No taxation without...

Early this November the Senate decided to ignore an attempt by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) to add questions pertaining to citizenship and immigration status to the 2010 U.S. census. Including these new questions well after the questionnaire had been finalized would not only cost millions of dollars, but would likely decrease participation by legal immigrants and refugees. The later, of course, is what Vitter and Bennett were aiming for. Both come from states that could potentially lose--or fail to gain more--Congressional representation if all the residents of the states are counted. Plus, bashing illegal immigrants, and legal ones, too, is turning out to be a popular sport for Republicans running for re-election in 2010. I just have one reminder for Sen. Vitter and Sen. Bennett. It's an old phrase that they might remember from their American history lessons in elementary school. It's a saying that is fundamental to why America became an indepdendent nation. And, funny enough, it's an answer to one of the questions on the U.S. Naturalization exam--the test that immigrants take to become U.S. Citizens. That phrase, if you haven't guessed it already, is "No Taxation Without Representation." Because if Vitter and Bennet don't believe that legal and illegal immgirants deserve to be counted and to be represented in Congress, then I guess they don't want their tax dollars either. And I think Sam Adams would agree.


Letter published in the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal, June 18th

Dear Editor,
Before the debate over health care reform spins out of control, let's make it personal. Ask yourself: 'What is my health care like?'
If you have employer-based health insurance--as 62 percent of Americans do--how much have your monthly premiums and co-pays risen in recent years? Here's a hint: They've nearly doubled the rate of inflation, and they'll keep going up.
If you buy your own health insurance--as about 5 percent of us do--how often have you been denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition or had trouble getting reimbursed?
If you use Medicare--which covers nearly every person over the age of 65--how concerned are you that your benefits will exist five years from now?
And if you don't have any health insurance--a fact of life for 46 million Americans, including 8 million children--when's the last time you had had preventative care like a cholesterol test or a mammogram, or saw doctor who wasn't in an emergency room?
Now ask yourself, 'Is this the health care system that America deserves?'
Right now, during President Obama's first year in office, we can solve the health care crisis by reducing unnecessary costs and providing care for everyone. Forget meddling bureaucrats. Forget greedy insurance firms. Forget politics. This should be about ensuring that babies are born healthier, adults can stay employed, and seniors can enjoy their retirement. Now is the time to demand real health care reform from our elected leaders, or we'll all get sicker together.
Jason Stevenson
Lancaster, PA


All modern speeches owe their greatness to one source

And that would be Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. No other speech is as recognizable for its clarity, strength, and symbolism as Lincoln's two-minute homily from 1863. That's why so many politicians like to borrow words, phrases, and even the cadence from that speech. Heck, even I used it as the basis for my campaign talk while running for National Honor Society president in high school. And it worked. I won.
President Obama followed the trend on June 5 when he spoke at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Here is part of his speech:

And it is now up to us, the living, in our work, wherever we are, to resist injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take, and ensure that those who were lost here did not go in vain. (2009)

Which sounds a lot like this section by Lincoln:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. (1863)

And then Obama cherry-picked this familiar phrasing as well:

It is up to us to redeem that faith. It is up to us to bear witness; to ensure that the world continues to note what happened here; (2009)

As Lincoln said 146 years earlier:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. (1863)

I bet $100 that Obama's chief speechwriter, Jon Favreu, has a well-thumbed copy of Lincoln: Speeches and Writings Vol. 2 in his suitcase. Or because he's a young guy, saved on his iPhone.


Did you hear the one about ol' Abe?

A newspaper article I recently read quoted a New Yorker article that claimed more than 15,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, our country's 16th president and original log-cabin hero. In the next week there likely will be 15,000 new articles (and perhaps a few more books) written about Lincoln as the 200th anniversary of this birth arrives on February 12th. Of the millions of words that will celebrate his life, I can predict that some of the most popular will be adjectives describing his character like "honest," "self-educated," "hard-working," "compassionate," and "solemn." One aspect of his personality, however, that most accounts will omit is Lincoln's love of a naughty joke. Abraham Lincoln--the savior of the Union, the American Moses, the politician with a poet's touch--was also a serious cut-up. Whether the joke was self-deprecating, or told at the expense of an unfortunate friend, or just a re-telling of an old country fable, Lincoln was as masterful at tavern humor as he was at speeches that thrummed with a Biblical cadence.
When he arrived to southern Illinois as a young man in search of a career, wealth, and acceptance, his reputation for telling stories won him many friends and invitations to gatherings. Years later, as a semi-established Illinois lawyer riding the circuit for many months out of the year, Lincoln would often entertain the other
attorneys and judges at the end of each day with humorous anecdotes and stories. Occasionally he would deploy these stories in his arguments before a judge or jury, or mine his court experience as material for an anecdote (the one about the supposed horse expert who put his shirt on backwards comes to mind). And as president, Lincoln would often entertain a visitor or office-seeker with a story based on some aspect of their background or conversation, sometimes leaving these men bewildered by the casual and ribald nature of the nation's leader. It's easy to speculate that had he been influenced early on by a modern book or writer, or not turned to law and politics as a profession, Lincoln might have made a career as a mid-19th century frontier humorist like Mark Twain.
But where did Lincoln, who's melancholy spirit and bouts of serious depression are also well documented, find the source for his humor? And could a man who experienced so much tragedy in his life--the early loss of his mother, the death of two young sons, and a bloody civil war he felt responsible for ending--still be the one with the loudest laughter in the room? Lincoln himself answered that question head-on, and with his usual honesty. The occasion was a cabinet meeting in July 1862 when he unveiled his first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. With his stern advisers assembled, and many of them in opposition to the proclamation, Lincoln began the meeting by reading aloud first one than another chapter of a humorous novel by Artemus Ward. None of the cabinet members laughed and several were clearly annoyed by his diversion, which caused Lincoln to cast the book on the table and exclaim, "Gentleman, why don't you laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do."
If Lincoln could laugh, both at himself and the curious contradictions of his era, then I think that humor one more of his virtues that should be mentioned as often as his honesty. Being able to laugh at oneself, after all, indicates a degree of self-reflection and confidence that constant seriousness cannot match.