Monday, October 12, 2015

Christopher Columbus and the New World

By Mark Antonio Wright
Monday, October 12, 2015

One man, two narratives:

1. Born to a working-class wool weaver in the port city of Genoa, Italy, Cristoforo Colombo apprenticed as a sailor and went to sea as early as age ten. A self-taught and curious man, Colombo lived by his wits and rose in the heady world of 15th-century sea traders, until he hit upon an ingenious idea: He would outflank the Mohammedan Turks and reach the East Indies by sailing west across the Ocean Sea. After weathering nearly a decade of rejection and failure, in 1492 Colombo won the support of the Spanish Crown and set off on an uncertain journey that inadvertently opened a New World, laying the foundation for that most glittering daughter of the Western heritage: America.

2. Christopher Columbus, a dead white male of the worst variety, was a slaver, a capitalist, and a murderer of millions who embarked on a voyage motivated only by greed, which brought European imperialism to the shores of the “New World” and laid waste the ancient indigenous peoples there. Columbus deserves little credit (Leif Erikson had “discovered” the “new” continent 500 years earlier) and much blame for the horrors of the Columbian Exchange — the vast transfer of people, animals, and plants between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. In his wake, the “New World” suffered smallpox, starvation, the cruel subjugation of the indigenous peoples, and the establishment of that most dastardly spawn of the West: America.

*      *      *

Writing in The Atlantic in 1992, in the run-up to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landfall on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. noted that the “great hero of the nineteenth century seems well on the way to becoming the great villain of the twenty-first.”

The accusations were heavy. “Columbus, it is now charged,” Schlesinger continued, “far from being the pioneer of progress and enlightenment, was in fact the pioneer of oppression, racism, slavery, rape, theft, vandalism, extermination, and ecological desolation.”

The Internet is full of condemnation of Columbus: the Daily Dot: “8 Reasons to Hate Columbus Day”; the Huffington Post: “Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery”; and snarky Columbus Day e-greeting cards: “Columbus: A Real Illegal Alien.”

In June, a statue of Columbus in Boston’s North End was vandalized with red paint and the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

In September, the Graduate Student Senate at the University of Oklahoma, my alma mater, passed a resolution (unanimously) renaming Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

San Francisco, Seattle, and Minneapolis, among other American cities, have extirpated their Columbus Day parades. Even Columbus, Ohio, has ditched its official celebration.

“We proposed this to give everyone a day of healing,” said Jesse Robbins of Indigenize OU after the vote to boot Columbus from Oklahoma’s flagship public university. The implication being that we all carry wounds inflicted at Columbus’s hands.

But what are we to make of this Genoese sailor and his appointed day? Should we celebrate the man who led three little wooden ships across an ocean and changed the course of history? Or was Columbus a greedy psychopath who today would be vilified as a genocidal war criminal?

First, to dispel a myth, Columbus Day is actually not the Italian-American equivalent of St. Patrick’s Day for Irish-Americans — although Italian-Americans have (and rightly so) long taken pride in Columbus’s Italian origins. There were celebrations in New York City commemorating the 300th anniversary of his journey in 1792, long before Italians had settled in the city in any numbers.

In fact, Columbus has been celebrated on this continent and in this country for over two centuries. King’s College in Upper Manhattan became Columbia College in 1784, and the nation’s capital was established in the District of Columbia in 1791. “Hail Columbia” competed with “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the nation’s unofficial national anthem until 1931. And, for a brief period after the American Revolution, there was even a movement to name the new country simply “Columbia.”

For most of American history, Columbus Day was associated with a celebration of the American experience. President Benjamin Harrison, in 1892, proclaimed “the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, as a general holiday for the people of the United States.”

“On that day,” President Harrison continued, “let the people, so far as possible, cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.”

President Roosevelt unashamedly credited Columbus and his men as “harbingers” of the great movement of people from the Old World to the New. In the midst of a world war, Roosevelt asked the American people to “contemplate the estate to which the world has been brought by destructive forces, with lawlessness and wanton power ravaging an older civilization, and with our own republic girding itself for the defense of its institutions,” but knowing “we can revitalize our faith and renew our courage by a recollection of the triumph of Columbus after a period of grievous trial.”

Ronald Reagan, on the approach to the quincentennial, did not hesitate to root Columbus firmly in the American family, remarking that he “was a dreamer, a man of vision and courage, a man filled with hope for the future and with the determination to cast off for the unknown and sail into uncharted seas for the joy of finding whatever was there.”

“Put it all together and you might say that Columbus was the inventor of the American dream,” Reagan said. “Yes, Columbus Day is an American holiday, a day to celebrate not only an intrepid searcher but the dreams and opportunities that brought so many here after him and all that they and all immigrants have given to this land.”

