In ancient times, shipping was the key to trade. And trade was the key to wealth. Not everyone benefited, and those who benefited did not benefit equally, to be sure. Stratified wealth, with rare exceptions, was roughly proportional to inherited social position. Social mobility was confined to those already born into the elite.

Trade was the greatest area of opportunity for the wealthy to increase their wealth. But there were risks. Piracy or weather could wipe out an entrepreneur. One legend, isolated pretty much to the insurance industry, has it that the concept of shared risk, the precursor to the concept of formalized insurance, originated in ancient trade.

Enterprising traders would seek out competitors and form alliances. We can imagine ten competing traders, each assuming great risks in order to achieve great profits.

Ten individual shipments from those ten different traders could each be sent on an individual ship. If one ship was captured by pirates, or was taken by a mutiny, or fell victim to a violent storm, or simply sank because of bad seamanship, one of the ten would be wiped out. The other nine would prosper.

But all of the ten made the proper agreement, each one could divide a shipment among the ten ships. If one ship sank, all ten entrepreneurs would take a minor hit. But profits from the other nine ships would overcome that one loss many times over.

Shared risk.

But all ships shared a common downfall that could not be overcome by sharing risk.

Grain was the most common substance of trade. And grain attracted more than profits. It attracted rodents. Mice and rats would find a comfortable home on a ship. Even when a shipment was something other than grain, food storage for a crew would provide nourishment for an army of rodents.

Trading consortiums had to find a way to deal with rats. They discovered cats.

The occasional mouse catching cat was more than a ship mascot. Cats became beloved crew members in their own right. When it came to a cat, no ship could leave home without it.

Rats did provide a stunning spectacle whenever a ship floundered and was about to be lost. Rats pretty much don’t like being trapped in closed quarters amid rising water. They probably have something against drowning. As a vessel took on water, sailors in lifeboats would watch amazing hoards of rats gather on deck and dive away from the sinking ship. The sheer number of rats produced a dazzling sight.

I sometimes think about ancient ships and the steps taken to ensure their cargo when I read about the angst experienced by principled Republicans in the current campaign season.

It began as Donald Trump abandoned classic conservatism, with its emphasis on free trade, free immigration, small government, voluntary association, and freedom from regulation. Instead he embraced what we used to call racial conservatism.

The forgotten secret at the underpinnings of political conservatism has been an appeal to racial resentment. In recent times, the appeal has been much more passive than what those of my generation witnessed in the long ago days of my youth. If older wealthier white Americans just wanted to keep material benefits from flowing toward those whose ethnic and racial backgrounds made them less deserving, many modern political figures considered that to be an unfortunate fact of life that just happened to benefit the ascendancy of true conservatism. Happily, it was a minor fact of life that was rapidly disappearing as the conservative movement won on ideology.

Donald Trump exploded that view. Racial resentment was not a sad but minor part of conservatism. The Republican base, for the most part, did not care at all about classic conservatism. Ideological fidelity was cast aside by an electorate fired up by more primitive concerns.

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Donald Trump, June 16, 2015

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

Read by Donald Trump, December 7, 2015

A few Republicans, classic conservatives who take their conservatism seriously, began their separation from Donald Trump right away. They were a precious few.

Then, during the primary season, more reflexive Trumpisms came into public display.

“He is not a war hero… He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you. He is a war hero because he was captured. OK, you can have — I believe perhaps he is a war hero.”

Donald Trump, July 18, 2015

This was not a catalyst for any massive defection of Republicans. John McCain was the war hero who became not a war hero, then perhaps a war hero, even though he was guilty of the disgrace of capture, imprisonment, and torture by America’s enemies. But even John McCain declined to disown Mr. Trump, should he become the Republican nominee.

The hope of many was that he might begin to moderate his public statements, or at least curb his language after he received his party’s nomination. Alas it was not to be.

When he was criticized by an American Muslim whose son had died in combat saving American troops, Mr. Trump went on the attack. He began by suggesting that the father whose son had died had not criticized him on his own. He had, perhaps, simply read what some Clinton speech writer had written for him. Then Mr. Trump accused the man of muzzling his wife. He speculated that the grief stricken mother of the slain army captain had been forbidden to speak.

His wife. If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.

Then, he went further than anyone could reasonably have expected. He suggested that if Hillary Clinton was elected then Second Amendment people might want to take their own form of action.

By the way, and if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the 2nd Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.

Defenders insist that he was merely suggesting, in an inartful way, that those who want to preserve the right to bear arms, and who believe Hillary Clinton wants to take their guns, should vote against her.

That interpretation requires an elegant bit of creative parsing. If she is elected, then militant gun enthusiasts should prevent her from appointing judges by … voting against her? After she is elected? And even then, only those whom Mr. Trump calls 2nd Amendment people should vote against her?

The famous 2nd Amendment solution advocated by some is dangerous and irresponsible. But at least the incitement to violence is coherent.

There is some background noise that Republican officeholders, especially those seeking re-election, in particular those running for re-election in tight races, intend to separate themselves from Donald Trump.

Some public figures, politicians, pundits, and Republican advisors, have already come out. Talking Points Memo has been keeping a running account.

A few intend to support Hillary Clinton. More will support neither candidate.

So far, they include:

Reagan staffer Doug Elmets:

He’s managed to hoodwink America into believing that he will lead this country through the fire. I think he will thrust us into the fire.

President Reagan’s Political Director, Frank Lavin:

Donald Trump was quite, quite, cavalier in suggesting that Korea or Japan might develop nuclear capabilities.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, a lifelong Republican:

He lacks the character and the foundation of knowledge necessary to be President. By his own admission he gets his information from the shows.

Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida:

I could never explain to my two little girls that I would support Donald Trump.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine:

…by his derogatory comments, by his mocking of the most vulnerable people in our society, by his marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities…

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)

Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA)

Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY)

Former Michigan Gov. William Milliken

Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary for George W. Bush

Former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD)

Meg Whitman, who ran in California for the US Senate

Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson

Maria Comella, longtime communications director
                          for Chris Christie

Sally Bradshaw, close advisor to Jeb Bush

The list is impressive and will probably grow.

The cynical among us might think back to those ancient times, and recall rats deserting a sinking ship.

Not all of those swimming away from Mr. Trump are seeking re-election. Not all are even holding office. It is not at all clear that those who are running will benefit from their stand against the Republican nominee.

I have been predicting for years the demise of the Republican Party as a national institution. I think it will happen by the end of this decade. So I do not fondly dream of Republican survival. I do not even believe the party will somehow find within itself a final brave moment, and disengage from this dark path.

But I do retain what may be a naive, visionary hope that humankind, even conservative politicians, even the conservative movement itself, can act out of principle that goes beyond self-preservation.

I don’t think of rats deserting the ship.
I see the faint possibility of the ship deserting the rat.

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Faith & Reason, Faith & Honor, Baby Cries, Conservative Cries

Listen to the Voices 8/6/2016

Mr. Trump’s Right to Attack

The father of a fallen soldier asks whether Donald Trump has even read the Constitution. Mr. Trump attacks. The man has no right to ask such a question.

Actually, the Constitution guarantees that right. It also gives Mr. Trump the right to attack two grieving parents.

And it gives the rest of us the right to call Mr. Trump a godawful jerk.

He should read about those rights.


More – –

Mr. Trump’s Right to Attack

I am told that middle age in the United States is about 35, give or take a year or two. That is the average median age of everyone in the country.

So most Americans alive today were not alive in 1977 when the Nazi Party, swastikas and all, announced that they would march victoriously through Skokie, Illinois. They chose Skokie because lots of Jews lived there. More than half of Skokie was Jewish. The Nazi Party wanted to march there because thousands of those Jews had survived the Nazi-run death camps of World War II. They really wanted to push hatred right into the faces of those they hated.

America has its history of race hatred and religious intolerance. There was a time when some members of Congress would never have been elected without the support of the Ku Klux Klan. The voice of Billie Holiday still haunts us with the song “Strange Fruit” and lyrics about beautiful poplar trees, “black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze.”

But America also has a competing tradition of caring for and protecting the targets of hatred. There exists a huge reservoir of good will and a tremendous capacity for action. By 1977, many of those who had survived the fury of Hitler’s followers thirty and forty years before had grown frail, but the memory of those times still had to sear. Survivors did not deserve more confrontation with another generation’s cheerleaders for evil.

Those opposing the Nazis got an injunction against the Nazi march.

Leave the survivors alone.
Leave Jewish citizens alone.
Keep your Nazi symbols away from everyone willing to take a stand.

The Nazis fought the injunction all the way to the Supreme Court. They were joined by the ACLU. The argument was about free speech and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the end, the parts about free speech and the right to assemble meant the Nazis could march. The injunction was struck down. Swastikas could be paraded in front of those who had almost perished during the last nightmare in Europe.

When the injunction was lifted, another similar injunction, this one in Chicago, was also struck down. Chicago was a bigger stage, so the Nazis held their little parade through those streets instead. They never did march in Skokie.

The debate over Skokie and the Nazis was national and fierce. The right of a persecuted people to be left alone was, in the end, legally overruled by the right to speak, a right guaranteed even in the case of speech that any decent person would find abhorrent.

I thought about the march that never was, that court decision, and the sometimes painful freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution as the war of words escalated between a national candidate for President of the United States on one side and, on the other, the parents of an Army captain killed defending those freedoms.

As Khizr Khan held up his own pocket copy of the Constitution, he challenged Mr. Trump.

Let me ask you: have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law’.

It was a scathing indictment, provocative because it personalized what had been a debate involving what seemed like distant principles, legalities. It suddenly became a father’s dignified anger and a mother’s wordless grief. A dry debate became vivid sacrifice, a matter of life and death and pain.

The question about our familiarity with the Constitution touched many of us. Inquiries about pocket copies of the founding document are said to have jumped.

It came to me that I too carry with me many things I find sustaining. I have pocket photos of my loved one, our children, and another child we did not have the resources to adopt years ago. He has grown, we are told, in a healthy and happy environment with new parents who love him. I also carry a prayer from Father Thomas Merton. The paper is fresh and crisp. It is the latest replacement, as previous copies have become worn with repeated unfolding.

I do not carry the United States Constitution in my pocket. Mr. Khan must love our freedoms very much.

When Mr. Trump spoke to Republican members of Congress in July, several later expressed shock at his lack of familiarity with the Constitution. At one point, he promised to defend every article, Article One, Article Twelve, all of them. Few of us are aware that the Constitution has only seven articles. I had to look it up.

I am disappointed with those Republicans, the ones who were alarmed that Mr. Trump did not know even the number of Articles. I am disappointed that they had not already been alarmed at Mr. Trump’s lack of respect for basic freedoms contained at the end of the document, in the Amendments.

A program that would curtail the freedom of a religious minority because of the way they worship alarms me more than whether a candidate for President knows that there are seven articles. Retribution against all those people because of terrible acts of violence by a renegade offshoot seems to me a basic departure from what we hold valuable. Collective punishment is not what we do.

Mr. Khan made it personal only partially because of his words. It became especially personal because he and his wife are, in fact, persons. It is acutely personal because of their tightly restrained pain.

It became more personal because of the coarse response by Mr. Trump, his campaign, and some of his supporters. It is as if no loss of life, no sacrifice by others, no grief, no honored grave site can eclipse their rage at being crossed.

A lone, brave woman, reveals at a rally in Carson City, Nevada, that her husband is serving in the Persian Gulf. The crowd cheers for her. She questions Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s Vice Presidential candidate.

Time and time again Trump has disrespected our nation’s armed forces and veterans — and his disrespect for Mr. Khan and his family …

At the words “Mr. Khan and his family” boos and jeers from the crowd nearly drown out the rest. She bravely continues despite the volume of angry derision.

…is just an example of that. Will there ever be a point in time when you’re able to look Trump in the eye and tell him ‘Enough is enough?’ You have a son in the military. How do you tolerate his disrespect?

The question is not surprising. The boisterous anger of the crowd is stunning.

The campaign itself joins in, as close Trump allies distribute a theory. Khizr Khan and Ghazala Khan must be part of terrorist conspiracies. Even the heroic Captain Humayun Khan, killed defending his troops in Iraq, must have been an agent secretly working for terrorists.

Mr. Trump himself goes on the attack, questioning the grief-stricken silence of the Gold Star mother. He is not satisfied with Ghazala Khan’s explanation that she could not speak because of the pain of seeing a large portrait of her slain son. He demands a more satisfactory answer.

If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.

He responds to their loss by explaining that he is no stranger to sacrifice. After all, he has worked hard to build large, tall structures. He has hired many people. That, he explains, is what real sacrifice is about.

I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve worked very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs. Tens of thousands of jobs.

In a written statement, he defends his right to attack the couple.

While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr. Khan, who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.

The right of this couple, their right to stand in front of millions of people and question whether Mr. Trump has ever read the United States Constitution, that very right is precisely spelled out in that same Constitution Mr. Trump indignantly claims to have read.

The freedom of speech that would have allowed a Nazi march in Skokie certainly has to extend to a couple who lost a son in combat. It was in defense of that and other freedoms that Captain Khan served.

Mr. Trump’s ignorance of that right is more meaningful proof that he needs to read Mr. Khan’s copy than whether he thinks the Constitution has twelve articles, rather than the seven it contains.

The right of speech extends to Mr. Trump as well. He does have the right to attack this couple for daring to speak out. And the rest of us have the right to express our opinion of his attempt to bully this father and grieving mother for having offended him.

I confess to not having known before now how many articles are in that founding document, but I do know the basic freedoms it guarantees. Mr. Trump should be familiar with one of those rights. He lives it every day.

That right, in the Constitution with those other freedoms, is the inalienable right to be a god-awful jerk.

Mr. Trump can find that right guaranteed in Article Twelve.

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Conventional Wisdom, Judicial Guardians, Dreadlock Freedom

Listen to the Voices 7/30/2016

Kaine Lifts the Curtain

I don’t yet know much about Senator Tim Kaine.
I’m told Hillary Clinton’s choice for vice President is less progressive than Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.
Less progressive than am I.

For most of us the ideological spectrum is only some dot on a chart.
We seek leaders who transcend that spectrum.
Most of us don’t look for a position on an ideological yardstick.
We look for leadership and issues and accomplishments.


More – –

Kaine Lifts the Curtain

Your car insurance policy is 22 pages long.

Did you read every word? No.

Only lawyers do that.

So when you got rear-ended and you needed a tow, your insurance company told you to look on page 5 on your policy.

Did it say “Great news! You’re covered!” on page 5?


It said, “blah blah – blah blah blah – blah blah.”

Liberty Mutual – Coverage Compass

People usually don’t like commercials. I don’t like commercials.

But I have usually kind of liked Liberty Mutual commercials. One series of ads had people committing spontaneous acts of kindness, which inspired casual bystanders to copy what they had witnessed. The ads showed a sort of multiplying effect, a chain reaction. Pretty soon, the whole world would lapse into a peaceful friendly state of friendly peaceful states and the peaceful friendly populations that populate them, except the ad ended before that last part could happen.

Time limits, you know.

From what I’ve read, they’re a pretty good company. But they seem to be going through a bit a low phase.

Maybe they changed agencies or writers or maybe their executives decided that kindness and good will wouldn’t sell. Rage and hatred will sell, if it isn’t too scary.

They probably never sat around a table with their ad agencies and actually pondered what sort of hatred they could promote. We’ll never know for sure, unless Donald Trump’s Russian intelligence agencies hack in and publish some emails. I can picture business executives wondering how to latch onto public hatred. What really enrages folks?

As political campaigns have shown, there is a lot of hatred that can be directed at traditional targets: immigrants, poor people, and minorities. Think back to the financial crisis eight years ago that cost millions of jobs, forced homeowners to live out of their automobiles, pushed death rates up from the financial strain. It became apparent to anyone who followed the money that huge financial firms and those who ran them had committed massive fraud.

But who got a disproportionate share of the blame? If you thought of traditional targets; immigrants, poor people, and minorities; you get to stay and clean the erasers.

Think about political campaigns going back to the beginning of time, from no-nothings to the Klan to Trumpsters. Who gets to be hated? Try immigrants, poor people, and minorities.

But here’s the problem. If an insurance company even thought about climbing on that sort of wagon, they’d get off very quickly. For one thing, it’s real wrong. I’m trying to imagine an insurance company finishing up a campaign based on everyone should be a nicer, kinder, and gentler, then launching a Mexicans-are-drug-dealers-and-rapists-and-some-I-assume-are-good-people campaign. I can’t think of anyone who would do such a thing.

Okay, maybe one person.

Plus, how could an insurance company do it? How can you sell insurance with that sort of argument? Show those horrible immigrants and poor people and minorities! Buy a policy from us!!

But Liberty Mutual did find a villain. They figured that, aside from the usual targets, there was a group pretty much everyone hates: insurance companies.

So this insurance company got an ad agency to figure out how to sell insurance based on hatred.

Of the insurance industry.

A lot of things that seem impossible at first don’t look hard at all, once someone does them. And this is one of those things.

If you have accidents, the insurance company raises your rates.
So come with us instead.

If the car you totaled is old, the insurance company will not buy you a new one.
So come with us instead.

Then you can name your car Brad and do a happy dance.
Just come with us.

A lot of it leaves me skeptical. As in you get what you pay for, if you exercise due diligence and shop around. You don’t have to buy the promise of a fantasy.

I’ve liked what Liberty Mutual has done before. They would be on my list of companies to check out if I ever decided to change. But it would be in spite of their current run of ads, not because of them.

Those of us who have had insurance for a while can get a sense of dollars and cents. Insurance companies have employees who wear eye-shades all day long and work the figures for a single purpose. They want to make more money. So they figure the odds and put those odds into tables.

Change your deductible, or work to develop a careful driving record, or exercise due diligence and shop around. Drive more carefully, have fewer accidents, and insurance companies will find it profitable to chase after you. Please do business with us.

The only wrinkle in all this is the occasional rip-off. It could happen in a lot of ways. Until recently, some insurance companies in some fields, particularly dealing with medical coverage, would find ways to cancel insurance policies rather than pay large claims. Even car insurance companies might try to chisel their way out of the occasional catastrophe.

It doesn’t just happen in insurance, of course. One tactic is occasionally used by those with deep pockets against little folk.

If you sue us, you will probably win. But we will make it so expensive for you to win, and we will delay paying any judgment for so long, we will make sure you lose even while you are winning.

As you may guess, I’m quoting from personal memory.

More common than the too-big-to-lose strategy is the baffle-them-with-fine-print tactic.

That is why Liberty Mutual’s blah blah – blah blah blah – blah blah commercial strikes a chord.

Did it say “Great news! You’re covered!” on page 5?


It said, “blah blah – blah blah blah – blah blah.”

Which brings us to politics and the middle ground.

When Elizabeth Warren was Professor Warren, before she became Senator Warren, she envisioned and argued for and fought for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was an anti-blah-blah-blah agency, designed largely to give ordinary folks a weapon against corporate rip-offs.

Too big to fight? Not if you were legally right and the little band of experts got on your side. Fine-print? Nope – put it in plain English or give up the loopholes. Is your bank delaying your deposits just a little, just enough, then processing the bigger checks before the small ones in order to force up late fees? Not if Senator Warren’s agency can help it.

Establishing an agency to guard against corporate theft was one of those issues that left very little to compromise. What sort of halfway point is possible? Can you be in favor of corporations cheating some retired couple of ONLY half their retirement savings rather than all of it? Some efforts to measure a political position on an ideological scale become distortions before they begin.

We either think Donald Trump’s 2000 or 3000 or 5000 mile wall is an absurdity or we don’t. Would a moderate position be a wall half as tall or a third as long?

When professional Republicans noticed Donald Trump rising in the polls, the attacks against him were largely ideological. He was not a true conservative. Look at his score from the Conservative League!

Most of those who thought his scowling visage worthy of their votes did not care about his score on the conservative yardstick. He hates the same groups they hate, he fears what they fear, he screams out their anger.

When Hillary Clinton announced she was raising Kaine, as some have put it, I heard that Senator Tim Kaine was a moderate. Not nearly as progressive as, say, Elizabeth Warren. Or Bernie Sanders. Or as progressive as am I.

Whether I care will, I suppose, depend on the issue. If he wants to allow large corporations to semi-cheat the economically vulnerable, I will object. If he is for the Trump wall as long as it is only 4 feet high, but no higher, I will object. If he wants to hand over to Vladimir Putin just half the NATO countries that Donald Trump says he’ll award to Russia, I will object.

Like most Americans, my opinions are just now congealing.
Tim Kaine seems like a decent fellow.

He spoke with passion and strength at the Democratic Convention.

I don’t care about the numerical score.
That’s all blah-blah-blah stuff.
I’m looking into what’s actually behind the curtain.

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Toads, Convention, Yay Melania, Police Targeting, Religious Sin