2020, being the sort of year that it is, has thrown yet another hand grenade into our midst. Over the past 72 hours, I have seen far too many people claiming that “Safe Harbor Day” is not a thing, that its purpose is unconstitutional, that “nothing is final until January 20th.”
Granted, this is a bit more than you’ll get in a Civics 101 class, but all of those assertions are being made by people who (for the most part) are well aware they are flat-out lying to their readers and listeners. Hopefully, by the time I’m done here you’ll walk away a bit wiser and understand why today really is the end (finally!) of the Presidential Election of 2020.
To understand why this date is crucial and supported by the Constitution, you first need a little history. While everyone, not incorrectly, points to the election of 1876 as the flash point that led to the reforms that were first codified in 1887, and later as Title 3 of the US Code, the reality is that the first 80 years were filled with electoral headaches. There was the election of 1800, which resulted in the 12th Amendment being ratified. Nobody much recalls that the election of 1860 resulted in 4 candidates receiving electoral votes – only that the result was the Civil War. The election of 1824 could not be resolved in the Electoral College and wound up being decided in the House of Representatives, the last time an election has been decided in this way. The elections of 1868 and 1872 (as well as 1876) were marred by allegations of voter intimidation by the KKK. The election of 1872 featured one candidate, Horace Greeley (yes, the newspaper editor) dying before the Electoral College met. That all resulted in all sorts of recriminations, as Congress debated if electoral votes for a dead man should be counted and 14 electors were disqualified for that reason (hope you’re paying attention).
All of this set the stage for what is easily the most contentious election in our history*: the election of 1876.
President US Grant’s second term was marred by one political and financial scandal after another. Corruption was rampant. The Panic of 1873 was global financial collapse whose effects were still being felt at the outset of World War 1, some 40 years later. Add in the horrors of Reconstruction, which didn’t “reconstruct” much of anything except the same animus that had led the Confederacy to revolt in the first place, and the nation was a powder keg.
The Democrats nominated Samuel Tilden, a well-known prosecutor and governor, as someone who could reform the government, end Reconstruction, and erase the corruption. Tilden was best known as the man who successfully tried “Boss” Tweed, so his bona fides were well established. Initially, the Republicans tried to get Grant to run for a third term, but he was reluctant. A joint resolution of Congress asking him not not break with precedent seems to have been the final decider for him. Regardless, the GOP was without a candidate heading into their convention. After 7 ballots, they finally settled on Rutherford B. Hayes, who by all accounts was a nice guy but virtually unknown outside of his home state of Ohio.
The campaign itself was an occasionally bloody affair. The KKK engaged in a campaign of voter intimidation and ballot stuffing throughout the old Confederacy (in fact, they likely overplayed their hand, as South Carolina wound up with more votes cast than state residents). Shots were fired at Hayes while he was eating dinner once. Things became so heated that Grant called up the Army to encamp around the District of Columbia, as there was genuine fear that elements of the Confederacy might engage in a Second Civil War.
Yes, it was that tense.
When the votes were counted after the election on November 7th, Tilden had 184 electoral votes, Hayes 165. But 4 states, represented by 20 electors, sent two sets of electors to the College. Nothing like that had ever happened in the nation’s history and there was nothing in the Constitution to guide anyone as to which electors should be recognized. There were no laws, no statutes, no anything. But there was precedent for Congress challenging and disqualifying electors. Just four years prior, Congress had removed 14 electors for voting for a dead man (told you this would come up again).
So, Congress created a joint commission to determine which electors should be recognized. It was truly a bipartisan affair. The commission was made up of 5 elected Republicans, 5 elected Democrats, and 5 Supreme Court Justices, 2 appointed by Republicans, 2 by Democrats and the 5th to be determined by the other 4 justices. But even here, the times informed the choice: the original Justice selected was promptly selected to the Senate by the Democrats in Illinois, who thought he would serve out his time on the commission before taking office. He surprised everyone by immediately vacating his seat.
Complicating the commission’s work was that in three of the states (Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana), voting irregularities simply could not be sorted through (remember South Carolina, with more votes than residents?). Oregon’s competing slates featured a split ticket and full ticket for Hayes. After more than a month of testimony and haggling, the commission came to an agreement. The Democrats would get an end to Reconstruction and a promise from Hayes not to run for re-election. The Republicans would get all 20 outstanding electoral votes certified for Hayes. It is the only time in our history that someone achieved a majority of the popular vote but failed to secure the Presidency.
It was against this backdrop that Congress passed the Electoral Act of 1887. Prior to then, the date the Electoral College met was generally agreed on in a joint resolution of Congress, in accordance with Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution. This was Congress’ way of setting a timeline for when electors needed to be submitted to Congress for certification and when electors would meet to cast their votes – and avoiding the fiasco that had occurred just ten years earlier. What Congress did was take the electoral powers granted it under the Constitution and codified them, so that everyone would know the rules. Further, they stipulated that any state that could not certify their electors prior to the Electoral College meeting, would risk not having those electors recognized.
In 1948, Congress went a step further and codified the entire election process under Title 3, Chapter 1 of the US Code. There are 21 sections in this chapter, covering everything from election day (Sect. 1, “The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.”) through the Presidential Succession Act (Sect. 19) and the steps a President needs to legally accomplish to either resign or refuse his office (sect. 20).
The point is, these laws are based on the Constitutional authority granted Congress, either under the 12th Amendment or Article II. Their constitutionality was upheld in Bush v Gore, when the Supreme Court ruled that if a state is ready to certify their electors, then all other proceedings are moot:
Because the Florida Supreme Court has said that the Florida Legislature intended to obtain the safe-harbor benefits of 3 U. S. C. §5, Justice Breyer’s proposed remedy—remanding to the Florida Supreme Court for its ordering of a constitutionally proper contest until December 18-contemplates action in violation of the Florida election code, and hence could not be part of an “appropriate” order. (emphasis mine)Per Curiam opinion, Bush v Gore
You’ll note that while most of the opinion recognizes the Florida Supreme Court’s creation of due process conflicts that require a remedy, because the state legislature was prepared to certify their electors under 3 USC Chapter 1, Section 5, they could not stand in the way. Whatever the remedy was, it could not violate the “safe-harbor” provisions of electoral law.
So what does this section of the US Code say about “safe-harbor”? It says:
If any State shall have provided, by laws enacted prior to the day fixed for the appointment of the electors, for its final determination of any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of all or any of the electors of such State, by judicial or other methods or procedures, and such determination shall have been made at least six days before the time fixed for the meeting of the electors, such determination made pursuant to such law so existing on said day, and made at least six days prior to said time of meeting of the electors, shall be conclusive, and shall govern in the counting of the electoral votes as provided in the Constitution, and as hereinafter regulated, so far as the ascertainment of the electors appointed by such State is concerned.https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title3&edition=prelim
In layman’s terms, if a state has certified their electors 6 days before the Electoral College meets, then those electors are the ones who cast their votes. This is crucial. It was Congress determination not to relive the nightmare of the election of 1876 by ensuring that each state certified their electors before the voting began. Also, as recognized by the Supreme Court some 20 years ago, legal challenges to a state’s electors must be decided no later than 6 days before the Electoral College meets. Any legal challenges to certified electors (how an elector is certified is covered under Section 6) after that date is moot.
Does this mean all of the lawsuits currently in state court are now worthless? Yes. Absolutely. Does it mean pending actions in federal court are now over? For the most part, yes. While a court might find some abrogation of due process or equal protection, they will be required to follow Bush v Gore and Justice Alito’s decision; the remedy cannot be to invalidate the state’s electors.
*I know in our desire for relevancy, we want to think of either the election of 2000 or 2020 as the Most Contentious Election In American History, but they probably don’t even make the top 5. 1800, 1824, 1860, 1872, 1876, 1920, 1940 and 1960 all featured results that were at least as, if not more disputed.
It isn’t often I see something on social media that gets my blood boiling. Over the past 24 hours, though, this has been making the rounds.
This has got my blood boiling.
Folks, if you are calling for the President of the United States to install a military dictatorship, you are not a patriot. You’ve forgotten what the Minutemen were fighting against at Lexington and Concord. You’ve forgotten why those esteemed gentlemen at the Second Continental Congress swore away their fortunes and their very lives, if needed. You’ve forgotten why our fathers and grandfathers stormed the beaches at Normandy, at Anzio, at Tarawa, and at hundreds of other battles throughout our history.
Maybe you’re willing to throw away the idea of a country that exists to defend freedom at the altar of a single, deeply flawed man, but if you are, remember this:
Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.Ronald Reagan
Willingness to live by those words, and die by them, is the mark of a true patriot. If you can’t live by those words, then you need to start doing some deep soul searching, because there is something deeply flawed within you.
A few of you – ok, it’s actually quite a few – seem to have bought into the latest line of idiocy.
Which line is that, you ask? The one the “presteejus” legal firm of Trump, Giuliani & Ellis is spouting about “just wait until we try our case at the Supreme Court.” Folks, that’s about as asinine a claim as can be made.
The Supreme Court is not a trial court. It is the highest appellate court in the land. The 9 justices only accept cases where the circuit courts have differing opinions about a law, a law deserves scrutiny to see if it passes Constitutional muster, or if a law was severely abrogated in the circuit courts. It doesn’t hear or depose witnesses that are not already in the case file (it rarely hears witness testimony, ever). It does not search out new evidence.
This is why this bullcaca being spread by those folks is, well, bullcaca. The time to get that evidence in the record was in the original cases. Trump’s lawyers never even attempted to get any of their “evidence” into the record, aside from one case in Michigan. Not in any of the Pennsylvania cases. Not in the Nevada case. The Arizona case was dropped. The Georgia case was dropped. The Wisconsin case was pulled when they realized their evidence was based on faulty data.
In other words, while there’s always a chance the Supreme Court will agree to review one of these cases, it’s more likely it won’t. There’s nothing in any if them that appears to be an egregious, reversible error. It won’t be the Michigan case, which was never appealed. It won’t be the Nevada case, which was narrowly focused on voting laws used in one county and dismissed with prejudice.
The only ones that might gain their interest are two Pennsylvania cases. the first has to do with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowing mailed ballots received up to 3 days after the election, an apparent violation of the state’s statute regarding when ballots are due. That case would be regarding executive authority being wielded by the courts when none is granted. However, that would only affect about 25,000 ballots in a state Trump lost by 84,000 votes, so it wouldn’t be enough to swing the state’s electoral votes. It would be important in asserting the principle of legislative prerogative, but so far nobody has shown any interest in getting this before the federal bench.
The second is the one that has received national attention, the one dismissed for lack of evidence and bad faith claims by the circuit court judge and later upheld by the appellate court. That faces a mighty climb, but Rudy, et al. could argue that they should have been allowed an evidentiary hearing and to amend the redress asked to mailed ballots only. Even if against all odds the Supreme Court decided to hear those arguments and then rule in Team Trump’s favor, it wouldn’t swing those votes. It would only send the case back to the circuit court for the evidentiary hearing and a new ruling.
And now here’s the kicker: all of that would have to happen by December 8. If the Electoral College votes on December 14, you may ask, why do the Electoral Slates need to be decided by December 8? The reason for that harkens back to the election of 1876, when several states sent competing Electoral ballots to Congress, creating a huge mess. So Congress passed the Compromise of 1877, part of which ended Reconstruction in exchange for granting Hayes’ electoral votes recognition in Congress. The other, less famous part requires states to submit their electors no less than 6 days before the Electoral College meets, allowing Congress time to resolve any conflicts before the vote.
*Many people are confused about what Bush v Gore decided. The Supreme Court ruled the Florida recount over, allowing the state legislature to send the Bush electors to the Electoral College, although Congress preferred to send the Gore electors. It affirmed the states’ right to resolve electoral disputes before Congressional intervention.
So that’s what makes all this wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments so unseemly. In one week, the electors will have been chosen. At this late date, you are not going to get the Supreme Court to order a new trial that might cause one slate of electors to be replaced by another when there is no evidence in the trial record – and no evidence in the record, period, as pointed out by two judges – that would support such a move. Team Trump is not stupid, they know this. They’re counting on the fact you don’t know this.
It is one last desperate plea to be seen as going down as fighters, when the reality is they never fought at all. They’ve made noise, they’ve blown apart legitimate concerns about election integrity on the altars of one zany conspiracy theory after another, they’ve filed dozens of lawsuits. But they never made any cogent arguments in any court that any particular state was the subject of a massive conspiracy to defraud the citizens.
In the end, the Supreme Court will see through the charade. It’s a shame that many of you haven’t.
We spent four years laughing at “The Resistance,” and with good reason. Watching them parade around in their pink pussy hats, strip naked and howl at the moon, and all of the other idiocy we witnessed. We read with justified derision the same op-ed column for four years, penned by Max Boot and Thomas Friedman and Charles Blow and a hundred others. Only the bylines changed, but the basic template never wavered. We watched incredulously as mobs took to the streets, egged on by the pinheads in network newsrooms.
So why are we emulating them?
Look, I understand being upset with the way the election played out. I’m not happy about it either, but it wasn’t unexpected. Part of the problem with partisanship is it can blind you to the mindset of the opposition. As much as we crave being understood by the liberals, we also fail to recognize the same fault within ourselves. Yes, the nation as a whole is riven with very real polar policy ideas. But the past 8 years have also been marked by a new phenomenon: visceral hatred for the opposition leader. And hatred is a powerful motivater.
Expecting that there wouldn’t be record turnout by liberals eager to vote against Donald Trump – a man who seems to relish hatred, judging from the way he stokes it – was being blind to reality. Make no mistake, there is a LOT of hatred for the man. All of the insanity over the last four years came, in large part, because the President exposed the dark underbelly of the left, and they were driven insane by their hatred of being exposed for what they are and the man who exposed it.
Now here we are doing the exact same thing we said was silliness wrapped up in insanity. The really crazy part of this is the President hasn’t lost his reelection bid. Yes, he has a hard road to get there. But why are we making it easier for the self-admittedly biased media to portray us as crazed lunatics? Why are we in the streets, hurling unsubstantiated charges and otherwise acting like impassioned toddlers who’ve had their Tootsie Pop® taken away?
This election is not over. There are still votes to be counted. We may not like the rules that were established in some states regarding how a ballot could be cast, or when it has to be received by the district polling office. Those are legislative fights to be fought later, not retroactively. We may worry about fraudulent ballots, but there are legal processes that allow those ballots to be challenged. Demanding vote counts be stopped or expanded, depending on current situations, is churlish behavior that reeks of desperation. Let the processes play out – it’s a little hard to pretend you’re the party of law and order if you’re disregarding election laws you don’t like.
Another thing, while we’re talking about fraudulent ballots. Undoubtedly there are some that will be uncovered by legal challenges. But will there be 35,000 in Michigan? 23,000 in Wisconsin? Hundreds of thousands in Pennsylvania and Georgia? That stretches incredulity beyond reasonableness. It would mean that the same scheme to defraud exists en masse across multiple states, with hundreds, if not thousands, of people working feverishly to not only perpetrate the fraud but then remain silent about it. It would be the greatest conspiracy of all time. The odds of successfully carrying it out are even less than that of the Russians stealing the 2016 election.
If we want to be the adults in the room, the people the rest of the country eventually trust to straighten out the mess, we need to act like it. Enough with emulating the worst traits of our political opponents. We’re better than that. It’s time to prove it.
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.
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.
What is the place we call “America?”
Is it a piece of cloth, a patriotic song, some words written on a piece of parchment? No, not really.
Is it Mom, apple pie and a baseball game? Probably not.
Is it a place where millions of people try moving to from around the world? It used to be.
America is something far more than any of that. We are supposed to be the nation founded on three simple principles: “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.” Do you recognize those words? Those words are immortal. They come from our Declaration of Independence, when a bunch of otherwise mild-mannered citizens stood as one and told their former king to stuff his scepter where the sun doesn’t shine. (Well, since most of them were gentlemen, they probably used nicer language).
Yet, one has to wonder what Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and Madison would think if they time-travelled to the 21st Century. Is this still the same nation animated by the spirit of “Live Free or Die?” Not judging from the reaction most people have had to the COVID 19 virus. Most of us have rolled over, content to hide in our homes at the behest of petty tyrants: men and women who tell us we cannot see our family members, our friends, or even tend to our gardens. Not unlike the British Redcoats of the 18th century, we’ve been treated to the men and women of the police telling us “Protesting is not an essential activity.” There is a bigger difference between 1760’s Boston and 2019 Boston, besides our generation’s lack of a Crispus Attucks; a patriot ready to stand his ground in order to defend his freedom.
Our nation’s first flag declared, “Don’t Tread On Me.” That was then. Now so many of us seem to have adopted the motto, “Ok, Stomp All Over Me If You Promise to Keep Me Safe.” I’m pretty sure Washington would have the same reaction to that as he had to Horatio Gates, after Gates fled the Battle of Camden out of cowardice. Sort of a “Duuuuude, what is up with THAT? Get out of my space, before I run you through with my sword!”
Have you ever read the Preamble to our Constitution? It lays out what those ordinary men who kicked a mighty empire’s ass back across the Atlantic thought the proper role of government to be. In case it’s been a while, here’s a hint. Nowhere does it say the government needs to keep you safe. Nowhere does it say one of the responsibilities of government is to keep you from getting sick. In fact, up until a couple of months ago, the nation pretty much understood the responsibility for keeping you healthy rested with YOU. We’ve been through numerous other epidemics in the last century, a century marked by the most brazen expansion of governmental authority in modern history. Yet even through the Spanish Flu, the Bird Flu, Ebola, SARS and MERS, nobody ever thought stripping Americans of their most basic civil rights, their inalienable rights, and placing them under virtual house arrest.
But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this turn of events. It’s been a slow decline over the last 45 years. First we allowed ourselves to be frightened into approving a secret court – something every Founding Father would have blanched over. Later, we stood idly by as our nation’s leaders saw fit to engage in foreign wars that didn’t directly involve the United States. Then came 9/11, and the wheels started coming off the cart even faster. Despite our throaty rumbles of “Terrorists Won’t Change My Life,” we let terrorists scare us into stripping in front of uniformed strangers before getting on an airplane, allow law enforcement to bug houses of worship and launch our two longest wars in history (among a host of other dubious practices), all in the name of “safety.” Think about it: there’s an entire generation of Americans who have no idea what “freedom of association” really means in practice; they’ve grown up with the idea that you need to get a permit to hold a rally.
So, here we are. It’s time to ask yourself a question and answer it truthfully: are you animated by the Spirit of ’76? Would you stand against impossible odds, knowing you would likely die, as past heroes at Bunker Hill and the Alamo did?
Or would you rather hide in your house, waiting for the day the government tells you it’s ok to come out and play?
By now, you’re probably sick and tired of hearing about Robert Mueller. You’ve had your fill of talk about conspiracies and obstruction and Russians and FISA warrants and fake dossiers and impeachment and all the rest of it. But this is ridiculously important stuff, regardless of how tiresome it all is.
We’ve reached a point where Americans as a whole, regardless of political affiliation, do not just distrust our public officials. We disdain them. In most American’s eyes, the people running the government are incompetent boobs. When they aren’t corrupt, they’re of such terrible ability they cannot do the jobs they’ve been given. Bob Mueller had a chance during his farewell announcement to begin dispelling that belief and put a brick into the foundation of public trust.
Instead, he threw up a rock slide that might well ruin the government’s ability to effectively govern.
I doubt St. Bob went into that investigation determined to let the facts fall where they may. He is a career prosecutor, after all, and prosecutors don’t make their bones by exonerating the subjects of their probes. Ideally they would, but this is the real world where prosecutors get promoted based on how many people they put behind bars. Therefore, the idea that he wouldn’t exonerate the subject of the highest profile probe of his career isn’t surprising.
While the law may prevent a sitting president from being indicted, a special prosecutor’s job is to recommend impeachment if the facts demonstrate illegality by the president. Thus, Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr both made such a recommendation as part of their final reports. That Mueller didn’t, and won’t even recommend it as a private citizen, says scads about how damning the evidence is. Does it prove Trump is an egocentric person with poor morals and little grasp of criminal law or ethics? Yes, but we all knew that well before the ’16 election. Character defects don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses. At least, I hope not, or every president going forward will be subjected to Congress’ version of an anal probe.
So, here we are. Yet another government official has failed to do their job. I’ll let others debate if the reason is because Mueller is corrupt or inept (I’ve seen convincing arguments for both). His cowardice leaves us that much closer to the end of the Republic. Yes, I said cowardice, for when his nation needed him most; needed him to do his job and tell us if the President committed an impeachable offense, he balked. He refused to answer.
He alluded that maybe he did. Or maybe he didn’t. St. Bob doesn’t know, despite previously being the nation’s highest law enforcement officer. Imagine if the local DA came out with a statement that said, “We can’t prove Little Donnie stole the car, but we can’t disprove it, either. So I’m asking the town council to make Little Donnie prove his innocence over an 18 month televised spectacle.” Because that’s what Mueller did.
St. Bob’s cowardice has removed the last piece of bedrock from the Nation’s foundation. It is his decision to turn one the most basic principles of liberty, that you’re innocent until proven guilty, on it’s head. That decision, which effectively bypassed the 5th and 7th amendments, will chip away further at any belief that our government can do anything effectively.
