Stuff Ballard Wrote

Category: History (Page 1 of 5)

Racism: parent to child, on & on

Daily Planet, 9/2016

“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s mouths get the biting taste.” – ancient Hebrew proverb (cited in the Bible)

I grew up on the white side of Jim Crow.

My family mocked Hitler’s “master race,” but in fact, we had our own insane version of white supremacy. We received it intact from our colonizing, slave-owning ancestors. It was as much a part of us as five fingers on a hand.

I was taught early on: If a lady enters the room, and she’s white, stand up.

My parents bartered with Negroes for their wartime ration cards, assuming they didn’t have money to buy shoes and stuff anyway. They were right.

That’s how it was and how it had always been, and that’s how white people thought it should be, and would be, forever.

All my parents’ friends were characters plucked from the 1890s. They were conservative Christians, who confirmed their views with selected Bible passages. The established order was established and not to be un-established.

Southern minds were not only closed to change in matters of race. Theology and politics (Democrat) were settled and decided forever, too. Remember the Nineteenth Amendment – the one that gave women the right to vote? Well, during the ratification process, Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Maryland and Delaware all voted no. (North Carolina apparently didn’t vote on the amendment in this time period.)

In my teens, the earth began to quake. In the summer of 1948, President Truman integrated the Armed Forces, Democrats included a strong Civil Rights plank in their Party platform, the Dixiecrats formed, and the Confederate flag reappeared. (My mother voted Dixiecrat, but then her obstetrician, who delivered me, was Strom Thurmond’s brother!)

When Brown v. BOE came down from the Supreme Court in 1954, demagogues came out of every dark hole in the South, screaming defiance.  And on TV, we saw white faces twisted in hate.   Their minds weren’t even ajar.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, many, if not most, Southerners peacefully accepted the law of the land. But many millions did not. They weren’t as visible and organized as in another time, but feelings of resentment ran deep.

To them, federal laws and courts were reenacting the Civil War.

And indeed, there was strong similarity to the Civil War. Southerners in 1860 were closed-minded. They didn’t examine the changing world of their time – abolitionism, industrialization, massive immigration. They denounced them. They refused to see that the emerging United States was deeper-rooted and morally superior to their institutions. If they had been wise, they would have joined the U.S. instead of leaving it.

And their children continued their narrowness with school segregation, Jim Crow laws, barriers to Negro voting. The family “heritage” was passed from generation to generation.

Now, in 2016, their descendants, who carry on their attitudes, have found a rallying place in Donald Trump.

A Politico Magazine article observes that almost 1,000 anti-government groups, the KKK, and “the rest of the disparate coalition that has vocally supported the Confederate flag over the past year, have aligned behind Trump.” Confederate flags and Trump t-shirts mix and mingle outside Trump rallies.

In Jim Crow times, violence against African-Americans in the North was not uncommon. (Note particularly the Marion, Indiana lynching of1930.) But today, the anger of Trump followers in the North seems to be resentment over betrayal. The American dream they believed in has been snatched away. They want things back the way they were before – which include a white majority, which is also slipping away.

By contrast, Southern anger hasn’t just surged up in the past decade. It’s very old. And it’s very destructive to society – and to the generation now coming of age.

It needs to stop.

In 1860, Southern leaders did not have the wisdom to join America.

Their descendants today should open their minds and evaluate the changes happening in America, especially equality.

If they don’t, they may not just be on the wrong side of history. They may be on the wrong side of right and wrong

Tax villains (& their enablers)

Daily Planet, 8/2016

A previous column in this space included a quote about the whopping advantages that the top 0.5% have over the rest of us – tid-bits like borrowing at almost no interest, private wealth managers and influencing legislation.

The part about influencing legislation is a national abomination. But unfortunately, it’s a sin that only the U.S. Supreme Court can wash away. Let’s talk about something that can be fixed.

The lines in the quote that really boiled my britches say the super-rich can “hold personal assets in tax havens” and “they have access to the very best in accounting firms and tax attorneys.”

All my working life I paid taxes. All working people pay taxes. It’s our responsibility as citizens. It’s how our country and our state stay in business.

All through our history, Americans have held to this pay-my-share principle. When issues arose, as in the Whiskey Rebellion, they were about fairness and what the tax revenue would be spent for.

In the late 19th century, the idea of an income tax gained popularity.  An income tax law actually passed Congress in 1894 – 2 percent on people making more than $4,000 a year ($100,000 today) – but it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents to an income tax were led by Andrew Carnegie and his steel lobby and old-time “establishment” Republicans, who were tight with industrialists.

The Sixteenth Amendment passed Congress in 1909 and went out to the states. In the election of 1912, all three presidential candidates – William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson – supported the amendment.

This is America. We believe in fairness. We have always believed that those who’ve got should bear more responsibility than those who don’t.

That brings us back to my boiling britches.

In the United States today, the super-rich not only have the stuff, they also have the politicians who write laws concerning stuff. (By the way, as The New York Times stated, “The share of national income captured by the richest 1 percent of Americans is even higher than it was at the dawn of the 20th century.”)

What attitude do you think the tip-toppers should have regarding taxes? You and I pay our taxes from our living money. These people could pay by taking one less hunting trip to Paraguay in their private Gulfstreams.

But they don’t. They have tax havens and slick tax attorneys to minimize, or eliminate, their tax debt.

What is this – greed? Yes, but more. It’s also cold-blooded cruelty. When they don’t pay, someone else has to pay to fund government. And that someone is the working sucker.

North Carolina is a neon case study. In 2013, the Republican General Assembly overhauled our tax code. They instituted a flat tax that lightens the rich end of the see-saw, and they eliminated a host of deductions, including those for medical and child-care expenses.  They cut out the earned income tax credit for the working poor, and oh yes, they expanded the sales tax base. Our end of the see-saw clanked down hard.

The smirking, cynical tax-dodgers should be tarred, but it’s our legislators and governor who dance to their tune.  They’re the tax villains.

They cackled around Raleigh that everybody would experience lower taxes (later modified). Well, I hadn’t paid state taxes since I retired, and then suddenly I owed over $200, and I’m paying sales tax for services all over town.

If everybody in North Carolina who experienced a tax increase after the General Assembly’s tax cuts were to vote to throw the self-serving perpetrators out, not even gerrymandering could save them.

Governor McCrory is not gerrymandered. November 8 is the day. Roy Cooper is the name. He’ll make taxation fair.



Public-private: who shuld be who

Daily Planet, 3/2016

My son, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, is working part-time reviewing classified documents to see if they should stay classified.

Last month he wrote an email that said, in part:

“One thing that comes through really clearly, no matter what I’m reading, is how many really smart people are working really hard and, for the most part, trying to do the right thing. When something other than trying to do the right thing pops up, it seems really discordant, selfish, short-sighted, or some combination.”

He’s writing about the people George Wallace called “pointy-headed bureaucrats who can’t park a bicycle straight.”

He’s writing about the people Ross Perot said he’d “throw their briefcases in the Potomac River” when he got to be president,

An old (far-right) friend of mine once wrote: ”[Liberals] believe that government workers – who have total security and little or no incentive to produce – can do things as well as those in private industry, where the workers are relatively insecure and have a great deal of incentive to produce.”

I understand George Wallace. The federal government shoved him out of the schoolhouse door.

I understand Ross Perot. He’s one of our greatest living egomaniacs.

I understand my friend. He built a successful business and drives new Mercedeses, so, to him, “the individual” shouldn’t be bothered by annoying little government people.

What I DON’T understand are the many millions of ordinary working people who believe that the government is “taking over our lives.”

The government isn’t taking over our lives.   The government is GIVING us better lives. Those pointy-headed bureaucrats watch that our workplace is safe, that our air travel is safe, that our water and air are clean.  And what’s more, they CARE. It matters to them that they’re successful.

In the Republican nominating show that’s going on now, they outdo each other to promise shrunken government.  “Government-run healthcare” is a four-letter cuss word.

They’re saying that insurance company managers, who meet behind closed doors to figure out how to make the most profit from the healthcare system, will do a better job at delivering healthcare services to us than government people – whose main concern is that we get the services we need.

In fact, it’s the other way around. People with motivation for profit are far less likely to deliver the best healthcare product for the people’s needs. Business has a built-in cynicism that’s fine when supermarkets are competing with each other. Private enterprise does a great job at inventing things and advertises things and puts their advertised things out there for sale.

But anything that has to do with the public good is best done by government. I don’t want a profit motivation in the CDC, the EPA, the FDA, the FAA, the SEC, the FDIC and OSHA.

