His Bravery Unsung, Varian Fry Acted to Save Jews

The American journalist Varian Fry in 1967. He helped artists like Marc Chagall and Marcel Duchamp escape the Nazis during World War II

In June of 1935, two years after the German government falsely portrayed the burning of the Reichstag as a Communist plot to overthrow the state and just at the moment that it had banned all but “Aryans’’ from serving in the military and made homosexuality a crime, Varian Fry, a young Manhattan editor who was preparing to take over a magazine called The Living Age, traveled to Berlin.

About one month into his stay, he witnessed a night of gruesome rioting in which Jews were kicked, bloodied and spat on, leaving him to provide one of the earliest accounts of Nazi cruelties in the American news media. Relaying his observations to The Associated Press, Fry remarked that the police “nowhere’’ seemed “to make any effort whatever to save victims from this brutality.’’ Occasionally, he said, “they attempted to clear areas for motor traffic,’’ or to keep people from congregating in front of beloved cafes, but “that was all.’’ The crowds — made up of people young and old, well-bred-looking and common — chanting “‘The best Jew is a dead Jew,’” he continued, conducted themselves as if “in holiday mood….’’

Read more in the New York Times

Trump’s Global Democracy Retreat

Under the leadership of Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson, the State Department is considering a mission reform that includes the abandonment of democratic assistance and human rights. The current mission statement reads, “The department’s mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.”

Dropping the words “just” and “democratic” would be fully consistent with the transactional realism that has characterized Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.

And such a change might reflect a growing feeling that most of the programs to support democracy abroad and the importance of democratic ideals are wasteful, inefficient, unappreciated or even damaging. In America, the public (especially Republicans) has increasingly favored nationalism and isolationism, according to some polls, in which the United States focuses on its own problems, with many wary of global humanitarian engagement….

 

For more, read the article in the New York Times

The Unraveling of Roosevelt’s World

In the 1940s, after two world wars and a depression, Western policymakers decided enough was enough. Unless international politics changed in some fundamental way, humanity itself might not survive much longer.

A strain of liberal idealism had been integral to U.S. identity from the American founding onward, but now power could be put behind principle. Woodrow Wilson had fought “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Keeping his goals while noting his failures, the next generation tried again with a revised strategy, and this time they succeeded. The result became known as the postwar liberal international order….

Read more at Foreign Affairs!

In Hurricane Harvey’s Wake, We Need a Green ‘New Deal’

For all of the uncertainties that await Houston and coastal Texas, we can be reasonably sure about one thing: Many of those flooded out by Hurricane Harvey will watch their investments and savings collapse into debt and bankruptcy. And the heaviest burdens, of course, will fall on the shoulders of low- and middle-income residents.

Preliminary estimates put losses from the storm at $30 billion to $40 billion. If past disasters are any indication, those numbers will only grow in the coming days and weeks. Whatever the ultimate figure, the losses will represent, in part, the aggregation of hundreds of thousands or more individual financial calamities. When the waters recede and Houstonians and others hit by this storm return home, with all their pluck and determination, to muck out and clear debris, many will learn too late that their homeowners’ insurance does not cover flood damage.

Even for the lucky 15 percent of homeowners in Houston and surrounding Harris County, who have a federal flood policy in place, collecting claims will most likely be a protracted and contentious process. (Hurricane Katrina and Sandy victims have stories to tell about fraudulent or erroneous claims adjustments, delayed payments and their homes being unlivable for years.) Many of the other 85 percent were not required to have a flood policy because they were not officially at “high risk” on the region’s flood maps — maps that President Trump no longer wants the government to pay for.

 

Read the rest of the article in the article in the New York Times

Why Is Finland Able to Fend Off Putin’s Information War?

Helsinki has emerged as a resilient front against Kremlin spin. But can its successes be translated to the rest of Europe?

With elections coming up this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and perhaps Italy, European intelligence services across the Continent have been sounding the alarm about Russian attempts to influence the outcome though targeted disinformation and propaganda, as they appeared to do in the U.S. presidential election.

That brand of information war can range from pushing fake news stories and conspiracy theories to fanning the flames of existing problems — all serving to undermine public confidence in governments and institutions. Elsewhere in the Baltics and former Soviet Union, Russian-linked disinformation has worked to stoke panic and force local governments into knee-jerk, counterproductive responses that have boosted Kremlin goals across the region.

But in the face of this mounting pressure, one of Russia’s neighbors has emerged unusually resistant to the wider information war waged by Moscow across Europe: Finland.

Like other countries along the Baltic Sea or in Eastern Europe, Finland has seen a notable increase in fake news stories and propaganda targeted against it that can be linked back to Russia since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. These attacks have sought to undermine the government and often coincided with military shows of force along the Russian border.

But unlike its neighbors, Helsinki reckons it has the tools to effectively resist any information attack from its eastern neighbor. Finnish officials believe their country’s strong public education system, long history of balancing Russia, and a comprehensive government strategy allow it to deflect coordinated propaganda and disinformation.

“The best way to respond is less by correcting the information, and more about having your own positive narrative and sticking to it,” Jed Willard, director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement at Harvard, told Foreign Policy. Willard, who is currently working for the Swedish government, was hired by Finnish officials to help them develop a public diplomacy program to understand and identify why false information goes viral and how to counter propaganda.

That initiative started at the top. In October 2015, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto took the first step, when he acknowledged that information warfare is real for Finland, and said that it was the duty of every citizen to combat it. In January 2016, the prime minister’s office enrolled 100 officials in a program across several levels of the Finnish government to identify and understand the spread of disinformation based on Willard’s advice….

Read the rest of the article at Foreign Policy!