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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

November 2019

The Imagined "Deep State"


Throughout the ages, paranoid people have believed that whoever governs them has many secrets, most aimed at harming the mass of subjects. Demagogues have always been able to plug in on this suspicion of government, and our time is no different.

Although we are a republic electing our presidents for finite terms of office (maximum of eight year), most of our other elected officials (House of Representatives Senators, and state governors) have no term limits, and can be re more...

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Rule of Law Is Not a Given.


What distinguishes liberal democracies from dictatorships and absolute monarchies is "rule of law." Laws, unlike the orders or whims of single absolute powers, involve a system of participatory governance (the people vote), separation of powers (Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary), and an independent press that serves as a check on abuse of power by any of these other institutions.

"Norms," agreed upon behaviors beyond force, are the habitual behavior of most citizens more...

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June 2019

Putin?s Game Plan


Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, an enemy with nukes they were ready to use. They held captive a huge empire, part of which was a continuation of their 19th century occupation of the Muslim Silk Road states in Central Asia and across Siberia to the Pacific. The other part was taken at the end of World War II: most of eastern Europe, because their troops had "liberated" them.

In the almost half century of the Cold War, the United States and western Europe were able to more...

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The Mueller Report Summaries, Part 1


There has been so much anxious anticipation of what the Mueller Report would tell us?at least anticipation of people who care about rule of law. I suspect the number of people who cared would be about the same as those voters who care about foreign policy: ten percent in peaceful times, and 20 percent in times of danger.

I am one of that caring group, and have been since my childhood during World War II, when my father followed events with pins on a world map in our kitche more...

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Democracy Thrives on Centrists, Not Radicals (part 2).



Foreign Policy. Only 10% of voters care about foreign policy issues, until we are at war, when 20% start to care. Democrats often think that our values matter in foreign policy issues. Republicans more often consider pragmatism, and are more inclined to recognize that there is no "world order" other than in our imaginations.

We need a mix of these two views: never forgetting that values do matter, but knowing that nations don?t have "friends," they have "allies" o more...

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Our Security Clearance Gap


We recently learned that President Trump insisted that his son- in-law and daughter, both of them senior advisors in the White House, be given security clearances despite denial by the Intelligence Services. This raised a red flag with Trump?s former chief of Staff and chief White House lawyer, both of whom kept memos of this decision.

Our presidents do have the right to award security clearances to any members of their staffs and cabinet, but this president lied that he i more...

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The Rebirth of Fascism

Two political systems were born early in the 20th century: Fascism and Communism. They behaved as enemies throughout the century, although they shared a common goal: defeat of liberal democracies. In retrospect, however, they shared more qualities than differences.

To discuss these movements, definitions are needed. Liberal democracies (United States, Britain, France) had political systems that provided for regular changes of leadership through elections; equal power among head of more...

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Kleptocracy Comes to America


There is a built-in desire among human beings for fairness. In antiquity, leaders were judged by their people as "just" or as "tyrants." An interesting insight into this problem appears in the Old Testament, when the Israelites ask their wisest judge to bring them a king who will lead them in their battles. The judge, Samuel, tells them what it will cost:

I paraphrase: A king will recruit your sons to drive his chariots, be his horsemen soldiers, and to run before his ch more...

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Our Most Corrupt President


Last week, we explored the meaning and history of political corruption in our country. I emphasize "our country," because if I were doing a global tally of political corruption, it would take a sizable book.

Our founding fathers were trying to create a new sort of government, and they were very aware of how corruption corrodes a society. Far from being na?ve about a brave new world, they created a government with checks and balances against abuse of power. Our system is no more...

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What is Political Corruption?


As George Marshall said in his toast to President Harry Truman, 'The full stature of this man will only be proven by history, but I want to say here and now that there has never been a decision made under this man's administration, affecting policies beyond our shores, that has not been in the best interest of this country. It is not the courage of these decisions that will live, but the integrity of the man."

Truman was one of the few recent presidents to leave the White more...

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December 2018

Scuttling All the US Government Departments


The US government is a very big bureaucracy, which to some critics is a bad thing. Howeve, each department under the Administration has been established by Congress to provide essential services. They all do the work that keeps us the most productive, enviable country in the world.

When a new president comes into office, he goes through the transition process, learning what each government agency or department does, its budget, and over all, how government works.
more...

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The Final Gift of President Bush

We have all become so numbed by the constant flood of nastiness in our current politics that President George Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st president, even in dying, has given the country his final gift. His graceful death at 94 has been accompanied by memorials to his life of service and his astonishing competence as a one-term president. His passing even shamed President Trump to do what he rarely does: praise the life of this remarkable man, whom he trashed throughout his run for the 2016 pre more...

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When Should "Norms" Become Law?


We are hearing much about "norms" today, an issue we usually do not have to think about because these are automatically practiced values. But we currently have a president who has blithely violated almost all the norms of behavior or practice of all of his predecessors.

Some presidential norms are just a matter of courtesy: speaking politely in public, debating policies in political election campaigns rather than insulting the opponent; regarding the opponent as a colleag more...

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The History of the American Presidency


The brand new United State of America in 1779 invented the first presidency in the world. Even during the Revolution against Britain, the founding fathers had not yet decided what to call their first leader, nor did they spell out his duties or his limits. We owe the system we have to George Washington, whose knowledge of ancient Rome?s republic shaped this new leadership role.

Washington selected "Mr. President" as his title, a modesty never seen in the world before. Th more...

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July 2018

Putin?s Game


History reflects trends and broad sweeps, but also the mark of powerful individuals. The US during the 1930s was divided among the very rich and the jobless or struggling poor; immigrant families trying to become American and demagogues who trashed them; Whites of all levels and Blacks who suffered wherever they were, particularly in the South where lynching was shamefully frequent; and Globalists and America-Firsters. Without the New Deal and the particular president we had then (Roosev more...

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November 2017

Is Saudi Arabia Heading for Disaster?


Saudi Arabia is a unique nation-state: a kingdom named for its ruling family, the Sauds. The Saud tribe joined forces with the leader of the Wahhabi religious cult in 1744 and gradually conquered all other tribes. Their modern existence as a kingdom began in 1930, when Abdulaziz al Saud became absolute monarch, succeeded one after another by six of his sons from his first wife.

The modern Saudis solidified their hold on rule by marrying into all the other major clans in more...

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July 2017

Constitutional Crises In Our History


Looking through American history since George Washington was elected as our first president in 1789, it appears that every couple of generations (about 40 years) we face some sort of constitutional crisis. That we have survived these crises is a tribute to the strength of our political system.

For our first 40 years, our presidents were all members of the original aristocrats, founding fathers and Virginia landowners for the most part), with two New Englanders (John Adams more...

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June 2016

The Mystery of Defunding Israel


When one surveys nasty governance, horrible cultures, and rampant injustice in the world, Israel would not appear on any rational list of offenders. Despite this, the campaign to boycott and defund Israel is mindlessly persistent in universities and among far-left radicals. A few people, one of them an "independent" running for Congress, still embrace the conspiracy theory that 9-11 was not perpetrated by Arabs. They insist that the buildings fell because they had been pre-wired and then more...

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Political Parties Are Not Permanent.

That the Republican Party is heading toward a demolition is no surprise by now. This is not the first time a major American political party fell apart. In the 19th century, between the 1830s and 1860, the Whig Party was the political rival to Jefferson?s Democratic Republican (Democrat) Party. The Whigs ran candidates every election, but elected only two to the presidency.

Political parties are not cast in stone; they change over time. The Jeffersonian Democrats began as an elite more...

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August 2015

Tradition!


Tevye, the father living in revolutionary times of rapid change, struggled with what to do about traditions in the much loved musical, Fiddler on the Roof. This Russian-Jewish story, later a Broadway play and then a movie, played to audiences of many other cultures around the world who understood the issues very well. The 20th century was beset with traditions biting the dust. Children were in rebellion everywhere and parents did not know what to do about it.

My own view o more...

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Human Trafficking Numbers Are Spun From Fantasy.


The subject of Human Trafficking is appearing in the press this month largely because of the Foreign Policy Association?s "Great Decisions Program." Sixty Minutes ran one dispiriting feature of a human rights official in Northern India trying to get enforcement from indifferent police to raid a prostitution ring. It seems that the reluctant police warned the fathers in advance, fathers who were the pimps selling their own daughters.

Years ago, a reporter in Lagos, Nigeri more...

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December 2014

Is Iran?s Islamic Revolution Melting?

The Economist had a feature article (Nov. 1) that the steam has gone out of the Ayatollah Khomeini?s Islamic Revolution of 1979. I knew this would happen, but I have been consistently wrong in my optimistic predictions that it would have happened years ago. These new predictions from sources far and wide are giving us all new hope.

It is not exactly easy to get real information out of a buttoned-up country like Iran, but some changes have become obvious. Mosque attendance has drop more...

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Corruption Has Ancient Roots.

Political corruption is as old as civilization (the birth of city-states). It is a big issue in the dysfunction of the entire world today, but there are differences in the way different cultures regard it.

Political corruption is abuse of power by those in trusted authority: people that Plato in his imagined perfect society (The Republic) called ?the guardians.? He, like most great civilizations after ancient Greece, recognized that leadership has responsibility and that rule of more...

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March 2014

Putin’s Ideological Fantasy of Russian “Spirituality.”

David Brooks had a brilliant column recently on Putin’s historic mission to restore Russia to the world stage, recover what it can of control over what was once the Soviet Union (and before that the Russian Empire), and assert Russia’s moral superiority over the “corrupt secular west.”

I choked over that last one because their moral superiority is a fantasy indeed. Russia’s “moral superiority” rests on three ideas, as written by Putin’s favorite Russian philosopher more...

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