Thursday, July 07, 2016

Activism and Art in America

A Marriage on the Rocks?

            As far as we know, Shakespeare did not take to the streets to protest the tyranny and injustice of the ruling class of his day. He did not write inflammatory pamphlets or confront
Shakespeare
the nobility with a litany of accusations, demanding social change. He did not attack the Queen or her court for their pretentious foppery or point fingers at corrupt officials.
            Rather, he held up a mirror to his culture and showed us examples of tyranny and nobility which have served as moral beacons ever since. We recognize ruthless, naked ambition because Shakespeare wrote a play about such a tyrant in Macbeth. We recognize how personal tragedy unfolds when feuds between neighbors erupt out of control, destroying the lives of the innocent, because he wrote Romeo and Juliet.
            Does that mean that Shakespeare’s portrayals ended tyranny or fatal family feuds? Of course not. But we don’t hear critics say that Shakespeare’s writings and the subsequent performances of his works over centuries were just more or less meaningless talk. We say that Shakespeare was a major influence in western culture, articulating perspectives on a wide variety of experiences that we still encounter today in our collective and personal lives.
            Yet the demand upon artists persists. Don’t just talk about it, do something!
            This criticism of the poet’s role in society came up at the book release party we held last Friday, July 1, at The Venue on 35th in Norfolk, my artistic base since 2009.
            The book is A Conversation About Race Among Poets. It’s the collective work of six poets who met weekly for three months in the winter-spring of 2015 and, under my
From top-left, myself, Jack Callan,
Betty Davis, C.J.Expression,
Judith Stevens, Madeline Garcia
synthesizing supervision, created a performance out of our back-and-forth poetic exchanges. The performance got some local attention for its diversity and honest perspectives on race and race relations, and a video of the performance, posted on 
YouTube, attracted the interest of Kathleen McBlair, a friend who runs a small publishing company, Words on Stage. After a year of editorial collaboration between Kathleen and myself, the book was released last week with a special performance of some of its contents. (It is now available at www.wordsonstage.net for $10.)
            In a Q&A session following that performance, one audience member, while complimenting the quality of our work, criticized spoken word in general as ineffectual and, in a sense, self-indulgent. Talk is cheap, he seemed to say. We’re not doing anything of real value unless we’re taking direct action.
            Nathan Richardson, a local poet we all love and respect, seconded that sentiment and talked persuasively about spoken word as a preparation for non-violent protest in the tradition of the civil rights struggle led by Martin Luther King. As the mentor of Teens with a Purpose, a spoken word ensemble which performs regularly across our area, Richardson has done a great deal to draw out the talents of many young poets who might otherwise have been creatively stifled.
            But, he says, he is not training them as poets or entertainers but as activists because poetry is not enough to change society. Only non-violent direct action can do that.
            It struck me as a sort of cognitive dissonance that a poet would, in a sense, disrespect his art in that way. Are we poets wasting our time with our self-indulgent attention to a craft which is basically irrelevant in today’s tumultuous world of crisis after crisis? Does our art represent, at best, a preparation, a warm-up, a pep talk for the real thing in the streets or at the gates of the monolithic towers of power? Are we ineffectually preaching to the choir when we should be actively confronting the powers that be?
            Frankly, I have heard this dismissive point of view since I was in school, and I have to take issue with it. I certainly have no quarrel with Martin Luther King or Nathan Richardson on the call for non-violent resistance. I agree that non-violence is an effective way to resist injustice, bigotry, and, as JFK put it, “the officious state.” I believe, ultimately, that it’s more honorable to suffer violence willingly than to inflict it.
            But I have trouble with the argument that creating art—poetry, music, drama, fiction, painting, sculpture, photography—is not doing anything. In fact, I feel hurt by that suggestion. Not doing anything? Really?

Conversation About Race in Rehearsal

            In the summer of ‘64—after the Kennedy assassination and during the right-wing Goldwater Presidential candidacy—my wife Jala and I, freshly wed six months earlier, took a student flight to Europe, where we traveled around for three months.
            I didn’t know why we were going to Europe, though I’d been the one to suggest it. I told Jala the summer before if she’d marry me I’d take her there, but I don’t know why I even said that.
            But as the summer unfolded, it seemed clear we were called to Europe—as were many other student-age Americans at that time, with cheap, round-trip charter flights for $250.
            In Europe we discovered our deeper selves living beneath the superficial facade of American cultural naiveté.
            We arrived in Paris, spent a few days in awkward adjustment—my French was a laughing-stock pretty much everywhere we went—then we rented a car and headed west for Chartres—we’d heard of the cathedral there and were duly awed in its presence. We continued from there toward the beaches on the Atlantic coast. Beaches were a kind of security. They were all we really knew about how to spend a vacation. It’s incredible how dumb untraveled Americans are.
            We followed the French coast into Spain and down to Madrid, where our guidebook strongly advised a visit to the Prado Museum, one of the best art museums in the world, it said. So we thought, since we were in Madrid, we may as well go there.
            Only twice in my life have I experienced a major change of consciousness in a single afternoon. That afternoon at the Prado Museum in Madrid was one of them. The art that hung on those walls blew my mind.

May 3, 1808 by Francisco de Goya
Prado Museum, Madrid

            I realized that afternoon that I, too, wanted to be involved in the creation of beauty, drama, and myth. I, too, wanted to express ideas suddenly bubbling up inside of me, ideas I hadn’t even unpacked yet. I suspected—as time has proven true—that my greatest happiness would not be in the academic world I was preparing for but in the rough-and-tumble uncertainty of an artist’s life, where security is a joke.
            But that’s where I wanted to be. I couldn’t draw or paint, but I was already a decent writer, and way in the back of my mind, behind a curtain where I’d reluctantly left him after high school, was an actor contemplating a return to the stage.  
            I wanted to stay in Europe, but that was impossible, so we returned to the United States, as scheduled, in September, 1964. Since that time I have experienced over and over how little regard my culture has for artists. Entertainers, yes. Industry whores, really. But we honor them because, for one thing, they make a lot of money with their extraordinary talents, and we respect money and idolize glamor.
            But as a culture we don’t really respect art. We think art must have a purpose beyond itself, and as artists we often feel unworthy in America because the dedication and discipline it takes to create a timeless poem or story or song or character on the stage is not particularly valued unless there is a result beyond simple, elegant expression.
            In short, as a culture, we can’t let art be a good in itself. It has to have a utilitarian purpose to have value. Thus, we shame our artists because they aren’t “doing more.” We suspect they’re lazy or wasting time when they sit under a tree with a pencil and a sketchbook or notebook. (Time, after all, is money.) To me, that seems insensitive to the greatness that is embodied in the art of western culture.
            Leonardo, Michelangelo, Dante, Shakespeare, Moliere, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams—were they not doing enough?
That's me in 2012. I protested a
meeting of Repub big-wigs outside
Harrison's Pier in Ocean View.
            My own defense of A Conversation About Race Among Poets, if I really need to make one, is that speech is action, especially potent with the care of craft behind the words. Why else would it be a Constitutionally protected right? It has consequences, it changes minds, it stimulates thought, it enables communication, and, in the action of putting together and delivering a performance, it creates solidarity among a diverse group of poets, which then extends to include an audience in a positive experience. In my opinion, that’s doing something, and for me it is enough. If anyone wants to take it to the streets after hearing it, that’s a choice. If any poet wants to take it to the streets after speaking it, equally good. I’ve done that myself. But no poet should feel inadequate for being “just a poet.” No artist for being “just an artist.”
            Activism and art are two separate disciplines. They can merge, they often do, but why must they? Has activism become a new group think, a new tyranny? I hope not! Is poetry ultimately the province of arm-chair philosophers and hypocrites? I don’t think so!
            Just as thoughts are things, speech is action. A prayer may be just as effective as a protest and a poem at least as powerful as a raised fist.
            I rest my case.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Presumptive Nominees

It Should Have Been Better Than This


            The last time I wrote about politics in this space was back in early May of this year, when there was a chance Bernie Sanders could still win the Democratic nomination for U.S. President. I was dispirited when that was no longer a possibility. (I hold out a vain hope it could still happen.) But I was angry when I learned that the AP and CBS had called California for Hillary before people had even voted. I thought that was unethical and gave the distinct appearance of media interference in the election process. It should be illegal.
            Nevertheless, as in the terribly dispiriting Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision, I realize it’s a done deal. Bernie’s clear vision of restoring and updating FDR’s New Deal, thus reclaiming the soul of the Democratic Party, isn’t happening this year. The surge wasn’t quite strong enough to sweep aside the skeptics who fear the economic turbulence of change and the insiders who fear losing control of the party if Bernie’s revolution succeeds.
            So now we have Hillary, who, by winning her party’s nomination, has reached the next-to-top step on her ambitious ladder of success. And on the other side is Trump, who all the pundits agree has already disqualified himself from office by his outrageous insults and fact-free policy statements. And although the pundits have been wrong about Trump from the beginning, this time they may be right. So far, anyway, Trump is coming across as a major-league bumbler. I can’t imagine enough American voters are ignorant enough to believe that he has the personal stature to fill that office.
            But then, I, too, did not think Trump would be the Republican nominee, though I’ll say he was the most interesting character in that absurd line-up of contenders, all competing for the title of Most Conservative Republican. The winner, Trump, may not even be all that conservative. Real estate moguls rarely are, except where it serves their business interests.
            Still, it seems of late Trump has looked pretty bad in the glare of the national spot light. Meanwhile, the party bosses and elder statesmen, like a posse of vigilantes, gather their forces to round up Trump and take him into custody—or take him out, as most would really prefer. No one thinks Trump can win unless he cooperates with the party, but he says he can run successfully without them. I’ll bet a lot of people would cheer him on if he tried. Even so, however the finger of fate vacillates, the Republicans just don’t look that good these days.
            I’m predicting the American people will abandon the Republicans in large numbers, except some Republican candidates will quickly move to the left a little and save their seats. But a Democratic Senate is more than possible. I think it’s a sure thing.
            Meanwhile, I hear Hillary quoting Bernie these days, when she isn’t thumping Trump. But she’s not giving Bernie credit for her incremental conversion to his campaign message. She sounds like she believes in socialism now, though I haven’t heard her say the word and I doubt she will. Some progressives think it’s a good thing Bernie forced her to the left, and, as a progressive myself, I suppose it is.
            But I have a problem with Hillary when she talks about social and economic inequality, breaking up the power of Wall Street, reforming criminal justice, fixing America’s infrastructure, free college tuition, transitioning out of fossil fuels and into renewables—all Bernie’s issues that Hillary didn’t support until she started to lose elections. Does she think our memories are that short that we don’t notice she’s changed her positions? That where before she was center-left, with the possible exception of her more conservative positions on economics and defense, her campaign now matches Bernie’s on a number of major progressive fronts?
            In a debate Bernie once ironically congratulated Hillary for “coming to religion” on the urgency of addressing climate change—a modification from her previous, more conservative, wait-and-see position. As a citizen who supported Bernie, I feel the same irony about Hillary’s seeming conversion to full left frontal. Is she really leaving behind the cultural Boomer she and Bill personified when she was First Lady and he was First Man? Her sudden shift to the left in her politics during the primaries and now, as we approach convention time, affirmed ever-more shrilly, should at least help me feel okay about this election. But I don’t. I feel there’s an opportunity missed that can’t be recovered. I feel that the wrong choices have already been made.
            Then the only hope is to minimize of the damage. All good souls to the front! Peace and justice must prevail. Nothing else will work for all of us, and anything less is a kind of genocide.


Thursday, May 05, 2016

Norfolk Elects

(Pssst!)
What About 
Those Pesky Floods?

             In the Norfolk, VA, municipal elections on May 3, I voted with my fellow citizens in two out of three contests.
McClellan
            In my home Ward 6 I voted for an innovative outsider, Andrea McClellan, to replace incumbent Barclay Winn on City Council. I came to that decision after I took an online preference test on a range of local issues. My preferences put me over 60% in line with Ms. McClellan, who unseated Winn and also defeated the third-place candidate, Warren Stewart, an educator.
            For school board in Ward 6 I had the choice between Noelle Gabriel, an incumbent, and Carter Smith, a business consultant. Gabriel has a day job as a pediatrician in a local children’s hospital. Where she finds the time to practice children's’ medicine, serve on the school board, and raise a family, too, is beyond me, but I voted for her, and she won over her opponent, 
Gabriel
business consultant Carter Smith, who seemed abrasive in his public comments and had no significant experience with education.
            But the main event of the night was the contest for mayor, an office vacated by the man who’s held it for 22 years. Until 2006 his office was appointed by City Council, but in 2008 Norfolk held its first mayoral election, which Fraim won by a large majority, becoming the city’s first elected mayor.
            As I understand local history, giving voters the choice of mayor was another step in the slow process of Norfolk’s liberalization from an oligarchy to something like a limited republican form of government where the oligarchs give up some small fraction of their power to assure social order.
            That era of transition from liberal oligarchy to limited populism, which Mayor Fraim oversaw, is over. Other, more diverse forces are in play now.
Alexander
            Replacing Mayor Fraim is Kenny Alexander, a Norfolk native, presently a Virginia state senator, and not only the first new mayor in 22 years but the first African-American mayor in Norfolk history.
            I voted for Andy Protogyro on the basis of a televised candidates’ debate. I thought Protogyro, who presently sits on Council, seemed better prepared to be mayor than Alexander or Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe. Obviously, half of Norfolk disagreed with me.
            Half of Norfolk, it turns out, is 28%, which is twice the turn-out which reelected Fraim in 2014.
            Nevertheless, I’m happy with the peoples’ choice. It seems right to me, a positive step forward in Norfolk’s evolving image of itself as an international city, yet still American Southern to the bone.
            But what about sea-level rise? What about the human contribution to climate change? Will the incoming Mayor Alexander sacrifice his roots to the rising seas?
            Now that these candidates have been elected, maybe they’ll talk more about those less popular matters.
             

Monday, May 02, 2016

Election Day in Norfolk

Who Will the People Choose?
            Tuesday, May 3, is election day in Norfolk, VA. We’re voting for mayor, city council, and school board. All are significant. Paul Fraim has been Norfolk Mayor for 22 years, as long as I’ve lived here. Now he’s calling it quits. He wants to go back to private life.
Mayor Frain
            Three candidates are running to replace Fraim. As I ponder who to vote for, I ask myself: Which one do I think is most qualified to be the chief executive of a city I want to live in?
            On City Council, a long-time incumbent, solidly in the pro-business camp, is defending his Superward 6 seat against two challengers who wish to change the status quo, though not in the exact same ways. I live in Superward 6, so this conceivably matters to me.
           Finally, two candidates are running in Ward 6 for one seat on the school board. One is an incumbent, a pediatrician. The other is a successful local businessman who has three kids in Norfolk public schools. This is Norfolk’s first school board election. Previously, City Council appointed school board members. Many of Norfolk’s schools are on the state’s endangered species list, so who’s on the school board also matters.
            Most of the debate I’ve tuned into is about economic development. Creating the conditions to attract successful corporations to Norfolk is a priority. Improving Norfolk’s schools to provide a skilled work force for those corporations is part of that picture.
            But as everyone knows, Norfolk is second only to New Orleans as the East Coast city most vulnerable to rising seas caused by climate change. Yet climate change has hardly been mentioned by any of these candidates. Nor has the media asked much about it.
            How, I wonder, do these candidates expect to attract new business to Norfolk without a comprehensive plan, which does not now exist, on how to mitigate this basic threat to the city’s very existence?
            Perhaps it’s an Alice-in-Wonderland election. Perhaps the competing emperors have no clothes.
            But on the outside chance it’s serious, my curiosity is peaked. Who will we, the people of Norfolk, elect to lead us? How will my fellow citizens in this, my adopted city, vote?


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Now That It's Becoming Clear....

Election 2016

Why Trump Could Win
  

           Now that it’s becoming depressingly clear that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic Party’s nominee in this November’s Presidential election, I’m no longer passionate about any candidate. I don’t say it doesn’t matter who wins, but neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump embraces my core values in any meaningful way. I’m free to look at this election without any personal bias beyond my own disappointment in the process.
            Still, there are uneasy forces afoot in the land that bear watching, and many of these forces attach to those who support the current front-runners and probable nominees of their respective parties.
            Donald Trump represents a large group of people—a number of whom are persuadable Democrats and Independents—who feel cut off from their patriotic roots in the American mythology that we are the greatest nation ever to rise upon the face of the Earth. To these folks—the demographers have identified them as largely white, under-uneducated, unemployed or under-employed males—Trump represents something different, something more muscular and shrewd and, maybe most importantly, inward-looking in a nationalistic sense. America first, and to hell with those who don’t like it.
            Hillary Clinton has said she wants to continue in the direction set by the policies of the Obama administration. She has also drifted quite a bit to the left of Obama in response to Bernie Sanders’ effective challenge to her presumed coronation. She has not, however, made it clear she will stay out there on the left, once Bernie is out of the competition. Her appeal to her party’s base, therefore, is ambiguous.
            Will the present Sanders supporters turn out for Hillary? As a Sanders supporter myself, I can’t say. My present instinct is to stay at home, but we’ll see what the campaign brings. I've always voted, and I suppose I will again.
            The thing is, who will Hillary attract? Her argument is that she will continue the legacy of Obama while adding on some of Bernie Sanders’ proposals, like relief for student loans, bringing corporate tax dodgers to heel, maybe even a tax on Wall Street transactions. But it’s sure to be more of the same on many fronts. The economy will still be rigged, elections will still be for sale, the morass in the Middle East will continue, and the red states will still think they are victims of a great conspiracy to take their country away from them. Hillary haters will compete for those audiences, and some will thrive.
            Meanwhile, Bernie’s political revolution of democratic socialism won’t go away. It may take another election cycle to realize itself, but the Democratic Party, as many have observed, is on the verge of its own nervous breakdown, similar to the breakdown of the Republican party establishment and the rise of the Trump phenomenon.
            In the meantime, though, the country may elect Trump, who is likely to make the case that electing Hillary is a throw-back to the past, while he is something new, a successful business magnate who knows how to make deals advantageous to himself and his interests. People like to hear that, especially if they’re disillusioned with the America they experience today compared to the American dream they were raised to believe in, one of opportunity and abundant reward for all who buckle down and work hard.
            In short, Trump offers change, however one feels about it. Hillary offers more of the same as if the same has been good. That’s a hard sell. Trump appeals to the gambler’s nature. Hillary favors the security of sameness, of the familiar. Yes, she’s a woman, and breaking the glass ceiling of the U.S. Presidency for women is no small thing, just as it was no small thing we elected Obama, our first African-American President. But victories need to be more than symbolic, and, given our times of multiple crises, there’s a widely shared feeling that we need substantive change. Like it or not, at this point in the process it looks as if Trump is the only candidate who offers that.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Thoughts on Super Tuesday Eve

The Real Issue Is Bernie

            I’m not so pleased about Bernie Sanders’ prospects in today’s Super Tuesday primaries. But the talk is that he’s looking to other states down the road where his chances are better, and Hillary’s current roll is not necessarily the final count. There still is hope.
           Bernie, meanwhile, came out with an unusual statement Monday about Trump, who is getting into more and more trouble with the Republican Party even as he’s leading in the Republican primary polls. Most recently he hedged on denouncing David Duke and the Klan. Mainstream Republicans are numb with impotence. They don’t know how to handle a front-runner who’s taking the party away from them and toward a nationalistic fever which is fascist, pure and simple. We’ve got a big-time capitalist billionaire luring the nationalistic vote with the promise to make America great again. He lost it Monday, in my opinion, when he choked in rage at some Black Lives Matter protesters who interrupted him at a town hall meeting. It was a disturbing scene, focused on Trump, all but red-faced as he ordered his bouncers to throw the protesters out of the hall, which they did.
            So it’s getting ugly among Republicans. But on the Democratic side, on Monday we had Bernie rejecting Trump utterly, saying Hate can never replace Love in the United States of America, or something close to that. It was, as my wife Jala said, an unusual statement from a politician of any party, and another reason why I remain stalwart in my support for Bernie, though I certainly will vote for Hillary in the general election, if it comes to that.
            The thing is, I worry that Hillary won’t be able to defeat Trump because Trump will galvanize all those who have never liked her. Are they numerous enough to offset the anti-Trump vote? I don’t know. No one knows. Everyone counts differently to their own advantage. I want to believe Bernie can win. I’ll settle for Hillary but have lower expectations, particularly in matters of war and peace and, I suppose, social wellness, which includes climate, health care for all, reining in polluters, taxing Wall Street transactions, expanding free, public education, etc.
            But who knows? Maybe she’d be a great President, maybe it’s her destiny. But that makes me feel bad for Bernie because I think he’s got the better platform—one that I’d like to see implemented. I’d like to see more opportunities open up and people get more relaxed about life, knowing that there’s a brighter future ahead for all of us, not just the few who beat their way to the top or are born into it.
            We live in times that have ceased to be just interesting. Increasingly they are terrible. Now one of America’s two major political parties is on track to nominate an imperial fascist dictator for President of the USA. The fear on one side is that he’ll destroy the Republican Party, but if they nominate him aren’t they the Republican Party?
             There’s also talk of someone jumping in. Bloomberg was mentioned but lately Mitt Romney’s emerged from the old guard, putting himself forward with anti-Trump tweets. Meanwhile, Rubio is pushing hard to be the Reagan Republican alternative to Trump, while Cruz keeps a toe hold of his own on ambition with his appeal to the Christian fundamentalists. Kasich hangs on as the reasonable traditional small-town Republican Rotarian who just wants people to calm down and listen to his voice of reason, which is pretty damn narrow once you get past the soothing tones and listen to what he’s saying. (Still, as governor of Ohio he took Medicaid expansion. He may be the best of the sorry lot.)
            Carson deserves mention as the Negro face of Republican success, but, despite his avowed determination to remain relevant, it’s hard to see him as a serious contender for the nomination. The same could be said, in fact, for Kasich, and probably Cruz, too—the evangelical base isn’t big enough to offset the nationalists, I suspect. Which leaves Rubio as the one most likely to unite Republicans in victory in November. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump tossed him to Christie to pulverize and feed to the alligators in the Everglades.
            The real issue is Bernie, who has the only pure vision of America left among Presidential candidates in this fateful Leap Year 2016. As we undergo change so rapid and multi-layered no one can keep track of it, why not aim high rather than low or fair-to-middlin’? It’s a question that’s been asked before, and usually—most of the time, in my experience—it’s answered on the safe side. But sometimes not. Sometimes there is a revolution, or, to put it more congenially, a spontaneous evolution.
            We need that. In my opinion, it should have happened fifty years ago. But now, we need it right quick.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Shout-Out to Congressman Rigell

“Read the Preamble!”

          In his last newsletter to constituents, my Congressional Representative, “moderate” Republican Scott Rigell, a wealthy Virginia Beach car dealer, discussed his reasons for supporting a debate and vote in Congress on whether the President should step up the war in Iraq and Syria against the renegade forces of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIL. (I refuse to dignify that group with the name “Isis,” mythic Goddess of the ancient Mideast.)
            His reasoning is that the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which gave the President the authority to wage certain acts of war without consulting Congress, has resulted in “executive over-reach,” meaning that the President is waging wars beyond the parameters set by the War Powers Resolution and therefore without the Congressional approval demanded by the Constitution.
            Leaving aside the politics of obstruction against President Obama, which has been Republican strategy for the past eight years, Rep. Rigell expressed a couple of common-sense points in his newsletter, given the sober reality of war and the disputable claim that it is necessary, if only as a “last resort”—whatever that means.
            He is certainly correct when he states that the Constitution requires Congressional authorization before the President can send Americans into war, though the War Powers Resolution relieves the President of that requirement under certain circumstances which Presidents have invoked since Vietnam and under which President Obama still operates in Iraq and Syria.
            He puts the burden on Congress for its inaction ten months after the President asked for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq and Syria.
            He notes that military commanders support an AUMF, which is an arguable point for authorization.
            But then, in his concluding point number 5, he says this: “The federal government’s number one responsibility is the protection of the American people.”

            This comment sent me back to the U.S. Constitution itself. Yes, I read the whole damn thing, and it’s not light reading. But in many instances it’s clear. And, indeed, Article I, Section 8 gives a lot of war-power authority to Congress, under the general principle in Section 1: “The Congress shall have power...to pay the debts and provide for the defense and general welfare of the United States....”
            But Congress is only one branch of the federal government. There’s an Executive and there’s a Judicial. They each have their own sections under Article I, and I encourage the more studious to read them.
            My point, which I conveyed in an email to Rep. Rigell, is that his statement is inaccurate. The federal government is a combined Constitutional entity of three branches. And I argue that the purpose of the federal government is best expressed in the Preamble, one of our greatest founding documents, which, if you will, stands as the federal government’s mission statement:

            “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, secure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

            To me this clearly says that defense is only one of the federal government’s concerns. There are five others. And, indeed, they may all overlap to some extent, and they all need clarification, which the Constitution attempts to provide in 27 subsequent amendments. It’s an evolving document. We, hopefully, are an evolving society.
            But too many in Congress seem to think, as Rep. Rigell does, that defense is the primary responsibility of the federal government, and I’m saying that’s just not so. The Constitution is broader than that.
            In my opinion, ISIL, the most recent cause of our current war fever, is a criminal organization like al-Qaeda before it and in many ways not unlike the Mafia. Why we always have them in society is a topic for philosophers to sort out. But these are no armies at our shores, and I think our representatives should calm down and reaffirm ALL our national priorities, not just our great military might. They are elected to do more than declare and oversee wars, and perhaps if they paid more attention to their other primary responsibilities there would be fewer reasons to go to war and less bickering over who gets to declare it.