"Treason never prospers; for when it does, none dare call it treason."
-- Thomas Carlisle
You see, it is entirely possible that the various probes may turn up enough evidence for a grand jury to charge the 45th President of the United States with high treason; providing aid and comfort to an avowed enemy of the United States; that in addition to being President, Mr. Trump was moonlighting as Agent 13 of the Russian Secret Service. (That would account for that know-it-all smirk on Vladimir Putin's face!)
Or, Trump's future actions may result in a charge of treason.
If Trump were to be convicted of High Treason, what happens next?
Well now, neighbors, we would have to refer to the U.S Constitution, that document always referenced as the "Holiest of Holies and Last Word On Everything" by our conservative brethren. The DESERET NEWS of Salt Lake City believes the Constitution to be "Divinely Inspired" and so states on its masthead. (Apparently God gave up booze with the 18th amendment and then fell off the wagon with the passage of the 21st.)
Now the Constitution is a quirky document (Electoral College and that other stuff); that's why we have a Supreme Court to tell us what it really means. (The British get around this problem by simply not having a written Constitution, sort of winging it for a thousand years.)
So what does the Constitution say about treason?
Treason is the only crime specifically mentioned in the Constitution, which states that "TREASON AGAINST THE UNITED STATES SHALL CONSIST ONLY IN LEVYING WAR AGAINST THEM OR ADHERING TO THEIR ENEMIES, (That could be Vladimir) GIVING THEM (the enemy) AID AND COMFORT. NO PERSON SHALL BE CONVICTED OF TREASON UNLESS ON THE TESTIMONY OF TWO WITNESSES TO THE SAME OVERT ACT OR ON CONFESSION IN OPEN COURT."
Notice the word "ONLY." It is very important as it limits the scope of treason. It keeps people's personal prejudices out of the definition. As an 18th century gentleman, you might not like Catholics, Jews or Baptists, but you will not have the right to charge them with treason because they exist.
Now the Constitution did not provide a punishment for Treason, so the following Congress clarified things with a federal law stating "WHO EVER OWING ALLEGIANCE TO THE UNITED STATES, LEVIES WAR AGAINST THEM OR ADHERES TO THEIR ENEMIES WITHIN THE UNITED STATES OR ELSEWHERE, IS GUILTY OF TREASON AND SHALL SUFFER DEATH…"
Well now, boys and girls! "SUFFER DEATH"! That ought to clarify things for everyone from Senator McConnell to Vice President Pence, and, of course, Donald Trump.
Not so fast, neighbors! There is another clause in that law (There always is; it keeps the Supreme Court employed and off welfare.)
The very next clause after "Suffer death" reads "OR SHALL BE IMPRISONED NOT LESS THAN FIVE YEARS AND FINED UNDER THIS TITLE NOT LESS THAN 10,000 DOLLARS.
Interesting: A choice between death and a jail term and small fine!
Donald Trump could live with that.
The five years could be plea-bargained down to house arrest at Mar-El-Lago and/or the golf course of his choice with the fine deducted as a business expense.
Like we say, Trump could live with that.
Now treason was always the most important crime after we humans "ascended" from hunter-gatherer tribal democracy; the resulting governments: dictatorial, democratic, or royal, all wanted to keep on governing without interruption from uncouth revolutionaries or the bad guys on the other side of the mountain.
People took treason seriously as, in addition to the actual crime, it involved a betrayal of trust with psychological consequences (If we can't trust Good Ol' Ben Arnold, who can we trust?)
Who was the first American traitor and what was the act of treason?
That would be the unfortunate Sergeant Thomas Hickey, one of Washington's Lifeguards.
The "Lifeguards" were an elite unit of the Continental Army, around 150-180 men, charged with the preservation of George Washington himself.
Almost from the beginning of the American Revolution, it was agreed that Washington was indispensible; the interesting thing was that the British also agreed, and made every attempt to kill or capture him. Legend is replete with stories of a flock of chickens falling dead after a meal of arsenic laced peas intended for Washington. Another legend involved squeezing the juice of a dozen tomatoes into salad prepared for the General: Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous as they were members of the deadly nightshade family of plants. A British sharpshooter, Colonel Patrick Ferguson, of rifle fame, was purposefully left behind to snipe General Washington. Alas! He could not bring himself to shoot a gentleman in the back.
So you can see that the Lifeguards had their work cut out for them. It would be most unfortunate if one or more of them were traitors (As Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India found out in 1984.)
Now loyalties were a bit fluid when George Washington took over the Continental Army in 1776 at New York City. There were a lot of rebels, but there were also a lot of loyalists and both had a habit of changing sides.
Thomas Hickey had that habit. Born and raised in Ireland, he joined the British army and was posted to North America. He found the King's Cause objectionable and deserted to the Americans. As desertion was punishable by death, the Americans considered this a guarantee of loyalty, and, as a well trained soldier, above average in height, Hickey was a good candidate for Washington's Lifeguards.
Hickey fulfilled his promise and rose to sergeant in the Lifeguards, impressing Washington himself with devotion to duty.
However, after a few drinks at a grogshop, Hickey met a girl. One thing led to another, and they became intimate friends. (It is not known if the British planted the girl or simply took advantage of the situation.) At any rate, the girl had ambitions, which involved more money than Hickey was making as a sergeant in the Lifeguards.
After listening attentively to (and probably stoking) Hickey's gripes about life as a non com in a poorly paid and (probably) soon to be defeated revolutionary army, the young lady proposed that Sergeant Hickey have a talk with some friends of hers.
One of these "friends" was the royal governor of New York, William Tryon, who had escaped to a British warship anchored in New York harbor. The enterprising governor Tryon lost no time in setting up an underground of loyalist spies and traitors to assist the coming British invasion of New York by Lord Howe.
Governor Tryon's plan was a clever one. He would simply purchase a significant part of the American army. Each traitor was to be given 5 gold guineas, plus 200 acres of land, another 100 acres for his wife, and 50 acres per child. Not a bad deal.
The ingenious part was that the traitors would not defect immediately, but would remain "loyal" until the day the British invasion force landed. Then they would act as terrorists, shooting their former comrades in the back, blowing up the Continental Army's powder magazines, burning key bridges, and most importantly, capture or kill General George Washington and his second in command, General Israel Putnam, and any other General officers they could find.
As Life Guards, Sergeant Hickey and five other were well placed to take out Washington. With the Commander in Chief gone, the American Revolution would collapse on the spot.
The plot very likely would have succeeded, if Sergeant Hickey had not been tossed in the brig for a relatively minor crime. While there, he boasted to his cellmate about his pivotal role in near future events and how he was going to change history.
The cellmate was a crook, but he was not a traitor. He informed his jailors who contacted the 18th century version of counter intelligence led by the astute John Jay, who broke the plot.
Hickey was arrested, tried by court martial, convicted and sentenced to death
Now Washington had a great sense of the dramatic. He was in charge of a newly formed untested army that was just this side of being an armed rabble. He was going to have to show firmness of purpose. Above all, he had to establish a charismatic legend of himself as being a leader of flinty resolve. News of that flinty resolve had to be spread far and wide. Also, no one knew for sure exactly how many traitors were still out there. They had to be informed that treason was not a good idea.
To accomplish this, Washington staged the largest public execution in American history, with approximately 20,000 people in attendance mostly soldiers of the Continental Army and citizens of New York City. It is an attendance record for an American execution that is unlikely to be broken.
The guest of honor, Sergeant Hickey, understandably didn't see it that way and burst into tears. He later composed himself and conducted himself with dignity on the gallows.
Washington used the occasion to make a moral commentary on High treason and fornication.
Referring to himself in the third person, Washington said:
"The unhappy fate of Thomas Hickey executed this day for mutiny, sedition, and treachery, the General hopes will be a warning to every soldier in the army to avoid these crimes and all other, so disgraceful to the character of a soldier and pernicious to his country whose pay he receives and bread he eats, and to avoid these crimes, the most certain method is to keep out of the temptation of them and particularly to avoid lewd women who by the dying confession of this poor criminal first led him into practices which ended in an untimely and ignominious death."
Now did Hickey's hanging stop treason as Washington so fondly hoped?
Nope! Treason continues to be with us down through Benedict Arnold to this very day.
So who is our latest traitor? (That we know about.)
That would be Sergeant Monica Witt, late of the US Air force. She worked in counter intelligence in the Middle East, learned very good Farsi, the language of Iran and immersed herself in the culture of that country, so much so that she decided she was on the wrong side and defected to Iran in 2013, publicly converting to Islam. She provided the Iranians with information on our espionage efforts within that country and the names of our Iranian agents and helped interrogate captured American sailors.
She currently resides in Iran, beyond reach of the FBI. (Time marches on, neighbors; there have been several traitors since Monica.)
Which reminds one: Should the FBI and the Justice Department consider President Trump a flight risk? He does, after all, own his own long-range aircraft, a Boeing 757; piloted by his own employees. The plane is large enough to handle most of Trump gang (Er, Cabinet). The plane is capable of non-stop flight to Saint Petersburg and a reunion of old buddies. Perhaps it would be best to collect the passports of all concerned, just in case.
Now suppose that the somewhat far fetched suspicions of former FBI Director McCabe, that Trump might be a "Russian Asset" prove to be true. In addition to possible charges of High Treason, there could the demise of our own agents as a result of Trump's conversations with Russians. This might be possible if it can be proven that persons perished as a result of the President's chumminess with Vladimir Putin or the North Korean dictator.
Then there are the chilling musings of one Michael Cohen.
Mr. Cohen was Mr. Trump's consigliore or fixer for around ten years. During that time he was able to develop a shrewd appraisal of his patron's strengths and (many) flaws.
One flaw is his almost pathological fear of failure. Trump cannot bear the thought of losing.
At the end of his testimony before a House Committee, Mr. Cohen suggested that it would be highly unlikely that President Trump would abide by the Constitution and step down if the 2020 election did not go his way. He would claim voter fraud and insist that he had won.
"So what", you say, "The Secret Service works for us, not Donald Trump. After the ceremonial ride to the White House, the next President gets out and waves goodbye to Donald Trump."
May not work that way, neighbors.
In one of his more terrifying tweets, the President backed up Michael Cohen's fears by claiming that he had the supports of biker gangs, the police, and the military who would keep him in power regardless of the apparent outcome of the 2020 election.
Then there is always the National Rifle Association; a ready-made militia for the President. Now not all NRA members support Donald Trump, but the majority do.
While the NRA tends to exaggerate its membership, they probably do outnumber the Army and Marine Corps They and other right wing militias could do considerable mischief in the national parks and national forests before being corralled by the US military. (Contrary to left wing opinion, the Military holds no brief for a corrupt, lying, draft dodging coward who happens to infest the First Office. They can be counted upon to support the Constitution.)
