Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Quo Vadis, Golden State & Lone Star State?!

The illustration for today's post is a photo of a drive-up window at one of the ten locations for Torchy's Tacos (with additional locations in Allen, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and Southlake; new openings scheduled in Amarillo, Lubbock, and Waco). Like many fast food establishments in Californa, Torchy's started as a food trailer and evolved to brick & mortar locations. The result is a CalTexMex menu. There is a Torchy's less than a mile from this blogger's man-cave. It is a hole-in-wall joint with long lines. This report on Calfornia vs. Texas prompts an H/T to this blogger's favorite attorney in the nation's capital. If this is a (fair & balanced) consideration of Lebensraum in the 21st century, so be it.

[x WaPo]
Texas, California Embody Red-Blue Divide
By Dan Balz

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at TagCrowd.com

California and Texas are nation-states within the United States, a pair of behemoths in size, population, history and influence. In the debate over red-state vs. blue-state governance, they stand at opposite poles.

The two states are led by veteran governors, politicians with personalities as different as their states. Texas’s Rick Perry (R) is the longest-serving governor in his state’s history, having been in office consecutively since December 2000. California’s Jerry Brown (D) has spent more time in the job than any other chief executive in his state’s history, and he holds another distinction — in 2010, he was returned to the office 36 years after first being elected governor.

Perry ran for president in 2012 championing Texas as an economic model for the nation, pointing to the tax and regulatory structure of the Lone Star State as the engine that had helped produce more new jobs in the post-recession America than any other state. His campaign faltered, but that did little to dim the story of “Texas rising.”

“California declining” was the narrative Brown inherited when he returned to Sacramento in January 2011. The Golden State, once the envy of the nation, was beset with problems, including high unemployment, persistent budgetary imbalances and political dysfunction in the state capital. Today, with the state’s fiscal situation stabilized, Brown is described as the Democrat who is giving the country a new model of progressive governance.

Perry continues to promote the contrasting narratives. “These are big, powerful economic states,” he said in a recent interview. “Twenty years ago, California was considered to be the absolute economic center of America. You pointed to California and said, ‘Gee, wouldn’t you like to be like them?’ And I would suggest that’s not the case, and I will suggest to you that’s because of the burdensome tax environment, a regulatory climate that is very unpredictable and unstable and public schools that are continuing on a downward trajectory.”

Brown and his advisers find the Texas-vs. California story tiresome. “Shakespeare said comparisons are odious,” Brown quipped in a recent telephone interview. “Another version was that they’re odorous.”

He was quick to counter Perry’s claim that Texas should be the nation’s model. Yes, he said, if you want to build something, you can do it faster in Texas than in California, where there are more regulations and governmental red tape. “That’s true,” he said, but he added, “Would you rather live in Houston or Santa Barbara, or maybe Santa Monica or San Francisco?”

His point was that California offers amenities that Texas does not — and that his state continues to attract talent and entrepreneurs in spite of its problems. Acknowledging that some critics have described California as “somewhere between ‘Blade Runner’ and a failed state,” he said, “On the other hand, when [Mark] Zuckerberg and his roommate worked on Facebook, they didn’t stay on the East Coast. They came to the West Coast.”

Among those who have promoted Texas as the nation’s model economic engine is Richard W. Fisher, president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. His speeches carry catchy titles, such as one delivered at Stanford University in November 2012 called “The State of the West (With Reference to George Shultz, Eisenhower, Buzz Lightyear, George Strait, the San Francisco Fed and Adam and Eve).”

In that speech, he posed this question: “Why has the Golden State lost its luster and become a place where the economic burdens of its people have become hard to bear, when it once was the very exemplar of happy, hearty dynamism that is the West? How could it be that the hardscrabble Lone Star State has come to replace California as the engine of the West’s economic growth?”

In a recent telephone interview, Fisher exclaimed that Texas is “a jobs machine” and noted that Texas has seen an influx of migration from other states — the biggest being from California. “People vote with their feet, and right now they’re voting to come here — from New York and Michigan and California and so on,” he said. “Those are the facts, and one can apply value judgments.”

Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, offered this rejoinder. “Red and blue is not just about taxes and regulation,” he said. “It has other dimensions. . . . It’s about those things that attract talented people to come and work in your area.”

Levy argued that one of California’s strengths is an openness to immigrants and to gays. “If you look at the areas that are the most tolerant — the Bay area and Hollywood — you find the highest clusters of creativity and innovation,” he said. “If you look at Silicon Valley — CEOs from Russia and Asia — [it shows] we are a welcoming state. I would argue that welcoming immigrants and gay persons is a blue policy, and that has worked for us.”

Texas regularly outperforms California in state friendly-to-business rankings. The Tax Foundation’s annual ranking of state-tax business climates puts Texas at No. 11, California at No. 48.

Arthur Laffer, the godfather of supply-side economics, prepared a series of charts for Americans for Economic Freedom that collectively make the argument that red-state governance is better economically than blue-state governance. In his analysis, Texas far outpaces California in job creation and in growth of domestic state product.

Defenders of California point to Texas and argue that while its economy has been vibrant in terms of jobs produced, the quality of life, especially for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, trails that of many other states, including California.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March that 7.5 percent of workers paid by the hour in Texas receive the minimum wage or less. The national average is 4.7 percent. In California, those at or below the minimum wage accounted for 1.4 percent of workers paid hourly.

Critics of Texas say it has created more low-wage jobs than any other state. Fisher, in a speech this month, countered that the state also has produced more middle-income and high-wage jobs than any other.

But Texans are also more likely to lack health insurance than residents of other states. The Texas Medical Association has called Texas “the uninsured capital of the United States.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 27 percent of Texans younger than 65 lack insurance, compared with 21 percent of Californians and 18 percent nationally.

California has moved swiftly to implement President Obama’s health-care law and to expand Medicaid under its provisions. Texas has declined to enter into the expanded Medicaid program and refused to set up a state exchange for residents seeking to buy insurance under the law.

Perry said that if people wanted to live in a state with a substantial social safety net, they would move. “Texans have made that decision themselves,” he said. “If they wanted to go live in a state that had guaranteed health insurance and the cost associated with that, they would by and large go to those states.” Perry added that he measures success “by how many people in your state have a job versus how many people are on government assistance. And most Texans agree with that.”

Texas’s detractors say the reason for the Lone Star State’s economic success is an oil and gas industry that boomed through the recession. There is no question that it has benefited from the energy boom, but the Texas economy is far more diversified than it was a few decades ago.

California suffered badly during the recession in part because it was one of the epicenters of housing foreclosures. Booming Texas escaped the housing bust. One reason, ironically, is because the state had instituted tougher mortgage lending rules after the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s, which hit the state hard. This was one case in which more-stringent regulation in Texas served the state economically.

George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen touched off another round in the California vs. Texas debate this fall with a cover story in Time magazine subtitled “Why the Lone Star State is America’s Future.”

Cowen argued that at a time when U.S. middle class is being hollowed out, low-tax and low-services Texas, with cheap land and housing, makes for an especially attractive destination. He pointed to the steady influx of migrants from other states, including California, as evidence that Texas’s job opportunities and its tax and regulatory structure make it well suited to the new economy.

That prompted Ben Olinsky, an economist at the progressive Center for American Progress to offer a rejoinder titled “Why Texas Shouldn’t Be in Our Future.”

“Texas might have more jobs,” he wrote, “but it represents a devil’s bargain with high levels of child poverty, limited ability to afford health, less economic mobility, smaller homes, fewer kids and extreme inequality.”

Olinsky also questions the assertion by Cowen and many others that Texas’s lower cost of living helps to offset the lack of services and lower wages paid to many workers. He said that California has a higher percentage of families with incomes of $35,000 or higher and, by his own calculations based on government data, that working-class Texans are likely to pay a higher share of their incomes for food and shelter than their counterparts in Democratic-led states such as Maryland and Minnesota.

Perry has touted his state’s success in luring California companies to move or expand to Texas. Jed Kolko, chief economist at the real estate site Trulia, studied job movements in California between 1992 and 2006 while working at the Public Policy Institute of California. He said the losses were “very much at the margins” of the overall state economy. “The net loss was about 9,000 jobs a year, which is about five one-hundredths of a percent of the California economy.”

Moreover, he said, factors such weather, housing prices, the mix of industry in a state and what economic sectors are rising and falling play the most important roles in companies’ decisions about plant location. “The most important reasons don’t have anything to do with policy,” he said.

Still, that does not mean a state such as California can pretend to be as business friendly as Texas. One analysis [PDF] Kolko helped produce urged California to reexamine its welfare and transfer payment policies, along with its corporate tax structure to make it more competitive.

In his Time story, Cowen cited Silicon Valley as one of California’s most notable attributes. But the rise of the tech industry has come with its own set of problems, particularly the cost of housing. “The middle class is being driven out of Silicon Valley,” he said. “They will pay huge sums to live in Menlo Park or commute very long distances — or move to Texas.”

