Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

Prince Charming

July 28, 2014

There comes a time in most little girls’ lives when they go through a princess phase. They fantasize about being princesses, dress up as princesses for Halloween and watch the videos from the execrable Disney Princess franchise. If you happen to ask a little girl in her princess phase what is so great about princesses, she will likely reply something to the effect that princesses get to live in castles, wear beautiful gowns, and when they grow up they marry handsome princes. All of this is true, though it leaves out a few pertinent details. Castles are uncomfortable and drafty, gowns require tight corsets to wear, and you don’t get to choose which prince you marry. In fact, the prince is more likely to look like this

Rey_Carlos_II

 

than to be handsome. That is King Carlos or Charles II, the last Habsburg king of Spain. He reigned from 1665-1700 and he was a mess. His subjects called him Carlos el Hechizado or Charles the Bewitched and he also believed himself to be cursed. He was indeed cursed, not by witchcraft but by generations of inbreeding among his ancestors. As a result he was physically and mentally disabled. He was retarded and could not talk until the age of four or walk until he was eight. He suffered from epilepsy and his tongue was abnormally thick, making it difficult for his speech to be understood. His Habsburg Lip was so pronounced he had difficulty chewing his food. He was often ill and confined to his bed.

Charles’s sad story began centuries earlier with the rise of his ancestors, the House of Habsburg. The Habsburgs began their ascent to power around AD 1000 as the Counts of Habsburg, a castle in what is now the canton of Aargau in Switzerland. Over the centuries they worked their way up becoming Dukes of Austria and various other lands, Archdukes of Austria, and finally by 1440 Holy Roman Emperors. The Habsburgs, like other noble and royal families liked to expand their holdings and gain more titles, but unlike most others, they preferred strategic marriages to gain power rather than fighting wars. This was, no doubt more humane than sending men off to be killed, but the Habsburgs ended up paying a terrible price for their acquisitions. In order to keep the lands and titles they gained by marriages, they ended up having to marry each other. The results were not pretty.

The Hapsburgs gained the crown of Spain when the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1508-1519) arranged the marriage of his son Philip to the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella ( the ones who sponsored Columbus’s voyages) Juana el Loco or  Joanna the mad in 1496. As her name indicates, Joanna was indeed mad, most likely she had some form of schizophrenia, and eventually she was confined to a convent. Philip became Phillip I of Castile in 1506 and then died that same year.

Their son, Charles, was born in 1500 and  became Carlos I King of Spain in 1516, ruling with his mother, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1519. With his many titles, Charles V perhaps ruled over more territory than any single human being has before or since. Along with Spain and its colonies and Austria, Charles V ruled over the Netherlands, most of Italy, Burgundy, and the frontier with the Ottoman Turks in central Europe. Charles V abdicated in 1556 and died in 1558. When he abdicated he divided his lands between his younger brother Ferdinand, who received the Habsburg territories in Austria and central Europe, as well as the title of Holy Roman Emperor, and his son Phillip who got  the Spanish Empire along with the Netherlands and Italy. Philip ruled as Phillip II from 1556-1598

Phillip II married four times, including a marriage to Mary I (Bloody Mary) of England who died before producing an heir. His other three wives died in childbirth. His last wife was Anna of Austria, the granddaughter of Ferdinand I and the daughter of Phillip’s sister Maria, making her parents first cousins and her his niece . Their son was Phillip III of Spain who ruled from 1598-1621.

 

Phillip III married Margaret of Austria, She was the granddaughter of Ferdinand I and the sister of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, making her Phillip III’s cousin. Her parents were Charles II Archduke of Austria and his niece Maria Anna of Bavaria. You may notice a pattern forming here. Phillip’s son was Phillip IV who ruled from 1621-1665.

 

 

Phillip IV’s second wife was Mariana of Austria, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and Phillip’s sister Maria Anna of Spain, making her Phillip’s niece. Her parents were first cousins. Only two of their children survived to adulthood, a daughter Maria Theresa and the unfortunate Charles II.

 

 

If the genealogy of Charles II seems confusing, here is a handy chart I found on the Internet that will make it all clearer.

Charles_II_Inbreeding

 

 

Charles II was only three years old when he became king, so his mother was appointed regent. Regencies were often difficult times in the history of most kingdoms. In most kingdoms a certain mystique about the person of the king in encouraged by his court. The king is held to be a special person, one with a direct line to the gods or God, and perhaps even divine himself. This sort of mystique helps to discourage rebellions and assassinations. The problem is that while regent may rule in the name of the king, he is not the king and cannot have the same authority as the king. As a result, while the king is a minor, the nobility begins to intrigue in ways they would not dare if a mature king were on the throne and also the regent cannot often initiate bold new policies, so the kingdom tends to drift. If the kingdom is lucky, the king will prove to be a strong leader, carefully trained in statecraft when he becomes an adult. If a kingdom is unlucky, the king will grow up to be a weak, spoiled brat under the control of his favorites. Spain was very unlucky. It soon became clear that Charles II would never be able to rule, so for thirty-five years the country drifted aimlessly at a time when the Spanish Empire was decaying rapidly and only firm, decisive policies had any chance to reverse the decline. The Spanish government was under the control of favorites of his mother Mariana, and of his two wives, yes he was married, Marie Louise of Orleans and Maria Anna of Neuburg. Neither marriage produced an heir and Charles was almost certainly sterile if not completely impotent. This may have been a blessing since any child of Charles would have inherited all of his deficiencies, but Spain was unlucky again. A king without a clear heir was certain to bring about a war for the throne.

