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Judge Rules Texas Abortion Near-Ban Unconstitutional

[ 2 ] August 29, 2014 |

Under the radical theory that forcing the closure of most of the state’s abortion clinics through regulations that have no legitimate medical purpose is an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Evidently, the ruling is unlikely to survive 5CA but at least the opinion is strong.

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Lame Duck Governor Decides To Stop Inflicting Needless Suffering on State’s Citizens

[ 62 ] August 29, 2014 |

Pennsylvania will be taking the Medicaid expansion. Not in an ideal form, although better than the Arkansas version (the administration was right to strike a harder bargain, with Corbett polling in the low 30s.) And, as Sargent says, the next government remains free to make the program more progressive, so it makes sense to let the state proceed now.

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On Reclining Airline Seats

[ 294 ] August 29, 2014 |

This. Very much this.

One would think that a civilized society would, in time, come to some accepted standards for civilized behavior. We are not talking here about anything so crude as laws; we are talking about simple decency towards your fellow humans. We do not require laws to tell people to give up their seat for a pregnant woman, or help an elderly person across the street, or refrain from cursing at waiters. We expect people to do that out of common decency. Those who would refuse to follow such simple rules simply because they are not laws are known as selfish, antisocial monsters who will likely die friendless and alone.

An airplane is an enclosed environment. For most passengers, there is not very much extra room. Space is tight. No one can go anywhere. We are collectively trapped. It is simple decency not to crudely and selfishly recline your seat into the face of your unfortunate neighbor to the rear. Yes, you could recline your seat, legally; but that would make you a selfish, antisocial monster. I trust that you are not that. I trust that you are a good person.

The idea that if you want people to be polite and considerate you should pay should pay them for the privelege should be a reductio ad absurdum of consevervtarian logic, only they’re willing to make the argument themselves.

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Assertive Status Quo?

[ 8 ] August 29, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat suggests caution in interpretation of China’s assertive behavior:

We can agree on certain things. Chinese pilots are not going rogue; there is a logic behind these intercepts, and it’s worthwhile to expose Chinese provocations. All of this tells us less about China’s long-range aims than we might think, however.

Sometimes it’s hard to see whether a state is pro-status quo or revisionist.  Russia appears only recently to have determined, after 15 years of struggle, that it simply cannot live within the international order created and maintained by the United States. For a very long time Imperial Japan sought to understand its own foreign policy as part of the broader colonial project that the European powers had created, before rejecting even that as insufficient. On the converse, in the Cold War the United States determined, eventually, that Soviet Russia was basically an ornery status quo power, different in character from either Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany.

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America

[ 21 ] August 29, 2014 |

The following poem is by S.M. Hill, a Swedish immigrant to Oregon, circa 1916. I take it from here.

America

They boast a great deal about equality,
they loudly proclaim you are free.
Without answering I’d rather swallow my annoyance
and not pay attention to our slavery.
Here, gold measures human worth
here, everything is right as long as it succeeds,
here, food is given the highest value,
weak ones are crushed by the iron heel.

We are not tormented by aristocrats,
we don’t sigh under a king!
Nonsense! Here we are ruled by rascals,
the power of the multi-millionaires is oppressive.
Politics is merely a system of plundering,
the penniless become downtrodden
and honesty seems to have left us,
and those who steal gain honor and power.

No, my friend, you won’t find paradise here,
here, too, there’s a difference between rich and poor.
You change your name and receive the prize,
and praise yourself so heartily.
Yes, the race of Adam lives here, too
and sin rules here as well.
The beautiful land that your eyes saw,
lies far away and high above the sky!

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Why I Am Not at APSA This Labor Day

[ 88 ] August 28, 2014 |

changethedateEvery year at this time I receive several queries a day from colleagues, would-be colleagues and students asking me if I’ll be “at APSA” – the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association - and when we could meet up for a coffee. Every year I reply several times a day: ”Sadly, I won’t be at APSA this year because it conflicts with the start of school for my children.”

This is more or less the truth but I confess it’s not the complete truth. First, I’ve realized this canned response implies I might be there next year, whereas I’ve actually been AWOL from Labor-Day-Weekend APSAs pretty much since my second child hit grade school and it’s time I admit that’s not changing. Second, the “conflict” I described is less of a conflict every year as my kids get older, yet I’m still not coming back to APSA, so that’s less and less the real reason for my absence.

