Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

June 17, 2018

The Supreme Court has decided in favor of the Colorado baker who declined to make a wedding cake for gay wedding.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, in one of the most closely watched cases of the term.

In a 7-2 decision, the justices set aside a Colorado court ruling against the baker — while stopping short of deciding the broader issue of whether a business can refuse to serve gay and lesbian people. The opinion was penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often the swing justice in tight cases.

The narrow ruling here focused on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips.

“The Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion.

 

There is a lot that has been written about this decision in the weeks since it has been handed down by the Supreme Court, and I don’t imagine I have too much to contribute to the discussion. Still, There are three or four comments I would like to make about it.

First, Jack Phillips did not refuse to serve the couple because they were homosexuals. He did not tell them that he didn’t serve their kind, as the couple asserted and he actually offered to sell them any pre-made cake in his store. What Mr. Phillips refused to do was to use his artistic talent in a way that was against his religious beliefs. He would not decorate a cake for a gay wedding because his religious beliefs were in opposition to gay weddings. Evidently, Mr. Phillips has long made a practice of refusing to go against his religious values, refusing to decorate cakes with adult themes or even cakes for Halloween.

This is not the same as refusing to allow Blacks to sit at a lunch counter, or forcing someone to sit at the back of the bus. It is more like a gay baker not wanting to bake a cake labeled, “God hates fags” for the Westboro Baptist Church. No one’s rights were being infringed because Jack Phillips declined to decorate a cake for a particular occasion. No one has the right to compel Jack Phillips to bake a cake for a particular occasion.

Second, you might ask how I would feel if someone would refuse to provide some such service to me. Well, I would be upset, of course, and would probably not patronize that particular bakery, or whatever, again, but I would not take them to court to force them to serve me. In fact, I would fight for the right of any baker to refuse to serve me.

Why would I do that?  Well, I wouldn’t want someone to be forced to bake a cake for me because would be afraid of getting the Yelper Special.

But, aside from that, I would support their right to refuse me service for a very simple reason, which leads into my third comment. It seems to me obvious that a government or a court with the power to force someone else to do something I like but they detest has just as much power to force me to do something I would prefer not to do. A government that can mandate a Christian baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding can just as easily force people to follow  Christian,values, whether they want to or not. It is simply astonishing to me that no one ever seems to consider this simple factor.

I have noticed that a lot of the people who believe that a “bigot” like Jack Phillips should be forced to bake the cake are also convinced that Donald Trump is a would-be Fascist dictator, or that the conservative Christians or alt-right racists, or both, are on the verge of taking over this country and eliminating all freedom. If this were even the remotest of possibilities, why on Earth would these people want to give any potential oppressors the tools they need to practice repression? Wouldn’t we be a lot safer with a smaller, more limited government that lets people live in peace. We would have less to fear from any dictator if the government had less influence on our daily lives.

And last, it is something of a scandal that this Supreme Court decision was a 7-2 decision. It ought to have been 9-0. If previous presidents had appointed Supreme Court justices who put the words and intent of the constitution first and their political ideology second, this decision,  and many similar decisions, would have been 9-0. But, consider this any conservative Never-Trumper who might be reading this. If Hilary Clinton were president and had appointed a Justice to replace Antonin Scalia, this decision could very well have been 6-3, with worse to come as Clinton would managed to appoint more Justices. Whatever you may think of Trump’s shortcomings, especially his boorish personality, there is no doubt that the cause of liberty has been better served by his winning the presidency than his opponent.

 

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Trump is a Bad Racist

June 10, 2018

It has become an article of faith on the left that President Donald Trump is a racist, voted into office by legions of White supremacists who want to put Blacks back into chains and ship Hispanics back to Latin America. If this is the case, than Donald Trump must very bad at being a racist and his racist supporters must be very disappointed in him. According to the Washington Examiner, more Americans are saying they are better off under Trump, especially Blacks and Hispanics.

The improving economy has helped President Trump keep the support of his “base” of 2016 voters strong, and is opening the door for blacks, Hispanics and younger voters to join them.

Citing those results in new surveys, Democratic pollster John Zogby is declaring that Trump will be tough to beat in 2020 despite his high disapproval ratings.

“President Donald Trump’s support is actually increasing among voters and offers data to explain why he may be re-elected in 2020,” he said.

In a blog post, Zogby, who co-writes the weekly Trump report card for Secrets, noted that more and more Americans believe they are increasingly better off since the president took office.

“More than two in three (68 percent) tell the pollsters that the economy is strong, while 32 percent say it is weak – and this includes 76 percent of men, 61 percent of women, 64 percent or more of all age groups, 57 percent and 58 percent of Hispanics and African Americans respectively, and 63 percent of political moderates,” blogged Zogby citing a new Harvard University-Harris poll.

“More voters say they are doing better off in their personal financial situation (31 percent) or about the same (38 percent) than the one in four (25 percent) who say they are doing worse off. The ‘better off’ crowd includes the 30 percent of Hispanics and 33 percent of African Americans,” added Zogby on the Forbes website.

Of course, presidents don’t actually have that much control over the economy and things were getting better before Trump took office, but Trump’s tax cut and attacks on excessive regulations are helping the economy grow. More importantly, since a lot of economics is actually a matter of psychology, having a president in the White House who is definitely on the side of the job creators is a lot better than having a president who talks about spreading the wealth around.

