Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Brief Note on the Other Incident

Incidentally, we really should give kudos to the Federal Government on the ricin letters.  They arrested the most likely suspect, investigated further, determined that there was no evidence he was involved, dropped all charges, and released him.  It is unfortunate, of course, that he was arrested in error, but such things do happen.  And it has gotten him some extra gigs and an Elvis impersonator.

If only such things happened more often.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reflections on Conspiracy Theories

I am being exposed to a lot of conspiracy theories these days via a Facebook friend.  Many of them I had heard of at least in very broad outline; others belong to a general type of conspiracism I had heard before without hearing the particular theory.  My friend is a conspiracy omnivore and posts all types of conspiracy theories, left and right.  What is striking is how arbitrary the distinction between a left wing conspiracy theory and a right wing conspiracy theory can be, and how easily one side can pick up ideas from the other.

Consider the following:

Chemtrails are an issue mostly on the left.
Gold buggery is generally property of the right.
9-11 trutherism originated on the left, but the right wing has picked it up.
Belief in the Illuminati is right wing.
But David Icke's belief in shape shifting underground lizards (no, seriously!) is left wing.
And both side have anti-vaccination movements.

As I struggle to make some sense of the whole thing, I can identify certain patterns that can predict how a certain conspiracy will originate on one side or the other.

Both side distrust government.  The number of followers in distrust ebbs and flows with which party holds the White House, but some hard liners will distrust regardless.  The right wing is more likely to distrust government exercising "mommy" functions.  Both distrust "daddy" functions.

Both sides distrust large corporations.  Left wingers focus particularly on extraction and other things that damage the environment.  Right wingers focus especially on banking, although both sides distrust banks.  Distrust of banks is apparently a right wing tradition dating back at least to the 19th Century.  Gold bugs are people trying to end the power of banks.

Concern for the environment is left wing.  Right wingers treat almost any concern over the environment as sinister.  Maybe the accounts for gold buggery being mostly property of the right -- gold mining does terrible things to the environment.  It certainly explains why fear of chemtrails is lefty.

Lefties are much more likely to be back-to-nature and distrustful of technology, and more likely to believe that going back to nature will fix everything.  Presumably that explains the left wing anti-vax movement -- vaccines are unnatural after all, and made by pharmaceutical corporations.  I can only assume the right wing anti-vax movement is mostly because government seeks to mandate vaccines.

Righties are much more likely to distrust any sort of international cooperation and see it as a threat to national sovereignty.  Anything that involves the UN is automatically evil in hard right eyes.  (To be fair, right wingers, in addition to being fierce in defense of our own sovereignty, support the right of other countries to defend their sovereignty as well).

Righties are more likely to be survivalists and reach for their guns than lefties.  Right wing conspiracism has a way of assuming Mad Max.  It is often hard to tell whether they fear Mad Max but believe that it is inevitable, or whether they really want a Mad Max world.

Righties are much, much more traditional in their religion than lefties.  That somewhat explains the Illuminati.  The Illuminati really did exist in 18th Century Bavaria as an offshoot of the Masons and really did challenge traditional religion.  18th Century conservatives sometimes blamed them for the French Revolution.  Today's John Birch Society types just haven't let go.  David Icke, by contrast, is the founder of a sort-of religion that is, to put it mildly, non-traditional and therefore inherently left wing.

Both sides have strong off-the-grid movements.  On the left, it is usually an environmentalist, back-to-nature, anti-technology movement.  On the right, it is preparation for Mad Max.  One saw the difference is Y2K approached in 1999.  Hard core Y2K activists were people who expected the whole modern technology to crash and claimed to fear it, but seemed strangely enthusiastic.  On the left, people hoped for back-to-nature communitarianism.  On the right, people prepared for Mad Max.

Oh, yes.  And although conspiracy theories exist on both sides of the divide, the right wing conspiracy community is larger.  The overall pull is to the right.  That, too, can be seen on Facebook.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Few More Quick Notes

The death and destruction from the fertilizer plant that blew up in Texas looks a lot worse than the Boston Marathon bombings.  But a random accident just doesn't inspire the terror that an act of terror does.  We wonder if there are other terrorists lurking out there.  Industrial accidents don't lurk; they just happen.

I wonder how often incidents like the ricin letters happen.  Is this a rare event that just happens to have occurred about the time of the Boston bombings?  Or do things like that happen all the time, and this one just  came to people's attention because it happened so close to the bombing?

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Brief Note on the Boston Marathon Bombings

This is terrible!  My condolences to everyone involved.  A few reflections.

(1)  I suppose this is the Big One we have all been dreading.  I haven't seen such a reaction since 9/11.

(2)  Then again, people responded to 9/11 with fear, which is certainly understandable.  This time, we are seeing more of a sense of they can't intimidate us.  We will continue with our lives.  It is good to hear.

(3)  Congratulations to the people of the United States in general and Boston in particular for pulling together and all stepping forward to do our best.

(4)  We don't know who did this.  The careful coordination of multiple bombs sounds like Al-Qaeda.  But I don't think Al-Qaeda has any interest in the Boston Marathon.  Then again, I don't believe it is someone upset over the proposed gun restrictions exercising "Second Amendment rights" because I would expect such an attack to target the federal government.  Nor would I expect this sort of coordination.  My bet is on domestic Muslim terrorists from the Boston area.  We will see.

(5)  Sometimes I hate the continual news updates we get these days.  After the first attack on the World Trade Center, people expected it to take months to find out who was responsible and it seemed very impressive that the FBI solved it in six days.  The Oklahoma City Bombing was even more impressive -- it was resolved in 48 hours.  And no one ever much doubted who was behind 9-11.  But now I'm checking the Net every half hour or so to see if they have found anything out.

(6)  And finally, I am really dreading the political fallout from this.  Wait for more calls for yet more harsh measures against Muslims.

But most of all, this is terrible.  My condolences to everyone involved.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Militia and Armed Rebellion at the Constitutional Convention

In my previous discussion of David Frum's articles on the Founding Fathers' views of private armies, I discussed examples before the U.S. Constitution was even begun.  Frum also quotes discussions of the militia during the Constitutional Convention to argue that militias were not private armies, and that their purpose was not armed resistance to the new government being founded.  The only fault I would find is that he does not quote extensively enough.

The subject of the militia was first discussed on August 18, almost exactly a month before the Convention ended:
Mr. MASON introduced the subject of regulating the militia. He thought such a power necessary to be given to the Genl. Government. He hoped there would be no standing army in time of peace, unless it might be for a few garrisons. The Militia ought therefore to be the more effectually prepared for the public defence. Thirteen States will never concur in any one system, if the displining of the Militia be left in their hands. If they will not give up the power over the whole, they probably will over a part as a select militia. He moved as an addition to the propositions just referred to the Committee of detail, & to be referred in like manner, "a power to regulate the militia."
That alone makes clear what was meant by a "militia" at the time the Constitution was adopted.  It was not every man and his gun with no organization, nor was it a private army.  Nor did "regulation" mean self-regulation, i.e., every man learning to properly use a gun.  Rather, it was a system under the discipline of a government.  The only dispute was whether it was to be a federal or state government.

The subject is then dropped for a while as other federal powers are discussed.  But Mason raised the subject again later the same day:
Mr. MASON moved as an additional power "to make laws for the regulation and discipline of the militia of the several States reserving to the States the appointment of the officers." He considered uniformity as necessary in the regulation of the Militia throughout the Union.
Genl. PINKNEY mentioned a case during the war in which a dissimilarity in the militia of different States had produced the most serious mischiefs. Uniformity was essential. The States would never keep up a proper discipline of their militia.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was for going as far in submitting the militia to the Genl. Government as might be necessary, but thought the motion of Mr. Mason went too far. He moved that the militia should have the same arms & exercise and be under rules established by the Genl. Govt. when in actual service of the U. States and when States neglect to provide regulations for militia, it shd. be regulated & established by the Legislature of [16] U. S. The whole authority over the Militia ought by no means to be taken away from the States whose consequence would pine away to nothing after such a sacrifice of power. He thought the Genl. Authority could not sufficiently pervade the Union for such a purpose, nor could it accomodate itself to the local genius of the people. It must be vain to ask the States to give the Militia out of their hands.
Once again, militia is clearly not treated as every man and his gun without organization, nor as private armies, but an organized body under the control of some government.  The issue is which level, federal or state.  Some discussion then followed of giving the federal government authority over only a portion of the militia.  Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut grumbled that, " The States will never submit to the same militia laws. Three or four shilling's as a penalty will enforce obedience better in New England, than forty lashes in some other places."  Once again, "regulation" of the militia is used to mean laws governing it, not individuals regulating themselves.  Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina said he had little faith in the militia and that without a real military force, the country would degenerate into anarchy.  Finally:
Mr. SHERMAN, took notice that the States might want their Militia for defence agst. invasions and insurrections, and for enforcing obedience to their laws. They will not give up this point. In giving up that of taxation, they retain a concurrent power of raising money for their own use.
Two others were inclined to agree.  No one at all responded by saying that the whole point of a militia was to safeguard the potential of rebellion, not to defend against it or enforce laws.  The issue was sent to committee to work out the details.

The committee returned with its report nearly a week later.  It proposed to give the federal government power:
To make laws for organizing, arming & disciplining the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the U. S. reserving to the States respectively, the appointment of the officers, and authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed.
When asked for clarification, Rufus King, who served on the committee explained:
Mr. KING, by way of explanation, said that by organizing, the Committee meant, proportioning the officers & men -- by arming, specifying the kind size & caliber of arms -- & by disciplining prescribing the manual exercise evolutions &c.
In response to the comment that "arming" did not mean furnishing arms and "disciplining" did not mean establishing the penalties or court martial, he added:
Mr. KING added, to his former explanation that arming meant not only to provide for uniformity of arms, but included authority to regulate the modes of furnishing, either by the Militia themselves, the State Governments, or the National Treasury: that laws for disciplining, must involve penalties and every thing necessary for enforcing penalties.
All right.  So the federal government can furnish arms for the militia, it can direct states to furnish arms, or it can direct the members to bring their own guns.  It can also set penalties for breaking militia rules and the court martial system for enforcing those penalties.  This really does not sound like a discussion of private armies, or armed rebellion against the government.  Some back-and-forth followed (including Frum's quote), all addressed to the degree of control over the militia by federal versus state government.  Edmund Randolph said that states were ignoring the militia because enforcing discipline was unpopular. The topic of private armies or rebellions of the Shays type was never so much as mentioned.  Elbridge Gerry grumbled, "Will any man say that liberty will be as safe in the hands of eighty or a hundred men taken from the whole continent, as in the hands of two or three hundred taken from a single State."  But no one discussed whether liberty would be safe if anyone unhappy with the government could raise a private army.

The proposal then handily passed.  Madison proposed to modify it to allow the federal government to appoint generals and the states to appoint lower ranking officers. This was indignantly refused.  So the militia was to have all officers appointed by the states, an arrangement hardly consistent with the militia being anything but under control of some level of government.

The role of rebellion was also raised July 18 (a month before the discussion of the militia) in the context of the proposal, "That a Republican Constitution & its. existing laws ought to be guarantied to each State by the U. States."  Some people then complained that this appeared to forbid reform of existing bad laws.  James Wilson assured the delegates that "The object is merely to secure the States agst. dangerouscommotions, insurrections and rebellions."
Col. MASON. If the Genl. Govt. should have no right to suppress rebellions agst. particular States, it will be in a bad situation indeed. As Rebellions agst. itself originate in & agst. individual States, it must remain a passive Spectator of its own subversion.
That would seem to fly directly in the face of the whole insurrectionist theory that subversion of the government is something good and to be encouraged.  Even more so the comments of Nathaniel Gorham:
Mr. GHORUM thought it strange that a Rebellion should be known to exist in the Empire, and the Genl. Govt. shd. be restrained from interposing to subdue it. At this rate an enterprising Citizen might erect the standard of Monarchy in a particular State, might gather together partizans from all quarters, might extend his views from State to State, and threaten to establish a tyranny over the whole & the Genl. Govt. be compelled to remain an inactive witness of its own destruction. With regard to different parties in a State; as long as they confine their disputes to words, they will be harmless to the Genl. Govt. & to each other. If they appeal to the sword, it will then be necessary for the Genl. Govt., however difficult it may be to decide on the merits of their contest, to interpose & put an end to it.
This calls for some serious unpacking.  While the insurrectionist theory assumes that the only danger to liberty could be from an overweening government, and that rebellion is necessarily to uphold freedom, Gorham seems to see rebellion itself as a source of danger and possible tyranny.  He also says that states can conduct their domestic politics as they please so long as they do not resort to violence, but that violence may call for armed intervention.  Two things stand out here -- that he sees political violence as inherently dangerous, and that he trusts the federal government to take sides.  All of this would seem perfectly unremarkable if we did not currently have certain people who glorify political violence.  Everyone then agreed to a proposal that each state should be guaranteed a republican government and protected from "foreign and domestic violence."  The Convention adjourned for the day.

The subject came up again a month later, on August 17, interestingly, the day before the militia was first discussed.  This debate in this case was whether the federal authority to subdue a rebellion in a state should require the application of the state legislature.  Some argument went back and forth, with some members thinking the states were best suited to decide and others saying the prospect of federal intervention would be a useful deterrent. Somebody pointed out that the emergency might prevent a state legislature from convening.  In the end, the Convention voted to require the application of the state legislature unless the legislature could not meet.  No one suggested that rebellions were something inherently good to be encouraged.

The subject of rebellion was briefly raised twice more on the topic of whether the application of the state executive should be sufficient.  The Convention ended up decided that the application of the state executive would be sufficient if the legislature was unable to meet.  The provision remains in our Constitution to this day.

In short, the topics of militia and rebellion are raised in the Constitutional Convention.  At no time is rebellion treated as anything other than an evil to be suppressed.  The militia is treated as a body organized by laws, under the control of government, with officers chosen by government.  There was serious debate as to which level of government -- federal or state -- should command the militia and an complex compromise.  At no point, however, did anyone endorse private armies, or suggest the private armies were a legitimate militia.

Next:  Militia, rebellion, and revolution in the Federalist Papers.

The Founding Fathers and Armed Rebellion: Pre-Constitution

David Frum recently ran quite an interesting pair of articles on the history of the Second Amendment and how the interpretation arose that its purpose was armed rebellion against the government.  He begins by commenting on the book Gun Fight, which is a history of American attitudes towards guns and gun control.  Frum does not give an overall review of the book, but mostly addresses how the view of the Second Amendment as protecting armed rebellion against government began. There is ample evidence that the Founding Fathers did not intend to authorize armed rebellion against the government they were establishing, insurrectionist arguments to the contrary.  There is also ample evidence that they regarded private armies and political violence, not as safeguards of liberty, but as evils to be avoided.

Frum actually begins with examples long antedating the United States.  Many ancient Romans raised private armies to wage war against the state.  Invariably, these led, not to glorious revolution and liberty, but to civil war, mass slaughter of the losers, and military dictatorship.  Frum particularly offers the example of Catiline, a Roman general who sought to use his army to overthrow the Roman government, widely seen as a villain by the founding generation.  He overlooks the more obvious example of Julius Caesar, also seen by the Founders as a villain.*  The phrase "to cross the Rubicon" is so often used to refer to the point of no return that its origins are often forgotten.  So long as Caesar and his army remained north of the Rubicon, they were on a foreign campaign.  If they crossed, Caesar was taking a private army into Rome proper and was in rebellion against the state.  Frum also offers the example of Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army as another private army that overthrew constitutional government and established a military dictatorship.

The Revolutionary War, it should be noted, was not fought as a spontaneous uprising by every man and his gun, nor by private armies.  It was fought by colonial/state militias, under the control of the colonial/state governments.  A Continental Congress had been formed even before the war began, and soon formed a Continental Army to fight alongside the militias.  The French also sent in troops to help.  And then there was the little matter of Shays' Rebellion.  My high school history books have always portrayed Shays Rebellion in a favorable light, as a desperate act of debt-strapped farmers denied any recourse at law.  The judgment of contemporaries, with the exception of Jefferson is much harsher.

It was in the context of Shays Rebellion that Thomas Jefferson made his famous comments about rebellion being a good way to keep government in line.  To Madison he wrote:
I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.
 His letter to William Smith was even clearer:
[C]an history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
This is a remarkable comment.  Jefferson is saying that he thinks Shays Rebellion was good, even though he did not believe it was justified.  He believes that if people believe, however mistakenly, that they are mistreated by their government, the proper response is violence, and that some sort of violent rebellion is needed every 20 years or so.  If he truly believed that the proper response the mistaken belief that one is wronged by government was to start shooting, he probably seriously misjudged how common such mistaken beliefs were.  He also seriously misjudged how governments tend to respond to armed rebellion -- usually by brutal crackdown.  Shays Rebellion was no exception.  Aside from Jefferson, the general view was one ocondemnation.

Contrast Jefferson's view to George Washington:
Commotions of this sort, like snow-balls, gather strength as they roll, if there is no opposition in the way to divide and crumble them. I am mortified beyond expression that in the moment of our acknowledged independence we should by our conduct verify the predictions of our transatlantic foe, and render ourselves ridiculous and contemptible in the eyes of all Europe.
To say nothing of Samuel Adams, "[I]n monarchies the crime of treason and rebellion may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death."

Even in Massachusetts, where people had good insight into the Shaysites' real grievances, their actions were widely seen as simple lawlessness to be suppressed, and no more.  Perhaps the most eloquent denunciation of Shays Rebellion came from Jonathan Smith, a Massachusetts farmer and minor politician who lived in the middle of the disturbances:
There was a black cloud [Shays’ Rebellion] that rose in the east last winter, and spread over the west….It brought on a state of anarchy and that led to tyranny. I say, it brought anarchy. People that used to live peaceably, and were before good neighbors, got distracted, and took up arms against government…. People, I say, took up arms, and then, if you went to speak to them, you had the musket of death presented to your breast. They would rob you of your property, threaten to burn your houses; oblige you to be on your guard night and day. Alarms spread from town to town; families were broken up; the tender mother would cry, O my son is among them!...

Our distress was so great that we should have been glad to snatch at anything that looked like a government. Had any person that was able to protect us come and set up his standard, we should all have flocked to it, even if it had been a monarch, and that monarch might have proved a tyrant. So that you see that anarchy leads to tyranny; and better have one tyrant than so many at once.
 The classical history of private armies, well known at the time the Constitution was founded, gave every indication that they were dangers to liberty, rather than its defenders.  The real world behavior of private armies since only reinforces that impression.

Next up:  The militia and armed rebellion at the Constitutional Convention.
*One can certainly argue that the Founding Fathers were unjust to both Caesar and Catiline.  Rome's aristocratic republic had largely degenerated into a narrow oligarchy that did a very poor job of protecting the ordinary Roman citizen.  Figures like Caesar and Catiline, though despised by aristocratic republicans, were often champions of the common people.  However, champions of insurrectionism invariably base their arguments on the views of the Founders, and the Founders clearly saw Caesar and Catiline as evil military dictators and examples to be avoided.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

One More Brief Comment on Same Sex Marriage

I would  offer one last word of caution to supporters of same sex marriage.  You (we) rightly mock religious conservatives who regard preventing gay marriage as the foremost moral issue of our day and think whether you favor or oppose it is a reasonable surrogate for general morality.

Don't fall into the same trap yourself.  Do not judge how good, worthy or generous a person is based on whether they support or oppose same sex marriage.  There are a lot of other things out there to measure people by.  And don't treat opposition as outside all reasonable bounds.  It is, after all, a major break with tradition, and as such, unsettling.  People do not always have a rational explanation for their attachment to tradition.  The sense of attachment is reason enough.
So, another April, another lousy employment report.  Is this the sequester draining resources out of the economy, or yet another spring slump.