Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gutless Disgrace

Recent consternation about incivility in politics is lost on me. I’m thinking our politicians are much too polite. Our early leaders often worked out differences fighting duels. President Andrew Jackson took office with two bullets still in his body. Vice President Aaron Burr shot former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. There’s a place for diplomacy, certainly, but too much isn’t good and we’re way over the limit.

It’s hard to stay quiet and be “polite” while listening to someone lie. It’s impossible if one must work with the person or live with him. The most diplomatic we should get is talking to him privately after - and we should only do that once. If there’s a next time, we must confront publicly. To sit quiet is to abet deceit and silence implies assent. Lying - when everyone in the room knows it - challenges us. If we don’t react, what are we?

Which brings us to the United Nations. It started off well back in 1945, dealing seriously with problems in Cyprus, Israel and Korea, but the UN today is useless. North Korea has ignored every UN resolution since 1993 while it built nuclear weapons and ICBMs - and it’s led by a nut-case. Meanwhile, Israel is forced to defend itself against Iranian terrorist puppets Hezbollah and Hamas, which rockets Israel daily. Iran ignores UN resolutions, lies to the world about building nuclear weapons, develops long-range missiles with North Korea’s help, denies the Holocaust, then promises to perpetrate another one by repeatedly threatening to wipe Israel off the map. What good is the UN?

In the face of all this, President Obama gave a speech filled with naive cliches like “No nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” What? Has he ever opened a history book? Ask Poland, Czechoslovakia or Hungary if a nation can try to dominate another nation. Ask Tibet. Ask Georgia. Ask Ukraine. Nobody is going to argue about the “should” part, but the can part? Who is going to stop them? The United Nations? Don’t make me laugh. I thought this guy was supposed to be smart.


Obama was followed at the podium by Libyan President Moammar Ghadafy, who - and I’m not making this up - tried to pitch a Bedouin tent on Donald Trump’s lawn the night before. After complaints from neighbors, he was kicked out by code enforcement officers. This is the guy who ordered one of his minions to hijack and blow up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 139 Americans, then gave a hero’s welcome to the conspirator in Tripoli a only weeks ago after he was inexplicably released by the Scots. In his 96-minute diatribe, Ghadafy had the gall to say: “It should not be called the [UN] Security Council, it should be called the ‘terror council.’”

Diplomats listened politely.

Evidently, he was pleased by Obama’s remarks because he kept referring to him as “our son” and said, “We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as a President of United States of America.” So are Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin. It’s the American people who are nervous about him.

Ahmadinejad spewed his lies that night.

The next day, President Obama chaired the UN Security Council and said he envisioned a world without nuclear weapons. What? Last week, he scrapped the anti-missile system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic - knowing Iran had recently launched a satellite into space with a missile that can double as an ICBM. He also knew that Iran has built a second uranium processing plant and is close to making a nuclear weapon. Poland and the Czechs accused Obama of selling them out. Envisioning a world without nuclear weapons is fine if you’re some kind of mystic, but Obama is our commander-in-chief. We rely on his judgement for our security, even our very existence, in a dangerous world.

After listening to Obama’s remarks, French President Sarkozy said: “President Obama dreams of a world without [nuclear] weapons . . . but right in front of us are two countries doing the exact opposite. . . . We live in the real world, not the virtual world. And the real world expects us to take decisions.”

You know it’s bad when the President of the United States has to be lectured by the president of France about courage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s turn came next. To the UN General Assembly - most of whom sat politely through speeches by terrorist murderers Ghadafy and Ahmadinejad - Netanyahu said: “. . . to those who gave [Ahmadinejad] a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency? . . . a mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies the murder of six million Jews while promising to wipe out the state of Israel? What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations.”

Now, to save itself, Israel must confront Iran alone because the UN doesn’t have the guts to do it, and neither does our president. It’s time to quit this useless organization and kick them out of New York City. Let them practice their “civility” somewhere else.

Meanwhile, let’s look around for another Andrew Jackson.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Land of the Free


Constitution Day was approaching and I’d gotten a memo encouraging teachers to recognize it in some way. It was to be observed exactly a week after Andrew Breitbart broke the ACORN scandal on his brand new web site: BigGovernment.com. I’m charged with teaching US History since 1900, weaving in civics, economics, geography and current events, so I try to include as many of those themes as possible when planning lessons.

“Open your books to page 872,” I said. “This is the US Constitution - the supreme law of the land, our design for government. Whenever you say ‘This is a free country,’ you are correct only because of this document.”

Then I explained how Congress is divided into two parts with each state getting two senators and House members according to how many people they have. “Look down to the bottom of the page where it says Article I, Section 2, number 3. I’d like somebody to read that part while the rest follow along.”

A girl volunteered. “‘Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union,” she read, “according to their respective numbers. The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.’”

After thanking her, I explained that Congress directed the Commerce Department to conduct a census - count everybody - every ten years, and they had contracted with an organization called ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) to do much of the work.

“However,” I said, “ACORN is in trouble.” I showed them video from BigGovernment.com in which a young man of 25 and a young woman of 20 posed as a pimp and a prostitute, respectively, and were getting help from ACORN officials in Baltimore to help them set up house of prostitution with underaged, illegal-alien girls. I explained what a prostitute and a pimp were, although they seemed to know already. “ACORN says it has fired the two women in the video [who were helping]” I explained, “claiming it was an isolated incident.”

The next day, BigGovernment.com released another video of the same young people getting help from ACORN officials in Washington, DC. I showed them that one too. “ACORN fired them also. This huge organization has received more than $50 million in taxpayer money to help people get housing and other things and are supposed to receive up to $8.5 billion as part of President Obama’s stimulus bill. President Obama worked for ACORN when he was a lawyer in Chicago, and his campaign paid them at least $800,000 last year to help get people out to vote for him. This is very embarrassing.”

Over the weekend, a huge crowd gathered in Washington, DC to protest what the president and Congress have been doing lately, and what they are planning - including changes in how Americans get healthcare. BigGovernment.com released still another videotape showing ACORN officials in New York City offering to help the same two young people set up a house of prostitution and avoid paying taxes. After showing them that video and images of the demonstration, I told them the US Census Bureau had fired ACORN.

“James O’Keefe, 25, and Hannah Giles, 20 - not much older than you are - have embarrassed the president and shaken up government. Where do they get the right to do that?” I asked, knowing their English teacher had recently given them a copy of the Bill of Rights with a writing assignment.

“The First Amendment,” said a boy.

“Good,” I said. “What in the First Amendment gives them that right?”

“Freedom of speech,” he said.

“Very good. James and Hannah believed ACORN was a corrupt organization and set out to prove it. Big TV networks and newpapers ignored what they found but Andrew Breitbart gave them publicity on his web site and Fox News picked it up. That publicity is forcing government to act.

“Turn to page 884 and follow along while I recite Amendment One: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.’”

“That last right is what a million people exercised Saturday outside the White House and the Capitol Building where Congress meets - peaceably assembling and petitioning government with their grievances.” I pointed out that people in Iran were speaking and marching against their government too, but they were being gassed, beaten and shot. Iran doesn’t have a Constitution like ours.

On Monday and Tuesday, I showed them two more videos BigGovernment.com released showing ACORN officials in two California cities helping James and Hannah, and reported that the US Senate and the US House both voted overwhelmingly to cut off federal money to ACORN.

“These are example of what people - even very young people - have freedom to do under the US Constitution,” I said.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Had Enough Yet?


How many people protested Obamacare in Washington last Saturday? Twenty thousand? A hundred thousand? A million? Two million? The Washington Post said there were “tens of thousands.” So did the New York Times. They got the memo from Democrat leaders worried that if 1-2 million showed up it would be a major PR victory for the right, so they did what they could to play numbers down. The UK’s Daily Mail said there were up to 2 million protesters there.

Watching the demonstration on C-SPAN, I was struck by who I was seeing. They looked like ordinary men and women 40-70 years old, some younger, some older, but they didn’t look like demonstrators I’ve seen there for decades. There were no dreadlocked anarchists, no angry minorities, no fat feminists, no flamboyant homosexuals. These were efficient, mind-your-own-business people who quietly keep everything running while others demand favors from government. I wondered what caused them to make signs and journey to Washington in huge numbers. Something’s happening out there. Something different. Something big.

The only thing these people want from government is to be left alone. While liberal baby boomers waxed nostalgic over Woodstock last month, they went to town hall meetings to question their congressmen and senators, worried that their government planned to take away their health insurance plans and force them into a government-controlled system. Unlike their hippie contemporaries, they didn’t go to Woodstock forty years ago to smoke weed and frolic naked in the mud. They went to work instead - bagging groceries, banging nails, mowing lawns, and saving money for their future.

Though Obama, Pelosi and Reid continue to deny it, they know government would ration their health care when they get older. They know a younger gangbanger or illegal immigrant would get treated before they would when they were 65, 75, or 85 even though they’re the ones who pay the bills. They know Obama lied in his speech last week when he said his alleged reforms “would not apply to those who are here illegally.” When they heard Congressman Joe Wilson shout back “You lie!” they jumped up in front of their television sets and cheered him.

