Tag Archives: U.S. Constitution

Thank You, President Obama

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious; riveting and excruciating; honorific and horrifying.  With a glaring tone of schizophrenia, it’s not so much a job as it is a role.  Chief Executive of the United States of America stretches across the horizon of humanity.  No wonder you leave office looking decades older than when you first arrived!

Second – and perhaps most important – you took on this task at the start of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; when we straddled two wars that left us enraged and tired; when the richest, most powerful nation on Earth suddenly had to question its future in relation to its past.  And you did it with members of the opposition who awoke each day more determined to destroy you than to ensure the nation’s success.

Your life story is fascinating.  Here you are – born of a Black immigrant father who abandoned you almost from the start and a White teenage mother who nurtured you as best as her young age would allow, but who would never see your rise to fame – one individual beginning life under such duress.  You attended Columbia College where you majored in political science and English literature.  You moved on to Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education and one of the most difficult to access.  You were then president of the Harvard Law Review.  Before that, though, you were a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles where a hint to your political ambition became apparent in a speech calling for the college to sever its investments in South Africa.  None of these are small achievements.

As president, you helped to salve the damage of the Great Recession with investments in an economy that created 11 million new jobs; the longest such streak on record.  Unemployment is now down to pre-recession levels.  With exports up by 28% and a deficit cut by $800 billion, the stock markets have nearly tripled, the auto industry is flourishing again, and our reliance on foreign oil stands at a 40-year low.  High school graduation rates increased substantially, and Pell Grants doubled.  Your administration instituted new federal student loan payment plans; established a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; put in place a new mortgage refinance program; passed a Patient’s Bill of Rights; extended protection for land and water resources; and placed limits on carbon pollution.

If I have any grievances regarding your record, they are few, but noteworthy.  I personally don’t care for the Affordable Care Act, as it presently stands.  You and your fellow Democrats seemed to spend too much time designing and implementing this law, instead of focusing even more time and energy on the economy.  Americans certainly don’t need another tax, when they’re having trouble finding stable employment!  I was also disappointed in your response to threats by your Republican colleagues to withhold benefits for the long-term unemployed at the end of 2010, if you didn’t agree to maintain the Bush-era tax cuts; the very items that shoved the nation into economic jeopardy shortly before you took office.  I believe you had the executive power to force the dreaded tax cuts to expire as originally scheduled and further ensure benefits for those hapless citizens – people you rightfully deemed “hostages” – remained in place.  There were other down moments: “Operation Fast and Furious” and the Benghazi tragedy, in particular.  These episodes may haunt you, but they don’t define you.

You withstood the worst personal attacks on any public official I’ve ever seen.  From vicious protests by a band of (all-White) conservative students at Texas A & M University to a South Carolina congressman shouting “You lie!” in the midst of your first State of the Union address (something that had never happened before); the Arizona governor jutting her crooked finger into your face and later claiming you intimidated her; and finally to the asinine “birther” movement propagated by the incoming president, you’ve endured extreme social and political animosity.  As someone who began following U.S. politics with the Watergate scandal, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed such levels of verbal barbarity and recalcitrance as what your Republican counterparts slung at you.

It’s obvious you tried to restrain your frustration; fighting through the muck of political swamp water.  But I still wish you had simply gotten ugly with these clowns.  With each personal assault, I kept wishing you’d strip away your professional comportment momentarily and bring forth the worst parts of your personality (the kind that exists in all of us); the nigger and / or redneck sides of you – all in a concerted effort to try to communicate with your adversaries.  They didn’t like you anyway.  Nothing you did or said could possibly satisfy their pathetically myopic attitudes.  If you tried to negotiate and compromise, they dubbed you weak and ineffective.  If you dared to raise your voice and talk back to them, they declared you uppity.  You couldn’t win no matter what you did.  So, why remain polite and dignified all the time?  Yes, I realize that’s not your nature.  But, in dealing with arrogance and outright stupidity, you occasionally have to jump into the gutter with those fools, merely so they can understand you.  I’ve had to do just that in my own professional life and I always hated it.  I despised dumbing down my intellectual capacity just to get my point across.  It’s nasty and painful to we intellects who understand the value and necessity of good dialogue.  But, like cleaning a dirty toilet in your bathroom, sometimes you just have to behave in such a manner to get things done.

