Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Stamping Out Freedom of Speech

May 26, 2015

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has a new project he’s been working on. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with ice cream but involves repealing or amending the first amendment to end our free speech protections. This might seem like a stretch and certainly Ben doesn’t believe that he is doing any such thing, but he may not have thought through what his efforts to get the money out of our politics might actually entail.

Hi, fellow MoveOn member!
This is Ben Cohen, the “Ben” of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. For the past few years, I’ve run a national, grassroots campaign to get Big Money out of politics.
It’s called Stamp Stampede. And the way it works is simple: activists around the country stamp—and then spend—dollar bills with a simple message, such as “Amend the Constitution—Stamp Money Out Of Politics.” Want a stamp?

Just click here, donate $10 or more to help MoveOn’s campaigns to stamp money out of politics, and I’ll send you a stamp!

Stamping dollar bills is one of the most fun—and subversive—ways you can demand a revolution in the way we fund campaigns. (And yes, it’s totally legal. Our lawyers have confirmed it.)

It’s also like a petition on steroids. The math is pretty incredible. Here’s how ordinary people can give billionaires a run for their money:

  • Every bill we stamp is seen by over 875 people.1
  • If just 5,000 MoveOn members (out of 8 million of us) get a stamp—and stamp one bill every day for one year—our message will be seen 1.6 billion times.
  • Each dollar bill that’s stamped directs people to a website where they can join the fight to overturn Citizens United.

Together, we can get our message in front of millions of Americans and bring in droves of new money-in-politics activists each year—which is what it’ll take to win this long-term fight.

Click here to get your stamp for a donation of $10 or more—and help build the movement.

Once you start stamping money, you’ll find it’s pretty addictive. You can spend your stamped money with pride. And let people know that this dollar is not to be used for bribing politicians (you’ll be surprised by how many new friends you’ll make!)

Thanks for all you do.

–Ben Cohen, Stamper-In-Chief

What does money have to do with free speech and why would getting the money out of politics threaten it? Well, to start with, it costs money to run for public office. Either an aspiring candidate may spend his own money to fund his campaign or he may solicit others to donate money. There are not many people wealthy enough to spend their own money to fund a political campaign on the national or even the state level and most people would consider a government made up of only the very wealthy to be undesirable, therefore there will always be a need for politicians to request donations from those who for various reasons are willing to give them money. No campaign finance legislation can change that simple reality. In fact, most proposals for getting the money out of politics seem to be aimed at getting the other side’s money out of politics. We are funded by small donations from ordinary people who wanted to make this country a better place. They are funded by millionaires and billionaires who want to protect their own greedy interests. Somehow, for all the fuss the progressives make about the nefarious Koch Brothers, they never seem to be bothered by the money George Soros spends on politics.

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The first amendment guarantees our freedom of speech. It does not require anyone to provide us a forum for our speech. If an individual or a group wishes to have some impact on the political process by speaking for or against a given policy, law, or candidate for office, they must spend money to get their message out. They must purchase advertisements in printed periodicals or on broadcast media. They must print pamphlets, create audio visual media, etc. They may have a staff of volunteers, but at some point, they may find it desirable to have people working full time on the cause. These people have to be compensated for their time and efforts. More recently the rise of the Internet and digital broadcasting and published has made the process of getting a message out cheaper and more democratic. You do not need to own a newspaper or television station to influence events anymore. Still, if you want to be really effective, you still need to spend some money.

Free speech is not free.

Yes it is. Free speech is not free.

 

Like the politician seeking office, an individual or group seeking to get a political message out can spend their own money or solicit donations from people who support the individual or group’s goals. If the government can control and limit the funding of any political advocacy organization, it can effectively control and limit its speech. It does little good to guarantee freedom of speech if you prevent people from using that freedom in any sort of really effective manner. Indeed, this is a far more effective method of controlling dissent than the gulag. What good does it do to have the freedom to speak out if the only audience you are permitted to reach is a small circle of acquaintances? A dissident in a gulag may still be somewhat dangerous since he gets some attention and can even be regarded as a hero. A dissident who no one ever hears of is no danger to anyone.

Ben is probably sincere in  his desire to limit the influence in our politics but there will be money in politics as long as their is politics simply because politics requires money. Attempting to control the flow of money in politics will always tend to benefit some factions and parties at the expense of others. Controlling the money used to publish speech can be used to control the speech. This is not to say that we should have no campaign finance laws, but, as in everything else good intentions do not justify bad results and you must be on the lookout for unintended (or intended) consequences. Ben should stick to making ice cream.

The Real O’Neals

May 18, 2015

Here is another petition that I probably won’t be signing.

If you didn’t know who Dan Savage is until today, it’s probably a good thing. But right now we need you to familiarize yourselves with one of the cruelest, most vile political activists in America.

Why? ABC plans to release a pilot sitcom based on the life of radical activist Dan Savage. Dan Savage is a hateful anti-Christian bigot.

This is a complete disgrace.

We are asking for ABC and its parent company Disney to IMMEDIATELY cancel their pilot sitcom based on the life of radical activist Dan Savage.

