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December 10, 2015

The Christmas Story is about [whatever has the Left worked up at the moment]

Not long ago, I remember hearing the Christmas Story being about a homeless, unwed mother being shunned by society.

Image credit

Now, the Story is about a Middle Eastern refugee family.  Sheesh.

It's bad enough when the secular left tries to hijack Jesus for its causes; it's downright shameful when a church does so, betraying its ignorance of the Book upon which its faith supposedly rests.

Image credit

For the record, Jesus' family fled to Egypt during a period when the government was seeking to murder Him -- but He was almost certainly a year (or more) old by then, when the family was living comfortably in a house (Matt 2:11) in Bethlehem.  At no point during the birth narrative was the family fleeing anything.

You can read it yourself, if you like.  That'll give you a leg up on the church pictured here.

September 8, 2015

Pointless Petition du jour: The meaning of inauguration oaths taken by public office holders

Secular jihadists have set their sights on the inauguration oath typically taken by many public office holders.  Here is a new petition -- undoubtedly inspired by the Kim Davis kerfuffle -- at whitehouse.gov:

I think it's worth pondering the purpose of inauguration oaths.

The whole point of an oath is to increase the credibility of a promise. The oath-taker is essentially calling judgment down upon him/herself if the promise isn't kept.  When the oath-taker is considered to be sincere in such an oath, it generally adds weight to the promise being made.  If the oath-taker doesn't believe in a higher power, the oath is pointless both to the one doing the promising and to the one being promised.

In this light, swearing on the Constitution (as the petition demands) is even more pointless, regardless of one's belief system -- what does "I swear by the Constitution that I will obey the Constitution" even mean?

Image source: Bizarro
The real issue is not that many people prefer to add meaning to their oath by placing their hand on the text that underlies their moral value system; the real issue is that the oath itself is effectively meaningless to the oath-taker.

At one time, the inauguration oath served a real purpose in a culture where the moral value system of Christianity served as an actual constraint on the behavior of the citizenry and (in many cases) public officials.  Now that Christianity is being systematically purged from the culture, even pro forma declarations of religious sentiment among public officials are becoming less common.

So, again: is there any point to inauguration oaths any more?  It's not like most oath-takers are actually sincere in the affirmations being made (or fear any repercussions of violating those affirmations), so why undergo the ritual in the first place?

August 29, 2015

Donald Trump frightens me, and so do his followers

Donald Trump frightens me, and so do his followers. I'm going on my general observations of the Trump phenomenon, so in the unlikely event you're a Trump fan AND you're a constitutionalist, my apologies for lumping you in with the rest -- I'm curious to know how both sentiments can coexist. With that said...

Image source

Trump, like Obama before him, and like any good demagogue, has the ability to connect deeply with the emotions of his followers, rather than their minds. It seems that Trump's fans would allow him to be every bit the tyrant he's essentially pledged to be (and must be to "fix" our country outside of the constitutional boundaries of the president's powers)...as long as he delivers on his promise to secure the borders.

I've often argued that George W. Bush, whatever other qualities he may have had, was no friend of the Constitution. Chancellor Trump would be much, much worse in this regard.

If Trump wins the nomination, our country will lose in the end -- no matter who takes the general election.

August 28, 2015

Something to remember as you ponder the merits of the "living wage" movement

Looking at schemes like the "living wage" movement, it might be tempting to think that the Left was interested in reforming capitalism.  A closer look reveals that this isn't the case.

If reform was the goal, you'd see the left investing its considerable resources to create banks, large corporations, and small businesses (like restaurants), and to run them according to the best progressive principles. 

We don't see that at all.  Instead, the Left does nothing but make crippling demands of existing banks, large corporations, and small businesses.

The left doesn't want to reform capitalism; it wants to destroy capitalism, and make paupers of us all (except the governing elites, of course).

If I'm wrong, I'm open to hearing the evidence.

August 15, 2015

Scratch an anti-GMO activist, and you'll likely find a Marxist underneath

Slate's Will Saletan has a great article (published July 15) on his year-long investigation into the anti-GMO movement. He says this in his introduction (emphasis added):
The central premise of these laws—and the main source of consumer anxiety, which has sparked corporate interest in GMO-free food—is concern about health. Last year, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans said it’s generally “unsafe to eat genetically modified foods.” Vermont says the primary purpose of its labeling law is to help people “avoid potential health risks of food produced from genetic engineering.” Chipotle notes that 300 scientists have “signed a statement rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption.” Until more studies are conducted, Chipotle says, “We believe it is prudent to take a cautious approach toward GMOs.”
The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafe. Hundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up.
I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.
Image source
Saletan's presentation is copiously documented, unlike most of the anti-GMO alarmism we encounter on Facebook and in other social media.

The science behind the anti-GMO movement has always been, and continues to be, fatally weak, but no matter: it SOUNDS plausible enough to scare the average consumer.  What motivates the most ardent anti-GMO activists is not a commitment to scientific truth, but rather a commitment to anticapitalism.

Because GMO food can be patented, evil corporations profit from its consumption.  No matter that genetic improvements to plant genomes can and do literally save lives, especially in the third world (through vitamin infusion and through integration of natural resistance to drought, pests, and disease, among other things) -- Marxist ideology trumps the lives and health of these people.

July 31, 2015

What happened to C-Pol?

For over a decade, this blog was called "C-POL: Constitutionalist, Conservative Politics". Over time, my deep-thought ponderings have been moving away from the rough-and-tumble of everyday political wrangling and toward the larger philosophical, ideological, and cultural currents of our age.  

I've changed the title of the blog to highlight my conviction that the "fundamental transformation" (to adapt President Obama's phrase) of the United States that's currently underway is, in the long run, bad not only for this country but for the world in general.

Scoff if you must; I'm okay with that.  I aim to make my case as time goes on.  I'm okay with being on the "wrong side of history" if I'm actually right.

Are the denizens of the 'progressive' left champions of democracy?

Although the progressives fancy themselves to champion democracy, they are accomplishing some of the greatest strides in their cultural revolution through the least democratic means -- through presidential executive action and through the decisions of a few federal judges.  In other words, through oligarchy, not through democracy.

The people's representatives are in Congress.  The left pretty much has no use for the people's representatives.  Under progressive rule, the laws come from everywhere BUT the place mandated by our Constitution.

Just like pretty much every left-wing uprising that has ever occurred, the revolutionaries claim to be acting on behalf of the masses, but the masses don't always have the right opinions, do they?

(Note: I realize that under our Constitution, the U.S. is a republic, not a democracy.  Just going with the progressive lingo here.)

The anticapitalist left's ironic dependence on the fruits of capitalism (cont'd)

Illustrated marvelously in this Banksy canvas wall print available at... drum roll, please... Walmart:

May 19, 2015

Intellectual diversity is a threat to progressive hegemony, and it shall not be tolerated

Carl Trueman writes in First Things about the fact that modern universities seem designed to prevent vigorous-yet-civil debate about contentious issues.  As the progressive tribe solidifies its hold on western culture, the name of the game is conformity to the progressive ideal.  Not only will dissent not be tolerated; it will be punished in any way possible.
Universities [...] are not supposed to be confessional institutions inculcating a particular creed, nor should they be built on politicized extensions of child-rearing philosophies founded on self-esteem. They should be places where debate is part of the way of life, and where one has to live shoulder to shoulder with those with whom one differs. Yet they have become the very places where this inability to disagree is now apparently cultivated as a positive virtue. The truly educated person is now no longer the person who understands an opposing viewpoint even as he rejects it. For even to understand an alternative viewpoint is to collude in the oppression which such an opinion embodies.

I suspect that the future health of democracy depends upon university administrators worrying less about the dangers posed by whatever is the micro-aggression du jour and more about providing safe places for those who actually want to hold opinions and have debates. Safe places, that is, that are marked by the very risks and danger involved in intellectual engagement.
Trueman's hope (expressed in the second paragraph of the excerpt) is no more than a pipe dream, at least for now.

April 20, 2015

The Left is a fragile coalition of incompatible factions

If these factions didn't have a common enemy to unite them, they'd be at each others' throats.  Now that the cultural revolution is winding down, we're going to start seeing more infighting as each faction tries to get its agenda to the top of the priority list in the People's Republic of America.

Pearls Before Swine poked fun at a few of the Left's factions in yesterday's comic.  Stephan Pastis seems to be pretty thick-skinned, so I suspect that he'll be able to weather the hate that comes his way because of this.

Click the image to view full-sized version

April 14, 2015

Is this what people think of socialism these days?

