Guest Post: The Political Machine Reexamined by Professor Nicholas Easton

Guest columnist Nicholas Easton is a community activist, former member and President of the Providence City Council during the turbulent Cianci administration version 1, and Political Science Professor. 

My recent book, The Political Machine Reexamined, for which I am still seeking a publisher, examines in considerable detail, the political machines that so dominated American politics for over a century.  What is unique, though, is that I mount not a critique, but a strong defense of this phenomenon.  Furthermore, I make an argument that the Democratic party should return to building machines. I synopsize that argument herein.

democrat-donkeyTo begin let me lay out a few propositions. First is the idea that, generally speaking, for at least a century or so the Democratic Party has represented the economic interests of the poor and the Republican Party has represented the economic interests of the wealthy.

Second is the idea that, generally speaking, there are only two sources of power in our democracy, money, and people.

Finally is the idea that, given the two previous assertions, Republicans will win most political battles based on money and Democrats will win those based on superior organization and mobilization of people.

Many Democrats have come to recognize this problem and urged the party to focus more on capacity building and the so-called ground game. When it does so, however, it tends to approach the problem by trying to raise even larger sums of money and use that to support efforts to knock on doors and make phone calls before individual elections. While this seems to have worked fairly well in the special elections since 2016 one wonders if such an effort is sustainable with nationwide elections this year. There is also the question of whether Democrat’s recent success is simply a function of having a great enemy in Donald Trump.

There are two fundamental problems with this recent approach. First, it again relies on money, a game the Democrats simply can’t win. Second, it addresses only short-term wins and doesn’t really build capacity at all, it simply gins up turn out at a particular time. What’s needed is a fundamental reexamination of the way the party approaches elections.

My invocation of the machine model is not accidental as it serves several purposes. First of all, it is provocative and meant to be so. The Democratic Party needs a profound shakeup. It is absolutely ridiculous that the party that represents the interests of an overwhelming majority of Americans is so out of power. Second, the party needs to re-examine the fundamentals of its approach, not just individual pieces. Knocking on doors is great and communicating with voters is great but communicating with them only at election time is insufficient to building long-term change. And long-term change is indeed what is needed. The Obama election offered an opportunity for sweeping change, but it only lasted for two years as we got completely outmaneuvered in congressional elections for the following six years and with the possibility of losing complete control of the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future the party has to think about long and broad change in its approach.

Third, there are significant reasons why the machine model worked and I lay out some of those reasons in my detailed examination of 18 characteristics of the machine, characteristics that are both significant and separable. Foremost among these is the so-called “exchange system” which basically means you do something for people before asking for their vote as opposed to making vague promises of the Nirvana that will result from your ascension to power. Another very significant characteristic is the 24/7/365 full-time nature of the machine.

Finally, my book debunks the myth that machines were more corrupt than present-day politics. For example, hiring people based on a test as opposed to who they might know only assures that higher social classes will beat out lower ones for jobs that may not require any specific skills. Such practices turn the poor into Trumpers.  And contracting out public services means that jobs are handed out by the same people who contribute tons of money to Republicans to get the contracts, and they are certainly no less corrupt. Think Blackwater and Kellogg, Brown and Root (a division of Haliburton).

In my book, I examine these things in much greater detail. Thus, people can reject my central claim of a need to return to the machine and yet, by looking at how the machine worked, find many valuable pieces that can be very useful to rebuilding the party. For example, I note that machines were usually a coalition.  The present-day party which relies on women, African-Americans, Hispanics, environmentalists, gays, Jews and others has a lot to learn about the management of coalitions. I also included 80 interviews with former residents of the machine neighborhoods in Providence indicating strong support among the populace for this institution.

At this point in time, I find myself extremely torn. I believe and I hope that the outrages that we have endured under Trump will indeed bring the expected Blue Wave and bring Democrats to significant power in 2018. The question is, in their euphoria will they believe that the problem was messaging and now they found the right one and all is well. The problem is not the message it is the messenger and he needs and deserves a thorough self-examination.

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Could This Be the One?

Under the Heading Giving the Devil his Due.

President Trump has potentially achieved two things no President has ever done before. He’s created an opportunity for the formal end of the Korean War and the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

But, as history shows us, this is not the first time this has been tried. Let’s hope the formal negotiations come to a swift, successful, and verifiable conclusion.

As Mark Twain (allegedly) once said, “History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes”  We can turn to history for a perspective on negotiations with the Hermit Kingdom.

The number of agreements with North Korea that have been successful.

One*

*(The Armistice ending open hostilities of the Korean War. Technically, the war is still on-going.)

The number of agreements, in particular, those seeking to prevent the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, that have succeeded.

None*

*The number of agreements made, and broken, by the North Korean are too numerous to count.

This piece from the Arms Control Association (www.armscontrol.org) gives an interesting chronological perspective on negotiations and agreements with North Korea.  I’d include it here, but it would run to almost forty pages.

Click here for the full article https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron

If I were inclined to bet, I’d say the odds ain’t good for the world’s greatest dealmaker.  There is hope, and we all should embrace it in the interest of world stability, but the hope is tainted by the reality of this administration.

All we have so far is our unilateral decision to end joint US-South Korean military exercises (a decision that surprised both South Korea and our own Pentagon and Defense Department.)

ChosenI suppose Kim Jong-Un can argue the first step to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be the withdrawal of US forces. He seems to have maneuvered us into the first stages without giving much up except an offer to continue talking. (Remember, the peace talks at Panmunjom took two years to reach a conclusion that paused the Korean War in 1953 with a promise of a formal end that has never happened.)

Somehow, in the last few weeks, our new BFF is Kim Jong-Un and North Korea and our new worst enemy is Pierre Trudeau and Canada. This is the frightening reality and mindset of those who are negotiating this agreement.

A success here would be a major accomplishment for this administration. A failure here will make the Iran Nuclear Agreement look like an unconditional surrender by Iran. If it does succeed, we can move all those troops from the 38th parallel and put them on the Canadian Border.

 

A School Shooting and America’s Collective Sigh of Relief

You could almost hear America breathe a sigh of relief with the “good” news of the latest school shooting. The sounds of high-fives echoing from the NRA serving as a rhythmic background to the glad tidings. Their fondest dreams come true.

A gun solved the problem. A police officer shortened what could have been a much more severe situation. Just two wounded kids, one in good condition and one in critical, and a dead bad guy is a cause to celebrate.

Nothing is good about this story.

A police officer faced his worst nightmare. He had no choice but to kill the 17-year-old suspect. The personal cost to his emotional well-being is something our ‘shoot’em up, kill five before breakfast’ flooded TV and movies don’t show.

There are no Dirty Harrys on Police Departments, and if there were we’d do everything we could to get rid of them.

Killing someone because it’s your job, be it a cop or a soldier, does not lessen the trauma. You can learn to live with it, but your humanity suffers. Only sociopaths enjoy killing a fellow human.

The NRA and those opposed to any review and restructuring of gun laws will point to this with a smile and say, “see, we told you. Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.”

The implied message is two kids with bullet holes is better than five, or ten, or twenty.

Friendly_Fire_-_Saints_Row_The_Third_logo (1)But, like friendly fire as a cause of death in battle, those lying in the hospital might have a different perspective.

The outcome of this incident, through the brave actions of that police officer, is better than the possibilities if the officer had not been there. Let’s make sure that officer is both recognized for his courage and supported in his road to reconciliation with the trauma.

That some would take this as proof positive that guns solve violence is a sign of just how embedded the problem is.

The officer did what we expect cops to do, stop crime and prevent loss of life. The shooter is dead, understanding what drove him to such actions will be more difficult to understand but no less critical.

A seventeen-year-old should not be able to get his hands on a firearm. Laws already restrict that, but they can only go so far. Getting to the heart of the matter will take more than new rules. It will require a fundamental change in our approach to this phenomenon of gun violence.

Change starts with research and study. Backslapping celebrations of “problem solved” by a gun battle won by the good guys ignore reality. America should not be willing to merely hope for the same outcome on the next one, betting the lives of innocent victims on chance.

We can do more than be grateful for the limited number of victims here. The outcome was better than Parkland, better than Sandy Hook, better than Columbine.

It doesn’t make it a good outcome.

No law, no police force, no army of armed civilians can prevent every incident just by their existence. Until we understand the culture of violence seen here, something absent in most other modern societies, and work toward permanent solutions, nothing will change.

I, for one, see this as just as tragic as Parkland; more so, if we take this as a win.

P.S. Okay #Neveragain and we mean it, this time.

Suffer the Children #Neveragain: Time for Rational Discussion

Time to hold rational discussions on solutions to gun violence, supporting the efforts of the #neveragain movement, and using the power of their youthful enthusiasm to keep the issue in the forefront and craft intelligent solutions.

Let me preface this by saying every law-abiding, competent citizen has the right to own a firearm. This piece is not intended to advocate for the confiscation of weapons. It is meant to stimulate rational discussion on how we can minimize the likelihood of another situation like Parkland, Florida or Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

One other point, I am a firm adherent of the Mark Twain adage there are “Lies, damnable lies, and statistics,” yet we need to put a perspective on things. Accurate numbers about guns are difficult to come by due to inconsistent or non-existent licensing or purchase tracking. But most agree there are 270-300 million guns in civilian hands.

However, only 37% of Americans own or report having a family member who owns guns. The shocker is, 3% of Americans own 50% of all guns.

guns

The NRA touts itself as the premier organization standing for American gun owners. I am not trying to demonize the NRA. They have every right to advocate for their position, some of which I agree with, but their membership is five million Americans out of three hundred million. They are not the voice of America on sound gun policies.

The NRA is a fringe group representing a small fraction of gun owners and a smaller fraction of American citizens. They are a squeaky, well-funded, well-organized, wheel.

The NRA also showed the fundamental callousness it bears toward deliberate and considered discussions. In a recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), NRA representative Dana Loesch said,

“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. I’m not saying you guys love the tragedy but I am saying you love the ratings,” she added. “Crying white mothers are ratings gold”.

She may have a point, but not the one she’s going for. The implication is America isn’t concerned when it’s gun violence against minorities, there is some truth in that. The troubling part is that the NRA will play off that for its own agenda. If they can derail gun regulations by capitalizing on institutional racism, so be it. Not their best moment.

For now, we can leave the NRA out of this. Some things must be understood. Amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who value their “right to bear arms” over their obligation to take part in finding solutions, I think it is time to reevaluate the Second Amendment in a world of high-capacity semi-automatic weapons designed for one purpose, killing humans.

Every single weapon designed by humans had one primary function, killing other humans. While many served a dual purpose, such as hunting food, since man first bashed the skull of an adversary with a rock the primary use of weaponry is protection from, or attacking, enemies and killing them.

We’ve become very efficient at it.

The firearms available to the common man during the adoption of the Second Amendment were single shot, slow reloading, notoriously inaccurate, limited-range muskets.

That is no longer the case.

Every firearm is dangerous. There is no rational argument for allowing weapons in the hands of untrained, unlicensed, untested civilians. Particularly those that hold twenty or thirty round magazines. If the main argument is because I want it, it’s my Constitutional right, it underscores the selfishness that permeates our society.

It would be amusing, if this were not such a serious matter, how many Second Amendment aficionados embrace the Second Amendment and decry some of the others like the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent or the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment as they scream to impose the death penalty even before trial.

We have laws limiting the capacity of shotguns used in hunting, through a simple physical modification, to three rounds in the weapon. If we are so concerned over conservation of fowl, why not the same concern over humans?

Such limitations are starting points, not the end solution. Long-term solutions to the angry and violence-prone society, the lack of support for teachers in schools, the “hooray for me and damn everyone else” attitude of many, will take time to change. Fixing complex social issues is the long game. We need more immediate solutions to address the issue of firing rates, capacity, and availability.

The genesis of the Second Amendment arose from the fresh experiences of the colonies facing the tyranny of a king enforced by a standing army. The British Army was the point of the spear, suppressing dissent and rebellion.

The founding fathers, fearing a comparable situation, wanted to ensure there was a balance of power. One aspect is a “well-regulated” militia. A citizen force they envisioned as a buffer against government tyranny.

The authors of this Constitution held an intimate understanding of the King’s army as a weapon of suppression. Their emphasis on minimizing the powers of the Federal Government to times of great need; wars, rebellions, etc., shows their concern about all-powerful federal authority backed by a standing army.

The Bill of Rights, now well enshrined throughout the land by many Supreme Court decisions, initially applied solely to the Federal Government. Societal progress changed it to apply to all government entities. To adopt a “strict interpretation” of the original Constitution as inoculating it from change is disingenuous, and incorrect.

The very process of amending the Constitution, incorporated by the founding fathers, is considerable evidence of their envisioning a different future with different concerns. And, men such as James Madison believed the fear of suppression by the Federal Government to be overblown.

In The Federalist No. 46, he wrote,

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes.

One must read this document in its entirety to see Madison’s point. While recognizing the historical context in which fear of a powerful centralized government evolved, he also argued the structure of the new American government differed from Europe by prohibiting any “royal” entity and putting the power to select government representatives in the hands of the people.

As a side note that supports my point of the fluid nature of the Constitution, the original construct of those eligible to vote and hold office was white, male, landowners. The original language, with later amendments and court cases, amended and adapted to the realities and progress of society.

Times have changed. We have the largest (in prowess and power) standing military in the world. As I have often said, should a President ever convince the military to attack the civilian population to suppress dissent, the civilians wouldn’t stand a chance.

We have the Posse Comitatus Act (United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) which specifically prohibits the use of the military to enforce domestic policies, except in times of national emergency.

It is interesting that it applied only to the United States Army and, in 1958, amended to include the US Air Force. The US Navy, and by its inclusion in the Department of the Navy, the United States Marine Corps (apologies to my Marine friends and family), has specific regulations interpreted to make it applicable to this branch.

Which leaves us whether the intended purpose still applies in the realities of our country, i.e. a standing army and the level of firepower, today.

I contend the primary purpose has been made moot. The founding fathers never envisioned a time that the government should take weapons from otherwise law-abiding citizens. It doesn’t mean they never intended to limit the government’s authority to put in place regulations and conditions to ensure this right to possess weapons is as well-regulated as the once necessary militia.

The founding fathers also incorporated provisions for the Constitution to adapt to the future of a world they could not imagine. Slave owners Thomas Jefferson and James Madison recognized the ever-changing world in which they lived. They authored one of the most potent documents to ensure no other Americans ever face the tyranny of a King and devised a firm, but fluid, Constitution on which to base government. They recognized the country would need to adapt to the future.

Slavery was abolished because rational humans recognized the inhumanity of a practice once allowed under our Constitution. Time marched on, circumstances and conditions changed, and the Constitution changed with it.

The case most often cited as supporting the strict interpretation of the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v Heller, holds thoughtful dissenting opinions which offer guidance in crafting new laws imposing reasonable restrictions that could pass constitutional muster.

Justice John Paul Stevens (a Republican appointee of President Reagan if it matters) wrote,

“The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.

The view of the Amendment we took in Miller (Miller, 307 U. S., at 178. )—that it protects the right to keep and bear arms for certain military purposes, but that it does not curtail the Legislature’s power to regulate the nonmilitary use and ownership of weapons—is both the most natural reading of the Amendment’s text and the interpretation most faithful to the history of its adoption

Since our decision in Miller, hundreds of judges have relied on the view of the Amendment we endorsed there we ourselves affirmed it in 1980. See Lewis v. United States, 445 U. S. 55, 65–66, n. 8 (1980).3 No new evidence has surfaced since 1980 supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to curtail the power of Congress to regulate civilian use or misuse of weapons. Indeed, a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”

In US V Miller (1939), the court upheld a federal law prohibiting the interstate transportation of machine guns (automatic weapons) and shotguns with a barrel length under eighteen inches. This case and the limited number of related decisions does not establish a clear, unambiguous court precedent as some claim.

Instead, it offers a window of opportunity for a well-crafted law, given proper deliberation and consideration, to reduce mass shootings facilitated by the widespread uncontrolled access to semi-automatic weapons and protect the rights of the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens who own firearms.

There are simple measures we can take with little likelihood of a constitutional challenge.

Measures

  • We do not let 18-year-old “adults” buy alcohol. But on one’s 18th birthday, you can walk into a “Guns ‘R’ Us” and walk out with an AR-15, multiple magazines, and a case of ammunition. By imposing this “waiting period” until the 21st birthday, it gives us a three-year window into adult behavior. Any criminal behavior which would prohibit firearms ownership is no longer concealed behind sealed juvenile records.
  • Fund and fix the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Congress created the system with bi-partisan legislation to centralize records checking for firearms purchases. Since firearms and ammunition travel in interstate commerce, the legislation should be changed to force states to comply. Mandating state participation and funding the program is critical. President Trump’s proposed 2019 budget reduces funding for the system despite widespread support from anti-gun groups to the NRA.
    In most cases, these shooters had no criminal record. They were angry, bitter, emotionally immature loners. They had known behavioral issues. In Parkland, information was available to several law enforcement agencies including the FBI. We must adapt the NICS database to include such information and require law enforcement investigation.
  • Annual qualification and demonstration of the ability to handle the weapon. We require barbers, manicurists, and massage therapists to be licensed. Wouldn’t it make sense to do the same for owning a firearm? In some states, there are handgun safety courses which amount to little more than telling them which end to point at the target.
    That someone, simply by reaching a certain age and lack of a criminal record, can buy and walk out with a dangerous item like an AR-15, shotgun, rifle, or pistol without the least bit of training or licensing, is insanity.
  • Individuals with Concealed Weapons Permits must meet, at a minimum, the same standard as law enforcement officers. We should consider psychological testing modeled on military recruit testing. Since we are licensing individuals to be in the public arena with concealed weapons, isn’t it logical to test more than their ability to shoot at paper targets?
    The main argument against testing and licensing is the big bad government will know I have a gun, which is nonsense in our connected world of bots and tracking cookies. A government intent on finding gun owners could do so with a few keystrokes, or perhaps hire Russians to do it for us.
  • End the sale of high-capacity magazines. Limit single time ammunition purchases to a single box of rounds and report multiple purchases made within a 7 day period.
  • Mandatory liability insurance covering any unlawful or accidental injuries or death outside of their residence.
  • Mandatory safe storage requirements for firearms left in a private residence whenever a licensed firearm owner does not occupy it.
  • Remove the product liability protections of weapons manufacturers to come in line with all product liability law. This is a biggie. See Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act PLCAA is codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903.
    This prohibits gun manufacturers and dealers from liability. We can sue companies for making soap look like candy, or food service companies for serving scalding coffee, but not weapon manufacturers for producing an inherently dangerous and easily misused product. It strains credulity.

You’ll notice that not one proposal suggests taking weapons from those who legally own them. Any such suggestion is foolish when one considers the number of firearms in the US (300 million) or that turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals will solve the problem. Adequate safeguards for private weapons ownership and storage, through civil and criminal enforcement, to minimize the risk of stolen firearms is common sense.

Some firearms owners will complain about the cost of such licensing, testing, and storage requirements. Hardly a valid argument. We require auto insurance, driver’s licenses, and a host of other controls on matters of public concern. These are similar and sensible measures.

I think it safe to say most gun owners are as disturbed by these incidents as those who oppose gun ownership. It’s the intransigence of a few wrapping themselves in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, without a fundamental understanding it is not inviolate, that creates us versus them toxic environment.

I am not naïve enough to think these will solve the entire problem, but it is a start.

These measures are prophylactic. They do not deal with the fundamental question of why these incidents are happening. Mental health issues may be a contributing factor compounded by these readily available weapons. Although many perpetrators who survive have been competent to stand trial they knew what they were doing was wrong. Their actions were deliberate and premeditated.

Advances in neuroscience may offer the best solution as we gain an understanding of the causes of such behavior and ways to identify and manage it.

For now, the why eludes us.

Please do not suggest that taking prayer and god out of schools is the reason. For those faithful in Emmanuel Church in Charleston, prayer didn’t stop Dylan Roof from killing nine innocent people. If it can’t stop it in church, where everyone believed, what is the likelihood it will work in the mixed environment of school? The prayers offered since Sandy Hook and other incidents have prevented nothing.

This incident in Parkland Florida has sparked a change. No longer will the usual “waiting period for the anger to fade” tactic of those who would prevent any regulation of firearms work. This generation of students now in school was born after Columbine. Their typical school day consists of concerns for the possibility they may never get to the end of the day.

Where our generation enjoyed recess, and sports, and walking the halls with our friends, this generation practices “active shooter” drills.

Where our generation’s biggest concern was who might win the Friday night football game, they must worry about finding a safe place to hide from bullets.

When a serious discussion of arming teachers, putting volunteers with guns in schools, and turning schools into an armed camp happens, something has gone wrong. While some of these; active-shooter drills, and better securing of buildings, are reasonable they are Band-Aids on a bleeding artery.

What’s next, ballistic resistant school uniforms?

The most ludicrous idea yet is arming teachers. If a man with a pistol can kill thirteen people at Fort Hood, a military base filled with highly trained soldiers with all sorts of weapons, do you think Miss Math Teacher will be better equipped? If you do, and you own guns, give them to someone sane.

If the weight of evidence about the original intent of the Second Amendment, granting citizen’s the right to protect themselves from a tyrannical government and a standing army, has been made moot.

If the nature of weaponry now available to the average citizen far exceeds any rational necessity but rests entirely on “because I want it” attitude wrapped in archaic rationale.

If we only discuss this issue for a brief moment, then let it fade into the past willing to wait until the next incident.

Then it is time to rebalance the “right to bear arms” against the obligation of society to protect itself, and its children.

If kids can’t go to school without worrying that a fire alarm may be the last sound they hear before they die, we are a long way from the America of my youth.

P.S. There’s been a flood of postings on social media attacking the kids leading the charge in the #neveragain movement. There is no better evidence of the lack of reason and disingenuousness of those who refuse to have an intelligent discussion on the problem of gun violence. Such tactics are abhorrent and despicable.

We may be on the cusp of seeing a repeat of the student-led protests Vietnam in the 1960’s, and good for them.

One of the saddest facts about America is that we’ve always been better at killing ourselves than any enemy we ever faced. Time for things to change.

In 1941, this country faced an external threat and met it with the determination of what’s been called “the greatest generation. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new generation’s greatness.

As Bob Dylan prophetically sang,

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin‘.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore: Seeking a Return to the Dark Ages

I wrote this last year about “Judge” Roy ‘get ’em while they’re young” Moore.  If a Supreme Court Justice can’t follow federal law, how can he represent Alabama in the Senate?

This is just one aspect of a troubled, character-flawed, hypocrite. Mix in unlawful sexual proclivities, and it is frightening. Come on, Alabama, this is not the America you are part of.

 

In case you have never heard of Justice Roy Moore, he is the current Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He’s held the job twice and lost it once.

So far.

In 2003, he was removed from office when he refused to comply with a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he installed in the rotunda of the court.

So, of course, the progressive segment of Alabama voters re-elected him in 2012.

Now his battle is same-sex marriage. He is suspended from office for sending an administrative order to Alabama probate judges telling them Alabama Law banning Same Sex Marriages was in full force and effect.

He lied. It was not.

In 2015 the US Supreme Court, in Obergefell V. Hodges, legalized gay marriage thus trumping (I love that word) any State prohibitions. Keep in mind, the US Supreme Court still had the full complement of Judges. Scalia, a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, still sat on the court.

Even he couldn’t persuade the court to uphold the ban; law and rationality prevailed.

Moore sent the letter six months after the Supreme Court decision. He either knew the letter was not based on established law or didn’t care.

But, to Justice Moore, it makes no difference. He has God on his side. Just ask him, he’ll tell you he does. He’ll tell you that his faith is the one true interpretation. The one true path. The basis for the entire government of the United States.

He’ll tell you that the diversity of this country, the willingness to accept people as they are not as we think they should be, will be its demise.

The law be damned.

Justice Moore is the poster child of our sordid and bigoted history. Those in a position of power imposing their faith, their beliefs, their views on those with no power. The fact that someone holding such archaic and prejudicial beliefs can rise to such a position speaks volumes about the lack of progress toward true universal tolerance in this country.

It is because of people like him that we need a strong and intellectually honest judiciary. One that looks at the law and ensures its fair application. One that also abides by their decisions.

There is no better evidence for the gravity of the upcoming Presidential election than someone like Justice Moore.

Bigots embrace this man’s philosophy and seek to impose it on all by seizing power in government.

A true nightmare would be a US Supreme Court comprised of people like Justice Moore. A man who seeks to justify his own ignorance, intolerance, and lack of empathy for his fellow man by cloaking himself in a judicial robe.

I don’t know where Justice Moore went to Law School, but he should seek a refund. To the people who elected him and re-elected him, do the country a favor and skip the election in November.

The Folly of Prayer vs. Guns

Here we are, just a few days out from the latest mass shooting, and what have we learned? A systemic failure allowed the shooter to buy firearms. He escaped from a mental health facility. He was court-martialed, imprisoned, and then dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for a conviction relating to domestic violence.

There’s a possibility of a rape case. Murky and unclear on what happened.

We also learned that bump stocks, the accessory which acted as a force multiplier in Las Vegas converting a legal semi-automatic weapon into what was essentially a full-auto, are once again for sale. This contributed to the high casualty count in Las Vegas; just a short time ago and we’ve already forgotten.  (http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/01/smallbusiness/slide-fire-bump-stocks/index.html.)

This restarting of sales, despite now long forgotten long-winded speeches on the floor of the House and Senate to ban such items, boils down to one thing; profits matter more the people.

The company that sells them, after what they must have considered a respectful pause (perhaps it was 58 days, one for each of the dead) ramped up sales again understanding the short-term memory of Americans and the inertia that is our government.

Plz godAnd just like Las Vegas and the incidents before it, scenes of prayers and candlelight vigils with imprecations to “Almighty God” for his compassion and intervention inundate the media.

Let’s get one thing straight. Not one prayer, in the history of the world, has ever prevented anything from happening. No matter how sincere the individuals gathered in prayer may be, not one prayer ever worked.

Now I know there be wailing and gnashing of teeth by the religious who’ll say I cannot know for certain what prayers worked. Nonsense. I saw hundreds of thousands of people, sincere people, pray after each mass shooting incident. While I wasn’t privy to their words, I can make an educated guess that many prayed for God to prevent such incidents.

God didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

It underscores the wasted energy and placebo effect that is prayer.  Even my friend and co-blogger on the Heretic and the Holy Man, Kent Harrop, concedes that prayer is not enough. (https://greenpreacherblog.com/2017/11/07/when-prayer-isnt-enough/)

Although he still sees the value in the effort, I disagree.  People prayed to end each and every war. Followed by more wars. People pray and the world continues to turn.

What we require is action. And in our capitalist society, economic action produces results. To change things, to motivate Congress and your fellow Americans to come to grips with the problem of gun violence, you must hit them in the pocketbook.

If profits matter more than people, there lies opportunity.

But what about the Second Amendment and the sacred right of bearing arms? It is a difficult aspect of America to reconcile. But, this article in the NY Times does a good job of putting the heart of the problem in perspective. Our willingness to allow easy access to high-capacity weapons is what differentiates us from the rest of the word.  You cannot stop someone intent on causing harm, but you can limit the means available for him to do so. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html)

The Second Amendment provides the right of self-defense to all citizens.  To interpret that to mean carrying concealed weapons to and fro in society is a stretch. To interpret the Second Amendment to mean there can be no limitation on weapons possessed by a citizen, or the amount of ammunition, magazine capacity, or other factors is a fallacy. We already do it to a certain extent, albeit minimal.

The latest shooting underscores the issue.  Aside from the fact he shouldn’t have been able to buy the weapons in the first place, he went to that church with fifteen magazines and fired over Four Hundred and Fifty rounds.

There is not one logical, rational, or legal argument to support an individual owning such level of firepower.

That is the risk of adhering to a strict, inviolable Second Amendment. Safeguarding innocent lives should trump any such interpretation.

To argue that the Second Amendment prevents ANY restriction on possession of firearms is nonsense. It is an argument supported by the NRA and those members of Congress on their payroll, and it must end.

Now, there will be a chorus of voices shouting, “but an Armed American Stopped the carnage.” “If not for him, more would have died.”

If we end gun violence with gun violence, we enter a never-ending cycle. An infinite loop. A zero-sum game. If we accept this, we must resign ourselves to future incidents.

There is one common denominator in most incidents we see from our home-grown shooters, domestic violence. And the history of our dealing with this issue is one fraught with inconsistency and failure.

We have prisons full of non-violent drug offenders, yet treat those who commit domestic violence in a much less serious way. Will jailing all those convicted of domestic violence solve the entire problem? No, but I think it a better use of prison space than someone caught possessing marijuana.

Until we recognize domestic violence as a warning sign and deal with it, i.e., lifetime ban on firearm ownership, forfeiture of all firearms, these incidents will continue.

Until we impose reasonable limitations on magazine capacity and quantity and type of ammunition, these incidents will continue. To kowtow to the argument that AR-15 type firearms are necessary for hunting and limiting weapons capacity infringes on Second Amendment rights is idiocy.

I have no issue with anyone of sound mind owning firearms. I have no issue with anyone owning an AR-15 if they choose that as a weapon for hunting or self-defense. I have an issue with the availability of bump stocks and no restrictions on owning high-capacity magazines and enough ammunition to fire 450 rounds in a church.

On the argument that an armed citizen was the answer to ending the problem, such a philosophy frightens me. The qualifications for getting a concealed carry permit are a joke. There are minimal requirements to show not only the ability to fire a weapon but the wherewithal to judge the circumstances under which identifying and firing on a target is necessary and prudent.

Here’s an interesting point, most Police Department, particularly in large cities, tell their officers not to resort to using their weapons off-duty unless necessary.  The reason? Responding officers face not only dealing with an armed suspect but sorting out the good guys from the bad guys. Just look at the number of “Friendly fire” incidents where cops killed other cops. Add minimally trained civilians into the mix, and it is only a matter of time before a cop kills or is killed by a well-intentioned civilian. Thus, compounding the tragedy.

There are no easy solutions to these problems, but motivating Americans to do something about it may lie in my earlier point. Money talks. If the NRA isn’t willing to compromise, stop supporting them. If Congress doesn’t listen, stop contributing. If companies sell unlimited quantities of ammunition, stop patronizing them.

If we can sue automobile makers for defective products, if  we can hold tobacco companies responsible for a “legal” products bad side effects, if we can sue McDonald’s for selling hot coffee, all of which has made things safer, then why not gun and ammunition makers?

If we do not work toward a solution to the problem, resign yourself to future similar headlines. If you want to waste time praying, have at it. But know this, it will fail, and more innocent people will die because we are unwilling to face our responsibilities.

One definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. That’s the history of prayer in ending these incidents. Hold your faith in any manner you chose, but human intelligence and effort are necessary to solve this problem.

It’s been a while since I sat in a church, but I read all the books. I recall these words, God helps those who help themselves.

Time for us to do something, save praying for the World Series where no one dies.

 

The Presidential Black Hole

It would seem to many the Trump presidency is collapsing under its own weight of arrogant incompetence. Within months it will be a black hole from which nothing, not even light, can emerge.

But would this be good for the country?  Wouldn’t it be better if the process of our government, imperfect and often clumsy as it is, molded (or pounded) Mr. Trump into some form of effective President?

I, like many of you, disagree with most of his policies. For the ones I find some agreement with, I abhor their implementation. Immigration reform, changing entitlement programs which promulgate a lifestyle of government dependency instead of independence and self-sufficiency, to name just a few.

Part of me takes an almost sadistic delight in the problems, most of them self-inflicted, besieging the President. Another, less emotional, part sees his administration as an anathema to the country. His policies, pronouncements, cabinet choices, and nonsensical tweets seem to be geared to dragging America down in order to fulfill his promise of making America great again.

There is much work to do in making America better. Many aspects of our country are no longer the envy of the world. Our education system, health care, the scourge of gun violence all issues infinitely more dangerous to ordinary Americans than the perceived threat of terrorism.

We are more a danger to ourselves than anything else.

Yet I wonder if hoping for a catastrophic demise of Mr. Trump is good in the long run. I wonder if it would be better, by demonstrating that we can still control our elected officials with our efforts even after the election, we will show the world the real power of the American people?

Mr. Trump acts like a petulant child. Deflecting all responsibility for his failures on others, the lying press, the former president, etc.  As with any child, what he needs is a firm hand to guide him to maturity.

Congress just gave him a lesson in reality in which the President must work with them to accomplish his goals. The voices of America made it clear that health care is not something to be politicized.

The conservative icon Ronald Reagan, for all the god-like worship bestowed on him by the right, had a cooperative working relationship with the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill. The ideological differences between them could not have been more stark. Yet, they found a way to cooperate.

They learned to share the toys.

Trump is still in mid-tantrum mode. Still lashing out rather than listening. But that’s what child-rearing is all about.

Let him scream and yell. Soon he’ll either learn that he must listen and act with reason and rationality, or we will take our ball and give it to someone else.

Is President Trump Channeling the Ghost of Huey Long?

Many rational people across the globe are trying to understand the Trump phenomenon. His manner and affectations offer little in the way of encouragement. Unless one believes building a wall and destroying years of social progress a good thing.

I recently came across a challenging book called,

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America

Author: Richard Rorty

Publisher Harvard University Press

1998

The book is not an easy read. In 1998, Rorty predicted the rise of an American strong man. He wrote,

“One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out.

Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unaccept­able to its students will come flooding back. All the resent­ment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet. …

After my imagined strongman takes charge, he will quickly betray the expectations of his supporters, make his peace with the international super-rich. … People will wonder why there was so little resistance to his evitable rise. Where, they will ask, was the American Left?

Why was it only rightists like [Pat] Buchanan who spoke to the workers about the consequences of globalization? Why could not the Left channel the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed?”

The words seem almost prophetic. In looking for similar pieces, I came across a novel by Sinclair Lewis called, It Can’t Happen Here.

One of the novel’s characters is Berzelius “Buzz” Windip, a politician who defeats FDR for the presidency. His campaign is based on fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms all to the backdrop of Patriotism and “traditional” values.

Things change after the election. He imposes a plutocratic totalitarian regime through a paramilitary force. The plot focuses on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the regime and his part in a liberal rebellion.

Critics connected the novel to Louisiana politician Huey Long who was preparing for a run for the presidency in 1936. Long was assassinated in 1935 just prior to the novel’s publication.

A time when America was resisting entanglement in the European turmoil leading to World War II.

History unveils the difficult decisions facing FDR. Americans were fearful of events in Europe. Such fears offered a politician such as the one in Lewis’s novel an opportunity to arise.

The fear of immigrants and refugees was powerful then and mirrored in our own time.

One of the little talked about aspects of the “Greatest Generation” is the rampant anti-Semitism that permeated American society. Once we entered the war, FDR had to balance the perceptions. He could not let our entry into the conflict appear to be a war to save the Jews.

There is much to be proud of in this country. The bravery and courage of the military, the resilience of Americans to bear any burden, and our past stands against injustice, yet we sometimes overlook the truths of history.

There will come a time when future generations take the measure of our actions. It would appear now that courage and determination to do the difficult and face down the enemy is sorely lacking.

As we face a new wave of innocent refugees, America must look them in the eye and choose. We can offer a beacon of hope with welcoming arms or the cold bayonet of fear.

Perhaps Americans need to step away from their insular iWorld and read a bit. It could be iOpening.

A Prescient President

President Dwight David Eisenhower faced a myriad of daunting tasks during his professional life.

As Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, he faced the task of building a coalition of forces to defeat the Nazis and the Japanese. There were many times when the outcome of that war was uncertain.

After the war, he contributed not to the punishment of Germany or Japan, but to the rebuilding and reforming these former enemies into democracies. He, and others like him, saw the folly of the post-World War I decimations of the defeated countries that led to the inevitable rise of militant nationalism.

As president, he faced the rise of the Iron Curtain, a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, and the collapse of Nationalist China. He faced the war in Korea and the initial involvement of the US in Vietnam.

He was a lifelong Republican and strong military leader who saw that the world of combat was changing. Our weapons technology was reducing our opportunity to resolve conflicts peacefully. He recognized the quest for security through military superiority alone as the biggest risk to our democracy.

He saw the rise of the internal threat of the military-industrial complex as more ominous than any external enemy.

Several days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, Eisenhower shared some prescient words with the nation. Words that we need to consider. This was a man who understood the nature of evil, the horrors of war, and the risks of letting fear drive national policy.

Do yourself a favor and take a moment to read these words from a man who understood the office of the Presidency, the power of the American military, and the risk of losing sight of our democratic principles.

“In the council of governments, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

He went on to bemoan the rise of the government control, through federal grants, of research and scientific experiment.

“In this revolution research has become central. It has also become more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of the federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists, in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.”

His vision continued with a warning on our responsibility to the health and welfare of the planet.

“Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we–you and I, and our government–must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow.”

We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.  

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as we do, protected as we are by our moral economic and military strength. The table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.”

And this, his most telling line.

“Together we must learn how to compose differences–not with arms but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Today, we have a president who calls the flu vaccine a scam, seeks to run roughshod over the environment by executive fiat, and excludes the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director National Intelligence from his National Security council.

Perhaps Eisenhower saw the future and left us a moral compass to follow.

Dissolving the American Dream

As an optimist, I look for the positive in all things. Sometimes, it is all but impossible to find. Yet, even within the turbulence of the first week of the Trumping of America, there is a shiny element of good.
Trump pulled the bandage off the ugly festering wound that is prejudice in the form of nationalism in America. His rabid bulldog approach to immigration offers an opportunity. Now that we see this insidious infection, we can treat it.
There are those who support these policies celebrating in the street. Proud in their contempt for everything and everyone they perceive as un-American.
Keep out the terrorist.
Build that wall.
Tax the Mexican products to make them pay.
The only thing missing is goose-stepping thugs ensuring compliance. But it’s only been a week.
I travel out of the country quite often. Never, in all the time I’ve been doing this, have I ever been anything but proud of my country. Yet, this time in Costa Rica, I could sense a difference in the perception of the United States.
They felt sorry for us. So did the Canadians on the trip with us. It was as if the sports legend used steroids. Our reputation tarnished and diminished.
America has always offered hope to the world. Our openness and willingness to accept others, no matter where they came from, perceived as a strength, not a vulnerability.
That we, as a people, were willing to risk the harm of a few to offer an opportunity to the many was evidence of our courage.
That perception is fading. We are becoming a huge paranoid isolated society, shying away from our fellow man.
No measure of border protection or walls can stop a determined enemy. Every effort to strengthen the openness of the America I love chips away at those whose hopelessness is the source of these terrorists.
Every effort to prevent the rest of the world from coming in diminishes us.
This is no longer a disconnected world. Something that happens in Des Moines, Iowa can have an effect in Berlin.  Something that happens in Seoul, South Korea can affect Boston, Massachusetts.
As history shows, something planned in medieval-like Afghanistan can affect New York.
The solution is not simple, making the problem worse is.
Words matter. Perceptions matter. The words announcing this blockade of immigration carry more than simple meaning. Wiping Islamic terror from the face of the earth. Opening our doors to Christian, but not Muslim, immigrants from Syria. These all play into the hands of those who twist the words of the Quran into a recruiting tool.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same Abrahamic God. They interpret the words in a different manner. The issues in the Middle East are not a recent phenomenon. The Palestinian problem is thousands of years older than the United States.
The issue of asymmetric warfare, in the form of terrorism, is not solved by the stroke of a pen or a wall.
The solution is an open and courageous people willing to stand up to the risk of terror. One way to do that is by living in a country that serves as an example, not a convenient target.
The whole world is watching us. Those that are our friends are scratching their heads trying to come to grips with this new America. Those who wish us harm are taking delight in their ability to imprison the Great Satan behind a wall.
To borrow a line from the song by Lee Greenwood, “I am proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” How long will those words ring true?
If the American people no longer have the courage to keep our society open, our pride will disappear.
We, the people, are better than that.