Nearly a quarter of the new, domestic immigrants to Texas between 2006 and 2012 came from California, which was by far the largest contributor of any state in the nation. Last year, according to the Census Bureau, 63,000 people moved from California to Texas, while 43,000 in Texas moved to California.

Some conservatives have argued that high taxes, especially on the wealthiest, are driving people to leave California. A 2012 study [PDF] by Stanford University scholars Charles Varner and Cristobal Young debunked that claim, and Trulia’s Kolko argues that less-wealthy people are leaving California, largely because of high housing prices.

Red-state advocates say California’s big-government model, built over many decades, has become an expensive burden that will continue to slow the state’s growth. Dowell Myers, a demographer and professor of public policy at the University of Southern California, said California’s government model helped build a world-class education system and an intricate transportation network. And Fisher, of the Dallas Fed, acknowledges that California, with six Tier 1 institutions in its state university system (not including private institutions such as Stanford), has twice as many as in Texas.

“We’re still feasting off those investments of prior decades,” Myers said. “Conservatives can say that big government was a waste, but they’re free-riding on that investment.”

However, he acknowledged that California’s efforts to protect its environment and regulate industry have created burdens that can constrain growth. “Some people would say this has gone too far,” he said, “that it’s too heavy-handed, too rigid and it might be stifling growth and it’s making it more difficult for people to start up businesses. I think there’s broad agreement about that, and how to reform it is unclear.”

The Texas economy weathered the recession well, though Perry had a $27 billion budget shortfall in 2011 that he closed with spending cuts, including major cuts to education, but no tax increases. Perry, who is considering a second presidential run in 2016, will not seek reelection next year.

Brown, who has not said whether he will seek another term next year, has brought stability to the state’s finances. “The state’s budgetary condition,” according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office [PDF] last month, “is stronger than at any point in the past decade.”

Brown did this within a progressive framework, through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Facing a $27 billion budget shortfall, Brown first pushed through the spending cuts. Then he campaigned for and won approval for a ballot initiative, Proposition 30, that increased marginal income tax rates for wealthy Californians and boosted the sales tax by a quarter-cent. The state expects to gain an addition $6.1 billion this year from the new rates, which will end after 2018. The money will fund education.

“By putting Proposition 30 on the ballot and getting it passed, Governor Jerry Brown has allowed California to pay its bills, and, indeed, to develop a surplus,” Kevin Starr, author of a multivolume history of California and a professor at USC, said in an e-mail. “He has not, however, in any significant way addressed the labyrinth of restrictions and entitlements that make California non-competitive with, say, Texas in terms of business investment.”

Brown’s future agenda includes more steps to combat climate change — a push that began in earnest during the administration of his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) — along with raising the minimum wage, channeling more money to disadvantaged school districts and keeping the budget in check.

He must also reckon with substantial liabilities in the teachers’ pension fund and a teachers union that is one of the most powerful political groups in the state. Acknowledging that the union has considerable clout and is a key Democratic constituency, Brown said: “The teachers do have a pension problem of $3 to $4 billion a year. We will get at it. We will have the funding.”

California has been able to make progress after many years of stalemate in Sacramento because Democrats have the power to act, Brown said. But he also pointed to a downside of unified Democratic power — an almost limitless appetite by legislators to keep spending. “If I took my foot off the brake, we’d be back in the red within six months,” he said.

Texas has enjoyed a period of strong growth and continues to attract people and businesses. Californians argue they are rising again. More than any other pair of states, they stand as proxies for the national debate about the size and shape of government and which direction a divided America should go in the future. Ω

[Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent. He is the co-author of two books, including the New York Times bestseller The Battle For America 2008, a narrative history of the 2008 presidential campaign. He is the recipient of the American Political Science Association award for political coverage and shared the Gerald R. Ford award for coverage of the presidency. In 2011, he received the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Merriman Smith award for deadline writing about the presidency. Balz received both a BA and an MA in communications from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.]

Copyright © 2013 The Washington Post

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Monday, December 30, 2013

If You Thought The Post On December 23, 2013, Was A Gagger... Grab Another Barf Bag Today!!!!

This blog's artist-in-resident — Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) — creates a massive gag relex response again this week. If this is (fair & balanced) graphic gastroenterology, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Year In Crazy, Part The Twoth
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2013 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Out, Damned Word!

