22 November 2013
Marc Palen is a research associate at the US Studies Centre and the editor of the Imperial & Global Forum, the blog of the Centre for Imperial and Global History at the History Department, University of Exeter. This post was originally published at the Imperial & Global Forum.
A recent New Republic article by David A. Bell on the limitations of the "global turn" has been making the rounds this month, and deservedly so. Bell’s article reviews Emily Rosenberg’s 2012 edited volume A World Connecting: 1870–1945. Nestled within it, however, is a much larger critique of the global historiographical shift toward "networks" and "globalisation."
Bell’s criticisms are provocative. They are eloquent.
But are they fair? Let’s take a look.
Bell begins by describing the "global turn":
It has not been enough simply to study the way Western powers have affected the rest of the world — a venerable subject. The task has also been to show how the rest of the world affected the West; how ideas and practices flowed back and forth in a constant flux of appropriation, transformation, and resistance; how the oppression of the strong met the “weapons of the weak”; and how history’s repressed “subaltern” can be made to speak ... how, even in the relatively distant past, global patterns of movement, exchange, exploitation, and aggression shaped phenomena that historians once saw as purely local. And it has been a matter of applying, even to quite distant historical periods, the controlling metaphor of the digital age: the "network."
So far, so good.
Bell also cedes that this global turn retains the ability to open "up remarkable new perspectives on the past." As an example, he refers to how seemingly national histories have been enriched through the use of a broader historical vantage point, one that has since connected the French and American revolutions with that of the African slave trade and Caribbean slave revolts at the end of the eighteenth century, as exemplified in the fine work of Laurent Dubois. Bell then suggests that "the 'global turn' has very rightly insisted that histories of the French Revolution take these events fully into account," and that the same global turn "has done similar things for many other subjects."
Now it’s worth pausing for a second to consider whether Bell’s own example outlined above is in fact illustrative of global history. As Bruce Mazlish and Akira Iriye explain, global history "focuses on the theme of globalisation that runs through the history of the past." But that is not really what Bell’s example depicts. More accurately, it is that of "Atlantic history" — a dynamic field of study encompassing the Atlantic region that gained in popularity throughout the 1980s and 1990s — rather than the even broader (geographically at least) global historical turn of the twenty first century.
Such definitional differences are crucial — and their confusion within Bell’s article raises further questions. Why, for instance, does Bell claim that C. A. Bayly "found it difficult to bring whole continents and oceans together into a coherent story" in his powerful global history The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914? Well, apparently it was Bayly’s page count that most ably explains this difficulty, with Bayly spending "only two and a half pallid pages" on explaining "the motors of change." (This issue of page-counting as criticism will arise again in due course.)
Has "global history" become a buzzword, with publishers churning "out encyclopaedias, manuals, handbooks, and dictionaries of global history faster than anyone can keep track, let alone read," as Bell claims? Indeed, "global history" has been so over-used and so under-defined that, much like "globalisation" and "network," it is fast running the risk of becoming meaningless. One major reason for the term’s unseemly popularity, however, stems from its frequent conflation with other historical approaches such as, say, Atlantic history.
Bell does grant that The World Connecting is what it claims to be: a global history of the period 1870 to 1945. It is not the global history of the period, it should be noted, nor does it claim to be. After all, what history book could possibly provide a truly comprehensive history of, well, just about any subject?
And it is here that the vast majority of Bell’s criticisms of the volume — and of global history — are unfair, as he seems to expect the impossible from The World Connecting: that is, a comprehensive global historical study of the period 1870–1945. Admittedly, he grants that each chapter contains global connections, fine syntheses, and a wide range of source material on the subthemes of exchange, movement, coercion, resistance, and cooperation. He then gives a succinct summary of the individual chapters and praises the contributors for their wide-ranging "insights about global connections and networks." But he thereafter takes the massive tome of 1,161 pages to task for neglecting other connections. "A remarkable amount is absent as well," he writes. For example, he points to how
readers of the book will learn far more here about postal systems, telegraphs, and telephones than about the ideas transmitted through them. Perhaps nothing in the period between 1870 and 1945 created more intense international solidarities than socialist ideas — "workers of the world, unite!" was nothing if not a call for global connection.
And yet, Bell observes, "Rosenberg’s chapter has barely four pages" on socialism. Here again, page numbers appear to matter a great deal to Bell — apparently even more than the substance within them. And yet aren’t historians often able to transmit an impressive amount of information and analysis in but a handful of pages? In this very New Republic article under discussion, for instance, Bell himself uses "barely" six pages to analyse both a 1,100-plus-page edited book and the history profession’s "global turn." Furthermore, Rosenberg’s spending any amount of pages on socialism within the text strongly suggests that the subject was not in absentia.
Bell’s criticisms of other such allegations of substantive absentmindedness prove similarly problematic. That is, Bell discusses how he might have structured the themes differently, or how he might have included certain subjects more prominently (like Winston Churchill, warfare, and socialism). He even goes on to suggest that more essays should have been included in this weighty tome, even though it would have meant "stretching an already massive volume to the literal breaking point."
And yet, seemingly at odds with Bell’s criticism for all that was "absent," he then goes on to criticise the book for cramming "so much information into such a small space" and for illustrating "every argument with a long string of examples drawn from across the globe." It is mystifying indeed to see how a global historical text’s use of globe-spanning examples "contributes to the problem," especially after having just taken the same book to task for not including enough examples.
Bell’s broader problems with (and proposed solutions for) the "global turn" are also worth considering.
First, owing to their "vast scales," do global histories tend to give less attention to the individual? To some degree yes. However, a micro-historical approach (an alternative approach Bell suggests) to A World Connecting would have created insurmountable hurdles to accomplishing the book’s stated goals. Moreover, it would have left the book open to even greater criticism from those looking for what would invariably have been left out.
Second, is it difficult to write global histories that contain a "single, overarching argument"? Absolutely. The scale and scope of global historical work is daunting. Global histories therefore do often tend toward complexity and contradiction instead. But does one approach inherently outweigh the other? Some historians prefer a nuanced thesis, even if it means sacrificing the easy readability of a more cohesive narrative.
And of course the latter approach contains its own pitfalls. As a case and point, Bell’s very example of the global connectivity of socialist ideology notably leaves out how this same global ideological spread simultaneously fostered social, political, and geopolitical conflict throughout the world, culminating in the Cold War. As A.G. Hopkins put it in Global History (2006), globalisation contains both "homogenising tendencies" and "heterogeneous consequences." Accordingly, a global history of the spread of socialism should incorporate both sides of the ideological story — the connectivity and the conflict — even if it means sacrificing a stronger (and likely less accurate) overarching argument.
In conclusion, the New Republic review, while containing salient points on the difficulties of writing global history, ironically ends up falling into some of the same semantic pitfalls that it decries. Does A World Connecting have its weaknesses? Of course. But it is unfair to take such an impressive volume to task primarily for what it may have left out (while at the same time criticising it for including too much within!) — especially when the volume has admirably taken on the enormous task of tackling myriad aspects of global history over a large swath of time; and especially when it tackles so many of the goals it explicitly set out to accomplish.
Even more, it is misleading to suggest that what ends up "absent" in such a tome somehow illuminates the limitations of global history — when it does quite the opposite. As Anne Foster put it amid an excellent H-Diplo roundtable review of the book:
We look to this volume for answers to many of the questions which vex us regarding how to think about the relation of "global history" to the smaller bits of history which each of us claims some mastery over. Inevitably, no one volume can answer these questions and indeed perhaps the best such a volume can do is raise the best new questions for us to explore.
Or to quote Erez Manela, another H-Diplo reviewer:
The present volume can serve well as a vessel to sail for a while down the treacherous rapids of this historiographical current. But there is still quite a way to go down this particular river, and it is not yet entirely clear whether it is safe harbor or a crashing waterfall that awaits us just over the horizon.
In other words, the very gaps inherent within such a massive work of global history as The World Connecting only further illustrate how the "global turn" proffers boundless new avenues for historical enquiry.
20 November 2013
- What if Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address as a PowerPoint presentation?
- Will a Senate-passed bill finally offer Obama the chance to shut down Gitmo?
Tuesday evening, the Senate defeated an attempt by Republican New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte to add an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that would have barred transfers of Gitmo detainees to U.S. soil for detention, trial or medical treatment. Transfers from Gitmo have been severely restricted since the 2010 lame-duck session of Congress shortly after Republicans took back the House. The current version of the Senate defense bill lifts many of those restrictions, although the House version retains them. The bill will now go to conference, where both houses will have to hash out a compromise.
- Traversing the length of Sunset Boulevard.
In the years since, Sunset Boulevard has become shorthand for what Los Angeles represents in the collective imagination. It is the Chateau Marmont and the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, the Hollywood Palladium, Schwab's Drugstore, the Directors' Guild of America and the Hustler store. It evokes extremes, from the spangled American Dream to seedy, untempered excess; the wild and peculiar destination of a country forever looking West.
- Miami, the city doomed to drown.
Even more than Silicon Valley, Miami embodies the central technological myth of our time – that nature can not only be tamed but made irrelevant. Miami was a mosquito-and-crocodile-filled swampland for thousands of years, virtually uninhabited until the late 1800s. Then developers arrived, canals were dug, swamps were drained, and a city emerged that was unlike any other place on the planet, an edge-of-the-world, air-conditioned dreamland of sunshine and beaches and drugs and money; Jan Nijman, the former director of the Urban Studies Program at the University of Miami, called 20th-century Miami "a citadel of fantastical consumption." Floods would come and go and hurricanes might blow through, but the city would survive, if only because no one could imagine a force more powerful than human ingenuity. That defiance of nature – the sense that the rules don't apply here – gave the city its great energy. But it is also what will cause its demise.
- Tumblr of the Day: Floor Charts — charts from the floor of Congress.
18 November 2013
- Is the US economy stuck in a state of permanent slow growth?
So with all that household borrowing, you might have expected the period 1985-2007 to be one of strong inflationary pressure, high interest rates, or both. In fact, you see neither – this was the era of the Great Moderation, a time of low inflation and generally low interest rates. Without all that increase in household debt, interest rates would presumably have to have been considerably lower – maybe negative. In other words, you can argue that our economy has been trying to get into the liquidity trap for a number of years, and that it only avoided the trap for a while thanks to successive bubbles.
And if that’s how you see things, when looking forward you have to regard the liquidity trap not as an exceptional state of affairs but as the new normal.
- Can the US and Iran come together in an unsatisfying compromise?
President Rouhani is not the only world leader attempting to sell his populace on an inherently unsatisfying middle course. American critics of a diplomatic deal, including some members of the Senate Banking Committee, worry that President Obama will give away leverage by easing sanctions, and that any agreement that meets Iran’s bottom-line requirement—for low-level uranium enrichment—will be as good as no agreement at all. But they have not offered a credible alternative. Air strikes would probably set Iran’s nuclear program back only temporarily, while making its ultimate militarization all but inevitable. Sanctions have afforded diplomatic leverage over Iran that was virtually nonexistent at the start of President Obama’s first term. But, in the end, sanctions do nothing for the American negotiating position if they can’t be lifted in exchange for meaningful Iranian concessions. That is why last week Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Senate Banking Committee to hold off on a bill to impose further sanctions on Iran while the negotiations are under way.
- Does DC's height limit make it harder for Republicans to win in Virginia?
From here it is not much of a leap to guess that the height limit, which may already have driven some poorer residents out of D.C., will eventually drive precisely the sort of people who otherwise would want to live in the most obvious urban, walkable neighborhoods—which are in and on the periphery of L’Enfant’s original city—to the suburbs, particularly in Virginia, where there are already several urban-type neighborhoods. And such moderate young professionals are the very people who have contributed to one of the most striking stories in national politics today: The slow but sure turn of Virginia, with its two Senate seats and 13 electoral votes, from a red to a blue state.
- Pennsylvania's Patriot-News retracts its 1863 dismissal of the Gettysburg Address as "silly remarks."
Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.
- What happens to a white Times reporter with marijuana in Stop and Frisk–era New York? (Spoiler: Nothing)
It turns out that there was little to fret over. While scores of people are arrested on these charges every day in New York, the laws apparently don’t apply to middle-aged white guys.
15 November 2013
- Will President Obama's tweaks to the Affordable Care Act mollify his Dem critics?
The fix outlined by Obama would allow insurance companies to continue existing plans, while requiring them to inform consumers of other options on the exchanges. Obama’s fix stops short of Mary Landrieu’s proposal to require insurance companies to continue existing plans. In policy terms, as Jonathan Chait spells out, this is mostly a bunch of BS by everyone involved: Insurance companies probably won’t go along with it to begin with.
- Is the proposed Mary Landrieu fix for the ACA a trap?
The House, with the help of a good number of Democrats, will pass the Upton plan and send it to the Senate. Harry Reid will substitute the Landrieu plan and send it back to the House. The House will be forced to either vote for the Landrieu plan or be characterized as siding with insurance companies against people.
In one fell swoop, the Democrats will have the GOP on record saving Mary Landrieu’s re-election in Louisiana by casting her as the one who saved Americans’ health care plans, and also getting on record as really being in favor of fixing Obamacare with the use of mandates.
- Is rail about to make a big comeback in Florida?
Passenger rail service was a big part of Florida’s — and Brevard County’s — past. And it looks as if paying customers will soon be rolling down the tracks that run along U.S. 1 through the county again.
Those first passengers will just be passing through, perhaps as early as 2015. But if all goes well, new railway stations could open in Titusville, Cocoa and Melbourne soon after that, allowing passengers to board or disembark on the Space Coast.
- Attractive politicians aren't any more likely to win elections.
Here’s the problem with this type of research: several years ago, my colleagues and I extensively studied this phenomenon and found that the best available evidence says that politicians don’t get elected because of their good looks. In fact, after examining every contest for the U.S. Senate between 1990 and 2006, we couldn’t find a single election where the candidates’ appearance made the difference in the election. This isn’t surprising: Politics and voting are greatly affected by factors such as partisanship, the economy, campaigning, and even policy — all of which leave little room for voters to cast votes based on politicians’ looks.
- History's most infamous home movie.
JFK has been dying again and again ever since, particularly in the movies. The echoes of his assassination still resound through cinema. The post-JFK golden age of Hollywood conspiracy thrillers has been well chronicled, but what has arguably had a deeper impact is the Zapruder film itself. From the moment it recorded Kennedy's life horrifically cut short, it took on a life of its own. It is technically a short documentary: just 26 seconds long, 486 silent, colour, 8mm frames. It is also an official piece of evidence, a historical record, an art object, a genuine snuff movie. Some have called it the foundation stone of citizen journalism – a harbinger of the current YouTube era, where anyone with a camera can create something of global broadcast value. To some, as well as JFK's death, the Zapruder film represents the death of cinematic truth itself.
15 November 2013
After a recent mass-shooting in the US this September — where twelve people were killed at a Navy Yard in the nation's capital — Barack Obama once again assumed his least relished role as president: that of Comforter in Chief.
Sounding like the worst kind of broken record, Obama went through his list of now-familiar exhortations. He channelled the collective outrage of a nation powerless to stop harming itself. He rolled out statistics of gun ownership linked to gun deaths. He called, again, for stronger background checks on gun permits, something that Congress has refused to allow in spite of overwhelming popular support. And Obama praised other nations, including Australia, for enacting strong gun control measures in the face of national tragedies. But are these strong measures that liberal Americans regularly commend us for at risk in the new parliament?
Australia’s gun reforms were one of those rare legislative unicorns: large-scale, sweeping laws that enjoyed broad popular support, despite some strong resistance from particular constituencies such as farmers, and, arguably, have achieved what they set out to do. There have been no gun massacres in Australia since 1996 and the rate of decline in gun deaths has doubled.
There is much debate and dissent as to the effectiveness of gun control laws. Very few areas of public policy are as rich in quotable studies and statistics, allowing policy-makers and commentators of any ilk (myself included) to cherry-pick the metrics that support only their views. Yet the fact remains that Australia’s gun laws are a paragon of effective legislation among gun control advocates both at home and abroad.
Enter Senator-elect for New South Wales David Leyonhjelm. He immediately made noise with claims that it was “an objective fact” that the Sandy Hook Massacre would have been avoided if teachers had been armed and that John Howard’s gun reforms had made no difference to gun deaths (a statement Politifact rated as "mostly false"). Leyonhjelm’s most headline-grabbing policies (legalisation of marijuana, dissolution of public bodies, pro-gay marriage, and pro-guns) cast him as a US-style libertarian, a brand of politician increasingly typical in America but a genuine curiosity in this country. Despite the not insignificant popular support that his pro-equality, pro-weed stances will bring him in certain progressive electorates, his inability to get on board with the one thing John Howard ever did that people overwhelmingly agree on could hurt him.
