James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
  • SOTU in 8 Thought Drops

    The first seven are in different ways encouraging; number eight, less so.

    Ronald Reagan, back in the days of yore. Read on to discover why I am using this photo. (Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library)

    Not doing an annotated version this year, for mainly technical reasons. Thus this bullet-point version. (Plus, discussed the speech this morning on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, and last night right after the event on Charlie Rose.)

    1) Theme: it had one. The curse/burden of writing State of the Union messages, and the challenge in listening to them, is that their entire point is to be encyclopedic. It's the president's main shot at listing all the things he's hoping to do. Thus their standard "Turning now to foreign affairs ... " creaky-transition structure, and thus the difficulty of discerning any main theme.

    But this one had a theme, and a narrative-argumentative structure. That theme was: things are getting better -- and so, my colleagues in government, let's stop screwing them up. The positive part of the theme allowed Obama to make his version of a morning-in-America presentation: manufacturing up, energy imports and carbon emissions down, health coverage expanding. It also allowed him to make the must-do-more part: inequality and uneven opportunity are the main challenges to doing better. So let's deal with them.

    2) Bearing: Obama's mattered. The news of the past few months has all been of a diminished, aloof, estranged, premature-lame-duck Obama. If the man we'd seen last night had resembled the beaten-seeming Obama of the first 2012 Romney-Obama debate, the out-of-it verdict would have solidified. That wouldn't have moved him into permanent figurehead status, because "expert" judgments about politicians are notoriously fickle. (Bill Clinton is now viewed on all sides as a kind of sun king of political dexterity. After the defeat of his medical-care bill, a crushed-seeming President Clinton had to mewl at a press conference that he was "still relevant.") But it would have made things that much harder.

    So, all judgments are fluid. But—as he has time and again with "big" speeches—Obama improved his standing by seeming sunny, confident, relaxed, and engaged.

    You could say, "Reaganesque," by which I mean: seeming sunnily confident himself, seeming similarly confident about the country, and seeming (most of the time) amused and unflustered by the realities of political division, rather than embittered or scolding about them. 

    3) American Futures—the speech. It was considerate of the president to begin with a litany of local manufacturing start-ups and community public-private development efforts very much like the ones we've been chronicling in recent months. If he ever tires of Air Force One, there is a seat for him in our Cirrus.

    4) Inequality—the shrewd way he positioned it. The news before the speech was that Obama was going to dwell on the worst economic reality of the times, in the United States and virtually all other countries: things are getting better overall, but not for all or even most people. And his opponents were gearing up for a "we are shocked, just shocked by this descent into 'class war' " lament. 

    So when he talked about strictly economic issues, Obama kept carefully to a "growing pie" tone. It's great that rich people have done so well. Let's help everyone prosper. And when he worked the class-war beat, it was on a front where the Republicans dared not (sanely) oppose him: arguing that today's economy is unfair to women. I.e., to most Americans.

    5) Nicest deviation from prepared text—the missing "er." The official text of the speech had this passage about symbols of American opportunity:

    Here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.  That’s what drew our forebears here.  It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth. 

    What Obama actually said about John Boehner was, "the son of a barkeep." A tiny difference that was ineffably charming. Boehner himself was manifestly charmed. And the sequence of examples here—first female head of General Motors (which, nudge-nudge, the government helped rescue); the son of a barkeep sitting here behind me; and only then the son of a single mother standing at the podium—put Obama's own story, which is (of course) tremendously important but which (of course) we all already know, in a broader "all in this together" frame.  

    Son of a barkeep acknowledges son of a single mother. Son of a used-car salesman applauds. Via Washington Post.

    6) Back to vintage-2008 Obama. On the substance, sentences I was very glad to hear: 

    So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks—through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners—America must move off a permanent war footing .... And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay—because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by  

    7) Laying down the law, in the right way—about Iran. Also very glad to hear these lines:

    Let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.  For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed...  If Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

    And:

    If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

    Exactly. For later discussion, the way effective (finding bin Laden) and excessive (drone/surveillance) aspects of Obama's records should insulate him from the need to "prove" his toughness.

    8) Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg. About the service and sacrifice of this brave man and other men and women like him, we cannot say enough. As Obama emphasized, Sgt. Remsburg's grave injury came on his tenth deployment. I do not doubt that Obama, like his wartime predecessors, is genuinely seized by both anguish and admiration about the people he has sent into harm's way. Even when, and perhaps more so when, like Obama he has been trying to withdraw those troops.

    And no one can doubt the drama and power of the speech's closing minutes.

    But while that moment reflected limitless credit on Sgt. Remsburg, his family, and others similarly situated; and while I believe it was genuinely respectful on the president's part, I don't think the sustained ovation reflected well on the America of 2014. It was a good and honorable moment for him and his family. But I think the spectacle should make most Americans uneasy.

    The vast majority of us play no part whatsoever in these prolonged overseas campaigns; people like Sgt. Remsburg go out on 10 deployments; we rousingly cheer their courage and will; and then we move on. Last month I mentioned that the most memorable book I read in 2013 was Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. It's about a group of U.S. soldiers who barely survive a terrible encounter in Iraq, and then are paraded around in a halftime tribute at a big Dallas Cowboys game. The crowd at Cowboys Stadium cheers in very much the way the Capitol audience did last night—then they get back to watching the game.

  • It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! SOTU Edition

    What a year-six State of the Union address sounds like

    Harry Truman's State of the Union, 63 years ago. Truman gave the first televised SOTU, in 1947, and the longest one ever, at around 25,000 words, in 1951. (Byron Rollins/Associated Press)

    Since the dawn of time, or at least through the past few presidencies, after each State of the Union address I have hammered out an annotated version of the speech. Generally these have reflected the wizened "OK, here is the trick of how he saws the lady in half" view of someone who has been involved in producing some of these performance and has seen all too many of them.

    For instance, here is a sample from a SOTU early in George W. Bush's term, with his 2003 speech. Comments in italics:

    Jobs are created when the economy grows; the economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest; and the best, fairest way to make sure Americans have that money is not to tax it away in the first place. [Good politicians define problems in ways that make their preferred solutions seem the only logical choices. No one of any party could disagree with the first two parts of this sentence. With the third, the President moves toward the solution he has in mind.] 

    Although, as I noted at the time, that same speech was clearly laying the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq that began five weeks later, I didn't realize in real time the significance of this 16-word passage late in the speech:

    The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. 

    Those 16 words became the heart of the "doctored intelligence" complaint about the oversold case for war in Iraq.

    And here is the latest one, from a year ago, when Barack Obama made his first big appearance since his easy reelection but was girding (as he is now) for showdowns with the Congress:

    Let's set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future.  And let's do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors.  The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.  [One of the clearest partisan-divide moments. Biden and all the Democrats shoot out of their chairs and cheer. Boehner  sits expressionless and does not clap.]

    Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. [Now this is remarkable. One of the tricks of SOTU drafting is to construct sentences that force the other side to join in the applause, because you've ended the sentence on some "U-S-A! U-S-A!" type of line. Which is what Obama has done here: Who can possibly be against upholding the full faith and credit of the United States? The remarkable part is that the congressional GOP has decided it is not going to applaude this line. So we have the odd spectacle of Democrats, led by Biden, up and cheering for America paying its bills -- while the speaker of the House and other members of his party remain seated and un-applauding.]

    Through the past few years we've done the annotations with fancy popups, as you will see with that 2013 speech and its recent predecessors.

    For technical reasons involving our new blogging platform, and also on the "enough is enough" principle, I won't be doing an annotated SOTU this year. Instead I'll refer you, for amusement and reference, to three previous "year-six" SOTUs that came at comparable points in previous administrations. They are:

    Challenger, 28 years ago today.

    Ronald Reagan, 1986, which was delayed a week because of the space shuttle Challenger disaster on the day originally scheduled for the speech. The full text is here, and it begins with tributes to the Challenger astronauts and also—those were the days!—to Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, who was in his final term of service. About 3,500 words long.

    Bill Clinton 1998, which occurred just as the first Monica Lewinsky reports were circulating. Clinton's topics were variants of this "Bridge to the 21st Century" themes. To read it is to take an amazing trip back to the politics of those times. E.g.:

    We have moved past the sterile debate between those who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer. My fellow Americans, we have found a third way. We have the smallest Government in 35 years, but a more progressive one. We have a smaller Government, but a stronger Nation. We are moving steadily toward an even stronger America in the 21st century: an economy that offers opportunity, a society rooted in responsibility, and a nation that lives as a community.

    This speech is more than twice as long as Reagan's, nearly 7,500 words. The losses Clinton noted at the start were two congressmen from California, Walter Capps and Sonny Bono.

    George Bush 2006, Bush also began by noting a loss: the death of Coretta Scott King. Then his speech moved onto the same boundless-expansionist territory as his second inaugural address one year earlier. E.g.:

    Abroad, our Nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal: We seek the end of tyranny in our world. 

    Bush was between the other two-term presidents in length, with a speech of about 5,400 words. Here is my annotated version of that one. 

    Please study, compare, contrast—and understand the precedents through which Obama's speech should be assessed. If this makes you so interested that you want to read through the whole SOTU archives, a great place to find them is in the archives of the American Presidency Project of UC Santa Barbara.

  • Dadgum! Katy, Bar the Door! Speaking Your Mind in South Carolina

    by Deborah Fallows

    South Carolina. Image via SCPRT

     

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    Greenville is located in the heart of The Upcountry of South Carolina. Colloquially, most people now seem to call this The Upstate. It's not simply geographically upstate, as in "upstate New York," but a moniker with strong cultural and historical references. The Upcountry or Upstate was the heartland of South Carolina's now-diminished textile industry, and by their own description, the people are scrappy and hard-working. Besides referring to The Upstate, people in Greenville generally divided the rest of South Carolina into the Midlands, which includes Columbia, the capital; the Pee Dee, in the northeast and named for the native American Pee Dee tribe, and the Low Country, home of plantations and historic Charleston. It's a smaller state, #40 of the 50 by size, but with a lot of internal variation. 

    I went to Greenville listening for what kind of southernisms I might hear. I wasn't disappointed:  the accent is alive and well, classic words and phrases abound, and best of all, the conversations are comfortably padded with folksy, southern expressions. You won't regret watching the video below.

    Regionalisms: A look at my favorite Harvard dialect study confirmed that I could count on the obvious: South Carolina is “y’all” country. Some 72% of South Carolinians say that, compared with 14% in the US overall.  Even the strong national pull of “you guys”, which my husband Jim, a Californian, swears originated in California and moved out from there, can’t take over from y’all in the South. Only 13% of South Carolinians use “you guys”, so far at least. In one modern moment, when I was talking with a Greenville native, she said y’all to me. Then, her regional linguistic self-awareness kicked in and she hesitated, tracked back, and offered up a clarifying “you”.

    Harvard Dialect Survey, overall nationwide responses.

    And here is something really bizarre. Again from the dialect study is question #80: “What do you call it when rain falls when the sun is shining?” Well, over half the people in the country don’t even have an expression for this. But in South Carolina, over 43% of people say  “ the devil is beating his wife”. 

    HDS, nationwide responses.

    One question the survey didn’t ask, but I wish it had, is about greetings and introductions. In my own personally-conducted linguistic survey in Greenville (read: I asked around), several residents reported that the follow-up you’re likely to hear after “Hello” or “How do you do?”  is “Where do you go to church?” I suspect this isn’t confined to the South.  When I asked about the intention of this phrase in Greenville, two women I met went back and forth about its real meaning. They settled on some version of “Who are your people?” or “Where do you fit in?” That makes sense to me. If you have your own nomination for this after-you-say “How do you do?” question, send it along to me (contact details below) with your location, and we’ll make our own nationwide map.

    Pride and Surprise: We had many conversations with residents of Greenville about the story of the town center’s revitalization as an exciting, attractive, busy place. All sorts of people talked with us: city officials, developers, educators, artists, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, journalists, students, parents of students, and wage earners. Two sentiments about the town prevailed: pride and a sense of surprise.

    The first we almost expected. Of the more than half dozen towns where we have spent time over the last several months, I would say they all share the trait of having intense pride for investing in, among other things, the revitalizing of the downtown space. This was true in Sioux Falls, Holland MI, Burlington VT, Rapid City, Eastport ME, and Redlands CA. This same sense of pride came through clearly in the thousand or so responses we received in the “nominate your town” request to suggest places we could visit. (Here was the original nominating page, still open for new suggestions.) People love their hometowns and what they are building there.

    Downtown Greenville. Photo via MASC

    The second was unique, so far, to Greenville – the surprise from residents at how quickly and broadly their town has improved.  Greenville reports on itself that it had a long way to go. The vision of  Mayor Max Heller in the 1970s to rebuild the town after the collapse of the textile industry to one of culture, recreation, and commerce was beginning to see some results after a long decade. But even into the 1990s, people recounted to us, there were not many reasons to go to Main St., and there were a lot of reasons not to. There were few restaurants and lots of empty storefronts.  The now elegantly-restored Westin Poinsett Hotel was “the tallest crackhouse in town” hitting its nadir after its demise from a grande-dame hotel to a retirement home to abandonment.  The general warning from residents to each other was about the derelict nature of the southern edge of downtown, including the traffic bridge that crossed the Reedy River above its natural falls. “Don’t go near the bridge,” people today said that people used to say. Now, people generally marvel at the changes over the last 15 years.

    Folksy language: You know you’re somewhere when people say, “Katy, bar the door!” in the middle of a conversation.  And you know it’s a place where people don’t cautiously spoon out their language, wary of soundbites.  Here is an example:

    One piece of the plan for rebuilding Greenville included demolishing the traffic bridge over the Reedy River, a bridge that hid the view of the falls beneath it, and for prettying up the space around the falls with a park complex. Fifteen years of controversy roiled over an idea that was embraced by some and met with strong resistance by others. “Why take down a perfectly good bridge?” asked a group of people who were happy to let things be, and who didn’t see river revitalization as an attractive proposition. “The River, Yuck!” as it was “all kudzu and poison ivy.” By today’s retelling, these folks were all about “Katy, bar the door!”

    Greenville falls. Photos via MASC

    Well, the bridge did get demolished, the new Falls Park area with the elegant pedestrian Liberty Bridge was dedicated in 2004. And so much more was developed or restored:  the Swamp Rabbit Trail along an old rail bed for runners, walkers and bikers, the Peace Center for the arts, old textile mills, the restaurants and brew pubs, specialty shops selling everything from Jerky to ice cream, the ice rink, the Fluor Field, the in-town baseball stadium which is now a bookend to the west-end (which is actually to the south) development. “It used to be a mile’s a ways out,” but now walking that distance to the field suggests that expansion is going to continue a ways beyond that.

    As for the fruit of the huge redevelopment effort, “Dadgum if we didn’t do it!”  summed up a revered town elder.

    Newcomers and young returnees to Greenville vouch for its current coolness. One 20-something entrepreneur, Eric Dodds, whom Jim wrote about in a post on the start-up culture of Greenville,  who had grown up in the town, left in a hurry for college, returned home on a visit and uttered a “Holy cow!” upon seeing the change. He has moved back.

    Many people told us the stories of recruiting outsiders to Greenville for jobs in education, tech, and business of all sorts. The typical outsiders’ reaction, residents reported in a way that you know precedes a punch line, was always “Greenville, South Carolina? Are you kidding?” The finale was always something like: “Well, within a week, they had called a realtor and bought a house.”

    The earthy language of Greenville has given me heart that American English has not become homogenized, and that regionalisms are alive and well.


    To contact the author, including with more suggestions about American regional English, write DebFallows at gmail.com.

  • Smaller-Town Startups: 'Stopping the Brain Drain' in South Carolina

    'People say, this is my ticket Out.' Then, they want to stay.

    "Code academy" room for The Iron Yard, inside the Next tech-accelerator building Greenville SC.

    Yesterday PCH International -- the company from Shenzhen, in southern China, that is run by my friend Liam Casey and whose exploits the Atlantic has chronicled from 2007 to 2012 -- announced yet another acquisition. It's of the e-commerce site ShopLocket, and the logic of the deal was an extension of what I've heard from Casey all along. The main function of his company (and others) has been to shorten the distance -- in time, money, effort -- between the idea for a new product, and the reality of that product in a customer's hands.

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    You can read all about it in the announcement, but here's the connection to our American Futures journey. ShopLocket is a service for the "maker revolution" -- the small startups, all around the U.S. and elsewhere, that are producing new things, and that are using the advantages of today's distributed commerce to help small, new companies do what only big companies could do before. That is, they can more quickly and easily: get startup capital; refine prototypes for their products; find suppliers and subcontractors; line up distributors and test markets; respond to shifts in demand; and all the rest. This is what Liam Casey was describing to me a little over a year ago, and it's what you can read about on the ShopLocket site here.

    Which brings us back to the Greenville-Greer-Spartanburg area of "upstate" South Carolina. A big question we have been asking is why high-value companies end up where they do, and how and where new companies get their start. In Burlington, Vermont, this involved asking what Dealer.com was doing there. In Redlands, California, why the big geographic-software company Esri (our partner in the project) had started and --  more interesting -- stayed in a place far from existing software centers.

    In Greenville, we spent a very interesting afternoon at the locally well-known firm The Iron Yard, which was housed in a new tech-incubator building that said "NEXT" out front.

    Next Innovation Center at night, photo by Brad Feld.

    As my wife mentioned before, and as we're sure to mention many times again, just about everything in the Greenville area reflects the fruits of the "public-private partnerships" that have rebuilt the downtown, attracted international manufacturing firms, created surprising new schools, and in other ways tried to reposition the town as a modern technology/culture/good-life center.

    [Before you ask, I've received a lot of mail about Greenville's troubled past in race relations and other barometers of inclusiveness. Greenville County, for instance, was the very last one in South Carolina to observe Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday.  We talked the past, present, and future of the area's "openness" with lots of people there and will say more about it in upcoming dispatches.]

    The Next project is run by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, with "public-private" guidance from local officials, businesses, developers, and so on. But it is located separately from the main Chamber of Commerce building and is designed to look and feel like a Boston/SF/Shenzhen-style startup center rather than some normal civic building. When we visited there last week, John Moore, a Chamber executive who runs the Next project, told us that it tried to run lean startup-style too. "We had the advantage of starting with a blank sheet of paper," he said.

    The Iron Yard, discussed below, part of the Next complex.

    "Because there were no existing entities to protect their turf, we were able to leapfrog," Moore said -- much as some developing countries jump entirely past the wired-telephone stage to create nationwide wireless networks. "We went from the idea for the center, to finishing the building and opening it, to having it full, all within three years. If we'd had to start with a university or an existing city facility and tried to change its model, it would have been a lot harder and slower." 

    The purpose of Next is to make it easier for new companies to start in the Greenville area. Moore pointed out that this "upstate" region of South Carolina had become famously effective in recruiting big, established firms to set up operations there: GE, BMW, Michelin, and on down a long list. "We've been so good an attracting other companies that we may not have done enough to develop our own," he said. Thus Next and related enterprises -- which connect startups with angel investors, provide physical space to get started, offer advice from mentors and startup veterans, and generally supply the sort of surrounding entrepreneurial information and advantage that can come automatically from being in startup centers from Boston to SF. 

    Some of the startups with offices in Greenville's Next building.

    Has it made any difference? Can it make any difference, I asked Moore, given the scale and distance handicaps of a smallish place like Greenville?

    "If you'd asked me five years ago, during the toughest times economically, I would have said, I hope so," Moore told us. "We had eight software companies in our program in 2006. They hadn't known each other. Now we have 134 companies, all new, in all kinds of industries, from manufacturing to genomics to game software." He said that he expected 200 local startups to be involved with Next soon. The main building has space only for 20 to 24; the rest are part of a network for advice, financing, and other services. Moore said the companies Next is looking for are ones "that can compete on a global scale but are based here."

    "They're now coming without recruiting. It's become a kind of flywheel. The momentum, the acceleration -- it all shows the potential. But of course I'm from the Chamber of Commerce, so you'd expect me to say that!"

    Indeed, but then he put it in more tangible terms, gesturing to an office across the hall: "A few years ago, people like Eric Dodds would never have stayed here."


    The Iron Yard's Eric Dodds, via Global Accelerator Networks.

    Eric Dodds, whom we met at the Next building, is a co-founder and the chief marketing officer of The Iron Yard, a multi-purpose software startup based in Greenville and with operations in Spartanburg, nearby Asheville, NC, and other southeastern locations. You can read more about its operations here.

    Dodds grew up in Greenville, and always dreamed of getting away. "Boulder, Portland -- that's where My People would be." Then, after going to Clemson and working for national branding companies, he came back and noticed that the place where he started out had changed. The Iron Yard's co-founder and CEO, Peter Barth, grew up in Florida and had worked in New York and the Midwest and was planning to work in Charlotte. He stopped for lunch in Greenville, walked through its famously renovated downtown, and decided this is where he wanted to stay.

    The Iron Yard's CEO, via Vimeo.

    Some other time I'll go into The Iron Yard's whole business model, which is a combination of "code academy," business incubators, kids' classes, and other features. The code academy charges $10,000 for a three-month session, and offers a full refund if graduates can't get an appropriate job. "We can guarantee an entry-level job, but entry level in this field might be $65,000 or $75,000," Barth told us. So far they have not had to give any refunds. (More here and here.)

    The point for today is an effect we heard about time and again. This was a change in this area's ability to attract and retain people like Barth or Dodds -- whom you might normally expect to find in Boulder, Portland, Boston, and who might have expected to find themselves there.

    "Greenville is great once you get here, but it can be hard to get people to come and take a look," Peter Barth said.  Eric Dodds added, "It's been really interesting rubbing shoulders with people in our classes who say: 'I’ve gotten here, I’m going into your program, and this is my ticket Out.' Then after a while they say, 'I’ve seen this culture, I think I’m going to stay around here.' It’s been very interesting in stopping the brain drain."

    More on this theme, the dispersion of opportunity, in coming installments. And before this coming week's State of the Union address, a reminder that the resilient capacity of America is more evident and encouraging city-by-city than it seems in national discussions.

    As a closing bonus, in case you were wondering what the Blue Ridge Parkway looks like from above during the Polar Vortex era, here is your answer.

     

  • Friday Mid-Day Reader: Iran, Etc.

    The substance and the politics of several ensnarled issues.

    Following last night's China roundup, another batch of news items before we get back to Greenville, South Carolina:

    1) The Iran deal: substance. As a reminder, the interim U.S.-U.K.-French-German-Russian-Chinese deal with Iran holds no guarantees. But if it should succeed in re-integrating Iran as a "normal" country, the benefits to the world in general and the U.S. in particular would be enormous, similar in concept (though not in scale) to the benefits of re-integrating China a generation ago. Thus it is worth giving the negotiations every chance to succeed—and resisting the cynical congressional effort to guarantee failure by adding impossible poison-pill conditions.

    In the upcoming issue of The New York Review of Books, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former National Security Council staffer on proliferation issues, underscores the importance of the deal and the danger of the congressional effort. Her essay, headline shown above, begins:

    In recent weeks, Iran and the United States, for the first time, have broken through more than a decade of impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. Significant differences remain, but at long last, both governments appear ready to work their way toward a resolution. Yet the US Congress, acting reflexively against Iran, and under intense pressure from Israel, seems ready to shatter the agreement with a bill that takes no account of Iranian political developments, misunderstands proliferation realities, and ignores the dire national security consequences for the United States.

    She goes on to make the case on all counts. As does Steven Walt, in Foreign Policy, with a catalogue of the sweeping benefits for the United States if relations with Iran should improve. And Fred Kaplan in Slate.

    Why is Congress threatening to make a deal impossible, before one can be struck? The only real opposition comes from some hardliners inside Iran, who have no U.S. constituency; plus the current governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel, who have an easier time getting the attention of U.S. legislators. Mathews says:

    Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted the agreement with a barrage of criticism. Even before it was completed he called it a “Christmas present” for Iran; later, “a historic mistake.” His too attentive audience on Capitol Hill followed suit. Many of the criticisms suggest that the critics haven’t appreciated the terms of the agreement. Senator Charles Schumer dismissed it as “disproportionate.” The observation is correct, but upside down, for Iran gave far more than it got.

    2) The Iran deal: politics. The poison-pill legislation is officially known as S. 1881, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 (full text here), and informally as the Kirk-Menendez bill, after Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Most Republicans say they're for it; the Obama administration is (obviously) dead-set against it. The only discernible reason why some Democrats are lining up with the GOP is AIPAC's strong push for the bill. 

    A report this week by Ron Kampeas in JTA is worth reading closely on the political dynamics. For instance:

    AIPAC has been stymied by a critical core of Senate Democrats who have sided with the Obama administration in the fight. While AIPAC’s bid to build a veto-busting majority has reached 59 — eight short of the needed 67 — it has stalled there in part because Democrats have more or less stopped signing on....

    AIPAC, however, says its bid to pass sanctions is on track.

    “Our top priority is stopping Iran’s nuclear program, and consequently we are very engaged in building support for the Menendez-Kirk bill which now has the bi-partisan co-sponsorship of 59 senators,” AIPAC’s spokesman, Marshall Wittman, wrote in an email to JTA. “This measure would provide our negotiators with critical leverage in their efforts to achieve a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

    Kampeas has an update on the substance and politics here. And John Hudson, in Foreign Policy, describes the pressure AIPAC is putting on Debbie Wasserman Schultz, longtime representative from Florida and national chair of the Democratic National Committee, to switch away from her announced support for the administration's approach. And Mathews's article says:

    The bill’s most egregious language explains why so many senators leapt onto this bandwagon: it has become a vehicle for expressing unquestioning support for Israel, rather than a deadly serious national security decision for the United States.... Senators report that AIPAC’s advocacy of the bill has been intensive, even by its usual standard.

    In two previous big showdowns with the administration—over Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense, and over military intervention in Syria—AIPAC de-escalated and said it hadn't really been looking for a fight, once it became clear things weren't going its way.* As the Iran-sanctions issue gets more attention, my bet is that something similar will happen. For good reason, there is zero American-public appetite for a showdown with Iran. Since the interim deal was announced, polls have shown support for giving the talks the best possible chance. E.g.:

    As the talks go on and everyone except the Saudis, the Netanyahu administration, and AIPAC extol their possibilities, it will be harder for leading Democrats to explain why it makes sense to defy their party's president, secretaries of state and defense, and congressional leadership, plus most of the rest of the world, on this issue. (Also see Greg Sargent in the WaPo, and another from Kampeas.)

    [* The Syria situation was of course muddled. Initially AIPAC and the administration were both pro-intervention. After Obama's surprise decision to seek Congressional authorization, AIPAC pushed hard for a pro-intervention vote.] 

    3) Gates and Afghanistan: substance. It's worth reading this analysis, by Gareth Porter, of Obama's first-term approval of a "surge" in Afghanistan. Robert Gates's book appeared to put Obama's approach in a bad light. Porter makes the contrary case:

    The Gates account omits two crucial historical facts necessary to understanding the issue. The first is that Obama agreed to the escalation only under strong pressure from his top national security officials and with very explicit reservations. The second is that Gen. David Petraeus reneged on his previous commitment to support Obama’s 2009 decision that troop withdrawal would begin by mid-2011.

    Further details in his essay.

    4) Gates and Afghanistan: politics.  Mike Lofgren, author of The Party Is Over and veteran of Republican-side congressional politics, has an unromantic assessment of Gates's career and judgment. E.g., what Lofgren saw as a Senate staffer, when Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld at DOD:

    Because the Senate Armed Services Committee was overjoyed at seeing the last of Rumsfeld, they asked Gates no awkward questions, either about current strategy or about past events in which Gates had either inside knowledge or active participation – the "tilt to Iraq" which strengthened Saddam Hussein and helped lead inexorably to the first Gulf war and then the invasion of Iraq; or the arming of the Afghan mujaheddin, which helped lay the groundwork both for 9/11 and the Afghan quagmire that bedevils us yet.

    No, at the time of the hearing, I got the sense that the Armed Services Committee members would have liked to carry him in triumph in a sedan chair to the floor of the Senate for confirmation, simply because he was not Rumsfeld.

    That is all. 

  • Thursday Late-Night Reader: Eight Ways of Thinking About China

    Can China hope to become ... the next Mexico?

    Updates from Greenville and "the upstate" of South Carolina coming soon. In the meantime, selected China readings:

    Amb. Jorge Guajardo (right), via WSJ.

    1) "Is China the Next Mexico?" Atlantic readers know Jorge Guajardo and his wife Paola Sada as former Guest Bloggers in this space. In China they have been known in recent years as the face of Mexico, since from 2007 through 2013 Jorge was the Mexican ambassador there. (That's him at the right, in a news picture during a tense Mexican-Chinese moment five years ago.) Now they are living in the United States, where Jorge has delivered a puckishly provocative speech.

    Its premise is not the tired one of whether Mexico might become the "next China" but rather the reverse: whether China has the hope of going through the political reforms that have transformed Mexico since the end of one-party rule. Very much worth reading, for its "who should be learning from whom?" approach. I hope they are studying this in Beijing.   

    Disclosures: Jorge and Paola Guajardo are close friends of our family. Also, the venue for the speech was the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at the UC San Diego, where I have visited many times and feel part of its diaspora.

    2) "A Field Guide to Hazardous China Cliches," by Benjamin Carlson in Global Post. Anyone writing or talking about China gets used to a certain rodomontade. China has not simply been around for a long time. It has a "5,000-year history," which must be referred to in exactly those terms. (I burst out into admiring laughter when, with my friend Michele Travierso, I walked into Turkey's pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. The introductory plaque said something like, "For 6,000 years, civilization on the Anatolian plain..." ) China was not simply buffeted by the decline of the Qing dynasty at just the time of European colonial expansion. It suffered the "century of humiliation," which explains and excuses any touchiness now. 

    Ben Carlson, a former Atlantic staffer now based in Hong Kong (and a relative of mine), has a very nice brief checklist of these and other phrases to be aware of and avoid—or at least to surround in protectively ironic air-quotes if you have to utter them. As with one of the phrases he saves for later discussion: "Hurting the feelings of the Chinese people." Again very much worth reading. 

    3) "In China, Watching My Words." From Helen Gao—a Beijing native, Yale college alumna, and recent Atlantic staffer—a very eloquent NYT essay on how she has adjusted what she allows herself to say since moving back to China. This piece has gotten a lot of attention, and deserves it.

    4) "China's International Trade and Air Pollution in the United States." Here is the full-text version of a scientific study mentioned in an Atlantic Cities item recently. Most press coverage emphasized a kind of ironic backflip whammy: U.S. factories had outsourced much of their production to China. And—ahah!—the pollution was blowing right back across the Pacific to get them. (I discussed the ramifications of this coverage in an On the Media segment with Bob Garfield today.) 

    To me the real impact of the study was in charts like the ones below. Here is what they show, for the pollutants sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides. (There are similar ones for CO2 and other pollutants.) In the left-hand column, that China is putting out a lot more than America is; and in the right-hand column, that the U.S. puts out more per capita, though by a declining margin. The middle column is the important one, showing that per unit of output, Chinese factories are still grossly more polluting than those in America (or Europe or Japan). Thus the economic logic of outsourcing, which is powerful, has also made the world's output more environmentally damaging than it was before. 

    This is a big gnarly issue, which I've tried to deal with here and here and here. But the importance of this study, in my view, is underscoring how important it is to the entire world to clean up those Chinese factories.

    5) Pollution take 5.5 years off every person's life. The study above got headlines for concluding that Chinese pollution (some driven by serving export markets) added one extra day, per year, to Southern California's smog burden.

    A study a few months ago by a Chinese-American team calculated that for the 500 million residents of Northern China, pollution was already taking five and a half years off the average person's expected life span. This is a genuine public-health and political emergency.

    6) The missing 1 trillion (or 4 trillion) dollars. Not to dwell on the negative, but reports here, here, and here detail some of the ways in which the people running China have tried to insulate themselves and their children from the environmental and other effects of actually living there. These reports are not positive indicators—any more than if the Obama family was moving all of its assets out of the U.S., to protect the daughters' future prospects.

    7)  Let's be realistic about China's ambitions, and problems. My line all along has been: Take China seriously, but don't be afraid of it. Take it seriously, because what happens there affects the entire world. Don't be afraid of it, because it has problems that already-rich and stable countries can barely imagine. More on this theme from the China Daily. And an interesting twist from Global Times. (Both papers are state-controlled; GT is often more fire-breathingly nationalist.)

    8) To end on a positive note, a Chinese lower-pollution car.

    That is all. Another Reader coming shortly, on Iran and related topics. Then: the story of Greenville, Greer, and environs.

  • America's Tiniest Engineers: Report From Greenville, South Carolina

    By Deborah Fallows

    [see update below.] It was the monthly "engineering week" when I visited the A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering in Greenville, South Carolina, in January. Volunteers from one of the several local big-name companies in town were teaching special lessons. This week, employees from General Electric, some in purple t-shirts, were teaching about hydro, wind, and solar power sources.

    One volunteer was boiling water in a glass beaker, which produced steam, which drove a pinwheel to spin. Another was demonstrating the evolution of light bulbs, measuring the amount of heat the bulbs produced, and engaging fourth graders in a discussion of what it meant to a bulb that much of its energy was spent on producing heat instead of light.

    Whittenberg is -- no kidding -- an elementary school of engineering. The mascot of the school (below) is a robot, and the kids are not the “cougars” or the “tigers” but the “engineers.” Academically, the school presents lots of special projects around engineering and also folds engineering skills into traditional academic subjects.

    Whittenberg is a public school that sits smack in the middle of an area that Lynn Mann, the school’s director of programs, described to me as a highly distressed area of Greenville, with high poverty, unemployment, crime, and single parent households.

    The school, pre-K through grade 5, opened in 2010, and it is graduating the first class this year. It shares property with The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, built concurrently. Kids go to the Kroc Center for lessons in swimming, golf, rock climbing, tennis, soccer, and on and on. The Kroc Center holds some adult classes in the computer labs at the school.  I reached the school on foot, a 10-minute walk from our hotel, which was just off Greenville’s newly-revitalized and charming Main Street, via the runner-walker-biker heaven that is the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The 17.5 mile trail, completed in 2010, runs mostly along an old railroad bed from Greenville to nearby Travelers Rest, S.C., so named as a former stopping point on the 19th century stagecoach line.

    Lobby of the school's main office, with back
    copies of Mechanical Engineering to be perused. 

    The school also sits smack in the middle of the engineering mecca that Greenville has become. GE, Michelin,  and BMW, which have strong manufacturing and research presence in the area, engage in so many ways with the town, including this elementary school. In fact the list of partners for the school numbers more than 2 dozen, including Fluor, Hubbell Lighting, Duke Energy, Furman and Clemson, among others, making it a classic example of the public-private ventures we saw throughout Greenville.

    After a 40-year hiatus when not a single new public school was built in Greenville, it didn’t take long for Whittenberg to take off.* Ms. Mann told me that in first year, few people had gotten wind of the school, and they had to hire high school kids to canvass the neighborhood, introducing the school to parents and encouraging them to enroll their youngsters. (Families who live within a 1.5 mile radius of the school can enroll as its neighborhood school; others must apply. Today, about 1/3 of the 400+ students are from the neighborhood; 2/3 are from other parts of Greenville.)

    Parents camping out for school enrollment. Photo from JournalWatchdog.com.

    By the second year, word was out, and parents camped out in front of the school for a week before registration for the first-come-first-served spots. It was so popular that the local Lowe’s home store offered discounts to parents for their camping supplies.  Then it spun so out of control that the school switched to a lottery system for the out-of-neighborhood spots. Now, Ms. Mann told me, Greenville realtors advertise the in-town location as an advantage when listing houses in the Whittenberg district.

    Here are some of the sights and insights from my morning at the school:

    Unexpected sights: The walls of the fourth and fifth grade corridor are bare, except for digital screens. In fact, almost everything in the fourth and fifth grade is digital. It makes for a paperless environment, where all the schoolwork is done on tablets, students enter their work into folders, teachers use a stylus to comment on work, and parents are encouraged to open the folders and monitor the entirety of their children’s work.

    How do the students handle this system? They are masters. They start keyboarding in kindergarten, with unplugged keyboards. By second grade they have each been issued an iPad. And they learn Power Point, not my favorite application but one certainly encouraged by the engineering community. The school does teach to print out block letters, and the students are graded on penmanship throughout their years. However – and this news comes as a Praise-the-Lord moment for me, a mother of boys – cursive writing is not taught! How much struggle, I reflected, our boys could have avoided without the hours they spent on cursive in elementary school.

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    Ms. Mann reported that even she had a bit of a hard time believing in the absence of cursive. When considering the move away from cursive, the consultants challenged her to come up with examples of when these kids would need to use cursive in their lifetimes.  “Writing letters?” she asked. “Nope, they’ll type them.”  “Research notes?” “Nope, they won’t use paper.” “Let me help you out,” offered the consultant: “A signature.” Even for those in the business of educating the next generation, it can be hard to imagine the reach of their students’ future digital lives.

    On the other hand, there is no shortage of art in the rest of the school. Corridor walls are bursting with 3-D extravaganzas. Children have created all manner of décor. There are paper trees growing out of walls, fluffy snowmen popping out, suspended robots and all manner of things that protrude and hang and dangle.

    In the main hall, there is a column of pop-out paper cutting, in honor of a visit to Greenville by pop-up children’s book writer and illustrator Matthew Reinhart.  Each classroom I entered was a creative heaven— sculptures hanging from ceilings, bursts of color everywhere, busy work stations, clusters of buzzing activity, books, furniture, photos, and one empty “thinking chair.” 

    The kids meet Broadway.  A particularly charming example of the creativity of lessons, the application of engineering, and the synergy with Greenville talent is the first grade Broadway  production project. The Peace Center is an arts center in downtown Greenville, which offers a hefty plate of productions each year. On a blustery Friday night in January, we peered into the glassed-in atrium filled with people who had come for the performance of country singer Don Williams, and the outdoor plaza was alive with music and dancers who were oblivious to the cold. The Center hosts a Broadway series each year.

    This year, one production is the Wizard of Oz. First graders at Whittenberg study the production in every aspect. Lucky for the school, the productions for the last several years have included a “flying element”, which fits nicely into engineering lessons. This year, the first graders learned about what it takes to get the wicked witch up in the air. They broke into teams to design their own rope and pulley system to get a witch to fly. They walked the Swamp Rabbit Trail to the Center to  learn about how the lighting works, how the orchestra pit operates, how the stages and scenery are set up. The winning design team got to attend a performance at the theater. They all learned the songs in the musical; they read the book; they made their own pop-up books of the story.

    Extracurriculur manna from heaven. There is so much here that it left me breathless: The kids go to the Kroc Center for sports and after school programs of all sorts. They built an organic garden out behind the school, including a greenhouse constructed of recycled plastic bottles. This year, they’ll launch a cotton project, to grow and harvest cotton, tying that into the history of textile mills here in The Upstate of South Carolina. The school is part of a Culinary Creations program. I was delighted to learn that they have done away with teaching nutrition via the tedious food pyramid; here, the kids learn to identify green, yellow, and red foods – Go, Slow, and Whoa – to help them learn about proteins, veggie, low sugar fruit; carbs, high sugar fruit; cookies and cakes. They bake their own bread and make their own homemade soup on site. Some 57% of students are on free or reduced-price lunch.

    The recycled-bottle greenhouse and garden in foreground. A field day of running races in background.

    Environmental service is a schoolwide effort. First graders compost. Second graders collect recycling waste from rooms every Thursday, sort and count it and rate the owners of the recycling bins. You get plusses for volume of recycled material and demerits for– heaven forbid – candy wrappers. Third graders measure air quality and post signs outside promoting a no-idling campaign for cars. Fourth graders study water quality and present power points (!) about it to the other classes. (A curious aside: at least 4 people in Greenville told me the city boasts the “Best tasting water in North America.” I’m not sure where this comes from. But the water was good enough to take away the stigma of choosing tap water over bottled water at high-end restaurants.) Fifth graders learn how to do home energy audits.

    And then, of course, there is Lego Robotics.  Last year, the Lego Robotics team won the right to compete in Germany -- the only elementary school in the US to do so -- which meant first airplane flights and first passports for lots of kids. They returned with so much excitement that, not surprisingly, now everyone wants to be on the Lego Robotics team.

    I asked about foreign language teaching and was expecting to hear about some fancy new program for Chinese or an activity-rich effort for Latin. But no. When the school consulted the engineering gurus about foreign language, they responded that the world’s engineers all spoke English and  recommended instead that the school teach English as well as they possibly could. This, and the goal to master Power Point by second grade, may be the only two issues where I would part ways with A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering.

    The future? A new public middle school for engineering is opening next to the CU-ICAR (Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research) campus in Greenville next year. A public high school for engineering is in the planning stage.

    If you'd like to see the spirt of the place, please, take a look at this last video. 


    To contact the author: DebFallows at gmail.com.  Photos by Deborah Fallows.

    correction: In fact other schools had been built in Greenville during the past 40 years. But a school had been promised to this inner city community for 40 years. See here.

  • My Current Favorite TV Ad

    "For the most part, give or take, today is actually ... pretty great."

    If I were choosing a career title-winner for favorite ad, I would have to recognize the annoying-but-non-forgettable "Five-Dollar Foot Lonnnng!" campaign Subway has been running since 2008. It drives people crazy, but apparently it is magic for drawing customers into the stores; on its debut it was so effective that Subway had bread shortages. I find the minor-chord progressions weirdly compelling, and I realize that I always stop to look at the screen when it comes on. 

    (Video at end of this post, plus musicology for those who haven't followed the story.)

    But the ad that is on my mind right now is one that has been running frequently during the NFL playoff bonanza. It's for the Honda Civic, and it usually appears as one of an assortment of 30-second clips. Here is an example:

    I think the extended play, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida-scale version -- actually only two and a half minutes long -- is extremely interesting for the world view it presents. Check it out for yourself:

    What I find noteworthy, even brave, about this commercial is that it acknowledges all the reasons to feel downcast about economics, politics, the environment, everything.  That's the first 30 seconds of the long version, and the first five of the short ones. But then it says: a lot of really exciting and positive things are also going on, to the extent of declaring, Today is pretty great! 

    Why is that interesting?

    • It's not simple boosterish/denialist "We're number one!" talk.
       
    • Nonetheless, it's a bolder "glass is way more than half full" pitch than I recall seeing in any other political or commercial campaign. As the lyrics say at 2:15 of the long version, "For the most part, give or take, today is  actually .... pretty great." 
       
    • It mainly features people in their late teens through early 30s, who -- like their counterparts at every other stage of history -- are tired of hearing that everything is terrible. Because they know how much actually is terrible, in their own situations and generally -- but also know that everything is still starting for them. Families, careers, possibilities, lives.
      And, the real reason why this totally got my attention:
       
    • It's a video-advertisement version of what my wife and I keep running into as we go from one of our smallish cities to another.

      They all have serious problems -- as every place does. Inequality and environmental run-down and drug use and violence and parts of the community frozen out or left behind. 

      But also each of them we've seen so far has had ambitious, exciting, economic and environmental and educational and scientific projects underway. (As reeled off at roughly 1:45-1:55 of the long clip.) The emotional and "argumentative" arc in these ads, especially the long version, very much matches the emotional and intelligence cycle we've been through in these reporting trips.     

    You can read an ad-world perspective on the campaign here. I loved the Eminem/Chrysler "Imported From Detroit" Superbowl ad three years ago. That was a marker of a shift in business realities and attitudes. This new ad could be too.  


    Back in 2008 Seth Stevenson wrote about the "Five Dollar" ad, a nice version of which is shown below, in Slate.    

    He found the man who had come up with this earworm-eligible music and asked him to explain its secret power:

    I called the composer, Jimmy Harned (of the boutique music outfit Tonefarmer), to see whether he might confirm my notion that there's something ominous going on in his work.

    "The chord structure does imply something dark," he agreed, getting out his guitar to demonstrate over the phone. "On the word long, [the guitar part] goes down from a C to an A-flat," he said, strumming, "which is kind of a weird place. It's definitely not a poppy, happy place. It's more of a metaly place. But at the same time, the singing stays almost saccharine." (The vocals shift to form an F minor over the guitar's A-flat.)

  • In Which I Develop New Respect for the Wedding-Industrial Complex

    We know that football players are brave. But spare a thought as well for bride-magazine models.

    I have no world-changing point to make, but the scene below, this weekend, was quite amazing. Here is the back story:

    Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I came back to DC after a productive initial visit to Greenville and its environs in "the upstate" of South Carolina. We'll go there again, with a lot more to report.

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    As always, I'd been obsessively studying the aviation weather forecasts to figure out the right time to make a shortish (two-hour) flight. We couldn't start too late in the day, to avoid worries about racing sunset. We wouldn't go at all if there was a prospect of icing.* I was looking for surface winds within the comfort zone, and so on.

    The result was that early afternoon yesterday looked like the sweet spot. The same jet-stream "clipper" pattern that has brought yet another polar freeze to the eastern United States had pushed away most of the clouds -- both the low-level clouds that complicate the process of landing, and the ones that, at altitude, would make you worry about airframe icing. The winds would be strong but would diminish through the day, and were lined up directly with the runway at our destination. And if, as we were traveling, they turned out to be worse than expected, we could land somewhere else with bigger runways, better aligned with the wind, and wait them out.

    It was cold enough yesterday morning in Greenville to ice up a fountain in front of the landmark Poinsett Hotel.** After taking off we encountered, as foreseen, very cold and fairly bumpy conditions.  At 7,000 feet, the winds aloft were blowing at 50 to 60 knots, or almost 70 miles per hour -- similar to when I flew with the Marketplace crew into Eastport, Maine. This makes for a kind of jostling that isn't dangerous but can be unpleasant. Through most of this flight it wasn't bad at all.***

    Here is the FlightAware track of the journey, more accurate than Flight Aware sometimes is. The dotted blue shows the Victor-airways based initially cleared route; the green, the route we actually flew, including shortcuts we were given along the way.

    As we made the fishhook turn toward Montgomery County airport, in Gaithersburg outside Washington, the reported surface winds were strong -- 16 knots, gusting to 23 -- but still directly down the runway. Recall that in the jet crash in Aspen early this month, the wind was even stronger -- but was a tailwind, which makes it difficult and dangerous to land. A gusty headwind requires concentration on landing, because the plane can speed up and slow down unexpectedly. But a strong down-the-runway headwind can add a slow-mo effect to the landing process, which gives extra time for landing adjustments.**** 

    So we landed; and got out of the plane; and were instantly blown halfway over by the strong Arctic wind. I was wearing a sweater and quickly pulled on a leather jacket, and still I felt within five seconds as if all the heat had left my body and my ears and fingers were crystallizing. The temperature was in the low 20s, and so was the wind, with a resulting wind chill in the Green Bay-like single digits.

    Then -- we saw the models! A debonair young guy wearing a light shirt and a tuxedo jacket draped over his shoulder, a beautiful young woman in a shoulderless white gown. And they were standing there, calm and smiling and, far from shivering uncontrollably, not even displaying goose flesh, in conditions that made me want to cry or run for shelter. 

    Through chilblains I finally asked them a version of, What the hell? It turns out that this was a photo shoot for a high-end bridal magazine, which when it comes out in a few months will look like some springtime idyll. We had unloaded bags from our plane while shivering and moaning, and the photo crew asked if we'd leave them there as background for a serendipitous white car / white gown / white shirt / white airplane look. You can see the bags underneath the plane in the shot at top. So we stood and watched while, with incredible stoicism, the young couple gave an impeccable impression of people enjoying a clement early-summer day. 

    What's the uplifting moral? 

    Lots of things have gotten way bigger during my time as an American. People themselves. Houses. Everything about pro football, which for some reason is on my mind today. And of course the wedding industry. ​Usually I mock or marvel at it. For now, I offer it my respect. 


    * The danger you must avoid in the summer: thunderstorms. In the winter: being inside a cloud in below-freezing temperatures, which can cover the wings with ice and turn an airplane into a non-flying brick.

    ** The Poinsett's transformation from a lawless crack house to a local-landmark status is a featured part of the downtown-renaissance saga in Greenville. And, yes, it is that Poinsett -- Joel Robert Poinsett, for whom the famous seasonal plant is named. That's the the hotel at right, also conveying an idea of the gelid-blue skies. Below we see Mr. Poinsett commemorated in front of his hotel -> crack house -> hotel.

    *** The blue line in the Flight Aware graph below shows speed across the ground, in the second half of the flight. Until the big slowdown at the end in preparation for landing, the plane's airspeed through this whole journey was constant. The fluctuations up and down in groundspeed were all about shifts in the wind's speed and direction. (The tan line is altitude; the spike on the left side is some anomaly.)

    **** Why am I going into such detail? If you read the journalism of the 1920s and 1930s, you see that the practicalities of aviation were a part of normal discourse, they way descriptions of computer or smart phone use is today. So, ever a traditionalist, I am reaching back to the finest part of our heritage. 

  • Welcome to Greenville and 'The Upstate'

    A region that has willed its way to a new economic and civic identity.

    Ballet class, yesterday afternoon at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in downtown Greenville, S.C. It's a "residential public high school for emerging artists." Photo Deborah Fallows

    My wife and I have been so busy talking with people and seeing things in Greenville and its environs in "the upstate" region of South Carolina that we haven't yet taken time to stop the interviewing and begin the chronicling. That will begin here soon.

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    In the economic-development world, this part of a still-generally poor state is renowned for how thoroughly it has made the transition from a textile-based economy, which was still viable even 20 years ago, to become the center of one of the country's most successful advanced-manufacturing clusters. Its most famous facility is the BMW auto works, which continues to expand and which ships most of its output to markets overseas. Michelin is also here, and a GE division, and the successful electric-bus company Proterra. The industrial turnaround of this area has become a familiar story -- about which we heard some quite unexpected angles, as we will describe.

    The bigger surprise is all the aspects of civic life other than major factories that have evolved here. These range from public art, to environmental and public-spaces initiatives, to a revitalized downtown that urban-planning teams from around the world visit to study, to an in-town minor league baseball stadium, to educational innovations we have not seen in other places and had not anticipated here. The photo above is from the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, about which Deborah Fallows will be saying more soon. She also will report on an unusual and impressive engineering-themed public school -- for kids starting in pre-K.

    This afternoon I talked with Kai Ryssdal, of our Marketplace partners, courtesy of the engineers and studio managers at the local station known as Conservative Talk 94.5. South Carolina is of course a conservative stronghold, as are its upstate counties. Jim DeMint was born and raised in Greenville and was its congressman; Bob Jones University is based here. But one of many intriguing aspects of Greenville's economic and civic-improvement development effort is how deeply they have relied on "public-private partnerships," in which state and city governments have taken active steering roles for corporate and philanthropic efforts. More on that as the chronicles begin. The point for now is that this is the kind of public intervention that some conservatives might deplore in the abstract, but the results both in attracting industries and in creating a remarkably livable/walkable community can't be denied.

    Old commercial building downtown on the Reedy River, one of several intentionally unrestored structures in Greenville. Many downtown restaurants, stores, and offices are from buildings of the same vintage that have been renovated and put back into use.

    Greenville and its surroundings resemble some other "resilient" cities we have seen, and of course are unique in many other aspects. This is a placeholder note pending further dispatches. Now, off to more interviews, including at a tech-startup incubator with a "public-private" emphasis. It's not the building shown below, but it has a similar theme.

     

  • Iran Sanctions Update: Have Senators Actually Read This Bill?

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "We cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war."

    Recently I argued that a dozen-plus Senate Democrats were doing something strange and reckless in signing on with most Republicans in an effort that would abort a potential deal to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

    As a reminder: The U.S. government, along with those of France, Germany, the U.K., China, and Russia, all think this years-in-the-making deal is worth exploring. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel manifestly do not. Nearly all Senate Republicans and a significant number of Democratic allies are effectively saying: the Saudis and Israelis see things more clearly. We stand with their judgment—not that of our own government, the European mainstays, and even the Russians and Chinese.

    Developments since then:

    1) From Peter Beinart, in Haaretz, an item based on an important technical analysis of the pro-sanctions bill. Senators sponsoring the bill, Beinart says, claim that they are only trying to "support" the diplomatic process. That proves mainly that they haven't read, or don't understand, what they're signing onto, because in several crucial ways the bill's requirements are directly contrary to what the U.S./U.K./France/Germany/Russia/China have already agreed to with Iran.

    Go to the technical analysis, by Edward Levine, for the point-by-point parsing. And you can see the full text of the bill itself here. But the two most obvious deal-breaker implications are: 

        (a) the requirement that, in order to lift sanctions, Obama must "certify" a number of extra things about Iran that are not germane to the agreement and are simply impossible to prove. For instance, Obama must demonstrate that "Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned, or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or United States persons or property anywhere in the world," with no time limit on how far back (or forward) in time this certification is supposed to run. And:

       (b) several clauses and references that apparently support the "zero enrichment" demand laid down by Benjamin Netanyahu but explicitly not endorsed by the U.S. government. These clauses, with repeated requirements that Iran "terminate" or "dismantle" its "illicit nuclear programs," are ambiguous but can (and presumably would) be read as applying to the entirety of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, peaceful or otherwise. This could mean a demand that Iran give up the right not just to weapons-grade uranium but also to low-level enrichment suitable for power plants and other non-military use.

    For the background of the "zero enrichment" policy, see this 2009 paper by Matthew Bunn of Harvard's Belfer Center. He argues (as do many other people who have examined the issue) that the zero-option is theoretically appealing but in reality is completely unacceptable to Iran. Thus its inclusion in any set of "negotiating" points is a way to ensure that the negotiations fail. As Bunn puts it, "Insisting on zero will mean no agreement, leaving the world with the risks of acquiescence [to an Iranian nuclear-weapons program] or military strikes." 

    On the basis of logic like this, the United States and its partners have already agreed that Iran should be allowed to retain low-level enrichment capabilities. Also on this point, see The Washington Monthly, and a former Israeli intelligence chief on why low-level enrichment is reasonable for Iran. Plus President Obama's own comments at Brookings last month, on why any agreement will necessarily allow some limited enrichment. This is Obama speaking:

    Now, you’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the Prime Minister [Netanyahu], that say we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil.  Period.  Full stop.  End of conversation... 

    One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone.  I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward.  (Laughter.)  I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful.  (Laughter.) 

    But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves, what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran is not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected?  What is required to accomplish that, and how does that compare to other options that we might take?
     
    And it is my strong belief that we can envision a end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity.  

    To wrap this point up: The U.S. and its partners have already declared that they are not asking for the "zero option." That's the premise for the entire deal, and it is one that the Senate bill appears designed to reverse. It would be as if, in the middle of the SALT or START negotiations with the old Soviet Union, the Congress passed a bill requiring that any final agreement include the elimination of the full Soviet arsenal. 

    2) A speech on Tuesday by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, on another important and underpublicized clause in the sanctions bill. It's 501(2) (b) (5), which says it is the "sense of the Congress" that if Israel decides to strike Iran, the U.S. presumptively should back the effort:

    If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence;

    The "in accordance with the laws..." passage indicates that an Israeli decision would not technically constitute a U.S. declaration of war. It is the main distinction between this clause and a "key point" on AIPAC's current policy-agenda site, which reads: 

    3. America Must Stand with Israel.
    The United States must back Israel if it feels compelled in its own legitimate self-defense to take military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

    But Feinstein, who supported the Iraq war, argued that such before-the-fact commitments unwisely limit U.S. options and could make conflict more likely. Her whole speech is worth reading, and you can see the C-Span video above. Here is the conclusion it built to:

    I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse. The United States, not Iran, then becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place....

    And then:

    Let me acknowledge Israel's real, well-founded concerns that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its very existence. I don't disagree with that. I agree with it, but they are not there yet.

    While I recognize and share Israel's concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war. By stating that the United States should provide military support to Israel in a formal resolution should it attack Iran, I fear that is how this bill is going to be interpreted.

    3) From a reader:

     Here's my problem with your argument: it's incomplete.  How can a Democrat, or anyone, evaluate whether the agreement should be given a chance without seeing the agreement?  Yesterday we had two separate reports that, if true, would mean the agreement has *already* failed: 1) the Iranian's report of the terms (dubious, but the Administration continues to be coy and not release the main agreement or the reported side agreement) and 2) an alleged Russia-Iran deal that would obliterate the 6-month Agreement's limitations on sanctions.
     
    Personally I too am for Congress holding off, but I'm put off by the tone of the "pro-Deal" crowd that the legislature needs to blindly trust Obama here.  Isn't that what we did with George W. Bush?  (The distinction between Colin Powell's misleading portfolio on WMDs and Kerry's thusfar blank portfolio (or heavily redacted portfolio) is too subtle to have meaning here).  

    The point is not that Congress must embrace a deal without knowing its full details. That will come later, when—and if—final terms are agreed to. Rather the point is that Congress should not guarantee the failure of the negotiations before they've run their course, which is what the sanctions bill would do.


    If I had a senator, I would ask him or her to read this bill carefully, reflect on its destructive implications, and reflect as well, as Dianne Feinstein did in her speech, on the damage done by blank-check security legislation (from AUMF to the Patriot Act) over the past dozen-plus years. Then I would ask my hypothetical senators to vote 'No.'

    UPDATE: Anthony Cordesman has a valuable update on the CSIS site, in which he discusses the pluses and minuses of the administration playing good cop and Congress playing bad cop toward Iran. Really worth reading, but a few highlights. First, on U.S. aims:

    The United States now has every incentive to leverage the success of existing sanctions, take full advantage of the current climate, and to try to make the current negotiations work. They are by far the safest way to remove an Iranian nuclear threat, and it is critical to remember what the threat really is: The real objective is to deny Iran military capability, not to try to deny it technology it has already acquired.

    On the strength of the emerging potential deal:

    The P5+1 and the United States have not yet made fully public all of the terms of the progress they made in defining and implementing the terms of the interim agreement ...

    At least to date, however, the limits on Iran in terms of permitted activities, improved transparency, and increased inspection would make even the most covert production, testing, and deployment of nuclear weapons extraordinarily difficult. Iran might quietly get to the point of a crude test of a gun or implosion device, but this test could scarcely then remain covert...

    It is extraordinarily difficult to believe Iran could actually deploy reliable nuclear missile warheads and bombs without being detected

    On the Congress's role as hard-line bad cop:

    The key to success, however, will be for the “bad cop” to avoid pushing to the point of failure. The best way to move forward is to do what the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid, evidently has already proposed to do: keep the option of new sanctions legislation constantly open, but not confront Iran and other nations by passing such legislation if and when the negotiations fail, or Iran is shown to violate an agreement.

    Defer a vote on new sanctions until the ongoing efforts to fully define and create enforcement provisions for interim agreement effort fail or Iran violates them. And if Iran does move forward and complies with the interim agreement – defer a sanctions vote until it is clear whether Iran agrees to and complies with a permanent agreement. 

    Overall: This bill is a reckless and destructive gesture, and Democrats from Cory Booker to Mark Warner to Michael Bennet to Richard Blumenthal should give it a careful look and back off. 

  • Separated at Birth? Greenville, Sioux Falls

    Here is Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last summer:

    And here is Falls Park in Greenville, South Carolina, this afternoon:

    A decade ago, the falls areas in both cities were dangerous and semi-derelict. Now, each is the scenic center of its city. Here, by the way, is how poor Sioux Falls looked a few days ago, via our partner John Tierney:

    Now, here is the Sioux Falls 20+-mile bike trail, which we happily rode during the long summer days of last year:

    And here is the Swamp Rabbit Trail (in purple) for Greenville, some of which we walked today. It is different in its overall shape yet similar in mile-by-mile look and feel. (Both maps via our partners at Esri.) 

    Here is a summer river scene as viewed from the bike trail in Sioux Falls: a bow-fisherman, awaiting his prey.

    And here, at the opposite end of the seasons, is a Great Blue Heron this afternoon, awaiting its prey in the Reedy River of Greenville. You can barely see a guy doing tai chi in the background

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    These two cities are different -- in size, in economic base, in self-image, in ethnic mix, in 15 different aspects. And of course every city is unique, etc. But in these past few days in Greenville, we've been struck by more similarities to Sioux Falls than to other places we've seen.

    We'll start laying these out in the next few days. For now, an impression that so strongly recalls our normal experience in China. In the years there, we would go from some place in Shaanxi to some place in Sichuan and think: My lord! How can so much be going on in so many places? That is the message of traveling around America as well.

  • The Iran Vote: This Really Matters, and You Should Let Your Senators Know

    If the nuclear deal is going to fail, let that happen at the negotiating table—and not be engineered under the Capitol dome.

    Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    I have been on the road in the South, and staying in a place with no Internet, and doing interviews for another American Futures installment—this one about the way textile-dependent Southern cities have and have not recovered after those mills went away. That's what my wife and I will be talking about in the days ahead.

    But this is a moment that counts, on an important, time-sensitive issue, so here goes:

    • The Obama Administration, along with some of the usual U.S. allies—the U.K., France, Germany—and such non-allied parties as Russia and China, has taken steps with the potential of peacefully ending Iran's 35-year estrangement from most of the rest of the world. That would be of enormous benefit and significance to Iran, the U.S., and nearly everyone else concerned.

      Obviously potential is not a guarantee, and a year from now everyone could look back on this as a time of deluded hope. But today's potential is far greater than most "savvy" experts expected a year ago. As I argued last month, the U.S. may be in a position right now with Iran analogous to the one with China in the early stages of the Nixon-Mao rapprochement. Nothing is guaranteed, but the benefits of normalized relations would be so great that they must be given every chance to succeed.
       
    • Often there is cleavage within the executive branch—State, Defense, the White House—on the merits of a military commitment or a potential deal. Not this time. Very often there is similar disagreement among Western powers, and most of the time the Russians and Chinese find themselves on the opposite side of strategic calculations from the U.S. Again, not now. All involved view the benefits of re-engaging Iran to be so great, and the consequence of a drift toward war so dire, that they want to make sure that no artificial barriers to a deal get in the way.

      (On the dire consequences of a drift toward war: Nearly 10 years ago, the Atlantic ran a war game concluding that an air strike designed to take out Iran's nuclear potential would be the height of strategic folly for the attacking party, whether Israel or the United States. Nothing that has happened since then makes it a more plausible option.)
       
    • Two countries the U.S. cares about are known to oppose this deal: Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The Saudis, because a stronger, oil-exporting, Shiite Iran probably means a less influential Sunni Kingdom. The Israelis, because the Netanyahu government has cast Iran as the new Nazi Germany, with whom any deal or compromise is by definition doomed. 

      I believe that Netanyahu is wrong, but it's his country, and he is the elected leader. I don't like the idea of him (or the Saudis) trying to derail what our elected leaders so strongly considers to be in the interests of the United States.
       
    • That derailment is what seems to be underway in the Senate right now. Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are pushing for a sanctions bill that is universally recognized (except by its sponsors) as a poison-pill for the current negotiations. Fine; opposing the administration is the GOP's default position.

      But a striking number of Democrats have joined them, for no evident reason other than AIPAC's whole-hearted, priority-one support for the sanctions bill. The screen clip below is from AIPAC's site, and here is some political reporting on AIPAC's role in the sanctions push: NYTPolitico, JTA, Jerusalem Post-JTA, and our own National Journal here and hereAlso see Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.
      AIPAC policy brief, from its site. Note implications of point #3.

      In the long run, these Democrats are not in a tenable position. Or not a good one. They are opposing what their president, his secretaries of state and defense, our normal major allies, and even the Russians and Chinese view as a step toward peace. And their stated reason for doing so—that new sanction threats will "help" the negotiations, even though every American, French, British, German, etc., and Iranian figure involved in the talks says the reverse—doesn't pass the straight-face test.

      Via the AP: "'I think that the Iran sanctions bill is meant to strengthen the president, not in any way impede the ongoing negotiation which should and hopefully will be successful,' Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of the legislation, said Tuesday." Oh sure. You can imagine what a person as smart as Blumenthal—or Chuck Schumer, or Cory Booker, or Mark Warner, all supporting the sanctions—would do to similar assertions in normal circumstances. 

    I agree with Peter Beinart, who wrote last month that people tired of U.S. wars in the Middle East should be speaking up more clearly in support of this deal. As Fred Kaplan of Slate, no peacenik, did when the first agreement was announced: 

    See also Andrew Sullivan, and an arms-control expert on technical flaws in the sanctions bill. [Update: and my Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who also argues that this bill is torpedoing the best chance for avoiding an Iranian nuclear program.] Maybe this deal will fail. But if you'd rather that the failure not be engineered in the Capitol, let your representatives know.


    Updates: 1) As many readers have pointed out, Senate Republicans are near-unanimous in supporting the sanctions bill, but Democrats including Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Chuck Schumer of New York have played a big role in promoting it;

    2) Also as many readers have pointed out, one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the bill is Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, whose brother James is the Atlantic's editor-in-chief. Noted for the record.

    3) And, yes, I would let my senators know -- if, as a resident of DC, I had any.

  • What Is a 'Class-A War Criminal'? More on the Yasukuni Controversy

    The complications of wartime memory, continued

    Westboro Church protestor, AP photo via NPR.

    If you are joining us late, background on why it matters so much in China -- and Japan -- that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, and whether it should in fact matter, is in previous installments one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Now, additional recent readers' views.

    1. "Imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church happened to own Arlington." From Noboru Akimoto:

    I've been watching your back and forth on Yasukuni with some interest, and I generally agree with the commentators that say the issue is more with the Yushukan than with the shrine itself.  [JF note: Yushukan is the "historical" museum near the shrine, with a very tendentious view of Japan being forced into the war by Allied encirclement.]

    I do think a part that's not been mentioned is that Yasukuni Jinja [Shrine], because of the separation of religion and state of the post-war constitution, is NOT a part of the Japanese government, nor does any of the Imperial family have control over its actions.

    We know from the Tomita Memorandum that the Showa Emperor [aka Hirohito] was furious about the chief priest's decision to include the Class A 14 into the shrine in 1979, but that as a matter of politics, neither the Emperor nor the government can actually compel Yasukuni, a private religious institution, from acknowledging the 14 Class A criminals nor force it to disinter their spirits.

    As a Japanese individual and Shintoist, I would like to see the priests separate the class A war criminals from the others, but I also understand that as a practical, constitutional matter, having the government force the issue would be a step in the wrong direction.

    If we had to have some sort of strange analogy, I would ask American readers to imagine if the Westboro Baptist Church happened to own Arlington.

    Also, I've put up a short primer on the subject.

    2. By the way, who are these "Class-A War Criminals" anyway? From a reader in Singapore, with a point I should have clarified earlier:

    In your recent posts about the Yasukuni shrine, the inclusion of WWII era Japanese Class-A war criminals is mentioned with no explanation of the term "Class-A". I've noticed that this is common in news articles about Yasukuni in recent decades, though in your article you do note that the war criminal trials in Japan held by the Allies were at least somewhat controversial as to their basis in law and morality.

    It is almost natural for the casual reader (or writer of articles) to assume that "Class-A" in this context simply means the worst kind of war criminal, a sort of Japanese equivalent of an Adolf Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler, Amon Goeth or some such.

    As you likely know, "Class-A War Criminal" had a very specific meaning in the context of the Tokyo trials. "Class-A" war crimes were defined as "crimes against peace". Crimes against humanity, such as genocide or the Nanking massacre were "Class-C" crimes while the more usual war crimes, such as shooting helpless prisoners, were "Class-B" war crimes.

    The 25 Japanese officials tried for Class-A war crimes were tried for plotting and waging war, i.e. crimes against peace. Some of them were tried additionally for Class-B and Class-C crimes, and all those multiply convicted were executed.

    But at least two of those charged with Class-A crimes resumed civilian life, in the Japanese cabinet in the 1950s and as the CEO of Nissan, respectively.

    In 1929, Japan signed (but did not ratify) the Kellogg-Briand Pact formally titled the "General Treaty for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy". The treaty made declaration of aggressive war illegal, but not prosecutable by other signatories to the treaty. "Declaration" was the weasel word in the treaty, which many nations, including Japan took full advantage of in the years to come.

    And it was on this basis that the Class-A charges were prosecuted in the 1946 Tokyo trials. Except for the Imperial Family and the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, who were protected by Douglas MacArthur, this meant that practically the entire Japanese cabinet that had anything to do with the conduct of war was thus indicted.

    I think it would help if a brief note were made in the article about the terminology. I'm not suggesting moral or legal exoneration of these individuals but context matters. The term "Class-A" plays straight into the hands of the Chinese Government which has its own questionable agenda in kicking up a protest about Yasukuni every year. I would have thought that it is the inclusion of the Class-C criminals that would be more morally disturbing to non-Japanese victims of the war, though in the case of China and Korea at least, the Buddhist value commonplace in Japan, of letting go of the grudge against the sinner (not the sin) after his death, is not exactly unknown or alien. Quite the opposite.

    3) An American equivalent? From a reader on the West Coast:

    In “Episode Six” your “American who lives in Japan…and has a Japanese spouse” observed that "The museum (Yushukan) is shocking in its mendacity (in its willingness to change or omit events entirely) and audacity … I struggle to think of a comparable hypothetical for US history - if the Vietnam memorial in Washington also had an exhibit attached that lauded the use of napalm and the actions at My Lai?”

    In fact, the same sort of mendacity and audacity did almost occur at the Vietnam Memorial. Then President Ronald Reagan, his Interior Secretary James Watt and their supporters were adamantly opposed to Maya Lin’s design for the memorial, precisely because it did not glorify an unjust lost war while memorializing the soldiers who fought it.

    After Lin won the competition and it became apparent they could do nothing to stop it, opponents of her design tried to have a much more mundane, representational sculpture (“The Three Soldiers”) placed at the apex of the memorial. While The Three Soldiers neither lauds the use of napalm nor glorifies My Lai, those opposed to Lin’s Wall knew full well that placing the statue at the apex would reduce her design to mere backdrop, negating it’s abstract emotional power and timelessness. If not for the courage of Maya Lin (then a 21 year old Yale undergraduate) The Wall would indeed have become mere background to one more forgettable representative sculpture lost in the expanse of the National Mall . One could argue that was the objective of the right-wing opponents of the Vietnam memorial all along.

    While recognizing the left is just as capable as the right at papering over history we should avoid false equivalency here. One regrettable quality of the right wing mind seems to be the unique skill it brings to the revision of history, the negation of fact and the power of forgetfulness. Unfortunately this is every bit as true here in America as it is in Japan.

    Vietnam Veterans Memorial, via this site.

    I well remember that the controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was bitter and intense. As it happens, I think the final outcome is the right one -- artistically, historically, culturally. Maya Lin's wall endures as a real work of genius, and it regularly has a larger crowd of up-close visitors than any other site on the Mall.  Usually families or friends looking at names of loved ones. (You can contrast this with the stupid, ugly vapidity of the recent World War II memorial, a subject for another time.) The addition of Frederick Hart's "The Three Soldiers" statue, nearby but not surmounting the wall, I think adds to rather than complicates the commemorative power of the memorial. The more recent addition of a realistic statue of combat nurses also is, in my view, a dignified plus.

    4) Self-identity as victim. From an American who recently visited Japan:

    Last year, when we visited the moving Atomic Bomb museum in Nagasaki, I was surprised to find that the timeline on the wall gave the name, "War of the Pacific", to WWII and explicitly blamed the U.S. for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was shown only by a single photo on the wall.  Apparently, the Yasukuni representation is not isolated. 

    I had the same impression on my first visit to the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima back in the 1980s. Its historical account began with something like, "In the springtime of 1945, the U.S. Army Air Corps launched a campaign of firebombing against major cities in Japan..." with no mention of what might have happened beforehand.

    I no longer have a photo of that account and don't see one online. I do note that the online "Kids Peace Station" run by the Hiroshima museum has a very fair-seeming account of the origins of the war.

    The scholarship on how modern Japan does and does not remember its war history is vast and complex. The best single account remains John Dower's Embracing Defeat, but, for instance, you could check out a 2010 paper by Mindy Haverson, then of Stanford Law School which makes this point about Hiroshima:

    The dominant postwar messages that war, particularly nuclear war, is evil and destructive serve as universalized constructions in which the aggressor/enemy is neither the colonial, militaristic Japanese state nor the US [which dropped the bomb]  but "war" itself. As such, Japan can avoid both self-identification as an aggressor vis-a-vis the rest of Asia and the denigration of the U.S. as an enemy, a move that Japan's leaders have sought to avoid in light of the country's economic and security dependence on the US.

    In the absence of an entity "responsible" for wartime suffering, Japan has positioned itself as the ultimate victim and articulated a role for itself as international spokesperson for world peace.

    5) The power of "encirclement" thinking, and other dominant images. Another Westerner in Asia writes:

    In some future post or roundtable perhaps it's worth exploring the encirclement theme that has come up in the Yasakuni/Yushukan discussion.  It certainly drives behavior from China and Iran today, and perhaps Russia, Pakistan, and a few others.  

    I agree. Because it is geographically almost impossible for America to be "encircled," many Americans have a hard time even imagining the power of this threat/concept in many other countries -- including the Japan of the 1930s and the China of today. Even enormous China? Yes, given that its sea-lane access is subject to many choke points -- and that across many of its borders it sees concentrations of American or U.S.-allied troops. More on this later; for now, an example of the kind of map I've often been shown by Chinese strategic experts. (The black plane-symbols are US or allied bases):

    The same reader quoted above adds:

    I'm an American resident in Hong Kong doing business across Asia for 20 years, and I don't think most Americans have any concept of just how deep and state sponsored the Japanese vs Chinese racism goes.  It has ebbed somewhat in the younger generation through positive exposure - the nearest analogy I can think of is gay rights in the US - but the government uses mass media to perpetuate the most ugly stereotypes at every opportunity.

    I agree with this too -- and the whole Yasukuni/Yushukan controversy may have the virtue of giving the Western public an idea of how powerful and dangerous these emotions can become.

  • Robert Pastor

    An influential and original participant in international affairs

    Robert A. Pastor, American University photo.

    It seems hard to remember, but four months ago the United States was on the brink of launching cruise missiles and intervening directly in the Syrian civil war.

    Just a few days before President Obama made his dramatic decision to involve Congress in this choice, which itself was a few days before Vladimir Putin came up with his plan to avert a showdown (though not of course to end the killing) via international control of Assad's chemical weapons, Robert Pastor wrote an article in this space. It was called "There Are More Than Two Options for U.S. Policy in Syria." In it he argued that direct U.S. military involvement -- which, again, at that moment seemed all but inescapable -- would be a grave mistake; that there were more options to consider than either doing nothing or sending troops; that diplomacy offered better prospects than intervention; and that it was time to involve the Russians, even if this made the U.S. lose face.

    His analysis was not what you were reading in the standard op-ed piece. And it was -- in my view, and as I think subsequent events confirmed -- correct. In both ways it was typical of other things Pastor had written during his time as a participant in and analyst of international affairs.

    Bob Pastor, a good friend of mine since the late 1970s, died last night, at age 66, nearly four years after he was told he had only a few months left because of cancer. We first met during the embattled days of the Carter Administration, when I was a speechwriter and he was the National Security Council's expert on Latin American affairs. We often sat together on trips, when he would reel off endless tales of his adventures a few years earlier as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia. He was stationed in a district rich in durian trees -- whose bowling-ball-weight, spike-covered fruit posed a lethal threat as they fell from branches on high. Bob said that he dealt with this peril by routinely wearing a football helmet as he went about his Peace Corps duties. 

    Bob's diplomatic and academic achievements will be noted elsewhere. He was an original and influential thinker about relations within the Americas; he did valuable work on improving the mechanics of democracy -- in the United States as well as in other countries; he worked with Jimmy Carter in Atlanta at Emory and at the Carter Center, and then was a senior figure at American University in DC. When Bill Clinton came to office, he nominated Bob as his ambassador to Panama -- where Bob was a well-known and -liked figure because of his work on the Panama Canal Treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved him on a 16-3 vote; but then Jesse Helms, poison-toad-like, used his Senatorial "privilege" to prevent the nomination from coming up for a full Senate vote, ever. 

    Despite his professional achievements, for me Bob Pastor's most distinctive traits were always his warmth, energy, and subversive humor. One of many times I got a scowl from foreign-policy bigshots in the Carter days was when I couldn't stop laughing, at a Serious meeting, about something Bob had just said to me as an aside. Before my wife and I moved to China, he gave us an expensive-looking piece of Chinese lacquer ware -- which on the back said in big letters, "Best Wishes for Mutual Prosperity from Jiangsu Province Industrial Development Commission." He had received it on an official trip there and knew it reflected the spirit of modern China.

    Bob is survived by his siblings, his wife Margy and children Kip and Tiffin, plus other relatives; and is fondly remembered by a very large number of friends.

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