Our Revolution

I am reading a book that is a collection of letters, papers, journal and diary entries written by people who lived and fought during the American Revolution. It is intriguing, since it provides conflicting points of view — both pro-American and pro-English. It is fascinating, for example, to read an account of the battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina in 1780 first from the American point of view and then from the British. They read like there were two such battles! So much for objective reporting.  Several other things have already struck me about those articles.

To begin with, it is quite clear that the British simply do not understand why the colonists have rebelled. They remain bewildered throughout. They held the colonists in low regard to begin with and thought they would never be foolish enough to take on the British army; when it happened in Lexington and Concord they were dumbstruck. But through it all they simply couldn’t grasp why these “rebels” as they called them did not want the protection of the mighty British army and navy. After all, they had recently fought together to toss out the French from the colonies and why on earth would they not want to remain as loyal citizens of Great Britain?

During the war Britain made several attempts to settle the conflict peaceably, even to the point of promising no taxes whatever! But they never would accept the idea that America was an independent nation. Indeed, they scoffed at the notion. But it was American independence that was the sticking point — together with skepticism about the reliability of the word of the British parliament.

There were innumerable instances of utter brutality on both sides. The Hessians, who fought as allies with the British, along with various Indian tribes, were particularly brutal, raping, pillaging, and burning homes seemingly at will — despite orders form the British to cease and desist. But, on the other hand, there is an entry in a journal written by a colonial soldier who describes the killing of two Indians, who were scalped, and who were then stripped of their flesh from the waist down in order to provide the soldier with a pair of trousers! The entry is written in a casual matter-of-fact style that makes the reader shudder.

We read about the chronic inability of Washington to maintain a fighting force. His frustration with the unpredictable and undisciplined militia is palpable in reading his repeated requests for a standing army. And there were repeated requests for clothes and support as well. The militia was weakened by lack of discipline and short terms of enlistment; desertions were commonplace. When deserters were caught they were summarily shot (as were spies on both sides), but they were seldom caught and Washington’s forces were rarely numerous enough or well enough clothed, fed, and armed to successfully defeat the enemy. Three years into the war the army was exhausted and many, in the South especially, were unwilling to fight. Victories were rare. If the French had not decided to join the colonists the war would have been over fairly quickly and with a completely different outcome.

One entry warmed my heart since it was written by a soldier who fought in one of the rare successes Washington experienced early in the war: the battle of Princeton. The author describes the behavior of one of my ancestors — a Brigadier General who fought with Washington and who died from wounds sustained in that battle — as “courageous.” I was pleased to read that, but there were numerous examples of courage along with examples of awful brutality on both sides and the material provides us with a remarkable glimpse into the way people behave during  times of great upheaval. One reflection written by Thomas Brown to his friend David Ramsay about the war in Georgia in 1781 is worth quoting:

“A civil war being one of the greatest evils incident to human society, the history of every contest presents us with instances of wanton cruelty and barbarity. Men whose passions are inflamed by mutual injuries, exasperated with personal animosity against each other, and eager to gratify revenge, often violate the laws of war and principles of humanity.”

Additionally, we are allowed to glimpse into the lives of those who refused to fight. The Quakers, of course, but also many who remained loyal to England — even to the point of writing letters to local papers satirizing the behavior of the colonists. Many of these Tories, loyal to the King, later joined on the side of the British as the war wore on. But neutrality was itself a battle. We are allowed to see the conflict, even within homes, between those who thought the colonists were warranted in rebelling against Britain and members of the same family who remained loyal to the British throughout. In fact, James Fenimore Cooper write a novel about those very conflicts between two daughters within the home of a wealthy farmer in New York whose house was large and well suited to provide shelter and food for tired and hungry soldiers (usually officers, of course) on both sides of the conflict.

In a word, we rediscover the fact that war brings out the best and the worst in folks, which is not new. But we also come to realize that the issues that brought on that war were never clear to many who participated in it, many did not want to have anything to do with the war, and it may or may not have been worth such widespread death and destruction for so many years.

