Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A Venerable Holiday Tradition

November 30, 2015

The Holiday Season is here and coming with this joyous season are the various traditions we keep. Among the more venerable of these annual traditions are the handy lists of talking points provided by the Democratic National Convention and assorted left wing groups for the aid of young progressives who might want to ruin a holiday gathering with friends and family by starting arguments over politics.


The holiday season is filled with food, traveling, and lively discussions with Republican relatives about politics sometimes laced with statements that are just not true. Here are the most common myths spouted by your family members who spend too much time listening to Rush Limbaugh and the perfect response to each of them.

These talking points are arranged by subject in the form of simple scripts to use in response to statements by a Republican uncle. These subjects include Obamacare, climate change, immigration, “equality”. and various presidential candidates. Thus if the Republican uncle says something like:

We should repeal Obamacare.

They provide a handy response.

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans who were uninsured a few years ago have coverage today — that’s more than 17 million people. If the ACA were repealed, millions of Americans would lose access to quality, affordable healthcare. And none of the Republican candidates for president have a plan to solve that problem.

There are smiley faces and frowny faces to ensure that the young progressive doesn’t become confused over which line to use.

I don’t know what someone is supposed to do if the Republican uncle departs from the script by using different arguments or answering the responses with facts of his own. For instance, the Republican uncle might note that if Obamacare has provided coverage for 1 in 3 uninsured Americans, this means that 2 in 3, a majority for the progressives who might not understand math, are still not covered, hardly a rousing success, not to mention that Obamacare co-ops in Oregon and Colorado have collapsed putting the future of the whole program in jeopardy. For climate change we have:

Climate change is just a liberal scare tactic.

And the response:

Why are conservatives more likely to believe that climate change is a conspiracy than to acknowledge what 97% of climate scientists-and the majority of Americans-believe? Climate change is real, and it’s man made. The Republican presidential field is living in denial.

He might point out that citing polls of climate scientists or the the general population is worthless unless you know how the poll was conducted, what were the precise questions were, how large was the sample size, etc. He might also point out that the same sort of dodgy statistical methods were used to generate the 97 % consensus as Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick, and given their past history of scientific malpractice and outright deception, there is no reason to believe anything that the proponents of climate hysteria have to say.

I don’t think that the people who have written these scripts have had very much real contact with their Republican uncles. They mostly seem to be set up to deal with strawmen or a liberal’s caricature of what a conservative might say. They have a section on  Jeb Bush. I have never heard any conservative who supports Jeb Bush’s candidacy. I am not really sure who wants him for president, except for a group of big donors who are RINOs.

I have to wonder what the actual point of all of this is. Surely they don’t really believe that someone’s Republican uncle is going to experience some sort of epiphany and conversion after hearing their Democratic nephew spout off a memorized script? Do they really imagine a life long conservative smacking his forehead and saying something like, “By God you’re right! I have been misled my whole life by Rush Limbaugh and Faux News but now thanks to you I see the light!”. Somehow I doubt it.

I suppose the real purpose this exercise is to build loyalty and conviction in the people who are already Democrats, by giving them a feeling that they are part of the team fighting for the right. The Democratic nephew can read through and recite these talking points that he already agrees with and feel that he is part of the struggle to bring social justice to America, even if he doesn’t manage to convince his Republican uncle. All sorts of organizations from cults to corporations like to use this sort of technique and I see it in fundraising e-mails from both parties; send money to us and be part of the fight.

I have a suggestion for any young progressive who might want to have a political discussion with his Republican uncle. Instead of reciting bite-sized talking points intended for idiots incapable of thinking for themselves, why not try listening to your Republican uncle. He might have good reasons for believing the things he does. If he is older, he might have life experiences more valuable and relevant than what you might read on the internet. Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, you might still learn something and might be able to better understand why you believe the things you do. Try thinking for yourself for a change. Maybe you might both learn something.

Ben Carson and Evolution

November 9, 2015

I got this meme off of Facebook. I think it originally came from the left-wing blog Daily Kos.

Carson Evolution

Why is this an issue in any presidential campaign? Since the duties of the President of the United States do not include teaching a science class, how is any candidate’s opinion on the theory of evolution particularly relevant? I would be more concerned with a candidate’s opinion on the theories of Marx than of Darwin. Marx’s ideas have contributed to the murder of millions and has caused more misery than any opinion on evolution ever has, yet candidates with ideas derived from Marx never seemed to be questioned by the media. The fact that Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist or that Barack Obama had as mentors such left-wing Marxist radicals as Bill Ayers and Frank Marshall Davis seem to me to be of far more concern than Dr. Ben Carson’s thoughts on evolution.

I suppose that the people at Daily Kos would argue that Dr. Carson’s beliefs about evolution disqualify him for the presidency because they show that he is anti-science. If that is the case, that Carson really is against science, what do they imagine he will do as president? Cut all funding for research? Insist that universities that accept federal funds teach creationism? Even if he wanted to do this, and there is no indication that he did, President Carson would find it very difficult to impose creationism on the scientific community. The President of the United States is not a dictator, at least not yet, and cannot single handedly control the education policies of the entire country. I think that science is safe from a president who does not believe in evolution.

But is Ben Carson really anti-science? For that matter are creationists really anti-science? They certainly do not believe that the theory of evolution is a valid explanation for the origin and adaptation of life on Earth and they disagree with current ideas about the age of the planet and the universe, but is this being anti-science? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the definition of science is:

The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Science can also mean “an organized body of knowledge on a particular subject”, so one might argue that Dr. Carson and creationists  are not knowledgeable in the sciences of biology and geology but that is not the same as saying that they are anti-science in the first sense. In fact, hardly anyone is actually anti-science in the sense of being against the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world. Even people people espousing wildly unscientific ideas try to assume the mantle of science. Creationists like to say they have scientific evidence for their position, even when it really boils down to, “The Bible says it”. Disbelief in evolution does not necessarily imply disbelief in the scientific process.

The real importance of evolution to the left does not seem to be its status as a scientific hypothesis subject to falsification but as a means to differentiate between the elite intellectual elite and the bitter clingers in flyover country. To them, belief in evolution is a sign to show that you are on the right side of science and history. It, along with climate change is sacred knowledge, not to be questioned or doubted. By demonstrating a disbelief in evolution, Dr. Carson shows that he is lacking in intelligence and should be disqualified from the presidency.

The irony here is that Dr. Ben Carson is probably a good deal more intelligent and educated than the person who put together that meme. He is certainly more accomplished, being a gifted neurosurgeon. It is even possible he is more scientifically knowledgeable, even about evolution. I wonder how much that that person who created that meme really knows about the theory of evolution or can explain why it is accepted as an explanation for the development of life by nearly every scientist knowledgeable in the relevant fields. I would guess that he believes in evolution because it is what was taught in school and that it is what all of the smart people believe. Well, that is not the same as actually investigating the matter for oneself and actually trying to understand why a given theory is believed to be true. You don’t get to give yourself credit for being in the intellectual elite for simply remembering what you learned in school twenty years ago and you don’t get the right to sneer at people better than yourself.



Saturday Night Trump

October 28, 2015

Donald Trump is scheduled to host Saturday Night Live next Saturday November 7 and it seems that some people are not particularly happy about this choice, especially Juan Escalante from

Dear MoveOn member,

“Saturday Night Live” recently announced that Donald Trump would serve as host of the program on November 7, 2015, one year from the 2016 general election.1

The popular comedy show, which has been criticized for not adequately representing Latinos, is broadcast by NBC—the same network that terminated its relationship with Donald Trump over his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants.2,3

Now, just three months after cutting ties with Donald Trump, NBC is seeking to boost its ratings at the expense of Latinos and immigrants by allowing Trump to host one of its most popular shows.

Will you join me in calling on NBCUniversal Chairman of Content Matt Bond and “Saturday Night Live” Producer Lorne Michaels to dump Trump?

Mass deportation is not funny! By allowing Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” NBC is excusing and even validating Trump’s hateful comments about immigrants and Latinos. Tell NBC to dump Donald Trump as host of “Saturday Night Live!”Sign Juan’s petition

By inviting Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” NBC is demonstrating that it doesn’t care about its Latino and pro-immigrant viewers. It is providing a platform for Trump’s insulting attacks on immigrants and calling it entertainment—something we do not find funny.

It is shameful for NBC to allow Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” a comedy show, when one of the main policies he has promised would rip apart millions of immigrant and Latino families.

NBC cannot bill hateful rhetoric as comedy, much less entertainment. Tell NBC to drop Donald Trump as host of “Saturday Night Live!”

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.


–Juan Escalante


What about the people who might actually want to see Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live? What about the people who watch shows on television to be amused and who do not much care about the political affiliations of the people they are watching? Juan Escalante and other activists have every right to object to Trump’s presence on Saturday Night Live, or any other show and they can best express that right by choosing not to watch the show. But that is not good enough for them. They want to make sure that no one watches the show by pressuring NBC to prevent Trump from hosting. Who are these people who get to decide for the rest of us who and what are acceptable to appear on television? Why do they get to decide what speech is so offensive that the speaker must be ostracised.?Normal people watch television for amusement. They do not see their television as a means of political indoctrination.  Normal people do not carefully count how many of each ethnic group is represented on each show. They do not organize boycotts or petitions whenever someone says something in public they happen to dislike. Normal people have lives and jobs and don’t really have the time or energy for this kind of activism, even if they were so inclined, which not being sociopathic control freaks, they mostly aren’t. Who are these people like Juan Escalante that do have the time and inclination to be busybodies, always protesting something and always ready and willing to destroy the lives of people who dare express an unorthodox, politically incorrect thought in their hearing? Why have we given these thin skinned, hyper sensitive bullies so much power?

It seems to be that the best response that NBC could give to this petition would be to laugh and then point out that for every person who signs the petition, ten will tune in to Saturday Night Live just to see if Donald Trump can be funny. They won’t do that, of course. They probably won’t drop The Donald, he will bring in the ratings, but they will probably issue some sort of non apology apology stating how sorry they are if anyone was the least bit offended. Too bad. I wish people would start just laughing at the busy bodies and petty tyrants.  We would have a better, and freer, country if they did.

Hitler’s Illness

October 26, 2015

Not long ago, I wrote about how Vladimir Lenin‘s poor health and untimely death after a series of strokes drastically effected the course of Soviet, and world, history. This time I want to write a little on how Adolf Hitler’s state of health influence the decisions he made just before and during World War II and whether his judgement was affected by  illness. Hitler clearly was not in very good health towards the end of World War II and it seems likely that even if the Germans had won the war, Hitler would not have lived to enjoy his Third Reich for very long. The precise nature of any illness that Hitler suffered from is unclear since he is not available for a medical examination and his body was not autopsied. There has been much speculation about Hitler’s health in the decades since his death, with theories that Hitler was afflicted with syphilis, suffered from the ministrations of his personal physician; a quack named Theodor Morell, or simply was consumed with the crushing stress of leading a losing war. The most likely theory to explain Hitler’s symptoms is that Hitler suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, as related in this article from the Daily Mail that I read recently.

Parkinson’s disease may have played a crucial role in Adolf Hitler’s defeat, according to a controversial new study.

The research claims the neurological disease influenced some of the dictator’s biggest decisions, making him reckless and ultimately losing World War II.

But it also goes a step further to say that Hitler’s horrific and inhumane murders were also influenced by his disease, exaggerating his ‘volatile temperament’.

The study was led by Raghav Gupta and a team at the University of Pittsburgh and recently published in the journal World Neurosurgery.

‘The possibility of Hitler suffering from Parkinson’s has long been the subject of debate,’ writes Gupta.

‘Video evidence depicts that Hitler exhibited progressive motor function deterioration from 1933 to 1945.’

By the end of his life, Hitler had a pronounced tremor in his hands, particularly his left hand, which has caused a number of scientists to question whether he had the disease.

Parkinson’s can also cause a slow gait, bent posture and a dull stare, along with cognitive disorders such as a lack of imagination and a general apathy.

The researchers suggest that Hitler’s condition may have led him to attack Russia prematurely in 1941, according to a report in Discover.

A previous study claimed that Hitler’s decision to invade Russia, before defeating Britain on the western front, was a direct result of his failing health.

The study points to other bad decisions of Hitler’s such the failure to defend Normandy in 1944, alongside keeping his forces in Stalingrad in 1942.

They say this was the result of the dictator’s ‘volatile temperament’ which may have been aggravated by his Parkinson’s.

The study also goes on to suggest that Hitler’s lack of remorse and sympathy can be associated with his Parkinson’s.

Assuming that Hitler did indeed suffer from Parkinson’s disease, how did it affect his judgement and the outcome of the war?

Did he have Parkinson's Disease?

Did he have Parkinson’s Disease?

 Hitler always was something of a gambler and a risk taker, preferring to improvise rather than making elaborate plans. This willingness to risk everything on a single throw of the dice, as it were, helped Hitler immeasurably during his rise to power in Germany and in the early years of his rule, especially since he could also be patient when it was necessary. Up until around 1937 Hitler was largely successful in obtaining his goals both inside Germany and in Germany’s relations with its neighbors. Germany seemed to have largely recovered from the Great Depression and regained its place as one of the leading nations of Germany. Had Hitler stopped then, he would possibly be regarded as a great statesman.  After 1937, Hitler seemed to become more impatient and reckless.

Consider the timeline leading up to the Second World War. In March 1938, Germany invaded and annexed Austria. Almost immediately, Hitler began pressing for the session of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia on the grounds that the majority of the population were ethnic Germans and therefore the region rightly belonged to Germany. After the Munich agreement in September 1938, the Germans occupied and annexed the Sudetenland. Then in March 1939 Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Then Hitler demanded that Poland cede the city of Danzig to Germany and when Poland refused, he ordered the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, beginning World War II. Now, each step of Hitler’s path to the war was in itself reasonable and could perhaps be justified in terms of Germany’s national interest. No one in Europe really wanted a war, even Hitler. If he had allowed more time to elapse between his conquests, it is likely that he would have continued to lull France and Great Britain into inactivity. As it was, one move after another in quick succession thoroughly alarmed both Britain and France. They might have gone to war in any case after the invasion of Poland, but if Hitler had waited perhaps longer between conquests, Germany might have been more prepared for the war. As it was, the war really started too early for Germany. The Germans had been rearming almost since the Nazis had gained power but it would have been better if Hitler could have put it off until around 1942 or 1943, especially since Mussolini had advised Hitler that Italy could not be ready for war until at least 1945. Why the hurry?

By the end of 1940, Hitler had defeated France and was the master of continental Europe with only Britain still opposing him. Then on June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. This was not an entirely unreasonable course of action for Germany. Hitler had good reason to suspect that Stalin was biding his time waiting for the capitalist powers to exhaust themselves in war before swooping in to bring the revolution to Europe. Moreover, Stalin’s purges had badly weakened the Red Army and Hitler could reasonably consider that it would be better to invade before Russia recovered its strength. Still, why the hurry when Hitler was still at war with Great Britain and it was increasingly obvious that it was only a matter of time before the United States intervened? Surely Hitler could have waited another year. By that time the morale of the British people would likely to have decreased to the point that they would have been extremely receptive to some peace proposal. The Germans had also wasted valuable time in the spring and early summer of 1941 assisting Italy after its disastrous invasion of Yugoslavia. Why couldn’t Hitler have waited until the spring of 1942 to begin his invasion of Russia, giving the Germans plenty of time to conquer as much territory as possible before the cruel Russian winter began.

I suppose the answer is that Hitler knew by 1938 that he was not especially well and that he perhaps did not have much time left. It may be that the best thing Hitler could have done for the Third Reich would have been to retire from the day to day running of the country and appoint a successor. The problem is that Fuehrers really can’t retire, and Hitler was not willing to be known to history as the predecessor to the man who created the thousand year Reich. He did not want to play the role of Phillip the Macedonian to another man’s Alexander the Great.

It is a little strange that Hitler’s increasingly obvious lapses in judgment towards the end of the war did not lead to some sort of coup. There were attempts to assassinate the Fuhrer, most notably the plot by Army officers led by Claus von Stauffenberg, but no attempts to seize power by the members of Hitler’s inner circle who had direct knowledge of his increasing inability to lead the Third Reich. They schemed among themselves for Hitler’s favor right up to the end, but none of them ever seem to have seriously considered replacing him. Perhaps they realized that they were not strong personalities in themselves and their fates were inextricably tied to Hitler’s.

Whatever the precise nature of Hitler’s illness, I think we can all be grateful that Hitler did suffer from ill health that made him more impatient and reckless. A healthier Hitler might have been a more rational Hitler better able to lead his nation in war and peace and perhaps more likely to succeed in his goals. It maybe that Hitler’s illness is the major reason Nazi Germany is not the leading world power to this day.

President Honorius

October 14, 2015

Recently Stephen Green of Vodkapundit wrote a post titled President Nero referring to President Obama’s seeming cluelessness on the state of the world under his leadership, particularly the president’s prioritizing action on climate change as post Cold War order is breaking up into chaos. Obama is fiddling while the Middle East burns. There is much worth reading here yet I think that Stephen Green is being more than a little unfair to Nero. Nero did not, after all, really play the fiddle, or his lyre as the violin had not yet been invented, while Rome burned down. In fact, Nero did everything that could be expected of an emperor in that disaster. Nero was not a particularly good emperor, to be sure, yet his reign was not a complete disaster, especially early on while his advisors Seneca and Burrus still lived. Despite the short civil war after his death and the rebellion in Judea, the Roman Empire was still strong and whole at the end of Nero’s reign. In fact, the next century was to prove to be the height of the Pax Romana under the Flavian Dynasty and the Five Good Emperors. Perhaps a better fit for President Obama might be a later emperor, Honorius who was emperor when the Visigoths sacked Rome in AD 410.




Honorius was Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 423. The Roman Empire had been first divided into Western and Eastern halves by the Emperor Diocletian about a century earlier. After ending the period of incessant civil wars and foreign invasions that had nearly destroyed the Empire, Diocletian realized that one man was unable to meet the challenges of ruling the entire empire and so had divided it. The two halves were not seen as a division into two separate empires, simply a means to divide the labor of ruling but although strong emperors could rule over both halves of the empire, after the third century it was divided more often than not with the Greek speaking East and the Latin speaking West becoming more estranged over time.

085 Eastern & Western Roman Empires Map

The last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire was Honorius’s father Theodosius the Great. After his death in 395, the empire was divided for the last time between his two sons Arcadius and Honorius. Arcadius was the elder brother and so inherited the more desirable Eastern Empire where he ruled from Constantinople, while Honorius became the Western Emperor. Both emperors were minors when they acceded to their thrones and neither ever really showed much talent for ruling but the wealthier and more urbanized Eastern Empire proved to be better able to weather Arcadius’s inept rule. The West was not so fortunate and Honorius’s reign was a disaster from beginning to end with continuing invasions by the barbarian Germans and continual civil war by usurpers. At the beginning of Honorius’s reign the true ruler of the West was his guardian, Stilicho a Roman general of mixed Roman and German descent who had been related by marriage to Theodosius. Stilicho was perhaps the last Roman ruler who could have saved the Western Empire from destruction. He had some success in holding the Empire together but proved unable to prevent the invasion of Gaul by the Germans in 406 and the subsequent abandonment of Britannia. By this time, Stilicho’s enemies at court had persuaded Honorius that Stilicho was planning to supplant him and Honorius ordered Stilicho’s arrest and execution in 408, along with the execution of anyone he perceived to have been an ally of Stilicho, including a  large number of Germans living in Italy. This proved to be not a very good idea, since by then, the Roman army was largely made up of Germans, large numbers of Honorius’s soldiers simply deserted leaving Italy defenseless against the invading Visigoths under their king Alaric.

The Visigoths did not intend to capture Rome or conquer the Roman Empire. Indeed, they did not believe such a thing was possible. They, along with their kinsmen the Ostrogoths had fled into Roman territory to escape the Huns. Alaric wanted to negotiate with the Roman government for a homeland to establish an independent Visigothic kingdom allied to Rome. Alaric decided to threaten the city of Rome to compel the Roman government to negotiate in good faith. Honorius and his court were not greatly concerned however because it had been a long time since Rome was actually the capital of any part of the Roman Empire. He was safe in the city of Ravenna with its impregnable defenses and kept putting Alaric off until he was exasperated enough to sack Rome on August 24, 410.

Sack was perhaps too strong a word for the actions of the Visigoths. They did systematically take anything of value they could carry away, but there was no destruction of buildings or slaughter of the population. The Visigoths could not believe they had actually captured Rome and they acted more like awestruck tourist than barbarian plunderers. Meanwhile Honorius was distraught upon learning that Rome had been taken, until the messenger clarified that he meant the city and not Honorius’s pet chicken Roma. Then Honorius lost interest in the news.

Honorius managed to survive as Emperor until 423 while his empire crumbled around him. By the time of his death, Gaul, Spain, and Britannia were all lost to Rome and the Western Empire was limited to Italy and parts of Africa. The Western Empire itself lingered  under the rule of increasingly feeble puppet emperors and their German masters until finally the warlord Odoacer grew tired of the pretense in 476 and deposed the last Western Emperor.

We don’t have barbarians sacking Washington D.C. or New York, at least not yet, but it would be hard not to see that President Obama’s fecklessness has made the world a more dangerous place for us and our allies. He seems to be as little concerned about the collapsing international order previously upheld with American strength as Honorius was about the fate of the city of Rome. Unless the next president can repair some of the damage Obama has done, future historians may well identify Obama as the president who presided over the beginning of the end of the American Empire.


The Election of 1844

October 5, 2015

Slavery was once again the issue that no one wanted to talk about during the presidential campaign of 1844. What people did want to talk about was the territorial expansion of the United States all the way to the West Coast. Manifest Destiny were the words on everyone’s lips, the destiny, nay duty, of the United States to take in as much of the North American continent as allowed by Divine Providence. This expansion could be accomplished in two areas. In the South, the expansionists wanted to annex the Republic of Texas, which had gained its independence from Mexico only a decade earlier and was eager to become a state of the Union. In the  North, there was the Oregon Territory with its disputed border with Great Britain’s Canadian territory. The more ardent expansionists wanted the United States to gain all of the Oregon territory under the slogan “54-40 or fight” referring to the latitude of the northernmost boundary of the territory and Russian Alaska.


Although no one wanted to mention slavery in connection with the territorial expansion of the United States, in fact much of the impetus for expansion was due to the desire of the slave holding South to expand the territories open to slavery. The Missouri Compromise had restricted slavery to territories south of the latitude 36º 30′with the exception of the state of Missouri. Since most of the states that could be carved out of the territory gained with the Louisiana Purchase were North of this line, eventually the free states would outnumber the slave states, upsetting the careful balance that had been maintained between the number of free and slave states. Already the northern states with their greater population had more seats than the slave states in the House of Representatives. An imbalance in the Senate would give the North control of both houses of Congress. President John Tyler had submitted a treaty for the annexation of Texas in April 1844 but he was unable to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate that was needed for ratification, largely because because of opposition from anti-slavery Whigs. Tyler simply resubmitted the treaty as a joint resolution of Congress requiring a simply majority in both Houses, making annexation the major campaign in the election of 1844

There was no question of either party nominating the incumbent John Tyler for a second term. Although he had been a Whig as William Henry Harrison‘s running mate in the previous election, Tyler had been a Democrat before breaking with Andrew Jackson back in the 1830’s. Tyler had never really been a strict party man and while president he had managed to offend the leaders of both political parties. Tyler did make some effort towards building a third party of his supporters, but nothing came of it and he eventually agreed to drop out in favor of the Democratic nominee.

The Whigs met in Baltimore on May 1 and nominated their long time party leader and 1824 presidential candidate Henry Clay. Clay had initially opposed the annexation of Texas as he believed that any such action without an agreement with Mexico would surely provoke a war between the United States and Mexico. Clay also understood that the annexation of Texas would only increase the sectional tensions between the North and South and might well split the Whig Part and the nation. This stand was not particularly popular in the South and Clay almost immediately began to backtrack, stating that he would support the annexation of Texas, even in the absence of an agreement with Mexico provided both North and South supported it. Then, he changed his mind again, and finally stopped talking about annexation altogether, campaigning on domestic issues. It didn’t work.

For Clay’s running mate, the Whigs nominated Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Senator from New Jersey. The Whigs felt that the devout, Northern Frelinghuysen would provide a nice balance with Henry Clay, the Kentuckian who had become notorious for his drinking, gambling, and dueling. Frelinghuysen was perhaps too devout as his Evangelical Christian faith led him to oppose slavery, he wanted to send them all back to Africa, and Indian removal. Neither position was apt to win him support in the South and West. Frelinghuysen also happened to believe that Catholics should be encouraged to convert to Protestantism, which cost the ticket votes among the small but growing Catholic population in the North.

Martin Van Buren was, at first, the prospective nominee of the Democrats, who met at the Odd Fellows Hall in Baltimore late in May. Van Buren lost his support because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas. There was no other front runner for the Democratic nomination until the little known James Knox Polk was introduced on the eighth ballot. Polk had been Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841. He had acquired a reputation for being quietly competent and had made few enemies and this along with his strong support of the annexation of Texas caused Polk to be nominated on the ninth ballot. The Democrats, at first, had wanted Silas Wright from New York as Polk’s running mate, but Wright was a supporter of Van Buren’s and declined the honor. Instead, the Democrats nominated Senator George M. Dallas from Pennsylvania.

The election of 1844 had the usual amount of personal abuse which was becoming common in American presidential politics. The Democrats had ample material to denounce Clay for his loose morals, declaring him unfit to lead a Christian nation like America. The Whigs found it difficult to reply in kind, since Polk had apparently done nothing fun in his entire life. Instead, the Whigs emphasized Polk’s lack of prominence in national politics, implying that he lacked the experience to be president. The Northern Whigs tried to portray Polk as slave trader and a creature of the Southern Slavocracy. For his part, Polk cleverly linked the annexation of Texas with the Oregon Territory dispute, making the question one of national expansion rather than the expansion of slavery. In the end Polk won by a fairly narrow margin. The Democratic ticket gained 1,339, 494,  popular votes, or 49.5%, against the Whig’s 1,300,004 votes or 48.1%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty party got 62,103 votes or 2.3% of the popular vote, enough to have made a difference in some Northern states. In the Electoral College, Polk got 170 electoral votes, winning states both in the North and South. Manifest Destiny proved to be a popular platform. Clay won 105 Electoral Votes, winning his home state, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and a few Eastern states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The Election of 1844

The Election of 1844

The United States formally annexed Texas in March 1845, just before Polk took office. As expected, The Mexican War broke out the following year. Despite the bluster of the expansionists with their cry of 54-40 or fight, Polk was not so foolish as to fight both Mexico and Great Britain at the same time and negotiated a compromise with the British over the Oregon Territory extending the border at the 49th parallel to the Pacific Coast. As for Polk, he served one term, during which he worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion. He declined to run for a second term and died within three months of the end of his administration.

CAIR Demands Ben Carson Withdrawal

September 28, 2015

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for Dr. Ben Carson to withdraw from the presidential race because of his remarks on whether he would support a Muslim for president. Here is the article I read from CNS news.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) plans to call Monday for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to withdraw from the 2016 campaign after the retired neurosurgeon said Islam was not consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that he would “absolutely not” advocate having a Muslim in the White House.

“Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

“We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”

I can understand if Nihad Awad is more familiar with the details of Sharia law than the US constitution, but the provision barring any religious test does not apply to the voters. They can vote for, or against, a candidate for any office for any reason at all, including not liking the candidate’s religious beliefs. The constitution forbids the federal or state governments from imposing a religious test or qualification to bar candidates from running. For example, in the presidential elections of 1928 and 1960 the Catholics Al Smith and John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency. Many non-Catholic voters did not believe that a Catholic should serve as president and voted for their opponents. That was their decision to make. There was no religious test or qualification to bar either man from running.

Anyway, here is a transcript of some of Dr. Carson’s remarks. See if they are really so controversial, at least among sensible people not blinded by the fear of that bogeyman Islamophobia.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Carson was asked his views on the faith of an American president.

“Should a president’s faith matter – should your faith matter to voters?” asked host Chuck Todd.

“Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is,” replied Carson. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution – no problem.”

“So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?” Todd asked.

“No, I don’t. I do not,” said Carson, adding, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

I am not sure that I would completely agree with Dr. Carson in saying that I would not under any circumstances vote for or support a Muslim candidate for office. Much would depend on the candidate. I am fairly certain, however, that I would not support any candidate of any faith which CAIR would support, given their links to the terrorist organization Hamas and the Islamic supremacist  views held by their founder.

Of course, a great many people in the United States expressed similar concerns about the first two Catholic candidates for president. For much of the history of the United States, it was taken for granted, by the Protestant majority, that Roman Catholicism was not compatible with American political values. Such concerns were enough to defeat Al Smith in 1928, among other factors. Kennedy, in 1960, felt a need to address a gathering of Protestant clergymen in Texas to assure them that as president he would put the constitution before his Catholic faith.

This wariness on the part of many Americans, although a product of anti-Catholic prejudice, was not entirely unjustified. Until Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church had not been a consistent supporter of the liberal, democratic values this nation was founded upon. (By “liberal” I mean, of course, the political ideology emphasizes human rights, democratic rule, and free market economic, the ideology of the founding fathers and the nineteenth century British Whigs, rather than the ideals of the socialist progressives who hijacked the term in the early twentieth century. Ironically, it is the conservatives in America that uphold classically liberal values, while the liberals in America cling to primitive collectivism) The Papacy had also been suspicious of every political idea that had been developed in the wake of the American and French revolutions, denouncing such ideas as democracy, government by the consent of the governed, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, as errors and part of the heresy of modernism. As late as 1864, Pope Pius IX had denounced all such modern, secular ideologies in his Syllabus of Errors, to the considerable embarrassment of American Catholics, who had been at pains to show that being a good Catholic was compatible with being a good American. It wasn’t until Vatican II that the Church became reconciled with liberalism.

Of course, the truth was that while American Catholics looked to Rome for spiritual leadership, few, if any, American Catholics took advice on how to vote from the pope. There was no movement among American Catholics to replace the constitution with a theocracy ruled by the Pope. Then too, the Roman Catholic Church was itself a major part of the Judeo-Christian heritage on which Western civilization was based, and this heritage included the concept of the human dignity of even the lowest person in society who had rights granted by his creator. If the Catholic Church was slow to accept the development of liberal ideas, Catholic philosophers had at least laid the basis for them. Even the concept of separation of church and state is implied in Christianity with Jesus saying such things as, “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and was enunciated in Pope Gelasius I’s Duo Sunt which held that princes and bishops each had their own separate spheres.

Perhaps the Muslims are in a similar position as Catholics before the election of Kennedy. Islam may seem incompatible with American political values, but that does not mean that individual Muslims may not be good Muslims and good Americans, just as many American Catholics were both good Americans and good Catholics. I am skeptical, though. Islam is not part of the heritage of our Western civilization and considering the utter failure of liberal democracy taking root in the Islamic world and the abysmal human rights records of most majority Muslim countries, one could make a very good argument that Islamic political values are opposed to and hostile to Western values. In Islam a person is a slave of God, not a son to be redeemed by sacrifice. Sons have rights, slaves do not. It is not surprising, then, that individual human rights have never been very prominent in Islamic political theory. Mohammed was a prince as well as prophet, so there is no concept of separation of mosque and state. It seems to me that while one can be either a good American or a good Muslim, it must be very difficult to be both a good American and a good Muslim. And, unlike the situation with the American Catholics, there are Islamic organizations, like CAIR, that would like to replace the constitution with Sharia law, and a disturbing number of American Muslims who support that idea.

I wouldn’t necessarily refuse to vote for a Muslim candidate on the basis of his faith, but I think that Dr. Carson is closer to the truth of the matter than CAIR, or the foolish would-be dhimmis who denounce honest discussion as Islamophobia.


Good Germans

September 17, 2015

Everyone who opposes what Kim Davis is doing, and most of those who think gay marriage is a spectacularly bad idea seem to agree that public officials should enforce the law no matter what personal reservations they may have. I wonder if such people have really thought the matter all the way through. Do they really believe that orders must be followed no matter what? Have we become a nation of Good Germans who blindly obey our superiors, even when they are morally questionable.

Actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu) is a gay activist who has insisted that Kim Davis should follow the law regardless of her beliefs. When Mr. Takei was a child, he was one of many Japanese-Americans who were taken from their homes and sent to internment camps during World War II. This policy was completely legal at the time and even upheld by the Supreme Court. Does Mr. Takei really believe that lawful orders must be upheld or that the Supreme Court is the final word on ethics and morals? What would have happened if public officials, elected or appointed had put their consciences above the law and refused to take part in what was obviously a terrible injustice? Most likely such an official would become very unpopular and a target of mobs, like Kim Davis. Probably anyone who tried to interfere with the internment of the Japanese-Americans would end up in jail, like Kim Davis.

(As it happens, one of the public officials who did object to the internment of Japanese-Americans was none other than liberal bete noir J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover objected to the policy in a memo he sent to Attorney General Francis Biddle, stating that there was no evidence of large-scale disloyalty in the Japanese-American community and the FBI was fully capable of handling any Japanese espionage or subversion that might occur. Hoover was never known to be a civil libertarian but perhaps he suspected that such an obviously unconstitutional policy would reflect badly on any supporters after the war hysteria died down. He may also have been concerned about the effects of a mass evacuation on the FBI counter espionage efforts.)

I am not suggesting that Kim Davis is any sort of hero on the scale of a Rosa Parks or even that she is doing the right thing. She is not standing up to Nazis or rescuing people from a disaster. I would like to point out that the argument used that she should simply obey the law and do her job is not really a very good one. There have been a great many evils perpetrated throughout history by people who have been simply following orders. The Supreme Court that has upheld slavery in the Dred Scott decision and segregation in Plessy vs. Ferguson, not to mention the murder of the innocent in Roe Vs Wade may not be the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong.

We have a federal system here in the United States with the government divided into three levels; federal, state and local. Any local ordinance that conflicts with state law is not valid and must be abrogated. In like fashion, a state law which conflicts with federal laws must give way to the federal law. The federal law itself is based on the Constitution and any law on any level of government that is not in accord with the constitution is invalid. In like fashion, there is a Natural or Divine Law which is above and which supersedes any merely human law. All man-made laws enacted by any legislature must be in accord with the Natural Law and the principles of justice or they are not valid. This concept of the natural law has existed at least since the time of the Ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle and was adopted and elaborated by the Stoics and the Romans, particularly by the Roman orator and philosopher Cicero. The idea of the natural law was further developed by Christian and Islamic theologians and played an important role in the thinking during the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, and in our own War of Independence. The idea of the natural law is not too popular among political philosophers these days, at least not among the more progressive ones, since it implies that there is a standard of justice above the decrees of the state, that human rights are granted by nature or nature’s God and not as gifts from the state, and that the state has no right to reorganize or fundamentally transform human society from the ground up according to the Utopian notions of an elite of philosopher kings. This is a hateful doctrine indeed to those who worship the state.

Part of this natural law, grounded in human physiology, is that marriage is the union of a male and a female for the purpose of creating a family. Because two people of the same sex cannot fulfill the basic purpose of marriage, they cannot, however much they love one another, be married to each other. If the Supreme Court, or any other court or legislature decrees that two people of the same sex can marry each other, this decree is in violation of the natural law and of biological reality and cannot be said to be valid. Nor is restricting marriage to a man and a woman discriminating against the homosexual. The homosexual has precisely the same right as anyone else in this regard. He or she can marry any person of the opposite sex he or she desires. What they cannot do, or ought not to be able to do, is demand fundamental changes in the nature of one of the most basic institutions of human society.

Put this way then, Kim Davis is the one following the law. It is her opponents who are breaking the law. They threaten her with jail and cover her abuse, but they cannot appeal to justice or nature, only the might of the state to try to coerce us all into complying with their will.

Kim Davis

September 14, 2015

I am still not too sure what to think of the whole Kim Davis affair down in Kentucky. If she were the owner and proprietor of her own business, it would be a simple matter, at least for me. I would say that she ought not to be required to take part in any occasion or transaction that contradicts her religious conscience. The difficulty is that she is not acting on her own, but as a county clerk she is acting as a representative of the state of Kentucky and it is not clear that she has the authority either legal or moral to put her own religious beliefs ahead of the laws of the state she is representing. It seems that she is in the position of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matt 8:5-9)

Surely, Kim Davis is a woman under authority who is obliged to come and do when she is ordered.

Yet, I find it very odd to see so many progressives insisting that no one is above the law and the law must be obeyed whatever personal reservations one may have about it. They didn’t express such sentiments when the mayor of San Francisco was illegally issuing licenses for same-sex marriages. They had no such reservations when then California Attorney General and later Governor Jerry Brown decided to refuse to enforce Proposition 8, despite the fact that as an elected official it was his duty to enforce the laws, even ones he disliked, just like Kim Davis. The progressives have never had a problem with encouraging young men to dodge the draft during times of war, encouraging soldiers to desert, giving aid and comfort to their country’s enemies, celebrating domestic terrorists and murderers, and generally doing everything they can to upset the rule of law. Now, suddenly, they are for law and order.

It seems there is a pattern here. When they are out of power, the progressives preach that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When they are in power it changes to dissent is racist, sexist, homophobic, fascist, bigoted. Any trace of dissent, however minor and ineffectual must be crushed. Why should the rest of us play a game that is rigged to be heads, I win, tails you lose? If following the law is optional for the progressives, why not for conservatives?

Another factor that leads me to want to support Kim Davis, almost against my better judgment, is the sheer magnitude of the hatred that is being directed at this woman. People who know nothing about her have been calling her every nasty name imaginable on every internet forum around. They have mocked her religious beliefs and her personal appearance in ways that would provoke shame in any decent person. Why? What has she actually done to deserve such treatment? One would think from all the abuse that she is some sort of mass murderer who drowns puppies and kittens in her spare time. The people in the Middle East who actually stone gay people do not get the kind of hazing she has gotten for merely inconveniencing some gays. What I find remarkable about this abuse is that none of her opponents seems to be the least bit willing to concede that she is simply trying to do what she believes is right in God’s eyes. In their minds, someone like her can only be motivated by hatred and bigotry. Only the enlightened and progressive ones among us seem to have any real consciences. The rest of us are hateful troglodytes. I cannot help but consider that anyone who attracts such hatred from the enlightened and tolerant supporters of diversity must be on the side of the angels.

I am still not certain if I can really support what Kim Davis has been doing. It is not a simple matter. She has been stirring people up and presenting opportunities for the left to once again show their hypocrisy. I think I feel the same way about her antics as I do Donald Trump‘s. Both may end up doing damage to causes I believe in, but they are both doing a needed service by providing turbulence to shake up people and institutions that badly need shaking up.

The President’s Grandson

September 4, 2015

President Warren G. Harding was one of the most popular Presidents of the United States at the time of his death in office in 1923. Since his death, Harding’s reputation has declined precipitously to the point that he is now regarded as one of the worst presidents in American history. There are a couple of good reasons for this. The Teapot Dome scandal, which was only uncovered after Harding’s death has tainted his reputation, even though he was never implicated and was only made aware of the magnitude of the illegal dealings just before his death. It does reflect badly on Harding’s judgement of character that several of his appointees, including his Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, and Director of the Veterans’ Bureau, Charles Forbes, were sent to prison for crimes committed while in office. His Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, only narrowly escaped a prison term.

Warren G Harding

Warren G Harding

Throughout Harding’s presidency there were rumors of his affairs. The most persistent of these rumors  involved a woman named Nan Britton who claimed to have an affair with Harding throughout his presidency in her 1928 book, The President’s Daughter.

Nan Britton and Elizabeth

Nan Britton and Elizabeth Ann

Britton identified Harding as the father of her daughter Elizabeth Ann, and claimed that he had promised to support their daughter, but Harding’s wife, Florence, had reneged on the promise after his death. Nan Britton had no real proof of her claims and was generally dismissed as a liar or delusional. Now, however, as I read in this story I found in the Oregonian,  DNA evidence confirms Nan Britton’s grandson, Jim Bleasing, is indeed the grandson of President Warren G. Harding. There is a good story about this in the Oregonian.

Jim Blaesing has known since he was a boy that he was the grandson of Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States.

The Southeast Portland man was very close to his grandmother, who openly shared stories of her love for the man who took office in 1921. And it’s always bothered him that so many people had dismissed her as “delusional” or labeled her as money-hungry, a fame seeker.

Nan Britton was disbelieved not only by members of Harding’s family, who proclaimed the story of the 6½ -year love affair a lie, but the history buffs who vigorously tried to discredit her over the decades.

“It just kept yanking at me and bugging me,” said Blaesing, a 65-year-old construction contractor.

So he finally decided to do something: Get his DNA tested.

All of those doubters were silenced last week with news — first reported on the front page of The New York Times — that Blaesing is indeed the grandson of the late president. confirmed his relationship to Harding with a more than 99 percent certainty, by comparing Blaesing’s DNA with that of Harding’s grandnephew and grandniece.

There is a lot more there about Harding and his relationship with Nan Britton, but I am more interested in President Harding’s historical reputation. I am not sure he really deserves such a low ranking. If the Teapot Dome and other scandals count against President Harding, there are several solid accomplishments that in fairness ought to be held in his favor. If all too many of Harding’s appointees turned out to be corrupt or incompetent, some of the men he appointed to his cabinet have been among the best men who have ever served a president. These included Harding’s
Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, and his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. (Hoover’s lackluster tenure as president has tended to overshadow his very real accomplishments. In fact, Hoover was successful in every post he held except the presidency.)

In foreign policy, the Harding administration formally ended US involvement in World War I, a move necessary because the Senate had not ratified the Versailles treaty which ended the war. The State Department under Hughes began the negotiations that led to the agreement in 1924 to ease the burden of the war debts that the allies owed to the United States as well as the reparations applied to Germany. Hughes also participated in the disarmament talks which led to the agreement between the United States, Great Britain and Japan to limit the sizes of their navies. This did not turn out so well in hindsight, but no one knew that at the time, and Harding was eager to reduce the expenses that maintaining a large military entailed. Harding also curtailed US interventionism in Latin America, ending Wilson’s practice of invading Latin American nations on the slightest of pretexts.

In domestic policy, Harding inherited a nasty depression. Andrew Mellon proposed fighting the downturn with tax cuts. This policy seems to have worked well enough since the depression only lasted a year and there was an economic boom which lasted until 1929 and the Great Depression. It might seem that Harding’s record on the economy was rather better than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s. Like everyone else at the time, Harding believed that Blacks were inferior to Whites, yet he believed that they should be given a fair chance and equal rights under the law. Harding supported federal anti-lynching legislation, but was never able to get it passed because of opposition from the Democrats. Harding also pardoned Eugene Debs and other people who Wilson had put in prison for opposing US participation in World War I. Despite the scandals, Harding did have a solid record of accomplishments in his short tenure in the White House, so why the bad press?

I think that part of the reason that Harding has become unpopular, at least among progressive historians, is that he campaigned on, and largely governed on, the theme that it was time for America to return to normalcy. He did not call for the sort of fundamental transformation of the nation and the world that Progressive Era presidents as Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson had. Compared to those two, more activist presidents, the Harding administration must have seemed dull and contemptible to the sort of people who desired a continuation of the reforms of the Progressive Era.

There may also have been some snobbishness involved. Harding was not an intellectual as Wilson or a member of a prominent family like the Roosevelts. He came from Marion Ohio, a small midwestern town. He did not attend Harvard or Princeton but Ohio Central College. He worked his way up from humble origins as the owner and publisher of the Marion Star, a failing newspaper that he managed to turn around to become successful. Despite his success in business and later in politics, Harding preferred the small town life. Harding himself was not known to be corrupt but he was something of a “good old boy”, the sort of back slapping local businessman or politician who is friends with everybody and a member of the all the clubs and is always ready for convivial poker games. In other words he was Babbitt, the sort of comfortable, ordinary member of the middle class or bourgeois that the more progressive intellectuals have always disdained. This dislike for the unintellectual Harding may have helped not a little to color the opinion of historians against Harding, condemning him for faults they might have forgiven in a president they felt more affection for.

I wouldn’t make the argument that Warren G. Harding was a great, or even a particularly good, president. He was not really up to the job and he showed a terrible lack of judgement in some of his appointments. Still, he did less damage to the country than some presidents better regarded than he. We could do worse.


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