Friday, December 13, 2013


Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 17 of the Constitution of the United States says that the Congress shall have the power “to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever over such District (not to exceed ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States …”

Virginia donated 39 square miles and Maryland contributed the other 61 square miles. And so the District of Columbia was born. In 1791, it was named the City of Washington, in honor of the first President.

In 1801 the so-called Organic Act, organized the District into two counties and officially ended the Maryland and Virginia state citizenship of the inhabitants.

In 1846 the folks on the Virginia side of the Potomac persuaded their legislature and the Congress to undo the deal they made in 1790, and give the 39 square miles back to the Commonwealth. All that was left of the District of Columbia was the 61 square miles donated by Maryland.

Washington always had a largely African American population. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act that ended slavery in the District. In 1868 Congress voted to give black males the right to vote in City elections.

In the early twentieth century, gains made by blacks in D.C. were reversed. Segregation returned with a vengeance under Woodrow Wilson, a situation that persisted into the 1950’s.

The Twenty-third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified in 1961 gives the residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote for President of the United States. It gave the District 3 votes in the Electoral College, equal to the smallest of the fifty states.

By Act of Congress, the people of Washington are allowed two non-voting members of the House of Representatives. The citizens in the District have no voice in the Senate.

In 1957, Washington became the first major city in America to have a black majority population. In 1963 it witnessed the famed “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In recent years, the black majority has decreased somewhat, as a multi racial gentry restores some of the older neighborhoods.

In 1978, Congress passed and sent to the states a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given the District senators and congressmen equal to a state. That amendment failed after getting only 19 state ratifications in seven years.

The District of Columbia is an unfortunate anomaly in our federal republic. Like a lump in the mattress, its presence is annoying and not entirely avoidable. The Founders of our nation never intended Americans to be ruled by a coterie of elite managers living in Vaticanesque isolation.

More that 600,000 people live and work inside the beltway. They are the clerks, the staffers, the middle managers, the bureaucrats who run our national government. For them, Uncle Sam is the end all and be all of American political power and authority.

Increasingly, Americans are reawakening to the importance of state sovereignty in matters of domestic governance. Massive, top-down national social programs like affordable health care that is neither affordable nor desirable health care, are causing Americans to look more and more to their state governments for effective answers.

It seems to me that an important first step in dismantling the ubiquitous national nanny would be to eliminate the isolated island of imperial importance that fosters the aura of omnipotence in our nation’s capital.

My suggestion:

The 23rd Amendment is hereby repealed, and all lands ceded to the United States for the seat of government are returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland respectively.

The Pentagon is in Virginia. There is no reason why the White House can’t be in Maryland. And no reason why the people of Washington should have more to say about who is President than the citizens in 49 of the 50 States.

Friday, November 15, 2013



Originally Armistice Day celebrated the end of the First World War, November 11 is now known as Veteran’s Day, a time when the nation pauses to remember and celebrate the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made through the years.

I was never in the service. Too young for WWII, and a draft exempt father during the Korean War, I slipped between the cracks of the selective service lottery.

If called, of course, I would have gone. Not overjoyed, to be sure, but duty is duty. You do what you have to do.

I often think I missed something. My older brother was in the navy and my younger brother went into the army. Both drafted. Both gained a lot from the experience.

I was never a fan of peacetime conscription. Always sort of thought impressing citizens to bear arms was a rather extreme decision which needed to be grounded on rather serious reasons.

Musing about it today, I am not so sure.

The founders of our nation had a healthy distrust of standing armies. They even limited appropriations for an army to two years. They believed in citizen armies – militia – that could be called up when needed. Citizen soldiers who come forward to meet the challenge and then return to their homes and their private affairs.

That was what happened in 1917 and 1943. The last of those citizen – soldiers are dying these days. Their stories enrich our traditions and ennoble our history.

Today, we have what is called a volunteer army. The problem with recruiting a volunteer army in 2013 is the vagueness of the mission. In 1943 the enemies were Hitler and Hirohito. They could be cartooned. They could be hated.

The need to go to war was personalized and volunteers came forward. The draft wasn’t celebrated, but it was accepted because Americans understood the stakes.

Now compare how Americans felt about the draft during Viet Nam. Draft protesters effectively swayed public opinion. There were still many young men who went to war, fought courageously, suffered injuries and died because they were drafted and they did their duty.

But many others didn’t, and we got a taste of how difficult it is to wage an unpopular war.

I am now beginning to wonder whether Universal Military Service might not be a wise course for our nation. To maintain a large volunteer standing army is to risk reliance upon mercenaries. Professional soldiers are needed to train and command draftees, but professional boots on foreign soil are not, or should not be the goal or the norm of American foreign policy.

George Washington warned against foreign entanglements. It was wise counsel. Most of human history is a chronicle of wars. Famous battles. Famous victories. Famous defeats. Heroes and villains. And great empires gained and lost.

There was a lot of talk in the early part of the last century about America’s manifest destiny. Now historians chortle about the Pax Americana.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think there has been a lot of Pax in the Pax Americana.
We have been at war pretty much since my puberty, and that was a long, long time ago.

I think it’s time to bring our soldiers and sailors home from all over the world, teach our young people how to soldier if they are called up, and see if we can’t find some kind of peace time normalcy in our homeland.

There are enough bad guys in the back alleys and boardrooms of our nation to keep us in battle mode.

And if that doesn’t satisfy he blood lust, there’s always Monday Night football.  

Monday, November 4, 2013


The recent government shut down has been widely blamed on the Republicans. It is said that the tunnel vision of the Tea Party caucus was the fly in the ointment.

I have to say they have a point. Like it or not, ObamaCare is the law of the land. Just refusing to fund it without repealing it is a contradiction.

Had the budget passed both houses without Obamacare funding, there would, no doubt, have been a flood of lawsuits by creditors who contracted with the government in good faith, then didn’t get paid.

Of course, I wouldn’t mind sitting at the defense counsel’s table when the goofs who built the Obamacare web site sue to get paid. But that’s another story.

No, the de-funding strategy was ill advised.

But it didn’t have to be. Speaker Boehner should have insisted that the Tea party caucus come up with an alternative health care plan, something consistent with Republican free enterprise principles. And something simple enough to fit on one sheet of paper.

Hindsight, to be sure, but here’s an idea. There’s still time to do it. It’s a simple, free enterprise solution to provide affordable health care for all Americans.

The wealthy and the solvent working folks who are happy with their insurance – both the coverage and the cost – can be ignored.

The elderly who paid taxes for a lifetime to fund it, are getting Medicare. The poor who qualify for Medicaid, and can’t afford any insurance are already covered by Uncle Sam’s single payer system.

The big middle ground of younger people who can’t afford to buy the health insurance they want or ought to have are the ones who need attention.

The Republican solution should be to charter a national insurance company and charge it with the duty of writing insurance policies that everyone can afford.

Capitalize it at a billion or so – well less than the cost of ObamaCare – and cut it loose in the open market to provide the kind of insurance people ought to have at a price they can afford to pay.

It’s called free enterprise. Set the company up with a self-perpetuating thirteen member board of directors, the initial members of which to be designated by the President.

Let the company balance its budget anyway they want. Let them require any kind of coverage they decide on. Abortions and maternity care for men. Prostate cancer coverage for women.

Whatever they want to do. No coverage for surgery after age 80 (or less). Mandatory final illness committees.Whatever.

In the free market they can sell whatever they think will attract customers to whomever they want.

Smokers, drinkers, the obese and the addicted. Tight rope walkers and asbestos factory personnel. Pre-existing conditions and current symptomology. Doesn’t matter.

Premiums would be calculated on two factors, the recommendation of the actuaries and the means and priorities of the customer. Affordability is a very personal, individual matter.

If the company errs on the side of giving too much coverage for the premiums charged, it will go broke. Just like any other business.

It will, of course, have one ace in the hole.

It will be too big to fail. Like the Post Office. And like Freddie, Sallie and Fannie.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


I used to be a smoker. Pack a day, maybe two.

I always said it’s easy to quit smoking. Heck, I did it almost once a week.

