William Henry Harrison Gets Raw Deal

February 17, 2009

C-SPAN (for some reason) has come out with the results of its second Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership, “in which a cross-section of 65 presidential historians ranked the 42 former occupants of the White House on ten attributes of leadership.”

A “cross-section” of whom would be an operative question.  But let’s for the moment assume C-SPAN isn’t a network that features every right-wing historian who’s published anything longer than his full name, and take the list seriously.

On the list of 42 presidents, Richard Nixon was 27th, and he was impeached (technically, he  quit in the process of impeachment, but still.)

George Bush is 36,  below Hoover (ok there) but 2 above Warren G Harding.  Now Harding was an adulterer with illegitimate children and a drinking problem, so he’s much easier to relate to than Bush.  Harding’s major crime was the Teapot Dome scandal, where the government sold oil leases in a sweetheart deal with big oil.  So let’s get this straight: No attacks against the country, no entanglement in two hopeless wars, no violations of the Contitution, no growth in the power of the Presidency, and no worldwide economic depression — and he’s worse than Bush?  C’mon, 8 billion dollars completely disappeared in Iraq, and that isn’t even on Bush’s list!  There are Assistant Secretaries who gave away more money to private industry than Harding’s entire administration  So that’s not fair.

And defending Harding’s position based on his ignorance, stupidity, bad management or lassitude clearly won’t cut it.

Franklin Pierce is similarly a piker.  After all, his biggest claim to shame is being a direct antecedent to George Bush’s mother.

Far worse than Harding’s position is the outrage done to William Henry Harrison.  What makes Harrison one of our worse presidents?  He died about a month into office.  What crimes did he commit?  How did he make America a worse place?

He didn’t.  He was, in fact, impactless — you would think he should be 21st president, dead center, neither positive nor negative.

We can only hope that as the depression deepens, W will have a more accurate listing, and poor Mr. Harrison will get the neutral opinion he so richly deserves.


And So It Begins

January 31, 2009

Here’s an article about protests happening throughout Russia over the sinking economy.

These protests, though small and widely scattered, are very significant, because Russia has never had a history of public protests — only repression and revolution.  We can safely assume that the price of oil will remain fairly modest for the next few years.  Russia, like Venezeula and most of the other oil powers, are monoproduct economies — oil was so profitable, developing other industries seemed like a waste of time.  So these countries have little to fall back on, little to export or provide any growth to the economy.

Instead of investing in agraculture or other products, the Russians spent it (not unlike the US) in lavish displays of wealth and foreign intervention (maybe two sides of the same coin).  Now (not unlike the US), they are deep in the whole.

However, very much unlike the US, the loyalty the public feels towards the political class is provisional, the country has no standing among foreign nations, the country has weak institutions without much of a civil society,  and as mentioned above, they have an economy with only one main product.

As this depression builds steam, expect more unrest in Russia and the other oil powers.  Even if the depression starts to rebound in 2010, by the time the recovery starts to hit the oil powers, it could already be too late for many of their leaders, their governments, even their class structures.

We have, quite simply, moved from a few centuries of revolution to perhaps a century or two of devolution, and no international structure has risen to replace colonialism to manage these failed states.

Russia, like other oil powers, finds itself with a drastic decrease in its income.


A Fond Farewell

January 21, 2009

I confess I wasn’t much of a fan of President Bush, but I thought his final statement before boarding the plane that would take him back to Midland, Texas struck me as sincere and heartfelt.  He stopped just before entering the plane, turned back to the small assembly of loyal White House employees and media, waved his arm, and smiling warmly, shouted out, “So long, suckers.”


Life is Toxic

January 13, 2009

A few decades ago, there was a heartwarming belief that a woman being pregnant was a natural state.  We now know that pregnancy is actually a life and death struggle between the mother and the fetus for resources.

In the same way, we like to think that nature  (at least without man’s thumb on the scales) is in a beautiful balance.  However, paleontologist Peter Ward thinks…not so much:

In his  [Ward’s] view, the earth’s history makes clear that, left to run its course, life isn’t naturally nourishing – it’s poisonous. Rather than a supple system of checks and balances, he argues, the natural world is a doomsday device careening from one cataclysm to another.

This has the sad ring of truth — and the best argument I know for the legitimacy of the Bush Presidency.


Well, Yes

January 13, 2009

From a major Canadian newspaper:

If it is true, as Samuel Johnson once remarked, that “the chief glory of every people arises from its authors,” then the results of a Harris/Decima Research poll conducted on behalf of Heritage Canada are very disturbing. Half the people interviewed could not name a single Canadian author, living or dead.

Whose fault is this? Canadian authors, for not creating more world-shaking masterpieces, or Canadians in general, for being such ignorant philistines?

Well, yes.


Painful But True

January 4, 2009

The best op-ed I’ve seen summarizing Bush and his legacy.

Self-pity always seems to accompany narcissism.


Rise of Support for US in Afganistan

December 26, 2008

The Washington Post reports the CIA has found a new way to raise support for the US occupation of the country.

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

Given that the country is awash in heroin, it makes perfect sense for us to fight what has become a drug war with more appropriate weapons.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

Given that the country is awash in heroin, and the whole experience is becoming one large drug war with everyone but the US and the Europeans in the drug business, it makes perfect sense to start fighting the battle on their terms.

My fear is that the Afghans figure out a way to grow the stuff.  Then we’re screwed.