Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Like Clockwork

February 18, 2018

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

Friend —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

Tom Perez
Chair
Democratic National Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Map of Slavery

February 13, 2018

Take a look at this map.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Wants a Parade?

February 11, 2018

President Trump does according to NPR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shithole Countries

January 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Election of 1864

January 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Election of 1864

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

Moving the Embassy

December 16, 2017

Last week, President Trump announced that the United States would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and that the American embassy would relocate there. This shouldn’t be a controversial move. Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and it is customary for an embassy to a particular nation to be located in that nation’s capital. There is also the matter that the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 requires the United States to locate its embassy in Jerusalem. The only reason that the US embassy remains in Tel Aviv is that every six months the president has been signing a waiver delaying enforcement of that law. President Trump has simply decided to enforce existing law and recognise the reality that Israel will not yield Jerusalem no matter how many UN resolutions are adopted.

Moving the embassy shouldn’t be a controversial move, yet because it concerns Israel, of course it is a controversial move. I am not going to get into the pros and cons of moving the embassy. It may or may not be a good idea. I just want to point out that the objections to moving the embassy seems to have two motives. The first motive is just the plain, old anti-Semitism that most criticism of Israel is based on. Israel,as a nation has its faults and can be justly criticized on many grounds, yet the tendency to single Israel out as an aggressive violator of human rights while ignoring the far worse actions of its enemies may be a good indication that the critic is less interested in peace or social justice than in attacking the Jews.

The other motive for objecting to moving the embassy is that it is upsetting the status quo, the established framework for thinking about policies in the Middle East. Acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel upsets the system of polite lies and ritual platitudes that everyone says to get along even if they know the statements do not accord with reality. Moving the embassy will damage the peace process, the critics assert, and it will provoke violence at home and abroad.

I wonder it if has occurred to the critics that the prevailing orthodoxies are not really working anymore. The peace process has been effectively dead for years. Essentially the Palestinians want Israel to be destroyed and the Israelis do not want to be destroyed. There is not much room for compromise there. As long as the Palestinians believe there is any chance at all that foreign pressure will weaken Israel to the point that it can be destroyed, there will not be peace. As long as everyone pretends that both sides sincerely want peace, there will not be peace. It may be that by showing that the United States stands firmly behind Israel, and will not allow Israel to be destroyed, that Israel’s enemies will finally understand that Israel is not going anywhere, that they will never be able to remove the State of Israel, and that they will simply, somehow come to terms with that fact, will there be any hope for peace in the region. In fact, many of Israel’s enemies; Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia have already quietly come to accept the existence of Israel, and even see Israel as a valuable, though clandestine, ally against the real enemies of peace in the region; ISIS, al Qaeda, Iran. Perhaps, by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Donald Trump has done more to realize the dream of peace in the Middle East than many of his predecessors.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be the explosion of violence across the Middle East that the critics feared. This is obviously good and it perhaps suggests that outside of Palestine, the “Arab street” is not so obsessed with Israel as is generally supposed. But, even if had been increased levels of violence as a result of Trump’s announcement, that is not a very good reason not to move the embassy. Again, I wonder if it has occurred to the critics that adjusting our policies whenever someone threatens violence is not a good idea over the long term and will only encourage such threats. Here again, the years old practice of caving in and self censoring to appease violent barbarians and then pretending that we are doing no such thing does not serve us all that well.

This seems to be the primary motive for a lot of the opposition to Donald Trump, aside from his personality and public image as boorish and uncouth, that Donald Trump has little use for either  “political correctness” or for doing things the same way just because they have always been done that way. As Trump noted in his statement announcing the change in policy:

When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking.  We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past.  Old challenges demand new approaches.

 

Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace.  Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time.  Nevertheless, the record is in.  After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.  It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.

The old ways are not working so it is time to try new ways. This seems to be the theme behind a lot of what President Trump is trying to do, and this seems to be the reason why a lot of people, who perhaps benefit from the failed status quo, really hate him.

We badly need leaders who will challenge the status quo if we want America to continue to be great. Trump is probably not the best man for the job. There is much to object to in his approach. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be producing George Washingtons or Abraham Lincolns in this country. We are producing Donald Trumps, and as a former Secretary of Defense put it, “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” and of course, “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much”.

By that last standard, Trump must be doing more than any other president.

Roy Moore

December 10, 2017

I probably shouldn’t write anything at all about former Alabama Chief Justice and current Senatorial candidate Roy Moore and the allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him. I do not know anything at all about the case and have no idea whether he is guilty of the accusations of sexually abusing a fourteen year old girl back in 1979. A lack of knowledge doesn’t seem to have kept anyone else from commenting on the events, so I might as well make a few general observations.

First, it is too bad we don’t have an unbiased news media made up of professional journalist determined to get to the truth no matter where it leads in this country. Instead, we have a collection of partisan hacks who are more concerned about getting Democrats elected than informing the public. For this reason, it is not absolutely crazy to suggest that Moore is the victim of a smear campaign using fake news. They’ve done this sort of thing before. Even if Moore is guilty, how can we really be sure?

Which brings me to the second point. The timing of these accusations is suspicious. This does not, of course, mean that they are untrue but If the Washington Post had run the story a month earlier, Luther Strange would now be the Republican nominee and the Republicans would be sailing to an easy victory. Instead the story came out when it is too late to change the ballot. Even if Roy Moore drops out of the race, his name is going to be on the ballot. Did the Washington Post sit on the story, timing its release for political advantage? It doesn’t seem improbable. Would they have waited until after the election if Moore was a Democrat? Would they have ever released the story if he were a Democrat? Who knows?

The next point I would like to make is that even if Roy Moore is innocent of the specific accusations regarding a fourteen year old girl, he still seems to like young girls, at least as young as sixteen, which happens to be the age of consent in Alabama. This predilection not only makes the claim that he had a sexual encounter which a girl below the age of consent, but doesn’t reflect well on Moore at all. It is more than a little creepy for a thirty year old man to seek out dates with girls still in high school. There don’t seem to be any recent claims of Roy Moore pursuing young girls, though. Perhaps he has changed. He may have been faithful to his wife, who he first met when she was a teenager,  since they married in 1985. He may have found religion and been saved, ending his old life and habits. This would be an inspiring story of sin and redemption that might go over well in the Bible Belt. So why isn’t he telling it? Instead, he is evading the issue to the point where even as sympathetic a commentator as Sean Hannity is suspicious.

Aside from the sexual misadventures of his relative youth, Roy Moore is an undesirable candidate for the Senate simply because he is kind of a nutcase. Going over his political positions, he comes across as a caricature of a Christian Conservative. He seems to be more of a Christian theocrat than a constitutional conservative. If I saw such a character in fiction, perhaps in a Saturday Night Live sketch, I would complain that he was too ridiculous to be believed, and yet there he is.

Roy Moore is most famous for his controversy regarding the ten commandments monument he placed in the Alabama Supreme Court building while he was Chief Justice and for twice being removed from that position when he refused to obey a federal court order to remove the monument. Now, I can’t blame Moore for going out of his way to spite the secular, anti-theist fanatics who recoil from every religious symbol as though they were vampires, and, as a private citizen, he is certainly entitled to his opinion regarding the importance of religion in our public life, but, as a judge, and the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he was obliged to obey the law and the decisions made by higher judicial authorities. A judge’s authority derives from the law and he cannot simply ignore rulings made by superior courts without undermining his own authority and the rule of law. A man willing to substitute his own opinions and judgements in place of the law ought, perhaps, not to be trusted to serve in the Senate.

If Roy Moore is a conservative caricature, than his opponent, Doug Jones seems to be a liberal caricature, at least on the question of abortion, he opposes any restrictions on abortion right up to the moment of birth, though he seems to be closer to the mainstream on economic issues and less of a crackpot than Moore. The problem is that, at present, the Republicans only hold a bare majority, fifty-two seats, in the Senate. If Doug Jones wins the special election, that majority is down to only one seat, and it may be easier for the Democrats to gain a majority in next year’s midterm elections. It’s not an easy choice considering the damage the Democrats might do if they get a majority in Congress.

