Monday, November 14, 2016

Second-Class Vets Get the Call

Another Veterans Day has passed, and it's once again time to thank those who so generously thanked me for my service. And once again, it's time to point out that in the United States not all veterans are created equal.

Thank you, Applebees, for a delicious dinner. The place was packed with veterans. This year, the brewers of Sam Adams provided a free beer with my complimentary meal. Thanks, Sam.

We wanted to replenish our dog and bird feed supplies and pick up several hardware items. Our local Tractor Supply store was the place to go, and they gave a 15 percent discount to vets. Thanks, Tractor guys.

A surprise gift showed up the day after Veterans Day. We went shopping for several exotic holiday gift items at World Market. At the checkout stand was a sign offering vets a 25 percent discount throughout the weekend. Thanks, World Market.

My local newspaper marked the day with a feature story about Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in the area recruiting honor guard members. The honor guards traditionally present a flag to the family of diseased vets and fire 21-gun rifle salutes at burial sites. Seems several posts can't come up with enough members who can shoulder a rifle to handle the duties, so they now seek members of the American Legion and even honorably discharged vets who are not members of the VFW or Legion to serve in honor guards.
 
They want us to help honor Legion vets who don't honor us.
I served two years in the U.S. Army, and was honorably discharged on May 19, 1960. I don't qualify for VFW membership because all my service was stateside and VFW members served overseas. I have no problem whatever with that.  However, I think it is reprehensible that many honorably discharged veterans are ineligible for American Legion membership.

Overseas service is not required by the American Legion. Members need only honorable service during seven "war eras," defined by arbitrary dates. Because my service dates don't fit into an "era," I am a second-class veteran not eligible for Legion membership, even though some of my less fortunate fellow soldiers were being dispatched to Viet Nam as "advisors" during my service time. Strangely, if I had served for just one day in the "era" that began nine months after my discharge, I would be welcomed as a Legionnaire.

Thousands, perhaps millions, who served honorably in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force are with me in the ranks of second-class veterans.   

It seems the ultimate irony that we now are being invited to join honor guards to shoulder a rifle and fire a salute to fellow veterans whose largest organization bars us from membership. Perhaps those "patriots" in the U.S. Congress, some of whom never gave a day of military service to their country, could act to give second-class veterans first-class status. The American Legion operates under a Congressional charter.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trumpism Will Test Our System

The fact that the American people have chosen an unethical, unqualified, racist as our president has been met by a mixture of  shock (me and many others), stark terror (some immigrants who fear deportation), outrage (young people protesting in the streets), and glee (by the small hard core of Donald Trump supporters).

Those, like me, who simply were amazed that polls could be so wrong and so many fellow citizens would vote for such a miserable human being should have done a better job of reading many signals that a huge demand for change was all around us, the Democratic Party candidate was not inspirational, and the samplers of public opinion were using antiquated models.

The youngsters now clogging up traffic and wasting our law enforcement dollars with pointless demonstrations should have used their energy getting out voters to support their causes. Their time now would be better spent in classrooms or adult education courses learning about our democratic system and history. Once the people have selected a leader, our tradition is to move on, more-or-less together, respecting the office of president, no matter how personally repulsive we find the choice to be. That works. Continuing demonstrations in our streets serve no useful purpose.

Trump's more zealous supporters ought to temper their satisfaction, because at least some of his more outrageous proposals will not be enacted. How many, and which ones, remains to be seen. Certainly, the next four years will provide extreme challenges to the checks and balances that are the bedrock of the American form of democracy.

Some opponents charged throughout the campaign that Trump never presented a real program, claiming he merely advanced ideas at random through often vague and confusing televised sound bites and internet tweets. Although a program statement was late in coming, one did appear near the end of October in a speech outlining what Trump pledged he would do in his first 100 days in office. Those interested can find documentation of the speech in several places with a computer search for "Trump's first 100 days." It is interesting reading.

Trump's action items are a strange mixture of Republican (huge tax cuts) and Democratic (public works to stimulate employment) Party ideals and some weird thoughts (a massive concrete wall will solve illegal immigration problems). We have early indications that at least some are not going to be adopted at all, and others will undergo considerable modification.