Eags ends 2013 with his list of least-favorite buzz-words and catch-phrases; he stopped at 9 (counting literally). Whew! Blog didn't make the list. If this is (fair & balanced) anti-etymology, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Words For The Dumpster
By Timothy Egan

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With the last tick of 2013, let’s throw out the most annoying, overused and abused words of the year. A few of these terms, “twerking” or “stay classy,” die a natural death when someone like John McCain starts using them — the aural equivalent of a comb-over. Others need a push.

Many of these words originated in the food world and would have been perfectly fine had they not migrated to the general population. Some came out of mid-management office talk. What these hapless clichés have in common is this: They have been so diluted by misuse that they’ve lost their meaning. And like bad holiday sweaters and Sarah Palin outrage, the following list is highly selective. To the Dumpster:

ARTISAN — Once the legitimate term for cheese makers with alternative grooming habits and creative body art, this word has been co-opted by all the wrong people selling all the wrong products. Toilet-cleaning chemicals. Convenience store “food” with pull dates measured in decades. This is what happens when farmers’ markets fail to sue for copyright infringement.

BRAND — A close second to artisan, used as a verb and a noun for self-promotion. It sprang from corporate marketing, and then went viral after every 9-year-old with a Facebook page or a Twitter handle began obsessing over how to shape random life events into a monetized narrative. It’s bad enough that politicians worry about their brand. But prisoners?

GLUTEN-FREE — It’s a public service to warn the less than 1 percent of the population who suffer from celiac disease that bakery products might contain something that could make them sick. But putting this label on things that have no connection is a cynical corporate play for clueless consumers who buy something simply because they think it’s healthy. Red Bull boasts of being gluten-free. So is paint thinner.

WHATEVER — Long ago, “whatever” was a cover for inexpressive ignorance — Hitler invaded Poland and then, whatever. Now this word reigns as a facile dismissive: I know it’s Mother’s Day, but whatever. For the fifth year in a row, “whatever” was just rated the nation’s most annoying word in a survey done by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, beating out the hardy perennials “like” and “you know” and “just saying.”

24/7 — No longer a byword for helpful availability, 24/7 evokes bad hours, poor pay and some customer service rep in India trying to explain an HDMI cable at 3 a.m. My bank is 24/7, or so they say; after a half-hour discussion with someone from this stellar institution, the “associate” said I should Google the problem. Well, yes, because Google is 24/7 in the only way that this term makes sense: It’s robotic.

END OF THE DAY — A counter, seemingly, to the above dreary infinity. But think again: There is no end to the way that “end of the day” has been used to signify anything but a close of business. No doubt, the rise of 24/7 has made end of the day impossible, at least in the news and public affairs cycle. President Obama is a chronic abuser of “end of the day.” Most recently, he used it to describe how his health care law would be viewed. Raises the question: What day are you talking about?

WORLD-CLASS — Makes the list because Donald Trump, who is decidedly not, has almost single-handedly run it into the ground. All of his casinos, golf courses, hotels and other concentrators of showy square-footage are world class, even those that ended up in bankruptcy. He is also self-declared in that realm. “I am the evidence,” he said, attacking wind turbines in Scotland that threaten his golf interests. “I am a world-class expert in tourism.” He promised that his world-class private investigators in Hawaii would expose the shocking truth of President Obama’s birth. A better use for them would be back in Scotland, on the Loch Ness case.

BEST PRACTICES — Just below “world-class” in the category of crutch words used to enhance mundane tasks. As a rule, if you can imagine anyone in office casual using a particular term in a presentation, it’s best to keep it under the fluorescent lights of a meeting room. By some peculiar osmosis, what happens in management seminars keeps infecting normal speech. I asked my neighbor what kind of tomatoes to grow this year, and she went on a long discussion of “botanical best practices.” I put potatoes in the ground.

A final thought: I’m as guilty as anyone in letting these banish-worthy words get into print. This column is both artisan and gluten-free, an extension of my brand in a 24/7 environment full of world-class competitors. Whatever. At the end of the day, I’ll try to use best practices and resolve to do better.

In that spirit, I renew an earlier objection to “literally.” It’s become the most overused of phony emphasis words, as in I went to the store, and they were out of kumquats — I mean, they were literally out of kumquats! Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times Company

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2014 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Christmas Carol From Amazon & UPS?

In preparing this post, ye olde blogger was mystified when the code to blockquote a segment of the piece was not rendering until he examined his code and discovered that he had keyboarded "blockqote" without a "u." One little error created a bigger problem. The utter temerity of those who have criticized healthcare.gov is astounding. Let he — who is perfect and without error — cast the first stone. If this is (fair & balanced) geek-think, so be it.

