Posts Tagged ‘United States’

That Torture Report and the Jacksonians

December 19, 2014

The recent release of a report detailing the “enhanced interrogation” techniques doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact on public opinion, according to the Washington Post.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center is the first to gauge reactions to last week’s big CIA report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” — what agency critics call torture.

And the reaction is pretty muted.

The poll shows people says 51-29 percent than the CIA’s methods were justified and 56-28 percent that the information gleaned helped prevent terror attacks.

The word “torture,” it should be noted, isn’t mentioned in the poll, but it has been associated with much of the coverage of the issue. And the numbers align nicely with polls on the use of torture, which shows that relatively few Americans are concerned about it — especially when you bring the prospect of combating terrorism into the mix.

That lack of real concern about what the CIA was doing is also reflected in the amount of interest in the story. While newspapers and broadcast news across the country devoted a huge amount of coverage to the Senate intelligence committee report last week, just 23 percent of Americans say they are following the story “very closely,” while 50 percent are following it “not too closely” or “not at all.” That ranks it behind the Ferguson/Eric Garner protests and stories about the U.S. economy.

And it’s not just that people who aren’t concerned about torture aren’t tuning in. Those who have followed the story the most, in fact, approve of the program 59-34 percent.

Even Democrats are pretty split on the justification for the program. While 37 percent say it was justified, 46 percent say it wasn’t. Liberal Democrats disapprove 65-25 percent, but moderate and conservative Democrats approve 48-32 percent.

Given the images that were conjured by the report — “rectal feeding,” etc. — that’s not much of a reaction. Indeed, this is not the kind of public outcry that demands big changes to how the CIA conducts business.

I can’t say that I am very surprised by the results of this poll. I would expect a certain tolerance  for the harsh treatment of people perceived to be enemies by the American people, especially among that segment of the American population which could be described as the Jacksonians.

Who are the Jacksonians? Some years ago,Walter Russel Mead wrote an essay describing four factions of American public public opinion of foreign policy and war. According to Mead, these factions are the principled, pacifistic Jeffersonians with an emphasis on human rights, the moralistic Wilsonians who favor international organizations such as the United Nations,the pragmatic Hamiltonians who want a foreign policy based on “realism”and balances of power, and the populist Jacksonians, who might prefer to ignore foreign policy altogether unless America’s vital interests or honor is at stake. Mead spent the bulk of his essay describing the Jacksonians.

English: Andrew Jackson - 7 th President of th...

English: Andrew Jackson – 7 th President of the United States (1829–1837) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot summarize Mr. Mead’s essay in a way that would do it justice. You ought to read the whole thing. There are a few excerpts I would like to share that might be relevant in understanding why torture might be acceptable to a large segment of the American people.

Jacksonians are concerned with honor.

To understand how Crabgrass Jacksonianism is shaping and will continue to shape American foreign policy, we must begin with another unfashionable concept: Honor. Although few Americans today use this anachronistic word, honor remains a core value for tens of millions of middle-class Americans, women as well as men. The unacknowledged code of honor that shapes so much of American behavior and aspiration today is a recognizable descendent of the frontier codes of honor of early Jacksonian America. The appeal of this code is one of the reasons that Jacksonian values have spread to so many people outside the original ethnic and social nexus in which Jacksonian America was formed.

Jacksonian honor must be acknowledged by the outside world. One is entitled to, and demands, the appropriate respect: recognition of rights and just claims, acknowledgment of one’s personal dignity. Many Americans will still fight, sometimes with weapons, when they feel they have not been treated with the proper respect. But even among the less violent, Americans stand on their dignity and rights.

They see themselves as part of a larger community with a line drawn between those who are inside and those who are outside the community.

Jacksonian society draws an important distinction between those who belong to the folk community and those who do not. Within that community, among those bound by the code and capable of discharging their responsibilities under it, Jacksonians are united in a social compact. Outside that compact is chaos and darkness. The criminal who commits what, in the Jacksonian code, constitute unforgivable sins (cold-blooded murder, rape, the murder or sexual abuse of a child, murder or attempted murder of a peace officer) can justly be killed by the victims’ families, colleagues or by society at large—with or without the formalities of law. In many parts of the United States, juries will not convict police on almost any charge, nor will they condemn revenge killers in particularly outrageous cases. The right of the citizen to defend family and property with deadly force is a sacred one as well, a legacy from colonial and frontier times.

The absolute and even brutal distinction drawn between the members of the community and outsiders has had massive implications in American life. Throughout most of American history the Jacksonian community was one from which many Americans were automatically and absolutely excluded: Indians, Mexicans, Asians, African Americans, obvious sexual deviants and recent immigrants of non-Protestant heritage have all felt the sting. Historically, the law has been helpless to protect such people against economic oppression, social discrimination and mob violence, including widespread lynchings. Legislators would not enact laws, and if they did, sheriffs would not arrest, prosecutors would not try, juries would not convict.

The lines have been broadened in recent years to include minorities formerly excluded, especially if they share Jacksonian values. Mead points out that Jacksonian values are prevalent in the African-American community and this has helped to make the Civil Rights movement acceptable to Jacksonians.

The underlying cultural unity between African Americans and Anglo-Jacksonian America shaped the course and ensured the success of the modern civil rights movement. Martin Luther King and his followers exhibited exemplary personal courage, their rhetoric was deeply rooted in Protestant Christianity, and the rights they asked for were precisely those that Jacksonian America values most for itself. Further, they scrupulously avoided the violent tactics that would have triggered an unstoppable Jacksonian response.