For example, Trump proposes imposing term limits on Congress, an idea that a fairly large number of Americans would support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's reaction was, "It will not be on the agenda in the Senate." That means it is dead, at least for the foreseeable future.

McConnell took a dim view of Trump's plans for massive infrastructure work, saying it will not be high on the Senate's priority list. He did say he backed achieving improved border security, but made no mention of an immense, and immensely expensive, border wall.

I found McConnell's lack of enthusiasm for major expenditures especially telling. Throughout the campaign, both candidates shied away from detailed discussions of our horrendous national debt situation. I don't think a Congress dominated by conservative Republicans, including many who have been openly hostile to Trump, is going to quickly pass legislation requiring big new expenditures, if it passes such measures at all.

And if some of the crazier stuff on Trump's action list does get through Congress, it faces stern tests in the judicial system. Unfortunately for those of liberal persuasion, the Supreme Court is going to tilt toward conservatism for a long time as the effects of Trump appointments come into play. That, I think, is the most important consequence of the election. However, history has shown that the thinking of even the most biased justices can be balanced by excellent legal arguments by other members of the court.

Will our checks and balances work to keep America great? Let us hope and pray that they will.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

What Price Vanity?

I'm tired of complex numbers. Every news source the geezer follows has been crowded with a variety of poll outcomes, complicated analyses, and sometimes just plain wild guesses regarding the presidential election. The only big numbers I want to fill my head with in the immediate future are the results that will start appearing Tuesday night.

Those numbers will tell us whether our nation will be led for the next four years by a responsible, experienced person with a reasonable set of goals--Hillary Clinton--or an unbalanced, racist, egomaniac--Donald Trump.  I voted several weeks ago with an absentee ballot, something permitted by the State of Michigan for all people over 65. All the complex numbers tell us the election will be close in Michigan. Here's hoping we'll arise Wednesday morning to welcome our first woman president.

To stay away from the complicated numbers games, I decided to make this post about single digits, one displayed on my garage wall, the other adorning a luxury auto on the other side of the world.

Early last month, Balwinder Sahani, an Indian businessman, paid $9 million at an auction in Dubai for a one-digit auto license plate. It seems unique plates have become a fad in the glitzy United Arab Emirates. Auctions for them are held every two or three months, and millions of dollars are at stake.

 
Balwinder Sahani proudly displaying his D5 license plate (equivalent to No. 9)
About 300 bidders and observers crowded the auction hall when Sahani acquired the D5 plate. He said he will attach it to one of his Rolls-Royces. I don't understand Arabic or Indian mathematics, but apparently "D5" equals the numeral 9.

"I like number 9 and D5 adds up to nine, so I went for it," Sahani said. "I have collected 10 number plates so far and I am looking forward to having more. It's a passion."

I acquired a number 9 auto license plate in 1972. It had nothing to do with passion, and everything to do with luck.

I was registering our old Chevrolet shortly after we moved to Idaho. When my turn came, the clerk looked around at boxes of plates behind him and said, "How'd you like a really nifty number?"

"Sure, why not," I said. With that, my clerk and three others made a dive for one box. My guy came back clutching No. 9, which he promptly issued to me. He explained that Idaho had a license plate pecking order. The governor got No. 1, the lieutenant governor received No. 2, and so on down the political ladder. The line ended at No. 8 with the secretary of state. So by possessing No. 9, I had the lowest plate number a common citizen could get.

My number 9 didn't cost nine million dollars. As I recall, the vehicle registration fee in 1972 was just $12 or so.

We got a lot of comments and questions from folks who noticed our distinctive tag. One was from my supervisor, Ed Maw. Ed had many political contacts, and he was proud of his status in the community. He appeared to be miffed that I had the low number when he believed he deserved any such honor. I played the game. "Ed, it's all in who you know," I told him.
 
My No. 9 currently graces our garage wall.
It was fun while it lasted, but it didn't last long. About four months after my registration Idaho changed to a whole new plate design and numbering system. I got an unimportant replacement number just like the rest of the common people.

I kept Idaho 9 as a souvenir. It now graces my garage wall. Since Mr. Sahani could well afford the gesture, I hope he'll send one of those Rolls my way. I'll be pleased to drive it around displaying No. 9 for all to see.