Thursday, July 16, 2015

What’s next in the battle flag flap?

Now that the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is being officially retired from government seals and capitol grounds across the Deep South, one has to wonder what’s next.
That’s hard to predict because this issue is so difficult to discuss.
There are those who genuinely, and without malice, consider the flag as an ancestral symbol of their regional pride, strength, and courage. But they’re called racists, which is the worst kind of insult.
There are also those who are genuinely, and deeply, hurt by displays of the banner under which an army fought to preserve the enslavement of their ancestors. Yet they’re accused of trying to erase history, one of the worst things a diverse society can do.
And then there are the real racists and the real censors. They do indeed exist, and while they’re small in number, they’re dominating the conversation and driving nearly every decision. Reasonable people cannot enter the discussion without being viciously attacked, so they leave. The result is that public officials and business leaders cater to the mob by making sometimes wise, often foolish, decisions. That’s sad.
As a proud son of the Deep South who has studied all aspects of our region’s history, I see both sides.
On the one hand, when I was very little I first thought the battle flag simply meant that you were from the country, liked to hunt and fish, or that you were a “rebel” of some sort or maybe a biker dude. I never associated it with a war, and certainly not with slavery or racism. I eventually learned about the Civil War, of course, and even that two of my great-great-grandfathers were Confederate cavalrymen who carried similar banners into battle. I then spent many summer afternoons visiting old Civil War battlefields with my parents, and learned a great deal about the conflict and the men who fought it.
I eventually grew to become critical of the Confederacy’s political and military leadership, though. They were educated and experienced men, and should have known better. Their rationale for succession was unwarranted, and a military rebellion was foreseeably doomed. Many died because they failed to steer their states clear of a horrible war.
But as a former soldier, I came to sympathize with the enlisted men who formed the ranks of the Confederate military. Many were simply answering their people’s call-to-arms, as men have done for centuries. There’s a degree of honor in that, and it should be respected.
On the other hand, ignorant bigots have misused the banner those soldiers fought under as a high-profile symbol of racism. While groups like the Ku Klux Klan have virtually vanished, the stain they caused – and the hurt they inflicted – remains nearly indelible. So whether the Deep South had its banner stolen by those hateful people, or whether it was surrendered to them during the era of segregation, it matters not. They have it, at least in the minds of millions.
I suppose it was a wise compromise to ceremonially retire the battle flag from official seals and capitol grounds, but the effort should end there. All this talk of removing memorials to fallen soldiers and sailors, banning battle flags from cemeteries, and disinterring long-dead generals is going way too far. That’s the kind of history-smashing thing you see in other countries, not in the United States. We don’t topple memorials to men or movements we disagree with. We acknowledge the past, learn from it, and go about our business.
When I was a staffer in Congress, sometimes I would lead tours of visiting Alabamians through the Capitol building. A favorite stop was in front of the statue of General Robert E. Lee, where I would remark about how “only in America” could a general who led a failed rebellion against the central government be memorialized in its capitol building. I saw Lee’s statue as a symbol of how strong America is, how different from other nations we are, and as an example of how, regardless of the difficulty, Americans would always come together in the end.
I think we should remember that lesson. We should stop all this fighting, show the world how strong this “indivisible” nation remains, and move on.
(First published on Al.com)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Meanwhile, our nation is being invaded

