Environmental Crisis – Raising All of our Elijahs

Earlier this week, I had the distinct pleasure to hear Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak on the significant environmental crisis that has been with us for some time and the impact past, current and future events will have on the environment and us in the future. I say pleasure, but in fact, she scared the crap out of me and everyone in attendance which was her purpose. Dr. Steingraber is an ecologist, author, cancer survivor and mother of two. Her most recent book about her son is called “Raising Elijah – Protecting our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis” and it follows her earlier book called “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer.” She is a frequent public speaker and has testified in front of Congress, the United Nations and the European Parliament to name a few. Her first book has been made into a film by The People’s Picture Company of Toronto.

She tells her stories from each of her lenses, but her most impactful lens is the one told as a mother of two. I am currently reading “Raising Elijah” and would encourage each of you to read it and tell others about it. I will move onto her first book after this one. She attests that when you speak of these issues as a mother (or parent), it resonates with everyone as we all wish for our children to live healthy lives. She notes she has been able to bring pro-life and pro-choice believers together on these issues.

In her mind, there are two types of crises with the environment – the toxic crisis and the climate change crisis. The toxic crisis has been with us for some time and decisions and exposures from many years ago are still affecting people now. The climate change crisis is very real and, in addition, to the other issues it creates, it heightens the impact of the toxic crisis even more. Elevated temperatures and the impact on the ozone will only make current matters worse. From a mother’s perspective, the impact on our children is worse than it is on adults. She notes the obvious, but children are closer to the ground where many of the toxins reside, they have a much higher degree of mouth breathing meaning they will take in more air per pound, they put their hands in their mouth about ten times an hour plus they will be exposed for longer periods due to their age than adults to toxins. A few facts that will heighten the issue

– 1 out of 8 US children are born prematurely which is traceable to the environment; early births mean the lungs are not fully created, so life long breathing issues will result;

– 1 out of 11 US children have asthma (1 out of 4 in Harlem);

– 1 in 10 US children will have a learning disability;

– 1 in 110 US children will have some form of Autism; and

– 1 in 10 US white girls and 1 in 5 US black girls will have breast development before the age of 8, which translates into menopausal and other issues.

I wish to tell you these numbers are made up, but they are well-grounded. And, the higher propensity can be traced to toxins that have been allowed to exist in the air, water and even playgrounds. The latter will make you furious, but the pressurized wood we have in many of our playgrounds is loaded with arsenic, copper and chromium, so our children and adults with our pressurized decks, are exposed to these chemicals. Adding to that, it  is measured that 60% of Americans live in areas where the air is unhealthful. So, from her perspective, “an investment in green energy is also an investment in cancer prevention.”

I went to hear her speak as she is one of the biggest opponents of hydro-fracturing or fracking to release and harvest natural gas. What I expected to hear is the impact fracking has on the nearby water where the chemicals used to fracture the shale gets in the water table. I also expected to hear about the significant increase in earthquakes in areas where fracking is done. These are a problem. Yet her major concern is what is released into the air and its impact on many today and in the future. Air pollution is what is causing the conditions in children and adults.

She notes the US is now doing and promoting Four Extreme Measure of Fossil Fuel Extraction – (1) mountain top removal, (2) tar sands, (3) deep-sea oil drilling and (4) fracking. All of these impact our environment greatly, but fracking gives her the most alarm. She advocates we must have a strategy to cease all new fossil fuel extraction now and invest in renewable forms of energy. Her point is any change will not impact the climate change for about 15 years, so we must divorce ourselves now from new fossil fuels.

What can we do? Reading from “Climate Change and Your Health – Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution,”  by the Union of Concerned Scientists, we should be doing the following:

– investing in more fuel-efficient cars and reducing the miles driven;

– developing fuels that are less carbon-intensive;

– providing good public transit and other commuting/ travel alternatives;

– increasing energy efficiency at industrial and commercial facilities;

– developing and retrofitting homes and buildings to be more efficient;

– using more renewable energy resources – such as wind, solar and geothermal – to generate electricity;

– ensuring that ozone and carbon-reduction standards are strong enough to be truly protective of public health; and

– working collaboratively with global partners to reduce carbon emissions from other countries.