[x TNR]
If The Private Sector Is So Great, Why Did UPS Botch Christmas?
By Alec MacGillis

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created at TagCrowd.com

At the heart of the great big pile-on of ridicule for the flawed healthcare.gov rollout the past few months was a large helping of private-sector triumphalism. Just imagine, the chorus went, if tech giants like Amazon or Google had been in charge of the Web site instead of those clueless, fusty bureaucrats — first, the problems would not have happened in the first place, but even if they had, the private sector would have held those responsible for the mistakes to account.

Bret Stephens wrote an entire column in the Wall Street Journal listing all the ways that the kludgy healthcare.gov launch had failed to live up to Amazonian standards: “For an ‘Amazon-like’ experience, it isn't enough to have a website that functions on the front end, the back end and in between. Nor is it enough to have a site that can handle 800,000 users a day without crashing, as the administration now boasts of the health site. Amazon.com handled 26.5 million purchases on November 26, 2012, a company record and a rate of 306 items per second. You also need an Amazon-like culture, which is the product of other Amazon-like realities. Such as: Jeff Bezos as the boss, demanding results and innovation from his employees, providing results and satisfaction for his customers and shareholders.” California congresswoman Anne Eshoo, a Democrat, questioned the contractors’ excuse that the website’s problems had been exacerbated by the large number of visitors after the launch: “There are thousands of websites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what HealthCare.gov was faced with,” she said. “Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas, and ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day.” And the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein mocked healthcare.gov’s performance by noting that during the 2011 holiday shopping season, “nearly half of [large retail] websites (such as Amazon and eBay) were up 100 percent of the time. The lowest performing was Foot Locker, which was at 98.573 percent.” He added: “Imagine what a disaster it would be for sales if, during the holiday shopping season, Amazon’s website were down for about a day and a half.”

Yes, just imagine the disaster: the presents might not make it to people’s homes on time!

Oh, wait, what’s this I see in today’s papers?

A surge in online shopping this holiday season left stores breaking promises to deliver packages by Christmas, suggesting that retailers and shipping companies still haven't fully figured out consumers' buying patterns in the Internet era. Companies from Amazon.com Inc. to Kohl's Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., having promised to deliver items before Dec. 25, missed some delivery target dates. United Parcel Service Inc. determined late Tuesday that it wouldn't deliver some goods in time for Christmas, as a spike in last-minute shopping overwhelmed its system. "The volume of air packages in the UPS system did exceed capacity as demand was much greater than our forecast," a UPS spokeswoman said…. Although weather, Web glitches and late deliveries from manufacturers played a part in late deliveries, the sheer unanticipated volume of holiday buying this year may have been the biggest problem, retail analysts said.

…In notifications to some Amazon customers, UPS said there were some shipping delays because it had "not yet received the package from the shipper." "Amazon fulfillment centers processed and tendered customer orders to delivery carriers on time for holiday delivery," said an Amazon spokeswoman Wednesday. "We are reviewing the performance of the delivery carriers." The spokeswoman also said Amazon refunded any shipping charges associated with the impacted shipment and provided a $20 gift card. She declined to say how many customers had been impacted or offered such a rebate.

On Christmas Eve, Brandon Scott was still waiting for a 46-inch Samsung TV and Kate Spade watch he ordered from Amazon on Saturday. "I'm frustrated because these items could have easily been purchased at various retailers in my area, something I would have gladly done had Amazon not 'guaranteed' their arrival before Christmas," said Mr. Scott, of Ann Arbor, MI.

Well, then. There’s little schadenfreude to be had in people being left empty-handed of presents to give their family and friends, or in underpaid, overworked warehouse employees and drivers rushing unsuccessfully to get the goods to their destinations on time. And as my colleague Jonathan Cohn noted recently, the comparison between healthcare.gov and Amazon was deeply flawed from the outset. But still, the Great Christmas Delivery Screwup of 2013 should inject a bit of perspective and humility into the ranks of the loudest private-sector champions. The fact is, the clichés are true: life is complicated, stuff happens and sometimes things don’t work out as planned. As amazing and wonderful as technology is, there are still limits to what is possible in narrow windows of time — sometimes you just need a few more weeks to get the complex new health insurance Web site for 36 states working properly, or you just run out of hours to beat Santa to the house — to millions and millions of houses. (And sometimes it’s not just the government web site that struggles with keeping personal information secure, but also one of the largest retailers in the country, in a breach far wider and more potentially damaging than anything that has happened with healthcare.gov.)

So, how about it: if not an outright truce, maybe some de-escalation of the anti-government triumphalism. And a little forgiveness all around. Happy Boxing Day. Ω

[Alec MacGillis is a senior editor at The New Republic. In 2008, he was part of The Washington Post team that received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting for its exceptional, multi-faceted coverage of the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, telling the developing story in print and online. MacGillis received a BA from Yale University.]

Copyright © 2013 The New Republic

Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, December 27, 2013

Today: Slightly More Than A Top Ten List

At the end of each year, the lists appear: the best this and the best that or the opposite side of the coin: the worst this and the worst that. This blog has seen its share of the best and the worsts, so why stop with 2013? The New Republic's John B. Judis offers slightly more than the advertised "10 U.S. History Books That You Must Read." Judis cannot limit some of his historians to a single book, but hey — it's nearly the end of the year. If this is a (fair & balanced) decuple (more or less) ode, so be it.

[x TNR]
Ten Books Any Student Of American History Must Read
By John B. Judis

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created at TagCrowd.com

I woke up on Christmas morning thinking about American historians. It probably was because I had a dream about a historian I knew, or maybe it reflected my own wish—having never taken or taught an American history course, but having written five books of American history—to be regarded as one of the gang. I had hours to kill before my family got up, so I started thinking of what historians and books had most influenced my view of American history, and I came up with a list of ten. They're my favorites; they're not the best books, because I haven’t read comprehensively, especially in certain periods. It’s much heavier on the history of religion than on social history, and on the Progressive Era than on, say, the Civil War.

1. Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness 1956). Miller, a professor at Harvard for two decades after World War II, wrote how Puritan theology—before that, popularly identified with sexual repression and witch burning—influenced America’s idea of itself as having a mission—an “errand into the wilderness.” In Orthodoxy in Massachusetts (1933), Miller also parsed the early conflicts within American Christianity that issued, paradoxically, in the First Amendment. Ideas of American exceptionalism and of America having a special mission in the world all date from the Puritan beliefs that Miller described in his books.

2. William McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings and Reform (1978). McLoughlin, a professor at Brown, described how the history of political and social reform in America tracked that of religious awakenings. What I realized after reading McLoughlin was that the Sixties, which I had lived through, had been a period of religious awakening as well as reform—only the religion had been as different from the standard issue as, say, Millerities or Mormons of the Second Awakening during the 1830s had been from Presbyterianism. McLoughlin would have had trouble, though, fitting the rightwing revival of the ‘80s into his history.

3. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969). Wood, who still teaches at Brown, described how the Federalists justified Constitutional measures aimed at curtailing popular democracy by invoking radical republican ideas of popular sovereignty. The ruse Wood described continues to haunt American debates over “big government” and "states' rights." In a later work, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1991), Wood describes how the American revolution—which historians sometimes reject as a real revolution—set off a social revolution away from vestiges of English Feudal [sic] hierarchy. It’s a great book about American values.

4. Michael Paul Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (1988). When I grew up, kids played cowboys and Indians, and westerns dominated the movies and early television. We still thought of Indians as the bad guys. The American view of Native Americans changed in the civil rights era, but the brutal repression and murder of the Indian tribes laid the foundation for modern America and for modern American democracy, as well as American overseas expansion, and still sits uneasily in our understanding of ourselves. I’d hear occasional echoes of cowboys and Indians in attempts to justify or explain George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Rogin’s book is about the central role that Jackson, the erstwhile popular democrat, played in that history.

5. Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life (1909). Croly was a journalist by trade and not a professional historian (as was W. J. Cash, the author of the pathbreaking The Mind of the South [1941]), but in spite of being an ink-stained wretch, he altered our view of the past. Croly rehabilitated Alexander Hamilton’s view of energetic government. He wrote that with the onset of industrialization, Jefferson’s and Jackson’s opposition to a strong national government had laid the basis for a growing division between rich and poor. Croly also extolled the role of a “disinterested” elite in promoting reform—an outlook that reflected, but also inspired, the work of Robert Brookings of the Brookings Institution or Robert Filene of the Twentieth Century Fund.

6. Martin J. Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890-1916 (1988). During the first decades of the twentieth century, American capitalism began to come to terms with the inequities and instabilities unleashed by the growth of large businesses and banks. In tracing the debate over how to regulate trusts from Theodore Roosevelt to Taft to Wilson, Sklar shows our current model of active government—embraced by liberals as well as, to a great extent, conservatives to the left of the most doctrinaire libertarians—emerged during Wilson’s first term. It’s about our underlying framework. In a subsequent book of essays, The United States as a Developing Country (1992), Sklar takes the analysis through the 1920s, showing that the cultural radicalism and the growth of a post-industrial economy actually dates from that decade rather than from the ‘60s.