Don’t get me wrong. I do know who Dan Savage is. He is a nasty, bigoted piece of work who seems to believe that because some Christians have been less than Christ-like in their treatment of homosexuals, he as a homosexual activist has the right to bully Christians. Why ABC has decided to loosely base a sitcom on his life is beyond my comprehension. Here is a description of this charming project.

Well, anything remotely having to do with sex columnist and pro-gay bully Dan Savage would have to be bad, and the just-released trailer for The Real O’Neals confirms it. “The O’Neals are your typical Irish Catholic family,” the voiceover begins. Which of course means the daughter pockets what she collects for church charities, Mom and Dad are divorcing, the family priest’s vow of poverty doesn’t apply to his Lexus, and the main character, a teenage son, is gay and struggling to come out of the closet. Supposedly based on Savage’s early life, The Real O’Neals is all pretty standard religious-people-are-hypocrites lefty stuff. There are shots at Catholic theology and iconography (“I can’t come out. Have you ever met my mom? She put a statue of the Virgin Mary over the toilet so we’d remember to put the seat down.”) and lots of talk about vaginas and condoms. And it appears the whole plot comes to a very public boil at the parish bingo night. Frankly, there’s nothing new and it doesn’t look very funny, so ABC’s determination to go ahead with developing the show in the face of protest from the MRC and a host of religious groups and leaders looks like a cultural thumb in the eye.

Did I mention that Dan Savage is a nasty bigot?

Savage is a hateful anti-Christian bigot who publishes filth under the guise of “sex advice.”  Some of his greatest hits: In March Savage invited Dr. Ben Carson to “Suck my dick.” Last January, he suggested the Christian parents whose transgender teen committed suicide be charged with murder, tweeting “an example needs 2 be made.” He’s hoped Sarah Palin gets cancer, and marked the retirement of Pope Benedict’s retirement by headlining his column: “That Motherfucking Power-Hungry, Self-Aggrandized Bigot In the Stupid Fucking Hat Announces His Retirement.” Most infamously, because Savage didn’t like something Sen. Rick Santorum said about homosexuality back in 2003, he “Google-Bombed” the senator’s name in the vilest possible way.

All the same I will not support this effort to get ABC to cancel the upcoming show. If I were the sort of person who wanted to tell television networks what shows they should run, I would be a liberal. As it is, as far as I am concerned, they can run whatever garbage they please. It is unlikely I’ll be watching.

The other reason that I do not support this petition is that it will do no good. It is obvious that the executives from ABC and the other networks do not care what conservatives or Christians think or whether they are offended. In fact, from their perspective, protests from conservatives are the best possible reason to go ahead with the program. No doubt the executives at ABC are patting themselves on the back, praising their courage for standing up to the “religious right”. Also, it must have occurred to more than one person in production and promotion of the The Real O’Neals that this show isn’t really very good and will likely be cancelled before the season is over. They have probably decided that the only way to get people to watch the the show is to invoke the “banned in Boston” effect by playing up the show as a controversial program that the Christians want to censor, hoping that the progressive and the dull witted (but I repeat myself) can be encouraged to keep watching just to show those anti-gay conservatives. I would rather not play into their hands.

The best way to protest an obnoxious and offensive show like this is simply to not watch it and not give it the attention it does not deserve.

UK Election

May 11, 2015

They had an election across the pond last week and the results were kind of interesting, not to say unexpected. Before the dissolution of the previous Parliament even though the Conservatives had the most seats in the House of Commons, they didn’t have a majority so they had to form a coalition with the Liberal-Democrats. Most observers expected that the Conservatives would lose seats requiring the formation of another coalition, perhaps with the Labour Party playing a greater role. It seemed certain that Britain’s “two and a half” party system with the Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal-Democrats was breaking down with the rise of the more right-wing UK Independence Party and the Scottish National Party.

It turned out the the pollsters and pundits were wrong. The Conservatives gained enough seats in the House of Commons to be a majority while the Liberal-Democrats lost big. The Labour Party was badly hurt by the rise of the Scottish National Party in Scotland, where Labour has generally been strongest. The UK Independence Party got more votes than the Liberal-Democrats, but Britain’s first past the post system meant that they only won one seat.

There are 650 seats in the British House of Commons so 326 seats are needed for a majority. The Conservatives received 36.9% of the vote getting 331 seats, just above what they needed. They had 302 seats in the previous Parliament so they gained 28. (The extra seat is that of the Speaker of the House of Commons who is considered to be nonpartisan. He renounced his former party allegiance when taking the office. ) The Labour Party went from 256 seats to 232, losing 24 seats. They won 30.4% of the vote. I am especially glad to see this. From what I can tell, the Labour Party has abandoned Tony Blair’s centrism to embrace the loony left once again. Their leader, Ed Miliband even promised to outlaw “Islamophoba” in Britain in a desperate last minute attempt at pandering to the Muslim vote.

The Liberal-Democrats simply collapsed. They dropped from 56 seats to 8 losing 48 seats. They won 7.9 % of the vote. The UK Independence Party did better, with 12.6% but only won one seat, as I said. I wish they had done better. The sooner Britain is out of the EU, the better. The biggest winner was the Scottish National Party. They only won 4.7% of the vote, but it was concentrated in Scotland, obviously, so they went up from 6 seats to 56 winning 50 seats. The remaining 23 seats were won by a number of minor parties.

