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Veterans Day Is Not a Christian Holiday

I've been growing and evolving my religious beliefs and political positions over the past 15 years. I may have changed the most in my attitude towards the American military and the hero worship that American evangelicals have for our military. I grew up in a conservative household, in a Navy town. I was surrounded by active duty and retired members of the military, both in my extended family and among my friends' parents and my parents' friends.

Our church was typical of many. Every July 4th, we'd celebrate America and its armed forces. Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines would carry their service's flag down to the front of the church, as the service's march was played. The American flag would be prominently honored as well. Every Veterans Day Sunday, we would ask all members of the military to stand, to be honored for their service. I thought this was only just and right, as America was a Christian nation and these men and women protected us and helped to enact America's will and — by extension — God's will.

That's all changed. I can't abide churches mixing the worship of God and the worship of American military might. Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our first allegiance should be to God. If He is a jealous God, as we say He is, we shouldn't be bringing other powers into His church, to praise, honor, and venerate. God's house should be holy — set apart to God and God alone.

I've also become a peacenik. I no longer see American military might as a good thing and I no longer see the demonstration of American power as something to desire. Violence is violence and we should always mourn it and do everything we can to prevent it. In Foundation, Isaac Asimov's character Salvor Hardin says that "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent". I'm idealistic enough to believe that's true. I haven't become a full-fledged pacifist, but I do believe that we should avoid military force unless we've truly exhausted every other solution and we have no choice.

In that light, I read Brian Doherty's recent article for Reason.com, "No More Vietnam Syndrome". Here, he's talking about the results of America's military efforts since 9/11.

After September 11, 2001, the U.S. military fully re-entered the world stage. The last 17 years have seen a variety of wars, quasiwars, and ongoing interventions with a mix of shifting rationales, from revenge for the attacks to spreading peaceful democracy in the Middle East to targeting specific bad actors to simply helping our Saudi allies as they work to reduce Yemen to a charnel house. None of these more recent efforts have worked out well on a geopolitical level. Meant to end Islamic terrorism worldwide, our post-9/11 warmaking multiplied it. A 2007 study by NYU researchers found that the average yearly number and fatality rate of terror attacks rose by 607 percent and 237 percent respectively after we entered Iraq in 2003. If you exclude violence in that country, the increases were still 265 and 58 percent; most jihadis in subsequent years were radicalized by the invasion itself.

Meant to crush Al Qaeda, our interventions have expanded its breadth and numbers; meant to create stable democracies in the Middle East, they've helped reduce Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen to the same sort of chaos that bred the terror in Afghanistan that began this whole bloody, pointless process.

These various post-9/11 foreign policy failures have cost our debt-riddled nation at least $1.5 trillion in direct costs, according to a recent Defense Department report, and more than $5 trillion in ancillary costs—such as interest and future veterans expenses—according to a 2017 analysis by the Watson Center at Brown University. In constant 2018 dollars, the Defense Department will spend this year in excess of 50 percent more than it did in 1968.

But the more hideous cost—especially poignant for those who remember the cries of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"—is in lives. That same Watson Center study estimates that there have been 370,000 deaths from direct war violence since 2001; 200,000 civilian deaths; and over 10 million people displaced by the harm to property and municipal functionality. Alas, this human and social misery is obscured by consistent, deliberate use of bloodless rhetoric. American foreign policy professionals and pundits somehow manage to look at our costly failings and the world's suffering—all that money, all that death—and think the answer is that the U.S. military should have done more, and smarter, and harder.

If only the lessons of Vietnam, or even of Iraq, would actually stick. We can't expect the aftereffects of this century's foreign policy sins to be short-lived. Laos still suffers dozens of deaths a year because of 80 million unexploded bombs left behind by the Vietnam War. The casualties of our drone wars may be their own variety of unexploded ordnance, as generations grow up in the literal and figurative shadows of insufficiently discriminating robot death machines in the sky, courtesy of the United States.

As a Christian — not as an American, but as a Christian — are you proud of these results? Can you truly look at them and say that America was "doing the Lord's work"? I can't. I supported the Iraq War in 2003, but I don't support it now. There is nothing to cheer in the ongoing military operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria, and in Yemen. And there's certainly nothing Christian in what the U.S. military is doing around the world today. Let's stop pretending that there is, let's stop treating Veterans Day as a church holiday, and let's stop confusing patriotism with religious devotion.

Florida’s mermaid industry

Florida’s mermaid industry →

Thanks to Craig Pittman, at the Tampa Bay Times, for this very Florida story.

Florida’s best-known industries include citrus, seafood and selling tacky souvenirs to tourists. But there’s one booming Florida industry that hardly ever gets a mention from the Chamber of Commerce folks.

Mermaids.

All over the state there are now scores of women — and a few men — who regularly pull on prosthetic tails and pretend to be those mythical creatures made popular by Hans Christian Anderson and Walt Disney. Some do it for fun, but quite a few are diving into it as a business, charging by the hour to appear at everything from birthday parties to political events.

"This mermaid industry has just skyrocketed. It’s crazy," said Eric Ducharme, aka "the Mertailor," whose Crystal River-based business is making high-quality tails. "I don’t know if it’s a fad, or if it’s here to stay."

To judge how crazy the mermaid business is right now, consider this: Ducharme. a Lecanto native, sells his custom-designed tails for up to $5,000 each. He’s working on 80 of them right now, each designed to match the customers’ personal measurements.

This entry was tagged. America Market

Do Family Values Stop at the Rio Grande for Conservatives?

Do Family Values Stop at the Rio Grande for Conservatives? →

As we prepare to celebrate America's Independence Day, it's important to stop, reflect, and remember what it is that America stands for. Shikha Dalmia, writing for Reason.com, offers a hint.

For months now, the Trump administration has been literally kidnapping children from parents arriving at the border in search of asylum and sending them off to prison-like detention camps thousands of miles away. In one particularly egregious case, authorities seized the 7-year-old daughter of a mother fleeing violence in Congo. Without offering her any explanation, they dispatched her little girl to a Chicago camp while holding the mother in San Diego. The mom wasn't being punished because she was trying to sneak in illegally. She presented herself to immigration authorities exactly as she was supposed to and even passed an initial screening to determine if she had a "credible fear" of harm in her home country. It took the ACLU four months of dogged petitioning before the distraught mother and the traumatized daughter were finally reunited.

In another case, an 18-month-old boy was taken away from his Honduran mother, who arrived at the Texas border. She showed the authorities copious records to prove that she was in fact the infant's mom, but they didn't care. They ordered her to place her baby in a government vehicle and drove him away to a San Antonio facility while she wept helplessly and her terrified son screamed inconsolably. She herself was detained in a facility in Taylor, Texas.

The administration pretends that these are isolated incidents but, in fact, a _New York Times_ investigation a few weeks ago found more than 700 cases of parents and children separated just since October, including 100 under the age of 4. The ACLU has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the parents.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

(Addendum: Yes, I'm aware that this article is 2 months old. It's still a good introduction to this particular horrible policy, for anyone who's been living under a rock. And I like the way Shikha Dalmia framed the issue.)

Wisconsin Beekeepers, Maple Syrup Producers Aren't Too Sweet On Proposed FDA Nutrition Labels

Wisconsin Beekeepers, Maple Syrup Producers Aren't Too Sweet On Proposed FDA Nutrition Labels →

Shamane Mills, writing for Wisconsin Public Radio.

The federal government is trying to get people to eat better with updated Nutrition Fact labels on packaged foods, and one change to the label would specify added sugars.

But those who keep bees and tap trees are fighting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposal, and the federal agency may go back to the drawing board.

The FDA proposal is designed to educate consumers about how much sugar they eat. But producers of honey and maple syrup say a label with the words "added sugars" is confusing — and misleading — because they aren’t adding anything.

One such producer is Kent Pegorsch, president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association and a commercial beekeeper in Waupaca.

"We objected to the wording which was misleading consumers to believe that we were adding corn syrup or other sugars to our product when in fact we weren’t, it was just naturally occurring sugars that were already in the product," Pegorsch said.

Wisconsin ranks fourth in maple syrup production and 12th in honey production.

The FDA received more than 3,000 comments on its labeling proposal, most from honey and maple syrup producers. The proposed label changes were debuted in May 2016 by former First Lady Michelle Obama and the comment period closed June 15.

"This is (the) second comment period based on feedback they received during first comment period. I unfortunately have a feeling the FDA is close to putting this into the regulations, and they’re really not going to clarify this any further than possibly allowing us to add a footnote on the label explaining what added sugars actually means. I don’t foresee a big change coming," said Pegorsch.

The FDA said in a constituent update that it "looks forward to working with stakeholders to devise a sensible solution."

This is the sort of thing that gives government regulation a bad name.

School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever.

