Debunking the civil war tariff myth

By Marc Palen in Exeter, United Kingdom

5 March 2015

Marc Palen is a research associate at the Centre and a lecturer in imperial history at the University of Exeter. This post was originally published at the Centre for Imperial and Global History's blog.

Civil war tariff cartoon

The outbreak of the American Civil War is now more than 150 years past. All the while, the question of what caused the conflict continues to spark disagreement, this despite a longstanding consensus among specialists that slavery — a cultural, political, ideological, and economic institution that permeated (and divided) mid-19th-century American society — was the primary cause of the war. One of the most egregious of the so-called Lost Cause narratives instead suggests that it was not slavery, but a protective tariff that sparked the Civil War.

On 2 March 1861, the Morrill Tariff was signed into law by outgoing Democratic President James Buchanan to protect northern infant industries. A pernicious lie quickly formed around the tariff’s passage, a lie suggesting that somehow this tariff had caused the US Civil War. By ignoring slavery’s central role in precipitating secession and Civil War, this tariff myth has survived in the United States for more than a century and a half — and needs to be debunked once and for all.

In trying to make their case but lacking adequate evidence for the 1860–61 period, “Lost Cause” advocates instead commonly hark back to the previously important role that another protective tariff had played in the 1832 Nullification Crisis. They then (mistakenly) assume the political scenario to have been the same three decades later — that Southern secession from 1860–61 was but a replay of the divisive tariff politics of some thirty years before. From this faulty leap of logic, the argument then follows that the Republican Party’s legislative efforts on behalf of the Morrill Tariff from 1860 until its March 1861 passage became the primary reason for southern secession — and thus for causing the Civil War.

Because of the unfortunate timing of the Morrill Tariff’s passage — coinciding closely as it did with the secession of various Southern states — this has remained perhaps the most tenacious myth surrounding the Civil War’s onset, and one that blatantly ignores the decidedly divisive role of slavery in mid-century American politics and society. Accordingly, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War has witnessed a slew of ahistorical tariff-centered explanations for the conflict’s causation, articles like “Protective Tariffs: The Primary Cause of the Civil War,” which appeared in Forbes Magazine in June 2013. Although the article was quickly pulled from the Forbes website following a rapid response from historians on Twitter (#twitterstorians), this particular piece of tariff fiction still exists on the author’s website as well as in a local Virginia newspaper, the Daily Progress.[1]

Similar tariff-driven arguments for the war’s causation continue to be given voice in American news outlets, in viral Youtube videos, and even on a recent Daily Show episode: No, not by host Jon Stewart, but by that evening’s guest, Judge Andrew Napolitano, a FOX news analyst and NYC law professor. In response to Stewart’s question “Why did Abraham Lincoln start the Civil War?”, Napolitano answered: “Because he needed the tariffs from the southern states.”[2]

The Civil War’s tariff myth has somehow survived for more than a century and a half in the United States. Let’s put an end to it.

In debunking the tariff myth, two key points quickly illustrate how the tariff issue was far from a cause of the Civil War:

Read More

1. The tariff issue, on those rare occasions in which it was even mentioned at all, was utterly overwhelmed by the issue of slavery within the South’s own secession conventions.

2. Precisely because southern states began seceding from December 1860 onwards, a number of southern senators had resigned that could otherwise have voted against the tariff bill. Had they not resigned, they would have had enough votes in the Senate to successfully block the tariff’s congressional passage.

In other words, far from causing the Civil War or secession, the Morrill Tariff of March 1861 became law as a result of Southern secession.

The Tariff Myth’s Transatlantic Origins

Okay. So the Morrill Tariff clearly did not cause either secession or the Civil War. Then how and why did the myth arise?

As I have recently explored in the New York Times (“The Great Civil War Lie”) and at greater length in the Journal of the Civil War Era, the Civil War tariff myth first arose on the eve of the bill’s March 1861 passage. But the myth did not originate in the United States — it first took root in Free Trade England.

Southern congressmen had opposed the protectionist legislation, which is why it passed so easily after several southern states seceded in December 1860 and the first months of 1861. However, this coincidence of timing fed a mistaken inversion of causation among the British public, with many initially speculating that it was an underlying cause of secession, or at least that it impeded any chance of reunion.