7. Warren Susman, Culture As History (1973). These essays are about American culture from the 1920s through the 1950s, and are consistently brilliant. The stupidest decision I’ve ever made as an editor was turning down an essay by Susman on the thirties, which is reprinted in this book. Susman made the point that the thirties, often described as the “red decade,” was very socially conservative compared, say, to the 1920s. It was an era of family, faith and community. Susman includes in his essay the greatest quote ever—from a Young Communist League pamphlet in 1936:

Some people have the idea that the Young Communist Leaguer is politically minded, that nothing outside of politics means anything. Gosh no. They have a few simple problems. There is the problem of getting good men on the baseball team this spring, of opposition from ping-pong teams, of dating girls, etc. We go to shows, parties, dances and all that. In short, the YCL and its members are no different from other people except that we believe in dialectical materialism as the solution to all problems.

8. Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967). Cruse, like Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, joined the Communist Party and then broke with it. Cruse introduced the thesis of Crisis in long essays in 1962 in Studies on the Left. That’s important to realize because at the time black politics seemed divided between a sensible civil rights movement and a nutty separatist movement associated with the Black Muslims. Cruse showed that the division went back to that between integrationist and ethnic nationalist politics, and that there was much to be said for ethnic nationalism and for a black interest group politics, led by black middle class. Later Cruse was critical of the flamboyant Black Power movement and never had any patience with the gun-toting posture of the Black Panther Party.

9. William Appleman Williams, The Contours of American History (1961). American historians—from George Bancroft to Charles Beard—tried to put forth a theory of American history. Williams at the University of Wisconsin, and Louis Hartz were among the last to attempt that kind of synthesis. Contours divides up American history into different periods distinguished by different modes of production, different relations between the economy and government, and different overall ideological frameworks, or weltanschauungs [sic], a notion Williams derived from the German historian and philosopher William Dilthey. Williams was among the first to draw a sharp distinction between the eras of laissez-faire and corporate capitalism, and Williams and his pupil Sklar were also among the first to show that reform in the twentieth century was as much the product of an enlightened capitalist elite as it was of pressure from below.

10. Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (1955). Hartz, in contrast to Williams, reduced American history to a simple dynamic—the result of America’s lack of a European feudal tradition. In America, Hartz argued, Lockean liberalism became the default ideology and attempts to implant socialism or an aristocratic conservatism consistently failed. Hartz’s view is too simple, but it helps to explain the anti-statism of the Jacksonians and—almost two hundred years later—the Tea Partiers. Hartz, who taught at Harvard, also edited and wrote substantial sections of a later book, The Founding of New Societies (1969), that attempted to explore the similarities and differences among the settler colonies, including the United States, Australia, and Canada. Hartz’s analysis helps explain why Canadians are less anti-statist, and Australians more social democratic in their outlook. Ω

[John B. Judis received B.A. and M.A. degrees in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a senior editor at The New Republic and a contributing editor to The American Prospect. Judis has written William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives (1988), Grand Illusion: Critics and Champions of the American Century (1992), The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of the Public Trust (2000), (with Ruy Teixeira) The Emerging Democratic Majority (2002), and The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (2004).]

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Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, December 26, 2013

From The Department O'Better Late Than Never: An Elegaic Look at The Late Peter O'Toole

The recent passing of Peter O'Toole deserves historical analysis and who better for the task than Professor Juan Cole, a dispassionate observer of the Middle East? In a very small space, Cole portrays the real villains in the tragedy of the Middle East: the European Great Powers. Today, we live with their colonial mischief. If this is (fair & balanced) anti-colonialism, so be it.

[x HNN]
How Peter O’Toole Saved The Arabs (According To David Lean)
By Juan Cole

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The late Peter O’Toole played T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s 1963 "Lawrence of Arabia" with genius and abandon. All of us in my generation who went into Middle East studies were influenced by that film one way or another.

