The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

MOTHER, MAY I?

Virtually every American city which has what we euphemistically call an “inner city,” (translation being an area of urban blight and poverty, overcrowding, under-education and where single parent families are the norm), has one thing that provides some constancy.  That is that “progressives” (translation Democrats) have been in control for the better part of half a century or longer and have created the perfect conditions for all of this human tragedy.  While I can’t personally speak to the conditions throughout the country, after thirty-six years of living in Chicago I do feel qualified to address the disaster that city has become.

Moving from Manhattan at age seventeen was not only a nine hundred mile geographical relocation.  I felt as though I had moved back in time by a century.  Truly, I had the sense that I was now living in the Wild West – with all the disadvantages that entailed and few of the benefits of modern 1960’s society.  Perhaps those feelings came from snobbery.  But as involved as I was with classical music, I was shocked that the classical radio station WFMT went off the air at 10:00 p.m., the Chicago Symphony at that time was a mediocre ensemble and Chicago’s “opera scene” was only ten years old.

To usurp a Robert Heinlein title, I felt as though I were A Stranger in a Strange Land.

Well, I adapted.  I found a local store that sold used vinyl and the broadcast void was filled with recordings of all the masters, bought on the cheap.  I became used to the fact that in Chicago you couldn’t buy meat in the grocery stores after six in the evening, even though it was sitting there pre-cut in the display case.  (This was a concession to the butcher’s union).  And I later became aware that on “Days when members of the Illinois General Assembly were being elected, it was illegal to buy a drink at a bar or buy a bottle of liquor in a liquor store during the hours that the polls were open.”  As I was under the legal age to buy liquor at any time and didn’t drink it, I found that law amusing – because as I later came to view the Chicago political process, it seemed to me that the only conditions under which one would voluntarily vote for the hacks who held office for decades was if the voter were completely inebriated at the time of casting his ballot.

I’m not sure how my thirty-six year long experience with crime compared to that of other Chicago residents.  One mugging; one near mugging (rescued by my Irish Setter); one car stolen (twice in six months – the second time permanently); one car vandalized twelve times in sixteen months so the thieves could steal the Blaupunkt radios.  As I said, I don’t know how that experience compared to that of your average Chicagoan.  Nor was any of this the basis for my reason to move to Nevada.

It occurred to me that I was paying the State of Illiniois three percent of my income (now four and one half per cent) for the privilige of residing in the state.  Notwithstanding all the monies that Illinois extracted from its citizens, the state’s budget was completely out of balance, has only gotten worse and Illinois now finds itself right behind Puerto Rico in terms of defaulting on its obligations.  But that was not the motivating reason for moving.  The City of Chicago was.

I had been giving some thought to relocating and felt that I needed a change.  As most of us, myself included, fear change, after thirty-six years this was a big decision.  But what decided me was looking at the City of Chicago’s budget for the year 2001.  Included in that budget was a line item for five million dollars.  The expenditure was for something called an anti-graffitti campaign – to purchase equipment and pay for the manpower to remove the graffitti the city expected would be applied to public buildings in the following year.

Consider the thinking behind this one item.  Rather than attack the problem at its source, apprehending people who applied graffitti, the city’s solution was to tolerate the application of paint to its buildings and then return the buildings to their original appearance – at the taxpayer’s expense.  This “solution” is so typical of government’s approach to problem solving at all levels.  And it is infuriating.

It is akin to a man walking into the Emergency Room of a hospital with a gun shot wound, the bullet still embeded in his abdomen.  The attending physician, rather than removing the bullet, gives the man a narcotic based pain killer to remedy his discomfot.  If that were to happen, you can bet that the hospital and doctor would be served papers as the defendants in a medical malpractice law suit.

Many who self-apply the misnomer, “progressives” to their political philosophy view government intervention as the first step toward creating a paradise on earth.  But with the sort of thinking that treats symptoms rather than addressing the underlying problems, what they and their political minions do is ignore problems to the point that they fester – perhaps beyond repair.  And that is precisely what has happened in Chicago and other major cities.

This being the Memorial Day weekend, Chicago started off last Friday with several murders to give us more people to memorialize.  The first death was a fifteen year old girl and was what inspired this post.

Veronica Lopez’ was the first of four murders last Friday in the Windy City.  She was in a car on Lake Shore Drive and at 1:30 a.m. was gunned down when a car pulled up to the vehicle in which she was riding.  Her car was being driven by an unidentified 28 year old male, the presumed target of the attack.  Veronica was apparently an unintended victim of what the police believe is a gang related shooting.

Those who believe in the efficacy of “nanny government” should be inspired by how effective this form of overseeing our citizenry proved to be in this case.  You see, Chicago, like many other cities passed curfew laws regulating when juveniles might be out on the city’s streets when they are not accompanied by a legal guardian.  In Chicago’s case, all juveniles under the age of eighteen are prohibited from being out after 11:00 p.m. on weeknights.  That law has been on the books for over seventy years.

Veronica Lopez’ death would have been avoided if she merely had obeyed the law.  Her mother, Diana Mercado was understandably distraught at learning of her daughter’s death.  “They took my baby,”  she said.