While we’re busy ripping ourselves apart over a flag and considering demolishing monuments to soldiers and sailors who fought and died more than 150-years ago, it’s important to remember that our nation is currently being invaded by a wave of criminals.
Seriously?
Well, I was about to write “slowly” invaded because that sounded less reactionary and perhaps softens the news, but slowly doesn’t accurately describe the movement; it’s nearly a blitzkrieg.
During the last two fiscal years, more than 66,000 illegal aliens with criminal records – some with felony convictions – were released into our communities by our own government, according to a recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement.
Save the typical partisan charges of racism. These aren’t the garden-variety salt-of-the-earth illegal aliens simply looking for honest labor in the land of opportunity. These are criminals, and last week another American lost her life because her government has utterly failed to secure our southern border and enforce our immigration laws.
Kate Steinle, 32, was walking with her father on San Francisco’s beautiful Pier 14 last Thursday when she was shot and killed by an illegal alien who had seven felony convictions and had already been deported five times. As her father frantically performed CPR while awaiting help, she kept saying, “Dad, help me, help me,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
It’s a horrific story, particularly because the killer shouldn’t have been walking freely on that pier at all. Aside from being here illegally, Lopez-Sanchez was recently arrested and jailed in San Francisco for drug charges, but the city released him in April and refused to notify federal officials they were doing so.
This willful act brings damning attention to San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” status, a policy favorite of the open borders crowd. A sanctuary city is one that places “limits on their assistance to federal immigration authorities seeking to apprehend and remove unauthorized aliens,” according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. Its authors also noted that supporters of sanctuary city laws claim, “efforts to deter the presence of unauthorized aliens would undermine community relations … or violate humanitarian principles.”
What about the right of Kate Steinle to be protected from illegal aliens with criminal records who were, and should be, in the custody of her government?
Sadly, the answer is clear – her government doesn’t really care. “That’s an unfortunate incident,” it would say. “But one cannot disparage 11-million illegal aliens undocumented immigrants because one or two turn bad.”
Fair enough, but can we at the very least have these criminals thrown out – and kept out – rather than let loose in our neighborhoods? And it’s not one or two, for that matter. I challenge you to enter the search terms “illegal alien murders” in your browser. You’d be shocked.
In fact, in late May officials from ICE sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee admitting that during the last four years “there were 121 unique criminal aliens who had an active case at the time of release and were subsequently charged with homicide-related offenses.”
And that’s only the murderers we know about. We’ve seen plenty of similar criminals in Alabama, from rapists to child molesters to cop killers. Just last March an illegal alien was charged with sexually assaulting a 10-year old girl in Russellville, and in April an illegal alien who was convicted of killing a Huntsville police officer hung himself in jail.
The evidence abounds, the statistics are incontrovertible, and the problem is clear: our government – overseen by both Republicans and Democrats – lacks the will to control our southern border. One party wants obedient voters while the other wants cheap workers, and who cares if a few killers come in the bargain. Criminals like Lopez-Sanchez can just walk back across the border five times, and then kill one of our fellow citizens in the prime of her life.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” reads a famous line to the poem affixed to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. That’s a noble proclamation that must forever remain true in the United States, but the poem doesn’t say anything about sending us your criminals. It’s time our government started taking this threat seriously.
(First published on Al.com)

Monday, July 6, 2015

It's time we hold our highest courts accountable for judicial activism

There's an old saying about the Supreme Court: it isn't final because it's supreme; it's supreme because it's final. That sounds clever, but let's review some of the court's more memorable decisions from the modern era to see how "final" they actually were, at least in terms of ending the debate.

In Roe v. Wade, it discovered a constitutional right to kill unborn children, yet most Americans believe abortion is murder and want it abolished or significantly limited.

In Kelo v. the City of New London, it told us that government had a constitutional right to seize private property for whatever reason it deems appropriate, yet most Americans believe the notion is absolutely tyrannical.

In the two Obamacare cases, it said the law's authors meant to use the words "tax" rather than "fine" and "federal government" rather than "the states," even though Congress chose those precise words for specific reasons. People know what those words mean, and know we're now living under an unconstitutional law.

And now we're told that hundreds of years of American federalism and thousands of years of human tradition mean nothing – our constitution suddenly mandates that marriage be redefined. Yet most of our churches will forever teach differently.