If Trump is foolish enough to encourage and support such militias (Biker gangs??) and there are the inevitable fatalities, Trump would very likely to tried for the treasonous act of trying to install himself as dictator. If convicted, an angry public might demand punishment more severe than "five years and a $10,000 fine."
Which brings us to the question of what to do with Trump if convicted of treason; shoot him or hang him?
Neither. Execution for treason would make him a martyr to the myrmidons who still support this unbelievable creature.
We recommend permanent exile to whichever dictatorship is willing to take him on as an honored guest: North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. However, he will continue tweeting, but few will listen. Exile from the United States would be the most powerful punishment for him, along with being powerless.
THE PURPLE TORPEDO AND THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD
Maritime museums are hard to resist; at least for me.
They combine the technologies of the various periods of maritime history with the salty tang of deep-sea adventure.
The National Park Service has two of them, Salem Maritime National Historic Site on the East Coast and San Francisco Maritime on the left Coast.
New York City, as might be expected, has the largest maritime museum, the South Street Maritime Museum, with vintage ships ranging from the historic Ambrose Light (a floating lighthouse) to the aircraft carrier Intrepid. Boston has the USS Constitution "Old Ironsides". Houston has the battleship USS Texas, Pearl Harbor has the battleship USS Missouri, and there are many more.
San Diego also has an excellent Maritime museum, one that we had to see. It had the usual "tall ship", a four masted windjammer, the "Star of India" which used to haul emigrants from England to New Zealand in a mind-numbing voyage of five months.
Also in the sailing department, the museum has a replica of an 18th century British frigate, HMS Surprise, used in the filming of "Master and Commander."
Next to the "Surprise" another warship was docked; a submarine flying the red banner of the former Soviet Union; the yellow hammer and sickle on an orange red field, familiar to those of a certain age.
I was intrigued. It was what NATO referred to as a "Foxtrot" class of submarine, the "workhorse " of the Soviet navy. (Naturally, the Russians called their boat "Cobra.")
I walked alongside the sleek black hull of the Bolshevik boat to the entry gangplank. There were two exhibits; the first was designed to weed out claustrophobes. It was a 28-inch in diameter steel ring. Visitors to the sub would have to crawl through five of these rings to enter the various compartments.
The second exhibit was a thought-provoking poster. It was a portrait of handsome, square jawed gentlemen wearing what I presumed to the dress uniform of a Soviet naval officer.
"DID THIS MAN SAVE THE WORLD?" Asked the poster.
Now that is an attention grabber!
To find the answer, I would have to board the Soviet sub.
Now there is no such thing as a roomy submarine. They are chock full of essential machinery and crew space is a grudging afterthought. It is no career for a claustrophobe. Here you are, surrounded by pipes, gauges, valves and flashing lights, not to mention hundreds of tons of salt water pressing in on you from all directions.
Think about it. You have to admire the everyday courage of submariners even if you don't agree with their politics.
The interpretive panels agreed with this.
"It is a real tribute to the submarine forces of all sides in the Cold War that despite their dangerous proximity to each other for over 40 years, neither side actually fired a shot in anger. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ability and need for the Russian Federation to field the world's largest fleet of submarines vanished."
Thus the Foxtrot series of submarines came onto the capitalist market as scrap –or museum curiosities.
Interpretive texts throughout the sub explained the workings of the boat and its historic importance.
"The sub is 300 feet long and weighs 1,952 tons surfaced. Three diesel engines on the surface and three electric engines when submerged power it. The boat has a top speed of 16 knots surfaced and 15 knots submerged. It has a range of 20,000 miles at 8 knots on the surface, 11,000 miles snorkeling, and 380 miles completely submerged. Foxtrots could dive to a depth of 985 feet, but the working depth was about 130 feet. The armament consisted of 22 torpedoes or 36 mines. There was no deck gun. The torpedoes had a range of 10 miles at a speed of 45 knots. The crew consisted of 12 officers, 10 midshipmen and 56 seamen."
How did a Soviet Sub get to San Diego? Interesting story, Neighbors.
A group of Canadian businessmen thought that a commie submarine would be a great draw for a maritime park in Vancouver, British Columbia. So, after difficult negotiations, the Russians agreed to sell the Canadians one of their surplus Foxtrots.
The Cobra, as the Russians called their submarine, did not prove to be the draw the Canadians expected, and the sub was sold south of the border down USA way; first to Seattle and finally to San Diego, where it resides to this day.
In 1962, one of the Foxtrot submarines was to play a key role in the most dramatic and terrifying moment of the 45 year long Cold War: The Cuban Missile Crisis.
Everyone of a certain age remembers where he or she was during that fateful October in 1962.
The battle of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba had been won or lost, depending on your politics.
The Soviets, at the request of their ally, Fidel Castro, decided to clandestinely place some nuclear tipped missiles in Cuba. The Soviet premier, one Nikita Khrushchev, felt totally justified as the U.S. had already placed some nuclear tipped Jupiter missiles in Russia's next door neighbor, Turkey.
A flyover of Cuba by a U-2 spy plane revealed the extent of Soviet plans for missile bases in that country.
What to do?
Many in the American military believed that an invasion of Cuba was the only possible answer. As there were Soviet ground troops in Cuba, this would likely spark a Soviet nuclear response.
Both sides had enough weapons to destroy each other several times over in which nuclear strategists referred to as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and what the guys down at the corner bar referred to as a "Mexican Stand Off."
Clearly, Mankind was doomed (At least those that lived in the Northern Hemisphere.) unless we somehow lucked out.
