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The Involved Citizen - Common Sense Revisited

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Rapid Response for MONDAY through THURSDAY, November 19 through 22, 2018

THIS ARTICLE IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST-READ, IF YOU CARE ABOUT WHERE WE ARE AS A NATION.
"America's Cold Civil War", by Charles R. Kesler, (in Imprimis, Hillsdale.edu, October, 2018).
It is reprinted below in its entirety.

There are three kinds of people: people who make things happen; people who watch things happen; and people who are constantly saying..."Wha Hoppen".
Which kind are you?

GS

America’s Cold Civil War
 
Imprimis, October 2018 • Volume 47, Number 10 • Charles R. Kesler   
 
Charles R. Kesler
Editor, Claremont Review of Books

Charles R. Kesler is the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and editor of the Claremont Review of Books. He earned his bachelor’s degree in social studies and his A.M. and Ph.D. in government from Harvard University. A senior fellow at the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and a recipient of the 2018 Bradley Prize, he is the editor of several books, including Keeping the Tablets: Modern American Conservative Thought (with William F. Buckley Jr.), and the author of I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Future of Liberalism.

The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on September 27, 2018, during a two-week teaching residency as a Eugene C. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Journalism.

Six years ago I wrote a book about Barack Obama in which I predicted that modern American liberalism, under pressures both fiscal and philosophical, would either go out of business or be forced to radicalize. If it chose the latter, I predicted, it could radicalize along two lines: towards socialism or towards an increasingly post-modern form of leadership. Today it is doing both. As we saw in Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the youngest generation of liberals is embracing socialism openly—something that would have been unheard of during the Cold War. At the same time, identity politics is on the ascendant, with its quasi-Nietzschean faith in race, sex, and power as the keys to being and meaning. In the #MeToo movement, for example—as we saw recently in Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle—the credo is, “Believe the woman.” In other words, truth will emerge not from an adversarial process weighing evidence and testimony before the bar of reason, but from yielding to the will of the more politically correct. “Her truth” is stronger than any objective or disinterested truth.

In the Claremont Review of Books, we have described our current political scene as a cold civil war. A cold civil war is better than a hot civil war, but it is not a good situation for a country to be in. Underlying our cold civil war is the fact that America is torn increasingly between two rival constitutions, two cultures, two ways of life.

Political scientists sometimes distinguish between normal politics and regime politics. Normal politics takes place within a political and constitutional order and concerns means, not ends. In other words, the ends or principles are agreed upon; debate is simply over means. By contrast, regime politics is about who rules and for what ends or principles. It questions the nature of the political system itself. Who has rights? Who gets to vote? What do we honor or revere together as a people? I fear America may be leaving the world of normal politics and entering the dangerous world of regime politics—a politics in which our political loyalties diverge more and more, as they did in the 1850s, between two contrary visions of the country.

One vision is based on the original Constitution as amended. This is the Constitution grounded in the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. It has been transmitted to us with significant Amendments—some improvements and some not—but it is recognizable still as the original Constitution. To simplify matters we may call this “the conservative Constitution”—with the caveat that conservatives have never agreed perfectly on its meaning and that many non-conservatives remain loyal to it.

The other vision is based on what Progressives and liberals, for 100 years now, have called “the living Constitution.” This term implies that the original Constitution is dead—or at least on life support—and that in order to remain relevant to our national life, the original Constitution must be infused with new meaning and new ends and therefore with new duties, rights, and powers. To cite an important example, new administrative agencies must be created to circumvent the structural limitations that the original Constitution imposed on government.

As a doctrine, the living Constitution originated in America’s new departments of political and social science in the late nineteenth century—but it was soon at the very forefront of Progressive politics. One of the doctrine’s prime formulators, Woodrow Wilson, had contemplated as a young scholar a series of constitutional amendments to reform America’s national government into a kind of parliamentary system—a system able to facilitate faster political change. But he quickly realized that his plan to amend the Constitution was going nowhere. Plan B was the living Constitution. While keeping the outward forms of the old Constitution, the idea of a living Constitution would change utterly the spirit in which the Constitution was understood.

The resulting Constitution—let us call it “the liberal Constitution”—is not a constitution of natural rights or individual human rights, but of historical or evolutionary right. Wilson called the spirit of the old Constitution Newtonian, after Isaac Newton, and that of the new Constitution Darwinian, after Charles Darwin. By Darwinian, Wilson meant that instead of being difficult to amend, the liberal Constitution would be easily amenable to experimentation and adjustment. To paraphrase the late Walter Berns, the point of the old Constitution was to keep the times in tune with the Constitution; the purpose of the new is to keep the Constitution in tune with the times.

Until the 1960s, most liberals believed it was inevitable that their living Constitution would replace the conservative Constitution through a kind of slow-motion evolution. But during the sixties, the so-called New Left abandoned evolution for revolution, and partly in reaction to that, defenders of the old Constitution began not merely to fight back, but to call for a return to America’s first principles. By seeking to revolve back to the starting point, conservatives proved to be Newtonians after all—and also, in a way, revolutionaries, since the original meaning of revolution is to return to where you began, as a celestial body revolves in the heavens.

The conservative campaign against the inevitable victory of the living Constitution gained steam as a campaign against the gradual or sudden disappearance of limited government and of republican virtue in our political life. And when it became clear, by the late 1970s and 1980s, that the conservatives weren’t going away, the cold civil war was on.

***

Confronted by sharper, deeper, and more compelling accounts of the conservative Constitution, the liberals had to sharpen—that is, radicalize—their own alternative, following the paths paved by the New Left. As a result, the gap between the liberal and conservative Constitutions became a gulf, to the extent that today we are two countries—or we are fast on the road to becoming two countries—each constituted differently.

Consider a few of the contrasts. The prevailing liberal doctrine of rights traces individual rights to membership in various groups—racial, ethnic, gender, class-based, etc.—which are undergoing a continual process of consciousness-raising and empowerment. This was already a prominent feature of Progressivism well over a century ago, though the groups have changed since then. Before Woodrow Wilson became a politician, he wrote a political science textbook, and the book opened by asking which races should be studied. Wilson answered: we’ll study the Aryan race, because the Aryan race is the one that has mastered the world. The countries of Europe and the Anglophone countries are the conquerors and colonizers of the other continents. They are the countries with the most advanced armaments, arts, and sciences.

Wilson was perhaps not a racist in the full sense of the term, because he expected the less advanced races over time to catch up with the Aryan race. But his emphasis was on group identity—an emphasis that liberals today retain, the only difference being that the winning and losing sides have been scrambled. Today the white race and European civilization are the enemy—“dead white males” is a favored pejorative on American campuses—and the races and groups that were oppressed in the past are the ones that today need compensation, privileges, and power.

Conservatives, by contrast, regard the individual as the quintessential endangered minority. They trace individual rights to human nature, which lacks a race. Human nature also lacks ethnicity, gender, and class. Conservatives trace the idea of rights to the essence of an individual as a human being. We have rights because we’re human beings with souls, with reason, distinct from other animals and from God. We’re not beasts, but we’re not God—we’re the in-between being. Conservatives seek to vindicate human equality and liberty—the basis for majority rule in politics—against the liberal Constitution’s alternative, in which everything is increasingly based on group identity.

There is also today a vast divergence between the liberal and conservative understandings of the First Amendment. Liberals are interested in transforming free speech into what they call equal speech, ensuring that no one gets more than his fair share. They favor a redistribution of speech rights via limits on campaign contributions, repealing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and narrowing the First Amendment for the sake of redistribution of speech rights from the rich to the poor. Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform called for amending the First Amendment!

There is, of course, also a big difference between the liberal Constitution’s freedom from religion and the conservative Constitution’s freedom of religion. And needless to say, the liberal Constitution has no Second Amendment.

In terms of government structure, the liberal Constitution is designed to overcome the separation of powers and most other checks and balances. Liberals consistently support the increased ability to coordinate, concentrate, and enhance government power—as opposed to dividing, restricting, or checking it. This is to the detriment of popular control of government. In recent decades, government power has flowed mainly through the hands of unelected administrators and judges—to the point that elected members of Congress find themselves increasingly dispirited and unable to legislate. As the Financial Times put it recently, “Congress is a sausage factory that has forgotten how to make sausages.”

***

If one thinks about how America’s cold civil war could be resolved, there seem to be only five possibilities. One would be to change the political subject. Ronald Reagan used to say that when the little green men arrive from outer space, all of our political differences will be transcended and humanity will unite for the first time in human history. Similarly, if some jarring event intervenes—a major war or a huge natural calamity—it might reset our politics.

A second possibility, if we can’t change the subject, is that we could change our minds. Persuasion, or some combination of persuasion and moderation, might allow us to end or endure our great political division. Perhaps one party or side will persuade a significant majority of the electorate to embrace its Constitution, and thus win at the polling booth and in the legislature. For generations, Republicans have longed for a realigning election that would turn the GOP into America’s majority party. This remains possible, but seems unlikely. Only two presidents in the twentieth century were able to effect enduring changes in American public opinion and voting patterns—Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. FDR inspired a political realignment that lasted for a generation or so and lifted the Democratic Party to majority status. Ronald Reagan inspired a realignment of public policy, but wasn’t able to make the GOP the majority party.

Since 1968, the norm in America has been divided government: the people have more often preferred to split control of the national government between the Democrats and the Republicans rather than entrust it to one party. This had not previously been the pattern in American politics. Prior to 1968, Americans would almost always (the exceptions proved the rule) entrust the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Presidency to the same party in each election. They would occasionally change the party, but still they would vote for a party to run the government. Not so for the last 50 years. And neither President Obama nor President Trump, so far, has persuaded the American electorate to embrace his party as their national representative, worthy of long-term patriotic allegiance.

Trump, of course, is new to this, and his party in Congress is basically pre-Trumpian. He did not win the 2016 election by a very large margin, and he was not able to bring many new Republicans into the House or the Senate. Nonetheless, he has the opportunity now to put his mark on the party. In trying to do so, his populism—which is not a word he uses—will not be enough. He will have to reach out to the existing Republican Party as he has done, adopt some of its agenda, adopt its electoral supporters, and gradually bring them around to his “America first” conservatism if he is to have any chance of achieving a political realignment. And the odds remain against him at this point.

As for moderating our disagreements and learning to live with them more or less permanently, that too seems unlikely given their fundamental nature and the embittered trajectory of our politics over the last two decades.

So if we won’t change our minds, and if we can’t change the subject, we are left with only three other ways out of the cold civil war. The happiest of the three would be a vastly reinvigorated federalism. One of the original reasons for constitutional federalism was that the states had a variety of interests and views that clashed with one another and could not be pursued in common. If we had a re-flowering of federalism, some of the differences between blue states and red states could be handled discreetly by the states themselves. The most disruptive issues could be denationalized. The problem is, having abandoned so much of traditional federalism, it is hard to see how federalism could be revived at this late juncture.

That leaves two possibilities. One, alas, is secession, which is a danger to any federal system—something about which James Madison wrote at great length in The Federalist Papers. With any federal system, there is the possibility that some states will try to leave it. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have gone their separate ways peacefully, just within the last generation. But America is much better at expansion than contraction. And George Washington’s admonitions to preserve the Union, I think, still miraculously somehow linger in our ears. So secession would be extremely difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is that it could lead, as we Americans know from experience, to the fifth and worst possibility: hot civil war.

Under present circumstances, the American constitutional future seems to be approaching some kind of crisis—a crisis of the two Constitutions. Let us pray that we and our countrymen will find a way to reason together and to compromise, allowing us to avoid the worst of these dire scenarios—that we will find, that is, the better angels of our nature.

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Rapid Response for FRIDAY, August 31, 2018


THE VIETNAM WAR: A DOCUMENTARY BY KEN BURNS:
MY COMMENTARY ON THAT “POLICE ACTION” AND ON ITS CONTINUING AFTERMATH.

Worse and more consequential than the Civil War, the Vietnam War was a disaster while in progress…and one that has had long-lasting effects that hobble this nation to the present time. Those of us who lived through it and who have lived with its effects since then need no reminder about the veracity of this opinion. Those who have not would benefit from viewing all of the episodes of Burns’ 2017 documentary.

What follows is my personal review of that documentary, of its historical facts, of the consequences during the last 45 years, and of the tears and rage that effort produced in me in the process.
  1. Vietnam and its people had been through centuries of efforts to gain freedom and independence from outsiders. The French colonization began in the 1860’s, the most recent and nearly century-long challenge to that goal. Those efforts continued after WW l, when a young Ho Chi Minh tried to get President Wilson’s attention to apply the President’s high-sounding statements to block further colonization. He was afforded no contact and no help. It was then that Ho embraced Communism as possibly a better way to obtain freedom for his people from French colonization.
  2. World War II, with the Japanese and Chinese designs on Viet Nam and on all of Indochina, was followed by French President De Gaulle’s threatening a reluctant President Truman that he would join the Soviet sphere if Truman did not support France’s continued colonization after the war. Then came the great French defeat by the Vietnamese in 1954.
  3. Then came a succession of U.S. Presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) who serially lied to the American People regarding the disastrous effects our “police action” was having on the Vietnamese people and also on our nation. The rationale for these actions was the “Domino Effect” that the ever – expanding Communist Russia and China seemed to have settled into. Had the proposition been brought honestly to the American People, they would likely have agreed to that rationale…so long as they were keep apprised of the “action’s “ progress, effects and likely outcome. None of that took place, while our “leaders” lied and lied for years, as the increasing disaster unfolded.  That was the level of confidence that our leaders had on the American People. The “dissembling miscreants” included Secretary of Defense McNamara, General Westmoreland, Henry Kissinger, and many others.
  4. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese were subjected to wholesale destruction at the hands of corrupt national leaders, by constant invasion by Communist Viet Cong supported by Communist China and Russias88…and by increasingly deadly but feckless American military action committed to their “salvation” beginning in 1960. The result was over 50,000 American military deaths, over 2 million Vietnamese deaths, the destruction of South Vietnam, and its loss – as well as of much of Indochina to the Communists. It also resulted in the violent divisions of Americans and their radicalization at home, the massive introduction of a Drug Culture, many tens of thousands of “walking wounded” since then, the general loss of faith in government – and in authority in general. Lingering effects include devaluation of family life, a return of racism, a broad sense of “entitlement” without corresponding personal responsibility, a debasement of public education and internal deep political divisions that enabled the rise of terrorism, 9-11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Isis, and a recent President who worked toward the enfeeblement of America vis a vis the rest of the world.
  5. The Vietnam War was a disaster worse for America than the Civil War. It brings to mind the increasingly effective invasions of the Germanic “hords” into the Rome of antiquity and the serial insanity of some of its Emperors, leading to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. That took over 400 years. We are half – way there, if we do not embrace the efforts of our current transparent and effective outsider to
Make America Great Again.
George A. Sprecace., M.D., J.D.

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Rapid Response for FRIDAY, May 11, 2018

HAVE YOU VIEWED THE NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY
"TRUMP. AN AMERICAN DREAM"?
That term, Documentary, could easily be placed in quotation marks, in view of its persistently negative tone.
Nevertheless, it is worth viewing as a jaded presentation of the making of Donald Trump. The contempt (read "envy") began soon after the son left the successful father in Brooklyn to make his mark in Manhattan despite the desperate times of the 1970's. He began with nothing but his name - and the perpetual desire of Wall Street types and their political whores to make money - with the conversion of the failed Commodore Hotel to the Grand Hyatt. In this effort as in others through the years, he used the legal methods available to all. But he used them in astounding ways (like the 40 billion dollar tax abatement from New York City for the hotel and a second massive abatement for the Trump Tower - that supported by a unanimous New York State Court of Appeals)...and the Bankruptcy Laws in Atlantic City. He was beating them at their own game...and they hated it to this day. He also demonstrated the truism " If you owe the bank a LOT of money, you own the bank". He became "too big to fail".
He came from a cohesive family, tried to be a family man...with limited initial success until his current cohesive family. He was single-minded to WIN, or not to play. Not an altar boy...but not the "sociopath" that he is accused of being by the jackals opining in this piece.
When he decided that he could win the Presidency of the United States, he ran...and WON.
No "Casper Milque-Toast", he. Thank God for that in today's world.

