Sunday, March 31, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twelve, For Want Of A Nail

History turns on mere moments and incidents: as much as there is a slow long progress towards social improvement and justice, all it takes in one bad day / one weird day / one WTF day to send the flow of history down the wrong trouser leg of Time.

Writers call them "What If" moments.  Some are real doozys:  "What if Winston Churchill had been killed in that car accident in New York in the early 1930s?"  "What if the Dutch held onto New Amsterdam?"  "What if the Beatles accepted Saturday Night Live's offer to do a reunion show?"  There's a ton of "What Ifs" surrounding World War II, both because of the enormity of the events and because there were so many close calls and bizarre coincidences.

And then there's this one: What If Zachary Taylor, President of the United States during the crises of 1850, hadn't died in office?

Taylor was the succeeding President to Polk, the second Whig to be elected to the high office and technically the second to hold it since Tyler was really a Democrat at heart, the fiend.  Taylor came into office a military hero, a career general dating back to the War of 1812, and a man of certainty in an era of conflicting concerns.

As noted last week, Polk's administration had its successes but also its consequences.  The expansionist movement pushing the nation's borders all the way out to the Pacific Ocean placated a good number of Americans but horrified many more.  Because the ones who pushed for war to take land from Mexico tended to be Southerner pro-slavery politicians, hence the horrified reaction of the anti-slavery movement in the North and Midwest.

Slavery wasn't supposed to have survived into the 1840s, you see.  Back in the day of writing up the Constitution, the economic models just didn't support slavery: costs were high and profits low.  There was no singular cash crop that benefited from cheap labor on the scale to keep slavery as a thing.  While the contemporaries weren't about to give it up - yes, racism is a factor - they figured they could put a deadline on it, especially regarding the shipment of slaves via overseas trade and that would dry up the slave market.

What changed was the cotton gin.  Creating a relatively cheap means of harvesting cotton fibers easy to ship off to the budding steam factories of the the Industrial Revolution to convert into clothes and goods, the gin gave the southern states the cash crop that made slave-owners millionaires.  Now they had a way to make slavery profitable.  But because of the nature of cotton - a ground-consuming crop that needed more and more fresh land - those slave-owners needed to expand... and the deals made with northern politicians who viewed slavery as an evil had trapped slavery in a confined spot (south of the Missouri border per the 1820 Missouri Compromise).

The solution for the slavery forces was to grab all the land south of Missouri.  This meant annexing Texas, and then war with Mexico to get as much of that nation as well.  They even staged privatized military incursions (called "filibusters") into Central America on practically a yearly basis.

The overt attempts at expanding slavery didn't sit well with the anti-slavery Northerners.  There had already been a few decades of cultural and geopolitical divide between North and South.  The results of the Mexican-American War accelerated the radicalization of both sides to where Nullification was no longer the Word Of The Day, it was Secession.  And that brought up the first stirrings of a potential civil war.

Into this maelstrom Zachary Taylor got himself nominated as the Whig candidate in 1848.  Practically unique among candidates, Taylor was someone with no elective experience at all running for the highest office of the land.  Even George Washington spent time in the Virginia Assembly.  Nearly every other President had been a governor or congressman or senator.  Taylor: no experience.  Being a long-serving General made him experienced with some governmental duties, but that was about it.  He literally had no public opinion about anything until he was nominated by the Whigs.

On the one hand, it made it easy for him to win: no opinions meant he had no track record that would offend potential voters.  On the other, it made him a true wild card with a Congress that was quickly becoming a house divided.

It also makes it hard to determine his Character heading into the office.  A legislative or political history could give historians a sense of if the man be Active or Passive, Positive or Negative.  Taylor's lack of an agenda reeked of being Passive-Negative, for example.

His actual performance in office suggests Taylor was Active-Negative.

Taylor may not have had any opinions entering office but his nature had been well-developed by then and opinions formed fast and fierce.  As a general of the nation's armies, he didn't think in terms of States Rights he though in terms of Union.  His experience fighting in the western territories claimed as a result of the Mexican-American War showed him the new lands were incompatible with slavery's key crop of cotton.  Above all, his experience working in a chain of command, where decisions and implementations were all top-down making him a rather Uncompromising leader, the primary trait of an A-N.

Taylor in office proved that Uncompromising behavior as the situation between South and North grew worse over the new territories of California and New Mexico.  The discovery of GOLD in California by late 1848 led to a population boom in 1849: literally overnight the territory gained enough people to petition for statehood.  Problem was, a vast majority of the population were Free-Staters (anti-slavery) and their proposed state government was Free, devastating the hopes of the Southerners who hoped to make the new territories pro-slavery.  In response, Texas tried to claim the New Mexico territory for their own to ensure it would end up Slave-State.

Taylor would have none of it.  He argued that the deal with Mexico had the United States purchasing that land and thus it was under federal administration.  When the pro-slavery forces argued the point, Taylor made it clear: He would personally lead troops into New Mexico (as Commander-in-Chief it was allowable) and "hang any man taken in treason."

By 1850 the nation was close to civil war.

Congress still had the likes of John C. Calhoun (the bastard) pushing for slavery and States Rights, but it also had the likes of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, and while Clay and Webster were pro-Union they were also pro-compromise.  They worked out a new Compromise package to replace the Missouri Compromise: the new deal would allow California in as a Free State, which also gave the anti-slavery forces in the Senate a one-state imbalance over the pro-slavery states; an end to the slave trade in Washington DC but not slavery itself; formation of Utah and New Mexico territories that would not be allowed to pass any internal legislation about slavery one way or another; paying off Texas' claim to New Mexico with $10 million; and instituting a Federal Fugitive Slave Act that compelled law officers in Free states to arrest and ship back any suspected fugitive slaves to Slave states.

