Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

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25th Amendment: Will Trump Be Deposed?


There’s been a lot of talk lately about President Trump being removed from office via the 25th Amendment (thanks, Steve Bannon). I thought all that had gone away months ago, but suddenly talking heads can’t get enough of the latest talking point. Since everyone seems to have forgotten what the 25th Amendment says, I thought I would share the following Roll Call video. It’s by far the most unbiased presentation on the topic I’ve come across.

https://cdn.media.rollcall.com/videos/2027/101217Whiteboard25thAmendment.webm

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Kneeling for Stupidity


FL: Arizona Cardinals v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a year of what may go down as the dumbest protest in American history, it seems the National Football League is ready to listen to their fans and end the shenanigans, once and for all. The NFLPA should thank them, before any more of their members are made to look like communist sympathizers.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began this hairbrained scheme on September 11, 2016. At the time, I thought it was nothing more than a very idiotic marketing ploy by a former starter whose poor play had landed him on the bench of a bad, and dysfunctional, team. He may have claimed it was to protest police brutality, but his actions since (appearing at press conference in Miami wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt & drawing little pigs on his socks among them) only bolstered my opinion: either he was a wannabe Che Guevara (but without the cajones), or he was desperately trying to force the league to keep him employed. When the season began with him not having a job and the outcry went up from certain segments of the sports commentariat that Kaepernick “deserved” a job, I felt vindicated. After all, his terrible play the previous three seasons certainly didn’t justify his being on an NFL roster. But that didn’t stop that rather vocal group of commentators from assuring us the only reason Kaepernick was watching the games from his couch was racism.

(As a side note: 22 of 87 NFL quarterback are black, as are 9 of the 32 starters. The NFL, as are all pro sports leagues these days, is the most egalitarian of employers. The only thing that matters is performance on the field, not race or religion.)

The NFL is a league that employs rapists, murderers, drug fiends and wife beaters, among other sundry malcontents. And until a week ago, approximately a quarter of those players were engaging in on-the-field behavior 90% of the country finds reprehensible. The outcry and backlash was the result of a few players who may have thought they were doing something principled, and a bunch of guys who get paid to have their brains routinely bounced around their skulls falling for what President Trump does best: troll.

And that was the insanity of this protest from the get-go: perceived police brutality in American cities is a topic worthy of discussion. But the moment you start using the National Anthem and the US flag as the center of your protest, the cause gets drowned out. It isn’t very positive imagery. Look, I get it: the First Amendment allows political speech involving the national symbols as props. But it doesn’t excuse you from widespread ridicule and scorn when you’re even perceived to be disrespecting them. The result in that case tends to be that your cause gets lost in the noise. Nobody cares, nobody wants to hear it – worse, your cause becomes anti-American. If you need a better example, the Supreme Court rulings that upheld disrespecting the flag as political speech were over the flag burning incidents in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Does anyone remember what those protests were about? No. All we remember is seeing the images of people burning a flag, and the outrage and anger it sparked.

Prior to the President’s calling out the players, only a handful were engaging in carrying on Kaepernick’s egregious demonstration. But, Trump Derangement Syndrome combined with the idea of team unity, and that Sunday nearly every team was protesting the flag and anthem. The blowback has been fierce, to say the least: attendance and viewership have cratered in the intervening two weeks. The league and networks have been scrambling, and the proposed rule change is a result of all that. Of course, the better option for the NFL might be to forgo the nearly $6 million they get annually from DoD for their contrived displays of patriotism prior to kickoff. But somehow, unless Congress expressly forbids it in the next budget, I don’t see that happening.

As for the players who feel strongly about police brutality and targeting, they have plenty of outlets to do something. After all, these are all multimillionaires with public megaphones in their adopted communities. They can arrange rallies and protest marches, and actually do more than simply stage ridiculous publicity stunts. They can endow scholarships. They can engage in outreach between their communities and the local police departments. Money and fame both talk, and neither is in short supply for a Cam Newton or Marshawn Lynch.

As for Mr. Kaepernick, he gave an interview on Saturday that amounted to him begging for a job. Of course, his girlfriend came out Sunday and tried to claim he was misquoted, but I suppose the cat is out of the proverbial bag now. As I thought from the beginning, he was trying to use the BLM activists to ensure his employment. Rather than celebrating him, they should be seething at this point. He used them, and in the process, turned their protest movement into a mockery of responsible public demonstration, making it a subject of abject ridicule.

As for me, I don’t watch football for political stunts and could care less about them. I tune in on Sundays to watch young men get their brains routinely bounced around their skulls, not unlike the Roman gladiators of old. Much the same as I don’t care a whit about the idiocy of the people who entertain me from Hollywood, the same goes for the ones on the gridiron. So I’ll keep watching, at least until they decide to switch from tackle to flag football.

Update: looks like the NFL isn’t going to force players to stand, only “encourage” them. Whatever, it’s their funeral. -10/11/17


Las Vegas


Just some quick thoughts:

  • The latest casualty toll is 58 dead, 515 wounded. That’s nearly 600 total casualties, a horrific number by any reckoning.
  • With nearly 600 casualties, it’s likely the shooter fired at least 2,000 rounds. 
  • The shooter was firing into a crowd at a range of approximately 500 yards.
  • Given those two factors, it is unlikely that the shooter was using a modified semi-automatic weapon. This jibes with not only what I heard on tapes of the shooting, but other veterans: the weapon being fired is a M60.
  • Also, the degree of planning and the logistics involved in carrying out this attack makes it unlikely the shooter was acting alone.

There is still much we do not know. But, be wary of what the alphabet networks are feeding you. A lot of what we’re seeing isn’t matching what we’re hearing from them.


Why Chuck Todd’s Anti-Americanism Is a Problem


There’s been some furor over NBC political news director Chuck Todd’s description of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore the other day. You can watch the segment below:

The flak Todd is catching is legitimate: he is expressing the very liberal (and very wrong) concept of government and liberty; to wit, that individual rights and freedoms are granted by the government. The fact is that the Founding Fathers established the Constitution to limit the powers of the government, even going so far as including the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited it by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people“) in the Bill of Rights. It also fits with the very declaration that created the nation to begin with (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“).

If what Chuck Todd was saying – that our rights come from government, and so therefore government can remove those rights as it chooses – was actually considered radical by the media establishment, the outrage be deafening. Sadly, the media establishment is overrun with liberals. Liberal dogma, which depends on the idea that people are subservient to government, fully accepts Todd’s characterization. Indeed, it lionizes it. The outrage response is not to Todd’s remarks, but to articles like this one.

I wasn’t going to bother to commenting on the entire thing. After all, it’s just another illustration of the fundamental divide between conservatives and liberals. You can’t reconcile that basic difference – conservatives know that rights do not come from government and liberals feel that they should. But then, something happened in my own life that brought this problem to the fore.

My brother-in-law works long, hard hours at his job and to help him out, my wife and I have been watching my 13 year old nephew from the time he gets done with school until her brother gets home from work. This also means I get to help him with his homework. The subjects he usually asks for help with are the three I’ve always been comfortable with: math, science and history (or in the modern vernacular, social studies). Yesterday, he asked if he could quiz me on the stuff he learned in history that day. It’s a little game we play – he’s a bright kid and he tries to catch me with trick questions. To my surprise he broke out a pocket Constitution and asked, “What are the rights given by the First Amendment?”.

I told him none. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly – but it doesn’t give them to anyone.

Now, ordinarily I would be ecstatic that the very basics of our government are being taught in our schools. Civics is a subject that is not given nearly enough study by our youth. But his reaction to my answer might have me rethinking that position. You see, he was shocked – astonished, even – by it. Then he said, “But my teacher said our rights come from the Constitution.”

I suppose I shouldn’t have been angered by that. I mean, textbooks are written by liberals, curriculum are designed by liberals, and most of our educators are liberals. But that such drivel is being taught had me seething. To my nephew’s credit, he was able to follow along as I outlined how the Constitution does not grant rights, but was written to ensure the government protects rights. But the fact that I spent 90 minutes deleting the programming the liberal establishment was implanting in one impressionable 13 year old not only angered me, it frightened me.

This is the problem  with liberal academics today. Rather than an exploration of ideas, it has become a process of indoctrination into the liberal world view. Even though my nephew’s pocket Constitution included the Declaration of Independence, his class hadn’t covered it. They hadn’t even read it – and in fact, had been told not to. Educators have figured a novel way of turning the Constitution in on itself, in a version of double-speak that would leave even Orwell breathless.

If we are not having our kids explore the very foundations of the government they’ll soon be entrusted with guiding, what are we inviting? The answer to that is also self-evident: a subversion of the very country our forebears worked so hard to create and preserve. The liberal dream realized: the fairest, most equal society in history, with the rights you deserve provided by a benevolent government.

Of course, we’ve seen that movie before, thousands of times. It was the underpinning of the French Revolution, complete with guillotines for those who would not accept the government’s benevolence. It girded the Soviet Union’s gulags, the reeducation camps in Maoist China, the chaos in the streets of Venezuela. It was the result our founders feared – and from what I’m see happening today, the one I’m afraid we’re fast headed towards.

 


To DACA or not to DACA?


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Since everyone else is weighing in on the issue of DACA, I figure I might as well, too.

First, although I am opposed to illegal immigration in general, I think this particular class (children raised in the US, although not born here or granted legal immigration status) merits special consideration. For the most part, these are people who didn’t choose to come to the United States. That decision was made for them while they were minors. When we’re talking about DACA, we’re talking about people who have been raised here and are American in every sense of the word – except legally. Moreover, there are at least 800,000 of them. There could be as many as 1.7 million.

Some have become high achievers in their chosen fields, some have served in the military with distinction, others are just ordinary folk, trying to find their way in this world. Yes, some are bad apples – as you can find in every demographic group. But it is a small minority, and they can be dealt with as any nation deals with crappy immigrants.

All that being said, I applaud President Trump’s decision to terminate the existing DACA program, and for one reason: our Constitution says immigration decisions are the responsibility of Congress, not the Executive. Before President Obama created the DACA program, he acknowledged (often) that any such executive action was unconstitutional. When he issued that executive order in June 2012, it was not his intention to make it a permanent fixture. The EO included a sunset period, since renewed twice. Obama had dual intentions; first, he wanted to try to force Congress to tackle immigration reform. Secondly (and cravenly), was his intent to shore up his support in the Latino community prior to the 2012 election. He failed on the first count, but succeeded on the second.

President Trump is, in large measure, copying the Obama administration’s playbook. By announcing that he is ending the program, but delaying enforcement for six months, he is attempting to force Congress to act and giving them a window of opportunity. At the same time, he is trying to reinforce his standing among his base by at least appearing tough on immigration.

So, are Trump’s chances of getting Congress to act any better than Obama’s were? First, there is the House leadership, which so far has demonstrated that it is extremely consistent in running from their own shadows. If they can be forced to address the issue, the chances of something happening are pretty good.

In fact, something could conceivably pass this week. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) has had HR 496 pending for nearly 8 months, and it specifically addresses the DACA situation. Had the leadership scheduled it for a vote in the Spring or Summer, this issue would already be behind us. But, again, leadership is afraid of doing anything that might possibly bring about a challenge from the right, even if they personally support it. (Where I come from, we call that cowardice – but whatever). However, Coffman has about had it with the cowards in his party and is filing a discharge petition to force a floor vote. He might just get it, too. As of this writing, he was only 3 votes shy of forcing Speaker Paul Ryan’s hand.

That would be half of the equation, because as we all learned on Schoolhouse Rock, a bill has to pass both houses of Congress before it can be sent to the President’s desk. There is a companion bill pending in the Senate, S128. Unfortunately, the Senate leadership is as afraid of their shadows as their House counterparts (see: Obamacare repeal). So how could the bill make it’s way to the floor if Mitch McConnell decides to go into a corner and cower? Believe it or not, this is where the filibuster can be useful. Any senator who supports passage can tie the Senate in knots until S128 is voted on. This is the perfect time to engage in such tactics, too. In case you’ve missed it, virtually every fiscal matter facing the country needs to be addressed over the next 3 1/2 weeks. Even losing a day to a filibuster would seriously crimp on Mitch’s ability to get out and fundraise.

So yes, there is a better than 50/50 chance something finally gets done. In fact, if Congress wanted put the President on the spot, they could pass the BRIDGE Act, as is, ignoring the White House’s request to include border wall funding. But again, I doubt that happens. Congressional leadership is too cowardly to even consider it..


Grinding Gears


Things that grind my gears:

  • Sub-par football players who think they are entitled to an NFL job, simply because they stage lame-brained protests. Also, people who think sub-par football players are entitled to an NFL job, simply because they stage lame-brained protests.
  • People who think other people shouldn’t do their job because their name sounds like a guy who’s been dead for 147 years.
  • People who think being somewhat conservative automatically makes you a Nazi. Also, people who think being somewhat liberal automatically makes you a communist.
  • Customer service reps who seem to care about everything except the customer.
  • People who cannot discuss their differences without hurling bricks at each other.
  • People who think shooting police officers is good sport.
  • Police officers who think everyone is ready to shoot them.
  • Gas station attendants who don’t know how to pump gas.
  • People who are absolutely certain the only character quality that matters is the pigmentation God gave them.
  • Americans who insist they’re something other than an American. For instance, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Irish-American, Italian-American, African-American, Polish-American, Arab-American, Hindu-American, German-American… Knock it off. You were born here, you’re an American. End Story.
  • People who don’t think, but immediately launch into “tribe’ mentality. Nobody is perfect, not even the anointed leader of “your side.” Be real enough to fess up when they mess up.
  • Store clerks who can’t do basic math. I mean, nobody ever taught you how to take 10% off a ticketed price? Seriously?
  • Fast food employees who somehow think an entry-level job is worth $15 to anyone. Here’s a clue: if the only thing you’re qualified to do is ask “Do you want fries with that?”, you need to get yourself some edumaction. You. Not the government. YOU.
  • Public Sector Unions. Heads up: working for the government is a privilege, not a Constitutional right. We – your fellow citizens – hired you because you’re supposed to be the best and the brightest. Prove it.
  • The Veteran’s Administration.
  • People who think nobody needs a gun, so nobody should own a gun. Hopefully, I’ll never need mine. But if you try to take mine away, you’ll be proving why I need them.
  • Idiots who own guns, but leave them around for kids to blow their heads off. Hint: the mattress isn’t a lockbox.
  • Cockroaches. Cockroaches annoy the HELL out of me.
  • So do skunks.
  • Finally, people who treat everything as if it’s a life and death matter. It isn’t, trust me. Learn to laugh a little, even at yourself.

    Trust me, you’re funnier than you know.


Afghanistan, Part Deux


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Like most of you, I watched President Trump’s speech last night with great interest. Of far more interest to me than any possible deployments was that this was billed as the President’s strategy for Afghanistan and Southwest Asia. Potential deployments are important, of course – but understanding why those deployments are happening and what the objective is, is far more important.

First of all, I have to give the President kudo’s for not pretending we’re withdrawing, as his predecessor did on multiple occasions. Likewise, I have to give him props for understanding that no military campaign can be run on a clock. It’s over when the objectives have been met, whether that’s tomorrow or 10 years from now. And I respect that finally we have a Commander-in-Chief who understands that battlefield commanders should be the guys calling the shots, carrying out missions created by folks who understand military strategy (such as General Mattis). Politicians understand political strategy, but generally they’re lousy at real battle plans. The last guy who sat behind the Resolute Desk proved that, over and over again.

But as far as the actual strategy we’re pursuing, I don’t actually see anything different than what we have been doing for the past 8 years. Trying to train up the local armed forces to defend their country from insurgents and rebels? Check. Pressuring the Afghan government to step up operations in the troubled provinces? Check. Pressuring the Pakistani’s to stop Afghan insurgents from using their territory as safe havens and travel routes? Check. We’ve been doing those things and none have worked. We train the Afghan army, but they can’t even recruit properly – and our advisors get shot on their bases. We threaten to withhold funding for the civilian Afghan government, but in addition to being more corrupt than an eastern European smuggler, they know it’s only threats. We aren’t about to financially cut them off at this point, because doing so would mean leaving our soldiers behind as hostages. As for Pakistan, we’ve actually withheld both military and civilian funding, with no effect.

The only new wrinkle was trying to draw India into the conflict. The President must have started drinking if he thinks this is going to work. India has nothing to gain – and everything to lose by meddling in this conflict. India’s biggest rivals are China and Pakistan. As long as Pakistan has to keep forces along the Afghan border and internally has to deal with the Haqqani and Pashtun populations, it’s less force India needs to worry about on their shared border. Quite frankly, given the rise of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu-nationalist coalition, India has no problem with Pakistan dissolving into chaos. They would welcome it.

As for Pakistan itself, the President is fooling himself if he thinks that nation truly has a strong central government. They have a strongman as Prime Minister, but as with his predecessors, he is far more concerned with India to his southeast than ethnic Pashtuns in the north. Everyone who has ruled the territory that comprises modern-day Pakistan has had to deal with the Pashtun, from Alexander the Great through Genghis Khan, various Indo-Turk rulers, the British Empire to the 21st Century. In those 24 centuries, most ruled by benign indifference, as the exertion required to bring the region to heel would cost more in blood and treasure than the effort is worth. The same holds true for today.

The President’s yardstick for success – “a lasting political solution among the Afghan people” – is little more than a pipedream. As mentioned above, the central Afghan government is incredibly corrupt, but that’s only part of the problem. Afghanistan is dominated by dozens of tribes, each with a stake in maintaining their individual fiefdoms. Not only are there the tribal considerations, but there are some serious ethnic divisions – it’s generally accepted that there are at least 14 different ethnicities within Afghanistan’s borders, and they don’t all play nice together.

Finally, there is a serious gap in the strategy the President laid out last night. He failed to mention the other nations that border Afghanistan, namely Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. For instance, Turkmenistan has a large, ethnic Turkem population, as does Afghanistan. Tajikistan has an area controlled by ethnic Pashtuns. Iran still considers the territory centered on the city of Herat to be theirs, since it’s ethnically Persian. Nor did he mention how Russia and China, who are both major players in the region, would have their considerations addressed.

In short, what I heard was the President basically saying we’re in Afghanistan until the conditions that led to the region becoming a home for terrorists and insurgents are rectified. He may not want to call it nation building, but essentially that’s what he’s committed us to doing. It’s the overarching strategy we’ve tried for the last 16 years without success. With all of the loose ends that aren’t even acknowledged under his version, I can’t see how it will be successful now.


Bye Bye, Steve Bannon


steve-bannon-burger

It’s official: Steve Bannon was fired from his role as the President’s Chief Strategist earlier today.

But before anyone starts thinking this signals that the administration will now pivot to the center, you need to stop and think about something. Bannon wasn’t much of a strategist. Rather, he was the guy who came aboard the Trump Train after last year’s Republican National Convention to help streamline and polish Donald Trump’s existing “America First” positions into something more palatable to the general electorate. In terms of strategy, he proved (at best) to be a man playing checkers on the “swamp” chessboard. Otherwise, the President would have actual legislative victories he could point to as wins – and not be where he is, almost 8 months in. Which is to say, his efforts to remake Obamacare into Trumpcare defeated, with no movement on the other big campaign promises, either: the border wall still without funding (and Mexico thumbing their noses at us), no movement on tax reform or infrastructure legislation, and efforts to renegotiate our trade deals actually going backwards.

However, this is the second major administration official in two weeks to cross the new Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and find themselves being sacked as a result. If nothing else, I’m certain other acolytes who may have thoughts of taking similar approaches – of operating the way they did for the campaign and the first 6 1/2 months of this Presidency – are having misgivings now. Kelly has made his imprimatur on the administration. Whether or not the President can abide Kelly’s style and handling remains an unresolved issue, but it’s apparent that Kelly is running the White House as he sees fit. For now, anyway.

Trump will, of course, continue to be Trump. He will continue to push his agenda, focusing on the culture wars that originally earned him electoral support. His economic agenda is actually pretty much straight from the Republican playbook (tax reform, job growth, etc) and he will find congressional support for that, regardless of whatever else he does.

As for Bannon, expect him to return to his previous vocation, agitating for a nationalist agenda. Near term, I foresee him excoriating lawmakers over the border wall funding (given the proximity of budgeting and the debt ceiling on the calendar), and making Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s lives miserable. Longer term, he’ll look to undermine the forces in the West Wing that undermined him from the outside. Expect to see all kinds of hit pieces on Kelly and National Security Advisor HR McMaster, along with Jared and Ivanka Kushner. I also suspect “normal” conservatives, such as Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, and Ben Carson, could find themselves with banner headlines on Breitbart or the National Enquirer. As for the President’s economic team, Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin were part of the “establishment” long before the term became fashionable. Only a fool would think Bannon doesn’t have something special up his sleeve for them.

Removing Bannon won’t end the chaos surrounding the administration. If anything, the noise is about to get louder and more ferocious (although it will almost be funny to watch the NY Times and CNN suddenly forced into defending people like Perry and Mnuchin). Strap in, it’s going to be an even bumpier ride.


What Is An American?


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One of the unique things about being a citizen of the United States is that unlike other nationalities, we often have these discussions about what being an American actually entails. We’ve been engaged in just such a discussion for the past four or five years now, and many people have landed on many different definitions.

Are we defined by our borders, the territory we control as a nation? Are we defined by our ethnicity or ethnicities? By our economic circumstances, both as individuals and as a nation? For many, these definitions, or a combination of these definitions, is what defines “Americanism.” These may be aspects of American life, but they are not what defines us as a people. As we saw this past weekend in Virginia, clinging to those notions is more divisive than unifying. They cannot define a nation as diverse as ours, one where wealthy and poor from every ethnicity on the planet call home.

Likewise, political leaders who foster these views cannot be unifying. They can only divide the nation along religious, ethnic and class lines. Both our last President and our current one have willingly used the imagery and language of grievance, attempting to force the nation as a whole to view the world through the distorted lenses of one subset of Americans or another.

The reality is the United States is not confined by our borders, defined by our economic clout or existent by our military power. You might have heard the United States identified as an ideal, and that is what our nation is. The glue that binds us are not the temporary trappings of wealth and power. The power that has allowed our nation to grow, to prosper, despite welcoming every ethnicity, every religion, and every race on the Earth was given to us by the men who created this country:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I think that for many of us, these words have lost their meaning. After all, we’ve all heard them countless times. I can scarcely think of anyone who can’t recite them word for word.

Yet, we cannot deny the power they hold. It is those words, more than anything else, that drew our ancestors to this country. Those words are the birthright of every American and it is those words that are our unifying force.

One of the things I like to do, when faced with a passage whose meaning is difficult to comprehend, is to reword it in a way that is easier to understand. Bear with me as I do so here.

We: Who were the Founders referring to by “we?” The document this passage is taken from – the Declaration of Independence – was an open letter to the King of England and Houses of Parliament, on the behalf of the citizens of the new nation they were creating. “We” is nothing less than every American citizen.

hold these truths: to hold a belief is to accept it without question; a truth is an incontestable fact.

to be self-evident: something that needs no outside proof of its existence.

that all men are created equal: everyone, everywhere is no different than anyone else – and we are born into this condition. Whether you have the privileges and wealth of a Wall Street billionaire or are left scrounging for subsistence in the Somali sun, every person that will ever see this world is the same.

that they are endowed by their Creator: While the majority of the Founders believed in the Christian god, it’s important to note that not all of them did. George Washington and John Adams were deists, as were notable non-signatories of the Declaration, including Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. It should also be noted that New York and New Jersey already had sizable Jewish populations by the middle of the 18th century (indeed, Dutch Jews were among the first settlers in New Amsterdam and Newark). Even among the devout Christians, there were religious differences – Charles Carroll of Maryland was a practicing Catholic, for instance. But the one thing all of them agreed on was a belief in a higher power, or Creator.

with certain unalienable: something which can neither be granted nor taken away by human authority.

Rights: Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin all were well versed in the philosophy of John Locke. While Locke’s ideas regarding natural rights were already well-established in philosophical circles by the mid-18th century, the Founders were doing something truly revolutionary here: they were claiming that by our existence, human beings have entitlements that no government can interfere with.

What follows is a listing of what those entitlements are.

that among these are: Whoops! make that a partial listing. Jefferson is saying there are other, unspecified rights, and he’s selected only the ones pertinent to why the Colonists are creating a new nation.

Life: Yes, you have a right to live. Sounds almost silly, until you watch this.

Liberty: for the 18th century thinker, Liberty was well defined by David Hume – “By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.” I’ve read many other definitions of liberty, but this one – despite it’s age – still seems the best.

pursuit of Happiness: While nobody can guarantee that you will find peace and joy in the world, you’re entitled to try and find whatever it is that lets you achieve it.

One 36 word sentence carries quite a bit of import, I would say. If we were to reword the entire thing, it would come out something like this:

American citizens agree that the following is a statement of fact:
All people are born the same, and the Creator that grants us our existence does, by that existence, grant us certain privileges and entitlements that no person, government or entity can take away. Some of these entitlements are our lives, our freedom of movement and thought, and our attempt to derive peace and joy from our existence.

It isn’t as flowery or memorable as the original, I know. But this statement is what separates America from every other nation. It is what defines us a people, and as a country. America has not always lived up to the ideals laid out in this statement, but it is the fact we continue to strive towards it – rather than abandon it – that has characterized our place in history.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said he dreamed of the day when his children wouldn’t be judged by their ethnicity, but by who they were as people. It was Dr. King’s way of restating our guiding principle, the American principle of natural rights. We haven’t gotten there yet, as the events in Charlottesville showed. Call me a sap, a sentimental fool or a man blinded by his beliefs, but I still think the vast majority of the people who call the United States home believe in our founding principle, but are being led astray by fear of an unknown and rapidly changing future.

Thank you for your time today, and may God bless America.

 

*The video I linked to above can also be watched here. You’ll need about 20 minutes to watch the whole thing. It’s painful and at times angering, but I suggest you do.

 


Korean Konflagration


In case you haven’t noticed, North Korea has been doing a lot of saber rattling over the past few weeks. If you listen to only the talking heads on television, you could easily believe the world stands on the brink of nuclear war. You would believe that Kim Jong Un is certifiably crazy, and is engaged in showing the USA (and President Trump, in particular) that he doesn’t have tiny hands.

Relax, everyone.

Whatever else Kim might be, a crazed megalomaniac looking to annihilate Guam for the sake of a show of force is not it. He was literally bred to lead his country. Like his father and grandfather, he is dictator for life, assuming the reins only after the death of his predecessor. In olden days, we would have called him the third king of the Kim dynasty. Like monarchs of previous centuries, after assuming the throne he engaged in a purge of anyone who might challenge his power: family members, military leaders and others. To the modern mind, those moves seem outdated, bizarre, surreal; the actions of a madman.

Put in the proper context, they are anything but the actions of an insane megalomaniac. They are the actions of a cold, calculating monarch entrusted not only with leading his nation, but ensuring that the dynasty continues unabated. And if you judge Kim by that standard, then the current situation becomes much easier to understand.

North Korea is a small, isolated country of limited resources and not much material wealth. As it’s leader, Kim has certain responsibilities and like the monarchs of ages past, one of the most important is ensuring his subjects are fed. World history is replete with examples of monarchs who failed in that respect and the results have never been particularly good for them or their families. King Louis XVI lost not only his empire, but his head in the French Revolution. Czar Nicholas II was forced to watch his family’s executions before finally losing his life during the Russian Revolution. Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to flee to the Netherlands when even his army turned against him.

Rest assured, Kim is well aware of all those historical precedents and has no intention of joining their ranks.

His current situation is dire. As mentioned above, his nation is isolated and materially poor. Historically, ensuring the North Korean people are fed is difficult enough – and this year, they’ve suffered their worst drought since at least 2001. Kim knows unless he can secure an imported food source, and the means to pay for it, he faces a winter of mass starvation, a discontented populace and internal unrest. Even if the people are unable to overcome generations of indoctrination and rise up against the regime, there still exists the very real possibility of the army deposing him.

So, what stands in Kim’s way of securing enough food to keep his nation fed? As it has been for the past 67 years, the United States and South Korea.

What Kim wants is to enter into direct negotiations with the both countries, with three ultimate objectives: 1, getting the current sanctions against North Korea lifted; 2, getting grain from the US and 3, obtaining a security guarantee. To that end, he has reverted to a standard North Korean negotiating tactic, threatening to tear up the 64 year old armistice and resuming hostilities.

After all, threats of open warfare worked for both his father and grandfather. It works for one reason: nobody wants to see a shooting war on the Korean peninsula again, particularly South Korea. During the 1950-53 war, the US suffered nearly 60,000 deaths – but South Korea lost over a half million people. (Nobody is certain how many North Koreans died, but most estimates put the number just shy of a million). The capital city, Seoul, was conquered and recaptured on 4 separate occasions. Fast forward to today: Seoul is home to over 10 million people (with another 15 million living in its suburbs) and sits only 35 miles from the border. It is within easy striking distance of conventional artillery, to say nothing of aircraft and rockets. Should the Korean War get “hot” again, it’s generally accepted that South Korea would suffer over a million civilian casualties on just the first day.

This is why ratcheting up the rhetoric always worked in the past. Even if the US is reluctant to grant anything to the North, pressure from the South (who desperately wants to avoid reopening hostilities) has led to begrudging acquiescence.

The calculated gamble Kim is making now is based on that history. The reason he’s amped up the rhetoric even more than in the past is he knows that unlike previous administrations, the current US leadership is unlikely to be swayed only by the pleas from what is currently a scandal-plagued South Korean government. By threatening a US territory, he is hoping to force Washington to the negotiating  table.

It’s not that Kim actually wants a war with the US, He knows that in such an event, he wouldn’t last long. During the 1950-53 conflict, it took the combined power of China and the Soviet Union to stave off total defeat for North Korea. Of course, the wild card in all this is President Trump. He is unconventional, for certain. But what Kim has certainly factored into his consideration is that, thus far, the Trump administration has not deviated all that much from the past 25 years of US foreign policy, despite all the bluster.

Of course, the possibility of open conflict remains if Kim thinks he has no way out of the box he’s created – or if Trump decides that enough is enough and preemptively strikes. But I still don’t think that either will happen. I suspect that even as we bustle about our daily lives, backchannels are being opened and the first tentative steps towards negotiation are under way.