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: tomthemick@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Noticing Things

I know I’m getting old when I remember multiple incarnations of a fashion trend. High, up-to-the-knee leather boots on women are popular again for the third time. My sisters and most other women wore them in the sixties. They were ubiquitous again in the eighties and nineties - way back in the 20th century. Now in winter, 2014, I’m seeing them again. They've never gone out of fashion in the sado-masochist community, I learned while doing research for this column. Evidently leather and arousal go together for a lot of people. Now I'll have to add that to the long list of the things I've never understood.

Staying in Lovell full-time, I didn’t notice fashion trends much. Clothing items in a rural area with harsh winters tend toward the utilitarian. I own two pairs of leather construction boots that I treat with waterproofing several times a year. One goes just above my ankles for walking in woods and fields as well as muddy or sandy areas or in light snow. The other pair goes halfway up my calf and those are good for deep snow or walking through heavy brush. My wife almost never wears boots. She might own a pair, but maybe not. She prefers sneakers and she doesn’t accompany me when I’m in the brush or deep snow. Nobody does, now that I think about it, but I digress.

Lately I’m spending a couple of days a week in the Portland area. There I can perceive style trends seldom apparent in Lovell. The other day I cut through Macy’s on my way to the Apple Store in the Maine Mall because it was raining. That took me through the men’s clothing department and I noticed the mannequins were wearing shirts with the collars up. Back in the 1980s, my fashion-addicted students always wore them that way. The mannequins were dressed in two layers of shirts and both collars were up. Perhaps this was fashionable during some other period of my lifetime and I didn’t notice. My wife says I don’t notice a lot of things going on around me and she’s probably right because some things just don't interest me. I won’t be conforming to this latest fad though. All my collars are the button-down type. I like those because I wear a string on my glasses that goes around my neck and it gets caught on collars that aren’t buttoned down.
Several times this winter I put my collar up and didn’t even know I looked cool. It’s not likely that anyone noticed though because it was when I was snow-blowing my driveway in a strong wind or going out for a run on a cold morning. Sometimes shelter from the elements and fashion coincide, but not very often.

Women are more fashion-conscious than men - or straight men at least. Always have been. Studying history, I notice relatively wild swings in the way women clothed themselves during the 20th century, which is the period I taught for many years. Men, by contrast, don’t look very different at all except for the presence or absence of whiskers. Business suits or just jacket-and-tie hasn’t varied much and that’s good for my wallet. I don’t own a suit anymore but I do have several jackets, ties and two pairs of dress pants - the flimsy kind that cling to my legs with static electricity during winter. I hate that, and they don’t keep out the wind either. I don’t like wearing them and seldom have to except to weddings and funerals. Unfortunately there have been several of the latter recently.

Wearing shirts outside one’s pants instead of tucked into them has been stylish the past few years I’ve noticed. It was considered sloppy when I was a kid though. My mother was constantly ordering me to tuck my shirt in and it seldom stayed that way for long. So there’s a fad I can endorse heartily - at least until I’m outside in a cold wind.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

American Shrinkage


America is in decline economically, militarily, culturally, morally, educationally - choose your area. Guess I could include athletically as well given that, at this writing, we’re number 7 in gold medals at the Winter Olympics so far, but that’s not so important. Economists expect China to pass us in a couple of years. Generals at the Pentagon worry that we may become unable to defend our Pacific allies against China if present trends continue. The cultural, moral and educational pieces are the causes of the economic piece, some would argue, and I’d tend to agree. But then I’m a former history teacher and familiar with what happened to the Roman Empire.

New Hampshire’s Mark Steyn wrote a couple of books about America’s decline. One, “America Alone,” was a warning. The second, “After America,” you could call a post-mortem preview because Steyn isn’t optimistic that our decline can be reversed. I am. I’m not saying a renaissance is around the corner but it’s possible.

Think about how it is with people in decline. I’m not talking about aging, here. I’m talking about becoming stuck in a negative pattern, a moral slide. The seven deadly sins have brought many individuals to ruin but can they bring down a whole society? We’re watching it all around us aren’t we? What makes men and women decide to do the work necessary to turn their lives around? Pain, usually. They look at themselves and don’t like what they see. They don’t like what they’re becoming and they decide to do something. It’s not easy though. We all know that at some level and most of us choose not to do the necessary work. Some try for a little while and give up. Others persist. They do a one-eighty. They completely change course.
Will America? Not without suffering. What form will it take? Hard to say. Some say the stock bubble fed by all that money-printing will burst, wiping out trillions in wealth, including pension funds. Some say inflation will follow with higher interest rates. As government bonds turn over to finance our $18 trillion debt, high interest payments will crowd out other items the federal budget. Entitlements will have to be cut drastically. How will that affect that large percentage of Americans who have become dependent on big government? Will they passively accept cuts? Not likely. Will pain take the form of massive civil unrest? Many Americans expect it to and have prepared to ride it out. Whatever kind of painful reckoning our burgeoning federal government brings down on us, my hope is that a new majority of Americans will seek a return to small government and strict adherence to our constitution after suffering through it.
Maybe our pain will arrive as a foreign policy crisis. Little good will result as long as President Obama and his chief dopelimat John Kerry continue to appease our enemies, abandon our allies, and diminish America’s influence worldwide. The stage is being set for serious shenanigans that could flare up most anywhere because we’re not being taken seriously anymore.  Last week alone, Iran sent warships to our Atlantic coast to send “a message” while our “ally”- Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai freed sixty-five Taliban prisoners who killed Americans!
More dopelimat than diplomat