I’m glad I don’t live in Alabama, though if I did, I guess I would reluctantly vote for Moore on the grounds that it is better to vote for the lesser evil of a bad man over a bad political party. It is more than a little discouraging to place political expedience over personal character, but the party of Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy established the precedent years ago and fighting by Marquess of Queensberry rules against an opponent that cares for nothing except gaining power is a good way to lose every time.

Refuse Fascism

November 2, 2017

Be sure to mark November 4 on your calendar because that is the day the revolution begins. Massive street demonstrations all over the country will drive the Fascist Trump/Pence regime out of power. At least, that is what the good people at Refuse Fascism hope will happen.

In less than a week, it begins; in 19 cities across the country, we will unite with courage and conviction, overcoming fear and uncertainty, to put a stop to the grave danger that the Trump/Pence regime poses to the world. Only the people acting together in non-violent mass protest, raising the demand that this regime must step down from power, can end this nightmare.

We are right to do this. For the survival of millions of people around the world, we must do this. For the rights of women to determine the course of their own lives, we must do this. For a future on this planet for all of our children, we must do this. If we don’t want to see white supremacist mob rule, in the government or in the streets, we must do this. For every group that is demonized and targeted by this regime, for whom this regime is already a brutal nightmare, we must do this. Our actions reflect the values of respect for all of humanity and the world we want – in stark contrast to the hate and bigotry of the Trump/Pence fascist regime.

These days, whenever I see someone using the word “Fascism”, I cannot help but think of Inigo Montoya’s line from the Princess Bride. I do not think they have the slightest idea what Fascism actually is.

 


Fascism is not a general term of abuse to be hurled against Conservatives, or whoever you do not like. Fascism is a word that describes a particular social and political ideology. According to Dictionary.com, Fascism is:

a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

Politically, a Fascist state is a one party totalitarian state ruled by a charismatic dictator, in which the government claims total control over the lives of the citizen’s while those citizens have no rights the government is obliged to respect. Fascist economic policy is essentially anti-free market Socialism that while permitting private ownership of the economy controls it to such an extent that such ownership is largely nominal.

Is Trump a Fascist? Of course not. Trump has not suspended the constitution, abolished opposition parties, thrown dissidents in prison, or anything or the sort. Like it or not Donald Trump won the election and is the duly elected President of the United States.  Setting aside his often ill-conceived words, Trump’s actions as president have been entirely what one might expect of a slightly right of center president. If Donald Trump weren’t Trump, little of what he is doing would be controversial.

There are no mainstream figures in American politics who could even remotely be considered Fascists. There is no American Fascist Party. There are no politicians describing themselves as Fascists. The people who claiming to be fighting Fascism can go home. They have no one to fight.

I have to wonder what groups like Refuse Fascism hope to accomplish with these protests. The President’s term of office is set by the constitution at four years. Unless Donald Trump is impeached and convicted of a crime or resigns, he will be president in 2020 regardless of how many people are protesting against him. There is no constitutional provision for a do-over election. If both Donald Trump and Mike Pence resign or are removed from office, there is a clear line of succession  established by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. If the President and Vice-President are unable to serve, then the Speaker of the House Republican Paul Ryan becomes President. The Senate President Pro Tempore, Republican Orrin Hatch is next, followed by the Cabinet Secretaries, all appointed by Trump, in order of the creation of their department. There is no legal or constitutional means by which Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders gets to be president, even if both Trump and Pence are removed. At present every single person in the line of succession is a Republican, and presumably part of the Fascist regime. This will only change if the Democrats gain a majority in either House of Congress in the 2018 midterms.

Given that even impeaching Trump and Pence would only result in other members of the Fascist regime becoming president, there is no legal, constitutional way to remove the Fascist regime. How, precisely do they plan to go about it non-violently, and how are we supposed to select a new president, given that the constitution will have been discarded? Is it the plan to force a democratically elected president and his cabinet from power and replace him with a leader chosen by a mob?

