How Far Do We Let Law Enforcement Go in Stopping Criminals?

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The tragedy that occurred last week with the Dallas Police Department’s finest officers – seeing the death of five of their own and the injury to seven, not counting the civilians in the mix – being gunned down by a deranged former Army soldier has left the country stunned. This aftermath came after two shootings by police against black citizens in Louisiana and Minnesota, presumably without provocation or cause (investigation will reveal more…perhaps). As we try to figure out the problems with these prickly issues, there was another issue that raised its head during those frantic hours after gunshots rang through downtown Dallas.

The Dallas police did their job admirably, finally cornering the suspect in a parking garage in that downtown area. Concerned with the possibility that the shooter (and we won’t dignify him by using his name) could shoot and kill more cops and the threats from that shooter that he was ready to use bombs to take out as many people as possible, the Chief of Police for the Dallas PD, David Brown, made the difficult decision to use a remote controlled robot to deliver an explosive device of its own. The device, a Remotec Model F-5, carried a block of C4 weighing less than a pound to the shooter and killed him in the explosion.

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The Dallas PD issued a statement afterwards, stating that usage of the robot was “a last resort…to deliver an explosion device (sic) to save the lives of officers and citizens.” Chief Brown himself stated that “This wasn’t an ethical decision for me…I’d do it again,” commenting that the standoff with the shooter, the number of officers and civilians already injured and the potential for more casualties required the action. “I would use any tool necessary to save our officer’s lives. I’m not ashamed to say it,” Brown stated.

While the Chief of the Dallas PD made his decision and stands by it, the usage of remote controlled devices by law enforcement is something that has to be questioned. In examining the issue, however, we have to look at how dependent on mechanical, electronic and robotic devices we’ve become to do our “dirty work” for us.

There are the benign uses for robotics – the auto industry has been using them for car manufacturing for decades – and other arenas have also benefitted from their introduction. The medical field, agriculture, the airline industry – all have been able to improve their respective industries for the good of mankind. There are two areas, however – military and law enforcement – where the usage of robotics and the ethics behind such actions can be considered questionable.

The drone program that was started by the Bush Administration in the Middle East, and further expanded by the Obama Administration not only in that area of the world but also into Africa, has always been fraught with ethical questions. The ability of an unmanned object flying into an area and delivering death while its pilot sits comfortably hundreds (or even thousands) of miles away in a control room is something that is unfathomable to many in the world. Thus, trying to decide whether or not it is an ethical action or not is tough in the military world.

If the ethical decision is tough in the military world, then it is even more difficult in the civilian and law enforcement communities. People like to believe that they are safe and have entrusted the police to ensuring that safety. Over the years, however, we’ve seen that militaristic attitude creep over into the law enforcement community. Normally outgunned, the police departments of many cities and towns have been outfitted with the latest in riot gear, armored vehicles and tactical weapons to be able to “combat terrorism” (a 1997 law called the “1033 Program” ramped up in 2011, providing some of the tools we see used today). Military robots are also a part of that program and quite possibly provided the robot used to end the Dallas standoff Friday morning came from that 1033 Program.

But is it ethical to use a military device to kill a civilian? What are the processes that should be considered? Should a judge be involved in the decision? Or is it on one person or a small group of people to make that “judge, jury and executioner” decision rather than the legal process?

In the movie Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, this ethical dilemma is considered and an answer provided. (SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen a film that was released more than 35 years ago!) With the damaged starship Enterprise needing to get away from the detonation of the Genesis Project or be destroyed itself, Mr. Spock enters the engine room to restore the warp drive to the ship. Spock is successful in fixing the warp drive and the Enterprise escapes, but Spock is mortally wounded by radiation poisoning. With his dying breath, Spock states to Admiral James Kirk, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” as he offers his final Vulcan salute and passes away.

