Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Senator Brown's bill is just wrong

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, May 14, 2010.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” – Benjamin Franklin.

This famous quotation leapt to mind recently when Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown announced his co-sponsorship of legislation entitled the “Terrorist Expatriation Act”. This bill would expand State Department powers to strip Americans of their citizenship under a 1940 law, if the government determines they have joined or supported a terrorist-type organization.

These Americans would not have to be convicted of any crime. They would have the right to appeal the government’s determination - after the fact - through the court system. The Senator’s bill was filed largely in response to the recent car bombing attempt in Times Square by an alleged naturalized US citizen from Pakistan.

“We continue to defend our nation against shadowy extremist enemies whose tactics are ever-changing and evolving, but their goal of destroying our way of life remains the same," explained Brown, the country’s newest senator. “It is critical to our homeland security that we adjust and adapt our defense measures to keep terrorism out of our country.”

The law Brown seeks to expand was created as America was about to enter the war in Europe and battle the Nazi government. When Senator Joseph McCarthy started hunting Communists in the 1950’s, the law was given more teeth in response to the fear gripping the nation.

But it has rarely been used or enforced because the Supreme Court has consistently ruled citizenship can only be given up voluntarily. And that is as it should be, because citizenship is the single most important protection Americans have against unfair persecution, particularly by those in positions of governmental power.

The idea a senator from Massachusetts, where American liberty was conceived, could sponsor a bill that would strip citizenship from those merely accused of crimes or associations is frightening and ridiculous. The fact many well-known politicians from both parties are hesitant to immediately oppose it speaks to the political climate which today has politicians pandering to prevailing public opinion, rather than standing up for the principles upon which this great nation was founded.

There are strong laws and penalties in place for those who would commit terrorism and/or treason. But citizens of this country have certain rights, even if alleged to have committed criminal acts. Those rights were fought for and secured with the blood of patriots over the last 234 years. They belong to the people of this country - not its government.

Yes, the rights of American citizens sometimes make it difficult to provide for our security. Democracy and freedom are not easy. Maintaining them means forever balancing the rights of the individual against the needs of society. It is what separates us from most of the rest of the world.

Thomas Jefferson – hardly known as a liberal zealot – said: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

People have the right to be safe in their homes. Those who violate the laws of our land should face the appropriate punishments. And those convicted of plotting the violent overthrow of our government should be dealt with to the extreme, be they US citizens or not.

But proposals such as the one put forth by Senator Brown are as clearly political and self-serving as they are unconstitutional. Brown’s proposed law brings back sad memories of the way this country treated Japanese-Americans during World War II. It may well be popular in the current political climate, and it might earn him some votes. But it will also lose him a great deal of respect.

If we are willing to devalue American citizenship in order to protect ourselves, then the terrorists have already achieved their major goal – to begin the destruction of our way of life from within. We cannot allow that to happen.

Old Ben Franklin was absolutely right in what he said. And despite the best of intentions, Senator Brown is dead wrong in sponsoring this un-American piece of awful legislation.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who – contrary to popular belief – did not know Ben Franklin personally. He can be reached at

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Under-Appreciated Father of the Groom

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, May 8, 2010.

If you see me hanging around looking useless, you might assume that’s just the natural state for newspaper columnists. But no, I am merely readying myself for the final performance of a role I have played once thus far in my life.

My youngest son is getting married early next year to a wonderful young lady (I get in trouble when I call her “The Doctor”, but I’m very proud of her). So next March 12th I will don whatever finery I am instructed to wear, go where I am told, and pretty much stay out of the way. Such is life for the least important, nearly invisible participant in many weddings – the Father of the Groom (or FOG).

Each wedding participant usually has a clearly defined role. The Mother of the Bride is escorted down the aisle at the beginning of the ceremony. The Mother of the Groom gets to have that emotional dance with her son at the reception. And who among us has not shed a tear watching the Father of the Bride dance with his newly-wed daughter before the cheering crowd?

The Maid of Honor stands next to the bride as she is wed. The Best Man is entrusted with holding the wedding rings and gives the much-anticipated toast. The bridesmaids and groomsmen escort each other down the aisle to take their place of honor.

But the Father of the Groom does nothing. He stays in the background, guards his wife’s purse, and maybe occasionally gives guests directions to the restroom. If your attention is called to the FOG in a wedding, it is usually because something has gone horribly wrong.

In fact, he is not even considered capable of escorting his own wife down the aisle. Instead, he trails behind as though he came in late and has to catch up. His only responsibility is to remain upright and not step on his spouse’s dress from behind.

Since my son is marrying a doctor, let me put it in a medical perspective. The FOG is the appendix of the wedding party. Should he become inflamed he can be removed with virtually no damage to the wedding itself.

Sure, in some ceremonies the FOG is tossed a bone. Maybe he gets to light a candle before the service actually starts. Perhaps he can do a reading of some obscure scripture. Or in some cases, he might get to tell the caterer the final count of how many vegetarian dinners are actually necessary. But there seems to be no traditional role for this under-appreciated, under-utilized parental unit.

Of course, wedding days are not about other people. They are about the happy couple and giving them a day to remember as they start down the path to marital bliss. It is about their commitment and love, not about making sure their loved ones have played an important role in their day.

I don’t know who said that, but obviously it was not a Father of the Groom.

My oldest son was married just over four years ago, and his ceremony and celebration were amazing and wonderful. I played my role as FOG as well as could be expected. I wore the proper clothing, made the lonesome walk behind my wife as she was escorted to her seat by my other son, and made sure she did not trip coming off the altar when we jointly went up and lit a candle. Obviously, I could not be trusted alone with an open flame.

And it was one of the happiest days of my life, as March 12, 2011 will be also. I can’t wait to watch my youngest child exchange vows and officially join the ranks of the married. His spouse-to-be is specializing in geriatrics, and frankly I’m figuring the timing is just about right for me.

But as I sit watching it happen, I think I’ll keep an invitation in my pocket in case I have to prove I’m supposed to be there. Remember, it’s all about me.

If any of you faithful readers have suggestions for this anxious FOG, I’d be more than happy to listen. After all, what else do I have to do?

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a soon-to-be two-time FOG. You may send suggestions to him at