Well, fifteen year olds don’t always exhibit the best judgment.  But sometimes parents don’t either – as in this case.  Ms. Mercado should ask herself, particularly if she has other children at home, if she is enforcing the sort of discipline that a parent has the right to command of her offspring.

Why did she allow her daughter to violate the curfew law?  Even more to the point in these days when acts of predatory rape are as common as grains of sand on the beach, why did she allow her daughter to hang out with and go driving with a twenty-eight year old male?

As a kid, I used to resent what I viewed as my parents’ over-protectiveness.  If a friend invited me to a party at their apartment, my parents wanted the phone number where I could be reached.  And while I could walk there by myself if it were light out, my father would pick me up if it was dark when the party ended.  This was back in the fifties when it was considerably safer for children than it is today.

But the important thing was that my parents strictly regulated what I could do.  I don’t remember going out more than a few times during my time in grammar and high school years on a school night – and then only after I had completed my homework.

The usual response I received as I requested to go out and asked, “Mother, may I?” was “No.”  I wonder if more parents today exercised their authority, laid down rules for their kids and enforced discipline for infractions of those rules, how many more fifteen year olds might be alive in Chicago – and elsewhere.

THREE LITTLE WORDS

Unless you’ve undergone a lobotomy, you certainly are aware that our world is a roil with dissension, violence, anger and aggressive behavior.  It is easy to sit back, view the day’s events and sigh, “Ah, for the good old days.”

Of course, the way we define the “good old days” is probably dependent on how old we are.  For those of us who are over fifty we might think back to those far more halcyon days of our childhood and early adulthood.  If  you’re younger than that, you might think of those good old days as the time just preceding the last iPhone release.

Back in my “good old days” I remember a particular neighbor by the name of Mamie Howlett.  She was a widow who lived in apartment 9B – just next door to our apartment.  From my perspective as an eight year old, she had an exceptionally red face which I learned was a function of the makeup she wore.  I never met her husband but I did know of one of her relatives – a nephew by the name of Mike Wallace.  (For those of you who are still unaware that history began prior to George W.’s presidency, Mr. Douglas was a very well respected television news commentator).

For whatever reason, Mrs. Howlett had a special fondness for me.  My family used to invite her to join us for dinner every so often.  I think as I consider this in retrospect, that was because she was alone and my family felt sorry for that emptiness.  (My folks regularly invited orphans of any age to join us for dinner.  They just felt that was the right thing to do).

Mrs. Howlett asked me to join her for lunch in her apartment once every other month or so.  It was always on a Saturday – and she always cooked the same thing – Chinese.  Well, it was about as Americanized a version of Chinese as could be procured.  Lunch always consisted of a heated up meal that came from one of those double cans of Chung King – the kind with the veggies in the larger bottom can and the sauce and meat (normally chicken) in the small top can.  Of course, this concoction was placed atop a layer of crispy fried chow mein noodles.

Well, we continued to invite Mrs. Howlett to dinners and she continued to invite me to bi-monthly Chung King Saturday lunches for about three years.  I had just started the fall school session when I came home one afternoon to be greeted by my grandmother who had a particularly serious look on her face.  She took me aside, put her arms around me and said, “Sweetheart, Mrs. Howlett passed away this morning.  I know you liked her – we all did – and I know she liked you very much.  I’m so sorry.”

I was dumb struck.  I mean, I was aware of this vague thing we called death in a sort of intellectual way.  I knew Columbus had died as had Shakespeare and a lot of famous people about whom I had read in my history books.  But this was the first person I really knew who had died.  Mrs. Holwett’s passing set me back on my heels and caused me to start doing some serious thinking.

The questions I began asking had been posed many times before by many far smarter people than I.  Like so many, I wanted to know, “Where did I come from?”  “Where am I going?”  But to me, the most pressing of the questions I had was, “What should I be doing while I’m here?”  You see the first two of those I realized even at eleven could not be proven – whatever a person’s opinion of the answer.  But that third question … well it was pretty undeniable that we were here and there should be a good answer to that.  Fortunately, my grandmother came to the rescue with at least the suggestion of an answer.

It was several weeks after Mrs. Howlett’s funeral.  After school I came home to the smell of home baked bread.  On the days that Grandma baked bread, she always cut the heel off one end, toasted it and spread it with Land of Lakes sweet cream butter.  She was a simple woman and there was nothing that she found as wonderful as a before dinner snack.  She always accompanied this with a half cup of black cold coffee, left over from the morning’s breakfast meal.

This particular day, she sat down next to me with her bread and coffee as I was about to start my homework and for no reason that was apparent to me asked, “Sweetheart, do you know the three most important words in the English language?”  Because we were a family that expressed emotion quite easily and often, both verbally and physically, I almost immediately replied, “I love you.”

“No,” Grandma said.  Those are the next most important three words.  She picked up the last piece of the bread that was on her plate and as she ate it, a warm glow came over her as she was having what to her was one of life’s greatest delicacies.  She breathed a deep sigh of contentment and then said, “The most important of all are, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.'”  And having imparted that profound bit of knowledge, she got up from the convertible sofa on which she had been sitting and left the room.

