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Posts Tagged ‘James Monroe

“How dare you try to hog all the continent!”*…

The ceremony for the driving of the “Last Spike” at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869 (source)

Historian Richard White on the greed, ineptitude, and economic cost behind the transcontinental railroads of the 19th century, and what that says about the development of infrastructure today…

Politicians love a good historical analogy. That’s why Joe Biden has compared his infrastructure law to the construction of the interstate highway system and the transcontinental railroad. The president, of course, means such comparisons in a flattering light. For those who have studied these revolutionary policy choices, however, the consequences are not so unblemished.

Ten years ago, historian Richard White catalogued the greed and ineptitude of railroad executives and the policymakers who blindly enabled their schemes. In Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, he explored the history of corporations that have gone down in American myth as corrupt but ultimately productive and necessary.

White argues that the transcontinental railroad companies were not necessary for stitching the young country together; they were simply an example of “dumb growth” that hurt more than it helped. Sped along by state subsidy and paid-for politicians, these corporations built in places where there were no markets. They never made money. The entire enterprise was a vast Ponzi scheme, and its periodic turmoil threw the nation into repeated economic crisis. Their selfish flailing scourged wildlife, oppressed Native Americans, and spread new settlements to areas where they could not be sustained (and after long suffering were not).

Instead of an all-powerful “octopus” engulfing the country, he saw the railroad men as a collection of myopic and unintelligent executives who could not have survived year to year without government subsidy. Instead of a monstrous kraken, he suggested a better analogy would be “a group of fat men in an Octopus suit fighting over the controls” of a train going off the rails…

Governing (@GOVERNING) talks with White about lessons for today’s infrastructure programs: “Breaking the Myth About America’s ‘Great’ Railroad Expansion.”

See also: “Years of Delays, Billions in Overruns: The Dismal History of Big Infrastructure” “These days, the bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does.”

* Collis Huntington (lead investor in the Central Pacific Railroad) to “Doc” Durant (V.P., and operating head of the Union Pacific Railroad) in 1862

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As we learn from our mistakes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that President James K. Polk, citing “Manifest Destiny” in a State of the Union message, proposed that the United States should aggressively expand into the West.

It was the 22nd anniversary of President James Monroe‘s declaration of the New World as a sphere of influence off-limits to intervention by Old World (colonial) powers, and suggesting that any such incursion would be deemed an act of aggression against the U.S. From 1850, this policy has been known as “the Monroe Doctrine.”

American Progress (1872) by John Gast is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. (source)

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself”*…

 

The 93rd U.S. Congress, 1973-74, considered 26,157 bills; it made 738 (3%) of them law.  The 103rd Congress, 1993-94, enacted 458 (5%) of the 9,746 bills it considered.  The current Congress– the 113th, 2013-14– has so far introduced 7,980 bills, and passed only 100 (just over 1%) of them.

The Legislative Explorer, from researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy, allows readers to follow the lawmaking process– over 250,000 bills and resolutions introduced from 1973 to present– in action.

The left half represents the U.S. Senate, with senators sorted by party (blue=Democrat) and a proxy for ideology (top=liberal). The House is displayed on the right. Moving in from the borders, the standing committees of the Senate and House are represented, followed by the Senate and House floors. A bill approved by both chambers then moves upward to the President’s desk and into law, while an adopted resolutions (that does not require the president’s signature) moves downward.

Each dot represents a bill, so one can see them move through the process.  The drop-down menus at the top allow a shift of focus to a specific Congress, a person, a party, a topic, and several other categorizations; and there’s search to allow one to examine specific bills.  Counters across the bottom of the screen keep track of the action… or the lack thereof.

Give it a try.

[TotH to Flowing Data]

* Mark Twain

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As we yield, Mr. Speaker, to the gentleman from the District of Columbia, we might think expansionist thoughts in honor of Thomas Jefferson, whose emissaries Robert Livingston and James Monroe  signed the the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, called by some “the letter that bought a continent,” in Paris on this date in 1803… and in one stroke (well, three strokes– Livingston, Monroe, and French representative Barbé Marbois all signed) doubled the size of the United States.

 source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

Do tell…

Nick Faber, Jeremy Griffin, and Jenny Nicholson offer a very nifty free service:  one submits a title for a story, then one of them writes a 100 word tale to fit.  Indeed in some cases, they even illustrate them…

One Ukelele and Some Stars

It was dark that night, so even though you were right beside me, I couldn’t see your face, just the black silhouette of your head against the stars. The lake was still and the cicadas trilled in the background, calling out to one another. You told me you’d written a song — for me. I held my breath, waited for the melody to flow over me and across the water. Your hands stumbled over the chords and you cursed under your breath. You stopped playing, and when you apologized, your voice was shaky. I waited for you to start again.

Read more– and submit your own title– at Name Your Tale.

As we compose our thoughts, we might think expansionist thoughts in honor of Thomas Jefferson, whose emissaries Robert Livingston, James Monroe  signed the the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, called by some “the letter that bought a continent”, in Paris on this date in 1803… and in one stroke (well, three strokes– Livingston, Monroe, and French representative Barbé Marbois all signed) doubled the size of the United States.

The Lousiana Purchase

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