My Congressman, Walter Jones (R-NC), blew it on this one.

Yesterday I learned that an Air Force Chaplain was receiving a Bronze Star for creating a Powerpoint about Muslim Cultures. I became aware of this thanks to my Facebook link to my elected representative Walter Jones (NC).  His Facebook post wasn’t just about this, though. Along with a link to his press release (that was really about a piece of legislation he had submitted in January about allowing  military chaplains to close prayers as they see fit) he posted the following status to draw attention to the press release:

“Yesterday I spoke out against the Air Force’s decision to reward one its chaplains a Bronze Star for preparing a PowerPoint presentation on how to respectfully handle Islamic materials.”

He based his Bronze Star outrage on a blog post from the National Review Online. It was a real stretch, though, to connect this to a piece of legislation he had recently submitted (House Bill 343) to allow military chaplains to close all prayers, even prayers outside of services, in the manner in which they choose.  For example, closing the benediction to a retirement ceremony or change of command with “In Jesus name” would be allowed.

I actually don’t have anything against most of the arguments individually, but I believe my Congressman made a poor decision to try to roll all this up into one bag. I don’t know what the primary issue is here.  Is it award inflation?  Is it HR 343? Is it a fight against political correctness? Aside from a little bait and switch with the headlines, Representative Jones also didn’t seem to have the whole story.

There absolutely has been award inflation over the past ten years.  Starting in about 2003 those of us in the military quickly learned that there was a difference between a Bronze Star with a “V” for valor and a Bronze Star without a “V”.  The majority of Bronze Stars awarded are awarded for administrative acts while in a theater of war and are frequently given as “end of tour” awards to senior members of the military.  We in the military have all learned that any award with a “V”, even a lesser medal, is cooler than a Bronze Star without one.walter jones

Also of importance, awards of this stature go through multiple levels of the Chain of Command before approval. This is why they take so long to be awarded.  This is the operational chain, by the way, not the administrative chain, so instead of being mad at the Air Force, perhaps he should question those at CENTCOM.

In regards to HR343; I believe this is a fine bill and see little to be offended by in it.  It’s short and to the point.  I assume no one would be offended if their unit was assigned a military rabbi for a chaplain who wanted to close a change of command ceremony with a plea to Yahweh for guidance and blessing.  I also think most military chaplains would have the professional courtesy to ask the guest of honor how they would like their ceremony to go.  So overall, I have no issues with HR 343, aside from the fact Rep. Jones is linking it to an issue that is both incomplete of all the facts and based on a small bit of xenophobia.

Walter Jones has impressed me in the past with his stance on some unpopular ideas, such as being against the continued expansion of drones, as well the war is Afghanistan.  Not an easy stance for a Republican, particularly one whose district includes Camp Lejeune, NC.  He’s also lost committee assignments due to taking a stance against his own party.  This why, despite my poor opinion of Congress as a whole, I continue to vote for him.

The original reporting about this Chaplain has come out with a clarification of the story to the point that the author now says regarding the traffic on the internet about this that, “Lt. Col. Jon Trainer, a NRO reader, has been in touch and convinced me that this isn’t quite fair”. They concluded stating that although there was nothing inaccurate in the original news story or the subsequent blog post, per se, they create “a misimpression about the centrality of the PowerPoint to Trainer’s Bronze Star.” And that they “wanted to provide this fuller context and take the opportunity to salute Trainer for his service to our country.”

Judging by the amount of “likes”, “shares” and “comments” of the Facebook post by Representative Jones, it would be nice to see him also come out with some sort of clarification.  Judging by the comments, it doesn’t appear his Facebook post did much to advance the cause of HR 343 anyway. It did strike an anti-Islamic nerve in many though.  If that was the intent of the post, mission accomplished.  If it was NOT the intent, but merely a “by product” or “unintended consequence”, it should be addressed. Silence on things like this is consent.

The fact that his Facebook post and press release highlight the medal and the correlation to Islam, as opposed to actual the actual meat of the press release (support of HR 343), indicates to me that Mr. Jones may have been more interested in reaching people through headlines and Facebook posts than in engaging in rational thought on this one.  The terms “low-information voter” and ‘Sheeple” like to be used by those on the far right to describe people they disagree with with.  In this case, it seems the shoe is on the other foot. People need to question the stuff that fits their particular cause as much as they question things that do not.  It’s true, there are a lot of low-information “sheeple” in this country…..and lots of different shepherds.

Maybe Representative Jones wasn’t really going for the bait and switch, maybe he was counting on people to just read the headline as way to validate their previously held beliefs. This is the kind of thing that leads to our tribal culture when it comes to politics.  It feeds into the us-vs-them attitude and plays on peoples emotions instead of their intellect.  I expected better from Representative Jones.

Palin’s Card Game: Where The Republicans Got Off Track

The photo below is being passed around Facebook and it struck me on two levels.

First, the caption is funny.  I don’t think anyone really believes the President “shoots skeet all the time”.  It’s a phrase he never should have uttered, and once printed only caused the media to question it.  This in turn put the President in the no-win situation of either walking back the statement or providing proof.  He did the latter (kind of) by releasing an awkward photo, only to take a good ribbing from his political opponents for it.  So the meme around social media is expected and warranted.  You get what you ask for, Mr. President.Cards

But the second thing that struck me was the picture itself.  I’m not sure exactly when it was made, but I believe it represents where Republicans went wrong.  Sarah Palin, placed squarely in the center of Republican heroes?  Really?

I assume this was painted at the height of her celebrity, which was only a few years ago. Her fall from relevance in this short time only proves why this picture fails. Efforts to force candidates into an alliance with political heroes of the past is dangerous.

Reagan, Eisenhower, Bush, Lincoln…..and Palin?  I don’t think so. Sarah Palin playing cards with Barry Goldwater  would be a more accurate portrayal of her historical significance.

In fact, Palin represents the movement within the Republican party that many (including me) feel is the primary cause for Obama’s election and subsequent reelection.  McCain’s move to choose her was the tipping point in my decision to vote non-republican for the first time in my life.  It was her wing of the party that most recently spawned the likes of Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain.  Their presence in the primaries pushed electable people like Jon Hunstman and Tim Pawlenty out of the picture far too early, and eventually became a drag on Romney he could not overcome.

This is not to say that the ideas of the far right are not genuine feelings.  I have many friends who honestly subscribe to a Tea Party philosophy because they genuinely believe it’s best for the country.  The ideas deserve a place in the discussion, especially on economic matters. I believe we need a government, but acknowledge it is bloated and inefficient.  I appreciate the Tea Party as a reality check on ideas, but don’t completely subscribe to their philosophy.  I, for one, look forward to a “return to normalcy” in the Republican party.  I’ve sat out the last two elections as far as the Republican party goes; voting Democrat once and, most recently, Libertarian.  I’d like to see Huntsman remain relevant, I would like to see more of Pawlenty, and I’s sure there are others out there.

But paintings of a polarizing, failed VP nominee, in the center of actual presidents, most of which where elected more than once?  That’s about as funny as Obama shooting a gun.

Fighting Passion With Reason

Despite what many may believe I am regular listener to Sean Hannity’s radio show. This does not/nor should imply that I agree with everything he says. Recently on  the issue of guns and the debt ceiling, he’s had three “back pocket arguments” that he whips out to beat back callers who take an opposing view.  The commute home is not far enough to justify calling in, so I thought I would post my potential responses below.

1- We protect our money, our politicians and our Hollywood elite with guns….why can’t/shouldn’t we put guns in our schools to protect our most valuable assets….our children?  I love how he phrases this because it begs for the caller to respond with “why we shouldn’t”.  This meme has been on his show for over a week now, and it’s not much of a surprise it got turned into an NRA ad.

