Political Commentary

Gotterdemerung

This past November 8th Americans went to the polls facing the most daunting choice we’ve ever had to make in a Presidential election. The main options consisted of the candidate with the worst temperament of any in our history or the one with the worst judgment in the 227 years of our republic. Following an unexpectedly surprising evening, –if one believed the pontifications of the political “experts”, that is–the aspirant with the poor judgment ended up defeated. For the second time in less than a decade, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton lost an election she should have won. Again she failed to defeat an upstart insurgent whom few—especially within her own campaign—took seriously.

This most unusual Presidential contest ended on an ironic note. After months of speculation about the future of the GOP, pundits now ponder the Democrats’. At the time of this writing, they only hold 13 of the nation’s state legislatures. As Marc Porter Magee observed, should they lose another they will fall below the percentage needed to block Constitutional amendments. The opening of the “standard bearer” position became as much a surprise as Mrs. Clinton’s loss of “firewall” states in the Rust Belt. Despite their history of voting blue in Presidential elections, the former Secretary of State managed to lead the party to defeats in places once considered impregnable strongholds. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan all voted Republican. The latter should’ve raised “red” flags, as yet another upstart insurgent who challenged mainstream political convention won the Democratic primary there this year; and, curiously enough, the self-described “democratic socialist” who serves in the Senate as an independent wasn’t a real Democrat.

With the same confidence that the media proclaimed “Dewey Defeats Truman” and the 2007 Patriots would have a “perfect” season, they assured us Mrs. Clinton would take the Oath of Office this upcoming January 20th. Perhaps, Casey at the Bat would’ve been a more appropriate metaphor. The guarantee of her winning this election fluctuated between 90% to a more conservative 76%. That’s quite a remarkable number since a different Democrat hadn’t won the White House following another Democratic Administration since 1856. Then something unexpected happened. People voted.

While watching the results come in, an overwhelming sensation of déjà vu seemed to settle over the nation. Mrs. Clinton won states everyone expected such as Vermont, New Jersey and New York. Indiana and Kentucky went the other way. No surprises there. Then Florida started to report its numbers.

At first the vote totals favored her opponent. As northern Florida has historically supported Republican candidates that didn’t surprise; the narrowness of the race did. When the traditionally Democratic counties in the south of the state voted, the total remained uncomfortably close. Then areas in the panhandle reported. While a battleground state, many viewed it as Mrs. Clinton’s to lose. She did.

At this point I felt as though I’d moved backwards through time. 2016 suddenly became 2008 as contested state after contested state deserted Mrs. Clinton in favor of a man far lacking in her governmental experience. This time, however, a very significant advantage favored her. Many (myself included) believed the former First Lady to be the one candidate who could defeat a Republican challenger. Conventional wisdom would presuppose his “locker room talk” serving to enhance the appeal of the woman positioned to become the first female POTUS. The whole debacle made me wonder if there wasn’t an endemic issue with the current Democratic Party.

To be clear, Mrs. Clinton ran an abominable campaign. One wouldn’t recognize that from the myriad excuses she and her staff have spewed since the election. First it blamed the media for granting favorable coverage to her “celebrity” opponent. After taking a few days to professionally refine its failure to take responsibility, the erstwhile candidate adopted her opponent’s tack. In an explanation eerily similar to that of a “rigged” system, she placed fault on the FBI Director for resurrecting an email scandal: one that she brought upon herself and allowed to become the defining issue of her candidacy.

In lieu of reinforcing support in contested battleground states or attempting to inspire voters in areas that traditionally favored the party, she traversed the hustings in the red state of Arizona. Prior to the election, pundits suspected it would vote Republican and—possibly for the only time in the campaign—voters proved them right.

When Bill Clinton ran for the Presidency in 1992, the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid” became ubiquitous. Other than boilerplate references to a “middle class tax cut”, Mrs. Clinton abandoned economic issues in favor of assaulting her opponent’s crass comments about women, insensitive remarks about minorities and denigrating the “deplorables” who supported him; and subsequently voted him the 45th President of the United States.

The former President Clinton advised that the campaign reach out to white working class voters. That’s an odd recommendation to a political party forged by Thomas Jefferson to advance the interests of the yeoman farmer. It’s also the institution that gave rise to the “man of the people”, Andrew Jackson, who put the needs of his constituency ahead of the avaricious banker, Nicholas Biddle. In the 1930s, it pursued policies that gave Americans a “New Deal” as FDR instituted popular reforms such as social security.

Following the election catastrophe, a man who served in Mr. Clinton’s cabinet, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich expressed the following thoughts on newsweek.com.

…I believe it necessary for the members and leadership of the Democratic National Committee to step down and be replaced by people who are determined to create a party that represents America, including all those who feel powerless and disenfranchised, and who have been left out of our politics and left behind in our economy.

The Democratic Party as it is now constituted has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests. This must change. The election of 2016 has repudiated it.

He added:

The Democratic Party once represented the working class. But over the last three decades, the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts and pollsters who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives and getting votes from upper-middle-class households in “swing” suburbs.

While reading Mr. Reich’s comments I finally understood how the millionaire free trader serving Wall Street interests became the Democratic Party nominee in 2016.    

In the days following the party’s gotterdamerung, a photo of the would-be-President circulated on the internet. While hiking, a distraught supporter encountered the former candidate in the woods near her home. The two forced a smile for the picture. The surreal scene seemed a metaphorical manifestation for the state of the party. Should it not heed the advice of those like Mr. Reich, it will spend the next several election cycles in the political wilderness. One doubts either its donors or its membership will seem as happy as Mrs. Clinton or her distraught supporter in the wake of that eventuality.

Bob Dylan Named 2016 Nobel Literature Laureate

“Things have changed” for who’s eligible to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The 2016 award went to American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. Why did the Swedish Academy award it to a lyricist? The answer is “blowin’ in the wind.” Mr. Dylan must think it’s an “idiot wind.” To date he hasn’t responded to the committee’s efforts to get in touch with him. Through this “simple twist of fate” Bob Dylan has found himself the center of an unlikely controversy.

Perhaps, Mr. Dylan thinks some “jokerman” notified him about this honor. I’m sure “it ain’t me, babe” would’ve been his first reaction.

Since the Nobel Prize is a lifetime achievement award, it may be showing him that he’s not “forever young.” Of all people, he should know what matters is feeling “young at heart.”

Or maybe he’s thinking that by ignoring it, “I shall be released” from accepting it. “Most likely you’ll go your way and I’ll go mine” if he doesn’t answer the Swedish Academy’s requests. To be fair: They’re simply saying “’I want you’ to accept, Mr. Dylan. ‘All I really want to do’ is award you the prize. We’ve ‘got to serve somebody’ with it.” Mr. Dylan may reply, “’If not for you’, I wouldn’t be in this situation!”

I can understand if the announcement put Mr. Dylan in a “melancholy mood.” The news swept through the internet like a “hurricane.” From some of the reactions I read from novelists, I worried the “man in the long black coat” would have him “knocking on Heaven’s door” soon. I don’t blame him for seeking “shelter from the storm” the media frenzy caused.

This year’s selection of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize in Literature shows just how much “the times they are ‘a changin’.”As for me, I’m “pledging my time” to encouraging Mr. Dylan to accept this award. I don’t want him to look back on this and think “I threw it all away.” “One of us must know sooner or later” whether he will or not. But he earned it, so it’s his decision. I’d tell him that if he opts to turn it down: “Don’t think twice. It’s alright.”

 

Civil Rights in the Toilet

In his apotheosis of the American experience, historian Daniel Boorstin marveled at how our nation “democratized the bathroom.” On March 23rd of this year the state of North Carolina took a different tact. The General Assembly passed the so-called Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. Governor Pat McCrory subsequently signed it into law. Ironically, a measure designed to foster “security” has germinated much insecurity in the Tar Heel state due to the controversy it engendered.

It seems odd to compare this statute to the Emancipation Proclamation, but it does share an unusual similarity. It’s one of the most discussed, but little read documents in American history. To clarify its content: it codified that in all public buildings in North Carolina a person is required to use the bathroom of his/her “biological sex.” The statute defined this gender as the one “stated on a person’s birth certificate.” An individual who violates the law is not subject to arrest, however. It is a civil act, not a criminal one.

This makes the outcry against the law seem disproportionate. In civil rights terms, it’s certainly no Dred Scott decision. It doesn’t impact people on the scale of the Boston bussing desegregation ruling of 1974. When one explores the matter more fully it does lead to some troubling observations.

