Bad is Good

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Apr 262012
 
So, I’ve been reading the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. I was looking for free downloads for the Kindle, and one of them is “the Rise and Fall of the Confederate States of America” by Jefferson Davis. The strangeness of this overwhelms. I started, as one ought, with their Constitution. That’s as far as I have gotten.
What they did was take the US Constitution and tweak it a bit. An appendix to Davis’s book is a side by side comparison.
They banned introduction of slaves from Africa or from the US.  These people were assholes on a par with the Nazis, and had they had their way the world would be a place even more nasty than ours by many degrees, so it is hard to imagine that this decision was for other than base reasons. But it is unexpected. They had aggressive provisions about acquiring new Territories. The Big Plan was to expand into Mexico and points South and set up an empire with slave based economy on a massive scale. Come to think, had they succeeded, Hitler and company could have just emigrated and there would have been no Nazis. They all ended up in South America anyway.
Their capital was Montgomery, Alabama, which I did not know.
The true weirdness is that if the parts about slavery are ignored, its pretty much an across the board improvement.
The President of the Confederacy had a line item veto on appropriations bills. Both GW Bush and Obama advocated for this. It’s a really good idea and could save a lot of stupid bridges to nowhere built with $800 hammers. Many US States have this, Washington included. Bills allowing line item vetos have been passed by Congress, Clinton signed one that turned out to be unconstitutional, and one passed the House of Representatives last February that tries by tortuous means to get around the US Constitution.
They had a single subject rule for legislation. I think this is one of the two or three things we could do that would significantly change America for the better. None of these omnibus bills that no one reads containing hidden changes that give tax breaks to two or three zillionaires. No anti-gay provisions tacked on to must pass budget bills. Hereis a spirited argument for such a rule. Most US State Constitutions provide for this.
They provided that heads of Executive departments would have a seat in both chambers of their congress, and be permitted to participate in debate. I think that’s a very cool idea. Not nearly as cool as having Question Time like the British House of Commons has, but cool.
If I am reading it right, they banned tariffs that would protect industry, so it seems they were early advocates of free trade. Not sure if it’s a good idea, but its an one that remains in play. They banned appropriations to benefit any industry except for dams, lighthouses and navigation. It does not seem that TARP would have had much chance in the CSA. Or ethanol, or Solyndra. I’m guessing Haliburton would have done just fine. Their Post Office was to be self-supporting. No balanced budget provision, though.
They included the Second Amendment to the US constitution, word for word. I wonder if they knew what it meant.
They made it easier to summon a Constitutional Convention, and easier to have amendments ratified by the States. Probably a good idea. Hard to say.
Their president served a single six year term. Excellent idea. the US has essentially a 2 year first term followed by a one year period where nothing significant is possible followed by a one year campaign for re-election, so at most a six year tenure with a lot of pointless nonsense in the middle.This change would probably be an improvement on the cycle of partisan bickering that passes for governance in the US.
Their Vice President had no more to do than ours does. They had an Electoral College. They allowed recess appointments to Federal office, but not of candidates whom the senate had voted to reject. I strongly suspect that this has been the de factopractice in the US.
What to make of this? To me, probably not much. Most of the changes were basically to make the trains run on time, something fascists are known for, but that benefits everyone. They wanted a more effective government that could carry out their creepy, horrible aims. I suspect their founders were mostly lawyers who, as good lawyers do, took  an accepted form and tweaked it a bit. Probably if present day Americans could figure out a way to look at changes just because they were a good idea and without stupid partisanship, a lot of these would be no-brainers. The Confederates were all on the same side. We don’t have that. The Civil War has really not ended.
Most interesting non-Constitutional fact I ran across is this, from Wikipedia,“The Choctaw and Chickasaw fought predominantly on the Confederate side. The Creek and Seminole supported the Union, while the Cherokee fought a civil war within their own nation between the majority Confederates and the minority, pro-Union men.” I happen to know that the Cherokee had a long tradition of slavery themselves.
By the way: Civil War – one of my favorite oxymorons. Also fun run and rap music.

POSTSCRIPT

Well, I read a bit of Jefferson Davis’ book. So I got answers to the puzzling parts of the constitution.

The Confederates banned importing slaves because they already had enough slaves that the expected growth in slave population was adequate for what they wanted. They put out this argument that extending slavery would not increase the number of people enslaved, just where the slaves lived. This kind of argument is really no weirder – grosser by far considering what slavery is about, but no weirder – than arguments we hear nowadays relative to gay marriage, reproductive rights, and so on. Arguments that try to intellectualize irrational and dehumanizing belief systems. Think Rick Santorum, Dick Cheney, Pat Buchannan. Those guys would have favored slavery back then, I think.

They were anti-tariff because they were getting screwed by the North on tariffs.  The industrialized North got tariffs to protect industries, raising the price of manufactured stuff. The South did not have industry, got no benefit from tariffs and had to pay more for everything. A legitimate beef, I’d say.

Davis reminds me a lot of Newt Gingrich. Endless self justification, kind of a crybaby, wants to come across as really smart. A good subtitle for the book: “Why Me?”  Basically an asshole. I did not get very far.

 Posted by at 10:48 pm

Sharia

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Apr 262012
 

Fresh Air April 16, 2012    Sadakat Kadri is an English barrister, a Muslim by birth and a historian. His first book, The Trial, was an extensive survey of the Western criminal judicial system, detailing more than 4,000 years of courtroom antics. In his new book, Heaven on Earth, Kadri turns his sights east, to centuries of Shariah law.

 Posted by at 6:01 pm

Why We Fight

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Apr 232012
 

Here is a Planet Money podcast very much worth hearing  Why People Do Bad Things I have always been fascinated by stories about people who get involved in serious wrongdoing almost by accident. This piece has psychologists explaining how, one teensy little step at a time, we go about convincing ourselves that what we are doing, while technically totally wrong, is still OK. A maxim I invented to explain some of the stuff I see at work is that humans have an almost infinite capacity to convince ourselves that what is good for us is Good.

 Posted by at 8:21 pm