Archive for category American History

A Confluence of Events

I was sort of hoping somebody was going to hide marijuana joints all over my apartment for me to find and smoke tomorrow, but I doubt it’s going to happen. :(

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Federal Judge Strikes Down Amendment 3

I’m stunned.

A federal judge in Utah Friday struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

“The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby. “Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”

And amazed:

“Applying the law as it is required to do, the court holds that Utah’s prohibition on same- sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law,” the judge wrote. “The State’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.” Read more at http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=28099570#JEOfBdYmOobFv7r6.99

Apparently the judge didn’t stay the order which means . . . .

“A federal district court judge in Utah just issued a decision striking down Utah’s marriage ban on the grounds that it violates the fundamental right to marry and lacks even a rational basis. This is the first decision since Perry–and the first after Windsor–striking down a marriage ban under the federal constitution. The judge did not stay his decision, so same-sex couples in Utah are applying for marriage licenses now.”

I don’t think anybody saw this one coming.

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November 22, 1963

If you can remember that day, then you look at history and politics just a little bit differently. Despite the Cold War and clashes over civil rights, Americans were much more optimistic in 1963.

More info:
Online, a digital trove of JFK material

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Are we at the beginning of a period of political instability and violence?

Peter Turchin seems to believe so – although he also says that it’s not pre-ordained.  I don’t have time for a deeper examination right now, but it’s worth delving these two articles.

A couple key passages:

The US elites, similarly, took the smooth functioning of the political-economic system for granted. The only problem, as they saw it, was that they weren’t being adequately compensated for their efforts. Feelings of dissatisfaction ran high during the Bear Market of 1973—82, when capital returns took a particular beating. The high inflation of that decade ate into inherited wealth. A fortune of $2 billion in 1982 was a third smaller, when expressed in inflation-adjusted dollars, than $1 billion in 1962, and only a sixth of $1 billion in 1912. All these factors contributed to the reversal of the late 1970s.

And this:

Three years ago I published a short article in the science journal Nature. I pointed out that several leading indicators of political instability look set to peak around 2020. In other words, we are rapidly approaching a historical cusp, at which the US will be particularly vulnerable to violent upheaval. This prediction is not a ‘prophecy’. I don’t believe that disaster is pre-ordained, no matter what we do. On the contrary, if we understand the causes, we have a chance to prevent it from happening. But the first thing we will have to do is reverse the trend of ever-growing inequality.

And finally this one:

How does growing economic inequality lead to political instability? Partly this correlation reflects a direct, causal connection. High inequality is corrosive of social cooperation and willingness to compromise, and waning cooperation means more discord and political infighting. Perhaps more important, economic inequality is also a symptom of deeper social changes, which have gone largely unnoticed.

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‘Government of the People, by the People, for the People, Shall Not Perish From the Earth’

From Ken Burns’ documentary “The Civil War” (1990). Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s 269-word Gettysburg Address.

More info:
Ken Burns: Learn Lincoln’s words by heart

UPDATE: Fox’s Obama Derangement Syndrome: Gettysburg Edition

UPDATE: Right-Wing Noise Machine Fabricates Gettysburg Address Omission To Attack Obama

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Shared Ideological Ground Between The Militia Movement and the Tea Party

I’m sure some very smart person has written about this topic and I didn’t see it.  What the heck, I’ll plunge boldly ahead.

Manuel Castells’ three volume study The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture includes a section, in volume two, The Power of Identity, discussing the militia movement.  Castells discusses the ideology, values and roots of the militia movement.  The following are quotes from The Power of Identity: Read the rest of this entry »

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The Social Compact is Broken

As a counterpoint to my earlier post, Eric Idle, writing at HuffPo:

Half of America seems to be entirely enviable: movies, books, TV, arts, liberal democratic institutions, great centers of learning and research, gay marriage, social freedoms, etc., etc.

The other half does seem to be, well, nuts.

Currently you appear to be almost in a state of civil war. If one party can shut down the government, then the social compact to rule is broken. In most other democracies this simply could not happen. In the UK, for example, the government would dissolve and the prime minister would call for an immediate general election, which would be held within three weeks. (Yes, that quickly.)  With your fixed terms you do not have this benefit. You must limp on to the next overlong election cycle and then waste a whole year of execrable television and billions of dollars on it. This is a very expensive and not very flexible system of democracy that no one else wants to follow.

The Mad Hater’s Tea Party throws everything overboard, not just the tea. The captain, the crew, the ships dog… Pirates could hardly do worse.

True enough.

And this from Think Progress:

Ultimately, the roots of the looming shutdown stem from a different distinction between our government and that of most other modern democracies. Canada, Britain and many other democratic nations are what is known as “parliamentary democracies,” meaning that the nation’s executive is chosen by whoever controls the legislature. Stephen Harper’s power flows from the fact that his party controls a majority of the seats in Parliament. Similarly, Prime Minister David Cameron owes his job to his position as the leader of a governing coalition in the legislature. President Obama’s election, by contrast, took place entirely separate from the (admittedly, quite flawed) election that placed Republicans in control of the House. In the United States it is possible for a president to serve despite the fact that he or she is widely loathed by both houses of Congress. This is a unique problem facing what are known as “presidential democracies.”