It’s hard to imagine Leyonhjelm’s call for softer gun laws gaining traction here anytime soon. Melbourne shootings in 2002 and 2007 resulted in even tougher gun laws and helped initiate further gun buybacks. News out of South Australia last month is that they’re introducing further gun control legislation as a response to an uptick in gun crime. However, Leyonhjelm’s position as a Senate cross-bencher and his status as a relative political oddity will keep him in the spotlight for the next six years. If he spends his political capital wisely and is able to tap into and excite populist support amongst those Australians who are pro-guns, then he may succeed in re-opening the debate on gun control just a crack, or at least pushing the Overton Window far enough towards one that he's able to tee it up for the future.
There is much, both culturally and structurally, that Australia borrows from America but there’s just as much that we spurn, in many ways adhering to the axiom “do it second, do it right.” Australia’s approach to guns, then, is best summed up in by John Howard:
"I did not want Australia to go down the American path. There are some things about America I admire and there are some things I don't. And one of the things I don't admire about America is their ... slavish love of guns. They're evil"
America’s extreme divisiveness on the issue verges on the schizophrenic. It’s a place where Bill Clinton, a Democratic president who passed two major gun control bills* and recently hit a winner with progressives by linking gun reform with voting rights, can, with a straight face, say that one of his favourite TV shows is 24 — a gun-loving, torture-praising action drama that more resembles a Dick Cheney wet dream than anything describable as “reality.”
On guns, Australia isn’t even in the same ballpark as America and won’t be for a long time, if ever. But with the election of a pro-gun libertarian to the Senate, it's no longer a purely intellectual exercise for us. For the next six years, at least, guns are back on the agenda.
* It does behove the personal, if not political, survival of any US president to advocate gun control, seeing as guns are the leading cause of death among sitting US presidents. Of the eight presidential deaths in office, four were a result of gunfire. With a 9.3% chance of being shot and killed (four out of forty-three presidents), and with a direct, explicit ability to drive legislation that would help prevent that from happening, I’m pretty sure I’d be pushing for stricter gun laws too.
14 November 2013
- Obamacare is in much more trouble now than it was a week ago.
The bill Landrieu is offering could really harm the law. It would mean millions of people who would've left the individual insurance market and gone to the exchanges will stay right where they are. Assuming those people skew younger, healthier, and richer — and they do — Obamacare's premiums will rise. Meanwhile, many people who could've gotten better insurance on the exchanges will stay in bad plans that will leave them bankrupt when they get sick.
- How to interpret the new enrolment numbers.
According to HHS calculations, 846,852 people have used the site to complete applications. That means they have created accounts and submitted information to see whether they are eligible for federal programs or tax credits. Those applications include people applying for households with multiple members. In total, it represents 1,509,883 people. The federal government has processed applications for the vast majority of them—98 percent, or 1,477,853 people. Of those, about a third have actually selected a health plan or been deemed eligible for a program like Medicaid. That’s 502,466.How does that half million break down? About four out of five (396,261) are in Medicaid. The rest (106,185) of them have picked private insurance plans. These numbers include both those who enrolled through the website that the federal government is maintaining (healthcare.gov) and those who enrolled through sites that states like California, Kentucky, and Connecticut are running on their own. The majority (three-fourths) of the people getting private insurance have done so through state sites. Just a quarter, or 26,794, have enrolled through the federal site.
- Revealing aspects of Fed chair nominee Janet Yellen's confirmation testimony.
Her dovish reputation is overblown: She characterizes one important benefit of the Federal Reserve's communications policy as "help[ing] anchor the public's expectations that inflation will remain low and stable in the future." In other words, to the extent that she supports monetary stimulus, she does so in part because she believes long-term expectations are in fact firmly anchored. She would not favor truly aggressive measures that, almost by definition, would risk de-anchoring expectations.
- New York has more homeless now than it has had in decades.
For baseball games, Yankee Stadium seats 50,287. If all the homeless people who now live in New York City used the stadium for a gathering, several thousand of them would have to stand. More people in the city lack homes than at any time since . . . It’s hard to say exactly. The Coalition for the Homeless, a leading advocate for homeless people in the city and the state, says that these numbers have not been seen in New York since the Great Depression. The Bloomberg administration replies that bringing the Depression into it is wildly unfair, because those times were much worse, and, besides, for complicated reasons, you’re comparing apples and oranges. The C.F.H. routinely disagrees with Mayor Bloomberg, and vice versa; of the many disputes the two sides have had, this is among the milder. In any case, it’s inescapably true that there are far more homeless people in the city today than there have been since “modern homelessness” (as experts refer to it) began, back in the nineteen-seventies.
- James Murphy's dream of turning New York subway stations into musical instruments.
I've been fighting for now 14 years to try to do this, to make all the subway turnstiles make music. I want to make every station in New York have a different set of dominant keys, so that people when they grow up, later on in life, will hear a piece of music and be like, "Oh that's Union Square."
So when you go through the turnstiles, there would be a thing that would make a beep of a certain note. And it would have a random note generator that would be based on a percentage, so that the root note would be a higher percentage of going off, then the third, then the fifth. And during rush hour in the bigger stations, it would hopefully make a really beautiful piece of music.
14 November 2013
Last month, representatives of the United States will meet with six other nations, including Iran, in Geneva for a fresh round of nuclear talks. These talks are surrounded by an air of optimism due to the recent proclamations of Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani.
Rouhani’s rhetoric has painted himself as a more moderate leader who appears to have been born on a different planet to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has quickly garnered popularity in the Western World through his speeches about Iran’s “peaceful,” nuclear program and their attitudes with America and Israel.
Despite this, I’m writing to implore all of you to take a deep breath, and not get carried away.
President Rouhani has charmed the Western World since his election to the Iranian Presidency in August this year. This September at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he told the world that Iran had no intention of developing nuclear weapons, calling for a “nuclear free world.” At that conference, Iran’s foreign minister met with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and Presidents Obama and Rouhani talked on the phone — the highest level of contact between the two nations for three decades.
Rouhani also distinguished himself from his predecessor by acknowledging that the Holocaust was a real crime committed against the Jews — although he did say this in a fairly cryptic manner. Additionally, he recently cancelled an annual anti-Israeli conference held in Iran named “New Horizon.” Lastly, he has appointed Iran’s third ever female Vice President, Elham Aminzadeh.
It is completely understandable that so many in the West have fallen for Rouhani’s charming speeches and seemingly moderate stance. He appears to be a fairly moderate leader, whose devout religiosity does not get in the way of common sense. However, we all seem to be forgetting one vital aspect of Iranian politics, and more importantly, US–Iranian relations: The fact that the president of Iran does not call the shots. It is the aptly named Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who really is in charge. Not only is Rouhani outflanked by Khamenei, he is also subject to Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-person panel with veto power whose job it is to interpret Iran’s constitution and advise elected officials. So despite Rouhani’s promises of change, we need to remember that he alone does not have the power to enforce a whole lot of change.
The President of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has unsurprisingly urged the world to act with caution when dealing with Iran. He echoed my earlier sentiments last week, calling Rouhani a “servant of the regime … a clerk” to Khamenei on CBS. In the way that only Netanyahu could, he told the UN General Assembly (in response to Rouhani’s speech) that the only difference between Ahmadinejad and Rouhani was that “Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing, where Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing … a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.”
Netanyahu is probably not the most unbiased character in this story, but his words resonate. Sure, it is inspiriting to see the leader of a historically oppressive, hostile nation speak of evolution, and it looks great in the media. However, it is important to keep in mind that without the approval of thirteen presumably more hard-line Iranian politicians, his words are fairly hollow — so keep your enthusiasm in check.
13 November 2013
- Why talk of a 2016 presidential bid for Elizabeth Warren is overhyped.
But, to my eyes, that letter says everything about where Clinton stands vis a vis the rest of the Democratic Party. In short, 2016 won't be 2008, where Clinton was a powerful but contentious figure in the party, and a well-organized challenger could capitalize on grassroots anger and establishment discontent to derail her path to the nomination. Now, Clinton is a wildly popular figure, with one of the highest statures in American politics. Among Democrats, 67 percent favor her for the nomination (compared to 4 percent for Warren) , and in an early poll of potential New Hampshire primary voters, she has the highest favorability ratings—near 80 percent—of any potential candidate. This is a far cry from 2006, where—at most—she had support from a plurality of Democrats.
- Why the White House needs an Obamacare Plan B.