A classic cold-war era joke used two cows to illustrate the various political systems that dominated the 20th century world.  There were different renditions of the joke, but they tended to follow this pattern:
  • SOCIALISM: You have two cows. State takes one and gives it to someone else.
  • COMMUNISM: You have two cows. State takes both of them and gives you milk.
  • FASCISM: You have two cows. State takes both of them and sells you milk.
  • NAZISM: You have two cows. State takes both of them and shoots you.
  • CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

...and so on.  The original point of the joke was to highlight the differences between ideologies in theory and ideologies in practice.

Socialism in theory means those who have been blessed with prosperity freely share their bounty with the less fortunate.  Socialism in practice involves the state using force to redistribute this bounty.

Communism in theory takes socialism to the next level -- where the masses freely choose to collectivize their labor as well as their possessions for the good of all.  Communism in practice involves the state collectivizing labor and possessions for the good of the state, allowing the masses just enough to subsist on.

Today, I was intrigued to notice that modern renditions of the joke leave communism the way it was in older renditions, but the socialism part of the joke has shifted to the in-theory definition, with the clear intent of promoting it as the superior system. 

The entire chart can be found at The Meta Picture

"You have two cows. You give one to your neighbor." 

Socialism is just people being nice to each other.  Who could be against that?

If socialism worked like that in practice, I would be more than happy to concede the point. 

But here's the reality: Socialists have never been happy with the inefficiencies of voluntary wealth redistribution, and have always ended up resorting to state force to advance their goals.

I believe that the utopian goals of socialism can never be realized except at the point of a gun.  Feel free to contend otherwise in the comments.

April 11, 2015

Megalomania, thy name is Obama

Dear Leader acknowledges the adoration of the heavens in a recent visit to Jamaica.

Source: White House Twitter Feed

There can be little doubt that Mr. Obama wants to maintain the personality cult that has grown up around him since his 2008 campaign. To what end? When do the statues of him start going up in the public squares?

April 8, 2015

DC-area abortion business aims to make snuffing your baby a "spa-like" experience

Abortion advocacy seems to be moving into a new phase.  As far as I've observed, the pro-abortion crowd has long since given up trying to answer the fundamental pro-life assertion that the procedure ends a human life.

By sidestepping the life issue, advocates are free to focus on conditioning our culture with the notion that abortion is a nothing more than a routine medical procedure, and that it is morally neutral -- even morally good.

Thus, while I was horrified, I was not surprised to see the approach one new Washington, DC-area abortion business is taking to the provision of pharmaceutical abortions.  WaPo, March 30:
With its natural wood floors and plush upholstery, Carafem aims to feel more like a spa than a medical clinic. But the slick ads set to go up in Metro stations across the Washington region leave nothing to doubt: “Abortion. Yeah, we do that.”

The Maryland clinic, opening this week in Montgomery County’s tony Friendship Heights area, specializes in the abortion pill. The advertising reflects its unabashed approach — and a new push to de-stigmatize the nation’s most controversial medical procedure by talking about it openly and unapologetically.

[...] “It was important for us to try to present an upgraded, almost spa-like feel,” said Melissa S. Grant, vice president of health services for the clinic.

If the project is successful, Purdy says, he hopes to expand his model to other states.

“It’s fresh, it’s modern, it’s clean, it’s caring,” he said. “That’s the brand we’re trying to create.”

Carafem is planning to offer its modern, clean, caring baby-snuffing services for the bargain price of $400.  It would be unfair for such a spa-like experience to be reserved only for the rich, though, so I'm sure Obamacare subsidies will be available in due time.

U.S. border security, illustrated

March 28, 2015

Authoritarian government is the most natural form of government

Human nature being what it is, government always tends toward authoritarianism (or worse), regardless of the nobility or ignobility of a government's founders.  If the citizens were always in perfect harmony with the rulers, authoritarianism wouldn't be necessary.  In the real world, though, government must eventually take measures to create harmony by force.

Many on the right, Christian conservatives included, are justifiably alarmed at the brazen power grabs of the left.  They often think: "If only we can get our folks into power, all will be rainbows and unicorns again."

But is that realistic? George W. Bush, while deeply flawed, had his conservative moments during his presidency, and it was at those times that he faced the full onslaught of a culture that has never been more out of harmony with conservative and constitutional principles.

Remember my earlier statement: in the absence of natural harmony, governments can create harmony only by force.  This is why authoritarian government isn't just the plaything of the left.

The late Francis Schaeffer, a Christian apologist and deep-thinker, saw peril in Christians' tendency to remain silent when government authoritarianism was directed at others.  Writing in 1983, he warned:
Will we resist authoritarian government in all its forms regardless of the label it carries and regardless of its origin?  The danger in regard to the rise of authoritarian government is that Christians will be still as long as their own religious activities, evangelism, and life-styles are not disturbed.

[...] Here is a sentence to memorize:  To make no decision in regard to the growth of authoritarian government is already a decision for it.

How Should We Then Live? (1976). Italics in the original.
More than thirty years later, Christians are now well aware of what it's like to be the target of the government's authoritarian impulses.  Schaeffer might argue that our silence in the past made our current difficulties more likely.

Why it's unlikely that a genuine conservative will win the 2016 GOP nomination

Ted Cruz has already declared, and it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, among others, will toss their hats into the ring within the next few weeks.  Some on the right might see this as evidence of the enduring vitality of the conservative movement in the face of an aggressive cultural jihad against its values.  I see the Republican establishment clinching the nomination, yet again -- and not necessarily because of any particular shortcomings the conservative challengers might possess.

Thesis: Every conservative that declares for the 2016 nomination, regardless of his/her ideological bona fides, decreases the probability that a conservative will actually win the nomination.

Every four years, we get the same thing in the GOP primary season: Several conservatives, one or two moderates acceptable to the establishment, and occasionally, some unabashedly liberal candidate who spends his campaign attacking the views of the 99% of the party who are to his right.

The conservative candidates all have passionate fan bases of varying sizes. These candidates spend the bulk of their time trying to win the other conservative factions over, all but ignoring the establishment candidate(s) at first: "If only the other conservative candidates would drop out of the race, their voters would unite behind me, and we could win this!  How can they be so selfish?"

Conservatives select a 2016 standard-bearer.
(Note: the establishment candidates are the relaxed ones in the foreground)
Each primary comes and goes.  One conservative candidate does well here, and another there.  The diffusion of the conservative vote into angry factions begins leading to plurality wins for at least one of the moderate candidates.  As the delegate momentum builds for one moderate, other moderates drop out of the race, and the establishment's fundraising machine kicks into high gear for the anointed one.

Too late, the conservatives stop clawing at each other long enough to realize that the establishment candidate is pulling away.  By then, it usually doesn't matter if all but one conservative drops out; all the moderate must do from this point forward is to calmly and cheerfully quote the remaining candidate's erstwhile conservative opponents against him or her.  The conservative, who up to this point has focused exclusively on fellow conservatives, can do little but splutter in response.

Jeff Koterba, February 8
Once again, the opportunity has been lost, and the moderate walks away with the nomination.

I've been an active voter for over 30 years, and I've witnessed this phenomenon far too many times for it to be attributed to my imagination.  Alas, more than a year and a half prior to the 2016 election, this cycle appears to be no different.

There is much that I like about each of the likely conservative candidates, but I doubt that any of them will get the nod.  The Texas primary is held late in the season, typically meaning that we will have only the establishment candidate and the last major conservative candidate to choose from.  As usual, I'll probably cast a protest vote against the establishment.  For all the good it'll do.


April 10 UPDATE: Rasmussen shows that I'm not alone in my pessimism.

March 20, 2015

Mandatory voting is, quite possibly, one of the worst ideas ever

This week, I was quite surprised to learn from my Facebook newsfeed that quite a few on the left are excited about the notion of mandatory voting for American citizens (at least, I assume they're wanting this just for the citizens).  My gut reaction is that this is, quite possibly, one of the worst ideas ever presented as a solution to the phenomenon of low voter participation.

Before explaining why I believe this, I should note that this erupted into the news this week because our Dear Leader just endorsed the notion.  Yahoo! News, March 18:
Obama floated the idea of mandatory voting in the U.S. while speaking to a civic group in Cleveland on Wednesday. Asked about the corrosive influence of money in U.S. elections, Obama digressed into the related topic of voting rights and said the U.S. should be making it easier — not harder— for people to vote.

Just ask Australia, where citizens have no choice but to vote, the president said.

"If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country," Obama said, calling it potentially transformative.
Yes, it would be grand if citizens took seriously their civic responsibility to participate in our democratic institutions.  So, why don't they?  The president's speech encapsulates the reasons that I usually see proffered by the Left:
Not only that, Obama said, but universal voting would "counteract money more than anything."

Disproportionately, Americans who skip the polls on Election Day are younger, lower-income and more likely to be immigrants or minorities, Obama said. "There's a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls," he said in a veiled reference to efforts in a number of Republican-led states to make it harder for people to vote.
Yikes!  So...anywhere from a half to two-thirds of voting-age citizens are informed, motivated folks who are systematically kept away from the polls by Republican voter-suppression efforts.


Forcing these 50%+ of voting-age citizens to the polls won't turn them into informed, motivated voters.  Any person who takes a half-serious look at human nature should be able to conclude two things: (1) These uninformed, unmotivated folks will look for the easiest way to avoid the failure-to-vote penalty (most likely a fine); and (2) The informed, motivated folks (both left and right) will be ready to help the uninformed, unmotivated folks discharge their duties in the most expedient way possible.

"Just tell me who to vote for, okay?"

This will come down to a contest of which ideological tribe can get the most apathetic sheep to the polls.  The Left's giddiness about the mandatory voting proposal is evidence enough that progressives believe that they would win that contest.

Facebook has its uses for those who want to be sure of what they believe

Many people decry the prevalence of political/ideological arguments on Facebook, but I've come to appreciate this phenomenon to a certain extent.  In the past, ideologues tended to keep to their own online neighborhoods, and as a result most people spent their days in the company of folks who agreed with them on the Issues That Matter.

Suddenly, Facebook.  Just about everybody has relatives or friends who hail from some faraway part of the ideological spectrum, and many of those folks are pumped up enough about their worldview to post articles and memes about whatever motivates them.  Facebook is facilitating what seems to be an unprecedented mixing of ideological tribes.  As most with FB accounts know well, that mixing is often not a beautiful sight to behold.

For the most part, I've made my peace regarding this phenomenon in my own newsfeed.  Those articles used to annoy me, and I would often launch into heated debates that never ended up moving the ball in either direction.

Gazing across the divide
Now, though, I see a personal growth opportunity in things that used to make my blood boil.  I have a goal of truly understanding the progressive worldview -- not just its most common positions on current issues (those are usually easy to guess), but understanding the foundational assumptions about reality that set the progressive tribe apart from other worldview tribes.

So, I continue to poke and prod my interlocutors, but not necessarily for the purpose of winning the argument.  How can one have a constructive argument when the two parties don't even agree on the definitions of terms that are important to the argument?  No, my poking and prodding is intended to help me understand what makes them tick.  And I truly do want to understand.  Apparently, this is not normal or common, because progressives, even ones I'm related to, tend to react with suspicion when I tell them this.

To me, it's worth the effort.  Not only am I better able to understand why someone believes something so outrageous (to me), I am also given many opportunities to test what I believe on the topic of the moment, and to decide which hills are worth fighting for.

Once I decide I need to jump into a debate, I'm better able to caution myself about my chances for success, given my understanding that my opponent's opinions usually flow rationally from a sea of assumptions that will never never come up in the current debate.

March 3, 2015

Appeasers hate those who confront evil (Obama's idealism v. Netanyahu's realism)

Dennis Prager has a concise explanation for why the Obama administration is so offended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard line against the Islamists:
Appeasers hate those who confront evil.

Given that this president is the least likely of any president in American history to confront evil — or even identify it — while Benjamin Netanyahu is particularly vocal and eloquent about both identifying and confronting evil, it is inevitable that the former will resent the latter.

The negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program are today’s quintessential example. Those who will not confront a tyranny engaged in terror from Argentina to the Middle East, and which is committed to annihilating another country, will deeply resent Israel and its leader.
Why can't Netanyahu understand that the terrorists don't need to be confronted and defeated; they need jobs?

February 21, 2015

Our Dangerous Historical Moment?

Historian Victor Davis Hansen, writing in NRO on February 19, notes the geopolitical similarities between the world of the 1930s and the world of today:
Putin, the Islamic State, and Iran at first glance have as little in common as did Germany, Italy, and Japan. But like the old Axis, they are all authoritarians that share a desire to attack their neighbors. And they all hate the West.  
The grandchildren of those who appeased the dictators of the 1930s once again prefer in the short term to turn a blind eye to the current fascists. And the grandchildren of the survivors of the Holocaust once again get blamed.
The 1930s should have taught us that aggressive autocrats do not have to like each other to share hatred of the West.
The 1930s should have demonstrated to us that old-time American isolationism and the same old European appeasement will not prevent but only guarantee a war.

Meanwhile, some of the left's apologists, such as Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack at Slate, paint a rosy picture worthy of Pravda's descriptions of unrelenting Soviet triumph.  As long as the "progressive" tribe is in power, the trend lines are incapable of being anything but positive:
The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states—by far the most destructive of all conflicts—are all but obsolete. The increase in the number and deadliness of civil wars since 2010 is circumscribed, puny in comparison with the decline that preceded it, and unlikely to escalate.

We have been told of impending doom before: a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, a line of dominoes in Southeast Asia, revanchism in a reunified Germany, a rising sun in Japan, cities overrun by teenage superpredators, a coming anarchy that would fracture the major nation-states, and weekly 9/11-scale attacks that would pose an existential threat to civilization.

Why is the world always “more dangerous than it has ever been”—even as a greater and greater majority of humanity lives in peace and dies of old age?

February 5, 2015

The fatal shortcoming of Obama's proposal for free community college for all

A February 4 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal notes that Obama's "free community college" proposal ignores a fundamental, immutable economic principle:
The spirit behind President Obama’s recent proposal to make community college free is understandable, but he has fallen victim to the fallacy of composition. He has made the mistake of believing that if one person benefits from an action, then everyone else who takes the same action will also benefit. Economics teaches us otherwise.
Although getting an associate degree or some college education at a community college may benefit any one person, in the aggregate a policy that increases the supply of people with associate degrees can backfire unless it has been designed to fill an existing excess demand. Otherwise such a policy will merely exacerbate an existing excess supply of labor with that level of educational attainment.
Unless our economy magically creates positions for this excess supply of labor, what we'll end up with is overtrained restaurant workers.

January 21, 2015

Political Definitions: "Narrow-minded" and "Bipartisan"

Narrow-minded (adj) - a term used to describe somebody who refuses to adopt the left's point of view on a contentious issue.

Bipartisan (adj) - description of the process in which Democrats and Republicans work together to advance the Democrats' agenda.

January 19, 2015

DNA, GMOs, and the Left's dilemma

io9 reports January 18 on a fascinating study by Oklahoma State University:
A recent survey conducted by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics found that 80.44% of respondents supported a government policy mandating labels on foods containing DNA. Not GMOs. DNA, the genetic material contained in every living thing known to science and practically every food, GMO or otherwise.
The results smack of satire, but they're real. The Food Demand Survey (FooDs) is an online poll of a representative sample of the U.S. population, conducted every month by Oklahoma State agricultural economist Jayson Lusk and research specialist Susan Murray. The most recent month's survey included a question regarding the institution of government policies concerning food. The results, which you can read in full here, indicate that "a large majority (82%) support mandatory labels on GMOs." What's curious, note Lusk and Murray, is that roughly "the same amount (80%) also support mandatory labels on foods containing DNA."
Even though the survey's sampling method does not appear to be ideal, the result does seem to reflect the human social tendency to jump onto issue bandwagons with little or no factual knowledge of the issues.  If someone we know and admire (be it a friend or some celebrity) is passionately for or against something, it's easy and natural to tag along.

There is a common superstition that all "chemicals" in food are bad.  "DNA" sounds like a chemical (which, of course, it is), so you bet I want to be informed when chemicals with ominous-sounding three-letter acronyms are present in my food!  Indeed, many who embrace the concept of "organic" foods seem to think that it is too much work to ponder the scientific pros and cons of various additives that have been part of our food supply for generations.

The GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) controversy is another good example of hysteria driven by scientific illiteracy.  Foods with one or more GMO ingredients have been dubbed "Frankenfoods" -- a reference to Frankenstein's monster -- by many activists.  I doubt they wish us to carry the analogy too far, given that the townspeople's reaction to the creature was irrational and emotion-driven.  The analogy the activists WANT us to take from the story is the notion that we must never tamper with nature, ever, for any reason.  A large majority of Americans are emotionally drawn to this argument, which almost certainly accounts for the fact that 82% support the proposed GMO labeling requirement, despite the fact that there is little or no scientific evidence that any of the GMOs approved for consumption are harmful to humans in any way.

To me, the curious twist to the anti-GMO crusade is that its activist core appears to reside in to the part of the political left boasting an average education level higher than that of the general population.  They have every reason to be familiar with the scientific truth behind GMOs, but they're the ones that appear to be driving the emotional opposition.

How can this be?  Some on the right are fond of observing that when Soviet communism collapsed, unreconstructed Marxists in the west appear to have adopted the environmental movement as the platform for continuing the advancement of their socioeconomic agenda.  There is strong circumstantial evidence to support this notion.  First, the environmental movement started to blossom dramatically even as the dust was still settling from the collapse of the communist bloc. Second -- and this is more significant to me -- virtually every policy prescription advanced to solve the environmental crisis du jour happens to align perfectly with the socioeconomic goals of the Marxist left: crippling regulation, punishing taxation, global wealth redistribution, etc.

This also appears to be the underbelly of the activist left's opposition to GMOs: it's driven by ideology, not by science illiteracy.  You see, GMOs can be patented...by corporations!  If we allow GMOs into our food supply, that benefits greedy capitalists.  So, even if someone comes up with something like "golden rice", which has a scientifically demonstrable benefit to human health, it must be opposed at all costs

The dilemma for the educated activists on the left is that their numbers aren't anywhere near what is needed to successfully advance their anticapitalist agenda, so they have no choice but to harness the ignorance of those whose convictions about food are driven more by superstition than by facts.  Thus, even though these activists often scorn the scientific illiteracy of average Americans, expediency keeps their mouths shut as GMO myths continue to run rampant in the mass media, in blogs, and on Facebook.

January 17, 2015

Did a crack just form in the Civil Asset Forfeiture wall? (In which I interrupt my hiatus to bestow cautious praise upon the Obama administration) [UPDATED]

Most long-time C-Pol readers (and you'd have to be long-time readers, given my recent posting frequency) know I'm no fan of the Obama administration, but if this story is true in its details*, I'll give credit where credit is due.  From the WaPo, January 16:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
"Civil Asset Forfeiture" (police seizing alleged drug money or assets purchased with alleged drug money) has been the most-abused weapon in the "War on Drugs" arsenal in the past three decades. The problem is that the assets are far too often seized WITHOUT DUE PROCESS, and often WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE that a crime has been committed. It's hard to imagine a more egregious violation of 4th Amendment protections.

Over the years, this has led to countless cases where people traveling with significant amounts of cash -- with no criminal taint whatsoever -- have had that cash confiscated by the authorities under the official presumption that it's drug cash. Often, the police will simply seize the cash and send the people on their way without filing any charges (remember, filing charges means proving probable cause and following due process, which will almost certainly fail). Victims who have the means to file a legal challenge to get their money back are often faced with the unconstitutional burden of proving their cash was NOT related to drug activities.

This is evil, and I'm at a loss to understand how this practice has endured for three decades, except to observe that this has been a tremendous cash cow for every level of government -- the authorities seizing the goods share the proceeds with other authorities, essentially buying their silence, so the folks who COULD stop the practice have no incentive to do so. This action by AG Holder has already provoked complaints that this would harm the budgets of police departments. Sorry, but this money is as much illegally obtained (by the police) as drug money is (by the pushers). If the assets were forfeited through proper due process, I might have some sympathy for this complaint.

So, props to AG Holder if he is truly ending federal participation in the splitting of the spoils (if I'm misinterpreting the effect of his action, please let me know in the comments). The problem won't end at the state and local levels until voters get angry enough to hold their elected officials accountable. Alas, there are so many issues out there that motivate people's votes, and this one, as terrible as it is, is likely to get lost in the noise.  Sigh.


* January 21 UPDATE: I'm glad I used the disclaimer "if this story is true in its details" because, as Reason's Jacob Sullum notes January 19, Holder's action is much less significant than press reports made it out to be:
Holder's order applies only to "adoption," which happens when a state or local agency seizes property on its own and then asks the Justice Department to pursue forfeiture under federal law. "Over the last six years," the DOJ says in the press release announcing Holder's new policy, "adoptions accounted for roughly three percent of the value of forfeitures in the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program." By comparison, the program's reports to Congress indicate that "equitable sharing" payments to state and local agencies accounted for about 22 percent of total deposits during those six years. That means adoptions, which the DOJ says represented about 3 percent of deposits, accounted for less than 14 percent of equitable sharing. In other words, something like 86 percent of the loot that state and local law enforcement agencies receive through federal forfeitures will be unaffected by Holder's new policy.
Phooey. It's better than nothing, I guess, but it's hardly worth one cheer, much less three.