Friday, October 20, 2017

#MeToo, Harvey Weinstein, Sex, and the GOP



The devil has called on Harvey Weinstein, a Democrat, to collect his due. And about time too. For a sample sufficient to kindle the imagination, see Nupita Nyong’o’s account of her interactions with Weinstein.

Across social media, women are suggesting that this scandal is about much more than a few rotten apples. Actress Alyssa Milano, tweeted: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” It hit a nerve. Within days over one million, mostly women, used the hashtag #MeToo, sharing stories of harassment, and joining in solidarity. According to Nadia Khomami, writing in The Guardian: “Facebook said that within 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world engaged in the #metoo conversation, with over 12m posts, comments, and reactions.” Khomami goes on to quote Caroline Criado-Perez, an activist who successfully lobbied the Bank of England to include women on banknotes: “That’s what #MeToo represents, it’s happened to pretty much every woman you know. I think it’s really important that we don’t allow this to become a story about this one bad guy who did these terrible things because he’s a monster, and to make it clear that actually, it’s not just monsters … it happens in every country every day to all women, and it’s done by friends, colleagues, ‘good guys’ who care about the environment and children and even feminism, supposedly.”

And surely, there is something to this. Women are alluring, mysterious, bewitching, and sex is like a fish hook lodged in the brains of men. In all cultures, and everywhere, the sexes have their dance. Men and women both exercise power over each other, but men are physically stronger, and they are much more often in positions of power in society, and in the workplace, and in positions to abuse that power. Powerful and successful middle-aged men deal with much younger, but alluring women: and nowhere is this more true than in the halls of Congress, and around “rowdy movie sets,” which Arnold Schwartzenegger suggested play by different rules.

Except for oddballs like Mike Pence, and religious sects that systematically keep women down, today in our society, powerful men in powerful positions mix with young, attractive, less experienced, and less powerful women. And as we get older, we learn that all young people are beautiful and good looking. Power, temptation, and opportunity make for a volatile cocktail.

Not many have power like Harvey Weinstein, and not many who do make the devil’s bargain he did, but yes, we are all men. Most men are not predators like Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein has been tremendously successful. Together with his brother he formed the independent movie production house Miramax. With successes like “Sex Lies and Videotapes, “The Crying Game, “Pulp Fiction,” “The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” and “The King’s Speech,” the company today has a net worth of $700-$800 million, and Harvey Weinstein personally has a net worth of more than $250 million. Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker reports that Weinstein got there not only by being dominant, but by being domineering; not only by having a keen eye for promising actors and scripts, but also by bullying and threatening. Over his career Weinstein managed to inspire both fear and gratitude. He crushed people, he was vindictive. Yet no one has been thanked more at the Oscars than Harvey Weinstein.

At Miramax, it appears, Weinstein set up a culture that tolerated and normalized his sexual predator behavior. In this way, he shares an awful lot with Donald Trump. Miramax was to Weinstein what the GOP is to Donald Trump. One hundred twenty-nine million voters watched the Access Hollywood tape and sixty-three million GOP voters said “That’s our guy. Lets vote for him.”

#NotMe. 

In any organization, leadership comes from the top. That holds for our country. Let's join together (as in #MeToo) by starting to hold our leadership accountable. If they don't set the right example, let's dump them. 

And, yes, by all means, let's not be bullies, let's not be predators, and let's not abuse positions of power in all walks of life. 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Richard Spencer and Leon Wieseltier: Channeling the Demons of the European Radical Right

Oswald Spengler
1880-1936
Ernst Haeckel
1834-1919
Back in August, 2017, Richard Spencer, the White Nationalist who lead the march in Charlottesville, gave an interview to Israel's Channel 2 trying to justify what he is about.  “As an Israeli citizen,” Spencer told his Israeli interviewer, “someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood and the history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me who has analogous feelings about whites. I mean, you could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that’s for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”  See Tablet.

Spencer has been making the analogy for some time now.  E.g. at the University of Texas A & M on December 6, 2016, where he flummoxed Rabbi Matt Rosenberg.  

The comparison hits a nerve with American Jews, as it should.  "It’s an analogy with superficial plausibility. It’s also a malicious lie, and a deliberate one," said Yair Rosenberg in a Tablet article. But Rosenberg fails to meet Spencer's challenge head-on. Jane Eisner, the editor-in-chief of the Forward, also took exception. She did no better: "Like the anti-Semitism at its core, this ugly syllogism will not die," said Eisner. Ditto for Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. 

So I listened with some interest when I stumbled on a Park Avenue Synagogue Lecture Series interview with Leon Wieseltier (from November 8, 2011) wherein he outlined his fundamental justification for Israel as a Jewish state. Wieseltier, the literary editor for The New Republic from 1983-2014, now at Brookings, is always interesting and worth listening to. He made his comments five years before Richard Spencer provoked Jews with his syllogism, but he made Spencer's argument for him. 

Everybody knows the latest talking points for defending Israel, lamented Wieseltier back in 2011, but no one knows anymore how to defend Israel as a Jewish state from basic principles. In the video--starting at 12:40--he proceeds to lay out those basic principles from his point of view.  It could be Richard Spencer talking:
  1. There is a people, the Jewish people;
  2. The Jewish people are one of the primary people in the history of the world;
  3. The Jewish people, like all autonomous people, have a unique history; 
  4. In the modern period (i.e. 17th century onwards) "peoples" began to be redefined as nations;
  5. If you are a nation (i.e. people) you should have a state; 
  6. In order to create a nation state, a national movement has to be created; 
  7. Zionism was the national movement for the Jewish people;
  8. Jews have a state like other nations (i.e. peoples) have a state; 
  9. The idea was that cultural boundaries would coincide--they don't--and this creates a problem of minorities. Nation states always contain some people of "other nations;" and Israel has a problem of minorities no different from any other people. 
That is, in fact, exactly what Richard Spencer says about the United States. Christian Northern White Europeans are a people, they founded America, and its their nation state. We in the U.S. have a pesky problem of minorities--but nothing that can't be managed by excluding Muslims and people of color from the country, favoring Christianity ("saying Merry Christmas again," as Trump puts it), and perhaps shipping Jews off to their nation state--Israel. 

