Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bayeux Tapestry

Well I got nothing today so I'll just throw something medieval up. My new banner comes from the first panel of the Bayeux Tapestry probably commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux to commemorate his half-brother William the Conqueror's victory over Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066 and what we now know as the Norman Conquest.

The entire tapesty plus Latin translation and English commentary can be found here: Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry is not primarily a depiction of the Battle of Hastings, but instead lays out the case for William's legitimacy as king and equally of King Harold's illegitimacy as an oathbreaker of his pledge to support William as successor to Edward the Confessor.

However you judge the evidence it is clear that William claimed to be the rightful successor to Edward and took only what was due to him as such. In later centuries there was a theory that William take possession of all of England and then doled it out to his followers by right of conquest. Under this concept all land titles were ultimately feudal and all land held in one way or another of the King. This idea really doesn't hold up on inspection which can be seen quite clearly by sampling the Domesday Book of 1086. Domesday was a land survey designed to show all the property in England and its tenure and worth. It is introduced as follows:
Here is subscribed the inquisition of lands as the barons of the king have made inquiry into them; that is to say by the oath of the sheriff of the shire, and of all the barons and their Frenchmen, and the whole hundred, the priests, reeves, and six villains of each manor; then, what the manor is called, who held it in the time of king Edward, who holds now; how many hides, how many plows in demesne, how many belonging to the men, how many villains, how many cottars, how many serfs, how many free-men, how many socmen, how much woods, how much meadow, how many pastures, how many mills, how many fish-ponds, how much has been added or taken away, how much it was worth altogether at that time, and how much now, how much each free man or soeman had or has. All this threefold, that i8 to say in the time of king Edward, and when king William gave it, and as it is now; and whether more can be had than is had.
What is important is the continuity, the expectation is that the pattern of ownership is the same as it was prior to the Conquest "in the time of king Edward" and in many places it is clear there has been no disruption at all.

The idea that all land actually came into the hands of the king at one time is expressed even here "when king William gave it" but is not totally supported by close examination. Instead you have a process by which almost all land came into and out of William's hands over time. From William's perspective armed opposition to his invasion constituted treason and one of the penalties for treason was forfeiture of land. Meaning that after Hastings he came into possession of all of the Crown lands plus all of the possessions of Harold, the richest and most powerful Earl prior to his own accession, plus all of Harold's followers meaning a very large percentage of England. But those powerful men who stood aside at Hastings were left in possession until they too rose in revolt as many did in 1070.

What this meant is that every time there was a civil war or unrest, which happened periodically, top level tenures that had been free were legally subordinated to the Crown or to the King personally and so ultimately resulting in those top levels becoming almost totally feudalized. But none of this necessarily automatically transfered downward leaving a bewildering tangle of sub-tenures and common rights that didn't neatly fit into a feudalized scheme.

The result is an economic history where major landholders embarked on a centuries long attempt to preserve their property rights vs a vs the Crown while maintaining and extending those rights vis a vis the peasantry. Ultimately the major property holders won out and rights held from time immemorial by the free peasantry were wiped out and in many cases taking that free status away. The major events of medieval England including the issuance of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 can not be seen in isolation from this struggle over property rights. Effectively the large land holders won over against the king in 1215 and against the peasantry in 1381 and then against the king again during the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. All revolved ultimately around the issue of property rights.

Which BTW ties back to some of my posts about Conservatism which equally can't be divorced from this property based struggle. Conservatives represent the winning side of all three events referenced here, they held their own all of the way down to the Reform Act of 1832 and in many respects right through 1920 and the introduction of universal suffrage in England.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conservatives and the Ancient Constitution: Ver 1.0

Well I got started too late in the day to present a fleshed out version. So let this serve as an abstract.

Britain has never had a written constitution, instead it had what latter lawyers called the 'Ancient Constitution' which was both older than memory or even history reached and was in form perfect. Being perfect it was not changed or indeed changeable. Moreover it was not in origin considered to be the King's Law, it was instead before and to some degree above the King.

Now Britain did have royal formulations of law which were drawn up in what are now known as Law Codes, starting with that of King Aethelred of Kent of King Ine of Wessex which latter were incorporated in the latter Code of Alfred the Great. Alfred's Code is not designed to be foundational, instead he has gathered what he liked of other codes and gathered them together with some modifications. The best way to read Alfred's Code is as a collection of Administrative and Legal Regulations particularly as governing the King's rights to exercise jurisdiction. Which set off a struggle that would extend for centuries and indeed were not settled until the late 19th century, that is who was in control of the judgement in legal cases. Eventually it all ended in the hands of the King's Judges but this was a long process.