School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever. →

The New York Times provides an apocalyptic headline for this article by Julie Bosman. In reality, this is a story about one specific, rural school closing, with some notes about other tiny, rural schools that have also closed.

Lola was among the last students to attend Arena Community Elementary. After classes let out last Monday, the school was shuttered permanently by the River Valley School District, whose administrators say that unforgiving budgets, a dearth of students and an aging population have made it impossible to keep the school open. For the first time since the 1800s, the village of Arena has no school.

Arena Elementary is the second small rural elementary school in two years to close in the district, nearly 300 square miles of rolling pastures and dairy farms in southwestern Wisconsin. The one in the neighboring village of Lone Rock closed last spring. The district now has just one open public elementary school, in Spring Green, nine miles away.

Administrators say they hardly had any choice.

The numbers are there for anyone to see: The River Valley School District graduated 105 seniors this year, and expects only 66 kindergartners to start school in the fall.

Residents worry about what will happen to Arena, population 834, without the school. There isn’t much else on this two-lane stretch of Highway 14: a gas station, a cheese outlet, a cafe called Grandma Mary’s, beloved for its Friday fish fry and beef stroganoff.

But the reality of rural life in the Midwest, school officials say, is that younger people are fleeing. They want Starbucks and Thai restaurants, plentiful jobs and high-speed internet, and when they start families, they want schools with amenities and big, thriving athletic programs.

“In any small community, anywhere in this country, our kids grow up and move away,” said Mark Strozinsky, a River Valley school board member. “They go to college and get a job, but it’s not here, because the opportunity is not here. So who’s left here? Grandma and Grandpa.”

Two schools in the Portage school district in central Wisconsin closed several years ago after enrollment declined sharply, the district administrator, Charles Poches, said.

“You can’t have four teachers for 40 kids,” he said.

As the public face of the district, Mr. Poches said that he bore the brunt of residents’ fury at public hearings.

“It was hell,” he said. “We’d have 50 people, some who didn’t even have kids there but had gone to school there. They felt it was part of their community. It was very traumatic.”

Melissa Schmid, whose 10-year-old stepson, Evan, completed fourth grade this year, said she wished she had fought harder to keep the Arena school open. When the time comes for her 1-year-old daughter, she and her husband have decided to send her to school in a different district to spare her a long bus ride.

She worries about the value of their house. New people aren’t moving to Arena much anyway. But they definitely won’t now.

“We basically have a bank and a cheese factory,” Ms. Schmid said. “It’s not going to be a growing community.”

Communities are born, grow, mature, decline, and, eventually, die. This article tugs at the heartstrings, but it's not clear to me why we should try to stop what's happening, to make rural America great again. I understand how the existing residents feel. But the hard truth is that people increasingly prefer suburban and urban lifestyles to rural life. No amount of nostalgia or outside financial support is going to cause this rural district to grow again.

Dominance Displays Over Statues

Dan McLaughlin wrote this, at the end of a blog post for National Review. And I'm quoting it, because I particularly liked the sentence that I bolded.

Lee was no hero; he fought for an unjust cause, and he lost. Unlike the Founding Fathers (even the slaveholders among them), he failed the basic test of history: leaving the world better and freer than he found it. And while he was not responsible for the South’s strategic failures, his lack of strategic vision places him below Grant, Sherman and Winfield Scott in any assessment of the war’s greatest generals. We should not be building new monuments to him, but if we fail to understand why the men of his day revered him, we are likelier to fail to understand who people revere today, and why. And tearing down statues of Lee today is less about understanding the past than it is a contest to divide the people of today’s America, and see who holds more power. That’s no better an attitude today than it was in Lee’s day.

Much of today's political fighting is cloaked in the language of justice, morality, and virtue. But it often feels more like gleeful displays of dominance than it does sober exercises in judgment. The end result may be good — removing statues that honor seriously flawed heroes — but the process can create bitterness and resentment rather than healing and unity.

Some Precaution on Pence’s Precautionary Principles

Some Precaution on Pence’s Precautionary Principles →

On the subject of Vice-President Pence's unwillingness to be alone with women other than his wife, I think Sarah Skwire makes a very good point.

It’s a cliché, but a true one, to note that the real work of many professions gets done at the bar or on quick lunches or dinner grabbed with a colleague, outside the formal constraints of official meetings. When that cliché is true, and to the extent that it is true, precautions like Pence’s, that cut women out from that kind of social interaction, also cut them off from at least one route to success.

