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From The GOS Weekly Review ...  This is from last week, enjoy :)

We all studied History at school. My school was in England, where we learned about Kings and Queens, wars that we had won and some we lost. The ones we lost, we lost gloriously and probably because the other side cheated.

 It is likely that if you went to school in America, you learned about Presidents, wars you had won, and very little about any wars in which you might not have been victorious. The added complication in America is that to create the country we now know, the indigenous people had to be conquered first. Teaching on this point is, at best, sketchy, and at worst it is either ignored or downright revisionist.

Should there be any doubt that some in authority over US Public Schools do not understand, then take a look at what Janet Baresi, State Superintendent, Oklahoma Public Schools, said as recently as May 2011:

“We want to work with councils, with each of you, to look at ways that we can infuse the rich culture of our Native American heritage within curriculum, across curricula, and ways we can infuse that within what is taught within our classrooms.”
So far, so good, but then she spoils it with a total failure to understand that Native American history IS American History, and indivisible from the events following the arrival of the settlers.
“Just as it’s important to teach U.S. history within our schools and have students understand our current form of government … it’s also important for Oklahoma kids to understand the culture that made Oklahoma what it is, made it great.”
Kudos to Superintendent Baresi for talking up her State, but the casual separation of Native American history, from American history is as shocking as it is shockingly commonplace.

Whatever, the common perception of us all is that history was based upon facts. times, dates, places and people. These were the things that happened and we committed them to memory. We later, much later sometimes, learned that these “facts” might be nothing of the sort, and that even facts are open to interpretation. Traditionally the interpretations have come from Historians and therein lies the problem. As a species we seem to have trouble interpreting even the facts of modern life, when the evidence is all around us. Throw in a few decades, or generations or, indeed, millennia, and the problem is magnified.

Historians also bring their own prejudices and political leanings to the party. Take the example below:

In a 2011 interview for The Guardian, Niall Ferguson made the following statement:

"I think it's hard to make the case, which implicitly the left makes, that somehow the world would have been better off if the Europeans had stayed home. It certainly doesn't work for North America, that's for sure. I mean, I'm sure the Apache and the Navajo had all sorts of admirable traits. In the absence of literacy we don't know what they were because they didn't write them down. We do know they killed a hell of a lot of bison. But had they been left to their own devices, I don't think we'd have anything remotely resembling the civilisation we've had in North America."
The rampant racism that is still alive and well in North America, and the obvious and heartbreaking suffering of the poor does lead one to question whether or not “civilization” has been achieved in the US. Certainly it does not justify the clear and obvious racism in the above comment. In the quote, Ferguson departs wildly from any authentic attempts at rational or academic interpretation of history, and jumps feet first into a partisan, political view of modern society.

Niall Ferguson One has to wonder at what point a well-known historian, author of many books and holder of academic positions finally jumps the shark into naked political hackery. Was it when he accepted a role as advisor to the McCain/Palin Campaign? Or did the final conversion take place when he wrote the cover story for Newsweek? In the piece Ferguson suggests that it is time for Barack Obama to go, based upon his many broken promises.

That article, tastefully billed as “Hit the road, Barack” brought a stinging rebuttal from Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times:

“More than that: by its very nature, health reform that expands coverage requires that lower-income families receive subsidies to make coverage affordable. So of course reform comes with a positive number for subsidies — finding that this number is indeed positive says nothing at all about the impact on the deficit unless you ask whether and how the subsidies are paid for. Ferguson has to know this (unless he’s completely ignorant about the whole subject, which I guess has to be considered as a possibility). But he goes for the cheap shot anyway.”
Daily Kos users were equally outraged,  pollwatcher taking him to task:
“Of course most people of Newsweek who read what he actually said, would come away believing the ACA will create an additional $1.2T in deficits, which I believe is exactly what Mr. Ferguson intended.  This approach to explaining President Obama's economic policies, seems remarkably similar to the way the Romney/Ryan crew explains them.”
In the comment section, Retroactive Genius makes the following observation, and helpfully directs us to an equally scathing piece by Ezra Klein
“Ferguson is a twit Serious historians have known this for years and there have been various smackdowns of his work that haven't had much play, owing, primarily, to their rather specialized nature and their appearance in rather obscure publications.
But when the egregious Ferguson starts lying in the service of a nullity like Ryan and spouting nonsense about a field he clearly has no grasp of (economics) then it does, happily, get much wider play, especially in an election year.”
Ezra Klein’s takedown is detailed, and specific:
“Almost since the crisis began, Ferguson has pushed a very specific theory with a very specific prediction: The bond markets, he has said, are going to revolt against American debt. And if that doesn’t happen, inflation is going to run amok.

