Category Archives: Government

Survival of the Republic

Is progress really beneficial? I’ve been contemplating that–seriously–and I’m not sure.

George Washington was unanimously elected by the Electoral College. The initial idea was to avoid political parties. The candidate with the most votes became president, and the second place became Vice President. Therefore, George Washington became President and John Adams the Vice President.

After Washington served two terms, John Adams was elected the president, with Thomas Jefferson in second place and therefore the Vice President. The next election, Jefferson opposed Adams, won, and became president. Voila, the effort to avoid political parties died.

John Adams, who was one of the driving forces for independency, as it was called at the time, was described by others as “obnoxious and disliked.” His personality was matched by a short, rotund body, with few teeth. He might have been brilliant, but was not, in any way, attractive.

If Adams made a harsh comment, in those days, it would have merited little notice. Newspapers of the time were small and printed weekly or less. President Adams pronouncements would have been little noticed outside of Washington, DC.

Today, every comment, statement, quote, burp, or fart is immediately broadcast across the world with video of the incident, commentary, point and counterpoint within minutes.

Washington might survive today’s news cycle. Adams and his successor, Thomas Jefferson, probably wouldn’t.

Think about that. Think about the republic without Adams and Jefferson because of 24/7 cable news. I’m not saying it’s better or worse–I’m just asking you to think about it.

Are we better off today?

Is the Electoral College Leftover from Slavery?

I read a lot. I read all kinds of material, because it makes me think. I prefer not to rely on “echo chambers” that only reflect the ideas I already have.

I’d always been taught that the purpose was to ensure that smaller states were not drowned out by the larger states. It’s a clumsy system that has resulted in a number of elections in which the winner did not receive the most votes. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to accept that the electoral college was an effort to ensure fairness.

Now however, I’ve read a few things that challenge that belief.

Electoral votes for each state are based on the states total representation in Congress–senators and representatives. Each state gets two senators, but the number of representatives is based on population. However, for roughly the first century of the country, slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person.

Slaves could not vote, of course, but they counted toward representatives and therefore to the number of electors. In essence, slave states ended up with a disproportionate amount of influence in choosing presidents.

Was this coincidental?

Is anything in politics coincidental?

Absentee vs Mail-In Voting

I have heard people postulate that in the upcoming election, foreign countries will flood America with “millions of phony ballots.”

When I vote in person, the poll workers compare my name and address with the voter registration printout. If I didn’t register, I don’t get to vote. If my information isn’t an exact match, I don’t get to vote. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of identification I present. If all the pieces don’t match, I don’t get to vote.

When I was deployed, I voted by absentee ballot, which was mailed from a foreign country. The return address was a vague APO AE  military post office that gave no hint as to the country from which I mailed it. There wasn’t even a stamp with a postmark on it because it was franked–my signature and unit, which gave very little actual information, took the place of a stamp.

When my absentee ballot arrived, the registrar’s office compared my information to what was on their records to make sure it matched the voters’ rolls. Only then was my vote counted.

On the other hand, if I vote by mail, there is an outer envelope for mailing, an inner envelope, and the ballot. The outer envelope indicates that my ballot came from the street, house number, city, and state where I live. The postmark gives some validation to that information. The inner envelope contains a bar code, a control number, my signature, and other identifying data. If–and only if–everything checks out, is the ballot removed from the envelope and counted.

However, if foreign governments DID flood the US with “millions of phony ballots,” they couldn’t use foreign postage stamps. So, if there were 10 million phony ballots in envelopes with US postage stamps at 55 cents each, that would be an additional $5.5 million in revenues for the United States Postal Service, all without making any difference in the US election.

Oath to the U.S. Constitution

I served as an officer in the United States Navy.

I am currently a federal civilian employee.

I took the following oath to the United States Constitution:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, 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.

Not only did I take the oath “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion” but I took it with pride.

I am bound by that oath and will be for the rest of my life.

Please note that there is nothing in the oath requiring me to blindly obey any and every order. There’s a reason for this–I am expected to refuse any illegal order.

After World War Two, many Nazis attempted to defend their brutality by claiming that they were only following orders. That defense is insulting.

Why am I writing this? I read “Illegal Order” and the linked news story dated 26 July 2020 on https://diogenestoday.com/

 

Becoming a Luddite

I have always appreciated technology. I had one of the very first home computers (RCA Cosmac 1802 processor with 256 BYTES–yes, bytes–of memory and a hexadecimal keypad). At last count, I have five computers running in the house. That does not count smartphones, iPads, Kindles, or any devices belonging to other family members.

