Thursday, 31 July 2014

Bill Clinton On bin Laden, September 10th, 2001…

Found this on MSNBC, in an article by Alex Seitz-Wald. Yet another random comment that takes on considerable historical and (potentially) political significance. The former president was speaking at a company event (J.T. Campbell & Co. Pty. Ltd.) in Melbourne, and one of the attendees had a recording of the event. Here’s what he apparently said, as per Seltz-Waid’s article:

“And I’m just saying, you know, if I were Osama bin Laden — he’s very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him — and I nearly got him once,” Clinton is heard saying. “I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

Pretty interesting.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

To Read: LINCOLN AND THE POWER OF THE PRESS by Harold Holzer (Simon & Schuster)

HolzerH-LincolnAndThePowerOfThePressThe War for Public Opinion

The capacity for American scholars, journalists and authors to produce ever more titles about the lives of their presidents is quite astonishing. Some books focus on extremely narrow events or themes from specific presidencies, while just as many try to offer comprehensive or concise biographies. In this book, Harold Holzer takes a look at one of the most popular presidents and his relationship with the news media. I have very high hopes for this book. (The relationships between presidents and government institutions as a whole and the press has long been a passion and interest of mine.) Here’s the synopsis:

From his earliest days, Lincoln devoured newspapers. As he started out in politics he wrote editorials and letters to argue his case. He spoke to the public directly through the press. He even bought a German-language newspaper to appeal to that growing electorate in his state. Lincoln alternately pampered, battled, and manipulated the three most powerful publishers of the day: Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, and Henry Raymond of the New York Times.

When war broke out and the nation was tearing itself apart, Lincoln authorized the most widespread censorship in the nation’s history, closing down papers that were “disloyal” and even jailing or exiling editors who opposed enlistment or sympathized with secession. The telegraph, the new invention that made instant reporting possible, was moved to the office of Secretary of War Stanton to deny it to unfriendly newsmen.

Holzer shows us an activist Lincoln through journalists who covered him from his start through to the night of his assassination—when one reporter ran to the box where Lincoln was shot and emerged to write the story covered with blood. In a wholly original way, Holzer shows us politicized newspaper editors battling for power, and a masterly president using the press to speak directly to the people and shape the nation.

Lincoln and the Power of the Press is due to be published by Simon & Schuster, on October 14th, 2014.

To Read: UNREASONABLE MEN by Michael Wolraich (Palgrave)

WolraichM-UnreasonableMenTheodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics

Michael Wolraich’s Unreasonable Men (Palgrave Macmillan) looks like it could be an interesting supplemental to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful The Bully Pulpit, which also details the rise of Progressivism in the United States, from the perspectives of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, and the muckraking journalists who championed so many progressive causes.

Here’s the official publisher synopsis for Unreasonable Men:

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Republican Party stood at the brink of an internal civil war. After a devastating financial crisis, furious voters sent a new breed of politician to Washington. These young Republican firebrands, led by “Fighting Bob” La Follette of Wisconsin, vowed to overthrow the party leaders and purge Wall Street’s corrupting influence from Washington. Their opponents called them “radicals,” and “fanatics.” They called themselves Progressives.

President Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of La Follette’s confrontational methods. Fearful of splitting the party, he compromised with the conservative House Speaker, “Uncle Joe” Cannon, to pass modest reforms. But as La Follette’s crusade gathered momentum, the country polarized, and the middle ground melted away. Three years after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt embraced La Follette’s militant tactics and went to war against the Republican establishment, bringing him face to face with his handpicked successor, William Taft. Their epic battle shattered the Republican Party and permanently realigned the electorate, dividing the country into two camps: Progressive and Conservative.

Unreasonable Men takes us into the heart of the epic power struggle that created the progressive movement and defined modern American politics. Recounting the fateful clash between the pragmatic Roosevelt and the radical La Follette, Wolraich’s riveting narrative reveals how a few Republican insurgents broke the conservative chokehold on Congress and initiated the greatest period of political change in America’s history.

Unreasonable Men is published today.

Monday, 21 July 2014


Bit of a change from the normal content for the blog, but here’s the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of Andrew Hodges’s biography of mathematician Alan Turing, The Enigma (below). Turing was the genius who managed to crack the Enigma Code, and is widely considered to be the father of modern computing.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Emotions Boil Over on UP…

On today’s episode of MSNBC’s UP With Steve Kornacki, emotions boiled over between host Kornacki and guests Bernie Sanders and Steve Clemons. Discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict currently going on (a delicate subject to begin with), Sanders accuses Kornacki and Clemons of bias – basically, because they are somewhat critical of Israel’s tactics and (in their opinion) excessive use of excessive force. It’s an interesting example of the media style in the United States. I think Kornacki is absolutely right to slap Sanders down after the accusation, for two reasons: as Kornacki says, it’s his job to ask difficult questions (something he’s always good at), and secondly because Sanders was whining. Here’s the clip…

Friday, 18 July 2014

“Native born citizen”…


This piece is not intended as a partisan attempt to discredit a candidate’s bona fides. It is a critique of an article, taking issue with its framing.

The article in question is Jeffrey Toobin’s piece from the June 30th issue of the New Yorker, “The Absolutist” (pages 34-45).

According to Toobin, Ted Cruz has an “unusual intimacy with the constitutional text” (37), thanks to his after-school sessions at the Free Enterprise Institute, and also his role as a “Constitutional Corroborator”, who are connected with the FEI. Over the course of his education and intellectual evolution, Toobin writes, Cruz has focused very much on the specific text of the US Constitution, wholeheartedly adopting the position of a “textualist” or “originalist”…

“During the past several decades, the ideological battles over the Constitution have often come down to the originalists, closely aligned with the textualists, against those who believe that the Constitution also protects some nontextual, or unenumerated, rights.” (37)

Toobin describes a memorization trick of Cruz’s, which is aimed at helping people to remember the specific rights set forth in the Constitution. This trick “was an early stage in a textualist’s education. To textualists, the meaning of the Constitution is limited to the precise terms of the document, and nothing more.” In other words, Ted Cruz believes very much in what the Constitution specifically dictates and expresses as the laws for the governing of the United States of America.

Why do I bring this up? Not one page later, Toobin writes something that, to me, seems absolutely incorrect. Not only that, but by Cruz’s own ideology would suggest he does not accept what Toobin claims (as explained by Toobin, and also Cruz himself during many instances on camera). Specifically: Cruz’s eligibility to run for President.

Monday, 14 July 2014

“Paperwork is against my religion…”

A clip from MSNBC’s Up, about the fallout from the Hobby Lobby ruling travesty. They followed this up with a truly stupid ruling…

“Some groups said that the paperwork was against their religion. The court agreed with them.”

I’d say this was unbelievable, but it’s no longer unbelievable, for contemporary America. As one of the guests in the above clip says, “I’m utterly confused… this doesn’t make any sense to me”. Well said. This type of ruling, and the expanse and advancement of religiosity and religion-based rulings (some would say this is the “Talibanization” of America) is very troubling from an outside perspective. It sets an extremely troubling precedent for future rulings. And, once again, I am stunned that “freedom of religion” trumps “freedom from religion”.

I’m reminded of what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Draft Constitution for Virginia: “All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution.” How is allowing a business the right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees not compelling employees to adhere to a religious institution they do not themselves follow?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Charles P. Pierce on SCOTUS and Religious Rulings…

Following the recent rulings from the Supreme Court of the US (Hobby Lobby, etc.), I caught a link for Pierce’s piece for Esquire, from March 25th, 2014, “The Hobby Lobby Case and Our Diminishing First Amendment”. I thought his conclusion was very good…

The whole thing is a depressing reminder that almost the entire debate over the role of religion in our politics is conducted, in one way or the other, on the grounds of human sexuality. In this, alas, and especially in this case, because it involves a woman's right to control her reproductive health and the role of birth control therein, the political brawl is a precise parallel to what happened among Roman Catholics in the aftermath of Paul VI’s dreadful Humanae Vitae encyclical in 1968. Suddenly, the whole question of papal authority, and the magisterium, and the deposit of faith, and almost the entirety of Catholic doctrine pivoted vitally on the question of birth control. The Church went mad over it, and it hasn't recovered from it yet. In Bare Ruined Choirs, historian Garry Wills best summed up the situation in a way that resounded through the arguments raised in the Hallowed Chambers today.

“Thus are the ‘keys to the Kingdom’ reduced to mere smithying of intellectual chastity belts.”

And thus, today, in the Supreme Court, was the First Amendment to the Constitution reduced to exactly the same thing.

Charles P. Pierce is the author of Idiot America, a fantastic must-read book on America’s history of quacks and “How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free”. Cover is below, and you can read my review here.