A Symbol, for Which it Stands

The power of symbols is not lost on me, and I often find myself divided between two camps. On the one hand, symbols can carry a tremendous amount of weight and history. On the other, symbols can be repurposed and reclaimed to support anything.

The most obvious historical example is the swastika, which originally was a sign of luck across various cultures that became a symbol of oppression and hatred. Unfortunately, negative connotations often carry more weight than positives, easily rendering the positive meaning impotent. Now, the swastika is avoided in Western culture because of its connection to the Holocaust.

In the United States, the Confederate Battle Flag is a prevalent symbol south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and is used to rally southern pride. Developed during the American Civil War as a distinctive symbol (since the Confederate States of America’s official flag was confusingly similar to that of the United States), each star signified a member state in the new nation, and was indicative of the unified drive for states’ rights that sparked the rebellion. It has two visually similar cousins, the Second Confederate Navy Jack and the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee.

The battle flag of the Army of Tennessee, commonly displayed as the Confederate flag.

As it signified “states’ rights,” I supported the South’s continued use of the flag, even with the understanding that the Civil War was also partly driven by the topic of slavery.  I had no concrete proof that slavery was the prime reason for the tensions, but was instead a secondary concern. Even in 1860, a year or so before the Civil War began, slavery was treated as a states’ rights issue; Southern Democrats endorsed the practice, Republicans denounced it, and Northern Democrats said democracy required the people to decide locally, state by state, territory by territory.

It should go without saying that I do not personally support slavery, but to understand the motivations of the time, I also need to consider the era. It wasn’t necessarily a moral issue, but rather a political one.

Then I found the Cornerstone Address.

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America was adopted on March 11, 1861. Ten days later, Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the new nation, delivered a speech in Athens, Georgia that outlined the fundamental differences between the CSA and the USA. Among those differences was what he called the “immediate cause” of secession and rebellion: Slavery.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Deeper into the address, Stephens elaborates on this fundamental difference, lamenting that the United States was “attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

After applying the lens of modern society to this revelation, I had no choice but to step back from my support of the states’ rights argument: It’s plain as day that the core point of contention between the Blue and the Gray wasn’t state autonomy at all, but instead a policy of oppression and subjugation that we deplore in modern times. In fact, this nation fights against such policies and regimes in foreign countries all the time. Why is it any different when the conflict is here at home?

Historians often ignore this speech, and detractors suggest that it was only one speech by one man over a century ago, so it shouldn’t matter. The problem lies in the man who delivered the address. The Office of the Vice President was nearly identical between both the United States and the Confederate States, and therefore held the same authority when speaking with the power of the position. Consider if any sitting Vice President in the modern era made a similar speech about using executive or legislative policy to enable subjugation of a race. He or she would be castigated, repudiated, and likely forced to immediately resign.

The articles of secession provide further evidence: Four of the states issued additional declarations of cause that strongly defended slavery as a reason to secede. Those four states – Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and South Carolina – were among the first seven to leave the Union. Texas and two other states – Alabama and Virginia, the fourth and eighth states to secede, respectively – mentioned slavery in their secession acts. Of the six states with slavery as a declared priority, five of them were among the seven state signatories to the Confederate Constitution. That’s a clear majority of the founders of the Confederacy.

It’s clear with respect to history that the Confederacy stood for racism to achieve states’ rights, and the ends cannot justify the means.

I certainly don’t suggest that anyone who uses the symbols of the Confederacy is a racist or supports slavery, but I do believe that the motivations of the past should be considered when voicing support. Boldly proclaiming that “the South shall rise again” takes on a whole new tone when the true aims of the defeated Confederate States are added to the mix.

I believe citizens and governments should honestly deliberate over state-sponsored use of Confederate symbols. These symbols have power and history, and as mentioned before, the negatives tend to outweigh the positives. States speak for their citizens, and should not wave the sins of the past over the families of the oppressed.

I don’t support a full ban of the symbols, as bans create an allure of mystery and taboo. We as a people need to learn from our history and mistakes, and never forget the past. To that end, I believe that the southern states should seriously consider removing the Stars and Bars from flagpoles, and to paraphrase Indiana Jones, place them where they belong – in a museum.

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A Challenge to President Obama and the 114th United States Congress

Dear Elected Officials,

Election Day has come and gone, and regardless of the outcome, we exercised our right to vote. We took the time to express our opinion on the course of the country and hire those who we believe will lead us in the direction we want to go.

Well, to be fair, one-third of the eligible voters in the country did. Yes, it troubles me that so many in this country feel so disenfranchised, but this year’s numbers follow the trend of previous midterm election participation, so that’s not my focus.

I’m a political moderate who usually votes slightly left of center. I have voted in every Presidential election during which I have been eligible. I have participated in midterms when I wasn’t moving between states with the Navy. Most importantly, in my opinion, I have never voted a straight-party ticket.

That same mentality applied to the 111th Congress: I value honest and sincere discussion and debate between ideologies, and that was lacking with one party running two branches of government. Quite honestly, it had been lacking since the 2000 Presidential elections established a single-party supermajority for six years. I realize that they have been happening for a long time, but that was before the time that I could (or, frankly, was intelligent enough to) vote.

That said, since the 2010 midterms, I have been dismayed and frustrated by the state of our government. I’ve never been a fan of the TEA Party because I feel that their methods, in general, are too extreme. I believe that the polarizing attitude brought to bear on both sides since the 112th Congress was sworn in has done more harm than good.

Time and time again since the Republicans took control of the House in 2011, we’ve seen last minute deals to avoid fiscal emergencies, blocking of presidential nominations, and even a sixteen day shutdown of the government. We’ve also seen at least 33 attempts to repeal Obamacare, each of which has failed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I truly understand the public face of your discontent. I also have my reservations about how things have been done under this administration, but I also strongly feel that secret meetings to sabotage a presidency before it even begins betray the trust that the American people put in our legislators.

Since (at least) the 2008 Presidential elections, the polarizing attitude has been growing, and it spiked in the 2010 midterms. In the public sphere, there no longer appears to be room for ideological debate, as the people of this country have adopted the words of President George W. Bush in 2001 – “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” – as political gospel. There is no middle ground, and no room for compromise.

As a veteran, the son of a veteran, and the most recent in a long family tradition of proud American veterans, I’ve almost lost faith in the dream. I don’t believe that the leaders of the people, a talented group of men and women who were hired by the people to work for the people, have the interests of the people at heart. This doesn’t feel like the country I agreed to fight for and die for, and no single person – Democrat, Republican, or Independent – has failed that ideal.

Instead, all of them have.

Enough is enough.

As I see it, the 114th Congress has the potential to get a lot of work done. Holding the majority in the House and Senate allows the Republican Party to make great strides for important conservative measures, and having a Democrat in the Oval Office means that to pass those bills into law, you need to successfully sell them to the Democrats.

To that end, the President is the current face of the Democratic Party, and he needs to work with the Republicans to get the wheels turning. Additionally, we were promised the most transparent administration ever, so let’s do that. If something doesn’t pass muster, we the people deserve to know why exactly it doesn’t work, and what steps are being taken to find a mutually acceptable solution.

The legislative majority does not have the power to override a Presidential veto. Similarly, unless the Senate breaks out the infamous “Nuclear Option” – an act which I believe would highlight an inability to lead and work together – the majority faces the threat of filibuster and further gridlock. Work can get done, but it can’t be “my way or the highway.” The American people need you to be the leaders you promised us you could be.

Compromise is not a dirty word. Anywhere else than Washington, it is a well-developed method to achieve progress. As it stands, the United States needs to improve our poorly-aged transit and energy infrastructures, needs to find solutions to the rising incidents of gun violence, and needs to meaningfully address immigration, tax, and election reform. I also believe that we should be seriously investigating climate change.

In my opinion, job one on day one also needs to be the Federal budget. It’s been a major sticking point over the last six years, and now is the time to put your money where your mouth is. Prove to us that it can be done.

We’re asking you to do the jobs you were hired to do. I know that there is great potential in this Congress to show us that you work for the people. Not for interests and not for parties, but for the men and women who live, work, play, and die for the dream of the men who founded this nation.

No more symbolic gestures. No more votes in futility. No more partisan games. No more spin.

Help me to believe again. Help America to believe again.

Now, get to work.

Upping the Hyper-Partisan Ante

In case you haven’t been following the news, things are going to hell in Syria. As is the trend in the Middle East right now, protestors have risen up against the government, calling for reforms and re-instatement of civil rights, and the government has responded by arresting and killing the protestors. President Obama took steps in May of 2011 to effect sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort “to end its use of violence against its people and begin transitioning to a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people.” This act effectively freezes any assets President Assad and those named in the Executive Order have in the jurisdiction of the United States. Similar steps were taken by the European Union and Canada, but have had no effect on President Assad’s campaign.

At the end of 2011, estimates showed that over 5,000 citizens had been killed since the revolution began in January. President Assad claimed that the uprisings were driven by foreign powers and that his “victory was near.”

In early February 2012, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton took the issue to the United Nations in an effort to enact global sanctions through the Security Council. The resolution was vetoed by the countries of China and Russia, and the immediate response by one of our leaders here at home was disgusting.

 

Congressman John Fleming, a Tea Party Representative from Louisiana took the veto as a victory against an attempt by President Obama and Secretary Clinton to “decide Syria’s destiny.” Never mind the fact that people are dying for something they believe in, and are being killed by an oppressive government, by all that is holy and American, the Conservatives won.

It occurs to me that Congressman Fleming doesn’t really have an understanding of American history or the Constitution he claims to serve. Lest we forget that 237 years ago, a group of rebellious citizens stood up against an oppressive British government for their right to governance with representation. This started an eight year war we call the American Revolutionary War which eventually resulted in the founding of this very country. In eight years, approximately 103,000 people were killed or wounded on both sides in the quest for reforms and civil rights.

The Constitution was written to ensure those rights remained in place, and over the following 230 years, those rights have been expanded from the Bill of Rights to include 17 further amendments to an ever-evolving document.

Not the same issue? I disagree, but I also digress. The real issue is this case is one of hyper-partisan politics. It’s almost as if there’s a script out there for this kind of childish tit-for-tat slap-fighting.

President Obama’s intervening on the global stage? He’s meddling in things!

President Obama’s not intervening on the global stage? The godless man is letting innocent women and children die!

President Obama wants to bring the troops home? He’s supporting terrorism!

President Obama deploys troops? He’s a warmonger!

President Obama announces plans to people to work? Socialist usurper!

President Obama announces a spike in unemployment? Where’s the jobs?!

Enough! This government has had absolutely no problem providing aid and assistance, for better or worse, to governments and people fighting against oppression for their rights. It is an American mission, whether we admit it or not, to not only promote but defend the concept of democracy around the world. It started with Manifest Destiny in the 19th century, and it continues today. It got us into the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War. It also was partially used as justification to invade Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks.

This isn’t an issue of Democrat and Republican or Liberal and Conservative fighting for their slice of the First World pie. This is reality. There are people dying at the hand of an oppressive government because they want basic human rights, and the United Nations, for all of its failings, is the body to enact sanctions to sway that government to stop. China and Russia have enabled President Assad to continue his tyranny, and Congressman Fleming is celebrating 5,000 deaths in one year because it blocked the will of his enemy. This is also the same congressman who opposed a tax hike because he could barely survive on $400,000 a year. He also rallied his supporters because he believed The Onion’s satirical attack on Planned Parethood and posted it as news.

This kind of attitude goes against the spirit of the country and our Constitution. It also goes against very ideals and morals this congressman claims to hold as a leader in his Christian faith.

Honestly, Congressman Fleming, whose side are you on?

Sources:

United States Department of Treasury: Administration Takes Additional Steps to Hold the Government of Syria Accountable for Violent Repression Against the Syrian People

BBC World News: Russia and China veto resolution on Syria at UN

ThinkProgress: Multi-Millionaire Rep. Says He Can’t Afford A Tax Hike Because He Only Has $400K A Year After Feeding Family

ThinkProgress: Congressman Posts Satirical Attack On Planned Parenthood From The Onion As News

Wikipedia: 2011–2012 Syrian uprising

Wikipedia: Congressman John Fleming

Wikipedia: American Revolution

Wikipedia: American Revolutionary War

Wikipedia: Manifest Destiny

Facebook: Congressman John Fleming

United States House of Representatives: About Congressman John Fleming

 

 

Be Careful What You Ask For

This is a humorous write-up about school prayer, shamelessly copied from an unattributed source.  If you know who originally wrote this, let me know and I’ll update with credit.

––

Dear John,

As you know, we’ve been working real hard in our town to get prayer back in the schools. Finally, the school board approved a plan of teacher-led prayer with the children participating at their own option. Children not wishing to participate were to be allowed to stand out in the hallway during the prayer time. We hoped someone would sue us so we could go all the way to the Supreme Court and get that old devil-inspired ruling reversed.

Naturally, we were all excited by the school board’s action. As you know, our own little Billy (not so little, any more, though) is now in the second grade. Of course, Margaret and I explained to him no matter what the other kids did, he was going to stay in the classroom and participate.

After the first day of school, I asked him, “How did the prayer time go?

“Fine.”

“Did many kids go out into the hallway?”

“Two.”

“Excellent. How did you like your teacher’s prayer?”

“It was different, Dad. Real different from the way you pray.”

“Oh? Like how?”

“She said, ‘Hail, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…'”

The next day I talked with the principal. I politely explained I wasn’t prejudiced against Catholics but I would appreciate Billy being transferred to a non-Catholic teacher. The principal said it would be done right away.

At supper that evening I asked Billy to say the blessings. He slipped out of his chair, sat cross-legged on the floor, closed his eyes, raised his hands palms up and began to hum.

You’d better believe I was at the principal’s office at eight o’clock the next morning. “Look,” I said. “I don’t really know much about these Transcendental Meditationists, but I would feel a lot more comfortable if you could move Billy to a room where the teacher practices an older, more established religion.”

That afternoon I met Billy as soon as he walked in the door after school. “I don’t think you’re going to like Mrs. Nakasone’s prayer, either, Dad.”

“Out with it.”

“She kept calling God ‘O Great Buddha…'”

The following morning I was waiting for the principal in the school parking lot. “Look, I don’t want my son praying to the Eternal Spirit of whatever or to Buddha. I want him to have a teacher that prays in Jesus’ name!”

“What about Bertha Smith?”

“Excellent.”

I could hardly wait to hear about Mrs. Smith’s prayer. I was standing on the front steps of the school when the final bell rang.

“Well?” I asked Billy as we walked towards the car.

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Mrs. Smith asked God to bless us and ended her prayer in Jesus’ name, amen, just like you.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Now we’re getting someplace.”

“She even taught us a verse of scripture about prayer,” said Billy.

I beamed. “Wonderful. What was the verse?”

“Let’s see…” he mused for a moment. ” ‘And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.’ “

We had reached the car. “Fantastic,” I said, reaching for the door handle. Then I paused. I couldn’t place the scripture. “Billy, did Mrs. Smith say what book that verse was from?”

“Third Nephi, chapter 19, verse 18.”

“Third what?”

“Nephi,” he said, “It’s in the Book of Mormon.”

The school board doesn’t meet for a month. I’ve given Billy very definite instructions that at prayer time each day he’s to go out into the hallway. I plan to be at that board meeting. If they don’t do something about this situation, I’ll sue. I’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to. I don’t need the schools or anybody else teaching my son about religion.

We can take care of that ourselves at home and at church, thank you very much.

Give my love to Sandi and the boys.

Your friend, Jack

Journalists and Vigilante Justice in Atlanta?

Local news station CBS Atlanta ran a story about a DeKalb County teacher who resigned from his job after journalists investigated his checkered past. You see, CBS Atlanta has a segment they call “Tough Questions” in which they (appropriately enough) ask tough questions about what they consider to be possible problems in the metropolitan area. They have investigated problems with the water supply, code violations at local day cares, gang problems, and sex offenders.

It seems only fitting that they should level their aim at Lester Caldwell, who was arrested after being accused of inappropriate sexual contact with two students, including intercourse with a cheerleader. Atlanta Public Schools fired him following the accusations, but CBS Atlanta was tipped off that he has been rehired in 2008 to teach at an elementary school. After all, he does have a valid teaching license, so he should be able to work, right?

Apparently not.

Read More »

Quote of the Day

On the heels of the unsurprising Supreme Court’s decision not to strike down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), Kenny (@Geekyfanboy on Twitter) made this simple statement:

I couldn’t agree more.  I don’t understand why a country wouldn’t defend those who sacrifice everything to protect it and its people.

By the way, I’ll just leave this related gem here as well: