Armistice Day

November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice being signed, ending World War I.

At the time, it was known as The War to End All Wars; we’ve seen how well that worked out. One of the reasons the National Socialist Party was able to rise in Germany was the economic difficulties resulting directly from the reparations required of Germany after the end of WWI.

Millions of young men died in the trenches in France and Belgium. They also died in the Balkans and many more locations that don’t hold the attention of our Anglo-centric education and resources.

It was truly a World War, with the battles fought in Ethiopia, in Palestine (as that land was then called), Hungary, Italy in addition to the lands around Verdun more familiar to Americans.

Have we learned anything?

We’re still solving problems by sending soldiers.

We’re still blaming and punishing nations for the failings of their politicians and leaders.

We’re still engaged in supporting allies we shouldn’t support, because they’re against who we’re against.

We’re still going to each battle assuming our old ideas will work in the new situation.

Some nations are still changing national boundaries by force. What’s worse, the nations in question think they can get away with it.

Some nations are still trying to change how another nation is governed by force.  What’s worse, the nations in question think they can get away with it.

We’re still bringing back soldiers with shell shock, we’re still pretty clueless about how to treat post-traumatic stress, and this country is still woefully inadequate at supporting its combat veterans for as long as they need support.

We’re still improving our weapons, each year getting more efficient at killing the opponent. We’re also getting better at bringing back wounded soldiers and getting them back on their feet, sometime the foot is a prosthetic. If only we could heal minds half as well as we heal bodies.

We’re still stockpiling chemical weapons, and tolerate those who use them, despite the obvious evidence, every time chemical weapons are used, the consequences are far worse than the benefits.

Many of our weapons of war are readily available to the general population of our country. We’re pretty efficient at killing our fellow citizens, too.

November 11th is also Veterans Day, a national holiday. I wore a uniform for six years, I benefited from my service, and I like to imagine the nation benefited from my service. I was never tested like the veterans of the past 25 years have been tested. To all combat veterans, you have my absolute respect and support. America owes you far more than you’re getting from us. To all veterans, I salute you for being willing to become combat veterans.

With the greatest respect for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, my dream is a day when few qualify for membership.

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Politics is local

20181103_164635I have a collection of the full-color, page-sized electioneering mailers that have come to my mailbox. The stack is actually quite impressive.

Most of the candidates, it seems, are too extreme. Certainly the challengers all are, but apparently so are many of the incumbents. Extremism can be general: one is too liberal for the community, the next is too mired in old practices of the past. It can be very specific: an extreme tax proposal that will take away your house, an extreme position on healthcare that will take away Billy’s crutch and put all the nurses and doctors out of work.

There’s the gentleman running for a legislative position at the state level. One plank of his platform is to oppose all tax increases, while I’ve received a mailer claiming he hasn’t paid property taxes in the past three tax years. We assume he’s within the law; around here one can see billboards advertising lawyers who will help reduce your property taxes.

One person running for a legislative position is a retired military officer. The Colonel uses his rank and his retired status on all his roadside signs without the asterisk and disclaimer in tiny letters found on the political party mailers supporting him and vilifying his opponent. The party even has photos of him in uniform on their mailer. A long time ago, when I was on active duty for six years, it was perfectly clear that my uniform and my political activities could never appear together. I wonder if that’s still the case? If course it is, DoD Directive 1344.10 (PDF) says pretty much the same as my training.

His opponent? She’s one of those extremists, or so it says on the party mailer.

It is my understanding a candidate can’t coordinate with third parties who want to promote them. Maybe it’s a simple case of plagiarism, but I have one mailer from a political party using exactly the same language as the candidate’s own pieces.

Running against the establishment is alive and well despite the Tea Party kind of dropping out of view. In the case of this state, we have a few legislative leaders who appear to be old enough to remember voting for William Howard Taft. They may, as young children, have seen a Lincoln-Douglas debate. Those legislative leaders, who disagree with each other regularly, are a “machine” that’s going to ruin the state.

One candidate of the same party, knocking on doors one weekend morning, told me she wants nothing to do with these old fossils, she called them “entrenched.” But is says on this mailer that’s she supports their Extreme Agenda of higher taxes and corruption.

Apparently lots of politicians are corrupt. I hadn’t realized. Anybody from that same party must be corrupt, too, right? Any candidate who has accepted money from the state party is “beholden to their extreme agenda” as a result of the money. It is worth mentioning that the Illinois Libertarian Party candidate for the state’s Attorney General, Bubba Harsy is his name on the ballot, seem to think “Illinois’ ever-growing political corruption” is the primary cause of the need to increase taxes to cover the budget.

When the candidate is a relative unknown, you Photoshop them next to one of the well-known people, either to bolster them or to give them an unsavory connection. I’ve seen a lot of Republicans pasted next to the President, I’ve seen Democrats pasted next to Nancy Pelosi. I have no idea if these people have met, but the Photoshop work tells me it wasn’t easy to find a photo of them together.

The incumbent member of Congress around these parts reached office in the 2010 wave of the Tea Party. My complaint about him is he is very good at avoiding public appearances with a crowd. I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to find any of his public appearances in time to plan on going to hear him speak. His unwillingness to appear in public is a sharp contrast to his claim that he won his 2010 election door to door, not by spending on advertising.

His opponent is a woman who was appointed to a position in the Obama Administration. She is, of course, “too liberal”, and “we can’t afford” to let her have a seat in Washington.

Finally, there is a ballot issue to eliminate one of the independent pieces of township government, absorb it into the township proper. This seems to be a dispute between two people, the guy who won election to run that part of government a few years ago, and the guy who had that job for along time, now serving on the township board. If Bob can’t keep that job, then he’ll do what it takes to eliminate it.

All politics is local, and most local politics is personal.

(A great deal of paraphrasing is found in this post. Some may be a bit exaggerated. Exaggeration seems to be a trend this election.)

Lessons from the 2016 election

With the mid-terms imminent, I thought it might be useful to take away four lessons from the last Presidential election, and from further back as well.

America doesn’t really like smart people.

I’ve recently commented  about America’s disdain for smart people, the word “Elites” now carrying some derision. Remember when the President dismissed the Elites with the claim he had a better apartment?

George W. Bush, in his public appearances, consistently presented himself as less intelligent than he is. He didn’t have a strong grasp of language and public speaking, but he was a shrewd man who understood what he was doing. In the 2000 election he became President over his opponent Albert Gore, a self-described Wonk.

The wonk in the 2016 election was Hillary Clinton. In direct contrast to George W. Bush and even her husband Bill Clinton, she seemed unable to downplay her intelligence in public appearances. In fact she presented all too much like that stereotypical dweeb from high school, not only intelligent but also awkward at social connection. She was mocked on Saturday Night Live for how badly she delivered a joke, and that happened only after her consultants started trying to add laugh lines to her speeches.

The performance of mr. t. in the campaigns was quite different. He told fibs freely, knowing he was being fact checked, and neither he nor his listeners cared. Those fibs made him relatable, made him “authentic.” In my mind, seeing him described as authentic meant what he said was kind of like one of your drinking buddies after the third round of beers had been ordered.

Given a choice between two undesirable candidates, the one who connects with ordinary voters is more likely win.

Neither Hillary nor mr. t. were especially desirable candidates. I held my nose while I voted, and I expect a large fraction – perhaps more than half of us – did the same. One had a lot of baggage: her husband had been President and just the name “Clinton” was enough to start some people shaking with anger. Hillary and Bill Clinton had received more than their share of marginally useful legal investigations, forced to defend themselves from all manner of accusations. For not quite eight years we had a parade of accusations investigated by a Special Counsel’s office that seemed pretty darned partisan.

For those who think, at one year, the Mueller investigation is taking too long, remember Ken Starr had been on the case of a failed real estate deal in Arkansas  for over three years before the allegations from Monica Lewinksi  came to his attention.

The one thing mr. t. had in his favor was his appeal. If Hillary was all brain, mt. r. was all gut. Despite his wealth, despite his obvious flaws, he sounded authentic. He said things people had been thinking. He said things people realized they liked to think.

A negative campaign will put some people off, but it will likely make a net gain in votes for you.

We’ve all had the pleasure of listening to a negative political advertisement on the television or the radio. They seem to multiply in the last few days before the election, one last straw on the back of the undecided voter’s camel.

Negative campaigning had been done by proxy. Back in the day, most were sponsored by an “independent,” “advocacy” group. Some advocated voting for a person, but more avoided that by suggesting you to call up incumbent Smith or candidate Jones and tell him or her what you think. It’s been rare to see negative advertising done in the name of the candidate, not since “I’m Byron Tennyson and I approved this message” became the tag at the end of every advertising spot funded by the candidate.

We didn’t see any reticence in mr. t. to do negative campaigning himself. Everyone got an adjective before their name, some people got a detailed tear-down. He encouraged crowds at his rallies to chant “lock her up,” buying into the libel that she had committed crimes. (They still chant, to this day.) He has plastered labels on groups of people as well, starting with calling all Hispanic immigrants rapists and murders as he announced he was running. He labeled them all “Mexicans,” but there are far more Central Americans coming up to the United States through Mexico than there are Mexicans these days.

Apparently he’s still proud of that speech. “Remember I made that speech and I was badly criticized? ‘Oh, it’s so terrible, what he said,’ ” he told an audience of NFIB members. He then explained the name calling is an element of his plan for success: “Turned out I was 100 percent right. That’s why I got elected.”  Only mr. t. could speak to an organization of small businesses celebrating their 75th  anniversary, speak mostly about himself, and receive applause and cheers.

Hillary Clinton limited her negatives to the deplorable “basket of deplorables” comment. She wasn’t all that good at jokes or insults.

The election does seem to be a popularity contest, with little attention to whether the candidate can do the job.

Well, maybe not. I take some consolation in the realization that, despite his appeal, mr. t. barely squeaked his way into the White House. Come to think of it, there was a razor-thin margin in the 2000 election as well.

Perhaps one of the lessons of the 2016 election is we should not underestimate the voters of America. Individually, we’re all over the map. You can walk around doing man-on-the-street interviews and easily find people you deplore. On the other hand, in 2016 the winner from between two badly flawed candidates didn’t win by much.

Play it cool, Don

Dear Don:

I know you’re up against challenges, and I know the election coming up has a lot to do with what the nation thinks of you. The single most important thing for you to do is play it cool.

A lot of people out there, they think they can smell fear on you. I hear some people wonder if maybe you’re flailing, just tossing stuff out to see what sells. It doesn’t give the right image. It isn’t what you expect to see in a strong, in-control guy, a guy who’s confident in what he’s doing.

You send troops to the Texas border, roughly one soldier for each person in that stupid caravan, when the only way the caravan is going to reach the border before election day is by chartering a jet. Looks like grandstanding. There’s grumbling out here about letting the soldiers stay at home, you know, with the holidays coming up and all. Calling those Hondurans an invasion, talking about them over-running our borders, though, that’s good stuff.

Another tax cut, that’s gold, coming from the man who put the promises in “promises made, promises kept.”

The bombs in the mail, those two shootings, you handled them okay. You’re catching on to expectations, you condemned antisemitism pretty good. Kellyanne blaming the late-night comedians as anti-religious was brilliant. (They don’t seem all that anti-religious to me, but the guys who never watch them don’t know that.) Here’s what to watch out for: those Fake News people noticed how you were only behaving nicely while you were actually condemning the violence, once you got back into rally mode you kind of said the same old things again. It’s okay, your base isn’t concerned, but you can’t afford to let the Fake News get traction.

Okay, but then there was this stupid announcement that you can executive order your way past the Constitution on birthright citizenship. Try that stunt and there will even be a couple Republicans seeing grounds for impeachment. That landed with a thud, let me tell you.

You know, it’s funny how much executive ordering you’re doing to get things done. Don’t I remember you, Paul and Mitch complaining about how many executive orders your predecessor wrote? We don’t say his name, but you know who I mean, that Muslim Socialist guy from Kenya. Let’s hope the Fake News people don’t start counting up your executive orders.

My advice, Don, is don’t look desperate. Don’t look like you’re going to those rallies just so you can bask in the crowd’s energy. We know you love hearing a crowd chanting, it’s fine, but don’t go out to the microphone looking like you need it. Try to walk onto the platform looking like you’ve got it in the bag. Just make an appearance as part of the get-out-the-vote effort, make the candidates do the work.

Stay cool, Don. Don’t let the situation spook you out of your groove.

You know what they say, when you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff by your fingernails, all you can think about is wondering how you are going to find the time to squeeze in an extra manicure.

E pluribus unum

Columnists, wryly noting how much Ted Cruz is relying on support from mr. t in his bid for re-election, have reminded us, to excess, of their acrimonious relationship during the election campaigns of 2016.

“We deserve leaders who stand for principle,” Cruz said at the close of his speech to the 2016 Republican National Convention. “Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. Every one of us has an obligation to follow our conscience.”

That’s nice-sounding pablum, but it really doesn’t mean much.

The only thing we deserve is who we elect. Had we elected Hillary Clinton and found her disappointing, roughly the same number of people would now be saying it was better than that brash guy she was running against. What we really deserve is political parties who give us credible candidates. We’re only going to get what we deserve when we start asking for it. You’ve seen that advertisement in airline magazines for the Chet Karrass negotiating course, haven’t you? “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.”

Principles are kind of like morals. We haven’t really agreed on a single set of principles which can guide us. More to the point, it is the intersection of a variety of principles which gives strength to our political system. Political philosophies are defined by their principles, and there are lots of political philosophies to choose from. But, whether I approve of a politician’s principles or not, I value consistent behavior, a consistent pattern of thinking behind the behavior. I also value a tangible commitment to public service.

Golly, I’d love to see us sharing some values (see “principles,” above). But here is the underlying issue: we need leadership (All of them! Everyone in public office) who put effort into bringing about some of that sharing. We need our political leaders to decide that unifying around key issues is better for the country, even if it doesn’t win elections. (See “we deserve who we elect,” above.)

Casting aside anger for love has a nice lilt to it, sounding a bit like Ted was kind of paraphrasing the Bible a little in the hopes of sounding suitably Christian. All the way from anger to love seems like too long of a distance to take in a single step. Let’s be practical, let’s just try Step One: simply cast aside anger. Recognize the other viewpoints aren’t wrong, evil, and intent on bringing you personal harm. Recognize those who want you to believe it are using you. Recognize name-calling isn’t discourse. Later on we can work on love, after we’ve embraced some shared values (see “shared values,” above).

It is true that everybody has the right to follow their own conscience. But that sentence starts with the acknowledgment that all of us have that right. Implicit in a right held by everyone is the recognition that we each have our individual conscience, our own values, our own principles to follow.

“E pluribus unum,” the national motto, is a Latin expression meaning “out of many, one.” It is an explicit recognition that diversity has been an important part of the nation since it was founded.

Putting the First Amendment first

This past week saw two events in which Second Amendment rights were exercised to violate others’ First Amendment rights.

On Wednesday in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, in the outskirts of Louisville, a man shot two people at a Kroger supermarket. He shot them because they were Black and for no other reason. He’d just tried to enter the First Baptist Church, with a traditionally Black congregation, but found the doors locked. He intended to shoot whoever he found in the church, because they were Black.

On Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, a man was more successful, shooting several people in a synagogue. It was in the same neighborhood where Mr. Rogers lived. He shot them because they were Jewish.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh saw a massive memorial vigil for the victims of the synagogue shooting. The President was unable to change his schedule and attend. He was already committed to a campaign event in southern Illinois, supporting the Governor running for re-election and various candidates for Congress.

Let’s move on to people who did respond appropriately.

Jeffersontown’s Police Chief, Sam Rogers, spoke at the First Baptist Church on Sunday. While life isn’t perfect for minorities, a white, Southern Chief of Police showed us just how much better it is now than it was fifty years ago. He told the congregation he was embarrassed to be speaking at First Baptist for the first time that day, admitting he hadn’t made an effort to visit the church in better times. Then he got straight to the essential point. “This was a racist act,” he told the congregation. He didn’t shy away from the hard truth. “There are people who want us to stick our heads in the sand and they think, by not acknowledging it, it will go away by itself. This is a problem that we can’t ignore any longer.”

I predict Chief Rogers will visit quite a few churches for the first time in the coming months, and the community will be better for it.

The vigil Sunday evening was held at the Sixth Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. The church was filled beyond capacity and thousands more filled the streets outside the church.

20181027smsShooting13-1540686467

Photo from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  web site


The vigil did not start until after sundown, the end of the Jewish Sabbath, to ensure observant Jews had no barriers to attending. Sixth Presbyterian’s Reverend Vincent Kolb said they were gathered in friendship with their Jewish neighbors. He used the word allies. “We gather because we are heartbroken but also to show zero tolerance for anti-Semitic speech, anti-Semitic behavior and anti-Semitic violence.”

The event was opened by a gospel choir. Catholics attended, Presbyterians attended, people who didn’t have a church attended, in solidarity with those affected by the shooting.  The Muslim Imam didn’t just attend, he used the word “brothers” to describe the Jews of the city, offering any assistance up to and including people to keep watch outside the synagogue.

The vigil was initiated by local high school students, who else would be better networked to quickly arrange a get together on a weekend. As angry white men get too old to commit these crimes, perhaps this violence will diminish. Perhaps the nation will outgrow the violence, like a toddler outgrows tantrums. We can only hope the younger generations are learning from our ignorance, our gross negligence and the tragedies we have failed to prevent.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough, a phrase I’m getting tired of saying so often.

Of course we must change what kinds of people are allowed to own what kinds of guns, and how many. We’ll say that again, many more times, before we see action. The largest change, the best opportunity to change the violence in the near term, is eliminating the casual rhetoric suggesting a little violence is okay, shootings can solve problems, there are people whose deaths will improve your own life.

Politicians and radio hosts must be held accountable for what they say.

There are few who don’t understand what changes are needed in the content and tone of political speech. Unfortunately, the Loudmouth in Chief is one of them. A notable uptick in antisemitic acts started in 2016. I don’t think that’s coincidence.

America will survive this period of our history, and hopefully we will learn and grow, become better people. In Jeffersontown, First Baptist’s Pastor, Reverend Kevin Nelson, concluded his sermon Sunday with these words: “We’ve been here for 185 years. We’re not going any place.”

They’d never get violent

Oh, look: on the topic of the pipe bombs being mailed to prominent Democrats, Rush says “Republicans don’t do these kinds of things.”

Among mass attacks done for political reasons in the past fifty years, which motivation has predominated?

In April, a report from the Government Accountability Office said, “Fatalities resulting from attacks by far-right wing violent extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years.”

I’m not claiming it’s all one sided. Something else happened the other five years addressed in the GAO report.

Violence is wrong no matter who does it, no matter why they commit the act of violence.  Antifa movement, please read and forward.