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Alexander Hamilton and the Bill of Rights

It’s hard to imagine the U.S. Constitution today without the Bill of Rights trailing right behind those first seven articles that outline the structure of our government. Even when the first drafts of the new constitution were being written, adding a list of protections against government over-reach was a top priority for many of the framers. The Constitution solidified a federal government with the authority to collect taxes, raise an army and a navy, and enforce national laws. Our original constitution, the Articles of Confederation, did not allow the federal government to do any of these things. It was necessary for the survival of the young nation then to rewrite it’s laws to allow for an active central government which would unite the states. Despite this need, many Americans were distrustful of centralized power. Coming off the rule of a king who enacted laws on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean which they were subject to, ordinary citizens were skeptical of giving even an independent government too much power. Many people living in America at that time had made the three month journey across the ocean to escape the prejudiced laws of Europe and it’s rulers. They didn’t trust authority. Suspicion was in their blood. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, didn’t quite have that same suspicion of outsiders in his DNA. While he fought for American independence from the British Crown, he was also one of General George Washington’s closest advisers. He learned to trust authority. Being from the Caribbean, Hamilton didn’t have the same experiences with the burdensome laws of King George that many main-landers had. He knew America’s great potential, but only believed it would be realized through a united effort orchestrated from the top-down.

Hamilton started his journey to the main-land when he was 15. In 1772, the bright and ambitious young man landed in Boston and eventually headed south to New Jersey to attend grammar school. Three years later he moved to New York City to continue his studies in college. In the midst of his course-work, and shortly after the first Revolutionary battles in Massachusetts in 1775, Hamilton volunteered for the New York state militia. He gradually worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant and led his company in battles with the British throughout the New York area. Only a year later the young whipper-snapper was promoted to the Continental Army to be one of George Washington’s aides. Young Alexander spent six years in the service of one of the greatest military leaders of all-time and was again promoted to the rank of Colonel. Even after Hamilton quit Washington’s “family” (his close-knit group of top military advisers), he re-joined the war effort less than half a year later to command three New York battalions. The efforts of his outfits in the summer of 1781 led to the surrender of the British at Yorktown which put an end to the Crown’s resistance of America’s drive to independence.

Following his military service, Hamilton was appointed to the newly established Congress of the Confederation as a representative from New York. Frustrated by the national government’s lack of authority to raise money for an active military, Hamilton advocated a nation-wide tax on imported goods. This is exactly what the people were afraid of. They had been taxed enough already by the King of England. To military men like Hamilton however, the ability of the government to raise money for an army and pay it’s war debt was a necessity. The states showed almost no willingness to pay their debts though, because their people didn’t want to raise taxes. As a result, active-duty soldiers still in defensive position against another British attack began to pay for supplies out of their own pocket. This was unacceptable for a country with as many resources as America had. The import-tax proposal failed in Congress though, thanks to the weakness of the Articles of Confederation. Pass a federal law (such as a tax) required a constitutional amendment that had to be approved by all thirteen states individually! In this particular case, Rhode Island objected and the proposal was defeated. Eventually, the situation got so bad that soldiers began to revolt against the government. In June, 1783, a mob of military men from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, marched on the capitol in Philadelphia to demand their pay. Congress fled the city and relocated to Princeton, New Jersey. Hamilton had had enough with an inept Congress that couldn’t even provide for it’s own soldiers. He resigned a month later and returned to New York to study law.

Following his studies and eventual admission to the New York bar, Hamilton opened a law firm in downtown Manhattan. One of the most important cases that he tried during this period was a 1784 lawsuit (Rutgers v. Waddington) by a land-lady who had to abandon her property after the British occupation of New York during the war. Under state law, property owners were allowed to sue for any damages that were done. This law contradicted with the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris which officially settled the peace between the United States and the British Crown. Hamilton represented the defendant in the case and argued that state law could not over-rule agreements made between independent nations. Around the same time, he started the Bank of New York, the oldest bank in America.

