Scrubbing George Washington from History: Who’s Next?

Just a few days ago comes news that a San Francisco school district is mulling getting rid of a series of murals honoring our first president because a commissioned working group alleges it’s traumatizing students.

Imagine my surprise that founding father George Washington is now under attack by politically enlightened, self-lacerating guardians of the public interest, bent on scrubbing the pantheon of American heroes clean in writing a revisionist history:

We come to these recommendations due to the continued historical and current trauma of Native Americans and African Americans with these depictions in the mural that glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.

Seems our anointed censors will neither forgive nor forget that George was a slave owner and killed Native Americans in the French and Indian War. And, of course, we have to take into account its psychological fallout for students exposed daily to the murals.

Ironically, these murals were painstakingly done in 1936 by communist Victor Arnautoff, who simply wanted in his own words “to provoke a nuanced view of Washington’s legacy,” which the San Francisco United School District (SFUSD) has obviously misconstrued in its literalist approach.

Wonder what Dolly Madison would say about all of this.

But it doesn’t stop here. There’s Christ Church that Washington and his family attended in Alexandria, Virginia. Washington had purchased a family pew, marked by a plaque. Well, no more!

The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.

Washington was a founding and contributing member of the congregation. Ironically, the church is located on North Washington Street. Y’uh thinking maybe they should move?

Last, but not least, comes this news from academia: Washington and Lee University board of trustees has decided on replacing portraits of Washington and Lee in military uniform with portraits of them in civilian garb.

In a formal statement, J. Donald Childress, rector of the board of trustees, and William C. Dudley, university president, said, “We appreciate the seriousness and thoughtfulness with which our fellow trustees have approached these matters. On behalf of the board, we want to express our gratitude to all of those members of the community who contributed to our deliberations, through countless letters and conversations over the summer and on campus this weekend. We are fortunate to be part of a community that cares deeply about this institution and is so dedicated to its continued success.”

Seems the leader of the Continental Army has been relieved of command.

I prefer distinguished American historian Fergus M. Bordewich’s take on these things in exclaiming it’s “a deeply wrongheaded habit to project today’s norms, values, ideals backwards in time to find our ancestors inevitably falling short. It betrays a very troubling intolerance of art and the ambiguity of art and the aspirations of art. It’s incredibly stupid if we try to erase history. It still happened, and you should argue about its meanings.”

–rj

The Plight of Native Americans in a White America

The White Man’s misdeeds in America towards its indigenous peoples are incalculable in number and cruelty. I was reminded of this last week when Karen and I visited the Grand Canyon and learned from the Visitor Center that Yavapai and Apaches once lived adjacent to the Canyon. That is, until 1874, when the government closed the Camp Verde Reservation and forced its residents to trek 180 miles to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. More than 100 Native Americans perished.

Nearly two years ago we witnessed the subjugation of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota that had commenced in 2016. Primarily affecting Sioux residents of America’s fifth largest Indian reservation, encompassing 2 million acres, the pipeline traverses sites sacred to the tribe and perhaps compromises the Reservation’s water purity.

Initially, it appeared the tribe had won when President Obama shelved the plan in late 2016, pending an environmental review, which would take years to complete.

Alas, there came the surprise of Trump’s election win and the inauguration of an administration strident in anti-environmental bias. In January 2017, came Trump’s executive order approving both the Keystone (Alaska) and Dakota pipelines.

The result, several hundred thousand barrels of oil now flow beneath the once pristine landscape.

This wasn’t a first happening for the tribe. In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Oahe Dam near Pierre, SD, flooding 56,000 acres of the Reservation’s farms and woodlands. Elderly residents recall their homes being burned prior to the flooding.

Ironically, the Standing Rock Reservation is the birthplace and final residence of Sitting Bull, who fiercely resisted white infringement on Indian land. It was his refusal to submit to the government’s order to remove the Sioux to a reservation that led to the famous Battle of the Little Big Horn, in which the Sioux defeated federal troops led by Custer’s 7th Cavalry in 1876.

In 1890, he was shot to death at Standing Rock Reservation by Indian agents attempting his arrest. Several weeks later, the army massacred 150 Sioux, perhaps more, at Wounded Knee Creek. Some historians suggest it was an act of vengeance, carried out by the 7th cavalry.

A wise, observant chief, it was Sitting Bull who asserted, “Hear me people: we now have to deal with another race—small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.”

Prescient and explicit, Sitting Bull’s comment lends context to the historical narrative of White infringement on the rights of its native peoples that continues even now.

–rj

NFL Hypocrisy

The media has been all over this story of Sunday’s NFL response to Trump’s
provocative tweet that NFL team owners should fire players who don’t stand proud when the national anthem is played: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired.”

Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got in his licks at Trump, responding that “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture.”

All fine and good, but the NFL’s last minute conversion to players’ right to freedom of speech reeks with blatant hypocrisy. In July 2016, six Dallas police officers were killed in a sniper ambush. As a symbol of community support for police officers, the Dallas Cowboys asked permission from the NFL to wear a helmet “Arm in Arm” decal. The NFL refused. Where was the “unity” then?