Only later did it gradually become apparent to many of us how flawed the film was as history and as culture. Steve Caton has a great book about the making of the film, situating it in the new international cinema of the 1960s. Producers began realizing that films with international themes could do good box office overseas, adding to the profit margin. (This consideration has only grown over time, so that films are now crafted that will do well in the Japanese and Chinese markets). Also, with the rise of air travel tourism, film-makers could no longer pass off Burbank sets as a foreign setting. It became important to shoot abroad. Interestingly, Hollywood’s tradition of showing yellow big-dune deserts made Lean despair of the Jordanian desert being accepted by audiences. (In fact, no one lives in yellow deserts, whereas areas like the eastern desert in Jordan have enough brush and other flora to support pastoral nomads; Lean thought it was brown and not cinematic enough. It is a good metaphor for how Hollywood sometimes prized the ersatz but gaudy over the gritty but authentic).

Sharif Hussein of Mecca and his sons Faisal and Abdullah led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The empire had become more centralized under the Young Turks from 1908 and had extended a railroad to Mecca in Arabia, so that Ottoman officials and officers were interfering more in local affairs. As the “sharif” of Mecca, a kind of mayor claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad, Hussein and his local dynasty had earlier been fairly autonomous from Istanbul. Hussein not only chafed under Ottoman rule, but dreamed of an Arab kingdom encompassing what is now Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The British, like some airlines, were experts in double booking. When Hussein reached out to them, they were happy to promise him his Arab kingdom (excepting the Christians of Lebanon to the west of Aleppo and Damascus). At the same time, they promised Russia Jerusalem and promised the French Greater Syria, and promised the international Zionist movement a ‘homeland’ in Palestine (as long as it did not inconvenience the nearly one million Palestinians).

T.E. Lawrence was only one of several British intelligence officers detailed to Hussein’s forces, which were led by Faisal and Abdullah. Obviously, it was Arabs who waged the Arab revolt, and Lawrence was a small part of it. Faisal was an educated gentleman, having grown up and been schooled in cosmopolitan Istanbul, but the film makes him a primitive tribesman. In fact, he was elected and served in parliament as the representative for Jiddah in the brief period 1909-1912 when the empire had a democratic phase.

In his later grandiose memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922;2011), Laurence actually talked about setting the revolt in motion as you might start a desert avalanche. And, of course, Lawrence knew that the British were simply using the Meccan forces and their allies to harass the Ottomans in what is now Jordan and Israel/Palestine, then Syria. He knew that Syria had been given away to the French. The entire enterprise was one of incredible duplicity and bad faith, though to be fair, the promises made to various parties were made by different parts of the British imperial government.

O’Toole understood Lawrence’s delusions of grandeur, playing him as a preening peacock. He understood that Lawrence had been Irish and gay in Oxbridge, no easy burdens to bear, not to mention having been illegitimate in an Evangelical household. He understood that Lawrence seemed to think he could “pass” as Arab, the only way to understand his odd, implausible anecdote about being briefly captured and raped by an Ottoman officer before being released. The idea of T.E. Lawrence being taken by anyone for an Arab beggars all belief. Robert Bolt, brought in to fix the screenplay, saw Lawrence in the Syria campaign as a sadist, who rather liked hurting the Ottomans in revenge for the rape, and O’Toole captured the manic cruelty of that phase.

The film mocked the Arabs for not being a nation even as it hid the perfidy of the British and French and Zionists in conspiring to keep them from becoming one.

Lawrence was depicted as a foreign savior of an adopted people when in fact he was a British spy who, while he did not agree with the Sykes-Picot agreement giving away Syria to the French, hardly resigned in disgust at the prospect.

In real life, Faisal (played by Alec Guinness, who used the same vocal techniques later on for Obi-Wan Kenobi) was the hero of the story. He relentlessly pushed the Ottomans, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, out of Syria and claimed it for his own kingdom 1918-1920. The French, after a couple of years, invaded and claimed their prize, leaving Faisal a king without a country. The British, at last a little guilty, set him up instead as the king of Iraq. His dynasty, tainted by its foreign alliance, was overthrown bloodily by angry leftist crowds in 1958. The British, having destabilized Palestine and Syria, went on to leave Iraq with an untenable imperial legacy of Sunni rule over Shiites and Kurds, setting the stage for the current civil war.

O’Toole’s searing performance cannot be faulted, however flawed the politics of the film, and however insidious its Orientalism. He was one of the greats. Ω

[John "Juan" Ricardo Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Distinguished University Professor of at the University of Michigan. As a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, he has appeared in print and on television, and testified before the United States Senate. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, "Informed Comment." Cole earned a B.A. in History and Literature of Religions at Northwestern University. In 1978, he took an M.A. in Arabic Studies/History at American University in Cairo. Cole's Ph.D. in Islamic Studies was awarded by the University of California at Los Angeles. His most recent book is Engaging The Muslim World (2009).]

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Creative Commons LicenseSapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves