A little bit of this and a little bit of that

TGIF for those who can still call it Friday and happy Weekend to our friends in Australia, Japan, Indonesia, etc. Just a few odds and ends to chew on for the week that was. Or, as the cooks would say about seasoning, “a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”

In America we have so many GOP politicians trying to garner attention away from The Donald, that they are making beyond crazy remarks. Maybe those who don’t want to look at real data and look at what is happening through a reasonable lens of eyeglasses might appreciate the middle-aged craziness, but those who stay in closer proximity to real news are not impressed by these remarks. I would ask these politicians to not try to “out-crazy” a man who is willing to say anything. The Donald will crash and burn as he is his own worst enemy, but he also has more baggage than a normal caravan could transport, which will eventually come out. Yet, he does make good copy for the media.

Our Congress just kicked than can down the road for the 34th time on the Highway Trust Fund, which funds needed infrastructure and road improvements. We have yet another stop-gap measure for three months. At least the Senate passed a three-year bill, but the House did not want to take it up, so they could take a month off from their ineffective job performance. You know, you get tired from pretending to govern for a few months. In short, our infrastructure is badly broken in terms of roads, bridges, ports and grids. These include railway bridges which were reported on “60 Minutes” that could go any day with 500 trains per day going over them. With interest rates low, we have had a window to borrow to maintain and build assets. Plus, there is no better jobs program, which as I recall is “the number one issue” per our Speaker. This is the same Speaker who did not want to take up a longer term fix.

When our Congress returns in a month do not expect great things, as we have some very important financial matters to vote on, including extending the debt ceiling. As you may recall, this is what caused Senator Ted Cruz to single-handedly shut down the government a couple of years ago, to the chagrin of the rest of the world who begged us not to go down this path. It took six female senators to reopen the government by making the deal. This is one reason we need more women in leadership, as men like Cruz like to play more win-lose politics and grandstand. It should be noted that the President had to cancel two global trade meetings in Asia-Pacific and Europe which promote trade because of Cruz. So, the shutdown put even more headwinds into our sails and the meetings were rescheduled with some additional cost.

While the economy, stock market and jobs numbers under this President have done pretty well over the past four years, and while he has been speaking to the real dangers of climate change and doing something about it, he has been disappointing in one major area to me. I am going to set aside transparency and use of drones and spying for now, as he has left a lot to be desired there. What I am speaking to is his cheerleading for fracking. This surprises Conservatives to hear this, but our President has been pro-fracking to the extent he has bifurcated the EPA. The EPA released a report noting the leakage of fracking into groundwater, but the press release noted the opposite. Since few folks read anymore, the press release was latched onto and used to show how safe fracking was (as an aside, it did not speak the vast use of water, the earthquakes, the air pollution or the environmental degradation). The press release was retracted on a Sunday after a Friday release, but the story was already out. This is not the first time that the White House has pressured the EPA to sand around the edges on their findings on fracking.

Well, that is enough grist for this mill. I don’t know if I helped your weekend with my little news report or not. Have a wondrous weekend.

 

 

A Proven Three for One Return – an example of reducing poverty, abortions and unwanted pregnancies

If there was a proven solution that would accomplish three major goals and save money, it would be worth considering, right? If data revealed that a state could save $80 million and dramatically reduce abortions, unwanted pregnancies and help people in poverty, it would be as close to a no-brainer as we could get. Then, why is Colorado’s legislature unwinding funding to an effort to provide birth control and family planning to people in need?

Worldwide and in the US, there is a high correlation between larger family size and poverty. Further, a Harvard study from 1982 – 2011 indicates that one of five reasons for poor socio-economic mobility is fewer traditional families (some Conservatives like to say this is the only reason, but that oversimplifies).

Yet, the use of an obvious toolset with a proven track record does not stand up to the scrutiny of this legislature. Of course, the reason is the fervent belief against birth control even though the significant majority of women ignore their religion on this subject. About 90% of American Catholic women use or have used birth control.

In my work with homeless families, one of the reasons for some young women who find themselves homeless is having children before they are ready or out of wedlock. Also about 30% of our clients are victims of domestic violence. Lacking the additional income of a second parent, not to mention the support of a good one, puts a family in a hole which is hard to climb out of.

Here is where religion is less inclined toward the practical and can be harmful. We need to have holistic open discussions about this topic with teens. It is more than OK to preach abstinence, but these teens are tempted far more than we were at that age, and we were tempted. So, we need to teach a girl’s self-esteem is not tied into relenting to sex, nor is a boy’s for that matter. We need to teach boys that no means no. But, we need to also teach family planning and provide tools of birth control.

We have columnists who tout fatherless families as the reason for poverty in the Black community, which it is one of several . It is a reason no matter the race or ethnic group. Yet they stop short of defining one of the cures, which is noted above and proven to be successful. It should be noted in the states with the lowest abortion rate, they each have more robust family planning effort than states with higher rates.

Let’s be smart and practical about these issues. The data is pretty clear.

A few good news stories which can change minds

It is apparent that the move to pull down the Confederate flag was spawned by the reaction to the killing of nine Black church members in Charleston. For family members of the deceased to look at the killer and forgive him may be one of the greatest acts of faith I have ever witnessed. And, I was not alone, as they showed what faith looks like to many. Their reaction and that of the citizens of Charleston, where the Civil War started, may have helped bury the Civil War lingering fight 150 years later. My fervent hope is they have created a dialogue that will continue to improve race relations and racial injustice in America.

If we scroll forward one week after the Confederate flag came down from the South Carolina state capitol grounds, members of the KKK marched on the capitol grounds to protest the removal of the flag. If you have ever been to Columbia, it is one of the hottest cities I have ever been in. On yet another hot day, a member of the KKK became ill with heat exhaustion and needed help. The symbolic irony is a Black officer came to the aid of this member and helped him to care. He noted he was only doing his job, but his efforts created a justifiable YouTube sensation.

In a related issue, several Black and multi-racial churches have been burned and vandalized in the past few months. These have occurred primarily in the South, but some have occurred in the northern states and up through Canada, as well. What has gotten less notice is several Islamic mosques have donated money to some of these churches to rebuild or repair the vandalism. This outpouring of help is inspirational and should get more notoriety than it does. These vandals were not Muslims, but that mattered not. The Muslim worshippers wanted to help other churchgoers.

Finally, I have written about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. This orchestra has pulled young musicians from across the Middle East and Spain. The greater story is the young adults are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Protestant and from other faiths. They cross the bridges which divide us to play together. We can affect young minds in a positive way and they can teach us in return, if we let them.

My hope is these actions can help change more minds around our country and in the world. Because, beneath the surface, we are all the same. Imperfect.

 

 

Time to stop trying to keep your job and start doing your job

Whether it is a national or state legislative position, the money needed to get elected is obscene. It also has corrupted the ability for politicians to focus on doing their job, as they spend far too much time trying to keep their jobs. And, in politics, that means doing what your funders beckon more so than what makes sense to do or what your constituents want you to do. The only time politicians will come close to doing the right thing is when something bad has happened or they are shamed or threatened by industry.

In the case of gun deaths, we apparently cannot have enough bad things happen to get Congress or the various state general assemblies to act like adults and parents. They are so scared of the NRA (and their ability to bring fervent folks out to vote when more reasonable sit home), they will not do obvious things that would move us down the right path. Not only are they scared of the NRA, they court the NRA asking what is on its wish list that will facilitate the greater sale of guns in America. What many fail to realize, is the NRA does not represent most gun owners who responsibly own weapons and would like to see common sense gun laws implemented.

Per a Pew survey, 81% of Americans want background checks on all purchases of weapons. This same survey also notes that elongated waiting periods would also be desirable by more than not. These numbers jive with a survey conducted by Elon University two years ago. Note, neither of these changes would infringe upon the perceived  sacrosanct right for someone to own two dozen AK47s. What these surveys are saying is gun ownership is OK, but let’s make sure we know where the guns are, who owns them and maybe who should not.

Critics will say that won’t stop the gun violence. Well, neither will doing nothing. There are responsible gun owners who have joined with others to support common sense gun laws. I recognize this is more than a gun issue. We need to treat people with more civility in disagreement, we need to be mindful of the role poverty and crime play in gun deaths, we need to understand that some mental illnesses should preclude the right to own a gun due to the number of suicides that occur each year (more on that below) and we cannot underestimate the role training plays, so kids cannot get access to weapons.

The greater tragedies in America are not the mass shootings. The greater tragedies are what happen everyday. Pick up any newspaper in any city on any day and count the number of gun death or shooting stories. Google “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories. But, even those do not do justice to the greater tragedies that happen everyday. You see the number one reason for gun deaths in America is suicide with two-thirds of the approximate 33,000 annual gun deaths due to this reason.

In North Carolina, we wanted to make it a crime for a doctor to ask if a patient has a gun. Let’s say this doctor is prescribing medicine for depression. And, someone thought it was a good idea to make it against the law to ask if he or she owns a gun. In our state, we made it easier for guns to be on playgrounds, in bars and on college campuses. Go in any college counseling building and see the line of people being helped. The propensity for depression is higher on college campuses than in general society, since kids expect it to be nirvana and it is not. Folks, all it takes is one impulsive act and your child is dead.

And, to illustrate further the NRA’s reach, the House just passed a law to not fund gun death studies. Our Speaker of the House noted guns are not a disease and need not be studied. With 22,000 deaths per year by suicide, I would call that the final act of someone who has some depressive tendencies, which is a disease. I find this decision absolutely appalling and prima facie evidence of the undue influence of the NRA. God forbid we study why Americans are needlessly dying.

To be brutally frank, we can still support the Second Amendment rights without being foolish. And, we need not pass laws that are dubious the day they are announced. Responsible gun owners agree with non-gun owners on this issue as evidenced by the survey data and advocacy group participation. So, legislators please do your job and worry less about keeping your job. As very little useful legislation comes from focusing on the latter motivation.

The mouth that roared

When you dig yourself a hole, the best advice is to stop digging. We have a Presidential candidate who seems to be unable to learn this lesson. He does not realize his major character flaw is his mouth won’t stop talking, so he is destined to repeat this process over and over again,

Coupled with an unhealthy self-esteem and a heavy dose of petulance, and you have a recipe for a prima donna, not a president. He will likely stay in the race, as being told that it is time to drop out would not sit well with that large ego.

Yet, based on this past weekend’s events where he made very inappropriate remarks about a war hero, his chances of winning went from slim to none. In other words, you can stick a fork in him, because he is done.

A few things to consider about the Iran deal

I am by no means an expert, but I want to ask our leaders to consider a few points about the Iran nuclear deal, after they finish beating on their chests and saying all the political things. Whether it passes muster in our Congress or not, a few things that should be thought about are as follows:

First, we are not the only country involved in signing this agreement. Our allies Germany, France and England did so well. And, Russia and China were involved. So, if we decide to not approve the agreement, we may stand alone.

Second, the President, Secretary of State and their counterparts should get a lot of credit for having these conversations, much less coming to an agreement. We have not had discussion of this nature with Iran in over 30 years, so their diplomatic feat should be applauded at a minimum. Getting a reasonable deal is commendable.

Third, the median age in Iran is age 35. That means half of its population is younger and is aching for a better economy and ties to the western world. We have a chance to win or lose another generation of Iranis. We have a chance to break down many barriers to future interaction. Or, we can continue to be an enemy and all that entails.

Fourth, what would happen otherwise is the question that must be asked. Iran would continue to do what it was in pursuing a nuclear bomb. They may even still under the vest. Yet, we have some governance with the deal we would not otherwise have. I understand the fears of Netanyahu, but he has been banging this drum for about ten years. It does not make the fears less, but I saw a Middle East expert note that Israel may benefit from a deal, because of more being out in the open.

I will leave it to the powers that be to say grace over this. Yet, I do think these points are important. One thing we should try to avoid are the “bomb Iran” crowd, as that would make matters worse and we would definitely lose that generation noted above.

So, it is not OK for the Pope to talk about poverty and climate change?

There have been a series of comments by Republican presidential candidates and leaders directed at Pope Francis for having the nerve to talk about helping people in poverty and doing something about climate change. They have basically told him to stick to religion and one even said “helping us be better people.” I am having a hard time coming to grips with these comments, but I guess these folks felt like they had to say something to counteract the veracity of the Pope’s message. And, some of the candidates are even Catholic, no less.

Let me first say I agree with the messages of the Pope who is probably the greatest leader we have on the planet today. No, he is not perfect, but he is speaking about issues the Catholic Church has always stood for, helping people in need. More global charities to help the poor have been started by the Catholic Church and other churches for that matter than any other source. So, for the Pope to speak on poverty is part and parcel with the history of the church and Jesus’ teaching to look after who he called “the least of these.”

Further, the Christian bible and other religious texts are filled with passages about taking care of the environment, so speaking to climate change as a source of concern is also part and parcel with the history of the church. The Pope has noted that people in poverty are more impacted by climate change and environmental problems than other folks. So, his message on climate change has a dual purpose. Yet, with him coming to speak to Congress, we will witness a mountain of public relations unleashed on his right to speak to these issues. To be frank, this will backfire on the assailants and should.

But, to make these comments even more bizarre are the comments that are seemingly condoned by religious leaders who support the Republican Party. So, by virtue of the Presidential candidates’ silence, the following comments must be OK.

– Reverend Franklin Graham’s consistent indicting rhetoric toward Muslims and LGBT people. Contrast this to the Pope’s comments of a year ago when asked about gays, when he responded, “who am I to judge?”

– A minister in Maiden, NC who says we should put gay people behind an electrified fence, so that they will die off, a message which was reinforced by a minister and public official in Alabama.

– Pat Buchanan who says the Supreme Court gay marriage ruling could start another Civil War.

– The State of Oklahoma GOP’s statement on Facebook equating feeding wild animals and people in need, which is particularly offensive  (see link below).

– Pat Robertson’s comments that hurricanes are God’s response to various civil rights changes. I always find this one of interest, as the last two GOP Conventions have been shortened a day by hurricanes. While one was in Tampa, the other one was in Minneapolis, MN not known for its hurricanes. So, Reverend Robertson, does that mean……

We have a global poverty problem which is also apparent in the United States. It is a shame that so many Americans go hungry and cannot make enough money to live. Also, climate change is real and is man-influenced. It does affect those in need more, as people’s livelihoods are being washed away. And, the Pope not only is right to speak about these issues, it is well within his rights to speak about them. By the way, he has a Masters in Chemistry, so he also has a scientific mind which adds some gravitas.

My strong advice to these candidates is to watch what you say. Your current position is in the wrong and if you follow the advice of your funders, it will haunt you. You are definitely barking up the wrong tree on this. This Pope has far more credibility than any Presidential candidate throwing mud at him.

https://mountainperspective.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/republican-christians-an-oxymoron/

Strange Fruit – why that flag means what it does to many

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression.” That was propaganda then and remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

 

Lazy days of summer – a few random musings

While many are on vacations with children out of school, events in the world continue to happen. So, in no particular order, here are few random musings.

– The Donald continues to grab headlines with his bombastic opinions. He does not stand a chance of winning an overall election, as his petulance and prima donna act are not key attributes for the job. Ironically, the longer he is in the race, the better the chance for the Democrats to win the White House. A key reason is his GOP competitors need to get some chutzpah and tell him and the country that his opinions are divisive and unappreciated. If they don’t, then their silence condones his act as representative of their party platform.

– A much applauded provision is being introduced into Medicare that will allow reimbursement of end-of-life discussions with your doctor. Doctors favor this and it has bi-partisan support, as it did when it was included in the Affordable Care Act. Yet, people need to remember this is the same issue Sarah Palin called “death panels,” in her run for the Vice Presidency. She was wrong then and would be wrong again if she raises this point. This provision is a good thing.

– The state of Colorado has received acclaim for a program that has dramatically reduced the number of abortions in their state. By providing access to birth control and family planning to more low-income families, the number of abortions has not only been reduced, but their Medicaid budget has declined by $80 million per annum. Unfortunately, the conservative legislature may kill the program as it promotes teen sex. Folks, this measure is common sense, is working and is economical. Plus, these kids are going to have sex, as their temptations are even more when you were that age.

– Along these same lines, the Affordable Care Act has saved women over $1 billion in contraception expense. This provision has been very well received by women and is the same one which caused such a fuss when Hobby Lobby sued and won in court. This was after Hobby Lobby realized they covered birth control in their plan and took it out. Family planning and birth control are part of a solution to better health, abortions and poverty, as teen pregnancy or pregnancy out-of-wedlock, are correlated with poor health for mother and children, the number of abortions and poverty. It should not be lost that over 85% of American Catholic women go against the church’s position on birth control.

– I am not sure what is the best route for Greece, but they need to work something out where they can pay their creditors. Otherwise, the misunderstood vote of last Sunday, is moot. Yet, many view this as an “all or none” issue. Austerity or no-austerity. The answer has to be both, because austerity by itself can further cripple their economy and be a precursor to their demise. They need to invest in some areas which promote the economy and divest in others which are needed measures and the areas are less growth oriented. They need to play to their strengths. But, what the people deserve is honest answers and not political rhetoric. By the way, when a corporation is facing problems, they do the same thing – invest in growth areas and cut in non-growth areas.

– China is faced with a dilemma as the stock market crashes. They have a country of immature investors who are in panic mode as the market falls. The country leaders are telling stockholders it is your patriotic duty not to sell, but that is akin to shoveling water out of a sinking boat with a kid’s small pail. Unfortunately, the market will fall some more and stabilize, which is what markets do. The challenge for others is China has over built its real estate to grow its economy, but no one lives in these places. At some point, a reckoning has to occur and it seems to have arrived. What happens in China investments will have trickle down impact on the rest of the world, at first, and it could get worse if growth slows as a result.

But, what do I know? I am just one person looking for elements of truth in the news and making observations. One thing is for certain, the news must be read with some context, as sometimes the larger points can be missed. I would love to hear your thoughts on these and other issues. Until the next time….

The best of religion – creating community conversations around differences

Last night, my wife and I attended one of a series of “talks” around improving racial relations. It is a weekly chat sponsored by a multi-faith group based in our city. In essence, it is facilitated small group and large group discussions on breaking down barriers and listening to others who do not look like you do. It was well done and very meaningful.

To hear stories about small and large examples of racism is very important. To hear about how assumptions can be made and, if not corrected, can be become more concrete in the eyes of the beholder. Children learn lessons whether you want them to or not, even when you try to do the right thing. So, it is imperative to have open conversations about treating people like you want to be treated and listening to comments, so that they can be reinforced or amended.

Yet, it is we adults that need to do better. A few themes we discussed include:

– do not indict a group for the actions of a few;

– recognize that small sleights can be hurtful, as well;

– try to walk in another person’s shoes; understand that a white person has more liberty to go anywhere, while a black man, even when dressed-up, has restricted access;

– shine a light on hateful speech or behavior; tolerance must be viewed toward a greater good, so it is OK to be less tolerant of those who use words to demean and diminish;

– speak up and speak out to people who share your skin color who are indicting others who are different; a white person’s voice will be listened to when admonishing the behavior of fellow white people;

– be the change you want to see and see people for whom they are; and

– recognize that racial injustice is also the result of a larger poverty issue, which affects people of all colors.

There are many more lessons that were conveyed during the session, but one of my takeaways is this is religion at its finest. Welcoming, including and helping. Let me end with one more tidbit on how religion can help provide solutions and create a welcoming dialogue. The Kindness Blog is a compilation of good news stories from around the world. People need to read this blog to balance the many negative stories that we are bombarded with. Their latest post, which can be linked to below, is evidence of the best of religion.

Jesus said it so well in his Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. If we do this, we are way ahead in the game. So, welcome, include and help.

http://kindnessblog.com/2015/07/07/walked-past-a-church-yesterday-had-this-poster-on-the-door/