Wednesday, June 26, 2013


“They own your every secret; your life is in their files
The grains of your every waking second sifted through and scrutinized
They know your every right. They know your every wrong
Each put in their due compartment - sins where sins belong”

 -Meshuggah – “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance” (2012)

I’ve been writing about the dangers of the surveillance state since February. The responses I’ve gotten so far have been very interesting. Some friends, particularly those within the faith community, think I’m a bit over-wrought. Some openly wonder about my loyalty to our way of life. Others from within the community at large have dubbed me a conspiracy theorist.
I’m grateful that Nancy and the critters still see fit to let an enemy of the people like me live under the same roof.
Actually, it’s my critics who have the problem. I’m right and they’re wrong. Our executive branch is building a massive security apparatus manned by a growing army of bureaucrats. They’re well educated. They’re brilliant.  C.S. Lewis once described their ilk as “quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”
The N.S.A.and the Justice Department are grinding the troops out faster than some of our diploma mills can cast their unsuspecting graduates out into the cold, cruel world. And, they’re building a multi-billion dollar facility in Utah to house them and the deadly tools of their trade.
My critics can deny it till all the cows come home, but the headlines and bylines bear me out:
“U.S. is Secretly Collecting Records of Verizon Calls” (The New York Times – June 5th)
“Author of Patriot Act Says NSA Phone Records Collection ‘Never the Intent of Law’” (Fox News – June 6th)
“President Obama’s Dragnet” (The New York Times editorial board – June 7th)
“Lawmakers Dispute Obama’s Claim They Knew of Tracking” (Newsmax – June 8th)
“The Constitutional Amnesia of the NSA Snooping Scandal” (John Judis – The New Republic – June 10th)
“NSA Building Huge Data Farm” (The Daily Kos – June 11th)
“Privacy Isn’t All We’re Losing” (Peggy Noonan – The Wall Street Journal – June 14th)
“James Clapper’s ‘Least Untruthful’ Answer” (Ruth Marcus – The Washington Post – June 14th)
There are times I get frustrated with the way some people react to my concerns. I’m not at all what they claim. First, I’m far from being over-wrought. In fact, I think they’re the ones who may not be concerned enough about what’s going on all around them. Our Constitutional rights are being eroded and they just turn a blind eye and say, “This is all being done to keep us safe.” I’d be willing to be they know more about what’s going on with Lindsay Lohan or Jodi Arias than they do about our Constitutional rights.
Second, I’m no conspiracy theorist. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe Roswell was clever marketing, not reality. I don’t believe the World Trade Center towers were brought down by a C.I.A. missile or some nefarious Jewish cabal.  Enough said!
Third, I’m as loyal as any American can be. I believe in the American ideal. I believe in our way of life. I believe in the principles that undergird that way of life, particularly our Constitution and Bill of Rights. When I was a young man I joined the military. On the day I enlisted I raised my right hand and swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” I would gladly take that same oath today. But, I don’t believe that my government has the moral authority to send me or any of America’s sons and daughters out the front door to defend liberty and then reward us at the back door by shredding the first, second, fourth, and fifth amendments to the Constitution by deceit.  If that marks me as disloyal, then their claim about me is nothing more than Orwellian claptrap and the word loyalty itself has no meaning.
If I’m guilty of anything, it’s believing in the principles that made us the envy of the world. If I’m wrong, then so are millions of oppressed people around the world who have fought and won the right to breathe the sweet air of liberty.  If I’m right about the surveillance state, we’ll all have to learn to live in an America where everyone is a suspect.
We’re treading on a dangerous path. Peggy Noonan put it this way: “Too many things are happening that are making a lot of Americans feel a new distance from, a frayed affiliation with, the country they have loved for a half a century of more.”
We dare not tread another step further. To do so would be to invite disaster.

Friday, June 07, 2013


We have a new addition to our menagerie. Her name is Katt. With a name like that, you’d think that Katt would be a cat. But she’s not. Katt is actually a dog. I gave some fleeting thought to changing her name, but after a day or two the name grew on me. So, the matter is settled. My dog, Katt, will forever be Katt.
Almost every time I call her name I chuckle. I find the idea of calling “Katt” and watching a dog appear quite amusing. It reminds me of Eugene Ionesco and the theatre of the absurd. In one of his plays, “Rhinoceros,” there is a conversation between a logician and an old man. The logician begins the conversation by observing that “cats have four paws.” The old man responds, “My dog has four paws.” The logician, believing that his logic is impeccable, proudly declares, “Then your dog is a cat and the contrary is also true.” I now find myself occasionally muttering “My dog is Katt…and the contrary is also true.”
It’s only been a few weeks, but she’s already wormed her way into my heart. I assumed that she would bond to Nancy since she’d been owned by a woman, but to my surprise she’s bonded herself to me and my buddy Ranger the sheltie, the only two men in the house. She’s especially fond of me and follows me everywhere, upstairs, downstairs, out to the back yard. When I sit in my recliner she tries to climb up with me, pawing incessantly as she does.
She looks like Jack, but she’s not like him. She’s not overweight like he was. She’s never learned any tricks. She doesn’t seem inclined to chase rabbits or squirrels. She just dotes on me. I think she knows I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.
We’ve already had the adventure of a lifetime. Last week we took her and Ranger to our crash pad in Kansas City. On Sunday afternoon I took them for a walk around the River Market. We were having a great time until we got to the “Max” bus stop. A couple of young girls got Katt excited and she started jumping up and down. Somehow she managed to slip out of her collar. The girls lunged at her and she bolted. She ran out into the street and nearly got hit by a car. I started running to get her, with Ranger in tow. She panicked and started running down Grand Avenue. It all looked hopeless until a homeless man saw my plight and started running along with me. “I’ll get her for you, Mister,” he reassured me. The chase was on. For the next fifteen minutes we ran, following cues from people pointing us in the right direction as we did. Then we lost her trail. It looked like all was lost. But, the homeless man refused to give up. “I’m gonna’ get her for you. Don’t you worry.” Then, as suddenly as she’d disappeared, Katt reappeared. She ran past us and several other people and stopped in front of a man and his wife. From outward appearance, they appeared to be well heeled. “Grab her,” I pleaded. For some reason the man decided some more fun was in order. “Let’s see how far we can make her run,” he said as he very deliberately chased her off. Thankfully, the homeless man refused to give up. Somehow he managed to catch up with Katt before she got to Interstate 70. As he handed her over to me I thanked him profusely. I gave him twenty bucks for his kindness. As he walked away I noticed that his eyes were tearing up.
It was quite an adventure. As soon as we got back to Emporia I went to Wal-Mart and got Katt a harness to replace the collar she’d slipped out of. There will be no more unplanned escapes for Katt.
The adventure also taught me a very important lesson. Life is sometimes like the theatre of the absurd.  Appearances can be deceiving and logic often fails. You’d think it would’ve been the well-heeled man who rescued me instead of some homeless man. You’d think that a well-heeled man would’ve been full of the milk of human kindness rather than the homeless man.
How do all these things get sorted out? What’s the reward in the end for being kind? What’s the penalty for being downright mean? Is it like the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man? Was that homeless man a Lazarus of sorts? Will he, like Lazarus, find himself in Paradise some day? And how will the story end for the well-heeled man? If his actions that Sunday afternoon are any indication, he may be very thirsty.

Monday, June 03, 2013



“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
-          William Pitt  (November 18, 1783)
After she’d reviewed my last piece on good intentions, my wife suggested another essay might be in order. She observed, correctly, that in politics the misuse or abuse of power is one of the few things that’s universal. Both major parties engage in these unseemly practices, particularly at the executive level. Right now we have a Democrat in power, so I’ve been focusing my attention on the failings of Barack Obama and his administration. Somehow, with the best of intentions, he has seen the needle come off his moral compass. That sort of thing happens when the good ends intended make room for justifying any tyrannical means being used to make those desired ends a reality.
But tyranny isn’t the exclusive domain of the Democratic Party. It’s been often practiced by Republicans. Democrats, particularly Progressives, most often find themselves on the road to perdition with the best of intentions. For Republicans, particularly Conservatives and neo-Conservatives, the tyranny most often begins with necessity or perceived necessity.
We’ve known this since the birth of our Republic. When Thomas Jefferson accused King George of establishing “an absolute Tyranny over these States,” he offered facts to prove that the tyranny was real. Among them were: (1) “sending hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance” and (2) “for imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”
The King begged to differ. In a speech to Parliament he offered this - “We shall have Unanimity at Home, founded in the general Conviction of the Justice and Necessity of Our Measures.” He concluded his remarks by firing this broadside right back at the colonists - “My Desire is to restore to them the Blessings of Law and Liberty, equally enjoyed by every British Subject, which they have fatally and desperately exchanged for all the Calamities of War, and the arbitrary Tyranny of their Chiefs.”
King George didn’t think he was being tyrannical. He believed he was doing what he had to do to protect the British Empire from the tyranny of its colonial subjects.
It took a revolution to sort it all out. When the smoke cleared, the King had reluctantly come to the realization that necessity can be a very dangerous word. It’s a lesson that political leaders often have to learn the hard way, which brings me to George W. Bush.
We all remember the legal wrangling, the dangling chads, the counts and recounts, and the final verdict of the Supreme Court that ushered in his presidency. One of the interesting things that’s been buried over time was the positions he took concerning the Middle-East and nation building during his debates with Al Gore. In October 2000 he declared himself to be against invading Iraq. He said that a Bush administration would pursue what he called a “humble” foreign policy stance toward the Middle-East.
It was a fairly easy goal to maintain until the terror of 9-11-2001. That changed everything. We knew we had to do something about what had happened. I remember my frame of mind during those days. I was in an ugly mood.  Someone was going to pay for the evil deeds. I think the overwhelming majority of us felt that way, with the exception of a few self-righteous Progressives and preachers who were blaming us. It didn’t take long before fire was raining down from the heavens on Afghanistan. We liked it and the President’s popularity soared.
But it didn’t end there. Under normal circumstances Saddam Hussein might have been a minor irritant. But I believe 9-11 changed that in George Bush’s mind. He was determined to protect the country, which led him to believe badly flawed intelligence about WMD and Iraq’s role in the 9-11 plot. The next thing you know we were raining fire down on Saddam and his henchmen. For the most part I think we enjoyed watching Baghdad’s night sky light up. It was our collective way of saying, “How ‘bout them apples, Saddam!”
Should we have invaded Iraq? Should we have gotten tangled up in nation building? No! Nor should the Patriot Act have been passed. But, these things, and more, happened. They didn’t happen because George Bush was a Nazi or a criminal. They happened because he felt he needed to do them to protect the county.
I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of difference if tyrannical government output stems from the best intentions gone awry, as it is with Barack Obama, or if it’s born out of what seems to be necessary action as it was with George Bush. The truth is, tyranny is tyranny is tyranny. We should all be against that!