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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Choosing Between The Iraqis and The Kurds

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Cooperstown, NY – photo by Robert Madden

Yesterday, we talked about the US strategy of keeping all sides at bay in the Middle East (ME). This is supposed to allow us to turn our attention away from the ME to Russia and China. If that leads to conflicts between ME countries (or within them), that is acceptable to us, so long as these conflicts do not threaten Israel, or drag us back into military involvement in the region.

Today, we see our strategy in action in the brewing conflict between Iraq and the Kurds in Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds held a referendum that decisively supported their independence from Iraq. The vote was a historic moment in the Kurds’ generations-long struggle for political independence. But every major player in the neighborhood including the US, opposed even holding the referendum. And Baghdad refused to recognize the results.

In the past few days, the Iraqi military battled Kurdish forces to reclaim the city of Kirkuk from the Kurds. This means that one American-backed ally is fighting another, both with American-supplied weapons. From the NYT: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

American officials, including President Trump, insisted that the US was not taking sides in the dispute, but some analysts say that the US approved the Iraqi plan to enter Kurdish-held areas and that Iran helped broker the agreement with a Kurdish faction to withdraw its fighters from Kirkuk, allowing the Iraqi forces to take over largely unopposed.

Most of the Kurdish Peshmerga military forces in Kirkuk are loyal to a faction that is opposed to Mr. Barzani, the nominal leader of Iraqi Kurds. They agreed to make way for the advancing Iraqi force. Iran also supports the Iraqi government’s moves on Kirkuk. Iran’s goal is to insert Shiite militias into contested areas, dividing the Kurds, while solidifying Iranian influence over the Iraqi government.

So, does this mean we are now supporting Iran’s moves in Kirkuk? How does that compute when we are calling them out at the UN as state-sponsors of terror? Does it compute as Trump walks us out of the Iran nuclear deal? And why we are doing this when the Kurds are an important ally in our fight against ISIS?

The NYT quotes Joshua Geltzer, a former director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council:

It seems like we just got out of the way as Baghdad rolled the Kurds, and that doesn’t feel right…Plus, it makes little sense for an administration interested in getting tougher on Iran.

So, is this just more of the ME balance of power strategy that we are practicing in the region? Maybe, but the Iraq’s history doesn’t support our idea of E Pluribus Unum.

Iraq emerged from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI. Up to that point, the territory that became Iraq had been ruled by the Ottoman Turks for hundreds of years. But at the Versailles peace negotiations, the British were given the lands that are now Iraq, with the intention that the area be made independent at some point.

When Iraq was created, no group thought of itself as Iraqi.  As Pat Lang says, the land comprised:

Arab Sunni Muslims, Arab Shia Muslims, Kurdish Sunni Muslims, Kurdish Shia Muslims, Kurdish Yaziidis, Turkmans, Assyrian Christians, Chaldean Christians and Jews.

And these groups began revolutions against the central government shortly after Iraq was granted independence in 1925. In 2003, when the current Iraqi state emerged, it had ties to the US and to Iran. Now, Iraq is a Shia dominated state, and, despite all of the US blood and treasure expended to stabilize it, Iraq is likely to ally with Iran over time.

That’s the same Iran that Trump and his neo-con friends detest.

On Wrongo’s reading list is Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nationsby Georgina Howell. It details how Bell, at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire, was the driving force behind the creation of Iraq in the post-WWI period. As Christopher Hitchens said in his 2007 review:

Howell points out that the idealistic members of Britain’s “Arab Bureau” knew that the promises they gave to the Arab tribes, that they would have self-determination after the war if they joined Britain against the Turks, would be broken.

How remarkable (and tragic) that we would use the Kurds in the same way 100 years later against ISIS.

Is there any reason to have confidence that the Trump administration has a clear plan to deal with what is happening on the ground in Iraq?

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Book Review: “The First Congress” by Fergus M. Bordewich

The Daily Escape:

251 1st Street, Brooklyn, NYC – photo by Miguel de Guzman

It is time to review “The First Congress – How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government” by Fergus M. Bordewich, which has been on Wrongo’s reading list since winter.

Bordewich says that the First Congress was the most important in US history, because it established in some detail how our government would actually function. Had it failed − as it nearly did − it’s possible that the US would exist in a different form today.

Congress began its work in New York City, then a fast-growing and chaotic shipping port of 30,000. Its first meeting was hardly auspicious: On March 4, 1789 they met as the new government after ratification by 11 of the 13 original states. But, there was no quorum to do business in either house. Bordewich outlines how difficult it was to make overland journeys: Boston to New York required six days, trips from the South were much longer. The House achieved a quorum of 29 members on April 1st, and the Senate followed on April 5th, but some members did not arrive until late summer.

Bordewich states that the need to accomplish something quickly was pressing:

Confidence in government was abysmally low…contempt for politicians was rife…and many political men held an equally low opinion of the voting public.

Sounds just like today.

The members were sharply divided, with huge differences of philosophy and opinion. The anti-federalists were opposed to a strong federal government, and had largely been against the ratification of the Constitution, preferring that power remain in the hands of the states. The Federalists wanted a stronger national government and supported the new Constitution.

Underlying everything were issues of North vs. South, rural agrarian vs. urban manufacturing economies, and pro-slave and anti-slave views.

During two years of political struggle, they passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution; they resolved regional rivalries to choose the location for a new national capital; they set in place the procedure for admitting new states to the union; they created the Supreme Court, and worked through the respective roles of the federal and state judiciaries. They established a national bank that was later dissolved by Andrew Jackson in 1832.

But the First Congress also confronted issues that are still with us: the appropriate balance between states’ rights and the powers of national government, and the proper balance between legislative and executive power. The issue of slavery would fester for almost seven decades before being resolved.

The reason that the First Congress succeeded was that they compromised. Without a willingness to compromise, all might have been lost. The great motivator behind their willingness to compromise was the fear that the anti-Federalists would walk away from the new Constitution. There was real reason to fear secession, and it was threatened many times by both the slave-holding South, as well as by the New England states.

Bordewich shows the regional splits that played out in the effort to create a national bank:

The balloting also had a disturbing subtext: all but one of the twenty votes against the bank hailed from the South…Of the thirty-nine votes in favor of the bank, all but five were from the North – yet another omen of the embryonic divide that would dominate the nation’s politics for years to come.

There are wonderful nuggets like this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The First Amendment…became so only by default, when the two preceding amendments – on congressional apportionment and compensation for members – failed to achieve ratification by enough states…Three states – Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia – would not officially ratify even the ten amendments until…1939. (pg. 140)

In all, 39 amendments received meaningful debate. As important as passing the 10 we know about, was the rejection of others that would have imperiled a strong federal government, including one that gave voters the right to give legislators binding instructions on how to vote.

There was nothing inevitable about the survival and success of the new government. It came about by men from all sections of the country, each with an agenda, who overlooked their prejudices to create a government. The result of their spirit of compromise was the successful launch of our government.

Sharp divisions, rural vs. urban, states’ rights vs. federal authority: We face many of the same issues today that the First Congress had to face in 1789.

But, they had Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton.

Who do we have?

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

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Winter Reading List

The following are books that Wrongo hopes to finish by spring. They are all supposed to be good for you, like vitamins, or exercise. A few more may be added to the pile, but it is already an ambitious list to get through in the next quarter:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari asks how Homo sapiens evolved from an unexceptional savannah-dwelling primate to become the dominant force on the planet.

The Sympathizer by Viet Trang Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It describes a Viet Cong agent undercover with the Republic of Vietnam forces and the US military. He is bi-racial, with a Vietnamese mother and a French GI father, making him a “man of two minds”. He escapes after the Fall of Saigon, and lives in the Vietnamese refugee community in LA, while secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam.

The First Congress by Fergus M. Bordewitch. America’s beginnings have been enjoying new popularity. The play “Hamilton” shows that better than any book. This interest has been sparked by a recognition that the American Revolution was a beginning, not an ending, of the story of our nation. And today, we need big ideas and role models more than ever.