Taylor refused to support the Compromise of 1850.  Although a slave-owner himself he didn't see the value in spreading it elsewhere and even actively campaigned for California and Utah territories to submit Free-State constitutions.  In some respects he was right: at this point in the nation's history slavery was no longer an issue able to be compromised.  While little documentation survived about Taylor's reservations against Clay's compromise efforts, Taylor had to have seen the way the nation was dividing over the issue.  And as a staunch Unionist, Taylor had to know what was coming.  He spoke against treason often and he spoke against "dissolution" of the nation.

It was in this environment that Taylor suddenly fell ill and died, in summer of 1850.  Soon after his death the Compromise of 1850 passed.  And if Taylor had left any predictions, it probably would have noted that the compromising solved nothing: the Southerners pushed even harder for more slave lands and more rights to own slaves; and the Fugitive Slave Act would become poison to the North, inciting them to even bolder acts of rescuing slaves from the South and helping them into Canada.

I mentioned last week how Taylor is the Ur-source for Presidential Conspiracy Theories.  In a nation like ours, conspiracy theories is a cottage industry: conspiracies about what happened to our nation's leaders is like caviar.  The fact that Taylor died at just the moment where his uncompromising nature meant civil war starting in 1850 (and not 1860) is too juicy a "What If" moment to overlook.  That the stated cause of death - a combination of heat stroke and unsanitary drinking water (or milk) with a bad batch of cherries - sounds so bizarre to modern ears helped stir up a sizable interest in a possible assassination by poisoning.

There's been some exhuming of Taylor's body to find traces of arsenic (nope), and there's been a couple of not-so-plausible suspects and questionable interpretations of history (expected), but that's been about it.  Taylor otherwise didn't leave much of a legacy other than his staunch Unionist stance at a troubling moment in American History.  His Activist pushes to balance the post-war budget with higher tariffs, building of a railroad to connect the Eastern masses to the wide open West, and expanding a federal office to cover Agriculture did not come to fruition during his tenure.

It's a tempting "What If?": what if the United States had its civil war ten years earlier, before the advancements with weaponry made war more lethal and before the availability of railroad and telegraph?  What if the European nations were more inclined to help the South because of the near-monopoly hold the South had with its cotton supply (by 1860 England had planned ahead and developed Egypt and India as alternate cotton sources)?

I can leave that to the fiction writers.  Right now, I have to worry about getting my 400th post in for Monday.  Prepare for a change, people... :)

Next on the Presidential Character stop: He deserves better recognition from history than a poorly-drawn poorly-written cartoon strip about a wingnut duck.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'm Just Using Up Blog Posts To Reach 400

This will be, after all, just the 398th posting.

With regards to the name changing of the blog, I've settled on a choice and hope to switch to it on the special moment when I hit 400.  I'll most likely write my next Presidential Character entry as 399, and then BOOM! I'll drop the hammer and we'll all get to dancing.

That said, I wanted to note that Doctor Who is starting up the next half of their season (series 7.5) and there's a huge fan push to get Lady Vastra Jenny and Strax their own spin-off.

Personally I want a flashback episode to The Corsair.  Make it the Eighth Doctor - Paul McGann never got a chance to shine as Eight, and he would have been good at it - and make it an animated episode with The Doctor, The Corsair, an artificially enhanced smart penguin, and a Russian female Cosmonaut doing battle with the Zygons just off the rings of Saturn.

...what.  I'M A GEEK, PEOPLE.  Sheesh.

Two more posts to go.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Eleven, The Good And Bad of Completing An Agenda

One of the knocks on One-Term Presidents is that they don't succeed, or at least don't do well enough in office to warrant a Second Term, and so a lot of One-Termers end up in the bottom quartile of Presidential rankings.

Say hello to the single One-Termer who mocks that assumption.

Of candidates up for office, James K. Polk was literally an out-of-left-field choice (known as a dark horse) for the Democratic Party in 1844.  By then, Polk had been out of elected office for four years.  He had a decent resume - Speaker of the U.S. House, one-time Governor of Tennessee - but recent efforts to get re-elected as Governor failed.  What happened in 1844 was that the Democrats were divided between Van Buren - he was still an active force in the party - and rising Lewis Cass.  Faced with a deadlock, allies of both Polk and his mentor Andrew Jackson dropped hints that Jackson (the party's true leader) favored Polk as a compromise candidate.  Polk and Van Buren could both claim being Jackson's protege: but Van Buren already endured a tough earlier administration while Polk was a clean slate.  Polk also pledged to voluntarily stick to one term, giving the likes of Cass another chance at the brass ring.

Polk won the office with several advantages: The Whigs were still in disarray over the betrayals by Tyler, the nation was at the beginnings of the Manifest Destiny urge to spread westward to the Pacific which the Democrats pledged to do, and the Whig candidate was Henry Clay (the first three-time candidate, losing all three).

And so Polk became President.  Can we say what temperament he had serving the office?

Disregard the personal stuff: Polk was a teetotaler who hosted the first Dry (no TV and no beer... makes Homer something-something...) White House, and was viewed by contemporaries as lacking in wit and oratory skill.  Considering that historians view Polk as one of the most successful Presidents in office - even compared to Two-Termers - by the simple fact he successfully completed every item on his political agenda, we can be certain Polk falls into the Active column.

