Saturday, April 21, 2007

A New Dark Age

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The Enlightenment dims and sober writers bemoan a new, incipient dark age. Who will "rage against the dying of the light"? Fallacious attacks on Darwinism, indeed, science itself, threaten to spread beyond the confines of radical, fundamentalist America to strike deep in the heart of the enlightenment itself: Europe, France, and even Turkey.

At issue: a theological concept masked as "science". It is most often called "Intelligent design". By any name it is a trojan horse, theology dressed up like science, the intellectual equivalent of bird flu, contagious, virulent, just as deadly to rational thought. Intelligent design must be exposed for what it is: psuedo-science: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.
Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some anti-evolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Scientific American
The exhibition on evolution at the magnificent new science department at the Museum of Natural History in New York is countered by a proliferation of Creationist Museums around the country (US). A new production of Inherit the Wind may not reach an audience large enough to any good i.e., to educate Americans about a domestic, ideological danger.

Columbia University professor Philip Kitcher strikes back with Living with Darwin. Kitcher's position is not that ID ("Intelligent Design") isn't science but that it is "dead science", consisting of propositions long ago discredited, some by Darwin himself. Darwin is, of course, ignored and attacked by demagogic politicians, the religious right and various sycophantic politicians. Darwin's arguments against ID are still valid, merely ignored by the religious right.

Kitcher would strike an uncomfortable truce astride an increasingly fanatic right wing on the one hand and genuine science on the other. Kitcher would hope this possible, even necessary, if science is to survive at all. Is such an unholy truce possible? Can real science live in a world in which experiment is replaced by referendum, where propaganda impersonates evidence?

The scientific community resolved the issue long ago; Darwin himself refuted ID with a mountain of verifiable evidence. That those issues are raised now among religious demagogues and politicians raises disturbing questions about the quality of scientific education. Has it failed entirely? Have zealots succeeded in isolating science? Is it the aim of "religion" to destroy the spirit of free enquiry? Will science itself be subject to laws by which an 'orthodoxy' is decreed under the rubric of 'democracy'? Will a latter-day 'Galileo' be forced to recant?

Among the concepts most difficult for the theologically inclined is the idea that the random bonding of nucleotides in a primordial soup might have triggered the evolution of life on earth, indeed, in the universe. Fundamentalists find it inconceivable that complex molecules might spring up by chance. As Scientific American points out, evolution does not depend on chance alone to create organisms.
As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence "TOBEORNOTTOBE." Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days.
Scientific American
Evidence for evolution is with us everyday, in the stars at night, wheat, fruit flies, giraffes in the wild, and, most colorfully according to Carl Sagan, the Heikegani Crab.

However, if it is the fact of evolution that fundamentalists seek, they have only to look up at the stars at night. The vast distances to many of those stars have been established beyond all reasonable doubt. The farthest quasars are nearly fourteen billion light years away. It has taken, therefore, nearly fourteen billion years for that light to reach earth.

Many creationists discount evolution because the age of their universe is predicated on Bishop Usher's estimate that the universe is only some 6,000 years old, a number computed by adding up the age of the prophets and other time events described in the Bible and adding those years since that time. However, 6,000 years is not nearly long enough for the light from even closer stars to have reached this earth. Yet those stars exist, we see them, and their distances can be demonstrated. Their existence is evidence of both the size and the almost unfathomable age of the universe.

There are those who will tell you that the fact of evolution is so obvious that it is a tautology: what survives, survives. Evolution may be summed up thus: those members of specie who survive long enough to procreate will pass its genes on to a succeeding generation; those members who do not, won't. Hence the tautology. One of the most lucid explanations of the evolutionary process was written by Julian Huxley, Evolution in Action. It is still available.

Similarly, scientists studying the causes of aging have observed the fact of evolution in Fruit Flies whose life cycle is about one day. They are borne; they mate; they die. There isn't much time to do anything else. New variations are observed in Fruit Flies in very short periods of time.

Even folk wisdom recognizes the validity of evolution. Cowboys and farmers alike often said: never kill a slow roach. You just improve the breed. That is a good description of the process of "selection".

How many "creationists" have bothered to talk to a farmer. Any farmer who has ever bred for specific characteristics can bear witness to the fact of evolution as it is understood today. Naturally, when I think of Kansas, I think of both The Wizard of Oz and wheat. Wheat does not grow in the wild, yet its origins are most certainly ancient wild grasses. One suspects that wheat benefited largely by what evolutionists would call artificial selection, a process in which natural selection is helped out, possibly by a farmer who knows how to breed or, in evolutionary terms, select, for specific characteristics.

I fear for future generations that may be victimized by a fanatic Christian "right".
We keep trying to explain away American fundamentalism. Those of us not engaged personally or emotionally in the biggest political and cultural movement of our times—those on the sidelines of history—keep trying to come up with theories with which to discredit the evident allure of this punishing yet oddly comforting idea of a deity, this strange god. His invisible hand is everywhere, say His citizen-theologians, caressing and fixing every outcome: Little League games, job searches, test scores, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the success or failure of terrorist attacks (also known as “signs”), victory or defeat in battle, at the ballot box, in bed. Those unable to feel His soothing touch at moments such as these snort at the notion of a god with the patience or the prurience to monitor every tick and twitch of desire, a supreme being able to make a lion and a lamb cuddle but unable to abide two men kissing. A divine love that speaks through hurricanes. Who would worship such a god? His followers must be dupes, or saps, or fools, their faith illiterate, insane, or misinformed, their strength fleeting, hollow, an aberration. A burp in American history. An unpleasant odor that will pass.

Harpers, Through a glass, darkly: How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history
It is important that science be taught in school. Evolution was made clear to me in my junior high school science class. The topic was Giraffes which eat the leaves of trees in their habitat. Lamarck, we were taught, believed in acquired characteristics. In Lamarckian terms, the Giraffe had a long neck so that he could reach the leaves. The Darwinian view turns that on its head i.e, those Giraffes able to reach the higher leaves would pass their genes on to another generation of longer necked Giraffes. The short neck Giraffe would most certainly die before he could mate. Put yet another way, the long necked Giraffe survived and procreated because it had a long neck; it is inaccurate to say that it had a long neck so that it would survive.

I have long considered the words "so that" to be red flags, signaling a question to be begged, a perversion of logic. The words so that almost invariably signal a thought process that works backward from end results. Human beings, having evolved brains, are capable of doing precisely that.

Interestingly, Earnst Haeckel did not share Darwin's enthusiasm for natural selection as I have stated it in simple terms here. Haeckel, in his own version of Lamarckism, believed that biological diversity could be attributed to an environment acting directly on organisms to produce new species, new races.

There are crabs in Japanese waters that bear a "human face". They are the Heikegani crab, native to Japan. The carapace resembles a human face, or - with some imagination - a Samurai warrior. Legend has it that they are the re-incarnation of ancient Samarais, Heike warriors who died at the Battle of Dan-no-ura. (See: "The Tale of the Heike") Indeed, patterns on the carapace bear a striking resemblance to a human face. It is technically inaccurate, however to say that the ridges "...serve a very functional purpose as sites of muscle attachment". This is akin to saying that Giraffes have long necks so that they can eat the leaves off the taller trees. More accurately, similar patterns are found on species in many parts of the world, including fossilized remains. The patterns survive as the crabs themselves survive to pass on their genes.

Carl Sagan had a more colorful tale to tell. In his popular science television show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, he linked the patterns to the local legend of the Heiki warriors. Sagan cited the crab as an example --not of natural but of unintentional artificial selection. Sagan told the story of local fishermen throwing back those crabs whose shells resemble the ancient Samurai. Those not resembling Samurai were eaten. Those thrown back survived to pass on their genes.

Living beings themselves may be thought of as "living fossils". We carry in our genes a code that isthe result of billions of years of "code writing". Our own fetal development seems to mirror that process. According to Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919): "The ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."

It is interesting that Intelligent Design is often espoused by the same political mindset that embraces "Social Darwinism". Both are equally bogus. Both are embraced by the right wing though they are incompatible theories. It is odd to find even fallacious perversions of Darwin espoused by a group that is defined by its hatred of all things Darwin. It is equally odd to find Intelligent Design, however fallacious, espoused by Social Darwinists. The obvious conclusion is that these people just haven't given even their own ideologies, let alone Darwin, enough thought.

Social Darwinism does not follow from "Darwinism". Worse, it attributes to Darwin positions he never took. The term "survival of the fittest" was never used by Darwin but has been variously attributed. Hofstadter seems to attribute that phrase to rail road men:
Railroad executive Chauncy Depew asserted that the guests of the great dinners and public banquets of New York City represented the survival of the fittest of all who came in search of fortune. They were the ones with superior abilities. Likewise railroad magnate James J. Hill defended the railroad companies by saying their fortunes were determined according to the law of survival of the fittest.

—Hofstadter, Richard; 1959; Social Darwinism in American Thought, Braziller; New York.
Elsewhere, the term is attributed to Herbert Spencer who clearly inspired a generation of radicalized, latter-day robber barons and, bluntly, few of them evince the "...quality of mercy" so immortalized with but a few words by Shakespeare:
[Herbert] Spencer said that diseases "are among the penalties Nature has attached to ignorance and imbecility, and should not, therefore, be tampered with." He even faulted private organizations like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children because they encouraged legislation.

Social Darwinism and American Laissez-faire Capitalism
An equally fallacious corollary to "Social Darwinism" is often phrased this way: the rich are rich because they are better, work harder and are more intelligent. George W. Bush put it more crudely: “The poor are poor because they are lazy!” In the same vein, the conservative economist Joseph A. Schumpeter likened recessions to a "douche" leaving us to wonder just who is "douched" and how? More importantly: who gets to make those life and death decisions? It is difficult not to conclude that New Orleans after Katrina is but the disastrous consequence of this kind of "blame the victim" thinking.

It is not surprising, then, that Spencer's influence continues, not in the field of biology, but in economics, specifically those theories most often associated with the right wing: the American apologists, William Graham Sumner and Simon Nelson Patten.

Spencer, believed that because society was evolving, government intervention ought to be minimized. Nevermind that government is but a function of society and responsible to it. It is because of the lasting Influenc of Spencer that the idea of the “rational man” making rational decisions in a free market is still in use. In practice, however, economic decisions may or may not be rational.

servative work mightily to force reality into a conservative, theoretical mold but that's bad science. Models must describe reality —not the other way round. John Nash, recently the subject of the motion picture, A Beautiful Mind, argued persuasively that not only games but societies and economies benefit more from cooperation and community than from competition.

While Bertrand Russell's work in the Principia Mathematica sought to ground mathematics upon a foundation of pure logic, it was optimistically thought that it would then be possible to construct a "Universal Truth Machine" - a "computer", if you will, that would produce all true theorems from any given set of axioms. A "formal system". Some twenty years later, Gödel's famous Incompleteness Theorems "proved" that no such machine is possible. There is always at least one true theorem that such a machine is incapable of writing - no matter how well it is programmed, no matter how well phrased the axioms.

The significance of Gödel's theorems is this: even as we near a phase in quantum physics when it appears that we may be able to write an equation which will amount to TOE, a Theory of Everything, we will come up short. No such theory is possible. Sir James Jeans once wrote that we may never be able to open the back of the watch and describe its workings; likewise, as human beings striving to understand a universe of which we are a part, we may never be able to see the face of God and describe it. We become ourselves a part of an infinite regress.

But - we must be free to believe that the face exists and free to believe that it doesn't. We must be free to find the truth for ourselves. As Socrates put it: the unexamined life is not worth living. Our choices define who we are as individuals, and collectively, as a species. Religious ideology denies us the freedom to make that defining choice freely. Bertolt Brecht said "A man who does not know the truth is just an idiot but a man who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a crook." Religious ideology parading as science is a crook.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pro-Gun Mythology: a Culture of Guns, Death and Violence

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The NRA works assiduously to create a culture of guns, lies and violence in the United States. Tragically, their efforts have borne fruit. Almost anyone can get a gun; lies about the Second Amendment are unquestioned by intimidated politicians who should know better; and fatal shooting rampages will eventually (if not already) cease to shock an inured public.

The BBC was on the right track but, themselves, went wrong. Consider the following from their recent broadcast in the wake of the latest campus shooting:
The United States has the largest number of guns in private hands of any country in the world with 60 million people owning a combined arsenal of over 200 million firearms.

The US constitution, which was written in 1787, enshrines the people's right to keep and bear arms in its Second Amendment.

BBC World Service
The BBC is most probably correct about the number of firearms inside the US. That the United States has nurtured and thus become a culture of both guns and violence is true on its face. The BBC is correct as far it goes. Indeed, fatal shootings in recent years, many involving teenagers, are troubling.

But is it accurate to say that those shootings, as horrible as they are, have made the issue of gun control a key debate in US politics? No. There is no real debate about that in America. The NRA has been extraordinarily successful in perpetrating a gestalt of myths about the Second Amendment and, in doing so, it has re-framed the issue. It is no longer a debate about needless death, carnage and violence but about mythical rights under the Constitution, rights never intended by the framers, rights never intended by James Madison, the man who wrote the Second Amendment. The NRA has hoodwinked a gullible nation.

Sadly, the NRA has no opposition. The Democrats are split right down the middle on the gun violence issue. The GOP sold out long ago.

It is on the second point that the BBC has gone wrong. Though the NRA would have you believe that the "right" to keep and bear arms is both unconditional and made law by the US Constitution itself, that is just not the case. I would have expected the venerable BBC to have looked beyond NRA propaganda with regard to the meaning and significance of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. It reads:
A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Second Amendment, US Constitution
The NRA, in fact and practice, ignores fully two thirds of the language of the Second Amendment. If you tried to get away with that in Freshman English, you would have flunked. Clearly and contrary to NRA propaganda, there is no unconditional right to own, keep, bear, or use firearms of any kind in the United States.

Moreover, events time and time again have proven with blood and carnage the absolute folly of NRA lies, propaganda, and unprecedented tactics denounced even by George Bush Sr.

The NRA position is premised upon a pernicious lie found repeated in NRA literature, position papers, and works by paid "scholars". In the world according to the NRA, only the final clause -...the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed ... has the force of law. Modifying phrases, the NRA would have you believe, may be ignored. That position is simply absurd on its face. But, in the American sub-culture of guns, death and violence, logic takes a long holiday.

As a Findlaw summary concludes:
Since this decision, Congress has placed greater limitations on the receipt, possession, and transportation of firearms,8 and proposals for national registration or prohibition of firearms altogether have been made.9 At what point regulation or prohibition of what classes of firearms would conflict with the Amendment, if at all, the Miller case does little more than cast a faint degree of illumination toward an answer.

Findlaw, U.S. Constitution: Second Amendment
The NRA is wrong, knows that it is wrong and lies about it. There is no unconditional, individual right to keep and bear arms. Let's consider, in turn, some of the myths, lies, and articles of misplaced faith that are peddled by the NRA.

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people"

In fact, people with guns kill people. Guns are the weapons of choice. Knives, rocks, clubs, and paper cutters hardly pull up the rear. In most cases, it is the very access to a firearms that triggers murder. It is easier to pull a trigger and kill from afar than it is to plunge a bloody dagger into someone's heart up close and bloody! What would have been the death toll at Virginia Tech if 23 year old Cho Seung Hui, had not been able to get a gun easily. How many could he have taken out with a knife or even a sword before being subdued?

I must give credit to the BBC for spotting ludicrous American absurdities and here is one:
I have heard a representative from the Gun Owners of America claiming that if children grow up with guns in the house they get used to them and know how to handle them.

He said that in the old days children used to carry guns to school on the New York subway to take part in shooting competitions.

Such is the power of the gun lobby, and most notably the National Rifle Association, that even the mildest gun legislation, a requirement that all new guns should be fitted with gun locks, got bogged down in Congress.

BBC, Ludicrous Claims (NRA) (emphasis mine, LH)
Some dubious "scholars" suggest that because the "militia" phrase lacks both a subject and a predicate, it may be ignored, a suggestion that is simply absurd on its face. Phrases, by definition, lack both a subject and a predicate and, rather, modify an independent clause. The Second Amendment is a single sentence. By law and by grammar that single sentence must be considered wholly; it is not a Chinese menu from which you can pick one from column A and one from column B.

Furthermore, the NRA conveniently ignores and denigrates a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court that literally decrees how the Second Amendment is to be interpreted. And when it isn't ignored, it is "spun". That decision is U.S. v Miller:
The Court can not take judicial notice that a shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches long has today any reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia; and therefore can not say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon.
The signification attributed to the term Militia appears from the debates in the Convention, the history and legislation of Colonies and States, and the writings of approved commentators. These show plainly enough that the Militia comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. "A body of citizens enrolled for military discipline."

U.S. v Miller
There is no way to spin that first sentence quoted above. The high court established a principle that guns may be regulated, even prohibited if they have no "...reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia".

Miller goes further, clearly establishing the context, the only context (a well-regulated militia) in which an individual in the United States may excercise a right to own a firearm of any sort.
With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.

U.S. v Miller
The NRA, when it is not denying the significance of some two thirds of a single sentence, would have you believe that you have a right to own and use a gun because being born American, you are automatically a "militia" member. But that's not what Miller says. It is not what Miller does. Miller, rather, states flatly that certain weapons may be prohibited and places the right of individuals to own firearms within the context of well-regulated militias themselves. There is no reference to an individual's right to own firearms outside that context.

We are often told by NRA proponents that "the militia" referred to in the Second Amendment, consists of all able free men between the ages of 17 and 45. That is taken to mean that all people meeting that description are, therefore, militia members.

That is nothing less than universal conscription; universal conscription is unconstitutional involuntary servitude. Li'l ol' ladies, the infirm, babies, the mentally retarded and/or disturbed, the terminally ill --all would be members of a militia if NRA arguments were taken to their absurd conclusions. It was, indeed, George Mason's argument but he lost that debate back in 1789 and it was James Madison who, at last, wrote the Second Amendment.

Not all citizens are, in fact and in practice, members of a militia by any definition of that term. One is not "enrolled" automatically by virtue of being born. One must "volunteer" in order to "join" the National Guard or - to use the terminology of US v Miller - one must be "enrolled" to become a member of a militia. When one "enrolls" he/she makes a choice to do so. The alternative is conscription. But militias are, by definition and Miller, voluntary. How would a "conscripted" army differ from a standing army?

In any case, it is clear that citizens are not members by birth. Perhaps in an authoritarian, fascist, latter-day Sparta - but not in a Democratic Republic! Contrary to pro-gun propaganda, the founders never debated "conscription" and many denounced the performance of militias during the war of independence.

Then what can be said of the oft-stated position that guns are necessary to defend against a tyrannical government? Universal conscription is the first means by which a tyrannical government may raise its army; it is premised upon the Hegelian notion that the State is superior to the individual. The draft has never been popular in America. During the civil war, draft riots in New York almost undermined Northern unity.

It would appear, we have unmasked the ideological underpinnings of the NRA and it has turned out to be ideological totalitarianism in which the individual is subordinated to the leviathan of state power. This is what the NRA has in mind. Moreover, conscription has never been given serious consideration as a means by which a "militia" - as opposed to a standing army - may be raised:
Conscription, however, is a device that is meaningful only in the absence of a militia. ...but any citizen also, with a minimum of commitment and training, can formally join an organized militia at the County level. That should also make them reserve sheriff's deputies, as an official part of the posse comitatus, the only armed police force that should be allowed, and reserve members of the National Guard, which of course is organized at the State level. Such a system keeps in place a small but professional, volunteer regular army (and professional sheriff's deputies) but has behind it a very broad citizen's army, trained to varying degrees in case of national need.

Ross, Kelley L., Ph.D. Machiavelli and the Moral Dilemma of Statecraft, Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
A "drafted" military is not a militia in any case.
Although Machiavelli was quite right about mercenaries, militias have often not worked out well, since they tend to be insufficiently disciplined or hardened as fighting forces. That was the case when the citizens of Renaissance Italian cities attempted to resist foreign armies (French and Spanish), and it was the case in American history, mainly in the War of 1812, when Militia forces often performed badly. Ross, Kelley L., Ph.D. Machiavelli and the Moral Dilemma of Statecraft, Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
Additionally, conscription is incompatible with the historical context which Miller took pains to establish. If the gun proponent argument had any grammatical or legal validity whatsoever, why did the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v Miller attribute to the militia phrase such weight and consideration? Fully, one half or more of U.S. v Miller is spent defining the very word "militia" as it was understood by the founders.

Those sections of the decision outline the "collective" duties and responsibilities of militias. It analyzes the historical context in which the word is defined. It considers, in turn, the role of states in regulating militias. The NRA is therefore wrong, and the decision of the Supreme Court in US v Miller is the law, whether the NRA likes it or not. Incidentally, one of the best "histories" of the role of the militias during the so-called "revolution" is to be found in the body of U.S. v Miller itself. Because this history is not written by the NRA it is a breath of fresh air.

Another absurd theory often favored by NRA types would have you believe that what the founders meant by "militia" were un-regulated bands of well armed citizenry beyond the control and the regulation of states or national government. The proponents of this theory will tell you that the term "regulated" in the Second Amendment does not mean regulated " the government". Regulated, we are expected to believe, means self-regulated and equipped. In other words, armed to the teeth and unaccountable to anyone.

Believing the militias had been neglected, Madison would have denounced the NRA position. It was the opinion of both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison that the states had neglected the regulation of their militias. Madison wrote the second concurrent with his oft-stated criticism of the states and he sought to redress his grievance in that famous single sentence:c
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

US Constitution, Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment II
Madison was not talking about an individual right. He was talking about "regulation" which meant the same thing then that it does now. Who but a state could regulate what were, in fact, mobs dignified by the word militia? What are states if not "governments"? And, if a militia, is to be regulated, as Madison proposed, then who, as Hamilton asked, but a duly ordained and freely elected government "of the people" should do so? Hamilton and Madision were right. The NRA has always been wrong.

There is no point is speculating about Madison's intentions. We have his own words to rely on. There is no point in indulging in arcane interpretations as one might with Shakespeare. Madison wrote what he meant and meant what he wrote. A clue to his thinking is to be found in the chronological notes that he kept during the Constitutional convention:
Much stress had been laid by some gentlemen on the want of power in the Convention to propose any other than a federal plan. To what had been answered by others, he would only add, that neither of the characteristics attached to a federal plan would support this objection. One characteristic, was that in a federal Government, the power is exercised not on the people individually; but on the people collectively, on the States. [ emphasis added ]
It must be pointed out that here Madison is not addressing the Second Amendment directly, but rather the mind-set that he would bring to its drafting. It must be remembered that Madison initially opposed the addition of a Bill of Rights, i.e. any document which listed and specified individual rights. While not opposing individual rights per se, he felt that enumerating them would have the effect of limiting them to only those rights so enumerated.

Madison and the other founders were suspicious of armed bodies of men and the militias.
Has not Massts, [ Massachusetts ] notwithstanding, the most powerful member of the Union, already raised a body of troops? Is she not now augmenting them, without having even deigned to apprise Congs. [ Congress ] of Her intention?
The position, oft disseminated by the NRA that the "right to keep and bear arms" is a safeguard, intended to be used by the people in armed insurrection against the Federal Government when it is deemed to have abused its federal power, is simply ludicrous and seditious on its face. No governmental authority on earth has ever said, in effect: you can overthrow us by force whenever you like! No sane person believes for a moment that the Second Amendment immunizes a rag tag mob of gun nuts attacking the White House and Congress, armed to the teeth, with "revolution" on its agenda!

Whatever the motivation - revolution or self-defense -there simply is no individual, unconditional right to own a firearm. Madison's Second Amendment tells you upfront what it is about: well-regulated militias. It is not about the individual right to own a gun except in that context. Madison was very bright and had mastered the English language. He would not have written an Amendment that said anything other than what he wished it to say.

NRA literature often, conveniently, omits those portions of the US codes that say militia members must join National Guard. A militia is therefore precisely what Madison had in mind when he wrote the Second Amendment. US Codes concerning the National Guard are in line with Hamilton's original conception of a state militia subject to "National" regulation:
The President shall prescribe regulations, and issue orders, necessary to organize, discipline, and govern the National Guard.U.S. Codes, Section 110. Regulations
U.S. v Miller makes law of its interpretation of the Second. It states outright that any interpretation of the Second Amendment must consider:
  1. the significance of the "militia" phrase;
  2. the intentions of the founders in writing that phrase;
  3. the definition of "militia" as that word was understood by the founders including Hamilton, and, of course, Madison who drafted it.
Upon that criteria, U.S. v Miller then addresses the issue directly even so far as defining "militia", placing it's definition within an historical context with which Madison would most certainly have agreed. Miller outlined the "collective" responsibilities in defense of the nation - as did both Madison and Hamilton before them:
The Militia which the States were expected to maintain and train is set in contrast with Troops which they [307 U.S. 174, 179] were forbidden to keep without the consent of Congress. The sentiment of the time strongly disfavored standing armies; the common view was that adequate defense of country and laws could be secured through the Militia - civilians primarily, soldiers on occasion.

U.S.v Miller
The decision is directly based upon the consideration the court gave to the "militia" phrase of the Second Amendment:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense. Aymette v. State of Tennessee, 2 Humph., Tenn., 154, 158.

--U.S.v Miller
Some dubious "scholars" suggest that because the "militia" phrase lacks both a subject and a predicate, it may be ignored. Phrases, by definition, lack both a subject and a predicate. The Second Amendment is a single sentence - and by law and grammar - must be considered wholly.

If the
arguments of various "scholars'" had any grammatical or legal validity whatsoever, then why did the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v Miller attribute to that phrase such weight and consideration? Fully, one half or more of its decision is spent defining the very word "militia" as it was understood by the founders, outlining the militias' "collective" duties and responsibilities, analyzing the historical context in which the word is defined, and in considering the role of states in regulating them. Interestingly, one of the best "histories" of the role of the militias during the so-called "revolution" is to be found in the body of U.S. v Miller.

Madison's initial opposition to the Bill of Rights, which he later drafted himself, is ignored. It is often said that the founding fathers had just fought a war against government tyranny, the Second, therefore, was a hedge against another tyrannical government. But

George Washington and other prominent founders believed that the war had been almost lost because of the incompetence of undisciplined, un-regulated militia. It is highly doubtful that the founders would have placed the future of the new republic in the hands of people they considered to be incompetent.

The colonies had fought a war but it had been fought a decade earlier. They had also suffered the near chaos of the Articles of Confederation. They were at work in Philadelphia to redress the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. Even as they convened, Massachusetts had assembled an army and suspicions were mutual. In the end, however, Madison was convinced that the new charter, the new Constitution, had so successfully outlined a "government of the people" that no additional protections were necessary.

These were first to protect the people agst. their rulers: secondly to protect the people agst. the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led. A people deliberating in a temperate moment, and with the experience of other nations before them, on the plan of Govt. most likely to secure their happiness, would first be aware, that those chargd. with the public happiness, might betray their trust.
When Madison was at last persuaded to support a Bill of Rights, he insisted upon drafting them himself.

It is often said without basis that without the citizen’s ability to arm themselves, the American revolution would have failed. But the American revolution had been fought and won some ten years prior to the drafting of the US Constitution. The Republic, under the Articles of Confederation, had, indeed, failed. But it was not because citizens were not armed. Later, Washington would put down a rebellion of citizens who had been armed.

What saved the young republic was not armed citizens, militias, or Washington himself. It was France. Washington, arguably, lost every battle but Trenton. It was France who won the American revolution by blockading the harbor at Yorktown.

The "militias", meanwhile, were even less distinguished. They were undisciplined, often incompetent and un-regulated. They were severely criticized by Washington.

Washington, with few Continentals, began to turn in desperation to state militia. Although, as Mark V. Kwasny points out in Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783 (1996), they made positive contributions, Washington dealt them much more criticism than praise in this five-month period. They were undependable, "there today, & gone tomorrow" (8:439).

Militiamen went home with the arms and equipment that the government issued them. Because militia officers were interested only in concocting schemes to increase their pay, they gave little attention to discipline. Some militia troops plundered citizens under the pretense of their being Tories. Washington warned that the militia should be kept away from regular troops because it would "spread the seeds of licentiousness among the regulars" (9:127). The militia failed in several cases to provide adequate defense against British and Tory foragers. The Pennsylvania militia did not turn out in a force as large as Washington expected, and many returned home after a dispute with General William Alexander, "Lord Stirling," over the distribution of supplies. Some states planned to raise what were called "colonial" troops because they could not rely on their militias to turn out to defend the state. Washington opposed this because these forces would compete with the Continental Army for recruits.

-Review of The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, Volumes 8 & 9, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Reviewed by Benjamin H. Newcomb
Madison knew this and addressed the problem in a single-sentence: the Second Amendment. In fact, there is no gun debate among the founders outside the context of militias which they had criticized and intended to regulate.
Moreover, if one reads Founding Era documents, one finds that the phrase "bear arms" was almost always used to refer to military service. (The interested reader can try this himself or herself by searching for the phrase "bear arms" in the Library of Congress's databaseof congressional and other documents from the founding era.)

Michael C. Dorf, Findlaw, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2001
The "gun" debate among the founders focused entirely upon the organization, the duties, the responsibilities, indeed, the regulation of the various militia:
It requires no skill in the science of war to discern that uniformity in the organization and discipline of the militia would be attended with the most beneficial effects, whenever they were called into service for the public defense. It would enable them to discharge the duties of the camp and of the field with mutual intelligence and concert an advantage of peculiar moment in the operations of an army; and it would fit them much sooner to acquire the degree of proficiency in military functions which would be essential to their usefulness.
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #29
Conveniently ignored by NRA advocates is Hamilton's proposition that militias be placed under the supervision and regulation of the national government:
This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union ``to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, RESERVING TO THE STATES RESPECTIVELY THE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS, AND THE AUTHORITY OF TRAINING THE MILITIA ACCORDING TO THE DISCIPLINE PRESCRIBED BY CONGRESS.''

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #29 [ emphasis Hamilton ]
Columnist Jack Anderson (Inside the NRA: Armed and Dangerous) documented NRA ties with militant "para-military groups" and points out that the NRA has repeatedly refused disavow the militants or to condemn their terrorist tactics, excesses, and activities.
If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security. If standing armies are dangerous to liberty, an efficacious power over the militia, in the body to whose care the protection of the State is committed, ought, as far as possible, to take away the inducement and the pretext to such unfriendly institutions. If the federal government can command the aid of the militia in those emergencies which call for the military arm in support of the civil magistrate, it can the better dispense with the employment of a different kind of force. If it cannot avail itself of the former, it will be obliged to recur to the latter. To render an army unnecessary, will be a more certain method of preventing its existence than a thousand prohibitions upon paper.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 29
Hamilton had in mind a national militia. How that would differ from a modern all-volunteer army, we can only speculate. It is clear, however, that the self-styled militants who exploit misunderstandings of the Second Amendment are not what either Madison nor Hamilton had in mind.

It raises the question: is the Second Amendment moot? Both Hamilton and Madison had in mind the "...right to keep and bear arms" --but within the context of a disciplined, "well-regulated militia" whose members would be expected to defend the nation. Defending the nation is not what the Texas separatists and other para-military groups have in mind; they have in mind overthrowing it by violent means. They will need guns to do it. Their motives have nothing to do with sport.

What is to be done about the the NRA, perhaps the most powerful lobby in American history? Gun control has become one of the most controversial issues in American politics over the last several decades and it is difficult not to believe that this has been the NRA's desired outcome. Much worthwhile scholarship, the Federalist Papers, the writings of those who wrote the Constitution, James Madison who wrote the Second Amendment, indeed, the Bill of Rights itself are all drowned out with NRA money, phony scholarship, propaganda, and strong arm tactics. The NRA legacy is most certainly and undeniably Whitman, Columbine, and now, Virginia Tech.

On substance, those favoring prudent measures to control gun violence have always had the stronger argument. It is not surprising to learn how often the gun lobbies resort to what has been called "dirty dealing". NRA tactics crossed the lie so often that even George Bush Sr. resigned his membership in disgust when Wayne LaPierre referred to ATF agents as jack-booted thugs.

Tragically, just as nothing changed following Columbine, nothing will change following Virginia Tech. A safer world falls victim to politics and money. We know where the GOP will come down on the issue of guns. What is tragic is that Democrats will not find the political will to help make America a safe, a more civilized nation. Most people are skeptical that 33 deaths at Virginia Tech will do anything to change a political atmosphere that is, perhaps forever, poisoned by NRA lies, money, and propaganda. The Washington Post writes about "gun rights", conceding the paradigm to the NRA. The "rights" rather are spelled out by Madison in the Second Amendment. It is time now to work within that framework to make of this nation a safer nation, a civilized nation, a mature nation that may embrace a more enlightened attitude.

An additional resource:

Inside the NRA: Armed and Dangerous--An Expose

You can safely ignore the reviews of these books on Amazon. Most simply miss the point and none are exhaustive or well researched. Just read them, if you are so inclined, and make up your own mind.

An update:

A website entitled The U.S. v. Miller Revisited puts forward the theory that US v Miller upholds a version the NRA position vis a vis Miller. Following a fairly straightforward background of the case and Robert Jackson's presentation of the The Government's Brief for the Supreme Court, the web master presents his own interpretation: How an Attorney for Miller Might Have Replied. I have placed his main points in quotes followed by my refutations:
Formally limiting the government's powers was the main goal of the American Revolution.
Simplistic! As Gen. Omar Bradley allegedly told George W. Patten: "I can read a map", I suggest one take a look at any map of North America from that era. The English foothold on the Atlantic had been cut off in "the rear" by two flanking maneuvers - one from Canada, the other based in New Orleans on the Mississippi.

That the French had made allies with interior Indian tribes was clearly a threat to British westward expansion. The war that raged in North America through the late 1750's and early 1760's was, arguably, the "first" world war and but one part of the larger struggle between England and France for trade dominance throughout the world. That portion of the war fought in North America involved the struggle between France and England for control of lands coveted by the American colonists themselves. It was but a prelude to the so-called "American Revolution" when the stated "main goal" might have involved limiting the taxing power of the the crown over the commercial interests in what we now call the Northeast.

It was the geo-political struggle between England and France that trumped all else. Often ignored was the desire of the "states", the original 13 colonies, to explore and settle areas west of the Eastern seaboard themselves, a desire that would bring the colonies in conflict with the crown over taxation, representation in Parliament, and the right of the colonies to market their own goods free of regulatory interference from the Crown. To suggest or even hint that the war of independence was fought for gun rights is, politely, simplistic.
It is plainly absurd to argue that the Framers intended directly – or indirectly by creating a foundation on which some later law-makers might build – to provide for an actual or potential government monopoly on the use of armed force or on the ownership of arms themselves.
That simply misses the entire point. If the framers ever thought about the individual "ownership of arms themselves", then show it to me in the Federalist Papers, James Madison's notes of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington's letters, etc. In fact, there was no debate whatsoever about the individual right to own firearms but within the context of the various state militias which were, in fact, derided by the likes of George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton et al.

It is because these personages were so unhappy with the performance of the militias that James Madison stated flatly in the Second Amendment that a "well-regulated militia" was essential to the security of the free state. The key word is "well-regulated". Both Madison and Washington believed that the various militias had not been well-regulated, supplied or disciplined. Washington complained that he could not even depend upon them to show up for duty. The Second Amendment is keen to redress that grievance.

It is absurd to think that the founders, unhappy as they were with the militias during the Revolution, would sit down to draft constitutional law rewarding them for having been incompetent and unreliable.
When they wrote the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, they adhered closely to English Common law, which provided that arms could be owned and carried for self defense, so long as the intent of these actions was not to terrorize others.
But the language of the Second Amendment says absolutely nothing about personal self defense. Not one word. It does, however, expend an entire phrase to the defense of the state.
That each person is responsible for his own defense against criminals has long been the law in the United States.
That is simply not the issue addressed by the Second Amendment nor by US v Miller which states clearly how the Second Amendment is to be interpreted.
In 1939 the Supreme Court was not asked to recognize that Americans never have had a right to protection by the government, and so have a right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
What the supreme court may or may not have been asked to do is always trumped by what it does in fact. US v Miller states unambiguously that the individual right to keep and bear arms must be interpreted within the context of a "well regulated militia".

Miller did not address the issue of "self defense" except to say that a sawed off shotgun is probably not considered to be a good choice for that purpose. That is hardly a universal principle of law. The statement referring to how the Second is to be interpreted most certainly is. Therefore, any argument citing Miller in defense of a "self defense" interpretation of the Second amendment is fallacious.
And now for something completely different. The World Snooker Championships start this week. Ronnie O'Sullivan, who has won 2 World Championships and 16 other ranking tournaments, is off to a flying start.

In 1997, he cleaned the table in just a few seconds over five minutes, running up a score of 147. Here's what it looked like then.

According to the snooker experts:

The tournament favourite is Ronnie 'the Rocket' O'Sullivan, the most talented and enigmatic player on the professional snooker circuit. O'Sullivan has won the World Championship twice, along with 16 other ranking tournaments, but none of those successes have come in the last two years..
4/19/2007: Ronnie O'Sullivan favorite to win the World Snooker Championship

Repeating Failed Strategies: the Triumph of Idiocy

It was not until January that George W. Bush bothered to acknowledge the growing gap between rich and poor in America. Like Ahmandinejad denying the Holocaust, America's GOP had always denied, ignored or excused the verifiable fact that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is understandable that the GOP would do this. Inequalities are historically worse under GOP regimes going back, at least, to Herbert Hoover.

Bush policies, like those of Ronald Reagan before him, are largely to blame for this intolerable situation. The Bush administration seems to have deliberately tried to out-Reagan, Reagan, taking "trickle down economics" into uncharted waters not dared by Reagan or his budget guru, David Stockman, who later recanted.

To make matters worse, the GOP, under Bush, has consistently tried to reward the very rich and would exclude them entirely from some forms of taxation. For example, Senate Republicans have made ending the estate tax their number one priority. Supply-side economics has become the GOP's raison d'etre, a defining issue above even Iraq. Click the image for a larger, readable version.

One wonders why Bush, embattled on every other front, would bother to bring it up. The widening gap between rich and poor is hardly a GOP strong suit. Had Bush hoped to pre-empt Democrats and "liberal economists" on their home turf? Can Bush hope to outflank Democrats as long as he is owned by the privileged elite he calls his "base"? As long as "supply siders" continue to spout absurdities, there is little chance of that.
"The term 'income inequality' is a bit misleading because it suggests in a somewhat pejorative way that the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor..."

-Edward Lazear, Stanford University labor economist, Bush Chairman of Council of Economic Advisers, as quoted by WSJ.

But that is precisely what has happened. With some help from the BEA and Brookings Institution, I can prove it.

The country experienced relatively broad-based wage growth during the latter part of the 1990's, but this growth ended with the 2001 economic downturn. Growth in real wages for low- and moderate-income families began to slow, and by 2003 wages began to decline and have not picked up in real terms. The economic recovery after the recession, one of the weakest recoveries on record, has not been diverse enough to generate the kind of income gains among low- and middle-income families seen over the last decade.

-Income Inequality Has Intensified Under Bush, OMB Watch

The term "trickle down theory" is most often used derisively by Democrats. Its biggest proponent during the Reagan years was David Stockman, who preferred and promoted the term "supply-side economics." Interestingly, Stockman was among the first defectors as economic inequalities increased throughout the Reagan administration.
But the Reagan Revolution’s abortive effort to rectify these inherited conditions cannot be simply exonerated as a good try that failed. The magnitude of the fiscal wreckage and the severity of the economic dangers that resulted are too great to permit such an easy verdict. In the larger scheme of democratic fact and economic reality there lies a harsher judgment. In fact, it was the basic assumptions and fiscal architecture of the Reagan Revolution itself which first introduced the folly that now envelops our economic governance.

David Stockman, The Triumph of Politics
What is behind the Bush administration's latest, sudden concern about wealth distribution when, earlier, he had referred fondly to the very rich as his "base"? Bush was caught, flat-footed, advised by many of the same people who had advised Ronald Reagan:
Reagan's policy-makers knew that their plan was wrong, or at least inadequate to its promised effects, but the President went ahead and conveyed the opposite impression to the American public. With the cool sincerity of an experienced television actor, Reagan appeared on network TV to rally the nation in support of the Gramm-Latta resolution, promising a new era of fiscal control and balanced budgets, when Stockman knew they still had not found the solution. This practice of offering the public eloquent reassurances despite privately held doubts was not new, of course. Every contemporary President—starting with Lyndon Johnson, in his attempt to cover up the true cost of the war in Vietnam—had been caught, sooner or later, in contradictions between promises and economic realities.

Stockman himself had been a late convert to supply-side theology, and now he was beginning to leave the church. The theory of "expectations" wasn't working. He could see that. And Stockman's institutional role as budget director forced him to look constantly at aspects of the political economy that the other supply-siders tended to dismiss. Whatever the reason, Stockman was creating some distance between himself and the supply-side purists; eventually, he would become the target of their nasty barbs. For his part, Stockman began to disparage the grand theory as a kind of convenient illusion—new rhetoric to cover old Republican doctrine.

That regret was beyond remedy now; all Stockman could do was keep trying on different fronts, trying to catch up with the shortcomings of the original Reagan prospectus. But Stockman's new budget-cutting tactics were denounced as panic by his former allies in the supply-side camp. They now realized that Stockman regarded them as "overly optimistic" in predicting a painless boom through across-the-board tax reduction. "Some of the naive supply-siders just missed this whole dimension," he said. "You don't stop inflation without some kind of dislocation. You don't stop the growth of money supply in a three-trillion-dollar economy without some kind of dislocation ... Supply-side was the wrong atmospherics—not wrong theory or wrong economics, but wrong atmospherics... The supply-siders have gone too far. They created this nonpolitical view of the economy, where you are going to have big changes and abrupt turns, and their happy vision of this world of growth and no inflation with no pain."

The "dislocations" were multiplying across the nation, creating panic among the congressmen and senators who had just enacted this "fiscal revolution." But Stockman now understood that no amount of rhetoric from Washington, not the President's warmth on television nor his own nimble testimony before congressional hearings, would alter the economic forces at work. Tight monetary control should continue, he believed, until the inflationary fevers were sweated out of the economy. People would be hurt. Afterward, after the recession, perhaps the supply-side effects could begin—robust expansion, new investment, new jobs. The question was whether the country or its elected representatives would wait long enough.

--The Education of David Stockman, Atlantic Monthly
Bar charts from the Brookings Institution, clearly indicate that a pernicious, long term trend began with Ronald Reagan's infamous tax cut of 1982: the rich got much, much richer and the poor got much, much poorer. Interestingly, that trend began even as the nation slipped into a recession of at least 18 months, the longest and deepest recession since Herbert Hoover's Great Depression.
The depression began in late 1929 and lasted for about a decade. Many factors played a role in bringing about the depression; however, the main cause for the Great Depression was the combination of the greatly unequal distribution of wealth throughout the 1920's, and the extensive stock market speculation that took place during the latter part that same decade. The maldistribution of wealth in the 1920's existed on many levels. Money was distributed disparately between the rich and the middle-class, between industry and agriculture within the United States, and between the U.S. and Europe. This imbalance of wealth created an unstable economy.

Paul Alexander Gusmorino, Main Causes of the Great Depression

But the lesson of history is that no one learns the lesson of history. Despite Bush's recent concern and crocodile tears, policies known to aggravate income disparities continue under the present Bush administration. When the final chapter is written, the new trend will have begun with Bush's big tax cut.

Income inequality is real and getting worse. Though the gap between rich and poor has been growing wider since the 1970s, the wake up call was Ronald Reagan's tax cut of 1982. The upward trend of rising inequities did not abate until well into Bill Clinton's second term. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the wealthiest 20 percent of households accounted for 45.4 percent of total U.S. income in 1979, but claimed 53.5 percent in 2004. Households in the bottom fifth dropped from 5.8 to 4.1 percent over the same period.

Bush might not have used the term "supply-side economics", but he might have done. The strategy is the same. Only the very well off and millionaires have benefited from Bush's policies. Specifically, the very wealthy were already enjoying generous tax cuts. Then two additional "cuts" - enacted in 2001 - began to come into effect. Only 0.2 percent of households --millionaires with annual incomes of more than $1 million --benefit from fifty-four percent of these tax cuts. Ninety'-seven percent of Bush tax cuts go to only four percent of households, households boasting incomes of more than $200,000 a year. Bush has turned out to be the very best President money can buy.

"There is some good news", he said. "Most of the inequality reflects an increase in returns to 'investing in skills.'" This is the modern, moral equivalent of "let them eat cake." For the victims of supply side economics, "investing" is a luxury, something that is done with disposable income. Below a certain level, no income is disposable. The GOP, like flat taxers, have never understood this. Worse -they don't want to understand.

Some economists question Lazear's belief that raising taxes on higher-wage earners will provide an incentive to acquire the "investing" skills referred to by Lazear. The debate has a medieval ring to it like debating how many angels dance on the head of pin. People who have little money for food have even less for investing.

Here's the real news as Brookings put it:
The United States has recently enjoyed faster economic growth than any other large industrialized country. The US also has the highest level of inequality among the G7 countries and has seen inequality increase faster than most other industrialized nations. The combination of rapid American economic growth and high and rising US inequality raises a question: Has rising inequality contributed to rapid US economic growth?

-Gary Burtless, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Has Widening Inequality Promoted or Retarded U.S. Growth?

Simply put, as the US economy grew, the poor were left behind. Nothing new. The same thing happened during the back to back regimes of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush Sr.

Supply-siders believe that government should reward corporations and the wealthy by re-structuring taxes. This move, it is believed, will provide the wealthy more capital to invest and, in turn, stimulate the economy. Ideally, the wealth should trickle down, producing more employment and higher wages for working people.

The following chart explains why the poor working stiff is less than enthusiastic about the GDP under Bush.

This is a snapshot of the very failure of "trickle down economics". Wages clearly have not kept pace with GDP, an index of the nation's wealth. If the working people are not benefiting, who is? The rich, of course. The chart is a picture of the rich, getting richer.

It is argued, who provides jobs if not the rich? That's the wrong question. The right question is: how do the rich get rich? The rich get rich by hiring labor and paying them less than the economic value of the labor. The difference is wealth. It is created in the act of work. Created, it trickles up. A ditch digger is paid because the ditch he creates has economic value to someone who wishes to divert water to crops, for example.

Trickle down theory might work if the US were a "closed economy", if the US did not import goods from abroad. If everyone in the US bought only US produced goods, an inequitable tax cut might, indeed, trickle down to those workers employed to make those goods. But that is not the world Ronald Reagan and George Bush created. Even as Ronald Reagan slashed taxes for millionaires, his administration is notable for having changed a long term trend. Under Reagan, the US began to import more automobiles, appliances, and electronic goods, items that had been the staple of the US economic engine. It was a one two punch from which we may never recover as long as the GOP continues to dominate economic policy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Shia Group Quits Iraqi Government

It is bad enough that Bush will continue to put US troops in the dangerous position of propping up a failed regime in Iraq. It is enough to die for one's country. It is enough to defend one's country against aggressive war against it. But no one, least of all an illegitimate "President", a self appointed "decider", can expect of Americans that they die to protect him from the consequences of his own lies.

Here's the development that pulls the rug from beneath Bush. The Shi'ite bloc has quit the Iraqi government.

Sadr bloc quits Iraqi government

Firebrand Shiite cleric’s bloc pullout will herald a new power-struggle within Iraq's Shiite majority.

BAGHDAD - The political bloc of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday formally declared its withdrawal from Iraq's beleaguered ruling coalition, at a Baghdad news conference.

The hardline Shiite preacher -- who has not been seen in public for months -- was angered last week when protests failed to persuade Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to set a date for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Sadr's six ministers and 32 lawmakers form the biggest single bloc in Maliki's fragmenting coalition, but the prime minister would be able to cling to power if he keeps the support of smaller Shiite and Kurdish groups.
How many of us woke up as cockroaches this morning? If you did, you may be forgiven. We live a Kafakesque world of absurd news, inmates in charge, certifiable loons making laws and policy. I am referring to the illegitimate regime of GWB. We are strangers -not in a strange land - but in our own.

What right now has Bush to expect US troops to lay down their lives in defense of an illegitimate regime? For the clueless: the answer is found in the history of Viet Nam, where, for more than a quarter of a century, the US wasted some 58,000 American lives in defense of illegitimate regimes, tin-horn dictators and ambitious wannabes.

Here's the story as it appeared in the LA Times this morning even before the defection became fact:
A key Shi'ite Muslim bloc in Iraq's government vowed yesterday to quit over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, a move that would further weaken the country's leadership at a time of soaring sectarian violence.

The threat was made on the heels of another bloody day in the capital, where at least 37 people died in bombings that underscored the challenges of a US-Iraqi security plan now in its third month. The victims included 17 Iraqis killed in a market in a Shi'ite-dominated neighborhood, where two car bombs exploded nearly simultaneously. As people fled the chaos, mortar rounds rained down. Fifty people were wounded.

-Los Angeles Times

The Bush administration speaks another language. Their terms "insurgency" and "war on terror" are intended, designed to deceive.

Benn to criticise 'war on terror'

Hilary Benn is running in Labour's deputy leadership contest
President George W Bush's concept of a "war on terror" has given strength to terrorists by making them feel part of something bigger, Hilary Benn will say.

The international development secretary will tell a meeting in New York the phrase gives a shared identity to small groups with widely differing aims.

And Mr Benn, a candidate for Labour's deputy leadership, will confirm that UK officials will stop using the term.

The White House coined the phrase after the attacks of 11 September 2001. Mr Benn will say: "In the UK, we do not use the phrase 'war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone.
I have called it Bushspeak, sometimes gopspeak. Bush claims to "support the troops" but that lie was revealed when Bush announced that US troops will serve an additional three months active duty in a war zone -Iraq. This desperate measure indicates that the volunteer rate is down. Who will risk his/her life to perpetrate war crimes for George W. Bush? People vote by staying home -an "election" that GWB cannot steal.

Bush will one day ask himself how he will prosecute a war that no one will fight. Boycott the war. Don't volunteer. Let Bush just try to re-instate the draft. Bring it on!

Others have already said no to Bush. Having fired all his generals "on the ground", Bush now wants to create a "war czar" to oversee Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps others that may be in the works. Three four star generals have already said thanks, but no thanks to the new position.

War czar? Isn't that Robert Gates? What about "Commander-in-Chief"? Will Bush step down to accommodate a Czar? What additional wars will need a czar? Iran? Venezuela? Syria? Massachusetts? Texas is safe. It's already occupied by Republicans.

Let's take this another logical step. Perhaps Bush will want to create the position of "Decider" and, perhaps, a Decisions Department? What decisions can only be made by a bona fide decider? Will no one else be allowed to decide anything?

The American political landscape has become intellectually arid. There is no breath to be taken. It was learned that John McCain had no plan "B" before he had no plan "A".
I have no Plan B. If I saw that doomsday scenario evolving, then I would try to come up with one. But I cannot give you a good alternative because if I had a good alternative, maybe we could consider it now.

- Doggerel from John McCain

Yesterday was too late. Now is too late. Later will have been too late.

Then there is Paul Wolfowitz, the NEOCON, who apologized for paying off his "girl friend" with a much higher paying job, a raise twice as large as allowed by bank rules.
I believe in the mission of this organization, and I believe I can carry it out. This is important work, and I intend to continue it.
He likes the work and, obviously, the money. Send him your resumes with pix. Emphasize your specialties.

Despite the unflinching support of NEOCONS back home in the Bush admin, Wolfowitz is in trouble. As in another unfolding scandal, the real story will be told with emails. From them an interesting tale will be pieced together. The pressure will mount. This weekend, Hilary Benn, Britain's Secretary of State for International Development, said that "... the scandal had damaged the (world) bank".

Wolfowitz is, meanwhile, lobbying the world bank's chief beneficiaries in Africa. The gentle reminders of "...progress in debt cancellation" might seem innocent enough. But are they? Is there not the implication that debts will not be cancelled should Wolfowitz lose his job. Is this not a Nazi tactic?

Here's an interesting paragraph that I found while scanning the news this AM:
There comes a moment in the life of every dictator when the mask of respectability slips and he reveals the ugly face of tyranny.

-Kasparov's Arrest Spells Trouble
Yes, I thought it was describing Bush. But it wasn't Bush this time. Rather, the paragraph described Vladimir Putin who had been, until now, careful to "preserve a semblance of legality" even as his soul buddy Bush never bothered.

But it is troublesome that the paragraph might have been about Bush. It could just as well describe the many moments --most since Katrina --when the "mask of respectability" slipped away to reveal Bush's smirking chimp face for what it is: a venal dictatorship.

Too late to make my article about the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, I found this review of Vonnegut's last book:
He is at his angriest and most satirical when looking around at George W Bush's America. A sleazy "keystone-cops style coup" by failed Yale students, an addiction to oil, the "progress" of war, a nation that has moved beyond all humanness and reason led by three men named "Bush, Dick and Colon". All these things have left him feeling a stranger in a land he once fought for, a man now asking, "who the hell's country is this anyway?"

-A Man Without a Country", Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Can we please go home now?

It's all but official. The US has been invited to leave Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims recently staged a huge demonstration in which the US was urged to leave. Amid religious themes, a prominent slogan: “Death to America!” That was Bush's first clue that our troops are no longer wanted, no longer needed, no longer welcome. Iraq has had enough US compassion to last a lifetime. For some 650,000 it was precisely that. A lifetime.

How did Bush delude us? Let us count the ways. For a start, it was the US, the first Bush regime, that lured Saddam into attacking and invading Kuwait. It was US Ambassador April Glaspie who, in effect, gave Saddam a green light to attack Kuwait.
U.S. Ambassador Glaspie - We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960's, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)
April Glaspie Transcript.
We were told that we would be greeted as liberators. We were not. When we backed a puppet in the person of Chalabi, were we were met with yawns not cheers. When Colin Powell took plagiarized student papers and old, re-touched photos to the UN in support of a bogus WMD claim, Bush just came up with another, equally bogus justification for war. When we didn't find WMD, Bush would not apologize for having screwed up. When a beat up trailer turned out not to have been a mobile weapons lab, Bush blamed Iraqis. When American troops all but leveled Fallujah we were still told that it was a battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. You have to kill to them to get them to love you, I suppose. When Bush promised to bring Democracy to Iraq, the Shias elected their own. When the Sunnis waged war because they were disenfranchised, Bush supported the incumbent Shias and wonders why he is not universally loved.

The devil is in the details and, in a mere paragraph, no justice is done them. But it is the details, the nuances which Bush doesn't do that has done Bush policy in. It's over George. Bring the troops home before your every stupid move makes things even worse.

The mass demonstration of anti-American sentiment is most certainly the nail in the coffin. Bush policy in Iraq was DOA. It is time now to bury the corpse. Bush's human dead will be hard to forget, the debt Bush can never repay, the harm he can never undo, the lasting grief of a generation, an anguished wail, a dying world.

It's over George. Bring the troops home. A failed policy is not worth another human life on any side.

Watch the video again. Listen to the manner in which Bush tries to blackmail the Congress and the American people. He threatens to delay the return home of troops unless he gets his war, his way. Bush lies without conscience. He threatens like a dockside bully. Enough of this idiot.

Democrats, meanwhile, lack the votes to override a veto. It doesn't matter. Democrats can do no worse than send up the right bills expecting full well that Bush will veto them. Democrats can do no worse that to attach those measures to any bill desired by Bush. Sure -Bush will try to blame the Democrats for his veto. That's the Bush way, the GOP way. What else is new? Suck it up! Keep on sending up the bills that Bush will have to veto. At some point, even the idiot will give up if he is not impeached, removed and tried.

A message for Democrats: Bush is now a rogue "President". Treat him as such. His swaggering, arrogant manner hardly complimented his utter incompetence and stupidity. Arrogance is insufferable in the competent, but utterly unforgivable in an idiot. Bush deserves no more respect than he showed his nation, his people or the world. Fuck Bush. And, when the votes are there, even among his own party, throw his sorry ass out and don't look back. In the meantime, bring his administration to a halt. Block, if need be, his every war appropriation.

It was Colin Powell who warned before the U.S. invasion, "If you break it, you own it." Bush took it literally. He thinks Iraq is his to do with as he likes, to pillage and destroy.

We've done more than break it. Bush and the GOP have tried to blame the Iraqi people for his stupidity. Sure, Bush is responsible. But so are the idiots who voted for him and there is no evidence that "they" have learned or "grown" from the experience. As a class, they were and remain deluded, crooked, and in power. Don't feel safe until they are locked up or quarantined. I lost my country and I am not in a forgiving mood.

An anniversary:
18 Years Ago Today: Tiananmen Square Protests Begin

By May 5th there were 100,000 students in the streets of Beijing. What began as demands to restore Hu's place in history turned into a call for political and economic freedom for all Chinese. Protest spread across China. Hunger strikes were called. The Chinese regime appeared on the brink of the kind of collapse cascading like dominoes throughout Eastern Europe. The world appeared to be on the verge of one of those pivotal, where-were-you-when-it-happened moments.

It was such a moment, but not in the way we might have hoped. In late May martial law was declared. And the tanks began rolling in. What had began as a movement for peace and freedom was ended by violence and oppression. On June 5th the famous "Tank Man" photo was taken, and that image became indelibly linked with the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Now, 18 years later, the two greatest threats to the world are China and the US under Bush.