Anniversary Post: Fantasy Founding of Los Angeles

Chumash TribesmanOn this day in 1781, a bunch of Spaniards settled “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula” — later to be known as simply Los Angeles. Luckily for the native population, elders from the Tongva and Chumash got together to discuss the situation. They decided that if they allowed the Spaniards to stay there, they would spread disease, try to push their ridiculous god who gets himself nailed to a stick, and ultimately commit a genocide. So they acted.

The women of the tribes came to the settlement offering native fruits and vegetables. While they were talking to the settlers, the men came up behind them and killed all the settlers. It was quick and painless. Unlike the Spaniards and all of the other Europeans who were invading the Americas, these tribes were not savages.

But once all the settlers were dead, they had to make a decision as to what to do next. Finally, they decided that Los Angeles would be a great place to produce films. So they started the film industry. In fact, “Hollywood” is an old Chumash word meaning, “That which is white with a bloody throat.” But this explains why Hollywood spent so many years using Italians to play the parts of Native Americans: the Native Americans were too busy running the studios.


In fact, there were Native and African Americans as part of the settlement. This is a broader commentary, in as much as it is a commentary at all. Mostly, it’s just silly.

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The Stupid Way We Report on Global Warming

Climate Change Is a HoaxMany outlets are reporting, Scientists Reveal There Are 3 Trillion Trees in the World in Latest Count. This is important because it is over seven times higher than the last global count (or estimate). It’s interesting and it is an indication of just how hard it is to study and understand the entire Earth. My PhD dissertation was focused on a really complicated model of the atmosphere that was 2.5 dimensions. It had height and latitude, but longitudinally, it just had land or ocean — that was the half-dimension. But what I’m interested in here is how the news was reported.

I was listening to NPR — the show The World. They are partly a production of the BBC, and so they get their news updates from the BBC. The little 30 second story said (more or less — I can’t find the transcript online), “This doesn’t affect global warming, but it does give policy makers more information.” I was impressed because it simply presented global warming as a fact. And I wondered how it would be presented in the mainstream American media. Some outlets, like The Los Angeles Times have taken a stand on the issue. But for most, it is still just a “matter of opinion.” Pretty much the entire scientific community thinks one thing and some oil companies with billions of dollars of profits on the line say another. Who can determine which side is right?!

I expect that mainstream American media outlets would have reported this story differently, “This new estimate will cause those on both sides of the global warming debate to claim that they are right.” Note the total equivalence there. If the two sides were equally valid, that would absolutely show no bias either way. It would also be a vacuous statement, because it isn’t really true. But the main point is that it would be presented in a way that highlighted the two sides as somehow equal.

The conservative press will look at it differently, I suspect. It will claim that it shows that scientists don’t really know what is going on in the world. “They can’t even count trees, how can they know that the Earth is getting hotter?!” Of course, determining the number of trees is actually a hell of a lot harder than measuring the temperature all over the world. Temperature is a contiguous distribution. Trees and treed areas are discrete. So you can look at two temperatures separated a mile apart and have a very good idea of what the temperature is at every spot between them. That’s not at all true of trees.

But this isn’t about science. And it isn’t really about what the global warming deniers say. The issue is that our media — with notable exceptions — treats the global warming deniers as if they were just one side of the debate. The BBC story showed that it doesn’t need to be that way. The truth is that fewer people accept global warming now than when I was activity studying it 20 years ago. And the reason for that is that the oil companies and other moneyed interests got together and produced a bunch of science-like nonsense that we see constantly coming out of The Heartland Institute. But they could have done that forever and no one would have cared, if the media had treated their “propaganda as science” with the derision that it deserved. But they didn’t.

On one hand, it is cheering to know that coverage of global warming in other countries is more reasonable. But on the other hand, it is depressing to know that if the power elite can twist the truth into knots here, it can do it anywhere. And most concerning of all: it can do it wherever it is most important to do it.

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Eric Loomis on Unions and Solidarity

Erik LoomisI was lucky enough to be sent a copy of The Enemy Within (in Britain it is going by Still the Enemy Within). This is a powerful documentary on how Margaret Thatcher busted the coal miners’ unions in the 1980s. If this is of interest to you, I highly recommend hunting down a copy, perhaps through getting your library to purchase one if possible. Told strictly through the eyes of the miners and their wives, along with video clips of Thatcher and other conservatives, the film is a very useful document for understanding the decline of the postwar labor movement, which was far more than just an American phenomenon. I am far from a scholar of Europe so I can’t speak with any real authority about the claims the workers make, but they certainly believe they were really very close to winning what turned out to be a catastrophic loss to a government seeking to destroy their union, which was the backbone of the British left. But the workers claim that had the other unions shown solidarity and walked off the job in support, as opposed to empty words and some money or if all the British mines had joined the strike (Thatcher intended to split the miners by giving a few choice mines some extra money while seeking to bust the other unions) that they could have defeated the government and perhaps the worst parts of Thatcherism broadly. Even though this is a depressing story, the film also shows how solidarity between groups with little in common with miners (elite students, gay and lesbian activists) was created, how women stepped out of traditional gender roles during the strike, and how personally empowering the strike was for at least some workers.

—Erik Loomis
The Enemy Within

Note: the Amazon link above is not for Region 1 (US and Canada). It hasn’t been released here. But if you bought it, you could still watch it using VLC.

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The Brave New World of Conservative Media

Brave New WorldI’ve been away, meeting with an editor of mine. She is a very colorful character — and one of the best storytellers ever — and brilliant. She’s even a life coach of sorts for me, because she is the one who rushes in while I cower in the corner. But over the past couple of years, she has really gotten into listening to conservative hate radio. In fact, as I was having coffee with her yesterday morning, Rush Limbaugh was playing on the radio. She is aware that I am not a conservative. But as with most extreme conservatives, there are a number of things we agree about. But I’m not not going to discuss those here.

She related to me her concern — which I have seen floating around conservative media — that Obama wants to start a race war. And she presented him as this major Machiavellian character, determined to destroy the United States. Now this is clearly nonsense. The one thing I’ve never understood about this theory is why the most powerful man in the world would want to destroy it. If these people were saying that Obama would change the Constitution and become president forever, that would make a bit of sense. And indeed, I do hear that mixed in with the conservative ranting: the very same people will claim that Obama wants to destroy America and to become its dictator.

It isn’t surprising that none of it makes sense. It isn’t about reason. In my editor’s case, as I said, we are talking about a prodigious intellect — one of the most remarkable people that I’ve ever known. But none of us is perfect. And conservative broadcasting has hocked into something inside her. Part of it is a fairly common paranoia that comes from area and time. I’ve known a lot of people from the late 1960s Berkeley scene who mix a kind of liberalism — Can’t we all just get along? — with a profound distrust for authority.

But in her case, she’s done a lot of work with police and generally has a high opinion of them. In fact, when I sent my first book to her to consider for publication, her main complaint was that I had been so nasty (and inaccurate, she incorrectly claimed) in my depictions of the police. But in our conversation about race wars and Obama declaring martial law, she claimed that she was for small government — just things like police, fire, military. And this is the kind of nonsense that really blows my mind. This is the same old, “The government shouldn’t waste money on public libraries, but it should hire millions of cops and army men!” Well, in the history of the world it is the military and cops who governments used to oppress their people — not public libraries.

But the whole thing reminded me so much of Paul Bibeau’s recent article, What If They NEVER Come For Our Guns? I wrote about it at the time, Oath Keepers As Protectors of the Power Elite. The conceit of Paul’s article was that an Oath Keeper was starting to have doubts that Obama was coming for our guns. After all, it’s almost seven years now. What’s he going to do, wait until 19 January 2017 just to confuse us all?

I know that my editor (who I won’t name — and I have several) would be able to come up with justifications for all these obvious inconsistencies. And she will be able to justify her beliefs in a year and half when there has been no race war and we have a new president. As I said, she’s really smart. And even I can fill in most of the gaps. For example: Obama could destroy America becoming dictator, because then America wouldn’t be America anymore. Blah, blah, blah. But really, I think the takeaway here is that people like Rush Limbaugh present the appearance of informed commentary. So my editor accepts it as such — and effectively turns her mind off.

It is literally a Brave New World.

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GOP Only Tactic: “Other” Demagoguery

Muslim ObamaLast night, I was reading Job’s Anger (as I do every night), and I came upon, Many of GOP Are Unconnected to Reality. It’s one of the great things that Ted does on the site: present and analyze polling data in a really accessible way. But these polling results were a little odd. Public Policy Polling asked Republicans if they thought that President Obama was born in the United States. But they also asked if Ted Cruz was born in the US. Before digging in, let’s remember that Obama was, in fact, born in the US — this is an undeniable fact. Also: Ted Cruz was born in Canada — this too is an undeniable fact. (All you have to do is ask him.)

Now regardless of this, Ted Cruz is still qualified to be president of the United States. His mother was a citizen of the US and thus, by legal precedent, Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen. But forget the courts. Think about it. Both sides of your family have been American citizens for generations. Your mother is pregnant with you but is visiting Tijuana when she goes into labor and gives birth to you in a taxi. Does it make any sense that you would not be considered a natural born US citizen? Of course not. And I know I’m right on this because I hate Ted Cruz and if I could find a rationalization to deny him the presidency, I would.

Of course, the whole thing takes me back to Obama’s early years when people were claiming that he was an invalid president because he wasn’t born here. But even if that had been the case, he still would have been a natural born citizen. It’s funny to see how the conservative media pushed this whole thing for years without ever mentioning that it didn’t matter. When people on the left started saying much the same thing about Cruz — who clearly was not born in the US, the liberal media just pointed out the truth that he was perfectly qualified to be president because he was still a “natural born citizen” even though he was born in Canada.

But the numbers are shocking. Republicans overall think Obama was not born in the US by a factor of 44% to 29%. Less than one-third of Republicans are sure that Obama was born in the United States. It gets even worse when you move out to the Tea Party types. They think Obama was not born in the US by a factor of 64% to 15%. That’s just crazy. When it comes to Ted Cruz — who again, was not born in the US — the numbers are reversed. For Republicans generally, they think Ted Cruz was born in the US by a factor of 40% to 22%. And for the Tea Party types, it is 55% to 22%.

Now Ted McLaughlin (of Job’s Anger) thinks, “A significant portion of the Republican base have no use for reason or logic.” That’s true. But I doubt that’s what’s going on here. Instead, I think Martin Longman nails it in his article, How the Stupid Party Was Made. He focused on another part of that same poll. Republicans also think that Obama is a Muslim: 54% think so, compared to just 14% who think that he is Christian — which is what he actually is. Longman compared this to a hypothetical poll question, “If you ask Republicans if Bobby Jindal is Hindu, Muslim or Christian (all real possibilities given his ethnicity), they’re going to do much better at identifying him as a Christian.”

So why is that? Obviously, it is because conservative media consumers have been fed a steady diet of “Obama the foreign born Muslim usurper.” But as Longman points out, if Democratic operatives and media types tried to do the same thing (“Chris Christie is a Christian Scientist!”), it wouldn’t work nearly as well. “So part of this is about differential gullibility in the bases of the two main political parties.” But that’s not all. Longman also thinks that this is a way for the Republican Party to solidify its base by creating a kind of identity of “whiteness.”

But I think it is even more fundamental than that. The primary political tactic of the Republican Party — going back decades — is to define the good people and the “other.” That’s certainly what the Welfare Queen was all about. The Democratic Party has lots of proplems, but it isn’t based on the idea that “those people” are getting over on you — unless you define “those people” as the billionaire class. But the “why” of the matter doesn’t ultimately mean all that much. As the traditional white identity becomes more of a minority, it will naturally go in this direction.

Still, these results are shocking. Obama is at the end of his term. In ten years, these very same Republicans will not admit that they ever believed he was a Muslim Kenyan Socialist bent on destroying America. It will be like Bill Clinton, where they can’t quite remember why they thought he was so bad. But I guess as long as any Democrat is still in the White House, they will think the worst. Clearly, that overt racism will go away with Obama’s presidency. But don’t be surprised if conservatives under a Hillary Clinton administration start claiming — and believing — that she has a secret plan to castrate all men or make it illegal for men to run companies. Because Ted is right, “Many of GOP Are Unconnected to Reality.” And that will always be the case.


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Morning Music: Sundown

Sundown - Gordon LightfootI’ve done Gordon Lightfoot before for Morning Music, Don Quixote. In that one, I mostly complained that Lightfoot clearly had never read Don Quixote. But my mother was a big fan of Lightfoot, and I remember that she loved the song “Sundown” off the album of the same name. It’s a song about a troubled relationship — something my mother knew a lot about.

What I never knew was that the song is most likely about Lightfoot’s ex-girlfriend Cathy Smith. You may know her for having given John Belushi the speedball (heroin and cocaine mixture) that killed him. For that, she spent 15 months in a California state prison. Personally, I think if Belushi hadn’t allowed his health to get so bad, he wouldn’t have died. Regardless, I hate this habit we have of blaming (mostly) women for getting (mostly) men drugs that end up killing them. They made their choices.

Anyway, it’s a good song:

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Anniversary Post: San Marino

San MarinoThis will be short. I just think it’s kind of interesting, but not really worth diving into. On this day in 301, San Marino was founded. It claims to be the earliest republic still in existence. It was founded by Saint Marinus, supposedly fleeing the Diocletianic Persecution. But the fact that he could get away from it with only fleeing to modern day San Marino shows just how extensive the persecution was. Anyway, he founded a church there and thus a city and it still exists today.

But who knows? Really, Marinus is said to have died in 366, so he would have had to have been very young when he founded the place, or very old when he died. It’s possible, certainly. It wasn’t until 1631 that the Catholic Church officially recognized it as independent. The Sammarinese Fascist Party did lead the nation from 1923 through 1943. But it didn’t adopt anti-Jewish laws like Italy and Germany. And it managed to stay neutral throughout both World Wars. Generally, I think San Marino has managed to avoid conflict because it is so small, and powerful nations always figured that they could grab it when the need arose.

Anyway, it is now a wealthy European nation that has more cars than people. It could be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t especially want to live there. Still, it has an interesting history. But I don’t like places where you need a car to get around.

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Yes, the Russians Are Silly — Just Like We Are

PutinI’ll tell ya, you can tell when I’m on the road. Normally, I would not post two article from the same source in one day. This isn’t a philosophical thing, although I do try to mix it up. It is that when I’m at home, I have my RSS feed. So things come in all mixed up. But when I’m out, I’m stuck with my crummy phone. And so I tend to stick with single outlets. That’s especially true of Vox, which displays really well on my phone. (Interestingly: Frankly Curious does not; I’ve really got to do something about that.)

Anyway, Vox is a great source. I really like the site Lawyers, Guns, & Money, but it is very much an old fashioned blog with a lot stuff that is either pathetically brief or too obscure without cluing me in on what’s going on. Vox is great at cluing me in regardless what the subject is. Anyway, so one of the excellent articles I read was Amanda Taub’s The Fear and Insecurity Behind Putin’s Bizarre New Workout Video. The video is of Putin and his beta Dmitri Medvedev working out in the gym. Taub thinks it is pretty pathetic. I’m not so sure — they look pretty good for guys their age. But putting it out is pathetic, that’s for sure:

According to Taub, these videos and the other ones we know so well (shirtless horseback riding) are not the result of an autocrat exercising his ego as Mussolini did. They are rather a calculated propaganda tool of an autocrat with a weak grip on power. As long as he is invading Crimea, the people know he is “strong” and don’t need videos of him working out. But when his popularity slips, he wants Russia to know, “He Tarzan; he strong.” It shows just how paranoid these leaders are, because Putin is hugely popular in Russia. But whatever.

Amanda TaubWhat I find fascinating is how my fellow Americans scratch their heads about Putin’s approval ratings. But Putin’s high approval ratings are mostly due to the exactly the same things that gave the last two Bush presidents such high approval ratings: chest thumping and war mongering. Apparently, humans just love this kind of thing. But they just can’t see that they do the same thing. A good example of this was France during the Iraq War. It wouldn’t allow the US to fly some fighter jets over its air space. The people of France loved it. But Americans decided that France was awful and weak. That’s right: they thought that France was weak for not just bowing down to the US.

When the attacks of 9/11 happened, I had many reactions. I was saddened, of course — even disgusted. But I was also self-critical. First, I knew (and I can document publishing this on that very day) that we would use the tragedy inappropriately. We would do things that the government had long wanted to do, but really nothing to make the country safer. But I also thought, “What did we do now?” That wasn’t to justify the attacks; I don’t think they are justifiable. But I knew that they didn’t just happen. The US interferes with every country on the globe. All kinds of people have all kinds of really good reasons for being pissed off at America.

But almost no one now (and even fewer at that time) would admit such a thing. No, it is the greatest myth of America: we just mind our own business and people hate us for no reason at all. That’s why we have troops stationed in almost 150 countries and bases in 38 countries. This, above all, is what Americans need to understand: we are just like every other country. We aren’t “exceptional” except in our power, and that only makes us worse.

So Putin is working out on video? How is that different from Obama playing basketball or Bush clearing brush? It isn’t.


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Bush’s “Better Deal” With Iran

Marc ChampionIt was in late 2002, almost two years into Bush’s presidency, that an Iranian opposition group exposed Iran’s covert nuclear fuel program to the public. In the first half of 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed the information, and later that year, after the US had invaded Iraq, France, Germany, and the UK began negotiations with Iran to end the nuclear program.

When IAEA inspectors visited Iran in February 2003, the country’s nuclear fuel program consisted of a centrifuge production plant; a largely empty commercial-grade underground enrichment plant at Natanz, with about 100 casings for centrifuges awaiting completion; and a heavy water reactor at Arak under construction. Iran said the program was civilian; however, it could one day be used to produce weapons-grade fissile material.

In other words, at the start of Bush’s presidency, Iran had no operational centrifuge cascades and no stocks of enriched fuel, so it had no means of making a nuclear weapon.

In their talks, the Europeans sought to offer Iran trade and investment incentives to end to the fuel program. The Bush administration supported this approach, setting zero enrichment as a red line. The Iranians refused to consider abandoning their fuel cycle ambitions, but they agreed to suspend “enrichment activities” while talks progressed.

This was a temporary deal designed to give space for a final agreement to be worked out — and if that sounds familiar, it should. It was in many ways similar to the agreement reached in 2013 to enable the current talks. The 2003 language, however, was vague, and the Iranians gamed it.

Iran decided that the suspension applied only to actual uranium enrichment, and not to other activities. So by June 2004, there were 1,140 fully installed centrifuges at Natanz. In October of that year, Iran announced it had substantial feedstocks ready to enrich in the centrifuges.

The Europeans hurried to produce a proposed final deal, which again required that Iran make “a binding commitment not to pursue fuel cycle activities.” Iran refused, offering instead to limit enrichment capacity to a pilot program of a few thousand centrifuges and to send everything produced abroad for conversion into fuel rods. This was a better deal than the one that’s [been reached]. Under pressure from the Bush administration, however, the Europeans refused to cross their zero-enrichment red line.

So the talks collapsed. The Iranian parliament voted to end its voluntary application of the IAEA’s enhanced inspection regime and, by 2006, Iran was enriching uranium. By the time Bush left office in January 2009, Iran had just under 4,000 working centrifuges and an additional 1,600 installed. These had, to that point, produced 171 kilos of low-enriched uranium. Oh, and Iran had covertly built a new enrichment facility under a mountain at Qom.

Obama at first continued with Bush’s policy of keeping to a zero-enrichment red line while piling on sanctions, to similar effect. Iran pressed ahead, producing 20 percent enriched fuel for use in medical equipment — an alarming development, because the time needed to enrich 20 percent fuel to weapons grade is short.

It was this shift, in fact, that persuaded the European Union to participate in the sanctions against Iran. By the time Iran was ready to return to the negotiating table — this time with the tacit agreement that any deal would leave them with a limited enrichment capacity — it had 19,000 centrifuges, about half of them operating, and had produced more than 7,000 kilos of low-enriched, plus 196 kilos of 20 percent enriched, uranium. That’s plenty for several nuclear weapons.

Since Iran entered into a second temporary agreement in November 2013, it has stopped producing 20 percent uranium; the number of installed centrifuges has been frozen; and the rate at which Iran has been increasing its production of low-grade uranium has slowed accordingly.

So what if now the two sides reconvene to produce a final agreement and can’t agree, as happened in Paris in 2005, because the US takes Bush’s advice and again insists on zero enrichment? Would sanctions make the Iranians buckle? We already know the answer is no. Iran would go back to the trajectory it was on until 2013, ramping up its nuclear fuel program and speeding toward a breakout.

—Marc Champion
Bush’s Iran Plan Is Worse Than Obama’s


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Let Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis Suffer for Her God

Kentucky Clerk Kim DavisI’m fascinated by this whole case of Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis refusing to marry anyone because she’s against same sex marriage. For one thing, this is all so Christian: looking for a loophole. According to her, she isn’t being prejudice as she would be if she simply wouldn’t marry LGBT people. But it is ridiculous. I think as a nation we have to stand with the evidence. She would marry people when same sex marriage was illegal and she won’t now. Of course, she isn’t even being that sly. She says she won’t issue marriage licenses “under God’s authority.” Of course, she isn’t working for a church. But that’s another matter.

It seems clear to me that she should simply be fired. She isn’t willing to do her job. Imagine that I was a member of the Church of Lazy People, and I took at a job at the US Postal Service. But I refused to work the counter or deliver mail, because it was against my religion, I would be fired and that would be that. Because Christianity is a popular church and there are many bigots similiar to Kim Davis, she’s treated as though her demands were valid. Of course, no reasonable person seems to be defending her.

What I expect to happen is that Davis will have a “Go Fund Me” campaign set up for her and walk away with a million bucks and retire. At worst, some church will hire her for her “brave” stand against Satan. But if she ends up poor and living in a homeless shelter, I’m fine with that. To be honest, I’m tired to hearing conservative Christians whine and complain about all their oppression without actually experiencing any harms. These people aren’t being fed to lions, after all. In fact, in the case of Kim Davis, she hasn’t even been fired, even though if she worked (for far less money) at Walmart, she would have been fired days ago.

The Republican candidate for governor in Kentucky, Matt Bevin, supports Davis’ right not to do her job, “I absolutely support her willingness to stand on her First Amendment rights.” As Scott Lemieux responded sarcastically, “I’m sure he would feel the same way if state officials started withholding their services to him on the grounds that his economic views were inconsistent with the Sermon on the Mount.” That’s right. Bevin only supports Davis because he supports the effect. Even he must know that such a broad reading of the First Amendment would make society ungovernable. Even Justice Scalia understands this priciple.

But here is what I really don’t understand: if this is all about religion, why not just say, “Sure the government can ‘marry’ whomever they want, but God doesn’t accept those marriages”? I mean, from the government’s standpoint, marriage is primarily about tax policy, and Jesus was very clear about that. There’s my good friend Mark. In 12:14-15, he wrote, “They came and said to Him…. ‘Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay or shall we not pay?'” Jesus knew that they were just trying to trick him, so he had them bring him a coin and show that it was Caesar’s image on the coin. Jesus then said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

I know that Kim Davis would respond that marriage is God’s. But clearly not in this case. The “marriage” of the United States of America is not the “marriage” of the Bible. So what’s the big deal? Well, we know what the big deal is. As I say: Christianity is, for most people, a cultural signifier. They don’t care about God. They just want to stop the flow of history. They want to say that their tribe is right and other tribes are wrong. And most of all, they want to continue on oppressing those they’ve oppressed in the past.

So for those who have some sympathy for Kim Davis as a pawn in a political game she probably doesn’t even know she’s part of, I say unto you, “Render her unto God.” Fire her and let her powerful God take care of her. If he really cares so much about the sanctity of marriage, he will reward her — maybe by killing her so she can go up to heaven. Regardless, if doing God’s work is easy, it is meaningless. Let her be a good Christian and suffer for her religion.


It turns out that Davis is elected and so can’t be fired. Thus, she should be thrown in jail.

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Denali and the Cross of Gold

DenaliI want to talk about the stupidity of the gold standard. But before I get to that, I think we should take a moment to be pleased that Mount McKinley will now be called by its previous name, Denali. It is the tallest mountain in North America. The Koyukon people have been living in the area for centuries — long before William McKinley was even a glint in the eye of William Sr. They called the mountain Denali — or as close as you can get to it when you aren’t speaking one of the Athabaskan languages. The fact that we are going back to the old name is a very good and honorable thing.

But Matt Yglesias is the kind of guy who isn’t above kicking a guy when he’s down, President McKinley’s Policies Were Garbage, and He Doesn’t Deserve an Awesome Mountain. As usual, Yglesias is totally right. While it is true that McKinley was president during a rip-roaring recovering at the end of the 19th century, it is also true that it was just dumb luck. He’s kind of like the Ronald Reagan of his day: he got all the credit for a change in the money supply that he had nothing to do with.

Now in the case of Reagan, we weren’t on the gold standard. So it was Paul Volcker who basically destroyed Carter’s presidency and then created Reagan’s “Morning in America.” (Note: Volcker was and still is a Democrat; can you imagine a Republican sabotaging his own party like that? And don’t say Greenspan because it doesn’t work at all!) But in McKinley’s time we were very much on the gold standard. And what happened at that time ought to make all the gold bugs out there rethink their ridiculous notions of money. But of course, they won’t.

Remember William Jennings Bryan “Cross of Gold” speech? If you are like most Americans, you don’t understand a damned thing he was talking about. And all the stuff about “free silver” is the same thing. People advocating for it wanted a greater supply of money in the economy. They wanted inflation. I know that the power elite have done a great job of vilifying inflation in this country, but as I write about all the time, modest inflation is a good thing. It drives the economy forward; it creates jobs; it alleviates debt. But on the other hand, for the rich, it’s a bad thing — primarily because more demand for labor means more money has to be paid for it, and because lenders want to squeeze every drop of blood out of borrowers that they can.

So allowing currency to be based on gold and silver would have been a good way to achieve some inflation and provide farmers and workers with some relief. But McKinley — like most representatives of the power elite — did not want to provide the working man with relief; he wanted the rich to keep on getting richer. So he was strongly behind the gold standard. But a funny thing happened during his presidency: there was a huge increase in the output of gold in the world. As a result, the value of gold went down, causing the inflation that the “free silver” movement wanted. McKinley got the credit, but he shouldn’t have. In fact, if he had gone with the “free silver” movement, the depression would have ended much earlier.

A couple of years ago, I wrote, Gold Is Not a Good Investment — at Least for 500 Years. The truth is that the value of gold has only gone down over time. What’s more, its value is highly volatile. The gold bugs are always on about how the Federal Reserve is “printing money” and causing inflation. As I said, that would actually be a good thing. But the truth is that since we left the gold standard, the economy and prices themselves have been far more stable than they were when we were on the gold standard. So I don’t even know what these people are on about — except that they are totally irrational and immune to reason.

But it is very cool that Denali in the highest mountain in North America. In addition to it being the right thing to do, it is one less occasion when we even need to think of President McKinley.


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Morning Music: Tin Man

Holiday - AmericaI’ll admit: this is an embarrassing one. My parents both loved the song “Tin Man” by America. As I remember it, they thought that it was profound: “Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.” Even at ten years old, I thought that was lame. I mean, I’d seen the movie. That’s the whole point. The whole point is that the Tin Man who doesn’t have a heart is the most emotional and caring of the characters. The Cowardly Lion is the bravest when it comes down to it. And the Straw Man is the smartest.

Years later, my friend Will and I got into America. And the “Tin Man” album, Holiday, is one of the more listenable of their albums. But it was a transition thing. I know their first ten albums forward and backward. And never has so much care and attention be wasted on such dreck. It’s not all bad. It has its moments. And the guys were clearly all talented. But there is no substance. And Dewey Bunnell, who wrote “Tin Man” and “A Horse With No Name” and many other “word collage” songs almost seems like he could have developed into a fine songwriter if he hadn’t found success so easy with gibberish.

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