Have a SAFE Memorial Day

Memorial Day
Memorial Day

From the Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive at the Library of Congress

It can be hard to remember, but Memorial Day isn’t about barbeques, picnics, or the start of swimming season. It’s about those who have given their lives serving their country.

By the late 1980s and prior to the 2001 attacks, we really didn’t have many younger people who had, personally, sacrificed their lives in war because the last war we had was Vietnam. (The Gulf War was short.) Today, we are still engaged in the longest war in our nations history, and we haven’t been out of Iraq very long, either. There are many more who have lost their parent, their child, their spouse, their best friend, or someone else important to them to war.

So please, remember that this holiday is about honoring the memory of those who have given their lives, and the families of those brave men and women.

It’s not national barbeque day. So, instead of saying “Have a ‘Happy’ Memorial Day, try “Have a ‘Safe’ Memorial Day.” While most of us, at least, are happy to still have our country and our freedom, no one is happy to have lost a loved one or friend.

So, please have a safe Memorial Day.


Manners Matter – Even Online

manners matterWriting a blog when no one comments can feel somewhat pointless. I know I could get more people to comment by being more, well, political in my comments. I strive to be non-judgmental, polite even, in what I write and how I phrase it. I use good manners.

That isn’t the way to have posts go viral. It isn’t the way to get millions of clicks. It doesn’t get much attention at all. Being controversial and confrontational gets attention. That’s why we hear about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, not Queen Latifah or Charlotte Church.

Why do I persist?

Because I have been the one whose views are ridiculed for too long. I lived in a very “tolerant” city for over a decade. Of course, they were only tolerant if you believed exactly what they wanted you to, in exactly the manner they wanted you to. Conversations about certain subjects were impossible because you either agreed with what everyone else said, or you were wrong. There was no willingness to discuss alternative ideas that both sides might agree on, even if it led to the exact same result the majority in that city wanted. It was their way, or you risked losing your job – if you were stupid enough to disagree at work.

So now, I am posting my thoughts and opinions. I try to be very fair about what I post, and I do research and use historical examples more than current hot-button issues. Even when I post on Facebook, I am generally polite. That doesn’t mean others always respond in kind – or that I have never lost my temper – but I do know that at least two FB friends have started making a deliberate attempt to be less abrasive in their replies to political posts, and that’s not nothing.

Why does it matter?

When any of us are rude, it makes the people we are talking to behave rudely themselves, disengage from the conversation, or both. If having them disengage sounds like a great result, think about how you would feel in their shoes. And think about how likely it is that you are truly so omniscient that you can’t gain something from discussing another point of view with someone.

I’m not trying to preach. I just think we all need a reminder sometimes about how we (re)act to others. So please, try to behave in a way your Grandma would be proud of – especially if you are discussing politics or religion.


Vote with Your Feet?

Vote with Your Feet. Would you move if you didn't agree with the law?

Vote with Your Feet. Would you move if you didn't agree with the law?A headline in early 2014 stated that Sean Hannity was leaving New York state because the governor didn’t like or want conservatives in the state. In the past, liberals such as Janeane Garofolo have threatened to leave the country if people they don’t like are elected. Whether Hannity will move is debatable, but Garofolo definitely didn’t move when she threatened to. Multiple gun companies have moved or are in the process of moving from states with strict gun laws to those that are gun friendly. They have all decided to vote with their feet because they disagreed so strongly with how things were going.

Would you ever consider moving your family or your business because you don’t like the person elected as Governor or President? How effective do you think it really is to vote with your feet?

In Colorado, three companies moved in response to a law banning gun magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. Magpul alone has 200+ employees and contributed millions to the state economy. Prior to the law’s passage, they had been ready to expand in Colorado. Now that expansion will benefit another state. If you were a Colorado voter, how would losing those jobs and taxes make you feel?

If you choose to stay somewhere with policies you strongly oppose, what is the best way to battle a law you believe to be unfair?


New Amendments: No Opting Out for Congress

Capitol Building Dome

Congress should not pass laws that apply to others and not themselves, or that apply to themselves and not to others. I thinker most citizens can agree with this.

The reality is this: either Congress isn’t doing this, and there is no problem. Passing this will not change anything. Or Congress is doing this, possibly frequently, and there is no way they will ever pass this amendment, so it will only ever happen is through new amendments passed in an Article V Convention and ratified by the states.

Capitol Building Dome

Capitol Building Dome

Congress may pass no law that does not apply equally to them and to all United States citizens. They may not be exempted from any law, save only that they may refuse to provide information or access if doing so could be detrimental to national security.