GS

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Rapid Response for WEDNESDAY, April 4, 2018

ENDURING TRUTHS.
Is anybody listening?

GS

ABRAHAM LINCOLN:
"You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, 1935:
"Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber.
To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit."

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Rapid Response for WEDNESDAY, October 25, 2017

"THE VIETNAM WAR",
A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick...
and an unmitigated disaster by France, England, our OSS / CIA, the Vietnamese people, China, Russia, and our deluded and dissembling leaders.
(See also my initial comment in this section dated Oct. 9, 2017).

I have now viewed and studied the first two of ten "episodes" of this TV documentary on DVD. I seriously doubt whether I will view any more, since my memory is very clear and pained about the events that occurred between 1963 and 1973. The Vietnam War was America's greatest self-inflicted wound since the Civil War. And it keeps on giving.

The modern era of Vietnam's troubles dates back to the 1860's when France invaded and occupied "Indochina" with typical colonial arrogance - in the face of its peoples' desire for independence. At the end of WWI, when Woodrow Wilson was expounding about "the end of colonialism" and when a young Ho Chi Min sent him a letter seeking his help on behalf of the Vietnamese people, someone made sure that Wilson never received it. As the French continued their occupation, Min became enamored of Communism. During WWII, Vietnam was brutally occupied by the Japanese.

After the war, President Truman was also sent a request from Ho Chi Min for help. And once again this letter was not delivered to Truman. Meanwhile, the Russians obtained the atomic bomb, the Korean War began, and the "Domino Theory" flowered. Based on these issues and on President DeGaulle's and English insistence, the U.S. went along with continued French occupation...even after their army was routed in 1954 by Min's peoples' army. A few years later, President Diem began an autocratic leadership of the Vietnamese from Saigon, including suppression of Buddhism, whose followers made up the majority of worshipers.

Thus, the battlefield involved Colonialism vs. Independence, Communism vs. Western values, North Vietnam seeking union with the South under Communism, the Viet Cong vs. Diem's increasingly conflicted forces, Diem vs his own citizens and belatedly vs. America. American "advisors" had increased in numbers from 40 to 600 to 10,000, etc. And now President Kennedy was beset early in his term by an ineffectual meeting with N. Kruschev, the Berlin Wall and the Cuba crisis. He felt that he could not retreat from and possibly lose all of Southeast Asia as dominoes fell. Strategic errors in the fields of battle encountered a progressively emboldened Viet Cong. And America waited too long before removing Diem. So the war took on a distinctly political aspect as the Civil Rights Movement exploded onto the American scene, sharing time and space with increasingly disturbing views and stories of the war in progress. Our leaders began lying to their citizens. And then President John Kennedy was assassinated.
The next 10 years were progressively worse. And then came the fall-out during the last 40 years for America and Americans to the present day.

That is the story - and the legacy - of Vietnam. God Help Us.

GS

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Rapid Response for SUNDAY, June 29, 2014

SOCIALISM: THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ANSWER TO "INEQUALITY".

"Socialism: any of various economic and political theories or social systems based on collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." (from Webster's New Explorer College Dictionary, 2003).