My answer: Sure we should look at that.  If a community wants armed guards in their schools not only should they be allowed to, but many locations already allow it, and more are considering it.  Although there may be some people who completely oppose this idea, Obama isn’t one of them, the President has only said that it shouldn’t be the only solution.  In fact his recent proposals included money for more School Resource Officers (AKA Cops with guns in schools) and was supported by the National Education Association.

So- while you can debate its potential effectiveness, or even some of the details (Resource Officers vs arming the staff), you really can’t honestly portray this as a President against the idea of protecting our children.  These decisions are being made at the local level, something the Republicans espouse and the principle is being supported by the federal government.

2- New York’s new gun law calls for limiting magazines to 7 rounds is horrible. Hannity’s example du jour about why this is a bad idea is the woman who recently had to shoot an intruder 5 times and he still got away. Sean then will go on to ask what would happen if there had been two intruders or even three?  Sarcastically talking about how she would have to ask them to wait while she changes magazines. I heard this story at least three times this week as I drove home.

My answer: The question would be a lot more valid if Hannity’s immediate reaction to people limiting high-capacity magazines earlier had not been based on a theory that it “would do no good”.  His position at the time was that changing a magazine was not hard.  In fact, he could do it seconds (or less).  Of course this was because he is a responsible gun owner who knows his weapons.  So which is it Sean?  Is it so easy that even a deranged person could change magazines and still inflict mass carnage, or is it so difficult that reducing magazine sizes puts lawful Americans at risk.  I believe you could argue either point….but not both.  Caveat the NY Law that allows for larger magazines but only if they aren’t all the way filled up is a recipe for unintended consequences. and should be changed.

3- Obama is a debt ceiling hypocrite. Hannity likes to run the audio clip of Senator Obama arguing against the executive request raise the debt ceiling in 2006 and asks any guests of the more liberal persuasion if the President is inconsistent in his thinking.  This only gets the guests to move off on a tangent and not address Sean’s question leaving him with the apparent high ground.

My answer: Yes….Absolutely…He is inconsistent….This is an undeniable Flip Flop.  The next question would then be; Who was he arguing with?  Turns out it was a Republican President that wanted the debt ceiling raised.  It was raised (many times) with “yea” votes coming from the likes of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell .  This isn’t about principles it’s about a Congress (any Congress) that has the power of the purse, yet seeks to paint the executive branch as the root of our problems.  Both sides do it, which is bad.  Worse, are those who pretend it doesn’t happen and use selective examples to stir the passions of their base.

These are just some examples of how the infotainers in our country whip people up into a frenzy about “the other guys”.  Both sides have these people who make money pandering to the base and they are equally at fault for the toxic political environment. Rational thought, unfortunately, doesn’t get the ratings on TV and doesn’t get “shared” on Facebook.

Knowns and Unknowns of an Undecided Voter

Saturday Night Live recently had a skit mocking the undecided voter, portraying those of us uncommitted to a certain candidate as completely unaware.  I can take a joke, and to some extent it was funny, but it does not describe me.  I am certainly undecided, but certainly not unaware.  So if I don’t know exactly who I’m going to vote for, then what do I know and believe?  Well………

1. I think we need fiscal responsibility

2. I believe in Social Justice

3. I know the first two points are not 100% compatible

4. I believe we need a strong military but know there is a lot of fraud, waste, and abuse in the DOD

5. I believe the recession is complicated and the only way out involves much more than the funding of PBS

6. I believe PBS will do just fine without government funding, but ceasing to fund it will not make any significant difference in the federal bottom line.

7. I don’t think there is a war on Christmas, guns, or women and people who rail against these “wars” are using politics for personal power and influence.

8. I know there is a war in Afghanistan that costs a lot of money and lives but is no longer on the radar of most of the country.

9. I believe there has been a natural creep of executive branch powers that is enabled by political parties who can not bring themselves to push back against one of their own.

10. I believe Mitt Romney really wants to make America successful and believes his plan will do that.

11. I believe President Obama feels the same way.

12. I believe there are very influential people in the Republican Party that are more concerned with making money than with helping the less fortunate.

13. I believe there are influential people in the Democratic Party that are more concerned with making money than helping the economy recover.

14. I believe Social Security and Medicare will need significant changes in order to survive.

15. I believe basic health care is a right, but extensive health care is a privilege.

16. I believe military health care is essentially socialized, single payer, health care and it works pretty well (all things considered).

17. I believe even a well intended voucher system will not be able to keep pace with health care costs, mostly due to government administration issues.

19. I believe if it did keep up, we would be in the same boat we are now.

20. I believe every candidate on the ballot in all 50 states should be allowed to debate (See: Gary Johnson).

21. I believe people have different views of the need for government based on their personal life experiences.

22. I like Moderate Mitt, but dislike the extreme right wing of the party to which he had to pander.

23. I liked the idealism of Barack Obama and was disappointed that he was unable to work more with Republicans.

24. I believe his inability to work with Republicans was mutually acceptable.

25. I think that if Romney wins, the most vocal Obama critics will continue to find new and interesting conspiracy theories to support.

26. I believe the tax/debt ceiling issues that we’ve put off for so long could have been solved if not for political gamesmanship by the parties.

27. I do not believe this election will make either side more willing to compromise than before, no matter who wins.

28. I believe too many people view politics as a spectator sport. I think they root for their home team candidate in order to improve their own self esteem.

29. I believe the playing field is rigged by the parties to exclude any other legitimate challengers.

30. I believe many Americans are unwittingly being duped by their party of choice through scare tactics about the opposition.

31. I believe Congress is the most polarized institution and represents the worst part of us as a country.

32. I believe the redistricting that led to “safe” districts for parties is the primary cause of the polarization.

 

Here’s what I DON’T know:

1. Can Mitt Romney influence the Republican Party…or will it be the other way around?

2. If Obama wins…..can the Republicans ever work with him?

3. Is a vote for Gary Johnson worth anything more than a personal statement?

4. Does it really matter who wins the executive branch if Congress remains so dysfunctional?

I have my absentee ballot (for a swing state, no less) and will vote, but not until after the debates and probably not until the last minute.  Any thoughts or comments that are respectful and intelligent are welcome.  Honest debate is good and I welcome any opportunity to learn more about the candidates and issues.

Being Half Right Is Worse Than Being All Wrong

“A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its shoes on.” That statement is generally attributed to Mark Twain, but no one is 100% sure.  It’s amazing how accurate it is, especially when you consider that no matter who said it, it was uttered waaaay before anyone could cut and paste a piece of political news onto a Facebook page.

My previous post addressed the need to search for political truth (or some semblance of it) by seeking alternative news sources.

Here’s another tip: Beat them to the source.  There are terrific sites out there that check out what our politicians say for accuracy.  It’s good business. As we all know, they have a  lot of things to report back on.  And when they discover someone has twisted the truth or outright lied, the media will pick it up as a story.  Just not all the media, only the media that thinks that particular finding supports their agenda. Campaigns and Super PACs are even worse.

Why are we letting these media outlets filter out which lies and innuendos are important to our decision making?  In this case, our media of choice might be giving us the facts, just not ALL the facts. Being half right is dangerous and can be worse than being all wrong.

Here’s where social media can help you become a more informed voter.  If you are on Facebook, you can “like” Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, and the Factchecker blog at the Washington Post.  This way you’ll see every thing they rule on, not just the stuff your media of choice wants you to hear.

This may be less stressful on your nerves than channel surfing behind enemy lines, but in the end probably an even better idea.

https://www.facebook.com/factcheck?ref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/politifact?ref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/FactChecker

Although they don’t have a Facebook page that feeds stories like the links below, http://www.snopes.com is also a great site to check the validity of things.

A well informed electorate is essential, but just because you know all the talking points of one side does not make anyone “well informed”.  You may very well do all these things and still support your original candidate. In fact, you probably will, but you’ll also be less likely to add to the echo chamber that is ruining the current political discourse.

Swerving For The Truth

I’ve spent the last hour flipping back and forth between Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow.  The “last channel” button on the remote control makes it pretty easy.

After a while I realized I was just swerving from one side of the road to the other and the common themes are interesting:

– Our guy is looking out for you!

– The other guys are hypocrites

I think they’re both right. I think both sides truly believe they have the right plan and I believe they are all hypocrites. I think both sides think the ends justify the means.

The problem is that if you stay on one channel, you only get half the story (the half you like).  But you know what- there are some things you don’t like that are still true and important.

Swerving from one side of the road to the other may not be the best way to operate a vehicle, but at least you stay on the road.  Keep veering left or right and you’ll be in a corn field before you know, maybe even wrapped around a tree, either way you cease to go forward.

The challenge: if you only watch one network- take a few days to watch the one you despise. It may be tough, it may make you really mad, but you’ll find out that hidden in the mostly partisan talking points, arguments, and sanctimonious crap, there will be something that you hear that will be bad for your candidate, and yet 100% true, and still  not reported on your network of choice.

If you want to be an informed voter: Swerve for the truth.

Ben Franklin Was Wrong! (and that’s OK)

Yesterday as I watched “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” the round table discussion focused on the US Constitution. I found it very interesting, in particular the view that the Executive Branch has been steadily increasing its power over the other two branches.  It has been my opinion that the biggest problem facing American politics is the fact that our system of checks and balances is no longer administered by the three branches of government, but instead the job has fallen to the two political parties.

This has led us to the rigid orthodoxy that paralyzes any effort to get anything done.  Witness the debate on the debt ceiling.  Neither side can compromise; in fact the word compromise is taken as a sign of weakness.   This tug-of-war has led to Congressional ineffectiveness and enabled (or forced?)  the Executive branch to fill the void of power. While there are many recent examples (Health Care, Libya) in the news today, it is by no means a new phenomenon.  From Obama, to Bush, to Nixon, to Roosevelt, to Wilson, you would be hard pressed to find any President that did not believe in expanding the power of the Executive branch. It’s the answer to an inefficient and messy legislature.  Even Thomas Jefferson, himself a founding father, can be accused of this regarding the purchasing of the Louisiana Territory. I believe that this is the natural order of things, which is precisely why the Constitution was drawn up.

Our country was founded on the idea of not having a king. Not only were the founders against a hereditary monarchy, but they were also concerned with the idea of placing an inordinate amount of power in the hands of a single individual.

I believe our Legislative Branch needs a good dose of humility in order let go of ideological trappings.  Perhaps then they can work together and provide a better check on the Executive branch. On the “This Week”  yesterday Jill Lepore quoted Ben Franklin saying , “let us doubt a little of our own infallibility“.  This got me curious and after some quick research I found the speech she was alluding to.  It was short enough and so good that it is posted in its entirety below.  I believe the sections in bold are particularly applicable to our day in regards to the current climate.

Ben Franklin

Before the Constitutional Convention of 1787

 “I CONFESS that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of it, for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them, it is so far error. Steele, a Protestant, in a dedication, tells the pope that the only difference between our two churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrine is, the Romish Church is infallible, and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But, tho many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who, in a little dispute with her sister said: “But I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right.”

In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults—if they are such—because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution; for, when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?

It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our counsels are confounded like those of the builders of Babel, and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us, in returning to our constituents, were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects and great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of that government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors. I hope, therefore, for our own sakes, as a part of the people, and for the sake of our posterity, that we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavors to the means of having it well administered.

On the whole, sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it, would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”

Finally, as I flipped through the pages of “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine this July 4th morning, I found the flowing; “virtue is neither hereditary nor is it perpetual.”

The fact that many disparate opinions joined together to create a system of government over 200 years ago does not bestow on the current members of those bodies an inherent merit or distinction for their opinions in the present day.  This virtue must be continuously earned, and not individually only but organizationally as well.  Perhaps, when the House and Senate and work together, we can again have the checks and balances as it was designed.

To see the notes of James Madison regarding this speech including some of the discussion that followed click here: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/debates_917.asp