I remember reading a short story titled “Farmer on the Dole” by a science fiction writer that first appeared in Omni Magazine (October-November 1982). Fredrick Pohl’s career (1937–2012) spanned 75 years. His numerous works earned him many prestigious awards for the following: Gateway (1977), The Years of the City (1985), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), Heechee Rendezvous (1984), and Man Plus (1976), Jem (1980). Also included were short stories Fermi and Frost (1986), The Meeting (1973).
This story became unforgettable and continued to trouble me because it contains a hint of what concerns me most about humanity. What it suggests about us leaves a negative aftertaste that cannot be washed or flushed away. It is a story where robots are created to imitate and replace the humans who have abandoned the planet they ruined to go to new worlds to repeat the process. Those humans remaining behind on the dying planet are a bit lonely and nostalgic and want company. It is a repulsive view of man and his unwillingness to solve the problems he created. It reveals the principal flaw in our species. We run from problems. We do not like having to work to solve them.
Farmer on the Dole focuses on an old human experience and attitude. Pohl merely changes the time, place, and circumstances. He takes the story out of our time and simply inserts it into the future elsewhere. Our species pollute, abandon, and go elsewhere to do the same all over again. We never learn. We never really grow or evolve in our behavior. It is a continuation of our stone-age primitive slash and burn agriculture practices to planetary levels. In Farmer on the Dole, mankind has launched himself into the stars, but his brain is still the naked ape hunter-gatherer. We are still the clever monkey of our dimming past.
Following his line of thought, we must ultimately accept mankind as incapable of learning from even the vilest of his past follies. Looking at our world at this juncture, we must accept that verdict as plastics flood the streams and rivers, clogging and collecting over vast stretches of the oceans that determine life. The conclusion is clear. We proceed to flatten mountain tops to extract fossil fuels raising the planet’s temperature and threatening to end civilization as we know it. It continues so a few can live luxuriously for a bit longer before the curtain falls.
Rather than solving problems, Pohl’s humanity leaves and creates a complete fleet of robot androids to carry on in their absence. What a novel idea; our ultimate dream. Androids have all the appearances and behaviors of living creatures like us. We are capable beings; however, we are not smart. Is this not the way we are currently treating the Earth, our home? Do we just go on wasting the land and ruining the water and air until the planet becomes a desert (physically and spiritually)? Will Ursula K. Le Guin’s observation in passing in The Dispossessed become our reality? Why would we bother to use science and technology to create phantom robot images of ourselves and an equally ridiculous likeness of a plastic replica of our world? What a ludicrous farce.
Our ‘slash and burn’ thought pattern has persisted from our prehistoric predecessors extending back for more than fifty thousand years. The world view of the last 300 years has been dominated by a Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm (Renee Descartes and Sir Isaac Newton) that operates on the assumption mind and body are separated, that the body is a clockwork machine, and reality can be learned or determined by the study of the smallest constituent parts. Not even Quantum theory and Relativity have managed to change the multitude’s thinking in this regard. Everything we have learned in the past 30 or more years with the rise of social media and the implications of our use of big data has not penetrated these beliefs among most. Our faith persists the universe is an orderly and predictable machine. Isn’t God in control? What is there to be concerned about? The book has been written, and events appear as written. We need not be concerned or worried. This has been a useful approach for many, however, the ideas we invent to explain and ensure our survival today become the cause of our demise tomorrow.
Philosopher William Irwin Thompson said the future belongs to the mystic and the systems analyst. Thompson suggested we get beyond our simple exploitive view of nature as a machine to be manipulated. We need to adopt a compatible view of nature that sees its parts as revealing its function rather than defining the entire system as a function of a few elements. We will appreciate the complexity of the system and act more harmoniously. The systems analyst will monitor and report on the organism’s health and the day-to-day conditions of things. The mystic will be the interpreter of the direction the organism must move in the future. The description and terminology Thompson uses are dated in light of all we have seen change over the past 40 years, but his thoughts are relevant and understood. Maybe there is a beneficial use for big data other than using it to control, manipulate, oppress, and enslave humanity.
Human minds internalize objects and make patterns. We internalize the universe as objects. These patterns, once constructed, are not easily changed or altered. The only way of altering embedded thought patterns, according to Thompson, is by one of three means. These changes result from insights often revealed in humor, because of a fortunate accident, and what the late creative thinker Edward De Bono called lateral thinking.
Our perception, according to Thompson, is based on the internalization of the mother/infant relationship, money (economic system), and religion. This illustrates how hard it is to change our way of thinking and perceiving reality. Our view of reality is dominated by ideas from 300 years past. The dominant economic paradigm dates from the same era. It threatens to destroy the planet, most life, and our civilization, but we resist changing or seriously questioning it. In addition to humor, the infant/mother relationship, and economics mentioned above, we should acknowledge our thinking also can be changed by catastrophic events. The ecological collapse caused by global warming and climate change, a massive planetary war, a meteor or asteroid strike, and the crumbling of governments across the planet due to the economic catastrophe caused by any of the above serves the same purpose. The universe within us is inseparable from the universe outside. One is the mirror image of the other. What we perceive influences, determines, and defines our reality. History shows us we rarely make such fundamental changes.
The human flaw may be due to our short life awareness of the consequences of our actions. We seem unable to appreciate the long-term implications of our behaviors. It reveals the inadequacy of our educational processes to foster a longer view. We have the acquired wisdom and knowledge of overcoming these shortcomings, but we refuse to employ them. Our resistance and comfort in wallowing in denial, ignorance, and superstition prevail. We must develop our awareness of the interrelationship of all things. We must acknowledge our role in the process. We must find and learn new ways to think about and approach our world. We must change our thinking from destruction and extraction of the planet to investing in its health and sustainability we require to survive and thrive. We will have time to explore the vast universe beaconing us. First, we must learn to solve problems in our own yard before we go about spreading our garbage and refuse across the cosmos. Wabi-sabi. Namaste.
Like most of us, I grew up believing the United States was peace-loving and we were people who avoided war. After all, for a large part of our history, the military establishment and its emulation was kept very small. It was intentional. We didn’t want a large military that might become a threat to our government and institutions. Our founders were wise.
What changed us? What changed our view and our course?
Perhaps the only thing that has changed is our awareness. It seems what we teach in school leaves out some essential details, facts, and information. Let’s take a look at our record. Here is a list of the US military and surreptitious operations in foreign countries from 1798 to 2005. World Wars I & II are omitted.
1969-1975 Cambodia CIA supports military coup against Prince Sihanouk, bringing Lon Nol
to power. Intensive bombing for seven years along border with
1970 Oman Counter-insurgency operation, including coordination with Iranian
1971-1973 Laos Invasion by US and South Vietnamese forces
1973 Chile CIA-backed military coup ousts government of President Salvador
Allende. Gen Augusto Pinochet comes to power.
1975 Cambodia Marines land, engage in combat with government forces
1976-1992 Angola Military and CIA operations
1980 Iran Special operations units land in Iranian desert. Helicopter malfunction
leads to aborting of planned raid.
1981 Libya Naval jets shoot down two Libyan jets in maneuvers over the
1981-1982 El Salvador CIA and special forces begin a long counter-insurgency campaign
1981-1990 Nicaragua CIA directs exile “Contra” operations. US air units drop sea mines in
1982-1984 Lebanon Marines land and naval forces fire on local combatants.
1983 Grenada Military forces invade Grenada
1983-1989 Honduras Large program of military assistance aimed at conflict in Nicaragua
1984 Iran Two Iranian jets shot down over the Persian Gulf
1958 Panama Clashes between US forces in Canal Zone and local citizens
1986 Libya US aircraft bomb the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, including direct
strikes at official residence of President Muamar al Qadaffi
1986 Bolivia Special Forces units engage in counter-insurgency
1987-1988 Iran Naval forces block Iranian shipping. Civilian airliner shot down by
1989 Libya Naval aircraft shoot down two Libyan jets over Gulf of Sidra
1989 Philippines CIA and Special Forces involved in counterinsurgency.
1989-1990 Panama 27,000 troops as well as naval and air power use to overthrow
government of President Noriega.
1990 Liberia Troops deployed
1990-1991 Iraq Major military operation, including naval blockade, air strikes; large
number of troops attack Iraqi forces in occupied Kuwait
1991-2003 Iraq Control of Iraqi airspace in north and south of the country with periodic
attacks on air and ground targets.
1991 Haiti CIA-backed military coup ousts President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
1992-1994 Somalia Special operations forces intervene
1992-1994 Yugoslavia Major role in NATO blockade of Serbia and Montenegro
1993-1995 Bosnia Active military involvement with air and ground forces.
1994-1996 Haiti Troops depose military rulers and restore President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide to office
1995 Croatia Krajina Serb airfields attacked
1996-1997 Zaire (Congo) Marines involved in operations in eastern region of the country
1997 Liberia Troops deployed
1998 Sudan Air strikes destroy country’s major pharmaceutical plant
1998 Afghanistan Attack on targets in the country
1998 Iraq Four days of intensive air and missile strikes
1999 Yugoslavia Major involvement in NATO air strikes
2001 Macedonia NATO troops shift and partially disarm Albanian rebels
2001 Afghanistan Air attacks and ground operations oust Taliban government and install
a new regime.
2003 Iraq Invasion with large ground, air and naval forces ousts government of
Saddam Hussein and establishes new government.
2003-Present Iraq Occupation force of 150,000 troops in protracted counter-insurgency
2004 Haiti Marines land. CIA-backed forces overthrow President Jean-Bertrand
There have been many more interventions and operations since 2005. Here are a few notables:
Unrestricted use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. 2011 military intervention in Libya. The raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. 2011-Present, US combat troops in Uganda sent to advise. 2012, troops deployed to Jordan to help it contain the Syrian Civil War. Americans have been and are involved in Somalia, Chad, Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, and elsewhere. The US has been involved in numerous coups and attempted coups, including: 2007-Iran, 2009-Honduras, 2011-Libya, 2015-present, Yemen, 2019-present, Venezuela, and most recently the coup that overthrew Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2019 that has now been reversed and has blown up in our face.
It would seem we have had no qualms about flexing our military muscle and meddling in other countries whenever it suited our purposes and interests. It would appear the roots of an empire run deep in our family tree. During my more than 75 years of life, we have been actively involved in military operations, wars, and other actions almost without interruption. The US maintains more than 800 bases in at least 80 countries. It is the largest arms dealer on the planet and spends more annually on defense than the next dozen countries combined. It is one reason our democracy is in such peril.
Some of our bellicose behavior, I realize, is a reflection of the time they occurred. Nations with the ability to do so have rarely restrained themselves from flaunting their military superiority to obtain their objectives. That should not be interpreted and accepted as an excuse for behavior in any era.
Our ancestors arrived on this continent with the intention of conquest, colonization, and removal of any obstacle to their designs by whatever means necessary. This behavior is embedded in our DNA. We are programmed to eliminate any who are perceived as competition for access to resources.
War and conflict have been a part of our heritage. Conflicts with indigenous tribes commenced as soon as our European ancestors stepped foot on these shores in 1607. It continued until the Wounded Knee Massacre near the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota on December 29, 1890. Major conflicts during the colonial period connected to events elsewhere included: Queen Anne’s War-1702-1713, King George’s War-1744-1748, and The French and Indian War-1756-1763. To this list, we can also add instances of slave rebellions in the South.
We were not predestined to be a warrior nation. History, circumstance, and perhaps something peculiar in our national makeup may have made it more likely. Was England’s sending of more than 50,000 convicted felons to the colonies before the Revolution a factor? Was it convicted felons plus thousands more of the poor and unwanted sent to the colonies as indentured servants? Did Evangelical Christianity that fed abundantly off emotion and ignorance play a part? Was it a chance outcome fueled by personalities willing to take high risks that came to the colonies and uninhibited by society norms? These are questions others with more understanding and expertise will have to ponder. The result, however, is evident. We are not shy about asserting ourselves and using force to get what we want.
For most of our history, we have downplayed and hidden our behavior and activities from view. Our many intrusions and adventures around the world and especially in Latin America were never discussed or acknowledged. These things were never talked about or mentioned in any history class. The portrayal of our conflict with Native Americans was almost always a reaction to aggression and barbaric acts. Our massacring villages were recorded as ‘battles.’ My college classes in diplomatic history never mentioned any but the most famous instances listed above. We portrayed ourselves as exceptional, believing repeating this lie will cleanse us of sin.
Two world wars, the Cold War, and the endless preparation for war pushed us past a tipping point. What these events did was to expose what has been shielded from view. Embracing empire, militarism, and glorifying soldiers as warriors allowed us to see behind the curtain. We got a glimpse of who we are. We may try to ignore it. We may try to hide it, but it is what it is, and we are who we are.
Acknowledging these things allows us to look at and view our history from a different perspective. The toxic mixture of right-wing zealotry, paranoid fears of communism, and the Cold War, changed our attitudes toward war. Seduced by material abundance served up by a booming postwar economy and fueled by the release of pent-up energy of millions of returning veterans threw open the door to a growing militarization of society. Public attention was distracted, intoxicated, and addicted to the acquisition of things.
I remember the early 1950s when we practiced duck and cover drills in elementary school. We had no idea what we are doing, but we did as we were instructed by teachers who were as confused as we were. I remember rumors in my small midwestern town promoting fears of Russian bombers. It was whispered there were plane spotters with binoculars in the tower at the junior high school every night to keep watch.
The gluttonous annual defense budgets, the peacetime draft supporting the bulging military establishment infiltrated our thoughts and took over our thinking. The way current events were presented heightened the fears and hysteria ensuring the defense department would be well funded. There was the Korean War, the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, the shock of Sputnik in 1957, the intervention to prevent China from invading Taiwan in 1958, culminating with the Cuban Missile Crisis during October 1962.
President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the dangers posed by the growth of the military-industrial complex. No one listened. The page had been turned, and our conversion, not just to empire, but a highly militarized one that protected its interests, not necessarily the people’s.
An Empire is what we’ve been since Thomas Jefferson encouraged Congress to take advantage of Napoleon’s offer and purchased the vast center of the continent known as Louisiana Territory. It set a tone that has continued. We practiced ethnic cleansing and genocide on the indigenous peoples to clear the land. A manufactured war with Mexico gave us control over the continent, war with Spain freed us from North American containment. World War II ended with us in command. We controlled most of the world’s wealth, we had a large military, and we led in making the rules for the world that was to follow.
The Cold War facilitated the growing empire and particularly the military force required to enforce and control it. The Soviet Union became an unwilling but necessary partner in helping us achieve the militarization of society. They were the convenient boogieman used as an excuse for an ever-increasing military establishment.
The Soviet Union disappeared in 1991. The strain of trying to keep up with the US caused the Soviet Empire to collapse and disintegrate. The American Empire was unrestrained and able to impose its will for a time. But narrow thinking comes at a price, and we still have not acknowledged the terrible price we have paid. Nor have we experienced the impact of policies and activities that now threaten to come home and overwhelm us.
The rise of militarism was paralleled by the growth of the gun culture accompanied by pseudo-militias and other extremist groups. The culture was inundated by a fascination with violence. Our movies, TV screens, video games, and the evening news were filled with displays and portrayals of violence, particularly with a wild west shoot’em up attitude.
The constant threat of war and engaging in conflicts destroy a democracy. The Cold War caused a slow erosion and strangling of American democracy. Our transformation into a fascist empire was gradual. The change was subtle and almost invisible, revealed in small ways. Our servicemen and women were rechristened as warriors. There were constant references to those in uniform, thanking them for their service. Our leaders ended every speech with “God bless our troops.” Advertisements glorifying our armed forces filled the airways. However, the material support that would make their lives better or take care of them or their families in the event they were killed or injured was absent.
We spread our military tentacles of control around the planet. They are our means of influence and sway. Our goal is to maintain access to critical raw materials for Americans and our allies in poor and developing countries at prices we set. They have to adhere to the rules we made. The IMF, WTO, World Bank, and other international institutions are the enforcers.
Americans are confounded discovering how much we are distrusted and hated in the world. They are confused when the rest of the world watches the Star Wars saga and see the US identified with the evil empire. “Why do they hate us?”
What you send out into the world eventually comes home, and the policies and activities we developed and used in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere are returning to haunt us. It was inevitable that the means we use to influence and control other countries would be used for the same purpose at home. The temptation to use the tools you have developed to achieve the desired end on others is not going to be restricted “for foreign use only.”
Where do we go from here? Having an empire abroad leads inevitably to autocracy and dictatorship at home. History provides ample examples. A culture’s values are expressed by what it promotes and presents to others. When I was in the Middle East in 2016, I observed American movies flooding the TV screens. They were examples of the vilest and most violent films Hollywood has produced. It made me sad. We are better than this.
Our fascination with war and addiction to violence leads to death and extinction. We are not the first to tread this path. The historical graveyard is filled with other examples. We must decide if this is how we want the American experiment to end?
Note: This list does not pretend to be definitive or absolutely complete. Nor does it seek to explain or interpret the interventions. Information and interpretation on selected interventions will be later included as links. Note that US operations in World Wars I and II have been excluded.
See also at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com
See also at: https://www.datadriveninvestor.com/2021/02/23/when-did-we-begin-worshiping-war/
The 1974 science fiction novel The Dispossessed has relevance for us today. Ursula K. Le Guin’s works are filled with her concerns for the environment and health of planet earth and the dark underside of man and our governing institutions. In The Dispossessed, Urras is a mythical planet in the Tau Ceti star system in the constellation Cetus. Tau Ceti is a star closer than 12 light-years from the Earth and is spectrally similar to our sun, although possessing 78% of its mass.
Le Guin places a planet similar to ours with a larger moon in orbit around it. Environmentally, Urras is like Earth. Politically it mirrors what ours was during the Cold War in 1974 when the novel was written. A-Io, the dominant world power, is similar to the United States in 2013. There is the illusion of liberty and freedom, but everyone and everything is under constant surveillance by the state. It is a society driven by a lust for wealth and acquiring material possessions, and unrestrained corporate greed and power.
A-Io is a two-class society defined by extreme sexism. There are the very wealthy, a small struggling middle class, and a vast underclass of working poor who live in poverty. The poor are excluded and denied access to a more abundant life. They do not have access to human services available for the elite. A-Io is a fascist police state with an appearance of civility. Its resemblance to what we have become makes the careful and reflective reader more than uncomfortable.
The other principal power on Urras is Thu, a highly centralized socialist state resembling the Soviet Union of the 1970s. Urras has a planetary government similar to the United Nations. Thu and A-Io are careful never to engage in a war directly against each other. Engagements are limited to fighting in lesser developed parts of the planet without using weapons that might cause undue harm on a planetary scale.
The planet remains free of the environmental havoc and destruction we are experiencing. Those from the Earth who come to Urras see it is still a green garden, a reminder of what the Earth was.
The planet has experienced its own unique development. The moon of Urras, Anarres, is large enough to support life. More than 170 years before the story in the novel takes place, the poor rebelled. They had been inspired by the ideas of a woman philosopher named Odo. She promoted a society founded on anarchism combined with libertarianism and socialism.
The revolt ended with an agreement allowing Odo’s followers called Odonians to leave and be transported to Anarres. Anarres and Urras are actually a dual planetary system where each is seen as the moon. Anarres is not altogether hospitable. It is arid and has a less dense atmosphere, and most of its native life found in its small oceans. Anarres possesses limited plant and vegetable life, which means there are no land animals other than those transplanted from Urras.
The terms of separation closed most access to either world by the other. But Anarres has mineral deposits in critical need on Urras, and Urras has finished goods, plants, animals, and other products needed by Anarres. Transports arrive periodically on Anarres from Urras at tightly controlled designated areas for purposes of trade.
Anarres is a harsh world that requires much cooperation from its inhabitants. It has no highly centralized governmental bureaucracy or governing institutions. After enduring over 150 years living in a harsh environment, the Anarreans have found ways to effectively preserve their individuality. They learned to work harmoniously together to reach shared goals. They avoided having governing institutions that become self-perpetuating, self-sustaining, oppressive, and detrimental to their needs and interests.
Shevek is an Anarren mathematician/scientist who has made a scientific discovery he wishes to share with humanity. I-Ao wants to prevent his sharing his work and use it to their advantage. Shevek is hopeful sharing his discovery can become a means of bringing Annarens and Urrasns together, or at least open dialogue and increase contacts between the two worlds.
Ultimately Shevek realizes he is being used by A-Io and attempts to meet ordinary people who have been kept hidden from him. Becoming aware of A-Io’s intentions and the fact he is now a fugitive leads him to seek safety at the Earth embassy. Shevek gives his discovery to the Earth ambassador to ensure his discovery will be shared with all humanity. Earthlings not only save him from arrest and probable torture by I-Ao but also open their own contact with the Annarens that had been closed to them return him to Annares.
LeGuin’s fiction is a snapshot of the height of the Cold War in the mid-1970s. Both sides finally realized that nuclear war was unwinnable and would lead to the extinction of our species. The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions. But the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union served only to expose our own weaknesses. Like the people of I-Ao, America needs an external enemy, a boogieman. We need an enemy to maintain our focus, provide purpose, distract us from more important issues, maintain control, and keep us from fighting amongst ourselves.
The end of the Cold War-era introduced far more uncertainty. We are faced with increased competition for increasingly scarce resources, locked into an economic model destroying habitability and the ability to sustain life. It is worth noting that although Le Guin makes little mention of what Earth is like, she leaves no doubt about where we may soon find ourselves. She provides us a picture of what we face if we continue our current path, addicted to fossil fuels and failing to invest in the Earth rather than continually taking from it.
If climate change and global warming are ignored or given little support or effort beyond lip service, the consequences are dire. Le Guin mentions in passing what our world had become. It was ravaged by war, destruction of the environment, and the collapse of ecosystems caused by the rush to extract natural resources fueled by greed and lust for money. The few who survived were forced to live under a totalitarian system necessitated by extreme circumstances.
We govern our activities adhering to an economic paradigm from another time. Neoliberal globalism is wreaking havoc on the planet, putting all civilization at risk. Our political system, considered brilliant for its time, was developed 250 years ago in a vastly simpler world that is no longer relevant or able to cope with and solve problems. Populations across the globe are growing restless. Global temperatures are warming, causing drought, famine, and increased desertification. Sea levels rise as ice caps and glaciers melt. Soon, two billion or more people will be forced to move elsewhere to survive, threatening global stability and order. Chaos looms on the horizon, and no wall will stem its flow. Desperate people will do whatever they must to survive. Our world is ripe for someone, an Odo, to redefine and re-state and enunciate the meaning and purpose of human existence and civilization in a new age.
What is it about a steam locomotive I find so alluring? Why do I feel such deep emotion whenever I hear its whistle? Why do so many others find it so enticing and enchanting? On Wednesday, October 10, 2019, my son and I got up before 5 am, and left Santa Monica for Yermo, California. Newly restored Union Pacific 4014 steam locomotive stopped there overnight before continuing to LA in preparation for scheduled weekend excursions.
More than 100 enthusiasts gathered at the Yermo UP yard to take pictures, stare, talk with the crew, and watch the dragon come alive in the predawn darkness. The assemblage included railfans, photographers, children of many ages, old railroaders, and the curious.
After leaving Yermo, we stopped in Barstow, CA, to watch the monstrous #4014 pass. The locomotive has a 4-8-8-4 configuration and is 132 feet long. After Barstow, we proceeded to Victorville, where 4014 paused, to perform routine greasing of vital parts and a 45-minute rest. A large crowd packed the area of the Amtrak station with those wanting to see this marvelous machine.
The rest of the day was more of the same. Wherever we went, there were hordes of people assembled eager to see this almost 80-year-old mechanical marvel come alive again.
My fascination with steam locomotives began sometime around age 4 or 5 in Fortville, Indiana, a small bedroom community northeast of Indianapolis. It is located on what was then mainline of the New York Central Railroad. I was drawn to and fascinated by the big locomotives hauling freight as they passed through the center of Fortville at 60-70 mph.
Why do I react so emotionally? Is it pure nostalgia, or does it originate somewhere in my psyche? Maybe I connect these machines from my early childhood to my feelings of rejection by my father. He ignored me and showed significant partiality to my older brother.
I understood at 4 or 5-years-old, my father didn’t care about me, wasn’t interested, and purposefully ignored me. It was only the last year of my mother’s almost 104 years of life that she revealed he had tried to have the doctor abort the pregnancy and thus me.
I was reminded of when our youngest son purchased throttle time for his brother and me to control another steam locomotive. Nickel Plate #765 is owned and operated by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It has always been and remains one of my most memorable moments. To be in control of a machine weighing close to a million pounds was an unforgettable experience.
I have shared many such moments with my sons throughout our lives. We lived close to the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and our oldest son was fascinated and attracted to every freight train that passed by. His younger brother later joined him, but the big turning point came a bit later.
Locomotive Nickel Plate #765 was rebuilt in 1979 after spending almost 20 years perched along the St. Mary’s river in a Fort Wayne park. The “Berkshire” locomotive was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944. It was principally used to haul freight. Nickel Plate 765 weighs 800,000 pounds, loaded with 22,000 gallons of water in one tender and 22 tons of coal. Because the water towers once used to refill steam locomotives have vanished, 765 has an auxiliary tender with a second 22,000 gallons of water.
When our sons were 8 and 10-years-old, I took them on an excursion behind Nickel Plate 765 from the railyard in nearby New Haven to Peru, Indiana, and back. The excursion route flooded me with many boyhood memories. It passed through Wabash, Indiana, where I saw what remained of the woods and fields where I played. I saw “my” house from the railroad standing on the hill in the distance. It was home to three generations of my family and to me for 18 years. I felt a momentary pang of pain.
The old Wabash line of the modern Norfolk Southern Railroad follows the broad flat Maumee Spillway carved from the glacial lake once covering the area. The railroad was built in places on the old Wabash & Erie Canal towpath. You can often see the old canal bed. You also see the remnants of the old interurban railroad that ran along this same route.
The rich farmland, some of which was once a swamp, appeared as a sea of browning corn broken by the green trees. There were birches, willows, box elders, maples, ashes, hickories, oaks, some walnuts, and others.
There has always been something special about steam locomotives and listening to their high-pitched whistles piercing the stillness. I recall listening for two longs, a short and another long blare of the whistle as the engine approached another crossing. Seeing a steam locomotive and especially hearing the whistle lying in bed in the still of the night is akin to the mystical experience many feel going to the ocean. It is a compelling experience.
The old Wabash Railroad line is physically a central feature of my life. My paternal grandparents lived in a house located next to the Wabash yard in Peru, Indiana. My maternal grandparent’s house, where I grew up, is located near the railroad. The house we lived in when my sons were introduced to trains was close to the railroad. I have lived somewhere near this railroad most of my life.
These thoughts filled my mind as I sat in the backseat while my two sons discuss our route and strategy for chasing Union Pacific 4014. We stop periodically at strategically identified locations where we can get out and find a vantage point to observe and take countless pictures. At every stop between Barstow and the Union Pacific’s West Colton Yard in Bloomington, California, east of Los Angeles, we are met or joined by hordes of others gathering for the same ill-defined mystical purpose. We are all attracted to the same magic and enchantment of this magnificent relic of a lost world.
As the days passed, my thoughts turned to my hometown of Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society proposed a rail and transportation history center to be included in the city’s riverfront development plans. Some who are influential in this proposed development have failed to see the value of such an attraction. Sadly, they recently removed the idea from the riverfront plans with a promise to help The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society find a suitable site nearby. I hope they are sincere, but experience has taught that governments are overly adept at using this tactic. It is a useful tool derailing and putting in “as soon as hell freezes over” projects and ideas beyond their vision. It’s analogous to Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football.
Headwater’s Junction, as the proposed rail history attraction was called, would attract thousands of visitors to the city’s downtown. The plan included a roundhouse filled with other FWRHS locomotives and rolling stock, Interurban display, meeting room, restaurant, and other facilities. The proposed location placed it on a site where a railyard had been. It was also adjacent to property connected to the city’s interurban past. It would also have allowed for building a future short connecting these attractions to the city’s acclaimed children’s zoo. It did not happen. Vision is the rarest of traits and is not often associated with politicians and established interests. We can hope the next turn of the wheel will bring new leadership with a different perspective and willingness to take advantage of the opportunity it represents. At this point, it is only a wish and a hope.
Throughout the days of these excursions, I watched the large crowds in wonder. People lined the more than 100-mile route. They chased 4014 in cars and gathered at the most photogenic locations. As a witness, I could not help but ask myself what it is about these awe-inspiring mechanical machines of a simpler age that so many find enticing and irresistible. Large caravans of cars jammed Interstate 15 and side roads, doing best to tag along, follow, and chase 4014 wherever it went. I watched as we stood in awe, joy, and even a few tears. These machines invoke something deep inside us. They rouse emotions, unconscious feelings, and yearnings we never realized were there, waiting for the proper stimulus to be awakened.
I stood on the bridge over the West Colton Union Pacific Yard surrounded by 200 or more people of all ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities. We were all part of the same tribe with the focus of attention on a colossal black bemouth belching smoke and steam, filling the air with its rhythms and its music as it passed under us.
I cannot explain the attraction. I have tried to understand it. I have tried my best to understand and express it, but I really cannot explain it. More importantly, it does not matter. I simply enjoy being in the moment and letting the experience wash over me and consume my awareness. Next year, if the opportunity arises, I will do it all over again.
Roadrunner cartoons were among my favorites growing up. When my sons were young, I enjoyed watching and sharing these classic funnies with them. It was a cherished Saturday morning ritual for a few short years. Cartoons in the early 1980s were primarily for entertainment and not the not-so-cleverly contrived animations we see now that seek to do far more than entertain. I watched them with my sons because it was something they enjoyed. Watching, I discovered the Road Runner cartoon seemed to put our approach to problem-solving into clear perspective
The roadrunner is a dumb bird possessing only one asset, incredible speed. On the other hand, the wily coyote seems to have everything going for him. He is a regular genius. So how does this dumb bird keep from ending up in the jaws of the intelligent predator?
We soon learn the coyote has a peculiar flaw. The predator, with all his advantages, still cannot catch the dumb little roadrunner. Here, in metaphor, is how we, like the wily coyote, have learned to approach problem-solving situations. The coyote, rather than devising a straightforward plan, continually escalates his approach. After each failure, it adds more inputs. It expends more energy, time, capital, technology, and resources expecting to satisfy his obsession. It wants the stupid bird for dinner. Of course, what we see, and what makes the cartoon funny and work are the luckless carnivore’s progressively more spectacular failures. His genius is repeatedly thwarted by the dumb bird’s simple defense.
Our approach to solving problems bears a striking resemblance to that of the wily coyote. We keep using more energy, capital, time, technology, and scarce resources to solve problems, yet things keep getting worse. We are mired in muck, trying to solve our problems using the same thinking that created them. The climate crisis looms. The health crisis grows more overwhelming. A financial collapse waits only for the right moment, and terrorists threaten us at home as well as abroad. Like the coyote, we still are no closer to solving our problems than before. All we seem to have accomplished is the squandering of vast quantities of energy and resources on more elaborate schemes resulting in more frustration and failure.
Consider our experience from the Vietnam War. We had vast advantages in technology, armaments, firepower, and logistics but could not defeat a determined enemy using simple tools and solutions to combat us. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has some similar qualities. Our solution? Use drones that cost millions of dollars to shoot missiles that cost thousands of dollars each to destroy mud huts and kill people who make less than a dollar a day.
Americans, in particular, are apt to fall into this trap. We have two flaws that make this outcome probable. One, we often believe we have the solution to whatever the problem is. All that needs to happen is for others to get out of our way and let us show how wonderful we are. The second is our twisted belief that acquiring great wealth bestows knowledge and wisdom providing an almost god-like adoration by the envious masses.
On another front, the pontifications of the billionaire elite are received almost as gospel. Their pronouncements receive plenty of attention from the press and electronic media. They are experts because they are rich. They are listened to even when what they propose or write is balderdash. The Gates Foundation has funded geoengineering schemes to address climate change and global warming while speaking against measures to discourage and halt the use of fossil fuels. Jeff Bezos wants to build cylinder habitats in space to move humans off-planet. It might be a useful idea in the future for us to learn how to create sustainable environments in outer space. First, we need to learn how to live sustainably within the habitat we know as earth. If we fail here, what happens there will not matter. Elon Musk plans to send people, not himself naturally, to Mars without us having the technologies and capabilities to support such an endeavor. It would be a one-way death trip for whoever signs up to bolster an over-sized ego.
No entity on earth spends more money developing increasing numbers of sophisticated equipment, gadgets, and weapons than the U.S. Department of Defense. Our nation’s treasure is pouring into this wealth devouring creation in ever-increasing amounts. The benefits versus the costs are rarely or never asked. Like the coyote cartoon, we believe spending more brings more benefits and solves problems.
The scheming coyote never sees or suspects the glaring error of its approach. Despite its intelligence and skill, the canine never sees or suspects the mistake. It is incapable of sitting down and re-conceptualizing and redefining the problem. Men often have the same difficulty. We believe more information or more resources, more equipment or more of everything will solve the problem—whatever it is. However, adding more only serves to lock us more deeply in the same approach to problem-solving. Albert Einstein said it best, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” His words define insanity.
In other words, the solution to a problem is most often not achieved by applying more of anything! The answer is found in approaching our problems differently, to see them from new perspectives and angles. Solving twenty-first Century problems beginning with climate change and global warming will not be accomplished locked into our current mode of thinking and problem-solving. Solutions will be determined by how effectively we can teach ourselves to see our problems in new ways. We need to reopen the doors of our minds and let in new approaches and ideas. In doing this, we move beyond merely acquiring more information and more knowledge toward applying wisdom.
Mr. Jenks was old, with short-cropped gray hair, thick black-rimmed glasses, and wore a bow tie with a wrinkled blue-gray suit nearly his own age. He sat to the right of the front of the class under a small window on a rocking chair that reclined into a horizontal position when he leaned back. His classroom was in the basement of the junior high that was once the high school. It was next to the gym that added a bit of noise and the smell of sweat. The school was built in the late 19th century, and Mr. Jenks’s classroom was a cramped and stuffy little room with one small window. The basement was converted to use when a growing enrollment forced school officials to use every bit of space in the old building.
It was here, in seventh-grade science, I was introduced to the idea there are two kinds of people. Mr. Jenks told us that our world was made up of philosophers who ‘created’ knowledge and technicians who applied it. Obviously, this simplified view of humanity left out most, but he did so to help us grasp a point.
Had Mr. Jenks used a more inclusive description, he might have noted that somewhere between one and five percent are responsible for basic research. This research is focused on ideas and postulating theories about the Universe and everything in it. That would be followed by perhaps 10–15 percent who take these ideas and turn them into useful things. These are people who understand the science and knowledge being generated by the 1–5 percent. These are Mr. Jenks’ philosophers and technicians. What about the rest of us? We simply use the things thought about and created by the first two groups. Some may have a vague understanding of what the first two groups are doing, but most of us simply plug in and flip the switch to make whatever it is work. We have no idea how it works and would not have a clue how to build one.
According to Mr. Jenks, the data consuming technician spends his or her day shaping the environment by taking theories and turning them into useful things we need.
The philosopher, on the other hand, was referred to as a whittler, who might spend the entire day by the pond comfortably hidden in the shade of a tall arching birch, fish pole by his side while he shaped a block of wood. Whittlers never seemed to be doing anything and never seemed to produce anything useful like automobiles, computers, iPads, smartphones, or other things. Still, these woodcarvers were seen as vital because through their thoughts and quiet reflection came the big ideas, the discovery of gravity, penicillin, and others, that moved and shaped our civilization. Whittlers were the thinkers, and thinkers must have the time to sit in apparent idleness.
Most of us, lacking understanding of the role played by such thinkers, see them and their activities as wasteful and unnecessary. They are quick to seek to eliminate funding for such activities and employment. The sciences always come to mind, but the arts and humanities are often lumped in this category as unnecessary and unproductive as well.
Another bias we have in America is our condescension and disrespect for labors we see as menial and not requiring crucial skills. The garbage man, delivery jobs, clerical positions, those who stock shelves in stores, janitors, and others in similar jobs are considered undeserving of our respect and dignity. Consider what our society judges to be useful work. We attach the least value to those tasks that are most entropic. That is, we consider simple tasks that must be repeated over and over every day or several times a day as being of little value. So, someone who sweeps floors at ABC High Tech Enterprises, or operates the grill cooking hamburgers for Burger-By-The-Dozen, are paid little and held in low esteem. Their repetitive tasks require little higher thinking, having less value. We overlook that Albert Einstein postulated his theory of relativity while employed as a simple patent clerk.
On the other hand, someone who is a corporate CEO, or someone who excels at throwing and hitting a baseball, is more highly revered, regarded, and rewarded. Our culture assigns their tasks higher values. Their jobs are judged to be more complex and requiring more skills than the simple sweeping of the floor, cooking a hamburger, and providing vital services such as collecting and disposing of our garbage.
American values are distorted by the false importance we accord to the acquisition of wealth and material objects. We attach great importance to making computers, counting money, or those thinking or physical activities requiring skill. We fail to see that these very same characteristics can impede progress in advancing the human spirit or discovering new knowledge, like relativity, necessary to advancing civilization.
In Eastern thought and in the practices of some monastic Christian groups the functions held to be most important are the tasks we judge of least value. These spiritual groups consider these mundane and repetitive jobs crucial in opening our minds. When you study Taoism, Zen Buddhism, or monastic groups in Christianity, you encounter individuals doing the cleaning, cooking, gardening, or some equally unpretentious undertaking. The reason for their doing these tasks soon becomes apparent. It is held only through recurring labors of the lowest value do we see the greatest truth.
Often it is by being engaged in so-called menial tasks that we can discover the most profound truths. It is easy to forget that Albert Einstein was working as a simple patent clerk when he postulated the Theory of Relativity. Through the performance of simple duties, we often see and perceive the cycles of life and the wholeness of the creator.
To see the greatest truth, one must frequently engage in the smallest chore. The whittler sculpts the wood, the Zen recruits sweep the floor, and the whole cosmos dances before their eyes as the mating ritual of fireflies on a new summer evening — a dazzling display of pulsing light announcing a location for the consummation of life.
One choice in life necessarily leads to the sacrificing of others. The whittler gives up the opportunity to make useful objects and the possibility of collecting handsome rewards for his labor. His motivation is the desire for understanding. His reward is seeing his efforts will lead to even more useful things for others. The whittler sits at the pond’s edge idly slicing his wood, aware of the fishing pole at his side. If he is fortunate, he may also catch a fish before his wood becomes a pile of shavings.
As Mr. Jenks shared this with us, a hint of a smile appeared as he leaned back and reclined on his rocker.
I am part of a group of gentlemen who meet once a week to discuss various topics that capture our interest at the moment. We are mostly white, retired, male professionals, who consider ourselves progressive, but that does not mean we are all of one mind and view. Meeting the morning after the storming of the Capitol, we engaged in a lively discussion. As our Zoom meeting went on a couple comments caught my attention. Some in the group referred to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as the extreme left and far-left. Another of our group later called Bernie Sanders and the program he advocates as being radical.
What is most revealing to me in these comments is how it highlights the overwhelming success of the right in defining the opposition and putting it into the most negative context. More disturbing is seeing how their successful labeling infiltrated the center and liberal moderates in the Democratic Party. The evidence is made manifest by their perception of the most progressive portion of the Democratic Party coalition as being too radical, extreme, and far-left.
Republicans see the Democratic Party, no matter how conservative it becomes, as radical, socialist, and a bunch of communists. The success of the right in their labeling efforts is evident in the rightward movement of the Democratic Party since at least LBJ. Its embracing neoliberal policies and ideas are an abandonment of labor, the working poor, the poor, and indigent. It is an abandonment of all the reasons I embraced this party in my youth.
The assertions by more conservative Democrats that Bernie Sanders, his ideas, and followers are radical or extreme demonstrates how successful the right has been in defining the Democratic Party. Viewed globally, Bernie Sanders is maybe, at best, a liberal moderate. For perspective, it is worth remembering the proposed Second Bill of Rights Franklin Roosevelt laid out during his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944. It included:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
When you compare FDR’s Second Bill of Rights with Sanders’ proposals, you might notice the similarities. Sanders added environmental and climate change issues and updated or restated much of what Roosevelt proposed 76 years ago. Was FDR a radical? Were Democrats radicals in 1944? Of course, Republicans thought so. They always do, so why do we care? Should not we instead be asking what happened? Why have we Americans not enacted the protections and programs that have been embraced by every other advanced country on the planet? Our failure to do these things has led us to this moment.
Following Mitch McConnell’s successful guidance of the Amy Coney Barrett nomination to the Supreme Court through the Senate, a joke emerged. It went like this: Democrats had been locked in a room and given paints of many colors. McConnell did this, knowing they would argue endlessly over the color to use and never bother working to unlock the door. It is a scathing commentary on the current Democratic Party leadership..
At this moment, Democrats are unable to agree on getting rid of the slave era filibuster rule and are being bullied by McConnell and Republicans to back off from much-needed programs. They ponder while Republicans are swiftly turning a disaster caused by the attempted coup into a rallying cry. They are redefining what happened before our eyes as Democrats sit dumbfounded.
It presents an astute observation and makes an important point. Democrats spend a lot of time fighting each other. And more importantly, they do so by allowing Republicans to define who and what they are.
The mob of insurrectionists, wannabe revolutionaries, and crowd followers that assaulted the Capitol exhibiting their anger, frustration, and woeful ignorance, present us with a problem not easily fixed. After what we have witnessed, the current Republican Party cannot be entrusted to govern. Democrats must find the courage to take command and not to be dominated and defined by the right.
Tragically, recent reports and comments suggest McConnell is still in charge of the Senate and manipulating Democrats to have his way. The failure to get rid of the filibuster first used by John C Calhoun in the 1840s to protect the slave interest does not bode well for enacting meaningful change.
Power is of no value if you fail to use it. Democrats need to take command and control of the message. They need to define themselves and not allow themselves to be labeled by Republicans and right-wing media outlets. Timidity is not an option for this moment when so much is at risk. Our future is at peril, and lives threatened by extremists in our midst hang in the balance.
The words, “A republic if you can keep it” are credited to Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention when someone allegedly asked whether we had created a republic or a kingdom. It speaks to the question about having established a republic, what happens next? A democratic polity requires widespread acceptance, a commitment to its health, and a willingness to adhere to its principles and values. When that is no longer the case, we are witness to what can happen.
November 3, 2020, was the third presidential election since 2000, where the Electoral College became a central issue in determining the outcome. I am referring to the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020. Although the Democratic candidate received the most votes, the Republican candidate was declared the winner in two by the Electoral College. Joe Biden won the Election of 2020 by more than 7 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes. The outcome should not have been an issue except for Donald Trump, supported by his loyal minions attempting to steal the election by every means conceivable. This bid to become god-emperor was a coup d’état attempt in plain sight with many complicit actors.
I remember the moment in early fall 1951 when I first encountered the word majority. I had just entered first grade at East Ward School in Wabash, Indiana, and on the playground for our weekly physical education class. Being over 80 years old, East Ward did not have a gym. All we had was a gravel-covered playground that surrounded the school and even covered the basketball court. Have you ever tried playing basketball on gravel? This was an old school in a poor neighborhood in a non-descript small Indiana town.
As part of our lesson that day, our traveling PE teacher, Mr. Smith, had us choose between two alternative activities. We did so by joining one side or the other by making two lines. After expressing our preferences, Mr. Smith announced our class activity was determined by what most of us had chosen. He explained finding out what most people wanted was how decisions are made in a democracy and that the United States was a democracy. We believe in the majority rule, he said with emphasis.
This was my first civics lesson, and I passionately believed what I learned then about how we govern ourselves. I still do, but I am no longer as optimistic. After the election campaigns of 2000, 2016, and 2020, it does not take a lot of intelligence to see we Americans have problems electing (if that is the right word) those who will represent us. The issues, unless fixed, are destined to grow and destroy what remains of our democratic republic. The corporate media constantly churning, endlessly repeating, regurgitating fact, pseudo fact, and lies to fill the 24/7 news cycle exacerbates the problem. The 2012 election results were still being counted when they began promoting their continuous political campaign cycle by speculating about who will run in 2016. Frankly, most of us are just trying to survive. We want our government to work and our elected representatives to solve problems we elected them to fix. Frankly, most did not give a damn at that moment about who would run in the next cycle. We cared about today. The interminable drivel continually served up by talking heads that serve corporate media bottom lines, not us, the American people, only compounds finding a solution to these problems.
It is also true unless compelling threats of our doom obstruct our way, nothing significant gets done. So, in that spirit, I offer a few ideas and suggestions. Perhaps they will provoke thought and comment and encourage discussion of our electoral processes I feel long overdue.
To begin, our public officials, media, and educators need to quit lying or misrepresenting the truth to us about our history and political processes, particularly presidential elections. For example: first, we do not have a national election day, we have elections in 50 states plus the District of Columbia held on the same day. It has not always been that way. Early in the 19th century, the election for president took place in different states throughout the year. Second, the national popular vote for president is a meaningless sham. A slave era relic, The Electoral College was intended to appease slaveholding states by controlling and thwarting the popular will. It allows a minority to control the levers of government. Third, is it too much to expect of media and public officials providing us expert information on election issues to know about the functions of government they speak about? Fourth, why are we, the public, never made aware of the millions of votes that are, for one reason or another, not counted? In 2012, it was reported that about 5.5 million votes would never be tallied due to error. It was because they were absentee or were provisional ballots that were systematically disqualified. Because it was believed counting them made no difference in the electoral outcome, they were discarded.
