Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frankenstorm


One of the worst storms in decades seems to have brought persons together.  Nice to see Gov. Christie complimenting President Obama on the quick relief and coordination of efforts in New Jersey.  I'm sure that Obama has gone out of his way to make sure relief gets to those hardest hit fast.  Of course, complaints will arise in the aftermath of the storm, but I imagine Mitt Romney is eating his words about FEMA.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Monopoly






Here's an interesting little bit of Americana:

In place of Monopoly’s “Go!” was a box marked “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” The Landlord Game’s chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. 

The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property’s title holder but into a common pot—the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, “Prosperity is achieved.”

http://harpers.org/blog/2012/10/monopoly-is-theft/

Getting the vote out!


President Obama was the first president to vote early.  The first lady had voted even earlier, sending in an absentee ballot from the White House.  It is part of a well orchestrated Democratic attempt to get voters to the polls before election day.  Reuters estimates that as many as 40% of registered voters could do so before November 6, and this has given Obama an outsized advantage based on early voting polls.  Many political analysts felt this is what gave Obama an insurmountable lead in 2008, which has forced the Romney campaign into a mad scramble to get their voters to the polls early.  Yet, Romney himself appears to be waiting until election day to cast his ballot.

Reading Group Suggestions



We've had a few suggestions for our next reading group.  The first was Henry Wiencek's Master of the Mountain, a new book on Jefferson.  Mr. Wiencek dropped a comment in the linked post himself.

Another is Chrystia Freeland's book on Plutocrats, which will be the first book in Bill Moyers' new reading group.  She was on a recent segment of his show, along with Matt Taibbi, entitled Plutocracy Rising.  For an historical perspective,

The Founders and Finance looks very interesting.  Thomas McCraw is a Pulitzer-prize winning author.  Here's a nice page on the Museum of American Financial History at 48 Wall Street.

The picture above is from the Tenement Museum blog, which I've added to the list of Other Sites in the sidebar.

Of course, we are open to other suggestions.  We would like to expand our reading group to more readers.  Please feel free to comment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

... and now for the other side



There have been a series of "third party debates" going on, including one last night with Larry King serving as moderator.  They sound as though they have been more entertaining than the Presidential debates.  Legalization of pot appears to be the touchstone issue, with three of the four candidates calling for an end to the war on drugs.  Even fiscal conservative Virgil Goode wants to cut financing for federal drug enforcement as a means of reducing the deficit.  But, alas, such issues can only be discussed on the fringe of mainstream politics.  Ron Paul got little traction during the primaries for similarly calling for the legalization of cannabis, which earned him Snoop Dogg's and other rockers' endorsements.

Obama and Romney both have to skirt issues such as marijuana legalization that don't play well in the mainstream. Sadly, alternative energy and sustainable design remain fringe issues, despite the US reaching the 50 gW milestone in wind energy this week.

There is another debate scheduled for October 30.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Don't Know Much about Geography ...


This is one of the memes coming out of last night's debate.  The other is the "horses and bayonettes" comment in regard to Romney comparing today's navy with that of 1917.  One really has to wonder what the strategy was here, because Republicans have long saw Foreign Policy as their turf, but here was Romney conceding point after point to Obama, offering very little resistance.  This put off right wing pundits like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, but surprisingly the mainstream media viewed this passive performance as part of Romney's strategy to protect his lead in the Gallup Poll, which is 7 days behind other polls.  Jeff Greenfield seems to think this assumed strategy may backfire, as Romney did little to distinguish himself in last night's debate.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern, 1922-2012


Is Decency in Politics Always Doomed?

http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/108938/george-mcgovern-decent-and-doomed-liberal-icon

Trying to see into the Mind's Eye



Most pundits would agree the presidential race has tightened up considerably since the first debate between Obama and Romney on October 3, but Gallup went one big step further in posting a seven-point lead for Romney in last week's poll, which came out after the second debate.  This seems to fly in the face of what many pundits considered a victory for Obama.  "Why is that?" the Washington Post asked Frank Newport of the Gallup Poll,

“I think we’re still seeing leftover positive support for Romney and I don’t think we’re seeing impact yet from the second debate,”

Since the Gallup Poll is a 7-day tracking poll, there is apparently a lag in the results, unlike other daily tracking polls.  Nevertheless, these numbers have given Romney and his supporters a huge boost, while it has left Team Obama scratching its collective head.