The truer response to the question is that I skip APSA every year not because my son needs me desperately on the first day of school, but because I’m boycotting. I’m boycotting my professional organization for scheduling a conference so as to inhibit work-life-balance and pose an undue burden on parents in the profession, especially mothers. I’m boycotting APSA because they have done this year by year over the protest of their members. What began as an irreconcilable personal conflict for a parent of grade schoolers and partner to a dual-career spouse – what began, that is, as a simple work-life balance choice – has turned over the years into a political statement that I’ll continue to make until APSA’s policy changes. Read more…

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Now This Is An Unhinged Rant

[ 166 ] August 28, 2014 |

Shorter Andy McCarthy: “It’s outrageous that banks that committed widespread mortgage fraud should face any sanctions at all. Because ACORN!!!!!!!!!!! Why on earth are we even funding the Department of Justice at all? The DOJ trying to enforce the law is even worse than taverns that provide free food! I am not a crackpot!”

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Will American University’s law school sue students who drop out or transfer?

[ 35 ] August 28, 2014 |

That’s the question that’s raised by a provision of the school’s Public Interest/Public Service scholarship.

The terms of the scholarship include the following:

Scholars will be expected to maintain matriculation at the Washington College of Law until graduation. Absent compelling circumstances, a scholar who chooses to withdraw or transfer from the law school will be required to pay back the full amount of tuition within 30 days of the end of the last semester of enrollment plus any other WCL grants or scholarships. As a condition of receiving the scholarship, incoming PIPS Scholars will be asked to sign a form indicating their understanding and acceptance of the foregoing terms and conditions of the award.

(There’s no indication on the school’s web site that this is actually a scholarship in the traditional sense of the word, that is, money flowing from an endowment for the purpose which replaces the student’s payment. Instead it looks like a straight tuition discount, which of course means that the vast majority of American’s students who are getting little or no discount off sticker tuition — see below — are actually paying for these “scholarships”).

The PIPS is a full-tuition scholarship, which means a recipient who drops out of law school or transfers to another after the first year will be required to pay the school $49,542 within 30 days of doing so, while a student who drops out after his or her second year is supposed to write the school a check for $100,000 immediately. Let’s put aside for the moment the question of how this much blood is going to be squeezed out of these particular stones, and note a few other details.

(1) For the first five years of its existence — the program was created in 2001 — the scholarship had no repayment obligation of any kind, but recipients were expected to commit to working for at least three of their first five years after graduation for a public interest entity.

(2) Starting in 2006, this condition was added:

Scholars will be expected to maintain matriculation at the Washington College of Law until graduation. Absent compelling circumstances, a scholar who chooses to withdraw or transfer from the law school will have the scholarship converted to a loan and be subject to repayment to the law school.

(3) This year, the conversion of the scholarship to a loan was replaced with the obligation to pay the entire amount of the scholarship immediately.

Questions:

*As a formal matter, is this new condition legally enforceable? Offhand, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, but my knowledge of contract law is shall we say a bit tenuous at this point, so perhaps a real lawyer or three might want to weigh in.

*As a practical matter, is American actually going to sue somebody who transfers or drops out? In regard to marketing considerations, such a step would seem to make Memories of Butter look like a good idea. Not to mention that 23-year-old law school drop outs and transfers usually don’t have $50,000 stuck in their couch cushions.

*Why did American change the terms of the scholarship? Were too many recipients thumbing their nose at the putative conversion of the scholarship to a school-issued loan and bailing after the first year? (A big chunk of the top of American’s class transfers each year, often to Georgetown or GW).

In regard to this last point, it’s worth noting that American is a famously stingy law school, that gives out very few large scholarships. For example, last year only 38 of 1,522 students were getting full rides, and 97% of the student body was paying more than half sticker (fully 57% was paying sticker). This results in a situation where the 88% of 2013 American grads who had law school debt probably had an average of more than $200,000 in educational debt when their first payments came due in November (The average 2013 American grad who took out law school loans took out $158,636 in such loans, which means that with accrued interest and origination fees this person had close to $190,000 in law school debt alone, not counting undergraduate or other debt).

