The Hubris of the Gang of 47

Speaker of the House Jim Wright addresses the media outside the Vatican embassy after a private meeting with Daniel Ortega (Source: Getty Images)

Speaker of the House Jim Wright addresses the media outside the Vatican embassy after a private meeting with Daniel Ortega (Source: Getty Images)

It is hard to fathom that one letter, misguided and fool-hearted as it may be, can stir up such rage in American society. But, the letter (Cotton letter) penned by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and signed by 46 other Republicans did just that. It is just a letter right? An opinion?

Apparently not.

Petitions have been put forth to try all 47 Senators for Treason under the Logan Act. Editorials have been written about the ignorance of the Senators and proof that Republicans are dimwitted yokels who’d lose their stills if they were right in front of them. But this letter is nothing new. There are many examples from recent years that highlight the divisive ground that any foreign policy that the United States contemplates can be. Here are few examples:

  • Jim Wright (then Democratic Speaker of the House) travelled to Nicaragua in 1987 to begin talks with Daniel Ortega. But, closer to home, in 1984, he and 10 other Senate Democrats penned a letter (Dear Comandante letter) to Mr. Ortega in an effort to negotiate freer and open elections. Even the current Sect. of State, John Kerry, then a freshman Democratic Senator with as many months in Congress as Cotton, travelled to visit with Ortega in 1985 and brought back word that Ortega would be willing to negotiate a cease-fire if Congress voted to stop aiding the Contra rebels. By the way, this trip happened a few weeks prior to that exact vote.
  • In 2012, Obama retreated from the International Arms Trade Treaty, presumably based on one letter. Known as the Moran Letter, it is a detailed list as to why 44 members of the Senate would not vote for ratification of the International Arms Trade Treaty.

So, what then sets the Wright and Moran letters apart from the Cotton one? Not much.

The Wright and Cotton letters are both subversive in their tones. The Moran letter, while still direct and decisive, is far less subversive but makes clear that Congress will not support the President. The Wright letter basically states that if Ortega were to listen to Wright and the Democrats, Reagan’s power would be neutered.

If this [stipulations put forth by Wright, et al] were to occur, the prospects for peace and stability throughout Central America would be dramatically enhanced. Those responsible for supporting violence against your government, and for obstructing serious negotiations for broad political participation in El Salvador would have far greater difficulty winning support for their policies than they do today.

 

The Cotton letter intonates the same neutering of Obama’s power.

What these two Constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khameni. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

 

Neither of these paths are productive for a government that is attempting to maneuver through difficult foreign affairs. One thing that the Dear Comandante and Cotton letter also share in common, and where they are in stark contrast to the Moran letter, is that they are addressed to the leaders of a foreign nation. This in itself appears to be a violation of the Logan Act, but since Wright and the other Senators were never prosecuted, we can expect the same for Cotton and his cohorts. The Moran letter took a more sensible approach and directed the letter to the President. They could have CC’d it to the UN and all the other nations that were pushing for the Treaty, but they took a high road. Kudos to them. Cotton could have learned a lesson from the Moran letter, but, why bother knowing our history, right?

So, before John Kerry digs a hole any deeper by repeating what he told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that

“It [the Cotton letter] purports to tell the world that if you want to have any confidence in your dealings with America, they have to negotiate with 535 members of Congress,” he said. “That is both untrue and a profoundly bad suggestion to make.”

he may just want to look back at history and see that that is the exact message the Congress has been saying in many of our foreign policy negotiations. And if this letter is truly treasonous, it is wise to remember that there is no statute of limitations for treason.

Staring At Corners

mediumThere wasn’t much in my room that wasn’t blue. The walls were a soft shade of sky blue. The carpet had, at one time, been a deep, plush shag of royal blue, but had deformed into a matted, dreadlocks looking pathetic attempt at a shade of blue. There were spots in the carpet that were nearly as smooth as the concrete in the garage. My window curtains were blue. The duvet was blue. And then there was the fish tank which made the entire room ripple as though I was living in some dank undersea universe. It was my universe. I told stories to the walls, created fantastic world with my toys and populated them with the only friends I knew–the ones living in my head. I spent a great deal of my time in that little sanctuary, often just sitting indian-style on my bed in dead silence, staring at the fish lazily swimming in their tank as though they were moving in jello.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that the room color wasn’t an accident. It was that way when my parents purchased the house. And then they left it that way. Sure, I liked the color blue. But an entire room, floor to ceiling? No, it was their way of subduing me as though my room was the “calm room” in the psychiatric ward.

And I had spent a great deal of time in that room, and most of it because I was in trouble. Most of my trouble came from school. Attending a private Christian school had a myriad of drawbacks, but the biggest one was that your peer group was extremely limited. I had been in the same class with Caroline and Heidi since pre-school. My people meeting skills had peaked by the first grade and by the third grade my social sphere had been firmly established. This made making friends in the neighborhood difficult and once Adam and Billy moved, there really wasn’t anyone to play with. So, I retreated to my silent room; my opalescent world where I was keeper and king.

Samson_and_Delilah_by_RubensThe other issue with being in such a small social sphere was that our reputations had been established and perpetuated by the teachers in the school. I was constantly getting in trouble. Talking when I wasn’t supposed to. Not in line straight enough. Forgetting Bible verses–a sin tantamount to cannibalism in my school. When we forgot our verses, we had to rewrite Exodus 20:12 some twenty times. “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your GOD has given you.” Nothing like an implied threat! Honor your father–GOD–by memorizing verses or he’ll smite you from earth. By ’83 we were no longer learning simple verses; we had the joy of learning entire chapters. I didn’t want to recite “The Lord is my shephard…” or “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….” I got it. God loves me and he died for my sins. I figured that one out sometime in the first grade. I’d sang enough songs to beat that fact into my head. I wanted to read about the things that Delilah was doing with Sampson. I wanted to see the face of Mr. Swift–our hipster, before hipster was a thing, teacher–when child after child walked up to him and said: “Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.” Then had to answer the question that everyone would have: “What does it mean that he went in to her?”

Other than my spending time reading chapters of the Bible I wasn’t supposed to be and rewriting the Fifth Commandment when I should have been learning math, my reputation had been firmly established as a child that needed punishment in those rebellious years called Kindergarten.

the_paddles_infinite_stingOne day, while playing with Hot Wheel cars beside the green corrugated metal shed where the church school bus was stored, I got my foot caught between the bottom of a chain link fence and the asphalt. Of course I was screaming and crying. What five-year-old wouldn’t be as the sharp points at the bottom of the fence cut into their ankle? But I was also crying because we weren’t supposed to be playing on the side of the bus shed. I knew I would be in trouble and that scared me. I’d seen second graders get paddled and I knew it would be my turn. You’d think that that trauma would have sufficed, but, no, I had to be made an example of. In class, Mrs. Gaston–the daughter of the pastor of our school’s church–made sure to give me a good swing of her yardstick in front of all my classmates. From that day, I was a bad student. If Mrs. Gaston says your are bad, you stay that way until you leave Foothill Christian. When you are ten and that’s your reputation with the teachers, you might as well live up to it. Who could imagine with so many tropes of doom, I’d find a malicious portent in Getting Foot Stuck Under Fence? So, I read about harlots and daughters who were thought to be harlots and, of course, boobies. Thank God for the Song of Solomon. Had I been more astute, I’d have memorized every line from the Song of Solomon and used them to woo women. Unfortunately, social skills was one part of the curriculum lacking in my school.

My bad boy reputation firmly established, I was in constant trouble both at school and at home. If I had to serve detention after school, I would then be punished twice the detention time at home because I had to make my mother wait for me. And then when I’d question where a homemaker had to go, what could possibly demand her immediate attention at home, I was certain to my second swatting of the day. But therein lie the problem: How do you punish a kid with no social skills and spends all his time sitting quietly on his bed indian-style? “Go to your room!” wasn’t so much a threat as a privilage. “Don’t play with any toys!” was about as firm a threat as a yapping chihuahua. I’d shuffle off to my room and sit quietly staring at nothing, memorizing the distorted and faded colors of blue on the floor. Eventually, my father, probably out of desperation and a reluctance to admit defeat, realized that just sending me to my room was not a punishment. So, I started standing in the corner opposite my bedroom door. I’d stand there, staring at the corner, lost in my mind.