The tariff thus played an integral role in confounding British opinion about the causes of Southern secession, and in enhancing the possibility of British recognition of the Confederacy. And thus “across the pond” the myth was born that the the Morrill Tariff had caused the Civil War.

Nor was the tariff myth’s transatlantic conception immaculate. As I’ve previously noted, it was crafted by canny Southern agents in the hopes of confounding British public opinion so as to obtain British recognition of the Confederacy:

Pro-Southern business interests and journalists fed the myth that the war was over trade, not slavery — the better to win over people who might be appalled at siding with slave owners against the forces of abolition. On March 12, 1861, just 10 days after the Morrill Tariff had become law, The London Times gave editorial voice to the tariff lie. The newspaper pronounced that “Protection was quite as much a cause of the disruption of the Union as Slavery,” and remarked upon how the Morrill Tariff had “much changed the tone of public feeling” in favor of “the Secessionists.”

The pro-North magazine Fraser’s made the more accurate observation that the new Northern tariff had handily given the Confederacy “an ex post facto justification” for secession, but British newspapers would continue to give voice to the Morrill myth for many months to come.

Why was England so susceptible to this fiction? For one thing, the Union did not immediately declare itself on a crusade for abolition at the war’s outset. Instead, Northern politicians cited vague notions of “union” — which could easily sound like an effort to put a noble gloss on a crass commercial dispute.

It also helped that commerce was anything but crass in Britain. On the question of free trade, the British “are unanimous and fanatical,” as the abolitionist and laissez-faire advocate Richard Cobden pointed out in December 1861. The Morrill Tariff was pejoratively nicknamed the “Immoral” tariff by British wags. It was easy for them to see the South as a kindred oppressed spirit.

As a result, over the course of the first two years of the Civil War, the tariff myth grew in proportion and in popularity across the Atlantic, propagated by pro-South sympathizers and by the Confederate State Department.

Debunking the Tariff Myth

It would take the concerted efforts of abolitionists like John Stuart Mill, alongside Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to debunk the Civil War tariff myth in Britain:

The Union soon obtained some much needed trans-Atlantic help from none other than the English liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill. By the beginning of 1862, the tariff myth had gained enough public traction to earn Mill’s intellectual ire, and he proved quite effective at voicing his opinion concerning slavery’s centrality to the conflict. He sought to refute this “theory in England, believed by some, half believed by many more … that, on the side of the North, the question is not one of slavery at all.”

Assuming this to be true, Mill asked, then “what are the Southern chiefs fighting about? Their apologists in England say that it is about tariffs, and similar trumpery.” Yet, Mill noted, the Southerners themselves “say nothing of the kind. They tell the world … that the object of the fight was slavery. … Slavery alone was thought of, alone talked of … the South separated on slavery, and proclaimed slavery as the one cause of separation.”

Mill concluded with a prediction that the Civil War would soon placate the abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic. That, as the war progressed, “the contest would become distinctly an anti-slavery one,” and the tariff fable finally forgotten.

Mill’s prescient antislavery vision eventually begin to take hold in Britain, but only after Abraham Lincoln himself got involved in the trans-Atlantic fight for British hearts and minds when he put forth his Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.

By February, Cobden happily observed how Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had aroused “our old anti-slavery feeling … and it has been gathering strength ever since.” […] And so, two years after the Morrill Tariff’s March 1861 passage, Northern antislavery advocates had finally exploded the transatlantic tariff myth.

It only took the British public about two years to see through the tariff myth, and to recognize the centrality of slavery. In contrast — and tragically — for more than 150 years afterwards the same tariff myth has somehow continued to survive in the United States.

[1] “Protective Tariffs: Primary Cause of the Civil War,” Daily Progress, 23 June 2013. See, also, Mark Cheatham’s critical response to the Forbes piece, “Were Tariffs the Cause of the Civil War?,“ showing how slavery overwhelmingly dominated state secessionist conventions; Phil Magness’s dismantling of both extreme ends of the debate in “Before You Start Claiming that Tariffs Caused the Civil War…” and “Did Tariffs Really Cause the Civil War? The Morrill Act at 150“; and Andy Hall, “Walter E. Williams Polishes the Turd on Tariffs.” You can read the secessionist ordinances in full here.

