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.

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Marco Rubio, the Dems, and the GOP

It looks as if, at least for the time being, Marco Rubio is the face of the mainstream Republican Party.  I’m not concerned with this at all.  In fact, on the whole, I kinda like Rubio.  At least enough to want to hear more.  He seems like a pretty straightforward guy, as politicians go, and I think he approaches his views genuinely.  Make it past those wickets and you’ve gotten my attention.  To be honest I haven’t yet read the Time article, nor do I think I know enough about him at this point to offer either my support, or my opposition.  I do, however, look forward to learning more.politifact_photos_marcorubio

Unfortunately, though, our political discussions are rarely based on facts, or even common sense for that matter.  Instead they are grounded in hyperbole, situational ethics, and one of my personal favorites; cognitive dissonance.  Assuming the Rubio trend continues towards 2016 (admittedly far from a sure thing), it will be interesting to see how both parties react to the shoe being on the other foot.  That shoe being a youthful one term Senator, energizing a minority demographic, with terrific speaking skills and gift for connecting with a plethora of other voting blocks.

The GOP already has a history of cognitive dissonance on things Obama has done, highlighted with a bit by Jon Stewart here. It’s funny, and insightful.  I have also written in the past about the selective memory and hollow arguments on talk radio.

But I also have full faith in the Democratic party’s ability to make fools of themselves, as well.  I wonder, will the same people who wrote articles defending Obama’s thin resume by saying things like, there are two problems with the attack on Obama’s inexperience: it isn’t true, and it doesn’t matter. be able to resist the temptation to question Rubio’s youth? In 2008 some pundits were doubling down by quoting Obama, as he referenced Bill Clinton. Candidate Obama said, ““I remember what was said years ago by a candidate running for president, ‘The same old experience is not relevant. You can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience.’ Well that candidate was Bill Clinton. And I think he was absolutely right., Will those in the media jettison that line of thinking because the subject is a Republican vice a Democrat?  I doubt it. I bet the hypocrisy happens. I see it coming a mile away.

What to do? Well, here’s three things I’d like to see:

1- Rubio needs to lead without campaigning.  He doesn’t need to be on the cover of Time, or take any trips to Iowa or New Hampshire.  If you want some gravitas, do it by leading the way on issues.  Jump in on the sequester and immigration. In so doing, Senator, please take a stand you can still conceivably defend three years from now. Don’t pander to the base now and try to run to the center later. Principles matter.

2- Democrats, please, please, please avoid going after Rubio on the inexperience thing.  That ship sailed in 2008. And when it did, you were at the helm.  What was good for the goose is good for the gander.  You will look like fools if you do this.

3- If the Dems do play the “inexperienced” card, they way for the GOP to answer it would be with positive facts about Rubio, not in pointing out the hypocrisy of the left. Otherwise we will just have more people shouting at each other about how bad/evil/mean/incompetent their opponents are, and not about any actual thoughts/ideas/plans for making a positive change in Washington.

I don’t know if this will happen. It’s obviously a long way to 2016.  I just hope those that will be involved think about this stuff now. Maybe if they do we can avoid some of the “silly season” that rolls around every 4 years.

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.

What would the Founders think? Quite a bit, actually.

I received a Facebook message from my Congressman last week.  Representative Walter Jones is against allowing women in combat, which is a fine position to take, I suppose.  I respect his beliefs on that and admit it’s complicated, but what got me going was the fact that he ended his post by asking “What would the Founders think?”.

I’m not a professional historian, but do consider myself at least “well read” on the topic of Early American History (the books I’ve read are listed on the tab above). I believe it’s a little pompous to phrase such a question in order to prove the moral argument of social issues.americas-founding-fathers

This is a worthless question because what they did think was often very different things. Not just as a group, but sometimes even individually. One example that sprang to my mind occurred in the early 1800’s when John Adams led the charge for the Alien and Sedition Act.  Under this act newspaper editors that supported the Jeffersonian Republican ideals were arrested, tried, and thrown in jail. Not criticized, not ostracized, thrown in jail. A congressman from Vermont, Matthew Lyon, was charged with sedition for writing a letter to a local newspaper protesting the the very act he was subsequently arrested for.  Lyon’s was found guilty and sentenced to 4 months in jail for his crime. (1)

John Adams was the author of the Massachusetts Constitution, a plan that he made sure included “A Declaration of Rights” to guarantee “freedom of   speaking” and “liberty of the press” (2). He was a man whose initial thoughts to Jefferson on the proposed US Constitution was to ask, “What think you of a Declaration of Rights? Should not such a thing precede the model?”. (3) This was a man pretty much on record as being a fan of the 1st Amendment even before there was such a thing. Twenty five years later, though, he was turning his back on the Constitution based upon the reality of his present day circumstances.

Did anyone ask, “What would the founders think?”. They probably did this question because the Founders were all pretty involved. This was proposed by a Founder President, and passed into law by a congress largely made up of actual founders. The act was even supported by George Washington. David McCullough wrote that Washington felt some publications were long overdue for punishment for their lies and unprovoked attacks on leaders of the union (4), which sounds an awful lot like a current complaint.  Does this mean Obama now has some “Founder Street Cred” because he thinks like the original GW? I don’t see that meme going around Facebook (yet).

So what are we to make of this?  The Founders were not a monolithic group of people whose attitudes should be used to prove or disprove an opinion.  They, like us, had different views on different subjects and some of those views even changed over time.  They, like us, often voiced profound (sometimes outright ugly) disagreement about the other’s viewpoints.

There is a lot to learn by studying history. In some cases we can learn how we should operate as a country, and in some cases we can learn how we should not operate. We must understand that putting historical figures on too high a pedestal is dangerous.  We should certainly honor and remember them and and absolutely study them.  But we should strive to keep them in the correct context. It takes more than a few quotes to prove that a historical figure would necessarily support or oppose a complex position especially one that occurs two centuries after their passing. And any attempts to lump their attitudes together to prove a point is lazy.

Let’s instead try to learn that we as a country have historically faced many complicated issues, with honest brokers on both sides of the issues. Even Jefferson and Hamilton could sit down and dine together.  Let’s get away from ascribing unpatriotic motives to those we disagree with. Let’s talk to each other, not past each other.  Let’s quit assuming that somehow The Founders agree with one side and not the other.

There is nothing wrong with frank discussions or even (civil) arguments.  In fact two of the most influential books that I have ever read are precisely on this aspect of our national fabric (The 13 American Arguments and American Creation). There are plenty of facts on both sides of just about every case. We don’t need to unilaterally invoke the assumed collective thoughts and opinions of our Patriotic Superheroes in an attempt to shut down debate.

(1) Thomas Jefferson; The Art of Power by John Meacham, p. 317

(2) John Adams by David McCullough, p. 221

(3) McCullough, p. 379

(4) McCullough p. 506

Don’t Judge a FoxNews Story by Its Headline

Fox News recently ran a story headlined “Republicans want to change laws on Electoral College votes, after Presidential loses”.  What a great headline to grab a reader. Who are these people who want to change their laws? What are their plans? When will it start? This sounds like a juicy story. (It worked, I clicked).

As I read though, I couldn’t help but come the conclusion that there is no meat in this story at all.  It’s a story about ambivalence at best. The following reactions are taken from the body of the story, in the order they appear.

– Rience Priebus said states “ought to look at it” but “emphasized each state must decide for themselves

– Michigan Governor Rick Snyder told the AP he “could go either way” and doesn’t plan to push the idea.

– Michigan Rep. Peter Lund, who introduced a bill two years ago, thinks some people “might be more receptive now

– Republican strategist Phil Musser admitted the idea had “potential” but predicted “pressing economic issues would likely take priority

– Pennsylvania Republican Senator Dominic Pelligi “renewed his call for the legislature to consider it” though the Governor has not seen a proposal and therefor couldn’t comment.

– Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called it “interesting”, but not one of his priorities.

– The Wisconsin legislature is “lukewarm” to the idea. The story does note that a similar proposal was brought up 2007 but the speaker (who first brought it up 5 years ago) would “have to hear all the arguments“.

The article does also mention the Democratic outrage in the fifth paragraph of the story (a word sentence paragraph at that). It also has some quotes from local Dems later in the story as well. I choose to focus on the Republican quotes in this blog post to highlight the disparity between the headline and the actual story. There may be valid reasons to review the usefulness of the Electoral College, and if there is ever any serious discussion it should be reported.  But in this case, there is no serious discussion.

C’mon FoxNews……this article is about creating division and getting people riled up, not about reporting the news. There is no real conflict here, at least not yet. Some would say, however, that your organization is seeking to create one.

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.

Odd Memes After Sandy Hook

Since the tragic school shooting last week, everyone is sharing opinions, sometimes their own, but more often than not cutting and pasting opinions from the “trusted” sources on the internet.  Here’s some things I notice and/or think:

1- The argument that bad people will do bad things is true. Without a gun the killer could have made his own bomb or used knife (like the guy in China), both thoughts are true.  The difference is the fact that even the best homemade bomb doesn’t always work.  Sometimes, even under the eyes of professionals, wires don’t connect right or mixtures are wrong.  Heck sometimes the bomb maker kills himself.  (Our Commanding Officer called this an “Own Goal” while we were deployed).  But an assault rifle is pretty damn reliable and efficient, particularly in relation to a knife, and unlike having to “make” a bomb, it’s ready to go at a moments notice.  You can also carry more than one in case the first one jams. It’s pretty hard to do that with a bomb, though admittedly not impossible.  This not to say that the lack of assault rifles will end crimes, it’s just admitting that there is a reason this is a primary option of the deranged. So I don’t buy this particular argument against the regulation of assault weapons.  Random thought- can you purchase live hand grenades?   I imagine not, but am honestly not sure.

2- I find it interesting that the same people who are relying on the mental illness aspect of the case are (in general) the same people who are against any form of health care reform.  The idea that one persons lack of mental health can so tragically affect their community seems pretty evident right now, the question is how is it paid for?

3- On a similar vein, the petitions and Facebook posts about hiring out of work vets to stand as armed guards in schools is being made by the same folks (in general) who are against any kind of government jobs program, particularly the most recent one that was heavy on hiring cops and teachers.

4- If you really want something to go viral, attribute it to Morgan Freeman.

Those are just some thoughts.