Category Archives: the last days of the American republic

August 25, 2012, 12:57 am

Paul Ryan’s monetary policy is as unserious as his fiscal policy.

Perhaps Paul Ryan is a gigantic fraud, or perhaps it is everyone who claims to see wisdom in him; perhaps – we should admit a range of possibilities, as our political and pundit class contains many and various mountebanks – both. But if ever there were an undeserved reputation for economic seriousness, it is Ryan’s. Consider the Congressman’s views on the dollar, to which Paul Krugman has recently called attention. Ryan observes that “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens than debase its currency.”

Let us pause first, if only briefly, to consider Ryan’s absolutism on this point: Nothing more insidious? Really? Not, perhaps, eroding civil liberties until the President can, at will, assassinate an American citizen?

But no: let’s not permit what might perhaps have been forgivable hyperbole to deter us from investigating the point at issue. Perhaps Ryan …

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July 13, 2012, 5:05 pm

To disappointment – and beyond! with President Obama.

This blog expected Barack Obama to disappoint us, and he did not disappoint in his capacity for disappointment. The original source of our predicted unhappiness with the President was his indifference to Americans’ civil liberties. He’s gone well beyond that now. Tom Junod here lays out the moral case against the President’s drone war. James Joyner already made the practical case. Junod follows up. Also, the drones are in the water now. And the linked article posits the existence of “drone lovers.” O brave new world.

July 10, 2012, 9:28 pm

Margin Call’s tacit tribute to the New Deal.

I loved Jeremy Irons’s performance in Margin Call, and not only because of John Tuld’s final monologue – which is in turn brilliant not only because it contains a tacit arithmetic tribute to the New Deal that undermines the thrust of what he’s saying.

In the list of dates, following 1797, the longest stretch without one of these crises is from 1937 to 1974 – the period of the New Deal’s sway over banking, finance, monetary and fiscal policy.1 Which undermines Tuld’s subsequent suggestion that there’s nothing we can do about it.


1He also misses 1873 and 1893, I think.

June 22, 2012, 5:06 pm

Some notes on Woodrow Wilson and the underappreciated harms Presidents can do.

Regular readers will know we frequently give time and attention to the best of presidents, with special regard to the underrated Franklin Roosevelt. But perhaps we should give equal time to the bad presidents whose badness goes insufficiently remarked – not just the mediocre presidents, but those whose harms go underappreciated.

Entirely coincidentally, I have an essay in the current Reviews in American History on Woodrow Wilson, apropos Cooper’s biography. Here’s the beginning of the essay, for the record:

In the 1912 election, the Democrats gained sixty-one seats to increase their majority in the House of Representatives and seven seats to get a majority in the Senate. Yet their presidential candidate, Woodrow Wilson, won fewer votes than William Jennings Bryan had in 1908, 1900, or 1896. Wilson also underperformed Democrats in Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, and elsewhere,…

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June 12, 2012, 1:18 am

On liberalism and history, and Kazin and Alterman & Mattson.

Not to pile on, but there’s also this, in the new Democracy. Unlike the aforementioned TLS essay, the whole thing is online; here’s a short excerpt:

The single moment that made postwar liberalism feel most like a cause worth fighting for came in the darkness of April 4, 1968, when an Indianapolis crowd, assembled to hear Robert F. Kennedy campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, instead met a man obliged to tell them that Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered. When Kennedy broke the news, a desperate wail burst from the throats of those gathered, a sound unlike any other, bespeaking the tide of anguish and anger about to rush over the republic, sweeping reason before it—but not yet, or not here, not if Kennedy had his way.

Speaking off the cuff, he claimed a shared sorrow—his own brother had been killed in the line of political duty, at a time when he had begun…

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May 25, 2012, 12:53 pm

My new course will be titled “US History: The Awesomeness of Awesome Americans.”

Updated to add, “Hello, Paul Krugman readers!”1

“A Crisis of Competence,” which bills itself as “A Report Prepared for the Regents of the University of California by the California Association of Scholars, A Division of the National Association of Scholars,” (hereafter CAS, for short) has garnered a great deal of attention. It was, apparently, the basis for Rick Santorum’s laughably false claims that California’s universities do not teach US history – though to be fair to the report, Santorum evidently misunderstood what was in it. It was the subject of an April 1 news story (no, not an April Fool’s) in the Los Angeles Times. And it was the basis for a May 20 op-ed in the LA Times. To be fair to the LA Times, its own editorial, on April 7, was skeptical of the report, describing it as “a mélange of anecdotes.”

This is correct: the paper’s methodology is highly suspect,…

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May 11, 2012, 4:35 am

Universitas 21 ranks US no. 1 in higher ed – on some counts.

Universitas 21, which is “an international network of 23 [sic] leading research-intensive universities in fifteen countries,” says:

Overall, the top five countries, nominally providing the ‘best’ higher education were found to be the United States, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Denmark. However, broken down into the smaller sections, it was interesting to see that the US, traditionally seen as a country with one of the strongest education systems, did not always hit the top spot. Government funding of higher education as a percentage of GDP is highest in Finland, Norway and Denmark. Taking private expenditure into account changed this significantly: on that measure funding is highest in the United States, South Korea, Canada and Chile, unsurprising, given the structure in these counties.

Some other interesting findings showed that investment in Research and Development is highest…

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March 29, 2012, 6:18 am

Good-bye, higher education.

USA Today hed reads, “Higher education vanishing before our eyes”.

Even with top grades and extracurricular activities, students may find it difficult to gain acceptance to or graduate from a four-year university after recent cuts to higher education budgets.

The month of March has been particularly bad for colleges and universities nationwide, as budget negotiations have left many institutions of higher education in the red.…

California’s State University (CSU) system announced Monday that they would close the admission process for nearly all of its 23 campuses for the Spring 2013 semester, affecting almost 16,000 students wishing to attend.

In addition, every student applying for the 2013-2014 school year will be waitlisted while officials await Gov. Brown’s proposed budget initiative to increase taxes in November. If the measure is defeated, officials will be forced to cut…

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March 28, 2012, 1:52 am

Rupert in red.

The incomparable Michelle Vaughan, who did the typography for this marvelous piece of work as well as 100 tweets has done a much more affordable limited run of Rupert Murdoch’s tweets. I recommend them to all discerning readers with a spare $30 (plus S&H) looking for some frameable wit. (Murdoch would surely like you to think of him as framed.)

October 29, 2010, 6:05 am

Election season

Here on the eastern margins of San Francisco’s supervisorial district 8, one candidate stands out — his flyers pile up in drifts in the corners, his volunteers have rung our doorbell three times, and he’s out on the streets himself soliciting votes. I’ll probably vote for him anyway — though I suppose I ought to find out what he stands for first. (At least he seems to be able to inspire passion in his staff, if not logistical rigor.) The state and national races are not even as engaging as that — the stakes are high, true enough, but the less-bad candidates seem likely to win, on the whole.

How’s it looking where you are? Anybody volunteering?

(CC-licensed photo by Flickr user sashax)

September 25, 2010, 10:31 am

Farce becomes us.

As much as I like Colbert, I am pretty sure that this means we are probably about due for some Visigoths to sack Washington.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krBF7Qdg-0Q&feature=player_embedded#!

But at least it’s funny.

September 20, 2010, 5:39 pm

Historians love archives.

Todd Henderson, the University of Chicago professor who inspired the mild-mannered James Fallows to mockery (at least by quotation) by whining about the pain of poverty at six figures, who inspired Brad DeLong to patient and sympathetic vivisection, has now apparently done the one thing that is more obviously ill-advised than writing his post in the first place: deleted it.

But Google has it cached.

If you really need a historian’s homiletic here, well: if you commit a bad idea to paper, it’s even worse if you show a guilty conscience about it. Just ask James G. Blaine, who had the bad judgment to write “burn this letter” across the bottom of one of his missives.

UPDATED to add, in the time I’ve taken to write this post, Brad has also discovered the Google cache. Oh well.

(more…)

August 12, 2010, 12:48 pm

My birthright goes for quite a bit higher than a mess of pottage, thanks.

Will Wilkinson presents what can be described fairly as a non-xenophobic argument for the repeal of the fourteenth Amendment.  He paints a reasonably attractive vision of an economically unified Canada, America, and Mexico, where workers could move about freely, but who would have access to social services and other goodies based on their citizenship.  In such a world, he concludes, it would be very important for other political reasons that citizenship be tied to more than mere perinatal location, and so birthright citizenship would need to be replaced by something else, and he suggests that the various laws employed by various European nations might be good alternatives.  After all, giving someone special rights just because they were born somewhere is the height of moral luck, and hardly cosmopolitan.  Thus, we should work to repeal the 14th Amendment, on liberal cosmopolitan…

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July 6, 2010, 5:44 pm

One wonders what the kerning is on a kitten heel.

I’ve mostly ignored this over the past few months because I believe that examining pictures of a pregnant woman with an eye to figuring out whether her shape is appropriate to the gestation of the fetus is morally degrading to the examiner.  But I have to say that I’m with Amanda here, and I’m very surprised at the quarters whence the newest round of conspiracy theory comes.

Don’t get me wrong.  It strikes me as completely plausible that Palin, a woman whose public persona is constructed around a conservative fantasy, the tough woman who proves liberals wrong by having Christ, a career, children, and a perfect coiffure, exaggerated the extent to which she was in labor during the plane flight (here’s one account, where the doc says she induced labor upon landing)  This would not be surprising for any politician whose career depends more than most on personal charisma and narrative. …

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May 20, 2010, 1:44 pm

My tax dollars! Mine!

I don’t really care about Rand Paul’s heart of hearts, but I do wonder if the acrobatic tap dance some people do about wondering whether he’s really a racist or just advocating a return to Jim Crow that happens to have racist effects would survive if the questions were put in the following way:

Should your tax dollars be used to pay police to remove people from private businesses solely because the proprietor doesn’t like the color of their skin?

I imagine it would be like one of those push polls where you get different results based on whether you say pro-life or anti-choice or what have you.  But even if it didn’t, it would belie a feature that often is overlooked; this whole debate is not one between those who would prefer a society free of state interference* versus those who think that some state interference is warranted, but a debate over what kinds of rights should have priority…

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