by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
Here is a short PowerPoint slideshow I made for a Political Science course assignment about Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, Sr, a famous U.S. Senator. The course was called "The Progressive Era."
by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
Here is a short PowerPoint slideshow I made for a Political Science course assignment about Charles Edison, the famous son of inventor Thomas Edison. The course was called "The Progressive Era."
This documentary review of “The New Asylums” by PBS FRONTLINE was originally written for a “reasoning analysis” assignment for a college Communications class. If you ever happen to see it, it’s a good film, as I explain in the following essay.
“The New Asylums”
The FRONTLINE film “The New Asylums” by PBS is a fair and balanced documentary on the state of mental illness into today’s prisons. It has a balance of questions of facts and questions of values. The film allows equal time to explore the pros and cons of the mental institutions that have been created out of necessity in America’s prison systems.
Perhaps the film gives us the best possible scenario of the situation in Ohio. Because of the declining number of proper psychiatric institutions left today in America, many mentally ill folks roam the streets. Because of this, they end up committing minor or petty crimes, or sometimes even murder. In any case, many of them end up in prison because they have nowhere else to go.
For a long time, these mentally ill were pretty much treated as ordinary prisoners, even though it was often tried to accommodate them,. Ohio’s prison system has instituted special programs and given special cell blocks to mentally ill prisoners. Even in these specialized programs, which are fair substitutes for psychiatric wards, they are still prisons. As by evidenced in the film, prison life is often counterproductive to treating the mentally ill.
In these cases where you have these prisons within a prison, correctional officers often have to take on the additional responsibility of nursing their mentally ill inmates. This requires a great deal of patience and understanding for their conditions. As many psychiatrists and doctors are brought in, it is still a prison and not a proper hospital. While it is better for these mentally ill to be in these special cell blocks, there isn’t much hope for any of them to return to any kind of normal life. They still have to live a prison life, with all its rules and discipline, which do not always apply well to the mentally ill.
In the film’s conclusion, the audience is left feeling that at least kept off the streets and sheltered. But although these people are being taken care of, there is often little hope of actually getting better. Prison life for the mentally ill, although in some ways more relaxed than ordinary prison situations, is never going to be a solution. There is a call for a new mental health system in this country. Until then, stabilization and permanent institutionalization for these abandoned mentally ill is the best case scenario.
by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
This post is based on a Political Science course essay from 2008 as part of a community outreach project. It takes a Massachusetts perspective, since that's where I was going to college at the time. However, it's a good overview of the history of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) organization and what it does for the community. It had to be revised somewhat since many of the original sources no longer exist online. So I figure publishing it will help other students if they're writing on this topic.
"The Veterans of Foreign Wars”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, better known as the V.F.W, was founded in the wake of the Spanish-American War. The V.F.W actually began as several separate organizations of veterans that shared a common goal of helping their fellow discharged servicemen. In those times, no government programs existed for special medical care for veterans or pensions. Those returning from service were left to fend for themselves, often with little success. To represent themselves and their concerns, many veterans banded together and formed the foundation of this great organization.
Description and History of the Organization
After the end of the Spanish-American war and the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 to 1902, many veterans who had returned home to miserable conditions decided to form organizations to fight for rights to veterans’ benefits. When these organizations banded together a few years later, their membership grew quickly. According to the V.F.W. website, the membership of the V.F.W. was already 5,000 by 1915, and by 1936, it had jumped to 200,000. Today, the V.F.W’s membership numbers approximately two million worldwide.
The mission statement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is simple, to “honor the dead by helping the living.” Perhaps, the greatest legacy of the V.F.W. is the GI bill legislation, which gave returning veterans low-cost or free educational benefits, to make their reintegration into society much smoother, and allow for much greater job opportunities than past generations of veterans.
Other major victories for the V.F.W. include the formation of the national cemetery system, the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets who were exposed to the horrible Agent Orange, and special care for veterans who today suffer from the psychological conditions of Gulf War Syndrome. The organization has also recently battled for improved Veterans Association (V.A.) hospital care for women veterans.
There are numerous V.F.W. posts in Massachusetts alone, including Brockton and Easton. In North Easton, there is a particularly active post that stands out. There is a tank out back in the parking lot, always decorated. The building itself is well-maintained and recently underwent a facelift around 2007. It is known as George F. Schindler Post 2547, and it is one of the most active posts on the South Shore.
