Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Reflections

A re-post from last Christmas:

With Christmas behind, a few reflections:

It goes without saying that Christmas traditions vary era to era and family to family. (But I guess I said it anyway.) One constant, however, is the focus on the children.

Some parents, probably a plurality, create anticipation for the holiday by reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to their enraptured children. They help compose a letter to Santa or make a personal call on him at the local mall to work out an agreement on gifts. They change the car radio station from the classic rock station to the 24 hour Christmas music station, where the horns blare, the strings reach a crescendo, and Andy Williams croons, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” (And for Andy Williams, it IS the most wonderful time of the year. It's the only time of the year that he gets  radio play anymore.) Eventually, those children grow skeptical of the claim that reindeer fly or that Santa can fit down the chimney flue.

Other parents create the anticipation for the holiday with advent calendars that countdown the days to the arrival of the Christ child. Their worship services at church begin to incorporate holiday themes. Perhaps a reading of Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus takes place Christmas eve or Christmas morn before exchanging gifts. The gift giving may be construed as an imitation of God's give to man or the gifts of the wise men to the infant Christ child. Later, some of these children, too, may experience a more psychologically traumatic skepticism about those accounts from Matthew and Luke to which they listened growing up.

An interesting change in the “sounds of the season” has taken place over the years. I mean the sounds on the street. I remember the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I cannot recall if this occurred every season or just the one that I still remember. One evening it moved several us to get our coats on go caroling ourselves. At least on one evening we did not make it very far. After singing outside the home of one of our friends, we received an invitation in to drink hot chocolate. Once we entered the house, our caroling itinerary ceased.

Another change in the “sounds of the season” manifests itself Christmas morning. The streets used to be a noisy place. Every Christmas morning, after the neighborhood kids opened their presents, they spilled out of their houses into the streets. Children were everywhere with footballs, baseballs, skateboards, mock firearms, remote control cars, bicycles, dolls, baby strollers, etc. Now the streets have an eerie silence. I know that kids live in my neighborhood; I see them each school day waiting at the bus stops. But Christmas morning no kids can be found anywhere.

I imagine they are sitting in front of their television screens and video game platforms or computers. Instead of skateboards, they own a Tony Hawk video simulation. Instead of creeping silently around they neighborhood with their plastic M-1 carbines, helmet, and back-packs or manipulating their G.I. Joes, they direct a platoon in Call of Duty or Halo. Instead of assembling a couple of teams for front yard foot ball, they coach an NFL franchise with Madden NFL Football. There is probably a video game out in which a young girl feeds and changes the diaper on a virtual baby instead of an actual doll. (Or else she has a REAL baby of her own.)

Its not just silent night anymore. Its silent morn.

Kids saving the world in the 1960s:

Kids saving the world in the 2000s:

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Reasons for the Season

Its that time again. Eating. Drinking. Music. Exchanging gifts. Decorating trees.

Its Saturnalia!

Well, maybe not. It used to be Saturnalia. But with the emergence of a small Judean religious sect and its remarkable growth in adherents in the West that far exceeded its adherents in its native land, Saturnalia is all but forgotten.

They have taken Saturn out of Saturnalia.

Saturn is the name of the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. He is associated with the goddess of plenty. The weekly time of partying, Saturday, is named for him.

Between December 17 and 23, Romans honored him with a feast. Romans decorated the trees on the grounds of their villas. They ate, drank, exchanged gifts, and made merry by saying “Lo! Saturnalia.” Slaves and their owners exchanged roles. The slaveholders served and the slaves enjoyed being served.

The holiday also served as a transition into the celebration of the Dies Natalis Sol Invictus, or Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun. This latter festival honored the birthday of the sun god, which fell on December 25, the date of the winter solstice according to the old Julian calendar. Disagreement exists over how early and in what form worship of the sun took place.

                                                        3rd century disc of the Sun God

Meanwhile, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. The resurrection emerged as the most important Christian festival because of its theological importance. In addition, the Church more easily could settle on a date since the crucifixion and resurrection coincided with the Hebrew Passover Feast. Over several decades, however, the celebration of the birth of Jesus grew in importance. But the church celebrated it on different days in different parts of the empire. The Church in Rome celebrated the day on December 25, possibly based upon calculations by Pope Julius 1. As Rome grew and achieved primacy over the rest of the church in its theology and authority, the December 25 date became standard through out the Church for “Christ’s Mass” or Christmas.

No direct evidence suggests that the Church authorities chose the date to obscure the pagan festivals of Saturnalia or Sol Invictus. But some church fathers noted the coincidence. Cyprian (?-258) noted “How wonderfully acted providence that on the day when that sun was born, Christ should be born.” In addition, Chrysostom wrote that “Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December. But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered.' But who indeed is unconquered as our Lord?”

As Christianity spread, Christmas became intermingled with additional pagan winter celebration traditions: yule logs, mistletoe, and Christmas trees. Today it offers a syncretistic something for everyone.

So, "Lo Saturnalia."

"Dies natalis sol invictus."

And "Merry Christmas."

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Cultures throughout the world have held and continue to hold feasts at the close of the growing seasons after the final harvest. Usually these feasts involve giving thanks to whatever divine being(s) the particular cultures acknowledge. In the United States, the tradition loosely relates to the first “Thanksgiving" feast held by the English settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts

The original one hundred or so settlers consisted of members of a separatist church who refused to worship in the England’s established Anglican Church. They arrived on the Mayflower in November 1620, just in time for the onset of winter. After an exploratory party located an advantageous site, the settlers came ashore that December. The site selected had been a Patuxet village that the natives abandoned after its decimation by small pox. By March 1621, however, about half of the English settlers themselves had perished from diseases contracted spread during the voyage or the harsh winter living conditions.

The new settlement took root that year with assistance from the local Wampanoag tribe. Their help had been secured through the efforts of Squanto, a Patuxet native. (Years before he had been captured and brought to England as a “specimen” by an English explorer. While living in England he learned the language. Later he found himself back in his native land. He served as a translator). That fall, after a successful harvest and hunting, a feast was held with some of the Wampanoag neighbors.