[2] (If you must), see, et al., “Tariffs, not Slavery, Precipitated the Civil War,” Baltimore Sun, 6 July 2013; “Understanding the Causes of the Uncivil War: A Brief Explanation of the Impact of the Morrill Tariff,” Asheville Tribune; “The True Cause of the Civil War,” Soda Head, 4 October 2010; “The Morrill Tariff Sparked War Between the States,” Madison Journal Today, 10 March 2014; “Real Causes of ‘The Civil War,’” YouTube; “Economic Reasons for the War,” TV Ad, Sons of Confederate Veterans.


Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

American Daily: March 5, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

5 March 2015

  • Will states' rights prove decisive in the current court challenge to Obamacare?
After nearly ninety minutes of oral arguments today in King v. Burwell, the challenge to the availability of tax subsidies for people who purchase health insurance on a marketplace created by the federal government, six Justices had tipped their hands. Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all seemed like solid votes for the federal government, defending the subsidies, while the challengers could clearly count on the votes of Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Chief Justice John Roberts – who three years ago joined the Court’s more liberal Justices to uphold another provision of the Affordable Care Act, requiring everyone to buy health insurance or pay a penalty (it’s a tax!) – kept his cards close to his chest, asking only a few questions that gave no real hint as to how he might vote. But even if it ultimately doesn’t get the Chief Justice’s vote, the government could still win as long as it can pick up just one more vote. And that seemed like at least a possibility, because Justice Anthony Kennedy asked several questions which suggested that he might be leaning more toward the government than the challengers.
The first phrase speaks to the suspicion that has long hung around the Clintons that they are always working the angles, stretching the limits of how business can be conducted for their own benefit. It seemed clear that Clinton went out of her way to avoid the federal disclosure requirements related to e-mail by never even setting up an official account. That she took it another step and created a "homebrew" e-mail system that would give her "impressive control over limiting access" is stunning — at least to me — given that she (or someone close to her) had to have a sense that this would not look good if it ever came out.
The actual public response to the controversy is likely to be a combination of apathy and partisanship. Few Americans are paying attention to any aspect of the campaign at this point. Those who do notice will most likely divide largely along partisan lines, with Democrats interpreting her actions more charitably, especially once they see Republicans attacking Mrs. Clinton on the issue.
  • How effective was Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress?
Netanyahu claims that Iran is this powerful aggressive state that has recently taken over four countries: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. I’m sorry, but as someone who follows the region somewhat closely, this is simply silly. Iraq is especially peculiar. The reason there is a Shia government in Baghdad is because George W. Bush invaded (with the very strong recommendation of Netanyahu) and installed a pro-Iranian Shia government. If this is a case of conquest, he has the wrong culprit.

Nicole Soojung Callahan: Hi everyone, thank you so much for being part of this discussion. This is a question whose answer might seem obvious, but I still think it’s a good place for us to begin: what exactly is “Asian American literature”? Some people might hear that term and only be able to come up with one or two writers; others might think of writers who deal with certain types of “Asian themes.” What does the term mean to each of you? What kind of work can and does it encompass?

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

LA placement, at two weeks

By Eric Xu in Los Angles, California

5 March 2015

Eric Xu is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney. He is currently in the United States as part of the Centre's Los Angeles Placement Program.

We’re two weeks into the program and the time has simply disappeared. Our days and nights have been jam packed, so I’m writing this on the bus to uni tonight.

Buses are kind of a menagerie of the weird and wonderful, from the surprisingly eloquent hobos who wear fox skin hats on a hot day and perform monologues at the back of the bus rant about the disparity between the rich and poor, to the old guys wearing 3-D glasses for sunnies. But hey, we’re in LA and who knows, maybe 6-D is the next big thing.

The program has been exhausting, but I’m having the time of my life. Even when I get up in the morning, way too groggy to do anything but sit there gormless, I pinch myself to remind me that I’m here studying and working in the City of Angels. It’s an exhilarating thought, and my biggest fear is getting complacent and not making the most of my time here.

Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

On our way to bike the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

I’ve been trying therefore to travel as much as possible, and experience as much of America as I can. I’m not going to bore you with all the details of the two weeks of travelling around America with Nicola, Dan, and Edison after Chicago, but suffice it to say, we had an awesome time. We explored New York, rode out a couple of ups and downs at Disneyworld, nerded it out at Harry Potter World in Universal Studios, celebrated New Years in San Francisco, and drove down to LA. It was so intense, but so much fun. After that, we got straight into the swing of things with our first class at UCLA.

