Monthly Archives: February 2011

Mike Huckabee’s American History Lesson

Or to be more accurate, alternative American history lesson. Mike Huckabee, who is leading ABC’s latest G.O.P. presidential poll, informed George Stephanopoulos that President Obama will be very difficult to beat because “only one time since 1868 has an incumbent president been taken out who ran for reelection and that’s when Jimmy Carter ran in 1980.” (At the 1:17 mark)

Oh yeah, I forgot – George H.W. Bush won reelection in 1992 (despite violating his “no new taxes” pledge) and Bill Clinton ran again later to beat Dan Quayle in 1996.

What’s a little surprising to me is how little play this has received so far and that Stephanopoulos, who worked on Bill Clinton’s successful campaign to defeat the incumbent President Bush, didn’t call him on it! Why did he let Huckabee get by with this blatant historical error?

Okay, so he got his facts wrong, how is this different from other faux pas of presidential candidates of recent memory?

This one is different. This wasn’t a hasty misstatement of how many states are in the union or a slip of the tongue, Huckabee apparently has spent some time contemplating how Jimmy Carter is the only incumbent president to be voted out of office since 1868. He wanted very much to “remind” the viewers of this historical “fact.”

This is a man who would be president.

A big deal?

You tell me.

War and Peace

No, seriously, War and Peace. I found it on the top 100 lists of free Kindle books, and decided that reading War and Peace was one of those things I probably had to do in my life to call myself a serious reader.

Bad decision. As I remarked to a good friend, it was meandering, it seemed to lack any true central conflict about any particular character, and it was infused with a very particularly Russian fatalism. At the end of the day, I had no real emotional attachment or involvement in the story, and the last 20% or so was simply a slog through to be able to say I finished it. To thus my fried replied, “yep, that pretty well describes Russian literature.”

However, one specific attribute of that fatalism I found quite interesting, and possibly timely:

That the peoples of the west might be able to accomplish the military march upon Moscow, which they did accomplish, it was essential (1) that they should be combined in a military group of such a magnitude as to be able to withstand the resistance of the military group of the east; (2) that they should have renounced all their established traditions and habits; and (3) that they,should have at their head a man able to justify in his own name and theirs the perpetration of all the deception, robbery, and murder that accompany that movement.

And to start from the French Revolution, that old group of insufficient magnitude is broken up; the old habits and traditions are destroyed; step by step a group is elaborated of new dimensions, new habits, and new traditions; and the man is prepared, who is to stand at the head of the coming movement, and to take upon himself the whole responsibility of what has to be done.

While I’m not a believer in either the societal or personal fatalism espoused by Tolstoy, one can make an argument that what “had to be done” was to crumble the final vestiges of feudalism’s legitimacy in society. This can’t occur by overthrowing a single despot. Political change of that magnitude must be jarring enough to destroy even the memory of what came before it. Society, like a phoenix, must be destroyed and rise from its own ashes to build anew.

Britain, while still a monarchy, had largely transitioned from a feudal society to a mercantile society. America was still a pre-teen on the world stage. Europe, though, was still fighting the final stages to break off the chains of feudalism and monarchy. The slaughter of the French Revolution produced Napoleon, and Napoleon slaughtered Europe.

Is this what “had to be done”? Millions dead, cities burned, the entire existing social hierarchy torn from its roots? Perhaps it did have to occur. Feudalism and monarchy are stories of powerful entrenched interests and a complacent underclass. It is not enough to cast those bonds off on paper; they must be cast off in the soul. This is not easy to do without a jarring blow.

At the end of the French & Russian war, swaths of Europe had been destroyed, and the people were prepared to accept peace — peace on different terms than had existed previously. Society could now be built on a foundation other than feudalism and monarchy. It needed to occur, but it was only the jarring blow that allowed people to come to terms with what was needed.

War is messy. War is hell. War is cruel and painful. But war works.
-John Fuller, my high school AP US History teacher

At the end of the US Civil War, hundreds of thousands of Americans lay dead, essentially to right a wrong that had been building since before the Declaration of Independence. Was war truly necessary to free the slaves? No, but war was probably necessary to settle, in the minds of America, that the freedom had been won. The Civil War was a black mark on the history of America, but nobody can say that the question of slavery was left unsettled at its conclusion.

Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and — thoroughly immoral doctrine that violence never solves anything I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler would referee. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor; and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms.
-Robert A. Heinlein

The thesis that a jarring blow is necessary to effect the inevitable social changes that occur over time, though, is troubling to me. It’s troubling because I see significant social changes on the horizon.

Technology has brought us global, immediate, and zero-cost-of-entry communication, cutting the information stranglehold of governments and destroying entire business models in the process. Modern communication and modern transportation have made the world smaller, perhaps finally putting the lie to economic mercantilism. Governments have been debasing fiat currencies for decades since the end of Bretton Woods II, and global financial stability appears to be solely based on nations’ ability to lend to each other [especially to the US].

There seems to be a palpable tension building in the world and it’s unclear where it will lead. Much of that tension has already been seen in Iran, Greece, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. There is tension both within China and in America’s trade/debt relationship with that nation. Unlike some hyperbolic pundits, I won’t quite put Madison in a category as serious as those just discussed, but a fight between fiscal reality, monetary stability, and the promises of government is certainly brewing — and that fight won’t be pleasant.

The world 25 years from now may very well be a place that people alive today don’t quite recognize. But there are a lot of people invested in this one, who will be very upset to see it change. So there’s only one question, and a troubling one, to ask. What sort of jarring blow is on the horizon to cleanse us of the old ways?

Quote Of The Day

Barbara Boxer, on what apparently is the greatest outrage she’s ever seen in Congress.

A lot of them are sleeping in their offices. You tell me one other person that you know Mr. President that is allowed to sleep in the office of their corporation that they may work for. As far as I know, there is nobody. They don’t pay any rent. They sleep in their offices. So they do all these things. They don’t help the housing crisis and they sleep in their offices.

You know, I often give comedians who get into trouble for offensive non-PC jokes a lot of slack. Comedy is *hard*, after all.

Who knew that manufactured outrage was even more difficult to do without sounding tone-deaf?

Exonerated After 18 Years on Death Row, Anthony Graves Will Not Be Compensated on a Legal Technicality

Anthony Graves, the 12th death row inmate to be exonerated in Texas, will not receive his $1.4 million compensation for serving 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The sum of $1.4 million might sound like a lot of money until one considers all the years of lost income potential, time pursuing his dreams, time with family and friends, and basically enjoying the everyday freedoms most of us take for granted. When considering what Anthony Graves has lost, $1.4 million is a mere pittance of what he deserves and an insult to any notion of justice.

But Anthony Graves will not get $1.4 million pittance from the State of Texas despite this injustice.


The Texas Comptroller’s office’s rationale is that the phrase “actual innocence” is nowhere to be found in the judge’s ruling that set Graves free. Apparently, none of the other combinations of words to which most reasonable people would reach that very conclusion in the judge’s ruling doesn’t matter. As Donald Pennington put it writing for Yahoo! News, Anthony Graves has been “Twice Robbed by the State of Texas.”

Pennington writes:

Why weren’t state employees, such as the prosecutor, as adamant about following the rules when they were trying the case? It was discovered by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 that prosecutors had withheld evidence and elicited false testimony in their case against Anthony Graves from 1994. If the “rule of law” is so important to these sorts of bureaucrats, why are those rules so subjectively applied?

For that matter, when prosecutors commit these sorts of abuses, why aren’t they brought up on charges? Isn’t this sort of case a perfect example of unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, and felony conspiracy? Since Anthony Graves was, in fact, on death row for something he did not do, shouldn’t those people working in the prosecutor’s office (at the time) be charged with attempted murder?

I couldn’t agree more with Pennington’s sentiments here. Why can’t the prosecutor and those working for him be charged with these above crimes? I imagine that if prosecutors were actually held criminally responsible for what would be crimes if committed by anyone else, we might then (finally) hear some talk of reforming the system. Let one prosecutor receive a death sentence for falsely putting someone else on death row, just one…

USA PATRIOT Act Extension Provisions Passed the House; Time to Name Names

Just yesterday, the GOP led House, after failing to do so last week, renewed three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act concerning government agents snooping private business records, so-called “lone wolf” individuals suspected of being a terrorist, and the roving wiretap provision. Despite glaring civil liberties concerns, the bill was rushed through with virtually no debate and no hearings.

Now it’s time to name names. But rather than name the names of those who betrayed the Constitution, instead I decided to name the names of those 117 Democrats and 27 Republicans who actually upheld their oath and voted against extending these provisions of the so-called Patriot Act. If you do not find your congressperson on this list s/he either voted in favor of the extension or didn’t vote at all. To see the entire roll call, click here.

The U.S. Senate also overwhelmingly renewed the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act 86-12. Of the 12 that opposed the bill, 9 were Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 1 independent (Click here for the complete roll call vote). Below are the names of those who opposed the extension:

Max Baucus (D-MT)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Patty Murry (D-WA)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Tom Udall (D-NM)

1 2 3 4 5