"Gallup" apparently still considers itself a fiercely independent polling service even if the Gallups no longer own any part of the poll.  The family sold the poll to a Nebraska data collecting service back in 1988, after the death of George Gallup in 1984, and since then it has essentially been made into a worldwide marketing tool, taking advantage of the time honored name.  Gallup, Inc. was established in 1958, combining the various polling services created by Mr. Gallup.

Here's a Christian Science Monitor article from earlier this year on the nature of Polling.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Heart of Darkness


I imagine everyone is aware of the Doomsday scenario that surrounds December 21 this year, but it seems Dinesh D'Souza is thinking beyond these cataclysmic events to an apocalyptic 2016 by which time President Obama will have destroyed America as we know it.  Richard Brody debunks D'Souza's theory which essentially casts Obama as an "Islamicist Candidate," steeped in radical Islamic and Marxist ideas who has patiently waited for his second term to unleash his "final solution."

D'Souza takes the viewer into the "heart of darkness," with journeys to Kenya and Indonesia in search of Barack Obama's roots.  While he is careful to avoid the usual "birther" arguments, Brody points out that D'Souza essentially presents Obama as an immigrant, much like himself, only with an entirely different "world view" shaped by the various radical "father figures" in his youth.

Most of us have grown weary of this sort of hyperbole, but this film has gone viral in the Christian conservative community, since D'Souza serves as president (at least until recently) at King's College, a Christian liberal arts college in New York City. He was drawn himself into his own scandal surrounding an apparently illicit affair at a religious conference in South Carolina, upstaging his film the last few days, as many Evangelicals took offense to D'Souza flirting around with Denise Joseph.  But, I imagine all will be forgiven, as it usually is in these cases, especially when the larger goal remains to defeat Obama by any means necessary.

American Moses


Speaking of Mormons, there is a new book out on Brigham Young, seeing him as a "Pioneer Prophet," as opposed to an earlier book which hailed him as an "American Moses."  I suppose Romney would like to think of himself as a similar "Moses" leading Americans out of the Obama wilderness, but he hasn't generated the kind of passion that carried Ronald Reagan to the WH in 1980, with "Moses" himself lending support.  I'm always wary of would-be profits and pandering politicians.  I don't thinkYoung ever imagined his small community growing into the financial and political juggernaut it is today.

The whole idea of the Book of Mormon is an intriguing one, especially in regard to the Lost Tribe of Israel settling in America, and the quest to find these mystical ruins.  Hampton Sides wrote an article, This is Not the Place, about such quests, which was included in his book Americana, noting that BYU set up an archaeological department specifically for this purpose in the 1950s.   Sides was very respectful in his article, noting that even if the purpose was dubious, the Mormon archaeological team, led by Thomas Stuart Ferguson, took a scientific approach, and were very careful in their work.  So much so in fact that Ferguson not only lost faith in the quest, but Mormonism itself.

Bernard De Voto had Mormon roots and has written about Smith, Young, and the growth of Mormonism in his books.  As I recall, he saw Joseph Smith as little more than a tent revival minister, and gave the credit to Young in holding this "wayward tribe" together on its long journey West to escape persecution.  They came to see themselves as the "Lost Tribe of Israel."


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Binders Full of Women



Once again, it appears that Mitt Romney stuck his foot in his mouth on a key issue,

And I—and I went to my staff, and I said, ‘How come all the people for these jobs are—are all men.’ They said: ‘Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.’ And I said: ‘Well, gosh, can't we—can't we find some—some women that are also qualified?’ And—and so we—we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.

Not only is the story a lie, but the way it was phrased underlines his paternalistic attitude, which has resulted in a huge credibility gap among women, who represent the majority of voters in this country.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A less than perfect union


Another book released earlier this year takes us back to The Great Debate of 1850, which many felt saved the Union.  The photos attached to the NYTimes article make Webster, Clay and Douglas look like vampires Lincoln might have slain, but offers a very favorable review of Fergus Bordewich's book.  One has to wonder about all the compromises that "saved" the union, such as the Fugitive Slave Act that came out of this great spirit of reconciliation.  It seems such laws at best deferred a civil war rather than ease sectional tensions.

Meanwhile, Allen Guelzo gives a new "macro" vision of the Civil War in Fateful Lightning, looking at events before, during and after the war, such as the Dred Scott decision and Reconstruction.

Lincoln's Indispensable Man


This looks like an interesting new biography on William Seward.  Here's a piece from All Things Considered on the book.   It provides another layer of information to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals.