Meanwhile, NFL teams continue to discriminate against free agent Colin Kaepernick, who started the take-a-knee protests during the anthem. Quarterbacks have been subsequently signed without ever having thrown a football in an NFL game.

Now’s the time for NFL teams to walk the talk and return this former Super Bowl quarterback with a 90.3 rating to the playing field. Sooner of later, some team’s going to suffer an injured quarterback. Voila!

–rj

The Left’s War on Free Speech

But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were — in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. –from Orwell’s 1984.

Thank goodness for the First Amendment that grants us the right to free speech in America, and yet each year books are banned, censored or challenged simply because they express views contrary to usually a political, religious or ethnic constituency.

Just today comes news that Muslim news website The Muslim Vibe is demanding that Amazon pull Raheem Kassam’s pending book, No Go Zones: How Sharia Law is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You from its inventory, calling it “Islamophobic hate.”

If you tell me not to read a book I promise you I’ll read it. That’s why I just read conservative media troll Milo Yiannopoulis’ best selling Dangerous, a book he had to self publish because Simon and Schuster cowered after a $250,000 advance, withdrawing its publication following vociferous threats of the Chicago Review of Books not to review any more of their books, then bullied by a pile-on of 100 writers who said they’d find another publisher if Simon and Schuster followed through.

Normally, we’d associate book banning and repressions of free speech with the extreme right. Think Hitler and the infamous public conflagration of books on May 10, 1933 shortly after his election to Chancelor.

Or Chile in 1973 when the fascist Pinochet government burned hundreds of books.

Unfortunately, limitations on free speech have taken a ubiquitous turn in America, with the Left and many progressives championing repression of conservatives whom they’re fond of labeling as hate mongers. Ironically, the arena for their incendiary assaults are college campuses, supposedly citadels of free inquiry.

On February 1, 2017, Milo had been scheduled for an interview by conservative political commentator Anne Coulter on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, when the university reneged following a gathering of 1500 protestors outside the Student Union building, some dressed in black and wearing masks, throwing rocks at police, smashing windows, and physically assaulting people before moving on to vandalize downtown Berkeley, resulting an estimated $300,000 damage.

How weird for a campus famous for the genesis of the Leftist free speech movement of the 1960s.

Today, the tables have turned and it’s conservatism that’s the counter-culture, the Left its pursuers, given to violence, censorship, ridicule, and ostracism. Media has lent a helping hand, often by sheer omission of news events counter to liberals and progressives, or pursuing advocacy journalism.

Nowadays, even moderate conservative intellectual columnists such as George Will find themselves banned from print or college campuses.

Banning extends even to Berkeley radio station KPFA, which cancelled its planned event with distinguished Oxford scientist and fervent atheist, Richard Dawkins, after receiving complaints alleging hate speech targeting Muslims.

But as Dawkins subsequently explained afterwards, “I have indeed strongly condemned the misogyny, homophobia, and violence of Islamism, of which Muslim–particularly Muslim women–are the prime victims. I make no apologies for denouncing those oppressive cruelties, and I will continue to do so. Why do you give Islam a free pass?  Why is it fine to criticize Christianity but not Islam?”  Thus far, KPFA hasn’t responded.

I won’t go into what happened to Charles Monk, author of the controversial The Bell Curve, when he was met with violence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

I can’t say I’m a devotee of Milo; for example, he adores Donald Trump, who’s anathema to me. I’m for environmentalism, women’s rights, gay rights, single payer health care, increased taxation of the wealthy, etc., none of which Milo’s keen about.

Truth be told, however, Milo’s iniquities have been grossly exaggerated. He’s been wrongly, and repeatedly associated with the nationalist alt.right which media outlets like CNN just can’t seem to get right.  Funny, but both Left and right political wings find him odious.

He’s been called a Nazi and Fascist, deemed Islamophobic, transphobic, white supremacist, and even a pedophile advocate, but better read his book first, since politics can be a very dirty game, but then I don’t think I have to tell you that.

Anyway, we do have the First Amendment with its affirmation of five fundamental freedoms, among them, free speech.

Me, I’m sympathetic when Milo writes that “one day, while attending Manchester I was told I couldn’t read Atlas Shrugged, I thought, this is poppycock. Fuck anyone who tells me what I can and cannot read. I finished it three days later.”

Milo’s early experience with would-be censorship brought back a painful memory of how as a 16-year old, I had been reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, only to be told by my adult evangelical cousin and guardian that I was indulging in trash. Two weeks later, I was shipped back to my violent, alcoholic father.

Maybe why the Left really doesn’t want you to read or hear Milo is they fear his persuasive verbiage, and just maybe they should. I think Milo’s scores when he says Democrats forfeited victory in 2016 because they focused more on identity politics than everyday workers in flyover America, forgetting their traditional blue collar ties.

You can’t simply drive him off the stage as some kind of dimwit. Nimble in his velocity, delivering repeated right uppercuts, he grievously shreds stereotypical notions of the politics of a man with a Jewish mother and out-of-the closet gay with a black lover. The bottomline is that Milo jars you into awareness there’s another viewpoint to be had.

I taught argumentative writing on college campuses for more than three decades, always endeavoring to inculcate in my students the rudiments of sound persuasion, listening to the opposition’s point of view, subsequently refuting it point by point with both sound reasoning and empirical evidence. You don’t win a boxing bout by refusing to exchange punches.

I bring this up because I want to practice what I’ve preached to my students. In 2012, Jeremy Waldron, a distinguished scholar and professor of law and philosophy at NYU, penned his landmark book for the Left, The Limits of Hate Speech, arguing that it’s wrong to allow speech that denigrates the dignity of minorities. It’s after all, contributory to social alienation, or tool to ostracism.

But though this view is obviously humane, what often falls under the canopy of Leftist notions of hate speech is simply a refusal to acknowledge the shibboleths of identity politics, better known as political correctness. I’ve already noted its predilection to insult and violence, ostracism and shaming. Are conservatives less deserving of dignified assessment? It’s not a one way street.

In 2015, a guest speaker at a Des Moines high school told his audience, “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view…You shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn either.”  The speaker was President Obama.

I tire of preachments about being a white male, as though being a white male confers privilege.

Or that white males are the seminal source of systemic evil.

Or Yale students moaning that they have to read the literary works of dead white men. Take care, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens!

Why isn’t this racism, seeing race has been brought into the equation?

Ask the impoverished white miners in my state of Kentucky or unemployed steelworkers in Ohio or drought-stricken farmers in Kansas about white privilege!

And you wonder how Democrats lost the election?

Waldron says we shouldn’t get hung up on the First Amendment. Well, he’s a New Zealander. I think the First Amendment encapsulates what ideally America is all about. I shudder to think of an America without it.

And then there’s the horrid history of banning hugely associated with totalitarian regimes like today’s Republic of China, with their self-appointed oligarchy prescribed tenets, and harsh penalization of violators.

You and I aren’t bugs on the ground, but individuals endowed with reasoning capacity. Treat us as such. Respect our right to think for ourselves. There’s your human dignity!

Historically, oppressed minorities haven’t found emancipation through banning the raucous, despicable sentiments of their oppressors, but through reasoned discourse and legislative enactment.

But as I’ve said, many universities have become increasingly radicalized and intolerant of conservatives, reneging on liberal values that encourage intellectual freedom and toleration.

As I write, the exemplar of professor Jordan Peterson sweeps into my purview. Seems he’s been refusing to buckle before the identity politics crowd in not using gender neutral pronouns. It’s his way of protesting Bill C-16 introduced in the Canadian parliament last May as an amendment to the Human Rights Act, calling for the prohibition of language specifying “gender identity” and “gender expression” and a human resource initiative by the university. For Peterson, it all comes down to a freedom of speech issue.

Here at home, GPS host Fared Zakakria recently commented that “American universities these days seem to be committed to every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity. Conservative voices and views, already a besieged minority, are being silenced entirely. Freedom of speech is not just for warm, fuzzy ideas that we find comfortable. It’s for ideas that we find offensive.”

Among American universities, the University of Chicago gets it right:

The University of Chicago is an institution fully committed to the creation of knowledge across the spectrum of disciplines and professions, firm in its belief that a culture of intense inquiry and informed argument generates lasting ideas, and that the members of its community have a responsibility both to challenge and to listen (Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law and former Provost of the University).

If you really think about it, people like Milo serve democracy well. As one of my favorites, John Stuart Mill, often called ‘the saint of rationalism,” pointed out in On Liberty,

In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable. That is, few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of our time.

I won’t apologize for reading Milo. Like so many in the true liberal tradition, I am opposed to the banning of books.

–rj

MILO SAMPLINGS

I’m no hypocrite. I tell the truth, always. That’s my whole fucking problem.

The Left is filled with hypocrites who choose their targets of outrage based solely on their politics.

Young conservatives respond and libertarians respond to me because I say the things they wish they could.

Social taboos for the past fifteen years have all come from the progressive left. They’ re a ridiculously ugly army of scolds who wish to tell you how to behave. Libertarians and conservatives are the new counter-culture.

For the New Left, white men are the cultural counterpart to the economic bourgeoisie in classicist Marxist theory.

I’d prefer a world with no identity politics. I’d prefer we judged people according to reason, logic, and evidence instead of barmy left-wing theories about “oppressors.

Feminism describes itself merely as a movement for female equality. But it behaves like something quite different: a vindictive, spiteful, mean-spirited festival of man-hating.

In the two months following the election, social media analytics discovered more than 12,000 tweets calling for the death of Donald Trump–tweets that remain on the platform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps Someday We Will Learn How to Live

Every morning I awaken to a country bristling with hate, intolerance, and violence. 

Trump bullied his way to the presidency, exploiting public anxieties, e. g., steel belt resentment of jobs sent abroad, latent fears of a changing demographic replacing White homogeneity, evangelical rancor against abortion, and Islamaphobia, which sees every Muslim as a potential terrorist.

Trump pledged he’d limit Muslim immigration and reduce refugee numbers.   Shortly into his tenure, he attempted a 90-day immigration ban on seven Muslim nations, fortunately curtailed by the courts, though the recent SCOTUS decision suggests he may now have the upper hand.

One of his gallery of appointed rogues includes top advisor Stephen Bannon, known for his misogynist views on women and feminism that plague our nation.

Early on, Trump appointed the now disgraced retired general Mike Flynn as national security advisor, who’d previously depicted Islam as a “malignant cancer.”

Since his election, hate crimes have risen sharply.   Think Progress has mapped their occurrence from the election through February, 2017, recording 261 hate crimes, 41% of which have been linked to Trump’s rhetoric.

But I want to be fair. Much as I dislike Trump, hate in our country has many sources and targets.

Violence comes from the Left as well as the Right. 13% of the 261 incidents included attacks on Trump supporters.

Now comes the June 14 shooting of four Republican congressmen, one of them critically, while practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in Alexandria, VA by a disgruntled Bernie supporter.

There’s also Black violence, targeting Whites, often police, the abused becoming the abuser, the most notorious being the Dallas sniper ambush of twelve policemen, five of them killed (June 8, 2016).

Even liberals can become intolerant, as one of my favorites, simply because he’s so even-handed, Fareed Zakaria, reminds us: “American universities these days seem to be committed to every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity. Conservative voices and views, already a besieged minority, are being silenced entirely….Freedom of speech is not just for warm, fuzzy ideas that we find comfortable. It’s for ideas that we find offensive.”

Alarmingly, the number of hate groups in The USA has proliferated, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, increasing from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year. This number doesn’t track, however, widespread cyperspace hate raconteurs, whose venom sometimes seeps into social violence such as Dylan Roof’s heinous murder of nine Black church members:

ACTIVE HATE GROUPS 2016

KU KLUX KLAN ……………….130                  

NEO-NAZI…………… ………… 99

WHITE NATIONALISTS……..100

RACIST SKINHEAD. …………..79             

CHRISTIAN IDENTITY……… ..21

NEO-CONFEDERATE…………..43

BLACK SEPARATIST…………..193

ANTI-LGBT……………………….52

ANTI-MUSLIM………………….101

GENERAL HATE………………..101

Total:   917 Active Hate Groups (“The Year in Hate and Extremism,” Intelligence Report, SPLC, Spring 2017, Issue 162.)

Top five states for hate groups?   This may surprise you!

1.  California……….79
2.  Florida…………..63
3.  Texas…………….55
4.  New York……….47
5.  Pennsylvania…..40

It’s not any better abroad.  Britain’s decision to exit the European Community, which requires open borders of its members, parallels the upset victory of Donald Trump, many of the pro-exit voters older, working class Whites. France has its Le Pen; the Netherlands, its Geert Wilder; Germany its AFD (Alternative for Germany).

All of this comes down to the age old problem of the Other. Unfortunately, for all our supposed sophistication in today’s world of technological prowess, we’re still engulfed in the tribalism of our ancient progenitors, hostile to the outsider. And it’s not likely to get better, given the increasing anachronism of national borders that same technology makes possible.

Still, I am not without hope that the good side of humanity will ultimately prevail.  Or as   gifted Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye puts it,

My father’s hopes travel with me
years after he died.  Someday
we will learn how to live. All of us
surviving without violence
never stop dreaming how to cure it.

–rj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tibet’s Tragedy: A Culture Teetering into Oblivion

_90482485_28344675572_e210e10c4e_bThe horror began with the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949. In the decades since, Chinese oppression has continued relentlessly, with several hundred thousand Tibetans having been executed, tortured or imprisoned.

Commenting after her recent release, one survivor informs us that “Chinese officials used different torture instruments on me to break my spirit…to make me denounce his Holiness and the aspirations of my people. My fellow political prisoners and I were subjected to electric shocks from batons and prods…I spent weeks in solitary confinement. This torture and mistreatment started when I was just a child of thirteen and continued through most of my life in prison.”

I knew that the Chinese regime had signaled out Buddhists in Tibet to denigrate its culture as one effort among others to suppress their identity and, with it, their desire to be a free people.

Of an original 6,254 monasteries that existed before the Chinese invasion, just 13 remain fully intact, the others either destroyed or severely damaged.

A few days ago, I finished reading Stephen Batchelor’s fascinating book, Confessions of an Atheist Buddhist. Batchelor had converted to Buddhism as a young man and was formally ordained as a monk in 1974, and knows both the Tibetan language well and the woes of Buddhism, Tibet’s ancient faith.

He recalls visiting Lhasa in 1984. While the Potala Palace remains, it’s now a museum. Few traces of Buddhism, in fact, remain in this city once filled with Buddhist shrines and ubiquitous prayer flags.

From the Potala, you can glimpse what remains of the nearby Sera Monastery. 3000 monks lived there in 1959, the year of the Tibetan uprising. Now, only 100 lamas remain, all of them elderly.

Twenty miles east of Lhasa lies the Ganden Monastery, founded in the 14th century. Sadly. the infamous Red Guards ordered the local people to dismantle it, stone by stone. Once the residence of some 5,000 monks, only a scattering of aged monks remains.

Chinese persecution of Tibetan Buddhists continues unabated even beyond Tibet proper. In June 2016, the PRC mandated that half of the world’s largest Buddhist conclave, the Tibetan Buddhist Institute at Larung Gar, with its estimated 40,000 monks and nuns in Szechuan, be razed and its numbers reduced to 3,500 nuns and 1500 monks.

According to Radio Free Asia, expelled monastics must sign a pledge to “uphold the unity of the nation and not to engage in behavior opposing government policy in the area.”

Last month (December 6, 2016), the Tibetan government-in-exile asked the UN to intervene.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament on December 15, 2016, adopted a resolution condemning the destruction of the community.

Here at home, President Obama hosted Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama in both 2010 and 2014, giving verbal support for the preservation of Tibet’s culture, while subsequently restating the U. S. position that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China.  (He did not meet with the Dalai Lama in the Oval Office.)

China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist, however, and hence a threat to government hegemony, even though the Dalai Llama has never advocated independence..

Meanwhile China is pressing forward with resettling thousands of Chinese in Tibet and plans to build a second railway into the country to expedite commerce and tourism in particular.

Since 1990, China has relocated more than 2 million nomads into barrack settlements under the guise of protecting grazing land.

9-7-15_nomads_before_after_thumbnailIn urban areas, new schools are being built with Mandarin the primary language of instruction.

Though most of Tibet remains overwhelmingly Tibetan, an estimated 17% of Lhasa’s population is now Chinese.

In short, the Chinese have been following the Soviet formula of resettling volatile areas such as Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, where a large Russian population now resides.

There are a few Westerners who argue that reports of Chinese repression have been exaggerated.

I have more faith in Amnesty International, which relies upon documentary evidence. In its 2014 report, it concluded that “ethnic Tibetans continued to face discrimination and restrictions on their rights to freedoms of religious belief, expression, association and assembly.”

We are now into 2017, and while the world largely goes its own way, Tibet’s fate continues to deter towards extinction of its culture as the Chinese People’s Republic recent ordnance demolishing Larung Gar clearly demonstrates in its strident callousness.

Since 2011, American International has documented 131 self-immolations in protest of Chinese incursions upon its way of life.

—rj

Does the Electoral College Have a Future?

azThe Electoral College has been in the news a lot lately. And why not, considering that the loser in the 2016 election garnered nearly 3 million more votes than the declared winner.

In fact, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote turns out to be greater than those that elected John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush to the presidency. In turn, a good many understandably want the Electoral College abolished. We elect our members of Congress on the basis of vote totals. Why not go national?

But should we? The issue isn’t quite so simple as there exist good arguments either way.

Let’s take a careful look.

Why did the Founding Fathers establish the Electoral College?

The Electoral College goes back to 1787, the year in which our Constitution was first formulated. Because of the expanding geography of the new nation, the Fathers feared local voters wouldn’t have access to the fullest information on a candidate outside their region to choose wisely.

We need to remember there were then just 13 states with a population of only 4 million stretched across a 1000 mile seaboard. There was also the danger that more populated states might dominate lesser populated states. This has remained an issue right up to the present day.

Some, distrusting the electorate, saw the College as a buffer against their folly. Alexander Hamilton, for example, who championed the Electoral College, argued in Federalist Papers 68 that it would preempt “any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications” from taking office.

Ironically, it’s this very set-up that on December 19 will allow electors to rubber-stamp the election into fact, unless they choose to revolt against the norm, which has never occurred.

Hamilton, living in a time when there were no political parties, hadn’t foreseen the rise of partisanship.   On the contrary, electors would be free to vote their conscience. The 12th Amendment changed all that with the rise of political parties and their partisanship that Washington took pangs to warn us about in his sobering farewell address.

Hamilton’s proposal, however, was boosted at the time by the interests of Southerners, particularly Virginians, who feared The Northern states, with their greater population, might threaten slavery. Thus, Blacks were partially counted in the Southern population totals, even though they couldn’t vote, allowing Southern states greater electoral clout. Accordingly, Virginians held the presidency 32 of the first 36 years under the new Constitution.

This ugly truth is yet another reason why some have called for the ending of the Electoral College, since they view it as conceived in slavery.

On the other hand, the Founding Fathers were sincerely troubled about equity at every level, whether within state legislatures, or at the Federal level where it’s embedded in the checks and balances provided by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, or between larger and smaller states. Balance likewise undergirds resolving the tensions between federal and local sovereignty.

How the Electoral College works:

There are presently 538 electors.

Each state receives as many electors as it has representatives and senators in Congress.

The number of representatives is reapportioned every ten years in conjunction with the census.

States with small populations are assigned 3 electoral votes to promote equity; currently six states, plus D. C.

Residents of U. S. territories, even though they’re American citizens, cannot vote.

Normally, the winner takes all, even if the vote difference is marginal. Two states, however, Maine and Nebraska, proportion their vote, based on the state popular vote.

The major parties nominate electors for their states in the months preceding the election.   Some states resort to primaries for that purpose, or rely on a party committee, or state party convention. Electors are frequently selected on the basis of their service to their party.

No person holding federal office, elected, or appointed, is eligible.

The party winning the state vote determines the ultimate electors.

Every effort is made by political parties to assure their electors vote faithfully as pledged, even though the Constitution allows free choice. Those who don’t comply are known as “faithless” electors and may suffer severe censure from their party.

Each Elector delegation votes in their state capitol, this year, on December 19.

Still, 21 states don’t require a pledge at all, potentially setting up a scenario where a few faithless electors could upset even a candidate receiving a majority vote nationally, wiping out the choice of millions. As I write, this weakness lies at the heart of largely Democrat efforts to halt Trump’s accession to the presidency. So much for the fairness argument for Electoral reform.

Tabulation takes place January 6, 2017, in the House of Representatives in Washington.

If the president-elect fails to muster the 270 vote majority, then the final decision on who becomes president is made within the House of Representatives. It could be someone other than the president-elect.

If the House can’t reach a decision by Inauguration Day, the Vice President elect becomes president until such a decision is reached.

The choice of the Vice President ultimately takes place in the Senate, with each senator having one vote. This actually occurred once in our political history when, in 1836, Martin Van Buren’s running mate fell short of the electoral majority by one vote.

Proposals to change or abolish the Electoral College:

Over 700 proposals re: the Electoral College have been made, virtually none of them successful. Only two proposals concerning the Electoral College have ever passed in Congress and succeeded as amendments to the Constitution (12th and 23rd Amendments).

The process of amending the Constitution under the provisions of Article V in the Constitution makes it exceedingly difficult for any proposal to succeed, since it requires a two thirds majority in both chambers of Congress and legislative approval by three quarters of the states.

There is, however, a bi-partisan movement underway known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would ultimately preserve the Electoral College, yet assure the top national vote winner secures the presidency. No amendment process would apply, since our Constitution, Article II, Section I, allows states to devise their own elector process.

Specifically. It would be a multi-state pledge to cast their electoral votes for the candidate winning the popular vote nationally. So far, ten states and the District of Columbia have signed on, representing a total of 165 electoral votes.   Pro-compact bills, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, have been introduced in other states as well. Imminent passage is anticipated in MN and PA. Should the compact achieve a majority of electoral votes through its member states, it would then go into effect.

One of the chief arguments against its abolishment is that it disenfranchises smaller, less populated states, especially in the American heartland, against the likes of gargantuan states like California and New York.

Candidates wouldn’t visit the small states like New Hampshire, say opponents to change, even if deemed swing states, but shift their focus to metropolitan areas. Cities like New York, Chicago, and Houston would dominate. What happens to rural America?

On the other hand, those for change or abolishing the Electoral College, contend that the small states, if anything, are overly represented. We use the most vote method within our states to elect members to local and national office. Why not go nationwide?

Should the Electoral College be Abolished?

Many think so.  After all, it denied the Presidency on five occasions to candidates receiving a majority of votes: 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.  Polls reveal overwhelming support for abolishing the College.  Even president-elect Donald Trump embraces the idea of a popular vote replacing the Electoral College.

Nonetheless, as I pointed out at the outset, there aren’t any easy answers.

One of the chief arguments against its abolishment is that it disenfranchises smaller, less populated states, especially in the American heartland, against the likes of gargantuan states like California and New York.

Candidates wouldn’t visit the small states like New Hampshire, say opponents to change, even if deemed swing states, but shift their focus to metropolitan areas. Cities like New York, Chicago, and Houston would dominate. What happens to rural America?

On the other hand, those for change or abolishing the Electoral College, contend that the small states, if anything, are overly represented. We use the most vote method within our states to elect members to local and national office. Why not go nationwide?

What’s more, states thought to be in the opposition’s column are already neglected. In 2016, PBS NewsHour found that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had made more than 90% of their campaign stops in just eleven so-called battleground states. Of those visits, nearly two-thirds took place in the four battlegrounds with the most electoral votes — Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina.

My own opinion, and that’s all it is, favors the genius argument at the heart of the American experiment, which is balance.   Historically, we’ve been a nation constructed uniquely through a system of checks and balances, derived from compromise, or consensus. Without it, we could never have achieved the initial unity that founded a nation.

Tensions have always existed in our nation, not only between North and South, but the coasts versus heartland America. The Electoral College does sometimes fail, but it has served us well overall, preserving equilibrium between myriad factions.

Of the ten states that have joined the compact thus far, all of them are blue states or jurisdictions (i.e, D. C.) despite bi-partisan advocates. Passage is anticipated in Oregon, another blue state.   While currently red states like Arizona and Oklahoma are possible candidates for inclusion, the movement is largely Democratic in its inspiration. Two states, MN and PA, are likely to join the compact very soon–again, traditional blue states.

Present states along with the District of Columbia that have adopted the National Popular Vote initiative are CA, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA. Collectively, they now represent 165 electoral votes, or nearly two-thirds of the required 270 majority.

I find this proposal that would assign the state electoral vote to the top voter candidate nationally an absurdity, since it would wipe out even a state’s plurality vote, if that candidate drew up short in a national vote. Let’s take PA, for example; if the compact were in effect, the majority wold see their vote cast aside. Now how fair is that that?

Do you remember looking at the 2016 election geographical map, the small blue areas, almost dots, in a vast tapestry of red, what we used to call “fly-over America”? Thirty states voted for Trump. The Compact would nullify their majority vote in all of them.

Now how is that fair?

Instead, I would like to see a mix of both positions with adoption of a proportional vote measure, doing away with the winner take all–why vote?–and honoring the votes cast by the minority. Let’s allow them a voice in the best interests of a democracy. A proportional College has been proposed before, but went down to defeat in the Congress.

I believe it would result in greater vote turnout. It was hard for me, for example, a Democrat progressive, to get motivated to vote here in Kentucky, overwhelmingly Trump country. In the 2012 election, voter turnout was highest in swing states, where the vote could have gone either way.

In that election, Obama massively won the electoral vote, 332 to 206 for Romney. If it had been a proportional vote, the result would be 51% to 47%, much closer indeed and more reflective of the popular vote (Justin Curtis, “Recrafting the Electoral College” (harvardpoltics.com).

Given the continuing growth of America’s metropolitan areas, particularly on both coasts with their predominantly regional interests, we could end-up with a facsimile of Mexico’s Revolutionary Party, which governed that country for seventy-five years. In short, the end of our two party system which, for better or worse, has worked well for us.

As is, these power states are likely to continue their rapid growth, meaning still more electoral votes by way of a substantial increase in population.   Presently, one in every three immigrants chooses CA, FL, OR NY as their residence, exacerbating their population boom.

In life, I’ve learned from the hard places to be wary of peripheries, often embraced by purists. I prefer the middle, drawing from the best of opposing scenarios.

I think a proportional allocation is the reasonable approach. Why resort to a system that like the present Electoral College abrogates the minority vote? Isn’t that the problem now?

Dividing the electoral votes provisionally preempts that unfairness, while achieving recognition for all regional interests like that of coal miners in West Virginia as well as Silicon Valley high techs in CA.

It levels the playing field. I’m all for that!

What does the future hold for the Electoral College?

I think the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is likely to succeed in attracting a sufficient number of states, among them some Republican ones, that will put the measure over the top. This surprises me, since history’s quirk has yielded a Republic president in all five elections featuring a losing candidate who had won the popular vote, the most egregious being Hillary Clinton’s loss, though garnering a nearly 3 million plurality.

My hunch is that the Compact could possibly be in place even by the next election, and surely by the second, making old hat of the so-called “battleground” or “swing” states scenario, distorting the campaign focus. Campaigning would shift to the most populous states with their big cities and metropolitan areas in particular.

This will be great news for minorities, as both Democrats and Republicans will find them especially attractive to a national ticket, given their urban numbers. The sad fact is that Clinton lost the election because of a drop-off in Black voting since the the 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

If the vastly white Republicans, regardless of what the future holds for the Electoral College, don’t catch-up with the changing demographic and continue sponsoring legislation that would threaten popular entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, along with alienating immigrants, they are doomed to obsolescence, apart from their remaining clout in rural areas at the state level. It’s just that the Compact will force their hand even sooner.

But there’s also a big if that clouds the future of the Compact, since conservatives are likely to view it as an end run around the Constitution and challenge it, both in Congress and the courts, perhaps ultimately reaching the Supreme Court.

There is, after all, that troublesome clause in the Constitution that states that “no state shall, without the consent of Congress enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power.”

–rj

 

 

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Apple vs. the FBI: How Money May Decide the Issue

thThings are really heating up these days in the ongoing dispute between Apple and the FBI.

In December, fourteen people were killed by ISIL sympathizers Farook Malik and his wife Taskeen, in San Bernardino, CA.   In the aftermath, the FBI has been investigating the possibility they may have had accomplices. Backed by a court order, the FBI has requested Apple remove the security blocks on Farook’s iPhone.

CEO Tim Cook, speaking for Apple, refuses to comply, contending it would compromise the privacy of its smartphone users.

I’m not taking sides on the controversy here.  The issue is as heated as it is complicated, with the country divided in its opinion and perhaps SCOTUS inevitably having to make the call.

What does concern me is Apple’s new strategy to move the matter to the Congress for adjudication. (Hearings begin next Tuesday.)

Fact is, the Congress is hardly the right party to decide the issue, given the systemic corruption fostered by business conglomerates soliciting favors through huge sums of money donated to its members.

We see this, for example, with regard to the National Rifle Association (NRA), successfully preempting responsible gun legislation, despite myriad mass shootings like those in San Bernardino,.

In 2014, NRA contributions to members of Congress amounted to $984,152 with an additional $3,360,000 for lobbying.

What really fries my brain is that it spent a whopping $28, 212,718 in outside spending!

Apple, as such, is being disingenuous in attempting to shift the scenario to the Congress, having demonstrated a lengthy penchant, like its fellow high tech icons, in substantially contributing to the Congressional feedbag, their mission to deter any regulatory legislation that would rein them in. In other words, a good many Congressional members owe them favors and now’s an opportune time to collect and circumvent the courts.

Since 1990, Apple has contributed $1,902,870 and spent $27,083,008 on lobbying.

Bernie Sanders was right when he denounced PAC money contributions as undermining our democratic franchise: “People aren’t dumb.” These donors don’t give willy-nilly, but expect something in return.

On the other hand, even Bernie has had his hand in the till, ranking second among senators in receiving money from Apple and its employees.

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Now let’s see how the system filters out elsewhere. The most prominent Democrat opposing Apple on the issue is Diane Feinstein.   Guess what? You’ll find her absent from the list of top recipients of money from Apple and its allies that include Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter.  These conglomerates are not about to waste their money on those opposing their interests.

In third world countries, we’d call it bribery.

In the U. S.  Congress, many are willing to take the bribe.

–rj

Bibliography:

OpenSecrets.org

IVN

 

 

 

 

Cultivating Stillness

photo_20I am full of early morning,
tucked beneath my comforter,
stretching my legs,
my brain filling its daily bucket of anxieties
sufficient for another day’s wrestlings.

These several days I’ve laid siege to my citadel of habit,
rising in winter’s early morning coldness
to meditate in dark stillness.
It’s not easy.

Plagued by inertia,
I prefer my cocoon to elbowing out of bed
and sitting cross-legged,
back held straight,
shoulders pushed back.

Engulfed by morning’s opaqueness,
my wayward mind wanders aimlessly
and I am lost in a dark wood.

But it suffices,
for Zen absolves human frailty.
Mind needn’t be emptied,
and it’s mindfulness I lack:

To know the moment
and seize the solace of the Now.
To listen, but not engage.

I trace the pulse of limb and muscle.
I tune in to muffled beating of day’s snare drum
amid gathering pink of celestial fingers.
I count my breaths.

Cultivating stillness,
I discover calm,
and listening,
I grow wise.

–rj

 

 

 

Paris Bombings, Public Response, and the New Tribalism

CTyf4XOWUAA3a4JEvil is very real and as we know from the Paris mayhem, universal. ISIS, of course, is its mirror image.

This week, Kurdish Peshmerga troops, retaking the city of Sinjar in northern Iraq, discovered two mass graves just outside the city. One contained the bodies of 78 elderly women shot by ISIS; the other, some 60 men, women and children, presumably Yazidis, executed when ISIS captured the city a year ago.

These past several weeks have, in fact, marked a turn in ISIS strategy, since the free flow of recruits has nose-dived with the tightening of borders adjacent to Syria and Iraq and the entrance of Russia into the Syria conflict.

Accordingly, what’s transpired in France may only be the opening round as ISIS licks its wounds.

In the West, we are rightfully angry and troubled by the Parisian carnage. In Facebook, many of us have changed our profile images to include the French flag or Eiffel Tower to show our solidarity.

Contrast this with our visceral indifference with its ethnocentric moorings to ISIS’s barbarism on Muslims or those we perceive as political adversaries. In fact, Muslims have been its greatest victims.

A Russian commercial jet recently went down in the Sinai, taking 224 lives. Intelligence sources suggest a bomb had been placed aboard and ISIS, as with the Parisian violence, claimed they were behind it.

In Lebanon just one evening removed from the Paris massacre, a Hezbollah neighborhood was bombed, resulting in 43 deaths. Again, ISIS was the perpetrator.

In October, 99 lives were taken in twin bombings in Ankara, Turkey.  Although ISIS hasn’t claimed responsibility, they are believed responsible.

Meanwhile, media are saturated with coverage of the Paris horror, as they should be; yet by the same token, the coverage given to the aforementioned violent episodes have proven miniscule.

I’ve seen this same scenario repeated in natural calamities as well. Recently, earthquakes occurred in Pakistan and Iran. Coverage? Well. There’s always Google.

The Russians we don’t care much about these days, so our interest in the Sinai crash seems more out of curiosity as to its cause and not from compassion.

Last week’s bombings in Beirut: So what? These were Muslims, weren’t they? And I should add, Hezbollah. Israel knows their terrorism first hand, so they get what they deserve. Problem is, the casualties were civilian, many of them women and children.

Turkey? Isn’t that something we’ll be eating soon? Ankara? For many Americans, where the hell is that? For the record, it has a population of nearly 5 million! That’s twice the population of Paris!

Think about this: The greatest humanitarian crisis of our time is that of 4 million Syrian refugees, along with another 8 million dislocated Syrians within their country. Our response: bickering as to whether we should take in 30,000 or 65,000, or any at all as some of the GOP presidential candidates have suggested.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post informs us that American contributions to international causes has declined over the last two years.

I think of Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, who nails down the cruelty of indifference to the sufferings of those we see as different from ourselves, taking the liberty to replace Jew with Muslim:

I am a Muslim. Hath not a Muslim eyes? Hath not a Muslim hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

Let’s call our indifference, or xenophobia, what it really is–a return to the tribalism we thought we Westerners had shed long ago.

–rj

 

 

 

 

 

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