PowerLine -> ? How Leftism Can Ruin a Once-Proud School District + Notes on the Ken Burns version

Powerline John Hinderaker at HoaxAndChange

PowerLine -> ? How Leftism Can Ruin a Once-Proud School District + Notes on the Ken Burns version

Powerline image at HoaxAndChange

Powerline image at HoaxAndChange

Daily Digest

  • Energiefehler in Deutschland
  • Notes on the Ken Burns version
  • The Things You Overhear
  • How Leftism Can Ruin a Once-Proud School District
  • The Week in Pictures: That Sorry Time of Year Edition
Energiefehler in Deutschland

Posted: 07 Oct 2017 02:59 PM PDT

(Steven Hayward)

No matter how often we pile on the fraud that is Germany’s energiewende (for “energy transition”), it never gets old pointing out that it should really be called energiefehler—”energy failure.” Today the New York Times acknowledges it as such:

Germany’s Shift to Green Power Stalls, Despite Huge Investments

A de facto class system has emerged, saddling a group of have-nots with higher electricity bills that help subsidize the installation of solar panels and wind turbines elsewhere.

Germany has spent an estimated 189 billion euros, or about $222 billion, since 2000 on renewable energy subsidies. But emissions have been stuck at roughly 2009 levels, and rose last year, as coal-fired plants fill a void left by Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power. That has raised questions — and anger — over a program meant to make the country’s power sector greener.

This lack of progress is an “illustration of the partial failure of the energy transition,” said Artur Lenkowski, an energy analyst at IHS Markit, a research firm. “The whole point of the energy transition was to lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Renewable energy subsidies are financed through electric bills, meaning that Energiewende is a big part of the reason prices for consumers have doubled since 2000.

If you look at states here that have aggressive renewable energy mandates, you find much the same thing. California actually has less carbon-free electricity generation capacity than it did in 1990. Stay tuned for more on this topic here in the coming days. . .


Notes on the Ken Burns version

Posted: 07 Oct 2017 11:24 AM PDT

(Scott Johnson)

I want to add a few notes to Paul’s comments as well as my own on the gargantuan Ken Burns/Lynn Novick PBS documentary The Vietnam War. I think it warrants more informed commentary than my own, but let me these offer notes while we wait for knowledgeable observers such as Mackubin Owens, Victor Davis Hanson, and James Robbins to weigh in.

As of this weekend, we do have George Veith’s helpful Law & Liberty review (“in many ways [the documentary] is a lengthy redundancy, repeating old stories and unchallenging surface realities”). Today Mark Moyar presents his critique in this Wall Street Journal column (the documentary is “a partisan harangue”).

On the absence of commentary criticizing the documentary, Kevin Cullen recalled the controversy over Stanley Karnow’s 1983 PBS series on the war. He quoted Sara Altherr, the publicist, and wife of the executive producer of the 1983 series. Cullen exulted: “[W]hat surprises Altherr and others who worked on the 1983 series is the absence of a coordinated attack against it by conservative forces similar to those who rose up in indignation 35 years ago. If anything, the most compelling criticism of Burns/Novick is that they strayed too close to the middle.” (Paul discussed this “most compelling criticism” in his comments.)

Although the documentary concedes the misleading media coverage of the war at the time of the Tet Offensive of 1968, it does so only in passing. It does not pause over it. The documentary serves up the stray reflections of many witnesses who lived through the period, but it utterly omits any consideration of the media’s misunderstanding. For that, one must turn to Peter Braestrup’s monumental Big Story and James Robbins’s This Time We Win.

As Robbins shows, this was a misunderstanding with a legacy all its own. The documentary has time to look back at Woodstock (intercut with footage from the battlefield in Vietnam), but no time to give any thought to media misfeasance. Instead, the documentary recycles the received version of the media as heroes. Witness, for example, the documentary’s account of the Pentagon Papers case.

The documentary pretends to Olympian if sorrowful detachment, but the tone of detachment is a pretense. The documentary adopts old leftist critiques of the war as a “civil war” in which we had no business and were, moreover, on the wrong side. In Vietnam, we were always “chasing ghosts.” The war could not be won. The documentary orchestrates these points into motifs that run from the first episode through the tenth.

The motifs add up to a shoddy argument in a shoddy form. Among other things, the “civil war” motif implies that South Vietnam was not a legitimate country. This implication of the documentary remains unsupported by the express argument from anyone other than partisans of the North Vietnamese cause, although one or two of the South Vietnamese refer to the fratricidal nature of the war.

The first episode presents a glaring example of the documentary’s argument by implication. Recounting French colonial involvement in Vietnam, the documentary departs from chronological form to cut back and forth between French colonial involvement following World War II and American participation in the war in the mid 1960’s. The unstated implication is that America’s involvement represented a continuation of French colonialism, or that the United States had succeeded to France in Vietnam.

Despite the “civil war” motif, the documentary of course acknowledges and establishes the role of North Vietnam in establishing, directing and supporting the Viet Cong. Reviewing the documentary’s companion book by Geoffrey Ward, who also wrote the documentary’s narrative, (leftist) historian David Greenberg banged the gong in the New York Times, of all places. Professor Greenberg noted that Ward provides “an oddly starry-eyed sketch of Ho Chi Minh.” This is a rather crippling limitation in understanding our enemy, as I persist in thinking of him (and Le Duan, Le Duc Tho and the rest of the North Vietnamese leadership).

The documentary does not take the line that I learned at the time from antiwar historians such as Kahin and Lewis in The United States in Vietnam (1967) that the conflict was limited to South Vietnamese factions. No one is now selling the line that the conflict constituted a “civil war” in that sense. The left long ago moved on.

The book’s sugarcoated view of Ho appears in the documentary as well, but the phenomenon of sugarcoating extends to the documentary generally. It sugarcoats Ho Chi Minh, to be sure, but it also sugarcoats Communist persecution and Communist atrocities. How many Vietnamese civilians did the Communists massacre in Hue? The documentary doesn’t say, but the answer is “thousands.” It sugarcoats the American antiwar movement. John Kerry, however, does not emerge entirely unscathed.

While presenting voices speaking from numerous perspectives, the documentary is ruthlessly partial. Among other things, it glosses over the voices of American armed forces proud of their service and not disillusioned by the cause they served. Bing West makes this point (and more) in his New York Post column on the documentary, as does George Veith in the column linked above. The documentary’s tone of detachment is, as I say, a pretense.

The documentary includes interviews with commissioned officers such as West Point grad Matt Harrison (a member of the class of 1966, Harrison also appears in Rick Atkinson’s The Long Gray Line) and retired Air Force General (then Major), Merrill McPeak. As they look back, they are eloquent in their bitterness.

Those of the 2.7 million Americans who served at lower levels in Vietnam are represented mostly by the disillusioned and the disgusted: Karl Marlantes, John Musgrave, Bill Ehrhart, Roger Harris, Denton “Mogie” Crocker (killed in action at age 19, but speaking through letters and surviving family), Tim O’Brien, Vincent Okamoto, James Gillam, Ron Ferrizzi and others. Their testimony is compelling. In one way or another, however, they look down on their younger selves for their service or for having believed in the cause they served. (I might ask here why Leslie Gelb is the one former government official called on to chime in as a sort of Greek chorus.)

Where, I wondered, is someone like my friend Tim Kelly, the prominent attorney now at the Minneapolis office of the Dykema law firm? Tim graduated from the University of Minnesota and was commissioned through Army ROTC in 1968. Once commissioned, Tim volunteered for the infantry and for service in Vietnam. He served as an Army infantry officer in Vietnam and Cambodia from 1968-1970, attaining the rank of First Lieutenant. I asked Tim what he thought of the documentary. He responded:

Watched a single episode in part and it was so distorted that I quit. Compare the book Huế 1968, by Mark Bowden, to this polemic. Huế leans left but is fair while this documentary is really propaganda.

I think most combat soldiers in Vietnam thought that what they themselves did was noble, but had differing views whether the war effort itself made sense. Everyone just wanted to serve his tour and get home.

Tim is no shrinking violet, but the producers of The Vietnam War somehow overlooked him and others like him in the ten years they worked on the documentary.

Paul Mirengoff wrote about the bias reflected even in the documentary’s musical soundtrack. Man, the producers are proud of that soundtrack. In their précis of the documentary’s episodes, they list the songs that appear on each one. The soundtrack draws on the folk, rock, blues and soul music of the era, but why? It emits a sentimental glow, like the soundtrack of The Big Chill.

It also marks out an approved canon, like Samuel Johnson’s selection of quotations illustrating usage in his Dictionary of the English Language. Bob Dylan is a heavy — and I do mean heavy — favorite of Burns and crew, especially in the early going. The documentary’s online site includes David Fricke’s liner notes for the soundtrack. Fricke hails the soundtrack’s “vivid atmosphere and pointed commentary.”

You may recall the powerful portrayal of the Cambodian holocaust in 1984’s The Killing Fields. The movie’s portrayal of the horror was unblinkered. Even so, the film wound up with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” as though nationalism or patriotism or traditional religious belief rather than Communism had given rise to the killing fields. Sheer, witless stupidity.

The same is the case with the soundtrack as commentary here, from Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Masters of War” to the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” As the implicit commentary on the war, this is sheer, witless stupidity.

And if we’re going to revisit P.F. Sloan, let’s go with “Sins of a Family” or “Where Were You When I Needed You” or “Let Me Be” or “Secret Agent Man.” Please, anything but “Eve of Destruction.”

The Burns/Novick documentary adds to Stanley Karnow’s 1983 PBS documentary and companion book. The combat footage is riveting. The voices of the Vietnamese are indeed of interest. I think it is worth watching, especially if you know enough about the war to understand what the documentary is up to. The documentary nevertheless reiterates the line for which Mac Owens faulted Karnow in the Claremont Review of Books. Consider this:

Karnow’s great error is that he insists on seeing the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong as primarily “nationalists,” not Communists. While he has done a service in treating the Vietnam War as part of the 2,000-year historical struggle of the Vietnamese against foreigners, he does not pay enough attention to the qualitative differences between the traditional Vietnamese nationalism and that of the Stalinist Ho Chi Minh.

Perhaps this was never possible for Karnow. After all, he began his journalistic career as a correspondent and writer for the leftist National Guardian in the late 1940s. His writings in that period were strongly anti-anti-Communist and pro-Marxist. In 1949 he was parroting Soviet attacks on the Marshall Plan and on the “Socialist marion­ettes” in France whose strings were being worked by American interests. In April of that year he explained how the Marshall Plan enabled the French to torture nationalist Vietnamese peasants, and in August how it allowed Frenchmen to murder 80,000 civilians in a “Madagascar bloodbath.”

Although Vietnam clearly indicates a change of viewpoint from his Guardian work, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that his view of Vietnamese nationalism seems to have changed very little over twenty-five years. While Karnow now admits that the Communists were often repressive, brutal, and dogmatic, he still uncritically accepts the view that they remain primarily nationalists, but nationalist with a revolutionary vision for an agrarian society.

And this is the point missed by many of those who have praised Karnow’s book but should have known better. While Karnow has forgone the Marxist rhetoric that characterized his youthful scribblings on behalf of “anti-imperialism,” he still holds fast to the Marxist view of history. For Karnow, there was no way the U.S. could have won. We were simply on the wrong side of history; the progressive forces could not help but overwhelm us.

Thus Karnow has written a book which, on its surface, is moderate. But his thesis is the same as that of the demonologists: U.S. foreign policy is doomed unless it accepts the legitimacy of the “revolutionary paradigm.” He does not tell us that the revolutionary paradigm seeks to destroy the republican paradigm, the most successful example of which is the United States. While nationalists per se do not see the U.S. system as their enemy (although they may on occasion see the U.S. as their particular enemy), Communist revolutionaries do. If the Vietnamese Communists were primarily nationalist, they would not have eliminated all independent nationalists.

The necessary changes being made, Mac Owens’s critique applies to the Burns/Novick documentary as well. This is a point also noted by Mark Moyar in the Wall Street Journal column linked above. What we seem to have here is a case of (media) history repeating itself.


The Things You Overhear

Posted: 07 Oct 2017 09:45 AM PDT

(Steven Hayward)

Wandering around the Berkeley campus is a source of endless amusement, like spotting the old fossils pictured nearby advocating our celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution that rolls around in another few days. Even at Berzerkeley, there were few takers. No one was stopping at their table to pick up any flyers.

And then there are the things you overhear. A speaker at a conference on campus this week made reference to a recent David Brooks column where Brooks compared Donald Trump to the old sixties-era provocateur Abbie Hoffman:

In the late 1960s along came a group of provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the rest of the counterculture to upend the Protestant establishment. People like Hoffman were buffoons, but also masters of political theater. . .

So in 2016, members of the outraged working class elected their own Abbie Hoffman as president. Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn’t have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one.

Well, you can’t say this kind of thing to a Berkeley audience, because Hoffman is a hero of legend, while Trump is Hitler. So the conversation with the speaker (a lefty) after his talk went like this:

First person: It’s totally wrong to compare Hoffman to Trump! Trump is president; Hoffman was just an activist! Big difference!

Second person: That’s right! We need to flame David Brooks in the Comments section at the Times!

Yeah, I’m sure flaming more people in the Comments section at the Times will bring about social revolution. Hoffman must be rolling over in his grave.


How Leftism Can Ruin a Once-Proud School District

Posted: 07 Oct 2017 07:26 AM PDT

(John Hinderaker)

Edina is one of the Twin Cities’ wealthiest suburbs. For decades, its public schools have been viewed as among the nation’s finest. But no longer: a leftist political agenda now dominates the Edina school system, and quality of instruction has slipped badly. Edina is not alone. What has happened there is going on in public schools across the country. Edina’s experience should be a warning to all of us.

Kathy Kersten is a Senior Fellow at Center of the American Experiment, the organization I run. Her column in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune is titled “Racial identity policies are ruining Edina’s fabled schools.” The column is drawn from Kathy’s much longer article in the current issue of Thinking Minnesota, the Center’s quarterly magazine, but it also includes some new material.

Kathy’s Star Tribune article describes the obsessions with race and liberal politics that pervade the Edina public school system. A few excerpts:

The “All for All” plan mandates sweeping change to how education is delivered in Edina. For example, it dictates that, from now on, the district will hire “racially conscious teachers and administrators.” It also declares that students must “acquire an awareness of their own cultural identity and value racial, cultural and ethnic diversities.”

In education-speak, this means that Edina children will now be instructed that their personal, cultural “identity” is irrevocably tied to their skin color. This directly rejects the colorblind vision that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. pioneered, and that the vast majority of Americans share.

Indeed, Edina teachers are taught that not to care about skin color, and to treat everyone the same, is racist–“color-blind racism,” in the leftist jargon.

Katie Mahoney, Highlands’ “racially conscious” principal, was hired in 2016. This fall, she announced that the school’s “challenges” for 2017-18 are to teach children “how to embrace ancestry, genetic code and melanin,” and to how “to be changemakers.”

“Embrace ancestry, genetic code, and melanin.” You might think that formula comes from Berlin in the 1930s, but no: it is Edina in the 21st century.

Edina High School’s leftist culture entails bullying of nonconforming students and parents. The bullying has been so severe that it drew a rebuke from one of the Commissioners of the United States Civil Rights Commission:

On Aug. 24, 2017, Peter Kirsanow — a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights — wrote to the chair of the Edina school board about this and other recent incidents at Edina High School. He admonished the board about teachers’ “discrimination” against and “bullying” of students “with different political beliefs,” and reminded them that federal civil rights law prohibits such discrimination in public schools.

Edina’s school superintendent replied to Kirsanow’s letter, effectively admitting that the schools’ bullying of nonconforming students requires correction. He wrote that “the district has invited a team of attorneys to conduct training on employee and student free speech rights and limitations, which was attended by administrators and all high school staff.”

What effect has the politicization of Edina’s schools had on the quality of education? Certainly nothing positive:

[T]oday, test scores are sinking in Edina’s fabled schools. One in five Edina High School students can’t read at grade level and one in three can’t do grade-level math. These test results dropped EHS’s ranking among Minnesota high schools from 5th to 29th in reading proficiency, and from 10th to 40th in math proficiency between 2014 and 2017.

This is the full version of Kathy’s article, as it appears in the current issue of Thinking Minnesota.

TM Fall2017 Edina 1 by John Hinderaker on Scribd

If you want to subscribe to Thinking Minnesota, all you have to do is send your name and mailing address to [email protected], with a request for a subscription. Our magazine focuses on Minnesota issues, but in reality, those issues are largely the same all across the country. Thinking Minnesota is a high-quality publication, and I believe you will enjoy it no matter where you live. And if you want to support my efforts to change Minnesota’s civic and political culture, you can donate to the Center here.


The Week in Pictures: That Sorry Time of Year Edition

Posted: 07 Oct 2017 04:47 AM PDT

(Steven Hayward)

We could, of course, lead off with some choice observations about the moral preening of Hollywood, except that everyone is tired of Jimmy Kimmel by now. Or the Harvey Weinstein revelations. (Schadenfreude alert. But still a yawn. Big news: Hollywood casting couches still exist! Film at 11! From Weinstein productions!) Or the NFL’s continuing meltdown. Or the usual liberal media ignorance about guns. But no: tis the season for the important controversy over . . . pumpkin spice. I’m agin it.

“I’ll take that one!”

Liberal color guide.

Headlines of the week:

And finally. . .

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