So, good job , Bob. You didn’t do your job, but you sure as hell jobbed the country.
There’s been a slowly stirring undercurrent in the world of social media for some time – the outright banning of some people, or the even more insidious “shadow bans’ others have experienced. This received even more attention last week when Facebook announced it was removing several prominent accounts. The reason those accounts were removed wasn’t for any reason other than the things they posted offended the politically correct zeitgeist.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.Martin Niemoeller
“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I have nothing in common with Louis Farrakhan, Paul Joseph Watson or Alex Jones. Farrakhan is a virulent anti-semite, Jones a crackpot conspiracy theorist and Watson a social media muckraker. The views of Farrakhan and Jones are abhorrent to me. As for Watson, I doubt the man has ever had an original thought. His principle thought crime seems to be that he amplifies some of the most ridiculous and salacious content to be found on the internet.
But even if you disagree with Farrakhan’s contention that Jews are the root of all evil, with Jones belief that Sandy Hook was a government plot, or with Watson’s desire to monetize the PizzaGate nonsense, you should still be concerned with Silicon Valley’s determination that somehow their opinions are less deserving to be aired than say, Alyssa Milano’s endless screeds about the world ending unless we adopt full-blown SJW socialism. Why? See the quote referenced above.
I doubt there are few beliefs that are more ingrained into our collective soul as the belief in the freedom of speech. Notice I did not say freedom of the press, which today seems to be some pundits preferred alternative to allowing the rabble to speak their minds. The first amendment of our Constitution places freedom of speech ahead of freedom of the press. We’ve accepted (somewhat begrudgingly) that there are some very limited restrictions on that freedom. You can’t run into a crowded theater and yell “Fire” if there isn’t a fire. You can’t knowingly disparage a private citizen in public, seeking to to ruin their lives, without facing potential civil and criminal charges. But that’s about it. Otherwise, our society says if you feel the need to say something, you get to say something.
Throughout our history, our nation has gone to extreme lengths to ensure we can say what we want, when we want. This protection has extended to all forms of speech. Be it Nazi’s marching in Skokie, IL or artists defacing religious symbols, we’ve let speech that offended our collective sensibilities stand. We let these things be, because we understood taking away one man’s (or group’s) freedom of speech is taking it away from all of us.
I fully understand the hesitation in enforcing these standards on the social media giants. I realize they are private companies and under current law, exempt from regulation over what content they carry and to whom they transmit that content. The libertarian in me wishes that this could remain the case.
Early on in American life, the concept of the “soapbox” was created. This was the ability of any person to grab a literal soapbox, head down to the town square, stand atop said soapbox and shout their fool head off about whatever subject prompted them to want to shout their fool head off. We don’t have town squares anymore, at least not in the sense of a public space that we all pass through at least once a day, and maybe stop for a while to chat with friends, do some window shopping, read the news, and so on.
But do you know what we’ve created as the modern equivalent of a public space that we all pass through at least once a day, and maybe stop for a while to chat with friends, do some window shopping, read the news, and so on? Yep. Social media.
From early on in American life, a person with a message they considered important enough to get out into the public sphere could pay a printer to print up a few thousand copies of a pamphlet. If one printer wouldn’t do it, there were others who would. Some of the greatest political treatises of the young country were created in this way. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense may be the famous of these, but right through the late 20th century the political pamphlet was an essential method of getting your views widely distributed. (I still have a copy of one I had researched for an old college paper, entitled “How to Get Rich! Written for Poor Men, and Young Beginners of Life, by their Affectionate Friend Uncle Ben, Who Was Once in Both These Conditions, but is Now in Neither” that was written in 1871).
Today, while that method might still be available, it has neither the immediacy nor reach of social media.
As mentioned, I understand the reluctance of conservatives to change the nature of social media companies to prevent them from censoring content. Were they, in fact, truly content independent information funnels I would agree with that assessment. But anyone who’s observed their censorious actions over the past 36 months has to have realized by now that they are neither independent nor true information pipes. Their political biases show strongly in their actions. Not that I have a problem with political bias in publication. After all, there is a reason I read both the Daily Beast and the Daily Caller: I know before I ever open either site, the stories I read will have a certain political slant. But if the social media platforms we all use only have one political slant, isn’t that a dangerous form of censorship? Is that not unlike our forebears deciding only certain views could be aired from atop that soapbox?
Another of the arguments I’ve heard is that since these are free services, we are not paying customers and therefore have no say over how they run their businesses. This is about as poorly informed an argument as you could make. As has come to light ever since the Cambridge Analytica fiasco was exposed a year ago is that while we may not pay a monthly fee to the social media juggernauts, that is only because they have something far more valuable of ours. They have the ability to sell our information, our likes, our dislikes, our friends, where we’ve traveled, even our entertainment preferences, to the highest bidder. Or to multiple bidders, if they choose. It’s all right there in those EULA’s nobody ever reads before clicking “ok.” I would tell anyone who says they don’t pay a social media company any sort of fee they’re not only wrong – they paid them tens of thousands of dollars before they created their first post. In fact, you could say I pay several publishers (social media) to print and distribute my modern pamphlet (this blog).
Finally, there is the argument that we do not regulate any other media company in such a manner. The Washington Post, for instance, is free to only air virulent anti-Trump opinions. But therein lies the rub: are companies like Facebook and Twitter only media content companies, existing to compete with other media content companies? Or are they more like akin to media distribution companies, which are prohibited from excluding content (with certain narrow exceptions)?
First, let’s examine the real-world business of social media. Yes, there are competitors to Facebook and Twitter. But those two companies account for over 80% of global traffic. After all, the key to being a “social” media company is the social part. The entire business is predicated on being a near monopoly. You go there because your friends, acquaintances and family are there. Sure, I could get together with a couple of friends, raise a few billion dollars and try to start my own social media company. But unless I could compel people to move en masse from Facebook or Twitter to my platform, I would either be out of business (or if I had developed enough “cool” features, swallowed by one of them).
Next, let’s look at their own mission statements. Facebook aims to, “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” What Twitter wants “is to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.” Remember our Town Square analogy? It looks as though both social media giants are fully on board with that concept, in word if not in deed.
And that, my friends, should be enough to nail this down. By their own mission statements, these are not media creation companies. They are media distribution companies. Therefore, they should be classified as such – and their censorship should end immediately.
The alternative is wonder which of us will be the socialist, the unionist and the Jew to some future philosopher.
Unless you live under a rock, you know that actor Jussie Smollett is in the center of a firestorm of his own making. To wit: in January, he claimed he was attacked at 2am by two masked men wearing “MAGA” hats, a noose was placed around his neck and he was doused with bleach while they screamed racial and anti-gay epithets at him, finishing with “This MAGA country!”.
Now, anyone with more than two active brain cells immediately noticed some oddities with his story. First, it seemed rather strange that two whack jobs of this type would just be hanging out at 2am on any January night in Chicago, never mind the coldest one in 30 years, looking for a B list actor. It also seemed weird that despite the violence of that attack, the actor’s sandwich remained undisturbed. It was equally odd that he still had that noose around his neck, even while at the hospital. Finally, the attack happened to take place in one of the most liberal neighborhoods in Chicago, an area that favorably compares to Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury in terms of gay acceptance, one that is peppered with surveillance cameras – yet, the attackers knew exactly where a camera was turned the wrong way to catch them in the act.
None of what’s written above is in dispute. The possibility that the entire thing was staged was there from the beginning. There were enough red flags in the initial story that nobody should have assumed the actor was not acting. Yet – and this is the most disturbing part of the story – the media jumped to accept it as gospel truth.
Indeed, even at this late date, when the Chicago PD no longer considers Smollett a victim, when a grand jury is being convened, when the “attackers” (a pair of Nigerian brothers) have admitted to being paid by Smollett and rehearsing the “attack”, there are still those in mass media who refuse to admit the entire story is a hoax. Why would these “reporters” still have blinders on regarding the story?
The reason is simple: journalism is no longer about reporting facts and letting the reader decide for themselves the import of a story. It is about advocacy, almost always in favor of the most extreme liberal positions. This change in journalistic standards is what has led to the rise of what we deride as “fake news” but perhaps should actually call “false advocacy.” The merging of the long-standing liberal op-ed sections with the reporting division of a news organization means that Americans no longer get straight news, but a very slanted, often inaccurate, version of the news.
Look, it isn’t like the Smollett story happened in a vacuum. Since the 2016 campaign, there has been a concerted effort by the media to define the typical Trump supporter as a racist, homophobic, misogynist with a propensity of violence towards minorities. The Daily Caller has published a list of reported “hate crimes” that turned out to be hoaxes, so has Hot Air. The only thing that should be surprising at this point is if we go a month without one of these hoaxes being perpetrated on us.
Yet the media continues to push these hoaxes as if they were actual newsworthy events. It’s as if they intentionally want to beclown themselves. 2019 is not even 7 weeks old and already the national media has fallen prey to two massive hoaxes: Smollett, and the Covington Catholic students. In each instance, the national media whipped a frenzy of outrage against the supposed perpetrators and natures of the “crimes,” but then was forced to eat crow when the truth came out. The alleged victims have been thoroughly disgraced, largely because the media attention lavished on them led to a backlash once their complicity in the hoaxes became apparent.
The media loves to lament how Americans no longer trust the news that is being reported. But they fail to recognize how their own actions in creating false narratives around the stories they’re reporting led to that distrust. Their insistence on editorializing, rather than reporting, created a climate in which everything that is reported has to be taken with a grain of salt.
If the media wants to regain the public’s trust, the answer is staring them in the face. Instead of following in the footsteps of Dan Rather and Brian Williams, they need to return to the journalistic practices of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. Instead of Brian Stelter defending the lack of integrity in journalism, they need Brian Stelter to call out the journalistic malpractice that leads to stories like the Smollett hoax being given credibility.
Will they? Probably not anytime soon. The pronouncements of media malfeasance from Lara Logan and Cheryl Atkinsson are so much shouting into the wind at this point, The vast majority of media types are focused on their advocacy to the point that they no longer care about accurate reporting, only ensuring the stories they report fit their preferred narrative.
In the meantime, learn from the Smollett story. Do not believe the media narrative. Dig deeper, find the facts (which means multisourcing every story of interest) and come to your own conclusions – and hold those opinions to yourself until you’re certain all the facts are available.
It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper (ok, I’m being quaint, but some of us do still read newspapers) or turn on your television without hearing about how our elections are under assault. If the Russians aren’t rotting our minds with memes of Hillary Clinton drunkenly gazing at balloons, the Chinese are hacking into our voter rolls. When the Chinese aren’t hacking into voter rolls, the Iranians are hacking the voting machines themselves. When the Iranians aren’t playing centrifuge subterfuge with the voting machines, the North Koreans are actually changing vote totals.