I have no idea what moved her to say what she told me that particular day.  But with the dramatic entrance and exit, I realized that her words were important.  So I began thinking about them – particularly since I was already trying to figure out how to conduct myself as I mentioned earlier.  What I took away from this specific conversation was that being polite to others was the starting point for leading a fulfilling life.  I didn’t see how that was going to make me rich or improve my appearance – but I had a great deal of faith in my grandmother and pretty much took her word as gospel – so I tried to use those three words regularly.  In fact, back in my “good old days” a lot of people used them.

A good friend and I have breakfast together at one of the local casinos once or twice a week.  Monday was one of those days.

I parked in the garage and took the elevator down one floor to the casino and restaurant entrance.  The last barrier to entering the property are three sets of heavy glass doors.

I was in front of the one closest to the elevators and began to open the right door when I saw a very tall Chinese woman about ten feet away.  I pulled the door back and stood there holding it wide open until she could walk through.  She saw me holding the door and a big smile came over her face and as she walked through said, “Thank you so very much for your courtesy.”  I responded, “You’re quite welcome.  Enjoy your day.”

As I was about to walk through the door I saw a couple I took to be in their eighties about ten feet from the door.  So I stood back behind the door and held it open until they passed through.  The wife was a bit more nimble than the husband who had some obvious difficulties walking and when she had entered the elevator lobby she turned to me and said, “I don’t know you but I like you.  It’s so refreshing to meet someone nowadays who is courteous to others.  Thank you.  You made my day.”

Well, I have to tell you that I might or might not have “made her day” but receiving that compliment certainly made mine.

There are many organizations that claim to be involved in a movement to rid the world of hatred, prejudice and all else that plagues humanity.  Their methodology seems to be going to the source of these inequities, shouting down people whom they believe espouse them, destroying public property in the name of purging the earth from violence and otherwise acting in ways which are generally uncivil.  I don’t see how this sort of behavior is going to effect positive change.  Perhaps that’s just me.

But since we live in an age where movements are afoot and aplenty, I thought I might throw my hat in the ring and advocate for the creation of yet one more.  I’m going to call it the Three Little Word Fellowship.

This Fellowship doesn’t have a complicated structure or platform.  There are no lengthy by-laws which a member should read before signing on the dotted line – as there is no dotted line.  The Fellowship doesn’t accept donations so there is no need for us to seek IRS charitable status.  And because we have no income, we don’t provide membership decals for your car nor will you be receiving a monthly newsletter.

The Fellowship is open for membership to people irrespective of age, race, religion or lack thereof, or any other self-constructed characterization which identifies a person as someone who is “different”.

Needless to say, since we don’t have a staff, we don’t have a website and as we have none of the above there is no opportunity for members or friends to “like” us.  But the Fellowship isn’t seeking a lot of anonymous “likes”.  We’re hoping to make the world a better place by asking those who choose to join us do one simple thing.

The Fellowship encourages our members to use the three little words, “Please” and “Thank you” every time they have the opportunity and to encourage the enrollment (if we can call it that) of people who appreciate their courtesy of becoming members as well.  It is my firm belief that using courteous words can become an habitual behavior, one that becomes as automatic and natural as breathing.  And that kind words often transform their users into doers of kind deeds.  The church catechesis used to describe “Good Works” as “An outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible Grace.”

Don’t worry.  There are no undercover police checking on how well you are fulfilling your terms of enrollment.  And once you’ve become a member, you can leave the Fellowship if and when you want.  But then, why would you want to?

Granted, we might not change the world which is a pretty big place.  But we can change that part of it which we encounter on a daily basis.  And even if no one comes up to you and says that your courtesy “made their day,” you will know you did the right thing and that inner sense of doing the right thing is worth far more than the praise of  pundits and presidents.

 

John 8:1-7 (KJV)

1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

(Apocryphal addendum)

At this point a rock flew past Jesus’ head and hit the woman squarely in the stomach.

Jesus looked up to see who had cast the rock and said, “Oh, really Mother.”

The question of Mary’s status had been debated by the Doctors of the Church until Pope Pius IX in 1854 issued an encyclical promulgating the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, thus requiring all those in communion with the Roman Catholic Church to accept Mary’s status as a person who was conceived without sin.  Please forgive the somewhat irreverent  conclusion to the well-known story of the woman taken in adultery – but if one accepts Pius’  ex cathedra encyclical, it is theologically sound.

Fortunately for those of us who are not theologians, there has been no debate over the fact that all the rest of us have flaws, are sinful and are redeemed through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (or so we Christians believe).  That would, of course, include candidates for public office – even for president of the United States.

The two presumptive presidential nominees prove daily in the tabloids and other news media, neither of them is a candidate who any reflective person would support with unbridled, unquestioning enthusiasm.  Perhaps the greatest difference between this and previous election cycles is that the turpitude of the candidates seems to have reached a new apex – or, if you will a new nadir.  Notwithstanding, there are mathematically only those two choices and one will emerge as the leader of what is left of the Free World for at least a four year term.  How did this happen?  Because we as a collective people and nation have chosen to ignore the obvious warning signs of a nation in decline and, rather than attempt to rectify the sins of the past, have chosen a path of apathy until the proverbial wolf comes to our own door.  That time has probably now come.

Seldom in my experience have I ever worked for and voted for a presidential candidate with unbridled enthusiasm – though it has happened.  Like most people, the media find it more titillating to expose the flaws of a prospective office holder and that is the information to which we are primarily exposed.  Negative news stories work to increase circulation and viewer ship.  Positive stories, if they appear at all, are buried deep in the recesses of the paper and have no interest to those who believe social media is a reliable source of information – which they aren’t.

