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Is this really a Christian nation?

By Mike Frates

Is the United States of America a Christian nation? Well, that depends upon how you choose to construct the question.

I have a world of respect for Judge William Carey, and I enjoyed the opinion piece he submitted to The New Bedford Standard-Times published Sunday, March 11 (“Your View: A free lunch on contraceptive services.”) That said, I do wonder if Judge Carey is picking favorites regarding the specific clauses in the First Amendment to our national Constitution. “… or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ” is the second clause in the Amendment, and where the faithful usually hang their hat, but we do curtail religious practice in this country, don’t we? In fact, the very first time the Supreme Court interpreted this clause, that’s the conclusion it reached. “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices.”

The Reynolds case involved a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who married a woman already married to another man. Now, in the Mormon religion, polygamy is considered a religious practice sanctioned by their holy creed, and we stopped it dead in its tracks. As recently as 1990, the Supreme Court was willing to uphold state laws that criminalize certain religious ceremonies, albeit only indirectly. In Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, our High Court ruled that Native Americans were not exempt from the laws of our land, and could not ingest peyote during religious ceremonies while it remained as a criminal offense on Oregon’s books. So long as the prohibition against peyote indiscriminately applied to all Oregonians, the faithful had to bow to it.

Notably, Florida screwed this up in 1993 with Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah when they sought to-single out a specific religion, Santeria, and criminalize a particular religious practice: animal sacrifice. We even saw a bit of such prejudice right here in my home town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, recently when William Camacho was discovered holding chickens for slaughter and consumption in accordance with his chosen religion, Palo Mayombe. A Caribbean religion similar to Santeria. With all the hoopla involving Mr. Camacho, I laughed out loud at the hysterical proposition that the chickens in Mr. Camacho’s custody met a harsher fate, prior to his dinner, than do the commercially processed birds that land on our dinner tables.

Let me tell you something, take a glance into the world of commercial poultry and you will soon realize: That was one pampered chicken.

So, here we are. The Catholic Church and its ministries, including private universities and hospitals, have a religious prohibition against providing their employees with birth control. The government has mandated that all employers in the country provide their employees with the same. The mandate in question in no way singles out the Catholic Church; it clearly applies to all employers and all employees across the nation. And, yet, the Catholic Church has hunkered down for a fight. Do they think they can win? Probably, and due in no small part to the general belief that Judge Cary touched upon in his letter: that this is a Christian nation.

This leads us to the first clause in the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Is the United States of America a Christian nation? Well, that depends upon how you choose to construct the question. Yes, the overwhelming majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian. This is both clearly true and part of the problem. It’s problematic because, as such a strong majority, they stand ready to run roughshod over the rights of their fellow religionists, and the rest of us, by promoting a vision of America that incorporates their beliefs while ignoring those of others. In the matter at hand, the Catholic Church wants preferential treatment due to its sheer numbers and kindred spirit with the far larger population of Protestants.

Implicated here are the economic and social consequences of supporting unwanted children often shouldered by unwed mothers who otherwise had dreams and opportunity of their own. I can hear the mantra now: abstinence, abstinence, abstinence. This always reminds me of that old saying, “Conservatives care a great deal for your baby – right up to the moment he or she is born.” Is this a Christian nation? No, not as long as the establishment clause prohibits that final, governmental endorsement and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment stands ready to protect religious minorities from the, “tyranny of the majority,” in Tocqueville’s words.

Judge Carey’s preferred construction of this debate is that it’s all about a, “struggle for power,” but isn’t every political, social or commercial contest a, “struggle for power,” if you so choose to view it that way? The definition of, “power,” is getting someone to do something they don’t want to do.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, March 15, 2012.



By Dave Barend

Here’s an actual email that I received at about 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 2020: “Dave, are you alive?” . . . You see, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament had just been announced. And I’m a little nutty for the Tournament. You know, much like Bill Nye is a “little nutty” for science

(This article was first published by Basketball Times as “Avenging The Grinch who stole the NCAA Tournament” – 5/2020)

Here’s an actual email that I received at about 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 2020:

“Dave, are you alive?”

In case you are wondering, the answer was yes. I’m not sure what the expected response would have been had the answer been no.

But within minutes my inbox became filled with similar concerns for my mental well-being.

“Dave, are you catatonic – like Ferris Bueller’s friend Cameron?”

You see, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament had just been announced. And I’m a little nutty for the Tournament. You know, much like Bill Nye is a “little nutty” for science.

For example, as an attorney I filed many motions to continue cases due to a “religious obligation”. I failed to mention that the “religious obligation” was actually the NCAA Tournament. I swear that is true. Unless you are a member of the Board of Bar Overseers, then I swear it’s not true. 

The Tournament is, without question, a holiday in my house. My daughters say it’s second only to Christmas. They are wrong. It’s number one.

We actually exchange gifts and decorate every inch of the house with wall-sized brackets. My neighbors can’t understand why we take the time to put them up. Whereas I can’t understand why we ever take them down.

My daughter once wrote in her first grade class journal, “This weekend we will be celebrating Selection Sunday.” But her teacher did not follow college hoops. So that Monday we received a call. “This is social services.  Have you joined a cult?”

Then that damn COVID-19 hit. 

As I sat nearly comatose, my youngest daughter tugged on my shirt.

“Daddy, why don’t we be like the Whos?”

“Huh, I do like The Who.”

“No the Whos”

“Whose what?”

“Not what, Whos.  You know, from Who-ville.”


Clearly I should have added “First base.” But instead, like the stellar parent I am, I said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Don’t you remember Who-ville and the Grinch who stole Christmas from the Whos?”

“I’m really not in the mood . . .

“Well the coronavirus is kind of like the Grinch, and we could be like the Whos.”

Then all of a sudden I had a wonderful idea – we could be like the Whos!

(With apologies to Dr. Seuss  . . .)

            To heck with that Grinch called COVID-1

We’ll have the best Tournament the world’s ever seen!

            Yeah there’s no brackets, which is quite a pity.

            But we’ll be our very own selection committee!

            We’ll come up with something that’ll be fun you’ll see

            And it will keep our minds off the lack of TP.

            It’ll be a big party, one hell of a bash.

            But don’t tell Mom I ate the last can of Who-hash.

            Now let’s put up decorations to get in the mood

            And prepare for the arrival of the Selection Sunday Dude.

Uh Dave, what’s the Selection Sunday Dude? 

As I’ve told my daughters many times, the Selection Sunday Dude brings presents to children every year. But not to all of them, just the good ones. 

You know, who watch no less than 8 college basketball games per week.  And most importantly, they have to live in my house. 

See, he’s much like Santa. But instead of coming on Christmas Eve in a sleigh colored red, he comes on Selection Sunday Eve in a van that says Amazon.

And come he did with gifts, all college and basketball related, piled under our Fisher Price hoop. This led my wife to openly question whether the Selection Sunday Dude stuck to his budget. No. No he did not.

