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Hometown: Southern California
Member since: 2001
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Like most people, Robert E. Lee was an extremely complicated individual . . .

Like most people — and especially those who rise to positions of decision and power — Robert E. Lee was an extremely complicated individual. Brilliant in some ways, I’ve never understood the mythos that arose around him during the rebellion. Oh certainly, he made some extraordinary tactical maneuvers, and won some battles he should have surely lost, but he made a disproportionate number of blunders as well, many of which cost him and the South much more than they could afford to lose and hope to prevail in their insurrection.

The ill-fated charge on the third day at Gettysburg is but one of many examples, though surely it is the most remembered.

For all his efforts, however, it is well to keep in mind that slavery was ultimately vanquished from our land because of Robert E. Lee. It is one of those supremely ironic situations that doesn’t get near enough recognition.

Up until the time Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia (June 1862) it was Mr Lincoln’s stated objective that if the South ceased its rebellion, and submitted again to Union control, then slavery would remain as it had been prior to the rebellion. The original 13th Amendment, the Corwin Amendment (after the Ohio Congressman who proposed it), held that slavery was to be unmolested in perpetuity. Mr Lincoln himself endorsed this idea in his First Inaugural. (1)

It was Robert E. Lee’s success against far superior Union forces in the Seven Days Battles that sealed the South’s fate and slavery’s demise. In driving the Army of the Potomac back, Lee turned Confederate morale around, and its soldiers took to battle with renewed purpose. That summer, however, convinced Mr Lincoln that every tactic needed to be deployed against the rebellion, including denial of its labor force and the eventual use of black soldiers. The die was cast -- by Robert E. Lee -- and the result was eventual total war and the destruction of Southern social and political order.

And there was another aspect of Lee that doesn’t get enough recognition, the idea that he saved the Union from a good deal of misery and unreconcilable destruction in the years after Appomattox.

In April 1865: The Month that Saved America (a book I cannot recommend highly enough; it’s one of the finest works on American history I’ve read), author Jay Winik details the enormous debt we owe Lee for the manner in which he surrendered. A lesser man may have given his men carte blanche to resort to guerrilla warfare and indiscriminate terror (and some Confederate cmmanders did), but Lee consistently held that his men should return to their families and fields, and energetically campaigned in the aftermath of the rebellion that reconciliation was in the best interest of everyone — South and North, freemen all.

All said and done, then, and pursued strictly from an historical stance, Robert E. Lee remains a deeply flawed, complex individual. General Kelly, however, proves almost hourly he's little more than a nitwit, an empty barrel fit ideally for use as a spittoon.

(1) "I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” ~ President Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural, March 4, 1861

June 23, 1865: Last Confederate General in the field, Brig. Gen. Stan Watie, a Cherokee, surrenders…

On this date in 1865, Brig. Gen. Stan Watie (CSA, defunct), signed a cease-fire agreement with Union forces. He was the last Confederate General, and his troops -- the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi -- the final force in the field for the now-defunct CSA to lay down their arms. The American Civil War was over.

There's a certain irony to the denouement, that a brigade comprised of native Americans should be the last active force fighting for the Confederate cause, but then, the War was filled with little ironies and big contradictions. And native Americans played a role in it throughout. Watie was the highest ranking native American for the South, while Ely Parker, a Seneca, held the same high rank in the Union army. Parker, however, as an attorney and civil engineer, had the distinction to serve on Gen. U.S. Grant's staff, and was picked by Grant to write the terms of surrender presented to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. That document is in Parker's handwriting.

Few Cherokee held slaves before the War. In this, they were similar to their white Confederate allies. They opposed the Union largely out of fear the Federal Government intended to carve a State out of the land they'd been forced onto by that same Government. Those fears proved valid after the War, when Oklahoma was established.

Watie's forces were both efficient and ruthless during the War. It is said they fought in more battles West of the Mississippi than any other Confederate unit. They also committed some of the war's most vicious atrocities, including the slaughter of Union troops and black civilian teamsters during a raid on a supply convoy in September, 1864.

I mention this both to mark the end of the War's sesquicentennial and to give a glimpse, for those unaware of it, at the War's complexity and the myriad individuals who fought it for so many different causes.

Let us hope, when the War's bicentennial is observed, that at least some of the passions that fed the Civil War, and continue to plague us today, will have finally, at long last, passed away.

Over the years, I've come to realize, the issue of "which candidate" is totally irrelevant to me...

By the time California votes June 7, 17 primaries will have already been held in 40 states. The decision will have been made long before the parade makes it out here.

The decision will have been made for me by the good people in the likes of places such as Iowa, Utah, South & North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Florida, Missouri, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Arkansas.

Yeah. It's just an illusion, that I have a voice in the decision. Totally worthless process so far as I'm concerned.

So really, the decision has little to do with me and my beliefs. Unless I want to give money. Which places me in the odd position of looking at Citizens United with a slightly jaundiced view -- adamantly opposed to the concept, regrettably convinced money is the sole option open for people in States relegated to the rear to have an impact.

Tell me that doesn't suck hind wind.

* * *

The Democratic Primary process bypasses those of us who must vote late in the season. Regardless the candidate, the process itself is stacked against us here in the "Golden State."

Instead of the present, flawed process, where people in Iowa of all places have a disproportionate influence on who leaves the race early and who's seen as a "frontrunner," I favor dividing the nation into 6 electoral districts instead and the choice of which district should vote first would rotate among them, so every 24 years each of us would have an opportunity to vote first in the Presidential primary.

All states in an electoral district would have their primaries on the same day. This way, campaigns would focus on a select geographic region -- costs would be lower, there wouldn't be as much travel required, and the media buys would be more focused as well, since neighboring states would be addressed at the same time.

There'd be the added benefit that citizens of each district could expect (indeed, demand) that politicians address the regional issues of their concern as well as the national issues, thereby denying the candidates the opportunity to hide behind national platitudes instead of answering specific questions important to a select electorate.

If the primaries were held every 3 weeks, the primary season could be over in some 3 to 4 months, which might help focus every voter's attention earlier in the process.

But it'll probably never happen. Too many vested interests with too much at stake in the present, crippled system.

My wife and I were triply-screwed by health care insurance . . .

We’re older Americans, late 50s, so before the ACA took effect, we were at that stage when insurance companies saw us as a bad risk -- too old to expect we’d just pay premiums without incurring costs, too young to be shuffled off onto Medicare should we get sick.

And we have pre-existing conditions. In my wife’s case, it’s a reality; in mine, non-existent. My wife has RA, so insurance sees her as a drain on profit. For myself, a false positive on an in-office prick test for diabetes consigned me to seven years of ever-increasing premiums. No other test ever showed me to have even a “pre-diabetic” condition (in fact, every test showed the opposite), yet my insurance company insisted I’m diabetic. And my attorney (my brother) told me there was little hope of ever convincing them otherwise, since they could use it to justify increasing my premiums without fear they’d have to payout.

And our third strike? We chose to pursue an American dream: We started our own business twenty-some years ago.

Because we were not in some arbitrary corporation’s risk pool, we were charged more for insurance. So on top of the other acts which should be criminal, add that insurance companies subjectively classified people based on nothing more concrete than the size of the check cut for the group’s coverage. And those not covered by a relatively large check got charged on average an exorbitantly larger amount. Considerably more than was justified to cover administrative processing costs. Certainly, “economy of scale” dictated lesser rates for greater numbers, and the threat of moving a large account brought extraordinary concessions, but does any of that morally justify charging multiple-times-over to those less connected?

In the 20 years since we chose this independent path, our insurance premiums rose each year by 7 to 40%, depending on the level of criminal greed rampant within our insurance carrier that year. Uncontested, our 2014 premium was set to rise to $2,884 a month in January. It was an unsustainable burden that presented us with an intractable choice: pay the ransom to receive the medical security we need and save little for retirement, or opt for lesser coverage that may likely leave us physically incapable of enjoying whatever retirement we may find.

Given the shortcomings and latent criminality of all for-profit medical insurance, ours was a good policy; not great, but passable. We chose our own doctors (important for my wife), and enjoyed some amenities. It came with a high deductible, however, and no guarantee we wouldn’t lose it should we have need to use it. In short, it was something we needed to keep but in truth couldn’t see how.

That was our condition -- our medical insurance condition -- on September 30.

[center]• • •[/center]
It was our good fortune to be Californian when the ACA rolled out. The Covered California website was flawless. We accessed it at our leisure, debated the merits of each plan offered, and were able to sign up with little trouble. All told, it took about two hours on the web, less time than I’ve ever spent negotiating for insurance of any sort.

The insurance policy we selected is every bit as good as the one we had before. We can continue to use every doctor we presently have, our selection of hospitals includes all those from before plus some more (including the finest hospital in the region), our deductible is no greater and there’s no cap on payments. And best of all, should I ever use it I won’t lose it, and the limits protect me from some forms of bankruptcy.