That political agenda focused on roughly five items, which does make it relatively easy for a One-Termer to focus and complete (especially when Polk knew he had only one term to do it all).  Most of the agenda focused on the westward expansion: the Annexation of Texas (Tyler completed that before Polk took office), the acquisition of California and all the points between California and Texas from Mexico (something Mexico wasn't keen on happening), and the acquisition of the Oregon Territory from Russia and Great Britain/Canada (the Fifty-Four Forty Or Fight).  The other two key points were low tariffs (popular in the South and West, very unpopular in the North), and a resolution to the national banking issue with an independent treasury system.

The low tariffs passed, and Polk presided over the establishment of an independent treasury system that lasted until 1913.  What Polk's best remembered for are - of course - the War and the Compromise.

The Mexican-American War began over that Texas annexation: Mexico viewed it as a "hostile act" by the United States.  It definitely put a crimp in any attempt by Polk to negotiate a peaceful purchase of the California territories (which in those days were sparsely populated and poorly managed).  Polk used the hostility to build up tensions, making things worse by sending American troops into contested Texas land between the Nueces River (where Mexico claimed the Texas border to be) and the Rio Grande (where Texas and now the United States claimed the border).  When Mexican forces fired on those troops, killing eleven, Polk had his cause for war.

Compare that to the issue over the Oregon Territory.  The United States and Canada/Great Britain had issue over where the border should be when they got around to drawing their national maps out that far west.  American expansionists wanted the whole territory, reaching up to where Russia claimed their border (54-degree 40 parallel).  It gave rise to the cry of "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!"  Polk wanted to secure Oregon as a trade-off to Northerners who were upset about Texas and the then-growing war with Mexico (territories that were then south of the Missouri Compromise line keeping slave-owning south of said line).  But he also didn't want to fight two separate wars over two borders: worse, he probably feared Mexico getting a serious ally with the UK.  So he compromised, agreeing with Great Britain to extend the current U.S. / Canada border on the 49th Parallel all the way out to the Puget Sound.

This was the point I was getting to, evidence that would back my argument that Polk was an Active-Positive President.  I know, a little shocking, right?  A guy who didn't seem to enjoy the perks of being President.  But it's not the perks of the office that define the Active-Positive: it's the willingness and sometimes eagerness to work the job.  And Polk is considered one of the busiest, hardest-working Presidents we've had (one of the youngest elected to the office, Polk left severely aged and in ill health in just four years).

I'd argued earlier that most A-P Presidents try to avoid wars, both due to their compromising deal-making attitudes and due to the scariness of letting a war get out of control.  But for the A-Ps who DO go to war - usually by circumstance, sometimes by choice as in Polk's case - they tend to be craftily good at civilian management of "The War Effort."

Polk made astute moves as President managing the Mexican-American War: he promoted generals who knew their stuff and let them get to it.  He had the advantage of a federal military that had learned their mistakes from the last war and had developed a better professional system for their army.  The logistics of fighting a relatively distant war were resolved with some efficiency: troops were well-supplied for the most part.  Polk and the U.S. Army had another advantage in that Mexico simply wasn't ready for fighting: troops poorly trained and supplied, few defensive positions or forts, and a disorganized home government and military.  It didn't help Mexico that they brought in Santa Anna, arguably one of the Worst Military Leaders Ever, to serve as a general.  Santa Anna, an ambitious political figure throughout Mexico's early history, promptly made himself dictator and promptly mismanaged Mexico's war effort.  How bad was he?  He got his prosthetic leg (wounded fighting the French earlier: Santa Anna was an idiot but he was at least willing to get into the mosh pit) captured by U.S. troops who put it on display.  But I digress...

An interesting point in noting Polk's behavior as President is the war's resolution.  The United States pretty much won every battle and occupied most of Mexico from the Texan border (wherever that was) to the shores of the Pacific Ocean well into Mexico's own capitol.  There were fellow Democrats - mostly Southerners, by the by, eager for as much slave territory they could get - calling on Polk to annex ALL of Mexico.  While an A-P President would consider an ambitious move like that  - Jefferson and Monroe earlier seizing the chance of the Louisiana Purchase - Polk had to recognize the limits of such a move: it would have meant occupying a hostile Mexican territory, and it would have angered Northerners at odds with the South's attempts at slavery expansion.

In a way, Polk showed his Adaptive nature in a unique way: he stuck to his original agenda which meant compromising against his fellow expansionists and compromising with the Mexican government with a relatively reasonable peace treaty.  Polk got California like he wanted and resolved the Texan border issue like he wanted: Mexico received payment for the lands which they needed to fund their rebuilding efforts.  No, Mexico may not have liked how the war ended - especially when GOLD was found in California mere months after the war - but both sides could live with the treaty.  And in most respects it was a smart move on Polk's count: it stabilized the border with Mexico and most likely prevented a civil war between North and South launching right then if he had taken all of Mexico.

It still didn't stop the acceleration to civil war, though.  Again, the sin of an Active-Positive President is that they don't see the consequences of their actions (personal thesis: every political action creates an unequal and disproportionate reaction).  Polk hoped by securing the borders for Texas, California and Oregon that he would appease both North and South: instead it made Northerners angry that Polk and his fellow southern Democrats were working around the limits of the Missouri Compromise; and it made Southerners angry because Polk didn't take more land from Mexico (they were also upset Polk didn't press the issue with Spain over a failed attempt to purchase Cuba, one of Polk's few failures).