Read More

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Literally soaking up the Brooklyn Bridge in New York


Most of our week is pretty structured, with work from Monday to Thursday and class three nights a week. On Monday nights, Heather takes us through what we need to do for our research assignment, so it’s a good chance to hang out with the others and catch up on all the goss.

Our Tuesday and Wednesday classes are run by professors at UCLA, who teach us about doing business in the US and leadership communication strategies. Although they sound fluffy, the classes here are actually really interesting, as they’re so different to those at home. Run akin to seminars, there’s about 30–40 people per class, so it’s much more interactive and we get cold called all the time.


I’m working with Lisa and Nathan at Cappello Capital, a boutique investment bank based right across the road from the Santa Monica beach and a five minute walk from the pier. The view from the office is amazing; sometimes it’s hard not to get distracted when we’re trying to learn financial modelling or build lists of potential strategic partners for various transactions. We sit at the Australia desk, surrounded by buckets of Vegemite and boomerangs. Everyone here is cool; they’re fascinated with anything “Awwssie,” especially when we tell them about drop bears and riding kangaroos to school. Weird accents and even stranger words are a constant source of banter with the guys there, so we broaden our accents and turn up the bogan sometimes.

Cappello Capital boardroom

The view from the board room


I’m living with three other boys, which is great. The four of us muck around, do some stupid stuff and generally have a good time. In saying that however, we’re also pretty much living below the poverty line, which isn’t as much fun for some strange reason. There’s nothing wrong with our apartment, but we’re lazy and can’t be bothered to go out and buy the essentials. Our place looks quite similar to what it looked like when we first moved in, with bare cupboards and an empty fridge.

However, we’ve made some pretty major changes around the place, stocking the pantry with a pack of chips, microwavable popcorn, and some UCLA Jell-O moulds (how do these even exist?!). Just the essentials really. Oh, we also bought brown rice and whole grain spaghetti because we’re super health conscious.

Apartment lifestyle

We’ve got a pretty ghetto setup going for our drying rack, using the cannibalised freezer rack and a Jell-O box to prop it up on.

There’s also a funky smell in the kitchen which we can’t find the source of, but given time it’ll go away eventually. We hope. But give us time and we might just get our act together. That’s entry two of Eric’s not so wise words: Get organised. There’s a ton of work coming up and I’ve been remiss in keeping on top of things, so learn from my mistakes and get with the program.


Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

American Daily: March 4, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

4 March 2015

  • Was Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress on Iran a success?
Netanyahu may—may—have succeeded in putting Obama on the back foot. Obama has a very hard job here. He has to convince American legislators that reaching an agreement with a terror-sponsoring regime that is known to cheat on nuclear matters (and, by the way, also calls for the annihilation of Israel, a country the majority of Americans support) will make the world a safer place. That's a difficult thing to do, especially when one way to actually reach a deal, American negotiators believe, is to "preserve the dignity" of the Iranian side. There's a reasonable chance that this speech will be forgotten in a month. There's also a reasonable chance that Netanyahu just made Obama's mission harder.

The Justice Department's investigation confirms what various reports from other groups found in Ferguson: the city has long relied on discriminatory traffic stops for budget revenue, and the racial disparities have inflamed tensions between the St. Louis suburb's majority black population and predominantly white local government.

  • Will the Ferguson police department end up closing down as a result of the report?
"My guess is it's going to be so expensive to the city of Ferguson, they're going to have to make a survival decision,” Tim Fitch, the former head of the St. Louis County Police Department, said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. "Financially, I don't believe they're going to be able to do one of two things: Either they're going to fight it, and not be able to afford that, or to implement all of the changes that DOJ is going to require is going to be so expensive, they're not going to be able to do it."
  • There are more men named John running major companies than there are women.

Among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James. We’re calling this ratio the Glass Ceiling Index, and an index value above one means that Jims, Bobs, Jacks and Bills — combined — outnumber the total number of women, including every women’s name, from Abby to Zara. Thus we score chief executive officers of large firms as having an index score of 4.0.

  • What rules did Hillary Clinton break by using her personal email for State business?

If Clinton used personal email to conduct official business—which apparently did not violate any federal rules at the time—all of those emails had to be collected and preserved within the State Department's recordkeeping system. That makes sense: The whole point of preserving official records of government business is to have this material controlled by the government, not by the individual official or employee. Yet in this case, Clinton and her aides apparently did not preserve all her emails within the system.

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

American Daily: March 3, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

3 March 2015

  • Hillary Clinton exclusively used her personal email while Secretary of State.

Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.

The stakes will be high again on Wednesday, when the court hears King v. Burwell, although lofty constitutional principles are not the issue this time. The case is largely about how to interpret four words in the Affordable Care Act statute. The plaintiffs claim that those words effectively forbid the federal government from subsidizing private insurance in about two-thirds of the states. The outcome of the case should have no effect in places like California and Kentucky, where officials have embraced Obamacare and set up their own infrastructure for helping people to purchase insurance. But in the rest of the country, a victory for the plaintiffs would cut off financial assistance for those seeking to buy coverage. Millions of people would lose their health insurance altogether. State insurance markets could fall into chaos.
Rogers and his team are not alone. Some of the party's most esteemed security policy experts are making similar moves, amounting to a collaborative if uncoordinated assault on Paul's libertarian vision that prioritizes civil liberties over sweeping surveillance, diplomacy over military force. These hawks have one mission in mind: discredit Paul in the eyes of an electorate that is increasingly worried, again, about America's adversaries.

Mikulski worked in Baltimore city politics in the 1970s, and then served 10 years in the House of Representatives. But when she joined the Senate in 1987, she entered a very exclusive club.

That year, a mere two senators were women: Mikulski and Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas. Mikulski has spoken about how many of her 98 male colleagues formed connections in the Senate gym. "They just couldn’t accommodate me and I’m not much of a jock anyway, but that’s where they networked and that’s where they bonded," Mikulski told CNN in 2010.

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

The latest Obamacare court challenge

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

3 March 2015

The Supreme Court wll hear arguments for a new challenge to Obamacare this week, though unlike the previous challenge to the law, the case surrounds not the constitutionality of the act but matters of drafting. As Jeffrey Toobin says, it's hard not to see the argument as frivolous:

The A.C.A. created federal tax subsidies for those earning less than a certain income to help pay for their premiums and other expenses, and, in describing who is eligible, Section 36B refers to exchanges “established by the State.” However, thirty-four states, most of them under Republican control, refused to create exchanges; for residents of such states, the law had established a federal exchange. But, according to the conjurings of the C.E.I. attorneys, the subsidies should be granted only to people who bought policies on the state exchanges, because of those four words in Section 36B. The lawyers recruited plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit; their goal is to revoke the subsidies provided to the roughly seven and a half million people who were left no choice by the states where they live but to buy on the federal exchange.

The claim borders on the frivolous. The plaintiffs can’t assert that the A.C.A. violates the Constitution, because the Justices narrowly upheld the validity of the law in 2012. Rather, the suit claims that the Obama Administration is violating the terms of its own law. But the A.C.A. never even suggests that customers on the federal exchange are ineligible for subsidies. In fact, there’s a provision that says that, if a state refuses to open an exchange, the federal government will “establish and operate such Exchange within the State.” ... This lawsuit is not an attempt to enforce the terms of the law; it’s an attempt to use what is at most a semantic infelicity to kill the law altogether.

What I do not understand about this is not whether the Court is cynical enough to use this case to undermine a law to which its majority is ideologically opposed — from Bush v Gore to Burwell v Hobby Lobby, many of the current sitting justices have demonstrated their willingness to consider creative interpretations of the law if they advance political goals they support. But rather, why now and why this case?

Megan McArdle describes the effect of an adverse ruling:

Obviously, if the court rules against the government, this will have far-reaching implications for the insurance markets in the states that have those exchanges. Many people who are currently buying policies will probably decide to drop them if they have to pay full price — and the people who decide to keep buying that insurance are more likely to be those whose insurance costs exceed the monthly premiums, which is to say older and sicker people.

Indeed, the disruption to the insurance market might result in such chaos that some observers have suggested Republicans would prefer the Court to uphold the law. If the Court had struck Obamacare down in 2012, before it had been implemented, the Republican victory would have been clean and complete: a law they didn't like would never have been put into practice. But Obamacare is currently providing millions of Americans with affordable insurance, and if those voters lose access to the subsidies providing for that, Republican lawmakers and candidates will come under immense pressure to fix the problem:

The outcry for a fix will be broad, sustained, and lockstep, but it will meet wildly different audiences. Everyone in the GOP primary field will face extensive pressure to treat an adverse decision as an opportunity to get rid of the law altogether, but some of them will be governors or former governors who won’t be as amenable to using constituent suffering to leverage an unrealistic political goal. Republican Senate candidates from the above-mentioned Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida, but also from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Illinois and elsewhere, will quickly see their political fortunes become entwined with the cause of fixing Obamacare.

