Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Violent Extremism

February 26, 2015

Peter Beinart defends President Obama’s use of the term violent extremism rather than Islamic terrorism in an article in The Atlantic. I think he makes a few good points but missed the reason there is a problem with Obama’s refusal to name the source of the problem.

Sometimes we overlook the obvious. For weeks now, pundits and politicians have been raging over President Obama’s insistence that America is fighting “violent extremism” rather than “radical Islam.” Rudy Giuliani calls the president’s refusal to utter the ‘I’ word “cowardice.” The president’s backers defend it as a savvy refusal to give ISIS the religious war it desperately wants. But, for the most part, both sides agree that when Obama says “violent extremists” he actually means “violent Muslim extremists.” After all, my Atlantic colleague David Frum argues, “The Obama people, not being idiots, understand very well that international terrorism possesses an overwhelmingly Muslim character.”

For Obama’s critics, and even some of his defenders, this is the president being “politically correct,” straining to prove that terrorists, and their victims, hail from every group and creed in order to avoid stigmatizing Muslims. But the president’s survey is fairly representative. Peruse the FBI’s database of terrorist attacks in the United States between 1980 and 2005 and you’ll see that radical Muslims account for a small percentage of them. Many more were committed by radical environmentalists, right-wing extremists, and Puerto Rican nationalists. To be sure, Muslims account for some of the most deadly incidents: the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayat’s shooting spree at the El Al counter at LAX in 2002, and of course 9/11. But non-Muslims account (or at least appear to account) for some biggies too: the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bombing, the explosions at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the 2001 anthrax attacks.

If you look more recently, the story is much the same. Between 2006 and 2013, the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database (GTD) logged 14 terrorist incidents in the United States in which at least one person died. Of these, Muslims committed four: a 2006 attack on the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, a 2009 assault on a Little Rock recruiting station, the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, and the 2013 Boston Marathon attack (which the GTD counts as four separate incidents but I count as only one). Non-Muslims committed 10, including an attack on a Unitarian church in Knoxville in 2008, the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in Wichita in 2009, the flying of a private plane into an IRS building in Austin in 2010, and the attack on the Sikh temple that same year.

Not all European terrorists are Muslim either. According to the Center for American Progress’s analysis of data from Europol, the European Union’s equivalent of the FBI, less than 2 percent of terrorist attacks in the EU between 2009 and 2013 were religiously inspired. Separatist or ultra-nationalist groups committed the majority of the violent acts. Of course, jihadists have perpetrated some of the most horrific attacks in Europe in recent memory: the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the 2005 attacks in the London subway, and, of course, last month’s murders at Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher. But there have been gruesome attacks by non-Muslims too. Right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s 2011 assault on a summer camp near Oslo, for instance, killed far more people than the recent, awful attacks in France.

Why does this matter? Because the U.S. government has finite resources. If you assume, as conservatives tend to, that the only significant terrorist threat America faces comes from people with names like Mohammed and Ibrahim, then that’s where you’ll devote your time and money. If, on the other hand, you recognize that environmental lunatics and right-wing militia types kill Americans for political reasons too, you’ll spread the money around.

We’ve already seen the consequences of a disproportionate focus on jihadist terrorism. After 9/11, the Bush administration so dramatically shifted homeland-security resources toward stopping al-Qaeda that it left FEMA hideously unprepared to deal with an attack from Mother Nature, in the form of Hurricane Katrina. The Obama administration is wise to avoid that kind of overly narrow focus today. Of course it’s important to stop the next Nidal Malik Hasan or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But it’s also important to stop the next Timothy McVeigh or Wade Michael Page. And by calling the threat “violent extremism” rather than “radical Islam,” Obama tells the bureaucracy to work on that too.

Instead of assuming that these threats are the same, we should be debating the relative danger of each. By using “violent extremism” rather than “radical Islam,” Obama is staking out a position in that argument. It’s a position with which reasonable people can disagree. But cowardice has nothing to do with it.

I think that Mr. Beinart is correct in saying that it would be unwise to concentrate on the threat from Islamic radicals to the exclusion of any other potential threat.There are many sources of danger in the world, both natural and man-made and it is prudent to maintain at least some vigilance in as many ways as possible. I think that he does not understand that the terrorist threat from  radical Islam is greater than from any other source, either foreign or domestic. Beinart concedes that the attacks from Islamic terrorists, while fewer in overall numbers, have been more deadly, but the greater danger is not because attacks by violent Muslims tend to kill more people.

Timothy McVeigh, Anders Brevick, the Unibomber, and others like them were demented loners. While their actions were dangerous and deadly they acted alone or with one or two accomplices. They had no large network of supporters to give them aid and no one applauded their actions. The environmentalist and right-wing terrorists Beinart mentioned are very much isolated and marginalized, even among supporters of the causes they espouse. While there may be some few people who approve of their violent actions, the number of people willing to give any sort of material support is very low. These sorts of demented loners and extremist splinter cells can be handled by law enforcement.

Islamic terrorists such as the late and unlamented Osama bin Laden and the Islamic State are not demented loners or small groups of isolated extremists and we practice a dangerous self delusion if we believe that they play as insignificant role in in the Islamic world as Earth First! does in the West. These militants are not a small group of extremist who have perverted a peaceful religion. Their actions and ideology are far closer to the mainstream of Islam than our political leaders are willing to admit.

Consider the numbers. There is something like 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. If only one percent are willing to give at least moral support to terrorists, that is 16 million supporters. If only one percent of that number is willing to support the cause materially, than there are 160,000 people in the world willing to help with acts of terrorism against the West. There are not hundreds of thousands or people willing to actually commit acts of terrorism, even most Muslims who think that such acts are justified would rather live their lives in peace, but this should suggest the size of any potential base of support an Islamic terrorist group might be able to exploit. This is a base far greater than any other cause that a terrorist might support. Law enforcement is not enough to handle this problem. We must be willing to admit that we are at war. They certainly believe that they are at war with us and unlike us, they are fighting to win, while we do not even want to name the enemy.