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In the Dallas situation, Chief Brown was faced with this dilemma. Did he allow a situation to carry on for perhaps several more hours, with the potential for more people to be killed or injured by a maniac who gave every impression he was ready to die in the battle, or did he end the situation with a device that, while depriving the shooter of his due rights to the legal process should he be killed, could save innocent lives? The Chief did what he had to do and, in my opinion, did the right thing in this instance.

The problem is how do we move forward with similar actions. Would people have been as happy about the usage of a military robot or drone if it has been used on the Bundy occupation in Oregon earlier this year? What if it had killed several of the protesters on the grounds of that wildlife reserve? There are rules that need to be set for the usage of such robotics by law enforcement, just as there are rules for engagement for pretty much everything else that they do in the execution of their jobs.

First, it should be a “last resort” situation that a robot or drone is considered for usage by law enforcement. This may take several hours or even days to determine, but every other option should be exhausted before going to this length. Second, a judge should sign off on the decision by the appropriate personnel (the Chief of Police is a good one to make that call), giving it the blessing of the judicial system. Finally (and if possible), there should be some sort of warning given to the perpetrator that such actions are being readied and there is a final chance to surrender. After taking these steps, I don’t have a problem with law enforcement using a military drone or robot on a suspect.

What we can’t have is law enforcement going to these lengths on a regular basis to solve standoffs. Part of the reason we are having the debates about police actions that are heavily militarized and civilian reactions that view it as “oppressive” are due to that very militarization that are mentioned. The actions of Dallas’ Chief Brown, while ethically a challenge, were spot on in this case. In another one, they may very well be an overreach, unless the protections sought above are utilized. It is something to consider before the next situation arises and we’ve not figured out a protocol.

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What Rights Do You Have in The Military?

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One of the most overlooked professions in this country is that of being a member of the Armed Forces. Whether you’re Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or a Reservist (yes, the way they are used today, they deserve to be noted also), the work that these men and women do goes literally above and beyond the call of duty. Not only do they perform these jobs – often without much recognition – but they will also give up a tremendous amount to be able to wear the uniform of a United States military member.

A couple of stories recently in the news encapsulates these points very well. While it is not officially recognized as a part of the military, The Citadel has the highest percentage of any U. S. college student body that has gone on to serve in the military; to be exact, all but 46 of their living graduates have been or are members of the Armed Forces (perhaps because every student is a member of ROTC, which eases the transition into the military’s officer programs). Thus, their rules are pretty much in line with that of the Armed Forces itself in the conduct and dress of cadets.

According to recent reports, a prospective student recently accepted to The Citadel has challenged the college, requesting to wear a hijab – the traditional headscarf that Muslim women are required to wear – and to have thorough coverage of her arms and legs per the religious dictates of Islam. The Citadel, however, denied that request, citing that the dress code that is dictated to the cadets emphasize the uniformity of a military organization. “The Citadel has relied upon a highly effective educational model requiring all cadets to adopt a common uniform. Uniformity is the cornerstone of this four-year leader development model,” the Commandant of The Citadel, Lt. General John W. Rosa, said in a statement that was released by USA Today. “This process reflects an initial relinquishing of self during which cadets learn the value of teamwork to function as a single unit.”

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Now it has to be noted that The Citadel does have three Muslim members in attendance at the university, so it isn’t like they haven’t dealt with this situation previously. In addition, The Citadel – as do all of the military academic academies – do make accommodations for particular religious diets and services. As of now, the student has decided not to enroll at The Citadel, but her family is considering legal action against the public institution.

On another military-related front, a group of black female cadets from West Point, the Army’s academy, will not be reprimanded for posing for a photograph on the West Point grounds. While wearing their cadet dress uniforms, the women posed on the stairs of their barracks with their fists in the air – the “Black Power” salute – which drew the outrage of some when it somehow found its way into the media. After an investigation, the U. S. Department of Defense decided that the cadets didn’t break any rules with their actions and, as such, no reprimands or punishments would be issued.