Despite the success of his private law and financial businesses, the multi-talented Hamilton still had an itch for public service. In 1786, a convention of the states was called to meet in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the country’s commercial trade policy. Although representatives from only five states were present, it was agreed that a larger convention would be called to discuss reform of the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton served as a delegate to the small Annapolis convention but he had more ambitious political aspirations. He knew the great potential which united States had. Under the Articles of Confederation the states were only loosely tied. As it stood in 1786, the Union was bound to fail as a result of weak federal laws. The states would either end up fighting each other or a foreign power would invade and easily annex the country that didn’t even have the means to defend itself. It was a matter of American life or death for Hamilton, and there wasn’t much time left to solve the problem.

A constitutional convention was called and held at Philadelphia the following May in 1787. Hamilton had been working on a plan to restructure the federal government. His version reminded some of the old monarchist system in Great Britain. With the goals of unity and stability in mind, Hamilton outlined a government with a “supreme executive”, who would serve as the head of government for life and with the power to veto any law that came across the desk. All state laws that contradicted federal law would be voided, and governors would have the authority to veto their state’s laws without consequence. In addition to promoting executive authority, Hamilton’s “Plan of Government” prohibited all state militias. Every military branch would be under the authority of the federal government. For Col. Hamilton, all things must be organized under the umbrella of a higher authority for the “greater good”, because individual people were, “ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious”. In order for a national government to be effective, people must sacrifice some freedom. This was Hamilton’s thought process in regards to a bill of rights. In a letter to the President of Pennsylvania four years before the Philadelphia convention, Hamilton wrote that, “the rights of government are as essential to be defended as the rights of individuals.” While the agreed upon framework for the new federal government satisfied Hamilton’s ultimate goal of a stronger national government, it didn’t really state any of the “rights” of government itself. It merely outlined a structure and purpose. To then attach a list of specific “rights” of the people would tip the scales back in the favor of individuals and their greedy ambitions.

Hamilton’s letter to the head of Pennsylvania’s state legislature (“The President”) and even his “Plan of Government” were private documents at the time. His first and only public statement about a bill of rights was published in a series of essays designed to help gain support for the proposed constitution, which still had to be approved by nine of the thirteen states. These public essays were circulated in New York and titled, “The Federalist”. Because Hamilton didn’t get as strong a government as he wanted (no executive would be appointed for life), in the 84th essay of the Federalist he laid out his argument against a bill of rights. His argument had three main points: first, it was unnecessary because the original framework already provided rights and privileges of the people, such as the writ of habeas corpus (right to a trial) and trial by jury; second, it was dangerous because a list of rights would prohibit the government from making laws that it wasn’t authorized to make in the first place; third, the concept of a list of rights of the people was too abstract to express in a way that could be enforced. It just wasn’t practical.

When the time came for Hamilton’s state of New York to debate ratification of the proposed constitution, his side of the aisle (those who supported the new constitution) was badly outnumbered. The anti-federalists dominated New York under the leadership of Governor George Clinton. Despite the odds, Hamilton argued passionately to try and convince his fellow delegates to vote for approval. Hamilton pleaded that, “when you have divided and nicely balanced the departments of government, when you have strongly connected the virtue of your rulers with interest . . . you must place confidence, you must give power.” Almost echoing those words, the New York convention ended up approving the new U.S. Constitution in July of 1788 – the eleventh and last major state to give it’s endorsement. It was critical for the nation to be confident in it’s new government and that’s just what New York’s ratification helped do, thanks to Col. Hamilton.