Back in 1974, I got serious about it. Went on retreat with the Jesuits and prayed fervently for three days, while I torched my way through about two and a half packs.

On Sunday, we went to dinner with the Bones, and I told Duane how my appeal to the Almighty had not been heard. He understood. Wanted very much to quit, too.

So we made a bet. $100.

I got through the next day until dinner time, then I called Duane and asked for a mulligan. He said c’mon over. I did and smoked one of his wife’s menthol brand.

That was the last cigarette I ever smoked.

Looking back, I don’t know how or why we ever did it. It’s an awful smell and a damn nuisance. And expensive. Can you believe $14.50 a pack in New York?

I don’t think anybody should smoke. I suppose you could say that I don’t approve of it. Don’t want anybody smoking in my car or in my house.

Still, I believe that smokers have their rights. Like anybody else. Of course they can’t smoke where the law forbids it. In restaurants and courtrooms. The States have their laws.

But smokers aren’t politically aggressive. They don’t go around telling everybody that they smoke cigarettes. They don’t hold rallies or carry signs to advertise that they are smokers or demand that their choice to smoke be somehow celebrated as the equivalent of my choice not to smoke. And they have never called me a ‘smokeophobe.’

They haven’t insisted that children be taught in grammar school that smoking is a normal, legal activity, and that smokers should be accepted as readily as non smokers as friends and associates.

Still, they don’t like to be told that they shouldn’t smoke. Or to hear that it’s not what people’s lungs are made to do. Or that most people find it unpleasant, unattractive, unwise.

But they don’t make a fuss about it.

They just go out on the porch or in the parking lot and light up.

Smokers have the right to smoke, and tobacco companies have the right to manufacture cigarettes. Of course, if they get sued for causing cancer, they have to pay the judgment. But that’s part of the cost of doing business.

The rest of us don’t have to approve. Mayor Blumberg, can’t regulate the length of a cigarette or the number of puffs you can inhale, but he can urge people not to smoke.

And Michelle Obama can tell us it’s unhealthy. Her husband might even quit and ask the American people to follow his good example.

It’s a free country, but even in free countries, there is such a thing as social grace. Some things just aren’t done by people who want to be part of the mainstream.

Over the centuries, right and wrong, good and evil, do and don’t have been largely the province of religion. And local communities.

The more local a regulation is, the more minute it can be. The village can regulate things that the federal government cannot.

Unhappily in our day the ease of mass communication has led to the attempt to legislate “political correctness” in every nook and cranny of the nation.

Just because you have the right to do something shouldn’t make it morally or legally wrong for me to express disapproval.

After all, it is a free country, isn’t it?

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The United States Senate is supposed to represent the States. That’s why it was created. Part of the compromise between big States and little States in Philadelphia in 1787. The House of Representatives speaks for the people; the Senate speaks for the States.

Mighty important deal they cut. Under the Articles of Confederation, each State got one vote. Period. Rhode Island was just as important as New York or Virginia. Which the folks from the big States didn’t like. So they compromised and decided on a bicameral legislature. Two houses. Both had to agree or nothing would happen.

Still, the small States weren’t quite happy. What if, in the future two-thirds of the States were to propose and three quarters of the States were to ratify, an amendment which said the little States wouldn’t have an equal vote in the Senate?

Yeah. What if? So there was another compromise. They added these words to Article V:

Provided…that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

That seems pretty straight forward, but there’s one little hitch. Section 3 of Article One of the Constitution says that there shall be two Senators from every State. The result is that whenever a State has two Senators from different parties, their votes cancel each other out. In other words, those States have no actual say in what happens in the Senate.

Here are the current numbers:
   There are 17 States with two Democratic Senators.
   There are 14 States with two Republican Senators.
   There are 17 States with one Republican Senator and one Democratic Senator.
   There is one State with one Republican Senator and one Independent.
   There is one state with one Democratic Senator and one Independent.

So what happens when the Continuing Resolution reaches the floor of the Senate? If, in fact, Article V of the Constitution were to be enforced, and each State given “equal suffrage” in the Senate, nothing would happen.

Even if the two Independent Senators were to vote with their State colleague, there would still be 17 States without a voice in the ObamaCare v Shut Down the Government debate.