Jazz on a Summer's Day


There have been many great moments at the Newport Jazz Festival over the years.  Duke Ellington's fiesty Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue from 1956 is a classic moment, but you have to imagine Elaine Anderson dancing to Paul Gonsalves' stirring tenor sax solo, as it was only recorded on tape.

Bert Stern brought the festival to life in 1958 with his classic film.  From Jimmy Giuffre's playful opening, "Pickin' 'em up and layin' 'em down," to Mahalia Jackson's stunning finale there isn't a chord out of note in between, especially when Anita O'Day took the stage.  But, perhaps the greatest moment was when Louis Armstrong teamed up with Jack Teagarden for a wonderful rendition of "Ole Rockin' Chair."  Here's the concert in its entirety:



Share your favorite moments!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Revenue Act of 1964


Not surprisingly, Paul Ryan got his facts wrong when crediting Kennedy for the first tax cuts.  The Revenue Act of 1964 was signed by Johnson, after an arduous battle where Johnson had to convince Congressional conservatives that the 20% tax cuts wouldn't bust the budget.  Here is his radio address on the signing of this historic bill.

We have now had decades of substantial tax cuts to the point that the corporate tax base is now lower than it has been since the 1930s, with the average actual corporate tax paid being less than 12 per cent. Yet, here is Romney and Ryan suggesting another 20 per cent off the top while keeping the Bush tax cuts in place.  They have failed to show any evidence that these new tax cuts can be balanced without removing substantial loopholes that would actually raise taxes for the middle class, which Biden pointed out in the debate.  Why Obama let Romney slide on this one remains a mystery.

Even when the income tax rate was an astronomical 92% for the highest income level, there were many loopholes and deductions so that no wealthy individual with a good accountant would pay even half that much.  As for corporate tax rates, it is the profit that has been taxed with corporations able to write off virtually everything in the way of expenses, to the point that many corporations continue to pay zero corporate taxes.

Yet, we find that Romney and Ryan are simply not being held accountable for their assertions.  Thanks, Joe, for pointing out what they have to say is "a bunch of malarkey!"


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Roe v. Wade at 40


Nearly 40 years on and Roe v. Wade is still under fire.  In an effort to appeal to the few remaining undecided voters, Romney said he wouldn't introduce any abortion legislation, but then quickly backtracked to say he "would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life."   Many states have introduced tough new anti-abortion legislation since this landmark court decision, but more striking this year is that conservative Republicans called for a new "human life amendment" to the constitution, which it seems Romney forgot about when making his statement to a Des Moines crowd.  This proposed amendment would outlaw all abortions, regardless of circumstance, and has received wide spread support from Republican leaders.  Such an amendment would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Forgotten President



I was wondering where all this love for Coolidge came from.  Seems like Amity Shlaes has been busy recasting Coolidge as the paragon of fiscal conservatism.  Here she is plugging her previous book on The Great Depression, downplaying FDR, and playing up Hoover.

Glenn Beck not so long ago came out with a book Cowards, where he took progressives to task, including Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover.  Instead, he chose to cite the courage of Harding and Coolidge.  You can read the introduction here, if your stomach can bear it.

We really do have an attempt taking place to rewrite the narrative of the 20th century.

Minting a New Country


This looks like an interesting new book on The Founders and Finance.  I read John Steele Gordon's book, Hamilton's Blessing, some years ago, which discussed the historic nature of America's debt.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Shared Language of Sports and Politics



We've often discussed how politics is seen as a sport, so I found it amusing that Bernanke would try to use the Washington Nationals success as an object lesson for the gridlock in Congress, which faces a looming crisis on the debt ceiling once again.  Fortunately, in sports you can be dictator.  A general manager is only answerable to the owner.  Players are bought and sold based on their productivity, and cities are usually left to cover the bills for the lavish stadiums these professional teams enjoy.  So, it isn't a very fair analogy to say the least.  Just the same, Bernanke used the opportunity to boast of his favorite team.

Recently, Obama weighed in on the NFL referee lockout.  Other politicians frequently use sports analogies as a way to identify with their electoral base.  The debate the other night was compared to a prize fight, with a number of photoshopped images to demonstrate the point.  It seems we just can't get away from this, especially in a highly charged election year, where the presidential race is often compared to a horse race.  Here's a good piece from BBC on the shared language of sports and politics.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Virginians


Boorstin's chapter on Colonial Virginia in his first volume of The Americans is quite fascinating, especially in describing the decades that led up to the Revolutionary War.  Virginia had created a gentry class, with voting restrictions much like those in England, out of what had been a relatively unbridled democracy of the 17th century, where there had been virtually no restrictions.  One of the interesting aspects is that a landed gentry man could have multiple votes by owning land in more than one district.  This, Boorstin said, is why Washington and other Virginians had such far flung landholdings, as it increased their voting power.

