Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Who’s the Boss

March 5, 2017

While President Trump is working to make America great again, he is naturally encountering resistance. This is to be expected, of course; no president is universally popular and Trump is more controversial than most. What might not be expected is the opposition Trump will be receiving inside the federal government from the people who are supposed to be working for him and for us. This article from the Washington Post tells of the resistance from within that Trump may be facing.

The signs of popular dissent from President Trump’s opening volley of actions have been plain to see on the nation’s streets, at airports in the aftermath of his refu­gee and visa ban, and in the blizzard of outrage on social media. But there’s another level of resistance to the new president that is less visible and potentially more troublesome to the administration: a growing wave of opposition from the federal workers charged with implementing any new president’s agenda.

Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.

And a few government workers are pushing back more openly, incurring the wrath of a White House that, as press secretary Sean Spicer said this week about dissenters at the State Department, sends a clear message that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”

At a church in Columbia Heights last weekend, dozens of federal workers attended a support group for civil servants seeking a forum to discuss their opposition to the Trump administration. And 180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend, where experts will offer advice on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.

At the Justice Department, an employee in the division that administers grants to nonprofits fighting domestic violence and researching sex crimes said the office has been planning to slow its work and to file complaints with the inspector general’s office if asked to shift grants away from their mission.

“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, “people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.”

I think these federal workers have forgotten who is the boss in this country. We do not some in some medieval despotism in which an superior caste of mandarins make all the decisions for the good of those deplorable serfs who are too ignorant to decide for themselves how to live their lives. The United States of America is a democratic republic in which the people rule and where government exists to protect our inalienable rights. These civil servants do not, or ought not, to make the policies and laws in this country. The people make the laws through our elected representatives. The job of the civil servants is to carry out those decisions made by our elected representatives. A federal worker has the same right to his opinion as any other American citizen, on his own time. If he believes a given policy is wrong, he can complain about it, or even resign if he believes that implementing a policy is against his conscience. He cannot work to undermine the agenda or policies of the elected and appointed officials who are his superiors anymore than a worker in the private sector can work to undermine the company he works for. Federal workers who are actively working to resist President Trump need to be fired. If the law prevents them from being fired, than the law must be changed.

Sometimes I think it would be better if we went back to the Spoils System. Our modern, professional, supposedly non-partisan civil service dates back to the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 which mandated that positions in the federal government should be given on the basis of merit as determined by civil service exams. Before that act the offices of the federal government were filled by a system of patronage called the Spoils System. Every federal employee was a political appointee, even local postmasters. With every change in administration after every election, there would be a wholesale turnover in the entire government as supporters of the previous administration were discharged while their jobs were given to the supporters of the incoming president. This meant that the first months of any new president would be filled with finding jobs for everyone who contributed time and money to his campaign. Since the victor gets the spoils of war, this system was called the Spoils System.

The Spoils System was not a particularly good way to run a government since most of the office holders were selected on the basis of political loyalty rather than on any ability to perform the functions of the job and the men selected were obviously more interested using their offices to gain political power and enrich themselves than in serving the public. The Pendleton Act was meant to remedy these obvious evils by putting into place a federal workers who had the specific skills and experience needed for the offices they held and who would dispassionately serve the public rather than political hacks beholden to the politicians who appointed them.

I am not certain that the Pendleton Act has been entirely successful, or perhaps it has been too successful in some ways. It seems to be that our modern, professional civil service has become an entrenched castes of elites with agendas of their own and who believe themselves to be a ruling caste who can lord over their inferiors. Even worse, they seem to be loyal to a particular political party, the Democrats, to the point of being willing to sabotage the elected officials of the opposing party. Thus, we have the worst of both evils, an arrogant ruling class of political hacks. At least with the Spoils System there was some rotation of people, and since they were political appointees they had to be at least somewhat responsive to the will of the elected officials who got them their jobs and who themselves knew they had to face the voters at the next election.

Something to think about, anyway. Our present system is not working too well. Maybe it’s time for a change.

 The Fascist Anti-Fascist

February 9, 2017

Here is an incredible interview with Yvette Felarca, the director of BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) and an organizer of the riots that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at Berkeley. She is not in the least apologetic or regretful that violence was used to suppress free speech.