And, despite the blatant, unapologetically crude and juvenile behavior your opponents exhibited, you tightened your lips, held your head high and kept your back straight.  You let your emotions show on only a handful of occasions; mainly when yet another deranged gunman rained terror on unsuspecting innocents.  In other words, you allowed the true nature of your humanity gush forward when it really mattered.

Your poise and demeanor are unmatched among modern-day public servants.  You and your beautiful family are emblematic of grace and class.  Mrs. Obama, in particular, displayed personal charm and studious refinement; more so than all four of her predecessors combined.

In 2012, I published an essay on this blog entitled “Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr”; where I highlighted that your professional troubles were a predictable, almost unavoidable evil; a grueling necessity to compel America to hold up to its promise of dignity and equality for all citizens.  You paved the way for future candidates who won’t fit into the pre-ordained mold of what an American president should look and sound like.  I suspect if your father had been born in Europe, Canada or even Australia, no one would have questioned your citizenship or your legitimacy.  But he was from Africa – the “Dark Continent” – that massive region of Earth that is the birthplace of humanity and whose indigenous peoples had the audacity to expel a cavalcade of brutal European colonists and – gasp! – demand they be treated with the proper deference naturally due to them as human beings.

I understand the hate that a mixed ethnic background incurs from the cerebrally- challenged.  I’m White (mostly Spanish, but also one-quarter German) and Mexican Indian.  I tell some people I’m justified in criticizing middle-aged White guys because…well, I’m one of them; while I told others who didn’t care for you to just vote for the “White Obama.”  My ancestry in the state of Texas extends back to a time before the Mayflower pilgrims had even begun making travel plans.  I celebrate my complex heritage because it ultimately spells A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N.

Unfortunately, future history-making presidents will have to face the same barrage of disquieting irreverence: the first female, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist, or gay / lesbian Chief Executive.  All of them will have their character questioned and their birthright authenticity shredded by those who think America’s sacred promise of opportunity and equality actually applies only to them and their ilk.  These prospective White House occupants will be forced to prove their place in this great American society is not defined by other peoples’ ideals.

Sadly, you leave office – and the fate of the nation – in the lap of a maniacal, temperamental, foul-mouthed, proudly bigoted oaf; a cretin who holds no qualms in lambasting anyone who is the least bit different from or disagrees with him, yet seethes about the most diminutive of sleights.  He has single-handedly reduced the prominence of the U.S. presidency to 140 character rants.

I’m trying to imagine you entering the White House with a much-younger third wife for whom you left your second wife.  My brain cramps as I try to envision you standing before a crowd of thousands demanding they pummel a dissenter into the ground.  I can only wonder the reaction you’d get telling a mass of financially-struggling Appalachian Whites, “What do you have to lose?”

I will miss you, Mr. Obama, along with your eloquent words and unimposing determination to make the United States live up to its full potential as a nation for all people.  You can rest now, my good man; start building your library; await the days you become a father-in-law and a grandfather; and – above all – get some sleep!

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The Original Antonin Scalia

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his room at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a luxury resort in the Big Bend region of West Texas last weekend. The ranch is in such an isolated locale that it took hours for local officials to find a justice of the peace to make an official ruling on Scalia’s death. Finally, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara arrived on the scene and made the declaration without viewing Scalia’s body and without ordering an autopsy, both of which are permissible under Texas law.

Scalia is the 35th U.S. Supreme Court justice to die while still in office, and the fourth to die during a presidential election year. An icon to social and religious conservatives here in the U.S., Scalia was one of the most colorful characters to occupy the nation’s highest judicial bench. He was as brilliant as he was combative. His quirky sense of humor and brutal honesty illuminated the halls of what had always been considered a stodgy realm.

I recall, during the debate over the 2000 presidential elections, attorney Joseph Klock – arguing on behalf of the state of Florida – embarrassed himself by confusing some of the Supreme Court justice’s names. “For the record,” Scalia told Klock, before questioning him, “I’m Justice Scalia.”

I have to respect Scalia for his knowledge of the law and his willingness to take a stand for his own principles. People who rise to that level within the judiciary maze aren’t the same ones who handle traffic tickets. They are, instead, the most genuine of intellects; the folks who interpret the law when others can’t reach a mutual understanding. They are extraordinarily cerebral and steadfast in their beliefs; incredibly insightful and charming; and – in some cases – dangerous.