As part of its effort to demonize Congressman Wilson, CNN sent a reporter to the demonstration, but it backfired. Marchers didn’t trust CNN and wouldn’t be used as stooges for left-wing propaganda, so they gathered behind the reporter and shouted “Tell the truth!” over and over. The anchor back in Atlanta was exasperated when her reporter in the field said: “There are people who very strongly support Congressman Joe Wilson - and many of them are right here.”

They were there all right - over a million of them - and they don’t get their news from CNN and the other alphabet networks. They get it online and from talk radio because the mainstream media doesn’t have complete control of news anymore.

These are people who know they’ve been paying higher premiums on their private health insurance plans for years because hospitals charge them more for health care. They haven’t liked it, but they’ve paid anyway. They pay because they know hospitals cannot otherwise function when government pays much less than it costs to deliver health care to poor and elderly patients on Medicaid and Medicare.

These are people who pay on both ends - with their taxes and with their premiums. They know that if Obamacare passes with a “public option,” the private health insurance they’ve been paying for will disappear and they won’t have any more choices. Government will decide what health care they get - and don’t get.

These are people who have been planning for their retirement while others have been living fast and loose. They know they can’t depend on Social Security or any other government program. They watched the “War on Poverty” waste trillions and paid the taxes that financed it. They watched their money go down the drain while they worked in PTAs, Scouts, Rotary clubs and churches without government assistance. They are the real community organizers - quite unlike the government-funded ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) types caught last week scheming to fund child prostitution with taxpayer money in Baltimore, Washington, DC, New York City and San Bernardino. Because President Obama did legal work for ACORN, CNN and the alphabet networks continue to ignore the story. Demonstrators, however, know about it anyway.

These people are the ants who worked, who took care of themselves, who laid up food for the winter while their grasshopper contemporaries flitted about “finding themselves” at Grateful Dead concerts and the like. Now they’re envisioning their old age as government would force it upon them, not as they planned it and worked for it all their whole lives. Obamacare is the final straw for them. These people have had enough - and there are millions of them.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Boys and Forts


One of my favorite things as a boy was building “forts” in the woods with other boys. Not sure now why we called them forts because they were not fortified in any way. They were structures we liked to go into and just sit. If they were in trees, they were “tree forts.” If they were holes in the ground with boards over them covered with dirt, leaves and pine needles, they were “underground forts.” The ones we built in wintertime were “snow forts.” None of us ever thought to question the label.

I suspect we boys were biologically programmed to build forts and were happiest doing so, just as Labrador Retrievers are happiest when they’re retrieving. Sitting in classrooms with teachers trying to program us to be “nice” like the girls would make us crazy. Building forts was not the only thing we did and I’m not sure where the notion came from. It was usually around this time of year - when summer was ending and school was beginning. I suspect it was instinctual. Cold weather was approaching and we felt like building a shelter, so we did.

We’d use available tools and materials. In suburban Boston during the fifties and sixties lots of houses going up, so we would prowl job sites and ask carpenters if we could have their scrap wood and bent nails and they always obliged. It was great fun to straighten out the nails, carry materials into the woods and start building. Tools we borrowed from our fathers, with permission or without. Hammers and saws were all we used really and the fathers were off to work all day so we would raid their workbenches. I'd borrow a hammer and saw and return them to the workbench before my father got home from work. Sometimes I’d forget though and leave them at the “fort.” If he should go looking for his tools that night and not find them, I’d be in trouble.

The numerous forts usually ended up getting wrecked by groups of older, bigger boys or boys from neighborhoods on the other side of a thousand-acre swamp. We’d journey to the site one day and find it destroyed, speculate on who may have done it, and plot revenge. If it was the boys across the woods, we’d seek alliances with older boys in our neighborhood for protection or retaliation.

My sisters and their friends played house close to home while we were building forts in the woods. Sometimes they’d rake pine needles into rows outlining rooms and make beds for their dolls. They were obeying their instincts too and got satisfaction from playing out their fantasies day after day. Often they’d try to entice us to play with them and pretend to be fathers in their “houses” but we weren’t interested. We’d only agree to when they blackmailed us. We’d play house with them for a limited time if they promised not to tell on us for something we did that they found out about.

As I reflect on it now, we were all playing out our inherent inclinations and there are corollaries in the larger human story. A concise description of human history might outline, for example, a series of periods when we built things, interspersed with periods when we wrecked what we’d built. If we extended the building periods and shortened the wrecking periods, it could be considered a measure of civilizational progress. Men generally built villages and cities while women bred, nurtured and maintained households in them. Men fortified their towns and cities and defended them, successfully or unsuccessfully, against assaults by other groups from other regions. Sometimes the assaults were preemptive attacks on potential enemies. Sometimes they were naked grabs for wealth and power. There were also occasions when men would seek alliances with other groups for defensive or offensive purposes.

It was similar with us boys and our forts. After a while they didn’t get wrecked very often, and that was probably because we were becoming the bigger boys, and the ones who had been the destroyers had grown up to discover cars and girls. Not too many years later, they settled down to play house for real.

Eventually, so did we.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Kennedy Worship Syndrome


I’m not mourning Ted Kennedy any more than I did Michael Jackson, even though the rest of the western world went into orgies of keening. Born a Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrat, I was raised with KWS (Kennedy Worship Syndrome) but, unlike most, I got over it many years ago.

Ted’s brother John was elected president when was in the fourth grade at St. William’s School in Tewksbury, Massachusetts - about twenty miles outside of Boston. My teacher, Sister Charles Paul, talked endlessly about Senator Kennedy - then President Kennedy - all year. Three years hence I was upstairs in seventh grade with Sister Maureen Catherine when JFK was shot by a communist organizer in Dallas. We watched the classroom TV as Walter Cronkite told us he was dead. The girls cried. I was in shock.
My father next to JFK at NAGE meeting

My father had worked with then-Senator John Kennedy in the fifties when WWII vets formed a union that later became NAGE - National Association of Government Employees - now a subsidiary of the notorious SIEU (Service Employees International Union) providing thugs to disrupt congressional town meetings.

Ted Kennedy ran for the US Senate in 1962 when I was in fifth grade. His campaign motorcade went by St. William’s School while we were out at recess and pulled over. He got out to press the flesh and I threw a football to him, which he caught and tossed back. I threw it again, but he had looked away to shake hands and the ball hit him in the head, messing up his hair.

In summer of 1967, I attended a very spirited party on Martha’s Vineyard with some of Robert Kennedy’s children. The following June, I was getting ready for school when my mother told me Robert Kennedy had died in Los Angeles after being shot by a Palestinian activist while running for president.

I’ve since read every major biography of the Kennedy family. Most are by authors suffering from KWS like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Arthur Schlesinger. The three that infuenced me most, however, were The Kennedy Imprisonment by Garry Wills; Kennedys: An American Drama by Collier and Horowitz; and The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersch. These authors examined the family without glossing over the carbuncles, such as: Joseph P. Kennedy’s involvement with organized crime during Prohibition, his pro-Nazi sentiments as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, his obsessive philandering, his svengali-like control of his children, driving his sons to seek the presidency, fixing 1960 election results in Illinois, West Virginia and Louisiana, and so forth. Then there were JFK’s too-numerous-to-mention dalliances as congressman, senator and president. Hersch’s book was the most damning, depicting John and Robert as arrogant, brash, and playing fast and loose with civilization itself in their handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For those who insist all this lacks significance when measured against the political achievements of the Kennedys, there’s Chappaquiddick. Ted, like his father and brothers, frolicked with countless women. Unlike them, he had a problem with alcohol, which made him sloppier. It’s one thing to drunkenly drive off a bridge with a young woman not your wife in the car. It’s quite another to slink off and leave her to drown while you’re trying to cover up the incident to preserve your political career. If he’d reported the incident right away as the law required, Mary Jo Kopechne would be alive today according to investigators. Whatever was left in me of Kennedy Worship Syndrome, it was thoroughly eliminated after reading Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Coverup by Leo Damore. The Kennedy political machine, together with the Irish political mafia running Massachusetts at the time, gave Ted Kennedy a pass for what would have put anybody else in prison. Somehow kept his US Senate seat. Only in Massachusetts where KWS is epidemic could this have happened.

Hearing endlessly of Ted Kennedy’s legislative “achievements,” foremost in my mind is The 1965 Immigration Act, which opened the door for 20 million illegal immigrants now bankrupting our country. That was Ted’s baby. As I watch ordinary Americans revolt against socialized medicine, I think of Ted Kennedy.

When I hear of his “senatorial civility,” I remember how he baselessly savaged Robert Bork before the Senate Judiciary Committee declaring: “Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, children could not be taught about evolution.”

When I hear of his patriotism, I remember how he treasonously undercut President Reagan during the Cold War by offering a secret deal to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov.

About the only positive thing about Ted Kennedy’s political career is when he ran in the primaries against an incumbent president from his own party, weakening Jimmy Carter and ushering in Ronald Reagan.

Now there’s talk of changing the law in Massachusetts to preserve the “Kennedy” senate seat by appointing nephew Joe Kennedy. You remember the former congressman who has been kissing up to Hugo Chavez the past few years? Joe calls them “our good friends in Venezuela.” With friends like that, who needs enemies?

I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but after last week, it’s pretty clear the mainstream media still suffers from KWS. As someone who recovered years ago, this Boston-Irish-Catholic-former Democrat had to get it out.

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