Monday, September 30, 2019

"Impeachment, Instead of Debate Over Capitalism and Sovereignty"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Impeachment, Instead of Debate Over Capitalism and Sovereignty”
September 30, 2019

 “‘No, no!’ said the [Red] Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’”
Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first.’”
                                                                                    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
                                                                                    Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
In the case of the President Trump and impeachment, a verdict has been rendered without a trial. A visceral hatred for Mr. Trump, an outsider who campaigned on cleaning the swamp that was (and is) Washington, D.C., is all that Democrats need as prima facie evidence.

Outside this maelstrom of malice, the West faces stark alternatives. But instead of debating issues that will affect us, our children and grandchildren, specifically capitalism and sovereignty, politicians have chosen to throw up red herrings, like climate change, white supremacy, equality, gender identity, immigration, etc. Progressives have tried to undo the will of the people, i.e. to deny Brexit to the people of the UK and to declare fraudulent an election in the U.S. Debate is impossible when personal, venal hatred replaces deliberative and respectful disagreement. An intentional consequence has been unprecedented scrutiny of Mr. Trump and his appointees. With individuals vilified and high legal expenses incurred, lives have been destroyed for some and bankrupted for others. Is it any wonder so many have left the Administration?

This is not meant to trivialize these other issues. The constant effect of an ever-changing climate is something we must monitor and do what we can to alter and/or adapt, but we shouldn’t let emotions substitute for reason, or use children to score political points. No real conservative denies the existence of white oppression and privilege, but we question its ubiquity. Where it exists, it must be confronted and addressed. Equality is tricky and subject to interpretation – are we referring to equality of opportunities or equality of outcomes? Conservatives believe in the former, while progressives desire the latter. Conservatives are mindful that the favored should bear some responsibility for those less fortunate, but they believe that concern should be manifested in the actions of individuals, not diktats of the state, for morality and compassion are characteristics of people, not bureaucracies. Al genders deserve respect. As for immigration, politicians believe this crisis unresolved is better than were it resolved.

The last few days have seen more red herrings sown. A Presidential election is just over a year away. The economy, the single most important consideration in a Presidential election, is humming, not as fast as Mr. Trump would like, but better than it had been. Unemployment is at record lows and employment at record highs, especially for African Americans and Hispanics. Incomes have increased, particularly for those at the low end of the income scale. The tax bill and deregulation have not only helped the economy and tax receipts, they have helped the poor and hurt the wealthy in high-tax states. Joe Biden, in my opinion, has been permanently sidelined by the disclosure of his and his son’s antics in Ukraine. With the exception of candidates like Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet (all polling in single digits), Democrat Presidential candidates have swung far to the left, putting at risk their aspirations and that of their Party. Candidates could, legitimately, question excessive spending on the part of Republicans, but their (Democrats) proposed programs would result in even more spending and greater deficits.  

Democrats, thus, have resorted to politics of personal destruction. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the self-righteous, pompous chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, lied to Congress without consequence, when last week he pretended to read a section from the transcript of Mr. Trump’s July 25th call to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky[1]. Schiff later claimed his words were meant “to be, at least in part, parody.” Parody! Is parody acceptable for a U.S. Congressman who is chairman of a committee investigating a sitting President under threat of impeachment? Where is his sense of decency and respect? Why have we, as a nation, seen civility sink to such depths? As well, the entertainment world and the media serve as supplicants to their elite masters on Capitol Hill, using, for example, verbs like “implores” and “demands,” as ABC News did, and “pressures” as the New York Times did, to distort the words President Trump used in his telephone conversation with the Ukrainian President. Why haven’t all news outlets printed the transcript and let the people read it for themselves? In the transcript, Mr. Trump concludes his request about Biden with the words “if you can look into it…” “When you’ve once said a thing,” spoke the Red Queen to Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “that fixes it, and you must take the consequences.” Mr. Trump is an easy target. He was never one of the “good old boys,” as he came to the Presidency with no previous political experience. He is not “of the manor born” – something, ironically, that appeals to those who claim to fight for the poor and oppressed. Mr. Trump is curt and humorless. He is no one’s image of a victim; nevertheless, like Shakespeare’s Lear, he is “…more sinn’d against than sinning.”

What is especially dispiriting is that politicians ignore two critical issues that deserve debate: Are we better off with a political-economic system based on principles of “refereed” free-market capitalism or one that tilts toward socialism and statism?  President Obama raised the specter of an all-consuming, compassionate state in his video, “Life of Julia” and in the Obamacare ad with “Pajama Boy” – a frightening prospect for those of us who value freedom, but perhaps comforting to those who prefer the cocoon of a benevolent government. The stakes have been raised further with the proposed “Green New Deal,” healthcare for all, free college and a universal basic income. With those added services, what are the costs and what individual rights would be foregone? The second issue is one of national sovereignty versus global governance. President Trump spoke of this in his speech at the UN, which received little coverage and no applause from sitting members, whose self-interest is the continued strengthening of global institutions. Nevertheless, the question needs be asked: Would you prefer to live in a world where global governance dominates individual nations, or is the world safer when sovereign nations predominate? History tells of risks to individuals when empires and reichs are forced on people and nations. Yet, the West is moving toward a world where global governments play an ever-enlarging role, and entities like the UN and the European Union are gaining ever-increasing powers. On one side, we have free people and sovereign states; on the other, unelected bureaucratic enacting and administering laws. The West deserves a serious debate on these issues and an exploration of the consequences of what current trends portend.

Impeachment is a serious business. It should be. Removal from office by impeachment is reserved for those who have been tried and convicted for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Two previous President have been impeached by the House of Representatives – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – but neither was removed from office by the U.S. Senate. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. Had he not, he would certainly have been impeached and probably removed.  Impeachment should not to be used for political purposes, to destroy a President whose crime is that some people don’t like him. The politicization of the Constitution will have long-term ramifications. It will take us down a path that leads away from the Republic that Benjamin Franklin assured us would be ours, “if we can keep it.” To stay true to that path, we should be debating and considering the issues mentioned above.

[1] Zelensky can also be spelled with two “y’s” or with an “i” before the “y.” I chose the simpler version.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

"The Jersey Brothers" by Sally Mott Freeman

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
“The Jersey Brothers,” by Sally Mott Freeman
September 26, 2019

Starving men forget discipline, forget honor and forget self-respect
                                                                        Major John Wright
                                                                        Aboard the Japanese prison ship Enoura Maru, January 1945
                                                                        As quoted by Sally Mott Freeman

Books on war that emphasize the personal, the stories of the average soldier, marine, sailor or airman paint a moving (and true) picture of war, its fright and its horrors. The World I poet John McCrae, who died in France in January 1918, echoed those feelings. His poem “In Flanders Fields” was written in 1915. It retains its power: “We are the Dead. Short days ago/We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow/Loved and were loved…” There are novels that provide a sense of the personal, like The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Naked and the Dead. Others are non-fiction, like With the Old Breed and We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. They enfold us and make us part of the fabric of their story. It is in this pantheon of great war books that The Jersey Brothers belongs, a story of the War in the Pacific.

Sally Mott Freeman’s story is of three brothers – her father (Bill) and two uncles (Ben and Barton) – and their mother Helen. She writes of the search for the youngest, Barton who was taken prisoner after the fall of the Philippines, in March 1942. But the book is more than that; she covers the Pacific War, from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She describes, for example, the logistics for the invasion of Saipan, an island 3,500 miles from Pearl Harbor: “120 days of provisions for three hundred ships’ companies, with an additional sixty-days of supplies for the 100,000-man landing force.” An assault plan had to be devised “to put 8,000 men ashore every twenty minutes.” She quotes Sun Tzu: “Many calculations lead to victory and few calculations lead to defeat.” Her bibliography of interviews conducted, venues visited, and reference material cover ten pages.

The eldest two brothers, Ben and Bill, sons of Dr. Raymond Mott, were born in 1908 and 1911. The third, Barton, was born of Arthur Barton Cross in 1918. They grew up near the Jersey shore, in a home called Lilac Hedges, in those inter-war days. Like so many, they lived idyllic lives, only to fight and die on battlefields, in the air and on the seas during World War II.

Ben and Bill graduated from the Naval Academy, Ben in 1930 and Bill three years later. Ben received his commission and by 1941 was Gunnery Officer aboard the USS Enterprise. Later, after being wounded, he rotated back to Washington, where he became the chief of Ship Characteristics and Fleet Requirements at the newly constructed Pentagon. When Bill graduated, in the depths of the Depression, only a handful of commissions were granted; so, as a naval reservist, he worked in the U.S. Patent Office and went to law school at night. As war clouds gathered, he was offered a commission in Naval Intelligence. From there he went to the Map Room at the White House. Later he served as a staff officer in the Pacific for Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner aboard the USS Eldorado, during the invasions of the Marianas, Iwo Jim and Okinawa. Barton did not get an appointment, so went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he graduated in 1940. With the War in Europe underway, Barton’s brother Bill arranged for him to get a Naval Commission in the Supply Corps. In September 1941 he received orders to go to Cavite Naval Yard in Manilla. At home in New Jersey, before he left, he raised his glass in a mock toast: “Here’s hoping the Japs don’t get me, Mother. I’d hate to give all this up.”

Within three months he was a prisoner of war, having been wounded in the Japanese bombing attack on Cavite Navy Yard on December 10, 1941. He survived the Bataan Death March and over three years of imprisonment in Cabanatuan, Davao Penal Colony and Bilibid prisons, only to die on January 30, 1945, a day after the Japanese prison ship Brazil Maru, on which he and several hundred prisoners were jammed below deck, docked on Japanese soil. Through diary entries, letters and conversation with survivors, Ms. Freeman renders judgment on her uncle: “His was the big heart that had bestowed on fellow prisoners a will to get to the next day, a love born in the twilight games of three Jersey brothers.” While his death was confirmed in September 1945, it would be sixty-four years later before its cause would be discovered and translated.

While Sally Mott Freeman covers a lot of ground, this is a personal story. Helen Cross knew early on what was in store for the sons she had birthed, loved and raised. After listening to President Roosevelt’s declaration of war on December 8, 1941, she wrote in her diary: “What have mother’s done to deserve such grief? I stare numbly at my Christmas cards and packages, longing to stow away the gaudy reminders.”

As I read this book, I was reminded of my own father’s story told through his letters to my mother, and of what could have been or might have been. As I read of the tortuous imprisonment Barton underwent, I could not help thinking but there for the grace of God might have gone my own father, and of how my life and those of my siblings would have been altered. As my mother wrote at one point, how fortunate it is that we cannot foresee the future. The lesson in Sally Mott Freeman’s story is one of love and of the indescribable perseverance of those who fought and of the heartfelt anguish of those who stayed at home.           

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"Connecticut: Does it Have a Future?"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Connecticut – Does it Have a Future?”
September 24, 2019

I’m just a Connecticut country boy. The people I’ve known,
 the changes of the season, the call of the Blue Jay – when I’m away, all of them haunt me.”
                                                                                                Gary Burghoff (1943-)
                                                                                                American actor

The title of this essay is silly. Of course, Connecticut has a future. The question is, will it be one that strengthens economic development and reassures residents, especially the retired, to continue to live within its borders. Will it still have, as Mr. Burghoff asks, “the people I’ve known,” or will my family and friends move to more favorable environs. Connecticut has been in the vanguard of those states marching to the tunes of “woke” progressives, who put identity politics and income and wealth distribution ahead of personal liberty, opportunity and individual responsibilityThe consequence has seen an exodus of people and businesses, a slow-growth economy and per-capita state debt that is fourth highest in the nation.

Hatred permeates the political landscape: The ugly language of those in the media who have called for the decapitation of the President; elected Representatives who use their office to pursue personal vendettas against Mr. Trump and their influence to enrich themselves; presidential candidates who call for an end to all fossil fuels; the promise of free college, a basic income and socialized medicine – in short, President Obama’s 2012 “Life of Julia” – all to be paid for with a wealth tax and higher income taxes, which would stifle innovation and hamper economic growth. Is it possible progressives have overplayed their hand?

There have been signs of spring’s renewal against this bleak, wintery landscape. Michael Bloomberg recently penned an op-ed in the New York Post, “Rage is Destroying Us”: “…political rage seems to be crowding out political engagement.” His column concluded: “Restoring the ability to disagree without becoming mortal enemies is a new and urgent civic imperative.” Richard Cohen, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a week ago that he felt “marooned” within the Democratic Party, that he was “…stuck with a party that would replace the segregation of the past with the segregation of the present.” He wrote of his ideal: “My political party would embrace the uniqueness of every individual and not consider him or her (or any other pronoun)[1] a member of a group first, an individual second and use the excuse of past prejudices to create a racial or ethnic patronage system.” My sentiments exactly; yet both he and Mr. Bloomberg are liberal Democrats who have soured on the progressive tilt of their Party.


There are other reasons for optimism. Twenty years ago, in Colorado, a group of citizens, concerned about the direction their state was headed, formed the Leadership Program of the Rockies. Its purpose: to train emerging leaders in America’s founding principles – why those principles were important then and how they apply to the challenges we face today. Over two decades, fifteen hundred men and women have graduated, serving their communities in political office, on school boards, but most importantly as well-informed, articulate, influential citizens. That movement has now come to Connecticut.

Last Friday I was invited to attend and observe the inaugural meeting of the Charter Oak Leadership Program for Connecticut. Forty-two invitees, ranging in age from late 20s to late 60s, from twenty-eight Connecticut towns and cities (and two towns in Massachusetts) spent a full day listening to instructors, including former U.S. Congressman Bob Schaffer from Colorado Representative; Thomas Krannawitter, author, professor of history and Director of Defenders of the Declaration; and Michael J. Williams, Director of Defenders of Capitalism.  The meeting was led by president of Leadership of the Rockies, Shari Williams Feese, who I had met in Vienna last April, at a conference organized by the Hayek Institute and the Liberty Fund of Indiana. 
The purpose of the meeting was to instruct the class on the timeless principles that underlay the work of the founding fathers, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence: that individual, natural rights are inherent in our humanity, not derived from government; that government power comes from the consent of the people; that to ensure the limitation of power, the Founders created a government of three separate and equal branches; that the people, in order to fulfill their responsibilities, must be educated, active and engaged; that “refereed” free-market capitalism works best for the people; that property rights, rule of law and mutual respect underlie person-to-person, business-to-business and person-to-business relations; that family is the most important unit in American society; that moral precepts, derived from Plato’s four virtues – justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude – are necessary to maintain our Republic. The premise and the purpose of the Declaration of Independence was explained in intense, word-by-word detail. The role of slavery, at the time of the founding, was discussed in depth. That it was a blight on the founders there is no question, but it must be considered within the framework of the time. That it was even debated and recognized as a concern at the time was unique – and exceptional. For, at the time, slavery was common in all other parts of the world. But in no other country was slavery seen as a problem to be addressed.
We were told that the focus of the Charter Oak Leadership Program must be on the long view. For over eighty years, the United States has moved away from Republicanism – a limited government where ultimate power is embedded in the people, with property rights and rule of law, where minority rights are protected and where the primary role of government is to ensure the sanctity of our natural rights. As society has become more complex, government has assumed more responsibilities, some of which may be necessary. But we must never forget that each time we grant government an additional mandate, we excise some personal freedoms. How much individual freedom are we willing to relinquish? In its desire to be compassionate, government has trivialized the concept of family. In the modern politician’s desire for power, he has given up civility. In our desire for equality of outcomes, we have given up meritocracy. We accept, as we should, immigrants from all cultures, but in our desire to woo them we have embraced multiculturalism rather than values based on cardinal virtues and on our Judeo- Christian heritage. In our rush to be accommodative, we forget what it is about America that attracted immigrants in the first place. 

The fate of our state (and the nation) relies on citizens being knowledgeable of our past – the founders and the form of government they created – and a willingness to assume the responsibilities that come from self-government. In his recent memoir A Republic, If You Can Keep It, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote: “Self-government is a hard business and republics have a checkered record in the court of history.” Ours has lasted almost two and a half centuries. Education is the foundation on which it stands. “Education,” in a quote often attributed to Socrates, “is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Without the ability to think for one’s self and without knowledge of history and civics, that foundation risks crumbling. The Charter Oak Leadership Program, like the one it replicates in Colorado, is a keystone in the bridge that connects the past to the future and allows our Republic to persist. We cannot allow it to become a haunting memory. We must all do our part. The first thing we must do is consider these issues when next we head to the ballot box.

[1] The parenthetic phrase struck me as gratuitous, but then tigers never completely lose their stripes.