15 July, 2016

The American Political Process


"Pick a leader who will make their citizens proud. One who will stir the hearts of the people, so that the sons and daughters of a given nation strive to emulate their leader’s greatness. Only then will a country be truly great, when a leader inspires and produces citizens worthy of becoming future leaders, honorable decision makers, and peacemakers. And in these times, a great leader must be extremely brave. Their leadership must be steered only by their conscience, not a bribe."

“When picking a leader, choose a peacemaker. One who unites, not divides. A cultured leader who supports the arts and true freedom of speech, not censorship.”

Though far from perfect, the American presidential election process has been improved since its inception. As things now stand, two distinct, but not incompatible, sets of interests are the major determining factors in the process. First, the interests of the Parties. Though they have no Constitutionally prescribed role, the Republican and Democratic Parties play a major role in both American elections and in governing America. Although candidates compete for offices, parties control and operate the levers of government. A divided Federal Government makes this especially evident. The second set of interests is those of the citizenry. There is considerable dispute about how to best address these interests, but substantially free and demonstrably fair elections play a key role in all honest attempts to do so.

The process begins with voter registration. The individual citizen is responsible for this step. In every jurisdiction, citizens can register with one or the other major party or registered as unaffiliated [or some variation thereof]. This choice often determines the level of participation a citizen may have in the first electoral phase whether that is a primary election or a party caucus. If one intends to vote in a primary or participate in a caucus, one must be responsible enough to ascertain the rules in one’s state. If the primary is a closed primary and one registers as unaffiliated or some variation thereof, then voting in the primary will be precluded by one’s considered action. Such an outcome exemplifies the application of the rules, not rigging the rules; it demonstrates a willful disregard of the rules and then, whining about the foreseeable consequence!

The rules now in place for Democratic primaries are over thirty-years-old. They have not been set to favor any current candidate. If rigging took place, it did so decades in the past. Therefore, any obsession with the rules of the process beyond knowing what they are and using them to one’s best advantage is a waste of time and effort. One does not recruit and field a Football team and then, demand field players be allowed to handle the ball despite the venerable rule prohibiting it. In this case, politics is similar to Football.

Whether done through a primary or a caucus, the first stage is where Party nominees are selected. Primaries are elections, but caucuses are not. Participants express their preferences in the open, not in secret; they last for hours in contrast to voting which typically takes less than an hour and often takes minutes. Caucuses happen during a limited time on an appointed day and almost always in the evening. In addition to every other difference, this means caucuses by their nature preclude participation by people with inflexible schedules or unchanging commitments. Due to these significant variations, the outcomes of primaries and caucuses are not directly comparable.

Primaries and caucuses operate to choose the nominees of parties. Parties are legal organizations, but they are not governmental organizations. They do not have to accord all citizens access to levers of power when it comes to setting rules and conducting their efforts. As long as parties do not engage in criminal or fraudulent actions, they are completely free to do what they think best. In the early 1980s, the Democratic Party leaders decided to set rules for their primaries and caucuses. They wanted to ensure that the party did not pick a candidate that had no reasonable prospect of winning. Roughly four decades have passed since the rules were adopted, so it is evident that they were not intended to favor any candidate in 2016. What has happened is that one candidate and campaign knew and applied the long-standing rules and the other candidate and campaign ignored and complained about those same rules.

2016 has been a tumultuous campaign year.  The turmoil is likely to get worse as the primaries end, and the general election phase begins. In the future, a greater knowledge of the two-stage American Election Process would make things go smoother. A few other changes would be helpful as well. First, modify or repeal laws and regulations that give undue advantage to the Democratic and Republican Parties. Such changes would enable the Libertarian and Green Parties to make inroads or at least gain ballot access. Second, eliminate caucuses which are not genuine elections and have no clear connection to the actual elections which take place in November. Third, close all primaries. Because primaries operate for the purpose of choosing party nominees, only party voters should have a say in choosing the nominee. Any citizen who wants to vote in a primary can register for the party of her or his choice and vote in the appropriate primary. Once the nominees of all parties are chosen, pass or repeal as necessary legislation to ensure that all citizens of age have unabridged access to the ballot box.

In the past five decades, insurgent candidates and campaigns have arisen and recurrently claimed such things as “there is not a dime’s worth of difference” between the major political parties. This line of argument gets more credence than the evidence suggests it deserved even when it at first, and it is preposterous now! In the second decade of the 21st-century, the major parties are almost diametric opposites.  The Democratic Party strives to govern and the Republican Party schemes to rule. The Democratic Party is hierarchical but consultative and consensus driven. The Republican Party is hierarchical also, but functions in a highly authoritarian manner. The Democratic Party believes proper governance is a major force for improvement in society. The Republican Party seeks to sabotage and subvert governance at the federal level and supplant it with oligarchy rule at the state level.

The clear differences between the major parties are aggravated by the emergence of Donald Drumpf as the Republican Presidential nominee. This deceitful person brings a clear and present danger to the fore which previous Republican nominees have been careful to disguise. Deceitful Donald is a committed authoritarian and thus, epitomizes the evolution of the Republican Party that began with the conservative coup under Reagan. As David Frum, a Republican of high repute makes clear a minimum of seven danger signals apply directly to this scoundrel. First, the alarming manner in which this candidate for president of the United States speak and acts.  “From the founding of the republic, Americans have looked to qualities of personal restraint as one of the first checks on the power of office.” 

Deceitful Donald exhibits no personal restraint whatsoever. Any power inherent or assumed in the office of the president would be pushed to its limits and beyond by this megalomaniac.
The second alarm is the utter absence of trustworthiness in this politician. “The dark arts of politics include dissimulation, evasion, and misdirection. Outright lying, however, happens more rarely than you think in politics, especially in high and visible offices like the presidency.  ”Deceitful Donald’s "dishonesty, however, is qualitatively different than anything before seen from a major-party nominee. The stack of lies teeters so tall that one obscures another. Lies about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11, lies about his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan war, lies about his wealth, lies about the size of his crowds, lies about women he’s dated, lies about his donations to charity, lies about self-funding his campaign. Senator Cruz spoke truly for once when he said: in May 2016. "But the man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.”

The third alarm arises due to this potential president’s deep and admitted ignorance of governance and public affairs. Deceitful Donald “is surely the most policy-ignorant major party nominee of modern times, or perhaps of any time. As with the lies, it’s almost impossible to keep track of the revelations of gaps in his knowledge. The most spectacular may have been talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt’s exposure of the fact that Drumpf lacked the most basic understanding of the structure and mission of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This appalling ignorance is made even more threatening by “the massive Republican and conservative rejection of the idea that a candidate for president should know anything substantive about governing at all.” In Deceitful Donald, an arrogant ignoramus has been enthusiastically embraced by masses of citizens who see ignorance as a positive quality.

They fourth alarm differs from the others in that often it is in itself alarming: ideology – Deceitful Donald can barely use principle in a sentence let alone articulate and abide by any principles. He is perhaps the first candidate of a major party in American history who to whom “unprincipled” applies with total accuracy. Now, the ideology of the Republican Party is increasingly discredited, but it was nonetheless a veneer that hid the power lust of so many Republican politicians, With Drumpf, the thirst for dominion is openly displayed.
The fifth alarm is Drumpf’s nonchalance concerning the primacy of national security.  Deceitful Donald “has no relevant experience, no military record, scant interest in the topic—and a long history of casual expressions of sympathy for authoritarian rulers.” He unblushingly stated his military advice comes from TV talk shows.” Drumpf slights NATO as obsolete, and says “he has plans to withdraw American protection from allies who don’t spend more” whether or not it breaks up NATO.  He’s spoken favorably of Japan and South Korea obtaining nuclear weapons, to provide for their security by, apparently unaware of the tensions between those two U.S. allies. Finally, he mused open-mindedly about Saudi Arabia acquiring nuclear weapons. There is no competent person who does not believe such developments would make both America and the world less secure and more endangered. Deceitful Donald’s “foreign policy is predicated upon an apocalyptic vision of the United States as a weak and fading country, no longer able to shoulder the costs and burdens of world leadership.” As is so often the case with Republicans, Drumpf would take actions that cause the very failure he insisted was already well underway. In this case, the failure could be of catastrophic dimensions.

The sixth alarm rings the loudest and clearest for all Americans of goodwill and genuine patriotism: Deceitful Donald turns into Despicable Donald with his flagrant abandonment of the “deep belief in tolerance and non-discrimination for Americans of all faiths, creeds, and origins” that once functioned as a barrier against viciously destructive politics. Disrespect for targeted groups—including the very biggest of them all, women— recurs regularly as a theme of the Drumpf candidacy. Deceitful Donald seeks “not to be president of all Americans, but to be the clan leader of white Americans. Those white Americans who respond to his message hear his abusive comments, not as evidence of his unfitness for office, but as proof of his commitment to their tribe.”

yThe final fire bell ringing in the gathering gloom of 2016 may be the most portentous after World War II once fierce religious rivalries blurred into the broad categories— Protestant, Catholic, Jew–which in turn discovered new affinities for each other in a common creed of “Americanism.” From this creed sprung a new and vital loyalty to the nation as a whole. Partisan identities have hardened since then. “Today, far larger proportions of Democratic and Republican voters hold strongly negative views of the opposing party than in the past,” observe Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster in their paper, “All Politics is National: The Rise of Negative Partisanship.” Negative partisanship is the argument deployed to reconcile anti-Drumpf Republicans to their party’s nominee.” People who have called Deceitful Donald everything but a good person now say they will support him over the loathsome Democratic Harpy Hillary Rodham Clinton. Disturbingly people who label themselves conservatives seem poised to aid and abet the election of a candidate that threatens the survival and success of the American Constitutional Republic and perhaps, the habitability of the planet Earth. What precisely do they believe they are conserving through such a course of action?

2016 brings all Americans to another time that tries our souls whatever we may conceive souls to be. The foundational principles and fundamental promises of America are written in completely intelligible form. We have almost to a person at one time or another sworn or pledged true faith and allegiance to these principles and promises. Now is the time to fulfill our oaths and redeem our pledges. Let us stand our country now and thereby earn the love and thanks of generations yet unborn in America and around the globe.

Why Is This Happening?


“The wind of change is blowing, and we see in our day and our age a significant development. Victor Hugo said on one occasion that there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. In a real sense, the idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity. Wherever men are assembled today, the cry is always the same, "We want to be free." And so we see in our own world a revolution of rising expectations. The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution…. And now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] - or we will all perish together as fools.”
 MLK, Jr, 14 June 1965
"What we need in the United States is not division," Kennedy told the crowd, "what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."
 RFK 04 April 19

In the wake of shootings in Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, it is probable that many are asking themselves and others: “Why is this Happening?” There are no easy answers that are also helpful responses with a high probability of being correct. Nonetheless, it is apparent that something is seriously wrong. A follow-up question, springs readily to mind: “What can we do and who should do it?”

NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said, "In these violent and horrifying times, when a new generation is waking to call for police accountability, economic and educational equality and protecting the right to vote for all people,” America and all Americans face a significant moral moment. The lynchings of the past, today often take the form of police brutality or mass shootings. Forty-nine innocent and peaceful people were slaughtered by a vicious coward who disapproved of their presumed lifestyle. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the latest names added to the list of victims. Five peace officers in the proper performance of their duties were senselessly murdered in Dallas, too — but their vicious execution will not end the summary execution of black Americans, and it will not bring Americans together and put us all on the path to improvement, justice, and peace. Lives are in danger, and some of that danger comes from the very people who sworn to keep the peace and protect and serve all citizens. Too many Americans in too many localities are all tense, angry, devastated, suspicious, and grieving.

All of us can draw solace in the fact that the outrage over this 21st-century form of lynching is not isolated to the black community. Americans of all races and ethnicities are fighting to put an end to the epidemic of gun-facilitated violence particularly — in this country. Now is the time for Americans to come together as one people in grief, in protest, and in resolute pursuit of effective, measurable, and genuine change.

It can reasonably be asserted that radical reform of policing practices, policies, and laws at all levels must be made — immediately. The current approach is taking too many lives for no good and sufficient end. As if tensions were not high enough, at 12:40 AM on Saturday, Houston police shot and killed a man they allege pointed a gun at them despite surveillance footage from a nearby gas station that suggests otherwise.

Furthermore, no sane and humane American can condone sniping at law enforcement officers when they are properly, even superbly as happened in Dallas, performing their legitimate duties. Police are citizens too; they also have civil rights and like every other American have a right not to be killed as they peacefully go about their business. With the death toll mounting, Americans of goodwill must step up and speak up. Black lives matter as do Blue lives. Now, leadership and citizenship of the highest order must rally and bind up the nation’s wounds, comfort the grieving families, establish a just and lasting peace among ourselves grounded in an enduring regard and unwavering respect for one another regardless of complexion or clothing.

The Constitution is not merely a historical artifact. It is a charter of governance and the playbook for the American polity. We, the people, are not all one color. We cover the entire spectrum of human skin tone from the palest of the pale to the darkest of the dark. The Republic to which almost all of us have at one time or another pledged allegiance is not its land mass or its populace. It is a promise continually in the process of being kept or broken. In fact, many Americans, including every police officer, have sworn oaths to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the Republic it ordains and established.

The shameful, known but often unacknowledged, the truth is that too many of us do not keep our pledges and fulfill our oaths. We do not recognize every American as a full and equal citizen. We do not insist that all people in official capacities carry out their duties consistently in a manner that affords all citizens equal protection of due process of law. We do not demand that every American be accord all the privileges and immunities of any citizen. We allow the 15,400 strictly local law enforcement, police and sheriff departments with armed officers, [according to the latest report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics] half of which have less than ten officers and have special challenges to operating with little consistency in training or procedures across them. Furthermore, we tolerate the situation described by David Weisburd, executive director of the Center for Evidence-based Crime Policy at George Mason University, who said. "There are many departments that simply poorly train and lead their officers." Thus, all of us have work to do to make a genuine equality of rights a reality for every American and to ensure that all citizens are protected and served, rather than some being persecuted and slain.

We must stand in solidarity with all people of goodwill; we must join with fellow activists; we must work hand in hand with members of our community. We must contact our elected officials to demand life-saving reforms to a broken system. We must speak out and promote inclusive attitudes and an end to bigotry whether explicit or implicit. We must call on each and every American to insist that the dream of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all be realized far more pervasive throughout the land for every citizen.

Delores Jones-Brown, professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice says, the effects of more diversity on police rosters are unclear. “The research is divided on the issue of whether or not diversifying police departments has any specific impacts,” she explains. “There’s one set of research that says that regardless of the identity of the police officer, they become part of a police culture and in that police culture there is an ‘us-versus-them’ personality. The police put themselves and their own safety ahead of that of the general public, and they believe they have a right to go home at the end of the shift,” regardless of what that means for other people, Jones-Brown says. Thus, what evidence there is suggests that simply diversifying is not a panacea. Also, whatever the complexion [or gender] of individual police officers, when they put on the uniform, they become blue. Accordingly, Jones-Brown says, “A combination of diversity and better training should lead to better results.” It seems that better training and more rigorous insistence on the application of the training should, in fact, take precedence over diversification although both can be done more or less concurrently.

Paradoxically, the Dallas police department had committed itself to transparency. It developed a new foot pursuit policy that emphasized de-escalation. It made police officers in Dallas subject to lethal force training every two months instead of every two years. The number of body cameras used by officers increased. Poor performing police officers were fired. And after Brown declared that traffic citations were not intended to “raise revenue,” his officers issued half as many tickets at last count as they did in 2006. Thus, Dallas was actively pursuing the steps many think likely to diminish excessive force and diminish lethality. This police department was doing many right things right. In many ways, the Dallas Police Department represents the best, not the worst, of American police departments.

David Brown, Dallas Police Chief, and a member of President Obama’s Police Data Initiative said, “So far this year, in 2016, we have had four excessive force complaints. We’ve averaged between 150 and 200 my whole 33-year career. And we’ve averaged between 18 and 25 police involved shootings my whole career. We’ve had two so far this year.” These statistics will offer little succor as the city of Dallas grieves for the five police officers killed Thursday night. The legacy of these reform efforts, however, and the trust they engendered, do offer hope that the city may be prepared to begin to heal its wounds in the days and weeks ahead. Finally, Chief Brown urged protesters holding demonstrations over the deaths of Sterling and Castile—and over the resurgent debate over race relations and policing practices in the United States to “become a part of the solution. “We’re hiring,” he said. “Get off that protest line and put an application in, and we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.”

Chief Brown has a record to build on and a sound perspective. These are troubled and troubling times. What we need in America is not division, hatred, lawlessness, and violence. The great challenge facing every citizen alive today is to remain engaged, rather than enraged, through this turbulent interval. Each of us must make an ethical and practical commitment to amity toward, cooperation among, and justice for all and learn to live together as brother and sister citizens – lest we perish together as fools. We can set out together on the path to justice. We can – and we –  must come together and end this carnage by and against all citizens and all those sworn and empowered to serve and protect them. Divided we are likely ineffectual. United we are virtually invincible.

Citizens All; Always!

"America is much more than a geographical fact.  It is a political and moral fact - the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality."                                                    Adlai Stevenson

"Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."                                                                                                  Adlai Stevenson

An essay, on patriotic citizenship rather than corrosive partisanship, in honor of America's 240th Anniversary.

All of us have heard it, read it, written it, or perhaps even said it. “Partisanship is ruining this country; we need to stop being so partisan. It is us not “us versus them.” Forget the party think about the country!”

Though thousands, at least, express the sentiment and millions, perhaps, echo it. There is rarely a substantive follow-up, and almost never an effective follow through. If Americans abandon partisanship, to what do they turn? The answer is surprisingly intelligible, and it almost all of us has heard it. Though not well articulated at the nation’s inception, it was stated clearly shortly after the nation’s redemption: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” These words begin the Fourteenth Amendment as passed by Congress on June 13, 1866, and ratified July 9, 1868. Not there is no stipulation of white, male, Christian, straight, wealthy, or any other attribute simply: all persons. We are citizens all!

For starters, we must appreciate that America emerged from the mind, not from the mist. America does not exist by virtue of place. But by virtue of explicit thoughts and energetic efforts by people living in a particular place at a specific time. The United States of America is not now, nor has it ever been, a Christian nation. America is a creation of the European Enlightenment. Also, the United States is not in essence a particular populace from any specific historical period. As long as some few, some hopeful few, some band of brothers and sisters, know and cherish the ideas and ideals of America, the United States is an ongoing endeavor.

In this age of hyper-partisanship and dark-money driven hyperbolic campaign propaganda, we, the people, may lose sight of the patriotic forest for the partisan trees. Nothing in the American Constitutional Republic anoints Parties or partisans as the tribunes of the people or the pillars of governance of, by, and for the people. Though people and parties can respond to the times that try our character, they must do so from an informed and cherished understanding of the foundational principles and fundamental promises that make and keep America great and good.  We must remember what President Clinton truly observed: “Posterity is the world to come; the world for whom we hold our ideals, from whom we have borrowed our planet, and to whom we bear sacred responsibility. We must do what America does best: offer more opportunity to all and demand responsibility from all.”  Our ancestors placed this challenge before us by our ancestors and in so doing they also gave us a treasure to be given to our descendants. We must not allow the frenzy and fury of current controversies to distract us from our solemn duty. We must not sound the death knell of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal.

Our duty is not merely nationalistic because “True Americanism is practical idealism. Its aims, instead of being materialistic and mechanical, are idealistic to the point of being Utopian. In this way, the U.S. can provide and express ideals that strike a chord in humans everywhere - a declaration of independence on behalf of all the peoples of the world.”  Today speaking up for this “true Americanism” has too often and too fully become a lonely and daunting ordeal. One side of the partisan divide is ravenous and bereft of reason; the other side is timorous and devoid of conviction. Properly understood, authentic Americanism should unite all Americans of goodwill in an ardent patriotism, not fixated on a particular personality, but dedicated to a specific set of worthy ideals and the struggle to bring these values to fruition in our society.

How have we come to this? Not by one route and not through the action of one person or one class. Although the people who launched the American endeavor were extraordinary, they were not perfect. They could not magically change the world in which they lived into the world they deemed both possible and preferable. That is why they spoke of commitment and referred to posterity. The world as it existed and the social and political arrangements that prevailed in their time needed transformation. Incantations would not suffice; prayers would not prevail. Actions were necessary, not in short, frenzied outbursts, but prolonged and persistent efforts over multiple lifetimes. Accordingly, the Foundational Documents speak of forming a “more perfect union,” rather than a perfect union. Continual improvement is envisioned and required. Justice, Tranquility, Defense, Well-being, and Liberty are not one and done achievements. They are ongoing efforts. As a nation and a citizenry, we are either progressing toward them or regressing from them. What matters is what we do, hour-by-hour, day-by-day from the moment of our majority until the instant of our demise. In the 240 years since 4 July 1776, more than 2 million hours and roughly 88,000 days have passed. Millions, perhaps billions, of Americans have been born, have lived, and have died. As things now stand, it seems evident that too few have done too little to make the premises and the promises of America a reality for each and all.

This situation is not solely the fault of elected political leaders, but many of them bear a large share of the responsibility. It is not the fault of ordinary Americans whether they are currently alive or long dead. Nonetheless, we the people, bear a share of the responsibility. As an American citizen, no one of us can opt out. Neither prominence nor obscurity can exempt us from doing our duty. As a great and murdered president once said: “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. . .. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. Th trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We know how to save the Union . . .. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility . . .. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

Our knowledge comes from the Foundational Documents and the commentaries of our bravest and best leaders. All these speak in plainly intelligible language. The words are necessary, but they are not sufficient. Actions are required. One does not need specialized training to do what needs doing. The readiness and the commitment are all. Before any of us support any candidate or champion any proposal, we must check the Foundational Documents. The requirement is not to find an excuse for obstruction or delay, but to find a guide to constructive endeavors. In some cases, actions are prescribed and in others, they are prohibited. For example: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State….” This statement recurs in every Amendment to the Constitution that pertains to the right to vote the 15th ratified 3 February 1870, the 19th, the 24th, through the 26th ratified 1 July 1971. More than a century of Constitutional development has insisted that neither the United States nor any state denies or abridges the right of citizens to vote. It is high time we get the message!

In a similar manner, prohibitions are stated, and guarantees made. These rights impose constraints on the authorities and present challenges to the citizens. Despite the clarity of the documents, devious and ambitious people have managed to obscure their meaning. As a consequence, we have people such a Russell Pearce, the recalled president of the Arizona Senate, saying he can “fix public assistance programs by forcibly sterilizing women who receive aid and by requiring drug tests for all recipients.” Pearce went on to suggest “Spartan accommodations and strict rules for anyone who received government housing assistance.” For example, “You’ll maintain your property in a clean, good state of repair, and your home will be subjected to an inspection at any time, possessions will be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or an X-Box 360, then get a job.” Clearly, Mr. Pearce is not a faithful follower of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nor does he seem to have much affinity for the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. The advocacy of these blatant violations of the rights of his brother and sister citizens has not kept Mr. Pearce from being elected vice-chair of the Arizona Republican Party and collecting both a pension and a salary of $85,000 annually from his taxpayer-paid position

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, including the twenty-seven amendments, have 1,458 and 7,591 words respectively. The Gettysburg Address has only 272. Thus the three Foundational American documents total a mere 9,321 words. Is it too much to ask that all of us, read, ponder, and uphold these words? Can we not agree with Stevenson that in the context of our time's patriotism means a sense of personal and national responsibility which enables America to remain, master of her power—and enables Americans to walk in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect of all humankind. That patriotism puts country ahead of self and party; which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. That it is a mighty assignment easy to say and hard to complete because it is too often easier to proclaim and to fight for principles than to live up to them? Finally, let us now adopt and implement Jefferson’s maxim: “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”

American Essentials


“Ideals are like stars: we will not succeed in touching them with our hands, but like the seafarers on the ocean desert of waters, we choose them as our guides, and following them, we reach our destiny.” Carl Schurz US (German-born) Civil War general & politician (edited for inclusive language)

Many people seeking office or professionally active in politics as operatives or enthusiastic, but unpaid, volunteers profess patriotism. They wear flag lapel pins; they stand before flags; they use rhetoric about American values and hallowed traditions. Often, whether candidates, operatives, or volunteers, such people are long on style and short on substance.  Before granting acceptance of these professions of patriotism or feeling inspiration due to them, responsible citizens must ponder what constitutes authentic and laudable American patriotism.

While different people would offer different responses and some would even dispute that true patriotism is possible, consider these suggestions as you work out your own.

The essentials of authentic, commendable American patriotism must be grounded in fundamental documents directly impacting the formation and development of America as a geopolitical reality. Three documents fill this role more prominently and substantively than any others.

These are The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and The Gettysburg Address. Within these documents are fifteen precepts that summarize and convey the real American Essentials.

From The Declaration of Independence asserts the ideal: 1. of human equality, 2. of human rights, 3. of just governance by consent of the governed, and 4, of a mutual commitment to one another.

From The Constitution of the United States stipulates commitments to 1. an ever improving unity, 2. the establishment of justice. 3. peace among ourselves, 4. defense against foreign invasion, 5. shared prosperity and general well-being. 6. the benefits of liberty for all Americans, 7. the abolition of involuntary servitude except as punishment 8. Equal privileges and immunities for all citizens, 9. equal protection of all people by due process of law, 10. unimpaired and unimpeded ballot access for all citizens of age.

From The Gettysburg Address vows 1. renewed dedication and firm resolve to the survival and success of governance of the people, by the people, for the people. While these fifteen principles are not simple, nor are they incomprehensibly complex. Although their proclamation came at or near the origins of the nation, they are by no means fully realized. Too often, we honor them more in the breach than the observance. Nonetheless, no twenty-first-century American, whether prominent or obscure has any excuse. Our heritage has an explicit stipulation of what is right. We know what these statements mean. We know what they require of us. The only issue is: “Do we have the character to do what needs doing?

A widely misattributed quote states: “America is good because she is great. When America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” No matter the identity of the originator of this thought, it is sound. Genuine greatness requires real goodness. America has never lived out the full meaning of its ideals as set forth here, but progress has happened though more slowly and more erratically than full fidelity to these ideals demands.

For all our shortfalls, stagnations, and backsliding, no genuinely patriotic American can tolerate any law, regulation, custom, practice, proposal, campaign, or candidate that flaunts and violates these fifteen statements. At our finest and best, we hold these truths in our minds and our hearts and strive to make them a reality in our culture and society. Under the pressure of time and circumstance, we too often get distracted and lose our focus. That is why we must not lose sight of this fifteen-star constellation. If we are to arrive at our preferred destination, it must be our guide on the roiling seas of  21st-century American politics.

What were once bold philosophic assertions, are now established scientific facts and widely accepted political precepts. The unity of humankind is indisputable, and racism is wholly untenable. A distinguished American took the lead in the effort to craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These thirty specified and acknowledged human rights, in turn, give rise to stipulated and unenumerated civil rights. The purpose of any just government is to protect human and civil rights.

All truly patriotic Americans regardless of their situation or social station must firmly resolve to finish the work remains before us. No legitimate American political leader can suggest or command that America betrays its premises or reneges on its promises. People have lived, struggled, and died for each and all of these fifteen principles. Far too many have given their last full measure of devotion to ensure the realization of these fundamentals. And every one of us now living, owe a debt of honor which we must pay so that the deaths, the injuries, the efforts, the sacrifices, and the struggles have not been in vain. The preceding fifteen precepts must not be abandoned; they must not be honored in the breech. They must be avowed, advanced, and attained.  No patriotic leader can announce or advocate that America and Americans abandon the quest to be what we as a people and a nation actually ought to be: not the last best hope of the earth, but as Washington hoped “ever among the foremost nations of justice and liberty” upon the earth.

Many may say this essay is overly idealistic, but I would counter with this from Robert F. Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation speech. In Cape Town, South Africa on 6 June 1966. Bobby warned of three dangers: Futility, was the first; timidity was the third, and expediency was the second, and it applies most directly here:

“The second danger is that of expediency: of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediate necessities. Of course, if we must act effectively we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. But … high aspirations and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs — that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of the heart and the mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith, of passion and of belief — forces ultimately more powerful than all of the calculations of our economists or our generals. Of course, adherence to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Therefore, let us not be dissuaded by the false realism of the expedient; let us not succumb to the enervation of futility, nor surrender to the monsters conjured by the timid. Let us have the courage of our convictions; let us stand up, speak out, and carry on the struggle to uphold and implement these patriotic American Essentials

12 September, 2015

Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk, Kim Davis, claims her refusal to follow the law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a stand for religious liberty. Davis says she is acting on the “authority of God.”  The charlatan, Mike Huckabee, buffoonish Chris Christie, and thousands of Christian bigots say they agree with and support her.

Despite this claim, neither Davis nor any of her opportunistic supporters can explain the original written language that conveyed this authority. They cannot identify who committed it to writing.  Nor can they tell us what sufficient, competent evidential matter she, or any of her supporters have to back up her claims.  Why should the source she refers to be considered divine by her or anyone else?

The problem is Kim Davis and hordes rallying to her flagrantly misconstrue and then blatantly misrepresent what is happening. Kim Davis is an elected official; she is not some marginalized minority; she is part of the ruling class. She has more in common with the officials who were depriving citizens of their rights than the protesters who were standing up to them.

Davis and her supporters mistakenly use the term religious liberty to invoke what they deem a noble American ideal. In their ignorance or negligence, they disregard that the fundamental ideal is religious toleration.  Religious toleration means granting everyone freedom of personal belief, and freedom of religious speech; allowing individuals and groups to practice their religious faith, within reasonable limits. These limits include everyone having freedom of assembly and the right practice what their religion requires of them. Toleration further means refusing to discriminate in employment, accommodation, services or opportunities on religious grounds.Finally, religious toleration recognizes the right of private judgment in religious matters. The liberty to uphold one's religious opinions and forms of worship, and the right to enjoy all social privileges, civil rights and so on without regard to religious differences. Toleration is a receptive attitude backed by statute or judicial precedent. Religious toleration has often been championed by liberal political leaders and mandated by law. The receptive attitude, however, cannot be forced on the citizenry, the people either have it or they do not.
America’s foundational ideals included religious toleration. It extended freedom to all citizens to do religious things and believe religious teachings, even though many may feel that the actions or beliefs are wrong and fallacious!

Some Americans, however, insist that their religion is the only true faith and that the deity they worship sanctions their oppression of others and their enforcing God's will as they interpret it. People have a right to believe this. But in a land founded on religious toleration, no citizen or official has the right to take action to oppress others on the authority of their God. The First Amendment specifically prohibits such action by elected or appointed officials.No governmental authority can compel people to accept and practice any religion, and no valid law can restrict individuals and groups in peaceful practice of their chosen religion.
Lazy thinking and careless speaking has supplanted the ideal of religious toleration with the false idol of “religious liberty.”  This misnomer is then used by authoritarians to justify their refusal to respect the rights of others and their failure to practice religious toleration.

The ideal of religious toleration does not people to abandon their personal convictions. It merely asks them to respect the rights, values and ways of living and worshipping of other people who do not share the same convictions. Toleration asserts that others deserve equal respect. Human beings have a fundamental right to equal respect regardless of whether their beliefs and practices accord with those of people in authority or the majority. Religions are sectarian by their nature and in the United States alone, there are at least 435 denominations and sects. Within this multitude are various Christian denominations, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Humanism, and many varieties of belief. Each of the myriad creeds has its set of answers to what is right and wrong in a religious sense. Sometimes there is concurrence, and more often there is disagreement. The problem is these numerous creeds have no way of definitively resolving their differences. Thus, toleration is not only a noble ideal but a practical necessity for a nation whose citizens have such diverse beliefs.

The founding documents and some profound political speeches express the core principles and purposes to which all Americans should rally. Among these governments of just powers based on the consent of the governed and solemn pledges to one another of efforts, resources, and honor lead the way. Unity, justice, equality, peace among ourselves and with all peoples, defense, shared prosperity, and the benefits of authentic liberty for ourselves and our children expand the list. Not one of these documents nor any of the commitments expressed therein, elevate one creed above all others or make any binding on all citizens.
Jefferson, the Author of America,  and Madison, the Father of the Constitution,  both understood “much of western European history as needlessly besmirched and tragically bloodied by the heavy hand of despotic religion.” Additionally, the Father of Our Country wrote this to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport:

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean* themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” [*secondary definition = to conduct or behave (oneself) in a specified manner.]

Thus, the three people most responsible for creating the nation that we pledged allegiance to hundreds of times as children unquestionably believed and asserted that no creed had any overarching authority. They also denied that followers of any faith were empowered or entitled to impose their sectarian doctrines and dogmas on any other person. Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia makes the inappropriateness of governments acting on behalf of religious beliefs abundantly clear:

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or one god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. […] To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion. . . is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty.”

The thinking and intentions of the founders are unambiguous. These were literate and learned people who were gifted political thinkers and effective political leaders. James Madison, who was so instrumental in crafting the Constitution and led the effort in Congress that produced the Bill of Rights, was not opposed to religion. A former student of theology, Madison had deep personal religious convictions. But he did not see his religious perspective as in any way inconsistent with his commitment to religious liberty and the strict separation of church and state.” For Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, as well as many Founders and Framers, freedom of belief, was essential to all other aspects of genuine liberty. Their idea of a properly governed America did not include the imposition of the doctrines and dogmas of any sect upon any citizens. They believed each citizen had the absolute right to determine the nature of his or her religious beliefs even if those beliefs were not conventional.

The fundamental deduction from these consistently and repeatedly stated principles by people who filled significant roles in the launch of the United States is that they vigorously and rigorously opposed religious authoritarianism. They did not want the government or any instrumentality of the government functioning on the basis of sectarian precepts.The foundational documents they crafted and implemented ordained and established a secular Republic. The society that arose and flourished under the protection of the Republic must give “to bigotry no sanction” nor “to persecution no assistance.”  All the Republic and its citizens can rightfully require of one another is conduct becoming of good citizens and effective, resolute support of the Republic. One can do both regardless of whom one loves and marries. Public officials have neither a legal nor a philosophic basis for demanding otherwise.

Neither County Clerks in Kentucky, nor any other local or state official serving under the Constitution of the United States, can rightfully establish a religion and compel conformity by their constituents or anyone else.  Kim Davis and others like her engage in malfeasance of office. They are “ not staring down dogs and water canons, not standing in front of a tank, not even sticking a daisy into the barrel of a machine gun.” They are not protesting injustice they are perpetrating it. They are not the harbingers of a looming Holocaust. Although Ms. Davis may be registered as a Democrat, neither she nor her supporters nor those who emulate her exemplify precepts and practices essential to democracy:

“Davis is breaking with the ideals of what it means to live in a small-d democracy, where celebrating civility and civic responsibility despite differences and diversity is perhaps the highest possible value. That whole "I may not agree with you, but I will fight for your right to believe it" business doesn't give Davis the right to refuse civil rights to others with different beliefs; really, it obliges her to do the opposite. Davis cannot seem to separate her own narrow belief from her obligation as a citizen of the wider world.”

Ms. Davis and those who support her are neither constitutional nor religious scholars. The suit filed on behalf of Ms. Davis and rejected by the Supreme Court assert claims about “first amendment freedoms” as do press releases with her byline. It seems she and her supporters think the “Constitution gives her the right to impose her religion on others as part of her government job.” The first amendment, in fact, says and means precisely the opposite. Millions of Christians in good standing who do not oppose marriage equality. Christian churches and clergy perform same-sex ceremonies. Nonetheless, Ms. Davis and her supporters believe she is empowered by “God’s Authority” force others to follow Christianity as she interprets it. The people supporting this faux prophet and she are rendering to whatever deity may be, homage either blinded or blind-folded by bigotry driven fear!

19 March, 2015

Counterfeit Patriots


The originator of the scurrilous letter signed by 47 faithless Neoconfederate senators is Tom Cotton. He is a war-monger of long standing, but unlike so many of his ilk, he has faced hostile fire.  Combat experience does not make his incendiary letter correct or proper. It merely reflects how little he learned from even the crucible of combat.

Mr. Cotton is not as woefully uneducated as this egregious letter makes him appear. He went to Harvard and graduated from its law school. Whatever he learned, however, he did not learn of the separation of powers, the history of the Senate, or the more than two centuries of U S foreign policy.  The problem with Cotton and his ilk, however, goes far deeper than a simple lack of knowledge or understanding. What he and his collaborators do not know pales in comparison to what they know that is fundamentally untrue.  The infamous letter is a toxic brew of ignorance, arrogance, and treachery that has been steeping in the feverish depths of Republican brains for almost 50 years.

Republicans’ claims of patriotism are not the sheer fabrications it is easy to conclude they are. Republicans are patriotic; in fact, Republicans are chauvinistic. Their patriotism is fatally flawed nonetheless because it pertains to the Confederate States of America.   When one considers, the frequent chants and demands regarding the drive to Take our country back" the misdirection of the patriotism is obvious.  The unspoken truth is that they want to take America back to the nineteenth century, circa 1857, or perhaps, prior to 1787.  Those who call themselves conservatives today are the latest in a long line of pseudo-patriots who would more accurately labeled: Confederates.

In the origins of the country, thirteen independent states – nations – formed an alliance to fight a war against the British Empire. They were separate and not united and beyond this military alliance they fundamentally remained independent.  “The purpose of the Articles of Confederation was to create a confederation of states whereby each state retained "its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right . . . not expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled." In effect, what passed as the “national government” was more similar to the United Nations Security Council of our time than any recognizable national government. The main difference was the each of the thirteen states could veto any amendment to the Articles and nine out of thirteen states had to agree to pass any law whatsoever.

The advantage of this arrangement is hard to discern if one is seeking to implement effective governance. When one recognizes that the intent of the Articles was to preserve the rule of the dominant factions in the respective states, however, the utility of the Articles become apparent. The authors of the Federalist Papers warned us all about the dangers of faction as did President Washington.

In Federalist #10, James Madison argues that faction forming is natural behavior for people. Whether the faction is a majority or minority, however, the goals they pursue may be detrimental to the good of other factions or society as a whole. Differences in political ideology and religious views can break people into factions, but for Madison suggests the most common cause of faction formation is, the uneven accumulation of property. The Father of the Constitution seems especially prescient when one considers the uneven distribution of wealth in 21st century America.

As Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont relates: “At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the Republicans apparently believe that the richest people in America need to be made even richer. It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. That’s apparently not enough. It is not good enough that the top one-tenth of one percent today owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.” If as Madison truly said, “uneven accumulation of property” stimulates the formation of factions, this utter derangement of the United States economy turbo-charges the factionalization of American politics in the 21st century.  Lest any contends that Senator Sanders description of the House budget is inaccurate. Consider the New York Times: “Overall, at least two-thirds of the $5 trillion in cuts over 10 years would come from programs that focus on low- and modest-income Americans, even though such programs account for less than one-fourth of all federal program costs.” The explicit intent of this budget is to deprive ordinary Americans of any beneficial government programs in order to enrich those few who are already exorbitantly wealthy. Plundering the many to enrich the few is the essence of factional depredations in oligarchic form.

We do not need to rely solely on Madison to conclude that factions are dangerous because the Father of our Country also warned all Americans.  “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” The frightful despotism Washington decries is the desideratum for Neoconfederates who believe the true freedom requires the oppression of others they deem unworthy.

Furthermore, both Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln denounced the lust to rule and the corrupting power of inequality. Jefferson believed differences of political sentiment give rise to different political parties. These parties resolve themselves into two basic types: an authoritarian (or monarchist, tory, etc.) party that favors ruling and seeks to dominate and control the people. And a representative (or republican, liberal, etc.) party that favors governance controlled by and for the people. The electorate of any nation ultimately chooses a path that carved out by one or the other of these parties. In a letter to John Dickenson, Jefferson declared: "The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people.” Thus, Jefferson too recognized the detrimental effect of factionalism and the efforts of some to rule rather than govern.

Lincoln rejected what he called the mudsill theory and proposed: “that labor is prior to and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed–that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence, they hold that labor is the superior–greatly the superior of capital.” On this basis, he was an opponent of ingrained and rigid inequality. As to those who believe their freedom is only real if they can oppress others, Lincoln was succinct:  “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.”

The demonstrated factional nature of American politics extends beyond budgetary matters. It is this spillover that propelled the treachery led by Senator Cotton and forty-six other Neoconfederate Senators. From the Neoconfederate perspective, ordinary citizens exist to fight wars for resources and labor at subsistence wages in the enterprises of the Robber Barons. Thus, diplomacy and the possible peaceful resolution of international issues is anathema to Neoconfederates. They need looming threats to incite fear and smooth the way for wasteful spending on weaponry. They want enemies to present as bogeymen to stifle dissent and inflame jingoistic hostility toward the threat du jour.

The fact that the Neoconfederate treachery ignored two centuries of precedent and threatened the ability of every future American President to negotiate with other nations, just confirms their complete factionalism. They recklessly placed the interests of their faction above the good of the general citizenry and the Constitutional Republic they are sworn to defend, serve, and advance.
Decades ago partisan politics i. e. factionalism was said to “stop at the water’s edge.” In theory, the United States had a unified foreign policy that was American and neither Republican nor Democratic. This precept like all others which stitched the social fabric together has been rent asunder by Neoconfederate factional fanaticism.

The treachery also exposed the deceptive nature of the talismanic reference to the Constitution by these false patriots. Under the Constitution, which all Congress Members swear an oath of “true faith and allegiance. The president or his designated representative, such as the Secretary of State has the exclusive authority to communicate with other nations, recognize foreign governments, receive ambassadors, and make executive agreements. Over the two and one-quarter centuries of the American Republic, the other branches of the national government have routinely deferred to the Executive branch and the President in the conduct of foreign relations. The purpose of this difference is largely to enable a single person to represent and speak for the nation in dealings with other nations on the world stage.

Vice-President Biden characterized the treacherous action of the forty-seven Neoconfederates best when he said: "I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country -- much less a longtime foreign adversary -- that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments -- a message that is as false as it is dangerous."

The CAP Action War Room continued in a similar vein by observing: “Senate Republicans’ letter attempting to sabotage the Obama administration’s sensitive negotiations with Iran is a triumph of partisanship over patriotism. America’s influence depends on America’s ability to honor its commitments. Attempting to derail these commitments for political ends is not only an embarrassment, it is a strategy to weaken America’s leading role in the international community.”

While largely accurate, this statement misses the truly seditious nature of the 21st century Republican Party. They are faux patriots at best as far as the American constitution goes. They are the latest rendition of the internal enemy that has haunted American politics since its inception. In the earliest days, these enemies of the state were called anti-federalists, but they are as mentioned earlier actually Confederates. They are as old as the country they have relentlessly sought to undermine. The only variation has been in the blatancy of their efforts. Now, they are feeling increasing confidence, and they are becoming increasingly brazen. For the sake of all true patriots hold dear, these treacherous scoundrels must be painted with indelible hues and hounded from positions of authority at the national, state, and local levels of governance.