Millions of people are facing those cancellation letters. Ideally, we could just say, never mind––let these people simply stay on their current policies. But here's maybe the biggest irony in this whole mess. The Obama administration may not be ready for Obamacare but the insurance industry is. The health insurance companies spent the last many months rolling their old policies off the books and replacing them with the 2014 Obamacare compliant products––Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
- Is there a new shape to the digital divide in American life?
In New Orleans, where I lived until recently, the formerly reliable daily newspaper The Times-Picayune is being slowly starved to death and will ultimately cease to print. The reaction of most people I know has primarily been indifference–after all, they say, there are plenty of blogs and social media waiting to replace it along with NOLA.com, the paper’s mediocre website.
In a city wracked by corruption, with a population that is notoriously tech-averse, is this not ground zero for the new digital divide? Those young, educated foodies (read: rich white people) living on St. Charles Ave will have the resources and experience to compensate for the weakened culture of journalism–but only for their own private use. The residents of the Ninth Ward and the Third Ward? They’re left with a news site that’s mostly sports scores (because that gets traffic) and the rest of the internet, with its celebrity slideshows and YouTube videos designed to manipulate us into being angry, distracted, glossy-eyed.
- Young, gay, and black in a Southern town.
In 2012, Preston Gannaway was living in Norfolk, Va., looking for a coming-out story to cover for the Virginian-Pilot, where she was a staff photographer. Gannaway met Tavaris "Teddy Ebony" Edwards, a 21-year-old gay man living in public housing in Chesapeake, Va., who came out when he was 16. Because Edwards represented several demographics rarely covered in the paper—gay, black, poor—Gannaway decided instead to focus on Edwards and his experience living in Virginia.
- America officially has a new tallest building: One World Trade Center, at 541 metres — 1,776 feet.
The announcement was made this morning by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), which makes the final calls on building heights around the world. After closed-door deliberation by an international panel of architects, the Council decided the new World Trade Center’s 408-foot spire will in fact count towards its final height, since the spire is a permanent part of the building. So at an official height of 1,776 feet, it steals the title from the 1,451-foot Willis Tower in Chicago.
11 November 2013
- The media didn't cover a mass shooting in Detroit last week.
On Thursday, a man reportedly dressed in body armor ran into a crowded room and opened fire with a high-powered assault-style rifle, killing three and injuring six. But television stations didn’t cut away to report on the horrific event. In fact, it’s likely this is the first you’re hearing about it.
- Is a 2016 Elizabeth Warren bid the future of the Democratic Party?
Which brings us to the probable face of the insurgency. In addition to being strongly identified with the party’s populist wing, any candidate who challenged Clinton would need several key assets. The candidate would almost certainly have to be a woman, given Democrats’ desire to make history again. She would have to amass huge piles of money with relatively little effort. Above all, she would have to awaken in Democratic voters an almost evangelical passion. As it happens, there is precisely such a person. Her name is Elizabeth Warren.
- Will Bill De Blasio be New York's most pro-development mayor in decades?
De Blasio will have a key advantage in getting those upzonings done: by tying upzonings to inclusionary housing and the affordable housing issue, he will be able to paint NIMBY opponents of density as opponents of affordable housing. The debate won’t be over whether every part of New York should be given over to luxury condo towers; it will be about whether we can grow our way into housing affordability.
- Americans aren't overspending.
[T]he economic data from the past half century tell a different story. As Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi persuasively document in The Two Income Trap, Americans are not going broke buying clothes, books, music, furniture, cars, appliances and other consumer goods. Rampant consumer spending is not the source of their increasingly precarious lives. They call this mistaken narrative “the myth of overspending.” In fact, the share of income we spend in those categories has dramatically declined. For example, in 1949, the average American household spent 11.7 percent of its annual budget on clothes; today it spends just 3.6 percent. By the early 2000s, when Warren and Tyagi wrote their book, American households were spending 44 percent less on major appliances, 30 percent less on furniture and 20 percent less per car than they did just a generation ago in the late 1970s.
- Visualising average sunlight in Seattle for 2012.
11 November 2013
Oh wow, it's been a minute, huh? Sorry about the break in posting there guys; we at the Centre have been busy birthing the Public Knowledge Forum. Click the link for the detais, or check out the Centre newsroom for some of the aftermath, but if you'd rather a tl/dr: it was a great few days, but they were full, and tiring, and left too little time for blogging.