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For those that aren’t a part of the military (or have never been), there are several huge differences between military life and civilian life. To be honest, there are some that function better under the guidance of the military lifestyle than they would in the civilian world. But there is one thing that is undoubtedly true…when you’re in the military, you do not have the rights that you would have in the civilian world.

As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I saw on a regular basis how rights that you have come to expect – nay, are granted – in the civilian life DO NOT EXIST once you don the uniform to defend your country.

Freedom of speech? As a member of the military, you do not have the ability to discuss any situation, whether in support or opposition to the President of the United States or the government, otherwise you can face a court martial for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is something that was seen a few years ago in something that, personally for me, was quite annoying.

Over Facebook a few years ago, there was a rash of supposed “military members” (I say supposed because there were several of these photos that looked photoshopped) who would post pictures of themselves with quotations about their opposition to service in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or potentially being sent to another conflict in the Middle East. These quotations, normally written on a piece of paper, were then held strategically to block the “military member’s” face so that they would not face punishment for what they were doing (if you had any cojones, you’d stand behind your words, show your face and give your name). The movement died off fairly quickly, however, for reasons unknown.

Political freedom? While in uniform, a military member cannot support any political activity, much in line with being unable to have freedom of speech. In 2012, an Army Reservist was reprimanded by his superiors for speaking at a Ron Paul for President rally, then going on to do a live interview with CNN regarding his position on the wars in the Middle East.

When it comes to religious freedoms, the military begrudgingly breaks on that front. They will allow for special meals, even for Shabbos (the Jewish Sabbath, which usually entails that the practitioner abstain from working, electronic activities and other non-restful activities) or, in extreme cases, some clothing (The Citadel does note a cadet was allowed to wear long pants during physical training “about eight years ago” in a break with their normal attire). They also will provide adequately trained religious leaders – priests, rabbis, etc. – to conduct services for their servicemen and women.

Double jeopardy? In the civilian world, that exists. In the military, you can be punished on many occasions for the same offense. I saw many a fellow Marine who, after committing some offense out in the town, be subjected to the military’s form of justice under the UCMJ. Even if the civilian case was eventually dismissed for one reason or another, the military was never wrong and their punishment always stood.

Basically, if you enter the military, you are owned by the federal government. They have the right to tell you where to go, when to do it, how to do it and what will happen to you if you don’t do it that particular way. They also can tell you what to do in your daily life, whether you are on the base or living off base…their rules are final and unyielding.

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In the case of The Citadel, they did the right thing. While making accommodations for religious reasons isn’t out of the question, there is an importance to having all members conform to the same regulations and be judged by the same rules. If someone is allowed a different form of clothing – regardless if it for a religious reason or not – then they are not being held to the same standards as another cadet. As such, I believe The Citadel is right.

I do believe that the commanders at West Point got it wrong, though. Although one of the superintendents at the Army’s academy stated the cadets would “receive some instruction,” part of the reason they are at West Point is to learn how to conduct themselves as an officer in the United States Army. Doing things such as the “Black Power” salute – which is perfectly allowable if you’re a civilian – while wearing your cadet uniform IS a violation of the UCMJ. A reprimand was completely in line…expulsion, as some suggested? No, nowhere close to being an offense worthy of being tossed from school.

We hear a great deal of talk about freedoms in the United States and it is important to think about them carefully. Those that defend those freedoms – the men and women of the United States Armed Forces – don’t have the same voice that we civilians do. You learn to appreciate that when you’ve been in the military previously.

What if the Answer to Terrorism is That There Isn’t One?

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Much like the rest of the world, I’ve been riveted to the coverage and aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The news agencies, in their haste to “be first” with the story, refused to simply say that “the situation is flexible” and that they weren’t fully aware of the ramifications of the attacks at any point. As such, the world saw the death toll mount from a dozen…then 30…then 60…until, on Saturday, the most up to date death toll of 129 was released, along with 352 injured in one manner or another. (There are unconfirmed reports that it has risen to 132 people as of Monday morning.)

