Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

Ferguson

August 21, 2014

I hadn’t intended on writing anything on the happenings in Ferguson, Missouri. I obviously wasn’t there and the details of the shooting of Michael Brown seem to change with each reporting. Since I do not know what actually occurred, I have thought it best not to comment. I wish a lot of other people had shown a similar restraint. Instead, it seems that every pundit and politician in the country has had to put forth their opinion based on inadequate and often conflicting accounts. I can say that the original media narrative, that a racist police officer gunned down an innocent African-American youth for no particular reason is almost certainly not in accord with the facts. Officer Darren Wilson seems to have been attacked and to have suffered injuries. Michael Brown was not a little kid but a three hundred pound teenager. If he had assaulted Officer Wilson or even acted in a threatening manner, Wilson would have had good reason to be afraid for his life. That doesn’t mean that he acted appropriately. I simply do not know.

What concerns me about the way this is unfolding is that the media is not really interested in emphasizing the little details that might conflict with their original narrative. I am afraid that any sort of serious inquiry over the shooting may well find reason to exonerate Officer Wilson. Since the good people of Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere may very likely be unaware of the details that prompted Wilson’s exoneration, and being ginned on by the likes of Al Sharpton, will conclude that a racist murderer has gotten away with his crimes. Then there will be rioting.

Something rather similar happened with Rodney King. The whole country saw the video of the Los Angeles policemen beating Mr. King, always described as a motorist as though he had been out for an innocent drive. What the country did not see was the high-speed chase in which King endangered other drivers and pedestrians while his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. They did not see King resist arrest nor were they told that tasering King had no effect on him. The beatings, while excessive, were understandable since they were trying to subdue what appeared to be a dangerous man. Because most people in this country were not made aware of these important details, the acquittal of the officers in the video came as a shock and provoked rioting. The media acted irresponsibly then, and I fear they are acting irresponsibly now. If there are more riots in Ferguson, they will have blood on their hands.

Would it be too much to ask that everyone calm down and keep their mouths shut unless they happen to have first hand knowledge of events?

The Election of 1820

August 18, 2014

There is not much to write about the election of 1820. This election was the only uncontested presidential election in American history except for the first two elections when Washington was the only candidate. The Federalist Party had almost completely faded away by then and with it, the first party system of American politics. There was still a handful of Federalists serving in Congress, but the Federalist had lost all of their influence outside of New England and was not able to nominate a candidate to oppose the reelection of James Monroe. The Democratic-Republicans nominated their team of Monroe and Daniel D. Tomkins for a second term.

There was no real campaign and little interest in the election. Turnout for the election was light, even in the fifteen of the twenty-four states that chose their electors by popular vote. There was some controversy over the status of Missouri. The new state had adopted a constitution in July of 1820, but Congress delayed Missouri’s admission into the Union until August of 1821 because of a provision the constitution that prohibited free Blacks from residing in the state. It made no difference to the outcome, so the matter was not pursued.

As for the outcome, James Monroe won 228 of the 232 electoral votes. Three electors, one each from Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee had died before  casting their votes and so were not counted. There was only one dissenting vote cast by William Plumer, a former Senator and governor from New Hampshire. It is sometimes said that he voted for John Quincy Adams so that Monroe would not equal Washington’s achievement in gaining a unanimous vote in the Electoral College, but he had no way of knowing what the votes of his colleagues  would be. He simply believed that John Quincy Adams would make a better president than James Monroe. He also disliked Daniel Tomkins and voted for Richard Rush for vice-president.

The Election of 1820

The Election of 1820

After this election, it seemed as if the United States would become a one party state. James Monroe was happy with that result. The founding fathers had not approved of political parties believing them to be divisive and troublesome. Most political observers looked forward to a future of calm elections with no partisan rivalry. Just four years later they would find out how wrong they were.

 

The Last Refuge

August 15, 2014

Samuel Johnson once famously said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It is not known in what the precise context was in which Johnson made this statement. He was not disparaging patriotism in general, since he considered himself to be a patriotic Englishman. It is most likely that he said in the the course of a discussion on politics. Perhaps he was referring to a politician who he believed was not really a patriot, but who found it convenient to pose as one. Whatever the context, it is true that scoundrels of all sorts have tried to conceal their motives and actions under a cloak of patriotism.

Speaking of patriotism and scoundrels, here is an e-mail I received from Organizing for Action the other day.

 

Friend –

What Walgreens did last week was a big deal.

The pharmacy giant publicly decided to do the right thing by refusing to exploit a tax loophole.

The loophole — called a tax inversion — is when a company in the United States purchases a foreign company, and then claims residency in that country for tax purposes. It’s something that could cost our country $20 billion over the next 10 years.

Right now, dozens of American businesses across the country are weighing this decision.

This is an important time to take a stand — say you’ll fight for closing corporate tax loopholes and help make sure everybody pays their fair share and plays by the same rules.

To a lot of us, this issue is pretty clear cut: President Obama said it’s a question of “economic patriotism.”

The companies that take advantage of tax inversions don’t have to move their headquarters or CEO. They can continue to enjoy all the benefits of operating in our country while drastically cutting how much they contribute in taxes.

That means when they “leave,” you and I get stuck with paying an even bigger share of the bills for things our country needs, like funding for our roads and bridges.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see a company as big as Walgreens reject tax inversions.

The more Americans who stand up and make their voices heard, the more that other companies will choose to do the right thing.

Let’s close this loophole — add your name today:

http://my.barackobama.com/Fight-Corporate-Tax-Loopholes

Thanks,

Nico

Nico Probst
Director of Special Projects
Organizing for Action

Patriotism, like justice, is a noun that does not usually require any modifier. If someone modifies the word justice with adjectives to make phases like social justice, climate justice, or food justice, justice is not really what they have in mind. Likewise, adding an adjective to patriotism to make something like economic patriotism might indicate that the speaker is not really interested in patriotism, as it is generally understood. They wish to use patriotism as a way to shame or coerce people to work against their own interests or to respond to bad policies. In this case, the people behind Organizing for Action, the Obama administration, have done their best to make the United States a hostile place for businesses and then are surprised when businesses decide to relocate to places with a better business climate or take advantage of every loophole to lower their tax bill.

One obvious way to encourage businesses to stay in the United States might be to lower the corporate tax rate. Right now, at 39.1 % the US has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. I know that most businesses don’t actually pay that rate, but surely finding ways to reduce their tax bills must be expensive and burdensome. If we were to lower that tax rate to something they would pay while decreasing the number of loopholes, everyone  might benefit. It is better to tax people, and corporations, at a lower rate they will pay than a higher rate they will only seek to evade. But, it is easier to appeal to economic patriotism than to change bad policies, especially if you happen to be a scoundrel.

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for He...

He knew a scoundrel when he saw one.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

The Libertarian Moment

August 12, 2014

In his column at the Federalist, David Harsanyi explains why he is skeptical that the long-awaited libertarian moment has not yet arrived.

The New York Times Magazine has an entertaining look at the libertarian movement that includes, among others, my Federalist colleagues Ben Domenech and Mollie Hemingway making astute observations about its future. The main question, though, is whether America has finally stumbled upon its “libertarian moment.” And boy, do I wish the answer was yes.

Here’s how Robert Draper lays out the case:

But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget.

Without getting into policy specifics, there are a few problems with this narrative.

A libertarian – according to the dictionary, at least – is a person who “upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.” And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government.

Take two of the most frequently cited issues that herald the libertarian renaissance: legalized pot and gay marriage. Both of them, I would argue, are only inadvertently aligned with libertarian values. These are victories in a culture war. Both issues have rapidly gained acceptance in the United States, but support for them does not equate to any newfound longing to “uphold the principles of individual liberty.”

Many supporters of pot legalization are, for example, probably just as sympathetic to nanny-state prohibitions on products they find insalubrious or environmentally unfriendly. More seriously, many of the most passionate proponents of same-sex marriage are also the most passionate proponents of the government forcing Christian bakers and florists to participate in gay marriages and impelling religious business owners to subsidize contraception for their employees.

Beating back people who stand in the way of gay marriage to make room for people who stand in the way of religious freedom and free association doesn’t exactly feel like a victory on the liberty front.

I can save Mr. Harsanyi and many others some trouble. The libertarian moment will never arrive. That is not to say that some policies championed by libertarians may not become part of the political mainstream. Some undoubtedly will. It may also be that an overstretched federal government will have to be trimmed down in the near future. The era of really big government began in the industrial age and it may be that in our post industrial, information age society, smaller. leaner government will become the norm. Whatever happens, the Libertarian Party will never receive more than 5% of the vote and politicians who are consistently and dogmatically libertarian will never get very far.

The real problem with libertarianism is that no one really wants it. Many people say they do but they really don’t. As Mr. Harsanyi points out.

Now, with all that said, most Americans want nothing to do with libertarian economic policy. As Kevin Williamson pointed out not long ago in Politco, the love Americans show for their expensive and inefficient programs makes a libertarian moment in the near future unlikely. No matter how often voters tell pollsters they crave more choice, limited governments and free market solutions, elections tell us that they’re lying.

It would, perhaps, be more accurate to say that many people want libertarianism for themselves, but not for others. Libertarianism for me but not for thee. The government program that helps someone else is wasteful and extravagant. The government program that helps me is necessary for the economy. The laws and regulations that keep me from wanting to do what I want to do are burdensome and even tyrannical. The laws and regulations that keep someone else from doing what they want to do are necessary for the public good.

Libertarianism is usually considered a right-wing movement and there is a strong strain of libertarianism in contemporary conservatism, but in one important way, libertarians are closer to the left. Like many leftists, libertarians tend to ignore human nature, or believe that human nature can be changed if only the right policies are put into effect or if only the right sort of people are elected. They don’t seem to fully appreciate that there are reasons that governments tend to grow larger with time and  the sphere of liberty tends to decrease.

George W. Bush once expressed his view that the desire for freedom is universal by saying,

No people on earth yearn to be oppressed or aspire to servitude or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

He was right in saying that no one wants to be a slave. Unfortunately, as we have learned in places like Iraq, that is not enough. No one wants to be a slave, but too many of us don’t mind making slaves of others. Liberty does not flourish because people yearn to be free. It only flourishes when people manage to restrain their desire to control others, which is not easy. The truth is that every single one of us has a little Hitler or Stalin inside of us who wants very badly to tell everybody around us what to do. It is because of this very human impulse that libertarianism has such trouble gaining a wider appeal. Telling people to ignore their inner busybody and not take advantage of government largess is a very hard sell indeed.

The problem is not that the Democrats or Republicans are growing the government. The problem is that anyone who finds himself in public office has strong incentives to grow the government, and this would be true even if a member of the Libertarian Party were in Congress or were president. Ultimately this is not really a political problem but a human nature problem and that makes it very hard to find a solution.

 

 

 

The Yazidis

August 9, 2014

The Yazidis of Iraq have been much in the news lately and not in a good way. The Islamic terrorists who have been gaining power in Iraq in the wake of the US withdrawal have taken to murdering and oppressing every non Muslim in the territories they control, but they seem to have a particular hatred for the Yazidis. Currently, some 40,000 of these people are trapped on a mountain without food or water with the choice of dying for their faith or converting to Islam. Who are the Yazidis and why do the Islamic fanatics hate them?

The Yazidis are a people that live in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey and Syria as well as Armenia and Georgia. There is also a small population of Yazidis in Europe who have fled the persecution in their native lands.  They speak Kurdish as their native language and many speak Arabic, but they are neither Arabs or Kurds. While their culture is very similar to Kurdish culture they have a distinctive religion of their own. The precise population of the Yazidis is not know but it is estimated that there are around 700,000 of them. Their numbers are declining due to persecution.

Yazidi men in Mardin, late 19th century

Yazidi men in Mardin, late 19th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Yazidis are distinguished most by their ancient religion. They are quite secretive about their beliefs and little is known. Their religion seems to be something of an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, but there are many other influences including the religions of ancient Mesopotamia, Mithraism, and some mystic elements of Christianity and Islam. The Yazidis are monotheists, believing in one God who created the universe. After the creation, God entrusted the rule of the universe to seven angels who were His emanations. The chief of these angels is named Malik Taus or the Peacock Angel. Malek Taus was either cast out of Heaven or left voluntarily in a manner strikingly similar to legends of the fall of Lucifer, especially as found in the Koran. Like Satan or Iblis, refused to bow to Adam. While Allah in the Koran expelled Iblis from Heaven for his pride and he became Satan, the Yazidi account has the Creator praising Malik Taus for his steadfast refusal to worship anyone besides God and places him in charge of the Universe.  Malik Taus extinguished the fires with his tears and was reconciled with God.

English: Malak Taus ქართული: მალაკ ტავუსი Kurd...

English: Malak Taus  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These beliefs along with an alternate name for Malik Taus, Shaytan, have led many believers of the other monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, to suspect that the Yazidsis are devil worshipers. This the Yazidis steadfastly deny. They do not believe that Malik Taus is an evil being. Indeed, they do not believe in a devil at all, holding that evil comes from human actions. Nevertheless, the coming of the religion of peace and tolerance to Mesopotamia in the seventh century has resulted in centuries of often savage persecution.

In practice, the Yazidi religion is much concerned with ritual purity, much like Zoroastrianism. They do not like to mix the elements; earth, air, fire, and water and have a complicated system of taboos. They believe that they are a people apart, descended not from Adam and Eve like the rest of the human race, but they are descended from Adam alone. They do not marry outside their community and they do not accept converts. In addition, they believe that too much contact with outsiders is polluting and limit such contacts. This, doubtless, does not endear them to their neighbors.

The Yazidi pray five times a day, facing the sun and make pilgrimages to the  tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, a Sufi mystic whom they believe to be an avatar of Malik Taus. This tomb is in the city of Lalish, Iraq, where there are many Yazidi shrines. They are supposed to have two holy books, the Kitêba Cilwe or Book of Revelations and the Mishefa Reş or the Black Book. These books seem to be forgeries, however, written by Westerners around 1912 to take advantage of travellers’ interest in the Yazidis. The material in the books seems to incorporate the actual oral traditions of the Yazidis and may be accurate accounts of their beliefs. Westerners have been fascinated by the Yazidis’ obscure and secretive religion and they have often been depicted as on order of devil worshipers by writers such as H. P Lovecraft.

Now there is a distinct possibility that this ancient community will be exterminated. It seems to me that the real devil worshipers in Iraq, and elsewhere, are the ones whose god commands them:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

and:

Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.

But perhaps the ISIS simply doesn’t understand their own religion.

 

 

Jimmy Carter Should Stick to Building Houses

August 7, 2014

James Earl (Jimmy) Carter was without question the most inept president of my lifetime, at least until the present occupant of the White House was elected. One might think that after a four year tenure of abject failure both in domestic and foreign policy, such a man would slink away back to Georgia and never make any public statements about subjects he obviously knows very little about. We are not that lucky. Ever since the American people decided to pass on another four years of having this grinning idiot in the White House, Jimmy Carter has insisted on butting in and speaking his piece where he is not wanted and not needed. Just now he has taken it upon himself to present his resolution to the crisis in Gaza with a column in Foreign Policy which he co-wrote with Ireland’s former president and current left-wing whack job, Mary Robinson.

Jimmy Carter, former President of the United S...

Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States and current jackass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A quick summary of this column would read, it is all Israel’s fault. Israel has committed war crimes by not allowing Hamas to continue to attack its citizens and should withdraw, end the blockade on Gaza and allow Hamas to continue to try to kill the Israelis. Then we will have peace in the region. Here is the column. You decide if my summary is fair.

Israelis and Palestinians are still burying their loved ones as Gaza’s third war in six years continues. Since July 8, when this war began, more than 1,600 Palestinian and 65 Israeli lives have been sacrificed. Many in the world are heartbroken in the powerless certainty that more will die, that more are being killed every hour.

Who has started these wars? If Hamas would stop trying to kill the Israelis, the fighting would stop. Israel is not dedicated to the destruction of the Palestinians either on the West Bank or Gaza. Hamas is openly dedicated to the destruction of the Jews. Fatah is just as dedicated to the destruction of Israel but they have the good sense not to say so, at least not in English. What they say in Arabic may be quite different.

This tragedy results from the deliberate obstruction of a promising move toward peace in the region, when a reconciliation agreement among the Palestinian factions was announced in April. This was a major concession by Hamas, in opening Gaza to joint control under a technocratic government that did not include any Hamas members. The new government also pledged to adopt the three basic principles demanded by the Middle East Quartet comprised of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia: nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements. Tragically, Israel rejected this opportunity for peace and has succeeded in preventing the new government’s deployment in Gaza.

It is all Israel’s fault for somehow not trusting the good intentions and good faith of the people who have sworn to destroy them. Has Hamas recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? Has Hamas adhered to past agreements? When Israel withdrew from Gaza and handed over control to the Palestinians, they promptly elected Hamas as their leaders and began to attack Israel.

Two factors are necessary to make Palestinian unity possible. First, there must be at least a partial lifting of the 7-year-old sanctions and blockade that isolate the 1.8 million people in Gaza. There must also be an opportunity for the teachers, police, and welfare and health workers on the Hamas payroll to be paid. These necessary requirements for a human standard of living continue to be denied. Instead, Israel blocked Qatar’s offer to provide funds to pay civil servants’ salaries, and access to and from Gaza has been further tightened by Egypt and Israel.

Israel must end the blockade so that Hamas will have a chance to import more rockets to attack Israel. Why does Carter think Israel imposed the blockade? Does he really think the Israelis want to starve the Palestinians? They do allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. They do not allow any weapons or any item that could be made into a weapon. They do not allow construction materials since those materials are used to build tunnels for evading the blockade.Israel imposed this blockade after Hamas began to fire rockets into Israel. Israel would probably lift the blockade if Hamas stopped trying to kill Israelis.

This next section is the best (worst) part of the column.

There is no humane or legal justification for the way the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting this war. Israeli bombs, missiles, and artillery have pulverized large parts of Gaza, including thousands of homes, schools, and hospitals. More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian noncombatants have been killed. Much of Gaza has lost access to water and electricity completely. This is a humanitarian catastrophe.

There is never an excuse for deliberate attacks on civilians in conflict. These are war crimes. This is true for both sides. Hamas’s indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is equally unacceptable. However, three Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets, while an overwhelming majority of the 1,600 Palestinians killed have been civilians, including more than 330 children. The need for international judicial proceedings to investigate and end these violations of international law should be taken very seriously.

The reason so many Palestinian civilians have been killed is because Hamas wants them to be killed. Israel protects its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians as human shields.

There is a larger issue here and I am afraid that what I am about to say will seem to be very ugly. Well, war is ugly. For a person who has lived through World War II and served in the United States Navy, Jimmy Carter is astonishingly obtuse about the nature of war. If we had fought the Second World War as he expects Israel to fight, we would have responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor by bombing one Japanese base. Anything more would have been disproportionate. We would not have bombed the Japanese home islands or sunk Japanese cargo ships. That would have been an unacceptable attack on civilians. We certainly would not have dropped incendiary bombs  on the residential quarters of Tokyo, knowing that their wooden houses would burn readily nor would we have dropped the atomic bombs. The war might have been conducted more humanely as a result. We would probably still be fighting the Japanese.

The way to end a war and bring about peace is the utterly destroy the enemy’s will and capacity to fight. This might mean bombing the factories that produce the weapons the soldiers use. This might mean killing civilians to break the enemy’s will to fight. War is hell. General William T. Sherman said this out of personal experience. During the Civil War, his soldiers burned down plantations and destroyed railways in order to destroy the Confederates’ ability to wage war. Jimmy Carter might have considered these actions to be war crimes, but they ensured that the South would not rise again. It is a cruel irony that the most likely chance for peace in the Middle East would be if Israel really were the villain people like Jimmy Carter think it is. Because Israel is a decent nation, the fighting will go on.

Jimmy Carter probably thinks he is on the side of peace. He is not. By his statements, he is giving hope to Hamas that they need only hold out until Israel is pressured to withdraw without finishing the job of destroying Hamas’s ability to fight. He is not promoting peace in the region. He is paving the way for continual war.

Carter goes on.

The U.N. Security Council should focus on what can be done to limit the potential use of force by both sides. It should vote for a resolution recognizing the inhumane conditions in Gaza and mandate an end to the siege. That resolution could also acknowledge the need for international monitors who can report on movements into and out of Gaza as well as cease-fire violations. It should then enshrine strict measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. Early discussions have already taken place. The Elders, an international group of elder statesmen of which we are a part, hope these discussions will continue and reach fruition.

At the Palestinians’ request, the Swiss government is considering convening an international conference of the signatory states of the Geneva Conventions, which enshrine the humanitarian laws of warfare. This could pressure Israel and Hamas into observing their duties under international law to protect civilian populations. We sincerely hope all states — especially those in the West, with the greatest power — attend and live up to their obligations to uphold the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the treatment of populations in occupied territory.

I am sure that any action by the UN will be completely impartial and will only serve the interests of peace. That was sarcasm.

Unity between Fatah and Hamas is currently stronger than it has been for many years. As Elders, we believe this is one of the most encouraging developments in recent years and welcome it warmly. This presents an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to reassume control over Gaza — an essential first step towards Israel and Egypt lifting the blockade.

Why is unity between these two factions desirable? What has been drawing them closer? Has Hamas given up its goal of destroying the Jews?

The Palestinian Authority cannot manage the task of administering Gaza on its own. It will need the prompt return of the EU Border Assistance Mission, an international effort to help monitor border crossings that was launched in 2005 and suspended in 2007. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has already offered to reinstate the program, covering not only Rafah but all of Gaza’s crossings. Egypt and Israel would, in turn, cooperate with international monitors to be deployed in Gaza and along its borders, backed by a U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilian populations. A valuable precedent for trust-building between Egypt and Israel is the international peacekeeping force operating in the Sinai, mandated by the peace treaty signed by the two countries in 1979.

The international community’s initial goal should be the full restoration of the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza through Israel, Egypt, and the sea. Concurrently, the United States and EU should recognize that Hamas is not just a military but also a political force. Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor — one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people — can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the West’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result.

We could have said something similar about the Nazis and the Japanese military government. Both the Nazis and the militarists represented a substantial portion of their respective countries. Ultimately we brought about their demise. Why don’t we give Israel the chance to bring about the demise of Hamas. We ought not to recognize the legitimacy of a political actor as movement that has genocide as its goal.

Ultimately, however, lasting peace depends on the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

Leaders in Israel, Palestine, and the world’s major powers should believe that policy changes are within reach that would move Israelis and Palestinians closer to a day when the skies over the Holy Land can forever fall silent.

A lasting peace will only occur when the Palestinians realize that they cannot defeat or destroy Israel and that Israel is here to stay. They must come to understand that they have more to gain by making peace than waging war. This is why Egypt made peace with Israel. Anwar Sadat  realized that Egypt could not defeat Israel and that the continuing hostility with Israel was wrecking his country. Unfortunately the antics of people like Carter make this realization, and peace, unlikely. Jimmy Carter should stick to what he knows, building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

Dollar Crash

August 4, 2014

Here is an e-mail I received recently.

Dear Fellow Citizen,

Ron Paul recently told us that we will soon experience a “Major Crash of the Dollar”. We see signs that it’s coming every day …

But what if Dollar Crash has already begun? Consider …

Value of a $1 Federal Reserve Note in 1913 Dollars

If your retirement savings are exposed:

Thanks to an Extraordinary IRS “Loophole”, now you can legally move your IRA or 401(k) out of a dying dollar and into Gold – it’s what Dr. Paul calls his “insurance against the dollar fiasco.”

While you still can: We have an Information Guide on Gold ready to send you – there is ZERO cost and ZERO obligation to you.

You can Get Your FREE Info Guide Here.

This comprehensive, 16-page guide reveals how gold and silver:

  • Safeguard from a falling dollar,
  • Protect in times of uncertainty, and
  • Offer tremendous growth potential

    ==>

    Click HERE to Get Your Information Guide
    (ZERO cost and ZERO obligation to you)

    Sincerely,
    Birch Gold Group
    The Precious Metal IRA Specialists

As far as I can tell, the Birch Gold Group is some sort of brokerage firm that deals in gold and silver. I have to wonder, if I agree to use their services and have my 401k account transferred into gold, how am I expected to pay for it? Do they take a share of the gold or do I pay them in the rapidly decaying dollar? If the dollar does crash and takes the American economy with it, what makes them think that gold will be worth anything? Will people be paying for things with gold coins? If I retire, will they send me gold instead of depositing money in a bank account? What happens if the price of gold collapses?

I think I will pass on this deal and just continue to use dollars.

 

Politics in the Church and the IRS

July 29, 2014

I was reading a post at Political Outcast on the possibility that the IRS might begin to monitor sermons for political content thanks to a settlement with the Freedom from Religion Foundation. I might be tempted to regard this as exaggerated or alarmist but it happens that I had already read the FfRF’s statement on the lawsuit. While I do not think the IRS is likely to start sending agents into churches to monitor sermons, this ruling clearly allows groups like the FfRF to harass religious groups that dare to make any public statement on any political issue. Since the left politicizes everything, this means that any preacher that preaches on any subject in a politically correct way, abortion, say or homosexuality, could find have his church’s tax exemption revoked.

Here is the FfRF’s statement.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service reached an agreement today (July 17) that resolves for the time being an ongoing federal lawsuit over non-enforcement of restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt religious organizations and churches.

“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“Of course, we have the complication of a moratorium currently in place on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, due to the congressional probe of the IRS. FFRF could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”

FFRF filed suit against the IRS shortly after the presidential election in 2012, based on the agency’s reported enforcement moratorium, as evidenced by open and notorious politicking by churches. Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in fact, has become an annual occasion for churches to violate the law with impunity. The IRS, meanwhile, admittedly was not enforcing the restrictions against churches. A prior lawsuit in 2009 required the IRS to designate an appropriate high-ranking official to initiate church tax examinations, but it had apparently failed to do so.

The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations. While the IRS retains “prosecutorial” discretion with regard to any individual case, the IRS no longer has a blanket policy or practice of non-enforcement of political activity restrictions as to churches.

In addition to FFRF’s lawsuit, IRS enforcement procedures with respect to political activity by tax-exempt organizations have been the subject of intense scrutiny by Congress. As a result, the IRS is reviewing and implementing safeguards to ensure evenhanded enforcement across the board with respect to all tax exempt organizations.

Until that process is completed, the IRS has suspended all examinations of tax-exempt organizations for alleged political activities. The current suspension, however, is not limited to church tax inquiries.

Until the IRS has satisfied congressional overseers that objective procedures are firmly in place with regard to political activities by all tax-exempt organizations, the judge in FFRF’s pending suit would not currently be able to order any immediate or effective relief.

As a result, FFRF has reached a point where no further immediate changes realistically can be accomplished through continued litigation. The dismissal of the pending action, however, is expected to be without prejudice, which means that further legal action by FFRF to enforce anti-electioneering provisions is not precluded in the future if necessary.

Why shouldn’t churches be involved in politics? The IRS explains it.

The ban on political campaign activity by charities and churches was created by Congress more than a half century ago. The Internal Revenue Service administers the tax laws written by Congress and has enforcement authority over tax-exempt organizations. Here is some background information on the political campaign activity ban and the latest IRS enforcement statistics regarding its administration of this congressional ban.

In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.

Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

I really do not see how this is constitutional, nor do I understand why churches must remain silent in order to qualify for tax exemptions. Frankly, I would prefer that churches not be exempt from taxes because I am not comfortable with the IRS deciding what is and isn’t a legitimate religion.

The reason for the FfRF”s concern is the movement called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” headed by a pastor named Jim Garlow. Mr. Garlow believes that preachers should not be restricted in their choice of subject matter for their sermons but must be free to speak out on any issue that concerns their audience, including who should be elected to office. As a result of this belief he has begun a movement of more than a thousand pastors to deliberately challenge the IRS’s ban on politicking.

Again, I don’t understand why the restriction isn’t unconstitutional. Preachers ought to have the freedom to preach whatever they want to preach. Whether they should preach on political subjects is another matter. In general, I do not believe they should. The mission of the church is to get souls to Heaven and not to try to make Earth into Heaven. When the church gets involved with politics, it does not improve the political scene. Politics tends to corrupt the church.

This is no reason for the government to demand that churches stay out of politics. The idea behind the Johnson amendment seems to be that if a tax exempt church interferes in politics that is equivalent to the government establishing a church by funding it. But why? If the government reduces taxes, it is not giving people money, contrary to what progressives believe. It is allowing them to keep more of their own money. If the government chooses not to tax religious institutions,  it is not funding the institutions, it is refraining from taking their money. It seems to me that the demand that churches stay out of politics is a violation of their freedom of expression as well as their free exercise of religion. Perhaps it is time this law is changed in favor of freedom.

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.


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