May 27, 2014

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Mark Steyn treats us to the history of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

… when Julia Ward Howe heard the song for the first time that fall day, “John Brown’s Body” was already famous. She loved the martial vigor of the music, but knew the words were “inadequate for a lasting hymn”. So her minister, Dr Clark, suggested she write some new ones. And early the following morning at her Washington hotel she rose before dawn and on a piece of Sanitary Commission paper wrote the words we sing today, casting the war as a conflict in which one side has the advantage of God’s “terrible swift sword”:

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps…

She finished the words and went back to bed. It was published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. They didn’t credit Mrs Howe and they paid her only four dollars.

Julia Ward Howe came from a distinguished lineage. Her forebear Richard Ward was Royal Governor of the British colony of Rhode Island and his son Samuel Ward was Governor of the AmericanState of Rhode Island. Her husband, like his friend, the poet Lord Byron, had played an important role in helping the Greeks win independence from the Turks. Mrs Howe herself wrote many poems, Broadway plays and newspaper columns. But “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” is her greatest achievement. Henry Steele Commager called it “the one great song to come out of the Civil War, the one great song ever written in America”.

Whether or not that’s true, most of us understand it has a depth and a power beyond most formal national songs. When John F Kennedy was assassinated, Judy Garland insisted on singing it on her TV show – the producers weren’t happy about it, and one sneered that nobody would give a damn about Kennedy in a month’s time. But it’s an extraordinary performance. Little more than a year later, it was played at the state funeral of Winston Churchill at St Paul’s Cathedral. Among those singing it was the Queen. She sang it again in public, again at St Paul’s, for the second time in her life at the service of remembrance in London three days after September 11th 2001. That day, she also broke with precedent and for the first time sang another country’s national anthem – “The Star-Spangled Banner”. But it was Julia Ward Howe’s words that echoed most powerfully that morning as they have done since she wrote them in her bedroom in Washington 140 years earlier:

As He died to make men holy
Let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.



Charles Krauthammer says someone knows geopolitical stategy.

On Wednesday, it finally happened — the pivot to Asia. No, not the United States. It was Russia that turned East.

In Shanghai, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a spectacular energy deal — $400 billion of Siberian natural gas to be exported to China over 30 years.

This is huge. By indelibly linking producer and consumer — the pipeline alone is a $70 billion infrastructure project — it deflates the post-Ukraine Western threat (mostly empty, but still very loud) to cut European imports of Russian gas. Putin has just defiantly demonstrated that he has other places to go.

The Russia-China deal also makes a mockery of U.S. boasts to have isolated Russia because of Ukraine. Not even Germany wants to risk a serious rupture with Russia (hence the absence of significant sanctions). And now Putin has just ostentatiously unveiled a signal 30-year energy partnership with the world’s second-largest economy. Some isolation.

The contrast with President Obama’s own vaunted pivot to Asia is embarrassing (to say nothing of the Keystone pipeline with Canada). He went to Japan last month also seeking a major trade agreement that would symbolize and cement a pivotal strategic alliance. He came home empty-handed. …



Phillip Howard on what broke Washington.

… The main culprit, ironically, is law. Generations of lawmakers and regulators have written so much law, in such detail, that officials are barred from acting sensibly. Like sediment in the harbor, law has piled up until it is almost impossible — indeed, illegal — for officials to make choices needed for government to get where it needs to go.

The most rudimentary decisions of government require moving mountains. Approving new infrastructure projects takes a decade or longer. Failures of implementation become failures of policy. Recently the White House issued a five-year report on the $800 billion stimulus plan from 2009. Part of the original goal, as President Obama announced then, was to “rebuild America’s infrastructure.” So how much of that huge stimulus went to this worthwhile goal? Buried in the fine print of the report is this fact — barely 3 percent went to transportation infrastructure.

Why? The president of the United States lacks the power to approve the rebuilding of decrepit bridges and roads. In the New Deal, by contrast, Harry Hopkins had employed 2.6 million people two months after he was named head of the new Civilian Works Administration.

An aging democracy is part of the problem. Each law gets piled on top of the last one. Special education, for example, now consumes about 25 percent of the total K-12 expenditures. There’s almost no funding for gifted programs or early childhood education. Is this the right balance? No one is even asking the question. The law just evolved this way.

Reviews for highway projects took an average of two years in the 1970s; by 2011, they were up to eight years. The 1956 law authorizing the interstate highway system was 29 pages. The law remaking the welfare system in 1996 was 251 pages. In this new century, statutes run a thousand pages or longer. The Volcker Rule to regulate proprietary trading — just one part of the massive Dodd-Frank law — is more than 950 pages. …



As if Matthew Continetti knows the previous item makes us think of the reform conservative movement, he posts on what that movement lacks.

An intellectually stimulating and potentially historic event was held at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday. House majority leader Eric Cantor, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and Senators Mike Lee and Tim Scott appeared alongside conservative thinkers and journalists such as Arthur Brooks, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Ramesh Ponnuru, Peter Wehner, Yuval Levin, and Kate O’Beirne to discuss “solutions for the middle class.” The AEI panel was noteworthy not only for its content but also for the presence of Republican elected officials. It was the debut, however modest, of “reform conservatism” as a political force.

Plenty has been written about the need for the GOP to adopt economic policies that help middle-class families, and Room to Grow, the book put together by event co-sponsor YG Network, is the best primer I have seen on the various proposals that constitute reform conservatism. I do not doubt for a moment that if the Republican Party adopted Room to Grow as its platform tomorrow, then both the GOP and the country would enjoy a better future.

But that is the problem. Close to six years after Barack Obama’s election, the party as an institution is no closer to embracing the ideas of Salam, Douthat, Ponnuru, and Levin than it was when we celebrated the publication of Grand New Party at the Watergate in 2008. For reform conservatism to have any real-world application, it needs to find a presidential champion. And the prospects of that happening are not what you would call overwhelming. …



Does immigration reform become part of reform conservatism? Asked and answered by Jennifer Rubin.

Among conservatives, there is, quite obviously, disagreement on how comprehensive immigration reform fits into a forward-looking agenda. Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are certain this is a zero risk game — newcomers will push out lower- and middle-class workers, thereby harming the same people Republicans are trying to help with the rest of their agenda. Proponents of immigration reform as part of a pro-growth, pro-reform agenda look at things from a different economic and cultural perspective.

The economic data, to be generous to opponents, is mixed as to immigrants’ short-term effect on current workers. But wait. The workers in question are already here. And, in many cases, they are working off the books, undercutting the wages and working conditions of Americans born here. Unless we want to kick all of the illegal immigrants out, the damage, so to speak, has been done at the low end of the wage scale. And reform offers the realistic possibility for establishing border security and visa overstay solutions to control the flow of immigrants. Moreover, reams of data show that all classes benefit over the long term, revenues rise and the economic pie gets bigger — provided other policies are sound. (The great example of this is Texas.)

But in focusing purely on wage data, conservatives who oppose immigration reform depart, I think, from the spirit of modern conservative movement, exemplified by Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. Conservatives  who argue for limited government postulate that America is a diverse, boisterous place in which communal, nongovernmental action matters a great deal. Whenever possible we should encourage economic growth and vibrant social and cultural institutions, not top-down directives. …



The rise of the master’s degree examined by the American Interest.

Eight percent of the population now holds Master’s degrees, the same percentage that held bachelor’s degrees (or higher) in the 1960s, reports Vox. Master’s degrees in education were by far the most popular, holding at around a third to a quarter of all such degrees from 1971 to 2012, though MBAs had taken the top spot by 2010. In fact, the increase in the number of MBA degrees is astonishing: Only 11.2 percent of master’s degrees were in business in 1971, but in 2012, they were a whopping 25.4 percent.

The rise of the master’s degree is likely a product of credential inflation. As more and more people acquire bachelor’s degrees, those who wish to make themselves stand out go on to get the MA. And as Vox points out, while a Master’s degree does have a positive impact on earnings, the overall debt of people with undergraduate and Master’s degrees has grown markedly in the past decade. In fact, as we recently noted, graduate student debt is in large part driving the student loan crisis.

Employers are also likely to use degrees as screening tools, eliminating people who don’t have a certain level of education in order to expedite the selection process—regardless of whether the advanced degree is really necessary for the job. But we shouldn’t want an economy that favors people with polished résumés over people with good ideas. This data is not a good sign for our economic health.

One comment to May 27, 2014

  1. D JOHNSON says:

    Excellent .>Mrs Howe’s granddaughter was my teacher for 6 yrs . An incredibly lovely person .

    You strike very positive chords , I only hope we can make use of them Dave J

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