It’s a wonder a beloved TV sitcom character hasn’t been elected to Congress with all this electronic doo-dah. Oh, wait…
Okay, the security of our electronic voting systems are important. I don’t mean to belittle them. But that insecurity highlights a much bigger problem our nation faces: in a representative republic, the integrity of the electoral process cannot be open to interpretation. When it is, then the legitimacy of the election outcomes that select our representatives comes into question. No government without said legitimacy can stand for long.
It seems to me that I’m not the only one thinking the way we vote has become an absolute mess over the last twenty years. You would have thought that after the disaster of the 2000 election, the one in which “Hanging Chad” came to mean something other than executing a yuppie horse thief, we would have gotten our act together. But as the most recent election demonstrated, if anything we got worse at both voting and counting the vote. Of course, much of the coverage centered on our favorite county (Broward) in our favorite state (Florida) for electoral shenanigans. This overlooks that there were nearly four dozen House races that still weren’t called a full week after the election. It overlooks serious charges of vote tampering and fraud in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Alaska, North Carolina, and Utah.
Since we didn’t learn from the disaster that was 2000, allow me to propose some simple changes that would be relatively simple to implement that would go a long way to ending the nonsense. Will it end voting irregularities forever? No, of course not. They are a feature of any voting system since man-made systems are imperfectible. But we can do much better than we have to date.
Step 1: Implement a national Voter ID system
Look, forget all the nonsense about poor people, or black people, or Hispanic people, not being able to get a valid state ID. It’s the 21st century, for chrissakes. There is absolutely no reason an adult should not have a valid ID. I challenge you to find me a state where you can buy a beer or pack of cigarettes without a valid ID. If we demand you have a valid ID for something as mundane as getting a cold brew at a restaurant, any argument against having one for something as important as voting is ridiculous on its face. Remember this sob story? The only reason he was prevented from breaking the law was due to Tennessee’s voter ID law.
Yeah, Voter ID laws work exactly as intended. Which may be why the same crowd that is all for open borders and illegal immigrants voting in our elections are so against them.
Step 2: Get rid of early voting
It seems many of the problems we run into with counting the vote (and where some of the greatest opportunities for general screwing with the ballots) comes from the fact that in some jurisdictions, people can actually begin voting up to a month before election day. There are other reasons to get rid of early voting (seriously, who but the most partisan hack is 100% certain of who they’re going to cast their ballot for a month before election day?), but that’s another post for another day. Anyway, the nonsense we witnessed around the country last November, with ballots mysteriously materializing from car trunks and classroom closets, would immediately end simply by getting rid of early voting. I understand voting in the middle of the week is inconvenient for a great many people, but that brings me to my next suggestion, which is…
Step 3: Make all national elections a national holiday
See, now nobody has the excuse they can’t get off work to go vote. Yes, the lines might be long. But if voting becomes a holiday, think about this: how long will it be before the nation’s retailer’s start offering discounts when you present that “I voted” sticker? I bet Friendly’s even starts offering a free scoop of ice cream!
Step 4: End “ballot harvesting”
Look, I don’t know who came up with this piece of insanity. I’m ambivalent about absentee ballots, to begin with (I can’t get around particularly well these days, but I still show up to vote in person), but if your state is going to allow them, shouldn’t the very least expectation be that you put the doggone thing in the mailbox yourself? I don’t know who thought the idea of letting party operatives handle them was a brilliant idea, but they need to be taken out back and put out of their misery the same way we do horses with broken legs. Heck, we’re ten weeks past the election and one district in North Carolina got so fouled up with ballot tampering as a result of this idiocy that they likely need to call a special election. Stories have come from California of voters just signing a blank ballot and handing it over to a party apparatchik. I’m 100% certain no tampering happened in those instances whatsoever, right?
Step 5: Get rid of electronic voting machines
I don’t know if the Russians or Iranians or little green men from Mars are trying to break into the electronic voting systems in use around the US. What I do know is there is enough distrust that those systems can be secured against sophisticated hacks (or even hacks from 300 pound couch potatoes) that we should have already stopped using them.
Step 6 : JIT ballot verification
This is little more technical, but every bit as important as anything else. During the latest Broward “Whose Vote is It Anyway” episode, we were once again treated to election workers trying to decipher illegible ballots. Just because that wasn’t enough fun, then we heard that poll workers could, in the even a ballot was indecipherable, just fill out an alternate one. Just fill out an alternate one? Are you kidding me?
In software engineering, we use “Just-In-Time” testing to validate that our code at least has the correct syntax and spelling to not cause a digital rejection of our work when trying to make it do something. It isn’t that hard to do something similar with a paper ballot. Optical scanners, which have been around for longer than most of you who read this blog, can detect if too many circles on a line (or a row) are filled in, and if they’re filled in correctly – and check this out, they CAN EVEN COUNT THE VOTE IN REAL TIME. If your ballot is illegible, for whatever reason, the poll worker can hand you another blank, destroy the bad one and scan the corrected ballot all before you leave the voting booth! Amazing!
This won’t completely end the questions about voting. Some states will complain vociferously about Congress passing any further restrictions. I can already hear the Chamber of Commerce harping on yet another paid holiday. Democrats will kvetch about Voter ID and the loss of early voting, Republicans about JIT verification. Both will scream bloody murder over ending harvesting.
But these six steps will make our elections more secure and provide for quicker vote tabulation. They address some of the biggest questions the nation has about our elections. It puts what is the most vital process in republic back into the sunlight, restoring the trust that the process isn’t corrupted. In short, it is the first step in injecting some sanity back into our politics.
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.
When I saw this tweet the other night, it got the ol’ gears a-turnin’, as my grandfather would say. John Podhoretz was making a point about one particularly one decidedly unserious lawyer promoting a seriously insincere story based on an even more insincere allegation. It’s the kind of nonsense that never would have seen the light of day, other than on some anonymously written blog, not that long ago.
But I contend the problem runs much deeper than a one ambulance chaser engaged in some shameless self promotion. No, the problem is we have a whole bunch of unserious people filling serious positions.
For instance, the entire “Russia collusion” narrative was driven by the campaign staff of a presidential candidate, who contacted a Washington legal firm, who contracted a former spy to write up a salacious “dossier.” And there the story might have ended, except a US senator then was passed this dossier, who took the absurd revelations in the dossier and gave it to the career prosecutors at the Justice Department. Those prosecutors then gave the dossier to the career investigators at the FBI, who used it to gain a “secret warrant” to spy on the other presidential campaign (and after the election, the President of the United States – elect).
So, people in serious positions who got snookered by this bit of legerdemain:
- Hillary Clinton, Presidential candidate; former Secretary of State, US Senator and First Lady
- James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence; former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency
- Loretta Lynch, US Attorney General
- James Comey, FBI Director
- Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Director of the FBI
- Peter Strzok, Asst. Director of the FBI for Counter-Intelligence
- Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General; former US Attorney for Maryland
- Lisa Page, Federal prosecutor, assigned by the FBI to assist Special Counsel Robert Mueller
- Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS co-founder; former investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Roll Call
- Marc Elias, lead elections attorney for Perkins Cole; formerly the lead counsel for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign
- Rosemary Collyer, current FISA court presiding judge
- Michael Mosman, FISA court judge who approved the first Carter Page warrant
That’s a dozen very well paid people in positions that at one time were considered some of the most important and prestigious in government, the legal profession, the courts and the media. These were positions that once would have been filled with people who understood how serious those positions were to maintaining the apparatus that is the US government, from both inside and out. Instead of people. Those serious positions would have been held by serious people.
Not any longer. It is the crux of the problem Americans see all around us. Is it any wonder we’ve lost our collective trust in these institutions? We have some very unserious people filling positions that are still vital to the nation. It isn’t confined to those dozen people listed above. It is a plague, infecting every level of government, of business, religious life, media and science. The institutions that I and millions of my fellow Americans were taught to admire and respect as youngsters, have spent the past two decades proving that they are filled with people who do not deserve that respect.
I hate tossing out problems without having solutions ready to propose, but I honestly can’t find any to this problem. I learned early on in my career that the best person for the job understood the nature of it, had the skills to perform it and was trustworthy. Obviously, the more senior the positions become, the skills required change, but the person filling the role should still have the first and third qualities. But as we’re witnessing, there aren’t a whole lot of those people around right now.
No matter how many people claim to be well informed and skeptical of the MSM, this week’s outrage over illegal alien children being separated from illegal alien adult guardians proves the lie to their claims. To hear the MSM (and many of the well-intentioned, but easily led astray sheep) tell it, the Trump administration has engaged in the most despicable act against migrants in recorded history. They first tried this tack a few weeks ago, when a slew of “journalists” shared the above picture on social media. What they failed to mention at the time was that the picture is four years old and depicts the way the Obama administration treated the illegal alien children of illegal alien adults. Say what you want about Trump (he is certainly an immigration hard-liner), at least his administration hasn’t taken to putting children in dog kennels. Caught in their lie, within 48 hours the scurillous dogs were forced to recant. But they only regrouped and freshened their assault.
The other thing they won’t mention is that this has been the policy of every administration dating back to that Bill Clinton. There’s a very good reason for this, and no, it isn’t because anyone thinks the kids are carrying backpack bombs.
It’s because it is what the law requires.
The President and his media critics are both guilty of dissembling here. There is no individual law that requires children caught entering the country illegally be separated from their parents. Rather, it is the result of several individual laws and court precedents that require being detained separately.
The United States is no stranger to crime waves. What made the crime wave of the late 1960’s and 70’s different than prior crime waves was the ages of many of the suspects. The number of juveniles arrested for felonies skyrocketed, straining the resources available for detaining juveniles prior to adjudication of their cases or even bail hearings. At a loss, many jurisdictions began housing these juveniles in adult detention centers, usually (but not always) in a segregated unit. Most Americans were shocked and appalled at the thought and in 1974, Congress amended 18 USC 5035 to require that juveniles not be held with adult prisoners:
The Attorney General shall not cause any juvenile alleged to be delinquent to be detained or confined in any institution in which the juvenile has regular contact with adult persons convicted of a crime or awaiting trial on criminal charges. Insofar as possible, alleged delinquents shall be kept separate from adjudicated delinquents.
So here we have the first stage of the current problem: we’ve had a law on the books for 44 years now that strictly precludes housing children accused of an illegal act with adults accused and/or convicted of an illegal act.
But is entering the country without advance permission from the federal government a crime? I mean, we’ve all heard the mantra “People are not illegal!” Well, actually – yes. 8 USC 1101 defines who is, and is not, permitted to gain entry into the United States. 8 USC 1325 makes it quite clear what the penalties are for entering the country without permission:
Any alien who enters or attempts to enter the United States … shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.
