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different drummer lo res

Marching to a Different Drummer

Short of dying in office, there are three ways an American president can cease to be one before his or her term is up:  1) Article I, Section 2-Impeachment, 2)  Amendment 25, Section 4-Declaration of Incapacity, and  3) Common Law-Resignation.  Only one of these—resignation—has ever actually occurred.  Each has grave consequences for the republic, but they are different.

1) ARTICLE I:   Impeachment

The most frequently discussed means of removing a president is impeachment.  The constitution provides for impeachment only in the case of “Treason, Bribery, of other high Crimes or Misdemeanors.”  Only the House of Representatives can bring an impeachment resolution, which requires a simple majority to pass.  Any member of the House can introduce an impeachment resolution, which is then referred to an ad hoc committee to work out the details.  More often in modern times the House Judiciary Committee itself initiates an impeachment resolution, and drafts recommendations for the floor of the House.  Until recently, the Attorney General could appoint an independent Special Prosecutor with the power to recommend impeachment directly to the House, but the legislation that empowered that was allowed to expire after the Clinton impeachment,  out of concern for the political effect of imbuing an individual who was not elected with such signal power.  If the House passes an impeachment resolution, then the Judiciary Committee recommends a slate of “managers” to prosecute the accused in the trial that follows.  Only upon conviction at this trial is the impeached person stripped of his office.

Impeachments are tried before the Senate.  When the defendant is the President of the United States, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides and serves as judge.  A panel of “managers” appointed by the House on the recommendation of its Judiciary Committee prosecutes the case against the accused, and the entire Senate serves as a jury.  A two-thirds majority of senators present is necessary to convict. 

Once convicted, the offender is immediately removed from office.  In the case of the president, the vice president assumes the higher office, and the vice presidency remains vacant.  Ouster from office is the only sentence the Senate can confer.  Article I provides that “Judgement in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgement and Punishment, according to Law.”

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The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

The provision for impeachment is intentionally Byzantine.  Over time it has become even more so, growing into equal parts constitutional law, politics, and pageantry. The framers did not intend for impeachment to be easy or routine.  In all of U.S. history only two presidents have been impeached by the House—Andrew Johnson (1861) and Bill Clinton (1988)—and neither was convicted in the Senate.  A bill of impeachment was introduced in the House against John Tyler in 1841, but it did not pass.  Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 with impeachment resolutions pending; his resignation rendered them moot.

During America’s first two centuries, the constitutional provision for impeaching a president was invoked only once—against Andrew Johnson–in the turbulent, polarized circumstances immediately following the Civil War.  In modern times, the country has seriously considered it three times in fewer than fifty rears—against Nixon, Clinton, and Trump.  It has never succeeded in removing a president from office.  Are we in danger of reducing impeachment to a routine political tool?

25th AMENDMENT:  Incapacity

Article II Section 1 of the Constitution provides for the succession of presidential power in the event of the death, resignation, or incapacity of the President:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

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The wording of this clause, particularly as it relates to incapacity, introduced ambiguities that the founders did not foresee.  When William Henry Harrison died in office, his powers and duties devolved onto Vice President John Tyler.  Tyler took more, though.  He declared that not only the powers and duties, but also the office itself, was now his.  At the suggestion of Daniel Webster, he took the Presidential Oath of Office as prescribed by the Constitution.  Since then every vice president who has succeeded a fallen president has taken the oath, following the Tyler Precedent.

Despite criticism at the time, he claimed to be President, rather than merely Acting President.  This was an important distinction, because the constitution provided for only one president, who had to be elected.  If a Vice President succeeded a President with a temporary disability, the he became President and finished out the term.  The previous president was gone, even if he recovered from his incapacity.  The vice presidency remained vacant.

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Garfield’s deathbed

When President Garfield lingered after being shot, Vice President Arthur declined to assume the presidency while Garfield lived.  Similarly Vice President Marshall demurred when Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated, but not killed, by a stroke.  Neither wanted to bear the mantle of the Tyler Precedent while a president lived who might recover.

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In 1945, Franklin Roosevelt’s health began to rapidly decline, and Vice President Truman feared he might have to face a similar decision involving one of the nation’s most revered presidents.  A cerebral hemorrhage ended FDR’s life before Truman faced such a crisis.  He never forgot, though, and unsuccessfully pushed for a constitutional amendment on succession.  Eisenhower had two heart attacks while in office, but did not die.

In 1965, following the assassination of John Kennedy, Congress finally adopted the text of the 25th Amendment.  By May of 1967, it was ratified by 47 state legislatures.

Section 4 of the Amendment deals with the involuntary removal of a president who has become incapacitated in the judgement of his colleagues.  It reads:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

A simple majority of the Cabinet, or “such other body as Congress may by law provide” (although it never has), can empower the President pro tem of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, acting together, to relieve the President of his powers.  The President can resume the power simply by declaring himself fit to do so.  The Congress, by a two-thirds vote of both houses taken within 21 days, can take them way again.  It is not specified how often this cycle can be repeated.

This process does not remove the president from office.  Rather it transfers the powers and responsibilities of the office to the Vice President, who becomes Acting President, an office not defined in the constitution.  The door is left open for the President to reassume his duties if circumstances change.  Since he is still President, presumably his term limits clock continues to run.

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Was Reagan impaired in Office?

The Section 4 process has never been invoked. The Framers of the Amendment apparently had in mind a physical incapacity like Garfield’s wound or Wilson’s stroke, where it would be a useful tool.  Invoked against a vigorous but allegedly demented president, the results might be unpredictable.  It could conceivably paralyze the executive and legislative branches for the remainder of that president’s term in office.  The potential constitutional precedents of using this clause for alleged mental defects are terrifying,

3: EXTRACONSTITUTIONAL:  Resignation

The Constitution refers to the resignation of a president, but only one, Richard Nixon, has actually done it.  How that was engineered is instructive.

tricky dickNixon was a flawed human being, ambitious and bullying, with questionable ethics, but he had greatness in him  His first run for national office, as Eisenhower’s running mate, was tainted with allegations of corruption that dogged him throughout his subsequent career.  Along the way, he acquired the sobriquet “Tricky Dick”.

nixon chinaNixon’s achievements on the national level were real, however, and substantial, especially in foreign affairs.  As Vice President, his “Kitchen Debate” with Nikita Khrushchev is remembered more than half a century later. As President, he signed two substantial arms control treaties, and opened the era of “peaceful coexistence” with the USSR.  He supported Israel through the Yom Kippur War.  He opened trade and cultural exchanges with China and the Middle East, and weakened Soviet hegemony there.  He signed the Paris Accords that ended US involvement in the Viet Nam War and led to the suspension of the draft.

During his campaign for election to a second term, though, Nixon’s ethics came again to haunt him.  Agents of his campaign organization (which he called CRP but reporters named CREEP-the Committee to RE-Elect the President) was allegedly caught breaking into the opposing party’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel to steal data and plant surveillance devices.  Nixon denied any knowledge of that activity, and it was never established whether he knew of the burglary beforehand.

Subsequent evidence clearly showed, though, that he had led a frantic effort to prevent any knowledge of the break-in from reaching the public.  Surreptitious recordings Nixon had made of his White House conversations, laced with obscenity (“[expletive deleted]”), showed a clearly unravelling president, bullying his aides into ethically questionable acts to protect his crumbling reputation.

Archibald Cox was appointed as Special Prosecutor to investigate the matter, only to be fired by Nixon when he got too close.  Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and his deputy William Ruckelshaus, then resigned out of conscience.  The event came to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Sat Nite Massacre

A new Special Prosecutor was named.  Congressional  committees took up the cudgel and held a series of hearings, some televised and some closed.  Popular demonstrations erupted across the nation, where the word impeachment became increasingly common in chants and on placards.  The pressure on the president was immense.  “I have reason to suspect,” wrote Senator Barry Goldwater, “that all might not be well mentally in the White House.”

Nixon’s defense strategy was to act presidential, preferably on TV.  In one unfortunate effort, a haggard Nixon assured Americans that “I am not a crook!”  He was at his most presidential when seen in his role as a statesman.  He therefore embarked on a series of overseas trips, with a posse of reporters and photographers, to the Middle East and the USSR.  One result of all this jet travel was a case of phlebitis that sidelined him for weeks.

impeachment demonstratoMeanwhile, the investigation ground on.  Televised hearings and the publication of transcripts of the White House tapes whipped the public to frenzy.  Eventually the Judiciary Committee voted to send three articles of impeachment to the House floor, for 1) obstruction of justice, 2) abuse of power, and 3) contempt of Congress.  All were based on the cover-up.  Nixon’s direct involvement in the Watergate burglary has never been established.

resignation letterWith the votes in both the House and Senate trending strongly against him, Nixon knew the jig was up.  If he was impeached he would very likely be convicted, and his place in history would be to be the only president ever convicted after impeachment.  If he cut his losses by leaving office before impeachment, he might still preserve some of the positive legacy he had worked a lifetime to achieve.  It was a Corleonean offer that he could not refuse.  Nixon resigned.

nixon quit quoteA big advantage of the engineered resignation is that it does not directly set any constitutional precedents.  A disadvantage is that it is clumsy, has to be tailored to each situation, and is very susceptible to politics.  Finding that Godfather deal may be difficult, and a bold, principled office-holder may be resistant to the approach.

The Situation We Are In Now

Impeachment has been tried but never worked.  Declaring incapacity has never been attempted, and a vigorous, feisty executive does not seem like the person on which to try out this process for he first time.  Inducing a resignation seems like the path most likely to succeed and least likely to result in harmful precedent. 

Consider President Trump.  He has not dedicated his life to statesmanship or politics, and his sense of legacy is not invested in his public works.  He can walk away without feeling diminished, blaming others for obstructing his attempts.

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He has dedicated his life to wealth and power, and to Trump as a brand.  Threatening that would surely give him pause. 

Suppose the emoluments clause were invoked to require him to actually divest all interest in, and knowledge of the operations of, the Trump Organization; to require it to change its name to something that does not exploit the presidential connection; and to cease all contact with the principals of the Organization, whether family or not.  Rather than submit to such rigorous ethics and constitutional constraints, would he resign? Perhaps.

Keep Eyes on the Prize

The biggest risk in all this talk of impeachment is that it will distract us from the real task at hand.  Our country went astray before Trump was elected.  In fact, he was elected in large part because voters saw his lack of political experience as an asset, in sharp contrast to pro politicians who opposed him in the primaries, and his dynastic opponent in the general election, whom many voters felt belonged to a professional political elite that was responsible for the morass that Washington has become.  We overlooked his obvious shortcomings and underestimated the hucksterism that he, to his credit, made no effort to conceal, because we wanted to change Washington and correct the social inequities that plutocracy was producing.  We believed him when he said he was going to “drain the swamp.”  We voted for something new, and we got it, but it turned out to be something very different from what we longed for.

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“This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” –Donald Trump

Freeing the White House from its current occupant will not free the country from the coalition of ideologues, starry-eyes hopefuls, foreign operatives, and nincompoops who put him there.  Replacement of the president is only a tool in the central task of rebuilding America as a nation of principle, vision and hope.  To do this we must begin respecting one another again, listening and compromising for the benefit of majority and minority alike, and forsaking the tyranny of a narrow but iron-willed majority.  We must learn not just to tolerate, not just to respect, but to revere our diversity for the richness and strength it bestows on us.  We must wrest power from the plutocrats and restore it to an inclusive electorate. We must build bridges that bring us together, not walls that keep us apart.  We must embrace and reinvigorate Lincoln’s ideal, that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Compared to that real task lying before us, simply removing a president from office seems like a walk in the park.

Rock ’em, Sock ’em Politics

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See this image on FLICKR

When a politicians dons the strait jacket of ideology, or takes the opiate of corporate dark money, he sacrifices free will and independent thought.  When a majority does this, government becomes robotic, mechanically serving its unseen owners.

To manage this it misrepresents its intentions to voters, using industrial-strength informatic techniques pioneered in 20th century Moscow and Berlin in the service of politics, and perfected on Madison Avenue to serve commerce. With such tools are the freedoms of common men and women neutralized as well, and the cogs of clockwork government are lubricated.

Robotic government stops functioning in the interest of the people whose consent once empowered it, just as a factory full of robots fails the workers who used to ‘man’ it.  As the capitalist no longer has to share the profits of his factory, so the plutocrat no longer has to extend the benefits of his government.  In both cases, the benefits of the efficiencies achieved inure to management, bypassing the rank-and-file.

 The main function of humans (what science fiction likes to call the ‘organic component’, or the ‘wetware’) in such a government is mutual obstructionism. The passion of such government dedicates itself to stopping the other side from getting away with something very bad, but ill-defined.  Both sides become mired in this important function, so that the robots may proceed with their dark work unnoticed, unencumbered by empathy or ardor.

But not without intelligence. Heuristics and artificial intelligence have made robot smarts quite intimidating, however soulless they might be. Perhaps it is time for a little artificial intelligence in Washington, if there is to be any intelligence there at all. Are you ready for President Watson?

Is this how government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall perish from the Earth? Not with a bang but a whimper?

Tweet & Tower: Epigram in the Age of Trump

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Donald Trump did not invent the tweet, nor the political tweet.  Not even the presidential tweet.  The art of the epigram, or tweet, has been around for centuries, and many masters have come and gone.  Consider this gem, tweeted fully half a millenium ago, which practically defines the genre:

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The history of the tweet goes way farther back than that.  Over a millennium earlier, another gifted twittermeister had a nearly identical thought:

ciceroNor is this the oldest surviving tweet.  This one comes from two centuries earlier:

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The turn of the 18th century was a fruitful time for the tweet.  Alexander Pope’s long poems barely survive, but the tweets he set like jewels within them continue to gleam .  I know you’ve heard this one:

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and this one, which might have been a DM to President Trump:

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Trump may have passed on the inspirational tweets of Pope, preferring the acerbic wit of Pope’s contemporary, Jonathan Swift.  If this tweet had been written in he first person singular, it might have come from Trump himself:

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Although all of Swift’s wisdom might not be welcome:

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These tweets ushered in the Age of Enlightenment, which may have brought us the greatest tweeter of all time:

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Franklin may not have invented the political tweet, but he certainly perfected it.  His advice to American patriots is remembered long after the war ended.

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He could be a lot more pointed, too.  This one foreshadows John C. Calhoun’s warnings, fifty years later, about the tyranny of the majority.

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The presidential tweet was a natural follower of the political tweet.  It first reached full flower in the hands of a master—President Abraham Lincoln.

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Both Roosevelts had the knack, too.  Theodore Roosevelt, who actually made his living as a best-selling author both before and after his presidency, had this advice to the common man:

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This advice, intended for presidents but widely applicable, is perhaps TRs most successful tweet:

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The mid 20th century brought a virtual golden age of the political tweet, including the presidential tweet:

will rogersFranklin Roosevelt was a Democrat, and his tweets sometimes seem to address the 21st century GOP, enhancing his status as a political clairvoyant:

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And there is this DM to Paul Ryan from both Roosevelts:

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Other memorable 20th century presidential tweets include Truman’s about where the buck stops, Eisenhower’s to beware the military-industrial complex, and Kennedy’s plea to ask not what your country can do…etc.  Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, was a master of the presidential tweet.

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Even into the twenty first century, the presidential tweet flourished.  The homespun, self-deprecating humor that sometimes bubbled up in presidential tweets from Lincoln to Reagan became a dominant theme in the opening decades.

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In 2016 the nature of the presidential tweet changed.  Previous presidents used Tweets to communicate directly with their constituents, humanizing their images.  The humor let us see brief glimpses into the hearts of the men who occupied the Oval Office.  Policy and fact did not enter into most of these tweets; this would have not been consistent with their intimate purpose.

Donald Trump has changed all that.  He seems oddly unwilling, or unable, to relate to people on a human level.  His tweets seem aimed at manipulation rather than revelation.  They are seldom humorous, except for a ubiquitous, smarmy sarcasm, and they never self-deprecating.  They are chockablock full of “alternative facts” unencumbered by even a hint of proof.  This made up data is often used to defend nasty attacks on people and institutions that without them would have no foundation at all.

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They are sometimes laced with a creepy paranoia which feels particularly out of place in a President of the United States and Commander in Chief.

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Perhaps saddest of all, the literary quality of these neo-epigrams vanished when their purpose became propaganda.  I know that this has no significance in the grand political scheme of things.  The epigram—the tweet—has been an art form for millennia; I hate to see it go.  In the end, cultures are remembered by the art they leave behind, often in the remains of practical objects: shards of pottery, battered cutlery, bits of personal adornment.  If artificial intelligence ever scans the autistic, ADD-riven snippets of our government today, they will surely conclude that there were virtual Visigoths at our cybergate.

Unicorn: Fantasy & Alternative Fact

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Earth Day & the Unicorn

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Do you associate Earth Day with Ira Einhorn, the Unicorn?  Well, don’t!

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Unicorns

unicornFrom the German, the surname Einhorn could be translated “one horn”.  Perhaps this was among the reasons that Ira Einhorn, America’s consummate hippie on the 1970s, liked to call himself the Unicorn.  Unicorns possessed mystical qualities that must have appealed to Ira as well.  A touch of its horn could heal the sick and purify water.  It was irresistibly drawn to virgins, who were used as bait during medieval unicorn hunts. 

Leonardo DaVinci wrote in his notebooks:

unicorn huntThe unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear, it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.

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Because of its affinity for virgins, medieval Christian iconography frequently showed a unicorn with the Virgin Mother.  It came to represent the annunciation, and even Jesus Himself. 

However, the legend has a dark side, too.  Only a virgin can entrap this virtuous beast, and only through betrayal.

Marco Polo saw unicorns quite differently.  They were, he wrote:

marco polo…scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead… They have a head like a wild boar’s… They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.

rhinoPolo seems to be describing the Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) which were common south central Asia in his day, though now they are rare and endangered.  A mostly nocturnal animal, they were seen by day most often through the shifting morning mists of their wetland habitat.  Generally peaceful, a male was prone to deadly violence when another male challenged his choice of mate.

Two very different kinds of unicorn, both embodied by Ira Einhorn:  the counterculture peacenik with aspiration to the mystical, who liked to call himself the Unicorn; and the angry lover and venal beast who, spurned by his girlfriend, became the Unicorn Killer.

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The Unicorn Killer

einhorn thinking 1Born into a middle-class Pennsylvania family, Einhorn studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where he became involved in the anti-war and nascent ecological movements.  Bearded, charismatic, and iconoclastic, Ira rose to prominence as Philadelphia’s #1 Hippie.  He advocated free love, peace and flower power.  On the first Earth Day in 1970, he became a sort of master of ceremonies for the live broadcast of outdoor events scheduled in Philadelphia.  It was a role that suited him well, appealing to his broad narcissistic streak.  He later claimed that Earth Day was his idea, and that he had been instrumental in organizing events across the country.  Other organizers challenge his account, and in fact, there is no record of his having done any organizing.

holly hippieHelen ‘Holly’ Maddux, flower child, was a stunning blonde from Tyler, Texas, attending Bryn Mawr College near Philly when she was drawn into the powerful vortex of the Unicorn.  During the years they lived together, though, Holly discovered that Ira had a dark side, jealous and verbally (at least) abusive.  After five years, she had had enough.  She moved to New York, and became involved with another man.  Incensed, Einhorn holly & irathreatened to throw her remaining belongings into the street if she did not come personally to collect them.  Against the advice of friends and family, she returned to Philadelphia to retrieve her things.  She was never seen alive again.

Meanwhile, Einhorn was cultivating new contacts among the local politicians and corporate bigwigs. Philadelphia’s upper crust invited him to elite parties; businesses hired him as their consultant for marketing to a counterculture growing ever more affluent.  On graduating from Penn, he had become a professional hippie, and was turning it into a lucrative career—a con man for the Age of Aquarius.  Yes, he told the police when they asked after Holly, she had been to the apartment, but she had gone to the co-op for tofu and sprouts, and never returned.

A year after Holly’s disappearance, neighbors noticed a nasty smell emanating from Einhorn’s apartment.  This annoyed but did not surprise, for his personal hygiene and housekeeping were both suspect, consistent with his status as a grown-up flower child.  Then the downstairs neighbors complained of a foul, reddish-brown liquid dripping into their apartment from Einhorn’s apartment, directly above.

When police responded, a nude Einhorn met them at the door.  He offered no resistance as they searched his apartment.  In his bedroom closet, they found a steamer trunk that contained shards of Styrofoam, crumpled newspaper, piles of air fresheners, and the decomposed remains of a woman, her skull smashed by multiple blows with a heavy object.

“Looks like we found Holly Maddox,” said the officer to the Unicorn.  “You found what you found,” was Ira’s sardonic reply.

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At his arraignment he was represented by Arlen Specter, who would soon begin a 30-year career in the U.S. Senate, represented Ira.  Arguing that his client was a nice Jewish boy from a good family who posed no peril to the public or risk of flight, Arlen got his bail reduced to $40,000.  The $4000 bond was paid by one of his wealthy society patrons.  He immediately fled to Europe and remained on the lam for 20 years.  He had already been arraigned, though, and his trial went forward.  In 1993, he was convicted in absentia of the murder of Holly Maddux.  He got life in prison with no possibility of parole.

einhorn returnsWhen he was finally located in France, extradition was difficult.  France had abolished the death penalty, and the treaty provided that they need not return a prisoner to a country that might execute him.  In 1972, the U.S Supreme court had suspended capital punishment until each state’s procedure could be reviewed and found to comply with the 8th amendment proscription of cruel and unusual punishment (Furman v. Georgia 408 US 238-1972).  In 1977, when the murder had occurred, Pennsylvania had not undergone that review; hence, Einhorn could not be executed then, and could not be now.  After four more years of haggling, France was compelled to return him to Philadelphia to stand trial.

einhorn trial sketchAt a new trial, the Unicorn’s defense was (pardon the pun) outside the box.  His power and righteousness had been so great back then, and his knowledge of secret government mind-control projects so damning, that unidentified enemies (the CIA or the KGB?), in a nefarious plot to neutralize him, had murdered Holly and planted her body in his apartment as a frame.  In self-defense, and out of respect for her vegan beliefs, he had decided to compost her in his closet. 

Had he produced reasonable doubt?  Hardly.  A jury took just two hours of deliberation to convict him of first degree murder.  He is serving life without parole.

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Earth Day

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Earth Day, by the way, was the idea of Gaylord Nelson, A Democrat who served as governor and senator for the great state of Wisconsin, and steadfastly refused credit for this signal achievement, preferring to believe that it just growed, like Topsy.  Still, his conservation chops put him in a league with Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir.  In 1946, he married Carrie Lee Dotson, a nurse he had met during his military service; both she and the marriage were going strong when he died at 89 of heart failure.  He had no use for colorful nicknames or boastful claims.  He just rolled up his sleeves (he was equally at home in denim and linen) and went to work.  He was the real deal.

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As governor, Nelson’s overhaul of the state’s natural resource program brought him national recognition as the “conservation governor.” He took a chaotic bureaucracy and transformed it into a single Department of Resource Development. He established the Youth Conservation Corps that created green jobs for over 1,000 unemployed young people in the state. He fought to earmark $50 million for the Outdoor Recreation Action Program (ORAP) to acquire land for public parks and wilderness areas. The extreme popularity of his achievements in conservation paved Nelson’s road to the U.S. Senate in 1962. 

In 1969, having seen the empowerment derived from campus activism in the 1960s, Nelson proposed a day when citizens across the country would host events, preferably outdoors, to raise awareness of environmental problems, and encourage grass-roots political involvement. April, a season of rebirth and hope, seemed the perfect time. 

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Judy Moody and Denis Hayes, staffers in the office of US Senator Gaylord Nelson, begin planning for the Environmental Teach-In, which became the first Earth Day

His proposal brought immediate, overwhelming support. National media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called “Earth Day” and enthusiastic letters flooded into Nelson’s office.  Engaged crowds turned out for planned events from coast to coast, including the one in Philly with the sleazy MC who wanted us to believe he dreamed the whole thing up.  He did not.  He was a charlatan, and ultimately a killer, who scammed a nation and then ran away

Nelson created a small national office to offer support to the thousands of grassroots efforts that sprung up everywhere, but he firmly rejected any top-down organization.  “Earth Day planned itself,” he later reflected, and in fact, it did, with just a nudge from Nelson.   An estimated 20 million Americans, young and old, gathered on April 22, 1970 to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet—and to demand action from themselves and from their elected officials.

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Today, with so many of the environmental protections in peril from short-sighted attacks on regulation in any form, and greedy corporate interests that see that valuable natural resources now in public trust may soon become vulnerable to seizure by plutocrats for private gain.

This Earth Day, help the unicorns’ magical horns clean the water and heal the sick planet.  Let it doze not in the lap of a chaste maiden who will betray it, but in the mighty arms of mother Gaia, whom we can trust.  Let us gather behind them like a conquering horde, and advance together to make the Earth a better place tomorrow than it was yesterday.

…and don’t forget, April 28 is Arbor Day.  Make a note of it!

 C’mon, let’s go!

Faces of Courage, Faces of Hate

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Sometimes a news photo so completely reflects the tenor of its time that it survives intact, becoming a bit of history itself: the Vietnamese children fleeing, naked and terrified, from the flaming horrors of war that pursue them. The mother in Minimata tenderly bathing her grown child, who was maimed, even before he was born, by industrial indifference. The man confronting a line of tanks in tiananmenTienanmen Square, and winning that battle if not the war. These pictures woke the world, and helped to make it permanently better. Joe Giddens’ picture deserves a place in this pantheon.

 

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Let us never forget that resistance is not always a fist in the air. To resist evil requires us to show that there is a way to be something better, to go somewhere higher. Sometimes all that takes is a smile.

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Birmingham, UK – Saturday April 8 2017

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When the English Defence League held a “non-violent” anti-Islam rally in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the tension in the air was palpable. For the EDL, “non-violence” does not preclude the use of intimidation; their rallies often end in physical strife.  Police presence at such gatherings is routine.

The Birmingham Central Mosque responded to the event by opening its doors and inviting everyone, regardless of caste, race, beliefs, or role in life,  to come in for tea.  At the EDL demonstration, woman in a hijab was less accommodating.  When she shouted “No more Islamophobia! No more wars!” from the periphery of the roiling crowd, she was immediately mobbed by 20 or more burly white supremacists.

That is when Saffiyah Khan stepped forward.  Khan, 25, a Brummie by birth with Muslim family in Bosnia and Pakistan, came to the aid of the embattled woman, drawing much of the fury onto herself.  When EDL leader Ian Crossland leaned in and shook his fist in Khan’s face, a policeman intervened, and both of them were led away. Khan maintained her calm, and her beatific smile, throughout the incident, despite all the bluster that surrounded her.

Press Association photographer Joe Giddens caught the moment that perfectly reflects encounter—the courage of a young woman and a police officer holding their ground in a bubble of hatred.

“It is more important to smile than to shout,” Khan later told reporters.

“The dirty unwashed left wing scrubber was grinning because she managed to disrupt a demo.” Crossland wrote on Facebook afterwards.  “And the disrespectful witch chose the minute’s silence for the victims of the terror attack in Stockholm and Westminster. She’s lucky she got any teeth left.”

Ethnic problems no doubt plague the Midlands, just as they do the UK, Europe, the US, and the rest of the world.  Honestly, though, whom would you turn to to lead us out of this quagmire, the calm brown woman and the stern white Bobbie, or the brick-faced pack of mad dogs that surround them?

*** *** ***

“Nonviolence means not only external physical violence but also violence of the spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr

Ozymandias

ozymandius

Wikipedia:

The banker and political writer Horace Smith spent the Christmas season of 1817–1818 with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. At this time, members of Shelley’s literary circle would sometimes challenge each other to write competing sonnets on a common subject–Shelley, John Keats and Leigh Hunt wrote competing sonnets on the Nile around the same time. Shelley and Smith both chose a passage from the writings of the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, which described a massive Egyptian statue and quoted its inscription: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.”

Here are both the sonnets that resulted.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

–Percy Bysshe Shelly

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In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place

–Horace Smith

liberty

Everything old is new again

See also: By the Waters of Babylon, by Steven Vincent Benet

Once & Future Kings-History Bromance

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Andrew Jackson & Donald Trump Redux

feud

layerEarlier this week President Donald Trump laid a wreath on the grave of former president Andrew Jackson.  The forty fifth president has advertised his admiration for the seventh one on many previous occasions.  Jackson’s portrait hangs in Trump’s Oval Office.

Small wonder that Trump reveres Jackson.  Nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his tough and unbending character, he is widely held to have been a political disruptor, a long haired fiery badass from the boondocks, who ended the hegemony of the overly philosophical, effete founding fathers who hailed from the staid east coast.  In this view, he returned the country to “the people” who had fought and died to forge it in the fires of revolution.  His passion for the common people, it has been said, created America as we know it today.oval office

There was much more to Jackson, though.  He was opinionated, temperamental, and had a volatile temper.  A contemporary described him thus:

 

General Jackson stoops to gain the favor of the majority; but when he feels that his popularity is secure, he overthrows all obstacles in the pursuit of the objects which the community approves or of those which it does not regard with jealousy. Supported by a power that his predecessors never had, he tramples on his personal enemies, whenever they cross his path, with a facility without example; he takes upon himself the responsibility of measures that no one before him would have ventured to attempt. He even treats the national representatives with a disdain approaching to insult; he puts his veto on the laws of Congress and frequently neglects even to reply to that powerful body. He is a favorite who sometimes treats his master roughly.

–Alexis deTocqueville, Democracy in America

Former president Thomas Jefferson addressed his concerns about the possibility of a Jackson presidency to then Rep.Daniel Webster during the 1824 Adams/Jackson campaign:

 

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.  His passions are terrible. When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage. His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.

 

john q adams

John Quincy Adams could not share in the flamboyant hairstyles of his day.

Jackson engaged in dueling, gambling, and sexual scandal during his public career.  He was a rhetorical bully who was not above making up facts, or at least stretching the truth beyond the breaking point.  He accused John Quincy Adams of using public funds to buy gambling equipment for the White House, when he had actually bought only a chessboard and a pool table, using private funds.  He accused Adams of procuring American women of dubious virtue for the court of the Tsar Alexander I of Russia, in order to gain diplomatic favor while he was ambassador there.

Henry Clay

Henry Clay on a bad hair day

After his first presidential bid in 1824, Jackson blamed his loss to Adams (settled in the House because none of the four candidates had won a majority) on a “corrupt bargain” with Speaker of the House Henry Clay, whom Adams then appointed as Secretary of State, the very post that Adams himself held before the election.  This led to a four-year campaign of vituperation and rabble-rousing that culminated in a decisive electoral victory for Jackson over Adams in 1828.  It also kindled a bitter political rivalry that would follow both men throughout their careers.

On taking office as president, Jackson fired scores of federal workers, from Washington lifers to remote territorial postmasters, and replaced them with Jackson loyalists.  In those simpler times, he was actually able to deconstruct the administrative state, even before it had a name.  There was a “we won, you lost, so just get over it” quality to runawayhis presidency, especially early on, that has a remarkably modern and familiar ring.

He was unabashedly, aggressively  racist.  A wealthy planter and slave owner, he once offered a $50 reward for the return of a runaway slave, and “and $10 extra for every 100 lashes any person will give him, to the amount of 300 dollars” prior to his return.  Do the math: Jackson was offering to pay for three thousand lashes, without even a nod towards due process, to punish this man he accused stealing his own freedom. 

Jackson’s exploits as an Indian fighter were legendary; he vowed to “exterminate” the Creeks, and nearly did.  By one account, the Tallapoosa River literally ran red with the blood of the native born—warriors, women and children alike—who tried to flee across it from Jackson’s army.

Among the first achievements of Jackson’s presidency was the passage of the Indian Removal Act, which culminated in the forcible expulsion of all Cherokees from the southeastern US , on foot or in travois and wagons across the trackless frontier, to semi-arid territories west of the Mississippi.  This act of ethnic cleansing resulted in the Trail of Tears, along which more than 4000 aboriginal men, women, and children died of starvation and exposure.  “I feel conscious of having done my duty to my red children.”  Jackson wrote, taking patronization literally.  “If any failure of my good intention arises, it will be attributable to their want of duty to themselves, not to me.”

trail of tears 2

Trained as a frontier lawyer, Jackson had an an odd view of the separation of powers built into the constitution.  He held that the legislative, executive and judicial branches should operate completely independently of one another, considering the action of another branch only to the extent that they agreed with it. 

“The opinion of the judges has no more authority over Congress than the opinion of Congress has over the judges,” Jackson wrote, and that “the President is independent of both.” He concluded that “the authority of the Supreme Court must not…be permitted to control the Congress or the Executive when acting in their legislative capacities .”  Jackson believed that the president need afford the courts only “such influence as the force of their reasoning may deserve.”  When Chief Justice John Marshall’s Supreme Court ruled that the State of Georgia had no right to abrogate the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation, Jackson simply ignored the Court, and began the Indian Removal anyway.

king andrew 1Jackson was fond of the executive order and the veto.  During his two terms of office he vetoed more bills  than all six previous presidents combined.  Some of these had lasting consequences.

Congress established the Second Bank of the United States under President James Madison to help restore a national economy devastated by the War of 1812. It was modeled after the first BUS, set up by Alexander Hamilton.   Jackson considered it “the Devil’s bank”—a corrupt monopoly designed to enrich its private stockholders, many of whom were foreigners, at the expense of the common people.  When Congress considered the renewal of the bank’s charter in 1932, both houses passed it handily, only to see it vetoed by President Jackson.  To be sure he had killed it (and out of spite towards Henry Clay, a BUS supporter), he used executive power to withdraw all federal deposits from the bank, without which it withered away.  Jackson was censured by Congress for these actions, but the rebuke had no effect.  During the proceedings he compared Henry Clay to”a drunken man in a brothel”

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Young Jackson defies a British officer

Jackson loved a good war.  At age 13, he served as a courier during the Revolutionary War until he was captured and became a prisoner of the British; all his life he bore the scars where a British officer had slashed his face and hands for refusing to clean the officer’s boots.

He earned his military chops commanding the Tennessee militia against Shawnee chief Tecumseh; Sam Houston and

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Jackson Stamp of Approval

David Crockett served under him in this command.  In 1815, both sides unaware that the War of 1812 had ended in 1814 under the treaty of Ghent, Jackson’s 5000 man army won a decisive victory over the British force that occupied New Orleans. Later he attacked the Seminole Indians in Florida, where he forcibly deposed the Spanish governor and served for nine months as military governor of the territory.  During this time, he executed two Britons for abetting the Indians, and at least six volunteers for insufficient fealty to him.

As president, with the stated goal of freeing the government from the residual corruption of previous administrations, Jackson launched presidential investigations into all executive offices and departments.  The result was a purge of many officers he deemed corrupt.

Sexual scandal invaded Jackson’s White House, as well.  The Petticoat Affair involved the wife of Secretary of War John H. Eaton, who was accused of prostitution in her younger years while working in her father’s tavern.  Jackson, seeing his cabinet threatened, roared to her defense, declaring her “chaste as a virgin,” and fixing the blame on the rumormongers themselves—fake news!  Nevertheless, he fired nearly all his cabinet and reappointed a “Parlor Cabinet” of Washington notables for show, and a “Kitchen Cabinet” of trusted supporters for advice.  He also bought the new Washington newspaper, The Globe, as an outlet for his own propaganda.

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A quote from Henry Clay, an early comb-over

Among the three great influencers of political thought in early 19th century America, Jackson was alone in championing a strong president who governed by fiat.  Henry Clay, known as “The Great Compromiser”, strove for consensus building, where, after good faith debate, final policies gave everybody something, and denied everybody something as well. 

calhoun

A quote from John C. Calhoun with his signature up-do.

John C. Calhoun favored a decentralized power where the states had the power to veto (“nullify”) specific principles of federal law with their borders.  He believed in “concurrent majority” in which minorities can exercise a sort of veto power then their basic rights are infringed, a theory of governance among people similar to the principle of nullification among states.  It is diametrically opposed to Jackson’s  “numerical majority.” For a concurrent majority to prevail, consensus was required as a means of avoiding the “tyranny of the majority.”

jackson quote

A tweet from Andrew Jackson, who shared a stylist with Calhoun.

It is easy to see why Donald Trump favors Andrew Jackson, though I fear it is for the wrong reasons.  His fiery temper and fierce, heartless command mirror Donald’s own temperament, and Jackson’s arrogant need for iron control over his advisers, his politics, and even the facts, must ring true to Mr. Trump.  He was a rich man who justified his vast powers with a claim of an almost mythic connection with “the People.”

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A prescient tweet from Daniel Webster, early adopter of the mullet

But does he also admire his deportation of the Indians, a policy that led to something very close to genocide?  His disdain for powers delegated by the constitution to branches other than the executive?  His ability to rally “the people” to consolidate his personal power?  His cruel treatment of his own black African slaves?  His execution of volunteers for questionable loyalty?  His shadow cabinet?  His lies?

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A victory speech from Donald Trump, who takes the comb-over to a new level

Mr. Trump has recently discovered, and wants to let everyone else know,  that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.  I’m very curious to see what develops if he continues to watch the History Channel.  Will he still fawn so over Jackson when he discovers he was a Democrat?  Yes, Don, the Democratic Party is older than the GOP.

Where are the leaders of towering intellect and honor to guide us through this time of troubles?  Where is our Henry Clay, to show us the path to a compromise we all can live within together?  Where is our John C. Calhoun, to save us from the tyranny of a demagogue-smitten majority?  Where is our Daniel Webster, to do battle with the Devil on our behalf?  Where  on earth are we headed now?

overcomb

Plutocratic Hypocracy

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Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria

A Poem by Langston Hughes

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Walk through Peacock Alley tonight before dinner, and get
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–Langston Hughes

child labor 2

 The Golf Links

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.

–Sarah Cleghorn

 

Image result for trump play golf

Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief.  –Jane Austen

 

Little Voices, Big Sound

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Incident

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

–Countee Cullen

Sometimes the smallest things speak out the loudest.

VOICE, or Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement, is an agency that President Trump proposes be established within the Department of Homeland Security.  Its purpose would be to detect, monitor, and prosecute immigrants who commit crimes in the US.  It is an expansion of the idea behind his recent directive that requires Attorney General to maintain a database of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.  It will provide, according to Trump, “a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.”

He is right about that.  It will provide a voice to white nationalists, mysogynists, xenophobics and other hate-mongers in Trump’s coalition of dispicables who have been shunted aside by what they derisively call “political correctness”, but which more respectfully, and accurately, be called simply “correctness.”

ice arrest

ICE descends in the darkness

This remarkable hate-based initiative, a policy with a vile constituency in search of a justification in fact, has not received the castigation it deserves.  This is a tribute to the President’s ability to promote his hateful brand in the face of opposing realities.  It is evidence of the destructive delusions that, through the president’s example is, eroding the moral character of our country.  It is exactly this high moral character which has been the source of our strength and exceptional nature.  It is what makes this country great.

illegal family

Ice took Mom away

In the terse description of the purpose of VOICE, the president managed casual verbal backhands to the free media he so despises and the ill-defined “special interests” that so irk the mobs that roil his rallies.  In the video of his speech to Congress, he seems genuinely confused by the scattered gasps and boos that rose from the chamber when he sprang this initiative to a joint session of Congress in his first major speech to that body.

Though they lasted only a few seconds, these same boos are the source of my hope.  Like a haughty maiden whose bodice accidentally slips but is quickly restored, Congress inadvertently let its vulnerable, human side show, if only for an instant.

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Dad has been taken by ICE

Make no mistake; this is a hate-based initiative, focused not on the crimes, but on pinning crimes on a pre-selected group: immigrants. (For immigrants, read Hispanics and Muslims.)  How far would he get if he proposed and agency to compile crimes committed by black men, or gun owners, or Jews.  This is not socioeconomic policy.  It is ideological propaganda.

The issue has already been studied thoroughly.  Time after time, the evidence has shown that immigrants, legal or otherwise, commit crimes at rates lower than native-born Americans do.  This makes sense, since conviction for a crime invites deportation.  These studies all have three inherent, fatal flaws: 1) they are science, 2) they rely on facts, and 3) they do not conform to the ideological truth that immigrants are an obstacle to America’s regaining her lost greatness.

crime chart

Trump and his posse have drawn a contrary conclusion, and set about to prove it.  They began by presenting anecdotal evidence in the form of victims of immigrant violence, including the tragic women who were invited to the speech to weep before the cameras.  This despicable exploitation of the pain of others proves nothing, yet it seems to have won over many people to his point of view.

  Now he wants an analysis of the crime rate among immigrants based on the preconceived conclusion that immigrants are a major source of crime.  Unleashing whirlwinds of biases (detection, observer, and reporting, among others), all pushing hard towards xenophobic blame.  He wants a second list compiled, too, of local authorities that refuse to deliver such biased data, such the so called sanctuary cities, so that they can be further ostracized, perhaps by withholding federal funds.

ice resistance

An Alternate Opinion

The first amendment forbids religious discrimination, the fifth amendment promises  due process of law to anyone accused under the law, and the fifteenth amendment clarifies that no constitutional right can be denied or restricted to anyone based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Taken together, these provisions render VOICE as illegal as it is hateful.  Perhaps the little groan of dismay that arose from Congress when Trump proposed it reflected recognition of this constitutional reality by its sworn guardians.  Perhaps it came from the shock of the casual, sweeping amorality of the proposal.  Perhaps the brief glimpse by the humans in the room of the writhing hate that underlies the VOICE proposal gave way to an involuntary gasp of horror. 

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take a special investigator to tell us we should pay attention to that little sound.  It is the tip of a righteous iceberg. VOICE must not happen, ever.  As a country, as people, we are better than that.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

–Emma Lazarus

Outwitted

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !

–Edwin Markham

joint address

A Few Notable Immigrants:

Scientists

  • Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist known for Theory of Relativity (Germany)
  • Enrico Fermi, Experimental physicist who first achieved atomic fission (Italy)
  • Wernher von Braun, whose study of rockets led to the moon landing. (Prussia)

Athletes

  • David Ortiz, baseball (Dominican Republic)
  • Yao Ming, basketball (China)
  • Hakeem Olajuwan, basketball (Nigeria)

Entertainment

  • Michael J. Fox, actor (Canada)
  • John Lennon, musician (England)
  • Charlize Theron, actor (South Africa)

Business & Industry

  • Andrew Carnegie, industrialist-US Steel (Scotland)
  • Sergey Brin, computer entrepreneur-cofounder of Google (Russia)
  • Elon Musk, industrialist-PayPal, Space-X, Tesla, Solar City (South Africa)

Politics

  • Alexander Hamilton, politics & finance (Puerto Rico)
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California (Austria)
  • Madeline Albright, Secretary of State (Czechoslovakia)
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor (Poland)

Trumps

  • Ivana Trump, wife of Donald, mother of Donald Jr, Eric & Ivanka (Czechoslovakia)
  • Melania Trump, wife of Donald, mother of Baron (Yugoslavia)
  • Fredrick Trumpf, barber, hotelier, and pimp (Grandfather of President Trump), deported from Germany for draft-dodging

Please note that both immigrant wives of Donald Trump both came from countries which, at the time of their births, were under Soviet hegemony.  Despite what you may think, this proves nothing, except that beautiful women can be found around the world.