Another consequence Polk tried to avert was purely political: while Polk's nature as an A-P meant he hired competent people to do the jobs needed doing, it meant he promoted to high rank a Whig general - Zachary Taylor - who quickly became successful war-time general.  Even today, Successful War-Time General = Presidential Candidate, and Polk realized he was giving his opposing party an invaluable would-be Presidential candidate.  So he stopped Taylor's advance into Mexico and sent another general into battle: Winfield Scott.  Scott unfortunately for Polk and the Democrats was also a Whig, and he too became a Successful War-Time General.  Taylor still went on to the White House (SEE next week), while Scott did try a run for the office and later became a key strategist for the Union side against the southerner pro-slavery forces that made up the Confederacy.

With regards to his political agenda, with the completion of his stated goals, Polk is considered a Great President: successful by the quantity of his victories.  In terms of the quality of his goals... well, that's left to the history books and the opinion-makers.  You do have to give props to a guy who does what he promised to do.

Just note, don't mention Polk's name anywhere south of the Rio Grande.  He's not as popular in Mexico as he is in the United States...

Next Week: All Presidential Conspiracy Theories start with THIS guy.  I'm not joking.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Slight Follow-up To Name Changing

So I asked my fellow Coatesian Lost Battalion Horders about suggested new titles for this blog.



(four more blogs to 400)

UPDATE (3/23/13): Good news, everybody!  Wartenblog is already taken!  In both English AND German!  Bwhahaha. Wait, is that really French language...?

(with the current Presidential blogging, now up to 397, three more blogs to go)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Name Changing

I'm coming up on the 400th (this is I think 395) post on this blog and once again I'm thinking of changing the title.

I originally started off (back in 2006!  Where did the time go...) with the notion of getting out here to discuss and suggest ways of reforming our political system.  I've ended up ranting about current events, Presidential campaigns, the general nuttiness of the Far Right, etc.

To be honest, I get more traffic and interest covering some of the local Florida stuff - Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott can suck it - and with the political campaign coverage.  I still rant about the need to fix our broken electoral system and other woes, but not with the academic focus I had hoped.  I can still argue about the Amendments We Need, it's just not the focus of this blog anymore.

So I'm thinking of changing the name of this blog.  The address - - I don't think I can change, but the blog's title I think can change.

So...  I need to come up with a new name.

Off the top of my head, these are the early suggestions:

  • Cup Full Of Moderate Crazy
  • The Always Sober Never Sane World Tour
  • I Did What Last Night
  • You Might Notice a Trend (although I'd give this over to Nate Silver if he wants it)
  • Idea Tossing Blog
  • This Blog Is Named X For a Reason (X being a variable)
  • Steve

Other than Steve most likely being taken, does anyone have any suggestions?
And yes, Culture ship names are already taken, damn those trademark laws.

Please use the Comments to leave your thoughts.  I will be turning off the Comments filters for the time being.

If you can't, email me.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Off-Topic: Things I Learned At MegaCon 2013

this will be cross-posted to my librarian/writing blog

With the goodness that is having a full-time job, I was able to afford another trip to the Orlando convention center for yet another MegaCon.

Things to note:
I'm pretty sure I noted this last time.  There's a big early crowd showing up (by 8 AM) waiting for the main floor to open (10 AM).  There's a big open area where they had us lining up for the 10 AM opening.  They could have easily hired one of the cosplay groups - the 501st Legion, the GhostBusters, someone - to perform a couple routines on the floor while we wait.

You should never really go by yourself.  While going solo frees you up to go in any direction you want and figure out what discussions to attend or not, you do end up feeling a little left out and without anyone to share jokes and running commentary about all the costumes.
It's also hard to ask total strangers to take photos of you, especially when there's a very cute Wonder Woman cosplayer who did a very good job on the outfit, most of them are just half-heartedly sewn together but damn... anyway never had a chance to pose with her, if I had a wingman with me he/she/other gender could have taken the shot...

Also wik: Saturday is Costume Day.  ALWAYS go on Saturday.
AND always have someone on hand to help you with your costume.  Even the most durable helmet from a anti-libertarian video game requires a little duct tape.  Especially on a busy day like Saturday.

If you ever go to a comic-book / scifi / anime convention and decide to dress up yourself for Costume Day, don't be surprised if you get everyone and I mean EVERYONE asking you to stand and pose.  I accosted those two kids who came dressed as GLaDoS and Companion Cube to get a picture for this blog entry, and before they and I knew it a large crowd of other picture-takers surrounded us and kept them posing for minutes.  I spotted them later near the Signing area trying to stay out of the rush of traffic and GLaDoS told me they kept getting asked to pose over and over wherever they walked on the floor... and she was getting tired of gripping the Portal gun.  So if you plan on wearing an awesome costume... energy drinks.  And comfortable shoes.

That Stormtrooper was with the 501st.  He was working the target practice game area - yes, go ahead and snicker - and had just gotten hit in the inner thigh with a nerf bullet.  (No, not that kind of nerf)

There was another R2 unit working the floor again.  Those R2 droids are incredible, and everyone stops to pose and take pictures of them.  There's a group that build them, and I joked at the Jedi working the gateway there that if they unleashed all those R2-D2s onto the convention floor they would conquer all.

Ah, Deadpool.  My old nemesis.  How far you've fallen.  Tacos.  I ask you, why not the combo platter and get the burrito and enchilada as well?

Note that I mentioned earlier about going solo to the con.  I noticed they were offering a Speed Dating event in the afternoon, so I circled over to where they were hosting the event (over in a small corner of the convention hall, by the by.  What I found was a lopsided turnout.

There were about 15-20 women lined up for the event.  You can see it was kinda sparse.

And there were about 30-40 men lining up.  Not an honest balance of turnout.  Dear organizers: you might wanna have an online booking to see about what the turnout will be like, so you can go a little out of the way to get about 20-30 more women interested in showing up to date guys dressing up like Jayne and Riddler and... and... well there WAS a Hugh Jackman lookalike as Wolverine, ladies.

Not pictured: the huge swarming crowds.  Foot traffic again was difficult as people would either bunch around a table or vendor pavilion or else stop right in the middle of the floor when they bump into some friends.

Also not pictured: the awesome Artist Alley area where the struggling self-employed comic artists and craftspersons showed off their work and sold stuff.  Sadly, one of the artists I like to see at the MegaCon was unable to attend: Jennie Breeden's budget keeps her limited to the number of conventions she attends, and she made the decision to skip this year in order to attend some of the West Coast ones like in Seattle.  Well, that just means I had to waste my convention money buying prints from Jen Broomall, okay?  You see, I don't need... sniff... I don't to be slavishly devoted to one artist to... to... wait, what do you mean Jen doesn't have any Wonder Woman artwork?  /sulk  Well, okay, Peter V Nguyen has something with Wonder Woman in it...

Also also not pictured: the official Special Guest Artists area had its ebb and flow and well and I found myself in front of Amanda Conner's booth.  Basically the artist that showed women can draw the Good Girl stuff just like Adam Hughes can, and with a bit more taste and whimsy in the artwork.  I purchased a print she did of Catwoman but while I did she tried signing the MegaCon media guide I had innocently placed on the table while digging out my wallet.  She'd just been signing anything in front of her, poor thing.  I suggested she didn't need to autograph that, just the Catwoman print, so she did and I congratulated her on the great work she did on Power Girl and she said she had fun doing it.

Also also ALSO not pictured: Patrick Stewart and most of the regulars from Star Trek: Next Generation.  One, that would have cost me money: Two, there was no way to see Patrick Stewart at all considering the long line waiting to see him in the celebrity Signing Area.  The line for him circled the room.

Any other observations?  Oh yeah.  The shuttle bus service from parking lots to convention hall is helpful (parking is on one side of the convention grounds, away from the West Concourse that they always use), but it gets stuck easy in daytime traffic (the convention center is on a major city road).  Building an elevated transit car system - call Disney they can hook you up with something - would ease the regular traffic and make it easier for people to get to and from convention halls and parking lots.

That's about it.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Ten, Hating Tyler Too

I mentioned last time that I felt this week's President under character review was the worst ever.

I admit part of this desire to rank John Tyler as the Worst Ever is to go against the status quo of the standard opinions of the established order.  I mean, everybody goes for the usual suspects like James Buchanan or Andrew Johnson or Herbert Hoover or Richard Nixon.  You'll ALWAYS see those guys somewhere near the Worst Ever.  You'll get the occasional crazy listing Chester A. Arthur as Worst Ever but it's usually some idiot who believes the Moon landings were faked.

So I focus on the lesser-known "mediocre" President types who didn't make much of a blip on the historical radar, into which you'll find the likes of Tyler.  One of the many "One-Termers", even though he's historically important by establishing a key Constitutional Precedent.

Tyler was the first Vice President to become President upon the death or departure of the sitting President.

This is a huge thing.  The Constitution does establish that a Vice President shall take on the duties of a President Who Has Passed On And Joined the Choir Invisible, but it didn't really clarify that the Veep becomes fully a President with all executive powers.  Nobody was really sure what do to when Harrison died in office.  There were suggestions - from the Cabinet Tyler inherited no less - that he be "Acting President" in title... which could have affected some of the official duties a President was/is expected to perform.

Tyler insisted that he was President.  The Cabinet - after consulting the Chief Justice - noted that by taking the Oath of Office Tyler could be accepted as President, so he did and they accepted and that established the precedent.  (It wasn't really legal, believe it or not, until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment passed almost 120 years later)

So that's pretty much the one good thing Tyler did in office.  Because from there on he turned out to be a disaster.

Let's pull back a bit to Andrew Jackson.  Arguably one of the most personally hated men to serve as President.  He was so hated that a political party formed in opposition to him: The Whigs.  I'm only half-joking here: while the Whigs were the successors to the Federalist Party's belief structure and geographic leanings - forming around naturally-shared beliefs about Unionism, business, and sport - they were mostly made up of politicians who had run-ins with Jackson and who realized that while bullets were useless against him (I AM NOT JOKING) rallying party opposition was still legal and possibly effective.

When Jackson's successor Van Buren felt the aftermath of Jackson's tenure - the Panic of 1837 - the Whigs had their chance, taking control of Congress by 1838 and then by 1840 running a popular figure like Harrison to a landslide victory over the Jackson Democrats.  Problem was this whole Vice President thing: by this point in American history it was necessary to balance "the ticket" between the chosen vote-getter (President) by adding a figure from the party's minority yet vital wing to fill the other half (Vice President).  For the most part a Vice Presidency is a thankless honor: you're not popular with the majority faction of your own party, you're probably personally hated by the Guy Above You, and your duties don't mesh with what the President gets out of his Cabinet buddies.

But sometimes this deal comes back to bite the party leaders in the ass: when the President dies/resigns/goes off to tour as an Elvis Impersonator, the Vice President gets promoted.  And the Veep is a guy coming from the faction of the party who's NOT in control: you're getting someone who barely supports the party line, and quite possibly someone who would go extremist on you in the worst way.