Although cultures change slowly and many individuals lag behind, the bulk of American Jacksonian opinion has increasingly moved to recognize the right of code-honoring members of minority groups to receive the rights and protections due to members of the folk community. This new and, one hopes, growing feeling of respect and tolerance emphatically does not extend to those, minorities or not, who are not seen as code-honoring Americans. Those who violate or reject the code—criminals, irresponsible parents, drug addicts—have not benefited from the softening of the Jacksonian color line.

Jacksonians are the true realists in foreign policy.

Given the moral gap between the folk community and the rest of the world—and given that other countries are believed to have patriotic and communal feelings of their own, feelings that similarly harden once the boundary of the folk community is reached—Jacksonians believe that international life is and will remain both anarchic and violent. The United States must be vigilant and strongly armed. Our diplomacy must be cunning, forceful and no more scrupulous than anybody else’s. At times, we must fight pre-emptive wars. There is absolutely nothing wrong with subverting foreign governments or assassinating foreign leaders whose bad intentions are clear. Thus, Jacksonians are more likely to tax political leaders with a failure to employ vigorous measures than to worry about the niceties of international law.

Indeed, of all the major currents in American society, Jacksonians have the least regard for international law and international institutions. They prefer the rule of custom to the written law, and that is as true in the international sphere as it is in personal relations at home. Jacksonians believe that there is an honor code in international life—as there was in clan warfare in the borderlands of England—and those who live by the code will be treated under it. But those who violate the code—who commit terrorist acts in peacetime, for example—forfeit its protection and deserve no consideration.

And they have clear ideas about how wars are to be fought.

Jacksonian America has clear ideas about how wars should be fought, how enemies should be treated, and what should happen when the wars are over. It recognizes two kinds of enemies and two kinds of fighting: honorable enemies fight a clean fight and are entitled to be opposed in the same way; dishonorable enemies fight dirty wars and in that case all rules are off.

An honorable enemy is one who declares war before beginning combat; fights according to recognized rules of war, honoring such traditions as the flag of truce; treats civilians in occupied territory with due consideration; and—a crucial point—refrains from the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Those who surrender should be treated with generosity. Adversaries who honor the code will benefit from its protections, while those who want a dirty fight will get one.

There is a lot more, but I think this is enough to explain the matter. From the Jacksonian point of view the victims of the CIA’s methods are outsiders who have violated any code of honor. They follow a strange religion which seems to encourage acts of violence against the innocent. They are not one of us. They forfeited any claims to human rights when they decided to fly planes into the sides of buildings or behead Christians in Iraq. The Jacksonian is not interested in exporting democracy to the Middle East. They do not care if the people who want to destroy America are denied their civil rights or are treated poorly. They do not want decades long wars in the Middle East. The Jacksonians believe that enemies must be defeated and then, they can go back home and live their lives.

I am not sure where I stand in Mead’s arrangement. I am certainly not a Wilsonian or a Jeffersonian. Perhaps I am mostly a Jacksonian with a tinge of Hamiltonianism. I really don’t have much of a problem with what the CIA has been doing. It is deplorable, to be sure, and it would be better if such things were not necessary, but, like the Jacksonians, I am not inclined worry too much about the welfare of people who are trying to kill me.

Opening Relations with Cuba

December 18, 2014

For once I am inclined to agree with something that Barack Obama has done, even if the precise manner in which he has done it may be open to question. I am referring to the president’s decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba and to ease the sanctions which the United States has imposed on that country. Here is an account from the Washington Post.

The United States and Cuba ended more than a half-century of enmity Wednesday, announcing that they would reestablish diplomatic relations and begin dismantling the last pillar of the Cold War.

The historic move, following 18 months of secret negotiations and finally made possible by Cuba’s release of detained U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, fulfilled one of President Obama’s key second-term goals.

The decision is likely to reverberate across many political frontiers where the standoff between Washington and Havana has played a role — including across much of Latin America, where U.S. policy on Cuba has long been a source of friction.

“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Obama said in a televised, midday address. “It’s time for a new approach.”

Saying that he was “under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” Obama said he was convinced that “through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves.”

 

Americans will be permitted to send more money to Cuban nationals, use their debit and credit cards in Cuba, and bring $100 worth of Cuban cigarsinto this country. U.S. exports to Cuba will be made easier, and additional items will be authorized. U.S. banks will be allowed to open correspondent relations with banks in Cuba.

The administration also said it would launch a review of Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation it feels Havana may not deserve alongside Sudan, Syria and Iran, and would work with Congress to ultimately lift the trade embargo and other sanctions.

I think that this is an action which is long overdue. I cannot think of any reasons why we cannot have diplomatic relations with Cuba or why we should retain the sanctions against them. The Cold War has been over for more than two decades. Cuba, along with North Korea is the only remaining old style Communist country left in the world and like North Korea it is practically a failed state. Unlike North Korea, Cuba poses no conceivable threat to our interests. If it is a question of Cuba’s human rights records, well, China’s record on human rights is very nearly as bad, yet China is one of our largest trading partners. No one is even considering breaking off diplomatic relations with China and still less imposing any sort of restrictions on trade with China, even though China is a serious potential security threat to us.

The Castro brothers are in their 80’s. They won’t be around much longer. If we have some sort of relationship with the Cuban government, we may be able to influence a post-Castro Cuba towards more freedom for the Cuban people. At the very least, we may be in a better  to help if the country falls apart after Castro’s death.

I don’t know why Obama has decided on this course of action and it may be that he will not be able to open diplomatic relations with Cuba without the consent of Congress, but this is a good start. I hope the Republicans in Congress will agree to end this Cold War anachronism of isolating Cuba.

Child Labor on the Farm

December 17, 2014

I got an e-mail from Watchdog.net, I think they are affiliated with either moveon.org or demandprogress, I am not sure which. Anyway they are asking me to sign a petition to outlaw child labor on tobacco farms.

Dear David Hoffman,

US law prohibits selling cigarettes to children — but it has no problem poisoning them on its tobacco farms.

The world’s largest tobacco companies buy US-grown crop, 90 percent of which comes from North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

In these four states along, thousands of children, some as young as seven are working long hours in extreme heat without shade, breaks or protective gear, choking on pesticides and exposed to acute nicotine poisoning that can lead to cancer, problems with learning and cognition, and reproductive health issues.

Child are by far the most vulnerable to these poisons, and the lack of child labor laws surrounding farming has gone on long enough.

We call on the Obama administration to endorse regulations to make it clear no child should work on a tobacco farm, and for Congress to enact laws to give underage farmworkers the same protections as all other working children.

PETITION TO PRESIDENT OBAMA AND CONGRESS: Endorse regulations to make it clear no child should work on a tobacco farm.

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

Actually, the situation is worse then they are describing. It is not just tobacco farms that employ child labor and exposure to nicotine is not the only thing they have to worry about. When you sit down to eat your Christmas dinner, there is a very good chance that the fruits and vegetables you will be eating were picked by the children of migrant farm workers who worked right alongside their parents in the fields. As the e-mail mentioned they are often exposed to levels of pesticide considered toxic to adult males. The work they do is often backbreaking and can be dangerous.

How does this happen in twenty-first century America? Well, as it happens child labor laws are a good deal less stringent for agricultural work than for any other industry. In most cases, children are not permitted to work until the age of 16 and there are restrictions on work conditions and number of hours worked until the age of 18. There are no such restrictions on agricultural workers. This is, I suppose, to keep farmers from being arrested if they make their children do chores. It also happens to create a huge loophole that  makes the employment of the whole family possible with the conditions described above.

Should I sign this petition? Should child labor on farms be outlawed? I think that any decent person’s first reaction would be to say yes. But first reactions may be wrong reactions. The problem may not be so easily resolved.

The parents of these children are not bad parents. They do not necessarily want their children to work in the fields and if they had any other option they probably wouldn’t have their children in the fields. They don’t often have other options.Migrant farm workers do not get paid very much. Often they are paid by piecework, or amount of crop picked, rather than hourly, so they could be paid less than minimum wage. The average yearly income for farm workers is around $11,000. This means that they cannot afford any sort of daycare for their children. During the school year, the children can go to school, although working on the fields after getting home from school doesn’t do much for their academic career, but what are they going to do in the summer? If the children were not allowed to work in the fields not only would there be the cost of hiring a babysitter, etc, but they would lose the income the children’s labor provides.

Of course if the farmers who employed these migrant workers would pay them more, then they would not be so badly off. The problem here, is that few farms are very profitable, really only the biggest. Small farms often have very little to spare for decent wages for the people who work in the fields.

You can see then how a measure meant to help people may end up making conditions worse for them. I really don’t know what the solution is. Children ought not to work in tobacco fields. The children of migrant workers ought to be able to grow up and do something better. At the very least, there ought to be some sort of regulation on what sort of work minors are permitted to do on a farm. Maybe I will sign the petition, for whatever good it might do.

The Election of 1828

November 10, 2014

The election of 1828 was a rematch between the two major candidates of 1824, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Jackson believed, with good reason, that he had been cheated out of the presidency in the last election and he was eager for revenge. For his part, Adams had not had a particularly successful presidency in part because of the irregularities of his election and the continuing hostility of Jackson’s supporters. Adams couldn’t imagine that a man like Jackson could possibly be competent to be president.

But you mustn’t think that this contest was nothing more than a personal quarrel between the two candidates. This election was nothing less than an epic struggle to determine who would rule the new republic, a small moneyed elite based in the East or the sovereign people, as least according to Jackson’s supporters. Adams’s people viewed it as a battled for control between rule the respectable stakeholders in the country and rule by an ignorant mob. The United States was becoming more democratic. In the election of 1828 only two states, Delaware and South Carolina still had their state legislatures choose their electors. Everywhere else, the Electors were chosen by popular vote.

The second party system was still developing and both candidates were theoretically of the same party. There were no caucuses this time. King Caucus was finished. The two candidates were nominated by state legislatures and special conventions. Vice President John C. Calhoun opted to run with Andrew Jackson so John Quincy Adams selected his Secretary of the Treasury, Richard Rush as his running mate.

As President, Adams had favored a more centralized government with protective tariffs to promote industry, a national bank, and federal support for internal improvements such as building roads and canals. Adams also believed that the federal government should promote education and science. In this, he was, perhaps, ahead of his time. Many of his countrymen did not see any use for such frivolities. Adams did come across as rather too intellectual for many Americans at the time, who valued the practical wisdom of a man like Jackson.

It was a little harder to determine what policies Jackson favored since he didn’t have much to say, at first. In general, he seemed to prefer a more decentralised Union with a smaller government closer to the people. Jackson tended to oppose using the federal government to sponsor internal improvements, believing this to be mostly a duty of the states, though he did agree to using surplus federal revenue to help the states fund such improvements. He believed the government should live within its means and not borrow. He passionately opposed the idea of a national bank.

If Jackson was a little vague on the policies he preferred, he was not at all uncertain about the means to win elections and obtain office. He understood that the key to success in politics was organization. Jackson did not share his opponent’s, and the founding fathers’, disdain for political parties. He believed that parties were essential to preserving democratic rule and liberty. Immediately after the election of 1824, Jackson and his supporters began to build up a party organization to oppose Adams in Congress and prepare the way for Jackson’s campaign in 1828. This party organization was first called simply the “Friends of Jackson”but before long they began referring to themselves as the Democratic Party. Thus was formed one of the two great parties that have dominated American politics.

This new Democratic party began promoting Jackson’s cause with partisan newspapers, parades, rallies and all the paraphernalia of what came to be American presidential campaigns. They referred to Jackson, the war hero, as Old Hickory and carried around hickory sticks. They made much of the corrupt bargain that had placed Adams in the White House against the will of the people.  Jackson was a man of the people against those East Coast Elites championed by Adams, another emerging theme in American politics. Jackson was not as educated as Adams, who knew his Greek and Latin, but he had the practical common sense of the common man. It might be fair to say that Jackson was the first truly American politician.

John Quincy Adams and his supporters tried to fight back. They overcame their dislike of parties and organized themselves into the “National Republicans“. They had their own newspapers, parades, rallies, etc, but somehow they couldn’t match the enthusiasm of Jackson’s supporters. They relentlessly attacked Jackson’s character and supposed wartime heroics. Six men who Jackson had had hanged for desertion were transformed into martyrs who had served their time and only wanted to go home. Jackson was said to have indulged in gambling, cock fighting, slave trading, drunkenness, theft, lying and even murder. Jackson’s mother was a prostitute brought over to America by British soldiers. Once again the  irregularities of Andrew Jackson’s marriage to his wife, Rachel, were brought up, and Anti-Jackson newspapers referred to them as a “convicted adulteress and her paramour husband”. Rachel Jackson died soon after the election and Andrew Jackson was convinced that these slurs had killed her. He never forgave his enemies for that.

The election was not a close one. Jackson received 642,553 popular votes (55.9%) and 178 electoral votes. Adams got 500,897 popular votes (43.7%) and 83 electoral votes. Jackson swept the nation except for New England, Maryland, Delaware,and New Jersey which went to Adams. New York’s Electors were split 20 to 16 in favor of Jackson.

The Election of 1828

The Election of 1828

 

Andrew Jackson got to be president, but there is no need to feel sorry for John Quincy Adams. He went on to have a distinguished career in the House of Representatives where, among other things, he fought the good fight against slavery.

Dying at 75

October 13, 2014

Ezekiel Emanuel has written a somewhat controversial piece in The Atlantic on his hopes to die at the age of seventy-five. He doesn’t hope to be able to live to that age. He hopes he won’t live much past it.

Seventy-five.

That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.

This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do. To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

 

He does not intent to commit suicide on his seventy-fifth birthday, to be sure.

Let me be clear about my wish. I’m neither asking for more time than is likely nor foreshortening my life. Today I am, as far as my physician and I know, very healthy, with no chronic illness. I just climbed Kilimanjaro with two of my nephews. So I am not talking about bargaining with God to live to 75 because I have a terminal illness. Nor am I talking about waking up one morning 18 years from now and ending my life through euthanasia or suicide. Since the 1990s, I have actively opposed legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. People who want to die in one of these ways tend to suffer not from unremitting pain but from depression, hopelessness, and fear of losing their dignity and control. The people they leave behind inevitably feel they have somehow failed. The answer to these symptoms is not ending a life but getting help. I have long argued that we should focus on giving all terminally ill people a good, compassionate death—not euthanasia or assisted suicide for a tiny minority.

I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75. Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.

He will not take any active means to extend his life any further.

Once I have lived to 75, my approach to my health care will completely change. I won’t actively end my life. But I won’t try to prolong it, either. Today, when the doctor recommends a test or treatment, especially one that will extend our lives, it becomes incumbent upon us to give a good reason why we don’t want it. The momentum of medicine and family means we will almost invariably get it.

I must say that I am at least somewhat sympathetic to this point of view. Anyone who has ever watched a loved one growing older into senescence and decay must wonder if longevity is really something to be desired. What good is it to live to be ninety if the last decade is spent chronically ill and miserable? There is also something unseemly and even futile about this quest we have to live ever longer. We cannot be immortal. No matter how healthy our lives, we will die eventually.

If I eat the right sorts of foods and get the right amount of exercise, perhaps I will live to be eighty rather than seventy. So what? Compared to eternity, ten or twenty years is an infinitesimal amount of time. If I ate a diet of bean curd, perhaps I might live to be one hundred. What good is that if I am miserable every day because I am eating food I hate? Of course, I am being a fool. Living in a healthy body is more pleasant than living in an unhealthy body. But, then this is a matter of quality of live as opposed to quantity of life.

For a Christian, it is especially unseemly to cling to this life. We believe, in theory, that this life is only a prelude to a greater life to come. Why cling to the shadow when we can have the substance? Perhaps our attitude should be that of Pope Pius IX on his deathbed. When told that people around the world were praying for his recovery, he jokingly rebuked his advisors saying, “Why do you want to stop me from going to Heaven?”. Why are we determined to stay out of Heaven? Many other religions have similar views.

I don’t quite agree with Ezekiel Emanuel’s position, all the same. For one thing, I do not have the authority to choose the time of my death any more than I had to choose the time of my birth. It is common to say that this is “my body” or “my life”, but it really isn’t. None of us created ourselves. It would take a PhD in several fields to even begin to understand the processes that keep us alive. If any of us were given conscious control of every biological and chemical reaction in our bodies, we would die within seconds. Properly speaking, my body and my life belongs to the One who made them.

Perhaps Mr. Emanuel might agree with me, although I have no idea what his religious views are. As I noted, he does not plan to actively seek death.