Something else I've been doing while I haven't been talking in this spot is reading the new Game Change book, Double Down. This is, in the tradition of their 2008 original, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's account of the 2012 presidential campaign. I'll have some full thoughts on the book in the February issue of American Review, but that doesn't mean I can't pull out tidbits for us to examine in the meantime.
Like H&H's description of the workings of the Romney-supporting Super PAC Restore Our Future. The background: Since the Citizen United Supreme Court decision, political action committees have been allowed to receive unlimited donations from individuals, unions, and corporations as long as they do not coordinate with the candidate whom they're supporting. Halperin and Heilemann describe exactly how this lack of coordination works:
Myers was a planner. She swore to herself that if her boss ran again, Boston would have an affiliated outside spending organization riding shotgun. In the summer of 2009, she began doing legal diligence on how to set up such a group. After the Citizens United decision a few months later, Myers realized that what she had in mind was, in effect, the first-ever presidential super PAC—and aptly code-named her embryonic project Avatar.
Rhoades concurred wholeheartedly regarding the need for Avatar. He and Myers shared a theory about how to build it. Avatar would be run by people who knew Mitt and his world intimately, who were attuned to Romneyland’s strategic and tactical proclivities, so that when the two sides were legally forced to curtail communications, they would be as much in sync as possible.
By the fall of 2010, Myers and Rhoades had recruited a threesome that perfectly fit that bill: Carl Forti, Romney’s 2008 political director; Charlie Spies, his 2008 general counsel; and Larry McCarthy, a key member of the 2008 media team. This isn’t a throwaway—it’s integral, Rhoades told them. We’re asking you because we’ve gotta have the A-Team on the super PAC. We’re asking because “you’re part of the Romney family.”
From then until the following summer, the triumvirate was in regular contact with the Boston high command. Campaign law dictated that they would need to cease all discussions 120 days before the super PAC, now operating under its official Restore banner, put up its first ads. While it was far from certain that Romney would be playing in Iowa, they agreed that they should start the clock ticking in early August so that Restore could go on the air in early December if need be. They also agreed that, although it would be fine for Mitt to bemoan outside spending in broad strokes publicly, he should never repudiate the group or its ads, lest any supporters get skittish about contributing—and that, before the Chinese wall between the sides was imposed, Romney had to send a neon signal to donors that Restore bore his imprimatur.
The Washington Post first reported the existence of Restore in June 2011. That month and the next, Romney attended three of the group’s fund-raising events: at the Four Seasons in Boston, in the penthouse apartment of real estate magnate Stephen Ross in New York, and at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Romney was the warm-up act at each, delivering a brief stump speech, bestowing his blessing on Restore and its troika, and making his exit. Charlie Spies then performed a ritual that would become standard at countless donor dog-and-pony shows over the next year: after starting his PowerPoint presentation with a slide that explained what a super PAC was, he put up another highlighting the trio’s roles and titles in the 2008 campaign—a blunt way of telegraphing that, yes, indeed, they were part of the Romney family.
In the first five months of 2011, before the press or most Republicans even knew it existed, Restore had raised $8 million. After Romney’s laying on of hands, it doubled that total in June and July, in chunks ranging from $100,000 to $1,000,000—and there was more help on the way. In early August, right before the Chinese wall went up, Team Romney dispatched its lead fund-raiser, Steve Roche, to join Restore, armed with the campaign’s invaluable donor lists of mega-rich loyalists. At a final meeting at the Washington offices of Romney’s campaign lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, the Restore boys and the Boston brain trust held a closing discussion of the road ahead. When it was over and they got up to leave, Myers went to hug McCarthy—then pulled up short.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “I just realized I’m not going to see you guys for a year and a half!”
All of this is entirely within the letter of the law, though completely contrary to its spirit. There's no reason to think that such behaviour was peculiar to the Romney campaign, either. I have little doubt that the Obama campaign would have had a similar arrangement with one of its PACs. The law post–Citizens United is the problem, not any one politician. Don't hate the player, hate the game, etc.
And here's how Romney responded to the PACs activities:
Earlier that day, on Morning Joe, Mitt had been questioned about Restore. Following to the letter the script that his and the group’s advisers had drafted over the summer, Romney grumbled, “Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season. We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.”
This is the absurd thing about these groups. Everyone knows they're shady, but all we require of candidates is that they create the impression that they're on-the-level and they make the right noises when challenged about it. The charade is ridiculous.
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