War and Rumors of War

Lessons from History

(Image: Getty Images/stock photo)

Once we are through with the 1619 project perhaps, we could move on to the Vietnam War Project.

While we are at it and are stressing over our fighting a proxy war with Russia and fearing the possibility of a nuclear confrontation let us remember that we (the USA) are the only country in history to drop an atomic bomb on another country. And it was we who let the nuclear genie out of the bottle in the first place. One can only hope that we don’t inherit the wind.

And let us not forget we fire-bombed Tokyo, another civilian target, nearly burning that city to the ground. Robert Macnamara, the Secretary of Defense at that time, is quoted as saying that if we had lost the war he would surely have been tried as a war criminal.

This is not to say that we should not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its merciless targeting of civilians, but as the saying goes, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. There is a reason we are not signatories to the International Criminal Court.

We can do better and we are doing better I think, but let us not forget from whence we came for he who forgets the lessons of history is forever bound to repeat them. Rather, let us be a beacon of hope to those who love freedom and a keeper of the eternal flame of remembrance for those who have fought and died in war.

Fear and Loathing on the Way to Galveston

A trip to the heart of the American Dream

The White Whale as captured by the author

I drove the 117 miles to Owensboro and arrived at Buddha’s in the early afternoon. This was the first leg of our journey to the heart of the American Dream. I gassed up the White Whale, a 2011 gas guzzling Nissan Maxima, the day before, and put together a road trip mix to listen to on our way down to Galveston. We were going to Galveston to recapture our past and rekindle a friendship that had cooled off over the years.

We had both been to Galveston before and though we had separate memories we were both eager to see her pretty sea wall, hear the sea wind blowing, and see her dark eyes glowing.  

I like to listen to the sounds of the 60s while on a road trip with nothing else on my mind but driving fast, grooving to the music, and avoiding the law if at all possible.

Daniel “Buddha” Hildenbrandt was one of my oldest friends and a spiritual adviser. He was also a teacher at the local community college. He taught communications and was fond of saying, “the main problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

We called him Buddha because of the pudgy nature of his physique. He just looked like a Buddha.

When I got to his place, we watched TV until about 5:30 pm when his daughter, Mara, arrived to fetch a key. After she left, we went out to get a bite to eat at Owensboro’s one and only Sushi place. I knew it was going to be a problem when I noticed the chefs behind the sushi bar were Mexican. I had the Hibachi Chicken. It was terrible.

We went back to Buddha’s place for drinks and more TV. I lucked into a Harold Pinter play on YouTube I’ve been wanting to see: “The Birthday Party,” starring Harold Pinter himself and Joan Plowright, in a BBC production. It was pretty good, but you have to be into Pinter to enjoy it. Buddha wasn’t so he went to bed to read while I watched the rest of the play.

The next day was Friday, October 2. I woke to the news that Donald Trump and Melania Trump both have contracted the coronavirus. Is that karma or what?

We are living in strange times. I was thinking of love in the time of Coronavirus. 1,000,000 dead and Donald Trump was still president. This was before the insurrection at the nation’s capital and Moscow had yet to declare war on Ukraine. The best was yet to come.

We packed and loaded the car. We had to make a pit stop in Evansville so Buddha could see his psychiatrist and check up on his meds. Apparently, I am traveling with a madman. That’s OK. We’re all as mad as hatters here. All the best people are.

We finally got on the road and headed west. I figured to push as far into Arkansas as I possibly could before stopping for the night. We made it to Hope, which was in the first ring of hell. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but it was getting there. We crossed the river Acheron into the abyss. The dreams weren’t broken down there, but they were definitely walking with a limp.

We checked into the Best Western Motel. The maskless clerk behind the desk kept asking us if we wanted one bed or two.

“Two beds, dammit!” Buddha muttered, shaking his shaggy head.

“Do we get a discount?” I asked. “AAA? AARP?”

“Yeah, I’ll give you a discount alright,” the clerk snapped.

“Well, what’s the rate?”

“$75.00 including tax. Do you want one bed or two?”

“Two beds, dammit!”

“OK! Can I see your credit card?”

“Any restaurants in the area?”

“You can Google them and they will deliver.”

“OK. What room?”

“105. Right around the corner.”

Buddha was already heading out the door on his way to the room on foot. I drove around. We unlocked the door and unloaded the car, then took a moment to get settled. Buddha went to get ice.

I Googled the restaurants in the area and found a Pizza Hut and a Dominos. I called both but got put on hold at both places. Well, what could you expect in a little town called Hope, deep in the Arkansas interior? Bill Clinton territory as it were. The town sucked just like Monica Lewinski. Finally, Dominos answered.

