Apple, Pumpkin, or Impeachment Pie

Article II, Section 4 provides: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

As always, most of us face the holiday season with some level of trepidation–the rush, the expense, overblown expectations, and, of course, those sometimes strained family gatherings. And in the age of Trump, those powwows around the Butterball and sweet potatoes come with the possibility of outright political combat–and what could be more incendiary than discussing the merits of impeachment with some brother or sister who always felt that mom favored you in the first place?

As for my point of view on the matter of getting one’s just desserts, I believe there is more than adequate evidence of a quid pro quo and an abuse of presidential power. But at the same time, I fully understand why nearly half of all Americans view this as nothing more than another exercise in partisan politics at the taxpayer’s expense.

America has a long history of being somewhat reluctant when it comes to challenging bad behavior beyond our shores. Had it not been for the 128 Americans that went down on the Lusitania or the 1,177 sailors and Marines that lost their lives on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Belleau Wood and Normandy might not be part of this country’s collective heroic lore. So it easy to understand why we might be slow to raise concerns over the President’s dealings in Ukraine. On the other hand, had aid been withheld to Kentucky coal miners or Wisconsin dairy farmers because of some personal campaign agenda, I suspect the number of those in favor of impeachment would be very different.

The Signing of the United States Constitution by Louis Glanzman

As to the question of abuse of power, whether it be of a personal or professional nature, Donald Trump’s inclination to abuse whatever power might come his way has been well-documented for decades. So why would his time in the White House be any different? While I may be appalled and alarmed by his behavior, many Americans were hoping that his abusive nature would be turned against those individuals and institutions who his supporters felt had neglected and abused them.

Now, as to this just being about another round of disgruntled partisans wanting to take down the President, I would agree that there are a number of Democrats that might be engaged in just that. But the bias against Donald Trump runs deeper, and that negative view of his presidency has been well-earned by no one other than the President himself! Like most of the populist politicians that have run for office throughout our nation’s history, Mr. Trump has sown the seeds of discord in order to pit one group against another. And no one has been more effective at cultivating such a bitter harvest.

For those who truly believe in the founding principles of the United States of America, impeachment is not about an effort to undo the results of the presidential election of 2016. It is instead about honoring the resolve of those who attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787!

Posted by: Chris Poh for AmericanPublic House Review

Sand

Yesterday, I once again forced myself to endure yet another rhetorical rant from that real estate developer from Queens. But then again, who might be more qualified to exaggerate the terms of our latest shady land deal in the Middle East while blaming the former minority tenants for the bad conditions and at the same time being able to extol the virtues of the new owners than Donald Trump?

In the course of his justification for the reckless abandonment and betrayal of our Kurdish allies, he seemed to fixate, as he has as of late, on the word sand. As if to suggest that our involvement in the Middle East is and always has been as barren as the Arabian Desert, a policy with no purpose and a fruitless exercise in protecting those who have only known conflict and war. I will not argue the fact that radicals, reactionaries, and religious zealots, whether they hail from Saudi sands or sunny American shores are capable of holding onto a grudge for a very long time. But most human beings, in spite of their global positioning, want only peace and the opportunity to achieve their own personal potential.

USAF 204th Fighter Wing Over Kuwait - Public Domain Photo

Historically, our presence in the Middle East has seldom been about anything other than our own security and self-interests. Simply put, it’s not about what’s above the sand, but what lies beneath–tethered to a friendship with Israel and a fear of the former Soviet Union. But much has changed since the days of Communist aggression and oil embargoes. North American tar sands challenge Saudi reserves, our once blind allegiance to Israel has been tempered with concerns for the Palestinians, and while the Russians remain ruthlessly aggressive, Vladimir Putin’s brand of transactional leadership seems to resonate with our current President. So why not retreat to a position of America first and the rest of the world be damned?

From a practical standpoint, while we appear to be oozing oil at the moment, in reality, based upon our 20 million barrel a day thirst, the good ole we are number one USA could only go it alone for about five years. And while we may be able to weather a major interruption in supply better than most of the developed world, the resulting economic calamity would quickly find its way through our lovely little white picket fences.

However, in the interest of personal transparency, I must admit that I harbor a bit of my own “America First” tendencies. But in my model of national superiority, we are the first to champion human rights, the first to challenge the rule of despots, the first to provide aid to those in need, the first to give safe haven to those displaced by war and natural disasters–and always the first to stand by those who have stood by us!