Aside from his wit and biting criticisms, Scalia is known for the concept of “originalism” or “textualism” regarding his view of the U.S. Constitution. He openly scoffed at the idea it was a malleable text; instead calling it a “dead document,” as if it had been dipped in amber – like a prehistoric butterfly – and encapsulated in its own perfection. It was not subject to interpretation from its authors’ descendants; lest its structural integrity be cracked and subsequently destroyed.

But, if the U.S. Constitution is a “dead document,” is it still relevant? Purposeful? Necessary? More importantly, if it’s dead, why has it been amended 27 times? I view the Constitution as either a dictionary, in that words are periodically added to it; or as a standard operating procedures manual (SOP), in that procedures are changed in accordance with technological advances. The term “Internet,” for example, didn’t exist a half-century ago, so a Merriam-Webster dictionary published in 1966 wouldn’t feature that word. Similarly, a SOP composed in 1966 for a bank wouldn’t describe the process of scanning paper documents into digital images because such a procedure hadn’t been devised yet. Someone somewhere may have thought of it, but that person was probably a nerdy type ensconced in a basement or a garage.

Aside from painting and writing, there were no audio or visual recording devices when the Constitution was written. Although the concept of photography was devised as early as the 11th century C.E., the first practical photograph was roughly a half-century and an ocean away from being taken by the time of the U.S. Revolution. The first sound recording was almost one hundred years in the future. Therefore, it’s difficult to infer what the Constitution’s framers meant exactly with their verbiage.

As devout Roman Catholics, Scalia and his wife, Maureen, didn’t believe in birth control and had nine children. One of them, Paul, decided to “take one for the team” – in his father’s words – and join the priesthood; thus becoming a conduit to one of the most violent and oppressive institutions on Earth. Like its conspirators, Judaism and Islam, Roman Catholicism (actually, all of Christianity) declared itself the model for humanity centuries ago and set out to conquer and annihilate people it deems heathens. Thus, it commands people to procreate (pollute) the world with their bodies and their toxic ideologies. Every time I think of that “go forth and multiply” biblical shit I think of the late Mother Teresa; the Romanian nun who infiltrated the starving masses of India and announced that she would care for any bitter soul and broken body who came her way; never realizing that the best way to prevent such misery is…oh, maybe teach women to be empowered by keeping their legs crossed, or telling men every erection doesn’t need to produce a child who ultimately can’t be fed and clothed.

Scalia often tried to force his ardent religiosity onto others; his personal beliefs rearing its ugly head in one of the most cumbersome issues of our time: abortion. In eight different opinions, he noted the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention the term “abortion” and therefore, women had no right to it under constitutional concepts.

“You want a right to abortion?” he asked. “There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it.” His reference was that abortion laws should be left strictly up to individual states. He dubbed the legendary Roe v. Wade case an “absurdity,” adding that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment doesn’t guarantee equal protection for women when it comes to the subject of abortion. That’s congruent with the Christian biblical commandment of “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” which – if you read the entire passage – actually begins with “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house,” and everything in it; including said neighbor’s “manservant,” “ox” and “ass.” The Christian Bible, along with the Judaic Torah and the Islamic Quran, considers anyone with a vagina (and many with penises) property – akin to houses and donkeys. The U.S. Supreme Court itself was purportedly designed with Christian theology in mind.

Scalia possessed equal animosity towards homosexuality. In another landmark ruling, Lawrence v. Texas, denigrated the right to sexual relations between consenting adults of the same gender by comparing it to…flagpole-sitting.

“[S]uppose all the States had laws against flagpole sitting at one time, you know, there was a time when it was a popular thing and probably annoyed a lot of communities, and then almost all of them repealed those laws,” Scalia asked the attorney fighting the Texas law. “Does that make flagpole sitting a fundamental right?” His hate for gays and lesbians was so intense that he did something Supreme Court justices rarely do when they write their opinion: he stood and read it himself in the Lawrence case.

He also used the tired old right-wing mantra of comparing homosexuality to murder in Romer v Evans. “Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings,” he wrote. “But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible – murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals – and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct[.]”

