Negative Interest

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Harlow Unger on the underappreciated John Quincy Adams

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Encyclopaeda Britannica interviews Harlow Unger, author of the new biography John Quincy Adams (h/t Andrew Sullivan).

On the contributions that most Americans might not know about:

One, his courageous sixteen-year struggle in the House of Representatives for free speech and and there being the first proponent of abolition and emancipation. Two, John Quincy Adams’s brilliant argument before the U.S. Supreme Court that the African captives on the slave ship Amistad were kidnapped freemen who had exercised their legitimate rights to defend themselves against their kidnappers when they killed the captain and mate of the ship. And three, during John Quincy Adams’s single term as a U.S. senator before becoming president, he successfully prevented President Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to criminalize political dissent by impeaching Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase because Chase disagreed with Jefferson’s politics. John Quincy Adams successfully defended Chase—and free speech in America—by proving that political disagreement with a president does not fall in the category of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

On the aspects of his life that might most surprise contemporary readers:

There are two such aspects. The first is the amazing span of John Quincy Adams’s life, covering the first, eighty formative years of the American republic, from the Revolutionary War to the eve of the Civil War. He served under George Washington and with Abraham Lincoln, worked closely with the nation’s first five presidents as well as some of the world’s greatest figures—Benjamin Franklin, Lafayette, the Duke of Wellington, Frederick the Great, and so on. John Quincy Adams’s accomplishments are even more astounding: a Harvard professor, American ambassador to six countries, secretary of state for eight years, a courageous congressman for sixteen years and the first to call for abolition, chief U.S. negotiator at the peace talks that ended the War of 1812, a brilliant lawyer who pleaded precedent-setting cases (including the Amistad case) before the U.S. Supreme Court, a founder of the Smithsonian Institution, and the father of space exploration in America, sponsoring construction of about a dozen of the first astronomical observatories across America and calling them “lighthouses of the sky … links between earth and heaven … [and] the means of acquiring knowledge.”


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September 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

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If you ignore all the conservatives at the Washington Post there are no conservatives at the Washington Post

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Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton discovers that every writer for the Washington Post is a bleeding heart liberal:

One aspect of The Post that particularly irks conservatives is the columnists who appear in print and online in news positions (as opposed to those on the editorial and op-ed pages and the online Opinions section). With the exception of Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, who cover politics in a nonpartisan way, the news columnists almost to a person write from left of center.

Ezra Klein of Wonkblog comes out of the Democratic left, fills in for Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz on MSNBC and sometimes appears in the printed Post on the front page.

Steven Pearlstein, who covers business and also appears occasionally on the front page; Walter Pincus on national security; Lisa Miller of the On Faith blog; Melinda Henneberger of She the People; Valerie Strauss, the education blogger; plus the three main local columnists — Robert McCartney, Petula Dvorak and Courtland Milloy — all generally write from a progressive perspective, readers say. (So does Dana Milbank, who works for the Opinions section but writes a column that appears on Page A2 twice a week.)

Is it any wonder that if you’re a conservative looking for unbiased news — and they do; they don’t want only Sean Hannity’s interpretation of the news — that you might feel unwelcome, or dissed or slighted, by the printed Post or the online version? And might you distrust the news when it’s wrapped in so much liberal commentary?

So there are two “news columnists” who cover politics in a nonpartisan way and ten apparently partisan progressive “news columnists.” What is a news columnist? According to Pexton, it is a columnist who appears in print and online in a news position and not on the op-ed pages, whatever that means. Ezra Klein is a news columnist. So are Dana Milbank, Steven Pearlstein, Robert McCartney, and Courtland Milloy. Just to make sure that Pexton was correct in describing them as columnists who don’t appear on the editorial and op-ed pages and the online Opinions section, I decided to look at the online Opinions section. I was in for quite a nasty shock!

Either the Washington Post hired different opinion writers named Klein, McCartney, Milbank, Milloy, and Pearlstein (a little hint for people who didn’t click the link: they didn’t!) or Patrick Pexton is spouting nonsense.

What I see on this list is…a mix of left-leaning and right-leaning writers! Yet Pexton saw fit to write a post decrying the pernicious liberal infection of the Washington Post (“If The Post wants to wrap its news in commentary, fine, but shouldn’t some of those voices then be conservative?”) without bothering to mention George Will, Marc Thiessen, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson, or future Romney White House Press Secretary Jennifer Rubin. For the uninitiated, Rubin was hired by the Post as a conservative blogger after Dave Weigel was fired when revelations that he wasn’t actually conservative enough and he’d referred to his fellow Ron Paul voters as “Paultards” led the Post’s editors to conclude that he “was no longer objective enough to cover his beat.” The notably objective Jennifer Rubin was recently seen arguing that the Romney campaign is doing really well lately (really!) but isn’t doing as well as they could be (which would be even better than really really good) because they are afraid to say mean things about Barack Obama.

To summarize, Pexton argues that the Post’s news columnists (who don’t write opinion articles) are biased liberals based on a few people whose writings can be found by clicking on the “Opinions” page (and one, Dana Milbank, who can be found on the “Left-Leaning” opinions page). He does not include any of the numerous conservative opinion writers as news columnists, leading him to conclude that the Washington Post is hopelessly lacking conservative voices.

And he’s got a real point! When you count on the liberal writers at the Washington Post and don’t count all the conservative writers, it turns out that there aren’t actually any conservative writers at the Post.

Written by negativeinterest

September 29, 2012 at 5:40 am

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Republican obstructionism is not a matter of opinion

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Welcome to Brad DeLong’s readers – it was a huge shock to open Google Reader and stumble across my own post. I’m not sure how clear my point was from the excerpt that Brad posted, so I want to clarify. That Mitch McConnell devised a strategy to block the Democratic agenda in January 2009 does not directly contradict Glenn Kessler’s point that his “one-term president” comments did not come until October 2010. Where Kessler goes astray is when he suggests that this somehow negates a Democratic talking point about Republican obstructionism. McConnell confirmed the strategy in 2010, but the plan was in motion before inaugaration day while the economic data was worsening by the day. Just because McConnell’s public statements came after Barack Obama “enacted many of his preferred policies” does not mean that the Republican leadership magically discovered this strategy in October 2010. Determining the facts surrounding this situation requires a little more investigative effort than Kessler is willing to put in.

Kessler implies that this is merely a fantasy of Barack Obama’s and that there is no way of verifying any part of this story beyond the simple timeline of a National Journal interview. This ignores the work of reporters (including – but not limited to – Michael Grunwald) who have worked hard to confirm and accurately portray the events surrounding the Obama adminstration’s efforts to fight the Great Recession and the Republican leadership’s efforts to make that as difficult as possible. As Grunwald points out, in the midst of the worst crash in 80 years, the Republican Party was devising a strategy not based on promoting the policies they thought were best for the country or improving the policies they thought were the worst, but on taking back power from the Democrats solely for the sake of taking back power from the Democrats.

We aren’t flying blind here. We don’t have to guess if Mitch McConnell was uncooperative all along or if it’s just a comforting story Barack Obama likes to tell himself. The consistent Republican obstructionism of the last (almost) four years is not a matter of opinion and it does not require interpretation or guesswork. The people involved in crafting this plan have consistently been quite open about their strategy.

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September 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm

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Link roundup

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September 27, 2012 at 4:42 am

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Drone strikes and bipartisan apathy

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Kevin Drum comments on a sobering new Stanford/NYU report on the effects of drone attacks:

The most depressing part of all this is that you can’t just blame this on one guy, and hope that it might change once he’s out of office. Bush started it, and Obama has ramped it up. What’s more, there’s no partisan pushback at all. To repeat something I said last year, Republicans are in favor of anything that kills more bad guys, regardless of collateral damage, and Democrats are unwilling to make trouble for a president of their own party. Put those two things together, and drones have become stealth weapons both politically and technologically. Everybody is in favor of them.

It’s impossible to deny that partisanship plays a large role in shaping public opinion on this issue, but I don’t think Democrats being unwilling to make trouble for a Democratic president is the only dynamic at play here. Certainly they are more inclined to support their president’s policies, but I think there is a simpler reason why drones have broad bipartisan support. Republicans like killing bad guys and Democrats like killing bad guys too.

The Democratic Party was never a broad anti-war coalition, even during the height of the Iraq debacle. The general position was that one of many reasons why Iraq was such a disaster was that it was diverting energy and resources away from al-Qaeda. It’s not as though Democrats were opposed to targeting al-Qaeda under Bush and suddenly swung the other way under Obama. Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network made a few good points in an interview with David Shuster earlier this year – Americans are weary about land wars and drone strikes may seem like a better alternative than trying to fight terror groups with troops on the ground. Drones provide us with comfort that we are killing our enemies without the messiness of land warfare, and we aren’t exposed to many of the realities of drone warfare.

