It’s all Greek to me

greek alphabet

It is a sickness which somehow comes with every tyranny: to place no trust in friends. Aeschylus, “Prometheus Bound

 

Maybe it was a case of too much feasting during the Thanksgiving break. It could have something to do with overdosing on football. And there’s the desire to find somewhere else to be rather than listen to another family argument over whether it’s “stuffing” or “dressing”. Whatever the cause, I found myself searching Google for any little distraction that could help clear my mind of the holiday blahs.

How I ended up skimming through obscure ancient Greek tragedies is anybody’s guess, but that’s where I found the quote that begins this column. Strangely enough, it seems to fit nicely with recent headlines. 

They have eyes, but…

As the impeachment of President Trump heats up, the speculation intensifies. Will Democrats in the House be able to make a convincing argument? Is there a single Republican in Congress who is willing to put Country ahead of Party? Could the entire process work to Trump’s advantage, giving him the inside track toward a successful re-election? It’s impossible to guess, so I encourage you to avoid betting on the outcome. But there are a few things we know for sure.

We know that it was a team of Russians – NOT Ukraine –  that orchestrated a social media campaign designed to interfere in the 2016 election, working to mislead the American public with false propaganda. We know that Russian hackers managed to gain access to voter databases and political playbooks. And we know that all this was done with the approval of and under the watchful eye of long-time KGB agent Vladimir Putin.  We know what happened because our intelligence agencies told us what happened. Their overwhelming conclusion that Russia was responsible cannot be ignored. These are Americans who take their work – and our lives and security – seriously. You might be able to argue a point here, a point there. But when non-partisan, seasoned professionals bring the facts by the truckload, it’s time for you to set aside the Facebook rumors and show them some respect.

But that’s not where we are, America. We no longer can count on the average American putting trust in the facts. Instead, millions of otherwise practical adults are forfeiting their common sense, turning their minds over to whichever loud and flashy internet meme is the latest to capture their attention.

Or, whichever loud politician in an ill-fitted suit is shouting into the nearest microphone.

Have we no shame?

I find it embarrassing that so many people continue to stand behind this president. He may appeal to their deeply-held prejudices and fear, or they just might be so disengaged that they just don’t care if Trump is lying to them on a daily basis. But I just can’t understand how they can allow some of his most egregious actions to go unchallenged.

This president not only refuses to believe evidence of Russia’s malfeasance as provided by seventeen intelligence agencies, he bends over backwards to give Putin special favors. 

Trump works against the advice of military leaders, putting our service members and allies in grave danger and effectively handing control over to tyrants.

He publicly degrades our legal system, granting pardons to some and dangling a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in front of others.

The president can’t deal with the honest testimony of Americans in Congressional hearings, so instead he and his closest supporters falsely attack the integrity and loyalty of those who dare to come forward. I’m guessing that the Ghost of Joe McCarthy is giving Trump a thumbs up.

He has even used the pardon of a convicted Navy SEAL as a means of claiming his support of the armed services, even though that decision throws the entire military justice system under the bus.

And still, his followers think he can do no wrong. 

Once upon a time, the Republican Party claimed to stand for law & order and unending loyalty to our troops. If that were still the case, then our president would consider our intelligence agencies and military to be his bestest friends. But as Trump continues to quack like a tyrannical duck, Aeschylus’ quote seems to be more accurate with each passing day. 

What good will come of this?

It looks now that the House is just days away from voting on assorted articles of impeachment, sending the case to the Senate for a possible trial. As I’ve said many times before, there is no chance that Mitch McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to convict the president, no matter how strong the argument and evidence. But wrapping up the impeachment proceedings quickly actually works to the benefit of Democrats running for congressional seats, if not also those seeking the White House. By forcing Republicans to go on the record and give the president a free pass, voters will be encouraged to take out their frustrations at the ballot box. Democrats will make the argument that Republicans can’t be trusted to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law. 

It’s a risky strategy that just might work. But I’m not willing to bet the farm on it. Not yet, at least.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald December 5, 2019.)

The time has come

steampunk-wall-clock

Benjamin Franklin was quite a character. He was a statesman, a writer, a ladies’ man, an inventor, and a word thief. You may remember old Ben’s famous quote, “..in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That was part of a letter in 1789 in which Franklin was summing up his thoughts about our nation’s then-new Constitution, but in doing so he borrowed that now-famous quote from the author of “Robinson Crusoe”. Daniel Defoe penned the phrase, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d,” in 1726, but even he was not afraid of stealing a good line when he saw one. A few years before Defoe included that thought in “The Political History of the Devil,” it was Christopher Bullock who wrote, “’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,”

We can argue about original thoughts – and 18th Century plagiarism – but this much is clear: Bullock, Defoe and Franklin were each very sure that some things are inevitable.

And now, so is the other “I” word.

 

Im-Peachy Keen

I’m not alone in thinking the Democrats in Congress would never get to this stage. When it comes to using the powers granted to them in the Constitution, the current majority party has been dragging its feet like it was a child unwilling to leave the house on the first day of school. Obviously, their hands were somewhat tied for two years as the Republicans controlled the House as well as the Senate. But in the wake of the 2018 midterms, the Democrats found themselves back in the driver’s seat and once more had the ability to convene hearings and issue subpoenas. (More on that later.)

 

And so here we are. Most Democrats in Congress have now decided that impeachment of President Trump is the logical, necessary next step. While impeachment is indeed a political act, it is also the formal process established by our nation’s founders to investigate possible wrongdoing of the president and, if the evidence is convincing, to remove him from office. While I don’t see it going that far (not with Republicans firmly in control in the Senate), I also had doubts that Democrats would summon the courage to do more than hold the occasional hearing and generate soundbites for the evening news.

 

Reading is fundamental

There are many people who are telling us that the entire idea of impeaching Donald Trump is a waste of time and money. They point to the Mueller report and make ludicrous claims of “total exoneration” and “no collusion”, but these feeble arguments have no foundation. Anyone who has actually read the report knows that Robert Mueller and his team drew no conclusions about collusion since that is not a legal term and by itself carries no true significance. What Mueller did find was conclusive evidence that the president and others within the administration were involved in a multi-layered scheme of obstructing justice. Don’t just take my word for it. It’s all right there in black and white if you’re willing to read it

Yet the Democrats should have known that the investigation would never lead to an early end of the Trump presidency. Mueller’s hands were tied by a Department of Justice policy that prevents the indictment of a sitting president no matter how serious is the crime. Yes, the president really could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not be arrested. (At least, not while in office.) Besides, how could anyone expect much from an investigation in which the Attorney General, who was hand-picked by the president, has final say?

But while Mueller’s findings may not provide the meat and potatoes that many Americans hoped for, the new whistleblower revelations just might. It’s too early to determine what might unfold, but I’ll say this: if the accusations that have already been revealed are not true (which is the argument by the president and his supporters), then why is Mr. Trump sending the Attorney General and others around the globe seeking the influence of other countries in our own system of government and our elections? That kind of panicked response is not what you would expect from an innocent man.

 

Don’t look for a Battle Royale

So the Democrats will convene impeachment hearings and issue subpoenas. At the time this column was coming together, President Trump’s personal attorney Rudi Giuliani was named in three subpoenas from House committees. But don’t expect much to come from that. Although he is always happy to appear on camera and spout utter nonsense, Giuliani is likely to simply ignore those Congressional edicts. He won’t provide documents and probably won’t show up to testify. It’s up to the Democrats to decide if they’re willing to use their Constitutional enforcement powers or if the administration will be allowed to continue to thumb its nose at the process. 

Here’s what we know: we are living in disturbing times. Too many people have decided that they’d rather ignore the obvious than give any credence to any facts that run counter to their own deeply-held convictions. In the end, there will always be those who refuse to be convinced. Admitting that they were wrong, that they were so easily deceived by a career con man, is more than they can accept.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald October 3, 2019.)

The wrath of Don

Shatner

A month ago, I expressed my hopes that our newly-minted president would prove me wrong, that he would assume the office with the best intentions, and would begin the task of governing the world’s only superpower with dignity and distinction. Instead, he entered his term by amping up the same childishness and petty behavior that he thought was necessary throughout the campaign.

President Trump wasted no time. On the day he was inaugurated, in his very first official act, Trump signed an executive action that cancelled a previous-approved interest rate reduction for homeowners all across the country. The rate cut on FHA loans, which had been authorized by President Obama, would have meant an estimated annual savings of $500 for these Americans. You can imagine those families using that money to buy furniture or clothes or groceries. But thanks to our new president, that money will go to the federal government. Funny, isn’t it? The man elected by people who insist that government is too big turned around and took money from the pockets of so many moms and dads who are struggling to give their kids a nice home.

The next day, right after the president woke up for the first time in the White House, he returned to Twitter and began yet another needless battle with the news media, this time over the size of the crowd that gathered in Washington and saw the president take the oath of office. Let’s face it: anyone with at least one good eye could see that attendance at Obama’s 2009 swearing-in was much larger than the audience for Mr. Trump. The grown-up thing to do in that situation would be to acknowledge the difference, make a joke about it, and move on. But that’s not what happened.


The president chose to deny the facts, then directed his press secretary to repeat the same falsehoods during the live broadcast of his very first press briefing. The president’s people continued the assault on reality on the Sunday talk shows and beyond. The result? America’s (and the world’s) first impression of President Trump is of a man who cannot tell the difference between fact and fantasy. How is that supposed to give us confidence in the competency of the person given the codes to our nuclear arsenal?

In the days immediately following inauguration, President Trump and his handlers unleashed what can only be described as the first wave in an all out attack on the First Amendment. In addition to continuing his attacks on the news media (freedom of the press), including calls by his staffers for reporters to be fired because they weren’t favorable to the administration, the president’s team tried its best to demonize the multitudes of women (and men) who gathered and marched in peaceful protest against the policies and actions of the president (freedom of assembly).

Then, to cap off a raucous first week, President Trump rushed together an executive order that calls for a ban on refugees and other immigrants — and even just visitors — from seven Muslim-majority countries… an order that had little to no input from people in Homeland Security, the State Department, or the Pentagon. An order that was deeply flawed because of that rush to implement… as it even prevented permanent residents (“green card” holders) from returning to their American homes. As much as the administration tried to pass it off as a means of protecting the country, the fact that Christians and Jews are to be exempt makes it very clear: the president wants to use the power of the federal government to target members of a particular faith (freedom of religion).

In just one week, President Trump acted to override the protected rights set down over two hundred years ago. At that rate, he could easily circumvent the rest of the amendments before the Fourth of July.

Friends and family have been telling me, “Give him time. Give him a chance. Show him some respect.” To them I say, “Just look at the damage done in just a few days.” As for respect, I need only to look back at the past eight years with a combative, do-nothing Congress for an example of disrespect.

Trump managed to be elected by distracting his audience with catch phrases. He made outrageous promises punctuated with even more outrageous language, all to get laughs and applause. He wasn’t running for President; he was just out there doing very bad stand-up comedy.

Unfortunately, because too many people decided they wanted a game-show host in the White House, we’re stuck with him until he either grows tired of the pulling the con… or he’s removed from office.


Either way, our nation has been deeply wounded.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald February 2, 2017.)

The rise of the disgruntled

Just about seven years ago, shortly after President Obama took office, pockets of unrest started forming throughout the nation. Some of those groups began identifying themselves with variations of the Tea Party name, holding rallies and other events that generally focused on fiscal matters. Some of these independent groups said that their use of the Tea Party label was a throwback salute to the rebellious Boston Tea Party event of 1773. Others were more specific, saying that the TEA acronym stood for “Taxed Enough Already” and that their push was for major cuts in taxes at all levels, even if that meant eliminating some government services.


It seems strangely (and conveniently) coincidental that the movement grew to prominence at precisely the time that Democrats regained the White House with the election of the first non-white president. Defenders of the Tea Party’s honor have made claims that the roots of their cause took hold well before 2009, though one is hard pressed to realistically remember any such activity. Of course, people have been complaining about taxes since the first tax was collected.


As the assorted Tea Parties were gaining strength, the USA saw growth within another sub-culture… the sovereign citizen movement.  Essentially believing that the federal and most state governments have no authority, these individuals often refuse to pay taxes or fees imposed by government agencies. Many don’t register their vehicles, obtain driver’s licenses, or even use ZIP codes… as these are enacted by a government they don’t recognize.


Probably the most famous personality of the sovereign citizen realm is Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who for over twenty years has refused to pay fees for grazing his cattle on federally owned land. Bundy became somewhat of a cult hero when a standoff developed between the US Bureau of Land Management and a group of armed supporters. The matter ended without violence when government officials withdrew, effectively giving Bundy a victory. As this column was being written, three of Bundy’s sons are organizers of an armed occupation of federal property in Oregon, clearly emboldened by their family’s previous encounter.


There have been other notable occupations of federal property — Alcatraz, Wounded Knee — that ended in violence. But then, those occupiers weren’t white dudes with Twitter and Facebook accounts. But I digress.


A third faction that has gained in popularity over the past few years are militia groups. Usually heavily armed and self-trained, less than 200 of these anti-government groups were known to exist in 2008. Fueled by fears of a possible government crackdown on gun ownership helped the growth of these groups throughout the country, even though no real effort to limit the rights of Americans to own guns has materialized. Of course, just the implied threat, real or imagined,  is enough to motivate gun sales and discourage most elected officials from considering legislation that could be seen as impeding the average American from purchasing whichever weapon he so chooses.


It is right about here that someone will argue that President Obama’s plans for executive orders that, if fully enacted, could curtail gun sales. But most of what the president is offering are just suggested guidelines, and the strongest would require funding that the Republican-led Congress is not about to approve. Meanwhile, gun dealers are reporting a huge boost in sales… so let’s put aside any worries about how the government is going to empty out the Average Joe’s gun cabinet.


Nope, there’s no way the government is going to do anything to disarm the citizenry. But it is also clear that the government is no closer to solving the problem of gun violence.


So far, we’ve discussed the Tea Party, sovereign citizens, and militias. As diverse as these groups may be, they have many similarities. They all distrust government. They all have big problems with government actions like taxes and regulations. And they all saw intense growth in reaction to the 2008 election.


And… the lines between them are increasingly blurred.


I’m not saying that these three groups have exactly the same goals. But it’s really hard to tell where one stops and another starts. Log onto a random Tea Party website and you’re just as likely to see a discussion about the Second Amendment as you are efforts to trim taxes. Talk to a militia member and you’ll hear complaints about entitlement programs. And the Bundy family is proof that a large feature of the sovereign citizen movement is the combination of anti-tax sentiments and gun proliferation.


One thing is certain: you won’t find too many Democrats in those groups. And that’s a big problem for the GOP. You see, if the Republican party allows itself to be defined by those on the fringe, it has virtually no chance to field candidates who can draw votes from outside their own party.

And that’s a recipe for disaster come Election Day.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald January 7, 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.)

Hey, Tennessee! You can’t do that.

Despite being advised by the state’s attorney general (a Republican) that:

“Yes, designating The Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution and Article I, § 3, of the Tennessee Constitution, which provides ‘that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.'”

…today the Tennessee state legislature did just that.

Aside from the blatant violation of the state and federal constitutions, here’s an unanswered question:

What version? Christians can’t agree on a single interpretation of the bible — let alone a single denomination — so how can politicians do so?

Yet another waste of time and money… and, of course, unconstitutional. So now the good people of Tennessee will see their hard-earned money wasted when the state has to go to court… and lose.