Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Dying at 75

October 13, 2014

Ezekiel Emanuel has written a somewhat controversial piece in The Atlantic on his hopes to die at the age of seventy-five. He doesn’t hope to be able to live to that age. He hopes he won’t live much past it.

Seventy-five.

That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.

This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do. To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

 

He does not intent to commit suicide on his seventy-fifth birthday, to be sure.

Let me be clear about my wish. I’m neither asking for more time than is likely nor foreshortening my life. Today I am, as far as my physician and I know, very healthy, with no chronic illness. I just climbed Kilimanjaro with two of my nephews. So I am not talking about bargaining with God to live to 75 because I have a terminal illness. Nor am I talking about waking up one morning 18 years from now and ending my life through euthanasia or suicide. Since the 1990s, I have actively opposed legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. People who want to die in one of these ways tend to suffer not from unremitting pain but from depression, hopelessness, and fear of losing their dignity and control. The people they leave behind inevitably feel they have somehow failed. The answer to these symptoms is not ending a life but getting help. I have long argued that we should focus on giving all terminally ill people a good, compassionate death—not euthanasia or assisted suicide for a tiny minority.

I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75. Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.

He will not take any active means to extend his life any further.

Once I have lived to 75, my approach to my health care will completely change. I won’t actively end my life. But I won’t try to prolong it, either. Today, when the doctor recommends a test or treatment, especially one that will extend our lives, it becomes incumbent upon us to give a good reason why we don’t want it. The momentum of medicine and family means we will almost invariably get it.

I must say that I am at least somewhat sympathetic to this point of view. Anyone who has ever watched a loved one growing older into senescence and decay must wonder if longevity is really something to be desired. What good is it to live to be ninety if the last decade is spent chronically ill and miserable? There is also something unseemly and even futile about this quest we have to live ever longer. We cannot be immortal. No matter how healthy our lives, we will die eventually.

If I eat the right sorts of foods and get the right amount of exercise, perhaps I will live to be eighty rather than seventy. So what? Compared to eternity, ten or twenty years is an infinitesimal amount of time. If I ate a diet of bean curd, perhaps I might live to be one hundred. What good is that if I am miserable every day because I am eating food I hate? Of course, I am being a fool. Living in a healthy body is more pleasant than living in an unhealthy body. But, then this is a matter of quality of live as opposed to quantity of life.

For a Christian, it is especially unseemly to cling to this life. We believe, in theory, that this life is only a prelude to a greater life to come. Why cling to the shadow when we can have the substance? Perhaps our attitude should be that of Pope Pius IX on his deathbed. When told that people around the world were praying for his recovery, he jokingly rebuked his advisors saying, “Why do you want to stop me from going to Heaven?”. Why are we determined to stay out of Heaven? Many other religions have similar views.

I don’t quite agree with Ezekiel Emanuel’s position, all the same. For one thing, I do not have the authority to choose the time of my death any more than I had to choose the time of my birth. It is common to say that this is “my body” or “my life”, but it really isn’t. None of us created ourselves. It would take a PhD in several fields to even begin to understand the processes that keep us alive. If any of us were given conscious control of every biological and chemical reaction in our bodies, we would die within seconds. Properly speaking, my body and my life belongs to the One who made them.

Perhaps Mr. Emanuel might agree with me, although I have no idea what his religious views are. As I noted, he does not plan to actively seek death.

This means colonoscopies and other cancer-screening tests are out—and before 75. If I were diagnosed with cancer now, at 57, I would probably be treated, unless the prognosis was very poor. But 65 will be my last colonoscopy. No screening for prostate cancer at any age. (When a urologist gave me a PSA test even after I said I wasn’t interested and called me with the results, I hung up before he could tell me. He ordered the test for himself, I told him, not for me.) After 75, if I develop cancer, I will refuse treatment. Similarly, no cardiac stress test. No pacemaker and certainly no implantable defibrillator. No heart-valve replacement or bypass surgery. If I develop emphysema or some similar disease that involves frequent exacerbations that would, normally, land me in the hospital, I will accept treatment to ameliorate the discomfort caused by the feeling of suffocation, but will refuse to be hauled off.

Surely there is something to be said for this attitude. Yet again, I do not quite agree with him. I do not and cannot know what my ultimate fate will be and it seems presumptuous to decide that after a certain age I am finished. For all I know the plan might be for me to live to ninety-five in reasonably good health. It would be foolish not to take reasonable steps to keep myself well. If one must accept Mr. Emanuel’s reasoning, surely a consideration of overall health and quality of life is a better basis for deciding when to stop getting checkups, etc, than an arbitrarily chosen age. In any case, I will simply take what comes.

Ezekiel Emanuel states that he is opposed to euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, and I see no reason to doubt his word. He does not even recommend that every one agree to his ideas.

Again, let me be clear: I am not saying that those who want to live as long as possible are unethical or wrong. I am certainly not scorning or dismissing people who want to live on despite their physical and mental limitations. I’m not even trying to convince anyone I’m right. Indeed, I often advise people in this age group on how to get the best medical care available in the United States for their ailments. That is their choice, and I want to support them.

And I am not advocating 75 as the official statistic of a complete, good life in order to save resources, ration health care, or address public-policy issues arising from the increases in life expectancy. What I am trying to do is delineate my views for a good life and make my friends and others think about how they want to live as they grow older. I want them to think of an alternative to succumbing to that slow constriction of activities and aspirations imperceptibly imposed by aging. Are we to embrace the “American immortal” or my “75 and no more” view?

He wants medical research to focus on better treatments for the diseases of old age rather than simply prolonging life or extending the process of dying. But, does he not see that he is actually making some very good arguments for euthanasia? He spends the middle part of his article noting that creativity tends to decline with age, even when there is no dementia. The minds of the elderly no longer work as well, just as their bodies no longer function as well.

Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.

It is not just mental slowing. We literally lose our creativity. About a decade ago, I began working with a prominent health economist who was about to turn 80. Our collaboration was incredibly productive. We published numerous papers that influenced the evolving debates around health-care reform. My colleague is brilliant and continues to be a major contributor, and he celebrated his 90th birthday this year. But he is an outlier—a very rare individual.

American immortals operate on the assumption that they will be precisely such outliers. But the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us. Einstein famously said, “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.” He was extreme in his assessment. And wrong. Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline. There are some, but not huge, variations among disciplines. Currently, the average age at which Nobel Prize–winning physicists make their discovery—not get the prize—is 48. Theoretical chemists and physicists make their major contribution slightly earlier than empirical researchers do. Similarly, poets tend to peak earlier than novelists do. Simonton’s own study of classical composers shows that the typical composer writes his first major work at age 26, peaks at about age 40 with both his best work and maximum output, and then declines, writing his last significant musical composition at 52. (All the composers studied were male.)

Perhaps he does not intend it, but this is dangerously close to valuing individuals not as human beings created in the image of God but on a utilitarian basis according to what they can be expected to contribute to society. If we are going in that direction, we might as well open up the death panels right now. We had also better be honest enough to admit that most of us are not going to contribute very much to the arts and sciences and might be fair game for such a panel at any age.

As for me, I will take whatever comes

 

 

I wonder if a lot of the conservatives who written about his article have actually read it.

Banned Books Week

September 23, 2014

This is Banned Books Week, a week to raise awareness of the problem of books being banned in the United States. I read about local efforts to raise awareness in my local newspaper, The Madison Courier.

Books that have been hidden, challenged or banned are being highlighted this week during Banned Books Week. The annual celebration of all banned literary works happens during the last full week of September.

Nathan Montoya, co-owner of Village Lights Bookstore in downtown Madison, said the bookstore celebrates Banned Books Week every year.

“We’re proud to say that every time we begin assembling our Banned Books Week displays, we find that we already have most of the top challenged titles on our shelves,” he said.

There is just one minor problem; no books have been banned in the United States, at any level of government for many years, as Mr. Moytoya admits.

Montoya said that no literary work has been banned by the federal or state government since the famed Allen Ginsburg poem “Howl” was banned in 1957. The poem was banned because of its explicit references to drug use and homosexuality. Montoya said that today, books are banned on a much smaller level.

“We do it to ourselves,” Montoya said.

What in the world is he talking about? We ban ourselves from reading certain books?

Local libraries, school libraries and book stores often ban books they don’t think are appropriate, Montoya said.

“We do such a good job of restricting our own freedoms. It’s a problem that will not go away. And, of course the books that we have are not just books banned in this country, but works banned around the world,” he said.

Village Lights, along with several area libraries will have displays, in honor of Banned Books Week.

Linda Brinegar, Media Specialist for Madison Consolidated Schools, said she’s putting together a display at the front of the school.

Brinegar said that in her time as a librarian she has found that books aren’t so much banned as they are challenged. A challenged book is one that has been attempted to be removed or restricted, because of objections from a person or group, she said.

“(This week) brings an awareness to the readers’ choices,” Brinegar said. “They have access to a wide variety of reading materials.”

It is not that the government is banning us from reading books, it is that libraries are sometimes asked not to stock certain books or other materials that might be deemed inappropriate for the patrons of the library. This is not the same as banning books, nor is it really denying access to reading materials that anyone might want.

English: Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas

None of these books are being banned (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is that parents have every right in the world to object if they believe that there is a book in the school library that is not appropriate for children of their age level. They may have good reason not to want their first or second grader to have access to a sexually explicit  or violent book. The local library is funded by local taxpayers. They might want some control over what they are paying for. They may not want books that they consider inappropriate paid for with their tax dollars. And, I hope that I don’t need to add that if I happened to own a book store, I can sell whatever books I please. If I don’t like a certain author and prefer not to sell his books, that would be entirely my business. Again, in none of the cases I mentioned are books or any other material really being denied to anyone who wants to read or view them.

So, if there are no books actually being banned in the United States, what is the point of Banned Books Week? I don’t know. There is, of course, a need to be vigilant. We do not ban books in the United States right now, but this country is very much the exception. In many parts of the world the idea that people should be allowed to read whatever they want is still considered to be controversial, and who can tell what the situation here will be like twenty years from now. Nevertheless, I don’t think the greatest danger to freedom of expression in this country comes from parents who do not want their children to read Catcher in the Rye or Captain Underpants. I think the greatest threats to our freedom are from the sort of tolerant. leftists who think that Banned Books Week is a terrific idea, and then go on to ban conservative or Christian books.

So, maybe Banned Books Week has some use, even if it is something of a humbug. I just wish the people promoting it didn’t come across as a bunch of self-righteous doofuses who strut around proclaiming their support of the freedom to read against the non-existent mobs who are gathering to ban books and burn down libraries.

English: 1933 May 10 Berlin book burning -- ta...

What the ALA thinks of us (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, and it would also help if the American Library Association didn’t consider freedom of expression to include allowing people to watch pornography on library computers.

And, Thomas Sowell said it so much better than I ever could back in 1994.

By the way, I wonder if Mr. Montoya stocks The Turner Diaries. There’s a real banned book, if ever there was one. Maybe I should ask.

Looking Out the Window

September 17, 2014

I caught this article in Rolling Stone about the looming threat of climate change and what can be done about it. As you might expect from a magazine that usually covers music, it is short on science and reason and long on alarmism. There are only a few points here and there in the article I want to mention, so I am not going over the whole thing. Feel free to follow the link if you want.

After 25 years of failed climate negotiations, it’s easy to be cynical about the upcoming talks in Paris. But there are at least three factors that make a meaningful agreement next year possible.

The first is that climate change is no longer a hypothetical problem – it’s happening in real time all around us. Droughts, floods, more destructive storms, weird weather of all sorts – just look out your window. In the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s top scientists called the fact that the Earth is warming “unequivocal” and stated that humans are the cause of it. Without dramatic action, the planet could warm up as much as 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 F) by the end of the century, which would be catastrophic. As Kerry said of a report last September, “The response must be all hands on deck. It’s not about one country making a demand of another. It’s the science itself demanding action from all of us.”

If I look out my window, I would see two relatively mild summers in a row with a brutally cold winter between them. Ought I to conclude that the planet is getting cooler? Of course not. Looking out my window tells me nothing about the state of my local climate, much less the climate of the whole world. Looking at the weather for the past year or two also doesn’t tell us very much. In any case, we have not, in fact, been having more floods, droughts, more destructive storms, or weird weather over the whole world for the last decade.

