Saturday, August 31, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Thirty, The Passive Tense

The traits of Active and Passive for a President are pretty straightforward.  Actives are active in terms of pursuing goals, facing conflicts, getting things done.  Passives just kinda sit there: okay, I kid, but Passives react more to situations and sometimes not at all.

Which makes it odd that Passive-Negative Presidents ever get elected into office: Passives don't exactly pursue that kind of political career, and Negatives are uncertain if not despising of the powers of the office (they tend to be self-limiting in terms of what they do).  And yet, as James David Barber has noted in his work, we've had several: Washington, Eisenhower (more on him later), and today's special guest Calvin Coolidge.

In Washington and Eisenhower's cases, there are good reasons both of them ended up Presidents.  They were basically drafted to the job.  As Generals, they had experience of leadership that the nation sought them out to serve as leaders from the White House.  In Washington's case, he was the only man anyone would trust as President under the then-new Constitution: In Eisenhower's, he had led the nation's army on the great European battlefield of World War II with prudence and determination.

Why a P-N character would accept a nomination for the high office is due to their primary sense of Duty: if asked to serve, they would.  They may make good leaders especially in a military environment but only through consensus, adherence to procedure, and avoidance of internal conflicts (they act Withdrawn in public and sometimes even in private).  The next best thing about P-Ns is that they don't let all that power get to their egos.  Third best thing is that they tend to put decent men into key official positions (P-Ns are not seeking love, and tend to be immune to the suck-ups and con artists).  But the worst thing about P-Ns is that they tend not to think outside the box or show initiative, or plan ahead...

In Coolidge's case, it wasn't that he was drafted to be the President, it was that he got promoted instead.  With Harding's untimely demise, what had been a decent job placement for a Passive-Negative - the Vice-Presidency - got turned into the Top Job in the nation.  As befitting his character when Coolidge was woken at night and received word that Harding had died, Coolidge got dressed, called his father over (Coolidge was visiting home at the time) who served as a Public Notary, took the Oath of Office with his father, and then went back to bed.

As metaphors go, it was pretty apt.  Not so much that Coolidge slept through his entire administration, but that he went at his own slow pace.  Whereas Harding's administration was lively to say the least, Coolidge's was collected and quiet.  He could be a mean deadpan snarker when he had to be - Dorothy Parker reportedly tried to get him to say more than three words: Coolidge replied "You lose" - but if he didn't need to say anything he kept his mouth shut.

As President he believed in a hands-off approach to government: he let the private market take care of itself and restrained the federal public sector believing the states could do better.  He let foreign policy be managed by his Secretary of State Kellogg and economic domestic policy be managed by his Secretary of Commerce Hoover.  If he took anything seriously about executive authority he lent it to civil rights matters, pushing for anti-lynching laws and signing the Indian Citizenship Act which granted full citizenship rights to the native tribes.  He worked to defuse racial tensions, and during his tenure the Ku Klux Klan which had been rising in political power in the early 1920s had those gains reversed (albeit due to their own internal scandals and recklessness).

The most quoted statement Coolidge ever gave: "The chief business of the American people is business."

But that hands-off approach had its failings: the federal government's poor response to the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 and the failure to pass meaningful agricultural reform to help out poor farmers during the 1920s.  For someone who favored business and individual enterprise, Coolidge turned a blind eye to the farmers struggling to cope with falling market prices and growing debts.  The failing agribusiness industry would be one of the key contributors to the looming disaster awaiting the world in 1929...

As to what Barber noted about Coolidge in Presidential Character:

His philosophy helped him rationalize his leisurely pace.  His method was to concentrate on matters only the President had to decide, and to define that category as narrowly as possible.  Most everything could wait.  And Coolidge himself could wait, with utter unflappable calm, for longer than the last of his advisors.  He also managed to rationalize his independence of others; clearly his style in close interpersonal relations cut his off effectively from much of the Washington conversational froth - but also from any effective political bargaining with administrative or legislative or party leaders.  He was a loner who endured in order to serve, while the nation drifted... (p.172)

In terms of cleaning up the messes Harding left behind, Coolidge did a good job as President.  In terms of failing to keep an eye on the "business" of governance, Coolidge did a poor job keeping things safe for the poor bastard who had to follow him into office.

Next Up: That Poor Bastard.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Secret About White Voters

This was something I spotted on Think Progress earlier today:

...McAuliffe’s numbers among black voters are likely to improve as undecideds tune into the campaign, but right now he is not riding a groundswell of African-American enthusiasm. Instead, his relatively strong lead comes from a counter-intuitive Cuccinelli weakness: white voters.
In the simplest possible terms, Cuccinelli has a white voter shortage. Consider Romney’s performance in in the state in 2012 in what was, after all, a losing effort. Romney carried white voters by a very strong 23 points. By comparison, Cuccinelli only leads among whites by 8 in the Quinnipiac poll.
The mystery deepens when you break down the numbers even further. Among white college graduates, Cuccinelli is only breaking even (Romney won this group by 10 points). The difference can perhaps be explained by Cuccinelli’svery public identification with hardline social conservatism, though it’s hard to say for sure.
What’s really baffling is Cuccinelli’s underperformance with white working class voters, who tend to identify with more “traditional” moral values. In the Quinnipiac poll, Cuccinelli has a 16 point lead among these voters. This may sound good, but it is not remotely large enough for a GOP candidate to carry the state even allowing for the relatively favorable turnout patterns of an off-year election. Romney carried Virginia’s white working class by a whopping 44 points, and still wound up losing.
Cuccinelli may have assumed his far right economic and social positions would be catnip for Virginia’s white voters, especially the white working class. So far, that’s looking like a poor assumption...

The blogger Ruy Teixeira is wondering how candidate Cuccinelli - already a national name thanks to his grandstanding on climate change and pogrom against consensual sex acts - could be losing not just young white voters (as Millennials are proving more liberal at their young age than previous generational cycles) but also older more traditional white voters (the Angry White Guy Coalition).

Well, there's a little dirty secret about white voters that people seem to keep forgetting: well, you see white voters are not as monolithic a group of voters as the pollsters, hucksters, media elites and suckers think we are.