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Impeachment?

I predicted quite some time ago that impeachment of this president would not be long in coming. After all, he alienates everyone he works with and is determined to ignore Constitutional restraints as he does things his way — even if his way leads down a blind alley. There are simply too many powerful men and women in Washington whose egos are as big as Trump’s to allow him to have his way! Apparently the movement to impeach is growing as a recent article in Huffington Post reports. I quote a part of that article here in order to give my post some credibility:

Trump has been trying to govern by impulse, on whim, for personal retribution, for profit, by decree ― as if he had been elected dictator. It doesn’t work, and the wheels are coming off the bus. After a week!

Impeachment is gaining ground because it is the only way to get him out, and because Republicans are already deserting this president in droves, and because the man is psychologically incapable of checking whether something is legal before he does it.

Impeachment is gaining ground because it’s so horribly clear that Trump is unfit for office. The grownups around Trump, even the most slavishly loyal ones, spend half their time trying to rein him in, but it can’t be done.

They spend the other half fielding frantic calls from Republican chieftains, business elites and foreign leaders. Trump did what? Poor Reince Priebus has finally attained the pinnacle of power, and it can’t be fun.

It is one thing to live in your own reality when you are a candidate and it’s just words. You can fool enough of the people enough of the time maybe even to get elected. But when you try to govern that way, there is a reality to reality—and reality pushes back.

One by one, Trump has decreed impulsive orders, un-vetted by legal, policy, or political staff, much less by serious planning. Almost immediately he is forced to walk them back by a combination of political and legal pressure—and by reality.

I also noted some time ago that Trump is an impulsive man and thought at the time that his impulsiveness would get him into big trouble. He is clearly incapable of seeing the broad canvas or imagining the consequences of his actions — or caring what is legal or moral. He simply has a notion and then acts — usually tweeting about it as he does it. And then he waits for the glory to descend on him, people giving him the applause he thinks he richly deserves. If no one else will shout how great he is, he shouts it himself. He seeks to impose his sense of reality on the world around him, to force others to see the world as he sees it — with him at the center. He is a spoiled, delusional child who needs constant reassurance that his way is the only way. It was clear from his campaign that this man would be unable to work within the confines of a republican system of checks and balances. He has always seen himself as a dictator — like the men he praises to the skies.

In any event after only a week on the job it is becoming increasingly clear that he will be removed in the not too distant future. I suspect the Republican powers in Washington will approach him and offer him the opportunity to resign — as was done with Richard Nixon. Given Trump’s ego he will probably refuse and impeachment will proceed. It will be ugly and there will be a hue and cry from Trump’s mindless minions who will be convinced (as they have been throughout) that this man can walk on water.

My main concern, which I share with a couple of my favorite bloggers, is the damage he will do in the meantime. But I try to find solace in the thought that the damage will be less than it would be if he were to remain in office for the full term.

The Spirit of Compromise

The son of my blog buddy BTG recently graduated from High Point University in North Carolina. The commencement address was delivered by Colin Powell. (This beats the recent commencement speaker at my alma mater who was Michael Wilbon — one of the talking heads on ESPN.)  In any event, Powell had some wise words to share with the graduates and he stressed, among other things, the need for the young people sitting before him to get involved and learn the art of compromise. He reminded the students that the founding of this country was made possible only because of the willingness of those remarkable men to compromise. Somehow, that spirit of compromise has died.

Reflection leads us to a number of possibilities as to why this has happened. To begin with the obvious, the country is considerably larger and the political process much more complex than it was in the eighteenth century. When the founders were trying to figure how to escape from the stifling embrace of England, they had a common purpose. To be sure, there were divided loyalties, since many feared the wrath of the most powerful nation on earth — and wanted its continued protection. Bear in mind that the Spanish and French had been on the continent for years before the Pilgrims landed and the New England colonies got organized. Together with the native people, they were viewed as a constant threat. So a number of the founders simply were willing to put up with a few minor inconveniences, such as taxation without representation, in order to have the assurance that the English army and navy was there to protect them. But thanks to the foolishness of the British in Boston, the wisdom of Washington and Jefferson, and the persuasive powers of people like John Adams, the representatives gathered in Philadelphia were willing to compromise and declare independence from England. Without a willingness to compromise, there could have been no Declaration of Independence.

But the notion of compromise today is equated in the minds of a great many people with “capitulation,” the willingness to sell out, a form of cowardice. Loyalty in the political arena is not to an idea, as it was in 1776, it is to the political party (which did not exist in 1776) and to the corporate interests that support the party and determines reelection or failure in political office. Things have changed considerably, and it it’s not only about the increased size of the country, it’s more about what really matters. To the colonial founders, what mattered was their independence and ability to determine their own future without the outside influence of a power across the sea that really took little interest in their future, other than to be sure of a steady supply of tobacco and cotton and continued income from taxes paid. Today, there is no idea, except the idea of continuing in a cushy office (hey, it beats real work!) with the assurance of great wealth after retirement, either as a lobbyist for one of the corporations, or simply from the wise investment of funds made available during the term in office.

Clearly, Colin Powell was addressing the current inability of the sitting congress to compromise and see the larger canvas — the national interest that was once referred to as “The Common Good.” He knows whereof he speaks. If the reasons for this inability are not clear, then it is because the person who fails to see them simply doesn’t want to look. It is self-interest, pure and simple, the very thing the Greeks knew would eventually destroy any political body no matter how strong and well conceived it might happen to be. I suspect Colin Powell knows that. He has something that so many others in the public eye seem to lack: clear vision and the ability to make sacrifices that are necessary in order to guarantee that the nation he loves and has dedicated his life to does not take the wrong turn. His were words of wisdom, and one can only hope that they are heard not only by those graduates sitting in North Carolina, but by all who have ears, and especially those in power who determine the future of this country.

Actions With Consequences

Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado recently signed off on what are described as “tougher” gun control laws. These laws do not address the topic of assault weapons, sad to say, but they do promise stricter background checks on those who want to purchase weapons and they limit the size of the ammunition magazines. This would seem to limit the use of such weapons as the ones used in Newtown, Connecticut not long ago that fired off multiple bullets — as many as two shots per second. In a word, it is possible that the reduced ammunition magazines will also reduce the effectiveness of assault weapons, which are clearly designed to kill people and not put food on the table of a Sunday.  One can only hope. In any event, Colorado now follows New York with its tougher gun control laws and leaps ahead of Washington state and New Mexico both of which recently failed in their attempts to pass such laws. Needless to say, the Federal government is still talking about restrictions and the thinking is that after talking the issue to death they will swing and miss the ball entirely on the issue of gun control. So what else is new?

But what is most interesting in the article I read about the Colorado action was the reaction of the Republicans in that state who pledged to get even. As the article in Yahoo News tells us:

Republicans have warned that voters will punish Hickenlooper and other Democrats who voted in favor of the measures.

“I’m telling you, they have overreached, and there are going to be electoral consequences,” said Republican Sen. Greg Brophy.

And this seems to be the norm. Aside from the fact that several Sheriffs in Colorado have said they will not enforce the Colorado law (which is interesting in itself), those who profess to be protecting the Second Amendment to our Constitution insist that they will make sure those who voted for the new laws in Colorado are voted out of office come the next election. This, of course, is what happened at the Federal level in 1994 when a Democratic Congress under President Clinton passed stricter gun control laws and many of those who supported those laws were summarily defeated in the following elections. The opponents of such laws at that level, again in the name of the Second Amendment (which very few seem to understand if they read it at all) are supported by the NRA which in turn is supported by the gun manufacturers who have a not-so-hidden agenda and limitless funds and who are able to pretty much guarantee that those who support strict gun control in political offices do not hold those offices for very long. What spiteful personalities these important people have and such tiny minds as well. But this is the sword of Damocles they hold over the heads of anyone in public office who has the audacity to support stricter gun control laws — and this is why Colorado is the exception to the rule and why we are not likely to see any laws with teeth come out of the U.S. Congress this time around — or anytime soon.

What He Said!

[ This is a bit of a cop-out. But I spent Thanksgiving with my son and his family and wasn’t able to write a blog. But after seeing the feeble response the last two days I may stop blogging altogether. I must say I liked the time away from the computer! In any event, I am “borrowing” this editorial because I couldn’t have said it better myself. I hope I don’t get sued.]

LET’S MAKE FEBRUARY “NATIONAL GOVERNING MONTH.”

By Jeff Greenfield

Did you know that Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead in the Iowa caucuses, just 162 weeks or so away in 2016? That’s what POLITICO reported—“exclusively,” no less—60 hours or so after President Barack Obama was re-elected.

Did you know that Republicans are optimistic about re-taking the Senate in 2014, what with 20 Democratic seats in play compared with only 13 GOP seats? The Washington Post offered up a detailed look at the field in September, two months before the 2012 races had been decided.

Did you know that Republicans Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and John Thune might run for president next time, along with Democrats Andrew Cuomo, John Hickenlooper and Martin O’Malley?

Now I know what you’re thinking: Here comes another rant deploring these worthless exercises in political prognostication.

But friends, the truth is I have given up the ghost. The forces that propel the political community into premature evaluation—or is it electoral dysfunction—are simply too powerful to withstand. Would-be candidates have money to raise, consultants to hire. Those in the congressional minorities gaze wistfully at the perquisites of sub-committee chairmanships and dream of wielding a gavel and holding forth on Sunday talk shows.

As for the political press: nothing better encapsulates our sense of priorities than a single sentence spoken by one of the nation’s best-known journalists who had a front-row seat during Obama’s first term.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for three and a half years!” this correspondent exulted from Des Moines last January, on the morning of the Iowa caucuses.

(I am preserving anonymity because those sentiments could have been expressed by dozens of others.)

Taxes? Budgets? Two wars? Yeah, yeah, but this is Iowa, baby!

So, rather than emulating King Canute and beseeching the tide of campaign-centric obsession to recede, I offer instead a more modest proposal: Let’s make February 2013 National Governing Month.

For that one month, let’s have our elected officials agree not to appear at any political gathering; not to fund-raise; not to hold committee hearings whose chief purpose is to embarrass the other party. Let’s have the president agree to a similar set of restrictions.

Instead, for the entire twenty-eight days, let the folks we just elected to run the government . run the government.

Instead of running across the street from the Capitol to offices where it’s legal to make money-begging calls, members of the House and Senate would stay at the Capitol, possibly even trying to discover some common ground.

Instead of churning out press releases, Tweets, blogs, and talking points, the army of political operatives would find other work to do — perhaps cleaning up public parks.

As for the press, the First Amendment does seem to preclude any official sanction for political gas-baggery. Still, it is at least possible to imagine that reporters might be shamed into temporary silence when a normally effusive political community collectively said, “Don’t you know this is National Governing Month? Call me March 1st.”

Okay, maybe that “shame the press” idea is overreaching.

But we are, I think, already getting a sense of what National Governing Month might offer us in the way of a more substantive, less overtly politicized political atmosphere.

When Congress and the White House built the political Doomsday Device known as “sequestration,” with its toxic brew of spending cuts and tax hikes, the assumption was that getting really close to the “fiscal cliff” would be unthinkable. With that cliff only weeks away, some serious analysis about the priorities of government and the nature of the tax burden has begun to dominate the conversation.

Now imagine making that kind of conversation a permanent part of the political calendar. Who knows? In those 28 days of National Governing Month, it might even occur to folks that dreaming about next election might not be the most productive use of time and energy.

Well, this is a fantasy.

Good News!

I must confess that when the Sierra Magazine arrives each month I fear to open it because I know it will be filled with news about the latest environmental disaster and just get me all worked up. And, to be sure, this month’s magazine had the usual news about atmospheric CO2 levels in the Arctic reaching 400 parts per million, and the expected news about record high temperatures around the world and the depressing fact that a coal mining company in West Virginia is destroying the mountain tops along with the local economy. But there is good news as well.

First of all, we are told about Jessica Alba, the star of violent movies and also a beauty who graced the cover of Maxim twice, also has “launched the Honest Company (honest.com) which makes nontoxic, ecofriendly baby gear.” Jessica is interviewed in the magazine and shows herself to be quite knowledgeable about the uncontrolled spread of deadly chemicals in this country where only 5 of the 80,000 chemicals in this country have been banned, compared with 1,100 in Europe. She has testified before Congress to promote the Safe Chemicals Act.

Then there’s the very good news about the colleges and universities around the country that are taking steps to deal with the deterioration of the planet — ranked by Sierra Club and headed by U.C. Davis where “Lots of time and money go toward a well-rounded set of efforts, including being vigilant about using the school’s purchasing power for good, diverting around 70 percent of its trash from landfills, and offering transportation solutions: on any given day 20,000 bikes roam the campus.” The story also tells about Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford, and The University of Washington where remarkable things are being done by bright and concerned students and faculty to save the planet. The article goes on the detail 10 of the top schools and ranks another 90 in order of impressiveness in the eyes of the editors.

Of special interest is an article on “The Wizard of Oberlin” who “has a big plan for turning little Oberlin College (2,800 students) and the little town of Oberlin (population 8,300) into a model of how our species can live more harmoniously with the rest of nature.” The article spells out in some detail how this man of seemingly boundless energy, “a type A personality — possibly triple A.” is working with the college and the town to create “a laboratory for a new way of life.”

There are other articles of a positive nature as well, including one about Sanjit Roy, a man who has established  the Barefoot College in Tilona, India which “has trained about 250 illiterate and semi-literate women from rural, unelectrified villages in 41 countries to be solar engineers. After six months of training, these women have provided more than 15,500 houses with solar electricity in their home countries. The government of India covers all expenses.” Roy focused on the poor in rural villages because “he got to thinking that the poor were strong enough and proud enough and good enough to raise themselves out of poverty”  (a lesson for us all). He started with men, but they left their villages for higher paying jobs in the larger cities after their six months of training. So Roy concentrated on the women, wondering “why not invest in women, older women, mature women, gutsy women who have roots in the village?” It is a remarkable success story about how a person with energy and imagination can change the world for the better.

But most encouraging of all, in my view, was the editorial by Michael Brune who has spoken with politicians on both sides of the aisle and is convinced that there is near-unanimity in Washington that something simply must be done about climate change. As he says, he “keeps meeting people of every political stripe who share the values of justice and responsibility that are the heart of the [Sierra] Club’s work.” Both Republicans (who speak to him “off the record”) and Democrats agree that Congress must address the issue, and soon. “Mike [one prominent Republican said to him] we may not agree on much, but on climate change, there’s not really that much separating us.” As Brune notes, the Union of Concerned Scientists have already adopted “a national renewable-electricity standard that ensured that utilities obtained at least 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, and bioenergy by 2025,” insisting that this would “create 297,000 new jobs, $13.5 billion in income to rural landowners, and $15.3 billion in new local tax revenues.” The irony is that the political parties are so much at each other’s throats that they don’t know how to begin to work together to attain such a goal. Brune ends his editorial with a call for bipartisan cooperation that is not only sensible but absolutely necessary. Let’s hope the call is heard and does not fall on deaf ears. Now that would be good news!