Throughout the History of The United States of America, through our times of gravest peril as a nation, our country has been blessed with the presence of a leader who was able to rise to the challenge to overcome the difficulties to bring the nation safely through the danger and achieve a successful conclusion. The examples are many.
Even before this nation was a nation, we were astonishingly fortunate to have George Washington step up to the demands of leading the Continental Army against the vastly superior forces of the British Empire. Washington’s particular military skill was to know that winning crucial battles mattered more than winning every battle, and to understand that simply keeping the British forces in the field would wear down the resolve of that mighty Empire. So Washington was able to bring about victory for the cause of independence and to see The United States of America come into being.
But this was not all that Washington was to do for our country, as is well known. When the fledgeling United States was foundering under the ineffective and unwieldy Articles of Confederation, and a Constitutional Convention was called, it was Washington who presided over that fractious body and who ultimately saw the creation of our present Constitution with its carefully crafted scheme of checks and balances to foster liberty and good governance. And of course, Washington finally served this nation as its first chief executive, and established many precedents for the office of President that have served this nation so well for so much of its history.
So ably did Washington serve in these three demanding and difficult roles that upon his death official observances of mourning were decreed not only throughout the United States, but in Paris, London, and much of Europe. Through dangerous and fraught times, and immense, daunting challenges, The United States of America had the incredible good fortune to have a leader who was equal to the need.
When next the nation was faced with a genuine existential crisis in the face of the irresolvable problem of slavery existing in a land which proclaimed its dedication to Liberty, and the perpetual union of states was violently fractured by the slave-holding interests of the southern states, this country was gifted with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln understood that The United States of America mattered to the world and to world history, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, could not be allowed to vanish from the earth. Lincoln also understood that a nation with so high a calling as that of Liberty could not endure with slavery in its borders.
Through our deadliest, most destructive war, Lincoln provided the leadership and the vision, and inspired the nation’s loyal citizens to commit, even unto their last full measure of devotion, to preserving our union and to doing away with slavery. Upon achieving hard-won victory, Lincoln also exhorted a nation that: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Once again, America was hugely blessed through a time of greatest peril.
Almost seven decades later, The United States found itself in the midst of an economic disaster so great that ever after the term “The Depression” has meant only one such event. So profound was the impact of the economic collapse of the U.S. and its trading partners that one-third of the nation could be described as “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” The average American’s confidence in the economic system of the United States was profoundly shaken as millions became unemployed, and bank after bank failed, wiping out the life savings of millions. President Herbert Hoover was committed to a laissez-faire, hands-off approach to the economic crisis, and was on principle opposed to government assistance to individuals in any form, and the nation suffered grievously.
In the presidential election of 1932, the country voted overwhelmingly for Franklin D. Roosevelt, governor of New York and possessor of a respected and beloved family name. Roosevelt immediately set himself to the task of addressing the myriad problems that beset the nation, including reassuring the public about the stability of the nation’s banking system. Before his inauguration, Roosevelt announced a “Bank Holiday,” promising that auditors would assess every bank, and only permit solvent, stable institutions to reopen for business. This declaration brought an end to the calamitous bank runs of early 1933. FDR famously accomplished so much in his first three months or so in office that ever since, presidents have been evaluated on their “first hundred days.”
Roosevelt’s strenuous efforts did not bring an end to the Depression, however. As is clear from his second inaugural address, (wherefrom the above observation about one-third of the nation is drawn) the Depression was still in full force in 1936. And, in fact, it was not until the massive economic surge demand for military readiness and wartime production from 1940 – 1945 that the Depression was truly overcome. But by 1939, an even greater danger had arisen.
With the Axis powers waging wars of aggression and conquest across Europe, Africa, and Asia, the United States tried to walk a tightrope of non-involvement, a tightrope walk that proved impossible to continue. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR rallied an isolationist nation to full wartime footing. Again and again through bad news and setbacks, Roosevelt reassured the country that victory would ultimately be achieved. So much had the nation come to depend upon Roosevelt’s leadership that he was returned to the presidency for unprecedented 3rd and 4th terms. Though FDR died before the final victory was achieved, the United States of America had once more had the great fortune of a leader who was able to guide the nation through dark days and peril to achieve victory.
In times of crisis and peril, in periods of grave, existential threats to the nation, The United States of America has been astonishingly fortunate in its leadership.
I suppose every winning streak must come to its crashing end.
— Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.
