Monday, June 22, 2015

BEELZABUB


Charles Coughlin was a Catholic Priest, pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan. A popular, dynamic preacher, Coughlin was the first clergyman to capitalize on the new medium of radio in the mid 1920’s.

Known as ‘the radio priest,’ Coughlin’s listeners mounted well into the millions by the end of that decade. When the depression fell to its depths in the early 1930’s, Coughlin’s messages became more and more political. He supported Franklin Roosevelt vigorously in 1932, but later broke with FDR over what he perceived as the undue influence of bankers in the New Deal.

Coughlin was silenced by the Catholic Church before World War II, and, while he continued as Pastor of the Shrine, he kept a low profile in the community at large.

Fast forward about 25 years. In the mid 1960’s, Father Coughlin finally consented to address a business and professional mens’ luncheon at the old Book Cadillac Hotel in Downtown Detroit.

I was there. Still standing straight as a stick, he began his remarks in the firm, high pitched voice that had become familiar to the nation three decades before. I shall never forget his opening line:

I want to talk to you men today about a subject that is as modern as tomorrow. I want to talk to you about the Devil.

You could hear a pin drop as he mesmerized five hundred Catholic men with example after example of the on-going influence of Satan in modern society. His message was chilling. There is evil in the world. Lucifer lives. He invades the hearts and minds of countless human beings and beckons them to do his awful work.

His challenge went to the core of Western Civilization. If you believe in God, if you believe in Jesus Christ who, the Bible tells use ‘cast out evil spirits’ then you must believe in the Devil.

I could not help but recall Father Coughlin’s speech when I heard the reports of the Charleston Massacre. The hatred and venom that would prompt a young man to murder nine innocent human beings, in a Church, in a House of Worship, literally shouts at a slumbering world.

He is here. He is among us. He poisons the souls of the unwary. He commands a twenty year old man in Connecticut to murder his mother and then massacre 20 children at the Sandy Hook elementary school. 

He insinuates himself under the skin of a Colorado man and leads him to slaughter a dozen movie goers in their seats.

He twists and confuses the minds of people – even educated people – even religious people who, like Nidal Hasan, taunted the Creator of the Universe with false praise as he killed 13 people in the Fort Hood rampage.

He is in the world. And yet. And yet, the blood of martyrs has always been the seed of Christianity. The faith filled men and women of the Mother Emanuel congregation have given the world a thundering antidote to the works of the Devil.

In an hour of hurt, they have spoken of forgiveness. In a storm of hatred, they have talked of love. In a sewer of racial bigotry they have served a banquet of good will, of kindness, of solidarity with a nation, once proudly Christian and still silently faith filled.

There will always be evil. Lucifer still stalks the earth. But he is no match for our God. Let us pray, my friends, let us believe, and let us pray.  

MONEY IN POLITICS

A correspondent sent along a copy of a study prepared by the League of Women Voters having to do with the problem of money in politics.

It’s a forty-seven page document described as a Primer for League members and others interested in becoming active in the effort to curb the evils associated with big money campaign financing.

There is certainly no doubt that politics in America today is all about money. Money gets people elected . Money buys the loyalty and favoritism of the politicians it elects. Money, it is said, is the Mother’s Milk of politics.

I have described the relationship between the lobbyists who infest K street and the members of Congress as akin to a river of raw sewage. It stinks to high heaven.

Harvard Professor Larry Lessig described it as a ‘gift economy.’ It is, he concedes, a crime to buy or offer to buy the votes of a member of Congress. It is not a crime however, to donate to their campaigns or help to raise campaign funds.

And if you are a friend of a Congressman, you can take him to a ball game. Or the Super Bowl. Or the Masters.

The League of Women Voters primer doesn’t address the gift economy. Rather it focuses on the direct financing of political advocacy by corporations, which the Supreme Court declared to be their constitutional right in the case of Citizens United v The Federal Election Commission.

Sadly, the ladies are off on a dead end street. The problem with money in politics cannot be solved with bureaucratic regulation, and public financing would be an abomination that would be controlled by incumbents for their own benefit.

The problem with money in politics is simply that we have allowed constituencies to become bloated. The Founders wanted Congressmen to represent 50,000 people from their home communities. Power hungry politicians have swollen their districts to over 750,000.

Of course it takes a lot of money to communicate with that many people. The 17th Amendment did the same thing for Senators. Instead of seeking the votes of a roomful of state legislators, they now run in state wide election campaigns costing millions of dollars.  

Unhappily, the ladies do not seem to realize that politics is nothing more than civilized warfare. You can no more control the amount of money spent on elections than you can control the number of speeches a candidate can give or the number of volunteers he can recruit.