The issues and solutions require concerted effort and input from all parties. This issue more than any scares me most if the GOP takes the White House. I feel we will not only lose momentum, but many of the policies of the GOP are the exact opposite of what we need to do. When Newt Gingrich has to disavow that he changed his mind on global warming when he appeared with Nancy Pelosi (I guess we are to shake up our Etch-a-Sketch to erase it from our memories) that is a telling point for me. The President is on the right track, but he needs to do more and he needs the Republicans to join him at the table and stop being ostriches with their head in the sand. And, once you read Dr. Steingraber’s book I hope you have a better grasp that we need a concerted effort now to save our children – our Elijahs. Forget the debt, forget the economy, forget social values – none of that will matter if we don’t fix this problem. The human and economic cost will dwarf any of these issues.

The Best and Worst of Religion

As someone who has worshipped in several types of churches and spends a significant amount of time with people of all faiths helping those in need, I have formed opinions about the best and worst things about religion. This is not intended as elevation or indictment of any religion as there are a great many similarities across the spectrum. Most of the indictment could be focused on our imperfections as humans where even well-intended actions can miss their mark and cause the exact opposite effect.

In short, when religious experiences tend to be at their best and truly soar are when people are inclusive and witness by deed or example. The last part of this equation is of great importance, as we humans tend to have some measure of hypocrisy, where we do not do as we say. Yet, when people get up out of their chair to do things, more people will take notice. I work often with the impoverished and homeless in our community. Our community stewardship is heavily faith-led with government and others joining in the partnerships to help those in need. I have witnessed wondrous things when people check their egos and seek to help those in need, especially when they can do so and permit the people being helped to maintain their dignity. In other words, they are helping someone climb a ladder, rather than push them up the ladder or prevent them from climbing it.

They are being inclusive and helping people regardless of their faith. I have often witnessed those being helped may, in fact, be more devout than those helping, as their faith may be the only asset they have left. When the faith community is inclusive and helping those in need, witnessing only by their deeds, the religious experience for all soars. It allows people to better understand why people are in need and what kind of help would truly make a long-term difference. In the book “Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton, when people are helping others and they talk to the communities where the needs are greatest – being inclusive – the help is more targeted and successful. In other words, it is more about those in need, rather than the helpers. This is why I used the phrase “check their egos” as if it is more about the helpers, the mission will fail.

These comments cross all religions. When we are inclusive and work collaboratively, we can move mountains. When we are exclusive, we are tearing them down slowly, but surely. Almost every religion has some form of the Golden Rule from the Christian bible. The words when paraphrased have been echoed to my children time and time again. I used to ask of my kids, “what is Dad’s favorite saying?”  To which they would respond, “treat others like you want to be treated.”  If we all strived to do this, each and every day, we would live in a better place.

Yet, we are human and imperfect and so our religions. Faith groups have been established over time for disagreements over how services should be conducted, interpretations or mere personalities. I would wager that churchgoers would be hard pressed to explain the subtle differences of some of the religions. In fact, there was a study done about two years ago that indicated atheists and agnostics knew the bible better than most Christians. My point is if the parishioners do not know the differences, then the differences must not be that important. To me, this is an argument for more inclusion. We are all the same, so we should extend the Golden Rule to all people, not just the ones who worship like we do.

The worst of religion is in evidence when we exclude people and infringe upon their rights and beliefs. Americans should celebrate the separation of church and state as a key tenet of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I say this as I do not see any religion who can lay claim on knowing what is best for our country. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist when he was President and he is known as one of our greatest Presidents and founding fathers having penned the Declaration of Independence. Our current President is not a Muslim, but I ask one basic question – what if he was? In our country, it should not matter.

We should embrace our diversity and welcome people of all stripes. People of different ethnicities, races, genders, sexual preferences, religious beliefs should be welcomed into any group, especially your house of worship. Your religion will be celebrated the more inclusive you are. To do the opposite, will drive people away. When faith leaders denigrate other groups or say someone is less righteous because of sexual preferences, it tunes people out. They will tend to vote with their feet. Some churches are in trouble because of this. They need to be more welcoming to win people back. We are all fixer-uppers. We all have our imperfections. The more the church  leadership understands this, we can focus less on our differences and more or our similarities.

Let me close with something I have written before. In the Christian bible, Jesus tended to hang out with the disenfranchised. He was inclusive during His time on earth. In fact, His temper sometimes was directed at Church leaders when they were not doing their duties in the manner He felt was appropriate. His upsetting the gambling tables in the Church is one example that comes to mind. To my way of thinking, if Jesus can hang with all kinds of people, then I think it is the least we could do.

Voting Against Your Economic Interests

As a former Republican, now Independent voter, and one who spends a significant amount of volunteer time with the impoverished and homeless populations, it never ceases to amaze me how people vote against their own economic interests time and time again. I have always tended to be more economically conservative, but more progressive in my views on civil rights. I don’t think I am alone in this category. When I have been involved in community groups helping those in need, I have always tried to make sure the community investment is breaking the cycle of poverty, helping people climb a ladder to self-sufficiency. In other words, I want the investment to achieve a return, by helping someone get back on their feet.

I left the Republican Party several years ago for a variety of reasons, but if I had to sum up  the three main reasons, they would be as follows:

– the ostrich-head-in-the-sand like stance on global warming which is financed by the oil and gas industry and runs counter to overwhelming data and scientists opinion;

– the lack of awareness or refusal to address the underlying problems in our society and the dumbing down of messages for a more strident audience; and

– the propensity to make up, embellish and dress up propaganda that can look authentic, such as the information found on various websites.

These last two topics frustrate me and are a cause of the first one. I felt we were as close to the novel “1984” as we have ever been when the last George Bush was President. Editing scientific papers to delete references to global warming, falsifying information to justify sending troops into battle in Iraq  and saying people were un-American  when they criticized the President, just put me over the edge. This is why I have been a constant voice in saying to understand the context of what people said and did, understand the source of the data, and understand what it is and isn’t, all of which is hard. If you look at the Heritage Foundation website, it all looks very authentic and you would walk away with a different opinion than if you read a more independent website. For the record, I don’t watch Fox News or MSNBC as you tend to get a strong bias of what is news and the editorialists tend to shout over each other. I encourage people to watch the PBS Newshour as it is the most in-depth and reasonable news and opinion you will find.

I wanted to provide this context for my thoughts, so people would know where I am coming from. We currently have 46 million Americans in poverty and approximately 49 million Americans without health care insurance. Health Care Reform will not be largely operational until 2014.  We have an even greater number of people who are living pay check to pay check. Parade Magazine reported on a survey it conducted before the recession which said about 2/3 of Americans who made under $90,000 were living pay check to pay check. That is a staggering statistic. We Americans do not save enough and so, when crises hit, we had people who did not have a safety net to cushion the blow. In the volunteer work I do, we saw a huge up tick of people who had never even been close to being homeless or near-homeless that fell into this situation. But, even before then, a great number of homeless people are employed – they are just under-employed working retail or service jobs, which perpetuate poverty due to low wages. This is what some of the conservative websites won’t tell you.

For many people in America, it is not a truism that you can work as hard as you can and get out of poverty. Jobs that are at or close to the minimum wage do not provide sufficient income to climb out of poverty. I have referenced before the book “Nickle and Dimed in America” which I believe is a must read for every high school freshman. If you do not get an education, you in essence, are screwed. That means at a minimum, you must get a high school degree, but for the new global economy, even that won’t work. There are jobs that have gone away and they are not coming back. They have been replaced by technology or been outsourced. Even if you learn a craft or trade, there is a basic knowledge of math, English and technology that is required to do any job. When Mercedes built a plant in Alabama, the Germans realized they had to dumb down the manuals with more pictures, as Americans were not educated enough on basic reading and writing skills.

Yesterday, the voters in Alabama and Mississippi voted in the GOP primary which is the reason for the timing of this article. I was watching a news clip which interviewed a number of Mississippi voters. The reporter attested for every person shown there were a significant number just like them that echoed the same voice and were not shown, so she said it was not a biased selection. To a person, they were more concerned about religious values and voting against a President who was Muslim. One even said that he was Muslim and not an American, as if that was mutually exclusive. Many of these folks were living in dire poverty, but they did not articulate they were voting for someone to help them with their situation. One alluded to the promise that his situation would change, not voting for someone who will help the situation.

As of this writing, the state of Mississippi is the most impoverished state in the country at a rate of over of 22%. Said another way, one out of five Mississippians live in poverty. In Alabama, the poverty rate is 16%, which is the seventh worst rate in the country. In Alabama, one out of six people are in poverty. I am not picking on these two states, as you can find a significant level of poverty in other states, as well. Yet, with the heavy evangelical influence are people voting against their economic interests by siding with people who tout religious beliefs as the basis for a vote, more so than can I help you with your problems? I believe the are.

I say this because of my earlier contentions about two major issues in this country – poverty and the lack of health care. The GOP is not speaking to the former at all. In fact, with deficit cutting measures, which are needed, there is a heavier hand in the GOP to curtail or eliminate programs that help people in need. Many of these measures will add fuel to a fire and will lead to more poverty. And, the most significant issue in our country is education which will address poverty longer term. We have to educate our people better, as to do otherwise will jeopardize all that we are about. Businesses are designed to make money – if we cannot afford them with an educated workforce, they will find it elsewhere and are doing so.

The health care situation is one that does not get due consideration. The Massachusetts Health Care Reform plan that was put in by Mitt Romney is working pretty well, but he has  to hide from that fact. The President modeled much of what was passed after the Massachusetts plan. Obamacare is far from perfect, but I would wager right now, that most people who are against it could not correctly articulate why they are. They are against because someone told them to be against it. It needs further refinement, but at the heart of it is to get more people covered either through employers, exchanges or Medicaid. Here is where I get at voting against your economic interests. To leave our system at status quo is not a solution – we cannot have 49 million Americans without coverage; we cannot have the 38th ranked heath care system in the world as rated by global health organizations who also say we have the highest cost system in the world. That is a terrible return on investment.

From my vantage point, I do not see the GOP as the party of choice for people who live in the situations they do. I see a party who masks they are a trickle down economics party who is catering to the evangelicals. I do not see them promoting education for the masses and I do not see them talking about living wages. I do see a President who is talking about jobs and who has overseen success in helping slowly turn the corner. We need to highlight the job creation and the incentive to promote new industry. As noted in earlier posts, the Occupy Movement has raised attention on a very valid point – we have an economic disparity in this country that is abysmal. If we do not address this issue, we will see more turmoil. Yet, the conservative in me would not allow the Tea Party mantra of getting our hands around the deficit go unnoticed.

We have serious problems in our country and we need good dialogue and long-range planning. This planning has to be bi-partisan as its execution will go beyond one presidency. We need people to understand the issues and vote for someone who can best address them. As an Independent, I could tolerate Romney if he won the White House, as he is more of a moderate and has a financial mindset. I see someone like Santorum who will spend most of his time on the wrong issues. Yet, I see many blindly voting in the GOP primaries against their economic interests. That is unfortunate.

Stop telling us what we want to hear

During the Super Bowl, one of America’s greatest icons had a commercial about rebounding as a country. Clint Eastwood, whose movie and TV career has always championed the anti-hero who took care of those disenfranchised, was the ideal spokesperson. His spiel was to look directly at those who are talking of our demise and say it was “only halftime in America.” He alluded the second half was about to start and America will come back. Like many, I am a huge Clint Eastwood fan not only for his acting, but for his community mindedness as a person, as well.

America is on the mend, yet has deeper, long-term  issues to discuss.  I am encouraged by our slow and reasonably steady progress of economic recovery. One of our shortcomings in our society is our impatience, so people looking for a silver bullet where success just happens are disappointed. Yet, there has been over the past many months a slow road of improvement. We are not out of the woods yet, but the fact people are entering the job market and some are actually quitting jobs before getting another is a sign of progress.

However, what Clint’s commercial did not allude to is we are on the losing side of the score, let’s say 17-12, and we have to kickoff before the second half starts. As I have noted in earlier posts, our founding fathers created a form of government which over time has shown to be the shining light on the hill to the rest of the world. I know the first attempt of creation required change, but what eventually became our Constitution and Bill of Rights is an amazing body of work. I do not advocate extreme factions of political parties monkeying around with something that should only be judiciously amended such as was the case to give African-Americans and women the same rights as white men.

