Don’t Deny Black Confederate Valor

While there were never large numbers of Black Confederate combatants, they did exist and there were many more who served willingly in a non-combatant role. To deny this fact is simply to ignore the evidence in order to create a false historical narrative. This in no way justifies slavery OR secession and it raises the conundrum of why these African Americans did serve in the Rebel armies–something which no mainstream historian wishes to tackle, since it would cost them their academic tenure.

Civil War Chat

(May 10, 2019) Today’s article is obtained from a blog post by C. W. Rodenwho is a South Carolina member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. His analysis of Black Confederates is the most objective and authoritative discussion I have yet seen. While he estimates that the number who actually fought probably did not exceed five thousand he provides convincing evidence that a great many more served willingly as non-combatants. Most importantly, he cogently demonstrates that the white Confederate veterans themselves honored the black participants after the war.

One example involves the Southern Cross of Honor medal created by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1899. The medal was a high honor that could only be bestowed by the UDC to Confederate veterans. Even today a Virginia statute makes it a crime for anyone to wear one who has not earned the privilege. As documented by the…

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TEDDY NAILED IT THEN, NAILS IT NOW

“There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the public.  In the present day, the limitation of governmental power, of governmental authority means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations.”

Theodore-RooseveltTeddy Roosevelt (1913)

THOMAS PAINE: PATRIOT & SOCIALIST

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Thomas Paine called “The Firebrand of the Revolution,” had strong opinions about Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

The notion that Socialism is a foreign innovation imported into the United States in the twentieth century is a falsehood which is deeply implanted in the modern American consciousness.  We have seen how the Pilgrims and Puritans organized their first colonies on a socialistic basis and that that socialistic structure proved key to their survival in the dangerous early years the two colonies existence.

Let us now finally lay to rest the false narrative of socialism as being  un-American by examining the case of American Patriot and revolutionary, Thomas Paine.

Having grown up in New Rochelle, New York–Paine’s home town during the American Revolution–I was exposed to Paine’s writings at an early age and visited Paine’s cottage to see where he penned many of his most famous phrases.  I even wrote an early essay on the “Firebrand of the Revolution.”

So I have long been familiar with his life and works.  However, until recently I had not grasped the economic aspects of his political ideology. In short, Thomas Paine was not only a Patriot and key figure in the American Revolution, but a Socialist as well.

Thomas Paine was about the closest the Thirteen Colonies had to a professional revolutionary. His pamphlets stirred the American rebels to action and motivated them to stay the course in achieving independence.  His stirring calls to action and evocative phrases still resonate today: “These are the times that try men’s souls,” “The Summer Soldier and Sunshine Patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country,” “The harder the conflict, the more glorious t he triumph.”

But in amongst his calls to action in defense of liberty and independence, he also declaimed against organized religion (especially Christianity) and he also had quite a bit to say about equality—social as well as political.  Of course, at the time of the Revolution, the Church of England was very much a political creature of both the Crown and the upper classes who ruled both England and America.  We forget that it was the dissident Protestant sects in America who were most in favor of separation of Church and State which is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

The economic aspects of his political philosophy are rarely mentioned in discussions of Thomas Paine today, but they were part of his political philosophy of equality and his ideas about promoting equality are perhaps more relevant today than they were in his day.  If all wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, you inevitably end up with an Oligarchy.  Economic inequality is the enemy of Democracy.  There is no way around that fact.

After the end of the American Revolution Thomas Paine traveled to France to join in the French Revolution  The French call for not just Liberty, but Equality and Fraternity had a strong appeal to Paine—and inherent in Equality and Fraternity is the notion of economic democracy.

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An enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, he nearly lost his head when he began criticizing the revolution’s excesses.

 

To be fair and balanced (as it were) we should note the Mr. Paine was well surnamed, for at various times he made himself a royal pain to his fellow revolutionaries, both in the America and France.  He criticized George Washington at one point and when he saw the French Revolution start to devolve into the Terror, he began criticizing some of the French revolutionaries and he came close to getting his neck shaved by Madame Guillotine.  Not surprisingly Paine once quipped that, “he who dares not offend cannot be honest.”

Paine concentrated much of his social democratic ideas in a pamphlet called “Agrarian Justice.”  It was written in the winter of 1795-96, but he held off publication for a time, due in part to the war between France and England.  What apparently motivated him to go ahead and issue his essay was the verbal diarrhea of an Anglican Bishop who thought to answer his work The Age of Reason; the smug cleric entitled it “The Wisdom and Goodness of God in having made both Rich and Poor.”  The title of the pamphlet outraged Paine, who pointed out that God “made only male and female, and he gave them the earth for their inheritance.”

I think we still have far too many people today who still believe that their wealth is somehow due to God rewarding them for their virtue and that, conversely, poverty is God’s punishment for the unworthy.  As Paine pointedly note, economic inequality is mainly a condition mainly due to man’s injustice towards their fellow humans.  As Paine put it, “instead of preaching to encourage one part of mankind in insolence . . . it would be better that priests employed their time to render the general condition of man less miserable than it is. Practical religion consists in doing good: and the only way of serving God is that of endeavoring to make His creation happy. All preaching that has not this, for its object is nonsense and hypocrisy.”

But I digress.  In his pamphlet, Paine pointed out that poverty and want are not the natural state of man.  Paine illustrates this by giving the example of Native Americans of his day, whose tribes held all their land in common and enjoyed an egalitarian lifestyle: “The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich.”

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It was Paine’s premise that “the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.”  However, because of the rise of civilization, which he noted was usually a product of the sword, the land was divided and subdivided so that now a handful of producers have possession the soil and its bounty.

Paine argues that the air, earth water and land are a common patrimony of all humanity and that only the improvements to the land as a result of civilization are actually private property.  Beginning with the invention of agriculture, “the common right of all became confounded into the cultivated right of the individual,” Since it is impossible to separate the improvements from land itself, he proposed instituting what he called a ground rent on the propertied class.

From this single tax on land he proposed to funding payments to the landless to help equalize the disproportion between rich and poor.  Beginning at the age of fifty and over, an annual stipend of £10 per annum was to given to everyone, regardless of economic status.  Fifty is what at that time he considered the average life expectancy.  Also, when anyone reached the age of twenty-one they would automatically be given a lump sum of £15 Sterling, “as a compensation, in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance.” This would, he hoped, help give them their start in life.  A payment would also be made to those who became disabled or were infirmed and unable to support themselves sufficiently to make a living.  These payments, he emphasized, were not charity but a right—a universal right—and would be paid out regardless of whether the individuals were rich or poor.

To modern ears, Thomas Paine’s proposal for “Agrarian Justice” may not seem so radical, but in its day it most certainly was—which is why it was never instituted, either in Europe or America.  Bear in mind, in Paine’s day the Industrial Revolution had only just begun and land was still the primary measure of wealth and power.  In fact, not just wealth and social status, but voting rights and office holding were also dependent on the possession of land, even in the United States.

The other side of the equation in Paine’s plan was the taxation.  The improvements to the land would not be taxed, just the value of the land itself.  The “land rent” of 10% was a once time assessment for a direct descendant inheriting property, although higher for “indirect” descendants.  When that owner died in turn, an additional assessment was made.  Paine estimated that the effective turnover in property would be about every thirty years, so that over time any concentrations of property and wealth would gradually be equalized, or at the least the extremes of wealth and poverty minimized.  People would work still for their daily bread, but the extreme want and misery that existed would be eliminated.

Many aspects of Paine’s Agrarian Justice sound similar to our Social Security Insurance program begun by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930’s, although Social Security consists of an equal contribution between employee and employer and does nothing to fight inequality and the creeping Oligarchism of modern American politics.  In recent years even Social Security has come under incessant attack by reactionary politicians and the billionaires who bankroll them.

Paine’s Agrarian Justice resembles another American Socialist’s ideas.  Henry George, writing during the period when big business and monopolies were taking over the economy and the political establishment, penned Progress and Poverty in 1879.  He advocated a Single Tax on land as a cure for the growing disparity between rich and poor similar to Paine’s tax.  George, however, wrote in an industrial age and had a more elaborate political and economic program than Paine’s, and which also included proposals such as having all utilities being publicly owned and a secret ballot for elections.  Many of George’s criticisms of industrial society remain relevent, although his Single Tax solution found less favor among both socialists and economists.

Whether or not one believes Thomas Paine’s Agragrian Justice would have been a practical means of achieving social and economic justice, he remains a notable early American Socialist and Patriot, whose ideas remain a cornerstone of American political philosophy.

