Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither, and lose both.
-- Benjamin Franklin

This I Believe

My wife and I recently saw the play Trying at the Walnut Street Theater. Now, we have season tickets to two theaters in Philadelphia, the Wilma which is avant-garde, thought-provoking, and intellectual. The Walnut, on the other hand, while the productions are often excellent, tends to produce a lot of light-weight chestnuts: Finian’s Rainbow, Beauty and the Beast, Cats, and a plethora of Neil Simon. Given that, I wasn’t expecting the impact of Trying, which deals with the last year of Judge Francis Biddle’s life, seen through the eyes of his young secretary. For those who don’t know (as I didn’t), Francis Biddle was the Chief United States Judge at the Nuremberg trials, after serving on the US Court of Appeals, as Solictor General and then Attorney General of the United States, and as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. under Roosevelt and Truman. A member of a historic Philadelphia patrician family, he was rich, eloquent, and liberal.

The following quote was from Edward R. Murrow’s “This I believe” radio series.

It speaks to my condition.


I believe in the value of the individual human being – his integrity, his need for diversity, even his chance at happiness. Some men and women have enjoyed creative and satisfactory lives; but they have been few compared to the average lot of the millions who have been the victims of poverty, disease and oppression. I believe that such a disproportion is not necessary. A normally decent way of living for all men is not beyond the range of the possible.

In the thousands of years of our tortured history we have learned many things – but not yet how to live together. It has been said that human nature does not change, that you cannot improve people by passing laws. But surely change runs at the root of all life; and if laws do not alter man, laws can modify some of those conditions which make it hard for men to live peacefully, perhaps even joyfully together.

Laws, after all, are but the expression of the common purpose. They implement and articulate the needs and aspirations of the community, changing as the community changes.

In the beginning of our history we declared to a skeptical world the proposition that all men are created equal, with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Gradually we have come to understand and to insist that these rights mean more than a magnificent declaration; and that our government, instituted among men, must derive its continuing reality by promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty. Today eternal vigilance demands not only that we prevent our instrument, the State, from trampling on our liberties, but that we insist that it shall protect and secure them.

I too believe that Liberty is an end in itself; and that, as Sophocles once said, “The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is a brave heart.”

But now our freedom – our chance to live life as we see it, to choose it and to enjoy it – is threatened. I do not believe that the totalitarian menace to what we like to call the American way of life – which is deeply rooted in European culture, European democracy, and European religion – I do not believe that this external brutality and imperialism is the only menace to that kind of living. Our weakness in our fundamental beliefs; and particularly in our faith in the individual human being. This frustrating doubt under the pressure of fear leads us to all the dark and violent absurdities and injustices that have characterized these last few years – the loyalty oaths and loyalty tests; the investigations of the way certain Americans choose to think; the hunting out on the college campuses of teacher who will not accept the orthodox point of view of the multitude; the suspicion, the nervous hysteria.

I still believe in the American traditions that Thomas Jefferson so nobly expressed a hundred and fifty years ago – the traditional American decencies – free speech and free press, due process for all persons before the law, equality of opportunity.

But this is not all of our American Faith. Tolerance, which is at the root of it, is akin to the scientific spirit, rational, not without skepticism, experimental, and above all, open-minded. We must keep open the travel to the heart. But we must never close the approaches to the mind.”

We knew he had bad aim, anyway.

Q: What do Aaron Burr and Dick Cheney have in common?
A: They are the only vice-presidents to shoot someone while in office.

Of course, Aaron Burr meant to do it, and his aim was true.

But then, we knew Cheney couldn’t aim. He went shooting for terrorists and ended up in Baghdad, a miss of about 1400 miles.

Those founding fathers were clever…

President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.

-Atty General Alberto Gonzales

Without that electronic surveillance, we might not have won the revolutionary war. I understand Washington was just about to use the ICBM’s against Britain when Cornwallis surrendered.

It’s a new game.

It’s a new game, anyone can play

(Mouseover for explanation)
Terrorist camp in Horsham

On second thought, given the recent activities of the FBI and NSA, perhaps I shouldn’t be showing where Horsham Friends meet.

Mike Fitzpatrick

My own congressman is Michael Fitzpatrick. I’ve known Mike for a long time, though not closely. He was a county commissioner prior to getting the GOP nod for congress when Jim Greenwood stepped down unexpectedly, leaving a democratic challenger, Ginny Schrieder, in the surprise position of opposing not a long-standing congressman but a new candidate. Ginny, while an admirable person, was not (in my opinion) up to the challenge of a “real” congressional race.

Mike as a county commissioner has done a lot for the local Boy Scouts, and served on the BSA Council Executive Board. He even came and spoke at my oldest son’s Eagle Court of Honor. I have a lot of respect for Mike; he’s done good things. It’s unfortunate that he has gotten caught up in the Republican culture in Washington. He has recently gotten some national attention for his support of the Delay/Abramoff corruption machine.

Honestly, I think Mike is a good man who is just over his head with the machinations of the government-for-hire Republican national scene. I sincerely wish he had stuck to doing his best for the county on a local level.

While I wish Mike no ill, I am pleased that Bucks County, and PA’s 8th Congessional District, have a true reform candidate running. Patrick Murphy is an army veteran and a paratrooper, having served in both Bosnia and Iraq, where he earned a Bronze Star. He also is the youngest person ever to serve as an instructor at West Point. Mike recently traveled to Iraq to get some photo opportunities, Patrick did the real deal. Having met Patrick Murphy in person, I was amazed at his depth of knowledge in constitutional law, and his understanding of the issues facing America and ordinary Americans. He is a prime face in the group of (so far) 48 “Fighting Dems” running in congressional races.

I truly wish Mike Fitzpatrick well. As a scout leader, I appreciate his tireless efforts to support that organization. As an American though, I actively support Patrick Murphy’s attempt to gain Mike’s congressional seat. We need Patrick in congress, and Mike back at the local level, doing what he does best, unassociated with the Republican scoundrels currently in Washington pulling his strings.

R.I.P. Hugh Thompson

There are true heroes in war.

Some, of the Alvin C. York variety, overcome incredible odds to show extraordinary bravery in defense of their their fellow soldiers, and their country. Like any nation, we are grateful, and quick to acknowledge the amazing courage they have shown.

Others show another kind of bravery – fighting against all pressure for what is right, bringing a measure of morality and honor to what is basically an evil and immoral activity.

Such a man was Hugh Thompson, Jr.

From the BBC

Hugh Thompson Jnr, a former US military helicopter pilot who helped stop one of the most infamous massacres of the Vietnam War has died, aged 62.

Mr Thompson and his crew came upon US troops killing civilians at the village of My Lai on 16 March 1968.

He put his helicopter down between the soldiers and villagers, ordering his men to shoot their fellow Americans if they attacked the civilians.

“There was no way I could turn my back on them,” he later said of the victims.

Mr Thompson, a warrant officer at the time, called in support from other US helicopters, and together they airlifted at least nine Vietnamese civilians – including a wounded boy – to safety.

Hugh Thompson served first in the US Navy, and then enlisted in the army to fly helicopters, where his role was draw fire from the enemy, in order to locate them. After My Lai, he continued to fly the OH-23 helicopters, being shot down a total of five times. More details are at wikipedia or US News and World Report.

Sadly, it was 30 years before the United States recognized the courage of Hugh Thompson by awarding him the “Soldier’s Medal”.

I was fourteen in 1968, and remember being shocked that Americans could do what was done at My Lai. It was a revelation to me that Americans were not always the “good guys”. I remember wondering about how those people could exist, and also recognizing the courage of those who put a stop to it. While the name of Lt. Calley is burned into my memory, I don’t remember hearing the names of those who stopped him.

Mr. Thompson represented, I believe, the best tradition of American soldiers – fighting bravely and serving when needed, but also remembering the principles for which he fought.

Requiem en pacem, Hugh Thompson

Here’s an eerie similarity:

“When the president does it [something illegal], that means it is not illegal”

Richard Nixon, 1977
Interview with David Frost

Accumulated Wisdom

In what seems like an extraordinary effort to reach out and tap the wisdom of previous administrations, President Bush recently met with living prior Secretaries of State and Defense. It is an impressive picture:

If he were truly seeking wisdom and guidance from this treasure trove of accumulated experience, it would be a stunning change and major improvement in the running of this country.

From the New York Times:

But if it was a bipartisan consultation, as advertised by the White House, it was a brief one. Mr. Bush allowed 5 to 10 minutes for interchange with the group – which included three veterans of the Vietnam era: Robert S. McNamara, Melvin R. Laird and James R. Schlesinger – before herding the whole group into the Oval Office for what he called a “family picture.”

Those who wanted to impart more wisdom to the current occupants of the White House were sent back across the hall to meet again with Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But as several of the participants noted, by that time Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had gone on to other meetings.

When cameras were in the room, Mr. Bush displayed no hint of defensiveness, only gratitude. “I’m most grateful for the suggestions that have been given,” he said. “We take to heart the advice, we appreciate your experience and we appreciate you taking the time out of your day.”

Typical, just a photo-op.

All hat, no cattle.

Oh, and eleven american soldiers killed in Iraq yesterday alone, not to mention 150+ Iraqis.

The usual republican hypocrite

“If laws were broken, he must be held to account for what he did.”

– Scott McClellan, the presidential press secretary
Unfortunately, speaking about Jack Abramoff

I guess others need to obey the law, at least when they get caught.

Maybe someone should point him at Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution (re habeus corpus), Article VI of the US Constitution, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution , or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Here’s hoping to make 2006 a year of indictments and impeachments:

  • Tom DeLay
  • Bill Frist
  • Dennis Hastert
  • Bob Ney
  • Karl Rove
  • Rick Santorum (my own senator, to use the word loosely)
  • Bob Taft
  • Ernie Fletcher
  • Tom Noe
  • John Bolton
  • Dick Cheney
  • And a host of others I’ve forgotten

You can’t indict a sitting president. The only option is impeachment, but in the classic example of “It’s not what you’ve done, it’s who your friends are.” I’m sure the scoundrels who control the house of representatives will never consider that, no matter how egregious his acts. (Unless, of course, one thing happens).

The Reichstag, 1933

The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures…The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one.

Adolf Hitler, 1933