The Populist Explosion by John Judis. Did an unstoppable wave of Populism give us Donald Trump? This is a 184 page book that may tell us.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky changed our assumptions about decision-making. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, for which Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize (Tversky had already died). The book is about their work, their incredibly close relationship, and how it went sideways.

The General vs. The President by HW Brands.

Wrongo just finished this highly readable book. In 1950, South Korea was invaded by the North, and our troops were nearly forced to abandon the peninsula.

Harry Truman was president. After WWII, America was not interested, or able to fight another war. We had demobilized our troops, and had limited numbers of planes, ships and equipment that were combat ready, but the thinking was that holding Korea was necessary to protect Japan from invasion by the Soviets and the Chinese.

General MacArthur was the greatest military hero of his time, and was in charge of America’s interests in Asia. In the Korean conflict, he had an early brilliant success, launching a counter-attack against the North Koreans at Inchon that led to the North Koreans being completely routed. MacArthur pursued them into North Korea, all the way to the Chinese border. China saw MacArthur on their border as an existential threat, and joined the conflict in huge numbers, pushing the allied forces back again into the south.

MacArthur had constantly lobbied (and actually took steps) to extend the war into China. He based that on advising Truman that the Chinese would never enter the war. He further insisted that the battle against communism should be fought in Asia, while Truman and the administration felt certain that the real trouble spot was Europe. We had already engaged Russia in the Berlin airlift in 1948. In fact, the CIA had warned that:

The Soviet Union may seize upon the present crisis [Korea] to precipitate general war with the United States.

MacArthur offered an unauthorized ceasefire to the North Koreans while threatening the alternative of nuclear war with China. He wanted to use Taiwan’s military to help defeat China’s troops in Korea, which would have left Taiwan unprotected, and would have re-started the war between the mainland and Taiwan that had just ended in 1949. He also wrote an inflammatory letter to a Republican congressman, contradicting his Commander in Chief’s strategy for Korea.

His actions caused his firing in April, 1951. Afterward, Truman came under withering attack from Republicans. MacArthur was hailed as a hero. He addressed a joint session of Congress, and had ticker tape parades all across the US. But, at Congressional hearings called to justify Truman’s strategy, the tide gradually turned against MacArthur.

The author does a fantastic job sourcing now de-classified portions of the hearings to demonstrate the danger in MacArthur’s ideas. Because of the hearings, all in Congress finally understood what America was facing globally, how ill-prepared we were at the time, and the folly of MacArthur’s plans.

MacArthur flirted with running for president, and Truman was weakened after his 1948 election. So MacArthur moved to kill the king. He called Truman an appeaser, someone who did not understand the global threat of communism. Truman did not run for reelection.

Eisenhower became president in 1952, having pledged to bring peace on the Korean peninsula.

Today, Truman is vindicated, and is considered a near-great president, while MacArthur is viewed as a brilliant military man who let politics ruin him.

Read the book!

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The Lyin’ Game

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was, and never will be.”Thomas Jefferson

We received quite a few emails about the column “Lie to Me – It’s a Post-Truth World.” In it, Wrongo called for a means of rebutting lies as they emerge and crawl across our political landscape. Citizens who otherwise lead commonsensical lives cannot seem to hold on to facts when in a political argument.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at how things work in the Lyin’ Game. Charlie Pierce’s 2009 book, Idiot America, lays out what he calls the Three Great Premises that explain how lies take the form of truth:

1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or moves units.
2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

It seems that the 2016 election is confirmation of Dr. Pierce’s diagnosis. The prognosis is not necessarily fatal, though left untreated, it surely could be. Here is a quote from his book:

In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

So, it’s not just that we are fact free, it’s that we, the people, are unable or unwilling to learn the facts.

