Category Archives: history and current events

July 24, 2014, 8:11 pm

The Southern Strategy

816l59W7NhL SL1500Jamelle Boule Bouie calls out the deceptiveness of conservatives noting that the Democrats have historically been the party of Jim Crow:

The problem with Fund’s argument is that he takes these facts, divorces them from historical context, and spins them into an unconvincing indictment of the modern Democratic Party and a disingenuous exoneration of its conservative counterpart.

It’s worth a read. But what Boule misses (or undersells) is the conscious decision by the GOP to slide into the position vacated by the Democrats. It wasn’t just that the Democrats supported Jim Crow until quite late and only abandoned it during the 1960s. It was that LBJ knowingly pushed through the Civil Rights Act against the best electoral interests of his own party, and the Republicans, with malice aforethought, went after Southerners angered by the CRA. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was a deliberate…

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July 9, 2014, 6:04 pm

Putin, Redux

Old Blood and Iron Himself
Otto Von Bismarck

Wait, you mean that Putin is now backing off Ukraine?

Now that he’s sown chaos in Ukraine—but uneager to participate in someone else’s civil war—President Vladimir Putin has thrown the rebels under the bus. In June, rebel leader Igor Strelkov said that “Putin betrayed us,” and that betrayal has only deepened as Kiev launched its all-out offensive last week. Moscow, having started all this, has offered no help to the rebels.

Kevin Drum thinks this entire bit of aggression was a misstep by Putin:

That Putin. He’s quite the guy, isn’t he? It appears that he eventually figured out that Ukraine wasn’t going to fall neatly into his lap, and the cost of fomenting an all-out war there was simply too great.

Maybe. But look at the result: Russia has neatly acquired the Crimea, stirred up enough trouble in Ukraine that Western governments have largely stopped…

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July 2, 2014, 6:17 pm

Don’t Know Much About…

President Obama is — according to a recent survey — the worst American President since World War II:


He narrowly beats out his predecessor, George W. Bush, 33% – 28%.

I’m sure that each one of the 1446 respondents worked their way carefully through each postwar President, mentally cataloguing their performance. Did LBJ’s Great Society counterbalance his Vietnam debacle? Was Eisenhower’s saber-rattling an effective foreign policy? Was Truman justified in trying to nationalize the steel industry to stop a strike? How heavily to weigh Nixon’s opening of China against his criminality in Watergate? Reagan and PATCO, supply side, end of the Cold War, Iran-Contra? Clinton and don’t ask don’t tell, welfare reform, economic growth, Monica Lewinsky. Bush9/11AfganistanIraqMedicaidSurge. Obamacarebenghazililyledbetteryoudidntbuildthatlibyasyria.

Given the past evidence of American…

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June 12, 2014, 12:04 am

I Don’t Know Is Not An Answer

Justin Wolfers gives David Brat a pass on a confession of ignorance:

When an MSNBC interviewer asked David Brat, the economics professor at Randolph-Macon College who toppled Eric Cantor in a primary challenge Tuesday, whether he opposed the minimum wage, he responded on Wednesday, “Um, I don’t have a well-crafted response on that one.”

The political class is billing it as a gaffe. But Mr. Brat’s fellow economists would probably be far more generous.

Assessing the evidence on the effects of the minimum wage is a tricky business, and the evidence isn’t strong enough to support the certainties that pundits seem to demand.

Well, that’s nice. I’m sure when David Brat has to take a vote on the issue, his lack of decisiveness will serve his constituents well. Policymakers don’t have the luxury of scholars; they have to decide, even in the absence of firm evidence. Should David …

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May 14, 2014, 12:55 am

The Day-to-Day Handshake of Empire

Imperial powers gain much of their strength from their global networks. The British – by owning the oceans in the 19th century – controlled how much of the world’s commerce moved. In that same century, much of the world’s information moved over British telegraph networks. They gave Britain power. The Zimmerman Telegram, which had much to do with bringing the United States into World War I against Germany, went through a telegraph clearing house in London, where the British intercepted it, decoded it, and passed it on to the United States, much to Germany’s dismay.

So, too, with what the United States is doing now. The National Security Agency could not gather much of the information it did if global networks of communication were not dominated by American companies. Thus, Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, could quickly get secret information on her opponents’ negotiating…

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April 29, 2014, 1:37 pm

Putin and Rationality

Who’s a nice naval base, then?

Shorter John Cassidy: Putin may have a set of motivations that are rational by his lights, but I think he’s crazy:

Putin is a Russian nationalist[*] through and through, and, historically, an important part of Russian nationalism has been expansionism. When you are dealing with a something as combustible as that, you can’t always rely on rational behavior to prevail.

The problem with Cassidy’s article is that logic that he ascribes to Putin actually makes perfect sense. Putin may think that the short-term economic and political costs of annexing the Crimea (and possibly Eastern Ukraine) is worth the longer term benefit of fully recovering the best port in the Black Sea, taking a large chunk of population and resources, and generally showing Eastern Europe and Central Asia that Russia is still a power with which to be reckoned. The rump Ukraine, he…

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March 27, 2014, 11:18 am

The Ron Rand Paul Revolution Aims For 2016

Rand Paul, Lifting Off
Charles lindbergh flying his plane everett

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is putting together “a network in all 50 states” to jump-start his Presidential run in 2016. This is a warning shot across the bows of Republican rivals like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, but also taking a lesson from the Obama 2012 campaign, which built a large organization very earlier, especially in the swing states. Some of the paid Obama campaign staffers, in fact, never left Ohio after 2008, but stayed there for the next four years. That ground game is perceived to be one of the major reasons why Obama won re-election. Paul is trying to imitate that early start.

There may, however, be less here than meets the eye:

Rand Paul’s nationwide organization, which counts more than 200 people, includes new backers who have previously funded more traditional Republicans, along with longtime libertarian activists


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March 11, 2014, 3:26 am

Historical Vision and Greater Russia

Stephen Walt writes in support of learning history, but reveals that he hasn’t quite followed his own prescription:

The United States and the European Union backed the anti-Yanukovych forces in Ukraine in a fit of idealistic absentmindedness, and don’t seem to have considered the possibility that Russia would see this action as a threat to its vital interests and would respond in a sharp and ruthless manner. It is the latest in a string of bipartisan foreign-policy failures, a long list that includes the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of these things is not like the other. The invasion of Iraq was an act of commission under American control. We chose to start a bloody war for terrible reasons, with catastrophic consequences. The revolution in Ukraine was a Ukrainian revolution, one completely separate from the United States. It is the worst kind of national self-centeredness to…

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March 2, 2014, 8:07 pm

The Ukraine

Random lessons to help you understand the situation in the Ukraine:

[UPDATED! See below at #11]

1. Apparently, it stopped being “the Ukraine” around 1991. Now, it’s just “Ukraine.”

2. If the person you’re reading mentions these historical analogies, they know nothing: The Crimean War, 1914, the Sudetenland, Munich, Benghazi, the Cold War, and Syria.

3. On the other hand, if they mention this historical analogy, then they know entirely too much: Yalta.

4. The Crimean War was no fun for anyone.

5. No, Obama changing direction on Syria did not give Putin free license in Ukraine. This meme is impressively bad, because it requires ignoring that the Bush administration invasion of Iraq over (claimed) weapons of mass destruction did not stop Putin from invading Georgia in 2008 while insisting that if Obama had invaded Syria, it would have backed Putin off Ukraine. Well, no.

6. …

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January 2, 2014, 5:13 pm

Evolution and Tribalism

The left blogosphere has been remarking on a Pew Center poll showing that Republican belief in evolution has been dropping over the last four years.

Evolution2013 4

Kevin Drum thinks it’s tribalism:

I don’t think it shows that conservatives are becoming more hostile to science, or even more hostile to evolution. Like so many poll questions these days, it gets interpreted by a lot of people as little more than “Are you a liberal or a conservative?” As Krugman says, between the pollster’s mouth and the respondent’s ears, it morphs into a tribal marker, not an actual question about an actual policy.