The law’s reference to “public buildings” applies to schools. It seems to me this is where the main impact of this ruling will fall. Transgender teens who’ve been living openly as one gender will now be forced to use the same locker rooms and rest rooms as the gender on his/her birth certificate. One has to irreverently salute the North Carolina General Assembly for this one. They found a way to make the most awkward years of a transgendered person’s life even more uncomfortable. That’s not something any legislative body could accomplish.

A number of entertainers have expressed their disdain for this law by cancelling gigs in the state. Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Star have refused to play there. Bryan Adams won’t appear in Mississippi because of a similar law passed in that state. Jimmy Buffett has agreed to perform in North Carolina, at least for now. He acknowledged future shows will be contingent on “whether that stupid law is repealed.”

What I find most interesting about this list of luminaries is that only two of them are American; and of them, one is currently going to perform there. This doesn’t surprise me. As a society Americans’ commitment to civil rights has been, well, an abomination.

Many no doubt remember from high school history class the so-called “Wormley Bargain” that ended Reconstruction. After a contested election, Democrats and Republicans struck a deal. The GOP ended up with the Presidency and the Democrats got the end of military rule in the South. The Federal Government would no longer enforce civil rights laws. This resulted in nearly a century of lynching, segregation and peonage.

It took the activist nature of the Warren Court to begin reversing this situation. Let us not forget that the decision in Brown v Board of Ed was not well received in 1954. Even the President said he wished they hadn’t ruled in that way. (Eisenhower thought the South would close their public school systems. He suspected they’d have churches set up their own private educational institutions.)

Three years later Senate Majority Lyndon Johnson utilized a great deal of political wizardry to get the first piece of civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction. Even contemporaries knew that as a symbolic measure, the 1957 Voting Rights Act lacked substance. The 15th Amendment already guaranteed all men the right to vote in 1870.

Then there’s the apathetic attitude most Americans take towards the shambolic “War on Drugs”. It’s led to the abnegation our Constitutional rights, especially the Fourth Amendment. These days almost any person who wants a job is subject to drug testing. It ensures that any individual suffering from addiction will be unable to secure legitimate employment. This limits their options to either working in the shadow economy or living on the street. Thinking of this minority, I recall Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”

I recently spoke with an acquaintance regarding civil rights. This person doesn’t have any particular interest in the subject. I said, “It’s interesting that today people look back at the civil rights movement, shake their heads and say, ‘I can’t imagine living in a world where people discriminated against others because of someone’s race, creed, color or gender. That’s just stupid.’” I went on to say, “Today the new civil rights frontier involves lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender issues. That makes the same people feel uncomfortable about the LGBT community having the same rights as the rest of us.” My interlocutor looked at me and smiled. “They’re still human,” he said.

I’ve made many negative observations regarding America’s civil rights history. I’m going to conclude with a positive one. Many people don’t realize that the most lucrative industry this nation ever produced was slaveholding. This country chose to abolish slavery not for cynical selfish reasons. We ended this abhorrent practice because it was right. Let’s draw on that example and show our support for our friends in the transgender community. We must facilitate their securing democracy in the bathroom. It’s the right thing to do.

 

Punishment Aborted

This week Donald Trump guaranteed his place among great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, FDR and Ronald Reagan. Drawing on the tradition of great American oratory, he expressed a vision for our nation which brought together two divergent groups that had never been able to agree on anything. His eloquence unified both the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, opposition to him served as the fillip for this unlikely coalition. It began when Chris Matthews asked the ubiquitous hypothetical question nearly every American politician receives. Whether running for Dog Catcher or President of the United States there’s a good chance someone will ask, “Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade what should happen to women who have abortions?” The presumptive GOP nominee said that she should face some kind of “punishment.” Outrage followed.

While indignation has tended to become the normal response to Trump’s observations, this one was different. A candidate, who’s avowedly pro-life at least for this week, became the target of scorn and derision for expressing his support of that position. Why? Mr. Trump’s critics have said his response showed that he didn’t understand the pro-life movement. They pointed to the fact that prior to Roe v Wade American abortion laws targeted the abortionist: not the “mother”.

This is where the defenders of the “sanctity of life” lose me. Is referring to someone who is voluntarily terminating a pregnancy as the “mother” really the right word to use? Those on the pro-life side ardently emphasize their commitment to “protecting the lives of the unborn”. If the fetus is “alive” that would mean abortion truly is “murder”, as they claim. If the person having the procedure is the “mother”—their word–, doesn’t that make her guilty of homicide? Based on that logic, if they’re really serious about this, why don’t they want some form of “punishment” for the woman? I find this inconsistent.

This advocacy of “punishment” for victimized women has an ignominious history on the hustings. When Clayton Williams ran for Governor of Texas against Ann Richards in 1990, he drew ire by comparing the crime of rape to the weather. “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it,” he said. (1) During the 2012 Indiana Senate race, Richard Mourdoch generated criticism for his thoughts on abortion. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something God intended to happen.” (2) It’s hard to imagine being victimized through such a dehumanizing assault on one’s dignity. It’s more unconscionable to imagine forcing someone against her will to carry her assailant’s child. It’s unthinkable to tell this same woman that God wanted her to get raped.

While the media pounced on Mr. Mourdoch’s comments during the election cycle, I found his views consistent with the position of pro-lifers I’ve known personally. During my thirteen years as a Catholic school student the abortion issue came up numerous times. I recall the question of whether abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy jeopardized the life of the mother receiving the glib response that “all life is sacred”. On the latter point, I found it intriguing that the Church opposed the death penalty for murderers, yet believed a woman deserved to die for wanting to bring life into this world. I solved my share of geometric proofs in school. They didn’t teach me the reasoning skills to rationalize this concept.

As a precocious youngster I remember asking my seventh grade religion teacher why the emphasis on making abortion illegal. “Won’t people have them, anyway?” I asked. The nun chuckled and said, “Well, there are people who only do things because they’re legal.” What a trenchant observation. That would explain why Prohibition ended alcohol consumption before policymakers abandoned it as a complete failure. It would explain how the “Drug War” through draconian methods such as eliminating privacy, negating the Fourth Amendment and the enforcement of “mandatory sentencing” ended illegal drug use. It would also explain why abortions never occurred in this country until January of 1973 when the word first entered the American lexicon.

These kinds of discussions aren’t constructive. They reduce the excruciating decision to end a pregnancy to a joke. Let us never forget that abortion is a serious matter which affects the lives of all involved. America has too many serious political and economic issues right now for every election to get bogged down over specious arguments regarding abortion. The subject warrants a serious national dialog. Both sides placing more emphasis on education would help. (The ad campaign regarding “Meth Mouth” has undoubtedly deterred more potential drug users than the threat of jail time.) Criminalization guarantees our nation’s return to the era of back alley abortion clinics and unsafe medical procedures. As uninformed as Mr. Trump’s comment was, it showed at least some common ground exists between both the pro-life and the pro-choice camps. Let’s work together to keep abortion rare, safe and legal: not make it a punishable offense.

 

(1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clayton_Williams Retrieved 4/2/16)

(2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Mourdock#2012_U.S._Senate_election Retrieved 4/2/16)

 

Judge Not

“The saddest part of his death is that he can’t die again.” “He was a monster.” “I hope he burns in Hell.” And just who was the target of these acrimonious obituaries? If you guessed Osama bin Laden you would be incorrect. Do you think these comments were aimed at Saddam Hussein? You would be wrong again. How about Kim Jong-Il? Once more, you would be mistaken. These comments I read on-line over the weekend were targeted at, of all things, a federal judge.

Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Antonin Scalia passed away this February 13th. In addition to spawning conspiracy theories and speculation over who will replace him on the high court, his death ignited a firestorm that proceeded to immolate his character and burn his legacy in effigy. That seems a disproportionately harsh response for one of nine judges on the Supreme Court of the United States.

On a personal level, even “Nino’s” colleagues on the opposite side of the political spectrum respected him. He introduced Associate Justice Elena Kagan to his favorite past time: hunting. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, called him a “treasured friend.” She could’ve stopped there. Instead, Justice Ginsburg went on to say, “We were best buddies.”

Why then did his passing unleash such vitriol from his critics? Justice Scalia took a “textualist” approach to interpreting the law. He approached the Constitution as an “originalist”; meaning that that judges should interpret it “as written”. He scorned the view of it as a “living document” that could be adapted to modern times and sensibilities. Based on this philosophy, Justice Scalia did not view the law as a means to advance socially progressive policies. This, apparently, made him a “monster.”

