To the Guy Flying a Confederate Flag in Exeter, New Hampshire

Emily C. Heath

I saw your truck parked in front of the Rite-Aid, right by the Dunkin Donuts. Two large Confederate flags were attached to the back of it, waving in the wind. The American flag was, incongruously (and in violation of the flag code), in the center. And, I have to confess, I don’t get it.

Part of me wanted to ask obvious questions: You know you are in New Hampshire, right? And, you know New Hampshire was not a part of the Confederacy?

11709431_400316456841007_5791455240479926301_nI ask this because I’m not so sure you do. Here we are in a northern town, a place that gave her sons up to the Union Army and lost them on the battlefields of the Civil War. A place where locals organized early against slavery and led the charge against it across the country. A place where 150 years ago that flag would have been seen as…

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A Pope’s Influence on Society

What influence does a pope have?

What kind of agent of change is a pope? Especially in today’s world, where popes have turned their back on political power, coming full circle back to the very earliest days of the Church so as to become spiritual and not political leaders?

How much influence did or does Thomas Paine have? Karl Marx? Paul Krugman? Abbie Hoffman? Your next door neighbor?  Does anyone have?

Well, put it this way. Stalin once contemptuously asked, “How many divisions does the pope have?”

It was his way of saying that the then pope had no power to stop him.

Long after Stalin was gone, he got an answer from John Paul II. JPII demonstrated that there is a higher power than brute force.

All John-Paul II did was go to then-communist Poland in 1979 and say mass. Well, okay, he held 32 masses in nine days, criss-crossing the nation. Millions showed up. His theme wasn’t insurrection. Rather his theme was that of human dignity and a spiritual revolution.  Certainly, he preached nonviolence.

And the rest is history. I’m sure you remember those years- those wild years in Poland.

As Timothy Garton Ash wrote, “Without the Pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of Communism.”

Gorbachev did not disagree, saying of his once nemesis, “It would have been impossible without the Pope.”

It does not do well to underestimate the impact of a spiritual leader. Especially one that is the head of a religion of more than 1.2 billion, of whom 483 million are Latin Americans, many of whom live in penury.

I’m reminded as well of a story someone told me once. This gentleman, a kind man, an atheist liberal, once walked into a house. In the house were Christians, supposedly, who were of politically  conservative sympathies. They wished to lay a trap for this man.

They asked him, “If you saw someone hurt on the side of the road, would you help him?”

The person answered, “Yes. Yes, of course.”

The so-called Christians responded with scorn. They were of a mind to “let him die” as was so loudly proclaimed at a recent Republican presidential nomination debate. A room full of so-called Christians!

Something was missing from that situation of that liberal being trapped by so-called Christians. At least, that’s what I felt when I heard the story.

The gentleman entering the house was unconsciously following a Christian teaching- the teaching that was exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

And the people who tested him, while asked if they were Christians, would affirm their religion, while rejecting that religion’s very teaching. That is, they proclaimed their Christianity in theory while hating it in fact.

What was missing was a man like Francis. Francis is assuming the role of saying to these hypocrites and people like them, “Shame on you! You hypocrites! You have much to learn, and you have much to learn of your own religion from an atheist.”

I sense that a man named John the Baptist once assumed that role of afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted.

We need such men.

This post was unashamedly influenced by https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/pope/communism/

Drivel Presented as Logic

The article in question:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/iranian-freedom-cancelled/

I thought it of interest to post a response of sorts to an article (link posted above) that is popping up on the web. It’s an excellent example of flawed premises used to bolster a previously held belief. That is, the author has a clear belief she’s emotionally attached to and so rationalizes an argument to support it.

That’s called bad logic.

Take a read of the article, and then let’s explore her flawed premises.

Her premises:

1) The Iranian regime is dying.

Hmmm. Seems we heard that one quite a few times over the last thirty years, for sure! Estimating the longevity of any regime is a practice in futility. Remember when we thought the Soviet Union would last another century and its fall came largely as a surprise? How often have we heard over the years that North Korea or Cuba were ripe for change? Those two regimes have been “dying”, well, for longer than you or I are alive!

I well remember in 1982 high level experts predicting the of the totalitarian Saudi regime (our ostensible allies) by 1985. We’re still waiting for that one. Point is, there’s no real way of measuring whether a regime is “dying” or not. And Iran isn’t exactly a totalitarian regime. Its people do vote, for example, unlike, say, Saudi Arabia. Women can drive there. Unlike Saudi Arabia.

Dying? Could be. Might not be. The crystal ball is too cloudy to tell.

Conclusion: Her premise is at best weak and very likely flawed. She *wishes* for the regime to be “dying” and so she labels it so.

2) That sanctions are instrumental in bringing freedom to that poor country.

Seems we’ve tried that strategy with Cuba for over 50 years. Hmm. I’d like her to present one, just one, nation where sanctions have brought freedom to any nation.

Conclusion: Her premise is deeply flawed. She *wishes* that economic sanctions lead to freedom, and so she states that it is so.

3) Premise: That Iran can be convinced or forced to abandon its nuclear program like, say Libya.

I remember reading way back in the shah’s days – in 1978- that it was estimated that Iran would have a nuclear weapons expertise within 30 years. Yes, I really did read stuff like that in eighth grade.

Iran (population 76 million) is not Libya (population 6 million) It’s a very big country with a robust and ancient tradition of scholarship. Whether or not it actually manufactures nuclear weapons, it will gain the national knowledge to build them much sooner rather than later. It really does have that level of educational knowledge. Much like Japan, Australia and Taiwan have the knowledge to build such weapons if they choose. And they choose not to.

Additionally, the nuclear program is *hugely* popular in Iran. In this situation, Iran is much closer to the Pakistani nuclear model than Libya. Nuclear capability in both nations are deemed a matter of national pride. Remember when Pakistan exploded its first nuclear bomb? Pakistanis went into the streets to celebrate. The Iranians see such a capability as a sign of attaining a “great power” status, especially when its two neighbors to the east (Pakistan and India) have the bomb.

The common talk on the Iranian “street” is that it is high time for there to be a “Shiite bomb” as, in their view, there is already a “Sunni bomb” (Pakistan) and a “Hindu bomb” (Indian), never mind the “Christian bombs” of the USA, the UK, France, etc. Yes, they really do think that way.

At the popular level, if the Iranian government point blank abandoned its nuclear program, the regime *would* lose internal legitimacy.

The key in all of this is to find a path where Iran can view itself as a “great power” in the vein of powers that do not manufacture nuclear bombs. Attempting to get Iran to “forget” such knowledge is dreaming. Doing so is like getting Japan to “forget” its knowledge in nuclear technology. Can’t happen.

Conclusion: Her premise that Iran can contract nuclear amnesia is flawed. She *wishes* that there was a way to keep the nuclear genie out of the hands of the Iranian regime and so she states it is possible, regardless if it *is* possible.

4) That negotiations have “blown away” UN Security Council resolutions (I’ll leave her allusion to the resolutions “asking” alone, as tempting as it is to answer that one!).

That is, on its face, extremely flawed. The negotiations do nothing -nothing!- to undermine the UN Security Council resolutions. Rather, they are confidence-gaining measures.

Conclusion: She misunderstands the very nature of the negotiations. Her premise is flawed, and indeed, her prejudice shows through clearly with such Fox News-like accusations.

5) Premise: The world could prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons.

How, I pray, short of a major war does she propose for that to happen? Every peaceful solution -especially sanctions- has been applied to North Korea. The very strategy that she wishes to be applied to Iran was tried and is tried on North Korea…and NK has the bomb!

You see the circular argument here- yes? She wishes for Iran to be treated like North Korea to prevent Iran from building a…bomb. But that strategy didn’t work in North Korea!

Conclusion: Her premise is flawed: There’s no way to tell if the world, short of war, could have stopped the North Koreans from building a bomb.

She also has some interesting accusations:

1) The president is pursuing an agenda of “appeasement”.

Note as well her emotive accusation: “Appeasement” with all its connotations of World War II.

Initial negotiations which amount to a level of confidence building measures do not, at all, amount to “appeasement”. The authors use of the term is inappropriate at best, designed to manipulate a visceral response. It weakens, not strengthens, her argument, such as it is.

2) Barack Obama is “a US leader who not only let the Syrian genocide happen”.

Here we go again with words that attempt to manipulate the audience (“genocide”).

The reality is that Barack Obama was challenged in his powers to order even a bombing raid on Syria in response to Syrian use of poison gas on its own citizens.

The reality is, further, that the US populace has little interest in yet another Middle Eastern war with little prospect of a successful exit strategy.

It’s one thing to accuse President Obama of “letting” the “Syrian genocide happen”. It’s another thing completely to actually present a reasonable and realistic course of action that President Obama could pursue to stop such matters.

It’s qualifies as a wild accusation.

In short, the article is drivel, loaded with very poor premises and wild accusations.

The real trick is where to apply limited government…and when not to

“Small” government or “big” government from a political science perspective are pretty much nonsensical terms.   A “small,” local government can be just as much a tyranny as a national “big” government.   Look at what Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona for an example of “small” local government effectively acting in an out-of-control, even tyrannous fashion.   Or look at the pre-civil rights deep Southern local or “small” governments and their oppressive treatment towards minorities.  Small but tyrannous government is quite possible.

The real issue is “limited” government and when to apply it to specific spheres of society. For the most part, a strictly limited government works really well when we talk about individual rights – say, freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  When it comes to, say, reigning in massive corporate abuses of power, then we start looking around for a empowered government that can counter that threat to our society- which means not-so-limited government in that sphere- and a good thing, too.

Whenever I hear anyone say, “I am against big government!” I shrug privately. It doesn’t really mean anything.   We are the government, and we determine its limits as we deem necessary.

For a fine article regarding a local government that acts in a tyrannous fashion, check out the Rolling Stones article on Sheriff Arpaio:  http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-long-lawless-ride-of-sheriff-joe-arpaio-20120802?page=3

An interesting insight on the shortcomings of too much “small” government:  http://borderlessnewsandviews.com/2012/03/draft-ron-paul-a-biopsy-part-iii/

Measuring Bias and Accuracy in Cable News

Is MSNBC left leaning and Fox News Right Leaning with CNN in the Middle?

Science seems to confirm what’s pretty apparent.  Nascent science, yes, but science nonetheless:

“Using the Contrast Analysis of Semantic Similarity (CASS) text analysis software, the researchers evaluated 12 months’ worth of transcripts from MSNBC, FOX and CNN. Confirming their hypotheses and validating the CASS method, FOX demonstrated a conservative bias, while MSNBC exhibited a liberal leaning. CNN fell squarely in between.” (From http://news.wustl.edu/news/pages/22166.aspx)

However, the above is a measure of bias, not accuracy.

So let’s talk accuracy.

When accuracy is included in the mix, Fox falls behind pretty badly.

Studies- numerous studies – were conducted on who is accurate and, well, who isn’t.

Last time I checked, there were six major studies. Each study found, in one way or another, that Fox News was the least accurate in its reporting or that Fox News viewers were the least informed of viewers, often holding beliefs that were factually incorrect.

A supporting factor for the accuracy of these studies is that there are no reports by anyone, anywhere, that state that Fox News viewers are *better* informed than other viewers, or that Fox is more accurate than other news providers.

Let’s look at the studies. Six are listed here; I’ve heard there’s a seventh recently out that matches the below data; I haven’t had the chance to find it.

First, my apologies:  I’m sure I got most or all of this list from another site; but at the moment, I don’t have a link to that site or even a record of where I got this list.  I’ll fix that.

Here we go!

1) “Climate on Cable: The Nature and Impact of Global Warming Coverage on Fox
News, CNN, and MSNBC.” A combined study by American University, George Mason University and Yale University. A sophisticated study (link below) that indicated that by a wide margin, Fox News viewers were very misinformed on a range of subjects, including scientific statements on global warming, but also in such matters as the Iraq War.

Link: http://climateshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/FeldmanStudy.pdf

2) Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA): “MISPERCEPTIONS, THE MEDIA AND THE IRAQ WAR”. This study found, to quote, “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.”

Link: http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/IraqMedia_Oct03/IraqMedia_Oct03_rpt.pdf

3) Stanford University: “Frequent Viewers of Fox News Are Less Likely to Accept Scientists’ Views of Global Warming”. This study found, to quote, that the “ “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists.”

Link: http://woods.stanford.edu/docs/surveys/Global-Warming-Fox-News.pdf

4) Kaisar Foundation: “ASSESSING AMERICANS’ FAMILIARITY WITH THE HEALTH CARE LAW”. This was a study that focused on how well cable media viewers understood the facts behind health care reform. It found, to quote, regarding its survey that, “higher shares of those who report CNN (35 percent) or MSNBC (39 percent) as their primary news source [got] 7 or more right, compared to those who report mainly watching Fox News (25 percent).”

Link: http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/8148.pdf

5) Ohio State University: “FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTES TO SPREAD OF RUMORS ABOUT PROPOSED NYC MOSQUE. CNN and NPR promote more accurate beliefs; Belief in rumors associated with opposition to the NYC mosque and to mosques in general”

Read through the study. Fox News would pass on unsubstantiated rumors far more often than other outlets; correspondingly, the study found that Fox News viewers were about half more likely to believe these rumors.

Link: http://www.comm.ohio-state.edu/kgarrett/MediaMosqueRumors.pdf

6) Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA): “Misinformation and the 2010 Election: A Study of the US Electorate”. In this study, Fox News viewers were much more likely to believe false claims brought forward during the election cycle; many of these false claims were promulgated by Fox News personalities.

Link: http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/dec10/Misinformation_Dec10_rpt.pdf

With *no* studies, none -not even noncredible ones- stating that Fox News is the most accurate reporting outlet, and none stating that Fox News viewers are the best informed, it’s reasonable, indeed compelling, to conclude that Fox News does a poor job conveying facts, and, correspondingly, its viewers are the least informed of the lot.

So, yeah, MSNBC is on the left and Fox is on the right. The difference is that Fox is a lot less informing and actually inaccurate in its reporting.

That’s why – that’s why!- when I see Fox News on television anywhere I ask that the channel be changed. Not entirely because it’s full of right-wing opinion.

Because it’s just so dang blasted and demonstrably inaccurate.

Birthers Start Up On Ted Cruz: Oh, Please, Just Stop.

The Natural-born-citizen clause as it appeared in 1787 (yes, I took it from Wikipedia!)

The Natural-born-citizen clause as it appeared in 1787 (yes, I took it from Wikipedia!)

Ted Cruz, the junior Senator from Texas, sure has stirred up the pot at times.  He tends towards arrogance and goofiness all in one package, which is quite an accomplishment.  Worse, this guy is talking about running for president.

Okie dokie artichokie.  I think it very unlikely the guy got a shot at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  I mean, really.  I think we’ve had our fill of Texas Republicans sitting in the Oval Office.   At least for a long while.

With a measure of fame, though, comes the inevitable conspiracy theories.  One conspiracy theory states that as Cruz was born in Canada to American parents that he isn’t a “natural born citizen” and therefore unqualified for the presidency.

Ted Cruz is many things.  But one thing is is not is “not American.”

The Purpose of the Constitution’s Natural-Born-Citizen Clause

The natural-born-citizen clause of the Constitution was created with one primary purpose:  In an age of monarchs and aristocrats, its purpose was to prevent a European-born aristocrat from assuming the presidency and transforming it into a hereditary office. At the time, this wasn’t an unfounded concern considering that a couple of decades after the constition was ratified, Napoleon’s brother -a former king!- lived for many years in Philadelphia and New York.

The intent: NO American monarchs.

The Definition of “Natural Born”

The current definition of “natural born” as generally agreed upon comes from the Congressional Research Service (attached): In short a “natural born citizen” is a person born a US citizen, whether or not they are born on US soil.

That is, “natural born” means someone who doesn’t have to go through the process of “naturalization” to become a citizen. Those who don’t have to go through the naturalization process breaks down into two areas:

  • A person born in the USA (regardless if his/her parents are citizens)
  • A person born outside of the USA who has at least one American parent

So, yes, Cruz, because he did not have to go through the naturalization process, is by definition a “natural born” citizen.  His father was a naturalized citizen and his mom was born in Delaware. He can and does claim citizenship from either or both parents.  Because of his American parentage, could have been born on the Moon and he’d still be a natural-born American citizen. Whether or not Cruz was born in Canada, as he had at least one American parent, is not a factor.

Cruz may be arrogant, goofy, and hold some loathsome views, but yeah, he’s a natural born American citizen.  So let’s not waste any more time on such silliness.  That said:

Let’s Get Rid of It!

Frankly, the natural-born-citizen-clause is a hopelessly outdated. There’s no reason, none, that someone who, say, immigrated to the USA as a young child and became a citizen shouldn’t be qualified to be president, especially if said naturalized citizen renounced any and all claims of loyalty to his’ or her’s nation of birth.

There’s little chance of an aristocrat capturing the presidency and hasn’t been in oh, a long while now. All we’re doing is excluding potentially fine people from the office. Let’s get rid of it and rid ourselves of one more outdated rule that conspiracy theorists use to distraction.

Some references:

Probably the definitive document on the definition of “natural born” from the Congressional Research:
Service:http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42097.pdf

A really well written Wikipedia entry on the subject:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural-born-citizen_clause

Some goofiness from a Clown Who Would Be President (Donald Trump, of course!).  Proof, in a way, that it’s time to take one more weapon away from those who drive us to distraction with idiocy:
http://www.politicususa.com/2013/08/11/donald-trump-birther-ted-cruz-questions-eligibility-president.html

Roger Williams: Did this Gentle Man Plant a Seed for the American Revolution?

Statue of Roger Williams at Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island. No one knows how Roger Williams original looked like, so the sculptor used another, more recent, Williams as a model.

Statue of Roger Williams at Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island.
Yes, that’s Ted Williams’ face.

Hear me out:  The concept of the separation of church and state is so deeply embedded in the American psyche that it was a catalyst that led not only to independence, but to American democracy itself.

Jefferson hardly invented the “wall of separation” phrase that’s in his famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.  He very appropriately repeated a phrase that was first uttered by Roger Williams in the 1640s.

Unable to come to an accommodation with the intolerant Puritans in Massachusetts (actually he fled from them), Williams obtained a charter from England with the intention to build a colony with a “hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes (sic) of the world.”

Rhode Island was born.

Let’s think about that. Jefferson well knew who first uttered that phrase one hundred and sixty or so years before, as probably did the congregants of Danbury Baptist.

The concept of a separation of church and state was well known in 1802.  And well it should have been. It took some time for Williams’ seed of religious liberty to sprout outside of Rhode Island, but when it did…

Wow!

That seed sprouted into the First Great Awakening.

The First Great Awakening was a religious movement that burned through the American colonies in the first half of the 18th century. At its core, it was a popular reaction against the theocracies that established authoritarian states in several New England colonies.   The common people insisted that they reserve the right to choose for themselves how they worshipped.  They won that contest against the theocrats, and won pretty handily at that.  In so doing, they built a resilient wall of separation between church and state.

No more theocracy:  The power of religion lay with the people and not the state.

From thereon in, the people of New England were psychologically prepared to rebel against unabridged authority, be it religious or political.

It was no coincidence that where the First Great Awakening initially caught fire, where the people rebelled against theocracy so they could worship in their own way, was also the land where British troops were first fired upon.

Hence Roger Williams, possibly the gentlest settler who walked the early American colonies, in his example of religious tolerance and protection for individual religious belief, greatly contributed to the defiant mindset (“Don’t tread on me”)  that eventually led to the American Revolution.

Certainly his principle of a “hedge or wall of Separation”designed to protect individual religious belief lives on today 370 years later. This wall is much older than Thomas Jefferson.

Today’s extremists, ignorant of this grand history, will continue to try to knock down this powerful wall that is so deeply embedded in the American character. In the long run, they’re not going to get very far with their muddleheaded quest.

Like those long ago New England colonists who battled for religious freedom, today’s Americans won’t let anyone take that freedom away from them.

Yes, these radical muddleheads will create chaos and pain in the attempt at weakening or destroying this wall.

But succeed?

I don’t think so.

A fine series on Roger Williams and his powerful but largely forgotten impact on today’s world is available on YouTube via the Center for Liberty of Conscience here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ur8gTAsGETI

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