My home sweet home

god-bless-america

I consider myself a lucky man. I was born in what I am convinced is the greatest country on earth… and I’ll bet you feel the same. In fact, no matter what differences we may have, I’m sure that’s one piece of common ground where we will mostly agree. I say mostly because, just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people have exactly the same opinions on every single topic.

But that should not be surprising. We are humans, not machines, and each one of us is unique. Each of us is shaped by personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We have our own likes and dislikes, our own strengths and weaknesses.

Part of what makes each of us so different… and so special… are the influences of our surroundings. Where we were born, where we were raised, where we have lived, learned, worked… each of these places has given us opportunities to grow, to expand and enhance how we make decisions in life.

Each one of us is different, yet each one of us is uniquely American. So why are so many people trying to drive us apart?

In recent history, we’ve heard many politicians talk about “real Americans”, as if some of us are more worthy than others because of where we live. During the 2008 campaign, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, in an appearance in North Carolina, referred to the “wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America”. She later apologized for suggesting that certain places were more pro-America than others, but the message was delivered: Palin and others like her were clearly saying that some of us are less patriotic because of where we live.

Typically, it’s the small towns that tend to get the good vibes from such politicians, while our nation’s cities are pointed out as examples of what’s wrong. And that’s not entirely fair.

Sure, it’s easy to look in the urban areas of America and find fault. Every city from coast to coast has its less pleasant neighborhoods: rundown housing, abandoned businesses, areas you would rather avoid. But I challenge you to take a closer look in your own hometown. I’m sure you’ll find the same kind of decrepit homes, empty storefronts, and piles of garbage. It’s just that the cities have more people living closer together… more people per square mile than the rural areas… so we’re more likely to turn a blind eye to the problems close to home. Does the happenstance of such negatives in the cities make the people there less worthy of the label “American”?

Some folks say that the problems are found mostly along our East and West Coasts, and they’re partly correct. But the reason is because those areas are where you find the highest concentration of people. Naturally, you’d expect to have more concerns in areas of larger population. It’s just plain common sense. But is it fair to blame the cities?

Sen. Ted Cruz must think so. Recently, his campaign ran an attack ad against fellow Republican candidate Donald Trump. In it, Cruz points out the differences between himself and his rival by saying that Trump represents “New York values, not ours”. Clearly it had an impact, because Cruz credits that ad for helping him defeat Trump in the Iowa caucuses.

I have to chuckle at the irony: Ted Cruz was once the beneficiary of a Sarah Palin endorsement, but now that she’s a recent addition to Team Trump, she finds herself in public opposition to a man she once strongly supported. Oh, how quickly they turn on each other!

But what’s so bad about “New York values” anyway? Isn’t the Big Apple the same city that we all looked to with admiration through tears on 9/11? Didn’t we all feel the pain with the devastation of the terrorist attack? Didn’t we all feel the sense of pride and determination as the city not only recovered but has flourished in the years since? Don’t we all point to the rebirth of the area that once was the home of the World Trade Center towers and say, “This is what we Americans do: we bounce back, better than ever”?

But demonizing the biggest city in the nation is exactly what Cruz did, and it worked.

Isn’t it time we bring an end to this divisiveness? Shouldn’t we stand up to people like Palin and Cruz and tell them we’re sick and tired of being told that some of us aren’t as good as the rest?
We’re all Americans. We’re all, each and every one of us, part of the greatest country on the planet. We come together when one of us is attacked by a foreign enemy; we likewise should support each other when one of us is condemned by a mere politician.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald February 4, 2016.)

False Prophets

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ve probably noticed that I have no use for people who substitute fiction for fact. I don’t mind if someone disagrees with me and wants to argue about it. However, if that argument is based on falsehoods, you’re wasting your time.
It’s one thing to share your opinion. For example, you might say that Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. I’d probably be tempted to come back with Joe Montana’s career stats. We’d likely spar back and forth a bit and never reach a real consensus because we’re both offering opinions from our individual perspectives.
It would be different if you said Johnny Unitas had more passing touchdowns than Joe Montana. In that case, you would be able to go to the record books and show me the facts. [Note: Unitas is #9 in TD completions. Montana is #11.] See the difference? Instead of relying on your emotions which can skew your thinking, stating your case with solid evidence — real facts that can be proven without a doubt — is the way to win an argument.
It’s really that simple: if you stake your reputation on a specific matter, make sure you’ve got your facts straight. As it is with sports chatter, so it is with politics, religion, and any other topic of discussion.
I mentioned politics and religion because it’s clear that many people are willing to go to great lengths to use one to influence the other. Such is the case with many prominent entertainers in those two realms.
Take for example Dr. Ben Carson, a truly gifted neurosurgeon and political neophyte, who recently was a guest on the Sunday morning talk show circuit. He used the occasion of his Meet the Press interview to let it be known that he thinks people of certain faiths should not be elected President of the United States. Specifically, he said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” Notice that Dr. Carson wasn’t talking about anyone specifically… giving reasons why the actions and attitudes of a named individual would disqualify that person from holding office. No, Carson is suggesting that you should withhold your vote solely based upon a candidate’s religion. Why? Because Carson thinks that, when it comes to a candidate’s faith, “…if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.”
Carson — and anyone who agrees with him on this point — is arguing that there needs to be a method of determining a person’s qualifications for elected office based upon religion. And while Carson is entitled to his opinion, the fact is clear: the Founders of this nation rejected that notion. Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution includes this key phrase: no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. Essentially, no one’s faith is ever to be used to challenge his ability to serve. Equally important, no one’s faith is ever to be used to give a candidate an easier pathway to office. Try telling that to the television preachers who lead their followers in prayers calling for misfortune and death to fall upon their political opponents.

It is discouraging that people like Dr. Carson will declare their devotion to the Constitution while also being so horribly ignorant to what the document has to say. But then, it’s not that surprising, since we live in an age where it’s becoming commonplace to hear someone claim that their religious beliefs grant them authority over others.
The Constitution does grant a certain collection of rights to you and me, but it’s up to us to understand the limits to those rights. As free speech advocate Zechariah Chafee Jr wrote: “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”   
Dr. Carson is not alone. The current presidential campaign has several hopefuls who are pandering to extremists. making promises to impose some form of legal framework that would regulate many aspects of both public and private life based upon religious tenets.
Gee, that sounds a lot like Sharia law, doesn’t it?
(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald October 1, 2015.)

Born in the USA?

My great-grandfather was born in Europe. He met and married my great-grandmother there and a few years later moved to the USA. Over time, they raised a family. They were poor by most standards, but they worked hard — my great-grandfather was a cobbler and his bride was a seamstress — and they were good members of their community.Their children were born here… in the United States… and were each given a priceless gift at birth: citizenship. Because she was born within the borders of this nation, my grandmother instantly became a citizen, something that could never be taken away.
Or could it?
There is a growing movement in certain political circles aimed at ending the practice of birthright citizenship. It’s a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail, and the opinions on both sides are strong, even if the arguments are a bit weak.
The Fourteenth Amendment officially became part of the Constitution in 1868 and since then its opening sentence became the standard for recognizing who is, actually, an American. The amendment’s Citizenship Clause states:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
There it is, plain and simple. If you were born here, you belong here. You’re one of us. (Of course, there are a few exceptions, such as children born to foreign diplomats.) But not everyone is happy about that.
Growing out of the long-running debate over immigration reform, the question of whether to continue the practice of birthright citizenship has taken its place as one of the key discussion topics in the current race for the White House. Candidates, commentators, and coffee klatchers are arguing, sometimes fiercely, about whether a baby should have such a right.
Naturally, those in favor of changing the status quo are quick to point to undocumented immigrants — the so-called “illegal aliens” — and calling for rejection of automatic citizenship for their children. Those who seek to preserve the 14th Amendment as is are just as forceful in arguing that its language was carefully selected to assure that all born here are given equal treatment despite the origins of their parents. After all, some of the first to benefit from the amendment were former slaves who previously had no legal claim to citizenship.
You can be sure that those on the side calling for change would claim that they are only concerned with the undocumented, that they would have no problem with granting citizenship to the children of immigrants who are here with legal documentation. But I have to wonder if it would stop there. Given the power to strip away birthright citizenship from one group, how could we stop the government from ruling that others are also not worthy? Couldn’t such authority lead to refusal of citizenship to people of a certain race or religion?
Couldn’t we see a government that would make such a change retroactive, thus revoking citizenship… and all of its privileges including the ability to vote… from existing citizens? It sure would be an effective means of shutting down your critics, wouldn’t it?
What makes me even more suspicious of the intentions of those pushing this movement is that we aren’t hearing anyone complaining about babies born of parents from places like, say, Norway or Italy or Canada. No, the argument is firmly centered on the children of immigrants who cross our southern border.
What’s further troubling is that the argument is coming from the political right, whose party is sorely lacking in support from the Latino community. Such an unbending stance against citizenship at birth… especially one that is clearly aimed at people who come to the USA from Mexico and other nations to our south… is certainly not helping the Republican Party in its efforts to include people of color under its tent.
That is, if the GOP is still making the effort.
I just read a report projecting the 2016 election turnout broken down by race and its results aren’t enthusiastic for a party that alienates non-white voters. In fact, a party that turns its back on people of color will find that it is virtually impossible to win on the national stage.
I’m not a political consultant, but if someone came to me and asked what I thought would be a good strategy, I’d suggest that being a party of ideas and goals makes more sense than building your platform on exclusion and turning back time.
(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald September 3, 2015.)