As Joe Weisenthal details, back in September 2009, Ferguson was warning that “long-term rates have risen by 167 basis points in the space of five months,” which “settled a rather public argument” Ferguson had been conducting with Paul Krugman, in which Ferguson argued the markets were turning on our debt and Krugman argued that they were not. So who was right? Well, the interest rate on 10-year Treasuries was 3.73 percent when Ferguson wrote that column. Today, they’re 1.81 percent. Point, Krugman“

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWhile Krugman and Klein do an excellent job of “fact-checking” Niall Ferguson, on Daily Kos the commenters are minded to raise the point that Newsweek signally failed in any attempts at similar diligence.

Indeed, several people bemoan the current situation where journals place the emphasis on the writers to fact-check their own work.

The problems identified are simply that writers become too close to their piece to reliably understand where they might be in error, and that also means that a biased columnist or author can simply “make stuff up” and have it printed, because no one is checking.

Mimikatz opens up a fascinating discussion with this comment:

“It is astounding they don't have fact checkers any more.  A friend of mine started as a fact checker for TIME.  The reporters would put "000" and they were supposed to fill in the blanks.  Now it looks like they can just make stuff up.”
What follows is a discussion that sheds a good deal of light on the current process, summed up at the end by Subterranean:
“Most news organizations confine the fact checkers to their own department.  Apparently the bleeding edge now is to get rid of those pesky nerds altogether.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Matthew O’Brian does what Newsweek so clearly failed to do, he fact-checked the claims by Niall Ferguson. Given that Mr Ferguson is first an historian, a man who has presumably dedicated his working life to a pursuit of historical facts, whatever interpretation he may chose to place upon them; the conclusion by O’Brian is damning:
“In the world as Ferguson describes it, Obama is a big-spending, weak-kneed liberal who can't get the economy turned around. Think Jimmy Carter on steroids. But the world is not as Ferguson describes it. A fact-checked version of the world Ferguson describes reveals a completely different narrative -- a muddy picture of the past four years, where Obama has sometimes cast himself as a stimulator, a deficit hawk, a health care liberal and conservative reformer all at once. And it's a world where the economy is getting better, albeit slowly.

It would have been worthwhile for Ferguson to explain why Obama doesn't deserve re-election in the real world we actually live in. Instead, we got an exercise in Ferguson's specialty -- counterfactual history.”

It gets worse though, because Mr Ferguson’s central theme is that the deficit will be the catalyst for a complete economic collapse, despite Ezra Klein pointing to evidence suggesting that actually, it probably will not. Fergusson is arguing that Obama must go because he hasn’t fulfilled his promise, hasn’t delivered more prosperity and a reduced deficit, and the Bond Markets will trigger financial collapse if the deficit is not reduced.

Even if one holds any of this to be true, and Ferguson certainly believes it to be, what he doesn’t explain is why he supports Paul Ryan and John McCain before him. If deficits are the root of all evil, then why hasn’t this Historian figured out what caused the deficit, who was in power at the time, and which side of the debate is promising to double-down on the past policies? At the very least the academic integrity of a Harvard Professor would surely demand at least this much.

Historians play a vital role in society. It is often said that we need to learn the lessons of history that we may inform our present, and build a better future. For that role to be fulfilled in a meaningful, rather than unhelpful way, it really matters that historians who venture opinion do so based upon verifiable facts. There is some room here for the occasional leap of logic, as there are gaps in our knowledge of history, but any historian basing their view on facts (sic) that are demonstrably untrue surely cedes any pretense at objectivity, and demotes their role to that of partisan political commentator. Guys like Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck are very good at that, do we need another?


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Comment Preferences

  •  We are working hard (17+ / 0-)

    to bring you unique content plus a round-up of important stories and trends from Daily Kos in an easily digested iPad Application.

    Head over to the Newsstand and Facebook page to check it out.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:01:58 AM PDT

  •  Well done, twigg! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, hnichols, Militarytracy

    Who needs facts? That might confuse the lemmings.

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:14:38 AM PDT

  •  Charlatan and... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, MBNYC, cassandracarolina, hnichols

    En serio:

    Three years ago, I got crosswise of Niall Ferguson when I noted his remark that President Obama reminded him of Felix the Cat. Like Obama, Ferguson observed, "Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky."
    •  What will they do (3+ / 0-)

      When "Felix" gets lucky again?

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      by twigg on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:27:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I feel a landslide comin'... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        twigg, cassandracarolina, hnichols

        Mad Men can't help, Mitt Romney is an unsellable product and he's leading his party off the electoral cliff.

        And the infighting among the republicans this fall, should Obama win reelex and the dems make gains in Congress, will be extraordinary.