Fortunately for humanity, we were dancing with Lady Luck. As luck would have it both leaders, Kennedy and Krushev were eminently sane. (A condition that does not always prevail in leadership circles, as we have discovered.) MAD was not a good idea if put into practice.
Together, the two leaders figured a way to walk back atomic Armageddon.
Khrushchev said, "Let us be statesmen" to Kennedy.
Khrushchev agreed to remove or not install nuclear missiles in Cuba and Kennedy agreed to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy also promised not to invade Cuba or sponsor proxy invasions.
As the Jupiter missiles were obsolete and scheduled for replacement by U.S. based missiles, this was no problem. Since the Bay of Pigs debacle was fresh in everyone's minds, non-invasion of Cuba was an easy promise to keep.
So the Cuban Missile Crisis was solved! Humanity was saved! The world breathed a collective sigh of relief,
Not so fast, humans! There was another joker in the deck.
That was a flotilla of four Foxtrot submarines headed for Cuba from their base in the Baltic. They were to form the nucleus of a Soviet submarine base in Cuba.
As noted, they were anti-shipping attack submarines and not guided missile carrying nuclear submarines. For this reason, the US Navy was not unduly worried about them, besides, and they were relatively easy to track.
However, there was one thing about these submarines that we Americans did not know; something that would have given us pause.
That would be the purple torpedo.
Each of the Foxtrots was armed with a purple torpedo; this was a torpedo carrying a tactical atomic warhead, roughly as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The Americans, including President Kennedy, did not know about this last ditch ace in the hole possessed by the Russians.
The Soviets realized the danger of an error. (That's why the torpedo was painted a rather whimsical purple to differentiate it from all other torpedoes.)
Also, the purple torpedo could only be fired upon agreement of the three top ranking officers on the submarine.
On the other hand, Moscow's permission to fire the purple torpedo was not required; all was in the hands of three fallible men on the sub.
President Kennedy had ordered a quarantine zone around Cuba before the agreement with Khrushchev had been reached.
To avoid detection, the Soviet submarines submerged and continued on toward Cuba. They were out of radio contact and did not know that an agreement was being reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev.
A U.S. Navy hunter-killer group of eleven destroyers led by the anti submarine air craft carrier USS Randolph, soon located the submarines in the Quarantine zone and began to harass them with practice (non lethal) depth charges to get them to surface.
The Americans were aware of the limitations of the Foxtrots. Unlike nuclear subs they could stay submerged only for four days before conditions became unbearable.
One by one, the Foxtrots were forced to the surface where they made radio contact with their Baltic base and received orders to return to the Soviet Union.
All except one.
This was the boat commanded by Captain Valentin Savitsky, a notably stubborn man.
The four-day limit had been exceeded. The air conditioning had failed. The crew was down to one glass of water a day. The temperature had risen to 122 degrees. The scrubbers that removed carbon dioxide from the air were beginning to fail. Crewmen were fainting at their battle stations.
The situation was desperate, Captain Savitsky had two choices; he could blow the ballast tanks and surface for blessed air, or...
Captain Savitsky ordered the purple torpedo to be loaded into the tube.
According to the ship's log, he shouted:
"Maybe the war has already started up there. We're going to blast them! We'll all die, but we'll sink them all."
However, aside from his own signature in the log, he was required that the two other ranking officers agreed with Capitain Savitsky to fire the purple torpedo. The boat's Political Officer agreed and signed. The third officer, Flotilla Commander Vasili Arkhipov, said the Russian equivalent of "NOW JUST A DARN MINUTE!"
At that moment, Vasili Arkhipov became the defense lawyer for all Mankind.
Fortunately for us, he argued a good case.
He pointed out that the depth charges were practice charges, designed to annoy not to destroy. (The maritime museum provided realistic sound effects!) And that the charges exploded neatly to the left or right of the sub's hull rather than on it. Clearly, the Americans wanted them to surface. Why not?
After all, if the Americans proved hostile, they could still fire their purple torpedo.
Captain Arkipov logic proved telling and Captain Savitsky agreed to stand down and surface. The Americans proved friendly offering assistance and ice cream. Both offers were politely turned down, and the Foxtrot set a course for the Soviet Union.
And the world, had it known, would have breathed a sigh of relief.
It is not known what Arkhipov said to Savitsky on the trip back to Russia: (What is Russian for "I TOLD YOU SO?")
So was Flotilla Commander Vasili Arkhipov given a parade in Red Square for saving humanity?
Nope! The whole episode was hushed up by the Russians who were (and are) past masters at keeping a secret.
The story of how close we were to Mutually Assured Destruction did not come out until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Foxtrot's Intelligence Officer; Vadim Orlov broke silence in 2002.
The Savior of the World, Vasili Arkhipov, retired as a rear admiral in the Russian Navy and died in 1998 at the age of 72; a hard life but a good one.
Honors for Vasili Arkhipov were of course posthumous.
Arkhipov's daughter, Elena, accepted the Future of Life Institute's $50,000 prize in honor of her father.
PBS did a documentary on him entitled "The Man who Saved The World" and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE did a short (but prophetic) article in the March, 2016 issue of that magazine entitled "You and almost everyone you know owe their lives to this man" with a nice photo portrait of our hero.
Well yes. According to the National Geographic article.
"Living as we do now, with North Korea, Pakistani generals, Jihadists and who knows who will be the next President, the world is very, very lucky that at one critical moment, someone calm enough, careful enough and cool enough to say "No".
