Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The true powers of the President

Students of American history will recall the many grievances against King George III that were called out in the Declaration of Independence. Among them were the following:

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

…imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”

“…depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury”

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws”

I cite those indictments because they represent a few that still affect us to this day.

But, rather than a monarch being the source of such unconscionable anguish, it is our very own Presidents – Obama and those before him -- that have been guilty of such crimes against our people.

It was never intended to be this way.

In the years that followed the signing of that sacred document on July 4, 1776, the Founding Fathers utilized their newfound independence to fashion a government that was beholden to the people (rather than a people that were beholden to the government). Knowing full well the flaws that come with Kings, they created a republic, and for it a Constitution that clearly called out the limited powers and responsibilities of our federal government.

In just over 1,000 words they defined the role of the Executive – the President – someone who theoretically replaced the role of the King but had limited powers. The President could not make laws, exert taxes and fees, and declare war among numerous other things that Kings took for granted. A President’s duties were few: He was to be the face of our nation, the Commander in Chief of our armed forces, the appointer of judges and ambassadors, and he was to execute the laws created by Congress.

Although the ultimate law of the land – the Constitution – clearly and concisely identifies the legal role of the President, we’ve seen the office stray from those limitations.  And, despite protestations by the Grand Old Party, this is nothing new to the office since President Barack Obama came into power. Every President of our lifetimes has been as despotic as kings, including alleged small government types like Ronald Reagan. They do as they shouldn’t and do as they want, and it’s an unfounded power granted them – just look at what the electorate expects our next president to do!

This addiction to centralized, unconstitutional power dates back to the days of Lincoln, a man who had no consideration for the Constitution and was painted as a hero for it. Lincoln opened the floodgates that led to the modern and popular interpretation of the presidency that allows Presidents to declare war (our last Constitutional war was World War II), suspend trial by jury and exert indefinite detention, and use their administrative offices to make regulations (which are laws), impose taxes (fees and fines), and infringe upon the rights of the people and the sound operations of the free markets. They have grown beyond the boundaries of their duties and have assumed the powers that were bequeathed to monarchies, doing everything, unchecked, that a Congress should, thus taking all power away from the people and keeping it for themselves.

The people fail to see that the ultimate power should be in their hands, through our representative form of government. The nation was founded so that the Congress was the most powerful branch of government. The general belief is that all branches share equal power; this is not so -- the Executive Branch should only be a check and a balance to an overreaching Congress, as are our courts to both. Our nation was founded this way so that the masses were equally represented and the development of laws and budgets came from a governing body directly accessible to the common man and which could actually be comprised of the common man. The rights and consent of the government were paramount.

Yet, sadly, that is not what the people seem to want anymore.

Reflect upon what we’ve observed in this election cycle (and every cycle before it). The voters want to know what the presidential candidates will do for them. They expect them to fix the economy, regulate industry, exert social mores upon the masses, assume war powers, make laws, control the Congress, create tax policy, intervene in foreign affairs, and suppress liberty in the name of security. They think the President is – and they clamor for – a singular power, a central office…in essence, a king (or in Clinton’s case, a queen).  

From the 24 October 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Treat migrant farm workers as your neighbors

A few weeks back I was shopping with my family at a local grocery store. It happened to be payday for a local farm or two as 20 migrant workers from Jamaica were there cashing their checks and buying their necessities.

While the store workers treated them with the utmost care and respect as they would any customer, the “regular” customers did not. There was a palpable discomfort or fear over the workers being there, with the local residents shopping with a sense of urgency, guarded caution, and spiteful glances.

If I was noticing the ire being cast their way, I know for sure the Jamaicans were, too, and, worse yet, they had to be feeling it.

This was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that I’ve seen migrant workers treated poorly.

It’s disgusting. Is that any way to treat our neighbors?

Yes, our neighbors.

For 2 to 10 months out of the year, longer than many snowbirds, these gentlemen from afar are living in our communities in quality housing provided for them by their employers. They travel our roads, share our parks and shop our stores.

And, most importantly, they provide services that Americans won’t.

They are here because, even in a bad economy, able-bodied American men won’t come off lifestyles of public assistance or parental benevolence to pick fruits and vegetables. A job that pays $12 to $15 per hour goes wanting and has to be outsourced to workers from another country because we’ve created a society that believes farm work is just too hard, unacceptable, and something fitting a lesser people. People have to work with their hands and get dirty? Pshaw!