Sauce for the Goose

I wonder, then, whether Pence and others who guard themselves in this way would consider extending their prohibitions on such private meetings with opposite gender colleagues to colleagues of the same gender. In other words, if Mike Pence won’t allow himself to meet with female colleagues for a casual private dinner or drink, then perhaps he should consider disallowing interactions like that with male colleagues as well.

I think, at a minimum, that considering that possibility will tell us a lot. If your immediate reaction to that suggestion is to think that it would be unfairly restrictive to men to tell them not to go golfing alone with the Vice President, or join him for an impromptu cheeseburger, or take advantage of a quick trip on a private jet in order to get to know him better and pitch him a few ideas…then maybe that policy is even more unfair when it is applied only to women.

If it is unreasonable to think that a woman’s career is damaged because the VP won’t meet with her privately, then it is unreasonable to think a man’s career would be damaged for the same reason. If it is not unreasonable to think that such restrictions damage a woman’s career, then Pence owes it to his female colleagues and constituents to ensure that their male counterparts don’t have better access to him than they do.

It is, at least, worth thinking about seriously.

Hacking Democratic Rules Isn’t Good Government

Hacking Democratic Rules Isn’t Good Government →

Megan McCardle makes a good point about people's increasing desire to "win" at politics, by any means, at any cost.

What’s most worrying, however, is that intelligent people are discussing this stuff. Over the last decade, we’ve spent more and more time on these sorts of procedural hacks. Filibusters to prevent judicial nominations -- and parliamentary maneuvers to weaken the filibuster. Debt ceiling brinkmanship -- and whether Obama could mint trillion-dollar platinum coins to get around it. We have become less and less interested in either policy or politics, and more interested in finding some loophole in the rules that will allow one party or the other to impose its will on the country without the messy business of gathering votes and building public support. It started with the courts, but it certainly has not ended there.

Each procedural hack slightly undermines the legitimacy of the system as a whole, and makes the next hack more likely, as parties give up on the pretense that winning an election confers the right to govern, and justify their incremental power grabs by whatever the other party did last.

​> ...

What matters is not who started it, or the last outrage committed by the other side. What matters is who ends it. Unfortunately, while both sides quite agree that it needs to end, they also agree that it should end only after they themselves are allowed last licks. As long as both sides cheer their own violations while crying foul on the other side, the escalation will continue -- until we no longer have a political system worth controlling.

​I've long believed that the most important thing isn't whether you win or lose in politics. The most important thing is to have a system of rules and to strictly abide by those rules, whether or not it gives us the win we want. Increasingly, at all levels of politics, we're choosing to throw out the rule book in favor of winning. In the short term, it appears to give us what we want. In the long term, it's going to destroy the entire concept of American government, with results that no one will like.

Free Speech in America is Pretty Absolute

Free Speech in America is Pretty Absolute →

Charles C. W. Cooke offers a quick primer on America's expansive free speech tradition. When I think of American exceptionalism, this is one of the areas that comes to mind.

As the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, under American constitutional law there is simply no such thing as “hate speech.” In Texas v. Johnson, the Court confirmed that “the government may not prohibit the verbal or nonverbal expression of an idea merely because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable,” thereby echoing the insistence of a lower court that “the First Amendment does not recognize exceptions for bigotry, racism, and religious intolerance or ideas or matters some may deem trivial, vulgar or profane.” Indeed, as FIRE’s Sean Clark noted in 2006, the government may not prohibit much at all:

The First Amendment allows you to wear a jacket that says “Fuck the Draft” in a public building (see Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15), yell “We’ll take the fucking street later!” during a protest (see Hess v. Indiana, 414 U.S. 105), burn the American flag in protest (Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 and United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310), and even give a racially charged speech to a restless crowd (see Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1). You can even, consistent with the First Amendment, call for the overthrow of the United States government (see Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444). This is not a recent development in constitutional law—these cases date back to 1949.

It is worth remembering that Madison did not believe that his Bill of Rights was necessary to protect speech at all. Because the Constitution is a charter of enumerated powers, he argued in Federalist No. 10, Congress enjoys no capacity to censor the press in the first instance and does not therefore need to be prevented from doing so:

Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence for claiming that power.

This entry was tagged. America Free Speech

Ferguson

I find the entire situation in Ferguson to be infuriating and frustrating. I'm furious that a police officer got into an altercation with a young, black man and shot and killed him. I'm furious that the police department's first response was to suit up and bring out the tactical military gear. I'm furious that MRAV's, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers are considered appropriate tools for America's civilian police force.

I was frustrated that it took 3 nights of standoffs, tear gas, and rubber bullets before Missouri governor Jay Nixon decided that something was wrong and relieved the police of responsibility for Ferguson. I was elated when the Missouri State Highway Patrol was given responsibility and responded by leading protestors through town, listening to protestors, and being photographed hugging protestors instead of pointing guns at them.

I was confused when I heard that protestors, on the very first night, had reacted to the shooting by looting and trashing a local convenience store. Looting, in general, confuses me. Who does that? Who responds to a tragedy by saying, "Screw it. I'm mad and I'm going to respond by beating up this other innocent bystander."

Make no mistake, that's what looting and vandalism is. It's violence against the innocent and the uninvolved. Most stores that are looted are owned by local community members. They're staffed by local community members. They provide goods, services, jobs, and incomes to local community members. By destroying them, you're destroying local incomes, services, jobs, and wealth. You're depriving the owner of a livelihood. You're depriving the workers of an income. You're depriving the people who live and work near that store of the services that that store provided.

I've heard that protestors are claiming that they looted because that was the only way to draw attention to their cause. That's stupid. Protest marches, sit-ins, and rallies draw attention to your cause. Practicing non-violent resistance draws attention to your cause and generates sympathy from those watching. Looting and vandalism is a senseless act of violence and rage directed against those unfortunate enough to be located too close to the scene of tragedy. It's violence for violence's sake, responding to injustice by multiplying injustice.

So I was frustrated and angry when I heard that the night of calm in Ferguson was followed up with a night of renewed fighting and renewed vandalism. I was angry when I heard that the police stood back and allowed the looting to happen, forcing store owners to defend their own businesses. First the police over responded by armoring up and acting worse than most occupying forces. Then they under responded by allowing thugs to destroy community businesses. I'm angry because they don't understand—and can't perform—their own jobs.

I want justice in Ferguson. I want the police officer responsible for the shooting to be arrested and tried for murder, treated the same as any other civilian assailant. If a jury determines that his actions were justified, he can walk free and resume his job, the same as everyone else. If the jury determines otherwise, he can suffer the penalty, the same as everyone else.

And I want the looters to be arrested, charged, and tried as well. Their actions are neither necessary nor useful. They're criminal and should be treated as such.

One final note. I've seen people on Twitter questioning why second amendment anti-tyranny gun nuts haven't had anything to say about Ferguson. As one such nut, here's my response.

The citizenry of Ferguson absolutely have a right to own weaponry sufficient to defend themselves from criminals, whether vandals or an overreaching police force. The police force certainly seems to have given sufficient provocation for these Americans to justify an armed response. It was just such provocations, in Boston, that ultimately led to the War for Independence.

That doesn't mean that now is the right time for an armed response or that an armed response is the wisest course of action, at this time. I won't absolutely advise against it, and I won't absolutely advise it. I'm not on the ground in Ferguson, I don't know all of the facts, and I don't have the knowledge to speak wisely about the situation.

But the citizens of Ferguson, as citizens of the United States, have the right to assemble, to speak, and to petition for redress of grievances by any means necessary, either First or Second Amendment. But they don't have the right to claim that violence against local property owners is one such means of redress. That's why I'm increasingly angered with, and frustrated by, both sides of this standoff.

The Myth of Americans' Poor Life Expectancy

The Myth of Americans' Poor Life Expectancy →

Do Americans really pay more for healthcare and get less for it than most other industrialized countries? Avid Roy does some myth busting.

If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention. If you have a heart attack, how long do you live in the U.S. vs. another country? If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer? In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates, called CONCORD. They looked at 5-year survival rates for breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer. I compiled their data for the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Guess who came out number one?

This entry was tagged. America Research

Is Income Inequality Unfair?

Is Income Inequality Unfair? →

From Scott Rasmussen, at Real Clear Politics:

For most Americans, the context is very important. If a CEO gets a huge paycheck after his company received a government bailout, that’s a problem. People who get rich through corporate welfare schemes are seen as suspect. On the other hand, 86 percent believe it’s fair for people who create very successful companies to get very rich.

In other words, it’s not just the income; it’s whether the reward matched the effort. People don’t think it’s a problem that Steve Jobs got rich. After all, he created Apple Computer and the iPad generation. But there was massive outrage about the bonuses paid to AIG executives after that company was propped up by the federal government.

Income inequality isn't unjust unless the income was ill gotten gains. Our goal as a society shouldn't be to stamp out income inequality. It should be to stamp out crony capitalism that allows people to get rich through connections instead of requiring them to get rich through innovation that makes the rest of us richer.

On hitchhiking around America via private plane

On hitchhiking around America via private plane →

The most fun is the people I run into. This country is so diverse…it’s like 50 different countries but everywhere I go I encounter helpful people who have interesting stories of their own. The landscape of the US is stunning, particularly in the West.

The most surprising? How much fun flying in small airplanes can be! One flight in New Mexico stands out where wild horses were running below the plane and there were no roads in sight. I was also surprised to discover so many people who are returning to a lifestyle of sustainable living, from urban farms to solar homes and the eco-friendly efforts of the larger cities. I also really dug getting to try out the flight simulators at Dallas’s Aviation Training & Resource Center.

I think I know what I'll do when I retire.

This entry was tagged. America Wealth

Krugman and Inequality of Free Time

Krugman and Inequality of Free Time →

Krugman is correct that women spend more time in paid jobs than before. But women also spend much less time doing unpaid household work. Overall, men and women enjoy three to six hours a week more free time than in the 1960s — Americans have more leisure today than a generation ago.

In fact, lower income Americans have more free time today than upper income Americans do. It seems that people face a trade-off between higher incomes with less free time or lower incomes with more free time.

Speaking personally, I know I could probably earn more if I put in more time at work. But I'm happy to forgo that extra income in favor of spending more time at home, with my family.

Subject or Citizen?

I was struck by this bit from Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, as soon as I read it. A bit of background. Tesh Vorpatril is visiting the planet of Barrayar and is introduced to its ruler, Emperor Gregor. They are both at Vorkosigan House, the home of Lady Ekaterin Vorkosigan.

[Emperor Gregor said] “How do you do, Lady Vorpatril, Mademoiselle Rish. Welcome to Barrayar.”

He said this in the exact same way that Lady Vorkosigan had said, Welcome to Vorkosigan House. It came to Tej that he was the one man here who was not a subject.

Every Barrayaran is a subject of Emperor Gregor, pledged to obey him. With their lives, if necessary. Emperor Gregor was the only Barrayaran "who was not a subject". When I read that, it spent me down a trail of thought. What does it mean to not be a subject? What does it mean to be a citizen, instead?

An emperor is sovereign over many people. Gregor has the power of life and death over his subjects. He can order summary executions at will. A subject holds his own life only at the sufferance of his liege lord.

Gregor is responsible for his subjects. He must protect them, provide for them, care for them. Subjects are dependent on their rulers.

An emperor can seize whatever he wants: property, possessions, or people. Subjects have no legal recourse against this seizure. Subjects enjoy prosperity only at the whim of their sovereigns.

A citizen is sovereign over himself. He holds his life in his own hands. No one has the authority to order his execution. Citizens are independent. A citizen is responsible for himself. He must provide for himself, care for himself, and look out for his own interests. A citizen is entitled to keep what is his. His property is his own and cannot be taken. His possessions are his own and cannot be taken. His family is his own and cannot be taken.

Citizens are not, however, forced to stand alone, live alone, and die alone. A citizen can freely surrender a portion of his sovereignty to another. He can allow another to act as his agent, in all matters. He can allow another to provide for him, defend him, guard his interests, and more. But he retains sovereignty in all things. He can, at any time, fire his agent and either resume excercising sovereignty himself or choose a new agent to act on his behalf.

This is what it means to be an American. We are a nation of 300 million sovereigns. We have delegated a portion of authority to our elected representatives. We allow them to negotiate treaties in our names, to make and conclude war, to levy taxes and spend from the public fisc. But the President is not our ruler. Neither is Congress or the courts. They are merely our delegated agents. We are the rulers.

That is the difference between subjects and citizens. Subjects are ruled by someone else. Citizens rule themselves. Are you a subject? Or a citizen?

Paul Ryan: Restoring the Rule of Law

Paul Ryan: Restoring the Rule of Law →

Paul Ryan, with a very, very good speech on the importance of the Constitution and on the primacy of the rule of law, in our political and economic system.

We can strengthen our defense of liberty if we remember to keep in mind those who are struggling to make ends meet. What makes our Constitution such an extraordinary document is that, in making the United States the freest civilization in history, the Founders guaranteed that it would become the most prosperous as well. The American system of limited government, low taxes, sound money and the rule of law has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed.

I want to talk today in particular about the last of those – the rule of law, which is absolutely essential to all the other benefits of our system, to the prosperity and freedom of our country, and to the well being of all Americans, especially the most vulnerable.

