Huge distinction – discriminated against vs. freedom to discriminate

There has been a concerted effort with Religious Freedom Acts to allow people to discriminate because of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Today, I saw a reference to the Supreme Court Ruling against Abercrombie and Fitch because the company denied employment to a woman who wore Hijab, (a head covering) per her religious beliefs. The reference tries to equate the two issues – if this person can get a ruling for her religion, the government is discriminating against another religion by requiring its members to serve someone who is doing something against the member’s beliefs.

This effort to allow discrimination has gone one step further in some states like North Carolina, which have passed bills to allow magistrates to opt out of marrying same-sex couples, if they had sincerely held religious beliefs against such marriages. In North Carolina, this law was vetoed by the Governor, but the Senate has overturned his veto and the House is considering it. Other states are further down the path on this issue and have passed laws to permit such unfair discrimination.

People who are making this argument are missing a very important point. Per the Supreme Court ruling which upheld our constitutional rights, no one should be discriminated against for their religious beliefs. Yet, it is not OK to discriminate against someone to honor your freedom of religion or any belief for that matter. When your freedom infringes in a discriminatory way on another person’s rights and freedoms, then that is not just. Giving you the freedom to unfairly discriminate is not in keeping with the constitution. This is a key basis for why the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, as African-Americans were getting unfairly discriminated against by white business owners and government officials.

This last part is key as the efforts to tell magistrates they can choose to not uphold a law is unconstitutional. A simple exercise can demonstrate this. During the height of the Jim Crow era, there were some ministers who used the bible to placate their parishioners, saying it was OK to treat African-Americans differently. These parishioners also had sincerely held religious beliefs, as their minister said it was OK. Even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act which gave equal rights to African-Americans, white officials in some southern cities imposed a rigorous test on African-Americans to earn the right to vote, a test whites did not have to take. This selective testing was deemed unconstitutional by the Voting Right Act, which was passed a year later.

Every state that is considering passing a bill or law like the North Carolina one or has already done so, needs to accrue about $1 million for legal fees. Why? Any law which memorializes unfair discrimination will be taken to court and it will be overturned as unconstitutional. So, that is my strong advice to our legislators and similarly minded folks in other states  – don’t waste taxpayer money fighting an unjust bill – just don’t pass it.

Our forefathers got it right when they separated church and state. Our forefathers and their parents left countries where religious persecution occurred. And, for some that do not believe this assertion feeling our nation was ordained by God, they may find of interest that several of our forefathers were Deists in faith. The main thesis of a Deist is God created the world, wound up the clock and let us live out our lives. That belief is inconsistent with God ordaining our nation. I would love to hear your thoughts.

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” is a must see

I have written before about John Oliver’s show which is now in its second season. He truly should take over for Jon Stewart, but he may be better placed doing this show. While the show is steeped in comedy, underneath the comedy is some very good journalism on a variety of topics. His show has gotten the attention of other news sources such as PBS Newshour and Charlie Rose’s Show, as well it should.

“Last Week Tonight” typically has the following format – a brief news summary of the week with a break off on one issue for comedic purposes, followed by a more in-depth review of a topic with comedic highlights seasoning the mix. Between the two large segments, he has a taped topical summary called “Now This.” But, it is his crew’s in-depth research and his reporting on the elongated topic which actually leaves some pseudo-news organizations in the dust.

His show is actually covering topics that should be discussed, but don’t get much airplay as the issue is too complex or subtle, or the pseudo-news sources are too biased to cover an issue. The national news sources may whisk by the topics as their viewers don’t want subtlety, time does not permit an in-depth review or their funders would not allow such depth of reporting on an issue. As an example, here are a few topics Oliver has reported on:

– Pay-day lending and the politics and conflict of interests that won’t call this industry on the carpet. He noted some particularly bad examples of conflict of interest in the state of Texas legislature. Predatory pay-day lending is bad news no matter how you slice it.

– Climate change and that it should not be an even-handed debate as 97% of scientists support that it is real, it is a problem and it is man-influenced. Showing this as a 50/50 debate is disservice to the issue.

– The involvement of one small evangelical US organization who helped convince the government of Uganda to persecute homosexuals. The government was surprised when the US government condemned them for this maltreatment and retreated some.

– The lack of oversight of the supplemental vitamin and drug industry, which has been perpetuated by two senators from each party dating back to the 1990s. He also took Dr. Oz to task for his un-scientific based claims of miracle drugs that actually are not proven and some are harmful (Dr. Oz was called on the carpet by Congress as well).

– The lack of awareness of who Eric Snowden is and how the brief notoriety over what NSA is and was doing has waned. The question he is asking has much changed as a result? He also poses a very comical, but vulgar way to get Americans to care about this issue, which has many hits on line.

– The abuse by law enforcement officers in civil forfeiture cases, where departments can seize property or goods if suspected of being used in a crime. This is not uncommon and is how many departments can get around budget cuts. Our rights as citizens are being stepped on by this abuse.

– The abuse of “Patent Trolls” who sue everyone for patent infringement just because certain words were used and they filed a patent on those words, that were not supported by an invention. These trolls extort money, as the true inventor organization would rather pay them off such as $150,000 than go to court and spend millions.

He has also covered the extortion of the World Cup organization that requires a country to spend money needlessly to host the event, the wealth gap in America, the gross misuse of college scholarship marketing by Miss America when it is not significant, and the for-profit college fraudulent claims of success and high marketing budget and many more.

It is a sad indictment of pseudo-news organizations that a comedy show has better news reporting than they do. On the flip side, maybe more people will pay attention if we make fun of the news. Certainly with the changing positions of politicians, there is a lot of material. I would encourage you to watch his show via You Tube or on HBO. A link to You Tube follows:

https://www.youtube.com/user/LastWeekTonight

Moral Monday protestors represent what’s best in America

In spring, 2013, a series of weekly protests began in North Carolina that continue until this day called “Moral Mondays.” The Moral Monday protestors came together to provide a voice to those who are being further disenfranchised by actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The protestors were at first discounted by some legislators as people not from North Carolina, but surveys of the protestors revealed they are almost entirely from our state. The protestors were also lampooned on a website which made fun of those who were arrested in Raleigh for violating trespassing rules and failing to disperse. That was extremely poor form by the website owner. As of this writing almost all of the 900 cases have been dismissed.

I have attended two Moral Monday protests as an Independent voter, one in Charlotte and one in Raleigh with my oldest son. What I witnessed were doctors, teachers, professors, ministers, rabbis, deacons, lawyers and people from all walks of life, races, and ethnic groups. What I witnessed is what’s best in America. I shared with my son how proud I was for the two of us to see democracy in action.

We should remind ourselves of why the Moral Monday protestors came to be, as many of the challenges they are protesting remain an uphill battle. Yet, we should also give kudos to the Moral Monday protestors who, in concert with teachers and parents across the state, helped convince the General Assembly to enact a long needed pay increase for teachers after harmful cuts were made in education funding. The General Assembly and Governor should be commended for acting and I am glad they made the effort, but we should also remember they were filling the hole they and previous Assembly’s dug over the years, so atta boys and girls should be somewhat tempered by that memory.

While the General Assembly has done some good things, actions have also been taken to infringe upon the rights of our common citizens, which have given our state some unfortunate national notoriety. This is why the Moral Monday protestors came into being. In addition to the cuts made in education and disenfranchisement of teachers which is causing flight to (and recruitment from) other states, the protestors are concerned over severe unemployment cuts that went further than needed. The protestors are concerned that a tax cut primarily benefitted those who made the most, while taking away things like the state Earned Income Tax credit for low-income earners. The protestors are concerned about not expanding Medicaid which would help several hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, help rural hospitals from closing and help our state economy.

The protestors are concerned with a voter suppressive law which is being touted in commercials, but is being challenged in court and will likely be ruled unconstitutional next year as was done in three other states – Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The stated purpose of the Voter ID law is to combat fraud, but voter fraud is immaterial and per retired General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the real problem to solve is not enough people voting. It should be noted two other laws passed by the General Assembly have been ruled unconstitutional, so the Voter ID law overturn would not be the first one. Plus, yesterday the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporary order to restrict two features of the Voter ID from being used this November.

And, the Moral Monday protestors are concerned with the changes that will harm our environment. These changes include, but are not limited to, making it easier to cut down trees to put up distracting electronic billboards, not accepting a peer-reviewed scientific report that echoes the 39 feet expected sea level rise by 2100 approved in other states like Virginia, hamstringing the Department of Environment and Natural Resource’s governance, and pushing forward a fracking agenda even though evidence continues to mount that fracking causes environmental problems. Coupled with the failure to fully understand how prevalent solar energy is in our state (and the number of jobs created as a result) reveals an unhealthy fossil fuel industry influence. When I attended a Raleigh Moral Monday protest in May, more environmental advocacy signs were apparent than the one I attended in Charlotte the previous summer.

I recognize some may still discount the veracity of the Moral Monday protestors’ arguments. However, in my view, these protestors should be commended for their efforts. At the very minimum, their voice needs to be heard. With teachers adding their voice and voting with their feet, change did occur this past summer. Now, we need more. Three things could be done in short order to help many in our state, plus doing more of something the Governor is advocating. First, either advocate the US Congress to increase the minimum wage or introduce one in NC that is larger than $7.25 per hour. A living wage in NC for one adult is $9.12 per hour. Second, expand Medicaid in our state before another hospital closes or more people go without needed, but unavailable treatment. It should not take another GOP Mayor walking to Washington to save a hospital and lives to get Medicaid expanded here. *

Third, let’s embrace solar energy as there are more solar jobs than coal jobs in our country and we have a huge start here, even before Duke Energy’s announcements the past two weeks. There is also more sun for energy and tourists than natural gas to frack, plus fracking and tourists do not mix and it does not mix too well with the residents either. And, wind energy can be further leveraged, especially offshore, where ocean acreage has been zoned for consideration.

Finally, we should provide kudos to Governor McCrory for pushing the community college training and redevelopment efforts that began with the Stimulus Act under the President. This is where we should be investing our time, dollars and energy as evidenced by Siemens, Snyders-Lance and others partnering with CPCC. Our state is blessed with one of the best community college systems in the country and we should leverage these assets more.

Thank you Moral Monday protestors. Please keep the faith. Your voice is needed. Your issues should be heard. Let’s hope more legislators are listening. And, thanks Governor for pushing the community college investment.

 

* Per the Associated Press on September 25, 2014, “The report from the Department of Health and Human Services said hospitals in states that have taken advantage of new Medicaid eligibility levels have seen uninsured admissions fall by about 30 percent. The report estimated that the cost of uncompensated hospital care will be $5.7 billion lower in 2014.”

A potpourri of news items

While a few thoughts bounced around as potential themes, I felt it would be best to highlight a few items of note, in a world of many to choose from. In no particular order:

Ukraine troubles continue – One of the things that does not get stated in the downing of the Malaysian airplane is the pro-separatists do not have any planes, so why would the Ukraine military be firing in the air? The evidence points the finger where the missile was launched from and the group that says it had no hand in it is not letting people get to the site to investigate. And, the artillery launcher was moved, presumably back to Russia. Call me crazy, but when your arguments are contradicted by actions, then your credibility lessens. Putin has not learned this yet either. Folks, get to the table and negotiate a settlement to cease innocent people being killed and before your story falls apart. Plus, while I understand economic sanctions in this case as an alternative to military options, in general, I don’t like them, as they tend to punish the wrong people for leaders’ actions.

Israel, Hamas and Gaza – In my simple view, a country has a right to defend itself, but Israel has gone a “bridge too far” and is looking poor for civilian deaths. The UN is correct to assert their position and the violence on civilians and children must end. Hamas should also get poor marks for hiding among the civilians and setting the stage for pawns to be killed, as well as not acknowledging the right for the other to exist. Yet, the conditions are ripe for a group like Hamas to survive. Reasonable leaders (on both sides) need to advocate for a cessation to the violence which is killing its people. Reasonable leaders need to push for finding a way to co-exist. Reasonable leaders need to find ways to stop marginalizing people and look for ways they can thrive, live in peace, raise families and practice their religion. If they do not, then both sides are destined to live in an environment where innocent people are in danger and killed.

Afghanistan election is important – A major step forward for Afghanistan is still in the works. The Presidential vote recount is important to get it right and pass muster. This is the first election post Karzai and it needs to be successful regardless of the winner. The peaceful transition of power is a major element of a sustainable government. This is why the Taliban is in such a dither not to let it happen.

Medicaid expansion push gets a practical conservative voice – Please check out Dana Milbanks’ editorial article on a conservative GOP Mayor in North Carolina marching to Washington to advocate for saving a closed rural hospital in his town. A woman died because of this closing, as she could not make it to the next town in time, which was 75 minutes away. He had reached out to the North Carolina GOP leadership and was told they could not support anything to do with Obamacare. He said it plainly, this is not a political issue, this is an issue about people dying because we don’t have a hospital near by.

Kudos to Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jeff Miller for collaborating – I mention their efforts in my previous post, but want to highlight how legislation used to and is supposed to work. Sanders is an Independent, who caucuses with Democrats and Miller is a Republican, yet they said failure to get some action to help our veterans is not acceptable. I hope it catches on as a trend. Again, as you vote this fall, if a candidate advocates strident ideology at the expense of collaboration, a “my way or the highway view,” show them the highway.

Treat others like you want to be treated, especially refugee children – America has had an immigration problem for a while, but legislators would prefer not to act, even though there are votes today in the House to pass the bi-partisan Senate bill passed last year. They also complain about securing the border, yet won’t fund filling open border patrol positions. Irrespective of this, people should not punish children, with some screaming at them, for our own failures. A recent Religion Polling survey noted that 75% of Americans want us to take in these children. We have already made this a political chess game. Let’s stop making it a game and show some stewardship and heart. My friend George Dowdell notes in his blog* about the concept of being a Red Letter Christian, meaning Christians should follow the words that Jesus spoke. So, WWJD?

Same-sex marriage train continues down the track – 19 states now allow same-sex marriage and fifteen more have ruled in favor, but are awaiting the appeals process. The Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage over the Virginia case, but their jurisdiction includes South and North Carolina. The Attorney General in NC said after the ruling this week, that he will no longer fight the current court cases, since the appellate court has spoken. I said a few posts ago, this train has left the station and eventually all states will allow same-sex marriage, as to do otherwise is discriminatory and unconstitutional. So, I repeat the question I asked then, if you are against same-sex marriage, where do you want to spend your time?

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There are many other topics worth talking about. I would love to hear your thoughts on these and other topics. Thanks, in advance, for your comments. Note, you can check out George Dowdell’s terrific post on Red Letter Christians with this link: http://georgedowdell.org/2014/07/28/take-seriously-what-jesus-said/#more-3033

 

As you ponder voting, look backwards from 2030 to see where people stand

With major issues facing our country and planet, which do not get the attention needed due to a myopic focus on the short-term by politicians, pundits and media, it would behoove us to fast forward to the year 2030 and look backwards. As the next fifteen plus years are so critical on a number of fronts, this exercise will help us vote for forward thinking, issue focused candidates. The solutions will also need to be well grounded as they need to live beyond the terms of this campaign season. As food for thought, here are the views of this independent voter.

Eco-energy issues

These issues need to be top of mind for all due to their implications.

– Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Union of Concerned Scientists and the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and 97% of all scientists and research papers, climate change is a significant issue and man is influencing it more so than ever. We must move in a concerted fashion toward renewable energy sources. The time is well past to address naysaying and we need to be much more demonstrative in our eco-energy planning. Note, this is not an either/ or jobs issues as there are plenty of jobs today in the wind and solar energy industry and they are hiring today.

– To this same point, we are too pell mell into fracking, without recognizing the problems it is causing for the environment and usage of water. The industry speaks of how safe the process is and that they have been fracking for over sixty years. Yet, what they fail to tell you is they have been only fracking the way they are doing now for less than ten years and the process never really has been as safe as portrayed. The non-industry data documenting the air, water and environmental issues is just beginning to be noticed and will actually paint an even worse picture over time.

Economy and income inequality

The economy has gradually improved since the recession and we are on a much better track. Yet, we need more work force retraining for the newer jobs and to address the significant income inequality in the US, as we have a huge poverty problem.

– The economic recovery has not been felt equally by everyone. With the stock market rise, those with assets are doing much better than those with fewer assets. Coupled with more part-time jobs, the “have-nots” are still struggling. We need active discussion around an increased minimum wage and making it so that it adjusts periodically. We also need even more investment in workforce training building off of the federal, state and business partnerships in the community college system and high school apprenticeships that are occurring.

– We must also invest in innovation here. Innovation is portable, so if we don’t invest here or let our brighter minds depart, then the jobs will be created elsewhere. We have a terrific college/ university system. We need to pair it up better with business, community colleges and common elementary-high school standards to leverage that innovation. There are great examples where this has occurred like at Clemson University and surrounding community colleges and businesses working together to create jobs and internships, so we should leverage our assets more fully and share those lessons.

– The Affordable Care Act will help and is helping with our poverty problem, but it could do even more if states expanded Medicaid that have not done so. This program still needs some tweaking, but when reviewed backwards from 2030 it will be deemed to be more successful than its opposition would let people believe. Getting access to doctors to prevent the train wrecks from happening down the road, will also allow for more spending in other areas, as trips to the ER and medications are not inexpensive.

– We need to help people climb ladders out of poverty. We need to constantly evaluate how we provide support and various success factors, but we need for some to move away from the belief that many are gaming the system. While there are some miscreants, they are a very small percentage according to data. Like many areas, we need data driven solutions and not hearsay. With my volunteer work with homeless families, I constantly surprise people when I say our families have a job or two and yet still find themselves homeless. This is anecdotal, but it is at least evidence based.

Infrastructure investment and improvements

There is no better jobs program than to invest in our crumbling infrastructure (bridges, roads, harbors, railways, cable lines, etc.). These are the words of Ray LaHood, a Democrat and former Secretary of Transportation, and Ed Rendell, a Republican and former Governor of Pennsylvania. Plus, if we don’t improve our infrastructure, especially making the harbors deeper for the larger ships from China passing through the deepened Panama Canal next year, we will see the distribution business sail right past us to Canada. This is one area where the Stimulus Bill actually helped and is still helping, such as improving railway in Virginia and North Carolina or repairing or replacing a significant number of bridges in Pennsylvania.

LGBT equality issues

The train for same-sex marriage has left the station. Nineteen states have overturned unconstitutional laws to deny same-sex marriage. Nine more states’ laws have been ruled by a judge to be unconstitutional and are awaiting for the appeal process to run its course. I liked the line from Ted Olson, who is a conservative attorney who argued the case in the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8 restricting marriage to a man and woman. He said this should have conservative support as it is all about two people who want to commit to a relationship, want to raise a family and be part of the community. By 2030, all states will allow same-sex marriage as to do otherwise is discriminatory. Which side of history is the candidate on?

Immigration issues

The recent influx of young refugees has heightened the issue, but this issue has been apparent for some time and it is time to act. You have church leaders advocating better immigration laws, you have the Chamber of Commerce advocating better immigration laws, and just last week Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates co-wrote a bi-partisan editorial that advocated the need for collaboration (in general) and better immigration laws, in particular the VISA programs where bright foreign students are trained and then leave the country. The Senate has passed a bi-partisan bill; it is well past time for the House to do the same and reconcile the two. Otherwise, we will continue with piecemeal decision-making rather than a concerted effort.

Global leadership on women’s issues to fight terrorism and poverty

Terrorism cannot be tolerated by any civilized regime or religion. Too many innocent people, especially women and children, suffer that it must not be condoned. We must push for diplomatic and political solutions based on outcomes based missions. We must also push for better treatment of women, as those countries that put down women are competing in a world with only half their assets. Plus, more women in leadership positions will only help getting to more diplomatic solutions and less aggressive posturing. I believe if we continually promote the education and better rights for women, it will benefit more regions economically. We can also start here at home by addressing violence against women on college campuses and in the military, addressing sex trafficking, stop getting in the way of women and their doctor and paying women more equally to men for equal work.

Trade-off between freedom and security

Since 9/11 the pendulum has swung too far in the minds of many toward data gathering and security. We need to have better dialogue on where this balance needs to be. Irrespective of how people feel about Edward Snowden, we are only now beginning to have that conversation. We need more transparent governance over these issues. If we tighten the screws too far against the liberty side, America will look much less like we want it to. We also need to treat our allies better and expect the same from them. With all technologies, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Gun death issues

We lead the civilized world by far in gun deaths and children gun deaths. Yes, it is a complex issue with causes relating to the lack of civil discourse, entertainment violence, drugs and crime, and mental health issues, but make no mistake it is also an access to guns issue. I saw yesterday where a scientist is moving to Denmark to raise his family because he is worried about gun violence in the US. We are well past time in doing something about this issue. The NRA is powerful entity that plays both ends against the middle, but they do not speak for most gun owners. This a much more than a mass shooting issue. It is an issue that happens every day in America. And, what we don’t need is allowing for guns in bars, on playground and on college campuses. That is malfeasance, in my mind, but some states have passed such laws. And, Americans want better background checks and more elongated waiting periods. That is a start.

Debt and deficit issues

I left this one for last as it is important, but the discussion is constantly around either/ or issues – either raise revenue in taxes or cut spending. Per Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan, the answer is both. We were last balanced in 2001 before the Bush Tax cuts. The Secretary of Treasury was so adamant against these cuts, he was fired. His name was Paul O’Neill, and he only turned around Alcoa as CEO, so what does he know. We need both cuts in spending and increases in revenue. The infrastructure improvements is an example of where we need to spend, yet we have room to cut on defense and elsewhere.

These are key issues in my mind. We need more of collaborative people who seek data based solutions. We need less of “I win/ you lose” politicians, pundits and media. We need less of people who want to win their argument so badly, they do not look for or consider other points of view. If a candidate advocates my way or the highway, I would strongly urge we give them the highway.

 

 

The Case Against 8 – Excellent documentary on fight for same-sex marriage

The train for the right to same-sex marriages in the United States has left the station and is building steam. Currently, 19 states permit same-sex marriage, with nine others in litigation over the constitutionality banning such marriages.* But, the action that caused the train to start moving was the court case in California to overturn Proposition 8 for its unconstitutionality, which made its way to the US Supreme Court. There is an excellent documentary called “The Case Against 8” which is now airing on HBO.**

“The Case Against 8” is well worth the watch as it is a fascinating rendition of how the law works and the gist of the case. The people who represented the vote for Proposition 8 could show no standing that by allowing such marriages any harm was being done to others. Yet, the story is more about three sets of individuals who made this happen.

First, the two couples – Kris Perry/ Sandy Stier and Paul Katami/ Jeff Zarrillo – deserve tremendous credit for being involved in the series of court battles for over four years. They show who the law is designed to help and evidence two very loving couples who have the support of their families and children. To see what this all means from their eyes is powerful

The other couple is the two lead attorneys, whose names I did not know, but who have had a hand in numerous cases involving the US Supreme Court – Ted Olson, a conservative attorney and David Boies, a liberal attorney. Olson took a lot of crap from the right, especially the pundits, when he took this case. But, his rationale is so simple. Marriage between a loving couple, who want to build a family and contribute to the community should be supported by conservatives as well as liberals.

The strength of their combined expertise shows as both said we need to do this the right way from the beginning. We need to do this in a manner such that when the US Supreme Court hears the case, our position is as strong as it possibly can be. What I found of interest from a legal front are three sets of events.

First, during the initial court hearing to try to throw the case out, the judge asked opposing counsel what harm is being done to others and he could not think of an answer. Both Olson and Boies were amazed by this. Second, during depositions for six expert witnesses to testify that same-sex marriages should not be allowed, five of the experts decided to back out of the case, leaving only one expert. Third and most profound, the remaining expert actually conceded during cross-examination that the children would be better off if the couples were married. He later wrote an op-ed piece saying he had been wrong to support Proposition 8.

With the solid case, the US Supreme Court eventually decided 5 to 4 that same-sex marriages could occur in California and that Proposition 8 had no standing, meaning no one could show harm. The two couples were first in line to be married and led the way for many. The nine states in court now should have their same-sex marriage restrictions overturned as unconstitutional, as judges have ruled as such, and they are in the appeal stage. The others will follow suit at some point. The Virginia Attorney General noted he would not defend the law as he deemed it to be unconstitutional. He noted Virginia was on the wrong side of the law in the first interracial marriage case, ironically and importantly named for the plaintiffs – the Loving couple, and he did not want to be on the wrong side of this.

Everyone should watch this documentary. If you are against same-sex marriage, this documentary will challenge your thinking. If you are for same-sex marriage, it will validate why it is important. If you are a gay or lesbian couple, it will make you proud that what you are fighting for is finally making a difference. I would love to read your feedback before or after seeing the movie.

* A current listing of states can be found with the attached link: http://gaymarriage.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004857

** A link to the HBO film follows: http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/documentary-on-proposition-8-to-premiere-today-on-hbo

 

To honor fathers, let’s cease the we/ they inanity

Happy Father’s Day. As a father of three, my wife and I have done some things right and some things wrong. One of the better things we have done is to not tolerate uncivil behavior among our children to each other or others outside the family. As a result, our kids get along well and we have a great blessing of having their friends enjoy hanging around. As any parent will attest, in any argument, both parties tend to share at least some of the blame for the conflict. Oftentimes, the “what did I do?” culprit did something over time that may have led to the event.

Yet, we seem to have lost that perspective when we see adults acting in a childish we/ they manner in matters of politics, business and religion. The Pew Research Center just completed a survey that defined how polarized Americans are becoming and the lack of mistrust of people who believe differently and the blame they assign to the other side. The survey was more for political beliefs, but it could be expanded as well to other hard belief systems. To me, one of the major culprits in this polarization can be traced back to audience segmentation to sell things in the late 1980s. With the advent of better information, sellers of products and services, have targeted audiences to sell more of what they have to offer. This started bleeding over into politics, where the audiences can be guided to “same-song” messages from sources where you will be more inclined to hear what you want to hear.

When you layer on top of that the significant cost of election campaigns, funders can now more easily invest in politicians that will be more inclined to do what the funder wants. And, the funders can influence elections across the country, which is a huge unfair advantage. As the Brat upset of Cantor in Virginia showed, money cannot always buy elections, but for the most part the level of influence is significant. So, with these factors rolled up together, we are in a constant state of we/ they competition where one side is obligated to disagree with the other side on any issue. We are in a continual campaign state and governance of resolving issues is less a concern until the politicians have to act, but even then it is not a given.

The sad part of all of this is the pawns in this ongoing chess game do not get much consideration. The politicians are playing a zero sum game, where my side must win and your side must lose. But, in the end, the pawns are the ones who usually get screwed. So, this we/ they inanity needs to come to a stop or be identified and discounted. As an independent voter who has been a member of both mainstream parties and votes for both Republicans and Democrats, I can assure you neither party owns all the good ideas. To be frank, I am also seeing some very poor ideas that are being considered and passed. When the modus operandi is to have an opposing view on anything, strange ideas can evolve when the other side is closer to being correct in their issue identification and possible solution than you are.

So, how do we end this we/ they inanity? First, if you think you are always right and the other side is always wrong, you may want look in the mirror. You will see a flawed human being. Second, expose yourself to better information sources. We have two unique sets of news sources in our country with Fox and MSNBC who at best, will give you a spun version of the news. My suggestion is to look to more independent news sources. You will find you disagree with what those sources say at times. Good, as you need to challenge your understanding of the issues. When you only hear a spun version of the news, even-handed news can appear biased.

Third, understand that while everyone has opinion, depending on the subject, some opinions should be discounted while others should be heeded. I tend to avoid “shout shows” where people shout over each other. Usually, the louder the voice or more name-calling, the lesser the person’s argument. Look to read or hear from subject matter experts. This is one of the reasons I watch PBS Newshour and BBC World News America, as they tend to have knowledgeable subject matter guests who are allowed to voice their opinions. Another excellent source is NPR which has knowledgeable guests who agree some, disagree some, but hear the other point of view. Plus, on each of these shows, the reporters and hosts are very knowledgeable themselves and can ask good questions.

Fourth, encourage people to focus on the issues and not who benefits politically. I detest the last subject. I recall Katty Kay from the BBC stopping a guest when he started answering a question with who will benefit politically. She said that was not what she asked. She wanted to know what the impact will be and what should be done about it. That is the question we should be asking. I personally care less who will benefit politically and want us to speak to the issues and problems. I also care less for reporters who focus more on the game of politics and less the issues.

Fifth, ask more questions of people and politicians. “Why do you feel that way?” “Help me understand why this is important?” “Who benefits most from this approach and should we rely as much on data provided by that group?” Also, do your best to understand the context of why something was said and done. To be frank, the Internet demonstrates that anyone can be made to look like an idiot if what they say is taken out of context. That does not mean what they said is not idiotic, but you need to look under the hood and at a person’s track record. Someone who does the right thing 19 times out of 20, has a bigger reserve of good will than someone who often does or says the wrong thing. I would also note “words are cheap.” Many politicians will say nice words, but do the opposite for various reasons.

Sixth and finally, blessed are the peace makers and collaborators. Collaboration is not a bad word and I don’t know how we have made it so. For someone to lose their job for collaborating is inane and a disservice to the American people. Go back to the earlier comments above – no side has all the right answers and both sides have some wrong ones. If you want to discredit someone for collaborating to find a solution we can all work with, then go back and look in that mirror. Our greatness is our diversity of thought and people. Whether it is gender, race, ethnicity, religious belief, or sexual orientation, we all have a perspective worth hearing and understanding. You may not agree with it, but listen and you may learn from it. You may also find more common ground than first believed, which is a foundation to build from.

Let’s honor our fathers by being better citizens and acting more like adults. And, two old quotes bear repeating here. First, “you have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that proportion.” Second, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”This we/ they inanity has to end or be discounted for what it is.

 

 

 

 

MLK advice on violence still resonates

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. To many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/

** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

But aren’t you being a bigot when you chastise my bigotry?

I have been seeing this line of reasoning more and more lately, when someone says you are being bigoted when you chastise or condemn that person’s bigotry. In the United States, we celebrate our rights to believe the way we want to believe and support the same of another citizen who believes the exact opposite and shouts his beliefs to anyone who will listen. While this statement is easy to make, it is harder to follow.

In the past several years, I have seen our country become more polarized. I have seen people who claim constitutional rights, while at the same time denigrating the rights of others. What they are actually saying is “my rights are more important than yours.” In our country, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot tout freedom of religion, then want to deny rights to someone who does not believe in the same religion.

However, our rights as citizens should not tread on the rights of other citizens. This is especially true when a group of people says that another group should not have the same rights as we have because they are different. This right is more paramount in our country as we are an amalgamation of different kinds of people. Americans can trace roots to a multitude of countries, ethnic groups, religions and races. We have people who have different sexual orientations and some who realize later in life, that their outward body does not match their inner make-up.

Yet, while different, we all have some common traits. We are imperfect humans with our own gifts, dreams, needs, frailties and biases. But, make no mistake, we all carry our biases learned from those who taught us. We guard against them getting in the way of fair dealing with others, but they do come out. Our biases do show the ugly side of ourselves from time to time.

Getting back to my question in the title, are we being bigoted when we chastise someone else’s bigotry? Here are a few comments to facilitate discussion, as I would love to hear your thoughts. First, we cannot tolerate bigotry in this country when it impacts other people. If your beliefs are espoused to cause action through your words or deeds and they harm or impede the rights of others, then those words and actions should not be condoned. So, when a minister uses the power of the pulpit to inflame bigotry and exclusion, then these words should be admonished.

When people say I am not going to serve these kinds of people because they are different, then those actions should be highlighted. When people purposefully use labels or name-calling to denigrate another person’s argument, then the name-callers’ labeling can be criticized.

Second, we cannot tolerate governance that limits the rights of citizens or gives extra rights to citizens at the expense of others. We need to call into question laws that label, demean and deny the exercise of one’s rights, again provided they are not being harmful to others. We are on unstable ground denying the right of same-sex couples to marry if they so choose, for example.

As you review each of these comments, note my attempt to speak against the words and actions of someone being bigoted. If we focus on the words and actions and less on the person, we stand on taller ground. In essence, you are saying, you have the right to say these words, but I do not agree with them and must say so. With that said, I am positive I have violated that covenant and said something derogatory about the speaker or doer of the bigotry.

You have the right to be bigoted, provided you are not harming the rights of other people. You have the right to your own opinions, but I have the right to mine. I have the right to say I disagree with your words or actions. I have the right to vote with my feet and not shop at your store, if you advocate not selling products and services to people you  believe are different from you. Provided I focus on your actions and words and not you as an individual.

Could I be accused of being a bigot because I am less tolerant of the actions and words of bigots trying to trample on the rights of others? Yes. But, if I focus on the words and actions, I feel better about my position. However, in the bigger scheme of things, if we do not shine a light on bigotry and hatred, then we are far worse off. If we remain silent, then we have condoned the bigotry as acceptable. What are your thoughts?

Love your neighbor as yourself (with no caveats)

Two things in the morning newspaper (The Charlotte Observer) caught my eye, one was a local column and the other a national news article. As reported by Cathy Lynn Grossman, of the Religious News Service, a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found 21% of Americans are “unaffiliated” with a church meaning they are atheists, agnostics, religious without a church or not religious at all. The survey noted that Catholics made up 20% and white evangelicals make up 19%. When all Protestant groups are tallied, the total is 48%. These numbers are fairly similar to The Pew Research findings.

The column written by Reverend Nicole Martin, who is the Executive Minister at The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was called “When a stranger becomes a neighbor.” In it she notes that in Leviticus 19:18b, God told Moses to instruct the people to love their neighbors as themselves. Jesus reinforced this in Mark 12:31, by restating this scripture calling it the greatest of all commandments. I link these two articles together because Reverend Martin’s column reiterates the most important rule that Jesus asked us to live by and as the survey shows our neighbors are likely to be different from us in beliefs.

From earlier posts, readers know I harp on a key theme – when religion is inclusive, it is at its finest. When it is exclusive, it is at its worst. It divides. My blogging friend Roseylinn at http://www.roseylinn.wordpress.com has a terrific post which notes in a comment response how people are arguing about who is more religious and what political party should own a set of beliefs. We both find this ludicrous, as God is above political and country boundaries. In fact, Reverend Billy Graham said about twenty years ago that religious leaders need to be wary of aligning with a political party as you will be used for their purpose.

As the elder Graham notes, God should be above and separate from political party affiliation. I like to surprise people with the following statements on occasion to glean their input. You do realize God is not an American. This one throws them a little, as some believe God ordained the US Constitution. The other one is if God did choose sides, which side was he pulling for in the Civil War – the one who believed that an African-American was a possession or the one who fought to end slavery. There were many Confederates who believed their cause was righteous, yet I would argue if God did pick sides, it would have not been that one.

Getting back to Jesus valuing the most important commandment of love your neighbor like yourself, it should be noted Jesus did not offer caveats. He did not say love your neighbor unless they are LGBT, religiously or politically unaffiliated, or believe in the exact opposite of what you do. Jesus also hung out with “the lesser of these” when he ventured from town to town. He was not too keen with the religious leaders who used their power inappropriately. He was not too keen with people who had money tables in houses of worship. He was not too keen with people with wealth who did not help those in need.  He did not say be a good Samaritan unless the person in need is gay or lesbian or Jewish, Muslim or agnostic.

Our country has many aspects of which we can be proud and show as an example to the world. The separation of church and state is one of the paragons. The freedom to worship as you wish is another. When we chip away at these paragons, we lessen our greatness. We lessen the exemplars for others around the world. We are a melting pot of many cultures, ethnicities, religions, and diverse beliefs and sexual orientations. We are all different, which makes us a wonderfully diverse country. But, while different, we have similar wants and needs – to live freely and to have a secure environment to raise our families and ourselves. That is something Jesus would be proud of, even though He is not an American. He is more than that.