But, despite his brilliance, Scalia proved how underhanded he could be in 2004, when he handled a case involving his old college buddy, then-Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2003, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club sued Cheney for access to information regarding his clandestine energy task force meeting in 2001. A Washington, D.C., district judge ruled that the two groups had the right to know who was present at the meeting, in accordance with the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act. Cheney rebuffed the demand and took it to the Supreme Court; whereupon the matter ended up on Scalia’s docket. Shortly before that, however, Scalia and Cheney went on a duck hunting trip together in Kansas, with the jurist riding in the Vice-President’s plane. Such a close relationship smacked of impropriety and bias, but that certainly bothered neither Cheney nor Scalia.

“It did not involve a lawsuit against Dick Cheney as a private individual,” Scalia said. “This was a government issue. It’s acceptable practice to socialize with executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them. That’s all I’m going to say for now. Quack, quack.” Yes, he really did say that, “Quack, quack,” which is essentially giving the middle finger to the concept of impartiality and judicial integrity.

Scalia’s innate bigotry glowed again in his opinion regarding a recent affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin. Referencing some obscure amicus brief, Scalia said that “it does not benefit African-Americans to – to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less – a slower-track school where they do well.” He argued that “most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.” Talking like a psychic-medium, he declared, “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re – that they’re being pushed ahead in – in classes that are too – too fast for them.”

Translation: niggers are too stupid to go to big-time universities. He might as well have said the same about Hispanics and Native Americans. It’s amazing, though, in the 21st century that some people still possess such idiotic views. But, then again, the Word War II generation and those who did everything they could to halt the advance of civil rights haven’t all died out yet. They lost one of their own in Scalia. Good riddance.

Scalia made history as the first Italian-American on the U.S. Supreme Court. Several years ago I read an editorial about jury selection in 1950s-era Dallas County, Texas, which bore this statement from then-Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander: “Do not take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well educated. I may like these people, but they will not do on juries.” The term ‘dago’ refers to Italians.

I find it ironic that Scalia lied in state on the same day as author Harper Lee died. Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains a classic of American literature; a book that dealt brazenly and unapologetically with the subject of racial injustice. Regardless of what one thinks of him, Antonin Scalia carved a deep impact into the consciousness of American society.

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Queers on the Altar

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Last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-gender marriage across the country has resulted in the usual mix of joy and condemnation. A little more than a decade ago the same court ruled, in Lawrence v. Texas, that anti-sodomy laws are not constitutionally enforceable. That decision came less than two decades after the High Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that states can declare same-gender sexual activity illegal.

Writing for the majority in the narrow 5 – 4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and liberty,” according to the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. That amendment was designed initially to grant former Negro slaves the dignity of a human life; that is, they would be considered as equals to Whites. But, the nearly 150 years since, it has come to mean everyone in the United States is considered equal.

In the minority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the Court had taken an “extraordinary step” in deciding not to allow states to decide the issue for themselves, noting that the Constitution doesn’t define marriage. No, it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. But that’s the curious thing about human rights: they’re not to be voted upon; hence the term “rights.”

Reading and listening to the plethora of responses from religious leaders and social conservatives is almost laughable. Even before the gavel fell, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called on fellow Christians to engage in a “biblical disobedience” campaign against the “false god of judicial supremacy.” After the ruling, Huckabee told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

East Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert warned that the Obergefell decision ensures God’s wrath upon the nation. “I will do all I can to prevent such harm,” he said, “but I am gravely fearful that the stage has now been set.” He went on to recommend fleeing the U.S., lest we all get obliterated by a massive hurricane or earthquake or a toenail fungus epidemic.

One of the best reactions came from Texas Senator Ted Cruz who bemoaned, “Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history. Yesterday and today were both naked and shameless judicial activism.”

Aside from the fact Cruz doesn’t understand proper verb-subject agreement, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out some of the darkest periods in American history:

December 29, 1890 – Wounded Knee massacre;

October 28, 1929 – “Black Monday” stock market crash;

December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor attack;

November 22, 1963 – assassination of John F. Kennedy;

March 30, 1981 – attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan;

April 19, 1995 – Oklahoma City bombing;

September 11, 2001 – Al Qaeda terrorist attacks.

Of course, Cruz may not even be aware of these catastrophic events, since…you know, he’s not from this country and probably hasn’t studied American history too much.

In advance of the SCOTUS ruling, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the “Pastor Protection Act,” which would allow religious figures in the Lone Star State the right to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages, calling it a move to protect free speech. But, as soon as the decision was made public, same-sex couples in Texas began flocking to county offices to obtain marriage licenses. Many county officials wouldn’t issue them; claiming they had to await proper instructions from Abbott’s office. Others simply refused for obvious reasons: they don’t like queer folks and felt their religious beliefs were under attack. And we thought Ebola was scary!

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton proclaimed that “no court, no law, no rule and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” He also falls in line with the right-wing mantra that traditional Christian family values are under attack – again – by stating, “This ruling will likely only embolden those who seek to punish people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion.”

Hey, Ken! Take it easy, man! No one’s trying to circumvent your religion. But I know that religion – any religion – doesn’t trump human rights. Whenever they clash, human rights takes precedence – always and forever. Or, it should. Plenty of people feel differently. They equate the two; seeing them as symbiotic. Yet more than a few use their religion as a tool of obstruction and division.

Here’s something else though: for more than a thousand years both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches conducted and sanctified same-gender marriages. Yes, the very same people who burned Joan of Arc to death and blamed Jews for the 14th century’s “Black Plague” may not have had many qualms letting queer people get married. In his groundbreaking 1994 book, “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe,” the late religious historian John Boswell found evidence that some clerics oversaw these types of ceremonies as far back as the 4th century A.D.

One manuscript preserved in the Vatican and dating to 1147 bears this prayer:

“Send down, most kind Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit upon these Thy servants, whom Thou hast found worthy to be united not by nature but by faith and a holy spirit. Grant unto them Thy grace to love each other in joy without injury or hatred all the days of their lives.”

According to Boswell, it’s more than just a prayer; it’s an affirmation of marriage between two men. His extensive research produced more than 60 texts from Paris to St. Petersburg that talked of “spiritual brotherhood” or “adoptive brotherhood.” Boswell, of course, had to translate scores of documents written in antiquitous languages. And, given the difficulty in properly conveying what someone wrote, it’s not fully certain if same-sex marriages actually were allowed in the Byzantine Empire anywhere during the Middle Ages. Some scholars accused Boswell of rewriting history. These “ceremonies” were not rites of marriage, they say, but rather brotherhood-type bonds between men entering the cloistered life.  But the thought is intriguing nonetheless.

Illustration of Saints Serge and Bacchus allegedly united in a same-sex union. Source: Annalee Newitz, “Gay marriage in the year 100 AD,” io9.com, July 29, 2013.

Illustration of Saints Serge and Bacchus allegedly united in a same-sex union. Source: Annalee Newitz, “Gay marriage in the year 100 AD,” io9.com, July 29, 2013.

Among North America’s indigenous peoples, homosexuality and bisexuality were widely accepted and, many cases, revered. Interpretations of various Indian languages have produced the term “two-spirit people.” While some communities clearly mocked such people, others viewed them as uniquely deserving of respect and consideration. There’s no verifiable documentation that actual same-sex marriage ceremonies were performed among Native Americans. But, with the intrusion of Christianity ideology, “two-spirit people” were relegated to obscurity and treated with disdain. Regardless, same-gender unions may not be a just a 20th century concept.

Right-wing claims that same-sex unions pose a danger to traditional marriage, but it’s a dubious argument. Divorce rates in the U.S. had reached near 50% by the 1980s, but then began dropping. Marriage rates, however, have also been dropping. Moreover the greatest threats to marriage should be obvious: poverty and other financial difficulties; unemployment and underemployment; domestic violence; and drug and alcohol abuse.

Once as taboo as homosexuality itself, divorce became more acceptable, beginning in 1969, when California became the first state to enact no-fault divorce. Ironically the law was signed by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, an icon of conservative family values who became the nation’s first and – to date – only divorced president.

The late actress Elizabeth Taylor was married eight times. Former radio personality Larry King was also married eight times, twice to the same woman. Faux singer Britney Spears once married a childhood friend as a joke. Kim Kardashian’s 2010 marriage to Kris Humphries lasted 72 days.

