Friday, April 11, 2014

A Weary Nation Seeks Normalcy

Calls for renewed isolationism in reaction to war, a resurgence of nativism and a turning away from government activism – is this a foreshadowing of the U.S. presidential election in 2016? Or lessons from 1920? These were three pillars that eventual winner, Warren G. Harding, ran on as part of his “Return to Normalcy” campaign in the aftermath of World War I and in opposition to Woodrow Wilson's ideologically progressive administration. No doubt, it seems eerily juxtaposed to the present political atmosphere created foremost by more than a decade of war against terrorism and the exasperating policies of the current administration.

Due to scandals that rocked his administration [Teapot Dome], Harding typically is voted to the bottom rungs of presidential rankings. It should be noted, though, that his administration accomplished a modicum of normalcy in the early 1920s, which witnessed fiscal accountability and economic prosperity, more favorable labor laws and the advancement of women's enfranchisement, particularly in voting rights and the political sphere in general. More than any policy of his predecessor ever accomplished over the course of two terms in office. Given unemployment numbers and overall bleak economic conditions the last few years, the negative effects the “affordable” healthcare law is wreaking on the job market and the continual clash over alleged disenfranchising election laws (i.e. voter IDs) meant to stem fraud and ensure the integrity of the electoral process, does it not seem we again walk along a precipice seeking normalcy from an administration run amuck [Solyndra; Fast & Furious; Benghazi; IRS]?

Then there is the contentious debate over immigration reform and border security, issues that every generation has faced in determining the ethnic makeup of the nation. Yes, as every pundit reminds, the United States is a nation of colonizers, immigrants, refugees, émigrés, etc, from other countries; yet, as history shows, it has always been a welcoming skeptic as well, restricting those deemed contradictory to American culture and society. And while it is wise not to erode liberties in exchange for a false sense of security against certain groups, it is likewise necessary not to give up security to certain groups that potentially could be the downfall of those liberties. This has been a longstanding argument between upholding law-abiding sovereignty versus a misguided open-arms policy that would negatively affect the stability of national cohesion and identity. Whichever path is taken, it is certain not to end any time soon.

With the U.S. pulling out from Iraq and Afghanistan, there also is a renewed call once again for isolationism – naturally, within the context of a globally-connected world quite different from a century ago. For some, the U.S. appears in retreat from supporting allies and engaging enemies alike; for others, the U.S. should continue this policy and further cut defense spending. However, the history of 1920s isolationism and military downsizing is the lesson of a decade later that witnessed the rise of both Germany and Japan in the absence of U.S. influence and strength. What happens when Iran or North Korea decides it is time to flex their muscle, or, as already has happened, a resurgent Russia? We would yet again face the same consequences that befell the world 80 years ago – perhaps made even more dire with the proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction, particularly concerning rogue regimes and terrorist entities.

The wheel has rotated fully to another defining moment, and a weary nation once again seeks normalcy from chaotic uncertainty.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Monday, March 31, 2014

Common Cause Against Compliance

It has been found that the best way to ensure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.” - Benjamin Disraeli

As prime minister at the height of the British Empire's power and glory in the 1870s, Disraeli knew what it took to govern with imperial vigor. Government, at all levels, is not composed of leaders, but rulers dictating over the led. Any person who believes the government is naively blind, and even more forthrightly stupid to trust them. But if you would willingly give up individual and natural rights in compliance with coercively mandatory measures, you are nothing less than an accomplice in the downfall of liberty. People are wanting, needing, and what do government officials do? Betray their duties to the people who elect them, or feel no such obligation in cases of appointment by decree.

Therefore, I believe it is past time that every American – born, naturalized or otherwise loyal in citizenship and allegiance – as well as all global rebel patriots re-dedicate themselves to the immortal words set forth by our Founding Fathers in the penultimate founding document, The Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security...

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The consent of the governed is being overrun by the destructive means of the governing, and the abuses and usurpations must come to an end before it is too late. Like Disraeli, these bureaucratic overseers understand that indoctrination is best begun early in order to achieve obedience that has the appearance of consent; is it little wonder the recurrent application of education “reforms” – from pre-K to secondary – toward that end? While resistance may be futile, compliance, brought about by a certain degree of lassitude, is nothing short of defeat. As President Calvin Coolidge stated, “freedom is not only bought with a great price; it is maintained by unremitting effort.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Monday, March 24, 2014

Military-Inspired Inventions That Are Now Commonplace

Many of the daily items we utilize today were not intended for civilian use. In light of continual tensions in hotspots around the world…that will probably eventually lead to World War III (hey – minus Smokey & the Bandit III, The Matrix Revolutions & The Dark Knight Rises – who doesn’t love a trilogy??!)…here are ten modern items for which we can thank the military:

Canned Food

In 1795, the French government, concerned about the limiting availability of large quantities of food during military campaigns, offered a cash award to inventors for an efficiently cheap method of food preservation. Over the next 15 years, Nicolas Appert, a Parisian confectioner, experimented with various techniques using glass bottles; in 1810, he was awarded the prize for a process similar to pasteurization known as “appertisation,” in which the bottles were tightly sealed with a vise and placed in boiling water to cook the contents. As Appert's model became more widespread, Peter Durand, a British merchant and inventor, patented an improved process utilizing tin canisters later that same year. In 1812, Durand sold the patent to British industrialists John Hall and Bryan Donkin, who began producing canned food for the British army; six years later, Durand re-patented his invention in the United States. By 1822, canned food became a recognizable domestic staple in Britain, France and the U.S., and a fundamental necessity in conflicts from the (original) Crimean War to the Second World War.

Microwave Oven

Working for the Raytheon Corporation after World War II, Dr. Percy Spencer accidentally discovered the practical application of microwave radiation as a by-product from his research on radar technology. Noting that a candy bar in his pocket melted when exposed to the radiation, he was spurred to conduct further experiments on a way to rapidly cook food. Called the “Radarange,” Tappan, under a patent-license with Raytheon, began manufacturing units designed for home use starting in 1955. However, it would take another twelve years to develop a commercially viable countertop oven, introduced by the Amana Corporation, a Raytheon subsidiary, in 1967.


Created by DuPont's Wallace Carothers, nylon was an anticipatory invention during the 1930s intended as a synthetic replacement for scarce Asian silk due to the impending Second World War. It was introduced commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush in 1938, followed more notably two years later as women’s stockings. During the war, it was used extensively in the production of parachutes, as well as other military equipment like tires and protective gear. From rope to dress shirts, nylon's application in modern society is now an inescapable reality.

Cargo Pants

A modern fashion trend, cargo pants (and the variation of shorts) were originally created for military use in the late 1930s. Designed for use by British military personnel, particularly paratroopers, the large-pocketed pants made it easier to carry military equipment like portable communication devices and extra ammunition. Unlike nylon stockings, which were an immediate hit on the fashion scene in the 1940s, it would take another sixty years for cargo pants to go from functional to fashionable.


In 1953, Norm Larsen, founder of the Rocket Chemical Company, invented this handy lubricant as a water displacement ("WD") and corrosion inhibitor for the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Allegedly, it was his 40th attempt to perfect the formula, which is a trade secret; to avoid full disclosure of its ingredients, it has never been patented. Based in San Diego, California, Larsen’s invention became commercially available in the city’s hardware stores five years later.

Duct Tape

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Overzealous Policing & Prosecution

Part I:  Traffic Stop

Just after midnight on October 29, 2013, I traveled down Ross Avenue in a corridor of unincorporated west St. Louis County, Missouri, between Maryland Heights and Creve Coeur. I was only minutes from my residence, to which I was returning home after purchasing gas at a gas station on Lackland Avenue, off Page Avenue, in Maryland Heights; as I had done numerous times before, it was a round-trip of less than ten minutes not including the fill-up. After coming to a complete stop at the posted stop sign at the intersection of Ross Avenue and Merrick Drive, I proceeded on as usual down Ross Avenue toward Olive Boulevard. There was no one else on the road. Immediately, a St. Louis County police officer, who had not been travelling behind me nor was present at the intersection, approached with their emergency lights on. I was confused and disoriented by the sudden appearance of the police car, apparently entering the roadway from one of two subdivision entrances that comprised part of the intersection. At first thinking the police officer needed to get around me, I steered to the edge of the narrow roadway as best I could in order to give them room; realizing this was not the case, I turned onto the next available side street just past the intersection – less than a minute from my residence – with the police officer pulling in behind.

After some heated discussion concerning the matter, given my familiarity of and longstanding residence in the area, the police officer, Jasmine Schmidt, proceeded to cite me for allegedly failing to make a “complete stop at stop sign on stop line.” According to the citation, it was a violation of St. Louis County Ordinance 1206.030, “Intersections Where Stop Required,” which states, “Traffic on the highways or roadways in Schedule VI of this code shall stop before entering the intersection of the named highway or roadway described in Schedule VI.” Legal experts, particularly police officers who have discussed the matter with me, informally call this a “fishing expedition” citation used as a means to cite motorists for other, usually more serious, offenses. They suggested that Officer Schmidt clearly believed I was doing something else illegal, possibly drunk driving given the hour; when that proved false, she manufactured another, less serious traffic violation. When handing me the citation, she even noted on it the place and manner in which I could conveniently pay the fine. This immediately called into question another motive:  revenue generation.