One settler preserved an account in a journal:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

And so a local tradition, although inconsistently practiced, began. Other parts of the English colonies celebrated their own traditions on different fall days. These gradually became unified through proclamations of the government.

Here are a couple:

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation (3 October 1789):

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789

And below is Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation (3 October 1863):

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Thanksgiving became a federal holiday after President Franklin Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress 26 December, 1941.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

If You Like Your Illegals, You Can Keep Your Illegals

Thousands of American businesses-especially "small businesses"--depend upon immigrant laborers to operate at the profitability level their owners desire. These laborers include both legal and illegal immigrants. More often than not, these businesses require workers with low education and low skills. The most common types of employment include farming, landscaping and grounds keeping, construction, house keeping, and janitorial/custodial work.

These are not, however, jobs that Americans will not do. In all of these occupations, the majority of workers are native born.

President Obama announced to these business owners that if they like their illegal workers, they can keep their illegal workers.

Of course, the President made this announcement in starkly different terms.

He opened his remarks with an optimistic view of America as the land of opportunity for all. In this way, he portrayed  his actions as conforming to the best of America's traditions.

"For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities –- people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose."

Of course, for 200 years America experienced a labor shortage, when demand for labor far exceeded the supply. And for 200 years, America had no national welfare system distributing financial benefits to immigrants--legal and illegal--who struggle to make it. And for most of those 200 years, America  had not been suffering through financial crises during which Americans struggled to find employment. So to "welcome" millions of illegal aliens under contemporary circumstances hardly conforms to American tradition. (And why is a progressive appealing to "tradition" anyway?

The President went on with numerous other banal brayings about immigration:

"our immigration system is broken -- and everybody knows it."

Not really, It was never designed to absorb this many immigrants who simply disregard the processes for legally immigrating to this country. Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador that are broken. The leaders of those countries. should be embarrassed that so many of their citizens leave their homeland for the United States.

"All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America."

Apparently not. Scores of activists and politicians excuse the first responsibility of anyone coming to live in America: obeying the laws regarding immigration.

"And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows."

Most undocumented immigrants illegal aliens do not live in the shadows. They show up for work everyday. Most experience little fear of being detected and deported. Maybe they live their lives not quite in the shadows, but in the penumbra, where they can still work but are unable to register to vote for Democrat politicians and apply for federal benefits.

"When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system."

The President manifest no such commitment either as a senator or as president. When his party enjoyed control of both houses of Congress, it spent its political capital on ramming through the ACA, Now they are politically bankrupt and are a legislative minority. Obama must now deal with Republicans.

"I’ll make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed."

This crisis is not about skilled entrepreneurs; the issue is uneducated and unskilled immigrants pouring across the border illegally looking for jobs that we may not have for them.

"And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids."

Do these alleged gang members carry cards to identify themselves as gang members? Moreover, a greater problem is illegal aliens joining gangs after their arrival in the United States.

"These people –- our neighbors, our classmates, our friends –- they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success."

Some come to work; some come to ride. Few, however, are moved by some idealistic notion of "America's success." They work for the success of themselves and their families--even families back home where they send much of their earnings. Most native Americans--save those in the military--give little thought to how their jobs contribute to America's success.

"I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law."

He believes the best way to solve the problem of illegal immigration is to pass a law with provisions that he supports, not one that contain provisions with which he disagrees.

And that is why he issued his new, questionable executive order expanding the scope of his old questionable executive order, effectively excluding perhaps five million illegal aliens from the threat of deportation.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Stupid Party

One of the behind the scenes architects of the Affordable Care Act has just experienced his fifteen minutes of fame. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Jonathan Gruber repeatedly made  cynical observations  about our political processes and condescending remarks about American citizens in the run up to the implementation of the ACA.

Gruber's  delusions as a political analyst are exceeded only his incompetence as a drafter of the ACA.

Gruber spoke with pride about the political shrewdness of the authors of the ACA and how they deceived everyone regarding the workings of the ACA.  He most controversially referred to the American voter as  stupid.

Who was really deceived and who was really stupid?

Not conservative analysts. They repeatedly warned about just the things that Gruber acknowledged---and even more.

*   the lack of transparency
*   the transfer of wealth
*   the higher costs
*   the threats to existing insurance policies
*   the removal of  crucial health care decisions from the patients

Not even the average voter appeared deceived and stupid.

Americans voted for Obama to punish Republicans for presiding over the worst economic crisis since the great depression. They did not vote for Obama to bring revolutionary changes to our health care delivery systems. And as the voters learned more about the ACA, the threw out dozens of Democratic Party office holders in the 2010 and 2014 elections.

So who were really the deceived and and stupid voters?

They were the Democratic politicians in the House of Representatives and the Senate who voted for the Affordable Care Act without any understanding of what it entailed.

And the poster child for the deceived and stupid party? This woman of course:

Meanwhile some other websites have aggregated Pelosi=Gruber connection:

From 2009:

From 2014:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans of Holllywood

Happy Veterans Day Hollywood! Er, old Hollywood:

James Stewart , US Army Air Corps. Bomber pilot who rose to the rank of

Ernest Borgnine , US Navy. Gunners Mate 1c, destroyer USS Lamberton.

Ed McMahon, US Marines. Fighter Pilot. (Flew OE-1 Bird Dogs over Korea as

Telly Savalas , US Army.

Walter Matthau, US Army Air Corps., B-24 Radioman/Gunner and cryptographer.

Jonathan Winters, USMC. Battleship USS Wisconsin and Carrier USS Bon Homme
Richard. Anti-aircraft gunner, Battle of Okinawa ..

Paul Newman, US Navy Rear seat gunner/radioman, torpedo bombers of USS
Bunker Hill

Kirk Douglas , US Navy. Sub-chaser in the Pacific. Wounded in action and
medically discharged.

Robert Mitchum , US Army.