You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” — Theodore Hesburgh
To those of us of a certain age, who vividly recall the civil unrest and social upheavals of the latter 1960s and the early 1970s, one observation seems notable. Despite the cries of “Police brutality!” which punctuated so many of the protests and violent responses of that era, it seems that cases egregious abuses of individuals by police were less prominent, and that cases of police excesses that result is serious bodily harm or even death of those in police custody were less common than they have been in the past three decades or so.
It is, of course, quite possible that reporting and coverage is simply more complete and more thorough than it had been in the past. As became clear with the case of Rodney King in 1992, the widespread availability of video cameras has meant that many actions that were once undocumented have been recorded in ways that drew natural public outrage. While it is true that we must always be alert to the fact that any single video is only one perspective, video evidence is very persuasive, and it could well be that this one technology, which has expanded by multiple orders of magnitude with the advent of smartphones, could explain the more frequently identified cases of official abuse.
However, it is of crucial importance to note a legal development that came about a decade before Rodney King’s high-profile beating at the hands of the LAPD. In 1982, our Supreme Court created a new and broadly applicable doctrine known as “qualified immunity” which broadly protects government officials from being sued to be held to account for their actions which violate Civil Rights and even established law. This doctrine was established in Harlow v Fitzgerald. It has been invoked in hundreds — possibly thousands — of suits asserting official abuse since it was created. An extremely high standard is established in this doctrine. Government officials are generally immune from being sued unless their actions violated clearly established federal law or Constitutional Rights.
This potent doctrine has been increasingly used to essentially excuse even cases of fatal force from police; concomitant with this increased application in cases of deaths at the hands of officials has been an increase in cases of public outrage and protest. One may well wonder: how can taking the life of a non-violent suspect not be a clear violation of an established right? Well, the courts have determined that Life is not a clearly established right, that’s how.
One could be forgiven for imagining that the words of our Declaration of Independence might serve as ample confirmation of a clearly established right to life: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
It can certainly be argued that this declaration is not organic law. It can equally be argued that this declaration is the de facto organic law of our republic ab initio; this is precisely what Abraham Lincoln asserted during his public and political career. Such an interpretation would mean that we Americans of any race, creed, or economic status are by right and organic law entitled to a right to life. From this follows that forcibly depriving anyone who is not acting with deadly, offensive force of life without clear due process is, in fact, a violation of their rights.
But such an interpretation does not currently exist. The deck is stacked. One can readily understand the volcanic frustration of those who see abuses continuing unchecked.
2 June 2020
“I am ashamed the law is such an ass.” — George Chapman, 1598
This commentary was written by my sister Susan in reflection of current events:
Re: George Floyd et al. Our country was born with original sin that has never been atoned.
The Civil War was brutal, long and bloody, but it could not atone. The 13th and 14th amendments could not atone. Jim Crow and the KKK ensured our sin continued. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 could not atone. One could argue, and make a very good case, that the south did not lose the Civil War. Slavery continues through deliberate and determined efforts to keep black people uneducated, poor and unhealthy.
The south is awash with rabid ultra-conservatives which as a bloc in Congress can swing the entire country. And they do. Mitch McConnell was born and raised in Alabama, the heart of the Confederacy, where white men continue to work tirelessly to ensure their dominance and steadily build their wealth. Until this country atones for its sin, all that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and their colleagues approved in Philadelphia the summer of 1776 will come to naught. Until the US Constitution includes all people in fact as well as word, we are doomed. We must correct the wrong. Now.
After over 400 years, it’s time we live up to our ideals. What started in Jamestown must end now.
Our original sin is ripping us apart.
Let us today address the “elephant” that is in everyone’s room: shoes.
For years, people have been told that they “must” wear shoes. From early childhood, we are inculcated with the belief that shoes help promote good health and hygiene, and that it is our social responsibility to wear shoes. People unquestionably accept the utter tyranny of stores and eating establishments and other public places posting placards proclaiming: “No Shoes, No Service!” and similarly oppressive policies. Shoes are even used as a proxy for decent, civilized behavior itself. Just try attending the symphony or dancing at a fancy gala affair without shoes. The oppression is real! We cannot escape the dictatorial forces which force shoes upon us.
Even as infants, we are commanded to wear shoes by well-meaning parents and care-givers. Yet observe the natural behavior of many infants who scream upon being forcibly shod, or the many toddler sho shed their shoes at every opportunity. In a state of nature, even the smallest child instinctively prefers the natural and inherent freedom of shoelessness. This freedom is a Constitutional right!!!
Our shoe-enforcing overlords also assure us that shoes provide for better hygiene and sanitation, and are a part of overall healthful living. But what are the risks really? No one gets hookworm anymore. And even those who do contract a hookworm helminthiasis are very unlikely to spread it to other unshod compatriots since the worms spread through fecal contact. And though some might argue that the obnoxious infection of athlete’s foot may be readily spread among barefoot folks, there are no studies that really confirm this. And even if such spread is occasionally confirmed, we know that athlete’s foot is typically the result of bad personal hygiene and is therefore the fault of those who catch it, as with most diseases. And why should I have to wear shoes because others are unclean?
“But,” we are assured, “shoes protect your feet!” And, “Shoes help to improve your posture!” Though those who impose shoes upon us may claim these things, where are the scientific studies to back up these wild and exaggerated claims? Sidewalks are paved and homes and public places are completely free of hazards to the unshod foot. Shoes are utterly unnecessary. Sure, if you fear for your feet, go ahead and wear shoes in public, but be aware: tens of thousands of studies confirm that shoes are completely ineffective in protecting your feet from harm.
In my own personal experience, I once suffered two broken and badly mashed toes when an 80lb stove dolly fell from a pickup truck tailgate onto my foot. Though I was at that time wearing steel toed boots, the injury happened nevertheless. Shoes provided me no protection from harm! Another time, in the desert south of Tucson, Arizona, I stepped directly on a three-inch spine from a desert ebony tree which pierced the sole of my boot and punctured the skin of the sole of my foot. The shoe failed to protect me! So even without relying on the hundreds of thousands of studies proving the uselessness of shoes, I know because my own experience perfectly confirms the fact that shoes cannot protect my feet.
There is simply no reason to wear shoes! They are uncomfortable, expensive, and awkward. Wear your shoes if you are too timid to stride forth unshod. Patronize those tyrannical establishments that compel shoe-wearing. As for me, I shall bold step forth, fearlessly free of footwear! Just say, “No!” to shoes!!!
Dammitol! I seem to have stepped on a tack!!!
In a Facebook group in which I participate, a question was recently posted to elicit thoughtful comment: “What’re you most afraid of?”
This is a good question, and one that is most pertinent to ask in today’s crisis-saturated world. What do we fear?
I’d love to be able to align myself with the thinking of Franklin Roosevelt who once assured this nation that, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” But at present it is not “fear itself” that I fear. What I fear even more than fear itself is ignorance — wanton, unreflective, unjustifiably confident ignorance which makes fun of sensible precautions and facilitates the spread of infections.
Today I read a posting asserting, among other points, that the simple act of wearing a mask “reduces oxygen up to 60%,” and “increases the risk of CO2 poisoning.” (I think they intended to terrify us with a warning about CO poisoning.) The picture also included some reasonably accurate concerns, such as masks can promote increased face-touching, but the premise appeared to be that no one would think to practice basic hygiene.
But this sort of hairy-scary hype against the wearing of masks is just ignorance on parade. For instance, masks are not, of course, impermeable to gasses. They are intended to permit nearly normal breathing. While it is possible that some reduction of O2 could happen from the effect of the mask, it certainly could not be 60%. A person who experiences a drop in O2 saturation of 20% — that is O2 saturation of 80% — is dangerously near death. If a person had an oxygen reduction of 60% — that is O2 saturation of 40% — they would be dead. No one has yet been recorded to have died simply from donning a mask.
Too, CO2 poisoning, while not an impossible condition, is astonishingly hard to achieve in any space that is even poorly ventilated, and requires a concentrated source of CO2, such as blocks of dry ice. Therefore I infer the reference was actually intended to have been to CO — carbon monoxide — which is indeed deadly in relatively small concentration, (> 35ppm) and which is a byproduct of our very own metabolism. However, the concentration of CO present in our exhalation is sufficiently negligible as to be safely ignored; even a gas-impermeable mask would not cause a person to die from CO intoxication.
By making frightening claims, and by asserting neatly precise numbers, the author of this deceit aims to have the appearance of “Science.” Of course, they are clearly ignoring medical, scientifically informed practice that has been in place for more than fourteen decades. But ignorance delights in attacking generally accepted practice as some sort of conspiracy against the ignorant. While there is every good reason to question common thinking, and to examine conventional wisdom, it is neither scientifically valid nor logically sound to immediately declare a premise false simply because it is widespread.
Despite the fact that we live in an age of ready access to vast volumes of reasonably reliable information on every subject from Science to History and vastly beyond, there seems to be a concerted effort to convince people to retreat into the “certainty” of their own fears, doubts, and personal inclinations, and not to disturb the lovely comfort of certainty with intrusive facts.
Writing in Newsweek, 21 January 1980, biochemist and writer Isaac Asimov observed, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Wishing a thing to be so does not, of course, make it so. Ignorance is not neutral. Ignorance is not benign. And when ignorance becomes aggressive, people die.
What am I most afraid of? Humankind’s deadliest affliction: Ignorance.
— Jamie Rawson
12 May 2020
I remember my Mother recalling that there were indeed some people who mewled and moaned about fuel rationing and other impositions. But she also noted that the average American bore these extraordinary impositions with the understanding that it was wartime, and that it was certainly not “business as usual.” Those who whined and complained about the necessary extraordinary measures were considered to be ignorant or selfish. People knew that the extraordinary circumstances of wartime demanded extraordinary changes in behavior.
Today we face a different sort of challenge with COVID-19. This is an extraordinary challenge that demands extraordinary reaction. We must not panic, but we must respond. Taking wise precautions is responsible and sensible. The disease is here now. Limiting opportunities for easy and large-scale transmission is a rational and reasonable response. Denying reality is not. There is no reason to panic, but there is every reason to treat this as urgently, immensely serious. Italy’s healthcare resources are already being over-extended due to the explosion of cases there. We need to work vigorously to avoid that situation here. Limiting contact is NOT a panic response. Not at all.
Large gatherings should be suspended, postponed, or cancelled. (Penalties, breech-of-contract, cancellation fees, and the like that are typically associated with such actions should not apply.) These are extraordinary times. Ordinary operations are inapplicable and insufficient. These are not ordinary times; this is wartime. Things must change. We can make the needed changes. It will not last forever.
Flower Mound, Texas
I’ve no wish to be a doom-sayer. And I am neither easily frightened nor am I paranoid. Yet I am deeply, profoundly troubled by trump’s latest move against the press.
With so much attention being focussed on an ailing stock market and an increasing concern about the Corona Virus, it is easy to lose sight of the utterly chilling fact that president trump has opened a lawsuit against an organ of the press; in filing suit against the New York Times, we see the unprecedented spectacle of a sitting president actively attempting to silence critics in the media through intimidation via the courts.
Despite years of blustering threats of suits, trump rarely makes any follow-through on suing the media, and with good reason: long before he assumed the presidency, trump was a sufficiently public figure that the bar for such suits would be extremely high. Heretofore, it would have been a hurdle unthinkable for a sitting president to even attempt. And, in fact, this absurd suit is going to go nowhere. Our courts are not yet completely corrupted; they will uphold the Constitution.
So why has trump pursued this particular suit, and why now?
One might think it is just an attempt to garner free publicity. The media that favor trump will surely find this inane suit a bold and courageous stand against dissenting opinions. Chilling in and of itself, but not unexpected. So publicity could be a motive.
But I fear the motive is more sinister in its end goal. The very act of a sitting president suing a newspaper for libel is so unnatural and so utterly un-American that it has never happened before. Not even Richard Nixon, who had such a contentious relationship with the press throughout his career, contemplated such an unorthodox move toward chilling Freedom of the Press. Yet by taking this step toward the trappings of a tyrant, trump is simply laying groundwork.
Even a year ago, a president who took such a step would have had critics and opposition even from among supporters and Congress members of his own party (back in the days when adherence to an oath to support and defend the Constitution mattered more generally; once upon a time, such oaths were taken so seriously that the wording was specifically crafted to ensure that loyal ex-Confederates could not serve.) But today, trump is testing the waters on all fronts to determine just how imperial he can be before someone, somewhere within the power structure tells him, “Enough!”
It starts as a mere fripperous lawsuit, but it normalizes a president punishing a dissenting press. Soon that “dissenting” press becomes that “dissident” press. The unthinkable of the historic past becomes the plausible for today; the inconceivable of last year becomes the inevitable for 2020. It is not so very great a leap from filing dogging lawsuits intended to intimidate newspaper after newspaper, or chill broadcaster after broadcaster, or silence journalist after journalist, to the next stage: actually criminalizing dissent. “But that cannot ever happen here!” people may confidently cry, “This is America!”
But sadly it could. Even now we have seen a vast array of actions that are so utterly unpresidential evolve into the new normal. We have seen sweeping abuses of power that would have greatly constrained or unseated previous administrations pass as if unremarkable. Freedom of the Press, alas, despite being a “God-given” right, is nevertheless fully subject to being revoked by human agency. It starts with previously unimagined suits, but where it ends could very well be a far further descent into the unimaginable.
— Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
— Edmund Burke