Would Our Forefathers Find Fault with Obama’s Vision for America?

It’s important to look back to when this country won its freedom from England and what the founding fathers created. Wanting to go in a direction that put control in the hands of the citizens, the authors of the Constitution created what is called a Constitutional Democratic Federal Republic. The power of control was divided into three branches of the federal government— the Executive branch, the legislative branch, or the Congress that was composed of representatives from the states and the judicial branch. In simple terms, the Executive branch was in charge of carrying out the laws, the legislative branch to create or change existing laws as well as allocating funding for government spending and the judicial branch was to judge the laws as they comply with the stipulations as outlined in the Constitution.

This republic is different from a democracy, where the majority of voters can impose their will on the minority. Although political representation is determined by a democratic voting system, the US Republic’s Constitution and the Bill of Rights, even in the face of majority opinion, serve to protect its citizens inalienable rights.

There is now leeway in each of these branches’ roles to better meet the needs of the rapidly and unpredictably changing world. The President can issue Executive Orders that carry the full force of the law, including military strikes against the enemy as long as they don’t exceed 72 hours. In addition to formulating and passing bills that are sent on to the White House, the legislative branch has the power to override the President, through their veto power, to enact or change the laws, if it is by a two-thirds majority by both houses of Congress. They also have the authority to change the Constitution, if their will meets the same two-thirds majority, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures. The judicial branch (Supreme Court) has assumed wider latitude in their rulings by interpreting the intent of the Constitutional amendments.

The problem is that this blurring of the boundaries in our tripartite government is taking the power away from the people and putting it back in under federal control. The result is either autocratic control by whomever occupies the White House, or a deterioration into a mobocracy that is sensitized to the needs of the most vocal of the masses, as in Ferguson and Baltimore. Current examples abound that expose the threats to the Constitution: President Obama’s mandate on illegal aliens, his unwillingness to close the borders and enforce existing legislation that would control the rising inflow of illegal immigrants. Harry Reid, essentially shutting down the Senate, when he was majority leader. The initial ruling by the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act.

The United States is rapidly drifting away from the Republic where the will of the people dominate within the constraints of the Constitution. Instead, the country is moving in the direction of a democracy, that responds to mob outcry, where special interests and not the Constitution rule. A country where the President uses his ‘pen and his phone’ to go around Congress, and issues mandates that often appear to violate the Constitution. Where the work of the Congress is ground to a halt at the will of the Senate Majority Leader.  Where controversial Supreme Court decisions are virtually always determined by one vote margin because the Justices, even in the face of overwhelming testimony to the contrary, are intransigent in their basic beliefs.

Is the threat to our Constitutional Republic’s governance by the people just part of an evolution in an ever-changing and more complex world or is there a slow movement toward socialism? A federation of states, where more power moves under centralized control as the citizens willingly vote themselves more subsidies, leads to more dependency and less independency.

The current entitlement obligations, immigration policies and our runaway debt are going to transform the United States into a democracy under autocratic control. When that time comes, if hasn’t already, let’s just hope the autocrat who occupies the White House isn’t a despot.

Is this the vision for America that our founding fathers wanted?

Do They Remind Us of the Thénardiers?

The musical adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, is set in early 19th century France. It is the story of Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. Searching for redemption, Valjean breaks parole and starts a new life. Several years later, he assumes a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, a wealthy factory owner and mayor of the small, French town of Montreuil-sur-Mer.

Fantine, a single mother working in Valjean’s factory, is trying to support her daughter, Cosette, who is being raised by the innkeepers, Monsieur and Madame Thénardier. This deceitful couple uses Cosette as a housemaid, while extorting more money out of Fantine by claiming Cosette is seriously ill, only to indulge their own daughter, Eponine. The morally corrupt Thénardiers also cheated the customers at their inn and lived a life based on personal greed and deception.  Becoming aware of Cosette’s miserable situation, Valjean pays off the Thénardiers, who feign concern for Cosette, and takes her with him to Paris.

The Thénardiers are opportunists— persons who exploit circumstances in order to gain advantages, rather than being guided by consistent principles. Taking Cosette under their wing appeared to be an act of beneficence, so that her mother could work. Instead, the Thénardiers lied about Cosette’s medical condition, exploiting the vulnerable Fantine to get even more money. To make matters worse, they used the child as a servant, rather than treating her as a guest at their inn.

The lying about Cosette’s health takes the Thénadier’s situation, along with the extorsion, to a level of criminality. They also cross the line by forcing her into a role of a servitude, which would probably violate child work laws today. Simply put, not only are the Thénardiers greedy and insensitive, they are criminals— using their economic situation to take advantage of others who were not as fortunate.

The errant ways of the Thénardiers finally caught up with them when they lost their inn, and were forced to become con artists in a street gang. Apparently undeterred and believing that their fortunes someday would turn around, Monsieur Thénardier is last seen roaming the Paris sewers as he loots fallen bodies from the most recent upheaval over the impending death of General Lamarque, a defender of the poor. An excerpt from the song, Beggars at the Feast, epitomizes their almost blind optimism:

           ‘…But we’re the ones who take it. We’re the ones who make it in the end! Watch the buggars dance. Watch ‘em till they drop. Keep your wits          about you and you stand on top! Masters of the land, always get our share. Clear away the barricades and we’re still there! We know where the wind is blowing. Money is the stuff we smell and when we’re rich as Croesus Jesus, won’t we see you all in hell!’

Hugo doesn’t give us any closer look as to what motivated the Thénardiers. They weren’t hardened criminals, more petty crooks, who skirted with the law— mere shysters, who capitalized on others for their own personal benefit. Just as when they forced Valjean to pay them 1,500 francs to take Cosette from them. The Thénardiers never missed the chance to ‘make a buck’. When an opportunity arose, they took it. It would appear that the reason they preyed on Fantine and the guests at their inn was because they could.

Monsieur Thénardier best describes his attitude in the song, Keeper of the House:

 ‘Welcome, M’sieur. Sit yourself down, and meet the best innkeeper in town. As for the rest, all of ‘em crooks, rooking their guests and cooking the books. Seldom do you see honest men like me. A gent of good intent, who’s content to be master of the house, doling out the charm. Ready with a handshake and an open palm. Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir, customers appreciate a bon-viveur. Glad to do a friend a favor. Doesn’t cost me to be nice, but nothing gets you nothing! Everything has got a little price!’

Does any of this sound strangely familiar?

Why Politics and Religion Don’t Mix

Agreeing or not with his decisions, it would be hard to deny that George W. Bush was a religious man and that his faith in our Creator helped him through some very difficult times. He didn’t use his religious beliefs to define his Presidency, but to give him support during his Presidency.

A growing number of candidates for public office feel they are being forced to run away from their faith publicly, rather than being marginalized. We seem to confuse one’s faith with one’s religion. A religion is a system of attitudes, beliefs and practices that were created by man. Faith is a personal support system that is shored up by the teachings of a particular religion. Just like political persuasions, there may be teachings by a particular religion with which an individual may not fully support, but still align with that religion. In the end, no matter what religion we align with, we all answer to God. The concerns raised when talking about separation of ‘church from state’, come when religious beliefs, which vary from religion to religion, trump decisions are made through faith.

The distinction should be whether the candidates are defined by their faith, rather than just the teachings of their particular religion. Those who are defined by their faith, often attempt to bring others to their own line of thinking. The difference is choice— whether that choice is mandatory or free. Extreme examples of mandatory would be Hitler’s eradication of the Jews and the ISIS killings of those who are not followers of their sect of the Muslim religion. The free choice examples are the thousands of missionaries who spread God’s word or the Reverend Billy Graham who has brought countless to God. Then there is Jesus— no explanation needed!

We debate with fervor the separation of ‘church from state, as if bringing religion into governance is a bad thing. The argument put forward is that calling on religion, in some way, distorts decisions. These concerns are not new, and were confirmed into law by implementing the Treaty of Tripoli on June 10, 1797, which included the clause, ‘the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.’ Based on the many examples including the phrase ‘under God’, throughout this country’s history, our forefathers must have felt decisions reached through faith, are more likely to come to ‘greater good’.

Secular progressives have been very successful in bringing religious freedom legislation (choice), contraception, abortion and gay marriage to the forefront of the political debates that have polarized this country. The effected constituencies often feel disenfranchised by the mainstream population, and tend to align themselves more often on the liberal side of the electoral process.

Most of these issues, that have religious undertones, should be taken out of the federal agenda and moved to the States, whenever possible. The gay marriage IRS deductions and Social Security benefits for same sex partners are examples where total federal disassociation is next to impossible. Whereas, Indiana’s religious freedom (choice) law and legalization of marijuana, as in Colorado and Oregon, should be legislated at the State level and not taken over by the feds.

We need to remember what our founders intended when they initially drafted the Bill of Rights that codifies the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness— the right to be allowed to act on one’s own volition as long as it does not bring harm to others. Those freedoms do not imply that everyone has to agree, but they have the freedom to disagree, work for change or move on. With more and more government intrusions into our lives those freedoms are slowly being taken away.

Conservative Republican candidate for President, Ted Cruz, has made it clear that he is a man of faith and believes strongly in the Constitution. Former Arkansas Governor, and probable Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee was a minister before he entered the political arena. Whether their public religious pronouncements work for, or against, them will probably be decided in the primaries, long before the Presidential election.

The religions of Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and most Muslims share two positions in common, they all answer to their creator and they advocate for a greater good. This country is strong because it allows religious diversity. We may not want those who represent us to interject their religious beliefs into their decisions, but trust that they will call on their faith as they carry out their duties.

At the very least, we can pray that they do!

What It Takes to Have a ‘Good’ Marriage

Over fifty years together should give me the experience of what I’ve learned about the most important union one can have and the commitment it takes to make a ‘good’ marriage…

An ever-growing number of marriages end in divorce and even more are in name only. In reality, just a small percentage can be considered as ‘good’ and none ‘perfect’. Why, when two people appear to love each other so deeply, at the start of their journey, do so many of these relationships end tragically?

Some would say that today most are not willing to make the commitment necessary to build a lasting marriage. After all, marriage is work that takes continued nurturing, not only to grow but to even last. It is two people standing together to face not only the problems that happen to each as individuals, but collectively as well. It is two people doing their part in their own way; each bringing certain strengths as well as weaknesses to the relationship. Not keeping score of who does more or less.

Marriage is not easy. The good marriages work only when both partners make the commitment. When both put the other first. Many start out that way, but gradually one or both partners begin to falter. One can’t do it alone.

Most marriages fail for one of three reasons— fear, selfishness and abandoning one’s commitment. Not willing to make a total commitment for fear of losing one’s identity in the relationship. A fear that if he or she lets down the protective barriers that were so carefully constructed while growing up, they will be vulnerable to hurt and pain. Another is selfishness— never being able to put the partner’s needs ahead of his or her own. Finally, forgetting the commitment they made to God when their relationship was formalized.

It is frequently said that marriages fail because people change. Everyone changes. What often happens is a loss of self-confidence. In an attempt to prove one’s own self-esteem, one looks in other directions. It may be to exercise, a different career, or a casual affair. While this ‘searching’ was not meant to destroy the relationship, it either does, or permanently damages the trust that holds the marriage together.

It is only a fortunate few who enter a relationship where both individuals are brave enough and unselfish enough to make the sacrifices. But for them, a relationship is born that is second to none— a true partnership to share the pleasure and the pain, the joy and the sorrow, and the good and the bad.  Each partner finds that they don’t lose their identity, but because of their mutual support, they grow and flourish.  Sure, they are vulnerable to hurt and pain, if the relationship does not work out, but, nothing in life comes without some risk.

In the movie, Love Story, there is the quote, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry”. That’s not really the way life goes. It should have been, “Love is always to be willing to say you’re sorry”. Not necessarily sorry for being wrong, but sorry because whatever happened might have hurt the one they love.

If a good marriage is so fulfilling, why then are there so few of them? What is the secret that makes these relationships special? Each partner has different ways to keep their love alive.

The first is trust. One can’t keep looking over their shoulder and ahead at the same time. Next is respect for the partner and his/her needs. Forgiveness without reservations, knowing that any hurt was not done intentionally. And finally, loving that person, more than one’s self. Finding that the greatest pleasure comes from making their partner happy.

Good marriages don’t just happen. They are built by two people, who love each other, trust each other, forgive each other and respect each other.

Many never stay around to see the rewards of their commitment. But then again, some very fortunate do, and a lifetime together never seems long enough!

Rob Tenery            1998 (re-edited 2015)

We Live in One Big Infomercial

What do Keith Olbermann and Mark Levin have in common? It might be open to debate, but I would call both of them smart and well informed. They both, however, take the same facts and spin out almost completely different messages. Not that either is lying, only telling the truth  in their way. But what they share is they both bring down the debate to a lower level with their degrading characterizations of individuals with whom they disagree. Even those who support their particular position on a subject are either turned off, or become as radical as they are. In either case, these commentators and those that support them, are often left out of the debate by those who are willing to look at the differing positions in a more reasoned way.  The two make for ‘good press’ but not necessarily for meaningful dialogue. The good they might accomplish is that they bring attention to subjects that can be debated in a more subdued environment, but usually without them.

Being conservative, I support Mark Levin’s positions, almost down the line, but when he labels our Secretary of State as ‘mashed potato face’, it reflects poorly on Levin, even if his negative point about John Kerry was valid. That alone exonerates Kerry to a certain extent. Levin and Olbermann are just trying to entertain their listeners, or viewers, with their added ‘color’, but they, and many other media outlets are instrumental in adding to the unrest in this country. Maybe even more important, they and other commentators are influencing the attitude and methods with whom we dialogue. We have become less understanding because, in most situations, our minds are already made up. Far too many postings on Facebook are nothing more than unsubstantiated babble with an occasional shred of truth dropped in. Like Olbermann and Levin, most of us know who they are and take their comments accordingly.

Reporters in this country don’t just report the news any more. They have become journalists, commentators and editors who analyze the facts and slant their message, before releasing it to the public. Most reflect the bias of their upbringing, their education and their employer. The consumers get the news from these sources, but not all these sources— usually only the ones that are sympathetic to their points of view. We, the consumers, are basically lazy. Rather than doing the background work to come to the opinions we espouse, we rely on others (our preselected media sources) to shape our opinions for us.

Let’s examine how many, if not most of us, come to an opinion on a particular political candidate. First, we take note of the candidate’s political party. Next, we check with the media sources that we rely on, which virtually always lean the same way we do. We may also contact individuals with whom we regularly communicate for their points of view. Finally, we might interact with the candidates by listening to their recorded or printed excerpts, or even attending a rally where they appear. In that order. That’s the exact reverse of the way our positions should be formulated. The truth be told, most of us, who do care about this country, don’t have an open mind.  How many people listen to both CNBC and Fox, on a regular basis? Very few, I would guess. Thus, elections are won or lost by how well those of us who are concerned about the issues that affect this country, get those, that don’t seem to care as much, out to vote.

Another controversial commentator, Rush Limbaugh, once said, “You can never change a liberal’s mind.” I think he was only half-right, because he didn’t include conservatives as well.

Our ‘Kick It Down the Road’ Generation

My generation came along at just the right time. We saw the birth of Rock and Roll, Dwight Eisenhower was President and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were broadcasting each night at 5:30. Coming off the victory of World War II and winding down from the Korean War we were proud to be called Americans. In 1955, there was virtually no inflation; the Consumer Price Index rose just 0.4% and unemployment hung around 5%. Rates on Treasury bonds were less than 3%. Real GDP rose 7.2% and the Dow Jones industrial average increased by close to 20%.

Dial ahead 60 years to 2015. Although we’ve been in wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan over that time, we have not won any of them, except for the short sojourn in Kuwait. The predominant music of the day raps on about drugs, calls ‘cops’ the enemy and labels girls as whores. The news is what they want to tell us; depending on whether the media outlet is liberal or conservative. Close to 50% of the population is getting some sort of government subsidy. Our President has recommended more entitlement spending in his new budget, even though our national debt is increasing at $3 million per minute.

The shooting deaths of Trevon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri have created unrest in the Black community. Having elected a black President who appointed another black as Attorney General, we could have hoped they would have taken the lead to easing racial tensions. Instead these differences appear to have worsened. Islamic terrorists are trying to force their radical religion on the rest of the world, and the most extreme (ISIS) has set their goal on reaching the White House.  Our administration has failed to comply with current law and adequately closed our southern border, while thousands of illegal children and potential terrorists pour across each day.  Our standing in the world community is taking a nosedive as we don’t take a leadership position in defending the world against terrorism. Our President has distanced himself from the current leadership in Israel, while possibly being manipulated by Iran as they continue to push ahead with their nuclear weapons program.

What can we do to address our skyrocketing financial commitments, increasing racial disharmony, a porous border that hurts our working class and opens us up to terrorism and our dwindling influence in the world community? A start might be to call our children and apologize to them, because we haven’t done a very good job of carrying on what our fathers gave to us.

What Can President Obama Learn from Neville Chamberlin?

History has a way of repeating itself. Smart people take advantage of that by learning from the mistakes of others or building on their accomplishments. Only a fool disregards the past.

Many judge Bush 43 as too hawkish, involving the United States in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Russia ended their involvement after 9 years because of the interminable nature of the conflict in Afghanistan, Bush still felt compelled to act in response to the 9/11 attack on this country. Like Russia, the United States has learned that wars between religious factions are virtually unwinable. But then again, Bush, along with Congressional approval, plunged headlong into attacking Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime failed to comply with the United Nations resolutions to allow their inspectors to check that they had eliminated their cache of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Some have also claimed that Bush’s aggression into Iraq was also possibly a reprisal to Hussein’s attack on Kuwait when his father was President.  Right or wrong, history will place the yoke of these wars on his back.

Most rate Ronald Reagan very high in his ability to handle foreign affairs. During his tenure as President, he sought a massive buildup in United States military capabilities, which led to the victory in Granada, and ultimately, an end to the Cold War with Russia. He promoted new and more advanced military technologies and granted aid to paramilitary forces that were committed to overthrowing their communist and leftist governments. In 1986, in response to learning that Libyan President Muammar Kaddafi was behind the terrorist bombing of La Belle Discotheque in Berlin, Germany, that killed two American soldiers and injured 150 more, Reagan authorized what became known as Operation El Dorado Canyon. United States air and naval forces launched a series of strikes against the headquarters, terrorist facilities and military assets that supported Kaddafi. Dozens were reported killed, including Kaddafi’s daughter.

Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940, will be remembered most for his appeasement foreign policy, because of his endorsement and signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, which conceded to Germany the German speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Hitler then invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Chamberlain, having pledged Britain to defend Poland’s independence, declared war on Germany on September 3. When the Labour and the Liberal parties would not join a government headed by him, Chamberlain resigned, but stayed on until his death, as a member of the War Cabinet of his successor, Sir Winston Churchill.

Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, because he refused to consider surrendering during the early days of World War II when his country and the countries of the British Empire were alone in their opposition to Hitler’s Germany.

What can be learned from these leaders? First, if a war is inevitable, it is better to be fought on foreign soil. Second, negotiating is more effective if it comes from a position of strength. Isolationism is an idealistic theory. If we have something someone else wants, they will eventually come and take it from us, unless we are the stronger of the two parties. Terrorism, in some ways, defies that logic. The proponents of terrorism are more concerned with inflicting damage and imposing their form of dominance on others, as opposed to just taking our property. The latest terrorist threat is that ISIS appears to have added another element and that is eradication of those who oppose their radical way of thinking.

Our leader, President Barack Obama, should learn from George W. Bush that we need to fight our enemies on their soil.  From Ronald Reagan that we cannot negotiate from the position of a weakened military. From Neville Chamberlin that yielding to those elements that advocate dominance over others, only encourages them to take more. Finally, from Sir Winston Churchill, who incentivized his country and the free world to never give up.

On the other hand, maybe the world can learn from President Obama that the role of the United States should change from a world power to an entitlement state.  That the United States should pull out of wars on foreign lands and instead treat them as police actions when others bring their violence to this country. Lend token support, while terrorist dictatorships wipeout populations that don’t adhere to their religious beliefs. Finally, let Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Tammam Salam of Lebanon, Egypt’s President Sisi and almost everyone’s favorite, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, take over as the world leaders. I suppose that is why our President sent the bust of Sir Winston Churchill, that resided in the White House, back to England when he moved into the Oval Office.

Are We Going to Look the Other Way, Again?

Do 30,000+ radical extremist Islamic militants in the Middle East really pose a threat to the rest of the world? When it first began, did Hitler’s Nazi Party pose a threat to world peace when it first began? The answer to the latter nearly took the world to its knees before Germany fell. What do both of these movements have in common?

What we have here is a clash of ideologies. Although it has been reported that only slightly over 20% of the worlds one and a half billion Muslims are sympathetic to the ISIS cause, that number alone is astronomical.

Make no mistake, what is happening in the Middle East is a Holy War with immense implications to the rest of the world. The participants, mostly Sunni Muslims, of ISIS have declared war on their fellow Shia Muslims, Jews and Christians. In a matter of months, their ranks have grown to be in excess of 30,000 and they have established their Caliphate state by occupying portions of Iraq and Syria. Already their presence in other adjacent countries is being felt. This intense fervor comes not just from a desire to acquire territory, but an ideology of forcing their Muslim religion, under Sharia law, on those they conquer and kill those that don’t comply. It appears no one that comes under the control of ISIS is immune. Their brutality is shocking— from beheadings and torchings to mass killing of innocent children and selling of  ‘donor’ organs on the black market. Convert to their form of the Muslim religion or die.

This is not so different from when Hitler’s Germany took control of Austria in March 1938 and then, with help of England and France, completed the take over of Czechoslovakia by March 1939. Using the harsh limitations put on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, Hitler’s pretext was Germany’s right to acquire land where German-speaking people lived (policy of lebensraum). But quickly, the takeover became more. Jews, from all parts of the German occupied territory, were rounded up and put in camps, then by the millions, worked to death or systematically exterminated in gas chambers, while the majority of German citizens either didn’t know or looked the other way at what was going on right under their noses. At the end of World War II, the world community promised this almost unimaginable brutality of ethnic cleansing would never be allowed to happen again. In the subcontinent of Africa alone, there are examples where history has proven that promise wrong on numerous occasions.

What seems different, about the participants of ISIS from Hitler’s Nazis, is their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for their ideology and their senseless brutality. A brutality, broadcast to the world community, that almost begs for reprisal. Either the ISIS terrorists feel the world community is so burned out from the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that they are unwilling to make the commitment to eradicate them. Or, they want to draw the opposing countries into a third World War— the flash-points being Israel and Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

The complicating problems are immense: The American public is burned out on getting into another war that results in ‘boots-on-the ground.’ They have accepted drone attacks on Al-Qaeda leaders and targeted bombings. But the ISIS confrontation is different— the terrorists are too spread out and more forces pour into their occupied territories daily. The efforts of the limited sorties flown by US forces, the response by Lebanon in retaliation when their captured pilot was burned to death and Egypt’s response when 21 of their citizens were beheaded in a mass execution, just because they were Christians, is clearly not enough to bring a halt to this expanding threat by ISIS. The President’s representatives have made it known that the US military has planned an invasion into the ISIS controlled territory to retake Mosul in April using using Iraqi troops. So, there is hope other, less public, plans to eradicate ISIS are in the works.

The United States has been the word’s policeman since the end of World War II. President Obama campaigned and won two elections on the promise he would extricate this country from Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, even though Obama claims to be a Christian, his Muslim background has shaped his beliefs that this movement is only by a small part of those that hold onto the Muslim faith. So, he is fundamentally torn with dealing with ISAS as a band of fanatical terrorists versus the religious fanatics that they really are. Although he recognizes the threat they pose, I feel he greatly underestimates their future capabilities if not stopped soon.

As ISIS advances its agenda of domination and destabilization across the Middle East, they have already set their eyes on Rome and, ultimately, Washington, D.C. Is this just wishful thinking by a band of ‘junior varsity’ terrorists, as President Obama compared them to in an interview with New Yorker magazine, released January 20, 2014? Close observers of their advances in taking large areas of Iraq and Syria and the brutality to those they capture, would probably disagree.

History has a way of repeating itself.  Hopefully, the world leaders won’t keep looking the other way, until it’s too late!

The Fall of the “American Empire”?

Growing up, Sunday mornings were when my mother would drag my dress shirt, cuffed pants, seersucker jacket, clip-on bow tie and one-day-a-week pair shoes out of the closet and lay them neatly at the foot of my un-made bed. It was church time; a weekly ritual for as long as I can remember. For me and my baby sister, it wasn’t really church, but Sunday school. That would come when we were older. Going to church was part of our lives. Granted, I’ve not been as disciplined as my parents, but the lessons they taught me have shaped my thinking throughout my life.

The extra time it took to dress up for church, instead of just dropping into yesterday’s jeans and a fresh t-shirt, was all part of the process of preparing for church. Not that I couldn’t have benefitted just as much in my jeans and t-shirt, but there was a certain decorum that was acceptable in those days. I thought of it as my church uniform.

Dial ahead thirty years to many of the Pentecostal and so-called Cowboy churches where the tradition of dressing up was no longer expected. Many attendees still did, but many didn’t. The argument put forward was that by relaxing the ‘dress code’ more people would go to church. And that’s what counted! The standards, that were fine for our parents, had passed.

This change struck home when my wife and I attended our church on a recent Sunday. The greeters that welcomed and directed us to a pew weren’t wearing ties. Many of the older attendees, scattered around the sanctuary, were still dressed in their Sunday best, but almost as many were dressed from dress-casual, to jeans, even one in her sweat suit, as if she had just drooped by after an early-morning jog.

It was a special Sunday, called Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartan, when the culture of the roots of our church from Scotland was celebrated by some of the members bringing to the service tartans of their clan’s heritage. We were barely seated when the music of bagpipes filled the air. Leading the procession into the sanctuary of the choir and the minister was the North Texas Caledonian Pipes and Drums Corps, dressed in their full Scottish regalia, with their bagpipes tightly tucked under their arms. The look on their faces told it all, as they proudly carried on the traditions of their forefathers’ native country. I was struck by the irony of holding on to the traditions of the country where our church had its roots, but throwing other traditions aside just to get more people to attend. I wondered if the affect would have been the same if the bagpipe corps had turned in their kilts for jeans or a sweat suit.

There is something to be said for decorum— behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety. Tradition for tradition’s sake without meaning only stifles progress . Dress codes in church may hold back attendance, but it shows respect for the church. It also demonstrates (in this case attendance) sacrifice to take the extra time to ‘clean-up’ so to speak. Does it matter to God? Probably not! But it may matter to others that attend the service.

Dress code in church is only one example of how social norms are ‘dumbing down.’ The more free use of curse words in public, toothpicks hanging out the mouth, and chewing gum in public are the most obvious.

Chewing gum in public, especially when it is done by our President, has garnered lots of attention. Recently, the press in India was critical when Obama, who was in conversation with their Prime Minister Shri Modi, took the gum that he was chewing, out of his mouth, examined it and then popped it back in. When Obama was photographed at the somber, 70th anniversary ceremony of the D-Day landing, ‘chomping’ his gum, the French media had a field day with comments like lack of respect and shocking. The comment that said it all came in a French twitter that claimed the President’s chewing gum was an example of American class.

Collectively, these examples of changing decorum don’t demonstrate how far our society and our leadership have come in shattering old taboos and setting new norms, but possibly the first signs of the fall of the “American Empire.”

Physicians Desperately Need an American Medical Association

Physicians need a national organization that speaks with a united voice on issues that are corporatizing this once-noble profession. For without that representation, they become nothing more than independent contractors answering to the highest bidder, and not to their patients.

In the early 1950s, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) membership was almost 75% of the eligible physician population. Today that number hovers in the upper teens, which also includes medical student and resident members. From 1980 to 2002, the membership of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) had grown by 55.6% and, from 2002 to the present; it has grown by an additional 16%.

Although these statistics don’t exactly equate, they point out a glaring difference: While the AMA’s market share of eligible physician members continues on a long downhill slide, the ACS continues to grow its membership. Understanding this difference is important, since the AMA, even with its low market share, is still usually considered the spokesman when it comes to national issues that affect the medical profession. At some point, and with the continuing trend, that may no longer be the case. Either some other voice will take the AMA’s place, or the disparate entities that make up the body of practicing physicians will then have to feign for themselves.

With respect to its charter, the American College of Surgeons is targeted to advocate for issues that particularly affect the surgical specialties. The AMA tries to represent the needs and desires of all the disciplines that comprise its broad membership, which, all too often, puts it in a no-win situation with at least some of its constituency.

The reasons physicians join organizations generally fall into four general categories: Education, certification, representation and duty are the most notable. The first three are obvious, although they vary, depending on area of interest and locality. It is this duty to the profession that has changed this paradigm— this moral obligation that supersedes personal reward.

The American public’s support for this country’s efforts during World War II, versus the Vietnam conflict, seems to be the most analogous comparison. In the former, there was an almost 100% support, both on the battlefield and at home. During the Vietnam effort, the goals shifted from defending liberty to protesting— an attitude shift from public good to self-fulfillment.

It is the responsibility of the leadership of these two similar organizations, that claim to speak for and to the physicians they represent, to reevaluate and make adjustments when necessary to the three basics of responsibility, relevance, and representation: Responsibility to their members— just as important to the patients these physicians serve. Staying relevant to the current needs and wishes of the medical profession and their membership. Finally, representing the physicians’ best interests in those areas that impact the profession.

These basics require ongoing diligence by the leadership to the changing norms and expectations of both their physician populations and society as a whole— an understanding of the big picture. Unfortunately, that is where the entrenched leadership often fails. So caught up with their own, personal agendas and the precepts established when the climate was different, they often try to lead rather than follow.

Isn’t that the question? When should leadership lead and when should it follow the wishes of its constituency? When does the collective knowledge of those that are elected to lead out weigh the apparent wishes of the membership?

        While the ACS continues to grow its membership, the drop in AMA penetration from close to 75% of eligible members in the 1950s to somewhere in the upper teens, deserves a closer look.

Although the AMA is more representative of the body of physicians as a whole, it is less representative of many specific groups that make up its membership. Thus, the major reason the ACS grows its penetration rate in the surgical sectors of the profession.

The membership drop in the AMA speaks particularly to apathy on the part of today’s physicians and lack of perceived value. Potential members feel that they can get more targeted representation through other organizations and alliances. But it is the loss of allegiance to duty that is the most critical. This social trend is not only with medical organizations, but traditional churches, many social organizations and volunteer efforts too. It is a re-prioritization away from traditional allegiances and into arrangements that create more direct benefit to the participants

Because of its diverse audience, the AMA has always had difficulty with communication. With the loss of AM News, revelations about the regulatory and political issues that are impacting the medical profession have deteriorated even further. These subjects are not routinely part of JAMA’s purview or even the specialty periodicals they publish. It’s not through the minutes of the AMA meetings. Those are usually distributed through the state organizations’ periodicals and the minutes of some of the specialty societies. If there ever was a wake-up call, it is for the AMA to prove its relevance.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) appears to be the ‘sword’ on which the AMA has chosen to make its stand. Virtually every poll conducted of physicians was and continues to be opposed to the legislation in its current form. Still, the AMA publicly stands in support of most of the mandates in the ACA.

Although no one, except maybe the authors of the original legislation, understood the full implications of the proposed law, the AMA’s almost blind support set the path for a new era for the organization— compliance. Their position, put forward by their BOT and supported by their House of Delegates, is one of compliance—evaluate ways that physicians, as providers of care, and small business employers, can maintain compliance with the proposed Employer and Individual Mandate clauses. The proposed intent was to do this without eliminating the choice of their doctors and many of their health care plans. At least, that’s what the American public was told as the plan was initially touted.

Instead of supporting changes to those aspects of the law that potentially create access and financial hardships to employers and patients (the Employer and Individual Mandate clauses), the AMA appears to look for ways to improve compliance with those mandates. Instead of saying ‘no’ to the government mandates concerning ICD 10 guidelines (which they have recently put out objections), EMR stipulations, and punitive rules concerning hospitals that treat Medicare recipients, the AMA appears to sit idly by, apparently afraid to ‘ruffle the feathers’ of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Administration that are the root causes of these intrusions into health care delivery.

We must question why the AMA membership continues to lose penetration in the physician population, while the ACS still maintains and grows theirs. Maybe, it’s because the ACS is seen as an advocacy organization with their frequent postings to their membership with the ACS NewsScope and other methods of communication, while the AMA loiters in relative silence of compliance.

This concern is not about the number of members in either organization, but about being able to protect the precepts of this noble profession and the health and wellbeing of the patients they serve.

Some might claim the AMA is too big, because it tries to represent too many divergent interests. With a member penetration of only in the upper teens, some would say it’s not big enough. The numbers may not be important, just being able to deliver the message!

Physicians desperately do need an American Medical Association, but is it the one we have now?

For additional thoughts:

Why the AMA Endorses Obamacare— But Your Doctor Does Not, Lee Heib, M.D. @ http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/why-the-ama-endorses-obamacare-but-your-doctor-does-not/

Our Changing Health Care System Since the Inception of the Affordable Care Act, The American College of Surgeons, @https://www.facs.org/advocacy/federal/health-care-reform.