Benjamin Cardozo, himself an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from1932 until 1938, took the opposite view of a judge’s role. I’m paraphrasing, but Justice Cardozo wrote that a judge should take into account the impact his decision would have on society. While I’m sure most people would agree with that, they should understand there’s a caveat. That’s a great approach to the law, but only IF WE AGREE WITH THE JUDGE’S RULING. I’m sure no one stripped of his/her home in an eminent domain case would agree that the court did the right thing in the interest of bettering society.

Ironically, while not known as a civil rights crusader, I always cite Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion on the National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab case (1989) as one of the best commentaries on the subject ever written. For those unfamiliar with the case, it’s the one that led to mandatory work place drug testing in the US; the only major industrialized nation that engages in this practice. The dissent belongs in the same category of great American orations such as “The Gettysburg Address”.

There is irony in the Government’s citation, in support of its position, of Justice Brandeis’ statement in Olmstead v. United States,277 U. S. 438, 277 U. S. 485 (1928) that “[f]or good or for ill, [our Government] teaches the whole people by its example.” Brief for Respondent 36. Brandeis was there dissenting from the Court’s admission of evidence obtained through an unlawful Government wiretap. He was not praising the Government’s example of vigor and enthusiasm in combatting crime, but condemning its example that “the end justifies the means,” 277 U.S. at 277 U. S. 485. An even more apt quotation from that famous Brandeis dissent would have been the following:

“[I]t is . . . immaterial that the intrusion was in aid of law enforcement. Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning, but without understanding.”

Id. at 277 U. S. 479. Those who lose because of the lack of understanding that begot the present exercise in symbolism are not just the Customs Service employees, whose dignity is thus offended, but all of us — who suffer a coarsening of our national manners that ultimately give the Fourth Amendment its content, and who become subject to the administration of federal officials whose respect for our privacy can hardly be greater than the small respect they have been taught to have for their own.

(Retrieved from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/489/656/case.html#679 3/21/15.)

A judge is not an elected official. (S)he is not accountable to an electorate or the American people. Political and social changes should emanate from the will of society carried out by elected representatives accountable to the people they serve. As Justice Scalia himself observed,

Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

            His critics could use his judicial career as evidence of just how right he was.

 

Wedding Reception

A sense of satisfaction overwhelms me when a government employee goes to jail for failing to execute her tax payer entrusted duties. That’s under normal circumstances. The recent events in Rowan County Kentucky were anything but normal. For the first and probably only time, I didn’t experience that gratification. Like many, I felt a deep sense of revulsion over Kim Davis’ decision to serve as a law answerable only to her. My contempt for those who supported her exceeded even that. To hear individuals cast her in the role of a Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Supreme Court’s Bull Connor makes a mockery of the Civil Rights Movement.

Those in opposition to freedom of marriage couldn’t have selected a more unlikely champion of its sanctity. Ms. Davis is, after all, on her fourth…so far.

A few weeks ago she decided to switch political parties after 32 years. Her most recent political campaign for Rowan County Clerk took place less than a year ago. This behavior raises questions as to just how committed she’ll remain to her current principles.

I’ve always been intrigued by those who argue that gay marriage will “change the traditional view of marriage.” The so called “tradition” has been rather fluid throughout history. In their delusional antediluvian “Leave It to Beaver” view of America some lose sight of that. They also selectively forget that the “traditionalism” of the 1950s metamorphosed into the counter-culture of the 1960s in less than a generation. Why then did a time so idyllic, become so turbulent so quickly?

For centuries procreation served as marriage’s exclusive purpose. Until the advent of the Industrial Age, people inhabited agrarian societies. Children provided a much needed labor force for working the fields from dusk until dawn. For those select fortunate enough not to perform manual labor, the institution served as a means of political union between powerful families. The concept of a marriage based on love is a very modern phenomenon. If anything, gay marriage is a logical outcome of this contemporary development.

I’ve often observed, “Until homosexuals have the right to be as miserable as we heterosexuals, there can be no equality between us.” I do have to add one addendum, though. When I’m on my honeymoon with the woman of my dreams: knowing that gay couples can achieve the same level of happiness and fulfillment in their lives won’t diminish my enjoyment in any way.

But this isn’t about marriage or who should have the right to partake in it. Myriad legal scholars have opined on the speciousness of Ms. Davis’ actions. In her role as Rowan County Clerk, her job is to certify that those filing for a marriage license have fulfilled the statutory requirements established by the State of Kentucky to receive one.