Tyler was the type who barely supported the Whig party line.  When he got into the White House it quickly became apparent that Tyler wasn't really a Whig at heart, he still thought very much like a Jacksonian Democrat.  It turned out that the one reason Tyler wasn't a Democrat was because he hated Jackson on a personal level: he liked the politics very much, thank you, he just hated the guy (in most respects I don't blame him).  Tyler hated Jackson... but wanted to BE Jackson.  A decent psychiatrist/historian would have a best-seller on their hands if they ever wrote a definitive book on this guy.

In fact, looking at Tyler's track record you'll find someone who was the antithesis to Whig ideology.  Where the Whigs were pro-Union, Tyler was pro-Secession/Nullification.  Where the Whigs were pro-National Bank, Tyler opposed it like Jackson would have.  Where the Whigs wanted tariffs to keep the Treasury solvent, Tyler would veto.

What happened was that the Whig party leadership - Henry Clay especially - thought two things: Tyler was one of them and that Tyler would be weak and malleable due to the circumstances surrounding his promotion.  The fact that he was viewed as "His Accidency" and not a full President.  But Tyler truly believed he was President and would not be cowed by Clay.  He was also, considering how much he mirrored Jackson in temperament and beliefs, very much an Active-Negative President.

The first veto - which came with the first bill, Clay's attempt to re-institute the National Bank - caught everyone off-guard.  When Tyler vetoed the same bill a second time, almost all of his Whig Cabinet resigned and he became the first President expelled from his own party.  None of that changed Tyler's Uncompromising nature.  That he failed to make deals with an opposition Congress should be no surprise.  That he became hated enough in his own right to be the first President to undergo an Impeachment vote in the House shouldn't be much of a surprise either: the vote didn't pass a simple majority anyway so the "honor" of being truly Impeached would have to wait a while longer.

I list Tyler as the Worst President for a few reasons, not a lot of them to do with his actual Presidency.  It has to do with his political stances on things like nullification and secession.  I'm also not a huge fan of his position on the annexation of Texas - a then-formed Republic out of its' rebellion against Mexico - because it became one more step and a pretty big step it was towards our Civil War.  Other politicians may have had a stronger hand in that effort - like the next guy on the list - but Tyler was a big proponent and it was in the final days of his administration that Texas merged with the United States... and that the issues with the Texas-Mexico border became an issue with the United States-Mexico border.  Thanks a bunch, Tyler, thanks a whole bunch.

One last thing: Tyler was a long-lived sonofabitch.  He lived long enough to support his home state of Virginia's decision to secede from the United States on the eve of Civil War.  And lived long enough to get voted into the Confederate Congress.  Of the histories of ex-Presidential behavior, few are as bitter and broken as Tyler's.  And there's my bias for you.

Next up: The Most Successful (Of Quantity But Not Much Quality) One-Termer Of All Time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Also, I Think The New Pope Never Watched Bill Murray Movies

I mean, seriously.  Who goes and gets himself elected Pope and then names himself Francis?

Because now every time this guy's gotta visit the United States, he's gonna get this:

And it's not like this guy had any tradition to follow.  There's no previous Popes by this name: there's been a ton of Gregorys, an army of Johns, enough Benedicts to feed a breakfast buffet, a surprising number of Clements, not enough Innocents, seriously not enough Eugenes (CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE)...  no, this guy's gotta go with a new name ready for mockery.  He could have gone with Urban, that's hip right now, or Lucius... no, he's gotta go with a name that's gonna be on Zazzle and CafePress t-shirts with "Lighten Up" right above the "Francis".

On the other hand, it's bound to give the actor playing Francis a boost in popularity on the IMDB website.

On a serious note, I'm not sure the Catholic Church did themselves any favors promoting a Cardinal opposed to same-sex couples adopting, considering that promoting adoptions overall promotes a pro-life message.

But what do I know.  I'm Unitarian: I didn't have a vote in the matter.

Schadenfreude Update: It's Been Awhile Since I Griped About Florida Politics, So Enjoy

So here I was all wrapped up in the Bucs' Free Agency period (we still need a Cornerback, Dom!), when news comes out this morning about this:

The Lieutenant Governor of Florida (akin to a Veep) Jennifer Carroll resigned from office this morning.

Apparently it was a pretty sudden move.  There was reportedly a state-wide gathering of Chamber of Commerce leaders she had to cancel out on (although her staff reported she had nothing on her calendar for today).

This has been an ongoing investigation, although it hadn't been dominating the local news much.  She'd been embroiled in a reported charity program that operated Internet Cafes: that Tampa Bay Times article goes into better detail:

Carroll's connections to Allied Veterans of the World, a Florida nonprofit that operates a chain of Internet sweepstakes cafes as a pseudo-charity for veterans.  The cafes sell Internet time for entries into sweepstakes on devices that resemble slot machines.
This week, close to 60 people associated with the company were arrested on various charges, including illegal gambling, racketeering and money laundering.
Carroll owned a public relations firm that represented Allied Veterans, and while a member of the Florida House of Representatives, did work for the company.  (Personal Note: it is legal for state legislators to have outside jobs, as the legislature is deemed part-time and paid as such.  Whether or not conflicts of interest arise from those jobs is another matter...) She later filmed an advertisement promoting Allied Veterans while serving as lieutenant governor...

You might notice a few keywords in that report: calling the nonprofit a "pseudo-charity" is one, another is selling sweepstakes via machines "resembling slot machines".  The big keyword is "racketeering": that's a heavy-hitting criminal charge, something only the Feds can break out as a prosecutorial weapon.

The investigation into Allied Veterans started in 2009, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.  Investigators said that Allied Veterans tried to scheme and defraud the public and governmental agencies by misrepresenting how much of its proceeds were donated to charities affiliated with Veterans Administration...
While serving in the state House in 2010, Carroll introduced legislation to legalize sweepstakes games such as those in cafes operated by Allied Veterans.  Carroll later withdrew the proposed law, saying it was filed erroneously (Personal Note: she also has a bridge near around Brooklyn she'd like to sell you) and that she wasn't interested in legalizing Internet cafes, which operate in a legal gray area...

This is mostly a delicious slice of schadenfreude, I admit it.  I'm no fan of Rick Scott (did you ever notice?), so anything that embarrasses his administration is a big win in my raging biased opinion.

For Carroll to quit a relatively meaningless job - like most Veeps, the Lt. Gov just kinda sits there - is still a big deal: as a woman and African-American (she was the first Lt. Governor African-American for Florida, the closest to the governorship ever), she was a prominent part of a Republican Party having serious problems getting Blacks and women to vote for the party.

It's not my place to speculate on an ongoing criminal investigation... but what the hell, I will.  That Carroll resigned pretty much right after state law enforcement officials interviewed her for a few hours is a big sign that the investigators had something serious on her.  That she was tied to a potentially criminal enterprise really isn't enough to force a resignation: there have been politicians at every level tied to even scuzzier elements working in "gray areas" of business that never resigned simply because of associating with the "wrong" people.  Until actual charges are filed, if ever, we might not know just what it was that convinced Carroll she needed to leave office.

That said, I am curious as to what kind of deal Carroll's lawyers are going to try to get for her.  Which is where the fun stuff can happen: if Carroll is tied in deep with Allied Veterans and that pseudo-charity is involved in massive fraud, Carroll's going to need some red meat to trade out a harsh jail time for a few months of community service and a 50 dollar fine.  Having been inside Rick Scott's circle for a few years... having been inside the Florida Lege for a few years, dominated by a self-serving pack of Republicans enjoying gerrymandered safe seats... Carroll's bound to have picked up on a few juicy goings-on behind office doors... hehehehehehehh...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

There Are Three Reasons This Should Be Illegal

This is NOT something I wanna be seeing this year or any other year, to be honest:
Everybody's talking up Jeb Bush for President 2016.



I've got Three Reasons This Should Be Illegal:

1) For the simple fact that NOBODY should be campaigning for an elected office so far down the calendar. I've railed a bit about this earlier, but I don't think I've gone into deeper discourse on it.  Campaigning outside of the particular year of election is one of the reasons why campaigning costs have gone up: effort requires revenue, so the longer the effort the more money is needed.  The more money is needed, the earlier candidates start with their fund-raising efforts to afford it all.  It's a vicious cycle in a way, especially for House congresspersons who have only two years of office and are nowadays spending more time and effort campaigning for the next election cycle than focusing on actual governance.  I've argued before there needs to be a time cap on this: all campaigning and fund-raising should only take place in the actual year of election for that office - in the case of Presidents, that fourth year of that cycle - which could go a long way to reduce the costs and thus the amount of money needed.  (It might also have the added bonus of forcing state primaries for the Presidency to be within a shorter time-frame, hopefully to just one nationwide day)

2) This is distracting from the fact we've got a President NOW who's fighting with Congress over God-Knows-Everything to get a) our economy on track b) sanity back into our taxing/revenue system and c) actually getting sh-t done for once (I swear Congress has gotten lazier than a husband getting ordered to take out the trash).   This game of "Who's Campaigning Now" seems to be a sad sick habit of our media who's more obsessed with personalities (aka "the buddies in our small circle of friends we'd like to see run the country because GOSH all Americans would LOVE our buddies!") than with policy (one word: too dry).  Even during 2016's campaign we should expect the talking head pundits to start gushing over a buddy they'd love to see run in 2020.  /headdesking times infinity  THIS HAS GOT TO END.

3) Nobody nowhere and at no time should ever discuss any member of the Bush dynasty for ANY political office.  NEVER EVER IN A MILLION GODDAMN YEARS.

I'm not a huge fan of Jeb Bush to begin with, I'll admit to that.  Having lived here in Florida, I've seen his handiwork - the push for vouchers (bad idea), the push for charter schools (proving to be a bad idea), the purging of voter rolls, the sick campaigning stance on the death penalty (this one hit close to home, though it wasn't as personal for me as it was and still is for the people who were directly affected... it's not something I think I have a right to talk about, not right now... anyway I digress), and about 50 other reasons why I'm horrified Jeb is even talked as a serious candidate.  

This is where Problem 2) becomes a problem again: these pundits have a personal connection to politicos like Jeb Bush, and so they can't see outside of their own circles why people could or would hate someone who's so "chummy".  These pundits think "oh, Jeb's a serious guy on education" when his track record has been destructive to Florida's educational system and to the kids.  They think Jeb can reach out to minority voters - especially Hispanics - but fail to realize that speaking Spanish and marrying a Latina is not outreach... and Jeb's track record on restricting voters' rights will turn off many Hispanics who see their own voting rights threatened by the current GOP.

Just being Jeb alone is a big reason why I hate him.  What will really hurt Jeb Bush's potential campaign is that last name.  His older brother George W. turned the name Bush into Mud.  Even five years after leaving office, Dubya remains a hideously unpopular ex-President (even Nixon wasn't this hated five years later).  All a candidate has to do is come up with a video ad using a picture of Jeb morphing into a picture of George W.  That's all.  And that would kill Jeb's campaign.  I'm talking a REPUBLICAN Primary candidate has to create this ad: even the GOP base would be turned off by having yet another Bush anywhere near the White House.  If a Republican opponent doesn't make that ad, you can be damned sure the Democratic candidate in the general election will: Hoover was the Democrats' whipping boy for two whole decades, for God's sake, and it worked because voters do have longer memories than the pundits realize.

So there.  Three Reasons.  If anyone starts talking up Jeb for 2016, you have my permission to arrest them.  I think you'll have permission from 185 million fellow Americans too.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Income Inequality

This is something that has been posted a few months back but only now is circulating the blogosphere:

The problem of income inequality in the United States has been with us for a long time: for at least the last ten years (if not the last thirty or more) wages have been frozen for most American workers, while the top one percent of the employment bracket (the CEO level) continued getting raises and bonuses and comp packages and Golden Parachutes (even when those CEOs were screwing up their companies: SEE the Twinkies company going down in flames while the executives paid themselves off).

Just to note: it used to be as recent as 1978 that executive (CEO) pay was only 35 times that of the average employee.  Today it's roughly 380 times, partly because average employee wages haven't grown but mostly because executives have been paying themselves (via friendly boards or manipulated systems) more and more without consequence (politicians are bought, media are bought, unions are crushed).

The argument for high wages for high-level jobs (like CEO, or high-priced attorney, or esteemed doctor) is that it motivates people to work and empower themselves to achieve great things: the carrot rather than the stick as it were.  While that is a valid argument, there's a question of "how much is really enough?"  At what point does GREED become too much of a motivating factor rather than equitable compensation for good effort?  Where's the sense of proportion when it comes to taking a $5 million bonus while 2,000 other employees of your company gets a wooden nickel each for working as hard or even harder than that CEO?

There ought to be a way to fix this in a fair and equitable manner.  I'd argue for a wage cap on CEOs tied to their employees: that CEOs of large companies be paid no more than 35 times (like in 1978) than their average non-administrative employees.  Said cap to be phased into action over a five-year period, dropping from 380 times to 150 times in Year One, to 98 times in Year Two, all the way down to that 35 times by Year Five.  In the meantime, require that the average wage of those non-admin employees to go up, as a way of making that "35 times more" deal for the upper management less painful (so that it would make the CEOs more like 50 times paid more if those employees hadn't gotten raises).

The math might not be there, I know.  But somehow we've got to raise the wages for a majority of working Americans out there.  And we've got to make CEOs less greedy (based on that video's report, that One Percent of the populus has got 40 PERCENT of the nation's money.  THE F-CK?!)

This isn't communism (something for nothing).  It might be socialism: forcing the richest to take less so that the poor can get more.  Except for the fact we're talking about improving the wages of poor WORKING Americans, not some "handouts" to a nebulous "moochers and takers" society.  But what's the alternative?  Doing nothing, sitting back and basking in the "It's all Capitalism baby learn to love it" belief system is not the solution... The current system is broken: there's no judge, no force of accountability against the GREED that's corrupted our financial institutions.

Seriously, what is the alternative to capping CEO wages?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Nine, He Won In One Respect

We simply cannot forget the man who served the shortest tenure as President of the United States.

William Henry Harrison.  "I died in 30 days!"

He's basically one of the easiest Presidents to remember in case of trivia games.

There are some historians who won't even review his Presidency much less put him on the unavoidable Best/Worst lists (Garfield, whose Presidency lasted at best six months, also gets excluded because the thought is he lacked impact).

Mind you, Harrison was still President long enough to physically kick Henry Clay out of the White House when Clay came calling about Spoils  - Jackson's legacy - and filling of government posts with his lackeys.  So that had to count towards SOMETHING when considering what kind of character Harrison would have used serving as President.

From what could be determined from his long inaugural speech given in wet cold early March weather - the source of the prolonged illness that developed into a deadly case of pneumonia - Harrison would have been something of an Active-Negative.  He had an agenda but felt the powers of the Presidency were - or at best should be - limited.  He argued, for example, that an amendment be added limiting a President to just one term fearing a Two-Termer aspires to monarchical powers (anti-Jacksonians accused Jackson of wanting to serve a third term and viewed Van Buren's tenure in such a light).  His refusal to bow to Clay and other Whig partisans seeking jobs via Spoils suggests he wouldn't have been Passive - malleable towards others - in his role.

But past that, there is honestly little else to say about William Henry Harrison as President.  Only that, with every new President sworn in, there's roughly 32 days that Harrison is no longer the shortest-serving.  Also that Harrison's death created a constitutional crisis that wouldn't be fully resolved until the passing of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment more than 100 years later.

Next up: This blogger's personal vote-getter for Worst President Ever.  Partly because everyone votes for Buchanan because he's too easy a target.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Simplest Reason Why Republicans Get the Blame For the Sequester

So why would Republicans get blamed by a majority of Americans if the Sequester comes to fruition?

My theory is that it's because the Sequester is exactly what the Republican wingnuts have been screaming about every time there's a Democrat in the White House.  Because it's large-scale spending cuts.  And the Republicans are on record for wanting large-scale spending cuts ("shrinking government down to where we can drown it in Grover's bathtub", remember?).

It may also have a bit to do with a majority of Americans thinking the deficits can be fixed with a combination of spending cuts AND tax increases on the uber-rich, something that Obama is pitching as his alternative to the Sequester whereas the Republicans insist on cuts ONLY.

So that's my thought on the Sequestration Crisis of 2013.  After this gets resolved, we should be ready for the Bad Budget Crisis of May 2013... then the Let's Force Obama To Veto a Crazy-Ass Bill and Impeach Him For It Crisis of July 2013... and then...