Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE COMEY SHOW

The much anticipated James Comey show is over. People who should have been at work can go back to what they get paid to do and the nation’s watering holes can replenish their stocks. 

I watched some of it on C-SPAN, but decided it would be better to just read the transcripts of the testimony. 

What have I learned so far? I learned that Comey believes Donald Trump is a liar. I’m tempted to say I’m shocked about the President’s behavior, but I’m not. In fact, the only thing I find shocking is that James Comey somehow innocently stumbled upon something most Americans already know. Donald Trump lies. 

But then, catching Presidents in lies isn’t all that shocking. It’s like what Judge Judy says about teenagers. You can tell they’re lying because their lips are moving. Richard Nixon told us he wasn’t a crook. Lyndon Johnson told us he wasn’t going to send American boys to do what Vietnamese boys should be doing. Ronald Reagan lied about arms for hostages. Bill Clinton lied, straight faced, about Monica Lewinsky. Barack Obama lied about the Affordable Care Act. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I also learned that James Comey doesn’t like Donald Trump. Well, welcome to the club, Mr. Comey. There are a lot of us who don’t like him, for obvious reasons. There’s a lot to not like. 

I got to watch Donald Trump in full bloom back in the nineties when Nancy and I lived in New Jersey. He was every bit as unsavory then as he is now. I would watch him and wonder, “What kind of experience could have formed the kind of man he was?” Years later I read portions of Timothy O’Brien’s “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald” and I saw very clearly how it happened. The most telling of the formative experiences came in 1964 when his father took him to the dedication of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The celebration should have been about Othmar Amman, the engineer/designer of the bridge, but that wasn’t what happened. As Trump recalled, Amman stood quietly in the rain and was “ignored as the city celebrated his creation.” Who took the credit? Who almost always does? The politicians, or as Trump described them, “jerks.” They were being applauded while the man who was responsible for the bridge’s creation was being “made a fool of.” 

As he watched the spectacle, a light of mini-revelation went off within him. This is how he put it: “I realized then and there something I would never forget. I don’t want to be made anybody’s sucker.” 

That’s Donald Trump in a nutshell. It’s embedded in his D.N.A. Any time he thinks someone is making a fool of him, he swings back, almost always recklessly. He can’t help himself. 

I think this character flaw may be the thing that propelled him to the White House. In 2011, President Barack Obama made a fool of him at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. As Mr. Obama went on and on, savoring the moment, Donald Trump sat in the audience, stone faced. The President escalated the rhetoric to the boiling point. He had, rhetorically speaking, torn the Donald to shreds. The salvo was so masterful.it caused Trump’s cheeks and forehead to turn as red as New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes and his glare became as icy cold as the surface of Europa. 

The impish grin on the President’s face spoke volumes. I think this is why Donald Trump decided to run for President. He was not going to be a fool of. 

Was the observation he made at the Verrazano Bridge when he was 18 entirely accurate? I doubt it, but I think there may have been a glimmer of truth in his observation. I’ve been exposed to a lot of politicians and political appointees in my life and the words of Holy Writ describe many of them quite aptly - “they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…” (Matthew 23:6-7) 

What else did I learn? I learned that there doesn’t seem to have been any collusion and it does appear to be true that Mr. Comey told the President three times he wasn’t under investigation. Apparently, the New York Times and CNN got it all wrong. Shocking, isn’t it? 

I learned that, on the heels of her meeting on the tarmac with Bill Clinton, Attorney General Loretta Lynch applied a bit of pressure to Mr. Comey. It was subtle and linguistically clever. It worked! I learned that the President applied undue pressure to Mr. Comey when it came to Michael Flynn. And I learned something that really troubled me. Mr. Comey couldn’t summon up the courage to tell the President that what he was doing on behalf of Flynn was inappropriate. He didn’t offer to resign, which is what he should have done. 

All in all, it was quite an education.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

THE PILLARS OF CONSERVATISM



“Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else.  It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom.  God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom.  He is the only guarantor…. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.”
-          Whittaker Chambers – “Witness”


I didn’t attend the forum on the “common good” a few weeks ago, so the information I’ve gleaned about it has come from media reports. With that said, I did find one of the comments cited in the Gazette from Professor Charles Brown quite interesting

This is what Professor Brown said - “What strikes me is that conservatives don’t have the faith in peoples’ abilities to come together, reason together and make constructive changes for the future. It strikes me that they, too, often say, ‘Well, we’re just better off to just let things alone...’

While I’m sure that Professor Brown’s thoughts are sincerely held, I must say that they don’t represent the Conservatism I explored, studied in depth, and adopted in the late seventies.

I didn’t come by my Conservatism easily. I grew up in Boston, America’s cradle of liberty and one of the country’s Progressive strongholds. Until the 1970’s, I would never have considered voting for a Republican, nor can I recall knowing many Conservatives other than an occasional acquaintance I tolerated for the sake of politeness.

Things began to change when a friend encouraged me to read William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale.” I was surprised to find that Buckley wasn’t the fire breathing lunatic I’d heard about. Once I passed that threshold, I decided that further exploration was in order. I read Whittaker Chambers’ “Witness” next, followed by Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” and “The Fatal Conceit.” Then came Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” and Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.”

My pilgrimage was complete as soon as I read the final page of Russel Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” I knew that I was a Conservative and was proud to be part of the movement.

When Professor Brown said that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together,” he couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s not the Conservatism I have practiced for many years now.

When one looks at the core beliefs of Conservatives, he or she won’t find a shred of evidence that suggests that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together.” At the heart of Conservative belief is the principle that people should live cooperatively with their neighbors and be as free as possible to govern their own lives. Further, they should be governed by people who promote human freedom and virtue.

If Professor Brown believes that we Conservatives don’t have faith in people, he has misread us. We do trust people, but we also understand human nature and recognize, as Founding Father Alexander Hamilton did, that men aren’t angels and limits must be placed on those men and women who govern us.

In his recent book, “Constitutional Conservatism,” Peter Berkowitz described how Conservatism works: “It assumes the primacy of self-interest but also the capacity of and necessity for citizens to rise above it through the exercise of virtue. It welcomes a diverse array of voluntary associations because they are an expression of liberty, to prevent any one from dominating, and because they serve as schools for the virtues of freedom. And it recognizes the special role of families and religious faith in cultivating these virtues.”

Conservatives value liberty. Where the real divide between Conservatives and Progressives comes in to play is the value Conservatives place on what Berkowitz called “traditional understandings of order and virtue.” He says that Progressives see these traditional understandings as obstacles to freedom. Conservatives, on the other hand, see them as pillars of freedom.

We Conservatives aren’t resistant to change, but we are the first ones who would say, to paraphrase English poet/philosopher G.K. Chesterton, “Don’t ever tear down a fence until you know the reason why it was put up.” Put another way, Conservatives believe Hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.” (from Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind”)

We Conservatives are fully prepared to cooperate with our fellow citizens and leaders. We are willing to compromise when compromise is called for. Above all, we want to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and for the generations of Americans to come. We believe these blessings are best preserved when we preserve them freely and cooperatively. These virtues are nourished, as Berkowitz observed, “by tradition.”  In fact, liberty and tradition are inter-dependent. They’re like love and marriage from the old Sinatra tune - “You can’t have one without the other.”

Thursday, April 06, 2017

"ACT NATURALLY"

“Well, I'll bet you I'm gonna be a big star
 Might win an Oscar you can never tell 
The movies gonna make me a big star 
Cuz I can play the part so well” 

- “Act Naturally” – Buck Owens and the Buckaroos (1963) 




I recently saw a very funny snippet of video about acting. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, himself a recipient of many entertainment industry awards, was about to receive another one when he turned the tables on the Hollywood stars (another name for someone with an inflated sense of self-importance) assembled. A small sampling follows:

“They come to these award shows dressed like senators from Krypton.” “They haven’t got an original thought in their brains.” “He pretends to be ‘Bob Johnson’ on screen and he’s declared a genius.”

Oh, give ‘em hell, Jerry!

I’ve always been grateful that I never dreamed of gracing the silver screen or seeing my name in lights. Acting to me is about as worthless a job as being a professional food critic. I mean, don’t these folks have anything better to do with their time than to sit around restaurants complaining about the amount of saffron in the bouillabaisse. Talk about a useless profession. Film critics and op-ed writers, by comparison, are just a rung below sainthood on the social ladder.

When I was going to college, a faculty member in the arts department asked me to play the part of Jesus in a stage production. I should have felt flattered, but I didn’t. Now, mind you, I have the greatest of respect and admiration for Jesus. After all, he’s the one who opened the door to heaven for me. But, playing the perfect, sinless man was way out of my league. “How about giving me the role  ‘Phil Dillon, chief sinner?’” I replied. “I’ve got that one down pat. In fact, if it weren’t for the grace of Jesus I’d be dead meat right now.”

Think of it. Does any actor on the planet actually believe they can portray sinless perfection on the stage or on film and be perceived as believable? Come on, now. It’s not that a few haven’t tried. I saw Jeffrey Hunter in “King of Kings” and Max von Sydow in “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” How believable were they? Hunter was an American and von Sydow was a pasty-faced Swede. Jesus was Jewish. I don’t know much about Hunter’s background, but I believe I can safely assume he committed a sin or two in his life. In terms of belief systems, von Sydow was either agnostic or atheist. How about that – an atheist playing the part of God in the flesh? That’s what I call creative casting.

I don’t go to the movies as often as I used to, but it’s not because I don’t like actors. I just don’t see many actors these days I can find believable. It hasn’t always been that way. One of my favorite actors from the 40’s and 50’s was Jimmy Stewart. I absolutely loved him in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Harvey.” Why? As I watched him, I realized that Jimmy wasn’t playing George Bailey or Elwood P. Dodd, he was playing Jimmy Stewart. He was playing himself. He was so good at it that I can still believe that an invisible, six foot, three inch tall rabbit roaming around is perfectly plausible and that I can also believe I too have a guardian angel named Clarence.

Another of my favorite actors was Jack Palance. He always seemed to play the bad guy and, man, did he do it well. He was at his most vicious in the great western “Shane,” when he played the gunfighter Jack Wilson. His lines were short, but both memorable and blood-curdling. “See ya’ later Shane,” as he hissed through clenched teeth.” “What’s it mean to you Shane?” as the two men faced each other down in Grafton’s saloon. “You mean I’ll kill him if you have to” in response to Rufus Ryker as they discussed killing Joe Starrett. 

Why did I love Jack Palance? For the same reason I loved Jimmy Stewart. Jack Palance played himself in Shane, not Jack Wilson. The more I watched him the more convinced I became that I’d never want to meet him in a dark alley.

There was something else about the two men I admired. Both served in our military dyring wartime, Stewart as a bomber pilot in World War II and Vietnam and Palance served in the Army Air Force during World War II. 

The reason men like Stewart and Palance were so believable was because they were ordinary guys who just couldn’t help being themselves.

I’m not sure that much can be said of our current crop of actors. "Superstars" like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon have never served in the military and Jane Fonda once manned an anti-aircraft gun for the North Vietnamese. How’s that for patriotism?

Like Jimmy Stewart and Jack Palance, I like being just myself. That way, if the doorbell rings or my country calls, I'll know how to answer.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

SURVEILLANCE AND SECURITY: INDUSTRIAL SCALE

“Every single day Every word you say Every game you play Every night you stay I'll be watching you” - Sting and the Police (1983)



I’ve had many friends tell me that I’m too concerned with what some journalists are now calling the “administrative state” or “deep state.” They’re only half right. 

Permit me to explain.

In a recent essay penned for the Mises Institute, Albert Jay Knock made the following observation:

“Every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power. There is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.”

The America I live in now is less free than the America I grew up in. I suppose if one were to dissect the reasons for this shift, he or she could come up with a lot of reasons, but for me the most obvious reason of all was 9-11 and its impact on our collective psyche. Security and safety became the most important American values. Liberty still had some value, but it took a back seat to safety and security. That shift is becoming more and more pronounced as time passes. It’s like the ratchet moving the gears of State slowly but surely in the direction of totalitarianism. 

When I traveled by air prior to 9-11 I rarely had problems with security. That’s not the case anymore. Now, airline travel has become a nightmare. A few years ago I was part of a group from our church that traveled to Mexico to do missionary work in a community that eked out its daily existence in a garbage dump outside of Mexico City. It was a very rewarding adventure.

Coming home almost ruined things. I had no problem with security in Mexico City, but when we got to Dallas I got quite an education. I did everything I was told until a surly T.S.A. agent demanded my wallet. I refused, which irritated him and my friends. “This is all for our safety and security, Phil.” The contest escalated until it got close to the boiling point. I tried to explain the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to him and he didn’t seem to care, nor did my friends. 

After we got through the ordeal I got the lecture in spades. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about, Phil.” I would have reminded them that one our Founders’ grievances was that King George had “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance,”   but how could I argue with my friends’ compelling logic? I think they may have sided more with Vladimir Lenin, who said “liberty is precious; so precious that it must be carefully rationed” than they would have with our Founding Fathers.

I got a much fuller understanding of the power of the administrative state when Nancy and I returned from Spain this past December. I knew I was in trouble when the T.S.A. agent at J.F.K. referred to me as “Hey, you” after I’d gone through the metal detector. By the time he was done with his “inspection,” he knew whether I was male or female. Nancy, ever the astute observer, couldn’t resist. “It’s President Trump and the City Commissioners getting even with you for those opinion pieces.” 

We now have an enormous administrative state with almost unimaginable powers. Our security agencies have a facility in Utah that stores data on our phone calls, e-mails, and internet correspondence. They’re able to store zettabytes of our data (that’s 10 to the 21st power), which amounts to the capability to store all human correspondence since the dawn of recorded history. They’re working on yottabyes (10 to the 24th power) as I type.

The inhabitants of the administrative state tell us not to worry, that they have our best interests at heart. A couple of years ago, for example, James Clapper, the N.S.A’s director, told the U.S. Senate that the N.S.A. wasn’t collecting any data on the average American. When he was later caught in his lie, he told the Senate that he had given them his “least untruthful answer.”

His answer seemed shocking at the time, but why would it? That’s the world our security professionals inhabit – they lie and deceive.

Just yesterday, thanks to Devin Nunes’ press interview, we learned that, despite the repeated use of clever language being used to make it all look quite innocent, someone within our government has been spying on Donald Trump and his campaign team. To many it may seem alright, since the President isn’t well liked, but the last time I checked I believe we still have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights and that those rights aren’t allocated based on popularity. If he doesn’t have the rights of an American citizen, who among us does?

I believe this administrative state and the ability it has to use the law as a cudgel to serve its own ends is becoming dangerous to individual liberty. 

Are we coming to the place where someone like Lavrentiy Berea, Josef Stalin’s security chief, will be ruling our security apparatus? Will we, like the people of Russia, be hearing the ominous words, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”? Will we get to the place where we lose all our rights and liberties?

I hope not, but the signs I see are very ominous.