Friday, 30 March 2012

The Wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt & Today’s Cannot-Kill Oil Subsidies

I’m a big fan of President Theodore Roosevelt, and am eternally boggled by the current Republican Party’s insistence of co-opting him as one of their exemplars. Now, to be fair, TR isn’t as popular as James Madison at the moment – there are currently at least three relatively-high-profile new biographies of the fifth president currently on the “New Biography” and “New History” stands, so popular is Madison. Roosevelt, alongside Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, are boosted as the greatest Republicans – even though TR and Lincoln’s policies don’t bear too much resemblance (if any) to Reagans. Especially when it comes to the economy. (I’ve written about this before.)

I was reminded of this by yesterday’s Chris Hayes-hosted Rachel Maddow Show (Maddow herself was at a signing at Union Square Barnes & Noble, which I had intended to attend until I saw just how busy it was, and decided to just buy Maddow’s new book, DriftUS / UK).

Hayes was discussing the filibustered bill to end Oil Subsidies, and shared this snippet from President TR:

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And here’s proof that what President Roosevelt was attempting to avoid has, sadly, come to pass (again, from the same episode of The Rachel Maddow Show):

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Here are a couple more quotations about TR’s political and economic philosophy, from Aida D. Donald’s superb The Lion in the White House (Basic Books):

“He sought laws to break monopolies and to oversee accounting reviews to get corporations to pay their taxes. Not incidentally, he thought he made corporations more moral by making them pay their fair share. Roosevelt also knew corporations would now have less money with which to corrupt politics.”

Roosevelt’s wariness of money in politics was not birthed by his experiences in Washington, either. They started long before that, and informed his whole political career:

“He had demanded accountability from corporations when he was governor of New York, when they overvalued stock, watered stock, and fooled investors with corrupt practices, and he would take his battle against what he called ‘bad’ trusts to the larger playing field.”

Roosevelt was never shy of letting people know when they didn’t meet his high standards:

“The high court was antilabor, probusiness, laissez-faire to the extreme, and prohibited most union activity. In doing so, it put private property above individual or community rights, which Roosevelt thought was wrong.”

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Takin’ Away Everyone’s Freedom!

Ah, here we go with some more Republican hypocrisy. Obamacare, currently being debated in the Supreme Court (when they’re not discussing broccoli), has been described as a type of tyranny, as it forces people to buy something they apparently don’t want – taking away the “last shred of freedom”.

Now, I’ll admit to having my own concerns with the way the administration tackled the healthcare issue. I still think costs should have been attacked before any form of mandate – it’s apparently the biggest reason people don’t have health insurance, and by going after that as an issue, President Obama and the Democrats would have been able to blunt the paroxysms for “FREEDOM” that we are seeing today, by arguing that making it cheaper across the board would have allowed more Americans to afford to buy their own healthcare. Then the President could have started working on the mandate. As it was, there’s really no wonder the ultimate Obamacare plan had support from health insurance companies – they were being guaranteed tens of millions of new customers.

“Republicans want the government out of healthcare” (from clip below), and don’t want to be told what medical procedures people have to have, they don’t want the government to force people to buy or pay for things they don’t need or want… Except in the case of women’s health – then, the loudest (but probably not majority) Republican opinion seems to be, “it’s ok to force invasive transvaginal ultrasounds and more” on women, because… well, because we don’t really understand girly-bits, and they aren’t allowed to decide on how they deal with their own health. Only a large number of old men are allowed to decide!

“Don’t make us buy a product we don’t want to buy”, Senator Ron Johnson has begged. Get your party to practice what you all preach, please.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Candidate “Etch-a-Sketch”

In the latest of what will no doubt be a very long slew of campaign gaffes, a Romney campaign aide said the Candidate will experience an “etch-a-sketch” type moment between the primaries and general election – in other words, that he will walk back from some of his nuttier right-wing promises and “beliefs”.

I’m of two minds about this “gaffe”. For one thing, it’s true, and is true of pretty much every candidate who’s ever run for Republican or Democratic office. A president cannot be successful by alienating vast swathes of the electorate, and certainly can’t succeed if he (or, one day, she) refuses to compromise with anyone else. Therefore, campaign promises have a pretty short shelf-life when exposed to Washington air. Secondly… Is it really news? Are we really surprised that Candidate Romney will change a position or ten in order to swing whichever way the political winds are blowing? Seriously?

This is not news. Which is why I liked the way Rachel Maddow covered the incident. She takes a far more definitive position about Romney’s flip-floppery, and just comes out and says it: Romney lies. Here’s how…

Now, some of these lies are distortions and quite typical lies that come from the mouths of politicians and, as in the case of Candidate Romney, people who spend their entire lives trying to get into office. As Maddow says, though, Romney has a tendency to lie far more about “even about the stupid stuff” than anyone else with such a high profile in American politics.

I must say, though, that out of them all, the one that really bothers me, is how Romney is fleeing from his healthcare record. WHY?! The Massachusetts program is a success! It proves that an affordable, regulated healthcare can work in American and does improve overall wellbeing. For God’s sake! As a Brit who has benefited a number of times from the “evil, socialist medicine” of the NHS (and not been bankrupted by essential surgery)… Come on, America, get your shit together!

UPDATE, MARCH 23rd

Rachel Maddow followed up on her original segment about Romney’s flexible relationship with truth the day after, with even more damning reporting:

Maddow looks at Romney’s first political ad, which completely distorted an Obama comment, that “in a political world where there are very low expectations for how truthful how political ads are, in a political world where you just assume and therefore excuse a certain level of sliminess and sleight of hand” this first ad was particularly egregious and, as it turns out, would set the tone for Romney’s primary campaign.

“Mr. Romney’s ok with lying as he runs for president, even when he gets caught, and it is amazing. I think it the most notable thing about his candidacy. It is an important thing about his candidacy that we have to grapple with as a country: whether this sort of thing is just the sort of thing we expect, whether it’s ok for somebody running for president, or whether it’s not ok, whether it goes to a question of his character, and what we expect from people running for office this high.”

This report brings up a number of important questions about Romney’s campaign and also the standard it is setting for his supporters – that lying is an acceptable strategy if you want to beat Obama and elect Candidate Weathervane.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

How much impact can the President have…?

I thought this clip was interesting, given my academic interest in the Presidency. Ezra Klein (standing in for UP!’s host, Chris Hayes), discusses the impact of presidential speeches on the legislative process. Summary: it’s unfortunately not like The West Wing, and people need to stop thinking that.

The show continued, as Klein turned the topic over to his guests. It’s not bad, actually, although I think the shorter clip above is probably enough.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Now they tell me…! (To PhD or Not to PhD?)

“a PhD in Political Science should only be for those who are passionate and curious and do not care where they end up living. And that they need to be aware that the job market can be pretty challenging and stressful.”  - Dr Steve Saideman

Only, really, it’s not the first time I’ve heard this, or sentiments like it. There’s another good article about it at the Duck of Minerva that seems to be making the rounds this weekend, by a graduate student. I learned of it from a post by Dan Drezner, which has a lot of other handy links embedded within it. Here are a couple of snippets from the Duck of Minerva post, which I thought were of particular interest:

“you should think really hard about what makes you happy. Do you only want to be a professor if you can be a hip prof in New York or the Bay Area? Then don’t go to graduate school. You are statistically almost certain not to get that job. So unless you’ve come to the conclusion that you’d be just as satisfied working for years to take what your mentors will refer to as a ‘Good Job’ in a state that voted for Santorum instead of getting the Best Job in the discipline, then you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure.”

And, because this is excellent advice, and something I tell anybody who will listen, across disciplines at the PhD level:

“if you’ve been admitted, you almost certainly have the raw talent necessary to play the game. You’re likely to be deeply depressed at some point in your first semester, though, because it will seem as if everyone in your program knows more about everything than you did. That’s extremely unlikely to be true, but it will nevertheless feel that way… The best advice I ever got about grad school was on the first day, when a senior Ph.D. student informed our entering cohort that nobody can write a dissertation on their own.” [emphasis mine]

Now, for me, that actually was the case – before my PhD, I had never studied international relations theory, was fresh off an International Journalism Masters course, and felt very quickly lost whenever anyone threw out words like “Gramscian” or “Hegelian” (two words that still make me shudder a little). Nevertheless, a few months ago, I was able to submit this:

201202 - My Thesis

My thesis, as presented by my good friend Ann-Marie, who organised the binding and physical submission while I was out of the country. [Huge thanks again!]
Excerpts available on request for prospective employers & interested parties.

That final point, in the above pull-quote, however is a very important one – you cannot write a PhD thesis in your own, personal bubble. Your supervisor(s) will have input (you hope), colleagues and friends will be able to help you with snippets of your text, and will also act as sounding boards (witting or not) if you get stuck and want to work out an argument. There are a number of people who were invaluable to me when it came to, particularly, those final months of writing before submission and then again before my defence (or “viva” as we called it at Durham).

One thing that has been interesting for me, as a Brit with a PhD in US politics, wanting to find employment in the United States, is how everyone seems to assume holding a PhD means I only want to be an academic. There seems to be little discussion of the possibility of going into policy and/or government in one capacity or another. I wonder why this is? In truth, I have a great deal of ambition to be many things over the course of my life – most of them involving writing of one form or another, and many of them stemming from my passion for American politics and foreign policy.

For example, I would love to be employed by a university to study, analyse and comment on the role of domestic institutions in American politics (preferably starting at a postdoctoral researcher-level, while I gain confidence and publications – although I know I could rise to the occasion and responsibilities of any position I was offered). Outside of academia, however, I would love to work in politics – as an analyst, staffer, commentator, and/or journalist. After years of academia, part of me – while certainly enjoying the researcher environment and lifestyle – would also love to do something, instead of just researching and commenting on those who make and work on policy and in politics.

*   *   *

While I’m on the subject of what I want to do, I thought I’d offer just a bit of an updated Mission Statement for this blog. I intend to keep publishing book reviews, despite the relative silence on that front for the last few months. I have kept reading, of course, but mostly I’ve been focusing on articles rather than long-form texts. This will change, and I have four reviews in the works already:

Boomerang by Michael Lewis, Becoming China’s Bitch by Peter D. Kiernan, Escape Artists by Noam Schreiber, and Strategic Vision by Zbigniew Brzezinski

I can’t promise exactly when these reviews are going to materialise, but they’ll all hopefully be soon. I’ve also got a short piece in the works about the “return” of realism in foreign policy discussion (this, really, is a response to two articles I’ve read over the past couple of weeks). Speaking of articles, I’ll continue posting interesting comments on various news and journalistic articles I read, and video segments I see. Probably not many on the 2012 GOP Primary season, though, as frankly there’s becoming ever-less to say about it that doesn’t require wholesale repetition or bloviating without first-hand-knowledge. I’ll also be putting up occasional posts like this, and trying my hand at more commentary/opinion pieces.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Rush Limbaugh is a Pox on America

He really is. This is about his latest bout of ignorant attention-seeking stupidity: calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” after she testified about birth control. What surprised me was the reaction from everyone in the media – they seemed surprised that Limbaugh would personally attack someone like this. Of course he would, I thought to myself. That’s the kind of guy he is. It’s entirely believable.

Limbaugh is a perfect example of the conservative/Republican obsession with sex and lady-parts. So, in keeping with that meme: he is a pox on American political discourse. He is the STD that just will not go away, despite doing everything to get rid of him. We need an antibiotic specially designed to get rid of America’s Limbaugh problem.

For more, read Al Franken’s Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.

Rachel Maddow covered the incident on her March 2nd show, and makes a lot of very good points – not least her analysis of Limbaugh’s reaction (he clearly doesn’t understand how birth control works). The clip’s below, and the relevant stuff kicks in around the 4:44 mark (I’ve never been able to figure out the ‘clip-n-share’ thing, because it never works for me, so apologise for using the whole clip):

Thursday, 1 March 2012

President Obama (Finally) Skewers GOP in Speech

The portion of Obama’s speech that’s included near the beginning of the clip below (ends at 2:20 mark) is how I wish Obama was all the time. It shows a little bit of fight and fire (please excuse the use of that word, I know how horribly cliché it is to use when talking about politicians), and I really hope it foreshadows how he will approach the general election.

The rest of the clip is pretty interesting, too. A bit boiler-plate when it comes to “if the economy is strong, people will re-elect the incumbent president”.

[I keep trying to use MSNBC’s “Clip & Share” option for their online videos, but I can never get it to work. I’ll keep trying, so I’m not always posting the full-length pieces.]