There I stood. Nose into the wall like so many other children before me. Standing like a silent sentinel in honor of Nemesis. I’d think about Niki. I’d tell myself stories where I wasn’t standing in the corner. I’d watch the darkness in my mind stretch into a tiny corner and feel myself falling away from it as though I was being ripped from a vacuum; heads of people I knew would shrink into ridiculously tiny bobbles atop their shoulders. I would tell myself the story of Lot and his daughters. And then I’d ask myself why something as lurid as that would be in the Bible. I’d stand for hours. I never made a sound. And, once, I fell asleep standing in my corner.

If Getting Foot Stuck Under Fence was an ominous portent, there was also a little wrinkle of wonder to it. Without it, I wouldn’t have found my corner and there I would never have ventured into the world of my imagination where all these stories come from now. So, I suppose I should thank Mrs. Gaston… but really. No. Seriously? Who paddles a five-year-old?

Read more stories from the ’83 series here

Jackasses and Elephants–1/15 in history

Thomas Nast--"A Live Jackass Kicking A Dead Lion". 1/15/1870

Thomas Nast–“A Live Jackass Kicking A Dead Lion”. 1/15/1870

It was on this day, 15 January 1870, that the famous American editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast–also known for taking down the Tammany Hall ring and its boss William Magear Tweed through is political cartoons–cemented the jackass as the symbol of the Democratic Party.

However, contrary to conventional thinking, Nast wasn’t the first person to associate the jackass to the Democratic Party. During the election of 1828, opponents of Andrew Jackson labeled him a “jackass” for his beliefs. Jackson embraced the image and often used it in his own campaign imagery. The Democratic Party had been associated, in one way or another, with the Jackass since.

Andrew Jackson's ass

Andrew Jackson’s ass

But what about the elephant? Well, we can thank Nast for that one, too. In an 1874 cartoon, Nast has the Democratic ass hiding in a lion’s costume frightening the forest animals (labelled as various newspapers) and the elephant (“Republican vote”). The issue at hand was whether or not U.S. Grant would run for an unprecedented third term as President. Here’s a link to Harper’s detailed description of the cartoon.

The Third Term Panic

The Third Term Panic

After this cartoon ran, the Republicans quickly adopted the elephant as their symbol and the rest, as they say, is history.

As a side note: Nast is also credited with creating the first images of a modern Santa Claus.

Santa Claus and His Works. Harper's Weekly, 29 December 1866

Santa Claus and His Works. Harper’s Weekly, 29 December 1866

Sorry, AOL, but this feels inappropriate

Reading through AOL today and saw this page:

AOL screen shot on 30 December 2014

AOL screen shot on 30 December 2014

If you can’t read the bottom link, it says: “Airlines in dire need of new pilots”. This on the same page they discuss the crash of AirAsia 8501.

10 Random New Year’s Facts That Will Make You The Cliff Clavin of Your Party

Before you drunkenly belt out “Auld Lang Syne”, desperately seek out anyone to share a New Year’s kiss, and make some promise that you probably won’t keep beyond January, let’s look at ## things you might not know about New Year’s.

1. All About Me

According to Statisticbrain.com, of the top 10 New Year’s resolutions, only one of our most common resolutions is altruistic: “Help Others in Their Dreams”. The other 9 are all about me, or in this case you. Self-improvement and education resolutions account for nearly 50% of the resolutions we make. Weight loss resolutions come in second at close to 40%. Less than 50% of resolutions are still being maintained beyond six months.

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Unfortunately, only 8% of us are actually able to claim victory over our resolution.

2. 22

Of all the numbers that will be bantered about, this one seems low. 22 is the percentage of people who admit to be passed out or fast asleep long before midnight. It is interesting since this is the prime reason for the holiday. That, and finding that one special someone to smooch right after drowning away all of last year’s problems at the bottom of a champagne flute. (Source)

Passed-Out New Year's Eve Reveler

3. Making Babies

It is no surprise that with all the drinking, kissing, and naked street dancing… wait, what? Naked street dancing? All will be explained in #9 so just go with it. Naked street dancing. So, it is no surprise that most babies are conceived during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

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According to a New York Times chart, the most popular birthdays occur between 9 September and 24 September. Tracking this back, it would mean that people were getting busy at the end of December. This shouldn’t come as any surprise since the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is as close to statistically perfect for doing some hanky-panky as you can get. Here’s a look at why the odds are in your favor that you’ll be doing more than kissing on New Year’s Eve:

  • People are 17 times more likely to have sex at midnight than at 10 am. Couple this with…
  • People are 13 times more likely to have sex at night than during the afternoon.
  • People are more likely to turn down and invitation to shag if it is too warm. Nearly twice as many than those who turned down the invitation because it was too cold.
  • More than twice as many condoms are sold the week before Christmas than the week after.
  • 83 percent of Americans feel that rainy days/nights are the best time to have sex.

If this isn’t enough proof, studies have found that prostitution related searches increase 2.78 percent during this time period. Matchmaking websites see a 5.67 percent increase in traffic during January, and Google searches for porn jump 4.28 percent above average in December. We just seem to want to get our groove on. And it doesn’t hurt that most of us are in crowded houses filled with drunken revelers desperately seeking someone to kiss.

4. Have a Ball

American’s, and eventually the world, have been watching a ball drop down One Times Square since 1907. People had been celebrating in Times Square for three years before the first ball drop, and even before this at Trinity Church where they’d “ring in the new, and ring out the old” with the Church and hand bells. There have been seven variations of the famous New Year’s Ball, including the original 700 pound wooden beast.

history-of-times-square-ball-drop

The Ball has dropped every year since 1907 save two. During the “dimouts” of 1942 and 1943, New Yorkers gathered in a darkened Times Square for a minute of silence and then surrounded by a chorus of chimes from sound trucks at the base of One Times Square. For two years, New Yorkers went back to the old Trinity Church celebrations.

5. Not Always Etched In Stone

The first time New Year’s is celebrated on January 1 came in the year 45 B.C. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was so FUBAR that it needed to be adjusted. The new Julian calendar would be 365 1/4 days long and so Caesar had to add 67 days to the year 46 B.C. which made the start of 45 B.C. on January 1. Convenient since the god Janus, from which January gets its name, is the two faced god of doors and gates.

janus2

But, just because Caesar said so didn’t mean that it was. By the medieval period, most Christian, and pagan, Europeans went back to the old Annunciation Day (25 March) as the beginning of the year.  William the Conqueror would try to get the new year back to 1 January, but it had nothing to do with calendric accuracy and more to get Christmas to align with his coronation day. Like most things political, it never came to fruition and 1 January would have to wait until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII created the calendar we use today. With New Year’s on 1 January, leap years, and all.

6. Burning Out The Old Year

When the mellow alcohol buzz and sleep-deprived haze begins to settle over your party, you can always liven things up with an effigy. That is, you can make yourself a life-sized, stuffed, sad old man or, as they do in Panama and a few other Latin American countries, make one of a famous actor or anyone else famous and light it on fire!

burn

The burning of Jack Straw in Hungary

In Hungary, they set fire to a scapegoat for all the ills and wrongs that happened the previous year. Called Jack Straw, he is paraded through town and then set aflame on New Year’s Eve. In Panama and Ecuador, they burn “muñecos“–effigies of people who played a significant role in politics, news, or even one’s personal life. These muñecos are created on Christmas and then lit up in a bonfire on New Year’s. Often, these effigies are stuffed with gun powder and fireworks. Just remember to be very careful in whom you chose to make your effigy of, and, for the sake of the hosts, take the conflagration outside.

