It is with some trepidation that I, a non-Christian, address the Fox News/GOP Right/Tea Partiers’ criticism of Pope Francis’ recent comments on income inequality, the need to address the needs of the poor and criticism of unfettered capitalism as not being sufficiently engaged. Predictably, the talking heads at Fox and some far right politicians have condemned Francis as being a “liberal”, using the term as a pejorative. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Rush Limbaugh and others have joined in the fray. At the same time, the Right decries the “War on Christmas” as not focused on Jesus.
The Bible is replete with admonitions to address the needs of the disadvantaged.
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
With this as a preface, one wonders how the Right can profess belief in these precepts could support drastic cuts in the Federal Food Stamp program, the vast majority of recipients being children, the elderly and disabled. How can Congress adjourn for their holiday without addressing the concerns of over 1.3 Million Americans who will lose unemployment compensation benefits?
Americans don’t qualify for unemployment insurance by being poor. In fact, you can only qualify for unemployment benefits if you had a solid work history prior to being laid off. And you can only remain eligible by continuing to search for work.
Roughly 40 percent of Americans who’ve received long-term unemployment benefits since 2008 had previously earned between $30,000 and $75,000, according to an analysis of Census data by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Earlier the Congressional Budget Office has shown that more than two-thirds of recipients had annual incomes more than twice the poverty level and that such households received 70 percent of all unemployment payments. In other words, unemployment insurance for the most part benefits the middle class.
At the end of December, many Americans who had never partaken of Federal, state or local welfare programs have found themselves making choices of food or housing. The will not be able maintain car loan payments and, without transportation, have yet another impediment to finding a job. Yet GOP leaders are adamant about extending their unemployment benefits – even though such an extension would give a boost to the nation’s economy.
Unemployment benefits are one of the more effective forms of stimulus because the money is badly needed and thus spent right away. The Congressional Budget Office says 200,000 jobs will be lost this year if the benefits are not restored, and this week the damage began.
Big states were obviously the hardest hit, naturally: nearly $65 million came out of the California economy in one week alone, according to the Congressional analysis. Moreover, represented by Republicans who oppose the extension each suffered some economic harm. Senator John Cornyn twice blocked a vote on an unemployment insurance extension before the holiday recess, and his home state of Texas lost $21.8 million this past week!
The ranking Democrat member of the House Ways and Means committee noted
“Every week that Republicans fail to act tens of thousands of additional long-term unemployed Americans lose this vital lifeline as they look to get back on their feet after the worst recession in generations, and the economy in each state is taking a hit.”
The Republican insistence on drastically cutting the Food Stamp program is totally consistent.
If the Right Wing of the GOP wants to provide for the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable of our citizens, I suppose that is their right.
But please spare me the faux piety.
As a devout and constant liberal (!), I have a priori assumption that in any employer-employee relationship, the latter is on the side of angels. The Supreme Court has decided that corporations have many of the rights and privileges as people; I have questioned in the past whether this “personhood” conferred a social conscience. After all, the very reason for a business is to produce a return to its owners.
During the past weeks, however, I have been again struck by the kindness and thoughtfulness of the owners and senior managers of the Tampa Jackson Hewitt Tax Service franchise with which I have been associated for several years.
For two seasons, I stopped working in mid-season suddenly and without adequate notice because of illness. I fully expected the owner of the franchise, Tim Maratta, his Dad, Thom and General Manager, Cathy Cacciola, to be very wary of committing to hiring me on for the upcoming year. After all, I had twice thrown a monkey wrench into their operation, albeit unwillingly and unintentionally.
Notwithstanding this, when I somewhat wistfully told Cathy that I would consider it an honor to join their excellent team in 2014, I was welcomed without hesitation. I was to push these fine folks to their limit, I assumed, when I announced one week before the opening day that I was scheduled to have my gall bladder removed! The tentative schedules would have to be revised to permit a four or five day recuperation period.
Cathy and Tim had an immediate reaction. “Get better”, I was told. My job was secure.
These folks are, without reservation, tops. They combine understanding and empathy with a vast amount of knowledge and experience. Their franchise has a reputation for fair dealing and competence. My gratitude and admiration is without limit. I am proud to be a part of the organization.
The “War on Christmas” has been settled. Both Christmases.
The frost is on the pumpkin, or at least in Florida we have had our first cold snap of the winter. The temperature plummeted to the high 60’s for a few days. The season has, as in years past, brought word of hostility, of war that threatens.
People who decry a War on Christmas are missing the reality of two very different Christmas. Although Fox News may fail to acknowledge the cessation of hostilities, most people welcome the War’s end.
Christmas has had a controversial history, sometimes disparaged by religious leaders or manipulated by opportunists. The folks at Fox News, every year like clockwork, announce that there has been a concerted effort to “wage a war against Christmas”. This attack, Fox asserts, is waged by “humanists” and progressive-liberals.
There are, first, sincere Christians with concern that their faith is not being sufficiently recognized and celebrated in this pluralistic society. Thus, when Christian ritual and displays are not erected or recognized by Government or where private merchants attempt to be inclusive of non-Christmas customers by encouraging a wish for a happy generic holiday, these acts are taken as an attack on the Christian faith. The second source of unhappiness is political conservatives using the alleged disparagement of Christmas as part of an agenda to promote their political causes and candidates or, in the case of Fox News’ people, to increase ratings.
One of the basic principles that those with both viewpoints and motivations ignore is that there are two Christmas holidays, each with its own traditions, music and history.
Christmas is a religious holiday.
When some complain that the meaning of Christmas is lost or being threatened, they are not referring to the religious holiday; in fact, Christmas’ self-proclaimed defenders are rewriting the holiday’s history. They claim the “traditional” American Christmas is under attack by what John Gibson, a Fox anchor, calls “professional atheists” and “Christian haters.” But America has a mixed history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it. What those who would boycott stores whose employees wish patrons a “Happy Holiday” are doing is not defending America’s Christmas traditions, but creating a new version of the holiday that fits a political agenda.
Ask most people about the origin of Christmas, the answer would be a holiday created to celebrate the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. But that is only a small part of the story.
Virtually all pre-Christian and pre-Judaic cultures, at least in the northern hemisphere, celebrated a holiday at or near the winter solstice. For primitive peoples, the seemingly rebirth of the sun was an occasion for celebration and, even, worship. When Christian leaders attempted to convert pagans to Christianity, they told the latter that the old holidays could remain but were assigned new meanings and traditions. There is nothing in the Christian Bible that refers to a date or even season for the birth of Jesus; by the fourth century, the Roman church had adopted December 25th, likely to incorporate the festival of Saturnalia.
By the third century, there were many religions being followed within the Roman Empire. Many celebrated the birth of their god-man near the time of the solstice. Emperor Aurelian in the Third Century blended a number of pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of a large number of god-men saviors as from Apollo, to Baal and Mithras into a single festival called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” on December 25th. At the time, Mithraism and Christianity were competitors and for a time the former was the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274; Christianity won out by becoming the new official religion in the fourth century.
But Christmas, as a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus was not always accepted. The Puritans, in Great Britain and, later, in the United States rejected the holiday, primarily because of its pagan origins. In fact, in my home state of Massachusetts, Christmas was totally banned!
Those who opposed Christmas objected to, among other things, December 25th. That date was not chosen as the birth date of Christ until several centuries after his death. Then, the holiday celebration usually included drinking, feasting, and playing games – all things upon which the Puritans frowned. One such tradition, “wassailing” occasionally turned violent. The older custom entailed people of lower economic class visiting the wealthy and begging, or demanding, food and drink in return for toasts to their hosts’ health. If a host refused, there was the threat of retribution. (This sounds mightily like “Trick or Treat” during Halloween.) Finally, the British had been applying pressure on the Puritans to conform to English customs; the ban was, for many, a political choice as it was a religious one.