I want you to look at this graph from the Paleomap Project. It shows how the Earth’s temperature has varied over time.

globaltemp

 

The Earth’s average temperature is presently around 17° Celsius or 61° Fahrenheit. Notice that the Earth has warmed, and cooled, quite a bit more than the four degrees that is supposed to be catastrophic. Contrary to what the global warming alarmists seem to believe, the Earth has not existed at a delicate equilibrium temperature for millions of years only to be disrupted by man. The Earth is a dynamic system, which is why it is so difficult to figure out what is actually going on and to what extent human beings are responsible.

The second factor is that until now, the biggest obstacle to an international agreement to reduce carbon pollution has been the United States. But that’s starting to change. Thanks to Obama’s recent crackdown on pollution, as well as the boom in cheap natural gas, which has displaced dirty coal, carbon emissions in the U.S. are on the decline. “What the president has done is very important,” says Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. “It allows the U.S. to look at other countries and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?'”

Well, yes. No previous president has been as willing to disrupt the American economy as much as President Obama has. Don’t look for many other world leaders to be as foolish as he is, however.

The final reason for hope, paradoxically, is China’s relentless demand for energy. China is in the midst of a profound economic and social transformation, trying to reinvent itself from an economy based on selling cheap goods overseas to an economy based on selling quality consumer goods at home, while keeping growth rates high and cutting dependence on fossil fuels. Energy demand is expected to double by 2030, and at that pace, there is not enough oil, coal and gas in the world to keep their economy humming. So China’s ongoing energy security depends on the nation developing alternative energy sources in a big way. “We need more of everything,” says Peggy Liu, a sustainability leader who works across China. “Wind, solar, a modernized grid. We need to leapfrog over the past and into a clean-energy future.”

China’s leaders are also waking up to the fact that recent decades of hypergrowth, most of it fired by coal, have exacted a steep price. Air pollution in China’s big cities is among the worst in the world; one recent report found that poor air quality contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. As Hank Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury and longtime China observer, has put it, “What is another point of GDP worth, if dirty air is killing people?” Earlier this year, a riot broke out in Zhongtai, a town in eastern China, when protests against a new waste incinerator turned violent, leaving police vehicles torched and at least 39 people injured; in southern China, protests erupted over the construction of a coal-fired power plant. Similar clashes are increasingly frequent in China as pollution-related illnesses rise.

And it’s not just the air that’s a problem in China. More than 20 percent of the country’s farmland is polluted. Sixty percent of its groundwater supply is unfit for human consumption. Rivers are industrial sewers. Last year, 16,000 swollen and rotting dead pigs were found dumped in the Huangpu River near Shanghai.

The Chinese are not going to stop using coal. They may invest in alternative sources of energy to supplement their fossil fuel but they are not going to let their economic growth slow down just to appease Barack Obama and John Kerry. The Chinese do have an awful lot of work to do towards cleaning up their environment and actual anti-pollution laws that are actually enforced would go a long way towards improving the quality of life in China. China cannot afford to be distracted by global warming alarmism.

The second revelation is that the Paris agreement is likely to be more about money than about carbon. That is not inappropriate: Climate change is, at its base, an environmental-justice issue, in which the rich nations of the world are inflicting damage on the poor ones. One question that has always haunted climate agreements is, how should the victims be compensated? In past U.N. agreements, developed countries have promised aid to poorer nations. But in translating these general commitments into hard numbers, says Elliot Diringer, a climate-policy expert at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, “the cash flows really have never been enough.”

In Paris, they will try again. The delivery vehicle of choice is called the Green Climate Fund, which was one of the few concrete accomplishments to come out of Copenhagen. The idea is simple: Rich countries pay into the fund, the fund’s 24-member board examines proposals from developing countries for clean-energy and climate-adaptation projects, and then it awards funds to those it finds worthy.

The Green Climate Fund was born in the closing days of the Copenhagen negotiations, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to lure China and other developing nations into a deal by promising that, in exchange for agreeing to a binding cap on carbon pollution as well as outside monitoring and verification of pollution rates, rich nations like the U.S. would pledge a combined $100 billion a year to help poor nations. Many negotiators thought it was a clever (or not so clever) ploy by the U.S. to make China take the fall for the collapse of the Copenhagen deal, since it was clear that China considers emissions data a state secret and would never allow outsiders to pore through the books. But regardless of the intentions, the deal fell apart. The $100 billion promise lingered, however, and was codified in later agreements. (Although $100 billion sounds like a lot, it’s a small part of the $1 trillion a year that will be necessary to transform the energy system.)

Right now, developed nations have a long way to go to live up to Clinton’s promise. The Green Climate Fund has taken four years to get up and running, and still nobody knows if it will primarily make loans or grants. So far, only Germany has come through with a meaningful pledge, offering $1 billion over the next nine years. Stern says the U.S. is putting “a lot of blood, sweat and tears” into getting the fund set up right, and that the $100 billion a year will come from a variety of sources, including private investment. But if the point of the fund is to demonstrate the commitment of rich nations to help the poor, it will need them to make real financial commitments. “Big new public funds are not viable,” says David Victor, a climate-policy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This could be a train wreck of false expectations.”

Here we get to the real motive behind all this, money. This is not really about climate change or the future of life on Earth. This is about “environmental justice”. Like every other time that the noun justice is modified, environmental justice has little to do which justice and more to do with a left wing agenda, in this case the transfer of money from rich nations to poor nations.

This post is getting to be too long but there is only one more paragraph to highlight.

A few hours later, Kerry and his team jet off to Afghanistan. The world is a big, complicated place, and everyone – even the most committed climate warriors like Kerry – has a lot of other things to think about beyond how much carbon we are dumping into the atmosphere. And that, in a way, is always the problem: There is always something more urgent, more immediately catastrophic to seize the attention of policymakers – and in the coming years, many of the crises that will distract us from dealing with the realities of climate change will largely have been caused by climate change. Through all these short-term emergencies, the Earth will keep warming, the droughts will get worse, food will grow scarce, ice will vanish, the seas will rise, and starting around 2030, climate change will emerge from the background and eventually become the only thing we talk about. It will be the story of the century.

We’ll see what actually happens in 2030. My guess is that we are going to be told that there is some catastrophe looming around the corner and if we don’t take immediate action, the Earth will be uninhabitable by the year 2050. I also predict that the immediate action will consist of more government control over our lives and a willingness to accept a lower standard of living. Their rhetoric hasn’t changed in the last forty years and it won’t change in the next forty years, regardless of actual events.

 

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 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

 

 

 

Independence Day

July 4, 2014

The Fourth of July is the day on which the American people celebrate their independence from Great Britain. It is not actually clear why Independence Day is the Fourth. Congress actually passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It has often been thought that the Declaration was signed on the fourth, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There wasn’t any one time when the members of Congress signed the Declaration and there were a few who didn’t get around to signing it until August. Nevertheless, the fourth is the date that stuck. As John Adams wrote to Abigail.

English: "The Declaration of Independence...

 

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

 

And so it has been, for the last 238 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

 

 

 

Happy Independence Day.

 

 

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2014
Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of...

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth or May. Contrary to what is commonly believed, (including myself), Cinco de Mayo is actually more of an American, or at least a Mexican-American, holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated regionally in Mexico, Primarily in the state of Puebla and Vera Cruz. Schools are closed on this day, but it is not an official national holiday in Mexico.

 

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of  Puebla on May 5, 1862. In 1861, the Mexican government was bankrupt and President Benito Juarez suspended payments on Mexico’s foreign debt. In response Britain, France, and Spain sent naval forces to occupy the city of Vera Cruz and demand payment on the debts Mexico owed them. Juarez managed to come to an arraignment with Britain and Spain, but the French, ruled by Emperor Napoleon III had other ideas.

 

Louis Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoleon I Bonaparte. He had somehow managed to get himself elected as president of the Second Republic of  France in 1848, but he decided that president was not a grand enough title for a Bonaparte and in 1851 he seized dictatorial power in France and named himself Emperor. In spite of being the nephew of Napoleon I, Napoleon III was not a particularly aggressive Emperor and was mostly content to have France at peace with other European powers. With the crisis in Mexico, however, Napoleon III saw an opportunity for France to gain an empire in Latin America. The United States was involved in the Civil War and was in no position to try to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In fact, an additional benefit to French occupation of Mexico would be to give France a base with which to send aid to the Confederate States, keeping the nation divided and unable to resist the French conquest.

 

The French army invaded Mexico with 8000 men under the command of General Charles de Lorencez late in 1861. This army marched from Vera Cruz in April of 1862 and defeated Mexican forces led by Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin on April 28. Seguin retreated to the city of Puebla where the Mexicans had two forts. Seguin had only 4500 badly armed and trained men to defend the city. It seemed likely that the French would crush the Mexicans and march on to Mexico City without and further resistance.

 

On May 5, Lorencez attacked the forts with 6500 men. Against all odds the Mexicans successfully defended the forts against three assaults. By the third assault, the French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the infantry had to attack without artillery support. They were driven back and the French had to fall back. Then, Seguin attacked with his cavalry while the Mexican infantry outflanked the French on both sides of their positions. The French were routed with 462 men killed, while the Mexicans only suffered 83 dead. This unlikely victory has been an inspiration for Mexican patriots ever since.

 

The victory was a short-lived one. Napoleon III sent reinforcements to Mexico and the French were able to conquer the country. Napoleon III placed the Austrian Hapsburg Maximilian as the first Emperor of the Mexican Empire. He was also the last Emperor, since as soon as the United States was finished with the Civil War, the U S government made it clear to Napoleon III that it would not tolerate a French colony on the southern border. Since Napoleon III did not want to fight a war against battle hardened Civil War veterans, he removed the French troops. Maximilian, despite the fact that he sincerely tried to govern Mexico well, was quickly overthrown and executed.

 

Although Benito Juarez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated by Mexicans in the American Southwest, the territories the US gained in the Mexican War. The former Mexicans began to celebrate Cinco de Mayo both as a way to express their Mexican identity and to show their support for the North in the Civil War. It may seem odd that these unwilling Americans would care about a war half a continent away, but the Mexicans were against slavery and Hispanics insisted that California enter the United States as a free state. Cinco de Mayo gained in popularity in the 1960s with the rise of Latino activism and still more in the 1980s when beer companies realized that the celebratory nature of the holiday would be a good marketing tool to sell more beer.

 

So happy Cinco de Mayo, or should I say feliz Cinco de Mayo!

 

 

 

 

 

TheElection of 1808

February 17, 2014

Thomas Jefferson’s second term was not nearly as smooth as his first. The war between Britain and France heated up again, and both nations seemed determined to draw the United States into the war. Once again both Britain and France seized American ships who traded with the other nation, ignoring America’s position as a neutral. The British began to impress American seamen into their navy, as they had while Washington and Adams were president. The United States had every right to declare war on one or both of the warring nations, but Jefferson professed to be a man of peace, and the still young nation was hardly capable of fighting one of the superpowers of the time, let alone both. Jefferson, instead, decided on a policy that would be called economic sanctions today. In December 1807, Congress established an embargo on trade with Britain and France, in the hope that their economies would be damaged enough to come to terms.

It didn’t work. It turned out that the still under developed American economy needed the manufactured goods of Europe more than Europe needed American raw materials. The only people the embargo hurt were American farmers who could no longer export grain and New England merchants who were ruined by the lack of trade. The Federalists were quick to attack the Democratic-Republicans on this policy, referring to it as the “Dambargo” and the embargo temporarily stopped the Federalists decline into irrelevance.

Under the circumstances, Thomas Jefferson had no desire to run for a third term. He had intended to follow Washington’s example all along and serve just two terms, and the increasingly tumultuous world situation led him to believe that the time was right for a younger man to take over. Jefferson had just the right younger man in mind, his friend Secretary of State James Madison. In addition to serving Jefferson as Secretary of State, James Madison had had a distinguished career in the Virginia legislature and the United States Congress. He had been one of Virginia’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention and his influence on the proceedings was great enough for Madison to be regarded as the father of the constitution. He along with Thomas Jefferson had founded the Democratic-Republican Party so he was a natural successor to Jefferson. The Democratic-Republican caucus had little trouble selecting James Madison as their nominee for president. For vice president they nominated George Clinton, the sitting vice president.

 

The Federalists went with their candidates from the previous election, Charles C.Pinckney and Rufus King.

The states held the election from November 4 to December 7 1808. In those days only six of the seventeen states selected their electors by a statewide popular vote, as is the way today. Four states were divided into electoral districts and seven states still had their electors appointed by the state legislature. The Federalists did better than they had in the 1804 election, but the Democratic-Republicans still won by a landslide. They won 112 electoral votes, winning every state outside of New England except for Delaware, although six delegates from New York voted for George Clinton for president. The Federalists won all of New England except for Vermont and won Delaware and a few votes elsewhere for a total of 47 electoral votes. The popular vote was 124,732 for Madison against 62,431 for Pinckney, although as I noted, not every state had a popular vote.

 

 

 

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America as Number 37

November 25, 2013

Dinesh D’Souza has an interesting theory about Barack Obama’s foreign policy goals.

There is a material allure to America, but when I think of my own life, what has mattered most to me in coming to America is that here is a country where I get to write the script of my own life. Here is a country where my destiny isn’t given to me, it’s constructed by me. Here is a country where my life is a blank sheet of paper and I am the artist. I think this is why young people around the world are magnetically drawn to America: because America represents the self-directed life. This is the core of the American dream.

And then we have a different dream. This is Obama’s dream. Before we get into Obama’s dream, I do want to point out that there is a common view even among conservatives, even among Republicans, that the problem with Obama is that he is a bungler, he is an amateur in the title of a recent book, he tries to do x but he gets y.

This has produced a whole set of conservative punditry essentially lecturing Obama on things like, “Obama, don’t you realize that confiscatory taxation does not produce economic growth?” “Oh, Obama, don’t you realize that by blocking oil drilling in America you aren’t going to create jobs?” “Oh, Obama, may we advise you that Assad, the dictator of Syria, or the Mullah’s in Iran are not our friends?” “Obama, you should wake up to the fact that if we slash our own nuclear weapons this will not inspire the Iranians to do the same.”

Now you can begin to see why people get conspiracy theories about Obama. He’s a traitor. He’s a secret Muslim. He’s a Manchurian candidate.

I would like to offer a little different theory, and that is that Obama subscribes to an ideology that aims to reduce America’s influence in the world. He wants to cut America down to size. He doesn’t want America to be number one. He would be perfectly happy if we were number 18 or number 37.

Why does Obama want to reduce America’s footprint in the world? Because he believes we’ve been stepping on the world. This is his ideology. What Obama really wants to do is redistribute power globally. He would like to see many countries on the world stage – Brazil, India, China, Russia, all vying for power. No single superpower calling the shots.

If it is true that Obama wants to see America weakened and cut down to size, than he is the most dangerous man ever to sit in the Oval Office. A world without America as the superpower would not be a better world. It would be a world less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, especially if many countries are vying for power. If a power vacuum caused by the decline of American power by Obama’s policies results in another world war, than Obama will be responsible for the deaths of millions, not that he is ever likely to take personal responsibility for his failures.

 

The Election of 1800

November 2, 2013

The election of 1800 was one of the nastiest and most contentious in American history. We have had other close elections and many campaigns that descended into the worst sort of character assassinations, but 1800 stands out. For one thing, the election of 1800 was the only election in American history that ended in a duel. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

As I have mentioned before, the rules for electing the president were slightly different in the first four elections. Each Elector in the Electoral College had two votes which he cast for two different men. The candidate with the largest number of votes would be President and the next largest Vice-President. This worked well enough in the first two elections when everyone knew that George Washington would be President and John Adams Vice-President. It worked less well in 1796 when John Adams, the Federalist, was elected President with Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republican. Although the two men were of opposing parties, they had long been friends and Adams had every expectation that Jefferson would be as loyal a Vice-President as Adams himself had been to Washington. He was badly disappointed with Jefferson. Jefferson spent the next four years undermining Adams at every opportunity and preparing to run against Adams in 1800.

In 1800, the Federalists selected John Adams to run for re-election, even though he was not especially popular in the party. Adams was really too independent to belong to any party and he and the Federalist party leader Alexander Hamilton hated each other, especially since Adams discovered that the members of his cabinet, holdovers from Washington’s administration, were more loyal to Hamilton than to him. For vice-president the Federalists selected Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the brother of Adams’s running mate in 1796. Pinckney had been the U.S. minister to France and had famously said, “Not a sixpence” when French officials had tried to bribe him in the XYZ Affair.

For their part, the Democratic Republicans selected Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr again.

The election of 1800 turned out to be one of the nastiest in American history. Adams was accused of wanting to set up a monarchy. He was for aristocracy and against giving any role to the common man in politics. He was said to be arranging for his sons to marry King George III’s daughters and hoped to have the United States rejoin the British Empire. Jefferson was an atheist, a deist,and a radical.  He was planning to bring the Jacobin Terror to America. Under a Jefferson administration all common decency would be forgotten and Bible would be burned. Newspapers and speakers of both parties gleefully spread the most scurrilous stories about the opposing party’s candidate.

As in the election of 1796, both parties tried to make arrangements so that their Vice-Presidential candidate would receive one fewer vote than their Presidential candidate, and as in 1796, something went wrong. The Federalists won all of New England along with New Jersey and Delaware. The Democratic Republicans won the South except for North Carolina, which along with Pennsylvania and Maryland split its vote. The total electoral vote for the Federalists was 65 votes for Adams and 64 votes for Pinckney. The total electoral vote for the Democratic Republicans was 73 votes for Jefferson and 73 votes for Burr, a tie. This presented a problem.

The Election of 1800

The Election of 1800

According to the constitution, if no candidate gets a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives would select the President from among the top five candidates, with each state getting one vote, which was determined by a majority of that state’s representatives. If there were a tie vote, the Congressional delegation would have to turn in a blank ballot. In 1801 there were sixteen states in the Union so a candidate had to have at least nine states supporting him in order to win the election.

On the first ballot, Jefferson got eight votes, Burr six, and the remaining two states were tied. For six days, vote after vote was taken with no change in the results. Many Federalists began to consider supporting Burr as the lesser of two evils. They tried to negotiate with Burr, offering their support in exchange for his maintaining Federalist policies. Burr listened, but didn’t commit himself. Then, the unexpected occurred. Alexander Hamilton intervened, on the side of his arch enemy, Jefferson.  Jefferson, he acknowledged was a “contemptible hypocrite” and “tinctured with fanaticism”, yet he did have some “pretensions to character”. Burr, by contrast, was without principles or honor, the “Catiline of America”. Catiline was a Roman Senator who had been accused of conspiring to overthrow the Republic in the 60’s BC. To educated Americans of the time, that was about the worst name Hamilton could have called Burr. Hamilton’s support of Jefferson was something like if Rush Limbaugh had supported Gore during the Florida recounts in 2000.

Alexander Hamilton

As a result of Hamilton’s lobbying, the deadlock was broken on February 17. Several Congressmen who had been supporting Burr abstained and as a result, Jefferson got ten votes to Burr’s four. Jefferson was elected President just two week before Inauguration Day. Shortly after, the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, which changed the procedure of the Electoral College so that each elector has one vote and votes for the President and Vice-President as a team, was adopted to prevent anything like the election of 1800 from occurring again.

About the duel, that occurred in 1804. Jefferson never trusted Burr after the election, for obvious reasons, and saw to it that Burr had no role in the government. As the election of 1804 neared, Jefferson decided to replace Burr as his running mate with George Clinton. Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but once again his fellow New Yorker, Hamilton, opposed him and he lost the election. Burr seized on Hamilton’s description of him as “despicable” and challenged Hamilton to a duel. At the duel, Hamilton fired into the air, but Burr shot him in the abdomen, killing Hamilton and his own political career. Burr had to flee to avoid prosecution for murder and was eventually implicated in a conspiracy to seize power in the Spanish southwest and create his own empire. He was tried for treason but acquitted and spent most of the rest of his life in Europe.

Politics has always been a dirty and excitable business but it has gotten a lot tamer in recent years. Imagine if the contentious election of 2000 had been handled like 1800. We might have ended up with Bush and Gore fighting a duel. Oh well.

The good old days

 


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