How do the people in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota feel about the issue?

No one will ever know. They have no voice in the United States Senate.

I don’t want to sound critical of James Madison, George Washington and their colleagues, but…

But wouldn’t it have been wiser to give each State either one Senator or three Senators?

If there were one from each State, only a third of the Senate would be up for election in any year.
Pretty tough for the voters to clean house. If there were three, one elected every two years, every State would elect one Senator every two years, assuring that the Senate would more accurately reflect current opinion.

And while we are at it, maybe we should repeal the 17th amendment.

All in favor, say Aye.

Here is some suggested language:

The Senate shall consist of the present 100 members, their successors, and an additional 50 Senators who shall be chosen when this Amendment is adopted as provided by law for the filling of vacancies, and whose terms shall expire in the next succeeding year when the terms of neither of the other Senators from that State shall expire. All voting in the Senate shall be by States, and each State will have one vote.

Senators shall be chosen as provided by State law. The 17th Amendment is repealed.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Frankly, I don’t know where to begin.

Pope Francis, the leader of three billion Catholics around the world, has pleaded with the United States not to attack Syria.

He is joined in this plea by the leaders of all the Chirstian churches in the Middle East: The Caldean Catholic Church, the Patriarch of Antioch, the Syrian Catholic Patriarch, the Maronite Patriarch, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Patriarchs, and countless lesser Christian leaders.

Bear in mind that Christians are persecuted in the Middle East. Christians comprise about 10 percent of Syria’s population. Most are Coptic Catholics.

Franciscan Father Francois Murad was beheaded by Jihadist rebels on June 23rd. Bystanders cheered and took pictures.

Now it is reported that the rebels attacked the Christian village of Maaloula. A nun there is said to have phoned the Associated Press to say that priests were killed there on Wednesday of this week.

Why would Catholics, who are brutally persecuted in Syria want the U.S. to stay away?

Hard for us, who have been imbued by both Presidents Bush and Obama with the idea that everyone in the world yearns to live in a Hollywood version of freedom and happiness, to understand.

The fact is that the first axiom of liberty is home rule. Nobody wants foreign boots on their soil.

When push comes to shove, they would rather be killed by their own people than by the strangers who do not speak their language.

The Irish said it well in song:

‘the stangers came and tried to teach us their way, And cursed us just for being what we are. But they might as well go chasin’ after moon beams. Or light a penny candle from a star.”

American public opinion is dead set against the administration’s “surgical strike.”

The President’s people assure us that it will be a quicky. Just a few hundred million dollars worth of tomahawk cruise missIles. No American lives at risk.

Just a few unavoidable, “collateral damage” civilian deaths.

Just to show the world how tough we are.

In my last blog, I mentioned the military-industrial complex and quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

If you are looking for an explanation for the Obama War in Syria, you need look no further than the roster of the Board of Directors of the Raytheon Corporation, which makes (and profits from making) Tomahawk cruise missIles.

There you will find Warren Rudman, former United States Senator from New Hampshire, Admiral Vernon E. Clark, appointed by Defense Secretary Gates to lead the military investigation of the Fort Hood massacre, which returned the brilLiant diagnosis of ‘workplace fatigue,” John M. Deutch, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Director of Central Intelligence under President Clinton, Linda Stuntz, Deputy Secretary of Energy in the Clinton admnistration.

And how about William Lynn III, the top lobbyist for Raytheon Co. in our nation’s Capital?

Here’s a guy who was picked by President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the position of deputy secretary of Defense.

This in the face of an executive order setting new ethics rules which banned lobbyists from serving in the government’s administration.

Lynn’s new job?

Running much of the day-to-day operation of the Defense Department and handling many key budget and procurement decisions.

Having a lot to say about the future of the missile defense system and the contracts with Raytheon Corporation which makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Secretary Gates pushed hard for the appointment of Lynn, despite the ban on hiring lobbyists.

Maybe he thought Lynn could get us a discount.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I don’t read newspapers.

There are only so many bytes of memory left in my hard drive, and I don’t want to waste them on the trash that passes for news these days.

