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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Scots were right to vote “no” on the referendum for independence because the referendum was misleading. However Scotland voted this week, and whatever the Scots may wish, they will not be independent of England. A vote cannot widen the River Tweed. A vote cannot reduce England to having the same population and wealth as Scotland. The irresistible gravity of geography keeps Scotland in England’s orbit. Breaking away is not an option. The only option is how the terms of the relationship are defined. And Scotland will have more leverage with England in a union in which the Labour Party depends on Scottish votes than as an independent country.

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Though the Scots have decided to remain in the United Kingdom, the closeness of the referendum and the panic that gripped the UK government during the last week before voting suggest a parallel between the fate of the Habsburg Empire after its great Napoleonic War struggle and the fate of the United Kingdom after World War II. Both seemed healthy and stable (though considerably weakened) for two generations. Then the cracks started to appear, with the Habsburgs having to agree to the Dual Monarchy in 1867 and the UK having to grant devolution in 1999. And now the UK is experiencing a great ferment over separatism, just as the Habsburgs did during the late 19th century.

Could the British Isles of the 21st century resemble the Central Europe of the 20th century? Could we see the United Kingdom break into five countries: Southern England, Northern England, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, and Northern Ireland? Could Prince George end up as George Windsor, a latter-day Otto von Habsburg, combining prestige and humility to become an honored statesman within his family’s former realm?

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“It was a tendency [during the nineteenth century], especially after 1860, to conceive of governance not merely as control of strategic centers but as ongoing activity on the part of regional authorities. […] This territorialization was bound up with the projection of imagined shapes of the nation onto mappable space [e.g., showing the British Empire in red on a world map], with the formation of nation-states, and also with the reform of empires and the consolidation of colonial rule, which was understood for the first time as control over countries rather than simply over trading bases. In line with this revaluation of viable territories, there was a dramatic reduction in the world total of independent political entities–in Europe from five hundred in 1500 to twenty-five in 1900. […] In 1780 no one thought it strange that Neuchâtel in Switzerland should be subject to the king of Prussia, but by the eve of its accession to the Swiss Confederation in 1857 this had become a historical curiosity.”

–Jürgen Osterhammel (trans. by Patrick Camiller), The Transformation of the World : A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University, 2014), pgs. 107-08, 112.

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“In Britain not a single political refugee from the Continent was prevented from entering the country, or subsequently deported, throughout the nineteenth century. No one thought that Karl Marx in London or Heinrich Heine in Paris should be subject to a gag order. No extradition treaties existed with other countries. Requests for legal action to be taken against regime opponents living in London were invariably rejected and sometimes not even answered. Nor was criticism of British imperialism legally barred in any way. Politically active exiles generally were regarded neither as saboteurs of British foreign policy nor as a danger to internal security.”

–Jürgen Osterhammel (trans. by Patrick Camiller), The Transformation of the World : A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University, 2014), pg. 139.

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The united kingdom

As the referendum on Scottish independence approaches, it’s worth noting that for all of the nationalism north and south of the River Tweed, Scotland and England really have become a united kingdom that would be painful to disentangle:

  • Millions of English have at least some Scottish ancestry.
  • Most of the Protestants in Northern Ireland have Scottish roots.
  • The queen is the daughter of a Scottish mother.
  • The current prime minister is the son of a Scottish father.
  • The prior two prime ministers were Scots.

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“[Latin America] must pass from nationalism to interdependence, but interdependence is senseless without a basis in independence. Only independent nations can become interdependent partners. If not, they become protectorates, neo-colonies, subject states.”

— Carlos Fuentes, Foreword, Ariel by José Enrique Rodó (Austin, TX : University of Texas Press, 1988), pg. 18.

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Doing more with less

Andrew Pace notes the perils of “doing more with less”.

A related question: If someone is saying that a public agency should do, say, 110% of its previous work with 90% of its previous resources, then who is getting that 10% of the resources that has been taken away, and why?

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“Political jokes were not a form of resistance. They were a release valve for pent-up popular anger. People told jokes in their neighborhood bars or on the street because they coveted a moment of liberation in which they could let off a bit of steam. That was in the interests of the Nazi leadership, no matter how humorlessly they may have portrayed themselves in the public sphere. Many Germans were conscious of the dark side of the Nazi regime. They were also annoyed at laws forcing them to do this or that and at party bigwigs who treated themselves to lives of luxury while making arbitrary decisions about the lives of others. But that didn’t translate into anti-Nazi protests. Those people who let off a bit of steam with a few jokes didn’t take to the streets or otherwise challenge the Nazi leadership.

