In defense of US funding for area studies   no comments

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The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In 2013, the Monkey Cage led the charge against the attempt by congressional appropriators to eliminate National Science Foundation funding for political science. These days, area studies supported by Title VI of the Higher Education Act are in the crosshairs. The unique Middle East politics of the threat to Title VI should not distract from the common issues in play with another political challenge to federal support for scholarship.

I have to confess that this year’s threatened hit list would strike close to my heart: That act funded my doctoral studies and I want junior scholars to have the same support I did. And today I teach, proudly, at the George Washington University’s Title VI National Resource Center for Middle East Studies. Political attacks on Title VI funding for Middle East Studies are a quadrennial ritual, which has rarely made significant inroads. Several trends, from the specific (the increasingly contentious politics surrounding Israel) to the general (rising pressure on federal budgets), make this year’s attacks more worrying. They should be of great concern not only for the insular world of Middle East Studies, but for all academics concerned about the politicization of federal funding for academic research.

U.S. area studies programs have been essential for both U.S. policy and beyond American shores. A recent study of the relevance of political science to policymakers found that area studies were the form of academic research that policymakers most valued: 69 percent of respondents described area studies as very useful and 97 percent as at least somewhat useful (only 32 and 80 percent had the same views of political science). U.S. area studies are even more valued abroad, where authoritarian governments view academic freedom in the social sciences and even the humanities as dangerous. Federal support for these programs over the past two generations has produced the core of American students and scholars who today teach, research and write about vital areas of the world – and are often the only sources of knowledge when crises erupt in unfamiliar places.

Ironically, U.S. politics is now undermining this vital national asset. Title VI programs took a major hit for budgetary reasons in 2012, when the sequester forced a 47.5 percent reduction in the funding of all National Resource Centers. Funding levels were thankfully restored in the 2014-18 competition, but only after crippling uncertainty driven by multiple delays and swirling politics. A host of academic programs funded by Title VI are vulnerable to congressional reauthorization taking place this year. Since knowing about the world would seem to be a good thing, particularly at a time of such great regional and global upheaval, it may be confusing why the area studies and language training supported by Title VI would be at risk from politics. But this year’s battle has already begun, and the last reauthorization battle in 2008 may give a taste of what is in store. On Sept. 29, Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking Democratic member of the House Appropriations Committee, wrote to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warning of “concerns that a number of imbalanced programs of Middle East Studies are disproportionately focused on and are biased against Israel.”

Much of the ferment over Title VI is predictably tied to the Israeli-Palestinian vortex of vitriol. Competing interpretations of Ottoman history or civil-military relations in North Africa that occupy so much academic attention rarely figure in these debates. It is distressing that all discussion about international education boils down to a fight over various orientations to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who have been offended by specific individuals or events at particular universities see Title VI reauthorization as a political tool to cut off funding to those whose opinions they dislike, which often translates into attacks on particular Title VI centers. This year, the most vicious of these attacks came against UCLA’s Middle East Center. A self-appointed watchdog group issued a report that was characterized by inaccuracies and hyperbole about supposed “anti-Semitism” for programs that were critical of Israel. The attack has already been widely circulated on Capitol Hill.

Yet what do critics seek to do about it? One idea – to try to defund specific programs that are deemed politically incorrect – seems to be in decline, though it is not dead. A second approach – to use civil rights procedures to claim implausibly that specific programs are somehow violating the law – has mercifully failed to date. The result of those long, drawn-out past wars was simply that applicants for federal funds for international and regional studies were asked to give an explanation of “how the activities funded by the grant will reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions and international affairs.” This is, of course, what most applicants already seek to do as part of their core mission; some critics are seeking to put more teeth (and politics) into the oversight of that mission.

The strategy that critics now seem to be developing is more dangerous, however: moving beyond an attack on those academics who annoy them into an effort to bring the entire infrastructure of federal support crashing down. One of the leading critics of Title VI, Martin Kramer of Shalem College in Israel, concludes that “if you think that Title VI, on balance, does more good than harm, you’re just going to have to accept that some of your tax dollars will go to agitprop for Hamas. If you think that’s totally unacceptable, you should favor the total elimination of Title VI from the Higher Education Act, now up for reauthorization.”

Should programming that is critical of Israel on some campuses endanger all funding for international education? Should federal officials or members of Congress pass judgment on individual lecture series? And if an individual faculty member offends a supporter of a particular political position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should students of Swahili and teachers of Tagalog be caught in the crossfire? This expansion of the war could boomerang on the critics, however, if those other Title VI area studies constituencies can come together in a defensive coalition to protect the core mission of international education and language training.

In Washington, D.C., where any issue can be caught up in polarized bickering, Title VI has already been dragged in. The conservative Heritage Foundation published a lengthy broadside against Title VI by Senior Fellow Mike Gonzalez that boils down to three points: First, the author, as might be expected from a senior fellow at Heritage, does not approve of the Obama administration’s foreign policies; second, the U.S. government has funded international education; and third, this cannot be, to Gonzalez, merely a coincidence. Linking once bipartisan federal support for international education with the foreign policy decisions of the current administration risks making reauthorization a proxy for partisan battles.

But this is silly. To know more about the world benefits everyone in general but nobody specifically. Programs like that can wind up on the cutting room floor because they lack focused and motivated defenders. The Obama administration has been no friendlier to the cause of international education than many on the other side of Washington’s big divide. The unfortunate result may be to undermine the United States’ ability to understand regions of the world in which it is deeply involved. Standing against their efforts is merely the hope that this Congress may yet act like its predecessors and reauthorize Title VI based on the nonpartisan grounds that knowledge of the world is good. Just as academics who harbor few hopes of winning National Science Foundation awards in political science rallied in defense of that program, they should now take a strong stance in support of Title VI and federal support for high quality area studies.

Nathan J. Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University, non-resident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of “When Victory is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics (Cornell University Press, 2012).

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Written by enfoquec on October 31st, 2014

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Israel Blocks Access to Contested Holy Site in Jerusalem   no comments

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Written by enfoquec on October 31st, 2014

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Israel to Reopen Contested Holy Site in Jerusalem   no comments

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Brookes: Obama lacks urgency in taking on Islamic State threat   no comments

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If the recent “lone wolf” terror attacks here and in Canada were inspired by Islamist terrorist propaganda such as that ginned up by the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), wouldn’t it make sense to snuff out the inspiration for that violent extremism?

Uh, yeah!

In other words, turning up the heat on the Islamic State — which has truly become a social media “superpower” spreading hateful Islamist radicalism across the globe — might be a darn good place to start.

Sure, we’re seemingly at war with the Islamic State. But the temperature set by Team Obama’s strategy so far is little more than a “simmer,” when the flame needs to be turned up to “boil” if we want to make a big difference anytime soon.

It seems the campaign so far is pretty much a draw, having slowed but not derailed the Islamic State Express, despite the fact that the terrorist “army” is fighting the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi/Kurdish forces across two countries.

That’s not encouraging.

While administration spokespersons continue to preach “strategic patience” in fighting the Islamic State, evidence of, or progress toward, the stated goal of degrading and destroying the world’s largest terrorist group — ever! — is pretty hard to find.

The fact is that if the Islamic State isn’t losing, it’s winning.

While our approach to battling violent Islamist extremism in its many variations must be multipronged, the Islamic State is the most “successful” terror group out there, and we should have a hard focus on its demise.

As a result of its “winning” image portrayed on social media, among other factors, the Islamic State has reportedly drawn as many as 15,000 foreign fighters from some 80 countries to build its caliphate across Iraq and Syria.

And that may be just for starters.

Last week, besides the Islamist-inspired attacks in Canada and the United States, three Denver school girls sought to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State before being intercepted after landing in Germany.

They know how to find foot soldiers, funders and followers.

So, instead of Team Obama asking for forbearance in Operation Inherent Resolve, the tragic turn of events here and in Canada with Islamist-induced terrorism says that a long-term tolerance of the Islamic State is increasingly dangerous.

It’s not as if the Islamic State is showing patience. Just last month, one of the group’s postings reportedly called for the killing of Americans, Europeans, Australians and Canadians or any other coalition member “in any manner or way.”

That means at home or abroad.

While not a fail-safe answer for our security from violent Islamist extremism, the Islamic State’s near-term destruction would eliminate a wellspring of encouragement to those who may thirst for their warped message.

Not to mention, eliminating the Islamic State terrorist “machine” would remove its threat to Middle East stability and U.S. regional interests — and diminish the chances of an Islamic State-trained, passport-carrying terrorist coming home to kill.

Despite widely expressed concerns from counterterror cognoscenti about the threat of Islamist-inspired terrorism at home and abroad, Team Obama doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. The question is: What are we waiting for?

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy 
assistant secretary of defense. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter. Talk back at

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Written by enfoquec on October 29th, 2014

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Beauty-fall European destinations   no comments

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Fall is a season which most tourists traveling to Europe neglect to appreciate often yearning for the sunshine or snow and overlooking the beautiful falling leaves and chilly weather.
However, autumn is the best season to discover Europe’s culture, food and architecture. This season is great for the cheaper prices and fewer crowds.
1) Andalucía, Spain:
Autumn in south Spain is still sunny and warm which is a great opportunity for you to hit the beaches and escape the cold breeze. It is also far quieter than it would be in the summer, giving you the opportunity to avoid the long lines and the fully booked hotels.
North of Seville Sierra is the beautiful de Aracena national park, a must-see. Spend time exploring its wooded valleys, the whitewashed villages and chestnut groves where the autumnal colors of the leaves are red and gold.
Enjoy an authentic Spanish tapas lunch at Café-Bar Manzano, opposite the Aracena town market square with its limestone caves and 13th-century church built by the Knights Templar.
2) Cyprus, Greece:
Perfectly positioned in the south of Greece where the temperature is still warm even in the fall season. On cooler autumn days, it’s great to explore the surroundings on foot so grab a map and mark your must- see places and enjoy the scenery; after that cool off with a dip in the sea at Coral Bay, which is a large horseshoe-shaped cove backed by steep limestone cliffs.
3) London, United Kingdom:
It’s the perfect city to visit in any season. However, in autumn it is less crowded and more charming. A picnic in Hyde Park is perfect in the fall with the orange-yellow leaves crackling beneath your feet.
Visitors to the city can enjoy the Imperial War Museum, London eye, London Bridge, Tower of London, the National Gallery, Buckingham Palace and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Shopping is a treat by itself where the rich and famous travel to this city just to enjoy the season’s best buys and duck into one of the famous Michelin star restaurants for a great meal.
4) Florence, Italy:
It is high season for food in Italy with Truffles and mushrooms, chestnuts, chocolate and nougat. You can’t miss the art scene which is celebrated both indoors and outdoors; the architecture is one of the things that make Florence so special. Known for its fashion and famous designers, the tour would be incomplete without passing by Gucci Feragamo museums to learn more about the history of the brands.
All you need is a map and comfortable walking shoes because Florence is a city you want to get lost in; everything is at walking distance and there is a surprise waiting in every corner.
5) Amsterdam, Netherlands:
Fall brings great colors to the streets of Amsterdam with the city covered in a warm blanket of golden leaves.
A very artistic city, it is home to the world-class Van Gogh Museum or the states museum, Rijksmuseum. Nine Streets is retail store where you can shop-till-you-drop and enjoy an authentic pancake and waffle at one of the small boutique restaurants and cafes in the streets.
Located southwest of the city center is the Vondelpark and the science center NEMO, which is a great place to see with the family. Most countries have their flowers shipped from the Netherlands to celebrate their significant occasions so make sure to pass by the Albert Cuypmark street market which is the largest flower market in the country. If you are lucky, you get to stay at some of the boathouses lining up on Amsterdam’s canals that are rented out to tourists.
6) Istanbul, Turkey:
There is no better time to visit Istanbul like the fall, when the weather is cold and street vendors start selling grilled chestnuts and corn.
This city is filled with Islamic history that will take you back to the Sultan era when castles and mosques were lined with gold and silver. The most important must-sees are the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia; you can walk around the area and admire the greenery and observe the architecture.
Turkish cuisine is fascinating and an important part of their culture so make sure to explore the menus and enjoy the many faces of the Turkish kitchen.
Shopping is an adventure by itself; pass by the Grand Bazaar and pick up some souvenirs and maybe try the famous apple tea and a bite of Raha. You cannot visit any Turkish city and not experience the famous Turkish Hammam and massage in one of their traditional baths.
7) Paris, France:
The city of lights and the most romantic city in the world must top the list in any tourist’s itinerary.
Even though it is a tourism hub throughout the year, the city becomes quieter in the fall, offering visitors a chance to see past the tour groups and into the heart of the city.
For some great shopping experience, take a walk on Champs Elysees or St. Honore which will take you to the globally celebrated fashion designers’ boutiques.
Montmartre is the old artists’ quarter of the city. There. you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city and maybe have authentic Parisian onion soup. It is around the corner from the Moulin Rouge cabaret club. Wander along cobbled streets and visit the Café des Deux Moulins, location of the film Amélie.
8) Berlin, Germany:
This city offers one of the most fascinating histories in Europe.
Take a walk around the 360 acres of peaceful greenery in Tiergarten or explore the remains of the great Berlin Wall and the glorious dome atop the Reichstag, which is a famous parliament building.
One of the interesting things to do in Berlin is to take a bicycle tour around the historical areas and admire the architectural and natural scenery. Make sure not to miss the Museum Island for it is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites.
9) Lisbon, Portugal:
It is known for its colonialist history, original Fado music and the ornate Manueline architecture. The weather is beautiful and the trees are always green except for fall when it gets cooler and the leaves taken on beautiful red-gold hues.

You cannot miss the spectacular hilltop views, or the warm and friendly locals who welcome tourists with a smile. Learn more about their culture at their National Museum or visit the Monastery of St. Jerome, which is also one of the UNESCO World Heritage buildings.
Never leave your hotel without your camera, a map and comfortable shoes because you can walk around the whole city. Belem neighborhood has a beautiful waterfront and a great surrounding park for a picnic. Also don’t forget to head to the Santa Justa’s Elevator up to the rooftop to see a beautiful panoramic view of St. George’s Castle, Rossio Square and the Baixa neighborhood.
10) Vienna, Austria:
Autumn is the season for Vienna to shine; it’s the season when the leaves turn red, yellow, brown and gold carpeting the ground under the trees. If you are visiting in November and December you have to make it to the annual Christmas market and festive decorations.
Do soak up the rich cultural heritage at the Museum of Modern Art or try one of the many coffee houses.
And what could be better on a dry, crisp day than to take a tram to Vienna Woods and have a hearty meal at one of the restaurants overseeing the lake.

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Written by enfoquec on October 29th, 2014

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Robertson school board member calls rezoning plan ‘racist’   no comments

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A member of the Robertson County Board of Education said last week that a district-wide rezoning plan drafted by the Department of Justice is “the most racist thing” he has ever seen in his life.

The federally-mandated plan follows a years-long investigation by the Department of Justice, which found that the school district has failed to desegregate its schools since 1970 and gave more resources to combat overcrowding in predominately white schools, according to the department’s findings letter, which was made public earlier this month.

Since the plan’s unveiling, thousands of parents and community members have taken to social media and organized a public rally to vent their frustrations about the rezoning.

Last week, three of six planned public forums, held by the school district to gain public perspective on the issue, saw attendance rates in the hundreds with dozens of people voicing opinions.

At the Greenbrier High School meeting, held Thursday, there were a few gasps just before a hush fell over the packed auditorium as School Board member Jeff White was called to speak.

One day earlier at the East Robertson High School public forum, Director of Schools Mike Davis told the crowd of about 100 that the school board had been advised by its attorney not to engage in the forums. Despite that, White was one of the many people who signed up to speak at the public forum.

“I’ve been a part of the school system since I was six years old in this cluster,” White said. “And, from what I’ve seen, what the [Department of Jusice] is trying to do to all of these communities in this county is the most racist thing I have ever seen in my life.”

Over the years, White has coached football, umpired baseball games and been heavily involved in the Greenbrier community. He has been a police officer for 38 years, he said, and is currently the police chief in nearby Ridgetop. He urged the board and the community to fight the rezoning.

“These lines are drawn and I don’t care what anybody says they are looking at black and white dots and that’s all they have ever looked at on that entire map,” White said. “It is racial and that’s all it is. It’s simple. The people who have talked to me who have bought, built, leased, rented their homes do not want this.”

One by one, parents from Greenbrier High School and others throughout the district voiced similar opinions at last week’s public forums, urging school board members to vote against the federal plan.

Parents plead for help

More than 100 people attended the first forum, held at White House Heritage High School on Monday, Oct. 20. A similar crowd was present for the second forum, at East Robertson High School on Wednesday, Oct. 22. And about 200 were present for the Greenbrier meeting on Thursday.

At Heritage, Jason Duncan said he thought Robertson school children were being bullied by the Department of Jusice and he urged the school board to let the government take them to court.

“How could it be any worse? It’s time to take a stand,” he said. “Tell them to bring it.”

Karen Dawson expressed similar sentiments, saying her kids’ education comes first and the government doesn’t know what’s best for them.

At East, only a handful of parents signed up to speak, prompting schools officials to cut the meeting an hour short. It was a decision that angered some of the parents in attendance.

“People wanted to ask questions and talk,” said Brian Davis, whose children would be rezoned from East Robertson schools to Springfield as a result of the D.O.J.’s plan. “They cut them off, wouldn’t let them do what they said they were going to let them do.”

During his time at the podium Wednesday, Brian Davis told school officials that his children would come home crying about the proposed rezoning.

“As a parent, that hurts. It hurts a lot,” he said. “Leave them alone. Leave these kids alone. I’m begging you.”

Rachel Bishop, a mother of five children in the East Robertson school zone who would be rezoned to Springfield, got angry during her time at the microphone. She called the district’s current predicament a “leadership failure issue” and said she “despised it being a race issue.”

Greenbrier High School sophomore Ethan Slate, 15, said he thought students’ after-school activities would be adversely affected by a rezoning. Many of his classmates, he said, would often walk home after practices or club meetings, and if the rezoning went through, they would no longer be able to do that.

While his house is rezoned under the new plan, Slate would be able to stay at Greenbrier High School because he would be entering his junior year next year. The federal plan says any student entering the fourth grade at an elementary school, eighth grade at a middle school or 11th or 12th grade at a high school can stay in his or her current school.

“The minorities … generally, when you look at all the major cities of the world, they move to where all the resources are,” Slate said. “There’s affordable housing in Springfield, there are grocery stores in Springfield and easy access to many, many resources. Therefore, why should it be a surprise that the minorities are there? Generally, this isn’t about racism. I’m not racist. I don’t think anybody in this room is.”

Schools attorney: Board has few options

Despite the public opinion, the school board’s attorney Chuck Cagle has said there is little flexibility in what the board can do and that the plan will have to go into operation.

No one on the Board of Education wants to vote for it, Cagle said, but he does not see an alternative.

“Are you going to ask public officials to shut down programs for disabled children?” he asked. “Or problems children have with reading or with mathematics? Are you going to ask them to shut down the food program? That’s their choice.”

Schools Director Davis said rejecting the rezoning plan may not even stop it from being put into effect. He said the attorneys with the Department of Justice told him they would go to court, get a court order and mandate that the plan be implemented. Despite these facts, Mike Davis said he wasn’t aware of how the board will vote on this issue.

“The board decided to go out into the community and hear from you,” he told the Greenbrier crowd, adding that a common belief among some residents that a contract has already been signed and delivered to the Department of Justice is false. The board, he said, has not voted on anything related to the rezoning.

Public forums are expected to continue this week across the county. The school board is slated to vote on the rezoning plan during its regular meeting on Monday, Nov. 3.

By the numbers

federal funding in Robertson Co.

» Schools budget projected revenues for 2014-15: $84,839,065

» Federal Funding received this year: $8,511,916

» Percentage of Schools budget: About 9.4

» Number of students in Robertson Schools: 11,492

Where the federal funds go

» Title programs: $2,450,205

» Carl Perkins, vocational training: $144,203

» Special Education, Preschool and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: $2,394,508

» School Nutrition: $3,340,000

» Title I Funding (as part of Title programs): $1,856,700

» Title I Schools: Cheatham Park, Westside, Krisle and Bransford Elementary Schools and Springfield Middle Schools.

» Defining a Title I School: A school with a high number or high percentage of children from low-income families that receives funding to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. Personnel, programs and services provided through Title I are supplemental to those services provided by the general education budget. In Robertson County, schools receiving Title I funds have free and reduced lunch rates that range from 73 to 93 percent. Federal law requires that the school with the highest free and reduced percentage receive the most money per student.

Source: Robertson County Schools

By the Numbers

Losing federal funds

What a loss of federal funds could mean to Robertson County taxpayers:

68 cents

Possible property tax hike to cover loss

of funding.


Value of a penny

on the property tax rate.


Property tax increase for a house appraised at $150,000

Source: Robertson County Finance Office

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Written by enfoquec on October 29th, 2014

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Cruise specials for Asia, the Middle East, Australia and the Mediterranean   no comments

Posted at 5:40 am in the places I would like to go

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Written by enfoquec on October 27th, 2014

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