Once in a while I slip. Got ahold of a Wall Street Journal when visiting a friend. It was full of stories about Syria. The lead article was sheer, unabashed propaganda.

“Unnamed sources at the Pentagon,” “a high government official,” “sources close to the White House. ” Two full pages of speculation about how and when and why the President of the United States will be committing an act of war against Syria.

Article I, Section 8 of the constitution of the United States says that the Congress shall have the power to declare war.

Article II, Section 2 says that the President is the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. Nowhere in the Constitution is the President given the power to declare war.

O.K. He can’t declare war. But that is not the question, is it? The question is: Can the President start a war? The President is the Commander in Chief. That means he can give orders to the Generals and the Admirals. Did the framers of the Constitution intend to give the President the power to invade Canada or Mexico or any place else?

James Madison reported that in the Federal Convention of 1787, the phrase "make war" was changed to "declare war" in order to leave to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks but not to commence war without the explicit approval of Congress.

We’re not talking here about repelling an attack. Or even about responding aggressively to an attack. Although remembering the Alamo, the Maine and Pearl Harbor all involved actual declarations of war by the Congress.

No, the question here is, “Does the constitution authorize the President to start wars?

I don’t think so. I don’t think that the Founders of our nation intended to empower the President to embark on military adventures or prosecute geo-political warfare. And I am morally certain that neither the American people nor their Representatives in Congress would approve of committing American lives and fortunes to the Syrian civil war.

The preamble to the Constitution which the President is sworn to protect and defend announces that its purpose of to “provide for the common defense.”

There’s nothing about spreading democracy or Christianity or capitalism or freedom all over the planet.

Three days before he left office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the American people. His final farewell is often remembered as the speech about the military-industrial complex.

What Ike said that day bears repeating and remembering. He noted that, in his time, the United States had developed a huge armaments industry. His words:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

When a prestigious newspaper carries unattributed puffing in favor of military action, when nightly news programs host a parade of retired generals to ruminate about strategy, when the Secretary of State and the Vice President publicly herald the launching of missiles, I have to ask the obvious question:

Who will profit?

Friday, July 5, 2013


A high school buddy who played trumpet in the band. Half way through his ninth decade, he can still coax a tune out of his horn when the occasion calls for it.

Like most of the remnant of our 1947 graduating class, Fritz is a solid citizen, long married, lots of family, patriotic, saves his money, pays his taxes, supports the Church. Did his time in uniform.

And worries about America.

Every few weeks, I get an email from him. Some of them are shrill, unSnoped propaganda.

But not all. And when he weighs in about Benghasi, or the bureaucracy, or the IRS, he gives voice to the frustration so many Americans feel these days.

And he usually ends up with a call to arms.

Much as he loves me – and he does – he is quick to say that my dogged preachments about constitutional reforms are a fool’s errand, and the only message that will get through to the powers that be in Washington will come when the citizens rise up.

He is not alone. I know some golfers who spend almost as much time at the shooting range as they do on the driving range.

They know that the second amendment was not written to accommodate duck and deer hunters, but to allow Americans to defend their homeland from the enemies of liberty.

Including, if necessary, their own government..

Indeed these are perilous times.

The blogosphere shows a campy interest in the quote by Thomas Jefferson to the effect that an uprising like Daniel Shay’s 1786 Rebellion in Massachusetts ought to happen every twenty years or so.

Just to keep the tax collectors on their toes.

Historians suggest that Shay and his musket toting farmers rang the death knell of the Articles of Confederation and set the stage for the adoption of the constitution written in Philadelphia in 1787.

That constitution distinguishes us from every other nation on the planet.

As Alexander Hamilton said, our constitution made history.

It birthed a nation with words on a piece of paper instead blood in the streets.

Most often, politics is a bloody business. History books are full of it. So is the nightly news on television. Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria. People killing and getting killed over who is in power.

For many Americans, presidential politics is the sport of choice.

No sooner had Barack Obama been elected to a second term, than speculation about the Presidential election of 2016 began.

Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio. Who will run? Who can win?

The President of the United States is the celebrity’s celebrity.

Frequently hailed as the most powerful human being on the planet, the occupant of the Oval Office is revered, feared, obeyed, envied, and, of course, hated by more than a few.

In most of the world and throughout most of human history, kings and rulers have been deposed and replaced by force and violence.

And not a few have stayed in power by ruthlessly dispatching their opponents and enemies.

It’s not that way in the U.S.A. At least, not yet, Thank God.

As my old law partner used to say, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

It’s good to have Fritz standing guard.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


The fifty-five men who met in Philadelphia and wrote our federal Constitution knew what they were doing.

They were drafting a charter for a new nation.

Defining its powers. Spelling out how its leaders were to be chosen and specifying what they could and could not do.

Nobody ever did it before. They were writing on tabula raza, a blank piece of paper.

To be sure, adopting constitutions was a process familiar to the Founders.

In May of 1776, the Continental Congress had advised all thirteen colonies to form governments, and the colonial legislatures went to work writing and adopting state constitutions.

By 1780, every colony had a constitution. They were thirteen sovereign and independent states.

But the United States was not then a single nation. It was called a ’firm league of friendship,’ a confederacy, in which each state retained its freedom and independence.

Creating a nation was virgin territory. Novel. Untried.

Alexander Hamilton put it this way:

It has frequently been remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and their example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

And George Washington wrote this:

…the citizens of America…are…actors on a most conspicuous theatre which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity. This is the time of their political probation. This is the moment when the Eyes of the whole World are turned upon them.

They intended the constitution to be permanent, but they never claimed it was perfect. James Madison said:

A faultless plan was not to be expected. That useful alterations will be suggested by experience, could not but be foreseen. It was requisite, therefore, that a mode for introducing them should be provided.

Hamilton, again:

I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man. The result of the deliberations of all collective bodies must necessarily be a compound, as well of the errors and prejudices, as of the good sense and wisdom of the individuals of whom they are composed.

In 1816, Thomas Jefferson had this to say:

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book reading; and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead.

The Articles of Confederation were simply a treaty, an agreement among thirteen sovereign states. They could not be amended except by unanimous consent.

The Constitution was different. It was to be amendable. In fact, the first thing Congress did was to propose twelve amendments.

Two hundred years after the constitution was ratified the voice of Ronald Reagan was heard:

Indeed, we gave birth to an entirely new concept in man’s relation to man. We created government as our servant, beholden to us and possessing no powers except those voluntarily granted to it by us. Now, a self-anointed elite in our nation’s capital would have us believe we are incapable of guiding our own destiny. They practice government by mystery, telling us it’s too complex for our understanding. Believing this, they assume we might panic if we were to be told the truth about our problems.

Finally, a quote from old Ben Franklin, who was asked what the convention had created:

A Republic, madam. If you can keep it.

On these pages I ask the questions, “Have we the will? Shall we keep it?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Driving North after a joyous family celebration at daughter Ellen’s house. In the back seat, a box of old files somebody found in their basement. I asked Polly to poke around, read some stuff. Jog some memories.

This one, written after an unsuccessful judicial election campaign, seemed especially apropos.

March 4, 1957

Civic Leadership Club

Holy Redeemer High School

Detroit, Michigan


I am enclosing a check for $14.65 representing the balance of your obligation to the student council fund for postage purchased on my behalf. Of course, it would be more satisfying to me to be able to express my thanks to you by enclosing a much larger check for your own treasury. Unfortunately, this is impossible at present.

But perhaps I can give you a few thoughts which, while they will not make your club any more affluent, may be of some help in advancing you, individually and as a group, toward your goal of leadership in the community. Remember first of all, that leadership is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. The more successful you are in becoming leaders, the more certain you must be of the direction in which you are leading. And this is the awful responsibility of leadership.

The fact of that responsibility was brought home to me in a most unforgettable way when I was about your age.

When I was a freshman in college, a group of us fell into the practice of skipping classes and going over to Windsor to spend the day acquainting ourselves with the subtleties of the Canadian distiller’s art, by sampling their products in heady profusion.

None of us were of age to purchase the spirits, but I was amply endowed with the desire to be the ‘big shot’ and having purloined my older brother’s ID, I was the one who bought the bottle.

In due course, as it always happens, my father learned of the escapades and I was called on the carpet.

Here I should say a word about my father. I won’t bore you with the old joke about his being very stupid when I was 18, and learning a great deal by the time I was 21.

I will say, however, that when I was 18, I was scared to death of him, mostly because of an uneasy feeling that he was usually right and I was usually wrong.

In those days, if you had asked me to describe my dad, I think I would have simply said, “He is my father.” While I usually called him ‘Dad’ I never really thought of him as a “Dad.” To me, the word ’father’ meant the source of all money, all punishment, all favors, all disfavor, and all respect.

Somewhere along the line in these last ten years, my opinion of him has changed. I think today I would describe him simply as a ‘real man’ with all the nobility, the courage, the tenderness, and the strength which that expression implies.

Perhaps that’s all he ever was, and perhaps it was the cocked lamp of my own immaturity which cast his shadow so terribly long in those days.

In any event on that occasion, after pointing out that my big-shotism was responsible for the border crossing incidents, and that without my leadership, there would have been no trips to Windsor and no bottles of hooch, he when on to say, “Son, you are a leader. You don’t realize the power you have. Where you go, others follow. You wanted to go to Canada and they went with you. You could just as easily have led them to Saint Al’s.”

The point of it all is simply this: that a leader from Holy Redeemer High School should be a leader who knows where he is going and has the courage to go there.

Never let yourselves reach a point where you know more about unions, or law, or politics of anything else than you do about your religious faith.

As my father would say, “You know what’s wrong and you know what’s right. Do what’s right.”


Thomas E. Brennan

A few days later, my check for $14.65 came back in the mail.

The boys said I needed it more than they did.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


President Obama’s announcement that we have won the war on terror was not quite as dramatic as President Bush’s deckside declaration on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.
Under a huge banner reading “Mission Accomplished,” Bush asserted, “ In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
He took a lot of flack for that. Most of the casualties in Iraq occurred after that speech.
Obama and his minions are fond of saying, “Osama Ben Laden is dead, and Al Qaeda is on the run.”
About as convincing as the Roman Emperor announcing, “We have executed that Hebrew fisherman, Peter, and the Christians are gone.”
The assassination of Ben Laden was a good sound bite, but whether it was good long range policy remains to be seen.
A dead martyr can be more trouble than a live financier.
Donald Rumsfeld was on Hannity the other day.
Smart fellow, he. Said the War on Terror is a lot like the Cold War. It will go on for a very long time.
In the last analysis, we are fighting for the minds and hearts of human beings.
Five years after the 9-11 attacks on the United States, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech at the University in Regensburg. His subject: the connection between faith and reason.
Quite a scholar, that Pope. Harkening back to 1391, he quoted Byzantine Emperor Manuel Palaiologos asking a Persian Islamic scholar why the Quran says in one place that faith cannot be forced on someone and in another place that infidels should be killed.
The Pope was teaching long standing Christian doctrine: Faith and reason are inseparable. God is rational.
Islamic teaching is different. Their view is that Allah is all powerful. He can do anything, even act irrationally. He could, for example, command humans to worship false gods.
Or commit sin. Kill unbelievers, for example.
Command us to ignore His commandments?
Logic 101. A thing cannot be and not be at the same time.
Benedict took a lot of heat from the intelligentsia who accused him of ratcheting up the war on terror.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, a nun was killed five days after his speech. The killers said nothing, but a ‘senior Somali Islamist’ speculated that the killers were angered by the Pope’s comments.
A month later, a priest was murdered in Mosul, Iraq.
Like the uproar over the Westergaard cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, there were lots of protesters, effectively chanting “Death to those who call us murderers.”
Less publicized were the many articles, treatises, symposiums and speeches from both sides of the religious divide which used Benedict’s lecture as a starting point for serious, reasonable dialog, discussion and debate.
Rumsfeld was right. This is going to take a very long time.
The battle for human hearts and minds is not a shooting war.
Maybe it’s time for the military to stand down.
And time for the rest of us to hike up our drawers and treat terrorists as criminals, not soldiers.