My vision of America does not include a sandbox controlled by a petulant child of privilege threatening to withhold the use of his Tonka toys just because he’s not getting his way or fashioned-challenged fat cats scratching their way out of the sand traps at Trump National Doral. In my vision of our troubled republic, the sand in my shoes is the result of peaceful strolls on a beach where all who seek freedom, justice, and protection are welcomed. Until such time, I’ll just let my tired feet carry me to the next friendly Tiki bar.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

The Quality of Light

Sunrise at Acadia – photo By Bill Trotter – Bangor Daily News

“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us thru that darkness to a safe and sane future.” – John F. Kennedy

Even while our citizens endured the partial shutdown of government and the near total shutdown of governance, that lead photon on that first ray of sunlight coming over the horizon each morning still managed to awaken the continental United States by hitting its mark on the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park. And while the roads of this nation’s first national park east of the Mississippi remained unplowed, the garbage uncollected, and the visitor’s center unmanned, the sun still continued to shine. It seems the natural order of the universe and nature function quite well without government–the human species not so much!

In the course of my own travels, I have found there is a bit of magic in that light that caresses the coast of Maine. For me personally, it has been a source of comfort, clarity, and inspiration. Not that I’m questioning the effectiveness of sunshine south of the Piscataqua, but that mix of both man-made and metaphorical pollution seems to have somewhat diminished the curative effects–especially along that storied stretch of the Potomac in Washington.

Morning in Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Afternoon in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Approximately 116 nautical miles south of Acadia lies one family’s fortress that has weathered many Atlantic gales and has witnessed many a sunrise since the turn of the last century. And for most of my time, while trying to unsuccessfully coax the ocean’s bounty onto the end of my fishing rod in the waters off Kennebunkport, I was pretty much unaware of the potential political dynasty that was mixing vodka martinis on the lawn and playing tennis on the court at Walker’s Point. But during the summer of 1990, a few months before our armed incursion into Iraq, I became keenly aware that the price of oil was of far greater concern than the price of lobster. It was also during this period that I discovered that the 41st President of the United States enjoyed a good glass of beer as much as he enjoyed his martinis.

Evening on the Kennebunk River near Walker’s Point

“We are a nation of communities… a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” – George H. W. Bush

The talk around town was that George H. W. Bush on occasion would be spotted hoisting a pint with locals and tourists alike. And by the end of his presidency, the opening of Federal Jack’s Brewpub in Kennebunkport would help to make his loss to William Jefferson Clinton in 1992 and subsequent retirement at Walker’s Point a bit more tolerable. And while there may have been a few dark clouds that obscured the late president’s so-called “1000 points of light”–he was a man who truly believed in the value of selfless public service to country and the possibility that we could actually become a kinder and gentler nation. Sadly, the flame of that fanciful notion seems to waning as of late.

“America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” – Ronald Reagan

At the close of of last Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Trump may have been attempting to evoke that Reaganesque view of our place in the world when he said, “We must always keep faith in America’s destiny — that one Nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world!” Unfortunately, for many of those most in need of seeing America’s light–that light will be nothing more than a brief glimpse between the slats of some steel barrier on our southern border

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.” George Washington

During the stifling summer of 1787, our nation’s first president presided over the Constitutional Convention. Hot days and even hotter tempers fueled the often contentious proceedings at the Philadelphia Statehouse.

On September 17, 1787, nearly four months after the convention convened, even the most cantankerous of those among the delegates would choose consensus and compromise–and commit their signatures to the United States Constitution. With the grand bargain now in hand, Doctor Benjamin Franklin of the Pennsylvania delegation could forego politics in favor of his much preferred philosophical musings. With his gaze fixed upon the carving of the sun on the backrest of the chair that gave George Washington some measure of comfort during the trials of that long, difficult summer, Franklin said, “I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length, I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

Closing time at the White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island

While I have normally shared Mr. Franklin’s optimism about America’s future wellbeing, as of late, a few vexing shadows of doubt have darkened my horizon. Certainly, many thousand points of light continue to illuminate American skies, but our elected guiding lights have spent too much of their time in retreat under their respective red and blue bushels. So from my perspective, I’m not sure whether I’m seeing the dawn’s early light, the twilight’s last gleaming, or just the flickering lights of last call.

Make mine a double–it’s an awfully long road home–and an even longer road to 2020!

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

Sunset Over Sedona

Cathedral Rock Above Oak Creek - Sedona, Arizona

Cathedral Rock Above Oak Creek – Sedona, Arizona

“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s, I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.”   An excerpt from John McCain’s 2008 Republican National Convention speech.

Beyond the backyard, childhood fantasies inspired by those tall in the saddle gents that dominated the small screen of my family’s television set on most Saturday afternoons, I was always a bit leery of putting too much stock in the idea of there being such a thing as a true American hero. While I was that typical male child that always appreciated a slow drawl and a fast gun, even then I sensed the danger of letting ones view of reality being shaped too much by the painted sunsets, fan assisted tumbleweeds, and cattle town facades of Southern California. And as to those towering figures that stood at the podium, the pulpit, or at home plate – I realized that success and failure was only a matter of a bad call or the next swing of the bat. So my handful of heroes could almost fit into the hand of a newborn. But among that very short list will always appear the name of Senator John McCain!