The Massachusetts law, enacted in 1659, provided:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.” [General Court Orders, Massachusetts Bay Colony, May 11, 1659]
And in 1687, Increase Mather pronounced:
“The generality of Christmas-keepers observe that festival after such a manner as is highly dishonourable [sic] to the name of Christ. How few are there comparatively that spend those holidays (as they are called) after a holy manner. But they are consumed in Compotations [sic], in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings [sic], in excess of Wine, in mad Mirth”
Today, religious Christians celebrate Christmas openly as a celebration of Jesus’ birth. However, the so-called War on Christmas is simply an unwillingness to appreciate the second type of the holiday, one that is secular and general. The celebration of the “secular Christmas” has a long tradition in this country.
Christmas is, also, a secular holiday.
The roots of the secular side of Christmas go deep. In 1780, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” was written, extolling the idea of gift-giving and, later, going to the Mall. According to recent polls, about 96 % of Americans celebrate Christmas to some extent and 14 % are non-Christians.
Christmas has become, in the United States certainly, a secular holiday.
Throughout the 20th century, the United States experienced much anguish over the nature of the day, and its dual status as a religious holy day and a cultural holiday of the same name. The importance of the economic impact of the secular Christmas holiday was reinforced in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed moving the Thanksgiving holiday date to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy during the Depression. Religious leaders and social conservatives protested this move, warning of the dangers of an increasingly commercial Christmas.
Christmas gained secular popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration, after the publication Moore’s “Visit from St. Nicholas” and Thomas Nast’s Harper’s Weekly drawings, which created the image of a white-bearded Santa who gave gifts to children. Some say the popular image of a red-suited Santa is a gift of Coca-Cola! The new emphasis lessened religious leaders’ worries that the holiday would be given over to drinking and swearing, but it introduced another concern: commercialism.
By the 1920′s, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring parades and ceremonies to kick off the “Christmas shopping season.” While religious leaders object strongly over what was a rush to commercialism, most of the public and merchants eagerly look to Black Friday. In the 1965 TV special, Charlie Brown ignores Lucy’s advice to “get the biggest aluminum tree you can find” and her assertion that Christmas is “a big commercial racket,” and finds a more spiritual way to observe the day. Overall, however, Lucy’s opinions have seized the day.
Notwithstanding this opposition and the objections of civil liberties group, the Federal government has designated Christmas Day as a secular national holiday. The Supreme Court has allowed public displays of “holiday” images, sometimes drawing a difficult to discern line between that overly sacred to Christianity and that having a secular atmosphere.
The social conservatives, and Fox News, have gladly adopted the alleged outrage over the commercialization of Christmas to promote their political agenda, to energize the G.O.P. base. The horror of a commercial business wishing customers “Season Greetings” or “Happy Holiday” is not an assault on Christians or Christianity; it is an attempt to welcome all of its patrons.
And inclusion and acceptance of all people is what Christmas is supposed to be about, isn’t it?
Easier access to guns a solution to gun killings?
A fellow scribbler implied as much. In an essay posted to the Tampa Bay Mensa publication, Soundings, he writes,
The question is; how did a single mentally-disturbed man with a gun but no training, helmet, or body armor shoot his way into an airport concourse? After all the money we have spent and all we’ve witnessed since the events of 9/11, including Columbine, Newtown, the Mumbai hotel attack, and most recently the Kenya mall massacre, how could our TSA checkpoints still be so vulnerable? How is it, not a single armed person was there to shoot at the attacker, slow him, or to even pin him down with gunfire?
…TSA checkpoints have been deliberately allowed to remain as soft targets, inviting to terrorists and others wanting to do this nation harm. I contend there are in fact leftist totalitarians within our own government who put their own agendas over national security and have been secretly hoping for an incident of Muslim-created carnage with firearms purchased within the US for the sole purpose of advancing their freedom-stealing gun control agenda.
So I’ll ask again. How in this day and age was it so easy for a single mentally-disturbed young man, with no training, helmet, or body armor, to shoot his way into an airport concourse?
I would dismiss this as harmless paranoia by one individual, but his is not a totally unique viewpoint. The question I would ask is how could a single mentally disturbed individual get hold of a rapid fire weapon suitable for battlefields? How could the shooters at Sandy Hook, Columbine, the Washington Navy Yard and all of the other incidents that are, it seems, every-day occasions have such easy access to these weapons of horror?
These weapons are not designed to protect one’s family or home against wrongdoers. And the suggestion that there should have been armed civilians at LAX to “pin [the shooter] down with gunfire” is frightening.
We need fewer weapons not more.
One of the more shocking statistics I have come across is from the Congressional Research Service in 2010. The total number of American deaths in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Persian Gulf War. Military operations covered include the Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission, Lebanon Peacekeeping, Urgent Fury in Grenada, Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Restore Hope in Somalia, Uphold Democracy in Haiti, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) total 1,171,177. United States gun deaths, from 1968 through 2011, total 1,384,171!
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school massacre, the NRA called for armed individuals in every school. The suggestion that there should be more and more guns and more and more bullets flying around in public venues is frightening. The numbers of gun deaths illustrates the urgency of more effective and better implemented gun control. The most devastating war being fought by Americans is the one happening right on our streets and communities, serviced by very weapons too many have aggrandized above the safety of our own citizens.
In the 225 year existence of the United States, two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson following the Civil War and Bill Clinton. (Articles of Impeachment were approved in a House Committee concerning Richard Nixon; they were never presented to the House of Representatives for a vote. as President Nixon resigned before this could be done.) The grounds for impeachment are spelled out: Treason, Bribery, or other High crimes and Misdemeanors.
Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution,
Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The phrase, “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”, is a term of art well known to the framers. “High” in the legal and common language of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries signifies activity by or against those who have special duties of a public office holder that are not shared with common persons. The alleged offense was to arise from the official duties and persona of the office holder. It has always been understood that impeachment was, in some measure, a subjective political process not reserved for purely criminal violations; it has also Treason, Bribery, or other High crimes and Misdemeanors always been understood that impeachment, especially of a president, was an act never to be done casually or for petty political advantage.
The impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 was based on serious and contentious issues arising from the president’s unwillingness to accord full civil rights to former slaves and his allowing the newly re-admitted states to enact laws restricting the right to vote. President Johnson vetoed a number of Federal bills that granted civil rights. He also fought bitterly against the Fourteenth Amendment. With all that, he was acquitted in the impeachment trial. The issues were real and worthy of debate and resolution.
The next presidential impeachment, 130 years later, that of Bill Clinton, also resulted in acquittal. The grounds for the action were allegations of perjury but not in connection with his official duties. Whereas the impeachment issues of Presidents Johnson and Nixon were weighty ones in which valid and substantial principles were concerned, in the Clinton’ case, the circumstances were somewhat similar to those of the current day. Republicans hated Mr. Clinton for a number of his policies, notably the institution of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” in the military. But the animus against the president, personally, went well beyond actual policies or reality. From the very start of the Clinton presidency they pursued and investigated, over and over, alleged acts of criminal behavior in his official capacity. There was Whitewater, Travelgate, and so on and on.
Finally the Lewinsky scandal erupted. Republicans became so consumed by their hatred of Clinton and their conviction that this event would bring him down that they convinced themselves the rest of the country was just as outraged by his behavior as they were. Conservatives and rightwing talk radio had worked themselves into such frenzy; they didn’t realize that the outrage was largely confined to those who never voted for Clinton anyway.