I gave the purple torpedo a thump for good luck and exited the Foxtrot into the bright San Diego sunshine in the fond hope that our luck would continue to hold.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THUNDERBEAR
ABE LINCOLN AND DAVID VELAWhy in hell's name would anyone want the job of Director of the National Park Service in the Trump administration?
If you accept the commission of Director of the National Park Service, both the right and the left, but particularly the left will attack you.
The Left will accuse you of being an environmental quisling; a partner in the destruction of the planet; a living curse to the memory of Steven Mather; a sort of anti-John Muir.
The Right will accuse you of being part of the problem; a swamp dweller beyond redemption, a typical socialist bureaucrat.
Who needs the grief?
Lincoln was frequently asked what it was like being President. He would often reply with one of his droll stories.
According to Abe, being President reminded him of back home in Illinois. It seems that every little town in every county dreamed of becoming the county seat. In order to achieve that honor the town had to look prosperous and respectable.
One town had a serious problem: The town drunk. He would stagger up and down the main street singing or swearing and making the town look bad.
A vigilance Committee was formed and the drunk was warned to mend his ways and stop drinking, or else. The drunk continued his drinking and "or else" soon followed.
First the mob beat him up and then burned down his cabin, and then they tarred and feathered him. Then they made him straddle a fence rail and rode him out of town on the rail.
One of mob looked up at the drunk and asked him how he liked it.
The drunk gazed blearily about and said "Wal, if warn't for the honor of the thing, I'd jest as soon walk". And that's how Lincoln felt about being President.
One suspects that there would be times Vela would vastly prefer managing Grand Teton than the "honor" of being NPS director in the Trump Administration.
Now before a candidate can become a punching bag for everything that is environmentally wrong with an Administration, they first have to be confirmed by the Senate, a task that has been likened to fire walking.
Is this good?
One of the best-kept secrets of Washington DC is how much free entertainment is available to the taxpayer. Now most folks are aware that the world-class museums of the Smithsonian are free of charge. Not as many are aware that the Millennium stage, located in the JFK Center for the Performing Arts provides free music and/or dance performances from all over the world 365 days a year. Don't have a car? Not to worry; the JFK Center provides free shuttle buses from the nearest Metro station, Foggy Bottom.
Then there's Congress.
Few Americans are aware that Congress is available for your entertainment. Not all the time, mind you; like most circuses, Congress takes frequent breaks to improve its acts and rest up. However, in between "recesses", Congress is on tap for your amusement and, oh yes, the governance of the nation.
Much of this governance consists of "hearings" and "confirmations" in which Congressional committees investigate the doings of the executive branch, such as the appointment of people to supervise the actual work of the government.
You are cordially invited to attend, free of charge.
Such was the November 15, 2018 meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to investigate the qualifications (or lack thereof) of the Administration's nominees for three positions; one of them being David Vela, standing for the position of Director of the National Park Service.
Now why are these Congressional hearing so entertaining?
Well, it's the nature of Congress. The minority senators want to score points off their majority opponents; the wittier the better. The majority will try to counter these attacks with wit of their own. For example, always attend a Senate hearing starring Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He is one of the great wits of the Senate.
And besides, you never know what is going to happen at a Congressional hearing.
I wanted to attend the November 15 hearings for environmental and journalistic reasons. My wife, Dr. Joan Rubin, wanted to attend for professional reasons. Joan is an anthropologist by trade. Anthropology rather pompously described itself as "The Study of Man" (Or did until the equal speech movement got a hold of it)
In the golden age of anthropology, they would study exotic tribes of the upper Amazon or the Afar Depression in the Horn of Africa. Joan, for example, did her doctoral research on the persistence of the Guarani Indian language in Paraguay.
Now, however, even the most remote tribes have been contacted and studied.
So what to do?
No worries! Today's modern anthropologists simply use the tools they have developed in the study of "primitive" tribes and applied them to the study of such exotic tribes as the FBI or the U.S. Senate.
(Indeed, one of Joan's colleagues wrote her PhD thesis on that fearsome tribe, the Los Angeles Police Department. She ended up marrying one of the cops.)
I suspect that it is only a matter of time before some earnest doctoral candidate begins a study of that mysterious, secretive tribe, the National Park Service.
November 15 arrived with that mixture of wind, sleet, rain and snow that is a DC trademark. Joan rummaged through the hall closet looking for sub-arctic gear.
"Should I wear gloves or mittens?" She inquired.
"Depends on whether you're a Republican or a Democrat". I replied.
"Huh?" she responded.
"Republicans are great believers in Individual Responsibility. Therefore it's incumbent for each finger and thumb to look out for itself and keep itself warm without depending on other fingers and thumbs. So Republicans wear gloves."
"Democrats, on the other hand, believe that all digits should be united in sharing the available warmth and keeping each other warm. Hence Democrats wear mittens."
Joan chose mittens.
We drove the mile to the Wheaton Metro Station named for Union General Frank Wheaton whose nick of time arrival in 1864 saved the nation's capitol from the Confederate raider, General Jubal Early.
People complain about the Washington DC metro as they do about the weather, but the Metro is a pretty pleasant way to get around DC and I heartily recommend the experience over the automobile.
It was a straight shot down the Red Line to the Union Station Metro Stop and then about a two-block walk to the Dirksen Senate Office Building where David Vela's confirmation hearing would be held.
The building's namesake, Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, was a fiscally conservative Republican who once famously remarked: "A billion here, a billion there; pretty soon you're talking real money!" He also helped get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the Senate, against formidable opposition. That was back in the days when some Republicans were normal and surprisingly moral.