New Amendments: Balanced Budget

The U.S. Capitol Building

We need a balanced budget, but even more simply, we need a budget. Congress’ recent tendency to operate without even passing a budget at all is entirely unacceptable. They must be held accountable. The text below is one idea for an amendment to force that to happen.

The U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol Building

The federal government may not spend more than it actually received in taxes and other income during the previous fiscal year.

If Congress does not pass a budget before the existing one expires, they may not spend more than 95% of the income received during the previous year. For every month that passes, they must reduce the amount they may spend by 10% so that if the budget is two months late, they may only spend 75% of what they received the previous year. The Congressmen in the House or Houses that did not pass it shall also forfeit their entire salary and all benefits during the entire period between when the budget expires and a new budget is passed.

The portion Congress may not spend shall go directly to debt reduction or, if there is no debt, shall be distributed back to the states in direct proportion to their payments to the federal government to be used however each state wishes.

In the event that one or both Houses fails to pass a budget within three months of expiration of the last budget, no member of that House shall be eligible for re-election or to serve any further terms in Congress.

In the event that Congress goes more than one year without passing a budget, all members of Congress shall be removed from office effective the next election and not permitted to hold any elected federal office, including President and Vice President. For Senators who are so removed but who have only served less than their full six year term, their replacement shall finish that term and be up for re-election at the same time that the removed Senator would normally have been up for re-election.

In the event that both houses of Congress have passed more than one budget and the President has vetoed them, this shall be considered grounds for impeachment.

The next time the subject of a balanced federal budget (or the federal budget in general) comes up, what will you add to the conversation?


Understanding What a Convention of States (COS) Might Be

Constitution Hall, Philadelphia

The Convention of States movement is a call for an Article V convention to amend the US Constitution, within specified limits. This is not some kind of whack-o internet theory. State legislatures (multiple with more being added regularly) are moving on this. Some are in committee, some have moved on to the full Legislature.  Please visit the embedded link for the most up to date information, including ways to get involved.

Constitution Hall, Philadelphia

Constitution Hall, Philadelphia

While the aim of this blog is to remain non-partisan, everyone I know on both sides of the aisle and sitting on the fence agrees that DC is broken. The corruption has seeped so deeply into it that it cannot, will not, fix itself. Any solution must come from outside, which leaves the whole mess on the states’ doorsteps. An Article V convention is the most logical solution, albeit one fraught with questions and concerns for many.

Since we have never had one, the specifics are unknown. How to call it, if the calls from the required 34 states (2/3 of all states) must be identical in wording or intent (e.g., if 17 have a call for term limits and 17 have a call for one for a balanced budget, must a convention be called?), and how can what delegates debate be controlled (is it even possible?) are just a few.

In addition, a little-noticed statement in Article V  is “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” This means that the Senate will continue to have the same number of representatives from every state, regardless of size, unless every single state agrees. That means, quite simply, that there is no way our Senate, at least, can be changed very much because there is no way all 50 states would agree to it.

It is also unlikely that states would agree to anything that gives a great deal of additional power to the federal government simply because it’s a rare politician indeed who is not looking to increase the power of the institution (s)he works for.


The Up-Side of Reality TV

Clearly, there are far more edifying activities one can partake in than simply perching one’s posterior upon the divan and gazing at the “boob tube”.  But seriously, are we really that uptight? People need to relax their bodies and their brains sometimes. The simple truth is that in the modern US, that tends to involve watching TV. Sure, the theory behind reality TV is that we’re supposed to believe it’s, well, real, but not many people actually believe that. It’s too heavily edited, and partially scripted, to be truly real. But it still isn’t fully scripted, choreographed, and rehearsed the way “regular” TV is. The people are more varied. What other kind of TV has characters like Phil on Duck Dynasty or Maxim on Dancing With the Stars? Where else in the media do you see a comparatively balanced view of anything the Hollywood elite looks down on? Where, in fact, do you see people who are not attractive, thin, white, male, young, and all the other things Hollywood so reveres on TV so frequently?

No one is claiming “reality” TV is an intellectual pursuit, but that doesn’t mean people who watch it don’t engage in intellectual pursuits other times. Sometimes, we all just need to rest our brains by doing something totally different.

Part of the appeal, to me, of reality is that most of seems to be (largely) free of the usual Hollywood agenda. There is certainly an agenda to each show and it’s edited (and scripted, at least to a degree) to showcase a certain desired effect. For example, I know someone who was on National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers” show and I know darn well they edited that family to look  extreme and out of touch – but they didn’t make them look outright crazy.

I see a lot of posts and comments online making fun of people for watching DWTS specifically and reality TV in general. What exactly is wrong with making ballroom dancing look cool? How is making it popular a problem? I can’t begin to guess how many young people, sports fans, and others who would normally never watch ballroom dancing now know the difference between a quick step and a jive when the see them – just because they watch DWTS.

Where else can my kids see the kind of business thought processes shown on Shark Tank or Undercover Boss? I know it’s hardly a classroom education, but it does get them to think about things they otherwise wouldn’t. It also clearly shows that the way a person present themselves and reacts to others has very real impacts on their future in the business world.

Even Cupcake Wars  and Ace of Cakes definitely increased how much interest my boys have in both baking and cake decorating, and Dude! You’re Screwed! convinced my younger one to seriously start learning first aid. Depending on how long he sticks with it and how far he goes, watching that show could literally end up with him saving someone’s life. That’s a stretch, admittedly, but so is blaming all the ills of today on reality TV.

This isn’t related to our Constitution, but we need to stop being judgmental of others for every thing they do, down to the TV shows they choose to watch to relax. Even those of us who are actively interested in current events and politics need to take a break from it sometimes. We all have some things we cannot, and will not, accept, but really, is fussing over someone else’s choice of TV shows the best use of anyone’s time?

Next time someone starts complaining about reality TV, what will you add to the conversation?


Amending the Constitution

We the People

The Founders knew there were unresolved issues (slavery in particular) and others they couldn’t foresee, so Article V of the Constitution makes it possible to amend, or change, our Constitution. There are two methods, neither of which involve either the Executive or Judicial Branches. Both rely heavily on the states.

So far, there have been 27 amendments, all of which started in Congress. The first ten are the Bill of Rights and two states refused to ratify the Constitution without the promise that a Bill of Rights would be passed quickly and sent to the states for ratification. Twelve amendments were passed by that first Congress. Ten of them went on to be the Bill of Rights, one was never ratified, and one finally became the 27th Amendment in 1992.

We the People

We the People

Under that method, Congress must first pass an amendment with a vote of two thirds in favor. It is then sent to the states for ratification. When, and if, three fourths of the states required it, it becomes part of the Constitution. That means that while it only required ten states to ratify what became the 27th Amendment when it left Congress, it required thirty eight by the time it finally became part of the Constitution in 1992. Amendments that pass Congress are not guaranteed to become part of our Constitution. Not all receive enough ratifications to become part of our Constitution.

In the 20th century, many (but not all) started to have deadlines for ratification. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) had a seven, extended to ten, year deadline for ratification. After ten years, thirty five of the required thirty eight states had ratified it. The ERA is one of six amendments passed by Congress that failed to become part of our Constitution.

There is a second way to amend it. That is for the legislatures of two thirds of the states, currently 34, to send Congress a request for a Constitutional Convention. Other names for it are a Title V Convention (the Constitutional basis for the convention) or Con Con. Any amendments they pass will still need to be ratified by three fourths of the states. To date, this has not happened, but there are standing requests from 32 states to have a Con Con. That means we only need requests from two more states and it will happen. In this method, the Legislative Branch (Congress) joins the other two branches in playing essentially no role in crafting or passing the amendments. They actually call the Convention, but it is not their choice and they have no involvement beyond this. The states control the process from beginning to end.


US Army War College is Considering Removing Statues and Portraits of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.


Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Clearly, these two generals fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War, but their actions have been officially forgiven. In the case of Robert E. Lee, the resolution to the effect (and reinstating his citizenship) was even signed by President Ford. Apparently, at least one “unnamed official” believes he knows better than President Ford and both Houses of Congress.

Regardless of the side they fought on, Lee and Jackson were great generals and should never be forgotten. More importantly, students can learn a great deal from them and their actions. While this particular story is about the Army War College, it could have wider repercussions. Many military schools, government buildings, and military installations throughout the country also have portraits of Confederate Generals hanging on their walls.


Robert E. Lee

Both Lee and Jackson were graduates of West Point and served with distinction in the United States Army prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. They were not responsible for the war, but rather were soldiers who were fighting to keep their families, friends, homes, and all that they loved safe. Removing their images because a few, or even a great many, people do not agree with the cause they fought in support of is a very dangerous path to start down because their is no way to know where it will end.

While the argument against having them is certainly that they fought against the United States, the question that must be asked is how far we are willing to go in removing references to those we disagree with? Once we remove the images from the halls, do we remove the books that explain their actions, then the ones that describe them? Are we next to stop discussing the battles that cannot reasonably be discussed without mention of their commanding generals and how they fit into a pattern of battles? Does it end with a refusal to discuss the reasons behind the Civil War, save only that it was “fought to free the slaves”?

This final outcome is all the more distressing because at no point was the primary reason for fighting directly related to the slaves for more than a radical few. The South fought to defend states’ rights. The North fought to preserve the Union. And economic reasons were inextricably bound up in the issues for both sides.

Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson

Why study them at all, though? Why not simply study the Northern Generals? The reason is simple: why would any student willfully ignore the examples and lessons of someone who was great – by any standard – in their chosen field? No matter how you feel about the South seceding or the people who died in battles led and fought in by Lee and Jackson, their skill as generals cannot be denied. It was only a quirk of geography, particularly for Lee, that resulted in them fighting for the Confederacy instead of the Union.

And please know this: I write all of this as a died-in-the-wool, generations-long Yankee.


Sticks, Stones, and Renovation

The White House. The Capitol Building. The Supreme Court. The Washington Monument. The Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.  The Smithsonian Castle.

Each of these is a powerful symbol of our country, but they are also simply buildings. They are made of sticks and stones and all the regular building materials, nothing more or less, and the women and men who work in them are flesh and blood people, nothing more or less. Like all people, they work for someone. (Even stay at home parents are working for their family, when you get right down to it.) The people who work in those great symbols of our nation work for us. It can be hard to remember that since they wield so much more power and influence than any individual they represent, and control so much money, but they are our employees.

They work for us – and we can fire them (via elections or impeachment).

Our Constitution was designed so we can throw them out when they are up for elections – except for Supreme Court Justices, those we’re stuck with unless they are impeached and found guilty. Of course, we all know how easy it is to actually vote an incumbent out today. It’s on a par with getting a cat to dance, and impeachment is even rarer. However, it’s important to remember that we are supposed to use our vote to make sure the best possible person is in office, not the one with the most familiar name. The most familiar name usually belongs to the incumbent and / or the candidate with the most advertising dollars, neither of which tells us who is the best candidate.

sticks and stones

The White House was gutted and fully remodeled during the Truman Era. The last major structural improvements had been following fire damage in the 1810s.

Conservative, Liberal, Tea Party, Progressive, Right Wing Nut Job, or Libtard, we all seem to agree that, like the Truman era White House pictured above, our system needs some renovation. It doesn’t need thrown out, and the end result should look pretty much the same, but we need to modernize and improve the infrastructure and functioning. We need to make it more responsive to our modern needs. (“Modernize” does not mean radically change; it means incorporate technological changes such as the internet.)

The basic needs of the occupants of the White House have not changed in 200+ years, but the way they are met has. Chamber pots and outhouses were replaced by indoor plumbing. Candles gave way to gas lights, and then to electricity. Fireplaces and open windows are no longer used since central heating and air conditioning were installed. Likewise, our Congressmen now represent many times more men and women than they did 200 years ago. Our newer states west of the Appalachians are physically much larger than the original thirteen colonies. None of this should affect the basic way our government works, but, as with the change from outhouses to bathrooms, it can affect the day-to-day operations.

In the era of Twitter, smart phones, internet blogs, and all the other data storage we have, the government can invade our privacy in ways the Founders could not have imagined in their worst nightmares, but they can also provide checks against the government they could not have imagined. The point  of this post isn’t to go into details about how to reform our government, but more simply that we all agree that there is a need to reform it, and that reform doesn’t mean scrapping the good parts. There are many things that both sides find unacceptable. If we start there, we can make a lot of progress without a lot of fighting.

For example, it is unacceptable that the Senate has gone more than 1000 days without passing a budget, and isn’t even trying to pass one at this point. (The House passed several in that time; the merits of those budgets can certainly be debated, but it is a fact that they passed them.) It is unacceptable that the President presented budgets (2012 and 2013) so far out of line that not even a single member of his own party would vote for them, in either house.

You undoubtedly have your own list of what DC is doing that is unacceptable. I could be wrong, but I think many in Washington are sick of the way things work and would be happy to see the system renovated, but we all need to work together and we need to start with relatively smaller things that we can agree on. This isn’t about one party or one viewpoint. When we make it about one party or one viewpoint, then we guarantee failure. We, as citizens, must work together to fix the system for our nation. We must make sure that the voices of citizens, not PACs, or lobbyists, or fundraisers, are the most important to our congressional representatives and others in our government.

Gutting and renovating the White House probably seemed like a ridiculously huge task before they started it. Cleaning up DC also seems like an impossibly large task, but it’s one we simply must tackle. Tubs started sinking through the White House floors before the rot that had taken hold was taken seriously.

What needs to happen in DC before the rot there is taken seriously?