This Land Is Ours. We Stole It Fair and Square.

Texas was part of Mexico until American newcomers decided to make it their own country. Whether the new Republic of Texas would join the Union and whether it would be a slave state were much-debated issues until 1845 when Congress agreed to admit Texas as the 18th state. We’d soon be at war with Mexico. (American politics hasn’t totally changed since 1845, although the Democrats eventually switched sides and became less warlike.)

From “Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster” by H. W. Brands:

Four months [after Texas joined the Union], James Polk made prophets of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster by commencing a war with Mexico. Polk’s war was a land grab wrapped in self-defense. Texas entered the Union with its southern boundary in dispute. The United States claimed the Rio Grande as the border; Mexico claimed the Rio Nueces, more than a hundred miles to the north. Mexico nominally claimed the rest of Texas as well, never having acknowledged the loss of its rebellious province. But though it responded to the American annexation of Texas by severing relations with the United States, it took no military action to challenge the new regime on its northern frontier. This frustrated Polk.

The president’s expansionist appetite grew with the eating; not content with depriving Mexico of Texas, Polk coveted California as well. He attempted to purchase California, but the Mexican government rebuffed him. Polk then sought a pretext for declaring war on Mexico. He sent troops to the disputed strip between the rivers, hoping to goad the Mexicans to attack.

Weeks went by and the Mexicans refused to take the bait. Polk, more vexed than ever, prepared a war message for Congress, in which he blamed the Mexicans for insults and injuries against American honor and interests. It was a flimsy document, as Polk himself recognized, but he was determined to have California and its Pacific harbors, by whatever means necessary.

Then, just as he was about to transmit his message to Congress, he received news that Mexican troops had finally engaged the Americans. “After reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil,” Polk told Congress. “War exists, and notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of Mexico itself.” For emphasis the president added, “The two nations are now at war.”

John Calhoun begged to differ. Polk wanted Congress simply to endorse his assertion that war existed and give him authority to prosecute it. Calhoun wasn’t going to be stampeded into anything. “The question now submitted to us is one of the gravest character, and the importance of the consequences which may result from it we cannot now determine,” he told the Senate. “The president has announced that there is war; but according to my interpretation, there is no war according to the sense of our Constitution.”

Calhoun didn’t challenge Polk’s account of the attack on American forces. Nor did he question Polk’s authority to resist and repel such attacks. But he distinguished hostilities from war. “It is our sacred duty to make war,” he told his fellow senators, “and it is for us to determine whether war shall be declared. If we have declared war, a state of war exists, and not till then.”

Calhoun succeeded in slowing the rush to war, but not by much. Congress debated the president’s request, with most of the negative comments coming from the Whigs [Polk, like Andrew Jackson, was a Democrat].

Some asked whether Polk had done all he could to avoid armed conflict; their strong implication was that he had not. A few went so far as to charge Polk with provoking the war. “This war was begun by the president,” Garrett Davis, a Kentucky Whig, told the House. Some inquired whether the Mexican attack, if it indeed had occurred as the president said, had been authorized by the Mexican government. Still others rejected Polk’s assertion that the soil on which the blood had been shed was American. Some said flatly that it was Mexican; others remarked that ownership was still in dispute.

But Polk knew the American political mind better than the dissenters did. He understood that the shedding of American blood—under whatever circumstances—created an irresistible impulse toward war. A negative vote could be characterized as an unpatriotic vote, and no lawmaker lightly risked that. The few surviving former Federalists remembered how their party had wrecked on its opposition to the War of 1812. In the end scarcely a dozen Whigs refused the president’s request. John Calhoun haughtily abstained.


Ulysses S. Grant fought in the Mexican War as a young lieutenant. Years later, he called it “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation”.

One Week and Floundering

Eight days ago, before the inauguration, we already knew a couple of things (roughly quoting Richard Yeselson of Dissent):

  1. Our new President is an authoritarian, mentally-ill ignoramus, uniquely unfit and dangerous.
  2. The Republican Party is morally and intellectually bankrupt.

Given (1) and (2), I can’t think of anything since the inauguration that’s been more than a mild surprise. Given who he is and who his fellow Republicans are, what did we expect?

I’ll mention a few things anyway:

He gave an interview to a TV network other than Fox. Many observers thought he came across like a crazy person. One said it was the scariest thing he’d ever seen. Although many of his supporters probably enjoyed it. There’s a transcript of the interview here.

He’s still using Twitter and his outdated, easy-to-hack phone. He still spends a lot of time watching television and occasionally tweets in response to what he just heard, sometimes repeating exact phrases. One reporter said the tsunami of leaks from the White House make the President sound like a “clueless child”. I think he sounds more like an angry old fool with a severely damaged ego.

He has signed some executive orders, as new Presidents always do. For the most part, these have been aimed at impressing his supporters and may never amount to anything (he can’t get billions of dollars to build a wall by issuing an executive order). An exception is the one that will limit funding for overseas healthcare providers (the abortion “gag-rule”). It’s even worse than similar orders issued by other Republican Presidents. (Vice President Pence, who is an extreme foe of abortion rights, probably had a lot to do with it.)

Of course, that terrific replacement for the Affordable Care Act that he promised to announce in a day or two hasn’t been announced yet. But someone in the administration did take a concrete step regarding the ACA: they canceled an advertisement intended to get people to sign up for health insurance by the January 31st deadline. 

Meanwhile, The Washington Post obtained a secret recording of Congressional Republicans talking about the Affordable Care Act. It demonstrates what we already knew: they don’t know what parts of the ACA to repeal or what to replace those parts with. It’s great to hear them speak honestly for a change, so I’ve attached some choice excerpts at the bottom of this post. 

On the impeachment front, the President isn’t bothering to hide his eagerness to cash in on his new position. He doubled the membership fee at his Florida resort from $100,000 to $200,000; announced plans to build several more hotels in the US; and only plans to stop immigration from Middle Eastern countries where he doesn’t do business or doesn’t plan to (Iran bad; Saudi Arabia – where the 9/11 hijackers came from – good). A lawsuit has already been filed against the President regarding his foreign business dealings. You can read an explanation by one of the lawyers involved here and can see the formal complaint here.

Finally, the President’s spokesman announced that Mexico would reimburse us for the Wall sometime in the future, but in the meantime, companies that import stuff from Mexico (like fruits and vegetables, beer and cars) would pay for the wall through a new 20% import tariff. After it was pointed out that the tariff would be passed along to American consumers in the form of higher prices, the proposal was discounted as merely one of several ways we, not Mexico, could pay for the Wall, which, by the way, Republican politicians in Texas aren’t crazy about anyway.

As a result, and maybe in recognition of the fact that the Executive Branch of our government is now in the hands of knavish fools and foolish knaves, the President of Mexico canceled his visit to Washington.

Oh, and the President wants an investigation of the 3 million people, all of whom he knows voted for his opponent, because that’s how many more people voted for Hillary. Buenas noches, amigos.

As promised, excerpts from the Washington Post article based on that secret recording:

[A Representative] worried that one idea floated by Republicans — a refundable tax credit — would not work for middle-class families that cannot afford to prepay their premiums and wait for a tax refund…

[Another said] “It sounds like we are going to be raising taxes on the middle class in order to pay for these new credits.”

 … A freshman congressman … warned strongly against using the repeal of the ACA to also defund Planned Parenthood…

Of particular concern to some Republican lawmakers was the plan to use the budget reconciliation process — which requires only a simple majority vote — to repeal the existing law, while still needing a filibuster-proof vote of 60 in the Senate to enact a replacement….

… They did not have a clear plan on how to keep markets viable while also requiring insurers to cover everyone who seeks insurance.

[A Senator asked:] Will states have the ability to maintain the expanded Medicaid rolls provided for under the ACA, which now provide coverage for more than 10 million Americans, and can other states do similar expansions?

[A Representative] worried that the plans under GOP consideration could eviscerate coverage for the roughly 20 million Americans now covered through state and federal marketplaces and the law’s Medicaid expansion: “We’re telling those people that we’re not going to pull the rug out from under them, and if we do this too fast, we are in fact going to pull the rug out from under them.”

They are also still wrestling with whether Obamacare’s taxes can be immediately repealed, a priority for many conservatives, or whether that revenue will be needed to fund a transition period.

And there seems to be little consensus on whether to pursue a major overhaul of Medicaid — converting it from an open-ended entitlement that costs federal and state governments $500 billion a year to a fixed block grant…. doing so would mean that some low-income Americans would not be automatically covered by a program that currently covers 70 million Americans.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

In 1949, two teenage boys leave their homes in Texas and ride their horses to Mexico. They meet another boy along the way, who eventually loses his horse and winds up in jail. The other boys get jobs working on a big ranch. One of them, the main character, falls in love with the rancher’s daughter. Unfortunately, the police are on their trail, wrongly believing that all three boys are horse thieves. Things do not go well after that.

All the Pretty Horses is the first novel in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. I don’t know if I’ll read the next one. This one was worth reading, but not very convincing. The main character, who is 16 or 17, is almost a superhero. In addition, the novel contains way too many run-on sentences and too much dialog in Spanish.

Two passages near the end of the book:

“He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activities in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.”

“… for a moment he held out his hands as if to steady himself or as if to bless the ground there or perhaps as if to slow the world that was rushing away and seemed to care nothing for the old or the young or rich or poor or dark or pale or he or she. Nothing for their struggles, nothing for their names. Nothing for the living or the dead.”  (11/19/12)