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Not Witches

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

We all know about the Salem Witch Trials.  But much more recently another, not-dissimilar-enough anti-witch craze plagued us. Remember “recovered memories”? Mass child sex abuse? Satanic rites?

Most of it was nonsense.

Frances and Daniel Kellar operated a day care business, and found themselves on the wrong end of this particular crowd madness. They were successfully prosecuted, as a fascinating Austin-American Statesman article relates, without any real evidence,

after three young children accused them of dismembering babies, torturing pets, desecrating corpses, videotaping orgies and serving blood-laced Kool-Aid in satanic rituals so ghastly, their names became synonymous with evil.

It was the early 1990s, when a cottage industry of therapists, authors and investigators argued convincingly — and, in hindsight, absurdly — that a national network of secretive cults was preying upon day care children for sex and other horrors.

Why fall for such tall tales?

Over at Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown characterizes the age in which the Kellars were railroaded as “at the height of American moral panic over just who was watching the children.”

So: guilt. Parents rightly feel a duty to care for their children. Outsourcing that job makes us uncomfortable. Those who feel guilty tend to lash out at others, imputing a far greater guilt.

It’s a theory, anyway.

The truth is that the Kellars were not guilty. Their accusers recanted; the evidence against them proved spurious or mistaken.

Released from prison last year, they now seek to be completely exonerated, declared innocent. It’s hard to get folks in government to admit they were wrong.

We, on the other hand, can honor their innocence by not allowing mass hysteria to corrupt justice under our watch, today and tomorrow.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Thanks for Freedom

Friday, November 28th, 2014

For two days my message has been about thankfulness. I’m going for the trifecta.

This may disappoint Sheldon, a commenter at, who pooh-poohed my earlier expression of gratitude. “It sounds as though one of the guests invited to your Thanksgiving table will be your very distant relative Pollyanna,” he teased.

Countering my view that “the abundance on our Thanksgiving tables” comes from “the freedom to work and produce and trade with each other,” he argued that this abundance “decreases yearly as government-produced inflation eats away at our purchasing power. Every single aspect of our ‘freedom to work and produce and trade’ and even to eat, drink, travel and enjoy life is surveilled, controlled, obstructed and regulated by ‘our’ government.”

Though I certainly didn’t notice any diminution of the “abundance” at yesterday’s feast, Sheldon nonetheless has a point. Heck, it sounds like he’s been reading these commentaries word-for-word!

There is, indeed, a lot that’s wrong in this world — and the power and arrogance of government is right there in the middle of most of it.

But in necessarily focusing on the problem, on our eroding freedom and lack of control over our lives, let’s not lose hope. Instead, let’s be thankful for what we do have: the ability to do something about it.

There are solutions. Even with all the political corruption and rules rigged to favor the insiders, we still have meaningful freedom to stand up, to speak out, to help create and organize and agitate for desperately needed change.

I’m thankful for that much freedom. Let’s use it to make more.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Happy Thanksgiving, 2014

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Norman Rockwell and Cicero on Thanksgiving

And thank you for your continuing interest and support.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Thankful for Tomorrow

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Tomorrow will be a day of Thanksgiving, a wonderfully unpretentious holiday in a terribly pretentious time.

Thanksgiving is a national celebration about simply having enough food to eat and about eating it together . . . and recognizing, at least for a moment, how great that is.

The “dining together” part is so important that enormous controversy has erupted in recent years as retailers jump the next day’s usual start of the Christmas season, “Black Friday,” by daring to open up on Thanksgiving Day itself. Many complain that stores are frustrating the feast by “forcing” their workers to work.

Last year, I made the point that families truly committed to eating a meal together could find a way to do so, and that workers are not “forced to work,” but actually enjoy a meaningful degree of freedom in when they work. And I remember being very grateful for the opportunity to earn a living by working on a holiday.

In fact, the abundance on our Thanksgiving tables every year is only possible through the freedom to work and produce and trade with each other. This American holiday is also about giving thanks for that freedom.

Freedom has, like it or not, led to long lines of eager customers waiting for those retail doors to open. I’m no big fan of shopping, but more power to those who are.

Still, freedom has also led to a full-throated public discussion — and backlash. A New York Post article credits social media with mobilizing public sentiment against stores opening on the holiday and causing some stores to roll back their hours.

Brian Rich runs Boycott Black Thursday, a Facebook page with over 100,000 likes. “We are not anti-capitalism,” says the Idahoan, who suggests shoppers spend to their hearts’ content on Friday, but celebrate “a good old-fashioned holiday at home” on Thursday.

I’m thankful stores can open if they wish and that customers have money to trade for products they want. And I’m mighty glad that we don’t have to shop if we don’t want to and that we can speak out freely against stores opening and in favor of folks spending more time with loved ones.

On Thursday, I’m grateful for all those in my family and my wife’s with whom I’ll get to break bread. On Friday, well, my youngest daughter will get me up way too early to take her shopping.

And, doggone it, as painful as it is: I’m thankful for that, too.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


Mike Lee’s Fix of Congress

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

“What too few in Washington appreciate — and what the new Republican Congress must if we hope to succeed — is that the American people’s current distrust of their public institutions is totally justified.”

So wrote Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in The Federalist shortly after the big election earlier this month. “Americans are fed up with Washington, and they have every right to be.”

Lee starts off with the need to earn trust. Will many readers simply shrug? His notion of a “more open-source strategy development model that includes everyone” sure sounds nice. But after Obama’s promise of the most “transparent” presidency in history, and delivery of one of the least, skepticism is natural.

At least Lee knows his challenges: “Republicans in fact can’t ‘govern’ from the House and Senate alone — especially without a Senate supermajority.” He sees the necessity of working with Democrats, but insists that the congressional majority not compromise away the whole enchilada.

“Anti-cronyism legislation is win-win for the GOP,” he writes, and views “taking on crony capitalism” as a test of the GOP’s “political will and wisdom.” Fighting the corrupt Washington culture of insider deals is sure to test Democratic lawmakers, too.

“[A] new Republican majority must also make clear that our support for free enterprise cuts both ways,” argues the Senator. “To prove that point, we must target the crony capitalist policies that rig our economy for large corporations and special interests at the expense of everyone else— especially small and new businesses.”

Echoes of Ralph Nader, but with deep free-market rumblings. Not discord, but harmony. Music to my ears.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Wall Fell

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

It is a day of celebration for freedom lovers.

On November 9, 2014, Germans festooned the 15-kilometer path on which the Berlin Wall had once stood with 8,000 lighted helium balloons, which were then released into the sky. Reuters says that the release symbolizes the breaching of the Wall. I think of it as symbolizing how so many trapped souls could at last freely and individually ascend.

Twenty-five years ago, in culmination of a series of protests and negotiations, a half million people demanding freedom of emigration gathered at the Alexanderplatz in East Berlin — some two years after Ronald Reagan had exhorted Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” On November 9, 1989, an official announced that refugees could freely travel directly from East Germany to West Germany. A barrier brutally dividing West from East Berlin since 1961 was finally torn down.

Soon the two halves of Germany were reunited. Not without problems. But certainly without the problem that faced them all during the Cold War — the risk of being shot and killed for seeking a better life.

Many of us grew up knowing no other world but one in which the Berlin Wall loomed.

It stood, marking the most visible portion of barriers that had persisted for decades.

Like Communism itself, the Berlin Wall seemed immovable. Yet ideas and choices are what created such a reality; so other ideas and choices could create something better. When prospects for freedom seem bleakest, that’s what we need to remember.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Principled, and Un-

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Can one “rise above principle”?

Aren’t most (all?) who think they “rise above principle” actually sinking below it?

Economist David Henderson called our attention to this notion in reference to legal theorist Richard Epstein’s call for a war against ISIS. On, he challenged Epstein’s support for the president’s war on ISIS on constitutional grounds, and wondered why constitutional scholar Epstein hadn’t addressed this concern.

Then Epstein addressed it — using that curious phrase “rise above principle.”

Henderson’s response? Characteristically astute:

In which times of crisis do you need to “rise above principle?” What are the criteria for doing so? If you don’t specify criteria, then I think you’re saying that anything goes. If you do specify criteria, don’t those criteria amount to a principle? In that latter case, are you really rising above principle?

It’s not just a matter of constitutionality, though. Just war requires coherent goals. And a debate and vote in Congress over going to war against ISIS could help establish those goals.

Clearly, the continuing interventions in the Islamic East have suffered from massive confusion. A year ago, President Obama called for regime change in Syria and wanted to bomb government forces; today, we are bombing ISIS, the main opposition to that same government.

Sinking below principle on matters of warfare is the least excusable abandonment of law. It’s the suppression of hasty warfare — individual, group, or national — upon which the rule of law rests. Upon which civilization rests.

There’s no “rising above.” There’s no acceptable abandonment. There is only sticking to principle upon the issues that matter most.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.