This means colonoscopies and other cancer-screening tests are out—and before 75. If I were diagnosed with cancer now, at 57, I would probably be treated, unless the prognosis was very poor. But 65 will be my last colonoscopy. No screening for prostate cancer at any age. (When a urologist gave me a PSA test even after I said I wasn’t interested and called me with the results, I hung up before he could tell me. He ordered the test for himself, I told him, not for me.) After 75, if I develop cancer, I will refuse treatment. Similarly, no cardiac stress test. No pacemaker and certainly no implantable defibrillator. No heart-valve replacement or bypass surgery. If I develop emphysema or some similar disease that involves frequent exacerbations that would, normally, land me in the hospital, I will accept treatment to ameliorate the discomfort caused by the feeling of suffocation, but will refuse to be hauled off.

Surely there is something to be said for this attitude. Yet again, I do not quite agree with him. I do not and cannot know what my ultimate fate will be and it seems presumptuous to decide that after a certain age I am finished. For all I know the plan might be for me to live to ninety-five in reasonably good health. It would be foolish not to take reasonable steps to keep myself well. If one must accept Mr. Emanuel’s reasoning, surely a consideration of overall health and quality of life is a better basis for deciding when to stop getting checkups, etc, than an arbitrarily chosen age. In any case, I will simply take what comes.

Ezekiel Emanuel states that he is opposed to euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, and I see no reason to doubt his word. He does not even recommend that every one agree to his ideas.

Again, let me be clear: I am not saying that those who want to live as long as possible are unethical or wrong. I am certainly not scorning or dismissing people who want to live on despite their physical and mental limitations. I’m not even trying to convince anyone I’m right. Indeed, I often advise people in this age group on how to get the best medical care available in the United States for their ailments. That is their choice, and I want to support them.

And I am not advocating 75 as the official statistic of a complete, good life in order to save resources, ration health care, or address public-policy issues arising from the increases in life expectancy. What I am trying to do is delineate my views for a good life and make my friends and others think about how they want to live as they grow older. I want them to think of an alternative to succumbing to that slow constriction of activities and aspirations imperceptibly imposed by aging. Are we to embrace the “American immortal” or my “75 and no more” view?

He wants medical research to focus on better treatments for the diseases of old age rather than simply prolonging life or extending the process of dying. But, does he not see that he is actually making some very good arguments for euthanasia? He spends the middle part of his article noting that creativity tends to decline with age, even when there is no dementia. The minds of the elderly no longer work as well, just as their bodies no longer function as well.

Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.

It is not just mental slowing. We literally lose our creativity. About a decade ago, I began working with a prominent health economist who was about to turn 80. Our collaboration was incredibly productive. We published numerous papers that influenced the evolving debates around health-care reform. My colleague is brilliant and continues to be a major contributor, and he celebrated his 90th birthday this year. But he is an outlier—a very rare individual.

American immortals operate on the assumption that they will be precisely such outliers. But the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us. Einstein famously said, “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.” He was extreme in his assessment. And wrong. Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline. There are some, but not huge, variations among disciplines. Currently, the average age at which Nobel Prize–winning physicists make their discovery—not get the prize—is 48. Theoretical chemists and physicists make their major contribution slightly earlier than empirical researchers do. Similarly, poets tend to peak earlier than novelists do. Simonton’s own study of classical composers shows that the typical composer writes his first major work at age 26, peaks at about age 40 with both his best work and maximum output, and then declines, writing his last significant musical composition at 52. (All the composers studied were male.)

Perhaps he does not intend it, but this is dangerously close to valuing individuals not as human beings created in the image of God but on a utilitarian basis according to what they can be expected to contribute to society. If we are going in that direction, we might as well open up the death panels right now. We had also better be honest enough to admit that most of us are not going to contribute very much to the arts and sciences and might be fair game for such a panel at any age.

As for me, I will take whatever comes

 

 

I wonder if a lot of the conservatives who written about his article have actually read it.

Banned Books Week

September 23, 2014

This is Banned Books Week, a week to raise awareness of the problem of books being banned in the United States. I read about local efforts to raise awareness in my local newspaper, The Madison Courier.

Books that have been hidden, challenged or banned are being highlighted this week during Banned Books Week. The annual celebration of all banned literary works happens during the last full week of September.

Nathan Montoya, co-owner of Village Lights Bookstore in downtown Madison, said the bookstore celebrates Banned Books Week every year.

“We’re proud to say that every time we begin assembling our Banned Books Week displays, we find that we already have most of the top challenged titles on our shelves,” he said.

There is just one minor problem; no books have been banned in the United States, at any level of government for many years, as Mr. Moytoya admits.

Montoya said that no literary work has been banned by the federal or state government since the famed Allen Ginsburg poem “Howl” was banned in 1957. The poem was banned because of its explicit references to drug use and homosexuality. Montoya said that today, books are banned on a much smaller level.

“We do it to ourselves,” Montoya said.

What in the world is he talking about? We ban ourselves from reading certain books?

Local libraries, school libraries and book stores often ban books they don’t think are appropriate, Montoya said.

“We do such a good job of restricting our own freedoms. It’s a problem that will not go away. And, of course the books that we have are not just books banned in this country, but works banned around the world,” he said.

Village Lights, along with several area libraries will have displays, in honor of Banned Books Week.

Linda Brinegar, Media Specialist for Madison Consolidated Schools, said she’s putting together a display at the front of the school.

Brinegar said that in her time as a librarian she has found that books aren’t so much banned as they are challenged. A challenged book is one that has been attempted to be removed or restricted, because of objections from a person or group, she said.

“(This week) brings an awareness to the readers’ choices,” Brinegar said. “They have access to a wide variety of reading materials.”

It is not that the government is banning us from reading books, it is that libraries are sometimes asked not to stock certain books or other materials that might be deemed inappropriate for the patrons of the library. This is not the same as banning books, nor is it really denying access to reading materials that anyone might want.

