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A Few Quick Words About Small Government May 22, 2010

We don’t have a lot of time for a big discussion today, but I wanted to take a second and talk about basic Federal Government economics as they apply to Rand Paul.

It is his stated vision to reduce the size of Government…and it is an undeniable reality that the vast majority of the Federal Budget is focused on only a few areas of spending.

Today, we’ll quickly run through that economic reality, and we’ll challenge Dr. Paul to tell us where he stands.

So it’s about as basic as this: the four biggest items in the budget are Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, the Department of Defense budget, and interest on the Federal debt.

Those four items are 80% of the total 2011 budget.

What does that mean?

That means you can get rid of every other thing that Government does–no more people overseeing oil drilling, no food inspections, or border security, no FBI or ATF or DEA or CIA, or OSHA or MSHA, no National Guard or air traffic control or Coast Guard or NASA…or Department of Agriculture or food stamps, either–you can get rid of all of it, and government will still be 80% of what it is today.

And that means that the only way you can really make the Federal Government smaller…is to cut one or more of those four core activities that Government is performing.

So which one will it be, Dr. Paul?

Are you against Medicare and Medicaid?
Should it be ended today?

What about Social Security?
Are you ready to tell Kentucky voters that Social Security should end, today?

Are you ready to tell Kentucky voters that you do not believe that the US should be the world leader in military technologies?

Do you think China should be the preeminent military power?

Let’s get these questions in front of Dr. Paul, and even as he tries to dodge questions about the right of Woolworth’s to keep its lunch counter white, let’s make him face these questions as well…which are neither abstract nor obscure.

 

On The Fear Of Government, Or, Let’s Get Back To Basics March 11, 2010

It seems like everywhere you look these days, someone’s trying to spread…The Fear.

All around us…in every town…on every corner…a massive Army Of Fear is standing by, according to the Messengers, ready at a moment’s notice to obey the dictates of some unappointed Czar or another.

Just ask Glenn Beck: concentration camps for the white people, jackbooted stormtroopers ready to snatch the guns from your cold dead fingers…Socialist Government-Controlled Healthcare That Threatens Your Not Socialist Medicare…it’s all coming, my friends—and unless we organize, as a community, to return to the values of the Founding Fathers, The Government, meaning that awful Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and George Soros and all the other Evil Community Organizers, will win.

There’s no government, we’re told, like no government.

You know who would find all of this fear of self-government just entirely bizarre?

The Founding Fathers.

In today’s conversation we’ll consider the fundamentals of American patriotism, we’ll ask one of those Founding Fathers how he saw the role of Government—and we’ll toss in a few words from Abraham Lincoln, just for good measure.

“…There’s a lot of different scenarios…We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot…”

Texas Governor Rick Perry, April 15, 2009

In a conversation about American Patriotism, it’s hard to find a better place to start than with the words of Thomas Paine…as long as you actually understand what he’s trying to tell us.

“The trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

–Henry Wheeler Shaw, as Josh Billings, The Encyclopedia of Wit and Wisdom

Lots of people figure it’s just plain common sense that Government must be evil, and to make their point they regularly quote from the very first paragraphs of Paine’s seminal work, which, coincidentally, is also entitled Common Sense:

“…Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness…Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil…”

But what these observers fail to understand is that, in the end, Paine’s not condemning government’s intrusions as much as he is man’s frailties.

Consider this passage, from just a bit farther down on that same page:

“…Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence: the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For, were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which, in every other case, advises him out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows, that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.”

(Emphasis appears in original)

So…what is Paine actually saying?

Since people don’t always do the right thing, you need a government that governs wisely and well—and the last thing that you want, if you want security…is no government at all.

Paine continues by giving an example of how a community of people formed out of nothing will eventually have no choice but to organize themselves—and in a turn of phrase that our Tea Party friends would do well to note, Paine goes on to say this about societies forming governments:

“…And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding; the simple voice of nature will say, it is right.”

You’ll notice that when Paine writes about government he is referring to a thing which is imposed upon a people by a King, or someone similarly placed. Of course, since “Common Sense” was written before the American Revolution, what he could not yet do was speak from experience about a different kind of government: one that is created by the people themselves.

Abraham Lincoln could, however…and one November afternoon, he did:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

(Emphasis added)

Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

In other words, a government that belongs to us, run by people of all political persuasions, working for the benefit of everyone.

What would Abraham Lincoln say to today’s Tea Party community? I suspect the obvious question he’d want to ask is: “In a country where we are the government, why in the world would you be afraid…of yourselves?”

And that is the question we should be putting to those same people.

We should be asking them why they are afraid to help captain the Ship of State…why they are afraid of the same democracy Ronald Reagan thought was the greatest on Earth…why, if they really feel that patriotic, they are afraid to do exactly what Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Paine told us would be best for the Nation: be a part of your own government, charting your own future, along with all of the rest of the citizens of the United States…and, most importantly of all, we should be asking why they are, today, so afraid of our shared democracy that they can’t help the rest of us as we try to turn Pluribus…into Unum?

 

On Tradition, Or, Same-Sex Marriage, Seen Through A Telescope April 10, 2009

Dangerous Things are happening in America these days, we are told, and the once-innocent citizens of Iowa and Vermont have already been exposed to the hazard…and now it looks as though the contagion might spread to States across New England.

But lucky for us, our friends on the Right are here again to save to save us from…(insert horror film music here)…

…The Gay.

The Gay, it turns out, want the opportunity to marry.

Among other complaints, our friends on the Right feel this will destroy religious tradition, which will ultimately destroy first Christianity, then the Nation. Therefore, religious tradition must be protected at all costs.

Well as it turns out, there are some people from our past who know a few things about religious traditions and how they distort reality—and today, we’ll examine the lessons they have to teach us.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

“The King James Bible”, Ecclesiastes 1:5

“…I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope.”

Through which the satellites of Jupiter were visible, Galileo Galilei

“The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.”

–From the Catholic Church’s indictment of Galileo Galilei, 1633

So you get up every day and look up at the sky, and it’s obvious that the sun starts out over here…and at the end of the day it ends up over there.

Aristotle and Ptolemy figured it all out: each planet was placed on its own “sphere”, the earth in the center, and everything rotating around it; each planet (and the sun) inside the other, with the stars on the outside, in a Celestial Sphere”…all of this resembling Russian “Matryoshka” dolls.

And it’s no surprise that this interpretation of the motion of planets and the sun became not just “common sense”, but the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it was in the Bible, it was something you could see every day, and as the Greeks would have told you, it was logically “beautiful”—and who could want better proof than that?

To make a long story short, a Polish-born Church Canon named Nicolas Copernicus did. In 1543, near the end of his life, he released the book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”), which suggested that all the planets, including the Earth, actually orbit the Sun.

It took another 40 years before someone would challenge Dogma on this point in a “threatening” way, but by 1584 Giordano Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper was considered challenging enough to earn him the Heretic’s Fork…just before he was burned alive on the order of the Church.

By 1616 Galileo Galilei was being warned by the Catholic Church to stop talking about what he was seeing through his telescopes; a moon that was not a perfect sphere and the viewing of the phases of Venus being just two of his problematic observations.

Of course, the real reason all this was so problematic was because there were those in the Church who felt that the Word of God was to be interpreted literally…which meant that anyone who challenged either the text of the Bible or Church Dogma in any way had to be both factually wrong…and an enemy of the Faith.

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

–Groucho Marx, from the movie Duck Soup

Despite the warning, Galileo wouldn’t let it go. He kept observing, and he kept writing, which led to his attempt, in 1632, to obtain a license to publish the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems…which led to his being hauled before the Inquisition…which led, in June of 1633, to him forswearing any of his previous beliefs, presumably to avoid the Heretic’s Fork himself.

The Church was able to hold all this together for another half-century—but Isaac Newton essentially “won the argument” with the publication of his three editions of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica from 1686 to 1742.

Many of you will recall that the Catholic Church was in fact destroyed by this chink in the armor of Biblical literalism, with the Church actually ceasing operations in 1802.

Obviously, I’m kidding—but the fact that nothing terrible happened hasn’t stopped any number of religious leaders in this country (and their followers, for that matter) from claiming that allowing same-sex marriages will have the same impact on faith in America today.

Which brings us to the moral of today’s story: the next time someone tells you that same-sex marriages will destroy religious traditions…that the world as we know it will come to a horrible end…and that anyone with any “common sense” can see that for themselves…tell ‘em to go get a telescope and get over it.

 

On Reconsidering Racism, Or, This Ain’t Grandpa’s America April 6, 2009

We have a story today that is a big-time reminder of how things have changed in America…and it’s all inspired by a book of jokes.

I am often prowling thrift shops looking for interesting things, and I came across a 1946 copy of “10,000 Jokes, Toasts, And Stories” (edited by Lewis and Faye Copeland), which contains a section of jokes entitled “Races and Nations”…which contains a subsection entitled “Negro”.

We are going to examine some of those jokes…and the world in which those jokes resided.

I warn you now: it will be highly unpleasant; but as we come out the other side the goal will be to show that what was not only acceptable, but commonplace, not so very long ago, would be considered wildly unacceptable today—and that we are a better people for the change.

“Sambo, suppose you were to receive a letter from the Ku Klux Klan advising you to get out of town, what would you do?”

“I’d read it on the train.”

–Joke 6468

“Is your husband a good provider, Dinah?”

“Yessum, he’s a good providah, all right, but I’m allus skeered dat nigger’s gwine to get caught at it.”

–Joke 6458

So the deal is, if you’re under 50 years old, or a recent immigrant to these shores, you probably have little or no familiarity with the overt racism that was practiced against the Americans who descended from slavery.

Now I’m not talking about the kind of covert racism that means the security guard spends more time following the black customers than the white ones…I’m talking about the kind of overt racism that means the black customers aren’t even allowed to enter “white” stores.

Lunch counters were segregated, there were “white” and “colored” water fountains (before you go look at the picture, see if you can guess which one has the cooling unit installed). Fire hoses weren’t used just to put out fires…they were also used to put out school children who didn’t fit the racial profile.

Rastus shuffled into the employment office down in Savannah one morning and said hopefully:

“Don’ spose you don’ know nobody as don’ want nobody to do nothin’, does you?”

–Joke 6351

Rastus was in trouble again, and the sheriff asked him if he were guilty or not guilty.

“Guilty, suh, I think” replied Rastus, “but I better be tried to make sure of it.”

–Joke 6460

As these jokes demonstrate, black people were portrayed as ignorant, lazy, shiftless and quick to steal. To ensure these “undesirables” didn’t threaten white populations, some locales became “sundown” towns…so called because of the signs they posted at their city limits:

“Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you in Elwood”

Sign posted in Elwood, Indiana, 1966

(Fun Fact: did you know that Indiana was such a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity in the 1920s that KKK Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson once said about himself: “I am the law in Indiana”? Of course, that was before he went to prison for rape and murder later in the same decade.)

Racism, as defined in law, was extreme and trivial, both at the same time. It’s reported that Birmingham, Alabama passed a law requiring segregated checkers and dominoes in 1935 (presumably after the Great Checkers Incident of 1934, or some similar affront)…and Oklahoma passed a law making it a misdemeanor for teachers to teach in mixed-race schools.

A darkey was examined in a Harlem court, to prove the identity of a white man.
“Did you see the man?” asked the attorney.
“Yes, sah, I seed him.”
“Was he a white man?”
“Dunno, sah.”
“Do you say you saw the man and can’t say whether he was white or black?”
“Yea, sah, I seed him, but dere’s so many white fellers callin’ derselfs niggers round here I can’t tell one from toder!”

–Joke 6376

The Boys of Summer are hitting the fields of their respective stadia this month, and no conversation about race and baseball would be complete without a mention of Jackie Robinson, who everyone knows broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball…except that he didn’t.

Moses “Fleet” Walker, and his brother, Welday Walker , seem to actually bear that honor: in 1884 they played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. Black players continued to play until 1890, when owners seem to have decided amongst themselves that there were to be no more black Major League players; a decision that lasted until Robinson became the first player “in the modern era” (1947, to be exact) to join a Major League club, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

(Another Fun Fact: remember the movie “Bull Durham”? The stadium used by the Durham Bulls–Durham Athletic Park–was at the center of a segregation and boycott battle during the 1950s…a battle the boycotters won.)

Rastus-“Ef yo’ says anything ter me Ah’ll make yo’ eat yo’ words, man.”
Exodus-“Chicken dumplings, hot biscuits, and watermelon.”

–Joke 6511

So about now you may be asking “what is the point of today’s story?”…and it’s pretty simple:

Barack Obama is president.

Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina, where the first battle of the Civil War was fought, is the Democratic House Whip.

Rosa Parks is a national hero for an act of civil disobediance.

David Duke is the Governor of Nothing.

And out of all that change, we’ve become a better people.