Foreign Affairs

The primary foreign affairs tasks given to Congress are to supply funds and advice to the President, and to ask the hard questions. In our complex world, any corner can spin out of control on a moment’s notice, yet no candidate for any office can be an expert in the whole world. I would bring to Congress a generalist’s wide knowledge, gained over a lifetime of reading, travel, and international friendships.

Some of my experiences I attribute to dumb luck. I happened to be standing on a sidewalk Berlin, in 2000, when French President Jacques Chirac arrived to meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. They shook hands all around, and then we all walked together under the Brandenburg Gate, a monumental moment that signified French acceptance of Berlin as Germany’s capital, 55 years after the end of World War II. In 1967, a high school teacher told me that Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie would be speaking at UCLA, and that it would be worth playing hooky for a day to go see him. I correctly guessed his exit route, and was standing within a few feet as he passed by. In Colombia, I was asked to host a dignitary, and I found myself over dinner, chatting with a senator who had served as a delegate to that country’s 1990 Constitutional Convention. On another occasion, I got to observe the election of a village headman among a slave-tribe in the Amazon.

Other background also comes from travel. In 2004, I taught a summer school English class in China, where my assignment was to get the students to talk, and talk about anything. They asked whether the US would ever fight a war with China over Taiwan. I remember their eyes getting big when I answered that no, if the US fought a war with China, it would be over the crazy guy in North Korea. In 1972, hiking near the Jordan River, I was stopped by an Israeli patrol wanting to know what I was doing there. After interrogating me and deciding I was harmless, they gave me a lift out to the main highway. Altogether, I have almost ten years in Latin America, either living in Colombia or visiting friends and family in Brazil. My five trips to Europe, Turkey, and Israel total about six months, and I have friends or family in England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Nine weeks in Asia have introduced me to six Chinese provinces and Uzbekistan. My experiences with Africa come vicariously. My aunt and uncle served in the Congo, doing community development during the turbulent early 1960s, and I maintain a lively Facebook friendship with the Maasai headmaster of an elementary school in Kenya, and other Africans.

I began voraciously reading biographies at age eight, and between ten and twelve I added the habit of reading the world and national sections of both the daily newspaper and a weekly newsmagazine. I majored in history at UCLA, researching and writing extensively about Chinese and Japanese immigration into Europe and the Americas. My teaching career has included both US, Latin American, and World History. I taught Comparative Democracy as a civics course to international students. I speak passable Spanish and have a fair reading knowledge of Portuguese.

As a generalist in a world of complexity and specialization, I can quickly be up to speed on an area of the world that spins out of control. There is no way to predict what foreign difficulties the United States might face in the future, and no way for anyone to be an expert on everything. However, I believe my background prepares me to combine on-the-ground experience with broad knowledge to a degree that few other congresspersons will be able to match.

War and Peace

In 1914, Woodrow Wilson ran as the “Peace” candidate, promising to keep the US out of World War I. In 1940, FDR campaigned on the promise to keep us out of World War II. LBJ demonized Barry Goldwater as a warmonger, before escalating the “police action” in Vietnam that eventually cost some 1,353,000 lives (Wikipedia, counting combatants on both sides and civilians). Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize, but the US was bombing seven countries when he left the White House.

Self proclaimed “Peace” candidates have a very poor record, and I have no intention of making promises I won’t be able to keep. But these will be my intentions should I be elected to Congress:

· I will never vote to put a war on the nation’s credit card. If a situation is not sufficiently serious that one generation sees war as worth the price, it isn’t worth the price. Much of our national debt today stems from decisions by Presidents Bush and Obama—and the Congresses that accompanied them—to pass war debt to the next generation.

· I will never vote to give the President a War Powers blank check. LBJ abused the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and Presidents Bush and Obama have stretched whatever permission Congress gave them beyond recognition. Where, for example, has Congress given the President permission for our participation in the war in Yemen, where carpet-bombing has destroyed housing and infrastructure, subjecting some 7 million civilians to famine and 700,000 to cholera. What, for that matter, is the US national interest in Yemen? Are we primarily there because we sell munitions to the Saudis? The Constitution gives Congress the power-of-the-purse precisely to rein in an adventurous president.

· I will never vote to send American soldiers to a war for which we are not ready to care for the wounded and distraught soldiers who return. Too often, our wars seem designed to protect corporate interests, and our returning soldiers are treated as collateral damage. If we are not prepared to fund top quality veterans’ care and reentry programs, then we are not prepared to go to war.