But we had gifts and were quite happy, just like those Whos from Who-ville.

“Uh Dave, weren’t the Whos from Who-ville happy even though they had no gifts?”

That makes no sense.

So I started calling my girls Cindy Lou 1 and Cindy Lou 2. (There may be evidence that I need to reread some Dr. Seuss.) 

I then told them that just like the Whos from Who-ville sang “Welcome Christmas” we should sing “Welcome Selection Sunday.” I got them started. 

“Fahoo fores dahoo dores . . .” 

And then they did what they do best –  ignored me.

The real gift on Selection Sunday, however, has always been the revealing of the bracket of 68 teams. So I came up with another wonderful idea. A wonderful, amazing idea: I’ll create a way to play all the games in a bracket that I’ll make myself! The response from my family was unanimous.  

“That’s an awful idea.” 

A wonderful, awful, idea? 

“No, a completely awful idea!”

Apparently they all wanted to participate. This led to another family holiday tradition – fighting.

Cindy Lou 1: Iowa should have a much better seed.

Cindy Lou 2: Can you even spell Iowa?

I stopped the fight there because I feared a response of no.

We were all able to agree to include our favorite teams. I chose my alma mater, St. Bonaventure. My wife chose hers – that other Catholic school, you know, in South Bend. My daughters also chose St. Bonaventure, you know, because they love their dad.

Then we concocted a way to actually play the games with dice and with team cards that note the results of each possession.

“Uh Dave, that sounds a lot like Dungeons and Dragons.”

No. Dungeons and Dragons was a game dorks played with dice that determined the results of . .  Ok, maybe it was a little bit like Dungeons and Dragons.

Though actually it was more akin to the old Strat-O-Matic or APBA baseball games. My mom always thought I was wasting time. Little did she know that 25 years later I’d use what I learned from those games to, well, waste more time.

But first, we had to fill out the brackets. This very much confused my wife.

“Why would we fill them out before we play?”

“Because making the picks is the fun.”

“What about the games?”

“Well that’ll be fun too.”

“That’s good to know because I was afraid that playing 60-some games might just be insane.”

After I finished my brilliant bracket, I took a peak at my wife’s picks. I tried not to scoff when I saw she had New Mexico State besting Dayton in round 2. I should have tried harder.

“You do realize that Dayton has Obi Toppin?”

“You do realize that Obi Toppin will not be rolling the dice?”

My wife then made another seemingly keen observation.

“This basketball game you’ve created appears to be missing something – basketball.”

“Have no fear. The Selection Sunday Dude has us covered!”

I pulled out a huge stack of brand new basketball movie DVDs. You name it, the Selection Sunday Dude brought it: Hoosiers, Fast Break, White Men Can’t Jump, and even Slam Dunk Ernest.

“Did the Selection Sunday Dude know that we could have watched them all for free on Prime and Netflix?”

No. No, he did not.

But it was time to let the first play in game begin which pitted my beloved St. Bonaventure Bonnies against my wife’s Notre Dame Something-or-other. ND really needs to a get a more memorable and masculine nickname, you know, like Bonnies.

It did not go well. Before the first half ended the Bonnies trailed by 25 points. Reports that I accused my wife of cheating are not wholly unfounded.

I will, however, dispute any assertion that I overreacted when she rolled the dice off the table. See, she has a history of doing so at a place where doing so is frowned upon – Vegas.

Yes, she rolled the dice off a craps table, and not once, but twice in a row. Well it turns out that when someone rolls the dice off a craps table in Vegas – twice – the pit boss and security will promptly arrive. And when they asked her who she was working with the correct response was nobody. Yet she opted to point at me.

Unfortunately, my dice rolling proficiency was not assisting my Bonnies. Mid-way through the second half, ND still led by 20. We desperately needed a stop. So I did the only logical thing – I looked my wife dead in the eye, stood up, and slapped my hands on the floor.

“What is wrong with you?”

“You’d think someone from Notre Dame wouldn’t have to ask obvious questions.”

And then the Bonnies went on a roll. (Pun not intended or even noticed until the third rewrite.)

After draining three on top of three, St. Bonaventure made the greatest comeback in the history of the NCAA Tournament – Dice Version. My daughters and I broke into a raucous and Purell-less round of high-fives.

            Yet the joy miraculously continued somehow, someway

            For Villanova and Auburn, the Bonnies would also slay.

            They then beat KU and UK to make the Final Four.

            “Unbelievable!” my girls yelled. “Have they ever been there before?”

            “Only one time prior.” I said with much glee.

            It’s time to party like it’s 1970!

            They then made it past Baylor to face mighty Duke.

            The pressure was too much, I thought I would  . . .

            (If only there was a word that rhymed with Duke.)

            Though the Bonnies would try, it would all be for naught.

            Yeah that’s exactly what I originally thought.

            But somehow, someway St. Bonaventure proved too strong.

            Because, as my wife likes to say, I’m often wrong.

            Shouting, “They won! They won!” we ran upstairs and slid down railings.

            I then said sorry to my wife for Selection Sunday Dude’s budgetary failings.

            She simply gave me a kiss and said, “Whatever.             Honey, this has been the best Tournament ever.”

The Enlightenment and its Enemy: White Nationalism

By Mike Frates

Our goal should be to repress our inner Troglodyte, and embrace our better angels, but that’s not the problem right now. The problem is that the troglodytes are winning.

The European Enlightenment of the 1780s made two promises. The first, if we embrace reason to the exclusion of all other human capacities, the inner workings of nature will be revealed, and the technology that results will better our lives. The price we paid was the embrace of a loving God. As the great Enlightenment philosophers began to apply reason like a scalpel to our understanding of human nature, Jeremy Bentham and Emmanuel Kant were developing sophisticated theories of moral philosophy that bring us to the second covenant. The Enlightenment also promised to make us better people, instilling the wisdom with which to wield this technology. One promise was kept, the other … not so much.

Our species survived for quite a while without the benefit of Enlightenment principles. We fashioned tools out of rocks and sticks to better manipulate our environment. Hunting methods provided us with the protein necessary to support our evolutionarily expensive large brains. And, we developed strategies to exploit the resources around us. That which was different from us may have been dangerous in the form of competitors or predators.

Hunter-gathering gave way to farming, and crop surpluses allowed families to barter for goods and services. The feudal bureaucracy was born. Militaries were assembled, and walls were built to protect us from other humans. We continued to highlight the differences between ourselves and others because that which was different may have been dangerous. The Portuguese slave trade aggravated these ingrained, superficial biases.

We share ninety-six percent of our DNA with one of the most vicious and territorial animals on the planet, Pan troglodytes: the chimpanzee. As we civilized ourselves, those hunting, social and mating strategies began to translate into two principles that will forever bedevil our species, “pride and respect.” The recognition of which became a zero-sum game. Our attempts to make sense out of our world through mythology, and, later, the three great monotheistic religions, normalized these influences. Instead of describing the evolutionary psychology that shaped our behavior, they became the values that dictated how we should behave.

Militaries grew larger, the walls got higher and the 1780s came and went. The lessons of the Enlightenment triggered Industrialization along with advances in warfare. We also witnessed the geopolitical status quo reach its culmination in balance of power politics. Germany brought the world to the brink of war when England, and the rest of Western Europe, failed to contain Bismarck. The old way of doing business had broken down, and humanity was about to pay a dear price as a result.

We responded to the two World Wars by embracing Enlightenment principles. Nations were no longer judged based solely upon their actions, but now their intentions as well. We held state action to moral standards. We embraced universal human rights in recognition of our common humanity, and self-determination flourished with the spread of democracy. We learned that pooling our resources would result in greater social justice for all. We looked forward to ameliorating human poverty and disease while we looked back upon the Holocaust.

Populist elections both here and in Britain have, for the first time, placed this global order founded on Enlightenment principles under serious attack. But make no mistake: These issues have been raging ever since Nietzsche declared God’s death. Science unleashed the wonders of nature while it reduced love to a chemical reaction. Science charted the heavens as it stripped us of our soul. The death of God meant the death of Our Father who gave our lives meaning and purpose. To embrace reason – to embrace the truth – we had to step out from beneath God’s grace, and find the courage to tackle the world on our own terms. From Roe v. Wade to how we educate our children to our justice system, everyone has a dog in this fight.

There are a few groups who oppose the Enlightenment. Pride of place goes to religious evangelicalism trying to resuscitate an enchanted vision of Camelot, but there is something refreshingly honest about these white nationalists. Instead of using religion to drape their most base impulses in respectability they put their pre-Enlightenment, tribal racism right there on display stripped of any pious pretext. Our goal should be to repress our inner Troglodyte, and embrace our better angels, but that’s not the problem right now. The problem is that the troglodytes are winning.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, April 30, 2017.


By Dave Barend

I’m guessing you may have a couple questions like: “Why on Earth would anyone compare Dan Dakich and Taylor Swift?” Or, “Who the hell is Dan Dakich?” Well, the answers to those questions, as well as indisputable proof that Dakich is better than Swift, can be found below – I think.

I’m guessing you may have a couple questions like: “Why on Earth would anyone compare Dan Dakich and Taylor Swift?” Or, “Who the hell is Dan Dakich?” Well, the answers to those questions, as well as indisputable proof that Dakich is better than Swift, can be found below – I think.

So you know that great feeling when you’re driving and a song you love comes on the radio? Today that feeling did not find its way to me. A song stared to play, I soon found it unbearable, and I changed the channel. This brought on immediate mutiny from my two teenage daughters. “Dad! That’s Taylor Swift!” “Who?” No, I didn’t ask that. I instead opted to avoid a cavalcade of disbelief.

“Come on Dad, who would you rather listen to?” They then mockingly added, “Dan Dakich?” At that point the feeling I had was, of course – pride. Yes, pride: I have two daughters who know who Dan Dakich is! I think this is the same kind of pride that normal parents feel when their kids come home with straight A’s. Yeah, they might not know the pythagorean theorem or the capital of South Dakota, but my girls know their college hoops. Now I just need to explain to them the obvious: Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift. (drop a rung)

Though first, I may need to explain to any of you non-college hoops nuts who Dan Dakich is. He played his college ball for Indiana, then became the head coach of Bowling Green, and is currently an analyst for ESPN. Now, if I need to explain who Taylor Swift is, well, you should probably think about selling that real estate you own under a rock. Anyway, here are the reasons why Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift.

Dan Dakich Has A Better Voice Than Taylor Swift.

Yes, that might seem like a tough contention to make. Taylor Swift has a whopping 10 Grammys, and Dakich has, well, let’s say, been snubbed. But to be clear, I’m not comparing singing accomplishments, just voice. And I steadfastly maintain that Dan Dakich’s voice is better. He kind of goes from low pitch to high pitch, and slow to fast when making a point. That’s an unquestionably enjoyable and quite distinctive cadence, “‘I’m telling ya”, as Dakich would say. Then there’s Taylor Swift’s voice which I have found far from distinctive. And I support this claim with quotes from other conversations with my daughters:

Me: “Is this Taylor Swift?”

Daughters: “No Dad. It’s Selena Gomez.”

Me: “Is this Taylor Swift?

Daughters: “No Dad. It’s Ariana Grande.”

Me: “Is this Taylor Swift?”

Daughters: “No Dad.  It’s Justin Bieber.”

Dan Dakich Provides Better Words Of Wisdom Than Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift seems to have lots to say about ex-boyfriends. I, however, have no ex-boyfriends. My daughters have no ex-boyfriends or boyfriends either, well, as far as I know. I assume they don’t, and as a good dad, I ignore any possible evidence to the contrary. So Taylor Swift’s words are of no use to me.

Dan Dakich, in contrast, has said so many wise things he should be called college basketball’s Confucius.  Amongst the pearls he has dropped are: “Ball don’t lie,” “He’s tough on tough”, “Water finds its level”, and “If the dog didn’t stop and take a dump he would have caught the rabbit.” I’m nearly certain that no such nuggets of wisdom can be found in any Taylor Swift lyric.

Dan Dakich Is Funnier Than Taylor Swift

There’s no denying that Dan Dakich can be really funny. He once proclaimed, “Including my own kids, I wouldn’t listen to anyone in their 20s”. While talking about college baseball coach, Erik Bakich, he said, “He’s one letter from the greatest name ever.” But my favorite was when he complimented Michigan’s John Teske’s soft hands by claiming, “He uses Jergens.” There’s no doubt Teske’s friends found another meaning.

I must admit that Taylor Swift does have two lines that absolutely crack me up: “Hey kids, spelling is fun” and “To the fella over there with the hella good hair.” Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the lines that follow those. I’m always laughing so hard I never hear what comes next. 

Dan Dakich Is Classier Than Taylor Swift

A contention could be made that Dan Dakich can be slightly caustic at times. He may have pushed an envelope or two, and arguably said a few things that could be considered less than appropriate for polite company – all of which I love, by the way. But I have never heard him utter one of the most vile, offensive and disgusting words in the English language – that, of course is the word “lover.” When you introduce someone as your “lover” you aren’t just saying this is my boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re saying this is the person I’m doing it with. “Hey, have you met my lover, you know, my bang buddy.” I mean, if you use the word lover, you might as well follow it up with all of the positions you just used. Dan Dakich is simply too classy to use that word. (And his wife, a former college softball coach, would likely clock him with a Louisville Slugger if he did so.)

Taylor Swift, however, not only says the word lover regularly, she sings it in a song grotesquely entitled – “Lover”. What makes it even worse is that my girls are now singing a song entitled “Lover”. And as a guy who can’t even picture his daughters with a boyfriend, I sure as hell don’t want to envision them with a “lover”.

And there you have the reasons why Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift.

Sorry about that, Taylor. Might I suggest you just shake it off? Though maybe not with your lover.

Finally, I must concede that my super-mega-Swiftie daughters, who have begged Santa for tickets to see you (again!!), remain unconvinced of Dan Dakich’s superiority. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they’d even take you over Santa – especially if he doesn’t come through with those tickets. But if they are going to feel that way about anyone other than their dear old dad, (or, of course, Dan Dakich) I’m happy it’s you.

Merry Christmas and “sweet dreams of holly and ribbon”.

Post Christmas Postscript

Moments after the opening of the last “big gift”, the house became filled with screams of two teenage girls. “We’re going to Taylor Swift! We’re going to Taylor!”  If only Santa had filled my stocking with Advil.

A few hours later while I tried to find the living room under a pile of used wrapping paper, my oldest said, “Thank you again for the Taylor Swift tickets.” “No problem.”   Yeah, that’s right – I lie to my kids. “Well I know you spent a lot of money on them, Dad.” Hmm. we now have another reason why Dan Dakich is better than Taylor Swift  – Dan Dakich is free!

She then asked, “Why didn’t you get Final 4 tickets instead?” “Well, because the gift was for you not me.” Though I understand her confusion seeing that my big gift from her mother was a new duvet cover.

“But we could have done both.” “Honey, right now we just can’t afford to do both.” “Didn’t you know that Taylor Swift is going to the Final 4 to do a concert that and the best part is it will be FREE.” I’m not sure what happened next because once I heard FREE, I passed out. But I have a faint recollection of hearing my girls say, “Dad. Come on Dad. Shake it off.”

(Note to Dan Dakich:  Sincere thanks for the really kind words about this article on Twitter. I’ll continue trying to get my wife and daughters to adopt the Dakich family motto of “Sack Up.” It’s clearly better than Shake It Off.)

Pope Francis and American Conservatism

By Mike Frates

Modern American conservatism represents a triumph of the rich and powerful over all who remain in this country.

“Pure Marxism,” decried Rush Limbaugh in response to Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel. Bill O’Reilly later said that Jesus, “wouldn’t be down,” with giving food stamps to the drug addicted: “If you’re an [addict] and you can’t hold a job, and you can’t support your children, … then you’re bringing the havoc. You’re asking people who may be struggling themselves to put food on the table to give their tax money to you, … and then you’re going to buy booze and drugs with it.” It looks like Pope Francis has rattled a few conservative cages with his new emphasis on the plight of the poor. Let me offer one reason why.

John Locke once famously suggested we are born but blank slates, and our conception of the world around us is nothing more than the sum total of our experiences imprinting themselves on that slate. Can you feel the passivity in those words? This particular theory went on to have a major impact in the 20th century, especially in the work of B.F. Skinner. Skinner figured, “Why stop at knowledge?” All of human behavior, Skinner thought, could be explained by how we respond to our environment leaving the individual’s role in this analysis more of an empty vessel.

Skinner was wrong, very wrong, and a young man from MIT, Noam Chomsky, made a name for himself in 1967 when he published an academic paper blowing Skinnerian Behaviorism out of the water. Skinner’s Behaviorism was a major theory in 20th century psychology, and, as a result, had a reasonably far-reaching impact on other disciplines. One example was its impact on the Nature/Nurture debate. Much of what we understand about human nature today comes to us through that debate. Nature/Nurture asks, “What role does the environment play in shaping our destiny as opposed to the genes with which our ancestors provided us.”

This is a very touchy argument. Since the dawn of science, racists have been using the “pro-gene” (Nature) argument to make the case that certain cultures, or peoples, are inherently inferior to others. The 19th century actually had a name for it: “The White Man’s Burden.” Liberals gravitated toward the environmental (Nurture) conclusion because it gave rise to an egalitarianism they were more comfortable with. It turns out that the truth is something in between, slightly favoring our genes, but we also have learned that the strong role our genes play needn’t give rise to those ridiculous racist arguments.

Here’s where it gets interesting. This conversation triggers a principle that philosophers call, “agency.” If we can take a child of any pedigree, and turn her into a sinner or a saint, a doctor or a thief, based solely upon what environment she’s subject to (an inner-city ghetto or elite private schools), exactly what room is left for “personal responsibility?” The choices she’s making are defined by her environment. She’s reacting, albeit with a textured richness commensurate with the complexity of her brain, but reacting nonetheless.

Sure, she can choose between reading the New York Times and the Washington Post on any given morning, but her environment has defined the limits of her world as well as her idea of right and wrong just as it has from culture to culture and age to age since the dawn of time. Behaviorism fell by the wayside, but the independent science behind Nurture remained strong.

Modern American conservatism represents a triumph of the rich and powerful over all who remain in this country. Our proud progressive roots, from FDR to the Great Society, evidenced a strong Christian morality for caring for the most vulnerable among us while, at the same time, recognizing that without middle-class labor the rich and powerful in this country would have nothing. The wealthy now had to distract the middle class while they dismantled this tradition.

They chose a divide a conquer strategy, but to succeed – to pit the middle class against the poor – the poor could not simply be victims of their own circumstance. They had to be at fault. They had to bear the blame for the very poverty that shackles them. We live in a capitalist system that has a built in, “structural,” unemployment rate. When everything is working great, this system guarantees an impoverished underclass. Meanwhile, there are CEOs in this country at the helm of multi-million or multi-billion dollar corporations who will die of lung cancer because they can’t quit smoking.

When the poor lose their battle against the mental health and drug addiction issues that bedevil them, we throw them in jail. When the rich and powerful succumb to their own avarice, we bail them out, give them a tax break and send them on their way. Pope Francis hasn’t just embraced the original teachings of Jesus of Nazareth by pointing to Republican policies such as supply-side economics as the cause of the problem, he’s warming the glue that binds together an entire power structure.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, December 12, 2013.


By Dave Barend

Prior to my interview with Oakland University’s Coach Greg Kampe, College Insider provided a bit of instruction: Delve into how his team was a lock for the NCAAs until some of his best players unexpectedly and devastatingly transferred. Geesh, it seems like the subject of transfers might not be Coach Kampe’s favorite.

By Dave Barend

(This article was first published by CollegeInsider.)

Prior to my interview with Oakland University’s Coach Greg Kampe, College Insider provided a bit of instruction: Delve into how his team was a lock for the NCAAs until some of his best players unexpectedly and devastatingly transferred. Geesh, it seems like the subject of transfers might not be Coach Kampe’s favorite.

My guess is it would be easier to ask how he felt during his latest colonoscopy. Or maybe as an icebreaker I could start with, “Let’s talk about the day your dog ran away.”

Turns out I forgot another thing that College Insider mentioned – Greg Kampe is a great guy. Within minutes we formed a plan: Mix some intriguing ways to deal with the transfer issue within fun-filled facts about his life and times for a hopefully entertaining read. Here goes.

I learned that Greg Kampe cares about, well, what he cares about, and he cares about that quite passionately. Like important things such as – Dr. Pepper.

While heading to his team’s shoot around at Green Bay, he saw a pallet full of Dr. Pepper and reacted as if he just happened upon the Mona Lisa. Such a sight compelled him not only to take a picture but post it on Twitter so as to best share the apparently indescribable beauty. Who stops to photograph Dr. Pepper, other than maybe Mrs. Pepper? Coach Kampe, that’s who. Someone responded to his tweet by asking, “How’s the shoot around going?” He replied, “Don’t know.  I’m loading Dr. Pepper on the bus.”

Among the coach’s passions, you know, other than Dr. Pepper, are his family, friends, sports, school and, of course, his players. Then there’s the transfer issue. Yeah, he cares about that too.



Somewhat Serious Idea:

The school getting the player must pay a “buy out fee” to the school losing the player. Though Coach Kampe came up with this idea well before our interview, I swore to him I had the same exact thought. At no point did he say he’d like to share the credit.

Hopefully Humorous Idea:

Have every player who wants to transfer enter a tournament. America loves a good tournament. But it won’t be basketball It’ll be Hunger Games.


Coach Kampe grew up in Defiance, Ohio, which he has quite proudly labeled, “the point guard capital of the world.” When pressed to defend that assertion he said, “You see, nobody in Defiance is over 6 foot tall. So it has to be the point guard capital of the world.” And there you have a passionate defense of his hometown with indisputable logic.

Another native of Defiance, Ohio is Jessicka Havok – a 6 foot, 240 pound professional female wrestler. I asked the coach what his strategy would be if he had to wrestle her. Without missing a beat he said, “Run.”

Back in high school, however, his answer would have been a little different. He excelled at and loved basketball, football, track and pretty much all sports. In fact it appears the only thing he was more passionate about than sports was himself.

“I wanted attention before it was vogue.  I used to wear a towel.”

“You’d wear a towel?”

“Yeah, I’d wear a towel.”

“What if the towel fell . . .?”

As I began that question I recalled another directive from College Insider – don’t write anything that could offend anyone. So I opted to stop. I’m sure you’d like to know the answer. And I’m even more sure that I don’t want to get fired.

I did attempt to bond by noting that I also ran track – long distance in high school, but the 400 in college. I explained that my coach moved me to the 400 to, well, substantially decrease chances that I’d get lapped. Kampe then informed me of his time in the 400 which led to a shock-induced silence. “Holy crap, I think you could have actually lapped me in the 400.”

“Nah.” he said, “But back then I did think I was Hercules.” And there you have the first time anyone has referred to themselves as Hercules and been modest.

He got recruited to play football, basketball and track by colleges such as Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Heck, Kentucky even recruited him to do the decathlon – and he had never even done the decathlon. All of a sudden every high school decathlete who never got recruited, now feels a little bit worse.

He chose Bowling Green because they’d let him play both football and basketball. Yes, that’s right he was Neon Deion before Deion Sanders. He was Bo Knows before Bo Jackson. Fame and fortune should have been his too. Oh, if only there was a decent word that rhymed with Greg.

One other little problem existed – he stood a mere 5 foot, 9 inches. While considering legitimate NFL free agent offers, he apparently looked in the mirror and decided to go another direction. (Note my deft decision not to revisit the towel issue.)



Somewhat Serious Idea:

Decrease the number of graduate transfers by not letting player red-shirt.

Hopefully Humorous Idea:

Decrease the number of graduate transfers by not letting players graduate.


Kampe chose a path that required a new passion – others. Coaching in college he says, “is about turning 18-year-old boys to 23-year-old men.” I should clarify that he did not specifically reference Boyz II Men. But I still blame him for the three days that “MotownPhilly” ran through my head.

At the mere age of 28 he became the head coach at Oakland. And for a whopping 36 years he has thrown his heart into his mission as a “maker of men.” Though with three sons, he might consider ceding that title to his wife.

He recalled when one of his players got in a fight during a game they lost at Valparaiso. On the way home, the team stopped for dinner at a Hardees. (Not sure if that’s because they lost.) While in line, Coach Kampe explained to this player that he can’t act that way if he wants to be respected. Then the teenager behind the Hardee’s counter looked at the player and exclaimed, “Wow! Aren’t you the guy who just beat the crap out of someone on Valpo?”

He also had a player who had lost the love for basketball, and voluntarily gave up his scholarship. Weeks passed and Kampe convinced the player to just come back and practice with the team. And wouldn’t you know – the kid’s love for basketball returned, all because Coach Kampe didn’t give up on this yet-to-be-a-man. “Or maybe he realized that college is expensive”, the coach deadpanned.

But wait there’s more . . . Fast forward to the final seconds of the conference championship game, and this player has the ball in his hands. What the heck kind of a coach has a player leave the team and then even lets that guy back on the floor? A coach taking Oakland to its first NCAA Tournament, that’s who.

Yup, the shot went in. So I asked Coach Kampe, “When you close your eyes and think of that moment, what do you see?” The smiles on his players faces? Tears in the eyes of his family? “I see myself swearing at my manager who was running on the floor, preening for ESPN, with a second still on the damn clock.”



Somewhat Serious Solution: 

The transfer portal needs to be altered so that coaches are not finding out that a player wants to transfer while sitting on a beach drinking a nice Dr. Pepper.

Or, as Coach Kampe more succinctly put it, “Get rid of the damn transfer portal and go back to the way it was.” 

Hopefully Humorous Solution: 

Change the transfer portal to a transfer port-a-potty. Any kid who wants to transfer must enter a port-a-potty and stay there until another team picks him. Coach Kampe wanted it known that this idea was not his. And I want it known that this idea made him laugh.


Kampe readily admits that not every coaching decision has been stellar. There may be evidence that his first year he got a technical or two. Or three or . . . “I think I had like 16.”

Then there’s the alleged incident at a school we’ll just call Nameless State. After OU fell behind by 6 at half, both teams discovered their abutting locker rooms were locked. This, by the way, would never happen at Oakland where Kampe knows all of the janitors. “It pays to know the guys with the keys.”

Anyway, the Nameless State’s coach decided to lambaste his own team for only being ahead by 6 against a team that stinks. Yes, all within arms length and earshot of everyone on Oakland. When finally inside the locker room, Kampe implored his players to go and kick Nameless State’s ass. Then he added, “And after you do – I’m going to kick that coach’s ass!”

Turns out his team managed to keep their end of the bargain. Kampe’s assistants tried hard to explain that this would be one of those situations where breaking a promise was ok. So when it came time to shake hands, Coach Kampe politely

pointed his finger at the coach and said, “If you ever . . .” Cut to black. What? Yup, the game tape stopped right about there.

Coach Kampe could neither confirm nor deny that he had a copy of the full tape. I guess this missing footage will simply go down in history with Zapruder and Nixon.

So has Coach Kampe’s passion sometimes gotten the best of him? Sure. But it seems as if he’s learned to achieve balance, so to speak, with another passion: about things he does not care. Huh? Yes, there are things about which he passionately does not care. The guy is a walking, talking paradox. Imagine being the poor fool who tries to write an article about him.

Now, for example, he passionately does not care about his appearance. Which has worked out fine for him since he has made not one but two lists of Sexiest Div1 Coaches. And both of those accolades came with a post-towel wearing physique. He maintains that his sexiness comes from his “roundness.”

“I have a well-rounded figure. I laugh. I shake.” That’s right, he believes he’s sexy like Santa.

If you are sensing a bit of a self-deprecating sense of humor in Coach Kampe, you are wrong. There’s a huge self-deprecating sense of humor in Coach Kampe.

“Before I became a coach, I pretty much had my way in life. Coaching is humbling.” So to recap, he went from a semi-selfish boy to a pretty selfless man. Huh, sounds a lot like a path he preaches. Ok, all together now, “Boy II Men are going off . . .”

Coach Kampe’s own transformation has led him to passionately not care about something else – what other people think. “You know, there are coaches who sit in their offices until 2 a.m. not because they need to but solely because they want other people to think they are. That’s not me.” Instead, he feels quite comfortable walking around every Wednesday at 2pm in red, orange and blue shoes. I should probably clarify that he does so in a bowling alley. “I love it and I suck.” Did I mention he’s a paradox?

He also no longer seeks attention, especially for the massive amount of charity work he does. “I really don’t tell people about that.” Until then I was nearly convinced that Coach Kampe knew I was a person.

A large amount of that charity work is for the American Cancer Society. He has a brother with cancer, and lost a good friend to it this past May. He says his desire to help “came from tears and love.” It also ties in with his motto of “Life is a team sport.” A motto everyone should adopt, except maybe a tollbooth worker.



Somewhat Serious Solution: 

Give the coach the opportunity to convince the kid to stay.  “Let me have the chance to explain that life is a team sport. The way the NCAA has it, I can’t do my job of turning these kids into men. I need show them that the grass is not always greener.” Coach Kampe did, however, concede that Erma Bombeck was right when she said that the grass is always greener – above a septic tank.

Hopefully Humorous Solution:

When a player transfers, hoping to find greener grass, they must reside at the new school above a septic tank. But before transferring, notice must be given to coaches, teammates and fans, who are also being abandoned. This notice will come in a packed area, and the very first words out of the player’s mouth must be, “I’ve decided to take my talents to  . . .”


So that brings us to this year’s team. You know the one that was supposed to be incredible, until a bunch of players transferred. Coach says he’s not bitter, and I said I understand. At least I think I do.

I’m just going on a hunch here, but there’s a good chance that in a few years Coach Kampe is going to get a call from some of those players. And maybe just maybe they’ll say, “Hey Coach, I didn’t get it then, but now I do.” And I’d be willing to bet Coach Kampe says, “That’s ok kid, it took me a bit to get it too.”

What is abundantly clear is that he loves the players he has with a (come on, you’ve got this) – passion. Ten of them are brand new That’s a lot of guys who need to learn a new system. Most importantly, that’s a lot of guys who need to learn to love Dr. Pepper.

They are currently 8-15. That’s just one win short of the number the team had before its run to its first NCAA Tournament. You know, when a player who wasn’t even supposed to be on the floor made the game winning shot. Well this team has a whole bunch of players who weren’t even supposed to be on the team, let alone on the court. Yet the current odds of Oakland making the NCAAs are 4.6%. I’d say head to Caesar’s pronto before Vegas figures this out.

There is, however, a definite bright spot with this team, or more accurately with the managers. They are currently #16 in the country in college basketball managers team rankings. When asked how much credit he deserves for their success, Coach Kampe says, “All of it.” “Though they’ll claim they don’t even know my name.” Should they make it to the championship game, don’t count out the possibility of him running on the court with one second left.



Somewhat Serious Solution: 

“Adapt or die” says Coach Kampe and the door to his office He gives credit for this to Drexel Coach Zach Spiker. Though it seems very much like he’s going to try to treat the transfer mess like one other thing he passionately doesn’t care about.

Hopefully Humorous Idea: 

“Adapt or die” – yup same as above. But with some credit also going to Charles Darwin and the movie Heartbreak Ridge.


When the great Al McGuire wanted to convey victory and happiness he’d reference his childhood in Rockaway Park and say “Seashells and Balloons.” So I asked Coach Kampe is there anything akin to that for you? “Nope – just Dr. Pepper.” I’m telling you, this guy cares about what he cares about, and he does so passionately.

Why are middle-class, white men hording weapons and ammunition?

By Mike Frates

Every generation watches its culture slip away as the next one lays claim to it, but what this post- 9/11 world leaves behind is a little more frightening.

Ancient Greek mythology offers priceless insights into the human condition providing a window into our hearts and minds. The Homeric Greeks were confronted with a world for which they were not prepared. They were tested by births, deaths, lost crops and meteorological events they couldn’t explain.

To cope, they superimposed the famed gods of Mount Olympus, but before Zeus explained away lightning and thunder and his father, Cronos, personified the concept of time, what was there? What was the primordial fear at the center of it all for which the Greeks were trying to account? The answer was Chaos.

Our greatest fear in this world is not our demise. It’s making it to middle age, going to school and taking on the student debt, finding a mate and growing a family with a nice house and white picket fence, then watching helplessly as a drunk driver takes it all away in the blink of an eye for no discernible reason whatsoever. It’s the role chance or contingency plays in our lives. The Greek gods provided a method to Chaos’ madness.

The Homeric Greeks understood the problem, but had no answer for it. The gods of Mount Olympus were capricious characters who embodied Chaos themselves. It took Plato and Aristotle of ancient Athens to provide a solution. The antidote to Chaos is the purpose-driven life. If there was a preordained plan for us, a cosmic order that took each one of us into account, then tragedy was no longer the product of chance in our lives, but a test of our faith in that plan. Everything happened for a reason.

Our destiny was written in the stars – Heavily laden with astrology, this cosmology cradled us in a purpose-driven life. Now, we were all cogs in this grand, cosmic machine, and happiness meant identifying your role in life and fulfilling it. There was a place for each of us. Soon after, the medieval priests welcomed this world view with open arms. Place a crown of thorns on top, and this cosmology fit like a Christian glove. The purpose-driven life became a promise fulfilled by an unchallenged allegiance to a personal God. An elegant, comfortable worldview, but one that was not meant to last.

You’ve heard that Latin phrase of Rene Descartes, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” right? “I think therefore I am,” was famously published in 1641. What Descartes did was plant a seed. Instead of embracing intuition to reveal God, the Cogito wielded human reason to penetrate the world around us. Rather than appealing to the authority of biblical texts, and their priestly interpretations, humanity stepped out from beneath God’s grace to apprehend the world on its own terms. This single idea was literally responsible for the scientific, technological age in which we live.

This rational approach developed into a mathematical perspective exploited by Kepler and Galileo, and their efforts were cashed out by Newton in his masterpiece, “The Principles of Mathematics.” Over the next century, philosophers applied this epistemology – or theory of knowledge – beyond Newton’s physics to politics, early psychology, social theory and the law. Descartes’ seed blossomed into the Enlightenment.

This was the most significant shift in understanding our species has ever experienced. We chose human reason, and the science and technology that accompanied it, over the affirmation of a purpose-driven life that followed an uncritical acceptance of God. Nietzsche declared God’s death at our hands, and lamented the loss of objective moral values, but there was another problem: Chaos was loose.

Chaos is the general anxiety that belies modem life. The great French existentialists of the mid- 20th century engaged Chaos. Without God and the purpose-driven life, we are free to chose our own path, and with that freedom comes a paralyzing fear. Jean Paul Sartre once called denying the nerve-wracking breadth of that choice Bad Faith, highlighting the absurdity of a life that lacks genuine purpose.

September 11th poured fuel on this fire; terrorism traffics in Chaos. Our political institutions can provide some stability, but conservative politics has sown distrust in them. When middle-class, white men feel life begin to fray around the edges, they revert to their role as provider and protector, and when economic recession threatens that role, look for a rise in xenophobic hate-politics like Golden Dawn in Greece, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, and Cruz and Trump in the United States.

Every generation watches its culture slip away as the next one lays claim to it, but what this post- 9/11 world leaves behind is a little more frightening. Middle class, white men are hoarding weapons in an effort to project a sense of permanency on a world constantly shifting beneath their feet, but Chaos rarely presents with a bulls-eye on its back.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, February 7, 2016.

The Second Amendment and Sandy Hook: How relevant are twenty dead children?

By Mike Frates

After Newtown, this country engaged in a very serious conversation about what the loss of those lives meant to us. The problem is that our policies didn’t change as a result of that conversation.

Every once in a while, an event takes place across the globe or in our backyard that changes the trajectory of American politics . September 11th is the most pristine example, but that day does not stand alone. One would think that the massacre of twenty of our children, and the deaths of eight more adults, in Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012, would have had some impact, but, eighteen months later, it all seems like so many news cycles ago. One would think that the slaughter of twenty seven people and the suicide of a mentally imbalanced young man, with a legally purchased semiautomatic assault rifle, would have cut deeper into our national conscience. It didn’t.

One reason, I believe, is that we lack a certain kind of context within which to discuss these types of issues. The context I’m referring to is unlike the context that journalists wrangle with, or, “factual context.” After Newtown, this country engaged in a very serious conversation about what the loss of those lives meant to us. The problem is that our policies didn’t change as a result of that conversation. The implication is that what we learned simply didn’t sufficiently move us. This is what I will not accept. Every American felt the loss of those innocents that day, yet half of us resolved to change our firearm laws to reflect a, “Post-Newtown World,” and the other half reached for their ammunition. Let me offer you one reason why.

There are two different perspectives that Americans tend to embrace: the religious and the natural. Both of these viewpoints have healthy support in our current social institutions. Yet, at the same time, they are both deeply rooted in our philosophical history. In 1641, Rene Descartes, the great rationalist, published his, “Meditations on First Philosophy,” (It was subtitled, “In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul is demonstrated.”) and introduced the Western World to Cartesian Dualism. The idea is that the world (reality) comprises two different kinds of stuff: the physical and the immaterial. The world you see around you, the physical world, is subject to the laws of physics, and unfolds by virtue of unbroken natural law, but our mind (or soul, if you prefer) is a different matter (pardon the pun).

For Descartes, the physical domain is simply deterministic. This is a hard conclusion to avoid. If you spend the next 20 years of your life setting up the most complicated string of dominoes humanity has ever known, when you flip the first one, the outcome is completely dependent upon the laws of physics. No amount of wishful thinking, either by you or the domino, is going to change that outcome, save some future intervention. That being the case, what about we humans? Well, moral responsibility requires a choice, and if you can’t make that choice, then you are nothing more than one of those countless dominoes awaiting your fate. Why don’t the laws of physics act upon the neurons in our brain, the same way they act upon the dominoes?

Our mind, according to Descartes, plays by different rules. It exists, but it is neither physical nor extended. It’s immaterial; it’s made out of the same kind of stuff our ideas or dreams are made of, and it gives rise to our personality, wants, desires and talents. And, our freewill, but, since it’s not a part of the physical world, it allows us to freely negotiate our way through the, “clockwork universe.” This is big freewill: Independent freedom to choose our path in an otherwise deterministic universe.

A hundred years later, the renowned empiricist David Hume would set us on a different course. Hume was a materialist. He believed that the only stuff in this world is the material, physical matter we see around us, and the only way we have access to it is through our five senses. Hume believed in freewill, but his materialism brought him closer to the physical world, and the consequences of our interaction with it. David Hume set the stage for the Age of Science.

When a Second Amendment advocate says, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” she’s expressing a very Cartesian sentiment. She’s saying, “No matter what you say, when I pick up that gun, I have control. I can freely choose what happens next, and, whatever the outcome, I am responsible.” When someone with a naturalistic, scientific worldview is confronted with the same scenario, they think, “Hey, we’re nothing more than smart animals, and we’re subject to the laws of statistics like anything else. And, when you take 300 million people, and toss a bunch of weapons into the mix, you get (tragically) predictable results.” And, this is why this debate will never be settled.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, May 28, 2014.


By Rich Tucker

The story of humanity is a story of advancement. Ever-more efficient and effective energy sources are a key to that, as Richard Rhodes explains in his book, Energy.

A Book Review

A few years back, during a visit to a village in the north of England, a relative pointed out the difference in two adjoining brick buildings. One was dark, as though stained with soot. The other was brighter.

He noted that not long ago, all the buildings in England looked like the dirty one. It was only a few decades ago, after all, that most of the country burned coal. The famed “London fog” wasn’t fog, but smog, caused by the burning of coal. Now that the U.K. has switched to cleaner sources of power the fog is gone, and people can scrub their brick buildings, too.

The story of humanity is a story of advancement. Ever-more efficient and effective energy sources are a key to that, as Richard Rhodes explains in his book, Energy.

He starts in Shakespearean times. Humankind relied on wood to provide housing, heat and energy. But we were quickly clearing the forests near major population centers. Would people hit a wall and run out of power? No, because humans discovered coal, which provided more power when burned.

“A shortage of wood had driven the English to take up burning coal,” Rhodes writes. “Digging ever deeper for coal, they found their mines flooding, driving them to invent engines to pump out the water.” As he notes, this process “changed almost everything, first in England, later in America and throughout the world.”

Necessity drove invention. The earliest steam-powered machines could be said to have been invented to feed themselves; the goal was often to remove water from mines so people could dig out coal. Soon enough the coal was powering locomotives to deliver itself from mine to city. But as they became more efficient, they did more with less, freeing people up to do more. Energy production drove a virtuous cycle.

Of course, humans didn’t stop with coal. Americans moved on to oil, often derived from nature, to light lamps and drive back the night. Entire fleets of ships went whaling to obtain burnable oil, to the point that the massive sea-going mammals were endangered. By the 1860s Americans had also developed methods to obtain oil from coal. Rhodes notes we produced between 7 and 9 million gallons a year by the time of the Civil War.

Of course, Rhodes devotes several chapters to the development of petroleum.

It was first refined into kerosene for lamps, but was soon found to be a highly effective fuel for driving an internal combustion engine. That, in turn, helped make today’s clean environment possible. Cars, you see, are much friendlier to the environment than horses were.

“The volume of water and feed that city horses consumed was matched by their daily output of urine and manure,” Rhodes writes. “A working horse produced about a gallon of urine daily and thirty to fifty pounds of manure. That volume filled the New York streets daily with about four million pounds and a hundred thousand gallons of redolent excreta that had to be cleared away.” Replacing horse power with horsepower made the streets cleaner, removed disease-carrying waste, and made it easier to clean our water and sewage systems.

Of course, reducing the output of manure reduced the availability of fertilizer, so Rhodes explains how humanity took advantage of bird guano from far-flung islands. I’d only add that we also learned how to use natural gas as a source of nitrogen, a breakthrough discovered when humans were trying to develop high explosives. Today, it’s allowed an explosive growth in the number of people the planet can feed.

Rhodes also devotes some time to discussing the benefits of nuclear power. It delivers an uninterrupted supply of energy (unlike solar or wind power, which vary depending on the weather) with zero carbon emissions. One holdup to the adoption of nuclear power has been what to do about the waste. Rhodes doubts that will be a problem in the future, though.

“The notion that such waste must be successfully protected from exposure for hundreds of thousands of years is counter to how humans handle every other kind of toxic material we produce,” he writes. Technologies improve over time, “and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have better ways of dealing with our detritus than we do.”

That’s a hopeful notion, and one is tempted to say, “they’d better,” since we are leaving almost all of it in storage near the plants where it is produced. But Rhodes’ confidence in the future is well-grounded in his research of the past. Humans keep finding better and cleaner sources of energy. Every time humans were presented with a problem, they solved it. They’ll probably solve the problems of nuclear waste and global warming, as well.

One thing seems certain: we’re not going to improve the environment by giving things up. For one thing, it’s unfair to people who are now living without dependable energy sources to simply tell them, “yea, live without air conditioning, light, indoor plumbing, etc.” For another it assumes people are willing to give things up. They aren’t. Even Al Gore travels first class.

Rhodes ends with a note of confidence. “Far from threatening civilization, science, technology, and the prosperity they create will sustain us as well in the centuries to come. They are the only institutions human beings have yet devised that consistently learn from their mistakes,” he concludes.

Our children will be smarter than we are. Thank goodness.

Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?

By Rich Tucker

The answer to “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” is yes. But only if we understand what capitalism is, and then use it to increase freedom and grow the economy.

A Book Review

Prolific author Robert Kuttner sets out to blast “capitalism.” The problem is that if you define terms in particular ways, you can prove just about anything you want to.

Kuttner does this masterfully, most importantly by mischaracterizing the very idea of capitalism. “Some have argued that capitalism promotes democracy, because of common norms of transparency, rule of law, and free competition—for markets, for ideas, for votes.” Well, yes, that’s exactly what we think of. Thank you!

Except Kuttner is only using that definition to explain that’s not what he means.

When he writes “capitalism,” he means “corporatism,” the process by which big companies coopt the power of government. Then he damns the capitalism he’s defined.

“Western capitalists have enriched and propped up third-world despots who crush local democracy,” he notes. “Hitler had a nice understanding with German corporations and bankers,” Kuttner writes, while “Communist China works hand in glove with its capitalist business partners to destroy free trade unions and to preserve the political monopoly of the Party.”

So, Nazi Germany and Communist China are united because both were/are “capitalist”? Well, in that case, I guess I oppose capitalism, too, whatever it is.

In the real world, dictators hate capitalism.

It tends to empower regular people at the expense of the government. If a country has a growing economy, driven by capitalism, it is far more likely to move toward democracy. Meanwhile, non-democratic governments are more likely to be autocratic than democratic. There may be examples to the contrary. But if China and Hitler are your examples of capitalism, then you oppose a capitalism that doesn’t really exist.

To bring the argument into the current moment, Kuttner notes that while some corporations are “standing up for immigrants and saluting the happy rainbow of identity politics,” they are also “lining up to back Trump’s program of gutting taxes and regulation.” Later he notes that all companies “have been happy with the dismantling of regulation.” And that may be true. But how is “regulation” an example of “democracy”?

At least in the U.S., regulators tend to be bureaucrats, hired by other bureaucrats to issue rulings the rest of us must obey. An important story of the 21st Century is that Congress (democratically elected) is giving its power away to bureaucratic regulators. That’s what happened in Dodd-Frank and under Obamacare. They aren’t laws in the democratic sense. They are frameworks that lawmakers use to set guidelines. The bureaucrats at HHS, Treasury and other departments fill in the important details. This sort of lawmaking is many things; it is not democratic.

Kuttner also expresses a very narrow view of where the country may go. “Anger against market excess can go right, toward fascism, or can energize a progressive left that anchors a decent economy,” he writes. Oh. Those are the sole choices? “Good” progressivism, or “bad” fascism. It would seem the real world presents a much greater continuum.

Also, let’s push back on the idea that conservatism is “fascist.” This is a common trope used by lazy people who assume “fascism” must be the opposite of “communism.” And since “communism” is on the left, “fascism” must be on the right.

More often, communism and fascism sit right next to each other. On a clock, they’d be 11:59 and 12:01, not 9:00 and 3:00. Communists and fascists both offer government control of the means of production. The fact that they’re so close is why they’re such bitter enemies. Capitalism, by giving regular people control, is a threat to both communism and fascism.

What Kuttner gets right is the collapse of the Democratic left. Democrats have plenty of money, because influential individuals including Eric Schmidt and Tom Steyer are willing to bankroll the party.

But the rich donors have nothing in common with the common man, and no common touch. “Any party that wants to vocally champion the rights of transgender people to choose their own bathrooms had better also redouble its efforts on behalf of wage-earning people generally,” Kuttner writes, “or it will be entrusted by the voters to do neither.” Trump’s victory, predicted.

Kuttner notes a big problem: “Just twenty counties, with only 2 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for half of all the new business growth in the economy” after 2010, he writes. But his proposals for spreading the wealth are less than inspiring: He wants more welfare.

Even here, he cheats by taking Bill Clinton to task for signing welfare reform. “When unemployment subsequently rose sharply in the great recession, the new, block-granted welfare substitute helped only about 10 percent of needy people.” Its predecessor had helped more than half. Well, okay. But welfare reform put more people to work. Aren’t those people who had jobs between 1996 and 2008 better off than if they’d been on welfare all that time?

In the end, the answer to “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” is yes. But only if we understand what capitalism is, and then use it to increase freedom and grow the economy.