Saturday, June 30, 2018

Problems Solved

During the height of the Viet Nam War, when large Cold War military bases were awash with personnel, the commanding general of Lackland Air Force Base initiated a monthly $50 prize to the person who made the best suggestion on how to improve efficiency.  My hero was a sergeant who won the prize by suggesting that two separate paper forms be combined into one new paper form.

A few months later, the same sergeant won the prize again by suggesting the elimination of the new form, since hardly anyone had used it in the last year.

Personally, I think his ideas were worth a lot more than a measly C-note:  they should have at least named the Pentagon after him!  The sergeant obviously had the kind of initiative and leadership skills that should have been encouraged. 

There is merit in the idea of combining two problems in the hope the irritants will cancel each other out.  This has been on my mind this week as a retiring Supreme Court justice has touched off another round of heated national debates about abortion.  It has been only a few days, and already it seems to be all that the various news channels can talk about.

If we can maintain some semblance of civil discourse, I will happily debate with you the merits of water purification techniques in Nigeria.  Or we can have long arguments about where your lap goes when you stand up.  (While I was getting a degree in Anthropology, one of my professors—the late Fred Plog—happily admitted that all my new parchment was good for was official recognition of an ability to argue about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  I immediately proved him wrong by agreeing with him, thereby proving my suitability for graduate school.)

Abortion is different—there is no need for new arguments since clearly no one is listening to anyone else.  If you watch any of these carefully staged “roundtable discussions” that television is so fond of airing (otherwise known as, "Let's you and him fight!"), all the participants do is talk over each other or wait until it is their turn to speak and say whatever they want—regardless of what anyone else has said.  Hell, even faculty meetings are better, if only because they eventually adjourn.

No one's mind will be changed about abortion in the coming months, just as no one's mind has been changed in this debate for years.  (Frankly, I wish the issue had been settled at the ballot box decades ago, instead of turning our courts and state legislatures into an endless game of one-upmanship.

Every president promises not to use the issue as a litmus test for appointing judges (usually the opposite of what he promised as a candidate)—and this lie is followed up by the charade of potential candidates' promising the Senate Judiciary Committee that they have open minds about an issue that every post-pubescent American has long since already decided. 

“Judge Smith, can you comment on how you might rule on anything, if this body was to confirm your appointment to the highest court in the land?”

“I can’t comment about anything substantive, Senator.  That might come up in a court case and I want to keep an open mind.  Besides, if I told the truth about anything, half of you guys wouldn’t vote to confirm me and I would lose a lifetime job with good pay and great benefits.”

Somehow, the only American in the entire country without an opinion about abortion is a potential candidate for a court that will likely decide the issue for the rest of us. 

These endless arguments remind me of the endless nonsense about gun control….  Hmmm.

Combining the two problems is the obvious solution, so I propose that we officially change the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights to read as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms or seek an abortion, shall not be infringed.

Yes, the idea is insane, but there is method to my madness:  just think of the possible benefits!  First, we will have an Amendment that will please—at least in part—both the left and the right.  Second, the ACLU can, once again, defend all ten Amendments making up the Bill of Rights.

The pointless debates would end, since regardless of your political leanings, you can find something in the reworded amendment you like.  No one would want to repeal the Second Amendment...At least not in that form.

We could then go back to picking judges for their judicial wisdom, not for their religious preferences.  Politicians could be judged on… something?  (I’m still not sure what they do when they aren’t throwing red meat at their constituents).

Best of all, the donnybrooks over federal funding for Planned Parenthood and whether the National Rifle Association has bought your congressman could end!  Actually, you could combine both organizations under the new name,  "National Rifle and Abortions".  (It would bring a whole new meaning to the term,  "NRA Life Member"!)

I look forward to the day when the New and improved NRA buys airtime on MSNBC.  I can already imagine their new slogan:

“Assault rifles and abortions—if you don’t want one, don’t get one.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

At The Water's Edge

Because 1948 was a presidential election year, everyone and his dog knew it would be a bad year for bipartisan efforts in Washington.  World War II was over, the Cold War loomed as relations with our former ally, the Soviet Union, deteriorated rapidly, and all of America expected a major shift in the country’s political climate.  The Democrats would most likely lose in the upcoming presidential election, giving the White House to the Republicans for the first time since 1932.

Normally, during a presidential election year, very little significant foreign policy is conducted, since treaties must be ratified by the Senate.  Politicians know that heated debates on controversial issues distract from every candidate's prime missions—raising money and getting reelected—so those debates are avoided, if possible. 

But 1948 was an unusual year:  Tens of millions of Europeans were still homeless, unemployed, living in ruined cities, struggling with food rationing, and living under shaky governments still trying to reestablish themselves.  Worse yet, the Russian bear was refusing to relinquish occupied territory in Eastern Europe and was threatening to take over even more countries.

America needed a stronger Western Europe—one financially strong enough to be a trading partner, and one militarily strong enough to resist communism.  The State Department had two proposals that might help to achieve these goals:  The Marshall Plan and the creation of the North American Treaty Organization. 

The problem with the proposals was that while President Truman and his cabinet were Democrats, the Republicans were the majority party in the Senate.  Senator Arthur Vandenberg (right) was not only Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee—where Senate approval of any treaty would be initiated—but as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, could also easily block the passage of any treaty.

While the Republican Presidential Convention was still months away, it was common knowledge that Vandenberg was expected to be the Republican candidate that fall, and as Truman’s popularity waned, most expected that it would be a President Vandenberg who would eventually tackle the ticklish problems of rebuilding Europe and containing Soviet aggression.

Senator Vandenberg knew that a successful conclusion of treaty negotiations would be handing a huge political victory to Truman just before the election, and that if the treaty were simply stalled a few months, he could very well become the next president of the United States.

Announcing that “politics stops at the water’s edge”, Vandenberg worked closely with Secretary of State Marshall and Undersecretary Robert Levitt.  Authoring the Vandenberg Resolution, the Senate overwhelmingly authorized President Truman to seek mutual defense agreements with the countries of Western Europe—a step that would lead directly to the formation of NATO. 

And it was a step that led indirectly, to the reelection of Truman.  Vandenberg wasn’t even his party’s choice as a presidential candidate.  He retired from politics in 1949.

Senator Vandenberg’s resolution is a monument to bipartisan cooperation.  In 1957, a Senate committee chaired by Senator John F. Kennedy redecorated the Senate Reception Room, directing that only the portraits of the greatest senators should be on exhibit.  Vandenberg’s portrait is one of nine so honored.

Historically, most successful treaties have been the result of bipartisan effort.  This is why when presidents travel outside of the country, members of both parties usually accompany him.  When Nixon visited Russia in 1972, for example, he included Democrats among his traveling party.

When Wilson travelled to Paris in 1918 to negotiate the Versailles Treaty, he neglected to take any Republicans with him, and as a result, the terms of the treaty became a bitter partisan issue in the next presidential election.  The United States never ratified the Versailles Treaty, never joined the League of Nations, and all but ignored the foreign events inevitably leading to the Second World War.  There is no better example of why world peace should not be allowed to become a partisan talking point.

Three years ago, I predicted that the nuclear arms treaty President Obama was negotiating with Iran would fail for the same reasons—lack of bipartisan participation.  No Republicans were part of the complicated multi-party negotiations, and as expected, the agreement became a partisan topic, figured prominently in the 2016 election, and was never ratified by the Senate.  Fully aware that the Republican-controlled Senate would not approve the proposed treaty, Obama said, “I've got a pen and I've got a phone - and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward.”

Obama lifted the existing sanctions against Iran by an executive order, meaning that President Trump could—with another executive order—begin the process of backing out of the agreement.

Today, President Trump is starting the process of negotiating with North Korea, and—once again (like Wilson and Obama before him)—the President is excluding participation by members of the opposition party.  And once again, I am predicting failure.  Already, Senator Chuck Schumer has referred to the meeting as mere theatrics without substance.

Note.  Actually, Schumer said, "The summit was more show than substance, what the Texans call 'all cattle, no hat,'" The actual expression—at least as we Texans use it—is ‘all hat and no cattle,’ but since it was one New Yorker talking about another New Yorker, who am I to quibble?

Personally, I am in doubt about North Korean sincerity.  The possibility of a meaningful peace treaty seems incredibly remote, but I can at least pretend to be optimistic.  Since November of 2016, I am finding it increasingly easier to accept the unlikely.  I hope President Trump is successful in North Korea.  With that in mind, I suggest that Trump take Senator Schumer with him on his next overseas negotiation trip.

In the meantime, how do we go about finding and electing more men like Senator Arthur Vandenberg?  A man who understands that patriotism is more important than political party?  A man who understands that politics stops at the water’s edge?