Despite all the liberal caterwauling about gaining illegal entry to the country being a civil offense, this statute is black-letter law defining that act as a criminal offense. Yes, a subsequent section of the statute does allow for the imposition of civil penalties (specifically, a fine of $50 to $250). But the act of entering the United States by persons not permitted entry is an illegal act (hence the term, “illegal alien”) and we have the second piece of the puzzle.
As noted above, juveniles held on suspicion of an illegal act (such as entering the country with out prior authorization) cannot be held in the same facility as adults held on suspicion of illegal acts (such as entering the country without prior authorization). By statute, both the accompanying adult and the child are guilty of the same offense. By statute, the children cannot be held in the same facility as the accompanying adult. By statute, they must be separated.
“But wait!” your liberal friends cry. Can’t we just release the parents and kids on their own recognizance? Or send them back across the border to await an immigration hearing? This is where things get a bit murkier. For starters, Congress decreed in 8 USC 1225 different classes of illegal aliens. The liberal media loves to focus on those whose country of origin is in the Western Hemisphere, but does not share a border with the United States, and is applying for asylum. Conservative media focuses on those from Mexico. Nobody talks about the fact that over half of illegal aliens are from the other half of the planet. Yet, under this statute each is a distinct class of alien – and each has separate procedures for immigration hearings. And this is only a few of the more than a dozen distinct alien classes established in law.
As for those procedures, they are established under 8 USC 1229a. In some cases, a hearing before an immigration judge is required. In others, an asylum officer. In some cases, an ICE or Border Patrol agent can unilaterally decide to deport a detainee.
So, we’ve established summarily deporting illegal aliens is not permissible under US law and that the vast majority of illegal aliens are due some form of immigration hearing. We’ve also determined that the law requires detaining them for said hearing. But why can’t we detain them, issue them bail and send them on their way, hoping they’ll appear for their hearing? A little more history is in order here.
18 USC 3142 is the federal statute regarding bail and pretrial detention. Paragraph (b) defines the classes of person who should be held without bail:
(1) such person—
(A) is, and was at the time the offense was committed, on—
(i) release pending trial for a felony under Federal, State, or local law;
(ii) release pending imposition or execution of sentence, appeal of sentence or conviction, or completion of sentence, for any offense under Federal, State, or local law; or
(iii) probation or parole for any offense under Federal, State, or local law; or
(B) is not a citizen of the United States or lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined in section 101(a)(20) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(20)); or
(2) such person may flee or pose a danger to any other person or the community;
This particular piece of law has been fraught with controversy over the years. It’s application to immigration law is no different. In 1994, Lithuanian immigrant Kestutis Zadvydas (who had been granted residency) was ordered deported for a felony conviction. However, the three other countries where he might have been sent refused to take him (after all, dude was a bad apple) and he wound up languishing in prison with no hope of being released. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the section of 8 USC 1231 which provided for indefinite detention of legal aliens awaiting deportation was in violation of the Constitutions 5th and 8th Amendments.
It was a controversial decision at the time. It is the basis for what has been termed our “catch and release” policy of granting illegal aliens a bail hearing and never seeing them again. Indeed, within the first three years after the ruling, USCIS was forced to release 134,000 aliens convicted of other crimes. It’s estimated another 56,000 have found a sort of limbo asylum in the US since then, as the Bush administration USCIS determined that even though Zadvydas did not specifically apply to illegal aliens it was better to broadly interpret the ruling.
But that administration did not entirely give up the idea of deporting illegal aliens who, despite not being in the country legally, commenced with committing other crimes. In 2004 USCIS ordered the indefinite detention of Alex Rodriguez, a Mexican national convict. It was this application of law that led the Obama administration in 2013 to implement the policies that led to the above picture. It that application of law that the Trump administration has been dutifully following since assuming office.
The case of Jennings, et al v. Rodriguez, et al was first heard (and defended by the Obama administration) in 2016. The justices deadlocked. It was then re-heard in 2017, this time with the Trump administration defending. In February of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that illegal aliens do not have the right to bail and may, in fact, be detained indefinitely.
Which brings us back to where we started. Anyone entering the country is breaking the law. Our laws demand that children crossing the border be removed from their parents and held separately, and further can make that separation permanent.
We can debate until our faces are blue on the morality and necessity of such laws. Given our history with immigration, we probably will. And given the media’s fascination with conveniently forgetting how 35 years of immigration law and jurisprudence have shaped this situation, I’m pretty certain that the Trump administration will continue to be unfairly browbeaten about it. At least until next week, when another scandal will be created and sensationalized.
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” –Benjamin Franklin
This past week, two seemingly unrelated events occurred that brought the 18th century to life in our modern age. Unless you are completely unaware (and if you are, I doubt you would bother to read this), Saturday was the “March for Our Lives,” the highly contrived display of juveniles calling for an end to an essential freedom. But earlier in the week, an Uber autonomous taxi struck and killed a pedestrian. Later reports laid the blame on the pedestrian, but that didn’t stop government from forcing every company testing autonomous driving technology to pull their vehicles off public roads.
What Franklin and the other Founder’s understood is there is a dynamic tension between safety and liberty. The reality is that they cannot perfectly coexist, and so the question is about how to set the dynamic to serve the most good. Think on it for a moment, and you’ll realize the two are polar opposites. Any society that promises absolute safety for it’s citizens offers no liberties, not even within the confines of the home. Conversely, the society that offers unlimited freedom has nothing in the way of societal protections.
What those wise old men created was a system that separated a subset of freedoms from everything else, and referred to them as “essential liberties.” They considered them essential for the simple reason that these freedoms guarantee every other human liberty. Among those considered absolutely necessary are the freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into an individual’s life and incarceration without first being tried by one’s peers, the right to peaceably assemble and address the government’s representatives, the right to worship and the right to defend oneself against the government, by force of arms if necessary. They packaged the essential liberties into the Bill of Rights – something the anti-federalists* demanded in order to secure their votes for ratification of the new Constitution.
What wasn’t mentioned, in the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation or the Declaration of Independence was the idea of a personal safety. Personal safety was generally accepted as an individual responsibility in the new republic.
Generally, but not universally. There have always been those who believe the duty of government is not the assurance of liberty, but dedication to protection from danger. While the nation was founded by, and throughout our history has rewarded risk takers, those who are risk averse have also made their homes among us. As the nation has aged, our society has reached agreement that certain personal liberties could be exchanged for government assurances of a sort of communal safety. Big Brother might not be watching your every move, but he’ll watch enough to make certain that some actions are prevented (or at least punished).
This brings me back to Franklin, Uber and the “#MarchForOurLives.” While Poor Richard might have been bemused at the idea of the government regulating transportation companies to this extent, he would have been willing to go along. After all, transportation is not an essential liberty. The government could ban all mechanized modes of getting about tomorrow as being inherently unsafe (and a glance at NTSB statistics will tell you just how unsafe they remain, despite government’s best attempts at making them safe), but you could still figure out a way to get from point A to B.
However, Ben would have taken umbrage at Saturday’s connived attempt to toss away one of those essential liberties, the right (and to many of the founders, the responsibility** of all citizens) to own firearms. I understand this concept is alien to the children who participated who, with the surety only born from the ignorance of youth, believe any idea older than they is ancient and outdated. It certainly is not alien to the people of Think Progress and the other left wing organizations that organized the protest. Indeed, removing it from the pantheon of essential liberties has been a goal of theirs from the beginning of the progressive movement, because they understand it is that which undergirds the individual’s ability to ensure his ability to exercise any of the others.
Think Progress has the right to assemble, and the even the right to dissemble on the nature of the Constitution. But the children whose unnatural fears they’re preying upon should also take note of the last part of the Franklin quote above. When he said those who desired safety over liberty deserved neither the safety they seek, nor the protections of liberty, he was referring to this other passage he had a part in crafting:
-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.
This was the American Declaration of Independence, which stated the case that government does not exist to provide for personal safety, and that the duty of all people when confronted with a government that places benevolent tyranny ahead of individual liberty is to overthrow that government – by force, if necessary. That is the Pandora’s box they are toying with. Beware opening the lid. You won’t like what you find inside.
*For those of you not well versed in US history, the anti-federalists were Americans who opposed the adoption of the Constitution. Indeed, they opposed the idea of any strong government that could bind the individual states into a permanent union. Among their number were such notables as Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams and James Monroe.
**The various Founding Fathers have numerous dissertations on a citizen’s duty to maintain a firearm and remain proficient in its use, but this quote from Thomas Jefferson sums up the prevailing sentiment: “The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.”
Today, we see many things in the news and on social media regarding issues surrounding the US DoJ and law enforcement. As Americans, we know the FBI and the Justice Department are two agencies that must always be above reproach. But today, sadly, we see that is not the case.
Anytime there are officials or leadership in those agencies that use their bountiful resources to operate outside their intended use, there must be consequences. Those consequences should be swift and to the maximum penalty allowed by law. The incident needs to be made public, to show accountability to the American people and restore faith in our system. If nothing was done wrong then those individuals are exonerated. This is the crux of the American system.
Every person in America has their own opinion. They have their individual ideals and beliefs. But impartiality is implicit in the duties of those entrusted with enforcing our laws; bias should never interfere with doing the jobs they signed up for in the Justice Department or the FBI. They must never let their personal feelings interfere with the impartiality of the law.
In our modern era, we’ve listened to those responsible for the fair and impartial application of the awesome power of the American legal system describe the need for powers that made us all blanch. And begrudgingly, we’ve granted them powers they requested, including indefinite detentions and secret courts, even as we feared how those powers could be misused by those with less than honorable intent. We did so on the premise that those applying those powers would remain impartial in their application, that retribution for misusing them would be swift and terrible. We put aside our misgivings and placed our trust in the American system.
This is now beyond debate. This should be past partisan arguments. There is no gray area. The law was either followed or it wasn’t. Resources were used appropriately and as designed, or they were abused. As Americans, we deserve to know the answers to these questions. As Americans, it is our responsibility to know the answers to these questions. And as Americans, we should be in agreement that anyone who misused the authority we allowed them thereby violated our trust. Anyone guilty of such malfeasance is indeed guilty of crimes far worse than any other, for they attempted to murder the very republic they swore an oath to defend.
So yes, release the memos. Stop pretending the investigators are above being investigated themselves. Let us see the facts and judge for ourselves. Only in this way can trust in the institutions charged with guarding the American system be restored.
My daddy always told me that only fools complain without having a solution. Ok, he used more colorful language – after all, he was a Navy man. But this is the PC version of some rather sage advice.
I mention this since day before yesterday I wrote a bit about my frustration (and based on the responses I’ve read, yours as well) with Congress’ unwillingness to actually do anything about immigration, or DACA, or the budget, or pretty much anything else. But I’m following my daddy’s advice. Now, you can say I’m as mad as a hatter. In fact, I’m pretty sure some (if not all) of you will think so by the time we get to the end of this. Then again, if you’re following me here (or on Twitter or Facebook) you probably already think I have a screw or two loose, so what have I got to lose?
First up, these are all separate issues. Stop the grandstanding. Please. The fate of illegal aliens brought here as children is not related to how much we pay our servicemen. How many people we let in (and how we decide who those people are) has nothing to do with kids brought here when they belonged somewhere else. Trust me on this. How many people are employed by the EPA (or even if there should be an EPA) is a completely different discussion from what to do about the roughly 8 million illegal aliens who wouldn’t be covered by some sort of “DACA fix.”
So, do the simple stuff. The House passed all twelve of the appropriations bills for this fiscal year last September. Pass those out of the Senate. That is entirely up to Democrats. If they ended their charade now, they could pass the current CR tonight, then spend the next month debating those appropriations bills and where there are differences with the House bills, go to conference to hammer them out. That is the “regular order” which liberals spent all last summer demanding the Congress return to, but have conveniently forgotten about now that they want to execute “leverage.” Have I mentioned recently what a bunch of hypocrites politicians are?
Second, stop pretending Congress can only work on one issue at a time. Or, if there are congresscritters who can only tackle one problem at a time, they need to retire immediately. Think about your job. How long would you be employed if you couldn’t do more than one thing a month? Oh, you would be looking for another job? Then why haven’t your fired your representative?
Of course Congress can address multiple issues at once. So while debating the appropriations bills, there is nothing stopping them from beginning real work on all those other issues.
And here’s my proposals around each of them.
The DACA program ends on March 5. So address that first. My position hasn’t changed since the President first announced he was ending the highly illegal program. Grant those who’ve applied to the program permanent residency. Allow those who have reached adulthood and lived here for at least ten years, without incurring a felony charge, to apply for citizenship immediately. Otherwise, it’s the same restrictions as for any other alien resident. See, that was simple.
Next, all other illegal aliens (or undocumented migrants, or whatever the term du jour happens to be): they gotta go. Again, my position hasn’t changed since I first wrote about this 4 1/2 years ago. And yes, proper and aggressive enforcement of our immigration laws will get the majority of them to self-deport. Nobody wants to live in a place where they can’t eat.
Our immigration system needs an overhaul for current times. The idea of “diversity visas” and lotteries is not just stupid, but asinine and awkward. For my less prurient readers, it’s like getting drunk, walking into a whorehouse, grabbing the first available girl, and going off to do your thing without wearing a condom. You’ll spend the rest of your life regretting that decision – and that’s if it didn’t kill you. We obviously can’t take everyone who wants to live here, but that gives us leverage. We can pick and choose, and we should pick the very best candidates. And we should have back-end enforcement of that selection process: anyone granted alien residency in the United States should be required to become a citizen within ten years of arrival – or they should be sent packing.
As an aside to that point – I can’t recall where I read it, or heard it, but there was a legal resident who said she would never become a US citizen, because she was proud to be Jamaican. I have no problem with her being proud to be Jamaican; it’s a beautiful island with some great people. But be a proud Jamaican in Jamaica. If you’re going to live here, then you need to be a proud American. That shouldn’t even be up for discussion. And anyone not willing to give up allegiance to their country of origin should not be granted residency here.
What this means in practical terms is ending the hodge-podge of work and travel visas that currently muck up both our immigration system and allow so many illegal aliens to stay here after their visa expires. No more H-1B or H-3N or any of that other nonsense. You can get a tourist visa to visit, or you can get a residency visa. Period.
Finally, there is the both the federal debt and federal deficit. We aren’t even in February yet, which means there is plenty of time to start working on these problems now, before the appropriations bills for FY2019 have to be ready. Before Congress gets to work on them this time, I would have them ask themselves one thing: if 40% of what the federal government does is “non-essential,” why is the federal government doing those things? Think about it. Our budget deficit is about $600 billion, on around $4.2 trillion of spending. A little math says the recently passed tax bill, assuming no increased revenues from economic growth, will add $180 billion to that deficit. A little more math says reducing federal spending by 40% would yield around a $900 billion surplus. That won’t get rid of the nearly $21 trillion federal debt, but it sure will put a serious dent in it.
Okay, that’s a lot for now, I realize. This ending the partisan idiocy that grips Capital Hill is enough to send your head spinning, but the solutions aren’t that hard. They certainly aren’t as hard as the heads of our congresscritters. But that’s where it’s up to you. If they won’t do the job, then it’s time to fire them all.
You get your chance (again) in November.
It looks as though (once again), the federal government is about to “shut down.” But what does that mean, exactly?
We’ve been down this road before, and quite a few times. What a government shutdown actually means is the roughly 40% of the federal government that is deemed “non-essential services” will cease functions until the latest hissy fit ends. Here’s a brief list of things that won’t be affected:
- The military
- Border patrol
- Air traffic control
- Social Security payments
- Most operations of the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc
- Tax collections
So, if Congress is going to shut down those non-essential services but the essential functions of governance continue, then I hope it’s a long shutdown. Not a few days or even a month. No, let’s make it a go right through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Why? Simply put, after seven months of realizing that non-essential services are just that – not essential – we can finally start wresting control of the budget back from the bureaucrats. Once Americans recognize that they’ve been hoodwinked for generations into supporting things nobody really needs, they won’t be anxious to start those operations up again.
So, yes. Let’s have us a shutdown. But this time – let’s leave it shut down permanently.
I haven’t commented on the Alabama Senate race for a simple reason. I don’t live in Alabama. And of the thousands of people who follow this blog, very few of you do, either.
The nationalization of local and state elections is one of the trends that’s evolved over the last decade that’s left all of us worse off than we were before. Even without the media attention focused on this particular election, which features two candidates few people outside of Alabama had even heard of until a few months ago, the national party apparatuses had already been staging forces, sending money and trying to coordinate with the state parties.
To what end? The reason we supposedly enacted the 17th Amendment was to prevent the rampant corruption that comes about from Senators being beholden to political machines. Yet here we are, 104 years later and we’re no better off than we were then. If anything, we’re worse off. At least in the latter 19th century, politicians were only corrupted by their local and state machines. Today’s politicians may start out being corrupted by local interests, but they quickly learn that in order to maintain their status on Capital Hill they need to play the tune according to what their national taskmasters demand.
As originally envisioned by the Founders, Senators were supposed to be representatives of their states. Today, they are nothing more than pawns in the all-consuming sport of the national party getting to 51 votes. Even if a bill would absolutely destroy or enhance their respective state’s industry, economy or sovereignty, every Senator knows where their duty truly lies. Yes, they know they must vote the way their party leadership tells them to vote.
So excuse me if I do not get as worked up about today’s election in Alabama as the various bloviators on the web or television. After all, they’re part of the machine, too. They rely on keeping you exercised, rooting for your team (Go Blue! Go Red!) in matters that don’t concern you whatsoever. But do you know what it is good for? It’s good for my popcorn consumption.
You see, I just sit over here munching on my popcorn watching y’all line up opposing football teams, ready to bash and clash over sheer nonsense while the country burns around you – and you not realizing how complicit you are in it’s demise.
I finished re-reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers the other day, and it got me thinking. Now, those of you who are only acquainted with the story via the rather dreadful Hollywood version probably think it’s just another space opera. While the backdrop to the story is an intergalactic war between humans and aliens who look spiders and act like ants, in reality Heinlein used the story to convey a message about societies and how they govern themselves. The world Heinlein has created, some 200 years into our future, is one in which humans have abolished our two competing philosophies of governance (democracy and socialism) after a great, cataclysmic war. Instead, there is a global republic – but the only way to obtain citizenship in this republic is by completing a term of service to the government. Not everyone who wants to be a citizen is accepted for service, though.
Throughout the novel, Heinlein lays out who is accepted for service and why, and how this society came to be ordered. Despite being originally published in 1959, much of what he wrote as regards the symptoms of a dissolving democracy seems as though it were ripped from the headlines of today. He describes rampant crime in the cities, gangs of youth preying upon the weaker members of the community, rising substance abuse, joblessness, aimless citizens and ineffective (and often corrupt) politicians. But for Heinlein, the greatest cause of societal collapse was that while virtually everyone was granted the privileges of citizenship, few exercised the duties. He wrote,
“…their citizens (nearly all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’ and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”
The principle reason that only those who have completed a term of government service are granted citizenship (and the stringent standards for acceptance into said service) is to ensure that the citizens of the Terran Federation will exercise not only the privileges, but duties of citizenship.
It was this point that got me thinking. As I mentioned, much of what Heinlein wrote about as the symptoms of societal decay are prevalent in today’s society. But something I’ve thought for quite some time is that we have cheapened the value of citizenship to the point that for many of our number, citizenship is even less important than residency. Indeed, we no longer consider granting citizenship as a privilege to a select company of our number. Rather, most of us think of it as a right guaranteed by… something. Stop to think about that for a moment.
We have people here who were never granted residency demanding the same rights as citizens, and others (including those in elective office) defending their “right” to do so. We have people claiming the rights of citizens who have never so much as stepped foot in this nation. Further, the number of citizens who actually exercise the duties of the citizenship given as a birthright is depressingly small. YouTube and Facebook are filled with videos of educated citizens who cannot name the Articles of the Constitution, the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, or define any of the inalienable rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Spend more than a few moments on Twitter and you will be verbally accosted by droves of people who cannot tell the difference between a parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic. Visit the local courthouse, and you’ll see most people called for jury duty doing their level best to avoid said duty. And sadly, barely half of us bother to cast a vote when the time comes (and even fewer when the election isn’t tied to a national referendum). Given the sorry regard my fellow citizens have for their duties, I am sorely pressed to say the majority of those casting a vote even know who or what they are voting for – too often, they’re simply checking the box under “R” or “D”.
In the nearly 60 years since Heinlein published Starship Troopers, the condition of our society has deteriorated to the point he foresaw, even if it’s taken perhaps a bit longer (he placed the dissolution of the United States in 1987). The question that’s been nagging me for days is this: Heinlein saw no way out of this mess except to restrict the right of governance to a select few, based on a criteria that placed an innate drive for public service above all other factors. In short, he was of the opinion that our current attempts at including more and more people into the governance of society was exactly the wrong tack. His society works because a caste of elites run things, but not elites as we’re given to thinking in our age. Indeed, the protagonist in his novel quite literally throws away a fortune in order to begin public service (later, his father does the same).
Heinlein is not alone in his thinking. Since the very founding of our republic, we have constantly watered down the requirements for citizenship, as well as the duties thereof. Consider that the men who created the nation saw citizenship as being open only to land owners who had established themselves. Over the intervening years, we have so cheapened citizenship that we now grant adolescents those same rights – and more.
It is something to think about. Why is it we require those not born on our soil to pass an exam and take a loyalty oath before granting citizenship, but not those who are native born? Ask yourself: could you pass the citizenship exam? Would you be willing to take the Oath of Citizenship? Bear in mind, once subscribed to this oath, you will be freely granting the government the power to require unpaid service of you, in both military and civilian positions. Did that last sentence cause you to go “whoa” for a moment?
That sentence is the crux of Heinlein’s argument: the vast majority of our citizens are not willing to truly sacrifice for the privilege of citizenship and prove it daily. He thought human nature being what it is, that such fallibility meant the end of democracy. I hope he was wrong. But I’m not as sure today as when I first read that book some 40 years ago.
There’s been some furor over NBC political news director Chuck Todd’s description of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore the other day. You can watch the segment below:
The flak Todd is catching is legitimate: he is expressing the very liberal (and very wrong) concept of government and liberty; to wit, that individual rights and freedoms are granted by the government. The fact is that the Founding Fathers established the Constitution to limit the powers of the government, even going so far as including the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited it by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people“) in the Bill of Rights. It also fits with the very declaration that created the nation to begin with (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“).
If what Chuck Todd was saying – that our rights come from government, and so therefore government can remove those rights as it chooses – was actually considered radical by the media establishment, the outrage be deafening. Sadly, the media establishment is overrun with liberals. Liberal dogma, which depends on the idea that people are subservient to government, fully accepts Todd’s characterization. Indeed, it lionizes it. The outrage response is not to Todd’s remarks, but to articles like this one.
I wasn’t going to bother to commenting on the entire thing. After all, it’s just another illustration of the fundamental divide between conservatives and liberals. You can’t reconcile that basic difference – conservatives know that rights do not come from government and liberals feel that they should. But then, something happened in my own life that brought this problem to the fore.
My brother-in-law works long, hard hours at his job and to help him out, my wife and I have been watching my 13 year old nephew from the time he gets done with school until her brother gets home from work. This also means I get to help him with his homework. The subjects he usually asks for help with are the three I’ve always been comfortable with: math, science and history (or in the modern vernacular, social studies). Yesterday, he asked if he could quiz me on the stuff he learned in history that day. It’s a little game we play – he’s a bright kid and he tries to catch me with trick questions. To my surprise he broke out a pocket Constitution and asked, “What are the rights given by the First Amendment?”.
I told him none. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly – but it doesn’t give them to anyone.
Now, ordinarily I would be ecstatic that the very basics of our government are being taught in our schools. Civics is a subject that is not given nearly enough study by our youth. But his reaction to my answer might have me rethinking that position. You see, he was shocked – astonished, even – by it. Then he said, “But my teacher said our rights come from the Constitution.”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been angered by that. I mean, textbooks are written by liberals, curriculum are designed by liberals, and most of our educators are liberals. But that such drivel is being taught had me seething. To my nephew’s credit, he was able to follow along as I outlined how the Constitution does not grant rights, but was written to ensure the government protects rights. But the fact that I spent 90 minutes deleting the programming the liberal establishment was implanting in one impressionable 13 year old not only angered me, it frightened me.
This is the problem with liberal academics today. Rather than an exploration of ideas, it has become a process of indoctrination into the liberal world view. Even though my nephew’s pocket Constitution included the Declaration of Independence, his class hadn’t covered it. They hadn’t even read it – and in fact, had been told not to. Educators have figured a novel way of turning the Constitution in on itself, in a version of double-speak that would leave even Orwell breathless.
If we are not having our kids explore the very foundations of the government they’ll soon be entrusted with guiding, what are we inviting? The answer to that is also self-evident: a subversion of the very country our forebears worked so hard to create and preserve. The liberal dream realized: the fairest, most equal society in history, with the rights you deserve provided by a benevolent government.
Of course, we’ve seen that movie before, thousands of times. It was the underpinning of the French Revolution, complete with guillotines for those who would not accept the government’s benevolence. It girded the Soviet Union’s gulags, the reeducation camps in Maoist China, the chaos in the streets of Venezuela. It was the result our founders feared – and from what I’m see happening today, the one I’m afraid we’re fast headed towards.
One of the unique things about being a citizen of the United States is that unlike other nationalities, we often have these discussions about what being an American actually entails. We’ve been engaged in just such a discussion for the past four or five years now, and many people have landed on many different definitions.
Are we defined by our borders, the territory we control as a nation? Are we defined by our ethnicity or ethnicities? By our economic circumstances, both as individuals and as a nation? For many, these definitions, or a combination of these definitions, is what defines “Americanism.” These may be aspects of American life, but they are not what defines us as a people. As we saw this past weekend in Virginia, clinging to those notions is more divisive than unifying. They cannot define a nation as diverse as ours, one where wealthy and poor from every ethnicity on the planet call home.
Likewise, political leaders who foster these views cannot be unifying. They can only divide the nation along religious, ethnic and class lines. Both our last President and our current one have willingly used the imagery and language of grievance, attempting to force the nation as a whole to view the world through the distorted lenses of one subset of Americans or another.
The reality is the United States is not confined by our borders, defined by our economic clout or existent by our military power. You might have heard the United States identified as an ideal, and that is what our nation is. The glue that binds us are not the temporary trappings of wealth and power. The power that has allowed our nation to grow, to prosper, despite welcoming every ethnicity, every religion, and every race on the Earth was given to us by the men who created this country:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I think that for many of us, these words have lost their meaning. After all, we’ve all heard them countless times. I can scarcely think of anyone who can’t recite them word for word.
Yet, we cannot deny the power they hold. It is those words, more than anything else, that drew our ancestors to this country. Those words are the birthright of every American and it is those words that are our unifying force.
One of the things I like to do, when faced with a passage whose meaning is difficult to comprehend, is to reword it in a way that is easier to understand. Bear with me as I do so here.
We: Who were the Founders referring to by “we?” The document this passage is taken from – the Declaration of Independence – was an open letter to the King of England and Houses of Parliament, on the behalf of the citizens of the new nation they were creating. “We” is nothing less than every American citizen.
hold these truths: to hold a belief is to accept it without question; a truth is an incontestable fact.
to be self-evident: something that needs no outside proof of its existence.
that all men are created equal: everyone, everywhere is no different than anyone else – and we are born into this condition. Whether you have the privileges and wealth of a Wall Street billionaire or are left scrounging for subsistence in the Somali sun, every person that will ever see this world is the same.
that they are endowed by their Creator: While the majority of the Founders believed in the Christian god, it’s important to note that not all of them did. George Washington and John Adams were deists, as were notable non-signatories of the Declaration, including Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. It should also be noted that New York and New Jersey already had sizable Jewish populations by the middle of the 18th century (indeed, Dutch Jews were among the first settlers in New Amsterdam and Newark). Even among the devout Christians, there were religious differences – Charles Carroll of Maryland was a practicing Catholic, for instance. But the one thing all of them agreed on was a belief in a higher power, or Creator.
with certain unalienable: something which can neither be granted nor taken away by human authority.
Rights: Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin all were well versed in the philosophy of John Locke. While Locke’s ideas regarding natural rights were already well-established in philosophical circles by the mid-18th century, the Founders were doing something truly revolutionary here: they were claiming that by our existence, human beings have entitlements that no government can interfere with.
What follows is a listing of what those entitlements are.
that among these are: Whoops! make that a partial listing. Jefferson is saying there are other, unspecified rights, and he’s selected only the ones pertinent to why the Colonists are creating a new nation.
Life: Yes, you have a right to live. Sounds almost silly, until you watch this.
Liberty: for the 18th century thinker, Liberty was well defined by David Hume – “By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.” I’ve read many other definitions of liberty, but this one – despite it’s age – still seems the best.
pursuit of Happiness: While nobody can guarantee that you will find peace and joy in the world, you’re entitled to try and find whatever it is that lets you achieve it.
One 36 word sentence carries quite a bit of import, I would say. If we were to reword the entire thing, it would come out something like this:
American citizens agree that the following is a statement of fact:
All people are born the same, and the Creator that grants us our existence does, by that existence, grant us certain privileges and entitlements that no person, government or entity can take away. Some of these entitlements are our lives, our freedom of movement and thought, and our attempt to derive peace and joy from our existence.
It isn’t as flowery or memorable as the original, I know. But this statement is what separates America from every other nation. It is what defines us a people, and as a country. America has not always lived up to the ideals laid out in this statement, but it is the fact we continue to strive towards it – rather than abandon it – that has characterized our place in history.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said he dreamed of the day when his children wouldn’t be judged by their ethnicity, but by who they were as people. It was Dr. King’s way of restating our guiding principle, the American principle of natural rights. We haven’t gotten there yet, as the events in Charlottesville showed. Call me a sap, a sentimental fool or a man blinded by his beliefs, but I still think the vast majority of the people who call the United States home believe in our founding principle, but are being led astray by fear of an unknown and rapidly changing future.
Thank you for your time today, and may God bless America.
*The video I linked to above can also be watched here. You’ll need about 20 minutes to watch the whole thing. It’s painful and at times angering, but I suggest you do.
…but you are not guaranteed a job. You are not entitled to a job, and nobody owes you a job.
It’s almost funny. It is downright comical to watch fellow “conservatives” try to shame Alphabet into rehiring James Damore. Over the years, the sentiment annunciated at the beginning of this post was supposedly a bedrock principle. But, as with so many other supposedly conservative principles, the past 18 months has revealed that they were just talking points for many “conservatives.”
Look, here’s the deal. When you sign an employment contract (and I don’t care if you’re sweeping streets or writing code for one of the world’s largest companies), you agree to abide by your employers code of conduct. You can talk about liberty, and freedom, and all of those other things – but if you agree to work for someone, you are voluntarily agreeing to put curbs on those things.
My first “professional” job was as a QA engineer for Panasonic, more years ago than I care to remember. There was an official dress code: men were to wear a dark suit, white shirt and tie. At the time I accepted the job offer, I owned one suit. It was a very fashionable suit for the 1980’s, but it definitely wasn’t “dark” (think Miami Vice). So guess what I did? I went out and bought 3 navy blue suits and 5 white dress shirts. I wanted the job and understood that I needed to adhere to that dress code, even if it didn’t match my personal style.
I understand Mr. Damore has a problem with Alphabet’s diversity policy. I guess at this point, the entire world knows he does. I’ve disagreed with various company policies at some of the places I’ve worked, as well. There are three things that are perfectly acceptable, that you can do in that situation. You can keep quiet and soldier on. You can take your concerns through proper channels, generally by directing those concerns to a supervisor or the company HR department. Or you can quit and look for a different job.
I read the memo that landed James Damore in hot water. It is a well thought out, backed with research studies, cogent argument against Alphabet’s diversity policy. It is not a screed, as some liberal organizations declared it. Had he distributed it on Facebook, or as a private blog post, or any of the other ways a ten page article can be distributed, he probably would have avoided being fired (unless he represented himself as a Google employee). At that point, he is speaking as a private citizen and probably doing the public a great service. Given the recent hullabaloo around affirmative action and gender equality, we need more solid, fact based opinions from the proponents on both sides of the issue.
But he didn’t do those things. Instead, he typed it up as an internal memo and distributed it within Alphabet. That action, and that action alone, was grounds for termination. That he was making a political statement compounded the problem and forced management’s hand.
Let the Saga of James Damore be a cautionary tale to the Social Justice Warriors of the left and the Culture Warriors of the right. Unless you’re working as a political operative, don’t bring your politics into the workplace.
After all, you aren’t entitled to a job, either.
The dominant political news of the week was the dismissal of Lt. Michael Flynn (ret.), President Trump’s first National Security Advisor. His abrupt departure brought back a few issues that should have been answered during the fall campaign, but weren’t. In a multi-part series, I’ll be examining the following:
1. Were the leaks that led to Flynn’s ouster justified? Are leaks ever justified?
2. Is the President’s Russophilia damaging to his Presidency and the nation writ large?
3. Should career civil servants place greater emphasis on conscience or policy?
It’s been a nagging question for something like 18 months now: what is the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin? The questions first arose during the campaign, when Trump seemed to be sending public love notes to Putin. The questions reappeared after President Trump, rather than accept that Putin is a diabolical dictator, preferred to argue that the US government operates in the same nefarious manner as the Russian. And they roared into prominence this week, with the revelations about former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s tête-à-tête with the Russian ambassador and the leaks about the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russian SVR.
The President’s conduct towards Russia and Vladimir Putin certainly engender some questions.
1. Why is Trump so reluctant to condemn Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular?
I’ve given this some thought, and I have a sort of good news/bad news idea about the subject. The good news: I do not think President Trump is being blackmailed by, or in any other way criminally beholden to the Russian Federation. Do I think he has business interests there? It would be ludicrous to think a man who once held a beauty pageant in Moscow and has at least minority interests in resort properties around the world doesn’t have some sort of similar arrangements in Russia. Do I think those holdings are substantial enough that the Russian government could leverage them to their advantage? No. Not even someone as vain as Donald Trump would be willingly complicit in treason over a few hotel rooms. If he is, then we’ve plumbed new depths of depravity.
I suspect the reason is simpler, but far more disturbing. Based on public statements going back nearly 30 years, I believe our President wants to be Vladimir Putin. He admires and respects the way Putin handles things, with an autocratic iron fist wrapped in a cement glove. Killing political opponents? Perfectly fine (remember, Trump once praised the Chinese for running down dissenters with tanks). Invading foreign countries and plundering them? It’s cool – just keep the oil. Operating above, below and in conflict with established law? From abusing eminent domain in the 1980’s to his “so-called judges” remarks in the last few weeks, Trump has consistently demonstrated that he thinks laws apply to everyone BUT him. Even Stephen Miller’s outburst last Sunday (“the President’s authority will not be questioned!”) demonstrates a very totalitarian view of government, the kind of government prevented by our Constitution. That he’s constrained by the Constitution and its provisions against executive overreach galls Trump (and, sadly, his supporters) to no end. Putin has no such constraints and when he did, he was able to just ignore them until the Russian constitution was changed.
2. Why was his campaign in “constant” contact with Russian officials?
This is, of course, still unproven. However, the fact is that there is an investigation into the likelihood of contact between the SVR and the Make America Great Again campaign, and that it’s been partially leaked, suggest there’s more than just smoke to this question. As for why it would have occurred, see the above conclusion that Donald J. Trump stars in “Crazy about Vladdy.” The one thing that nobody seems to recall is that Vladimir Putin actually won a democratic election in 2000, on a platform eerily similar to the one Donald Trump ran on in 2016. If the person you venerate over all others might be in a position to offer advice and encouragement, any of us would seek their counsel.
3. Why didn’t Trump tell Vice President Pence that former national security adviser Mike Flynn wasn’t being honest about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador?
3a. Why wasn’t Flynn fired the second Trump learned he was deceiving the vice president?
Once again, if the President is attempting to model his administration on that of his favorite Russian dictator, neither of these questions is difficult to answer. In fact, they both have the same answer: Flynn was ordered to lie to Pence by Trump. As to why Trump would have Pence lied to, there are two reasons. The first is that Trump was certainly aware that having Flynn reach out to the Russian ambassador regarding the latest Obama sanctions was a clear violation of the Logan Act. He also knows that despite decades in public office, nobody has ever accused Mike Pence of malfeasance or corruption. He knew then that Pence’s reaction would, at best, be another tepid endorsement of the President’s orders and Flynn’s duplicity in carrying them out.
The other thing to remember on this point is that part of Vlad’s governing style, and one that has thus far proven true of Trump’s, is a dedication to the idea of equal but rival teams in open competition. Pence is the de facto leader of the ‘establishment’ group. Flynn was very much part of the ‘apocalyptic’ group. In effect, Trump was already pitting those two groups against each other before he even took office. That he waited nearly 72 hours before firing Flynn after the first revelations about that phone call, and Flynn’s duplicity towards Pence, looks for all the world like Trump was waiting to see if there would be any blow-back on Pence. After all, Trump is also aware that of all the people in his administration, the two most admired on Capitol Hill are Mike Pence and James Mattis. Pence, being his Constitutionally appointed successor should he be unable to complete his term, therefore presents a clear and pressing danger. The fact that unlike Obama with Joe Biden, or George HW Bush with Dan Qualyle, his VP is considered one of the few sane members of his inner circle poses the threat, essentially giving cover to Democrats if they decide to implement clause 4 of the 25th Amendment.
The larger question that needs to be answered is: does the President’s infatuation with Russian style politics and deep admiration of authoritarianism endanger the nation? So far, the answer is not in any lasting way. The Constitution was written by men who were intimately familiar with being ruled by a tyrant and designed to ensure that no one person could unilaterally impose his will on the government. As they intended, the structures they built have soundly defeated Trump’s every move to emulate his idol’s governing style, much to his chagrin. The separation of powers works.
That is not to say Trump cannot inflict serious damage, at least on the United States and the western democracies strategic position. But dealing a fatal blow to the Constitution does appear to be beyond his scope.
There are other questions, but we don’t have enough information to speculate on the answers. For instance, who in the campaign was speaking to the Russians? Are they now in the administration? Were any of those people responsible for the leaks to the Washington Post that started this ball of wax? The President could, of course, put an end to all this by issuing a statement that answers those questions.
But then again, we know Trump isn’t about to do that. He’ll continue his current method of dealing with this crisis, attacking the press for asking the questions and attacking the leaks themselves. Because, after all, that’s what Vladimir would do.
This morning, our President-elect took to Twitter with this:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
Immediately, the world became unhinged.
“Flag burning is reprehensible, but it’s protected by the Constitution” is the general refrain I’m hearing. But does that statement hold water?
The supposed Constitutional protection for flag burning isn’t actually written anywhere into the Constitution. In fact, 48 states and the federal government have explicit statutes proscribing a penalty for burning, or otherwise desecrating, the United States flag. The federal statute is 18 US Code 700 and in part reads,
Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
I realize I’ve probably just sent your heads spinning, so I’ll give you a moment to recover. Go ahead, grab a glass of water (or whatever) and I’ll wait.
(Oh, good. You made it back. Had me worried there, for a minute. I know this is pretty shocking stuff and I’d hate to think I just gave someone a heart attack.)
Chances are, anyone under the age of 45 has been indoctrinated that flag burning is a Constitutional right. Indoctrinated by the media, indoctrinated by schools, indoctrinated by every institution controlled by the socialist (and treasonous) left in America. Sadly, that’s most of them. Actually, liberals have been trying the “Constitutionally protected” approach to flag burning going all the way back to 1907. That was the year the Supreme Court decided in Halter v. Nebraska that flag desecration was not a fundamental right.
What most people point to now in their zeal defend flag burning is the 1989 decision in Texas v. Johnson, in which the court invalidated the conviction of Gregory Lee Johnson. In 1984, Johnson decided to make his displeasure with President Reagan’s policies known by burning a flag during the Republican National Convention. He was convicted, sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,000. He appealed, claiming his First Amendment right to political speech was violated.
What’s interesting is that the court did not overturn his conviction on First Amendment grounds. That narrative springs forth from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurrence, in which he wrote:
For all the record shows, this respondent was not a philosopher and perhaps did not even possess the ability to comprehend how repellent his statements must be to the Republic itself. But whether or not he could appreciate the enormity of the offense he gave, the fact remains that his acts were speech, in both the technical and the fundamental meaning of the Constitution. So I agree with the Court that he must go free
Kennedy felt the need to mention the speech issue in his concurrence because that is not the grounds the Court used for issuing it’s 5-4 reversal. Instead, the court based the majority opinion on the basis that the Texas statute was designed to prevent rioting. Since both the state and defendant agreed that there was no riot, or even an incitement to riot, the statute violated the defendant’s 8th and 14th Amendment rights.
Not his 1st Amendment rights.
Why does this matter, you might ask? Isn’t a violation of a citizen’s rights still egregious, regardless of which right was violated? That’s rhetorical, of course. Any time the justice system violates Constitutionally protected rights is a perversion of justice. That’s precisely what the Court upheld.
However, buried in the Court’s decision was an affirmation of the 1907 decision in Halter v. Nebraska. That was the first Supreme Court case that upheld flag desecration as not protected by the Constitution. The majority opinion, penned by Justice Brennan dances around the subject of 1st Amendment protection of flag burning. He states that while the Court cannot find reason to grant a special class to speech involving the flag, it is within Congress’ purview to do just that, concluding:
Congress has, for example, enacted precatory regulations describing the proper treatment of the flag, see36 U.S.C. §§ 173-177, and we cast no doubt on the legitimacy of its interest in making such recommendations.
So, if you set aside what you’ve been told and what you’ve been taught, all of a sudden the President-elect’s statement is no longer quite so outlandish as at first seems. I cannot say I agree with his idea of stripping citizenship. After all, there is no crime for which we strip citizenship, not even treason. But jail and a fine? That seems perfectly acceptable. And as it turns out, Constitutional, as well.