So the alternative in most elections is determining who is the lesser of the two evils, holding one’s nose and ruefully casting a vote for the candidate who is qualified by his or her opponents’ even greater concupissance.  This year promises to exemplify that way of determining my vote – except that this is a year on steroids.

“It is indeed difficult to imagine how men who have entirely renounced the habit of managing their own affairs could be successful in choosing those who ought to lead them. It is impossible to believe that a liberal, energetic, and wise government can ever emerge from the ballots of a nation of servants.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville

Whether we like it or not, politics is at the core of each of our lives.  If we vote for someone who brings about rules and regulations that adversely impact our day-to-day existence, vote for a more enlightened opponent who is defeated or, worst of all, choose to pretend that how we are constrained by government is simply not important and choose to try to validate that opinion by not participating in the political process by not voting, there will be consequences.

In the last two presidential elections, most of us conservatives were presented candidates by the Republican party who in only a limited way appeared to champion our core principles.  Yet, most of us sucked it up and voted for them anyway because the alternative, Barack Obama was so odious.  It truly disturbs me that Gov. Mitt Romney, one of the least conservative people within the GOP is now on what I can only take as a personal vendetta to bring down the presumptive nominee in the general election, Donald Trump not only by withholding his support but by trying to find a candidate who would be the sacrificial lamb spear heading the efforts of a third party run, thus assuring Hillary Clinton’s election.

It is at the least ironic that Mr. Romney who withheld his tax returns until Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) got up on the Senate floor, lied and said that “he had information that Romney hadn’t paid a cent in taxes for years” only then put out his own returns and is now squawking so loudly about Trump’s returns .  (Frankly, I think this is a red herring issue – but, of course, the media loves it).  What a hypocrite.  Romney would better serve the Republican party and, more importantly the county, by insisting that the Clinton Foundation explain publicly the changes they made to their returns which, after scrutiny from outside organizations, forced them to amend and refile multiple years.

I’m not sure that Mr. Romney ever heard the old adage about people living in glass houses – but if he missed it, he might consider my version, the title of this piece:

LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN WITHHOLD THE FIRST VOTE

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville

Key to Bernie Sanders’ program of giveaways is his profound (and I suspect sincere) belief that raising the Federal minimum wage to $15 per hour would be a boon to those on the economic low end of the work force.  Clearly, basic common sense suggests that a person who continues in the same position in which she was formerly making $8.25 per hour and has gotten a raise to $15 an hour would be far better off.  Of course, the counter argument is that there will be far fewer workers earning the new wage as businesses find ways to automate jobs which formerly were done by people and reduce the number of personnel in their work force.  If you don’t believe that, check out Wendy’s latest innovations in order-taking via kiosk rather than human attached to an ear piece.

Bernie and the left in their typically magnanimous way, scoff at the argument that raising the cost of labor is going to increase the price of the product which that labor has helped produce.  At the most they are willing to concede that any such price increases “will be minimal”.  Of course, they would far prefer that the owner of the business simply absorb the increased cost, taking the additional cost out of his or her profits – perhaps forgetting that most small business owners have spouses and kids to support.  Someone who owns a flower shop or a nail salon can hardly be described as “raving capitalists.”  And, further to the point of the inconsistency which the left generally spews, Bernie either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that women are the owners of small businesses at twice the rate of men.  So is he conducting his own private war on women?

Thirty or so years ago when America had a segment of industry known as manufacturing, many people held positions which were known as cost accountants.  It was their job to determine how much it cost the company to produce a specific product so the manufacturer could price the product appropriately.  Among the components the cost accountant analyzed were the cost of the raw materials needed to produce the product, the amount of space that this production required within the plant to determine how much of the facility’s overhead should be attributed to the cost of the product and, of course, the cost of the labor provided by the company’s employee or employees who oversaw the actual product production.  Raising or lowering the cost of any of these items resulted in a product which would be produced more or less expensively.

Looking at a cost analysis of any product or service, if you are businesslike and realistic, naturally will lead to the understanding that as wages are a component of the cost of production, changing wages will have a direct impact on the overall cost of that product or service.  In the deep recesses of their minds, Bernie and his fellow socialists must realize that or they would be proposing a minimum wage of $30 or $60 or $100 per hour.  Should those higher numbers ever pass a brain-dead Congress, I assure you there will be an explosion in the robotics industry.  That might be a good thing.

But what is a guaranteed minimum wage, really?  Allow me to offer you my definition:

“The minimum wage is an arbitrary number set by government in an effort to make the enacting lawmakers look good to their constituents with the expectation that in return, they will get them to re-elect the lawmakers who are earning far more than the minimum wage.  It essentially is a subsidy, paid for by the consumer to reward people who have only marginal skills and, in a free market economy would be earning far less than the mandated minimum.”

In other words, it is yet another government subsidy and, since government produces nothing itself, this subsidy is paid for by consumers and taxpayers.