English: Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas

None of these books are being banned (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is that parents have every right in the world to object if they believe that there is a book in the school library that is not appropriate for children of their age level. They may have good reason not to want their first or second grader to have access to a sexually explicit  or violent book. The local library is funded by local taxpayers. They might want some control over what they are paying for. They may not want books that they consider inappropriate paid for with their tax dollars. And, I hope that I don’t need to add that if I happened to own a book store, I can sell whatever books I please. If I don’t like a certain author and prefer not to sell his books, that would be entirely my business. Again, in none of the cases I mentioned are books or any other material really being denied to anyone who wants to read or view them.

So, if there are no books actually being banned in the United States, what is the point of Banned Books Week? I don’t know. There is, of course, a need to be vigilant. We do not ban books in the United States right now, but this country is very much the exception. In many parts of the world the idea that people should be allowed to read whatever they want is still considered to be controversial, and who can tell what the situation here will be like twenty years from now. Nevertheless, I don’t think the greatest danger to freedom of expression in this country comes from parents who do not want their children to read Catcher in the Rye or Captain Underpants. I think the greatest threats to our freedom are from the sort of tolerant. leftists who think that Banned Books Week is a terrific idea, and then go on to ban conservative or Christian books.

So, maybe Banned Books Week has some use, even if it is something of a humbug. I just wish the people promoting it didn’t come across as a bunch of self-righteous doofuses who strut around proclaiming their support of the freedom to read against the non-existent mobs who are gathering to ban books and burn down libraries.

English: 1933 May 10 Berlin book burning -- ta...

What the ALA thinks of us (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, and it would also help if the American Library Association didn’t consider freedom of expression to include allowing people to watch pornography on library computers.

And, Thomas Sowell said it so much better than I ever could back in 1994.

By the way, I wonder if Mr. Montoya stocks The Turner Diaries. There’s a real banned book, if ever there was one. Maybe I should ask.

Looking Out the Window

September 17, 2014

I caught this article in Rolling Stone about the looming threat of climate change and what can be done about it. As you might expect from a magazine that usually covers music, it is short on science and reason and long on alarmism. There are only a few points here and there in the article I want to mention, so I am not going over the whole thing. Feel free to follow the link if you want.

After 25 years of failed climate negotiations, it’s easy to be cynical about the upcoming talks in Paris. But there are at least three factors that make a meaningful agreement next year possible.

The first is that climate change is no longer a hypothetical problem – it’s happening in real time all around us. Droughts, floods, more destructive storms, weird weather of all sorts – just look out your window. In the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s top scientists called the fact that the Earth is warming “unequivocal” and stated that humans are the cause of it. Without dramatic action, the planet could warm up as much as 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 F) by the end of the century, which would be catastrophic. As Kerry said of a report last September, “The response must be all hands on deck. It’s not about one country making a demand of another. It’s the science itself demanding action from all of us.”

If I look out my window, I would see two relatively mild summers in a row with a brutally cold winter between them. Ought I to conclude that the planet is getting cooler? Of course not. Looking out my window tells me nothing about the state of my local climate, much less the climate of the whole world. Looking at the weather for the past year or two also doesn’t tell us very much. In any case, we have not, in fact, been having more floods, droughts, more destructive storms, or weird weather over the whole world for the last decade.

I want you to look at this graph from the Paleomap Project. It shows how the Earth’s temperature has varied over time.

globaltemp

 

The Earth’s average temperature is presently around 17° Celsius or 61° Fahrenheit. Notice that the Earth has warmed, and cooled, quite a bit more than the four degrees that is supposed to be catastrophic. Contrary to what the global warming alarmists seem to believe, the Earth has not existed at a delicate equilibrium temperature for millions of years only to be disrupted by man. The Earth is a dynamic system, which is why it is so difficult to figure out what is actually going on and to what extent human beings are responsible.

The second factor is that until now, the biggest obstacle to an international agreement to reduce carbon pollution has been the United States. But that’s starting to change. Thanks to Obama’s recent crackdown on pollution, as well as the boom in cheap natural gas, which has displaced dirty coal, carbon emissions in the U.S. are on the decline. “What the president has done is very important,” says Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. “It allows the U.S. to look at other countries and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?'”

Well, yes. No previous president has been as willing to disrupt the American economy as much as President Obama has. Don’t look for many other world leaders to be as foolish as he is, however.

The final reason for hope, paradoxically, is China’s relentless demand for energy. China is in the midst of a profound economic and social transformation, trying to reinvent itself from an economy based on selling cheap goods overseas to an economy based on selling quality consumer goods at home, while keeping growth rates high and cutting dependence on fossil fuels. Energy demand is expected to double by 2030, and at that pace, there is not enough oil, coal and gas in the world to keep their economy humming. So China’s ongoing energy security depends on the nation developing alternative energy sources in a big way. “We need more of everything,” says Peggy Liu, a sustainability leader who works across China. “Wind, solar, a modernized grid. We need to leapfrog over the past and into a clean-energy future.”

China’s leaders are also waking up to the fact that recent decades of hypergrowth, most of it fired by coal, have exacted a steep price. Air pollution in China’s big cities is among the worst in the world; one recent report found that poor air quality contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. As Hank Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury and longtime China observer, has put it, “What is another point of GDP worth, if dirty air is killing people?” Earlier this year, a riot broke out in Zhongtai, a town in eastern China, when protests against a new waste incinerator turned violent, leaving police vehicles torched and at least 39 people injured; in southern China, protests erupted over the construction of a coal-fired power plant. Similar clashes are increasingly frequent in China as pollution-related illnesses rise.

And it’s not just the air that’s a problem in China. More than 20 percent of the country’s farmland is polluted. Sixty percent of its groundwater supply is unfit for human consumption. Rivers are industrial sewers. Last year, 16,000 swollen and rotting dead pigs were found dumped in the Huangpu River near Shanghai.

