The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’



“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

– Abraham Lincoln


If you have ever visited Las Vegas in the winter, then you know that it sometimes gets below freezing here and that, of course, means that it’s “Chili Weather Time”.  We are in one of those weather spells now and there is nothing I enjoy more than some homemade chili to take the edge off our delightfully brisk weather.

Yesterday I assembled all the ingredients that I use, ground beef, hot Italian sausage, crushed and whole tomatoes, kidney beans and chili powder and some other spices and set to work preparing a vat of the stuff.  One of my neighbors had given me some roasted Hatch chilies and they went into the mix as well.

When cooking, I generally don’t follow a recipe exactly unless it’s something new that I’m trying.  That way, if I like a recipe but think it could use a little improvement, I have a baseline from which I can adjust in the future.  Having made many pots of chili over the years, I adjust the simmering pot of goodness – but in the case of my chili that adjustment is made by sight rather than taste.  I look at the color of the contents to determine whether I need to darken it by adding more chili powder.

Well, I am pleased to report that I was in chili heaven at dinner last night.  A large bowl of my concoction accompanied with some homemade bread, smothered and baked with lots of freshly crushed garlic and olive oil and I’m sure that I had a smile on my face as big as the Cheshire cat’s.  My color test had once again led me to bring this bubbling pot to the desired heat level that I enjoy.

A color test works well for me in preparing my chili.  It really doesn’t speak well, however, to those who represent us in Congress.  By that, I refer to the Black Congressional Caucus.  Why this racist group exists is beyond my understanding.

It would be hard to deny that blacks have had a tough go of it in the United States.  Most of us or our forebears arrived on ships – but for blacks it was on slave ships.  That’s certainly a hard way to get started in a new land.  But as tough as that was, if you look at the conditions in which many blacks in modern Africa still live, I think that most American blacks would prefer being here rather than there.  I don’t see any major exodus being organized or undertaken by the black leadership to move to Liberia.  Perhaps I have missed that news item.

Can you imagine the outbreak of righteous indignation if someone were to propose establishing a White Congressional Caucus – or an Asian Congressional Caucus or an Hispanic Congressional Caucus?  I think the only one who might institute a Native American Congressional Caucus is Sen. Elizabeth Warren – if she can get her genealogy straight.

It’s one hundred fifty years since Abraham Lincoln spoke the words of The Emancipation Proclamation.   Perhaps he chose New Year’s Day as a symbolic date for giving this speech – a New Year and a new beginning.  It’s time those black representatives in Congress buried the hatchet of race (my apologies to Sen. Warren for using that metaphor) and defined themselves by their accomplishments and not their skin color.

Racial prejudice is a poisonous potion – and only a mindless fool will choose to drink from it.  But those who see their world as being defined by their own skin color, inadvertently are the first at the bar to order up this beverage.  They keep this lethal drink popular and on the market.

To our Congressional representatives who happen to be black, I would like to offer a little advice.  It’s time for “Last Call”.


In an era of jet planes and SUV’s most of us have forgotten, or never known, the importance of the railroads in helping America become the nation it is.  While the preferred Christmas gift for most youngsters today is the most recent incarnation of a smart phone or the latest violent video game, once upon a time, little boys wanted nothing more than to get a model train under the tree, whether it was a Lionel or an American Flyer.

My introduction to trains came from my summer vacations in the Catskills.  There was a bridge and if you walked over it, there was a stretch of railroad track – coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else.  One day I walked along it for several miles.  It seemed to be never ending with as much track ahead of me as when I had started my journey.  In my eight year old mind, the railroads introduced me to the concept of infinity.

This was a freight line, and as endless as the track itself seemed, the number of cars it carried were nearly as much so.  I remember watching one day from across the road as a train pulled through.  It took more than ten minutes from the time the engine made its appearance until the caboose signaled that its mission on this stretch of track had been completed.

I remember feeling overwhelmed that one engine, as mighty as it looked, could muster enough power to move all those cars.  I knew exactly how long this segment of its journey took because I was wearing my Christmas present – a Mickey Mouse watch with a bright red plastic band.

It was many years before I learned that the reason we have a “standardized system” of time was because of the railroads.  Before their initiatives, first in Great Britain and later here, most communities observed “sun” time, with noon being the moment that the sun was highest in the sky, in the same way that pre-industrialized man had kept time for millennia.

In the interest of commerce this was overthrown, although not before much controversy, by the establishment in 1918 of the “Standard Time Act” by Congress.  That divided the country into the time zone divisions that we know today.  The railroads had adopted a standardized time system in 1883 – thirty-five years ahead of those who made it official in Washington.  Commerce, via the railroads, helped push America forward once again.

Because of the monumental cost of building out a railroad, none of this might have happened had it not been for the incentives that the railroads received from government.  In the case of one of those railroads, The Illinois Central which became known as The Main Line of Mid-America, those came in the form of land grants made by the State of Illinois to the railroads’ founders.  Both Senator Steven Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln lobbied in favor of this award.

The Illinois Central was given land from its main terminal in Chicago to the most southern part of the state, Cairo.  This was known as the railroad’s Charter Line – and in return for its receiving this land, it was incorporated into the Illinois State Constitution that, in perpetuity, the state would receive six percent of all revenue that was derived from the railroad’s operations along this stretch of track.  Without this “gift” it is unlikely that the railroad, which served a vital role in both Illinois’ development as well as that of the Midwest, would have been built.

For those of us who are used to catching “Flight 229” or some other number which is equally impersonal, it might seem amusing that the railroads used to give their trains specific names.  The Illinois Central’s most famous was “The Panama Limited” which ran from Chicago to Louisiana.  It was later renamed, “The City of New Orleans” and became the subject of a song by singer/songwriter Steve Goodman, a Chicago native who died at the age of only 36 of leukemia.

I heard him perform this at “The Earl of Old Town” – a saloon on Chicago’s near North Side that, like Goodman, passed into history in 1984 after a wonderful twenty-two year run – but not before bringing us artists like him and Steve Prine and Bonnie Koloc.  You could also catch John Belushi there doing some impersonations if you were lucky.

I don’t know why the Christmas season always causes me to think back to the time when I was a kid.  Looking in the store windows with their displays of villages all snow covered and the little electric train pulling into the station, ready to unload their gift of friends and relatives for the welcoming residents to greet.  Or maybe it’s standing with my Mickey Mouse watch with the bright red plastic band to see how long it would take the freight train to pass by.

Those were simpler times – before we had to deal with mass shootings and mass mania.  I can’t speak for you, but I miss them.


I remember as a child, going with my parents to Washington to spend some time with my dad’s brother and his wife.  We made the trip by car and, like all children my age, I probably annoyed my parents by incessantly asking, “Are we there yet?”

Well finally we got there.  Or mostly so.  That is to say, we were in our nation’s Capitol – a city which, for the uninitiated, has to be one of the most confusing places on earth.

I have heard that the city’s circular design was, in part, intended as a matter of defense.  I would advise any foreign entity with aspirations of attacking
Washington by land that they had best bone up on the city’s layout before attempting their assault.

If there were one thing that I remember keenly about my father, it was that he had the most amazingly accurate sense of direction of anyone I have ever known.  Knowing where he was and understanding how to get where he was going was completely natural to him.  He had a built-in GPS system which was more accurate than the ones on which we rely today.

But apparently, there was something in the air in Washington which interfered with that ability.

My Uncle Howard, who at the time was an Assistant Director in the General Services Administration, the Federal agency which purchases most of the goods and services the government buys, had given my father directions on how, once we entered the city, we should proceed to get to his office.  Dad had pulled out the slip of paper on which he had written down these directions and was trying to follow them.

I don’t know if the instructions my Uncle Howard had given dad were inaccurate but we drove as my uncle had instructed and for some reason found ourselves back at our starting point, having looped around the city.  So dad tried again – with the same result.

Frustrated at his inability to do anything other than drive in circles, my father looked for a pay phone on the street so that he could call his brother at his office.  We finally found one and dad spoke with him.

I think my uncle must have sensed the aggravation in his older brother’s voice because he asked where we were, told us to sit tight and drove over to get us.  Apparently we had made a wrong turn somewhere and as my uncle explained, “You can’t get there from here.”

As it was now quitting time for my uncle, rather than going to his office we followed him to his home in Bethesda, MD.  To this day I don’t know for sure that there is a GSA building as I’ve never seen it.

We had a wonderful stay.  It is hard to visit Washington without coming away with a great sense of pride in what the American experiment had accomplished.

The buildings were more than mere structures.  They were shrines to the people who had worked together to show the world what could be accomplished by a rag tag volunteer army who fought and overcame what was then the mightiest fighting force in the world.  And all because of their desire to be free of oppression and to craft their own destiny.

I was especially privileged because my Aunt Rose was the secretary to the Director of the National Archives.  She received permission from her boss to bring me down to the Archives’ vaults where I was allowed to view documents that had been signed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

If you have seen Frank Capra’s movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” you will have a sense of the pride I felt viewing these – in much the same way that Jimmy Stewart was overwhelmed when he saw the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials when he first arrived in the city as a newly appointed senator.

And you will understand how, when he is falsely accused of attempting personal gain by a corrupt colleague and the attempt is made to expel him from the Senate, this naïve, idealistic man retreats to Abe Lincoln’s feet at the base of his memorial and weeps bitter tears, so disillusioned by the government in which he believed and the reality that he discovered.

Perhaps I also am too idealistic.  After volunteering in the political process for several decades it is difficult to hold on to that attitude.  Like Senator Smith, I have learned the reality that people in public office are far more likely to be concerned about their personal interests than the interests of those whom they were elected to serve.  Maybe that is just human nature – or at least the nature of many who choose to run for public office.

Unlike Senator Smith, I cannot shed my tears at Lincoln’s feet.  The next best thing that I can do is watch this outstanding movie and write this blog, hoping to reach at least a few other people who care about what is happening in the land.

This country was founded by people who were great thinkers and its existence was secured by people who were great doers.  It was that combination which made America great – and it is the absence of it which is the reason that we have stumbled, and stumbled badly.

If we want the prosperity and the promise to return to this land, we have to make a change both to our political leadership and to our own apathetic attitudes.  We have once again to begin doing – and we need to elect people who are common sense thinkers.

There is one thing that is certain to me.  With the current cast of characters running the show and most of the people who are sitting in the audience, we can’t get there from here.


If a person wanted a clear career path to living the next decade or so in jail – surely there is no better way to achieve that than by being elected Governor of the Sate of Illinois.

Today’s sentencing of former governor Rod Blagojevich now brings to four the number of Illinois governors who have been imprisoned  – the current score being three Democrats and one Republican.  Apparently bad behavior is blind to party affiliation.  By the way, that’s four out of eight governors who have been elected by the citizens of the Land of Lincoln in the last 50 years.

If the Great Emancipator were alive to see the hooliganism of those who served as chief executive in his adopted state, he would bow his head in shame and shed a river of tears.


The Queen of Soul sang it loud and strong in “The Blues Brothers”.  I was a great fan of hers and spent hours listening to her belt out tune after tune.  Thanks, Aretha!

Americans are called on to think as we have never thought before.  We are approaching  the most important election in our lifetimes – an election which will decide whether we accept the tragedy of the last three years and make it our continuing playbook – or we turn back to the principles on which this country was founded and begin the process of healing, renewal and recovery.

Abraham Lincoln stated it so succinctly.  “A house divided can not stand.”  And this house has been more than divided.  We have invited the demolition crew to come in with their wrecking ball and destroy it.

America needs leadership of a far higher caliber  than what we are receiving from those whom we have elected to serve us.  And we don’t need it  soon – we need it now!

I lived in the district which sent President Obama to the Illinois State Senate, ultimately providing the spring board which has led to his present office.  I had met him a year earlier as he was the speaker at a local “community action” group.  I was disturbed by his strident “I/Thou” posture – pardon the plagiarism, Martin Buber.

That strategy of fomenting divisiveness has only increased throughout the years and is now at a fever pitch.

Is it because this is who the man truly is?  I don’t know.  But whether it is from sincere conviction or because he is exploiting  a way to get re-elected – it is both damaging and dangerous.

Mr. President – because of your office – you have the unique opportunity to set the United States on a course of re-construction or implosion.  The choice is yours.

As the old knight said to Indiana Jones, ” choose wisely.”

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