What is the rule of law? When the Declaration of Independence cited as justification “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” the Founders were channeling Aristotle, who wrote that the rule of law in principle means that, quote, “God and intellect alone rule.”

Aristotle defined the law as “intellect without appetite,” by which he meant justice untainted by the self-interest of those in power.

The great difficulty we encounter in striving to meet Aristotle’s ideal was best summed up by James Madison: “if men were angels, no government would be necessary. And if angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

But, as Madison reminded us, men are no angels, and government is “administered by men over men.” Grounded in a proper understanding of human nature, our Founders tackled this challenge head-on with a brilliant Constitution and a healthy separation of powers, binding all men to the same set of laws and preventing any one man or group of men from gaining enough power to declare themselves above the law.

Do read the whole thing.

No "Fundamental Right" to Own a Cow, or Consume Its Milk

No "Fundamental Right" to Own a Cow, or Consume Its Milk →

Wisconsin Judge Patrick J. Fiedler, on your fundamental rights.

"This court is unwilling to declare that there is a fundamental right to consume the food of one's choice without first being presented with significantly more developed arguments on both sides of the issue."

"no, Plaintiffs to not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;"

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice..."

If Americans don't have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice, what rights do they have?

Education Before Public Schools

Did you know that before British and U.S. governments created public schools, parents still placed a high value on education? That children got a better education each passing year? That schools were cheaper? That 95% of teenagers were literate? That teenagers were more literate without public schools than they are now, with them? Truth.

I recently discovered a fascinating article on The Spread of Education Before Compulsion: Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century from the Freeman.

A few, choice, excerpts. First, the experience in Britain.

Contrary to popular belief, the supply of schooling in Britain between 1800 and 1840 was relatively substantial prior to any government intervention, although it depended almost completely on private funds. At this time, moreover, the largest contributors to education revenues were working parents and the second largest was the Church. Of course, there was less education per child than today, just as there was less of everything else, because the national income was so much smaller. I have calculated, nevertheless, that the percentage of the net national income spent on day-schooling of children of all ages in England in 1833 was approximately 1 percent. By 1920, when schooling had become "free" and compulsory by special statute, the proportion had fallen to 0.7 percent.

The evidence also shows that working parents were purchasing increasing amounts of education for their children as their incomes were rising from 1818 onwards, and this, to repeat, at a time before education was "free" and compulsory by statute. Compulsion came in 1880, and state schooling did not become free until 1891.

... It is not surprising that with such evidence of literacy growth of young people, the levels had become even more substantial by 1870. On my calculations for 1880, when national compulsion was enacted, over 95 percent of fifteen-year-olds were literate. This should be compared to the fact that over a century later 40 percent of 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom admit to difficulties with writing and spelling.

Second, the experience in the U.S.

Sheldon Richman quotes data showing that from 1650 to 1795, American male literacy climbed from 60 to 90 percent. Between 1800 and 1840 literacy in the North rose from 75 percent to between 91 and 97 percent. In the South the rate grew from about 55 percent to 81 percent. Richman also quotes evidence indicating that literacy in Massachusetts was 98 percent on the eve of legislated compulsion and is about 91 percent today.

Finally, Carl F. Kaestle observes: "The best generalization possible is that New York, like other American towns of the Revolutionary period, had a high literacy rate relative to other places in the world, and that literacy did not depend primarily upon the schools."

And, the conclusion.

If, on the other hand, the term "universal" is intended more loosely to mean something like, "most," "nearly everybody," or "over 90 percent," then we lack firm evidence to show that education was not already universal prior to intervention. The eventual establishment, meanwhile, of laws to provide a schooling that was both compulsory and free, was accompanied by major increases in costs. These included not only unprecedented expenses of growing bureaucracy but also the substantial costs of reduced liberty of families eventually caught in a choice-restricted monopoly system serving the interests not of the demanders but of the rent-seeking suppliers. Both sides of the Atlantic, meanwhile, shared this same fate.

We educated our children before we had universal, "free", public schools. We educated our children before the rise of strong national and state teachers' unions. We could have it again.

Barney Frank Wants to Kill Fannie and Freddie?!?

Be still my beating heart. No, wait. Start beating, my stilled heart. Barney Frank just recommended killing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"As I believe this committee will be recommending, abolishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in their present form and coming up with a new whole system of housing finance [is in order]," House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D, Mass.) said at a hearing.

This is the same Congressman Frank that previously refused to believe that anything could possibly be wrong with Fannie and Freddie.

"These two entities--Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--are not facing any kind of financial crisis," said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. "The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing."

And this is the same Fannie and Freddie that the government is bailing out, with no limits whatsoever on the losses to the American taxpayer.

The Obama administration's decision to cover an unlimited amount of losses at the mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the next three years stirred controversy over the holiday.

The Treasury announced Thursday it was removing the caps that limited the amount of available capital to the companies to $200 billion each.

Unlimited access to bailout funds through 2012 was "necessary for preserving the continued strength and stability of the mortgage market," the Treasury said. Fannie and Freddie purchase or guarantee most U.S. home mortgages and have run up huge losses stemming from the worst wave of defaults since the 1930s.

Of course, this is Barney Frank we're talking about here. I shudder to think about what he has in mind to replace Fannie and Freddie. Whatever it is, be sure that you'll be paying for it, not him. You'll probably be paying a lot.

The "bank tax" is unconstitutional and illegal

I listen to the President's Weekly Radio Address every week. It's usually a painful process, since I almost always disagree with the President. (That's been true for both President Bush and President Obama, in case you're wondering.)

Last week's address was particularly painful. It was almost scary to listen to. The President spoke quite passionately about his desire to tax big banks to pay for the assistance they've received over the past 2 years. This is part of what he had to say (emphasis added by me).

Much of the turmoil of this recession was caused by the irresponsibility of banks and financial institutions on Wall Street. These financial firms took huge, reckless risks in pursuit of short-term profits and soaring bonuses. They gambled with borrowed money, without enough oversight or regard for the consequences. And when they lost, they lost big. Little more than a year ago, many of the largest and oldest financial firms in the world teetered on the brink of collapse, overwhelmed by the consequences of their irresponsible decisions. This financial crisis nearly pulled the entire economy into a second Great Depression.

As a result, the American people - struggling in their own right - were placed in a deeply unfair and unsatisfying position. Even though these financial firms were largely facing a crisis of their own creation, their failure could have led to an even greater calamity for the country. That is why the previous administration started a program - the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP - to provide these financial institutions with funds to survive the turmoil they helped unleash. It was a distasteful but necessary thing to do.

Many originally feared that most of the $700 billion in TARP money would be lost. But when my administration came into office, we put in place rigorous rules for accountability and transparency, which cut the cost of the bailout dramatically. We have now recovered most of the money we provided to the banks. That's good news, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not good enough. We want the taxpayers' money back, and we're going to collect every dime.

That is why, this week, I proposed a new fee on major financial firms to compensate the American people for the extraordinary assistance they provided to the financial industry. And the fee would be in place until the American taxpayer is made whole.

Reading the President's address now, it sounds bland and reasonable. But listening to it was a different experience. The President sounded angry and distinctly sounded like he wanted to punish the banks for ever daring to make trouble. He sounded like what he really wanted was to make the banks pay for the entire cost of the stimulus bill. I was deeply disturbed, as I listened to the speech, to the hear the President so angrily attacking and villianizing a specific industry.

Here's the thing. Not all of the banks that received government help wanted government help. Some of them were strong-armed into accepting the help. The President's new "fee" doesn't account for that. Nor does it account for the fact that not all large banks even received help. Nor does it account for the fact that some banks were healthy throughout the crisis and had no rule in causing the crisis. No, the President's "fee" taxes all banks equally, just for the sin of being big.

As I listened to the speech, I wondered if the plan was even Constitutional. As I said, it sounded like he really wanted to lay into the banking industry, to punish it. And the Constitution specifically forbids a "bill of attainder". What's that? It's when Congress passes a bill declaring someone guilty of a crime -- and punishing them -- without giving that person the benefit of a trial. And the President's language and tone sounded dangerously close to someone who wants to declare the entire banking industry guilty of "crimes against America" and then punish them.

It turns out, that I'm not the only person to think this is un-Constitutional. John Carney writes in The Business Insider Law Review that he's recently concluded that the proposed bank tax is an illegal bill of attainder.

Read his full piece for a much better explanation of the concept of a "bill of attainder", as well as some great examples. Here is his conclusion.

The Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee is unconstitutional on its face. It is as if the Obama administration had urged a tax called "The Fee That Violates Nonattainder Principles." Assigning responsibility after the matter and levying penalties is reserved for the judicial branch that is restricted to using already existing laws and treating similarly situated people equally. The Obama administration wants to assign responsibility for the financial crisis and levy a fee, while exempting its favored automakers. This is exactly the sort of thing the Attainder Clause was put in place to prevent.