        ...I get a little misty-eyed at the thought....

    •  Gross (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      twigg, dclawyer06


    •  i don't think ferguson is a bigot as much as (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      twigg, dclawyer06, terrypinder

      a raging (western) cultural supremacist.

      the indian writer pankaj mishra wrote a great piece about niall ferguson in the london review of books.  mishra made an analogy of ferguson to the character tom buchanan of the great gatsby.  but whereas buchanan was worried about european racial decline, ferguson is worried about european cultural and political decline.

      most of the piece just chronicles how ferguson's career, at least recently, has been dedicated to justifying european/american imperialism and dominance.

      ‘Something,’ Nick Carraway says of Tom Buchanan, ‘was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.’ ‘Western hard power,’ Ferguson blurts out in Civilisation, ‘seems to be struggling’; and the book exemplifies a mood, at once swaggering, frustrated, vengeful and despairing, among men of a certain age, class and education on the Upper East Side and the West End. Western Civilisation is unlikely to go out of business any time soon, but the neoimperialist gang might well face redundancy. In that sense, Ferguson’s metamorphoses in the last decade – from cheerleader, successively, of empire, Anglobalisation and Chimerica to exponent of collapse-theory and retailer of emollient tales about the glorious past – have highlighted broad political and cultural shifts more accurately than his writings. His next move shouldn’t be missed.
      mishra answered a retort by ferguson:
      Ferguson is no racist, in part because he lacks the steady convictions of racialist ideologues like Stoddard. Rather, his writings, heralding an American imperium in 2003, Chimerica in 2006, and the ‘Chinese Century’ in 2011, manifest a wider pathology among intellectuals once identified by Orwell: ‘the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible’.
      mishra also pointed out later that ferguson has since predicted that india will surpass china.
  •  Niall Ferguson (6+ / 0-)

    is also the guy who recently moderated the BBC's - I think it was the BBC - series on the history of British imperialism. The general tone was rah-rah-Indian-Empire.

    He wrote a fantastic two-volume set on the House of Rothschild, but whenever he veers into politics, it's pretty much old-school Tory pamphleteering, badly sourced and unable to rise above its own bias.

    Fuck me, it's a leprechaun.

    by MBNYC on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:17:45 AM PDT

  •  When people like this infect academia... (4+ / 0-)

    You have to feel sorry for the students who waste thousands of dollars in tuition to take classes from a fraud like Ferguson.

    Does anyone in Harvard's History Department have enough guts to speak out against his lies?

  •  Ferguson is simply trying to pick up (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, MBNYC, CayceP, Retroactive Genius

    the mantle from Bernard Lewis, who can't live forever. They're both cranky bastards for whom the narcissistic lure of punditry has surpassed any devotion to the historical method.

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:24:53 AM PDT

    •  For instance... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      twigg, terrypinder

      let's consider the concept of "Eurabia," one of the fundamental ideas underpinning the right's Islamophobia industry. Both Lewis and Ferguson (and Anders Breivik, but who's counting...) endorse Bat Yeor's view of Europe "under threat" from Islam and they both use their credentials (and the authority of prestige academic positions) to legitimize this (and similar) conspiratorial nonsense. Once Lewis is gone--and do note that Lewis is Paul Ryan's historian of choice--I'll predict that Ferguson will become the preeminent go-to academic among Teh Crazies seeking the thin veneer of legitimacy for their batshit insanity.

      Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

      by angry marmot on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:52:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  His book (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angry marmot, twigg, DrLori

    The Ascent of Money

    is a great read if you stop right around 1900.  But, anyone reading the book should understand that Ferguson has a very rightward bias and worldview, plus in the 4 years since the book was published, there's been plenty of criticism about his facts and conclusions.  Thus, it's no shock to see him applying those same standards to the Newsweek piece.

    Moreover, his bias that unbridled capitalism is good warps a basic understanding of some of the events he characterizes.  For example, he'd have you think WWI was a reaction against nascent globalization while forgetting about the primary underlying nationalism causes of the conflict not to mention the political pressures within Europe of the previous 50 years.

    I share this mainly so folks interested in the history of money/finance can find a book at the library (don't buy it!) and read about half of it to whet their appetite for something better.  And to show you can read a book by an overrated conservative author and not feel you need to take a long, hot shower afterwards. :)

    "I'm not writing to make conservatives happy. I want them to hate my opinions. I'm not interested in debating them. I want to stop them." - Steve Gilliard

    by grog on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:32:56 AM PDT

  •  Yes but, the interest rate on bonds is (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, Militarytracy

    critical and they don't know how to talk about it because the truth would get no support from anyone.

