Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

American History

Our Modern-Day “Kent State” Moment


Kent State, May 4, 1970

Today marks 50 years since the “Kent State Massacre.” If you’re unfamiliar with that tragic, fateful event, there are plenty of resources on the web for you to learn about it. The short version is that a group of unarmed protestors were fired on by Ohio National Guard troops, killing four.

What’s amazed me is that this touchstone of American history, an event that has largely shaped much of the succeeding half century, has barely received mention in the national press. I only found a few articles, an example of which is this one in the NY Times – and it was in the opinion section, not the news section. It was not that the National Guard opened fire on their fellow citizens that was so shocking and unsettling. After all, we had witnessed that during the riots of the Summer of 1968. But that was during riots. This was armed soldiers firing on unarmed protestors who had gathered peacefully to protest their government’s invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

I was 6 when Kent State happened, and I can still remember asking my parents why the soldiers shot the people. It’s a question that’s never been sufficiently answered. Not unlike the Boston Massacre two centuries prior, nobody even knows who actually fired the first shot – or has ever conclusively answered if anyone even ordered the shooting to begin. But imagine the nation’s trauma, if a 6 year old who didn’t understand much of the world around him was still able to grasp that soldiers shooting unarmed citizens was a pretty bad thing.

What has really surprised me is the stark hypocrisy in the media as regards Kent State to our modern world. Today, protestors are out in force across the country, in numbers not seen the turbulent times of the late 1960’s. Tens of thousands of our fellow citizens are in the streets, on the beaches, and at the state capitals trying to hold their government to account for what they see as an abridgement of their civil rights. And despite an incidence of government abuse of protest rights during our lifetimes, the media has focused on the fact some of these are coming armed to declare that they aren’t protests at all – they’re a veiled attempt at an armed insurrection.

US News & World Report Headline photo, April 17, 2020
Pro-Trump Protesters Push Back on Stay-At-Home Orders

This is ludicrous and displays the media’s inability to fairly and accurately report current events. Just as in 1970, these governors fear the protests. Just as in 1970, they have good reason to fear the protests. Then, the protests signaled a political upheaval that would cost many of them their jobs and political careers over the next decade. Today, the protests signal yet another political upheaval – one in which the “illiberal conservatives” are proving to be far more liberal than the “liberal” politicians who have led the charge to arbitrarily pursue “temporary safety” at the expense of “essential liberty.”

To expect citizens who protest a government that is stripping them of their civil rights, of the very protections that the Bill of Rights were designed to safeguard, to appear unarmed is to not understand the lessons of Kent State. An unarmed populace that challenges the legitimacy of their government is often, in the eyes of the government, engaging in rebellion. The lesson of Kent State was that when challenging the government, being armed is a requirement – if for no other reason than to defend yourself from the government.

The Founding Fathers understood this, and that is why they required the Second Amendment be included in the Bill of Rights. It’s just a shame the media forgot that lesson.


The Speech America Needs to Hear


Ladies and Gentlemen, My Fellow Americans,

We’ve been along a perilous path for 30 years now. After the end of the first World War, our Nation entered a new period in history. Historians have dubbed it “The American Century.” Five generations of Americans survived the Great Depression, defeated the forces of fascism in the Second World War, created the most prosperous period ever experienced by any nation at any time in history, and held the forces of communism at bay until the final victory at the end of the 1980’s.

Ever since the Berlin Wall crumbled to dust on a cold night in 1989, a winter’s night warmed by the glow of freedom, our nation has been adrift. The fight against communism which had defined our purpose for 45 years was suddenly over, exposing for all our underlying tensions and divisions. That common foe had allowed us to paper over those divisions with a thin veneer of comity. But just as ripping a scab from an old wound will cause an infection to grow unabated, so too the collapse of the Soviet Union has caused the cultural divisions that have always been unique to us to rise anew.

I say these things not to fill with you a longing for the past or fear of the future. I do not believe the end of the American Century means the end of the American Experiment. I believe we have the ability to bind our differences in a more lasting, permanent way; a way that relies not as much on agreeing to disagree as discovering why our disagreements arose in the first place.

Let me highlight just one such example.

Whether we are a banker or truck driver, farmer or doctor, we all know, we all can sense that the modern marvels of technology are changing the nature of work. Whether your fingers are calloused from years of manual labor or manicured for life in an office, we all can see the ways in which we earn our livings have changed. More than that, we know these changes will not end, no matter what we might wish.

This is not the first time our nation has faced such a dramatic change in the very nature of what it means to work. At the dawn of the Industrial Age, we moved, often in fits and starts, from a society of farmers to one of factory labor. Some of the same challenges we faced then, we face today.

One of those challenges was immigration. The new, industrial America needed labor and we found it overseas. Many of us can trace our origins in the United States to the great wave of immigrants that crashed across our shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As much as it might pain us to remember it, those immigrants – Italian, Irish, Poles, Croats, Hungarians, Germans and so forth – were not readily accepted into their new country. So it is today; we are not always welcoming to those who look to make their lives among us from foreign lands. Yet at the same time, much as we funneled those newcomers through inspection 150 years ago, we should reserve the right to do so today.

Likewise, another lesson we can learn from our forebears is also rooted in the Industrial Age. Prior to the need of an educated workforce to run the great machines that powered industry, most children finished school after 5th or 6th grade. Indeed, most high schools were privately funded and beyond the financial reach of those children’s parents. Yet, by the advent of the 1920’s, publicly funded high schools were the norm. By the 1960’s, the vast majority of American citizens were high school graduates and able to earn a solid living at a multitude of trades.

Now, we are told our children need more than a high school education can provide. We see our children graduating from college and working the sorts of jobs we might have expected to start with as a high school graduate a generation ago. But while we acknowledge with our minds that some post-secondary training is required in the new economy, our actions belie our words. We make entry difficult for all but the most affluent. Once our children are ensconced on a university campus, their heads are filled with values and ideas that most of us can barely identify, much less relate to.

I see some heads nodding out there. We know these are the problems. We may disagree on the solutions, but we can agree that these problems will not solve themselves.

Friends, this is a discussion we’ve needed for some time. As in the Festivus celebration of Seinfeld fame, an airing of grievances is good for the soul – but only if it leads to a reconciliation. After a generation of airing our grievances, we should be ready for that reconciliation. Let us resolve, here and now, to lay aside any embitterment we harbor towards our fellow Americans. It doesn’t matter if your forebears arrived on the Mayflower, a slave trader, a tramp steamer from Italy or in the Mariel boatlift. We are united in this simple fact: that as a reward for their trouble in getting to this country, they were met with hardships, ridicule, scorn, derision, and trouble but they persevered, they overcame, they thrived. And they gave this wonderful nation to us.

We understand that America is the sum of what those who came before created and what we create for ourselves and those who follow. We understand that the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness” are not mere ink on dusty old parchment. They define the American creed.

I am a conservative. Some in the audience call themselves liberals. Others may identify as libertarians or greens or some other political ideology. But regardless of politics, we need to agree on what the real problems facing our nation and our society are before we can debate -vigorously and strongly, as is right – what the solutions should be. I mentioned earlier that we seem to be stuck in a funk, a profound disagreement over what the very nature of our problems are and what type of society we are.

For our sakes, the sakes of our progeny and the good of not only the United States but the world, we must make this our mission. We must seek not only to confront but to learn. We must not only listen but understand. Compassion for your fellow American is not weakness. Compassion also does not mean that you throw them to the merciless care of the government. Yes! I said that we must address this cancer, we must excise it, not only for the good of the Nation but for the world.

For the United States is still the greatest nation our planet has ever known. Despite what may seem our torturous present, I truly believe our best days are ahead of us – but only if all 350 million plus of us are willing to do the things that are difficult. As a Nation, we have overcome far greater challenges throughout our history. Solving seemingly intractable problems is in our DNA. Why should our modern difficulties prove any more strenuous?

We have always been the shining light upon which the world gazes when desiring proof that free people can overcome any test, any difficulty that is thrown their way. From the days when our society amazed a French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville until the present day when a Slovakian emigré became our First Lady, we have been both the envy and hope of mankind. Are we so vain, so caught up in our own disagreements as to throw that legacy away? I propose that is not the case. We shall always remain as we have, the guide towards a more prosperous, more peaceful planet.

None of this is to trivialize the import of the disagreements that are currently tearing at the fabric of our society. The reality is that those quarrels are based on competing ideologies. Yet, it is possible to agree on a path forward. Doing so requires every American put aside their preconceived notions. It means actually practicing the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It means putting aside our anger and agreeing to meet once again as Americans first. Not as Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, Black and white and Hispanic and Asian, rich and poor, but as Americans. The divisions we have created amongst ourselves need to be retired now. The tired politics of identity have missed the most important identity of all: that of being an American.

So as I leave you, I want all of you to sit back and contemplate what is important to you. More than that, you need to ask yourself why that is important. And then ask yourself, is that thing more important than your standing in a country that has always been and will always be willing to accept anyone who can shed all other labels save one: American? For if we all make a common goal of simply being Americans, there is nothing we cannot achieve, no task that is insurmountable and no aspiration that cannot be obtained.

Thank you. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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Not Everything Is A Contradiction


Is it possible that the rank-and-file members of the FBI are loyal to the country and their mission, while their Obama administration era, politically appointed leaders are only loyal to a political movement?

Yes.

Is it possible the Russian government engaged in an influence campaign during the last election, without either directly assisting either campaign, or being assisted by either campaign?

Also yes. And in both cases, more probable than not.

Unfortunately, the American public seems incapable of living with this state of things. The President is such a polarizing figure, and these issues so closely related both to the man and his temperament, that battle lines are being drawn where none should be. If you are a member of the “#Resistance,” that ill-defined cabal of #NeverTrumper conservatives, radical liberals and social justice warriors, then the Mueller investigation and FBI are the archangels of your salvation. If you’re fully aboard the #TrumpTrain, then the Russians are our friends, had no influence on the election and the FBI is staffed by former members of the Keystone Kops, all of whom are on Hillary Clinton’s payroll.

Enough.

First for my friends on the #TrumpTrain: to pretend that Russia wasn’t attempting to influence the 2016 election is the height of naivety. Russia, from the time of the Czars, has never been a true friend of our nation. Russia has always been, and likely will always remain, an autocratic society that innately fears the very things that the United States’ very existence embodies. Russian governments, whether czarist, communist, perestroika or the current oligarchist regimes, have made it a point throughout history to gain influence over the American electoral process. At times, it was overt as hell. Boris Checherin, a Muscovite professor, was employed by Alexander II to identify and support American politicians who would be sympathetic to Russian interests during the early Reconstruction period. Some of you may be familiar with a KGB unsuccessful attempt to funnel campaign funds to Gerald Ford’s 1976 campaign. In 2009, the House of Representatives acknowledged that Dmitri Medvedev’s government had illegally contributed to political action campaigns for both candidates in the 2008 election.

Given that history, why is it outlandish to think Medvedev’s benefactor and mentor, Vladimir Putin, wouldn’t engage in some sort of dirty tricks campaign? It would be more outlandish to think the former KGB spook, whose only allegiance is to a Russian version of Manifest Destiny, hadn’t engaged in a disruption campaign during the Presidential race. Understanding the methods used, and their efficacy, should be a concern of every American. So take the blinders off. Nobody (except for some very dimwitted #resistance members) believes Putin actively threw the election to Donald Trump. If you give the President cover (i.e., so he doesn’t have to be defensive about Russia’s role), you’ll also give him the ability to unleash a proper investigation. That would be a good (and proper) thing.

Now for the #NeverTrumpers: as conservatives, we lamented the politicization of the Department of Justice under Barack Obama and his two Attorneys General, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. To suddenly be shocked that the highest levels of the Department of Justice were operating as a political committee, working to exonerate one candidate of a host of illegal activities while simultaneously creating a false narrative around supposed illegal activities of another, is disingenuous. It was precisely this type of behavior from the DoJ that had us most worried. Further, everything the politicized Obama DoJ had undertaken – from the Fast and Furious gun running fiasco to the early rush to judgement in the Michael Brown “Hands up, don’t shoot” lie, proved to be a political activity, not something actually related to criminal justice. The Obama administration politicized and weaponized all sorts of federal agencies, with a clear intent of crushing any thought of a conservative movement. Agencies with supposedly as diverse missions as the IRS and DEA, the SEC and BLM were all deployed as crusaders against the “evils of the bitter clingers.” Unless you’re willing to accept that the people responsible for creating and implementing those policies suddenly had a change of heart – that the Andrew McCabe’s, Peter Strzok’s, James Comey’s and Sally Yates’ that populated the upper bureaucracy of the Obama administration – decided on November 9, 2016 that duty to country replaced their duty to their Obamaführer, such an outcome wasn’t just a possibility. It is a probability.

It’s perfectly legitimate to call into question the political motivations of a James Comey or Vladimir Putin. It is not legitimate to dismiss concerns about their roles in the tumultuous 2016 campaign over your love or hatred of Donald Trump. Like it or not, he’ll be gone by 2025, at the latest. But the ramifications of these two, symbiotic scandals will resonate in our electoral and justice systems for many more decades after that. Understanding who was trying to put their thumbs on the levers of power and why is far more important than any President.


Kabuki Absurdity (and Potted Plants?)


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There are days when I feel like I fell asleep and woke up in an alternate dimension. You know, kind of like Rod Serling kidnapped me and threw me into an episode of “The Twilight Zone” without asking first. There’s been more of them over the past 26 months than in the previous 50 years of life, but I’m beginning to think all of that was just a warm-up for the past month.

You see, that’s when people suddenly became aware that men will, given the opportunity, think of women as sexual objects (and vice versa).

I know, that’s a shocking concept. Prior to a month ago, every woman in every nightclub around the world was dressed in a potato sack. Those jokes you heard about men thinking about sex every ten seconds (personally, I think those overestimate the time between thinking about sex by around 8 seconds) were invented somewhere around October 15. Marilyn Monroe was the most talented actress of all time, which is why she’s so well remembered.

Of course, all of that is bunco, but judging from the hew and cry over the past month you would never know it. This isn’t to excuse the behavior of a Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer. I’m going to be honest, before either of those guys hit the news I hadn’t even heard of the mating ritual that involved jerking off to a potted plant while your intended watched. But the sudden shock that anything of this sort  was going on is, well, disingenuous, to say the least. Look, I’m not one who reads Page Six or watches TMZ. But even I recall hearing stories about the infamous Hollywood “casting couch” as a kid. You know, how wannabe starlets would trade sexual favors in exchange for roles in movies and television. To pretend that any of this is new, or that every woman who participated, was somehow abused is laughable on its face.

Now, we’ve moved on to the next target: politicians. Somehow, in all this recent fervor, we’ve discovered that not every politician is a great guy (or gal). Their effectiveness as a legislator, jurist or executive is of no matter when judging their fitness for office. Nope, the only thing that counts now is if they ever grabbed somebody’s ass in a hotel room (or, in Al Franken’s case, a dressing room). This is about as ridiculous an idea as has ever been thrown into public discourse.

The simple fact is history is replete with examples of horrible, terrible people who excelled in public service. Think where the civil rights movement would be today if Martin Luther King or Lyndon Johnson (or John Conyers, for that matter) were held to these absurd standards. The world might well be a cinder if JFK had been subjected to them. We might all be speaking German if FDR’s peccadilloes had forced him from office. The US might not even exist if Thomas Jefferson (or if John Hancock or Samuel Adams) were held to this sudden contempt we have for men who act like boors. And just imagine where the #MeToo movement would be if the sexual predations of Eleanor Roosevelt had been splashed across the front pages of her day.

And please, let’s not even get started on the sexual career of William Jefferson Clinton. He may not have been a great President, but he did introduce all of us to other unique mating rituals. *ahem*

So, grow up people. Get past the junior high titillation and get back to the real issues at hand. Lord knows we have things facing our country, things that really matter, than to allow ourselves to be distracted by all this folderol.

Oh, and guys? If you feel the need to make love to a potted plant, seek professional help.

 

 


American Exceptionalism


Our current President forever lost my support when in April 2009 he said, ” I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” As James Kirchik wrote later that month in the LA Times,

“If all countries are ‘exceptional,’ then none are, and to claim otherwise robs the word, and the idea of American exceptionalism, of any meaning.”

Mind you, even the very liberal Kirchik was offended at the offhand way in which the new President (and latest liberal icon) had dismissed American exceptionalism as being, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. In fact, the problems that have risen during this Presidency are directly attributable to this President’s inability to identify what American exceptionalism is and why our past reliance on it has always overcome even the most overwhelming obstacles.

So, what is American exceptionalism? The  idea was first expressed by the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville in his book, Democracy in America. In 1835, the United States did not have an economy the rest of the world envied. We had few factories, few railroads, and our merchants were forced to trade in British pounds sterling or gold bullion. Our military was not feared, large, or respected. In fact, the 1835 graduating class from West Point totalled only 56 officers – of whom, 38 quit the Army after their 5 year commitment.

So, if the United States did not have the trappings of power that might lead a European gentleman to presume a national exceptionalism, what did we possess? How could a relatively poor and weak nation so impress this man that he would write a series of books about so seemingly absurd a concept as American exceptionalism?

The answer lies in the very nature of what America is, and what it means to be an American. Unlike any other nation in the history of mankind, the United States of America is unique in our very makeup: we are not of a single ethnicity, we are not defined by natural borders and our history is not rooted in the misty memories of the prehistoric tribes that roamed the rest of the world. Alone among nations of the world, to be American is to pledge fealty not to a man, nor a religion, nor a piece of land, but rather to an ideal: the idea that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights -and that government’s principle duty is to secure those rights for every person.

I hadn’t given much thought about this until our current election. After all, the hew and cry over Mr. Obama’s giving short shrift to the concept of American exceptionalism  had come from both the right and left (although, to be certain, it was more pronounced on the right). So it seemed reasonable that the American people understood what made America an exceptional nation, even if the President didn’t. And I kept thinking that, up until Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton secured their respective party’s nominations.

I’m sad to say that it seems most people today have no idea what American exceptionalism means, or where it comes from. There are those who think it comes from an inherent nativism, forgetting that one of the most crucial aspects of Americanism is that anyone, from anywhere, regardless of wealth or circumstance, can become an American. This concept is emblazoned on the base of the Statue of Liberty. You know, the bit about “Give me your tired, your poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? That poem isn’t talking about the economically depressed (although the vast majority of immigrants in our country’s history have been far from wealthy). It’s telling the rest of the world, if you value freedom & liberty above all else, this is the place to come. It’s the message that brought my family here during the Cold War. It’s the message that brought everyone’s family here.

Then there are those who think American exceptionalism is rooted in being the greatest economic power on earth. They either don’t know, or don’t want to believe, that the United States’ period of economic dominance was a short one, lasting about 30 years. And it only came about because alone among the world’s actors, the United States wasn’t physically devastated by the Second World War. It has nothing to do with greater industriousness or intelligence of the American worker. If you don’t believe that, I can point to a whole world of people with as strong a work ethic as you’ll find in America.

Many of our fellow citizens think American exceptionalism is a byproduct of military might. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong military, but that’s hardly exceptional. Comparatively speaking, even at it’s strongest our military was a mere shadow of the Macedonian army under Alexander or the legions that secured the Pax Romana.

Each of those are things that any nation can take pride in, but they are hardly exceptional. Other nations have, at other times, established preeminence in trade and military might. Think of the British Empire of the 19th century, the Romans, the Persians, the Egyptians. But none of those nations could truly lay claim to being something exceptional, which is to say, something that nobody had seen before or since. Something unique.

In addition to our national identity being forged of the ideals of liberty and equality, there is one other thing that makes us exceptional. That is our willingness to be introspective and during that introspection, to demonstrate to the world that we are both strong enough and wise enough to understand that we haven’t perfected our society. After all, it took us 90 years to get from announcing to the world that all men are created equal to codifying that precept, and it took another 100 years after that before those laws began to be enforced. What other nation in history has undertaken such monumental efforts, not closeted but openly? Can you imagine the awe of the common Chinese citizen when they compare Tiananmen’s brutal repression with the March on Washington?

That is liberty. That is freedom. That is the “poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

And that is American exceptionalism. I fervently hope those of you who’ve forgotten it remember, before this nation and her ideals are left to rot in the ash heap of history.


The Conventions Are Over. Let the Race Begin.


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Both major parties have now concluded their national conventions. Traditionally, this is when most Americans actually begin paying attention to politics. This marks the point when what may have been a cursory delving into the upcoming election gels into a closer examination of the candidates, their positions and their histories among the general population. Everything up to this point has been debated, argued and bandied about by only the most politically active people in the country.

As a data point, consider this. In the primary elections, approximately 57.6 million people voted. That was less than 29% of eligible voters. If turnout rates simply match those of 2012, when 58% of eligible voters cast a ballot, that would mean another 57.6 million people voting. If turnout is closer to the 63% from 2008, it would mean an additional 67.5 million voters. And if turnout is the same as the last time primary participation reached as high as this year, in 1960? In 1960, 31% of eligible voters cast a primary ballot* and 67% one in the general election. An equivalent turnout this year would mean an additional 75.4 million votes cast in November.

What all of those numbers mean is this: at best, only half of the people who are going to vote this November have actually paid enough attention to this point to have participated in the electoral process. Each candidate has been able to play their base, solidify their standing  and not worry too much about attracting the votes of the rest of the country. But with the close of the conventions, that changes.

What we do have is a clearer idea of what each party intends as it’s core message for the fall campaign. For the Republicans, the message is the country is hopelessly fouled up, and only Donald Trump can save us from ourselves. The Democrats message is that things aren’t really that bad and we need the experienced hand of Hillary Clinton at the nation’s tiller.

But this year also features an electoral monkey wrench unheard of in prior contests. Both nominees are almost universally disliked, distrusted and flat-out repulsive to most of the electorate. How that plays out, in terms of messaging and voter turnout this fall, remains to be seen. It also presents third party candidates an opening unseen since Teddy Roosevelt ran as a Bull Moose over a century ago. Indeed, it is completely possible that a third party candidate could garner Electoral College votes for the first time since 1912.

The only thing certain about this year’s election is that these factors will create a race unique to our time. Prior models will almost certainly prove worthless to pundits and political scientists alike. The only relatively sure thing about this year is, it will be fascinating to watch and take part in the process.

 

*Note: The primary system was much different in 1960, as there were only 14 Democratic and 13 Republican primary contests held.


Donald Trump is a Racist. If You Support Him, You Might Be, Too.


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal. – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

The Party of Lincoln has abandoned Lincoln in its embrace of Donald Trump. I daresay, the The Party of Lincoln has abandoned the United States of America in it’s embrace of Donald Trump.

517e261c0a7b49473b1a6fa1e954b1acThere is no other explanation. Honest Abe understood that what makes us “American” is the simple proposition that “all men are created equal.” Have we always lived up to that expectation? No. Our history is one of struggling with that ideal and overcoming the innate prejudices that animate us. From Harper’s Ferry through the Civil War, Reconstruction to Rosa Parks, The March on Washington to today, we have moved forward towards recognizing the inherent worth of all our citizens. Until now.

By selecting Trump as their standard-bearer, with his campaign rhetoric harkening back to the Know-Nothing Party of the 19th Century and a record of racist taunts and statements stretching back nearly 45 years, the Republican Party has taken a giant step back in time. If you aren’t sickened by Trump’s statements over the past ten days denigrating Hispanics, Muslims, Blacks and all Americans, then I don’t know what else to say to you. You are the same people who would have gladly posted signs in your shops announcing “Irish Need Not Apply” in the 1850’s or “No Wops Allowed” a century ago. You are the same people who would have loosed the dogs upon the marchers in Selma. You are the same people who threw bricks through the buses in Boston.

If you cannot denounce Trump and all he stands for, you must ask yourself what it is, that separates you from any other nationality in the world? You want a return to “American Exceptionalism”? Fine. But your embrace of Trump demonstrates that you haven’t the foggiest what that even is. You haven’t any idea what it is that allowed the United States to become the world’s preeminent power, what led to our economic successes and made us the envy of every other nation on the planet.

That exceptionalism lies in the fact that we’re willing to accept anyone who pledges loyalty to the Constitution of the United States of America as an American. We are the only nation on Earth that can say that. The core strength of our nation is that our nationality is not defined by where your parents or grandparents were born. We are united by loyalty to a common ideal rather than a bloodline. Our forefathers left those nations behind, as Mr. Lincoln said, to create a new type of nation – one where belief in liberty and justice for all is both our founding and guiding principle.

So if you want Trump’s overt racism as the standard for the United States of the future, understand what you’re buying into. Understand that by supporting Donald Trump, you are supporting the dissolution of the United States of America and the torching of our Constitution. Understand that you are setting in motion the end of the concept of free men.

So, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Christie, Mr. Sessions and all of the other Republican “leaders” who have jumped aboard the Trump Train: the choice laid before you can’t be more stark. You may continue to support Mr. Trump as your party’s nominee, and accept the permanent branding as racists. Or you can realize that he isn’t actually the nominee yet and totally not worthy of the Party of Lincoln, and as unceremoniously as possible dump him. The choice is yours.

 


It’s Not Fair!


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Ever since getting blown out in Wisconsin, Donald Trump has been hollering about the way we select presidential candidates, calling it unfair, or deriding it as a “rigged system.” Sure enough, the left-of-center pundits and writers who support him, and most of the misguided people who’ve pledged their allegiance to the “Trump Train,” have suddenly decided that a system that’s been around almost as long as the United States is fundamentally flawed. I shouldn’t be surprised. The typical Trumpster also tends to think the US Constitution is terribly flawed and no longer relevant.

The delegate system is based on the same idea that fueled the adoption of our Constitution. That is, the best system of governance is a representative republic, with semi-autonomous states sharing power with a centralized national government. As conceived by the men who gave us our Constitution, the office of President was not to be directly entrusted to the general populace. Rather, they conceived the idea of electors being chosen by the people. The electors would then choose the President. They had two reasons for this, both outlined in Federalist 68. The first is that the general populace can be easily swayed by emotional appeals to our baser instincts. As Alexander Hamilton noted, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.” The second was they understood the vast majority of citizens are not active politically, nor are they as attuned to the issues and policies as their brethren who are politically active. Their decision was that by entrusting the selection of Chief Executive to a  group of people who were politically active, they were ensuring that the gravitas of the position was honored. Yet at the same time, because the electors were selected by the citizenry, the people’s voice would be heard. Hamilton, again: “… the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

I realize this conception of how our political system was created will confound most of you. After all, you’ve heard since childhood that the United States is a democracy. Every politician declares it during every speech. Most sadly, we’re taught in school that because we vote, we’re a democracy. Some people are taught that we’re a representative democracy; that our votes go to elect representatives who are supposed to vote the way we want them to. That’s also incorrect! We are a representative republic. We elect representatives. The representatives we elect are then to debate and vote on the issues and policies as best they see fit. The decisions they reach are not bound by any measure to popular will. We then can decide if we approve of those decisions at re-election time. There have been occasions – quite a few, actually – when a representative has defied popular will in the votes they cast. One of the most celebrated books of the 20th century, Profiles in Courage, highlights eight such occasions that profoundly changed the history of our nation.

Our founders were against the idea of political parties, but their creation is a natural outgrowth of politics. It’s only natural that people who share similar views and goals would coalesce into groups working towards implementing those ideas into law and policy. Even in our nascent stages, the republic soon found itself being divided into political parties. The very men who were opposed to the idea of political parties were creating them. As those parties formed, they began to decide on which candidates for office would receive the backing of the party – including candidates for President. Should it be a surprise that they adopted a similar system for choosing their candidates as the one outlined in the Constitution?

Of course not. Many of you seem surprised at the notion that the popular vote doesn’t decide who a party’s nominee for political office. In order to understand why this is, you need to realize that prior to 1972, most states didn’t even have primary elections. Those that did, did not “bind” their delegates to vote for any particular candidate. The delegates, in most cases, were selected at state conventions. In the remainder, delegates were directly chosen during a caucus. In either case, the general public was barred from attending: only members of the party could choose their delegates. And quite often, the national party conventions did not resolve the issue of who the Presidential nominee would be on the first ballot of delegates. It seems to me that the system worked rather well. In the case of the Republicans, the convention chaos resulted in some pretty momentous choices; men who went on to become some of our most consequential Presidents. Lincoln (3rd ballot), Harding (10th), and Eisenhower (2nd) were all the products of contested/brokered conventions. In fact, during the 1952 convention Robert Taft accused Eisenhower of “stealing” delegates that were supposedly his. That led to the adoption of the “Fair Play” rule. In an ironic twist, it is that rule which Trump is using to accuse Cruz and Kasich of “stealing” delegates this year.

The liberalization of the nomination process began in 1972, in the aftermath of the riots at the Chicago and Miami party conventions in 1968. Most states adopted primaries, many opened those primaries up to the general public (no party affiliation required) and states bound the delegates chosen to reflect the popular vote at the convention for at least the first ballot. Only a few states opted to remain with caucuses or conventions selecting their delegates. And only one state does not bind any of their delegates, while several have a mix of bound and unbound delegates. The desired effect, the nominee being chosen by popular affirmation, has been achieved. Indeed, only the 1976 Republican and 1980 Democratic conventions have offered any drama, although in both cases the insurgent candidate was defeated between the end of the primaries and the convention.

Since the liberalization of the nomination process, consider the men nominated by the popular vote: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dole, George W. Bush, and Romney. Only one of those men could be considered consequential in a positive manner. Only 3 of them have managed to win the Presidency, and two of those left office with the country in far worse shape than when they entered. If we were to change anything as regards candidate selection, I would prefer we return to closed caucuses and conventions without general public input. You may call it “undemocratic,” but the objective is to find the best candidate; to find people who can represent the values of the party and lead the nation. The general public has demonstrated exactly what the founders feared: an incredible ability to choose the very worst people for the most important job in the world.

Consider the roll call of Presidents since 1972 and see if you can actually dispute that. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama have been elected as President. One was forced from office, another was impeached. Both Bushes left the nation economically in tatters. Carter is best remembered for his failures, while Obama is ending his Presidency with his signature achievement about to go belly up and the nation slipping back towards recession. Only Reagan managed to accomplish anything of note, but even his accomplishments have proven to be short-lived. Even ending the Cold War hasn’t lasted; today we’re faced with a resurgent and belligerent Russia and China.

You might also argue that by returning a system by which party insiders, we would be disenfranchising you. I don’t think so. Remember, the nominee is supposed to represent the party, not the general populace. I know many people who call themselves Republican or Democrat, but the reality is, they only are on election day, and often only on Presidential Election day. The other 1,460 days of the election cycle they do absolutely nothing to support the party. It’s kind of like telling people you’re a member of the cast of your favorite TV show, because you can quote some dialogue and know all the characters. In other words, if you want a say in who a party nominates, it would mean actually getting involved in the political system. Simply voting is a privilege of being a citizen. Performing the actual duties of citizenship – canvassing for candidates, raising funds, perhaps serving in local government, attending party meetings – these are also ways of becoming involved with a party at the local level. Not incidentally, it’s also how you become more acquainted with the political system.

In this year when so many of you seem more interested in blowing up the system, rather than putting in the individual effort to make it “work,” it’s also the best way to change the things about the system you don’t like. And who knows? Maybe, instead of whiners-in-chief, we can actually get back to commanders-in-chief, to Senators who worry more about representing their states than the national party committee and Representatives with more than graft on their minds.


It’s Time for the 21st Century


One of the things that’s driving me absolutely bonkers this election season is the focus all the candidates have on returning the USA to the economy of the 1950’s and 60’s. All of them, but especially Messers Trump and Sanders, seem to think that if we wall ourselves off from the rest of the world, we can return to those halcyon days.

It’s a pipe dream, and if you’re buying into it, you might be stuffing something other than tobacco in your pipe. I’m going to drop some knowledge on you that you might have heard whispers of, but never been forced to grasp. The “good ol’ days” are gone forever – and they’re never coming back. Labor-intensive work, requiring little to no skills that pays well, is a thing of your memories. Soon, many of the jobs that we kid ourselves about being in demand will have gone the way of the blacksmith, the cobbler and the typesetter.

It’s understandable that most of us do not want to hear this. We grew up being to ld that if we worked hard, kept out of trouble and were good citizens we could live the American dream. Then, one day we woke up to find that our jobs disappeared and they aren’t coming back. Nobody told us why, or what jobs would replace them. Then, we found out the jobs that did replace them required all kinds of skills that most of us lacked. It didn’t matter that we’d proven ourselves as good employees by every other measure: we simply didn’t qualify for these new jobs.

It would be wonderful if we could bring back those labor-intensive jobs that didn’t require much in the way of training or skills. But here’s the thing: anything that’s labor-intensive is now being done elsewhere, for much less than you would accept as a pay rate. No company in their right mind would bring those jobs back here. As an example, let’s take Apple Corporation’s outsourcing the manufacturing of iPhones to FoxConn, a Chinese company. What nobody told you (or apparently, Mr. Trump) is that FoxConn turns out those millions of units using fewer than 100 employees, and they’re mostly engaged in packaging and shipping. 85% of an iPhone’s manufacturing is automated: it’s built by robots. So, yes, I suppose you could force Apple to build a factory in the USA. But do you suppose they wouldn’t also build the doggone thing with robots? Of course they would.

This is the reality that the snake oil salesmen have avoided telling you this election season. What’s worse, they aren’t telling you that the move away from those jobs is accelerating. They aren’t telling you that by 2025, many of the jobs we currently take for granted will be gone, replaced by automation or cheaper competition from overseas. Think of it this way: the only place you find elevator operators today is in old movies. Fairly soon, anyone who drives for a living, works in the fast-food industry, works in a warehouse or does general office work will be looking for a new career. How can I say that with certainty? Because those jobs are already being slowly replaced. Amazon now has robots doing order picking. McDonald’s is rolling out ordering kiosks in their restaurants. Self-driving vehicles are already on the roads, and companies like Uber and UPS are already in partnerships with vehicle makers to implement driverless delivery systems.

In other words, you needn’t be prescient to realize that the jobs of today are disappearing and that the jobs of yesterday are not coming back. But rather than gird Americans for this reality, we get platitudes about “forcing” manufacturing jobs back to US shores. When future jobs are discussed at all, it’s usually with vague rejoinders about “getting the skills for the jobs of tomorrow.” The politicians are afraid to tell you the truth. It’s a truth I suspect most of you have already grasped, even if you haven’t acknowledged it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve undergone a dramatic shift in the workforce. Over a century ago, our great-grandparents were faced with the shift from an agrarian society to a manufacturing one. They didn’t handle it particularly well. Now it’s out turn, as we lurch from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy. But we can do one of two things: we can embrace it and lead the world once again. Or we can fight it and  get left behind, becoming a second-rate power.

 

 


A 21st Century Declaration of Independence


We all know (or at least, should know) the words in the founding document of our great nation. But what do they mean? After all, the phrasing and  terminology in the Declaration of Independence is undoubtedly mid-18th Century. To often today, words like  “endowed” carry a different meaning than when Thomas Jefferson penned them. So here’s a 21st Century Translation. I hope you enjoy!

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America

Throughout history, sometimes one group of people decide enough is enough and are ready to form their own country. When that happens, it’s only fair that the new country explain why it’s taking such a drastic step.

There are some things that are so obvious even a moron should understand them. For instance, everyone is equal in the eyes of God, Who has given us rights that no government can deny; these include such basics as living and breathing, the freedom to think, speak, worship and associate as we please, and the chance to find happiness. People create governments to safeguard these rights, but when that government either stops protecting their God-given rights, or actually works to prohibit their exercise, the people reserve the ability to get rid of it and replace it with a government that is dedicated to maintaining those rights. That’s a dramatic step, of course, and should only be done as a last resort. After all, people have shown tremendous resiliency despite suffering at the hands of unresponsive governments. But things have gotten out of hand. We’re being ruled by a dictator; one who’s been screwing with us for a long time already. It is our duty to get rid of him and his government and put in place one that will look after our safety and security, both now and in the future. Before you judge our actions too harshly, let us prove the ways the British king is ruling by tyranny:

We pass laws for the public good, he refuses to allow either us or his own governors to implement them.
In exchange for actually doing his job (you know, ruling), he demands we give up our right to legislative representation.
When he actually does allow the people’s legislature to meet, it’s only at such oddball times and in such out of the way places as to make getting a quorum impossible.
Because our legislatures dare oppose the king’s usurpation’s of our rights, he keeps closing them down. Then, he refuses to allow a new legislature to be elected – even if that means nobody has any idea who’s in charge.
He’s even gone so far as to actively work to depopulate our States and then refuse to allow new people to settle here.
He’s refused to allow us to set up courts and judges for trying criminals. Instead, he’s put his cronies on the judicial bench and their only concern is whatever he tells them to do.
He’s ballooned the bureaucracy, with the express purpose of harassing us to the point of insanity.
The King has stationed a large standing army among our civilian population, even though we are supposedly at peace. This army is not subject to civilian authority and can even override decisions made by civilian authority. As if that wasn’t enough, his army can take over any citizen’s house for their own use, and he’s given it free reign to murder anyone with impunity. Oh, he claims his murderous soldiers are held to account. But it’s always a sham trial, with a king-appointed judge finding the offending soldier innocent.
He refuses to let us buy or sell any goods beyond our own borders.
He imposes new taxes and raises old ones, without regard to whether we can pay them and without even asking us first.
He seizes dissidents and takes them to Great Britain, to be sentenced in sham trials.
He’s dissolved our local state governments, abolished our laws and instituted absolute rule in our communities.
He’s declared war on us, his own subjects and said we are no longer protected by his absolute power and authority.
He’s plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people.
Even now, he is sending huge mercenary armies to kill and maim us, rape our women and act with all the cruelty imagined by man over the centuries, establishing a reign of terror totally unbecoming a civilized ruler.
He’s even forced our citizens to fight in his armies and navies against their families and friends, under pain of death. He’s also sent the merciless Indians to utterly destroy our frontier outposts, killing everyone they come across, be they man, woman, or child, even if disabled.

Even while we’ve been subjected to this level of oppression, we’ve tried to reason with the king. But every time we’ve asked him to put an end to this madness, his response has been to escalate the torture, murder and repression further. A tyrant like this king simply isn’t fit to be anyone’s leader.

We’ve also tried to reach out to the British people. After all, we are supposed to be fellow citizens of the Empire. We’ve tried explaining to them that the actions taken by the king are not in keeping with our shared traditions, or English common law, but they seem to neither care nor consider us brothers. This leaves us no choice but to recognize them as a foreign people, and as with all foreigners, they will be our enemies in war and our friends in peace.

Therefore, this Congress, the duly elected representatives of the People of these former British colonies, with the moral authority given us by God himself, declare that we are no longer colonies. We are free and independent States, as granted by God. We no longer have any allegiance to the British crown, nor do we recognize any political or military authority of Great Britain over our territories or lives. As free and independent states, we reserve the ability to declare wars, levy taxes, create alliances, establish trade and do all those things any independent state can do. So help us God, we swear this Declaration on our honor, understanding that in so doing we may forfeit our lives and our fortunes.


When Symbology Changes


stars and barsHumans have used symbols to represent ideas and general concepts longer than there have been written languages. But sometimes, the meaning for a given symbol can change greatly, and sometimes that meaning can change in what seems like the blink of an eye.

For thousands of years, the swastika was used by cultures around the world. Originally, it was used to represent the sun, or strength, or power, or good luck. However, the German Nazi’s appropriated the symbol during their reign of terror. By the end of the Second World War, very few people outside of die-hard Nazis looked favorably upon the swastika. Today, it is a symbol that represents degradation, humiliation and overt racism. The original meaning is lost to the dust of history, and even the people who as recently as a century ago were using it as a good luck talisman have abandoned it.

2,000 years ago, the cross represented the very worst punishment the Roman Empire could mete out. Wherever crosses appeared, the most painful death imaginable was certain to follow. As a symbol, it represented the power of Rome and the emperor. Today, it is the principle symbol of the world’s 3 billion Christians. Rather than a symbol of oppression, it has become a symbol of freedom. Although I never met Emperor Nero, I doubt he would understand how, in less than a century, the Roman Imperial Eagle came to be replaced by the cross.

Today, we’re faced with another symbol that has undergone a radical transformation of it’s meaning: the Confederate Battle Flag. While it once stood for the right of individual states to protest the federal government and Southern Pride, it’s appropriation by various white supremacist groups today leaves it an undeniable symbol of racism and bigotry. Removing it’s use from public and/or official displays should be plain common sense.

There will still be occasions when it’s use is appropriate. Just as swastikas are flown during WWII reenactments, it’s a little hard to imagine a Civil War reenactment without the Stars and Bars. But by the same token, no matter how much I like Lynyrd Skynyrd, I just can’t imagine them continuing to use that flag as a stage prop – even though it’s been a staple of their shows for over 40 years. Yes, Skynyrd is proud to be Southern. but they’ve never embraced racism as a theme.

That’s what happens when symbols change meaning. You can continue to use them, hoping the world will understand you don’t agree with the new meaning. Or you can accept reality and move on. It’s time for us to move on and consign the Confederate Battle Flag to history.


Big Government —Big Stick | A Montpelier View


A traffic post from a fellow blogger, explaining why the theory of government usually diverges from the reality of government. It is a lesson our Founding Fathers understood and tried to incorporate into our Constitution.

I guarantee they never saw the likes of the 16th and 17th Amendments, whose combined effect has been to destroy the idea of limited government they put into action.

http://mrmadison.net/2015/06/22/big-government-big-stick/


Maybe I’m Getting Old…


I began this morning the way I usually do, by opening my Bible and reading a passage, then moving on to Facebook and looking at the overnight posts from my friends. Usually, this is a great way to start the day: I get my moral gyroscope spinning with the right orientation and then lighten my mood by seeing the crazy stuff people I know were up to the night before. I especially enjoy the memes that get posted. As those of you who follow me on the Zuckerberg Express are certainly aware, I’m a pretty snarky person and love ironic humor.

But this morning…well, this morning is different. All of the Ferguson memes, styled in a way that ordinarily would at least get a chuckle from me, didn’t have that effect. Instead, they only filled me with a sense of sadness. Pictures that are repurposed to make you laugh have instead left me wanting to cry – and that’s why I now worry if, in fact, I’m getting too old.

I worry about that, because I know it’s an old-fashioned idea that senseless and needless violence simply isn’t a source of humor. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not unfamiliar with senseless violence. After all, I live in Newark, not exactly a paragon of domestic tranquility. In my decades of life, I’ve witnessed dozens of riots similar to the ones we’re seeing in Ferguson. And yet, somehow, these riots have touched me in a way that none of those others did.

Maybe it’s the circumstances that led up to them. There seems to be a sickness in our society, a malady that is on the edge of my understanding without my truly being able to grasp it. At the core, the source of the riots and the accompanying (no longer funny) memes is this: blacks in America are certain the police are gunning for them. Whites in America think that idea is a bunch of baloney. Try as I might, I cannot find a way to bridge that difference – and I don’t think anyone else has the answer, either. That very real possibility is the source of my angst, because I’ve always believed in America as the world’s best hope for a Shining City on a Hill – and if we’ve failed in that mission, we’ve failed in so much more.

If America is not the nation of our collective imagination, one where any man can rise as high (or sink as low) as he chooses based solely on his abilities and desires, then we have a serious problem. If America is not a nation where we strive to make that dream a reality, then we have a problem. If America is simply a nation where an entire class of people believes they are to be permanently impressed as nothing more than the punching bags for everyone else, then we have an even bigger problem. How do you change someone’s belief system, one they see reinforced on a daily basis in their personal experience, even if the reinforcement is only perceived?

I don’t know, but I find my mind traveling back to the time of my youth. Men like Bobby Kennedy and Ralph Abernathy provided the leadership to help guide America towards our goal of realizing Shining City on a Hill status. Of course, foremost among the men of that day was Dr. Martin Luther King and I think of the speech he gave 46 years ago in Memphis. Many remember it as the call to arms for the sanitation worker strike; others as the last speech Dr. King would ever give. I recall it for the simple sermon Dr. King gave towards the end of the speech, in which he relayed how the Parable of the Good Samaritan should infect our modern lives. He talked of the time he and his wife traveled the Jordan Road and was made aware of how the travelers could ignore the mugged man’s plight, how the dangers of that road were evident even in his day. (By the way, if you ever get a chance, you’ll see it still hasn’t changed). But most importantly, he talked about how the Good Samaritan took the element of danger and turned it on it’s head. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of, “Rather than asking ‘What is the danger to me if I stop to help, he asked what is the danger to him if I do not stop?'”

Maybe that passage still holds true today and maybe that’s where we’ve lost our way. Maybe we’ve simply stopped asking ourselves what the danger is to our nation and our society, if we stop to help the guy who’s in trouble. If instead, we’ve become so insular as to be unable to even see that question, much less answer it.

I’m not sure. But for now, I’m going to find some old Three Stooges shorts and see if some senseless violence can restore my humor.


In Memoriam


The following men lost their lives in service to their country on October 16, 1985, while serving with the 26th Marine Amphibious Unit:

Lt. Robert Ledbetter, USN, Norfolk, VA
1stLt. John Wasko, USMC, San Diego, CA
1stLt. John Blee, USMC, Durant, IA
2ndLt. John Karner, USMC, Eagle, WI
SSGT David Jones, USMC, Beaumont, TX
SGT John Carney, USMC, Glendora, CA
SGT Dirk Witcher, USMC, BelAir, TX
CPL Larry Day, USMC, Peoria, IL
CPL AL Jones, Jr., USMC, Jamestown, RI
CPL Cliff Moyer, USMC, Cement City, MO
CPL Greg Reber, USMC, Auburn, PA
PFC Craig Carnley, USMC, Bay Minette, AL
PFC Michael Stuhlsatz, USMC, Millstadt, IL
PVT Purnell Jones, USMC, Milwaukee, WI
PVT Johnnie Young, USMC, Cordele, OK

Semper Fi! Rest in Peace.


Immigration Reform? Not Really.


ONLY IN THE CONGRESS would as daft a piece of legislation as S.770 be called immigration reform.

This is not to say that our current immigration system isn’t in dire need of reform. Anyone who knows anyone who has tried to legally enter the country is well aware that our current system tends to be discriminatory and slow. It is full of arbitrary limits with neither rhyme nor reason. Capricious rulings from faceless bureaucrats rule the day.

Unrelated to the immigration system is the issue of border security. Everyone seems to recognize that our borders are as porous as cheesecloth. The Mexican border, in particular, has become a dangerous and unruly place. Mexican drug cartels have more control over the expanse of desert than our government, with numerous deaths to both US and Mexican citizens resulting from the insecurity. In the meantime, millions of Mexican citizens routinely cross over to the US without permission. Some return. Most do not.

These are not new problems. In 1986, we had our first go-round with “comprehensive immigration reform.” We granted immunity from prosecution or deportation to some 3 million illegal immigrants and we changed the criteria for obtaining visas, green cards and eventual citizenship for future immigrants. Included in the “comprehensive” solution was supposedly upgraded border security. I supported that effort, partly because I couldn’t see anyway to round up and deport 3 million people, partly because the border would be secured and partly because the path to legal immigration was made simpler for future immigrants. I felt it better to have those illegals legalized and paying taxes than using government services from governments they had no real stake in.

Yet, here we are some 27 years later and the same problems that existed before the 1986 legislation not only still exist, but are worse than before. We now have somewhere around 11 million illegal immigrants living in the US, the border is hardly secure, and the path for legal immigration is more cumbersome and frustrating than ever. The legislative response this time? A repeat of the 1986 legislative failure. For the life of me, I can’t see how anyone with more than three working brain cells can think this is appropriate.

And since the colloquial definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result, I can’t see how anyone could look at the current legislation and not come away convinced that our Senators are insane.

As I mentioned at the top, I still believe our immigration system is in need of a serious overhaul. Not just a reform of the current immigration laws, but an all-out overhaul. If the Congress wants to strip down the current system and start from scratch, I’m fine with that. Heck, I would be really, really happy if they did that.

We also need border security. It should be a top priority and it shouldn’t be something that takes Congressional action to accomplish. After all, the Executive branch is responsible for maintaining border security. Yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (a man quickly approaching Sen. John McCain for the “Most Senile Senator” award) told Chris Wallace that the border is “virtually militarized.” Well, that approach obviously isn’t working. I’m certain if the administration actually did militarize the border, there would be howls from the left. But I’m also certain that an infantry division patrolling the Rio Grande and another patrolling the Desert Southwest would be far more effective in maintaining border security than anything else we’ve tried thus far.

And we need to decide what to do with the 11 million people here without visas. I don’t think we’re any more capable of rounding up 11 million criminals today than we were capable of rounding up 3 million criminals 27 years ago. I don’t think they should be allowed to stay, either. I do think there is a very simple and cost effective way to have them return to their country of origin, though: deny them the means to live here. Make it impossible for them to work. Deny them the ability to rent a house or apartment. Deny them government services of any type. Give local governments the ability to turn over those here illegally to federal officials, and make it mandatory that anyone here illegally be immediately sent back home. Not all will “self-deport,” but more than the vast majority will. Human nature is human nature – once deprived of the means to support themselves or their families, they’ll move on to greener pastures.

What is certain that a repeat of the 1986 “comprehensive reform” package will get us, well, a repeat of 1986. Which means in 2040 another bunch of Senators will be discussing what to do about the fact there are more Mexican citizens residing in the US than than in Mexico, why the borders have become deadlier than ever and why the US cannot find (and keep) highly qualified people to emigrate here.


A Patriotism Optional Nation


“In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” -Mark Twain

This is going to be a long post, so I’ll beg forgiveness now. But what needs to be said is far too important to attempt to keep this brief, or under 750 words – for if it were that simple, then it wouldn’t need to be said.

Our nation is at a crossroads of our history. Down one path lay the glory and honor bestowed on us by the men whose names we learn to cherish as children: Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln. Down the other lay one paved in darkness and guarded by men we’ve learned to revile: Stalin, Hitler, Napolean, Caesar. We haven’t arrived at this juncture by accident, but it wasn’t pre-ordained, either. We came to this point willingly and of our own accord.

How did we arrive here? Because when times call for the greatest fortitude, people clamor for illusory safety and willingly allow government to abscond with what we once described as inalienable liberties. While our nation followed this course during the 18th and 19th centuries, we never forgot – or allowed our elected representatives – to forget the meaning of the word “inalienable.” Even the most egregious violations of the Bill of Rights and examples of executive overreach were quickly repealed. Or failing that, the third leg of our government – the courts – would invalidate the law in question. During the Civil War, the government violated the Third Amendment (prohibiting quartering soldiers in private homes), the Eighth Amendment (prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment), and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (the nation’s first military draft was enacted by executive order, not an act of Congress). By the war’s end, troops were no longer quartered in private homes, the Army commanders who had inflicted the most horrible deprivations the mind can create were themselves jailed and the Supreme Court invalidated the draft.

Ben vs Obama

By the time the Great Depression had plunged the world into chaos, the citizenry was panicked. Governments around the world responded by instituting varying levels of socialism. In nations with a history of repressive governments, the repression reached new levels of inhumanity. Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan and China all gave rise to governments that (as a matter of policy) established mass executions and detentions while squelching all opposition. Spain erupted into a civil war between two equally brutal and repressive regimes.

In the US we instituted the “New Deal,” a  series of programs that increased the government’s role in the economic and business life of the nation to unprecedented levels. This intrusion into previously private affairs didn’t infringe on the basic freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence. But it did set an important milestone in the affairs of the nation. It marked the firs time the nation willingly exchanged freedom of action for the illusion of security. (Let’s face facts: the national economy in 1939 was only marginally better than in 1929).

However, with the outbreak of World War II, Americans accepted not only having their inalienable rights curtailed, but in several case outright removed. Japanese-Americans by the tens of thousands were jailed, their citizenship nullified by executive order, in violation of the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments. First Amendment protections were stripped away, as a compliant press and population acquiesced to censorship on a grandiose scale. Defendants were not allowed to exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in “national security” trials. J.Edgar Hoover’s FBI routinely searched homes and businesses for saboteurs – without warrants, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

After the war ended, these Constitutional violations ended. But 44 months of war and deprivation, after 12 years of government intrusion during the Great Depression, had inoculated the American public from the idea that government needed to be guarded against. An entire generation had now grown up knowing only a federal bureaucracy that claimed it could solve the problems of mankind.

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” -James Madison

Thanks to the relentless indoctrination our nation has endured for almost 80 years, both from popular culture and the way we teach (or more accurately, fail to teach) history and civics, the United States of America is no longer the home of the brave. This is not to say that there are not courageous individuals among us. Obviously there are, or else things like this wouldn’t happen. But our society no longer expects bravery as the norm, which is why we celebrate those willing to run into collapsing towers.

This transformation of the American from rugged individual to fearful member of the collective gave rise to egregious abuses of power over the last six decades. Some we still remember: McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra. Others have slipped the collective conscience and disappeared in to mists of time. The common thread between all, though, is an underlying belief that government should have more  power than the people it serves – all in the name of safety. It’s how we’ve wound up with massive programs. It’s how lawmakers and executives of both major parties can say with a straight face programs like PRISM are necessary to keep Americans safe.

This brings us to the 21st century, a century that began with the downing of the World Trade Center. The American populace screamed for vengeance, yelled for justice – but more importantly, demanded the government make them safe. And the government responded to those demands; not with a measured voice reassuring the populace that the terrorists would be caught and punished. Instead, two major wars were launched by executive fiat. Yes, the Congress technically voted to invade those foreign countries, but the vote was actually to cede the power vested in them by the Constitution to the Executive branch. Seemingly overnight, we were a nation at war.

“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” -Edward R. Murrow

In the same way the United States has ceased being collectively valorous, we have sullied the definition of patriotism. Being a patriot requires more than waving a flag on Independence Day, singing “God Bless America” during a baseball game; it is more than putting a lapel pin on your suit jacket or cheering returning soldiers. These are nothing more than outward displays of nationalism. Regardless of a nation’s ideals, such actions are performed by supposed patriots of every nation. Britons stand when a band strikes up “God Save the Queen,” Saudi’s bow when the King’s limo passes by.

On the other hand, the patriot understands and defends the ideals which separate his nation from all others. The original American patriots pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Many gave their lives, more sacrificed their fortunes. None, however, were forced to give up their honor. Rather, their honor was restored by fighting for the ideals in the document they signed in 1776. In our modern era, the rights they enshrined as being inalienable, rights that laid the foundation for our nation, are being eroded by the misnamed Patriot Act, by secret courts and warrants, by an executive branch that sees little value in life or liberty. Where are the modern patriots?

NSA PollThe reality is patriotism is a vanishing character from our nation. More than half of our citizens are perfectly happy to be spied on by their government, not caring this can only occur as an abrogation of the Fourth Amendment. Over the past week, I continuously hear statements like “If the government wants to watch me watch porn, I don’t care.” Nobody much cares if the Nazi’s can’t march in Washington, so long as they can watch Honey Boo-Boo. After all, freedom of speech isn’t for people who might have offensive views but only those with whom we can commiserate. Abridging the Second Amendment, redefining it if necessary, is fine. The public doesn’t care, so long as it can be made to feel safer. Seventh and Eighth Amendment protections for suspected terrorists need not apply – especially if the hapless citizen accused of terrorism is overseas. Why bother with a trial, when a missile tipped robot can eliminate the problem? If a bunch of kids in Brooklyn get stopped and frisked by the NYPD for the awful crime of walking around, who cares about their rights to due process? The cops might find a gun on one of them.

All of this is now acceptable to an American people conditioned towards cowardice. Our forefathers abandoned personal safety and financial security in the pursuit of liberty. They did this at the founding of the nation and as they expanded the national boundaries westward. They did this as they boarded creaky ships to cross the Atlantic in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries. These people were patriots. They did not fear their government, they stood for their rights and took it to task when government dared infringe upon them.

“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.”― Thomas Jefferson

Despite the platitudes from the elected, our modern government is no longer “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The modern American constantly lives in fear of what the government may do to them, rather than holding government to account for its actions. They often don’t even realize how afraid of government they’ve become. They live in fear of being audited by the IRS, of having their driving privileges revoked, of having their property seized by “eminent domain.” They live in fear that their employer will lose a government contract, of being denied a government loan, of being denied admission to college.

So, my question to you is: what are you willing to give up for liberty, those of you who call yourselves patriots? Are you willing to sacrifice your life? Your house? Your bank account? Your Social Security check? How about the big screen television or cell phone? Because our reality is that very few are willing to sacrifice anything. It’s why we’ve become a nation of nationalists, not patriots. We cower when we should fight. If you want to know why you are no longer safe in your cities, America, look no further than the rot that infects your citizenry’s soul. Your complacency as the nation’s values were stolen is the reason our foreign enemies are emboldened.

“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and perceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and last some crisis shows what we have become. ” ― Brooke Foss Westcott

America is now the nation of cowards. As such, we’ve become the patriotism optional society.

May God help us all.


A Veteran’s Memorial Day


I originally posted this on Memorial Day, 2010, but the sentiment is the same. As you head out to the beach, the barbecue or the ballgame today, please take a moment to remember why you have this particular Monday off from school or work.

And although it’s been three years since I originally wrote this and the little boy at the end is now not quite so little, I still want to thank him and his parents. Whenever I need affirmation that this nation still has good and just people, I think of them.

I awoke this morning to thoughts of old friends who left us too soon. It’s not an unusual occurrence; most mornings I wake thinking of the same men. When they died, they did not give in to fear; cowardice was not these men’s forte. Some died in battle, some preparing for battle. Two very good friends of mine died not in battle, but the wounds they sustained in defense of liberty hastened their untimely departure from our world. One man was known simply as Tank. He was a large man, but in his later years his body had been ravaged by the effects of two bullet wounds and prolonged exposure to Agent Orange during his two tours of duty in Vietnam. Today, I celebrate not only Memorial Day but the tenth anniversary of his passing. Although Tank never spoke of it, he was awarded a Bronze Star during his second tour. It wasn’t until his funeral that I learned how as a 23 year old platoon sergeant he ran back onto a hot LZ, taking a bullet in the back and one in the shoulder, in order to pull one of his men to the relative safety of a tree line. But anyone who knew the man wasn’t surprised to hear of his courage under fire.

This morning, as I thought of him, I shed a tear.

The other day, I watched my town’s annual Memorial Day parade. In addition to the Korean War and Vietnam vets, a detachment from the local Marine Corps reserve unit marched. As I looked at their eager young faces, I realized that most of those kids weren’t born when I earned my EGA in 1983. In fact, most of them hadn’t been born when I mustered out. Realizing that most of these young men will be shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan, I reflected on my own service. I joined to fight Communism, and like most of the world, I rejoiced when the Berlin War crashed to the ground. I truly thought my service had proven, in some small way, invaluable to the defense of the American way of life. Yet here I was, watching a new generation of Marines preparing to fight a new enemy. Had my service not been as valuable as I once thought? Had the men I had known during my service, men who had fought and died in battles around the world – had they died in vain? I decided that no, our service – their service – had been as important in our time as these brave young men’s service is today. And then I realized that none of those young men will return from their combat tours the same. Even if not scarred on the outside, even if they survive to return home physically intact, they will carry the memories of what they see and feel and endure for the rest of their lives.

And as I watched, I shed a tear.

Last night I watched the National Memorial Day Concert, broadcast from the National Mall on PBS. I listened as Gary Sinise and Dennis Haysbert recounted the final moments of Charlie Johnson’s life. I watched as a new generation of war widows were celebrated. I enjoyed the stylings of Brad Paisley. Like plenty of others, I rose to attention and sang the Marine Corps hymn during the Salute to the Services, and I rose to attention and sang again during “America the Beautiful.”

But many times during the concert, I stopped to shed a tear.

And I wondered, as I prepared to try and sleep, will anyone awake on Tuesday and remember the sacrifices of the men who have fought and died to preserve the United States? It’s terrific that we have a day set aside to pay tribute to those men. And I don’t mind that we celebrate by doing uniquely American things – backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, baseball games. But I wondered, when Tuesday comes will my fellow countrymen remember those who ensured that the backyard barbecues could continue?

A little earlier today, I went to the neighborhood bodega. It was a routine trip to pick up a few items needed for my own backyard barbecue. Like many veterans, I have a “Pride Hat.” You may have seen one perched on a veteran’s head – a military baseball cap on which are pinned his campaign ribbons. Mine is nearing retirement. It’s 14 years of service are evidenced by its faded color and the only thing keeping it together are years of starch used to block it. As a result, I only wear it on special occasions. Today being one of those occasions, I wore it on my walk to the bodega. On my return trip, a neighborhood kid – maybe 6 or 7 years old – stopped me and said, “Were you really in the Army?” I smiled and said, no, I am a Marine and we’re better than the Army. The little boy sat on his bike for a minute, seeming to take in this bit of information. The he stood, and said “Thank you” before pedaling off down the street.

I shed a tear. In fact, I’m still shedding a few as write this. Because I have my answer. For as long as children like this can find my service honorable, they will keep the flame of liberty alive. In so doing, the most important thing we can do as Americans is to remember and honor the sacrifices that so many brave men have and  will endure. We will continue to live as Americans, preserving our republic as the beacon of freedom and liberty for the rest of the world.


Happy Independence Day!


Today, as we enjoy time with our friends and families, revel in the fireworks and devour our barbecued food, we’re celebrating the 236th Birthday of our great nation. But more importantly, we’re celebrating 236 years of independence – independence from tyranny and oppression.

We all know that the Declaration of Independence was signed by the 56 members of the Continental Congress on this date 236 years ago. Most of us even know how the powerful statement contained in it’s beginning; a statement that has defined Americanism throughout our history. But how many of us have read through the entire document, where the grievances of the original states are enumerated? The American Revolution was far more than a tax revolt. We’re taught in history class that the Stamp Act and Tea Tax were the sparks that ignited the insurrection against the British crown. While far from popular, the reality is that the imposition of those taxes were but symptoms of a far larger problem for the Americans. That problem was the  way the British government disregarded the basic liberties and freedoms of the American colonists, granting or revoking them as it saw fit.

Just like those brave men and women 236 years ago, we believe that the “inalienable rights” of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness cannot be impinged upon by any government – and that any government that tries is answerable to the people. It is what defines us as a nation and a people. It is the essence of American Exceptionalism – that a nation can be founded more on an ideal than a population or geography. To this day, we remain unique in this regard: no other nation can lay claim to such distinction.

Below is the full transcript. Read it through. Remember why celebrate the day, and why freedom loving people the world over celebrate with us.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”


Iwo Jima Memorial at night, Arlington, VA

At 9:00am on February 19, 1945 Marines of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions landed on the volcanic Pacific island of Iwo Jima. Despite having grown accustomed to ferocious Japanese resistance as they island-hopped from one battle to the next, the Marines landing that day had no idea of the Hell they were about to enter. The Japanese General in charge of the island’s defenses, rather than meet the invading Marines on the beaches, had decided to marshal his forces further inland. As a result, Marines who landed that morning were unable to move forward, pinned down by heavy machine gun, mortar and artillery fire while sustaining heavy casualties. At the same time, the US Navy was taking fire at a rate unseen since the Battle of the Coral Sea nearly three years earlier. Before the battle was over, the Navy would suffer over 850 casualties and lose 18 ships, including the escort carrier USS Bismarck Sea and the heavy carrier USS Saratoga.

Still, the Marines pressed on. By the morning of February 23, the Marines of “E” 2/28 (E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment) had taken the summit of the island’s most prominent height, Mount Suribachi. Led by 1st Lt. Harold Schrier, the 40 Marine strong patrol arrived at the volcanic crater and raised a small American flag at 10:20 that morning – the first time a foreign flag ever flew over Japanese soil. Marine Sergeant Lou Lowery captured the flag raising on film, despite having to dodge a Japanese grenade attack.

The immediate lift to the morale of the Marines fighting all over the island was resounding and noticed by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who immediately ordered a larger flag be flown in the original’s place. That flag raising, forever immortalized by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, became one of the iconic images in American history. Today, the photo is immortalized in the Iwo Jima Memorial, a giant bronze statue at Arlington National Cemetery that stands as a tribute to all Marines who died in battle.

The Battle for Iwo Jima continued for another month, becoming the bloodiest battle in US history. The Marines suffered over 26,000 casualties; of the over 20,000 Japanese defenders, fewer than 1100 survived. 27 Marines were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima, more than any other battle in history. Marines who fought on that small volcanic rock 67 years ago can still regale you with stories that leave even modern Marines incredulous at their sacrifice and determination. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz summed up the horror endured and gallantry of the men who lived and died on “sulfur island” when he said:

“By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

On today, the 67th anniversary of the Flag raising on Suribachi, this Marine is proud to stand and salute those men still alive and give a heartfelt, “Semper Fi! Job well done!”

Original Iwo Jima Flag Raising, 23Feb1945, as captured by Lou Lowery


A Nation Without Hope


There are very few things if which I’m certain. One thing of which I fairly sure is that the political mood of the country is one of anger, driven by fear and angst. These emotions feed upon themselves and if not checked, they become self-replicating and self-fulfilling. If unchecked, the societal impact is not hard to measure. In fact, human history is replete with examples of societies that acquiesced to fear – and in the process destroyed themselves. People of my generation witnessed the self-immolation of Communism. Our parents saw the rise and fall of Fascism. Their parents witnessed the end of Absolute Monarchs. Those political systems were often imposed upon the national populations that fell under their thrall, but society in those countries willingly accepted them.

Fascism and Communism rose to prominence on the backs of charismatic leaders who were willing to demonize segments of the population during times when the general population was genuinely afraid of losing their ability to provide the most basic economic needs and afraid of losing their national identity. In Germany, Adolph Hitler castigated the Jewish population and the allies of the Great War – while promising a path to prosperity rooted in the nation’s militaristic past. In Italy, Benito Mussolini promised to curb the “criminal element” and restore the Roman Empire. Lenin inspired the Red Russians by castigating the White Russians as, ironically, agents of oppression to a populace that for centuries had been oppressed.

The United States was not immune to the social upheavals that led to these dictators rise to power. Our one advantage was seemingly being blessed by having leaders rise to dispel the notion of fear, replacing it with a an optimism borne of hope. From the very beginning, our nation has found itself rescued by leaders who believed that whatever the current troubles, our best days were ahead of us. Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton all shared a vision of a nation whose best days were yet to come – and were able to articulate and communicate that vision to the general population. These men all pursued different policy directions, but delivered similar results. What binds them to one another is optimism and hope; their ability to overcome not only their personal fears but those of the nation.

Now consider the political leadership we have today, and have had for the first 12 years of this century. The actions taken by the political leadership of both major parties in responding to public fears have only worked to enhance those fears by giving them legitimacy. The Patriot Act, the TSA, the Wall Street Bailout, the Stimulus – all were the result of the public fear about the dramatic events that have taken place. But they have done nothing to alleviate those fears. No, if anything, they have only served to exacerbate them – turning a nation that was more unified on September 12, 2001 than at any time in the previous 60 years into one that is more divided than at any time since the Civil War.

This is the current political landscape: the Commander-in-Chief, instead of building on his election themes of “Hope and Change” and “Yes, We Can” now resorts to using the type of language that would make Lenin proud. He has found his scapegoat: the wealthiest among us, whose “greed and corruption brought about the worst economic catastrophe in three generations.” In his latest national address, last week’s State of the Union, he not only exhorted us to follow the type of robotic obedience for which the military is often miscast, but to grant him the level of control over local matters that any dictator needs. Sadly, the opposition party is led by a cast of characters that alternates between demonizing immigrant minorities, Jews, and pretty much any other ethnic group that can generate a few headlines. On the campaign stump, the current crop of presidential hopefuls extolls the virtues of fear and hate, lambasting one another for not being “conservative enough” while forgetting the true meaning of “conservative.” Indeed, our national politics now rely on fear to such a degree the principle argument of each party is to beware what the other party will do toyou.

The reality is that our nation is bereft of leadership. The modern politician, in a clamor to gain the most votes he can, resorts to following rather than leading. President Obama, seeing polling numbers that indicate the majority of his “base” perceive unfettered capital as their enemy, adopts a socialist stance – even though he has amassed a personal fortune, in large part thanks to unfettered capital. His Republican challengers, seeing polls that indicate xenophobia and racism play well in among their base, use coded language to ingratiate themselves. Both sides in Congress read polls that say compromise is the surest way to face a primary challenge – and nothing gets done.

Throughout our history, we have had the good fortune to find leaders who were able to overcome our baser instincts. As mentioned, there have been national movements that preyed upon fear before: the “Know-Nothings,” the KKK, the anarchists, the Communists all came about because the nation feared losing the things that make us exceptional and failed to see a way to preserve them. Each movement was met by a national political leader who overcame that fear by pointing to descriptions of the US like this:

“Our country is a special place, because we Americans have always been sustained, through good times and bad, by a noble vision – a vision not only of what the world around us is today but what we as a free people can make it be tomorrow”

I still believe that our nation’s best days are indeed before us. In speaking with many of my friends, in reading the posts in on-line chat rooms, in seeing the undercurrent of thought and desire among my fellow citizens I know I am not alone. Yet, I also hear the dual fears of economic calamity and loss of national identity espoused on a regular basis. That our political leaders do not share the vision of hope through freedom, but rather a vision of despair and ruin with our only salvation being to turn from our national character, is the great tragedy of our age.


Drudged


Newt Gingrich: G-d Complex?

Late yesterday afternoon, the Drudge Report reported that ABC is sitting on a “bombshell” interview with Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife.

Color me unimpressed.

First, consider the source. Matt Drudge is, at best, a muckraker. His career was built on  looking for the most salacious headlines. Slander and innuendo are his modus operandi. He is more publicity hound than reporter, and this story is exactly what he needed. After a few years of being an afterthought in conservative circles (and even less in liberal ones), people are talking about him again.

Further, rumors abound in conservative circles linking Drudge and James Dobson.  Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family, is backing Rick Santorum and has thrown some very un-Christian barbs at Newt’s current wife.  Now Drudge leaks that ABC is sitting on an interview with Marianne Gingrich, promising details “that will destroy Newt’s campaign.”

Suddenly, Marianne has details that will destroy her ex-husband’s Presidential campaign? Sorry, but scorned women don’t make the best witnesses. What could she possibly tell us that we don’t already know? Newt is a womanizer? He has a nasty temper? He’s ambitious? He believes he’s better than the rest of us?

All of those things are already well-documented over Newt’s 30+ years in elective politics. I have my own doubts about Newt being Presidential material (that temper is troubling when deciding whose finger is on the nuclear button), but Dobson and Drudge seem to be heading into John Quincy Adams territory with this line of attack. The end result of that smear campaign was Andrew Jackson winning, his wife dying, and a man with a well-pronounced vindictive streak seeking retribution for the 8 years of his Presidency (and very nearly causing the Civil War to break out 30 years early in the process).

Rather than inflaming passions of the more prurient, Dobson would be best served by focusing on Newt’s questionable policy arguments.

UPDATE: Andrew Breitbart is now reporting that ABC will air the interview on their Nightline program tonight. Since they’re bypassing higher profile (and viewership) slots to air it, it further reinforces my thought that this doesn’t break any new ground.


Is Modern Politics More Vicious than Ever?


Woodcut of Lyon-Griswold House Floor Brawl, 1798 (Courtesy: Smithsonian Institution)

What spurred me to write about this topic was a recent Facebook discussion I had with an old and respected friend, who opined that he thought political leaders over the past twenty years or so were subjected to more slanderous accusations, ridicule and disrespect than at any time in our history. I might have dismissed that comment, except it seems to be a popular sentiment these days. Whether the cries to denounce comparisons to “Nazis” after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, complaints by members of Congress regarding ethnic and racial slurs used against them, or statements by people like my friend, there seems to be an overriding sense that politics today has become far too personal. Popular sentiment is that unlike our history, we’re a nation more polarized and more willing to use the most vicious ad hominem attacks in place of reasoned debate than ever before.

Such sentiment may be popular, but it is incorrect. Defaming public figures is an American tradition that is older than the Republic – one can find newspaper articles and pamphlets pre-dating the Revolution that disparage, often in the most personal terms, some of the most famous Americans in history. Thomas Jefferson wrote of “the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them.” 1 Although Jefferson wrote those words in 1814, the reality is vulgarity and mendacity were hardly new to politics, even at that young age for the nation. As an example, in 1798 Alexander Hamilton published the pamphlet Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. In it, Hamilton not only defames Adams’ character (among other things, he asserts that Adams is “a drunkard, the type for whom sound judgement <sic> deserts at the first drop of whiskey.”2). Of course, six years later Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton would be killed by Vice President Aaron Burr – a duel sparked by Hamilton’s characterization of Burr as, among other things, corrupt and treasonous; even going so far as to actually recommend assassination should Burr win the Federalist Party nomination for President.

The election of 1824 gave rise to “The Corrupt Bargain,” but was nothing compared to the vindictiveness and nastiness exhibited in 1828. Andrew Jackson was portrayed by John Quincy Adams as an adulterous murderer(and you thought Bill Clinton had it tough), while Jackson and his camp gleefully heaped charges of prostitution, elitism and corruption on Adams. The slander reached levels not seen since, as the “Coffin Handbills” were widely distributed and Jackson’s wife was accused of bigamy. The attacks were so vicious that Mrs. Jackson fell ill and later died as a result. In 1840, the winning campaign of William Harrison completely avoided the issues of the day (including the worst financial crisis in the nation’s history, to that date), focusing instead on comparing the personalities of Harrison and Martin Van Buren. (Although Van Buren tried to make an issue of Harrison’s age, it went nowhere. The nation should have listened – Harrison served the shortest term in history after falling ill during his Inauguration.) And of course, Abraham Lincoln faced the worst kind of personal attack when ½ the country decided they would rather secede than accept him as President.

Personal attacks haven’t always been limited to the Executive Branch, either. Indeed the mudslinging on the floors of the Congress and Senate have even occasionally led to outright brawls. The first occurred in 1798, between Roger Griswold (Ct.) and Matthew Lyon (Vt.). Griswold, upset about charges of cowardice from Lyon, took it upon himself to whack Lyon with his hickory walking stick. Of course, it should be noted that Lyon didn’t help calm the situation when he spat at Griswold. Both men were later censured by the House. In 1856, Andrew Sumner (Ma.) took the floor to deliver a diatribe against Preston Brooks’ (SC) father-in-law. In a scathing bit of oratory, Sumner alleged Brooks’ in-law kept a mistress “who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him.” 3 The result was less brawl than mugging: Brooks beat Sumner to within an inch of his life, using his cane; as other members of the Senate attempted to aid Sumner, Laurence Keitt (SC) bayed them at pistol-point. Keitt was hardly a stranger to fisticuffs on the House floor. Two years later, he took exception to Galusha Grow’s (Pa.) calling him a “negro driver” and attempted to strangle Grow – on the House floor. The result was the largest melee ever seen in Congress, involving at least 50 Representatives.

These are just some of the more outrageous examples of how political slander has been a part of our discourse since the days of the Founding Fathers. In fact, you can argue that if anything, politicians today face less derision than their predecessors. The next time somebody you know complains about our leaders being treated like Rodney Dangerfield, feel free to whip out one of these juicy tidbits – and invite them to pay more attention in history class.

  1. Excerpted from “The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,” edited by Lipscomb & Bergh, published 1903. The excerpt is from a letter written to Walter Jones in 1814.
  2. As excepted in the Philadelphia Aurora, June 12, 1800.
  3. Detailed in “The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner“, Senate Historical Office, US Senate.

Why the Electoral College Matters


Belushi: An Electoral College Attendee?

One of those arcane topics that makes its way into political conversation is the Electoral College. Despite the fact that it should be treated as a pretty technical subject, it is usually given the same bumper-sticker treatment that serves as political discussion these days. Popular sentiment boils down to, the will of the people is ignored by the Electoral College and it should be reformed or replaced to more directly represent the popular vote.

Hey, great idea, right? Who could possibly be against the will of the people and the popular vote? And besides, isn’t the Electoral College some arcane leftover from the 18th century? Wasn’t it devised by a bunch of fuddy-duddies who were after maintaining power for the privileged few? Like most bumper sticker ideas, these are all exploded rather easily once you actually examine things.

First of all, the founders created the Electoral College expressly to prevent the type of insane power brokering that happens when somebody is incapable of winning the popular vote. Having experienced the shortcomings of parliamentary elections first-hand as British subjects, they were determined that Presidential elections should have a clear winner. Further, they were determined that each state would have a fair say in determining the winner. As odd as it may seem to people without a solid grounding in American history, our nation has always had regional differences in culture, along with the attendant political differences that arise from them. Although we love to dismiss many of their ideas as outdated and irrelevant in modern society, the Founders understood that direct elections bring with them tremendous peril for functioning government.

Were they right in their assumptions and fears? That anyone of voting age could think otherwise demonstrates either the inability to comprehend civics – or do some basic math. Currently, there is a proposal going around calling for each state to amend their constitutions to allow for direct apportionment of their Electors. The Republican Party is similarly apportioning their votes in the 2012 primary process. The result, based on the fact no candidate can seem to muster more than 40% of the vote and the front runners routinely poll in the mid-20’s, is likely to be a brokered convention. For those of you wondering what one of those looks like, I refer you to the 1968 Democratic Convention. Most people only know it for the chaos in the streets of Chicago – forgetting the chaos inside the convention itself. Before finally settling on Eugene McCarthy as the party’s candidate, the convention floor was raucous while party leaders haggled behind closed doors for days.

But could such an outcome be the result of states directly apportioning Electors? Consider three elections in our recent history:

2000: This is the election most cite in wanting to do away with the Electoral College. Neither major party candidate achieved 50% of the popular vote, but thanks to the Constitution George W. Bush garnered 279 electoral votes, 9 more than needed for victory, despite trailing Al Gore 48.4% to 47.9% in the popular vote. But had the electors been decided by the direct apportionment method, the electoral votes would have tallied as Bush 259, Gore 258, Ralph Nader 17, Pat Buchanan 4. Nader would have been a kingmaker in that scenario, as he could have pledged his votes to either major party candidate. The result would be what we witness in countries with otherwise weak minor parties – a leader forced to try and hold a coalition together, held at whim by the minor party’s demands.

1996: Bill Clinton swept to re-election with 379 electoral votes (despite only garnering 49.2% of the popular vote), but direct apportionment would have yielded a much different outcome. The tally would have been Clinton 263, Bob Dole 222, Ross Perot 53. Perot’s nascent Reform Party would have had the power to change history, but that possibility is dwarfed by the results from…

1992: This is the granddaddy of all examples as to why the Electoral College works. Perot garnered nearly 20 million votes nationwide, finishing second in Utah and Vermont (and falling short of winning Utah by less than 12,000 votes). It was the most successful third party candidacy in history, with Perot capturing 18.9% of the total popular vote. Yet, he won no electoral votes since he didn’t carry a single state. Bill Clinton won the electoral vote, 379-159 over George H.W. Bush, despite only capturing 43% of the popular vote. Under direct apportionment, the result would have been grim, indeed. Clinton would have managed only 229 electoral votes, Bush 201 – and Perot 108. Try to imagine the type of havoc Perot could – and would – have created had electors been directly apportioned. Constitutional crisis only begins to describe it.

That’s three elections within the past 20 years that would have been turned upside down, without a clear winner or any semblance of legitimacy for the eventual President. Except that the Electoral College was there to sort through the debris and declare a new President. So, before signing on to do away with the Electoral College or make dramatic changes to its structure, remember that those aging fuddy-duddies who wrote the Constitution knew a thing or two. As usual, we would be well advised to stop and think about the how and why they created the structures of our government before casting them aside.