I do not want to suggest that military action is the only, or even the best, option for dealing with the problem of radical Islam. I do not know what the best option is, but I have a feeling that it will require a variety of approaches including military action, law enforcement, diplomacy and others,just as we used a wide variety of tactics to bring down the Soviet Union. But first we have to admit to ourselves the nature of the threat we face. We cannot defeat an enemy we make no effort to understand.

 

The Earl of Clarendon

February 15, 2015

I have noticed that US history textbooks tend not to spend a lot of time on the Colonial Period. Generally, there is a chapter on Columbus and the Spanish Conquistadores, followed by a chapter on Jamestown and the Pilgrims. By the third or fourth chapter, they are at the Boston Tea Party and the Revolution, effectively skipping over the hundred and seventy or so years of the English colonies in North America. At least that was the situation when I was in school. Today, I suppose the textbooks teach about the evil whites who oppressed and exterminated the innocent Native Americans who lived in harmony with the Earth and each other.

This habit of skipping over so much of the Colonial Period is unfortunate, I think, since quite a lot happened during that time. The almost two centuries before Independence was the time in which the English colonists became Americans and learned the arts of self-government that served them so well during and after the Revolution. The colonists were forced to learn to govern themselves because England mostly neglected its North America colonies until the French and Indian War. Unlike the Spanish and the French, the English government did not exert much control over the internal affairs of its colonies and didn’t limit colonisation to approved populations. The English thought of their colonies as a source of resources, a place for adventurers to get rich and a dumping ground for undesirables. The royal governors who were appointed tended not to be the best and brightest of the English aristocracy.

The colony of New York seemed to have the worst luck with its governors. Probably the worst of the lot was Edward Hyde, the Third Earl of Clarendon. Hyde was reputed to be corrupt, incompetent, dissolute and a cross dresser. Hyde was appointed to be the Royal Governor of the colonies of New York and New Jersey by Queen Anne from 1701 to 1708. He was not a popular governor. According to some accounts, Hyde took bribes and stole from the public treasury, and he dressed in women’s clothes.

There are several stories about Hyde’s cross dressing. According to one, a constable noticed a woman loitering in one of the seediest parts of New York and arrested her on suspicion of being a prostitute only to discover he had arrested the governor. Another story, has Hyde addressing the New York Assembly in 1702 in a gown reminiscent of the style Queen Anne preferred. When questioned about his choice of attire, he replied that in his capacity as Royal Governor he represented the Queen, a woman, and so he ought to represent her as faithfully as possible. When his wife died in 1707, Hyde is said to have attended her funeral dressed as a woman. There is even a portrait purported to be of the the governor in drag.

Lord_Cornbury

There is, of course, some question over whether this is really a portrait of Hyde. One might think that since any politician wouldn’t allow himself in our more liberated times to be photographed in drag, surely no one in the more restrictive eighteenth century would sit in front of a painter to have his portrait done while wearing a dress.

Then again-

New York mayor Rudy Guiliani

New York mayor Rudy Guiliani

Actually, the idea that our times are more sexually liberated while all past eras were prudish and puritanical is not really true. The truth is that  periods of relatively liberal sexual mores alternate with more restrained times. The eighteenth century happened to be one of the more libertine centuries, at least among the aristocracy. The more prudish Victorian nineteenth century was a reaction against the looser morals of the previous century, just as much of the twentieth century has been a reaction against the Victorians. In fact, there was even a lively gay subculture in London and perhaps other large cities of Britain, complete with gay bars, which they called “molly houses” In eighteenth century slang, a “molly” was an effeminate, perhaps homosexual, man and a molly house was where they could congregate for companionship and sex with their more masculine lovers. They would dress as women and take on feminine identities. They even held mock marriages just as homosexuals today have mock marriages. These marriages were, of course, not recognized by the state as such mock marriage often are today. In that respect, the people of the eighteenth century were saner and had a better grip on reality. You must not think that homosexuality, or cross-dressing, was in any sense tolerated, though. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death. Most of what historians know about the molly houses is from court documents of trials persons captured in raids and the testimony of undercover police.

So, was Edward Hyde a molly? Did he frequent the colonial equivalent of a molly house, if any existed? Probably not. There is no reason to believe that he was a homosexual, and really no reason to believe the stories of his cross dressing. Upon closer investigation, the stories seem to have originated from his political enemies, of which he had made many, and to have dated some time after his tenure as governor. They always seem to have been something someone else had seen or heard about the governor. Even the supposed portrait of the governor is more likely to have one a painting of a woman with masculine features. The label on the frame of the portrait may only date to 1867. Even if Hyde did wear women’s clothing, he was probably heterosexual. Contrary to what is still often believed, most cross dressers are straight, and Hyde seems to have been genuinely fond of his wife. The stories of his corruption may also have been exaggerated by his enemies.

Edward Hyde was recalled to England in 1708 and promptly put into debtor’s prison, until his father died the following year and he inherited the title and properties of the Earl of Clarendon. He died in obscurity in 1723 and since his son had already died, the title passed to a cousin, Henry Hyde, Fourth Earl of Clarendon. The title died with his son, Henry Hyde, who died childless in 1753, but it was revived in 1776 with a son of a daughter of the Fourth Earl. Edward Hyde’s descendants include the present Earl of Clarendon, Sarah, Duchess of York, and the actor Cary Elwes. Edward Hyde himself is only remembered for his alleged cross dressing, perhaps not the legacy he might have wanted, but how many colonial Royal Governors are remembered at all?