President Clinton’s impeachment, unlike that of Andrew Johnson, was not based on weighty issues of monumental importance; it was grounded on unmitigated hatred for the popularly elected president.
And we now repeat ourselves. Some Republicans have called for the impeachment of Barack Obama. He has been accused of lying about his United States citizenship, his attendance at Harvard Law School, his studies at Columbia and has been portrayed as Adolph Hitler. None of these allegations have survived even the most meager scrutiny. Republicans have suggested a plethora of scandals and misdeeds, from Benghazi to IRS sloppiness to NSA spying to Drones in the military. So far all that has happened is the focus on these matters and not on real issues that face the country.
But the GOP Right still believes. And still misbehaves.
As noted by Calvin Trillin in The Nation:
The limits of our patience have been reached:
Obama simply has to be impeached.
High crimes and misdemeanors? Yes, this traitor
Must have them. We’ll produce a long list later.
For now, we say he has to get the sack.
You may have noticed, by the way—he’s black.
It’s time to put the rollout of the Affordable Care Act sign up-process in perspective. In fact, it’s way overdue. There are a number of discrete issues that have been raised by both supporters and detractors of the president.
The first of these revolves around difficulties in applying for coverage by accessing the website. There have been serious “glitches” with the site. Republicans are almost gleeful in equating website inadequacies with alleged basic flaws in the ACA programs. Many of the most vociferous GOP legislators were far more understanding when President Bush rolled out the Part D Medicare prescription benefit and experienced chaos. For example, Representative Tim Murphy, Republican from Pennsylvania:
Any time something is new, there is going to be some glitches. All of us, when our children were new, well, we knew as parents we didn’t exactly know everything we were doing and we had a foul-up or two, but we persevered and our children turned out well. No matter what one does in life, when it is something new in learning the ropes of it, it is going to take a little adjustment.
And Joe Barton, Republican from Texas,
Since it began, critics have tried to make patients believe that they are not smart enough to understand the new [BENEFIT]; that it provides inadequate coverage, and that signing up isn’t worth their time because it cannot save them any money. The critics are simply wrong. **** This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches.
Sooner or later – sooner, it is hoped – the “glitches” will be fixed and we can get along with the real questions about the ACA.
The second notable criticism of the ACA is that, allegedly, millions upon millions of Americans are receiving cancellation notices from their present insurance carriers and facing monumental increases in insurance costs or penalties for not obtaining coverage. Have some people received such notices? Yes. The issue has to be examined rationally.
Jonathan Gruber is an economist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the principal architects of the Massachusetts plan under Governor Romney. He has studied the issue of the individual mandate provision of both the “Romneycare” and “Obamacare” laws and has always believed that the mandate is an integral part of the program. However the statements made by the Administration that anyone who liked his health-insurance plan could keep it was not universally true. There are “winners” and “losers”.
This graphic from the Tampa Bay Times illustrates this.
According to Dr. Gruber, about eighty % of Americans are more or less left alone by the health-care act—largely people who have health insurance through their employers. About fourteen % of Americans are clear winners: they are currently uninsured and will have access to an affordable insurance policy under the A.C.A.
But much of the current controversy involves the six % of Americans who buy their own health care on the individual market; half of these or about 3 %, will have little change to their polices. This group will have to buy new plans, but they will be pretty similar to what they had before.
The other half, however, also 3 % of the population, will have to buy a new product that complies with the A.C.A.’s more stringent requirements for individual plans. A significant portion of these roughly nine million Americans will be forced to buy a new insurance policy with higher premiums than they currently pay. The primary reason for the increased cost is that the A.C.A. bans any plan that would require a people who get sick to pay medical fees greater than six thousand dollars per year.
The bottom line is that 97 % of all Americans are either left alone or are clear winners.
Is there a better solution? Absolutely there is, but the Administration chooses not to go for a single-payer approach as in Medicare because of political expediency.
In hindsight, perhaps it should have insisted.
In 2009, I penned an essay suggesting that the far-right conservatives, members or supporters of the Tea Parties, were so nutty that Americans would send them to the dust heap of lost and forgotten political movements. I sarcastically urged that we
really have to feel sorry for the Right fringe; perhaps we should each pick an acquaintance who believes that the President was born in Kenya, is a fascist, socialist, commie dupe of evil traitors and evil-doers and that any government operated health care option or program is a program that should be eliminated (but please don’t touch my Medicare) and invite them for lunch.
The heroes and spokesmen of the far Right have**** demonstrated to the world that they are buffoons at best and racist at worst. All of their protestations that they are patriotic Americans and sincere advocates for the principles of freedom and liberty that are part and parcel of the American history and experience have been shown to be false.
I offered examples of absurdities that the Right seemed to find reasonable.
When the 2016 Summer Olympics was awarded to Rio and not Chicago recognized the president to be weak, disliked, not respected, a joke. The Right expressed absolute glee over the alleged repudiation of its president and, by extension, its country. (After, all, the American people had elected Barack Obama as president and therefore a repudiation of the man was a repudiation of the entire country. Then, within a week or so, that sneaky commie, foreign born, fascist, socialist tool of an idiot, to whom no one in the international community gave respect, went and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Now that put their panties in a wad.
My crystal ball was cloudy – no, I was simply wrong. I failed to consider that the GOP establishment would rush to embrace the crazies to energize enough Republicans and propel the party into the White House and to take over both houses of Congress. They succeeded part way; the core became energized; the Presidency and Senate remained in Democratic control. These establishment leaders, such as Karl Rove and Senator McCain, created a Frankenstein monster, one that they could not and cannot control.
Their problem is that the monster is strong. Once squeezed form the toothpaste tube, it is almost impossible to put it back. For the past several years Republican leaders embraced the crazies and encouraged them, all to keep the donation checks coming. Now these same leaders seem puzzled that anyone took them seriously.
The Tea Partiers have no coherent positive message. They are against “oppressive taxes”, “socialism”, Barack Obama; but exactly what do they want? Get rid of all socialism, all government entitlement programs? Certainly not to the extent of getting rid of Social Security or Medicare or VA hospitals or benefits. Get rid of oppressive taxes? One may have the right to his or her opinions but not of facts! In fact, middle class taxes are the lowest in over 50 years. Cut local budgets? Sure but then how do you support an adequate police force, a fire and rescue department? What other local services will be cut?
We have just endured the ultimate result of the Tea Parties’ obstructionism: The total shutdown of the Federal government. As a consequence, the favorable view of the GOP has sunk to an all-time low. (To be honest, the public appears to be dissatisfied with both parties and all incumbents.) In any event, the shutdown has ended.
It would be more accurate to report that the conditions and attitudes which created the shutdown remain unchanged and the consequences have been kicked down the road for three or four months when we will have a repeat performance.
The mainstream GOP has not yet fully appreciated that the Party cannot exist without the Tea Partiers. If Republicans think they have a pathway to victory without the tea party, they are wrong. The Tea Parties are not some small, fringe element of the Republican coalition; they are the Republican Party.
A Pew Research report indicated Tea Party Republicans make up nearly half (49 percent) of the Republican primary electorate and fully 37 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners. So long as Democrats remain reasonably unified, it is inconceivable that Republicans could compensate for the loss of anything near 37 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners with gains among moderates and independents. Once the GOP realized there aren’t enough opportunities to win without the fringe, the centrist fantasy would end. Republicans would immediately turn back to their right, in an effort to consolidate the Republican coalition.
And so we should expect more of the same, ad infinitum.