Ironic is a word that is overused but there is something ironic going on here, since these people don’t seem to have studied history at all. Overthrowing an elected government by the threat of mob violence is precisely what Benito Mussolini did with his March on Rome in 1922 and Adolf Hitler tried to tried to do with his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. When you consider the very real possibility of violence breaking out at some of these anti-Fascist protests, based on the past history of violence by the Antifa, it might seem that the real Fascists are the ones protesting Fascism.

There is the irony. Refuse Fascism will not be able to force Donald Trump from the Presidency, but if they manage to create an atmosphere of disorder and chaos by continuous, daily, possibly violent, demonstrations they will succeed in creating the atmosphere that a real dictator can take over. Again, if they had actually bothered to study history, they would know that Fascist dictators like Mussolini and Hitler were preceded by chaotic, lawless conditions in their respective countries. If regular, constitutional government cannot maintain the order people need to live their lives, they will turn to the strongman who can.

If the people planning to protest this Saturday really wanted to fight Fascism, they would protest Trump’s policies while acknowledging that he is the legitimate President and not a dictator. They would be putting their efforts into recruiting candidates for office in the upcoming elections and seeing to it that he is a one-term president. But, that would take knowledge and maturity, two characteristics not often associated with the Left. It’s easier just to have a giant temper tantrum.

 

Punching Nazis

September 14, 2017

I have seen this chart here and there on the internet.

 

For those who are unfamiliar with Dungeons and Dragons, the descriptions at the bottom are the various alignments that a player can choose as the moral path for his character to live by. The system is actually a little shallow, since few people actually regard themselves as evil, and a stance of neutrality  between what one considers to be good and evil is, in itself an evil stance, but that is all beside the point. The idea expressed is that because Nazis are evil, it is a good thing to punch them, and being concerned about the Nazis civil rights or pointing out that one can be evil even while hating Nazis makes one evil.

I think I can simplify this chart a bit. If you believe that it is acceptable to “punch” Nazis or to make use of political violence for any reason, you are evil. I am not talking about using violence in self-defense or for the protection of someone’s life or property. If you see a Nazi hitting a Jew, it is perfectly acceptable to use force to protect yourself or a victim of an assault. What I am talking about is the idea of assaulting a person because you do not agree with his political or religious views. That is always unacceptable, even if his views are hateful.

I will repeat. If you believe that it is acceptable to physically attack someone for their political views, no matter how hateful they may seem, you are the one acting like a Nazi. If you believe that it is acceptable to get someone fired or endanger his livelihood for saying something “politically incorrect” than you are the one being evil. If you think that it is acceptable to harass someone over the internet or publish a person’s address in the hope that a mob will harass him, or if you are part of that mob, you are being the hateful bully. If you like the idea of mobs shouting down conservative speakers on college campuses, you are part of the problem., If you are “anti-fascist” while embracing the acceptability of political violence like the Fascists did in Germany and Italy,  you are not opposed to Fascism because you understand why it was evil. You oppose Fascism because it is the other team. You are nothing but a gangster opposing another set of gangsters, like the Crips and the Bloods.

It is important that we denounce political violence and intolerance where it occurs, even when it is against the most intolerant among us. Violence against Nazis or White Supremacists is still violence. Does this mean that we ought to tolerate people who are preaching intolerance and hatred?  Yes, it does. As long as the person does not initiate violence against another person, he can speak and think as he wishes. If we begin to punish people who say things we don’t like, there is no telling how far it may go. Nazis, or other extreme ideologies which preach hate are an tempting target for censorship, because they preach hate. But, human nature being what it is, there is always the temptation to label those we disagree with, even if they hold beliefs that are entirely mainstream, as haters to justify silencing them. You only have to look at our college campuses to find alarming examples of this trend. It is best to avoid the slippery slope altogether and practice tolerance.

We should tolerate the intolerant, not for the sake of the intolerant but because we want to remain tolerant. I do not want to live in a country in which political violence by mobs of thugs has become the norm. I do not want to live in a country in which I have to watch every word I say lest it be taken out of context and used against me. I certainly do not want to live in a country in which I have to worry that friends, co-workers, or strangers report me to the PC Police. I want to live in a free country. For that reason, I am willing support the right of people whose beliefs I find repugnant to have and share those beliefs. I only hope that the majority of my countrymen agree with me.