Dale Robertson , US Army. Tank Commander in North Africa under Patton.
Wounded twice. Battlefield Commission.

Henry Fonda , US Navy. Destroyer USS Satterlee.

Lee Marvin US Marines. Sniper. Wounded in action on Saipan . Buried in
Arlington National Cemetery , Sec. 7A next to Greg Boyington and Joe Louis.

Art Carney , US Army. Wounded on Normandy beach, D-Day. Limped for the rest
of his life.

Rod Steiger , US Navy. Was aboard one of the ships that launched the
Doolittle Raid.

Tony Curtis , US Navy. Sub tender USS Proteus. In Tokyo Bay for the
surrender of Japan .

Larry Storch. US Navy. Sub tender USS Proteus with Tony Curtis.

Forrest Tucker, US Army. Enlisted as a private, rose to Lieutenant.

Robert Montgomery , US Navy.

George Kennedy , US Army. Enlisted after Pearl Harbor , stayed in sixteen

Mickey Rooney , US Army under Patton. Bronze Star.

Burgess Meredith , US Army Air Corps.

Robert Stack , US Navy. Gunnery Officer.

Tyrone Power, US Marines. Transport pilot in the Pacific Theater.

Charlton Heston, US Army Air Corps. Radio operator and aerial gunner on a
B-25, Aleutians .

James Arness , US Army. As an infantryman, he was severely wounded at
Anzio, Italy.

Efram Zimbalist, Jr., US Army. Purple Heart for a severe wound received at
Huertgen Forest ..

Rod Serling. US Army. 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific. He jumped at
Tagaytay in the Philippines and was later wounded in Manila .

Gene Autry , US Army Air Corps. Crewman on transports that ferried supplies
over "The Hump" in the China-Burma-India Theater.

Wiliam Holden, US Army Air Corps.

Alan Hale Jr, US Coast Guard.

Harry Dean Stanton, US Navy. Battle of Okinawa .

William Conrad , US Army Air Corps. Fighter Pilot.

Jack Klugman , US Army.

Frank Sutton , US Army. Took part in 14 assault landings, including Leyte,
Luzon, Bataan and Corregidor .

Tom Bosley , US Navy.

Claude Akins , US Army. Signal Corps. , Burma and the Philippines .

Chuck Connors , US Army. Tank-warfare instructor.

Mel Brooks , US Army. Combat Engineer. Saw action in the Battle of the

Robert Altman , US Army Air Corps. B-24 Co-Pilot.

Fred Gwynne , US Navy. Radioman.

Karl Malden , US Army Air Corps. 8th Air Force, NCO.

Rock Hudson , US Navy. Aircraft mechanic, the Philippines .

Harvey Korman , US Navy.

Aldo Ray. US Navy. UDT frogman, Okinawa .

Don Knotts , US Army, Pacific Theater.

Don Rickles , US Navy aboard USS Cyrene.

Soupy Sales, US Navy. Served on USS Randall in the South Pacific.

Lee Van Cleef , US Navy. Served aboard a sub chaser then a mine sweeper.

Ted Knight , US Army, Combat Engineers.

Jack Warden , US Navy, 1938-1942, then US Army, 1942-1945. 101st Airborne

Don Adams. US Marines. Wounded on Guadalcanal , then served as a Drill

Brian Keith , US Marines. Radioman/Gunner in Dauntless dive-bombers.

Fess Parker, US Navy and US Marines. Booted from pilot training for being
too tall, joined Marines as a radio operator.

Raymond Burr , US Navy. Shot in the stomach on Okinawa and medically

Hugh O' Brian , US Marines.

Eddie Albert , US Coast Guard. Bronze Star with Combat V for saving several
Marines under heavy fire as pilot of a landing craft during the invasion of
Tarawa ..

Clark Gable , US Army Air Corps. B-17 gunner over Europe .

Charles Bronson , US Army Air Corps. B-29 gunner, wounded in action.

Peter Graves , US Army Air Corps.

Buddy Hackett , US Army anti-aircraft gunner.

Victor Mature, US Coast Guard.

Jack Palance, US Army Air Corps. Severely injured bailing out of a burning
B-24 bomber.

Robert Preston , US Army Air Corps. Intelligence Officer

Cesar Romero, US Coast Guard. Coast Guard. Participated in the invasions of
Tinian and Saipan on the assault transport USS Cavalier.

Jason Robards , US Navy. was aboard heavy cruiser USS Northampton when it
was sunk off Guadalcanal . Also served on the USS Nashville during the
invasion of the Philippines , surviving a kamikaze hit that caused 223

Steve Reeves, US Army , Philippines .

Dennis Weaver, US Navy. Pilot.

Robert Taylor , US Navy. Instructor Pilot.

Randolph Scott. Tried to enlist in the Marines but was rejected due to
injuries sustained in US Army, World War 1.

Ronald Reagan. US Army. Was a 2nd Lt. in the Cavalry Reserves before the
war. His poor eyesight kept him from being sent overseas with his unit when
war came so he transferred to the Army Air Corps Public Relations Unit where
he served for the duration.

John Wayne. Declared "4F medically unfit" due to pre-existing injuries, he
nonetheless attempted to volunteer three times (Army, Navy and Film Corps.)
so he gets honorable mention.

H/t Woodsterman. Unverified Internet Story

Monday, November 10, 2014

In Other Election News . . .

While all the pundits weigh in on the meaning of last Tuesday's Democratic debacle, they seem to have forgotten the fate of the poster child of modern Progressivism: Sandra Fluke.

Fluke secured her "fifteen minutes of fame" as a law student at Georgetown University. She prospered somewhat like a parasite, receiving the benefits of a Georgetown University education while leading a group calling themselves Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice, with worked to overturn the school's policy on providing reproductive services to students.  She knew about the universities policy on birth control benefits long before she enrolled.

She became a Progressive poster child when Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee refused to allow her to testify at hearings regarding religious exclusions from birth control mandates required by PPACA. She testified informally before Democratic Party members. After the testimony, Rush Limbaugh made her famous by calling her a slut.

After graduating from Georgetown, she relocated to California. This year she ran for a seat on the California State Senate. Under California's primary system, all candidates for state office run together without regard to party. The two top finishers, regardless of party, the face off in the general election.

Fluke finished second in the primary and so moved on to the general election. She faced fellow Democrat Ben Allen, another lawyer who previously served on the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education.

Allen defeated Fluke 60.8% to 39.2%.

Time will tell if this is the end of Fluke's meteoric political career.

Fluke's political career falling over the skies of California

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Republican Revolution?

Republicans score big in the mid-terms, recalling 2010.

Conservative need to recall also, however the observation of P. J. O'Rourke from some years back:

"The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it."

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

A re-post from last season . . .

Happy or Haunted Halloween--that syncretistic season in which pagan and Christian traditions meet, offering something for everyone.

Halloween, or Hallows eve, is the evening before the celebration of All Saints Day in the Catholic Church. Hallow, of course, is an old English word meaning holy or saint, as in the passage from the Lord's Prayer “hallowed be thy name.” All Saints Day, or All Hallows, originated when when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to Saint Mary and all the martyrs of the church on May 13, 609. It set aside that day to remember those who died in faith. The Pope probably chose this date in an attempt to suppress a Roman pagan day of the dead called the Feast of Lemures. In this pre-Christian holiday, Roman citizens cleansed their homes of spirits of lost souls by an offering of beans. Later Pope Gregory III began a tradition of remembering the faithful dead on November 1. Many decades passed, however, before Europe more uniformly recognized this new date.

Interestingly, November 1 fell on the same day as a Celtic day of the dead festival called Samhain. This marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the Celtic new year. The Irish recognized the day with the burning bonfires, lighting candles in hollowed out turnips, and dressing is disguise to ward off spirits of the dead. Adults and children practiced “guising” by going house to house costumed in disguise offering entertainment in return for food and money. And Celtic priests led processions to the village gates to leave food offerings to ward away spirits.

In North America this tradition continued with the lighting of pumpkins and children “guising” door to door requesting “treats” with the implied threat that a “trick” may follow if the one does not comply with the demand for a treat.

In light of the pagan origins of Halloween customs, churches have approached the day differently according to their own traditions. Some mainline Protestant denominations retain All Saint's Day on their calendar of religious holidays. Other more traditional reformed churches recognize Reformation Day instead. On October 31, 1517  Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting his protests against several practices of the Catholic Church on the door of All Saint's Church in Wittenberg.

Many American fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches who believe they derive their theology straight from the bible and know next to nothing about church history hold “Harvest Festivals.” Christians kids can avoid the pagan habit of dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” door to door by, well, dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” at the church gymnasium.

And then there's those churches who use the season for evangelism by creating their own versions of haunted houses . These houses usually sport the name "Tribulation House" or "Hell House" and  dramatically portray the "Good News" of the great tribulation and damnation. Below is a clip for one from a few years ago.

Personally, I participate on a strictly limited basis.

I put out  a small table.

I post a sign explaining that I had to go out of town, but that I left this large bowl of candy for all the "trick or treaters."

I urge them to be honest on only take one piece.

Then I place an empty bowl on the table and turn out the lights.

Now I am ready for Halloween

So happy Halloween! Er Lemuria. Er Samhain.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rocking the Vote

As the mid-term elections approach, we learn from an article by Professors Jesse Richman and David Earnest at the Washington Post about the possible extent of voter fraud and how it may affect the outcomes of close contests.

Using data obtained by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, the authors offer the following findings:

Fourteen percent of non-citizens registered to vote in both the 2008 general election and the 2010 midterms.

Over six percent of these non-citizens actually voted in the 2008 elections while over two percent voted in the 2010 midterms. (That translates into 1.4 million votes for 2008 and nearly 500,000 for 2010.)

Such voters may well have provided the margin of victory in Al Franken's United States Senate campaign in Minnesota and in Barack Obama's victory in North Carolina.

In a reversal of patterns regarding citizen voters, non-citizens without a college degree reported higher participation than non-citizens who earned a college degree. The authors attribute this pattern to lack of knowledge about laws regarding voting among those non-citizen voters without a college degree. It may also rest upon uneducated non-citizen voters merely disregarding the law. Lower educated citizens disregard all laws in higher proportions than to educated citizens.

Interestingly, the conservative remedy for illegal voting--photo identification--seems to have no effect. Photo identification are often required even in fake elections in some countries.

Democrats oppose voter identification laws. (It is funny that even they assume illegal voters will vote Democratic.) The authors report, however,  that such regulations failed to prevent illegal voting. Non-citizen voters reported that in most cases they actually provided photo identification. They were illegally registered--but they were registered nonetheless. Since their photo identification matched the information contained in their illegal voter registration, they encountered no obstacle to illegally voting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Of Weddings and Words

After years of assuring Americans who hold conservative religious beliefs that legalization of same sex marriage will not impact them in the least, advocates of same sex marriage now seek to force conservative Christian ministers to perform same sex marriages.

The town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho passed an ordinance outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Now that a federal court has required that the state recognize same sex marriages, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation now includes same sex marriage.

Donald and Evelyn Knapp are ordained ministers in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. They operate a Wedding Chapel called "The Hitching Post." Apparently, some local man phoned about scheduling a wedding for him and his male partner. The Knapps turned him down and now a legal battle has ensued.

The case is somewhat complicated by the fact that "The Hitching Post" is not a church; it is  a business defined as a public accommodation.  State law, however, does not recognize the distinction. It protects the right to act or not to act according to one's religious beliefs-- without regard to the particular setting. So the Knapps will probably win this one.

It is also a case of free speech. Those who believe that the law requires the Knapps to perform same sex weddings essentially are forcing them the speak words that they do not want to speak. 

And in this case, it is more than just about words. 

Much of our human "social reality" or social institutions rests upon speech acts, where the speaking of words by an authorized entity actually creates the reality. For example, when the US Treasury or Federal Reserve says that those sheets of cellulose fibers stained with green ink are "legal tender for all debts public and private," those words make it so. When a Dean of a College of Liberal Arts declares someone a Master of Arts, those words make is so. When a public school principle or superintendent declares that someone has completed the requirements for earning a diploma, those words make is so. When the IRS declares a local tea party organization a tax exempt entity, those words make it so.

And when a minister says that "by the power invested in my by the state of  Idaho, I pronounce you man and wife," those words make it so. 

To force someone to speak words that conflict with one's beliefs, religious or otherwise, is a most egregious violation of individual liberty.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

White House Weekly Address: More on the Minimum Wage

In his most recent, Weekly Address, President Barack Obama continued to congratulate his administration for economic recovery and call for a raise in the federal minimum wage.

And he peddles the same issues that he alleges will improve upon the recovery: rebuilding our transportation infrastructure, insuring fair pay for women (i.e.--paying them by some other standard than the market demand for their skills, and restructuring student loans.

"That’s why I’m going to keep pushing policies that will create more jobs faster and raise wages faster – policies like rebuilding our infrastructure, making sure women are paid fairly, and making it easier for young people to pay off their student loans."

The President's primary agenda, however, is securing a raise in the federal minimum wage.  He wants Americans to ask themselves the following question:

"Ask yourself: could you live on $14,500 a year?  That’s what someone working full-time on the minimum wage makes.  If they’re raising kids, that’s below the poverty line."

Of course, the vast majority of federal minimum wage earners are not full timers attempting the raise a family; they are part timers working to help pay bills or earn some extra spending money.

He follows with the obligatory moral judgment:

 "And that’s not right.  A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay."

That's just political rhetoric. Of course a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. But who decides what is fair? The President? The employer thought the wage was fair because that was offered based upon the new hire's education and skills. The part timer earning minimum wage apparently thought the wage fair, since he contracted to accept that wage. . And many people receive a "fair day's pay" even when they have not worked especially hard at all. 

"It also means they’ll have more money to spend at local businesses – which grows the economy for everyone."

It does meant that. But it also means those local business might be paying our higher wages and charging higher prices. That is not growing the economy. That is inflation.

"That’s why, since the first time I asked Congress to give America a raise, 13 states, 21 cities and D.C. have gone around Congress to raise their workers’ wages.  Five more states have minimum wage initiatives on the ballot next month.  More companies are choosing to raise their workers’ wages.  A recent survey shows that a majority of small business owners support a gradual increase to ten-ten an hour, too.  And I’ve done what I can on my own by requiring federal contractors to pay their workers at least ten-ten an hour."

And this it how is should be done private businesses and local jurisdictions determining what is a "fair wage." Labor markets and costs of living differ significantly between states and regions.

And finally this:

 "Because America deserves a raise right now.  And America should forever be a place where your hard work is rewarded."

Again, the President seems clueless that Americans receive wages all the time. Although may people start out at the federal minimum wage, few stay there. Hard work not only should be rewarded, it almost always is rewarded.

Government bureaucracies are not the only ones that take care of employees.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Media Muddle-Mindedness and Western ISIS Fighters

Western news agencies and Western politicians continue to warn the public about the shocking stream of people from Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States flowing to Syria to join ISIS. Their alarm maybe an uncertain trumpet, or at least one severely out of tune.

Articles by Western media will note the numbers of "British citizens" or "Canadian citizens" etc. who have left for Syria. These articles often subsequently describe these people as "Westerners." It is a serious confusion of terminology, however, to conflate "citizens" of Western countries with "Westerners." The vast majority of these so-called "Westerners" are Muslims who have immigrated to Europe or North America in pursuit of economic advancement. They may even have become citizens. But many have never assimilated to a meaningful degree into Western liberal, secular culture and its moral relativity. Now they return to the Syria to fight under the illusion of moral and religious certitude represented by ISIS.

The two most egregious articles are here and here. In the first, a so-called "Glasgow girl" from Scotland left her friends and family for Syria. Readers of this headline were no doubt bewildered unless they read beyond the sensationalist headline to learn her name is  Aqsa Mahmood and her family immigrated to Scotland from the world's largest insane asylum commonly known as Pakistan.  In the second, a couple of Austrian girls named Samra Kesinovic and Sabina Selimovic left for Syria. Though described as Austrian, they immigrated to Austria from Iraq. 

                                          Samra and Sabina--which is which? It does not matter. 
                                          If their experience is like that of other "Western" ISIS fighters, 
                                          they will be dead and forgotten in a matter of weeks.

Thousands of Muslim immigrants have immigrated to Europe and North America over the last couple of decades and many of them refuse to assimilate into a Western culture dramatically different from that from which they came. We see this manifested everyday on  internet news sites when Muslim immigrants demand the same Sharia law and religious practices that have made their homelands such a cultural backwater. How could  anyone but a journalist be surprised that hundreds return home to fight for the ISIS illusion?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Impotent Islamists

While media pundits sound the alarm about ISIS and imminent attacks on the United States, ISIS "spokesmen" play upon such fears with cruel and gruesome videos of the beheadings of two American journalists--James Foley and Steven Sotloff. These videos features narratives threatening harm to American and calling out President Obama by name--as if the narrator enjoys some kind of parity with the President of the United States.

From the first video:

"This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen of your country. As a government you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State. You have plotted against us and gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. 

"Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You are no longer fighting an insurgency.

"We are an Islamic army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.

"So any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic Caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people."

“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision."

From the second video:

“I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic 

State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and [unclear] on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. You, Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people…

We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”

Although cruel and gruesome, these executions simply expose these burqa wearing Bedouins as impotent, frustrated, dreamers living in the past. Centuries have passed since the idea of a caliphate evoked the least bit fear among rational people in the West. Taking hostages and murdering unarmed journalists hardly constitute some kind of existential threat. They are the actions of the weak and impotent.

Unfortunately some media pundits apparently believe that cutting the throat of  unarmed American citizens means that ISIS will soon make good their boast of hoisting their flag at the White House.

Meanwhile, other influential people seek instill fear of ISIS among Americans. In a recent  interview, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warns that ISIS could hit Europe or the United States in two months. As an assessment of the military capabilities of ISIS, this is as speculative as any judgement that I myself have made. As a propaganda piece, this interview is slick. He seeks to draw the United States back into the Middle East to fight for the interests of Saudi Arabia.

 As custodian of Islamic holy sites and the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia claims the leadership of the Islamic world. ISIS poses a direct threat to that leadership through its aim of creating a caliphate uniting as many Arabs as possible under one ruling authority. They possess billions of dollars of United States weaponry, yet they refuse to fight.

 Why not?

They know that the United States will do their fighting for them and suffer all the negative consequences of intervention in the Middle East. They will remain silent, of course, and publicly unsupportive of whatever actions we take.

With all his armaments, King Abdullah should send forth a fearsome "roar" as the lion of the Arabian peninsula that he claims to be. Instead, all we hear is a plaintive "mew."

                          King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

Monday, August 25, 2014

Folly in Ferguson

The unfolding of events the last week or so in Ferguson, Missouri evoke that Deja Vu phenomenon of "we have all been here before."

An unarmed black teen,Michael Brown, is shot to death by a white police officer named Darren Wilson..

Although only a few people know the facts--and even then only partially--everyone spreads the "word on the street." Or words--because of the competing versions of what happened. Wilson shot Brown in the back while running away. Wilson shot Brown in the back four times and then walked up to put put four more bullets in him while he lay prostrate on the ground. Wilson shot Brown as he tried to surrender with his arms raised.

Whatever the version of events, the people who hear the stories experience confirmation bias--they accept only that information that confirms their worst suspicions. And this is reinforced by a phenomenon known as social proof or group think--bringing one's beliefs in conformity with those around you.

Then the manipulation of (or by?) the mainstream media begins. Supporters of Brown provide a flattering photo of Brown as a high school graduate and future college student.

He is remembered as a "Gentle Giant."

Local residents organize protests calling for justice. They create a symbol for the event--in this case, hands raised. Others outside Ferguson embrace the narrative--and the symbol.

                                          Howard University Students: We are Michael Brown

Meanwhile, other residents of Ferguson seek justice of another sort. (H/T Conservative Treehouse)

Suspecting that the local QuikTrip called the police about an alleged theft by Brown, they loot and burn it.

They spray paint a message on the side of the QuikTrip.

Then when they learn--oops--that Ferguson's Market called the police, they loot and burn it.

The police department, of course, will say nothing. It will be conducting an internal investigation. It will interview the police officer, review any security video, and interview any witnesses. It will brush aside media requests for information because they are in the process of conducting that investigation.

Without any competing narrative, too many people in Ferguson (and elsewhere) remained convinced that their version of events it true. The demand for blood justice lead to overcharging. Overcharging leads to acquittal. Acquittal leads to frustration, anger, and even violence.

And then it will happen all over in another town after another shooting.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Emasculated Muslim

Headlines the last few weeks have expressed alarm over the progress of a militant Islamic group calling themselves ISIS, the Islamic State In Iraq and Syria.  Summary executions, beheadings, and even crucifixions mark the path of their destructive march that they hope will reach Baghdad. 

With Baghdad still beyond their reach, they already issue threats against the United States. At the 4:40 mark of the video, ISIS spokesman Abu Mosa makes clear the ambitions of ISIS:

“I say to America that the Islamic Caliphate has been established. Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.” 

The aspirations to resurrect the Caliphate manifest romantic notions about Islam's past, when it motivated Arabs to pour out of the Arabian peninsula for a remarkable series of conquests that reached from Spain in the West to India in the East. And silly pundits on television tremble in fear at the mention of "caliphate."

The Arabs established the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in the 8th century. The Abbasid caliphate ruled the Middle East from Baghdad between 750 to 1258 AD--until the arrival of the steppe peoples. Various tribes of Turks established themselves in the Middle East, displacing the Arabs in Asia Minor. Domination by the Turks may have been bearable because the Turks actually converted to Islam. The Mongols under Jenghiz Khan, however,  did not convert. They overwhelmed Arab armies, captured Baghdad in 1258 and slaughtered the ruling family. The caliphate of Baghdad was no more.

The Turks, however, expanded their control over the Arab world and continued to dominate the Middle East until World War I. The Arab Muslims only regained their independence after armies from the West defeated the Turks in the war.

 Despite their independence and the enormous wealth provided by their oil reserves, the Arab Muslims remain somewhat of a backwater, not quite in the "Third World" but certainly bypassed by the the modern world. They cannot even impose their will upon Israel, whose social and technological sophistication derived from their modern European cultural foundation make them formidable opponents. 

They have been emasculated by modernity.

While most Arabs content themselves with the basics of work and family and are not especially bothered by the Islamic world's impotence, a small percentage find themselves enraged by it all. And they romanticize about the glories of caliphates past and fantasize about the conquest of that symbol of Western power and domination--the United States. 

Their boast reveal their ignorance. ISIS spokesman Abu Mosa, surrounded by sword bearing fighters for Allah,  challenges the United States to find man to man without the drones. The basic theme running through changing military technology is increasing the distance between your soldiers and the enemy combatants so that they can kill without themselves being killed--from bows, to gunpowder, to planes, to ICBMs.

ISIS wants to pretend that the last 14 centuries never happened. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Skipping School

Another area in which Americans seem to be detaching themselves from experiences they share in common is the public school system.

Of course, some of my conservative friends call them government schools--a name with a pejorative connotation in this era when the public holds such a low opinion of the government and the elected (and appointed) officials that operate it.