Which isn’t that worrying, except in the magnitude of the effect. But he’s not sure and “Perhaps some enterprising political scientist at the Monkey Cage can review the evidence about this for us?” Well, I’m only a historian, but let me suggest another interpretation. The Republicans answering the…

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October 16, 2013, 6:44 pm

A National Blessing

(Guest Post! David Fitzpatrick is back. He’s still a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who taught military history at the United States Military Academy and who now teaches United States history at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)

“A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing”
        ––Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton5I have been having numerous conversations with friends on Facebook regarding the deficit, the debt, and the debt limit. Several of them have encouraged me to consolidate much that I have written into one coherent essay. This is my (likely feeble) attempt. And let me here say that if this essay appears to privilege one side or the other of the argument, then so be it. Unlike much that is out there in the media and that appears to be dominating the public discourse, what follows has the benefit of being based in fact.


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September 3, 2013, 7:08 pm


(Guest Post! David Fitzpatrick is a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who taught military history at the United States Military Academy and who now teaches United States history at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan.)

Yesterday, while enjoying a football game in The Big House with 112,000 of my closest friends, President Obama took the relatively unprecedented step of moving away from the precipice and stating that he was going to ask Congress for authority to attack Syria. The question of whether or not he already had that authority under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, or under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force is now rendered moot. Yet, a more interesting and somewhat philosophical question remains: why was the use of chemical weapons by Syria a “red line” for the president? Why is there near-universal outrage now when there has been…

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June 17, 2013, 2:28 pm

The National Surveillance State, Going Strong Since 1917

(Guest post! Lon Strauss (full bio at the end) wrote his dissertation on an earlier version of the American surveillance state. He’s here to give us some historical context to the NSA revelations.)

There has been a recent uptick in the news over concern about the United States becoming a surveillance state. The Guardian and the Washington Post published articles about the National Security Agency’s practices that have sparked a renewed debate over surveillance, national security, and civil liberties in America. Journalists have posed questions about whether a democratic surveillance state is possible and the role of US companies willingly handing personal information to a government agency. While there are and should be real concerns regarding national security and civil liberties, it will surprise no one that this discussion is not new. When engaging complex historical debates, it …

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April 7, 2013, 4:14 pm

Rewriting the Times: Videoing the Police Edition

There’s an article in the Times business section today about the use of miniature video cameras by police officers in a trial program in Rialto, CA. The article focuses largely on the technology and the way in which it allows police officers to refute false allegations of police misconduct. The expected result of such videoing would be a reduction in complaints about the police, and that’s exactly what happened, with civilian complaints dropping by 88% during the course of the study, from 24 to 3. There’s a story about civilians coming into lodge complaints, being shown the video, and–in the words of the police chief where the first experiment is taking place–”The individuals left the station with basically no other things to say and have never come back.”

There is, of course, another story here, that pokes through the article, but is pretty much ignored: the way in which camera…

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January 9, 2013, 7:00 pm

Damn The Platinum Coin, Man! Full Speed Ahead!

BALXBqACMAEUf0f An obscure law aimed at coin collectors is now all the rage in DC. It allows the Treasury to make a platinum coin in any denomination it wants, thus giving President Obama a possible, if somewhat sketchy, way around the GOP’s debt-ceiling hostage taking (“We passed a law requiring you to spend the money, now we’re going to make it legally impossible for you to actually do so! Haha! Impeachable offense no matter what!”) See here and here for some details.

That is NOT the topic of this post.

The topic instead is a tweet sent out by the National Republican Congressional Committee about the platinum coin: “The amount of platinum needed to mint a coin worth $1 trillion would sink the Titanic” along with the picture to the right.

We will ignore for a moment the complete ignorance of the concept of “fiat currency,” which suggests that the GOP last took an economics course in the…

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