But none of this fundamentally was seen to change the Ancient Constitution, to the end English people held that they had rights against the King and particularly in the area of property and just as importantly in taxation. Certain taxes (or so we would call them) were due to the King as right, and others to the King as landlord, but at no time in English history was the principle that the King could just set taxes at will. And attempts by various English Kings to claim expanded rights were resisted and often enough by force.

The Magna Carta, often thought of as the basis for latter Anglo-American jurisprudence, is the product of just such a rejected claim. King John made demands that challenged the property rights of Lords and free-holders which led to a Civil War. Which John lost. The result was that the opposition laid forth their case, based on the Ancient Constitution (though at that period they didn't call it such), that John must renounce certain specific claims. In 1215 John was forced to submit. This was not a one time event, the Great Charter was reissued many times and serves as a cornerstone of the British Statute Book, but does not serve as the foundation for the constitutional system.

My suggestion is that the Modern American Conservative movement draws from this now eight century struggle to contain the King and the Government into their proper role and that insists that certain rights existed prior to any Kings, or at least any earthly Kings. To that extent the line between the Ancient Constitution and Natural Law begins to blur thus explaining why Conservatives seem to have the selective acceptance of the American Constitution, to the degree that it violates previous rights and laws it is only partially binding.

I don't know that I am totally persuaded by my own argument here, and I will try to continue developing it. For what it is worth consider this version 1.0

Monday, September 28, 2009

You like me! You really like me! Plus some stuff on the Magna Carta.

Well maybe it is too early for me to have my Sally Field Moment. But some people are actually coming by. including DDay of Digby who picked up my post on Sec 116 with Keeping Them Honest. Plus one of my favorite commenters of all time came by and had a nice word.

So I guess I will have to keep stuff coming. My next post is tentatively set to explore the foundations of conservatism and particularly how that relates to property rights, whereas liberalism more typically starts from human rights. If this is even remotely right it casts the Constitution as a compromise.

I know this will not come as some blinding insight but it does go somewhat towards explaining why conservatives tend to approach the Constitution cafeteria style. For example they advocate taking a very narrow reading of the 'general welfare' clause, which appears both in the Preamble and Article I Sec 8 (Powers of Congress), yet find that Article 2 Sec 2 (President as Commander in Chief) trumps the clear language of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, while denying that there are any possible restrictions on the Second Amendment and of course denying any knowledge of the Sixteenth Amendment (Income Tax).

Conservatives consciously or not are appealing to an older legal tradition stemming from the Magna Carta, which though not actually incorporated in the Constitution as we have it, is still considered binding. Or something. I'll be thinking about this through the day and will have a more filled out version hopefully tomorrow.

I do get notified of comments by e-mail, any suggestions or links about this topic would be welcome. As would any guest submissions.

UPDATE: On my way out the door. It turns out that I will have to start before the Magna Carta with the Ancient Constitution. Plus some discussions of the Laws of Ine and of Alfred the Great, that is periods from 5 to 7 centuries prior to King John's issuance of the Great Charter in 1215. Conservatism is OLD, in fact it is quite literally pre-historic, existing prior to the introduction of writing into Northern Europe.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Social Security Runs Amok

From the Wall Street Journal Online. Social Security Owes 'Fugitives' Millions (This link will probably expire within the week, but I have included the full article below)

A federal judge approved a civil-court settlement requiring the Social Security Administration to repay $500 million to 80,000 recipients whose benefits it suspended after deeming them fugitives.

The supposed fugitives include a disabled widow with a previously suspended driver's license, a quadriplegic man in a nursing home and a Nevada grandmother mistaken for a rapist.

They were among at least 200,000 elderly and disabled people who lost their benefits in recent years under what the agency called the "Fugitive Felon" program. Launched in 1996 and extended to Social Security disability and old-age benefits in 2005, the program aimed to save taxpayers money by barring the payment of Social Security benefits to people "fleeing to avoid prosecution."

But some federal courts in recent years have concluded that most people the agency identified as fleeing felons were neither fleeing nor felons. The problem: Social Security employees relied on an operations manual stating that anyone with a warrant outstanding is a fugitive felon, whether the person is actually fleeing or attempting to avoid being captured.

The Social Security Administration, which neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement, declined to comment.

The National Senior Citizens Law Center, an advocacy group for the elderly and disabled, sued the Social Security Administration in an Oakland, Calif., federal court last year on behalf of people denied benefits, and asserted that most warrants -- some decades old -- were for minor offenses and most people were unaware they existed.

Roberta Dobbs, a 75-year-old widow in Durant, Okla., who uses a wheelchair and is tethered to an oxygen tank, was deemed a fugitive in 2006 because of an outstanding 2001 warrant issued in California following a traffic accident while Mrs. Dobbs was moving from her home. Her benefits were cut off for three years, forcing her to rely on friends, family and charity.

Some "fugitives" were victims of mistaken identity. To identify felons, the agency cross-checked its database with databases of old warrants obtained from various law-enforcement agencies. If a match was found -- of a person's first and last name, and either Social Security number or date of birth -- the person was deemed to be a fugitive and his benefits suspended. The program didn't compare middle initials or gender.

Willie Mae Giacanni, 79, a retiree near Reno, Nev., was informed by the Social Security Administration in 2006 that her $350 a month benefit would be suspended because of a warrant outstanding in New York, a state she has never visited.

She said she "called different precincts," trying to find out what she was wanted for. A detective told her the warrant was for Willie Frank Thomas, who was wanted for kidnapping and rape in 1972. Although Mrs. Giacanni's first husband's surname was Thomas, and the suspect shared her birth date, he had a different Social Security number, middle name, gender and race, according to the New York City Police Department's fugitive-enforcement division.

The detective sent Mrs. Giacanni a letter to give to the Social Security office, stating that the warrant wasn't for her, but the agency wouldn't accept it. Mrs. Giacanni sought help from a legal-aid attorney, who got the matter resolved. The agency declined to comment.

Even if people succeeded in clearing their warrants, the SSA had maintained they shouldn't have been paid benefits while the warrant was outstanding, and pursued them for the "overpayment." Mrs. Dobbs ultimately got her warrant vacated with the help of a legal-aid lawyer in 2008, but the Social Security Administration said it wouldn't resume her benefits until she repaid $11,802 for benefits she received in 2005.

As part of the settlement, the agency agreed to drop its claims for "overpayments."

After the NSCLC sued the agency, the SSA agreed in April to a proposed settlement to suspend benefits only for people who are charged with escape or flight to avoid prosecution. Under the pact, SSA stopped suspending benefits and agreed to repay benefits suspended between January 2007 and April 2009.

Most repayments will begin to go out late this year. Mrs. Dobbs received $37,970.

People whose benefits were cut off before 2007 could reapply for benefits, but would receive retroactive payments only to April 2009. An estimated 120,000 people fall into this category, said Gerald McIntyre, a lawyer for the NSCLC.

The settlement is good news for Catherine and James McMahon, a retired nurse and teacher in their 60s, who unsuccessfully applied for Social Security disability benefits for their son, James Jr., who was struck by a truck and paralyzed in 2006.

The couple was told their son, who resides in a nursing home, was ineligible for benefits because of a 1991 warrant. "It had something to do with a late night college party," said Mrs. McMahon. Her son, now 35, thought the matter was resolved after several court dates.

Now her son will receive about $735 a month in benefits, retroactive to early 2007. The money will help provide for his two young children, whom the McMahons are raising.
I have heard from reliable sources that the Social Security Administration has been seeded with Bushies fundamentally opposed to its basic mission and not just in the political positions. These people really want you to believe that "Government is the problem".

(BTW I am told that 'amok, amuck' is the only Malay word adopted into standard English vocabulary)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The least known, most important section in HR3200

Over at Angry Bear I have a whole series of posts relating to HR3200, the American Affordable Health Care Act or AAHCA otherwise known as the Tri-Committee Bill. The following is a comment I posted to a MyDD diary today in response to complaints that the health care bills under consideration don't have meaningful cost controls. While this is true enough for the Baucus Bill currently being marked up, it really is not true for HR3200. The response here is posted unchanged.

The House Tri-Committee Bill has some excellent price control measures and you can bet a lot of the jostling around the Senate Finance Bill is the insurance companies jostling a way to keep the employer and individual mandates while ditching Secs 111-116. And especially 116.

Sec 111 Prohibiting Pre-Existing Condition Exclusions
Sec 112 Guaranteed Issue and Renewal
The can't turn anyone not covered by employer insurance from a individual plan, nor refuse to renew it. No matter what your pre-existing condition or what illness you develop. And no rescissions based on forgetting that case of acne when you were 14.

Sec 113 Insurance Rating Rules
2nd most important provision. No individual or business can be charged more than any other one in your area. Small businesses don't have to negotiate prices or worry about hiring someone who may become sick or pregnant. Under HR3200 all those are total non-issues. Besides area the ONLY criteria on which premiums vary is age, and that restricted to a 2:1 ratio, and family composition (insurance companies can charge families more than an individual but only within limits).

This is HUGE. If you are a 'smaller' or 'smallest' employer you just enroll through the Exchange at the same price per individual and family employee as any other Exchange participant. You can not be discriminated against even if you hired an employee on thrice weekly dialysis, or just coming off cancer treatment.


But here is the biggee, the single provision that guts the insurance companies current predatory model, the one you can bet they are most eager to kill. It is deliberately written to be innocuous but does more to control costs and insurance pool gaming than any other.

(a) IN GENERAL.--A qualified health benefits plan shall meet a medical loss ratio as defined by the Commissioner. For any plan year in which the qualified health benefits plan does not meet such medical loss ratio, QHBP offering entity shall provide in a manner specified by the Commissioner for rebates to enrollees of payment sufficient to meet such loss ratio.

Under the current model insurance companies make money in two ways. One by insuring people who likely won't need are and two by denying care to those who do need it. Their stated goal is to reduce their Medical Loss Ratio to as low a number as they can. Under Sec 116 this doesn't work, the more successful you are at denying care or insuring people who don't need it the bigger the rebate check has to be.

The key is getting the target MLR set at the right level, which is where the PO comes in, its MLR effectively establishes the level against which the private plans have to compete and so keeps the insurance company from gaming the Commissioner in an attempt to get a lower MLR (equals higher profits and dollars for exec compensation). But if pushed to the wall you could control insurance companies premium increases simply through strict application of the provisions of Sec 116.

Sec 116 = Premium and Profit Control. It is even more key to the long-term success of health care reform than the PO itself. As is Sec 113. For example in the Baucus Bill the age ratio is 5:1 plus a tobacco provision that could mean a 55 year old smoker could be paying up to 7.5X more than a young non-smoker.

(And yes people shouldn't smoke. But people our age remember when cigarettes came with no warnings, were advertised everywhere, and the tobacco companies were spending millions that there was no proven link between cigarettes and anything. Think of the Climate Change Deniers of today. Penalizing some middle age guy because he fell afoul of a campaign of lies 40 years ago is a little harsh.)

HR3200 is a good bill that does not sell us out to insurance companies. Taken as a whole it would prevent almost all gaming and gouging. Yet people seem to have written it off as if Dingell and Waxman and Rangel and Brown had each spent the last four plus decades figuring out how to screw over progressivism.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mercian Gold: Penda? or Offa?

Nope that is not a misspelling of 'Merican' and those are real names of Kings of Mercia, the main rivals to the West Saxon Kings which gave us Alfred the Great. The following is just a stunning find, really the biggest since the discovery of the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, and in sheer quantity of gold vastly outshines even that.

Largest ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold found in Staffordshire
A harvest of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver so beautiful it brought tears to the eyes of one expert, has poured out of a Staffordshire field - the largest hoard of gold from the period ever found.

The weapons and helmet decorations, coins and Christian crosses amount to more than 1500 pieces, with hundreds still embedded in blocks of soil. It adds up to 5kg of gold – three times the amount found in the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939 – and 2.5kg of silver, and may be the swag from a spectacularly successful raiding party of warlike Mercians, some time around AD700.
A gallery can be seen here: Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard found in Staffordshire
Another from TPM here: Terry the Conqueror

Black and white map Mercian Supremacy, c.800 AD
Larger scale map of Southern England and Wales Southern England in the Ninth Century If you look along the border of Mercia to the west you will see the line of Offa's Dike, a massive earthwork defensive wall.

We don't know a lot about Mercia, What we do know is pretty well covered by a good article in Wiki. Mercia

Also from Wiki this from the Sutton Hoo ship burial showing a somewhat older but similar piece of Anglo-Saxon artwork. Imagine taking a used metal detector to a field and finding something like this. Then six hundred more, then turning it over to the experts who found hundreds more beyond that. This is beyond daydreams. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Movement Conservatism: the Good vs the Many

You can't understand the incoherence of the modern American conservative movement without understanding the contradiction at its core. Burkean Conservatism has as its goal the preservation of the interests of the Good as against the demands of the Many. In eighteenth century Britain this fell right in line with the existing political, economic, and social structures, everyone understood who was High, Middle, and Low and the gradations within those categories. In politics the interest of the High was protected by the House of Lords and the interests of the Middle at least somewhat protected by the House of Commons (because not all the Middle was represented and the High had much influence). But the Low had no representation at all and in the ethos of the time that was a good thing.

In eighteenth century Britain democracy was equated to revolution and specifically the the French Revolution with its radical levelling principles that led to regicide and the breaking of the power of the Established Church. The French Revolution was not just a political, social, and economic convulsion, it seemed in its totality to be a breakdown in cosmic order, a World Turned Upside Down.

The American Revolution started 13 years before the French and so while many of the Founders were sympathetic with the ideas that would drive the later Revolution they were able to implement them in a very different situation, the King not residing right in the midst of them but instead being on the other side of the ocean. Still the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights and the relatively wide franchise were from the perspective of the newly emerging Burkean Conservatism thoroughly radical rejection of the natural order. For Conservatives pure democracy was a threat.

Which puts us where we are. Modern American Conservatism has inherited its foundations from Burkean Conservatism but is constrained by the American political system from proposing them openly. In America you can't openly assert that society is by nature hierarchical and moreover pyramid shaped and that that societal order is best maintained by the control of the 'Good' people in the middle to upper levels of the hierarchy who are by that same nature not only allowed but encouraged to maximize their own 'Deserving' interests against those of the 'Undeserving' 'Many'. That the end result is by definition anti-Democratic is a feature and not a bug.

But in the United States the path to public power comes through obtaining electoral majorities, meaning that the natural representatives of the 'Good' still have to draw the votes of enough of the 'Many' to be first past the post. Which in practice means convincing enough of the 'Many' that they are really among the 'Good' even as they lack the natural economic and social status to actually take their place among the latter. Which has led modern Movement Conservatism to exploit every fissure among the Many, including race, national origin, and religion. For Conservatism 'Good' meant free, white, male and being either wealthy or living in small towns and rural areas and mostly still does. Which makes it an uneasy fit with a country that is increasingly diverse and largely urbanized.

How do you sell Conservative concepts of hierarchy and natural inequality in a system built on the credo that holds that "All Men are Created Equal" is a central tenet of society? Well with great difficulty.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Celtic and Scandinavian Mythology Blog Source

I'll be filling this one out over time. For now I will just start with two works:

Gods of the Ancient Norsemen by George Dumezil. Dumizil is best known for his theory that both Indo-European society and it's mythology were fundamentally Tri-partite in a way that aligned class and function and that this could be seen in various forms in all derivative traditions including as here the Scandinavians. In Dumezil's original formulation this was also hierarchical with the Priest/Magician/Judge at the top, the Warrior a step below, and the Farmer below that. My view is that this gives too much weight to the Indian Caste system and that at least in the European context the functions were organized on the same level but drawing their practitioners from different classes with the King representing all three functions: i.e. Judge-Warrior-Fertility God somewhat equally. My reading on this topic is out of date, suggestions for more current works welcome.

On the Celtic side I am going to put up T.F. O'Rahilly's Early Irish History and Mythology which is a series of essays on the history, linguistics and myth of Early Ireland, which here should be understood as Ireland before the Vikings (itself the title of a book I will link to soon) or basically Ireland prior to 800 AD.

I am going to set out and re-read both of these over the next few days but would be interested in hearing from anyone who had read either or indeed any book covering the same materials.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bruce's Blog-Sources

This page is and will be a work in progress. It lists all of my Blog-Sources to date.

Celtic and Scandinavian Mythology

What's a Blog-source?

Blog-source is a term coined by me yesterday which like most semi-clever terms had actually been coined by others before. But apparently not that often so I'll just take credit here.

My version of a Blog-source is a combination of a weblog and a suggested reading list about topics of interest to me. The idea is that each Blog-source will evolve over time as I find, or commenters suggest, additions to it and hopefully each will spawn some sort of conversation. As I add new Blog-sources I will index them on a main Bruce's Blog-Sources page.

I'll just have to see how this goes, because I have a history of getting bored and lazy and dropping projects. But who knows? Maybe its different this time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

iPhone Posting

Well a little test. Seems to work fine, tomorrow I unleash 'webb's blog- sources'

Back and better than ever

Because this wasn't much of a blog to start with.

But I am going to try to put up a post per day, some substantive and some not.

My key issues as a front page poster at Angry Bear have been Social Security and more recently Health Care Reform. But my interests are broader than that and include (or included, because on many topics I am no longer current) such things as European and especially Celtic Mythology, Medieval British and Irish History. More recently I have been trying to point out connections between the development of modern democracy and the development of classical economics, or more precisely the disconnect, the latter only working fully in a relatively anti-democratic society of the type that marked Industrial Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

I have also realized that I don't do any reading anymore, so hopefully I will get that jump-started and talk about it here.

More about me tomorrow. Plus I might test out some blogging from my iPhone. Well see where this takes us/me.