But note the sleight of hand in Wieseltier's argument at points 4-8. He is correct in suggesting that the modern nation state emerged in part from the Peace of Westphalia, which settled a century of sectarian religious wars ignited by the Reformation. We think of the Peace of Westphalia as having established a world order of independent sovereign states. The Peace of Westphalia set forth a norm against interference by states in the internal affairs of other states--not that Putin is listening. Matters of religion, political rights, etc. would be left to each sovereign, who would rule over an area with fixed borders. All this is correct, . . . but this new order did not equate the nation state with "the people making up its majority population."

Our idea of a modern nation state has come to include other Enlightenment ideas. The Enlightenment, cemented by the American Revolution and the French Revolution, gave us the notion of universal human rights. Napoleon emancipated the Jews and made them equal citizens of the state. France became a nation of its citizens--not the nation of its white Roman Catholic subset, as Wieseltier suggests. The American Revolution declared "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." America became a country of its citizens--and after the Civil War of 1861-65 this included everybody. America is not the nation state of its majority white Christian Europeans, as Richard Spencer would have it. 

From the Magna Carta to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, to the American and French revolutions, and  to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a lot has changed and matured in our conception of the nation state. Along the way this Enlightenment tradition jettisoned the notion that the nation state is by and for "peoples" of a particular ethnic or religious grouping. We fought World War 2 in order to defeat the pernicious notion that teutonic Aryan defined a nation state. 

This nine-point Wieseltier argument for Zionism says teutonic Aryan is a nation state. Wieseltier made Richard Spencer's argument for him. Wieseltier's argument channels the White European Radical Right of the late 19th early 20th century: Ernst Haeckel, Oswald Spengler, Enrico Ferri, et al. 

Jane Eisner and Richard Greenblatt, by failing to acknowledge that Wieseltier is making Richard Spencer's argument, are offering excuses for these demons of the White European radical right which are trying to make a come-back in our politics today. We must reject those demons, for America, for Israel, for the world.   

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's High Time for Puerto Rico to be a State

Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico/NASA
The Island of Puerto Rico was in trouble long before Irma (Category 5) gave it a glancing blow, and Maria (Category 4) gave it a direct hit. Puerto Rico was also hit hard by the Great Recession of 2007-2013; it has had a structural (i.e. planned) shortfall in its budget since before 2012, and a chronic shortfall for the past 30 years. It has financed the difference with bond debt, to the point that Puerto Rico has outstanding bond debt of more than $72 billion.  In addition, Puerto Rico has unfunded pension liability in excess of $50 billion.  This $122 billion of outstanding indebtedness falls on an economy with an annual GDP of just $103 billion (2013) and falling.  That is $34,857 of debt for every man woman and child in Puerto Rico where:
  • the median income is just $18,626.00
  • the poverty rate is 41%, 
  • the labor participation rate for those over 16 years of age is just 46%
  • the official unemployment rate is 12%
As President Trump noted, by way of excuse for a slow response to the tragedy wrought by hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is an island more than a thousand miles removed from the American mainland. It relies on shipping for its imports and exports. In 2016 $25 billion of goods was shipped to Puerto Rico from the U.S. mainland; and $56 billion was shipped from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland.

Shipping to and from Puerto Rico is expensive. The island is constrained by the Jones Act, which prohibits foreign ships from shipping between U.S. ports. This means all shipping to and from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico must be on U.S. flagged vessels. A study by two Puerto Rico economists in 2012 calculates that this adds $0.5 billion/year in shipping costs. Puerto Rico has repeatedly sought relief from the Jones act, without success.

Puerto Rico is a Reluctant Ward of the Federal Government

Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain for 400 years. Ponce deLeon, one of Columbus's lieutenants was left in charge after Columbus's second voyage to the New World in 1493. Four centuries later, after the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish American War, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris (1898). Since then the island has been a ward of the U.S. Congress.


In 1905 in Rasmussen v. U.S the Supreme Court held that "The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the U.S."  Congress followed up and formally granted citizenship to to all inhabitants born in Puerto Rico after 1899.  But some in Puerto Rico complained that this grant of citizenship on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War I was for the cynical purpose of expanding the draft pool. The Selective Draft Act for World War I was prepared between December 1916 and February 1917, and enacted on May 18, 1917. [Citizenship was conferred on Puerto Ricans on March 2, 1917] The act required all citizen males aged 21- 31 to register for the draft. Ultimately approximately 20,000 Puerto Ricans were drafted for service in World War I. 

Not all Puerto Ricans were keen on becoming citizens of the U.S.  In 1914 the Puerto Rico House of representatives voted unanimously for independence. Puerto Ricans wanted to be their own country. Congress ignored the vote. When (in 1917) Congress granted citizenship to all inhabitants born on the island after 1899, the Puerto Rico House of Representatives again voted against it. 

But citizens they became. 

Puerto Rico has had a nationalist, independence movement since before the island was ceded to the U.S. by Spain. In 1937, on Palm Sunday, there was a peaceful march by nationalists in Ponce to celebrate the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico (slavery was abolished March 22, 1873). The police and army killed 21 and wounded 200 in an attempt to disperse the march.  

In 1947, Congress granted Puerto Rico the right to elect its own governor, with a four year term. 

In 1948, the Puerto Rico legislature passed legislation to suppress the nationalist movement. Flying the Puerto Rico flag was made a crime, so was the signing of a petition for independence, so was speaking in support of Puerto Rico's independence. The statute was repealed nine years later before it could be slapped down by the Supreme Court.  

In October 1950 there was a nationalist revolt in various locations on the island. Protesters were attacked with infantry, artillery, and bombers. Sixteen nationalists and four civilians were killed. 

On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists from New York attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman in Blair House.  