That’s a hell of an endorsement. But what of the accusations of disaster and genocide brought against Columbus? Should we indict the man, his voyages, and, in turn, ourselves and our country for the all that followed from contact between the Old World and the New?

Arthur Schlesinger thought we should have a bit of perspective: “Revisionism redresses the balance up to a point; but, driven by Western guilt, it may verge on masochism.”

Columbus, Schlesinger believes, might have benefited from a bit of perspective as well: “Had Columbus foreseen even a portion of all the sins he would be held accountable for five centuries later, he might never have bothered to discover America.”

Let us dispense with any pretense that the indigenous peoples of the Americas lived in a peaceful idyll in harmony with their neighbors and with nature, and that the advent of Columbus destroyed a noble paradise. The great civilizations of the Western Hemisphere were indeed advanced, and yet, like Europeans, Asians, and Africans, the American peoples used their technology to subjugate. Anyone familiar with the expansionist and warlike cultures of the Aztec and Inca Empires should know that the tables would have been turned had it been the New World that “discovered” the Old and possessed the power to conquer it. Human nature, tainted with original sin, is what it is and has been — of that we can be certain.

Europeans, beginning with Columbus, treated the Indians pitilessly — that should not be whitewashed or forgotten — but, in the same way, we should not ignore the genuine good that has come down to us as a result of the course of human events — namely, the space for a unique idea to grow and flourish: the self-government of a free people, with an ever-expanding idea of who can partake of that promise.

How much is Columbus personally responsible for all of this — for the good and the ill? Only as much as any one man can be. As the historian William J. Connell has written, “What Columbus gets criticized for nowadays are attitudes that were typical of the European sailing captains and merchants who plied the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in the 15th century. Within that group he was unquestionably a man of daring and unusual ambition.”

Connell concluded that “what really mattered was his landing on San Salvador, which was a momentous, world-changing occasion such as has rarely happened in human history.”

Unlike Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Columbus Day marks an event — landfall in the New World — not one man’s birthday. As such, it is akin to the greatest American holiday, Independence Day. The two serve as important markers in our journey as a people: the opening act and, then, the promissory note of our long and complicated struggle.

A great and complicated people should not shirk its history on a date meant for the commemoration of a great man and his great achievement.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi, Holding Government Officials Accountable

National Review Online
Saturday, October 10, 2015

When the dust kicked up in the House-speakership race has settled, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s artless comment about the House Select Committee on Benghazi promises to cause further headaches for Republicans. This week, House Democrats proposed a measure to abolish the committee; and although it was tabled in a partisan vote, they are sure to continue exploiting McCarthy’s misstep in order to derail the investigation. That would be a victory for partisan bullying — and a defeat for the nonpartisan cause of government accountability.

It is worth recalling the facts: On September 11, 2012, the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by al-Qaeda-linked Islamic jihadists. They easily overran the inadequately secured diplomatic compound and murdered four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. The first response of the Obama administration was to blame — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — an anti-Islam video, the maker of which, an Egyptian Copt living in California, was suddenly arrested for violating his parole. The House Select Committee on Benghazi was formed in May 2014 “to conduct a full and complete investigation” into the policies, decisions, and activities that contributed to and followed the attack.

To date, relevant questions about those activities remain unanswered. Why, in the months preceding the attacks, while other nations were rapidly withdrawing diplomatic personnel, were U.S. officials left in Benghazi? Why were multiple requests for increased security rejected by the State Department? On the evening of the attacks, why were available regional military forces not deployed? Who at the White House ordered the Sunday-show talking points of United Nations ambassador Susan Rice to be altered? Why was Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s top aide at Foggy Bottom, permitted to alter the State Department’s ostensibly independent accountability-review-board report on Benghazi?

That last fact was uncovered by the Select Committee just last month and is one of several reasons to reject Democrats’ claims that the Select Committee is merely retreading territory covered by several previous congressional investigations. In fact, the committee has examined thousands of original documents and interviewed dozens of new witnesses, and with good reason: Largely from the aggressive work of government watchdog Judicial Watch, it is now known that the Clinton State Department withheld thousands of documents from investigators, among them hundreds of classified messages, many of them Benghazi-related. According to a letter from committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) to ranking member Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the committee is preparing to release hundreds of e-mails showing that longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal was pushing U.S. intervention in Libya to forward his own private business interests, and that he supplied Clinton with the name of a CIA source —  classified information for sure — which she then forwarded to an underling. For a former official who has spent the last three years withholding this sort of sensitive information from investigators to then claim that those investigations showed no wrongdoing is rich, even for a Clinton.

The political ramifications — chief among them that Hillary Clinton is reflexively associated with words such as “untrustworthy” and “dishonest” — are a side effect of, not a justification for, the Select Committee. Clinton has not even appeared before the committee, and committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) has been clear that his authority is limited. When Republicans called on him to seize Clinton’s illicit private server, he noted that it was outside his authority to do so.

That does not mean that Gowdy’s investigation has been ideal. As a former prosecutor, Gowdy knows how to conduct an inquiry. But his prosecutorial inclination to operate behind closed doors has fueled rumors of partisan targeting. At issue are public wrongs; they ought to be investigated publicly. Some private hearings will be necessary, but Gowdy should opt to hold as many hearings as possible in public. It will aid transparency, and undermine Democrats’ accusations to the contrary. Hillary Clinton’s deposition, scheduled for October 22 and open to the public, is a good start.

The Obama administration, with the help of congressional allies, has managed to avoid taking responsibility for an astonishing panoply of failures, from the incompetence of its Department of Veteran Affairs to its Fast and Furious debacle to the brazen lawlessness of its IRS. Redoubled accusations of partisanship should not stop Republicans from working to hold accountable any government officials who failed to do their duty to our men in Libya.

Put Public Education Out Of Its Misery Already

By Erik Lidström
Monday, October 12, 2015

Wouldn’t it be great if we could implement some grand scheme to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live, regardless of who their parents are, get a good education?

Those who oppose Common Core, or Race to the Top, or No Child Left Behind are often nevertheless convinced that government should carry out some other kind of school reform, possibly under the auspices of the individual states. Lately, copying Finland has been a popular idea, although their government system is also beginning to crumble.

Many believe charter schools (public schools freed from many regulations) should be given more freedom and their numbers expanded. Some libertarians argue it is ethically wrong for the government to provide universal, “free,” and compulsory education, and that education should be left to the parents. But libertarians may also feel the positive ring that “providing all children with a high-quality education” has to it.

In my forthcoming book, “Education Unchained: What it takes to restore schools and learning,” I take a different approach to the role of government in education. I demonstrate that we simply cannot reform the education of “our” children “together.” The good thing is, we could easily make changes that, within a few years, would provide virtually all children with a kind of education superior to anything that has come before. But we simply cannot do it “together.”

Government Isn’t the Answer—We Are

In fact, almost no matter what kind of government reform we carry out, the quality of education in the United States, Britain, or my native Sweden will at best remain in its current abysmal state. But most commonly the net outcome of a government reform will be that education quality deteriorates even further. Despite their enthusiasm and good will, charter schools and home schoolers today constitute not even halfway houses towards reform. They are more like a tenth of a way towards it, even though in the future both groups may become the sources of great education.

We must snap out of it and look at education clearly. First of all, education is, or at least ought to be, the outcome we seek. Schools are, or rather should be, mere tools to provide children with education. For various reasons, though, we treat schools as if they are a goals in themselves, as if they are some kind of tribal initiation rite, a ritual everyone has to go through.

Secondly, a hidden assumption is that we “know” what good education is. No, we don’t. To begin with, we all have different ideas about what good education means. Even more importantly, we do not have a meter, an instrument in our brains that can measure quality. Instead, we measure quality by comparing things. A high-quality mobile phone from 2003 is a joke today. Few would buy a high-quality car from 1951. When the government provides us with education, identical for all, by definition we have nothing to directly compare with.

We have also largely forgotten how good education used to be. In fact, just how bad schools are today, compared to the schools of old, is hard for most of us to fathom. In my book, I estimate we have lost about six years of education over twelve years for academically minded pupils, compared to the government systems of, say, Sweden in 1878 or 1968. This means the fall in quality is more than 100 percent. For these children, schools today destroy value.

Thirdly, we treat education as if the laws of nature somehow do not apply. We improve, in any area of life, only to a small degree through rational thinking, because once we have thought long and hard about something, we must put it to the test. In a modern society, this happens in the marketplace. Often, or usually, it turns out that we were wrong, or that someone else had better ideas, and it is back to the drawing board.

The only way we truly progress, or even manage to preserve what we have, is through unchained trial and error. It is important to realize how crucial failure is. Lack of failure blocks innovation like a clogged drain. Competition should sweep away failing schools within weeks.

Government Ruins Education, Like It Ruins Most Things

Thus, to improve education we must liberate it. Government should have no, or hardly any part in financing education, determining curricula or diplomas, or oversight of education. In short, I propose a “free system of education” where parents pay, without any or hardly any government involvement.

There are some common objections to this. Before we get to some of them, I want to briefly discuss the fact that schools used to be better and cost a lot less. So from where did that higher-quality, lower-cost education come?

Governments cannot invent something as complex as an education system out of thin air. In the nineteenth century, governments copied, homogenized, and systematized school systems that the private sector had already invented and evolved. Furthermore, governments at the time could make schooling universal, “free,” and compulsory because, for decades, most parents had already been voluntarily sending their children to schools.

Again, we treat education as if the laws of nature do not apply. Imagine what would have happened if the government in 1870 had taken over the production of running shoes. It would produce identical running shoes that “everyone” has the right to get “for free” because “one should not make money off running shoes.” Today, these running shoes would probably resemble East-German army boots. “Charter shoes” would be available with differently colored laces and maybe insoles.

Had the government in 1842 set out to provide everyone with “free hamburgers,” today they might cost taxpayers $30 each. They might be vegetarian and most likely without salt. The bread would be of the full-grain variety that is so hard that one could use it as a weapon. The local Diner-Cook Associations and Hamburger Boards would discuss skimmed versus half-fat milk, and whether the carrots (no fries!) should be peeled.

Education Should Be Way Cheaper

One objection to a free system of education is that not all parents can afford it. But education is one of the least costly businesses there is to enter. Almost all you need to create a school is a teacher, a large room, and some area to play outside during breaks, such as a schoolyard, a garden, a public park. The cost of education in the United States was $11,109 per student per year in 2009 for the first six years. For years seven through twelve, it was $12,550. Often only half of this money reaches the school, and only one-third the classroom. The monthly cost for younger children is thus about $925, twelve months per year, out of which just over $300 might reach the classroom.
Almost all you need to create a school is a teacher, a large room, and some area to play outside during breaks.

If you instead charge $300 per month per child, and teach 25 children, you would take in $90,000 a year. This should be sufficient, as the U.S. average salary of a teacher was $56,383 in 2012-2013. As a teacher, you would have no administration looking over your shoulder. Instead, 25 pairs of vigilant, fee-paying parents would scrutinize your teaching.

A free system like this would leave room for large tax cuts, since taxpayer money is no longer spent on education. Poor people would therefore have more money to spend.

But what about those who still cannot afford to pay? Today, millions of children in the slums of the Third World go to high-quality private schools that typically cost 5-10 percent of the local minimum wage. Those who cannot pay because their parents are destitute or because they are orphans are taught for free, or at a reduced rate. The same applied in nineteenth-century Britain. It is hard to see why Americans today would be less charitable.

This Would Reduce, Not Increase, Child Neglect

But what about those parents who do not care about their children’s education? First of all, these parents are not that many. Secondly, there would be no bad schools to choose from as deteriorating schools go bankrupt within months. In a free system, if you discover that your child still can’t read after three months in school, you put your child in another one.

If your child is bullied, if he is disciplined for eating his sandwich into a particular shape, if she still can’t read, write, and speak French after six months, if the school decides to ban playing tag in the schoolyard, you do not create a Facebook page, and you do not appeal to the school board. Instead, you first talk to the school, and if it does not mend its ways, you fire the school. Within a week or two, your child goes to a different one. If you find a better school, you move your child. This means school reform in a free system takes place at a pace that is tens of thousands of times faster than in a government system.

Finally, perhaps we should consider it child neglect if a 12-year-old does not possess certain skills, such as basic arithmetic or being able to read a 200-page book, write a short essay, and answer a civics quiz. These are simple demands. But if they were applied today, the politicians and bureaucrats who are responsible for schools would almost all be locked up in prison.

We must compare what I propose with reality, not with some perfect fantasy world. Today, the reality is, for example, that 47 percent of adults in Detroit, some 200,000 people, are functionally illiterate. Half of them have high school degrees.

Of course, there is quite a bit more to the argument than this, and a free education system would not be perfect—there is no such thing in human affairs. Not everyone would get a good education, either, but far fewer would be poorly educated than in a government system, and we would still be able to help them through voluntary efforts.

Why So Many of Europe’s Migrants Are Men

By Jillian Kay Melchior
Monday, October 12, 2015

Šid, Serbia — Mohammad Jamal al-Mousa would say his home was in Aleppo, but bombs from Bashar al-Assad’s planes razed the house. So now, just his family remains there, he says nervously. He thinks the place he left them is relatively safe. He still calls often.

Standing under the shelter of a tent where migrants can stop to charge their phones, he shows me their pictures. His two daughters, the eldest 10, pose grinning in matching white tights, black skirts, and red shirts. One has red bows in her pigtails. His son, a little younger, sits between them. The five-month-old baby boy isn’t pictured.

Al-Mousa worries most for his daughters, growing up not only under Assad’s repressive regime but also as the Islamic State seizes large portions of Syria.

“Can you imagine a child seven years old, who has to be fully covered in a hijab?” he asks me. “They took away her childhood. I want my daughters to be educated and happy. Now, my children are so small, but they’ve learned what a bomb is, and they can recognize warplanes.”

So for the sake of their children, al-Mousa says, he and his wife made a pact: He’d leave them behind in Aleppo and make the perilous journey to Holland, and when he got legal status, he’d bring them along.

Al-Mousa is hardly alone. Many of the men I interviewed traveling solo told me they had left their families behind and intended to reunite with them once they’d been accepted by a safe European country.

This helps to clarify why so many of Europe’s newcomers are young men. Of 102,753 registered arrivals through Italy and Greece, the International Organization of Migration found that 68,085 were men, with only 13,888 women and 20,780 children. At both the Hungary-Croatia border and the Serbia-Croatia border, I saw a noticeable majority of men, though it was nearly impossible to take a photograph without capturing at least one woman or child in the background.

“They tell us, ‘We do this dangerous trip on our own, we get asylum, and there is a law in the European Union that the family can come,’” says Christof Zellenberg, the chairman of the Europa Institute, who has been heavily involved in volunteer efforts in Vienna. You see few newcomers over 50, he adds, because “this is a grueling trip, and you need to be young and strong.”

Many patriarchs are well aware of the risks of bringing their families with them. Zellenberg says the migrants he’s worked with have told him stories of violent criminal smugglers who rape women and threaten men with guns during the journey.

My Arabic and Serbian translator, Mina Bajrami, also works as a volunteer in Belgrade. She told me of a woman in her early 20s who recently arrived in Serbia with a mangled hand, the result of unspecified violence inflicted during the trip. The woman didn’t want to answer questions about it, but when aid workers took her to the hospital, Bajrami says, she learned the injuries were so severe that she’d have to have several fingers, if not her entire hand, amputated. But such an operation would delay the journey to Europe, so she bandaged her hand as best she could and carried on with her family.

Even those who don’t fall into the hands of malicious smugglers or criminals have a rough time just enduring the rigors of the trip.

Madeline Meshka, a young Syrian mother traveling with her two-year-old, tells me they decided to leave after war not only devastated her region but also left her without power and heat as winter approached. Traveling to Europe has been hard, she says, and today was especially trying. A bus took her to the Serbia-Croatia crossing, but pouring rain had turned the entire area into a thick mud. Still, she scooped up her baby and mustered a smile when we talked about the life she hopes will await her.

If many of these male migrants are simply traveling alone to spare families they intend to bring to Europe later, it may alleviate one major concern raised by some of the most fervent critics of this population shift, who have bluntly warned of a “Muslim invasion” of fighting-age men into Europe.

But a future influx of families could another problem, as Zellenberg notes. Europe is already struggling to deal with the financial burden caused by today’s newcomers, who are pouring across European borders at levels not seen since World War II. If the majority of these men plan to bring families later, the current numbers are totally off. Multiply it by four or more, he says.

Of course, not all of the men crossing into Europe alone have families at home. Fadi McLeash, a 23-year-old Syrian traveling with six other men in their early 20s, tells me he decided to leave because he’d finally given up hope that his country would return to normalcy. Rolling up his sleeve, he encouraged me to feel the bump on his arm — a piece of shrapnel from a mortar that exploded near him in January 2014, his souvenir of Syria, he says.

McLeash calls it “the funniest day of his life.” As he lay on the ground bleeding, he says, an old man asked him what was wrong. Apparently he hadn’t heard the explosion; maybe his hearing was gone. So McLeash quipped despite the pain that nothing was wrong at all. He’d just been diving for a football, he said. He describes the entire story in perfect English, but there’s an edge to his voice.

With good reason, an increasing number of European politicians and thought leaders warn of the potential security risks. Many migrants come without proper paperwork, and the haphazard approach in Italy, Greece, and elsewhere has meant newcomers often entering the territory of the European Union illegally, without any sort of regular registration or tracking.

“Statistically, it is impossible that there are no troublemakers among them,” says Zoltán Kovács, a spokesman for the Hungarian government. The Charlie Hebdo massacre showed the horror that even a few evildoers can inflict.

Nonetheless, McLeash says he implores the West to treat the incomers mercifully. “We are not refugees or asylum-seekers,” he says. “We are students, doctors, teachers. We are not statistics. Every one of us has a story, has a past.”