From WFPL News in Louisville:
“I won’t get into the debate about climate change," said Sen. Brandon Smith, a Hazard Republican. “But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”
Smith owns a coal company on Earth.
The average Martian temperature is -81 degree Fahrenheit, but the committee was just getting warmed up.
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It can sound kind of silly. It's supposed to. That's the essence of a reductio ad absurdum argument, the bottom of a slippery slope. The idea of such arguments is that taking an opposing position, carrying it to what may be a logical conclusion, and showing that that conclusion is absurd, tends to discredit that opposing position.
You can counter that argument in a couple of ways. One way is to show that the absurd logical conclusion is not actually absurd.
Last year, the Supreme Court struck down just one part of the Defense of Marriage Act, the law that denied recognition, rights, or benefits to same sex married couples. Federal benefits had to apply to every legally married couple. The Supreme Court also declined to overturn a lower court ruling that California's anti-gay-marriage law was unconstitutional.
They were limited rulings. The other 49 states were not affected. And the federal government had no obligation to recognize gay marriage itself.
But Justice Antonin Scalia, in a dissent that was mostly diatribe sprinkled with angry name-calling, applied a reductio argument. The Supreme Court rulings, if applied universally, would logically result in absurdity. Gay marriage would be recognized in every state and territory of the country. That meant the ruling itself was absurd.
District Courts around the country took the rational portion of the Scalia rant and came to a judicial conclusion. The slippery slope was indeed substantive. But what was at the end of that slope was not at all absurd. So, one state after another has found its anti-equality marriage laws overturned.
Thank you, Justice Scalia, for every sarcastic word of your emotional diatribe.
Showing that the absurd logical conclusion is not absurd is not the only way to deal with a reductio argument. Another approach is to demonstrate that an absurd logical conclusion is not logical.
Conservatives are exploring a slippery slope argument supporting the proposition that President Obama is a tyrant, or at least a tyrant in the making. The President vows to use the full expanse of Presidential authority to implement policies in the face of congressional inaction.
Enacting laws is the role of both houses of Congress. If the President can get away with this, there is no end to it: Confiscation of arms by executive action, oppressive regulation by executive action, taxing the wealthy by executive action, imprisoning political opponents by executive action.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has promised to file legal action against the President. Only the legislature can pass laws.
It is reductio taken to absurdum. How is the argument to be answered? So far, a rejoining question has sufficed. Supporters of Speaker Boehner have been reduced to a sort of absurdity when asked for any action by President Obama that is not supported by federal law or the Constitution itself.
In some cases, the reductio argument is overtaken by events. This occasionally happens in the ever-continuing abortion debate. One reductio argument has to do with equating abortion to murder. Should a woman who experiences a miscarriage be investigated for possible homicide? Every once in a while an anti-abortion opponent introduces proposed legislation that would do just that. Fortunately, such efforts are quickly disowned by more traditional anti-abortion advocates.
A race down the slope of a different sort was suggested by this year's Republican candidate for governor of Texas.
Since the beginning of time, residents of Texas have been able to find out whether corporate neighbors are storing vast amounts of dangerous chemicals, including explosives. All they had to do was to contact the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The libertarian argument about government regulation is that, ultimately, it is unneeded. It is in the interest of businesses to be good citizens. Depending on the Dante level of anti-government theory, a libertarian can argue for extremely limited government or for no government at all.
Some residents of the Texas city of West might disagree. A massive ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Company damaged or destroyed 150 buildings, injured 160 people, and outright killed 15. There have been several near misses across the state as fires near massive storage areas holding explosives have happened near schools and residences.
So the reductio ad absurdum argument acquires more than a theoretical interest to some residents. How limited do you want government? What if the Department of State Health Services was no more? What if the department was no longer able to obtain that information for residents?
Greg Abbott is not just the Republican candidate for governor. He is also the Attorney General of Texas. So when he ordered state agencies, including the State Health Services Department to no longer release that sort of information, it kind of put a crimp in the flow.