So, what does this all mean? I don’t really know. I do not live in the United Kingdom, so I have no particular insights to offer about its politics. I find the rise of the Scottish National Party to be a little disturbing. It seems that last year’s referendum on Scottish independence was only a reprieve and they will be for trying independence once again. I think that would be a mistake on the part of Scotland, since by itself Scotland would be a rather insignificant country. Considering the strength that the Labour Party has traditionally enjoyed there, it seems likely that an independent Scotland would embrace the sort of socialism that has been the ruin of many nations.

One thing that seems remarkable is that every country in the Anglosphere is currently ruled by a conservative or right-wing government, except for the United States. The Conservative Party has a majority in Canada’s House of Commons. They also have a majority in Canada’s Senate, but the Senate has less power than the Commons, though more than Britain’s House of Lords. The Prime Minister is the Conservative Stephen Harper. Australia’s Parliament is operated more like America’s with both the Senate and the House of Representatives having approximately equal power. The Liberal Party controls both Houses and the Prime Minister of Australia, currently Tony Abbott is always appointed from the membership of the largest party. The Liberal Party, despite its name is actually the more conservative of the major Australian parties. Its left-wing opposition is the Labor Party. New Zealand has a unicameral legislature in which the more conservative National Party rules in coalition with a few minor right-wing parties.

Ireland, which I suppose ought to be considered a member of the Anglosphere, is a little strange. The Irish Parliament, called the Oireachtas, has two houses, an upper house, the Seanead Eireanne, which is largely powerless, and the lower house, the Dail Eireanne, which selects the Taoisearch, or Prime Minister. There is a President of Ireland, but it is a ceremonial office. The more conservative Fine Gael currently runs the government in coalition with the Labour Party. while the more centrist conservative Fianna Fail is the opposition. That seems to me to be as if the Republicans were in a coalition with the Green Party against the Democrats.

The United States is the odd man out here, with our more left-wing Democrat, Barack Obama, as president, but that is only because we do not have a parliamentary system here. Instead we have a powerful president elected independently of Congress with a fixed term. If we had a parliamentary system, President Obama would have lost his job in last year’s Republican landslide. Unfortunately we have to put up with him for another two years.

I do not know if the politics of these various countries have any influence on one another, despite all having political cultures descended from the English system. American and British politics historically have seemed to run in tandem with one another with Reagan and Thatcher or Clinton and Blair having parallel administrations, though I haven’t gone through the whole list of the party affiliation of British Prime Ministers. Roosevelt was a Democrat while Churchill was a Conservative while George W. Bush was a Republican and Blair was Labour. It would be nice to take the results of last week’s elections in Britain as a good omen for the Republican’s prospects next year, but we will have to wait and see.

 

Ben Carson for President

May 7, 2015

Retired neurosurgeon and conservative icon Dr. Ben Carson has announced his bid to run for president in next year’s election. I cannot say that I support Dr. Carson’s campaign for president. While I have no doubt that he was a competent, even brilliant neurosurgeon and he certainly seems to possess more wisdom and courage than most, I question whether he has the right experience. He has never held any political office. Telling off President Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast is not, in itself, a sufficient qualification for the presidency.

He looks the part anyway.

He looks the part anyway.

As the former head of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital,  Dr. Carson has had some experience in executive leadership, perhaps more than the current occupant of the White House. It is not clear how well directing a division at a hospital will translate into skill in national politics. A candidate may have all the right ideas on solving the nation’s problems, but unless he has spent some time getting to know some of the influential people in Washington and learning the culture, he will find it very difficult enact his ideas. The presidency is not an entry-level position and giving the job to a person with no experience is asking for trouble. Barack Obama held only a single term as a Senator from Illinois before being elected to the presidency and his relative lack of experience has caused him to make mistakes that a more experienced politician might have avoided. While Dr. Carson may be more suited for the job of president temperamentally, it is hard to imagine he won’t be any better than Barack Obama as avoiding missteps. I would be happier if Dr. Carson began his political career running for Congress. If he does well, I would have more confidence in supporting a presidential bid.

I am, however, glad that Dr. Ben Carson has decided to run for president. For the past six years, the progressives have insisted that the only reason conservatives have disliked Barack Obama is because he is African-American. It has to be racism. It couldn’t possibly be President Obama’s extreme left-wing politics. If a White president had proposed the same policies, the Republicans would have supported him all the way. It will be interesting how these same tolerant progressives treat a Black conservative who is running for president. My guess will be that he will become the latest Emmanuel Goldstein.

Goldstein

Goldstein

I expect that as the latest subject of the two minutes hate, Dr. Carson will be subject to the worst sort of personal abuse, including blatantly racist insults. The liberals can’t stand for any members of the groups they think they own; Blacks, women, gays, Hispanics to wander off the plantation. Once again, we will get to see the tolerant, compassionate, diversity loving liberals show their true nature as the worst sort of intolerant bigots.

