CAT | Politics
We used to have an expression, “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we…?”
You don’t hear it put that way as often these days since we haven’t been back in over forty years.
Nonetheless it’s a fair question.
The United States put no less than a dozen men on the moon in six successful landings between the years 1969 and 1972.
Over a period of 10 years starting in 1904 the United States moved several mountain’s worth of earth and rock to build the Panama Canal, the largest engineering project in history.
In 1935 the Hoover Dam, the largest concrete structure ever built, was completed two years ahead of schedule within budget.
But in 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” which to date has absorbed resources equivalent to several projects of that magnitude.
One has to notice that poverty is still with us though we could have just handed the poor the money spent on them and created the largest class of idle rich in the world.
More recently it’s taken longer than any of those engineering projects to fill a hole in the ground left by the wreckage of the Twin Towers.
And currently we’re watching, with either horrified fascination or smug I-told-you-so attitudes the collapse of an attempt to provide a service that’s been on the market for generations to every man, woman and child in the country.
So if we could put men on the moon, dig the Panama Canal and build the Hoover Dam why can’t we eliminate poverty, educate everybody to a decent and reasonable standard, and get everybody an affordable health insurance policy?
Off the top of my head I can think of half a dozen reasons.
One, the great engineering projects of the 20th century were accomplished by well, engineers. People who tackled concrete problems with factors that could be quantified: amount of matter to be moved, strength of materials, rates of heating, cooling, drying etc.
Two, the organization of the projects was put into the hands of businessmen. Men with experience in the private sector where failure meant losses or bankruptcy and success produced great wealth. Men who’d already organized large-scale enterprises and had the skill and confidence to take on even larger projects.
Three, there was strict accountability for cost overruns and failure to complete assigned tasks on time. And it must be said, run with a certain hard-headed ruthlessness. More than 100 men died building the Hoover Dam, and when a strike was called the project managers stopped construction and began the process of replacing the men until the strikers agreed to return to work.
In contrast the idealistic and well-meaning government projects to accomplish All Good Things these days are conceived by social scientists and managed by bureaucrats.
Though I say it who am one, social scientists deal with human variables which unlike steel and concrete, have minds of their own. They tend to engage in a lot of wishful thinking and airy speculation that goes unchecked by reality.
As a discipline social science was originally intended to be descriptive, not an engineering technology for humanity.
Plus the scale of what the government of the United States is trying to do is staggering.
The national government is trying to create programs to administer services for a diverse population of 316 million people living on 3.79 million square miles, using a top-down, one-size-fits-all, my-way-or-the-highway model of organization.
This somehow seems to escape those who admire the accomplishments of European countries such as Sweden, even as the European model is unravelling.
As an old political science professor of mine put it, “How hard is it to govern a country of nine million blond, blue-eyed Lutherans?”
And bottom line, there’s an old adage in business that we’ve forgotten about when we abandoned the notion of a government strictly limited in its functions and powers.
If you try to do everything, you wind up doing nothing well.
From Fox News Politics, “Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday he is a “U.S. citizen by birth” despite being born in Canada, amid questions about whether he is planning to run for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.
Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview with Fusion that because his mother is an American citizen he is a citizen as well.”
“I was a U.S. citizen by birth and beyond that I’m going to leave it to others to worry about the legal consequences,” Cruz said.
The article quotes Cruz saying he is in the process of renouncing his Canadian citizenship.
Cruz was born in Alberta, Canada, to a Cuban-born father who became an American citizen in 2005, and an American mother. His parents owned a seismic-data processing firm in the oil industry.
Interestingly as a young man Cruz’s father fought in the Cuban revolution with Castro, and then against Castro and fled to the United States in 1957.
Cruz is a TEA Party Republican and has been endorsed by the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus.
Democrats are going to have a field day with this. As well they should.
From the beginning of the “birther” controversy I have made two points again and again to the point I’m getting sick of repeating myself.
One, there may or may not be something fishy about Obama’s birth documents, but there was a notice of birth in a local newspaper in Hawaii and eyewitnesses, Republican ones at that, who remember the circumstances of his birth at a time when African-American bi-racial children were a rarity.
If I were of conspiratorial mind on this issue, I’d wonder if Obama’s people were stonewalling just enough to keep this thing going to make the right-wingers look ridiculous and divert attention from the real issue. The issue Cruz has just brought up.
Two, the child of an American citizen is an American citizen no matter where they are born.
I know this because my son was born in Poland to a Polish mother. He’s had an American passport since soon after his birth.
But, he also has a Polish passport. He has dual citizenship.
The guy working the passport desk at the embassy explained it to us. They don’t like dual citizenship, almost nobody does. It creates problems. They recognize it happens though.
The practical implications are: my son must enter the U.S. on his American passport, Poland on his Polish passport. Everywhere else he can chose the cheaper visa.
If he comes of military age in either country, and they have a draft, the country he’s in gets him.
And if he gets arrested in either country, God forbid, the other can do nothing.
One can acquire dual citizenship in adulthood. My sister did after long residence in the UK because it was simply more convenient to apply for British citizenship than fill out the legal permanent residence application every year or so. The US and the UK allow that sort of thing.
Or one can arrive in this world a native-born citizen of two countries, as my son did.
And this is what I’ve wondered about the birther controversy. Not whether Obama was not born an American citizen, but whether he ever claimed dual citizenship or had it claimed on his behalf by his mother.
That’s the interesting issue. To the best of my knowledge the Constitution is silent on the issue of dual citizenship. I’m not even sure there was such a thing back then.
Obama simply ignored the issue and ignored the question of whether he has ever traveled on a foreign passport.
Cruz can’t ignore it, it’s a matter of public record.
If Cruz even comes within spitting distance of the Republican nomination in 2016 – it’s going to get interesting.
Note: This is my weekly op-ed for the first week of November.
As it happens I had just finished writing a piece on teens and social media, touching on cyberbullying when the perfect storm of media idiocy broke out.
It began when Amanda Carpenter, a speechwriter for Sen. Ted Cruz, tweeted that Republicans could defund Obamacare.
Allen Brauer, communications chairman of the Sacramento County Democratic Party, tweeted in response, “May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases.”
When some people evidently protested that this was a bit out of bounds, Brauer went on in the same vein for about an hour.
“I’m being attacked on Twitter for wishing one of Ted Cruz’s pubic lice to experience the pain her boss is inflicting on Americans,” Brauer tweeted. “Yes, your party takes bread from the mouths of starving children and medicine from the sick, and I’m the problem. Got it.”
Wiser heads ultimately prevails and Brauer apologized.
“I am truly sorry for my tweet. I was very upset and lashed out. Your kids are not fair game either. My apologies.”
Carpenter tweeted in reply, “Thank you, I appreciate it.”
The National Rifle Association was not so forgiving after David Guth, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, tweeted after the Washington Navy Yard shootings.
“#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
Guth however, is not apologizing.
Guth told Fox4KC.com. “I don’t apologize for it because I’m not saying in the tweet that I want anybody harmed, and I expanded on it in my blog. I defend the NRA’s rights first and second amendments and I hope they respect mine.”
Actually he did say he wanted someone harmed in his tweet, someone’s children in fact, and the Kansas State Rifle Association is calling for his dismissal.
According to the university Guth has been placed on “indefinite administrative leave pending a review of the entire situation.”
That is, the university would like him to keep out of sight until the furor dies down.
I actually have a Twitter account. I opened one for reasons I forget, but have never tweeted anything. Nor do I follow anyone’s tweets.
I’m one of the most interesting people I know, but even I don’t think anyone would be interested in a minute-by-minute account of the thoughts running through my head. If I ever forget this my children are there to remind me. Because I’m a writer I tend to think out loud in the car, that’s how I do the first draft of much of what I write. My children assure me the process is not fascinating.
I concede Twitter has some uses for public figures and people organizing enterprises that require constant updates.
But there’s something I learned a long time ago when email was new to me. The technology to compose and send a message to a large number of people within the space of a few minutes creates endless opportunity to make a conspicuous fool of yourself.
Email created the opportunity, Twitter made it easier still.
At times like this I think of the movie “Notting Hill” (1999) with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. At one point in the movie papparazzi take a picture of Roberts leaving Grant’s house in the early morning hours.
Robert’s character explains to Grant that the immediate furor may die down, but that picture is not going away. Not ever. It’s going to remain in files and be brought out whenever a rumor or hint of scandal about her arises.
Back in 1999 that was life for movie stars. Now it’s the reality for all of us.
Teens have no cognitive ability to grasp what “the rest of your life” means, and a lot of grownups who didn’t grow up with this kind of tech haven’t grasped the implications yet. Or maybe they’re just idiots with a lot of anger issues and little self-control.
Let’s face it, all of us have engaged in a lot of cringe-worthy behavior from time to time. But nowadays it’s harder to forget and impossible to walk away from.
I don’t know how this is all going to shake out, but I wonder if we’re going to become both more tolerant and more reserved in our public demeanor.
Film making is changing. One sign of this is when an unknown brother and sister team who have only made shorts before come out of nowhere with a feature-length film that knocks your socks off and sweeps the awards at the film festivals of Tribeca, Berlin, Brasilia, Deauville, Athens Ft. Lauderdale, Stockholm, India, and Oaxaca.
The other is that you can actually see it even if you don’t live in a city with an art house cinema. You go over to Amazon.com and rent it for $6.99 to watch on your computer or Kindle.
The latter is remarkable because “Una Noche” (“One Night”) has an underlying theme that is not popular in Hollywood, where luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson make the pilgrimage to Havana to schmooze with Fidel and dine out on stories of what a hell of a guy he is.
The basic premise is, Cuba is a rotten place to live.
Since 1959 when Cuba traded the corrupt but easygoing Batista for Fidel and his crew of murderous psychopaths, Havana, once one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere, has become a decaying corpse rotting in the tropical sun.
Everybody hustles to make a living. Since the subsidy from Fidel’s patron disappeared with the Soviet Union, Cuba has been turned into a brothel where rich tourists come to take advantage of poor and desperate Cubans. “Una Noche” shows this brilliantly with few words and a lot of inspired camera work.
“Una Noche” was written and directed by Lucy Molloy, an Englishwoman and Oxford grad who studied film at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. It was produced by her brother Daniel among others.
Molloy spent years in Cuba gathering 35 mm film footage and worked entirely with non-professional actors. Someday the story of how this movie was made is going to be a fascinating documentary in its own right, because it could not possibly have been authorized by the Cuban government.
In 2010 during production, Molloy was awarded a Spike Lee Production Grant Award. I haven’t felt good about Lee since he essentially publicly solicited the murder of George Zimmerman’s parents (and got the address wrong), but this was a good thing.
“Una Noche” is the story of three teens: Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) and her twin brother Elio (Javier Núñez Florián) who share a bond closer than anyone can imagine. Until Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) comes into Elio’s life.
Lila and Elio are the children of a soldier and his wife. Raul’s mother is an aging HIV-infected prostitute.
Raul wants to escape to Miami where his almost-forgotten father lives. Elio would like to go with him, but is torn by the need to protect his tough but vulnerable sister on the cusp of womanhood. Lila is afraid of the sea.
Raul is collecting the materials for a raft to make the 90-mile trip across the Florida Straits. He barters for inner tubes. He steals scraps of lumber and breaks into a car to steal a GPS.
He buys black market anti-HIV drugs for his mother, and medical glucose solution to provision the raft from a nurse out of the back door of a clinic.
“Don’t let anyone see that list,” the nurse cautions, “or they’ll know you’re leaving the country.”
Then Raul is accused of assaulting a tourist, a crime only a little less serious than subversion in Cuba, and his desire to leave becomes an urgent necessity.
“Everyone in Havana knows you can’t run from the police,” Lila says. “You can choose to hide or make the most of the time you have left.”
Everything leads up to “One Night” at sea on a makeshift raft. Where the nature of Elio’s love for Raul comes out, and Lila’s womanhood ripens in the midst of confusion and catastrophe.
There have been many films that have attempted to show what life under tyranny is like. Notable ones from Latin America include “El Secreto en sus Ojos” (“The Secret in their Eyes” Argentina, 2009) and Cuban-American Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City” (2005). Most of them are about affluent, intellectual people who can discourse on the meaning of tyranny. Few have captured the “nervous desperation” of life under tyranny like “Una Noche.”
“Una Noche” is about the lives of poor, superstitious, entirely unpolitical people.
When the boys determine they are going to risk the trip across the Florida Straits that have claimed an unknown number of lives, they don’t discourse about freedom, they consult a witch to tell their fortune and make them a good luck charm.
When “Una Noche” premiered in the U.S. at the Tribeca Film Festival, stars Javier Nuñez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, disappeared, reportedly defecting.
UPDATE: I found out recently the film was actually shown in Cuba to wildly enthusiastic response from audiences – then it was banned.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
You want to know how I think Vladimir Putin feels these days? I bet he’s feeling pretty sick right about now.
Sure he’s just humiliated the president of the mighty United States, made us a laughingstock among nations, frightened our allies, heartened our enemies and with one stroke vastly diminished our influence in the Middle East while vastly increasing Russia’s. And I bet the victory tastes like ashes in his mouth.
Putin is former head of the KGB, the dreaded secret empire of Russia and one leg of the troika that formerly ruled: Party, army and KGB. He’s a stone killer and would-be Czar of a reborn Russian Empire, the Third Rome.
A man like Putin wants a man as an opponent in the Great Game.
Right now he’s thinking, “History will say I humiliated Barack Obama, and how hard was that?”
Astonishingly there seem to be any number of people in denial of the glaringly obvious fact that the president of the United States just got owned.
Obama made a threat he didn’t have the guts to back up and panicked. It’s that simple.
He waffled and equivocated and bleated, “It wasn’t ME who drew the red line, it was the world.”
John Kerry, secretary of state and born-again hawk went off-message, “It’s going to be a pin prick, you’ll hardly notice you’re being severely punished for gassing a thousand people or so.”
Gassing people to death is somehow far more heinous that shooting them with small arms fire or blowing them up with artillery like the other 99,000 or so Syrians over the past two years it seems.
Then Kerry went further out in left field and remarked as how if Assad gave up his chemical weapons maybe something could be worked out.
Putin leaped on it and offered to help take them and dispose of them. Like it wasn’t Russia giving the Syrians weapons to begin with.
To add insult to injury Putin then published a column in the New York Times which reeks of subtle mockery. He genially cautioned Americans about how dangerous it is to think of ourselves as an exceptional nation. He told us his relationship with Obama is one of growing trust.
To anybody who’s knocked about in the lands where the looming presence of Russia is a historical constant, the message is plain, “Your time as a great power is drawing to a close. The leader of the free world is weak, vacillating and in way over his head.”
You see Putin understands something Obama doesn’t, nor do many Americans for that matter. That the world is a dangerous place.
Consider. Putin was head of the KGB, the Soviet secret police. But the KGB is actually older than the Soviet state.
A secret police organization has a head, a mid-level bureaucracy and a vast network of street-level informers. When there is a regime change the head may get chopped off, and what head of a secret police expects to die in bed of old age? But the bureaucracy and network of informers is not something lightly thrown away.
The Russian secret police has an organizational continuity going back centuries. Its purpose is to protect a tyrannical state by maintaining a constant level of terror in the population. This is the sea Putin swims and thrives in.
Obama? Exclusive prep school in Hawaii. Harvard on a scholarship. World travel essentially as a tourist. Chicago community organizer, a town where politics is for sure dirty – but the price of losing is seldom death these days.
His knowledge of history is superficial and error-ridden. He has no military experience. He has never risked death for himself and his family for picking the wrong side of a political conflict. He has never killed a man he could see die.
Right now, anyone who isn’t worried isn’t paying attention.
Hang on to your hats, here we go round again.
President Obama has asked the military to “prepare options for all contingencies” in Syria, according to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
The immediate cause was compelling evidence a lot of civilians, estimates differ so widely I’m just going to say “a lot,” were killed by poison gas attacks recently in Syria’s civil war.
The gas presumably came from the nonexistent stockpiles Saddam Hussein didn’t have when George “Bush lied thousands died” Bush invaded Iraq.
I’m going to pause for a moment and crow bitterly. I think U.S. forces discovered evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq during the first week of the invasion and CNN showed them for all the world to see.
Coalition forces found an underground storage facility in the desert full of 55 gallon drums. A week later Al Jazeera triumphantly announced they were insecticides.
I noted that insecticides are in fact the chemical precursors of some nasty nerve agents. That’s what the Aum Shinrikyo cult used to make sarin gas for the Tokyo subway attacks in 1995.
I haven’t been able to get anyone of importance to acknowledge this in 10 years.
So now there’s a humanitarian disaster in Syria, and we’re on the verge of rushing in to “fix” it like we fixed Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Because our president’s bluff has been called once too many times and he’s got to show the world he’s got a pair after all.
I just wish that before we spent another trillion dollars or so we’d pause and ask a few questions first.
Starting with, what’s in it for us?
As in, does Syria have any significant amount of oil for example?
Iraq does – and we wound up not getting much of it anyway. So much for “No blood for oil.”
Will we significantly hurt Al-Queda?
They’re talking about intervening on the side of Al-Queda for God’s sake!
So all that aside, chaos in the Middle East is bad for our interests because…?
But people are dying!
Sure are, a lot more than died when Syria was merely ruled by a ruthless but sane tyrant.
OK, I’ll stop sugar coating this and get to the point.
The Middle East is a basket case as far as civilization goes. Wars and revolutions are going to break out regular as clockwork for a long time to come. People will be killing each other over reasons incomprehensible to us, and whatever happens they’re going to blame it all on 1) America, 2) the Jews.
The only solution we could impose is one we’re not even willing to talk about – empire.
As in occupy the place, establish an imperial civil service, and hold it with a corps of professional soldiers like the French Foreign Legion composed of tough, smart, and ruthless men we don’t like very much at home, because they’re going to die a lot. Do it for two generations minimum. To pay for it, levy taxes on the population.
You didn’t want to hear that, did you? Nobody does.
We all know imperialism is always and forever a Bad Thing of course. So how many former possessions of the British Empire have a higher standard of living now? How many have more security of person and property? How many are freer?
Some to be sure – but how many?
And now the British Empire is no more, is the world a safer place?
America does not do empire, in spite of all the cant about “American imperialism.” Which is in some ways a pity, because our few historical experiments with it in the Philippines and various Pacific islands shows we’re rather good at it when we put our minds to it.
But if we’re not willing to go that route, I’d say stay the heck out of crummy situations where we have no compelling national interest. Half measures are expensive for us and don’t do them any favors in the long run.
Note: This is my weekly op-ed.
The Anthony Weiner scandal has been called “the gift that keeps on giving” by commentators with a low taste for word play. But after we’ve wrung all the fun that can be had about a sexting politician with a hilariously appropriate name there is so much about this case that is just… weird.
Weiner, as you may remember, resigned in disgrace from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011 after he was exposed as a serious weirdo.
He “sexts,” that is to say he sent cell phone photos of his naughty bits to various women. Worse, he pushed the wrong button and sent them out to a Twitter list. Worst he told stupid lies a child could see through.
Sooooo, after a cooling off period, during which Weiner made oodles of money as a “consultant” (i.e. influence peddler) he threw his hat into the ring for Mayor of New York, and weirdly enough polled at the top of the field.
Except he kept sexting. Then lied about it and said he’d never do it again. Then he did it again.
The weirdness just keeps piling up. Weiner is an intelligent guy, so he didn’t know these strangers he’s sexting with were going to go the press for their 15
minutes of fame?
Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin is standing loyally by her man, calling him a great husband and father.
Getting weirder here. Weiner is, how shall I put it?
Sorry, he’s got an athletic build and obviously spends a lot of time in the gym, he even exercises there, but no one could look at that face and call him anything but homely.
Abedin on the other hand, is a babe. An exotic beauty with great fashion sense. You have to wonder how tightly wrapped a guy is who gets his jollies sexting when he can go home to that.
Abedin is also a powerful person in her own right. She’s worked for the State Department and as Deputy Chief of Staff under Hillary Clinton and is currently on Hillary’s transition team.
Bill Clinton himself officiated at the Weiner’s marriage, on which occasion Hillary said, “I only have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would be Huma.”
There are rumors about Hillary and Huma, but lets not go there. It’s weird enough already.
Where we should go is that Abedin was raised in Saudi Arabia and has close family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Her late father, mother and brother were all members. And during the time she worked for Hillary she also worked at a journal founded by a top al-Qaida financier, Abdullah Omar Naseef that allegedly promotes an Islamist ideology.
The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization founded in Egypt in 1928 as a Pan-Islamic movement with the credo, “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”
In spite of running hospitals and charities, these are not nice people and the Brotherhood is banned in several Arab countries for good reason.
That alone would seem to make her, if not a security risk, then at least a legitimate subject of inquiry. Yet when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and four other House Republicans raised the issue, they were crucified.
Why? It’s a legitimate question and need not be asked in an offensive way. Many Americans with Eastern European ties went though the same during the Cold War.
But – and this is a big but, Abedin dresses in ways that would get her beaten by the muttawas (religious police) in Saudi Arabia, and married a Jew!
Among fundamentalist Muslims in Saudi Arabia or her mother’s native Pakistan, she would be murdered by her own family for this!
All of this is of course meat and drink to conspiracy theorists. But paranoia aside, what does it all mean?
I don’t know, but it sure is weird!
July 4th is upon us again. This year it falls on a Thursday, and as usual we’ll celebrate with fireworks.
I have a guest from Poland staying with me who I will take to the celebrations at our town’s biggest park to see the display.
Poland is a country connected to ours through much history from the very beginnings of our country.
A Pole Kasimirz Pulaski helped found the U.S. Cavalry and died leading a charge at the Siege of Savannah in our Revolution. The U.S. Army cavalry ensign is, coincidentally or not, the red and white banner of Poland.
Pulaski came to America as an exile from Poland under sentence of death for leading an uprising against Russian domination of his country.
When word of his death reached Poland, his enemy King Stanislaw August remarked, “Pulaski died as he lived, a hero – but an enemy of kings.”
Another Pole Taddeusz Kosciusko brought his skills as a combat engineer to the cause of American independence, and designed the fortifications at West Point.
Kosciusko later led an uprising in 1794 against Russia and Prussia in a vain attempt to prevent the dismemberment of his country by Russia, Prussia and Austria. He failed, and Poland was wiped off the map of Europe for more than 130 years. Sentenced to death, he was saved from execution by personal appeals from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Other foreigners served in the army of George Washington, bringing much-needed military skills to an army of amateurs led by a commander whose only military experience had been 18 years earlier and who had never commanded more than 1,000 men.
Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben, a phony baron but a real soldier, taught military drill to the raw American recruits.
Von Steuben once remarked in exasperation, “It’s not enough to give an American an order, you have to tell him why!”
Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb, first came to America in 1768 on a covert mission for France, to determine the level of discontent among colonists. He was impressed by the “spirit of independence” among the Americans he met, and in 1777 he returned with his friend the Marquis de Layette to fight for that independence.
De Kalb was mortally wounded at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780.
While de Kalb’s wounds were being tended by a British surgeon he said, “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”
Lafayette returned to France after the Revolution, He became a tireless supporter of the cause of the liberation of Poland, and was very nearly sent to the guillotine when the French Revolution went seriously wrong.
What brought these men here, to face and sometimes meet death in what must have seemed an uncertain cause at best.
Perhaps it was this:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
We forget today how these words terrified the ancient autocracies of the Old World. How they denied the right of any government not based on the protection of human right to exist, and asserted the right of the people “to alter or abolish it.”
And we forget how men of many nations saw our cause as their own.
One Englishman transplanted to America, Tom Paine, wrote in 1776, “Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for all mankind.”
Happy Fourth of July.
Note: This was my weekly opinion column. The theme will be continued in my next.
In his address to the graduating class of Ohio State University on May 5, President Obama sounded the alarm against alarmists.
“Still, you’ll hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner,” Obama said. “You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.”
Of course Republicans pounced on this with glee and have been quoting it often, though usually omitting the last sentence.
Obama’s opponents point to the administration’s data mining of American’s phone records by the National Security Agency, hacking reporters emails, harassing Tea Party organizations by the IRS, asserting the right to survey American citizens with drones and kill them in other countries by remote control without trial, conviction or indeed anything but the president’s say-so.
Obama’s defenders counter the NSA activities started long before the present administration and point to rendition of terrorist suspects etc by the Bush administration.
When a Republican administration is in office the country is on the verge of sliding into tyranny, according to Democrats.
And of course, when a Democratic administration is in power the country is on the verge of sliding into tyranny, according to Republicans.
They’re both right.
They’re both right because our country is always on the verge of sliding into tyranny. More likely the soft tyranny of all-intrusive bureaucracy than the hard tyranny of jackboots and rubber truncheons, but tyranny nonetheless.
Government, as George Washington pointed out, is neither persuasion, reason, nor eloquence. It is force.
“And like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a terrible master.”
To be rendered harmless, an open fire must be carefully tended.
So must government.
“If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions,” said Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edward Carrington.
Notice Jefferson didn’t say, “Those no-good so-and-sos will become wolves.” He said, “you and I will become wolves.”
The Founders were well-aware of the weakness of human nature and warned future generations to trust no one with unrestrained power.
“In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution,” Jefferson said.
Of course everybody realizes the other guys can’t be trusted with unlimited power. But of course I can be.
“If I were king…”
Well-meaning politicians always seek more power, for the noblest of reasons of course. But the other guy can’t be trusted with it. And in the democratic process power is always changing hands.
But sooner or later it occurs to even the most well-meaning politicians that the way to keep power out of the “wrong hands” – is to do away with the democratic process.
And that’s why we must listen to those voices.
Note: A slightly edited version of this appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
“The Purge,” directed by James DeMonaco, operates on many levels: dystopian fantasy, home invasion thriller, political allegory, and moral fable. And it’s unbelievably stupid on every one of them.
The year is 2022. The New Founding Fathers have instituted the Purge, a yearly 12-hour period in which all laws, including murder are suspended.
The Purge allows everybody to release their inner psycho and get it out of their system. Of course nobody’s going to develop a taste for it that can’t be confined to once a year.
This is stated to be the reason the economy is booming, there is full employment and low crime. Because allowing murder and vandalism is good for the economy.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) sells security systems to his neighbors and does very well for himself. He, his wife Mary (Lena Headey), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder) live well and enjoy the finer things in life.
But this year as the Sandins are locking down for the night, they have two uninvited guests.
Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller,) who daddy has forbidden her to see, sneaks in to reason with Daddy – with a gun.
Charlie lets in a homeless black man (Edwin Hodge,) who is wounded and pursued by a gang of rich preppy psychopaths in scary masks. They want to kill him because that’s what rich people secretly want to do to the poor don’t you know.
Their leader (Rhys Wakefield) appeals to James as a fellow ”have” to let them have the have-not scum so they can kill him. Otherwise they are going to break in and kill everybody in the house.
And of course they do break in. Because security expert James has precisely ONE layer of security, steel shutters on the doors and windows.
There are closed circuit TV cameras to see outside, but no floodlights. All the shutters are armed by one switch. There is nothing like a double-door foyer which allows someone to pass through without compromising security. There is no emergency power backup.
They do have guns, but no gun ports to shoot outside. The guns are not standardized calibers: a revolver, an automatic, and a pump-action shotgun with a cool handle that makes it impossible to work the pump quickly. The Sandins appear to have little or no training in combat shooting.
Any damn fool would design layered security, starting at the periphery of the neighborhood in cooperation with the neighbors. Then fortify the houses as redoubts of last resort. Oh, and don’t forget a safe room in case the house is breached.
Once the psychos are in the darkened house, the Sandin family does everything wrong. They separate and can’t seem to lay a simple ambush in the house they are intimately familiar with, against intruders who don’t know the layout at all. Makes for great scary moments though.
Of course they are saved by the homeless guy they were thinking of feeding to the mob, who is evidently a veteran by the dog tags he wears. He’s noble because he tells James to go ahead, give him up and save his children.
There is the horror movie double tap of course. You think the danger is over, but it’s not.
The neighbors turn on them because they resent the wealth the Sandin’s have piled up from selling them security systems.
Me, I think they’re mad at James because the security systems are lousy.
In the end they are undone and at the mercy of the Noble Black Man who says to Mary, “Your call.”
Mary renounces vengeance, the Purge ends and the Noble Black Man walks off into the sunrise.
Hey Lady, those neighbors were going to stab you and your children to death with knives. You turned the tables on them and you think they’re going to forget that next year?
And since there are closets full of clothes their owner has no further use for, could you have offered your savior a new suit? A job for next year’s purge? Asked his name so you could thank him properly? Breakfast?
DeMonaco has stated “The Purge” is his vision of America with the NRA and Tea Party people in power. He is a professed admirer of the Occupy Movement.
The Tea Party demonstrations have been largely middle class, middle aged, short-term and orderly. The Occupy demonstrations have been young, affluent, lengthy and marked by vandalism and assault. The NRA has never advocated a people-hunting season.
DeMonaco says he’s fascinated by “America’s relationship with violence.”
You have relationships with people. You are violent, a victim of violence, or prepared to use violence to avoid becoming a victim.
“The Purge” is plenty scary but shows only DeMonaco’s own sick fascination with violence, of which he knows nothing.