30 August 2016

Progressive Parvenues

The New York Times  a couple of weeks back published a photo essay on the Clinton homes as a measure of their rising financial fortunes. Titled Modest to Majestic, the piece looked at Clinton homes through the decades--from the $17,200 home in Fayetteville, Akanasas,   where they married and began their lives together,  to the $1.7 million home in Westchester County, New York, where they currently reside.

The Westchester home, along with the $2.85 million home on Whitehaven St. in Washington, D. C., are the homes that the Clintons owned when they left the White House, as Hillary Clinton put it, "dead broke."

On the one hand, the essay illustrates an inspiring story of one American couple's pursuit of the American dream and the confirmation of America as the land of opportunity. The Clintons excelled academically in their respective high schools: Bill in Hot Springs, Arkansas and Hillary in Park Ridge, Illinois. Bill won scholarships to Georgetown and later Oxford Universities. Hillary was a National Merit Finalist and attended Wellesley. Both became student activists in high school and in college. They met each other while attending Yale University Law School. They soon moved in together and worked on the 1972 George McGovern presidential campaign. After graduating in  1973, Bill Clinton returned to his home state to teach law at the University of Arkansas. Hillary Clinton joined him after experiencing a major setback: she failed the Washington D.C. bar exam.  They married in 1975. The following year Bill Clinton won election to the office of state Attorney General, beginning a political career that eventually took him to the White House. Meanwhile, Hillary had passed the bar exam in Arkansas and began her law career the Rose law firm.

On the other hand, the homes pictured in the essay constitute facades that hide a story epitomizing the democratization of venality. The rise in the financial fortunes of the Clintons follow their political prosperity. From the beginning of Bill Clinton's election to public office, the Clintons have entangled themselves in all sorts of corrupt and tawdry schemes in their weird nexus of money and power. To wit:

Cattlegate: in  1778-79, Hillary Clinton turned a $10,000 investment into $100,000. In what has become a disturbing pattern, the Clinton operatives suffered the consequences while the Clintons knew nothing, In this case, trader Robert Bone received a three year suspension from trading while his investment firm Refco paid $250,000 in fines.

Whitewater: in 1978, the Clintons began investing with businessman and political associate Jim McDougal in a land development project called Whitewater Estates. McDougal and his wife later formed Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan to facilitate additional investments such as Castle Grande. Hillary Clinton and the Rose law firm completed much of the legal work for these investments. Whitewater failed, Madison Guaranty failed, and over a dozen people went to jail. The Rose law firm legal records disappeared for years before mysteriously reappearing in the White House. It appears to be Hillary Clinton's first successful experience at hiding records from investigators.

Travelgate: In 1993, the Clinton administration fired the White House travel staff in the hopes of steering business to an Arkansas company with connections to the Clintons called World Wide Travel.

Filegate: In 1993, the White House inappropriately secured FBI background files on Republican lawmakers.

Chinagate: In 1996, donors to Democratic Party organizations, including the 1996 Clinton reelection campaign won permission to sell advanced technologies to Chinese firms.

Furniture Flap: In 2000, Clinton administration staff looted and vandalized the White House before turning it over to President-elect George Bush. The Clintons returned about $30,000 of furnishings to the White House that they "mistakenly" believed were personal gifts rather than gifts to the White House.

Foundation Flap: Between 1997 and the present, the Clinton Foundation has generated more controversy. The Foundation provides employment to longterm Clinton aids as well as on opportunity to influence US policy through Secretary of State and future president Hillary Rodham Clinton. And it is a nice nest egg for Chelsea, to insulate her from engaging the corrupt and often vulgar behavior of her parents in order to secure the family's financial independence.

23 August 2016

Nothing to See Here

One would think that the recent release of hacked private communications between members of the Democratic National Committee or the more conventionally contrived release of Hillary Clinton's emails from her tenure as Secretary of State would be seen as a treasure trove for investigative reporters.

Yet in the midst of a presidential campaign, the emails that provide a rare glimpse inside the operations of a major political party and behind the scenes access to the State Department under Hillary Clinton have attracted little interest from journalists. Perhaps they fear what they might discover.

The Associated Press has begun to examine the connection between the donors to the Clinton Foundation and Hillary's  activities at the State Department. You can read about it here.

 The Clinton camp offered up the usual duplicitous defense. It claimed that the conclusions of the Associated Press cannot be trusted because it does not possess the complete list of her meetings. How this would change things Clinton spokesperson did not say. There is a reason why the AP only used half the meetings of Ms. Clinton as Secretary of State: the State Department has delayed releasing them--and will not release them until AFTER the election.

This has moved other media outlets to revisit older reports on the questionable connections between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department. A second look reveals a pattern of corruption. The IBT reports on the "Pay to Play" Clintons here.

20 August 2016

Man and His Knowing

Aristotle asserted that "Man by nature desires to know."

So how do we know?

How that question is answered will immediately create a small scission between secular and religious conservatives. That scission, however, has consequences in a number of respects.

Knowledge in its most general sense is a relationship between knowers, what is known, and methods of knowing. The latter question has been a long running philosophical controversy.

Although Aristotle never wrote a systematic treatise in the modern sense on epistemology, his primary method of acquiring knowledge in practice was experience. In the natural sciences, Aristotle collected examples of different species of animals and recorded his observations about them. In the social sciences, Aristotle described the constitutions of various city-states that dotted the Mediterranean. Thus, for Aristotle,  knowledge began with experience. His works on logic, especially Posterior Analytics,  provided guidance on how to correctly reflect upon experience. Together these works were later called the Organon--a tool or method. Such an approach to knowledge is a type of empiricism.

Future posts will try to establish a connection between empiricism and conservatism.

There are, of course, different kinds of experiences. First, people share the everyday experiences of living in our material world. People draw conclusions from these everyday common experiences to  help themselves get about. Second, others may engage in systematic recording of their experiences (or those of others) and suggesting some conclusions about those experiences. This constitutes Aristotle's approach to scientific investigation and explains both its successes and its limitations. Finally, modern scientists create specialized or artificial experiences in a laboratory. This allows them to remove variables that complicate the investigations of nature. This is the essence of modern experimental science. These different kinds of experiences lead to different degrees of certitude about conclusions drawn from those experiences.

A general look at the various branches of science illustrates this notion of degrees of certitude. The knowledge contained in the formal sciences of mathematics and logic exhibit the highest degree of certitude and incorrigibility. The conclusions of the physical and biological sciences, largely based upon the specialized experience of the laboratory, possess a lesser degrees of certitude and incorrigibility. These degrees of certitude change with either additional information or better reasoning. Finally, the knowledge claims of the social sciences seem to be the most open revision.

That there are varying degrees of certitude regarding knowledge is not new. The philosophers of the classical world observed that some things were known with more certitude that others. Consequently, they drew a distinction between what they called knowledge (episteme) and what they called informed opinion (doxa). The former term referred to beliefs that commanded such certitude that they were beyond a reasonable doubt.  The latter term referred to beliefs about which they had varying degrees of certitude. Unfortunately, modern philosophy seems to have lost this acceptance of limitations. It has raised all sorts of perplexing and insoluble questions as it  embarked on a futile search for certainty.

When someone makes a knowledge claim, they assert that they in some sense possess the truth. The idea of truth has been debated about as much as the question of knowledge. So what is truth? Aristotle provided a minimalist definition that “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true” Thomas Aquinas, the most well known interpreter of Aristotle, gave a little more robust definition in his assertion that “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality.” This has come to be known as the correspondence theory of truth. This endures as the best and  most common sense understanding of the idea of truth. As the definition of Aquinas implies, this concerns knowledge claims about external, material reality. It does not fit with logical truths of mathematics. More controversially, neither does it  pertain to the notion of moral truths.

Christians accept all of the above claims. In fact, many of the most important scientists of the past (and perhaps today) professed some variety of Christianity. But Christians (as well as devotees of other religions) add something else. Christians claim that a supernatural being exists who has provided additional knowledge not accessible through experience. They claim that this being communicated through sundry means with select individuals: "We interrupt this cognitive apprehension of reality with a message from Almighty God." And these individuals wrote down the contents of these communication in a collection of writings known as the Bible. As might be expected, Christians disagree about whether or not this communication continues today.

If  the Bible confined itself to spiritual matters--those things that the Bible says "pertain unto life and godliness through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue"--the claim of divine communication would be extraordinary enough but of little interest beyond those spiritual matters to those who believe. The Bible, however, makes additional knowledge claims about the natural world, human history, and the future of them both.

And those claims are problematic when it comes to considering the Bible is a source for truth: we can confirm or disprove such knowledge claims about our universe by means of the sciences.

We cannot confirm, however, that a immaterial dimension exists which is inhabited by a supernatural being.

We cannot confirm the existence of such a supernatural being.

 We cannot confirm that this alleged supernatural being has communicated with mankind.

Such knowledge claims elude any method of knowing, whether observation, experimentation, or mathematical calculation. Beliefs in such claims rest only upon the psychological disposition of one who believes--his faith.

                                                                   Thomas Szasz

18 August 2016

Obamacare Without Life Support

Obamacare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is collapsing under its own weight.

This week Aetna, one of the nation's largest insurers, announced that they are pulling out of health exchanges in 11 of 15 states. They join United Health Care and several other insurers in reducing their exposure to the Affordable Care Act.

Although this is startling news, CNN relegated it to their subsidiary broadcast station and website CNN Money. You can read the details there. The only coverage CNN website provided was an editorial arguing how the ACA can still work without Aetna.

Meanwhile, CNBC filed this report.

Of course, this comes as a surprise to no one except Progressives. The cost of other social welfare programs such as Social Security and Medicare have far exceeded projections. When the government introduced Medicare it projected that costs would reach $12 billion by 1990. The actual figures turned out to be $98 billion. Currently, Medicare expenses exceed $500 million. This poses no problem for the government. It simply raises taxes or borrows more money.

The ACA partnership between the government and private insurers does not work that way. Private insurers cannot force taxpayers to subsidize the program. The government anticipated the possibility that the ACA might create financial challenges for some insurers. It created a risk corridor program to use "excess" profits from some companies to subsidize the losses of others. In the government's view, there are always "excess" profits. Unfortunately for the government, this time there were none.

One of the convenient things about this partnership is that when it fails, the government always can blame "greedy" insurance companies.

Unfortunately for the government, that will not save the ACA.

13 August 2016

The First Conservative

So what about those core ideas or concepts that constitute conservatism as an ideology?

Instead of listing those core ideas that most conservatives embrace and defending them, the next several posts will unfold them following the argumentation of the first conservative: Aristotle.

(First, though, this caveat. Although I enrolled in a few philosophy classes in my university liberal arts program, I have no philosophy degree. Since graduation, I have read many of the so-called works of the Western canon. Because Aristotle worked as a very "common sense" philosopher, perhaps we can understand him with a little "common sense.")

Aristotle was born in 384 BC in the city of Stagira, located in Thrace. When he reached 17, he left to live in Athens and become a member of Plato's Academy. After Plato's death,   Aristotle left Athens. Philip, the King of Macedon, hired Aristotle to tutor his son and heir, Alexander (later known as “the Great”). Alexander eventually conquered the Greek city-states and most of the known world from Greece to western India. No one knows what, if any, influence Aristotle had on Alexander.

Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 BC and established his own school, which he called the Lyceum. For over ten years he taught in Athens, sometimes refining but more often challenging the doctrines of his own teacher Plato.

Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. Historians speculate that Aristotle anticipated that Athens and other Greek city-states would revolt against Alexander's successors and levy retribution against anyone associated with Alexander. He left Athens for the city of Chalcis. He died the following year.

Aristotle left behind writings on, metaphysics, physics, biology, zoology, logic, rhetoric, aesthetics, poetry, and--most important for my purposes—ethics and politics.

The two most accessible works, Nichomachean Ethics and Politics, are interconnected. The former serves as an introduction to the latter. In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle lays out his ideas on what constitutes “the good life.” No person, however,  can live “the good life” alone. Consequently, in Politics Aristotle explores different types of constitutional arrangements in ancient city-states and evaluates which arrangements creates the best conditions to enable citizens to live “the good life.”

Now Aristotle did not call himself a conservative in the sense of holding to some specific ideology. And his perspectives on ethics and the state are rooted in the ancient Greek city-state. Nevertheless, his sociology--for lack of a better word--and the purposes or ends of the state have served as the basis for conservatism. 
He also devoted part of  Politics to the challenge of conserving constitutions--the basic task of contemporary American conservatives. Moreover, he also described contrary ends or purposes of government that served as the foundation for errors that became known as liberalism.

08 August 2016

Preaching for Progressivism

Over at the Atlantic, a surprising short piece about  religion and this year's presidential campaign.

It is surprising, because the piece questions a long standing but largely ignored tradition of the Religious Left: black churches overtly supporting the Democrats--especially Hillary Clinton-- in spite of IRS regulations that forbid it.

Author Emma Green gave her post the somewhat inflammatory title: Black Pastors are Breaking the Law to Get Hillary Clinton Elected. She bases most of her article on a Pew Survey found here.

Ministers preach about all kinds of issues from their pulpits. They cannot, however, endorse candidates and keep their tax exempt status. This provision of the IRS code was put into place at the behest of then Senator Lyndon Johnson. (Before that time, election sermons and militia sermons were a regular practice going back to the colonial period. Ministers even could legally endorse candidates from the pulpit.) Johnson had won election to the Senate by 87 votes over popular Governor Coke Stevenson, largely with the help of illegal votes. For this he earned the nickname "Landslide Lyndon." When facing re-election, he noted the opposition of some non-profit organizations called Facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government. In order to prevent any impact from them on the election, he inserted a revision of the revenue code that bars non-profits from endorsing specific candidates. Because churches, too, fell under the designation of non-profits, the revision included them. Apparently little or no debate took place on this revision.

Perhaps it was another one of those bills that had to be read in order to find out what was in it.

Ministers have skirted around the issue for years. Typically ministers will provide a their congregations with a handout, comparing  and contrasting each candidate's views on issues with the Bible. Members of the congregations then decide for themselves.

Specifically endorsing candidates, however,  is certainly a more blatant disregard of federal law.

Every election cycle the mainstream media demonstrates its vigilance about transgressions from the "Religious Right" over the sacred boundary separating church and state. They have long ignored the very active "Religious Left."

It appears that the concern of the media is really over which policy or candidates that religious groups endorse rather than the principle of church-state separation.

                                                   Remember this anointing? Of course not!

06 August 2016

Conservatism and Ideology

Instead of a temperament or even a predisposition in favor of tradition and in opposition to change, conservatism is best considered as an ideology.

Now the word ideology has eluded a set definition on which everyone agrees.

The lexical definition as "the study of ideas" captures the narrow, original meaning of the word as introduced by  Antoine Destutt de Tracy. For him, the term  served to explain his views on epistemology--that all knowledge is simply knowledge of ideas. 

Karl Marx later used the term in a narrow and pejorative sense to describe how the working class lives in subjection to the ideas of the ruling class. According to Marx, the ruling class controls not only the means of material production, but also  the means of mental production. The ideas of the ruling class are more or less imposed upon subject classes in order to maintain the status quo. Marx believed in the need to 
instill "class consciousness" in order to liberate them from the distorted "false consciousness" imposed upon them by the capitalist ruling class. 

Ideology in the more popular use today  refers to  any general system of beliefs. The pejorative sense of the word, however,  lingers. The word is often used to ascribe some degree of "irrationality" or "self-deception" to a persons belief system. The influence of this conception of ideology can be seen today even among non-Marxists. Instead of accepting political views at face value and analyzing them based upon their overt meaning, some analysts--especially journalists television personalities--simply disregard those views. Instead, they attempt to interpret those political views based upon some supposed "special interest" or social position in society, i. e., race, class, etc. They sometimes imply that the advocate for some political view is an ideologue--one who appears impervious to facts that conflict with his belief system. 

More recently, however, some philosophers and political scientists have refined the definition of ideology and purged it of  pejorative connotations. According to this view, ideology is best conceived as a system of beliefs about a given social/political order and the place of individuals in it.  Ideologies describe, analyze, and evaluate social/political conditions. More often than not, they also prescribe courses of action to preserve, reform, or even overthrow the existing order.

Ideologies, as systems of belief, are difficult to define concisely because they are constituted by a cluster of ideas or concepts. Some of the most obvious of these ideas or concepts include liberty, equality, order, law, and property.  For example,  liberalism is typically defined as a philosophy or ideology based upon the idea of liberty. Conservatism, on the other hand, is commonly defined as a belief in tradition. It is obvious that liberty and tradition are not contradictory. One sentence definitions such as these tend to accentuate one concept at the expense of others. Moreover, most political ideologies share core concepts. They only contest the meanings of those concepts. These may  involve involve differences of degree or differences of kind. And even where ideologies share some semblance of agreement, they may clash over prescriptive courses of action. In short, ideologies must be described rather than defined.

Ideologies are even more difficult to evaluate. There is no objective standard of truth to which they can be compared.  Perhaps individual propositions given in support of ideas or courses of action can be assessed for truth value. It seems pointless to even try to  weigh the truth of ideologies as a whole. The strongest claims that even advocates of ideologies can make is that their particular ideology best creates the social and political conditions for human thriving.

Of course, many conservatives deny that conservatism is an ideology. They see political and social institutions as expressions if ethnic and cultural preconditions that have developed naturally over centuries. They consider liberalism, socialism, communism as rationally constructed ideologies that seek to create a  utopia. Liberals, too, reject the notion that their belief system is an ideology. Liberals claim to rest their beliefs and policies on reason and science. Of course, both of these serve as examples of expressions of an ideology.

When conceived as an organized system of beliefs without  the pejorative notion of "delusion," it seems clear that everyone has an ideology.  People may differ in the comprehensiveness and coherence of their beliefs. People may differ on the best prescriptive courses of action. And people may differ in their level of commitment to actualizing their beliefs.

People who deny they possess an ideology as described above are, well,  nothing if not ideologues.

03 August 2016

Khan Game

The most controversial and enduring religious topic from the Republican and Democratic national conventions concerned the speech of Khizr Khan and Donald Trump's reaction. Khan spoke of the ultimate sacrifice of his son U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in a suicide bombing while stationed in Afghanistan. He noted that his son never would have experienced the honor of serving in the military if Donald Trump occupied the White House.

Khan is not just some "average American" that the organizers of the Democratic National Convention happened upon. Khan is an immigration lawyer and longtime supporter of the Democrats. Hillary Clinton had brought attention to the Khan family in a speech on national security at the University of Minnesota. With Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslim immigrants, the Khan family became answer. Rather than engage in a dry discussion of immigration policy, tell an emotionally powerful story of sacrifice for the country.

Perhaps the most telling moment was Khan's waving of a copy of the Constitution at Donald Trump. He challenged him to "Look for the words liberty and equal protection of law."

Of course, "liberty" and "equal protection of the law" does not apply to immigration policy. Congress enacts laws that establish our immigration policies. Our immigration policies always have discriminated in favor of some groups and against others.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump found himself baited into a personal dispute with the Khans. Instead of citing the Constitutional articles that give Congress the power to establish immigration policy, he went after Khan's wife.

One wonders what Ted Cruz thought of Trump's performance.