Chief Justice John Roberts probably dislikes Obamacare as policy. But even if he were willing to use his power to undermine the law, why would he do so now, when the outcome will be indeterminate and a potential source of difficulty for conservatives, when he chose not to in 2012? John Roberts had the perfect opportunity to kill Obamacare, and he did not take it. What reason would he have to take this imperfect opportunity?

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

American Daily: March 2, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

2 March 2015

  • Chicago police operate a secret interrogation "black site."
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.
  • Will Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress come to be seen as a mistake?

For the United States, however, there is no doubt that the precedent being set is a bad one. This is not the first time that a U.S. administration and an Israeli prime minister have been at loggerheads. President George H.W. Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, reportedly detested then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and did their best to help him lose his next election. Baker even had a few choice words for the American Jews who tried to come to the Israeli government’s defense. Did anyone at the time think of inviting Shamir to address Congress? The very idea would have been regarded as laughable. Now, we’re supposed to believe that it’s perfectly reasonable.

  • Why Republicans don't think Barack Obama is a Christian.

Theodoridis’ post was inspired by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s remarks that he didn’t know whether Obama is a Christian. But do other elected Republicans suggest that Obama is not only not a Christian, but a Muslim? I ran a search in the Congressional Record for recent floor speeches in which the word Islam or Islamic and the President appear. This is snapshot, of course, and the number of constituents who actually listen to these speeches is infinitesimal. But if elected Republicans aren’t afraid to question Obama’s religious commitments for the permanent record, think of what they might say to constituents in smaller settings, or the well that they are drawing from when they make remarks in Congressional sessions for which they receive no pushback, and in fact receive encouragement.

"Star Trek" reminds us that from 1932 through 1967 an aggressive and collaborative foreign policy was central to liberalism -- the United Federation of Planets (the United Nations) and Starfleet (NATO) were just as important to Harry Truman or Hubert Humphrey as the ethnic diversity and other liberal values that "Star Trek" prized.

New York transit Twitter was all aflutter today with the fascinating story of two women who riders saw climb out through a secret door in the G train, apparently only to disappear into the darkness of the tunnel. As one witness put it, "That's some Harry Potter shit." The incident had subway riders buzzing about what secret passages and portals might lay beneath our fine city, so I did some research and put forth a theory that was confirmed by an MTA spokesperson. Spoiler: What really happened is kiiiinda boring.

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

American Daily: February 25, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

25 February 2015

Most bias has to do with the industry's norms (stories involving the president get more play than articles about governors, and so on). In some cases, the self-interest of the media plays a role, whether it’s promoting freedom of the press, for example, or building up anyone who might take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination as a way to build interest in that snooze fest.

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon's founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

  • Rahm Emanuel faces a run-off vote in his bid for a second term as Chicago mayor.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who breezed into City Hall four years ago, fell short of winning a majority against four opponents and will face Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in an April 7 runoff.

The failure of Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan election is a clear sign of discord in the third-largest city, where $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities threaten insolvency and citizens are plagued by persistent violence.

The word most often used to describe Parks and Recreation among its fans was "nice." (The series ends its run at 10 pm Eastern on Tuesday, February 24, 2015.) It was a show about nice people, who tried their hardest to be nice to each other. It was a show about a small town — Pawnee, Indiana — that seemed to be filled with demonstrably insane people that was, nevertheless, an incredibly nice place to live. And it was about the virtues of niceness.