 

Mariana died in 1696 and Charles at last ruled without a regent. He was still incapable of governing so there was no real difference in the Spanish government. He did call for an investigation of the Spanish Inquisition just before he died and it may be that if Charles had lived longer and had been less crippled, he might have ended that institution a century earlier. Unfortunately the report that investigation produced disappeared after his death. Charles died in 1700 at the age of 38 and almost immediately after his death, the War of the Spanish Succession began. This war lasted from 1701-1714. Charles had named Philip, the son of his half-sister Maria Theresa, Philip IV’s daughter by his first wife, Elizabeth of France, as his heir. Philip was the second son of Louis the Dauphin, the son of King Louis XIV of the Bourbons. The problem was that there was the possibility that Philip could inherit the French throne and so unite France and Spain as one kingdom. No one really wanted that to happen and eventually, Philip agreed to renounce any claims to the Kingdom of France. The Habsburgs were not willing to give up Spain and had candidates of their own for the Spanish crown. There were also disagreements over how Spanish possessions in the Netherlands and Italy should be divided. No one bothered to ask the people of Spain who they might want as their king. In the end Philip got to be Philip V of Spain and a branch of the Bourbons have ruled in Spain to this day.

I don’t know if there are any deeper morals in the sad story of King Charles. The efforts the Habsburgs made to keep Spain by interbreeding between the Austrian and Spanish branches of the family eventually caused them to lose it. Spain suffered under a series of increasingly incapable monarchs and for thirty-five years was effectively leaderless when leadership was badly needed. Maybe the moral of this story is that royal families should marry outside their immediate circle. Maybe a system that encourages such inbreeding is not a very good one and we are well rid of it. Maybe little girls should aspire to something more meaningful than being princesses.

Rand Paul and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

July 27, 2014

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has introduced a bill to reform federal civil forfeiture laws. As Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

This is a pretty big deal, especially if Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) can round up enough co-sponsors to build some momentum.

Sen. Rand Paul yesterday introduced S. 2644, the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law. Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property.

The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property.

The bill would also require states “to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property.” This is important. Currently, a number of state legislatures across the country have passed reform bills to rein in forfeiture abuses. The problem is that the federal government has a program known as “adoption” or “equitable sharing.” Under the program, a local police agency need only call up the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or similar federal agency. That agency then “federalizes” the investigation, making it subject to federal law. The federal agency then initiates forfeiture proceedings under the laxer federal guidelines for forfeiture. The feds take a cut and then return the rest — as much as 80 percent — back to the local agency. This trick thwarts the intent of state legislature that have attempted to make civil forfeiture more fair when it comes to burden of proof, protections for innocent property owners and eliminating the perverse incentive of allowing forfeiture proceeds to go to the same police agency that made the seizure.

Which brings us to a final important provision in the bill: It would “would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.”

I am glad someone is doing something about this. Civil asset forfeiture abuse is becoming a growing problem all over the country. I am sure there are still too many people who are unaware that the police; state, local, or even federal agents, can simply declare that your house or car was bought with drug money or used in a crime and simply take it. Because this is a civil action and not a criminal proceeding, they do not have to prove you guilty of any crime. They don’t even have to charge you with a crime. It is up to you to prove that the property seized  was not used in any crime.

This problem has been dealt with by state governments, with varying degrees of effectiveness. The Institute for Justice has published a report on civil forfeiture laws, grading the states from A to D. Indiana is one of the better states getting a B+ for its forfeiture laws but a C on evasion with a combined grade of C+

Indiana has some of the better civil forfeiture laws in the country, at least with regard to the profit incentive.  Unfortunately, to forfeit your property, the government only needs to show that it was more likely than not that your property was related to a crime and thus is forfeitable—the legal standard of preponderance of the evidence, lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for a criminal conviction.  But law enforcement in Indiana does not receive any of the funds gained through civil forfeiture, which keeps the focus of law enforcement on preventing crime rather than raising funds.  After deducting law enforcement costs for the prosecution of civil forfeitures, all forfeiture revenue is sent either to the general fund of the state or the state’s education fund.  Indiana does participate in equitable sharing with the federal government, averaging more than $2.6 million per year in the 2000s.

Imagine what conditions are like for a state for an D grade. West Virginia is at the bottom of the list with a forfeiture law grade of D- and an evasion grade of D for a combined D- grade.

West Virginia has poor civil forfeiture laws.  The government must demonstrate that property is related to a crime and subject to forfeiture by a mere preponderance of the evidence, a standard much easier for law enforcement than proving criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  And the burden is on owners for innocent owner claims, making owners effectively guilty until proven innocent.

When money is seized and forfeited, all of the proceeds go to law enforcement:  10 percent goes to the prosecuting attorney, and 90 percent goes to a law enforcement investigation fund.  Although there is no requirement in West Virginia that law enforcement officials collect information on forfeiture, a January 2009 article in the Register Herald offered some insight into the way police in Beckley, W.V., used forfeiture proceeds.  In 2008, the article reported, police brought in $65,000 and six vehicles through forfeiture.  Forfeiture revenue provided some of the funding to buy a $10,000 K-9 police dog for the department.[1]

No fewer than 29 states get a grade of D. Eighteen get a C grade, two a B, and only Maine gets an A. The problem, as the article states, is that no matter how good any state’s protections against civil forfeiture might be, as soon as the federal government gets involved, the laxer federal standards are applied. According to the Institute for Justice’s scale, the federal government gets a D-.

As the numbers below indicate, the federal government has a very aggressive civil forfeiture program.  Federal law enforcement forfeits a substantial amount of property for its own use while also teaming up with local and state governments to prosecute forfeiture actions, whereby all of the agencies share in the bounty at the end of the day.

Outrage over abuse of civil forfeiture laws led to the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) in 2000.  Under these changes, the government now must show by a preponderance of the evidence why the property should be forfeited.  The Act also created an innocent owner defense that lets individuals keep their property if they can show either that they did not know that it was being used illegally or that they took reasonable steps to stop it.

But while CAFRA heightened some procedural protections, it failed to address the largest problem in the federal civil forfeiture system:  the strong pecuniary interest that federal law enforcement agencies have in the outcome of the forfeiture proceeding.  For the past 25 years, federal agencies have been able to keep all of the property that they seize and forfeit.  And that has led to explosive growth in the amount of forfeiture activity at the federal level.

 

This policy began as part of the War on Drugs. The idea was that if law enforcement couldn’t find enough evidence to convict drug dealers or members of crime organizations, they could at least be deprived of the assets they needed to continue operations. This was obviously an enormous success judging from the lack of drugs in this country. In fact, since all too often, money gained from the sales of confiscated property goes directly into funding for law enforcement, there is a strong incentive for corruption and abuse. It is also a lot easier and safer to target small time criminals or the innocent for asset forfeiture than to pursue drug cartels or the mafia.

I wish Rand Paul success with this legislation. It is something badly needed.

Black and White

July 24, 2014

There are some conflicts in which neither side is clearly in the right or wrong, in which there is not really a black or white but shades of gray. World War I might serve as an example. Despite propaganda by both the Allies and the Central Powers, neither side could be unambiguously seen as in the right or wrong and neither side was clearly the aggressor. World War II was quite different. The Germans and the Japanese had both begun wars of aggression against neighboring countries without legitimate cause. The Axis powers were ruled by abominable governments that committed atrocities against the people they conquered. The presence of the Soviet Union on the side of the allies might have complicated matters since the Communists were every bit as evil as the Nazis and had, in fact, been aggressors earlier in that war, before Hitler double-crossed them. All the same, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and the efforts of the Russian people helped to end at least one great evil.

There are many who would like to believe that the current fighting in the Gaza Strip is one of the conflicts with no clear good or bad sides. If they cannot get away with blaming the whole affair on Israel and the Jews this time, they can at least adopt a position of moral equivalency. Both sides have committed wrongs. There is no black or white here. Such is the attitude of an article in the Christian Science Monitor I have just read.

There are two broad narratives about the current conflict between Hamasand Israel.

The first, presented by Israel and its allies, is that rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other militants is an intolerable threat to the country, and that Israel is simply responding in self-defense. The second, presented by Hamas and its allies, is that the economic blockade of Gaza, the arrest of hundreds of Hamas members over the past month, and the heavy ordnance that has pounded the tiny enclave is intolerable, and they’re responding in self-defense.

Both sides are right. And both sides are wrong. They are right in that they are pursuing their interests with the tools that they’ve decided are best suited to the purpose – rockets and bombs. And that both sides would like the attacks from the other side to stop.

The article goes on at some length on the history of the conflict between Israel and Hamas and actually does do a good job of presenting the points of view of both sides fairly. The writer is wrong, all the same. There are  clear right and wrong sides in this conflict. Israel is in the right and Hamas is in the wrong.

I need not go into the entire history of how Israel’s neighbors have tried again and again to destroy the Jewish state or how Israel has been under siege since the day it was founded, nor do I need to to state how the Jews have taken a depopulated wasteland and turned it into a flourishing modern state while the Palestinians remain mired in poverty because their leaders care only for war against Israel. The simple fact of the matter is that if Hamas and the Fatah faction that controls the West Bank were to disarm and ask for peace, Israel would leave them alone. If they would grant that Israel has a right to exist and end their campaign to destroy Israel, Israel would make peace. On the other hand, if the Israelis were to disarm and ask only to live in peace, Israel would be quickly destroyed. One side wants peace. The other side wants genocide. There is no moral equivalence here and only the morally corrupt would suppose that there is.

Obvious Child

July 11, 2014

Obvious Child is the name of a new film which seems to be a romantic comedy exploring the lighter side of abortion. Apparently some critics like the idea while most conservatives hate it, along with the audience, whose opinion should matter most considering they are the ones who are expected to buy tickets to see the movie. Jonah Goldberg has some things to say about the wider implications of this film’s failure at the box office which I caught in his column at Real Clear Politics.

In the film Obvious Child, Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who specializes in making jokes about her private parts, with the occasional foray into fart humor. She is about to go onstage. Her friend offers her some encouragement: “You are going to kill it out there!”

Donna replies: “I actually have an appointment to do that tomorrow.”

Donna’s talking about her abortion appointment.

Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. Or if you’re like me, you think it’s not funny because it’s true.

Many critics think it’s funny. One dubbed it “far and away the most winning abortion-themed comedy ever made.” Of course, as an artistic genre, that’s setting the bar pretty low, like serving the best gas-station sushi in the state of Oklahoma.

Since it opened last month, the film has grossed less than $2 million. Compare that to 2007’s Juno, a brilliant film widely seen as pro-life (at least among pro-lifers), or Knocked Up, a raunchier romantic comedy also hailed by abortion foes, both of which grossed more than $140 million domestically. Obvious Child, then, seems less like the cultural watershed its friends and foes make it out to be and more like a barely successful art-house flick.

 

My late friend Andrew Breitbart liked to say that politics is downstream of culture, meaning that any truly successful political turnaround needs to start by changing popular attitudes. Adam Bellow, a storied editor of conservative books, has a similar conviction and is trying to launch a conservative revolt in the world of fiction.

I wish them great success. Still, I think there’s something missing in this ancient conversation on the right (conservatives have been making such arguments since the 1950s — if not the 1450s, with the publication of the Gutenberg Bible). Conservatives refuse to celebrate, or even notice, how much of the popular culture is on their side.

Sure, Hollywood is generally very liberal, but America isn’t. Judging by their campaign donations, Hollywood liberals are very supportive of abortion rights. But there’s a reason why sitcoms since Maude haven’t had a lot of storylines about abortion. Indeed, nearly every pregnant TV character treats her unborn child as if it’s already a human being.

The Left may be anti-military, but such movies tend to do poorly, which is why we see more pro-military films. Similarly, it’s a safe bet that Hollywood liberals loathe guns. But you wouldn’t know that by what they produce. Not many action stars save the day by quoting a poem. Most Hollywood liberals probably oppose the death penalty, yet they make lots of movies where the bad guy meets a grisly death to the cheers of the audience. The Left rolls its eyes at “family values,” but family values are at the heart of most successful sitcoms and dramas.

I think he is right, as far as it goes and certainly Hollywood is missing opportunities for profit by taking up such a position of opposition to the values of so many mainstream Americans, but I think there is a more fundamental reason why Obvious Child is not doing better at the box office. Abortion is not funny.

Abortion is a serious matter. As with most matters of life and death, it is not a subject that can be taken lightly. For people on the pro-life side, abortion is murder on a large scale and a comedy about abortion is in as much poor taste as a comedy about the Holocaust. People on the pro-choice side may not feel quite the same way about abortion, but except for a few extremists, the sort that Rush Limbaugh used to call “feminazis”, they are aware that it is a serious and controversial subject. Thus, a movie like Obvious Child which seems to treat abortion as of no greater significance then getting a pedicure, is going to offend everyone but those few extremists.

I am glad that Obvious Child is not doing well. The degeneration of our popular culture seems to be accelerating at an ever faster pace and I am glad for any sign that there are still limits to  what we are willing to watch.

Keith Ablow’s Homophobia

July 10, 2014

I had never heard of Dr. Keith Ablow before following a link from Yahoo News to this piece at the Huffington Post. I still don’t know very much about him and I am not really that curious. It may be that he has a whole history of saying controversial or even insane remarks in public, but I am only interested in the statements that the Huffington Post considered to be extremely homophobic.

When discussing gay rights on Fox News, who better to consult than the network’sreliable source Dr. Keith Ablow?

“Fox & Friends” asked Ablow on Wednesday for his thoughts on a new California lawthat replaces the words “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” under state laws. The new law has been described as a “milestone in the journey towards full equality” and an end to the last barrier to same-sex marriage in California.

“Nuts,” Ablow said of the new law. “There’s no way that the state of California can deny a marriage license to four spouses now. Eight spouses, or I would say three human spouses and the canine they absolutely love because if love is the foundation of marriage, they can love their dog, too.”

That’s right, folks. You heard it here first. A step forward for marriage equality will only lead to polygamy and marrying your dog.

Most of the comments that followed this piece were of a similar nature, mocking Dr Ablow for his ignorance and bigotry. Yet I want you to observe two things in the article I quoted in its entirety. First, notice that homophobia consists not in making hateful or derogatory comments towards or about homosexuals but in not embracing an entire agenda with sufficient enthusiasm or in raising an obvious, logical point against same-sex marriage.

Second, notice that neither in the article or on the comments are there any arguments presented that show that Dr. Ablow is wrong. If we are going to make a fundamental alteration in the nature of marriage by changing from a particular, and theoretically lifelong, relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating and maintaining families into a generic relationship between two individuals, of whatever gender, who feel a mutual sexual attraction, then what is there to stop any further alterations? Why not polygamy? There have been many cultures throughout history that have permitted polygamous marriages. Polygamy is a far less drastic alternation in the essential nature of marriage than same-sex marriage. Why not permit close relatives to marry? If they agree to not have children, there is no possibility of birth defects from inbreeding. Why not marry your dog or cat? There may be some question of consent here, but if that were  resolved, why not? For that matter, since we are separating sexuality from reproduction, why bother with marriage or families at all? Why not go for a Brave New World society in which babies are grown in test tubes?

I don’t believe that the person who wrote this or any of the commenters are in favor of either bestiality, incest or polygamy. They are in favor of  “marriage equality”. This is another example of feeling good without going through the trouble of thinking things through. There is no particular, logical reason why any of the innovations I listed above should not be adopted, once the logic that supports same-sex marriage is accepted, except that these innovations made people uneasy. They seem to forget that not two decades ago the idea of same-sex marriage was considered to be just as insane as anything I listed and even ten years ago, the idea made people uneasy. If such progress in changing people’s minds about same-sex marriage could be made through incessant propagandizing and not a little bullying, why couldn’t similar progress be made in anything I mentioned?

Thinking such matters through is hard work, however. Trying to think for yourself is even harder, and may even take some moral courage. It is much easier simply to insult the person who brings them up and repeat the same slogans and talking points everyone else is saying. If the good people are for  marriage equality, then it is best to fall into line and not think too much on where it is leading.

 

Ignorance is Bliss

July 10, 2014

Two recent e-mails I have received prove this old saying true. First there is one from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

If you thought House Republicans couldn’t get worse, I’ve got bad news. Speaker John Boehner is now threatening to sue President Obama because House Republicans are mad that President Obama is using his executive authority to get things done where Congress won’t act.1

Such a ridiculous lawsuit would be a wasteful and inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes, and we’ve hatched a plan to fight back.

Our legal team is investigating options to hold Speaker Boehner accountable if he moves forward—from launching a lawsuit of our own, to filing a formal complaint in Congress, to other responses. And we are planning protests outside of Republicans’ district offices and other tactics that can break into the news. Together, we can help expose the lawsuit for the cynical political ploy that it is and generate press coverage that holds Republicans accountable as the November elections loom.

Because MoveOn is its members, we want to know what you think before we decide whether to proceed. Do you think we should move forward—or do you want us focused on other things? Click to let us know:

Yes, MoveOn should fight to hold Speaker Boehner and House Republicans accountable if they use taxpayer dollars to sue President Obama.

No, I’d prefer for MoveOn to focus on other things (and tell us which other things).

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Bobby, Matt, Amy, and the rest of the team

Checks and balances? What’s that. As it happens, I don’t think Speaker of the House Boehner should sue the president either. There are other options Congress can use to rein in an over bearing president. The House of Representatives, in particular, has the power of the purse. I think it would be better if John Boehner worked as hard as he could to get as many Republicans elected as possible. With a majority in both houses of Congress, they have a much better chance of stopping Obama. Suing him will only fire up the liberal base. I could say something similar about calling for impeachment. The Republicans have a good chance of winning big this year, but both of these tactics could ruin things.

I wish, though, that the people at Moveon.org, and elsewhere, would think very carefully about the statement that the President must act by executive authority because Congress won’t. What exactly do we have a Congress for? If the only legitimate role of Congress is to rubber stamp everything the president decrees,than why bother to have a Congress at all? Why not just make the President a dictator who we elect every four years? They seem to think we should have a system like the old Soviet Union or some banana republic in which there is a phony legislature that pretends to be passing the laws while the Leader is calling all the shots. Haven’t any of these people stopped to think that there may come a time when someone they thoroughly detest becomes president and enacts policies they oppose over the will of Congress, maybe we might even get another Republican as president? When that time comes, they may wish we still had the checks and balances they worked so hard to eviscerate.

The other e-mail is from Organizing for Action.

Friend –

Big news in the fight to raise the minimum wage:

In the last few months, four states have passed laws to raise the wage, and several cities and local governments are following suit.

That’s how we make progress, even if a minority in Congress is blocking it.

OFA’s petition to lawmakers already has nearly half a million signatures on it — yours belongs on it, too. Add your name to the petition today.

A higher minimum wage isn’t just good for workers, it’s the right idea for our economy.

More money in minimum wage earners’ pockets means more money to spend at area businesses.

That’s why governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle are working to raise the wage. Just since May, we’ve seen Maryland, Michigan, Hawaii, and Massachusetts pass higher state minimum wage laws.

This fight is also happening on the local level. Seattle, Philadelphia, and Richmond, California, have all taken steps forward to raise the wage for thousands of workers in their cities.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, supporters delivered more than 6,000 petition signatures to put a minimum wage increase measure on the ballot this fall.

That’s grassroots energy, and it’s proof that when we make our voices heard, progress is possible — with or without Congress.

This petition is how we’re going to send a message that the other side can’t ignore. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Right now, it looks like your name is missing, but that’s alright.

You can add your voice today, and tell lawmakers it’s time to raise the minimum wage:

http://my.barackobama.com/Raise-the-Wage-Petition

Thanks,

Lindsay

Lindsay Siler
National Director of Issue Campaigns
Organizing for Action

Raising the minimum wage helps the economy because people have more money to spend in area businesses. There is something that doesn’t add up here. I have dealt some of the problems with raising the minimum wage before. Yes, the people who work at or slightly above minimum wage will have more money to spend at area businesses. But the increase in labor costs caused by the mandated increased in wages will mean that the area businesses will have a lower profit. You might think, “So what. The greedy capitalists shouldn’t be making such a large profit”. Remember that for a small business owner, that profit is their wage. That is what they are trying to live on. Even for a large corporation that profit is what they use to expand their business and pay put dividends to their stockholders. In order to maintain their profits in the face of rising labor costs, businesses, both small and large, will be forced to consider ways of cutting costs, making do with fewer employees, and increasing income, raising prices. In terms of purchasing power, many of those people who received a raise will eventually find themselves back where they were before.

It must be nice not to have to think things through, to just go with whatever feels good at the moment. You can support all sorts of foolish policies that may ultimately harm the people you intend to help, but if you never stop to consider the unintended consequences of such policies that  thought will never cross your mind. Ignorance is bliss.

 

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature

July 7, 2014

I have had somewhat ambiguous feelings about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism ever since I first discovered her in college. I agree with much of what she had to say: freedom, capitalism, and the use of reason are good; tyranny, socialism, and living off others are bad. Nevertheless, I have always felt vaguely repelled by her writings. Perhaps it is because I feel a slight malevolence underlying much of what she wrote. Ayn Rand was never one to forgive an enemy or maintain a friendship with someone of an opposing philosophy. Maybe the figures in her fiction are not much like real human beings. The heroes are completely good with no flaws, the villains completely evil with no redeeming characteristics. I am sure.

It is for that reason that I read Greg Nyquist’s Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. Mr. Nyquist is a critic of Ayn Rand, but he takes a different approach than most of her critics. He does not spend much time examining the details of her philosophy, except to note where Objectivism is contradictory or incomplete. He does not refute Objectivism on a philosophical basis. In fact, at some points he concedes, for the sake of argument, that Objectivism is the most ideal philosophy imaginable. He also does not criticize Ayn Rand on a personal basis, except to show where her personality characteristics shaped Objectivism.

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What Greg Nyquist does instead is ask whether Ayn Rand and Objectivism actually works. Mr. Nyquist does not have much use for windy speculations about metaphysics or wordy conjectures about the way things ought to be. He is a practical man. He wants to know whether the assumptions about humanity and the world made by Ayn Rand that form the basis of Objectivism are actually in accordance with the observed facts. To this end, he has written Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature.

This book is divided into eight chapters, each chapter dealing with some aspect of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, her theories of human nature, history, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. The final chapter considers the future of Objectivism. It should not be a surprise that Nyquist finds Ayn Rand’s theories wanting. In particular, he criticizes her ideas on human nature as being unrealistic. She was more concerned with human beings as she believes they ought to be rather than how they really are. She believed that human nature can be changed and that the widespread acceptance of Objectivism will cause people to think and act more rationally. Ayn Rand argued that people act according to the fundamental premises of their particular philosophy and if that philosophy is changed from one that accepts mysticism and collectivism to one that follows reason and individualism, then we can create a utopia of reason and capitalism. Nyquist disagrees, noting that human nature has changed little, if at all, throughout the centuries. People do not often follow a consistent philosophy. They act according to desires and interests and adapt their personal philosophy to justify their actions. He notes that history is less the result of various philosophical and ideological movements, as Ayn Rand asserted, but is more influenced by people’s desires and interests, particularly those of the ruling class. There is a lot more to his criticism, but the general idea is that Ayn Rand simply did not seek any sort of empirical verification of her ideas. She preferred to think about things rather than go out and see how things really are.

On the whole, I agree with Greg Nyquist’s criticism. I think that after some point, Ayn Rand lived in an imaginary world with John Galt and Howard Roarke. I have noticed in her nonfiction, she tended to refer to or quote her characters as if they were real people. She tends to make assertions that are completely reasonable and logical, but with she seldom presents actual evidence that these assumptions are true. I have also found her knowledge of history to be shallow.

While Greg Nyquist presents himself as a practical man, he sometimes crosses into cynicism. He seems to have a very negative opinion on human nature and regards politics as nothing more than the elite getting their way. While this is all true, it is not the whole truth. He believes that even if Ayn Rand’ s ideal of laissez-faire capitalism and the minimalist state is the best system possible, they will never come about into actuality because no political/economic elite will allow them to. Ayn Rand and her followers are idealists who fight for a cause no pragmatic politician would waste his time with.

In the end, I am going to side with the idealists. The idealist will sometimes bring about needed change because he doesn’t know it is impossible and even if he fails, he can at least push things in the right direction. The practical man knows it is impossible and so doesn’t bother to try.

The Election of 1816

July 7, 2014

There is not much to say about the election of 1816. There was hardly any campaigning and with the collapse of the Federalist Party, there was little question that the Democratic-Republican candidate, James Monroe, would be elected.

The War of 1812 had ended the year before. The United States hadn’t exactly won the war, but we hadn’t exactly lost it either. The Treaty of Ghent had largely restored the relations between the United States and Great Britain as they had been before the war. Neither side had gained or lost any territory, so the war could be considered a draw. Actually, you might consider the US ahead on points since the last battle of the war, the Battle of New Orleans fought two weeks after the treaty was signed, was a resounding defeat for the British.

In any event, the War of 1812 turned out to be a “good war” and the Federalists who had opposed it were badly damaged by their opposition. The Federalist Party had been declining in numbers and influence for years and the War of 1812 finished them. It didn’t help that the Democratic-Republicans were stealing their better ideas. The trouble the United States had in financing the War of 1812 convinced many Jeffersonians that Alexander Hamilton’s ideas about a National Bank and encouraging American manufacturing weren’t so bad after all.

President Madison decided to follow the example of Washington and Jefferson and did not run for a third term. Instead, he supported the campaign of his Secretary of State, James Monroe. Monroe was yet another of the Virginia dynasty which had supplied the US with every president thus far, except for Adams. He had served in the Continental Army during the War of Independence and had been wounded at the Battle of Trenton. After the war, Monroe entered politics serving as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the US Senate. He was also ambassador to France under Washington, governor of Virginia, and President Madison’s Secretary of State and War. He was an obvious successor to Jefferson and Madison.

Not everyone thought so. Many in the North were wary of another Virginia president and felt it was time to end the Virginia dynasty. There was some talk of nominating another of Madison’s Secretary of Wars, William H. Crawford, but he declined to run and it came to nothing. In the end the Democratic-Republican Congressional Caucus nominated James Monroe for president and New York governor Daniel D Tompkins for vice-president.

 

The Federalists didn’t even bother to have a formal caucus to nominate a candidate. Most Federalists supported Rufus King, the Federalist Vice Presidential candidate from the elections of 1808 and 1812. Former Maryland senator and governor John Eager Howard was the informal candidate for Vice-President.

 

There was hardly any campaigning or excitement in this election, except for a slight controversy about the status of Indiana. When the official count of the electoral votes took place in February of 1817, there were some objections made that since Indiana was not recognized by Congress until December 11,1816 while the Electoral College had cast its ballots on December 4, therefore the State of Indiana did not yet exist and its votes shouldn’t be counted. Others argued that Indiana had been organized as a state, with its constitution on June 29, and that Congress was merely acknowledging a state that already existed. The debate was postponed and since it made no difference to the results, it was never taken up again.

As for the results, it was a landslide for Monroe and the Democratic-Republicans. The popular vote was 76,592 or 68.2% for Monroe and 34,740 or 30.9% for King. At this time only ten of the nineteen states chose their electors by popular vote, while the electors of the remaining nine were chosen by their state legislatures. In the Electoral College, Monroe won all but three states, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware for a total of 183 electoral votes. King, with those three states only won 34 votes. This was the end of the Federalist Party and the first party system of the United States.

The Election of 1816

The Election of 1816

 

 

 

Hobby Lobby Hullabaloo

July 6, 2014

 

The Democrats are milking the recent Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby for all it’s worth. Here is another e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Friend — The Supreme Court just RIPPED away women’s rights:

Five conservative men on our Supreme Court ruled that women must get their bosses’ permission to access birth control.

It is truly an outrage! Women should make their own health care decisions — NOT THEIR BOSSES!

If you support women’s access to health care, ADD YOUR NAME and denounce this disgusting Supreme Court decision.

Your Action History
Supporter Record: VN96C28FDA1
Last Petition Signed: October 24, 2013
Hobby Lobby Decision:Signature Pending >>

This is outrageous: Republicans are GLOATING in the wake of this revolting Supreme Court decision.

Their Tea Party candidates are fighting for EVEN MORE radical policies — a COMPLETE ban on some forms of birth control and EXTREME abortion restrictions.

We can’t stand by as the Republicans rip apart women’s rights. Let’s get 100,000 Democrats on board to oppose them!

Thanks for your support,
DSCC Action Alert

And Organizing for Action.

Friend –

When the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling came down on Monday, I was speechless.

All I could think about was what this ruling means for American families across the country whose employers now have a say in whether their birth control is covered by their insurance.

We’ve heard from countless OFA supporters who are fired up about it — if you’re angry, that’s because you should be. No one’s boss should be able to dictate their health care.

Right now, folks at the White House are working with champions in Congress to look for a solution to fix what this ruling broke. (There’s more to come on that soon.) The most important thing we can do right now is to keep making our voices heard — on social media, with friends at cookouts this weekend, everywhere.

What became crystal clear this week is exactly who’s willing to stand up for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions — like Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who came forward to say they’re going to work to find a solution for the women affected.

It also painted a clear picture of who really couldn’t care less.

Contraception isn’t just a women’s issue — it’s part of millions of American families’ lives.

The court effectively said that some companies can choose which forms of birth control it wants to cover based on no other criteria than what the company’s owners personally feel is acceptable.

If you’re like me, this is pretty straightforward: No one should have their boss deciding which prescriptions are right for them.

Right now, it’s up to the people who are outraged to say so, and keep on doing it.

Thanks,

Kelly

Kelly Byrne
National Issue Campaigns Manager
Organizing for Action

I don’t know which is the more depressing possibility, that these people really believe this nonsense or that they are dishonest and cynical enough to take advantage of people’s ignorance to lie to them in order to raise funds and distract their base supporters from the disasters their policies have caused.

No, the Supreme Court decision does not rip away women’s rights. No, it does not limit access to contraception in any way. Neither Hobby Lobby nor any other employer is preparing to monitor their employees’ personal lives or prevent them from buying any form of contraceptive they wish to purchase with their own money. What the Supreme Court did say was that the owners of Hobby Lobby could not be forced to pay for a product or service that they have religious objections to. Hobby Lobby is not denying their employees all forms of contraceptives, just four out of twenty that could be considered abortifacients. If you do not believe your boss should decide on your health care decisions, then you should not ask him to pay for them. If it is his money, than he certainly ought to have some say on how it is spent.

Why is any of this even controversial? Well, it would hardly be controversial at all if the matter were stated honestly. Should a private company be required to purchase products or services they have a religious objection to, or should the government be permitted to override the religious scruples of private individuals and companies? The obvious answer is no. Few people would be willing to argue that government dictates should override religious beliefs. This is why the progressives are not putting the matter in that way. Instead, they are going into hysterics about employers preventing their employees from getting contraceptives and forcing their religion on their employees. One way to win an argument is to frame the issue in a way that favors your side, even if  this means emphasizing irrelevant side issues or outright lying about the true nature of the argument. Name calling and questioning your opponent’s motives is also useful. Thus abortion becomes women’s health and only sexist bigots would want to restrict it. Changing the fundamental nature of one of the most important institutions of human society by allowing members of the same sex to marry becomes marriage equality and only a homophobe would oppose it. Confiscating firearms is a sensible measure to reduce gun violence which only a right wing gun nut and the NRA would possibly be against. Placing crippling burdens on our economy by regulating carbon dioxide becomes reducing carbon pollution in order to prevent climate change, which only a science denier would oppose, and so on and on.

This is something the left has gotten to be very good at, and unfortunately, it is something the right isn’t very good with at all. I am not advising arguing dishonestly, but it would be better if conservatives knew better what was going on and not take for granted the left’s framing of the issues. As it is, too many times conservatives lose the argument before it starts by fighting on the opposition’s ground and defending themselves against the opposition’s attacks rather than going on the offensive. Let’s stop letting them change the subject. If they want to oppose freedom, hold them to it and don’t let them get away with adjusting the facts with clever wording.

 

Beyond the Redskins

July 3, 2014

Now that the US Patent and Trade office has, probably illegally but what does that matter in Obama’s America, cancelled the Washington Redskins trademark, what is the next step for Progressives who want to perform some symbolic action and push people around without actually helping anyone? If Simon Waxman of the Washington Post has his way, they will force the military to rename any weapons system named after an Indian tribe. Have any Native Americans come forward to demand such changes? For that matter, is renaming the Washington Redskins really a high priority among Native Americans? No, but Mr. Waxman believes such names are an insult and a slur and is offended on behalf of the Indians.

But even if the NFL and Redskins brass come to their senses and rename the team, a greater symbolic injustice would continue to afflict Indians — an injustice perpetuated not by a football club but by our federal government.

In the United States today, the names Apache, Comanche, Chinook, Lakota, Cheyenne and Kiowa apply not only to Indian tribes but also to military helicopters. Add in the Black Hawk, named for a leader of the Sauk tribe. Then there is the Tomahawk, a low-altitude missile, and a drone named for an Indian chief, Gray Eagle. Operation Geronimo was the end of Osama bin Laden.

Why do we name our battles and weapons after people we have vanquished? For the same reason the Washington team is the Redskins and my hometown Red Sox go to Cleveland to play the Indians and to Atlanta to play the Braves: because the myth of the worthy native adversary is more palatable than the reality — the conquered tribes of this land were not rivals but victims, cheated and impossibly outgunned.

The destruction of the Indians was asymmetric war, compounded by deviousness in the name of imperialist manifest destiny. White America shot, imprisoned, lied, swindled, preached, bought, built and voted its way to domination. Identifying our powerful weapons and victorious campaigns with those we subjugated serves to lighten the burden of our guilt. It confuses violation with a fair fight.

It is worse than denial; it is propaganda. The message carried by the word Apache emblazoned on one of history’s great fighting machines is that the Americans overcame an opponent so powerful and true that we are proud to adopt its name. They tested our mettle, and we proved stronger, so don’t mess with us. In whatever measure it is tribute to the dead, it is in greater measure a boost to our national sense of superiority. And this message of superiority is shared not just with U.S. citizens but with those of the 14 nations whose governments buy the Apache helicopters we sell. It is shared, too, with those who hear the whir of an Apache overhead or find its guns trained on them. Noam Chomsky has clarified the moral stakes in provocative, instructive terms: “We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.’ ”

Noam Chomsky supported the Khmer Rouge and refused to believe the reports that they were massacring half of Cambodia’s population. I don’t think he should be respected for his (lack of) moral clarity. Waxman’s version of Indian history which casts the Native Americans as the hapless victims of the wicked White people, with no hope of defeating the White Man’s superior technology and cunning is actually rather insulting, and perhaps racist. If I were a Native American, I know which narrative I would prefer, the one which casts them as noble, heroic warriors. And, in fact, he is wrong.

The truth is that the Native Americans were quite capable of holding their own against the European invaders, at least until the industrial revolution. The Europeans did have guns and horses which gave them an advantage, but it was not really a insurmountable advantage, especially considering that the Native Americans far outnumbered the Europeans in the early stages of the conquest and settlement of the New World. The Europeans did, however, have a secret weapon, a weapon so secret that even they weren’t aware of it, disease. The European explorers who first discovered and explored the Americas carried within their bodies the germs which caused such diseases as smallpox, measles, cholera, and others. They had built up an immunity but the Indians had never been exposed to these diseases. The resulting plagues decimated the Native population. Had this not occurred, the earliest settlers would have had a much more difficult time establishing a foothold in the New World. When the first English settlers arrived at Jamestown and Plymouth Bay, they did not find a primeval wilderness. They found cultivated land where the cultivators had obligingly died off.

Another factor missing in Waxman’s narrative is the extent to which the Native Americans’ inability to come together to fight what turned out to be a common foe. The Indians were not unacquainted with savage war and deceit. When the French or English showed up, most Indian tribes were eager to trade with them for firearms, the better to fight their traditional enemies, and enlist them as allies to help destroy them. The French Jesuit missionaries were horrified by the near genocidal war between the Iroquois and Huron, touched off by trade with the French and Dutch.

The Spanish conquistadors may have had superior technology and were cruel and desperate men, but they could never have conquered and ruled large empires without the help of native allies, and, of course, disease. The Aztecs were hated throughout Mexico for their aggression and Cortes had little difficulty raising an Indian army with the hope of throwing off the Aztec yoke. That the Aztec yoke was quickly replaced with a Spanish one may seem to indicate that they chose poorly, but then the Spanish didn’t demand that they provide human sacrifices to their God. The Incas were still recovering from a devastating civil war and plague when Pizarro showed up. Their king, Atahualpa, was considered a usurper by the nobility. Most of the peoples that the Incas ruled had been conquered within the last century and didn’t see enough difference between the two sets of conquerors to care who won. They did choose poorly since the Spaniards were far more rapacious than the Incas.

The point of relating this history is to show that the American Indians do have a history to be proud of. They were not helpless, simple-minded victims, nor were they primitive, noble savages who lived in harmony with nature and each other. They were human beings who tried the best they could to preserve their lives and liberty. There is no question that the White man has treated the Red man shamefully. The fact that if the situation were reversed and the Native Americans discovered Europe they would have acted in the same way is no excuse. The least we can do to make amends is to honor them for their noble heritage and not to pity them or presume to speak for them.

Chief Sitting Bull

Not a victim or a child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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