Sentiments warmed during the '50s and '60s when the United States promoted industrialization on the island. Tourism grew, and the island became a center of pharmaceutical manufacturing, attracted by cheap labor and by tax incentives that allowed corporations to transfer profits made in Puerto Rico to the mainland without taxation. 

Taxation Without Representation

Notably, "the rights and advantages" enjoyed by Puerto Ricans do not include representation in the U.S. Congress. They may not vote in the U.S. general elections, they have no Senators, and no members in the House in Washington D.C. For more than a century, they have been taxed without representation. 

Puerto Ricans pay most federal taxes, but not the income tax (unless you work for the federal government). And like most poor states, Puerto Rico receives more back from the federal government than it pays in. According to the Economist, for the period 1990 to 2009, Puerto Rico received $182 billion in federal funding in excess of what it paid in to the treasury. But this is significantly less than other poor states:
  • Virginia         -$592 billion     (7.9 million pop. 2009) 
  • Maryland       -$573 billion    (5.7 million '09) 
  • Florida           -$298 billion    (18.6 million '09)
  • Alabama        -$290 billion    (4.8 million '09)
  • Mississipi      -$239 billion    (3.0 million '09)
  • Kentucky       -$207 billion    (4.3 million '09)
  • Arizona          -$206 billion    (6.3 million '09)
  • Louisiana       -$203 billion    (4.5 millon '09)
  • New Mexico  -$201 billion    (2.0 million '09)
  • S. Carolina     -$192 billion    (4.6 million '09)
  • Puerto Rico    -$182 billion    (3.7 million '09)
See also, the Atlantic.  With two senators and four represenatatives in Congress, Puerto Rico would have a lot more clout. Governor Ricardo Rossell√≥ contends that Puerto Rico would receive an additional $10 billion a year in payments from the Federal government if it were a state--this would represents a third of the Puerto Rico budget and would go a long way to alleviating Puerto Rico's problems.

In June 2016 Congress passed legislation (PROMESA) to create an unelected fiscal control oversight board to restructure Puerto Rico's debt. The fiscal control board drafted an austerity plan for 2017-2026, that will cut deeply into Puerto Rico's public service budget—included cuts to health care, pensions, and education—in order to repay creditors. As with Greece, such austerity measures serve to further depress the economy of Puerto Rico. It is accelerating net outmigration from the island. Between 2000 and 2015 the population dropped 9%. The island has lost 80,000/year for the last two years, and this outmigration is certain to rise this year.

Puerto Ricans have been citizens for a century. It's high time for them to have political representation in Congress and for them to be able to vote for president!

Puerto Rico's Ward of State Status Does not Work

Puerto Rico still has a small independence party in its legislature, but today most political power is split between the PNP (favoring statehood) and the PPD (favoring the status quo).  A 2012 referendum indicated that 54% of the population did not favor the current territorial status for Puerto Rico. 

It is time to upgrade Puerto Rico to a state. If they were a state, they would have two senators and at least four members in the House. They would be taken more seriously. They would pay federal income tax and the 3.4 million people on the island would be on an equal footing with similarly sized states on the mainland. 

On June 11, 2017 Puerto Rico held a referendum which asked whether Puerto Ricans preferred (a) statehood, (b) some type of independent association with the United States (like the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau), or (c) the continuation of the current commonwealth relationship.  The third option was added at the request of Trump's Justice Department. The result was an overwhelming preference for statehood (97%), but this was based on an underwhelming turnout of only 23% of the electorate.  

Statehood would bring huge benefits for Puerto Rico, and for the U.S. For the U.S. to have a quasi-colonial relationship with an island of 3.4 million people in the 21st century is atavistic. For the Puerto Rico electorate to be blas√© and ignore such a referendum is a sign of significant political dysfunction.  [Compare the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, with a voter turnout of 85%] 

Trump's Lack of Vision

With all of Puerto Rico's problems, the damage wrought by hurricanes Irma and Maria presents an opportunity to make political and infrastructure changes that are needed to bring Puerto Rico up to code as an American state. 

Trump is providing no vision. Instead he sends out tweets like this one yesterday: “‘Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making," , quoting Sheryl Attkisson of the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group.  The president's message is unequivocal . . ., we should care less about the people of Puerto Rico. 

The Tweet symbolizes what's wrong with President Trump: he lacks empathy, his leadership instincts are to tear people down, not build them up, and he lacks vision. It's not a helpful quality in a President. 

What better opportunity than now to focus on building up Puerto Rico, to modernize its infrastructure, to continue to build up its industry, to find a way to make it self-sufficient in terms of agricultural production, to tackle the bond debt and pension liability problems, to grant the island relief from the Jones Act, to lower unemployment? What better time than now to focus on the future of Puerto Rico--to lay out a vision?  

Instead of laying out a vision for what can be accomplished, Trump is picking on the weak and helpless with inane Tweets. He is picking on 3.4 million non-voters, the poorest territory in the United States. 

The damage caused to the island by the two hurricanes as described in detail at VOX is monumental. The cost of reconstruction will greatly increase the financial pressures on Puerto Rico. We need a president who can seize a moment like this and set out a positive vision. A president who can inspire. But that's not Trump's thing. This opportunity is being squandered. We'll have to wait for the next president. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico/Odyssey





Thursday, October 5, 2017

Taking “Jewish and Democratic” Seriously



Bernard Avishai: The Hebrew Republic
Harcourt, Inc. (2008) 268 pp.

When Netanyahu appeared at the UN on September 22, 2017 he fretted about Iran, about the instability of Syria, about Hezbollah at the northern border, and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. Israelis across the political spectrum worry about knife attacks, car attacks, Hamas rockets, and security. Yet despite these worries, when pushed, Israelis prefer the status quo as the best option available to them. They prefer it to making peace with the Palestinians.

Thinking about alternatives to the status quo, whether it be war or peace, is demoralizing for Israelis, suggests Bernard Avishai in The Hebrew Republic, because both war and peace challenge the future identity of the country. “Israel would not come out of a sustained war the same country it was when it went in, but nobody expects it to come out of a peace process the same country, either,” he says. It has caused Netanyahu to work hard for the status quo for 30 years, and it causes Diaspora Jews to turn a blind eye to Israeli politics.

The uncertainty that leads Israelis (and Diaspora Jews) to prefer the status quo, says Avishai, is not limited to Israel’s future boundaries. It extends to the legal, institutional, and cultural limits of the country. Most people in Israel insist that Israel is and must remain Jewish and democratic, says Avishai, “but almost nobody can tell you what this means.” Jews in the Diaspora have the added uncertainty of their relationship with Israel—what is it to be?

The Hebrew Republic is an invaluable resource to think through these issues. It is part memoir, part journalism, part political analysis, and part vision for the future of Israel and Palestine. Since the book was published in 2008, Israel has fought three Gaza wars, peace groups have unsuccessfully attempted to breach the Gaza blockade, and the UN has issued a report that life in Gaza will become “unlivable” by 2020. There have been more fruitless “peace talks” sponsored by the U.S., and Jewish West Bank settlements have grown. A model of what Israel is to become is up for grabs: talk of “two states” has receded; talk of “one state reality” and “bi-national state” has advanced. Officials in the Netanyahu government are openly advocating formal annexation for portions of the West Bank. Netanyahu has paid lip service to “two states” yet vowed not to abandon any settlements. Israelis have protested in the streets over economic conditions, while large gas deposits have been discovered just offshore from Gaza and Israel. The Israeli economy has continued to grow at a healthy rate, while unemployment in Gaza tops 40 percent, and unemployment in the West Bank is nearly 20 percent. The separation barrier has hardened. The fundamental questions raised by this book remain at the heart of the question.

The Trouble with the Status Quo

Israelis’ preference for the status quo is troubled by a fundamental question: What are the borders of Israel? The border authorized by UN Resolution 181 (1947) was overrun by Israel’s War of Independence. The ceasefire line of that war (the “Green Line”) was erased in the Six Day War of 1967. Today, the border enforced by the IDF runs from the slopes of Mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights, along the Dead Sea Rift to Taba on the Gulf of Aqaba, then through the Sinai along the Taba to Rafa highway and out 12 miles into the Mediterranean Sea, north to Lebanon, and back to the slopes of Mt. Hermon—Greater Israel. The population of Greater Israel is approximately 13 million, approximately half Jewish and half Muslim. Within this space nearly five million Palestinians lack citizenship and live without democratic rights.

“Obviously, Israel cannot maintain an occupation, denying a great many people political rights, and remain democratic in any ordinary sense,” says Avishai. Yet we hang tapestries of Greater Israel in our sanctuaries and pretend the status quo can be maintained indefinitely.

The state of democracy in Israel is worse than we acknowledge even inside the Green Line, suggests Avishai. “The vast majority of Israeli Arabs (a fifth of Israeli citizens) are now third-generation Israelis,” he notes. It matters that they believe in the state. But how can they believe in the state as long as “their experience confirms, that no matter how well they perform as citizens they cannot aspire to live as equals or even live where they please.” Nor can they marry whom they please.

How are universal ideas of democracy to be made flesh in a state that is “Jewish and democratic?” Avishai refers to V.S. Naipaul who speaks of democratic societies as having an awakened spirit: “the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system.” And Avishai notes that “[Naipaul] might have added other attitudes embedded in this idea: scientific doubt, a utilitarian approach to property, the idiosyncrasy of religious imagination, the hybridity of national identity.”

Not a fixed system, but a secular system is what these ideas imply, says Avishai.

Merging Nationality and Citizenship

Pre-state Zionism developed structures geared to Jewish control of the land (the Jewish National Fund), Jewish control of industrial enterprises, a Jewish system of self-government, the Jewish Agency, a Jewish health fund, and a British-sanctioned Orthodox rabbinate to perform Jewish marriages and funerals. These pre-state structures included an all-Jewish defense force, Labor Zionist schools, and Jewish theaters, newspapers, and cultural institutions. These institutions were not democratic, yet they persist as state structures. In order to make the state truly democratic in a way that minorities in Israel can accept, these institutions must be made more Israeli, and less Zionist Avishai suggests.

Democracy is more than a mechanism of majority rule. It embodies principles like liberty, fallibility, equality, and tolerance, says Avishai. “We find these truths to be self-evident, . . .” said Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. And Avishai notes that these universal ideas of democracy, too, are a kind of religious commitment. He refers to Herman Melville. “Thou shalt see it,” Melville wrote in Moby Dick, “shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The center and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!” The interpretation of religion in this sense, suggests Avishai, is too important to be left to the rabbis.

A constitution would be helpful. But to date, Avishai quotes the writer Yitzhak Laor, “a constitution (has been) impossible because the State of Israel… does not want to open the constitution with a declaration of full equality for all its citizens, and particularly not regarding property rights.” Israel needs to transform itself to become more authentically democratic. Israel needs to adopt a legal standard where nationality and citizenship can merge.

Ending the Folly of Annexationist Policies in the West Bank

The occupation is about more than the IDF. Back in 1967, before the Six Day War, Palestinians had a middle class, which Jordan repressed, suggests Avishai. But even so, there was a Jordanian banking system that served this middle class, there were autonomous Palestinian tourist and construction industries, and there were Palestinian agricultural marketing companies and insurance companies; there were Jordanian telecom, postal, electric, and highway infrastructure. After 1967, while building settlements, Israel replaced the Jordanian banking system, it took over the tourist and construction industries, it preempted Palestinian agricultural marketing and insurance companies, and it replaced Jordanian telecom, postal, and electric companies, bringing in Israeli substitutes. Israel took over the highway infrastructure. It turned Palestinians into wage laborers and destroyed the middle class. Then there is the separation wall, “which does not so much wall Palestinians out as wall them in, creating numerous enclaves running north-south, separated from Jerusalem, their cultural metropolis, and from each other… No Palestinian entrepreneur can hope to build an advanced business under these conditions,” notes Avishai.

No wonder Palestinians have struggled with their own democratic systems. “What the Hamas victory (2006) teaches us,” says Avishai, “is the unappetizing lesson that democratic elections, in nations without a democratic tradition, a substantial middle class, and a viable economy, may result in the triumph of forces even more offensive than the regimes they overthrow.”

These annexationist follies must end, suggests Avishai.

A Secular Republic

Democracy has competitors in Israel. “The National Religious began in Eastern European Orthodox parties, whose leaders attended Theodore Herzl’s first congress. They saw in Zionist return a rapturous messianism, not unlike the kind of notions you find today in evangelical movements in the United States.”  This movement was radicalized once the occupation began after 1967. To the extent they participated in democratic processes, “they were opportunistic,” says Avishai. Their view, he suggests, is more like “Arabs should be welcomed in the Jewish state. . . but they should not have the right to vote.”

Rabbi Meir Berlin—after whom Bar-Ilan Univesity is named—outlined his Jewish-but-not-democratic vision at the earliest Zionist congresses. In Christian countries, he said, Church and state are kept separate: “but our case is different; Torah and traditions are not man-made, but are God’s own law…. We (have never) had laws of an exclusively ‘secular nature.” Today, this kind of thinking is deeply engrained in Israel’s state structures, including in parts of the army. “To be Jewish now means to be somehow identified with the state,” Avishai quotes Menachem Klein, an expert on Jerusalem at Bar-Ilan University. “Many Orthodox Jews say casually that they are for a Jewish and democratic state, but they really mean that the source of all legitimacy is Judaism, that Halakha is supreme.” For them, democracy is majority rule, with utter disregard to the rights of minorities.

Is that what Israeli Jews want? Or will the desire for universal democratic values prevail? 

A Hebrew Republic

Most of the heavy lifting for a Hebrew Republic has been completed, says Avishai. Zionism has created a nation state with 8 million Hebrew speakers and a booming $318 billion economy that is a world leader in many fields.

This democratic Hebrew Republic needs borders, notes Avishai. He is thinking of the two-state solution along the Clinton parameters: border on the Green Line with mutually agreed swaps, and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and an Israeli capitol in West Jerusalem. It needs “a bill of rights and a formal constitution, guaranteeing all of its citizens an impartial state apparatus such as the one promise in Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence.”   He is thinking of federal arrangements with the Palestinians. The country needs a single Israeli nationality, one that is not based on religion. This Hebrew Republic must belong to its citizens, including its Arab citizens, not to all Jews world-wide—even those who have never set foot in the land; and it needs a regular immigration law that recognizes preferences, yes, e.g. to Jews escaping anti-Semitism, but that is not exclusive to Jews, and that does not grant automatic citizenship to Jews. The state needs to guarantee equality of property rights.  It needs to separate religion and state, and offer civil marriage, divorce, and burial.  

“A Jewish state,” says Avishai, “does not have an identity like that of a Jewish person. A state is also not a family, or a club, or a congregation. It is a commonwealth, a social contract, in which individuals who are subject to equal rules of citizenship work out their lives—if they wish, in voluntary association with people, families, clubs, and congregations.”

Updating Israel to a Hebrew Republic, suggests Avishai, would not fundamentally alter the look and feel of what has become modern Israel: a place where the lingua franca is Hebrew, a place that runs on Jewish time, a place that teaches Jewish history in its schools, a place where the currency is the shekel, and a place that can serve as a haven for Jews suffering from anti-Semitism.

Why wouldn’t Israelis want to do this?

The Business of Integration

Avishai sketches the political roadblocks blocking a Hebrew Republic, and they are daunting. What makes it possible, he says, are the currents and requirements of business in Greater Israel to integrate with each other, and to integrate with the regional and world economies. The country enjoyed a trade surplus of $5 billion in 2015 on $64 billion of exports, most of this to the US, and European countries. Israel shares the world with modern democracies. It should join the club.

In order to meet its social tensions, Israel needs robust growth, Avishai says referencing Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fisher. With peace, expected growth is 50% higher than with the status quo, Fisher told Haaretz in 2007. And the prospects for peace would be greatly enhanced by upgrading to a Hebrew Republic.

“One needs a certain political imagination to see two states, two parliaments, two language communities, and so forth,” says Avishai. “But one needs no imagination at all to see the impossibility of two economies, that is, two disconnected states. Think again of building tourist infrastructure, or just coping with labor migration from the Nile.  Think of electrical power, or water, or telecommunications, or the currency, or management of investment zones, or air and sea transport—the list goes on.”

“Over 90 percent of Palestinian exports go to Israeli markets,” says Avishai. West Bank towns are really suburbs of Jerusalem. Palestinians are very aware of this dependency; they are also aware that the Israeli annual per capita income is more than 20 times more than what Palestinians beyond the wall average. Israel should have every interest to build up a Palestinian middle-class and to incorporate it into the business of the region. The Palestinians have that same interest. To do this effectively will require peace. And peace needs an updated Israeli democracy.

An Integrated Region

The book suggests that language, culture, and a globally integrated economy are ultimately more important than military might for achieving and sustaining peace. In 2005 the Rand Corporation issued a study on Palestine that included a vivid idea of a transportation arc connecting the major towns in Palestine: high speed rail and overpasses making it possible to travel from Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Hebron, to Gaza City in less than 90 minutes. “Each rail station, located several miles from existing historic urban cores,” quotes Avishai, “would create a focal point for new development and would connect to a historic core via a new boulevard and an advanced from of rapid bus transit.”  Along the path of the train new commercial and residential neighborhoods would be developed, to accommodate population growth.” The transportation arc, Avishai continues, “would pump economic activity into the historic centers of Palestinian cities and assure their preservation and revitalization, creating ‘a ladder of linear cities along the defining mountain ridge of the West Bank, and preserving open land for agriculture, forests, parks and nature reserves.” 