The Chinese are not going to stop using coal. They may invest in alternative sources of energy to supplement their fossil fuel but they are not going to let their economic growth slow down just to appease Barack Obama and John Kerry. The Chinese do have an awful lot of work to do towards cleaning up their environment and actual anti-pollution laws that are actually enforced would go a long way towards improving the quality of life in China. China cannot afford to be distracted by global warming alarmism.

The second revelation is that the Paris agreement is likely to be more about money than about carbon. That is not inappropriate: Climate change is, at its base, an environmental-justice issue, in which the rich nations of the world are inflicting damage on the poor ones. One question that has always haunted climate agreements is, how should the victims be compensated? In past U.N. agreements, developed countries have promised aid to poorer nations. But in translating these general commitments into hard numbers, says Elliot Diringer, a climate-policy expert at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, “the cash flows really have never been enough.”

In Paris, they will try again. The delivery vehicle of choice is called the Green Climate Fund, which was one of the few concrete accomplishments to come out of Copenhagen. The idea is simple: Rich countries pay into the fund, the fund’s 24-member board examines proposals from developing countries for clean-energy and climate-adaptation projects, and then it awards funds to those it finds worthy.

The Green Climate Fund was born in the closing days of the Copenhagen negotiations, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to lure China and other developing nations into a deal by promising that, in exchange for agreeing to a binding cap on carbon pollution as well as outside monitoring and verification of pollution rates, rich nations like the U.S. would pledge a combined $100 billion a year to help poor nations. Many negotiators thought it was a clever (or not so clever) ploy by the U.S. to make China take the fall for the collapse of the Copenhagen deal, since it was clear that China considers emissions data a state secret and would never allow outsiders to pore through the books. But regardless of the intentions, the deal fell apart. The $100 billion promise lingered, however, and was codified in later agreements. (Although $100 billion sounds like a lot, it’s a small part of the $1 trillion a year that will be necessary to transform the energy system.)

Right now, developed nations have a long way to go to live up to Clinton’s promise. The Green Climate Fund has taken four years to get up and running, and still nobody knows if it will primarily make loans or grants. So far, only Germany has come through with a meaningful pledge, offering $1 billion over the next nine years. Stern says the U.S. is putting “a lot of blood, sweat and tears” into getting the fund set up right, and that the $100 billion a year will come from a variety of sources, including private investment. But if the point of the fund is to demonstrate the commitment of rich nations to help the poor, it will need them to make real financial commitments. “Big new public funds are not viable,” says David Victor, a climate-policy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This could be a train wreck of false expectations.”

Here we get to the real motive behind all this, money. This is not really about climate change or the future of life on Earth. This is about “environmental justice”. Like every other time that the noun justice is modified, environmental justice has little to do which justice and more to do with a left wing agenda, in this case the transfer of money from rich nations to poor nations.

This post is getting to be too long but there is only one more paragraph to highlight.

A few hours later, Kerry and his team jet off to Afghanistan. The world is a big, complicated place, and everyone – even the most committed climate warriors like Kerry – has a lot of other things to think about beyond how much carbon we are dumping into the atmosphere. And that, in a way, is always the problem: There is always something more urgent, more immediately catastrophic to seize the attention of policymakers – and in the coming years, many of the crises that will distract us from dealing with the realities of climate change will largely have been caused by climate change. Through all these short-term emergencies, the Earth will keep warming, the droughts will get worse, food will grow scarce, ice will vanish, the seas will rise, and starting around 2030, climate change will emerge from the background and eventually become the only thing we talk about. It will be the story of the century.

We’ll see what actually happens in 2030. My guess is that we are going to be told that there is some catastrophe looming around the corner and if we don’t take immediate action, the Earth will be uninhabitable by the year 2050. I also predict that the immediate action will consist of more government control over our lives and a willingness to accept a lower standard of living. Their rhetoric hasn’t changed in the last forty years and it won’t change in the next forty years, regardless of actual events.

 

The Libertarian Moment

August 12, 2014

In his column at the Federalist, David Harsanyi explains why he is skeptical that the long-awaited libertarian moment has not yet arrived.

The New York Times Magazine has an entertaining look at the libertarian movement that includes, among others, my Federalist colleagues Ben Domenech and Mollie Hemingway making astute observations about its future. The main question, though, is whether America has finally stumbled upon its “libertarian moment.” And boy, do I wish the answer was yes.

Here’s how Robert Draper lays out the case:

But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget.

Without getting into policy specifics, there are a few problems with this narrative.

A libertarian – according to the dictionary, at least – is a person who “upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.” And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government.

Take two of the most frequently cited issues that herald the libertarian renaissance: legalized pot and gay marriage. Both of them, I would argue, are only inadvertently aligned with libertarian values. These are victories in a culture war. Both issues have rapidly gained acceptance in the United States, but support for them does not equate to any newfound longing to “uphold the principles of individual liberty.”

Many supporters of pot legalization are, for example, probably just as sympathetic to nanny-state prohibitions on products they find insalubrious or environmentally unfriendly. More seriously, many of the most passionate proponents of same-sex marriage are also the most passionate proponents of the government forcing Christian bakers and florists to participate in gay marriages and impelling religious business owners to subsidize contraception for their employees.

Beating back people who stand in the way of gay marriage to make room for people who stand in the way of religious freedom and free association doesn’t exactly feel like a victory on the liberty front.

I can save Mr. Harsanyi and many others some trouble. The libertarian moment will never arrive. That is not to say that some policies championed by libertarians may not become part of the political mainstream. Some undoubtedly will. It may also be that an overstretched federal government will have to be trimmed down in the near future. The era of really big government began in the industrial age and it may be that in our post industrial, information age society, smaller. leaner government will become the norm. Whatever happens, the Libertarian Party will never receive more than 5% of the vote and politicians who are consistently and dogmatically libertarian will never get very far.