The cost? $1,181 a month for the both of us. A 60% savings over our cost on the “free market.”

[center]• • •[/center]
I can’t remember when we knew health care reform was one of the most critical issues facing the nation. Undoubtedly, the relentless litany of horror stories of those caught without insurance, or forced into bankruptcy despite having it, deeply influenced our belief. On a personal level, we saw the potential for disaster the time I changed jobs and only a fluke saved me from being without insurance when an unexpected hospitalization almost wiped us out right when our first child was born. And our attitude definitely solidified after the birth of that child, when our insurance carrier denied her needed surgery because a congenital defect was deemed a “preexisting condition.”

So we knew the transformation of healthcare had to be fundamental. The problems were endemic to the for-profit, corporate model of health care insurance, and the only viable solution in our opinion was to dismantle the entire rotten structure. Decisions about health care -- indeed, the very idea of health care -- have to be wrested from corporate bean counters and stock option influence and invested instead in the very people who depend on this timely care -- care too often denied them for lack of money or so faceless investors can make another dime.

We wanted single payer. We wanted universal coverage. And we had been agitating for it since well before Barack Obama entered the national scene. So when he took up the cause, we supported him in every way we could.

We didn’t get what we wanted. But then, we never expected it. After all that’s transpired, we find it best for our health to content ourselves with the belief it was enough for the process to move forward. Necessary, but incremental changes have been made, changes that may one day lead to the type of care this nation requires. I believe it will be in place by the time my grandchildren enter their majority. Which is good, as two of them are with us today.

When I was young, the Mother of one of my friends had passed through the death factories. . .

from Treblinka by way of Theresienstadt. She told me one day her life in sunshine was made possible by her capacity to love.

She and her husband, Viktor (who had also passed through the death factories), never had children of their own but instead adopted little ones who had been brutalized by life. For example, her son, my friend Ron, had been torched as a babe by his drug-addled mother. Another child, a daughter, was abandoned by her birth parents because she had an incurable disorder that took her life at 15.

And through it all, Sarah tried to make sense of the world and of what she had endured by giving freely of her love. So much had been taken, so very much denied, yet she found the capacity to make the world better, even if it was only within the confines of her small family and its duration admittedly ephemeral.

Everywhere I look in the world it is with hope. Having known and loved Sarah, what other option do I have?

Grim times when I graduated high school, too. . .

Let's see, when I graduated high school, in the early '70s, I'd dealt with the murders of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King; saw a localized war in Vietnam explode into a regional conflagration with tens of thousands of American soldiers dead and countless Vietnamese, maybe a million or more, slaughtered; witnessed fellow citizens shot down in the streets for daring to protest the increasingly reckless and illegal actions of an out-of-control President; huddled beneath school desks in mock anticipation of nuclear annihilation; witnessed a police riot in Chicago, and the disintegration of the social bonds in my hometown (Los Angeles), as well as countless other flashpoints for riots across the land -- Newark, Baltimore, Chicago, Louisville, and more; saw and participated in a raft of protests against the war, against social conditions, prison conditions, the grinding poverty that is life for too many millions in America; gasped in horror when Charles Whitman climbed the Texas U tower, reeled in shock when the Manson Family preyed together; sputtered in near impotent rage when the government refused to heed Rachel Carson's warning how we are poisoning ourselves and endured instead a corporate media blitz about the dangers of littering; debated the inanity of television and the dumbing of America; worried and complained that the media didn't cover the proper issues, that it too often gave only the government line and excluded alternative voices; worried about wars, and rumors of wars, and the relentless stockpiling of nuclear weaponry; sat in shocked disbelief as Munich unfolded; watched as a plethora of terrorist groups highjacked planes and used them as weapons against their "oppressors," flying them to Cuba & elsewheres, threatening to kill the passengers; wondered at the long-term effect of the OPEC embargo as the realization of oil's end became all too real . . . and these are just what I remember off the top, quickly typing in the busy hours of an April afternoon.

My schooling was bracketed by a death in Dallas and wanton killings in Kent. The dream -- the national fantasy inculcated into so many after the War -- died with JFK. But the hope . . . the hope spawned by Jefferson, reaffirmed by Lincoln, restored by Franklin Roosevelt . . . the hope remained, and beats as strong today as it did when I received my first diploma. From that hope we can generate anew the dreams that will carry us into the future, a future that grows increasingly bright if we but know how to focus on the light . . .
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