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Friday, September 25, 2015

The Ben Carson Index

Ben CarsonI've written quite a bit about Ben Carson on this site. It started off when he was much less well known, and was invited to be give the commencement speech at the local university, but with his rise in political popularity, it has expanded into two in-depth series and several more individual entries. So, to give one location with links to all of my Ben Carson entries, I've created this index. If I post more about him, I'll try to remember to add a link here.

Individual Entries

Here are individual entries, in chronological order.

First Series - A Critical Examination of Ben Carson

This was my first attempt at an in-depth investigation of Carson's political positions. I tried to be fair by looking at a 'snapshot' of the articles on his own homepage at the time, rather than focus on issues where I knew I disagreed with him. But, because he's written so many op-eds for the Washington Times, and this series only looked at a small part of the totality of his writing, it didn't necessarily address the most important issues, which is a big part of the reason for the second series below. Still, there are some pretty good entries in this series.

Second Series - Ben Carson on the Issues

This second series looked mostly at the issues on Carson's own campaign website in the section, Ben on the Issues. I figured that was a good way to pick the issues he himself found most important to discuss, without anyone being able to accuse me of cherry-picking Carson's worst stances. However, there were two major issues that Carson failed to address on his website, which I thought were important enough to add to the series - Climate Change and Marriage Equality. Note that the first entry covers so many individual issues because they're each covered only briefly, while the rest of the series addresses the issues a little more fully.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part VI - Marriage Equality

Ben CarsonThis entry is part of a series looking at Ben Carson's stance on political issues. For this series, I'm mostly looking at the issues identified on Carson's own website in the section, Ben on the Issues. I figured that was a good way to pick the issues he himself found most important to discuss, without anyone being able to accuse me of cherry-picking Carson's worst stances. An index of all the issues can be found on the first post in the series, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part I.

This entry, the last of the series, addresses Carson's stance on marriage equality. This wasn't covered on Carson's website, but I consider it a very important contemporary topic, so I figured it was worth discussing.

There's a group called the National Organization for Marriage. Much like other misleadingly named groups like the American Family Association, they're not really in support of marriage as a whole, but in only one narrowly defined definition, trying to restrict the rights of gay people from being able to marry. They have a marriage pledge that they've asked presidential candidates to sign, and Carson is one of the candidates who's signed it.

Here are the first and second positions from the pledge.

One, support a federal constitutional amendment that protects marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Two, oppose and work to overturn any Supreme Court decision that illegitimately finds a constitutional "right" to the redefinition of marriage. This includes nominating to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal bench judges who are committed to restraint and applying the original meaning of the Constitution, and appointing an attorney general similarly committed.

I wrote about marriage equality years ago when I was still a Christian, in Legality of Homosexual Marriage. I cringe now at some of the things I wrote, but even back then, I recognized that it was not the government's place to try to legislate morality, nor to impose sectarian religious definitions of marriage on the American people as a whole. I even specifically addressed the possibility of a Constitutional amendment, since then president Bush had recently raised the issue.

The amendments in the Bill of Rights were passed to protect people's personal freedoms. All of the subsequent amendments to the Constitution, except for one, have been passed to give additional rights and freedoms, or as changes to the structure of the government. The exception, the 18th Amendment, Prohibition, was repealed [13] years later by the 21st amendment because it didn't work. The Constitution should not be used to take away freedom, it should be used to guarantee rights. If a constitutional amendment is going to be passed regarding gay marriage, it should only be used to protect it, not to make it illegal.

Thankfully, per the recent Supreme Court decision, the Court's interpretation of the 14th Amendment does guarantee that right to all people, heterosexual and homosexual alike, so an amendment guaranteeing people's freedom to marry is unnecessary. But people like Ben Carson and this National Organization for Marriage want to pass a new Constitutional amendment and fight against this recent ruling, all to deny a fundamental right to people. That's simply horrendous.

At a recent rally, Carson briefly discussed issues related to marriage equality. You can listen to these remarks yourself on MSNBC, Ben Carson speaks out on Kim Davis controversy, starting at about 42 seconds in, but I've done my best to transcribe his remarks below.

One of the things that came up this week of course, Miss Davis, down in Kentucky, who had to go to jail which was I think inappropriate. There were other things that could have been done. That was probably not the right one. Because the Supreme Court had not overstepped its boundaries and done what they did at the time that she took that job. So the circumstances changed. And all she was asking is that her name not be put on the documents. She was not trying to obstruct anybody from doing anything other than that.

I've already discussed Kim Davis in the appropriately titled entry, A Few Thoughts on Kim Davis. Davis was refusing to do her job as an elected official, plain and simple. Public officials don't get to choose to enforce only the laws that were in effect at the time they started working. Just imagine if police officers attempted similar justifications. If, after the Supreme Court decision, Davis felt that she could no longer perform her duties, then she should have resigned (had she been a normal employee and not elected, she could have simply been fired).

The federal judge in this case, David Bunning, gave Davis plenty of opportunity to comply with the ruling before jailing her. To quote a Washington Post article, Kim Davis is off to jail for refusing to do her job, he even offered her a last minute deal "to 'purge' her contempt of court by allowing her deputies to sign same-sex marriage licenses in her place." She refused the offer (at least before going to jail). It was her refusal to comply with court rulings, and the fact that she blocked any compromises that would have allowed others in the office to issue marriage licenses, that got her thrown in jail for contempt of court. And frankly, when a person tries to use their government position to impose their own personal religious convictions and oppress other citizens, I don't feel much sympathy for that person spending a few days in jail.

I also take issue with Carson's wording of the Supreme Court 'overstepping' its boundaries. This type of interpretation is exactly what the Supreme Court is supposed to do. Congress and Senate pass laws, but if those laws violate the Constitution, then it's up to the Supreme Court to strike those laws down. It doesn't even matter if the laws were passed by a public referendum and have majority public support - laws that violate the Constitution are still illegal. In this case, the Court found that these laws violated the 14th Amendment, and ruled accordingly. If Carson and his ilk don't like this ruling, they should be (and like I wrote above, they are) trying to pass a new Amendment to overturn the 14th and restrict people's rights. But when he talks about the Supreme court 'overstepping' its boundaries simply for doing its job, it doesn't leave me very impressed with his understanding of civics.


So, that wraps up this series. I've learned my lesson, though, and won't say this is the last time I'll discuss Carson. If he stays high in the polls, I'm sure I'll be motivated to write more about him. Someone with views and positions as bad as Carson's deserves to have those positions called out.

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for August 2015

Top 10 ListSeptember's more than two-thirds done with, and I just realized that I never did do my normal top 10 entry for August, so it's time to correct that.

All the pages that made the list had made it before, so no surprises there.

Traffic in August was still down a bit from the previous two months, but in line with most of the year. I'll add that my traffic for September to date already exceeds my total traffic for August with a week still left to go this month. I suspect it's partly because I've had a bit more free lunch breaks to work on the blog, but also partly due to an influx of spam (that I think I've mostly stopped for now).

Anyway, here's the list.

Top 10 for August 2015

  1. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  2. A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam
  4. Review of Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God, Part I
  5. Book Review - Tribulation Force
  6. 22 Responses to 22 Creationist Misconceptions
  7. Creationist Dishonesty and a Follow Up to Previous Entries
  8. The 2014 Texas Republican Platform
  9. Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  10. A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy

Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part V - Taxes

Ben CarsonThis entry is part of a series looking at Ben Carson's stance on political issues. For this series, I'm mostly looking at the issues identified on Carson's own website in the section, Ben on the Issues. I figured that was a good way to pick the issues he himself found most important to discuss, without anyone being able to accuse me of cherry-picking Carson's worst stances. An index of all the issues can be found on the first post in the series, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part I.

This entry addresses Carson's stance on taxes. Here are a couple excerpts from Carson's site. Basically, he wants "wholesale tax reform" to make the tax code simpler, and seems to want to do away with "the IRS as we know it".

It [the tax code] is too long, too complex, too burdensome, and too riddled with tax shelters and loopholes that benefit only a few at the direct expense of the many.
We need a fairer, simpler, and more equitable tax system. Our tax form should be able to be completed in less than 15 minutes. This will enable us to end the IRS as we know it.

Not too much to disagree with so far. The tax code is too long and complex and should be simplified. I'm not so sure the IRS can be done away with, but let's ignore that for now and just focus on taxes.

Although he doesn't offer much in the way of policy on his website, Carson has proposed a flat tax (based on Biblical tithing) in other venues. Here's an example going back to one of Carson's op-ed pieces from the Washington Times in 2013, CARSON: Proportional taxation works because it's fair to everyone. But first, even though it's out of order from the article, Carson offered some statements that seem to be behind his rationale for a flat tax.

We need to abandon the idea that some people are too needy and pitiful to be required to make contributions.
Furthermore, if everyone is included in the tax base, it forces the government to be more frugal with the taxpayers' money.

It seems as if Carson thinks that right now, a sizable enough proportion of the population to worry about doesn't contribute to the tax base. Why else would he talk about people not "required to make contributions" or make a statement like "if everyone is included in the tax base"? This is no more true than when Romney made a similar claim back in 2012. Although not everyone contributes to federal income taxes, there are many more taxes out there. The Center for Tax Justice has a page on Who Pays Taxes in America in 2014?. They combined all taxes people paid, not just federal income tax, and then plotted it by income. Here's how it comes out:

Share of Total Taxes Paid by Each Income Group, 2014, Source: Center for Tax Justice

Just to be clear, here are total effective tax rates broken down by income group:

Share of Total Taxes Paid by Each Income Group, 2014, Source: Center for Tax Justice

So, overall taxation in the U.S. is somewhat progressive, but not a huge amount. If you look at the breakdowns on that page, state and local taxes tend to be regressive, putting more burden on the lowest income groups. To compensate, federal income taxes are progressive, making the total tax burden more proportional, and slightly progressive. But the overall point is, most people in the U.S. do pay taxes roughly proportional to their income.

Anyway, on to his proposal:

Many alternative forms of taxation are used throughout the world, but the model that appeals most to me is based on biblical tithing. Under that system, everyone was required to pay one-tenth of their income to the designated authorities of the theocracy.

He did go on to say in that article that 10% was only an example, but in other venues (see Politico), he's said that he only thinks it need to be as high as 10-15%.

There are two things Carson could be talking about with this flat tax, neither of which is an appealing option. If he's talking only about federal income tax (or even all federal taxes), then the above discussion makes it clear that a flat tax would put much more burden on lower income groups because of the other taxes they already pay. If he's talking about replacing the entire taxation system in the U.S., from city to state to federal, then he's talking about a monumental undertaking that quite frankly is unrealistic. There would be one big pot of money that people paid taxes into, that would then be distributed out to all the various levels of government. Who would do the collecting, and who would do the deciding on how much each level of government received?

Further, the tax rate isn't even the complicated part of the tax code. As explained in an op-ed on the Houston Chronicle, Steffy: Why the flat tax is flat wrong:

"I don't think the nominal rates are what confuse people," said Andrew Gardener, a certified financial planner and president of Houston-based Tanglewood Legacy Advisors. "The part of the tax code that tells you what your rate is, is two sentences. That's fairly simple."

The complexity comes in defining income.

The article goes on to give a few examples of this difficulty in defining income, and even when income is taxable. These are the complications that have built up in the tax code that need to be revised, but a flat tax doesn't address that.

This is another of the examples where I agree with Carson (at least partly) in identifying an issue, but not in his proposed solution, which would only make things worse.

On to Part VI, Marriage Equality

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Updated 2015-09-24: Added graph of tax rates and a bit of extra wording to be more clear on the amount taxes are progressive.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part IV - Faith in Society

Ben CarsonThis entry is part of a series looking at Ben Carson's stance on political issues. For this series, I'm mostly looking at the issues identified on Carson's own website in the section, Ben on the Issues. I figured that was a good way to pick the issues he himself found most important to discuss, without anyone being able to accuse me of cherry-picking Carson's worst stances. An index of all the issues can be found on the first post in the series, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part I.

This entry addresses Carson's stance on Faith in Society. I've covered this topic in more detail in several other blog entries, with one particularly relevant one being a Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone.

Here's how Carson started off this section on his website.

The United States of America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. We can and should be proud of that fact. It served us well for almost 200 years.

The principles upon which the U.S. was founded were largely Enlightenment Ideals, not anything specifically Judeo-Christian. First, consider the founding document of our government, the U.S. Constitution. It has no religious references other than the convention of using 'Year of our Lord' for the date. Consider also a comparison of the First Amendment with the First Commandment. The Amendment is all about freedom to worship however you see fit. The Commandment is all about worshipping one god and one god only. Those are not the same values. (Other Commandments, like don't steal, or don't murder, are universal to nearly all societies, and not specific to Judaism or Christianity.) There are plenty of other examples in that blog entry linked to above.

One particularly interesting example that I've brought up before is the Treaty of Tripoli. It was signed in 1796, just 8 years after the Constitution was ratified, by Senators who could rightly be considered Founding Fathers. And even though it was only a treaty, the circumstances surrounding it illustrate the mindset of those early U.S. politicians. When it was presented to the Senate, it was read aloud in its entirety, so that all present knew the entire contents. It was then confirmed unanimously by all of the members present (23 out of 32). Not only that, but in a somewhat unusual practice, the vote was recorded. To clarify, it wasn't so unusual for a vote to be recorded (this was the 339th time), but it was very unusual for a vote to be recorded when the vote was unanimous - this was only the 3rd time. So what is it about the treaty that makes it so interesting in a discussion on religion? Article 11 (emphasis mine):

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

After the treaty was passed by the Senate, President John Adams issued a statement that he "accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof." Like I said, it was only a treaty, but the politicians of the time seemed to go out of their way to support it and make their support known. If these politicians had any objections to the statement that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion", they certainly didn't act on them.

Carson went on to write.

However, we need to reverse the recent trend of secular progressives using activist, federal judges to drive faith out of our society. Anyone who wishes to practice their faith, for example by praying privately, can and should be able to do so. Equally, the rights of someone to abstain from private prayer should also be jealously protected.

Other than the first sentence, this passage isn't too bad, but also not very provocative. How many places in the U.S. are people being stopped from praying privately? Nearly every example I can think of that the religious right gets upset about is where religious people can't force their prayers in government venues, such as city council meetings or classrooms (or the recent example of Kim Davis trying to abuse her government position and enforce her religious principles on the citizens of her county). There are only a very few isolated cases I've heard of where people really were being stopped from praying privately, and these were usually the results of people misunderstanding the law and have usually been resolved pretty quickly (examples: ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression).

The first sentence is where I disagree. First of all, 'activist' judges are not being used to drive faith out of society in general. Judges are properly interpreting the First Amendment, and using it to keep religion and government separate. The fact that Christianity has had special privilege for much of the history of this country due to the majority of citizens being Christian does not change the fact that many of these instances of special privilege were in violation of the Constitution. Now that Christianity is losing its grip on the country (between 2007 and 2014, Christians fell from 78.4% to 70.6% of the population - Pew), I expect these types of challenges will become more common. And like I said, these legal challenges are usually only where church and state are improperly entangled, not for people privately practicing religion.

Here's the last excerpt from Carson I'm going to discuss.

The First Amendment enshrines our freedom to practice whatever faith we choose from any government intrusion. Our Founding Fathers never meant for the First Amendment to be used to drive prayer out of the public square.

Here are two statements by a very prominent Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government," as well as, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." There's also the very famous passage from his letter to the Danbury Baptists about "building a wall of separation between church and State." Granted, Jefferson was only one of the Founding Fathers, but he was certainly no fan of organized religion, and very clearly wanted religion kept separate from the public square. Consider also the discussion above about the country being founded on Enlightenment ideals, and it seems pretty clear that the founders did indeed intend for the government to be secular.

Outside the legal sphere, it's no secret I'm no fan of faith. I have an entry, Why Do I Spend So Much Time on Religion, listing examples of the harm caused by religion*. Now, I would never advocate for the government to try to suppress religion, since only totalitarian governments try to dictate beliefs, and regimes that have tried this in the past have in effect made the state a new religion. But I would like for society itself to change to the point where admitting belief in gods was no longer automatically seen as a virtue.

I've previously mentioned a study by Gregory S. Paul, Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies. Here are two graphs from that study. (Click to embiggen. I modified this figure somewhat to combine these two graphs into one image, but didn't change anything about how the data was plotted.)

Graphs from Gregory S. Paul's Study

This shows a clear correlation between religion and societal dysfunction. Granted, correlation is not causation, so it's possible people turn to religion for comfort in dysfunctional societies, rather than religion causing dysfunctional societies, but it's certainly clear that less religious societies for the most part are better off than more religious ones.

A related previous entry of mine is A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle, looking at Carson's misinterpretation of the Establishment Clause, and a truly idiotic claim about religious neutrality promoting atheism.

On to Part V, Taxes

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

*To clarify, I don't think religion is universally harmful. There are many varieties of belief, even among 'one' religion like Christianity. On the balance, I think religion as currently practiced does more harm than good, but that's painting with a very broad brush, and could change in the future depending on how religion itself changes. As I wrote in another entry, Hercules Misunderstands Atheists - Responding to Kevin Sorbo, "If religion was all soup kitchens and homeless shelters, or even just spaghetti dinners and Christmas bazaars, religious debates could be mainly academic and philosophical. As soon as religious people quit causing so much trouble in the world, atheists will quit getting angry about religion."

To clarify further, I definitely don't think religious people are usually harmful. Most people are on the whole good, regardless of what religion they practice. Society wouldn't have survived if they weren't. But many otherwise good people do bad things because of religious influences, like continuing to fight against marriage equality, or murdering doctors who perform abortions. To quote Steven Weinberg, "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Updated 2015-09-23: Added section & figures on correlation between religion & societal health. Added parenthetical note about many Commandments not being rules specific to Judaism or Christianity.

Updated 2015-09-24: Added footnote clarifying difference between religion and religious people.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Response to Mike Huckabee's Misrepresentations of Planned Parenthood

Mike HuckabeeI recently received an e-mail forward that was originally put out by Mike Huckabee's campaign. It appears to be the same article as is on his website, Defunding Planned Parenthood is not enough, and given that it came from Huckabee, I'm sure you can guess that it had some pretty scathing things to say about the organization. Now, I've never followed Huckabee particularly closely before. The issues I had heard him talk about were enough to let me know that I didn't agree with him on those issues (like his shameful behavior around the Kim Davis affair), so I didn't feel compelled to look into his stances further. But while I already knew I wouldn't agree with his political views, I wasn't expecting the level of dishonesty I found in this e-mail forward.

The article was one long screed against Planned Parenthood, calling out the organization for actually performing abortions, while at the same time presenting facts in a very misleading manner to misrepresent the organization and to make it seem as if tax money is funding abortions. Here are two examples, which I'll come back to:

Over the past decade, Washington politicians have pumped more than $4 billion into Planned Parenthood. It's abhorrent and insane that Washington forcibly confiscate money from our paychecks only to bankroll Planned Parenthood's repulsive, revolting butchers.

Congress neglects our veterans' hospitals, abandons our borders, and bankrupts our children, but somehow finds plenty of money for the abortion industry. Talk about priorities! How many harvested organs will it take before this madness ends? The facts are staggering.

Planned Parenthood performs 327,000 abortions per year, approximately one every 96 seconds. Government grants, funds, and reimbursements account for 41% of Planned Parenthood's income. In total, they earn $1.3 billion in annual revenue.

Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton call Planned Parenthood a "healthcare provider," but the facts tell an appallingly different story. They invest virtually nothing on adoption and pennies on prenatal care. In fact, of every dollar they spend on services for pregnant women, 94 cents go to abortion. It's clear that Planned Parenthood isn't a "healthcare provider" any more than a heroin dealer is a community pharmacist.

A quick reading of those passages and the rest of the e-mail certainly makes it seem like Planned Parenthood spends the bulk of their money on providing abortions, and that the federal government is providing much of this money through our tax dollars. But that's not the case at all.

Here's an article from the Washington Post, How Planned Parenthood actually uses its federal funding. By law since 1976, Planned Parenthood can't use any federal funding for abortion services. The money they get for that comes from private donors and organizations. Below is a graph from that article showing a breakdown of how Planned Parenthood spends their total budget from all revenue sources (closely matching a similar breakdown verified by FactCheck.org in 2011). Note that only 3% of their funding goes to abortion services, while the rest goes to other forms of healthcare.

Planned Parenthood Spending

As far as the recent videos that have prompted much of this recent move to defund Planned Parenthood, here's an op-ed from the New York Times, The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood. The videos were heavily edited to make it look like Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for a profit, when they were in fact following the law that "facilities may be reimbursed for costs associated with fetal tissue donation, like transportation and storage."

On a related note, if you watched the debate on Wednesday night, you may have heard Carly Fiorina's claim about a graphic scene from those videos that supposedly took place within a Planned Parenthood clinic. This is also untrue. Even giving Fiorina the benefit of the doubt as to having seen such a scene, the most likely source is a separate documentary, where that footage wasn't shot in a Planned Parenthood clinic, and where the events weren't exactly as Fiorina remembered. Even if she wasn't intentionally lying, what she said still wasn't the truth. This is all detailed in a Vox article, Carly Fiorina is wrong about the Planned Parenthood tapes. I know because I watched them.

So, let's go back to those passages I quoted above. Let's take another look at that first one. Recalling the facts of Planned Parenthood's funding and budget that I explained above, pay close attention to Huckabee's wording.

Over the past decade, Washington politicians have pumped more than $4 billion into Planned Parenthood. It's abhorrent and insane that Washington forcibly confiscate money from our paychecks only to bankroll Planned Parenthood's repulsive, revolting butchers.

Congress neglects our veterans' hospitals, abandons our borders, and bankrupts our children, but somehow finds plenty of money for the abortion industry. Talk about priorities! How many harvested organs will it take before this madness ends? The facts are staggering.

Planned Parenthood performs 327,000 abortions per year, approximately one every 96 seconds. Government grants, funds, and reimbursements account for 41% of Planned Parenthood's income. In total, they earn $1.3 billion in annual revenue.

The way each of those paragraphs discusses federal funding in one breath and then abortion in the next certainly implies that much of that government funding is going to abortions, and I think Huckabee intentionally created that association in the reader's mind. But as I pointed out above, no federal funding goes to abortions. So, even though Huckabee may not have lied per se by explicitly stating that the government funds abortions, this method was still dishonest.

Now, let's take another look at the second excerpt.

Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton call Planned Parenthood a "healthcare provider," but the facts tell an appallingly different story. They invest virtually nothing on adoption and pennies on prenatal care. In fact, of every dollar they spend on services for pregnant women, 94 cents go to abortion. It's clear that Planned Parenthood isn't a "healthcare provider" any more than a heroin dealer is a community pharmacist.

Again, notice Huckabee's careful parsing of words. He didn't say that Planned Parenthood spends 94% of their total budget on abortion, but that's what a person might get from a quick reading of this paragraph. And he completely omitted how much of their budget goes to other healthcare services that aren't necessarily for "pregnant women".

So, going through sentence by sentence, you may not be able to find a 'lie' from Huckabee, but the overall impression the article gives is certainly different from reality, which is dishonest.

I guess part of what gets me about this is the right wing's constant mantra of 'morality' and 'family values'. Now, I knew that was all just a bunch of rhetoric to begin with, and I really strongly disagree with a lot of their supposed morality, anyway, but it really does highlight the bankruptcy of their position when they have to resort to this type of dishonesty to try to further their agenda.


I've written a few times about abortion already on this site. Not only do I disagree with Huckabee's dishonest methods, but I also think abortion can be justified and that it should remain legal and available, particularly in the first trimester, but also for legitimate reasons later in the pregnancy. If you to want read my views, they're available through the links below:

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part III - Balanced Budget Amendment

Ben CarsonThis entry is part of a series looking at Ben Carson's stance on political issues. For this series, I'm mostly looking at the issues identified on Carson's own website in the section, Ben on the Issues. I figured that was a good way to pick the issues he himself found most important to discuss, without anyone being able to accuse me of cherry-picking Carson's worst stances. An index of all the issues can be found on the first post in the series, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part I.

This entry addresses Carson's stance on a Balanced Budget Amendment. Here's the gist of Carson's argument in his own words.

In January 2009, our public debt was $11.9 trillion. Now, it's more than $18 trillion. Interest payments on the debt now total about $250 billion, the 3rd single biggest item in the federal budget.

We must ratify a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution in order to restore fiscal responsibility to the federal government's budget.

This point is partly pointing out a legitimate problem, partly presenting the stats in a misleading way, and then presenting a 'solution' that's not a good solution at all.

First, I'm going to steal some graphs I used in a previous post, How Big Is the National Debt? (which were themselves taken from US Government Revenue.com). Here are graphs of the U.S. debt and deficit by year as a fraction of GDP.

Federal Debt History as a Percentage of GDP
Federal Deficit History as a Percentage of GDP

Yes, the debt is high and needs to be addressed. On that, I agree with Carson. Still, the current deficit is not unprecedented, unless you naively look at absolute numbers instead of fraction of GDP. In fact, the current debt is less than the debt during WWII. Also, note how much the deficit increased temporarily right around 2009 - the time frame Carson picked out for his example of how much the debt has grown. That was right in the midst of the worst of the Great Recession, when tax revenues were at their lowest and stimulus spending was at the highest. Of course that type of deficit spending is going to push up the debt, but it's exactly what needs to be done in a recession. Imagine how much worse the recession would have been if it wasn't for that deficit spending.

In fact, that brings me to the point of why Carson's proposed solution is a bad one. Almost everyone agrees that budgets need to be balanced in the long term, but there are times, particularly in economic downturns, when the government needs the freedom to do deficit spending to invest in the economy. Paul Krugman has a fairly recent article in the Guardian, The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it? The austerity delusion, discussing this issue of stimulus spending vs. austerity. I recommend reading the whole thing if you have time, but there's one particularly informative graph, showing the economic growth from 2009-2013 of various countries plotted vs. the austerity of those countries. You'll note that harsher austerity correlates with worse economic growth, with the worst austerity actually causing the economy to shrink.

Economic Growth vs. Austerity

Short term stimulus spending during an economic downturn is good for the economy in the long run, and the reason why Congress shouldn't be forced to balance the budget every year. Of course, that doesn't mean Congress shouldn't balance the budget when the economy is doing well, but it needs the freedom to easily practice deficit spending when it's called for.

More Info:

On to Part IV, Faith in Society

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part II - Second Amendment

Ben CarsonThis entry is part of a series looking at Ben Carson's stance on political issues. For this series, I'm mostly looking at the issues identified on Carson's own website in the section, Ben on the Issues. I figured that was a good way to pick the issues he himself found most important to discuss, without anyone being able to accuse me of cherry-picking Carson's worst stances. An index of all the issues can be found on the first post in the series, Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part I.

This entry addresses Carson's stance on the Second Amendment. Here's part of what he wrote on his website.

The right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms is fundamental to our liberty.

It was no accident that our Founding Fathers enshrined the right to own firearms as the 2nd element of the Bill of Rights, immediately after establishing our free speech rights. I cannot and will not support any efforts to weaken The 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment is a central pillar of our Constitution. Our Founding Fathers added it explicitly in order to protect freedom in the United States of America. It provides our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic.

I don't agree with Carson's interpretation of the Second Amendment or the Founders' intentions behind it. There's an article I've quoted before, written by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment, where he explains how for most of the history of the country, the amendment was interpreted differently than the individual right it has recently become. Here's a good excerpt explaining this.

For more than 200 years following the adoption of that amendment, federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by that text was limited in two ways: First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a "well regulated Militia."

Stevens went on to suggest that the 2nd Amendment should be amended to read, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed." This would clarify what seemed to be the Founders' original intent.

I recognize that once the Supreme Court reinterpreted the Second Amendment to be an individual right in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago (damn activist judges </sarcasm>), that makes it the law of the land. And I do believe that guns serve useful purposes and should remain legal*. But I would like to see far more regulation over guns than currently exists. Personally, I think everyone that wants a gun should be required to earn a license, similar to the existing requirements for concealed carry permits, including a background check at the time the license is issued, with an agency monitoring criminal records to make sure that the license remains valid. If people can be required to have photo IDs to vote, the most fundamental right in a representative democracy, a permit for a gun doesn't seem like a big deal. These are useful, but deadly instruments, and a little mandatory training shouldn't be too much to ask.

I've actually written a bit more on gun control that I'm not going to repeat here, but that can be found in the following entries, which among other topics cover how effective guns are for people to "protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic" (short answer: not very effective):

On to Part III - Balanced Budget Amendment

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

*Obviously, there's no danger of guns becoming completely illegal anytime soon. It would take a Constitutional Amendment, and one affecting the Bill of Rights, no less, which is unrealistic. Even Barack Obama, who's a proponent of stricter gun control, signed into law a bill allowing loaded guns to be taken into national parks (more info: NBC News).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ben Carson - On the Issues, Part I

Ben CarsonIt was only back in March when I said I was done writing about Ben Carson. It didn't take me long to break that promise and write about him again in April, figuring that that would be it for a while. But I never guessed that Ben Carson would be polling as high as he is at this point and be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. According to a recent NBC News article, Ben Carson Could Eclipse Donald Trump at the Front of the GOP Pack, Carson is polling second among Republican candidates right now, and could potentially take the lead. Now, it's still early in the race, and a lot will happen before the GOP picks their candidate, so I'm taking these current polls with a grain of salt. Also, with as bad as some of the Republican candidates are, Carson's not the worst option on the right. Still, I disagree with Carson on so many topics that I just can't get behind him.

For this series, I've decided to go to Carson's own website, specifically the section, Ben on the Issues, and take a look at what he himself (or at least his website team) has to say. In places where his website is light on details, I've pulled in other sources. But note that I've addressed all the issues Carson felt strongly enough about to include on his site, so this certainly isn't a case of cherry-picking him at his worst. There were also two very big issues that he didn't address at all on the site, so I've also covered those using other sources.

To summarize this whole series up front, I disagree with Carson on just about every issue identified on his website, and in the two additional issues I addressed here. Granted, sometimes I did agree on the nature of a problem, but not with his proposed solutions, which in some cases would only make matters worse.

Because my responses to some issues are long enough to merit their own blog entries, I'm breaking this up into multiple posts. Today's entry is still a little long, but none of these individual issues were long enough or substantive enough to stand alone. Below is an index of all the issues covered in this series, indicating which ones are in this entry, and which ones are/will be posted in follow up entries (with links to be added as the entries are posted). You can click on any of the links to jump to that issue. The two issues marked with asterisks were the ones not addressed on his website.

In This Entry:

Follow Up Entries:


Here's Carson's intro to this section, which I think sums up his position rather succinctly:

I am unabashedly and entirely pro-life. Human life begins at conception and innocent life must be protected.

I've discussed this on this site before, in the entry, Abortion, where you can read my opinion in much more detail, but I'll still say a bit here.

There are many liberals who see this issue differently from me, but I do think it comes down to balancing the rights of the developing human in utero with those of the fully human mother. But just because a clump of cells happens to have the right genetics and is alive doesn't make it a human being with rights. In fact, it's cheapening the value of all humanity to claim that a bunch of cells with no differentiation is fully human. A human being is much more than just genetics and metabolism. A person has a mind, an emotional life, feelings, thoughts. A newly fertilized egg has none of that, and even throughout most of its development as an embryo in the first trimester, it doesn't have a functioning brain and so doesn't have even the glimmer of what makes a human a human. I see absolutely no reason to privilege those cells over the rights of the mother supporting them.

As the embryo develops into a fetus and the brain begins to function, thoughts and feelings do begin to occur, so the rights of the fetus should begin to be considered. But it's still a gradual process, so the mother should certainly take precedence over the fetus in any discussion comparing the rights of the two, especially in those early stages (or more than two for multiple pregnancies). And there are many circumstances, such as genetic conditions like dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (to pull an example from my other entry), that would result in severe suffering for the person that would develop from that fetus, that are legitimate reasons to perform abortions later than the first trimester, and even 'partial birth abortions' that the forced birth crowd try to demonize.

For a liberal who doesn't see this the exact same way as me and thinks it's entirely a bodily autonomy issue, here are two entries putting his arguments in verse.


In recent years, there has been a troubling trend of the U.S. Department of Education increasingly trying to dictate how children are educated in our primary and secondary schools. This must stop and Common Core must be overturned.

Our education system must be run by involved parents and engaged teachers and principals. Any attempt by faceless federal bureaucrats to take over our local schools must be defeated.

Now, I can sort of understand this from a states' rights issue, for the people who interpret the Constitution narrowly and don't like the Commerce Clause justification for the Department of Education. But just imagine we were to re-write the Constitution in this day and age. Is there any reason why the federal government shouldn't be involved in education? Americans move around a lot. The Census bureau even keeps track of it as domestic migration. It's kind of nice to be able to move from one school district to another, even across state lines, and know that your child can transfer relatively seamlessly academically. Or that your child can apply to any university in the U.S. they want, with the university having confidence in the education your child received. The only practical way to do this is with nationwide standards. Sure, there should be room for local school districts and individual teachers to adjust their teaching methods to their students, but a nation wide Common Core set by the Department of Education makes a lot of sense.

I've written quite a bit about the state Board of Education here in Texas and all the shenanigans and controversy they've been associated with, which is probably a big part of the reason why I'm not particularly sympathetic to the argument that only state and local governments should have control over education with no oversight from the federal government. It allows idealogues to abuse their positions and damage our children's education. For a listing of nearly all the times I've written about education down here in Texas, go to the very end of the entry, Midterm Election 2014 - Fix the Texas Board of Education.

This is also related to another entry I've written, A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 9 - Shoddy Scholarship, debunking Carson's claim of a dumbing down of modern day American education compared to a century ago.


Radical terrorists captured in countries all over the world must be detained safely while awaiting trial by military commission. Gitmo is, by far, the single best facility for this dangerous job.

Keeping Gitmo open is a critical element in our never-ending efforts to keep the American people safe from another cataclysmic terrorist attack.

The War on Terror is not a war in a conventional sense. There's no enemy government with whom we'll eventually sign a treaty to end hostilities, exchanging prisoners of war when it's all over. It is more a war on organized crime. But the groups are only loosely affiliated, and will go on fighting no matter how many leaders we kill. There's no end in sight to this 'war'. So, while there's justification for holding enemies prisoner without a trial during a conventional war, what justification is there in the War on Terror? Without a trial, how can we be certain they really are enemies, and not just people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or someone who looked the wrong way at a soldier having a bad day? How do we know we're not incarcerating innocent people? And how can we justify imprisoning innocent people indefinitely? Granted, Carson did say these people should be tried by military commission (though he's calling them all radical terrorists without any benefit of the doubt of innocent until proven guilty), but the history of Guantanamo is a stain on our nation's reputation.

This is related to Carson's most shameful position - his support of torture, which I discussed at length in the entry, A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 8 - Torture. I won't summarize that entry here, other than to repeat how disgusting it is that Carson supports this type of depravity that goes against so much of what America stands for.


We need to re-establish a strong and direct relationship between patients and their physicians. For instance, I strongly support Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) which empower families to make their own decisions about their medical treatment. HSAs will also drive down health care costs while protecting patient choice and freedom.

Yes, the Affordable Care Act needs fixes to get it working right, but at least it's a start at universal health care. Carson's Health Savings Account proposal seems naïve. Here are the responses from a few health care experts quoted by Media Matters in the article, Health Care Experts Rip Ben Carson's "Near Worthless" Health Care Plan.

"For a person who has serious health problems or for a person who has a low income, a $2,000 health care savings account is worthless, or near worthless" said Timothy Jost, professor of law at Washington and Lee University who specializes in health care regulation and law. "It would not either allow them to buy health insurance or allow them to afford health care or anything other than very routine primary care and some medications."

And another:

"It's not really insurance," he [Jonathan Gruber, a health economics expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] added. "It is leaving you self-insured for any risk above $2,000. The typical heart attack in the U.S. can cost about $100,000. This is typical of the poverty of ideas on the right on health care right now."

And one more:

Calling herself a "lukewarm fan" of the Affordable Care Act, [Carolyn] Engelhard [assistant professor of public health sciences and director of the Health Policy Program at the University of Virginia] added that "people who choose HSA's are healthier and have more money to put in their HSA's." But, she added, if you make $8 per hour "you don't have enough to pay your bills, let alone put extra money into an HSA. Just giving people an HSA and telling them to be smarter about spending is an overly-simplistic method. It won't work well."

I have a related entry, A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 3 - Healthcare & Romanticizing the Past, as well as another previous entry on Universal Health Care.


President Putin must come to learn that there will be grave and serious consequences when Russia engages in naked aggression against other sovereign nations and free peoples. All options should remain on the table when dealing with international bullies such as President Putin.

I suppose that interpreted generously, that's fair enough. All options should remain open. However, it certainly does seem to be implying that perhaps the U.S. should have responded with military action against Russia. And if it really comes to it, that may be the only course of action left, but its a very, very drastic action. We went decades during the Cold War never directly fighting against the Soviet Union. I don't think we should be in too much of a hurry to get into a fight with Russia.


The United States of America has had a special relationship with Israel ever since we were the very first nation to recognize her creation. The depth of our unique bond with Israel has only strengthened over the years.

Not much to say on this. Israel is an ally of the U.S., and should be treated like other allies. The relationship is currently strained a bit, and the reasons for that should be dealt with diplomatically.

Climate Change

This topic wasn't covered on Carson's site, but it's one of the most important issues facing the world today, so I felt it was worth including in this discussion. In fact, the very omission of this topic on Carson's site is telling - how can you ignore something this important?

While I have much to say on this issue, I've actually already covered it in pretty good detail in a previous entry on Carson, A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 5 - Global Warming. Basically, Carson doesn't accept the science on global warming. In a 2104 Bloomberg article he was quoted as saying, "You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same. We may be warming. We may be cooling." In a separate op-ed, he wrote, "to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense", which seems to be implying that we should continue using fossil fuels at current rates. Statements like these are awful. The first reveals either a complete ignorance of science, or a willingness to put ideology ahead of facts, neither of which are acceptable for a president (his stance on evolution reveals a similar denial of science). The second statement is just a completely irresponsible course of action given the reality of climate change.

I've written several other entries on climate change:


That's it for today's entry. Stay tuned for coming entries dealing with more of Carson's stances on issues.

On to Part II - Second Amendment

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Updated 2015-09-21: Slightly reworded a few sections to read better and added a few more links.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Kim Davis

Kim DavisFor anyone who's been completely ignoring the news recently, Kim Davis is a county clerk in Kentucky who, despite the Supreme Court's recent ruling over marriage equality and in direct violation of a Federal District Court judge's order, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Her appeals were denied by the Supreme Court (understandably), so it all came down to the district judge, David L. Bunning, on what to do with her. Figuring that a fine wouldn't solve the problem because too many supporters would help Davis come up with the money, Bunning actually put Davis in jail for contempt of court. If you're wondering why Davis wasn't just fired from her job for refusing to perform, it's because she's an elected official, and the only way for elected officials to lose their jobs is to be impeached or to resign. If you're wondering why she didn't just resign when she could no longer perform her duties as an elected official - good question. Anyway, while she was jailed, the judge met with deputy clerks from her office, and five of six agreed to issue licenses. Knowing that residents of that county will now be able to receive marriage licenses, the judge has agreed to release Davis from jail, provided she "not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples".

This situation is described in the NY Times article, Kim Davis Freed From Jail in Kentucky Gay Marriage Dispute. There's one part of the article that grabbed my attention and prompted me to write this entry:

Ms. Davis's argument and incarceration have resonated deeply among Christian conservatives, many of whom fear an erosion of religious liberty, and transformed the clerk of a rural Kentucky county into an unyielding symbol of opposition to same-sex marriage.

This is the part that I just don't get. 'Government' is composed of people. Government actions don't just magically happen. When someone says 'the government did this' or 'the government did that', what they really mean is 'some government employee did this' or 'some government employee did that', because it takes people to do things. Kim Davis is the government, at least in her little office in Kentucky. So, when a couple went up to the county clerk and asked for a marriage license, and the clerk refused for religious reasons, it was the government, by way of the clerk, refusing citizens' right to marriage for religious reasons. Those citizens were the ones whose rights were being denied. It was their religious liberty that was being infringed upon.

I don't see how somebody can look at this case, see citizens being denied a marriage license, and then somehow claim it was the government official who was being wronged. In fact, the judge didn't actually force Davis to issue marriage licenses against her will. Even before she was jailed, she always had the opportunity to allow her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses, or if that was still too hard on her conscience, to step down from her position and resign. No one forced her to be county clerk.

This situation would be like a Catholic county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone who wasn't a member of the one true holy and catholic apostolic church. How would the right-wing types who see Davis as a hero (who somewhat surprisingly is a Democrat herself) feel if it was them being refused a marriage license because they weren't members of her particular religion? I also wonder how Davis's supporters would feel about a government official refusing to issue a concealed carry permit because they had a conscientious objection to firearms? Would that official's freedom of conscience trump citizens' second amendment rights*? Of course not.

Seeing as how election season is now upon us, it's interesting to see how the various presidential candidates have reacted to this. I couldn't find one source that listed all the candidates positions (I didn't search long), but you can piece it all together from NPR, Mashable, and USA Today (more colorful commentary is available on Slate). In alphabetical order, Chris Christy, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, and The Donald have all come down in favor of rule of law and defense of citizens' religious liberty. The more extremists, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker, have come down in support of Davis and government imposition of religion on citizens (of course all the while claiming it's Davis's religious right to oppress other citizens, but maybe not using those exact words). Jeb Bush sought a middle ground, trying to support Davis and the citizens' right to marriage licenses. Ben Carson, who originally seemed to support Judge Dunning, now seems to be changing his position, but his wording was vague enough that it's hard to know exactly where he stands (Right Wing Watch). And of course Hillary Clinton, being the only Democratic candidate the media seems to consider worthy of reporting on, is also in favor of rule of law and defense of citizens' religious liberty.

Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz responded particularly shamefully, actually heading down to Kentucky to stage a protest in support of Davis. When she was released from jail ahead of their protest, they turned it into a theatrical event, complete with Rocky theme music and a cheering crowd of supporters. And remember, this is all for a woman who used her position as a government official to oppress citizens of her county, and ignored the rule of law this country was built upon.

Image Source: TownNews.com

*Of course, as I've said before, I don't actually think the second amendment should be interpreted as an individual right. I agree with former Justice John Paul Stevens and his article, The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment, that the amendment is all about maintaining a well regulated militia and not individual self defense. But, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law, so when they ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago that it was an individual right, that made it the law of the land.

Updated 2015-09-09: I just noticed after publishing this that Ben Carson seems to have changed his position, so I updated this post accordingly.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What Really Caused the Civil War?

Civil War SoldiersI remember being taught in my history classes back in my school days that the primary cause of the Civil War was slavery. But as I got older, I saw a lot more contrarian views that said it was about other issues, like states rights, tariffs, or other economic issues. This topic has come up a lot more recently with the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, and I even had a conversation with a friend who thinks the Civil War was mainly caused by tariffs. Looking at the survey results in a Pew article, Civil War at 150: Still Relevant, Still Divisive, nearly 48% of people think the war was primarily about states's rights, with only 38% thinking it was primarily about slavery.

Had I been misled all those years in history class? It wouldn't be the first time school had gotten something wrong. I decided to look into it, and what better source is there than the secession documents the states themselves wrote listing their justifications for seceding from the U.S. ? Below is a link to the full text of the secession documents from Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. These are the official reasons those states themselves gave for seceding.

Civil War Trust - The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States

If you go through and read those documents, there's one primary issue that jumps out as being repeated over and over - slavery. Even when the documents discuss states' rights, it's in the context of slave-holding vs. non-slave-holding states, or as a rationale of why the states should be allowed to secede. But if the seceding southerners themselves are to be believed, slavery was the primary reason for their secession.

Here are a few highlights from the various documents. First, here are the first two sentences from Georgia:

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.

Here're the first two paragraphs from the Mississippi document:

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.

South Carolina mentioned 'slaveholding States' in the first paragraph, but most of its introduction was about the states rights justification for being allowed to secede. But after that, all their reasons for wanting to leave are slavery related. Here's one of those paragraphs (note the way it callously refers to owning slaves as 'rights of property'):

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

The Texas document started off with a little background on Texas's admission into the U.S., and had a couple paragraphs about the federal government not providing sufficient security, but the bulk is about slavery. Here's an especially bad paragraph:

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

The Virginia document was very short, without much justification given for why they were seceding. The first paragraph was about the extent of their justification. Note that it does specifically mention 'Southern Slaveholding States'.

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.

Now, it's true that the full causes of the war are a little more complicated than that. While the north (i.e. the United States) was generally opposed to slavery, I'm not sure most people were so opposed that there was majority support to go to war over it. Many in the north supported the war to maintain the country. But it's rather clear that the primary cause for secession in the south was slavery.


As an aside, I'll mention how I personally feel about this shameful aspect of our nation's history. Although I grew up in 'Yankee' states, I have ancestors from southern states, so I have heritage from both sides of the war. And while there are lots of aspects of my heritage I'm proud of, this certainly isn't one of them. When I see the Confederate flag, the feeling I get is what I'd imagine a German has when they see the Nazi flag. Slavery was a horrible, disgraceful institution, responsible for untold suffering through this country's history, culminating in a population of 4 million slaves at its peak. That slavery was ever practiced here is bad enough, but that it took a war to bring it to an end, that there were people willing to fight to the death to defend their right to own other human beings, is simply shameful.

We shouldn't necessarily demonize the people of the past, recognizing the Zeitgeist that permeated the culture ("no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit"). But we definitely shouldn't celebrate that part of our history, with monuments and memorials to the leaders of that shameful period, nor by proudly displaying any symbols of the Confederacy. That's not to say those symbols should be hidden and forgotten about. They should be maintained in museums. Slavery and the Civil War are a part of our history, and like the concentration camps in Germany, they must be remembered to remind ourselves of what normal people are capable of in the wrong circumstances, guarding against similar atrocities in the future.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Eben Alexander Follow-Up, Part II

Eben AlexanderLast year, I wrote two blog entries about Eben Alexander, Eben Alexander Misrepresenting Carl Sagan, where I described how Alexander had completely misrepresented one of Sagan's positions from his book, The Demon Haunted World, and Eben Alexander Follow-Up, where I described how he had doubled down on this misrepresentation when confronted with it. Like I wrote then, it's not so much the fact that he made a mistake that was troubling, but that he did it with such supreme confidence, even citing the page number, and then refused to back down once his mistake had been pointed out, even going on to misrepresent the person who had pointed out his mistake. These were not the signs of an honest person.

Just recently, an old article about Alexander that had been hidden behind a paywall has once again been made public. It's an article investigating Alexander's main claim to fame, his supposed near death experience where he spent a week in heaven, and which was the subject of his best-selling book, Proof of Heaven. It's a bit of a long article, but well worth the read. Not only does it reveal some of Alexander's troubled past before his near death experience, it also shows the inconsistencies between Alexander's recollection of events and the recollection of the medical staff caring for him. One could be charitable and suggest that perhaps Alexander's memory of the events had changed (after all, as illustrated in The Challenger Study, memory is rather plastic), but at the very least it calls into question the central premise of his book, and makes it seem like hallucinations and misremembered events at best (or outright lying at worst).

Anyway, here's the link to the article:

Esquire - The Prophet

I highly recommend this story to anyone who's heard about Alexander's claims.

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