After a slippery, slide trudge through gray slush, we arrived at the Dirksen Building. The confirmation hearing would be held in Room 366 at 10:00 a.m.. We arrived at 8:00 to assure a seat as this hearing promised to be controversial; not so much due to David Vela, but due the appearance of another nominee, a champion of the coal industry (boo! hiss!) who was being nominated for the position of some extractive energy job and was sure to be controversial (A third nominee, a woman nominated for a relatively harmless position, was not expected to raise the hackles of the Democrats or environmental groups.)
We were asked to form a line at the door of Room 366, first come, and first serve. Those who did not wish to stand were welcome to sit on the floor, Indian fashion.
As Joan does not do floor sitting well, I went across the hall to the office of Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and inquired after a chair for her.
Senator Booker's aide, a friendly person of the African American persuasion, provided us with a chair; the people of New Jersey are well served.
For my part, I sat down on the floor next to a young woman with a thick Georgia accent. I assumed she worked for one of the environmental groups and asked her which one.
This was not the case. She was a professional placeholder.
Well yes. You see, lobbyists are much too important and valuable to spend their time standing in line for seats in a hearing room. A cottage industry has sprung up among the underemployed of DC who agree to arrive 3 hours before a committee hearing and stand in line until the lobbyist arrives usually about 5-10 minutes before the doors open and the hearing begins.
David Vella and his large, extended family (He is, after all, Mexican American.) arrived well before the ten o'clock witching hour. Vella, a consummate politician, began working the crowd, thanking them for their presence and support. He wore a charcoal grey suit and a ready smile. Your esteemed editor had never met Vella, but he seemed a likable cuss, as did his family.
As far as families go, most nominees tend to come from small or even remote towns. And it is often the relatives' first trip to Washington DC and they are pleased as lottery ticket winners to see that their guy or gal has made the big time. They are starry eyed and bushy tailed; the committee staffers are commendably solicitous in making sure that the relatives get a seat in the hearing room.
There was what seemed to an inordinate number of Capitol Police available; all fully armed and ready for business. In addition to the usual cop battle rattle, the officers wore a "cotton tail" of white plastic strips on the back of their duty belts. I realized that they were flexi-cuffs, first cousins to those plastic strips used to secure loaves of bread and used to secure people in a mass arrest situation.
One of the police warned us to "behave" and not create a "disturbance" or we would be "ejected" and "possibly arrested." I was agreeable to this line of thought.
The ornate doors opened promptly at 10 and the waiting line streamed in. We had been forewarned not to look for a "best seat" but to take any seat within reach; failure to do so might leave you standing, and there is no "standing room only" in a Senate hearing and you will be "ejected."
The hearing room was handsomely paneled in walnut and decorated with brass sconces on the walls, which were pierced by 30-foot high windows. There was an elevated horseshoe table or bench, at which the Natural Resource Committee Senators would presently sit. The Senators entered the room through their own door, under a carved Great Seal of Something or Other.
In the rush for seating, Joan and I were separated and acquired seats in different rows of the hearing room.
The room was called to order and the committee chairman explained what was going to happen.
For reasons of efficiency and economy of time, the nomination hearings would be held very much like "Show and Tell" in kindergarten class. That is, each nominee would stand up and Show and Tell the Senate Natural Resource Committee a bit about him or herself and, modesty forefending, why they regarded themselves as the best person for the job.
As Americans love Starvation to Success stories, the three nominees regaled us with tales of their rise from Dickensian poverty (or at least, their families' rise).
David Vela, for example pointed out that he was the "Grandson of a sharecropper" and thus part of the American Dream.
The Coal person pointed out his life long support for that fossil fuel and the horney handed Sons of Toil who depended upon it for their livelihood as well as any poor soul who flipped on a light switch and expected results.
At that moment, the middle aged, well-dressed gentleman next to me, exploded.
He jumped to his feet and shouted. "YOU LIE! YOU ARE THE POSTER CHILD FOR ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION! YOU..." The rest of his statement ended in "ARRG!" as one of the Capitol Police applied a Come Along hold.
The gentleman was not going easily and the battle continued across my lap. "I'm sorry, Sir! " the Officer said politely to me as she secured the gentleman's wrists with a flexi cuff.
"No problem!" I responded cheerily.
The gentleman's outburst was the signal for other monkey wrenchers seeded throughout the hearing room to take action.
One gentleman unbuttoned his suit jacket and started to deploy a large banner that he had wrapped around his waist. (Hearings are often televised and banner deploying makes great visuals.)
Naturally, the Capitol Police played "Capture the Flag" and the banner did not get deployed beyond one word in the sentence; that one word was "VOTE". (Which, when you think about it, is all that is necessary.)
Joan had disappeared in a flurry of hands and arms as the Capitol Police skillfully plied their trade. They had done this job before and it showed. So had the Senators. The hearing rolled smoothly along with nary a comment from the Chairman. Joan emerged from the scrum unscathed and unflappable. The protestors were "disappeared." (Now neighbors, I cannot guarantee you a knock down, drag out brawl at every Congressional Hearing, but if you are in the vicinity of Washington DC and have nothing else to do, you could do worse than attend a Congressional hearing.)
After "Show and Tell", the Senators began to question the three nominees at random.
The questions directed at Vela were mostly along the lines of "What would you do if? "And Vela tap danced around most of them. Bureaucrats love to "Closely monitor" stuff and also "closely study" a distressing situation before "Taking Action." And this is what Dave promised to do during his tenure, if nominated.
