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AMERICANS

In the waiting room at the hospital while Polly was enduring yet another MRI in the seemingly endless quest for relief from pain, I stumbled onto a three year old copy of Forbes Magazine that yielded a treasure worth sharing.
It was an article written by Steven F. Hayward, author of a two volume biography of Ronald Reagan and a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado. His subject was immigration, and he included a quote from a 1988 speech by President Reagan which really caught my eye and attention.  Here it is:
America represents something universal in the human spirit. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said “You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk” but then he added “Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.

Hayward went on to say that a person becomes an American by adopting America’s principles, especially those principles summarized in the “self evident truths” of the Declaration of Independence such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 
Then he quoted Carl Friedrich, who wrote “To be an American is an ideal, while to be a Frenchman is a fact.” Hayward then quoted a friend, who told him: “I was always an American; I was just born in the wrong country.”
I can remember filling out an application for something or other back in the middle of the last century, and the form asked two questions: What is your citizenship? and What is your nationality?
It seemed odd to me that citizenship was something different from nationality. So I wrote: Citizenship – USA. Nationality – Irish.
It seemed logical. My father was proud of his Irishness, as was his father before him. Truth is, our Brennans came over in the famine times of the early nineteenth century. My mother was a Sullivan, another good Irish name, but in fact no ancestor of mine on either side had stepped a foot on the old sod in nearly two hundred years.
Still, the idea of “American” being a nationality remains an uneasy truth. We call Washington, Jefferson. Hamilton and others the ‘founders of our nation.” But were they, really? Did they think of the United States as a nation, or something else?
The fact is that they were almost all Englishmen. They spoke English. They talked about their rights as Englishmen. They studied English law, and treasured English civil liberties. The constitution they wrote did not say that they were founding a nation, or creating a new nationality. They called it “a more perfect union.”
It wasn’t until 87 years later that Abraham Lincoln claimed that they had “brought forth a new nation” and that the Civil War was testing whether a nation founded on the novel idea that all men are created equal could possibly last.
The indigenous population of our land never thought of themselves as Americans. Their nationality was tribal: they were Cherokees, Ottawas, Semioles.
‘American’ as a nationality was conceived in the slaughter at Gettysburg, born on San Juan Hill in 1898, matured in the Argonne Forest in 1918, and at  Omaha Beach in 1944, tested in Korea and Viet Nam in the 20th century, and confirmed in the sands of the Middle East in the 21st.
In our day, the name ‘American’ is reserved for men and women who believe that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights – rights that cannot be sold, surrendered or stolen; that among these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the right to establish the kind of government we want by means of a written Constitution which is the Supreme Law of the Land.
We live mostly on the North American Continent between the 49thparallel and the Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande River, and between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

We speak English and we worship the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ. We are Americans.

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LIVES MATTER

They are going to bury my cousin today. Leo Drolshagen was 86. He died a few days ago peacefully, during his afternoon nap.
Leo Drolshagen’s life mattered. It mattered a lot to the five people who matured in the garden of his protection, his discipline and his love. It mattered to the fourteen grandchildren who inherited his charm, his smile and his faith.

Leo’s life mattered to a lot of other people, too. Folks who worked for him and folks he helped at the Savings and Loan. Clients, especially the young ones he was appointed to represent by the Probate Court.

And it mattered to other people, too. To a community he loved and served. They will all be there at the church to celebrate a life well lived, a life that mattered.

Lives matter. All lives. Philando Castle’s life mattered. He was the 32 year old school employee killed by police bullets after his car was stopped for a broken tail light near Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Just hours before, Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A video taken by a by stander showed Sterling pinned down when he was shot. Alton Sterling’s life mattered, too.

Castle and Sterling were black men. The five police officers murdered in the Dallas massacre were white. Their lives mattered, too.

Brent Thompson was newly married, Patrick Zamarripa was 32 and a father of two, as was Michael Smith 55, who was soon to retire from the Dallas Police Department. Michael Krol was 40, a transplant from Detroit and Lorne Ahrens, a senior officer, was survived by a wife and two children.

Lives mattered. All lives. Each of the seven men gunned down this week could have lived as long as Leo Drolshagen did. They could have died peacefully in their sleep. They could have been mourned by loving grandchildren and buried by a grateful community celebrating their lives and their contributions. Just like Leo.