Don’t ever give up!
Eighteen months ago, I was discharged from Florida Hospital, after repeated admissions over the past two years for, among other things, broken humerus, pelvis and wrist bones, blood clots in the lungs and leg and pneumonia. After each hospital release I was weaker than before and, by the latest discharge, I was unable to do much of anything. Our doctors had questioned whether I would be able to walk again. The 78-year old body was, the consensus was, unlikely to regain enough strength to get out of a wheelchair.
Faced with that diagnosis and outlook, we purchased an electric wheelchair. It was – and is – a quite jaunty red. My VW Beetle has been named “Big Red” so it was both appropriate and inevitable that the chair be “little Red”.
After a series of admissions to a number of rehabilitation facilities, I then entered a program of outpatient therapy and at the end I had managed to leave the power chair.
The therapists had explained that I had done well; I could get around slowly and with some difficulty, but was now ambulatory with the aid of a walker.
It was suggested that I join a local gym and, perhaps, a personal trainer would be of possible help. No one was terribly optimistic. And then I met a very unusual and remarkably talented man, a trainer who is responsible for getting me from walker to caneand to independent walking without assistance. I have a long journey ahead of me and I owe it all to a guy named Anthony Williams.
A few words about Anthony: He has been a personal trainer for about 13 years, having himself been trained and certified in New York City. Upon receiving his certification from the National Federation of Physical Trainers, he began building a substantial core of clients. Soon however, the lure of sunshine brought him to Tampa, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He was a resident Trainer at a number of gyms and facilities in the area and, for the past five years, has been a mainstay at Calta’s Fitness Club in northwest Hillsborough County.
He is a remarkable man who has the sensitivity and ability to work with old guys like me, out of shape with difficulty in balance, lacking confidence and with a fear of falling. He is equally proficient in bring additional guidance to others seeking a healthier body and life and, indeed, many of his clients are younger and far more fit than I.
I go to the gym, more or less religiously, three times a week; I am worked over by Anthony on Monday afternoons. The first and last 15 minutes of each session is devoted to stretching exercises. For all his training, knowledge and experience, he continues to believe that my anatomy is like a flamingo. I tell him repeatedly that my knees do not bend backwards. But whatever he is doing, it is working wonders.
Every client has an individual program and goal; mine is that I gain enough strength and dexterity to do every day mundane things that I used to take for granted. I am not there yet – but it will come.
The moral of the story is that one must never give up, should seek and welcome help and assistance when necessary and keep pushing.
During the past several years, there have been many rumors, items on Facebook, blog entries and forwarded email, coming from people whom I would consider educated and rational. I am not absolutely clear on why this has happened, but there seems no question that it has been influenced by the constant drumbeat of blather and babble emanating from the political right and, most notable, the Tea Partiers. A subsidiary cause is the mainstream media insistence that all political statements are somehow equivalent and must be presented to be “fair”.
The Right is not satisfied by opposition to the policies of the president; that is insufficient. It is necessary to demonize Barack Obama, label him and usurper to the office, and equate his character as “a Hitler” a man whose reign exterminated millions in a program of extermination.
The most recent incident which brought this into focus was a posting on Facebook, shared by nearly 51,000 people. This purports to be a copy of President Obama’s student 1981 ID card from Columbia University. This card is offered as proof that the president’s stated background is false. An e-mail is now being circulated which shows a picture of Obama’s Columbia ID card, with his picture and the name Barry Soetoro, and at the bottom is printed FOREIGN STUDENT. Continuing,
Could this be the reason his “classmates” don’t remember him, or why his records can’t be found? Perhaps he was not even “Barack Obama” at the time!
This picture and commentary were promoted by a friend, a man who is not a bigot and one not usually confused by reality. I sent him a message that the assertions had been identified as without basis years ago. The alleged ID card is actually an altered card issued to another student in 1998.
The history of these facts was discussed in an Urban Legend site, the well-respected Snopes. I personally had verified with Columbia (my alma mater, if it matters) that the digital card was not used by Columbia until 15 years after Mr. Obama attended the University!
I marveled that so many people would accept the photo shopped card as legitimate and, even more significantly, that it served as a basis for challenging the legitimacy of the Obama presidency. Did the poster of the cards utter a mea culpa? Hardly,
Since so many believe Obummer [sic] was USA born, there is another side for this issue. Did Obummer gain entrance into Occidental and Columbia by saying he was a foreign student. **** Snopes remains left leaning when it comes to anything political and against Soetoro. Why would I put any stock in their review?
By this reasoning, the approximately 3000 members of the Flat Earth Society warrant a rational debate about the dangers of a ship falling off the edge of the world! The most important aspect of my friend’s response: there is no discussion of the merits or the obvious alteration of the ID card.
Another example of the Right’s playing upon the insecurity of its followers is the use of hyperbole and fear. The Affordable Care Act has its critics. I am among them. But scaring people is a staple of, for example, Fox News. The ACA is the worst law ever enacted, worse than the Jim Crow laws of slavery. It has or will be the cause of massive job loss, it has caused crippling insurance premium increases and, of course there are the Death Panels designed to kill Granny. And most of these disastrous provisions haven’t become effective.
I have received email messages regarding the true and actual Nigerian birth certificate of Barack Obama. I am certain that they are all as valid as my own.
It’s becoming more and more difficult to find such on the far Right.
Until a short time ago, if I were asked about my favorite ethnic food, I would have responded, “Italian”. I am a spaghetti-junky; with added meatballs and sausage, I am in food nirvana. A small family restaurant in a strip center in Tampa’s Westchase has made me revisit my opinions.
Fresh Bites is owned by Samir and Anissa Khalife and offers traditional Lebanese food made from organic produce and all-natural beef, lamb and chicken. The product is superb. Ms Khalife and members of her family were in the restaurant on the occasions of our visits, attentive and so very eager to please.
The menu offers many dishes with which we were familiar from other middle-eastern restaurants; the obvious freshness of the food places it several notches above that we had experienced previously.
A warning: meals are prepared to order. Thus, one must be prepared to wait for the dish to appear. It is well worth the wait. Second, the prices are relatively high for Tampa, but acceptable.
On our first visit, my wife ordered the Vegetarian Platter ($11.29) which contained ample portions of Hummus, Baba Ghannouj, Tabouli and
Grape leaves. For those unfamiliar with Mediterranean cuisine, hummus is a creamy dip of crushed chickpeas, tahini and a dash of lemon, drizzled by olive oil. Baba Ghannouj is a similar dish, but made of crushed roasted eggplant. Mudardara at Fresh Bites is a salad mixture of lentils, rice, greens and spices. Joan’s platter came before my choice and I freely partook of nibbles and pita bread. In return, I promised my Sweetie that I would share my bounty.
I enjoy veggies, but my heart – and stomach – prefers meat. I ordered the Lamb Kabab ($13.59). The grilled cubes of lamb, served off the skewer, were tender and delicious with just the right amount of spices. The lamb was accompanied by creamy white rice, a green salad with a lemon based and terrific dressing, mixed with hummus, and a portion of roasted veggies.
I had heard about the home-made desserts but we were too full to order them. However, we vowed to return and rectify the omission.
On our next visit, we tried different dishes. Starting with a shared Vegetarian Platter as an appetizer was a good idea, even if we had to bring home part of the meals for the next day. Joan ordered the Beef Shawarma ($11.99), made from beef that had been marinated and then thin sliced from a spit. We had been familiar with the meat from gyros at Tarpon Springs and this was similar. It was served with roasteAd vegetables and the salad I had enjoyed so much on a prior visit.
I had the Kebbeh ($11.29), a dish of roasted minced meat with wheat, onion and spices. It came with a cucumber yogurt salad and the ubiquitous roasted veggies. It was delicious but my preferences call for the cubes of meat in the Kebabs.
Again, much food was brought home for the next day.
And again, we had no room for dessert. Maybe next time we will start with dessert.
Notwithstanding the repeated assertion by GOP officials that they absolutely love the Constitution, a copy of which is pulled from a jacket pocket at every opportunity and brandished to prove devotion, it is patently obvious that it must be some other nation’s constitution. The object of such proclaimed reverence cannot be the 1787 document with which I am familiar.
Over the past decade or so, the Republicans have adopted positions that are clearly inconsistent with the principles in the United States Constitution. At the moment, a faction of the GOP House membership has taken the position that many government operations will not be allowed unless the Congress agrees that a particular law not be supported. In this case, the law is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as the Affordable Care Act); next time it could be Clean Air Act from 1963 or the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act which provides for, among other things, minimum wages.
Back in high school we learned about how laws are passed. A Bill is introduced in the Congress and both the Senate and House of Representatives approve it. The Bill is then sent to the President who may sign or veto the proposed legislation. If he (or she) signs the Bill, it becomes a Law – whether a person loves or hates it, it is the law. The Law must be consistent with the Constitution and, if someone has doubts as to the constitutionality of the law, under our system the issue is submitted to and resolved by the Supreme Court.
Is there any redress if a group feels the law, while unquestionably valid, is nonetheless bad? Certainly there is: every two years all members of the House are subject to the vote of the people; every four years the Presidential election is held and every six years, one-third of the Senate goes before the electorate.
In the case of the Affordable Care Act, it was passed by both Senate and House of Representatives in March, 2010, and signed by the President on March 23rd of that year. On June 28th, 2012, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of most of the law. President Obama was first elected in 2008. The 2010 congressional and 2012 presidential and congressional elections were made, by Republicans, into referenda on the Affordable Care Act. The result was an affirmation of the law and a refutation of the alleged horrors of the Act, such as death panels to kill off Granny.
The Constitution’s legislative process remains available to those who want to repeal it, of course. If unable to do so now, they can try to win elections and push to replace the law at some future point. The Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party which helped capture the House in 2010 doesn’t care about the Constitution, the law or American political tradition. After failing to get control of the Senate in either 2010 or 2012, or to regain the White House in 2012, the GOP continues to control only the House. These Tea Party Republicans are willing to hold the federal budget process and, indeed, the entire federal government, hostage to a gutting of the law they despise and are threatening to tinker with the next debt ceiling vote, later this month. With unbelievable chutzpah, they call themselves “strict constructionists” who supposedly venerate literal adherence to the Constitution.
This is only the latest manifestation of the many Republican positions that are inconsistent with the Constitution. I will explore those in a subsequent essay.
Tags: 2010 election, Affordable Care Act, Congress and budget, Constitution, debt ceiling, GOP policies, healthcare, obama, Supreme Court, tea parties. tax protests, “Healthcare Reform in the United States."
The most frightening aspect of the mass shootings and deaths at the Washington Navy Yard is that we have come to accept gun violence as normal and usual in the United States. This time, a person with a past history of mental instability and shooting incidents, used a legally acquired shot gun to slaughter 12 people. We may never know the motive that drove Aaron Alexis and, truly, it would not matter.
On the same day, Kristen Craig was driving in Tampa and stopped at a traffic light. Suddenly a man appeared at the passenger side window and opened fire, hitting her passenger in the arm, chest and leg. The shooter then calmly drove his SUV away. According to the police report, Ms Craig did not know the shooter; she assumes that this was a case of road rage. Perhaps she was driving too slowly; perhaps she had upset the man for some other reason.
Aaron was plainly nuts. But what do you say about the road rage incidents that occur all too often on our streets. Last week, on a highway outside of Ionia, Michigan, James Pullum, 43, was tooling along when another driver, Robert Taylor, 56, was of the opinion that Mr. Pullum had been following him too closely. Both men had legally obtained weapons and concealed carry licenses and they used them. Both men were killed.
The Tampa Police report in another incident:
On June 29, 2013, at approximately 3:05 p.m., Tampa Police Department received a 911 call from the victim stating that someone was following him. **** While on the phone the victim stated that the vehicle following him had earlier pulled up next to his vehicle and someone displayed what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon to him. The victim stated that he had done nothing to cause someone to follow him. The victim stayed on the phone with 911 operators and the dispatchers heard multiple gunshots. According to a witness in the area, the victim then pulled off the roadway and the suspect vehicle fled the scene.
It is unknown what occurred to cause the shooting. The victim died at the scene as a result of his injuries.
Every time there is a shooting that captures the attention of the media and public, after a short time the memory fades. The school shootings at the University of Texas (1966, 16 killed), Columbine (1999, 15 killed), Virginia Tech (2007, 33 killed), Sandy Hook (2012, 27 killed) all were followed by a very temporary outcry for even modest controls on guns.
In 2011, there were over 32,000 gun deaths in the United States and another 73,000 non-fatal gun injuries; during the same period, 39,000 deaths from breast cancer and 33,000 men will die because of prostate cancer. The latter two are recognized as serious public health concerns while gun violence is somehow accepted.
We have an epidemic in this country, an epidemic that has taken the lives of school children, passersby in drive-by shootings, victims of irrational road rage. Somehow, it has been accepted that limitless and unrestricted ownership of guns are part of our old-west frontier culture. The society in which we live is not that of the 18th Century when the Constitution was written nor is it the 19th Century of Wild Bill Hickok and his six-shooter.
The Second Amendment was passed in a day when one had a single shot musket and there was no other way to protect home and family. Rapid fire weapons were unknown and not within the experience of the Framers. There were no effective police authorities, certainly not in the more remote frontier area and a rifle for protection and to hunt for food was essential.
I suggest that, in 21st Century America, it difficult to rationalize the need for a 100 bullet magazine on a rapid fire weapon. Opposition to reasonable gun control, perhaps measured by the locale, is the same as opposing research for a cure for cancer or laws to keep drunk drivers off the highway. Even a modest step as insisting on meaningful background checks and a waiting period before purchasing a weapon is politically shunned. A restriction on gun sales other than by a licensed dealer is deemed impossible.
Enough is enough. Too many have died, too many parents have wept over the death of their child and too many children have been orphaned.
The title of these essays is, “Always Positive, Sometimes Right.” This somewhat self-deprecating phrase is put to the test by events in Syria, its apparent use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, the administration’s outrage and actions to be taken, if any. There are reasonable and cogent arguments with regard to the use of military force by the United States, both in favor and in opposition, but – in my opinion – the weight of history favors a hands-off approach.
I start with the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian leader, Bashar al Assad. Why is chemical warfare by the Syrian regime so uniquely grotesque? Is not the mass killing of the civilian population of Syria by other means any less horrible?
If chemical weapons are condemned because of the indiscriminate killing of civilian non-combatants, they are hardly unique. The Allied forces in World War II directed strategic mass bombing of civilians in German and Japanese cities to undermine morale. As we lawyers are prompt to say, assume arguendo that the use of chemicals to kill civilians is sui generis and of particular and unique horror, there are reasons to deny the United States a position of moral superiority.
There is a principle in law that a person seeking equitable relief must have “clean hands”. In short, one has no grounds to obtain relief if he has acted unethically or in bad faith with respect to the subject of the complaint. Our outrage over the use of chemical weapons was absent when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was using poison gas in its war with Iraq. Hussein was our friend, at the time, and we supplied logistical and intelligence support to him with full knowledge of his use of chemicals.