By comparison, let's look first at the major ethnic groups.  Blacks, as documented rather well, nowadays tend to vote entirely for Democrats: sure, there are notable exceptions of African-American conservatives, but they're honestly few and far between.  Blacks are by generational development more pro-government (for good reason), pro-voting-rights (for good reason), pro-public-works (which tends to focus on construction and urban development, both solid job markets).  On the political spectrum, a solid number of African-Americans would lean to the Liberal end, which is currently best represented by the Democrats.  But it's not so much that Blacks are whole-heartedly Democratic: it's that the Republican Party in its current form is so anti-government, anti-voting, anti-anything that it's driving away African-Americans (even moderate ones) to a near 93 percent (98 percent in major urban areas) population count.

Hispanics aren't as devout (that chart for Obama's results show 71 percent compared to Blacks' 93 percent), but still vote in large enough numbers for Democrats to make note (7 out of 10 is a very solid majority).  It's partly due to the Republicans' hard-right turn against immigration, but it also has to do with the Republicans' stance against government social services and health care.  Both are key issues to the Hispanic communities: Hispanics don't have the disdain for the public sector that the current Republicans do.  Where Hispanics can be more conservative on an individual basis, as a community they'll vote the community interests (La Raza as a social concept).  And community interests tend to lean more Liberal (shared resources, free or low-cost public education, health care, public works) than Conservative.  Which is one reason why the Republicans' failure to pass any immigration reform - which hurts the Hispanic community as a whole - is proving foolhardy...

Asians as a smaller percentage of the national population still vote much the way the Hispanic population does, voting for Obama in roughly the same 7 out of 10 percentage.  It doesn't help the GOP that Asians are also greatly affected by the failure of immigration reform.

Into all of this is the White voter bloc.  Other major ethnic groups - Blacks (9 out of 10), Hispanics (7 of 10), and Asians (7 of 10) - have definable voting blocs.  Whites?  While they're the only group to lean Republican,  it's a 59 percent to 39 percent split.  More like a 6 out of 10 vote, the weakest voting bloc by percentage out of the ethnic groups.

While White Americans share the largest overall numbers of the population, White voters overall don't follow clear voting habits: of the major ethnic groups, Whites have clear distinctions between Right, Moderate, and Left voting groups.  Part of it has to do with how little the White voters have at stake on certain issues, especially on immigration (Hispanics, Asians) and on voting rights and civil liberty issues (Blacks overcoming decades of Jim Crow and segregation).  Those issues can galvanize those ethnic groups like no other. Whites would get more worked up on issues like taxes and business regulation, which are more polarizing than galvanizing.  On issues shared between all ethnic groups - education and health care - again these are more polarizing due to their complexity, and while White voters may lean Conservative on those two issues they are not unilaterally inclined to do so.  There may be one issue where whites are more Conservative than others - gun ownership - but even then it's not as absolute a vote-getter as it's polarizing as any other issue.

There's another aspect of the dirty little secret about White voters: we're not as a group keyed to the idea about race conflict the way the GOP is preaching it.  Yes, there are a good number of Whites who take serious the "reverse racism" argument, but not a majority of whites do.  Left-leaning Whites clearly don't, and there are signs the Moderate White voting bloc won't as well:

...But if the GOP determines that its future lies with an all-out pursuit of whites, it might find an unwanted surprise. Some white voters, particularly young ones, won’t align themselves with a party that can’t attract support from Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians. To attract more white voters, the GOP, ironically, might first need to attract more minorities.
That’s the central dilemma of any plan to win with a nearly all-white coalition. As the minority share grows with each presidential election, Republicans would need to win a greater and greater percentage of the white vote to prevail. That challenge proved insurmountable last year, when Mitt Romney won nearly 60 percent of white voters and still lost... 
...Seventy-six percent of likely millennial voters, for instance, say immigrants make the country a stronger place, according to a July poll from the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Just 61 percent (Note: that's still a huge positive for immigration reform that the GOP is pissing off) of all likely voters agreed with that. “On a number of key issues, if the party appears to be intolerant of gays, minorities, or immigrants, it’s going to have trouble competing with this group,” says Michael Hais, a Democrat and a coauthor of the book Millennial Makeover...
...College-educated women and suburban moderates hold similar views. Both groups are more accepting of diversity, and they recoil at the notion of backing a party that doesn't encourage it. It’s a story that has played out in the GOP’s past, says Whit Ayers, a Republican pollster and immigration-reform advocate. The Republican Party’s perceived intolerance turned off voters who otherwise might have been drawn to the GOP on issues such as the economy and foreign policy. “It’s just like the white suburban women who were uncomfortable with politicians who used quasi-racist language,” he says. “They just don’t want to be associated with them.”

For all the crowing in the nation's media elites about America being a "center-right nation" or the counter-claim of it really being a "center-left nation", the ones making those distinctions keep focusing on the "right" and "left" and forgetting the "center" part.  The thing about the voters in the "center" (aka the Moderates): we tend to be open-minded, kinda the whole point of being moderate.  Moderates tend to be open-minded about voting rights and immigration reform, which as the GOP turns further to the Right on those issues will drive those Moderates away.  (Moderates also tend to vote for competency, a skill set the modern Republican lineup is failing at, but that's a divergent issue.  Just related, that's all).

To get back to the issue with Cuccinelli's failings in Virginia, I need to point out that while Virginia has a solid conservative voting base it's not a dominant one: the state isn't fully a Red State (Republican), it's voted Blue (Democratic) the last two elections for President and has voted for Democratic governors (2001, 2005) in its recent history during Republicans' national dominance (both governors now serve as U.S. Senators): Virginia tends to be considered a Purple state (in flux between two parties) far more than other states.

Cuccinelli is currently losing Virginia by about 6 percentage points behind a Democratic challenger - McAuliffe - who really isn't considered even by fellow Democrats to be the best possible choice for the Governor's seat.  That 6 percent difference is similar to the victory difference current Senator Tim Kaine won over his Republican challenger last fall.  And at this point in the election cycle (the governor vote is this November), it's not like Cuccinelli can rally even more Far Right voters who are already rallied for him to make up for that 6 percent difference: this is the point in the general election where the candidates have to appeal to the moderate/undecided voters.  But Cuccinelli's failures to lean more moderate on immigration (he noted he doesn't support amnesty, a key reform issue) doesn't help.