IOW, the Madisonian system is working exactly as it should and the outcomes are unacceptable; the flaw is inherent in the system, the system itself is flawed.

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The Republican Base is the Identified Patient in our National Family System

The American right has transformed from conservative to reactionary to revanchist in an incredibly short period of time.  Today’s Republican base voters feel a toxic mix of anger, frustration, and isolation.  The general perception of America outside their communities is almost entirely negative.  They are keenly aware of themselves as the last holdouts against a rising tide of racial pluralism and cultural tolerance.  The forces at work are complex, but at the same they are the same enemies liberalism has always opposed – the forces of social order which presume that some people are ‘more equal’ than others.  Today’s Republican party has been transformed from a political party to a fundamentalist movement with all that implies about in group and out group dynamics; organized around the ideas of Constitutional purity, American exceptionalism, and traditional culture, this political fundamentalism movement is motivated by fear, anger and loss.

On October 3, Democracy Corps published Inside the GOP, their findings from a series of focus group discussions with Republicans.  They identified the GOP’s three key constituencies – evangelicals, Tea Partiers and moderates and held focus groups in various cities around the country. The memo as a whole makes for depressing reading – it describes a group of Americans who see themselves as socially, culturally and political isolated, a faithful remnant fighting to restore the America they understand and value against a devious and largely victorious enemy.  The average member of the Republican base feels besieged, angry and frustrated.  Their sense of isolation within contemporary culture cannot be overstated.  Tellingly, the members of the focus groups reported that the focus group time was a unique experience of being around like-minded people: Read the rest of this entry »

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The Shutdown is a Constitutional Crisis

So says Jonathan Chait.

In a merciful twist of fate, Juan Linz did not quite live to see his prophecy of the demise of American democracy borne out. Linz, the Spanish political scientist who died last week, argued that the presidential system, with its separate elections for legislature and chief executive, was inherently unstable. In a famous 1990 essay, Linz observed, “All such systems are based on dual democratic legitimacy: No democratic principle exists to resolve disputes between the executive and the legislature about which of the two actually represents the will of the people.” Presidential systems veered ultimately toward collapse everywhere they were tried, as legislators and executives vied for supremacy. There was only one notable exception: the United States of America.

Linz attributed our puzzling, anomalous stability to “the uniquely diffuse character of American political parties.” The Republicans had loads of moderates, and conservative whites in the South still clung to the Democratic Party. At the time he wrote that, the two parties were already sorting themselves into more ideologically pure versions, leaving us where we stand today: with one racially and economically polyglot party of center-left technocracy and one ethnically homogenous reactionary party. The latter is currently attempting to impose its program by threat upon the former. The events in Washington have given us a peek into the Linzian nightmare.

Both House Republicans and the President lay claim to democratic legitimacy and there is no system to resolve the dispute.  So we’re left with a slugfest.

Sanford Levinson’s book, Our Undemocratic Constitution, lays out some of the inherent problems with the US system.  He argued:

Significant distortions and outright failures of American politics are produced because of-and not merely in spite of-the structure of the government imposed by the Constitution, whatever the contribution of other factors like the mode of campaign financing. [snip]

However divided we are as a country these days, what paradoxically may unite far more than a majority of Americans are deep feelings of inefficacy with regard to being able to participate in what are ostensibly institutions promoting self-governance, as well as feelings of dismay at the actual legislation that is passed (or not passed).

The point is incredibly simple - our system of government as designed includes too many veto points to function if a minority is able to block one of those veto points.  What we’re seeing, right now, is the result of that system in action.  The shutdown, in which a minority of the House Republicans are able to take the entire nation hostage, is a result of a governing system which diffuses both power and authority.In a parliamentary system, the head of government is chosen by the majority party (or governing coalition) from the legislative branch.  The head of government is empowered to enact a specific policy platform and is able to do so because he/she is the same party as that which dominates the legislative branch.  The US system, with two, equally powerful houses of Congress, and a separately elected President, includes multiple points at which a minority party can frustrate the will of the majority.

Our current governing crisis is a covert Constitutional crisis.  House Republicans essentially argue that the polling shows the ACA is unpopular and therefore they are on the side of the people.  That’s simply the convenient, current argument.  The deeper battle is informed by a Republican party controlled by movement conservatism which denies the legitimacy of any Democratic president.  It’s not just that conservatives deny Barack Obama’s legitimacy, the denied Bill Clinton’s as well.  As a result, what we’re seeing play out in DC right now is a slow motion attempt to strip a Democratic president, any Democratic president, of presidential power by a Republican congress which refuses to acknowledge the validity of the outcomes of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.  It’s not about any specific policy.  Any and every policy supported by a Democratic president is considered inherently invalid and illegitimate.