Every time I turn on the television, the radio, or check online news I get frustrated. It doesn’t matter your political views or whether you like masks or not. It doesn’t matter as to your religious views or lack thereof. The world has raised stupidity to an art form.

If I touch a hot stove, I immediately remove my hand and avoid the heated element. If I taste something nasty, I spit it out and don’t consume any more. If the news disgusts me . . . .

So, don’t expect me to be writing a lot. If I do, it will be written using a real fountain pen in my renowned, mostly illegible, chicken scratch.

Trump Property Deals

In August 2019, it was widely reported that Donald Trump had floated the idea of buying Greenland. Greenland is a self-governing overseas administrative division of The Kingdom of Denmark. The Danish Prime Minister called the idea “absurd.”

In 2017, after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, Donald Trump floated the idea of selling it, according to former acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke. Puerto Rico is a US territory whose people are US citizens.

There is NO truth to rumors that Trump is currently attempting to sell California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and other Democratic leaning states.

Pandemic Update – 5 July 2020

As I watch the statistics–new COVID-19 cases and new COVID-19 deaths–there are other observations that present themselves. One is that every weekend the numbers fall in comparison to the weekdays. I attribute this to delays in reporting. Weekend staffing in hospitals and government agencies tend to be lower than during the week, so the cases and deaths get added after the weekend. Numbers tend to run higher early in the week, which I believe is to catch up for the weekend.

Although new cases are increasing in many areas, deaths continue to decline. Among those with the most new cases, Florida started to climb about 24 June, Arizona’s cases began increasing 16 June, with a similar trend in South Carolina. North Carolina, on the other hand, has been on a steady rise since March.

I thought there might be an increase after the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and I used Minnesota, Washington state, and the District of Columbia as likely examples. I saw no dramatic increases. These demonstrations began 25 May, so we’ve been through two incubation cycles. On television, it appeared that many demonstrators maintained wore masks.

I have no idea where things are headed and I make no sweeping claims based on the statistics I’ve been tracking. However, I believe that facts are important and they are the first step toward solving any problem, including the pandemic.

 

I’m Feeling Petty (or is it Petit?)

The Supreme Court of the United States grapples with many important issues and “hands down” their rulings. “Handing down” is meant to imply something like dealing with the gods on Mount Olympus.

However, I do wonder why, when nine of the greatest(?) legal minds are put together, why do they disagree so often? Why are so many decisions 5-4?

Oh.

Silly me.

Politics.

When I took business law in college, the professor advised us never to confuse justice with fairness. The judicial system, he explained, was not fair and was merely a mechanism to resolve disagreements without resorting to duels, trial by combat, or shootouts in the street at high noon.

A pity, as resolving disputes would be far more interesting with those methods. A good shootout would be interesting to watch. The Supreme Court? Not so much.

In any case, today the Supreme Court ruled that adding “.com” to any word makes that word+”.com” copyrightable. Therefore, I’m putting all of you on notice.

Be aware that sfnowak.com is copyrighted. Don’t try to steal it. It’s illegal to do so. The Supreme Court says so. Neener neener neener!

Besides, why in the world would you want to?

He Deserves a Statue!

Although many statues representing the Civil War are rightfully being removed,  the most significant individual of that time lacks a statue.

Ladies and gentlemen! May I present Wilmer McLean!

Haven’t heard of him? And you call yourself a history buff?

Wilmer McLean was a green grocer in Manassas, Virginia who, in his younger days, had served as an officer of the Virginia militia. Confederate General Beauregard was using McLean’s home as his headquarters when the first shots of the Civil War–the battle the North calls the first Battle of Bull Run while the South calls it +the first Battle of Manassas–occurred at McLean’s farm.

His home was bombarded by union shells. One cannonball dropped down the chimney, destroying the dinner that was being prepared for McLean and the general.

Shortly after the battle, for a variety of reasons, including business, McLean decided to move to Southern Virginia. However, his karma seemed to be in overdrive. A few years later, in 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant sent a messenger to find a suitable location for Grant to meet with Robert E. Lee to discuss surrender. The messenger found a house that might do, knocked on the door , and Wilmer McLean grudgingly agreed.

So, the Civil War started at McLean’s home, he moved, only to have the Civil War end at his new home.

Thanks to Guy D. McCardle, Jr. for jostling my memory on this fascinating Civil War fact.

Juneteenth

The South’s “Peculiar Institution”of slavery allowed wealthy property owners to have millions of laborers work without pay. Not only was this free labor valuable, but selling the children of slaves was profitable as well.

The American Civil War was initially fought by the North to preserve the Union. This was after years of conflict, both in the legislature and elsewhere, regarding slavery, especially regarding which new states endorsed their citizens to buy and sell human beings.

The Civil War began on 12 April 1861. Under his war powers, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in all states engaged in armed conflict with the Union on 1 January 1863. Any slave who reached Union territory or if Union military lines reached them, they were, by law, free.

The South ignored the Emancipation Proclamation, even when the war ended. In Galveston, Texas, African Americans who had legally been free since 1863 only found out on Juneteenth, 19 June 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger read the federal orders that all slaves in Texas were free.

That is why Juneteenth is such an important day and should soon be a national holiday. How could we not honor and celebrate it?

 

Monuments?

In order for the nation to figure out its future, it must first figure out its past–in particular, the appropriateness of monuments to the Confederacy.

Let’s start with one authoritative source, Robert E. Lee. Lee, a top graduate of West Point who had served in the US Army for 32 years. As a commissioned officer, he had taken an oath to the US Constitution. He chose–albeit difficultly–to disregard his oath, choosing Virginia, his state, over the United States of America, his country.

After the war, “He swore allegiance to the Union and publicly decried southern separatism, whether militant or symbolic.”

“I think it wiser,” the retired military leader wrote about a proposed Gettysburg memorial in 1869, “…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated,” Lee wrote of an 1866 proposal, “my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

Many of the Confederate monuments were not erected until the late 1800s and early 1900s. While the stated purpose was to honor those who fought, many–including myself–believe that it was a blatant trumpeting of white supremacy.

Why are the number of people who today condemn the monuments increasing? The list of reasons is long and growing, but let’s look at one–just one–reason.

Treason.

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty, typically to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.[1]

The Southern states took up arms and engaged in war against their own nation. The individuals involved were traitors–Lee, Jackson, Bragg, and all the others. They may have been brilliant, but they were still traitors. In other times or countries, such as England, traitors were subjected to the horrors of being drawn, hanged until they were almost–but not quite–dead, eviscerated while still alive, decapitated and their bodies divided into quarters.

Such is not the American way. Instead, the Southerners were welcomed back, if they chose–like Lee–to once again honor their nation.

However, there is no good, logical, rationale reason to build monuments to traitors.

(Thanks to PBS and Wikipedia for much of this material. Links are embedded for your convenience.)

 

 

A Solemn Oath

An oath is defined by Merriam Webster as:

(1) : a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says

(2) : a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words – The witness took an oath to tell the truth in court.

An oath is a sacred promise. While this might not carry as much weight today as it once did, it does for most of those who take an oath. It is a commitment that not only defines what a person agrees to do, but also defines who that person is.

Oaths are used for major offices, including members of Congress, judges, and other elected officials. For example, Presidents swear the following oath at their inauguration:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.[

Commissioned and warrant officers in the United States uniformed services swear the following oath:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, 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.[1]

Each person enlisting in an armed force swears to the following oath:

I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (So help me God).”

Those in the National Guard take similar oaths, adding their obligations to their state or territory.

The common factor is that the core of each oath is the commitment to the US Constitution. Those in the military are pledging their lives. I’ve seen enough inverted rifles, boots, helmets, and dog tags to know that those in uniform really mean it.

That’s what makes the US what it is.

George Floyd – Different Approaches, Different Results

If someone knelt on a dog’s neck for nine minutes in public, they’d most likely be arrested.

Kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until he died was wrong. Period. There should be no argument about that.

Floyd’s death, and the circumstances leading to it upset many people. Admit it, such a reaction is normal and to be expected.

What is surprising is that some people are not upset. Are they oblivious? Do they believe that this action should be accepted? Even with extensive videos of the incident and with the mayor of Minneapolis condemning it and firing the individuals responsible?

It is not rational to expect people to respond by writing a letter to the editor or calling their city officials. Floyd’s murder was a blatant disregard of human life, by an individual who apparently had a long history of abusing his authority–15 complaints in 18 years–and no telling how many unreported incidents of abuse.

The response in many cities has been to send in police wearing bulletproof vests, armed with M-16 rifles, in addition to their usual 9 mm sidearm, Taser, pepper spray, baton, blackjack, etc..

There is a reason that the Posse Comitatus law does not allow the US Military to engage in law enforcement, except for specific, and rare, situations. Unfortunately, city/county/state officials choose to militarize their police forces.

Based on observation of the results, heavily armed police do not seem to result in a peaceful resolution. In fact, so far, it hasn’t resulted in any resolution.

In Norfolk, VA, a peaceful demonstration was planned to block a road for nine minutes–the amount of time that the knee(s) were on Mr Floyd’s neck. They also peacefully assembled outside the Norfolk Police Department building.

Police Chief Larry Boone took a different course of action than his counterparts in other cities–he joined the protesters, holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign. He gets it. He’s employing communication instead of confrontation. Will this result in a peaceful resolution in the days or weeks ahead? No one knows, but there are a wider range of options available to the City of Norfolk than for most of the other cities.

Why did he do this? I don’t know his exact thoughts, but I suspect it was because he saw Mr. Floyd’s death as wrong. Dead wrong. Period.

I Told You So!

Back in my healthcare days, there was a general practice physician who delivered babies, which back then was still quite common. This was long before ultrasound could provide an image of sufficient clarity to determine sex, so the reveal didn’t occur until the baby was born.

Naturally, soon-to-be parents back then were as interested in knowing as much about their child as parents are today. This physician’s solution was to tell the mother during a routine prenatal visit that her baby was a boy. At the same time, he’d write in her chart “girl.”

After the birth, if it was a boy, he’d say, “I told you so.” If it was a girl, he’d show her the entry in the chart.

[If I had a clever segue, it would go here.]

I have been trying to avoid most of the alleged news–and that refers to every single outlet, from ABC to Zee in India because my blood pressure is high enough already, thank you. The news reports are:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic will be around for years if not centuries.
  • We’ll have a vaccination in a few months and COVID-19 will be obliterated.
  • Mail-in ballots suffer from voter fraud.
  • Some states have been using mail-in ballots with no problems; the President and his Press Secretary vote by mail and have done so for years..
  • The economy is great–look at the stock market.
  • The economy is terrible–look at unemployment.

Like that old doctor, I think the only thing to believe is the news media is positioning itself to be able to say, “I told you so.”

Life and Death

According to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/, we’ve now experienced over 100,000 deaths. Our leaders response? They are too busy arguing among themselves, apparently for the sake of arguing.

It’s like someone in a swimming pool is drowning. The lifeguards do not act as they argue whether it is better to use the pool hook, a flotation device, or to jump in and help them.

They can’t agree, so the unfortunate individual drowns. The lifeguards then explain that whichever measure they would have chosen doesn’t matter, because the swimmer died anyway.

It Will Never Be a Movie

If the Coronavirus COVID-19 were a movie treatment, it probably never would get made. Look at the plot elements:

  1. A deadly disease begins in a faraway city known for both selling live exotic animals for food and for having a secret government lab.
  2. The disease is viral. Viruses, unlike bacteria, do not respond to antibiotics. Since a virus is not actually alive, it cannot be killed, only neutralized.
  3. The disease preferentially attacks the poor, minorities, the aged, females, and people with pre-existing medical problems.
  4. Some who are infected by the disease show no symptoms, but are carriers of the disease and can transmit it to others.
  5. Some of those infected exhibit flu-like symptoms, are misdiagnosed. The defining symptom, death, follows soon thereafter.
  6. Some adult patients show no obvious symptoms, except upon examination, it is discovered that their oxygen levels are dangerously low, which can lead to death.
  7. Children, at first were believed to be asymptomatic, later many develop a whole host of symptoms that are completely different from those experienced by adults.
  8. Politicians, faith healers, scammers, etc. seize the opportunity to amass wealth and/or power.
  9. Much of the protective equipment, drugs, and medical supplies needed to handle the disease are produced in the country from which the disease originated. Many US companies had moved manufacturing offshore to save money; there is insufficient manufacturing capacity in the US.
  10. Scientific experts advice is ignored while the Internet and other sources promote a variety of alleged cures, treatments, and religious talismans–none of which seem successful.
  11. There is insufficient capacity to test all suspected cases, so the number of people affected are likely under reported. Some cases are only diagnosed after death, when an autopsy is performed.
  12. State and local governments discourage people from engaging in activities that spread the disease, encourage the use of masks to protect others, and maintaining a six foot buffer between people.
  13. With workers unable to do their jobs, the economy suffers. People are laid off or lose their jobs.
  14. The number of confirmed cases in the US approaches 1.5 million confirmed cases, with nearly 90,000 deaths. These numbers only include patients who were tested or otherwise diagnosed.
  15. Some claim the disease is caused by a new cellular telephone system; others call it a hoax; still others see it as a conspiracy to restrict constitutional rights.
  16. Armed dissidents, encouraged by a variety of sources, protest the social distancing, stay-at-home orders at the state capitals, clustering in large groups, usually without masks.
  17. In the meantime, the country from which the disease arose and several of its allies launch cyberattacks on the US to steal medical secrets relating to healing or preventing the disease–and anything else they come across, once they get inside a computer.
  18. As US cases seem to slow their rate of growth, state and local governments relax social separation. People immediately return to pre-pandemic behaviors and the dissidents declare victory.

The screenplay ends here. The audience is left in limbo, unsure whether the disease is indeed winding down, or preparing for a second wave. Unsure as to the future of the economy.

As I said at the beginning, no studio would ever consider wasting time on a script for this scenario.

Premeditated Twinkie Offenses

I have no inherent dislike or paranoia about guns. I served in a war zone and carried a weapon. I like to go to a range and plunk at targets.

However, there are those today who are purchasing guns to protect their “stuff” in the event of shortages. It’s disturbing to think that anyone would kill another person over a loaf of bread, a side of beef, or a twinkie.* Talk about premeditated murder.

Somewhere around 250-280 AD, there was a pandemic–probably smallpox. The Roman death rate was around 30 percent, but in areas with a Christian presence it dropped to 10 percent. Why? The Romans deserted their sick friends and relatives to avoid catching the disease. Christians, even knowing that they might catch the disease, cared for one another.

 

* These are probably the same people who physically fought their way through the crowd to grab 18 cases of toilet paper.

Politics As Usual

I actually do try not to pick sides as the brouhaha in Washington, DC continues.

Remember that very old riddle?

Q: How can you tell when politicians are lying?
A: Their lips are moving.

I’m old enough to have watched (and, believe it or not, still remember) the Watergate hearings. That was when Earl Landgrebe (R, Indiana) said: “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.”

Try to imagine the members of Congress as scientists debating a mathematical theorem.

“2 + 2 = 5, and don’t try to convince me otherwise!”

“No, it’s 6 and your mother wears combat boots!”*

Never mind, it takes more imagination than I can muster.

 

* Actually, not at all unusual these days–Ladies, thank you for your service.

Real-Life Rey

With the new Star Wars coming out in about a week, there is a lot of excitement. While there has always been excitement before each new episode, The Rise of Skywalker is expected to answer a lot of questions about Rey, the nobody from nowhere who became the main protagonist (i.e., “hero” without any gender issues) of a beloved story.

We are drawn to stories in which a reluctant and unlikely hero takes on an impossible challenge–it must be hard-coded into our psyche. We see this fascination in both history and legend—David in the Bible, Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Ring, and most recently, Rey. Wired Magazine commented that Rey is not only a role model hero for young women, but inspires young men as well. That’s not really surprising, given her courage and commitment.

What is common among all these (and similar) tales is that they feature a person who commits to something that they view as important—more important than themselves. Maybe we all wish that we would find some cause so compelling that we would commit ourselves totally .

There are about 8 billion people on earth; nearly 200 sovereign states; millions of corporations, businesses, churches and other organizations. Do they present us with the real-life Reys? Not so much.

However, thank God, we have at least one.

Greta Thunberg on Twitter: "“Now I Am Speaking to the ...

 

Life Support

Generally, I try to blog about things that are interesting and–as far as I can tell–either based on facts OR obviously fictitious for entertainment value. This does not mean that I attempt to remain ignorant about other issues such as race, sex, politics, etc. I just try to keep my nonfactual opinions on such issues to myself.

I read a great deal, although less than I would like due to time constraints. I enjoy some science fiction, which is really philosophy with space ships and aliens. I enjoy biographies of important historical people because it gives me hope when I see that great men and women were imperfect yet achieved great things.*

I read a lot of technical material because no one rises in righteous indignation to protest Ohms law. Electricity performs in a given way—change one of the variables and the result changes predictably. I like facts. Opinions and commentary, spin and gas-lighting are not facts, no matter how many times they are repeated.

Recently, I read a post by Erik Lind on Quora.com that posited, “The Internet is like life support for propaganda. . . ”

It made me think.

 

*Stan Lee used this model in 1962 when he wrote the story of nerdy, neurotic, unpopular Peter Parker being transformed into Spiderman. Peter’s first use of his new power was to attempt to make money, which inadvertently resulted in the death of his Uncle Ben.