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July 19, 2006

Winston Churchill wrote in his World War II memoirs that the first time he was able to sleep soundly after being named prime minister in the early days of the war was the night of December 7, 1941. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor assured that the United States would be a "full partner" and, even though Britain would soon loose Hong Kong and Singapore, proverbial crown jewels of its empire, eventual victory over the Axis was assured. Similarly, President Roosevelt then had the public and political support needed to go to war, the only alternative to a stalemate more bloody than the First World War followed by an onerous peace treaty in a world dominated by fascism.

Nothing comes close to a tragedy as a unifying force in a family, a community or a nation.

President Bush was in a very similar position following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Not without reason have the two events been seen as parallels. Contrary to what happened 65 years ago, the current President, however, has squandered a calling to lead a united nation in a noble cause.

Mr. Bush had the unquestioned support of a huge majority of Americans the day he stood amid the smoldering wreckage in New York and proclaimed a "global war on terror." His sending troops into Afghanistan to bring Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda to justice was widely hailed as even more worthy than President Truman's decision to commit the military to Korea. It no longer mattered that Mr. Bush held office by virtue of a questionable court decision which effected a result counter to the desires of a majority -- albeit a slim majority -- of voters. He was our President and he was doing the right thing for the right reasons.

What has happened since is nothing short of a tragedy in itself. (CLICK HERE to read a comprehensive and insightful article from last Sunday's Washington Post.)

The nation is bitterly divided -- perhaps more so than it has ever been, with the exception of the Civil War and the sectional divide which preceded it. Quickly converted into a catchphrase, 'global war on terror' has since been used to shield an agenda with a rationale that defies logical explanation.

Whether it was in support of oil-industry interests, a desire for revenge for a failed assassination attempt on his father, reliance on false intelligence concerning the potential for developing weapons of mass destruction, an imperialistic compulsion to export our way of governing to a part of the world not exactly longing for it, a desire to take out one of several malevolent dictators currently ruling, or a combination of all those things, President Bush committed the United States to what can appropriately be described, borrowing a phrase from history, as "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Unlike Vietnam, where the doctrine of containment of communist aggression held over from the 1950s lent considerable support to the early steps along the path to full-scale U.S. involvement, President Bush acted on nebulous authority counter to the advice and expertise of a veritable phalanx of knowledgeable persons, including his own Secretary of State and the senior senator from Delaware. Consider what you're doing, Mr. President, and if you feel you must do it, do it in concert with our European, Asian and Mid-east allies and the United Nations.

The reply was to again cite that 'global war on terrorism'.

The result, bought at a cost so far of the deaths of more than 2,500 American service personnel and injury to nearly 20,000, not to mention -- as is seldom done -- untold numbers of Iraqi and others who are victims of a foundering policy which has no real possibility of succeeding by any measure we can consider reasonable. Here at home, we are almost daily discovering new implications of a draconian law and executive actions unprecedented even in full-scale wartime. (CLICK HERE to read the Boston Globe account of testimony by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.) In the process, the United States has lost the respect of the governments and publics of nations formerly close to us and earned the hatred of several we should be seeking to inspire.

Still the 'global war on terrorism' is offered as the only rationale for what continues to occur.

While acknowledging that terrorism and terrorists exist -- as they have literally since the dawn of history -- we suggest that the 'global war on terrorism' may be too convenient a vehicle to be allowed to expire at any time in the near future. The force sent into Afghanistan quickly toppled the government which supported Osama and took physical control of all but a small portion of that nation. We are told that it is there that he and his organization are holed up in caves in terrain too rugged to effectively clear. At the same time, it seems, it is not too rugged or remote to prevent Osama from effectively managing a worldwide network of dedicated disciples and periodically producing broadcast-quality videos spewing his venom. Are those caves technological palaces?

The General Assembly passed up an opportunity to buy back the Public Building on Rodney Square for upwards of $5 million. The real estate subsidiary of M.B.N.A. Bank purchased the historic structure in 2003 in a deal that was heavily shrouded. M.B.N.A. and, with it, the building is owned by Bank of America, which finds itself with something of a white elephant on its hands.