I wonder if Ms. Felarca is actually listening to herself speak, or is thinking about the implications of what she is telling the interviewer. I wonder if she knows what Fascism actually is or whether it has occurred to her that a man in a black mask beating someone with a club because he doesn’t like what he says or thinks is far more emblematic of Fascism than a homosexual, English Jew of Greek descent who has a Black boyfriend. I wonder if Ms. Felarca will ever realize that she is being the Fascist by justifying and advocating political violence. Perhaps not. I don’t get the impression that many of these campus “anarchists” do very much thinking at all.

Fascism is essentially a glorification of and justification for the use of political violence to obtain desired results. Fascism stresses action over words and abstract theory, violent revolution over legislation and political debate. With this emphasis on revolution, Fascism resembles its ideological cousin Communism or Marxism. Both ideologies stem from Karl Marx’s ideas, though Fascism is a reaction against Marx, appealing mainly to people of the middle classes terrified by the idea of a Marxist revolution of the working class. While Marxism stresses the international class struggle, Fascism, perhaps more in tune with human nature, promotes the idea of national or racial unity of all classes. The Fascists were the original believers in the “it takes a village” meme. For them the Nation or Race is the village.

But this is a digression. The essential feature of Fascism, as well as other forms of militant socialism is the use of violence. Since Yvette Felarca and her associates are the ones justifying the use of violence, it would be fair to say they are the Fascists. Milo Yianopoulos’s speech may be provocative, but he has not called on his supporters to use violence. President Trump may delight in controversy, but he was elected by lawful and constitutional means and he is still subject to the same checks and balances as any other president. Trump is far from being a dictator. It is his opponents who are calling for violent resistance and a military coup. By the very definition of the word, they are the Fascists.

The United States of America has been very fortunate in that we have had a peaceful transition of power from president to president and party to party for over two centuries. This is far from common in the world. With the exception of Great Britain, there is no other country in the world that can boast such a tradition. By advocating political violence, Ms Felarca and her like minded colleagues are putting that proud tradition in jeopardy and there is no telling what the end results might be if political violence becomes normalized. It may not be what the Berkeley radicals might expect. Trump supporters and people generally will not let themselves be beaten up for long. Soon, they will fight back and there are more of us than them.

Then too, people don’t like riots and violent protests. Most people prefer security over liberty and when it comes to it will gladly trade their liberties for security. If the police and the government, hobbled as they must be by laws, traditions, or constitutions cannot maintain order, the people may well turn to a strong man who can. By advocating political violence against an imaginary dictator Trump, Ms. Felarca may end up creating a real dictatorship. I wish these people knew enough history to see where what they are saying will lead to.

Colin Kaepernick

October 3, 2016

Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49’s, has been making some waves lately with his refusal to stand for the National Anthem in protest over the treatment of Blacks in America, or something. As is often the case, there is a good deal of nonsense being written about this matter which needs to be dispensed with.

First, contrary to what some on the left are saying to confuse the issue, no one is disputing that Mr. Kaepernick has a right to refuse to stand when the National Anthem is played. He can stand, sit down, or turn somersaults if he wants to. I hope we can be spared any lectures on the first amendment by progressive hypocrites whose first instinct is to censor any ideas they don’t like.

Now, the NFL and the 49ers, as private corporations, do have the right to sanction Mr. Kaepernick if they believe his actions bring discredit or loss of revenue to them. He is working for them and can be expected to abide by their guidelines. They will not sanction Kaepernick, however. Political correctness has taken over even the world of sports and no athlete will be sanctioned for expressing an opinion so long as the opinion expressed is properly politically correct orthodoxy. A devout Christian who refused to stand for the national anthem on the grounds that he cannot support a nation that continences abortion or gay marriage is not likely to be met with the same bemused tolerance.

