Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Taliban Vintage Tank

I'll admit that Im absolutely shameless. Another summer day, another summer re-run.

I was taking a walk around town and as I passed by the Taliban vintage tank that protects Emporia I took a digital photo of it and went on my way.

At about 12th and Merchant I began to recall the story that I originally wrote last year. It served two purposes. One was to give you, the reader, a small snapshot small town life here in Emporia. The other was to pay homage to E.B. White, who gave up big city life to return to rural Maine and observe American life from his farm. Republishing the story today serves a third purpose. Things are quite busy for Nancy and me right now, thus for a day or so re-runs are in order.

The original story now follows for your enlightenment and amusement:

“People who favor progress and improvements are apt to be people who have had a tough enough time without an extra inconvenience. Reactionaries who pout at innovations are apt to be well-heeled sentimentalists who had the breaks. Yet for all that, there is always a subtle danger in life’s refinements, a dim degeneracy in progress. I Have just been refining the room in which I sit, yet I sometimes doubt that a writer should refine or improve his workroom by so much as a dictionary: one thing leads to another and the first thing you know he has a stuffed chair and is fast asleep in it. Half a man’s life is devoted to what he calls improvements, yet the original had some quality that is lost in the process.”

E.B. White –
“Progress and Change” (from One Man’s Meat) – December 1938

E.B. White is one of my favorite writers. The title of my blog is a tribute of sorts to him.

Most people know him for his children’s books, especially Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. As good as those works were, however, that was not what drew me to him. It was his essays done in the thirties and forties. White observed the world around him from his perch in North Brooklin, Maine. That perch afforded him two things – time and a keen eye. His unhurried prose is a great testament to manner in which he used both.

His work is a model of sorts for what I’m trying to do here in the Kansas Flint Hills. After all those years of busyness, business, and urban life, I’ve found that retirement here in Emporia has given me the time to begin to develop the keen eye that shows so wonderfully in White’s work.

A little more than five years ago I never would have thought this would be a fit for me and Nancy. Back in those days we were looking for a way out of Memphis, Tennessee. We’d reached a level of dissatisfaction with the corporate life that we began to look for ways out, but Emporia was far from our thoughts. Early on in the process we thought about moving to Florida. “After all,” we reasoned. “It’s warm and relatively inexpensive.” But a web search showed us the error of our ways. Seeing all those men dressed in seersucker shorts, tennis shoes and black socks was enough to send us seeking another refuge. We looked at New Mexico, Taos to be more precise. Too “new age.” Colorado? Too cold! And so it went until one morning over breakfast Nancy recounted a dream she had had the night before. Within a month from that point we were on our way.

What is it about this small place that I find so attractive? It certainly isn’t the night life. When we lived in New Jersey we found it exceedingly easy to get on a commuter train into New York City to shop at Macy’s, go to a Broadway play, or visit one of the city’s great museums. There’s nothing like that here in Emporia. About as cultural as it gets is the annual visit of the Singing Sergeants either on Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day. But for what we lack in culture here we more than make up for in the sanity of ordinary lives.

Big city life did have its benefits. And it also had its problems. I remember once when we lived in northwest New Jersey that Nancy and I took my two sons, who were on a summer break, to see “Cats” at the Wintergarden Theater. The trip in was uneventful and the play was grand, but it was the trip back to New Jersey that provided the night’s excitement. We left the play at about 10:30 PM and walked back to the Port Authority building on 42nd Street to catch our bus back home. We took the elevator up to level four in plenty of time. In fact we had about a twenty minute wait till the bus was to depart. About ten minutes into that wait we noticed a ragged man shuffling past us. I sat transfixed, almost not believing what I was seeing. He was dirty, filthy actually, dressed in black clothes that appeared to have been run through a shredder, which gave him the appearance of being a grimy, gritty kite tail as he floated past us. As he shuffled past me I saw that I saw that he had no underwear on and the only thing that was covering his nakedness were the flaps of cloth that swayed back and forth as he moved. Now that’s not the type of thing a fella’ sees every day in Emporia, Kansas, I’m here to tell you. For some reason my first reaction to this “sight” was amusement. I chuckled. I found out almost instantly that it was not the politically correct response. The man stopped and looked over at me, his eyes holding a menacing look. It was clear that he didn’t think I should have been amused. He started to move slowly toward me and as he did my youngest son Michael poked me and said, “What do we do now, Dad?” “I dunno’,” I responded, gulping as I did. “I think we’ll have to play this by ear. I really don’t know why I did what I did next; I think it might have been pure instinct. I decided to take a pro-active approach to the situation. I got up and walked toward my disheveled antagonist. When we got to the place where we were face to face I decided to act like an animal. “Two can play this game,” I thought. I looked him squarely in the eye and growled….. “Rrrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhh.” He growled back….“Rrrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhh.” Then we growled at each other in unison….“Rrrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhh.” I remember feeling my heart beat, which by this time was at a rate about what an astronaut’s would be in an emergency. I remember the smell of the sneaky pete wafting in the air as we went through our ritual dance, two men sizing each other up like animals in the wild. Thankfully, the dance ended as quickly as it had started. He turned away from me and shuffled down the corridor. The bus came about five minutes later and our New York City adventure ended with me slumped in my seat, still sweating from the confrontation. I took a few deep breaths and as I did Michael, who was sitting next to me, patted me on the shoulder and declared, “I guess you showed him, Dad.” I didn’t respond the way I felt. Inside I was saying, “Shut up, Michael.” For public consumption, however, I said, “Thanks.”

I guess there are times in life you give up some things to get others. Nancy and I gave up some of the big city’s cultural advantages for safety, serenity, and security here in fly over country. Now I doubt that “Cats” will ever come to Emporia. But I doubt that I’ll ever see that guy with the shredded outfit and the exposed gluteus maximus either.

So I now spend my days in serenity. This morning, for example, I took my daily stroll through our downtown. I stopped by the bank and the tellers all acknowledged me by name – “Taking your daily stroll, Phil?
“Yup. Next stop is the Gazette. I’ll be saying a little prayer as I pass that Patrick Kelley will see the light today, or someday.” As I leave one of the tellers reminds me to say a little prayer for them too. I promise them that I will, but that it will be different that the one I pray at the Gazette. After all, these folks and I have a wonderful working relationship. I’m either giving them money or they’re giving it to me. It’s an arrangement that’s hard to beat. After about an hour of surveying my kingdom I’m back home. I pick up the previous night’s copy of the Gazette and browse. The crime blotter or page two tells me all I need to know. ‘Nine A.M. _ Dog at large…..9th and Neosho…..Ten forty A.M. – Dog at large 15th and State…..1:42 PM – Dog at large – 5th and Commercial.” I see that the dog catcher is busy chasing someone’s golden retriever or Labrador around. The municipal court report reveals all the previous day’s violators. There were four incidences of “prohibited noise,” two cases of “open beer in public,” and other activities worthy of note. I take a peek at the editorial page and see that Patrick Kelley’s at it again. But I find it rather reassuring. A town like ours needs a gadfly and Patrick Kelley is the perfect man for the job.

About a mile or so from my house, at exit 130 off of I-35 sits a Taliban vintage tank in front of the National Guard armory. It’s gun is aimed at the highway, letting any interlopers know that we’ll defend ourselves from any unwarranted encroachments. Each time I pass by it after one of my increasingly rare forays into the world outside the Flint Hills, I feel comforted by the sight. The outside world might have the cultural advantages, but if I need something I’ll order it and have FedEx deliver it, thank you. The outside world has the guy with the shredded britches. Me? “I’ve got the Taliban vintage tank at exit 130. Now I ask you, “Who could ask for anything more.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

How To Deal With Rats, Terrorists, and Neighboorhood Bullies

It’s time for another summer re-run. I figure that if ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the cable outlets can do it, I can too.

I’ll begin with a bit of recent background. A fella’ named Jay Rosen commented on my post from yesterday. It was interesting. A portion follows:

“Have you lost your mind? All sense of proportion? Get a grip please, before you do some permanent damage to your own intellect.”

It seemed appropriate to read a bit of his blog and so I did. I feel much saner now for having done so.

I also took time to read the transcript to the President’s address last night. I liked what he had to say:

“Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of Coalition operations in Iraq — who is also senior commander at this base — General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said: “We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us.”

While I’m a Democrat and know that my party’s strategy is to denigrate the President and his strategy, I am still with him. Like Dubya, I’m a pretty uncomplicated man. I believe that the direct approach is the best..

To add my “amen” to the President’s words, a re-print of what I wrote in the throes of the presidential election follows:

I found some interesting information posted on Right Voices in 2003, prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom:

“It was France that made a bargain with the PLO in the 1970s that it would not arrest Arab terrorists using France as their base planning attacks on Israel and Jews so long as they did not engage in terrorism on French soil. And it is France at the United Nations that now opposes requests by the United States and Britain for additional sanctions against Iraq for its refusal to admit UN inspectors required by UN resolution.”

“It was the French government of 20 years ago that financed and built the Iraqi nuclear bomb plant that – fortunately for the allies in the Gulf War of 1991 – no longer existed because Israel bombed and destroyed it in 1981.”

Around the same time, as one of seven Democratic Party “hopefuls”,
John Kerry said the threat of terrorism was exaggerated:

“I think there has been an exaggeration,”Mr. Kerry said when asked whether President Bush has overstated the threat of terrorism. “They are misleading all Americans in a profound way.”

“The front-runner for the Democratic nomination said he would engage other nations in a more cooperative fashion to quell terrorism.”

It has been Kerry’s most consistent theme.

The problem with the position is that it is not only naïve, it is exceedingly dangerous.

I thought about gathering information on why the esteemed senator from Massachusetts views are so dangerous, but I believe the best way to approach the absurdity of his views is to put them in a local context.

I’ll use two examples.

First, I’ll take you back to 1964, to my tour of duty in Vietnam. I, like everyone in my barracks, was fortunate enough to have a place to live in and a footlocker to contain my worldly goods. Knowing its value, I guarded my space zealously. But not all my barracks mates did.

One airman, who I’ll call Foo the Farmer to protect his ignorance, tried the Kerry approach to protecting his goods and it nearly did us all in. It all began, for me, when I began to hear high pitched squeals and scratching noises during the night. The sounds came from what I perceived to be close to Foo’s foot locker. The sound continued for several nights and actually started to increase in frequency and intensity. Then in the mornings it would stop.

I resolved to figure the mystery out. The next time I heard the noise I got up and followed the noise to its source. It was coming from Foo’s foot locker for sure. Having figured out the mystery, the only thing left to do was to let Foo know what was going on. So, in the morning when we got up for chow I approached him. “Hey, Foo, I think I figured out where that noise we’ve been hearing every night is coming from. It’s coming from your foot locker.”
“Oh, that noise,” he replied nonchalantly. “I knew about that already.”
“You did?”
“Oh yeah. It’s a rat that’s gotten into my digs.”
“A rat?”
“Why don’t you kill it?”
“Hey man, every time I open my foot locker that thing just squeals away and gives me the heebie jeebies, so I just throw a candy bar in there to keep him happy.”
“Comeon, Foo, that makes no sense at all. Just kill the damned thing and be done with it.”
“I just figure as long as I keep feeding him he’ll leave me alone.”
“You know what, you dummy, all that rat is going to do is want more and more food. You keep this up and we’ll be overrun by rats soon enough. Take my advice and kill the damned thing.”
“How am I going to do that without ruining my locker or without getting bitten?”
I couldn’t believe the stupidity. “Look, you idiot, just shoot him or stomp him to death. Anything. Just get rid of him. And stop worrying about your locker. You can replace that. And if you get him soon enough he won’t be able to bite your fingers or your nose off. Just kill him and be done with it.”

It took some time to convince Foo to do the right thing, but he eventually did. And, yes, it was a bloody mess. But we cleaned it up in no time and everything went back to being as normal as it could be under the circumstances.

That’s one of the essences of the Kerry approach. Keep the rat in the foot locker, feed it a bit, and it won’t bother anyone. The approach makes no earthly sense, but that’s the
smarmy strategy the senator is recommending.

Good sense should tell the senator that his approach is really a “nuanced” way of feeding the mouth that bites you.” But people are doing just that and he’s not listening.

The second piece of anecdotal evidence comes from my teenage years. When I wasn’t playing stickball with my brother, I would go to a park near our apartment to play pick-up basketball or football with other guys from my neighborhood. We would have fun till a group of neighborhood toughs would descend on the park like the barbarians on Rome’s gates. In order to keep things from getting ugly we would have to pay tribute to them in one form or another, sometimes a couple of bucks or a box or two of donuts. For a time it didn’t seem too high a price to pay for peace and stability on the basketball court or the football field. But it time the demands escalated. A couple of bucks became three, then four, then five. And so it went.

I don’t know exactly when I’d had enough, but the time did come. I determined I would pay no more tribute.

The next time they came by the approach was familiar. “Make with the bread.”
The rest of the guys started digging for money, but I refused. “You can go to hell. You ain’t getting’ anything from me,” I snarled.
Their mouthpiece was a teenage tough named Butchie Loder. He was a hulk of a teenager for the late 1950’s, about two hundred and twenty pounds worth. Compared to my one hundred and thirty he seemed absolutely massive. “It’s either the money or a beatin’,” he snarled back.
The rest of his gang of thieves stood back, waiting for Butchie to act on his threat.

The stage was set.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I ran up to Butchie and let loose with a right cross that hit him squarely in the face. Blood spurted from his mouth and he lurched back, feeling the blood with his right hand as he did. He was stunned. I took advantage of my opening and continued my attack. I hit him twice in the stomach and heard him groan as the punches hit their mark. He doubled over and fell to the ground. I pounced on him and hit him several more times. The swiftness of the attack and its ferocity had left him helpless. As I swung away at him I kept repeating, “Your nothin’ but mocking bird mouth. That’s all you are.” When I sensed that he’d had enough I got up. As I looked around I saw that his “allies” had fled the scene and I was surrounded only by my buddies. The battle that we had all dreaded to the point of appeasing the neighborhood bullies was over. We won.

I sometimes wonder what might have happened to our neighborhood if we had continued appeasing our tormentors. Where would it have ended? Thankfully, I only have to wonder, because we were never again bothered by Butchie Loder and his gang.

I really don’t need to tell you the moral of the story, but I can’t resist. It’s simple. Confront the neighborhood bully before he can take over the neighborhood and rule by terror.
It’s all as simple as that. While a rat or a neighborhood bully or a terrorist loves the nuanced approach, the diplomatic initiative, he hates the head-on approach. Why? Because the direct, head-on approach spells his doom. Yes, senator Kerry, it really is as simple as all that. I learned that much in the neighborhood or in the barracks. It’s too bad you didn’t take the time to learn those same lessons. You must have thought that you could debate your way out of every problem. Well, sir, world history and my own journey in life have taught me a valuable lesson – When the rats or the neighborhood bullies or the terrorists are lurkin’ about, the best thing to do is to take care of them before they “take care of” you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Strategies Only a Jihadist Could Love

Luke 7:31-35 (New Living Translation)

31”How shall I describe this generation?”Jesus asked. “With what will I compare them? 32They are like a group of children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you weren't happy, so we played funeral songs, but you weren't sad.’ 33For John the Baptist didn't drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, ‘He's demon possessed.’ 34And I, the Son of Man, feast and drink, and you say, ‘He's a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst sort of sinners!’ 35But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it.”

Do you ever get the feeling that we’re one and a half or two countries headed in opposite directions? Do you get the feeling that our national media is now embarking on a grand love affair with insurgents, terrorists?

I introduced this post with an editorial cartoon by Henry Payne at United Feature Syndicate, dated February, 2005. It expresses perfectly the way I feel about what’s going on in the world of politics and mass media right now. Do you get that same feeling?

The Democratic Party, the Party of my youth, is now engaged in a headlong rush to what it believes is pay dirt. The coveted touchdown is the Presidency of the United States and they are going to pull out all the stops to win it back.

John Kerry, who failed in his bid to win the coveted prize some seven months ago, is at it again. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times he is once again trying to upstage the President, who is going to make a nationally televised speech on Iraq tonight:

“Our mission in Iraq is harder because the administration ignored the advice of others, went in largely alone, underestimated the likelihood and power of the insurgency, sent in too few troops to secure the country, destroyed the Iraqi army through de-Baathification, failed to secure ammunition dumps, refused to recognize the urgency of training Iraqi security forces and did no postwar planning. A little humility would go a long way - coupled with a strategy to succeed.”

“So what should the president say tonight? The first thing he should do is tell the truth to the American people. Happy talk about the insurgency being in "the last throes" leads to frustrated expectations at home. It also encourages reluctant, sidelined nations that know better to turn their backs on their common interest in keeping Iraq from becoming a failed state.”

Does it sound familiar? It should. This is what the junior senator from Massachusetts had to say as he was embarking on his quixotic pilgrimage to power last year:

John Kerry said the threat of terrorism was exaggerated:

“I think there has been an exaggeration,” Mr. Kerry said when asked whether President Bush has overstated the threat of terrorism. “They are misleading all Americans in a profound way.”

“The front-runner for the Democratic nomination said he would engage other nations in a more cooperative fashion to quell terrorism.”

It’s been a Democratic Party theme for over two years now. With one breath they tell the American public how much they support our troops and with the other they castigate the man they’ve learned to hate with refined excellence. Here’s something from House minority leader Nancy Pelosi from May, 2004, for example:

“The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader,” Pelosi said. “These policies are not working. But speaking specifically to Iraq, we have a situation where -- without adequate evidence -- we put our young people in harm's way.”

“Asked specifically if she was calling Bush incompetent, Pelosi replied:”

“I believe that the president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrates incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers.”

I think that Ms. Pelosi’s words translated mean that a Democrat would have delivered us a stable, free Iraq and would have done so without any casualties or any cost. I’m trying to think of the best way to describe her statements, and the statements by John Kerry and other Democrats in this regard. The best I can come up with is subsidized stupefaction.

But it’s not just the party of my youth. The media seem to be now putting their full weight behind the terrorists, jihadists, and the insurgents, portraying America and its sons and daughters serving in the Middle-East as the villains in the piece:

“Judgment in journalism is becoming a day-to-day political issue, put there in the arena with everything else we argue about. And lately the bias charges have been getting more serious as the stakes rise in Iraq and the November election. The Washington columnist and pundit Morton Kondracke recently argued that “Congress, Media Could Talk U.S. Into Iraq Defeat.” His parallel--and I have seen others draw it--was the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, to him a military victory for the U.S that was spun a different way at home.”

“The U.S. media reported the episode as a U.S. defeat, helping convince the American establishment that the war was unwinnable,” Kondracke wrote. Bias in the news triggered a failure of nerve. “There is a real danger that Iraq could become like Vietnam--a self-inflicted defeat.” He criticized the press for being “obsessed with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal” when “the decapitation of Nicholas Berg was a front-page story for just one day.” (See PressThink on the Berg video story.)”

And it’s not just Iraq. Just this morning Lisa Myers filed a report on MSNBC TV about the elevated terror alerts from December of last year. Sounding like Breathless Mahoney she revealed her “exclusive” for all of America to hear. The terror alert was a CIA fabrication.

Why would the media file such reports? The only reason I can think they would have been filed would be to undermine George Bush and erode public confidence in him and his administration.

The messages are subtle, but they’re also effective. The media and the Democrats have pronounced it - the Iraq War is now a Vietnam-like quagmire and the War on Terror is a piece of administration fiction.

What are the guiding principles of the press and the Democratic Party in all of this? There are two – hatred of George Bush and lust for power.

Some guiding principles! The media’s hatred of one man, combined with the Democratic Party’s lust for power are aligning in an attempt to derail our effort not only in Iraq, but in the War on Terror.

While the press pursues its policy of hate and the Democrats follow their strategy to re-gain power, what’s at stake for the rest of us? On a very personal, micro, level it’s the lives of our sons and daughters. On a more detached, macro, level it’s our world, our cities, our way of life:

“As in Vietnam, the stakes in Iraq today are much larger than simply allowing millions of people in one country to descend into chaos and oppression. We fought it out for a decade in the jungles of Southeast Asia, losing more than 50,000 American lives, because we knew that handing communist insurgents one country made it more likely that they would soon grow hungry for another. Do we think it is now any different with Islamic insurgents just because there is no longer a Soviet Union out there ready to back them? If the U.S. walks away from this war and leaves it to Europe to hold back Islamic extremists, we might as well just accept right now that the terrorists will topple more of our skyscrapers--or worse.”

And, finally, on a geo-political level, the lives of millions now hang in the balance:

“In the end, South Vietnam was abandoned and conquered, and it descended into poverty and oppression. Some, not content to their fate in the re-education camps, took to the high seas, and many ended up in the U.S. But the oppression hasn't ended for those left behind. Dissidents, Buddhist monks and others are routinely pulled off the streets and out of their homes and tossed into prison. Some of the continuing human rights abuses were chronicled last week in congressional hearings.”

“If this was it, then maybe we could accept a defeat once in a while. But walking away from the overarching moral struggle proved disastrous across the world. After Congress shut off funding to the Republic of Vietnam, U.S. influence receded in the face of communist insurgency, and South Vietnam quickly fell in 1975. The emboldened Soviets were then free to press their interests in Africa, South America and, yes, the Middle East. The shah of Iran fell just a few years after Saigon. Radical Islamic terrorism got a big push from the Soviets.”

I, for one, don’t want to go back to the days of Vietnam, to the days of Richard Nixon’s “realpolitik,” to the days of Jimmy Carter’s vacillation. The Democrats and the press may want it, but I don’t. I realize that I’m just one man, that I’m not a mover and shaker. I don’t have a soap box as big as the well of the U.S. Senate. I don’t have a bully pulpit as large as John Kerry’s or Nancy Pelosi’s. I know that 919 Neosho is not a major news outlet. I can’t dig up dirt as fast as Lisa Myers and her staff. I know that America is not tuning in to me. But that’s alright. I may go down, but I’m gonna’ go down swinging. My loyalties, despite my party preference, are with the President, his administration, and our troops. Those whose loyalties lie elsewhere are, in my judgment, short-sighted, reckless, and foolish. Their hatred and lust for power have blinded them.

Monday, June 27, 2005

What Shalt and Shalt Thou Not Do?

Joshua 1:8 (New Living Translation)

8 “Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed.”

The Supreme Court made two more important rulings today. The issue at hand in both cases was the Ten Commandments.

In the first, by a five to four vote, the justices ruled that McCreary County, Kentucky could not display the Ten Commandments because the display would, in their considered opinion, violate the establishment clause to the U.S. Constitution. The reasoning of the majority seemed to me to be extremely twisted to say the least. Read what they had to say and determine for yourself:

“However, the Biblical laws could be displayed in an historical context, as they are in a frieze in the Supreme Court building. Notably, the first four commandments, which have to do with honoring God and the Sabbath, were obscured by the artist who designed the frieze.”

“The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the ‘First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” Justice David H. Souter wrote in the majority opinion, citing previous court rulings.”

Curious, eh? I think what it means is that as long as they don’t attribute authorship to God and the first four are obscured from direct public view it would be alright. I spent the better part of this day searching the web for information of copyrights and attribution for images I’m going to be using on this blog. I believe it’s really important to credit others for the work they’ve done. The creative process is difficult enough without having someone who had little or nothing to do with the inspiration and perspiration necessary to the output of the creator steal the work or hide it from public view. I think that’s the essence of what the court has done today.

I think it also means that the Court’s interpretation of the establishment clause is to be interpreted that religion, in any form, is okay, as long as it doesn’t mean anything. The second ruling, which seems to be favorable to religion, says as much:

“Rehnquist also said that the statue's placement on the grounds among secular monuments was “passive,” rather than confrontational. Rehnquist was joined in his opinion by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas.”

Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

The justices may say they believe that religion has a vital role in American life, but the message they are sending is clear. It’s the same one that Pharaoh offered to Moses and the Children of Israel:

Exodus 8:28 (New Living Translation)

28 “All right, go ahead,” Pharaoh replied. “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the LORD your God in the wilderness. But don't go too far away. Now hurry, and pray for me.”

Translated into Kansas “plains - speak” it means this – “Don’t get too carried away with this religion thing!” “Don’t go too far with it!” “Don’t let it impact the standards by which a society should live!”

The tragedy of these cases, and the Court’s adversarial relationship with religion, is that their grand strategy has succeeded. In the 2003 piece I cited in my introduction, syndicated by the Seattle Post Intelligence, David Horsey expressed visually what I’m seeing as I survey the American landscape today. We Americans are quickly becoming Biblically illiterate.

I guess that my question, like the question Antonin Scalia asked today in his dissent to the McCreary County decision is moot:

“Listing the various ways in which higher beings are invoked in public life — from “so help me God” in inaugural oaths to the prayer that opens the Supreme Court's sessions — Scalia asked, “With all of this reality (and much more) staring it in the face, how can the court possibly assert that ‘the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality’ [on religion]?”

What the court in essence did today was to further degrade the viability of religion in America. Professing to protect everyone’s freedom, they continued a long torturous national march to nihilism and strip us of the most valuable possession we have – our faith!

What can I possibly say in response? Thanks for nothing!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

You've Gotta' Pick a Pocket or Two

Micah 2:1-2 (New Living Translation)

Micah 2

Judgment against Wealthy Oppressors
1 “How terrible it will be for you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry out any of the wicked schemes you have power to accomplish. 2When you want a certain piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone's house, you take it by fraud and violence. No one's family or inheritance is safe with you around!”

I’m sitting here thinking, writing, and humming a line or two from the musical “Oliver.” The words to the little ditty won’t go away, thanks to the United States Supreme Court. I think I’ll continue to keep humming them as my angry fingers pound out the words that follow:

“Dear old gent passing by
Something nice takes his eye
Everything's clear, attack the rear
Get in and pick-a-pocket or two.”

“You've got to pick-a-pocket or two, boys
You've got to pick-a-pocket or two.”

Lyrics by Lionel Bart from the Musical “Oliver”

The five pickpockets I’m thinking of are Justices Stevens, Breyer, Bader Ginsberg, Souter, and Kennedy. Unlike most thieves, these folks wear robes. It’s a clever disguise.

Until yesterday I thought that we Kansans were being abused by our state Supreme Court, but after reading what our Highest Court, a large corporation, and a local government did to the good people of New London, Connecticut, I can now smell the stench of municipal/corporate greed and judicial tyranny in the distance, wafting its way from east to west.

The court decided that the needs of municipalities and corporations trumped the right of the people displaced because of this decision. Justice Stevens only mentioned Susette Kelo and the other petitioners in passing. It was legal language that masked the majority’s disregard for Susette Kelo and the other petitioners:

“Petitioner Susette Kelo has lived in the Fort Trumbull area since 1997. She has made extensive improvements to her house, which she prizes for its water view. Petitioner Wilhelmina Dery was born in her Fort Trumbull house in 1918 and has lived there her entire life. Her husband Charles (also a petitioner) has lived in the house since they married some 60 years ago. In all, the nine petitioners own 15 properties in Fort Trumbull--4 in parcel 3 of the development plan and 11 in parcel 4A. Ten of the parcels are occupied by the owner or a family member; the other five are held as investment properties. There is no allegation that any of these properties is blighted or otherwise in poor condition; rather, they were condemned only because they happen to be located in the development area.”

Strip the legalese from Stevens’ words and it amounts to utter contempt for the “little people.”

The case, brought by Susette Kelo on behalf of a small number of petitioners who would be affected by the municipality’s use of eminent domain, was decided in favor of the municipality and the corporation(s) that stand to gain from this decision.

Developers couldn’t be more thrilled:

“Marty Jones, president of Corcoran Jennison, called the court's decision a victory not only for the New London redevelopment but also for cities around the country that are trying to incubate business development.”

“I think it's a great win,” Jones said. “There's certainly been a lot of interest in this nationwide, and it makes clear what the legal authority of cities is to do this kind of work. I certainly hope that now that this contentious issue has gone literally to the highest court in the land, people can focus on trying to come together and support economic development and some positive things that really do need to happen in the city.”

It all sounds very ominous to me. Right now here in Emporia Home Depot and Lowe’s are courting our city commission to build super-centers. This decision now gives our commission free reign to take people’s homes in the name of “development.” That, it seems to me is one very big operating umbrella.

What was especially troubling to me was that Anthony Kennedy sided with the “liberal four” in the final decision:

“A court applying rational-basis review under the Public Use Clause should strike down a taking that, by a clear showing, is intended to favor a particular private party, with only incidental or pretextual public benefits, just as a court applying rational-basis review under the Equal Protection Clause must strike down a government classification that is clearly intended to injure a particular class of private parties, with only incidental or pretextual public justifications.”

I believe what that all means in layman’s terms is that as long as long as a municipality can show that the corporation or corporations submitting “redevelopment” plans have not been “favored,” the municipality can do what it wants with the property of the folks in New London and, by extension, municipalities and courts can now do the same thing to the rest of us.

That’s dangerous stuff. In her dissent, Sandra Day O’Connor hit the nail right on the head:

“Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded--i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public--in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property--and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent.”

Clarence Thomas, the justice liberals love to excoriate (he’s an “Uncle Tom,” the next thing to a village idiot, etc) rendered a very eloquent dissent on behalf of those who really stand to lose because of this terrible decision. The “who” would be minorities. On the east coast that would mean principally African-Americans. Here in Emporia it would more than likely mean Hispanics:

“Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities.”

The issue decided in the case couldn’t have been more important to all of us. It will hit minorities and the poor first, but I have no doubt that it will some day impact the rest of us. It does so because it violates some sacredly held principles.

First, this decision clearly violates Judeo Christian tradition, which pre-dates the United States Supreme Court by thousands of years::

Exodus 20:17 (King James Version)

17“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.”

The decision also runs counter to our own Constitution. I believe that, by liberally interpreting the term “public use,” it violates the intent and spirit of an important provision guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

And, finally,it also violates one of the foundations of free-market economics.

How important is this right of property to all of us? F.A. Hayek put its importance brilliantly:

“To believe that the power which is thus conferred on the state is merely transferred to it from others is erroneous. It is a power which is newly created and which in a competitive society nobody possesses. So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people – nobody is tied to any one property owner except by the fact that he may offer better terms than anybody else.”

“What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us. If all the means of production were vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of “society” as a whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us.”

Hayek wrote those words as he watched socialism rise in power and stature in the days leading up to World War II. I don’t think he could ever have envisioned this type of power being exercised on behalf of municipalities and corporations in a democracy like America. But I believe it’s happened. One municipality, five judges, and a few corporations have picked the pockets of the good people of New London, Connecticut. The questions now remaining are “Who’s next?” and “What else is going to be lifted from us?”

Friday, June 24, 2005

An L.A. Vacation Remembered

I’ve been bachin’ it for close to a week now while Nancy is in Los Angeles with our niece. The reason I’m here and they’re in L.A. is that the trip is principally a high school graduation gift from us to Rebecca. With that in mind Nancy planned the trip with lots of fun things to do, especially shopping. Now I like fun things, but shopping is not one of them as far as I’m concerned.

When Nancy asked me if I wanted to go along I remembered a trip that Nancy and I took to Chicago with two foreign exchange students a year and a half ago. The one day of that trip that will forever live in my mind is the day that I had to chaperone the girls on a tour of the Magnificent Mile. Nancy was not feeling well and the duty fell to me. We spent ten hours going from store to store. Ten hours! I suppose I could have called it off at some point, but I didn’t have the heart to do it. So, they shopped and I watched. I thought about that when it came to this trip and decided that even a week with someone slapping me with a baseball bat would be more fun than shopping with two eager women. So, I’m here and they’re in L.A.

I spoke to Nancy this morning and got some of the skinny. They’ve seen Sea World, Disneyland, done the Hollywood homes tour, and today they’re doing Universal Studios.

After she hung up I got to work on a couple of projects around the house, the kind of lazy man’s projects. I spent an hour or so painting an Adirondack chair and an hour or so mowing the lawn. The nice thing about projects like that is they give me time to either think or reminisce. It seemed easier for me to reminisce so I spent the time remembering a working vacation we took to Los Angeles last summer to the “Dream Center.” The more I thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed to share it with once again.

What follows is a recollection of one of those days, a day spent on LA’s Skid Row.

Tuesday, August 10th was our first full day at the Dream Center.

There were some things that just became part of the daily routine for us. I was always the first one in our men’s dormitory to wake up, about 5:00 AM. After a quick shower, brief morning devotion, and some journaling I would walk back into the room to see how many of the guys I could wake up. I think it was a carry over from my military days. There wasn’t much I can say I’d admired about drill sergeants back in those days, but I learned to respect their power. Their 4:00 AM wake up calls were masterpieces of masochism. They always began with a baton rattling inside the barracks trash can followed by this familiar morning greeting – “Come on ladies, rise and shine, inspection in fifteen minutes. Their voices would reach a crescendo. “Lessgo.’ Lessgo.’ Lessgo.’” After trying to wake up our crew I found a greater appreciation for what those D.I.’s were able to do on a daily basis. They always got results. About all I would get was a few moans and the sound of teeth gnashing.
At about 6:30 Nancy would be ready for the day. We’d steal away for what became our only daily luxury, a couple of latte’s at Starbucks. We’d go down the hill, get our coffee, and walk back in time for breakfast. By the time we got back on site the Dream Center was alive with activity, particularly the sound of the “disciples” praying over the grounds. Breakfast was always a brief affair, a bit of cereal, fruit of some sort (most of it looked like peaches or plums), scrambled eggs (they reminded me of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham), and toast. The beauty of it was that we ate the same meals the “disciples” did. I think it was a way of saying that everyone from “disciple” to volunteer was on the same plane. There were no superstars here, only soldiers in a campaign to liberate souls.
After breakfast we had a bit of free time. For some it was a time to get acquainted with people in the group we had only known at a distance before the trip. Others used it as an opportunity to take care of a chore or two (especially laundry).
At 9:00 AM we met in what the staff called “The Mexican Theater.” We would be given our morning assignments which ranged from security (usually cleaning up around the outside of the buildings), marketing (thanking contributors), general clean-up, and so forth. While these tasks seemed a bit mundane, I really understood their value. No army fights well without doing them. In fact, if they don’t do them they become rag-tag mobs in time.
By noon we’re all done with the routine tasks for the day. For me it was cleaning graffiti from buses that had been “tagged” during the previous night.
After lunch, it was back to the “Mexican Theater” for afternoon assignments. We sat expectantly along with teams from British Columbia, Oregon, Indiana, Long Island, Colorado, and Texas. As each assignment was announced it was greeted with cheers. British Columbia got Metro Kidz along with Texas. Oregon and Long Island got Food Ministry. Indiana and Colorado were assigned to Hope for Homeless Youth. And we Kansans got “Skid Row.”
Before leaving we get a briefing from a Dream Center representative who was going to accompany us on our trip. It was a stark presentation. She described thousands living within a few city blocks, men, women, even children. She described the rampant drugs and crime and filth. She described the hopelessness and despair. She then went over what our role will be. It wouldn’t be all that dramatic. There would be no great exercises in preaching or theological knowledge. We just needed to be a human presence in the area letting people know that we loved them and God loves them too. Our role was to listen a lot, talk a little, pray with them if they would let us, and let them know there was a way out at the Dream Center if they would take it. We were finally told to leave anything that we believed had monetary value behind, partly because of the temptation it would offer those we would be trying to serve and partly because those we were going to serve were well past monetary help. The homeless of Los Angeles’s ‘Skid Row” needed more than money. They needed the miracle of human interaction!
From this point on I’m going to describe what I saw in present tense. I want you to walk into this pit with us. I want you to see what we saw.
We leave the Dream Center and arrive in the Skid Row about 30 minutes later. From there we break up into smaller teams. I’m assigned to the Wall Street section along with three others. My wife, Nancy, is assigned to a group of four who will be in the area that even churches generally don’t go. As we go our separate ways I offer her a smile and pray a silent prayer, “Lord, watch over her. She’s a gentle soul. Protect her, please.” I go, sensing that she’s probably offering the same prayer for me.
Our group finds Wall Street and we begin our walk. The most noticeable thing, early on, is the wretched smell. The air is full of the stench of human urine, feces, and marijuana. It’s a smell I’ll always be able to connect with this place, much like I can connect the smell of a farm market near Paris to delightful French food or the sweet odor of a chocolate store in Appenzel, Switzerland to the heavenly taste of Swiss chocolate or the smell of death that hovered over Saigon to a tragically flawed war I served in during the mid sixties. As we pass an abandoned construction site littered with trash we attempt to speak to people passing by. Some having shopping carts filled with the few earthly possessions they have. Some seem to be “less affluent” and carry only plastic garbage bags. Some carry their worldly goods in makeshift backpacks. The first person who will speak to us is an African-American man who appears to be in his mid forties. His face is narrow; his body is long and slender. His chin is covered by a gray goatee. His physical appearance reminds me of a boyhood hero, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics. But he has nothing of Bill Russell’s fierceness in his countenance. It’s empty. We ask him how he’s doing. He smiles cryptically. “You don’t know?” We try to retrieve the conversation after its awkward start. “What’s your name?”“Ain’t got one.”“You’ve got to have a name. Everybody’s got a name.”“Already said. Ain’t got one.”“Where you from?“Here and there.”“What are you doin’ here?”“This and that.”“Help us man, we want to communicate with you. Do you believe in God?”A trace of a smile comes up on his face. “It’s all comin’ down. It’s all comin’ down.”“What does that mean?”“You figure it out.”“Can we pray with you about anything?”“Nah…..What for?”“You need help, man. God wants to help you.”“It’s all comin’ down. It’s all comin’ down.”
We sense that it’s time to leave and move down the street. We break into groups and canvass both sides. About the only sign of life we see in a half block is a man warning us to leave him alone. We turn around and go back in the general direction of the Union Rescue Mission. About two blocks on in our journey we spot what appears to be a Skid Row version of a market. There are men arranged in groups of two or three sitting against the buildings. Some wear suits. Others wear ragged jeans and baseball caps. We later learn that the attire is part of a Skid Row dress code of sorts, denoting higher from lower level “salesman.” I stop and stoop down and begin talking to two Hispanic men, one who appears to be a few years younger than me and another who is young, probably in his late teens or early twenties. Both men are dressed in dirty jeans. I offer a handshake to the older man first. “I’m Phil.”“Roberto,” the older man replies through a raspy voice. He holds my hand loosely for a few seconds and lets it go.“How long have you been livin’ here?“Me, I’ve been here for fifteen years, man. Carlos here has only been here a month.”Our conversation is interrupted on occasion as “shoppers” amble by and purchase a “cigarette” or two which Roberto has arranged in packs lined up between his outstretched legs. The purchases are made using hand signals. It begins with a buyer showing one or two fingers. Roberto would then respond with a nod and point to four packs of cigarettes, one pack of Salems, one of Marlboros, one of Camels, and a pack of Newport Lights. The buyer would respond by pointing to the desired “brand.” Roberto would then extend his left hand and receive the purchase price from the buyer, then close out the deal by reaching into one of the packs of “cigarettes” and pulling out the right quantity for the buyer. Each transaction took about ten seconds. “Why do you do this, man. You can do better,” I plead. His response sounds almost middle class American. “A man’s gotta’ make a livin’. Gotta’ get by somehow.”“There’s a better way,” I plead again.He looks at me and chuckles a bit. “Right.”“You did something before you got here, didn’t you?”“I was in the Army. Ten years, man.”I’ve found our first common ground. “I was in the Air Force. Eight years.”A customer or two interrupts our conversation. When the business is complete he looks at Carlos, his young protégé’ and asks me what I can do for him. “He’s young, man. He don’t belong here. My sin got me here, but this boy ain’t done nothin’ to deserve being here. What can you do for him?” “Tell him to take the bus that comes by each night from the Dream Center. It stops near the Mission. They’ll help him. But what about you? Why don’t you come too?” “Maybe,” he responds. “But I got two strikes against me. One more and it’s life. I’m gonna’ make that third strike a good one. I’ll get me a gun and kill somebody.” “Man, don’t,” I beg. “There’s better stuff in you than that.” His laughter in response to my plea tells me the conversation is over. I get up to leave and he asks one more question. “They’ll really pick Carlos up?” “They will,” I say with as much confidence as I can muster. “They will. I’ll be prayin’ for you, Roberto, and Carlos too. There’s a way out.”
As I walk away I see the rest of my group and join them. We spend a few minutes near the mission and then head back to our vans for our return to the Dream Center. What seemed like a few minutes has actually taken two hours. As we walk we notice a couple of “porta’ potties” across the street from us. One is hanging garishly to one side, like a Skid Row version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They’re often used as private places to shoot up drugs or engage in oral sex. As we pass it’s hard for me to imagine that something like sex of any kind would even be appealing in all the stench and filth of this Wall Street afternoon. The leader of my group, Mike Stubbs, who is also the pastor of the church I attend in Kansas, sees the obscene irony in it all. “It’s awful to see things that should be so beautiful in life brought down to this level. Who but the devil himself would think of something like this?” I agree silently. No response is really necessary. The scene speaks for itself.
About a block from our vehicles I look up at the street sign one last time. “Wall Street,” it proclaims. One last irony for the day strikes me. Two streets. Same names. Different cities. Both streets are filled with daily transactions. Both have GDP’s of one sort or another that can be calculated. One deals in human tragedy, the cold hard reality that’s played out every day in Los Angeles. One deals in what “Tinsel town” calls “the stuff that dreams are made of.” One deals in drugs and violence and human misery. The other one deals with IPO’s and hostile takeovers and oil futures. On one street human flesh is bought and sold and descends into bondage. On the other nations are bought and sold under the banner of “globalization.” One deals in daily the daily “facts of life” that have somehow convinced its inhabitants there is no way out. The other deals something more illusory, but every bit as powerful. It’s as real as the dispassionate cruelty of the market and as illusory as Fidel Castro’s beard.
As we take our places in the vans for the ride home I have one last thought. “It’s all twisted, Lord. It’s all twisted.”
When we get back to the Dream Center I spend the next couple of hours quietly trying to make sense of what I’ve seen. I wish I could say I have faith great enough to make sense of it, but I don’t. It doesn’t add up.
It’s only on the plane ride home to Kansas that I build up the courage to ask the questions that reveal my lack of faith. “Lord, why or how did grace find me? “Why hasn’t it found Roberto or Carlos? Will it ever find them? Did Carlos get on the bus that night? What about Roberto, Lord? He’s made in Your image as much as I am. I know You love them more than I could ever imagine, Lord. Why does this have to be? It’s going to take any army to bring healing there. How do we get enough people to respond? There are too few right now. There are too few.”
About 110 miles from Kansas City we pass by a series of thunderstorms raging to our north. As watch the lightning flashes in the distance I hope that we don’t have to pass through these storms before we make it home. I hope, but I’m not sure. I wonder if this is the type of hope Tolkien described in his writing as “hope without guarantees.” “Is that the message of Wall Street?” I wonder. “Go into the storm and bring as many of the perishing home as you can. Don’t wait until a favorable response is assured. Just go!”
As the plane makes its descent into Kansas City I sense that in some feeble way my task is to give what I’ve seen a voice. I doesn’t seem to be a ministry at all, or if it is one it’s a ministry of fumbling around in the dark. Will anyone listen? Does anyone care? Yet I know what I’ve seen must be given voice. Edward R. Murrow, America’s greatest journalist visited the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald in April of 1945. He closed his recollections of what he saw with these words – “I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words. If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry....”
I’ve tried my best to describe what I saw that Tuesday on Skid row. Like Murrow, I pray you’ll believe what I’ve said. If what I’ve said offends you, I, like Murrow, am “not in the least sorry.”

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sunshine Patriots, Fair Weather Friends

“It was American patriotism that had much to do with the defeat of twentieth-century tyrannies, the Nazi in World War II and the communist in the cold war. And for this, we Americans can be proud, or, at a minimum, take some satisfaction. Ours is not a parochial patriotism; precisely because it comprises an attachment to principles that are universal, we cannot be indifferent to the welfare of others. To be indifferent, especially to the rights of others, would be un-American.”

Walter Berns – “Making Patriots”

I read a troubling piece by Richard Cohen this morning. It was troubling for two reasons. It was a record of a man who believed he was being honest with himself. Before the first Gulf War in 1990 he was chided by a friend for being a “sunshine patriot” for supporting a war he would not take part in or have his children take part in. Over the years, Cohen apparently reflected on what he had been told and became an opponent of the war that ultimately removed Saddam from power:

“Until that moment, I had thought that getting rid of Saddam was a dandy idea, especially since he was purportedly armed with weapons of mass destruction. We now know they did not exist - although they once did - and neither did his alleged ties to Al Qaeda. Still, Saddam is gone. “Was it not worth at least some sacrifice to remove such a man from power?” Robert Kagan asked in a recent Op-Ed. I read that with the eyes of my late friend. Dunne would have pounced on it.”

The piece was troubling to me because a countryman, a “friend,” found it so easy to abandon us. It was done quickly, lyrically, without much regard for principle.

But the piece was troubling for another reason. There’s no doubt about it. Support for our effort in Iraq is dwindling; some of the latest polls show it at under fifty percent, even when respondents are asked whether it was worth it at all to remove Saddam from power. Perhaps it’s something as simple as the summer doldrums. Perhaps most Americans are thinking more about summer vacations than the war on terror.

While I hope that’s the case I don’t feel comfortable with what I’m seeing. The media drumbeat lionizing the “insurgents” who are bent on destroying democracy in the Middle-East, combined with the political calls for withdrawal from Iraq are disturbing trends.

Some who once supported our effort, like Cohen, have made a 180 degree turn and have begun to call it a futile quagmire:

“Dunne liked to refer to “sunshine patriots” - those of us who called for others to fight a war we or our children would never fight. The Iraq war was conceived by sunshine patriots. It has become the sorriest of wars, conceived for one reason, fought for another and, maybe, an awful quagmire in the making. It's time the sunshine patriots looked outside. It's raining.”

I disagree wholeheartedly with Mr. Cohen. I believe that now, while it is raining, that we need to look within rather than without. We need to embrace American principles, not abandon them.

What were we expecting when we went into Iraq? Were men like Richard Cohen expecting a magic wand to descend on the Fertile Crescent two years ago? Did they really believe that the years of oppression under Saddam and the international indifference to the plight of the Iraqi people could be overcome without sacrifice? What did they expect?

If Mr. Cohen can call those who still support the war “sunshine patriots,” I believe I can return fire and call him, and those like him, fair weather friends. They once supported us, but now at a difficult time they’ve decided to abandon us.

I recall once that a “friend” who had told me that he’d support me in my time of need abandoned me when that time came. It was only teenage stuff, but it taught me a powerful lesson. We were approached by a couple of neighborhood “thugs” who had nothing better to do than protect their turf through violent means. My “friend” had told me he would stand with me in my hour of need and I believed him. I stood my ground, believing he would stand with me. But once the battle started my “friend” ran. I was left to take the beating alone. I survived the ordeal and learned from it that one must choose his friends wisely and that one must also never abandon his friends in their hour of need.

My experience parallels what seems to be happening when it comes to supporting our work in Iraq. Richard Cohen and those like him are, for all practical purposes, like that “friend” of mine from so long ago. Things have gotten difficult and they’ve abandoned us.

Even worse, they are abandoning American principles. We have gone half way across the world, liberated twenty-six million people and offered them hope. But now things are difficult. The neighborhood bullies, the media’s beloved “insurgents,” have decided to wreak havoc on those we liberated. They’ve descended on the people and all Cohen and those like him can now say is “it has become the sorriest of wars.”

I guess it’s fair to say that America has always had its share of fair-weather friends. We had them at Valley Forge. We had them during the dark days of the Civil War. We had them two generations ago in Vietnam. Their loyalty to nation and principle was, and is, like a wet thumb testing the wind. Their attachment to principles ends when the rain falls and the wind blows. I’m glad they didn’t get their way at Valley Forge and I’m glad their “principles” didn’t hold sway during our Civil War. But I’m saddened that their “principles” guided us in the sixties and I fear that if they were to have their way today we would abandon Iraq and its people to terror. I fear that there are far too many Americans who would abandon twenty-six million Iraqis to terror and tyranny in the same way we abandoned twenty-six million Vietnamese to communism.

I find it very difficult to fathom their thinking. I ask myself how we could have survived as a nation if men and women like Richard Cohen were leading us during our darkest hours. How could we have gained our freedom if they were leading us over two centuries ago? How would they have explained to African-Americans that abandoning them to the tyranny of slavery was a “principled” course? Would we even exist as nation if they had been our leaders at those most crucial of times?

But, the drumbeat is slowly building to abandon our principles. The fair weather friends have gained a foothold.

America has changed a great deal since Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, and Iwo Jima. We’re far less united than we’ve ever been. We’re far less committed to the principles we believed when this nation was founded. It is, as Professor Walter Berns put it, lamentable:

“But where there was once a unity there is now a division. Our politicians typically know nothing about what is going on in the world of political theory, and their theorists typically do not believe it part of their job to promote the cause of republican government. Some do – those who are not Marxists or “postmodernists” – but even they are likely to teach republicanism different from that espoused by the Founders. There are no citizens in this version, not in any meaningful sense, and no common good, only “autonomous” individuals, each with his own idiosyncratic view of the good.”

If we abandon Iraq and its people in their hour of need it will be, I believe, tantamount to abandoning civilization itself. It would be, as William Butler Yeats once put it, the worst kind of crime:

“But more criminal than the crimes that were committed to bring about the extinction of our (Irish) nationality, was the extinction itself. The day will some day come when the world will recognize that to destroy a nation, a fountain of life and civilisation, is the greatest crime that can be committed against the welfare of mankind.”

In the end it seems to me that these fair weather friends are the worst kind of friends. When we need them most they are abandoning us. They are willing to deny principle so that they can take the easy path out of harm’s way. If they get their way the blood that will surely flow when they do will be, like Cain, on their hands:

Genesis 4:9-10 (New International Version)

9 “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don't know,” he replied. “Am I my brother's keeper?” 10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Beatin' Dead Horses - The Downing Street Memo, UFO's, Alien Autopsies, and Bigfoot

“There's smoke on the water, it's been there since June,
Tree trunks uprooted, 'neath the high crescent moon
Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force
Somebody is out there beating the dead horse.”

Bob Dylan – “Man in the Long Black Coat”

I received an invitation this morning to join a blog consortium called “The Big Brass Alliance.” Upon receiving it I checked the site out. I got to the blog’s mission statement and saw all I needed to see:

“The Big Brass Alliance was formed in May 2005 as a collective of progressive bloggers who support After Downing Street, a coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups, and political activist groups formed to urge that the U.S. Congress launch a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war. The campaign focuses on evidence that recently emerged in a British memo containing minutes of a secret July 2002 meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security officials.”

I can only take it that the person who issued the invitation had never read my blog. If they had they never would have sent it.

I decided to see what this memo contains that's causing such furor. If you’d like to read them memo for yourself the link is here. For those of you who want to go on I’ll cite what many George Bush detractors cite as the money lines in the document:

“This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.”

“John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.”

“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy (my emphasis added). The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

What can I say? How shocking! Such revelations!

Since the release of this memo, which was originally penned in July, 2002, George Bush haters have crawled out of the woodwork and formed alliances demanding an investigation or impeachment.

I got a bit more curious and checked out another Downing Street site and lo and behold there was even more revelation. In one side by side piece of fact stitching this unbelievable information was revealed. The top two columns come from the memo; the bottom two columns come from the President’s public statements, used as points of comparison:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.”

“No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.”

“We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force”
- George W. Bush,
Mar. 8, 2003 Radio Address

“I think that that presumes there's some kind of imminent war plan. As I said, I have no timetable.”
- George W. Bush,
Aug. 10, 2002 while golfing

At the end of this piece I’ll offer my own theory about the “Downing Street” folks, but for now let me say what my kids say to me when I state the obvious – “Well, Duh.”

This attempted kick in a hated political enemy’s groin is about as silly as it gets. They’ve attempted to hit what they perceive to be a vulnerable target and wound up kicking wildly at the air instead. It looks damned silly if you ask me.

It probably wouldn’t do much good to explain the obvious to these people. They’re much like those who believe that the manned lunar landing was a hoax or that we’ve conducted autopsies on aliens. Even knowing that, though, I feel compelled to try.

First, the war in Iraq wasn’t George Bush’s war; it was America’s war.

Let me being by trying to calm the jangled nerves of these conspiracy theorists. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was a U.S.objective from 1998 right up until the day the conflict began. It’s interesting to note that William Jefferson Clinton, not George Bush, set these wheels in motion when he signed the “Iraq Liberation Act” in October of 1998. While the language is somewhat muted, this directive, when read, clearly shows that the United States intent in Iraq was regime change:


“Today I am signing into law H.R. 4655, the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.” This Act makes clear that it is the sense of the Congress that the United States should support those elements of the Iraqi opposition that advocate a very different future for Iraq than the bitter reality of internal repression and external aggression that the current regime in Baghdad now offers.”

“Let me be clear on what the U.S. objectives are: The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region.”

“The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else. The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.”

“My Administration has pursued, and will continue to pursue, these objectives through active application of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The evidence is overwhelming that such changes will not happen under the current Iraq leadership. (my emphasis added)”

It’s also interesting to note that policy makers within the Clinton administration had already concluded that military invasion was the only viable option to make this regime change a reality. Kenneth Pollack, who spent seven years with the CIA as a Persian Gulf military analyst, served as director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council from 1995 to 1996 and then served in the same capacity from 1999 to 2001 was only one of many policy makers on the Clinton team who firmly, and honestly, believed that military action was the only way to remove Saddam.

Why did he and so many of Bill Clinton’s team believe this? Pollack, for one, had several reasons. First, there was no doubt in the minds of planners and thinkers that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and that they possessed a serious threat to the stability of the world. In his book “The Threatening Storm,” published in 2002, Pollack put it this way:

“Because of the limited capabilities of Iraq’s conventional military forces, its WMD programs loom even larger. Before the Gulf War, Saddam could believe that his conventional forces were powerful enough to achieve most of his ambitions. Today, he knows full well that they cannot and that instead he must lean more heavily on his WMD arsenal. In fact, Iraq’s security is more than ever bound up with its WMD programs, to guarantee the regime against internal threats, deter hostile neighbors, and (Baghdad hopes) convince the United States that a war with Iraq would be too costly to fight.”

“Despite the valiant efforts of the U.N, inspectors – who destroyed far more of Iraq’s WMD programs than Baghdad ever expected – Iraq was able to hang on to most of the knowledge and equipment it needed. As one high-level Iraqi defector put it, “It is impossible to completely destroy the chemical and biological weapons. They cannot destroy the know-how in our scientists’ heads. Facilities for the production of chemical and biological weapons were dismantled already before the U.N. inspectors arrived. They were taken to secret places and reassembled again. All documents have been hidden in such a way that strangers will never find them.”

This was not only Pollack’s assessment, it was the assessment of virtually all international security agencies, including even those like France and Germany who failed to support the effort.

Why, knowing that, was France so vocal in its opposition to regime change? Pollack put it this way:

“France is one of Iraq’s chief advocates and, while still a NATO ally of the United States, believes that taking an “independent” line is critical to French stature and the good of the world. In addition, Iraq owes France $4.5 billion from pre-Gulf War sales. France is also one of Iraq’s largest trading partners. To be blunt, the French have not hesitated to compromise their principles if it meant a greater share of Iraqi trade. In 2000, when Iraq began demanding that countries fly commercial aircraft into Baghdad in violation of the U.N. flight ban in return for further oil-for-food contracts, Paris suddenly discovered a new “interpretation” of the U.N. resolutions that indicated that there was no such flight ban – even though it had voted for the original resolution and had respected the ban for the preceding ten years. As a result of this shameless pandering, the French have been the largest or second largest recipient of Iraqi oil-for-food contracts in every phase of the program.”

I read Pollack’s words and I understand why there was so little trust of the United Nation’s ability to deal with this crisis.

But Pollack and other policy makers had more reasons to advocate military action. Among the reasons considered, but not seen as viable, were deterrence, covert action, and using anti-Saddam forces within Iraq to do the job. The danger of deterrence meant that the world would maintain a precarious status quo in which Saddam continued to brutalize his own countrymen and reconstitute his WMD programs. The problem with covert action was that Saddam had over the years become almost impervious to assassination attempts. As Pollack put it, “If it could have been done, it would have.” There was also consensus within the halls of policy makers that there was no resistance group, either Shiite or Kurd, who had any power to overthrow Saddam. He had built a totalitarian state in which any attempts to resist his rule were met with brutality.

Having thought these options, and others, through, Pollack reluctantly concluded that:

“Unfortunately, the only prudent and realistic course of action left to the United States is to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraq to smash the Iraqi armed forces, depose Saddam’s regime, and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. Every time I say or write this, I find myself wondering whether it is truly necessary. It usually sets me off rehearsing in my mind all of the arguments for and against all the other options in one last effort to devise some alternative to the costs of invasion. Having spent much of my life since the Gulf War trying to find a way out of this conundrum, I cannot.”

“Every time I give a talk on our options toward Iraq to a group of people, someone always says,”There has to be another way. There has to be some middle option.” There isn’t. Sometimes history presents us with unpleasant choices. On those occasions, the worst thing we can do is to avoid making a choice in the hope that if we just think hard enough an unforeseen solution will materialize that will relieve us of the need of making the hard choice.”

George Bush made the hard choice in Iraq. He made the right choice!

I speak as a Democrat who believes that the nay-sayers and conspiracy theorists are engaged in a conspiracy of their own. They hate George Bush more than they love freedom. They hate George Bush enough that, given the opportunity, they would turn the tables on the liberation of Iraq and bring Saddam back to power. That, in my view is short-sighted, reckless, and foolish. That type of attitude is harmless when it spends its time and energy on UFO’s, alien autopsies, and Bigfoot. But it’s dangerous when it’s aimed at tearing down an American president and lionizing despots. For the good of the country, and the world, they need to cease and desist. If they can’t, if they have such a great impulse to beat dead horses, then I recommend they beat on the ones that don’t do the rest of us great harm. Go to the great Northwest and look for Bigfoot. Take a pilgrimage to Roswell. There are enough dead horses there for them to beat on for the rest of their lives!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Blog Recommendation - Gone Away

It’s not often that I find blogs that I feel, based on the quality of their work, I can really recommend. The other day, however, I ran across one. The moniker is “Gone Away.”

The blog’s owner, Clive Allen, has an interesting bio, a snippet of which follows:

“I am so ancient you wouldn't believe. Although I was born in England, I grew up in Africa, married and had a kid (Mad) there, before returning to England in 1976. Two more kids (Boogie and Pootle) arrived in the next few years and I had a variety of jobs, wrote a book (The Gabbler's Testament, no, not published yet), got divorced and remarried (a lovely American lady named Kathy). We emigrated to the States in September, 2004, and now live in Oklahoma (which is OK, by the way).”

Clive has the ability to tackle all sorts of topics, from Formula 1 racing, to the current state of education, to the grind of blogging.

His writing is excellent, his insights are valuable. A couple of samples follow to give you some flavor of how good his work is. The first is from a piece titled “A Blogger’s Lament:” (page four in his index)

“I admire those who retain a sensible perspective on blogging. By that I mean the bloggers who post when they have something to say and otherwise live ordinary lives that do not depend upon the blog. How wonderful it must be to have no concern over whether the blog is read or not, to care less about statistics, to post without even a thought of whether you last posted yesterday or a month ago. What freedom that must be!”

“The rest of us are slaves. Oh, we can explain that there is a purpose behind what we do, that the blog serves us in the achievement of some high-minded goal, that it is merely the means to an end. But the fact is that we become slaves to the blog. To blog with a purpose implies that we intend to reach others, for whatever reason. And that means we have to be concerned with traffic, to know that others are reading and that we become more effective in drawing return visits to the blog. So we become interested in statistics, beginning perhaps with a hit counter but soon desiring more details. Then we begin to learn how to ensure that the numbers continue to mount: post regularly, know your audience and deliver what they want, make the blog attractive and easy to navigate. All these are the elementary things that add up to blog success.”

Then there’s this about the state of education (page 67 of his index):

“In those days schools were schools. By this I mean that their prime intention was to educate the children entrusted to them, rather than to entertain, to indoctrinate or to allow them to discover their inner selves through freedom to do precisely as they wished. The methods chosen for them to attain this purpose of education were primitive by today's standards. They believed, for instance, in discipline. The theory was that, if they could persuade the students to sit quietly and listen, there was a strong possibility that they might absorb the odd fact or two. And I hardly need tell you that their chosen method of instilling such discipline involved the application of severe pain upon any dissenting rear ends.”

“Strangely, these outdated and inhuman methods were very effective in providing the vast majority of us with an education that was to prove of some use in later life. Without exception, we left school being able to read fluently, write a passable letter, solve basic mathematical tasks without recourse to a calculator (which did not exist then anyway) and dress appropriately enough for a job interview. Some of us were even taken beyond this already considerable achievement to what we might think of as higher things. These would include such matters as a grounding in the classics of literature and art, some vague acquaintance with calculus or trigonometry and a working knowledge of history and geography but, in some cases, there was a possibility that steps might be taken towards an understanding of self and society.”

Please note that each post is indexed by page. That means you will have to scroll to get from post to post. It’s well worth the time and effort.

I’m adding Gone Away to my “Blogs of Note.” I recommend that you make it part of your regular reading as well.