The tragedy of such a violent attack on one of the world’s most beautiful cities is at once angering and saddening. That a multicultural center of the world such as Paris could be the focal point of such a racist and theistic attack – if we are to believe that it is the work of ISIS, as reports throughout the weekend suggest – leaves a person to wonder just what may come next. With 9/11, we kind of knew that the perpetrator of that attack, the Osama bin Laden-led Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, had shot everything the organization had into that travesty; with this attack in Paris, however, it was a meticulously run military-style operation that was well-planned and could be transplanted to any major city on the planet. Moscow? London? Tokyo? Rio de Janeiro? Mexico City? Los Angeles? New York again? It would not take much to have a similar style Paris-type attack occur at these or any one of hundreds of major locales in the world.

As the weekend continued, the dichotomy between the thoughts of people was vastly different. My Facebook and Twitter accounts hummed with the drumbeats of war, with the sentiment of “bomb them back to the Stone Age,” while a smaller faction of voices advocated for a peaceful remedy to the situation. This same point/counterpoint was seen on Sunday morning when some of the opinion show’s hosts (such as Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN) suggested not taking any action against ISIS (with the opinion being that, by the world not showing any aftereffect from the terrorist attack, it would force the group from their terroristic actions) while their guests, mostly members of the United States government and former military commanders, sounded the clarion call for the troops to come to the battlefield for another Middle East conflict.

Being the Marine at heart that I once was on active duty, you never want to see war. I don’t know of any military person – from the seaman on a nuclear sub in the Navy to a grunt in the Army trenches to a flyboy in the Air Force dropping his bombs from afar – who actually cheers when his brethren are sent off to a conflict. The U.S. military, if we are to be honest, has been wrongly used arguably since the end of World War II, put in situations where it is supposed to fight but not win and defend without going on offense.

The unfortunate thing is war is probably where we are headed again. France has “declared war” (according to its leaders) against ISIS and enacted bombing runs (approximately 20 over the past few days) against ISIS strongholds in the Middle East. Beyond that, the U. S. and Russia continue to battle “terrorist elements” (the problem being is that the U. S. and Russia don’t exactly view the same people as terrorists) that may include ISIS in Syria and the Iraq government, known for its ability to tuck tail and run in the face of the black flag of ISIS, continues to “fight” the group inside its borders.

Diplomacy is always the correct route to take first but, in the situation with ISIS, what do you diplomatically do? It isn’t as if there is a way to put sanctions on the money that ISIS has and, if there is, no one has done it as of yet. You cannot restrict the travel of the group’s “leaders” (because that is a constantly changing cast of characters) or appeal to a segment of the ISIS community that they should “rise up” and overthrow those in control of the organization. Hell, there isn’t even representation in the United Nations nor an elected figure whom you could have logical negotiations with.

By all estimations, ISIS is one of the biggest terrorist groups in the world but probably one of the smallest military groups. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates the size of ISIS inside Syria and Iraq to be somewhere between 20,000-31,000 people, with other organizations stating it is more along the lines of 100K-200K. Outside of Syria and Iraq, in such areas as Africa and Asia, the count is between 32,600-57,900 jihadists that are considered the “Military of ISIS.” If those numbers were totaled up, ISIS followers and military totals somewhere between 52,600 and 257,900, depending on who you believe. That is slightly more (if we take the high end) than what the country of Saudi Arabia has (249,000) but less than that of Japan (317,913).

Spread out as the organization is, one nation cannot take on the entire responsibility of battling ISIS. It has to be a worldwide coalition of countries using every bit of their resources, including putting men and women at risk of losing their lives or being maimed, on the battlefield (remember, I personally dislike the term “boots on the ground” because it removes the human factor that people might actually die from your actions), through the skies and by locking down the borders where ISIS is supposedly in power. It would take Europe, Russia, the U. S. and the Middle East – countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, who haven’t exactly been stepping up to the plate in this fight – putting aside their personal distrusts if (and that is a mighty big IF) they are to destroy the group.