Former Congressman Newt Gingrich (who tried to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998 for lying about an affair with an intern) is married to his third wife. His first two marriages ended in divorced after he was caught having affairs with younger women. He delivered divorce papers to his second wife, while she was recuperating in a hospital from cancer surgery.

I want to point out something more personal. The day after the Obergefell decision, my parents marked their 56th wedding anniversary. They’ve lasted this long, not because they’ve just become stuck to each other, like parasites on a cow, but because they took their marriage vows seriously. They respect one another, have a great sense of humor, and occasionally spend quality time apart. It hasn’t always been easy. Like any married couple, they had their share of arguments and disagreements. But nothing was ever so bad that they had to separate. More importantly, they never felt threatened by any gay or lesbian person. The Obergefell case isn’t going to bring an end to their nearly 60-year union. In their twilight years, they’re more concerned with their own physical health and financial well-being.

In other words, they’re minding their own damn business. I recommend all the malcontents pissed off over the Obergefell case do the same.

Despite a looming rainstorm, gay couples and their families and friends marched down Cedar Springs Road in Dallas to celebrate the same-sex marriage ruling on Friday, June 26.

Despite a looming rainstorm, gay couples and their families and friends marched down Cedar Springs Road in Dallas to celebrate the same-sex marriage ruling on Friday, June 26.

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Civil Righting

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Back in 2002, my then-roommate, Tom,* and I got into a discussion about racial and gender equality.  I stated that all of the various civil rights movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, starting with the abolitionist movement, were necessary to instigate change and make America live up to its declaration as a truly free and inclusive nation.  Tom merely shook his head no in a condescending fashion and said, “Nah,” later adding that eventually people would have “come around” and realize discrimination was wrong.

I looked at him like the fool he was and asked him if he sincerely believed that.  He said he did.  I then recounted the story of my father’s return from Korea in the mid-1950s.  He had been drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to the front lines in the midst of the Korean War.  Among the many friends he made were a large contingent of Black soldiers.  By then, the U.S. armed forces had been forcibly integrated, so a mix of ethnic groups comprised all the various military units.  My father didn’t serve his full two-year stint, as the war ended sooner than most anyone had expected.  He and several of his fellow soldiers arrived in Seattle via ship and then boarded a train to head to their various home cities.  My father was confused when his Black team mates started walking away from.  He called out to them, asking where they were going.  One told him they were headed towards the rear caboose – where Black people had to sit.  As he watched his friends, his brothers-in-arms, saunter down the platform, my father said to himself, “Oh yea, we’re back in America – land of the free.”

Tom just sort of looked at me, not knowing what to say.  He conceded it was wrong, even then, to force Blacks to sit at the back of a bus or a train.  But, he snapped out of his brief foray into actual reasoning and reiterated that eventually White people would have realized how unfair that was.  In other words, we didn’t bus strikes or protests of any kind.  People should have just waited around, hoping for the better.

No one should have to wait for justice and fairness.  Nobody should be straddled to the rocks of oppression and brutality – hoping, praying and begging for those in positions of power and influence to see the light.  Disenfranchised groups in the U.S. had waited for centuries to be treated with dignity and respect and to be given an equal chance to succeed.

I told someone else around the same time as my conversation with Tom that the 1960s exploded with anger and rage because patience had finally run out.  They’d done everything that had been asked of them: they served in the military; they worked hard; they cleaned homes and streets; they obeyed the laws (no matter how discriminatory they were); they tried as best to keep to themselves – everything.  And, they still weren’t given a fair chance.  Blacks still had to sit at the back of the bus; women still had to change their last names when they got married and still had to have children; Indians still had to live in squalor on reservations; gays and lesbians still had to suppress their true identities.

And so, by the 1960s, everything just sort of erupted at once.  If change didn’t come through peace and hard work, then it had to be forced.  America was compelled to fulfill its proclamation as a nation of freedom and opportunity.  It no longer had a choice in the matter.  The time had come to change – whether some folks liked it or not.

