Monthly Archives: August 2013

Liberty in Our Day-to-Day Lives

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A colleague remarked to me recently that liberty is a rather esoteric idea; something that doesn’t really impact us on a daily basis.  While my initial reaction was rather nonchalant, the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a disturbing thought that is, and how critically important it should be to all of us to realize the utter falsehood of the statement.

Liberty is only an esoteric, non-constant thought to those who have become so used to freedom that they no longer recognize the possibility of living their life under tyranny.  The arguments against such a frightening mindset are innumerable, but let me enumerate just two reminders of lives, of worlds, where liberty and freedom were missing.

The people of the now defunct Soviet Union and all the Soviet bloc nations of that era leap first to mind.  I’m pretty sure that those hundreds of millions didn’t think freedom and liberty were esoteric.  The farmers who lost their farms, the ethnic minorities who were murdered in Stalin’s purges and the sovereign nations – Poland, Bulgaria, Romania to name only a few – knew damned well what they were missing because they had known freedom, and had it wrenched from their grasp at the points of Soviet guns.

Slaves held in bondage during the dismal era of slavery in the United States may have – in some cases – not truly known what they were missing, because they’d never experienced liberty.  Nonetheless, almost surely they yearned to be free, for the human soul does eternally seek to be free of oppression so that every man or woman can be his or her own master.

Yet to us, as Americans who have been born and raised as free people, in a nation that proclaims its love of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – what is freedom?

Need we lose that freedom before we realize how dear it is? How each of us benefits from our cherished liberty day in, day out?  I hope not, I think not – but still, let us pause for a moment to reach out and remember some of the ways that freedom touches us in our own personal lives, day-by-day, moment upon moment.

The Internet – Find what you want, when you want, anytime, 24/7. News from hundreds of sources, not just the major corporate or government run networks. Read blogs, chat with people worldwide. Awesome!

Email – Reach out to friends, business associates, people you’ve read about, heard about, admire, dislike, whatever. Communicate instantly with anyone, anywhere.  Fantastic!

Smartphones – Text, email, send messages, take pictures and videos, tweet, send pictures and video, post on Facebook, connect on LinkedIn.  Amazing!

Amazon & the whole online shopping world – Books, games, clothing, smartphones, laptops, tablets, appliances, kitchen things, bathroom stuff, bedroom items, music, jewelry – Incredible!

These fantastic technical innovations , my friends, are just a few, a very few, manifestations of our freedom, of personal liberty in America.  Can anyone doubt that these technological advances have changed our lives, magnificently expanding our abilities to express ourselves, enjoy ourselves, and pursue our own chosen paths to happiness? Taken together, they give each of us more personal freedom than any people at any time in the history of humanity.

For now.

But, sometimes, that Internet thing; it can be…well…kind of dangerous, right?  Might be some worrisome ideas circulating there. Maybe the government should exercise a little control – just a little bit! – over what we can find, what we see or say on the internet.  Get rid of the pornography, shut down the irresponsible websites, control what goes on, out there on that scary internet. After all – someone has to be watching over us; it’s for our protection.

And…that email thing.  Who knows what some people might be saying in their emails? That can be sort of dangerous, too, can’t it?  Probably wouldn’t hurt to have someone keep an eye on the emails; well, not all of them, just…maybe a few hundred thousand of them, perhaps a few million. Hey, I know!  We could let the National Security Agency handle that.  They’re safe, trustworthy; an agency of the government, right?  Nothing to worry about.  Kind of like having a nice, caring Big Brother, don’t you think?

Speaking of Big Brother, how about drones and cameras on street corners, concepts which were science fiction not too long ago?  According to Rep. Peter King of New York, speaking soon after the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing, “we need more cameras”, and with the latest drones up in the sky we can watch people everywhere.  And they’ll never even know. That will keep us safe.

Another thing that might be a problem; those smartphones are darn near everywhere these days.  Can’t tell who people are calling, might be someone anywhere in the world, maybe a terrorist. Don’t know what they’re saying, either.  Hmm.  As long as we have the NSA watching emails, might as well have them monitor smartphones too, right?

Come to think of it, all those darn books on Amazon.  Some of those might be…well…a little unnerving.  Hard to believe, but it’s possible that one or two – or maybe even  a few more – of those books might say things that aren’t true about some folks in the government.  Those would be lies!  Even worse, they might suggest that people should speak out against the government. That would be…horrible!  Someone needs to keep an eye on those too, shouldn’t they, those pernicious books?

Does all that sound ridiculous?  Seriously?

Monitoring the Internet has been proposed in the U.S. Congress, and come very close to passing.

The NSA reading emails and getting cell phone records?  As we’ve all read lately, they’ve “been there; done that.”  Do you really believe they won’t do it again?

Cameras on the street corners.  Drone surveillance.  Those are real life events in America today.  “Not very often” they say.  “Only limited usage” they say.  Sure.

Censorship of books?  Not yet, at least in the U.S.  But the way things are going, is it too far away?  If you can’t wear a mask and make fun of the President without someone calling for a federal investigation, what happens if you write a book that makes fun of the President?  What’s the difference between a book and a mask?

Read your copy of the U.S. Constitution.  All of the above are banned in the Bill of Rights:

Fourth Amendment
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated

First Amendment
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press

There’s an old proverb which I expect most of you have heard:  “Once the camel gets his nose under the flap of the tent, there’s no way to keep the rest of him from following it.”

We all need to join hands and collectively push the damn camel backwards until he gets his intrusive nose out of our Liberty!

One can only imagine that Thomas Jefferson, a vehement champion of individual rights, would be dismayed and sadly disappointed to see these invasions of freedom in America today.

Crowd around the Memorial

What is the Big Hurry?

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“Delay is preferable to error.”
– Thomas Jefferson

When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.”
– Thomas Jefferson

“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Israeli intelligence sources tell us that the Syrian government was almost surely involved in the despicable gas attack on civilians this past week.  A U.N. Mission is currently on the ground in Syria to collect evidence. Moscow has indicated that it won’t interfere in Western Military action against Syria, yet has stressed that it feels that Western nations are rushing into action before all the facts are known.

Why are we in such a hurry to make a U.S. military strike? Why don’t we wait a few days and allow the U.N. to complete its investigation and our allies to join in?

Many of those allies appear ready to join America in a coalition to discipline Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Shouldn’t we welcome them to the team and make them a part of the action?

France is ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents” in Syria last week, said French President François Hollande. The “most appropriate response”, he went on, should be made to the Syrian regime once “the main part” of the UN mission currently on the ground in Syria to collect evidence from last week’s attack is finished.

Great Britain’s British Prime Minister David Cameron said that any decision on Syria will be taken under a “strict international framework.” That could represent a “specific” military action against Syria, Cameron added. However, he also announced that Britain’s parliament will be recalled Thursday to vote on the UK’s government’s own response to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. 

Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons must not be allowed to continue.  Alex Fishman, military analyst for Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote: “While the likelihood of Syria taking action against Israel if attacked by the United States is not high, in the Middle East … logic isn’t always the governing principle.

“We can only hope that if the Americans decide to attack that they will give us a few hours’ advance notice so that we can prepare for the possibility that the Syrians might go crazy.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that even absent UN Security Council approval, Turkey would consider taking part in an international coalition against the Syrian regime:

“We always make it a priority to act in accord with the UN and the international community. If the security council does not reach a decision [to take action], we will address other possible options. These alternatives are currently being discussed by 36 to 37 countries. If a coalition emerges from these discussions, Turkey will be a part of it.”

With this outpouring of international support, why would the US choose to go into action alone?

And if Great Britain can recall their parliament to vote on the British response, why doesn’t the US take the time to consult with our elected representatives?  President Obama could easily call Congress back from its summer recess and see what its duly elected members have to say.

It wasn’t too long ago that President George Bush was chastised for going it alone in Iraq, for not getting UN approval before going after Saddam Hussein.  Taking no position as to whether Mr. Bush was right or wrong, moving forward with a greater international consensus and/or UN Security Council approval would almost surely have reduced verbal outcries both here and abroad.

President Obama himself responded to a question posed during an interview with the Boston Globe on December 20, 2007:

[The Globe] In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an imminent threat?)