So it’s a little mysterious as to why American is going to such lengths to keep the tiny handful of its students who have full tuition scholarships from transferring. The LSAT and GPA scores of these students do nothing to protect the school’s plummeting medians, because the only scores that count for ranking and disclosure purposes are those of entering students (which is one reason GULC and GW are more than happy to poach the top of American’s class every year). The marginal cost to the school of these students’ attendance is of course close to zero. The only interest American would seem to have in trying to keep them captive is that they may on average have better job prospects than those of the typical American grad, and the school doesn’t want to lose even one student who might actually get a job as a lawyer.

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There Are No Shortcuts

[ 93 ] August 28, 2014 |

A distinguished, if long-dead, philosopher has dropped into our comment section to make a very important point:

Because multi-party systems are much more democratically responsive? Coalition building is at least as frustrating as the Democratic Party. In Germany, if you don’t like the too-centrist-and-neoliberal SPD, you get to vote for either a party that everyone else refuses to have anything to do with and has no measurable impact on public policy, or a party that’s not really big enough to form a majority coalition with the SPD! Good stuff!!!

The reason progressive change is hard is because progressive change is hard, not because of structural problems with the electoral system. And the structural problems in American government have much more to do with the Senate’s inherent small state bias and terrible traditions; and with the way the uneven distribution of population gives Republicans an advantage in the House; than it does with having two parties.

Exactly right. This is one issue I have with the focus on electoral reforms (particularly advocates of PR; approval or runoff voting would ensure that third party voting won’t produce irrational results but probably not produce much third party representation.) Again, I don’t see what problem this is supposed to solve. The fundamental issues with achieving liberal reform are that 1)there aren’t enough liberals, and 2)there are many structural features of American government that favor reactionary interests. Third parties do nothing about #1 and would probably make #2 worse. I’m not even sure that PR would provide much value to narcissists who don’t like to sully themselves by being part of a broader coalition. (Not that we should care anyway.) Either the Magic Pony party won’t be part of the governing coalition and will achieve nothing, which will prove the weakness and lack of will of individual members, or they will collaborate with more moderate parties, in which case they’re sellouts.

Jon Walker’s attempt to defend a version of Frank/West runs into similar problems:

While people often overstate the power of the Presidency, continuing to pretend the filibuster was an insurmountable hurdle is just plain silly. As we saw just last year when Democrats changed the rules regarding executive nominees, a simple majority of senators can easily amend or completely eliminate this minor procedural issue.

I’m not upset Obama couldn’t get Snowe to play nice — I’m disappointed he actively refused to go around her. For example Democrats could have used reconciliation to adopt a larger stimulus with only a simple majority, or just eliminated the filibuster. This is exactly what George W. Bush did to get his tax cut when a Senate minority tried to stand in the way.

First of all, we have a classic botch from the files of Drew Westen; the filibuster was irrelevant to the Bush tax cuts because budget bills can’t be filibustered. Republicans did not have to change any congressional procedures to get their tax cuts through. That aside, note the fancy shuffling here between “Obama” and “the Democratic Party.” What Obama can do to abolish the filibuster is “nothing.” Having someone who was very recently a backbencher make a public case that senior senators should give up their prerogatives could not have helped and almost certainly have been very damaging. The idea that the filibuster is a product of presidential will is a parody of green lanternism.

It is trivially true that the “Democratic Party” refused to abolish the filibuster. But this just re-states the problem. If there were 60 senators who were staunch liberals and unconcerned with their institutional self-interest, the filibuster wouldn’t be a significant barrier in the first place. (And remember that this is a multidimensional problem; there were/are senators like Leahy and Feingold who are institutional conservatives even if they aren’t ideological conservatives.) And if Walker has a magic formula for getting staunch liberals elected in Nebraska and Louisiana and Missouri etc. etc. he isn’t revealing it. Assuming can openers isn’t a solution to anything.