The real problem with libertarianism is that no one really wants it. Many people say they do but they really don’t. As Mr. Harsanyi points out.

Now, with all that said, most Americans want nothing to do with libertarian economic policy. As Kevin Williamson pointed out not long ago in Politco, the love Americans show for their expensive and inefficient programs makes a libertarian moment in the near future unlikely. No matter how often voters tell pollsters they crave more choice, limited governments and free market solutions, elections tell us that they’re lying.

It would, perhaps, be more accurate to say that many people want libertarianism for themselves, but not for others. Libertarianism for me but not for thee. The government program that helps someone else is wasteful and extravagant. The government program that helps me is necessary for the economy. The laws and regulations that keep me from wanting to do what I want to do are burdensome and even tyrannical. The laws and regulations that keep someone else from doing what they want to do are necessary for the public good.

Libertarianism is usually considered a right-wing movement and there is a strong strain of libertarianism in contemporary conservatism, but in one important way, libertarians are closer to the left. Like many leftists, libertarians tend to ignore human nature, or believe that human nature can be changed if only the right policies are put into effect or if only the right sort of people are elected. They don’t seem to fully appreciate that there are reasons that governments tend to grow larger with time and  the sphere of liberty tends to decrease.

George W. Bush once expressed his view that the desire for freedom is universal by saying,

No people on earth yearn to be oppressed or aspire to servitude or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

He was right in saying that no one wants to be a slave. Unfortunately, as we have learned in places like Iraq, that is not enough. No one wants to be a slave, but too many of us don’t mind making slaves of others. Liberty does not flourish because people yearn to be free. It only flourishes when people manage to restrain their desire to control others, which is not easy. The truth is that every single one of us has a little Hitler or Stalin inside of us who wants very badly to tell everybody around us what to do. It is because of this very human impulse that libertarianism has such trouble gaining a wider appeal. Telling people to ignore their inner busybody and not take advantage of government largess is a very hard sell indeed.

The problem is not that the Democrats or Republicans are growing the government. The problem is that anyone who finds himself in public office has strong incentives to grow the government, and this would be true even if a member of the Libertarian Party were in Congress or were president. Ultimately this is not really a political problem but a human nature problem and that makes it very hard to find a solution.

 

 

 

The Election of 1816

July 7, 2014

There is not much to say about the election of 1816. There was hardly any campaigning and with the collapse of the Federalist Party, there was little question that the Democratic-Republican candidate, James Monroe, would be elected.

The War of 1812 had ended the year before. The United States hadn’t exactly won the war, but we hadn’t exactly lost it either. The Treaty of Ghent had largely restored the relations between the United States and Great Britain as they had been before the war. Neither side had gained or lost any territory, so the war could be considered a draw. Actually, you might consider the US ahead on points since the last battle of the war, the Battle of New Orleans fought two weeks after the treaty was signed, was a resounding defeat for the British.

In any event, the War of 1812 turned out to be a “good war” and the Federalists who had opposed it were badly damaged by their opposition. The Federalist Party had been declining in numbers and influence for years and the War of 1812 finished them. It didn’t help that the Democratic-Republicans were stealing their better ideas. The trouble the United States had in financing the War of 1812 convinced many Jeffersonians that Alexander Hamilton’s ideas about a National Bank and encouraging American manufacturing weren’t so bad after all.

President Madison decided to follow the example of Washington and Jefferson and did not run for a third term. Instead, he supported the campaign of his Secretary of State, James Monroe. Monroe was yet another of the Virginia dynasty which had supplied the US with every president thus far, except for Adams. He had served in the Continental Army during the War of Independence and had been wounded at the Battle of Trenton. After the war, Monroe entered politics serving as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the US Senate. He was also ambassador to France under Washington, governor of Virginia, and President Madison’s Secretary of State and War. He was an obvious successor to Jefferson and Madison.

Not everyone thought so. Many in the North were wary of another Virginia president and felt it was time to end the Virginia dynasty. There was some talk of nominating another of Madison’s Secretary of Wars, William H. Crawford, but he declined to run and it came to nothing. In the end the Democratic-Republican Congressional Caucus nominated James Monroe for president and New York governor Daniel D Tompkins for vice-president.

 

The Federalists didn’t even bother to have a formal caucus to nominate a candidate. Most Federalists supported Rufus King, the Federalist Vice Presidential candidate from the elections of 1808 and 1812. Former Maryland senator and governor John Eager Howard was the informal candidate for Vice-President.

 

There was hardly any campaigning or excitement in this election, except for a slight controversy about the status of Indiana. When the official count of the electoral votes took place in February of 1817, there were some objections made that since Indiana was not recognized by Congress until December 11,1816 while the Electoral College had cast its ballots on December 4, therefore the State of Indiana did not yet exist and its votes shouldn’t be counted. Others argued that Indiana had been organized as a state, with its constitution on June 29, and that Congress was merely acknowledging a state that already existed. The debate was postponed and since it made no difference to the results, it was never taken up again.

As for the results, it was a landslide for Monroe and the Democratic-Republicans. The popular vote was 76,592 or 68.2% for Monroe and 34,740 or 30.9% for King. At this time only ten of the nineteen states chose their electors by popular vote, while the electors of the remaining nine were chosen by their state legislatures. In the Electoral College, Monroe won all but three states, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware for a total of 183 electoral votes. King, with those three states only won 34 votes. This was the end of the Federalist Party and the first party system of the United States.

The Election of 1816

The Election of 1816

 

 

 


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