I don’t want profit motivation in our public schools, like our Republicans in Raleigh are taking us to. Or privatized Social Security, like George W. tried to take us to.

An article in Harvard Business Review discussed specifically whether privatization serves the public good. It made this observation:

“Privatization will be effective only if private managers have incentives to act in the public interest….Profits and the public interest overlap best when the privatized service or asset is in a competitive market. It takes competition from other companies to discipline managerial behavior.”

Two distinct worlds with two distinct motivations – the world of profit and the world of service. Both recruit and develop smart and dedicated people. One is dedicated to maximizing profit for ownership. The other is dedicated to maximizing people’s lives.

We should never confuse who should be doing what.

Supreme Court rocks!

Daily Planet, 2/2016

I’ve become a cheerleader for the United States Supreme Court. No pompoms, just a big S on my white sweater.

What has me in this mood? A hint:

In December, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the gerrymandered legislative and congressional maps drawn by the Republicans in 2011 are just fine, thank you, and what’s all the fuss?   The vote was 4-3, along party lines.   A grievous, heinous outrage goes uncorrected by our local Supremes.

So…to the tune of “Buckle Down, Winsocki”…1-2, 1-2!


“Johnny Roberts, you will do what’s right,

Politicians got us in this awful plight,

Things are all mixed up, you can fix things up;

Your esteem picks up, if you will only do what’s right.”


Nah, you say? You think Justices decide cases on a Constitution treadmill?

Let’s take a stroll through Court history and see how big the Constitution has been in their decisions.

In the debate over ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, some of those in opposition – obscure men because they lost the debate – wrote a series of articles.

One, written by a New York supreme court judge named Robert Yates (pseudonym “Brutus”), predicted that if Supreme Court Justices were independent, like in the Constitution, they would forget the Constitution and follow their own opinions. He wrote:

“They are independent of the people, of the legislature, and of every power under heaven. Men placed in this situation will generally soon feel themselves independent of heaven itself.”

In response (Federalist 78), Alexander Hamilton just blew smoke. He said the judiciary is the weakest branch because it has no army and no purse.

Whatever happened to Robert Yates later on, he was right in 1788.

The so-called “plain text” of the Constitution was never really plain. At best, justices have seen the Constitution through their own eyes. More accurately, they’ve ignored it and decided on other grounds.

In the Dred Scott decision, the slave-owning majority thought they’d settle the slave question once and for all. The Founding Fathers , they said, regarded Negroes as inferior, so that’s that. They expected universal acceptance. They got the Civil War.

Old-time laissez-faire Justices slapped down FDr’s New Deal in the ‘30s – until Justice Owen Roberts concluded that FDR’s big wins in 1934 and 1936 meant that America wanted FDR’s policies. He switched sides – not on the Constitution but what he saw as the right thing to do.

In Brown v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren used a heavy hand, especially with Court conservatives, to muster a unanimous decision that school segregation was wrong – morally wrong.

Our current Chief Justice, John Roberts, voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act because he saw the law’s intent and result as something good: improved health care in America. And he didn’t want his Court to kill it.

Likewise, in the Court’s decision on gay marriage, Anthony Kennedy applied his own belief on homosexuality. He once wrote, “Adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons.”

Now it would appear that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide on gerrymandering. Their rulings last June point that way. But more important, abuse levels can’t be ignored.

North Carolina state law requires that districts cross county lines as little as possible. In 2011, the ethically-neutral GOP computers drew maps that split 50 counties and over 500 precincts to get sufficiently rigged elections.

Republicans took control of seven states in 2010 and then drew redistricting maps. In 2012 elections, Democrats got 16.4 million votes in those states, Republicans got 16.7 million, an even split. But Republicans elected 73 to Congress, Democrats elected 34.

The core evil of gerrymandering is conflict of interest. Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to draw the boundaries of their own districts.

The Supreme Court understands that Legislative and Executive branches are hopeless. If election fairness is to be restored, they know they must step in.

The Court will do it.

Creed for (Democrat!) politicians

Citizen-Times, 1/2016

An obscure Republican Congressman from Michigan wrote something truly remarkable:

“The Christian who enters politics must do so with the aim of achieving political justice. He does this by subjecting his own personal ambition and desires to the scrutiny of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. And as God gives the grace to do so, he learns to make the needs of his neighbor his own. In so doing, his search for justice becomes an act of sacrificial love.”