We may all agree that a person who is trying to raise a family by supporting them with a minimum wage job has a difficult task if that is his or her sole source of income.  But is that, in fact, the case?  Probably not, thanks to other subsidies which the government (the taxpayer) provides.  There are food assistance, housing, child care, medical and telephone programs which assist people who either do not have jobs or earn a minimal amount through their own work efforts.  And there is the Earned Income Tax Credit available to an individual either single or married who does receive some but not too much in the way of wages.  Let’s look at the EITC as it is a good example of “government-think.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke, “We all want our friends to do well.  We just don’t want them to do too well.”  That canard stems from a time when there was an American dream of moving to the suburbs and having two cars parked in the garage.  That appears to be the philosophy behind the thinking of the law which brought the EITC to life.

For calendar year 2015, anyone earning at least $1 but less than $53,267 qualifies for the EITC.  The maximum payment available to an individual is $6,242 and for a person with three children is payable when the worker earns $13,850 for the year and continues at that level until the worker makes $23,650 for the year after which it begins to reduce by ten dollars for each additional fifty dollars of earned income.

There is a certain logic and societal benefit for the government to offer an incentive to people to work, a function formerly reserved to parents who offered the ultimate incentive by threatening to throw the kids out of the house so they could stand on their own two feet.  And the logic of gradually reducing the EITC so that there is an incentive to the worker to keep advancing and earning more in wages conforms exactly with the arguments that Milton Friedman made in the past.

Assuming a worker is currently earning $8.25 per hour, to reach the first threshold she would have to work 42 weeks, assuming a 40 hour work week.  If that employee realizes that she is now fully qualified to receive the maximum EITC and decides to take the rest of the year off, her hourly earnings for the 1680 hours she worked would be at a rate of $11.95 per hour when factoring in the money she will receive in a subsidy from the taxpayers.  Strangely, or perhaps not so much so, this is never mentioned when conversations about the minimum wage arise.

Do we need a Federal minimum wage – at whatever the arbitrary rate established by Congress?  Not if we follow the government’s own logic and practice.  You see, the government adjusts the amount an employee makes, depending on where they carry out their activities.  The government recognizes that an employee doing the same job in San Francisco will need to earn more than another employee who is stationed in Biloxi – and customarily integrates these pay adjustments in the salaries of their employees based on where they have been assigned.  What possible logic can there be to impose a static minimum wage on private employers irrespective of their location?

There is one further point that needs to be mentioned.  A person interviewing for a job might well reject an offer for the position either because of the nature of the work or because of the compensation being offered.  No employer holds a gun to the head of the prospective employee, threatening her with physical harm if she doesn’t accept the position.  The basis of contract law is that two willing parties enter into an agreement which specifies the duties and responsibilities each has toward the other.

Did the people who are out picketing for a higher minimum wage not agree to the terms of their employment, including remuneration, before they started working there?  If so, and to use the words of the late Clara Peller of Wendy’s commercial fame, “Where’s the beef?”

As most of us who are political junkies know, the slings and arrows and mud throwing of this election cycle promises to be more intense than an extreme martial arts contest.  So without further adieu and not waiting for the actual participants to start the battle, I thought I would stir the pot and get things off on the right foot.  (Pun intended).

The two participants who appear to have emerged as the presumptive standard bearers of their respective parties, Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump, both have a history of flirting with controversy – and if you haven’t heard all the gory details and the sordid particulars, stay tuned because no doubt you will.

There are those BS (that’s Bernie Sanders) supporters who avowedly would never vote for Hillary.  (Although I never considered voting for the man from Vermont who has lived off the public trough his entire life and never accomplished much of anything during that entire period, I must say that my attitude toward HRC is that water boarding and Chinese fingernail torture couldn’t convince me to cast a ballot on her behalf).

Mr. Trump has a similar problem with the most conservative wing of the Republican Party’s constituents.  From day-to-day it is clear or unclear where he stands on anything other than Making America Great Again – an admirable rallying cry and perhaps even an achievable goal – if we ever were blessed to receive some specifics.  However, we are all now getting used to his mercurial stance on positions and can only hope that he puts together a serious cabinet whose members are practical, businesslike and intelligent – something we’ve been sorely missing for nigh on to eight years.

Yes, I have reservations (is that word allowed in the PC lexicon? – well, who cares) about Mr. Trump.  Many of them.  I have on the other hand none about Ms. Clinton who I believe years ago should have traded in her collection of pants suits for an orange jump suit bearing a number.

I have had several conversations with those who advocate Ms. Clinton’s candidacy.  And while I am happy to delve into the many past (and present) controversies which seem inexorably to circle her, I am always greeted with the same rather haggard argument.  “Well, those things were looked into and no charges were ever brought against her.”

My response to that is simple.

According to FBI statistics, since 1990, 211,000 unsolved murders have occurred in the United States.  By unsolved we mean that no one has been arrested, arraigned, tried and convicted of these crimes.  But the fact that our imperfect justice system and law enforcement agencies have been unable to bring these murderers to task doesn’t mean that there are any fewer people who have been murdered.  It simply means that we have not found and punished their killers. The fact that Ms. Clinton has not been held to account as of yet of any misdeeds hardly means that she is not guilty of misdeeds, anymore than O. J. Simpson was not guilty of the death of his wife and Ronald Goldman despite the verdict of acquittal handed down by his jury.

It would be truly surprising if the media treats both candidates equally, given their unarguable left-wing bent.  Perhaps one indication of that is a theoretical question regarding abortion which was recently posed to Mr. Trump by Chris Matthews.  The question hypothesized that Roe v. Wade was overturned by a future Supreme Court decision and a pregnant woman decided to abort her unborn child, despite the fact that doing so was now illegal.  Should she be punished for disobeying the law?

Mr. Trump flailed a bit before responding (and then retracted his answer the next day), but if I were him would have responded as follows:

“You know, Chris, the important question is not about some future event which might or might not happen.  We had a situation that happened recently – a situation that was fact – not possibility – the murder of fourteen innocent people by two Radical Islamic Terrorists in San Bernardino, CA – and whether Hillary Clinton was responsible for this tragedy.  Let me explain.”

“According to FBI Director James Comey, there are open cases in every one of the fifty states – investigations of people who have ties to Islamic Extremism .  Now as we’re all aware, the FBI has been investigating then Secretary of State Clinton’s improper use of a personal, unsecured server exclusively to conduct official government business.  Notwithstanding her protestations that no information ‘either sent or received’ was ‘marked classified’ at the time of its being sent or received, there are at least sixteen separate Federal laws which she might have violated – which are not dependent on those documents being marked with the classified designation.”

“In order to get to the bottom of this mess, brought about for no reason other than Ms. Clinton’s decision to ignore State Department protocol, the FBI has assigned 147 of its agents to the investigation.  So what if, instead of diverting all these individuals from other duties, which might have included monitoring the activities of the San Bernardino murderers, these agents were doing far more important things – like insuring the safety of the American people?  Should we hypothetically hold Ms. Clinton responsible for those untimely and unfortunate deaths?”

“But, of course, that is just hypothetical.  What is absolutely certain is that because Ms. Clinton chose to maintain a private, illegal server, a choice she admits was a bad one, should we, at the least, send her a bill for the salaries of those 147 agents who would have been doing more important things but for her ill-conceived decision?  By my count, that would come to a bill in excess of $10 million.  Perhaps Hillary and Billary could simply call some of their foreign Clinton Foundation donors and explain they are having a tag day to cover this obligation.”

I would have loved to have seen the look on Chris Matthews’ face if Donald Trump had responded in that manner.

Perhaps I have a future as an advisor to him and his campaign.

“I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville

There has been quite a lot of head shaking among my fellow Baby Boomers at the current state of affairs in America both political and cultural as though they are thinking, “How could things ever have reached this low?”  Well, for them I have some good news.  We’ve been there before – about 50 years ago.  And we made a comeback.  Perhaps the core of our problem is that we think of things in a linear manner.  We would be better served if we adopted the Mayan view of time and events and thought of them as circular and recurrent.

That is not to say that as I watch the idiocy, misinformation and shear ignorance that is the stock in trade today of today’s younger generation brought about by an educational system that has largely failed them and turned it’s attention to creating “safe spaces” for these poor, shrinking violets rather than educating them in the classics and history, I do not wring my hands with despair and despondence.  I do.  But then I remember embarking on my college career as the country was highly polarized both by race relations and the Vietnam War – and I think to myself, I’ve seen this movie, well at least the original version if not the remake.

The college at the University of Chicago was left leaning since long before I started there in 1964.  The only place on campus one might find conservatives was at the Business School and, to a lesser degree, the Law School.  But for those of us who were undergraduates, we were generally immersed in a culture of the left – whether we wanted it or not.  Notwithstanding the political orientation of our teachers, we were exposed to a wide variety of thought – often thought which directly conflicted with our instructors’ own political or social viewpoint.

One of the mandatory courses was Sociology 101.  The reading list was extensive, almost unmanageable because of its volume.  But among those books which were required reading were the works of J. J. Rousseau, John Locke, the Federalist Papers and Alexis de Tocqueville.  These authors could hardly be described as proponents of the philosophy of the left.  Despite the fact that my professor for this class was a good friend of Saul Alinksy (Rules For Radicals) who dedicated this work, the subject of Hillary Clinton’s 1969 college thesis, to Lucifer, his approach to dealing with this material was to present it and, because he believed he had a superior mental ability either to the authors or his students, attempt to debunk what they had to say.

Consider that last line as a sign post of the difference between then and now because it is crucial.  The material was presented and debated – or at least it was.  Today’s universities do not exercise the same intellectual honesty because they present only one side of the story, pretending that is the only side to be told.  And this manifestation of intellectual dishonesty extends everywhere into the culture where freedom of speech merely means, freedom to speak but only in the manner that the vocal left minority deems appropriate.  The late Chairman Mao would be proud of them – as would have been Adolph Hitler.

“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

– Alexis de Tocqueville

De Tocqueville was sent to the fledgling America by the French government to study her prison system and went on to write his classic two volume work, Democracy in America.  There are many profound observations which he made in that work and over the next several posts I will be using several of them to illustrate my point.

But let us move on to the subject of this post with the assistance of another of his quotes:

“The greatness of America lies in the fact that her laws are applied equally to everyone.”

There are two separate but equally important points to be taken from these quotes.

First, de Tocqueville recognized that moral behavior was an absolute thing.  That there was right and wrong, good and bad, truth and falsehood and that God, not man established those things which also gave rise to the Founding Fathers’ exclamation that “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”.  Truth, right and good were ordained as such by God and no matter how man might convolute these to suit his own personal needs, were immutable. There is no clearer expression of this than in our legal system where the person testifying is required to take an oath, pledging to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But to whom is this oath sworn?  To God.  As de Tocqueville points out in the first of these quotes, morality is dependent on faith.  So if we set God aside, then the only concern of a deponent in a jury proceeding is not in testifying truthfully but in testifying in a manner which best serves his purpose if he is confident that he will not get caught lying.  And the sad truth is that there are few cases of perjury which are ever prosecuted – thus reinforcing this self-serving behavior.

During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial our then Chief Executive clearly lied about his sexual liaisons.  Frankly, I could care less about them and would have had more respect if he had said, “Yes, I had sex with that woman in the Oval Office.  So what?” Clearly there have been other presidents who had dalliances outside their marriages including FDR and Eisenhower to mention just two who come quickly to mind and those relationships didn’t seem to impact their ability to govern.  Instead, Clinton chose to take the low road with a series of legalistic responses to avoid the embarrassment of public revelation about his numerous sexual relationships.  And his punishment for this perjury – a fine and the revocation of his law license.

Second, let’s consider the concept of “the equal application of the law” which de Tocqueville lauds and review the case of Martha Stewart.

On December 27, 2001, Martha Stewart disposed of her interest in Imclone stock based on inside information she had received.  This helped her avoid a loss of about $50,000 as bad news on the company was about to break.  Ms. Stewart was arraigned and her trial took six weeks, resulting in her conviction on nine felony counts.  But the bulk of her penalty – a six month imprisonment followed by five months of electronic monitoring and an additional thirteen months of supervision was the result not of insider trading, for which she paid a fine but because she had lied to the FBI while being interrogated under oath by them.  As an aside, until 2014 when the law was changed, the insider trading activity in which Stewart engaged and which was illegal for any American to participate in – was fully legal if you were a Member of Congress.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons that so many congressmen and women enter the Rotunda poor and emerge as millionaires.

In my view, the penalties meted out to Clinton and Stewart were hardly comparable.  If anything, Clinton’s should have been the more severe because he held the highest of public offices and Stewart merely saved herself some money – an insignificant amount considering her net worth.  But both of them have returned to the limelight in society, their past transgressions forgotten and forgiven.  To this day, Bill Clinton is one of America’s most admired politicians.  And de Tocqueville has an explanation for that in our closing quote:

“Society is endangered not by the great profligacy of a few, but by the laxity of morals amongst all.”

DIVERSITY

It was a late fall day as I waited for the elevator in our apartment building.  Several floors below from the open stairwell,  I could hear two of the tenants having a conversation and I realized that one of them was holding the door open.  If they didn’t finish their confab quickly, I ran the risk of being late for school.  Finally, I heard the door close and the gears begin to move the old elevator – but it was headed down to the lobby.  I would have to wait for its arrival there and then its return up nine floors for me to board.  I looked at my Mickey Mouse watch with the red plastic wrist strap and realized that I would have to hustle if I were going to keep my perfect on time record intact.

When I opened the building’s front door, I could see a gentle snow was falling.   I hadn’t gone two feet when a flake landed on the left lens of my glasses.  It seemed that eyewear was a magnet for snowlakes.  This had happened before – and I learned from an earlier experience that it was better to let the flake melt rather than trying to wipe it off with my sleeve.  So I semi-ran the two blocks to school trusting my familiarity with the route to get me there despite the waterfall through which I was looking.

I opened the school door with three minutes to spare and slowed down to the acceptable pace which we were supposed to use when we were in school and calmly walked up the flight of stairs to my classroom, passing the older kids who were stowing their outerwear in the lockers which were in the hallway.  It would be two years before I would have one of those – with my very own combination lock.  I was looking forward to being in fifth grade with all the priviliges that came with that achievement.

I opened my classroom door and saw that Mrs. Bounds was writing on the chalk board.  She turned and welcomed me with her usual warm, “Good morning.”  So I went to the rear where I hung my coat in the communal locker and took my seat.  We were starting the morning with math – one of my favorite subjects.  I was ready for a busy day of learning.

We had previously learned how to count by ones all the way to one thousand.  That was a heap of counting.  And my father, seeing how much I seemed to enjoy it said, “You know, you can count to one thousand by twos and threes and fours as well.”  I decided to take him up on this tidbit of information and I managed to count myself up to one thousand by twos.  Not to anyone’s surprise but mine, this took only one half as long as doing the same exercise by ones.  So I thought I would try threes.  And when I got finished, although this took even less time than twos, I thought I had done something wrong.  I got to 999 instead of my expected one thousand.  I couldn’t wait for my father to come home so that he could show me what I did wrong.  But then instead of just deciding to speak the numbers, I thought I would write them down to see if that made a difference.  It didn’t.  But I did get an interesting lesson on fractions which gave me a head start when we started learning about them later.  And I also learned that one thousand was not the end of all numbers.  That inspired me to count to two thousand, which I started doing that night.  But I fell asleep well short of my goal.

As Mrs. Bounds took attendance and we raised our hands when our name was called, I noticed that the small flurry of snow I had encountered on my way was growing in intensity.  In fact, it was falling quite hard.

Mrs. Bounds looked out the window and commented, “You know chidren, there are no two snowflakes that have ever fallen that are exactly alike.”  This statement had as much impact on me as learning that one thousand was not the top number.  And I believed Mrs. Bounds because she was originally from Canada where it snowed all the time – or so I believed.  While I was, of course, unfamiliar with the words millions or billions, after all it was third grade, I started thinking about how many snowflakes must have fallen since snow started falling.  And although I couldn’t express that unfathomably large number with a word, my mind reeled as I thought to myself, “That’s probably more snowflakes than there are stars in the sky on a clear night.  Way more.”  I was awestruck.

After one of the  Republican presidential debates, I caught an interview with the Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  I’m not sure if she’s related to the person who invented the Wasserman test to determine if a person is syphilitic, but I’m quite certain that she missed the science class in which she would have learned that standing in a pool of water through which an electric current is flowing is likely to have devestating effects on your coiffure – perhaps even beyond the ability of the finest hair stylist to cure.  If you’ve not already guessed, I’m not a big fan of hers.

Ms. Schultz went on her usual frontal assault about one of the earlier Republican debates, striking what I’m sure to her was the most damning condemnation in her claim that there was “no diversity” among the candidates.  Diversity is a very big talking point for the left.  But I wonder if those who espouse this principle really understand it – or, more importantly, really care about it.

Long before diversity became such a big PC bell ringer, I was introduced to it when I read some literature about how thousands of species were dying off in the South Amerian rainforests every day.  And I already knew that the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon had gone extinct.  Well, of course, so did the dinosaurs.

But do we really want diversity?

Last year there was a huge brouhaha about those parents who did not want their children to receive a measles vaccination.  Rubella is a virus, as are ebola and polio and smallpox and our now most current virus poster child, zika.  Yet, apparently, humans would be very content if all of these viruses passed into oblivion.  Do they, as part of the ecosystem as much as are elephants and puppy dogs and snail darters and humans not have as much right to exist?  Wouldn’t fighting on behalf of these and other harmful viruses be advocating for diversity?

Several millenia ago, Christianity happened upon the scene.  One of the principles of that faith is that each person is unique and special.  I don’t see how you can get more diverse than uniqueness.  And, finally, science has caught up, confirming what religion has taught for centuries.  The proof of that is, of course, the fact that we now use DNA evidence either to exculpate or convict people of criminal activity – relying on our scientific understanding that each person’s DNA is unique. Who says religion and science can’t get along?

If we proceed from that standpoint of uniqueness, why then do we not view diversity within that framework?  Any crime against any other person should, in today’s context, be considered a hate crime or, at the least a crime against diversity.  That is true irrespective of whether either party is male or female, of the same or different races, whatever their religion and irrespective of sexual orientation – or whatever moniker we concoct further to divide, partition and pigeon hole ourselves.

And while we tend to focus on the negative and express real or imagined outrage when people act disrespectfully towards one another in any of the myriad way we express that, it might be useful to consider how our world might benefit if we actually embraced diversity in its truest sense and demonstrated that in simple acts of kindness or charity or, at the very least, in expressions of common courtesy to everyone we encounter.

The latest flare up in the war for diversity stems from North Carolina’s recently passed law regulating who may use which public facilities including bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.  Opponents of the law claim this will disenfranchise those few citizens who are trans-gendered, restricting them to using those facilities designated male or female and requiring them to use those which correspond to their genital equipment rather than their inner emotional sense of identity.  Proponents claim this will protect people from those who might be sexual predators.

Not meaning to sound dismissive of those who are trans-gendered, people with that condition represent, I suspect, a very small percentage, perhaps less than one percent, of our entire population.  Is it reasonable, by any logic, to inconvenience ninety-nine percent of the population to accommodate such a small minority?  And to ask a question, which I have never heard brought up in the debate, does that small minority have a responsibility to respect the vast majority’s concerns?  Isn’t that, after all, what a democracy is about?

It’s interesting to me that with the furor over this issue, I have heard the loudest voices coming from an amorphous collection of left wing people who themselves are not trans-gendered – but nothing from those who are trans-gendered themselves.  On the one hand I suppose one might look at these righteous crusaders as just that – people pursuing a magnanimous quest on behalf of the downtrodden.  On the other hand, one might argue that they believe the trans-gendered don’t have the verve, perspicacity or capability of speaking for themselves.

It always troubles me when there are those who, under the ageis of pure philosophical conviction, take up a cause and point out the injustices in society which are many and pervasive.  They, of course, are not affected themselves by the presumed inequity as they seek to wipe from the face of the earth any malevolent regulations or behavior.  So I thought to myself, what if we were to find a solution that would accommodate every person and see how that worked?

My solution is simple.  Just allow people of either sex to use whatever restroom facilities are handiest, irrespective of gender.  I suspect that within a week or so the outrage would be so loud that this issue would soon be buried in the footnotes of the annals of history.  But that’s just my opinion.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to this coming winter and hoping to catch a glimpse of the unique miracle of the diversity we find in snowflakes.  And, I anticipate just kicking back and chilling out.

Perhaps we might all benefit from that approach to viewing life.

 

 

 

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