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Norbert Bufka

Author  ·  Historian 

Published Articles, Letters, and Blogs

Best of times, worst of times

Charles Dickins began A Tale of Two Cities with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is a good way to describe our current political life in the United States. Democracy is alive and well in this ongoing experiment in self-government begun in 1776. Women are gathering in protest not seen for nearly 100 years. Voters are coming out in record numbers in the special elections that have taken place since the election of Donal Trump as president.,Trump's corruption is being investigated in a legal process.

Donald Trump is the worst President in my lifetime. I wrote before the election on October 2, 2016 that he was unfit for office because he is a bully, lacks intellectual curiosity and knowledge, cannot maintain attention to anything more than a fewm minutes, and has total disregard for the meaning of words. He lies constantly. His time in office has proven beyond a doubt the truth of my words in 2016.

Let’s keep the momentum going through the elections in November and elect responsible people who are concerned about the genral welfare of our country. . 

The youth rallies were awesome

I watched and listened with compassion the words of the young people at rallies across the country and around the world on Saturday March 24, 2018. They gave talks that were inspiring, thought provoking, emotional, and from the heart. I am proud of everyone of them.

Young people should not have to go to school in fear of their lives. This is not the American way. School needs to be a place of learning, not self-protection. Rick Santorum is dead wrong in criticizing these people bysaying they should be doing something pro-active, like learning CPR. No, Rick, that is reactive, not pro-active.     What they did Saturday and plan to continue to do is pro-active. They are using their First Amendment rights to speak out and protest the awful slaughter of fellow students right before their eyes. They want this stopped, which is much more than what our leaders are doing.

Thank you, young people, for giving us all a good example of what it means to be an American .  

Being Catholic Becoming Faithful

I have had a lifetime of faith … or what I thought was faith. Now that I am in my post-retirement years, I have concluded that I was being Catholic, but religion is not faith. It is something much deeper and personal. For me, my Catholic religion has neglected the development of my faith and focused on being Catholic: following rules and performing rituals.

Now I am trying to focus on faith. I find that a process of becoming because it is impacted by language, cosmology, what I was taught about God, the Bible, and Jesus. Put this all in the historical context of Christianity and there is much to be sorted out. This is what my book attempts to do. I move from the practice of being catholic to becoming faithful to the Gospel message of jesus.

While I have written this from a Catholic perspective, there is much to ponder by anyone of faith in any religion.

 

School Safety is of Paramount Importance

School safety in my youth were mundane concerns compared to the safety issue today. School shootings occur far more frequently in the United States than anywhere else in the world. When combined with other mass shootings, eleven of the worst 50 mass shootings were in the United States.  We have only 4.4% of the world population but 22% of themass shootings.

After the shooting at Marjorie Stone and Douglas High School in Parkland Florida an Interdisciplinary Group for Preventing School and Cmmunity Violence at the University of Virginia has prepared a Call for Action to Prevent Gun violent in the United States  of America. Anya Kamanetz

NPR reported that “About 200 universities, national education and mental health groups, school districts, and more than 2,300 individual experts have signed on to support this document in the weeks since” .

The documents says, “Although security measures are important, a focus on simply preparing for shootings is insufficient. We need a change in mindset and policy from reaction to prevention. Prevention entails more than security measures    and begins long before a gunman comes to school. We need a comprehensive public health approach to gun violence that is informed by scientific evidence and free from partisan politics.”

The Call for Action revolves around three levels of action: preparing a safe place, protecting those who are at risk, and intervening when violence is a threat. The eight steps are:

  1. Initiate a national review of school safety to insure safety from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

  2. A “ban on assault-style weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips, and products that modify semi-automatic firearms to enable them to function like automatic firearms.”

  3. Adequate support staff of psychologists, social workers, and others.

  4. foster positive social, behavioral, emotional, and academic success.

  5. Universal background checks.

  6. Develop threat assessment teams.

  7. Removal of barriers that keep professionals from sharing at risk behaviors with others.

  8. Gun violence protection orders.

I support the Call for Action and urge you to do the same.

 

Is Donald Trump fit to be President?

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote that Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship.” I will explore in this column why Brooks made such a bold statement.

Words

Words are the building blocks of communication, whether in personal conversation or speeches. Trump’s speeches are filled with words of anger and frustration, echoing what so many people are experiencing today. Instead of raising people up from their anger and frustration however, he is using that to fuel his campaign and his hunger for power.

Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman  reported in the New York Times in December 2015 that Trump often uses words like “kill”, “destroy”, and “fight” even though those he intends to fight are illusive even in his own mind and speech. He talks of building up the military to fight unidentified enemies. He supports the use of nuclear weapons, even in Europe.

Trump said in reference to a protester at a rally, ‘Maybe he should have been roughed up.’”  Clearly he was suggesting violence but later denied it.

Trump’s style of speaking is much like a demagogue. He maligns whole groups of people, claims to be the sole savior of the mess we are in and will personally make America great again.

Jennifer Mercieca, an expert in American political discourse at Texas A&M University, said that Trump puts people in categories of losers or winners. For Trump, illegal immigrants, people captured in war, like John McCain, and the disabled are losers. He claims himself and others like him to be winners, based on wealth, success, and intelligence. Trump said in Macon, GA, “When you’re really smart, when you’re really, really smart like I am — it’s true, it’s true, it’s always been true, it’s always been true.” [i] That sentence alone shows his lack of intelligence.

Following closely upon his demagogic use of words is his avoidance of factual evidence, even when confronted with it.  He has claimed, for example, that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment and is a co-founder of ISIS. [ii]  Both statements are absolutely false.

Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin by saying he had greater leadership qualities than President Obama, but then bristled when he was questioned about it.  [iii]

David Brooks reported on a study done on facts in 4.6 hours of Trump’s speeches.  The study revealed “five dozen untrue statements, or one every five minutes.” [iv]

One of the most amazing attempts to make a lie into a fact was the claim that President Obama was not born in the United States. Trump was the primary advocate of this notion and only recently disavowed it by saying Hillary Clinton started it and he finished it. Clinton had nothing to do with this lie. [v]

Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer for Trump’s book The Art of the Deal, said “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” [vi]

Focus

In an interview with Philip Rucker at the Washington Post, [vii] Trump said nothing coherent or substantive in answering any questions. In other words, his abuse of words is indicative of the lack of depth in his thinking.

This lack of focus is borne out in an article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, in which she writes about her interview with Tony Schwartz, who spent hundreds of hours with Trump. When Trump announced his candidacy, Schwartz was terrified of the prospect of Trump being president because of “Trump’s personality, which he considered pathologically impulsive and self-centered.”  

After meeting with Trump just a few times, Schwartz observed “that it’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes”.  “Schwartz believes”, Mayer wrote, “ that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” [viii]

World view

Among the most ardent supporters of Donald Trump are evangelical Christians, like Dr. James Dobson, founder of Christian based Family Talk, Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of the Christian based Liberty University, and Robert Jeffress, the influential pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

A Christian worldview defends human dignity, welcomes the stranger in our midst, stands for justice, dispenses grace and are agents of reconciliation in a broken world, ACCORDING TO Peter Wehner, who is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has served in the last three Republican administrations,. Trump represents none of these traits.

Wehner provided an analysis of Trump’s worldview. [ix]As I have indicated above, Trump has shown contempt for the vulnerable in our society, bullied people he disagrees with, and his first thoughts in any crisis are if himself. “Power, strength, and success are his values”, Wehner wrote. In contrast Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, and blessed are the peacemakers.”

Wehner says we need to look to Friedrich Nietzsche, who was repulsed by Christianity and Christ for the source of Trump’s values. Nietzsche wrote that “good is Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. Evil is Whatever springs from weakness. Happiness is the feeling that power increases.” Werner concludes that “Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one.”

Conclusion

Clearly, the evidence presented here demonstrates that Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the most powerful nation on earth. If you support Trump, then I hope you have a few reasons to reconsider your support. If you don’t support Trump, then you have more information to bolster your decision. If you are in the middle, then I hope this column will influence you to reject Trump as our President. Those who endorse Trump, like our Congressman John Moolenar, do not deserve our vote either.

 

 

[i] Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman, “95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue”, New York Times, December 6, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/us/politics/95000-words-many-of-them-ominous-from-donald-trumps-tongue.html?emc=eta1&_r=0.

[ii] Isaac Stanley, “”From Trump’s controversial words, a pattern: Outrage, headlines and then denial”, -Becker and Sean Sullivan August 9, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/from-trumps-controversial-words-a-pattern-outrage-headlines-and-then-denial/2016/08/09/4feadec0-5e71-11e6-8e45-477372e89d78_story.html?wpisrc=nl_politics&wpmm=1.

[iv] David Brooks, op. cit.

[v] Jenna Johnson , “Trump admits Obama was born in U.S., but falsely blames Clinton for starting rumors.” Washington Post, September 16, 2016.

[vi] Jane Mayer, “Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All”, The New Yorker, July 25, 2016..

[vii] Chris Cillizza, “Donald Trump’s Washington Post interview should make Republicans panic”, Washington Post, August 3, 2016.

[viii] Jane Mayer, op.cit.

[ix] Peter Wehner, The Theology of Donald Trump

NY Times, JULY 5, 2016.

 

Gun violence must stop

Once again I am saddened by the massacre at a school in Florida. This is the 6th school shooting in 2018. What will it take to make Congress act?

Between the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 and now, Congress has passed only one law regarding guns and gun violence. That was in February 2017 to make it easier for people with mental illness to buy a gun. This is totally contrary to what needs to be done.

In June 2016 after the mass shooting at a night club in Florida, House Speaker Paul Ryan, said  “We do not take away citizens' rights without due process,”  What about the right to life of the 17 victims in Florida? Is your right to own a gun more important than their right to life?

Gun violence is an epidemic in this country. Any other epidemic would have people taking action. It is time to fund the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to study gun violence.

Steps needed are very simple and not new:

1)      Background checks on everyone who wants to buy a gun.

2)      Mandatory training in the use of firearms. We require more training to drive a car than to buy and use a gun.

3)      Gun dealers must be licensed. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) staff must be increased so gun shops can be monitored.

4)      Sale of military style weapons must be outlawed. There is absolutely no reason for a person to own one of them.  

5)      Equipment to modify guns to make them automatic must be banned.

6)      The immunity from lawsuits of gun manufacturers  must be repealed.

 

History Lessons

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana, American philosopher and author.

If you can’t remember history, then it is very important to study it. David McCulloch, Ron Chernow, and others make history come alive by telling the story of people: who they were, what they said, and what they did, not just dates and events.

We have a president who supports white supremacy, the Klan, and Neo-Nazis by his close association with them and for refusing to condemn their views.

Our president believes he alone can solve the problems in our country and world.  He expects people to heed his every word.

Our president says all news which disagrees with his news is fake and wants to ban some news media, a violation of the First Amendment.

Our president wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country and register those who live here, another violation of the First Amendment.

Our president wants to remove all undocumented immigrants, especially those of color, and has authorized deputizing local sheriff’s departments as agents for the immigration service

Our president has rescinded an executive order of President Obama which would allow young people who came to this country illegally through no fault of their own (Dreamers) to remain in the U.S. and give them a path to citizenship.

Our president has begun lifting temporary protective status for thousands of people who are here because of turmoil in their own countries. Some of them have been here for fifteen years.

Our president urges tough action against hecklers and those who oppose him without regard for due process. Many sheriffs feel support for their inhuman treatment of their prisoners.

Our president is considering a private spy group which would report to him directly and not share information with the U. S. intelligence community.

Our president supports the dictatorial regimes of Vladimir Putin in Russia and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines'.

These are all signs very reminiscent of the rise and power of Adolph Hitler in Germany from 1933 to 1945. Hitler set up a paramilitary group to quell opposition, banned one group after another, controlled the media, declared himself the sole savior of Germany, demanded complete loyalty to him, and made a pact with a fellow dictator in Italy: Mussolini, all in the name of economic security and German superiority.

Let’s stop this president before it is too late to save our country from his madness.

Guns and domestic terrorism

Some of our national leaders are so intent on spreading fear and hatred against Muslims in the name of security that they are blinded by the very real threat of domestic terrorism. They get all angry about the killing of eight people in New York but show no sign of anger about the shooting of 58 people in Las Vegas on October 1 at a concert or the shooting of three people at a Walmart near Denver on November 1 or 26 people at a church in Texas on November 5. In these cases, they just want to know wy. . These shootings kill hundreds every year and injure hundreds more. There is an epidemic of domestic terrorism occurring in our country. It is time to take note and take action.

Gun violence is occurring more often with even more horrendous results. It is time to have a serious discussion and action about the guns in this country. It is time to remove the discussion from the Second Amendment and deal with the real issue of gun violence.

 

Assault weapons and other military type weapons must be banned from individual ownership. Those who own such weapons must turn them in. All gun owners must be registered along with all their guns.  We must reduce the number and availability of guns. It is an indisputable fact that the more guns that are available, the more gun violence there will be.  And the more military style weapons are available the more massacres there will be. Yet gun proponents argue that the solution to gun violence is more guns. This is totally preposterous.

Open carry laws must be repealed and permits to concealed carry weapons must be carefully regulated.

 

In spite of the above obvious comments, there is a bill in the US Congress to allow the sale of silencers. These have no peaceful purpose.

In the Michigan legislature there is a proposal to end training and permit to carry a concealed weapon.  It is already legal to carry openly a weapon without a permit or training. The Michigan Senate passed a bill to allow concealed weapons in schools, churches, day care centers, and other places currently on the bad list.

The chief proponents of guns are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and arms manufacturers. It is time to label the NRA a terrorist sponsor and curtail its activities.  The NRA should be forbidden to lobby or give any contributions to any candidate’s’ campaign.

Secondly every member of the NRA is complicit with the sponsoring terrorism  to the extent they support NRA policies and lobbying activities. I urge you to speak out against the leadership of the NRA and resign your membership in the NRA, as former President George H. W. Bush did.

Gun proponents argue loudly and vigorously their constitutional rights but I impore you to look  at the inalienable rights of life that is being destroyed by shooters you support.  Yes, as long as you support the unbridled ownership of guns, you support the killers.

As we continue the discussion of guns and gun violence in this country let us keep the above inmind and recognize that we are all complicit in the massacres to the extent we promote the unbridled ownership nd use of guns or are careless about ownership.  Of guns.

 

The Electoral College Must be Changed or Ended

The United States Constitution is an amazing document. We praise it and hold it in as high esteem as the Bible or Qu'ran or other sacred books.  But just as the sacred books are interpreted in many ways and misunderstood in the process, so is the Constitution. It was created by men for the purpose of uniting 13 colonies into one country.  The writers of the Constitution did not like democracy (rule directly by the people). They therefore created a representative democracy called a republic. They put in place several provisions which did not involve election by the people. One of these was the Electoral College to select our President.  The original purpose of the Electoral College has been subverted over the course of history and must be changed or ended.

The Electoral College

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution says in part “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” States controlled whom they appointed electors and when they met , many times over a period of months. The first ten presidents were from Virginia or Massachusetts.

In 1788 James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of essays, called the Federalist papers, in defense of the newly created Constitution. In No. 68 Hamilton wrote that the meeting of the electoral college “affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” because they were independent men chosen expressly for this purpose. In 2016 many people urged the electors to vote against Trump based on the above essay by Hamilton..

how it worked

In 1824 there were four candidates for President. The independent electors could not agree on which one to elect so the decision went to the House of Representatives which chose John Quincy Adams.

Gradually over the course of the nineteenth century, political parties gained more and more control over the electoral process and states began to allow the people to vote for president. The debate over whether the people should elect the president or continue to use the Electoral College process began and continues to this day. Four elections resulted in the electoral college voting for a candidate who had fewer popular votes in 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a widespread practice for political parties to choose the electors rather than the state legislature. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Ray v. Blair in 1952 that a political party can demand that its electors promise to vote for the candidate the party wants. In 29 states the electors are mandated by law to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state. Not only are the electors no longer independent, the winner of a state gets all the electoral votes, except in Maine and Nebraska.

Conclusion

Prior to 1964 many states had a legislature modeled after the U. S. Congress: one house based on population and the other based on geographical areas. In 1964 the Supreme Court, applying the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, ruled in Reynolds v. Sims that both houses of state legislatures needed to be based on population, not geographical areas. This is often referred to as the “one man one vote” principle.

While the Electoral College is part of the Constitution, it clearly violates the "one man, one vote" principle established in Reynolds v. Sims. Because of the way electoral votes are assigned, popular votes are not equal around the country. In 2008 Wyoming had 3 electoral votes with a population of 532,668. This means each vote represented 177,556 people. On the other hand, California had a population of 36,756,666 with 55 electoral votes. Each vote represented 668,303 people. This means that Wyoming votes were worth nearly four times the votes in California.

The thirteen original states were made up of distinct groups of people for the most part and their sovereignty was recognized but today the sovereignty of the individual states is nearly irrelevant as migration constantly changes the population and traditions of states. While I was born and raised in Michigan and have lived most of my life here, I would be at home just as easily in most other states.

It is clearly time to accept the results of the popular vote.  This can be done through state legislation since states control the electoral college. Ten states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation requiring their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote (The National Popular Vote plan). These states represent 165 electoral votes, 105 short of the 270 needed to win an election.  When states total 270 electoral votes the law will take effect. Urge your state Representative and Senators to support The National Popular Vote plan.  One alternatives to this plan is changing the “winner take all” to proportional allocation of electoral votes in each state. States can implement the latter. Please feel free to pass this column to others.

Another is to eliminate the electoral college and depend on the popular vote. This requires a Constitutional amendment. Interstingly, President-elect Trump said he supports this approach, even though he would have lost the election if it had been in effect in 2016. Newt Gingrich also supports the National Popular Vote Plan.

 

 

 

Is Hillary Clinton fit to be president?

Earlier this month I raised the question of Donald Trump’s fitness to be president of the United States. (See previous blog) It is only fair I ask the same question of Hillary Clinton. In Trump’s case, I based my comments on his self-serving use of words, his inability to focus on a subject for more than a few minutes, and his worldview based on power. I concluded that Trump is not fit to be president.

Using the same criteria, Clinton uses and chooses words well in coherent and logical thought. She is able to focus on a subject for longer than a few minutes as her testimony for more than nine hours before a Congressional subcommittee attests, and her worldview is one of inclusion and the common good. Compared to Trump she is eminently fit to be president,

Trustworthiness

A different character trait must be used in discussing Clinton however. Many people think she cannot be trusted. Gov. Chris Christie at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland spoke to the heart of this distrust. Unfortunately, that speech was more bravado than substance. The convention goers were quick to yell “guilty” and “lock her up” but this is totally contrary to our justice system which says a person is innocent until proven guilty. On the other hand, there appears to be an element of secrecy and therefore suspicious dishonesty in keeping with the old saying, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  Let’s take a look at four areas of concern.

Whitewater

The Whitewater Development Corporation was a failed real estate venture by Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jim and Susan McDougal, in the 1970s and 1980s. The McDougals were the owners of the failed Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan. When the investigator of the failed S&L learned that the Clintons were in partnership with the McDougals, the Clintons came under investigation also. The Clintons themselves were never prosecuted after three separate inquiries found insufficient evidence linking them with the criminal conduct of others related to Whitewater. [i]

Wall Street speeches

Clinton gave 91 private talks from April 2013 to March 2015. 14 were delivered “directly to financial-sector interests, including Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman.”   Her fees from these speeches were $3 million of her total $21.7 million for all 91 speeches.

Her critics suggested she was too “close to Wall Street” and that “she had something to hide by not releasing the transcripts of those conversations” [ii] but Clinton has every right to give speeches to whatever group she wishes.

Private email server

While Secretary of State Clinton used her private family email server for official communications, some experts, officials, and members of Congress have contended that her use of private messaging system software and a private server violated State Department protocols and procedures, as well as federal laws and regulations governing recordkeeping.

On July 5, 2016, the FBI stated that Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling her email system but recommended that no charges be filed against her. And none were. [iii]

Clinton in her defense claimed that her immediate predecessors, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, also conducted official business by means of private email, but, as Bill Bloom, a lawyer and retired judge,  wrote, neither “went so far as to set up their own personal Internet systems in their homes, free from government oversight and beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.” [iv]  Here’s another case of “innocent until proven guilty.”

The  Benghazi attack

On September 11, 2012, members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi Libya resulting in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and others. Critics claim that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton acted improperly in not preventing this attack. After five hearings in the House and two in the Senate, none found “overt wrongdoing.”  

Amy Davidson in an article in the New Yorker about the hearings concluded that “Clinton came across not only as a grownup, as her supporters had hoped, but as the most normal person in the room.”  [v]

Conclusion

Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for over 30 years. This means that the public has had many opportunities to see, investigate, and judge her performance. The four situations above exemplify that scrutiny. Like the rest of us, who do not live in the public eye, she has made some mistakes, but she was not found guilty of any wrongdoing. I believe the decision to vote or not to vote for Clinton should not be based on the fact she made some mistakes.

With her experience in public service in Arkansas, New York and Washington, she has much to offer as our leader. She has a vision for the country and the world. I concede you may not agree entirely with her vision, nor do I, but Congress will temper that vision. And she will be a far greater president than Trump.

It will be tempting for some not to vote or to vote for a third party candidate but in both cases you are letting others make your decision as to who will be our next president.  I think Clinton is a good choice for president. 


 

 

 

[i]Whitewater controversy”, Wikipedia,.

[iv] Bill Blum, “Keeping Wall Street Speeches Secret Speaks Volumes About Hillary Clinton” ”The Huffington Post 05/02/2016.

[v] Amy Davidson, “The Hillary Hearing”, The New Yorker, November 2, 2016.

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