So exactly what functions does a V.F.W. Post serve? It is a place for veterans to go to make sure they receive the benefits they are entitled to, and most specifically, act as a supportive community for all veterans local and otherwise. It often serves as a function hall that can be rented out for numerous sorts of occasions. But it represents the heart of a community more than it does a function hall.
Especially in times of war, it is important to stop and recognize that although it is not always apparent in our everyday lives, we have veterans of our youngest adult generation that are struggling through life as they return from abroad. It becomes especially more difficult when facing the financial difficulties that most Americans are in even more desperate situations because they have been away from home. This isn’t even to mention those who are physically or mentally wounded from their time in service.
The 21st century revamp of the G.I bill, passed in 2008, is a recent major victory for the VFW and all of today’s veterans. It brought increased educational benefits for today’s veterans, as well as other improvements on the prior G.I. bill that President Roosevelt signed into law in 1944. Believe it or not, the original bill, then otherwise known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 or the GI Bill of Rights, was very controversial.
The controversy was greatly because of the ability of returning servicemen to go to college, for many years a right reserved as a wealthy privilege. Atop that, many congressmen and senators did not like the idea of paying discharged veterans allowances while they attended classes. The bill also provided guarantees for home loans, a major contributor to the Baby Boomer generation. It ultimately passed because despite these disagreements, everyone had to agree something had to be done to reintegrate those that served their country in war back into normal society. After the original bill expired in 1956, the Veterans Association that had since been formed on the part of the United States government took over much of the responsibility. In 1984, the GI bill was revived and revamped. Even in light of the 2008 update, it is still known now as the “Montgomery GI Bill.”
Today, the United States Veterans Association, or better known as the VA, is overwhelmed with the number of requests for need from all of today’s veterans that have been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even then, the VFW has been doing its best to step up to make up the gap. There has been a constant scream of frustration with the government’s limits on providing benefits. Realistically, however, non-profit organizations simply have a very hard time responding to sudden leaps in need. This is why the VFW can use all the help it can get.
Today’s major struggle is the great need for funding. There has been great argument over government funding for veterans programs, and right now with a faltering economy and thus a job shortage and housing crisis, the VFW needs more help than ever from private donations. Even in light of these funding shortages, VFW members still actively participate in the community with great fundraising events. The VFW also offers college scholarships to children and grandchildren of VFW members.
Some other specific examples of ways that VFW Post members contribute to their local communities are supporting local youth sports programs, providing meals and entertainment for wounded soldiers at local hospitals, contributing to food pantries, and help organize town and city parades. Of course, VFW Posts are also often perfect sites for Bingo nights.
Link to the Progressive Era
In a time when many individuals were sticking out for those less fortunate than themselves, the veterans of America were forced in their dire straits to make for themselves an organization that would serve as a collective voice for all the military heroes of this country. The neglect with which many of our nation’s heroes were treated was appalling. In a time like the Progressive Era, the Veterans of Foreign Wars took off with great success.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars formed during a time in which the United States of America was becoming a major power in international affairs. Until that point, America had fought its wars on its own soil, the War for Independence, the War of 1812, conflicts with the Native Americans, and of course the Civil War. With troops now going overseas to fight, there was nothing in place to help these new kinds of veterans who were serving abroad. The VFW helped greatly to fill the void and has since become one of America’s longest enduring foundations.
The VFW is everywhere. Though in our daily lives we may not always think about it, it is always active in giving America’s war heroes what they need and the respect they deserve. It is important especially in these tough economic times with all of the international turmoil of recent years that communities band together to not only remember and care for our local veterans but to also serve our communities in whatever way we can.
by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
The Constitution is somewhat vague in how far presidential power is allowed to go in times of war. It says that the Congress has the power to make war as it sees fit and that the President is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. However, the office of the Presidency has on numerous occasions stretched their wartime powers to the limit. In particular, the Lincoln and Wilson administrations went as far as to curb civil liberties and enact unprecedented wartime acts.
Then again, those two presidents were faced with absolutely different circumstances. Abraham Lincoln had to save the Union. Woodrow Wilson had a moralistic mission, a vision for America, but he did so mostly with the consent of Congress. So the question can be asked if Lincoln had a better case of taking executive action than Wilson had. Wilson may have overstepped his bounds, but perhaps his ends justified the means. Lincoln really had little choice but to take on as much power as he could, because the Union needed a central figure, and whether he liked it or not, he had to be the figure, and the one left standing at the end.
Lincoln’s mission was the preservation of the Union at all costs. Though his methods from time to time seemed clearly unconstitutional, they certainly were effective. Looking at it in hindsight, his means were certainly justified by the ends, as the Union obviously won out. Of course, under normal circumstances, his actions would have been easily considered an abuse of the executive office. But the Civil War caused Lincoln to face extraordinary circumstances, and he needed to rule strongly. That isn’t to say that the people simply went along with him, though, as historically many people despised him and he did strip people of many civil rights.
But did he have much of a choice? Lincoln’s very inauguration as president was a major motivation in the secession of the Confederate states, and he could not give into them; he had to put himself and the Union in the strongest position possible. Many of his acts were allowed by the Constitution, and those that were constitutionally questionable he made on his authority as President of the Union (Milkis 154). But suspending the right to habeus corpus seemed a bit harsh. It likely would not have worked in today’s America. But at the time Lincoln felt it necessary. Lincoln himself in 1864 wrote these words concerning his actions:
“Was it possible to lose the nation and yet preserve the Constitution? By general law, life and limb must be protected, yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures otherwise unconstitutional might become lawful by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the nation.” (154)
War is never pretty, and the rules you would like to ideally follow cannot always apply during wartime because the status quo only really exists during peacetime. Lincoln could not have all sorts of people criticizing his administration in that critical situation, when the very nation was crumbling apart. Basically, his argument was that had to break a few rules in order to bring unity to what still remained of the Union in order to save it. That does not change the fact, however, that he was greatly hated by many Americans, who did indeed see him becoming a sort of “dictator.” However, he was the right man at the right time, a man who at any other time in history may not have been a very well-liked president. In hindsight, however, Lincoln is remembered now as one of the greatest of American heroes, and deservedly so. His leadership saved the existence of the United States of America - at least as we still know it today.
Woodrow Wilson’s presidency was really the next administration to truly push the boundaries of his wartime powers. However, he was operating under completely different circumstances. The nation itself was not in crisis. Wilson was the first president that believed he could sway Congress through leading popular opinion (Nelson 115). Even before motivating the country towards entering world conflict, he persuaded Congress into passing legislation that he suggested, which included the creation of the Federal Reserve System and Federal Trade Commission to regulate banking and business practices and aids for agriculture with the Smith-Lever and Federal Farm Loan Acts (116). He was also the first American president to be faced with global conflict, and he responded very well in such unprecedented circumstances (Milkis 241).
Wilson proved to be an effective wartime leader. His mantra for entering World War One was to “make the world safe for democracy” (Milkis 241). Being the first “total war” the world had ever seen, meaning that countries’ entire economies had to be devoted to the war machine, Wilson had some tough decisions to make, sometimes against the approval of Congress. However, it is very important to point out that even in those cases he still, whenever he could, did seek Congress’ consent before he took action (241). He regulated the entire economy through the Lever Food and Fuel Control Act of 1917 (242). Unlike Lincoln, however, by this time war had become too complex for him alone to be involved with closely, so he left many of the detailed aspects to members of his administration that he trusted with such things (242). He is remembered as a very good commander-in-chief, and though some of his moves were unprecedented, his actions were certainly effective in keeping the upper hand in the war effort. His arguments were valid.
The best example of the curbing of civil liberties in recent years would be the Bush Administration. While nowhere as harsh as those undertaken by former administrations, under the PATRIOT Act, that administration has done some fairly unconstitutional things, including holding people without charges for indefinite amounts of time. Yes, many of those prisoners may have indeed been terrorists, but under those laws the government could technically imprison any one they feel may be a threat to the administration. If this isn’t an abuse of power, it is as close as you can come to an abuse. Matters of national security are tricky business, though; they can be very difficult to argue about.
The ability for a President to suspend civil liberties in time of war is a discretionary matter. It depends on the nature of the particular war being fought. If a war is being fought on American soil, it is quite understandable, and in fact sometimes necessary to keep order through martial law and otherwise somewhat unconstitutional methods. Fortunately, thus far only the Civil War has really presented that problem. But motivating the country in a way like Woodrow Wilson did during World War One, completely towards the ideal of “making the world safe for democracy” is a completely different matter. However, though Wilson was a highly moralistic individual, he did not run away with his power; he did everything he could to stay within constitutional regulations.
