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On the Blame Game: Essay for June 30, 2012

Oh my, is there ever lots of gnashing of teeth going on over the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. There is a lot of name calling, too. After all, someone must be to blame for this horrible act.

Is it Chief Justice Roberts? He is the conservative who voted with the liberal side of the court tilting the balance to the left. He could have used his vote to end the entire matter of Obamacare once and for all. He did not. Roberts: guilty!

Then there is the grand perpetrator himself, President Obama. Wasn’t this his idea to begin with? He spent his first 14 months in office cramming this package down our throats. We did not want it and he would not listen to our clamor. Obama: guilty!

What about former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi? Was there ever a bigger cheerleader for this monstrosity of legislation than her? Remember how she told us that we would have to pass the bill first so that we could find out what’s in it? Well, we certainly know now. Pelosi: guilty!

How about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Remember how he would not even let the bill go through a conference process? That effectively neutered the role of newly elected Senator Scott Brown from weighing in as the 41st vote. Reed: guilty!

No conversation about blame for any unfortunate outcome of the Obama Administration would be complete without the mention of former President George W. Bush. Surely there is some sort of blood on his hands. Nonsense, you say? Let’s look at some facts.

While George Bush was eking out the 2000 elections with the thinnest of electoral margins, the House and Senate were under slight Republican control. In the painful wake of the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 midterms improved the Republican House margin by 8 seats. By 2004 we were involved in two wars. Bush carried 31 States and the Republicans expanded control of the House by 3 more seats and the Senate by 4. Bush now enjoyed some comfortable legislative margins on top of his reelection. But the years between 2004 and 2006 were not kind to Republicans. The wars lingered and casualties mounted. Deficit spending was increasing. Government expansion surpassed that of his Democratic predecessors.
The mid-term elections of 2006 swung the House decisively into Democrat hands as they picked up 31 seats. The Senate lurched into effective Democratic control by a slim majority. Bush: guilty!

The rise of hope and change took America by storm in 2008 and led to a clean Democrat sweep into power by very effective margins in both chambers of Congress. The Republicans lost 20 seats in the House and 7 seats in the Senate.

Emboldened by raw power and a perceived mandate of the people for change, the Reed-Pelosi juggernaut got moving and it did not stop until the final, cowardly vote was taken to pass the Affordable Care Act by the very slimmest of margins without a single Republican vote. Not a single Republican vote.

Where had all of the Republicans gone? They were voted out and almost into extinction. Heretofore, legislation of this magnitude always involved a bipartisan compromise. But there was no need to compromise with the minority party so long as there were enough votes to pass. The Republicans were hoisted on their own petard as our Constitutional Republic spoke.

Ironically, the dastardly doings of the Obama-Reed-Pelosi triumvirate would be their undoing come the 2010 elections when Republicans erased Democrat gains of the past decade and captured 63 seats in the House and 5 seats in the Senate to regain at least a single toehold in the Legislative Branch. Slowly but surely the Affordable Care Act worked its way through the Judicial Branch. Everyone who pined for appeal saw the Supreme Court as the cavalry raising a cloud of dust in the distance. It turned out that they were wearing a different uniform.

So who is to blame? Is it John Roberts or Harry Reed? Is it Barack Obama or George Bush?

I’ll give you my opinion: it is all of us Americans, that’s who. We either cast a ballot for every one of those officials who voted for or against a bill or for or against an appointment or we did not. We either paid attention to the issues at hand or we did not. We either got active, informed, passionate and involved or we did not. We let the reins of government slip through our fingers such that the majorities in the House and Senate got so lopsided that there was no counterbalance to the myopia that seized the Presidency and Congress. We looked to the Supreme Court to bail us out and it did not do so. Americans: guilty!

Perhaps “Pogo” cartoonist Walt Kelly summed it up best in a 1970 strip when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Indeed he is correct. This battle is now in our hands. The Supreme Court has spoken. We did not like what we heard. The President has spoken. We did not like what he said. Congress has spoken. We did not like their arrogance.

Nothing will change until we re-engage in the political process and drum out of Washington those career politicians who are corrupted by their own avarice and intoxicated by their own saliva. Walt Kelly also said this, “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.” Neither is Obamacare.

Press on.

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On Our Iraqi Departure: Video Essay for December 17, 2011

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On Security and Liberty: Radio Essay for October 1, 2011

My first airplane ride was unforgettable. I was a 14 year old Boy Scout en route to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. The Boeing 727 was a passenger/cargo configuration that left LaGuardia airport on an evening flight making stops in Nashville and Memphis before heading west to Colorado Springs. Who could sleep? The choreographed hum on the tarmac; boarding not through a jetway but from stairs; the roar of a JT9 engine on takeoff and the ear splitting whine at altitude; the reds and blues and whites of the taxiways and runways at night. It was easily 3 AM before I fell asleep.
Air travel was alluring and exotic then. The Mutual of Omaha insurance kiosks reminded us that the dangers of flying were generally limited to full blown disaster and the occasional hijacking to Cuba. I cannot recall much in the way of airport security and visitors were free to come and go to meet and greet you as your flight landed.

Fast forwarding some 42 years to my experiences this week provides quite a contrast. You know all-to-well the drill. First one shows ID at check-in and shows it again for the privilege of going through security. The latest indignity begins at that moment when one has to empty the computer into a separate bin and place shoes, belt, pocket contents, and all liquids into another before going into the screening booth that reveals more about your anatomy to a stranger than you are probably willing to disclose to your physician. You can be swabbed for nitrates and patted down for who-knows-what. Long gone is the innocence of that classically romantic airport farewell between Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund in the movie Casablanca. The intrigue of flight and flying that captured the imagination of so many youngsters who, like me, used to hang out at the end of runways watching airport traffic has been traded for some sense of security that comes from proscription.
I’ve been traveling like mad since the mid 70’s. Airplanes and airports have been the target of choice for would-be villains of the skies for nearly half a century. I recall receiving some counsel back in the 80’s from a CIA agent who suggested carrying a Sunday New York Times in my briefcase in order to shield my body in the event of gunfire as I traveled through European airports. I wonder if a Kindle would do the trick.

All of this caution and willing dilutions of personal liberty are appropriate responses to the threat of terror and the responsible thing to do aren’t they? If our security consciousness were contained to airports I might be able to compartmentalize the experience as a focus of security necessity.

Here is where I get skittish. Scott Pelly recently interviewed NYPD Chief Raymond Kelly on 60 Minutes. Kelly runs a police department that is larger than either the United States Coast Guard or the FBI. It has its own navy, including submersibles and surface craft equipped with nuclear detection equipment that is sensitive enough to sense yachtsmen who have had recent radiation therapy. It is an army of 45,000 police augmented by 10,000 more civilians and its air force has the capability to shoot down aircraft, presumably civilian airliners turned into missiles.

All of this manpower is fed by sophisticated intelligence on the ground in all corners of the globe. The NYPD has officers in Riyadh, Baghdad, Singapore, London, Belfast and Islamabad, just to name a few cities. All of this feeds the intel beast. And here is where the slippery slope grows more so.
There is an underground bunker in New York City at a secret location. I’m not making this up. CBS took us there on a tour during the Kelly interview. The intelligence center processes all of the information collected from its myriad of sources. Those sources include some 2000 video cameras, soon to number 3000 cameras, spread across the city streets. They have the ability to automatically track left baggage and dispatch bomb squads to locations across the city.
Impressive capabilities, to be sure, but this is where chills went down my spine. The camera system has the ability to find and track a suspect by description. They demonstrated how a suspect in a red shirt could be culled out from a crowd and tracked across the city. Immediately, anyone wearing a red shirt in range of 2000 cameras became a suspect worth following. That might or might not include the person of interest but it would certainly include hundreds or perhaps thousands of innocent and unsuspecting citizens.

My law professor at Kings Point, Captain Laurence Jarrett, once said, “The right to swing your arm ends at my nose.” I know that the days of unfettered access to airports and airplanes is not going to return in my lifetime. That has been ceded to the War on Terror. And who would argue that pursuing the criminal terrorist is wrong? I am all in favor of pursuing the jihadist bent on terrorism.

The incremental usurpations in the name of security are transforming our society in ways that we could never have imagined only 10 years ago. These tools are used to close the net on the enemies of the state. The time that I am concerned about is when the NYPD is directed to divert its’ tracking from the suspect in the red shirt in favor of the suspect holding a Gadsden flag. Whom we place at the helm of this ship of state grows increasingly important. The public discussion of what liberties we are willing to cede to the state is needed now lest we incessantly redact portions of the Constitution.

As the novelist Henry Miller reminds us, “The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones which will give him no pain or trouble.”

Exchanging liberty for security is not an even trade.

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On Security and Liberty: Radio Essay for October 1, 2011

http://www.ustream.tv/embed/recorded/17604515

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On Remembrance: A Radio Essay for September 10, 2011

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On Remembrance: A Radio Essay for September 10, 2011

It was not until the afternoon of September 11, 2001, that I was able to gather my family together in our home and begin to explain what was happening. Nobody could yet make sense of the event but I wanted to tell my children one thing: this horrible event which was unfolding before our eyes was going to dramatically change the world as we knew it. Their childhood sense of innocence was to be forever corrupted. We held hands, said a prayer and like hundreds of millions of others, watched the television.

In less than one month our military forces were to engage the Taliban in Afghanistan and in March 2003 begin a war in Iraq. We are still fighting. My son was 8 years old in 2001, just an ordinary boy in third grade. He is eighteen now. I am his father and he is my son. This past weekend he also became my brother-in-arms. As I did 38 years ago, John took his oath of office as a Midshipman in the United States Naval Reserve and swore his allegiance to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which he was about to enter, so help him God.

And so, our War on Terror and terrors’ war on my family has come to this. My son has joined a long line of soldiers and sailors who await their turn to defend our country. Every generation in the past century has had their war: The Great War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Afghanistan and Iraq in less than 90 years.

This war on terror is breaking all of the rules. We approach our tenth anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom. We are painfully aware of the protracted conflict visible on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq but less so in the other areas of the world. Operation Enduring Freedom has taken us to the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, Trans-Sahara Africa, the Caribbean and Central America and Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps there are more.
The battle lines of the War on Terror were drawn long before they were made more visible by 9/11. We were in battle against the threat of Muslim extremists. The Foreign Policy Research Institute has complied a comprehensive litany of terrorism. The first World Trade Center car bombing in 1993 was masterminded by Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric. In 1994, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group hijacked an Air France flight possibly intended to fly into the Eiffel Tower. In June 1996 Saudi Hezbollah car bombed the Khobar Towers where Americans stayed. In 1997, Abdel-Rahman’s Islamist group attacks at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt. In 1998, the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. In October 2000 Al Qaeda carried out a suicide bombing on the USS Cole while in port in Yemen.

There is an inescapable observation here that the principal perpetrators of violent terrorism against the United States and the West are radical Islamic extremists. And yet, I do not subscribe the theory of guilt by association. I have met many wonderful practicing Muslims in my life and respect their faithfulness. I know Muslims from Egypt and Pakistan to Indonesia and Malaysia. Some of those I know live here in America. I have broken bread with them and call them friend. Those I know share the dream of working hard to achieve much and respect me for what I am and what I believe.

We know, though, from the brutally hard evidence of terror on our soil, that not all Muslims share the tolerance of my friends. We must remain constantly vigilant and committed to keep that threat in check. We cannot control the entire world but we can control our sovereign territory. And that starts at our borders. We cannot afford to be selective of who we choose to challenge. If our borders are porous for one, they are porous for all and we are less secure for the indifference. If we tolerate the lawlessness of those who would cross our borders without permission, we cannot separate those who may be seeking a better opportunity from those who wish to do us harm.

I believe we are still digesting the lessons of 9/11 and worldwide terrorism but this much we know. Our sovereign territory is our last refuge in a complex and interconnected world. We must control the ports of entry from all who would enter without permission. No one would argue that we should permit terrorists to enter into our country illegally. But some argue that others should be free to come and go as they please. Who can tell the difference?

Consider this. The threat of terrorist inspired violence touching your life pales in comparison with the threat presented by gang and human trafficking related violence. With all of our sophistication, we have not developed a device to determine intention. Our best defense is keeping those who have no legal right to be here on the other side of the border. In the meantime, my son, and brother-in-arms, will stand his post, along with several million more just like him, in a war that his generation has inherited so you may sleep a bit more securely tonight.

Herman Wouk famously wrote that, “The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance.” So we do remember and we must remember with honor and reverence what happened 10 years ago and beyond.

Press on.

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