When he was asked about it, Abbott came up with what you might call the Nosy Neighbor Principle. Residents don't need that sort of information from government. They could handle it themselves by driving around a neighborhood, knocking on the doors of friendly business owners, and simply asking what hazardous substances, including chemicals and explosives, they store.
If citizens want to avoid arrest for trespassing, they can write letters instead.
Greg Abbott pointed to a Texas law that requires companies, upon written request, to furnish information about certain hazardous substances.
As it turns out, business do have to furnish such information. But they also have a choice. They can send the information to the private residents who ask for it.
Or they can, instead, just forward the requested information to the Health Services Department of the State of Texas.
That would be the same Health Services Department that Attorney General Greg Abbott, Republican candidate for Governor, just prohibited from providing information to anyone.
The Latin word, I believe, is absurdum.
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I have worked with my colleagues -- Republicans and Democrats -- to cut wasteful spending in this bill and focus taxpayer dollars where they will do the most good.
- Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), February 13, 2009
That was not an exceptional view in 2009, the year America avoided an economic depression. About a third of the Democratic part of the United States Senate joined Senator Conrad in finding a middle path to stimulating the economy.
Compromise is part of political life. More than that, centrists are thought to have a political edge in elections. When voters don't agree with you on every issue, but think you are closer to their views than is your opponent, you have an edge.
At least that is conventional wisdom. It is conventional enough to form part of the argument here that the Republican Party is headed for extinction. As the party moves further away from mainstream voters, it will attract fewer votes. If that is not true, at least as a general rule, the argument for Republican self-destruction collapses.
As President Obama took office, at least some Democrats faced a dilemma.
Patriotism demanded decisive action. Nearly all economists said a sizable economic stimulus was needed to avoid disaster and generate steep recovery. The economy had shrunk in last quarter in 2008 by over 3 percent. All indicators showed it would get worse, much worse, without intervention.
But centrist politics demanded less. The stimulus President Obama wanted would cause voters to react in alarm. Years of political self-discipline had drilled into each office holder's mind one universal truth: a successful politician would always seek a middle path.
As his career came to a close, Senator Ben Nelson was still pointing with pride to his effort to reduce the stimulus.
Many have said the bill spends too much, others have said it cuts too much spending. That is a sign that it’s just about right. We cut $110 billion of inefficient or less-stimulative spending out of the previous bill.
We’ve trimmed the fat, fried the bacon, and milked the sacred cows.
- Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) (pdf), December, 2012
The tension between economic realism and political realism resulted in a reduced economic stimulus that still succeeded in pulling the country away from a solid depression. The recession that remained was beyond painful for many Americans. Jobs were lost, homes were foreclosed.
In fairness, the recession began at a point that was much worse than economic measurements initially indicated. Instead of shrinking at 3 percent, the economy President Obama inherited was later shown to be shrinking at nearly 9 percent.
It wasn't only the economy. Republican leadership experienced no tension between politics and patriotism. The evening after President Obama took office, leaders of Congress met to ensure his tenure was as much a disaster as they could manage. Every variation of the economic stimulus had the same level of Republican support in the House. Zero.
In the Senate the stimulus got only three Republican votes.
It turned into a weakest link problem. The core of that problem is that mainstream economics, the economics supported by evidence, the economics embraced by almost every economist, Keynesian economics, is not intuitive. Election analyst Ruy Teixeira (Ru-ee Sha-sherra) sums it up.
The public is not Keynesians or anything close to it. They don’t understand the relationship between spending, debt and growth. And, therefore, it’s the hardest sell.
- Ruy Teixeira, Quoted in the New Republic, June, 2014
Mainstream economics suggests a very simple formula for deficits. In hard times, we can cure recessions by large deficits. In prosperous times, we should pay those deficits back with surpluses.
Republicans respond to public perceptions by doing the opposite. During the Clinton years, Republicans did follow the general pattern. During the recovery from the Bush recession, they argued and fought against deficits. American families had to tighten their belts, so government should as well.
Then, after President Clinton produced a surplus, they argued against reducing the national debt. Instead, President Bush devoted the new surplus to tax cuts and increased spending.
When President Obama took office, the lack of Republican support for recovery was predictable. Enough Democrats were in Congress to get a stimulus. It was a halfway measure. It involved compromise. Enough Democrats pushed for a middle path to get what economists predicted.
It was a recovery. It was a weak recovery, but it was a recovery.
In 2010, a lot of those middle of the economic road Democrats lost their seats. In 2014, more may follow.
It seems the public favors compromise and centrism on most issues. On economics, voters express a unified opinion that goes against the economists.
But they vote for performance.
Parallels between America and ancient Rome stop at an unrealized dream.
Can Missing E-Mail Messages Be Defended? Really? (5:03) - Click for Podcast
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We've heard the excuses. Can we defend all those lost emails? Well, yes, actually.
Ben Franklin Is Not a Tea Party Candidate from Oklahoma (5:52) - Click for Podcast
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I never thought of him as a comedian until I came across a bit of history a few months ago. Then, a Tea Party candidate in Oklahoma again reminded me of Benjamin Franklin last week, and how he faked out an unethical rival, and made him deny his own death for years.
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Christopher Hitchens was a socialist, an atheist, and early supporter of American invasion of Iraq. Conservative James Wigderson celebrates Independence Day with an account of why Hitchens became an American citizen.
News Corpse watches Fox News so you don't have to. This week, Fox celebrates the meaning of Independence Day with endless coverage of diatribes and protests against humane treatment of immigrant kids.
PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, declines to join those demanding a racist radio personality be fired. Instead he suggests targeting those who hired the shock jock to begin with.
- Jack Jodell at The Saturday Afternoon Post has always supported new bloggers with comments and private encouragement. This week he picks out two for special acknowledgement. One of turns out to be - - - oh my!
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The movie Gladiator must have lacked for a suitable ending. The gasping General orders a Senator to be reinstated and the Senate to be restored to its proper authority. The evil usurper has been deposed and all is well within the empire.
"There was a dream that was Rome," he says. "It shall be realized."
Then, the crutch of so many cinematic tales is employed. As majestic music swells, there is a speech. In this case, it is delivered by the long suffering sister of the emperor. She explains to Roman onlookers, and to the movie audience, that the film was about resurrecting the greatness of Rome.
"Is Rome worth one good man’s life? We believed it once. Make us believe it again."
It is a powerful scene, filled with lies.
From its earliest history, Rome was an oligarchy that based its rule on a brutality refined into a governing system. It was never a Republic as we understand the word today. The Senate was not a legislature that existed as the voice of the people. Senators themselves did not see their role that way. The people of Rome most certainly had no thought that the Senate represented them.
The Senate in Rome was created by and for the aristocracy. The elite classes of the city itself were the only citizens allowed to chose the Senate. The role of the Senate ebbed and flowed, but mostly ebbed as the Republic faded to Empire. During the times of greatest Senate influence, popular unrest increased in rough proportion. Everyone understood the Senate was the natural enemy of most Romans.
There was never "a dream that was Rome" that we would recognize today. Rome had put cruelty into a crucible and heated it into a finely honed weapon. A major benefit of citizenship was a largely respected immunity from death by torture. The Apostle Paul is thought to have escaped crucifixion by virtue of citizenship. Although there is no historical record, he is assumed to have been beheaded.
Rome was always divided between aristocrats and plebeians. Most of those who came to rule were popular with Roman residents. The Emperor was always more popular than the Senate.
A few days ago, I thought about the Emperor Hadrian. He is mostly known today for the wall he had constructed for reasons about which historians only speculate. As emperors go, he is regarded by students of history as one of the best. He was quite popular among the military and the people of Rome were with him.
The Senate had a big, big problem, though. Hadrian was born in Spain, one of the many conquered lands. So he was not to be considered a real Roman. Certainly not one of those born to the upper, upper classes. This outsider should have been a slave, not a ruler.
I sometimes wonder about the stupidly selfish way the Senate dealt with the only Roman Emperor at the time who had come from the provinces. It could have been an opportunity to promote the fiction of a "dream that was Rome." Imagine Rome as an ideal in which those conquered could rise to rule. Imagine how that might have cemented the loyalty of subjects.
Instead, the hostility within the Senate was tempered only by the remote fear of the always present possibility of consequence. You could go so far, but no farther. Senators did brush right up against that point.
Hadrian's every move was interpreted by members of the Senate as an exercise in ruthless sociopathy, alternating with astonishing ineptitude. His two decades of rule comprised a period of fear, loathing, and contempt among the elites. His death and his replacement by an "authentic" Roman was an occasion of barely restrained Senate celebration.
Today, we live in a time in which, for all of our flaws, the popular sentiment in our country is patriotism that goes beyond ethnic, sectarian, or regional division. Those flaws are profound. Slavery was a national birth defect. White supremacy was explicit for a hundred years after slavery was officially outlawed. Now it exists in a thousand subtleties. Genocide has, at times, been an accepted practice.
But we have also seen healing. The election of our first black President was widely regarded as a healthy repudiation of the most shameful parts of our history. At least that was true in most of the world and in much of the country.
We do see occasional reminders of hostility that goes way beyond policy or politics. The President is treated as an outsider, not a real American, one who usurps authority that had been accepted as a matter of course during past Presidencies. There are other parallels with the past. Every Presidential action is taken by some as either an exercise in ruthless sociopathy or a lapse into astonishing ineptitude.
As in ancient times, bigotry overpowers opportunity.
The same impulses fuel a hatred of other "outsiders." Parents from other countries risk even the lives of their children to get them to a land of opportunity. They act out of fear, desperation, and hope.
We have little choice in how we respond. We house those children, then send them back. We do this because we have to. We send them back with our prayers and our regrets. At least that is how we should be thinking and feeling. That would be the American way.
It is hard to watch the mobs surrounding busloads of little kids. Ordinary citizens scream epithets of anger and hatred.
This is not America. And I believe to the core that it does not represent Americans.
Those who scream hatred, like those who point in fury at our "unAmerican" President, are themselves a demonstration that the arc of the moral universe is more like a jagged and uncertain path. The dream of a more perfect union is no more a reality than is the fictional history of "a dream that was Rome."
Still, the vision has not faded. Slavery, injustice, sectarian hatred, and racial violence have not destroyed it. For most of us, for nearly all of us, that unfulfilled vision is what we see as America.
It is a dream that continues to live.
From Talking Points memo:
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is calling on President Barack Obama to deport more young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as Dreamers.
Issa and 32 House Republican colleagues sent a letter to the president, dated July 2, urging him to reverse his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to halt deportation of people who would be eligible for the stalled DREAM Act.
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From the Washington Post:
President Obama’s displeasure with gridlock in Washington — and with the Republicans he blames for it — has been rising for months. This week it has boiled over.
From the Rose Garden to the Cabinet Room to near the Key Bridge in Georgetown, the president has signaled more than mere annoyance at the state of affairs at the halfway point of this year. His disdain for congressional Republicans has steadily increased; his disrespect for their tactics has hardened into contempt.
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In spite of the obviously suspicious disappearance of key documentation, it isn't hard to find partisan defenders. A brief internet search will find thousands of examples. A few examples typify the reflexive defensiveness:
She "wasn’t under investigation for targeting her political opponents and using the powers of government at the time..." In fairness, it is true that we are talking about missing messages from years ago, before there was any allegation of wrongdoing.
- When "the media gets excited over another conjured up smoking gun" it simply "continues to blow up in their faces."
Whenever key evidence simply disappears from an arena of controversy, alarm bells go off. These missing emails happen to be a case in point.
The first reaction was, itself suspicious. An administrative director is quoted. "I don't have any information on the missing documents," said Linda Perez.
Ms Perez insists she sent urgent requests to a Technology Services Department charged with keeping documents. She "asked them if they would search their search criteria and see if they can explain or come up with any reason for this." Well, that's something, I suppose.
We have to ask a more basic question. If that large a gap in the official record exists, how many other key pieces of evidence are missing? What other email messages have vanished?
When a public official suddenly resigns, and so much documentation turns out to be missing, is it any wonder suspicions will spread?
There were supposed backups of the missing messages. They were automatically deleted. The Anchorage Daily News quotes a spokesperson for Sarah Palin's successor as Governor: "It's my understanding that Yahoo has an auto-delete system, so the records weren't recoverable."
But there is another side. There are explanations.
Is it fair to cast doubt on the integrity of former Governor Sarah Palin over those lost emails?
There were a lot of email documents that were released: more than 24 thousand pages. The number lost when she first took office is unknown.
Yes, she was supposed to have been using her official email account from the moment she took office. For three weeks there were no messages on that account. None. Nothing Sent. Nothing received.
The Yahoo account she apparently used instead, in contradiction of state regulation, allows users to delete messages, but keeps those deletions on backup for a time. The "auto-delete" system then destroys all traces. Governor Sarah Palin's Administrative Director, Linda Perez, really wouldn't have had any information on the missing emails, in a literal sense. All information had been deleted, then erased.
I dunno. I guess I'd be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. As her supporters point out, she was not a center of controversy at the time she neglected to use her official account. I suspect there was never a there there.
Still, it does make me wonder what Sarah Palin's reaction would have been if some official from a Democratic administration was under some suspicion. If, for example, an IRS official was under some sort of investigation and a host of email messages was lost due to some sort of computer crash, what would the former Governor say?
If the computer crash had happened well before there was any hint of controversy, would that matter? If there had been some sort of automatic backup of the lost messages that, in turn, had been automatically deleted, would that have been suspicious? What if that deletion had happened on a schedule that had been set decades before?
One Palin critic speculates that she would have condemned anyone besides herself. He "quotes" her supposed reaction.
Nixon Admin Watergate Communications 18 min gap; Obama Admin Lerner Communications 1,052,000 min gap. Difference? Not even a smidgen.
- Alan Colmes on Sarah Palin's reaction, June 28, 2014
Yes, Mr. Colmes speculates that Sarah Palin would be completely hypocritical. But let's face it: he is a liberal cynic.
My bet is Sarah Palin would have been completely understanding.
From New Scientist:
Near-death experiences are rare, but if you have one, it is likely to be overwhelmingly peaceful, however painful it might have been to get to that stage. This is the conclusion from the first study into how the cause of trauma affects the content of a near-death experience.
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From the Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI:
Madison — A prosecutor underscored Thursday that he hasn't made a final determination about whether Gov. Scott Walker and his campaign illegally coordinated fundraising among conservative groups during recall elections in 2011 and 2012.
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From the Denver Post:
Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former U.S. Navy chaplainwho believes homosexuality is a sin and often compares President Barack Obama to a demon on his daily religious television show, won this week's Republican primary for state representative in an eastern El Paso County district.
The District 15 Republican candidate has also said that " Obamacare causes cancer."
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Benjamin Franklin, Titan Leeds, Timothy Murray, Frank Lucas
Click for Radio Podcast: Ben Franklin Is Not a Tea Party Candidate from Oklahoma (5:52)
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I never thought of him as a comedian until I came across a bit of history a few months ago. Then, a Tea Party candidate in Oklahoma again reminded me of Benjamin Franklin last week.
I have admired Ben Franklin ever since some bit of idle curiosity got me reading about him before I got to High School. It may have been the epitaph he wrote for himself when he had barely passed through his teenage years, likening his life to the yellowed pages of an old book. The prospect of "a new & more perfect Edition" made me think of reincarnation. His lifelong opposition to slavery came next, I'd guess. That was rare in colonial days.
It may have been his dedication to knowledge, education, science, that cemented my admiration. With Jefferson ruled out in my mind as a slaveholder, Benjamin Franklin was the last remnant of the Renaissance.
It was that dedication to knowledge that got him involved in publishing an almanac. It also accounted for a public feud and a practical joke that lasted for several years.
Titan Leeds was an astrologer. He published an almanac based on the stars to guide farmers in planting and harvesting and to guide everyone else in their personal lives. He was a religious bigot, campaigning against Quakers. He also focused on a strange sort of philosophy speculating on the material makeup of the human soul: so many parts fire, so many parts light, all mixed in with a substance called "tincture."
Leeds mocked education, expressing contempt for scholars and doctors.
The very existence of Titan Leeds seemed to offend Ben Franklin. Leeds' astrological predictions and his diatribes against education inspired Franklin to publish his own almanac. Franklin called his publication "Poor Richard's Almanack", and invented a protagonist, Richard Saunders. Leeds and Franklin began writing against each other right away. Franklin frequently invented a mock friendship, "sadly" taking his "old friend" apart.
Finally, Franklin used Leeds' own astrology against him. He published a sort of joke about it, predicting that, when the Sun and Mercury lined up, his "old friend" would die.
He dies by my calculation made at his request, on October 17, 1733, 3:29pm at the very conjunction of the Sun and Mercury; by his own calculation he will survive until the 26th. This small difference between us we have disputed whenever we met these nine years past.
- Benjamin Franklin (Richard Saunders), December 28, 1732
In fact, Ben Franklin insisted he never would have gone into publishing except for the impending death of Titan Leeds, since he would not have wanted to compete with his longtime friend.
Leeds had no matching humor. When the projected day came and went, he proclaimed that his rival was a fraud: "he has usurpt the knowledge of the Almighty herein and manifested himself a Fool and a Lyar..."
Benjamin Franklin cheerfully acknowledged the response. Since Leeds was his close personal friend, and there was nothing but fondness and good will between them, the bitter words from Titan Leeds was proof:
Leeds had indeed died, and his good name had been taken up by one or more impostors.
Leeds, of course, sputtered an indignant denial. He was the real Leeds, alive and well, and his opponent was simply offering more lies.
With each exchange, Franklin would express sadness that his friend's name was being so abused and his reputation so sullied by the group of impostors now pretending to be Titan Leeds. The proof was in the writing itself. Leeds had been so fond of him, and so kindly, that he would never have produced such vitriol.
The contrast between Benjamin Franklin's clever needling and Titan Leeds' humorless responding diatribes made the feud more entertaining. This went on for five years, to the amusement of readers in Philadelphia and beyond.
It didn't even stop when Leeds really did die a few years later. Franklin congratulated the impostors for finally realizing the error of their ways and ending their evil masquerade.
Benjamin Franklin came to mind as I read of a Tea Party candidate for Congress from Oklahoma who lost a primary election to a long time Republican office holder. The Tea Party candidate, Timothy Murray, got 5 percent of the vote, but insists he actually won, because the incumbent, Congressional Representative Frank Lucas, is ineligible to hold office by virtue of being dead: "it is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike."
The allegation is that Lucas was executed in the Ukraine in 2011 by the World Court. He was replaced by a robotic double.
Well, that is a step beyond the stuff about a President having been born in Kenya, I suppose.
At first I thought it must be satire. It does seem fit for the Onion.
You can go to the website of the Tea Party fellow.
Lucas, or his replica, responds:
Many things have been said about me, said to me during course of my campaigns. This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a body double or a robot.
- Frank Lucas (R-OK), June 26, 2014
I don't know that Benjamin Franklin ever actually believed in reincarnation. Even if he has come back, Ben Franklin can't be this Tea Party fellow.
For one thing, Ben was funnier.
Disagree with the President as many of my friends do, you kind of have to admit, in more honest moments, that this President is among the most straight arrow people around. No financial dirt. No extra-marital affairs. "No Drama Obama" is not just a personality trait. It seems to be a personal ethic.
But, after years of effort, Republicans have finally uncovered a criminal conspiracy involving illegal trading of insider knowledge. And it involves Obamacare.
She can become a great President, if she stops trying to think of herself as one of us.
Ancient Romans considered themselves superior to those they conquered. What is often unexamined in popular history is the attitude of Roman elites toward the Emperor Hadrian.
They thought of Hadrian as unworthy. He was not considered a real Roman. He came from one of the conquered territories. Such people were inferior, uncivilized, unclean. They were to be tamed, not to be followed.
Ancient Senators who looked down on Hadrian as a pretend Roman have modern descendants. Can we guess who they are?
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