John McCain and Ted KennedyWhile countless others have experienced the almost unimaginable physical and psychological pain endured by John McCain while held in captivity, few could forgive their captors–and even fewer would promote reconciliation and a working relationship with their former enemies. But this was a profound human being whose reach could always extend across the aisle, and when necessary for the sake and wellbeing of all–that reach would cross oceans. In triumph and in tragedy he always maintained his sense of purpose and his unique sense of humor. And he never wavered in his service to both country and humanity. I feel very blessed to have stood under some of those same western sunsets that the senator from Arizona so loved. And I am so very grateful to live in a nation that could give rise to the likes of a John Sydney McCain!

Prior to their parting repast at the City Tavern, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 gathered one last time at the Philadelphia Statehouse to sign the document that would serve as the blueprint for our attempt at democratic governance. Among those early American founding mavericks was the esteemed Doctor Benjamin Franklin. Before taking his leave, he made the following observation about the carving of the sun that had adorned the back of the chair at which George Washington had sat while presiding over the assembled body during the nearly four months of contentious debate:

The Rising Sun Chair

 “I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

The sun will once again rise above Sedona, and John McCain will continue to serve this country in death as he did in life. His ghost will haunt those who merit a haunting–and his spirit will inspire those who are worthy of inspiration.

Commander John Sidney McCain

 

 

To this very honorable statesman and sailor we bid fair winds and following seas!

 

 

 

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

The Much Maligned and Dreaded 13

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,”   A bit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ biblical rational for current immigration policy

In most instances throughout history whenever a politician or government appointee cites scripture, the moral high ground has already been lost. In the case of Romans 13, during the life of our nation it has been used to justify loyalty to the English Crown during the American Revolution, and in support of slavery during the Civil War. Mr. Sessions may want to consider furthering his time at Bible study.

Since the age of eighteen, I have spent some portion of my working life behind the bar. My first patrol of the mahogany rail was at the Montville Inn in northern New Jersey. It was there during the summer of 1972 that I first encountered some of America’s immigrant workforce. My late afternoon crowd consisted partly of Portuguese and Spanish laborers that were repairing and resurfacing the roadway out front. While some of my two martini and three-piece regulars may have felt some degree of discomfort about having to share their space with those who had just put down their shovels in favor of a beer mug,  I found these hard-working men to be kind, generous, and decidedly less pretentious than the local gentry. I was not about to question the legitimacy of their presence.

Over the many years now spent in the restaurant business, I’ve worked with hundreds of people from different countries, mainly from Mexico and Latin America. Whether or not they were there legally was of little concern. At no time did I ever feel that my position was in jeopardy, nor did I ever see any of my fellow American’s clamoring for the chance to take on the toils and troubles of my foreign compadres. Even the most ardent voices against immigration from our southern hemisphere show very few signs of willingness to send their sons and daughters into the kitchen to wash dishes or the fields to pick lettuce.

In the interest of making a point in a somewhat succinct fashion, I am going to once more resort to my favorite format–the bullet item. And while the following generalities might be called into question by some, I assure you that they will contain more facts and more truth than your average daily White House press corps briefing.

  •  Gangs, whether it be MS-13,  the Aryan Brotherhood, La Cosa Nostra, the Russian Mafia or any of the estimated 33,000 large and small criminal enterprises that operate in the United States are a valid cause for concern. But because of the extraordinary dedication and effectiveness of local, state, and federal law enforcement very few Americans will ever be directly affected by these malicious organizations.
  • In those countries that make up the infamous Northern Triangle, the reality is quite different. The citizens of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are subject to extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murder on a regular basis, and those who commit these atrocities carry them out with near impunity. There should be little question as to why so many woman and children are now knocking on or attempting to break down America’s back door.
  • Throughout our nation’s history, there are those who have preached either the politics of inclusion or the politics of exclusion. While the former has not always gone smoothly, the ladder has always ended in disaster. The graves at Gettysburg are proof enough of that! Sadly though, a philosophy of exclusion seems to serve the demagogues well. It feeds on our fears and prejudices, and it offers simplistic solutions to very complex problems.
  • Consumer economies such as ours, with an aging population and a near historically low birthrate, depend on immigration. Our cash-strapped entitlements sorely need an influx of younger workers. But at the same time though, we need security and sound reform–but this policy of “zero tolerance” offers neither. By all appearances, it is nothing more than an improvised plan by a petulant real-estate developer from New York getting an assist from a self-proclaimed far-right nationalist from California. For Donald Trump, it’s simply about needing to get his way on that unfunded wall along the Mexican border. And in Stephen Miller, the President has found a willing ally who would gladly supply some portion of the building materials by repurposing the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
  • As to the matter of separating families, unless there is evidence of a serious crime or a child’s welfare is in question, the administration’s ad hoc strategy is unconscionable and counterproductive. As someone who has taught inner-city youth and has worked directly with incarcerated adolescents, I have seen the trauma and the irreparable damage that is so often the outcome for those who have been taken away from their parents or have not had the advantage of a stable family environment. Our current course of action at the border may, in fact, help to bolster the future ranks of those same malevolent groups that the President is supposedly trying to protect us from.

While I have never had children of my own, I have on occasion had the good fortune of being able to play the role of the Dutch uncle. The photograph at the top of this post captures one of those special points of passage. It was at the St. Patrick Pub in Old Quebec where I was able to pass along a bit of  my vast knowledge of bar stool etiquette to my godchild Alanna and her older sister Emma.

These days there’s a lot more gray and far fewer hairs on the back of my head–and those two delightful young girls are now two very accomplished young women. Their achievements are the result of individual talent, the love and nurturing of exceptional parents, and a home life that has always been safe, secure, and supportive. Embedded within the story of their lives lie the solutions to our crisis at the border. While a good fence might make for good neighbors, better homes will always trump the need for bigger walls

As we reflect upon the founding principles put forth by those who represented America’s thirteen original colonies, on this particular 4th of July we might want to consider the following about that old bedeviling  number 13:

  • In order to further his own personal agenda on immigration, the President has vastly exaggerated the threat posed by MS-13. This is nothing more than just another variation of the bogey man tactic employed by many a politician throughout our nation’s history.
  • While Romans 13 might provide some cover for the Attorney General and for those who once swore their allegiance to King George and Jefferson Davis–hopefully, the majority of American hearts will answer the call of Hebrews 13:1.

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Thomas Paine Portrait

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.” – Thomas Paine

In keeping with the spirit of the day, let us once more celebrate the life of our favorite American revolutionary with Dick Gaughan’s  version of “Tom Paine’s Bones.”

Click on the title or Paine’s portrait to hear the music.

 

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

 

 

The Chronically Blue & Red State of The Union

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”                                       Mark Twain

It has been nearly two months since the grand proclamation of that “new  American moment” proposed by President Trump in his State of the Union address–that moment when those forces that thrive and profit on the unraveling of that delicate weave that is the tapestry of American democracy will be swept away in the wake of some bipartisan epiphany. But according to those who make it their mission to measure the metrics of our discord, distrust, and discontent–our house is sorely in need of repair and reunification.

Even in those areas where one might expect that we were like-minded there are apparent differences. A recent Gallup poll tied to last month’s Winter Games in  PyeongChang found that liberals are 25 percent more likely than conservatives to ski. That may explain why so many of my Republican friends are so concerned about those so-called  slippery slopes.

While it’s easy to blame the pundits, politicians, and the President for what appears to be disharmony by design, there is also the possibility that the incessant polling and pulse taking  is also adding to both the political and cultural divide. We are being convinced by the mere statistical analysis of our beliefs and behaviors that we can’t possibly work together to find solutions or common ground. Even now, as the nation tries to come to terms with another horrendous mass shooting, those on both sides of the gun control issue have their defenses and data points ever at the ready for another predictable partisan debate. And afterwards, what we are left with is just another case of numbness and nullification by the numbers, and the prospect that the United States Congress might once again fail to enact any meaningful legislation.

While I agree with Mark Twain that the search for truth by way of some  numerical measure of reality is folly, nonetheless, in this instance, I am going to stir some additional stats into this already overcooked stew:

  • The murder rate in Colonial America in the year 1700 was 30 per 100,000 people. By the time our Constitution was fully adopted in 1788, the rate had dropped to approximately 20 per 100,000 of population. And when Teddy Roosevelt assumed the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, the murder rate had dropped to less than 2 per 100,000.
  • During the Twentieth century, the murder rate for that 100 year period reached its peak of just over 10 per 100,000 during the Carter administration. The rate then dropped under President Reagan, it rose under George Bush, and then again dropped during Bill Clinton’s time in office.

Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 - 1998

Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 – 1998

  •   The murder rate in America in 2016, the most recent year of complete FBI crime statistics, was 5.3 per 100,000.
  • Of the approximately 33,000 gun related deaths that now occur each year, roughly 1.5 percent are the result of mass shootings.
  • There are an estimated 73-81 million gun owners in the United States, of that number about 8 million, or 3 percent of the total U.S. population, own 50 percent of all legally purchased civilian firearms..
  • Depending on whose count you believe, the NRA, the group which claims to be the legitimate voice of all gun owners, has somewhere between 4 and 5 million members.
  • There are currently about 236 million people of voting age in America. Of that number approximately 200 million are registered to vote.
  • Nearly 84 percent of Americans, including a large majority of gun owners, favor some level of enhanced regulation of firearms.
  • While nearly 100 percent of Americans seem to have an opinion on just about everything, those opinions don’t necessarily find their way into the voting booth. The average turnout for a presidential election is around 60 percent, the midterms attract about 40 percent of the voting public, and congressional primaries tend to bring out less than 20 percent of eligible voters.

So based upon these numbers, here are some of my observations and conclusions on the overall state of our union and how that might pertain to the contentious debate over guns and the Second Amendment:

1). The steep decline in America’s murder rate between 1700 and 1800 can most likely be attributed to the rule of law versus some frontier interpretation of Old Testament justice–as in an eye for an eye or perhaps a scalp for a scalp. Those brilliant minds that crafted the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution helped to bring about greater social order and a fairer system of criminal justice. But we should not lose sight of the fact that even our Founders, as borne out by the Hamilton and Burr dispute, were more inclined to settle their differences with pistols than we are today.

2). If we examine the homicide rate throughout the twentieth century, many of our notions as to when and why we are most likely to pull the trigger don’t hold up. In 1901, a year when there were virtually no laws governing the sale or use of firearms, America experienced its lowest murder rate ever. Neither is poverty, prosperity, or war necessarily an accurate predictor of human behavior.

After the First World War, the murder rate climbed steadily for over a decade. But those soldiers who returned from Europe and the Pacific in 1945, were mostly content to leave the tools of their trade behind on the battlefield. And while America’s worst recorded murder rate occurred in the midst of the 1980 recession, during most of the depression years of the 1930s, the murder rate was well below that of the boom years of the Roaring Twenties.

3). The idea that we can legislate away mass murder is akin to thinking that we can stop tornadoes from occurring. But in both instances, we have the tools to better forecast the threat of an outbreak and the capability to reduce the number of dead and injured. When it comes to the regulation of firearms, commonsense and moral responsibility dictate that our laws address the mental health of those that have access to guns and the lethal potential of civilian firepower.

2nd Amendment

For those who view the Second Amendment as some immutable piece of inspired text, I would simply point out that  ever since the Civil War some of the best long robes and legal minds have not been able to find consensus over the use of twenty-seven words and two commas. Even the term “well regulated” has been the focus of rigorous debate. So for all the praise we heap upon the Framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it seems that even these enlightened mortals were susceptible to ambiguity, questionable punctuation, and bad grammar.

The common approach when dealing with any controversy that might arise because of the wording of the Constitution has been an attempt to glean the original intent of those that penned the document. The difficulty with that approach is whose intentions are you going to believe, Mr. Hamilton and his Federalists, or the Anti-Federalist crowd spurred on by the likes of Jefferson and Madison?  So picking your favorite Framer is like our choices for cable news, one can always find a source that will support their point of view.

While our Constitution is the result of some bitter philosophical battles and quite a few compromises, it is probably safe to assume that all those involved in its creation shared the common goal of insuring domestic tranquility for the greater good of all Americans.  The Framers certainly had their fair share of distrust of government, but at the same time, they also were somewhat leery of rule by way of the angry mob. I don’t suspect that they would have called for a well-regulated government sanctioned military entity without also considering putting some limitations on an armed civilian population.

4). With the next midterm election less than eight months away, there are those who are hanging their hopes on the next blue wave while another large part of the nation will opt for a rerun of the red tide. As for myself, I’m not concerned about the color of my state. The solution to our political problems has never been about more Democrats or Republicans–more liberals or conservatives. Positive change can only come about when principled people in power choose the welfare of the country over the survival of their party.

Later today, young people will gather in mass to express their fears and concerns about the violence that has ruined so many lives and shattered so many families. Those among us who we normally ask to march off to war on our behalf will be marching on the nation’s capitol and hundreds of public squares throughout America. Those long marches will be in vain if the rest of us fail to make that short walk to the voting booth!

Posted by: Chris Poh  for American Public House Review 

Author’s note: I began writing this particular piece several weeks ago after a long political conversation with my friend and musician Mike Kratzer. It took a very different path after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Here is a link to Mike’s song Chronically Blue which reflects upon those somewhat old age cynical leanings that even I give into after another one of these American tragedies.