When does the pushing of the limits become considered abuse of power, then? First of all, Congress would have to be in constant disapproval or direct opposition with the President. If the Congress, led by the President through popular opinion or not, usually work together with the President to get things done, then constitutionally usually things are alright. It is easy to say that as long as the ends are good then the means can be justified. But when the means lead to more turmoil and popular apathy against the government, then it can be said that the executive office has overstepped its constitutional bounds. Then again, most of the power of American government lies in the Congress. If they are not doing their jobs and letting the executive walk all over them, that is not a good thing, either. Legislative checks and balances exist for a reason. If and when a president bypasses the Congress for reasons not constitutionally justified, in a time where there is no true national crisis like the Civil War or major upheaval, then it could be considered a major issue. If an administration is reaching that point, there are those who would say so, and with the unprecedented actions occurring now, it would seem that the evacuation of that administration from office would be a very welcome thing for many Americans.
In American history, there has not yet been a truly runaway executive, but the Bush administration came awfully close to it. However, it is a very difficult situation globally right now. It is very true to say that America’s national security is in danger, as the world is becoming an increasingly turbulent place, and America is in a position where it needs to make its power known. But is it being done correctly? The consensus among most Americans is that things could be going much, much differently. What America needs is very strong leadership, and we will see how our current and future administrations lead by example.
Milkis, Sidney M., and Michael Nelson. The American Presidency. 4th ed. Washington DC: CQ Press, 2003.
Nelson, Michael, ed. The Evolving Presidency. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2004.
by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
Being the first President of the United States, George Washington was without a doubt the “Precedent President.” Not only was he the first, but he was the quintessential American hero, and millions of people looked up to him. As the first President of a nascent nation, he would push the boundaries of the executive power of the Presidency. There was the Decision of 1789, which dealt with the President to fire appointed officials without Congress’ consent. Secondly, there was his handling of the Whiskey Rebellion situation in Pennsylvania. Thirdly, there was perhaps one of the major events of his entire Presidency, the Neutrality Proclamation of 1793. As the very first President, Washington showed what the office really looked like in action, and set a crucial example for future presidencies.
As important as the Presidency has become today, why did the Constitution’s framers choose to leave the specifics of the office so vague? Naturally, from past experience, the framers did not want an executive that could essentially take over the government and become a dictator. The framers intentionally wanted a government where the legislature had the majority of the power. But under the Articles of Confederation, they had lacked one with balance and stability, so their solution was to add the executive branch. Some people in America wouldn’t have minded making Washington king. But Washington himself refrained from taking the office to that level. Perhaps, he could have if he really wanted to, because, of course, he was George Washington. However, Washington believed the government under this new Constitution could work. He did, however, make some moves for which the Constitution itself really could not provide solid answers, because so much was implied. To the best of his ability, Washington made some decisions that would make interpretations of those implications a reality.
First of all, the Constitution was vague about the workings of what would become the American bureaucracy. It was very clear, however, that the legislative branch had the majority of the power. But the Constitution was not very clear on how exactly important positions, those non-elected that would prove to be necessary in the working of the government, would be filled. The President at that time had the power to appoint, but not to fire, which seems a little strange. The Decision of 1789 had to do with the President’s ability to firing appointed officials without the consent of Congress (Social). When the bill was sent to the Senate, there was a tie, and Vice President Adams voted in Washington’s favor. This important decision gave the President a power that was not enumerated in the Constitution, but that would seem to make good sense. If the President can make an appointment, and then finds that the appointment was not working out, it only makes sense that the President could remove said official without having to go through Congress about it. It would seem obvious that an Executive should make for things to run smoothly. To Washington, and apparently also Adams, it was not necessary for the President to have to go through an extra step to remove an inadequate appointee.
The first true test of the government’s power in civil affairs was the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. The 1794 insurrection was caused not only by the “high excise tax on whiskey,” which is often quoted as the cause of the rebellion, but also because of other factors as well. One was “the lack of federal courts” in Washington County. There were also the matters of “large numbers of absentee landlords…” and “lack of access to the Mississippi River...” (Hart) However, perhaps the greatest matter that sparked the rebellion was the “lack of protection from the Indians.” (Hart) The importance of this factor cannot be missed. There were repeated attacks by the natives, led by the British. The country had fought back earlier in the 1790’s but the problem was still very much there. In fact, the high excise tax on whiskey had much to do with the military activity in western Pennsylvania. “To pay for the military activity against the Indians…” one source says, “and other things, it was decided to put an additional tariff on the sale of whiskey at the source.” (Hart) So that was the reason for the tax. What outraged people in the western parts, however, was the tariff. High in Pennsylvania as it was, about eighteen percent in the eastern parts, the tariff was raised to well over twenty percent in western regions. That clearly did not seem very fair to those in the west.
