On the basis of sex

My wife, sister and I got a chance to watch the movie “On the basis of sex” about the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is well worth the watch and has several poignant scenes that paint a beautiful portrait of the Justice.

Trying not to spoil the movie, it focuses on her law school experiences through her tenure at Rutgers University as a law professor. Yet, the movie culminates in a tax court case against a male caregiver who is denied a deduction for helping his mother. Ginsburg’s husband Martin is a tax attorney who saw this case as an ideal way to break through the bias in the law toward women using discrimination against a man as the foundation. In fact, in 1970 there were 178 instances in the law that codified discrimination against women. This is amazing in and of itself.

Ginsburg is the ideal person to try this case in appeal, even though she had not practiced law as a professor. Her nervousness showed, but I will stop there and encourage you to go see how she overcame that inexperience. I will also mention the current environment of the burgeoning women’s rights movement which her teen daughter has embraced. Ginsburg tells her we must change the law to make a bigger difference.

A favorite actress of mine, Felicity Jones, plays Ginsburg. Armie Hammer plays her husband Martin and Cailee Spaeny plays her daughter who eventually becomes a law professor at Columbia University. Kathy Bates is excellent as the civil rights attorney Dorothy Kenyon and Justin Theroux plays a supportive and antagonistic role as the head of the New York based ACLU.

The movie is directed by Mimi Feder and the screenplay was written by Daniel Stephenson. Other key roles are played by Chris Mulky as the caregiver and Sam Waterston as the dean at Harvard Law and later a senior US Department of Justice figure.

I encourage you to go see it and/ or let me know what you think. Later in a comment, I will touch on the two scenes that touched me most.

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Small colleges, large growth

This past week my wife and I attended our daughter’s senior project presentation. She did a marvelous job, showing equal parts poise and command of her material, to well-mask her nervousness. Her professors thought so as well giving her an A on her presentation.

Our daughter attends a small college with about 900 students. She has truly come into her own here, knowing her professors and advisors and having a terrific cadre of friends and associates. She has been involved with several campus groups and is now co-captain of the climbing team.

She has done well making the honor roll each semester, even as she modified her majors, minors and concentrations. She is her own person and diplomatically and eloquently pushes back when she does not care for every part of your argument. She has become a keen observer of protecting our environment and civil rights.

We are so very proud of the young woman and person she has become. As high schoolers and their parents look at colleges and universities, I would encourage them to find the right fit for them. Maybe a big place will be the right fit, but for some, they may get lost. For my daughter, a small college has been profound. She has grown immensely.

 

What should we stand for?

The United States is far from perfect. Its construct and stated ideals are enviable. But, we imperfect citizens challenge those ideals, even when we stumble into doing the right thing. It is the aspiration to live up to those ideals that make us better than we are at times.

Right now, a populist leader has painted a different kind of America. Our ideals are being frittered away in the name of searching for greatness, which is puzzling in itself. With this in mind, my question is what do we stand for? And, are we living up to that ideal under this President.

We stand for equal rights for all Americans. Groups whose rights have been denied or challenged over time are once again feeling uncertain of their equality. This is occurring at the same time white supremacists groups are feeling more empowered,

We stand as a beacon of opportunity which has led to a diverse country with diverse thinking and idea-creation. Yet, legal immigration has retrenched at the same time illegal immigration has come under attack. Plus, immigration or travel from some stated countries has been stalled or threatened.

We have stood by our allies valuing our relationships which is a strength. Yet, the populist leader has a nationalistic bent and has questioned the veracity of NATO, the EU, World Bank, WTO, UN, multilateral trade deals, and the presence of US troops. He has also placed tariffs on our allies which has caused them to reciprocate. Our diplomatic and military leaders are dismayed by these actions.

We have stood for human rights around the globe, even when we could pay more attention in our own backyard. Yet, this populist leader has white-washed human rights abuses missing chances to raise concerns and penalties.

We have valued the role of the media as an important check on power. Yet, the media is under attack in this country by an untruthful and bullying President. These attacks have deteriorated the trust in our media, which is a shame

What do we stand for? Are we missing the mark on key ideals? What should we do about it? What are your thoughts?

Do you have standing?

Do you have standing? What does that mean? It is a legal term that asks whether you are personally impacted by what you perceive as a slight.

Before the US Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was a protected right, it first ruled on California’s Proposition 8. This state law banned gays and lesbians from marrying. What was interesting is a conservative and liberal attorney joined together to fight this injustice. The key part of their argument was do people who marry have any impact on other people? They argued successfully that other folks do not have standing to prevent such marriage.

If what I do with my life does not impact you whatsoever, even though you may not like it, you do not have standing. And, vice versa. I have no standing in what you do, as long as you are not harming me. If you choose to have multiple affairs, marry a lesbian lover, worship as a Muslim, Evangelical or Universalist, or walk around naked inside your house, that is your business. I do not have standing to take legal action about my complaint. It is only when you harm me, that makes it an issue.

I mention this as people who want their freedoms somehow forget this point when they look to deny yours. This is a human shortcoming we must guard against. My rights cannot be more important than another person’s. This is where religious freedom laws often go a bridge too far. They remind me of when African Americans could not eat in a whites only restaurant. They had to go around back and get a to-go order.

When I see the Supreme Court say it is OK to decline service because of religious freedoms, let’s change the equation around and see if it stands up. Could a Muslim bakery refuse to provide a wedding cake to a wedding between a Muslim and a Baptist or interracial couple as these run counter to their religious beliefs. What about a Catholic bakery that refuses to make a wedding cake for a second marriage? What about a gay baker refusing to serve an Evangelical couple who openly advocated against his rights?

Even though the Supreme Court narrowly ruled that the baker could deny service to a gay couple’s wedding, it was a narrow ruling. Yet, did the baker have standing? He was not harmed by the gay couple. Go back to the previous examples to see the slippery slope.

I write this today as a result of the second anniversary of the Charlottesville riots. While groups have a right to peaceful assembly and protest, there is a subtle but important distinction on standing. A white supremacist who advocates against equal rights for non-whites does not have standing. A Black man’s rights do not impact the White man’s. Yet, someone who is protesting that you are advocating against my equal rights does have standing. A white supremacist is infringing on another’s rights.

We all have equal rights. Mine are no more important than yours. And, vice versa.

 

Fifty years ago, a low moment in American history

The year of 1968 was filled with major events, both good and bad. One of the lowest moments in American history occurred this week in April fifty years ago. Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated by a man whose name I will not mention as I don’t feel killers like these deserve the notoriety.

King was in Memphis advocating for striking sanitation workers looking for a pay raise. During a speech while there, he spoke of helping people get to the Promised Land, a favorite metaphor. But, in this instance, he noted he may not be there with them when they get there. With 20/20 hindsight, this added phrase seems surreal.

King won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping America achieve the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later would provide impetus for LBJ to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act and celebrate as LBJ helped pass Medicare and Medicaid in his war on poverty. King and far too many earned these changes with blood, sweat and tears. And, too many paid with their lives.

King was and remains a hero to many. The white Americans who would go on to vote for Alabama Governor George Wallace in the Presidential election later that year failed to see the heroic nature of King’s non-violent movement. King took a key page from Gandhi’s nonviolent protests in South Africa and India. King’s approach was key to achieving what the protestors did. And, it helps Americans of all colors.

Unfortunately, King’s murder unleashed an anger in inner cities. One major city that did not have riots was in Indianapolis as Robert F. Kennedy shared his admiration for King as well as his pain in losing his brother while campaigning there. RFK would not be alive in two months after his own assassination during this tumultuous year, but his reverence for King was notable.

Let’s remember the life of Martin Luther King. America is better for it. We should never forget that even though a minority of bigoted and hateful voices seem empowered to do so.

A few Sunday Questions

Given today is a day of religious reflection in many circles, let me ponder a few questions.

Today I read about the Values Conference where US evangelicals meet. At the conference, Steve Bannon, the nationalist editor of Breitbart and former Senior Advisor spoke of war on the parts of the Republican Party that are more reasonable and offer some needed sanity. Why should folks heed this man when he speaks against those who dare question the President, saying they are placing our military in danger? So, the President’s decrying diplomatic efforts is not doing that? It is our right to question our leaders.

At the same conference, Harvey Weinstein is being vilified, but the focus is on Hollywood not reining him in and the fact he is a Democrat funder. Whether it is Weinstein, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or Donald Trump, using one’s power to sexually harass, demean, use or assault women is criminal. The President is highly supported by this group, even with his lying, cheating, stiffing and assaulting of others because he said he would do their bidding. So, my question is if Harvey Weinstein was President and appointed a conservative Supreme Court Justice would that make his exploits OK as it does with Trump?

In my home town, there is a lawsuit by a gay married music teacher at a Catholic High School who was fired after he got married to his partner, officially coming out. The Bishop says they cannot support an openly gay employee. The question asked by a Catholic father of a gay son is why should the church stop there? Why doesn’t the church fire all women who use birth control, all people who have had affairs and all people who have divorced which also violate the church’s rules? The father noted his son said no one would choose to face the ostracism, hate and discrimination unless they felt they were being true to themselves by coming out.

I am a practical person of faith. I think the over arching instruction to treat people like we want to be treated is the most important mandate. In the Christian world, this mandate is even called The Golden Rule. It can also be found in other religious texts. We need to be tolerant of our differences. Bannon has the right to speak out, but he should not be denigrating the right for others to do so.

So, regardless of what political or religious tribe we belong to, we belong to an even bigger tribe that interacts with each other on a daily basis. Let’s do our best to treat others as Jesus instructed. That is worth talking about at a Values Conference.

Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?

The man residing in the White House has basically told his followers that everyone else is lying, only believe me. By itself, that is a pretty audacious claim, yet when the man’s history is reviewed, truthful is not the word his biographers or business relationships would use to define the man. Yet, his fans still follow his lead.

It is very difficult to manage the response to three major hurricanes. Yet, don’t lie to people and tell them everything is going well in Puerto Rico, when it is obviously not. As the Mayor of San Juan said bluntly, “we need to get our shit together.” The better answer would have been for the man in the White House to say we have been slow to get help to people, but here is what we are going to do about it. This same Mayor was ticked off today when a DHS person said Puerto Rico is a “good news story.”

The same man is trying to ram a tax cut through that may offer some relief for middle class families, but who is he kidding? The percentage reductions for the top of the house are substantively more than for the middle class. Abolishing things like the estate tax (which already does not exist on the first $5 million of inherited assets) and the Alternative Minimum Tax (which is what most of these high earners pay) is a windfall. And, let us not look past the comment that a tax cut that will impact the debt by $2 Trillion will create sufficient economic growth to pay for that increase. If we can grow our way out of the problem, let’s cut the taxes to 0%.

The same man has echoed the party line that the ACA has failed, but there are a couple of things he is not letting on. It is not failing, but needs improvement. And, it could be doing even better if it were not for the sabotaging done by the man and his party. Premiums are even higher and carriers are fewer in part due to the efforts of the Republican Party leadership, including the man in the White House. The sad part is most Americans have no clue about this sabotoging role, but it is entirely true.

Finally, just a thought to consider. Why did the man in the White House refer to African-American protestors who civilly made a statement taking a knee during the national anthem as “sons of bitches,” yet made no such references to torch bearing White Supremacists chanting “blood and soil” and carrying Nazi slogans? Then, he said his words had nothing to do with race, yet that is why these men risked their careers by protesting.

On this latter point, my wife shared with me the comments of a third generation soldier. He said he, his father and his grandfather fought people who were not permitted to civilly protest their leadership in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. To him, to see the man in the White House criticize Americans for exercising their rights of civil protest, citing the reason to condemn them so as not to offend the flag or the military, is what this soldier fought against.