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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  

September 2018

The Me Too Movement in Perspective

As our political world is once more roiled by allegations of abuse of women, this time a woman who has come forth (obviously reluctantly) with an account of an attempted rape by a drunk schoolboy when the two of them were teens. She was 15 and he 17, but that boy is now a man, a judge, President Trump?s nominee for the Supreme Court.

If this were the only question about this nominee, Brett Kavanaugh?s behavior, it could well be dismissed as an example of "boys will be boys," and t more...

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Indonesia?s Endangered Democracy.


At the end of the 20th century, it appeared that Democracy was on a roll. The UN published the list of once authoritarian countries joining the roster of participatory governments. It appeared that the US had not only defeated the Communists in the Cold War, but had won the war for hearts and minds. Everyone wanted to be a modern democracy.

An analysis by the US Government-funded Freedom House (a think tank) showed that there was not a single liberal democracy with univers more...

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Too Much Democracy?


Populism around the world is in the process of destroying liberal democracy, replacing it with dictatorships. This is a shock to those of us who believed that the American style of democracy was both wanted and on a roll after the collapse of the USSR. Populism (power to the people) is a revolt against government, the often unwieldy process of participatory governance. That Democracy does not instantly solve all problems has become apparent, and many are looking for a strongman to addre more...

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The "Deep State" Conspiracy


A popular notion among conspiracy lovers is that there is a secret government that really runs our country. They currently call it the Deep State, but it has been known in the past by comparable concepts, such as the Jewish Conspiracy (a worldwide money cult that runs everything). One idiot on the Washington, DC city council actually believes that weather is secretly controlled by the Rothschild family (another Jewish conspiracy.) This family, he believes, can create storms and bad weath more...

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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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Michael V Hayden: The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies

Penguin Press, NY 2018., Random House, 2018.

Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

The unexpected election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016 has spurred a library of new books explaining to the public how America?s most important institutions work and why we have them. This particular president has little patience for institutions that may constrain his authority, which differs from the norms followed by most of our former presidents, regardless of political part more...

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Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels,

Random House, 2018.
Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential biographer, had already written books about George Herbert Walker Bush, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and books about the Founding Fathers, the relationship between FDR and Winston Churchill, and the Civil Rights movement. The election of a most unusual president, Donald J. Trump, in 2016, spurred him to give us a perspective on the American presidencies, the best and more...

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Michael McFaul: From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin?s Russia.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
Reviewer: Laina Farhat-Holzman

For those of you who keep up with TV news, Michael McFaul is the go-to person for insight into Russia. He served as American Ambassador from 2008-2010 during the Obama presidency, a somewhat rare appointment of an academic expert rather than political appointee. But he was not new to the White House, having been an advisor to George Bush?s administration before being tapped by Obama.

It more...

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The American Presidency in History

A packed auditorium listened to the April 30 presentation of the Leon Panetta Lecture Series: "The American Presidency and the American Dream --- The Role of Leadership." The Panettas invited two heroes of the press: Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, whose stellar work brought down the corrupt Nixon presidency. The third guest was Reince Priebus, the longest-serving chair of the Republican Party and briefly President Trump?s White House Chief of Staff.

Leon Panetta is a great exam more...

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Doing the Right Thing has Costs!


John F. Kennedy?s Profiles in Courage provided us with the biographies of men who defied political currents and made decisions that were right, but cost them dearly. One of the most dangerous political acts was Abraham Lincoln?s push for the abolition of Black slavery. He paid with his life.

Today, all sorts of norms of decency are being violated, from the presidency down. Officials lie, casually violate their own professed beliefs, and fight off any press attempts to get more...

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Thirteen Russians Indicted for Election Meddling



For several years now, we have heard about Information Warfare, a new way of fighting enemy countries. This method is as much of an "equalizer" as was the invention of firearms in the late middle age, which gave even a weak man lethality equivalent to a talented swordsman. Keen observers have always warned us that great new inventions can have terrible consequences. Although it is wonderful to have information so available to everyone, regardless of power and wealth, it is not wo more...

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In a Democracy, Character Matters.


This column is not just launching an attack on President Trump, although his character does matter. Rather, it explores the overall issue of good character and the role it plays in the survival of a democracy. Since John F. Kennedy's influential book Profiles in Courage, there has been little attention to what good character is and how essential it is in keeping us a good country.

Good character could be defined as behavior that promotes "doing the right thing," even when more...

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Our Better Angels



Abraham Lincoln in his first Inaugural Address, on Monday, March 4, 1861, delivered a speech as he was sworn in to office. His election created a huge crisis in which the Southern States created a Confederacy, a rival nation, and declared war. The issue was supposedly "States' Rights," but the rights that the Confederacy demanded were the rights of White people to enslave Black people.

From its beginnings, the United States wrestled with this issue. How could we be 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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February 2016

How Our Presidents Promote Tolerance

The United States was founded just as the European Enlightenment swept through. The Enlightenment occurred after two centuries of religious wars had exhausted not only Europe?s population, but also its intellectuals. Ordinary people were not theologians; they simply retreated to the various sects accepted by their families or rulers. Southern Europeans remained Catholic, while the more economically progressive north (England, Scotland, Scandinavia, and northern Germany) and their rulers favored more...

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