Not only was the Constitution good for the country, it also ended up benefiting Hamilton’s professional career. General Washington was unanimously elected to head the newly created executive branch and he chose Hamilton to fill one the most important offices in his cabinet. As Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Hamilton handled all of the federal government’s finances. He had long been an advocate of the federal regulation of trade and a federal tax, and now he had a chance put his words into action. In 1790, only a year in to the Washington Administration, Secretary Hamilton suggested that the Treasury assume the states’ war debt. This would make a federal tax necessary, which would eventually give the national government the money to raise a full-time army and navy. Using the same thought process, Hamilton had another idea: why not just have the government create it’s own bank? Through the issuance of bonds, which individual investors could buy from the bank in exchange for interest paid over a period of time, the government could raise even more money for any projects it deemed necessary. Hamilton’s old friend James Madison, now one of the leaders in the House of Representatives, didn’t like this idea. He argued that it was unconstitutional and pleaded with President Washington to veto any legislation which authorized the charter of a national bank. Madison’s reasoning was straight-forward: the Constitution did not grant the government the authority to get into the banking business. Hamilton countered by contesting that there was nothing in the Constitution which prohibited the government from doing so. In fact, Hamilton argued, in Article I., Section 8, Congress is charged with the responsibility to, “pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare”, and may “borrow Money”. At the end of Section 8, the Constitution states that the government has the authority “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers”. Besides, they needed to fund a military expedition to the Northwest Territory to clear out the Native tribes for settlement. What better way to get money fast than to start your own bank? Congress went along with Hamilton’s recommendation to legislate a charter, Washington signed it, and by the end of 1791 the U.S. had a national bank. Hamilton was less than three years on the job and had already accomplished two of his major goals for U.S. fiscal policy.

The only thing left to do now, as far as money policy went, was to establish an independent U.S. currency. In 1791, he wrote the Report on the Establishment of a Mint, which proposed the creation of the dollar, along with smaller value coins ranging from one cent to fifty cents. Again Congress took Hamilton’s proposal to heart and passed the Coinage Act of 1792 a year later. America’s finances were finally stabilized and in good order. Not everyone agreed with the policies of the Treasurer however. Men such as Thomas Jefferson and again, James Madison, both of whom had supported the revised constitution, now opposed many of the policies it was allowing for. Jefferson in particular distrusted government becoming involved in the money game. The opposition to many of the Washington Administration’s policies started to rally together and became known collectively as the Democratic-Republicans. Supporters of the nationalist policies of Washington, Hamilton, and Vice-President John Adams were knows as the Federalists. They wanted to capitalize on the power that the Constitution gave the federal government. The Republicans wanted some of that power to remain with the individual states. After all, the Tenth Amendment states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States . . . or to the people.” Alexander Hamilton probably wouldn’t have voted for the Tenth Amendment if he had the chance, and neither would have most Federalists.

After resigning from the Washington administration at the beginning of 1795, Hamilton returned to New York and resumed his law practice. He remained in politics for the rest of his life though, supporting Federalist policies and campaigning for Federalist candidates, but it eventually got him killed. Hamilton had twice campaigned against Aaron Burr, once in 1800 for President, and again in 1804 when Burr ran for Governor of New York. Hamilton had defamed Burr’s character by calling him despicable, and not worthy of public office. Burr finally caught wind of Hamilton’s remarks which he had made in private letters and most recently in a bar and restaurant in upstate New York. After a correspondence between the two men in which Hamilton neither confirmed nor denied his criticisms, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel in New Jersey. On July 11, 1804, the two men met and exchanged shots, both missing. They re-loaded their pistols and fired again, and this time Burr hit his target and caught Hamilton in the stomach. He died the next day in New York. By this time however, the Republicans were in complete control of the government with Jefferson starting a second White House term in 1805, followed by eight years of a Madison presidency. The Federalists had accomplished what they had set out to do in the first twelve years under Presidents Washington and Adams though. The country was stronger and wealthier for it too, thanks in large part to Alexander Hamilton’s tenacity and dedication to an effective national government.

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Thoughts on Southern Secession

Between the time that Abraham Lincoln began publicly debating slavery issues during his run for Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat in 1858, and his election to the White House in 1860, parts of the South and Southwest had undergone the final stage of alienation from the circles of political power in Washington, D.C., and points north.

Before Lincoln took office in March of 1861, the entirety of the Deep South, along with Texas, had seceded from the Union. While the fact that the President-elect opposed continuing a system of slavery and its expansion into new Western states may have been the effective reason for official Southern separation, it was the manner in which Mr. Lincoln was willing to end that system — or at least his rhetorical approach to the matter — that probably turned off Southerners the most.

Indeed, Mr. Lincoln opposed popular referendums on the slavery question in newly formed Western states and made comments prior to his election about the fallibility of a nation divided into two different societal systems. Apparently this was enough to incite Southern politicians, despite reassurances from Lincoln (before he took office) that his Administration would not pursue a dismantling of the South’s economic system which was largely built on free labor.

Despite the raw number of people in the rural South which would have benefited from abolition, by the time the War ended in May of 1865, the Confederate military employed over 1 million people, about 260,000 of which died in battle or Union prisons. An additional 137,000 were wounded.

What was it then that animated so many non-slave owners to rise up against the federal government if a majority would have benefited from an end to a system of free labor? After all, the highest ratio of slave-holding families in the South according to the 1860 census was Mississippi with 49 percent. Even in that state, where a majority of the population were slaves, only 8.7 percent of the total free population were slave owners.

While a draft was instituted by the Confederate Congress in April 1862, most of the Rebel army consisted of volunteer soldiers who were eager to win independence for the Southland. That rebel spirit lives on today, both in the old Confederacy and in the West, from Texas to the southern Rock Mountains, where physical independence is still characteristic of its people.

A Reuters poll conducted in August 2014, however, found that just under one in four Americans favor their state seceding “peacefully”, with the strongest support in the Southwest (34 percent) and Rocky Mountains (26 perceent). The Old South (including West Virginia and Kentucky), supports independence from the federal government at the exact rate of one in four.

So, who are these people who seem to favor a seemingly unrealistic, albeit honorable, vision of a free and independent state? Two organized groups stand out: the League of the South (LOS), and the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM). One seeks independence of “the Southern people”, the other for Texas alone. Both see the boundaries of their homeland as encompassing a distinct set of people who share cultural, ethnic, and historical heritage. And they hold the federal government in contempt just as Jefferson Davis and all the Southern governors did 150 years ago.

Both are serious about their respective movements: TNM is currently seeking signatures to put a referendum on the state-wide primary ballot next year which reads, “The State of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation. FOR or AGAINST.”

What’s the reason for this effort? TNM’s mission statement makes it fairly clear: “. . . while we are part of the Union, everything is ultimately dictated from or allowed by the bureaucrats in D.C. . . . Every campaign cycle, Texas candidates are recipients of massive amounts of cash from outside of Texas . . . Independence means the door shuts on the interests from outside of Texas and a return of power back into the hands of Texans.”

That sounds fair enough, and certainly not many will argue with the notion that an over-reaching federal government that spends more than it earns, with an accrued debt of over $18 trillion and climbing, is a thing worth freeing oneself from. Texas, after all, was an independent state for a short period of time during the 1830’s after seceding from Mexico, has a high military participation rate among its people (250,000), and the lowest unemployment rate for a state with a population over 5 million.

Despite a strong case from the state of Texas, a single independent state would unlikely be successful on any level. The League of the South more ambitiously seeks independence for the entire South, from Maryland to Texas, in the name of “Southern nationalism”. LOS president Dr. Michael Hill, seems to have taken up the cause set forth by Jefferson Davis a century and a half ago, when he declared after retreating from the burning Confederate capitol in Richmond, “it is my purpose to maintain your cause with my whole heart and soul; that I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of the States of the Confederacy . . . If, by the stress of numbers, we should be compelled to a temporary withdrawal from her limits . . . we will return until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.”

Dr. Hill must have studied ol’ Jeff Davis’ words from back then, as he has described LOS’ objective as one to promote the survival, well-being, and independence of Southerners. At a recent LOS meeting in Alabama, Dr. Hill went into detail on the philosophical basis on which his organization rests: “(the) fundamental problem . . . is one of identity . . . until there is an organized effort to rally Southerners based on their true identity as an historic people and then take that organization and use it aggressively to push for the protection and advancement of that identity then all else is going to be futile.”

In that same speech in July, Hill lamented that many of the South’s aristocratic families, who have bloodlines dating back to the Civil War and stood to benefit from a successful Confederate government, have “sold out” to the Republican Party’s national interests today. Hill points most recently to the removal of the Confederate flag at the Alabama and South Carolina state capitols as evidence that the political elite in the South are no longer on the side of its people or even its identity.

Worse, the Democratic party and the ‘radical left’ in America are “Cultural Marxists” and the spawn of the devil. No compromise is possible now with a divided U.S.A., the laws of which mandate gay marriage and abortion, but deny a symbol of historic heritage for many of its people (an estimated 50-80 million people are descendants of Confederate veterans, according to the latest U.S. census).

To that end, an LOS militia — “The Indomitables” — has apparently been organized and is currently being trained by one its members, one Floyd Eric Meadows, a 12-year Army and Navy veteran. On LOS’ website Michael Hill wrote about the organization’s para-military objective of achieving a second secession. “The primary targets will not be enemy soldiers; instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and others of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don’t run.”

Later, in a Facebook post, Hill offered this truism: “Some advice for the Indomitables: A man possesses only those rights for which he is able and willing to fight. Otherwise, they are merely abstract legalisms.”

Despite some clever speeches by pro-secession leaders, public outcry for a new Southern government has been tepid. Any radical government reformation needs strong, unified, support and so far the Secession movement has come up short. A rally held in Montgomery, AL, on a Saturday this past summer for “secession from the U.S.A.” was expected to draw up to 300 people — only 30 were in attendance.

However, 200 Confederate flag rallies have been held since the Stars and Bars were removed from the Alabama state capitol in June, attracting a total of 24,000 people. 70 more will be held “in the coming months”, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

This could be a make or break time for the likes LOS, TNM, and pro-separatists across the South and West. If no one shows up this winter at protests showing Southern pride, pro-secession sentiment and a general hate for the federal government, the cause may be deemed dead until the Washington Establishment coerces an independent-minded people the way abolitionists threatened to in the 19th century.

For now, however, Secessionist talk can still mainly be considered an idle threat. For it to be successful this time, nothing short of violent revolution will be required. Even Rick Perry, who at one time as Governor hinted that secession was a justifiable option given the current political situation nationally, more recently reneged saying, “We’ve got a great Union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it.”

There’s a lot more Rick Perrys and Robert Bentleys in the South than there are Michael Hills. If Dr. Hill wants independence from Washington, his best bet would be to move West — deep into the mountains of Arizona or Nevada. There at least he could hide out among allies of the Confederate cause. When Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina throw in the towel on Southern resistance, it’s time for the hold-outs to move on and settle where they’ll at least be amongst those sympathetic to the cause.

Are We Ready for a Constitutional Convention?

ronald_reagan-2The case against a Constitutional Convention is starting to surface from true political Conservatives now that 39 states have officially filed applications for such a National meeting with the esteemed House of Representatives. The main rub of the argument is that such an untested trial is too risky to be experimented with in an era of dwindling American influence. We need to be guaranteed of an orderly procedure with a narrow focus so as to eliminate the threat of a complete constitutional re-write. Such an ambitious under-taking would inevitably topple the Washington’s political order and probably put our national security at risk.

It would therefore be wise to constrain convention delegates (by law) in their collective objective to only add language and not change it. On the other hand, most of the states (22 of the 39) simply charge a Convention with the relatively straight-forward task of creating the 28th Amendment to ensure that the federal government does not to spend more money than it collects in a given year, which seems simple enough for any group of civic-minded people to take on. Justice Scalia doesn’t quite agree with this assessment though, famously shouting at the C-SPAN cameras last month that, “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention! Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it!?” What would come out of it indeed?! Any seemingly practical political process/goal with even a tinge of common sense can be auctioned off and perverted a few times in the course of all the necessary trading before the final distortion is laid in front of us by a gang of politicians who will smile crookedly into the cameras and tell us how hard they worked on a “compromising deal”, that “isn’t perfect”, “but is the best we could do under pressure”.

Taking that view, think of the possibilities of derailment among a swath of unknown delegates who would be chomping at the bit to have their names go down in history with the likes of all of America’s Founding Fathers. That’s why the latest two states to jump aboard the Balanced Budget train have surrendered their political autonomy to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in their “Compact for America”. In passing their respective petitions on to the U.S. House of Representatives, Alaska and Georgia have explicitly authorized ALEC to do all the heavy lifting. Specifically, “(t)he Compact itself would unite the 38 signing states into proposing, voting on, and ratifying a Balanced Budget Amendment at a convention and appoints all delegates for the signing states, defines the convention rules, and prohibits any signing state from ratifying or participating in any convention that disregarded it’s state assigned agenda.” If one cares to do a few minutes of research on ALEC, then one can rest-assured that a constitutional convention will be safe in their hands. Risk-averse conservatives like the Honorable Justice Scalia will have no more reason to fret about the doors being blown off the convention hall when the words of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson become those of a few obscure state congressmen who have enough friends in the Oil Industry to convince the rest of their colleagues that America’s economy would grow faster without the First and Fifth Amendments.

Not all twenty-two states calling for a balanced budget amendment have signed the “Compact for America” though. In fact, only Alaska and Georgia have promised ALEC the whip of the over-seer. All twenty-two have, however, specifically stated their purpose of making sure the federal government only serves what it can afford on it’s own merit. Another seventeen states have applied for various other amendments. The potential for political chaos is very real, given these numbers, and I don’t think anyone or anything could handle all the hub-bub when the iron starts to get hot. Some of the other amendment proposals that are out there include term-limits for Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices, revenue sharing amongst the States, right to life for the un-born, limits on income tax rates, and federal debt limits.

I, for one, would love to see the pile-on effect in regards to a constitutional convention, which could happen if the right team of lawyers gets their way. Think of the panic that would strike at the heart of every largely unknown federally-elected official who never had a job before landing head first into Washington, DC, when they learn that Congressional term-limits are being considered by a meeting of politically frustrated delegates somewhere in the Midwestern Plains. While they’re at it they can throw in a few that will make the rest of the swamp-hermits sing, like, “Amendment XXXV: The Capitol of these United States shall not occupy any One jurisdiction for more than fifty years OR until the People of the given jurisdiction of the Capitol shall bring articles of eviction of the Government, whichever comes first.” That should shake the Pols up enough to at least to get them to open an eye-lid. Amendment XXXV sounds reasonable enough to me, and of course it MUST be done to save the Republic.

One thing we’ve learned since the founding of this country is that greed is the most enduring human trait, and a permanent role such as the assistant to the chief administrator of the V.A. will turn the most pious New England Quaker into a fat, slobbering menace to society within the time span of a one-term President. Everybody knows this, but the problem is too hard to solve, even with the help of ALEC and it’s corporate owned state legislators there to push along every measure of austerity known to man. It’s all mere window-dressing. The “sequester” has taught us that.

Now, I hate to say this but I agree with almost all of the proposed amendments still hanging out there, some which have been flapping in the cold, winter wind since the 1970’s, except the Balanced Budget Amendment. It’s too stiff and inflexible a provision for the government of such an enlightened people such as ourselves. Why should we punish the living for the mistakes of the dead? Why should we limit the possibilities of our future? NASA landed a man on the moon, and the Department of Defense helped  develop the internet! Anyway,what would a constitutional convention look like? Just imagining the logistical nightmare makes me cringe and then smile at what it would actually look like. Judge Scalia wants more of them by the way: he wants to make it easier to  amend the Constitution. But like I mentioned earlier, he is scared of the reality of it. It’s just that a convention has never been tried coming from the base of the federalist hierarchy: the STATES requesting Congress to call a meeting to amend the law of the land.

John Boehner recently said, given the news that Michigan was the 34th state to file a petition for a balanced budget amendment, that he’d have to get his lawyers to look at it first. Well, who can blame him for saying that? His job is at stake, and the future of the country to boot. OK, so he’s not taking any of this seriously yet, and why should he? An unprecedented and obscure constitutional provision that most of his constituents probably don’t even know exists won’t be an issue in the Speaker’s re-election bid this fall. How many Americans have read Article V? Does it matter? When in doubt, outsource it! Only this time the outsourcing is being done to address an issue which affects the pocket-books of the American tax-payer. A balanced budget? Whoa! Who will pay? I think that’s one question that we don’t have to do much guessing about.

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Reflections on the American Dream

“As the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch Sailor’s eyes — a fresh green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human drama; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

And now, 400 years later, how does it feel to be standing in the middle of American soil, a descendant of the wanderer who met his match when the vast prairie-lands began to transform along the frontier into the rugged, unsettled mountains and deserts? Did our ancestors realize their historic Place in reaching the Pinnacle of geographic Opportunity? 

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“Doctors Without Borders”? or “Traveling Within Reason”

I’m looking up at this world map on my wall which is sponsored by a medical group that likes to travel and apparently does God’s work. The quote at the top of the poster reads, “We find out where conditions are the worst, the places where others are not going, and that’s where we want to be.” Fair enough. But how did they find where they wanted to be with this tiny map? I was trying to pin-point a couple of remote towns in the Middle East and could barely find the countries that fall between the Mediterranean, Red, and Black Sea. Just now glancing at it again to ensure my description of the geography was accurate I had to refer to the other map here which dates all the way back to the year 2004 — no doubt an outdated relic now that serves as a wealth of misinformation. I must use it however because one needs better than 20/20 vision to see that other tiny pea which has reduced earth to the size of one of those water-globes which encase a Winter Wonderland scene. Is this how “Doctors Without Borders” views the world? Have they reduced us to the size of ants in order to work up enough gall to proclaim that they’re the only civilized bunch who are willing to take on the grim diseases which still plague the third world? It starts to make sense if you ponder it long enough. How else could you take on such a task?

Conversely, how do those cultured, first-world travelers think about the spatial dimensions of our planet? Those old-money folks who have no more pressing business than to wonder what’s going on in Budapest at this hour, or how they would be lunching in Rome or Marseille? I can’t see how they could form such a grand notion of the world to be something they could fold up and tuck in their pocket for good measure. Those people need GLOBES: something that stands in the middle of the room and takes up half its living space so they can at least can say they never got bored looking at it, and if they ever did they could always close their eyes and place their finger wherever they feel like and spin the ball around until it finally stops. They can then go on making plans to visit whatever enchanting land that they are destined to see next.

That’s the  kind of layout of the World I need. I don’t mean that I need to go to some country I’ve never heard of on the other side of the planet. I just want to see the whole thing in a proper Perspective.  At least my U.S. map does me some justice. While the state lines are dull and incomplete, it shows me how I can get to wherever I may want to go on the North American continent via interstate  highway. And I know what the terrain will roughly look like when I get there thanks to its topographical feature. You can also fold this map into your pocket, but not as handily as the Doctor’s layout of the world. No matter though because this is a general outline, and I would never have a reason to put  it in my pocket. It’s plastered to the wall and it will stay there for me to gaze at and dream of where — in this country — I want to go next.

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Letter to the Guccione Collection

 

Dear Guccione,

Your magazine sounds like it has some big-time Potential and I like what I’ve seen on the site so far except for the farewell sentence of your self-description which wishes your readers ever-lasting Comfort. I for one disagree with that Sentiment wholeheartedly and wish any reader of American political journalism who has a Pulse and a Brain a special kind of Discomfort which has the eerie effect of habitual Outbursts at the dinner table and constant incoherent Mumbling at work. Let the System work for itself in all it’s infinite Wisdom and we will be there to push them over the Edge, not Prop them Up.

I have attached two condensed versions of essays written over the past year which will give you a sense of how I like to write. On-site reporting is a job I would also jump at the chance to do as my inquisitive nature seems to be the right fit for that line of work. Overall, I would describe myself as externally respectful, internally fair, and well-mannered. I get into things, but it must be something I have an interest in which is why I don’t apply to small-town or even straight big-city publications.

James Sutton