This Rand plan, notes Avishai, is simply a mirror image of contemporary Israel within the Green Line. The Jewish arc faces an Arab one. “With peace, and in time,” says Avishai, “how many will care where the border is?”

If you care about “Jewish and democratic” and what that means in today’s Israel, read this book.


Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Taking a Knee: the Patriotism of Jimy Hendrix and Colin Kaepernick



Jimi Hendrix deconstructed the national anthem at Woodstock into a cry of despair. It had the spirit of "fuck the man," "fuck society," "fuck Vietnam." It was protest, it was art. "I thought it was beautiful," said Hendrix. It was patriotic, like taking a knee.

Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick #takeaknee
During the 2016-17 NFL pre-season, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Keapernick decided to draw attention to the epidemic of police killing Black men with evident impunity. His protest took the form of remaining seated on the bench while the national anthem played. His teammate, Eric Reid joined in: "I began paying attention to reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed," he wrote in the NYT.

Kaepernick and Reid had cause. According to a Washington Post database, 963 people were shot and killed by police in the United States in 2016; so far this year, 730 have been shot and killed by the police. Twenty-eight percent (207) of these killings (this year) have been of Black people.  If you are Black in this country you are three times more likely to be killed by police than a White person.



Fewer than one in three shootings of Blacks involve someone suspected of a violent crime and allegedly armed. Like the killing of Walter Scott, many of these killings are unjustified. Almost no police officers are charged with a crime for these killings, and fewer still are convicted. Policing is dangerous and thankless and difficult work, and there are good reasons to give police deference and the benefit of the doubt. But it's too much: when it comes to killing Blacks in the line of duty, the police act nearly with impunity. It invites and protects bad eggs. In a rare exception, the officer who killed Walter Scott (above) plead guilty to "violating Walter Scott's civil rights."  The euphemism here speaks volumes. Evidence is rarely this clear.

Kaepernick and Reid took some care about how they might draw attention to this issue, but still be respectful. They sought to project a positive image for their message.  They decided to kneel during the national anthem. "We chose to kneel because it's a respectful gesture," said Eric Reid.  And, of course, we kneel to pray; we kneel to propose marriage; we kneeled to approach the king and queen. Kaepernick and Reid knelt quietly, respectfully, facing the flag.

As planned, kneeling drew attention. It drew attention because in professional sports we have a fetish about the flag and our anthem. For a hundred years athletes have stood at attention, hand over heart in patriotic gesture.

It's disrespectful to kneel, said Trump on Twitter. "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners say 'Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field right now?'" he said at a rally in Alabama. It was lost on no one that Kaepernick had already lost his job over his protest. The Trump crowd cheered. Blacks in this country heard the message loud and clear: "Get that uppity nigger off the field; stay in your place, boy!" Talk about respect.

We see the flag in different ways.

Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers during anthem.
His teammates stayed in locker-room/
When Alehandro Villanueva, an ex-Army Ranger, who served two tours in Afghanistan decided to take the field and honor the flag this weekend--while his team remained in the locker room--he honored what he saw as a battle flag. "People die for the flag," he said.  And it's not lost on him that our anthem that celebrates the flag is a martial song: "And the rockets red glare/and bombs bursting in air/gave proof through the night/that our flag was still there."

Francis Scott Keys wrote the Star Spangled Banner on a British ship during the war of 1812. He was there to negotiate for the release of a friend (Dr. William Beane) on the eve of the Battle of Baltimore.   Legend has it that he wrote the words as the explosions of the battle lit up the night sky. And he included this verse, now politely excluded at our sporting events:


And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion

A home and a Country should leave us no more?

Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.



The "band" Keys referred to was a group of Black ex-slaves fighting with the British that Keys had encountered. "No refuge could save the hirelings and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave."  The Star Spangled Banner, is more than a patriotic song, concludes Jason Johnson in his article Star Spangled Bigotry, it is also a "diss track to Black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom."

And so it remains for President Trump to this day.

As Terrell Jermaine Starr points out, when we march the flag down Main Street on Independence Day, the flag evokes a time when Blacks were slaves. When we think of soldiers fighting against Britain in the War of 1812, it evokes a victory for White people. "As the flag was flown proudly during Jim Crow," says Starr, "White politicians worked tirelessly to suppress our votes and sanctioned our murders if we dared to cast a ballot."  And today, as we salute the flag and feel a patriotic rush before kick-off, most of us have this White history in mind, and most of us "sit in careless silence as police kill Black and Brown people" out in our streets in disproportionate numbers.

Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" is widely heard as "Make America White Again." Trump is making common cause with White Nationalists, and by attacking Colin Kaepernick (and others) for taking a knee during the anthem, Trump is aggravating and drawing forth racist divisions in the populace. It's disgusting. There is not a shred of patriotism behind what Trump is doing.

Is patriotism a word with mainly White associations, as Starr suggests? By respectfully kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to call attention to the injustice of Blacks still being killed by police at disproportionate rates, Colin Kaepernick and others who have taken up the gesture are seeking to take a more expansive view of the flag and patriotism. We stand in a circle and we honor the flag, they suggest. Depending on our mood we are reverent, hand on heart like Alejandro Villanueva;  or we rail at it like Job, like Jimi Hendrix, like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid because we have cause...but all the while our eyes are on the flag. That unites. That is an expansive vision of patriotism we need. That is true respect.

Trump's eyes are not on the flag. His eyes are on his base and he rails at Blacks in order to divide. That is the opposite of patriotism. Trump's Twitter feed is a diss track against Black people who have the audacity to stand up for the right not to be shot in the street by police at disproportionate rates.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

Thanks to Don Shearn who pointed out the battle flag aspect of patriotism.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Burns/Novick's Vietnam: Four Off-Ramps to History


“We should have seen it as the end of the colonial era in Southeast Asia, which it really was” says Donald Gregg of the Central Intelligence Agency in the new Burns/Novick documentary about the Vietnam war. “Instead we saw it in Cold War terms, . . . as a defeat for the free world, that was related to the rise of China. And it was a total misreading of a pivotal event that cost us very dearly.” This is presented as the official judgment of the CIA on the Vietnam war. It seems like a correct judgment.