Paul Brentwood Henry served four terms and was elected to a fifth term when he died in 1993.   He was a solid evangelical conservative. His congressional district included super-conservative Grand Rapids.

His philosophy was a reasonable fit to his time.   Republicans and Democrats still came together to work on the country’s problems. There was a spirit of good will.

Henry died exactly as Rush Limbaugh waddled on the scene, preaching a belligerent doctrine of “conservative” non-cooperation with “moderate” Republicans and Democrats. Republicans converted.

In the mid-term landslide of 1994, 70+ freshmen Republicans were elected, almost all of them Limbaugh-style inflexible partisans. They voted Limbaugh an honorary member of their freshmen caucus.

Ever since then, Republicans have followed Limbaugh’s creed. They’ve turned the old-time spirit of service and cooperation into all-out, no-prisoners ideological warfare. Congress doesn’t function.

This new Republicanism invaded N.C. in 2010.   In Raleigh, people who for decades had begged majority Democrats for more bipartisan cooperation were cackling and drooling with power. They were free to impose their low-minded ideology on us like the Taliban had done in Afghanistan.

Paul Henry said, “As God gives the grace to do so, [the Christian politician] learns to make the needs of his neighbor his own.”

Can it be said, by any stretch, that diminishing our public schools is serving a neighbor’s need? Or denying 500,000 citizens Medicaid out of hate – yes, hate – for Barack Obama? Or redistricting so that voting is predetermined and meaningless? Or rewriting voting rules to inconvenience citizen groups who vote Democrat?

Paul Henry knew how to apply his faith to a politician’s life. Most Raleigh Republicans govern like mean little Limbaughs.

We’ve endured a long, painful swing of the pendulum, haven’t we? We yearn for the arc to swing toward fairness, truthfulness, openness, compassion and a spacious spirit. That’s why we’re Democrats, after all.

Wouldn’t you love to see the 2016 Democratic campaign sound like Paul Henry wrote it?

“We come to you as humble servants who want nothing but the privilege of making your life better. We’re not seeking power. Your felt needs drive our priorities. We’re politicians, but we’ll never show it. We pledge ourselves to this.”

Or something like that.

I’m realistic enough to think it could be.

Political correctness: wide view

Daily Planet, 12/2015

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” – Donald Trump

I confess this particular national problem hasn’t made my Top 50. But I’m not without opinions.

I’m in favor of political correctness, and I’m also against it.

Let’s start with some history – at the beginning, in the 1930s.

The Socialist Party of America pinballed its way from identity crisis to identity crisis for decades. Their presidential candidate did get six percent of the vote in 1912, but then it was faction against faction through the 1920s.

But American Socialists never accepted the radical ideas of the Communist International. In 1936, they backed FDR. Meanwhile, the Communist Party USA was in lockstep with Stalin, including support for his bloody purges – and they called for an armed struggle to establish an American Soviet state.

Socialists criticized the Communists’ slavish, unthinking obedience to Moscow. They called American Communists “politically correct.”

<comment> The Socialists used “politically correct” as a put-down. I agree with that principle. When somebody parrots an ideological line without testing its validity, they deserve disrespect.

Groups of all kinds tend to have ideologies, belief systems, creeds that they want their followers to adopt completely.   They like political correctness.

In the world of politics, no group is as politically correct as conservative Republicans. There are conservative articles of faith, and millions of conservatives embrace them unconditionally. Why else would anybody be against environmental regulations that give us and our children a cleaner world? Why else would non-rich people favor huge tax cuts for rich people when the cuts mean poorer public schools?

In my experience, liberal-leaning people are far more open-minded, more questioning of liberal doctrines than are conservatives.

<resume history> In the ‘60s and ‘70s, America changed. The Civil Rights Movement, in particular, made us aware that we were using words that were no longer appropriate. We also stopped having black-face minstrel shows and the like.   As I recall, this change was spontaneous. I don’t remember its being called “political correctness.”

<comment> I’m in favor of this, too. Avoiding these words signaled that we had grown as a people.

<resume history> But quite soon, inappropriate speech and attitudes became officially taboo on college campuses and in publishing guidelines. This was true political correctness. In 1972, Stanford University even switched their mascot from Indians to the Cardinal, their school color.