This original name was common schools,  because states established them for everyone to attend. Before the advent of the common school, most children received a rudimentary education at home and from local tutors. Wealthier people hired private tutors to live in the home and teach the children or helped to establish quasi-public schools funded primarily through tuition. Many ministers organized schools, especially to train future ministers. And some states had charity schools to provide at least some education to those children who could not afford tuition. These schools taught learning, Protestant piety,

States created common school for everyone to attend, regardless of wealth. Financed chiefly state expenditures, the common schools developed as part of a system from grade school to state colleges. By the mid-nineteenth century, most medium sized towns and cities could boast of a "Central High School," that drew children from all areas of the city.

Over the past fifty years, however, Americans  have expressed their dissatisfaction with the schools by leaving them. Wealthier Americans acted first, created private college prep days schools to provide their children an edge. Admittedly small in numbers, they perceive that common schools with mandatory attendance inevitably leads to lowered academic standards. (The exit parallels their exclusiveness in other areas as well. Planned residential communities of our modern era separate families by income. And some segregate themselves in public entertainments--a luxury box at the football stadium with smoked salmon and champagne provides escape from mixing with the hoi polloi and their hot dogs, nachos, and beer.)

Court ordered  integration led to an exodus into so-called segregationist academies. Court ordered bans on organized prayer and the decline of school attention to teaching moral virtue has led to the formation of Christian day schools. It is more than just a matter of educational quality. Even school systems with achievement levels that far exceed those of other systems find dozens of private schools in their midst.

One of the newest trends is home schooling. Many Americans, either for financial reasons or ideological ones, have withdrawn even from private education--choosing to keep their children at home. This has given rise to a cottage industry for providing educational materials for home schooling parents and conventions where homeschooling parents meet to exchange ideas and materials and see presentations by home school curriculum developers.

Now sure about "The meaning of it all."

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Retreat to Privacy at Poolside

Our shrinking civic life seems to include the non-political aspects of sociability as well.

When I lived my childhood in Miami, the beaches served as the primary swimming venue. We did not learn to swim, however, at the beach. We learned to swim at  county parks and recreation pools.  And in several cities where I have lived the only place most people could swim was at the city or county pool.

Over the years, as my parents became more affluent, we lived in neighborhoods that boasted of pools for the exclusive use of the homeowners. If I remember accurately, my friends and I spent at least part of every summer day at the neighborhood pool. Dozens of kids swarmed all over the grounds, either swimming or enjoying the playground equipment. I never much thought about it before, but I guess the attraction of a neighborhood pool was its convenience and  the escape it provided from swimming with strangers from another part of town. A bit of privacy if you will.

Now I own a home in a neighborhood with a pool. On my days off from work I will spend an hour or so taking in the sun and swimming for a few minutes. I usually make my way down early in the morning before the space gets too crowded and the day gets too hot. Early in the morning I share the pool with some older women swimming in their burqas accompanied with their grand kids. I have made it down to the pool in the afternoon, but the state of affairs becomes much hotter in a number of ways. The afternoon temperatures make even the poolside much too unbearable for this fifty-something year old man. In addition, the handful of neighborhood college girls make their way down to the pool by then, turning up the temperature in a manner of speaking. (I still ponder how to react. At my age is appreciating a college girl stretched out on a chaise lounge an "innocent pleasure of life" thing? Or is it a "creepy old man thing?"

A couple of observations along the way. First, my neighborhood pool never attracts the number of kids that the pool of my childhood. Do kids today have other interests? Do they instead play video games about swimming, manipulating their third level gnome through a gauntlet of swimmers, rafts, and noodles to some confrontation with "the boss"--the lifeguard?

Second, and more to the point of this post, I notice the number of neighbors who have dropped $30,000 or more to put a pool in their backyard. I can stand on my front porch and point  to six neighbors with concrete dug-in pools in their back yard. They seek privacy not only from the strangers that they encounter at a city pool, but also from their closest neighbors.

Its my neighborhood pool on the internet!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Shrinking Civic Life

In the 19th century, voter participation  in Presidential elections often approached 80%  of eligible voters. Of course, back in them thar days, eligible voter meant white males twenty one years of age or over.

Over the course of several decades, reforms have made our political processes much more democratic. The right to vote has been expanded to include women,  African Americans, and those 18 years old and above.

Moreover, we vote on more issues than ever before. The direct election of United States Senators and the expansion of the referendum the initiative, and the recall has increased the opportunities for participation in civic life.

Yet these days voter participation in Presidential elections runs about 50 percent.

I wonder why this is so.

Modern life is certainly more regimented than 19th century life, constraining our time to participate in civic life. Both our work and our leisure time follow schedules these days.

Many more activities compete for our time and attention. One hundred years ago politics served as a main source of both education and entertainment.  With  no television, radio, recording industry, or organized sports, politics and civic life found little competition for the time and attention of the average citizen.

And perhaps we have too many elections. When citizens demand that more decisions be placed in their own hands rather than in the hands of their elected representatives, than means more demands upon our time and attention.

Maybe too many citizens believe their votes do not count. With large corporations, unions, and sundry other interest groups  wielding money and the ability to influence thousands if not tens of thousands of voters, perhaps many citizens experience increased frustration and a sense of powerlessness.

Participation in civic life, however,  has decreased on the state and local level as well.Voter participation in state and local offices remains even lower than in national elections. And who even shows up to meetings  where "the voice of the people" is supposed to be heard? Few citizens attend meetings of the  county commissioners or city council. Even at my local homeowners association meeting few residents attend.  At least five years have passed since we actually assembled the number of residents needed to constitute a quorum. The HOA continues to enforce the covenants, but without a quorum no improvements can be made.

Monday, August 4, 2014

In his most recent Weekly Address, the President notices the middle class:

AFter five and half years, the President finally gets his priorities straight:

My top priority as President is doing everything I can to create more jobs and more opportunities for hardworking families to get ahead.
As is his pattern,  he notes the progress of the the economic recovery.

"On Friday, we learned that our economy created over 200,000 new jobs in July. That’s on top of about 300,000 new jobs in June. We’re now in a six-month streak with at least 200,000 new jobs each month. That hasn’t happened since 1997. All told, our businesses have created 9.9 million jobs over the past 53 months. That’s the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history."

The President cites several random, unrelated policies that he has advocated on previous occasions:

"That’s what’s at stake right now. Making sure our economy works for every working American. Making sure that people who work hard can get ahead. That’s why I’ve been pushing for common-sense ideas like rebuilding our infrastructure in a way that supports millions of good jobs and helps our businesses compete. Raising the minimum wage. Making it easier for working folks to pay off their student loans. That’s why I’ve been pushing for fair pay and paid leave."

Yes, we need a well-functioning infrastructure. In fact, the earliest American politicians that historians describe as "conservative" originated the idea of an infrastructure to tie together the states funded by the national government--things like roads, canals, and later railroads.

The other proposals create some difficulties. Raising the minimum wage, regulating wages based upon gender, and expanding paid leave may help the middle class American who apply for such benefits. They will not help the middle class businessmen and women who have to pay out these benefits.

And the President seems to believe that recent college graduates make minimum wage. He links minimum wage increase and college debt sequentially in this passage. So it may be unfair to suggest that the President believes that recent college graduates earn the minimum wage once out of school  But in his Weekly Address of June 28, he explicitly told us that raising the minimum wage will help people pay off college loans. I sure hope that recent college grads earn more than minimum wage.

The President ties these diverse policy objectives together:

"These policies have two things in common. All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure. And all of them have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress."

He urges Americans to action:

Ask them why they haven’t passed bills to raise the minimum wage or help with student loans or enact fair pay for women.

It makes for a nice rhetorical flourish. Some Americans may want to ask Congress about it. But some middle class Americans just aren't buying it. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Taxing Experience

In the most recent Weekly Address from the White House, President Obama addressed the issue of corporate tax loopholes.

Obama opens his address by noting the extent of his economic recovery:

"Hi, everybody. Our businesses have now added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months. The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September 2008 – the fastest one-year drop in nearly 30 years. 401(k)s are growing, fewer homes are underwater, and for the first time in more than a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that the world’s number one place to invest isn’t China; it’s the United States of America – and our lead is growing."

He notes a problem:

"But there’s another trend that threatens to undermine the progress you’ve helped make. Even as corporate profits are as high as ever, a small but growing group of big corporations are fleeing the country to get out of paying taxes. They’re keeping most of their business inside the United States, but they’re basically renouncing their citizenship and declaring that they’re based somewhere else, just to avoid paying their fair share."

And he is right. Chiefly through a practice called inversion, many large companies move overseas to a more hospitable environment in respect to taxes. And he is right to compare this practice to renouncing citizenship. The directors of many large corporations appear more beholden to their company and its stockholders than to their own country. We have witnessed this already in the flight of companies to China in order to utilize a more docile and less demanding work force. The leader in this trend has been Walmart, which severs business transactions with American electronics and textile firms that pay more than $10 per hour in favor of Chinese based suppliers who pay their labor about $1.75 per hour. (I am still waiting for a congressman with the right amount of snark to give a tongue-in-cheek speech lamenting that American companies can no longer exploit their workers and so have to forced to move the communist workers' paradise of China in order to realized all the surplus value profit off the labor of the working class.)

As usual, however, the President stumbles over himself. 

After demanding that these American companies pay "their fair share," he notes the unfairness of American tax law. 

The best way to level the playing field is through tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate, closes wasteful loopholes, and simplifies the tax code for everybody. But stopping companies from renouncing their citizenship just to get out of paying their fair share of taxes is something that cannot wait. That’s why, in my budget earlier this year, I proposed closing this unpatriotic tax loophole for good. Democrats in Congress have advanced proposals that would do the same thing. A couple Republicans have indicated they want to address this too, and I hope more join us.

The President claims that such reforms cannot wait. Then why has he waited for six years?

Yes, you saw it coming. Its Taxman . . .

Monday, July 28, 2014

Buyer's Remorse

CNN reports the Americans are experiencing "buyers remorse" over the decision to reelect President Barack Obama over challenger Mitt Romney.

In a CNN/ORC International poll conducted between July 18-20,2014, those surveyed favored Romney over Obama by nine percentage points--53-44. This results revealed an increase in the preference from similar polls conducted earlier.

It seems the more voters see of the Obama administration, the less they like it. And now they wish the election turned the other way.

A far more interesting case of "buyer's remorse" below. Remember this woman, a "poster child" among conservatives for "everything that is wrong in America?"

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cue the Music for Another Supreme Court Shuffle

Who can forget Justice John Roberts performing the "Supreme Court Shuffle" when, in a last minute change of heart, ruled that the PPACA "fine" was really a "tax" and thereby passed constitutional muster.

Now the stage is set for another dance.

Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against the government in its application of tax subsidies for insurance purchased in federal exchanges. The PPACA in Section 36B authorizes the IRS to provide tax credits to those who purchase insurance in the state insurance exchanges. The problem is that many states refused to set up exchanges. Consequently, the federal government set up its own exchanges in those states. The legal question at hand concerned whether the IRS could provide tax credits to purchases of insurance in those federal exchanges.

The Court of Appeals in a 2-1 ruled that the plain language of the PPACA permits tax credits ONLY for insurance purchased in state exchanges. That rulings effectively eliminates tax credits in the 36 states where the federal government set up its own exchanges.

A very brief summary can be read here. The entire ruling is uploaded here.

Reading  the entire PPACA or even a summarizing it will, of course, make your head explode.

The supporters of the PPACA already putting together the dance cards for another "Supreme Court Shuffle."

Recently one of the chief developers of the PPACA, Joanthan Gruber,  claimed that a "typo" accounts for alleged misreading by the Court of Appeals. That is a strange enough claim in itself; lawyers more than anyone else know the significance of every word, letter, and punctuation mark.  More interesting, though, is what he claimed several months ago. The juxtaposition of the "then" and "now" below:

Will John Roberts accept his invitation to dance?