I would challenge anyone who asserts that an elected official is entitled to not execute her responsibilities because she either doesn’t agree with the law or like it. If one believes that, one must also respect the views of those clerks who refuse to provide a dog license because they loathe Poodles. Would one agree that the DMV can refuse to grant a driver’s license to those with foreign cars?

If any elected official feels that the statutes she’s elected to uphold violate her principles, she should work within the system to get them changed. Should that not be possible, the only honorable option remaining is to resign. Ours is a nation of laws, not opinions.

We’re all familiar with landmark events of the Civil Rights Movement such as the March on Selma, the “I Have a Dream” speech, and school desegregation. A number of years ago I read Gene Roberts’ and Hank Kilbanoff’s Pulitzer Prize winning history The Race Beat. The book focused on Southern reporters and the perils they faced in writing about the Civil Rights Movement. Had it not been for them getting the story out, the events I cited wouldn’t have had the same impact. It gave me a whole new appreciation for all of those who participated.  Those people were true American heroes.

Alas, Ms. Davis is no hero. That won’t stop some from depicting her as such. For those who insist on doing so, I have a suggestion. Why not place effigies of her where they will do the most good? How about placing her likeness with monuments dedicated to other paragons of principle from America’s past? Some appropriate locations that come to mind would be next to those images of Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest or the carving at Stone Mountain.

The Stuff of Legends

Yesterday Jeb Bush followed the family tradition of crass and fatuous oratory that made his surname legendary. If that was the former governor’s goal: “Mission Accomplished.” I wouldn’t have thought it possible to out-do Shakespearean eloquence such as “Trees cause more pollution than cars do” and “Smoke evildoers out of their holes”; Bush fils part deux set a new standard. When asked for his thoughts on the rampage at Roseburg our prospective forty-fifth president replied, “Stuff happens.” As insensitive and tactless as the latest heir to the Bush legacy spoke, the ultimate tragedy lay in his veracity: at least in reference to mass murder in America.

Josef Stalin, himself no stranger to the concept, once observed, “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic.” It saddens me such unmotivated acts of violence occur with such frequency in our society. While the Umpqua Community College shooter’s father may express “shock” at this latest massacre, in the last day I’ve read tweets from PBS and the Associated Press stating that our country averages one mass shooting per day. I fear our society is becoming desensitized to it.

But why would we? After all, the media will saturate us with “coverage” of this latest “tragedy”. They’ll present myriad “special reports” on the killer. They’ll probe his friends and family with, “How could this happen?” They’ll ask “Why? Why? Why?” We’ll get incisive analysis of how he “was a quiet boy; a good boy; a troubled boy.” This will go on until he becomes as much a household name as John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.

This “coverage” will, no doubt, feed the salacious appetites of “tragedy porn” addicts. We’ll receive up-to-the-minute body counts presented as enthusiastically as the score of a Baseball Playoff game. As appalling as that may be, I fear something much more horrible. I worry this unwarranted attention will only encourage the next “quiet, good, troubled boy” seeking his fifteen minutes of infamy.

This latest massacre brought to mind Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin. It’s an epistolary novel about a woman’s quest to understand why her son executed several of his classmates. The author thoroughly researched the subject. She cited numerous names in reference to school massacres. Some I recognized; others I didn’t. As a work of fiction, I presumed them the product of the author’s imagination. Due to the volume of appellations at the halfway point in the book, I wondered and investigated on-line. It astonished me to discover that this sort of tragedy had been occurring regularly in the US since the 1970s.

Every culture has its share of violence. We Americans have a legendary brand of it. The late former FBI Agent Robert Ressler pioneered the study of serial killers. He observed that most reside in the United States. When asked why, he answered, “We live in a society that encourages and glorifies violence.”

The media sensationalizing of this crime will further ignite the passions in the gun control debate. Based on Mr. Ressler’s view, I’m wondering if limiting access to firearms would have any effect on violent crime. While fictitious, the killer in Shriver’s novel didn’t use a gun.

While I disagree with the way the former Florida governor expressed himself, I’m disturbed more by how I agree with his underlying premise. This is a national disgrace and an embarrassment to our great country.

My thoughts and condolences go out to the friends and family of those affected by this latest act of senseless carnage. I’ve lost friends and family over the years. I can’t imagine the pain of losing someone I love to such a meaningless violent act. All of those affected have my deepest sympathy.

The rest of us can take solace. We’ll forget all about this tragedy with the advent of the next one. Based on the numbers, we won’t have long to wait. The media will scamper from the Pacific Northwest and descend upon the next campus asking the ubiquitous “Why? Why? Why?” After the standard, “He was a quiet boy; a good boy; a troubled boy”, we’ll be treated to a new stock response: “Stuff happens.”

Flagged

Today South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capital. As the Palmetto State’s secession from the Union marked the advent of the Civil War this is truly an historic occasion.

The controversy involving what the flag represents is well documented. There’s no reason to recount it here. Personally, I’ve had another issue with its use by governments in what was once the Confederacy. I’ve never understood why states that opted to return to the United States, still desired to fly the flag of a nation that went out of existence.

An acquaintance of mine who once lived in South Carolina explained to me: “The flag is a symbol of their heritage.” While the South is merely a section of the country, it has a legacy many nations could envy.

I’ve traveled through the South a number of times. In fact, I’ve been to every state except two that comprised the former Confederacy. I’ve often commented on the exceptional warmth and hospitality I’ve received from Southerners.

Our country has a great political tradition, thanks to the South. A Southerner penned our “Declaration of Independence”. Four of our first five presidents were Southerners. Three of the last six presidents of the United States hailed from the South. Historian Richard Hofstadter (a Northerner) once called South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, “probably the last American statesman to do any primary political thinking.”

With the greatest of respect to New Yorkers, the South has been the wellspring of great American culture. It’s rare to listen to a song on the radio where one can’t hear elements of the Delta Blues. The original American art form known as Jazz evolved in the “Big Easy”. There’s no doubt that our literary tradition would’ve been much poorer without the contributions of Mississippian William Faulkner.

The South is justified in being proud of its heritage; by extension, all Americans should be proud of our shared heritage.

I just wonder if flying the flag of a foreign nation at government buildings is the proper way to display that pride. For instance, the South West portion of the United States was once part of Mexico. Would all Americans be as understanding if states such as Arizona, New Mexico and California decided to fly the Mexican flag on government grounds? What if Louisiana opted to hang the French flag from the state capitol? Since the entire Eastern Seaboard was once part of the United Kingdom, would people respond favorably to adding the Union Jack to the flags of the original 13 colonies? I have to admit, the latter would make 4th of July celebrations much more interesting.

We’re Americans. Our nation is comprised of States. The only flags that belong on government land are those that represent the Federal Government, the State Government or those that support the troops. Individuals wanting to display symbols of pride have the freedom to do so on their own property and possessions. That’s what freedom of speech allows us all the opportunity to do. What could be controversial about that?

In Support of Freedom

On June 6, 1944 the combined forces of the United States, Great Britain and Canada stormed the Normandy beaches of France. The object of this endeavor wasn’t simply to defeat Nazi Germany, but to defend the very concept of freedom itself. We owe the combined air, sea and land forces of the Allied forces an immense debt of gratitude for what they did for us that day.

American historian Daniel Walker Howe once wrote, “When looking back at the past, things have an air of inevitability about them.” To put it generously, victory on D-Day was uncertain at best. Landing craft faced stormy seas crossing the English Channel. The logistics of coordinating an invasion this complex without the benefit of computers or satellite technology astonishes the modern mind. Upon reaching the European mainland forces then had to contend with Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ defenses. General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, even drafted a statement taking personal responsibility for the Allied defeat.

The fact that I have the freedom to write this and you have the freedom to read it shows that D-Day succeeded.

While drinking my morning coffee I reflected on this pivotal point in human history. I recalled the many afternoons I spent with my grandfather, Jack McKeon. He served in the 79th Infantry Division during the Second World War. Among the liberating forces, his unit was the second of what would become Lieutenant-General George Patton’s Third Army. While the “Cross of Lorraine” division didn’t take part in the initial landings, it did deploy in France on 12 June.

Several years ago on 6 June I told my grandfather’s story to a navy veteran with whom I work. Since my grandfather didn’t enter the fight on D-Day the man joked, “He had it easy!” Mr. McKeon and his two Purple Hearts would’ve disagreed.

While remembering my grandfather’s war stories I thought it sad so few WWII vets remain. I felt how nice it would be to thank one for his/her service on the 71st anniversary of D-Day. Just then an elderly African-American gentleman entered the café. The man wore a baseball cap with the words WWII Veteran embroidered on the front.

I thanked him for his service. He kindly smiled and shook my hand. “If it wasn’t for the support of people like you, we wouldn’t have made it,” he said.

I speak with a lot of veterans. They’re always very appreciative of the recognition, but this man’s comments really surprised me. I recall my grandfather telling me about the racism in the military during the 1940’s. All Americans know the social climate that existed here prior to the Civil Rights movement. It made me contemplate what kind of homecoming this veteran received upon returning from the war.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to thank a World War II veteran today. If you don’t happen to encounter someone who served in that conflict, there are plenty of veterans around. When you see one, please let them know how much you appreciate their service to our country.

Let us never forget: without the support of people like them on 6 June 1944, our freedom wouldn’t have made it.

Political Commentary – March 21: Unhappy Anniversary

This March 21st marks the saddest anniversary in the history of the American experience. On this date in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that the protections guaranteed all Americans in the Constitution don’t apply to us. The Court handed down its infamous opinion in the National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab case. This ruling served as the catalyst for mandatory drug testing.

I’ve always been intrigued by this decision. We Americans pride ourselves on our “exceptionalism.” As President Ronald Reagan, the pioneer of governmental work place drug testing, once opined: America stood as a “shining city on a hill.” When I hear stories about people being forced to urinate on demand in front of others, doctors and HR professionals serving as unlicensed agents of law enforcement, and Americans being forced to prove their innocence without the aid of an attorney I have my doubts. In the latter case, it’s especially egregious that people are threatened with loss of their livelihoods if they attempt to assert their Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures” WITHOUT EVEN BEING ACCUSED OF A CRIME.

The fact the Supreme Court expressed this sudden abnegation of the concept of privacy befuddles me. In 1973 it ruled that a woman had a solemn right to privacy if she desired an abortion. Sixteen years later it issued another decision stating people lack a right to privacy if they would like a job. I don’t understand the reasoning here, but, then again, I’m not an attorney.

This decision allowed for a new series of disturbing tactics America’s so-called “war on drugs”. I recall reading Primo Levy’s account how guards would force concentration camp inmates to urinate in front of them. In German society at the time, doctors worked as agents of the State to eliminate undesirables. While Americans love our “Happy Hours” we hold a special distain for drug addicts; at least the ones not working in the entertainment industry or playing professional sports. I’m not placing drug testing on par with the Holocaust, but the eerie parallels are difficult to discount.

It’s even harder to ignore Americans’ cavalier attitude towards this erosion of Constitutional protection. Many people argue that drug testing makes society “safer.” I reply that the two most horrible expressions in the English language are “consumer protection” and “public safety”. They can be used to justify anything. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “He who would sacrifice liberty for security deserves neither.”

I always cite Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion as one of the best commentaries on civil rights. It belongs in the same category of great American orations such as “The Gettysburg Address”.

There is irony in the Government’s citation, in support of its position, of Justice Brandeis’ statement in Olmstead v. United States,277 U. S. 438, 277 U. S. 485 (1928) that “[f]or good or for ill, [our Government] teaches the whole people by its example.” Brief for Respondent 36. Brandeis was there dissenting from the Court’s admission of evidence obtained through an unlawful Government wiretap. He was not praising the Government’s example of vigor and enthusiasm in combatting crime, but condemning its example that “the end justifies the means,” 277 U.S. at 277 U. S. 485. An even more apt quotation from that famous Brandeis dissent would have been the following:

“[I]t is . . . immaterial that the intrusion was in aid of law enforcement. Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning, but without understanding.”

Id. at 277 U. S. 479. Those who lose because of the lack of understanding that begot the present exercise in symbolism are not just the Customs Service employees, whose dignity is thus offended, but all of us — who suffer a coarsening of our national manners that ultimately give the Fourth Amendment its content, and who become subject to the administration of federal officials whose respect for our privacy can hardly be greater than the small respect they have been taught to have for their own.

(Retrieved from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/489/656/case.html#679 3/21/15.)

In his “Farewell Address” George Washington warned that America “should not go abroad in search of monsters to fight.” Recently we engaged in an effort at nation building for a society that hadn’t had “freedom”, “liberty” or “democracy” in over 6,000 years. Instead of trying to turn the Middle East into the paragon of Jeffersonian Democracy, we should focus on assuring our own liberty here at home.