Sounds reasonable. Examine the evidence, confer with the experts, and then make an informed decision. After all, you just can't fly off the handle, fail to read anything on the subject, brag about how smart you are, take the advice of bigots, morons and jerks, write crazy, vindictive memos to the public: everyone knows that.
David would never do anything like that.
David would study things.
But then Senator Bernie Sanders launched a torpedo of a question and Vela failed to spot the torpedo wake.
The Senator from Vermont politely asked if a group of protestors wished to stage a protest demonstration on the Mall or other property controlled by the NPS and could not afford the cost of the demonstration (Porta Potty rental, trash clean up, staff overtime, tear gas canisters etc.) would David issue them a permit anyway?
David said he would have to study the situation on an individual basis.
Wrong answer, Dave!
Bernie's torpedo struck Vela's confirmation dead amid ship and his chances began to take on water.
You see, the First Amendment is non-negotiable: No bureaucrat, not even a lovable one like the Director of The National Park Service, gets to decide who can protest and who cannot. Inadequate funding is not a valid reason to deny First Amendment rights to any individual or group.
Now is David doomed as Director?
No, not at all. Vela is a likeable, personable chap. It is possible that he will be allowed to run the Senatorial gauntlet again - If he still wants the job.
THE FOURTH OF JULYNow neighbors, you are probably aware that the Megalomaniac in Chief has decided to insert himself into the Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall, apparently trying to channel Honest Abe or Dr. King with a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Now Trump is the consummate wet blanket; the death of any party, even Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July Mall celebration is normally non-partisan, with a normal amount of acceptable bi-partisan flag waving and lots of good fun, music, food, and fireworks.
The problem is that musicians and entertainers have a tendency to be somewhat liberal, even Country music has some left of center performers.
This means that the NPS may have a problem filling the venue with name brand acts, leaving the stage to be occupied by Ted Nugent or the Fascist Stomp Band.
Meanwhile, out in the Black Hills of South Dakota, President Trump has pressured the NPS to resume a potentially hazardous Fourth of July fireworks display at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Why "potentially hazardous"?
Cause and effect, neighbors, cause and effect.
You see, global warming, which according to the President, is a hoax, has somehow managed to warm up the Black Hills and prevented Pine beetles from freezing to death like they used to do before the, um, "hoax" occurred. This exploding population of beetles overwhelmed the sap defenses of the local Ponderosa pine and a lot of the trees died. The dead trees form a standing fuel base in the event of a lightning strike - or someone starts shootings off fireworks.
Lightning cannot be controlled, but fireworks can and, until this year, the NPS has prudently forbidden the fireworks display on the evening of the Fourth of July, due to continuing drought conditions in the Black Hills.
Ah, but who knows? Perhaps the NPS and Trump will luck out with rain in June and early July.
Then there is the possibility that George, Tom, Abe, and Teddy might have company on the mountain.
That would be Donnie.
President Trump has coyly dropped the hint that he would not be averse to having his likeness on Mount Rushmore.
Interesting thought, neighbors.
At first glance, it does look like there might be room on the mountain immediately to the left of Washington. That is apparently not the case.
When in doubt, ask a ranger, so we ran the idea past the federal folks at Mount Rushmore, in this case Maureen McGee-Ballinger, Chief of Interpretation.
According to Ms. McGee-Ballinger: "Prominent historic figures have been suggested to be carved, placed, or projected on or next to the Rushmore sculpture. Over the years, individuals, groups and organizations have proposed the addition of other likenesses to the sculpture. However, adding to the sculpture is not possible for two reasons:
Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum to represent the first 150 years of the history of the United States: The birth, expansion, development, and preservation of our country. Borglum chose Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln for his sculpture to represent these periods, not to represent the individual.
When Borglum died in 1941, his son, Lincoln, closed down the project and stated that "No more carvable rock" existed. Since 1989, The National Park Service has worked with a rock mechanics-engineering firm to study the structural stability of the sculpture and has installed rock block monitoring devices to assure its long term preservation. The firm's work and assessments support the long-held belief that no rock near Borglum's sculpture is suitable for additional carving. Further engineers believe that should additional carving be undertaken instability in the existing sculpture could occur.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one man's artistic interpretation, and a tribute to our nation's history. The National Park Service takes the position that death stayed the hand of the artist and the work is complete. Therefore, to maintain the integrity of the structure and Borglum's concept, there is no procedure for adding to the sculpture. The same justification holds true for any modern methods or materials to produce any type of structure and could be attached to Mount Rushmore.
Maureen McGee Ballinger"
Thank you, Ms. McGee Ballinger.
Now, neighbors, one should note the last sentence of the response. Trump supporters are capable of attempting an end run around the NPS by putting a poured concrete or fiberglass replica of the 45th president to the left and slightly above George Washington. Maureen's final comment should close all loopholes for this most devious president and his supporters.
BEAR STORYIt never fails.
If you are at a party or social gathering where there are strangers, one or more of the strangers is going to ask you what you do or did do for a living.
It's essentially an American conversational icebreaker. Other cultures consider the question impossibly rude.
Not true in our culture. The stranger is simply trying to get the conversational ball rolling.
Upon being informed that you are (or were) an employee of the National Park Service, the next question is almost guaranteed:
"What's your favorite bear story?"
Even if your career never ventured outside the National Capitol Region, it doesn't matter; everyone wants to hear about Yogi Bear and here you are, Ranger Smith in the flesh, ready to tell amusing stories about Jellystone's favorite ursine. My bear story is fairly mundane, but it usually satisfies the taxpayer's need for a bear tale.
