It’s something

Into his giant bowl of wrong, David Stockman hurls this item that cheers me no end:

World War II (which did far more to end the Depression than the New Deal did)

This remark implies an understanding that

(a) the New Deal did something to end the Depression – which puts Stockman ahead of Amity Shlaes and other New Deal denialists.

(b) the “Keynesian state” – which Stockman derides two paragraphs previous – actually works, at least to end Depressions.

A person’s a person that way

One of the girls has a record player, so I’ve taken to stopping by the bargain bin outside the local record shop. (There is one, and it’s excellent.) I’ve brought home any number of gems for 98¢ a pop – the white album, greatest hits of John Denver, Billy Joel’s Songs in the Attic – the soundtrack of my childhood, rendered just as scratchy and wobbly as it sounded the first time around. Two records in particular stick out – Helen Reddy’s greatest, which my mother played quite a lot, and Free to be… You and Me, which I can remember listening to over and over in a friend’s rec room.

Which is all prelude to my puzzlement over the Yvonne Brill obit fiasco. Quick summary: Yvonne Brill, prominent Cold War rocket scientist, died. The New York Times led its obituary with “She made a mean beef stroganoff.” Because it’s 2013, a bunch of people freaked out, and the Times corrected it. Because it’s the Times, they didn’t acknowledge correcting it.

For me, having grown up hearing “I am woman” and “A person should do what she likes to” it’s unimaginable to begin an obit like that. For my generation, feminism was supposed to be in the air, and to me it felt like it was. I’d be curious to know who wrote that obit – someone older, who predated commonsense feminism, someone younger, of the backlash generation, or someone who somehow missed the boat entirely?

History with the bark off.

That was LBJ’s homespun rationale for deciding to tape himself in the Oval Office. And the LBJ Library has just released the final batch of those tapes, from 1968, revealing Johnson’s perspective on the Democratic National Convention that year and also on Richard Nixon’s ostensible role in scuttling ongoing negotiations to end the debacle in Vietnam.

Johnson, horrified by the unfolding violence in Chicago and worried that Hubert Humphrey wouldn’t be chosen as the Democratic nominee, apparently considered saving the day by flying from Texas to the convention and announcing himself as an eleventh-hour candidate. That plan fell apart only after the Secret Service explained that it couldn’t adequately protect the president in Chicago, which stood poised on the brink of insurrection.

Perhaps even more interesting than that, Johnson explains that the FBI had provided him with evidence that Richard Nixon had “blood on his hands,” that, in other words, Nixon had sabotaged the Paris peace talks. Nixon, the LBJ tapes reveal, had dispatched Anna Chennault, one of his campaign advisers, to conduct unauthorized, back-channel discussions with South Vietnamese negotiators. Consequently, just as Johnson prepared to announce in October 1968 that the United States would halt all bombing in North Vietnam, the South Vietnamese, having been promised by Chennault that a Nixon administration would deliver a deal much more favorable to their interests, pulled out of the talks entirely.

In a call to Senator Richard Russell, Johnson says

We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.

Nixon, meanwhile, insisted that he had no idea why the South Vietnamese had left the negotiating table and offered, out of the goodness of his heart, to travel to Saigon to set things right. Johnson, for his part, chose not to share Nixon’s perfidy with the public, because the president worried about the repercussions of revealing the extent of the FBI’s and NSA’s surveillance of American diplomats. Johnson did tell Humphrey, but by then, on the eve of the election, the vice president had closed the gap with Nixon and worried about stalling his own momentum by releasing a bombshell that might alter the trajectory of the campaign.

In the end, Nixon, Humphrey, and Johnson — at least the Johnson of 1968 — all come out looking terrible, office seekers willing to play politics with national security, at the cost tens of thousands of lives. I suppose we should praise Johnson for laying bare these insights from the past, but I find myself thinking he should have stripped the bark away at time.

1) Add one part internet triumphalism to two parts market fundamentalism. 2) Fleece a bunch of students and unsuspecting taxpayers. 3) ??? 4) Profit!

No, really, lots of profits. For private corporations.

If you’re in higher education and you’re not following this story, you should be. The upshot (sorry, the executive summary) is that the California legislature is about to pass a bill “requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for oversubscribed classes on campus.”

The devil, as ever, is in the details. What does “faculty-approved” mean here? It seems clear but isn’t, I assure you, as every campus will likely have its own mechanism for determining such things. And though it sounds benign or even benevolent that the legislature is ensuring that students will receive credit for courses that they take online because they’re shut out of brick-and-mortar classrooms, one might wonder why those classrooms are overcrowded in the first place. Could it be because of budget cuts to higher education?

The real issue, though, is that this promises to be a huge transfer of money from a public education system to a private one: online vendors that offer courses for profit. And of course the unstated funding mechanism is government-backed student loans. Also, while it’s wonderful to hear Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the California Senate, say

We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed. That’s the motivation for this.

I find myself thinking, first, that perhaps Mr. Steinberg should have found a way to fund higher education in the state, to live up to a promise that’s already on the books, the California Master Plan; and second, that maybe The New York Times could have done some checking into Mr. Steinberg’s donor list and his dinner party invitations.

Let me be clear about a couple of points: it’s shameful that students are shut out of required courses in public colleges and universities (although again, this is a problem with a very simple solution), but it’s still more shameful that the State of California is rushing pell-mell to embrace a new educational model that has produced dubious pedagogical results. Online education may be fantastic some day. I hope, both for the sake of access and innovation, that it lives up to its promise. But to date, the actual model looks something like this: 1) High rates of failure and attrition (pdf). 2) Relatively poor learning outcomes even among those students who persist and pass their classes. 3) Profit for private corporations!


Because this fits with my general distaste for all things JFK, I think it’s quite interesting.

We already knew that Kennedy used trumped-up claims of a missile gap to attack Nixon in the 1960 election (claims that must have infuriated Eisenhower, who, in his farewell speech to the nation, had warned of the overweening power of the military industrial complex). We already knew that Kennedy’s addiction to brinksmanship goosed the nuclear arms race. We already knew that the ill-fated Bay of Pigs fiasco left Krushchev even warier of Kennedy’s bizarre obsession with toppling Castro. But I’m not sure I appreciated until now how (willfully?) dense Kennedy was about the specifics of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On the first day of the crisis, October 16, when pondering Khrushchev’s motives for sending the missiles to Cuba, Kennedy made what must be one of the most staggeringly absentminded (or sarcastic) observations in the annals of American national-security policy: “Why does he put these in there, though? … It’s just as if we suddenly began to put a major number of MRBMs [medium-range ballistic missiles] in Turkey. Now that’d be goddamned dangerous, I would think.” McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, immediately pointed out: “Well we did it, Mr. President.”

Returning to what we already knew, Kennedy engaged in some world-historical fear-mongering during the crisis, trolling the United States at every opportunity.

Kennedy and his civilian advisers understood that the missiles in Cuba did not alter the strategic nuclear balance. Although Kennedy asserted in his October 22 televised address that the missiles were “an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas,” he in fact appreciated, as he told the ExComm on the first day of the crisis, that “it doesn’t make any difference if you get blown up by an ICBM flying from the Soviet Union or one that was 90 miles away. Geography doesn’t mean that much.” America’s European allies, Kennedy continued, “will argue that taken at its worst the presence of these missiles really doesn’t change” the nuclear balance.

And yet, Kennedy insisted on creeping to the brink of nuclear war, daring Kruschev to cross a series of irrelevant lines that the president drew in the sand, apparently not because Kennedy believed the missiles in Cuba represented a heightened national security threat but because they were a threat to his political standing and ego. Holy hell, when Robert McNamara is the voice of reason in the room, you’re in real trouble. Take it way, Bob:

On that very first day of the ExComm meetings, McNamara provided a wider perspective on the missiles’ significance: “I’ll be quite frank. I don’t think there is a military problem here … This is a domestic, political problem.” In a 1987 interview, McNamara explained: “You have to remember that, right from the beginning, it was President Kennedy who said that it was politically unacceptable for us to leave those missile sites alone. He didn’t say militarily, he said politically.” What largely made the missiles politically unacceptable was Kennedy’s conspicuous and fervent hostility toward the Castro regime—a stance, Kennedy admitted at an ExComm meeting, that America’s European allies thought was “a fixation” and “slightly demented.”

As the author of the piece linked at the top of this post notes, “This approach to foreign policy was guided—and remains guided—by an elaborate theorizing rooted in a school-playground view of world politics rather than the cool appraisal of strategic realities. It put—and still puts—America in the curious position of having to go to war to uphold the very credibility that is supposed to obviate war in the first place.” That sounds right.