If Cuccinelli does fail in the Virginia election, it will be a big signal to the national Republican Party how their stance is failing with the moderate/centrist voters that are always key to any statewide/nationwide election (in gerrymandered congressional districts, independent votes tend to get wasted).  The Republican leaders - Limbaugh, Fox Not-News, and other non-elected types - always argue that they've lost the last big elections - 2008, 2012 - because the candidates were too moderate.  They won't be able to argue that with Cuccinelli: he's not moderate on anything, there's no way to disguise that.  And while this is a state-level election, the national interest in the campaign during a key mid-term period - especially as it's drawing in fund-raisers across the nation - will draw a lot of dissection and truth-seeking.

That Cuccinelli is "losing" the White Vote - he's actually losing a sizable bloc of it - isn't the reason I took notice of that Think Progress article.  It's that the Republican Party is losing that voting bloc.  I'm starting to feel a little hopeful about 2014...

I'm With Mistermix and Balloon Juice On This One: If We Wanna Help Syria...

The current situation with Syria is that, sadly, there's still fighting going on.  The U.S. plan to target certain Syrian facilities hit a snag with the British Parliament - burned by the lies over Iraq, thank you very much Dick Cheney - voting against military action, which means the international political cover isn't there... unless Obama decides to push for NATO or UN (very unlikely, as Russia might balk) or even wonder of wonders CONGRESSIONAL support.

But in the meantime, Mistermix over on Balloon Juice made this observation:

Food, water, shelter and sanitation for refugees is nowhere near as sexy as war, so this is getting little attention. If, as Juan Cole recommends, Obama decides to pivot and move to diplomacy after losing British support, focusing on the plight of refugees and using our airlift to send them aid would be smart politics as well as good policy.

This makes absolute perfect sense.  If we're supposed to be doing this on humanitarian grounds, focus on the humans first and foremost.  Get food and shelter and medical help to the refugees right now, Mr. President.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Personal Notes: Things To Do For Labor Day Weekend

1) Sleep.
2) Get some writing done.  Usually I'd be doing the 3-Day Novel Contest, but the stress of doing that actually exacerbated my writer's block, so a more leisurely do-it-my-own-pace would suffice.
3) Sleep.
4) Vacuum the floor.  Haven't done it in three months.  My bad.
5) Sleep.
6) Get Calvin Coolidge's Presidential Character profile done.  I figure there's 1,000... uh 100... okay seven of you eager to see what his trait will be.
7) Eat.  Can't sleep all the time.

What about you all?  Any plans for the long weekend?  The Comments section is relatively open (just no Chinese spam, my writing blog site got hit real bad with that, and nobody bought my ebooks... :(  ) so go ahead and drop some wisdom.

Also, if anyone in the New York City area knows a good bookstore that likes hosting relatively unknown authors for event/signing/reading/D&D campaigning (I'll have to roll a new character, haven't played in ages), lemme know in the Comments section or email me.  Danke.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Anniversary: I Have a Dream And What It Means Today

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom that took place back in 1963 (seven years before I was born).  One of the largest protests formed in American history - with roughly 200,000 to 300,000 in attendance - it was a combination of two major issues: civil rights and economic rights.  .

When Reverend Martin Luther King Jr spoke, it wasn't immediately recognized in the papers even though the television coverage gave it a lot of attention.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today! 
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. 
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: 
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring! 
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true...

And so where are we 50 years later?

In terms of social equality across the board, we're not there yet.

In terms of economic equality, given the Great Recession we're in, we as a whole nation - white, black, Hispanic, Asian, native, man, woman - are royally screwed if we're not in the upper 1 Percent bracket.

In terms of electoral equality, we as a nation and blacks and Hispanics and the college-age and a lot of women are well and truly screwed.  The Supreme Court just defanged the Voting Rights Act and a good number of states - North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, FloridaSouth Carolina and even Pennsylvania now for God's sake - where the social conservatives (aka Far Right Republicans) hold all the power are going out of their way to make it harder for people to vote using arguments about voting fraud that have no evidence.

In terms of day-to-day, the crime of Walking While Black has led to Fourth Amendment violations and in some cases open hunting season.

In terms of America becoming the great nation it keeps telling itself it can be, we're still stuck where we were 50 years ago.  Electing a black man to the Presidency seems like another country now, doesn't it.

We can be better than this if we as a nation can give up the hate and fear that's driving a lot of the wingnut bullsh-t.  We're living a dream that's all wrong, more nightmare than hope.  We as a nation have got to wake up from that.  It doesn't have to be a dream: it has to be just freaking common sense and decency.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Nine, Keep Your Friends Close Your Enemies Closer and Your Cronies Out of the Cabinet

A Friend Helps You Move.  A True Friend Helps You Move the Bodies. - Old Cardassian Proverb

Being President means being a leader of Men (in the plural gender neutral sense).  A leader of Men needs to be a good judge of Character, in order to grant authority to those working for him to do the best job possible.

So what happens when someone who's a terrible judge of Character gets the job of the Presidency?

We've seen earlier cases where Presidents proved a terrible judge of those serving under him: Grant in particular, with possible candidates in Madison and Pierce.  U.S. Grant's two-term administration was filled with questionable talent, cronyism, and corruption.  James Madison's Cabinet failed managing the War of 1812.  Franklin Pierce's was filled with pro-slavery elements that drove the nation further into division rather than compromise (and any administration with Jefferson Davis serving in it can't be called "the best and brightest").

Warren G. Harding topped them all in terms of setting up an administration brimming with corruption.  Even Grant, which honestly took some doing.  Harding's Passive-Positive character traits was one contributing factor: to be fair, being Pass-Pos doesn't automatically create a corrupt administration.  Taft's was relatively scandal-free and lacking in cronyism, and while Madison and Pierce presided over weak administrations corruption didn't make them that way.

What set Harding at the bottom of the heap was the man himself adhering to questionable behavior.  While Harding never profited from some of the largest scandals under his tenure, he was a hard-drinking womanizer creating a code of behavior that trickled down through the rest of his White House.  When the boss behaves a certain way, the others under his command tend to behave that way too.  Other Pass-Positives at least had the forgiving habit of maintaining scruples which added to their personal appeal.  Harding had to throw in some of the self-destructive habits of the Active-Negatives to boot.

A most appropriate and direct indictment of Harding comes on p. 222 of James David Barber's Presidential Character (the reference on which these reviews are based):

Advanced to the Presidency, Harding turned out to be venial only in his personal search for fraternal conviviality and sexual relief.  There were thieves all around him, but he did not steal.  Still, he could not face up to the spreading rot of his government - probably could not quite see it, because his attention was so heavily in the service of his need to believe his friends were really friends...