[Mr. Obama] The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

I repeat.  Why are we in such a rush? Let the UN inspection mission do its job.  In the meantime, embrace and coordinate with our allies, and call Congress back to its desk for consultation.  Meaning no disrespect to those who so tragically died in this horrific gas attack, but a few days pause for reflection, deliberate planning, and to follow the legal path which the President himself laid out in 2007 is not going to bring any of them back to life.

Putting our forces on alert, being prepared to take immediate action if and when necessary is no folly.  If, by some insane illogic, another attack were to be promulgated by al-Assad, then clearly there would be no time for further delay.  But in the face of such resounding international outrage over this last attack, such a thing is well-nigh unimaginable.

One wonders whether Thomas Jefferson, a man who counseled America to avoid international entanglements and leave Europe to herself, might have advised us to pursue this less hasty course of action.

founding fathers

Obamacare doesn’t have to be our burden!

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In November 2012, Speaker John Boehner announced that Obamacare was the “law of the land” and that he would not seek to repeal it. His statement was criticized by many as a capitulation to this massive government expansion, implying that the House of Representatives would cease attempting to block its implementation.

More recently, as you may have heard, a group of Republican senators have spearheaded a movement to urge Boehner’s house to defund Obamacare. Establishment Republicans (and of course liberals!) balked. The Senate would block any repeal act, they said. President Obama would veto anything that doesn’t fund Obamacare. The American people will call us obstructionist!

When the Founding Fathers formulated our two houses of legislature, they worried that the long terms of senators would result in an aristocracy with no regard for the public. As a concession to these fears, the Founders gave the House of Representatives the ‘power of the purse’.

When specifying the roles of both houses of the legislature, the Founders had to balance the desire to have a relatively stable house, whose members could more properly understand the intricacies of the government, and a more democratic house that would stay close to the interests of the people. In some ways the Senate has more power than the House: it can confirm appointments to the Executive Branch, for example, and is generally regarded as the more powerful of the houses. Hamilton, writing in Federalist 66, compares the House to the Senate and states that “[the Constitution] has provided in [the House’s] favor several important counterpoises to the additional authorities to be conferred upon the Senate.” He then states that one of these powers is the “exclusive power of originating money bills”.

Our situation today is a realization of this decision. In response to Obamacare, the 2010 election saw a takeover of the House by opponents of the law. In 2012, the people saw fit to return these same opponents to the House! The Founders clearly put a great deal of emphasis on the House’s power of the purse, and they would not have included this provision if they thought it ought not to be used.

You are now asking, of course, what you can do. How can you change the minds of such a large establishment of Republicans? It seems that the greatest fear of the Republican establishment is that they will be blamed by the public for a government shutdown, assuming Obama vetoes a plan to defund the law. It is, therefore, the public which has a key role in determining the ramifications of such an action.

We must then demonstrate that the public opposes Obamacare.

It has always been a cliché to call or write to one’s representatives. But with social media, we can do much more! Senators Cruz, Paul, and Lee all have Facebook and Twitter accounts advocating this plan. Furthermore, here is a handy list of House Republicans who support defunding and here is a list of like-minded Senators. Millions of people, all of whom will face the negative effects of Obamacare, have social media accounts. It is therefore our duty to spread the message via social media, both by posting about the dangers of Obamacare and by sharing the message of those who are actually representing our interests on this issue.

With today’s technology we can do more than just call our representatives. We can spread awareness to urge others to do the same. If it becomes clear that we as the public support this plan, how can Boehner and his establishment fear the public’s response to standing up and fighting? Even if our calls go unheeded, we must make a stand and demonstrate our opposition to massive government expansion into our healthcare with the same provisions that our Constitution enshrines.

Thomas Jefferson resolute

A National Life Changing Event

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America today is facing a potentially cataclysmic event – an event that could change our nation and our nation’s life forever.  We’ve all heard of people who’ve had life changing events such as surviving a shark attack, narrowly escaping death in an car accident and the like, and how their lives are changed forever.

For America, this potentially life changing event is the hue and cry for gun control.

Cries for gun control are nothing new, and the refrain of those who sing this siren’s song are unchanged from what we’ve been hearing for decades.

“Guns kill people.”
“Guns are dangerous.”
“Why does anyone need to own a gun?”
“If the killer hadn’t had a gun, his victims would still be alive.”

Interestingly, the songs of many opponents of gun control are also largely unchanged.

“I have a right to defend myself.”
“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
“More gun ownership means fewer crimes.”
“I’ve been hunting all my life; you have no right to stop me.”

Sadly, both sides are singing out of tune with the historical reality of why the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:

A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Let’s take a moment to examine the national & political landscape of America in the last decades of the 18th century when the Bill of Rights was passed.

The Founding Fathers had just survived – somewhat miraculously! – nearly ten years of war against the oppressive, tyrannical government of Great Britain’s King George III.  Firearms in the hands of American patriots had been essential in that struggle. Surely had private citizens in the British colonies not been allowed to own guns, the American Revolution would have never been born.

Scant years later, the survivors who banded together to create the governing document to ensure the long term survival of their new nation wanted to make absolutely certain that in the event of the rise of any future tyranny their children and grandchildren, their successors in the quest for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness would have that same ability to defend themselves.

The need to own arms for purposes of self-defense wasn’t something that was ever really in question in the 18th century. Since time immemorial men had armed themselves for the protection of themselves and their families. No one would have considered bothering to codify that right.

Require a Constitutional amendment to ensure that people could own guns to go hunting? In the 1790’s?  Are you kidding? This was well before Safeway & McDonalds.  People hunted to get their dinner; no one would have questioned that right.

No, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” was meant to protect us from tyrants, domestic or foreign, whenever they might arise.

How we resolve this event, how our nation chooses to move forward in dealing with firearms ownership could well change the very foundations of our freedom.

Let us not forget that it’s an extremely slippery slope from liberty to oppression.   Each freedom that the government takes away from the American people is one more step, tiny though it may seem, away from the wonderfully free nation that our founding fathers created for us.

The ability to defend yourself is the ultimate right of all individuals to preserve life, both their own and that of their loved ones. The rights to a free press, free speech, assembly, and religion are extremely important — but none of them matters very much if you can’t defend your own life against aggression. None of them can survive if an evil & tyrannical government should arise if that government is fully armed while its citizens are disarmed and defenseless.

No, our current government is neither evil nor tyrannical – but if we lose that right to protect ourselves today, then if on some future day such a nightmare were to become reality and the armed defense of our liberty were to become necessary, we will be defenseless, helpless and lost.

We as Americans must realize that the right to keep and bear arms does truly equate to a guarantee of freedom.  In illustration of that relationship, let me point out one inarguable historical fact.

Before the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment, many states enacted laws that made it illegal for black people, both free and slave, to possess firearms. Why? Because those states feared that an armed populace might rise up and throw off their oppressors.  But with the Fourteenth Amendment those laws were wiped from the books, and from that time on ALL AMERICANS have enjoyed that fundamental right – to keep and bear arms so that if need be we could rise up and throw off our oppressors.

Thomas Jefferson, who had accepted George Washington’s appointment to be the first Secretary of State of the United States, was a strong advocate of the rights of the individual, and a great believer in the need to adopt the Bill of Rights.

If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he would be, as he was in 1791, a powerful believer in, and crusader for our Second Amendment rights.

bill of rights with pen

A Brilliant Man

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President John F. Kennedy once hosted a dinner celebrating American Nobel laureates. Addressing the guests he said that this was “the most extraordinary collection of talents…that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone.”

tj four smaller

Greetings, and welcome to What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

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That is, after he got over smart phones, tablets, computers, GPS, HD TVs, Americans landing on the moon…the list goes on.

What we mean is, what would he think about the American political landscape, the world at large, the changes in people, philosophy, social & family life – all the non-tech things that are well nigh unrecognizable from the late 18th and early 19th century.

Stick around while we explore that question, and feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, comments and criticisms as you wish. We have no interest in embracing acrimony, flames, profanity, or the like so we reserve the right to review all comments after they’re posted.

In addition, we’d love to hear from anyone who thinks he or she would meld well into our theme. For those of you who’d like to submit well written, thoughtful articles for publication, please send them in and we’ll more than likely be happy to give your ideas a place here in the sun.

tj the first post