 

Carl Albert

September 2, 2017

Carl Albert was a Democratic Congressman from Oklahoma who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1977. While the office of Speaker of the House is an important and prestigious position and Albert had played a key role in seeing that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson’s domestic agendas were passed and he chaired the Democratic National Convention in 1968, Carl Albert is not much remembered outside Oklahoma. Perhaps he did not play an especially memorable role in politics, yet the story of how he might have become president in 1973 is interesting and perhaps worth recalling.

Carl Albert

Richard Nixon’s first Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, resigned on October 10, 1973 after being indicted on charges of bribery, extortion and tax evasion. While the constitution mandates that the Vice-President assumes the presidency upon the death, resignation or disability of the President, there was no requirement that the new president should appoint another Vice-President until the adoption of the twenty-fifth amendment in 1967. If the President died and was succeeded by the the Vice-President or the Vice-President died in office or resigned, the office of the Vice-President was vacant until the next election. This actually happened sixteen times, with such presidents as John Tyler and Andrew Johnson until the adoption of the twenty-fifth amendment, and would have happened in 1973 if the twenty-fifth amendment had not been ratified.

Following the terms of the twenty-fifth amendment, President Nixon nominated the Republican House Minority Leader Gerald Ford for the Vice-Presidency on October 12, but Ford was not confirmed by Congress until December 6, so for about seven weeks the Office of the Vice-Presidency was vacant. Now, by this time the Watergate scandal was unfolding and it was becoming increasingly likely that Nixon would be impeached, or forced to resign. If this occurred while the Vice-Presidency was vacant the new President who be the person next in the line of succession, none other that the Speaker of the House, Carl Albert.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Carl Albert was responsible for scheduling the vote to confirm Ford in the House, as well as preparing articles of impeachment against the president. Albert could easily have postponed the confirmation of Ford indefinitely, as well as expediting articles of impeachment and perhaps forcing Nixon’s resignation. Albert could have maneuvered his way into the White House. He chose not to. Albert stated that he did not believe that as a Democrat he had the right to take a position that the people had chosen to give to a Republican in the previous election. Had he arranged to make himself President, the effort would have been tantamount to a coup. Moreover, He stated that had circumstances caused him to become president, he would have felt obliged to resign as soon as a Republican Vice-President was chosen.

I wonder what would happen if similar events occurred today. Suppose the Democrats sweep the midterm elections next year and gain comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress. Suppose further, that something happened to Vice-President Mike Pence, either he dies in office or resigns. Suppose also that the Democrats decide to impeach Donald Trump for the high crime and misdemeanor of being Donald Trump. When Trump nominates a successor to Vice-President Pence, would Speaker Nancy Pelosi schedule a vote to confirm the nominee, or would she delay it hoping that Trump is impeached and convicted, or resigns, making her the President?

I have a hard time believing that Pelosi, or any Democrat, or for that matter any Republican, would be as high minded as Carl Albert was under his circumstances. It seems to me that more and more the people we trust to lead this nation are less interested in following the rules and more interested simply in gaining and keeping power, whatever the cost to the country. Speaker Albert knew that he would not be entitled to make himself President and decided not to bend the rules to his advantage. I think all too many people in government today would have no trouble at all bending or even ignoring the rules. We seem to have declined somehow in the last decades, despite the advances we have made in technology and economically. Our culture has grown coarser. We seem increasingly less interested in playing by the rules or in adhering to the norms that allow a diverse people to live together in harmony.

A democratic government needs these kinds of rules and norms. People have to accept the results of an election, even when the candidate they don’t like wins. People have to support the rule of law, even the laws they don’t happen to like. People have to free expression, even of ideas they find repugnant. If we stop following these rules and norms, we cannot continue to be a free and democratic country. Maybe we can turn things around before it is too late. I hope it isn’t already too late.

 


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