This leads to the other piece of nonsense that ought to be dispensed with, that Colin Kaepernick is being in any way courageous or brave. He must know perfectly well that nothing bad is likely to happen to him as a result of his demonstration. It is not at all controversial to regurgitate left wing talking points. If he really wanted to be brave and controversial, he might make a public statement that the wounds afflicting the African-American community these days is either of their own making or inflicted by people wanting to “help” them. If anything, his actions help him by drawing attention to him. I, and many others who are not football fans, would have never heard of him if not for his actions. Also, he has made himself immune from being dismissed from the team if  he underperforms. He can simply proclaim that he is being punished for his courageous stand and there is no shortage of fools who would believe him.

The question is not whether Colin Kaepernick has a right to sit during the national anthem, he does, but whether he is right to do so. His stated reasons for sitting are:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,  “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Are blacks and people of color being oppressed and murdered in this country? Should he refuse to show pride in his country. It seems more than a little grotesque for a man who is being paid millions of dollars to complain about being oppressed. Granted, he is not saying that he is personally being oppressed but is unselfishly protesting the oppression of all the other people of color, but it is still odd that he has not considered that a country willing to pay him so much money for playing a game may not be the oppressive dystopia he seems to believe it is. There are, indeed, tragic occasions in which police officers make the wrong decision and shoot suspects, but does he really believe that there are any police officers who start their shifts intending to gun down innocent Blacks? Does it not occur to him that a police officer might be unpunished for shooting a person simply because the shooting happened to be justified, that the officer had good reason to fear for his life?

That is really the point. No one denies that Blacks and people of color were treated very badly in the past in this country. There is, no doubt, still some discrimination against people. What Colin Kaepernick and others do not seem to understand is that oppression, prejudice and discrimination are what’s normal throughout human history. What is not normal is for a privileged group to willingly give up its privileges and to attempt to redress past wrongs, yet that is what has been happening in the United States for the past half century. Mr. Kaepernick’s vision of country that oppresses people of color does not match the reality of a government that has made it a priority to end discrimination and a media that denounces racism and prejudice at every opportunity.

The truth is that neither Colin Kaepernick, or any other American in the twenty-first century can justly claim to be persecuted and oppressed, whatever their color, race or circumstances, not by the standards that have prevailed in most times and places. There has been a lot of talk, lately, about white privilege and the one percent. Perhaps it would be better to talk about American privilege. If you have the good fortune to be born in America, then you are one of the most privileged persons to have ever walked the Earth. You have freedoms and opportunities few have ever had. You don’t have to be afraid of going to jail for saying the wrong thing or practicing the wrong religion. Your career opportunities are not limited by by your social class or birth. You can rise to the top, however humble your origins, if you have enough talent, ambition and are willing to work hard. Naturally, not everyone has the same opportunities and some have advantages others do not. That is inevitable. We cannot make everyone begin on a precisely level playing field. Despite that, and despite the real history of racial discrimination in this country, the United States of America is probably the best place in the world to be Black, or White or Yellow, or whatever. America is a country worth being proud of, despite its faults.

It is too bad that ingrates like Colin Kaepernick cannot see past the faults and recognise what a great country they live in.

 

Trump and NATO

July 25, 2016

National Review Online‘s Kevin Williamson wrote an article criticizing Donald Trump for his latest really bad idea, having the United States not necessarily follow up on its treaty commitments to our NATO allies. I might as well say that while I vastly prefer a Trump presidency over a Hilary Clinton presidency and I do not think that Trump will be the disaster in the White House that some are predicting, his tendency to shoot off his mouth, along with his apparent ignorance of the nature of international trade, cause me to have serious reservations about Trump’s fitness for the office he seeks. Unfortunately, he seems to be the lesser evil by a long shot. I might as well also state that even when Trump seems to be saying something stupid or unacceptable, it often turns out that he is making a good point after it has been stripped of its populist rhetoric. It may be that this is the case with his statements about NATO.

First,  here’s what Williamson has to say.

Trump, whose nickel-and-dime gestalt could only have come from a repeatedly failed casino operator, is a creature in search of petty advantages and small paydays. As such, he suggested yesterday that the United States might forsake its commitment to NATO — our most important military alliance — because he believes that our NATO allies are not carrying their share of the expense. Trump’s mind processes information the way a horse processes oats, and the product is exactly the same.

 

It is true that the United States spends more in both absolute and proportional terms than do other NATO members, but here the United States is the outlier. It spends a great deal more on national defense than other NATO members do, and more than non-NATO members, and pretty much every country on the face of the Earth. That has nothing to do with NATO; that has to do with political decisions made in Congress and by presidents of both parties going back to Franklin Roosevelt. It may very well be that the United States spends too much on the military — I believe that it does — but that isn’t because some other country spends too little. The myth of the free-riding Europeans, diverting domestic tax dollars from national security to welfare programs, is not supported by the evidence. They don’t have unusually small militaries; we have an unusually large and expensive one.

Since 1949, there has never been any serious doubt that the United States would fulfill its obligations to the North Atlantic alliance. That is a big part of why we had a Cold War instead of an all-out (probably nuclear) World War III in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a big part of the reason there is no longer a wall running through Berlin, and why the people who hold Bernie Sanders’s political philosophy were able to murder only 100 million innocent human beings instead of 200 million.

 

Thanks to Trump, the heads of government and defense ministers of the other NATO powers must now consider that the United States will welsh on its obligations the way Donald Trump welshes on his debts. He isn’t the president yet, of course, and he probably won’t be. But the chance isn’t zero, either. If you are, say, Lithuania, and you suspect that the United States will not actually have your back — a suspicion fortified by Trump’s man-crush on Russian strongman Vladimir Putin — what do you do? Maybe you try to get ahead of the curve and go voluntarily into the Russian orbit.

All of these are good points and Williamson is probably correct is asserting that our European allies are not really taking advantage of us when it comes to funding NATO. He is definitely right that NATO played a role in seeing that the Cold War did not become World War III and that the alliance helped us to win the Cold War. But, I think that Williamson, and maybe Trump himself, misses the larger point. Why does NATO still exist?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 in order to combat potential aggression from the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe. NATO was conceived of as a alliance of mutual defense among the free nations of Western Europe and North America. In many ways, NATO has been one of the most successful multi-national alliances in history, and although the NATO allies were never called into joint military action against the Soviet Union, the alliance was surely a deterrent against any Soviet plans to extend Communism into Western Europe.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The whole reason for NATO has not existed for a quarter of a century. Why is NATO still around? Who are we defending against?

There are still threats in the world. Vladimir Putin seems to be intent on restoring as much of the Soviet empire as he can ,but Putin’s Russia is only a pale shadow of the old Soviet Union. Russia is still a strong country, but it is not the superpower that the Soviet Union was. Putin can stir up trouble in the Ukraine, but he lacks the global reach of the Soviet leaders. The leaders of the Soviet Union were inspired by a militant, millenarian ideology, Communism, that had some appeal and supporters in West and elsewhere. These days Communism is discredited everywhere except on American college campuses and Bernie Sanders rallies. Putin’s appeal to Russian nationalism is not something to inspire people in Europe and America. There is also the threat of Islamic terrorism and other threats around the world that clearly call for coordinated action by the United States and its allies, but a framework for fighting the next world war may not work so well against a more diffuse enemy.

Looking over the Wikipedia article, I find that NATO has made many changes in its command structure, etc in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union, but it seems to me that it is an organization that is seeking a role to play, particularly since NATO has been permitting Eastern European former Soviet satellites such as Poland to join the alliance, pushing the alliance all the way up to the Russian border. This may not have been wise. The Russians must surely see this as a threat. How would we feel if Mexico and Canada joined in a political and military alliance originally created to counter the United States?

Kevin Williamson mentions Lithuania in his article. Lithuania joined NATO in 2004. Obviously, under the terms of the alliance, if Vladimir Putin sent tanks into Vilnius tomorrow, the United States would have to respond as though it were an attack on American soil. How credible is that, really? Would the United States really fight a war against Russia over Lithuania? Are American interests really served by threatening war over Lithuania? It would be unfortunate if Lithuania had to return to its previous role as a province of Russia, but is it really America’s job to keep that from happening.