I return to my basic quandary. Assad is, without doubt, a pimple on the world’s complexion; but is it in the United States’ interests to intervene militarily? On the basis of our experience, I think not.
We remain one of the Earth’s superpowers. America has interests everywhere. However, most of those interests are modest, even peripheral. Conflicts and crises abound around the globe, but few significantly impact our security. So it is with Syria. Being able to intervene is not a reason to do so.
Civil wars are particularly resistant to outside solution. The antagonisms run deep and there often are multiple parties, none of whom may want peace; they want control and eradication of other parties.
In Syria there is not just one unified opposition to the present regime, there are many. The civil war in that country began with popular protests in March, 2010, seeking the ouster of Assad and the end of the 50 year rule of the Ba’ath Party. The Assad government over-reacted with greatly excessive force. This resulted in an expansion of the rebel forces. Among the participants,
• The Free Syrian Army (approximately 50,000 men) is a non-sectarian group of early army defectors. It is the largest opposition group in the country but the entry of other factions make the possibility of a united front seems remote.
• The Syrian Liberation Front, numbering 37,000 fighters, and the Syrian Islamic Front, numbering 13,000 fighters, operate in Syria’s southeast and northeast respectively. Both of these groups espouse an Islamist ideology, in contrast to the self-declared non-sectarianism of the Free Syrian Army.
• Jabhat al-Nusra, whose fighters mostly come from Iraq’s post-war insurgency and have recently pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The size of this group has been augmented by deserters from the Free Syrian Army.
The opposition groups have engaged in the same inhumane conduct as the regime, with mass killings and torture. All sides in this conflict have violated our sense of morality and decency. However, this is not a reason for unilateral military involvement by the United States.
The United States should not risk the lives of its citizens in conflicts where Americans have no substantial stake. Policymakers have no warrant to be generous with fellow citizens’ lives. Protecting this nation, its territory, people, liberty and prosperity, remains the highest duty for Washington. Military involvement would ensnare Americans in a completely unnecessary conflict. Entering yet another war against a Muslim nation in the Middle East is bound to create more enemies for America.
The surest way to encourage future terrorists is to join other nations’ conflicts and kill other nations’ peoples. Washington is still fighting a traditional war in Afghanistan and “drone wars” in Pakistan and Yemen. This country should avoid adding another conflict to the mix. It doesn’t matter whether Americans believe their actions to be justified. Those on the receiving end of our weapons would believe otherwise.
One of the worst political epithets is “Liberal”. I am an unabashed liberal, or “progressive” if one prefers. Moreover, I believe that most thinking Americans are basically “liberal” – even if the term has been vilified by the Right.
The traditional role of the conservative movement in the United States has been to put a brake on liberal-progressive proposals and action. At the start of the twentieth century, movements were promoted by liberal activists to grant suffrage to women, control business abuses, regulate various industries (food processors, drug manufacturers), eliminate laws and practices that perpetuated second class citizenship for blacks and the introduction of other programs that were considered at the time to be “radical”.
The conservatives constituted a “loyal opposition” and acted to delay implementation of some of these “reforms” until the people had had a chance to reflect. These delays allowed the reforms to moderate and avoid the radicalism found in other countries. It is the nation’s loss that the present conservative Republican Party has chosen to abdicate that role in favor of obstructionism for its own sake.
Instead of arguing against liberal beliefs, Republicans have adopted a policy of sound bites, slogans, bumper sticker stuff: belief in equal rights for all Americans is redefined as “special rights for homosexuals”, belief in the rights of those accused of crimes is now “soft on crime”, and a belief in freedom of religion is portrayed as “hatred of Christians”. If one supports providing adequate public services, he or she is a “tax and spend liberal”. This has the dual effect of making an opponent a cartoon-like character and, at the same time, avoids addressing difficult issues. Rather than state what the candidate will do or stands for, the opponent is accused of being a slave to “special interests” (whatever that means), or with a secret agenda to raise taxes, increase insurance premiums, double telephone and utility bills and kill puppies, kittens and Grandma.
So, what is a liberal?
Liberalism begins with a view of the obligations of society and government, to address human and social needs. When we lived in small isolated communities, our neighbors and local churches pitched in to help; everyone knew each other. In today’s world, each individual is unable to address homelessness or child or elder abuse, or the unavailability of medical care as it may apply to a specific person. Government is the primary and necessary mechanism by which society fulfills its obligations. The needs are too great and wide-spread to be met by individuals or private non-governmental entities, such as church or secular charities and organizations. Abraham Lincoln: “The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, do at all, or do well, for themselves.”
Each of us has an obligation to help the weak and oppressed. In a complex world, that obligation on individual members of society is undertaken by Government in our stead. The poor, homeless, weak, defenseless among us need protection and special care. Government, at its best, provides that care and protection. Laws prohibiting child labor, regulations for safety in nursing homes, prohibitions against child, spousal or elder abuse are all examples of society protecting those in need of such protection. Government should be there to alleviate loss caused by natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes. A number of individuals cannot support themselves because of being physically or mental infirmity. Government should protect those individuals by providing education, therapy, job training or sustenance.
Liberals do not necessarily have a uniform set of beliefs suitable to be condensed into a ten-second sound bite. We do not go for slogans or categorical statements. Our weakness is the lack of absolute certainty that characterizes the far right. Essentially there are, however, core principles that are accepted.
Government has the obligation to preserve and protect an individual’s rights to speak freely, worship as he or she may wish or not to worship if that is the choice. There are limits to these rights where they might infringe on the equally protected rights or the safety of another but those limits are to be defined strictly. If my “choice” is to worship with deadly snakes that is my prerogative; if I insist that a child handle deadly snakes that is another story.
Rights of individuals should not be limited by the religious views of the majority. Every child is entitled to a public education in a public-funded school. Religious doctrine should not be taught and, certainly, not to the exclusion of secular instruction. If you insist your child be taught the Bible is literally true in all respects, then your child needs to attend a non-public school. If you want your child to be free to offer public prayers whenever the urge strikes, or if you wish the teacher or school official to publicly pray, your child belongs in a religious school. The prayer that is acceptable or commonplace to you may be offensive to another. For example, a Christian prays through and in the name of Jesus; to a Jew or Muslim, this is anathema.
Having rights in a vacuum is interesting but worthless unless government enforces those rights. An individual has the right to equal treatment under the law regardless of race, color of skin, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference or any other characteristics. The people who need this protection, for the most part, are those in the minority, those whose beliefs or lawful behavior offend the majority. After all, the majority needs no special protection; the person who needs protection stands on the street corner spouting radical and unpopular views.
Sometimes, government has no role and should butt out. I may choose to go to a strip bar or an “X-Rated” establishment. I may act in a manner others consider immoral. So long as my choices, as an adult, do not cause harm or take advantage of another, especially a person weaker than I or a child, I should not be restricted by Government. (There is a difference between government restrictions and those of a non-governmental entity; if my private organization employer or my wife objects to my behavior, action may be swift and unpleasant – but that is a private matter.)
What should a liberal do? We must stop being defensive. We must not allow conservatives to frame the debate. We must present our views forcibly and coherently in every forum possible. Our candidates should reject a negative view of liberalism and not allow conservative candidates to use slogans to avoid issues. We must challenge, challenge and challenge again efforts to demonize liberals. And we must keep our minds open to other views.
That’s what a liberal does.
The Supreme Court handed down two rulings last month dealing with the legality and effect of same-sex marriage. The first, United States v Windsor, held that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Federal agencies could not deny benefits to same-sex couples that were allowed to married heterosexual couples. This ruling should not have surprised anyone.
Section 2, which was left standing, permitted a state to refuse recognition of a same-sex marriage that had been created in another state under its laws. As more and more states allow marriage between individuals of the same gender, the language of Section 2 will become moot. And that day is coming, inevitably and inexorably. The path to that day was made clearer by the lower court holding in the second case.
The other case, Hollingsworth v Perry, was not decided by the Court on the merits of the case but on the ground that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the suit. In the long run, this case, and the judicial reasoning behind it, will have the most profound impact on the legality of same-sex marriage.
The California Supreme Court was about to rule that same-sex couples could marry in that state. A massive and expensive effort was launched to add a constitutional bar to such marriage. That effort was successful and, in 2008, California voters approved an amendment, known as Proposition 8, to its Constitution.
§ 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
As of July 1st, 2013, 31 states have explicit constitutional or statutory provisions that restrict marriage, civil unions or other formal arrangements between two adult individuals of the same sex; 10 states and the District of Columbia allow and recognize such a marriage.
Although the Supreme Court has not declared that marriage is a Constitutional right guaranteed by the Due Process of the 14th Amendment, the events in California are instructive and the arguments against prohibiting same-sex marriage compelling.
A petition to declare the California amendment violated the United States Constitution was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, at San Francisco. After a lengthy trial, Judge Vaughn R. Walker issued a 138 page opinion which is a masterpiece of explaining why the California amendment was inconsistent with the United States Constitution and void.
Marriage, Judge Walker stated, is a civil status traditionally granted or withheld by the civil government; the status is not bound by the moral or religious beliefs of any sect. Marriages are customarily formalized by members of the clergy – but only because of state authorization. The requirements of a marriage are state determined; that determination cannot be a matter of racial or sexual identity.
Many people of faith and many religious organizations find same-sex marriage or any form of homosexual activities abhorrent. The opinion by Judge Walker reassured that granting same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage would not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person; no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious official would be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.
Judge Walker discussed every argument in favor of disallowing same-sex marriages and demonstrated how none could justify the state’s determination that sexual orientation played a role in determining the legality of marriage. The Court then held that the California amendment “unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”
In tracing the history of restrictions to marriage imposed by government, one must consider the long standing prohibitions on inter-racial marriage in the United States and elsewhere.
Societies have, at various times, enacted miscegenation laws; in the United States there were laws prohibiting marriage between blacks and whites, between whites and Asians, between Native Americans and whites. In Nazi Germany, the Nuremberg Laws classified Jews as a race, and forbade marriage and extramarital sexual relations between persons of Jewish origin and persons of “German or related blood”. Violation of those laws was punishable by imprisonment or death.
It was not until the 1967 Supreme Court case of Loving v Virginia that all laws banning or criminalizing interracial marriage or extra-marital sexual relations in the United States were declared to be unconstitutional.
In Loving, the trial judge in applying Virginia’s miscegenation statute stated,
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote an opinion that is applicable to the issue of same-sex marriage.
Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
The arguments against permitting same-sex marriage is, as the miscegenation laws were, a direct consequence of prejudice and bias against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and trans-gendered persons. Just as law has been held to be “color blind” so, too, will sexual orientation be, someday, a non-issue. It may take state-by-state litigation to void restrictions to marriage on the basis of sexual orientation but this will occur.
Several weeks ago, my wife [often referred to in these essays as The Lovely Joan or TLJ for short] and I drove from Tampa to Sanford, Florida, to take the Amtrak Auto Train to just south of the District of Columbia and, thence, to visit family and friends on the New Jersey shore. Tropical Storm Andrea accompanied us all the way; torrential rain and unremitting wind made driving difficult and the usual aggregate driving time of less than six hours took almost nine. When we finally were at our motel in Tom’s River, New Jersey, we were wet and tired, and rushed into the lobby.
TLJ thought she heard a faint noise outside the car, a cat’s soft mewing, and we felt sorry for a poor animal caught in the storm. The next day, we drove to our son-in-law and grandchildren’s home, along parkways at 65 miles per hour. We visited and made plans to visit the newly restored boardwalk at Seaside Heights the next day; meanwhile, we drove along more parkways at high speed to eat a hot dog at Max’s in Long Branch, a treat for which I had lusted!
Later that afternoon, we were returning to our motel and, at while stopped at a traffic light, TLJ asked if I had just heard the same plaintiff cry. I had not and we kept on our way.
In the morning, the rain had stopped and we picked up son-in-law, Kenny, and grandchildren, Morgan and Zach and drove to Seaside. This beach community, devastated by Hurricane Sandy had made great progress in restoring its boardwalk and, at least during the summer season, has no hesitation about charging tourists and other visitors astronomical parking meter fees: 25¢ for 10 minutes. Joan and I obtained handfuls of quarters and she and Kenny began to feed the ravenous parking meter.
Again, she heard the noise and it was clearly coming from under the hood of the car. The hood was lifted and, sitting on a ledge at the rear of the engine compartment, was a very small, very frightened kitten.
The sight of a raised hood and two older drivers brought a crowd, including at least three police cars, six officers and a number of passersby. Police officers, our grandson and others all tried to extract the trembling animal from the car, but each time she scooted to the other side of the compartment. After 30 minutes or so, the kitten was prodded from the car and ran into the arms of one of the crowd that now had gathered around.
After assuring the police officers that the kitten would receive a good and loving home, we left. Back at Kenny’s home, the kitten was fed, given a bowl of milk and cleaned up.
The kitten, now named Nina, has found a home, doted on by Morgan and made to feel welcome. She has become fast friends with Bimbi, a Jack Russell terrier puppy and will be just fine.
Questions arise. Where and when did this very small creature crawl into the engine compartment of our car? In Tampa, in Sanford as the car was being loaded onto the railway cars, somewhere between Virginia and New Jersey? The miracle is that she was not injured by a fan or burned by the heat of the motor. How did she retain her refuge while the automobile traversed a number of turnpikes and parkways, all at high speeds?
We will never have all the answers, but meantime, have a great family story.
I have in my wallet a blue-gray plastic card that, when viewed at an angle, sparkles brightly. At the very top the word MENSA certifies to the entire universe that I am able to chew gum and walk at the same time. I am not so sure.
My children and grandchildren have induced my doubts by introducing me to Words with Friends, an on-line scrabble game which I invariably lose. Actually, better phrases would be humiliated, destroyed or whupped.
Of course it doesn’t help that my opponents discover and employ words as EXOENZYME, an enzyme, or OXAZEPAMS, a drug used in the treatment of anxiety. Both words were unfamiliar to Spell Check and to me but the anxiety treatment sounds like a good idea.
I make an effort to salvage my pride with the thought that perhaps their brilliance is due in some small measure by my genes, but that is grasping at straws.
In truth, I do not resent any of my opponents. They are an affirmation that the world is in pretty good shape to have these younger people as future stewards. As I look around, I see remarkable individuals completely at home with new technology, stuff that my generation identified with science fiction; Dick Tracy’s wrist radio is available on any smart phone.
More important, I see my grandchildren and their friends display talents that far, far exceed those of my contemporaries and me. One grandson is a math graduate student familiar with concepts and programs that I barely understand and applying his knowledge to everything from computers to medical research.
Back in the day, I had some musical competence. I had my own radio program which brought piano music to the folks in Massachusetts, had a valid and paid for musician union card, wrote semi-dirty ballads for my college peers; I am put to shame by my grandson completing his senior year in college where he demonstrates unbelievable talent with several instruments, has conducted orchestras and totally humbles me. He intends to make his career in education.
