CRF Blog

Bruce Bartlett’s 6 favorite political books

by Bill Hayes

In The Week’s Book List, Bruce Bartlett, who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, lists his 6 favorite political books:

The Emerging Republican Majority by Kevin Phillips…. Arguably the most influential book on political science ever written. Published in 1969, Phillips’ book perfectly forecast the Republican takeover of the South, which has shaped American politics for almost 50 years. Phillips later wished he could put the toothpaste back in the tube, but he couldn’t. [more]

How to Get Your Mind to Read

by Bill Hayes

In How to Get Your Mind to Read for the New York Times, Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology and the author of The Reading Mind, argues that reading instruction in the U.S. is failing because it overlooks a crucial component of reading.

Many of these poor readers can sound out words from print, so in that sense, they can read. Yet they are functionally illiterate — they comprehend very little of what they can sound out. So what does comprehension require? Broad vocabulary, obviously. Equally important, but more subtle, is the role played by factual knowledge.

All prose has factual gaps that must be filled by the reader. Consider “I promised not to play with it, but Mom still wouldn’t let me bring my Rubik’s Cube to the library.” The author has omitted three facts vital to comprehension: you must be quiet in a library; Rubik’s Cubes make noise; kids don’t resist tempting toys very well. If you don’t know these facts, you might understand the literal meaning of the sentence, but you’ll miss why Mom forbade the toy in the library. [more]

Extending Federal Funding for CHIP: What is at Stake?

by Bill Hayes

In Extending Federal Funding for CHIP: What is at Stake?, the Kaiser Family Foundation discusses how states may lose funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Together with Medicaid, CHIP provides a strong base of coverage for our nation’s children and has helped reduce the nation’s uninsured rate for children to a record low of 5% …. CHIP provides coverage to children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but who cannot access or afford private coverage. In 2016, CHIP covered 8.9 million children. All states have expanded coverage to children through CHIP. Some states provide CHIP through a separate CHIP program, some states have a CHIP-funded Medicaid expansion, and some states use a combination of both approaches. Reflecting these expansions, nearly all states cover children in families with incomes up to at least 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL), which is $40,840 for a family of three in 2017. [more]

The Scotsmen Who Invented Modernity

by Bill Hayes

In The Scotsmen Who Invented Modernity for The National Interest, Jacob Heilbrunn reviews Dennis C. Rasmussen’s The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped Modern Thought.

ON THE face of it, Scotland was an unlikely candidate to spawn such intellectual titans. Hume himself said that Scotland had been “the rudest, perhaps, of all European Nations; the most necessitous, the most turbulent, and the most unsettled.” But Hume’s and Smith’s lifetimes coincided with a new era of economic prosperity and cultural glories. Edward Gibbon remarked in 1776 — the year the first volume of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appeared, along with Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, not to mention Thomas Paine’s Common Sense — that he had “always looked up with the most sincere respect towards the northern part of our island, whither taste and philosophy seemed to have retired from the smoke and hurry of this immense capital.” Some of the leading luminaries included Adam Ferguson, William Robertson and Dugald Stewart. Most were employed by the university, the law, church or medicine. According to Rasmussen, this helps to explain why their “outlooks generally lacked the subversive edge that was so conspicuous among the Parisian philosophes, causing the more radical side of Smith’s and especially Hume’s thought to stand out in starker relief.”

Hume, who was born in 1711, entered Edinburgh University at the age of ten, where he studied Latin, Greek, logic, metaphysics and the natural sciences. Religious precepts infused his courses. Hume was unimpressed. He instructed a friend in 1735 that “there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books.” Upon graduation, he devoted eight years to private study, then spent three years in France, where he wrote the first two volumes of A Treatise of Human Nature. [more]

CRF currently has no lessons on Hume, but it does have one on his good friend Adam Smith:

Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations (23:1:07). It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

‘Trump’s America’

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s special report titled “Trump’s America” features the following articles:

The power of groupthink argues that Trump has deeply changed American politics.

Taking out the white trash looks at urban-rural divides.

A town called Liberal examines what conservative populism means.

Colonies of the mind explores race and status anxiety.

White House windows reports on Trump in government.

A Survival Guide for Democracies

by Bill Hayes

In A Survival Guide for Democracies for Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Kurlantzick looks at how other democratic countries have weathered authoritarian populist leaders.

Over the past seven months, Donald Trump has attacked what for many are the pillars of American democracy. He’s blasted the news media, sowed distrust in the election process, and fired the FBI director for apparently political reasons. He has torn at the U.S.’s racial fabric, perhaps to embolden his base. Political scientists, historians, and other experts have been trying to gauge how much damage he’s inflicting on democracy. The New Yorker wondered if the U.S. might be on the verge of a new civil war.

Damaging the American political process has global ramifications. But an examination of other countries’ experiences shows that Trump may not be as successful in destroying U.S. norms and institutions as media coverage fearfully suggests. In many ways, he isn’t unique. A wave of authoritarian-leaning populists has swept the globe in the past 15 years — Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, many others — who share his disdain for institutions, the media, and politics as usual. Yet from Italy to Argentina, some countries that have elected these types of leaders not only survived them but also rebuilt their democracies — they were battered but not destroyed. [more]

Early Education

by Bill Hayes

In Early Education, Lapham’s Quarterly lists the many, many works the 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill read before the age of 7. Among them were works he read in the original Greek such as Aesop’s The Fables; Xenophon’s The Anabasis, Memorials of Socrates, and The Cryopadeia; Herodotus’ The Histories, Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Cratylus, and Theaetetus. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson on Mill’s life (including his education) and philosophy, see John Stuart Mill and Individual Liberty from CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

How Los Angeles Is the Future of Cities

by Bill Hayes

In How Los Angeles Is the Future of Cities for New America Weekly, Afshin Molavi looks at the importance of infrastructure for economic growth.

More than that, the city of angels might offer a road map for, well, how to make America great again.

First, consider this: The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area is an economic colossus. If it were a country, its $867 billion GDP would be the 17th largest economy in the world, larger than the Netherlands and oil-rich Saudi Arabia, and roughly on par with Turkey. Yes, the entertainment industry plays a role, but it’s a supporting one.

The lead actor in this Los Angeles success story is an unknown, unsung hero celebrated by Trump (as well as former candidate Clinton): infrastructure. This infrastructure supports Los Angeles’ main employment driver: international trade. [more]

The Case Against Civilization

by Bill Hayes

In The Case Against Civilization for the New Yorker, John Lanchester asks whether our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived better lives. He also discusses these two books: Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott and Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen by James Suzman.

So why did our ancestors switch from this complex web of food supplies to the concentrated production of single crops? We don’t know, although Scott speculates that climatic stress may have been involved. Two things, however, are clear. The first is that, for thousands of years, the agricultural revolution was, for most of the people living through it, a disaster. The fossil record shows that life for agriculturalists was harder than it had been for hunter-gatherers. Their bones show evidence of dietary stress: they were shorter, they were sicker, their mortality rates were higher. Living in close proximity to domesticated animals led to diseases that crossed the species barrier, wreaking havoc in the densely settled communities. Scott calls them not towns but “late-Neolithic multispecies resettlement camps.” Who would choose to live in one of those? Jared Diamond called the Neolithic Revolution “the worst mistake in human history.” The startling thing about this claim is that, among historians of the era, it isn’t very controversial.

The other conclusion we can draw from the evidence, Scott says, is that there is a crucial, direct link between the cultivation of cereal crops and the birth of the first states. It’s not that cereal grains were humankind’s only staples; it’s just that they were the only ones that encouraged the formation of states. “History records no cassava states, no sago, yam, taro, plantain, breadfruit or sweet potato states,” he writes. What was so special about grains? The answer will make sense to anyone who has ever filled out a Form 1040: grain, unlike other crops, is easy to tax. Some crops (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava) are buried and so can be hidden from the tax collector, and, even if discovered, they must be dug up individually and laboriously. Other crops (notably, legumes) ripen at different intervals, or yield harvests throughout a growing season rather than along a fixed trajectory of unripe to ripe — in other words, the taxman can’t come once and get his proper due. Only grains are, in Scott’s words, “visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and ‘rationable.’ ” Other crops have some of these advantages, but only cereal grains have them all, and so grain became “the main food starch, the unit of taxation in kind, and the basis for a hegemonic agrarian calendar.” The taxman can come, assess the fields, set a level of tax, then come back and make sure he’s got his share of the harvest.

It was the ability to tax and to extract a surplus from the produce of agriculture that, in Scott’s account, led to the birth of the state, and also to the creation of complex societies with hierarchies, division of labor, specialist jobs (soldier, priest, servant, administrator), and an élite presiding over them. Because the new states required huge amounts of manual work to irrigate the cereal crops, they also required forms of forced labor, including slavery; because the easiest way to find slaves was to capture them, the states had a new propensity for waging war. [more]

Freedom in the World 2017

by Bill Hayes

Freedom House has published its annual report Freedom in the World 2017, subtitled Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy.

In 2016, populist and nationalist political forces made astonishing gains in democratic states, while authoritarian powers engaged in brazen acts of aggression, and grave atrocities went unanswered in war zones across two continents.

All of these developments point to a growing danger that the international order of the past quarter-century — rooted in the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law — will give way to a world in which individual leaders and nations pursue their own narrow interests without meaningful constraints, and without regard for the shared benefits of global peace, freedom, and prosperity.

The troubling impression created by the year’s headline events is supported by the latest findings of Freedom in the World. A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.

While in past years the declines in freedom were generally concentrated among autocracies and dictatorships that simply went from bad to worse, in 2016 it was established democracies — countries rated Free in the report’s ranking system — that dominated the list of countries suffering setbacks. In fact, Free countries accounted for a larger share of the countries with declines than at any time in the past decade, and nearly one-quarter of the countries registering declines in 2016 were in Europe.

As the year drew to a conclusion, the major democracies were mired in anxiety and indecision after a series of destabilizing events. In the United States, the presidential victory of Donald Trump, a mercurial figure with unconventional views on foreign policy and other matters, raised questions about the country’s future role in the world. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the collapse of the Italian government after a failed referendum on constitutional reform, a series of antidemocratic moves by the new government in Poland, and gains by xenophobic nationalist parties elsewhere in Europe similarly cast doubt on the strength of the alliances that shaped the institutions of global democracy.

At the same time, Russia, in stunning displays of hubris and hostility, interfered in the political processes of the United States and other democracies, escalated its military support for the Assad dictatorship in Syria, and solidified its illegal occupation of Ukrainian territory. China also flouted international law, ignoring a tribunal’s ruling against its expansive claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea and intensifying its repression of dissent within its borders. And unscrupulous leaders from South Sudan and Ethiopia to Thailand and the Philippines engaged in human rights violations of varying scale with impunity.

In the wake of last year’s developments, it is no longer possible to speak with confidence about the long-term durability of the EU; the incorporation of democracy and human rights priorities into American foreign policy; the resilience of democratic institutions in Central Europe, Brazil, or South Africa; or even the expectation that actions like the assault on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority or indiscriminate bombing in Yemen will draw international criticism from democratic governments and UN human rights bodies. No such assumption, it seems, is entirely safe. [more]

Fiber Broadband per 100 Inhabitants

Infographic: Where Fiber Broadband is Most Prevalent | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

The Uncounted

by Bill Hayes

In The Uncounted for the New York Times Magazine, Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal report on a tragic blunder in the war against ISIS.

Late on the evening of Sept. 20, 2015, Basim Razzo sat in the study of his home on the eastern side of Mosul, his face lit up by a computer screen. His wife, Mayada, was already upstairs in bed, but Basim could lose hours clicking through car reviews on YouTube: the BMW Alpina B7, the Audi Q7. Almost every night went like this. Basim had long harbored a taste for fast rides, but around ISIS-occupied Mosul, the auto showrooms sat dark, and the family car in his garage — a 1991 BMW — had barely been used in a year. There simply was nowhere to go.

The Razzos lived in the Woods, a bucolic neighborhood on the banks of the Tigris, where marble and stucco villas sprawled amid forests of eucalyptus, chinar and pine. Cafes and restaurants lined the riverbanks, but ever since the city fell to ISIS the previous year, Basim and Mayada had preferred to entertain at home. They would set up chairs poolside and put kebabs on the grill, and Mayada would serve pizza or Chinese fried rice, all in an effort to maintain life as they’d always known it. Their son, Yahya, had abandoned his studies at Mosul University and fled for Erbil, and they had not seen him since; those who left when ISIS took over could re-enter the caliphate, but once there, they could not leave — an impasse that stranded people wherever they found themselves. Birthdays, weddings and graduations came and went, the celebrations stockpiled for that impossibly distant moment: liberation.

Next door to Basim’s home stood the nearly identical home belonging to his brother, Mohannad, and his wife, Azza. They were almost certainly asleep at that hour, but Basim guessed that their 18-year-old son, Najib, was still up. A few months earlier, he was arrested by the ISIS religious police for wearing jeans and a T-shirt with English writing. They gave him 10 lashes and, as a further measure of humiliation, clipped his hair into a buzz cut. Now he spent most of his time indoors, usually on Facebook. “Someday it’ll all be over,” Najib had posted just a few days earlier. “Until that day, I’ll hold on with all my strength.”

Sometimes, after his parents locked up for the night, Najib would fish the key out of the cupboard and steal over to his uncle’s house. Basim had the uncanny ability to make his nephew forget the darkness of their situation. He had a glass-half-full exuberance, grounded in the belief that every human life — every setback and success, every heartbreak and triumph — is written by the 40th day in the womb. Basim was not a particularly religious man, but that small article of faith underpinned what seemed to him an ineluctable truth, even in wartime Iraq: Everything happens for a reason. It was an assurance he offered everyone; Yahya had lost a year’s worth of education, but in exile he had met, and proposed to, the love of his life. “You see?” Basim would tell Mayada. “You see? That’s fate.”

Basim had felt this way for as long as he could remember. A 56-year-old account manager at Huawei, the Chinese multinational telecommunications company, he studied engineering in the 1980s at Western Michigan University. He and Mayada lived in Portage, Mich., in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that Mayada also used as the headquarters for her work as an Avon representative; she started small, offering makeup and skin cream to neighbors, but soon expanded sales to Kalamazoo and Comstock. Within a year, she’d saved up enough to buy Basim a $700 Minolta camera. Basim came to rely on her ability to impose order on the strange and the mundane, to master effortlessly everything from Yahya’s chemistry homework to the alien repartee of faculty picnics and Rotary clubs. It was fate. They had been married now for 33 years.

Around midnight, Basim heard a thump from the second floor. He peeked out of his office and saw a sliver of light under the door to the bedroom of his daughter, Tuqa. He called out for her to go to bed. At 21, Tuqa would often stay up late, and though Basim knew that he wasn’t a good example himself and that the current conditions afforded little reason to be up early, he believed in the calming power of an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. He waited at the foot of the stairs, called out again, and the sliver went dark.

It was 1 a.m. when Basim finally shut down the computer and headed upstairs to bed. He settled in next to Mayada, who was fast asleep.

Some time later, he snapped awake. His shirt was drenched, and there was a strange taste — blood? — on his tongue. The air was thick and acrid. He looked up. He was in the bedroom, but the roof was nearly gone. He could see the night sky, the stars over Mosul. Basim reached out and found his legs pressed just inches from his face by what remained of his bed. He began to panic. He turned to his left, and there was a heap of rubble. “Mayada!” he screamed. “Mayada!” It was then that he noticed the silence. “Mayada!” he shouted. “Tuqa!” The bedroom walls were missing, leaving only the bare supports. He could see the dark outlines of treetops. He began to hear the faraway, unmistakable sound of a woman’s voice. He cried out, and the voice shouted back, “Where are you?” It was Azza, his sister-in-law, somewhere outside.

“Mayada’s gone!” he shouted.

“No, no, I’ll find her!”

“No, no, no, she’s gone,” he cried back. “They’re all gone!”

LATER THAT SAME day, the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria uploaded a video to its YouTube channel. The clip, titled “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul, Iraq 20 Sept 2015,” shows spectral black-and-white night-vision footage of two sprawling compounds, filmed by an aircraft slowly rotating above. There is no sound. Within seconds, the structures disappear in bursts of black smoke. The target, according to the caption, was a car-bomb factory, a hub in a network of “multiple facilities spread across Mosul used to produce VBIEDs for ISIL’s terrorist activities,” posing “a direct threat to both civilians and Iraqi security forces.” Later, when he found the video, Basim could watch only the first few frames. He knew immediately that the buildings were his and his brother’s houses. [more]

The Alumni Factor

by Bill Hayes

Just in case you wanted to see another college ranking system, then The Alumni Factor is for you. It is based on feedback from alumni from more than 1,500 colleges. It ranks the top 237, but only lets you see the top 50 for free. You can also see the top 10 schools in several categories and all 237 but unranked. You must pay for additional information. The overall highest rated were:

  1. Princeton University
  2. Washington and Lee University
  3. United States Naval Academy
  4. Yale University
  5. United States Military Academy [more]

Politico’s Cartoons for This Week

by Bill Hayes

See Politico’s selection of this week’s political cartoons from across the country and the political spectrum.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Goodbye to All That Democracy

by Bill Hayes

In Goodbye to All That Democracy for the American Prospect, Zephyr Teachout reviews The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic by Ganesh Sitaraman.

Just how unequal are we? For generations, the American middle class was the majority of Americans — no more, as of 2015. The top 1 percent owns more than 30 percent of America’s wealth. The poorest half owns just 2.5 percent. Wall Street bonuses alone are twice the amount of all the combined earnings of minimum-wage workers in this country. We are grotesquely, bizarrely, grossly unequal — unequal in cash, health care, schooling, and access to clean air and water. Unequal in our access to power. And we are becoming more unequal by the year: Since Ronald Reagan became president, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has doubled.

Sitaraman posits that we simply don’t have the right kind of constitution to withstand this degree of inequality. He argues that there are two kinds of constitutional structures: Class Warfare Constitutions and Middle-Class Constitutions. Class Warfare Constitutions — like those of ancient Rome, England, and Florence — assume inequality. These constitutions were designed with an eye to channeling a natural antagonism between the very rich and the poor into nonviolent mechanisms for negotiation. Both rich and poor accept these channels as conditions for the freedom from violence and instability that threaten the rich, and the freedom from despotism and arbitrary power that threaten the poor. Some used devices like class-specific representative chambers to give different classes political clout; some used devices like lotteries to ensure that even the poor get a voice. [more]