 

Another Holiday in Harm’s Way

 

Christmas Truce Headline in the Seattle StarChristmas Truce 1914

 

Frank Stem was a faithful American patriot, an ardent fan of John Wayne, and someone who knew a thing or two about the harshness of winter below the 38th parallel. By the time I came to know this tough, seasoned Cold War combatant, the boys at the Pentagon had already moved our contest against communism from the frigid Korean peninsula to the soggy, steaming jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. And Frank Stem had long since swapped out his M-1 Garand and Colt sidearm for a wooden pointer and a felt eraser. This soldier turned teacher now faced the daily threat posed by the longer hair and shorter skirts that filled the rows of desks at a fairly liberal leaning coed Catholic high school in northern New Jersey.

It was September of 1969 when I took my assigned seat in Mr. Stem’s classroom. While this tested warhorse would often espouse the benefits of military service, there was this soft side to his nature like that of the English headmaster, who worried about the fate of his own adolescent charges during the First World War, in the film Goodbye, Mr. Chips. And having acquired ample knowledge of American history along with a good dose of common sense, Frank Stem was probably a bit more inclined to heed the advice of those who had cautioned against getting involved in a land war in Asia. So in a schoolroom upon whose walls might hang a picture of the Duke on horseback, Neil Armstrong on the Moon, or Jimi Hendrix on the stage at Woodstock, this older warrior and his young aspiring activists would often find some middle ground. Unfortunately, in today’s political climate–that middle ground has become our own frightful version of no man’s land!

In the days leading up to Christmas in 1914, soldiers on both sides of the conflict abandoned their trenches and ventured onto that deadly stretch of ground along the Western Front–not for the want of war, but for the possibility of peace. As history has borne out on so many other occasions, there are wiser men among the ranks even when there are only fools at the top. And that simple fact holds true both on and off the battlefield.

I have no idea how Frank Stem would view the current standoff  at the 38th parallel. But my recollections of this intelligent, decent man lead me to believe that he, like myself, would be immensely concerned that the fate of so many lives are dependent upon the diplomatic skills of Donald Trump or Dennis Rodman.

In keeping with those other Christmases past, we at American Public House Review raise a glass to all our  men and women in the armed forces of the United States. We pray for their protection and safe return–and we look to that day when none of our soldiers will have to spend another holiday in harm’s way!

This haunting and poignant piece by John McCutcheon continues to capture that sentiment best.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

Lady Justice is a Ghost on Halloween

Marion Hose Bar in Jim Thorpe, PA

What better place to either stoke or put out my penchant for political fire starting than in a prominent old firehouse that has been tastefully renovated into a restaurant and lounge? And that is exactly what transpired during a recent afternoon into evening session at the newly opened Marion Hose Bar in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. While there we were joined by the always affable owners of the Gilded Cupid Bed and Breakfast, Bob and Sheila.

In the course of our communications, there was some speculation about which path Lady Justice might take concerning the ongoing probes into the past and present shenanigans of the Executive Branch of  our government. All of us have been around long enough to know that even the most well-intentioned of Roman allegorical personifications has been known to take off the blinders when it comes to dealing with the rich and powerful. Most certainly, that fact was on full display there in Jim Thorpe, then known as Mauch Chunk, on June 21, 1877.

Ghostly HandOn that date, Alexander Campbell’s supposed last gesture before facing the hangman’s noose, was to place his soiled hand upon the wall of his cell and then swear that his mark would remain for all time in proof of his innocence. Three other men, all Irish coal miners, would share the gallows at the Carbon County Jail that day, and six more would also hang in nearby Pottsville. Though tried for murder and various criminal activities associated with the secretive Molly Maguires, the real purpose behind the trials and resulting executions was not about serving justice, but more likely part of an overall strategy by the bosses and owners to eradicate any attempt at organizing labor in the Pennsylvania coal industry.

While. historians continue to argue the guilt or innocence of those involved, and now even question the source of that ghostly aberration on the wall of cell 17, that image serves as another grim reminder that justice is not always evenhanded.

The Ghost at the Calaboose GrilleFurther evidence of the fact that even death does not automatically deal us that “Get out of Jail Free” card can be seen in this rather intriguing photo taken at the Calaboose Grille in Owega, New York. Click here to read more about that haunted location.

During these scary times, one begins to wonder what terrifying future specter might materialize on that dreary prison wall or be captured by the camera’s lens? I don’t know about you, but the thought of Paul Manafort in an orange jumpsuit frightens the hell out of me! Not that I have any difficulty with that potential outcome, it’s just that the image of that individual or any of his ilk in that particular piece of Federal fashion garb  is more than my visual cortex could endure.

Happy Halloween from American Public House Review!