But here’s a thought… what if the answer, the response to “terrorism,” was to do nothing at all?

By its inherent definition, “terrorism” is the usage of “terror” or frightening people to achieve a political goal. Whether the terrorism is an attack on a military ship (the USS Stark in 1987 and the USS Cole in 2000), on an iconic building, monument or area (9/11, the Paris attacks) or on people who supposedly follow the same faith (ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Beirut on November 12 that killed 43 people, mostly Muslims; it was overshadowed by the Paris attack the next day), the goal is to force changes in lifestyle, actions or political philosophies. There are some differences with ISIS, though, that make it a bit different.

In the past, terrorist organizations would make political or financial demands, such as when the Irish Republican Army or Red Army Faction in Germany would request the release of key leaders of their organizations during the 1970s or a ransom for hostages they held. While ISIS does this too (especially if it is a Western hostage), they are more interested in building a nation of their own, taken from other Muslim countries in the Middle East. Would their power – and their uncanny ability to draw in followers from around the world – be dismantled by simply ignoring their actions?

Israel is an example of what might be done regarding terrorism. While they are one of the most aggressive countries when it comes to protecting their own people (as any nation should be), they don’t dwell on the subject when an attack occurs. The knifing attacks over the past few months, while they did draw attention, quickly went away as Israelis cleaned up from the attacks and continued about their lives as if nothing happened. They have gotten used to the air-raid sirens that will pierce the night or shatter a day’s tranquility. They choose not to let terrorism dictate what they will do with their lives.

I know many would say, “Well, I don’t want to live like that.” Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice anymore. This isn’t the 1970s, where it took days to traverse between continents. Today, a person in Nebraska can be in Baghdad within 24 hours if they so desire. That same holds true for potential terrorists, provided they can penetrate the extreme amount of security that is in place around the world.

Second, there is a fallacy that we can be “perfectly safe.” No matter what restrictions are put on, no matter how many security devices are used, there is nothing that can be made “perfectly safe.” All you can do is make it as safe as humanly possible and, if there is a failure, you reinforce the safeguards and continue on with life’s activities.

Finally, let’s look at the actual opponent. Despite the boogeyman persona that has been laid upon ISIS, nearly the entire world will never cross paths with a member of the group. To battle ISIS, we have to ignore what they do while simultaneously thwart their attempts through diligent security measures that will on occasion fail. By giving them the credence that they are at the proverbial “barbarians at the gates” puts unnecessary fear into the weak and wastes the efforts for those that are vigilant.

Terrorism isn’t a “war” that can be won. In war, you battle over territory until one or the other side is defeated. With terrorism, there is a nine-headed Hydra that can never be extinguished. The best that can be hoped with terrorism is that it is castrated to the point where its actions are miniscule and its impact on people nearly non-existent. If we are able to reach that point with ISIS, then the battle will have been won.

As Syria Burns, the World Simply Watches

The Middle East is a powder keg of differing religions, different religious factions and different viewpoints on pretty much everything, including whether the sky is blue or not. Many in the United States and Europe, far removed from the turbulent area, think that it is the issues between the Muslims and the nation of Israel that are the major problems. Far from it…the major problems are between the Muslims themselves.

Much like Christianity in Europe and the U. S., there are different factions when you discuss the Muslim faith. In Christianity, you can be Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist or Protestant…the list is quite lengthy. Each of the sects has their own particular take on the subject of God, Jesus, the Bible and how to worship as a whole. The same can be said for Muslims as well; there are the Sunnis, the Shias, the Kharijte and the Kurds, and each of those sects have their own subdivisions to make it even more confusing. And, much like Christianity in the Middle Ages (and some would argue even today), the Muslim sects fight with each other, albeit between the Muslims it is a legitimate life or death fight, not one of simply words.