In the weeks ahead the politicians and the talking heads on TV will analyze, philosophize, summarize and criticize. We will hear pleas for gun control, and racial tolerance. Fingers will be pointed, blame assessed and shame assigned.

I have two cents of my own to offer.

America is being plunged into a conflict between black people and the police. Frustrated folks are taking to the streets to vent their feelings and their frustrations.

It seems pretty obvious to me that the root problem is that black communities are served by white policemen. But the fix isn’t easy.

In his 1986 seminal work, The Police and the Community,  Michigan State University Professor Louis A. Radelet spells out ten reasons why this is so:

1.     Failure to recruit black officers
2.    Black kids grow up ducking the police
3.    A black kid who wants to be a cop is seen as a traitor to his neighborhood
4.    Black officers are sometimes not fully accepted by police leadership.
5.    Black kids often do not meet police qualifications
6.    Blacks often think they are not wanted on the force
7.    Testing for many police jobs is culturally biased
8.    Many young blacks have some criminal record
9.    Black officers are often snubbed by white cops
10.  Better qualified blacks are often able to find better paying jobs.
Professor  Radelet was writing 30 years ago. Due to his work and that of others like him, many attitudes have changed. My own experience at Cooley Law School satisfied me that there are a great many young black folks who are qualified and interested in public service.

But the process must begin early, and it must be supported by the community, and in the schools. Black lives dedicated to law enforcement and public safety are lives that really matter to everyone.

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THE COMEY REPORT

The air waves, the Internet and the blogesphere are swamped with commentary and speculation about the seemingly contradictory public statement made by FBI Director James Comey concerning the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

I will try my hand at offering an explanation. Let’s start with the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights specifies that:

NO PERSON SHALL BE HELD TO ANSWER FOR A CAPITAL, OR OTHERWISE INFAMOUS CRIME, UNLESS ON A PRESENTMENT OR INDICTMENT OF A GRAND JURY

A grand jury is an assemblage of between sixteen and twenty-three citizens called to determine whether a crime has been committed and who probably did it. It is not an adversary proceeding. There is no defendant, nor defense counsel. The prosecutor is in charge. There are no rules of evidence. Hearsay and rumor can be considered. The Grand Jury can subpoena witnesses and force them to testify. It can punish for contempt or perjury.

A grand Jury meets in secret. Jurors, witnesses and counsel are sworn not to disclose what they see and hear in the sessions. If the Grand Jury does not find that a crime has been committed, they return “no bill” and that is the end of it.

If the Grand Jury finds that a crime has been committed and that there is probable cause to believe that a certain person committed it, they return a bill of indictment, which authorizes the prosecutor to proceed with a criminal case against that person.

An indictment by a Grand Jury requires twelve votes. If the jury consists of sixteen, that represents a 75% majority. If it is a jury of 23, the 12 votes would be a bare majority.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency within the office of the Attorney General of the United States. Its function is to investigate possible criminal activity, identify those responsible, and seek their prosecution and conviction. It functions essentially as a police department for the federal government.

FBI investigations are not normally revealed to the public unless there is some perceived need for public cooperation. This is for the same reason that Grand Jury deliberations are carried on behind closed doors. If nothing criminal is found, the damage to reputations and careers based on rumor or insinuation is unconscionable.

In the case of the Clinton email investigation, however, the matter first came to the FBI at the request of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, who in turn was prodded by a Congressional committee investigating the Benghazi attack.

Because it came to his desk in a politically charged up atmosphere, Director Comey determined that extraordinary transparency was needed. This was his reason for calling a press conference instead of simply writing a letter to the Justice Department.

James Comey is a very successful lawyer. In a career of over 30 years as at the Bar, he has held a number of positions in government and business, steadily moving up the ladder of importance and responsibility, and has built a solid reputation as an independent, principled, responsible professional.

Director Comey understands that in government as in business, the name of the game is to justify the decision to hire you.  It isn’t just a matter of pleasing your superiors – although there is surely much of that – it is also a matter of doing what is objectively good for the organization.

Comey could have sent the Clinton email file to the Attorney General without comment, and left Loretta Lynch to explain why she didn’t call for a Grand Jury. He didn’t. He went out on a limb to include a gratuitous bit of advice to the effect that “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue the matter.

Candidly, I think it’s a tempest in a tea pot. No Grand Jury of 16 or 23 citizens drawn from Washington D.C. or New York is likely to return an indictment of the Democratic Party’s candidate for President just three months before the election.

So now, Hillary’s case has been referred to the Court of Public Opinion. Hear Ye, Hear Ye. The People’s Court is now in session.

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INDEPENDENCE DAY

Harbor Springs Michigan is the epitome of small town America. Today, celebrating the 240th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the town will host its annual Fourth of July Parade.

Starting around one o’clock in the afternoon a continuous stream of young people, old people, civic organizations, antique cars, little dogs and their proud owners, war veterans, marching bands, fire trucks, amateur clowns, professional singers, political candidates, policemen, fancy floats, parade officials and just plain folks will assemble at City Hall, march a half mile down Main Street, turn left onto State for a short block, and then left again on Bay before disbanding, dispersing and scrambling home.

It doesn’t get dark enough here for fireworks until about ten P.M., but starting around supper time – perhaps even before – the towns people will begin to stake out claims on blanket sized parcels of shoreline real estate from which to eeeh and aaah as the Peonies, Girandolas, Beehives, Weeping Willows, Comets, Sky Rockets and Roman Candles light the sky over Little Traverse Bay.    

It would be a grand thing to see Americans rejoice over their ancestors’ decision to part company with the British Empire, if indeed that is what we celebrate on the Fourth of July.

It would certainly be heart warming to hear school children recite passages from the Declaration of Independence or to hear talking heads on television remind us that our elected officials derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. 

Thomas Jefferson quite properly wrote that long established Governments should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and all Experience shows that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.

That said, Jefferson and his 55 colleagues in the Second Continental Congress, detailed a 27 paragraph Bill of Particulars spelling out the serious, insufferable causes compelling them to declare that the thirteen American colonies were henceforth free and independent States.

Some of those complaints have a familiar ring to them, such as:

He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out of their Substance.

Or this:

He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their Acts of Pretended Legislation.

Taxation without representation, legislative gridlock, abuse of the military, bureaucratic harassment, recognition of foreign laws; the litany is long and familiar in the twenty-first century.

The fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence appealed to ‘the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of their Intentions’ and mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

There are still a few patriots like that in our midst. In March of 2012, Van Barfoot died at the age of 92. He was the WWII hero who refused to take down his flag pole as ordered by the local Home Owners Association.

The American people rose up in support of Barfoot. Not all of them, of course, but enough to induce the HOA to back off.

Polly says I should wear red, white and blue tomorrow, and I surely will.

There are still a lot of Americans who are proud to be Americans in this small town. They were standing in the aisles at eleven o’clock Mass yesterday morning and they all stayed to sing “God Bless America” after the final blessing.

Somehow, I can’t give up on the notion that there are literally millions of true Patriots in these United States who believe that the evils of our day rival those of 1774; who are unwilling to burden their children and grandchildren with twenty trillions of debt; who have lost confidence in the quadrennial Presidential flirtation with “hope and change” and who are ready to address the fundamental, systemic barnacles that have attached to the Ship of State.

Are you with me?

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BREXIT

The results are in. The Leaves have carried the day. The deal isn’t done, of course. A referendum in the United Kingdom is only advisory. Final action, if any, to extirpate their nation from the European Union will only come when Parliament has voted.
Still, a referendum in a nation like the UK with an ancient democratic tradition, means a lot.

How did it happen? For the United Kingdom to exit the European Union is about like Texas and California walking out of the United States. What made them do it?

Whatever the economic and political advantages enjoyed as a member of the European Union, there were a couple of disadvantages that weighed heavily on the British people. Bureaucracy and immigration. They didn’t like the multiplicity of regulations that were coming out of Brussels. And they really didn’t like the swelling mass of immigrants disembarking from every train that arrived through the Chunnel.

Those immigrants were almost exclusively Muslims. Whatever the humanitarian motivation for receiving and harboring homeless, rootless, needy human beings, the fact has been that the Muslim birth rate in England has out paced native reproduction by a ratio of more than five to one.

Adding offspring to the surge of Muslim immigrants, the followers of Islam now represent the second largest religious minority in the nation.

Not only is the ratio of Muslims growing exponentially, but their disposition to settle in racially hospitable neighborhoods, has begun to create the phenomenon known as “no go” communities, where Sharia law is observed and enforced, so common in France and other countries.

The proportion of Muslims to the general population in the UK is just five percent, but there are three towns in which their ratio exceeds 40% and two more where the ratio is more than 25%.

Whether retreat from the EU will extricate the Brits from the influx of Muslims only time will tell. But the fact is that a united and explicit public policy will be needed to stem the tide.

Donald Trump, of course, has jumped on the Brexit vote as evidence that his restrictive immigration policies resonate with the working class. No doubt they do. Still, the Muslim population in the United States is only one percent, just a fifth of Britain’s.

But the herd instinct of Muslims has generated some very identifiable communities in our country. Among the most widely known is Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit with a 40% Muslim population in a town of just less than100,00.

Less noticed, but more dramatic, is the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck, a town of 22,000 with a Muslim majority, both in population and on the city council.

The two square mile residential community, once an almost exclusively Polish town, is now dominated by four Mosques whose bells call the faithful to prayers just before dawn, at midday, afternoon, sunset and nighttime.

I first noticed the Hamtramck metamorphous when I read that Hamtramck High School found it necessary to host an all-girl’s senior prom, in deference to the fact that Muslim girls are not permitted to dance with boys.

Whether the Muslim majority on the Hamtramck city council will be disposed to enact Sharia inspired regulations, only time will tell. I suspect that Hamtramck will not be a friendly place to open a gay bar, an abortion clinic or a liquor store.

What concerns me more is whether Hamtramck will become a hotbed of Jihadist recruiting. rivaling Minneapolis and Saint Paul as an American center of ISIS harvesting. 

I came to maturity campaigning in Detroit. I learned a few Polish phrases to endear myself to the voters in Saint Hedwig’s and Saint Cunagunda parishes. I showed them my Kelly green vest and told them that after voting for Judge Stanczyk they should vote for the Irishman, because we are Catholics, too.

I have no doubt that Muslims vote for Muslims. The important question is whether, being elected, they will put their duty to the Constitution of the United States ahead of the arcane mandates of the Quran.

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FATHERS’ DAY

I am a father. Indeed, I am the Paterfamilias of a clan that now numbers forty-one people connected by consanguinity or affinity, and within a year will grow to forty-four.
In our family, the in-laws are called outlaws, and those born to membership are called ‘the blood.’ I claim that the blood line is improving with each generation because, “the Brennans always marry up.”

To say that I am proud of my family is hardly enough. They are special and extraordinary people, and the bonds of affection and loyalty that connect them to each other are vital and visible.

In the ceremony that joined Polly and me in holy matrimony at Gesu church in 1951, Father  Norbert Clemens read these words:

And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God.

That phrase has stuck in my craw for a very long time. I am an old fashioned guy. The notion that the lifetime union of one man and one woman is the epitome of human happiness has always seemed pretty obvious to me.

It is embedded in our culture, in our music, in our literature, in theater and art, in the very language we use to communicate with each other every day.

Right now, our clan is preparing for another wedding. Our oldest grandchild, she who we long ago dubbed as ‘numero uno,’ MaryKate Radelet, is scheduled to wed Peter Stritmatter  on August 6th.

I never realized how essential to a successful wedding the role of a grandmother can be. Fed X is on our doorstep every other day with another pair of shoes for Polly to try on.

Her dress, of course, has been the subject of discussion, apprehension and concern for months.

A couple of weeks ago, the Brennan clan gathered at our daughter Ellen Campbell’s house for a bridal shower. They don’t get together often, but when they do, it’s really party time.

The highlight of the evening came when Peter was presented with the forty year old Jodhpurs, originally purchased for ten cents as a Christmas present from Bill to Peggy. They have been used to celebrate weddings, graduations and anniversaries and to initiate new outlaws for decades.

Peter didn’t try them on, as was usually expected. Truth is they are getting a bit too shaggy, and about all he could do was to shove his arms into the pantlegs.

I could not help thinking as I Iooked around that room soaking up the noisy chatter and hearty laughter, that these will someday be known as “the good old days.”

And I can’t help but wonder whether, when my grandchildren are my age, they will preside over families as large and robust as ours.

Candidly everything I see and hear in the public arena suggests that 2066 will see a very different world than 2016. We have already been introduced to some initiatives that suggest the pace of change is accelerating.
Robots, intelligent electronics, computer chip implants and who knows what devices yet unmade will be as commonplace in that day as I phones are today.

And every bit as dramatic and revolutionary as scientific advances, we can expect social evolution to continue apace and even accelerate.

The whole idea of marriage and family may well be passé. I can’t help but wonder what will then provide “the greatest measure of earthly happiness allotted to man in this veil of tears.”

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