Maybe, Trump is not actually racist at all. Or maybe it does not matter if he was slow to renounce the various racists and white nationalists who expressed support for him. Maybe what is important are President Trump’s policies which seem to be helping every American, particularly Black and Hispanic Americans. I have noticed that the people who claim to the greatest fighters against racism, the ones who are always accusing conservatives, and Americans generally, of being hopelessly racist, tend to support the sort of liberal policies that have been absolutely catastrophic to the Black community. The same people on the left who are always on guard against every vestige of racism support the Democrats whose mismanagement have turned many Black neighborhoods into crime-ridden wastelands. These leftists who want to help the marginalized and disadvantaged have done more damage than the worst Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan or the segregationist politicians of the Old South could have imagined.

Maybe actions are more important than words and maybe it is better to do the right things than to merely say the right things.

Warning Labels on Everything

April 29, 2018

Last month, Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed his plans to sue the oil companies for first degree murder because of their contributions to and denial of climate change.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next mission: taking oil companies to court “for knowingly killing people all over the world.”

The former California governor and global environmental activist announced the move Sunday at a live recording of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast here at the SXSW festival, revealing that he’s in talks with several private law firms and preparing a public push around the effort.

“This is no different from the smoking issue. The tobacco industry knew for years and years and years and decades, that smoking would kill people, would harm people and create cancer, and were hiding that fact from the people and denied it. Then eventually they were taken to court and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars because of that,” Schwarzenegger said. “The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill.”

Schwarzenegger said he’s still working on a timeline for filing, but the news comes as he prepares to help host a major environmental conference in May in Vienna.

“We’re going to go after them, and we’re going to be in there like an Alabama tick. Because to me it’s absolutely irresponsible to know that your product is killing people and not have a warning label on it, like tobacco,” he said. “Every gas station on it, every car should have a warning label on it, every product that has fossil fuels should have a warning label on it.”

He argues that at the very least, this would raise awareness about fossil fuels and encourage people to look to alternative fuels and clean cars.

He added, “I don’t think there’s any difference: If you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first degree murder; I think it’s the same thing with the oil companies.”

I think that those steroids that Schwarzenegger used to bulk up have caused his brain to rot. If we were to put warning labels on every single thing that uses fossil fuels in their manufacture, we would have to put a warning label on almost every single thing. Our manufacturers absolutely depend on the electricity provided by fossil fuels. Alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar do not even come close to providing, by orders of magnitude, the energy needed to keep our economy running.

Aside from that, fossil fuels themselves are components in various industrial processes. The gasoline in our cars is not the only petroleum product we use on a daily basis. Plastic is also created from petroleum. In his article at PJMedia , Tyler O’Neil provides a short list of the sort of things that would require a warning label if Arnold had his way.

ink, upholstery, vitamin capsules, dashboards, skis, mops, umbrellas, nylon rope, shampoo, guitar strings, refrigerators, toys (LEGOs, for instance), glue, cameras, pajamas, purses, life jackets, luggage, toothbrushes, toothpaste, crayons, pillows, balloons, football helmets, footballs, roller-skate wheels, nail polish, panty hose, insect repellant, ice cube trays, trash bags, sun glasses, paint brushes, artificial limbs, perfumes, soap, shoes, slacks, DVDs, dice, surf boards, tents, telephones, drinking cups, milk jugs, Aspirin, lipstick, rubbing alcohol, shaving cream, garden hose, heart valves, hearing aids, and toilet seats.

A more complete list can be found here. I suspect that even the warning labels would be made of plastic that comes from petroleum.

This campaign against fossil fuels is, in many ways, a campaign against modernity. Before the introduction of fossil fuels and the Industrial Revolution, humanity used such renewable sources of energy as the sun, wind, and most importantly the muscles of humans and animals. Life was not a utopia in which everyone lived in harmony with the Earth. Life, for most people, was nasty, brutish and short, with only a very small elite (the 1%) living in anything resembling the comfort taken for granted by almost everyone lucky enough to live in the developed world. Fossil fuels helped make our present levels of prosperity and economic development possible. If restrictions or punitive fines and taxation make access to fossil fuels and the power and products they provide more expensive, the cost of nearly everything will increase. For a successful movie star and businessman like Arnold Schwarzenegger, this would no burden, but for those of us who are not wealthy, this campaign against fossil fuels will result in a lower standard of living,and for those still living in poverty in the developing world, increased poverty and the loss of any hope of improving their circumstances. Whatever the intentions of Green crusaders like Schwarzenegger, the policies they advance may create a sort of neo-Medieval world in which a tiny elite live in comfort while the great masses lack the necessities of life.

Of course, they may not see it that way. Implied in this crusade against fossil fuels is the idea that alternative, renewable sources of energy will be able to pick up the slack as fossil fuels are regulated and taxed out of profitability. In the long run, fossil fuels will become obsolete, probably sooner than anyone believes, but I do not think that making us all poorer will speed up the process and I am not sure that these people really want us to have cheap, abundant energy from any source. Nuclear power is the one alternative to fossil fuels that is really viable right now and the same people who want us not to use fossil fuels do not seem to be very excited by the idea of replacing our coal plants with nuclear reactors, even though that would drastically lower our carbon footprint. I sometimes wonder if it is global warming or resource depletion they are worried about, or the idea of the common deplorables having access to cheap, abundant energy.

In any case, let’s hope that Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t get anywhere with his insane lawsuit.

The Election of 1872

April 12, 2018

As it happened, electing a man with no political experience to the presidency might not have been a very good idea, even if the man was Ulysses S. Grant, one of the best generals in American history. Grant’s presidency was not the disaster it has often been made out to be. The Grant administration had some solid accomplishments to its credit. Grant consistently upheld the civil rights of the freed Blacks in the South and used federal troops to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Grant sought, not very successfully. to ensure that the Native Americans were treated with some degree of justice. I suspect that the poor reputation as a general and president that Grant has had for most of the twentieth century was the result of Southern historians, the same ones who concocted the Lost Cause mythology, blackening Grant’s reputation as revenge for his defeating their idol Robert E. Lee and standing up for the rights of the former slaves. Recently, Grant’s military reputation has been rehabilitated by military historians who now see him as a masterful strategist and I hope that political historians will follow suit.

That being said, no one is likely to list Ulysses S. Grant as one of the top ten Presidents of the United States. The problem was that Grant turned out to be a remarkably poor judge of character, at least in the civilian sphere. Grant himself was honest, but many of the men he appointed to office were not. Because this was the time before civil service reform when the Spoils System was still in operation meaning that almost every government post was a political appointee. If an incoming president appointed corrupt men, it didn’t take very long for the whole government to become thoroughly corrupt, which is what happened in Grant’s first term.

Despite several scandals, Grant was still personally popular and there was no question that the Republican Party would nominate him for a second term. A number of the more liberal Republicans were sufficiently disgusted with the corruption in the federal government and dissatisfied with Grant’s Reconstruction policies to separate themselves from the Republican Party to form the Liberal Republican Party. This new party, which included such prominent Republicans as Ambassador to Britain to Charles Francis Adams, Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, and  Senator Carl Schurz from Missouri held its convention in Cincinnati from May 1-3. There they nominated Horace Greeley, the founder and editor of the New York Tribune for the presidency.

Greeley was an unexpected and somewhat unusual choice for the nomination. He was not really a politician, only having served a brief term in Congress back in 1848-1849. He had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and may have given the party its name. He was chiefly a newspaper man however and was used to speaking his mind on every subject. People often say that they want a candidate you says what he really thinks, but they are lying. What people say is that they want a candidate who says what they want to hear and Greeley was not that man He simply didn’t know when to keep quiet or carefully parse his words as an experienced politician learns to do. This openness would not help him during the campaign.

The Liberal Republicans went on to nominate Benjamin G. Brown, the liberal Governor of Missouri. Like Greeley, Brown had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and had served as a Senator from Missouri from 1963-1867 and then Governor from 1871-1873. Brown had served in the Union Army from 1861-1863 before being appointed Senator to fill a vacancy left by the departure of his pro-confederate predecessor. The Liberal Republicans adopted a platform which attacked the corruption of the Grant administration, supported civil service reform and ending Reconstruction and the military occupation of the South. They had some problems with the important issue of protective tariffs, but they made some vague statement about it being up to the people to decide.

The Republicans met in Philadelphia from June 5-6. They nominated Grant  for reelection by acclamation on the first ballot. Grant’s nomination was seconded by William Henry Grey, the first African-American to address an American political convention. Vice-President Colfax was dropped from the ticket because of his suspected involvement with the Credit Mobilier scandal and the convention nominated Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts in his place. Senator Wilson had long been an anti-slavery activist and was a founder of the Free Soil Party, the predecessor to the Republican Party, which he also helped found. Wilson had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1855-1873. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs from 1861-1973, Wilson had played an important role in the Union’s war efforts. The Republicans went on to adopt a platform praising Republican achievements since 1861. The Republican platform made some mention of civil service reform and tariffs, without too many details on either subject, and favored the protection of the civil rights of all citizens in every part of the country.

The Democrats met in Baltimore from July 9-10, and promptly nominated the Liberal Republican ticket and platform. At only six hours, the Democratic National Convention of 1872 was the shortest political convention in American, and possibly world, history. It might seem strange that the Democrats did not nominate candidates who were actually Democrats, Horace Greeley had been an especially fierce critic of the Democrats, but they wanted to see Grant out of office and believed that nominated their own candidates would only have split the anti-Grant vote, allowing him to win. It didn’t turn out to be an especially good plan.

The campaign was a nasty one, as usual. Grant was assailed as an ignorant, corrupt drunkard. Grant remained silent, preferring not to actively campaign, but his supporters had plenty of ammunition to use against Greeley. During his long career as editor of the New York Tribune, Greeley had endorsed any number of fringe causes; socialism, utopian communes, vegetarianism  etc, and the Republicans had a field day making fun of his eccentricities. It probably wouldn’t have mattered even if the Democrats had nominated someone more, well, normal. Grant was popular enough among regular Republicans, bankers and industrialists, Civil War veterans, and Blacks, that he would have probably beaten any Democrat.

In the end, Grant won in a landslide with 3,598,235 (55.6%) popular votes against Greeley’s 2,834,761 (43.8%). The electoral vote was even more lopsided. Grant won all but six states gaining 286 electoral votes. Greeley won just Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, for a total of 66 electoral votes. Arkansas and Louisiana had voted for Grant but the electoral votes were rejected due to irregularities arising from Reconstruction and so weren’t counted.