It's easy to see that the Supreme Court didn't bring finality to these debates. They sowed thicker discord instead. By gathering to themselves all power of law and assuming that they know best, these justices have denied our democratic republic the opportunity -- the necessity, in fact -- to thoroughly debate these issues, to persuade or be persuaded, and to have a natural argument that could eventually lead to a compromise where we could all live under the same national roof together.

Instead, they've walked into the middle of an argument, told everyone to shut-up, chose a side, and walked away. Nothing was settled.

There has been a great deal of talk about how the gay marriage ruling is now "the law of the land" and that advocates of the exclusivity of traditional marriage ought to just move on. 

Sadly, this subservient attitude isn't anything new.

"There is in all a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate," wrote Frederic Bastiat in his book "The Law" published in 1850. "This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are 'just' because the law makes them so."

We shouldn't end our opposition to something illegitimate simply because it becomes "the law of the land." In fact, because it's the law means it should be opposed with even greater vigilance.

Meanwhile, what's ever to be done about this incessant judicial activism? For starters, we must hold these courts accountable. Our constitution provides a path for throwing a judge or justice from the bench the same way we can toss a president from the White House, "on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

But does that standard – particularly the ambiguous "high crimes and misdemeanors" section – apply to clear judicial activism? Sadly, these days the answer is probably "no."

In his book "Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America," legal scholar and radio host Mark Levin notes that judges "must act in a flagrantly illegal fashion before that conduct would be considered beyond the constitution's 'good behavior' standard as it is currently interpreted."

Levin goes on to argue, therefore, that the ambiguous standard must be raised, not lowered.

"There is considerable merit in recognizing that it would not compromise the independence of the federal judiciary to treat egregious abuse of judicial authority as a 'high crime' worthy of impeachment and removal from office," Levin wrote. "Knowingly doing harm to the constitution ... is not the sort of 'good behavior' the framers envisioned justifying continuance in office."

Levin is right, and the unconstitutional power of the courts will only grow unless it's checked by an outside force -- the people. It's absolutely undemocratic for five of nine lawyers to have the final say on nearly every question before our society. The final word belongs to the people. It always has, and it always will. It's just time for us to be heard.

(First published on Al.com)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

No way, padre. Pope's encyclical on the environment is flawed

There's plenty of truth in the pope's new encyclical on the environment, titled Laudato Si' ("Be praised"). Most agree with his teaching that it's terribly wrong for individuals, corporations, and nations to wantonly destroy our environment and carelessly waste our natural resources.

But there are some portions of his letter that read like polished versions of the missives that spewed from Occupy Wall Street, and on the two questions central to the debate about global warming, Pope Francis has proven himself entirely fallible.

Let's start with the first question: What's the problem?

"A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system," wrote the pope. "In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events."

That's not true.

Writing last year in the Wall Street Journal, climatologist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville said that the consensus claim is "fiction."

"The so-called consensus comes from a handful of surveys and abstract-counting exercises that have been contradicted by more reliable research," Spencer wrote. He explained that the often cited number that 97-percent of climatologists agree about man made abrupt climate change comes from an article by a college student and her master's thesis adviser that reported the results of a brief survey of selected scientists.

"The 97-percent figure in the ... survey represents the views of only 79 respondents who listed climate science as an area of expertise and said they published more than half of their recent peer-reviewed papers on climate change," Spencer wrote. "Seventy-nine scientists -- of the 3,146 who responded to the survey -- does not a consensus make."

The line about "extreme weather" is also wrong, as John R. Christy, a professor of atmospheric science also at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, explained on Al.com last year. "I often hear claims that extreme weather is getting worse," wrote Christy. "Whether it's tornadoes (no changes in 60 years), hurricanes (no changes in 120 years), or western U.S. droughts and heat waves (not as bad as they were 1,000 years ago), the evidence doesn't support those claims."

Pope Francis is also wrong on the second question: What's to be done?

He wrote that we are "called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption," and then said that the "establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable."