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

The Republican Party’s effort to regain the White House kicks into high gear with its first debate. While it’s tempting to say that these events are lessons in futility, there are some valuable takeaways that can be expected from these encounters. You can learn about a candidate’s ability to string together a few talking points into what sounds like a coherent statement. You can get a feel for whether the candidate has a personality, generally displayed by a good sense of humor. And you will probably notice a few who clearly don’t do their homework.


Most everyone following these assemblies will tell you that the Republicans allowed themselves to get bogged down with too many debates in the 2012 campaign. Really, what were they thinking when they agreed to twenty such gatherings? Halfway through that schedule it was clear that the party was opening itself up to way too much self-inflicted damage, as candidates rose and fell in the opinion polls based on how they attacked each other.


In this campaign, the party has shown some wisdom by paring down the list to twelve scheduled debates, the last couple of which are tentative and could be dropped entirely. Still, is there much of an argument to make that a dozen debates are going to be effective in choosing the best candidate?


Essentially, these are not debates in the truest sense of the word. A debate follows a few relatively strict guidelines, keeping to a formal structure, and its moderator is expected to maintain order with an iron fist. These events are better described as multiperson press conferences where the participants seem to do their best to avoid answering the questions as presented, instead repeating as much of their prepared campaign speeches, slogans, and taglines. But certainly we all know this: if you want real answers to real questions, don’t ask a politician… especially one who is actively running for office.


In the last cycle there were ten candidates participating in the Republican debates, though never more than nine at any one event… and only two of those had perfect attendance in all twenty. This time? Seventeen candidates have formally announced, but you won’t get to see them all in action at once. Thanks to the GOP turning over decision making chores to Fox News, the first debate is limited to no more than ten participants, as determined by where they rank in the latest polls. By essentially slamming the door in the other candidates’ faces, Fox News has been granted enormous power to effectively kill some campaigns while giving others a higher profile.


Fox News will argue that its methodology is simply reflective of public opinion and that the news/talk channel isn’t responsible for making the selections. Rather, it would say, the people surveyed by those polls are making it clear who they are most interested in seeing on the stage. But public opinion polls are a flawed source for facts. No two polling firms use the same criteria, ask the same questions, or even seek out the same type of respondents. Each poll is subject to interpretation, and those who read the tea leaves might not understand the message. Remember, up until late on Election Night, Mitt Romney and his team were convinced that he was going to win the presidency… based on opinion polls.


At least this time Republican voters can hope for a more serious slate of candidates. At least there’s no Herman Cain, who based his campaign on his “Nine Nine Nine” mantra which sounded more like a pitch for a pizza place than a political foundation. At least there’s no Michele Bachmann, whose glazed-over eyes looked like someone who was about to announce the departure schedule for the approaching Mothership.


Nope, this time the candidates are a group to be taken seriously.


Except… this time you have people like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 hopeful back for another crack at it… taking time away from his other job as spokesman for various quackery medications on the internet.


Except… you have Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and considered by many to be the worse leader of an American technology company in history. Notably, the company’s stock jumped when her forced resignation was announced, the news bringing in nearly three billion dollars in gains in a single day.


Except… you have Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner. It seems to me that the people who are excited about a Trump candidacy are the same people who think Sarah Palin is worthy of holding a national office. That pretty much tells us all we need to know about Trump.


I will be watching, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s better to be informed than clueless.

Come and see the show!

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald on 8/6/15)

Republicans: prepare to hold your nose when you vote

Let’s be clear: the GOP nominee for the 2016 presidential campaign will be

John Ellis Bush.

I know this because:
1. He’s got the money.
2. He’s got the establishment support.
3. He’s got the connections.
And, most important…
4. He’s (so far) not saying a lot of ridiculously crazy tin-foil hat stuff.
Sure, JEB has plenty of baggage… most of it because of the guy in the picture. BUT keep this in mind: Republicans chose his brother despite the poor performance of Poppy Bush, so why wouldn’t they gloss over W’s negatives and usher in yet another member of the family… along with the same group of inept advisors?
Republicans will throw their support behind JEB because the party has a habit of giving the nod to the next in line. That’s why John McCain was given his chance in 2008 and Mitt Romney grabbed the Golden Ticket in 2012.
Of course, by that logic Rick Santorum should be next… since he came in second last time. But anyone with a pulse and a functioning frontal lobe knows that Santorum will come out of the general election on the losing end of a massive landslide… no matter the opponent. 
Nope, Bush is the guy… even though he wants to do things that hurt the non-rich on his own side.
Take this example from Face the Nation yesterday:
SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you about Social Security.
You recently said you favor raising the retirement age for Social Security. To what age?
BUSH: I think it needs to be phased in over an extended period of time. I have seen ideas that are 68, for example.
So people that already have the supplemental retirement system, which is a contract, I don’t think we violate that. For people that are about ready to be beneficiaries of their supplemental retirement, I don’t think we change that.
But we need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in over an extended period of time going from 65 to 68 or 70. And that by itself will help sustain the retirement system for anybody under the age of 40.
SCHIEFFER: What about means-testing?
BUSH: I think it ought to be considered, for sure.
SCHIEFFER: You do think so? 
BUSH: I do so, yes.
Got that? JEB wants to force you to postpone your Social Security benefits… the ones you paid into with every paycheck your entire life… rather than alienate his deep-pocketed friends who would feel a little pain from the obvious best solution… which is to eliminate the ceiling on earnings (currently $118.500.00) and make the tax applicable on every dollar earned.
Of course, the rich can easily get around that by not taking a paycheck and instead receiving dividend payments and stock options (see Steve Jobs).
But for the vast majority of potential JEB votes, his plan to “save” Social Security will be unwelcome news. 
Still, they’ll hold their noses and fill in the oval beside his name anyway… because voting against their own best interests is what they’ve been trained to do.

Huckabee: kicking aside the law on Day One

You just can’t take this guy seriously. As he was officially announcing his candidacy, presidential wannabe Mike Huckabee actually encouraged his fans to violate campaign contribution laws with million dollar donations.

Some will defend him, saying that he was only joking. But deciding who should be elected President of the United States is no laughing matter. If Huckabee is this naive to the law, perhaps he should quit politics for good and stick to promoting quack remedies.

We REALLY Don’t Need No Edumacation

White House wannabe Jeb Bush, never a friend of public schools (see his record as Florida governor where he tried to slash teaching positions and drastically increase the number of students per classroom), recently had a few harsh things to say about America’s schools… calling them “government-run, unionized monopolies.”

Not surprising. As a way of doubling-down on his efforts in Florida, Bush is joining the ranks of the haters like Scott Walker and Rick Santorum in portraying America’s schools in a bad light.

As Steve Benen writes:

We rarely hear this king of talk about other parts of the public sector. For example, Republicans don’t usually run around chastising police departments or fire departments as “government-run, unionized monopolies.” Conservatives do, however, direct this ire at public education.

Why would Bush and Company want to damage public schools and their teachers? Could it have anything to do with efforts to privatize education… turning over the instruction of our children to for-profit corporations?

That’s my guess.

We Don’t Need No Education… (updated)

Just a couple thoughts regarding the big stink some pundits are making about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the fact that he never graduated college…

…a degree by itself is no measurement nor guarantee that the person is capable of good job performance…

…eleven U.S. Presidents never earned a college degree, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln…

…one of the least-capable presidents of all time holds an MBA from an Ivy League school…

…Sarah Palin has a college degree…

So let’s just call a halt to all this foolishness. There are many good reasons to keep Walker from gaining the Oval Office…. but the lack of a college degree is not one of them.

UPDATE: Scott Walker is picking the wrong fight.

Not long after I wrote this column, Gov. Walker appeared in an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly… and decided to take the Santorum Approach to the idea of a college education.  Prompted by Kelly’s remark that Sec. Hillary Clinton has a degree from Yale, Walker chimed:

“I think there’s a lot of Americans who have looked at some of the leaders we’ve had over the last few years who’ve come out of those Ivy League schools and said, ‘Maybe it’s time we got people who are in touch with people all across the rest of America’.”

Granted, one of those recent leaders was Pres. George W. Bush (BA, Yale and MBA, Harvard). Still, Walker’s need to criticize those who were successful in earning a post-secondary degree is a bad strategy. No one who aspires to be the Commander in Chief should try to get there by ridiculing the education accomplishments of others.

Then again, this is the same Gov. Walker who wants to make massive cuts to his state’s education system. Perhaps his lack of a degree has caused some personal bitterness…?


Another Example of John McCain’s Poor Judgment

Pictured above is former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. The same Sarah Palin who continues to tell anyone who will listen that she is interested in running for president… who covers her Facebook page with all sorts of religious-themed posts… who wants you to believe that she is all about “family values”…

The same Sarah Palin who is praised by supposed Christian leaders like Franklin Graham…

That same Sarah Palin is shown here enthusiastically holding a sign with both a profane phrase AND a gun-flavored threat to filmmaker Michael Moore. (See the gunsight crosshairs?) And don’t let anyone tell you she didn’t notice what the sign says; that’s her autograph in the lower left corner.

What a role model!

Yep, John McCain made a huge mistake in putting this fool on the ticket… giving this TV personality just enough exposure to get rich by saying and doing stupid stuff.

It’s sad that Sen. McCain still refuses to admit that he was wrong to pick her as his running mate.

It’s even sadder that there are a lot of people who faithfully follow her.

(H/T to Andrew Kirell, Editor of Mediaite, for finding this picture.)