Last evening, we attended a high school concert in which another grandchild was participating. My wife and I have raised five children and, over the years, have been called upon to attend innumerable concerts and recitals; on each occasion, we enjoyed the performance of our child or grandchild and endured the rest. This concert was different. Three hundred high school students entertained the audience with a variety of music genres, from jazz to show tunes to classical music, all from young people having a good time. These performers displayed charm, poise and openness, in addition to talent.
As a professed liberal, I am generally optimistic about the future. Not for me are the threats and fears of the far Right. Taking this into account, I am heartened in the knowledge that the world will be in the hands of these children. They have the ability and the competence to become the future’s custodians.
I wish them good fortune.
On June 25, 2013, the U. S. Supreme Court invalidated portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, stated the rationale and purpose of the law signed by President Johnson nearly 50 years ago:
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem. Section 5 of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting—a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism. And §4 of the Act applied that requirement only to some States—an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty. This was strong medicine, but Congress determined it was needed to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting, “an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.”
While the 1965 law was, without doubt, strong medicine, it is also manifest that racism had been a festering sore for generations.
In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished and prohibited slavery. Three years later, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States,” and included the due process and equal protection clauses. Neither amendment prohibited voter discrimination on racial or any other grounds; the 15th Amendment in 1870 was designed to correct this. It was not totally successful. In the next few years, southern Democratic legislators found other means to deny the vote to blacks, through violence, intimidation, and Jim Crow laws. From 1890 to 1908, 10 Southern states wrote new constitutions with provisions that included literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses that permitted otherwise disqualified voters whose grandfathers voted (allowing some white illiterates to vote) or required a voter to have a grandfather who had voted (denying the right to vote by blacks). All of these provisions re-imposed racially motivated restrictions on the voting process that disenfranchised blacks.
In the first part of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court began to find such provisions unconstitutional in litigation of cases brought by African Americans and poor whites. States reacted rapidly in devising new legislation to continue disfranchisement of most blacks and many poor whites. Although there were numerous court cases brought to the Supreme Court, through the 1960s, Southern states effectively disfranchised most blacks.
In was in this context that the Voting Rights Act was passed. Originally set to expire in five years, it was nonetheless extended four times, the last in 2006 when President Bush signed a 25 year extension.
The Court held that conditions have changed. The stringent provisions of the Voting Rights Act have been successful and now those provisions do not pass Constitutional muster. But have they? Attorney General Eric Holder spoke prior to the ruling.
“For our nation’s Department of Justice, the fair and vigorous enforcement of this and other vital protections — and their defense against all Constitutional challenges — constitutes a top priority …..Let me be clear: although our nation has indeed changed, although the South is far different now, and although progress has indeed been made, we are not yet at the point where the most vital part of the Voting Rights Act can be deemed unnecessary. The struggle for voting rights for all Americans must continue — and it will.”
Justice Ginsburg’s dissent noted the majority acknowledgement, “…. [V]oting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.” It is true that the number of blatant discriminatory voting restrictions has decreased. It is also true that this has been due in great measure by the statute that the Court now guts. The dissent further described the discriminatory measures struck down in recent years as violating the Act.
Conditions have indeed changed and for the better, but this has been due to the Voting Rights Act. Justice Ginsburg noted that it is the very success of the law that is used now to destroy it. This is interesting in the light of other laws that may be considered anachronistic and may now be gutted. There is no question that incidences of workplace injuries have declined because of child labor laws, occupational safety regulations and the like. Shall all of these salutary enactments be repealed because of their, at least partial, success?
States that had been subject to prior review of voting changes have been quick to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s enervation of the 1965 law. Texas had adopted a voter ID law and redistricting plans which had been held by lower courts to be discriminatory. Those plans may now proceed. South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia and Mississippi now will be enforcing restrictive (and expensive) voter ID regulations. Arkansas just passed a restrictive voting law this very week.
Justice Roberts was quite correct in noting that times have changed. The change is that he, a longtime opponent of the Voting Rights Act, is Chief Justice. Last February, Adam Serwer writing in Mother Jones noted that Roberts wrote memoranda as a lawyer in President Reagan’s Justice Department showing that he was deeply involved in efforts to curtail the effectiveness of the Act.
Other than that, the attitudes conditions that mandated the Voting Rights Act remain.
A very conservative fellow-scribbler characterizes those favoring increases in the federal minimum wage as Democrat-liberals concerned with keeping the “lower classes . . . impoverished, ignorant, and addicted to government welfare programs [so they will] . . . turn out on election day.”
That simplistic and cynical viewpoint is not supported by an April, 2013, poll and report of the Small Business Majority. As reported in Forbes, hardly a radical liberal publication,
“More than two-thirds of the 500 entrepreneurs surveyed from across the country support a bump in the $7.25/hour minimum wage and believe in annual cost-of-living adjustments. More surprising yet: Most respondents identified themselves as leaning Republican (46%); 35% skewed Democratic and 11% Independent. Nearly 9 in 10 of those answering the survey say they already pay their employees more than the minimum wage — across virtually all types of businesses.”
While some ideologues decry the very concept of establishing a wage floor, the reality is that the absence of such a law would be harmful to our community and nation. We are outraged by media reports of American companies taking advantage of “sweat shops” or low-income factories with poor working conditions in other countries. Nonetheless, many refuse to acknowledge the economic and social factors that are responsible. A reasonable minimum wage communicates societal expectations that companies pay an honest wage for honest work.
It is the mission, the very purpose of a business to provide the most income to its owners and investors, whatever the structure of the enterprise; if a business has any social responsibility at all, it would be secondary. A minimum wage forces businesses to share some of the wealth they accumulate with the labor force that produces it. Moreover, insisting on distribution of a business’ profits to its lower wage employees puts more money in the hands of consumers who spend it; the infusion of earnings keeps the economy stable and in healthy condition.
To the extent that employees receive wages that are insufficient, there is a burden placed on taxpayers generally, through the greater utilization of social welfare programs such as Food Stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and the like. A report on the salaries paid to, for example, Walmart employees show that they are often eligible for and recipients of such programs.
The latest Federal poverty level for a family of three is the 48 contiguous states is $19,530. If the household has one wage earner working 40 hours a week, this would approximate an hourly salary of $9.76. In fact, however, in many large businesses, lower level employees work fewer than 40 hours in order to minimize benefits.
Most state and federal programs have maximum income levels set at a percentage of the poverty level. A full-time 40 hours per week Florida employee, in a three-person household, for example, is expected to be able to eat, without Food Stamps or other assistance, on an hourly salary of $12.21 per hour. The Florida minimum wage is $7.79 per hour, 54¢ more than the Federal requirement.
At a time when corporate profits are soaring, top executive pay at obscenely high levels and many large corporations receive untold corporate welfare, squeezing the lowest paid employee shocks the conscience. Walmart’s CEO, Mike Duke, receives an annual salary of $23,150,000, over 1,000 times the median worker salary of $22,400. Over at Target, Greg Steinhafel struggles on $17,890.00 while the median annual salary for all employees is just under $30,000. Even at Mickey’s house, the CEO at Walt Disney Company makes 557 times the average employee.
To be fair, not all large organizations have such a huge disparity between the salaries of the top dog and the rest of the workforce. The ratios at Amazon, Sunoco, Microsoft and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway are 18:1, 15:1, 12:1 and 9:1, respectively.
Society as a whole and the economy specifically is benefited by salaries that are sufficient to meet the most basic needs of everyone. The goods produced by employers should be within the grasp of its employees. To suggest that this is not true is not only mean spirited but unrealistic.