7. Boxing Day

No, not the day after Christmas where you give gifts to all the peons that schlep all your crap around every, but “boxing” day where you beat the crap out of someone on New Year’s. Somewhere between the excessive amount alcohol consumed–New Year’s celebrations are the most popular drinking day of the year–and the fact that some stranger just smooched the person you came to the party with, nearly 40 percent “of 18- to 25-year-olds said they’ve woken up on New Year’s Day with an ‘unidentified party injury.'” 25 percent of 18-25 year-olds have said they’ve gotten into a fight on New Year’s.

Takanakuy festival in Peru

Takanakuy festival in Peru

If anyone tries to shame you for fighting on New Year’s, just say that you are celebrating the Peruvian festival of Takanakuy, which literally translates to “when the blood is boiling.” Each year, around Christmas, many Peruvians gather in the local sporting area, from little children to elderly women, to fist fight one another. The purpose of this end of the year celebration is to settle grievances from the previous year–from civil to personal–and hopefully start the New Year with peace and harmony, and to strengthen community bonds. So, next time your in-laws give you crap, clear some space in the living room and duke it out. Just say you are trying to strengthen familial bonds. Happy Takanakuy!

8. Not Always Etched In Stone, Part II

Most calendars used today around the world are based on a lunar or lunisolar cycle so their New Year’s Eve is fluid. For many, including the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, New Year’s happens on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. Typically, these New Year’s celebrations occur between 20 January and 20 February.

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Though they like to say they have nothing in common, Islam and Judaism share a few things in common, including their calendar. Both calendars are lunar based on 354 days and both start their days at sunrise and end at sunset vs. the Gregorian system of midnight. The Islamic New Year wanders across the calendar and for the next few years will coincide with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) occurring in September and October. Every 33 years, Rosh Hashanah and the Islamic New Year will occur on the same date. The next time this happens is in 2016-17.

9. All Hail Saturnalia

So, kissing seems to be the one factor that ties all New Year’s celebrations together whether it be getting smacked in the kisser in Peru or smooching at New Year’s eve. But where did the practice of the New Year’s kiss come from?

A New Year's kiss is supposed to set the tone for the year... don't be lonely like this guy

A New Year’s kiss is supposed to set the tone for the year… don’t be lonely like this guy

For singles this New Year’s kiss can be one of the most stressful events of the entire night. The closer the clock winds to midnight, the more frantic the search for kissable lips becomes. Unfortunately, history only heightens the pressure. Like most things we do today, the New Year’s kiss probably comes from the Roman weeks-long festival of Saturnalia celebrated around Christmas. It was an unholy gathering of flesh and wanderlust. Romans celebrated with massive feasts, drinking, singing and dancing in the streets naked, gambling, and other forms of dabauchery. By the medieval period, anxious Europeans would scramble for the perfect person to lock lips with at midnight believing that the first kiss would dictate the type of year you’d have. Also, many of these celebrations were masquerade balls–just a more refined version of naked street dancing and singing–with the masks representing the troublesome past year and protection from evil spirits and the kiss–after removing the mask–representing the change to something good. So, no pressure. You aren’t just looking for the handsome or pretty lips to snack on, you need someone to help purify the evil spirits of the past and set the perfect tone for your future year. Good luck hunting.

10. Not The Night To Go Commando

According to a Vanity Fair/60 minutes fashion poll, nearly 25 percent of Americans admitted that they go commando on some occasions (7 percent of people sitting around you right now are sans undies). However, in many Latin American countries, including Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, going commando sets you up poorly for the next year.

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From an old Spanish tradition, it is held that the color of the underwear worn on New Year’s Eve dictates the type of luck you will have in the forth coming year. Red? Looking for love and passion in the new year. Yellow? Wealth is coming your way. Green means a year of good health. White is for peace. Want to be inspired in the new year? Wear purple. So, if your party turns into a Saturnalian orgy of naked street singing, be sure to at least keep your undies on your head so you can set yourself up for good luck next year.