Harding achieved the Presidency as the compromise candidate of a Republican Party eager to win office after the disaster of Woodrow Wilson's second term.  The post-war mood of the nation has usually tended towards the need for "normalcy" and the Republicans sought to provide it.  Of the political bosses controlling the back rooms of the nominating convention, Harding quickly became the favorite: well-liked, media savvy (as a newspaperman, he had a solid sense of journalism, both tabloid and professional), and eager to help out his friends.  Basically easing into the job through one of the biggest popular vote landslides in American history (garnering 60 percent of the vote), Harding had it made.

Like other Pass-Positives, Harding filled his Cabinet with allies and cronies not truly suited to their jobs: Daughtery, the man who got him the nomination, asked for and got the Attorney General's seat; Albert Fall was first suggested for the State department but external opposition drove him over to the Interior; Charles Forbes was put in charge of Veterans Affairs.  With Fall you get the Teapot Dome Scandal, in scale of corruption and criminality topped only by Watergate itself; with Forbes you get a man who embezzled $225 million and wasted millions more; with Daughtery you get a Justice Department refusing to investigate complaints of criminal behavior, instead hiring questionable persons to investigate critics of the administration, and also getting charged with accusations of bribery, kickbacks and more.

To be fair, Harding put into office qualified men who ran their departments with skill, especially the likes of Herbert Hoover at Commerce, Charles Dawes as the first-ever Budget Director, and Charles Evans Hughes at State.  As a result, Harding's administration presided over a period of effective economic reform and foreign policy initiatives that would make an Active-Positive President green with envy.  Having worked as a key U.S. Senator to get the 19th Amendment passed for women to vote, having released political prisoners rounded up during Wilson's Red Scare period, and being the most vocal proponent against Jim Crow segregation since Roosevelt (he pushed for an anti-lynching bill that died in the very Southern-conservative Senate), Harding gained the reputation of civil rights advocacy that should impress progressives to this day.

But it was Harding's Ohio Gang (which hated the nickname because not every member was from Ohio) that would mark his Presidency... and Harding quickly realized it as the corruption exploded within his administration.  One of the Ohio Gang's lackeys had committed suicide just before Harding's boat trip to Alaska, and Harding had suddenly invited Hoover to join him for the trip.  While Harding recognized Hoover publicly and privately as one of his most competent allies, the two were not close personally: Hoover too religious and clean-cut compared to Harding's fast-living style.  During the trip, Harding continued to get notices from the White House about various rumors and reports, and:

Finally, on the boat sailing toward Alaska, he asked...Hoover to come to his cabin. The President asked, "If you knew of a great scandal in our administration, would you for the good of the country and the party expose it publicly or would you bury it?" Hoover replied, "Publish it, and at least get credit for integrity on your side." ...Hoover asked what relation Harry Daughterty...had to the affair.  At that point Harding abruptly cut off the conversation and never resumed it... (Barber, p. 210)

Harding also said to fellow traveler and journalist William Allen White "I have no trouble with my enemies.  I can take care of my enemies all right.  But my damn friends, my God-damn friends, White, they're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!" (same pg).

It was on this trip that Harding suffered from food poisoning, a heart attack, and finally a fatal stroke that ended his life in 1923.  The suddenness of the death caught a lot by surprise, and because the scandals haunting Harding had not yet become public, the nation mourned an incredibly popular President (think Reagan at the height of his popularity and add a bucket of happy puppies to get a good idea how popular Harding was).  Six months later the scandals started spilling out and Harding quickly became the second-most unliked President of the 20th Century.  Talk about a fate worse than death for a Passive-Positive.

Next Up: Bet We Can't Make This Guy Say More Than Three Words.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

When Politics Fails There's Always Impeachment

The summer recess that Congress takes is ostensibly done to allow the Congresspersons to head back to their districts and host Town Halls in order to shill their agenda and let the local voters vent on the issues of the day.  Venting also means a lot of crazy talk gets thrown out there for public consumption.  It gives the nation a chance to see which direction Teh Crazy wants to go.

The talk this summer has been split between how EVIL OBAMACARE IS (even though its' current implementation is winning people over), and how soon Congress will vote to impeach Obama out of office:

...And Republican politicians … well, their strategy (as Joan Walsh details in a nice item summing up these episodes) is all over the place. So we have Ted Cruz calling it a “good question” but noting that there just aren’t the votes in the Senate to convict; one member of the House saying that the votes are there in the House, but not in the Senate; another saying it would be a “dream come true” but that they just needed the “evidence”; and Sen. Tom Coburn saying that Obama is “perilously close” to impeachment.
Well, the answers are all over the place in one sense, but in another they are all actually pretty similar: None of them dismissed the idea out of hand. None of them simply said that impeachment is an extreme remedy for only the most serious malfeasance in office, and as wrong as they believe Barack Obama has been on matters of public policy, and as bad a president as they believe he has been, there’s absolutely nothing out there remotely in the neighborhood of an impeachable offense.
That’s what any responsible elected official would do...
I'd been wondering, since the 2010 midterms, when the Republicans would just jump straight into "Impeach Obama" Mode.  I honestly thought for awhile there they wouldn't even wait for an excuse and just go straight to the vague accusation of "high crimes": I keep saying, half in jest, that they'd impeach over how Obama ties his shoelaces.  So I ended up being wrong about how eager the Republicans were to use impeachment: in hindsight it made more sense for them to stick to obstructing government as it cost them less politically, and it meant they didn't have to work twice as hard (since impeaching means that, you know, they had to show up and do stuff when they'd rather be off yachting or golfing or both).
However, the talk has popped back up again.  Partly because of the faux controversies that Congress tried to stir up over Benghazi (a disaster that turned out to do more with Congress' refusal to fund adequate embassy security) or the IRS investigating Tea Party groups (it turned out to be internal overreach caused by confusing tax code distinctions between non-profits and PACs that investigated a lot of groups on both sides: worse, it also turned out members of Congress knew about it before Obama ever did).  Mostly because Obama's now a Second-Termer who won a solid majority for the second time and thus legitimate in the eyes of majority voters, in the face of constant reminders by the Far Right Noise Machine that Obama is a Secret Muslim Socialist Kenyan Racist Terrorist.  In short, the Far Right voters have been told enough times that Obama is illegitimate: now they want Congress to do something about it.