Yet, while our system of government is a paragon, it is staffed with human beings with all of our biases and imperfections. When we collaborate, our diversity of thought and perspective is a wondrous thing to behold. There is a greater tendency to focus on the problems and how to come to amenable and workable solutions. I am reminded of Ed Harris’ character in the movie “Apollo 13” when he kept reminding his team of scientists to “work the problem.” On the flip side, when we bring in our strident views and do not collaborate, the ugliness is very apparent like it was last summer over the debt ceiling issue.

America has some long-term issues that need to be openly discussed. They require solutions that are well thought out and which will take time to fully implement and see the progress. Not only is our extreme partisanship an obstacle, our impatience is as well. This also happens in business, as leaders tend to err on the side of short-term solutions as they tend to not be around to see longer term solutions pay off. I have quoted before an old client of mine who said “we step over quarters to pick up nickels here.” I mention this as some of the solutions that are needed will require the formation of a plan which will have to last more than one President’s term. This planning will require us to be bi-partisan as the next President could be of a different party.

It begins with us having open dialogue about our problems and not politicians telling us what we want to hear. They need to tell us what we need to hear. And, tell us all what we need to do. It also begins with us not taking any idea off the table. This may be even harder as our present campaign funding system is exacerbating the lobbyist views where decisions will benefit the lobbyist and its funder. It also means we need to do our homework more to shine a light on vested interests in an outcome. The Internet is very powerful both ways. It can let groups of people mask opinion as data and fact to prove their point. There are many data points which are so biased due to the source and survey approach, we need to deeply discount or throw out the data. Unfortunately, they hide behind innocent sounding names with words like “America” and “Freedom” in the titles somewhere.

What we need to hear are politicians views on the following subjects and how they would create a process or framework to openly discuss ideas. We need politicians to advocate inclusion rather than exclusion, as we desperately need diverse opinions and ideas. Here is what we need to hear more about.

Education

This is our most significant problem in America. We cannot survive as a global power if we have 30% of our students entering the 9th grade not graduating high school.  We cannot survive as a power if we do not promote creativity and innovation in our schools. Some of the jobs that have left our shores will never come back. Also, note that innovation is portable in our new world. An innovator can get funding and take his idea to Indonesia, Brazil, India or China as he or she can get a better labor pool. If you do not believe me, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and World Economic Forum, we are ranked 23rd and 27th in math and science in the world. That is not the definition of American exceptionalism.

Economic Disparity and Jobs

The “Occupy Wall Street’ crowd has it right. Our economic distribution in our country is atrocious. When you look at a circle graph of our economic distribution against that of other first world countries with differing levels of capitalism and socialism, you would be embarrassed by which picture is America’s. As I follow the election process, it amazes me how many people actually vote against their own economic interests. There are severely down-trodden people who swear allegiance for the faint promise of prosperity under the Republican Party only because it makes them feel good to hear comforting platitudes about religion and freedoms.

Education will help toward eliminating the inappropriate disparity, but we need a more thoughtful process about getting these people back to work around industries that could flourish in their geographies. Please note I used the term “inappropriate disparity” as I do believe in capitalism, but capitalism with a heart. Even Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, said to be wary if the wealth is concentrated in too few. Part of his commentary was around you need society to flourish, so the disenfranchised need to be helped to get back on their feet.

 Energy and Environment

I link these two as we must think of them together now. I won’t repeat my posts on these subjects, but in spite of what the GOP is telling people as propped up by the Oil and Gas Industry behind them,  global warming is here. To his credit, the President is pushing the ball forward, but it needs to not be uphill. We need the other party at the table with open minds. One of the few things I applaud Newt Gingrich for is something for which he is being vilified by the conservative right. He did a commercial with Nancy Pelosi saying he was wrong about global warming and we need to do something about it. He is backtracking off that statement, but he should not.

Solar energy can now be produced for $3 a watt down from $9 a watt. The CEO of Solar Strata said he believes it can get down to $1 a watt in the next few years. He also sees a day in the next ten years where we can produce 1 MW of power at solar plant, which would rival a nuclear plant. This is only an example. Wind power is in abundance in this country. Yes, we need to contend with what it does to bird migration – especially on the coasts – but this is one of the cleanest solutions we have. There so many other strains of innovation in alternative energy, especially around hydro power and biomass, e.g.