    You see, after the scare Wall Street got, when we went off the gold standard that there would now be enough money for everyone to do whatever they wanted, the scare that was abated by artificially raising the interest rates for just about any loan to above 15% and finally was brought under control by about 1991, when the rate on 30 year Treasury bonds stood at 8.1% and was the base which every other borrower had to pay more than, started to drop in response to Clinton/Gore generating a surplus and bringing down the national debt.  So, by 2000, the base rate was down around 2.5% and banks were paying depositors even less on their CDs.  It was this drop in secure income that elderly conservative people relied on which made them vulnerable to the blandishments of investment advisers who trotted out "new products" and helped fuel the housing bubble.
    So, Bush, again on Greenspan's advice, reversed course and brought the national deficit back up, so money would be scarce and bondholders would get their more generous trickle back.  But, it didn't work.  The reason it didn't work, the common explanation went, was because the federal government was tapping the social security trust funds and China was making up the rest.  So, it was argued, the money in the trust funds should be handed to Wall Street so the federal government would be strapped for cash and the rate on bonds would go up.
    Somehow the rate on bonds, on which the leisure class depends for its guaranteed income stream has to be brought up.  But, the Federal Reserve has refused to go along.  Indeed, the Fed has said rates won't go up for two years.  This is phenomenal news coming out of an entity that ten years ago was jiggling rates every three months.
    One suspects it's really soured the currency speculators.
    But, hope springs eternal.  If enough people predict the rates will go up, enough people will jump at the prompt and be sufficiently "encouraged" to make the wished come true.

    Given that the U.S. prints its own money, there's no reason why the dollar has to be passed through Wall Street and borrowed back in order to be spent on public projects and services. Why do we do it?  Tradition. The Congress was tasked with managing the currency, but they handed it over to the banks. Of course, the Fed is technically a quasi-governmental agency and can (obviously) manage objectively, but the tradition was for public agencies to serve and "encourage" the private commercial sector.  If the Fed is no longer doing that -- if the Fed is no longer the handmaiden of the banksters -- then that would be a singular accomplishment, but don't expect to hear it from the banks or their sycophants in the press.

    Do we expect Congress to admit that they have been screwing the public, pretending they have to borrow money to pay bills when, in fact, it's in charge of providing however much money we need? Do we expect the deadbeat dad to bring his pay home instead of stopping off at the pub or the track?

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 06:39:55 AM PDT

  •  As is nicely documented in the book "1491"... (5+ / 0-)

    it is highly likely that the indigenous Native American population of North & South America was close to or even in excess of that of contemporary Europe when Columbus "discovered" the New World.

    Moreover, this very large and prosperous population boasted large and substantial cities across much of the future U.S. Southeast.

    The utterly catastrophic spread of European-born epidemic disease simply obliterated most of the indigenous culture, helped along by genocidal aggressive warfare practiced by the European invaders. Since indigenous culture was regarded as pagan and unworthy, no attempt whatsoever was made to record it for posterity, other than fragmentary accounts from a few curious European observers.

    Niall Ferguson is of course completely ignorant of all of this. Evidently he's a pretty shitty 'historian'. Sort of like George W. Bush was as a 'war president'.

  •  Josh's 7th grade Social Studies teacher (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Told him last week when explaining the political parties that Democrats are the party of tax and spend :)  He's so cute, because he is very current on the existing facts, and he came home RUFFLED.

    We discussed the need to argue with a 7th grade teacher.  It's Alabama, I gotta pick my battles or die of exhaustion.  And often educate my own children against the weaknesses of the education you receive down here.  

    •  It grates though (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      when the reverse is so demonstrably true.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      by twigg on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 07:35:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yup! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It really grates on a 12 year old who does understand that when Republicans ran things, his parents had to fight an insurance company tooth and nail and try to find other resources out there in order to save his life.  Josh understands that the way current day Republicans want things done, will kill him before our current level of existing medical science would run out of solutions for his health challenges.

        It really grates on him when his teacher tells him that the Republican party is about being responsible.

  •  Good historian, not so good politician. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I've read both Colossus and The Ascent of Money. Excellent reads, although I disagree with some of his points.

    History is a conversation between the present and the past about the future. This is one reason why I find Ferguson's billing as a "counterfactual" historian strange.

    It gives a lovely light.

    by CayceP on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 07:40:45 AM PDT

  •  Niall Ferguson is first and foremost (0+ / 0-)

    a libertarian.

    I think that to understand Ferguson one must know something about his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is presently a Visiting Fellow at the AEI.

    Others have simply gotten old. I prefer to think I've been tempered by time.

    by Just Bob on Tue Sep 04, 2012 at 08:14:16 AM PDT

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