Joan and I were car camping in Glacier National Park late one summer. We hit one campground rather late in the day. Surprisingly, there was a site available.
"Do bears bother you?' asked the ranger at the campground kiosk.
"Not particularly". I replied
"Good, because they will join you for the evening."
I thought she was talking about proper storage of food. "A fed bear is a dead bear" etc. etc.
Turned out that the campsite was located in a huckleberry patch. This year had a bountiful crop and bears could not be blamed doing what bears do. Perhaps I would like to reconsider?
Accommodations in tent site or grand hotel were unlikely in northern Montana, at that hour and Joan was one of the few women that prefers sleeping in a tent to sleeping in a motel bed. She claims that the bed I build (Thermorest mattress, egg crate foam and sleeping bag.) are better even than home. So we bought the site.
I pitched the tent and we dutifully attended the campfire talk. (Which was entitled "Our neighbors, the bears".) Seems that Glacier has around 300 grizzly bears and a whopping 800 Black bears.
We retired for the evening and Joan went deeply asleep.
Which was just as well as delegations of the 1,100 bears of Glacier began to arrive in convivial mood and began to slurp up the berries. A bear can consume 100,000 berries an evening and these bears were enjoying every minute. I could hear them feeding happily and soon felt them as one or more bears innocently dislodged he tent guy lines and collapsed the walls of the tent. With a sigh of pleasure one bear decided that there was an excellent backstop, which he or she could lean against while harvesting the huckleberries. That would be me.
There was no particular danger as long as the bears were not startled and had plenty of berries. There was no point in waking Joan to discuss the situation and she slept blissfully on while the bears fed. We had bear spray, but one place it is counter indicated is inside of a tent.
So, I was careful not to move, content to act as backstop while the bears did their thing.
What kind of bears? I didn't ask them. Eventually they went away. Next morning Joan asked me if I slept well. I told her. And thus I had a bear story.
Now if you are interested in real bear savvy I suggest you read on and get some straight dope from one of the Park Service's experts on bears, Clay Cunningham.
Thank you, Clay!
THE SAFETY MESSAGE
Aha! You have finally reached the vital safety message that you were searching for, after plowing through acres of anti-administration trash! You shall be rewarded!
Accidents leave plenty of collateral damage. It is bad enough for you to be injured or killed, but what about the rest of your family? Who will take care of them, house them, feed them medicate them etc. While you are recuperating from that fall off a park cliff, unfortunate car accident, or encounter with a falling tree or charging bison.
Most people don't have kin in a national park and unless you are fortunate enough to be visiting park ranger relatives, neither do you.
What do you do when you are trapped in an accidental situation in a national park or other venue, beyond friends or family?
Your kindly editor got a chance to test drive this situation.
My wife and I had been enjoying the Big Island of Hawaii. It was time to return home.
Next morning we would fly back to DC on Southwest.
Why not attend a lecture on Hawaiian volcanology at the Lyman Museum in Hilo?
Why not indeed.
Hilo is located at the foot of13,803 foot Mauna Kea whose summit boasts the largest array of telescopes in the world.
To avoid light pollution, Hilo tries to keep the ambient light from streetlights at a rather low level.
For this reason, Joan did not see a curb at the Lyman museum and tripped and fell, breaking her hip.
Now on the Big Island of Hawaii you are quite literally on the frontiers of medicine, there was only one surgeon on the island that was qualified to do hip replacement. Take him or leave him. The alternative was a medevac flight to Honolulu at a price that Howard Hughes could afford, but we couldn't. (Medicare does not cover such extravagance.)
The local surgeon proved more than adequate and a great storyteller to boot.
The only catch was that Joan would not be able to travel for a month.
Now being stranded in paradise may sound appealing, but only if you have a great deal of money.
Now Joan's housing at the hospital and later at the rehab was taken care by Medicare (Evils of socialism, neighbors) but I was left with the prospect of surrendering to the Salvation Army.
"But" you ask, "Why not go to an inexpensive hotel?"
Unfortunately, "Inexpensive hotel" is an oxymoron in Hawaii. This is particularly true during the "High Season" which unlucky for me, was just beginning. Hotel room rentals went up to $300 a night.
We had, of course, cancelled our rental agreement on our condo and there were none to be had for four months.
I could of course, impose on friends for a couple of days, but a month? (Ben Franklin's comment on fish and guests after three days came to mind.)
What to do? Hymn singing every morning at the Salvation Army seemed rather hypocritical.
I outlined my problem with the hospital director.
He was surprised. "Didn't the ambulance crew give you a VASH brochure when they brought you and your wife to Emergency?"
Well, not that I can recall. What is VASH?
VASH is the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii.
Their non-profit mission is "Caring for Visitors Touched by Adversity."
The "Adversity" they are talking about is theft or loss of your credit cards and getting you an emergency line of credit or, language support if you are a foreign devil, finding you a place to stay while your loved recuperated enough to travel, transport between hotel and hospital. Assistance with changes in airplane tickets, certificates for restaurants or groceries and help with all the many things that cause stress.
Above all, VASH provides moral support to those "touched by adversity."
There is no charge for their services.
Hawaii, as you recall, is way out in the middle of nowhere and you are a long way from kin and friends.
But so are many national parks and monuments on the mainland.
I was curious if these parks, or rather the Rotary clubs of their gateway towns provided roughly the same services as Hawaii's VASH.
If not, it might be something worthy of discussion at the next Rotary meeting or safety meeting.
PJ Ryan can be reached at: