CRF Blog

Was Machiavelli really not Machiavellian?

by Bill Hayes

In Was Machiavelli really not Machiavellian?, the Guardian reviews Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli In His World by Erica Benner.

It was inevitable, then, that someone would come up with a book arguing that Machiavelli was not Machiavellian. In one sense, to be sure, we have known this all along. The renowned 16th-century diplomat and politician was a staunch republican and reformer who denounced corruption in high places and detested tyrants, which was not the best recipe for a quiet life in the Florence of the Medici family. As a humanist in the mould of Livy and Cicero, he urged his fellow citizens to question conventional wisdom and take nothing on authority. Rulers were not to be deceived by false glory, and high birth was by no means a guarantee of virtue. The public good took precedence over private interests and political sectarianism. You should treat your enemies justly, uphold the rule of law and show respect to others, if only to win them over to your side. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see Machiavelli and The Prince from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Media in the Age of Trump

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: Media in the Age of Trump.

Donald J. Trump canceled campaign credentials for news organizations that wrote critically of him. He taunted one reporter so badly the Secret Service offered to escort her out of his furious rally. He said he would expand libel laws. His staff has called the media the “opposition party” and said they’d move journalists out of the White House. At his last news conference, his first in months, he refused to take questions from a reporter whose network ran an embarrassing story.

With a president so antagonistic to them, and disdainful of the truth, American journalism faces one of its greatest challenges. How should it respond? [more]

I watched a populist leader rise in my country

by Bill Hayes

In I watched a populist leader rise in my country for the Washington Post, the author and director of research on human rights Miklos Haraszti recounts what he learned from watching Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in power.

A first vital lesson from my Hungarian experience: Do not be distracted by a delusion of impending normalization. Do not ascribe a rectifying force to statutes, logic, necessities or fiascoes. Remember the frequently reset and always failed illusions attached to an eventual normalization of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Orban.

Call me a typical Hungarian pessimist, but I think hope can be damaging when dealing with populists. For instance, hoping that unprincipled populism is unable to govern. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English

by Bill Hayes

Quartz reports that Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English.

Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains, according to a large and well-designed study …. [more]

Can Customs and Border Officials Search Your Phone?

by Bill Hayes

As part of its ongoing series on immigration, ProPublica answers questions surrounding the issue: Can Customs and Border Officials Search Your Phone?

Doesn’t the Fourth Amendment protect us from “unreasonable searches and seizures”?

Yes. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution articulates the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” However, those protections are lessened when entering the country at international terminals at airports, other ports of entry and subsequently any location that falls within 100 air miles of an external U.S. boundary.

How broad is Customs and Border Protection’s search authority?

According to federal statutes, regulations and court decisions, CBP officers have the authority to inspect, without a warrant, any person trying to gain entry into the country and their belongings. CBP can also question individuals about their citizenship or immigration status and ask for documents that prove admissibility into the country.

This blanket authority for warrantless, routine searches at a port of entry ends when CBP decides to undertake a more invasive procedure, such as a body cavity search. For these kinds of actions, the CBP official needs to have some level of suspicion that a particular person is engaged in illicit activity, not simply that the individual is trying to enter the U.S. [more]

The Downfall of ISIS

by Bill Hayes

In The Downfall of ISIS for Foreign Affairs magazine, Vera Mironova and Mohammed Hussein explain how ISIS’s foreign fighters have become a major problem for the terror group.

Over the last few years, one aspect of the Islamic State (ISIS) has loomed large in the public’s imagination: the group’s ability to attract foreign fighters. The attention makes sense; there is something particularly terrifying about the idea of merciless terrorists mobilizing from all corners of the world to decimate civilian populations in Iraq and Syria to help ISIS rapidly gain territory. Foreign fighters also preoccupied Western governments, which were faced with the prospect of battle-hardened jihadists returning home. But now, three years into ISIS’ war, its once mighty weapon is now threatening to cut off the hand that feeds it; foreign fighters are quickly becoming one of ISIS’ biggest liabilities. [more]

America: the failed state

by Bill Hayes

In America: the failed state for Prospect Magazine, Francis Fukuyama argues that the United States has declined and the liberal world order is at risk.

Donald Trump’s evolution from a buffoonish fringe candidate taken seriously by no one to the President … is one of the most unexpected and traumatic events in recent US history. The effects are uncertain, but — in the worst case — they could lead to the US giving up entirely on global leadership, and the unravelling of the liberal world order it has done much to build since the 1950s.

The triumph of the Trump brand of nationalism is arguably of a piece with authoritarian advances in disparate countries, from Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey to Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Together these developments constitute an even more fundamental problem to cherished western ideas, by making populist democracy an active threat to individual liberty. A great deal remains up in the air, but with indignant nationalists riding the tide in so many places, we cannot preclude the possibility that we are living through a political disruption that will in time bear comparison with the collapse of Communism a generation ago.

There will be endless post-mortems in the US on how Trump’s win could possibly have come about; much of the media attention will continue to focus on short-term issues like the intervention by FBI Director James Comey 11 days before the election, or on the stream of reportedly Russian-sourced leaks from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Such considerations are valid and may have had a bearing on the outcome. But it is important to recognise that the result had roots which run deep into American society. As both the Republican and Democratic parties reassess their positions, they would do well to think about how the political map has changed in the four short years since 2012, and how this reflects not only campaign dramas, but changes within America itself — concerns over the state of the economy and a profound sense of unease over its role in world affairs. [more]

The Disaster of Richard Nixon

by Bill Hayes

In The Disaster of Richard Nixon for the New York Review of Books, Robert G. Kaiser reviews the following books: Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas; Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection by Ken Hughes; Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War by William Burr and Jeffrey P. Kimball; and One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon by Tim Weiner.

Is Nixon’s historical reputation doomed forever? These books suggest that it is. Evan Thomas’s highly readable Being Nixon is, inadvertently, the most persuasive. Thomas set out to write a sympathetic account of Nixon’s life. He is persistently empathetic to his subject, but he is also a fine reporter and biographer (of Robert F. Kennedy, Edward Bennett Williams, John Paul Jones, and others). The good reporter gives his readers so many details of Nixon’s bad behavior that Thomas’s intention to write a sympathetic account collapses under the weight of its own facts. You can feel sorry for Nixon as a human being after reading Thomas’s book, but it is much harder to excuse his repeated transgressions — of ethical standards, of the law, of democratic values — and his quite abject reliance on alcohol and drugs. Thomas bends over too far in his effort to forgive Nixon’s misdeeds, particularly his Vietnam disaster and his ugly racial politics.

The other books in this collection of recent works are openly hostile to Nixon (Tim Weiner and Ken Hughes) or subtly devastating (William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball). Weiner, a former New York Times reporter and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, focuses on Vietnam and Watergate; he uses many of the most recently released tape transcripts and documents to give his version of these familiar stories new energy and salience, but his well-paced narratives of both stories don’t break much new ground. Hughes, a good researcher but inelegant writer who has been studying the Nixon tapes since 2000 at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, doesn’t hide his personal anger at Nixon and Kissinger for prolonging the Vietnam War when, according to the evidence of the tapes, they realized it couldn’t be won. He indicts them for sacrificing tens of thousands of American lives and over a million Asian ones to a lost cause. But Hughes oversimplifies when he claims that, almost entirely owing to political calculations, the war had to continue beyond November 1972, or Nixon could not win reelection. Burr and Kimball make more nuanced use of the same material.

Vietnam was the defining issue of Nixon’s presidency, as he knew it would be. Months before he became president, Nixon assured H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, his closest aide, that “I’m not going to end up like LBJ, Bob, holed up in the White House, afraid to show my face on the street. I’m going to stop that war. Fast.” Antiwar protesters had driven Lyndon Johnson into early retirement, which allowed Nixon to become president. Nixon played to the country’s war weariness in his 1968 campaign, implying that he had a plan to end the war.

But he had no plan. Ironically, even before he took office Nixon personally sabotaged an opportunity he might have had to avoid Johnson’s fate. The books under review suggest that this is one of the stories that will continue to stain Nixon’s reputation. [more]

Northern Lights

by Bill Hayes

In Northern Lights for the New Yorker, Nathan Heller reviews The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth.

Some say that the American Dream is not what it once was: wages are low, retirement is not a parachute glide but a plunge, and those chosen to fix such problems labor at undoing one another’s laws. For these doubters, there are the Swedes. On any given day, a Swedish man — call him Viggo — might be reclining on a sofa underneath a Danish lamp shaped like an artichoke. He is an artist, and he has a pension. He is wearing boldly colored pants. His young wife, Ebba, is a neurosurgeon, though she has never paid a krona in tuition, and her schedule runs between the operating table and the laboratory. Things are busy. She and Viggo have small kids (the government gives them a combined four hundred and eighty days of maternity and paternity leave for every child), and when the younger ran a fever yesterday he needed to be whisked from day care to the doctor (both charged mostly to the state). Now it’s the weekend. They are in their country house. It’s nothing fancy, just a little place among the birches near the Øresund, but Viggo spiffed it up with some IKEA deckware, and their friends drop by for oysters and beer. As dawn comes, he brews coffee. He is listening to a radio report on the Prime Minister, who brokered a budget agreement among six parties, and then Stieg Larsson, who is being memorialized on-air. He turns the dial to the multiethnic band Icona Pop, which has soared across the global charts. Icona Pop sings, “We’re just living life, and we never stop,” and that is what Sweden now means to Viggo. Freedom to follow your talents. Community and coalition-building all around. American life promises liberty, cultural power, and creative opportunity, but by many measures it’s the Swedes who turned this smorgasbord of concepts into a sustaining meal.

And not only the Swedes. Look to the south, and there is Denmark, where wind power is ascendant and the gorgeous armchairs are as plentiful as herring. Norway has been No. 1 on the Legatum Prosperity Index for years. What unifies the Scandinavians is at once specific (social-democratic government, mutually intelligible languages, a love of sauna) and ineffable (something to do with modesty, a naturalistic cast of mind, and candles). If trivial things are vital to the French, as Mark Twain once suggested, Nordic culture runs to the soft power of a hard settee.

The global pull of Scandinavian life, never weak, continues to strengthen. [more]

How Tomb Raiders Are Stealing Our History

by Bill Hayes

In How Tomb Raiders Are Stealing Our History, National Geographic reports on the debate over what to do about the illegal trade in antiquities.

From murderous temple thieves in India to church pillagers in Bolivia to hundred-man bands of tomb raiders in China’s Liaoning Province, looters are strip-mining our past. Like most illegal activities, looting is hard to quantify. But satellite imagery, police seizures, and witness reports from the field all indicate that the trade in stolen treasures is booming around the world.

In Egypt, [Egyptologist Sarah] Parcak has pioneered the use of satellite imagery to measure looting and site-encroachment damage. Her research tells a grim tale: A quarter of the country’s 1,100 known archaeological areas have sustained major damage. “At the current rate of destruction, all known sites in Egypt will be seriously compromised by 2040,” she says. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Over the past two decades a series of high-profile court cases and repatriations have exposed the dark side of the antiquities trade, bringing to light criminal networks of diggers and traffickers who sell looted artifacts to Madison Avenue galleries and renowned museums. In 2002 Frederick Schultz, a prominent Manhattan dealer in ancient art, was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for conspiring to receive stolen Egyptian objects. In 2006 the Metropolitan Museum of Art, under pressure from the Italian government, agreed to return the famous Euphronios krater — a wine-mixing bowl looted from an Etruscan tomb near Rome. And in recent years the drumbeat of war and turmoil in many antiquities-rich countries, culminating in the sack of ancient Mesopotamia by the Islamic State (ISIS), has sparked concern that the antiquities trade is helping fund terrorism.

Yet the debate about how to halt looting has reached an impasse. Archaeologists blame the antiquities trade for looting, claiming that many artifacts on the market were stolen. Collectors, dealers, and many museum curators counter that most antiquities sales are legal. Some argue that the ultimate goal of safeguarding humankind’s artistic heritage obliges them to “rescue” antiquities from unstable countries — even if it means buying from looters. [more]

Every Country in the World (Part 2)

Seminal Ideas in Economics: Secrets and agents

by David De La Torre

In Secrets and agents, the first in its series on seminal ideas in economics, The Economist looks at George Akerlof’s 1970 paper “The Market for Lemons.”

IN 2007 the state of Washington introduced a new rule aimed at making the labour market fairer: firms were banned from checking job applicants’ credit scores. Campaigners celebrated the new law as a step towards equality — an applicant with a low credit score is much more likely to be poor, black or young. Since then, ten other states have followed suit. But when Robert Clifford and Daniel Shoag, two economists, recently studied the bans, they found that the laws left blacks and the young with fewer jobs, not more.

Before 1970, economists would not have found much in their discipline to help them mull this puzzle. Indeed, they did not think very hard about the role of information at all. In the labour market, for example, the textbooks mostly assumed that employers know the productivity of their workers — or potential workers — and, thanks to competition, pay them for exactly the value of what they produce.

jjYou might think that research upending that conclusion would immediately be celebrated as an important breakthrough. Yet when, in the late 1960s, George Akerlof wrote “The Market for Lemons”, which did just that, and later won its author a Nobel prize, the paper was rejected by three leading journals. [more]

What Foreign Policy Staff Read in 2016

by Bill Hayes

Another post almost too late to post, but still worth taking a look at: The writers and editors of Foreign Policy magazine share What Foreign Policy Staff Read in 2016.

James Palmer, Asia editor

Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble, by Daniel Lyons

This has been the year that proved that everything people liked in the 1990s — the internet, the Clintons, the triumph of American capitalism — is actually awful, especially the internet. Disrupted wasn’t my favorite book of the year, but it’s the one I’ve found myself referring to most often in conversation. On the surface, it’s a funny, sly memoir of being out of place — too old, too cranky, and too skeptical — but beyond that, it’s an exposé of how unsustainable, absurd, and corrupt the world of “tech” is.

“Tech” is very different from actual technology. “Tech” means Uber, losing nearly a billion dollars a year, bulldozing their way through regulations thanks to a virtual blank check from investors. The mix of venture capital and the belief that apps can solve everything is, as Lyons shows, financially and socially dangerous. Like “finance” in the run-up to 2008 (and, well, finance today), it’s a ticking time bomb that will cover us all in shrapnel when it explodes. [more]

How Despots Use Twitter to Hunt Dissidents

by Bill Hayes

In a feature story, Bloomberg Businessweek reveals How Despots Use Twitter to Hunt Dissidents.

Nowhere was the promise of Twitter more fully realized than in Saudi Arabia, where the service was embraced as a way to get around government censors. “People do not trust the official media,” says Hala Aldosari, a Saudi scientist who started tweeting in 2010 about such taboo topics as the kingdom’s guardianship laws, which prevent women from traveling or marrying without a man’s permission. A 2013 study found that 1 in 3 Saudi internet users was active on Twitter, the highest market share in any country. (In the U.S., it’s 1 in 5.) “The only way for us to discuss these issues is through social networks like Twitter,” Aldosari says. “It allows us to create groups of like-minded people.”

But if Twitter provides a rare outlet for criticism of repressive regimes, it’s also useful to those regimes for tracking down and punishing critics. In September 2012 a Saudi Twitter user named Bader Thawab was arrested for tweeting “down with the House of Saud.” In March 2014 an eight-year prison sentence was upheld for a Saudi man who’d mocked the king and religious officials on Twitter and YouTube. The following May, a Saudi man in a wheelchair named Dolan bin Bakheet was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 100 lashes for using Twitter to complain about his medical care. In all, there have been dozens of Twitter-related prosecutions in Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.

Twitter is still popular in the kingdom — the service has added 200,000 active users there since 2014, according to the Arab Social Media Report — but it no longer hosts much dissent. Activists are careful to tweet in coded language, if they tweet at all. “People don’t openly discuss important things on Twitter anymore,” says Ali Adubisi, a Saudi human-rights activist. “Twitter is totally different, totally silent, totally weak.”

Critiques about the dark side of Twitter have been around almost since its founding in 2006. [more]

This Week’s New Yorker Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

To see a slide show of this week’s New Yorker cartoons, go here, scroll down to “From the Issue,” click on the date, and click on the dots at the bottom of each cartoon to go through the slide show.