Archive for the ‘History’ Category

How Free Do You Want to Be?

June 6th, 2017 No comments

The words “rights and “freedom” are foundational to the American self-image. The Declaration of Independence includes the word “free” four times: once referring to the British tradition of civil rights, once in proclaiming Americans, as all British subjects were assumed to be, a free people, and twice referring to the former colonies as “Free and Independent States.” Likewise, the document declares that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (freedom) is inalienable.

The word freedom has woven its way into the fabric of American life and history in a way that allows it to mean many things. When Ronald Reagan spoke about freedom he was not talking about the same thing as Jimi Hendrix and Richie Havens, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Governor George Wallace of Alabama. The word represents conceptually an existential goal that validates any cause. Reagan conjured a vision of the liberating America of the World War II generation, Hendrix and Havens a dream of freedom from oppressive government and culture, King a land of equality and brotherhood, and Wallace a land where King’s goal could never be realized. The Confederacy went to war in 1861 to defend their rights (freedom to own people as property) and the Union responded with a call for a “new birth of freedom” (the disassembling of the Confederate notion of freedom).

That this is true ought to lead us to critically examine what someone means when they speak of rights and freedom. I found it interesting that in the wake of the latest attacks in London, President Trump saw fit to point out that the Federal Courts were keeping us from our “rights” by refusing to allow his Muslim ban to be implemented. Mr. Trump has a rhetorical advantage because he doesn’t have to be in any way specific about what he means by rights. His base knows what he means, wink wink. And so do the rest of us.


But what rights does our President think the courts are keeping us from? The question goes to the heart of the American political divide. Should the Federal government, in this case the Judicial Branch, be allowed to impede citizens from doing what they want to do? Or need to do? From the very beginning Americans have been arguing about what power the government has or ought to have.

The argument has evolved to the shape that the power of government is a restriction on freedom. Thomas Paine asserted in Common Sense that government arose out of our “wickedness.” Madison wrote that if men were angels no government would be necessary. And Thoreau began his pamphlet On Civil Disobedience by pointing out that the government that governs least governs best. It does not require a very deep knowledge of history to realize that all of these statements are true. Governments have often overreached and trampled on the “rights” of the people.

And yet, one could argue that the basic purpose of government, as envisioned by the founders, is to ensure maximum freedom for all. Government that functions badly promotes the rights of some, restricts those of others, and allows or even commits depredations against the powerless. Government that functions beneficially protects the rights of all against any who would seek to deny them.

Despite our polarization, we must all agree on the necessity of government to protect our rights. Perfect freedom is to be found only in the jungle. And, as John Locke pointed out, that freedom is so precarious that society found it necessary to limit the rights of some to protect the rights of all. Hence the institution of civil government. Molotov cocktail throwing extremists of the left and right would have us devolve into anarchy. Where do you draw the line between the government that defends and the one that tramples on your rights? It is a question hardly to be answered in a short blog post, and yet we can get an idea by again considering the theoretical foundation upon which our nation was founded.

In the Second Treatise on Civil Government (1689) John Locke proposes that history began with all people living in perfect liberty in the State of Nature. Prefect liberty means the right to do as one pleases, and to acquire property as one chooses (provided it is not already owned) without any external hindrance. This state of liberty, as he says, is not a state of license, because he tells us that the State of Nature is governed by the Law of Nature, which is reason. Reason dictates, so he says, that every person must place the boundary of their own liberty at the place where it infringes the rights of others. Yet there exists the danger of one choosing to violate the liberty of another. And while reason may legislate a paradise of human liberty it has no power to enforce its law. That is what people join to do. They sacrifice some of their liberty (binding each to the defense of the other) to protect all of it.

It may be of historical interest that the definition of liberty was understood by the American revolutionary founders as the protection of property, as found in Locke. That is why when the Constitution was ratified and the country came into existence the franchise was restricted to white males. This is often seen as a reflection of an ancient misogyny. But in fact only white males could own property, so the only ones with something to defend, therefore the only ones with interest in civil government, were white men. And only a tiny fraction of the overall population of them.

But even Locke pointed out that all people are created equal in that their first property is their life. This equality is not qualified by gender or race or any other consideration. Even the rich will readily admit that government in the United States has most often been manipulated by the few for the benefit of the few. But if we were to apply Locke’s reasoning with life as the central article rather than material goods, then the government would exist, supported by all, to defend the lives of all.

Now, if you are a Trump supporter who has made it this far you are ready to exclaim, “But that’s precisely what he is doing! Protecting our lives!” This conclusion follows from a fallacious beginning: that the greatest threat to American life and liberty comes from foreign Muslim terrorists. But the fact is that the problem is that since 9/11 the vast majority of terror attacks in the United States have been accomplished by citizens born in the United States.[1]  Nevertheless, in spite of the jumbled legalese now tumbling out of the confused voices of the Trump administration, any honest person with a brain knows the purpose of the ban is to protect us from Muslims. Mr. Trump and his minions have so stated on a number of occasions.

In contrast, by singling out members of a particular religion the travel ban violates not only the First Amendment in that it establishes a religious preference, but as well the Fourteenth, because it violates the principle of equal protection for all. Today, the threat supposedly arises from Islam. But if we violate the rights of innocent Muslims because in the past some have been guilty, then what is to stop us next week from choosing a devil of a different religion or ideology? Why not Evangelical Christians? By their own admission they are hardly spotless. If they can come for the Muslim, they can come for you.

When the courts blocked the Executive Order were they really violating our rights? Or protecting them? If the choice is between violating the Constitution to defend ourselves from a non-existent threat or blocking the will of the President in order to maintain Constitutional protections for all…. Well, you decide.

Freedom is not absolute. As formulated by our founders and those who inspired them, freedom exists only in mutuality. In order to remain free I must yield to your freedom, even your freedom to disagree with me, even when your freedom is offensive to me. The only exception is when you seek to do me harm, or I you. At which point the government steps in, not to inhibit the freedom of the offender, but to protect the freedom of the innocent.


[1] Uri Freedman, “Where America’s Terrorists Actually Come From,” The Atlantic, January 30, 2017, accessed June 6, 2017,

The dynamics of war

May 16th, 2017 No comments

Watching the last episode Ken Burns’ Civil War I noticed that many of the men who had fought in the Civil War spent the rest of their lives wishing they could relive the experience. To somehow relive what must have been the most horrendous experience. I have always wondered why.

Near the end of the last episode of Ken Burns’ The War Quentin Aanenson, a World War II pilot, in his eighties at the time of his interview for the film, reflects on the allure of combat. about the lure of war.

“The dynamics of war are so absolutely intense, the drama of war is so absolutely emotionally spellbinding that it’s hard for you to go on with a normal life without feeling something is missing.  Now, I have had a wonderful life. I have a family that just is ideal, and I’ve enjoyed my life.  But I find there are times when I am pulled back into the whirlpool. I find that the intensity of that experience was so overwhelming, and almost intimidating, that you can’t quite let go of it.”

I have never been in combat so I can’t really understand it. But I think, at least intellectually, I can imagine why someone who has experienced combat would be unable to let go of it — would keep returning to it. The imminent possibility of death removes the dread of it from the equation. All deliberation aside, one just plunges into action. It is an act of complete sacrifice, whether the outcome is life or death. The actor is never more fully alive. Few things can match the intensity of the experience.

And I think, particularly in war, this sacrifice is a gift of oneself to something one feels is of greater importance than life. Country, ideology, family. Often in accounts of war it is loyalty to one’s fellows. But it is one of the few times a human being is offered the opportunity to be completely selfless. It may be, in fact, the greatest expression of love a human can make.

Saturday Night Massacre

May 9th, 2017 No comments

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. This is irresistible.

Associated Press: Trump adviser asked FBI to dispute Russia reports

February 24th, 2017 No comments

Nixon:  When you get in these people when you…get these people in, say: “Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that” ah, without going into the details… don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it, “the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case”, period!

Haldeman:  OK.


The Smoking Gun Tape

Transcript and audio of the Smoking Gun Tape. This was one of the tapes released by Nixon on order of the Supreme Court. It revealed that Nixon had ordered a cover-up of the Watergate break-in just six days after the burglary. This is the tape that caused Nixon’s congressional support to melt away and triggered his resignation.

AP Source


February 22nd, 2017 No comments


San Diego’s Catholic bishop urges citizens to be ‘disruptors’ and ‘rebuilders’ in Trump era

Even before the White House announced stricter immigration policies Tuesday, there were signs of opposition. Addressing people “of all faiths and no faith,” San Diego’s Roman Catholic bishop on Saturday urged Americans to be “disruptors” and “rebuilders.” Donald Trump, Bishop Robert McElroy noted, had campaigned for the presidency as “the disruptor.”

Don’t be a sucker…

February 16th, 2017 No comments

Cold War wisdom for the age of Trump. 1947 War Department video reminds us what makes America great. Source: Internet Archives. At 17 minutes it’s a bit long for the 21st century attention span but it will definitely be worth your time.

Won’t back down…

February 13th, 2017 No comments

If You Still Support Trump

February 1st, 2017 No comments

An open letter to those who still believe Donald Trump will “Make America Great Again”

I am a veteran of the United States Navy who served during the Vietnam War. I am writing to condemn the Trump administration’s assault on decency and democracy and your immoral defense of it. We may disagree on specific policies and the direction of government, you may be conservative and I may be liberal, but we should not disagree on those things that have made the United States the beacon of light in the world: liberty, equality, justice. It was these principles I volunteered to defend during wartime.

Trump supporters have said they like a man who speaks his mind and is not constrained by “political correctness.” This, they say, is what drew them to Donald Trump, even though the mind he spoke and continues to speak is apparently filled with unprincipled ambition, overweening pride, prejudice, vindictiveness, and pettiness. So may I say at the outset that I intend to write plain truth, not softened by subtlety, about the embarrassment this administration already is to the United States, and about the culpability of Trump supporters.

Mr. Trump claims to have a desire to “make America great again.” It is a slogan designed to instill a fear of national decline. It points to a mythological age when the United States was not only the most powerful nation on earth but also the best, in terms of its commitment to the principles embedded in our founding documents. Mr. Trump declared on the campaign trail that the last time America was great was when Ronald Reagan was president. But Mr. Reagan himself used this slogan hearkening to the era immediately following World War II, when the United States had reached the pinnacle of its sense of mission by selfless sacrifice to overcome totalitarianism and by standing to defend American values for the entire world.

That vision of greatness must be tempered in the rational mind by inconvenient facts. Among these are: that for all of its military might and superiority, the United States has not been able to achieve a successful resolution to any major military commitment since World War II, that the United States has squandered much of the goodwill it gained from its victory in World War II by supporting anti-democratic, tyrannical, and immoral regimes around the world, that America’s self-righteous self-congratulation at the end of World War II ignored major injustices in the fabric of American Society concerning civil liberties and civil rights that would explode into rebellion in the years following, and which we still struggle to resolve. None of these pressing concerns can be rectified by supporting a buffoonish demagogue. We will do well to remind ourselves that Adolf Hitler was regarded as a buffoon, until he stole an election and set out to make Germany great again.

It was not with greatness but inconvenient facts that during his campaign for the Presidency Donald Trump painted a dystopian picture of America, tapping a into discontent arising from the fact that reality is at odds with the noblest vision of what we tell ourselves America ought to be. But, paradoxically, Donald Trump’s own words, actions, and history bubble up from the depths of America’s fetid historical darkness and are antithetical to our fundamental values. To be sure, he did not tap into an overwhelming discontent, more people voted against him than for him, and many of those who voted for him did so holding their nose hoping he might somehow be better than what many felt was an even grimmer alternative.

In fact, Mr. Trump’s core supporters are a minority who until the last few years have been on the fringe of civilized society: neo-Nazis, the KKK, conspiracy theory nut jobs, and xenophobes. They have succeeded in creating a paranoid alternative universe that Trump now puts forward as his vision of what is not great about America. This fake reality is built upon a foundation of twisted truths and naked fabrications that mischaracterize the threats America faces. They identify anyone who is different as a threat. They fail to realize that they themselves present the greatest menace to American values. They are no different in their malicious ideology than their historical counterparts. The difference is that we thought we had relegated them to the dustbin of history. Now this sentiment has a champion in the White House.

By casting aside every appeal to decency in public discourse as “political correctness,” Trump and his core supporters captured the imaginations of many who have come to feel that their government doesn’t really work for them. In that they are not wrong but as is the case with all demagogues the blame is cast where it does not belong. Encouraged by what can only be described as an “alternative fact” (lie) machine that blame has been amplified against Mexicans, Muslims, gays, liberals, essentially everywhere but where it belongs: against the big money players.

I can agree that the rank and file of Trump supporters are not evil people. I can agree that they may have been duped by slick salesmen, as we all might have been.  But the events that have occurred since the election, and particularly since Mr. Trump was inaugurated, indicate clearly that Donald Trump is not for the little guy or for the country. He is for himself above all, and secondarily for his billionaire cronies. He and his regime throw little hate filled treats to his supporters to distract them from the real power grab. It has come time to say plainly that people who still support him are not the patriots they imagine themselves to be. In fact, they are unpatriotic and against America’s core values.

  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to appeal to people’s fears rather than their aspirations.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values for a political candidate to openly encourage violence against his opponents.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values for a leader to disrespect and denigrate vulnerable individuals and groups, to relentlessly threaten one’s critics with lawsuits or worse, and to mock a person’s disabilities like a playground bully.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to criticize and seek to circumvent First Amendment rights to free expression.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to ridicule American patriots: those who sacrificed in war and those who sacrificed at home for civil rights.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to cozy up to our nation’s most ardent enemies.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to put the nation and indeed the world at risk by impetuously tweeting foreign policy threats against our rivals.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to discriminate against any ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Period.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to twist the language of liberty into “America First” jingoism.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to turn the nation’s back on the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to present to the world a face that is jealous and fearful rather than one that is generous and accepting, as Americans historically are.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to use the Presidency as a platform for spreading extremist falsehoods.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to place the welfare of the people at risk to aggrandize oneself and one’s billionaire cronies.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to place one’s personal welfare and ambition before adherence to the constitution.
  • It is unpatriotic and against America’s core values to continue to support a man who is openly celebrated by neo-Nazis, the KKK, and America’s foreign enemies.

It is morally inexcusable to continue to support this man. If you do, you are unpatriotic and stand in opposition to America’s core values. The fact is those who claim to love the country the most have unleashed radical forces that threaten to undo America’s greatness, perhaps irreparably. Many Trump supporters may believe they are true patriots, as those who clamored for secession in 1860 thought they were being true to the constitution as they actively destroyed it. However, history has judged that action to be treason. And history maintains a vigilant eye.

It is time for all Americans: young and old, liberal and conservative, all religions and ethnicities to speak out vigorously for America’s values and against the Trump administration. It is time to speak out against division, xenophobia, bigotry, and injustice. Donald Trump is no more friend to conservatives or the little guy than he is any group that is currently the target of his ire. Silence not only works against your own interests, it places you on the wrong side of history.The world is watching. History’s judgment will be merciless.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Ya. History.

January 20th, 2017 No comments

It seems Gov. LePage has been reading alt-right history (“alt” meaning alternate universe). To wit: Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but it didn’t free any slaves, because it was limited to “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” where Lincoln had no practical jurisdiction. The slaves in Kentucky, Delaware, and Louisiana were not freed until the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified after Lincoln’s death, which ended slavery everywhere.

Further, the Republican Party in 1865 was the socially liberal party and the Democratic Party was conservative; the opposite of today’s politics. Alt-righters have a funny way of annexing anything historical called Republican (like, for example, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans) and applying their own twisted ideology to it. But the modern Republican Party resembles the one of 1865 about as much as it resembles the Irish Republican Socialist Party.

Of course, to know this, one would have to be willing to study history in this universe, so sadly it remains likely that LePage and his ilk will remain benighted. – Keith Cox, Ph.D. University of California, History.

Paul LePage: John Lewis should thank Republican presidents for ending slavery, fighting Jim Crow

LePage’s comments come after Lewis said on NBC News that Donald Trump was not a “legitimate” president. Trump responded by tweeting that Lewis was “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results.” “How about John Lewis last week?” LePage said on WVOM Maine radio’s George Hale and Ric Tyler Show.

Bernie gets a standing O at Ebenezer

January 17th, 2017 No comments
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