Citizens United was correctly decided, but for the wrong reasons.  The Court should have held the ban on corporate campaign expenditure unconstitutional because political advocacy is not interstate commerce. The Constitution does not authorize Congress to regulate campaign financing.

Corporations are artificial persons, created by State law. The States have always had the power to restrict what corporations can spend their money on. The Supreme Court interfered with State authority under the Tenth Amendment to define the powers and duties of the corporations they charter.

Just another reason why we need a non-partisan Supreme Court.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

THE JEFFERSON AMENDMENT


The old judge just finished reading THOMAS JEFFERSON: THE ART OF POWER, by historian John Meacham.

One quote from Jefferson stuck in my craw:

I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.

It’s an idea that should be taken seriously. The national debt of the United States is now more than 18 TRILLION dollars and is increasing at the rate of two million dollars a minute.

Article I, Section B, of our federal Constitution contains two interesting and related provisions. It says that Congress shall have the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States. It also says that Congress shall have the power to coin money, and regulate the value thereof.

I have scratched my head over those two provisions for a long time. What else is the power to “coin money” than the power to manufacture a medium of exchange? The Constitution doesn’t restrict coinage to gold or silver, or indeed any other metal. The word ‘coin’ is used as a verb, and it simply means to make or create.

Now let me ask you this question: If you had a machine in your basement that manufactures money; real money, not counterfeit money; not Monopoly money, but real, honest-to-God spendable Yankee dollars; if you could go downstairs and turn the crank to get all the moola you and the Mrs. could possible want…

Why in the name of all that is holy would you ever borrow money?

Oh, you say that you wouldn’t want to spend any of that money you manufacture? You would do what? Sell it? You’d sell your money? Who would you sell it to? Your brother in law?

You’re kidding. How will your brother in law pay you? He’d do what? Pay you a little tiny bit of the money you just sold him? You can’t be serious. You sell him a million dollars of perfectly good USD and he pays you a buck and a half?

He must be supporting your sister in style. He doesn’t? Then what does he do with the money? He loans it to his friends? At a low interest rate?

Oh, you say the interest rate is not always low. Sometimes he charges more interest so his friends won’t borrow so much.

That’s very interesting, but now let me ask you this: instead of selling the money you manufacture in the basement to your brother in law, why don’t you use it to pay off the mortgage on your house? And when the mortgage on the house is paid off, why not use it to send the kids  to college or buy gramma a new set of dentures?

And by the way, since you are giving your brother in law such a bargain, selling him your money for a fraction of its value, what has he ever done for you? What does he do for you ?

He what? He helps you borrow money? You can’t be serious. Why in the world do you have to borrow money anyway? Oh yeah, you have to borrow money because you don’t have any, and you don’t have any because you sold it all to your brother in law.

Seems a little circuitous, doesn’t it? By the way, what is your bother in law’s name?

Fred Earl Reserve? Funny name.

Funny, indeed. Maybe it’s time to dust off Thomas Jefferson’s suggestion and find a better way to put the money our government manufactures into circulation.

And a better way to find stewards of our common wealth than to entrust it to partisan career politicians chosen in artificial gerrymandered districts.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

WALKING AGAIN


My Sunday Walk blog generated a thoughtful response from one of my favorite correspondents, the gist of which was that the article was full of gloom and doom; that I had painted a dark and hopeless picture prompting “a tsunami of despair.”

Ugh. That’s not hardly what I was trying to do. I like to think that I am a pretty optimistic guy. Like Percy Veerance “I don’t quit and I don’t cry; don’t shake my fist up at the sky. I just keep on pluggin’ along…”

Admittedly, my ruminations about the surge of Islamic terrorism and our national paralysis of foreign policy invoked a lot of eerie shadows dancing on the walls, and I suppose that my dissing of the White House didn’t sit well with some folks who like to look on the sunny side.

But that’s no reason to dig a bomb shelter and stock up on canned goods.

We survived Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. There’ll be an Obama Library some day, and I’ll want to visit it, too.

I just finished reading The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s a masterful work that follows the lives of Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and a cadre of writers and journalists which came to be known as the muckrakers.

It’s fascinating to see how many things have remained the same and how vastly different other conditions have become. Obviously technology has skyrocketed since 1908. Air transportation, interstate highways, television, computers, Iphones and electronic gadgets that populate our kitchens were unknown to Roosevelt and Taft.

Still they were familiar with big corporations, banking conglomerates, the political influence of big money, the rough and tumble of Presidential politics.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, there was a wave of political reform sweeping across the land. Between February of 1913 and August of 1920, four amendments to the United States Constitution were adopted: The 16th Amendment, giving Congress the power to levy income taxes; the 17th Amendment requiring Senators to be elected state wide; the 18th Amendment prohibiting sale of alcoholic beverages; and the 20th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

At the same time many state constitutions were being amended to authorize popular voting in referenda, initiatives and recalls. In 1908 the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate, William Taft, finished third, behind the Progressive candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.   

It was an era when the notion of a “manifest destiny” for the United States, which originally defined expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was exploding to include colonial possessions as distant as the Philippine  Islands.

So here we are in the twenty-first century, the most powerful nation on earth, with military presence in more than 150 countries around the globe, engaged in some kind of warfare some place on the planet almost all the time.

We were on the winning side in WWII. Not so in the last 60 years. Clearly, we need a wave of political reform in America, much like we had in the Bull Moose era. There is nothing depressing about preaching political reform. It’s a cause that needs happy warriors.

Americans have always believed that the best is yet to come. We want our children to have a better life than we have had. In 2100, that ‘better life’ may not be measured in money or the things that money can buy.

My great grandson Henry was born at home and will be home schooled. I am confident that he will grow to manhood imbued with the Christian values that will enable him to live a meaningful, productive and happy life.

Presidents come and Presidents go. MSNBC and Fox News will not always be with us. But good people make great nations, and I am confident that there will be many, many good people in the United States of America in the twenty second century.





Sunday, May 24, 2015

SUNDAY WALK


It’s Sunday morning and I have a few minutes before we leave for church. Just time for a few words from the old judge.

So far today I have finished my daily mile and a half walk and my ten laps in the pool. Feeling pretty well. I shot 88 on Friday and I’ll be 86 on Wednesday. Close enough to boast about.

Maybe there are some folks who would like to know what an 86 year old man thinks about when he is walking and swimming in the morning.

Not many, but some. A few perhaps? I’m sure nobody under the age of 40 would give a hoot in hell what I was thinking about. But maybe their parents might.

Anyway, I think about death. Not in a frightened or worrisome way. More a matter of curiosity. It’s hard to imagine a world without being in it. Sort of like New York or Los Angeles. A lot of people doing a lot of things, but I’m not part of it.

My faith tells me there is a hereafter, and that’s a comfort. Exactly what that hereafter will be like, I don’t know. Nobody does. The only course I ever failed was a speculative elective at the University of Detroit taught by a Jesuit named Father Magget. I didn’t need the credit to get into law school and I couldn’t get into wondering about how many choirs of angels there are.

What I do wonder about these days is the next hundred years. I see pictures on the Internet of masked ISIS gunmen ceremoniously beheading 21 Coptic Christians and I read that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States, and I wonder.

Then I think about Nidal Hasan. Again. I have written a couple of blogs about him over the years. In 2009 he slaughtered 13 innocent Americans at Fort Hood, Texas. In 2013 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. That sentence has not been carried out.

Now I see that Hasan wants to be a member of ISIS. He wrote a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghadadi, leader of the Islamic State. Here is what he had to say:

“I formally and humbly request to be made a citizen of the Islamic State. It would be an honor for any believer to be an obedient citizen soldier to a people and its leader who don’t compromise the religion of All-Mighty Allah to get along with the disbelievers.”

Isn’t that just dandy? The U.S. Army provided the man with stationery and postage to give aid and comfort to our enemy. That would be treason, I should think. Maybe the crowd who think that Hasan was a victim of work place overload will now urge that he be transferred to Gitmo as an ‘enemy combatant.’ Sick.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Polly and I will raise a glass to toast her brother, Emmanuel Weinberger, a paratrooper who was killed on the beach of Salerno in 1943. E.J. died in the Great War, fighting for our freedom.

We’ll also salute the thousands of brave and decent young Americans who have died on the sands and stones of Iraq and Afghanistan in a war that wasn’t declared by Congress as required by our Constitution. They died in a war that all the talking heads and the intelligentsia are now telling us was a mistake. No wonder so many of them have post traumatic problems. No wonder eighteen of them commit suicide every day.

The President of the United States hasn’t the slightest idea about how to deal with ISIS. He talks about “degrade and (ultimately) destroy.” That’s a bumper sticker foreign policy that basically means we’re going to bomb them a lot and hope they give up.

The Islamic State is based on an extremist version of Islam, in which the killing of innocent non believers is expected and rewarded. They will not quit. They will not surrender. Religious fervor is their motivation. They will kill for it. They will die for it.


My great grandson, E. Henry Richardson, will be my age in the year 2100. I wonder what his world will look like.