The civil war in Syria is a synopsis of the problems in the Middle East. Three different sects, the Sunnis (the Islamic State – call them ISIL, ISIS or IS), the Kurds and the Shias (some from Iran), battling for control of one of the richest supplies of oil in the world, destroying their own lands and people over the past 4½ years to the point that refugees are fleeing from the country while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad plays the role of Nero. The warfare in Syria is of the utmost cruelty:  gas bombs, poison and nerve gases, phosphorous weaponry and a variety of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These weapons are used most frequently, but the armies of all the combatants can simply walk into a village and execute its male population. As Syria continues to burn, the world has simply watched and, with the refugee situation, it cannot watch much longer.

Since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations estimates that 366,000 refugees have left Syria and Iraq, heading for Europe for a new beginning. There are plenty of problems with this situation. The situation is in the Middle East, but few nations in that area are stepping up to take on some responsibility to help a neighboring country. Nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey or even Iran have not even stepped forward to welcome refugees into their countries, content to sit back and watch even further while al-Assad continues to murder his own people and IS continues to destroy the remainder of the country. This refusal to assist in lessening the tragedy leads to desperate people making desperate moves.

Without the ability to remain even close to their own region, many refugees are heading for Europe by any means necessary. Europe – and in particular Germany – have welcoming regulations when it comes to those who are politically oppressed or are leaving war-torn areas, but the issue is getting to Germany or one of these other nations. Over the weekend, the nation of Hungary, which has accepted roughly 130,000 asylum requests (of which roughly 38,000 were Syrian, according to the Wall Street Journal) was the roadblock, holding up thousands of refugees to the point where many Syrians started walking rather than waiting for transportation. The reason for Hungary’s decision to block the refugees? Fears of the refugees being sent back to Hungary once they reach another European Union country and they are not allowed entry (under the rules of the European Union, a member nation can send a refugee back to the last EU nation they went through if they are not allowed asylum).

The problem that Europe is facing regarding the influx of Syrians is twofold. First, the sheer number of incoming refugees means that several nations are going to have to step up and take on an appropriate number of the refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Germany can handle a certain number of refugees but that, in the future, other countries would have to be willing to allow the refugees into their countries without issue. France is refusing to allow refugees inside its borders, fortifying their defenses with more troops and catching refuges as they try to cross and sending them back to Italy, while Greece (having its own issues since its near default on its financial debt earlier this year with the European Union) hasn’t stepped forward either.

The second issue is a matter of security in the countries where Syrians are headed. Analysts with the Central Intelligence Agency have stated that the potential for terrorists to embed themselves with the true Syrian refugees is quite realistic, even to the point that it is “conceivable” that a terrorist attack could occur in Europe within the next few months from someone that is a part of the Syrian refugee situation. While we would like to think that this isn’t possible, it is a potential reason why the United States hasn’t stepped up further itself other than humanitarian aid in the region and one that has to be in the minds of security officials in the European Union also.

The main thing that many are overlooking is that more could have been done from the start of the conflict. Instead of looking for resolutions, many saw an opportunity to remove a powerful dictator from power (al-Assad is the only leader who survived the “Arab Spring” protests of 2011, watching as Libya, Egypt and other countries saw their leaders toppled). When that dictator stepped over the line in using poison gas on his own people, world governments failed to keep the dictator in check and do anything about it (potentially President Barack Obama’s biggest mistake in his term in the White House) or allowed it to continue through denying it even existed (Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China catch the blame here). Now we have a situation in Syria that is volatile at the least and a threat to the world’s security at its extreme.

The images on our television screens may seem far away as those Syrians who are looking for a new home, a new opportunity or even a new life traipse across a continent far from their homes, but something should be felt and done for the people who haven’t asked for anything like this to happen to them. The deaths of men, women and children while trying to flee the ravages of war shouldn’t be happening, nor should the villainous charlatans who fleece these people and then leave them to sickness or death in a truck or a cargo hold of a ship (those bastards just need to be executed). We also need to see what we can do as people, even for those who may not think like us religiously or philosophically…the first step to bringing the world together would be to get beyond simple divisions such as skin color or religion and look at each other as we truly are, flesh and blood humans looking for the best for our family’s futures or for the best out of life.