· I will never vote for military spending that provides things the military hasn’t even asked for. I have seen examples of the military budget being padded with goodies to benefit favored Congressional districts. When the goal is to stimulate depressed economies, there are more efficient—and more honest—ways to do it.

· I will never vote for war without considering both the lives of the young Americans we are sending into harm’s way, and the lives of civilians on both sides who have increasingly become the victims of modern warfare.

Civil Rights

So many subtopics come under the general heading of civil rights. Twenty-five times during the last 40 years, I have taught through the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Gettysburg Address, at either the junior high or high school level. I teach that much of this was less a description of what we were than an outline of what we wanted to become, and that we are not there yet. My purpose in teaching it to my students is that they would pick up the task and work to complete it. Until “All Men” are not just “Created Equal” in theory, but in day-to-day practice, we still have room to improve.

We have come a long way, just during my lifetime. As a child, I saw the news reports as President Eisenhower used the National Guard to walk American citizens to their rightful places in the neighborhood schools of Little Rock Arkansas. Our own state had legalized red-lining to keep minority home-buyers out of White neighborhoods. Poll taxes kept the poor from voting. We have managed to move many of the barriers from de jure violations of civil rights to de facto, but too many violations still exist. High rates of incarceration within minority communities, coupled with a system of private prisons, make me wonder if we have truly fulfilled the promise of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The protections of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 14th Amendments are enjoyed by corporations at the same time that they fail to protect categories of natural persons, both born and pre-born. Just in the last three weeks, police shootings in both Tulare and Sacramento raise serious questions about how we train our officers, and the instructions we give them. I have families in my classroom, where one sibling is here legally and protected, while a brother or sister could be detained and deported on short notice. The list could go on. I don’t expect that we can ameliorate all of these civil rights issues in our lifetimes, but we must keep the goal ever in our sights.

Second Amendment

In our gun debates, the lines of argument have petrified in the 50 years since I first faced them in a high school civics class. Fortunately, as a third-party candidate, I have a freedom to be creative in ways that other candidates don’t enjoy. I’m tied to no party dogma and will suffer no party discipline if I challenge entrenched thinking. I also have no big donors to please.

If we arrange opinions along a spectrum, at one end we have those who would like to repeal the Second Amendment and severely reduce the number of guns in the United States. At the other end, advocates hope to issue guns to teachers and find other ways to increase the gun count. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, and there is little likelihood of either extreme seeing their ideas put into law. Yet almost everyone recognizes that the status quo won’t hold. School shootings are only the most visible aspect of our national carnage, but their headlines come almost daily.

Across the spectrum, the dominant emotion is fear, which tends to constrain creative thinking, the very avenue most necessary to our discovery of a possible solution. For gun supporters, the fears include losing the ability for self protection, whether that is lost to criminal elements or to authoritarian government. Gun rights antagonists fear the same criminals, but also the crazed loner, the domestically violent, and the suicidal. Each of those fears is valid, and we each bring those fears to our understanding of the Second Amendment.

Any interpretation of our Second Amendment must center on an understanding of the word ‘Militia.’ This supplies both the outside parameters and a field for creativity. Historically, our idea of a militia has morphed from the Minutemen of 1776, to the 50 National Guards that once stayed within the borders of their own states, and then, since President Reagan, to units that can be sent to war overseas.

Congress has the power to define a militia. Specifically, Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;”

Militias display two important features. First, they are communal, belonging to a network of people in a specific location. Next, they are at least quasi-separate from the Federal government, sharing oversight with the respective state governments.

What if Congress could establish a category of militias, defined by the Congress but organized under each state, that would allow for mutual-assistance communities of gun owners, which could supervise training, licensing, and insurance for their membership? The intent of the 2nd Amendment is self-policing units for citizen action, but not the protection of a lone gunman who would shoot up a school, church, or place of business. We might call them “gun clubs,” “shooters’ leagues,’ or “marksmen’s alliances.” Thus, gun owners who would otherwise be fearful of registering their guns with the government would be expected to enroll themselves with the group of their choice. Each group would assume the responsibility of giving oversight to their accepted members, according to standards set by Congress and each state. As a community, the goal would be that the good guys with guns would spot the bad guys, without any shots fired.

This is just the seed of an idea, but it is the special place of third parties and independent candidates to plant such seeds. In a democracy, we will negotiate a compromise in which no one gets everything they want, but everyone gets something. I offer the idea to any party or group that will take it and develop it. To that end, and as a candidate running a low-budget campaign with no major contributors, I invite those who like this idea to share this post widely, and those who live in California’s 22nd Congressional District to consider giving me their vote.