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

American Daily: February 23, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

23 February 2015

Earlier this month, it was far from a done deal. Although the Windy City was where Barack Obama launched his career and started his family, and where his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel now serves as mayor, a seemingly mundane land use dispute nearly derailed the proposal to build the library at the University of Chicago. Meanwhile, Columbia University, Obama’s alma mater, stepped into the breach — offering 17 drama-free acres in upper Manhattan.
Pre-European economy in North America

It’s fair to say that the most impressive feat Two and a Half Men pulled off is that it existed for so long: 12 seasons and 262 episodes, from Charlie Sheen to Ashton Kutcher, with a little bit of Amber Tamblyn thrown in. Since 2003, it has transformed from Two and a Half Men to Two and a Half Different Men to Two Men and a Kid Who Skypes From the Military to Two Men and a Random Lesbian to, finally, Two Straight Men Who Are Married to Each Other. It’s a sitcom that is simple but never makes any sense. It’s universally despised by culture critics, and the easiest of punch lines to jokes about the worst of television. But it’s also one of the most popular comedies on any broadcast network, ranking in the top 20 for its first 10 seasons. Who’s watching a despised program that is aggressively redundant and gleefully misogynistic, and just churned out a final season that is basically one 16-episode-long gay joke? As it turns out, millions and millions of people watched. And I was one of them.

Of course, Sydney Ellen Wade is a fictional character played by Annette Bening in The American President. Like most people, much of what I know about D.C. I’ve learned from fiction — either movies, television, or the form that is the stock in trade of most other D.C. insiders. In fact, Hollywood and Washington are the two cities in America that depend the most on fantasy, storytelling, and deception. That’s why it perhaps makes sense that one of the biggest trends for beautiful people in Hollywood is to star in television shows about the Hollywood for ugly people. That’s layers upon layers of, well, fiction is still the most polite word I can think of for it. And given the sheer number of such shows today and the limited amount of time you may have, we think it is our duty here at Foreign Policy to provide you with an insider’s guide to those shows.

"Suspect is a blonde female last seen wearing a long blue dress and is known to burst into song 'Let it Go!'" reads the department's all-points bulletin. "As you can see by the weather, she is very dangerous. Do not attempt to apprehend her alone."

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

American Daily: February 19, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

19 February 2015

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
  • Oregon's new leader Kate Brown is America's first out bisexual governor.
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown was sworn in as the state's governor Wednesday, after John Kitzhaber resigned due to a corruption scandal.

Brown is the first openly bisexual governor in American history. She's also the only current openly LGBT governor of a US state, and the second openly LGBT governor in US history (after New Jersey's Jim McGreevey, who announced he was gay shortly before resigning).
For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a Megyn moment, as I have taken to calling it, is when you, a Fox guest — maybe a regular guest or even an official contributor — are pursuing a line of argument that seems perfectly congruent with the Fox worldview, only to have Kelly seize on some part of it and call it out as nonsense, maybe even turn it back on you. You don’t always know when, how or even if the Megyn moment will happen; Kelly’s political sensibility and choice of subjects are generally in keeping with that of the network at large. But you always have to be ready for it, no matter who you are. Neither Karl Rove nor Dick Cheney have been spared their Megyn moments, nor will the growing field of 2016 presidential aspirants, who can look forward to two years of interrogation on “The Kelly File.” The Megyn moment has upended the popular notion of how a Fox News star is supposed to behave, and led to the spectacle of a Fox anchor winning praise from the very elites whose disdain Fox has always welcomed. In the process, Kelly’s program has not just given America’s top-rated news channel its biggest new hit in 13 years; it has demonstrated an appeal to the younger and (slightly) more ideologically diverse demographic Fox needs as it seeks to claim even more territory on the American journo-political landscape.

If you were in that first group back then, you may still be mad, not just for what you missed out on but because so many of the questions people were arguing about back then—civil rights, Vietnam, sexual liberation—have been settled, and your side lost. Many of those people looked at Bill Clinton and saw every hippie they ever wanted to sock in the jaw.

Judis has now recanted his own analysis. In an election postmortem, Judis now argues, “the idea of an enduring Democratic majority was a mirage.” His essay, headlined “The Emerging Republican Advantage,” now swings in the opposite direction. To say that conservatives have welcomed Judis’s apostasy would be an understatement. A sampling of the giddy responses on the right include Karl Rove, Fred Barnes, Megan McArdle, Conn Carroll, Henry Olsen, Sean Trende, David Frum, Noah Rothman, Walter Russell Mead, and Michael Barone. The outpouring of conservative celebration takes as a given that Judis’s concession proves the emerging democratic majority is dead, or was never alive. But the evidentiary basis for the original thesis is as strong as ever.

Bookmark and Share

Print This Post 0 Comments

Next »

Recent Posts