It was curious to hear Tom speak of racial and gender equality and inequality.  He was a mix of German and Cherokee; from a small, nondescript community in far northeast Texas.  We discussed the plight of Indigenous Americans more than once.  He felt that Indians could have fought back against European encroachers because they also had men.  I noted that Europeans had two primary advantages: guns and horses.  Moreover, they’d adopted both gunpowder and horse-riding skills from the Chinese.  Tom wasn’t moved.  And, I told him he now had the distinction of falling into two unique groups: those who aren’t educated about a subject and those who don’t want to be educated.  That’s actually a rarity, but one that persists even now; in this second decade of the 21st century with a biracial U.S. president and a shrinking White majority.

Attitudes really are hard to change.

*Name changed.

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A Magna Carta in Houston

A copy of the original “Magna Carta.”

A copy of the original “Magna Carta.”

For the first time in its known history, the legendary “Magna Cartawill leave its birth place of England and arrive in the United States.  Originally issued on June 15, 1215, in a field at Runnymeade by King John, the revered document is a considered a hallmark of democracy with its multiple declarations of various freedoms; including an acknowledgement that taxes cannot be arbitrary, free men cannot be imprisoned without first being judged by their peers, and that justice cannot be delayed or denied.  King John was just trying to avert a civil war, when confronted by scores of rebellious land barons; a clash that erupted anyway, when Pope Innocent III nullified it 10 weeks later.  Somehow, though, the item itself survived.  Copies of the original made in 1217 are kept at the Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust.

Now, one of those versions will go on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

“These are truly rare and ancient documents,” said Catherine F. Patterson, a British historian at the University of Houston.  “They are national treasures that have been guarded for centuries and don’t typically leave England’s shores.”

The “Magna Carta” later formed the basis for English common law and is often cited as a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution.  It’s ironic, though, since the medieval treatise applied only to wealthy landowners.  Nonetheless, it remains a historic item.

The exhibit is scheduled to open in February and last for 6 months.  Hopefully, it’ll make people focus on the realities of democracy’s foundations and the struggles for true freedoms.

“People in their minds have the Disney version where the king wakes up one day and says, ‘I have a great idea,’” said Joel Bartsch, the museum’s president and CEO.  “When they come to the museum, they get the real version.”

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Six Years and That’s It!

There’s an old saying in Washington, D.C., that presidents spend their first four years in the Oval Office running for reelection and the second four building their legacy.  The ratification of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1951 limits the president to two four-year terms.  Its genesis was the tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt who won a remarkable four consecutive elections and, as the beleaguered Archie Bunker once said, “[held] onto the job like the Pope.”

Currently, there are twenty-seven amendments to the U.S. Constitution; the last one, proposed in 1789 and not ratified until 1992, preventing laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until the beginning of the next session of Congress.

After struggling to watch and digest both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, I propose a twenty-ninth amendment: a U.S. president’s term shall be limited to one six-year stint.  Six years and that’s it!  You’re done; finished; complete.  You can start writing your biography and building your library.  If it’s good enough for México, it’s good enough for the United States.

Every incumbent president since Richard Nixon has spent way too much time and energy during their fourth full year in office hoping to keep the position.  Ronald Reagan almost dropped dead during his reelection campaign because he was so old and feeble, and apparently Bill Clinton got so sexually frustrated during his that he ended up feeding an intern the hard way.  Okay, those are just my opinions, but seriously folks!  As the symbolic leader of the free world, in a nation with the oldest constitution on Earth, our president needs to be focused on the tasks at hand.

President Obama, for example, keeps trying to explain why the U.S. economy is still so bad, while still trying to fix it.  He’s squeezing campaign stops in between deciding whether to drop a bomb on Syria, or send in the Marines.  If we had that one six-year term deal in effect and Obama had been elected, say in 2006, he’d already be scheduling sessions with his ghost writer and consulting with the Chinese architects for his library in downtown Chicago.  Then, he could say to hell with it and drop that bomb on Syria and not worry if it’s going to piss off the coveted Syrian-American vote.

If anything, our presidents won’t leave office looking so old and frazzled.  They could actually get more sleep during that fourth year in office because they won’t be up for reelection.  They could still build a grand legacy during six whole years in office.  Of course, they usually spend the remainder of their lives trying to defend it.

I’m not a political scientist, or even a journalist.  I’m just an average American citizen who’s grown tired of the sludge fests that have accompanied our national elections over the past twenty years or so.  But, I’d still like to get some feedback on this proposal.  What do you think?

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