Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sundry thoughts on the Christmas Season

Merry Christmas! If the greeting offends, consider this your invitation to stop reading and engage other activities.

Each December heralds renewed assaults on our Christmas traditions. We must forego any Christmas themed activity on public property to maintain the separation of church and state, a concept credited to Thomas Jefferson. True, the Founders wisely avoided establishing a Church of America. However, Jefferson's words don't indicate a man interested in silencing religious expression or debate:

Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them; they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only.

Engaging in pure and open religious expression would, in Jefferson's mind, elevate genuine religion. Can we not apply Jefferson's approach in determining the nature and spirit of the season? We can. Therefore, I conclude America recognizes December as the Christmas Season, not the "holiday season." If not, why aren't there seasonal television specials titled A Charlie Brown Hanukkah and How the Grinch Stole Kwanzaa?

The Nativity couldn't unfold in today's America as it did in ancient Bethlehem. Depending on Joseph's age, he could be charged with statutory rape for allegedly impregnating his teenage fiancé. He would surely be charged with kidnapping for transporting the underage Mary across state lines, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Once in protective state custody, Mary would've received counseling and family planning advice from the nearest Planned Parenthood facility. Thus we would have the Greatest Story Never Told.

Consider the shabby treatment Rudolph received from Santa and the reindeer. The reindeer snubbed Rudolph because of his shiny nose, and Santa wouldn't even consider Rudolph for the sleigh team for the same reason. But once the fog rolled in and Rudolph's perceived liability became a needful asset Santa asked, "Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" Then "all the reindeer loved him." Rudolph must've been an exceptional sport. Else he would've told Santa and "all of the other reindeer" to kiss his rosy-red nose.

Many people experience a mild depression known as the post-Christmas blues. For all of the intense preparation, the excitement lasts but a few hours. Yet you can find hope and optimism among the cold leftovers, shredded wrapping paper, and bulging credit card statements. After December 25th you won't be exposed to Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Jingle Bell Rock, or Holly Jolly Christmas until at least next Halloween. If you still have the blahs, try seeking next year's Christmas joy in a tiny stable rather than a big box store.

Why is there a Holly Jolly Christmas anyway? Anyone who has ever tried to plant, prune, or trim that prickly stuff can tell you there's nothing "jolly" about holly.

Christmas is often abbreviated as Xmas, which most Christians find an offensive indicator of the holiday's escalating secularization. Actually, Xmas is neither new nor insulting. The abbreviation dates to 1551. The "X" is the Greek letter "chi," which is the first letter of Χριστός (Christos), the Greek word for Christ. The "X" is a direct reference to Christ, not a replacement for Him. Furthermore, crosses used for crucifixion came in several configurations: T, …, l, and yes, X. When you see Christmas abbreviated as "Xmas" remember its origin, think of the "X" as representing Jesus' cross, and refuse to be offended. Doing so entails dual benefits. You'll be happier and your antagonists will be suspicious.

In traditional America, immigrants came to our shores seeking a new life in the great melting pot. They retained their heritage, but they adopted and celebrated American culture and tradition. Those immigrants were determined and resourceful. In contemporary America we celebrate diversity, and immigrants are uncommitted and demanding. However, in the spirit of Christmas, I will make peace with modern multiculturalists: a Merry HanuKwanzMas to all, and to all a good night!

♫ Santa Claus ain't coming to town ♫

♫ No need to watch out. ♫
♫ You might as well cry. ♫
♫ Go on and pout, I'm telling you why. ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming to town. ♫
♫ There won't be any reindeer, or sleigh for you to see. ♫
♫ We've banned them all so we can prove our great sensitivity. ♫

It's no joke! The North Pole's favorite son was banned from his annual appearance at the Hollings Cancer Center in South Carolina. Said spokeswoman Vicki Agnew: "Because of our state affiliation, we decided not to have a Santa presence this year." The Center, Agnew continued, wanted to be "more secular and respectful to all beliefs. People who are Muslim or Jewish or have no religious beliefs come here for treatment."

Doesn't that make perfect sense? We can't have the State promoting biblical characters like Santa Claus, now can we? After all, according to the Book of Blitzen, Chapter Three, it was Santa Claus who led the Israelites out of the Arctic Circle, parting Rudolph the Red-nosed Sea along the way. And the Gospel according to Comet tells how Santa came to grant strength to the lame, sight to the blind, and knowledge to the foolish.

Ms. Agnew contends the decision wasn't "meant to be cold." If that's true, then it was meant to be stupid; it's the only other plausible explanation. What a shame Vicki Agnew wasn’t there when Santa was bringing knowledge to the foolish; she could use a miracle.

Oh well, 'tis the season. America has come to herald each Christmas with renewed assaults on common sense. We ban Santa Claus and prohibit nativity displays. We purchase "holiday" trees from big box stores whose clerks are instructed to greet us with the innocuous "happy holidays." Schoolchildren participate in "winter celebrations" rather than Christmas plays. And we endure it all so as not offend the perpetually offended. Has Christmas ever genuinely insulted anyone who wasn't seeking insult to begin with?

Frank Cloyes, the Center's volunteer Santa, wonders when all this politically correct nonsense will end. "Let's have a little joy in our lives," he said.

Mr. Cloyes can take some solace. The Hollings Center revisited their lunacy after South Carolinians revolted. However, his fundamental complaint remains unresolved. Political correctness is the antithesis of joy, existing only to prevent joy and prohibit fun at every turn. Life must universally suck for PC multiculturalists to be satisfied. And the nonsense won't end until enough people summon the courage to tell hand-wringing busybodies like Vicki Agnew to go jump in a hole. In the meantime the Priests of High-minded Sanctimony will continue sacrificing America's cultural and spiritual traditions to political correctness, their god most high.

♫ So you better not count on seasonal cheer. ♫
♫ It hasn't a chance with bureaucrats near. ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming, ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming, ♫
♫ Santa Claus ain't coming to town. ♫

Friday, December 23, 2011

The GOP field: A wolf without teeth?

Can we say 2012 is a golden opportunity for the Republican Party? What case can the Democrat incumbent present for reelection? The economy is anemic and job growth remains sluggish despite announced declines in unemployment rates. Republicans have the momentum from 2010 and enjoy popular support for repealing Obama's signature achievement: ObamaCare.

Voters seem to like Obama personally. Yet their political ideals are more commensurate with conservatism. Sixty-four percent of Americans view big government as the country's greatest danger. Republicans are expected to hold such views. However, when 64-percent of independents and a sizeable number of Democrats also fear big government, Obama -- the commissar of czars -- has a problem.

Reasons abound for Republican optimism. So, you'd think the Republican Party would be drooling like a hungry wolf circling a wounded sheep. But further examination indicates the GOP may be a wolf that lacks teeth for the kill.

While voters prefer the generic Republican to Obama, only one GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, leads Obama in head-to-head polling. And his "lead" is within the margin of error. According to Rasmussen's December surveys the President enjoys leads of five points over Newt Gingrich, seven over John Huntsman, eight over Ron Paul, and double-digits over everyone else. The logical question is why voters would prefer an unidentified Republican over Obama but favor Obama above an identified Republican? There are several explanations.

First, Republican candidates are under a media microscope. Any faux pas generates instant negativity. Another reason is the incessant sniping. While negative ads are productive, pettiness is a drain on approval ratings. Once there's a nominee and the GOP targets Obama's record the named candidate will fare better. The easiest explanation is that no votes have been cast, meaning the polls are subjective. But a fourth scenario seems most plausible.

The Republican Party's preferred candidates haven't, as yet, generated excitement. Voters are ready to ditch Obama for a Republican. But they don't hear a consistent GOP message that reflects their current mood. Something is missing in the top tier, be it message, articulation, attitude, or believability.

A steady majority of voters believe the nation is heading in the wrong direction, charging headlong toward an all-powerful central government. Yet they possess little faith in the GOP's dedication to fundamentally altering the national course.

The antithetical poll result isn't doomsday for the GOP. But it does indicate the electorate's mindset. There's no interest in another Bob Dole, George Bush, or John McCain-style candidate. Voters distrust the burgeoning central government and its disastrous economic machinations. Opportunity knocks for a candidate who articulates a coherent message of fiscal discipline, national sovereignty, states rights, free markets, and international strength sans adventurism. In short, there's support for a Republican with conservative teeth.

Obama is the weakest of sheep. But if the Republican wolf expects to gum him out of office, get set for four more years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chasing threats while ignoring tyrannies

The most effective hiding place is often in plain sight. The human mind is more attuned to detecting potential threats than recognizing ones openly presented. For instance, a woodsman tramping through brush is wary of snakes. But while walking a cleared path the woodsman may fail to notice a snake until the last moment. Like a snake, the State is striking openly at our liberties while we're focused on possible threats among the briars and brambles.
Critics warned that Anwar al-Awlaki's death presented a threat to every American. Awlaki, you might recall, was an American citizen until killed in a targeted drone attack. His demise portended open season on typical American citizens who espouse ideas the State deems subversive. On the surface the argument appeared plausible.

Awlaki was an American citizen, but he was hardly typical. He wasn't targeted for opposing big government, occupying Wall Street, or criticizing U.S. policies. Awlaki dumped America for an area of Yemen known for hostility toward his homeland. Once there he allied with an organization that had declared and demonstrated its belligerence toward the United States. Awlaki willingly joined a foreign enemy on foreign soil, making himself a target in the process. That's quite different from killing American citizens on U.S. soil for alleged subversions. Anwar al-Awlaki's death established no precedent through which any governing body can legitimately execute an American citizen without due process.

Another example is the reaction to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (H.R. 1540). The law provides for indefinite detention of people engaged in terrorist activities, without trial, until such hostilities cease. Critics contend H.R.1540 authorizes military detention of any American citizen the State desires. Such warnings strike a chord with advocates of gun rights, pro-choice activists, and protesters of government from all political persuasions. But are the criticisms accurate? Maybe not.

Subtitle D, Section 1031(a)(d) of H.R.1540 authorizes the military to detain "covered persons" without trial until hostilities cease. So what constitutes a covered person? According to Sect. 1031(b)(1)(2), a covered person must have been involved in the 9/11 attacks, be a member or substantial supporter of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces, and have committed hostile acts to aid those forces. Also, 1031(e) specifically states that no part of H.R.1540 can "affect existing law or authorities, relating to the detention of United States citizens," or "lawful resident aliens."

Section 1032(a)(2)(A)(B) further restricts military detentions only to persons authorized under Sect. 1031 and clearly identified as members or affiliates of al-Qaeda and their allies. Only if subsection (B) were misapplied to include citizens engaged in sedition or outright revolt could the perceived threat materialize. Even then the rules change little. Since its inception the central government has enjoyed the authority to suppress insurrection. Finally, Sect. 1032 (b)(1)(2) plainly declare that the military's detention authority under H.R.1540 does not extend to U.S. citizens or lawful resident aliens.

Of course, laws can be changed, meaning H.R.1540 could someday become an imminent threat to fundamental liberty. The same can be said of Awlaki's demise. However, neither example allows the State to kill Bill Jones for his limited government activism or indefinitely detain Joe Smith because he criticized the State. While slippery slopes are legitimate concerns, indiscriminately incarcerating or assassinating citizens isn't a slippery slope; it's a headlong leap over a cliff. Slippery slopes aren't so noticeable.

People will react when they perceive assaults on basic liberties. Wouldn't detaining or killing citizens without due process be an open invitation to rebellion? Therefore, it makes no sense for the State to employ such tactics. It's much easier to grow tyranny a bit at a time, in plain sight, until the public becomes accustomed to abuses and willingly accepts blatant despotisms.

Both Awlaki's killing and H.R.1540 are like snakes in the brush. Both examples may be dangerous, but the dangers are more perception than reality. Because the threats are perceived we are more suspicious and willing to consider their potential dangers. While our eyes are focused on detecting the large snakes in the brush, we're ignoring the smaller vipers on our daily path; vipers that are continually poisoning our liberties.

Not much is said these days about Transportation Security Administration procedures that border on sexual predation. Yet their invasive tactics continue to expand. TSA agents recently detained a teenage girl because her purse displayed a decorative depiction of a revolver on the outside and were accused of strip-searching an 85-year old woman. It doesn't stop there. The TSA is conducting random detentions and K-9 inspections of interstate tractor-trailer and bus traffic. We'll eventually become so accustomed to encountering uniformed federal agents that their presence will be routine.

Such occurrences aren't unique to federal authorities. A Michigan sheriff has conducted indiscriminate checkpoints on busy highways. An Ohio sheriff's office faces civil proceedings for strip-searching a woman. Now, strip-searches aren't new and are sometimes necessary. But male officers assisted in stripping this woman, who was then left naked in a cell for six hours. Even if a woman deserves arrest, are we comfortable with our wives and daughters being subject to strip-search at the hands of male officers?

The first known arrest of a U.S. citizen using a Predator drone aircraft recently became public. But both federal and local authorities have previously utilized Predator drones, equipped with technology capable of determining individual activity from 10,000 feet, inside U.S. airspace. Furthermore, cameras are nearly as common as traffic signals on metropolitan street corners. While only the naïve expect privacy in public places, the possibility of constant surveillance should give us pause.

There's no need to seek affronts to liberty in the death of one defector to Yemen, nor do we need find them in legislation where their existence is, at most, miniscule.
Assaults on our liberty are happening right before our eyes. Why scour the bushes to find a snake when there are vipers aplenty in our path? Freedom would be better served if we were more attentive to obvious threats than to those existing in perception. Threats to liberty aren't always found in targeted enemies or slippery slope legislation. Too often the greatest threats are encountered daily, hiding in plain sight.

This column was first published at American Thinker.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A date that still lives in infamy

It seemed a normal Sunday morning for Oahu's military contingents. Early risers were out for morning chow, Sunday services, or the beaches and golf courses. Some would sleep in, burdened by the lingering affects of a late night. No one awoke anticipating war on 07 Dec 41. But the plan of the day changed when the first Japanese warplanes swarmed over Hickam Field, Schofield Barracks, and Battleship Row.

Within hours, well-trained Imperial Japanese Navy pilots had decimated the Pacific Fleet's battleships, destroyed hundreds of aircraft and buildings, and killed thousands of men. The attack drove a nation still reeling from a decade of economic depression to the edge of panic. Rumors swirled and West Coast residents feared a Japanese armada would appear on the Pacific horizon at any moment. In terms of national horror, only the War Between the States exceeds Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

You're fortunate if you've been privy to a firsthand account of the raid. I enjoyed that opportunity with Bill Rudder -- a Gastonia, NC newspaper man and inventor after the war -- who was an electrician with the 259th Q.M. Detachment assigned to the 7th Bomber Command at Hickam Field on 07 Dec 41. His contribution won't place him alongside Alvin York or Audie Murphy in American military lore. But Bill was there, he fought, and he lived to tell his story.

After realizing Pearl Harbor was under a genuine attack Rudder and two buddies, John Strickland and Sanford Garrett, rushed to the armory. They were given Springfield bolt-action rifles, an infantry staple from the First World War. Once armed and having overcome problems loading the Springfield, Rudder aimed ahead of a Japanese aircraft and sent a .30 caliber slug hurtling into the Hawaiian sky. He hit nothing, but jokingly claimed to have fired the first American rifle shot of World War II. Undeterred by his miss, Rudder joined fire on another Japanese plane, which trailed smoke and crashed at Fort Kam. Rudder later examined the wreckage, finding American-made Philco tubes in the Japanese plane's radio.

In the photo Mr. Rudder's vehicle is seen parked at the base of a flag pole while a bombed building burns in the background. According to Mr. Rudder, the tattered American Flag was the result of repeated machine gun fire from Japanese fighters. What a story.

The late Bill Rudder won't commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. In fact, few men remain who witnessed America's entrance into the Second World War. The youngest Pearl Harbor survivors are in their late eighties and their numbers are dwindling. As they die, so too will die their innumerable stories of anonymous bravery, stories like Bill Rudder's.

The last American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, passed away last February. In May, the world's last known WW I veteran, Claude Choules, died in Australia. When the last "Bill Rudder" dies America's firsthand connection to WW II will be forever lost, just as our connection to the "Great War" is lost. Pearl Harbor, 07 Dec 41, will remain a date that lives in infamy. But it will live as factual history, lacking the personal reference to which we've been accustomed. It will be a great loss.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The question of character

If a political candidate's personal conduct doesn't reflect their public character, said character is only as good as the nearest camera lens. That seems the reality, as determining political character becomes more and more a matter of party affiliation than genuine ethics.

For instance, Republicans roasted Bill Clinton for his womanizing ways. Yet many are excusing Herman Cain for what seems equivalent behavior. Democrats reverse the roles. Although Cain's guilt remains unconfirmed, Democrats treat him like the Devil incarnate. Clinton, conversely, could philander to his heart's content while Democrats marveled at his ability to lie. Is it too much to ask for a little consistency?

Herman Cain's credibility faces a stern test from Ginger White, a supposed 13-year mistress. Cain supporters are left wondering if their candidate is a scoundrel or the victim of an elaborate media smear. Either way no one should be surprised. Scoundrels abound in political circles and newsrooms have a history of intolerance toward Republicans. But media bias doesn’t mean a candidate is immune from personal investigation. That fact appears lost on
Cain's attorney, who said of the purported affair:

This appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults - a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life.

The explanation seems founded in privacy rights and liberty. What happens between candidates and their spouses is their business. But when marriage vows are compromised it raises questions about a candidate's honesty and integrity. Thus the lawyerly explanation is just spin and illusion, as one of our distinguished Founding Fathers would attest. Thomas Jefferson said, "When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property." For my money, Jefferson's logic applies to anyone aspiring to assume a public trust as well. There is no private life for anyone who desires to become President.

Extramarital affairs aren't automatic disqualifiers from public office, as Jefferson himself would confirm. Furthermore, waiting for a perfect candidate is itself an exercise in imperfection. However, seeking public office means exposing one's life to public scrutiny. Any situation that speaks to a candidate's trustworthiness becomes the public's business. If a candidate genuinely expects privacy on the campaign trail the public should question not only their credibility but also their judgment.

Since lawyers speak for their clients we must assume Cain's counsel spoke for him. Therein lies a problem for Herman Cain's
teetering candidacy (Cain has since left the campaign). Whether the various allegations against him are true or false have taken a back seat to a greater principle. When a man would assume a public trust he must consider himself public property. Transparency hardly seems an unreasonable requirement for a prospective leader.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A picture worth a thousand Squatters

It began as a gaggle of unnoticed activists, grew to national status, and became a cesspool of licentiousness, crime, lewdness, and violent threats right before our eyes. Big Labor and the Communist Party USA support its murky agenda, as do domestic and international statists right up to President Obama. Welcome to Squatting Any Street.

Amidst the slogans and chants emanating from impromptu communes across the country, the only clear message from Squatting is that banks suck and Squatters are
entitled. Other than that, Squatting Any Street's message has been incoherent. Yet no internal chant or external criticism can define Squatting with the clarity of a single photo taken at Squatting Los Angeles.

Plainly, this protester is upset. His sign implies that the greedy banks, the greedy rich, and the responsible people all suck. The wealthy become rich when everyone else gets hosed. End of discussion.

His view is common among Squatters. The mythical possibility of legislating economic fairness has consumed leftist orthodoxy since hotdogs became synonymous with ballpark concessions. Yet foreclosure, while an undesirable course, is the natural result of an unpaid mortgage. Squatters may believe banks foreclose indiscriminately to pad their bottom line. But with real estate values in decline, what profit is there for banks to possess properties worth less than their liens?

Notice the Squatter's contrasting message. If the banks got rich while homeowners were unfairly foreclosed, from what were the banks bailed out? Their profits? One Squatter with one sign exposes a fatal flaw common to Squatters. It's impossible for banks to simultaneously be both rich and poor. Expressing anger toward both circumstances is putting two and two together and coming up with six.

Only a failing bank can receive a government bailout. When a solvent institution receives government funds it is a subsidy. Truly, neither subsidies nor bailouts are part of a free market economy. But there's a distinction between them. Is it too much to ask Squatters to determine their message before they protest? Anyway, TEA Partiers were railing against both personal and corporate entitlement long before the first Squatters pitched their tents.

A single sign has illustrated the degree to which Squatters have missed the point. They blame free markets and capitalism for bank profiteering on both sides of the housing bubble. But banks can't simultaneously be rich enough to be greedy corporations and poor enough for bailouts. The concept contradicts itself. Government's "fair" lending regulations drove banks to issue risky loans. Government then mitigated the risk with subsidy assurances. The housing crash wasn't the fault of free markets or capitalism. It began, grew, and culminated with government's usurping of the free market.

Squatters should realize that without the federal government's politically-driven manipulation of the housing market the banks wouldn't have issued so many ill-advised loans, the housing bubble would never have existed as it did, and Squatting Any Street would be as academic as the nearest tent city.