Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ALEC: Corporations buy their own laws (first in a series)

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is among the most powerful and dangerous front groups for anonymous corporate contributions. ALEC claims to be non-partisan, but there are few Democrats to be found among the notable personalities with which it decorates its web site. The Board of Scholars on ALEC's web site consists of Arthur Laffer, Stephen Moore, Victor Schwartz, Dr. Richard Vedder, and Bob Williams. All these men have influenced conservative policies.

Arthur Laffer was the godfather of Republican supply-side economics. Laffer argued that if you reduced taxes, you would increase revenues, and, conversely, if you raised taxes, you would decrease revenues. Following Laffer's philosophy, Newt Gingrich predicted that Clinton's tax raise in 1994 would lead to a recession, a loss of jobs, and a decrease in tax revenues. Instead, it led to five years of increased revenue and a boom that lasted until 2000. Gingrich later claimed that the boom in 1997 was due to a capital gains tax decrease, which he said gave more money to the job creators. When Clinton lowered the capital gains tax in 1997, the economy was already riding a wave of prosperity. The relatively small increase in capital gains tax revenue that followed the reduction was caused by the booming economy, not the reduction in capital gains tax rate.

Supply-side economic theory had predicted a recession following tax increases. Instead there was a boom. This boom was a complete repudiation of Laffer's supply-side theories.

In 2000, the federal government collected taxes equal to 20.6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Again following the Laffer philosophy, the Republicans passed massive tax cuts in 2001. While the tax bill was debated in the Congress, the American Heritage Foundation (another Conservative front group) predicted that the new tax cuts would pay off the federal national debt by 2010. They also predicted the new, lower taxes would increase employment by 20 million new jobs, and raise the GDP by $3.5 trillion.

After Bush lowered income tax rates, revenues fell immediately and remain lower than the revenues for 2000 until the present day. Bush's tax policies increased the national debt by $8 trillion and resulted in one million more jobs, not the 20 million he predicted. This number of jobs was not sufficient to provide employment for new entrants into the employment market.

Stephen Moore claimed the failure of Bush's tax cuts to raise revenues was due to increased spending. This statement is total nonsense. Laffer's theory states that lowering taxes will raise revenues. During the Bush administration, tax revenues fell. Bush relied on Laffer's theory when he raised spending. He believed, irrationally, that revenues would rise eventually, but they did not. Furthermore, both Republican and Democratic presidents before Bush routinely increased government spending to stimulate the economy. If Moore's opinion was correct, there should have been increased tax revenues and an economic boom. Instead, revenues fell and the economy collapsed.

Despite the utter failure of Laffer's policies, ALEC's web site praises him as “one of the [twentieth] century's greatest minds." 

Stephen Moore was a founder of the Club for Growth, a front group that raises money for conservative candidates. Moore led the Club for Growth in furthering Laffer's policies, which meant supporting candidates who favored smaller government and lower taxes. His group was instrumental in passing the Bush tax bill of 2001 which contributed to the great recession of 2009.

Moore made excuses for the economy's poor performance by claiming, in 2005, that Bush's capital gains tax cut in 2003 had increased taxes because it increased prosperity. But prosperity was not increased in 2004, because capital gains tax revenues were artificially inflated by the real estate market and the bond market. Rather than increase prosperity, those bubbles led to the collapse of the bond market and the Great Recession, as well as a decrease in capital gains tax revenues by $100 billion over two years.

Under Moore's leadership, the Club for Growth supported primary challenges against Republicans who fail to support its policies. This practice has contributed to the rise of the Tea Party and the subsequent stalemate in Congress. Moore, like Laffer, has proved himself an ideologue who ignores the serious negative consequences of his economic policies. Instead, he continues to support candidates who favor more tax cuts and deeper cuts in government spending.

Victor Schwartz was a director of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). ATRA was formed by Johns-Manville, a company facing numerous lawsuits for knowingly exposing its employees to asbestos in the workplace. ATRA presented itself as a grass-roots organization that was trying to stop abuses by plaintiff's lawyers. It was actually a public relations shop run by Matthew Swetonic, a Johns-Manville employee out of Hill and Knowlton (H&K), a public relations firm. Eventually, the asbestos industry joined with the tobacco industry to fight against adverse judgments for cancer victims of cigarette smoking or asbestos installation.

ATRA anonymously planted false and misleading stories as op-eds and magazine articles. Swetonic sometimes wrote these articles and used fake names. ATRA also formed astro-turf groups in the individual states and wrote sensationalized articles to make the public believe that plaintiff's attorneys were getting huge settlements for people who weren't actually injured.

ATRA eventually morphed into ALEC, which writes bills for their corporate clients and pushes them to its conservative customers, mostly legislators. The problem with this approach is that legislators are supposed to represent the interests of their constituents, not corporations and their lobbyists. ALEC takes the constituents out of the equation and delivers the legislators to the corporations. Frequently, the legislators do not know who is pushing these model laws or why. The legislators have no opportunity to discover adverse consequences to ALEC's laws because the corporations spoon feed them one-sided arguments.

Schwartz has always been a corporation lawyer, especially for tobacco companies, who argued for years that tobacco was not harmful before it was revealed that executives knew about the deadly effects of their product all along. In his opinion, corporations have no responsibility for the safety of the products they market. He says the warning label should be sufficient. But tobacco is a physically addictive product. Users do not understand that they are addicts and tobacco companies do not tell them.

Consumers will get no sympathy from Schwartz and his kind, whose motto will always be, let the buyer beware. Schwartz is a fine lawyer and has written many books on tort litigation. There is no consumer representative in ALEC, however. The legal system is based on advocates for both parties arguing in open court. There is no adversary allowed to argue against corporate interests here.

ALEC makes the claim that it is a non-partisan membership association for lawmakers who believe in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. This is a misleading statement. Only one percent of its budget is funded by membership dues. ALEC is bankrolled by corporations who want to use the government to gain higher profits. These corporations spin their profitable legislation as advancing limited government and the rest, but they are only interested in their bottom line.

These three “scholars” prove that ALEC has strong corporate ties: Laffer created the intellectual basis for giving taxpayer funds to corporations and their owners. Stephen Moore helped install a generation of Republican lawmakers who ignore the express wishes of a majority of voters and prefer to stall government rather than trying to make it work for the people. Schwartz led the movement toward laws that prevent consumers and victims from receiving just recompense for their injuries. Together they have made voters and consumers irrelevant to the running of the country, which is still nominally a democracy.

See also how ALEC has been used by the Private Prison Industry and caused mass incarceration.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Global warming: Charts and graphs

One of the strategies of global-warming deniers has been to control the debate. A few years ago, every conservative talk show would spend part of their time listing places that had record low temperatures, as if they could understand global-warming one bit at a time. Climate scientists have not been so good at framing their own arguments.

For example, in the minority report to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, it is stated that there has been a 15-year hiatus in global warming. The report draws the only conclusion it wants people to hear: The threat of global warming is over and we can all breathe easier now. The deniers are not concerned about scientific proof. They are only concerned about influencing voters to protect the big energy producers. Exxon-Mobil earned 15 billion dollars before taxes last year. They can easily afford to spend a couple of hundred million to keep their gravy train moving on down the track.

If you present this finding to a scientist, the first question that comes to mind is, where did all that energy go? We know from scientific measurements that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing at an accelerating rate. This fact is shown graphically in the chart below:

This chart shows the annual increase in CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The black lines show the average increase of CO2 over a five years. The rising black line means that the rate of increase is accelerating to the present year.

These figures show that CO2 concentration was increasing at an accelerating rate. But world temperatures apparently did not increase at an accelerating rate. The amount of energy absorbed by the planet from the sun increased. That energy had to go somewhere. The following chart shows that vast amounts of energy have been absorbed by the earth's oceans:

Chart provided by NOAA
Notice that the temperatures of the land, ice, and atmosphere have not increased greatly in comparison with the temperatures of the ocean. The ocean has been acting as a huge heat sink, absorbing by far the greater portion of increased solar radiation due to increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The problem for mankind is that the ocean does not retain its heat forever. It is continually releasing its heat into the atmosphere, and the atmosphere has been rapidly increasing in temperature since 1970.

Even if the temperatures were receding, as proclaimed by the deniers, the energy is still building up in the oceans. This energy will affect the climate of the planet for hundreds of years and more. The daunting task ahead of us is to reverse the absorption of energy by reducing the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere. Other effects of global warming so dear to the deniers, such as melting ice-caps, more violent storms, and flooding, are only by-products of the vast amounts of energy we are storing up on our planet.

The deniers don't want to discuss abstractions like energy, which are difficult to deny. They prefer to discuss CO2, which is invisible, and temperatures at particular locations, which everyone understands. Scientists have a different perspective on the planet, however. They have been having difficulty convincing the rest of us about the dangers we face from global warming.

The scientists have been having no difficulty whatever convincing each other. So few papers have been written by deniers that it's hard to display them graphically. The last chart is an attempt to do just that:

Chart provided by James Russell Powell and DeSmogBlog

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Climate Change: Global-warming deniers try to deceive the U. S. Senate

On July 18, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on global warming. The Republicans on the committee invited prominent global-warming deniers to testify. The deniers did what they usually do, create fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

On July 21, an article by Marita Noon appeared on describing the proceedings under the headline, “Why is Obama Lying on Climate Change?". Noon quotes Obama as saying that “we also know that the climate is warming faster than anybody anticipated five or 10 years ago.” She accuses him of spreading lies with this statement. She doesn't attempt to prove him false. She just assumes that he is lying and asks why.

I don't consider that statement false. The same statement occurs almost verbatim in an article on the Union of Concerned Scientists(UCS) web site, which states that “recent research indicates that Earth's climate is changing more quickly than scientists had projected just a few years ago.” The article points out that 2010 was the warmest year so far recorded. So the answer to Noon's question is simple: Obama was citing one of the most respected scientific organizations in the world.

The president's statement was not only derived from a respectable source. It was also true. Climate change deniers have a frequent habit of pointing to temperatures reported in the press and saying that a single temperature or a single month proves that global warming has stopped. The truth is more complex than that. The temperature of a single year can be affected by ocean currents, like El Nino, and volcanic events, like the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.

The El Nino current raised temperatures around the Pacific so much that 1998 became the hottest year on record. A cold current made 1999 a relatively cool year. Temperatures fell after 1998, but the trend did not change: The world is still growing hotter. The temperatures are rising faster, too. The decade from 2001 to 2010 got hotter at a faster rate than the previous three decades. So the President was not only telling what he believed to be true, he was also telling the plain truth.

Now that we have that straightened out, we deserve an answer to the following question, “Why is Marita Noon writing a deceptive article slanted against climate science and attacking the U.S. President?” I believe I can answer that one, too.

Noon writes for the Heartland Institute, an organization that has specialized in attacking legitimate scientists on behalf of corporate sponsors and large donors since 1984. The corporate sponsors largely remain in the shadows, making large donations to Heartland in return for favorable articles. Sometimes the veil is lifted, however, as when there is a lawsuit or someone leaks information to the press.

In 2002, Heartland sponsored a report urging the states not to file Medicaid suits against tobacco companies over second-hand smoke. The report did not disclose that part of Heartland's funding came from R. J. Reynolds and Altair, both large tobacco companies. Heartland also supported an effort by the tobacco and asbestos industries to reduce the amount that asbestos victims could receive in court damages. They called this effort “tort reform” and used the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) as their front group. ALEC has recently lost some high-profile backers because it successfully pushed stand-your-ground laws that have proved problematical.

Heartland published an article by Matt Swetonic, “Taming the Asbestos Monster”, in 2002. Swetonic for years had written articles for companies like Johns Manville, articles that claimed either that asbestos was not harmful, or that companies that profited from the sale of asbestos should not be held liable for deaths and disease caused by the product. Apparently Heartland is embarrassed by this association with Swetonic, because they recently restricted access to the article. In 2002, Heartland's president, Joe Bast, wrote an article urging tort reform because corporations who bought the assets of asbestos abusing companies also inherited the liabilities to their employees. He wrote that not all the proceeds from class action judgments against asbestos abusers went to their victims. He did not mention that without class action suits, the victims would get nothing.

Heartland has been called a leading organizer for climate science denial. It organizes international climate control conferences with experts who have written few, if any, peer reviewed articles. Heartland listed funders in 1999 as, among others, Exxon, the Koch Brothers, Phillips Petroleum, and the American Petroleum Institute in this enterprise, although it has kept its donor list secret in recent years.

In 2012, the Guardian reported that several insurance companies, including State Farm, stopped contributing to Heartland because of a billboard bearing the image of the unabomber, Ted Koczynski. Heartland was forced by protests over the bad taste of the billboard to cancel the publicity campaign after one day.

Leaked documents showed that Heartland received $200,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation in 2011, even though Koch denied any donations after 1999. The same documents revealed that Heartland was paying $5,000 a month to Fred Singer, a prominent climate change denier.

So the probable answer to the second question is that Noon attacks climate scientists and President Obama because she is paid by oil companies and anonymous climate-change deniers to do so.

The source of funding is suggestive but not absolute proof that Noon's opinions are wrong. Let us examine the rest of the article, bearing in mind that Noon works for an organization whose entire reason for existence seems to be attacking reputable scientists whose discoveries bother large polluters.

Noon begins her report on the committee meeting by mentioning an “important” minority report. Near the beginning of this report, its authors (who are they? They don't say.) cite The Economist as its authority on the supposed flatness of temperatures over the last 15 years. Notice they start with 1998, which we have shown was affected by the el Nino warming current. The Economist is a popular business magazine, not a scientific journal. It does not publish peer-reviewed articles.

Next, the report cites an article for the BBC by Matt McGrath that calls the alleged slowdown in global warming “unexplained”. This is false. The slowdown has been explained and the explanation is well-known to the scientific community, though not to Noon or McGrath. McGrath goes on to say, in the next line but one of his article, that “long-term, the expected temperature raises will not alter significantly.” This conclusion was taken from Nature Geoscience, which does publish peer-reviewed articles.

The minority report fails to state the actual conclusion of the BBC article, which was not that global warming has stopped, or even slowed, but that the results of the last decade do not alter the pace of global warming in the long run. The minority views scientific studies from the viewpoint of lawyers, who try to find small discrepancies in witness testimony and use these discrepancies to create reasonable doubt in a jury.

A scientist views the entire theory, which encompasses hundreds of studies and thousands of bits of data which have all been woven together into a single theory. The scientist looks at minor discrepancies, not as disproving the theory, but as opportunities for further research and a greater understanding of the theory and its subject. Climate-change deniers, most of whom are not scientists, look for small discrepancies and report only the data points that support their viewpoint. This nit-picking is not the same thing as building a new theory that could challenge the old one.

We could also use a sports analogy. The Climate-change deniers view their confrontation with scientists as a contest, like a football game. They are doing everything they can to win the game. They get payoffs from corporations, write deceptive op-eds, send out scary emails, attack dedicated scientists, foment fear, uncertainty, and doubt. When the discussion is over, they assume, everyone will go home and enjoy their winnings.

Scientific discussions are not like sporting events. There is no winning side, no losing side. There is a right side and a wrong side. If we delay taking action on climate change, everyone loses. Problems that are manageable right now will become insoluble in a few years. Costs will decrease dramatically as the sea level rises, droughts become more severe, and weather patterns become more erratic.

The minority report calls scientists who accept global warming theory alarmists. This is paradoxical and untrue. While some non-scientists have tried to sensationalize global warming, the scientific community has been careful not to be alarmist. They avoid heated rhetoric and make conservative predictions.

Noon writes that Roy Spencer “eviscerates” the oft-cited figure that 97% of climate scientists support the global-warming theory. Spencer claims that these articles are not really pro-warming, but only non-committal or even skeptical. He relies on the average person's lack of understanding about how peer-reviewed articles work.

Scientific publication is the only way to place your ideas before the scientific community. When a theory is very much in doubt, there are many articles on both sides. Once a theory is well-established in the scientific community, there are many fewer articles on any theory aside from the well-accepted one. The well-accepted theory in climate science is that the primary cause of recent increases in global warming is the production of man-made greenhouse gases. When there are no articles that suggest alternative theories, the issue is settled.

The figure of 97% is now out of date. As might be expected, the number of skeptical articles has fallen while the number of supportive articles has risen dramatically. James Lawrence Powell has studied 13,950 peer-reviewed articles published between 1991 and 2012 that have the words “climate change” or “global warming” in them. So these articles are not just random articles about something else, as Spencer seems to claim, but articles that actually discuss global warming. Powell found just 24 articles that opposed the predominant theory. That means that not 97%, but 99.83% of all articles supported the theory.

Spencer's comment appears to be a red herring, a false statement intended to mislead and confuse the laymen who are trying desperately to reach a reasonable decision on this issue. If there were a single article that proposed a viable alternative to the currently accepted one, it would soon become the most cited paper in the history of climate science. The rules of the peer-review system require all articles to be placed before the public and subjected to open debate. We would know if there were an article that demolishes the accepted theory. There is no such article.

Spencer has proposed several counter-theories to global-warming in the past. All of them have been rejected by other scientists. Noon and her employers at Heartland don't care about Spencer's track record. as long as he agrees with them. He is, after all, opposed by 13,000 articles by 33,000 climate scientists. His opinions should be rejected by all rational people.

The number of peer-reviewed articles that Spencer published in climate science journals between 1991 and 2012 is zero.1

The final witness for the climate-change deniers was economist Diana Furcht-Gott Roth. She argued, and Noon agreed with her, that the poor would be harmed by any steps to reduce carbon-dioxide generation by the coal, oil and gas industry. This argument is being made by the same group of humanitarians who have voted to cut food stamps from the farm bill, cut head-start, cut medicaid, cut Social Security, abolish Obama's health care program. Their answer to the struggling middle-class has always been to give more tax breaks to the wealthy.

Their concern for the poor at this point can't pass the laugh test.

1 James Russell Powell, Science and Global Warming, 2012,

Friday, July 19, 2013

Detroit Bankruptcy: Blaming The Victims

The once-great city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy, and the search for scapegoats has begun. Many are blaming the sky-high pensions of city employees for the debt of $15 billion. This theory blames the victims of the disaster. These teachers, policemen and firemen did not make the decisions that let Japanese automobile companies compete with Americans. The  city employees did not decide to spend millions promoting the auto industry's new cars as better, bigger, safer, and sexier than last year's models.

No, the people who made those decisions were the owners and managers of the automobile industry. They're mostly retired now, safely ensconced behind the high walls of privilege with their millions, or even billions of dollars in wealth. Now that Detroit is in receivership, Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager, will not be looking for a piece of their profits because, you see, the 1% never pays for the harm they do.

Orr has his sights set squarely on the recipients of Detroit City pensions. The workers who earned these pensions by working at jobs that kept the city running for decades are being blamed for demanding too much money. The average pension is $1600 a month, hardly an amount that seems greedy.

The pensioners did not decide what their pensions would be. The city fathers did. Those people, the mayors and aldermen of years past, decided back in the 1950s to give the city workers increased pension benefits instead of raises. The workers had little choice but to accept the generosity of their bosses. Now their savings are exhausted, their homes are worthless, and their pensions are under attack.

The politicians who ran Detroit were not entirely to blame, either. The pensions they managed were toys for Wall Street to play with. Two pension systems lost $1.5 billion that they had invested in the stock market in the crash of 2008. Detroit and numerous other cities found themselves floundering in the wake of that catastrophe.

A large share of the blame for Detroit's troubles rightly belongs to the entrepreneurs of the late 1900s, who kept the price of oil low and kept Detroit's cars from needing to compete with the Japanese and European car manufacturers. These people made billions by selling gasoline for America's gas-guzzlers. The corporations who made money this way, like the billionaire Koch brothers, excuse themselves by saying their companies were just maximizing profits. This is not true. Their companies also bribed lawmakers with huge campaign contributions to keep the federal government from demanding higher gas mileage from American cars. They used their superfluous profits anonymously to convince people that burning oil in the atmosphere was healthy and global warming was a myth invented by liberals.

The people who made huge fortunes by selling oil and by gaming the stock market and by swindling investors in sub-prime housing now have the money that the city of Detroit should be using to pay the pensions of its workers. But emergency manager Kevyn Orr will not be looking for bailouts from them.

Another group of people, much larger than the others, also must share the blame for Detroit's decline. The white workers in the auto industry were frightened of the African-American workers. They decided to leave the city, first creating all-white suburbs, and then taking their wealth to retirement states like Florida and Arizona, where today they continue to infect the American people with their bigotry and racism.

Eighty-five percent of the people who remain in Detroit, about 700,000, are African-Americans. Since before World War II, white residents of Detroit have harbored racial animus against their neighbors. Other industrial cities, like Chicago, New York, and Boston, learned to thrive as multi-cultural communities. Detroit never figured out how to do that. Needless to say, Kevyn Orr will not be looking for bailouts from the millions of white people who fled from their neighbors instead of learning to live with them.

Kevyn Orr will look for money by taking it from poor people who earned their pensions by years of hard work in service to the community. He has even said he intends to sell off artworks owned by the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). Some Detroit residents, who believe the DIA contains only works by European artists, favor this plan. But the most valuable artworks in the museum are not European at all, but murals painted by Diego Rivera, a Mexican artist. Rivera's murals celebrate the workers of Detroit, not ancient kings or white aristocrats. Detroit needs those murals to help keep its priorities straight. The workers are not to blame for the decisions of managers. The people of Detroit should not be punished for decisions made by the rich and powerful.

Note: My father was born and grew up in Detroit. He and my mother met while attending the University of Michigan. My despair at the fate of the city is real and heartfelt.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Global warming: Effects we can see right now

Scientists and amateur weather enthusiasts have given many accounts of what causes global warming—burning fossil fuels—and what the effects will be. New Jersey's governor Chris Christie gave his opinion that global warming had nothing to do with hurricane Sandy. Climate change experts would not agree with him on that, however.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international organization of climate scientists, has provided guidelines on which weather events are likely to be influenced by global warming. The IPCC reviews the scientific literature and publishes its findings. It uses the following rating system:

A conclusion is very likely if the IPCC finds there is a 90-100 per cent chance it is true.
A conclusion is likely if the IPCC finds there is a 66-100 per cent chance it is true.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has prepared this graphic representation of IPCC conclusions: 

Using this chart, you can easily see whether the IPCC believes a particular event is likely to be the result of global warming. Tornados and Hurricanes are not considered to be caused or worsened by global warming, largely because there is insufficient data on older events. The study of hurricanes was fragmentary until the advent of weather satellites in 1959 and our knowledge of them still increases all the time. So Hurricane Sandy may have been affected by global warming, but we have no way of knowing that.

Right now, scientists are not certain what effects global warming is having on hurricanes and tornados. They are learning more about these and other extreme weather phenomena all the time.

What we do know is that coastal flooding is very likely to be increased by global warming and this includes the flooding caused by Sandy. Governor Christie should have informed his constituents of this fact so that they could prepare for similar events in the future and be willing to vote for measures to lessen their damage. The strategy of Republicans like Christie has been to deny that global warming is a problem while at the same time planning to combat its effects.

The U.S. is a democracy. Decisions involving global warming affect all of us and we all should be informed about our options. Christie's decision to conceal the likely effects of global warming from his constituents represents the worst kind of politics. Politicians must provide voters the information they need to make informed decisions.

In the DC region, where I live, this summer has been marked by severe weather, in particular heavy downpours and extended heat waves. A glance at the chart reveals that these events are very likely made worse by global warming.

The Republican party has been captured by global warming deniers. Within the framework of American politics it is easy to believe that one party or the other is exaggerating or minimizing problems for its political benefit. The IPCC is an international organization, however, with little interest in or influence on American politics.

The western U.S. is currently suffering from severe droughts. The IPCC studies report that these droughts are likely to be made more severe by global warming. We can do nothing to reverse the global warming that has already occurred. We are likely or very likely (66% to 100% probability) to experience more and longer droughts in the future. The same is true for heavy rains, heat waves, and coastal flooding. We would be well advised to anticipate and plan for all of them.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Gun Control: NRA uses half-truths and huge expenditures to defeat reasonable policies

.The Second Amendment serves no function in America today. The Amendment sprang from the time when state governments feared that a central government would end slavery. The states therefore insisted that the federal government should rely on state militias instead of a standing army.

The state militias were unreliable. At the battle of Camden, the militias turned and ran from British regulars, leaving the American regulars in a death trap. Nevertheless, because the framers feared a strong federal government, they envisioned the state militias as the main fighting force of the new federal republic. Accordingly, they included an amendment to the Constitution that institutionalized militias as being necessary for the security of a free state.

Militias as a necessity to the security of the United States never worked in practice. Militias failed on their own to put down the whiskey rebellion (1796) and performed badly again in the War of 1812. The Second Amendment was thenceforward a failed experiment. No successful insurrection has ever been led by militias. In 1903, state militias were replaced by the National Guard and placed under the direct command of the president. When Governor George Wallace called out the National Guard to prevent integration of the University of Alabama, President Kennedy federalized the National Guard and ordered its commanding officer to facilitate the integration. Bereft of his military force, Wallace had no choice but to stand aside.

With the militias disbanded and a standing army to provide for the security of the U.S., the Second Amendment should have become a dead letter—a law that was still on the books but in practice ignored. Instead, the Amendment has been taken up by the arms manufacturing industry, which have sanctified it to aid them in selling small arms to the American people.


Recently, there appeared in the Washington Post an attempt by Ezra Klein to define a baseline for calm discussion of gun control. Klein's intentions were modest. He simply presented 6 facts about guns and violence that led to a reasonable (to him) conclusion that gun ownership laws should be tightened to lessen the chance of mass killings.

The pro-gun forces attacked Klein in a manner that showed they were not interested in a reasonable discussion. The NRA and its supporters either intentionally spread propaganda or have been captured by the propagandists and are incapable of listening to rational arguments. Their strategy is standard FUD—spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Once the pro-gun forces have achieved their end, the voters are paralyzed, afraid to act, uncertain about the facts, and doubting the correct actions to take. The pro-gun forces are aided by huge amounts of money from the arms manufacturers and expert guidance from the lobbyists like the NRA.

Klein's post elicited hundreds of responses, mostly from opponents of gun control. This sort of response, orchestrated by the pro-gun lobby, has the effect of drowning out pro-gun-control comments and making it seem as though no one agrees with Klein so he is either very wrong or crazy. Neither description is correct. The volume of responses proves that the gun lobby has plenty of money to spend hiring people to write comments opposing reasonable, pro-gun-control articles.

Klein's story also elicited responses pro-gun bloggers. Some of these people are paid by ant-gun-control lobbyists, but they all sound like sincere people who just happen to think people should be allowed to fire automatic weapons in kindergarten classrooms. One such response came from Howard Nemerov of PJMedia. Nemerov is more coherent than most pro-murder writers, for which I compliment him. I would compliment him more if the had some original—or at least helpful ideas—in his post.

Klein began his post by pointing out that opponents of gun control legislation always warn against politicizing a tragic event such as the Aurora shootings. He believes that such events prove that our laws protecting innocent people from mass shooters are inadequate. When the public has its attention focused on the problem, Klein would like to use their common experience to start serious discussion on the issue of gun control.

Nemerov attacks Klein for making a pitch for more gun control. There is nothing wrong about taking another look at our gun control laws whenever an obvious failure—such as a mass shooting—of our gun control laws leaves innocent people dead. The fact that a mass shooting occurred is convincing evidence that our present laws have failed.

There are two kinds of people here. Some people, like Klein and myself, would like to do something about the problem; others, like Nemerov, would use any excuse to ignore the problem. Nemerov's position instills FUD, the strategy of the NRA. He suggests we should be afraid of taking any action. This fear instills doubt, and nothing ever happens to change the failed laws. But we owe it to the victims to examine the mistakes we made that led to their deaths.

Nemerov casts the argument as being about the right to self-defense. This argument is intended to distract the readers from the real issue, trying to prevent mass shootings. Only the pro-gun propagandists bring up the right to defend oneself. Klein never mentioned that right, nor suggested it should be taken away. But Nemerov wants to inflame the pro-gun-control audience and he knows exactly which words to use to achieve his end.

No individual has a right to possess deadly weapons, despite what the Supreme Court may say. If deadly weapons are harder to get, they will be used less. If weapons of mass killing are impossible to obtain, there will be an end of mass killings. Those statements are simply common sense. The only discussion we need to have is how to make guns harder to get and how to ban guns that can be used for mass killing. The discussion should be about how to save lives, not about how to keep gun-owners happy.

Nemerov insults Klein at the outset, calling him just another anti-rights elitist. Name calling is not an argument. It wouldn't matter if Klein were Satan himself. Nemerov must answer the argument, not the messenger.

Nemerov next takes on Klein's 6 points about gun control.

Point 1: America is a violent country

Klein says America is a violent country. He points out that the murder rate in the U.S. is higher than any other developed country. Nemerov points out that America is tied with Argentina for 50th most violent country in the world. Klein has the better argument here. He choses to compare America with other rich nations, our peers, not with nations where the majority of the population live in hopeless squalor. Naturally those countries will be more violent. But America is more violent than other wealthy nations. Rather than pretending that we aren't all that violent, we should be looking for a way to become less so.

I don't understand why Nemerov wants to contradict Klein on this point. The NRA is always trying to convince everyone this is a violent country. They say that's why we need guns to protect ourself. So Nemerov is just contradicting Klein on principle, the way Republicans argue against anything Obama proposes.

Nemerov also challenges the UN figures on homicide rates. Once again he is leading the readers away from the point of the discussion. Whether or not we pass stronger gun control laws has nothing to do with the methodology behind UN homicide statistics. If we concede that Syria, which is embroiled in a civil war, is more violent than the US, that only changes our rank from 50th most violent in the world to 51st. 50th or 51st is way too high for a country that calls itself a world leader.

The most violent governments, Nemerov says, are totalitarian governments that disarm their subjects. He seems to be arguing that the U.S. is a totalitarian government that disarms its citizens. That is not even close to being true, but Nemerov is agitating pro-gun advocates who believe that the U. S. is already totalitarian and has already disarmed its citizens, or intends to do so soon.

The U.S. is not nearly as democratic as it should be, but the solution is more democracy, not more guns. Again, Nemerov distracts the reader from the issue at hand, which is how to avoid mass shootings, by discussing a completely irrelevant topic, totalitarian dictatorships. We all abhor totalitarian dictatorships but no one is suggesting to set up one to stop mass shootings.

Nemerov is suggesting that even a modest change in gun-control laws will inevitably lead to dictatorship. He accepts the supreme court argument that the Second Amendment protects us from our government. But this argument cannot be true. There are many governments in the world with stricter gun controls than we have, and many of them are also democracies. So governments demonstrably do not turn into dictatorships when they impose strict gun-control laws.

Point 2: The South is the most violent region in the United States

Klein makes the point that the South is the most violent section of the US. Nemerov agrees, but tries to argue that immigrant murderers are the cause of high southern murder rates. He offers no statistical evidence for this position, only anecdotal evidence such as the news item that one Haitian killed 3 people in Miami. Studies are divided on whether crime rates are higher for illegal immigrants, but that doesn't matter to Nemerov. He is only concerned about stirring up the conservative base.

Nemerov has discussed the right to own a gun, totalitarian dictatorship, illegal immigrants, foreign countries who think they're better than us, and liberal elitists—the full house of right wing complaints. He has yet to give a single valid reason why we should not try to protect our children from shootings, or what he himself would recommend to solve the problem.

Point 3: Gun ownership in America is declining overall

At this point in the article, Nemerov starts attacking those who disagree with him directly. Klein uses polling from the National Opinion Research Center(NORC) and Gallup. Nemerov attacks NORC for taking grant money from the Joyce Foundation. Let's get a little perspective here. In 2005, the Joyce Foundation gave $3 million for its gun violence studies. In 2012, the NRA spent $25 million on campaign ads alone. NORC is one of the oldest and most respected opinion research organizations in the world. The results of NORC's research are reported in peer reviewed journals.

NRA supports increased gun sales. It frequently refers to studies that are not available to the public, as Nemerov does in this article. It publishes its opinions in blogs like this one, where no peer review ever takes place.

NORC and Gallup have been reporting gun ownership statistics since 1959. They both report a falling percentage of homes with guns. These results do not contradict the fact that there are more guns in America today than ever before. They only mean that a smaller percentage of homes have a gun.

Nemerov attacks the Joyce Foundation for giving money to the Violence Prevention Center, which he says without any evidence is known to manipulate data. But VPC has nothing whatever to do with NORC and Gallup. Once again, Nemerov is confusing the issue by bringing in irrelevant information.

Nemerov notes that the Gallup polls show in increase in gun ownership from 1996 to 2012, but this does not contradict the overall decline since 1959. NORC reports that 34% of households had guns in 2012, while only 22% of the people actually owned a gun. Pew Research reported 33% in its 2013 study.

To counter this data that supports Klein's thesis, even the Pew study, that did not exist when Klein was writing, Nemerov says the NRA reports that 100 million Americans owned guns in 2013. He gives this figure without any statistical source. He then says that gun ownership grew from 31% to 43% of the adult population. As a footnote, he gives the U.S. Census, but no indication of how he arrived at this figure, which contradicts all three studies. The Census does not keep track of gun ownership. If 22% of Americans own guns, then 69 million people own guns.

Nemerov has only succeeded in proving Klein's point, but he perseveres. There is lots of anecdotal evidence of gun ownership growth, particularly among women. 146,000 women in Florida have concealed carry permits, he says. He doesn't say that represents about 1.5% of the women in Florida. Nemerov enjoys playing this game of percentages. Next he says that the number of women with concealed carry permits increased by 65% in Texas. That sounds like a big number, but Nemerov does not tell us 65% of what. This negligence reveals Nemerov's goal: to impress his readers without actually giving them knowledge.

Point 4: More guns tend to mean more homicide.

Nemerov then attacks the Joyce Foundation again. He says the Harvard School of Public Health, financed by the Joyce Foundation, published research concluding that more guns equal more murder, but Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data show the opposite. Nemerov either didn't read the study or didn't care to explain it. The Harvard study controlled for urbanization. In other words, knowing that urban areas always have higher murder rates, the academic study leaves them out.

Nemerov doesn't seem to understand that you must compare like with like. You must compare the U.S. statistics with other developed countries, not with African dictatorships. You must compare the homicide rates of rural areas in states with strong and weak gun-control laws. If you do that, you will find that more guns mean more homicide.

Nemerov curiously shows confidence in data from the CDC. Elsewhere, he claims that the NRA persuaded the Congress that the CDC was biased and convinced them to remove all funding that could be used to study gun control. The CDC does not persuade anyone except by donating money to their election campaigns, like the $30 million it has donated to Congressional candidates since 1980. This action resulted in fewer studies being run and less being known about the results of gun control laws on homicide rates. The CDC could have studied what kinds of laws were best and on which programs money could best be spent. Because the NRA donated millions of dollars to defund to CDC, we don't have this information.

The NRA prefers it that way. They prefer to confuse the issue by citing imaginary studies and inciting the base with worthless anecdotal evidence.

Point 5: States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

Nemerov complains that Klein used statistics for suicide as well as homicide. He doesn't consider suicide violence, he says, because suicide isn't a crime. This is splitting a hair too far. Klein's point remains true, that the availability of guns leads to more suicides as well as homicides.

Nemerov turns once more to his percentage trick. He says that 100 million guns were added to the civilian inventory between 1991 and 2009, but the firearms suicide rate declined 17%. He doesn't explain where he got the 100 million figure for guns (see above, point 3), and he imagines that we haven't caught on that a 17% decline in suicide rate doesn't mean there were fewer suicides since the population increased during that period by 53 million people, a growth rate of about 20%. This rough calculation would indicate there were more suicides in 2009 than in 1991.

In fact, the suicide rate has increased by 30% from 1999 to 2010, to the point where more people die from suicide than die from automobile accidents. This new surge was detected after Klein wrote his article, but the new data only reinforces the correctness of his original observation.

Point 6: Gun control is not politically popular

Nemerov says this is because “pro-rights writers have been producing top-notch research and getting the word out.” His own article hardly supports his hypothesis. He has introduced no new research and has baselessly dismissed the work of scholars whose research fails to support his point of view. He has used statistical misinformation to confuse gun-control and has taken advantage of the absence of data which the NRA itself has caused by using its political clout to suppress research.

Nemerov fears most that more in-depth research could show that gun-control methods actually work. Klein is only suggesting that we give those methods a chance to work. The NRA's success through bribery and deceit represents a breakdown of democracy.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Krauthammer: Pity the Fool

Charles Krauthammer (Krauthammer), at this late date in the controversy surrounding global warming, has thrown in his lot with the climate change deniers. He is probably unaware that the number of deniers is dwindling around the world and that even the name, denier, has become anathema to the scientific community. Krauthammer is a conservative though, so he's also a little slow to jump on the Exxon bandwagon with the rest of the crackpots and stealth lobbyists financed by the oil companies.

Krauthammer, for good measure, calls President Obama a fool. He entitles his article in the Washington Post, Obama's global-warming folly, not-so-subtly implying that the President is a fool. Other signs that Obama is a fool are that Russia and China mock him. But China refused to offer Snowden asylum and forced him to leave the country. As of this writing, Snowden is still stranded in the Moscow airport because the Russians will not offer him asylum either except under conditions Snowden finds impossible to accept. Western Europe showed its solidarity with the U.S. by refusing to let an airplane they suspected of carrying Snowden fly through their airspace. This action signaled that U.S. allies will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for Snowden to escape to another country on any airline.

Krauthammer also argues Obama is a fool because “Syria burns.” I believe strongly that the U.S. should avoid getting involved in any conflict between Islamists. That strategy turned out badly in Afghanistan and Iraq. It doesn't sound foolish at all for the U.S. to stand on the sidelines and encourage the islamists settle their own differences in Syria. But Krauthammer says Obama is a fool not to get involved in what could become a quagmire.

Perhaps Krauthammer doesn't really believe the things he said when he blamed Obama for troubles in Syria and for letting a spy escape to China. It isn't the President's job, after all, to stand in airports and block spies from boarding planes. No, what really upsets Krauthammer is Obama's plan to reduce global warming by closing coal-fired power plants.

Krauthammer knows nothing about science, of course. He gives several unconvincing arguments why the U.S. should increase carbon pollution instead of curtailing it. Krauthammer cites a Pew poll that shows that only 28 per cent of Americans believe global warming is an important issue. On issues of scientific controversy, you see, Krauthammer believes we should ignore the scientists and listen to the people, after first inundating them with anti-science propaganda for years.

Suppose the situation were different. Suppose scientists predicted that an asteroid will strike the Earth in 75 years. Would any sane person argue that we should wait and see if the scientists are right? Wouldn't we do everything we can to save the Earth from catastrophe?

Global warming is just as serious a problem as would be that fictional asteroid, but with this difference: Global warming is affecting the entire world now and the effects get worse every year. Every climate scientist in the world agrees on that. The 3 per cent who are still skeptical are not skeptical that global warming is a serious problem, only about how much of it is man-made.

But Krauthammer goes on to argue that we should not take any action against global warming because there has been no increase in global temperature for 16 years—even though at least 12 of these years have been the hottest in recorded history! He apparently has decided that this is an important fact all on his. He has certainly not asked any climate scientists because none of them have become climate deniers recently.

When he uses the argument about temperatures being flat for the last 16 years, Krauthammer is cherry-picking data, a common tactic of global-warming deniers. He picks one fact that appears to contradict global-warming and ignores the thousands of facts that support it.

Scientists have dedicated their lives to studying the climate, using every tool science has created for itself, including thermometers, barometers, hygrometers, wind gauges, high altitude balloons, carbon dating, ice cores drilled from glaciers, tree ring analysis, satellite analysis, and computer simulations. But Krauthammer has chosen to believe that global warming does not exist because there has been no observable increase in global temperature in the past 16 years. Please note that Krauthammer has no way of knowing this is true except by using the tools that scientists have invented, and the scientists who make a living with these tools do not agree with his analysis.

But Krauthammer calls President Obama a fool for believing 100 per cent of the climate scientists instead of listening to the few skeptics who still remain. Krauthammer argues that a theory that cannot explain all of the data must be discarded, though science does not discard a theory until a better one comes along. For example, the theory of gravity cannot explain why the universe doesn't collapse on itself. Nevertheless, we still believe in gravity.

When he calls Obama a flat-earther, Krauthammer is either ignorant of the actual meaning of the word or—more likely—he is trying to redefine the word for political purposes. Flat-earthers are those who believe the earth is flat despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. Obama was accurate when he called global-warming skeptics flat-earthers, because they refuse to believe what science has determined to be true. Krauthammer uses the term as a meaningless insult, trying to deprive a valid accusation of its force.

Neither Obama nor the rest of us should be convinced when Krauthammer tells us the cost of Obama's global-warming policy will be heavy. The article he points to in support of his erroneous claim closes with the words of Nick Akins, a power company CEO, who says Obama’s plan can be carried out “without a major impact to customers or the economy.”

Krauthammer closes his baseless diatribe with the worst argument of all, though it is one that will appeal to the know-nothing branch of the Republican party. He says we should do nothing to slow global warming because other countries are doing nothing. The U.S. is not the only country that has reduced its CO2 emissions. The U.S. reduced its emissions by 200 million tons in 2012. Europe reduced its emissions by 10 million tons. Other countries, like China, have slowed the growth of their emissions.

Many developing nations are concerned about global warming because they have the most to use. Much of Bangladesh is already below sea level. The Maldive islands will soon sink beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean and their residents will seek homes elsewhere.

Even with a large increase in CO2 emissions, China still produced about one third as much CO2 per person as the U.S. India, which Krauthammer chastised for increasing its production of CO2, produced about 10 per cent as much CO2 per person as the U.S. Whether or not these countries are able to reduce their CO2 outputs, the U. S. would have to cut its output in half to match the per person output of Europe.

Incidentally, saying the U.S. is doing more to reduce CO2 emissions than any other country is an egregious example of cherry-picking data. The U.S. produces about twice as much CO2 per person as the European Union. We have a long way to go before we match what others have already done.

The U.S. must be a world leader, not a follower. After the oil price increases of the 1970s and 1980s,we lagged behind the Europeans and Japanese in energy reduction because we failed to lower our consumption. Had we lowered our energy use at that time, our CO2 production per person could be half what it is today. Instead, we kept on increasing our energy use and poured money into the bank accounts of oil company executives and Middle Eastern oil magnates.

Krauthammer ends his article with an inexcusable exaggeration. He says there is no point in America committing economic suicide to no effect. But the U.S. by itself could make a considerable difference in global warming because we produce so much of the world's greenhouse gases. The economic effect of lowering our CO2 will not be catastrophic, because lowering our use of one energy source will increase our use of another. Investments in green energy will create at least 3 times as many jobs as investments in the energy industry. Competition with traditional energy sources will lower the price of natural gas. Farmers will increase their income by generating and selling wind power and by using waste products for biomass energy production.

President Obama wants the U.S. to create new green technologies and thereby lessen the effects of global warming. Krauthammer wants to exchange sustainable, non-polluting green energy projects for a continuation of massive profits for the oil companies and world-wide disasters that keep on increasing in numbers and severity. Who is the fool?

Note: Charles Krauthammer's article, “Obama's global-warming folly”, appeared on July 4 in the Washington Post.

Friday, July 5, 2013

DC Diary: American Indian museum celebrates diversity and creativity

I visited the wonderful Museum of the American Indian on the Mall last Monday. This museum does not concentrate on the history of the American Indian, though the American people should definitely learn more about that. Instead, it concentrates on present-day American Indians and their vibrant culture.

I particularly like the art of the Northwest Coast tribes. These indigenous people lived along the Pacific coast of America from the California border to Alaska. They are noted for their totem poles, which feature elaborate stylized figures of animals and humans. Their style is unique and instantly recognizable.

The store at the Museum is stuffed with beautiful and unusual merchandise. I noticed two neckties with beautiful Tlingit designs on them. I considered buying one for a few moments, but then realized that I couldn't wear them at work in DC. Then I began to wonder why.

America is filled with different cultures. Tlingit art is attractive, but so is Navajo pottery from the Southwest. Mexico has a large number of distinct cultures, each with its own style of art and manner of dress. Yet when you walk about DC on a weekday, all you will see is dark suits and plain ties.

I come from California, where I worked for years in the computer industry. The required uniform there is informal, depending on the company, but sometimes nothing more than shorts and a tee-shirt. The engineers there have dressed like that for decades.

About 1981, an employee from IBM arrived at Microsoft's office in Redmond to inquire about buying an operating system for a new desktop computer. He was met at the door by a young man in a sweater. He assumed the man was the office boy, but he was wrong. The man was Bill Gates, not yet a household name, but already the head of Microsoft. In Silicon Valley today, if you are talking to a man in a suit, you can assume he doesn't know anything about the product.

Many managers in DC require their employees to wear expensive, uncomfortable clothes. They expect women to wear high-heeled shoes, although everyone knows that style of shoe causes degenerative arthritis and other painful conditions. Many women wear athletic shoes during their commute and carry their high-heeled shoes in a bag.

Men employed in DC likewise must wear heavy leather shoes, tight collars and tight neckties. Boring neckties.

America has been successful because of its diversity. Freedom of thought produces innovations in science and industry. Rigid and conformist thinking brings stagnation and regression.

America after World War II was a forward-looking country with great energy and a belief in itself. President Truman installed the Marshall plan, an innovative policy that brought Europe from starvation to prosperity in just five years. The Marshall plan was unique in history because it gave loans to nations that America had just defeated in war.

President Eisenhower championed the interstate highway system, which was begun in 1956 with $25 billion in federal funding, equivalent to $214 billion in 2013 dollars. The interstate system eventually cost $450 billion and has been called the largest public works project since the pyramids.
John F. Kennedy proposed a space exploration plan in 1961 that would put a man on the moon within 10 years. The Apollo project cost $158 billion in 2013 dollars.

Today, there is no similar program. America is in the grip of a spiritual malaise. We do not believe in the ability of government to do anything positive, despite the unquestioned success enjoyed by each of the 3 projects mentioned above.

Americans do not believe in science, despite the accomplishments of the Space program and the enormous wealth created by the electronics and computer industries. Americans know that these things exist, but they seem ignorant of the fact that government created them with the assistance of the scientific community.

Americans today would never approve the Marshall plan, which gave American money to foreign governments, despite the fact that the plan led to a prosperous and peaceful Europe. Somehow we have lost the ability to see beyond the price of something and recognize its value.

In line with America's failure of vision, our government employees must all wear the same fashions (from the 1940s) and espouse ideas that went out of fashion when their clothes did. They must all think prescribed thoughts and reject any new ideas.

They must not wear comfortable shoes or neckties with Tlingit designs.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

DC diary: A visit to Monticello

The mansion at Monticello is a beautiful building. As you walk through the building with a guide, you hear the same thing over again: “Jefferson wanted only the best.” The building today is stuffed with paintings, furniture, china, clocks, most of them reproductions of what we know Jefferson had in his house in his time.

The mansion is enormous, by the standards of revolutionary America. George Mason's Dunston mansion has 11 rooms, and Mason was one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. Jefferson's Monticello has 21, plus a cellar where slaves worked to prepare meals and put them on dumbwaiters. Jefferson loved to entertain the many visitors who flocked to get a glimpse of the great man or partake of his conversation. Mason rarely entertained. Visitors rarely sought out the man who refused to sign the Constitution.

Mason and Jefferson have several marked similarities. Primarily, Mason wrote the Declaration of Rights included in the Constitution of Virginia in May, 1776, while Jefferson wrote the declaration of independence in June of the same year.

From George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted around May 20, 1776:

...That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights...; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

More famously, from Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, begun on June 11, 1776:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

None of the ideas, or even the words, in Jefferson's Declaration are original; he leaned heavily on the Declaration authored by Mason.

Mason was the older of the two. He held properties along the Potomac, much more accessible to transportation along the river. Jefferson built Monticello on top of a hill in a remote area of Virginia, which had been the very edge of civilization at the time of Jefferson's birth. Importing luxury goods to Dunston was relatively cheap compared to the cost of shipping them to Charlottesville, then transporting them to the top of a mountain.

Despite these difficulties and expenses, Jefferson persisted for 40 years in spending his fortune on a large, impressive mansion. Among his extravagances were a large dome over the fourth story of his house; rooms designed in irregular shapes, such as octagons; a vast cellar complex with kitchens, storerooms, and living quarters for slaves; and experimental contraptions like dumbwaiters and a threshing machine for wheat. He always used the finest materials for construction of his house, despite the ever-mounting cost and its concommittant debt.

Jefferson considered himself a farmer and foresaw the US as a nation of farmers. But Jefferson was not a profitable farmer. He continually experimented with new crops instead of concentrating on crops that were proven money-makers. He also experimented with a threshing machine that had no remarkable value. This threshing machine may have been a proof that automation has no value when labor is cheap.
Jefferson used his enslaved work force to raise money in two ways. He forced young boys to work in the nail factory, making a product that could be sold in the market; and he mortgaged his slaves as you would mortgage a house or a farm. The nail-making business was profitable for awhile, although the boys had to be whipped to keep them at their task. Eventually, manufactured nails became available and hand-made nails became obsolete.

The mortgaging of human chattel continued, however, permitting Jefferson to continue making elaborate and expensive additions to Monticello. He appeared to be copying the European nobility by creating an elaborate palace for himself. Jefferson visited Europe while he was a minister to France from 1785-1789. There he became enamored of the homes and palaces of the aristocracy. He designed Monticello and buildings at the University of Virginia according to the theories of Palatino. Jefferson's infatuation with architecture bankrupted him. On his death, he had built a fine mansion, but owed $100,000, a debt which his heirs had to repay by selling slaves into the cotton plantations.

We should always remind ourselves that great architecture is expensive and must be paid by someone. The Romans used slave labor to build their temples and aqueducts. The grandeur of Versailles bankrupted France and led indirectly to the French Revolution. Jefferson's home was built by slave labor and led to the eviction of his slaves from their homes and their subjection to backbreaking labor in the cotton fields of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.