How the Democrats Can Become Relevant Again

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the Republican Party could become relevant again with a few tweaks to their mentality. At that time, I made the statement that the same could be said for the Democratic Party. “But why,” you might ask, “the Democrats have had the White House for the past eight years, they’re controlling everything.” In reality, the Democrats are in control of nothing and need to retool their inner workings if they are to be relevant in the coming years.

As I did with the GOP, I actually sat down and looked at those candidates that are vying for the 2016 Democratic nomination for President. It’s a pretty sorry lot if you look at the choices:  the frontrunner in this year’s race was SUPPOSED to win in 2008, but she (yes, that’s right, a female “Leader of the Pack”) failed to engage on a “personal level” with voters who looked past her towards a young, dashing black man and chose him…oh, by the way, she also has more baggage in her campaign bus than the Allure of the Seas has when it sets sail; the second place choice for the Democrats is a self-admitted “democratic socialist” (which sounds about as possible to me as a person who is “socially liberal, fiscally conservative”) who is saying all the right things regarding changing things in the United States but provides hardly any insight as to what those changes would be if he were elected President; the third place contestant comes off his past two jobs in Maryland and Baltimore, where there has recently been more than enough turmoil in the streets between the citizenry and those in law enforcement potentially caused by his policies, and a few more never-weres who aren’t even registering on the radar. Hell, even the sitting Vice President of the United States, someone who should have the inside track to the nomination after a two-term President leaves office, is reluctant to join this field.

Democrats don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to recent times in the office of the Presidency. While many like to bash Jimmy Carter as “the worst President of all-time,” he actually did something that no other President has done:  kept us out of a war. That one plus (OK, let’s give him two…an attempt to bring peace to the Middle East with an agreement between Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat), however, was heavily pounded by an economy that tanked in the late 1970s, skyrocketing gas prices, the taking of the U. S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students hell-bent on a religious takeover of the country and a general “malaise” (Carter’s words, which he bore as an albatross for his entire presidency) that fell over the United States.

Carter was such a disappointment as the President of the United States that the GOP took over for three consecutive terms in the office, something that hadn’t happened (one party controlling the White House) since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President during World War II (add in Harry Truman and the Democrats controlled the White House for 20 years during that time). It would take a transformative figure to break the Republican logjam and, when he did break through, it set the spike in the center of the two parties and, to a further extent, the nation as a whole.

Bill Clinton was young, he was telegenic, he did things with his campaign that no other politician had done before (going on a late-night talk show and playing “Heartbreak Hotel” on the saxophone while wearing shades? Groundbreaking, some would say…an embarrassment, others would claim). These attributes – along with his experience as Governor of Arkansas – ushered Clinton into the White House beside Hillary Clinton (who is the Democratic frontrunner in 2016, the Democratic answer to Jeb Bush on the Republican side), who was to have a sizeable impact on the policies of the Clinton Administration.

Clinton would go on to win two terms because, at least in the first term, he got things done. The economy, aided by the surge in computer technology in Silicon Valley, boomed throughout the 1990s as it seemed everyone had all the things desired by the people. There were some on the Republican side – a rising breed called “neocons” – who didn’t see Clinton’s success as a good thing and set about destroying it in its tracks before another Democratic run could get started.

The last four years of the Clinton Presidency was dogged by accusations against not only the President but also the First Lady (give the GOP credit there, they knew that Hillary had her eyes on the White House as the leader of the Free World even back then). An illicit relationship between Clinton and one of his interns led to only the second impeachment of a President in U. S. history, one that was easily squelched but has since damaged the relationship between the two parties. The spike set back in 1996 was firmly driven in and, add in the Gore/Bush election of 2000 and the animosity raised by that, one would wonder how we get anything done anymore (and many would say we don’t).

