the civil war and abolitionist immigrants, rome at night wallpaper, america can no longer afford conservatism

Fascinating slice of Civil War history that also includes some history of the contribution of immigrants to America’s brand of democratic republicanism. Unfortunately this is not from an open access academic journal so I can only excerpt a small bit of a long and thorough article, Civil Warfare in St. Louis – After Fort Sumter, German immigrants in the city flocked to the Union cause and in bloody confrontations overthrew the local secessionists

That fall, Missouri Germans flocked to join the semisecret political groups, known as Wide Awakes, that formed across the North in support of Lincoln’s candidacy. Capes! Torches! Nighttime parades! It was just like the good old days back in Dresden and Heidelberg. And woe betide any opponent who might try to heckle at a Wide Awake rally: “If he escaped unmaimed he was lucky indeed,” one local Republican wrote.

Many of these Germans had participated in liberal pro labor/pro democracy movements back in Germany. When they moved to St. Louis it was probably the most important city east of the Appalachians. Thousands of steamboats carrying goods traveled through St Louis – it was the Atlanta or Los Angeles International Airport of its day. St Louis was also home to the person who would become the world’s most famous slave Dred Scott. These abolitionist Germans, the “Forty-Eighters”, being against slavery endeared them to the anti-Republican press who called them  infidels, anarchists, fanatics and socialists.

black and white beach dune fence

In every generation there are the vast army of mediocre leaders. People who like power and the sound of their own voice. They contribute little and have many opinions. While they are spread far and wide around the world one of their favorite watering holes in the US is specially appointed commissions. Not all commissions are bad, but these mediocrities are the ones that give them a bad name. Alan Simpson is of the species Arrogantus mediocris, as in “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Alan Simpson it had been all three” [Joseph Heller Catch-22]. In Washington, You Don’t Need To Know Anything About Policy To Be a Senator Or Chair Important Commissions

Later in the interview, Simpson reveals that doesn’t what life expectancy even means: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 — that all of them lived to be 77 — that is just not correct.” And of course it’s not correct. Plenty of people turned 65 then died the next year. But on average, a 65 year-old man in 1940 could expect to live 12-13 more years. But the really striking moment is when Simpson says this to Grimm:

“This is the first time, the first time — and Erskine [Bowles, the deficit commission co-chair,] and I have been talking for a year and many months — that anyone’s going to sit around and play with statistics like this.

That’s right, according to former Senator Alan Simpson not only did he not familiarize himself with the relevant life expectancy data during his many years in the Senate, he’s never once brought it up during his months of work on a commission specifically charged with re-evaluating America’s retirement programs. And this, in turn, tells you a lot about how Washington works. There are tons of people in this town who know lots of things about public policy. But possessing this knowledge isn’t considered an important qualification for these kind of jobs. Simpson is old, and he used to be an influential Senator, and since he was pro-choice he’s also “moderate.” That’s all the qualification you need. Actual knowledge isn’t important.

Someone making recommendations about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid not familiarizing themselves with life expectancy and advances in life extending medical breakthroughs. Which  is like listening to Captain Ahap give a lecture on how not to be obsessive. Asking George W. Bush how to run a business. Asking Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich their secret to a successful marriage.

city skyline

rome at night wallpaper

Some people can afford to be conservatives and libertarians, I don’t think the average American can, The Consequences of Conservatism

Wealth destruction probably doesn’t adequately capture what happened in the early stages of the crisis. Wealth was vaporized at a breathtaking, eye-popping speed. American families lost a total of $19.4 trillion (in 2010 dollars) in household wealth from June 2007 to March 2009, when the stimulus started to take hold. First it was the housing market, and then it was the housing and the stock market together that tanked. American families lost $6.4 trillion in home value during this period.

Trillions of dollars are sometimes hard to grasp, so think of it this way: One complete house (at 2008 prices) was lost every 1.7 seconds during the Great Wealth Destruction. And this doesn’t even count what happened to American families’ rainy day funds and retirement savings.

While the authors are correct in their kind of micro view. The legacy of conservative economic policies has been gathering steam since the Reagan administration. Some conservative Democrats bought into the deregulation fever. I’m not familiar with every gripe by every progressive, but this is part of the reason for the disenchantment with the conservative branch of the Democratic Party. What some refer to as their triangulation – letting the financial elites have most of what they want in return for protecting Social Security and Medicare, and throwing out some progressive crumbs like the watered down financial reform package. Bill Clinton signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Championed by right-wing Republicans such as Phil Gramm(R-TX) – who never meet a banker’s dollar he and his wife would not take. The CFM alone was not the cause of the Great Recession but its hands off deregulation of derivatives and allowing the growth of the “shadow” banking system played a large part. The CFM legislation and some related legislation is well documented in the Congressional record and in news archives. There was an obscene amount of influence by the powers that be in America’s financial sector, but no secret conspiracy per se. Equipped with this small snap shot one could direct blame away from George W. Bush, as many rightwing bloggers ( warning, will lead to some obnoxious liars) have tried to do. The fact remains that if Bush, his Fed, his Treasury, his SEC had done their jobs (pdf)  they might have prevented the Great Recession or made the effects less severe and made it less costly to the nation. Whatever the names of the persons who signed these series of laws, the undoing of the FDR-Depression financial laws,  that had protected America from such a devastating financial collapse for over fifty years, conservatism was clearly the philosophy behind those laws and the cause of the Great Recession.

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