Archive for the ‘Religion’ category

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.

Seasons Greetings

December 27, 2016

The PC police have steered the nation towards “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, says those who want to take their country back.

President-elect Trump tweeted “Merry Christmas” to the delight of the “keep Christ in Christmas” crowd. I wonder whether it occurred to the soon to be President that he will be President for all Americans, some who wish each other a “Happy Chanukah” in and around December 25th.

For me, it is still a Christmas Tree. And it is Merry Christmas to my grandchildren, did Santa Claus come last night? But when it comes to card exchanges, sharing what happened this past year for me and my wife, the card is about “peace on earth” and “happy holidays”.

Anyone who has not be watching, December 25 is huge a commercial celebration where friends exchange gifts and children’s dreams are awakened. For sure, many Christians find a religious purpose, although usually in addition not in place of the gift giving.

About 70% of Americans identify as Christian. Of the remaining 30%, 23% are not affiliated with any religion. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are the primary groups making up the remaining 7%. So should some Christians rewrite reality and get their way about Christmas?

Happy Holidays not only signals Christmas, it also covers another year end national holiday, New Years Day. The Jewish 8 day celebration of Chanukah usually fall within this same happy holidays period too. So which greeting would seem more inclusive, Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

The most troubling aspect of President-elect Trump’s tweet is that from him “Merry Christmas” is just a dog whistle to the bigoted Trump supporters. Trump’s greeting calls for more “us and them” thinking.  Trump seems to want to take credit for saving Christmas (where’s the Grinch), all part of taking America back.

A Woman’s Right

October 7, 2016

If ever there was a universal “right” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, a woman’s right to choose must be it. Only women can become pregnant and give birth. Since pregnancy involves a woman’s body, it would seem reasonable that carrying a pregnancy full term should be a choice a woman makes freely.

Listening to the Vice Presidential debate, you would be forgiven if you thought otherwise. Describing abortion as murder, as some pro-lifers do, is to use hyperbole as  a tool to obscure a difficult moral choice. But when the speakers are men, or even worse members of the clergy, hypocrisy rules.

If one goes back in history, even just back to the birth of our country, full term pregnancies were the expected outcome simply because “society” said so. Pregnancy out of wedlock did present some complexity and back alley abortions of course occurred. Society saw babies as helpful in growing the population and minimizing the detrimental impact of mortality due to early childhood diseases and birth complications.

Going back even further, families, tribes, and countries with large populations usually won wars. So if one did not want to end up a slave, staffing a large army was considered a good outcome. Authority figures reinforced superstitions around the need and duty of women to produce as many babies as possible.

In the modern world, these conditions no longer exist. Therefore, it is no longer necessary for clergy to spread superstitions around the woman’s duty to give birth often. Yet, many religion still do.

The abortion debate is very simple at its extremes and excruciatingly complex in the middle. Those who hold a woman has the right to end a pregnancy for any reason, and those who hold a woman must go full term, even when her life is at risk, are easy to understand. Their positions are absolutes.

But what about a young woman who has an unwanted pregnancy? This person has a full life ahead and plenty of time to have a family. What about a person who may have wanted the pregnancy but experiences a life event, like unemployment, disease, and serious injury, and decides the timing is not appropriate for giving birth. It is possible this woman already has children and feels economically or emotionally it is not wise to go full term.

For the absolutist, these situations are cut and dry. Yes or No.

In the real world, however, there are also some who exercise no personal responsibility. In this day and age there is little if any excuse for a woman unwillingly becoming pregnant. Family planning and birth control measure are readily available. Never the less, the spur of the moment (or plain disregard for ones reproductive health) leads too many women to unwanted pregnancies.

For the absolutists, this is again a black and white situation, yes or no to ending the pregnancy.

In Pennsylvania, the US Senate race could help determine the Senate leadership control. If Democrat challenger Katie McGinty beats incumbent Republican Pat Toomey, Democrats may regain Senate control. Toomey is quoted as opposed to Planned Parenthood and abortion, and has said he would support jail for medical persons who perform abortions.  This sounds pretty “absolutist” to me.

With Senate control, and/or a Hillary Clinton victory, Roe v Wade will be safe for probably enough time that the nation’s demographics makes its reversal impossible.

The abortion absolutists (both yes and no’s) do in their own ways, all women a disservice.

Medical experts have advanced the science of determining when it is medically safe to end a pregnancy and what would be the consequences if the pregnancy went full term. Making the subject a litmus test with innuendos of “murder”, removes the discussion of the middle ground where morality and ethics meet.

It is time for pro-lifers to expand their definition of life and include some notion of quality of life as well as the woman’s right to choose.

By the same token, it is time for pro-choice supporters to advocate for responsible sexual behaviors and emphasize the responsibility a woman incurs if she becomes pregnant.

And its high time that both sides of this divide to recognize that a woman who ends her pregnancy because of rape, incest, and medical health of the pregnant woman are exempt from any condemnation.

A Suspension Of Critical Thinking?

September 20, 2016

There should be no question that a Hillary Clinton victory will mean a dark period for those who support continued lax gun controls, or wish to turn back Roe v Wade, or seek new Federal “Religious Freedom” legislation in order to freely discriminate against the LGBT community. Vote against Hillary these Republicans think.

Clinton’s opponents also want to turn the Supreme Court back to conservative majority control. This would means more judicial support for campaign spending with dark money (Citizen United), greater religious freedom at someone else’s expense (Hobby Lobby), and much looser voting rights legislation (photo IDs). And don’t forget, Hillary will not be enacting any tax cuts. So from a GOP perspective, a Hillary victory is certainly something to worry about.

The problem at least some Republicans are having is that Donald Trump is their standard bearer. If Republicans want to achieve their social and economic goals, some how they have to accept Trump as the commander in chief and work to get him elected. Fortunately, at least some Republicans see a much greater risk in a President Trump.

There are strong bi-partisan arguments that the banking industry still can not be trusted (witness the recent Wells Fargo abuses), that corporate tax reform must be revenue neutral, and tax cuts for the wealthy do nothing for the overall economy. Simply eliminating Dodd-Frank, just cutting the corporate tax rate (and leaving corporate tax loop holes), and interpreting tax reform as cutting tax across the board, will open consumers to corporate greed.

And did I mention scrapping Obamacare, meddling with Medicare, and reducing Medicaid without sound alternatives will reinforce a two tier America.

The first question “thinking Republicans” should have if Clinton is elected, is how to avoid draconian legislation which will hamper Banks and Corporations from competing dynamically on the global stage. The second question is “how can we be sure what Donald Trump would do as President”?

The second question inevitably leads to what would a President Trump do, beyond these questions, on even more complex issues such as negotiating Trade Agreements, developing foreign policy, or handling domestic terrorist threats and acts?

It is no surprise to see single issue groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, and Pro-life organizations endorsing Donald Trump. These groups do not see much beyond their own proprietary interests.

Consider, in the current grid locked Congress, the chances of Democrats enacting any of their progressive ideas is pretty low (like zero). The chances, however, of a President Trump spontaneously acting in a manner which infringes individual freedoms, antagonizes foreign countries, and confuses financial markets seems distinctly more possible.

“Thinking Republicans” worry about these consequences.

The unanswered question may be “will too many Republicans suspend critical thinking and vote for Trump” or “will some Republicans recognize the danger and deny Trump their vote”?