the two greatest foreign relations disasters in the history of the United States.

There are those who say that, when nobody is disagreeing, when everybody is making nice to each other - - that is the time to worry, to watch out. That is a time when a big mistake is very likely. If some of the criticisms of the ISG report are right, as one thinks, especially because so much of the report seems precatory, seems based on hope rather than reality, then a bipartisan push behind the Baker report would likely be only another step on the road to an even bigger disaster. One or two years from now we would find ourselves with more dead Americans, more dead Iraqis, and an even bigger civil war, because it will be impossible to secure needed and effective help from Iran, Syria and others, the religious, tribal and other hatreds in Iraq will make a government of national unity impossible, and these hatreds and rivalries will make it impossible to have a unified, well trained military devoted to a central government and capable of putting down the militias.

So what to do? In regard to Iraq itself, I’ll not tarry long over the best answer to this question because it has been presented here before on several occasions. Divide the country - - which never really was a country anyway, but in reality was only what I think Churchill called a geographical expression - - into three parts, Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. Give people a few months to move to “their” area if they want. (Two million have already left the country entirely and who knows how many others have already moved to “their” area.) Then get the hell out, post haste. If we can arrange some sort of sharing of oil revenues among regions in advance, that would be nice. If we can’t, to hell with it.

If the Turks don’t like it because they fear the example of an independent Kurdish nation, then bribe them. The Turks are susceptible to bribes - - military equipment, etc. If they can’t be bribed, to hell with them. Give the Kurds weapons if the Turks are nuts enough to invade them - - the Turks will come to regret an invasion just as the British, the Russians and ourselves have come to regret invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Once each of the three religious groups has its own area, you can bet that there will be peace rather than insurgency or civil war within each area, since the people of each area will be ruled by their own.

This obvious political solution has been advanced here many times. Joe Biden has advanced it. Peter Galbraith has advanced it. But the fools in our government and media refuse to consider or talk about it.

So what, then, is the next best thing? That’s pretty simple too. Congress should cut off all funds from any source for fighting in Iraq, except for funds needed to protect our forces as we withdraw them rapidly. This will leave the Iraqis to simply kill each other for awhile. But if it is not done they will still kill each other, and Americans too. American combat in the Viet Nam war finally ended with a whimper when Congress, over a Nixonian veto, cut off funds for the remaining bombing we were doing, and a cut off of funds should be used here too, with the cut off attached to one or the other of the many veto proof bills that go through Congress (e.g., defense appropriations).

This suggestion brings up a point about the Democrats and, even more specifically, about Barack Obama. Seeking to dodge political responsibility, seeking to dodge having to do the right thing, the Democrats have been saying they can’t cut off funds for the war because this would endanger the troops. A few days ago I heard even Obama say it. This may be a good dodge vis a vis most of the body politic. For most people, not being lawyers let alone constitutional lawyers, may not yet know that a cut off need not be written in an all encompassing manner, i.e., need not say “No funds can be used for any military operations in Iraq.” Rather it can be written in a way that allows funds to be used to protect American troops while they are being withdrawn, e.g., “No funds may be used for military operations in Iraq except when necessary to protect American troops during the period of withdrawal.” Not only may large numbers of citizens not know this, but it wouldn’t entirely shock me if some, even lots, of the Democrats are too dumb to know it although they are legislators. But can we think that Obama and other intelligent, law trained Democrats don’t know it? Impossible. Gimme a break. They know it.

Take Obama, for instance. Here is a guy who is super bright; he was the President of the Harvard Law Review, after all. The former President of the Harvard Law Review thinks that a cut off must endanger our troops? He doesn’t know that it can be written in a way that protects them? Gimme a break. Of course he knows this.

So what are he and other smart Democrats doing? That’s easy. They are lying in order to play political games by which they hope to avoid the responsibility to do what is right. Obama, a super bright fellow, is also African American, well spoken, and reasonably liberal. This combination of traits is causing him to come on strong as a potential candidate for President as early as 2008. But what is he doing with regard to cut offs of funds? He is in effect lying. This is not good. We’ve had enough Lyndon Johnsons, Dick Nixons, Bill Clintons, and George W. Bushes. An African American President would likely be a good thing. But we don’t need one whose respect for truth is no higher than that of the white jerks I’ve just named. Someone should wise up Obama about this.

Beyond the immediate question of what we should do in Iraq is the broader question of how should America conduct itself in the world as a general matter. This has been touched on in prior postings, which pointed out that at least since 1898 the US has been an imperialist, warlike, highly aggressive nation. As such it has seen itself as having a responsibility to affect, even control, what is happening elsewhere, as in Viet Nam in the 1960’s and Iraq today. Usually (although not in Viet Nam, Korea or World War II), the U.S. is, as they say, just following the money (in Iraq, the oil); usually it is acting imperialistically in service of private commercial interests.

Unless it wishes to destroy itself as did the Roman and British imperialists, the US must quit the idea of constant military action and of affecting or controlling things all across the globe. Forget it; it just leads to one disaster after another. We have no God given right to control the world, and the world does not wish to be controlled by us.

Yes, there are countries in whose defense we would fight and should make it known we would fight. They are countries tied to us by history, commonality of interest and values, morals, and economics. Britain, France, the new Germany, other nations of western Europe, Israel, Japan, Australia, Canada and some others exemplify. We are not pacifists. We would fight to protect those nations and ourselves. But to fight in every small, backwards second or third world country in order to affect or control nearly everything everywhere? Forget it. That way lies more of the disasters that have already befallen us. We can be a beacon unto the better elements in those nations, as was the thought closer to this country’s founding. But we should stay out of their affairs. A beacon, yes. A controller, no.

You know, we have plenty to do right here in the U.S. in order to finally establish a decent society. We must establish better, more widespread health care, lessen the costs of medicare, provide a better economic break for the vast middle class and the poor, especially vis a vis the superrich, must provide better economic treatment for our military people, must provide education, and better education, more widely, must deal with our energy problems, must rebuild our aging infrastructure, must insure that old people have decent incomes and lives, must insure the safety of food, must change our now largely crooked electoral system which causes the worst to rise to the top, insures against the cream rising to it and causes us to follow stupid policies, and must rebuild the values of honesty and competence - - must rebuild those and other cultural values on which all else ultimately depends. We have plenty to do without running around the world fighting war after war - - wars which simply distract from and make it impossible to do the things which need to be done, the things which are essential for a decent society. We have plenty to do right here at home without the horrendous impediment of Johnsonian, Nixonian and Bushian wars.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Comments Regarding Mary Sullivan, Brandeis, etc.

December 1, 2006

Dear Colleagues:

The appended emails make valuable comments on the posting regarding Brandeis. The second email is being posted anonymously, though I of course know who the author is.

Lawrence R. Velvel

From: scott denny
Date: Tue 11/28/2006 7:31 PM
Subject: Mary Sullivan, Brandeis etc.
Larry, this is a very thoughtful and and valuable article. Brandeis isn't going to be USC or (The) Ohio State University athletically so why not put some time and effort into cultural events, community sports etc. Out here at UC Irvine, we don't have a football team but a lot of kids play in intramurals and you'd be amazed at how many people show up to watch. They have a good time at no cost! Mary Sullivan must have been doing many good things to last all those years. I was a good high school athlete but I ended up playing baseball for an abusive, mad to win coach and he took every last bit of fun out of the game for me. Sorry for cliche, but winning isn't everything.
Your article shows what happens when people lose perspective: good, valuable people get tossed aside. I'm sure Mary Sullivan has had a positive influence on her athletes. Remember when that used to mean something?
-I hope you get a chance to interview or speak to her. You have really given us a fine, very personal piece of writing that strikes a chord with anyone sympathetic to a dedicated employee. Sincerely, Scott

From: Anonymous
Date: Wed 11/29/2006 6:29 PM
Subject: Re: Terminating long time employees
Concerning “Social Justice at Brandeis,” the same sort of thing happened about two years ago at an elite university where I work. A female assistant dean was terminated 12 months before she would have been eligible for retirement benefits. Happily in this case, there was such a firestorm that she was subsequently reinstated in a different office for a year. I am not sure whether to feel better because this was not a cost-saving maneuver; probably the institutional brain trust just thought she was not zippy enough for the preferred youthful image. I’ll bet it didn't even occur to them that terminating this woman when they did would cost her the security of medical insurance and a pension for the rest of her life.

The larger issue these cases raise -- larger even than the age discrimination issue -- is the question of whether institutional loyalty counts for anything in universities as they try to make themselves more “businesslike.” If a university just wants to hire people to do their specialized tasks, without thinking that the institutional mission is any of their concern, well, that would be “sensible” and modern, rather like Wal-Mart. But people who remember their college years with warmth probably knew staff assistants or night watchmen or bureaucrats – or professors, for that matter -- who went beyond their jobs because they were proud of what the university represented. As the management of universities becomes “professionalized” and their employees become interchangeable parts, that way of thinking is coming to be regarded as sentimental, unbusinesslike nonsense. Something lovely, and human, and important, is being lost as a result.