I am not an isolationist. I believe that America, like it or not, has to be the world’s policeman, both for our good and the good of the whole world. These peacekeeping actions we keep finding ourselves in are expensive, but not nearly so expensive as a full scale war would be, and I have no doubt that that is exactly what we would have if we let things go. But, I think we need to be a lot smarter about how we use our influence in the world and we need to understand that we cannot get involved in every single quarrel, nor can we bring democracy to people who have known nothing but despotism for centuries. The next president, whether Trump or Clinton, should probably begin a complete reappraisal of our foreign policy to determine what serves American interests and what does not, and this reappraisal must include considering whether relics of previous decades should be kept, reformed, or abolished.

Independence Day

July 4, 2016

The Fourth of July is the day on which the American people celebrate their independence from Great Britain. It is not actually clear why Independence Day is the Fourth. Congress actually passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It has often been thought that the Declaration was signed on the fourth, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There wasn’t any one time when the members of Congress signed the Declaration and there were a few who didn’t get around to signing it until August. Nevertheless, the fourth is the date that stuck. As John Adams wrote to Abigail.

English:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

And so it has been, for the last 240 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

Happy Independence Day.

Trump is not Hitler, We are not Weimar

June 6, 2016

I am normally a strong advocate for freedom of speech and naturally I oppose the censorship of any type of speech no matter how offensive it may be. I would like to make one exception to this rule. I think that anyone who compares any American politician to Adolf Hitler, or any other totalitarian dictator should be punished, perhaps with a flogging. There are no figures in American politics that are even remotely like Hitler and such a comparison is not only ridiculous but an insult to those people who really have suffered, or are presently suffering under the rule of a dictator.

According to some, Donald Trump is the latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler.

13177569_1134422309984155_7054149082475957997_n

This is simply ignorant. The political system and social conditions of Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920’s and 30’s were very different from the circumstances in twenty-first century America. While the creators of the Weimar Republic intended to form a liberal, democratic republic, there were certain aspects of the German constitution which made it easier for a potential dictator like Hitler to seize power than is the case in the United States. Also, Hitler did not gain power in Germany in quite the way that is popularly believed. Hitler did not become the Führer by being swept into power by a vast popular movement. Rather, Hitler was made Chancellor as a result of a backroom deal with politicians who thought they could use him.

The government of the German Weimar Republic was a multi-party parliamentary system. The German parliament was bicameral with the lower house, the Reichstag, having considerably more power than the upper house, the Reichsrat. The Reichsrat represented the various federal states of Germany and was largely advisory. The members of the Reichstag were elected by universal suffrage, using the principle of proportional representation. Voters voted for national party lists of candidates and each party received the number of seats in the Reichstag proportional to its share of the national vote. This system encouraged the formation of small, splinter parties since a party could appeal to a small segment of the population and still get seats in the Reichstag.  Because of the large number of parties, each seeming to want to turn Germany in a different direction, it proved to be difficult to form lasting coalitions with the result that the Reichstag became ineffective, particularly after the Great Depression began.

The leader of the Reichstag and head of the cabinet was the Chancellor. He was the head of government and the one responsible for getting legislation passed. The head of state was the President, who had considerable power of his own. He was the head of the armed forces and could dissolve the Reichstag, leading to new elections within sixty days. Under Article 48 of the constitution, the president had the power to rule by decree in an emergency. Article 48 was one of the tools Hitler used to seize absolute power in Germany though the last president of the Republic, the aging war hero Paul von Hindenburg also used Article 48 extensively as the Reichstag proved increasingly unable to act. In a sense then, Hitler did not create a dictatorship in Germany so much as step into a dictatorship already made.

 

The political and social circumstances of the late Weimar Republic and the twenty-first century United States couldn’t be more different. Elections in the United States use the single member, first past the post system. Each Congressional district elects one Representative, with whoever gets a plurality of the vote gaining the seat. Every state elects two Senators, but no state elects both its Senators in the same election and again whoever gets the most votes wins. The presidency is a little more complicated because of the electoral college, but the same principle applies. This system tends to empower a majority at the expense of the minority since the candidate with 50.1% of the vote wins and the 49.9% who voted for the other candidate may feel disenfranchised. This system also has the effect of encouraging large, broad-based political parties and coalitions since a political party needs to appeal to a majority at least in some regions in order to get any seats in Congress. This first past the post system makes it very difficult for any third party to gain power since, unlike a proportional system, they cannot get any power unless they outright win an election. This makes it very unlikely that a fringe party like the Nazis could get anywhere in American politics. A would-be Hitler would have to run as a Democrat or Republican, and he would have to persuade the majority of American voters to elect him, something the Nazis never managed to do in Germany.

