Fighting Unreality with Reality

As I’ve mentioned before, I see this RFRA debate as mostly divorced from reality. There is a proxy war aspect to this whole thing. At some level, the dynamics at play reminded me of the Simpsons episode where, after a random bear sighting, Springfield panics and invests heavily in defenses against bears.

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, dear.

Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

Homer: Oh, how does it work?

Lisa: It doesn’t work.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]

Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

RFRA was sold as the rock that keeps the non-existent gay danger away. Now that gay people and supporters of gay people are demanding that Indiana get rid of the rock, lawmakers are trying to say, “what’s the big deal, it’s just a rock?” But, no dice. Supporters and opponents don’t believe it’s just a rock anymore. Opponents see it as an affliction, supporters see it as protection. It doesn’t matter if the tiger-protection salesmen ever believed in the power of the rock to start with. And it doesn’t matter how many other states have rocks of their own.

Sow the wind. Reap the whirlwind.

RFRA and Gay Rights

Sorry to go all RFRA, all the time here. But I wanted to address a little bit further the issue of how the RFRA discussion came to be focused on gay rights. My sense of the actual text of the law is that it does not particularly target gay rights or, for the most part, let people infringe upon such rights based on religion. I can see it coming up in the context of a local human rights ordinance that protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation where the person doing the discriminating claims it’s compelled by their religion.

That said, the text of the law does not address gay rights directly and certainly similar legislation has been approved in places and by people one normally associate as being favorably inclined toward gay rights. So, why has the debate played out in Indiana the way it has?

My sense is that the social conservatives felt stung by their defeat in the marriage equality battles. They failed to get a marriage amendment to the Indiana constitution on the ballot and the federal courts have declared such measures to be contrary to the U.S. Constitution. That was when the Indiana RFRA push began. I think it was something that was substantively palatable to most of our lawmakers because it had been passed in many places and has been largely unobjectionable to most people. At the same time, it could be sold rhetorically by advocates of social conservatism as a victory against the LGBT menace threatening Christianity. Take, for example, Eric Miller of Advance America:

Indiana now becomes the 20th state with a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Eric Miller, the Founder and Executive Director of Advance America stated: “It is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana. It’s the right thing to do. It was therefore important to pass Senate Bill 101 in 2015 in order to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!”

Churches, Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages and those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity (men who dress as women). SB 101 will help provide the protection!

Here are just three examples where SB 101 will help:

Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!

A Christian business should not be punished for refusing to allow a man to use the women’s restroom!

A church should not be punished because they refuse to let the church be used for a homosexual wedding!

(Holy exclamation points, Batman!). Miller isn’t just some crank off the Internet. He was given a prominent spot at the private signing ceremony by Gov. Pence. He is one of the people this legislation was designed to appease.

So, legislators are in a bit of a bind. It’s all well and good for them to say that this legislation doesn’t hurt gay rights. There is a pretty good chance they’re mostly right. But that message isn’t going to carry the day unless and until they come out and directly admit to social conservatives, “we haven’t done anything to address your concerns about gay people.” Unless that message comes across clearly, the gay community and those who support them can be excused for taking people like Miller at their word that this legislation was intended to assist guys like him retain the ability to treat gay people like second class citizens. The ability of lawmakers to communicate that message is further complicated by the fact that they had an opportunity to amend the bill in a variety of ways that would have made explicit that it was not intended to facilitate discrimination. See, for example, Sen. Lanane’s proposed amendment:

(b) This chapter does not apply to:
(1) IC 22-9-1 (Indiana civil rights law); or
(2) any state law or local ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

That proposal was defeated in the Senate 10-40.

Whatever the legal effects, however, the rhetoric surrounding this legislation was never closely tethered to reality. Now that it’s law, getting the horse back in the barn by asking people to focus on what the law does in reality will be awfully tough.

More on SB 101: Religious Freedom Restoration Act

By popular demand, I’m following up on SB 101, dubbed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” I don’t know that I have a lot of value to add, but I’ll go ahead and supplement my earlier post with what I think might be relevant information.

What does it do?

The law subjects government action to “strict scrutiny” if the government “substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion.” Strict scrutiny means that the burden is permitted only if the burden is the least restrictive means in furthering a compelling governmental interest. If the government imposes such a burden without satisfying the strict scrutiny review, the court can enter an order preventing, correcting, restraining or abating the government action, awarding compensatory damages, and awarding attorneys’ fees.

On the national level, the federal RFRA was a response in 1993 to the 1990 Supreme Court case of Employment Division v. Smith. Smith challenged a decision that his employment termination was for just cause (and therefore he was not entitled to unemployment benefits) where he failed a drug test after using peyote as part of a religious ritual. The court held that, even though the unemployment benefits arguably burdened his free exercise of religion, such a burden was permissible so long as the burden arose out of a neutral law of general applicability. The alternative, according to the decision would be “to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

Congress felt that this opinion interpreting the scope of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause was insufficiently solicitous of religion and, therefore, passed a federal law that provided for more expansive protections. However, the Court determined in 1997 in the case of City of Boerne v. Flores that RFRA was unconstitutional as applied to the states. Congress has some leeway to regulate the states, particularly arising out of the Fourteenth Amendment, but the court did not see this free exercise legislation as having a remedial purpose within the scope of section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Volokh Conspiracy has a pretty good discussion.

Do I think it is a good law?

Personally, I don’t. Like I said earlier, the definitions are vague and I think it’s a solution looking for a problem. In particular, I think determining what constitutes a substantial burden to a person’s exercise of religion is very problematic. Additionally, I don’t believe there is cause to elevate the right to free exercise of religion above other rights.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is a lot of meaningful standards that allow a court or litigants to challenge a plaintiff’s assertion that he, she, or it really objects on the basis of religion and that the religious belief is sincerely held. If a person largely ignores their religion and disregards the less convenient mandates of the stated religion until it’s time to raise this legislation as a shield or a sword, it’s still going to be problematic to argue that their religious profession is pretextual. Beyond that, showing that any governmental action is the “least restrictive means” is a very high hurdle. Although, I confess that my knowledge of “strict scrutiny” jurisprudence is mainly in the context of race. In that context, it has been described as “strict in theory, fatal in fact.” In other words, once the strict scrutiny review is selected, the governmental action always failed. However, in that Volokh Conspiracy link above, “strict scrutiny” in the religious burden context was described as “strict in theory, feeble in fact.” But that was from 1960s era judicial review. Right now, I guess knowing how strict scrutiny would play out in practice is a work in progress.

If it’s o.k. for lots of other states, isn’t it o.k. for Indiana?

I think there is some variant of state level RFRA in 20 other states. So far as I know, this has not caused great injustice. As a legal matter, this might be a tempest in a teapot. If an inmate can claim a religious reason and be entitled to a short beard instead of following the jail’s rules on being clean shaven, is that a big deal? So, the law’s proponents might be correct that the practical effects won’t be, by and large, that significant. (Which raises the question – what real need did we have for the legislation in the first place?)

But, as a political matter, context matters. RFRA started getting pushed here, so far as I can tell, in response to decisions having to do with gay rights and reproductive rights. Legally, it might permit religious rights to trump the civil rights of gay people and the reproductive rights of women. Politically, it sends a message of hostility to those who don’t share politically conservative religious sensibilities. And, at least in the short term, Indiana is going to experience some backlash due to that political message. I think we saw some evidence of that backlash when Gov. Pence felt obliged to sign the law somewhat furtively behind closed doors.

Given that I’m not religious, that I do support equal rights for gay people, that I do support reproductive rights for women, and that I do not support potentially arbitrary exceptions to laws (particularly those of local government) of general applicability, it’s not surprising that I don’t support this legislation.

Update: I have seen a lot of discussion about whether the intent of this law is discriminatory, particularly with respect to gay people. The text and history elsewhere, as described above, lends support to the proposition that it was not. The rhetoric accompanying the recent push lends support to the proposition that there was discriminatory intent, at least in some circles. Governor Pence said, “this bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it.” But the fact remains that supporters of the bill voted against amendments that would have provided clarity on the issue of discrimination. For example, Sen. Lanane’s proposed amendment was defeated 10-40. It would have added language that said the following:

(b) This chapter does not apply to:
(1) IC 22-9-1 (Indiana civil rights law); or
(2) any state law or local ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The Naming of Indiana (as presented to the Wayne County Historical Society in 1898)

I was searching for something completely unrelated and came across a publication called the Indianian in Google Books and, in particular, an article on “the naming of Indiana” which was presented to the Wayne County Historical Society by Cyrus W. Hodgin on February 19, 1898.

The short version is that it does not actually tell us much about how our state got its name. However, it does go into some detail about a region that held the name for some years until about 1798 with the area which became our state taking the name in about 1800.

As to the prior region with the name, apparently there was a Philadelphia trading company bringing goods into the Ohio Valley in the 1760s. The Iroquois claimed the area and the Shawnee as tributes. Some Shawnee members raided the company’s traders. The company made a claim to the Iroquois who acknowledged the debt but decided to pay in land rather than in some other fashion. In 1768, the Iroquois deeded about 5,000 square miles in what is present day West Virginia. The company called the area “Indiana” because, you know, Indians. Unfortunately for them, the State of Virginia never recognized the claim and, after some unsuccessful petitions to Virginia and a suit before the Supreme Court that was snuffed out by passage of the Eleventh Amendment, the claim evaporated and freed up the name “Indiana.”

The Continuing Saga of Troy “I’ll Never Vote for It” Woodruff

Former Rep. Troy Woodruff gained my attention when he became the deciding vote for abandoning Hoosier Standard Time and imposing Daylight Saving Time on Indiana. (I can’t say for sure, but Richard Mourdock is probably the only state official at whom I’ve taken more shots over the years.) Mr. Woodruff cast his fateful DST vote after promising his constituents he would never vote for it. After that, Mr. Woodruff was the beneficiary of some RV-1 fundraising love during his next House campaign.

After losing his election to Kreg Battles, Woodruff had a soft landing with the Indiana Department of Transportation – which one could infer might have been repayment by friends and well-wishers in appreciation for the tough vote that probably cost him his position. (His wife also gained INDOT employment). But, then, he moved on from that position after some sketchy land deals.

And, now, Ryan Sabalow and Tony Cook, writing for the Indy Star, bring us another installment in the ongoing saga. “Indiana’s ethics laws generally require former state employees to take a year off before working for companies with which they directly did state business.” The notion is that you might not be a great steward of public funds with respect to a particular organization if you know that you can arrange for that organization to make big money from the State, then jump ship and cash in by becoming an employee of the company. Woodruff is skirting this restriction, after the Indiana Ethics Commission told Woodruff they would not grant him approval to quit his state job and become vice president of RQAW in whose favor Woodruff signed contracts in his capacity as chief of staff for INDOT.

“So what if I was an ‘independent contractor’ instead of an ’employee’ of RQAW?” Woodruff seems to have asked himself.

[A]n Indianapolis Star investigation has found that Woodruff is working for the very company that ethics officials had warned him to avoid for a year. But not as an employee. He’s an independent contractor.

“I’m doing it within the law,” Woodruff told The Star. “If I want to have an affiliation with those guys on a contractual basis, and it doesn’t violate the law, I feel like I should be able to do that.”

Government ethics experts say it appears Woodruff is on sound legal footing, thanks to a loophole written into the state’s ethics rules.

*Slow clap*

The General Assembly and Public Access

The Indiana Law Blog has been covering an ongoing effort to obtain records from the General Assembly through the Access to Public Records Act (APRA). The initial request was denied via the House Republican Caucus attorney on the general grounds that APRA does not apply to the Indiana General Assembly. They created APRA and can exclude themselves from APRA, the theory goes.

The public access counselor found that the General Assembly did not, in fact, exclude itself from APRA but found that the initial public records request was not improperly denied because the request was not made with the reasonable particularity required of any public records request by APRA. So, the requester – individuals from something called the Energy and Policy Institute – increased the level of specificity. (As an aside, I think they still went too broad. Their request reads like a discovery request under the Trial Rules, filled with “including but not limited to” type language. My strategy would be to isolate the issue of whether APRA applied to the General Assembly by being extremely particular – “correspondence, including email, between [specific sender] and [specific recipient] between date x and date y. Sure you’ll miss something, but you can circle back with a broader request if and when a court determines APRA does apply to the General Assembly).

But I digress. The request was for, essentially, correspondence from Sept. 1, 2014 to the present between Rep. Eric Koch and various players in the energy policy world (e.g. Duke Energy, NIPSCO, Vectren, etc.). The response acknowledged the Public Access Counselor’s opinion that APRA applied to the General Assembly but disagreed.

As I explained to the Public Access Counselor, the Access to Public Records Act does not apply to the Indiana House of Representatives (“House”) under applicable constitutional provisions. Pursuant to Article 4, Section 10 of the Indiana Constitution, “each House shall choose its own officers… determine the rules of its proceeding, and sit upon its own adjournment.” In determining the rules of its proceeding, the House has a long history of treating all correspondence as confidential. This encourages constituents-and anyone else-to communicate all necessary information to their-or any– legislator without fearing that the information (which is often personal and private in nature) could be released to an outside party.

The bit about encouraging open and frank information to public officials is not an illegitimate policy concern, but it is in no way exclusive to the General Assembly. In other words, it strikes me as a bit of a pretext. If the General Assembly decided that the value of public records outweighed the value of confidential communications to every other part of state government, why would it not make the same policy decision for itself. (Other than “it’s good to be the king”?)

The letter goes on to cite work product exemptions found in IC 5-14-3. My familiarity with the work product doctrine has to do with the context of litigation. I’m not sure exactly how it would play out in the context of the legislative process. It shields documents or materials collected or prepared in anticipation of litigation. That “in anticipation of litigation” is a significant factor. An insurance company that gathers inconvenient facts in the ordinary course of business can’t generally shield that material because it’s subsequently in litigation. The same material may be shielded if it’s gathered specifically in anticipation of litigation. It’s purpose is to shield the mental processes and strategies of attorneys and litigants as to the process of litigation. So, I’m not convinced that emails from, say, a power company to a state representative urging the passage or non-passage of public laws constitutes “work product.” And, if it does, that suggests a more intimate relationship between the lawmaker and the power company than your average, arm’s length citizen-lawmaker relationship.

Wealth and Work

Dan Carlin’s Common Sense podcast from January 31, 2015, used the most recent State of the Union and subsequent political maneuvering as a launching point to discussing the nature of work and similar themes. Carlin notes that he hates the term “income inequality” because it frames the issue of wealth disparity in ways that are potentially unhelpful, but struggles for a better term.

His stuff is always worth a listen. This particular podcast reminded me of some prior posts I had done, particularly this one entitled “Technology and the Future of Work.” One question we have to ask ourselves is whether what we designate as the free market, if unregulated, will function in a sustainable way. And, if not, what sorts of regulations are necessary to create that sustainability. Obviously, I think regulation of some sort is necessary. After all, the very concept of property (as distinguished from “stuff you happen to possess at the moment” and the manner of its enforcement is itself regulation of sorts. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

We also have to come to grips with our goals for an economy. Maximum productivity sounds like a good goal until you think of the distribution. Lets say the unregulated free market produces $100 worth of value but $98 goes to one guy and the remaining $2 is divided up so that the remaining 99 people get about $0.02 apiece. Then lets say that regulations put a serious drag on productivity, cutting it in half so that the regulated economy produces only $50 in value. But, let say that the distribution is much closer to equal – maybe the one guy gets $10 while the other 99 get more like $0.40 apiece. Which economic system is better?

One of the things Carlin mentioned was a billionaire commenting that the masses simply needed to reduce their expectations. Maybe the economy has changed such that the average job simply isn’t going to make you able to afford a suburban home and an iphone. This plays somewhat on an idea I’ve had for awhile – that it would be useful for the State to provide a model budget for its citizens based on various income levels. My initial impulse for this was that a lot of citizens are bad with money, and there are often complaints that poor people have enough to live on, but they’re making poor spending choices (e.g. cable, cell phones, tattoos, cigarettes). Perhaps a model budget would help — one for poverty level, one for median income, and maybe model budgets for other income levels. On the other hand, it would be a little uncomfortable if that model budget for median income revealed that the middle class simply could not afford the things we normally associated with “middle class.”

A certain amount of income inequality is very sustainable and, in fact, desirable. If there is that pot of gold available if you just work a little harder, that is quite an incentive. But, at a certain point, the folks on the bottom just aren’t going to give a damn about the productivity of the system and the underlying government structure that supports it. Carlin mentioned the people in Greece and their recent lurch to the left in the wake of austerity measures. How much of a reduction are the people at the top of the heap willing to take in exchange for a sustainable system? Maybe the guy getting $98 in the unregulated market is willing to go to $10 if his alternative is the peasants snapping, wrecking the system, and just murdering him for his stuff (think French & Russian Revolutions).

If we don’t rely solely on the free market to make the determination, how do we decide who gets what and under what circumstances? Well, that’s politics.

R.I.P. Terry Record

Joshua Claybourn has posted on Facebook that Terry Record has passed away at the age of 34. I thought it appropriate to mention that here since I had a number of posts about Record back in 2007 – 2009. Record was a deputy prosecutor under Carl Brizzi in Marion County when he was involved in a drunk driving accident that killed Jimmy Cash. He eventually plead guilty to a Class C felony and spent a year in jail.

Writes Josh of Record’s post-accident efforts:

I will remember his courageous path toward redemption and a renewed faith, particularly through the Catholic tradition. He worked hard to cross the bridge of forgiveness toward a new hope.

I’m hoping for peace for Mr. Record’s friends and family and, of course, hope that Mr. Cash’s friends and family have found peace as well. Sounds like a difficult stretch for these everyone involved with these individuals.

Calamity and Wealth – My Thoughts on Robert Putnam’s America

Emily Badger, writing for the Washington Post, has an article entitled “The terrible loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America.” Putnam’s ideas – as presented – aren’t terribly shocking: children of upper class parents have a lot of advantages that children of lower class parents do not, and these trends are becoming more pronounced and locked in over the years. From the article, it sounds as if he starts the trend line from the 1950s and focuses primarily on the condition of white Americans in that era.

Half an hour into his Swarthmore lecture, Putnam winds into the voice of what an associate calls an “Old Testament prophet with charts.” He starts throwing graphs on the screen behind him that reflect national trends mirrored in Port Clinton: rising income inequality, growing class segregation, the breakdown of the working-class family.

They all look ominously similar. Each graph shows two lines diverging over the last several decades in the experiences of American kids at the top and bottom: in the share born to single mothers, in the chances that they’ll eat family dinners, in the time parents spend reading to them, in the money families invest in their clubs and lessons.

. . .

The poor children in “Our Kids” are missing so much more than material wealth. They have few mentors. They’re half as likely as wealthy kids to trust their neighbors. The schools they attend offer fewer sports, and they’re less likely to participate in after-school activities. Even their parents have smaller social networks. Their lives reflect the misfortune of the working-class adults around them, who have lost job prospects and financial stability.

More than 60 percent of children whose mothers never made it past high school will now spend at least some of their life by age 7 in a single-parent household. In the 1970s, there was virtually no difference in how much time educated and less-educated parents spent on activities like reading to infants and toddlers, which we now know matter tremendously for their brain development. Today, well-off children get 45 minutes more than poor kids every day of what Putnam calls “? ‘Goodnight Moon’ time.”

This sort of work is complemented by the work of Thomas Piketty, the French economist who has shown that, in developed countries, the rate of capital return exceeds the rate of economic growth and, consequently, we see a concentration of wealth among those who own the capital.

In simplistic terms, you don’t acquire wealth through merit so much as you acquire wealth by being in close proximity to it. Putnam wants to change the dynamic through a “won’t anyone please think of the children” appeal to strengthen our social fabric. Which isn’t awful. It’s certainly easier to sympathize with kids who are more or less innocent than with adults who have made a series of poor life choices — even if their circumstances, economic and familial, put a thumb on the scale, tipping the balance in favor of those bad choices. Americans can also always be counted upon to be nostalgic for the ideal of the 1950s when everyone (by which I mean white men) was a member of the Rotary or Masons or Moose or other civic minded organization, and kids grew up in a community with a strong sense of itself. (Putnam’s point of origin – at least rhetorically – seems to be Port Clinton, Ohio circa 1959 which is the place and time of his high school graduation.)

But, historically, what was the actual condition of the working class in, say, the 1890s or the 1910s? Were the kids of laborers in the Gilded Age looking at brighter prospects than the kids of today? I think not. If my assumption is correct, it’s worth looking at what got us from the Gilded Age to the 1950s — which was a better time for working families, even if it wasn’t quite the Leave It to Beaver ideal. Maybe I’m just in a cynical frame of mind, but my sense is that if we find one period of time with particularly concentrated wealth followed by another time of economic prosperity that reaches the middle class, in between we will find a period of calamity.

The prosperity of 1950s middle-class America was built in no small part by the draining of wealth from the upper classes, both domestically and abroad, during the World Wars. Notice how we don’t see so much in the way of landed gentry in England as we once did? Government had no choice but to extract wealth where it could be found in order to fight off the existential threat of war. High taxes on the wealthy and relatively generous benefits for the returning soldiers meant the wealth did not return all at once to the places from whence it came. So, that’s my hypothesis. I’d be interested to see examples of societies that transitioned from concentrated wealth in the upper classes to a more egalitarian sort of prosperity without some intervening awfulness. (An aside – but I also have a notion that societies with concentrated wealth trend toward more extraction of wealth from others (e.g. empire, slave owners) while societies with a more equal spread trend toward more of an organic growth of wealth model (e.g. businesses rising to meet demand — of which there is more if more people have money in their pocket.)

The beneficiaries of concentrated wealth are few in number but the rest of the population are often pitted against one another, fighting over the remainder. (Bringing to mind the Jay Gould quote I’ve probably worn out by now, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”)

From the Putnam article where he suggests solutions such as more investment in early childhood education, criminal justice reform so more low-income men can find work, religious groups taking up mentoring, and public schools ending “pay to play” fees for after school sports:

Many of these things will require money, though, and that is where the fight brews. In Port Clinton, his team interviewed one mother from the wealthy community that has grown up on the town’s lakefront, as neighborhoods just inland have collapsed into poverty. She is wary of the idea of special education funding for poor kids in town.

“If my kids are going to be successful,” she says, “I don’t think they should have to pay other people who are sitting around doing nothing for their success.”

So, are there viable, less than unpleasant solutions? From my perspective – that of a middle class white male coming from middle class, very educated parents – I don’t know. From my perspective, I earned a lot of what I have. My kids will prosper based on the work and sound choices I’ve made. In the short term, what’s the upside to me and my family for making sacrifices. Now, I can abstract myself from my own personal situation and, at a macro level, see some reasons. But personally, not really.

I studied hard as a kid. I saw a lot of kids goofing off. I even got mocked by fellow students for using big words. I’m not, therefore, naturally inclined toward sympathy for those who didn’t value education. I waited to have kids and picked a compatible spouse to marry after I was done being a kid. I’m not, therefore, naturally inclined toward sympathy for those who have the opportunity to delay being a parent or pick a compatible spouse, fail to take advantage of that opportunity, and suffer economic consequences. I work hard – I’m often the first in and last out of work, I stress over my business even when I’m not at work. I don’t smoke. I exercise. I don’t (often. anymore.) drink to excess. In short, there is some justification for the internal narrative where I worked hard and played by the rules, and I can attribute my relative prosperity to that. Not knowing nearly as much about others, I can attribute their lack of prosperity to them not working hard and playing by the rules. (The narrative about the more prosperous is a little telling — could they have worked that much harder and played by the rules that much more? Of course not. They don’t deserve *their* wealth, go ahead and take it from them if you must. Just leave me alone.)

Fortunately, I’m introspective enough to realize that narration from my perspective is limited at best, but often enough, just plain unreliable. I had opportunities not given to others. My parents valued education, so of course I did. I goofed off quite a bit. More than a little luck is involved in choosing a good spouse (particularly for those who came from unstable families). A lot of the reason I work so hard and stress about my business is because I *have* a business, and if I generate profit, I get to keep it. But relying on that level of introspection and at least a bit of short-term selflessness to create egalitarian social change seems a little too hopeful by half.

So, I think we’re going to continue seeing this concentration of wealth play out until it either causes or is the victim of the sort of calamity that leads to a shuffling of the cards. And, if you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe you can escape the calamity relatively unscathed and enjoy the benefits of a prosperous middle class and an economically secure lower class.

With Malice Toward None: Sesquicentennial of the Second Inaugural

Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Wow. As powerful now, I think, as it must have been then.