“Conversely and significantly, the vast majority of the joke tellers who were denounced and brought before special Nazi courts received a mild punishment, if any. Usually they were let off with a warning. ‘Whispered jokes’ were a surrogate for, and not a manifestation of, social conscience and personal courage.”

— Rudolph Herzog (trans. by Jefferson Chase), Dead Funny : Humor in Hitler’s Germany (Brooklyn : Melville House, 2011), pgs. 2-3.

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The years 1945 to 1965 were the Golden Age of the Golden State. The economy was booming and jobs were plentiful. A torrent of tax revenue (and the bond issues it supported) led to widespread expansion of the parks system, the university system, K-12 schools, and public works. In 1962, California passed New York to become the most populous state in the nation, but it long since passed it as the most envied and blessed.

But California has been haunted ever since by that Golden Age, as it has struggled to live up to the public expectations that were raised in happier times. The gold of California has hardly turned to lead, but the social upheaval of the ’60s, the inflation of the ’70s, the fiscal bodyblow of Prop 13 in 1978, the crash of the aviation industry in the early ’90s, the dot-com bust of the early ’00s, and the recent collapse of the real estate market have each made it more difficult to maintain the commitments the state took on when the future looked much sunnier.

From a distance, California politics look fatally split by the after-effects of the Golden Age.

On one side, we have the California Republican Party, whose voter base is people who mourn the passing of the Golden Age and hate the people who they think took it away. The children of the Okie and Midwestern migrants of the ’30s and ’40s refuse to pay for the schools and services needed by the children of the Latino and Asian migrants of the ’90s and ’00s. The California GOP committed suicide in the late ’90s to please this base, but will anything really make them happy?

On the other side, we have the California Democratic Party, which is committed to maintaining the full golden panoply of social programs in which Pat Brown clothed the state, regardless of its suffocating weight. Democrats have backed themselves into a corner with their own rhetoric, leaving themselves open to charges of being (at best) heartless and reactionary if they try to trim outlays to match sustainable revenues.

So we have a standoff in Sacramento between a party that is politically unable to approve of cutting programs and a party that is politically unable to approve of funding programs.

California has drifted from a Golden Age into a Silver Age and is now well into its Bronze Age. If California Democrats and Republicans — not just the parties, but the people in them — can’t find a common ground to work on, the Pewter Age is the next stop on the road.

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During the new Obama administration and 111th Congress, the old South will be shut out of power, for only the third time since 1930. The other two times were brief (1953-54 and 1965-66).

If Obama does well, then the coming dry spell for the old South could match the post-Reconstruction record of 14 years (1897-1910).

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Tom Hayden is still not a member of the reality-based community.

If we’ve learned anything from the last eight years, isn’t it that evidence is a good thing?

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It just hit me what Barack Obama’s biggest accomplishment was this week.

Let’s look at the last three Democratic presidential wins. When Clinton won in 1992 and 1996, Republicans could blame Perot. When Carter won in 1976, Republicans could blame the long-departed Nixon.

Obama’s win was the first time since 1964 that the Republicans have lost the White House without having any plausible excuse for it. The GOP was flat-out, straight-up beaten. Many prominent Republicans have never experienced that before, which might explain the shock we’ve been seeing.

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Heckuva job, Rovey

Karl Rove aspired to be the Mark Hanna of our time.

He has ended up being its Harry Daugherty.

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[Vauvenargues] warns, following Spinoza, that it serves no useful purpose to engage in revolution, or throw out a tyrant, if the people do nothing to change such systems of law and authority as pave the way for despotism. If the people want no more tyranny then they must learn to change their laws and create a well-ordered republic or constitutional monarchy.

— Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment (New York: Oxford University, 2002), page 71.

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Oregon State Measure 60: No. School districts should be allowed discretion in determing what policies are best for their students.

Oregon State Measure 61: No. Judges should be allowed discretion in determining sentencing for crimes.

Oregon State Measure 62: No. Lottery proceeds currently fund job creation, economic development, and education. Funding those kinds of activities reduces the need to spend money on police and prosecutors.

Oregon State Measure 63: No. Are the proponents of this measure serious?

Oregon State Measure 64: No. Union-baiting.

Oregon State Measure 65: No. Each party should be able to have a candidate on the final ballot. Should we really be looking to Louisiana for political innovations?

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