In 2020 Biden received 81,283,098 votes winning 51.3% of votes cast. Trump received 74,222,957 votes or 46.8% of votes cast. We had the largest voter turnout ever. There were 159,633,396 votes cast, representing 66.7% of the voting-eligible population. It was the highest voter turnout since 1900 when 73.7% voted, but only males voted in 1900. The greater numbers notwithstanding varied attempts by Republicans in the Red States to limit turnout of minority voters is due in part to early voting and especially voting by mail or absentee due to the COVID19 pandemic
In contrast, in 2016, about 138 million citizens voted of the approximately 242.5 million eligible, representing one of the lowest citizen participation levels of any democracy on this planet. Why? This low number stems from voter apathy, voter registration procedures, including voter photo ID cards, which discourage registration, particularly among the old, the poor, and minorities. We are the only democracy in which Election Day is a workday weekday instead of being either a national holiday or held on the weekend. Election Day is held in November during a time of the year weather often is a definite factor in turnouts. The time polls are open vary from state-to-state, with places like Indiana having voting hours that actually discourage working people from voting. Our two major political parties are both oriented toward servicing the same middle to upper-middle-class bias. No one is speaking to the lower 80% of the social-economic ladder. Neither party listens to or cares about the poor. Finally, The Supreme Court added nothing to this process in its 2000 Bush v. Gore decision but took away much. The Court, in effect, selected its own president. It set a bad precedent of having the Court interfering directly in the electoral process in a very partisan manner, issuing rulings that were, at best, confusing and contradictory. Then to make a mockery and turn democracy into absurdity, the Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, expanded the concept of the corporate person to have more rights than actual living persons. The more money you have, the more citizen you are and vice versa.
A defender of the Electoral College recently began his defense of this institution with a quote from the poet Robert Frost. Frost wrote, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” Good advice. So, we should look deeper beyond the usual reasons and excuses for the Electoral College and see what stands behind it. We were all indoctrinated about our founders wanting to protect us from majority tyranny. The rights of the minority must be safeguarded. It all sounded good, but we never examined what tyranny of the majority our founders actually were referring to? We never delved into whose minority rights were they really protecting? Oh, it was claimed there was the danger of the domination by big states over the small. The states with the largest populations would dominate and discriminate against the rest. This is the reasoning for the creation of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College we were taught. Looking deeper, we know it was all a cover for their real intent.
The authors of this document represented a fine example of late 18th century thought influenced by the Enlightenment. The tyranny of the majority the founders feared was the mass of citizens of this country who wanted more democracy and more voice in their government. The new elite feared the people, as the elites always do, seeing them as a mob. The poor and the masses are what the elites refer to today condescendingly as “You little people.” They fear the participation of all our citizens. It threatens their privileges, and they do all in their power to limit the poor masses from voting or having a voice.
When we were taught about government and the Constitution, the protection of minority rights was emphasized. They had to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. Translated, what they really meant was that the elites needed protection from the masses. They wanted provisions inserted to ensure their position, power, and privilege in the new government. They were very successful. We live with their legacy in all its inequalities.
I grew up during the height of the Cold War. We were inundated with the virtues of American democracy. We stood every morning facing the flag to recite the pledge of allegiance to our civic god. We were continually drilled about the evils of communism. We were told how cruel it was but denied any attempt to discover why and understand what it was.
Our government promoted the idea of democracy around the world as well as at home during that time. We never realized while we promoted democracy to others, we denied and did all that was possible to keep from practicing it ourselves. If a country did create a democratic government, it had better not be in conflict with American aims and interests. There is a long list of countries that can attest to what would happen. The list is long and includes Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Honduras in 1963, 2009, Chile in 1973, or the Dirty War in Argentina, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, and numerous other places.
Is it any wonder that when we try to sell our democratic ideal, we are met with blank stares and suppressed laughter? Who would believe anything we are selling when we do not practice it ourselves?
Donald Trump and a substantial part of the Republican Party tried to subvert and overthrow the duly elected government. He used a plethora of underhanded and unconstitutional means that culminated with the violent assault on Congress. They simply revealed who they really are and what their vision for our country and society is. The Congress, after all, is composed primarily of the wealthy or soon to be rich. They have no interest in serving those who sent them there. They only think of protecting themselves and promoting their personal agendas as was evident in the last-ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election. Further, throughout this unprecedented assault of American democracy, did you once hear an utterance in opposition or condemnation to Trump from the wealthy and the corporate elites?
We survived an attempted coup by one who was cunning but ignorant. We were lucky Trump did not have more support. Our problems have been exposed. We have the choice and opportunity to make changes and fix what needs to be addressed to prevent a repeat. The second impeachment of Trump is a fact. His trial must lead to a conviction for the sake of our future.
If we do not punish someone for attempting a coup against our elected government. If we fail to punish those who gave their support. If we fail to learn from our failure after the civil war to make systemic changes to punish and shun those responsible, we have no future. Rest assured, the next aspiring autocrat will be far more intelligent and adept. He/she will use the system to destroy what is left and plunge us into an authoritarian or quite possibly a totalitarian black abyss.
I read the title of the article this morning in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (23 Feb 2015), “Shadowy police spy devices stir fears for liberty” by Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post, describing a secret device that in some way simulates a cell phone tower and allows the police, or whomever has the device, to gather information not just about the potential perpetrator of a crime or other illegal activity, but anyone else in range of the device’s information gathering capabilities.
The device is so secret that the FBI has placed a gag order on discussing it on the grounds that such revelations would compromise its effectiveness. The device, dubbed “StingRay,” is a box about the size of a small suitcase, according to Nakashima. For added flexibility, there is also a hand-held version.
What the device does is simulate a cellphone tower and makes possible for those controlling it to extract signals from not just a particular phone, but also all mobile phones within range, including potentially hundreds of law-abiding innocent citizens going about trying to live their lives without Big Brother looking over their shoulder.
This is a clear example of what happened to America once we started down the slippery post 9-11 slope driven by our fears. Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “He who gives up a little freedom for security deserves neither” may seem out-of-date to some in our technologically driven time, but believing that only illustrates how pervasive our collective ignorance of our own ideals and institutions is.
The truth is that once the federal government in the guise of the FBI, NSA, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and others started opening the door to make illicit tools such as “StingRay” available to local law enforcement we should have been able to see that more harm would be caused than good. It is an iron law of bureaucratic behavior that such enhanced capabilities provided to the myriad number and variety of local and state law enforcement agencies throws the door wide open to misuse and abuse on scales we can’t currently imagine. Human behavior is predictable.
Is this not what James Madison and other of our founders took so many pains to guard us against? Does this not speak to the very core of what “limited government” truly means? Our founders were far more insightful and aware of the dangers of government at all levels not to have realized the necessity of keeping the beast in chains.
Now we have let loose the beast and there is no way short of great catastrophe of putting it back. It’s ironic how a few men living in caves and relying on horses for transport in a remote backwater of the planet whose great desire was to turn the world back to the seventh century accomplished what 50 years of cold war with the Soviet Union failed to do. In almost a heartbeat we gave away our most cherished rights and freedoms for the illusion of security. Who would have thought it would be so easy?
When we created this government 239 years ago, it was created to be our (the American people) agent, not our master and definitely not our jailer. I don’t know how we put the beast back in its cage, but to do nothing only insures soon we will be put in one of our own.
My mother voted for Barrack Obama in 2008 at age 95. It was the first time she had voted in a presidential election since becoming fed up with politics after 1972. She registered and voted in 2008 without fanfare and certainly no hassle.
My mother worked 25 years in a factory after a bitter divorce and being left in the summer of 1951 with two young sons, no job, no income, and no place to live. She did what she had to do in those times. She gritted her teeth, moved from Missouri to her parents home in Wabash, Indiana, got a job making $40 a week and proceeded in her determination to see her sons never had to suffer the pain and humiliation she was experiencing.
That job eventually ruined her health and her hearing. She did it job better than anyone else. Her reward was being paid half as much as her male co-workers doing the same job, but she received the benefit of having to suffer the mental and physical harassment from those same males, sexual or otherwise. She learned to handle herself in this male dominated culture and earned their respect. Of course it was never expressed where it counted, in pay.
Politically she was, like my maternal grandfather, independent. She leaned to Democrats because they were the only party interested in helping people like her who were, because she was divorced and a single mother, cast offs economically, politically, socially and by her own church. The America of the early 1950s was a different place. There was no place for single divorcees and single parent households.
My mother voted in every election through the 1972 presidential election. My family taught that voting was a civic duty and a responsibility of citizenship. There was not excuse for not voting. What happened in and after the 1972 election sickened her of both politics and politicians. She was fed up and done with politicians. But In 2008 at age 95, moved by hope and change offered by Barrack Obama and frightened by Republican John McCain, she reversed her long voting absence, registering and voting, and, as noted earlier, she didn’t have any difficulty doing so. She filled out the information on the voter registration card, sent it to the election board and received her registration and later requested, received and used an absentee ballot to cast her vote. That should be the end of the story, but it isn’t because Indiana enacted a voter ID law that received U.S. Supreme Court blessing in 2008 that changed the landscape, not only for voting, but also for other things, including applying for and getting a state issued picture ID card.
My mother doesn’t possess a lot of material assets. Her income consists of social security benefits and a small pension from her former employer (Honeywell) that was vastly reduced because she was forced to retire early due to injuries received doing their work. She has enough to exist, but hardly enough to live. Some years ago as a means of helping her maintain her own household and live independently she applied for and qualified for Section 8 Housing Assistance. The amount of rental assistance this program provided (less than half her rent) was enough to make the difference for her to live in modest comfort on her own.
In the spring of 2010 mother made her annual pilgrimage to the local Housing Authority office to sign papers and listen to the bureaucratic pontification required for her to remain in the program. A week later she received notice the Indiana driver’s license she had been using for an identification card had expired and she would have to provide a new up-to-date one to prove her identity. All she needed to do, they said, was go to the local Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch, provide the necessary documents to attest she was who she claimed to be and receive a new one.
So I gathered documents, loaded her into my car and off we went to the BMV. When we finally got to the window for someone to assist, we learned that to get a state issued picture ID Mom would need her birth certificate. I tried, but to no avail, to inform the clerk that in many Indiana counties birth records were not recorded until well into the 20th century. She replied, her nose elevating with each word, “you must present a valid birth certificate from the county of her birth.”
A bit later I discovered she did have a birth certificate, but there was a slight glitch. A cousin, who lived in Adams County (Decatur), Indiana, had gone to the local courthouse several years ago and secured a copy for her. However, the date of birth on the certificate read September 20, 1913 and my mother was born on September 19, 1913. Mom, I discovered, had simply crossed out the incorrect date and written in the correct one. I knew this would not pass muster so I again loaded her in my car and off to Decatur we went. It is only about 20 miles from Fort Wayne, so it took about a half hour to get there and a few more minutes to find the building where the county health department was located.
Some how I was able to get mom up to the second floor office (she wears a pacemaker and going up stairs is difficult) and waited until an older lady inquired as to our business. I explained the situation and we were able to quickly locate the record of her birth as written by the doctor who assisted in her delivery. There in black and white was my mother’s birth recorded as September 20, 1913. The good doctor hadn’t gotten the day right! We knew my mother was born on the 19th because this is what her father recorded, and her mother and two older sisters told her. This is what the whole family told her, and who would know better?
I asked the two very sympathetic clerks, “How do we correct the date and get a valid birth certificate for my mother?” The clerk said she needed to provide two old documents showing her birthday as September 19, 1913, and two other forms of identification. I took mom home and then scoured her records, which she had entrusted to me for safekeeping. I was able to find two old insurance documents dating from about 1950 with her proper birthday and other vital information listed.
In the meantime, since she was not going to have her state picture ID to satisfy the Housing Authority deadline, I first stopped there and informed them it would take time to secure all the documents. They threatened to remove her from the program, but seeing the fire in my eyes and after demanding to speak to their superior they relented and suggested I provide it as soon as mother was able to get one.
The next day I again loaded mother back into the car and drove with her to Decatur for a second time and helped her climb the steps to the second floor office of the Health Department. (Later I discovered there was an elevator that had been added to this old high school building turned county offices, but was at the far end and not well marked.) We provided the documents to the clerk and she made the correction to the record adding the necessary notations, made copies of our documents for their records, and a new birth certificate was issued. We could now go back to the BMV and get mom a state issued picture ID! Well, yes and no.
Next day I picked up mom and went to the BMV loaded with documents, utility bills and a new official birth certificate. However the stern faced clerk quickly informed us our information was incomplete and some unacceptable. We were told in addition to the birth certificate and the recently paid utility bills she would also have to provide a copy of her marriage license! “Huh”? I’m sure my mouth was wide open in amazement. I was stunned.
“You must have a copy of her marriage license to prove her name changed,” the stern-face BMV clerk explained. “You’ll have to contact the county where she was married to get a copy before we can proceed,” she said calmly. I’m sure she had been here many times before. I also had in my possession a number of ID’s from the past, including one issued by the State of Indiana with her social security number (another requirement) clearly in view, but it was declined because it was out of date!! They declined to recognize her recently expired Indiana Driver’s License with her picture on it because it was expired (by a couple months). I guess you can’t be too careful about these things. You never know from what quarter a terrorist, criminal or fraudulent voter might appear.
I did my best to explain the problem to my mother, loading her back into the car and taking her back to her apartment. I went home and called Wabash County Health Department in Wabash, Indiana where my mother was married and they directed me to the proper person who said I would need to send a letter and a small fee to get a copy of the marriage license. I did as asked and in a couple days had the new copy.
I again put mother into my car and drove to the BMV. This time I was sure we were properly prepared, having all the required documents. We went through the formalities of getting a number and waiting to be called. When that finally happened the lady took much time and examined each piece of information, each word, each sentence, as if it were of the highest import and vital to get right. It was examined as if every word and every letter might be hiding a secret code. After some moments she summoned her supervisor who also scrutinized the documents, examining each as if it were contained top-secret information vital to our nation’s security. Being the supervisor, she was required to bless each transaction as part of the process of making certain no falsification occurred. You can’t be too careful who you trust these days! A 97-year-old woman might be part of a sleeper cell or a front for voter fraud.
One document seemed to have attracted their attention and both spent some time examining and conferring on it. It was my mother’s marriage license! I soon learned her first name was spelled DELORES on the marriage license while the correct spelling on her birth certificate was DOLORES. By this time my blood was boiling, my face was red, and my eyes filled with fire. I know this because the supervisor turned and looked at me as if she was going to say something and then seeing my face, paused, and gave the document her blessing and quickly departed.
This was the end, right? No it wasn’t. Next mom had to have her picture taken. My mother was 97 years old at the time and standing for any length of time was difficult. Her eyesight, hearing and body strength were failing, but her mind was and is crystal clear and sharp! They made her stand while they took her picture SEVEN times, saying each time that something was wrong and they had to do it over, which was a blatant falsehood! The new picture ID contains more than the picture you can see. By the last picture my mother had lost all patience. I knew she was about to unload several rounds of verbal buckshot when they finally said, “Finished”. We returned to the person processing the papers and after signing a couple application documents and receiving a sincere apology from the clerk, we left, but not with a new ID. Oh no, no, no. Those can only be issued from Indianapolis. The State of Indiana does not allow BMV branches to complete these very critical and important tasks. They are not to be trusted. Only Indianapolis has the proper knowledge and expertise to do this.
This is a picture of what it is like to secure a state issued picture ID card in Indiana. The voter ID law was passed with one purpose and only one purpose in mind-get around existing law to limit who votes and deny the elderly, poor, and minority voters their constitutional rights. It is a modern form of a poll tax. It is a mark of shame upon us all. But sadly, those responsible are not bothered by the shame. They wear it like a badge of honor.