21 July, 2007

Where Are the Patricians of Today?

Henry L. Stimson was born to a wealthy New York family two years after the end of the Civil War. He was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and Yale College before he graduated Harvard Law School in 1890 and joined the prestigious Wall Street law firm of Root and Clark in 1891, becoming a partner two years later. Stimson was appointed Secretary of War in 1911 under President William Howard Taft where he continued the reorganization of the Army begun by Elihu Root, improving its efficiency prior to its vast expansion in World War I. From 1929 to 1933, Stimson served as Secretary of State under President Herbert Hoover, where he became famous for shutting down MI-8, the State Department's cryptanalytic office, saying, "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail." Seeking to foster a bi-partisan coöperation for his policy of re-armament, in 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt returned him to his old post at the head of the War Department. Much of the credit for America's hugely successful mobilization for war goes to Stimson. Not only did he supervise the tremendous expansion of the 1939 Regular Army and National Guard of 400,000, to a force of 1.5 million in 1941, and to a final strength of over fourteen million by VJ-Day, but he also oversaw the successful construction of the Pentagon in only eighteen months, and the creation of the world's first atomic bombs. At the end of the war and against the initial wishes of both Roosevelt and Churchill, Stimson, a lawyer, insisted on proper judicial proceedings against leading war criminals. He and the War Department drafted the first proposals for an International Tribunal, which soon received backing from the incoming president Truman. Stimson's plan eventually led to the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, which have had a significant impact on the development of International Law. Stimson once again retired to private life at the conclusion of hostilities in September of 1945. He retired to N.Y.C. where he lived with his wife until his death in 1950.

All of this would be enough of public service for any one man, but Stimson also saw service in the Great War. Immediately after war was declared in 1917, despite being almost fifty years old, Stimson volunteered for service in France. He began service there as a battery commander, seeing actual front line service, and ended in 1918 as a Colonel of the Artillery. For the rest of his life be preferred to be addressed as "Colonel Stimson." Despite out-ranking them as Secretary of War, Army Generals addressed him as Colonel.

Where are the patricians of today? I doubt that even one graduate of the Harvard Law School volunteered for service after 9/11.

Of course, those Harvard boys are pretty sharp, and they probably know a scam when they see one.

11 July, 2007

Edmund Wilson on American Consumerism


From "Mr. and Mrs. X", 1931:

In America, in the period that followed the war, our life had become a stampede to produce and sell all sorts of commodities — the question was not whether people really needed or wanted these things but whether by any means they could be induced to buy them. Hence American advertising — one of the most fantastic features of capitalist society. Advertising as we have it in the United States, is a sheer waste of money and brains; but if you allow competitive business for private profit, you have to have a whole corps of poets, artists, preachers, blackmailers and flatterers to compete in selling its wares. It is a formidable undertaking to persuade people to invest at high prices in valueless breakfast foods and toothpastes; in cosmetics that poison the face, lubricants that corrode your car, insecticides that kill your trees; in heal-builders made of cheese, fat-reducers containing cascara, coffee made of dried peas, gelatine made of glue, olive oil made of cottonseed, straw hats composed of wood shavings, sterling silver that is lead and cement, woolen blankets, silk stockings, and linen sheets all actually woven of cotton, sealskin coats that are really muskrat, mink and sable that are really woodchuck, mahogany furniture of gumwood that will splinter into bits under use; in foods that do not nourish, disinfectants that do not disinfect, shock-absorbers that cause you to ride more roughly, and gas-logs for the fireplace that asphyxiate — all articles which have lately been put over with more or less success. Even when the article offered is of genuinely good quality and what it pretends to be, it has to have its ballyhoo, , also, to outshout or underinsinuate other products in the same field. And the result of all this publicity is that the Americans have come at last to accept an ideal of success based solely on the possession of things: cars, clothes, toilet accessories, electrical appliances; and a conception of patriotism that glorifies the United States as an inexhaustible market.

Free Market Health Care


Rudy Giuliani recently commented on our health care crisis:

Free market principles are the only things that reduce costs and improve quality. Socialized medicine will ruin medicine in the united states.

This statement is self-evidently fatuous as can be demonstrated by a few examples:

• The market for world-wide vaccines is about eight billion dollars annually, less than the 35 billion spent annually on the leading heart medication (and probably less than is spent on life-style drugs like Viagra). The market incentive, therefore, is for drug companies to develop and market drugs that must be taken daily and will thus generate a continuing revenue flow than to develop drugs like vaccines that actually solve the problem once and for all. Most vaccines have been developed through government research.

• Doctors are paid for doing something, not preventing something. There is thus no market incentive for a doctor to keep you healthy, since he only makes money when you are sick.

• The much touted idea of medical savings accounts would not provide an incentive to seek treatment promptly or to take prophylactic measures, but rather would provide a monetary reward for staying away from necessary medical services.

The market is all about production for profit, not production for use. Only by recognizing that the market is not the solution to problems that require maintenance, not consumption, can we even begin to address our health care crisis.

10 July, 2007

Socialized Medicine by the Numbers

The United states pays the most for health care (as a percentage of GDP):

  1. 14% — United States
  2. 10.5% — Germany
  3. 9.7% — France
  4. 9.2% — Canada
  5. 7.1% — Japan
  6. 6.8% — England

And we get the least.

Hospital beds per 1000 population:

  1. 16.2 — Japan
  2. 9.6 — Germany
  3. 8.7 — France
  4. 4.5 — England
  5. 4.2 — Canada
  6. 4.0 — United States

Life expectancy:

  1. 80 — Japan
  2. 79 — Canada
  3. 78 — France
  4. 77 — Germany
  5. 77 — England
  6. 76 — United States

09 July, 2007

An Insuprable Gulf?

Sunday I was working as a bike valet at the Taste Of Chicago. This basically meant that I was standing in the hot sun, from 3PM to 10PM, checking in peoples bikes, hiking them up a slight hill filled with racks, and then retrieving them later. It was hot, sweaty work, I've been doing it for the whole ten days of the fest', and now I'm as brown as an Indian. (It's okay for me to say that, because I am part Omaha Indian, and the "N-Word Rule" applies here.) So Sunday there were four of us standing around, when two negro boys, probably twelve-year-olds, came up and asked us how much it cost to rent the bikes. This is a common question, as our station is not very well marked as a valet service, and so one of my co-workers, Travis, explained that we weren't renting bikes but parking them.

Hearing this, one of the boys tried to enter the compound, saying: "Let me have one o'them bikes!"

Travis blocked him and the rest of us got up quickly to back him up if there were trouble. Travis answered the boy in a calm, almost joking voice: "Hey, we'd be in trouble if there were any bikes missing!"

Boy: "What's it to ya? You're rich!"

The boys went off without further trouble, but I think this illustrates a dangerous class division in America today. This negro boy was operating under the assumption, one that I think is widespread among his compatriots, that all whites are rich. It was not self-evident to him that no one who was "rich" would be standing out in the sun, on one of the hottest days of the year, performing menial labor. No — to him Travis was white, he must be rich.

What kind of working class solidarity is possible if Negroes, most of whom are working class, think of all whites as being "rich?" More importantly — what can we do to dispel this notion and shift American politics away from a racial divide and towards a class divide?