<comment> I don’t buy into legislated political correctness. It has certainly helped us discard words and attitudes that needed to go, but I like the 1990 Newsweek cover: “THOUGHT POLICE – There’s a ‘politically correct’ way to talk about race, sex and ideas. Is this the new Enlightenment – or the new McCarthyism?” I tilt away from censorship.

<resume history> Now we come to how the phrase “political correctness” has become part of Republican jargon. Sometimes they use it correctly, but sometimes, oh boy, it’s nothing more than a clumsy club to bash Democrats with:

Ted Cruz: “This is a president and administration that has turned a hard heart to the persecution and suffering of Christians abroad….And this bizarre, politically correct doublespeak is simply not befitting a commander-in-chief….”

Rush Limbaugh: “We’re led to believe everybody opposes it and disagrees with political correctness, but yet everybody’s scared to death of it. So who is it? Well, it’s the power structure wherever you happen to be.

Comment on New York Times article: “Trump has started attacking the whole religion of political correctness to the cheers of the masses. Without that weapon, the left is simply powerless.”

<comment> Anybody who’s watched the GOP debates has seen every single candidate take positions completely in line with the current passions of the Republican base, even if they previously held other views.

What shall we call this phony devotion to the new Republican orthodoxy?

Right: political correctness.

Charisma’s children

Daily Planet, 10/2015

The world was coming unglued in the early ‘70s.   Mighty America was all but begging the North Vietnamese for peace talks. Women’s Liberation was actually happening. The law seemed to give more rights to the criminal than the victim.

America was ready for Dirty Harry.

Movie posters featured the bore of Harry’s .44 Magnum revolver, with words superimposed on shattered glass:   “Detective Harry Callahan. He doesn’t break murder cases. He smashes them.”

In a time of insecurity, Harry was the man.   He called a punk a punk. He had no respect for pussy-footing institutions.   He knew what was wrong out there, and he knew how to fix it.

Later in the ‘70s, along came Ross Perot. When two of his employees were taken hostage in Iran, he recruited Vietnam veterans from his company and a retired colonel to lead them, and they went in and rescued the hostages. He used the State Department; he didn’t ask their permission.

A song appeared: “Where are you now when we need you, Ross Perot?”

When the going gets tough, we seem to look for a tough guy.

Certain people have a hard-to-define something that draws us to them as followers – especially in times of stress. It’s called charisma.

So, with presidential elections coming up soon, it might be a good idea for us to think about what we want in a president.   I don’t like it, but charisma – and non-charisma – will inevitably play a part in how we vote.

When we’re drawn to a candidate by his or her charisma, we should take special care. Caveat suffragator. Voter beware. Charisma cuts two ways.

We know about bad use of charisma from the likes of Hitler, Napoleon, Senator Joe McCarthy and (in my opinion) Andrew Jackson.   When they gained positions of power, they came to see themselves as all-powerful. They ignored lawful checks on their power.

Some say John Kennedy misused his charisma.   He centered power in his office.   He had a Cabinet only because departments needed heads. Congress was a necessary annoyance.

But that’s precisely the appeal of Dirty Harry and Ross Perot, isn’t it? They don’t fret over how things are supposed to be done. They just get ‘er done.

We also know examples of charisma used well. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Lech Wałęsa led movements with the force of their personalities. They knew they had right on their side, and against all odds, they refused to give up.  

Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt used their personal charisma to lift the spirits of their people in desperate times.

Barack Obama belongs here, too. Twice he electrified voters with his expansive personality. And in the face of an intransigent Congress, he didn’t give up on his goals and promises.  

Now we come to my man: Harry Truman. Charisma?   Maybe 3.6 on a scale of 1-to-10.   Yet he’s universally held as a Great President. His strength was in decision-making – even when his decisions were unpopular. He integrated the military (angering Southern Democrats). He ordered the atomic bomb and stopping North Korean aggression. He was behind the Berlin Airlift, G.I. Bill, Marshall Plan, the formation of NATO.  (And he got rid of a Republican Congress.)

And then there’s…Donald Trump.

Imagine Dirty Harry applying for a detective job and telling them what he’ll do if he’s hired. That’s what’s going on in the GOP primary race. Trump’s target people are those fed up with what they see as America in decline – loss of respect in the world and Washington’s politicians and bureaucrats. They are in stress, and they want a savior.