The Public Building is commonly referred to now -- at least by relative newcomers -- as the Daniel Hermann Courthouse. Its history, however, goes all the way back to 1914 and for 62 years it housed both city of Wilmington and New Castle County governments as well as state and municipal courts.

Employing the state Freedom of Information Act, Delaforum was finally able to find out what the bank planned to do with the building (CLICK HERE to read the Delaforum article), but city officials stonewalled on providing any accounting of the deal or deals which led up to the acquisition. By the time the plans were forced into public view, M.B.N.A. had possession and had begun extensive exterior renovation.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was little public reaction to what was happening to the Public Building. In other instances, the outward appearance of structures deemed of historic value is the object of considerable public scrutiny before any alterations can be made. Defenders of old farmhouses, schools and miscellaneous structures are legion hereabouts.

The bank also gutted the interior of the building to provide, it said, for reconstruction into executive offices. The exact condition of the insides is not generally known. Is, for instance, the majestic cityside staircase still there?

It would be a good idea for the state to reacquire the structure if only to prevent its deterioration while holding it for a use which is certain to arise at some time in the future. Since it will be to Bank of America's benefit to shed what it obviously considers useless real estate, it would make good business sense for the bankers to settle for a break-even deal.

The state, however, should insist that the front of the building facing King Street be put back the way it was -- by removing the architecturally offensive porch, restoring the disappearing steps and entranceways, and recarving the stones above the doors. The bridge over 11th Street has to go. In return, the state can accept whatever happened inside while negotiating how much restoration is needed to offset the esthetic damage to the sides and rear of the structure.

The immediate need is to establish strong legal protection for the Public Building to prevent any further misuse of a structure so intricately tied to Wilmington's history and political traditions.

July 13, 2006

 What goes around, they say, eventually comes around.

The Delaware Supreme Court has agreed to review a rather arcane provision in the Delaware constitution to determine if it really prohibits appointment to be a senor county official of anyone who has not lived in the county for at least a year. If so, the court has been asked if the prohibition against a newcomer violates the all-encompassing equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

On the face of it, there can't be much open to question about the first point. Article III, Section 11, reads in its entirety: "No person shall be elected or appointed to an office within a county who shall not have a right to vote for a Representative in the General Assembly, and have been a resident therein one year next before his or her election or appointment, nor hold the office longer than he or she continues to reside in the county, unless herein otherwise provided." Beyond noting that judges here and elsewhere have become adept at applying the 14th Amendment cure-all whenever confronted by a thorny issue, we'll refrain from commenting on the second point until their honors decide it.

What's at stake here is whether New Castle County Executive Chris Coons can appoint someone from elsewhere to be chief of police. He said there is such a person on the short list of five candidate finalists he's considering, but insists that should not be interpreted to mean the outlander is the leader of the pack.

Strictly speaking, the high court agreed to render an advisory opinion in response to a request from Governor Ruth Ann Minner. But that's because only the governor has the right to seek a decision when there is not a specific case or legal dispute before the court. In his response agreeing to her request, Chief Justice Myron Steele agreed to put the matter on a fast track, a tacit acknowledgement of her having suggested urgency in light of the New Castle County vacancy.

Steele directed Attorney General Carl Danberg to defend the state constitutional provision and to argue against applying the 14th Amendment and Gregg Wilson, county attorney, to take the opposite side.

What's particularly interesting is that almost two years ago, Wilson's predecessor, Timothy Mullaney, was forced to resign after then auditor Robert Hicks discovered that Mullaney's principal residence was in Kent County. When Mullaney ignored Hicks's request for an explanation, Hicks went to then Attorney General Jane Brady asking what should be done about that.

While Hicks alleged that Mullaney was not complying with a county law requiring employees to take up residence in the county within a year of their having taken a job with county government, Brady replied that he was apparently guilty of a more egregious violation in that then County Executive Tom Gordon had appointed him to be county attorney in violation of the constitutional provision. In the hierarchy of laws, state law trumps a county ordinance and the state constitution trumps both.