Posted by: Chris Poh

 

 

Lee’s Last Ride

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller - 1866

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller – 1866

“I am a Southerner by birth and a Rebel by choice. As I read and study, I pull for Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet. As I live, I thank Grant, Lincoln, and Democracy.” Richard”Shotgun” Weeks – Master Sergeant U.S. Air Force Vietnam Veteran/ Civil War historian

“The power of noble deeds is to be preserved and passed on to the future.” Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – commander 20th Maine at Gettysburg

For my part, I can barely fathom those forces that drive a human being to accept or even consider the possibility that they are by way of their race, creed, or national origin somehow superior to their fellowman. But then my own personal journey has caused me to reject any behavior predicated on any theory of innate supremacy or an overly zealous sense of nationalism.  Having virtually no knowledge as to the circumstance of my own birth or bloodline, I have become quite comfortable in the belief that a good portion of our individual lives is determined merely by genetic and geographic potluck without the hand of God trying to stack the deck in any particular group’s favor.

As for those among us that are prone to think otherwise, it is probably a combination of fear and a personal sense of inferiority that is the seed from which that invasive strangling vine of their own self-aggrandizing superiority complex sprouts.

As to the recent tragic events in Charlottesville and the somewhat troubling  response and mixed-messages offered up by our president, I think we need to be honest with ourselves as to who the man is and who he is not. Donald Trump achieved the office by relying heavily on those wedge issues of religion, race, and immigration that have been polarizing this country not only in recent years, but throughout our nation’s history. And while this political tactic is nothing new, it has never been so blatantly utilized by a presidential candidate. And although I can not state with any certainty as to what is truly in the man’s heart–it is safe to say that neither Citizen Trump nor President Trump has ever exhibited the capacity to construct much beyond a hotel, golf course, or casino. The building of consensus and bridges does not appear to be part of the plan. And while I do not totally rule out the possibility of an epiphany, in order for that to occur one must first be willing to admit to and address their own failures and shortcomings.

As for the president’s equivocation of the violence on both sides in Charlottesville, he seems to forget that our system of justice does in fact define by degree the nature of most crimes. And the level of intent and premeditation displayed by those involved in any criminal act normally dictates the assigning of responsibility and the resulting punishment. There is clearly a distinct and undeniable difference between planned intimidation and violence and the reflexive actions of those that are the targets and victims of such attacks. The end result may yield an equal number of causalities, but in American Jurisprudence shared pain does not equate with shared guilt!

Then there is the issue as to what may have actually sparked the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville. Since I was old enough to turn on a television set, I’ve watched scenes of  human beings beating each over the head either in defense of some cherished symbol or in response to some other group’s use of a symbol that was deemed to be offensive. Any blood shed over the veneration or demonization of some man-made expression of our affiliations or points of view  is blood that is shed for nothing. No book, no image,  no work in bronze or stone, and no piece of cloth hoisted up a pole can be reason enough to justify violence or the taking of life.

As for the fates of those monuments and memorials to the Confederacy,  I personally take no offense at their presence. But at the same time, I understand why others would opt for their elimination. I certainly would not expect the children of the Lakota Sioux to attend a  school named in honor of George Armstrong Custer, anymore than I would expect an African American family to comfortably picnic under the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest. We need to be sensitive to those people and communities that endured great hardships and countless indignities at the hands of those who would attempt to rewrite history by way of some public square glorification of a past that was often cruel and seldom heroic.

Travellor-Grave-PlaqueLastly, there is the matter of the ever haunting ghost of that Virginia gentleman who has once again taken  center stage in yet another civil conflict. While it seems somewhat ludicrous  to suggest that the removal of  a statue of Robert E. Lee might lead some to consider the possible purge of the likenesses of Washington and Jefferson–who can predict how the lens into our past will be adjusted by those in the future in order to be in line with their view of the present? But for now, the question may be worthy of some small measure of reflection. After all, Washington, Jefferson, and Lee were all thought to be treasonous, rebellious scoundrels by a large number of their fellow countrymen. And all of these men by current standards of thought could be tarnished by their apparent contradictions in character.

In the case of Robert E. Lee, while his religious convictions made him keenly aware of the inherent evils of slavery, he was of the opinion that the inevitable demise of that institution would only come about in accordance with God’s timetable. And though he viewed secession as being unconstitutional and an outright betrayal to the founding principles of the United States, his decision to lend his superior military skills to the state of Virginia would nearly bring about the destruction of the Union.

Shortly before his death in 1870, Lee spoke out against the idea of erecting monuments to the war. He believed those efforts would only hamper the process of national reconciliation. So perhaps now is the time for Lee’s last ride. But no matter what we as a people decide to tear down, we as a nation will be judged by what we chose to raise up.