Steyn makes the case in “After America” that the British Empire’s decline was genteel with the USA coming right in behind them before a power vacuum could form. England, for example, had been powerful enough that it could provide somewhat credible enforcement of its edict outlawing the slave trade in 1807. The trade continued, but it was diminished when slavers had to constantly look over their shoulders for a British warship on the horizon. Up until lately, leaders of rogue countries like Iran and North Korea worried about how America would react to their shenanigans. Now? Not so much. What will follow America? In his book “After America,” Steyn claims it’s basically “After us, the deluge.”
Who will police the world’s oceans? We see what’s been happening off the Horn of Africa after Somalia fell apart. It’s not unlike what Mediterranean shipping experienced under the Barbary Pirates during America’s infancy. That situation spurred President John Adams to build our first navy. Will piracy spread to other oceans and seas as the US Navy shrinks? Who in the world will fill America’s shoes as we pull back? Nobody else is capable.

Malignant regional powers will likely emerge. A Russian-allied, nuclear Iran will be the dominant player in the Middle East. Nuclear North Korea will be China’s pit bull in east Asia. Will Japan will re-arm itself? Will South Korea? Maybe Saudi Arabia will buy some nukes from Pakistan and think about a navy. Israel will do what it must against its existential threat from Iran and it won’t consult us anymore.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Left, Right, Forward March

It’s time again to tell readers that I wasn’t always a conservative-racist-homophobic-misogynist bigot. No. Back in the day people though I was a weirdo-hippie-commie-pinko-progressive. I worked with Saul Alinsky radicals and then for John Kerry’s 1972 congressional campaign. I believed poverty caused crime and people were poor only because other people were rich - and got that way by ripping off the poor. I believed in big government because it was the only way to counteract big corporations who were our real enemies. I believed government worked best when it played Robin Hood and spread the wealth around. If I hadn’t grown up, I’d probably be working for the Democrat Party or writing for some progressive think tank, and I’d likely have voted for Barack Obama twice. Ugh.
But I did grow up twenty years ago, and I’m embarrassed it didn’t happen sooner. What can I say? I was a late bloomer. The process began years earlier, but the transformation wasn’t complete until about 1994. So, I was a diehard lefty from about 1970 to about 1990 or so, then the transition, and for two decades since I’ve been the thoroughly conservative writer with whom you’ve become familiar on these pages. It hasn’t been helpful for my bottom line though. I would likely have progressed farther income-wise if I’d remained a lefty both in education and in writing columns, but I just didn’t believe in that world-view anymore and I couldn’t fake it.
What caused the change? Too many things to include here. My book goes into detail about the transformation and I’m past the halfway point writing it. I should be ready to shop it around to publishers come early summer. It compares how conservative critics treated me when I was a lefty teacher/writer to how lefty critics treated me when I became a conservative teacher/writer. The latter part is much longer though. It goes into depth about how various “tolerant” and “open-minded” liberal individuals and groups tried to get me dismissed or silenced. Book-publishing is a competitive business, but I believe readers will find my book interesting and I’m prepared to give my best effort when selling it to publishers.
As a committed conservative, the reelection of Barack Obama in 2012 discouraged me deeply. Most of my like-minded friends have since given up hope of a conservative resurgence, but I haven’t. “Look,” they say. “The left controls the media, education, the culture (Hollywood), most of the judiciary, the White House, and the Senate. What have we got? Talk Radio, Fox News, some churches, and the House. That’s it.” They’re correct in all that, I know, but I have more faith in the American people. My pessimistic friends expect the fed to keep printing money, government to keep spending it, the debt to keep increasing, more people to go on welfare, fewer workers and businesspeople to pay taxes - and for everything to go on like that until it all collapses. 
That could happen, I admit, and it could happen sooner rather than later. A lot of Americans have become dependent on government programs of one kind or another - even a majority by some counts. There are many “low-information voters” out there and their numbers will increase enormously if amnesty for illegal immigrants passes. It can get discouraging, no doubt, but I guess I believe in the common sense of Americans more than most of my conservative friends. Most of us know as some deep level that it just can’t go on like this. According to Rasmussen, two out of three Americans believe we’ve become too dependent on government. That would have to include people who are themselves dependent to one extent or another, but they know the government gravy train will go off the rails eventually. Not enough of them went to the polls in November of 2012, but that can change in the next two election cycles.
More and more Americans will be discovering this year what was in the Obamacare bill Democrats rammed through in 2009 and they won’t like it. I think it’s safe to say that most already don’t like it, but that number will reach critical mass sometime in 2014 as millions more lose their coverage and are forced onto the exchanges. Others who think they’ve already signed up will discover how much more Obamacare is costing them compared to what they had before its implementation.