Like tales of war immemorial, this tale of Vietnam is a tragedy borne of ignorance, misjudgment, willful stubbornness, great courage, dedication, sacrifice, and cruelty. Seen in hindsight like this, it’s hard not to add “stupidity.”

We are shown tantalizing possibilities of an alternate, better, history. Off-ramps that would have spared the lives of more than 100,000 French soldiers in the mid-20th century, the lives of 58,220 Americans sacrificed by the Johnson and Nixon administrations in 1965-’73, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.

Four decision points stand out where we could have chosen a better course.

The League of Nations

The first opportunity came at the conclusion of World War I. Vietnam had been brutally colonized by the French in the latter half of the 19th century. By 1919 the Vietnamese yearned for freedom. They were inspired by the American Revolution; they had justice on their side. A young Ho Chi Minh was present at the Versaille peace conference after World War I, and he attempted to present a petition to President Wilson for an independent Vietnam. He was not heard, and the French colonial regime stayed in place.

Vietnam Declares Independence

The second opportunity presented itself after World War II. Vietnam had been occupied by Japan in September 1940, but Vichy France cooperated with the Japanese throughout World War II and they continued to administer Vietnam for the Japanese. In February 1941, Ho Chi Minh slipped across the Chinese border and set up headquarters for a guerilla army in the mountains. The Vietnam Independence League was born (the Vietmin).

By the Spring of 1945, the U.S. was looking for allies in Vietnam to undermine Japanese forces. The Americans were contacted by Ho Chi Minh and they sent a team of paratroopers from the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to CIA) to make contact with the Vietmin. They found Ho Chi Minh sick and in desparate need of medical treatment in his hideout. The OSS team provided necessary medical care, and then supplied the Vietmin with arms. The Americans were impressed with the abilities of the Vietmin fighters who called themselves the Viet-American army. They praised the U.S. as champions of democracy. “Don’t take this “communism” business too seriously,” Ho told the OSS.

On the day Japan surrendered (Sept. 2, 1945), Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam a state independent  from France. Speaking in Hanoi before a cheering crowd, Ho hoped for support from the United States. But Charles DeGaulle would not hear of it. If you don’t let us keep our colonies, including Vietnam, he warned Truman, we may have to fall under the orbit of the Soviets. Truman threw his lot in with the French.


At least one OSS officer, Peter Dewey, knew this was a mistake. He advised his superiors in the U.S. that, in his opinion, the French and British were finished in Vietnam, and the U.S. should also clear out of Southeast Asia.

Instead of clearing out, of course, the U.S. helped France pave the futile path we would later follow. Over the next eight years France fought the Vietmin, now supported by the Soviets and Chinese, in the cities and jungles of Vietnam. France lost more than 100,000 soldiers killed in this fighting. The French unsuccessfully attempted to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese population. French society at home, like American society in the later sixties, became polarized and torn over the loss of French lives and the brutality of the war. As time went on, the United States shouldered a bigger and bigger share of the financial cost of this war.

Nation Building Done Right

The third opportunity for a better decision came after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. The world powers convened a peace conference in Geneva. Talks dragged out for 10 weeks. Despite their victory, Ho Chi Minh and his generals could not keep fighting without additional Russian and Chinese support. But China had lost 1 million men in Korea, and the Soviets wanted better relations with the West. So both communist patrons urged the Vietmin to agree to a negotiated settlement: a partition like the one that ended the Korean war. They had no option but to give in.

The agreement directed French troops in the North to withdraw to the South, and for Vietmin fighters to transfer to the North. A demilitarized zone was established until an election could be held to reunify the country. Promises were made that this would take place in two years. But the fact that civilians were also granted one year to relocate to the North or South, as they desired, suggested that the parties suspected reunification might not follow within two years.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if elections were held within two years, Ho Chi Minh would have won. The country would be unified under North Vietnam rule. If we were serious about democratic rule—respecting the will of the people in Vietnam—we would have supported this process. But Eisenhower, who came into office in January 1953, was more interested in having a client sate to fight communism than to support the national aspirations of the Vietnamese. So instead of working towards an election to unify the country, the Eisenhower administration attempted nation building in the South. They only managed to prop up a client regime with no political legitimacy.

“South Vietnam is our offspring; we cannot abandon it,” said John F. Kennedy after Ngo Dinh Diem declared himself president of the Republic of Vietnam in 1955.

The Point of No Return

After ten years of nation building in South Vietnam, the regime was corrupt, venal, and hated by the population. The regime was unstable, suffering from serial coups. More than half the countryside was controlled by forces loyal to North Vietnam. Kennedy had reluctantly authorized the introduction of more than 10,000 military advisors to help prop up the South Vietnamese military. By the time Johnson succeeded to the Presidency (November 22, 1963) it was clear that South Vietnam would fall to the North, without significantly stepped up U.S. military aid.

Johnson provided the aid. The North Vietnamese were determined to reunify the country "whatever the cost." Johnson was equally stubborn. South Vietnam must not be allowed to fall, and Johnson was prepared to commit forces "whatever the costs" to prevent a collapse. The point of no return came with the introduction of 500,000 ground troops during 1965-66. Once you go in, it will be very hard to get out, warned Secretary of Defense McNamara.

It would have been wiser to cut and run, and attempt to work with a unified Vietnam. Wilson, Truman, Eisenhower all had opportunities to steer a better course. But it was Johnson who drove us over the cliff.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

No, Senators Cassidy and Graham are not your Friends, why do you ask?

Senators Graham, Cornyn, Cassidy, Thun, and McConnell/Ph:Alex Brandon_AP
Not your friends
Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff do a good job covering the GOP's latest proposal to upend the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare or ACA. They are shaking their head in disbelief. They also talk process.  I highly recommend the program if you want to understand what's at stake.

In the meantime, what does this look like if you are the head of a household of four, earning $90,000?

