The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘liberty’ Category

A MATTER OF DISHONOR

During the 1960’s as a college student, I became involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement.  My view of the war changed from one of indifference to opposition as President Johnson expanded our involvement and more of our young men were killed in action.  This opposition was directed toward our government’s policy – never to those who had enlisted or were conscripted into this war.

When I first began working to end the United States’ engagement in southeast Asia, mine was a minority opinion.  But as more of our fathers and sons and brothers fell in battle, what had started as a movement of college students spread throughout the country.  The protest marches soon included mothers and fathers and grandmothers and the American people en masse demanded the war end.  And those in Washington heard their voices and we brought our troops home.

Unfortunately, the antipathy to this war became so great that it carried over to those who had served in it.  Those who would now be called members of the ultra-left treated those returning soldiers with scorn and disrespect.  They did everything they could to shame them for exercising their consciences and doing what they viewed as their duty.  It’s amazing that a movement that for many of us was a plea for peace could be so mis-interpreted by some as a vehicle for them to exhibit anger and hatred.

I offer this backdrop to you because today the ultra-left is thoroughly in charge in Washington.  And it shouldn’t surprise any of us who lived through Vietnam that the same attitudes and tactics that they exhibited fifty years ago are still part and parcel of their playbooks today.  The goal is to enforce their philosophy on everyone and convert them to their way of thinking – irrespective of the tactics that they feel they must employ to achieve that end.  To them, the end always justifies the means.

That brings us to the question of how our CIC, President Obama and his administration is dealing with the partial government shutdown.  Are they simply trying to deal with the reduction of less than one fifth of government by efficiently trying to manage resources, or are they trying to make a statement by taking actions which seek to score political points?  I believe the latter conclusion is inescapable if a person reviews the evidence.

Perhaps the most egregious of the President’s actions are the closing of the WW II Memorial and the refusal to pay for the families of five of our soldiers and marines who died this weekend in Afghanistan to attend their return home at Dover Air Force Base.

The Administration spent limited resources to erect barriers to prevent World War II veterans who flew to Washington on honor flights to view the memorial erected in their honor.  The veterans, in their eighties and in wheelchairs broke down the barricades to this open air memorial in order to view it.  Fortunately, those in the Park Service who are responsible for maintaining the memorial did not stand in their way and, reportedly, some of those encouraged them to do so.

What must be the view by those veterans of a CIC who attempts to prevent them from viewing a memorial that was established to honor them for their service?  If you’ve seen any of the interviews with those vets, you know the answer to that question.  And they’re not part of the 37% of Americans who give the President a favorable rating.

Then there are the four servicemen and one servicewoman whose remains were brought home yesterday.  Their families, who would normally be flown at government expense to attend their return, had to have their trips funded by a private not-for-profit organization.  The excuse by DOD Secretary Hagel was that despite the fact that the Congress passed a bill to make sure that funds were available for this purpose, the law presumably was deficient the way it was written according to DOD lawyers.  Both the Secretary and the President expressed “outrage” at this situation.

Well, how outraged can the two of them really be?  Frankly, it’s hard for me to picture Sec. Hagel being outraged at anything.  He barely has a pulse – and his level of competency might be in the single digits.  Why, when he learned about his legal department’s concerns didn’t he bring this immediately to the CIC’s attention?  Or did he?  That is one of the burning questions that is, at this moment, unanswered.  Supposedly the Pentagon knew and warned this might occur four days before the partial government shutdown occurred.

The problem could have been corrected immediately by President Obama with a pen stroke on an Executive Order.  The President is familiar with this process.  He has used it 19 times to amend Obamacare.  Perhaps it was the overriding agenda of this administration to try to embarrass its opposition that was the primary motivation for allowing this to happen.

Politics is a dirty business.  But  someone needs to explain to Obama that he no longer is running for office.  If he continues to dishonor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, he might find that he will have one last political battle.  That will be running from the reputation and legacy he has created.

MUCH ADO ABOUT JESUS

As I recall, the first eyebrow raiser written about  the life of Jesus hit the bookstores in the mid-‘70s.   A least it was the first one that was published in my lifetime that caused a stir.   It was entitled, “The Passover Plot”.  It sold so successfully that it was turned into a movie – which was also rather successful.

Now the purpose of this post is not to detail a history of books which contest the orthodox Christian view of who Jesus was and what he did.  Nor is it my purpose to defend that traditional view.  The catholic understanding of who Jesus was,  was rather nicely codified in 325 A. D. at the Council of Nicaea.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that a new book by a former Christian, now converted to Islam, is making such a hit as a best seller.  And what surprises me more is that when the author, his motivations in writing the book, the scholarship which he has gained through his education, are questioned, a significant part of the country, the secular humanists – to be found everywhere – seem to make of those inquiries a connection to the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada.

Frankly, I assume he wrote the book to make money.  And if that was his goal, he seems to be doing pretty well with his plan.  Since I like to find the simplest reason that things happen – I will stand by my simple explanation for the author’s motives – until proven wrong.

Now I don’t have a great deal of experience in child-rearing – but I did have the responsibility of directing a fairly large children’s choir at church.  Mostly the children were there because they enjoyed singing.  But as will be found among a large group, whatever its composition, there are always a few who want to throw a sabot in the machinery and mess things up – just to see if they can.

We had a few (thankfully, a very few) like that.

What I learned as their director was that they were less interested in creating a disturbance than they were in drawing attention to themselves.  Perhaps they had an underdeveloped ego or something along that line.  And I found that the more I turned my attention to them through admonition, the worse they behaved.  So I made things simple for the rest of the children and myself.

If those few kids got out of line at a rehearsal, I simply sent them home and told them that if they wanted to continue in the choir they would need to follow the same rules of behavior that I expected and could rely on from the vast majority of the children.

Not only did doing this cause most of these children to shape up and behave during choir rehearsals, I think it improved the general decorum of all the kids in the choir – who suddenly realized that as nice as I am, there were limits to what I would accept in the way of behavior.

Of course, there were two children, Jamal and Jasmine with whom this technique simply was not effective.  But I’m not sure that anything with which I was familiar would have been more so.  Ultimately, I found it unfortunate but necessary to terminate their relationship with the choir.  This, of course, led to a few nasty calls placed by their annoyed and flustered parents.

“My little J. is an angel.  I can’t believe you threw him/her out of the choir.”

“Well, Mrs. _. – it’s like this.  I have no doubt that your child is an angel.  But you know the demons in hell were also angels.  I simply think that your little J. is trying to emulate the wrong ones.”

The point of my relating this is not to give you an amateur’s advice on child-rearing.  But it is to point out how the Christian community is causing a book of suspect scholarship (or so I hear – I’ve not read it) to gain far more notoriety and increase sales to fatten the author’s bank account than it might have otherwise achieved if it had been published and ignored.

Incidentally, the book is entitled, “Zealot” and the author is Reza Aslan – just in case you want to add it to your Christmas list.

The thing that I find most amazing in this entire brouhaha over Mr. Aslan’s book is not his thesis but that he has the freedom to publish that thesis without interference by any government authority, here in a country built on Judaeo-Christian principles – the very ones that apparently must be in error if we are to accept his notion about the historical Jesus.

It is interesting that Mr. Aslan is able to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam without fear of repercussion from those who are among the clergy of the churches.  The same may not be his fate should he try to further broaden his religious horizons since apostasy from Islam is punishable by death – or so the Koran and the imams tell us.  And they carry out those sentences with piety and swiftness.

This week in Saudi Arabia, a young man was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes because he even suggested the notion of talking about religion and politics and “parental obedience”.  While the U. S. has officially “protested” this sentence, Raif Badawi will soon be forgotten as we unload the next shipment of oil from the Arab kingdom.

You don’t need to be a Messiah in order to look at a faith that treats its adherents in such a manner and shed more than a few tears.  At least I don’t.  And for those who want to establish the same Sharia law here in the USA – let me tell you that I would be one of the first in line to opt out.

GRATITUDE

I remember the evening that Mr. Reynolds came to our apartment.  My parents had scheduled an appointment with him for 7:30.  By then the dining room table would have been cleared, the dishes washed and dried and I should have completed my homework.  I was eleven years old.

Mr. Reynolds sold a product called the “Encyclopedia Britannica.”  It was, by far the largest compendium of knowledge available to the average person.  My parents, who believed that the more a person learned the farther in life he or she might go, were assessing the possibility of purchasing a set for me.  My parents knew that the set was expensive but they did not know the exact cost until Mr. Reynolds revealed that during his meeting.

We sat at the dining room table and Mr. Reynolds brought out his sales literature.  He explained how so many people, experts in their field, had all contributed to the encyclopedia.  And he also explained that there was an annual update which was published and that by purchasing the set, we would receive the next edition of it at no charge.  Thereafter there would be a small fee for each additional update as it was shipped.

My parents looked at me and asked whether I would use this reference library if they decided to purchase it for me.  I knew that I would but I had heard them discuss the price with Mr. Reynolds.  It was several hundred dollars – by far the largest gift that I had ever received.  And I was feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of the present.

I think my parents both knew that I would actually use the encyclopedia and had a sense of my feeling of awe, so although I couldn’t do much more than nod in assent to their question, they took that as a definite, “Yes.”  We selected the dark green faux-leather binding with gold stamped lettering for our set.

Mr. Reynolds expertly completed the paperwork and my father signed it while mother went to her desk drawer to retrieve the checkbook and give him the deposit on the set.  The balance that was due would be billed monthly over the next twenty-four months – but since my parents didn’t like owing money, I knew that this obligation would be retired long before then.  In fact I had a plan to help pay for it.

It was nearing the end of the school year and I had read in “The Herald Tribune” that a bookseller by the name of Barnes & Noble purchased used school textbooks.  Each of us students were given our various texts as part of our tuition fee.  And I remembered that the previous year on the last day of school as I was gathering my school materials, all of the waste baskets were filled with texts that other students had discarded.

I asked my home room teacher, Miss Green if I would be allowed to collect these and take them home and explained the reason that I wanted them.  Miss Green said that she would speak with the school’s principal, Mr. Tiffany but was quite sure that he would approve.

Miss Green was true to her word and two days later told me that would be fine and I had the principal’s permission.  So my next step was to commandeer Grandma’s wire grocery cart so that I could transport all these books the two blocks from my school to our apartment.  Of course, grandma, always a practical person, thought that this was a wonderful idea.  In fact she went to the grocery store in advance of my engaging in the project and secured a number of cardboard boxes so that we could package the books for the bookstore.

Well, the last day of school arrived and I set to work, racing home to get the grocery cart and then back to school.  Foolishly, I fully loaded up the cart but was unable to maneuver it down the school’s stairs.  So I had to unload half of the books so that I could manage the cart.  I left them in the stairwell and I hoped that none of the faculty would see them there.

I quickly wheeled my stash home to our apartment and grandma helped me unload it.  Then back to school to retrieve the books I had unloaded and back home again.  In total I made six trips, but the later ones took me longer as I had to go from classroom to classroom to load up.  It seemed that there was a never ending supply of textbooks

Although I had not gone to every classroom and was sure that there were more textbooks I could retrieve, I was too tired even to consider a seventh expedition and had to be content with the books I had procured.

Grandma and I arranged these in the boxes she had brought home and my father agreed to drive to Barnes & Noble the following day, which was a Saturday.  I think he was a little amused that I had put in so much effort, perhaps thinking that all that work might result in a five or ten dollar return.

Barnes & Noble was located a short distance from my father’s business.  Dad had some paperwork that he wanted to get out of the way so he said that after we had sold the books he would buy me lunch at the little Italian sandwich shop that was down the street from his office.  I was all in favor of that as they made a terrific eggplant parmesan sandwich in a robust marinara sauce.

So we got to the bookstore and started to unload.  But most of the boxes were too heavy for me to lift.  So dad went in and found the department that purchased used textbooks.  He began carrying the boxes in and when he returned he came out with a young employee who helped him carry all the books inside while I stood vigilant, guarding the books that were still in our car’s trunk.

When we were finished, my father locked the car and we went inside where the clerks were figuring the purchase value of my treasure.  With the extensive collection this took a little while – and then the manager of that department said to my father, “We will pay you $180.50 for these books, if that’s acceptable.”

I’m not sure who was more stunned – my father or me.  That was nearly the balance that was still due on my Encyclopedia Britannica (my parents had sent in more than the minimum payment each month).  So we gratefully accepted the cash from Barnes & Noble  and drove to his office.  After about an hour my father finished his paperwork and said that it was lunchtime.

Since I was now feeling extremely wealthy (although dad was holding the money in his wallet) I offered to pay for our meal.  After thinking about it for a moment, he accepted my invitation.  And so we walked to Marco’s where I had eaten on several previous occasions.

As the lunch was going to be on me I upgraded myself from the eggplant parmesan and decided to try the meatball sub.  This was a grave decision as it was one of the pricier items on the menu ($1.45).  Like the eggplant it was fantastic and extremely filling and exceptionally sloppy to eat requiring at least eight of those little napkins that the stainless steel container which sat on our table dispensed.  Despite my efforts to be neat and even with all those napkins I still had to visit the facilities when we finished to wipe the marinara sauce off my hands and face.

Buying my father lunch that day was the only part of my new found money that my parents would accept.  I tried to get them to use the rest to pay for the Encyclopedia Britannica but they refused and took the remaining money and put it in my savings account.

The fact that I had planned on contributing whatever we got from selling the books, however, gave the encyclopedia added value to me.  And although I had spent some time with it, I now began reading it in earnest.

One of our neighbors, Mr. Benson was English and an executive with BOAC.  He had a subscription to National Geographic and was discarding some old issues on the floor of our incinerator (yes, we burned garbage in those and got the whole Global Warming thing started), when I asked if I might have them.  He gladly gave them to me and as he finished each new edition left it at our apartment door.

I was fascinated with the photos and the descriptions of the lives and customs of people from all around the world.  How differently they lived from us.  And so I started to read more about these foreign places in my Britannica.

After a lot of reading it suddenly struck me.  How lucky I was to have been born in America and not the Belgian Congo or Azerbaijan, Ceylon or Outer Mongolia.  I doubted that most of the kids there had books that they could resell and I was almost certain that Barnes & Noble didn’t have offices in any of those places to purchase them.  And those kids would never have a chance to enjoy either the meatball sub or eggplant parmesan at Marco’s.

I would like to acknowledge my friend Charlie for sending me the email which contained the YouTube video you will find below.  That provided the inspiration for this post.  It is a recording of Miss Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” for the first time it was ever performed publicly.  The song had been written some twenty years earlier by Irving Berlin but he had filed it away and it was never published.

This recording was made on Armistice Day, 1938 – as Hitler was moving the entire planet closer to World War II.  It was a time of trouble and a time of fear not only in America but everywhere on our little pebble in space.

Those were disquieting times as are the times we live in today.  But as I listened to this recording, which I heard Kate Smith perform many times in later years, tears came to my eyes and I thought that even with all the travail and anger and dysfunction, I’m still proud and most of all grateful to be an American.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE

There is no question that the social media have become an influential means of communicating.  I have a Facebook account – at least I’m pretty sure that I do – because I keep getting emails on a daily basis telling me that I have one message.  Now if I could only remember the password I used to set it up, I might just check in to see who’s trying to reach me.  But that seems like more work than its worth.

While my attitude might be an anomaly in this day and age, I realize that there are others (a great number of others), who feel as dependent on their Facebook accounts as a drug addict does on his next fix.  They are probably a lot more savvy than I – and are certainly a lot younger.

Now if you Facebook or tweet, you should understand that people are going to see what you post.  After all, isn’t that the reason for being on those sites in the first place?  So it should have come as no surprise when a few days ago a teenager in the far north Chicago suburb of Zion was apprehended after he tweeted the following:

“If Zimmerman leaves free Imma shoot everybody in Zion causing a mass homicide, an I’ll git away wit it just like Zimmerman.”

Currently charged with a felony for this bit of communication, I suspect that if you polled everyone in the country, at least 20% of us would agree that his apprehension by law enforcement was the appropriate response.

But I would like to bring to your attention another bit of communication which got someone in trouble.  This time it was Facebook which was the platform of choice.  Perhaps you are familiar with the story of the young, former Marine who got in a whole mess of trouble because he expressed his views on how the government of the United States was being run and suggested that some of Washington’s finest “should be arrested.”  His name is Brandon Raub and the story goes back to August of last year.

Mr. Raub suggested that the government was lying about the events of 9/11 (the first one).  He was also critical of the government’s increasingly obvious circumvention of the Constitution.

Mr. Raub served honorably two tours of duty with the Marine Corps – one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq and was honorably discharged from the Corps.  He is thought of as a good citizen in his Virginia community and owns and operates a small business there.

On the morning of August 16, 2012, some FBI agents came to his door.  They wanted to speak with him and they did converse with him through the screen door.  Mr. Raub, wearing only some short pants, was persuaded to come outside and was almost immediately handcuffed.  The agents refused to allow him to put on any additional clothing.  He was taken to a hospital for “psychiatric evaluation” and was ordered by a judge to remain there for a 30 day observation period.

What follows is a telephone conversation with a local radio host and Brandon Raub while he was still being “observed” in the hospital.  You be the judge of how sane or insane he sounds:

Mr. Raub was released from the hospital where he was held against his will beofre the full 30 day evaluation period, thanks to the efforts of his attorney.  But under Virginia law, the provisions for having someone committed for “mental observation” are loose enough that about 20,000 people in the state have that happen to them each year.

I suspect that most of these detentions occur because relatives, friends or neighbors see some erratic behavior and are concerned both for the individual as well as for those with whom he or she might come in contact.  But that was not the situation in Mr. Raub’s case.

His neighbors consider him a good neighbor, always willing to help out and he is thought of as an asset to the community.  So who “turned him in?”

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that with the now-admitted spying on U. S. citizens and others in this country by the NSA, it might well be that Mr. Raub’s comments were picked up by that agency and they initiated his arrest.  That is also what Mr. Raub thinks.  And subsequent to this event, we do know that the IRS profiled and held up the exemption applications of hundreds of Tea Party organizations.

It should be clear, though disturbing to anyone who wants to think about it logically, that this administration sees pursuing the government’s agenda supercedes the rights of the individual.

It does give one pause and make one wonder if anyone in the administration has read the First Amendment to the Constitution – or can comprehend it – or most importantly, is willing to uphold it as they swore to do.

As I reflect on all of this, I think I better try to recover my Facebook password and check out that lone message which was left for me.  It might just be the government letting me know that, “they’re here to help me.”

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