The other reasons for the rebellion were very important, as well. Because of the aforementioned lack of federal courts in Western Pennsylvania, any cases heard against the excise tax had to be heard in Philadelphia. This necessary trip was quite a hike for those living in Pennsylvania’s western parts. Also, the Mississippi River problem was an enormous one for commerce, as there was much fighting between not only Americans and the British, but also with the Spanish (Hart). Western Pennsylvanians seemed to be getting the hard end of the bargain, and they resented this. It was a very complicated situation for which no one really seemed to have a great solution.
With all these different problems, the citizens of Washington County finally went into an uproar. In response, Washington sent in about thirteen thousand troops to Washington County to quell the rebellion restore order (Hart). It was his first action as Commander-in-chief, and it was a show of force that perhaps no man other than Washington would have gotten away with. It is, however, a power that presidents would use again, many years later, with the U.S. Army National Guard troop deployments in the twentieth century.
In the Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, Washington believed he could declare neutrality in the conflict between France and England. Congress was not very pleased. Alexander Hamilton stood by Washington, and wrote letters as Pacificus explaining why he did. James Madison, recruited by Thomas Jefferson who was part of the Administration and would not he himself speak against it, wrote against the Proclamation as Helvidius. He and Jefferson agreed that it was up to the legislature to declare neutrality, and that for the executive to do so was overstepping his bounds (Nelson). Madison wrote in Helvidius no. 1, “In the general distribution of powers, we find that of declaring war expressly vested in the Congress, where every other legislative power is declared to be vested, and without any other qualification than what is common to every other legislative act.” (Hart) It is true that the Constitution would seem to imply this. But Hamilton was correct in saying, as he wrote in his Pacificus letter,
“If the legislature has the right to make war on the one hand – it is on the other the duty of the Executive to preserve Peace till war is declared; and in fulfilling that duty, it must necessarily possess a right of judging what is the nature of the obligations which the treaties of the Country impose on the Government; and when in pursuance of this right it has concluded that there is nothing in them inconsistent with a state of neutrality, it become both its province and its duty to enforce the laws incident to that state of the Nation.” (Nelson)
In the time that this Neutrality Proclamation was made, it was very important that the newly formed republic of America needed to stay out of the bitter feuds between France and England. Keeping such powerful countries as those two as neutral trade partners was crucial to developing the fairly new nation’s economy. Hamilton, especially at the time, said the right thing, and it was an important precedent to set for future Presidents. As the one who is presiding over the Nation, keeping the peace until War is absolutely necessary seems to be a perfectly good power for the Presidency to own.
The American Presidency is a very unique executive position. Since Washington, the office has undergone many changes, and perhaps it is a far stronger office than the Constitution’s framers had originally intended. The framers, however, probably left so much unsaid about the executive office in the Constitution because they felt writing too much would have been the wrong thing to do. There was a reason that the American Constitution was called an experiment in democracy. They wanted the executive office to evolve with the rest of the government, to become whatever would be necessary for the government to function smoothly. Has the office of the Presidency become much stronger than the Framer’s intended? That all falls to interpretation. The Presidency has evolved just as it has needed to over time, and Washington as the president who set the first precedents made it clear, though perhaps not intentionally trying to shape the office with everything he did, certainly made the office of the President the office in which one man can set many precedents whenever something important has to be done.
Hart, Tom. “David Bradford and the Causes of the Whiskey Rebellion.” 2005
Hart, Tom. "Whiskey Rebellion." 28 Mar. 2005.
Nelson, Michael, ed. The Evolving Presidency. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2004.
"The Bureaucracy." Social Studies Help. 2006.
Lyn Lomasi's Founder & Community Manager of Write W.A.V.E. Media, which spotlights writers for existing work, as well as encourages expression while earning. Along with her amazing business & life partner, Richard Rowell, Lyn manages a freelance writer team.
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Richard Rowell is a freelance blogger and creative writer who writes on a wide array of topics including marketing, positive thinking, writing advice, and more.
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