It’s November 11 — Veterans’ Day.
Thank you to all veterans for your commitment, for your dedication, and for your service. You have manned the trenches, scrambled onto the bloody beaches, piloted the planes through anti-aircraft fire, driven the tanks, tended the grievously wounded, and done the other terrible but necessary things that have kept our country safe and free. All Americans — and all peoples who have been freed from tyranny through your efforts — deeply appreciate the sacrifices our veterans have endured, and grieve at the losses that the families of all who have served in the military have suffered.
Freedom doesn’t come cheaply. It is our soldiers and our veterans who have paid the steepest price for our liberty. For that, we are forever grateful.
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Posted in America, Politics, tagged 2012 Democratic National Convention, America, childhood obesity, First Ladies, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Politics, Veterans on September 5, 2012 |
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The First Lady’s job — and I think we all need to view it as a job like any other — is a difficult one that has changed over the years. Ever since First Ladies moved beyond serving as the gracious White House hostess (and behind-the-scenes influencer of presidential decision-making) to become public figures in their own right, they have been expected to champion a cause that commands broad public support and serve a kind of above-the-political-fray role in the national zeitgeist. Some First Ladies — Hillary Clinton comes to mind — seem to have chafed a bit at the limitations imposed by this traditional role.
By all accounts, Michelle Obama has been a fine First Lady who has filled the expected role admirably. She serves as a role model for many, and she has been an effective advocate for returning veterans and their families and for combating the scourge of childhood obesity. No one disputes the country’s need to help our veterans, and whether you agree or disagree with how to deal with childhood obesity — and, specifically, how much of a role the government should play in specifying what children should eat, how much exercise they should get, and what should happen if they become morbidly obese — no one denies that encouraging children to eat right, get exercise, and avoid weight problems is a good thing.
Lately the First Lady’s role seems to be changing again, as First Ladies, and potential First Ladies, have begun to make major speeches at political conventions. There is some tension between that activity and the First Lady’s traditional role as a kind of non-partisan national figure. Some have dealt with that tension by confining their remarks to extolling the good qualities and hard work of their presidential spouse, how they have been good and caring fathers and husbands despite the weight of their duties in the Oval Office. That kind of testimonial has been accepted as appropriate: what loving spouse wouldn’t support her husband and be happy to describe his virtues?
Last night Michelle Obama gave her prime-time address to the Democratic National Convention, and I wonder if in doing so she hasn’t presaged another shift in the role of First Lady. Mrs. Obama spoke eloquently of President Obama’s character, beliefs, and values, his important role as loving father to their two daughters, and how her story and his story touch upon the well-visited themes of the American Dream — but she also mounted a more full-throated defense of the President’s policy positions than you would expect in a “traditional” First Lady’s speech. Mrs. Obama did it graciously but also unmistakeably, leading some to wonder whether, like Hillary Clinton before her, she may have her own political career in the future.
This shouldn’t be surprising. In the modern world, where the endless campaigns demand so much commitment from candidates and their families and political spouses of both genders often are highly accomplished professionals in their own right, it is unreasonable to expect that presidential spouses will simply serve as an ever-smiling, neutral national symbol who never speaks a controversial word. Perhaps it is time to accept that First Ladies — and First Gentlemen — can properly be advocates for the policies their spouses support and be recognized as such. In the successful marriages I am familiar with, spouses tend to strongly and vocally support what each other are doing in their jobs and the goals they are striving for in those jobs. Why should political spouses be any different?
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Posted in America, Politics, tagged 2012 Democratic National Convention, America, Democrats, Politics, Republicans, Tammy Duckworth, Veterans, Veterans Running For Public Office on September 4, 2012 |
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One of the more compelling speakers tonight at the Democratic National Convention was Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran who is running for Congress in Illinois.
I knew of Duckworth because Richard has done campaign work for her in the past, but tonight is the first time I’ve seen her speak. What an impressive person she is! It must be hard enough to walk out in front of a big crowd on national TV, but doing it while wearing a skirt that exposes your two artificial legs, as Duckworth did, would be incredibly difficult — yet she did it with grace, and good cheer. She gave a fine speech that touched upon the helicopter explosion in Iraq in which she lost her legs and explained why she supports President Obama.
Increasingly we are seeing veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who have sacrificed so much for this country, seek public office, running as both Republicans and Democrats. I think that is a very positive development. The political leaders who decide whether our country should go to war, and our soldiers and sailors should be placed in harm’s way, should have some idea of what war is really like. Having veterans there in the room, who can use their personal experiences to tell those who don’t know already, is of enormous value.
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Posted in America, Movies, Politics, tagged America, Bureaucrats, Department of Veterans' Affairs, Federal Spending, Movies, Patton, Politics, United States House of Representatives, Veterans, Wasteful spending, William Proxmire on August 23, 2012 |
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You have to hand it to federal employees — they may be mindless bureaucratic drones in their jobs, but when it comes to spending tax dollars, they’ve got more creativity than Pablo Picasso.
The latest evidence of this phenomenon comes from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which ponied up $5 million for two week-long training sessions for human resources personnel at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida — apparently the world’s largest convention hotel. The $5 million included $52,000 spent to create a parody of the opening scene of the film Patton, as well as $84,000 for promotional items like highlighters and hand sanitizers. (A story about the contents of the video, with a link to the video itself, is here.) In all, 1,800 people attended the conferences, at a cost of $2,734 per person.
The VA has an important function, of course, but spending $5 million so HR personnel can be trained at a glitzy conference center — as opposed to spending the funds to better help veterans with their health care, job training and placement, and social reintegration needs — doesn’t seem like a wise use of tax dollars.
Credit should be given to the House of Representatives committee that is investigating this incident, as well as the possibility that the VA officials deciding where to hold the conference may have received improper gifts. Congress has an important role to play in examining federal funding and shining a spotlight on waste. The current oversight work recalls the watchdog efforts of prior legislators, such as former Democratic Senator William Proxmire and his “Golden Fleece” awards given to agencies that engaged in frivolous spending. Ferreting out and ending wasteful federal spending shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
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It’s Memorial Day, when every red-blooded American male’s thoughts turn to grilling. Last night I broke out the ancient Weber grill, filled it with the remnants of last year’s charcoal, doused it liberally with fluid, lit the ceremonial fire ablaze for the first time of the summer, and engaged in the crucial grill scraping ritual. I then took a healthy swig from the sacred malty adult beverage to commemorate the occasion and raised my face toward the warmth of the sun. Soon the patio air was filled with the heady combination of charcoal smoke and sizzling meat.
Last night’s grilling featured cheeseburgers, brats, and some chicken thighs marinated in a mustard-vinegar sauce I prepared using odds and ends from our spice cabinet. The brats and the chicken were both the products of Ohio farms, in keeping with my interest in local sourcing. With all due modesty, I must confess that the meats were grilled close to perfection, and the chicken marinade was tasty indeed. We also had Ohio sweet corn with butter and a gigantic fruit salad that I had filled with as much Ohio produce as possible. We ate out on the patio as the evening sun filtered through the trees in the backyard.
Happy Memorial Day to all! May your grilling adventures today be merry and bright! And, as always, thanks to our veterans and the men and women in uniform whose sacrifices allow us to enjoy this holiday.
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Posted in America, World, tagged America, American History, Frank Buckles, History, Hundred Years War, Military veterans, Veterans, War, War of Austrian Succession, War of Jenkins' Ear, World, World War I on March 1, 2011 |
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Frank Buckles died on Sunday, at age 110. Buckles was America’s last surviving World War I veteran. He enlisted at age 16, after lying to a recruiting officer about his age, and served as a clerk and ambulance driver in England and France. The Washington Post reports that, with Buckles’ death, only two of the 65 million people who served in World War I are still living.
There is something terribly final about the death of the last human being to personally experience a war. With Buckles’ passing, we lose the last American who was there during the awful carnage of trench warfare, the horrors of poison gas attacks, and the deadly charges across no man’s land into the teeth of barbed wire, machine gun bullets, and fortified bunkers. No more Americans will be personally tormented by nightmares of the deaths of their comrades during The Great War.
With the severing of the last human links to the fighting, World War I moves from the realm of personal experience to the exclusive province of historians. They will argue about tactics, and great historical forces, and issues like how the war could have been avoided and whether the German side could have prevailed had it acted differently. Eventually a war in which millions of people participated and millions died, a war which saw the development of new weapons like the airplane and the tank — a war that participants thought was surely The War To End All Wars — will become as abstract, dusty, and inexplicable as the Hundred Years’ War, the War of Jenkins’ Ear, or the War of Austrian Succession. Frank Buckles’ passing takes us one step closer to that reality.
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Recently Kish and I went to a funeral service for a veteran. The service featured the presentation of the colors. It reminded me, yet again, of the extraordinary power of ceremony in our lives.
In this instance, the presentation of the colors ceremony was performed by three Marines. It was accomplished deliberately, in complete silence, and with great dignity and respect. The three Marines walked down the center aisle of the church at stately pace and retrieved a folded flag from the altar. They slowly unfolded it so that the flag was fully unfurled when Taps was played. The Marines then carefully refolded the flag, presented it to each other, and slowly saluted the colors before presenting the folded flag to the widow and walking slowly out of the church. This simple ceremony was the culmination of the service and was a deeply felt moment for everyone present in the church.
In this case, the man who had passed was a true hero — a Marine who had fought and suffered grievous, life-threatening injuries in the Battle of Okinawa, recovered, and returned to normal life to make enormous contributions to his family, his community, and his profession. How can you adequately recognize the personal sacrifices that he, and his fellow veterans, have made on behalf of us all? Ceremony provides us with a means of accomplishing what mere words cannot. The presentation of the colors, performed with appropriate silence, gravity and care, is a powerful way to demonstrate our esteem and gratitude for those who have served.
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The American cemetery in Normandy
Veterans’ Day is the most important federal holiday we have, because of what it means and the enormous sacrifices it commemorates. All Americans should be deeply and forever grateful to our veterans for their service and their willingness to fight so that our great nation can remain a beacon of freedom and tolerance in the world.
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