Archive for October, 2013

Portuguese 419 Scam?

October 31, 2013

I just saw this e-mail in my spam folder.

Ramiro Emerico

To
Oct 30 at 9:54 PM

My Beloved,

My Name is Sr. Ramiro De Emerico from Portugal and I have been diagnosed with cancer. It has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts. I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone (not even myself) but my business.

Though I am very rich, I was never generous, I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world.

I believe when God gives me a second chance to come to this world I would live my life a different way from how I have lived it. I would want to have a Personal and Trustworthy Relationship with you, as I intend and willing to empower the change of ownership for the transfer of my Deposits to your personal possession for further Investment and Charity Disbursement to the Less Privilege and Homeless.

I will send you the photos of me and my very hopeless and selfish family members, including my wife, who I learn is getting married to my personal friend and attorney,Thank you for your due consideration. God be with you. You can reach me through my private email address: (sr_ramiro56@yahoo.pt)

Yours Brother.
Sr. Ramiro De Emerico

I am almost tempted to reply just to see what pictures they would send me. Almost.

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Halloween

October 31, 2013
Jack-o-lantern

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Halloween today. They are putting off trick or treating until tomorrow evening because of the rainy weather we are having.

The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930’s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970’s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

The Pilgrim’s Regress

October 29, 2013

The career of C. S. Lewis as a Christian apologist cannot be easily distinguished from his career as a writer. With the exception of two collections of poetry that would have been forgotten if not for Lewis’s later success, his career as a writer began with his conversion to Christianity and every one of his works, fiction or nonfiction has some degree of apologetics in it. The Pilgrim’s Regress is the first book Lewis wrote after his conversion and is his first book in prose. It was not a success, but it turned out to be a precursor of greater things to come.

The Pilgrim’s Regress is early Lewis and is therefore somewhat rougher than his later books. It is meant to be an allegorical and semi-autobiographical account of Lewis’s rejection of Christianity in his youth, his dalliances in Atheism and various fashionable ideologies of the early twentieth century, and his eventual return to Christianity. The title, Pilgrim’s Regress is meant to evoke John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Like the earlier and more famous work, The Pilgrim’s Regress describes a spiritual journey. I do not think it is as accessible as that earlier work. Bunyan was a self-educated tinker and his journey was perhaps closer to that faced by the ordinary Christian. Lewis, by contrast, was a very well-educated Oxford professor and his journey was more intellectual than most. Lewis was still young, both in age and as a Christian and he couldn’t resist the temptation to show off his erudition. These factors made his allegory more obscure than it should have been. Lewis also shows a certain impatience and even anger in this earliest book. Fortunately, in his later works, Lewis learned to be more humble and understanding of others’ faults.

The plot centers on the journeys of John, an everyman character. John is disillusioned by the hypocritical worship of the Landlord by the Stewards, represented by their putting on masks, and has a vision of an island that he desperately wishes to go to. John leaves his homeland of Puritania and stops believing in the Landlord. He never forgets the island, even though many of the people he encounters believe it to be imaginary. In his quest for the island, John meets such characters as the Clevers, Media Halfways, Mr. Sensible, Reason, the giant Zeitgeist, and many others. He finds his way blocked by the Grand Canyon, which can only be crossed with the help of Mother Kirk. John and his companion Vertue try to go around the canyon, but cannot. Eventually John submits to Mother Kirk, representing the Church, and learns that the object of his longing is the country that he has left. He is taken back to his home, but freed from the deceits of the false philosophies he has earlier followed; he sees the path as it truly is.

Cover of "The Pilgrim's Regress: An Alleg...

Cover via Amazon

I am not sure that I can recommend this book to anyone not already familiar with C.S. Lewis. The casual reader and even a Lewis fan may find the references to early twentieth century intellectual movements hard to follow and the book somewhat unsatisfying. For someone more familiar with Lewis, it is interesting to see some of the themes of his later books appear here in an early form. The island represents the feelings of joy and longing which led Lewis to return to Christianity and which he refers to in many of his writings. His belief that the pagan myths foreshadow the Gospel is another theme that appears in the Pilgrim’s Regress. Overall, I would say that the Lewis fan should read The Pilgrim’s Regress to gain a better understanding of Lewis, but it shouldn’t be the first book by C. S. Lewis one should read.

Rereading 1984

October 27, 2013

Generally when a book is called a classic, either it has stood the test of time for many years, centuries in most cases, and has had a significant influence on our culture and even language, or it is a recently published book that the publisher is trying to promote. George Orwell’s 1984 has not been around for centuries but considering the huge effect this book has had, it might be fair to call it a classic almost from the moment was published. If I say a word like Big Brother or double-plus good, or a phrase like Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, any English speaker will know instantly what I mean, even if they haven’t actually read the book.

I have just finishing rereading the book. Although 1984 is one of my favorite books, it has been some years since I have actually read it all the way through. With most good  books, you get something new out of the story with each rereading and I have found that 1984 is no exception. There are a few things I noticed which I hadn’t really thought much about before.

I noticed that Winston Smith is not a very good judge of character. It seems that his impressions of almost everyone he meets in the story are misleading. He believes Julia to be a sexless fanatic, O’Brian to be a covert member of the Brotherhood, and it doesn’t occur to him that the kindly, old Mr. Charington might be a spy for the Thought Police. He imagines that his neighbor Parsons is too stupid to be arrested for thought crime, you have to actually have thoughts, I suppose. With that in mind, I wonder if the impression Winston has of his estranged wife, Katherine as being “goodthinkful” is really accurate. He couldn’t admit the nature of his own heretical thoughts with the telescreens always monitoring them and the strong possibility that she would instantly turn him in to the Thought Police. Maybe she had similar thoughts about Winston.

Winston is also a bit of a wimp. He and Julia spend their lives assuming that they will eventually be caught by the Thought Police, they will be tortured and they will confess to imagined crimes. They seem to be unable to contemplate any way of avoiding this inevitable fate. When the Thought Police arrest them, Winston never tries to flee to fight back. Granted, any attempt to fight the Thought Police would be futile, still he might have done something other than standing still and waiting for them to hit him. In the holding cell, when the voice from the telescreen tells Winston to be quiet or not cover his face, he complies. Why? What would they have done if Winston told them to “F— off”? Torture or shoot him? He really didn’t have anything to lose at that point.

I don’t think it was cowardice on the part of Winston Smith. Although he hated the Party and all it stood for, he was still very much a Party man and he accepted their basic premises and discipline. This is similar to the way the Old Bolsheviks that Stalin purged willingly signed confessions to imaginary crimes and humiliated and degraded themselves at the show trials. They were tortured and worn down by the NKVD, to be sure, but they had spent their whole adult lives under the discipline of the Bolshevik Party and when the party told them to sacrifice themselves, they lacked the inner reserves to refuse. I imagine that someone outside the Party would have a better chance of resisting the Thought Police, especially of such a person followed a competing ideology, perhaps a devout follower of some religion or a fervent nationalist. I believe this was often the case with the victims of Stalin’s torturers.

Winston Smith believes, throughout the book, that someday the Proles will rebel against the Party and overthrow them. O’Brian assures Winston that this is nonsense. Since the uneducated Proles have no knowledge of any circumstances but what they are familiar with, they cannot know just how miserable and oppressed they really are. This is precisely why the North Koreans have never attempted to rebel against their government. Until recently, they had no knowledge of conditions outside of North Korea and could easily be led to believe that life in North Korea was better than anywhere else. But, even if the Proles did learn that people in the past were freer or more prosperous, or perhaps that Eurasians or Eastasians were better off, they still could not do very much. Successful revolutions require some degree of organization and the ability to fight. The Proles could not organize without attracting the attention of the Thought Police and they have no guns or other weapons. They might be able to riot, but rioting is easily suppressed. They could not overthrow the Party.

On the other hand, O’Brian boasts to Winston that the rule of the Party is forever. I have to wonder about that. The purges described in 1984 could not really continue forever. Along with Winston, virtually every named character in the book who is not an agent of the Thought Police is arrested and presumably shot in the end. Who is going to replace these people? At some point there simply wouldn’t be enough people to keep the machinery of government functioning. This is why Stalin was obliged to ease up on the purges after a few years and why his successors never attempted to purge the party on such a disastrous scale again. At some point, Big Brother or his successor would have to scale back persecutions and allow a small amount of freedom of thought.

Winston Smith’s job involves “correcting” newspapers and books so that the Party is always right. It seems like a lot of effort to recall every book and newspaper in every library throughout Oceania to keep changing the text so that the Party’s propaganda can never be proved to be false. I am not sure how they could possibly be sure of getting every single copy for alteration. Surely there must be old books on some forgotten bookshelf somewhere or old newspapers that were used to wrap something decades before and forgotten. Actually, Winston’s job would be a lot easier with today’s technology. As information is increasingly digitized and put online, all Winston would have to do is rewrite the stories on news websites. Unless someone happened to have an older version cached on their hard drive, no one would ever notice any alteration.

Nineteen Eighty-four takes place in the area around London, England. I wonder what the rest of Oceania is like. Goldstein’s book hints that Oceania has a very decentralized economic and political system. It may be more a loose confederation than a very centralized state the way real Communist countries like the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China are. The official ideology of Oceania is supposed to be Ingsoc or English Socialism. I wonder how much that would go over in North America. Maybe there the ideology is called Amsoc or American Socialism. Or, since Americans have never cared for Socialism of any sort, maybe just Americanism. Maybe instead of Big Brother, Americans are warned that Uncle Sam is watching them. Maybe in Australia the ideology is called Ozsoc.

Of course, we shouldn’t take it for granted that anything that the Oceanian government says is actually the truth.It may well be that Oceania is actually an isolated state like North Korea consisting only of the British Isles. Eurasia and Eastasia along with the entire war could simply be fictitious. Winston Smith has no way of knowing and neither does the reader.

I have to say that in general, George Orwell was not a very good prophet. After all, 1984 has passed almost thirty years ago and we are hardly living in a world of perpetual war with a tyrannical government that is watching our every move. Wait a minute. Come to think of it, we kind of are.

I love Big Brother

I love Big Brother

President ADD

October 27, 2013
Barack Obama

Look! Squirrel!

I begin to wonder if President Obama has Attention Deficit Disorder. Not in the clinical sense, I am not competent to make such a diagnosis, but in the popular usage of the term to refer to someone who is easily distracted. Or, perhaps he believes the American people are easily distracted. In any case Organizing for Action is changing direction, presumably on Obama’s direction.

David —

When we talk about passing comprehensive immigration reform, what we’re really talking about is people.

That might be difficult to believe if you listen to some of reform’s opponents — with all the name-calling and spin, some people in Washington are clearly more interested in sabotaging progress than solving problems.

Our immigration system is broken — and fixing it is a no-brainer, for our families and for our economy. The Senate already passed a comprehensive immigration bill with overwhelming bipartisan support this summer. And members of both parties in the House have signaled they’re ready to get this done.

OFA is doubling down on immigration reform right now — say you support comprehensive immigration reform, and join this important fight.

Now that the shutdown is over, the President has called on Congress to get back to the real work Americans sent them there to do — solving problems instead of creating them.

At the top of the agenda is immigration reform.

It’s tough to see how the same members of Congress who huffed and puffed over increasing the debt ceiling can oppose a comprehensive reform package that would reduce the deficit by an estimated $800 billion and add more than three million jobs to our economy.

OFA is going to be turning up the pressure on the House. Will you join this fight today?

http://my.barackobama.com/Join-this-Important-Fight

Thanks,

Pedro

Pedro Morillas
Immigration Campaign Manager
Organizing for Action

—————-
The other side will spend millions to maintain the status quo. We’re fighting for change — chip in $5 or more to support OFA today.

If the president is really interested in solving problems, why isn’t he focusing all of his attention on trying to get his Obamacare website in working order? Why isn’t he focusing on the economy and on jobs? Why isn’t he working on damage control over revelations that the NSA has spied on the leader of our allies? It seems that he keeps wanting to change the subject away from his current policies to what he wants to do next. Either he really is hoping that Americans have short attention spans or he believes if he keeps throwing things at Congress, eventually they will pass what he wants.

As for immigration, it seems to me that the place to start would be to enforce the laws we already have and actually act to keep people from entering this country illegally. Those who are already here should be required to return to their home countries. No doubt Pedro Morillas will think my position harsh, but the United States, like every other country in the world with a functioning government has laws on  who may enter. Those laws should be enforced. If they are bad laws, they should be changed. If we need more people from Mexico, or any other part of the world to immigrate here,then change the laws. We must not, however grant amnesty to those who have broken the existing laws. That rewards the law breakers and is unfair to those immigrants which have patiently waited in line and filled out all the necessary paperwork to come here.

The irony here though, is that while the Obama administration seems to want to make it easier for people to immigrate to the US, the president seems to be trying his best to make us into the sort of country no one would want to immigrate to. If things continue on the same trajectory as they have been, in ten or twenty years the Mexicans may be trying to keep American immigrants out.

Pericope Adulterae

October 24, 2013

Pericope is a Greek word meaning a selection of verses that form a coherent unit or thought. In other words a pericope is a passage. The Pericope Adulterae is a fancy Latin way of referring to the familiar passage in John 7:53-8:11 in which Jesus confronts a group of men intent on stoning a woman caught committing adultery.

53 Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the groupand said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?”They were using this question as a trap,in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stoneat her.”Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 7;53-8-11)

Christ and fhe Adulterous Woman

Christ and fhe Adulterous Woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reason that the Pericope Adulterae gets a a Latin title is that many scholars and textual critics believe that this passage is a later addition to the Gospel of John. The vocabulary does not seem to be Johannine and many of the earliest Greek manuscripts do not have this passage, although the Latin manuscripts contain it and there some writings from the early Church Fathers which refer to the story. A few manuscripts have the Pericope Adulterae in the Gospel of Luke. It seems to be a better fit there with Luke’s special concern for the outcast and downtrodden.

Despite the controversy concerning the Pericope Adulterae, no authority either ancient or modern questions whether it actually belongs somewhere in the Gospel and the ancient Fathers were unanimous in  believing it to be a true story from the like of Jesus. No modern translation omits the passage although many place it in brackets to indicate the uncertainty about the passage. The creators of the Conservative Bible Project intend to omit the Pericope Adulterae because it is used by liberals.

Increasingly many Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, are reciting, teaching and popularizing the Pericope de Adultera (Latin for “the passage of the adulterous woman”), set forth at from John 7:53-8:11. In the story a mob surrounds a woman to stone her for adultery, and ask Jesus what they should do. Jesus is describing as writing in the ground, and eventually beseeches those who have not sinned to cast the first stone. The crowd then disperses, beginning with the eldest first.

The movie The Passion of Christ includes flashbacks to a scene based on this passage; Bartleby’s quotations include its famous line, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”; and sermons are increasingly based on it. Arguments against the death penalty often cite this passage.

Amid this scholarship, why is the emphasis on this passage increasing? The answer lies in its liberal message: do not criticize or punish immoral conduct unless you are perfect yourself. Liberals cite this passage to oppose the death penalty, a misuse that has been criticized. But one need not be perfect before he can recognize wrongdoing in himself. The Mosaic laws clearly state death as a punishment for sin. So the argument that an individual must be perfect is not relevant. The God-ordained government has the responsibility for punishment. Civilized society may not depend on stoning to deter immoral crimes, but it does depend on retribution enforced by people who are themselves sinners.

They do cite the legitimate textual reasons for omitting the passage, but I get the impression that the matter wouldn’t come up at all if the “liberals” weren’t using the passage. It seems likely that their main reason for omitting the passage is out of political or ideological considerations. This is simply not acceptable. You cannot rewrite the Bible to suit a particular political or social agenda. This procedure is not exegesis, studying the text to learn its meaning, but eisegesis, forcing one’s own interpretation onto the text.

As it happens, the “liberals’ misunderstand the meaning of the passage. Jesus is not advocating moral relativism, but compassion in judgement. He forgives the woman for her sin, he does not say that she has not sinned and he instructs the woman to sin no more, not to go back to her life of sin. The idea is, I think, that while we should condemn the sin, the Pharisees were right to arrest the woman, under the Law of Moses, but judgement must be tempered with compassion and an acknowledgement that we too are sinners.

I should add, by the way, that Jesus’s actions were in line with the rabbinical teaching of his time, especially among the Pharisees, who generally advocated a more liberal interpretation of the Law, as opposed to the Sadducees who believe in a more literal application of the Law.

Fusion Breakthrough

October 21, 2013

This is a story from earlier this month that I have been meaning to write about, but somehow didn’t get around to it until now. It may be that there has been a breakthrough in the efforts to produce a controlled thermonuclear reaction on Earth which produces more energy than it consumes. If there is anything at all to this story and fusion power becomes practical, we could be on the verge of a golden age of unlimited energy. If.

I read this report from the BBC.

Harnessing fusion – the process that powers the Sun – could provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy.

But to be viable, fusion power plants would have to produce more energy than they consume, which has proven elusive.

Now, a breakthrough by scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) could boost hopes of scaling up fusion.

NIF, based at Livermore in California, uses 192 beams from the world’s most powerful laser to heat and compress a small pellet of hydrogen fuel to the point where nuclear fusion reactions take place.

The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel – the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.

This is a step short of the lab’s stated goal of “ignition”, where nuclear fusion generates as much energy as the lasers supply. This is because known “inefficiencies” in different parts of the system mean not all the energy supplied through the laser is delivered to the fuel.

But the latest achievement has been described as the single most meaningful step for fusion in recent years, and demonstrates NIF is well on its way towards the coveted target of ignition and self-sustaining fusion.

For half a century, researchers have strived for controlled nuclear fusion and been disappointed. It was hoped that NIF would provide the breakthrough fusion research needed.

In 2009, NIF officials announced an aim to demonstrate nuclear fusion producing net energy by 30 September 2012. But unexpected technical problems ensured the deadline came and went; the fusion output was less than had originally been predicted by mathematical models.

Soon after, the $3.5bn facility shifted focus, cutting the amount of time spent on fusion versus nuclear weapons research – which was part of the lab’s original mission._70337942_70337940

However, the latest experiments agree well with predictions of energy output, which will provide a welcome boost to ignition research at NIF, as well as encouragement to advocates of fusion energy in general.

If this story has anything to it than it could be the biggest story of the year, far more important than all this idiotic political theater about shutdowns and defaulting. I will look forward to hearing about any additional progress this team makes.

 

A Different Take on the Shutdown

October 20, 2013

The conventional wisdom regarding the recent government shutdown is that it has been an unmitigated disaster for the Republicans. Peter Beinart has a completely different take  on the matter at the Daily Beast. He states that if this is a Republican defeat, he hopes never to see a Republican victory. If Beinart was a conservative, his column could be dismissed as an attempt to put a good face on a bad situation. Beinart is a liberal, however, so I have to wonder what he is seeing that others are missing.

The news from Washington is all about President Obama’s impending triumph in the government shutdown/debt ceiling standoff. “Boehner Blinks,” declared a recent headline in The Washington Post. “Republicans,” explained ABC’s Jonathan Karl, “are working out the terms of their surrender.”

If this is Republican surrender, I hope I never see Republican victory.

His reasons have to do with the nature of the Republican defeat. If I understand Beinart correctly, what constitutes a defeat for the Republicans in 2013 would have been seen as a victory in 2012, or earlier.

To understand how upside down the current media analysis is, you need to go back a couple of years. In 2011, with Republicans threatening to provoke a debt default, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which cut government spending by $917 billion over 10 years. The agreement also created a congressional “supercommittee” charged with finding additional cuts. If the committee failed to do so, cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over ten years would kick in automatically at the end of 2012, via a process called “sequestration.”

Traditionally in Washington, budget compromises had meant Democrats agreeing to cut domestic spending and Republicans agreeing to raise taxes. But by raising the specter of default, Republicans had changed the equation. In the Budget Control Act, taxes weren’t raised a dime. Democrats compromised by cutting spending and Republicans “compromised” by agreeing not to let America default on its debt and provoke a global financial crisis.

The rest of the column is mostly a discussion of budget negotiations over the past few years so I will skip to the bottom for his main point.

Most of the press is missing this because most of the press is covering the current standoff more as politics than policy. If your basic question is “which party is winning?” then it’s easy to see the Republicans as losing, since they’re the ones suffering in the polls. But the partisan balance of power and the ideological balance of power are two completely different things. The Nixon years were terrible for the Democratic Party but quite good for progressive domestic policy. The Clinton years were, in important ways, the reverse. The promise of the Obama presidency was not merely that he’d bring Democrats back to power. It was that he’d usher in the first era of truly progressive public policy in decades. But the survival of Obamacare notwithstanding, Obama’s impending “victory” in the current standoff moves us further away from, not closer to, that goal.

It’s not just that Obama looks likely to accept the sequester cuts as the basis for future budget negotiations. It’s that while he’s been trying to reopen the government and prevent a debt default, his chances of passing any significant progressive legislation have receded. Despite overwhelming public support, gun control is dead. Comprehensive immigration reform, once considered the politically easy part of Obama’s second term agenda, looks unlikely. And the other items Obama trumpeted in this year’s state of the union address—climate change legislation, infrastructure investment, universal preschool, voting rights protections, a boost to the minimum wage—have been largely forgotten.

Democrats keep holding out hope that losing yet more public support will break the ideological “fever” that grips the Republican Party and help GOP moderates regain power. The problem, as the last few weeks have shown, is that the GOP keeps defining moderation down.

 

I think that Peter Beinart is partly right. It isn’t the GOP that is moving the goalposts. They are having trouble even though the goalposts are moving. It is more a case of the political consensus of many of the American people has been becoming, I hesitate to say conservative, perhaps libertarian is a better description. Whatever label is used, Americans today seem to trust big government and big institutions generally lees than in previous decades and to believe that they should make the choices in their lives, as individuals, not as members of a group. Perhaps this is an aspect of the collapse of the blue social model that Walter Russel Mead talks about.

Consider gun control. Despite what Peter Beinart said, Obama’s gun control proposals were not popular. What is interesting is that his proposals were not nearly as radical as the NRA and others kept stating. About forty years ago, they really would have been seen as common sense legislature. Back then, proposals to outlaw handguns altogether were not unheard of and I don’t believe any state allowed concealed carry. Now, outlawing any gun that civilians are likely to possess is politically difficult and all fifty states now permit concealed carry. A great many Americans believe that Obamacare is an unacceptable step towards Socialism. Yet, the inspiration for the individual mandate and other features came from the conservative Heritage Foundation. They probably were trying to create a free market alternative to a single player plan or out right government control and ownership of the entire healthcare industry. Now the individual mandate is radical and few in Washington are proposing anything like a single player plan.

Seen this way, President Obama is something of an anachronism, proposing policies that might have been accepted years ago but are now out of date. He favors blue model, top down, one size fits all solutions that were a feature of American domestic policy in the industrial age but ill suit our post industrial information age. It is just too bad the Republicans are so bad at taking advantage of this weakness.

To understand how upside down the current media analysis is, you need to go back a couple of years. In 2011, with Republicans threatening to provoke a debt default, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which cut government spending by $917 billion over 10 years. The agreement also created a congressional “supercommittee” charged with finding additional cuts. If the committee failed to do so, cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over ten years would kick in automatically at the end of 2012, via a process called “sequestration.”

Traditionally in Washington, budget compromises had meant Democrats agreeing to cut domestic spending and Republicans agreeing to raise taxes. But by raising the specter of default, Republicans had changed the equation. In the Budget Control Act, taxes weren’t raised a dime. Democrats compromised by cutting spending and Republicans “compromised” by agreeing not to let America default on its debt and provoke a global financial crisis.

Not surprisingly, conservatives liked the deal more than liberals. In the House, Republicans backed it by a margin of almost three to one while Democrats split evenly. “Is this the deal I would have preferred? No,” Obama admitted. By contrast, House Speaker John Boehner boasted, “I got 98 percent of what I wanted.”

Fast forward to the beginning of this year. Despite months of negotiations, the supercommittee failed to reach an agreement, and so this March, automatic sequester cuts kicked in. (In between, Congress did raise some revenue by not extending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $400,000 a year). If Democrats disliked the 2011 Budget Control Act, they disliked its bastard stepchild, the sequester, even more. In his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama calls the sequester cuts: “harsh” and “arbitrary” and warned that they would “devastate priorities like education, energy and medical research” and “cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

 

The Election of 1796

October 18, 2013

The presidential election of 1796 was the first real election for president that the United States had. In the first two elections, the elections of 1789 and 1792, everyone knew that George Washington was going to win. He had no opposition and it was simply inconceivable that anyone would run against him. Washington’s second term was not as successful as his first, especially in foreign policy. The young nation was being pressured to take sides in the war between Great Britain and Revolutionary France, and Washington’s insistence that the United State was neutral pleased neither side. The British would not respect American sovereignty while the French ambassador tried to undermine the government. Washington sent John Jay to Great Britain to negotiate a trade treaty and to deal with these issues. The resulting treaty was greatly to the advantage of the British and was very unpopular, especially among the supporters of Jefferson. This affected Washington’s popularity and in the second half of his second term, Washington faced more public opposition than he had before as president.

Still, if George Washington had wanted a third term, he would have gotten it. He didn’t want it. Washington was feeling old and tired. He was 64 years old and had lived a hard life. He was also aware that the men of his family tended to die young. Washington wanted to return to Mount Vernon and spend a few years in retirement.

As soon as it was clear that Washington would not serve a third term, the race was on. The first party system had begun to develop in George Washington’s second term. The party organizations were still rather rudimentary, however and there were none of the primaries, caucuses, or nominating conventions that were a feature later on in American politics. Instead the leader of each party met informally and chose candidates. Both parties decided to balance their tickets geographically with one candidate from the north and one from the south, in order to appeal to the whole country.

The Federalists picked John Adams to be their candidate for president. He had served as vice-president for eight years under Washington and many felt that he deserved the top job. Adams was known to be capable and honest and was a good choice. For vice-president, the Federalists chose Thomas Pinckney from South Carolina. Pinckney is not well known today. He had fought in the Revolutionary War and had served as governor of South Carolina from 1787 to 1789. He was Washington’s minister to Britain in 1792 and had negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain. In fact, the Federalist Party leader, Alexander Hamilton preferred Pinckney to Adams and tried to arranged for him to get more electoral votes.

The Democratic-Republicans chose their party leader, Thomas Jefferson. For vice-president they decided on Aaron Burr from New York. This might seem a  strange choice considering Burr’s later notoriety, but Burr was also a Revolutionary War veteran and a prominent attorney. He was also the leader of the Democratic Republican Party in the state of New York.

The rules for electing the president were different before the passage of the twelfth amendment. The electors were selected in November either by state legislatures or in some states by popular vote. When the Electoral College met, each elector had two votes which he cast for two different men. The candidate with the most votes was elected president while the runner up got to be vice-president. This system worked well enough in the first two elections, when everyone knew Washington would be president. It did not work so well in the election of 1796 and caused a crisis in the election of 1800.

The first contested election was fiercely fought. Adams and Jefferson took no part in the campaign, it wasn’t considered seemly to actively campaign in those days, and they remained friends. Their partisans, however, attacked each other mercilessly. Adams was accused of being a monarchist who planned to make himself king and his sons lords. Jefferson was attacked as a  fanatic Jacobin and atheist who wanted to import the French Revolution to America. When the votes were cast, Adams won by a narrow margin. He got 71 electoral votes, winning all of New England along with New York and New Jersey. Jefferson had 68 electoral votes, winning the entire south including the new states  of Kentucky and Tennessee and also won Pennsylvania. In the states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, one elector had voted for Adams, while Maryland was split with seven votes for Adams and four votes for Jefferson.

The Election of 1796

The Election of 1796

In both parties the plan had been for all but a few electors to cast their second vote for their party’s choice for vice president, thus allowing either Pinckney or Burr to be in second place. This didn’t work out because of the slow speed of communications at the time, so the electors’ second votes were distributed among a variety of men. Thomas Pinckney got 59 votes, fewer than Jefferson. Burr was a distant fourth with only 30 votes. So John Adams, the Federalist was elected president with Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic Republican as his vice president. This might be a little like Barack Obama having John McCain as his vice president.

Despite the differences in party, Adams and Jefferson expected to work well with each other and Jefferson was gracious in defeat, saying, “Adams has always been my senior from the commencement of my public life”. Maybe he had an idea of just how rough the next four years were going to be.

 

 

Ezra Klein Admits it’s a Disaster

October 17, 2013

It has become so clear that the introduction of the Affordable Care Act,
or Obamacare, as it has become known, is such a disaster that even
liberals have to admit it. I found Ezra Klein‘s thoughts
on the subject to be more than a little interesting. At least, he
is honest about the problems that have developed and the likely
causes. He does do his share of Republican bashing, though.

1. So far, the Affordable Care
Act’s launch has been a failure.
Not “troubled.” Not
“glitchy.” A failure. But “so far” only encompasses 14 days. The
hard question is whether the launch will still be floundering on
day 30, and on day 45. As Sarah Kliff noted, Medicare Part D was, at
this point in its launch
, also considered a
disaster.”When online shopping for prescription drug programs
launched back in 2005, things went so badly that the federal
government didn’t even get off the ground until three weeks after
its scheduled launch.” Today, Medicare Part D is broadly considered
a success. But Medicare Part D had something the Affordable Care
Act doesn’t: An opposition party that decided
to be constructive
. The federal health-care law’s not
going to get much help from the Republican
Party.

Obamacare passed without a single
Republican vote in either house of Congress. Throughout the process
neither Obama nor the Congressional Democrats ever even tried to
get any support from most Republicans. Because they had large
majorities in both Houses, they believed that they need not
consider the Republicans opinions. The problem is that our
constitution is expressly designed to keep any one party or faction
from simply ramming legislation through. The Democrats’ attitude
and the irregularities by which the bill was passed antagonized the
Republicans and between that and their base being against the act,
they were determined not be be constructive. I should note that
President Johnson also
had a large Democratic majority in Congress, yet he
was able to get Medicare and civil
rights legislation passed with substantial support from both
parties. Indeed, Republican support was crucial for the civil
rights acts, since the Southern Democrats were set against them.

2. Are there problems behind the
problems?
In the weeks leading up to the launch I
heard some very ugly things about how the system was performing
when transferring data to insurers — a necessary step if people
are actually going to get insurance. I tried hard to pin the rumors
down, but I could never quite nail the story, and there was a wall
of official denials from the Obama administration. It was just
testing, they said. They were fixing the bugs day by
day.

There really shouldn’t be many bugs in the
system. They have had years to plan and implement this. This is not
filling anyone with confidence. I will skip number three and go on
to four.

4. One thing has gone
abundantly right for the Affordable Care Act: The Republican
Party.
Their decision to shut down the government on
the exact day the health-care law launched was a miracle for the
White House. If Republicans had simply passed a clean-CR on Oct. 1
these last few weeks would’ve been nothing — nothing at all —
save for coverage of the health-care law’s disaster. Instead the
law has been knocked off the front page by coverage of the
Republican Party’s disaster. Six weeks later, there would’ve been
another opportunity to close the government. And it’s entirely
possible the federal health-care law still wouldn’t be working. At
that point, the Republican Party would’ve had a very good argument
for delay — and certainly a very good argument for delay of the
individual mandate. It would be the logical outgrowth of both their
messaging and the reality of the law. But that’s not what happened.
Instead, Republicans managed to make themselves so unpopular that
they’ve actually
made the law more popular
. Many Americans believe,
reasonably but wrongly, that the reason Obamacare isn’t working is
that the Republicans shut the government down. And if the
Affordable Care Act does begin to improve in the coming weeks
Republicans will have lost their chance to harm it. And it’s not as
if nobody tried to warn the Republican Party that this was exactly
what would happen

All right, gloat.
I don’t think there is much danger of Obamacare getting any more
popular, at least not if many people experience rising costs and
increasing frustration with their healthcare. I am also not sure
how much the shutdown diverted attention from the disaster. It’s
not like the mainstream media would have devoted much coverage to
it. Number five is the important point.

5. This isn’t about
politics.
A lot of liberals will be angry over this
post. A lot of conservatives will be happy about it. But it’s
important to see the Affordable Care Act as something more than a
pawn in the political wars: It’s a real law that real people are
desperately, nervously, urgently trying to access. And so far, the
Obama administration has failed them. The Obama administration’s
top job isn’t beating the Republicans. It’s running the government
well. On this — the most important initiative they’ve launched —
they’ve run the government badly. They deserve all the criticism
they’re getting and more.

This is actually the
whole problem. I have never gotten the impression that Barack Obama
is very interested in the day to day job of actually running the
government. In his brief careers in the Illinois State Senate and
the US Senate, he was not too involved with the details of the
legislative process. His colleagues commented that all he ever
wanted to do was make speeches. I know that in politics you want to
beat the other party. This is natural and expected. The idea that
both parties should put aside partisanship and work for the common
good is a fantasy because different people, even with the best
will, have different ideas of what constitutes the common good and
how to obtain it. Nevertheless, at some point you do have to work
together and govern. Obama’s experience as a community organizer
has taught him to divide people and demonize his opponents. It has
not taught him to bring people together or to lead. Related
articles


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