The "experiment" in democracy of the 17th century hadn't ended in failure, but rather morphed into the institution that came to be recognized as distinctly Virginian, with its House of Burgesses seizing more power over the colony.  He didn't call it an oligarchy, but that's what it came to resemble, with a gentry class that called all the shots. This gentry considered it a public duty to take part in government with threat of fine or imprisonment for not doing so, and would even have sheriffs haul in wayward members.  Jefferson had been politely threatened with such action when he had politely asked to be relieved of his duties in the legislature, after having served as governor.  He wanted to devote more time to Monticello.  Boorstin noted that this sense of public duty was unique to the colonies.

Here is a piece from PBS, in which Boorstin was interviewed on his book, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson.  And, an interesting obituary from The Guardian, March 2004, on his conservative nature.  Makes me think of Goliard from the old NYTimes forums.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Bird is the Word



It seems it came down to Romney v. Big Bird last night.  According to this article, Big Bird was getting more tweets than either Romney or Obama, and a start-up Big Bird for President page quickly got 5000 likes on Facebook.  So, it seems the big winner last night was Big Bird!

I don't know about you guys, but I grew up on Sesame St. and The Electric Company.  These were great children's shows and in the case of Sesame St. still is.  I don't know who exactly Mr. Romney is aiming at with his attacks on PBS, but I'm sure there are a lot of parents out there who would like the government to keep funding shows like these.  Did Mr. Romney stick his big foot in his mouth once again?

Here's to Big Bird!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Great Debates


It is interesting that most persons refer to the Lincoln-Douglas debates when discussing the history of presidential debates, but the first presidential debate wasn't until 1960 when Nixon and Kennedy squared off in  four televised "Great Debates."  These debates were difficult on Nixon, as he didn't prove to be very telegenic.  The debates were reprised in 1976, and the leading presidential candidates have participated in a series of debates each election year since.  The first vice-presidential debate was between George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.  Perhaps the most entertaining was in 1992 when it was a three-way debate between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

Many analysts say the debates make little difference, but Reagan certainly appeared to gain an advantage over Carter with his constant refrain, "There you go again," and pounding Carter on the so-called "misery index."  Dukakis certainly didn't do himself any favors when responding to Bernie Shaw's question on the death penalty.  McCain disappointed many viewers by not being able to hold his own against Obama on foreign policy, which was regarded to be his strong suit.  But, probably the most memorable gaffe came in the 1988 vice-presidential debate, but this had no bearing on the election.

Not surprisingly, both candidates have been busy downplaying the upcoming debate, but there is no question that there is much riding on the line, as Romney needs a good performance to turn his campaign around, which was badly bruised in September.  The first debate will be on domestic policy, with Romney no doubt trying to invoke the ghost of Reagan.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eric Hobsbawm dies at 95





I took a year to study for my exams.  I don't think I could have done it without the works of Eric Hobsbawm:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19786929

I think our fellow reader, Parsons, was a student of his.

(I love the BBC -- his death is one of their top stories this a.m.)

The Thrilla in Manilla



I don't know who we have in the way of boxing fans, but today marks the day of one of the greatest fights in boxing history.  There was a documentary made a few years back on the fight, which pitted bitter rivals Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in one of the most brutal fights in modern boxing.  As a documentary it wasn't as good as the superlative When We Were Kings, which documented Ali's epic win over George Foreman the previous year in Kinshasha, known as the Rumble in the Jungle.  Unlike Frazier and Ali, Foreman and Ali remained friends.  I'm not sure what it was that caused so much animosity between Frazier and Ali.


Of course, there was Ali's endless stream of taunts leading up the fight, but he did that with every opponent.  Joe Frazier took those taunts more personally given their relationship in the past, but I have to think much of this banter was encouraged by Don King, who promoted the fight.  This documentary exposes some of the sources for this blood feud, as well as explores the motivations for the fight, including Imelda Marcos' attempt to deflect attention away from the unrest in the Philippines at the time.  What this documentary succeeds in most is making you feel empathy for Joe Frazier, although I don't think he was the "victim" portrayed here.



Ali has been the subject of much adulation over the years, especially with him suffering from Parkinson's disease.  Perhaps the most celebratory book is this mammoth monograph put out by Taschen.  But, one of the best books is Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Tom Hauser.