In the preceding months, the typically docile and family-oriented suburban area had seen a noticeable increase in police presence. When asked about this circumstance in comparison to more crime-ridden sectors of the 2nd Precinct (Central County) – and in relation to the City of St. Louis’ recent “hot spot” patrolling – Captain Guy Means, the precinct commander, made no comment. Inquiries made to several other precincts, as well as to both former Police Chief Tom Fitch and the recently installed Jon Belmar, received a similar response. Then, on the evening of November 25, I was visiting a friend’s house in another subdivision off Ross Avenue not too far from my residence and the intersection in question. While on their patio, I noticed someone with a flashlight near my vehicle parked on the street; it was another St. Louis County police officer, allegedly “investigating” a “suspicious” car – despite the fact that my friend has no immediate neighbors, or at the very least ones who would have made such a call to the police. Coincidentally, this incident occurred after I started making inquiries to the police department and the municipal court in my capacity as a journalist.

I later learned that Officer Schmidt was only a few months out of the police academy, and that a similar looking vehicle as mine was connected to a string of burglaries in the area a few months earlier. No doubt, she, as a rookie cop, believed she had a potentially career-making collar; when that proved false, she clearly manufactured the alleged violation to cover her error – and certainly to maintain a healthy revenue-generating citation record. [In relation to this, yet another St. Louis County police officer later made a suspicious drive by in my neighborhood on March 10, slowing as they passed by my parked vehicle. As I was outside at the time, they pulled away when everything obviously checked out.]

Part II:  Court Appearance

Monday, March 3, 2014

Politics of the Olympic Games

Every four years, nations come together to compete against each other under a banner of global harmony and awareness. Traditionally, in that spirit, there is not to be political displays or statements; typically, there consistently has been such activity. To begin with, nations compete under the flag of their respective country. That alone is a political statement, engendering all notions and connotations about them. If the Olympics Games were truly meant as an apolitical event, athletes would simply compete under the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) flag. Instead, there is always the prideful underlying “Us vs. Them” attitude:  in 1936, it was All-American Jesse Owens against Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany; in 2014, the poster boy would be All-American T.J. Oshie versus Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Of course, both Owens and Oshie would humbly deny their role as geopolitical pawns, but it is present.

Then there was the issue of gay rights and Russia’s anti-gay laws even before the games began in Sochi, Russia. Many nations, including the United States, put forth stern public condemnations and sent representative delegations to underscore the issue. Not a political statement? Baloney. From Hitler to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, many world leaders, politicians and athletes have used the Olympic Games as a platform for advancing both domestic and international issues and agendas.

Putin used the games to highlight, rightly so, a glorious Russian history – absent any references to the atrocities of its past under czars and communists alike. On the international stage, what country would not do the same? Every nation, including the United States, has idealized its own history to paint a rose-colored version for future generations. (After all, the U.S. has witnessed Gone With the Wind winning an Oscar in 1940 to 12 Years A Slave winning in 2014; not only is it telling in terms of the betterment of race relations, but more importantly the changing discussion of slavery 75 and 149 years, respectively, after the American Civil War ended.) For Putin, the games were a two-fold chance to boast both to his fellow citizens and the international community, providing a picture of strength and unity against those who would challenge a modernized Russia.

Now with events unfolding in Crimea and Ukraine, the political reality is even starker. A hamstrung N.A.T.O. vs. a resurgent “Warsaw Pact,” with a naïve former community organizer poised against a calculating former KGB agent. Hollow ultimatums and empty threats from President Barack “1980s want their foreign policy back” Obama do not concern President Vladimir “only a strong Russia” Putin. Putin sees a weakened and retreating United States – in no small measure thanks to the failed domestic and foreign policies of the Obama Administration, which has further tanked the economy, gutted military/defense and infuriated allies while appeasing enemies – a European Union in disarray and a N.A.T.O. organization unable to respond without full-fledged support and sustainment from the two. Putin is playing a real-life game of Risk, and so far he has the upper hand in a bold move to test it.

President Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Based On Fantasy (Washington Post)

Why Putin Plays Our Presidents for Fools (National Journal)

Putin's Playbook: The Strategy Behind Russia's Takeover of Crimea (The Atlantic)

Years before the latest Olympic Games and the current crisis, Putin began putting the pawns into place for this scenario. During his first tenure as president, he successfully led the lobbying of the I.O.C. for hosting the Sochi games to put Russia in the spotlight, while re-igniting and asserting the flame of Russian influence throughout its surrounding regions and in the international community. Now, we are witnessing the outcome of that calculating organization, as world leaders attempting to futilely project a position of strength and authority over him play catch-up in their naivety and short-sightedness. No politics in the Olympics? Hardly.

©2014 Steve Sagarra