Oh, To Be King…


Rule by decree is a style of governance allowing quick, unchallenged creation of law by a single person or group, and is used primarily by dictators and absolute monarchs.

The expression is also sometimes used as a pejorative and polemical hyperbole when describing actions of democratic governments that are perceived to unduly bypass parliamentarian or popular scrutiny.

Rule by decree allows the ruler to arbitrarily create law, without approval by a legislative assembly.       WIKIPEDIA

The considerations of democratic politics are a messy business.  There is an inordinate amount of delay, obfuscation, debate, backroom dealing, uncomfortable compromise, and unintended consequences to the participants that are part of crafting any acceptable law that will hold the respect of the constituents of the law.  Oh, to be King and do what is Necessary and Right without having to participate in such caterwauling.

President Obama announced to the nation on Thursday, November 20th, 2014 that he no longer felt bound by the constitutional process for the development of laws to secure immigration reform. As Ed Morrissey put so appropriately, Obama was invoking the “Sick and Tired” clause of the Constitution.  In a rambling speech full of contradictions, Obama stated that immigration reform failures lay securely at the hands of the Republican led House of Representatives, who in his mind refused to engage a “bipartisan” bill put forward by the Senate because they refused to participate in a simple up or down vote, instead wanting to potentially craft their own version for eventual conciliation.  Putting aside that little ball of nonsense as to how legislation is crafted, the two years in which President Obama led a party with full control of both the House and Senate 2009-2011 and did nothing on the issue speaks to the inanity of his argument.  The President, therefore, unable or unwilling to participate in the necessary politics of crafting bills in a democracy, declared he was sick and tired and was unwilling to wait the two months that would be required to engage a new congress.

This is a blog, and not a book, but I could write a book on how wrong this all is.  Thankfully as I have never written a book, many infinitely more talented are willing to do it for me on this underlying theme of this individual’s version of being President.  But there is something so inherently cynical in an individual who professes to be a constitutional law expert to be so ignorant of the measured reason so carefully tendered into every one of the Constitution’s  components.  Politics is about persuasion, and it’s extremely telling that this President is more comfortable engaging in discourse with the mullahs of Iran than the Republicans of the United States Senate. He has determined to demand that elections have consequences when the electorate determined to take a chance on him and his vision, than ignore electoral consequences when the electorate repudiates him.

Jonah Goldberg has spent a significant portion of his writing life dissecting this unique facet of the left’s interpretation of democracy and has outdone himself with a biting summary of Obama and his modus operandi. It is of course the darker and more linear goals of socialist dogma that that drives Obama and extra-constitutionalists like him.  There is a desire to always bend history toward the outcome that is in their mind most egalitarian, most correct, and it befalls them to nurse the masses that cannot see the way to the better world gently, or ruthlessly, toward the eventual desired outcome.  America is an anachronism to  such a concept, in that it exists a country with a Constitution, not a group of people living an idea.

How will it all end, in this two years to go with an extra-constitutional executive, who perceives himself as an ultimate arbiter? We can only hope that the father of Communism, Friedrich Engels, was correct when he stated:

The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realization of the measures which that domination would imply …

Engels, The Peasant War in Germany (1850)



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Verdict: Turns Out, It was a Wave…

bulkupload_Ocean-Wallpaper_Crashing-Waves-OregonSo much for the concern that the 2014 midterm national election would defy a direction or interpretation.  Turns out, it was a wave election.  The extent of the wave effect continues to be poured over by the various constituencies that thought they understood what was going to happen, and woke up to find that something more remarkable had occurred.  After 4 billion dollars of investment to attempt to encourage a smaller and smaller group of uncommitted voters to shift their allegiance to the cult of the committed, it turns out good old voter engagement regarding the issues of the day may have won out one more time. A democracy is after all predicated on the single distinct feeling that things are heading either in the right way, or the wrong way, and this time, the wrong way vibe  –  won big.

The size and depth of the wave is what is most impressive.  The election turned out not to be a battle of national organizations for a few high profile elections, but instead, a deep and philosophical sea change.  The U.S. Senate will see at minimum a shift of 8 democrat seats, from a deficit of 45 Republicans in the minority caucus to 53, and potentially 54 by December’s run off in Louisiana.  The U.S. House of Representatives will see the biggest Republican majority since before the Great Depression. Republicans will hold 31 of the 50 governorships, including securing Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois, the deepest of blue states now led by  boys in Red. Most profoundly speaking to the depth of the wave, of the 98 state legislature bodies, 67, more than two-thirds,  are in the hands of Republicans. It appears amazingly, America’s team is the Republican Party.  For the philosophy of conservatism that was felt by demographics to be forever dead after 2008, and whose own party leaders performed an “autopsy” after the 2012 election, it appears the eulogy may have been a little premature.  The majority party electorally is the Republican Party.

The President of the United States, leader of the world’s leading democracy, when asked in the day after election press conference as to his interpretation of the voter’s will,  expressed  that his job was to be a spokesman for the two-thirds of Americans who felt it wasn’t worth their time to vote. As to the President being a supposed constitutional scholar, that interpretation by the President leaves me a little cold.  But then, maybe his grades in Constitutional Law weren’t that great, though of course we will probably never know.  His mission, as he saw it in the wake of the biggest wave of policy rejection in years, was to circle the wagons, and forge ahead with his vision of  “immigration reform” and “climate change”.

There’s a change in climate all right, but I don’t think we will see its effect focused on the Weather Channel.

Since the President and the pundits have their view of what happened, I think it only right that Ramparts take a measured look and provide its own spin.  The longevity of this particular wave is yet to be determined, but some recognizable themes seem to be fundamental contributors.

Special Interest Themes Don’t Resonate in Down Economic Times:            for some time and particularly since 2008, the focus of the democrat party’s electoral philosophy has been identifying victims and villains, and implying the republican party existed to make war with them.  We had the War on Women, War on Unions, War on Blacks, War on Gays and War on Hispanics to the extent that one would assume that America existed only as prison of suppression and not a land of opportunity.  In 2008 and 2012, the tactics seemed to take hold with what was referred to as the low information voter, where their sense of personal injustice dominated any rationalization of their true opportunity in society.  In the 2014 election, however, the effects of 6 years of neglect of the forces that actually determine robust economic performance, overruled any sense that unseen prejudices held people down. Texans did not buy Wendy Davis’s supposition that the lack of universal abortion rights was the major suppressing factor in woman succeeding in the marketplace. The  dark hand of voter suppression of minorities did not seem to effect South Carolinians from determining Tim Scott’s conservative economic plans were more important than the color of his skin.  The danger to the undocumented alien of a stiffer border security did not seem to sway a dramatic shift of Texas hispanic voters into the republican column.  Fundamentally, regardless of personal interpretations as to perceived victimhood, it remains that the overriding force that determines elections is the Clintonian motto,”It’s the Economy , Stupid”.  Voters saw the lack of job growth, the massive increase in the underemployed, the instability of the nation’s fiscal health, and the generational expansion of reduced opportunity, and decided, not as women, minorities, gays, or millennials, but as Americans, to vote their pocketbooks and change the direction of the nation.

The Party of Government Doesn’t Know How to Govern:                  2014 is the year that it began to dawn on Americans that the party that declared that only though government can equality, security, and opportunity be secured for all on a level playing field, had no idea how to make that happen.  The realization that incompetence was the expression of hope and change, made voters feel hopeless, and opt for change. Voters saw a party that declared the time was right for government supervised management of everybody’s health, only to find that three years and two billion dollars wasn’t enough even to get a website to work.  Voters look around and saw that the states and cities  that flexibly addressed their budgetary and health issues in rough times were run by republican governors, mayors, and councils, and those burdened by disastrous strangleholds of the dual killers of government unions and the inbred party hacks that underwrote them run by democrats, and decided the future resided progressively with siding with mature adult management. Thus the tsunami of state governor and legislature outcomes. The battering of mounds of evidence of what government should do well, and couldn’t, defense of the borders, impartial collection of taxes, care for its veterans, even good old public health organization in the face of a possible pandemic, left the voters who wanted to believe in the more government is better government meme, doubting their own personal safety and security. Government that can not even run itself can not run others, and the electorate seemed to recognize it was time to clean house.

The Incredible Shrinking President:                              Despite Tip O’Neill’s oft remarked statement that legislative elections are “local,” mid term elections are never really independent of the effect of the President. The fact that the Presidency is not specifically up for election certainly does effect how many come out to vote, but nevertheless bends the local nature of the elections based on the right way wrong way vibe. This President has been immersed in an avalanche of wrong way vibe.  When times were better internationally and when this President was seen as a confident savant that would glide above partisanship to a better future, the electorate saw his vagaries and loose work habits as ‘above the fray’.  The progressive disaster that is the international position of the United States in a progressively dangerous world of instability has not reflected well on this veneer, and the electorate began to realize belatedly that this ’emperor’ has no clothes.  The cocky assuredness that President Obama tries to project that he is right above all other  interpretations has collapsed policy in Israel, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, Russia, and China and left his allies wondering if they can count on a single thing he says.  All the redlines and resets in the world don’t protect you when the world’s baddies sense weakness and a leadership void, and they are beginning to think they are circling a carcass of a once great carnivore.  Americans since the election of Theodore Roosevelt have not been used to a world that thinks America can be had, and that made this electorate very uneasy.  This election proved to be, above all, a monster repudiation of this President, and this imperial presidential model.

What’s In It For Me?:                                                       Meism is the culture of our times.  Ask the typical college student about the concept of checks and balances in the Constitution, the role of fiscal stability in preserving the marketplace, or role of the Bill of Rights in securing this nation’s prosperity, and you will likely get a blank stare. The story is that the modern individual is most concerned about their social circle, as defined by Facebook and Twitter and the Cloud. There has been a lack of connectivity to role one’s own responsible behavior and performance plays in the achievement of success in life.  This certainly wasn’t born in the current generation.  This nation had the Lost Generation, the Beat Generation, the Turn On and Tune Out Generation among others, all of which were assumed to have forgotten the essential responsibility of each generation to leave the world better than they found it.  Yet, the brilliant structure of the American Experiment put forth by the founders left tools in place to recognize and adjust wayward behavior , even belatedly.   Of particular note, the voter gap in voters 18-29 shifted perceptively against the democrat monolith, narrowing substantially.  In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker, though to be a pariah among the state’s youth, lost the 18-29 age group by only 52-48, after previous elections resulted in 10 and 12 point margins.  There may be faint recognition that degrees in victimhood studies attained at confiscatory tuition rates are unlikely to secure personal happiness or achievement in an increasingly competitive world. Young people may be starting to realize that their lack of attention will soon immerse them as owners of a country with unsolvable debt and irretrievable loss of individual freedom.  When faced with such challenge, worrying obsessively about issues such as a global warming that simply refuses to happen  is perhaps becoming a canard they would rather do without.

Minorities are a Monolith(?):    Regardless of any malfeasance, the Democrat Party has always assumed it could count on the monolith of minority voting to put it over the top in elections.  Secure in this assumption was the desire to drive American diversity increasingly toward a white minority, thereby securing a permanent Democrat majority.  This assumption has always required maintenance of the myth that the American Experiment and its philosophical underpinning, the American Dream,  was not meant for minorities, and does not appeal to them.  The evidence has been primarily the urban black voter, that though faced with 50 years of deteriorating inner cities, continued to vote monolithically for democrat dominated governance, and in cities like Detroit, minority democrat governance, despite catastrophically failing infrastructure and opportunity. Republicans as pariahs identified by these urban black leaders as “racist” and “overseers” could not be trusted to improve things even in the obvious case of voting for continuous decline.

These series of assumptions may not be forever.  An increasing number of minority candidates are finding success  and energy resides in confronting the monolith.  2014 brought visible cracks in the wall. African American  populations, though increasing their participation in 2014 to 12% of the participating electorate, increased their vote diversity to 10% republican from 6% in 2012. Tim Scott, a black conservative republican won his US Senate election by almost 25 points, destroying his black opponent, in one of the first elections for US Senate between two African Americans.  Mia Love of Utah became the first female African American Republican in the US House of Representatives. The assumption that the Hispanics of Texas are in lock step with open borders promoted by their national spokespeople and would eventually turn Texas blue, was answered with the election of a black republican advocating border security in Texas’s largest border county which is majority hispanic.  Asian Americans, traditionally democratic, voted in two Korean American Republican house members in California, and nation wide narrowed the gap between democrat and republican support to less than ten percent.  Indigenous American Indians, through the cruelties of history forced into the position often as wards of the state, voted republican 52 to 43% nationally as progressively they look to control their own destiny.


And all of these various threads led to a wave, and Republican victory. But what of the victorious Republican Party, that so often in a position of power fails to be the party its voters assumed they were voting for? Is this just another example of substituting one statist impulse for another?  Frankly, I suspect  this is likely the last election in the two party mode, if neither party learns from this election and governs as true representatives of their electorate. The President states he hears the calling of the nation that doesn’t express itself democratically, and the Republicans are embarrassed by their constituents fervor for change.  The  great likelihood of course is that neither the President or the Congress will listen to each other.  Well, nothing can be done about this President.  Hopefully though the newly elected Congress will look to listen to the electorate that got them there and accomplish the things that more and more Americans are expressing what they want.  Good rational governance.  Outcomes based investment in our future. Securing the American Experiment against lethargy and corrosion so that it continues to be a beacon for all of us.

