Sunday, November 01, 2020
My talk at the Harvard Coop last May 28 about A Life in History, can be viewed here. Enjoy! An interesting radio interview with a Denver talk show host about the book can be streamed or downloaded here.
The book can be ordered here.
I look forward to seeing your reactions. For the time being I am pinning this post. Thanks in any case to all of you for your faithful support.
Check below for more recent posts.
Saturday, August 08, 2020
Events have been moving far more quickly in the US in the last six months than they did in the late stages of the Weimar Republic. Thanks to the pandemic, we suddenly face one of the three worst economic crises in our modern history, with no real idea of how to end it. And like the Reichstag in 1932, Congress cannot agree what to do about it, because it is so divided. The Democratic House has passed a new plan, but in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has refused to even try to compromise with the Democrats there, because he is apparently sticking to his rule of never allowing legislation to pass without a large majority of the Republican Senators behind it. (This is of course exactly the opposite of the way responsible politicians are supposed to behave in a national emergency, but it is not surprising.) McConnell in the last two weeks allowed two executive branch figures, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows--a former Tea Party Congressman himself--to take them over. Their attitude, however, now suggests that they had no intention of reaching an agreement at all.
Instead, President Trump has announced that his administration is preparing executive orders to extend unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide other unspecified forms of assistance, and perhaps even declare a cut in the payroll tax. The President seems to think that he enjoys the emergency powers of the Weimar president--although I'm quite certain that he has no idea of the history I reviewed above. He has been encouraged in this belief by Berkeley law professor John Yoo, who wrote a notorious torture memo for George W. Bush, and who is now arguing that a recent Supreme Court decision allows a president at least temporarily to claim any power that he wants. In this case the problems Trump is claiming could hardly be more unconstitutional, since the Constitution specifically reserves the right to appropriate money to the Congress. The Supreme Court's 5-4 conservative majority, however, has already allowed Trump to get away with diverting money appropriated for other purposes to his border wall, even though a circuit court had ruled that he could not do so. Trump has remarked that he will be sued for doing this, but he probably enjoys the idea of Democrats going into federal court to stop him from handing out more unemployment benefits, stopping evictions, or cutting payroll taxes.
In fact, I am concerned that this political ploy may work. As Sol Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) said to another (fictional) president in the next to last season of Homeland about some drastic action she had taken and its popularity, "It showed balls. They like a president with balls." Trump can't persuade the American people that he is on top of the fight against COVID-19, but he might persuade some of them that he took action to help them when the Congress refused to do so. Having almost unanimously surrendered their power to discipline the President for impeachable offenses earlier in this year, the Senate Republicans are probably more than happy to surrender their share of the power of the purse to him now as well.
At the moment Trump's re-election seems very unlikely. If however he gets away with executive orders declaring how billions of federal dollars will be spent and does win re-election, I think we could move to some kind of authoritarian rule, at least where the budget and the operation of the federal government is concerned. The failure of Congress, over decades, to handle many serious issues, has helped pave the way for this. I hope we don't have to find out.
Sunday, August 02, 2020
I have not kept week-to-week statistics on other countries, but daily data shows that several of the major European countries have reduced their deaths to very low levels indeed. COVID-19 deaths on July 29 totaled 12 in Canada, 16 in France, 9 in Germany, 3 in Italy, and 2 in Spain. In the UK they were 38, and Russia 29. In the United States, the total reported was 1,465, the highest in the world. Even though we are about six times larger than the major European countries, those are sobering figures. New England, New York and New Jersey, with about 42 million people total, had 62 deaths on that day, a noticeably higher rate than Germany or Spain. Brazil is second to the United States in total deaths with 1,189 that day; India, with 3-4 times the population of the US, had 783.
The continental European nations have passed the first big test posed by the pandemic. We have not.