At this moment in time, I will raise a glass to the people of Charlottesville and to all who stand their ground against discrimination, intolerance, inequality, and racism!

Please take the time to listen to this profound song of healing performed by Joe Jencks.

40 Mile IPAIf by chance you find yourself paying a visit to the city of Charlottesville, while there might I suggest raising a glass of  40 Mile IPA from Three Notch’d Brewing Company. This outstanding brew celebrates the ride of another famous gentlemen from Virginia Jack Jouett whose daring on horseback on the night of June 1, 1781, saved Thomas Jefferson and the state legislature from capture by British cavalry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

With Our Sincere and Humble Apologies to the Ghosts of The Molly Maguires

The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, PA. The site of the 1877 Molly Maguire Executions.

The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, PA

“How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?”   Charles Lindbergh

In the course of his recent Rose Garden rant and truculent travelogue, the President eluded to the opening of a new coal mine located somewhere between Paris and Pittsburgh. It turns out that somewhere is the small town of Boswell, PA. This community owes its very existence to the black bituminous rock that lies beneath the quaint brick homes and shops built by the Merchant’s Coal Company during the first few years of the twentieth century.  And soon, 70 more intrepid souls will join the ranks of  those that have braved the bowels of the earth in order to fuel America’s energy and industrial needs.

My own  knowledge of the collier’s plight has been mostly gleaned from conversations with old timers at the Molly Maguires Pub in Jim Thorpe, PA. Here there were plenty of tales about that secret society for which the pub is named.These sons and grandsons of  Irish immigrants spoke of a life that was as hard as the anthracite that was pulled from the clutches of those eastern coal seams. In order to keep their families fed, these early miners tolerated what amounted to an indentured enslavement to the bosses and the company town.

In this part of Pennsylvania, the role of the Devil incarnate was aptly filled by Franklin Gowen, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company. With the assistance of his hired henchmen from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Gowen waged a war against those who attempted to organize labor in the coalfields–creating a living hell both on and below earth. Eventually, this reign of terror and the violent response by the miners would bring about a series of questionable arrests and trials that would send ten men to the gallows in 1877 and ten more in the following year. Among the latter was John “Black Jack” Kehoe, a well-respected constable and tavern owner who had provided aid to the miners and their families, and who had also become the outspoken voice for worker’s rights.

Such has been the story of coal throughout our history–a double-edged sword yielding great success for some and greater suffering for others. Current data suggests that 80,000 deaths per year in the United States can be directly attributed to airborne chemical and particulate pollution, with emissions from coal-fired power plants being a significant source of the problem. While the majority of these plants are located in the Midwest, the pollution is not contained within state borders. The mercury emitted from these plants ultimately will find its way into the human food chain as waterways and livestock become contaminated.

The threat globally is even greater. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization estimate that between 4-5 million people will die annually because of polluted air, and nearly 35 percent of those deaths will be infants or young children. And once again, coal will be a major culprit. So even if the scientific evidence connecting human activity to global warming were proven to be somewhat overestimated, there are still a few million good reasons to substantially lessen our dependence on coal.

As to our President’s break with the Paris Agreement, I have seen this pattern of behavior repeated many times over during my own lifetime. Whether it be about clean air, clean water, pesticides, food safety, tobacco use, or just shoddy manufacturing, the oft-told tale goes something like this: First, the facts are called into question by those who stand to lose the most amount of money if they are held legally responsible or become subject to government regulation. Second, those again whose pocketbooks are threatened enlist the aid of politicians to plead their case. Next, those same politicians brand those who initially raised concerns about a particular product or practice as being on the fringe, unpatriotic, or somehow just at odds with America and capitalism. And finally, when enough time has passed to allow those affected entities to settle their legal obligations and to develop alternate streams of revenue–we then suddenly accept and adopt those policies and procedures that improve our collective wellbeing.

That is why the Shell Oil Company is building wind farms in the Netherlands, and Exxon Mobil is working on ways to run an Alpha Romeo on algae.

As for those ghosts of the Molly Maguires, I will briefly defer to the skilled pen of Jeanne Kehoe_GraveMarie Laskas from her book “Hidden America” which poetically profiles the lives of those who continue to work those difficult and dangerous jobs that support the infrastructure of our nation’s economy: “There is no design, no geometry, no melody. A coal mine greets you with only one sentiment, then hammers it: This is not a place for people. This is not a place for people. This is not a place for people.”

And on that day when the last coal mine is finally closed, the dead will rest a bit more  peacefully–and the living will breathe a whole lot easier!

Click on the article titles below to learn more about the life of John “Black Jack ” Kehoe and the restless afterlife of one of the Molly Maguires.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

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