Expansion of Coverage under ACA

If your state adopted the ACA Medicaid expansion--32 states have; 19 have not--and your income is up to 400% of the poverty level, you can go to your local ACA Exchange, purchase a policy for you and your family, and the federal government will pay the premium.  That's something.

The poverty rate for a family of four is $24,600.  So if you earn the median household income of $59,000.00 you're covered.  The government pays 100% of your insurance premium.  In fact, you can earn up to $98,400 and the federal government will pay most of the insurance premium for you and your family of four. Given the cost of insurance, that's a big deal.  

Through this mechanism the ACA has managed to reduce the rolls of the uninsured by approximately 16 million (44 million uninsured in 2013 to 28 million uninsured in 2016).  The ACA accomplished this primarily "by extending Medicaid coverage to many low-income individuals and providing Marketplace subsidies for individuals below 400% of poverty," says a Kaiser Foundation report. 

What Does Cassidy-Graham do?

Cassidy-Graham takes the insurance premium that the ACA now pays for you and your family of four and hands it over to your state government in the form of a block grant, with very few strings attached.  It would end the individual mandate, i.e. you and your family would be free to be uninsured without paying a tax penalty. Yipee! But there would be no one left to pay your insurance premium. The ACA exchanges go away.

The block grant received by each state would not be related to whether that state had implemented the Medicaid expansion under Obama-care, or not. 

Overall, the block grants doled out to the states would be less than the premium payments now being made for individuals under the ACA. Estimates are that under Cassidy-Graham the block grants paid out would be $215 billion to $239 billion less from 2020 and 2026 than what the ACA would pay out in premiums to individuals if it were kept intact.  This represents a reduction of 17%. The block grants would expire in 2026. If we look out to 2036, the  federal government health care funding under Cassidy-Graham would be $4 trillion less than the government would pay out under the ACA. 

Cassidy-Graham would also permanently reduce non-ACA related Medicaid reimbursements. 

In short, the bill would drastically slash federal health care funding overall, but more importantly, if you are the head of a household, it would take your insurance premium money and hand it over to your state instead. 

Great Uncertainty for Individuals

So Cassidy-Graham may be fine if you are a state.  States will receive block grants with few to no strings attached. They can implement policies as they see fit. What's not to like? 

But if you are not a state, if you are a flesh and blood person who needs medical care for yourself and your family of four, you should be worried--especially if you live in a state that has implemented expanded Medicaid. Under Cassidy-Graham, the ACA exchange goes away. You can no longer go to the exchange and purchase a policy and have the federal government pay most or all of your premium. You will have to go to the private market-place and purchase a policy and your state may--or may not--pass legislation to assist you. 

If you are a family of four earning $90,000, and Cassidy-Graham passes, you will be able to go on the open market and purchase a health plan for your family of four for $26,000.  But if your employer does not cover your family, you won't be able to afford it.  You will have NO INSURANCE. 

The fact that your state received a block grant is nice--what your state will do with that money is anybody's guess. No, Senators Cassidy and Graham are not your friends. 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles




Monday, September 18, 2017

Rot in our Body Politic and Cycles of Rejuvenation


Jack Balkin @University of Indiana
Maurer School of Law

Jack Balkin delivered a lecture at the Maurer School of Law at the University of Indiana on September 13, 2017. It's worth a listen.  Balkin discusses our "recent unpleasantness," that is the political ennui and dysfunction of our time. What we are living through is not novel, he says. It is part of a cycle. We are living in a troubled moment, and not unlike the Gilded Age, this moment too will pass--within five years he promises. Let's hang on to that thought! 

Our politics has been dominated by periods of stability overseen by a major party, followed by decay and rot. He identifies six such periods: 
  1. The Revolutionary regime, dominated by the founders: ~1776-1800
  2. The Jeffersonian (small government, rural republic) regime: ~1800-1824
  3. The Jacksonian (pro-slavery) regime: ~1824-1860
  4. The Republican reconstructionist regime: ~1860-1932
  5. The New Deal civil rights regime: ~1932-1979
  6. The Reagan (smaller government, less regulation, less taxation,  culture war) regime: 1980-present. 
These regimes were all undermined by increased polarization and constitutional crisis (the Civil War) or rot (all the others).

The civil war was a moment of constitutional crisis, but what we have today is constitutional rot, not crisis, says Balkin. The Reagan regime has lost its mojo, and we are awaiting a new regime to  assert itself. During the Reagan regime our system has become less democratic, more oligarchic, less devoted to the public good, more corrupt. We are looking at you, Newt Gingrich! There's something rotten in the body politic, but we are not in crisis, says Balkin. Our past political cycles provide hope that we can (and will) renew ourselves once more.  

Our present constitutional rot has been brought on by a breakdown in the parties, the failure of campaign finance reforms, the info-tainment of mass media, and the poison of talk radio. Yes, we are looking at you Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity! We are left more susceptible to propaganda from within and without, says Balkin. 

Polarization is a symptom of constitutional rot. It undermines trust in government, trust in our fellow citizens.  Cynicism grows. Today we have more oligarchy, less accountability, greater economic inequality than we had in the 70's. Greater inequality results in more cynicism, polarization, and lack of trust in institutions; it's a vicious cycle. 

Left unchecked, oligarchy, polarization, and unaccountability result in economic policy disasters: the Iraq war, and the financial deregulation that led to the 2008 financial crisis are just two examples.  Oligarchy and electoral unaccountability also leads to risk shifting, e.g. the shift from defined benefit pensions (risk borne by employers) to 401K plans (risk borne by employees). This leads to further inequality, polarization, disillusionment--rot; it's a vicious cycle.

But our present rot, too, will be cut out of the body politic, suggests Balkin.  We will rejuvenate ourselves before we are faced with an  actual constitutional crisis yet, he suggests hopefully.  

That's the gist. . . .  Listen to the talk, it's 50 minutes well spent.  [Balkin's comments start at 2:50] 

Here is the original link to Balkanization, always a site worth checking in on. 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles