Tuesday, February 04, 2014

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today.......

FEBRUARY 9, 1964- not a date that springs to mind when considering historic events. Though I was glued to my TV along with 73 million other Americans, I didn't know the actual date until recently, but it could legitimately be called "The Birthday of Boomer Culture".  Deride Boomer Culture if you will, but it still resonates, even with people who's parents are too young to remember it- I've seen teenagers at concerts singing along with Beatles songs, they knew the words by heart.  We didn't know it then, but everything changed on that February evening in ways we could not have imagined.

A little perspective to begin, if I may, for those of you laboring under the misfortune of youth.  In 1964, World War II was as close in our national rear-view mirror as is first Iraq War is today.  World War I was  as close as Vietnam.  World War II vets were fairly young men in their 40s and Kennedy, a WWII veteran, was considered too young for the presidency by some.  We were still very much a Black and White world with wide-spread ownership of color TV still being a few years away.

We had a Sylvania Halolight black and white TV, it had a soft light surrounding the tube.  Very cool stuff!  (Do watch the ad at the link)

My Dad was a "Ford man", so we had a brand new 1964 Ford Galaxy 500 in the driveway.

I was 10 years old, attending a Catholic school that was a five-minute walk from my very vanilla suburban house.  Just three months earlier was November, 22, 1963, the day our first Catholic President was killed in Dallas, a day that shocked my young sensibilities and introduced profound sadness and tragic loss into my neat, idyllic and insulated child's life.  Well, that and the constant drills in school for the eventual nuclear war- I actually hoped that when it happened, it would happen on a school day because I didn't have a desk at home to protect me.
The "Vanilla House"

Upon reflection, the JFK assassination was the first step in growing up.  It connected me to the world at-large, for the first time, as I related to what these people were talking about on the TV.

As to music, my recollections at that age consisted of the "Big Band" stuff that my parents played on the phonograph and, for some reason, Eydie Gorme singing "Blame It on the Bossanova" on the car radio, a popular song of the day.  In my memory, it seems as if it was playing incessantly.  I'd heard people talking about Elvis, but my parents were too old for that "Rock 'n' Roll noise" as they called it, so I didn't hear much of it.  I'd sometimes see "American Bandstand" on the TV, but they were all older kids and the music just didn't click for me.

We all watched the "Ed Sullivan Show" on Sunday nights, though.  It was a family tradition in our house, as it was for many families of the day.  It was what was known then as a "variety show" with acts as varied as comedians, ventriloquists, jugglers, musicians, singers, dancers and, of course, Topo Gigio.

That was about this time that small, hand-held "transistor radios" had become the "must have" gadgets of the day.  Actually, it was the FIRST of all the "must have gadgets"that would follow.  A technology born in the burgeoning space program, these little radios, for the first time, allowed people  to listen to the radio without being in a building or a car.  It was one of the modern miracles of the early 60s, to be able to walk down the street, with an earplug in one ear, listening to the radio!  I had one.  It was the first of the many gadgets I would by, and still buy, over the course of my life.  I don't recall what I listed to, it didn't matter, the magic of that radio was enough.  But that was about to change.

I can't recall when I first heard of the Beatles, but I'd assume it was from the giggling little girls at school.  They were the first, and the boys followed.  A female cousin was wild about the lads but, I must admit, I was skeptical (even before I even knew the definition of the word).  I then started hearing about these Beatles on my transistor radio, what we now know as "the buzz" was unmistakable.  "Beatlemania" was soon sweeping the nation as "Beatle boots" and "Beatle wigs" appeared in stores as fashion was being transformed for the next half-century, and beyond.  It was literally impossible to turn on a radio or TV without hearing about the Beatles.  By the time they arrived in New York, America was eager to surrender to their new British invaders.

But it all began in earnest on a Sunday evening as four young men from Liverpool forever altered the course of popular music, and popular culture, with this broadcast on February 9, 1964:

It would be a nice touch if I could say that, at that very moment, I felt the Earth shake and I was immediately transformed.  It didn't, and I wasn't.  The truth is, it opened a door, but an important door.  The appeal of the Beatles, for me, sprung from well-written, yet simple songs, with which I felt an irrepressible urge to sing along while I was listening.  There was an indescribable, yet unmistakable familiarity that I felt and still feel.  I felt that they were singing for me.  They were the right band, at the right time in my young life, with easily digestible music that sated my newly acquired taste for music.

In a nation of 191 million people, 73 million watched their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show- 38% percent of the population.  Even in our current pop-culture-saturated society, I can't imagine a contemporary pop music act garnering that kind of audience as, a percentage, particularly when you consider that you either watched it live or you didn't watch it.

The Beatles grew and matured quickly, as did we and our tastes.  The difference between a 10 year-old and a 15 year-old is enormous, much like the cultural differences between 1964 and 1969 and the Beatles provided a soundtrack for that growth.  Each successive album signaled a departure from the last as they pioneered the development of popular music from "catchy ditties" and Rock 'n' Roll to recording art, blending technology and diverse musical elements as on display on the album "Rubber Soul" and everything that would come after.   In August, 1966, the Beatles performed their last "official" live concert in San Francisco, preferring to spend their energies in the recording studio such as "Revolver", the seminal "Sgt. Pepper's", along with "Magical Mystery Tour", "The White Album" and "Abbey Road".

As revolutionary as they were, the career of the Beatles was remarkably short.  In 1969, they performed together live for the last time atop their studios in London, chronicled in the 1970 film and album "Let it be":

And it was over.  When looking at the clip from 1964 juxtaposed with that from 1969, it looks like decades had transpired rather than a mere five years.  Upon reflection, it felt like that, as well.

They all went on to successful solo careers but The Beatles were always more than just a collection of parts, it was musical serendipity tailored for its age.

Practically speaking, that period of time we call "the 60s" largely ended on that rooftop in London in 1969, though the afterglow continued until the dawn of Disco.  It was, however, born on a flickering black and white screen on that February evening in 1964 and I feel incredibly fortunate to have experienced it.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Rand Paul and the GOP's Appeal to the Young

I had serious doubts about Rand Paul becoming my Junior Senator, his father being a howl-at-the-moon lunatic and all.  That said, I've been very pleasantly surprised.  He's smart, articulate and seemingly unafraid to tackle big problems and discuss big issues.

The GOP simply must appeal more to young people.  Ronald Reagan was the oldest man to ever be elected President and if he can do it, a contemporary, younger Republicans can.  I submit that young people, for the most part, are a lot smarter than they look and, down deep, they're also a lot more conservative than they'd lead you to believe or even believe themselves to be.

This piece by Rand Paul is a good start:

One of the things I love about speaking with college students is the no-nonsense approach so many take. Your generation can detect falseness and hypocrisy from miles away. You want leaders who will not feed you a line of nonsense or sell you short.
Unfortunately, a lot of nonsense is peddled in Washington. I know—I work there and see it happen daily. 
Think about the issues you con­front as you look to make your way in the world: a difficult job market paired with debt, in a country where economic security seems like a thing of the past
Now think about how Washington has responded to these issues. Gov­ernment spending keeps accelerat­ing. The United States now spends almost a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP) in Washington, and nearly half of that spending is borrowed. In fact, the federal government borrows $30,000 every second
How, exactly, is that contributing to eco­nomic security—for you, for your parents, or for any other Americans? 
Entitlement spending and inter­est on the debt will consume all tax revenue in the near future. It is not a question of if a debt crisis will occur in America. It is only a question of when. There is no question that this crisis will hit your generation hardest. 
Of course, as important as Social Security, jobs, and the economy are, they are hardly our only con­cerns. The federal government now attempts to micromanage Ameri­can life at practically every level. 
The government tells you what kind of lightbulbs you can buy, what kind of toilet can be in your home, how much water can come out of your showerhead. Privacy is seemingly an antiquated notion, with govern­ment snoops able to access third-party records, such as phone records, e-mails, financial records, and pretty much any other personal information they want, without a judge’s warrant. 
These are not simply policy prob­lems; they reflect an abandonment ofprinciples. America has drifted away from the constitutional principles of limited government, separation of powers, and individual liberty. 
The path forward lies in reclaiming the ideas at the heart of America’s Founding: respect for the Constitu­tion and respect for the individual. 
“As Government Expands, Liberty Contracts” 
To paraphrase President Ron­ald Reagan, big government is the problem, not the solution.
Unfortunately, when one warns of big government, he or she risks being  called an “anarchist” or even a “ter­rorist” by political opponents. That kind of name-calling does nothing to advance the political discourse, nor does it address the fundamental problems our nation is facing. Such partisan bickering is just one of the many things about Washington that turn off so many young people. 
But conservatives can’t simply blame the partisanship of the oppo­sition for the failure to tame the government Leviathan. We need to do a better job of communicating why big government is the problem—why it is bad for the economy, freedom, and a restrained, yet strong, foreign policy. 
Unless we can make this case, we’ll always be at a disadvantage in a debate with liberals who want the government to take on an even greater role in American life. That’s because liberal promises seem tangible: the government will launch yet another expensive new spending program to help Ameri­cans—by paying for food, day care, preschool, health care, you name it. 
Politicians who promote these spending programs don’t acknowledge
the unavoidable fact that their initiatives will send America fur­ther into debt or force the govern­ment to raise taxes, or both. 
But conservative solutions are tan­gible too. We’re not just saying no to more government. Our proposals will lead the way to more prosperity, more stable families, political decisions made at the local level, a dollar that holds up in a global marketplace, an education system that puts students and parents first, a vibrant culture supported by reli­gious institutions, and opportunities for young people like you to grow and lead Amer­ica into a renewed age of freedom. 
In his farewell speech in 1989, Presi­dent Reagan said, “As government expands, liberty contracts.” He was absolutely right. As government grows, liberty becomes marginalized. The collective takes precedence over the individual—but the great and abiding lesson of American history is that the indi­vidual is mightier than any collective.
What our country needs is the kind of system that made America so pros­perous, with a limited government that largely does not interfere with individuals and their pursuit of happi­ness but allows people to be rewarded for their hard work and creativity. 
Our political opponents and the media like to portray conserva­tives as unconcerned about the poor, senior citizens, and minorities. Nothing could be further from the truth. But we need to do a better job of communicating the promise of conservatism, not simply the failures of liberalism. We advocate not for special privileges for “the rich” but rather for a flourishing economy that lifts everyone up, creating millions of jobs and lessening the burden of taxes and government regulation. 
We need to shout to anyone who will listen, “More freedom and less government means more jobs, more wealth, and a better life for every­one.” Despite the trillions of tax­payer dollars spent on bailouts and “stimulus” plans over the past sev­eral years, the economy hasn’t fully recovered from the Great Recession. 
One in six Americans lives in poverty, more than at any other time in the past several decades. This is unacceptable. 
For conservatism to grow, we must stand on principle. We must stand for something so powerful and so popular that it brings together people from the left and the right and the middle. We don’t need to dilute what we believe. We need to convince everyone that with the Constitu­tion as our guide, our principles and our policies will provide the greatest good for the most people. 
We know these principles and these policies work because our country has tried them before. We don’t need to look too far back into history to see that. Ronald Reagan entered office as the country was in the grips of a brutal recession. He cut taxes and reduced regulations, and the Federal Reserve stopped printing money like mad. Soon the economy took off, creating millions of jobs. 
Decentralization of power is the best policy. Government is more efficient, more just, and more personal when it is smaller and more local. By decentralizing government, we strengthen communities, allowing people to depend on and care for one another, rather than on some distant, incompetent bureaucracy masquer­ading as defender of the common good. This is a message we need to do a better job communicating. 
We also need to remind our fel­low citizens that balanced budgets and limited government doesn’t mean no government. It means $3.1 trillionworth of government—the amount of revenue the federal gov­ernment currently brings in, accord­ing to the Congressional Budget Office. Americans have had to learn to live within their means. Govern­ment should do the same, instead of trying to squeeze even more money out of those who are working. 
The government can do a lot with $3.1 trillion, though you wouldn’t know it from the way a lot of politi­cians (of both parties) talk. Many of them howled about the supposedly draconian “cuts” that went into effect with the budget sequestration in early 2013. But the sequester didn’t cut any from the overall spending; it just slowed the rate of growth. Even with the sequester, government spending will grow by more than $7 trillion over the next decade. 
Only in Washington could an increase of $7 trillion in spend­ing over a decade be called a cut. 
A Foundation in Principles 
To better communicate our mes­sage, we must marshal the facts and have a deep understanding of the principles that informed our Found­ers. Policy battles are important, but if we don’t have a firm grounding in principles, politics becomes sport, with our focus narrowing to follow electoral returns, legislative vote tal­lies, and other short-term measures. 
Without that foundation in prin­ciples, we can easily lose sight of our real goal: securing for ourselves and for future generations the freedom and prosperity that have always marked America’s greatness. 
As students, you have a great opportunity to immerse yourself in America’s history and the principles of liberty. I am a proud Republican, but I am a conservative first. That is to say, my conservatism has always been more philosophical in nature than partisan. I am a Republican because I believe my party is the best outlet for the defense—and advancement—of the principles of liberty. I encourage you to dis­cover those principles yourself and become an advocate for them. 
There is no substitute for studying history. When you look to history, you quickly see that debates about the proper role and scope of government are nothing new. Founders Alexan­der Hamilton and James Madison fought from the beginning about how the federal government would be limited. Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” was unequivocal: the powers of the federal govern­ment are few and defined; the power to tax and spend is restricted by clearly enumerated powers. That is a simple proposition too many Americans forget (or ignore). 
I also encourage you to study what great thinkers have had to say about both individual liberty and personal responsibility. In school I read the great nineteenth-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, whose brilliant narratives illustrate the importance of conscience and faith—the belief that if there were no God, everything would be per­missible. I also began to read a lot of free-market economists from the Austrian School, including Nobel Prize winner F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard. With books like Hayek’s Road to Serfdom—a must-read for any conservative—these thinkers show why government intervention never works but in fact prolongs and wors­ens the problems it is intended to fix. 
The Challenge 
A debt crisis looms in this country, and Washington politicians are speeding us toward the precipice. 
America needs a new generation of leaders to defend the Constitu­tion, defend individual liberty—including our first liberty, religious freedom—and defend the freedom and prosperity that have made our country the beacon of the world.
In the past, leaders like Ronald Reagan have effectively communi­cated the message of liberty, showing the importance of smaller govern­ment that respects freedom yet is strong enough to protect America. 
Who will become the next generation of leaders? 
I urge you to step up to the challenge—to preserve the American dream for your­self and future generations.

Combination Motorcycle / Segway - Too Cool!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You Just Can't Make Sense to a Hipster in an Animal Hat

The Democrats sell a Gerber, pre-chewed, worldview that’s so rudimental, it could be fully explained on a single sheet of paper comprised of crayon drawings. One need only get behind one of the cars of the “true believer” hipster in an animal hat, who documents his belief system and details his dogma with bumper-stickers.
Bumper stickers like "END WAR" next to a fading "Obama/Biden "08" next to a "I Pee GREEN" or some such environmental nonsense.
Trying to explain the complexities of the world to one of these people garners a response similar to the one you’d get from a graphic description of the human reproductive process to a four year-old girl- “Eeeww gross! You’re a bad man!” as she runs out of the room to report you to the authorities. They simply cannot have their bumper-sticker philosophies challenged because they know their bright, primary colored, Democrat-built Neverland would never be the same.
The Democrats have promoted this, and last night’s SOTU was crawling with it. The sneering self-righteousness on display from the President is his way of re-enforcing his minions’ satisfaction with citizenship in the philosophical Neverland the party has built for them, where war can be ended simply by not fighting, the disparity between rich and poor ban be ended simply by redistributing the money, and all of our energy needs can be eliminated by the wind and the sun without disrupting the lives of Bambi and Thumper with the evil Keystone pipeline.

Approach them with caution, though, because they pee "GREEN".

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Time to Get Over Our Reefer Madness

Marijuana legalization certainly isn't one of the great issues of our day, but it's going to be an increasingly discussed topic in the coming months, and years, and I wanted to formally tee off our own debate.

Since Colorado's recent legalization of Marijuana, the media has been rife with ridicule and cautionary tales as to the dangers of unleashing this "dangerous drug" onto the streets in legal form.  We oldsters are told that this newfangled weed is not the weed of yore, but a newfangled strain heretofore unknown to our oldfangled experiences, so everything we know is wrong.

Perhaps an updated version of the 1937 propaganda film, "Reefer Madness" would be in order for those who feel our civilization is jeopardized by joints or targeted for destruction by doobies.

I say "bull".  Certainly, over the decades, the cultivation of marijuana has benefitted from science and technology, but claiming it's stronger these days as an argument against legalization is like claiming the fact that vodka is stronger than wine is an argument against alcohol in general.  To me, stronger marijuana means you smoke less, you inhale less carcinogens, so smoking is far healthier than it once was.

So let's put that foolish argument aside and get right to the crux of the matter- is it destructive?  I guess it could be, if you sat around the house 24/7 getting high, but I suspect you'd be far healthier than if you sat around the house drinking vodka.  Is it a "gateway drug"?  I don't believe it, inherently, is.  The fact is, illegal drug dealers are a diversified group and they often not only sell pot, they sell cocaine, or heroin or crack, or meth, and even if they don't, dealing with people in the black market exposes one to these other drugs, and drug dealers would prefer you not stop at a bag of weed now and then.  It's best not to spend time with these people at all.  Is it addictive?  Physically, no.  Psychologically, perhaps, but that depends on the person.  Some people can't stop eating HoHos and potato chips- they're on display daily at Wal-Mart, wheeling their large asses around in electric carts obtaining more HoHos and potato chips.  Sure, it stimulates specific pleasure centers but so does alcohol and a number of other substances and if we're going to go about prohibiting the stimulation of pleasure centers, well, we're going to have a long, messy conversation.

Don't even start with "the children" argument, I don't want them smoking pot any more than I want them drinking liquor and right now, it's probably a lot easier for them to get pot than it is liquor because liquor is legal and regulated.

I came up in the late 60s/early 70s, so let's just say I've had some real-world experience in this area.  I can honestly say that just about all of my old friends have partaken and some still do on occasion.  These are well adjusted people with families, nice careers and nice houses and I can honestly say that NONE, NOT A SINGLE ONE "went on to harder drugs", as the saying goes. I'm 60 so, as you can imagine, some of these people are friggin' grandfathers at this point and they're not drooling crackheads.

Conversely, I've had two friends drink themselves to death.  My cousin had half a lung removed because of cigarettes.

No doubt, your individual experience may vary.  You might know people who have thoroughly wrecked their lives, at least that's what I'm told.  I would submit that, without pot, they would have found another way to wreck their life.  I had one person tell me, on the internet, that they knew "scores" of people who had their lives wrecked by pot- a bald-faced lie in my estimation, but it's typical of the arguments afoot these days.

No, this isn't the fulcrum in the security of our liberty, but it's a small indicator that we either are, or are not responsible enough for true liberty, with all of its attendant responsibilities.

That's all I have, let me turn it over to a personal hero of mine, the late, great William F. Buckley, from a column written in 2004 on this very subject, expressed far better than I could ever hope to.

Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great. The laws aren't exactly indefensible, because practically nothing is, and the thunderers who tell us to stay the course can always find one man or woman who, having taken marijuana, moved on to severe mental disorder. But that argument, to quote myself, is on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating. General rules based on individual victims are unwise. And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend. If all our laws were paradigmatic, imagine what we would do to anyone caught lighting a cigarette, or drinking a beer. Or — exulting in life in the paradigm — committing adultery. Send them all to Guantanamo?  
Legal practices should be informed by realities. These are enlightening, in the matter of marijuana. There are approximately 700,000 marijuana-related arrests made very year. Most of these — 87 percent — involve nothing more than mere possession of small amounts of marijuana. This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone. Most transgressors caught using marijuana aren't packed away to jail, but some are, and in Alabama, if you are convicted three times of marijuana possession, they'll lock you up for 15 years to life. Professor Ethan Nadelmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance, writing in National Review, estimates at 100,000 the number of Americans currently behind bars for one or another marijuana offense.  
What we face is the politician's fear of endorsing any change in existing marijuana laws. You can imagine what a call for reform in those laws would do to an upward mobile political figure. Gary Johnson, governor of New Mexico, came out in favor of legalization — and went on to private life. George Shultz, former secretary of state, long ago called for legalization, but he was not running for office, and at his age, and with his distinctions, he is immune to slurred charges of indifference to the fate of children and humankind. But Kurt Schmoke, mayor of Baltimore, did it, and survived a reelection challenge.  
But the stodgy inertia most politicians feel is up against a creeping reality. It is that marijuana for medical relief is a movement which is attracting voters who are pretty assertive on the subject. Every state ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved, often by wide margins. Of course we have here collisions of federal and state authority. Federal authority technically supervenes state laws, but federal authority in the matter is being challenged on grounds of medical self-government. It simply isn't so that there are substitutes equally efficacious. Richard Brookhiser, the widely respected author and editor, has written on the subject for The New York Observer. He had a bout of cancer and found relief from chemotherapy only in marijuana — which he consumed, and discarded after the affliction was gone.  
The court has told federal enforcers that they are not to impose their way between doctors and their patients, and one bill sitting about in Congress would even deny the use of federal funds for prosecuting medical marijuana use. Critics of reform do make a pretty plausible case when they say that whatever is said about using marijuana only for medical relief masks what the advocates are really after, which is legal marijuana for whoever wants it.  
That would be different from the situation today. Today we have illegal marijuana for whoever wants it. An estimated 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, the great majority, abandoning its use after a few highs. But to stop using it does not close off its availability. A Boston commentator observed years ago that it is easier for an 18-year old to get marijuana in Cambridge than to get beer. Vendors who sell beer to minors can forfeit their valuable licenses. It requires less effort for the college student to find marijuana than for a sailor to find a brothel. Still, there is the danger of arrest (as 700,000 people a year will tell you), of possible imprisonment, of blemish on one's record. The obverse of this is increased cynicism about the law.  
We're not going to find someone running for president who advocates reform of those laws. What is required is a genuine republican groundswell. It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children." 
Such reforms would hugely increase the use of the drug? Why? It is de facto legal in the Netherlands, and the percentage of users there is the same as here. The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Something Tells Me This Was No "Accident"

Ranchers, farmers fear eco-terrorists after EPA releases private info 
The Environmental Protection Agency has told farmers and ranchers it is sorry for handing private information about them over to environmental groups, but agriculture advocates who fear attacks from eco-terrorists say it's like closing the barn door after the horses escaped. 
In response to Freedom of Information Requests, the federal agency released information on up to 100,000 agriculture industry workers, including their home address and phone numbers, GPS coordinates and even personal medical histories. The agency later acknowledged much of the information should never have been provided, and even asked the recipients to give it back. 
“If someone is setting out to create mischief at these locations, basically the government gave them a road map,” Mace Thornton, spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which is participating in a joint lawsuit against the EPA, told FoxNews.com. “It is very clearly an unjustified intrusion into citizens’ private lives by the government. And it is a betrayal of trust.” 
The EPA said it collected all the erroneous disclosures, released in July of 2012,  and sent out new documents with sensitive personal information redacted, an EPA spokeswoman told FoxNews.com.
First, One has to wonder how the EPA would put itself in the position to make such a "mistake" in the first place if it wasn't joined at the hip to these "Environmental Groups".
Secondly, screw ups, serious ones, are quite the routine occurrence with every level of this administration, yet no one seems to get so much as a reprimand, much less a public rebuke.
Thirdly, who the hell other than an Obama toady would trust these people with their medical history?  

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Congolese Conundrum

The Congo is the most chronic of numerous festering sores on the sick man of Earth, Africa.  The civil war there seems to have been going on for generations, but it erupted in ernest in 1996-97.  Since that time, campaigns (a rather civilized name for the actual barbarity) have been assigned different names but always with the same end; savage genocide.

With fully 6 million dead between '98-07 alone, and presently 3 million refugees, it's the most costly conflict, in terms of human life, since World War II.  It's estimated that the conflict is claiming 45,000 lives every month, and, as has been the case in this region, brutal killings are oft accomplished with machetes with the bodies left to rot.

I came across an excellent, though disturbing and heart-wrenching, piece in The New York Times (December, 2012) regarding the conflict by a writer who has knowledge and history in the region- I'd highly recommend it.  In part:

Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight. 
I didn’t always feel this way. During
my first trip, in July 2006, Congo was brimming with optimism. It was about to hold its first truly democratic elections, and the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, were festooned with campaign banners and pulsating with liquid Lingala music that seemed to automatically sway people’s hips as they waited in line to vote. There was this electricity in the air in a city that usually doesn’t have much electricity. In poor, downtrodden countries accustomed to sordid rule, there is something incredibly empowering about the simple act of scratching an X next to the candidate of your choice and having a reasonable hope that your vote will be counted. That’s how the Congolese felt. 
But the euphoria didn’t last — for me or the country. The election returned Mr. Kabila to power and nothing changed. I came back less than a year later and hired a dugout canoe to take me up the mighty Congo River, where I saw 100-foot-tall stalks of bamboo and spiders the size of baseballs. In the middle of the country, I came to appreciate how shambolic the state of Congo’s infrastructure really is. Rusty barges that used to ply the river now lie on the riverbanks with weeds shooting up through their ribs. The national railway, which used to haul away all the coffee and cotton and bananas that this country produces, is all but shuttered. 
I met a pair of soldiers who had chained a chimpanzee to a corroded railway tie, leaving the animal in a pile of its own feces, staring up at us with rheumy eyes as the soldiers howled with laughter. CONGO IS ESTIMATED TO POSSESS $24 TRILLION OF MINERAL RESOURCES. Its soil is so productive that a trip through the countryside, past all the banana, orange, papaya, guava and mango trees virtually scraping the windshield, is like driving through a fruit salad. But without any functioning infrastructure, all this agricultural potential is moot. “How will you get anything to the market?” one local official asked me. “There’s only so much you can carry on your head.”
Note that last paragraph and imprint it in your mind as you consider Africa in general and Congo in specific, that's trillion, with a "T".  The Congo wars are a confluence of aching ignorance, seeming desensitization as a result of decades of hideous barbarism, and blood lust and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.  They're a continent in desperate need of development, both social and economic.
Anyone with a shred of civilization in their soul must weep at this situation, but the real question is, what would be our best, if any, course of action?  The fecklessness, incompetence and serial impotence of the UN is a given, but as the dominant superpower on the planet, what should be our role in ending the human misery that defines this country/region?
The age-old debate as to whether the U.S. should be the world's "policeman" has been renewed of late with regard to the Syrian Civil War with the "nays" getting a lot of votes, and I think the "nays" would be dominant even without the Muslim factor.  That said, if there was ever a situation that bespoke the need for a "world policeman", the Congo conflict is it.  That said, arming a particular side would seem to just exacerbate the bloodshed and sending in troops or a full-scale invasion would seem a fool's errand.
Add to the mix that Africa has proven to be fertile ground for Islamic expansionism, then keep rolling that "$24 Trillion" figure around in your head.  Sometimes, humanitarianism and strategic necessity find common ground and Africa may just be that ground.
Conundrum, indeed.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twelve Years….

What can one say about 9/11 that already hasn't been said?  In that spirit, I'm reprinting my thoughts from two years ago on the occasion of the 10th anniversary, which I believe are still valid.  May God bless the souls of those who died that day and may they not be forgotten.

You may have noticed that I am writing this on 9/12 rather than 9/11. I spent much of the anniversary watching the excellent coverage on Fox with one eye, and reading some beautifully written pieces online with the other. 
There are always stories I’ve never heard, it’s as though the story is, in many ways, still unfolding. Some 3,000 people died that day and their deaths effected untold numbers of people around them. We will be hearing new stories for the rest of our lives, and for those who lived through the history, that keeps the history alive. For future generations, it provides a rich and detailed record unmatched by any other historical event. 
Ten years is a milestone, a decade. Ten years is 9/11’s first step into the mists of history where, alas, it will be deformed and mutilated by some for their own narrow interests – that’s already happening in the case of “Truthers”, and the radical Left. People who were 10 year-old children in 2001 are 20 year-old young adults today. There are 10 year-old children who are being schooled as to what that day was about, and how they should feel about it. There are those who romanticize the “sense of unity” that existed on 9/11/01, and, indeed it was palpable and very real. Unfortunately, it was as fleeting as summer in northern Maine and was far more short-lived. Ten years hence, we are far more fractured and polarized than we were before the attacks – instead of focusing on the enemy; we’ve turned on each other and begun the process of self-consumption. It makes one wonder if that, in itself, is something of a moral victory for the enemies of civilization who attacked us 10 years ago. In many ways, the evil that came from without, 10 years ago, awakened and liberated a far more dangerous evil from within – those who actively deny even the existence of evil. 
Yes, the world changed on 9/11/01, but it’s still open to debate as to whether the cause of western civilization has moved forward during the last decade, or is emanating the stench of death. There’s far too much evidence to suggest the latter, though hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Whither Pope Francis Regarding the Atrocities on Christians in Egypt?

I've come to expect President Obama's foreign policy to oscillate between inept and wrong-headed and his handling of the deteriorating situation in Egypt is alas, predictable.  His public silence as the Muslim Brotherhood wages war on the Copts, Catholics and every other Christian in Egypt, while unacceptable, seems tragically predictable.

What has been surprising is the lack of outrage from Pope Francis.  Yes, he has fittingly called for our prayers, but I think what's happening to Christians in Egypt calls for a personal and forceful denunciation from the Pope. I don't have any illusions that the Muslim Brotherhood would cease and desist, but the Pope has a unique bully pulpit. When Benedict publicly rebuked the Obama administration on the subject of abortion and ObamaCare Christians and virtually ALL people of faith rallied behind him

Ostensibly, he's the leader of worldwide Christianity and when he talks, people listen and his unequivocal condemnation would virtually force (or shame) Obama and the West to publicly address the atrocities. Perhaps it wouldn't help, but it would be more productive than the current deafening silence.

This is being called the worst assault on Christianity since the Middle Ages and history is watching.  If we cannot trust the Vicar of Christ to call out evil by its name, who can we trust?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Politics Over Country" is Abysmal, You Say? Look In the Mirror

Obama Appointee Who Heads U.S. Nuclear Security Agency Is Hacked By "Guccifer" 
The Obama administration official who heads the agency responsible for maintaining the country’s nuclear stockpile as well as securing “loose nukes” worldwide is the latest victim of  “Guccifer.” 
Neile Miller, acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently had her Facebook account breached by the notorious hacker, who also apparently illegally accessed one of Miller’s personal e-mail accounts.

I know a lot of my fellow conservative/libertarian types are probably giggling like 13 year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert over this news because, after all, it makes Obama look bad (rather, even worse). Much in the same way they have lionized the traitor Edward Snowden, we're embracing virtually anyone who will assist us in our quest to say "I told you so!" in the end.

For years, we've preached that "this is a dangerous world"; do these leakers, hackers and abusers of sacred trusts enhance our safety in this dangerous world, or diminish it?

How does endangering our national security, even a little, further our cause? We claim to "put our country first" and decry anyone in this administration who puts politics over our country- and rightly so. How does our abject giddiness over these lapses and transgressions translate into anything but placing politics over country?

Wake up and get your wits about you and try and find the principles that you evidently lost five years ago!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Charge Him With Treason

After a great deal of consideration, I really cannot defend or align myself with this "whistleblower" fellow, Edward Snowden, as many on my side seem wont to do.  In fact, I consider him guilty of treason. He swore to keep secrets and he did not keep that oath. Oaths don't have exceptions. Oaths aren't subject to politics and they're not negated when the administration changes.

My mother was, I believe, a cryptographer with Naval Intelligence during WWII. I say "I believe", because she never really said. I have ribbons and commendations she received- the commendations say little to nothing and the ribbons she was never allowed to wear. She never talked about her work with my father, also a WWII veteran, and she certainly never talked to me, though I pressed her my whole life. I know she worked in Washington and I know it had something to do with Japanese code and I know her service began before the war- that's all she ever confirmed to anyone.

She died in 1982 and took her secrets to her grave. A few weeks after her death, we received a certificate from The White House, signed by Ronald Reagan, referencing her meritorious and invaluable service to her country. My father, also a vet, didn't get one and I've never heard of anyone else getting one. Again, s
he took her secrets to the grave.

That's the way it's done.

Edward Snowden is a traitor; try him as such.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

A Constitutional Crisis for our Time

The Executive (President) will continue unheeded, until heeded.  That's the nature of the office and the very reason we have a system of checks and balances to protect us from the occasional rogue Executive.

For 40 years, I’ve heard Watergate called a “Constitutional crisis”; perhaps it was, albeit a minor one. However, the Constitution worked, pretty efficiently and just the way it was designed. Heads rolled, the Executive voluntarily removed himself at the behest of congressional leaders from his party and White House conspirators were imprisoned.

In 2013, we have an Executive not only flouting the Constitution, but acting in absolute contempt thereof with complete support of his party and, apparently, the at-large press. 

From my own layman’s view, this is “Constitutional Crisis” writ large.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

"Watching the Wheels Go Round and Round…….."

I turned 60 last week and the first time I remember saying “I never thought I’d see that” was when the Berlin Wall and the Eastern Bloc fell…….and I don’t think I’ve stopped saying it since
The passing parade can be horrifying, terrifying, inspirational and downright weird but always astounding as hell and entertaining in an odd sort of way. 
Lest anyone think this is just another case of “Boomer narcissism", I’m sure mine isn’t the only generation to come to this conclusion….but perhaps we’re the most recent.