In a charisma-free field of politicians, Trump is a beacon to the up-to-here crowd.

And finally, there’s Gov. Pat McCrory, bless his heart: no charisma and no savvy. A dud for all seasons.

Engage your minds, voters of North Carolina. If you do, all will be well.   

Redistricting & GOP blatantation

Citizen-Times, 8/2015

Democrats controlled the N.C. General Assembly after the 2000 census, so they drew redistricting maps. In the first election under the Democrat redistricting, in 2002, for State House of Representatives:

Votes received: GOP 1,073,000, Democrats 904,000.

Seats won: GOP 61, Democrats 59. Fair election.


After the 2010 census, Republicans controlled the General Assembly, so they drew redistricting maps. In the first election under the GOP redistricting, in 2012:

Vote received: GOP 1,998,000, Democrats 1,875,000.

Seats won: GOP 77, Democrats 43. Unfair election.


In 2010, Republicans had sophisticated gerrymandering programs. Apparently in 2000, Democrats had old-fashioned software.

Or maybe they had scruples.

Understand: I’m not whining because I’m not winning. I’m calling in the U.S. Supreme Court.

You see, N.C. isn’t the only victim of GOP greed.   They hijacked other states where they control state government: Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Florida. In 2012 elections for U.S. Congress, in these seven states (including N.C.), Democrats got 16.4 million votes, Republicans got 16.7 million.   Split 50-50, right? Nope. GOP elected 73, Democrats elected 34.

By contrast, in California, 62 percent voted Democratic, and Democrats elected exactly the expected number. They have a nonpartisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Gerrymandering is an old trick. Patrick Henry tried to gerrymander James Madison out of a seat in Congress in 1788. But this new Republican vandalism must be stopped.

I smile at the New York Times article:   “Let’s establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions in all 50 states.” Uh-huh.   Would people who cheated so hard to get majorities suddenly get nonpartisan religion? (N.C. doesn’t have referendums initiated by the people.   Everything comes down from the General Assembly.)

And this from The Economist: “Citizens could try to use their vote to punish lawmakers who use their office to rig elections.” Yeah. Gerrymandering means you never have to say you’re sorry. That’s the whole idea: insulation from the rabble.

The only hope for overturned undemocratic gerrymandering is the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Vieth v. Jubelirer, the Court did not intervene in Pennsylvania’s gerrymandering, but Justice Kennedy’s opinion said they might intervene someday if a standard is set on what constitutes excessive partisanship. The stage is set.

The U.S. Constitution only tells us how to manage the right numbers in Congress. Redistricting is included in order to maintain fairness in representation.   Gerrymandering violates that principle.

The Court did strike down Georgia’s County Unit System in state elections. It was the first use of “one man, one vote.”

Of course, N.C. gerrymandering would be meaningless if Republican voters realized the injustice and voted to punish the perpetrators. How likely?   Well, an ESPN poll showed that in the whole U.S., only the six states of New England think the Patriots don’t cheat.  [

Phony Christian legislators

Daily Planet, 8/2015

“If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, we would rush to be saintly.  But since avarice, anger, pride and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice and thought, we must stand fast ourselves.” – Sir Thomas More in the play/movie, A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt (modernized)

Yes, he’s the same Thomas More who wrote Utopia in 1516. And yes, the Utopians in his novel did have some pretty quirky policies,like universal healthcare.  And other stuff like punishing adulterers with enslavement.

More was a “political philosopher,” not a dreamer.   He was Henry VIII’s right-hand man until he refused to support Henry’s divorce and his taking over as head of the English church. He was executed.

It could be said that all of us are political philosophers. We all have our own ideas about how government should work. For a moment now, I want to do a little dreaming of my own.

What if…what if voters scrutinized candidates like they were hiring a caretaker for their parents? What if the media sought out a character profile of candidates, not just the woooo scandalous stuff? What do their neighbors and employees say about them? Are they fair, generous, humble, slow to judgment, encouraging, flexible, forgiving? Or are they glad-handing frauds, who love power and thrive on confrontation? Do they hold grudges? Are they vengeful, arrogant, heartless, egocentric, quick to anger, self-serving?   And perhaps most important, are they skilled at deception?

Political philosophy aside now, I want to write as a patriot who loves his adopted state and hates what our General Assembly is doing to it.

I’m not talking about Republicans’ conservative political philosophy. No, I’m talking about their actions that show who they really are. And I’m expressing sadness at the short-sightedness of people who vote for them.

All over North Carolina, Republican candidates promised Evangelical Christian that they would fight against abortion and gay marriage. Pastors picked up the beat, and Evangelicals voted Republican with great zeal.

And once elected, Republicans did indeed pass laws restricting abortion and got a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage. They did what they promised.

But then, just as the old saying goes, our conservative Christian Republican legislators gave in to the corrupting tug of absolute power.

To borrow from Winston Churchill: Never have so few lied so much to so many.

Let’s go back to the summer of 2013 for one example.   The 2012 election had increased GOP majorities in the General Assembly. Then in June, the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the federal Voting Rights Act so that prior federal approval wasn’t necessary any more.

Republicans acted right away, passing a Voting Reform Act that requires voter I.D., shortens early voting by a week, ends same-day registration, ends a successful high school voter registration program, gives polling observers more authority to intervene. The law was obviously designed to inconvenience Democratic constituencies.

So how did Republicans explain their legislation?   The law, they said, aims to end “rampant and widespread undetected voter fraud.” They really did say that. They’re good at cheating, bad at lying.

Colin Powell, speaking to the North Carolina CEO Forum, reacted like you probably did: “There is no voter fraud….How can it be [both] widespread and undetectable?”   He added: “I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it harder to vote.”

Indeed, investigation after investigation has found no significant voter fraud. Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State spent $150,000 and found nothing.  The Wall Street Journal told of one exhaustive study that found 2,068 cases of alleged voter fraud in the U.S. since 2000, including 10 cases of voter impersonation.

The ideal state government doesn’t need more Christian lawmakers who will vote faithfully on social issues. We need people of real character, who don’t cheat in the electoral process, who tell the truth, who don’t yield to the temptations that come with power.

Confederacy: really, really stupid

Citizen-Times, 7/2015

A CNN poll found that, 150 years after the Civil War, 40 percent of white Southerners sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union.

Didn’t surprise me. I grew up in Georgia in the ‘40s and ‘50s, where they said, “We weren’t defeated; we were outnumbers.” The monument downtown read, “No nation rose so white and fair.” And yes, some of us boys bought a Confederate flag at a Billups gas station.

I didn’t switch sides in the Civil War until my missionary years, far from Georgia. Living closely with people of another race taught me that white supremacy was ridiculous. And white supremacy underpinned Jim Crow segregation of the time – and the Civil War. That switched me.

Since then, I’ve come to understand that the Confederacy was not just wrong. It was stupid, really stupid.

Get this picture: The South was run by men with enormous wealth in slaves and what slaves produced. Per capita wealth in the South was twice that in the North.

Now add this: For 200 years, U.S. states and almost all countries had been abolishing slavery. In 1807, the U.S. Congress banned the importation of slaves. By 1860, the U.S. South stood virtually alone.

What would a wise person, like you, have done?   Time to rethink, right? Isn’t there another way to grow cotton besides slavery? But slaveholders had tunnel vision. For decades, they maneuvered to retain slavery.

In the campaign of 1860, Abraham Lincoln promised not to intervene where slavery already existed. But even before the election, Southerners warned that they would secede if Lincoln won.

Back to you. Wouldn’t you have waited to see if Lincoln kept his word? Not these guys. They’d rather put everything at risk than be reasonable. The seven Deep South states seceded after Lincoln’s election.   Super-rich, super-dumb.

In his Inaugural Address in March, Lincoln was clear that if the South took up arms against the U.S. government, their action would be answered with force.

Warnings against war were everywhere. Sam Houston spoke eloquently in Texas (“If they do not whip you…they will starve you”). William Tecumseh Sherman, living in Louisiana in 1860, exactly predicted the course of a war against the U.S. But again, rather than wait or compromise, Jefferson Davis ordered Fort Sumter seized.

Then it was N.C.’s turn at dumbness. The General Assembly and the governor opposed secession, and voters nixed a referendum on a secession convention.   But when Lincoln asked for troops to put down the “insurrection,” instead of a “Sorry, Abe” letter, N.C.   seceded!

Yes, Southern generals were superior, and yes, Johnny Reb fought like none before. But Johnny should’ve been home plowing.

What’s so glorious about the Confederacy? Not much.

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