Is that too much to ask?


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A Wave versus a Ripple


The United States nationally participates every two years in perpetual rebirth as defined by the founding fathers. The securing of a representative legislature for governance occupies the  first article of the Constitution,  laid out in means by which renewal and stability can co-exist.  The house of representatives allied most closely to local expressions is positioned to reflect the feelings of the electorate as to their sense of representation and influence over the nation’s direction.  The election of senators, adjusted by amendment to the constitution remains positioned at six years in the post to be more immune to the day to day emotional shifts of the electorate.  As the senate elections are however staggered such that a number of senators are nationally exposed to assessment at every election,  there remains the potential that if the local district ,the statewide electorate, and the national zen are emotionally confluent in the interpretation of the country’s direction, a wave election is possible.

Wave elections are not necessarily about substantial increases in a party’s representation in Congress.  They speak more toward a fundamental shift  in the electorate’s sense of the country needing to change direction, and the effects typically extend beyond the current election and may influence several election cycles.  Maybe no sea change in electoral philosophy expressed through a wave election will fundamentally top the epic wave of the 1930-32 elections. For almost 70 years since the Civil War, the country had maintained a confident sense of destiny through self actualization and growth that resisted intermittent economic downturns and for the majority of elections left a Republican bias in place.   In the depths of the depression, however,  the country demanded a hard tack to the left that has influenced the nation’s course ever since.  The 1930 Congress was composed of a house of 267 republicans and 163 democrats, a senate of 56 republicans 39 democrats and a republican President. Just two years later, the electorate converted the house to 313 democrats and 117 republicans, the senate to 59 democrats and 36 republicans, and the Presidency to FDR.  This dramatic change was not simply a “throw the bums out” reflex.  It reflected the country’s conversion from a self reliant, libertarian concept of life to a community driven, safety net philosophy that has never left.  With minor ebbs and flows, the Democrat wave secured the House of Representatives for the next 31 of 33 elections, the Senate for the next 25 of 27 elections, and the Presidency for the next 7-9 elections.

Now that’s a wave.

With the increasing influence of  money and the immediacy of social media, it seems that the ability for the country to digest the effectiveness of governance and the re-orientation of priorities has been fundamentally effected.  Waves have steadily turned to ripples as the effects of the wave are often cut off by the manipulative influences of media driven by money. With billions now spent on elections, most of it to the prosperity of those that deliver the message,  there is an industry developing to convert elections into mini-waves, increasing the hostility and inaccuracy of the discourse, and guaranteeing the progressive expenditure of money to adjust.  The waves have progressively shortened almost to the extent of each election cycle, driven by the media’s need to create conflict, and deflect the momentum of a philosophic governmental change. The shorter attention spans of the electorate, driven by the more emotional immediacy of the message, contributes to this, and plays into the hands of those who wish to control the country’s direction.

A pattern of back and forth waves, with more radical peaks and troughs, has settled in. The “Reagan Revolution” flowed for a decade, until the 1992 election re-oriented the country back towards collective economic security with the end of the Cold War and the election of Clinton. Almost immediately, the Clinton in your face style with the push toward universal healthcare, led to pushback, with the unexpected Republican takeover of Congress with republican “wave” of 64 seats in 1994, leading to the ultimate politician Clinton shifting to the right, abandoning his wife’s healthcare initiative, cooperating with welfare reform and declaring “the era of big government is over”.   Not so fast.  The overreach of the congress with the Clinton impeachment drove a schizophrenic election of 2000 that hung on a couple ballot chads, and within two years led to a republican President driving a massive governmental infusion into healthcare with the formation of Medicare Part D, covering for the first time prescriptions.  The cataclysm of 9/11 briefly aligned the country’s vision on the international stage, only to lead to the democrat wave of 2006, which wrenched a sharp escalation in the concept of debt investment and government influence, resulting in the election of the most liberal President in history, comfortable with doubling the size the nation’s debt accumulated in over 230 years, in just five, with the enthusiastic support of the democrat majority in congress.  This budget busting philosophy and a back room push of government take over of healthcare, the liberal uberweapon to control populations, led to the Republican “wave” of 2010, in which the president himself declared his party to have absorbed a “shellacking”.

The apparent”shellacking” delivered by the electorate in 2010 this time, however, led to no perceptive changes in governance, as the presence of enormous money and the shorter attention spans  was maximized by the president in collapsing the wave with his re-election of 2012. The power of the election to influence government policy proved progressively powerless against the use of media to propagate distortions and out and out lies through the power of social media. “If you want to keep your health insurance, you will keep it. Period”.  ” The massive stimulus plan of 2009-2010, will create hundreds of thousands of “shovel ready jobs”.  The IRS political motivated suppression of free speech to reduce influence of conservative discourse in elections contained “not a smidgen of corruption.”  The Benghazi terrorist attack  was a “response to a Youtube video.” One could go on and on and on.

The 2012 election secured the undoing of the 2010 election. What should we therefore make of 2014?  The polls suggest the country is again deliberating on a potentially massive “wave” response to the lack of influence of the 2010 election to change anything.  History suggests that the result will have less influence on the government’s tactics than one would suppose.  The President already is describing a massive extra-legislative process to change the country’s demographics through the executive edicts to achieve immigration “reform”, feeling himself immune to both election results and potential extra-constitutional actions. Have we reached a point where the democratic process has lost its capacity to influence government, that responds instead to the flow of money and the real time manipulation of the social media emotions through propagandistic distortion?

Like all defenders of the ramparts of civilized society, I remain wistful about the potential ability of a democracy to stop internal decay, restore fiscal sanity, secure its borders and principles of citizenship, defend against external enemies, and providentially commit to its future.  A 2014 “wave” to restrain the collapse of these ideals so influencing our current administration is the least we can hope for.  Recent history is not comforting.

On November 4th, outcome aside, it behooves us as defenders of the Ramparts to attend the barricades and vote for change one more time, and fight, fight against the dying the light.

Maybe this time, we can hold the potential of renewal beyond the satisfaction of winning an election night.


Posted in HISTORY, POLITICS | 3 Comments


Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

It is always a remarkable event when something you assume you know and understand reveals itself once again to be beyond understanding.  I have been to the grandest of canyons several times, but the thrill it elicits with the first sighting from the edge of the Colorado Plateau through which it has carved itself over eons remains  bordering on euphoric. It is not the rocks, or the depths, or the ribbon of the river of creation, but rather the glimpse it provides of Creation itself that comes over you.  It happens to you every time, no matter what your level of preparation.

The stillness of time transcends.  The lava and ash base rock of the canyon , the Vishnu Schist, thrust in a tectonic convulsion some 1.7 billion years ago against the continental plate, lays exposed by the river that began to reveal it to our eye only some six million years ago. Rock, that several billion years ago was not even half again as old as the planet upon which it was created.  Through volcanos and inland seas, sediments and pressures,  protozoans and dinosaurs, the layered geologic beauty of the canyon lay waiting for visual birth through the erosive force of a mighty river.   The entirety of a fulfilled human lifetime is but a fleeting wisp of wind in the immensity that is the measurement of such time.  To admit to oneself that reality, is to feel very small, yet very privileged to have it revealed.

The canyon divulged itself to no one that left any record prior to the time of Christ yet existed through innumerable sunrises and sunsets in its current state, with the only appreciation, that of its animal inhabitants.  The scale of the canyon such that the same species of squirrel has evolved into two distinct visages, the black chested whited tailed Kaibab of the North Rim, and his genetically identical cousin the Abert with his white chest and grey tail, long separated by the chasm.  The original settlers along the rim and cliffs left records of attachment but were unable to sustain their existence through the cycles of plenty and drought typical of the region, and fled near  silently out of history.  The initial caucasians exploring the canyon found it vast and devoid of people, and viewed it as an obstacle to be avoided.  It remained to the few who saw it as a potential site of habitation, empty and trackless.

Then, in 1869, perspective was provided.  An explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell, hardened to challenge by his military experiences in the recent Civil War and bereft of an arm from the damage of a minnie ball at Shiloh, found himself after the  intensity of the war unable to return to the everyday experience of an academic career in Illinois.  Powell determined to experience the  Grand Canyon from the bottom up as part of an expedition down the length of the mighty Colorado River, and his exploits through the canyon in 1869 and a second expedition in 1871 were for the first time channeled as a shared experience to an enraptured audience through the power of real time mass media, connected by reported stories as serial adventure.  To describe the voyage as hazardous is insufficient, but is perhaps preserved in the visual of a one armed, rail thin man manning the rudder of flat boat down level six rapids of an entirely untamed river.  The 750 mile voyage of the expedition of ten men from the origin of the Green River in Wyoming through the canyon lands of the Colorado is the stuff of legend.  More importantly, it presented America with a new kind of hero, the Naturist, as Powell along with fellow explorer, the Wisconsinite John Muir, presented the American West as more than obstacle, but rather a paradise of magnificent cultures, vistas, and geology best appreciated when preserved, rather then overcome.

IMG_4411The final linking of the concept of America’s image of itself linked fundamentally  to its land came in the personhood of President Theodore Roosevelt, who established the core of America’s heritage preserved through its concept of national parks.  He saw in particular the Grand Canyon critical in leaving the natural scape as untouched as possible to better absorb its eternal grandeur:

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

The eventual hold on the American consciousness progressed through the first half of the twentieth century as the canyon vistas and campsites became increasingly available to the average American.  Starting with  the development of the railroad to the rim, the gradual concept of individual travel and exploration as the country became more mobile through the automobile made the concept of taking in the beauty of the natural landscape of America a national obsession.  The country’s population increasing looked to the West as a potential place of permanent attraction and residence.  Yet, predictably, the diverging view of  ‘progress’ proved a powerful enemy of President Roosevelt’s vision. As hard as it is to imagine, the vistas of the Grand Canyon could have been forever marred as had its sister magnificent creation, the Glen Canyon.  In 1963, the special place that was Glen Canyon was tragically drowned in the development of the manmade inland sea of Lake Powell created by the Glen Canyon Dam.

Glen Canyon prior to the formation of Lake Powell by the Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon prior to the formation of Lake Powell by the Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell  - mitch tobin photo

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell – mitch tobin photo

The presence of a series of dams to tame the Colorado River for water resource, flood prevention, hydroelectric power, and recreation secured with the Boulder and Glen Canyon dams was actually contemplated for the stretch that is the Grand Canyon through the Bridge and Marble Canyon dam projects.  The conversion of portions of the Grand Canyon National Monument into a lake for water skiers came too close to contemplate, with only a final securing of public outcry as groups such as the Sierra Club, recognizing their error in not standing tall with the Glen Canyon project finally marshaling the collapse of the political will for Congress to pass funding for the Bridge and Marble dam projects in 1966.  It probably as much as anything led to the formation of the political environmental movement, with the eventual formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the idea of environmental impact statements becoming a dominant influence with any construction project, big or small.

Sierra Club ad campaign to block the Grand Canyon dam projects - 1966

Sierra Club ad campaign to block the Grand Canyon dam projects – 1966

Of course the Grand Canyon is constantly evolving, and in the saga of time may possibly be  effected by nature such as to no longer be grand, flooded again by inland seas or eroded through wind and time into unrecognizable patterns.  It is however, in our brief window of time, human time, that the canyonland exists for us to understand our on part in the story, small as it may be. We must balance our need to be, to forever demand increasing amounts of  electricity and water in isolated tracts of the world with our need to be a part of that world, and pass it along to our children, and children’s children.

To be in canyonland is to walk the road of time from all that is before and to all that will be as a traveler, not as a conqueror.  At the edge of the canyon lies the home of our own Creation through mists of time and stars, wind and water, death and rebirth. At the edge of the canyon, in the land of the canyon,  for every traveler on every journey,  there is the discovery of one’s self and the universe beyond.


Posted in HISTORY, TRAVEL | Leave a comment

The Rule of Law

Attorney General Eric Holder - gettyimages

Attorney General Eric Holder – gettyimages

“No man is above the law, and no man is below it ; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it.    Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.”                           Theodore Roosevelt   1903

” I, Eric Holder, do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”                                        Oath taken by Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States                  February 3rd, 2009

On Thursday of this past week, President Obama accepted the resignation of Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States.  So ended the controversial 6 year term of  the country’s chief law enforcement officer, who spent as much time ignoring the country’s fundamental structure of law as enforcing it.  To those who see activism as the highest calling, he is seen as a hero; to those who would seek equal justice under the law and respect for its unprejudiced adjudication, he is an abomination.  What Eric Holder is not, is insignificant.  Holder managed to infuse political activism so intensely into the Department of Justice that it may prove impossible to ever return it to its calling of enforcing the law that has been given it.  The rule of law, and the protection it provides a free society, may be irreparably harmed.

What is the rule of law that has previously been considered the mandate of a free people?  The definition has certainly been deliberated, and there is no single answer.  The concept of law obviously requires a standard people find fundamentally just to their lives.  Is a law for instance that serves to enforce servitude, physical pain, or premeditated inequity a law that deserves enforcement without pause?  The laws of sharia, Krystalnacht, Stalinist Russia, and Jim Crow America come to mind.  Martin Luther King, speaking of the logic behind civil disobedience, suggested in a free society, there is often the need to define the equity of a law by the willful breaking of it:

” I submit that an individual that breaks a law that his conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”          Martin Luther King  1963


The American Bar Association through its World Justice Project attempted to secure a universal meaning to the concept of rule of law that could merge the concept globally across societies:

1) A system of self government in which all persons, including the government, are accountable under the law

2) A system based on fair, publicized, broadly understood and stable laws

3) A fair, robust, and accessible legal process in which rights and responsibilities based in law are equally enforced.

4) Diverse, competent, and independent lawyers and judges

The overriding message is that the rule of law is not so much the law itself but its accountability and its equality of enforcement.  Throughout Holder’s tenure as Attorney General,  he proceeded to abrogate these two tenets that regardless of  his personal views, he had a responsibility to uphold.  The selective prejudicial enforcement or premeditated neglect  of laws rather than the hard work of convincing a people of their apparent inequity and improving them was part of the innate hubris of this Attorney General.   There were several profoundly disturbing events in his tenure that stand out in sharp contrast. Particularly remarkable was the dominance of race  outrage as an alternative to the concept of civil rights.  The civil right of every individual regardless of race, the centerpiece of assurance for the elimination of racial discrimination, was converted time and time again to perceived racial abuse, one directional toward alleged white on black injustice.  The elevation of the Trayvon Martin and Ferguson, Missouri incidents by the Department of justice threatened to intimidate the equal protection under the law for all concerned, making a mockery of the concept of true civil rights. While propagandizing the idea of white on black violence, Holder ignored multiple other minority group  injustices, the most profound of which was black on black violence, devastating community after community with little attention or concern.

The laws of immigration, designed to protect the country’s borders, and secure the concept of citizenship regardless of race, were habitually ignored by Holder and the administration, turning the process of achieving citizenship by accepting and respecting a nation’s laws, into somehow a racial injustice to those who would ignore the requirements of citizenship.

Holder became the first Attorney General in the history of the country to be found in contempt of congress, for obfuscating in the process of examination of the Fast and Furious scandal.  The Fast and Furious program, in which the government deliberately ignored its own laws regarding the sale of certain armaments, participating in gun trafficking with criminals , in an effort to create a perceived environment of law breaking that would allow increased restrictions on the second amendment.  The result was the deaths of untold numbers of Mexicans and several Americans for which the government remains, protected by Holder,  unaccountable.

Holder continued the pattern of selective civil rights enforcement, with his department involved in the incredibly questionable investigation of reporter’s  personal information without cause in an effort to identify the sources of “leaks” in the administration, and has put no effort in the policing of the administration’s own IRS that sought to use its powers to inhibit individuals participating in free speech the administration saw as counter to their aims.

Civil rights activism delivered with a point of view is of course the inherent right of every citizen but the adjudication of every citizen’s civil rights is the calling of a Department that calls itself Justice.  For Eric Holder to have accepted the position with no intention of equally enforcing the laws that assure rights of all citizens while elevating beyond law the perceived injustices of a few, is a person to whom civil rights have no meaning.  This country, that through the strength of its constitution and bill of rights achieved hard fought victories for the rights of all men, was diminished by his time in government. The damage done is incalculable to the real mission of equality and equal opportunity for all.

In a free society, justice blind to prejudice, firm to the law of equal accountability of the meek and the powerful, is the link that secures the future of a civilization. Those of us who consider this a foundational value, won’t miss Eric Holder.


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Scotland Contemplates Cracking the Union Jack



In 1707, with the passage of the Acts of Union, the parliaments of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland determined to secure a Parliament of Great Britain forming a political union so successful that, at its height, presided over an empire that encompassed nearly 20% of the people and a quarter of the land mass of the globe.  On September 18th, 2014, the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum that seeks to dissolve that union.  For more than three hundred years the contributions of Scotsman and Englishmen to the enormous influence the presence of a Great Britain has meant to the world as a military, political, cultural and democratic force has been inestimable.  What looked like a quixotic quest for separateness by a smallish force of malcontents just a few months ago however has suddenly become a very real potential outcome of the referendum.  A yes vote could mean some unalterable changes for centuries of  communal considerations between kingdoms of the island of Albion and the kickstart of a number of similar actions around the world.

The Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain combines the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland in an overlapped blend of the Crosses of St. George, St Andrew, and St Patrick.  If the September 18th referendum separates Scotland, the blue background and oblique white cross of St Andrew will wash out of the flag and Great Britain will be considerably less – great.

The Blending of the Crosses

The Blending of the Crosses

Certainly the careful blending of the crosses on the flag has tended to obscure a fairly rocky history of relations between the inhabitants of the islands off the continent of Europe. In particular, the Picts of the northern part of the island known as Albion, with genetics, language and culture considerably different from their southern neighbors, developed a necessary defensive posture for nearly a thousand years to resist the encroachment of a progressively more aggressive south.  First, the border of the northern reaches of the Roman Empire pushed against the native Caledonians and Pict tribes resulting in hostilities and the establishment of Hadrian’s wall as the boundary between civilizations.  Later it was the encroachment of raiding parties of Saxons and Vikings, the militaristic push of the powerful Normans, and eventually the hostility of the English Kings, that belied any sense of shared destiny.  But the island known as Albion also had at its core the antethical force of unique coalescing visions on the island  such as the concepts of property, individual freedom, and the capacity of individual merit and industry.  This led to the flowering of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and progressively the sharing of a unique blend of character to change world history.

The current forces at work are not necessarily the hostility of cultural dissonance, as much as it is the political schisms that have wreaked havoc with  the natural commonalities that have held the island together for so long.  Scotland leans toward a more socialist construct, heavily supportive of public burdens for free health and education more in tune with the anti-democratic thrust of the bureaucrats in Belgium fronting the European Union.  They object to the growing movement in England to protect the island against European mandates for immigration and trade, its love affair with the pound sterling, and the english tendency to see foreign policy more in line with their American cousins then modern Europe. They see their capacity to affect law suppressed by the higher representation of the English in parliament, and the natural resources abundant in the north sea oil fields off their coast as insufficiently benefiting them.   They look to an independent Scotland as righting a mistake made when the Scottish King James was usurped on the throne by the outlander William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, securing the primacy of English Protestantism at the cost of Scottish Catholics in the combined kingdom.

The forces attempting to hold the United Kingdom together have missed badly on gauging the mood of the Scottish populous. It has been assumed that the economic pain of separation would be too great for Scotlanders to be willing to take the risk of a yes vote, but the emotions are overwhelming any measured consideration of the risk.  As has happened in America, the realities of economics are failing to sway the emotions of  ‘hope and change’, and the price to be paid seems somehow avoidable.  Yet realities are just that-realities- and the effects of a separation are considered to be dire for Scotland.

What Scottish independence says for the rest of Great Britain and the world may be as great.  The Quebec province in Canada, the Catalonians in Spain, the old city states of northern Italy, the Walloons of Belgium, and others will be watching closely and taking  measure.  Even within England, the massive effect on political roles of the previously dominant Labour and Tory parties would be thrown asunder and likely make the upstart UKIP party the dominant force, upending hundreds of years of relative political tradition and definition.

The United States, which fought a war to secure the supremacy of the Constitution as the common force binding a diverse people, has progressively fallen away from democratic process to adjudicate differences, with the federal government taking more dominant roles every day in transcending the legislation process and regulating livelihood and personhood.

Wiiliam Wallace - Scottish Hero

Wiiliam Wallace – Scottish Hero

There is a significant Scot Irish genetics that runs through the founding documents of this country. One wonders if a William Wallace type is out there to stir a call to question as to whether the United States suffers from the same sclerosis of national leadership that has befallen its United Kingdom cousin.

It is after all, in a time like this devoid of leaders that drives the people to determine, more and more, to lead themselves.

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Men With Masks

Pro Russian Militia in Eastern Ukraine -kyivpost.com

Pro Russian Militia in Eastern Ukraine -kyivpost.com

In 1989, there was an interesting moment for those who were in the map business.  Almost overnight, it seemed almost as if the entire Eurasian continent would require a reorganization and renaming. For those at Rand McNally , the midnight lamps were burning as new countries popped up daily as free standing entities – Estonia and Moldova; Montenegro and Georgia; Slovenia and Slovakia; Armenia and Azerbaijan; Russia and the Ukraine.  An enormous re-ordering of the world occurred peaceably as the two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union stood down to allow it to happen without major bloodshed.  A new world order was declared – a world in which the principles of free choice, self determination, peaceful cohesion and global interconnectiveness would overwhelm tired old tribalism and cultural malevolence.

Well, the new world order did not last long, and it may be time to get those map makers busy again.

There’s a new technique being used to subvert international order and territorial integrity and it basically requires producing a map and finding men with masks to enforce it.

Charles Kupchan, former Professor at Georgetown and current Senior White House Director of European Relations for the Obama Administration, and one of the mentors for the President’s shall we say interesting interpretation of history, has defined this new technique as ‘hybrid warfare’ :

“Because I think one of the things that we’ve learned from the situation in Ukraine is that oftentimes in this new world that we live in, NATO or individual countries may be facing not armored columns coming across their border, which you can usually see in advance, but guys coming across in masks, you don’t know who they are — what we could call hybrid warfare, or asymmetric warfare. And that requires a very different kind of military response than NATO has traditionally been focused on.”

Charles Kupchan is the author of the book  “No One’s World: the West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn”  in which he sees the West – meaning the US, Europe and Japan – in a position of irreversible decline and the need to deal with a world where no one will be ‘in charge’.  This administration is well on its way to making Dr. Kupchan’s vision a reality.

These men in masks seem to have a proclivity to ignore international borders, and part of their technique is to suggest the border has no validity.  You do that by getting a map the reorders the border – thus the sudden existence of Novorossiya (or New Russia) – a country President Putin is referring to as spontaneously existing, and therefore the need for a map:

Novorossiya as Putin would see it

Novorossiya as Putin would see it

We seen this pattern in the recent past in another conflict:   Masked Men

Masked Militia of ISIL

Masked Militia of ISIL

And a Map of the Caliphate they assume will be theirs:

The ultimate Caliphate desired by ISIL

The ultimate Caliphate desired by ISIL

So what’s with the masks?  The masks are a device to allow the anonymity of not just the warriors but their nation sponsors. These so called hybrid warriors as Kupchan would have us believe spontaneously form have no desire to be recognized for what they are – shock troops for the countries that want to see maps changed in their favor.   Masked men who hide their nationality and their identity allow free transition between borders and the ability for countries to provide them with sophisticated weaponry and support.  These shock troops allow  the Irans, Qatars, Saudi Arabias, and Russias of the world to engage in proxy war that otherwise would position them as old fashioned pariahs and might even engage an old fashioned response from the part of the world that is self absorbed in self induced decline.

The United Nations Charter of which of the above aforementioned are member states, pledges in Chapter I Article 2  of the United Nations Charter:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

That charter of course doesn’t matter if you can get the map to say a new territorial reality is present, and you have masked men to enforce it.

This is a very dangerous game that countries like Russia are playing, and it is awakening people from the political spectrum one would think would be the last to respond.  The President of the United States however is still formulating a strategy that will permit the progressive decline of the West without him being perceived as directly responsible for its destruction.  That’s a balancing act we have not seen him showing the high wire skills necessary to pull off.  Then again, the United States has a border, a southern border, that the administration is loathe to enforce territorial integrity over. It won’t be long before we see our own masked men.  And they’ll probably be carrying a map:



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Alfred Brendel and Beethoven’s Ghost



About twenty five years ago during my study years, I had the opportunity to see Alfred Brendel in recital performing Beethoven. I had a vague understanding through recordings what I might hear, but I was not prepared for the possibility that I was going to be involved in a seance.  Among other pieces, Brendel performed a late Beethoven piano sonata.  It was during this piece he became simply transfixed and other worldly.  Several minutes into the central movement, a listener developed an annoying recurrent muffled cough in the hushed recital hall.  The sublimity of Brendel’s face on stage began to reveal a series of anguished contortions, as if he was being pulled from a deep dark place into blinding light.  After several moments, he stopped playing, to the astonishment of the audience, and turned to the horrified cougher with an intense expression, then said, he could not channel Beethoven and play it the way the master wanted, and the audience deserved, unless the dissonance from the audience stopped.

The coughing stopped, and the sublimity returned.

No one can play Beethoven like Alfred Brendel, and  the means to the answer was on the stage that night. Brendel plays Beethoven like a re-incarnated Beethoven, and it  may well be that he is capable of channeling the master composer’s spirit directly into his body and soul.  To hear Brendel in recital is likely the closest you will ever get to hearing Beethoven himself perform his works at the height of his prowess in Vienna in 1800.  Frankly, you probably will never know how Beethoven must sound until you hear Brendel perform Beethoven.  The perfect phrasing, the precise articulation, and the masterful but limited use of the pedal makes a Brendel interpretation of a Beethoven sonata not a performance but rather, a re-creation.

Alfred Brendel was born in 1933 in the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, born in the Czech Republic, moving to Croatia at an early age and eventually settling Graz, Austria.  He showed early musical talent,but the horror of WWII swept away any capacity for rigorous formal training.  It may well be that his self taught style in the absence of overbearing influence of piano teachers may well be the means by which Brendel has maintained the purity of the compositions in his performance.  Regardless of formal instruction, Brendel’s performance genius particularly for the classical masters of his homeland, Mozart, Schubert, and most specifically, Beethoven was evident in the years after the war and through his long career since until his performance retirement in 2008.

Interpreters of Beethoven are particularly cherished for their ability to remind every one of the unique olympian genius of Beethoven.  In the first half of the twentieth century, the ultimate interpreter was recognized to be Artur Schnabel, and there has been a need by music critics ever since to use Schnabel’s intense concentration on the Beethoven works as the standard by which to evaluate all others.  We have only the older recordings by which to judge Schnabel, but thanks to the wonders of YouTube, we have an extensive performance record of high fidelity by which to immerse ourselves in the wonders of a Brendel performance.

Two Beethoven creations of Brendel frame this performer’s mastery well.  The first is the most beautiful and elevating seven and a half minutes of music in the classical literature, Beethoven’s Adagio movement from his epic ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto No.5. The second, Brendel’s recital performance of Beethoven Sonata No.32.  The concerto performance will make you cry a little as you feel Beethoven reaching for the essence of human beauty at a time of enveloping hearing loss, but the Sonata will leave you stunned, as you realize Brendel is reaching through time and space, and bringing Beethoven physically through his hands onto the piano, to the everlasting wonderment and joy, of us all…

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The Big Ditch Turns 100



In today’s culture of dependency, it is hard to remember a time not so long ago when a visionary idea no matter how difficult, time consuming, or potentially immensely risky, was seen as a genetic characteristic of our civilization.   For thousands of years until the nineteenth century, the progressively discoverable world was available at the speed by which a man could walk or run, or horse could be ridden, or a sail could push a boat by a fickle wind or current.   A world so vast, that a day’s voyage could be arduous simply within the limits of a man’s sight, and the idea that one could know the world through personal experience seemed beyond  the scope of a man’s lifetime.

Yet, there seemed to be no shortage of individuals that would take on seemingly impossible and dangerous journeys to somehow reduce the globe to human conceptualization.  The ancient Polynesians using rafts to turn the Pacific Ocean into a highway between settlements.  Marco Polo traveling for twenty-four years and 15000 miles along the Silk Road to the Forbidden Kingdom and back, to document a civilization superior to his own and open up a trade revolution that changed his home forever. And 500 years ago, Ferdinand Magellan pointing his ships west rather than east to develop a sea route for trade that ended three years later as a 24000 mile voyage that circumnavigated the globe.

Especially poignant is Magellan, for he did not live to see the fruits of his great achievement, having died two-thirds upon the way of his massive voyage, massacred on a remote Philippine Island at the hands of an angry chieftain’s warriors who took umbrage at his desire to play favorites and Christianize those he preferentially selected.  In fact, of the 230 or so intrepid voyagers who accompanied Magellan on his epic journey, only 18 managed to circumnavigate and three years later return safely to their point of departure in Spain. These explorers were however to make Magellan immortally famous in their careful records they took of the voyage, so meticulous that they determined they landed one day younger than the number of sunrises and sunsets that had been catalogued since they had left, the first humans to document time travel, associated with traveling against the world’s rotation.

Magellan achieved many identified firsts, but it was certainly not his intension to take the longest possible route to East Asia.  He  rather hoped for a shorter rout traveling west to east then was at that time required to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean. His desire for potentially  shortened sea routes led him to avoid the rumored foul weather and dangerous waters of Cape Horn, at the southernmost tip of South America, instead navigating and ultimately discovering the Straits of Magellan, at the northern most aspect of the Tierra del Fuego, thus cutting several hundred miles off the voyage compared to around the Cape Horn. Through the straights he named the new ocean he encountered the Pacific, or ‘peaceful’, for it’s apparently placid waters as compared to the tumultuous Atlantic.  The short cut was nice, but the travel west from Atlantic to Pacific around south America still required an 8000 mile journey, and certainly represented no bargain for traders in regard to time or risk who wished to go to the East Indies or China.

You might wonder how all this Magellan business leads us to the Panama Canal. Well, I’m getting there.  You see, Magellan was not the first to recognize the new ocean, the Pacific.  That honor went to Vasco Balboa,  who in 1513 crossed the Isthmus of Panama and became the first European to view the western Pacific, suggesting a path thousands of miles shorter than Magellan’s circuitous route.  But nobody got efficiently rich transporting goods across scores of miles of mountainous jungle (at least until the Conquistadores discovered native slave labor) simply to reload then in a boat.  No, fortunes were made filling the massive cargo hulls of sailing ships and bring the goods home in one  watery trip, making even the thousands of extra miles of the Cape Horn trip more viable than cross country.

Balboa’s vision of a shortcut across the Isthmus travelled the centuries unrequited until the machine power of the nineteenth century began to make the idea of a canal more than a pipe dream. The Europeans were still the initial visionary force behind the dream of a canal and the French got the farthest, developing a canal company  that beginning in 1881 spent the next nine years on a tragic and fruitless effort to tame the 48 miles of mountainous jungle that separated the two bodies of water. Nine years later, having lost 22,000 workers to tropical diseases such as yellow fever and malaria, and having sunk the investments of 800,000 French investors, the effort was abandoned.

The canal idea was not too big, however, for the bountiful new world republic to the north. Despite having connected the continent by rail in an equally spectacular engineering achievement, goods and services were infinitely too expensive to travel by rail from New York to San Francisco, taking instead the ultimately cheaper, but daunting sea trip around the Cape Horn that would take months.  The United States, in the midst of a boundless can do spirit occasioned by becoming the world’s biggest economy at the beginning of the twentieth century, saw the opportunity of the canal, and the power that  would go to the country who ran it, too valuable to not take up the epic challenge.  The United States engaged in some very dubious politics,  positioned itself as the overlord of the vision and never doubted for a minute its ability to get the job completed.

The final vision came in the form of Theodore Roosevelt, a president who saw the future of the United States as a world power, and focused the immense energy and economy of his country on the huge project. From 1904 to 1914, the United States through its Army Corps of Engineers ,spent some 8.6 billion dollars in today’s  money, used some of the world’s

The Earthmovers of the Big Dig 1904-14

The Earthmovers of the Big Ditch 1904-14

first bulldozers and earth movers to blast and sculpt its way through the Panama wilderness, moving over a 152 million cubic meters of excavated earth, losing 5600 workers to the same diseases that plagued the French, and creating the world’s most spectacular set of locks and dams that continue to function today in magnificent fashion.  The locks still make possible for some of the biggest ships in the world  to traverse huge quantities of goods from sea level up over the

The Locks Solution to the elevations of Panama

The Locks Solution to the elevations of Panama

mountains and back to sea level without ever unloading a crate off a ship.  The 48 miles of beautiful locks and transporting tug trains make possible the movement of billions of dollars of goods across the Isthmus each year and reduced the epic path of Magellan from 800o miles to 48 miles and the time from months around South America to just 20 hours.

The Path Between the Seas-   PANAMA's CANAL

The Path Between the Seas- PANAMA’s CANAL

The nefarious politics that ultimately gave the United States the rights to build the canal and ultimately run the Canal Zone, and the just as uncomfortable politics that lead to the canal hesitatingly being turned over to Panama ultimately in 1999, can not take away from the incredible achievement that incredibly connected two oceans.  The 150,000 dollar fee for traversing the canal is worth every penny for the ships filled with the hugely profitable trade goods  that magnify Magellan’s dream a million times over.

August 14, 2014 was the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the canal, and the world has benefited greatly from the daring of a young nation that naively felt that it was chosen to do great things, and somehow got them done.  It would do us well to remember the civilization we are so quick to blame for every inequity was once the natural spring of  visionaries that conquered the Silk Road, circumnavigated the globe, made distance our servant, and took the impossible, and made it happen.

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Barbarians at the Gates

ISIS deals with prisoner of war issues in Iraq - AFP Photo

ISIS deals with prisoner of war issues in Iraq – AFP Photo

To comprehend events, one must be willing to descend into the faint mists of time and history to possibly understand the here and now.  The boundaries that define the modern country of Iraq are artificial drawings on a map that simplify a maelstrom of historical peoples, events, and passions that are the basest contributors to the whole known human story.  The fertile crescent of land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has been the birthplace of great empires and religions, and perhaps the most contested real estate on the planet.  At the northern edge is noted to be the birthplace of man as a creature of record. Some three thousand years before Christ the tribes of the region founded the worlds first recognized governmental structure, the Semitic kingdom of Semites and Sumerians known as Akkadia, soon divided into Assyria and Babylonia. It is said that the Assyrian Semite Abraham traveled out of Assyria around 1800 BC to eventually become the father to the Hebrew peoples. By the tenth century BC, Assyria may have comprised the largest empire in then known world and provided the legacy of one of the great core language structures, Aramaic, influencing people from northeast Africa to central Asia.  The Assyrian people became  important contributors to the expansionist Greek empire culture and subsequently were influenced to assume many of the philosophic constants of the Greeks, in many cases becoming early Christians as did their Greek counterparts in the first through third centuries AD.

With the arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia in the seventh century, the centuries long process of this ancient culture having to subordinate and assimilate while trying to preserve its identity began.  Through Islamic pogroms and Mongol invasions, Ottoman overseers, British protectorates and Baathist dictators, the identity of the ancient Assyrian culture managed to survive.

Until now.

The city of Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh, is the home of the Assyrian Christian population of Iraq and the gateway to Kurdistan.  With a population of 50,000, it represents one of the last congregations of Christian influence in Mesopotamia and its existence as such is an anathema to a virulent strain of Islamic puritans known as ISIS.  On friday, August 8th, Bakhdida became the latest city to be overrun by the ISIS horde and the consequences to an entire people who profess a different fate are dire.  With tens of thousands of Christians fleeing the genocidal sickness that is the ISIS modus operandi, President Obama finally determined to take action in some form to address his administration’s developing Rwanda event. It was not the fate of the Christians or their Kurdish or Shia muslim brethren that stirred him so much as the plight of the Yazidis, a small sect connected to the ancient Zoroastrian faith of monotheism that precedes Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.  ISIS forces have forced them into the mountains with the intent of starving them to death, or killing them in place, whatever opportunity presents.  For the ISIS  adherents, this is the holy work that should have been done centuries ago.

The western world has always struggled to get too upset about genocidal outrages against Jews and Yazidis, but Christians?  That used to be another matter.  There is no Richard the Lionheart to lead a Crusade, likely not even a George Bush the Earnest.  The post-Christian western world does not connect well with the outrages committed by Islamic extremists, whether it is the lunatic fringe Boko Haram in Nigeria slaughtering entire villages of Christians and trafficking in human slavery, or ISIS with its religious cleansing fury in Iraq. Christian outrage and responding to attacks is so Seventeenth century.

But ISIS is working in the seventh century and doesn’t give a flip to modern mores.  Having stunned most of Iraq, conquering oil fields and water supplies, drowning in money from bank robberies and sympathetic fat cat Wahabiast poseurs from the Arabian peninsula, and in possession of millions of dollars of sophisticated weapons abandoned by the Potemkin Village Iraqi national army as it fled,  ISIS is a Tamerlane disciple of the twenty-first century, with the will to kill who doesn’t submit.  The map shows an effective reality on the ground that suggests they are succeeding in their vision:

ISIS in Mesopotamia - CNN maps

ISIS in Mesopotamia – CNN maps

So the President of the United States finally acted. Not to save Christians or Iraqis.  That would have required previous strategic thinkings and actions.  No, the action is to prevent current genocide against the Yazidis, certainly deserving, but no more deserving than any of the other hundreds of thousands already crushed under the foot of the marauding 7th century jihadists.  President Obama thinks he can pick and choose his genocides he determines to intervene upon.  I suspect ISIS and Boko Haram will give him plenty of choices from which to choose.

What is there to do in this inevitable world calamity approaching?  It is frankly too late to recognize what would have been the easiest solution in Iraq.   President Obama’s political trump card was the withdrawal from Iraq no matter what the consequences, when twenty-thousand in country troops would have likely prevented this travesty.  Imagine you are the warden of a prison filled with 500 dangerous characters and innocents alike.  With just 20 guards providing organized control, you can maintain the security of the prison and keep the most dangerous inmates from killing you, or each other.  The previous warden gave you after much effort a stable place, with effective control.  But you are a much smarter warden, who believes the previous warden was a doofus, and should not have been allowed to have made warden decisions in the first place that did not sit with your world gestalt.  You therefore instead announce you are pulling all the guards, opening all the prison cell doors, and putting the kitchen staff in charge of negotiating with the prisoners.  Its pretty easy to predict what will happen, unless apparently you are President Obama.  Now, if you want to contain the violence, restore the security, and protect the innocent,  it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than twenty guards to achieve a renewed stability and civility.  And a lot of people are going to pay a very grave penalty for your naiveté.

What to do with a modern world that would like to believe we have grown beyond the barbarians that defined our human past-the Tamerlanes, Attilas, Genghis Khans, and Hitlers – that would create a single vision of humanity on the slaughter of nonbelievers? The Assyrians of Bakhdida would like to know soon, and hope its more than a few food packages and pinpricks.  But if the western world cannot decide this is serious business, don’t worry.  We may soon get first hand knowledge of what the Assyrians of Bakhdida are up against, at a location much closer to home.

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