The Rolling Stones

May 5, 2015

The Rolling Stones Robert A Heinlein‘s story of the great American road trip updated for the space age. Like Heinlein’s other juvenile science fiction novels written in the 1950’s, The Rolling Stones is great fun to read and teaches the lessons in self-reliance, courage and rational thinking found in all of Heinlein’s books for young adults.

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The plot of the Rolling Stones is simple enough. Castor and Pollux Stone, two fifteen year old twins who are Loonies, lunar colonists, want to buy a used space ship so they can begin a career in interplanetary trade. They ask their father, former mayor Roger Stone, for their inheritance in advance, but he outright refuses, insisting that they need to complete their education. The other members of the family, his wife Dr. Edith Stone, older daughter Meade, younger son Lowell, or Buster, and Roger’s mother Hazel Meade Stone, a founding mother of the Lunar Free State, convince him to buy a larger space ship for the use of the whole family. Soon, the Stones are on a trip to Mars and then the Asteroid Belt. They encounter some problems, but are able to resolve them with careful thinking and ingenuity. At the end, the Stones are on their way to Saturn to see the rings.

This book was published in 1952, before any human being had gone to space and even before Sputnik, yet Heinlein was amazingly accurate in his descriptions of how space travel would actually work. Heinlein was an engineer and he clearly put a lot of thought and research into writing this book, perhaps more thought than many might bother with for a story aimed at young adults. The Stones do not just push a few buttons and head for Mars. They must  go through a take off procedure much like that of real space craft. They must carefully calculate the proper course and account for the orbits of the planets in order to get to their destination.

With all of that being said, it is interesting to note where Heinlein and other science fiction writers of his time got things wrong. In general it has proven far more expensive and difficult to establish a human presence beyond low earth orbit than anyone anticipated. Space is a more hostile environment than thought and the extended period of weightlessness experienced by the Stones on their trip would probably leave them crippled by the time they reached Mars, unless they managed to provide some sort of artificial gravity, perhaps by rotating their ship. The depictions of the planets in Heinlein’s juveniles is far out of date. Neither Mars nor Venus is habitable without extensive terraforming and there are no natives, alas. What is most remarkable for an engineer like Heinlein is the inability to predict the electronic and computer revolutions. The computers in Heinlein’s juveniles are still huge, room sized contraptions and the characters use slide rules to perform calculations. I imagine that when the time comes when families are able to take trips to other planets, there will be an app to calculate trajectories.

I said that The Rolling Stones was the story of a road trip, but it is also the story of the ever expanding frontier. Heinlein’s political and social views were often described as libertarian, but perhaps a more accurate label would be frontier. On the frontier, whether in the Old West or in space, people cannot wait for a distant government to solve their problems or take care of their needs. By the time the government even learns of their problems, they may be dead. The people on the frontier must learn to take care of themselves and once they have become used to taking care of themselves, it is hard for them to accept the idea that their betters in a distant capital are more capable of solving problems that they are. The frontier creates a political climate that emphasizes equality over hierarchy and individual freedom over regimentation. It may be that many of the problems America is currently facing, not least an ever more intrusive and lawless government and a ever shrinking personal sphere of individual freedoms, is precisely because we no longer have a frontier. If this is the case than the sooner we get up into space, the better.

Political musings aside, The Rolling Stones is an enjoyable story that can appeal to youngsters of any age.

The Election of 1836

May 3, 2015

At the end of his second term as president, Andrew Jackson was still popular enough that he could have run for a third term if he wanted. Jackson decided to abide by the two term limit precedent set by the previous presidents and instead promoted the candidacy of his vice-president and hand picked successor, Martin Van Buren. It was curious choice given how very different the two men were. Jackson was a rough and ready frontiersman who had worked his way up from an impoverished youth to become a military hero. Van Buren was a smooth politician from New York who was descended from an old Dutch family. Although they agreed on most of the issues, the two men didn’t really have a lot in common. The thing that actually brought them closer together and convinced President Jackson that Van Buren was just the right man to continue his legacy was the Peggy Eaton, or petticoat affair.

Peggy Eaton was a pretty young woman from Washington D. C. who had developed a certain reputation by her teens. In 1816, at the age of 17, Peggy eloped with a thirty-nine year old Navy Purser named John Timberlake. Timberlake died at sea in 1828 and Peggy married an old friend, Senator John Henry Eaton. This would not normally be considered scandalous, except that there were rumors that John and Peggy had been somewhat more than friends and that Timberlake had committed suicide because he learned of her infidelities.

At the beginning of his first term, in 1829, President Jackson had appointed Martin Van Buren as his Secretary of State and his friend Senator Eaton as Secretary of War, and that was when the scandal broke. Peggy Eaton was accused in Washington society of being an adulteress who had married Eaton indecently quickly after the death of her first husband instead of spending a proper time in mourning. In mean girls fashion, all of the wives of the men in Jackson’s cabinet snubbed John and Peggy Eaton and get their husbands to do likewise. Vice-President John C. Calhoun‘s wife Floride was the ringleader of this clique and this, along with their differences over state’s rights led to Jackson dropping Calhoun from the ticket when he ran for his second term, since Jackson, recalling the vicious gossip about his own marriage to his beloved Rachel, took the side of the Eatons, against his whole cabinet, except for Martin Van Buren, who being a widower did not have a wife to fear.

