June 16, 2012
June 16, 2012
June 16, 2012
“Der Spiegel,” Germany’s largest weekly, had picked a potentially explosive topic for last week’s cover: Its lead article delved into the clandestine “Operation Samson,” a codename for the nuclear armament of Israeli submarines that were imported from (and partially financed by) Germany. As the German journalist Jakob Augstein wrote, “Der Spiegel” appeared to have uncovered the “atomic lie” of the German government, which usually remains silent when pressed about its arms exports to Israel.
But is this really a newsworthy discovery? In the German newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel” Andrea Nüsse was quick to point out that Germany has been signing deals about submarine exports to Israel for twenty years – deals that have been supported by all major political parties. And the story doesn’t end when the subs leave their German dockyards. For years, security analysts and journalists have discussed the possibility (or, rather, the likelihood) of the nuclear capabilities of the Dolphin Class submarines. On May 10th, the Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” reported on speculations that the two newest submarines were equipped with torpedo tubes that could be refitted to carry nuclear-tipped missiles. In England, the “Sunday Times” discussed communications from the Israeli Defense Ministry, dating back to May 2010, that outlined the country’s defense strategy. According to the “Times,” at least one Dolphin Class submarine is supposed to be kept on alert at all times to be able to deliver a nuclear response to a strike against Israel. And as early as 2008, the American defense analyst Robert Windremreported for NBC that “key to [Israel’s military strategy] is its nuclear-armed submarines. Israelis bought two Dolphin submarines from Germany in the 1990s (half paid for with U.S. funds) and modified them to carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles with ranges capable of striking any nation that could do it harm.” A report from the Council on Foreign Relations draws a similar conclusion.
The fact that Israel has clandestinely amassed an arsenal of land- and sea-based nuclear weapons has been rumored and reported for so long that any denial from the German government would fail the simple test of plausibility. Hence, Berlin is doing what governments usually do in that situation: Keep quiet, and don’t make anything explicit.
If we move away from the immediate Israeli context, Germany’s involvement with nuclear armament dates back a lot further. NATO’s “double track decision” from 1979 sanctioned the nuclear armament of Europe with American “Pershing II” missiles as part of a hemispheric defense shield against the Soviet Union.
Germany’s government played along and became the host for one of the world’s most terrifying nuclear arsenals. Today’s passive toleration of Israel’s modification of German-produced submarines seems almost trivial by comparison. If anything, it would have been surprising to see the German government take action to explicitly prevent Israel from nuclear refitting of its submarines.It appears as if the staff of “Der Spiegel” is constantly oscillating between two different states of consciousness. On the one hand, we have a deeply realist view of the world: Israel and Germany are bound in a special historical relationship. Arms exports are an accepted component of foreign and economic policy. Use and abuse of weapons are not the responsibility of exporting countries but of those governments and armed forces that receive them. The realist observes and weighs different options without making categorical judgments.
The journalistic equivalent of the realist worldview is the tendency to craft stories by the simple reproduction of official statements and press releases – as if the acknowledgment of disagreement could already satisfy the demands of analysis. CNN has expertly perfected this craft, as anchors often cut away from ludicrous statements of external “experts” with a quick “… and we’ll have to leave it at that.”
The other state of consciousness is that of hysteria. It emerges when the neat and tidy realism begins to rub against our moral convictions and intuitions. When we notice that established practices have very real consequences that can be pushed out of our daily consciousness but continue to have an impact. When we realize that the idea of Germany as an inherently “peaceful country” is as flawed as our commitment to rally against global injustices under the banner of “never again!” (and then witness the continuation of atrocities, again and again). When we have to confront the fact that the people of Tel Aviv and Gaza might share fears that transcend their mutual animosities: The fear of sudden terror, whether inflicted by shoulder-fired rockets or Israeli tanks, and the powerlessness of being caught in a maelstrom of cultural, religious, and nationalist frenzy. When we accept that the world is not black and white but comes in shades of gray, that is is complex and complicated and often rather dirty. When the historical dimension of the German-Israeli relationship created big taboos that cannot easily be untangled. The results of such hysteria are the shrill cries that echo from the cover page of Der Spiegel…
It’s Not a Welfare State- it’s a Special Interest State: The concept of ‘welfare’ has become an open, bottomless vessel into which every desire can be poured.
June 16, 2012
One of the most successful linguistic hijackings ever is the Left’s appropriation of the term “welfare state.”
No one opposes the most basic version of a welfare state, one that provides essential public facilities, cares for the destitute and unfortunate, educates children, and protects public health and safety. Indeed, as the Supreme Court said in 1881, during an era regarded by the Left as a dark-age trough, “It will not be denied by any one that these are public purposes in which the whole community have an interest.”
A democratic polity can bicker over the scope of these functions. Some think care for the unfortunate should go a long way in the direction of income redistribution and that protecting public health requires extensive regulation. Others are more cautious. But these disagreements, while sometimes acrid, are within the bounds of civil political contest.
The problem is that the concept of “welfare” has become an open, bottomless vessel into which every desire can be poured: Government takeover of the entire health and retirement systems; detailed regulation of employment; manipulation of money; subsidies for housing, education, energy, food; or anything else that strikes the fancy of some segment of the public.
The “some segment” part is crucial, because today’s welfare has ceased to be limited to that of the public generally, or to the welfare of any group that has a serious claim to special deserts. Instead, it is the welfare of some special interest that is able to capture the policy process. This may require a cover story, a fig leaf of pro bono publico justification, but these stories grow increasingly thin as the number of subsidies multiplies. They are credible only to a rationally ignorant public that is too busy tending to its own affairs to dig down even an inch. The governmental expansion created by these forces is awesome. In 1902, U.S. federal, state, and local governments spent less than 7 percent of the Gross National Product. Most (3.5 percent) occurred at the local level. States spent 0.76 percent, and the federal government controlled 2.71 percent. Now, total federal, state, and local government spending in the United States is about 42 percent. An unknown share is mandated by laws and regulations, many of which are triggered by special interests rather than by any serious public considerations. Good estimates are hard to come by, but probably at least another 15 percent of GDP goes into this maw.
As government has grown, its functions have necessarily been divided and delegated to subunits. These become juicy targets for capture, and “welfare state” also means one in which pieces of the government are parceled out among various special interests, with each then allowed to use the power of its captive to promote private agendas through spending, regulation, taxation, and law. What we have created is not really a welfare state, it is a “Big SIS,” with SIS standing for “Special Interest State.”
Capture is not limited to economic interests—would that it were! Ideology is an equal if not greater motivator, and most powerful of all are the “bootleggers and Baptists” coalitions that combine the economic power of those who profit with the ideological élan of those who believe.
The Environmental Protection Agency is a prime example. The agency and its confreres in the Department of the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers have been captured by the True Greens. They promote their anti-industrial agenda on every front, ranging from energy production to control of the electric grid to automobile safety to land use.
The EPA is a poster child because the capture is so complete and the scope of ambition so voracious, but the phenomenon is quite general. For example, since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the healthcare system has been driven by government funding. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rules on treatment and reimbursement rates determine everything, and the agency serves as an arena for fierce struggles among all the interests involved in healthcare.
Tariffs illustrate Big SIS as small ball. Tariffs are set by complicated political infighting, and lubricated by political influence and campaign contributions. Then individual exemptions are granted, also as the outcome of political prowess. The result is a double layer of destruction. The original tariffs promote inefficiency and damage consumers, and then the exemptions destroy the value of investments made in reliance on the law and add huge uncertainty. After a few rounds, the result is a system in which only a fool invests in industrial facilities when he could invest in congressmen.
The ObamaCare and financial reform laws represent Big SIS on a grand scale—2000+ page bills, each line drafted by some ideological or economic special interest, punting on most big issues and commanding dozens of rules to be drafted according to no known standard and with no consistency. The rulemaking process then, as in HHS, becomes the cockpit for the special interest battles that determine the true outcome of the law…
Saving The Monuments Of History: ‘To preserve is to arrest change and decay…it is to remove an object from the flow of time’
June 16, 2012
“One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.”
Almost 50 years ago, when a demolition project reduced New York City’s Penn Station from a monumental vaulted hall full of air and light to a stifling underground maze, the Yale historian Vincent J. Scully Jr.’s lament came to be the last word on an act of architectural sacrilege. It stood for the belated realization of an incalculable loss, and the conviction that we ourselves had been reduced in the process.
But as pithy as the line is, it’s not immediately clear why it should be true. Isn’t a god a god anywhere? Isn’t a rat a rat even on Olympus? What exactly do buildings have to do with it?
The destruction of Penn Station helped spark a historic preservation movement that continues to shape our cities; and a half-century later, the debate still resonates, from a Mad Men plot line that saw Don Draper’s advertising agency enlisted to defend the demolition, to a new, ambitious, and contentious reconstruction plan. To the extent that the preservation movement has succeeded in restraining decades of wrecking balls, it has been on the strength of arguments like Scully’s: We conserve the old and outmoded not simply out of nostalgia, not simply for the sake of a living connection with the past, but because buildings are almost like psychotropic drugs. Good buildings elevate, bad buildings alienate—and by replacing the good with the cheap and the practical, we immiserate ourselves in the long run.
Like most ideas that strike us as intuitive or obvious, there was a time when it was strikingly new. It emerged in response to the decay of the richest architectural heritage in the Western world—and it found in that decay something worth fetishizing and saving. This view was in large part the product of a dark and disturbed man, one uniquely attuned to the ways in which buildings can stand as analogues for emotional states—a man who knew how it felt to be both a god and a rat. It might be surprising that one of the fathers of historic preservation was also a father of surrealism, but it shouldn’t be.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a failed Venetian architect, found his calling in the ruins of classical Rome. By the 1740s, when Piranesi moved there, the Eternal City was eternal in name only. Its temples and arches were viewed less as historic treasures and more as standing quarries, cheap sources of raw materials. Long before Piranesi arrived in Rome, much of the Colosseum had been stripped of usable stone. Maffeo Barberini, who reigned as Pope Urban VIII, had carted off the bronze of the Pantheon; “what the barbarians didn’t do,” the joke went, “the Barberini did.” The alternative to plunder was benign neglect: Hovels and shops clustered hard on the Arch of Titus, and the Roman Forum was better known as the Campo Vaccino—the Cow Field.
In an age whose attitude toward old buildings was far more utilitarian than ours, Piranesi was one of the first to be bothered by the decay. In the preface to one of the art collections that would make him famous, he wrote, “Seeing that the remains of the ancient buildings of Rome, scattered for the most part in gardens and fields, are being day by day reduced by the injuries of time or by the greed of their owners who, with barbarian license, secretly demolish them to sell the rubble for modern houses, I decided to preserve them in these plates.”
His weapon in this campaign of preservation was a hugely popular series of etchings—the Vedute di Roma (“Views of Rome”) and the Antichità (“Antiquities”)—that captured the ruins in all their decrepit, imposing glory. If Piranesi the antiquarian was scandalized by the state of ancient Rome, Piranesi the artist and businessman was intrigued. Few works in any era can match hisVedute for combined artistic influence, commercial success, and political impact.
Piranesi was not the first to draw or paint the ruins, but in a field dominated by souvenir hackwork, he was, by far, the most distinctive. He brought to his more than 1,300 etchings the eye of the architect he always imagined himself to be—along with a sense of drama, perspective, and lighting that made the ruins seem even more titanic on his plates than in life. The novelist Marguerite Yourcenar spoke of “their intensity, their strangeness, their violence—as if struck by the rays of a black sun.”
His Arch of Titus—one end all monolithic right angles, the other end a crumbling slope overgrown with vegetation—looms like a mountain over the tiny figures who pass beneath and gawk upward, or scurry up its sides, or huddle at the side of the frame. His imagined Appian Way is a riot of misplaced bits of sculpture, crammed to the vanishing point with discarded torsos and heads, temple porticoes and archways, spires and tree branches struggling for air and light through the massed walls of marble—and there again, as if at the bottom of a deep and shadowed canyon, two miniature-seeming horses and a rider. His Temple of Janus is a hulk planted squarely in the earth, catching the slanting sunlight and crowned with a garden of shaggy ferns.
This was not the Rome of reality. It was a city filtered through the prism of an artist’s wishful thinking, and generations of visitors to Rome—including Goethe, who grew up captivated by Piranesi’s prints—would find the real thing flat by comparison. But at the cost of this artistic license, Piranesi helped rescue the ruins from a millennium of mundanity. He re-established their power to overwhelm and overawe, and he argued that this power was worth conserving.
His vision, moreover, was priced to sell: Piranesi designed each plate to yield as many as 3,000 prints (the average for his time was closer to 100), so his Vedute were produced on a scale large enough to make them a fixture of European popular culture. Few private libraries lacked a copy. The Vedute and the Grand Tour of Italy caught on in tandem: Piranesi’s work inspired wealthy tourists to make the pilgrimage to Rome, and often to return home with samples of his work as keepsakes. Bought, sold, and reprinted across a continent, the Vedute helped to spark the neoclassical movement in art and architecture.
But even as it shaped a new architecture—from the stately American churches designed by Benjamin Latrobe to the fad for faux “ruins” in English gardens—Piranesi’s work also reshaped the city it depicted. The Roman ruins were suddenly more valuable as tourist attractions than as quarries. He may have set out as a memorialist, hoping only to “preserve” a fading world in ink; but the result was the actual preservation of many (though not all) of the monuments he depicted…