What’s So Great About Bernie Sanders?

Since Senator Bernie Sanders first announced his candidacy for the Presidency, his meteoric increase in popularity raises several serious concerns that must be examined closely. First is his popularity about him and his message? Or, is it more a backlash to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton, for all her years on the national stage, as wife of the sitting President, Senator from New York and Secretary-of-Sate of the current President, has very little to show for her efforts. Even her strongest proponents have trouble piecing together an impressive dossier of her accomplishments. Her questionable past from Whitewater, the Rose Law firm, the deleted emails, lack of the proper response during the Benghazi attack when she was the Secretary-of-State, appearing to hide in a choreographed campaign and the questionable dealings of the Clinton Foundation, make her a flawed candidate.  Currently, she is upside down on the issue of trust by the American public. The Democrats are worried, if she is their best candidate in the upcoming Presidential election.

If Sanders’ popularity was just about the concerns over Hillary Clinton’s viability as the Democratic candidate, then Martin O’Malley should be doing better in the polls. The 52-year-old (versus Saunders at almost 75) O’Malley was a popular governor from Maryland who championed issues such as same-sex marriage and college tuition for undocumented immigrants. The former chairman of the Democratic Governors Association from 2001-2013, O’Malley should be the logical alternative to the front-running Clinton, but, so far, he is not. The other nominees, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee and possibly Vice-President Biden haven’t caught on either.

Sanders’, a self-described democratic socialist, message seems to be resonating, at least, in the Democratic Party. The senator from Vermont, although he caucuses with Democrats, calls himself an independent, and, currently, is the ranking minority party member on the Senate Budget Committee. He aligns himself with the social democratic leaning countries in Europe, particularly Scandinavia. His past involvement as a member of the Young People’s Socialist League and a youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America, have propelled him to the level of the leading progressive voice.

Excerpted from a recent speech: Sanders said, “the billionaire cliques, the Koch brothers, the lobbyists, the corporate interests, are so powerful that nothing will get done unless millions of people stand up and loudly proclaim— this country belongs to all of us and not a handful of billionaires… Income inequality is the great moral issue of our time…There is something profoundly wrong with the top one-tenth of one per cent owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent. … And together we will end it!”

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Social democracy is a political ideology that officially has as its goal the establishment of democratic socialism through evolutionary methods….Social democracy advocates the promotion of democratic decision-making beyond political democracy to include economic democracy to guarantee employees and other economic stakeholders sufficient rights of co-determination‪ and support for a mixed economy that opposes the excesses of capitalism such as inequality, poverty, and oppression of underprivileged groups, while rejecting a fully free economy or a fully planned economy. Social democratic policy favors universally accessible public services such as education, health care, workers’ compensation, child care and care for the elderly.‪ Social democracy is strongly connected with the trade union labor movement and supports collective bargaining rights for workers.‪                          Wikipedia July, 2015

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“Medicare for all will become a single-payer program that would declare medical care a human right in the United States. A minimum wage increase to an unspecified ‘living wage’… A massive government jobs program to rebuild crumbling U.S. bridges, highways, dams and ports…Let’s rebuild our infrastructure!” Sanders continued, then pledged two things: He would nominate only Supreme Court justices who agreed to strike down a ruling that opened the floodgates of money into American politics. And he promised that he “would make certain that every public college and university in America is tuition-free.”

Two of the most respected leaders of the free world would disagree with Senator Sanders’ philosophy on socialism. Margret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990, probably described it best when she said “socialism is a great system until you run out of other peoples’ money.” Former President Ronald Reagan is quoted as saying, “a socialist is someone who has read Lenin and Marx. An anti-socialist is someone who understands Lenin and Marx.”

Disputing the concept that big government can do a better job are testimonies from three successful individuals from the business community:

Andy Puzder, CEO of Carl’s and Hardee’s restaurants states, “when the government steps in and try’s to control things, you lose jobs…The only way you can reduce poverty and increase economic opportunity is economic growth…There’s one system in the history of the world that produces enough economic growth to meaningfully increase opportunity and that’s free market capitalism.”

Star Parker, who runs the Center for Urban Renewal and Education is quoted as claiming, “early on, I bought the narrative of the left. Freedom lovers understand American exceptionalism. They understand the American dream. They understand what we were founded on. The principles of traditional living, of free markets, of limited roles of government… When you buy the lie that the government will take care of you, then you’re not moving to self-sufficiency and then you get trapped… When the government begins to reward you for ill behavior, you are really stuck.”

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods puts it succinctly. “Capitalism is so dynamic and so competitive that you can get temporary advantages. But people come along and imitate that. They innovate and leapfrog beyond you… You don’t need the government to protect you from monopolies, the (free) market protects people from monopolies… All businesses are guilty of some kind of anti-collusion practices… That’s how the government wants it.”

Under capitalism, economic inequality is essential to encourage innovation and economic development. Whereas under socialism, the purpose is redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor. This insures equal opportunities, but also equal outcomes. The argument for individual ownership versus the state, argues for more efficiency and better products. The argument for socialism is unemployment is no longer based on market forces, but government control. Under capitalism, market forces determine price and availability, while socialist systems frequently fall prey to shortages and surpluses.

Senator Sanders’ rise in popularity mirrors the attitudes of a growing segment of the population that is becoming more dependent on the government entitlement teat. As a democratic socialist, his vision replaces opportunity with equality that is run by big government and not by the free market. Each has its advantages. Capitalism built this country into the greatest superpower of the twentieth century and democratic socialism into Europe.

Hopefully, there will still be enough of us to keep America’s dream of opportunity alive!

Trying to Save the Middle East from Itself

As it turns out, George W. Bush may have been wrong for invading Iraq, but not for the reason that he is being blamed. He was not alone. Most of the Congress, as well as both Clintons, supported him because of the intelligence information they were given.

We may never know if the weapons of mass destruction were secretly moved out of Iraq just prior to the United States’ invasion. What has been learned is that many of the countries that make up the Middle East are pluralistic that means the different members of the populations maintain their independent cultural traditions. Simply put, it appears the differing Muslim cultures don’t seem to be able to coexist in democratically governed systems— the examples being Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

“We decapitated Iraq to a disastrous effect. We decapitate Libya also to a disastrous effect. The Syrian people decapitated their own government to a disastrous effect. And the Yemeni people decapitated their government to a disastrous effect. This is a pluralistic region that lacks pluralism; that’s been governed by top down authority. I think that the problem for the next President is going to be the fact that we are in a post imperial era. We are in a post-colonial era and no one wants to control it. Recently, we are in a post authoritarian era, and unless these people can learn how to govern themselves horizontally, by forging social contracts about how to live together, this is going to be a human development disaster area for the next President (American).” Tom Freidman, New York Times editor on Meet the Press May 16, 2015

Look what happened when Saddam Hussein was forced out of office in Iraq. The Iraqi Shiites were barely able to hold onto power as the United States military withdrew their forces. The Sunni led ISIS forces have taken over large swaths of Iraq, and are almost within firing range of Bagdad. Then there are the Kurds that are mostly Sunni Muslims in northern Iraq.

The NATO supported rebel army that was made up of hundreds of Libyan militants who were willing to come together to oust Muammar Gaddafi. After Tripoli fell, the individual militants of the different tribes refused to give up their control in the towns and neighborhoods they occupied when the war ended. Maintaining security among the differing tribes has made it difficult to transition from war to peace. Thus, the difficulty of developing a functioning government that will rebuild trust and economic growth is delayed as or if the power structure stabilizes.

Yemen may never emerge as a united country from their civil war, where the rebel Shiite Houthis from the north took control and ousted the Sunni President in January. They have appointed their own governing council. Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was former president stepped aside after mass protests in 2011, is backing the Houthis. Yemen is also home to one of Al-Qaeda’s most active movements, and the presence of ISIS is also on the rise.

Then there is Syrian Civil War that started in the spring of 2011. What began as protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s oppressive government, grew into an armed rebellion. The opposition began with the Free Syrian Army, which was joined by Hezbollah— the Shi’a Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon. Then from the east, arose ISIL which originated in Iraq, but quickly took control of a third of Syria and much of its oil and gas production.

The New York Times editor, Tom Freidman is right! Religious and cultural beliefs are so ingrained in certain populations, such as those of the differing Muslim nations in the Middle East, that governance outside of totalitarian rule is probably impossible.

The United States has long supported democracies throughout the world because our governance structure worked for us. But, the recent events in the Middle East seem to point to a different paradigm, depending on the individual country’s social makeup.

There has never been a question when it comes to protecting this country’s allies, our own citizens and economic interests. But the view of spreading democracy throughout the world may not apply universally.

The dilemma the United States, and many other countries throughout the world now face is how or if to protect the innocent citizens of other countries who get caught in the middle of their own turmoil— for example the Christians who are being slaughtered by the ISIS rebels. There seems to be universal consensus that we can no longer be the policeman for the free world. We don’t have the funding, probably the manpower under this administration, or the support of the voting majority.

Is George W. Bush responsible for the rise of ISIS, as some have claimed?  Indirectly only! The terrorist army ISIS arose out of the pluralism that is indigenous in the Muslim faith in the Middle East and the void the United States left when they pulled their support forces out of Iraq.

What we have learned from President Bush’s Iraqi invasion is that the United States is not able save a country from itself!

“What Difference, at This Point, Does It Make?”

The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night, who decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”  Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations’ Committee on January 23, 2013.

The attack on the U.S. consulate and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, that left the American ambassador and three other Americans dead, began at 9:40 p.m.

Were the President and the State department aware of the impending attacks and, if so, did they take measures to increase the security at the compound? As early as February 2012, the White House received a request for additional security from Ambassador Chris Stevens for the American consulate in Benghazi. Again, on August 2, Stevens sent a cable requesting an additional 11 bodyguards, but his request was denied. Reported by the Wall Street Journal, as the anniversary of 9/11 approached, the Administration removed a 16 member, security detail from Libya to be replaced by Libyan personnel, even though Ambassador Stevens felt they weren’t reliable.

Did the administration and the State Department have enough warning that they could have sent reinforcements that would have changed the outcome? Just an hour flight time away, military assistance from the large naval air station in Sigonella, Italy, the NATO airbase at Aviano, Italy and the Naval support base at Souda Bay on the island of Crete could have mustered their forces of fighters and AC 130 helicopter gunships to breakup the siege at the American compound.

When was it first apparent that this was an orchestrated attack instead of a response to the anti-Muslim video? A chronology of the facts seems to differ from the Administration and the Secretary of State’s position. After an American surveillance drone arrives in Benghazi, at shortly after 11 p.m., Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey met with the President. At 12:07 a.m. of September 12, the State department sends an email to the White House, as well as the Pentagon and the FBI, indicating that the Islamist terror group Ansar al-Shari had already claimed credit for the attack. By 1:15 a.m., a rescue team from Tripoli arrives in Benghazi. About 30 Americans were rescued from the consulate building and holed up with Ambassador Stevens at the CIA annex. At 4 a.m., an email confirmed the assault on the annex was a military style attack, where two Navy SEALS were ultimately killed. By 10 a.m., the bodies of Ambassador Stevens and three other dead Americans were put on a transport plane out of Benghazi.

Initially, the attack was reported to the media by the representatives of the current administration in the White house as a spontaneous protest triggered by an anti-Muslim video, Innocence of Muslims.

At 10:08 p.m. of September 11, Secretary of State Clinton reported: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor for President Obama, appeared on several Sunday morning talk shows, on September 16, stating, “Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is, as of the present is, in fact, what began, spontaneously in Bengasi, as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video … We do not have information, at present, that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

In President Obama’s address to the United Nations on September 24, he stated, “In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening.  In every culture, those who have freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others. That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks is a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. I have made it clear the United States government had nothing to and video.  And I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity….”

Secretary Clinton’s initial statement at 10:08 p.m., on the night of the attack about the video, is plausible— due to the lack of facts and the regional unrest about any comments that were anti-Muslim. But Susan Rice’s appearances and explanation on the Sunday talk shows, four days later, blaming the video just isn’t backed up by the facts that were widely known at the time. Then President Obama’s presentation, 13 days later, at the United Nations, still implying that the video was the cause, clearly demonstrates his denial of the ‘real’ world.  He can’t admit or realize that his foreign policy of amelioration is a failure. That not only makes him wrong, but dangerous!

When Hillary Clinton blurted out, before the Senate Foreign Relation’s Committee, “What Difference, at this point, does it make?” Sixteen months later, for the four dead Americans, she is probably correct. We can’t go back. What does matter is the veracity of this Administration and the questionable ability of Hillary Clinton if she is elected as this country’s next President!

Maybe We Can Learn from the Lessons of ISIS

When the former State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, said “we need to go after ISIS’s root causes, like the lack of job opportunities”, she may have gotten the principle right, but the population wrong. It may arguably be true that if the ISIS recruits were gainfully employed, many would not join in the Islamic revolution. However, ISIS soldiers are not from just the unemployed ranks, but from all strata of society. A better description of the ISIS recruits is that most are either religious zealots or social ‘misfits’. Finding no place in their normal society, they look for acceptance where they can find it. Unfortunately, their choice will cost many lives and probably their own lives at well.

The population Ms. Harf should have been referencing are black males, who are predominantly from single-parent homes. Black families, with children under 18 headed by a single mother, have the highest rate of poverty at 47.5% compared to only 8.4% of black married couple families. Children raised in these single parent homes are 3X more likely to end up in prison and 50% more likely to be poor as adults, according to the Heritage Foundation. “Young black males commit homicides at a rate 10x greater than white or Hispanics combined,” stated Bill O’Riley.

With limited job opportunities available in the ghetto communities, crime offers more than the limited wage. But to be eligible for opportunities that will raise them out of the ghetto, dramatic changes need to be made in our education system— more targeted to preparing them for the work force that matches their talents and teaching how to succeed through honest means. Basic elementary education to prepare them to enter society at the level they are best suited for, but with opportunity to go onto levels of higher education.

The rise in single parent families is not just seen in the black community, but is more prevalent. The reasons fall into three categories— social, religious and economic. Past religious traditions of marriage and the commitments that come with it are becoming more aberrations than the norm.

In 1963, only 6% of all American babies were born out of wedlock. That number has now risen to 41% of all populations and 72% of the black population. The stigma of being born out of wedlock is gone, just as the institution of marriage as a prerequisite before moving in together. Without the formal commitment of marriage, many, if not most, of these relationships fail. Far too often one parent is left with all the responsibilities and the financial burdens that come with raising children.

The social entitlement programs of Medicaid, CHIP, food stamps, and Chapter 8 housing, are all intended to help those in poverty. But they lack the needed incentives to lift those who come to rely on them out of their impoverished existence. In 2005, the poverty rate in this country was 12.6% and it has increased to 14.5% today, even though over $4.5 trillion has been spent on these anti-poverty programs during that time.

It’s not just where individuals come from but their opportunities when they are employable. William A. Darity Jr. of Duke University claims, “that blacks are the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there’s a downturn, they’re the first to be released.” A 2010 Currant Population Survey agreed that blacks in the work force were the first fired in a weakened business cycle. But early in the business cycle, if they unemployed versus nonparticipants in the labor force, the irony is they are frequently hired first.

There are answers to these growing problems that are turning many of our major cities into poverty riddled ghettos, where federal entitlement programs are the only hope and crime is the best means survival. It must come in three areas— education, morality and opportunity. At the early ages, students must be set on realistic pathways— trade schools and on-the-job mentoring versus gearing everyone toward a traditional college education. Instilling the moral concept of doing good for others, even is there is no direct benefit— that it’s not always just about me.  Finally, realistic opportunities to move out of their impoverished communities.

In early 1973, it was announced by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird that no further draft orders would be issued. It could possibly be time to bring it back. On first look, conscription (another form of the draft that pertains also to peacetime programs) is an idea that could deal with the multiple problems that State Department spokesman, Marie Harf, was referencing when she used the term opportunities. According to the latest numbers in 2011, 64 countries still had some form of conscription, which predominately targets young males. Conscription increases opportunities because it teaches certain skill sets that are not all military oriented.  It also teaches respect for authority, discipline and personal responsibility— disciplines that are missing in many single parent homes today. Israel and Switzerland are two countries that exemplify that there should be a price to pay to grow up in the United States and not just wait for the next welfare check and food stamps.

Optimistically, becoming part of something that is bigger than their next ‘hit’, instills loyalty and raises hope that the life they go back to after their service is over, can be made better than the one they left.

It’s Time to Put the Confederate Flag to Rest

One of this country’s basic tenants is freedom of expression. The recent debate over flying the Confederate flag over the state house in South Carolina, put the possible limits of freedom of expression to the test. When the Confederate States surrendered to the Union Army, they gave up control and, once again, our country joined together as one.

That did not mean the Confederate states had to give up all their southern traditions and act only as ‘Yankees’. It did, however, mean the end of slavery. Now, 150 years later, under a black President, this country is dealing with racial unrest in the black community over discrimination with law enforcement and job opportunity. The causes of the plight in the black population are not a point of this posting, but their concern over being offended by continuing to fly the Confederate flag is.

To many, if not most of the blacks, the flag is a symbol of their oppression. Although it was a century and a half ago, their memory of that pain still lingers. As a possible comparison, the oppression of the Jews under Hitler’s Nazi, Germany was a holocaust of even greater proportion, than slavery in the United States. But both injustices left scars that may never be totally washed away by time. Continuing to fly the Nazi flag after Hitler’s army fell was never a question. So, it seems we need to put flying the Confederate flag to rest over the public institutions, not just because the North won the war, but out of respect to the members of our black community.

The Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, called for the American flag to be banned due to its link with racism. Media analyst, Mark Dice, asked random people to sign a petition that would eliminate our current flag and substitute it for another. Although many turned him down, many did not— demonstrating either their lack of concern for our country or ignorance. I’m not sure which is worse.

Our forefathers, black, white and in-between fought for the freedom to raise ‘Old Glory’ as a symbol of our united country. And nothing should stand in our way.

Nothing!

The President Has Already Decided on Global Warming for Us

The debate over global warming rages on. The questions raised are two: Is global warming really happening? If the answer to this first question is yes, then are the variances related to normal cyclical climatic changes, as seen down through the ages, or are they anthropogenic (manmade)?

There seems to be a consensus against pollution. But when the subject is linked to global climate changes, arguments heat up on both sides. The controversy seems to center on the ‘greenhouse effect’, where warming occurs when heat from the earth is trapped in the atmosphere by the greenhouse gases— water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.  When their levels increase, the ocean temperatures rise, leading to a cascade of erratic weather patterns.

Chinese scientists warn that their country’s air pollution resembles a ‘nuclear winter’ by slowing plant photosynthesis that can severely damage their country’s food supply, as well as raising respiratory health concerns. The Chinese air pollution has already created problems in their economy by, at times, grounding flights, closing highways and discouraging tourism.

Historically, India is an agricultural nation that has created major water pollution issues. Discharge of untreated sewage is the single most important cause for pollution of surface and ground water in India. Additionally, their air pollution is worse than China’s.

The oppressive smog in Mexico City, due to its high population density and unique geographic boundaries is legendary. Although not as severe as in many other countries, examples abound here in the United States. The pollution of heavy algae growth of the Great Lakes, caused by chemical runoff into surface water by commercial farming in the Midwestern and Northeastern states around the lakes, is still an ongoing problem.

“The entire climate change situation has become politicized. Those on the right, and those on the left, hanging out in “echo chambers”, listening to those with similar world views refusing to believe anything else could be true.The debate involves the anthropogenic impact.

Many professional meteorologists feel like we are fighting a losing battle when it comes to national media and social media hype and disinformation. They will be sure to let you know that weather events they are reporting on are ‘unprecedented’, there are ‘millions and millions in the path’, it is caused by a ‘monster storm’, and ‘the worst is yet to come’ since these events are becoming more ‘frequent’.

You will never hear about the low tornado count in recent years, the lack of major hurricane landfalls on U.S. coasts over the past 10 years, or the low number of wildfires this year. It doesn’t fit their story. But, never let facts get in the way of a good story…. there will ALWAYS be a heat wave, flood, wildfire, tornado, typhoon, cold wave, and snow storm somewhere.”

James Spann AMS                                    Host of Weather Blog

The supporters of anthropogenic climate changes fall into two categories: local changes only and the cumulative effects worldwide. Those addressing the local or regional effects of pollution should fall under local or state ordinances, but in progressively more situations, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken over. Recently, President Obama issued another Executive Order to create more government control on properties that are covered by water.

As his tenure in the White House draws to a close, President Obama has moved this subject to his top priority, claiming that enforcing climate change regulations will indeed be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership— the Obamatrade pact that he is currently negotiating with Malaysia and 10 other countries.  He is quoted as saying, “If we want to solve something like climate change, then I’ve got to be able to get into places like Malaysia, and say to them, this is in your best interest. What leverage do I have to get them to stop deforestation? Well part of the leverage is if I’m in a trade relationship with them that allows me to raise standards.”

The President is also framing the challenges of climate change as a matter of national security that threatens to aggravate poverty and political instability around the globe, and jeopardizes the readiness of U.S. forces. In an address to the U.S. Coastguard graduates, he tells them, “Make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. So we need to act and we need to act now… Climate change is not just a problem for countries on the coast or for certain regions of the world. Climate change impacts every country on the planet.”

According to Howard Richman of the American Thinker, the daily online magazine that deals with American politics, President Obama would not need to get Congress to approve the unfair climate change treaty terms that he negotiates.  Instead, he could get the Commission set up by the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to add those terms to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In December, Obama will negotiate a multi-country climate agreement in Paris that will commit the United States to a huge reduction in carbon emissions of 26%-28% from 2005 levels, but he will let China, already a much larger carbon emitter, continue to expand its carbon emissions until 2030.

As the world’s population density grows, bringing with it more commercial transportation, industrialization and large-scale agriculture, pollution becomes an increasing threat to the environment. The scientific community is still in heated debate over whether this growth affects only the local environment or cumulative changes to our planet.

It seems President Obama, single-handedly, has already made up our minds for us!

This Century’s Berlin Wall

Ronald Reagan’s speech has reverberated throughout history as the start of the collapse of the Soviet Union. On June 12, 1987 he commanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan’s words professed his strong belief that ‘freedom would eventually triumph over totalitarianism.’

For many years before being elected President, Reagan studied Communism and how its expansion in the decade before he became President had brought 10 new nations under the control of the Soviet Union.  When Reagan became President, he ushered in the largest peacetime military buildup in history. The leadership of the Soviet Union was either forced into accepting the United States’ growing military dominance, or take a chance on bankrupting their own unstable economy, by trying to match it. At the same time, Reagan made it clear that the present coexistence with the totalitarian bloc of Eastern European countries was not only undesirable, but unacceptable.

Although it took three years, following Reagan’s second visit to the Berlin wall in 1987, his exhortation ‘to take down the wall’, served notice to the rest of the world that America stood for freedom.  By accompanying his remarks with the largest peacetime military build up in history, the leadership in the Soviet Union knew he was serious.

President Reagan surely deserves much credit for the fall of the Berlin wall, but it was the actions of Michael Gorbachev, the current leader of the Soviet Union at the time, who had the most prominent role. Previous policy, called the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserted that problems within any of the Warsaw Pact nations were a “concern of all socialist countries,” and that Moscow would intervene to “keep them in line.” More tolerant, Gorbachev pushed for reforms in openness (glasnost) and restructuring (perestroika), beginning in 1985. By abandoning the Brezhnev Doctrine, the possibility of revolution, such as in East Germany, became much more likely. In 1989, the Hungarian Prime Minister pushed an effort to remove the border fence between his country and Austria. In large numbers, East Germans fled to Hungary through Czechoslovakia.  Erich Honecker, who led East Germany, relented to the rising pressure by allowing the refugees, trapped in Czechoslovakia, safe passage through East Germany on ‘freedom trains,’ bound for the West.

One month before the Berlin Wall fell, 100,000 East Germans in the town of Leipzig peacefully protested against their continued isolation from the West. Other protests spread across East Germany and a demonstration in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz public-square estimated at 500,000 strong, culminated in the announcement of relaxation of visa restrictions at the East/West German border on November 9, 1989. The demolition of the wall officially began on June 13, 1990, and was completed in 1992

Former working actor, Governor of California and President, Ronald Reagan had the foresight, far before taking over the nation’s highest office, to study communism and formulate a plan to stop its spread throughout the European continent and abroad. Along with his unwavering optimism, he had the courage to build up the United States’ military capabilities. Even in the face of increasing criticism by many in this country, he believed in avoiding confrontation out of strength and not weakness.

He also backed up his belief that being stronger was better. In response to learning that Libyan President Muammar Kaddafi was behind the terrorist bombing of La Belle Discotheque in Berlin, Germany in 1986, 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.

Facing the difficulties of effectively closing the borders and coming to grips with this country’s unrealistic entitlement commitments must be priorities for whoever follows President Obama. However, dealing with the rapidly, increasing threat of terrorism in the Middle East and here in our own home towns, must be the next President’s top priority. It could be this century’s Berlin Wall.

Let’s pray that this next election will produce, not just another President, but a visionary with the courage of Reagan in the 1980’s and Sir Winston Churchill during the 1940’s. The future of the free world may depend on it!

Groveling for the Truth at the Trough

WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — The legendary Bob Schieffer is calling it a career Sunday as he hosts his last “Face the Nation.”

“We now don’t know where people get their news, but what we do know is they’re bombarded with information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most of the information is wrong and some of it is wrong on purpose,” Schieffer said.

Think of getting the news as akin to eat’n at the trough— you grovel for what they give you and, in most cases, you don’t get to ask any questions. The only choice being what trough you choose.

The facts have been relegated to the metro sections of our newspapers, radio and television stations. Reporters have become journalists and commentators who analyze the facts before they choose what news they want released to the public. Most come with or reflect the bias of their periodical or their station. We, the consumers, those of us who care what is happening around us, are also at fault, since we usually only get the news from sources that are sympathetic to our own points of view.

There are four groups of potential voters that get their information from this biased media— the informational trough.

Group one is mostly comprised of those that lean to the left. The majority are pro-government, anti-big business and eager to expand the entitlement programs. By and large, they are beneficent and idealistic because they know that ‘big brother’ is watching over their best interests and any debt incurred can be put off to some time in the future.

The conservatives comprise the second voting group. They support big business, competition and entrepreneurial endeavors. The less ‘big brother’ is involved, the better. What happens to those further down the economic ladder is contingent on the success of those who create the jobs. Expanding debt is their enemy.

Those that don’t vote and don’t plan to vote because they either don’t care or don’t know enough to make a decision, make up group three. If Australia, a country with mandatory voting is any example, this group makes up about 20% of their population. They live in a world of acceptance— taking what they can and not concerned enough to try to affect change— the entitlement mindset.

Like tall grass flowing with the wind, this fourth group is generally not partisan. It is made up of those whose vote is for what benefits them the most.  Small business owners, housewives and employees comprise this influential group. However, they are large enough to usually determine what candidates are elected to public office. They are often at least partially dependent on the government’s social entitlement programs, but at the same time, dependent on the success of their employer. Their vote is where the candidates target their resources and messages. Minimal wage, equal pay, gay marriage, abortion and education top their lists of interest. They are also the ‘middle’ that is getting squeezed, as the rich get richer and the poor are enticed to stay where they are, by the increasing generosity with the array of federal entitlement programs.

Our President has recently proposed the idea of mandatory voting. Usually, I have not considered this idea seriously, until, through Executive Orders, he seems to make anything he wants happen.

The argument the President makes for everyone voting is that it would be a true reflection of the will of the majority. The argument against it is that the populous, as a whole, is probably not educated enough to make informed decisions that are good for the long term interests of the country, only for themselves. If everyone voted, the populous would probably vote themselves into an entitlement state, which is where we seem to be headed if we stay on the same course. Greece, here we come!

Since the estimates classify about 50% of the voting population as uninformed, it is then pursuant for the other half to not just regurgitate the same old talking points. They should question and compare, not from just their old trough, but other troughs of information.

In 1942, the American health food pioneer, Victor Lindlahr, published his book, You Are What You Eat. Although his interest was in the nutrition of the body, it could just have easily applied to the nutrition of the mind. If we, those of us who pretend to think we are informed about the issues we espouse, just sidle up to the same trough, how can we expect to think any differently?

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?