Archive for the ‘Religion’ category

Great America From Down Under

February 18, 2017

I am traveling presently in Australia. The experience has been both stimulating and at the same time therapeutic. There is hope that rational political views can dominate a society.

Thankfully Australian television news offers only snippets of American political drama yo remind me of the opposite. Regretfully Australian international news reports, augmented with internet news, has allowed me to experience the perverse contrast between a sane political system and the pseudo-“Make America Great Again” crowd.

Australia may not be a great power, or great in all things. But in terms of government civility and general hospitality of its population, it offers American visitors a breath of fresh air. To be sure, for xenophobes, religious zealots, and anti-gays, Australia is far less attractive than the Trump/GOP Sponsored America.

The big Australian political debate is whether the country’s energy goal should be 30% renewable or 50%. Cannabis, women and gay rights, and voting requirements are all settled issues. Australia does struggle with integrating diversity into its society but the government’s public face is four square behind respect for all groups.

Conversely, the US public face which most of the world saw as wise and prudent (and maybe a little too timid) under President Obama is flabbergasted over who this person Trump is, and what in the world he is really about.

IMO, all the signs of a George W Bush Administration are present. Trump/GOP combo will with one hand emasculate regulatory and public service departments, and with the other cut and dice Americans by vilifying the media, demonizing certain religions and creating a false fear around Mexico and Mexicans.  The call is clear to take sides.

What does the future look like?

Most likely unforeseen events (like Katrina, Iraq, or the mortgage scandal)  will bring the Trump/GOP regime to its knees. Whether it is hubris or just plain incompetence, Trump et al will reap the consequences of a short sighted, mean spirited populous agenda.

Supreme Decision

February 1, 2017

With the nomination of Federal Appeals Court Judge, Neil Gorsuch, a difficult decision lies in front of Democrat Senators. Do they oppose his confirmation at all costs or do they object but in the end allow him to be confirmed? And more to the point, why in either case?

Judge Gorsuch claims to be someone who interprets the Constitution as the framers intended and reads laws in the context of how they were created, not how they would impact the future. Judge Gorsuch as been described as “Scalia-esq” without the bombastic-ness Antonin Scalia employed. So does Judge Gorsuch deserve a hearing?

It should be very understandable if Democrats chose a “tit for tat” response reflecting Mitch McConnell’s decision to not even give hearings to Merritt Garland. On this basis alone, a logical refusal to confirm could be based.

Over time, however, political sentiment shifts back and forth from conservative to progressive and back. It should therefore not be overlooked that in the future as the recent past, progressives have been nominated. (Judge Garland’s treatment, unfortunately, hurts this argument).  Never the less, a complete stonewall of Gorsuch would only serve to dignify McConnell’s dysfunctional behavior.

Assuming there is a hearing, what questions should be asked? And what type of answers will indicate Judge Gorsuch is not “out of the mainstream”?

Judge Gorsuch calls himself an “originalist” in the Antonin Scalia mold.  Questions around social issues and religious rights represent places where (IMO) “originalists” are the furtherest out on the limb and may be seen as out of the mainstream.

For example, supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor’s or Hobby’s decision not to provide all of Obamacare’s benefits to women for religious reasons runs dead smack into the 14th Amendment (equal protection). The Affordable Care Act required no one to use any birth control method, ACA simply made it available to any woman who so chose. Does Judge Gorsuch believe exercising religious liberty can over ride the 14th Amendment?

Another social issue involves individual gay rights such as employment discrimination and same sex marriage. Does freedom of religion allow someone with “deeply held religious beliefs” to fire or refuse to hire someone, or to withhold services to a customer on the basis of sexual orientation?

And of course, does any government have the right to interfere with a women’s choices on her reproductive health, and by extension, does a person with deeply held religious views or any religious institution have standing in denying any women such rights?

Judge Gorsuch’s beliefs in other areas such as tort, tax, and corporate law, while important, are less relevant since the Judge’s opinions are well known to be the conservative side.

It is instead the social issues which are dividing the country and are not to be found in thoughts of our founding fathers.

A simple principle might be, “believe what you want, live personally your beliefs, do not require others to follow your beliefs”.

Repositioning American Foreign Policy

January 24, 2017

President Trump’s inaugural address has been characterized as “dark” and “unprecedented”. Thankfully it was short and certainly was devoid of much flowery language. One might think Trump’s purpose was not to build inclusiveness, in fact.

Could his purpose have been to simply stir the pot, put everyone on notice, and see who flinches?

Let’s begin with the State and Defense Departments. The following words taken from the inaugural text captures his intent to “reposition” American foreign policy.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

Most recent Administrations have explicitly advocated America’s role in championing  “the spread of American-style democracy” including emphasis on human rights, calling out nations whom our State Department dubs as bad actors. Sanctions, isolation, and even military intervention have followed. Remember nation building in Afghanistan and regime change, followed by nation building in Iraq? One could justly claim these initiatives were intended to advance democracy and improve human rights.  After these costly ventures, our eyes find a huge waste of money as well as a dismal failure versus our stated objective.

Putting the scarcity of success aside, each of these previous Administrations has also failed to hold a mirror up and examine just what type of democracy and human rights examples the US projected. For example, the US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other modern country. The US’ use of capital punishment places the country in the company of third world countries. Don’t overlook the convenient use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11. And, healthcare outcomes for African Americans and poor citizens are sharply inferior to whites and wealthy Americans.

So repositioning US foreign policy is not a meritless proposal. The US is not a flawless model and our track record of intervention is abysmal.

Repositioning will not be a walk in the park. The world without some form of American leadership could by default nominate other far less worthy nations into leadership. While wars seem to be part of the human condition, it has been almost 75 years since world wars have been the foreign policy choice of relationship. Repositioning may be akin to putting a stick down once someone has stuck the stick into a bees nest.  Dramatic repositioning may  be very difficult.

The Trump Administration might also recognize the irony that on Friday, President Trump gave his inaugeral speech and on Monday, as one of his first official acts, the President signed an executive order that reimposes a ban on the use of US funds in any country where the funding might be used to inform those countries’ residents about abortions.

Where did “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone” suddenly go?

The Women’s March

January 23, 2017

What does one make of the enormous outpouring of feelings put forth by the several million all across the United States who took part on Saturday, January 21, 2017 Women’s Marches? The women organized marches were peaceful, enthusiastic, and expressive. Although the main message was women’s rights, organizers created room for gays, peace advocates, environmentalists, and immigrants.

Attendance in all cases significantly out numbered pre-march estimates. For example, Washington DC turnout numbered above two million versus an estimate of 900,000.
So why were the numbers so large in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and Los Angeles? What were the real message?

Conservatives are poised to reverse legislatively and/or through a Supreme Court appointment as much progressive gains women, gays, and immigrants have made, especially during the past 8 years. This has many women worried. Saturday, these women (not all women, just a lot of them) made clear they were not going to be made subservient to men, religious organization, or the Federal Government.

Saturday’s turnout will present President Trump with an early test. The Republican controlled Congress has already indicated it will repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, and look for ways to constrict, if not eliminate Roe v Wade, and expects the President’s support. A wise person, especially someone who realizes he must appeal to all voters not just those in gerrymandered districts, that the women’s march signals a potential firestorm of opposition.

The marchers were mostly regular everyday mainstream people. Sure there were a few blue haired marchers but most were natural blonds, brunettes, and all shades of gray. The bulk of marchers were women who were not about to surrender their individual dignities nor their newly won freedoms. Young children marched with their older sisters and mothers, learning first hand what peaceful protesting was about.

A wise President Trump would conclude that his goals of invigorating the economy and repositioning US foreign policy would not be served well by opening a social war with this group of women. There is a substantial element of the Republican Party whose demagoguery embraces authoritarian religiosity and accordingly wants to return womanhood to the 1950’s or before. The President needs to either squash this faction or at least divert them for the time being.

If President Trump chooses to ignore these marches’ message, he does so at his own governance risk.

Where Is The Center In Troubled Times?

January 18, 2017

When George W Bush was elected in 2000, Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative”. What could be better, a mix of pragmatism and concern for others? The wealthy smiled as the Bush Administration made a case for two tax cuts. The evangelical community smiled when government policy turned upon science severely limiting stem cell research and linking foreign aid to impoverished countries’ family planning methods.

And the gates were opened for the neoconservative movement, blindly supporting Israel and simultaneously destabilizing the Arab world. Along came the Patriot Act, secret subpoenas, and Justice Department sanctioned torture.  Hmmm. That America’s part of the world tilted strongly to the right and away from the center would be an understatement.

Barack Obama brought into power countervailing tendencies. Science was again respected as evidenced by renewed concerns about global warming, use of data in forming public policy, and research into solar and wind technology. The Obama Administration pointedly worked to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to close the dark spot on America’s image, the Guantanamo Detention Facility. And, most remarkably, the Obama Administration attempted to bring US healthcare into the realm of other world class, modern industrial countries by passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican Party, lead by the Tea Party/Freedom Coalition howled in horror about the reckless race to the left. It was not, however, clear that President Obama was guiding America towards the “center” until Bernie Sanders’s campaign revealed much more progressive goals. For many conservatives, however, President Obama’s policies represented socialism, if not outright communism.  To highlight this, the Republican Party’s complete rejection of Merritt Garland’s Supreme Court nomination underscores GOP rejection of centrist governance.

As the Trump Administration readies itself to take office, the Republican controlled Congress appears like the cat ready to eat the canary. The Republican Congress can’t wait to take the country back and “back” will be well to the right of center.

The unknown, strangely is President-elect Trump. Will he focus upon the ideological right or what ever is needed to stimulate economic growth? Will President Trump trade support for right wing ideas in return for support of his growth initiatives? Or, even worse as some conservatives worry, would a President Trump simply be a Democrat in Republican clothing?

“Regaining The Center” may appear a desirable goal, especially in comparison to the conservative hinterlands Republicans boast as the fruits of taking America back. The GOP possesses enough votes in Congress that Republican initiatives can carry the day. “Regaining the Center” may serve the reader well by putting GOP policies in context as a public reminder that Republicans seek benefits for their wealthiest members, at the expense of the average person.  If there are benefits, these pluses flow incidental to their main purpose.

For now, the GOP and the Trump Administration can do pretty much what they wish. In two years and again in four, voters get to assess Republican stewardship.  As with George W Bush’s Administration whose results were mixed but on the big issues, failures, “Regaining the Center” may sound prophetic.  The center may soon appear much less unsettling for independents to shift left of the Trump Administration without doing a full Bernie Sanders.

 

Time To Wake Up

January 10, 2017

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is about to lead the country’s largest teachers union into battle. Weingarten has called the Union to attention in anticipation the Trump Administration will declare war on public schools under the umbrella of “more choice”. Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, is expected to push for more Charter Schools and more “vouchers” for parents to sent their children to the school of their choice. Does this sound American or what?

Before Weingarten begins to rant and rave about teachers contracts she would do well to re-educate Americans on the great success story Public Education has been. The public school system and education it brought to Americans from all walks of life has been envied around the world. American public schools are often credited with building a more productive work force (white and blue color) when compared to other systems around the world which attempt to maximize the education of the most gifted while losing sight of the average and less able students.

In the recent past American public school test scores have slipped when compared to other leading countries. In most major cities, public schools have become source of concern for students safety as well as education. In Philadelphia, however, Central High School still sends more graduates to Ivy League schools than any other high school in the country.

Across the country. many school districts face severe funding shortfalls as flight to the suburbs has decreased the tax base. Negotiation with Unions more often than not has been confrontational rather than collaborative. Tax payers object to paying higher taxes, cities object to meeting teachers’ unions wage and benefit demands, and teachers unions object to being targeted for failing schools when the resources (in their opinion) are denied.

Many believe Charter schools have served a useful wedge in this regard. Charters have promised a superior education compared to public schools and do not cost tax payers more. Since there are no free lunches and Charters are private, for profit, businesses, Charters must spend less for teachers pay and benefits. Charter supporters then point to the generous public school teachers remuneration and imply public school teachers are over paid. Hmmm.

Suddenly an important conversation is off the tracks. Attention is directed away from whether Charters are delivering superior educational results or simply allowing parents to choose a more desirable environment than public schools.

With the Republican majorities, and a demonstrated fondness for turning a phrase, “more choice” will easily mask the real results Charters bring. To date Charters have not clearly demonstrated a model which is superior to public schools. Simply skimming the best students and leaving the rest in public schools is not a prescription for raising education levels in the US.

To be sure there are Charters which have performed extremely well turning around previously failing schools. Most Charters, however, have not performed as well and on top of that, have selected a subgroup of students (read no difficult to educate or mentally challenged).

Randi Weingarten will do all Americans and her Union members a great service if she puts the emphasis on quality of education given equivalent circumstances (social, economic, challenged students) at the cost per student. And Ms Weingarten might as well call out the trojan horse Charter School advocates are readying.  “More choice” is also code for “vouchers” which would allow parents to send their children to private schools instead of public charters.  Religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have been lobbying for this for years.

Public schools educate all students regardless of background or capability.  In addition to the 1st Amendment, Ms Weingarten might remind Americans that private schools could include Islamic “Madrassas” or ideological schools which teach communism for example.

As vouchers send more students to private schools. public schools will be left with what’s not wanted. Sound like a self fulfilling prophecy?

Lastly, Ms Weingarten would do well if she decided which was more important, teachers’ salary and benefits or work rules.  Labor laws support unions negotiating for both but that has gotten matters to the current statement which encouraged Charters in the first place.  If teacher unions continue to remain adamant, they may wake up one day with very few public schools.

Does A Herd Think?

January 6, 2017

The Republican controlled Congress is readying a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Not much of a surprise given past performance but with apparently no agreement on the “replace part” of repeal and replace Obamacare, where is Congress’ sense of priority? The herd that calls itself Republican legislators is showing its colors early, and they are not pretty.

The GOP wraps its opposition to Planned Parenthood with the claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortions and abortions are unacceptable. Planned Parenthood also counsels women on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies which single handedly avoids more abortions than any other measure. Hmmm.

The issue with Planned Parenthood is, of course, pay back. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a big thank you to religious groups who supported Republicans. Defunding is what friends do.

Interestingly most Americans do not visit or use Planned Parenthood services. Do you see a similarity with repealing Obamacare? Most Americans do not use the Affordable Care Act services instead obtaining healthcare services from employer provided insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Most abortions occur naturally or result from morning after medication. Abortions requiring Planned Parenthood services occur when women have no other affordable options. Most women find other providers, but some simply are trapped in economic conditions where Planned Parenthood’s safe services provide a dignified way to end an unwanted pregnancy.

On a related topic, Republican legislators in Texas are readying an analogous bill.  Texan legislators, not deterred by the outcome North Carolina’s “bathroom” bill are ready to do the same. “It’s the right thing to do”, the principle supporter said. Hmmm.

The common thread associated with these bills is the expression of religious beliefs where the expression impacts others who may not hold those same religious beliefs. Students of history or just thinking persons should recognize the ogre this type of thinking represents. Basing law on what ones religious beliefs may be, prepares the earth for conflict.

What is even more despicable about the repeal (not the modification) of Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and laws like North Carolina’s HB-2 is that it resembles bullying and disproportionately impacts the vulnerable.

I guess, however, that’s what herds do.