Even if a Hitler managed to become president, it doesn’t seem likely that he would make himself into a dictator. The constitution contains no provisions for a president to assume emergency, dictatorial powers and I think that a president who made an overt attempt to declare himself Führer would meet with a lot more opposition than Hitler had. Remember that a great many Germans detested the Weimar constitution as something imposed upon them by the “November Criminals” who surrendered Germany at the end of World War I. A large number of Germans, perhaps a majority, felt that the Weimar government was somehow illegitimate, and Hitler wasn’t the only one calling for its overthrow. I do not think that a candidate who openly proposed scrapping the American constitution in favor of a socialist dictatorship would have much support. Certainly none of the current presidential candidates are calling for the government to be overthrown. Bernie Sanders may call himself a socialist, but he is quick to add that he is a democratic socialist who wants to expand the welfare state, not a revolutionary who is going to impose a Hugo Chavez style dictatorship. Donald Trump may have only the vaguest of notions about the constitutional separation of powers, but he isn’t saying he wants to be the Führer.

Hitler came to power in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic climate of the past century. We are not currently even in a recession. It may be true that America’s recovery from the last recession has been rather lackluster but the economy is nowhere near as bad as it was then. There are people who have been displaced by the processes of globalization and advancing technology, but their plight is not even close to the suffering of the Great Depression. The United States has not recently lost a war in which a generation had been decimated and we have not had a humiliating treaty with crippling reparations imposed upon his. America in 2016 is simply not an environment in which a Hitler is likely to thrive, nor is Donald Trump anything at all like Hitler in ideology, politics, or mannerisms. As I said before, this internet meme is simply ignorant.

 

Independence Day

July 4, 2015

The Fourth of July is the day on which the American people celebrate their independence from Great Britain. It is not actually clear why Independence Day is the Fourth. Congress actually passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It has often been thought that the Declaration was signed on the fourth, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There wasn’t any one time when the members of Congress signed the Declaration and there were a few who didn’t get around to signing it until August. Nevertheless, the fourth is the date that stuck. As John Adams wrote to Abigail.

English:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

And so it has been, for the last 239 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

Happy Independence Day.

The Confederate Flag

June 22, 2015

Here is another petition from Moveon.org that I won’t be signing.

Dear MoveOn member,

I’m Karen Hunter, a fellow MoveOn member, and I started a petition to the South Carolina Legislature and Governor Nikki Haley.

On the heels of the brutal killing of nine black people in a South Carolina church, it’s time to put a symbol of rebellion and racism behind us and move toward healing and a better United States of America.1 Can you join me in telling South Carolina lawmakers:

Symbols of hate and division have no place in our government. It’s time to stand up for what’s right and take down the Confederate flag!

Sign Karen’s petition

The Confederate flag is not a symbol of southern pride but rather a symbol of rebellion and racism.

Tell South Carolina lawmakers: Symbols of hate have no place in our government.

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

Thanks!

–Karen

I have never been a fan of the Confederate States being a Yankee and a Unionist and I have no great attachment to the Confederate flag, seeing it as a symbol of treason and slavery. Nevertheless, I am not going to sign a petition telling the state of South Carolina that they cannot fly the Confederate flag in any official capacity. I do not live in South Carolina so it seems to me that it would be a little presumptuous to tell the people of South Carolina what they can’t do. I resent it when outsiders tell us what to do here in Indiana, and I imagine that the South Caroliners feel the same way. Besides, the killing at the South Carolina church was committed by a twisted individual, not a piece of cloth. This petition is a despicable attempt to make use of a terrible crime to promote a political agenda.