Bit of a tangent here: It's not clear at this point how the prior-residency requirement got into the Delaware constitution. It's a fairly safe bet, however, that it was not part of the original 1897 document, but came in as a later amendment. That was probably because the General Assembly was miffed by something someone in county government did. State legislators are known to use their preeminence to respond to miffs. What would be interesting would be to discover what it was that miffed one or more legislators so much that they were able to secure the necessary supermajorities in two successive assemblies to slip something like that into the constitution.  But, there it is.  You go figure.

Back on track: That Hicks-Mullaney embroilment occurred in the politically supercharged summer of 2004. Mullaney was a Gordon political appointee. Hicks had the support of then Council president Coons. (To get the flavor of things as they were, CLICK HERE to read an article from the Delaforum archives.)

Coons said there is nothing inconsistent about how he apparently felt about the prior-residency requirement in 2004 and his obviously strong desire to overturn it in 2006. He told Delaforum that he was focused then on Mullaney's violation of county law by not establishing a bona fide county residence after his appointment. That, Coons added, is "a requirement my administration has enforced for my managers."

 Coons's reason for challenging the constitutional provision initially involved not only the police chief position but also appointment of a director of public safety to succeed Guy Sapp, who has since resigned. That point was rendered academic with the appointment of Ron Frazier to that position. Frazier and his family have lived in Middletown for several years.

He told County Council's public safety committee on July 11 that he had applied for the police chief job, but that during the interview process, Coons tapped him to be the new people chief's boss.

Council voted unanimously to confirm his appointment after Frazier told the committee that his basic philosophy is that "people need to feel safe no matter where they live." Several Council members said they came away from private introductory meetings impressed both with him and by his credentials.

Frazier began his career 33 years ago as a beat cop in Havre de Gras, Md. After five years there, he joined the National Railroad Passenger Corp. police force as a captain and rose to be chief of police and security, directing a force of 350 officers deployed nationally. After 20 years with Amtrak, he went in 2004 to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services where he was involved in public health and security-planning activities.

July 11, 2006

 Would you believe a school district that outlaws red ink on report cards in favor of 'less stressful' hues -- purple is the color of preference -- so as not to upset kids who get a failing grade? Or one that forbids teachers from using the word 'failure', or any derivation thereof, during parent conferences? The acceptable terminology, believe it or not, to tell mom or pop that junior is 'tending toward achieving deferred success'.

While that sort of political correctness evokes chuckles, the same philosophy that produces it can lead to tragedy. That happened in Atlanta, Ga., last year when Cynthia Ann Hall, a five-foot-tall, 51-year-old grandmother employed as a sheriff's deputy, was put to guarding Brian Nichols, 33, a six-foot-one former college football linebacker on trial for rape. He easily pushed her aside, took her gun and killed a judge, a court reporter and another deputy and it took an extensive manhunt to recapture him.

Those and a slew of other examples of p.c.-gone-wild are contained in the recently published Muzzled: From T-Ball to Terrorism by Michael A. Smerconish. He's a talk-radio-show host on a Philadelphia station and columnist in the Daily News who has had it up to here with the all-pervasive prohibitions against saying or doing anything that might possibly disturb anyone belonging to a protected race, religion, ethnicity, physical state, sexual orientation or gender.

Deputy Hall, of course, had her job not only because hiring practices and duty assignments appropriately prohibit discrimination against females but also because applicant qualifications have been tailored and obvious physical characteristics appropriate to given situations must be overlooked. There is no place for blatant racism, but tossing that blanket over a host of real-life conditions is hardly a way to correct what needs correcting.

Then there's the double standard evident in such things as trying to scrap the nearly half-century non-disparaging tradition behind Florida State University's linking itself with Seminole Indians while gleefully accepting stereotypes inherent in references to the 'Fighting Irish' of the University of Notre Dame.

Smerconish pulls no punches and covers a lot of ground in 249 pages of fast-moving narrative. He calls political correctness "a domestic cancer." Warning that the book is not for the squeamish, he said, "You'll encounter example after blood-boiling example of average Americans who have been bound and gagged by the P.C. police in every area of life. ... I wish it were made up, but sadly it's all too true." The book should be on everyone's list of required summer reading.

2006. All rights reserved.

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