We’re in for some economic and foreign policy shocks, but I expect Americans to survive them and smarten up in the process. They’ll learn that, as Margaret Thatcher put it: “The facts of life are conservative,” and vote accordingly. We’re in a deep hole, but I choose to believe we can still climb out of it.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, February 03, 2014

Unemployment And Illegal Immigrants

We’re told our unemployment rate is 7.2 percent. How can that be when there are 92 million Americans who can work but who have dropped out of the work force? Because they’re not counted, we’re told. Why aren’t they counted? They’re unemployed, right? Why aren’t they figured into the unemployment rate? They’re not too old or too young to work. They’re not disabled. They’ve just given up looking for work, but they’re still unemployed. If you ask me, the unemployment rate is really about four times higher than we’re told. It’s really about 30 percent or even higher, isn’t it?
In his State of The Union Address, the president talked about immigration reform and  income inequality. That’s good because they’re closely related, only not the way he tells it. Illegal immigrants have been pouring into the United States - about 12-20 million of them. Half or more work under the table for less than Americans who are on the books are paid. That depresses wages and drives up unemployment, worsening income inequality President Obama claims he wants to fix.
Now the president wants to grant them amnesty - and Republican leaders in Congress agree. More and more illegals are encouraged to sneak in, depressing wages further, and driving up unemployment, creating more income inequality the president claims he doesn’t want.
He says immigration laws are broken and need fixing. Which ones? All of them? Some of them? He won’t say, but he decided not to enforce them. He’s not going to deport illegal aliens who get caught after sneaking in here. Why not? Didn’t he twice swear an oath on the Bible “that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”? The Constitution requires him to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

He isn’t.
It’s not our immigration laws that need reforming. It’s the president that needs reforming. He only enforces laws he likes and ignores laws he doesn’t like. And, he promises to make new laws whenever he feels like it. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” he says. He’ll write executive orders. He’ll call people and tell them to ignore existing laws and do things for which there are no laws.
That’s not the way our Constitution was set up, and he taught constitutional law so he should know that. I think he does know it, but he doesn’t like the way the Constitution was set up - so he ignores it and does what he wants.

So far he’s gotten away with it. Will he continue to? Looks like he intends to keep going unless Congress does something. What can Congress do? Only two things: It can defund his initiatives and it can impeach him. They’ve been toying with the first, and rumbling about the second.
Congressman Trey Gowdy

The Constitution says: “The House of Representatives shall…have the sole Power of Impeachment.” If Congress decides to do something, that’s where it would start - specifically, in the House Judiciary Committee where they’re already talking about it. The committee held hearings in December in which Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) asked an expert witness if the president, since he was dispensing with laws on immigration, marijuana, and other things, “Could he dispense with election law?”

The witness said no, but Gowdy pressed him: "Why not? If he can suspend mandatory minimum [sentencing laws] and immigration laws, why not election laws?"

"Because we live in a government of laws, and the president is bound to obey them and apply them,” [the witness] answered.

Well he's not applying the ACA [Obamacare], and he's not applying immigration laws, and he's not applying marijuana laws, and he's not applying mandatory minimum. What's the difference with election laws?" Gowdy said.

Another expert, Georgetown University professor Jonathan Turley, told the committee this: “The president is required to faithfully execute the laws. He's not required to enforce all laws equally or commit the same resources to them, but I believe the president has crossed the constitutional line.”

Things are stirring in the House. It’s controlled by Republicans, but who controls them? Republican leadership obeys corporate leaders like Mark Zuckerberg who want amnesty. The Tea Party Caucus represents small business and ordinary people who oppose amnesty for the reasons I outlined. 

Pat Buchanan
In a recent column, Pat Buchanan claims Republicans lost middle America when they worked with Democrats to pass free-trade laws that shipped American jobs overseas. “While manufacturing sought to move production abroad,” he wrote, “hotels, motels, bars, restaurants, farms and construction companies that could not move abroad also wanted to replace their expensive American workers.” 

How can they do that? Illegal immigration. It’s supported by Democrats because they want more voters dependent on government. Republican leaders support it because big corporate donors own them, just as they do Democrat leaders.


Tea Party Republicans, however, are in their way. They’re the only friends unemployed Americans have right now.

Labels: , , , , ,