An international legal framework governing our lifestyle, production, and consumption? No way, padre. We're not about to surrender our sovereignty to some international organization empowered to loot the greatest force for good that mankind has ever created -- the United States economy.

Some say he shouldn't have engaged in such a political debate. I disagree. Saint John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan famously partnered to usher the end of communism in Europe. A sad coincidence is that many of the same Marxists who lost that battle found new homes in the environmental movement. Different causes, same goal: control. That's why they're often called "watermelon environmentalists" -- green on the outside, red on the inside.

Even though he's wrong, many mistakenly believe the pope's opinions on the matter are thought infallible by the church and that Catholics like me are duty-bound to agree with the encyclical's position on man-made abrupt climate change. We're not. The pope's opinions about global warming are just that: his opinions. Only under extremely rare circumstances does the pope speak infallibly, and this clearly isn't one of those instances.

"One of the points worth counting in the encyclical is the number of times that Pope Francis uses the word 'dialogue.' He wants an open and free dialogue on these issues and says so many times throughout," said Rev. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., a Catholic priest and host on Birmingham-based EWTN Global Catholic Network. "He raised good questions for the dialogue, but he did not decree any dogmas that were intended to end the dialogue."

Thankfully so, because part of a dialogue is listening, and there's plenty that hasn't been heard on this issue.

(First published on Al.com)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Who is to blame for the decline of fatherhood in America?

As we approach Fathers Day, the minds of many Americans will drift to fond memories of dear old dad.

Some will appreciate the hard lessons their fathers taught because life has proven his loving firmness was needed, while others will forgive his faults because life has also shown that he was just a man, imperfect and burdened with the challenge of raising children in a difficult world.

Sadly, however, an increasing number of Americans are less likely to even remember having a father around the house -- good, bad, or indifferent.

"The percentage of U.S. births to unmarried women has been increasing steadily since the 1940s and has increased even more markedly in recent years," read a report issued in 2013 by the U.S. Census Bureau.
It found that 40-percent of all children born in Alabama in 2011 were to unwed mothers, and nationally the report found that one in four children were being raised by single mothers.

Anyone with a large extended family probably isn't surprised by that news. Many of us know children who are being raised by their mothers, or even their grandparents. Many see their fathers regularly. Some see their fathers once and a while, yet a growing few don't even see them at all.

Does it really matter? In this age when we're told that families can be made from any sort of arrangement, many would say "no." Others would say that the quality of the time fathers spend with their children is equal to the quantity of time they're around, or not around, rather.

They're fooling themselves. The outlook for children without a father in the home is incredibly bleak. Edward Kruk, a professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in child and family policy, wrote in "Psychology Today" that:

- "Fatherless children are at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, being five times more likely to have experienced physical abuse and emotional maltreatment, with a one-hundred times higher risk of fatal abuse."

- "71-percent of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills."

- "As adults, fatherless children are more likely to experience unemployment, have low incomes, remain on social assistance, and experience homelessness."

"Given the fact that these and other social problems correlate more strongly with fatherlessness than with any other factor, surpassing race, social class, and poverty, father absence may well be the most critical social issue of our time," Kruk wrote. "We ignore the problem of father absence to our peril."

He's right.

So what's the cause of the precipitous decline of fatherhood in America? With a problem this large, blame can easily be spread around.

Our churches gradually changed their teachings on divorce and fostered a society that accepted single-parent households. The necessity of marriage was weakened, then began to disappear. Years ago we'd tell a young man who got his girlfriend pregnant to "be a man" and marry the girl. Life would be hard initially, but they'd have the basic building block to success -- a family. But counselors now tell young unmarried mothers and fathers to "not follow one mistake with another" by rushing into marriage. That's often horrible advice.

Also, the sexual revolution, combined with abortion and birth control, left the responsibility for sexual activity, and all of the consequences, to the woman alone. Men feel unaccountable, and so they act irresponsibly at all stages of sexual activity, to include fatherhood.

Let's not forget the government. It's well-intentioned programs aimed at helping single mothers and fatherless children allow men to skate away free of guilt. They know that their children aren't going to be homeless, hungry, or uneducated.

But the largest share of the blame lies with men themselves. We've allowed ourselves to be fooled by people who are too weak to tell us the truth. We've allowed our women to become objects of pleasure rather than partners in life. And we've allowed the government to replace us in the home.

Simply said, many American fathers have stopped being real men. The only question that remains is how much longer are we going to keep fooling ourselves?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Want to save baseball? Bring back the sandlot

As little boys swing their bats for the final time this season and park leagues go dormant for the summer, there’s been a great deal of talk about how baseball is literally dying in the womb. Kids just aren’t playing the sport as much as they use to. 
Sportswriters are busy casting blame. “Baseball is struggling to hook kids -- and risks losing fans to other sports,” declared one headline in the Washington Post while another in that newspaper read, “Stealing home: How travel teams are eroding community baseball.”
Others sports are to blame? Strike one. There have always been other sports competing with our national past time (especially in Alabama). Besides, data from the National Sporting Goods Association show that participation in all sports is declining.  
Travel teams are to blame? Contact, but it’s a foul ball. While specialization from an early age means fewer kids are playing multiple sports, elite players have always been recruited into private clubs. A few decades ago every sawmill and textile mill in the South would field teams comprised of the best high school and park league players around.
Still, there’s no arguing with the facts. In a recent Wall Street Journal article headlined “Why Children Are Abandoning Baseball,” sports reporter Brian Costa cited additional data from the National Sporting Goods Association that indicated a 41-percent drop from 2002 to 2013 in the number of baseball players between the ages of 7 and 17. 
You’re killing me, Smalls. That’s terrible news. Baseball is the one sport in America where a kid can competitively play without being a hulk or a speedster (football), a giant (basketball), or have to cheer for a championship team in Europe (soccer). 
The precipitous drop has Major League Baseball worried. 
“The biggest predictor of fan avidity as an adult is whether you played the game,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told Costa. An MLB spokesman added that a recent study showed that “fans between the ages of 12 and 17 cited participation as a major factor more often than watching or attending the sport.”
So what’s the reason for the decline? 
A few years ago Gene Sapakoff, a writer for the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, came close to the answer. “Remember when we were kids?” he asked, “Ah, yes, those endless days of football, baseball, basketball -- whatever the season. Choosing up sides. No coach. Shirts and skins. No camps. Arguments solved without an umpire. No overly organized “programs” run by intrusive adults.”
So, the demise of the sandlot is to blame? Folks, he just hit a stand up triple. 
Sure, many kids are automatically attracted to baseball through family tradition, but back in my youth a great deal more discovered their love of the game by playing on our neighborhood sandlot. We may have never worn real uniforms, but we certainly thought we were playing real baseball. 
But take a look around your community. How many neighborhood baseball fields do you even see? I didn’t realize it was a problem until after my son’s park season wrapped up and we looked around for a diamond for his friends to play some pick-up games over the summer. 
Nothing was within walking or biking distance, and I found that most public parks around town lack even the simplest baseball backstop or space for a few throw-down bases. The middle school and high school fields are kept behind locked fences; try to play there and you’ll likely be run off by the cops. I learned that we have to pay to use the city’s baseball fields and trade unanswered emails with a scheduler, and in addition to that the county’s park requires you to carry team insurance. Goodness. 
Thankfully after a persistent search I found one elementary school whose principal welcomed the boys to use their small diamond as long as a parent sticks around. Fair enough, at least they’ll get to play baseball for real this summer rather than on Nintendo.  
Meanwhile, as MLB tries to figure out how to solve its problem, baseball fans should take matters into their own hands and encourage cities to bring back the simple neighborhood sandlot. But if they don’t, just remember, there’s no crying in baseball. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Who do I think I am?

After publishing dozens of controversial conservative opinions I often receive emails from readers asking the same question: “Just who do you think you are, anyway?” 
It’s rhetorical, of course, but still a fair question. Perhaps I should try to answer.
First, I’m mostly who I’ve chosen to be: a politically conservative Roman Catholic. Those governing forces -- philosophy and faith -- guide me in most affairs. I’m conservative because I believe the maxim “that government is best which governs least.” I’m Catholic because I believe the church is what it claims to be. 
I’ve chosen to be the husband of a remarkable woman, and believe our marriage is a sacred, unbreakable bond. Together we’re the parents of five wonderful children, and choose to believe we’re solely responsible for their health and well-being, along with the formation of their faith, character and education.
Second, who I am was heavily influenced by my upbringing. I’m the youngest of seven children born to a firefighter and freelance writer. My siblings partially raised me, too. From my bothers I learned about hard work, art and history. From my sisters, tenacity, compassion and taste. 
My siblings (that's me on the bottom right)
Our little three-bedroom, one-bath house in Mobile was always full of people, dogs and cats and was very noisy (especially during Alabama football games). We learned to eat fast and speak loudly. Those years were a harmonious mess. Knowing now how much life costs and how little my parents earned (never more than $30,000 annually), I don’t know how they provided so much for so many. But I never felt poor; I felt free.
One of my grandfathers painted houses for a living. The other was a truck driver and sometimes sailor whose stories of foreign ports sparked my early interest in adventure and world affairs. I later joined the military and traveled the world, seeing many of the same places.
Third, who I am is partially a result of where my family came from, both historically and genetically. Like most things in the South, our history is long and colorful -- literally.
On my mother’s side, my ninth great-grandfather, Peter Knight of London, was an early Jamestown colonist and member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. My fifth great-grandfather, Thomas Conner, served in the 1st Maryland Regiment during the Revolutionary War. I named one of my sons after him. 
Far Off Warrior
In 1777, my sixth great-grandmother, Hannah Hale, was kidnapped when she was 12-years old during a Creek Indian attack on Fort Rogers in Georgia. She was eventually given as a bride to a chief named Far Off Warrior. I descend from their daughter, Jennie Hale, whose brother died on the Trail of Tears.
On my father’s side, my sixth great-grandfather, Thomas Briaus (later Bryars) left France in 1700 and settled in Virginia. His great-grandson, Lazarus Bryars, left for Baldwin County, Alabama, and was in the area when the Creeks attacked Fort Mims in 1813. In a strange coincidence, Far Off Warrior was killed while attacking the fort. 
Red Berry Bryars
My family has been in Alabama ever since, and my second great-grandfather, Red Berry Bryars, served in the 15th Alabama Cavalry in the Civil War and in the state’s wartime legislature. I place flowers on his grave whenever I visit our family cemetery in Stockton.
My blood tells the rest of the story. According to a recent genetic test from 23andMe, nearly 99-percent of my DNA is European, mostly British and Irish (72-percent), with smaller amounts of Scandinavian, French, German and Finnish.
The last one-percent is interesting. About .4-percent is Native American. A geneticist said the results were “quite in line” with me having a Native American ancestor who lived between 175-225 years ago. That’s within Far Off Warrior’s lifetime.
About .3-percent of my DNA is West African, which the geneticist said “quite likely” means I have a black ancestor between 200-250 years ago. Given that slaves were stolen primarily from West Africa, and how long my family has been in the South (records show several owned slaves), it’s possible that my ancestor was a slave. This was surprising news, and makes me feel even more a part of our country.
Another .2-percent comes from the subcontinent of India, which could mean my ancestor lived there 300 years ago or more. I have no theory about that, other than it could explain my love of spicy food.
Like most of you, my ancestors -- white, black, red and probably brown -- helped build this great nation, which is our sacred inheritance. So who do I think I am? I’m like you: an American, and damn proud of it.
Originally published on AL.com.