Apart from their efforts to "put lipstick on a pig", this is exactly what this administration is attempting at every opportunity, as it consciously increases the percentage of the American population on the dole in one form or another (read ObamaCare)...and as it consciously increases the number of new inhabitants in this country who often have no other recourse (read: 50,000 + newly arrived Latino children over our Southern border). Their justification for all of this is "inequality" of outcome.  But equality of outcome in society, as distinguished from equality of opportunity,  is an impossibility as witnessed throughout the world - both without and within Socialist structures.  Indeed, merely the sustained effort to produce equality of outcome robs the society of the means of achieving equality of opportunity.  A recent important article on this subject by an author who has witnessed this throughout the world "up close and personal" is: "THE WORLDVIEW THAT MAKES THE UNDERCLASS", by Anthony Daniels, printed in Imprimis, by Hillsdale.EDU, May/June 2014 - Volume 43, Number 5/6. 

Given this situation with this administration, it is no wonder - rather it is mandatory - that division and disunity are the rule of  the day.  The above worldview and goals are UN-AMERICAN by any honest definition of our American identity and must be overcome by every legitimate means.

GS

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Rapid Response for TUESDAY through SATURDAY, June 24 through 28, 2014

STATE OF THE UNION: DIVIDED WE STAND

In a recent Rapid Response comment, I stated my opinion that…far from worrying about and cursing the divided state of today’s electorate and its leadership…we should embrace it as a sign of involvement and energy on behalf of ourselves and our nation.  Indeed, it has always been thus from before the beginning of our national identity.  It has made us strong while providing a safety valve whose absence would have defeated us from within.

The American colonists before 1776 and even throughout the American Revolution were certainly not of one mind.  Fully 30% of Americans during that period were and remained Loyalists, fighting against the revolutionaries and suffering severe personal consequences afterwards.  Thus the “American Revolution” could be alternatively called our First Civil War.

The Declaration of Independence supported States’ Rights, Slavery and the right of individual States to secede from the “Union”.  That “Union” was very soon a subject of severe – temporarily political and personal – conflict between the likes of Hamilton and Washington vs Jefferson and Madison on the question of a strong central government vs. an amalgamation of independent States.   Before and during the War of 1812, several New England States took actual steps to secede in order to protect their business interests.  Thus, it can be argued that the Founding Fathers created the “United States”.  I took later action to create “America”.

That action came in the form and in the laser-like determination of Abraham Lincoln.  President Lincoln did not embrace a (second?) Civil War to free the slaves. Nor was he interested in acknowledging the right of individual States to secede.  His one goal was to “preserve the Union”, or rather to establish once and for all such an actual “Union”: The United States of America”.  In the face of determined, often violent and ultimately personally lethal objection, Lincoln did whatever was necessary to achieve that end.  Some describe his actions as despotic and dictatorial. Presumably he considered that a continued loose alliance of sovereign States would ultimately devolve into the chronically sick model of the European States.  With such an analysis I entirely agree.  Please see the following book, surely iconoclastic for many: “The Real Lincoln”, by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2002 – 2003.

Then came Reconstruction, the height of the Industrial Revolution, the Robber Barons, America’s forays into imperialism, our ambivalence toward both WW 1 and a decade of clear signs of danger leading up to WW 11.  During all of these times Americans were divided. But their divisions were channeled in the court of public opinion and in political activity.  This avoided a Civil War 3.
The danger today is not in our divisions.  In fact, poll figures provided in an opinion piece by Charles M. Blow entitled “The Frustratioin Doctrine” suggest that we may be more united (“us vs. them”) now than in a long time (NYTimes Op-Ed, June 23, 2014).  The danger is in our losing the traditional organs of public opinion, the Free Press, as the media prostitute themselves to one side or another in the disputes.  The danger is in our losing the responsiveness of our elected leaders as they seem guided only by their perceived requirements for re-election (ie. massive amounts of money, regardless of the quid pro quo always involved), and by their commitment to becoming rich in the process.  In the face of these risks, international dangers – although great -  pale by comparison.  The real danger is from within – frustration that could lead to Civil War 3.  This is not hyperbole.

So…what is the message? “VIVE LA DIFFERENCE”.  So long as we correct and maintain the safety valves that have served us in the past.

GS



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