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Today in Regrettable Unhinged Rants

[ 89 ] August 28, 2014 |

waterfronttavern

People served free food at a bar with their drink order, 19th century. The horror.*

God knows I love me a rant. And a lot of them are pointless but if there’s one thing I am never going to rant about, it is being served free food in a bar:

The common defining characteristic of free-pizza bars is that they are geared toward the very, very drunk and the very, very impressionable. Have I accepted free pizza from a free-pizza bar when I was drunk enough to believe it to be a pizza-shaped, cheese-flavored pint of beer? Sure. Did I go to free-pizza bars when I was young, wide-eyed, and enamored of novel ideas like body pillows and home-cooked bar snacks? Of course. Now, I see the light. I’d rather seek out mediocre-to-good pizza on my own time, resulting in personal satisfaction in both belly and spirit, than be tossed a platter of cooked flour and tomato sauce straight from my middle school cafeteria just because I showed up to get blottoed.

I should not be rewarded for drinking heavily. The reward for drinking heavily is drinking heavily. Part of the understood struggle of drinking heavily (as all good must come with bad) is that food must be sought out with wanton but fierce dedication. If you find pizza, which is almost everywhere in every city in America and most often at late-night hours, you will feel infinitely happier than if you settled for some grimy bar’s unwarranted handouts. And if you’ve stayed out too late and nothing is open, your punishment has been writ and you shall bear its truth.

If free pizza from a bar tasted like fucking caviar, maybe I’d try it once and a while. But it doesn’t. Pizza that is given to you from a bar always tastes like three-days-old diner grilled cheese. The tomato sauce is high fructose corn syrup swamped in red dye and the crust, well, there isn’t one—the whole thing is a mistake, its a blurry facsimile of pizza’s bastard son. It’s what a drunk person would say if they were asked to describe pizza to a person who’d never cooked it before.

There are so many problems here. First there is like a 200 year old history of bars serving drunks food to keep them in there. The term “bum’s rush” is a reference to bouncers watching the food buffet at 19th and early 20th century American bars that served free food if you bought a beer (mostly paid for by the breweries who had monopolies over the bars). When I go to Oaxaca, Mexico, it is standard there to be served free food with drinks. At worst, you get awesome roasted peanuts with garlic and chile and a ton of salt–making it the best bar snack ever. At best, tacos and who knows what else. It’s amazing.

Second, of course you deserve to be rewarded for drinking heavily. Isn’t this the common thread that holds LGM together. We even tolerate a vodka drinker in SEK because at least he still drinks. Do I need to expand on this? No, I do not.

Third, who cares if the pizza is bad? Why does this really matter? You are drinking. You know what is good while drinking? Fatty, salty, low quality food. I don’t even want the pizza to be that good because after a bunch of beer, would I even enjoy it? And if this does matter to you, I have a secret–you can always decline and let others enjoy their pizza. The 19th century food wasn’t necessarily all that great either (seriously read the link, which is a New Yorker article from 1940 about McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York). But it fed you.

This is all very silly. But I want to make one thing clear. I went to a bar last night. It was free plate of fries night with a beer. And those fries were tasty. Also they were free.

In a related story, even I have standards. Which are not to drink beer with offensive names and labels. I will drink Stone because I don’t find arrogance particularly offensive, but Flying Dog Raging Bitch, no. Why would I do that? With that many options, even in beer weak Rhode Island? I am just not going there. And as for that beer with the medieval “wench” whose breasts are exploding out of her top, I’d rather dump it down the drain than buy it. Knock it off bros, beer should not be for sexists. I will say though that Will Gordon is great and I look forward to his daily beer reviews as long as they last, especially has he goes into comments and smacks jerks down hard. Not that I’ve ever wanted to do that.

* I have no idea what the central theme in this image is supposed to be. Some sort of violence, perhaps anti-Chinese? In any case, it’s the only image I could find of people eating at bars in the 19th century.

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The Leftist Hamilton?

[ 129 ] August 28, 2014 |

p095

Ever since the 1820s, Americans have recreated the Founding Fathers they wished they had and used them in convenient ways to promote their own agenda. Little has changed over the decades except the addition of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and to a lesser extent, Theodore Roosevelt, to the pantheon of people who you can pull quotes from without context to promote your positions. Thus the MLK conservatives can claim to support, laughable as that may be to anyone who knows anything about the man.

Although it certainly never disappeared, this sort of thing went through a bit of a lull after World War II, as historical studies of the constitutional period went out of fashion and were replaced by Arthur Schlesinger and others studying the Jacksonian period for the roots of American democracy. In recent decades, conservatives made the wise political move to reclaim the Founders, even if they are as fabricated as their MLK. Scalia’s originalism, patent fraud that it is, has roots in his version of the Constitution. Of course, he, like most Americans, sees the Constitution as a living document despite his protestations. So the 2nd Amendment is deified and the 4th Amendment flushed down the toilet. There’s a long history of this sort of thing, including Gilded Age courts finding an expansive interpretation of the 14th Amendment for corporations while not applying it to African-Americans at all, even though it was written for the latter. In the end, the Constitution has worked reasonably OK for a pretty long time, and it’s hard to ask much more of a government, at least when compared to other governments in history. But the attempt to tie everything to what a bunch of elite men in powdered wigs thought 225 years ago causes more problems than it solves for modern society.

My favorite story around this absurdity is the following:

“What Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games,” and if “he enjoyed them,” Justice Alito said sarcastically. Justice Scalia shot back, “No, I want to know what James Madison thought about violence.”

Who knows! And why should we try to answer an unknowable and absurd question! In effect, the Constitution means whatever we want it to mean in a given time. But to say that makes people very uncomfortable, I think because we ultimately still want to revere the Founders.

In recent years, liberals have tried to play catch up on originalism, for better of for worse. I’d probably argue for worse because I don’t think originalism is particularly helpful except as a rhetorical political tool. There’s certainly no sanctity in the words or intentions of the Founders.

I mention all of this because of Christian Parenti’s article in Jacobin arguing for a left-wing Alexander Hamilton that has useful lessons for modern Americans on fighting climate change. The article itself is relatively unobjectionable, except that I don’t think Hamilton has any meaningful lessons for us on fighting climate change. Parenti is certainly correct about Hamilton’s modern vision of what would become industrial capitalism and of course his vital role in creating the financial institutions of the new nation is not in question. Parenti’s fundamental argument is that leftists have long fallen on the wrong side of the Hamilton/Jefferson divide. He notes that Jefferson was a slaveholder who had a backwards view of economic development and Hamilton was anti-slavery with a vision of economic growth, and that Hamilton’s idea of an activist government needs to be resuscitated by modern progressives who need to fight back against conservative Jeffersonianism. A Hamiltonian government, not a Jeffersonian one, is the only Founding vision that can effectively fight against climate change.

I have no problem with the left abandoning its idea of romanticized agrarian Jeffersonianism. Leftists love talking about Jefferson’s vague revolutionary words, but I don’t think that’s all that useful for a democratic leftist revolution that is probably never going to happen, at least within my lifetime. Yet is tying our boat to Hamilton any better? Parenti notes that Hamilton has long been perceived as anti-democracy. There’s a good reason for that. Hamilton was anti-democracy. You can’t wave that away. I’m also a bit turned off by the slavery argument. Yes, Jefferson was a slaveholder and a bad guy for it, but that point does not immediately mean that, if we are supposed to learn anything from the Founders, that Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and the other slaveholders are immediately disqualified. If there is value to be gleaned from these long dead men, I don’t think one, admittedly quite horrible, sin automatically means they are out of bounds on everything else, especially given that the non-slave holding Founders also held political positions reprehensible to left-wing Americans in 2014.

Ultimately, I have two much larger problems here. First, Parenti is correct that we need to argue for the activist state. Hamilton is useful for that argument. But if that alone is the argument, we can draw off of Lincoln, FDR, Lenin, a pantheon of people. It’s not that Hamilton has lessons to teach us. It’s that there is a whole history of people showing that an activist government can accomplish a great deal. Tying that to Hamilton is just a politically convenient way of doing that because of the power of using the Founders. And maybe that’s OK.

But this gets to the second problem. If Hamilton’s view of an activist government means that we can use government to fight climate change, Hamilton himself pushed that activist government to facilitate industrial capitalism, i.e., the very system creating catastrophic climate change! Until industrial capitalism is solved, we aren’t going to create a comprehensive response to climate change. If that means a comprehensive response is not going to happen, well, yes, because that is actually what is happening.

In other words, saying Hamilton can guide us today requires a) taking the man out of context or b) making the lessons impossibly broad. There is no “leftist” Hamilton because he would never have recognized such a thing could be possible. It’s a construction of Hamilton based upon chosen facts and stories that serve a modern political purpose. I guess that’s alright, but it certainly raises the eyebrows of this historian. And if we are to learn this lesson from Hamilton, what other lessons should we learn? That the Alien and Sedition Acts were a good idea? That democracy is scary and should be crushed? None of these Founders are less complex than Jefferson; that the latter was a slaveholder who hated the urban poor was terrible, but he did genuinely believe in a form of democracy that was advanced for its day, even if it was a herrenvolk democracy. Hamilton sure didn’t believe in any form of democracy that advanced. If we are reappropriating Hamilton for the left, we have to reckon with these questions because they are as central to his being as creating the institutions of American capitalism, including a functioning federal government. Otherwise, we are cherry picking what we like about him.

I completely agree with Parenti that environmental activists need to double down on their focus on the state, but then I don’t agree with him that lots of greens today don’t rely on the state. That may be true with some grassroots activists, but it most certainly is not true of the big green organizations who are so reliant on the state that they struggle to even comprehend how to motivate the grassroots in an era where they can’t get legislation passed for the first time in a half-century. It’s also not true of the 350.org movement, which is completely reliant upon pressuring the state not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. I don’t doubt there is an anarcho-environmentalism that’s popular in some grassroots groups, but that’s hardly indicative of a movement that has long understood the power of the state to enact change. Even here though, Parenti seems to be talking about a libertarian environmentalism that argues for corporate social responsibility. Those ideas are out there but I think is more of an environmentalist strategy in the face of hostile government shutting off legislation than an end game.

Personally, I would rather we not turn the Founders, ever more distant in the past, into people we bow before, or at least their faces chiseled on the sides of South Dakota mountains, an odd American institution. I think it’s really problematic because it relies upon constructed histories of them that almost inherently have to leave out difficult facts. It also reinforces the narrative that change is primarily created by wealthy white great men, not a theory with which I am particularly comfortable. The left likes to talk about “the people,” but it sure loves its great men.

So what is history good for then? I speak for no one but myself, but for this historian, there are very few “lessons” from the past that we can easily learn. Nothing can be understood without the context of the time. What history offers is the understanding of how we got into the situation we are in today, whether positive or negative. For example, we can’t understand Ferguson without understanding the history of slavery, Jim Crow, urban segregation, police violence, etc., both nationally and in the context of the St. Louis area specifically. That’s not a lesson, it’s figuring out the context of what is happening today. It’s the actions of millions of individuals, the ideology of white supremacy as it has developed through time, and the decisions made by municipal, state, and federal governments, not to mention the entire economic context around the disappearance of jobs for the poor, and especially poor people of color. In other words, it’s really hard and certainly not dilutable down to a simple lesson for public consumption.

Although far less intellectually honest than Parenti, Jody Hice, your next congressman from Georgia’s beet red 10th district is promoting made up quotes about the Founders on his Twitter feed. Some of these are misattributed, some are just plain nuts, but in a way it doesn’t matter because the Founders are constructed to be useful to everyone and therefore are probably useful to no one except as a political tool. Which is fine I suppose. It’s a usable past. It just a false one in Hice’s case. Both sides hitch their wagons to the Founders, making them mean whatever the individual wants them to mean.

Finally, I’ll note that for an article in Jacobin, Parenti’s piece can easily be construed as quite the defense of capitalism. Of course, one must acknowledge the reality of capitalism, but Parenti argues simply for a more robust role of the state in operating it. Which is not a radical argument, however defined.

This is all me spitting in the wind. People are going to keep using the past to justify their own positions no matter what any historian says about it. If you want to think Hamilton has lessons for you, go for it. But I think those “lessons” are really tenuous and have to be so broad as to lose the specificity for that person. If they help people decide government is good, I guess that serves a social good and I am just a cranky historian. Print the legend.

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Do You think Kirsten Gilibrand is Hot?

[ 59 ] August 28, 2014 |

Do you think she’s fat? In either case, could you keep it to yourself?

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