We have to diminish at a faster rate the non-renewable energy sources. Coal can be made cleaner, but there is no such thing as clean coal while it is burned or in the ash pond receptacles. Natural gas can be harvested, but we need to look closely at the environmental impact and not listen solely to the oil and gas companies. Fracking causes underground water pollution and there is a strong correlation to a significantly greater number of earthquakes – Oklahoma has seen a huge uptick, e.g. The President was correct to delay the pipeline from the oils shands in Canada. Why? The pipeline owner opened another pipeline in the past eighteen months and has already had fifteen oil spills. Nuclear energy has its place, but do not believe anyone that says what happened in Japan cannot happen here. Progress Energy has a closed nuclear plant that has structural issues in Florida, as we speak.

Yet, a key is the conservation issue. The higher mpg standards and promotion of electric and hybrid cars are and will pay dividends. The community and state efforts of utilities to promote less usage and greener strategies are also working. We all need to do our part to conserve less. And, if that does not scare you, a study was done about how many people can Earth support. If we all consumed like the average Rwandan, the Earth could support 15 billion people. If we all consumed like the average North American, it could support 1.2 billion. We have over 7 billion people today and others want to consume more. So, this is a problem we have to deal with now.

Infrastructure

Whether it is financial or physical, we need to improve our infrastructure in this country. On the financial side, we need to find the right balance of regulation and free enterprise. There are two truisms – business leaders do not want regulations and business leaders need regulations – please refer to the short-term profit mindset above. Yet, we need to be less bureaucratic about what we do. The regulations should not stifle creativity and should promote and reward innovation. While at the same time, we need to make sure people are treated fairly.

On the physical side, it is obvious we are in need of repair. Whether it is roads, bridges, electricity grids, levees, mass transportation, airports, etc. we need organized and orchestrated plans. A key reason we did not win the Olympics for Chicago was our infrastructure has become dated. That should be a kick in the pants, but it has not been. The stimulus package helped a little, but this is one area where borrowing money makes more sense. If you are building an asset like a bridge, borrowing to pay for it is OK. Borrowing to pay for operations is not OK which is one of our challenges.

This an area where we can marry several issues as is being done in New Orleans and in communities leveled by tornadoes. We can rebuild with more energy-efficient construction. The federal incentives promote this, we create jobs and community assets are created. This is where public and private money can converge to rebuild America.

Deficits, Spending and Taxes

All of the above is harder to accomplish as we have not only kicked the deficit can down the road, we made the can bigger by less forward thinking decisions. We have a math problem which cannot be solved by subtraction. We need some addition as well. We have to raise revenue as well as being strategic about cutting expenses. Romney, Gingrich and Santorum’s  plans will all increase the deficit, so says a non-partisan budget office. They are non-partisan for a reason. We need unbiased  people to call things as they see them

Tax simplification and overall increases have to be on the table. As an Independent voter, I want every Republican who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes to tear it up.  Reagan increased taxes five times, George H.W. Bush went back on a campaign promise to raise taxes as it was needed. Clinton raised taxes and cut spending and left office with a balanced budget. However, I find a lot of fault today and then when it occurred,  when George W. Bush cut taxes when it was not needed and went against some key voices on this such as Warren Buffett. One of his key economic advisors resigned over the decision. That, coupled with two wars, put us on a perilous journey and truly left us vulnerable. It is ironic we are arguing the extension of tax cuts that were ill-advised when they occurred. I also fault Obama for not jumping on the Bowles-Simpson plan.

We can look at Greece and say that won’t happen here. Per Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in “That Used to be Us – How America Fell Behind in the World We Invented and How We Can Come Back,” it is noted the debt crisis is occurring and will occur in municipalities and states. Harrisburg, PA declared bankruptcy last year. Birmingham, AL did as well. The state of California is teetering on the edge. This is where it will occur. Why – retrenching  tax revenue and increased health care costs for employees and retirees? The number of retiree obligations relative to the active work force is a tell-tale sign, as past lifetime benefit promises in lieu of better wages, are haunting the cities and states.

