Saturday, May 30, 2015

Was the 16th Amendment Ever Ratified?

Innovations in taxation are usually justified by war, as emergency measures,  but once established, it is very hard to get rid of them. There was a "temporary" income tax during the Civil War. The Revenue Act of 1861 was explicitly  set to expire in 1866. But before it did, it was replaced by the Revenue Act of 1862, which was a progressive tax. This was followed by the Revenue Act of 1864 that did not expire until 1873. It was replaced by the Wilson-Gorman Act of 1894, which also included an income tax. This was the first peacetime income tax in the United States.

Cartoon from Harpers Source: Wikimedia

Then the 16th amendment was passed shortly before the first World War.

Those who proposed the 16th amendment to the United States constitution may have done so because they hoped it would not pass. It may have been introduced as a way to bypass direct legislation on the subject, and it was believed that such an amendment would be defeated in the more conservative states. But they were hoist by their own petard.

There are convincing arguments to the effect that the 16th amendment to the United States constitution was not ever legally ratified, but such arguments are only heeded now by a small minority, and everyone who has any power to change things consider them part of the lunatic fringe.

Here is a link to an article that discusses the facts:

To learn the established responses to these arguments and the way the government disposes of these issues, we have only to read the following wikipedia article.

At this point it is clear that it is not going to be possible to overcome the the machinery that is currently in place to enforce the income tax with legal arguments alone. It is so well established that whatever irregularity there may have been in its passage no longer has any practical importance.  Any attempt to roll back the clock on government encroachment  that is based merely on words and not actions will be ineffective.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day and Altruism

For people who have lost no one in battle, Memorial Day can be a time of picnics, barbecues and summer fun. For those who have lost a loved one to war, it can be a time to visit the graveyard and to mourn. It can even be a time to feel angry and let down and to ask: Why me? Why my son, my brother, my husband or my father? Why did he have to die for everyone? Why couldn't it have been someone else?

When I wrote the article linked below, I was musing about the different attitude that Israeli popular songs have toward the death of a soldier in battle compared to American songs.

In the old fashioned Israeli song, the mother who lost a son -- a son that she raised for the express purpose of keeping her people free -- is saluted by another soldier who promises to treat her like a mother and to be a son to her instead of the son she lost.

Do mothers really raise sons just to keep their people free? And how could another soldier take her son's place -- ever?  There is a kind of unrealistic romanticism to this scenario, even though, I'll admit, I am attracted to it. It is in that spirit that I told the story of the relationship between Jean Laffite and his grandmother in my two Theodosia and the Pirates books. At the same time, I thought that the American consciousness was sorely lacking in this kind of patriotism, and I could not think of one single patriotic song that explained how a mother was prepared to sacrifice her son for the greater good of her nation. And while Israeli patriotic music is full of courageous grandmothers, I cannot think of a single American song singing the praises of a grandmother who taught her grandson how to fight.

But more recently, after attending Republican political events as well as high school concerts in which all the veterans are asked to stand for certain songs, I realized that in the American public consciousness, the blood sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the leading metaphor for the soldier's death in battle. Instead of a valiant warrior, fighting to protect the womenfolk in his family, the soldier is seen as a hapless sacrifice for the sins of someone else. This metaphor can be clearly read in these lines from The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.
 While the original lyrics to this song were a religious hymn that was later filked to great effect as   "John Brown's Body Lies a Mouldering in the Grave", the Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe is a song that people still sing today. Howe's  lyrics  make explicit the analogy between the  sacrifice on the cross of an innocent and soldiers sacrificing for others and not fighting for their own interests. For many Americans, this view of sacrifice sanctifies war. Such people, whether religious or not, are strongly invested in altruism.

The Civil War, we are taught, was not started in order to settle the economic conflict between the industrial North and the agrarian South, but was fought to make free a third party to the dispute, the slaves who were emancipated. From there, every war the United States has been involved in was never a war simply to safeguard American interests at home or abroad. It had to have some sort of "humanitarian" component like making the world safe for democracy, averting genocide in a distant land or helping those less fortunate than ourselves. For someone to fight just to secure his own financial interests and to protect his own family would be scandalous.

As cloying and unreal as the song about the Israeli mother is in "On the Plains of Negev", there is a degree of realism in it about why people fight wars that is absent in the current accepted take on "Just War" in both conservative and liberal circles in the United States.

Enter Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute.  Today, for Memorial Day, he gave a talk about how serving in the military should not be about self-sacrifice. It should be selfish. It should be in the interest of securing your own freedom, rather than that of somebody else.

If I didn't know what sorts of things Yaron Brook was reacting against, and if I did not understand his context, I would have thought what he was saying was entirely trivial. Of course, soldiers fight to defend their country and have something to gain when they win: namely their own freedom and the well-being of their families. Of course, countries should pursue their own interests when waging war. Of course, the Commander in Chief should not sacrifice soldiers under his command to help complete strangers in other countries to secure floating abstractions such as "freedom" or "democracy" by overthrowing their "bad" leaders and installing "good" puppet governments, instead. If it does not serve our interests, we should not be spending American lives and taxpayer funding on a war.

In this, I am in complete agreement with Yaron Brook, Ayn Rand's current representative on earth. (Leonard Peikoff, Rand's intellectual heir,  has approved Yaron Brook as the new Objectivist Caliph.)

Here's where it gets a little silly. If  being in favor of selfishness merely means that you should support the armed forces only if they actually are working to protect us, you might as well say that you are in favor of public funding for roads, but only if the money is actually used to build roads that you can drive on. Or you could say that you are in favor of public education, but only if they teach true facts in school using competent teachers. Or you could say you are in favor of Obamacare, but only if it helps everyone get good health insurance. This is, after all, the stance of most people on the right and left who want to keep the status quo while rooting out "corruption." They have a pie in a sky view of what government entities should do for us, but no idea how to make sure they actually do it. The mechanisms are a black box.

The basic principle behind the free market is that no business works optimally unless those who have a stake in the matter are the only ones who get to choose. That's true of schools, roads, health insurance and navies.  A free market should determine which ships and fighter planes are built, because any other way to do it results in a huge waste of resources under government contracts. And a free market should train tomorrow's warriors, because the best training for war is engaging in war all the time, which is what privateers do, at their own expense and without taxpayer funding.

Yaron Brook should read this article to understand that there is more to solving the war problem than just preaching to people they should be more selfish.

Ayn Rand's contribution to philosophy should not be dumbed down to the point where the virtue of selfishness just means that government agencies should be told to function efficiently so that taxpayers will get good services for their money. It needs to be understood in the spirit in which it was intended: that the free market, by recruiting people to do what they profit by the most, gives the best services possible for the lowest price.

Where Ayn Rand went wrong in describing her fictional pirate, Ragnar Danneskjold, was in saying that he robbed the government and returned 100% of what he got to the people it was taken from. That is not economically feasible. How did he pay his sailors? How did he finance his ship? How did he get the money to support his beautiful wife? Of course, he had to keep some of the loot to himself. The pirate that Rand described was an altruist!

That's why Jean Laffite is a much better model. He looted our enemies and sold us the loot at a discount, while making a fortune for himself all the while. Now that is what I call a win/win situation.  And every sailor under him served for love of country and for the glory -- but also for a percentage of the take! Now there is the virtue of selfishness as it applies to war and patriotism.

There is no shame in making a profit. It is good to be selfish in the service of our country. (I wish Trumpeldor had said that, instead!)  But we still haven't seen Ayn Rand's successor make that connection between free market economics and a strong defense.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Purpose and Effect of Rationing in the US during WWII

Government Edict Concerning the Right to Buy and Sell on the Free Market in the US in WWII
Many people believe that the war powers of the Federal Government are necessary in order to safeguard free enterprise and that without a government monopoly on the waging of war, we could not have the freedom to deal with one another in arms' length transactions, freely entered into, between and among consenting parties. We are told that our freedom of speech and our freedom of commerce was bought and paid for at the sacrifice of human lives and that military expenditures at taxpayer expense are well worth the price, since they safeguard all our other freedoms. However, we have seen again and again that during an actual war, all those freedoms go by the wayside. During  the Battle of New Orleans, for instance, Andrew Jackson put the entire city of New Orleans under house arrest, and under his martial law, which was not lifted even after the American victory, there was no freedom of speech and press, no right to property and no redress for wrongs committed by the government. People were summarily executed, Judges were jailed, and it was a crime to report the news in the papers. And this was not a fluke under Andrew Jackson.

Under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the entire country became an armed camp, where the price of goods was fixed centrally, and you could not buy as much of simple domestic items such as meat or butter as you could afford to buy. You could only have as much as the government thought you should have and no more.


If you'll notice the note at the bottom. you get the real idea behind the ration books. It was not done to make sure that the recipient had enough of everything, out of a humanitarian concern that people during wartime might go hungry. It was, on the contrary, done to prevent ordinary people form having too much to eat. 

The first stamps in War Ration Book One will be used for the purchase of sugar. When this book was issued, the registrar asked you, or the person who applied for your book, how much sugar you owned on that date. If you had any sugar, you were allowed to keep it, but stamps representing this quantity were torn from your book (except for a small amount which you were allowed to keep without losing any stamps.) If your War Ration Book One was issued to you on application by a member of your family, the number of stamps torn from the books of the family was based on the amount of sugar owned by the family. and was divided as equally as possible among all these books.

In other words: "If you like your sugar, you can keep it, but we will see to it that in the future  you never have any more than we think you should have."

Standing in Line for Food Ration Stamps -- New Orleans 1943
Source: Wikipedia

In 1943, a number of Americans, together with other Allied nationals, were interned in a camp in Shandong Province, China  run by the Japanese. One of the greatest sources of suffering for these Americans was that though they did have money, they were not allowed to engage in free trade with the Chinese farmers just outside their camp, in order to buy ordinary foods such as farm fresh eggs. There was enough food available, and they had enough money to buy it, but the transactions were illegal, and hence engaged in on pain of death. For many of these Americans, it was their first experience of food rationing and of being forced into clandestine black market transactions in order to purchase enough  to eat. But there was really nothing to complain about to the Japanese in terms of a violation of their civil rights on that account. President Roosevelt had already instituted national rationing the year before! It was just that as expatriates living in China. they were not home to see it.

According to the Wikipedia:

 In June 1942 the Combined Food Board was set up to coordinate the worldwide supply of food to the Allies, with special attention to flows from the U.S. and Canada to Britain.

 What would Jean Laffite say about that, if he knew? Did the Americans defeat the British at the Battle of New Orleans only to lose their right to buy and sell food freely so the British could have more American grown food to eat?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lord Kitchener, Inventor of the Concentration Camp

World War II is the war that made us focus on the evils of the concentration camp. But there were concentration camps long before then. The English term "concentration camp" was coined by Lord Kitchener during the Second Boer War.

Horatio Herbert Kitchener
The Second Boer War  took place from October 11, 1899 to May 31, 1902 between the South African Republic, also known as Transvaal Republic, and the United Kingdom. During the war, as part of their scorched earth policy, the British placed South African civilians, most of them women and children, in concentration camps. They established separate camps for white Boers and black Africans, but conditions in both types of camps were equally appalling. Over 26.000 women and children died in the concentration camps, many of them from starvation.

Lizzi van Zyl suffering of malnutrition in a British Concentration Camp

It is quite possible that the idea for the Nazi concentration camps came from observing  the British example, though it is not really the case that the British intentionally set out to exterminate a whole race of people. Instead, the concentration camps were badly administered, and there was not enough to eat.

Today, people avoid using this term for camps that they want to have others think well of. They talk about "central relocation centers" or some other euphemism, due to the pejorization of the terminology from the previous century. But at the time, when the term "concentration camp" was newly coined by Lord Kitchener, it was meant to seem like a humanitarian effort to accommodate dislocated enemy civilians, rather than just letting them perish or selling them into slavery.

Boer Women and Children Entering a Concentration Camp
In ancient times, when civilian populations were being subdued during a war, most of the men were killed and the women and children were sold into slavery. As a result, the survivors were seen as valuable commodities to be exploited, and slaves were usually well fed. But as soon as enemy civilian populations stopped being something valuable that you could use or sell off for gain, that's when they became a complete liability. Even when nobody was intending to kill them off, they were locked away and not enough food was requisitioned to feed them, since there was no benefit to their captors from doing so.

People in a concentration camp are not free, but they are also not slaves. They might actually fare better if they were slaves. Their situation is unbearable precisely to the extent that no one sees them as being of any use.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Middle Class Roots of Communism

In order to avoid repeating it, we need to understand history. One misunderstanding that appears to be in the air today in the United States is that communism failed because of corrupt leaders who were only after power and luxuries. Another misconception is that being middle class is somehow a disqualification for being a "real" communist leader. A third point of confusion is the idea that people studying the law do so necessarily out of a "capitalist" desire to make a lot of money.

In fact, most of the most well known communist leaders of the 20th century came from the middle class and many of them studied the law. To learn more about this, listen to today's podcast on Pubwages:

You might also enjoy learning about my great uncle Julius Katz-Suchy, by reading this article:

Chocolate Under Communism

For a musical version of the story, you might enjoy this video:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Patriotism, Good and Bad

I am researching the brief career of Joseph Trumpeldor for a book I am writing. No, the book is not at all about Trumpeldor. He does not even appear in the book. But he touched the life of my heroine, Marah Fallowfield, and he influenced her views on communism, socialism and communal sharing of resources. She met Trumpeldor when she was thirteen years old on a collective farm in  Migdal,  Palestine, and by the time she was a prisoner of the Japanese in Weihsien, Shandong Province, China thirty years later, her mind was already made up.

Joseph Trumpeldor spent some time as a prisoner of the Japanese, too,  just like Marah Fallowfield. It was during the Russo-Japanese War  Trumpeldor was on the Russian side at Port Arthur. He lost his left arm in that war, and he was taken prisoner. Interestingly, he had good things to say about the Japanese after that experience. The Japanese were very tolerant and allowed each prisoner to practice his own faith. Trumpledor printed a newspaper in captivity and plotted with other prisoners to start a Zionist collective farm in Palestine.  Coming from Russia, Trumpeldor was impressed by the kindness of the Japanese.

Anyway, in time Joseph Trumpeldor settled in Migdal as a Zionist, where, according to reliable sources, he was a hard worker and a dedicated fighter, but kind of annoying in the way that all zealots are.

A short except from,7340,L-3135845,00.html
"Trumpledor, the Zionist military legend, held vivid conversations with the local members. To the men, he lectured in the evenings, while he insulted the women when he said they were not as willing as they should be to live on very little. About his Spartan diligence they said that with his single arm he was a better worker than three two armed laborers."
Like all idealists, Joseph Trumpeldor had his good qualities and his not so good qualities. It is hard to ignore his dedication and his bravery, but at the same time, he probably was responsible for the failure of the collective farm at Migdal because he rode people too hard and did not take account of the limitations of human nature.

In time, his historic moment would come in another settlement, where he died defending the place. When mortally wounded, he uttered the famous words that every Israeli school child is taught: "It is good to die for our country."

It sounds a little insipid, but Trumpeldor was a scholar, and he was probably trying to think of a quick Hebrew translation to the old Roman standard, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, while he held his one hand over his guts to keep them for spilling out.  There is no doubt that Trumpeldor was brave!

But what do people make of him today?
This image comed from

I did an internet search and found this meme. Looking at the fat, bewigged Samuel Johnson who was no doubt a very politically astute man and comparing him to the lean and earnest, as well as soon to be dead in battle, Joseph Trumpeldor, my heartstrings tug on me to go for Trumpeldor. He was no scoundrel, and his motive was not greed.

I think the meme represents a simplistic divide that we currently have in all of Western civilization. Either patriotism is stupid or evil or ... or we have to conscript men and send them to their certain death in order to defend all that is holy. (Or we can just use our poor as cannon fodder by promising them jobs and benefits, free medical care and college educations at public expense.)

But there is another way that no one is talking about.  That way is the way of Jean Laffite, the famous privateer who saved America. War can be privatized.

Joseph Trumpledor was not a scoundrel. He was an idealist fighting for a homeland that did not yet exist. He was a man without a country, just like Jean Laffite, and he was willing to die for a place where he would really belong.

But Trumpeldor did have a blind spot: he did not understand that private ownership was one of the best motivators. Instead of lecturing to the women on his collective farms that they lived too lavishly, he should have challenged them to make as much money as they could for the sake of their own families. Jean Laffite understood that, and he offered every sailor on his ship a percentage of the prize to do with as he saw fit!

Private enterprise is the right way to achieve goals, even patriotic goals.

Is every patriot a scoundrel as Johnson suggested? I don't think so. Patriotism is merely love of country. It is not so different from other forms of love. Some men will tell a woman that they love her and then run out on her when it is convenient. But others are true to their love, just as Jean Laffite was true to America.