The Election of 1872

 

Horace Greeley took his defeat hard. He became ill and died just three weeks after the election, before the Electoral College met to cast the official ballots. This created the unprecedented situation in which a presidential candidate had died before the election was formally concluded. The Democratic electors resolved the issue by simply casting their votes for four other candidates. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the victor of the popular election had ever died before the Electoral College met.

The Election of 1868

March 15, 2018

The crisis of secession and the Civil War did not end with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Even as the war ended, there remained the difficult process of Reconstruction with important questions to decide. Under what conditions were the defeated,  former Confederate states to be readmitted into the Union? Should the South be treated leniently, as though the Rebellion had never happened, or should it be harshly punished?  The Civil War had settled the question of slavery once and for all, but what would be done with all the Black former slaves. Were they to have equal rights with their White former masters, including the right to vote? Could a population held in bondage and kept ignorant and uneducated be expected to use their new-found freedom responsibly? It would have required a leader with the wisdom and political acumen of Abraham Lincoln to make these fateful decisions. Unfortunately, thanks to John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln was no longer available to lead the country through the shoals of Reconstruction and his successor, Andrew Johnson was a man who entirely lacked the wisdom and political acumen the country badly needed.

Both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson favored a lenient policy towards the defeated South. Lincoln’s position on the civil rights of the freed slaves was somewhat ambiguous. While he was always opposed to slavery, Lincoln had never been an advocate for racial equality. There is some evidence that towards the end of the war Lincoln was beginning to evolve on the issue and support some measure of civil rights protection for the freed slaves, including, perhaps, the franchise.

Andrew Johnson’s position was not ambiguous at all. As a man who had worked his way up from the humblest class of poor Southern Whites, Johnson had had no use for the Blacks as slaves and still less regard for them as freedmen. President Johnson’s views inevitably led to clash with Congress which was under the control of the Radical Republicans, who wanted to see the South punished for the Rebellion, and were deeply concerned for the freed slaves. Ultimately, the struggle between the president and Congress led to Johnson being impeached in 1868, only escaping conviction by one vote.

Needless to say, there was no chance of Andrew Johnson running for a second term. The Republicans met in Chicago on May 20, while Johnson’s impeachment trial was underway in Washington. They nominated General Ulysses S. Grant on the first ballot. Grant had not held any previous political office and he had never shown much interest in politics but the leaders of the Republican party believed they needed to nominate a popular hero to ensure a victory in November and at the time there was no one more popular than the man who had “saved the Union”. This description may be an exaggeration, perhaps, but as the Commanding General of the United States Army, Grant did play an important role in securing the North’s victory. He, along with his friend General William T. Sherman seemed to be the only generals on either side who really understood how to fight and win the Civil War, and winning the victory would have been a great deal more difficult without Grant’s actions in the West and then in overall command. It was true that Grant had no experience in politics, but he was a great general, so how much trouble could he have?

For Grant’s running mate, the Republicans selected Schuyler Colfax. Colfax was a Radical Republican from Indiana who had served in Congress since 1855 and had been Speaker of the House since 1863. The Republicans adopted a platform opposing Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies while supporting the plans of the Radical Republicans particularly supporting the franchise for the former slaves in the South. They were not quite so passionate about Black suffrage in the North, leaving the matter to the “loyal states’ but the Republicans hoped that the freedmen in the South would express their gratitude by voting for them. Grant’s slogan was, “Let us have peace”, which while not perhaps as catchy as “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” or “Make America great again”, was appealing to a nation weary of war.

The Democrats had a lot more trouble selecting their candidate when they met at New York from July 4-9. No one wanted Andrew Johnson for a second term, but they couldn’t decide who the presidential nominee would be. The Democratic Party was divided ideologically between conservatives and liberals and regionally between East and West and no one wanted a representative from a rival faction to get the nomination. Finally, after twenty-one ballots the Democrats chose the Chairman of the Democratic Convention and former New York governor, Horatio Seymour. Seymour had  served as Governor of New York from 1853-1854 and again from 1863-1864. Both of his terms had been rather tumultuous costing him reelection both times, but Seymour remained popular in the Democratic Party. He had been a Peace Democrat, striving to find some compromise to bring the seceded states back into the Union while opposing President Lincoln’s conduct of the war, particularly the abridgment of civil liberties. Seymour did not want to be president and tried to refuse the nomination but it was forced upon him. Seymour’s running mate, General Francis Preston Blair, more than made up for Seymour’s lack of zeal, campaigning vigorously after his nomination. Blair had been a Republican, opposed to slavery and secession and had served as a Representative from Missouri from 1857-1859, 1860, and 1861-1864. The gap in his career in Congress was the result of a disputed election for his Congressional district in 1860. During the Civil War Blair was a staunch supporter of Lincoln, but he broke with the Republican Party during Reconstruction, opposing the Radical Republicans on the question of suffrage for the freed slaves, who he viewed as little more than savages.

The election of 1868 was a nasty one. The Republicans labeled Seymour a traitor and Confederate sympathizer for his lack of support for the North and were quick to remind voters which party had been the peace party during that conflict. The Democrats, for their part, condemned Grant as a drunk and an incompetent and made use of race prejudice in their attacks on Congressional Reconstruction, particularly on plans to enfranchise the Black former slaves. The Democrats insisted that the states should be able to set their own policies to determined who could vote. While the Republicans organized the former slaves, counting on their gratitude to the party that had supported abolition, the Democrats employed a curious sort of logic to appeal to the former slaves, when they were not trying to keep them from the polls altogether. They argued that since the Democrats had led the South into succession and the resulting Civil War had led to their emancipation, the Democrats were ultimately responsible for their freedom. The former slaves weren’t buying it.

In the end, the election was a close one in the popular vote. Grant got 3,013,421 or 52.7% of the popular vote while Seymour received 2,706,829 or 47.3%. The Democrats had proved to be rather more popular than most observers had expected. Grant did better in the Electoral College getting 214 Electoral Votes to Seymour’s 80. Grant had carried 26 states, losing Seymour’s home state, New York, as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana and Oregon. Texas, Mississippi and Virginia were still under military occupation and did not participate in the election. It was obvious that the freed slaves had put the Republicans over the top in the popular vote totals and the Republicans responded by supporting the fifteenth amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race.

The Election of 1868

Like Clockwork

February 18, 2018

It happens every time, like clockwork. There is a horrific mass shooting somewhere in America and right away the Democrats are exploiting the tragedy to promote “common sense” gun control.

Friend —

Yesterday afternoon, a 19-year-old with a weapon of war walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and opened fire, killing 17 people and injuring many others.

We have seen this happen too many times. This is not normal. This is not acceptable. This is not inevitable. It’s long past time for our leaders to stop pretending we are helpless in the face of such tragedy.

Let’s be very clear about something. The vast majority of Americans support common-sense solutions to prevent this type of gun violence. But the special interests that stand against measures like universal background checks are ruthless — and they’re also better organized.

Each election cycle, the NRA spends tens of millions of dollars to defeat candidates who will stand against their extreme agenda — and as a result, many Republican elected officials owe their election in part to support from the gun lobby. So it’s no surprise why gun violence prevention legislation never makes any progress in Congress.

Enough is enough. What we’re letting happen right now in America is madness. Our children and our country deserve better.

We deserve a Congress that is willing to take up this debate. We deserve more than thoughts and prayers when these tragedies happen. We deserve leaders who understand the urgent need to take action on this issue.

Changing our gun laws won’t stop every mass shooting — but it will stop some of them. And we have to try.

There are solutions that can address our nation’s epidemic of gun violence — such as expanding background checks and closing the gun-show loophole. Now we just need to elect a Congress with the courage to stand up to the gun lobby.

We must not become numb to these horrendous mass shootings. We must keep fighting.

Tom

Tom Perez
Chair
Democratic National Committee

P.S. It is up to all of us to demand action on this issue. Add your name to tell Congress it’s past time to take action to address our country’s gun violence epidemic: https://my.democrats.org/Address-Gun-Violence

Before we have this discussion yet again, there are some questions that need to be answered.

First, why didn’t the Democrats enact “common sense” gun control during the first half of President Obama’s first term when they had control of both houses of Congress? For a short time, they even had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. They were able to get Obamacare through on a strict party line vote, why not the gun control they say they wanted? Probably because they had some idea of how unpopular such legislation would be in “Flyover Country”. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 may well have been a contributing factor in the Democrat’s loss of their majority in both houses of Congress for the first time in forty years.

Speaking of unpopular gun control measures, what about this idea that gun control is favored by a vast majority of Americans with only the nefarious NRA and their Big Money standing in the way, presumably because the NRA just loves to see people shot? Well, American public opinion on guns and gun control is complicated. Most Americans do indeed support some form of restrictions on gun ownership, in the abstract. When you ask about detailed proposals, though, opinion gets more polarized with less public support. And, how does the NRA have so much political clout and money? Could it possibly be because it has a large number of members and supporters who mostly agree with the NRA’s positions on gun control? Isn’t it possible that the NRA is less extreme and more mainstream than Tom Perez, at least outside the more liberal coasts and in rural areas?

What gun control legislation is actually likely to be effective? How effective are universal background checks, closing loopholes and the like actually going to be at preventing the next tragedy? This is not to say such legislation is not a good idea, it might or might not be, but will it really have much of an effect. And, how well are current laws to prevent people with mental illness or a criminal record being enforced? It is no good putting laws on the books if they are not enforced with some rigor. I think, that the only thing likely to really affect the level of gun violence in the United States would be to greatly curtail the private ownership of guns, even an outright ban on gun ownership. This is undesirable for many reasons and is politically impossible, at present. If the Democrats were honest, though, this would be what they would be proposing.

Would such extreme measures be necessary? Contrary to the impressions you might get from the media, crime rates have been declining in the United States for the last two decades. Mass shootings, while always tragic, comprise only a tiny minority of the crimes in this country. It is not clear whether the number of mass shootings has been rising in recent years. Everyone seems to have a different definition of what defines a mass shooting their particular agenda seems to affect the way they interpret the data. Mass shootings get a lot of attention, but they are not typical of the violent crimes committed in the United States.

One more question. Guns have been around for a long time. They were probably even more ubiquitous back when most Americans lived in rural areas. Why have we only seen mass shootings, especially in schools, in the last few decades? We didn’t have these shootings in the 1960’s, or the ’50’s or the ’40’s. Why not? Andrew Klavan has an answer that I mostly agree with, though the fact that violent crime has been decreasing might undermine his theory, and I am not sure I want to point the finger of partisan blame just now.

It was after a school shooting near Spokane last September that Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed a clutch of reporters:

When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home. None of those guns ever walked into a school, none of those guns ever shot anybody… Did the gun change or did you as a society change? I’ll give you odds it was you as a society. Because you started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified the gang culture, you glorified games that actually gave you points for raping and killing people. The gun didn’t change, we changed.

It seems clear to me the sheriff was speaking about rap music with its hateful, violent and misogynistic lyrics, and video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can have sex with a prostitute then strangle her or pull an innocent person out of a car, beat him, then steal his vehicle.

I am a First Amendment purist and don’t want to see expression censored in any way. And I don’t argue that there’s a straight line between any specific cultural creation and bad acts. But surely, a culture in which those in authority approve of and argue for things like gangsta rap and GTA — and indeed for the use of violenceto silence speech that offends them — well, such a culture becomes a machine for transforming madness into murder.

For fifteen years and more, I have been complaining that the right is silenced in our culture — blacklisted and excluded and ignored in entertainment, mainstream news outlets, and the universities. But the flip side of that is this: the degradation of our culture is almost entirely a leftist achievement. Over the last fifty years, it’s the left that has assaulted every moral norm and disdained every religious and cultural restraint.

The left owns the dismal tide. They don’t like the results? They’re looking for someone or something to blame? Maybe they should start by hunting up a mirror.

Maybe the fault is not in the guns, but in ourselves.

The Map of Slavery

February 13, 2018

Take a look at this map.

As the article in Ranker.com states, this is a map produced by the US Coast Survey which depicts the proportion of the residents of each county in the South who were slaves, the darker the shading, the higher the percentage of slaves. The darkest areas, along the Mississippi and some other regions, were counties with more than ninety percent of their population in bondage. This map clearly shows the extent in which the rural South had become dependent on slave labor, particularly in those regions most suitable for the establishment of large plantations. In many such regions, the Black slaves outnumbered the White population. The population of slaves in such urban regions that existed in the Old South along with areas, such as the Appalachian Mountains and West Texas that were ill suited for plantation agriculture was far lower.

While interesting in itself, this map of slavery might also provide an clue which tells us just what why the South seceded and what they were really fighting for in the Civil War.

It is not easy to determine just how many people in the South actually were in favor of secession. Public opinion polls did not exist yet. In most cases, the Southern states seceded by calling for special conventions of elected delegates, who voted on the question of secession. Obviously, the men who were sent to these conventions were already predisposed to be in favor of secession, but the actual votes were closer than one might expect, given the controversy that the election of Abraham Lincoln had produced throughout the South. It is possible that if enough time had been allowed for passions to cool, and for the Southern leaders opposed to secession to organize, the secession crisis might have been averted. As it was the Secessionists moved quickly and there is evidence that they acted to intimidate opponents of succession in some areas.

Still, while support for secession was far from unanimous in the South, it is likely that a majority of the people throughout the South did support secession. There was considerable regional variation, though. In general, it seems that the support for secession was greatest in the seven states of the Lower South who were the first to secede. There was likely less support for secession in the four states of the Upper South which succeeded later, as war became imminent Eastern Tennessee and Western Virginia were notorious for their pro-Union sentiments, and the western counties of Virginia themselves succeeded to form the state of West Virginia. Of the four slave states that stayed in the Union, only Delaware with almost no actual slaves had no movement towards succession, while the remaining three had at least enough people opposed to succession to keep their states in the Union, although there was enough support for succession in Missouri and Kentucky for there to be a Civil War within each state.

Now, if you look at that map of slavery again, you may notice that, in general, support for succession tended to be highest in those regions that that were most dependent on slave labor. Since the end of the Civil War, there have been those who have argued that secession and the Civil War were not about slavery. The Civil War was fought over states’ rights or the economic policies of the North, particularly the high, protective tariffs Northern manufacturers favored. This map gives the lie to such assertions. Support for the Confederacy was highest where slaves were most numerous. Where slavery was rare, so was enthusiasm for secession. If you don’t believe what the Southern leaders themselves said about their reasons for succession, believe what the map shows, a clear link between slavery and succession.

That is not to say that slavery was the only cause of the secession and Civil War, nor that the men who fought for the Confederate States did so in order to protect the institution of slavery. There were a lot of other factors, both political and economic, behind the sectional tensions between North and South, but slavery was the one issue that made compromise impossible. They might be able to meet each other half way on issues like tariffs, but slavery was a moral issue which aroused people’s emotions. The country could not remain half slave and half free. It is true that most of the men who enlisted in the Confederate Army were only fighting for their country, but the way wouldn’t have been fought at all if it were not for slavery.

The American Civil War was fought over slavery. There is simply no way to deny it without completely ignoring the historical evidence. The men who fought for the South May have been brave and honorable, but they were fighting for the worst cause imaginable.

Who Wants a Parade?

February 11, 2018

President Trump does according to NPR.

President Trump, apparently inspired by the Bastille Day parade he witnessed last summer during a trip to Paris, has asked the Pentagon to look into staging something similar — but naturally bigger and better — for Washington, D.C., the White House confirmed Tuesday.

A U.S. official confirmed the request to NPR. On Tuesday evening, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared in a statement that “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe.” She added, “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”

On Wednesday at the White House briefing, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis addressed the president’s request for a military parade:

“I think we are all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military. We’ve been putting together some options. We’ll send them to the White House for a decision.”

I don’t know about that. It is all very well for France to have this kind of parade showcasing their military might, but we are not France. We are the United States of America, and in the United States of America, we try not to give the impression that we are a militaristic and aggressive country, even when we are, in fact, militaristic and aggressive. America is the mightiest nation in the world and it just wouldn’t do to rub that fact in everyone else’s face.

U.S. presidents have long shied away from such displays of military prowess — which typically include tanks, missiles and, in some cases, goose-stepping soldiers — for fear of being compared to Washington’s Cold War adversaries, where such displays have traditionally been potent symbols of state power. Those countries include Russia (and, formerly, the Soviet Union), China and North Korea.

Leave the parades with tanks, missiles and marching soldiers to lesser nations, who feel they have something to prove. Besides, I am sure we have better things to spend our money on.

Still,  it might be fun to watch the reactions of the Democrats and the media to Trump’s suggestion. They are sure to go out of their minds once again with insane comparisons with Trump to Hitler or North Korea. That might be worth the cost of the parade. Maybe that’s the reason Trump is talking about a military parade. He does seem to delight in trolling his enemies to make them over-react and look foolish, We’ll have to see.

 

Shithole Countries

January 14, 2018

I do not really care very much that Donald Trump allegedly complained about immigrants coming from “shit hole” countries. I say allegedly because Trump has denied using that particular term and the only person who claims that he did was Senator Richard Durbin who is not known to be particularly honest when reporting on statements made during private meetings.

Whether he said it or not, the truth is that there are indeed many countries in the world that could honestly, if somewhat vulgarly, be described as “shit holes”. It is simply an unpleasant truth that much of what is often called the undeveloped, or third world consists of dysfunctional countries. These are the countries with corrupt, repressive governments and stagnate impoverished economies, often with incessant fighting between ethnic groups or religious and political factions. These are the countries which, for one reason or another, just don’t seem to be able to get it together. To label this undeniable truth as racist is simply to deny reality

Should we accept immigrants from these “shit hole” countries? There may be good reasons why we should not. Ultimately, the purpose of any country’s immigration policy is to benefit the persons already living in that country. No one has a right to emigrate to any country and the governments of every country in the world have the right to admit or deny who they wish. It may be argued that the reason some countries are dysfunctional is that the culture of the people living in them is dysfunctional, and it might be unwise to permit large numbers of people bringing bad habits or cultural norms into this country. This is not a racist argument. A person from a successful country like Norway with a cultural history that he shares with the majority here in America might be a more valuable asset than an African from a country that really doesn’t work that well and a culture very different from ours.

I don’t agree with this argument though, and I don’t share Trump’s alleged concern about immigrants from “shit hole” countries. I think that most of us are descended from people who originated in what might be “shit hole” countries at the time. After all, people from wealthy, successful countries have little reason to leave their lives behind to immigrate to a new country with an alien language and culture. It is the people from the “shit hole” countries who seek a new life. I think that one of the greatest factors in the success of the American experience is our willingness to take in those who were rejected in their native countries and make use of their skills and talents. Their home countries’ loss has been our gain.

I do not care where immigrants come from, provided that they are willing to obey our laws and assimilate themselves to our culture. The only concern that I have about immigrants is whether they are here legally or illegally. If they have come here in compliance with the law, than they are welcome here. If they are here illegally, then the laws must be enforced and they must leave. As far as I am concerned, any other consideration is relevant.

This is why I do not agree with Trump’s alleged concern about immigrants from “shit hole” countries. I think he is missing the point of the whole debate on immigration. The problem is not where the immigrants are coming from. The problem is that too many people do not believe that immigration laws should be enforced. Trump’s alleged comment only helps the people who want to confuse the issue.

The Election of 1864

January 7, 2018

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the election of 1864 is that is happened at all. The nation was in the middle of the worst crisis in its history, a bloody civil war. No nation had ever conducted elections in such circumstances before and it would not have been unexpected for President Lincoln to postpone the election until the end of the war. Lincoln must have been tempted. As 1864 began. he knew that he had little chance of winning reelection. Both the president and the war had become very unpopular. It is true that the twin Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg the previous July had been turning points in the war that had made Southern defeat all but inevitable, but no one knew that at the time. All they knew was that the war was dragging on month after month with seemingly nothing to show for all the death and misery. Whatever thoughts Abraham Lincoln might have had about his upcoming defeat, he doesn’t seem to have considered the possibility of cancelling or postponing the election. In his view, the whole point of the war was to preserve the free, democratic government of the people, and postponing the election would mean that the rebels had won.

It wasn’t even clear that Lincoln would win the Republican nomination. Many prominent Republicans, most notably Horace Greeley  and Salmon P. Chase thought so little of Lincoln’s chances that they called for him to step aside and allow the Republicans to nominate someone who actually had a chance of winning. On May 31, 1864 several hundred of the more radical Republicans assembled in Cleveland, Ohio to form what they called the Radical Democracy Party. They believed that Lincoln was being too soft on the South and took a hardline anti-Confederate, abolitionist position. The Radical Democracy Party did not really expect to win the election. Instead, they hoped to force the Republicans to choose someone other than Lincoln. To this end, they nominated John C. Fremont, the Republican candidate for president in 1856, for president and war Democrat General John Cochrane for Vice-President. Fremont and Cochrane suspended their campaign in September to avoid becoming the possibility of dividing the vote resulting in a Democratic victory.

The remaining Republicans met in Baltimore on June 7-8, along with some War Democrats to form the National Union Party. Lincoln was nominated for a second term on the first ballot and the party platform called for the end of slavery and vigorous pursuit of the war until the succeeding states were defeated. The convention then selected the Democrat Andrew Johnson as a show of national unity.

Andrew Johnson was a little unusual in Southern politics since he did not come from the established, slave-owning,planter aristocracy like most Southern politicians. Johnson had been born in poverty among the lowest class of Southern Whites, but he was smart, ambitious and hard working. He entered Tennessee politics as a champion of the working men and became a Congressman from 1843 to 1853, Governor of Tennessee from 1853 to 1857 and finally Senator in 1857. Because of his humble origins, Andrew Johnson had little use for the secessionist sentiments held by many Planters was the only Senator from the South not to resign his seat when his state seceded. It should not be thought, however, that Johnson was opposed to slavery or at all sympathetic to the Black slaves. Johnson, like most of his class, despised the Blacks worse than the Planters, who at least saw their slaves as useful servants. Johnson’s bigotry would not serve his country well in the years after the Civil War.

The Democrats, for their part, met in Chicago from August 29 to 31. The Democrats were split between War Democrats who supported the war against the South and Peace Democrats who either favored a negotiated end to the war with the South rejoining the Union or who were outright Copperheads, or Southern sympathizers. The Peace Democrats wrote the party platform, declaring the war a failure and calling for an immediate, negotiated end to hostilities, but the convention nominated General George B. McClellan, former commanding general of the Army of the Potomac for president.

George B. McClellan had no political experience but he was an excellent officer with a distinguished record of service in the Mexican War and the Civil War. In many ways, McClellan was a great general. His experience working with railroads between the wars helped him to set up the supply lines to feed and arm the Union armies. He trained and drilled the Army of the Potomac into the military force that would ultimately defeat the Confederates. He loved the men and they loved him. McClellan had only one fault. He did not want to fight.

This is one of the great mysteries of the Civil War, McClellan’s strange reluctance to lead his men into battle. He was always delaying. He was not a coward on the battlefield, but it may be that he feared failure. Perhaps he believed the exaggerated estimates of Confederate numbers, or he believed the myth that Robert E. Lee was an unbeatable genius.  Whatever the reason, McClellan’s “slows” finally exasperated Lincoln to the point that he relieved McClellan of his command twice, so there may have been an element of personal satisfaction in McClellan’s decision to run against his former Commander-in-Chief.

After selecting a War Democrat as their presidential nominee, the Democrats balanced the ticket by selecting anti-war Democrat Ohio Congressman George H. Pendleton. Pendleton had served in the Ohio Senate from 1854 to 1856 and then the US House of Representatives from 1857 to 1865. Pendleton had been a staunch supporter of state’s rights and so was against a war to bring the seceded states back into the Union.

As one might expect, the presidential campaign of 1864 was a nasty fight. The opposition press had never been kind to Lincoln, routinely calling him a tyrant and a dictator and they didn’t let up for the campaign. Lincoln was said to be an ignorant, backwoods lawyer who delighted in telling indecent jokes. He was a tyrant and a butcher whose incompetence caused the nation to fight losing war. The Republicans responded by calling the Democrats defeatists, cowards, and traitors who sympathized with the Rebels. This didn’t seem like much of an exaggeration with the Democrat’s peace platform all but calling for peace at any price. McClellan, to his credit, rejected the Democratic call for peace stating that he could not look his comrades in the army that had sacrificed so much and tell them it was all in vain. The nation was so weary of a seemingly endless and bloody war that peace at any price seemed very attractive and few people doubted that Lincoln would be defeated. Lincoln himself certainly didn’t and he began to make preparations for the inevitable transition.

The political situation changed almost over night with the capture of Atlanta by General William Sherman on September 2, followed up by Sherman’s March to the Sea This Northern victory coupled with Union advances elsewhere seemed to show that an end to the Civil War with a Northern victory was in sight, shifting public opinion decisively in favor of Lincoln.

The results of the election in November were not even close. Lincoln won 2,218,388  popular votes (55%), a decisive majority  and won all but three states for 221 electoral votes. McClellan got 1,812,807 votes (45%) and won only Kentucky, New Jersey, and Delaware giving him only 21 electoral votes. Naturally the seceded states did not vote in this election, although Louisiana and Tennessee were under military occupation and did participate. Their electoral votes were not counted.

The Election of 1864

Lincoln had a clear mandate to continue the war until the Rebels were defeated. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term on March 4, 1865, Southern defeat was inevitable, although the Confederates kept fighting for another month. On April 2, Richmond, the Confederate capital was taken and on April 9, General Lee surrendered to General Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. Lincoln didn’t get to enjoy the peace for long. On April 14, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth and Andrew Johnson became president.


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