...But the second thing all these answers appear to have in common is actually even more astonishing and irresponsible: None of these politicians seem to feel any need to actually discuss the grounds for impeachment. At best there’s some hand-waving around the minor scandals of the last year, but for the most part it’s just assumed that impeachment is what Republicans normally do to Democratic presidents, just because.
The conclusions? Bill Clinton wasn’t impeached over sex (what Democrats believe) or over perjury (what Republicans claim); he was impeached because he was a Democrat in the White House. That’s enough...
...Part of the explanation: There are no core “conservative” ideas for these politicians to embrace, ideas that would allow them to successfully fight back against charges that they are squishes or “RINOs.” It’s not ideology; it’s partisanship...
So will we get an actual impeachment? On the one hand, it does seem that one positive lesson Republican congressional leaders did learn from the Newt Gingrich years is that a pointless impeachment without the votes to convict was a pretty bad idea. On the other hand, what Republicans also seemed to have learned from Newt is that impeachment is pretty much the normal punishment to administer to a president you don’t like much...
Impeachment is growing likelier, not because of anything Obama's done - and on some issues Obama's losing his base, such as the NRA warrantless wiretapping, but it's doubtful the Far Right will go after him on that as they like the idea of a surveillance state - but because the House Republicans have painted themselves into the corner on the issue.  They've spent so long working up their base into thinking Obama is this great evil that mere obstruction of policy or budgeting may no longer appease that base.  Some of the party leaders are already facing primary challenges from party members further to the Right than the leadership: in order to secure their Far Right bona fides they may well encourage or at least condone a lot of the nastier political scheming to bear fruition.

When Congress gets back, the House is expected to work on an immigration reform bill (most observers think it's dead, half because of the issue and half because there are more major issues to confront), and on a budget resolution to overcome the current sequester, and then most likely face another Debt Ceiling hike resolution.  On any of these points, the Republican Far Right are expected to hold a No-Compromises line, either against Obama's call for a tax hike on upper incomes (the top 5 percent), Obama's call for tax reform to close costly loopholes, and/or funding ObamaCare (the Far Right wants to kill it but since their 40 repeal votes never went anywhere, defunding it is their next worst solution).  Obama's not likely to budge on any of those counts either, especially on the "defund ObamaCare" part, so I'm half-expecting the House to vote for impeachment when those votes comes up and Obama and the Democrats turn the GOP down.

If any of the readers here have been tracking my year-long review of Presidential Character (based on James David Barber's work), you'd notice the few times impeachment ever came up as an issue.  Congress talked impeachment only rarely: in a case like John Tyler (when Tyler seemed to betray the Whig Party on a personal level); and in a case like Andrew Johnson (when party foolishness put a Democrat in the line of succession, leaving a Radical Republican Congress to reach for any excuse to purge him).  The impeachment process against Tyler went nowhere because the Whigs couldn't garner enough votes in the House: the impeachment against Johnson came one vote shy of success, which historians still argue was the closest we'd ever gotten to a political coup in our nation's history.  Both times, impeachment was used as a means to remove a President simply because of ideological conflict: neither one really broke the law (technically Johnson broke the Tenure of Office Act, but that law was specifically written against him, and the courts ruled it unconstitutional), they both were radically opposed to what Congress wanted.

This is the danger of impeachment: meant to be a tool to remove a powerful political figure that might otherwise be above the law, impeachment has rarely been used as such (only once).  It's gotten to where impeachment is not talked about as in the nation's best interests: it's in the interests of the radicals in charge of whichever party is in Congress in opposition of the sitting President.  It's worse when the radicals in charge are convinced there would be no political blow-back for what they do.  It's even worse when those same radicals - some of them still around from when they last tried this with Clinton - try the same damn trick near 12 years later.  It's like they totally forgot that SNL skit of ousted leaders Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston going "what the hell happened?"

As a secondary thought, it was surprising that the apparent issue of craziness - immigration reform - turned out to be a bit of a dud with the public.  The Far Right tried to host a few rallies here and there but a lot of them had a ton of no-shows.  While the Tea Partiers could raise a fuss over healthcare reform and tax reform, they couldn't get their base out to rail against The Other. It didn't help the GOP that the noisiest anti-immigrant voices like Rep. Steve King of Iowa jumped straight into some stupid racist comments that painted the Far Right's side in a bad light.  It may be that most of the GOP voters have an understanding of how complex, how human, the immigration debate can be...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Off-Topic: Tampa Gets The Comic Con They Deserve

(Update 8/1/14: I may be getting visitors looking for the 2014 con.  This post is from 2013, so just to warn you this is more past than present.  I *will* blog about this year's con after 8/2, so please come on back y'all)
For the first time in recent memory, the organizers of the Tampa Bay Comic Book Convention finally got the convention center downtown to host for a weekend.

Previous cons in Tampa had either been at a hotel out near the International Airport or at a mid-sized warehouse kind of place in St. Pete.  They hadn't been at an actual, large-sized, "hey-there's-room-for-an-artist-alley-INSIDE-the-con-for-once" facility whose purpose is to, you know, handle conventions.

I mean, I've done MegaCon in Orlando.  They've been at the convention center out there (one wing out of three, in fact: Orlando still outsizes Tampa for convention floorspace, sad to say) for ages, at least since the mid-90s I believe.  I've done library conventions at New Orleans and San Francisco and Chicago and San Diego and San Antonio... they've been at the convention halls, using the hotels for extra conference meetings and stuff.  I'm just saying, for once it was NICE to be at a Tampa Comic Con that was, yeah, at a Con.

Warning: some of the pictures are blurry.

One good thing about having a job this year: I can afford getting an autographed George "Crowd Scene" Perez print!  WOO-HOO! (link to print image, which was recolored to get all the background heroes done right)

It's F-CKING GEORGE PEREZ!  (and some fat Batman guy who's not Ben Affleck)
There were an unusually large number of Banes (one had a speech balloon claiming "I will break Ben Affleck") walking around at the con... and so I had to stop a few of them and chide them for the havoc they caused at last season's Super Bowl.  This one had a good reply:
(in Tom Hardy's WTF voice): "Be grateful I allowed such beautiful singing during half-time, before my reckoning!"
Meanwhile, in the foyer:

One of these days I'm gonna need to get a costume together, see if I get stopped twenty times a minute to get a picture taken...

All apologies to Kaylee for the fuzzy picture, though.  I like Cosplay Kaylees: they're always girls with the nicest smiles...

So that was my day today.  How was yours?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

We Need More Than Encouragement, We Need Assistance If We're Relocating People To Where the Jobs Are

The sluggish economy is still a big issue, despite Congress' and the media's inertia on the matter.

One problem has been the fact that some regions of the nation are free of the ravages of the Great Recession, and have healthy employment numbers with sizable job markets... but lack the numbers of people willing or able to live in those markets and fill those jobs.

Yglesias' article on the matter jumps straight into the numbers:

In the metropolitan area centered around Yuma, Ariz., the Bureau of Labor Statistics believes that the unemployment rate is a terrifying 31.8 percent. Just a bit west is El Centro, Calif., with America’s second-highest jobless rate—23.6 percent. Yuba City and Merced, both also in inland California, come next, with unemployment rates of over 14 percent.
Drive about 800 miles north of Yuma and you’ll come to another small metropolitan area, centered around Logan, Utah, where conditions are very different. In the Logan area, the unemployment rate is just 4.6 percent. It’s as if the full employment economy of the late 1990s were still in swing, while Yuma’s joblessness is worse than the Great Depression.
Lack of mobility is hardly the cause of macroeconomic distress in the United States. But it’s not helping. And it turns out that the population has grown more moving-averse over time. This aversion appears to be particularly concentrated among the native-born working class and especially men—not coincidentally the precise group that has suffered the most severe downward pressure on wages.

Part of the reasons for the lack of relocation is that the ones hardest hit by the Recession - the middle-class families - are tied down by various obligations: homes they can't sell "above water" (home values haven't returned to what they were back in 2007 when the crash hit) are big obligations.

Yglesias takes the opportunity to point out how mobility in previous economic cycles actually helped the economy:

But the existence of good reasons not to move doesn’t explain the decline in mobility. Back in 1985 over 20 percent of the population moved. That number fell steadily to 11.6 percent in 2011 before ticking back up to 12 percent last year. What’s more, even if you just look at interstate moves, a lot of the shifting doesn’t appear to be related to a search for employment...  This is bad for unemployed people in Rhode Island and Nevada who perhaps could be getting work in Vermont and North Dakota. But it’s also bad for the broader economy. An outflow of unemployed people from high-joblessness regions would reduce pressure on state and local budgets. And in the low unemployment areas, the arrival of more workers wouldn’t just fill job openings. Their presence would make local labor markets more efficient and would spur investment, as the new workers need places to live, places to shop, and tools to work with. That in turn increases demand for goods and services nationally as regions that produce capital equipment or primary commodities get a boost.

In some respects, it would be in our nation's interests to get some funding going to 1) help families relocate to jobs, 2) help families pay down mortgages on homes so they can afford to sell the homes as part of the relocation effort and 3) help communities with sizable job openings entice relocators and provide social services to help families adjust to the moves.

So, of course, Congress ain't doing much on this because it doesn't help them repeal ObamaCare for the 42nd time.


If the voters of this nation had any collective common sense, they'd vote into office in the 2014 midterms politicians sworn to pass jobs bills.  Any jobs bills for our returning veterans would help.  Any jobs bills fixing our broken bridges would help.  Any jobs bills helping families move to where the jobs are would help.

Um, Hi

So I head off to work this morning, come back later this evening with an idea of linking to Matt Yglesias' article about the need to get unemployed people to relocate to where the jobs are, log in to my blog here...

...and run into a stat count jumping up to 987 or so views in just one day.  I dunno if I can screen capture the graph chart, maybe I should... here, done.  The thing is, it's like a sudden cliff on the rippling shore of my regular 12-20 views-a-day traffic.

What happened is that one of the bloggers at Crooks and Liars - hi, Mike! - did a blog round-up and included the blog article I wrote on Woodrow Wilson's Presidential Character as one of the links.


I mean, I figure C & L gets 983 views in a few minutes or so, but I've honestly never had that many viewers in one day.  The most traffic I got in one week was the entry on the state of Florida Amendments for 2012 (the Big No one) and even that was barely 150 within that week.  And that was during the election cycle, when there was a ton of people looking for anything online about the state referenda (including a lot of traffic from Japan, wow).

Mike, I take back what I said earlier.  You can send me all the Nigerian 419 emails you want.

To everyone else visiting this blog for the first time... Hi!  Don't mind the loose papers everywhere, I'm just organizing my disorganized... um... stuff.

EDIT: I think Mike linked to me because of the nice Woodstock anniversary entry I wrote last week on Jimi Hendrix's view of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Egypt and Syria and the Mess of the Middle East

There's serious concern about Syria's troops under Assad using chemical weapons, reports are now up to thousands of civilians dead.  Considering the use of chemical weapons is a dire matter, if the reports pan out the United States and NATO (with neighboring Turkey coping with the stress of it all) will be under even greater pressure to take direct action.

Egypt is undergoing another round of violence between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Middle East remains a total mess.

It'd be nice to see an end to the violence and bloodshed, an end to the hate between nations and tribes.

But outside of just putting up massive barricades everywhere and cutting off the supply of weapons to the region, how the hell can you fix it?  Besides, people will figure out how to get around those barricades.  And worse, people will figure out how to smuggle in weapons, especially when the biggest gun dealers on the planet happen to be the permanent members - USA, Russia, China, France and UK - of the UN Security Council, and there's money to be made in war.  The dollars, always the dollars...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Eight, Few People Are As Dangerous As an Idealist As President

Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America, my fellow citizens — I do not say it in disparagement of any other great people — America is the only idealistic Nation in the world.  - Woodrow Wilson
I've spoken before about -isms.  I'm not a huge fan of -isms: a political (sometimes philosophic, but often at odds with actual philosophy) worldview that tends towards absolutist, nothing-can-fail belief.  Libertarianism, Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, Monarchism, Nationalism, Anarchism, they've all got flaws and yet to even point that out brings out the True Believers railing against your Blaspheme.  Even Pragmatism has its issues (yeah, I went there.  Deal with it).

Idealism - in this definition a belief in a high-value ideal (something flawless or perfect) that is at odds with the real world - is one of the worst beliefs a national leader can hold.  It may seem nice to have an Idealist in charge, someone with a high moralistic bent eager to forge a better world, but given the day-to-day struggles and compromises that make governance work an Idealist in the White House can quickly lead to broken government and shattered lives.