Hero Patriot and Paine in the Butt

Re-Imagine (with apologies to Lenin)

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Imagine there are no Clintons/

It’s easy if you vote/

No GOP too/

No TPP Before Us/

No NAFTA as well/

You may call him a dreamer/

but He’s not the only one/

Come and vote for Bernie/

And then we will all have won.

 

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A Benghazi Resident’s Take on Michael Bay’s “13 Hours” Movie

When the movie hit the screen, my gut feeling that it was basically a piece of Republican propaganda disguised as a fact-based adventure film. However, although I wrote a manuscript detailing the history of early twentieth century Libya, my knowledge of the current situation there is limited. I came across this blog entry by a native of Benghazi that is intelligent and eloquent and I feel deserves a wider readership. So if there are any out there who want reality instead of hyperbole I think you will find this post of interest.

Brave New Libya

Benghazi just can’t catch a break. As if an all-out war isn’t enough, the city is being vilified nation-wide by those who see the war as a misdirected endeavor, and the people of Benghazi are being accused of, yes, destroying their own city! I won’t point out the insensitivity and blatant ignorance of this stance. If you’ve been reading this blog over the years, you’ll be familiar with the slippery slope that led our city to the circumstances it’s in today. The war is horrific and it’s hurting us, but it was also an inevitability brought about by the same people currently pretending like there were other options.

One of the very first incidents that sparked the descent down this slope was the killing of American ambassador Chris Stevens. This event launched the start of Benghazi’s international vilification, as pundits and citizens alike decried the Libyan revolution and the international intervention that bolstered it. “We shouldn’t have…

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Ben Carson and Biblical Economics: Bible Econ. 101

What the Bible says and what Ben Carson wants it so say are two very different things.
What the Bible says and what Ben Carson wants it so say are two very different things.

The foundation of Dr. Ben Carson’s political following rests on his credentials as a Conservative Christian ideologue; any of the pathological lies he utters about his personal past are ignored as the “Secular Humanist” Media, or alternately the imaginary “Liberal Media” distorting what their Good Christian Crusader may say, no matter how absurd or inconsistent it seems to all those not brainwashed into Religious Right dogma.  So the fact that Doctor Ben has used fetal stem cells in past research is ignored, so long as he states he is against the use of fetal stem cell research.  Likewise, when in the debates he states he is opposed to raising the minimum wage, even when last April he was for it, well, that’s just more of the Liberal Media trying to confuse us with facts.  It is therefore irrelevant to his supporters that Doctor Ben is a pathological liar: he is a Good Christian (so he says) and that’s all they know and need to know.

Trying to cite facts to the true believers of the Religious Right is akin to how trying to argue with traditional Leninist/Stalinist true believers used to be: they have their dialectic and everything that does not fit into it is willfully ignored.   So, when the Religious Right starts citing chapter and verse to justify trickle down economics and social Darwinism and all the other long disproved Republican propaganda masquerading as economics, it is useless to try to argue modern realities with them; their biblical dialectic won’t allow it.  However, like many Bible thumpers who claim to take the Good Book literally and are fond of using it for their economic and political beliefs, Ben Carson and the Religious Right are notoriously selective when it comes to citing examples from the Bible.  It goes back to the old adage: the Devil can quote the Bible to suit his purposes.  It is therefore quite legitimate to call Doctor Ben out when he justifies his wrong-headed ideas by basing them on the Bible, when in fact the Old and New Testaments do not support or justify those ideas.

Let’s start with Doctor Ben’s latest honker about the pyramids being ancient granaries and then move on to his more dangerous theories.  Now I make no claims to being a Biblical scholar, nor a theologian for that matter; but I did spend a few years of my mis-spent youth studying Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology, including both Egyptology and the history of Eretz Israel.  I was taught by eminent Egyptologists such as Dr. Helene Kantor and Professor Klaus Baer, as well as other stellar luminaries of the Biblical history and Assyriology, and while I cannot claim to aspire to their expertise in the subject, I did manage to stay awake in their lectures to understand that what Doctor Ben and his followers believe is utter garbage.  Firstly, the Story of Joseph, as recorded in the Old Testament, was written to about the eighth century BC, although it refers to events preceding the Exodus, which most scholars place towards the end of the New Kingdom, sometime towards the end of the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age (anywhere between the 14th and 12th centuries BC give or take).  Now admittedly, since academics still debate about the date of Exodus, there is a bit of wiggle room here—but not a lot.  The Pyramid Age—when the pyramids were constructed—was the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2100 BC), nowhere near in time to either the Story of Joseph or Exodus.  The other fact is that the pyramids were primarily the tombs of the ancient kings of Egypt and while their also held the king’s treasure trove, they were never, ever used as granaries, either in the Old Kingdom or later: FACT NOT THEORY.

Doctor Ben thinks Big

While Doctor Ben’s whacko theories about the pyramids may seem amusing, it points to a mind that is not only profoundly ignorant, but also refuses to learn differently.  His pyramid theory was not just an off the cuff remark; the other night Steven Colbert’s researchers dug up an old clip of Carson as a young man also proclaiming the same theory.  Apparently this man holds onto mistaken beliefs like a bulldog gnawing an old bone: facts that get in the way of his contrived theories are ignored.  This man is dangerously ignorant.

Dr. Ben one with demented Tea-baggers
Dr. Ben one with demented Tea-baggers

If one were to use the Story of Joseph for something other than its moral teaching value (its original intent) there is, however, a lesson in economics to be learned from the Bible tale.  Pharaoh, as you may recall, had a strange dream where seven lean cows devoured seven fat cows; Joseph was summoned to interpret the odd dream and divined that Egypt would have seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years of famine.  So, according to the story, on Joseph’s advice, the Pharaoh did indeed build granaries to house the surplus—not give it away to corporations and billionaires—and when the lean years came, (as they always do) the food was distributed to the population.  The Story of Joseph, therefore, is a classic example of the virtue of deficit spending during an economic downturn.  The Greeks told a lot of false tales about the ancient kings of Egypt that we still hear, but whatever you may think of them, at least the ancient kings of Egypt looked after their people and made sure the poor did not starve—and if you want to look to the Bible for economic policy, the Story of Joseph is as good a starting place as any.

Doctor Ben has also cited the Bible as his authority for instituting a flat tax when he becomes King—I mean President.  Here again, he has done a bit of selective reading when it comes to the OT.  Yes indeed, the ancient Israelites did have a Tithe—a flat ten percent tax—on agricultural products; but they also had a Temple Tax, plus a non-agricultural Tithe—whereby you gave ten percent of your income to the poor!  The Temple Tax was a small fixed amount regardless of income limited to adult males over 20; whereas the tithes were based on your income; that is, AN INCOME TAX.  Now the tithes were actually proportional, which is to say PROGRESSIVE INCOME TAXES, since those who were poor were either relieved of paying the tithe or allowed to pay a lesser percentage than 10; conversely, those who were wealthy were obligated to pay 20% of their income instead of the standard rate.  There were a number of other duties and customs as well: for example, there was the custom of gleaning, whereby the poor were allowed to go through the fields after harvest and collect the grains which had fallen to the ground and to take away whatever they could carry on their person.  Unlike modern America, where law and politics are totally divorced from morality, despite the hypocritical utterings of the Religious Right, to the ancient Israelites the Law was fundamentally moral in nature and social justice was engrained into every aspect of it—kind of what we would call Socialism today.

If the Pyramids are granaries then of course Easter Island statues were Goliath's toys.
If the Pyramids are granaries then of course Easter Island statues were Goliath’s toys.

Now, if we go to the New Testament, what we find is not Socialism, but outright Communism in early Christianity.  Do phrases like “give up all your worldly goods to the poor and follow me” or “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the Kingdom of God” ring a bell?  In fact there is a passage in the New Testament where it explicitly states that the early Christian communities held their property in common.  This is where the old communistic tradition in Christianity comes from: be they the Benedictines (who ran my old alma mater) or the Protestant Amana Colony of Iowa, or splinter sects like the Shakers (good music, but the celibacy was a little rough on the early American pioneers so they kind of petered out).  By comparison, Marxism is just a recent fad compared to the Socialism/Communism of the Old and New Testament.

Now I am not telling anyone to go thou and do likewise: the Bible is a collection of texts intended for spiritual instruction and moral guidance; it is not an economics textbook, still less is it a biology or climatology textbook.  Evolution and Global Climate Change are scientific facts, not opinions; if your theology conflicts with scientific fact, the problem is not with the Bible, OT or NT, but with your interpretation of those ancient sources of wisdom.  Don’t put that one on God; and don’t use God and the Bible to justify a hypocritical belief system which puts billionaires’ privileges ahead of the common good.  You don’t have to use the Bible as your guide to economics, but then again, there are worse guides to go by for economic guidance—just don’t cherry pick what suits you.