Additionally, it’s tough to be a high information voter on drone strikes. As Hurlburt points out, not only is there a large amount of secrecy surrounding the program, but it’s a new technology that has no real precedent and ambiguous long term consequences. This study is an important step, but a tiny fraction of the population is going to be exposed to Living With Drones. We see the headlines about dead terrorists without the images of war that brought the scenes in Iraq home to the United States. There is a broad consensus that killing more terrorists is a good thing and starting more land wars is maybe not such a good thing.

All of this is not to discount the role of partisanship in public opinion about drone strikes and other national security issues. Indeed, the amount that Americans trust in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems has clearly partisan swings. But it’s not the only thing determining the lack of outcry towards drone strikes.

Written by negativeinterest

September 27, 2012 at 12:02 am

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“Perhaps” Glenn Kessler should attempt some journalism

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Glenn Kessler:

There is no doubt that McConnell said he wanted to make Obama a one-term president. But he did not say it at the start of Obama’s term; instead, he made his comments at the midpoint, after Obama had enacted many of his preferred policies.

Perhaps, in Obama’s memory, McConnell was always uncooperative. But that does not give him and other Democrats the license to rearrange the chronology to suit the party’s talking points.

Michael Grunwald:

At the retreat, McConnell reminded the Republican senators that there were still enough of them to block the Democratic agenda – as long as they all marched in lockstep…Politically, they had nothing to gain from me-too-ism.

McConnell recognized that Obama’s promises of bipartisanship gave his dwindling minority real leverage. Whenever Republicans decided not to cooperate, Obama would be the one breaking his promises…”We thought – correctly, I think – that the only way the American people would know a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan,” McConnell explain later in one of his periodic outbreaks of candor. “When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that the differences had been worked out.”

Maybe Obama had rewritten the rules of electoral politics, but the rules of Washington politics still applied. The dream of hope and change was about to enter the world of cloture votes and motions to commit. That was McConnell’s world.

That retreat took place in early January 2009, before Obama took office. At the House retreat around the same time, Pete Sessions delivered this message to his colleagues:

The team’s goal would not be promoting Republican policies, or stopping Democratic policies, or even making Democratic bills less offensive to Republicans. Its goal would be taking the gavel back from Speaker Pelosi.

“That is the entire Conference’s Mission,” Sessions wrote.

Kessler doesn’t bother trying to find out if Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues were actually being uncooperative from the start of Obama’s term – perhaps he was, if only in Obama’s memory.

So yes, Kessler is correct about the quote’s timeline. But to suggest that there is some ambiguity about Mitch McConnell’s commitment to cooperation from January 2009 on or to not even bother making a cursory examination is just unspeakably lazy journalism.

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September 26, 2012 at 4:12 am

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  • The full Planet Money debate on infrastructure between Robert Frank and Russ Roberts has been posted as the latest EconTalk. Even going in with the expectation that I was going to disagree with Roberts more than I would agree with him, I was shocked by the weakness of his arguments. He attacked straw men (we shouldn’t spend more money on infrastructure because San Francisco doesn’t need a second Golden Gate Bridge?) and didn’t really answer Frank’s most effective points. At one point he agreed that spending money to repair bridges and roads is worthwhile, but he also said that the federal government shouldn’t spend money to fund these projects because if they would have been funded already if they were really worthwhile projects. And the most persuasive Frank point, that our borrowing costs are as low as they will ever be and that spending money today can save money in the future (because repairing an aging bridge might cost us $6 million today, but repairing a collapsed bridge 20 years from now might cost $30 billion) basically went unchallenged. I’m scoring this one for Frank; more from him on road repair here.
  • Tim Duy comments on this Josh Lehner piece comparing the current recovery to past recoveries from financial crises. Duy notes that the work of Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart on the difficulty of post-financial crisis recovery has been used as an excuse for inaction by policymakers when it should have been seen as a demand for more forceful action. I think this gets it exactly right, and I also think that the appeal of the structural unemployment theory is that it offers a similar excuse. It allows policymakers to say that they did everything that could be done, and the rest is the fault of the nature of the crisis or workers with mismatched skills.
  • Laura D’Andrea Tyson writes about income inequality and educational opportunity. The key part: “The United States is caught in a vicious cycle largely of its own making. Rising income inequality is breeding more inequality in educational opportunity, which results in greater inequality in educational attainment. That, in turn, undermines the intergenerational mobility upon which Americans have always prided themselves and perpetuates income inequality from generation to generation. This dynamic all but guarantees a permanent underclass.”
  • Jared Bernstein highlights new studies by Owen Zidar and the Economic Policy Institute on the high end tax cuts. The bottom line: they are ineffective stimulus and the fears about repeal don’t match up with the data.

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September 24, 2012 at 11:50 pm

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