When I first read James David Barber's Presidential Character book, I was amazed that he had placed Woodrow Wilson in with the Active-Negative crowd.  This was years ago, in college during one of my Poli Sci classes I needed to take for my Journalism degree.  I was operating with the knowledge gleaned from high school textbooks: textbooks that merely summarized history, not provided better detail or context or enlightenment.  Textbooks that pointed to Wilson as a Great Man, desirous of peace after a disastrous world war, felled by rivals who were slighted by his foreign policy vision.

Barber (pg. 48-57 mostly, 4th ed.) provided better detail and context: Wilson-As-Idealist made him straight-up Uncompromising, a key component of A-N behavior.  For someone as learned as Wilson was - the only President to be a PhD, and the first President to genuinely study politics and public administration as a career - he did little research nor show much respect for facts and knowledge outside of his argument.
Things that Wilson were: Wilson was a trained orator and debater, visiting lecturer and professor at various colleges before settling down at Princeton, an avid sports fan.  He was also uncompromising to the Nth degree:

Wilson was no blundering bully; part of his persuasive power was that he put his case so well. But he could not brook opposition at close quarters. He wanted agreement, support, allegiance - not controversy...  As Colonel House, writing before his break with Wilson, explained, the President "finds great difficulty in conferring with men against whom, for some reason, he has a prejudice and in whom he can find nothing good." (pg.50-51)

This was someone who wrote in his doctoral thesis turned book Congressional Government about how the U.S. Constitution's model of checks and balances were flawed: that power divided between the legislature (Congress) and executive (President) created a nation lacking accountable leadership.  Wilson abhorred compromise, the currency of governance in a working federal system: things were either Right or Wrong, and the Right Way the only way.  He felt the President could, should serve as a parliamentary leader with a compliant Congress running under the President's majority party.  This was someone unprepared to deal with a Congress that was by law and practice separate from the Presidency...

In terms of the era, Wilson was part of the Progressive period that saw more political reform over its 20 year run - from Roosevelt to Taft to Wilson - than our nation had seen in nearly 200 years.  During this era we had amendments reforming our taxation to a progressive income tax (16th), an amendment to directly elect senators (17th), an amendment allowing women the vote (19th).  There was also an amendment prohibiting alcohol (18th), the grandest attempt yet by idealists looking to cleanse the nation of the sin of drunkenness, but it was an overreach into social behavior that no law could uphold, leading to future politicians to repeal the 18th with the 21st.  Wilson had a hand in some of these amendments (he supported suffrage), stood against a few others (he vetoed the Volstead Act enforcing Prohibition but was overridden), but basically presided over the culmination of efforts that defined the age.

Wilson also finished a decade-long effort to resolve the economic woes our nation suffered over the struggles of national banks, gold standard vs. silver, and the deep cycles of Depressions and Panics.  The formation of the Federal Reserve System - in response to the Panic of 1907 - was finalized under Wilson's direction.  In these respects, Wilson had a long-standing impact on the nation's well-being.

Wilson's greatest failing wasn't the first World War.  As President he did his duty to answer the nation's needs first: and the nation didn't need to go to war when it started in 1914.  As President he did his duty when it became clear by 1917 that Germany wasn't going to let the United States perform "business as usual" trying to trade with nations (Great Britain) at war against Germany (to be fair to Germany, U.S. neutrality excused a lot of material - non-military but stuff like food and medical supplies - getting shipped to England that helped keep that nation fighting).

No, Wilson's greatest failing was managing the peace that followed the armistice (Ironic in that Wilson wanted to be a peacemaker: he had seen the aftermath of war in the Reconstruction Era and understood the costs). He decided on making a direct effort to press his Fourteen Points - his peace plans to ensure no more world wars - and did so with a naive belief he could debate his point of view to successful solution.

Wilson failed to realize the level of enmity France had against Germany - stemming from the disastrous war of 1870 that humiliates France to this day (much of the "surrender" mockery comes from how swiftly a newly forged German nation stomped on a larger, more historically significant French nation) - and also failed to realize how eager the UK and France were to keep their overseas empires afloat (and expand by taking over German/Austrian/Ottoman remnants).  An idealistic man not used to compromise was forced by the reality of dealing with global leaders on equal footing as his to give up on Point after Point he tried to establish as part of the peace process.  It didn't help that Wilson fell ill during the trip and wasn't physically capable of arguing his position with a vengeful French leadership.  He clung to his last Point - the formation of a League of Nations to use diplomacy to enforce peace between nations - as a long-term fix for the Points he had to give up.

But because Wilson's Fourteen Points were used as an argument for Germans to end the war, the Germans were angered by the betrayal when France's aims - to break German military might and impose War Guilt on them (when it really should have fallen to Serbia and Austria) - became the foundation of the Treaty of Versailles.  That would be the beginning of national anger that would come back to bite the whole world on its collective ass...

The bigger problem came from back here at home.  When Wilson went overseas, he did so on his own terms and with his own people.  At no time did he consult with the Senate - the body that has to ratify any treaties - and it was a Senate that happened to be held by the Republican Party.  When Wilson returned, it was to face Henry Cabot Lodge, his arch-nemesis and the one man determined to stick it to Wilson in the worst way.

Lodge was not an Isolationist - someone who believed the United States should just stay out of meddling in foreign affairs - but he benefited from a strain of that movement that railed against the League of Nations as threatening national sovereignty (the fear of the New/One World Order we see today).  Lodge also benefited from the fact that Wilson had no idea how to forge a consensus among his own political allies in the Senate and Congress: the Democrats were hopelessly divided among themselves on the Treaty, giving Lodge ample working room to keep Wilson from getting his Treaty and League of Nations passed.

Wilson, ever convinced of the Righteousness of his cause, and convinced he could use his oratory skill by speaking directly to the people, decided to go on national tour rather than deal with a Congress he couldn't control, speaking wherever he could to argue for his peace plan... and driving himself pretty much into frail health, leading up to a devastating stroke that would incapacitate him for the rest of his failed second term.