By the way, the flag that is most people think of as the Confederate flag:

Confederate Battle Flag

 

wasn’t actually the national flag of the Confederate States of America. That is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee’s command. The battle flag eventually became the most popular symbol for the Confederacy, especially after the Civil War, but it was never the official national flag of the CSA. There were, in fact, three successive designs for the Confederate national flag approved by the Confederate Congress. It seems as if they had some difficulty creating a flag that pleased everyone.

The first design, the Stars and Bars, closely resembled the Stars and Stripes of the United States.

Stars and Bars

Many Southerners still felt some attachment to the old flag and still felt themselves to be Americans, though deserving their own nation and so this first flag of the Confederacy was deliberately designed to resemble the familiar Stars and Stripes. The Stars and Bars was created by Nicola Marschall and was adopted on March 4, 1861. It originally had seven stars to represent the first seven states to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. As more states seceded, more stars were added until at last there were thirteen, representing the eleven Southern states that made up the CSA along with the border states Kentucky and Missouri, which had not seceded but did have representatives in the Confederate Congress.

The problem with the Stars and Bars was that it too closely resembled the Stars and Stripes. As the Civil War got under way, attitudes in the South hardened and more people wanted a flag that was clearly distinct from the North’s flag, which was coming to be associated with abolitionism. Also, the two flags were similar enough that they caused confusion on the battle field. One solution, proposed by General P. G. T. Beauregard, was to have two flags, one, the Stars and Bars to be used for official purposes, and one battle flag for use for military purposes. This idea was adopted and a rejected design for the national flag by William Porcher Miles was adopted. This was the familiar rebel flag. Miles had thought to adopt the South Carolina “Secession Flag”.

 

South_Carolina_Sovereignty-Secession_Flag.svg

 

Miles simply removed the crescent and palmetto design and then changed the cross shape to a “saltire” shape on the advice of a Jewish friend who believed that a symbol associated with Christianity might cause offense to Jews and even some iconoclastic Protestant sects.

The Stars and Bars continued to be used until it was replaced on May 1, 1863 by a new flag referred to as the “Stainless Banner”, designed by William T. Thompson.

us-csa2

This flag placed the design of the battle flag in the upper left quarter on a white field. The Confederate Congress did not specify the meaning of the symbolism of the white field, but Thompson stated that it symbolized the South’s struggle to maintain the “Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race”.

This flag also had some problems. It was feared that the predominate white color could be mistaken for a flag of truce or surrender if the battle design or southern cross were hidden. Therefore a third design, the “blood stained banner” was adopted by the Confederate Congress on March 4, 1865.

Third Flag

Lee surrendered a month later on April 9 and the Confederate States of America was defeated before many of these flags could be manufactured or the Confederate Congress could adopt yet another design.

Of all these flags, only the Battle Flag or the Southern Cross has managed to capture the imagination of the people of the South and has become the symbol of the South. The Rebel flag wasn’t seen much in the decades after the Civil War, except as part of the general “Lost Cause” nostalgia that came to be associated with the Old South. This started to changed around the middle of the twentieth century. During World War II, some units associated with the South adopted the Confederate flag as their emblem and a Confederate flag was raised during the Battle of Okinawa. The Confederate flag began to be more prominently used during the Civil Rights era when it became a symbol of resistance against desegregation. White supremacist groups have continued to use this flag as a symbol, but then so have many Southerners who are not particularly racist and want to express pride in their region.

So, should the state of South Carolina fly the Confederate battle flag at its State House? As I said, as I do not live in South Carolina, I really don’t have any right to tell South Carolina what flag they can fly. If they were to ask my advice, however, I would tell them that they should not. A flag ought to symbolize the whole community and any Confederate flag simply cannot do this. Any African-American, the descendant of slaves, could not help but dislike a flag that is the symbol of a nation created for the express purpose of ensuring his ancestors remain in bondage. I know that many people in the South see the Confederate flag as a symbol of their heritage, but perhaps this is one part of their heritage they should not celebrate. There is a New South, prosperous and diverse, that has been emerging in recent decades. Maybe it’s time to leave the Old South of slavery and segregation behind.

 

Rise of the Nones.

June 5, 2015

There has been quite a lot already said about the results of the recent Pew poll on the religious affiliations of the American people, most of the sharp decline of the number of Americans identifying as Christians over the last decade with a corresponding increase in the number of people with no religious affiliation.

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith.1 But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

Here are the charts that came with the article

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PR_15.05.12_RLS-00

 

There is a lot more to the article which I cannot summarize in a way to do it justice. You really ought to read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.

So, what is going on here? In the past there has often been a large number of unaffiliated young people, nominally Christian but not attending any church or being particularly religious. Generally, as these young people grow older and start families, they join a church and become more active in religion. This does not seem to be happening now. The decline in the number of Christians affects all age groups, races, levels of education, etc.

Could it be that that large numbers of American Christians are finally seeing the light? Thanks to the Internet, information about science, history and religion is more available than ever before. Religions depend on the ignorance of their adherents and it could be that more and more former Christians have been learning the truth and converting to Reason by abandoning such archaic superstitions like belief in God. That is how many atheists might interpret these findings. I am not so sure. I think something more subtle but no less momentous is occurring.

For most of its history, the United States has been a Christian nation, despite what the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State might believe. By this, I do not say that the United States was ever a theocracy or that Christianity was ever an official state religion but rather that the great majority of Americans have been at least nominally Christians and America’s politics and culture has been shaped by Christianity. Christianity has been the default option for most Americans, even those who have been largely secular. It has required initiative and perhaps even courage for most Americans to identity as anything other than Christian, especially as an atheist, and most people at most times would prefer to go with the flow. Times are changing, however. America is a more secular and diverse nation than it has been in the past and it is becoming more acceptable to not be even a nominal Christian. What we are seeing, then, is not necessarily a large scale movement of Christians abandoning their faith, but an increasing number of people who no longer feel they have to identify themselves as Christians. Indeed, considering the way Christians are often portrayed by the entertainment industry these days, as hypocritical, hate-filled, small minded prudes and bigots, it is not clear why anyone would want to be known as a Christian, particularly as a member of one of the more conservative or fundamentalist denominations that our social elite holds in such contempt.

There is an exception to this general trend that perhaps proves the hypothesis, Evangelical Protestants, which show only a very slight decline in percentage and an actual increase in numbers. This may be because Evangelicals tend to stress personal conversion more than the Mainline Protestants and the Catholics. For the Mainline Protestants and the Catholics, religion is more a part of their cultural background. You are a Catholic or Methodist because you are born into a Catholic or Methodist family. Evangelicals stress the conversion experience. Evangelicals are saved or born again, not baptized into the faith as infants. It may be that because there is more of a feeling of a break with the past, Evangelicals are more committed to their religion.

What do these trends mean for the future? This may be good for the Church. I would rather have a small church full of people who really believe than a large church with people who are only there, going through the motions, because it is expected of them. I would prefer for people to be honest about their belief, or lack of belief than be a hypocritical believer. There will be challenges for the Christian, though. We have grown up in a country in which Christianity is considered the norm and has played a dominant role in the shaping of our culture. That will be less true in the future. Already, as I have noted, there is an increasing hostility towards all forms of “politically incorrect” Christianity in our entertainment media. That will only get worse. In the past, being a Christian has been considered a good and respectable thing to be. That is already changing. More often than not, in some places, being a Christian means being an ignorant bigot. In the not too distant future, it may well be that admitting to being a Christian will be considered the same as announcing your membership in the Ku Klux Klan. I hope people are ready for this.

No matter what happens, the Church will survive. Indeed, Christianity flourishes best when it is persecuted. The United States and the West generally may not do so well. For the last fifteen hundred years, Christianity has played the major role in making the West what it is. As the influence of Christianity declines can the principles that has distinguished the West from other civilizations survive? The more militant atheists believe that a world in which religion, by which they mean chiefly a world without Christianity, is abolished will be a world which will experience a golden age of rational behavior. History and human nature suggest otherwise. Abolishing religion will not make human beings more rational. It will only cause new superstitions and cruelties to emerge. The history of the twentieth century is largely the history of substitutes for religion in the form of ultra nationalism and militant socialism. That didn’t work out so well.

The Election of 1836

May 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Election of 1836

The Election of 1836

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

Willie Person Magnum

Willie Person Magnum

 

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

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

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

 


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