Happy Independence Day

It's the best of holidays: summer, freedom, hot dogs, Americana. Three patriotic thoughts on this day.

1) First, the general idea from our neighborhood parade this morning, in DC:

DC1.png


How do I and my neighbors, as residents of America's capital of Washington, resemble my former neighbors in China's capital of Beijing?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Statehood3.pngThe answer, of course, is that all of us pay taxes to our respective national governments, but none of us has any voting representation in our country's respective legislatures. The difference is that Beijingers share that problem with everyone else in China, while DC residents are unique among Americans.

What is crazy about DC's "taxation without representation" status, as immortalized on DC license plates, is that no one could possibly justify its continuation in any rational way. (Are DC residents already "too influential," and therefore don't need to be represented? For one thing, the vast majority of them aren't. And for another, we don't use that excuse to deny the franchise to Manhattan, Palo Alto, Cambridge, McLean, Bethesda, or other centers of people who on average have plenty of influence anyway.) But this anachronism affects fewer than a million people, and no one else cares. Just a thought for the day.

2) On a more positive note, it's a day to remember underappreciated Americans who have made a big difference. I've just finished reading a book about one of them: the late John Moss, who from the early 1950s through the late 1970s was a Congressman from California's Central Valley. It is mainly because of Moss that we now have a Freedom of Information Act, a Consumer Product Safety Commission, various financial-reform bodies, and a host of other protections that would not have a prayer of getting through the Congress if they were introduced now.

Moss's longtime aide and associate, Michael Lemov, has written a new biography of him, People's Warrior, that is startling mainly in recalling an era in which politicians actually thought (gasp!) that they could agree on significant reforms and get them passed in relatively short order. It's only a generation ago, though it seems as distant as the time of Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens, and Lemov's book conveys what it was like. As does this touchingly earnest foreword by Ralph Nader, who as a young "consumer advocate" was one of Moss's allies:
>>For young people today, beset with cynicism about Congress or simply "turned off" from politics, this book is an awakening antidote. It reminds that, not so long ago, Congress did significant things for the people of this country. Our First Branch enacted major civil rights legislation and Medicare/Medicaid in a two-year period. It enacted the comprehensive auto and highway safety laws just nine months after the publication of my book Unsafe at Any Speed. These great lifesaving laws were signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. Mr. Moss had an important role in their enactment.

Within three years--from 1970 through 1972--groundbreaking product safety and air and water pollution laws were enacted and given to newly formed agencies to implement. It is important for young people today, who see procrastination, cowardliness, evasions, corporate-indentured stagnation, and arrogance running through members of Congress like an epidemic, to read about a different time when many more legislators knew why they were sent to Washington by the voters back home.<<
The book is worth reading and reflecting upon. UPDATE: The Atlantic's Joshua Green, who was co-author with Rep. Henry Waxman of a book about how Congress really works, tells me that Waxman viewed Moss as a mentor, especially about effective Congressional oversight of agencies and businesses. Waxman told Green that he learned about "the 'public spectacle' aspect of using hearings to bring pressure and influence debate--from watching Moss."

3) After the jump, an embedded video of Timothy Geithner, Treasury Secretary, being interviewed a few weeks ago by Mike Allen of Politico. The parts worth listening to are the first minute or so of introduction -- and then Geithner's comments starting at about time 39:00, after Allen has asked Geithner whether he's going to be the first Treasury Secretary in history to preside over a default in US obligations.

"Absolutely not," Geithner says. That is when he pulls a copy of the Constitution out of his pocket and reads the section of the 14th Amendment that says, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned." Emphasis very much added -- by him. He goes on to say that the leaders in Congress understand that the country cannot default on its debts. But:

"There are some people who are pretending not to understand this, or think there is leverage for them as a negotiating position.  I don't understand it as a negotiating position. Really, think about it... As a negotiating strategy you're saying, If you don't do things my way, I'm going to force the United States into default and not pay the legacy of bills accumulated by my predecessors in Congress? It's not a credible negotiating strategy. And it's not going to happen." 
 
For more, see Ryan Grim's reporting on Geithner's "it's not going to happen" statements, plus the video after the jump.



4) Here's a bonus fourth patriotic thought! It's a tip to the site Seeing Red in China, where an American who has lived and worked in China for the past four years reflects on what the experience has taught him about his homeland, on Independence Day.
 
Finally, if you were feeling as if you wanted one more topical reminder of the DC plight, here's the ACLU/DC Statehood brass band at the parade.*

DCBand2.png

* DC Statehood is a topic for another day. I'm agnostic on it and its complexities. The summary of my simpler solution is for DC's current non-voting representative in Congress to get a vote; and for DC to be considered part of Maryland, from which it was carved, in voting for Maryland's seats in the Senate. Or, DC could just become a full part of Maryland again.  (The parts of DC that were once carved from Virginia were returned to Virginia before the Civil War.)

And, what the hell, here are two of the three separate troupes of elaborately costumed Bolivian residents of the DC area who danced their way along the multi-mile parade route. It's a great country.

Bolivia2.png

DCBolivians.png

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

From This Author

Just In