“I’ll have a medium Supreme delivered to room 105 at the Best Western Motel, please. When will you deliver it? One hour? Wow! Well, go ahead. We will just have to wait.”

While waiting for the pizza to arrive we made the drinks.

We had picked up some liquor a few exits back. We got separate liquors because Buddha always buys cheap booze and I can’t stand the whiskey he usually gets, so I get something a little better. Turns out he got Ezra Brooks and I got Jack Daniels.

“Well, hell, if I’d a known you were getting Ezra Brooks, I would have drunk your booze. Ezra Brooks ain’t bad!”

“No, you wouldn’t! You’re not drinking my booze! You just drink your Jack Daniels!”

“What the hell Buddha? You don’t think I would have replaced your whiskey? You mean to tell me you wouldn’t have shared?”

“I don’t want to have this conversation right now!”

“Why not?”

“Just don’t.”

“OK.”

We drove the rest of the way in silence.

Meanwhile, back in the motel room, we decided to watch a little TV while waiting for the pizza. It was 9 pm EST and 8 pm Central. Buddha grabbed the remote and engaged the “on” button. TV said, “No Signal.”

“Call the front desk and tell them the TV doesn’t work,” I said.

Buddha grabbed the phone, listened intently, punched the dial hooks repeatedly, looked up wild-eyed.

“No dial-tone! Motherfucker don’t work!”

“Call him on your cell phone.”

Buddha stared at the black desk set and started stabbing the numbers into his cell phone.

“Hello? Yeah, this is Buddha in room 105. The phone don’t work…. I’m calling you on my cell phone…. OK…OK…Ok. That’s not why I’m calling you. The TV don’t work either…OK…. OK…Ok.”

He hung up.

“What’d he say?”

“He said he would come down and try to reboot it himself.”

“Well OK then.”

So, we waited a few minutes, freshened our drinks, and munched on some smoked almonds. Pretty soon there was a knock at the front door.

Buddha let in the night clerk who again was maskless, but he was at least pretty friendly. He took the remote and began trying to reboot the TV.

About that time, we got another knock at the door. It was Dominos. Buddha answered the door. He paid for the pizza, $20.00 including tip.

The smell of the pizza filled the room.

“Wow, if you are getting pizza, I’m getting hungry.” This from the maskless night clerk.

“You want a slice?” I asked.

“No. No.”

The clerk didn’t have any luck getting the TV to work either.

“Let’s see, the TV don’t work, and the phone don’t work. Don’t you think we should get another discount?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ll give you another discount. I’ll give it to you right now.”

And with that, he left.

Buddha and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Then we devoured the pizza.

A little later on that night, the night clerk showed up with our receipt which included our discounts. All in all, an $85.00 room ended up costing us $65.00. Not bad.

We got up early the next morning and hit the road again right after breakfast. It was around Texarkana when the drugs started kicking in. It was only a matter of time before we would see the bats.

As soon as we crossed the Texas state line the environment seemed to change. The horizon stretched out further, the roads became wider, and the countryside a lot brighter. You could see further in all directions. There were also a lot of Trump signs. We were definitely in Trump country. If there ever was time to be traveling armed, this was it.

Donald Trump. The 45th president of the United States of America was nothing more than a screaming hyena, a barking dog, a snake oil salesman, and a carnival barker. But he held a death grip on American politics for four years, and even though he was impeached twice and lost a fair and free election he still has a death grip on the GOP and a large number of the electorate. One-third of the country thinks the election was stolen and that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. What a mess! But I digress.

There we were, driving along US Highway 59 with an open road in front of us and Ruby and the Romantics blaring on the radio and I couldn’t help but think that here we are, 20 years into the next century. I remember the 60s as being a beacon of hope when the culture hit a high watermark. If you look back and squint your eyes just right, you can almost see where the crest of the wave finally broke and rolled back. It’s been downhill pretty much ever since.

Next stop: Galveston!

THE REBEL

The Rebel – Albert Camus

I’m giving The Rebel another read, a book I read when I was in my 20s, written by a man who has shaped my views more than any other, Albert Camus. You might think that The Plague might be more in order given the current plague we are now living through. Well, I’ve read that one too and it is vividly etched in my brain. But no, for me, given the current political situation in the USA, The Rebel is far more relevant. At no time during my lifetime, with the possible exception of the Vietnam war, has the idea of “man in revolt” been more relevant or more important. Updates to follow. I’ll be reading with new eyes…

Posse Comitatus

Trump wants to mobilize active duty U.S. military to attack peaceful protestors. This action would be unconstitutional, unlawful, and unconscionable. It is the action of a dictator and tyrant and a further degradation of our democracy. What Trump really wants is a race war.

What makes this illegal is the Posse Comitatus Act which states: Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. The exception to this law is the Insurrection Act. But to use this there has to be an insurrection, and what is happening is clearly not an insurrection.

The Attorney General for New York, Letitia James, has stated, “We will not allow Donald Trump to dominate New York.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly disagreed with President Trump’s threatened use of the 1807 Insurrection Act. Speaking to reports at a recent Pentagon briefing Esper said, “The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

In my view, any soldier asked to deploy to an American city to fight protestors and enforce the law has a duty to disobey this unlawful order.

Failure of Leadership

Rant of the day

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Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump’s recent refusal to wear masks (PPE) in violation of their own public health guidelines is a dangerous failure of leadership and a dereliction of duty. The first principle of leadership is to lead by example. When I worked in manufacturing this is a lesson, I repeatedly pounded home during out daily staff meetings and production meetings. Our employees were required to wear PPE on the factory floor to ensure their safety. If our supervisors and mangers wouldn’t wear the PPE, then neither would the rank and file employees. Lead by example! And if you can’t do that, then get out of the way. You have no business being in a position of leadership.

Concentration Camps

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Representative Alexandria Occasion-Cortez, of New York, recently called the U.S. detention camps for migrants “concentration camps.” She caused quite a stir by so saying. I have been saying the same thing for months. I feel that it is a complete moral outrage for the American government to detain these men, women, and children in these camps.

Now we are arguing over the terminology. In my view a thing ought to be called what it is. And these camps are clearly concentration camps. The meet the technical definition. Historian Andrea Pitzer has made the same assertion in her piece in Esquire magazine: “The United States has created a concentration system.” She argues that mass detention of civilians without a trail was what made these concentration camps.  The full text of AOC’s tweet reads as follows: “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States, for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.”

Strange bedfellows Liz Cheney and Bill Maher condemned the remarks as being emotionally laden with memories and connotations of the holocaust. Masha Gessen, writing in the New Yorker, says this is a failure of imagination. We don’t’ want or cannot imagine a world where we as a people would be evil enough to place human beings in the same predicament as the Nazis did in WWII. Well, I agree with Green and I disagree with Bill Maher. Maher every once in a while, strikes a sour note and sings out of tune. It is surprising coming from a fellow who wears his political incorrectness on his sleeve like a red badge of courage.

These camps meet the technical definition of concentration camps, and so what if it brings up images and memories of the holocaust? It doesn’t devalue it. Rather, it shrieks out a warning, do not go there! It should be a warning that this is what we are capable of, the same thing the Nazis did in WWII. This what Hannah Arendt describes as the banality of evil.

We have to have the moral imagination to realize what we are doing is wrong and can lead to greater evil. We need to make a course correction now!

 

 

Electoral College

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Recently a couple of my Facebook friends have used Prager University to support their political points. Once in reference to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and once in reference to the electoral college. In response I would make the three following points:

  1. Prager University is not a University but rather a right-wing propaganda mill. As such it has no credibility in academic discourse.
  2. The United States is a federal republic and a constitutional representative democracy. To say it is one and not the other is simply wrong.
  3. The electoral college was driven in part by slavery. The 3/5’s compromise was enacted to count slaves as 3/5’s of a person in order to give slaveholding states more power based on population, although these slaves couldn’t vote. The Three-Fifths Compromise is found in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution which reads: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The electoral college is a shameful holdover from these times. It is said to protect minorities, but in modern times this means protecting whites from being ruled by people of color. Either way it is based on a racist outlook, is morally reprehensible, and must be abolished in order to provide free and fair elections by the majority of the people. One has to go no further than former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, who said that white people would be hurt if Maine joins other states in an effort to reduce the impact of the Electoral College. “Actually, what would happen if they do what they say they’re going do is white people will not have anything to say,” LePage said during an interview with WVOM radio. “It’s only going to be the minorities that would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida.”

Five times a candidate has won the popular vote and lost the election. Andrew Jackson in 1824 (to John Quincy Adams); Samuel Tilden in 1876 (to Rutherford B. Hayes); Grover Cleveland in 1888 (to Benjamin Harrison); Al Gore in 2000 (to George W. Bush); Hillary Clinton in 2016 (to Donald J. Trump).

 

 

 

 

 

ELECTION 2020

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Well, we are in a new presidential election cycle. It seems only yesterday that the monster Donald Trump was foisted upon us.  There is literally nothing more important than removing him from office, either through the ballot box or otherwise. We have a rather large field of Democratic candidates. Should be an interesting primary season.

My favorites include Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke,and Julian Castro. Any combination of these candidates would work for me. Of course, the most important consideration, in my view, would be electability and the ability to defeat Trump. Although I do think it might be questionable if Trump lasts long enough to run. If he does, we are all in danger.

I believe the electorate needs and wants a female candidate and a person of color on the ticket. I think it is high time we have a woman president or vice president. There is no question that Hillary Clinton was robbed last go round.

Joe Biden has the most experience, has the most gravitas, and is the most presidential. He would restore much needed decorum to the office and the land. However, he has some drawbacks. He has some things in his past which will bear scrutiny when his record is examined. Also, his age and gender might work against him. Do we really need another old white guy in the Oval Office? But, if he agreed to one term and chose a younger running mate, it might work.

I like Kamala Harris. She impressed me by her intelligent questioning in some of the congressional hearings that she has taken part in. She has an impressive record and background and I agree with her on many policy issues. Also, of all the candidates, she has got social media down to a science. A necessary ingredient in today’s world.

Cory Booker appeared on my radar while I was living in New Jersey and he was mayor of Newark. Quite an impressive fellow and a man to watch. Elizabeth Warren has the best record on consumer rights of any candidate and of any congressperson ever. This is a subject close to my heart she gets extra point for this.

Beto O’Rourke reminds me of a young Bobby Kennedy and he brought democrats together in Texas. He could turn the state Blue and would be a valuable asset on a ticket.

We will just have to see how all this shakes out. Can’t wait for the debates. Let the games begin!

 

 

A Fly in the Ointment

Howard Schultz  Running for President

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There is always a fly in the ointment. This time it is former Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz announcement that he is running for president as an independent. The last thing we need is another old billionaire white guy as president. Now you might think that as an independent he doesn’t stand much chance of winning. But my concern is he could be a spoiler and throw the election back to Trump.

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Another concern is he just hired Steve Schmidt as campaign manger. Schmidt is a brilliant political operative who I greatly admire. With Schmidt at the helm Schultz has a chance. Things should be pretty interesting over the next few months as they develop. As if they hadn’t been interesting enough. Watch this space.

Colorado Baker

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

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Justice Neil Gorsuch

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Right Commission. I thought these issues had already been decided but I guess I was wrong. The case centers on an anti-gay baker in Colorado who claims a First Amendment right to ignore state law and refuse service to same-sex couples. A key issue in Masterpiece is just how far the court’s conservative justices are willing to go in subverting civil rights law to protect the freedom to discriminate. Here is my opinion on the matter:

Restaurants are considered places of public accommodation. The primary purpose of a restaurant is to sell food to the general public, which necessarily requires them to follow equal protection laws. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. The laws of a state must treat an individual in the same manner as other people in similar conditions and circumstances. A violation would occur, for example, if a state prohibited an individual from entering into an employment contract because he or she was a member of a particular race. Furthermore there would be a violation if a restaurant owner refused service to a person because of their race.

 

These rights are spelled out in the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. Places of “public accommodation” include hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs and stores. Nonprofit organizations such as churches are generally exempt from the law. The federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, so gays are not a protected group under the federal law. However, about 20 states, including New York and California, have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Colorado also happens to be one of those states.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation based on marital status or actual or perceived sexual orientation. According to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, “sexual orientation” means heterosexuality, homosexuality (lesbian or gay), bisexuality, and transgender status. Transgender status means a gender identity or gender expression that differs from societal expectations based on gender assigned at birth.

Therefore, the Colorado baker has clearly violated the civil rights of the gay couple and is violation of Colorado law. At issue before the Supreme Court is whether the baker’s right to free speech is being violated. Enter Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch queried the Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yager regarding the remedy imposed on Jack Phillips, the baker. His concern was that Phillips was to provide comprehensive training to his employees. Gorsuch viewed this as compelled speech which might possibly violate Phillips’ free speech. Yager responded by saying training is a common remedy in civil rights cases.

Gorsuch continued his questioning, “But this isn’t attending your training. The order was ordering him to provide training and presumably compelling him to speak, therefore, and to speak in a way that maybe offend his religion and certainly compel him to speak.”

This theory could seriously undermine civil rights law and have far reaching effects.

It is not unusual to have conflicts with respect to civil rights between parties. That’s why we have judges and trials to help sort these things out. My own view is that if you are in business to serve the public you must do so without discrimination. If you can’t or won’t, even for religious reasons, you have no right to be in business and you should close up shop and go home.

We are a secular country here in America with a clear separation of church and state. When you operate a commercial enterprise in the public sphere you must leave your religion at home if it causes you to discriminate against the public. When you are in business to serve the public you must serve all the public.