Because President Jackson became involved the petticoat affair caused a schism in his cabinet that made it impossible to govern. Jackson was unwilling to ask his friend Eaton to resign, so in 1831, he had everyone in his cabinet resign and began again with a new cabinet. Since Martin Van Buren was the only member of the cabinet who had treated the Eatons decently, Jackson made him his vice-president for his second term  selected Van Buren as his political successor.

With Jackson’s support, Van Buren easily won the Democratic nomination for president at the convention that met in Baltimore in May 1836. For his running mate, the convention selected Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson from Kentucky. Although Johnson balanced the ticket, being from the South, and something of a war hero from the War of 1812 and the conflicts against the Indians, he was a controversial choice because he had had a longstanding affair with a slave named Julia Chinn, who he treated as his wife.

The American Second Party System was still developing in 1836. There had been some opposition to Jackson from a variety of factions and these came together to oppose Van Buren. The National Republicans from the previous election joined with state’s rights supporters and the Anti-Masonic Party to form the Whig Party. The Whig Party was only united in their opposition to Andrew Jackson and they never did form a coherent party identity before breaking up over the slavery issue. In 1836, this disparate group could not settle on a site for a national convention or a single candidate, so they nominated three presidential candidates with each man appealing to a different region of the country. First there was Senator Daniel Webster from Massachusetts. He was a supporter of Henry Clay and could win New England and the Anti-Masons. Senator Hugh White from Tennessee could attract voters from the South. Finally, there was William Henry Harrison, a Senator from Ohio and the first governor of the Indiana Territory, he was most famous for leading the military force that defeated Tecumseh’s coalition of Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison, then, was a war hero who could really the West. The Whigs hoped that each candidate would be popular enough to defeat Van Buren in his region and since no candidate could gain a majority. The House of Representatives would select the new president from among the top three, presumably Whig, candidates. It was an unusual strategy that has never been tried again. Perhaps because it didn’t work.


There is not much to say about the actual campaign. There was a great deal of personal invective from both sides. The Whigs assailed Van Buren for being merely a clever politician without character or principles who was evasive on where he stood on the issues. The Whigs in the Senate, over which Van Buren presided as part of his duties as Vice-President, tried to embarrass Van Buren and arranged for tie votes, which would oblige Van Buren to cast a deciding, and possibly controversial, vote. The Democrats portrayed Van Buren as a worthy successor to Jackson and attacked the honor and credentials of the three Whigs.

In the end, the Democrats proved to be far better organized than their opponents and proved to be far better at rallying their supporters. Van Buren won the majority he needed. He won 764,168 or 50.9% of the popular vote.  He won 170 electoral votes from states all around the Union. Of the three Whigs, William Henry Harrison proved to be the most popular with 550,816 or 36.6% of the popular vote. Harrison won the mid western states Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Vermont for a total of 73 electoral votes. Hugh got 146,109 or 9.7% of the popular vote carrying only Tennessee and Georgia with 26 electoral votes. Daniel Webster won only his home state of Massachusetts and 14 electoral votes. Webster received 41,201 or 2.7% of the popular vote.

The Election of 1836

The Election of 1836

There was one more Whig, Willie Person Magnum who got South Carolina’s 11 electoral votes. South Carolina was the only remaining state in which the electors which selected by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.

Willie Person Magnum

Willie Person Magnum

 

There was one other oddity about the election of 1836. This was the only election in which the Senate selected the Vice President, as provided by the twelfth amendment,

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Van Buren’s running mate, Richard Johnson, proved to be very unpopular in the South because of his relationship with Julia Chenn, and 23 of Virginia’s electors who supported Van Buren refused to vote for Johnson. As a result he only received 147 electoral votes, one short of a majority. Johnson easily won the Senate vote which was along party lines 36 for Johnson to 16 for the Whig Francis Granger.

 

Reopening Old Wounds

April 20, 2015

One hundred fifty years ago this month, General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the American Civil War, the bloodiest war in America’s history.  Brian Beulter at the New Republic thinks that this date, April 9 should be a national holiday celebrated every year.

In a speech one month ago, the first black president of the United States challenged millions of white Americans to resist the convenient allure of overlooking the country’s blemished moral record. It was a dual challenge, actually—first to the classical understanding of American exceptionalism, but also to America’s persistent critics, who abjure the concept of exceptionalism altogether.

In the self-critical America of Obama’s imagination, more people would know about the Edmund Pettus bridge and its namesake. The bridge itself wouldn’t necessarily be renamed after Martin Luther King or John Lewis or another civil rights hero; because it is synonymous with racist violence, the bridge should bear Pettus’s name eternally, with the explicit intent of linking the sins of the Confederacy to the sins of Jim Crow. But Obama’s America would also reject the romantic reimagining of the Civil War, and thus, the myriad totems to the Confederacy and its leaders that pockmark the South, most of which don’t share the Pettus bridge’s incidental association with the struggle for civil rights.

This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.

He goes on in that vein, but you get the idea. The Confederacy and its leaders must be disavowed as traitors on the wrong side of history. The southern states must not be permitted to remember or appreciate their heritage which includes many great men who fought in the Civil War.

I think this it a bad idea. Generally, throughout history, when some province or region rebelled against its central government and is defeated, that central government punished the rebellious provinces with savage reprisals, including executing the leaders of that rebellion. This only increased the resentment and hatred of the people of that region against the central government and led to another rebellion a generation later, with another round of reprisals. This cycle continued until the rebellious province won its independence or was utterly crushed with its people killed or scattered.

In the United States, we managed to avoid that cycle. For the most part, the defeated rebel states were not treated as conquered territory but were welcomed back into the Union. The soldiers and officers of the Confederate armies were not massacred or imprisoned for treason but permitted to go home. General Robert E. Lee was not hanged. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for a short time but released. There was some trouble in the administration of the formerly rebellious regions during the Reconstruction Era, largely due to efforts to secure the rights of the former slaves, but in general the South was generally well treated after the war.

Because Lincoln and others treated the rebels so leniently, there was no lasting Southern separatist movement. Instead North and South became welded together into a new nation more united than before the war. This meant that the Civil War had to become America’s war. The soldiers and heroes of both sides had to become America’s heroes and the short history of the Confederate States of America had to become part of the shared history of the United States of America. This also meant that justice and equality for the African-Americans had to wait a century. This was unfortunate, but reunifying America had to take priority, just as establishing the new nation had to take priority over ending slavery in the time of the founders.

As a result of this welding together, the South, the former rebels is probably the most patriotic region of this country and southerners have always served in the military in disproportionate numbers. Lincoln’s policy of “letting them up easy” has been more than vindicated. Now, Mr. Beutler would like to undo all of that effort to punish the South once again for the Civil War. The Confederate story must no longer be America’s story. The rebels ought not be be considered our countrymen but as an evil enemy justly defeated.

We know from experience that there will be resistance to such efforts. Some critics will caution that singling out Confederate officers will give way to politically correct efforts to sideline other historically important Americans. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveowners. Shouldn’t we expiate their sins by banishment as well, starting with the $1 and $2 bills?

But figures like Washington and Jefferson fit comfortably within the framework of exceptionalism that Obama sketched in Selma, while supporters of secession do not. Obama’s telling of American history is one in which an establishment worthy of preservation is continually improved by righteous internal forces. You don’t need to be morally pristine to be immortalized in Obama’s America, but you can’t be on the side of forces that reject the establishment altogether when it advances incrementally toward its founding ideals. Likewise, those who would caution that a more accurate reckoning with the Confederacy would inflame racial tensions are merely restating the implication that the country is too weak to be introspective. If Obama’s expression of American exceptionalism is correct about anything, it’s that this kind of thinking has no merit.

By contrast, the Union’s victory, and the abolition of slavery, both merit celebration as exemplars of American improvement and renewal, even if many Unionists weren’t moral heroes. These twin accomplishments are as worthy of a federal holiday as any holiday we already celebrate. So let’s name April 9 New Birth of Freedom Day. And if that creates too much paid leave for government workers, we could swap out Columbus Day. We don’t yet live in the America Obama described, but we should strive to.

I don’t really want to live in the America Obama is trying to build. It seems clear that there is no room for Southern Whites in that America. I have to wonder is Mr. Beutler is trying to start a new Civil War by dividing this country and alienating the South. Actually, there is no great mystery why such a piece would appear in the New Republic. Progressives have generally hated the South, even more that the rest of flyover country because the South has usually been the most conservative region of the United States. The South with its religious, patriotic, and conservative people represents the aspects of America most progressives want to get as far as they can away from and which stands most in need of fundamental change.

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Pigs Are Flying

April 11, 2015

Look out the window and check if there are any pigs flying by, because for once I agree with the loons at Watchdog.net, not that I am about to sign any petition of theirs.

Dear David Hoffman,

There are now several states where you can’t receive certain welfare benefits without firstpassing a drug test.The rhetoric fueling these new laws demonizes poor people by portraying them as drug addicts seeking to take advantage of the system.

But new research shows that welfare applicants fail drug tests at rates lower than the national average. In Tennessee, for example, only u37 out of 16,000 applicants failed drug tests. That’s less than one percent, while the national drug use rate is 9.4 percent.

States have collectively spent nearly $1 million––and are set to spend millions more––on pointless attempts to prevent drug users from receiving public support.

So why are legislators in twelve other states now trying to pass similar laws?

Tell state legislators not to require drug testing for welfare applicants!

PETITION TO STATE LEGISLATORS IN CONNECTICUT, HAWAII, IOWA, KENTUCKY, MINNESOTA, MISSISSIPPI, MONTANA, NEW YORK, OREGON, SOUTH CAROLINA, TEXAS, AND WEST VIRGINIA: Drug testing welfare applicants does nothing more than waste taxpayer money and demonize the poor! Don’t vote for legislation that would mandate drug testing for welfare applicants or recipients!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

I agree that testing welfare applicants for drug use is mostly a waste of money, no matter how many such applicants are actually abusing drugs. If the intent is to save money, it is not clear that denying applicants benefits if they fail a drug test will save enough to make large scale testing worthwhile. Unless those who are discovered to be drug abusers are directed into some sort of drug rehab program, it is not likely that denying them benefits will help them all that much.

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I am not sure that the motivation behind the push to require drug testing for welfare applicants is really a desire to demonize or punish the poor. That idea seems to be based on a caricature of conservatives as misers who hate the poor. There are some conservatives who do indeed believe that people are poor because of their own personal failures, but I think that most conservatives genuinely want to help the poor as much as liberals profess to. Where conservatives and liberals disagree is, for the most part, on how best to help the poor.

Most liberals seem to believe that people are poor because our economic and social system makes them poor. The whole system is designed to benefit the 1% at the expense of the 99% and the super rich place barriers to prevent the poor from improving their lot. For minorities there is the added burden of racism or sexism or some other kind of ism that makes people helpless victims who need government action to get ahead. There is a lot of truth to this concept. If you are born poor, you will not have many of the same opportunities to get ahead as someone born into a wealthy family. You may not be able to get as good an education or take advantage of the same connections as someone else might. Liberals believe that this is unfair and unequal and the government should be involved in making sure everyone has the same sorts of opportunities.

The problem with this viewpoint is that it is simply not possible to give everyone the exact same opportunities. Some people are going to be luckier than others. A person born with a physical or mental disability is going to be disadvantaged as is someone born to abusive or irresponsible parents. People also have different skills and personality traits. A person inclined to be lazy or to make foolish choices is not going to have the same chance to get ahead as someone more industrious or shrewd. And then, how much government intervention do we really want? Does anyone really want the sort of totalitarian government that might be necessary to ensure that no one is left out.

Conservatives, for their part, tend to emphasize the role of personal choices in determining success or failure. If one chooses not to make the best of whatever opportunities come his way, engages in drug abuse, has children out of wedlock or before being able to afford them, than one is likely to remain poor, especially if one has the attitude that success is impossible because the whole system is stacked against him. Conservatives, then, tend to believe that the best way to help the poor is to help them to help themselves. They believe that the policies that liberals espouse have the effect of shielding people from the consequences of their own bad decisions and thus prevent them from learning the lessons that might help them to make better decisions. Conservatives do recognize that circumstances give some people advantages over others, but like to point out that many individuals succeed in spite of disadvantageous beginnings and believe that the best thing for government to do is not to hold such individuals back in an effort to make everyone achieve equal outcomes. So, both liberals and conservatives can accuse the other side of lacking compassion with good reason, as far as they are concerned.

I think, then, that the rationale  for requiring welfare applicants to take drug tests is that conservatives are reluctant to enable bad behavior by subsidizing it through government payments or prefer not to help people who show no signs of wanting to help themselves.

Whatever the reasons for  requiring drug tests for welfare recipients, whether good or bad, the simple fact is that such requirements do not seem to be worth the cost. As this is the case, the drug tests make for bad policy it should be discontinued.

Rand Paul for President

April 8, 2015

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has officially announced the opening of his campaign to be the next President of the United States. As CNN reports,

For Rand Paul, it’s all led to this moment.

Since riding the tea party wave into the Senate in 2010, Paul has carefully built a brand of mainstream libertarianism — dogged advocacy of civil liberties combined with an anti-interventionist foreign policy and general support for family values — that he bets will create a coalition of younger voters and traditional Republicans to usher him into the White House.

The test of that theory began Tuesday when the Kentucky senator made official what has been clear for years: He’s running for president.

“Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I’m putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America,” Paul said at a rally in Louisville.

Paul immediately hit the campaign trail for a four-day swing through New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada — the states that traditionally vote first in the primaries and caucuses.

In his speech, he called for reforming Washington by pushing for term limits and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He argued that both parties are to blame for the rising debt, saying it doubled under a Republican administration and tripled under Obama.

“Government should be restrained and freedom should be maximized,” he said.

In general, I like Rand Paul. He seems to be more clever than most of the  leading Republicans and he is willing to  move beyond the comfort zone of the GOP and reach out to people who haven’t generally been very responsive to overtures from Republicans and he is willing to take unorthodox positions. His mainstream libertarianism is likely to be appealing to the large number of Americans who simply want the government to leave them alone without seeming overly dogmatic or extreme. He seems to be having a somewhat antagonistic relationship with the mainstream media, in that he is not allowing the reporters who have interviewed him to corner him or put words in his mouth. Perhaps Rand Paul understand, as few Republican politicians seem to, that the media is the enemy and will never give any Republican candidate a fair chance. All in all, Rand Paul seems to be an excellent candidate for president.

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I have some reservations, though. Paul doesn’t have much experience in politics, just one term as the junior Senator from Kentucky. The last time we elected a one-term junior Senator, it didn’t work out too well. A more serious objection to a Rand Paul candidacy is the fact that his father, Ron Paul, is a lunatic and I am afraid that the nut doesn’t far fall from the oak tree. My most serious concern with Ron Paul is his extreme isolationism. There are a lot of people, including Rand Paul, who have been labeled as isolationist because they have expressed the position that the United States need not get involved in every conflict in the world and should exercise more discretion in intervening in foreign affairs, particularly in matters that do not affect our interests. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. Ron Paul, however, seems to be of the opinion that the United States should not be involved in foreign affairs at all. We should mind our own business and in return the world will leave us alone. This is a dangerously naive position to take. For one thing, America is simply too big and powerful to mind its own business. Everything we do, even not doing anything, affects everyone in the world. A small country like Switzerland can keep to itself. The US does not have that option. Also, our present period of relative peace and prosperity depends very much on American leadership and power. If America falters, things could get very bad, very quickly. President Obama’s reluctance to assert American leadership has already caused much vexation among our allies and in the world generally. A truly isolationist administration would be a disaster.

Rand Paul seems to be more reasonable about foreign policy than his father and it may be that he will find a middle ground between extreme isolationism and excessive interventionism. It may also be that his father’s extreme positions will prevent his election or even nomination as the Republican candidate. It remains to be seen. The election of 2016 is still a long way off and it is probably premature to make any predictions or make any decisions about the candidates.

Some Thoughts About the Recent Controversy in Indiana

April 6, 2015

There has already been a lot written about the controversy engendered by the recent passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act here in Indiana and I don’t suppose I have much to say that hasn’t already been said. I am sorry to see my state become a front in the never ending Cultural War and I especially resent the slanders that the progressives have made about Indiana’s bigotry and backwardness. Still the experience has been edifying since the people on the left have once again demonstrated how mendacious, intolerant, ignorant, bullying, and just plain mean they are. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to their antics, but maybe those who have imagined that they could get by by minding their own business will learn better. There are a few random observations I would like to make about the whole situation. Maybe I am not the only person who has noticed these things.

I wonder if the people who have been comparing the RFRA to the Jim Crow laws of the Old South are really aware that Jim Crow did not permit racist business owners to discriminate against Blacks, they required them to discriminate regardless of what they might want. Now, of course, most White businessmen in the Old South were fairly racist and didn’t have much of a problem with segregation, but they didn’t necessarily want to discriminate against Blacks if such discrimination cost them. Owners of public transportation such as railroads didn’t particularly want the added cost of separate accommodations for Whites and Blacks. Owners of hotels and rental property found it burdensome to maintain separate facilities for Blacks and Whites.

What do you suppose would have happened if a business owner decided that due to his religious convictions it was wrong to discriminate against Blacks? Aside from from facing the full force of the law which required discrimination, it is likely that he would have lost most of his White customers. They would have boycotted him. Perhaps there would have been a campaign of intimidation led by the Ku Klux Klan to force him to comply with the local mores or close his business. Now, which side in this debate is using boycotts, intimidation, and ultimately the law to force compliance?

Am I the only one who finds the whole scenario of the gay couple walking into a bakery, florist, or wedding planner’s office, etc, asking them to provide for their “wedding” only to be refused on religious grounds and then suing the business into compliance just a little suspicious? I suspect that the majority of such businesses would have no scruples about taking their money and performing any desired service. Many wouldn’t want to be involved in any controversy. How is it then, that we keep seeing religious business owners getting into trouble? Are Christian owned businesses deliberately being targeted?  What would be the purpose of such a campaign, to provide object lessons for anyone who might not want to go along with the latest PC rules? Should I be fitted for a tin foil hat?

I would like to propose a thought experiment. Let us say there is a preacher, who we will call “Brother Bob”, who has routinely preached against homosexuality in a not very nice way. In fact, let’s say he was only a step above the Westburo Baptist Church. Now, suppose the congregation of Brother Bob’s church wanted to honor him for twenty years of service by throwing a party for him. To make the arrangements for this celebration, they go to a local caterer which happens to be owned by gay man named Jim, who finds Brother Bob’s preaching to be deeply offensive and hurtful. Should Jim be required to cater a party in Brother Bob’s honor even though it will make him feel uncomfortable?

I think that the majority of the tolerant progressives who have opposed the RFRA would say that Jim should not be forced to served Brother Bob since Brother Bob is a bigot and a hater and thus has no rights. They probably wouldn’t state their position in precisely those words, but that would be their position. The small minority who are actually able to think these things through and have some notion of adopting a consistent ideology might say that Jim should not be able to discriminate against Brother Bob regardless of his personal feelings. But why should Jim be forced to provide a service he doesn’t want to? Why should a baker be forced to bake a cake for a gay “wedding” if he doesn’t want to? Why is it so controversial to just let people mind their own business and live and let live?

The people opposed to laws like the RFRA say that they are not, in any way, opposed to religious freedom, just to bigotry. They graciously allow everyone to have their own opinion about religion provided that opinion is kept privately in the home or the church. Any attempt to live by the principles of one’s religion is only tolerated so long as the actions are in accord with progressive values. If the actions are not in accord with their values then they are bigoted and should not be permitted. Isn’t this a little like the old Soviet constitution which granted all sorts of civil rights to Soviet citizens but only so long as the use of those rights were in accord with socialism?

I wonder where all of this is going. I have to say that the hatred and disinformation directed at my state and some of the people who have only given honest answers to reporters is a little discouraging. I really don’t want to live in a country where I have to watch what I say for fear of losing my livelihood, or worse.


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