Susan Jacoby also wrote about the risks of a fact-free society about the same time as Pierce, the 2008 presidential election. In her book, “The Age of Unreason,” she made a great point about FDR and his relationship with citizens and the truth. In FDR’s radio fireside chats, he would ask the people listening out there to spread a map of the world out in front of them so that as he talked about the battles that were going on, they would understand what he was saying about the places, the geography, and the strategy of what was happening. Doris Kearns Goodwin said in a lecture at Kansas State University that one of her favorite fireside chats was the “map speech,” delivered in February, 1942. Millions of Americans went out and bought maps, and they sat by the radio and followed what FDR was talking about.

And FDR wasn’t on the radio every week as presidents are today. He only delivered two or three of these fireside chats a year, deliberately holding himself back for the moment when the country needed to hear from their president. He understood something that we have lost, that less can be more.

In 2009, Pierce offered a prescription about how to get out of the “perception is reality” paradigm: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I’ve given that a lot of thought and the best answer I can give is that we, as citizens, simply have to do better at self-government. We have to distinguish between entertainment and information. Our powers of discernment have to be sharpened…Any journalist who accepts “perception is reality” as axiomatic is committing professional malpractice. Our job is to hammer the reality home until the perception conforms to it.

When our journalists accept “perception is fact” there is no hope for truth.

Jacoby says that the spread of ignorance and the acceptance of non-truth as fact is caused in part by the absence of national education standards, combined with the anti-intellectualism that we see everywhere. America’s insistence on local control of schools means that children in the poorest areas of the country have the worst school facilities and teachers with the worst training.

Among OECD nations, only in the US, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

This gives us an America in which anti-intellectualism is not only tolerated, but celebrated by many politicians and the media. Meanwhile, 25% of Texas high-school biology teachers believe that human beings and dinosaurs shared the earth, and more than a third of Americans can’t name a single First Amendment right.

Facts don’t matter, because more and more Americans cannot recognize facts as true. Jacoby says:

This level of scientific illiteracy provides fertile soil for political appeals based on sheer ignorance.

Our 2016 presidential campaign has clarified what’s wrong with us as a nation. Yet, we’ve proven to willingly to put up with it.

Instead of putting up with what’s wrong, how about fixing it?

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July 4, 2016

Independence Day 2016. And 240 years later, where are we?

COW Our Sad Fourth

Our founders were willing to die for an idea. They wanted home rule, not a local dictatorship run by a representative of an English King. There were spirited debates around the ideas that founded our Republic, and there were those who worked hard to keep the rule of the King in place.

So are the contentious debates of today just more of the same? Here is a small taste of Sebastian Junger’s new book, “Tribe”: (pg. 124)

Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live in it.

He goes on:

It’s hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every possible ethnic and demographic boundary.

On the front lines, GI’s know their buddies are different in all sorts of ways, but they set aside their differences and form units that transcend differences, often heroically. Yet, in 2016 America, on a different set of front lines, our politicians amplify differences, going so far as to regularly accuse rivals of deliberately trying to harm their country.

Our society is at war with itself. Depending on their ideology, people speak with complete contempt about the rich, the poor, the educated, or the foreign-born. They express the same contempt for the president, and again, depending on their ideology, the entire US government.

That’s a level of contempt we have usually reserved for enemies in a time of war. But now, we apply it to our fellow citizens. Contempt is particularly toxic because it implies that the attacker has a position of moral superiority, and through that, has the agency to attack another.

So, on our most patriotic day, put down that hot dog, and ask the question: How do we unify a secure, wealthy country that is now playing a zero-sum political game?

Time to wake up, America! And to help with that, let’s dance around the room with a little rockabilly by Elvis Presley. Elvis was treated with contempt by some in the 1950s, but it was mostly silent, and by the Silent Generation, who thought they were protecting their kids from rock & roll.

Take a listen to “Good Rockin Tonight”, and remember Scotty Moore, the original guitarist for Elvis, who died last Tuesday. He was not just our last living link to the King (assuming the King is really dead), he was the force behind Elvis’s early singles. Scotty is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

His reverb-drenched rockabilly guitar was the driver in the originally drummer-less trio of Elvis, Scotty and bassist Bill Black:

COW Elvis and Scotty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolling Stone ranks Scotty Moore No. 29 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, saying “The playing was so forceful that it’s easy to forget there was no drummer.”

Keith Richards has said:

Everyone else wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Scotty.

Here are Elvis, Scotty and Bill on “Good Rockin Tonight”:

 

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Has The Progressive Moment Returned?

(This is the second and final column on the Progressive Movement)

Few issues in the history of 20th and 21st century America have inspired more disagreement than the value of the Progressive movement to our society. Our high school texts taught that it was a movement by the people to curb the power of the special interests in our government:

COW Bosses

The Bosses of the Senate by Joseph Keppler, 1889

The 1890s Progressive Movement was a response to dislocations in American life. There had been rapid industrialization of the economy, but there had been no corresponding changes in social and political institutions. Economic power had moved to ever larger private businesses, while social and political life remained centered primarily in local communities, even within rapidly growing cities, with great variability in quality of life.

But early Progressives believed that the problems society faced (poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare) could best be addressed by providing good education, better working conditions and an efficient workplace. The desire to regulate big business was mostly focused on creating a fair(er) deal for small businesses and workers. Others encouraged Americans to register to vote, fight political corruption, and let the voting public decide how issues should best be addressed (via direct election of senators, the initiative, and the referendum).

Essentially the struggle was a clash between the “public interest” and “corporate privilege.”

Daniel Rodgers’s Atlantic Crossings (1998), shows how European reforms at the time influenced American progressives, suggesting that the movement was not just an American phenomenon, but had roots in a European process of change. He describes the international roots of social reforms such as city planning, workplace regulation, rural cooperatives, municipal transportation, and public housing that traveled across the ocean to our shores.

This is something we see today. Populist movements from the left and the right are roiling Europe, just as they are in America.

In the mid-1930s, the New Deal allowed the country to return to a pent-up agenda of its Progressive past. Once again, we had an economic crisis, once again, the power of business was outsized versus the power of the worker.

Another Roosevelt reformer stepped into the role of Progressive-in-Chief. But where Teddy was a Republican, FDR was a Democrat. Regardless, change again ensued.

We hear Progressivism referred to as synonymous with the American welfare state. But, the original Progressives did not believe that a ‘welfare state’ was an end goal. In fact, the term ‘welfare state’ did not come into currency until the end of the 1940s, as a new label in the Republican Party’s attack on Social Security and other programs of the New Deal.

As we wrote in the review of One Nation Under God (2015) by Kevin Kruse, James Fifield, a minister who worked to bring Corporate America and Christians together said in 1935:

Every Christian should oppose the totalitarian trends of the New Deal…

Overall, Kruse’s book is an excellent analysis of how Christian fundamentalism and capitalism were conflated in the 1950s to erode the divide between church and state, re-casting Progressive political philosophy as both “un-American”, and “anti-Christian” at the same time.

Progressives were called Reds or socialists. It was a charge that would follow Progressives throughout the 20th Century, whenever Progressives returned to the cause of economic equality.

In American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2012), Michael Kazin shows that the US is unique among Western nations in that we never developed a viable, left-wing political movement. Unlike Europe, a progressive party has never succeeded in establishing more than a temporary foothold in American politics, despite the hysterical rhetoric of conservatives. We have had a Congressional Progressive Caucus only since 1991. It is comprised of one Senator and 75 Congress people, all Democrats.

Yet, Progressives still have had great success in shaping American society. During presidencies from LBJ to GW Bush, there was far more radical dissent in the US than at any time in the 1950s. Millions of Americans, perhaps a majority, came to reject racial and sexual discrimination, to question the need for and morality of military intervention abroad, and to worry that industrial growth might be destroying the climate.

Since Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party in 1912, Progressives have had little historic influence on electoral politics. In the earliest days of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, it was thought that his role was not to win the election, but to slip a few liberal planks into Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. But on the campaign trail, Sanders started drawing crowds of thousands, his ratings surged, and his became a Progressive moment in electoral politics.

Today, Progressivism is a cause in search of a candidate.

Many have called our time a new Gilded Age.

If so, the question then becomes whether Progressivism can once again move back into the halls of government, and be a positive force for change.

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1890s Progressivism: When the Movement Worked

Last week, Wrongo read “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon and Schuster, 2013). The book covers the birth of the Progressive Era, a period of social activism and political reform across the US, from the 1890s to 1920.

For context about the times, does any of this sound familiar?

The gap between rich and poor has never been wider…legislative stalemate paralyzes the country…corporations resist federal regulations…spectacular mergers produce giant companies…the influence of money in politics deepens…bombs explode in crowded streets…small wars proliferate far from our shores…a dizzying array of inventions speeds the pace of daily life.

That was the political landscape in the 1890s. This was the time of the Gilded Age, a time of income and wealth inequality. From 1860 to 1900, the wealthiest 2% of American households owned more than a third of the nation’s wealth, while the top 10% owned roughly three-fourths of it. The bottom 40% had no wealth at all.

The Bully Pulpit” tries to do three things simultaneously: It is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and a biography of William Howard Taft; third, it introduces us to McClure’s magazine and the rise of Muckraking journalism. The muckrakers were investigative reporters who exposed corrupt politicians and business leaders at all levels. Goodwin includes mini-bios of Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker and William A. White, all of whom were titans of investigative journalism at the time. A key finding by Goodwin is how TR encouraged the Muckrakers. He offered them access and friendship, and received information about the problems they were investigating, a synergy that enabled both to influence policy and politics for 30 years.

Consider the times: Corporations were ascendant. Politicians were reluctant to involve the federal government too heavily in the private sector. In general, they accepted the concept of laissez-faire, opposing government interference in the economy except to maintain law and order. This attitude started to change during the depression of the 1890s when small businesses, farmers, and labor movements began asking the government to intercede on their behalf.

By the start of the 20th century, the middle class was leery of the emerging corporate giants called “Trusts”. The Trusts consolidated businesses, using horizontal (controlling competitors) or vertical integration (controlling supply and distribution), and thus, created monopolies. For example, John D. Rockefeller drove other oil companies out of business and created a giant oil company, Standard Oil.

The Progressives argued the need for government regulation of business practices to ensure competition and free enterprise. Under President Benjamin Harrison, Congress regulated railroads in 1887 (the Interstate Commerce Act), and in 1890, the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prevented large firms from controlling a single industry. But, these laws were not rigorously enforced until Teddy Roosevelt, vice president under McKinley, became president after McKinley’s assassination in 1901.

Roosevelt and William Howard Taft became close friends when both were part of the Harrison administration in 1888. Taft became a key member of President Roosevelt’s cabinet, and later his handpicked successor, in the election of 1908. While TR thought Taft a “genuine Progressive”, Taft was not the politician that TR was, and he was by temperament, more conservative. In 1910, TR broke bitterly with Taft on a series of issues and when in the 1912 nomination process, Roosevelt failed to block Taft’s re-nomination, he launched the Bull Moose Party. This ultimately led to them both losing in 1912 to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who also ran as a Progressive.

This wave of reforms was continued by Wilson. The legacy of the Progressive Era includes the Pure Food and Drug act, the progressive income tax, direct election of senators and the women’s vote.

All of this makes “Bully Pulpit” a very long book at 928 pages. But, it is a very worthwhile read, particularly since many of the same issues we face today were in full flower back then. And it is remarkable how similar the political and ideological arguments of the time are nearly identical to the arguments today.

The book gives us some hope that, at one time, divided government could morph into a movement that won by embracing progressive values. That happened because interest groups, including farmers, small businesses and unions joined together with local governments, journalists like the Muckrakers, and sympathetic politicians of both parties to energize a movement that was directed at solving specific problems – the consequences of the Gilded Age.

Can it happen again? Can investigative journalism return, or is it dead?

Tomorrow, we will take a look at why Progressivism died and was then reborn under another Roosevelt.

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Reading List Q1 2015

Here are books that the Wrongologist read over the past few months. All were about war, both new and old, and all are highly recommended:

April 1865, The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik (2001). Richmond fell in April 1865. Followed by Appomattox. After that, there was Lincoln’s assassination, and a nearly-successful plot to decapitate the Union government. Then came the real possibility of prolonged Southern guerrilla warfare, which Jefferson Davis considered, and Lee would not. Had Davis decided on guerrilla war, it might have ended any chance at a national reconciliation. This is a great (and short) history of the end game of our Civil War.

The Republic of Suffering-Death and the American Civil War (2008) by Drew Gilpin Faust. It’s hard for us to appreciate just how deadly the Civil War was: 620,000 dead soldiers, (2% of the US population at the time), at least 50,000 dead civilians, an estimated 6 million pounds of human and animal carcasses to deal with on battlefields. When the war began, neither army had burial details, graves registration units, means to notify next of kin, or provisions for decent burial. They had no systematic way to identify or count the dead, and until 1867, no national cemeteries in which to bury them. In an unusual twist, in 1866, the Union Army opened an office in Ford’s Theater to record deaths, house the war records and assist families to find lost loved ones. In 1893, it collapsed, killing 22.

The mortality rate in the South exceeded that of any country in WWI. In addition, the South lost nearly 2/3rds of its wealth in the war.

Embattled Rebel (2014) by James M. McPherson. This short book lets you view the Civil War through the eyes of Jefferson Davis. Davis was an interesting character, he was a one-eyed and sickly micromanager.

McPherson shows how Davis gradually lost support of many Southern politicians, and a few of his generals. He was a West Point graduate, he had fought alongside many Civil War generals on both sides, and he appointed generals who were his West Point buddies. He had long personal feuds with General P.G.T Beauregard, and later, with General Joseph Johnston. Both would not keep Davis informed of their maneuvers, their true troop strength, or their tactics. McPherson summarizes the flawed strategic and logistics position of the Confederacy: The lack of well-trained, well-armed men, the lack of effective railroads, and the lack of usable waterways. The Confederacy started the war undermanned, understaffed, and under-equipped, and it went downhill from there.

Here are three books about the Afghan and Iraq wars, two that deal primarily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and one that deals with official corruption.

Redeployment (2014) by Phil Klay. Redeployment is a collection of stories around the experience of soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These stories have no sappy sentimentality or macho muscle-flexing. They are as real and honest as anything you’ll find being written about how these wars have affected America’s young men and women who were sent there, often multiple times, and who have been irrevocably changed by it. A shattering, must-read book.

Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (2013) Edited by Matt Gallagher. This collection offers a deeply personal look at the human ravages of our Middle East wars; the impact of fear, violence, destruction and death on its warriors, both male and female alike. It portrays PTSD as a nightmare; the psychic suffering of re-integrating into society with brain injuries, trauma such as faces burned off or limbs and genitals blown away. This is truth-telling that only those who were there can write. “Play the Game“, by Colby Buzzell shows the ball of emotions a combat vet experiences as he wanders around Los Angeles in a fog. Mariette Kalinowski’s amazing story, “The Train“, is perhaps the collection’s most affecting story. If there are Americans who still mistakenly believe that women weren’t damaged by serving in combat, they need to read “The Train” to see how PTSD is not an illness of just one gender.

Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War (2014) by James Risen. Risen reveals a litany of the unseen costs of our war on terror: From squandered and stolen money, to abuses of power, to wars on decency, and truth, all in the name of fighting terrorism. Risen makes two overarching points: First, the enormity of waste and corruption generated during the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq. Consider: The US government, eager to reflate Iraqi currency post-Saddam, sends plane after plane load filled with US hundred-dollar bills from the US to Baghdad. Why? Because printing new Iraqi Dinars would take too long. A large proportion of that cash simply goes missing.

Second, Risen makes the point that the false legitimacy of surveillance and torture as promulgated by GW Bush, Cheney, the CIA, NSA and their Justice Dept. acolytes that morphed our security apparatus into one that believes total surveillance of American citizens is not only desirable, but necessary.

Our government has done some things that are as shameful as those of its wartime enemies. And it has worked very hard to cover them up.

What are you reading?

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