There are several ways that the Democrats can woo back independents and maybe even some Reagan Republicans to ensure that the party stays viable. All they have to do is change some of their tenets and a more centrist party will be the result.

First off, Democrats, government and spending isn’t the answer to everything that goes on in Washington, D. C. An article in the Washington Post points out the difficulties in one of the pet projects for the Democrats, subsidized housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development points out that 2.6% of those in housing subsidized by the U. S. taxpayer have exceeded the income limits to be eligible for such housing but haven’t moved out. In one case, a New York family of four makes nearly $500,000 but pays slightly more than $1500 for the three bedroom apartment subsidized by the government. Worse yet, a single person with assets of $1.6 million was still in a $300 one bedroom apartment in Oxford, NE, paid for with help from the government.

Now, 2.6% isn’t much when compared to the 1.1 million families that are in this situation, but the inaction by the government is problematic. Instead of having a plan in place to move people from these situations – like other social programs, meant to be temporary not permanent – the government says they won’t do anything because a policy isn’t in place.

It is time that the Democrats actually look at things on an individual basis – education, drug policy, law enforcement, and the military (at the minimum) – and determine why the money being spent isn’t doing more for the cause. In the case of education, it is obvious that spending more on the situation isn’t helping, so why aren’t we looking at successful nations (such as Japan) and implementing some of their programs. Every student isn’t a “priceless jewel” in the making; sometimes a student just isn’t cut out for accelerated learning programs and a college education. Sometimes that same student will achieve far more by going into other fields than picking up a piece of paper that says they are great at philosophy.

Tightening up the spending in many areas – rather than pitching cash on things that require no changes – is a great first step, Democrats.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump gets a lot of grief over this, but the Democrats are more than likely the ones to be bitching about every little breach of “political correctness” that occurs. While sometimes necessary, there are times when Democrats will whine about a term used in a joke, which should be a bastion of verbal discussion that is far removed from political correctness. Comedian/political commentator Bill Maher spoke about this last year when, after comparing the situation then to the 1990s, said the following:

“In 2014, political correctness is making a comeback, and now with the Internet, it’s easier than ever.  In the 90s, you had to at least get off your ass to be in a fake group with hurt feelings. You needed signs, you needed petitions. You had to feed Al Sharpton. Back then, getting worked up over nothing was a lot of work.”

“But now, it seems like all the Internet exists to do is point at the latest person who said the wrong thing, so the rest of us can feel morally superior.  And that’s not what the Internet is for.  That’s what college is for. Now social media is all about ‘gotcha.’  A homophobic businessman, or a sexist cartoonist, or a college president who fat-shamed his dog by naming it Waddles…You can’t purge everybody who doesn’t evolve exactly on the timetable you did.

Things haven’t changed much over the last year. What Maher and many are saying is that the Democrats should grow a pair and quit worrying about every perceived slight that seemingly happens.

Finally, the Democrats cannot be complacent in the belief that the ‘melting pot’ that is the United States will continually be counted on to support their causes. In the Hispanic community, it is estimated that 55% are Catholic; as such, some of the Democratic policies in place may not be in line with some Latinos’ mindset. Hard work is rewarded in the Hispanic, Asian and Indian cultures rather than accepting a great deal of assistance from the government and these blocs are growing vastly in the U. S., perhaps viewing the Republican side as a more viable one.

If the Democrats do these things, then they will be set for the next 50 years, at the minimum, with a viable hand in the political landscape. If they continue to neglect things, especially spending (yes, it is time to cut some of the social programs that are available, along with Social Security and the military), then it will be difficult for the U. S. electorate to hand them the checkbook for the country. Without that change alone, Democrats may win elections from simple numbers but won’t be in position to enact any budgetary guidelines because they can’t handle how to spend the money.