America under the Articles of Confederation was a mess, not unlike Europe today. Could it lead to a stronger European Union?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris / AP
Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of their desire to change the treaties currently holding the European Union together, and to push the countries towards a tighter, more integrated federation. "We want to make sure that the imbalances that led to the situation in the euro zone today cannot happen again," Sarkozy said.
This would be a worthy project, of course, but treaty change and Union restructuring are about as big a political and legal headache as one could possibly imagine. With Europe this fractured, could leaders really agree upon a new setup? Is the political will present in the right states? Will the markets wait for the deliberations?
One always wants to be careful with historical comparisons: though TV pundits toss them around like party favors, their predictive power is limited. Looking to the Great Depression, for instance, doesn't immediately yield a solution or a timeline for our current economic woes. But there's another moment in American history that makes for a better comparison to Europe today: the 1781 signing of the Articles of Confederation.
There's something comforting about turning to a time when America was nearly as screwed up as Europe is today. Not only did the U.S. emerge from the tangle, but it emerged considerably stronger: the states' and nation's financial and logistical problems and mismanagement wound up pushing them to develop "a more perfect Union." So let's take a look for a moment at our own country's poor showing under the Articles of Confederation.
The Articles of Confederation, our pre-Constitution national legal framework, were drafted during the American Revolution and ratified largely in the late 1770s, Maryland finally signing on in 1781. By the late 1780s -- though historians may disagree over the extent to which the states were in actual crisis -- the Confederation and its members were looking pretty shabby.
American was then a picture of, at least superficially, fascinating disarray. Under the Articles, the federal government had no power to tax. It procured money through a "requisition" system, all states contributing, in theory, to the cost of providing national, public goods. In practice, this was a disaster. After only a few requisitions, as Keith Dougherty and Michael J.G. Cain recall in an article on "Marginal Cost Sharing and the Articles of Confederation" in the journal Public Choice, "states learned to withold their payments, leaving Congress without the resources to carry out its constitutional responsibilities. Lack of revenue prevented Congress from forcefully responding to British non-compliance with the 1783 Anglo-American peace treaty, reacting to the Spanish blockade of the Mississippi River between 1784 and 1787, enforcing treaties with the Indians by limiting western movement of settlers, and averting the piracy of the Barbary states."
A pretty little arrangement, no? Much has been written about the Articles' failings, but what Dougherty and Cain point out is that they "failed to organize a union where state and national interests coincided." In practice, "states fully complying with [...] requisitions, when others did not, incurred a greater portion of the national costs than originally intended." Game theory 101.
Another set of problems, of course, came from the fact that the states were proving truly terrible at handling issues of taxation on their own. In fact, though the particulars differ, the strong financial and debt-driven component to the Confederation's problems really does prompt images of Athens in the past year.
The American Revolution, after all, was a war, wars being so famously costly that historians like Charles Tilly have argued warmaking and its associated taxation were the main drivers of state formation in Western Europe. The American Revolution had been financed through loans, bonds, and poorly conceived paper currency. States then took on this debt. Historians Oscar and Mary Flug Handlin estimated that Massachusetts in the 1780s owed over $5 million to the Confederation, its total debt around $14 million -- enormous numbers at that time. The taxes imposed as a result proved extremely burdensome, one of a few factors leading to unrest in Massachusetts culminating in the armed uprising known as Shays' Rebellion, which then became one of the factors in the general consensus that a new system might be a good idea.
Causation is tricky to establish: Robert Freer argued forcefully in The New England Quarterly back in the '60s that "in all likelihood, the Constitutional Convention would have met when it did, the same document would have been drawn up, and it would have been ratified even if Shays's Rebellion had not taken place." But one of the reasons Freer argued that we would have gotten the Constitution anyway is that there were plenty of other examples of financial and political disorder, like failure to pay federal requisitions and the states of Maryland, Virginia, and Rhode Island mucking around with paper money.
America under the Articles of Confederation, in short, was a mess. And though you could debate the details endlessly, there's little doubt that the extent of that mess was in political leaders' minds when they started talking about reconfiguring things and calling the Constitutional Convention. Thus far, the Constitution has had a better track record than the Articles in keeping order.
What does this mean for Europe today? There are a number of cases in both American and European history where a non-lethal screwup -- say, the Articles of Confederation -- has provided the necessary impetus to establish a more screwup-resistant setup, as with the Constitution. So, while the ratings agencies seem to get more pessimistic by the day about Europe's prospects, maybe European leaders could pull out of this with something even stronger. Merkel and Sarkozy likely have a very nasty path ahead of them, if, indeed, either of them manages to stay around to push the treaty modifications through -- France, recall, has elections scheduled for next year. But there's a universe in which Europe exits this crisis in a better position than that in which it entered.
The Arizona veteran cast an unexpected vote against Mitch McConnell’s last-ditch proposal to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving the GOP once again without a way forward.
Senator John McCain brought down the latest Republican health-care plan early Friday morning.
In a moment of high drama on the Senate floor, the Arizona senator, stricken with brain cancer and railing against his party’s secretive legislative maneuvering, provided the decisive vote against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act. The amendment fell, 51-49, thwarting once again the GOP’s longstanding efforts to deliver on a central campaign promise. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also voted against the bill, continuing their opposition to the GOP’s partisan repeal effort. But it was McCain who surprised the Senate, breaking with his party after earlier helping it on a key procedural vote.
Trump’s opponents have often been accused of naïveté for their appeals to norms and civility. But early Friday morning, at least, that faith was rewarded.
After Donald Trump implied Ted Cruz’s wife was ugly and accused his father of helping to kill President John F. Kennedy, and Cruz still worked the phones for him. Trump humiliated “liddle” Marco Rubio, who endorsed Trump anyway. Trump implied Ben Carson was a child molester, and then appointed him to his cabinet. Trump ran a campaign in which he exhorted audiences to call for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment, and she showed up to his inauguration. Trump rose to prominence by questioning whether the first black president was even American, and won the opportunity to destroy a huge part of that president’s legacy.
All of that made former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memorable line about going high when the other side goes low seem dangerously naive. Trump belittled, humiliated, threatened, and smeared his opponents (and sometimes his supporters) nearly every day since the beginning of his candidacy for president. His opponents appealed to precedent, to norms, to comity, and to decency. Today, Trump sits in the White House.
“I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests,” Browder writes.
The financier Bill Browder has emerged as an unlikely central player in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney Browder hired to investigate official corruption, died in Russian custody in 2009. Congress subsequently imposed sanctions on the officials it held responsible for his death, passing the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government retaliated, among other ways, by suspending American adoptions of Russian children.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who secured a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, was engaged in a campaign for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, and raised the subject of adoptions in that meeting. That’s put the spotlight back on Browder’s long campaign for Kremlin accountability, and against corruption—a campaign whose success has irritated Putin and those around him.
Several decades before hebecame the father of industrial design, Raymond Loewy boarded the SS France in 1919 to sail across the Atlantic from his devastated continent to the United States. The influenza pandemic had taken his mother and father, and his service in the French army was over. At the age of 25, Loewy was looking to start fresh in New York, perhaps, he thought, as an electrical engineer. When he reached Manhattan, his older brother Maximilian picked him up in a taxi. They drove straight to 120 Broadway, one of New York City’s largest neoclassical skyscrapers, with two connected towers that ascended from a shared base like a giant tuning fork. Loewy rode the elevator to the observatory platform, 40 stories up, and looked out across the island.
Even prominent right-wing populists are beginning to worry that they invested their faith in an unstable leader.
This week, as Donald Trump publicly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an assault one restrained observer described as “a multitiered tower of political idiocy, a sublime monument to the moronic, a gaudy, gleaming, Ozymandian folly,” even David Horowitz, the anti-Leftist intellectual and author of Big Agenda: President Trump’s Plan to Save America, felt compelled to admit something to his Twitter followers: “I have to confess, I'm really distressed by Trump's shabby treatment of Sessions.”
Trump has always been vehemently opposed from the left and distrusted on the right by Never Trump conservatives, who continue to be dismayed by his behavior. But this week as never before, public doubts surfaced among Trump boosters and apologists, prompting Jay Cost to quip, “at the end it's just gonna be Sean Hannity huddled in a corner, quietly whispering to himself that Trump is a great American.”
One of Trump’s top aides viciously attacks the others, even as the president lambastes his own attorney general. Is there any limit on this administration’s dysfunction?
If Anthony Scaramucci is conducting an experiment in radical transparency at the White House, then things are going well. Otherwise, his tenure as communications director might not be off to a great start.
Thursday began with Scaramucci giving a preposterous interview to CNN—cutting off a segment with New Yorker journalist Ryan Lizza—in which he accused White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking to the press, suggested he is trying to “save America from this president,” and likened his own relationship with Priebus to that of the biblical figure Cain and to Abel, the brother he slew.
The day closed with Lizza writing his own, devastating account of a deranged conversation he’d had with Scaramucci Wednesday night, after Lizza reported on a dinner Scaramucci had with Fox News personalities past and present. Politico had also published Scaramucci’s financial disclosure, obtained by a routine public-records request, but which Scaramucci was for some reason convinced had been leaked. (One fascinating lesson of Scaramucci’s appointment is how fast the debilitating paranoia of this White House can infect a new hire.)
Investor and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs will share ownership of the magazine with David Bradley.
David G. Bradley, the chairman and owner of Atlantic Media, is announcing this morning that he is selling a majority stake in The Atlantic to Emerson Collective, an organization led by philanthropist and investor Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Bradley will retain a minority stake in The Atlantic and will continue as chairman and operating partner for at least three to five years. In a letter to his staff, Bradley wrote that Emerson Collective will most likely assume full ownership of The Atlantic within five years.
Bradley, who bought The Atlantic in 1999 for $10 million from Mortimer Zuckerman, is credited with transforming the Boston-based monthly magazine of politics, arts, and letters into a profitable digital-journalism and live-events company of global reach, even while continuing to publish The Atlantic’s award-winning print magazine, which was born four years before the Civil War. “Against the odds, The Atlantic is prospering,” Bradley wrote in his memo. “While I will stay at the helm some years, the most consequential decision of my career now is behind me: Who next will take stewardship of this 160-year-old national treasure? To me, the answer, in the form of Laurene, feels incomparably right.”
The Trump administration is prompting the newspaper to swap out “barnyard expletives” for truly colorful swears.
The New York Times likes to think of itself as a family newspaper. It is also the self-described paper of record. It may not be either, but it’s definitely not both all the time.
Take, for example, the moment when the Times had to choose whether to quote the new White House communications director in a particularly colorful tirade against his colleagues. Anthony Scaramucci, who joined the Trump administration last week, eviscerated the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and the administration’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, in an interview with a New Yorker reporter on Wednesday.
“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said.
And also: “I’m not Steve Bannon. I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”
A new study finds that believing society is fair can lead disadvantaged adolescents to act out and engage in risky behavior.
Brighton Park is a predominantly Latino community on the southwest side of Chicago. It’s a neighborhood threatened by poverty, gang violence, ICE raids, and isolation—in a city where income, race, and zip code can determine access to jobs, schools, healthy food, and essential services. It is against this backdrop that the Chicago teacher Xian Franzinger Barrett arrived at the neighborhood’s elementary school in 2014.
Recognizing the vast economic and racial inequalities his students faced, he chose what some might consider a radical approach for his writing and social-studies classes, weaving in concepts such as racism, classism, oppression, and prejudice. Barrett said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated narrative that society is fair and equal to address students’ questions and concerns about their current conditions. And Brighton Elementary’s seventh- and eighth-graders quickly put the lessons to work—confronting the school board over inequitable funding, fighting to install a playground, and creating a classroom library focused on black and Latino authors.
Trump says that he surrounds himself with “the best people”—but too often, that means people like himself.
The world’s best Donald Trump impersonator is now in charge of White House communications—and if nothing else, it’s making for great television.
For evidence, look no further than Anthony Scaramucci’s mesmerizing Thursday morning interview with CNN. “The Mooch”—as he is known among his friends and admirers (a group that seems to include a growing number of reporters)—was coming off a late night spent waging a bitter and outrageously public battle against White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, when he called in to CNN’s morning show New Day. For the next 30 minutes, he put on a compulsively watchable performance that so precisely captured his boss’s style that it seemed designed to demoralize Alec Baldwin.