The Muslim Inquisition

February 6, 2015

At a prayer breakfast recently, President Obama admonished his audience that any religion, including our own, can be twisted into promoting the most atrocious behavior. As an example, the President cited the Crusades and the Inquisition.

I don’t think that there can be much doubt among those who have actually studied history that holy war has been much more typical of Islam than Christianity. The Crusades were a response to centuries of Islamic aggression against Christendom and the idea of a holy warrior was always somewhat controversial among Christians. In Islam, on the other hand, jihad is an integral part of the faith. Inquisitions seem to have been more of a Christian problem. One never hears of any Muslim Inquisition in history. Yet there was an organized Inquisition at least once in Islamic history.

In general Christianity lends itself more to the formation of something like an Inquisition and the punishment of heretics than Islam. In part this is because in Christianity salvation is not obtained by correct behavior as in Islam, but holding correct doctrine. What a Christian believes about God can have eternal consequences. This is not as unreasonable as it might seem to the modern mind. A doctor with incorrect information about the practice of medicine might kill his patient. A lawyer mistaken about the law cannot serve his client. In like manner, to the Medieval Christian, a priest or preacher who taught incorrect theology placed the souls of his flock in danger. We do not punish heretics, but we do prosecute people who make fraudulent claims and we can punish professionals for malpractice. The Medieval Inquisition, then, pursued cases of theological malpractice. I do not want to defend the Inquisition here, but I do think it is important to try to understand why such an institution was thought to be necessary during the Middle Ages.

The Muslims never absorbed the Greek passion for hair splitting philosophical discussion to the extent that the Christians did, so there is no equivalent in Islamic history to the furious debates over to what extent Christ was God or man or the precise relationship of the persons of the Trinity to one another. Islamic theology is relatively simple and straight forward compared to Christian theology, so there is less scope for heresy in Islam. Most disputes between Muslims have involved differences in legal jurisprudence or the correct succession to the Caliphate rather than fine points of doctrine. This is not to say that Islamic authorities were more tolerant of heresy. Denying a fundamental doctrine of Islam such as the existence of God or proclaiming oneself to be a new prophet with revelations that supersede those of Mohammed was always a good way to lose your head.

Another reason why there haven’t been Inquistitions in Islam is that unlike Christendom, church and state have never been separate entities. There has been no organized institutional church with a hierarchy of clergy as a separate source of political power and moral authority,to a greater or lesser extent opposed to the state in the Islamic world. The Caliph was always a religious leader as well as a political leader and laws were made by religious scholars based on Koranic principles. Among the functions of the state were the promotion of virtuous behavior and the propagation  of the faith. Heresy could be punished by the state and there was no need for a separate ecclesiastical institution for that purpose. Nevertheless, as I said there has been at least one Inquisition in Islamic history, though it was sponsored by the Caliph and its purpose was as much the suppression of his political opponents as the eradication of heresy. This Islamic Inquisition was called the Mihna and only lasted from AD 833 until 848.

This Mihna, the word means trial or testing in Arabic, was instituted by the Caliph al-Ma’mun for the purpose of imposing the beliefs of the Mutazilite school of philosophy on his government officials and judges. The Mutazilites or Rationalists were those philosophers and scholars who had studied Greek philosophy and sought to reconcile the teachings of such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle to the precepts of Islam. In particular, they adopted Greek ideas that the world is a rational place ruled by natural, logical laws that could be discovered through the use of reason. They even went so far as to teach that the nature God could be discovered by reason, supplemented by His revelations. To more orthodox or conservative Muslim thinkers, already suspicious of pagan learning, the idea that God could be known at all seemed close to blasphemy. A world ruled by natural laws seemed to infringe on the divine sovereignty of God.

al-Ma'mun is furthest on the left

al-Ma’mun is furthest on the left

The particular issue on which the Mutazilites and their opponents contended was whether the Koran was created by God or is the untreated, eternal Word of God. This may seem to be a trivial cause for argument, but the controversy helped to determine the course of Islamic theology and philosophy. If the Koran was created by God, than it does not necessarily possess the entirety of God’s perfection. Not every word of the Koran need be the literal Word of God. Some verses could be allegorical or influenced by some historical or cultural context. If the Mutazilites had prevailed, it is possible that the Islamic view of the Koran would be closer to the view held by many Christians on the Bible, inspired by God but with not every verse interpreted literally. On the other hand, if the Koran is uncreated and eternal, then, in a sense , it partakes of the essence of God. There can be no historical or cultural context. Verses which seem to relate to Mohammed’s life existed before Mohammed was born or the world created. Divine laws promulgated in the Koran are for all times and places.

The Mutazilite school was a movement of the intellectual elite rather than a popular movement and much of its influence came from the support of the Caliphs, especially al-Ma’mum who reigned from AD 813-833. In the year 827, al-Ma’mun using his authority as Caliph, proclaimed that the Koran was created. In 833, al-Ma’mun instituted the Mihna to compel acceptance of his proclamation. The Mihna continued after al-Ma’mun’s death the same year, through the reigns of his successors al-Mu’tasim and al-Wathiq. The Caliph al-Mutawakkil ended the Mihna two years into his reign in the year 848. The Mihna, then, was not a permanent institution as the various European Inquisitions were, nor was its effects as immediately far reaching. The Mihna was primarily directed at government officials and Islamic scholars in the Caliph’s capital of Baghdad. Muslims out in the provinces and among the common people were not affected by this inquisition. The Mihna was still unpopular,  however, since the men targeted by it were widely respected religious scholars and jurists, including Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, one of the most famous Islamic theologians and founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence. Like many such persecutions, the Mihna was a failure. The men targeted became martyrs and heroes of the faith. The Caliphs responsible were reviled as tyrants.

In the longer run, the effects of the Mihna were devastating for the Mutazilites and perhaps for the Islamic world as a whole. The Mutazilites were seen, somewhat unfairly, as the sponsors of the Mihna and their faction and its teachings were increasingly discredited afterwards. By the year 1000, the Mutazilites were universally viewed as heretics, a judgment that has continued to this day. More unfortunately, Greek philosophy,with its emphasis on the use of reason was also discredited, which may have been a leading cause in the decline of science in the Islamic world after around 1000. In order to do science, the thinker must believe that the world is a rational place, governed by rational laws that can be discovered by the human mind. If one believes that the world is governed by the arbitrary dictates of a deity beyond human understand, then it may be possible to make chance empirical discoveries, but there is less motivation to try to fit such discoveries into consistent, logical world view.

It is strange that the Islamic Inquisition ended up doing more damage to Islamic progress than the longer lasting and more extensive Christian Inquisitions did to progress in Europe. The history of the Islamic world seems to be full of these sorts of wrong turns and I have to wonder whether there is something in Islam, perhaps less tolerant of free thought than Christianity ever has been, even at its worst. Or, perhaps the backlash against the intolerance of the Islamic Inquisition ended up being greater intolerance, while the backlash against the Christian Inquisitions was to ultimately  discredit the idea of religious coercion. Such questions, perhaps, are unanswerable.

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

February 3, 2015

Growing up, you might have heard your mother or father saying something like that when you wanted some expensive toy. Maybe you listened to them and learned something about where money does come from. The progressives who are pushing for minimum wage increases do not seem to have listened to their parents. At least it doesn’t seem to occur to them that if the government creates an increase in the cost of business, such as raising taxes or requiring higher wages, the money to pay for the increased costs has to come from somewhere. Either a business must pass on the increased cost to its customers by increasing prices, adjust its practices to reduce impact of the higher costs, perhaps by employing fewer workers, or accept a reduction in profits. For many of the unthinking, the last option is the most desirable, since it is all too commonly believed that profits are somehow selfish and evil. They do not realize that a business’s profit is what the owners of that business get to meet their own expenses and is the repayment for the expenses and risks of starting and running the business. This is especially true for the small business person who is the sole owner of his business, but it is also true for the stock holders of a major corporation. It a business cannot make a profit it must eventually cease to operate and close its doors. It really doesn’t require a PhD in economics or business administration to understand all of this, only the ability to think things through, an ability sadly lacking in all too many. Consider this example, brought by ABC News, of a bookstore in San Francisco, closing due to an increase in the city’s minimum wage.

Independent bookstores have faced tough times for quite a while. In San Francisco, neighborhood businesses have been passionately protected, so it’s hard to believe that an initiative passed by voters to raise the minimum wage is driving a Mission District bookstore out of business.

San Francisco’s minimum wage is currently $11.05 an hour. By July of 2018, the minimum wage in San Francisco will be $15 an hour. That increase is forcing Borderlands Bookstore to write its last chapter now.

When actor Scott Cox took a job at Borderlands Books he didn’t do it for the money.

“I’ve been a longtime customer of the store,” he said. “I love the people, I love the books.”

The work let him squeak by while nourishing his passion for sci-fi and fantasy.

“Everyone who works here does this because they love books, they love stories, and they love being booksellers,” said book store owner Alan Beatts.

That’s why store owner Beatts found it so tough to post a sign in the front window that the store is closing. “We’re going to be closing by the end of March,” he said.

Borderlands was turning a small profit, about $3,000 last year. Then voters approved a hike in the minimum wage, a gradual rise from $10.75 up to $15 an hour.

“And by 2018 we’ll be losing about $25,000 a year,” he said.

Money doesn’t grow on trees. Alan Beatts cannot simply go to his money tree and shake off a few extra bills. He must come up with the money to pay the higher wages somehow. He cannot increase his prices. Small, independent book stores have long been squeezed by large chains such as Barnes & Nobles who are now being squeezed by Amazon, so any increase in prices will simply drive customers away. I doubt it his bookstore is so overstaffed that he can afford to let many employees go. He cannot continue to run his bookstore if it loses money, so the bookstore must close.

This doesn't really exist.

This doesn’t really exist.

The next part of this article is priceless.

It’s an unexpected plot twist for loyal customers.

“You know, I voted for the measure as well, the minimum wage measure,” customer Edward Vallecillo said. “It’s not something that I thought would affect certain specific small businesses. I feel sad.”

I would say that Mr. Vallecillo wasn’t thinking at all, but then neither were the people in San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors when they decided to let people vote on increasing the minimum wage.

Though it’s caught a lot of people off guard, one group that wasn’t completely surprised was the Board of Supervisors. In fact, they say they debated this very topic before sending the minimum wage to the voters.

“I know that bookstores are in a tough position, and this did come up in the discussions on minimum wage,” San Francisco supervisor Scott Wiener said.

Wiener knows a lot of merchants will pass the wage increases on to their customers, but not bookstores.

“I can’t increase the prices of my products because books, unlike many other things, have a price printed on them,”

Wiener says it’s the will of the voters. Seventy-seven percent of them voted for this latest wage hike.

“Borderlands Books is an phenomenal bookstore, I was just in it yesterday,” Wiener said. “I hope they don’t close. It’s an amazing resource.”

But Alan Beatts said he can’t see a way to avoid it.

Mr. Wiener should have thought of that before, unless they repeal the increase in the minimum wage, Borderlands Books will have to close. The voters voted for the increase. Now, they will have to deal with the consequences.

Business owners don't really have money bins.

Business owners don’t really have money bins.

 

The Razor King

February 2, 2015

Anyone who shaves on a regular basis owes King Camp Gillette a debt of gratitude. King Camp Gillette, yes that was actually his name, was the founder of the Gillette Safety Razor Company in 1901 and the inventor of the disposable safety razor. Before this invention, men  shaved using a straight razor that had to be sharpened on a leather strop. These razors were expensive, needed sharpening often and were not especially safe or easy to use. There had been attempt to create safety razors out of forged steel in the nineteenth century but they were also expensive and hardly disposable.

English: Front page of Gillette's razor patent.

English: Front page of Gillette’s razor patent. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

King Camp Gillette  was a salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company, which made bottle caps for soft drink bottles, and he noticed that people would throw away the bottle caps after opening the bottles. He thought that if bottle caps could be disposable, why not razors? Working with two machinists, Steven Potter and William Emery Nickerson, Gillette designed a cheap, disposable safety razor using stamped steel. The razor was an immediate success and since Gillette’s portrait was on the packets of the razor blades, he became recognizable all over the world. Gillette’s big break come with America’s entry into World War I. Gillette contracted with the government to provide razor kits for American servicemen. Despite his success, King Camp Gillette died in poverty in 1932. He lost control of his company to a fellow director, John Joyce, though the company retained the Gillette name. Gillette spent much of the money he gained from the sale on property and when the Great Depression struck, the shares of the company lost their value.

King C. Gillette

King C. Gillette (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Story of King Camp Gillette could be read as a great American success story or a rags to riches to rags story. What I find most intriguing about Gillette, however, are his social and political views. The Wikipedia article about Gillette describes him as a “Utopian Socialist” who wrote a book in 1894, advocating that industries should be nationalized and controlled by a single corporation owned by the public. It may seem incongruous for a capitalist to argue for socialism, but Gillette believed that capitalists were the natural choice to run the nationalized industries, since they already had the necessary experience. Gillette, then was a democratic socialist rather than a Marxist. He wanted a socialism that benefited everyone in the nation, not a class struggle and revolution.
Gillette’s views may seem radical, but this kind of democratic, corporatist socialism was very popular at the time. In 1888, Edward Bellamy (cousin of the Francis Bellamy who had devised the Pledge of Allegiance) had published a utopian novel titled Looking Backward, in which a man from 1887 falls asleep Rip van Winkle style and wakes up in the socialist utopia of 2000. In his novel, Bellamy had advocated the same sort of corporatist socialism as Gillette and many others. Looking Backward was a best seller and almost immediately after its publication “Nationalist” clubs sprang all over the country hoping to enact such policies. Ultimately some form of this National Socialism was adopted by Benito Mussolini in Fascist Italy and certain aspects of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

I have to wonder how otherwise intelligent men could imagine that creating a publicly owned monopoly to control an entire nation’s industry could possibly be a good idea or, in any way compatible with any idea of a free country. One of the major concerns of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the growth of monopolies and trusts owned by such men as John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie. Many observers believed that such men practiced unfair and anti-competitive policies which gave them a disproportionate influence over the American economy and ultimately of the government. It seemed obvious that economic power should not be concentrated in the hands of a few men. Why then, was the solution to this concern considered to be the concentration of economic, political, and legal power in the hands of a few. The National Corporation that Gillette and others envisaged would be owned by the public, but the public wouldn’t be administrating the corporation on a daily basis. There would have to be some sort of committee of directors with perhaps a sort of CEO. Such directors would have far more control over the economy and the government than any private businessman. They would effectively own the whole country, even if nominally it was owned by the public. Even the most benevolent saint would be tempted to abuse such power, to benefit his friends, and the people who would aspire to such positions would not likely be saints.

I have similar reservations about the people who seem to believe that a bigger, more expansive government is the solution to all the nation’s problems, the sort of people who are always proposing new laws and regulations believe that a new government program is always the answer. I can understand that giving more power to the state will allow it to do more good for everyone, but why can they not see that it will also allow the state to do more evil. Given the defects of human nature, which inclines more to evil than to good, my personal preference is to leave the good undone rather than risk the evil that will certainly be done.

Blue on Blue

February 1, 2015

MoveOn.org is not too fond of Rahm Emmanuel.

Dear MoveOn member,

This month in Chicago, there’s a battle going on over the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel perfectly embodies the pro-Wall Street corporatist wing of the Democratic Party. In the 1990s, he fought against labor and environmental groups while pushing NAFTA through Congress.1 In the 2000s at the DCCC, he was known for recruiting conservative Democrats and building the conservative “Blue Dog” caucus.2

And in 2009, when MoveOn members held those same conservative Democrats accountable for blocking a public option in health care reform, Emanuel called us “f***ing retarded.”3

When he was elected mayor of Chicago in 2011, his first actions were to cut vital public services across the city, closing dozens of mental health clinics and provoking the first teachers’ strike in decades. He then proceeded to close 50 public schools in low-income communities, while championing private schools in wealthy neighborhoods and diverting tax dollars and public resources to favored corporations.4

In just four weeks, Mayor Emanuel will need to answer to Chicago voters for his right-wing policies. Polling has consistently shown him to be in serious trouble, and MoveOn members in Chicago have just voted overwhelmingly to endorse his progressive opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García.

Defeating Mayor Emanuel will not only improve the lives of millions of people in our nation’s third largest city, it will also send shockwaves through the national political establishment.

Can you chip in $3 today to MoveOn’s first endorsement of 2015—Jesús “Chuy” García?

Yes, I’ll chip in.

The key to defeating Mayor Emanuel will be to unite and mobilize all of Chicago’s diverse communities in a massive get-out-the-vote effort. That’s why MoveOn has hired a full-time local organizer to mobilize the 75,000 MoveOn members in Chicago and help send Mayor Emanuel packing.

It’s also why we’re asking MoveOn members across the country to chip in today. Every dollar we raise will help the García campaign pay for signs, literature, hand warmers, and everything else the thousands of grassroots volunteers will need to get out the vote in their neighborhoods.

With just a few weeks to go until the February 24 election, we have a huge opportunity to hand “Mayor 1%” an embarrassing defeat. 

Because so few other major progressive races are happening right now, progressives can focus our resources and make a massive impact on the critical first major election of 2015.

Will you chip in $3 to Jesús “Chuy” García’s grassroots campaign today?

Yes, I’ll chip in to defeat Mayor Rahm Emanuel and elect a progressive champion.

Thanks for all you do.

–Matt, Milan, Joan, Ilya, and the rest of the team

There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about the fight between Tea Party extremists and the Republican establishment, but I wonder if the divide between the more pragmatic Democrats and people like MoveOn.org isn’t much greater. I do not know much about Chicago politics and the Wikipedia article on Rahm Emanuel is not particularly enlightening about his performance as Mayor of Chicago. He was President Obama’s Chief of Staff from 2009 to 2010, so he could hardly be described as a conservative. He does seem to have a knack for making enemies, especially with people who hold that defending progressive principles is more important than real accomplishments in enacting policies. There is this gem in the article.

He has a reputation for his no-holds-barred negotiation style that involves “his share of shouting and cursing”. Ezekiel Emanuel has written, “The impatient, pushy Emanuel style is so well known that during a recent job interview I was asked, point-blank, whether I had the level-headed temperament the position required….. [A]s obvious to our flaws are to others, it’s difficult to recognize them in ourselves.”[5] At a closed-door meeting in the White House with liberal activists, Emanuel called them “fucking retarded” for planning to run TV ads attacking conservative Democrats who didn’t support Obama’s health-care overhaul. In February 2010, Emanuel apologized to organizations for the mentally handicapped for using the word “retarded.” He expressed his regret toTim Shriver, the chief executive of the Special Olympics after the remark was reported in an article by The Wall Street Journal about growing liberal angst at Emanuel. The apology came as former Alaska Governor and conservative activist Sarah Palin, on her Facebook page, called on President Obama to fire Emanuel.

In other words, he is kind of a jerk. Still, his description of the activists were were planning to oppose Obama’s healthcare policies on the grounds that weren’t liberal enough is essentially correct. I wouldn’t use quite the same terminology as Emanuel did, but those people, and moveon.org do not seem to be able to deal with political realities. Emanuel seems to have governed Chicago pragmatically with some idea of controlling municipal spending. Moveon.org would prefer a solid progressive who won’t win and would run the city into the ground. And they think that Tea Partiers are unrealistic extremists.

The Election of 1832

January 26, 2015

There were essentially two issues on which the election of 1832 was decided. One was the fate of the Second Bank of the United States. The First Bank of the United States was chartered by Congress for a twenty year term in 1791 at the proposal of Alexander Hamilton, who believed that a national bank like the Bank of England was essential for the economic development of the new nation. Hamilton hoped that the Bank of the United States would improve America’s credit and foster economic growth, particularly in manufacturing. Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans loathed the idea of a national bank, believing it to be an unconstitutional expansion of the federal government. They were also suspicious of banks and the financial industry as being the creation of a moneyed elite who cheated the common people out of their hard earned money. The only honest money was that which was earned through the labor of your own hands (or that of your slaves). When the charter of the First Bank of the United States terminated in 1811, President Madison and the Democratic-Republican Congress declined to renew it.
As a result, President Madison found it extraordinarily difficult to pay for the War of 1812, which broke out the following year. The Democratic-Republicans became converted to Hamiltonian economics and in 1816 chartered the Second Bank of the United States with a twenty year term.

Andrew Jackson hated the Second Bank of the United States as much as Jefferson disliked the first, and for much the same reason. Jackson presented himself as a Westerner and a man of the people fighting against the moneyed interests back East. If re-elected, Jackson promised to veto any renewal of the Bank’s charter and in the meantime, he would work to reduce the Bank’s influence. This dislike and distrust of a moneyed elite would be a feature of populist politics in future elections.
The second great issue of the election of 1832 was Andrew Jackson himself. President Jackson had played a far more active role in governing than any of his predecessors who had generally deferred to Congress. Jackson believed that while a Congressman was elected by his district and a Senator by his state, the President was elected by the whole people and should act as a Tribune protecting the people against particular interests. His opponents didn’t see matters in quite that way and accused Jackson of plotting to make himself a king or a dictator.

The campaign for the presidency began in September 1831 with the first nominating convention in American history, held the Anti-Masonic Party, the first of many “third parties”in American politics which would be organized around a single issue, gain temporary popularity and then fade away. The Anti-Masonic Party was, obviously, against the Freemasons and other secret organizations out of the fear that their membership were involved in a secret cabal to overturn republican government and substitute the rule of an elite. This seems rather paranoid, but it was something that many people were worried about. In any case, the Anti-Masonic Party held their convention in Baltimore Maryland and nominated former Attorney General William Wirt for President and Amos Ellmaker for Vice-President.

Jackson’s opponents, the National Republicans, also met in Baltimore in December 1831. They nominated Kentucky Senator Henry Clay for President and Clay’s friend John Sergeant from Pennsylvania for Vice-President.

The Democratic-Republicans, or Democrats as they can now be called, met in Baltimore in May, 1832 and to no one’s surprise, nominated Andrew Jackson for a second term. Jackson’s Vice-President, John C. Calhoun was not selected as his running mate. Jackson and Calhoun did not see eye to eye on a number of issues, particularly on the issue of state’s rights. Calhoun believed that the states had the right to nullify federal laws that were not to their liking, especially the tariffs which were unpopular in his home state, South Caroline. Jackson was a strong nationalist and threatened to send the army into South Carolina if they resisted or nullified any federal tariff. Jackson selected New York Senator, Governor, and his Secretary of State, Martin van Buren.

It was a nasty campaign, like the one before it, fought over personalities and the Bank. It was actually Henry Clay who brought the Bank into the campaign by persuading Nicholas Biddle, the President of the Bank to apply for a renewal of its charter four years early, in 1832. Clay hoped that Jackson would veto the renewal, dividing the Democrats, some of whom were actually for the Bank and winning Pennsylvania, where the Bank was located in Philadelphia. Biddle applied for the renewal of the charter and President Jackson promptly vetoed it. Events didn’t work out quite as Clay hoped, however. Jackson’s veto thrilled his supporters and burnished his populist credentials and made the contest one between the people and the elite. It didn’t help that Biddle and the Bank spent thousands of dollars funding anti-Jackson newspapers, pamphlets and other political activities.

Clay and his supporters made good use of these funds, accusing Jackson of arbitrary rule and dictatorship in cartoons and speeches, but the Jacksonians proved to be far more organized with meetings, parades, and Old Hickory clubs exhorting the voters to support their champion. In the end, Jackson won reelection easily.
Jackson got 701,780 votes, giving him 54.7% of the popular votes. Clay and the National Republicans got 484,205 votes with 36.9% of the popular vote. The Anti-Masonic party managed to get 100,715 votes with 7.8% of the popular vote.

Jackson won sixteen states all over the country for a total of  219 electoral votes. Clay only won his home state, Kentucky, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island with 49 electoral votes. Wirt and the Anti-Masons won Vermont with its 7 votes. John Floyd, a supporter of Calhoun’s got South Carolina’s 11 votes. South Carolina was the last state to have its electors chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote. Maryland’s 10 electoral votes were divided with 3 votes for Jackson, 5 for Clay and two electors not voting.

The Election of 1832

The Election of 1832

 

With these results, President Jackson could claim a popular mandate for his policies and he began to withdraw government assets from the Second Bank of the United States. The new era of popular, Jacksonian, democracy had begun.

 

Death of a King

January 22, 2015

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died. The Associated Press has an obituary.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the powerful U.S. ally who joined Washington’s fight against al-Qaida and sought to modernize the ultra conservative Muslim kingdom with incremental but significant reforms, including nudging open greater opportunities for women, has died, according to Saudi state TV. He was 90.

More than his guarded and hidebound predecessors, Abdullah assertively threw his oil-rich nation’s weight behind trying to shape the Middle East. His priority was to counter the influence of rival, mainly Shiite Iran wherever it tried to make advances. He and fellow Sunni Arab monarchs also staunchly opposed the Middle East’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings, seeing them as a threat to stability and their own rule.

He backed Sunni Muslim factions against Tehran’s allies in several countries, but in Lebanon for example, the policy failed to stop Iranian-backed Hezbollah from gaining the upper hand. And Tehran and Riyadh’s colliding ambitions stoked proxy conflicts around the region that enflamed Sunni-Shiite hatreds – most horrifically in Syria’s civil war, where the two countries backed opposing sides. Those conflicts in turn hiked Sunni militancy that returned to threaten Saudi Arabia.

And while the king maintained the historically close alliance with Washington, there were frictions as he sought to put those relations on Saudi Arabia’s terms. He was constantly frustrated by Washington’s failure to broker a settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He also pushed the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Iran and to more strongly back the mainly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Abdullah’s death was announced on Saudi state TV by a presenter who said the king died at 1 a.m. on Friday. His successor was announced as 79-year-old half-brother, Prince Salman, according to a Royal Court statement carried on the Saudi Press Agency. Salman was Abdullah’s crown prince and had recently taken on some of the ailing king’s responsibilities.

He can’t have had an easy time trying to balance between the needs of modernizing his country and the ultra conservative religious establishment which controls so much of the kingdom’s society. As the obituary mentions, King Abdullah was an ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, yet Saudi Arabia has supplied much of the funding for that terrorism, with members of the Saudi royal family almost certainly providing assistance to radical groups. The strict Wahhabi sect of Islam which is Saudi Arabia’s official religion has provided much of the ideological backing for the most extreme Islamic groups and Wahhabism has spread in the Islamic world due largely to the financial support from the sale of Saudi oil.

King Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz in 2002

King Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz in 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saudi Arabia is among the few countries left in the world governed by an absolute monarchy. The King of Saudi Arabia holds all the legislative, judicial and executive functions of government in his own persons and his royal decrees make up the law of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is also one of the few countries without even a pretext of any democratic machinery. Totalitarian dictatorships such as the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Democratic Republic of (North) Korea have (one party) elections and a legislature to rubber stamp the rulers’ commands. Saudi Arabia is still ruled like a medieval kingdom or a Bedouin tribe. Things are beginning to change in this old fashioned land. Recently there have been elections on the municipal level though no political parties are permitted and the councils elected are mostly powerless. In the 2015 elections, women will actually be allowed to vote and even run for office.

The king’s rule is not absolute, however. He must rule in accordance with the Koran and sharia law. Every Saudi male has the right to petition the king through a tribal council called the Majlis and in practice members and branches of the royal family have considerable influence as well as ulema, the religious establishment of Islamic scholars and jurists. The royal family, the Sauds, form an elite in the kingdom. These are the descendants of the first king of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Saud who united the Arabian peninsula and founded the Kingdom in 1932. Because of the practice of polygamy, the number of princes in the kingdom is very large, perhaps more than 7000. Of these, around 200 play an important role in the kingdom’s government. The Sauds effectively own the whole country and little distinction is made between the family’s assets and the finances of the state. They are the Saud in Saudi Arabia.

It is not easy to determine what will come next in the desert kingdom since so much is dependent on the personality and concerns of the king. So far, every king of Saudi Arabia has been a son of Abdulaziz. The new king, Salman, is 79 years old, so I doubt he will provide vigorous leadership.  Since Abdulaziz died in 1953, I doubt if any of his remaining sons are much younger, so it is possible there will be a series of short-lived, feeble kings for several years until the line of succession goes to the next generation.One can only hope that the desert kingdom continues to inch toward modernity.

Whose Side is He On?

January 13, 2015

President Obama couldn’t be bothered to attend the anti-terrorism rally in Paris, even though almost every other world leader consequence somehow found the time to show up. He still cannot say the words Islamic and terrorism in the same sentence. He is opposed to the slander of the prophet of Islam. And now, he would like to keep people from publishing articles critical of Islam. At this point, it is fair to wonder just whose side is he really on. Is Barack Obama on the side of freedom or Islamic terrorism.

I don’t believe the conspiracy theories that hold that President Obama is secretly a Muslim or some sort of Manchurian candidate intent on destroying America from within, but he does seem to express more sympathy towards people sworn to destroy us than he ought and he is too inclined to appeasement of the worst villains in the world. From the Daily Caller.

President Barack Obama has a moral responsibility to push back on the nation’s journalism community when it is planning to publish anti-jihadi articles that might cause a jihadi attack against the nation’s defenses forces, the White House’s press secretary said Jan. 12.

“The president … will not now be shy about expressing a view or taking the steps that are necessary to try to advocate for the safety and security of our men and women in uniform” whenever journalists’ work may provoke jihadist attacks, spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at the White House’s daily briefing.

The unprecedented reversal of Americans’ civil-military relations, and of the president’s duty to protect the First Amendment, was pushed by Earnest as he tried to excuse the administration’s opposition in 2012 to the publication of anti-jihadi cartoons by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The White House voiced its objections in 2012 after the magazine’s office were burned by jihadis, followings its publication of anti-jihadi cartoons.

Earnest’s defense of tho 2012 objections came just five days after the magazine’s office was attacked by additional jihadis. Eight journalists, two policeman and a visitor were murdered by two French-born Muslims who objected to the magazine’s criticism of Islam’s final prophet.

In 2012, “there was a genuine concern that the publication of some of those materials could put Americans abroad at risk, including American soldiers at risk,” Earnest said.

“That is something that the commander in chief takes very seriously,” he added, before saying that “the president and his spokesman was not then and will not now be shy about expressing a view or taking the steps that are necessary to try to advocate for the safety and security of our men and women in uniform.”

I can understand the concerns for the safety of American service people and civilians, but don’t they understand that this is just what the sort of terrorists who murdered those cartoonists in Paris want? If we watch what we say lest someone in the world might be offended enough to attack us, aren’t we giving the terrorists a veto on free expression? And, aren’t we encouraging more offended people to take up arms.

Not too long ago, Newsweek ran an article that many Christians believed was a hit piece against their faith.

Newsweek

 

This is not atypical of the way that the mainstream media treats Christians these days. Should a group of Christians bomb the office of Newsweek or gun down the writer of that piece? That seems to be the only way to get any respect.

So, whose side is he on? The President of the United States ought to be unambiguously and unequivocally on the side of freedom. He should be saying that the future does not belong to those that oppose the course of freedom. If Islam cannot bear to be examined, than it belongs on the trash heap of history alongside Communism and Fascism.

Unintended Consequences

January 5, 2015

I do not really want to write about male p0rn stars, but this story from the Associated Press provides such an excellent example of the law of unintended consequences that I couldn’t pass it up.

Two adult film actors have contracted HIV, with one most likely infecting the other during unprotected sex at a film shoot in Nevada where testing was less stringent than industry standards, officials said.

One of the actors had previously tested negative for the virus that causes AIDS before a pair of film shoots, but then began showing symptoms during the second shoot and was later found to be HIV-positive, the California Department of Public Health said Monday in a statement.

“In this case, the actor and production company thought he was HIV-negative during filming,” the statement said. “Shortly after his negative test, HIV levels in his body rose rapidly to where he could infect other actors through unprotected sex.”

The infections came amid a major decline in porn filming in Los Angeles County – once the center of porn production in the country – after the 2012 passage of a law requiring porn actors to use condoms during filming. The number of porn filmmakers applying for shooting permits in the county declined from 485 in 2012 to 40 in 2013.

The Free Speech Coalition, a California-based trade group for the adult film industry, said the pair of film shoots linked to the latest infections occurred in September on a Nevada set using tests that do not detect HIV as early as tests done on sets that fully comply with industry standards.

“Not only did this leave those who participated at risk, it made it much harder to track scene partners once the possible infection was discovered,” the coalition group said in a statement.

As you might imagine, the adult film industry provides many opportunities for the transmission not just of HIV but any sexually transmitted disease among its performers. An obvious precaution, along with the regular testing mentioned, might be for the male actors to wear condoms during their performance. For some reason, the adult film makers have tended to resist this step, perhaps out of concern that it would not be appreciated by their consumers. Since the industry will not adopt the standard voluntarily,a referendum in Los Angeles County required the wearing of the protective device while shooting. Problem solved.

Not really. As the story indicates, the adult film producers did not simply change their production practices to comply with the new regulation. Since that particular industry does not rely on a fixed location or immovable machinery, they simply decided to conduct their business outside of Los Angeles County, with perhaps lower safety standards then had been the norm.

It is all too easy to try to solve problems by passing new laws. Legislators are particularly vulnerable to this temptation since passing laws is what they do for a living. The problem is that passing a law or regulation does not magically solve the problem. Sometimes it may make the problem worse. I have written before how legislation can be ineffective or worse, even if well intentioned, if it is passed without a careful consideration of the conceivable consequences. Unfortunately, since legislators are usually judged by how many pleasant sounding laws they support and rarely by the actual consequences of these laws, we will likely see many more examples of unintended consequences.


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