In hindsight, some of Wilson's beliefs spoke true.  He was right in the long run that the United States could not afford to be isolationist, that our failure to join a League that our own President designed would leave it weakened and incapable of stopping the wave of fascism, military adventurism, and empire-building that would consume the globe by the 1930s.  Wilson's problem was that he couldn't even comprehend how other people could oppose him on that, and couldn't figure out ways to deal on the issue.

Wilson believed in the Great Man theory of history: that a will to perfection embodied in one all-powerful leader would guide a grateful nation onto the proper track of history.  He never understood what the Founders understood: it takes a nation (made up of Men and States) to build a nation, and that meant getting 120 million or so Americans (at the time of Wilson's tenure) to agree on something for better or worse.

And yeah, don't get me started on Wilson's terrible civil rights record.  Partly from Wilson's own personal beliefs (born in Virginia and coming of age during Reconstruction) which read today looks a lot like patronizing ignorance: and partly from the fact that Wilson was the first Democrat in the White House since Cleveland and so filled his Cabinet with far too many Southern Democrat segregationists as a means of promoting future party leadership.  That's not even going into the first Red Scare this nation ever saw under the Palmer Raids.

Next up: A President Whose Worst Enemies Were His Closest Drinking Buddies

Edit: To all the visitors coming in via Crooks & Liars, welcome.  Please check all the other Presidential Character entries, and peruse the blog as you like.  You can leave comments too.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Anniversary: I Thought It Was Beautiful

It's that time of the year, kids!  It's WOODSTOCK ANNIVERSARY TIME!

And this time, we're letting Jimi do the talking:

"Unorthodox...?  I thought it was beautiful."

Take a listen.  Hendrix wasn't classically trained, barely could read a sheet a music.  He played completely by ear, by feel.  It's why he re-tunes the guitar as he plays it, because he hears something a bit off and wants it fixed then and there.

Critics tend to think Hendrix played a bombastic version of the song as a commentary on the violence of war in Vietnam, but remember what he said to Dick Cavett: "I thought it was beautiful."  He played it... plays it that because he hears it that way.

And to Jimi it's beautiful.

Losing Egypt

I wrote earlier this year during the early stages of the Morsi ouster that no one - not the U.S., not NATO, not the Middle East, not the Egyptian general, not the Egyptian politicians, not the Muslim Brotherhood, not the Egyptian people - was "winning" Egypt.  Winning in terms of Egypt becoming a stable, self-sustaining republic/democracy.

Yesterday, sh-t got worse:

Egypt's military-installed government crossed a Rubicon on Wednesday by sending in the security forces to clear the camps of demonstrators demanding the reinstatement of President Mohamed Morsi. Within hours, the contours of the landscape the country had entered became brutally clear: 235 confirmed deaths and the possibility of many more; running battles breaking out in cities around the country; a state of emergency; night-time curfews imposed on 10 provinces. The bloodshed caused by interior ministry troops opening fire with shotguns, machine guns and rooftop snipers on largely peaceful sit-ins took its first major political casualty on Wednesday evening. The leading liberal who had supported the military coup, Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned as acting vice-president. The streets around Rabaah al-Adawiya became Egypt's Tienanmen Square.
The Rubicon being crossed is clear: before Wednesday, there had been the possibility, however faint, that cooler counsel would prevail in the Egyptian military mind – that, with the release of Muslim Brotherhood leaders arrested on phony charges, a way could be found to announce a national unity government pending fresh parliamentary and presidential elections. Formidable obstacles remained, not least the undoubted unpopularity of Mr Morsi's rule among a large section of the population and his non-negotiable demand to put the constitutional clock back to the eve of the coup that toppled him. The prospect of an early reconciliation between the two camps has now disappeared...

Egypt is now coping with a full-on coup, with the generals on their own.  They own this, including the damn bloodshed.  And they're now losing Egypt: they may hold on through brute force, but that is all they will have, fear bordering on hatred.  And you can't rule a people that hate you.

And the United States and the Western powers are going to be losing this too, real quick, if they don't go public to denounce the violence and above all cut off military aid to Egypt.  If we don't, we'll be back to the days of the Cold War when the U.S. owned every conservative military coup across South America, Africa and the Middle East, and was (still are) hated for it decades later.  All the anti-American hyperbole floating out there?  That's our payment due for all the sh-t we allowed in Iran (1953) Chile (1973), Guatemala (1954), Vietnam, Panama...

We own the Egyptian generals.  The Egyptian generals own this current (and ongoing) massacre.  We're losing Egypt.  We're losing the Middle East.  We ought to be looking at taking care of, you know, the ACTUAL PEOPLE in these Middle Eastern countries struggling for open societies rather than playing with puppets wielding guns...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Anniversary: By Decree of Norton I Emperor of the United States, On This Day

On this day August 12th in 1869, this appeared in a San Francisco newspaper for all subjects of the land to review for public awareness:

Norton 1, Dei Gratia, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, being desirous of allaying the dissensions of party strife now existing within our realm, do hereby dissolve and abolish the Democratic and Republican parties, and also do hereby decree disfranchisement and imprisonment, for not more than ten nor less than five years, to all persons leading to any violation of this imperial decree, given at San Francisco Cal., this 12th day of August A.D. 1869.

Norton I was really a failed businessman, Joshua A. Norton, who in 1860 because of the oncoming Civil War got it in his head that what the United States really needed was an Emperor, and so declared himself as such.  Under most circumstances, this sort of thing gets ignored, except for the fact that back then newspapers were eager for crazy stuff to publish, and being an educated fellow Norton was literate enough to write decent decrees that got people's attention (when competing newspapers tried to make fake decrees, you could tell the fakes due to the poor spelling and the fakers' obsession with the "off with his head" meme recently popularized by Alice In Wonderland).  From there, Norton became a minor celebrity, a known figure as far as New York and even overseas (a Bolivian diplomat once met with Norton as though he was a genuine head of state), and was San Francisco's first tourist attraction once the railways made tourism a growing business.

In hindsight, when reviewing the decrees of Emperor Norton, they tended to show an interest in promoting the public trust, ending political strife, and fixing current ails.  Most famous was Norton's decree to get a bridge built between Oakland and San Francisco (the trains reached Oakland but couldn't reach the more populous and more prosperous San Francisco: the bridge was a compromise idea).

I've got a soft spot for the Emperor, because despite his going around believing he was something he wasn't, Norton was a pretty sane guy.  As Mr. Gaiman said when he first introduced me to the Emperor, "His madness keeps him sane".