Mitt’s Dilemma

April 14, 2012

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No Grounds

April 14, 2012

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History Today:

The Civil War tested the viability of the United States enduring as one nation-state. The strategy of ‘complete conquest’ in which Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan engaged in a ‘people’s war’ – directed not just at fighting ‘hostile armies, hut a hostile people’ – spoke to the depth of the challenge. The generals believed that the will of- a ‘whole people’ needed to be destroyed or else formal war would be followed by untold years of guerrilla warfare. Thus Sherman decided to march into the heartland of the enemy’s country. At the war’s end, the struggle to establish the primacy of the nation- state moved from the battlefield into the arenas of political, economic, and cultural life.

The Civil War determined the survival of the Union, but what it meant to be an American remained undefined. Ravaged by the War, large numbers of Americans were prepared to affirm a common nationalism. Nonetheless, the meaning of national identity and loyalty continued to be as diverse and conflicting as the persisting regional differences. Other issues that complicated national identity included the intensification of class conflict; the growing number of workers who were Americans by immigration rather than by birth; the struggle of black Americans for full citizenship rights; the emergence of an independent women’s movement; and the burgeoning influence of entrepreneurial businessmen seeking national markets. One of the most dramatic regional challenges to a unified nationalism emerged in the white South. Organisations of Confederate veterans refused to accept cultural defeat. Instead, they mobilised mass support for the construction of a southern tradition that rallied behind the Confederate battle flag celebrated the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, and the idea of a Confederate Memorial Day.

Following the Civil War, diverse groups struggled for hegemony over the meaning, language and rituals of patriotism. Neither side had anticipated that the War would develop into a struggle over the meaning of freedom. As Leon Litwack eloquently describes in his hook Been in the Storm So Long, the most important question for the 4 million newly freed slaves, ‘How free is free?’, remained unanswered. Black Americans and white supporters of Reconstruction proposed radical interpretations of citizenship associated with racial equality. As long as Reconstruction held, black southerners played critical role in the debates over the values of post-war America and formed the backbone of patriotic celebrations in the South. Black leaders held America’s republican values up to the nation as a mirror and warned that as long as inequality endured, America would never be able to ‘raise her flag of liberty and spread it out unstained and uncontaminated for the world to look upon and admire’. The assertion of citizenship rights and equal participation in the national culture, however, would not go unchallenged. With Reconstruction’s defeat in the election compromise of 1876, the peripheralisation of blacks from political life became the dominant reality. From the mid-1880s, black Americans largely commemorated patriotic holidays on their own. By the First World War, The Crisis (a journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) would graphically depict black Americans having to fight ‘prejudice’, ‘lynching’ and ‘segregation’ in order to prove ‘Negro patriotism and loyalty”.

The meaning of patriotism and who qualified to be designated a member of the ‘national fraternity’ stood at the heart of the cultural struggle over what it meant to be an American. Each side pursued reconciliation at the same time that cross- cutting allegiances and a profound ambivalence constantly destabilised the movement toward consensus. Motivated by different perspectives and interests, the two former enemies engaged in a process of cultural negotiations over four different but inter-related issues: the extent to which the ‘valour’ of Confederate soldiers should be memorialised by patriots: the meaning of the Civil War and Reconstruction in official histories and popular memory; the terms and conditions under which southern race relations would be returned to the control of the white South; and the place of Confederate symbols and rituals within national life.

The first signs of reconciliation emerged during the Indian Wars as the army pursued a strategy of annihilation toward Plains Indians who refused to be forced onto reservations. Immediately on the heels of the Civil War, the government implemented a new policy of abolishing the Indian Country to clear the way for western expansion. Within a month of General Custer’s defeat in 1876 at the battle of Little Big Horn, some Confederate veterans volunteered to fight against the new common enemy. As important to the consolidation of the nation as the outcome of the Civil War, the destruction of the Indian nations’ military power assured the existence of the US as a continental power by 1890.

Officers both in and out of the army played a leading role in promoting reconciliation. Union officers, mostly trained at West Point, respected their former classmates and recent adversaries. Possibly only the memories of lost comrades kept Union officers from acquiescing to President Johnson’s pro-southern programme for reunification or resisting Congressional passage of a more radical Reconstruction. At the surrender of the major Confederate forces at Appomatox, General Grant refused to insist that General Lee or his officers surrender their swords, and further cautioned his enlisted men against any public outbursts over their hard- won victory. The officer-class closed ranks against demonstrations of a more popular rowdiness, but emotions proved hard to contain. Into the twentieth century, enlisted men continued to assert that loyalty to the Union – not valour – deserved the nation’s recognition…

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 Foreign Policy:

The most conventional of conventional wisdom in Washington in the past five years is that the U.S. State Department is dramatically undernourished for the work required of American civilian power. Since 2000, there has been a staggering number of think-tank reports advocating a more robust diplomatic corps. The last three secretaries of state and the last two directors of the U.S. Agency for International Development have not only had ambitious goals for improving their departments, they have actually implemented at least the resourcing of them: Congress has increased funding by 155 percent since 2003 and the size of the diplomatic corps has grown by 50 percent.

There has emerged strong support for “whole-of-government operations,” by which is meant the coordinated use of all elements of state power. The Obama administration has dedicated itself to practicing “smart power,” a further polishing of the concept, emphasizing a rebalancing of governmental effort away from dependence on military force and toward diplomatic and economic levers. Inside the Beltway, whole-of-government operations and smart power are the Holy Grail, much yearned for yet elusive. Earnest advocates of effective American engagement in the world envision the military’s role returning to small proportions as other government agencies, principally the State Department, increase their influence and activity.

Yet there is practically no one who believes the State Department is currently performing at a level adequate to the need. There are no voices arguing the State Department is a diplomatic equivalent to the dominance displayed by the American military, none who think America’s diplomats stand astride the world like a colossus. Our diplomats punch below their weight and carry less influence than our country’s power ought to deliver. Even sympathetic observers conclude that “today’s Foreign Service does not have to a sufficient degree the knowledge, skills, abilities, and outlooks needed to equip career diplomats to conduct 21st-century diplomacy.” Despite the substantial increase in the workforce at State, it continues to contract out work to the private sector that is mission-critical or whose function is inherently governmental.

State has a better record than it gets credit for, certainly. It established 20 new embassies in Europe after 1991 without additional personnel, and the diplomats who have joined the Foreign Service since 2001 are much more likely to want to deploy to Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan and to change the world for the better, rather than remain safely ensconced in embassies and report on changes as they occur.

Still, the Department of State underperforms, both for what the country needs and for the resources it has. Foggy Bottom chants the mantra of whole-of-government operations and yet it remains — even by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s own assessment — inadequate to the task.

If further proof of this inadequacy is necessary to prove the point, look no further than the major swaths of civilian activity that continue to migrate to the military. The militarization of American foreign policy does not reflect an ambition by the military; it reflects the vacuum left by inadequate civilian power. Work needs doing, and the State Department remains incapable of doing it. In Afghanistan, small unit military leaders, rather than diplomats, are working to create local governance councils throughout the country. Moreover, the military command has established a high-level anti-corruption task force and is setting up legal and judicial structures — both functions that ought to be civilian activities. Despite the existence of an embassy staffed by more than 1,000 civilians in Kabul, those tasks have not been undertaken by civilians.

State’s inability to improve is not for lack of ideas or effort at the highest echelons of Foggy Bottom. Typically, secretaries of state invest little in the professionalization of the department. Instead, they spend all their time on policies rather than the functioning of the institution. But the last three secretaries of state developed major initiatives to improve the performance of the department: Secretary Colin Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s Transformational Diplomacy, and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Diplomacy 3.0. In all three cases, the leadership teams identified shortcomings, developed policies to redress the shortcomings, and were successful in gaining funding support for their initiatives. What none of them proved successful at has been substantially affecting the culture of the State Department.

Fundamentally, State is an underperforming institution.  It has significant reservoirs of capability but it makes poor use of them; it has needs it cannot find ways to meet. Its institutional reflex is to complain that it lacks the resources to create change — most recently demonstrated in the insistence of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) that State needs more money and more people in order to support training. Thus State both justifies its current inadequacy and shields itself from reforms that would improve the organization.

There are no more fervent advocates of a more vibrant American diplomacy than the American military. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen have been the apostles of greater State Department funding, routinely advocating for it publicly, to the Congress, and within government counsels. True, they have not declined additional defense spending in favor of diplomatic funding, or offered more than what would be considered a trivial amount of money in the defense budget to achieve that improved State Department (roughly $100 million in the defense budget has a dual key for spending on activities that State and Defense jointly agree need doing). But they have gone further than any other DOD leadership in supporting increased spending for diplomacy. Both Gates and Mullen testified with the secretary of state to Congress in support of greater funding…

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Boston Globe:

Nick Diaz had the guy on the floor, crawling backwards like a scared crab. As he approached, muscles gleaming, mouth in a menacing snarl, the 9,000 keyed up fans gathered in Las Vegas for the Ultimate Fighting Championship wailed at the show of total dominance unfolding before them in the cage. As the final seconds of the round ticked away, Diaz drove his foot into his opponent’s knee.

Three young men in the arena were not clapping or hooting. They were working for a Washington, D.C.-based company called FightMetric, and they were watching the action quietly with old video game controllers in their hands, pushing buttons every time one of the fighters visited some brutality upon the other. When Diaz slammed Carlos Condit in the head with his fist, one of them ticked his controller. When Condit kicked Diaz in the stomach, one of the others ticked his. As the audience roared at the ferocious beating taking place in the ring, the three men from FightMetric were methodically turning it into a stream of numbers. After five rounds, when all was said and done, their record would indicate that even though Diaz seemed to spend most of the match as the aggressor, he had in fact been outperformed.

Mixed martial arts — often called ultimate fighting — has, in its short life, become one of the most popular sports in America. There were an estimated 5 million people watching Diaz fight Condit on TV in February. The sport has its own news sites, magazines, message boards, and training gyms all over the country.

For all that enthusiasm, however, the sport has had a weak spot: It can be surprisingly difficult to say with any specificity what makes a mixed martial artist great, or what makes one fighter better than another. In baseball, there are home run tallies and RBIs and countless more obscure measures of a player’s skills. In MMA, fans find it easy to call someone a force of nature, but historically, it’s been impossible to back it up with data. In some cases, it is frustratingly hard to tell who is even winning a match.

That uncertainty can be traced back to the sport’s origins. When the Ultimate Fighting Championship was created in the early 1990s, the point was to give pairs of tough, bloodthirsty fighters an open venue in which to attack each other in whatever way they pleased. There were no standard measures of anything. There were barely any rules at all, and the only statistic anyone kept track of was who was still standing at the end.

By the time Rami Genauer began to follow the sport closely in 2005, it had matured: Fights were overseen by referees, matches were capped at 25 minutes, and rules had been imposed against hitting opponents in the groin. Genauer started writing analytical articles about the sport for a website called MMA Weekly, and realized that while fighters were performing increasingly complex feats in the cage, there was no useful way to seriously compare their strengths, weaknesses, and strategies.

Genauer’s frustration gave rise to a unique ambition: to systematize what might be the least systematic sport ever invented. The task would require going over more than a decade’s worth of fights, watching around 1,500 hours of video, and entering every punch, kick, and guillotine choke into a giant database. Genauer wanted to take a wild, free-wheeling sport and turn it into something that fans could analyze and obsess over with the same precision that their friends brought to baseball, basketball, and golf.

The result of his work was a pioneering thing: a full-fledged statistics system for mixed martial arts called FightMetric, produced by a company he founded in 2007. And while FightMetric has not been universally embraced by judges, fighters, or fans, the numbers it generates are becoming an increasingly important part of the sport. “It’s not a statistics-based sport yet, but it’s moving in that direction,” said Aaron Ard, who has built an MMA fantasy league called Kountermove using FightMetric’s data. “Ten years ago, the idea of statistics in MMA — most people would have scoffed at it.”

But even as Genauer heralds the adoption of his system as a natural step in the evolution of the sport, some fans worry that too many numbers will spoil the very thing they love about it. Mixed martial arts, after all, has its roots in an impulse to see what happens when you throw out the rules. Genauer’s project is a kind of experiment of its own — one that asks what happens when you set the powerful urge to watch lawless, explosive violence on a collision course with the blunt tyranny of math…

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Our Lucky Day

April 14, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Tax Time

April 14, 2012

Via Newsday

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