These are the conversations we need to have, but we are not. You will note I did not mention anything about contraception (99% of women have used or use), same-sex marriage (this train has the left the station) or abortion (this has been decided). I also did not mention the President’s country of birth or whether he is a Christian or Muslim. I did not even mention whether Romney is a Mormon. Those issues are irrelevant and, in case of the two toward Obama, only believed in the land of make-believe.

We need to stop all politicians who are discussing these issues and, instead, demand dialogue from our leaders about the issues we need to hear about. To do otherwise and we will start the second half without our best players in spite of Clint’s encouragement. Unfortunately, this is not the movies and Josey Wales or Dirty Harry cannot help us too much. With that said, we do need the courage they have to bring the real issues to the forefront. And, in the words of Josey Wales, “dying ain’t much of a living.”

Bigotry and Bullying – Call it out when you see it

Reading the news this morning, I was struck by the convergence of three articles. First, Nicolas Kristof of The New York Times wrote a wonderful editorial regarding Lady Gaga’s Foundation whose purpose is to enlighten people about the effect of bullying and promote more civil behavior. Lady Gaga was bullied throughout her childhood and adolescence both physically and mentally. If you have not seen it, I would encourage you to read the column or learn more about her foundation.

Second, sitting in North Carolina, I read a terrific editorial by a guest writer, who is also a high school English teacher, Kay McSpadden. She wrote about NC’s Amendment One which will be voted on in May and would reiterate the illegality of same-sex marriage. She  is  advocating against the amendment noting it as discriminatory. While not known outside of the Carolinas, she is a terrific editorialist and I highly recommend her writing to others.  Having seen the very positive occurrences in Washington state and Maryland, I am encouraged that we are slowly speaking out against the discriminatory practices against gays and lesbians. NC will be an interesting test case in that it is part of the more evangelical south.

Third, talk show entertainer Rush Limbaugh has made the news in his usual fashion, meaning not in a positive way. His latest effort is  to denigrate a female citizen for testifying in front of Congress advocating for making contraception a part of any health care plan. I must confess, even though I have been a Republican in my past, I have never cared much for the opinions espoused by Mr. Limbaugh and have tended to see him as a provocateur, rather than a reasonable pundit. Yet, his latest “schoolyard name-calling” is adult bullying, just like the kind Lady Gaga is attempting to arrest.

Starting with the premise we are all prejudiced in some way and have all made biased generalizations at some point in our lives, we must aspire to be better. We must call out bigotry and bullying when we see it. We must shine a white spot light on it irrespective of what party, religious affiliation or ethic group you may belong. I will advocate strongly the rights of people to disagree with me and what I believe, as long as they do it in a civil manner. I have told me children, the weaker a person’s argument, the louder they tend to shout. And, when someone resorts to name-calling, the argument becomes even weaker.

Fox News eventually grew weary of Glenn Beck’s schtick and asked him to leave when his ratings dropped. I have always felt he was more dangerous than Mr. Limbaugh since he came across with false sincerity. Mr. Limbaugh is asking people to chill out, yet he deserves the criticism he is getting. It is pretty hard for someone to testify in front of Congress, so rather than calling her a “slut.” he should have applauded her chutzpah to advocate for what she believes, whether he disagreed with her or not.

The bigotry (and sometimes bullying) of gays and lesbians needs to stop as well. When I see otherwise sane religious people speak with the animosity toward gays and lesbians, it bothers me on so many levels. When my mother was espousing what she heard in church against the repeal of the don’t ask, don’t tell military rule, I simply stopped her and said, “Mom, to treat people differently based on their sexual preference is discriminatory.” She listened to my arguments and I convinced her that we should focus on the other parts of the bible which speak of treating others like we want to be treated.

The bigotry and bullying toward gays and lesbians is similar to the terrible treatment of African-Americans dating up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The treatment continued after that year, but has waned considerably. So, we need to shine a white light on the treatment of gays and lesbians to make sure they have the same rights as other citizens. It is the right thing to do. What some of the church leaders do not realize is they continue to drive people away with their exclusionary behavior.  I would ask my fellow NC citizens to stand up to this bigotry and vote down Amendment One. Why? Because it is discriminatory.