Tag Archives: US Presidents

In Honor of the End of the Stupidest Debate in American History

This entire debt ceiling debate has been ludicrous at best. Nearly everyone in Congress knew – and agreed – that the debt ceiling must be raised. And somehow the GOP had the gumption to say “In order for us all to do what we know is necessary, I want you to give me something in return.” And everyone else somehow bought into it. And that was how the most useless “debate” was born. Early in the discussion I began to tune out. It was such a charade of government, and everything that I felt was important to our government was being hacked to shreds. And that’s just about the limit to the amount of my own thought I want to put to this. However, a number of people have said things that I either agree with or find informative. For your reading pleasure…

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Weekend Reading

There are a handful of blogs that provide some “Sunday reading,” and I’m thinking about joining the fray. That said, one day is not always enough to do all of that reading! So, I’m introducing something that may or may not become commonplace on this blog. I’d like to provide a few links to help you fill your otherwise-empty weekends. And so – feel free to click ahead and read on!

A Northeaster goes to a medical center in Fresno:

It became clear to me that as a matter of policy, the hospital was coping with a large number of local patients using its ER for ordinary medical care by passive-aggressive neglect. Unless you walked in with an immediately and obviously life-threatening condition, time would be your triage, not a medical professional. If you could endure waiting eight to nine hours, that was proof that your condition was sufficiently serious that you might need urgent care. The staff there don’t spend much time working up a more nuanced picture on initial evaluation because they don’t want one. They don’t efficiently discard the cases of people who’ve left the facility because they’re stalling the remainder deliberately.

The basic problem faced by this hospital and many others is structurally serious and requires a strong nationally consistent solution. Given that one political party struggled to formulate a fussy, detail-strangled series of half-measures to address the problem and the other party apparently thinks there isn’t any issue in the first place, I’m resigned to this situation happening again to me, my loved ones, my friends, my fellow citizens, for the rest of my life.

This is where we are at now. Decline is not something we need to fear or forestall, it has already happened. America is not in decline, it has declined. A nine-hour wait at a well-built, well-staffed, well-resourced medical center for treatment of a serious condition isdecline. As a traveller seeking urgent care, I’ve been seen more quickly in similar facilities in both Africa and Europe.

Otto von Habsburg, the very last heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire passed away this month, and he lived a pretty busy life that’s worth reading about – including working to open the Iron Curtain and serving as a member of the European Parliament.

The writing habits of some famous authors, including Capote, Hemingway, and others.

Millicent has an in-depth article on Hairpin about the history of how women lived in the 17th century (without bras).

HNN has a post that took the words right out of my mouth: “Why Teaching For America is Not Welcome in My Classroom”, which mirrors my thoughts on the program, albeit more eloquent:

Never, in its recruiting literature, has Teach for America described teaching as the most valuable professional choice that an idealistic, socially-conscious person can make.  Nor do they encourage the brightest students to make teaching their permanent career; indeed, the organization goes out of its way to make joining TFA seem a like a great pathway to success in other, higher-paying professions.

Three years ago, a TFA recruiter plastered the Fordham campus with flyers that said “Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School.”  The message of that flyer was “use teaching in high-poverty areas a stepping stone to a career in business.”  It was not only profoundly disrespectful to every person who chooses to commit their life to the teaching profession, it advocated using students in high-poverty areas as guinea pigs for an experiment in “resume-padding” for ambitious young people.

But the most objectionable aspect of Teach for America—other than its contempt for lifetime educators—is its willingness to create another pathway to wealth and power for those already privileged in the rapidly expanding educational-industrial complex, which already offers numerous careers for the ambitious and well-connected.  An organization which began by promoting idealism and educational equity has become, to all too many of its recruits, a vehicle for profiting from the misery of America’s poor.

A  slideshow of the top ten “Let them eat cake” moments in the current recession, including “shut up and cope with it.”

A passionfruit at 32x magnification. Click the photo for other up-close shots, including an Oreo!

The California prison system’s hunger strike against Pelican Bay is rounding out week three, with prisoners refusing medical care on top of refusing food. But, of course, earlier this week the Department of Corrections seems to think that gangs are the root of the problem and not their atrocious policies, including solitary confinement as a means to extract information. Strange, that.

The Retronaut gives us a glimpse of New York panoramas from the dawn of the twentieth century.

Tim Burke, like some others, gets sick of tinkering with liberal politics (and the debt-ceiling debates), with some great critiques of liberal discussion and this great summary of the current debate:

In terms of the debt ceiling issue in specific, I feel like this is sort of the Cuban Missile Crisis of my middle-aged life and you know what? At this point I almost just want them to get it over with and fire off the policy nukes. Just go ahead and wreck it all, because if we’ve come to the point where there’s a significant political faction with real social foundations that so thoroughly hates its fever-dream boogeyman vision of “government” that nothing else and no one else matters, we’re just going to be stuck right at a perpetual blockade line, a permanent schism. Taken in isolation from the larger story of the last two decades, this moment alone is completely WTF crazy. You have one side in a negotiation whose primary policy objective they’re pushing for is, “Not allowing an almost certain meltdown of the global financial system in the next six months” and the other side saying, “If you want to get your narrow-minded policy objective, the prevention of a major global catastrophe, you’re going to have to eliminate most of the federal government and re-establish the gold standard and maybe resign from office too if we decide to really stick it to you. Hey, that’s what bargaining is all about, you gotta give some to get what you want.” It’s as if the opposition had told FDR he’d have to make major political concessions before they’d allow him to declare war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.

And a look at why Obama should stop comparing his compromises to Lincoln, from Wiz at PhD Octopus:

But these are minor squabbles. The meat of Obama’s argument is that the Emanciaption Proclamation was a compromise from Lincoln’s lofty ideals, but he (like Obama) was willing to make it because he would achieve the Good rather than fail at the Perfect.

Here’s the problem: The Emancipation Proclamation was not a compromise for Lincoln. He had neverpreviously stated that he could or would abolish slavery in the Southern states. When he ran for president, he was clear that he would not abolish slavery. In his first Inaugral Address he said:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

The Emancipation Proclamation, when he signed it, was a move to the left for Lincoln, not a compromise on fundamental principles. In response to abolitionist pressure, the “General Strike” of runaway slaves, and the general revolutionary logic of the Civil War, Lincoln moved slowly to the left over his presidency.

On the other hand, when faced with a situation when he was called upon to compromise the core principles that he had run on, he showed a remarkable backbone. Before the war actually started, when hardline southerners had already seceded, there were numerous calls- from Seward among others- to pass some sort of compromise which would placate the South and avoid war. This movement coalesced around the Crittenden Compromise, which if it had passed, would have, among other things, guaranteed slavery below the 36° 30′ line for perpetuity (It’d sure be interesting if Los Angeles was a slave city, huh?). It was sort of the master “Grand Bargain” of the day.

Lincoln had ran on the platform of Free Soil, and so he took an admirably hardline stance on this issue, refusing to endorse any compromise that might end secession in return for the extension of slavery.

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The Battle of the Tables in Vietnam

The Vietnam War’s history is a long one, rife with casualties and misunderstanding. One particular aspect of the war is emblematic of just how poorly leadership – from all countries – treated the war. This is the so-called “battle of the tables” which I first encountered in George C. Herring’s America’s Longest War. This skirmish of desks took place in the waning weeks of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, as he scrambled to end the war.

By 1968, Johnson was pretty beat up about the Vietnam War. While he may have passed huge legislative changes with the Great Society, he’s arguably better known for his role in escalating the Vietnam War and then being virtually destroyed by it. 1968 was a pretty rough year for the guy – after the Tet Offensive crippled public support for the war and George McGovern and Bobby Kennedy did the same to the Democratic Party’s solidarity, Johnson had already announced that he would not seek a second term in order to seek peace in Vietnam when this battle began.

Against this backdrop, Johnson was eager to end the war that he had overseen for five years. To reach peace, though, he would first have to reach out to his allies in the Republic of Vietnam, who were not quite as willing to have the Americans leaving their corner of the world. After being rebuffed by South Vietnam, Johnson unilaterally ordered a bombing halt on October 31 as an olive branch to the North. He delayed the opening of the peace talks by a couple of weeks in order to try one last time to get South Vietnam on board. With the opening of the peace talks in mid-November, the battle of the tables began.

At the outset of the negotiations, the U.S. proposed two long tables with the two sides facing each other. North Vietnam refused to recognize South Vietnam’s legitimacy since the Geneva Accord elections had been indefinitely delayed, therefore the country’s existence was in violation. North Vietnam also demanded that America acknowledge that the National Liberation Front and the North Vietnamese Army were separate and proposed a square table to represent the four-sided nature of the Vietnam War.

This is how I imagine Nixon whenever he gets what he wants.

U.S. Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman proposed a round table for everyone. The North acquiesced – but the South did not. South Vietnam did not want to be seen with equal power as the NLF, which it refused to recognize as anything but saboteurs sent from the North. But what is probably more important is the South’s uneasy relationship with Johnson, who had been pressing for peace. Secretly, President-elect Richard Nixon’s staff had reached out to South Vietnam, hinting that a better peace might be possible with Nixon if they could only delay negotiations. After all, Nixon had campaigned on having a secret plan to end the war, and he desperately wanted to be remembered for what would become a list of foreign policy achievements (and secret expansions of war). Nonetheless, with conventional ideas like round tables and square tables being shot down, Herring referred to the debacle thus:

Instead of drafting cables at night, the U.S. delegation sketched table designs, the two sides proposing at various times such inventive geometric creations as a broken parallelogram, four arcs of a circle, a flattened ellipse, and two semi-circles that touched but did not form a circle.

And so, after weeks of duking it out over seating arrangements, the verdict – brokered by the Soviet Union – was a round table for the two Vietnamese governments and nearby square tables for the other actors involved. The negotiations could finally begin. The problem was, they began in the last days of Johnson’s administration, and so they never really began. Nixon’s plan had won out, and the South had been able to cling to war instead of peace in hopes of a better go-around with Nixon. Ultimately, of course, this would not work. Apparently, Nixon’s secret plan for ending the war in Vietnam was to continue it while simultaneously taking it to Cambodia as well. The Vietnam War would hobble forwards for several more years.

The peace talks under Johnson probably would not have made many gains regardless of the game of musical chairs, but it’s worth noting that the war raged on while diplomats played with seating arrangements and South Vietnam played chicken with US Presidents. With this in mind, I decided to look further into how many casualties America suffered while negotiators sketched random shapes in Parisian hotel rooms. I cracked open the search feature at The Wall-USA and used their database to see how many servicemen lost their lives between the ending of the bombing in North Vietnam. While diplomats sketched out tables, 1598 soldiers and marines were lost to the Vietnam War. While the peace talks never had the best shot at ending the war right then, these weeks of potential were lost to the seating chart while 1598 lost their lives.

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Air Conditioning and Politics

Summer just began, and in Arizona we’ve been feeling the heat for a great while. We’ve been sitting with triple-digit thermometers for quite a while now, and the air conditioning is fighting to bring temperatures down twenty or even thirty degrees sometimes. As I get into my summer routine of hiding indoors, I was watching “How the States Got Their Shapes” on the History Channel. The show – based on a neat book by the way – shed a little bit of light on an important thing to understand about air conditioning’s place in history.

During my student teaching stint at a local high school here in Arizona, we touched on the age of the Sun Belt. Now, the Sun Belt drew for several reasons: the Civil Rights movement had made the South a little more appealing since it was less hostile than it had been in the 60s and 70s; big industries moved south as unions grew stronger in the Midwest and Northeast during this time; immigrants flocked from Central America and Asia to the Southwest and from Cuba to Florida; the rise of suburbia had pointed many people to the less-stifling metropolises of the Northeast. And as I hide from the 110 degree afternoon, I have to think that air conditioning made the warm climates more attractive to people too.

Since the colonies were founded, the weight of America’s population has always shifted westwards. Colonists sailed west to start America before Boone pioneered through the Appalachians and then Lewis and Clarke opened the Louisiana Purchase, blazing the path for the Oregon Trail. That’s always been a part of America, but the southerly draw has been more contemporary. According to the Census, the mean center of population has shifted 101 miles south from 1900 to 2000, 79 of which were after 1950. The Sun Belt began to grow in the 1960s, and since then we’ve seen the effects of the population shift.

Map stolen from the Census Bureau

The migration – and immigration – to the southern third of the country has not only changed the population dynamics of the country, but it has also drastically changed the politics of the United States. Glancing through election data, the Sun Belt includes 134 electoral votes (if you count all of California and Nevada, along with AZ, NM, TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, SC, FL). While not a lot of these are so-called “swing states,” they constitute a sizable share of the electorate. This might be why every elected President from Johnson in 1964 to Bush in 2004 was from the Sun Belt. (President Gerald Ford, who hailed from Michigan, was appointed and never elected, courtesy Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon). From 1950 to 2000, California has gained 23 seats in Congress and Florida has gained 19, with Arizona gaining 7 and Texas 14. Meanwhile, Illinois and Massachusetts have each lost 7, New York has lost 16, and Ohio has lost 12. And the Sun Belt is continuing to grow. If you glance at the reapportionment from 2010’s census, the Sun Belt is gaining ten of the twelve seats.

So, when you take air conditioning into a warm climate, you’ll get a lot of people coming your way. The repercussions for this are continuing to shift as the demographic in the Sun Belt changes. Yes, it’s bigger, but who constitutes that size? The Sun Belt as a whole is still generally conservative, but what began as the relocation of industries to less-unionized states is beginning to be a growing population of immigrants’ descendants. The Sun Belt changed American politics through the amount of representation it got (and continues to get), but it may still change American politics through the type of representation this becomes in the future.

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