Friday, June 19, 2015

THE SPIRIT OF JOCKEY HOLLOW



By the time this essay is published, the Memorial Day wreaths will be gradually surrendering to the elements and the solemn ceremonies will be faint memories. Politicians of all stripes will have called upon their fellow citizens to remember those who served and those who have fallen. They will have called upon us to honor the memory of those who sacrificed by living out the principles that established us as a free people.

I believe that in the America I love people do their very best to honor the men and women who have served us so faithfully. They do their best to live by those founding principles.

But, the America I live in is not quite the same America I grew up in. Our great national experiment in democracy seems to be in decline. Why? The American people are the same - resilient, patriotic, and willing to change. The truth is, America’s failures are almost exclusively systemic. They can be laid squarely at the feet of our leaders.

A few of our leaders see this. In a recent op-ed, Representative Don Hill wrote, “I will respectfully, but candidly, observe that confidence in leadership - both legislative and executive - is very low.” He was almost right. Our confidence in our leaders is now close to non-existent.

Why is this so?

Can a free man have everything he has ever worked for taken from him by an unelected bureaucrat? That’s what happened recently to North Carolina businessman Lyndon McLellan when the I.R.S. took every penny he’d ever saved. He’d worked hard and set aside $107,000 in his savings account. Had he committed any crime that would warrant the seizure? No! Using what some writers have called a “Kafkaesque” administrative cloak, the I.R.S. seized McLellan’s savings with the stroke of a pen. The affidavit read, “The United States of America, Plaintiff, v. $107,702.66 in United States Currency, Defendant.”

McLellan wasn’t guilty of any crime, nor was he charged with one, but, it didn’t matter. The I.R.S., in a fit of cruel creativity, claimed that his money was the guilty party. Guilty of what? Who can say?

Sociologist Charles Murray recently lamented, “America is no longer the land of the free.” To bolster his claim, he cited many examples of the way government overreach has stifled freedom and put us at the mercy of shrewd politicians and un-elected bureaucrats. Did you know, for example, that the federal government now has a list of 4,450 crimes a citizen can supposedly commit, buttressed by over 175,000 pages of legal gobbledygook? Most of them have nothing to do with real crime, like murder, rape, robbery, or assault. They’re considered crimes because we just might be doing something the government disapproves of, “crimes” like those Lyndon McLellan’s life savings supposedly committed or administrative “crimes” of one sort or another. Ask the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose only crime appears to be housing and feeding the poor. Ask anyone who’s been needlessly subjected to government surveillance.

Unfortunately, the feds have nothing on state and local politicians. Ask the independent contractors of Uber, for example. Or, ask the young college students who painted our house last summer why they were needlessly harassed by some arrogant bureaucrat from Topeka. 

Our founders were reasonable men. They didn’t want change just for the sake of change. They pleaded with their leaders – “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.” They concluded, sadly, that “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Our founders were willing to resist the tyranny of King George and Parliament. Freedom was so dear to them that they were willing to be deprived of almost anything to secure its blessings. As proof, author Donald Moran cited the diary of Private Joseph Plumb, who endured the brutal winter of 1799 at Jockey Hollow, a Continental encampment near Morristown, New Jersey: “I do solemnly declare that I did not put a single morsel of victuals into my mouth for four days and as many nights, except for a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood.”

The same spirit that animated Joseph Plumb at Jockey Hollow still animates the American people today. 

Unfortunately, too many of America’s twenty-first century leaders are now proving themselves to be “unfit to be the rulers of a free people.” King George and Parliament would be proud of them.

Something must change. Our leaders were elected to serve the people, not oppress them.   They must re-embrace our founding principles. If they fail in that, revolution will come. It may not come tomorrow or the day after, but it will come.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

THE TIMELESS VOICES OF THE PAST

My morning routines are like clockwork. I get up at about 5:00, put the dogs out, make a pot of coffee, and read a couple of chapters from the Bible. Right now I’m reading my way through the Old Testament prophets. If I didn’t already know they wrote and railed against society’s ills a long, long time ago, I’d swear they’d written or railed a couple of days ago. Every once in a while I ask myself, “Don’t Hosea, Amos and Habakkuk live somewhere south of the tracks?”

 After some coffee and stimulating morning conversation with Nancy, we take the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. We’re usually done by eight and then I’m on my way the Recreation Center. As soon as I get there, I spend a few minutes talking to Barb Rourke and her crew and a few more kibitzing with some of my buddies.

 With the formalities concluded, I make my way upstairs to walk around the track for about an hour and a half. I tune my I-phone to Pandora (my favorite stations are Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, or Van Morrison) and off I go. One morning might feature the gritty wisdom of Leadbelly. The next it might be the burning anger of Phil Ochs.

 Some people think I’m just walking aimlessly around in circles, but I beg to differ. I find the detachment from the world quite refreshing. It gives me time to think and make as much sense of the modern world as I can. Some examples follow.

 Our local politicians and pundits were aghast when the most recent election results showed that less than 14% of Lyon County’s registered voters cast ballots. Actually, I’m surprised the turnout was actually that high, given the nature of our political beast. Myself? I voted, but it was only in keeping with a habit I’ve developed over the years. I harbored no expectations or grand illusions that politics will make things better. Author P.J. O’Rourke once observed that when an election is over, it won’t be long till the politicians will start forming committees that design horses who look and act like camels. I’m sure that in time my low expectations, and O’Rourke’s, will be rewarded.

 Why aren’t people voting? It’s not that hard to understand. As the Almanac Singers put it back in the early 1940’s, “Take the two old parties, Mister, no difference in them I can see.”

 Now, it’s bad enough to have the politicians fleecing us, but the cops are really getting out of hand. I’ve been writing about the problem for some time. So have a lot of other folks, but the cops don’t seem to be listening. Things have gone from very bad to even worse. It’s so bad that “wannabe’s” are getting into the act. Just a few weeks ago, Robert Bates, a 73 year old reserve officer from Tulsa, Oklahoma, shot and killed Eric Harris, an African-American after a brief chase. According to Bates, it was all a mistake. He said he meant to shoot Harris with his stun gun, but “accidentally” drew and fired his 357 Magnum instead. As soon as he fired, he realized what he’d done. “I shot him. I’m sorry,” he said.

So, Harris is dead and Bates is free on bail, currently on a court approved vacation, sunning himself in the Bahamas. I guess that the best cure for trauma must be a Caribbean vacation.

As I observe this madness spinning out of control, I find that the Recreation Center track is an escape hatch of sorts for me. Yesterday I was listening to Haywire Mac sing about the “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Like him, I found myself longing for the time when the “cops all have wooden legs and the bulldogs all have rubber teeth.” This morning, it was Blind Alfred Reed, a 1920’s Blues singer, raging like an Old Testament prophet:

“There’s no sense in shooting a man ‘till he shows flight. Officers kill without a cause. They complain about funny laws – Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?”

 So, I spend my mornings walking, reflecting, and sometimes longing for good news. There are other days when I long to hear what the poet laureate of my generation called the “sound of thunder that’s roaring out a warning” or the “thousand drummers whose hands are a-blazin.” But, the more I walk, the more I sense that the warnings are being drowned out by the meaningless drumbeats of politics and power. We live in a world where “hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten. Where black is the color, where none is the number.”

Tomorrow’s another day. As it was with today, the ritual mayhem will go on. Me? I’ll continue to walk, reflect, lament, and draw inspiration from the voices of the past. It’s the only way I can make sense of things in this world. Our institutions and politicians may fail, but those timeless voices will keep me on the straight and narrow.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

ISRAEL"s SECRET WEAPON



“We have no place else to go.”
Golda Meir – In response to a question from Joe Biden about what Israel’s secret weapon is.

Last year, on April 28th, at 10:00 A.M., sirens blared in every corner of Israel. The mournful wails were a signal for the entire nation to stop whatever they were doing and remember the victims of one of the most monstrous crimes in human history. 

Traffic stopped. Commerce stopped. Conversations ended.

These simple gestures conveyed two powerful messages to the world. First, as long as there is a nation of Israel, its citizens will never forget the horrors of the Holocaust. Second, Israel will never willingly allow a second holocaust to descend upon them. Their rallying cry is, and always will be, “Never again!”

A few months earlier, on January 25th, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a brief proclamation honoring all victims of the Holocaust.  He ended his remarks with following stark reminder that evil is still afoot in the world:  “Events in Rwanda, Cambodia, and Srebrenica show that the poison of genocide still flows. We must be ever vigilant against bigotry, extremist ideologies, and discrimination against minorities.”

A new year has dawned, but the refrains are still familiar.  On April 15th of this year, all of Israel remembered once more and vowed, “Never again!” The United Nations continues to issue proclamations. but, tragically, “the poison of genocide still flows.” In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime drops barrel bombs filled with chlorine on its own citizens. The body count is now well over 200,000. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed at least 5,000 innocent Nigerian citizens and is responsible for the displacement of another 800,000. Their crime?  Being Christians. In Iraq, ISIS has been on a rampage. Thousands of Yazidis, fearing for their lives at the hands of  ISIS thugs, have had to flee their homes in Mosul and Sinjar. When ISIS over-ran Quaragosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city, 50,000 Christian believers fled with few, if any worldly possessions. They’re now living as refugees in Kurdistan.

And so, the macabre play goes on...and on…and on. World leaders issue proclamations, warning us to be “ever vigilant against bigotry, extremist ideologies, and discrimination against minorities.” Diplomats talk of peace while the body counts go ever higher. The purveyors of evil, sensing the world’s weakness and lack of resolve, spread their tentacles ever wider.

Are there any rational actors in this drama? As far as I’m concerned there’s only one. It’s Israel. While the world dithers, Israel prepares. They must. They know they “have no place else to go.”

Over the past few months, western negotiating teams, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, have been meeting with Iranian diplomats. The west’s purpose in the negotiations is to delay Iran’s march to acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran’s purposes in the negotiations are three-fold. First, protect their nuclear weapons program. Second, develop a territorial arc that will surround and terrorize Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. Third, and most important, obliterate Israel.

While Iran connives, our President seems to be laboring under the delusion that he can use Iran as his proxy to stabilize the Middle-East.

Sadly, despite White House protestations to the contrary, Iran is winning on all fronts.

Diplomatically, Iran is winning. As the Jerusalem Post’s Carolyn Glick observed a few weeks ago, “And so we are now facing the unfolding disaster that Obama has wrought. The disaster is that deal or no deal, the US has just given the Iranians a green light to behave as if they have already built their nuclear umbrella. And they are in fact behaving in this manner.”

Militarily, Iran is winning. They’re helping prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria. They’re slowly, but surely, turning Iraq into an Iranian puppet state. They’ve injected themselves into Yemen and they can taste victory. A powerful Shia arc is being built¸ piece by piece, nation by nation.

Strategically, Iran is winning. The mullahs have long dreamed of destroying Israel. Unless someone stops them, they will try.

But, who can stop them? America? Do the Saudis believe Barack Obama? Do the Israelis feel comforted when Barack Obama tells them America will defend them? They remember the “red lines” in Syria. They remember his foolish proclamation that ISIS was nothing more than a “junior varsity” team. They’ve seen America retreat from Yemen. They’ve seen our silence in the face of genocide in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria.  They’ve seen us “lead from behind” in Libya. They’ve seen the tragic fruit of Barack Obama’s follies. The people of Israel also know full well the contempt our State Department feels for their leaders and, by implication, them.

In the end, the world’s only hope in this sordid mess is Israel. Their collective memory is long and their national will is unwavering. They say, “Never again!” and they mean it. They will defend their right to exist as a Jewish state. When push comes to shove, they understand they “have no place else to go.”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

MY BOTTOM LINE









It appears that I’ve opened the door to conversation about public education. That’s a good thing.

In his response to my original piece, Douglas Epp mounted a spirited defense of our current way of doing things. I expected it would be the case. The two primary tasks of most bureaucracies are to defend and enlarge themselves.

It didn’t surprise me that our resident experts are trying to shift the blame. It’s the Koch brothers’ fault. It’s the poor, being cleverly disguised as a “demographic” problem. It’s the Hispanics and the need for English as a second language programs.

But, there was one thing I didn’t expect. I didn’t think that our leaders would be in such a celebratory frame of mind. We’ve fallen behind in the international race and they’re all but popping the corks and sipping the bubbly. Mr. Epps put it this way. “We are consistently getting good value for our educational dollar here in the state of Kansas.” If what he says is really true, then God help us. As Frankie Schaeffer put it a few years ago, we’re becoming “addicted to mediocrity.”

It’s clear. We have some very important differences in our respective approaches. 

First, I believe we’re shortchanging our children, particularly when we blame a significant number of them for the problems.

Early on, Mr. Epps wrote “One thing Mr. Dillon seems to ignore is poverty really does matter.”

Should poverty prevent us from providing a good, solid education? Of course not! The overwhelming majority of Emporia’s poor are decent, hardworking folks, making do on a workingman’s wages. They do most of the hard work in this town. They tote our garbage; they shingle our roofs; they mow our lawns; they flip our burgers. They have children who are very bright. They’re quite capable of learning. They’re not the reason our education system is failing.

The PISA studies seem to agree with me. Among their findings was this“The share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the United States is about average.” 

Next, there’s the “English as a second language” crutch. I’m going to say this as plainly as I can. Emporia’s Hispanics are perfectly capable of mastering two languages. Emporia’s young Hispanics are intelligent, resourceful, and willing to learn. They’re not the reason our international test scores are so low. 

According to the most recent international reports, the Danes, whose mother tongue is Danish, are “very highly proficient” in the use of the English language. The Swiss, who communicate in German, French, and Italian, are highly proficient in the use of English. In all, there are thirty-one countries on the list that range from very highly proficient to moderately proficient in English. Many of them score better than us on the PISA tests and spend less per student on education. 

Then, there’s the progressives’ piƱata – The Koch brothers. They aren’t the only people who have the power to influence academia. When I attended Ohio State University, I registered for a class in Chinese literature. On the first day of class, the professor told us that a pornographic Chinese novel titled Rou Pu Tuan would be required reading. I didn’t complain. I just dropped the course. In another class, I was required to read excerpts from Mein Kampf. I didn’t like it, but I read them. At the campus library I could get “Das Kapital” or the “Communist Manifesto” in English, French, German, or Spanish. If reading Chinese pornography, twisted political philosophy like Mein Kampf, or totalitarian ideology is okay,  I doubt that a small dose of supply side or free market economics would so thoroughly corrupt our youth that they couldn’t function as the model citizens we want them to be.

Mr. Epps asked if I supported early childhood education. Of course I do. I support the four components outlined by our Department of Education, particularly the finished product, which is “successful children.”  I also support some of the aims outlined in the 2014 Kansas Supreme Court decision on education, including ensuring that our graduating students have “sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization.” I also agree with the court’s assertion thattotal spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.

While money isn’t the only consideration, I’d still pay top dollar for a product that would put us where we rightly belong – number one!

I’d wager that every school board member ran for office claiming to be the go to person, the man or woman who could fix everything. They might have even claimed they could walk across Wooster Lake for all I know. Enough of us believed them to get them elected. I think it’s time for them to produce results in keeping with their stump speeches.

This is my bottom line. I want to pay for education, not bureaucracies.  I expect our system to make us number one in the world. I hope that Mr. Epps will agree with me on that. If he does, I assure him that I’ll do my part to ensure that our kids get the resources THEY need to make that happen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

SUBSIDIZING STUPIDITY



I read this morning that “in politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” I’m not sure who said it. Some people attribute it Napoleon Bonaparte. Whoever it was knew a lot about politics.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking at some of the proposed legislation coming out of Topeka. Reading it has led me to believe that stupidity may even be a requirement for some Kansas legislators.

Even when the intentions are good, the stupidity at the heart of some of the proposals is palpable. On February 17th, the Topeka Capitol Journal ran an investigative report on the death of four year old Mekhi Patrick Dean Boone, who died from what state officials described as the “worst case of child abuse they have seen.” According to the log at Children’s Mercy Hospital, “There is not a 2 inch part of his body that doesn’t have bruises. He was beat to death.”

Mekhi Boone died needlessly, at the hands of his father. But there’s more to the story. Mekhi’s mother has filed a civil lawsuit claiming that “outrageous conduct of the state of Kansas and one of its contractors (T.F.I. Family Services) caused the death.”

The litigation is slowly working its way through the system. In a recent response to Mekhi’s mother’s claim that the state and T.F.I. violated Mekhi’s due process rights, the state made the following counter-claim – “These answering Defendants affirmatively assert that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require these answering Defendants to protect its citizens from private violence.”

The response was stunning. It reeked of callousness, indifference, and bureaucratic nonsense.

It’s clear. The entire system failed Mekhi Boone.

The child welfare system is in desperate need of a fix, not only in Kansas but all around the country. The Los Angeles Times, for example, filed a report on February 28th that outlined the egregious failures in the California system. Many Los Angeles foster parents have given up on getting support from the system. In one case cited, a foster parent told the agencies, “Take me off your list. I gave up on you guys.” When he was asked why, he replied, “I could never get the social worker to call me back.”

It had the ring of tragic familiarity.

Here in Kansas, Senator Forrest Knox from Altoona offered a “remedy,” in the form of Senate Bill 158, which would prohibit any potential foster parent from either smoking cigarettes or having alcoholic beverages in the home. The senator’s intent was noble, but his solution to the foster care problem in Kansas was patently stupid. Few, if any, Kansans could ever become foster parents under those guidelines. 

The root of our foster care problem is the bureaucracy. That’s what needs to be bulldozed, not potentially good foster parents.

Representative Virgil Peck took stupidity to an even higher level when he championed HB2234, which would make it illegal for a college professor to use his or her title in a newspaper column or op-ed when the opinion concerns a legislator or a candidate for public office. In a fit of generosity, Representative Peck did leave room in the legislation for professors to use their credentials in opinions about newspaper editors, garbage collectors, carpenters, dentists, day laborers, media magnates, and other assorted serfs.

Finally, proving that stupidity can be limitless, someone in the legislature has proposed an amendment to K.S.A. 25-306(B). The proposed change would prohibit any candidate for political office from withdrawing from the ballot after a primary. The only exception allowed would be death.

Of course, we all know the reason for the proposal. Its champion should have called it the Chad Taylor amendment.

I’ve given the matter some thought and I’ve decided we need to amend the proposed amendment. Let’s just leave deceased candidates on the ballot. Really! Corpses couldn’t do any worse than some of our current crop of living, breathing elected officials. In fact, corpses might even do better.

Dead candidates might even add a bit of spice to our interminably dull political campaigns. The clever marketing strategies would be endless… “Dead Man Running,” for example. If the corpse’s opponent happened to be a guy named Ted, we could see yard signs that read, “VOTE DEAD, NOT TED.” If a corpse were to get elected, we could have it embalmed, stuff it full of straw, dress it up in a Brooks Brothers suit, and prop it up at one of those legislative desks at the capitol. 

For those who think my idea isn’t workable, I have question. Do you think a corpse could do a better job than Virgil Peck and his cohorts?

I rest my case.

Will Rogers once asked, “If stupidity got us in this mess, how come it can't get us out.” I think he actually knew that subsidizing stupidity in politics can only make things worse, but left it up to us to figure it out.

Apparently, we Kansans haven’t learned that lesson yet.