At Americablog, Becca Morn argued:

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of AMERICAblog that many Republicans have never accepted the legitimacy of the Obama presidency. They’ve been cooking polls to make themselves and their policies seem more popular than they are. When the overwhelming majority of legitimate mainstream polls say their GOP candidates are going to get trounced, they deny the polls are accurate. When they lose elections, they cry fraud, and if there’s any way to tie up the election results in court, they’ll do so.

The Democrats, whatever their many and manifest flaws, don’t do this. Crooked Democratic ballot box shenanigans pretty much ended with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Democrats don’t need to cheat. Republican candidates and policies are unpopular enough, all the Dems really need to do is turn out enough legitimate voters.

Which is, of course, why the Republicans are pulling out all the stops to prevent Democrat-voting demographics from being able to cast a ballot. Their claims it’s because there’s rampant fraud are absolutely bogus.

Everyone is familiar with the ridiculous “birther” conspiracy theories about Barack Obama. Anybody who isn’t as loony as Orly Taitz or ego-maniacal as Donald Trump knows those allegations are total rubbish. Unfounded. Ridiculous. Would not last ten seconds in a legitimate court of law. Nevertheless, the persistence of this meme is an important insight into the psyche of the political opposition.

Birtherism, along with other lies — such as referring to Obama as a Nazi/Communist/Socialist and/or secret Muslim — plus the constant lies about Obamacare “death panels” and the like are how the GOP leaders and their wingnut media lackeys keep the rubes both afraid and entertained. While Louie Gohmert and Michelle Bachman and Sarah Whatshername might actually believe the nonsense crossing their pouty, poxy lips, some ‘serious’ Republicans will dance around with birther language, but they don’t buy the snake oil they’re peddling.

The constitutional crisis is grounded in the refusal of conservatives to accept the outcomes of elections with which they disagree.  The result is that conservatives are attacking the constitutional system they claim to venerate.

And so the crisis grinds on with enough Republican believing the nonsense to keep the government shutdown and to cause yet another crisis at the next opportunity.  It’s not about any actual policy or bill or program.  Movement conservatives have defined American-ness in such a limited way that there is no way for them to accept a black Democratic president as legitimate.  And in the face of a system which seems to refuse to accept their arguments about his illegitimacy, they believe they have only the most extreme tactics available to them.

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The Age of Disruption: Impact on the Military Industrial Complex

Watching conservatives oppose military intervention in Syria has been entertaining to say the least.  We all know that if the occupants of the White Hosue were a Republican, they’d be cheerleading for the most ruinous attack possible, telling us that Assad is the moral equal of Pol Pot, Hitler, Mussolini and Jeffrey Dahmer all rolled into one.  Not so long ago, however, most of Washington DC would have joined in supporting an attack.  A few years ago, an attack on Syria would have been a foregone conclusion, there would have been sporadic opposition but it would have happened, and at least inside the “establishment” would have been regarded as necessary and possibly even good.  A great many Democrats supported action against Iraq in 2002 and 2003 (despite their doubts of its success) because the necessity of military action was accepted, common wisdom even if their instincts told them it was a disaster waiting to happen.

The disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan were/are simply to big to be ignored, even by hawkish political insiders.  When someone as reliably dim and possessed of the conventional wisdom as George Will doesn’t favor a military strike, you know something has shifted. Read the rest of this entry »

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Remember This?

h/t HuffPo

When it comes to “dumb wars,” how about giving a speech about going to war in Syria ON THE SAME SIDE as al-Qaeda? On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

More: Obama’s Syria address: do we look that dumb?

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Bush Library Rewrite Website Fact-Checks Fictional Legacy

Miss me yet?

H/t Huffington Post.

President George W. Bush famously remarked that he couldn’t think of any mistakes he was responsible for. That theme was carried forward in the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum that opened last May. Our Worst President Ever and his die-hard supporters continue to claim there was nothing wrong with Bush’s decisions.

Fortunately for the truth, the nonprofit group Bridge Project has produced The Bush Rewrite, a website that exposes Bush’s attempt to rewrite history in his favor.

George W. Bush’s presidency was bookended by a pair of crises that shook the nation: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the financial meltdown that forced the government to bail out several of the nation’s largest banks in the fall of 2008. In between, the Bush White House was plagued by a series of scandals and controversies, policy failures, and another disaster in the form of Hurricane Katrina. By the end of his second term, Bush had become one of the most unpopular presidents ever as his political allies began working on the long-term project of restoring his legacy.

To that end, the creation of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, opened in April 2013, offered a unique opportunity to attempt to rewrite history.

Located in Dallas, Texas, the Bush Library highlights the major events and policy initiatives that took place during Bush’s time in the White House. But as one might expect, the exhibits give the impression that Bush’s decisions were correct and admirable, while glossing over his failures and the harmful consequences of his actions.

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