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The political scrambling over the most recent mass shootings in America brings to mind our experience last March, as our cruise ship was pulling into port to visit Christchurch, New Zealand. The captain announced that a mass shooting event had just happened there and we would instead be moving on to the next port. I was shocked to have come so close to such a horrific event.

Then we saw, within a week’s time, the New Zealand government was moving to further tighten already strong restrictions on gun ownership. Now in New Zealand, one cannot have a clip of more than 7 rounds, many combat type weapons are proscribed, and one must have a license to own a gun.

This island country of less than 5 million was able to act quickly and decisively to bring more meaningful control of guns. Yet, in our great nation of 65 times the population, despite dozens and dozens of such major incidents and ongoing gun carnage, we seem unable to legislate even the most moderate of gun control.

Is this a sign that America has become too big and diverse to govern? If not what is it a sign of?

Earlier this week, a photo popped up showing my little sister pinning on one of my gold bars as I was commissioned an Army  2nd Lieutenant out of the OCS Brigade at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in 1969. Ten months and 10 days after enlisting in the OCS program, I’d been propelled from recruit to officer. I had skipped my college graduation in May in order to take a cruise of Lake Michigan and the North Channel with my family before reporting for duty. My enlistment was forced by the draft, which proposed to grab me within two weeks of graduation.

What followed were two years of active service, in places ranging from the Army War College (where I served as officer in charge of 43 military funerals at Gettysburg National Cemetery) to working as a press escort officer out of a forward corps press camp in Vietnam.

While a proper sense of the appropriateness of honoring those who fought and died in war was imbued in me through my own service and exposure, it was only years later that I learned that the war in Vietnam had been extended, with the loss of 20,000 additional Americans and a million Asians, by a political calculation to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger when they maneuvered to cancel the proposed Paris Peace Talks of 1969 in order to deny the Democrats the Presidential election that year.

My god, how can politicians play tinker toys with the lives of millions of people, as if we were just pawns on a board? And that’s just what they did, and what they have continued to do in the generations since Vietnam, despite the lessons we could have learned there, but didn’t.

So, this Memorial Day, I do mourn the lost, those who were sacrificed as much as gave sacrifice for their country. But I also mourn the continuation of the crass, inhuman brand of politics that characterize the highest levels of leadership in our country., then and now.  If only humanity were our true brand of politics, and that humanitarians were our one and only brand of politicians.

Source: KENNEDY TUNES UP FOR ILLINOIS

I just saw an announcement that the Army has called for proposals from agencies for its recruiting account because the number of qualified young adults enlisting has been dropping. The fees available for such a new account, currently held by McCann Worldwide is shown to be up to $4 BILLION over a ten year period! That’s a lot of dough for recruiting.

Wouldn’t this be a good time to create a universal draft, which could not only save most of that $4 BILLION tagged for recruitment, but much more importantly, provide a training and service opportunity for all qualified young Americans in both the military and other federal service (such as rebuilding infrastructure throughout the nation)? It would expand employment and training opportunities for young people after high school, and perhaps before college or other technical career training.

One other by-product of a universal draft is that the citizenry, not only those doing federal service but their families, would be more engaged with the federal government, and develop a keener sense of what it takes to be a true American citizen. And, there would also be closer citizen oversight and participation in our federal government, because families across the land would be engaged in serving their nation, as well as benefit from the work of these engaged young Americans.

  • Two things collided: I voted early today, and Tom Hayden died. We were not far from the same age. He helped organize the 1968 convention anti-war riot in Chicago. I was shipped to Vietnam a couple months later. That was 11 Presidential elections ago, and I’m still voting, but none of the 58,000 Americans listed on that long black wall in D.C. are now voting, nor the legions of their unborn potential progeny. That could add up to hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million in uncast

 votes. Elections have been won and lost on less. So, if you wonder if your vote counts, think of all those votes lost because of decisions made 40 years ago, and the potential consequences of your vote, even 40 years from now.

Well, now it’s been 15 YEARS since democracy failed in America, updating my post below of Dec. 13, 2010. And, as we of into another Presidential debate tonight, we’re heading toward another such electoral failure next fall. Thanks to the Electoral College, my vote in Chicago is worth one sixth of a Presidential vote in Alaska. Want to learn more about this ongoing travesty of democracy? Google National Popular Vote. Want to learn even more? Send me a message and I will email you my essay written for the Chicago Literary Club on the obsolete and dangerous Electoral College. Whatever party you support, or none at all, the Electoral College is distorting the popular vote in America, together with gerrymandered Congressional districts and national election funding that should be government funded only.

December 13, 2010 in Electoral College, government, History, Politics | Tags: Electoral College, National Popular Vote, Presidency | 1 comment (Edit)
It’s been exactly a decade since the outmoded Electoral College system of electing our Presidents, with the aid of the Supreme Court, handed the Presidency of the U.S. to a man who lost the popular vote in the nation by the population of Milwaukee. It was a close election all right, and the finger on the scale of history tipped the balance away from the people’s choice.

It’s happened three times before in our history, and it will happen again, and again, until the Electoral College is eliminated or marginalized. The electoral college was a political compromise made in the founding days of the republic, when it was feared that the common man, in the days before mass media, could not know enough about the candidates to make an informed choice. So now, in all but two states, electors unknown to the people cast all of each state’s electoral votes for the winner of the popular votes in that state, throwing out all votes cast for the opposition, and in effect dumbing down the national electoral votes, so they do not necessarily reflect the overall popular will. How dumb is that?

Snowden — here is my blog post of June 10th last year. I stand by my thesis that part of the price of democracy is transparency.

New revelations of vast NSA programs to monitor telephone use to intercept terrorist plans again raises the question of whether the effect of such whistle-blowing of top-secret security processes adds to the cleansing potential of democratic transparency or degrades the ability of our government to protect the population.

The answer is that such revelations result in both increased public oversight, or in other words, enhanced democracy, but also a possibly somewhat weaker security apparatus. In our post-1984 world, where our national politics have been accurately described as “a carnival of dysfunction,” the regular exercise of democratic oversight by the people, through intrusions by well-meaning whistle-blowers and responsible news media, is one way to preserve the fundamental principles of our democracy. My belief is that the cost of such “intrusions” into the inner sanctums of our government security establishment are justified by the balancing results of political and governmental accountability to a society of free people — a people who yearn to remain free in a complicated, dangerous information age.

Lyndon Johnson

Near the height of the Vietnam War, just before Tet in 1968, the USS Pueblo, a military intelligence ship, was captured by the North Koreans, and her crew of more than 150 Americans interred, starved and tortured. The Koreans claimed the ship was spying inside their territorial waters, which the U.S. said was not so.

The Pueblo was one of the smallest ships in the Navy, and was first built as a military freighter in Kewaunee, WI, in 1944. It was refitted as an intelligence-gathering vessel, and was very lightly armed. She was sent by the Navy in an ill-prepared condition on a dangerous mission to gather electronic info on Russian and North Korean defense systems. The crew was released after agonizing negotiations on December 23rd of 1968, just as I was flying home on emergency leave from my position as a combat press officer near Hue, site of the Tet offensive earlier that year.

The captain and crew of the Pueblo were put through the ringer of hearings and suspicion by the Navy, and never to this day heralded and rewarded for their sacrifice and loyalty to a Navy that treated they and their little ship like unwanted step-children. To this day, the Pueblo, the second oldest commissioned ship in the Navy after the USS Constitution, lies captive in the harbor of North Korea’s capitol.

That, my friends, is 46 years a captive commissioned U.S. Navy ship, a long forgotten son of Kewaunee, and a crew of brave once-young sailors, now aging veterans, that deserves at least the kind of Federal recognition afforded pro basketball and football teams.

Congress shouldn’t be in a fight about whether to fund the U.S. government, closing it down in the process, but better in a fight over how much (a budget) and for which things (an agenda). In Australia, they have a solution when both houses are deadlocked, and it’s called double dissolution. In such a circumstance, their Congress is dissolved and a new election is held. What we need in the U.S. is a new Congress, because the one we have in stalemated and inoperative. By the way, why are they getting paid now? Oh, that’s right, they make the rules. We’re about ready for a quiet, non-fatal version of the French Revolution. In fact, France has peacefully replaced their entire government six times since the real revolution. Wouldn’t that be a “revolutionary” concept for our loggerheaded Congress to consider?

Just watched the 1996 sci-fi spoof, Mars Attacks, and after the Martian ambassador appears before Congress, then turns the tables and kills them all with his ray gun, the film’s star, Jack Nicholson, consoles his staff with the optimistic comment, “Well, we’ve still got two branches of government, and that ain’t bad!”

Where are the Martians when we need ’em?

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