Luckily for all of us, the migrant workers don’t have that pitiful view. They see the value in honest work and physical labor and show something that decades ago we once considered to be “the American work ethic.”

Because they do what we once did and what we won’t do now, we aren’t starving. They bust their butts to put healthy, nice-looking produce -- things that farm machinery can’t pick or sort -- in our stores. Ironically, the very same people who looked at the Jamaicans with ire were buying the fresh goods that those men had picked days earlier.

Who knows where the disdain for them comes from: Is it because they look and sound different from most of us, or is guilt by association because of a deserved narrative against illegal aliens (which these men aren’t) who do bad things (which these men don’t) in our southern border states?

Almost all migrant farm workers in Niagara County are here legally, holding H-2A visas which allow them to be here up to 10 months at a time. When they are not here, they are back home reveling in the rewards of their hard work – that is, seeing their families living in humble homes and going to better schools that are atypical to the dead end squalor of their homeland. They are doing back breaking work to ensure that their kids aren’t and to help them rise out of a second- or third-world existence.

That’s commendable work. That’s commendable fathering.

Yet, why do we only want them to have some shadowy existence, almost off the grid, out of sight and out of mind, while they are here toiling and making good on their promises to their families?

We should be treating them as we would anyone who lives and works in our towns and villages. Not only do they deserve a passing smile at the grocery store, but they should be invited and welcomed with open arms to our churches and community events. They should made to feel like they belong.

They might be part-time neighbors, but they are good neighbors, hardworking souls who by their very nature represent the ethos that once defined the greatness of America.  


From the 17 October 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Have you thanked your favorite teacher?

In elementary school and the early years of high school, I had a good but not great understanding of mathematics. I knew just enough to be dangerous and to get only above-average grades.

But, then, something happened in the eleventh grade.

It was like I had discovered the Rosetta Stone to higher math. The floodgates opened and even relatively complex arithmetic become easy. It was an acquired skill – a new mindset -- that then allowed me to prosper not only in college but in my professional life as well: As any good businessperson will tell you, their career revolves around numbers and you’d better have a very good understanding of them or it will be the death of your business.

So, what was it that led to my awakening?

Was it intellectual maturity? Was it the subject material being taught? Did years of schooling create a foundation that I was now able to build upon?

The answer is “maybe, to some small degree,” to all of the above.

But, without a doubt, the biggest reason I was able to go to the next level was my teacher, Kerry Finger.

Mr. Finger’s style of teaching changed the way I saw math – what I had once considered useless number science only befitting textbooks and the mundanity of the classroom was transformed under his watch to something useful that I could capitalize on to make complex decisions in day-to-day life. He continually walked us through real world examples, teaching us himself rather than having a boring book do it. He made us master the minutiae and the significant. He made it entertaining, too -- his approach of using good-natured ribbing to goad excellence out of the students did just as it was intended. 

Mr. Finger personally delivered my mathematics wake-up call and I was fortunate enough to have him as a teacher in my junior and senior years. He changed my life for the better.

As the years went by and I applied what he taught me to work (and even these columns), I developed a sort of guilt that I hadn’t properly thanked him for that when I was in high school. Then again, maybe I couldn’t have at the time because I wouldn’t have had the proper perspective of how important his lessons would become to me.

So, I looked him up, but found that Mr. Finger had moved out of Western New York. He had gone to the Chicago area. Luckily, as Facebook became vogue, I found his wife online and then had a way to reach out to him. So, I penned him a heartfelt thank you and made sure he understood the impact that he had on my life. It was a “thank you” that he appreciated.

At the past June’s commencement ceremony at my alma mater of Royalton-Hartland, I told the graduating class that they should take the time to thank their teachers and their parents for making them who they are. I wonder now in retrospect if maybe I should have told their parents to offer a “thank you” of their own to their Roy-Hart teachers of old. It’s meaningful dialog to have with the men and women who dedicated their careers to changing lives and I think it means more coming from a former student from long ago because that student now has, as I had mentioned, the perspective necessary to understand who they were, who they have become and where they are going as a result of the education and life lessons given them.

My challenge to you, dear reader, is this: Thank your favorite teacher.

Your teacher will savor it…and so will you.      

 From the 10 October 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers