Thursday, March 12, 2015
Cried all, “Before such things can come,
You idiotic child,
You must alter human nature!”
And they all sat back and smiled.
— Charlotte Perkins Gilman, In This Our World
It is a whole new approach to bigotry and it comes just as the country is celebrating 50 years since Bloody Sunday in Selma. Those who still secretly harbor a longing for the days when racial prejudice was accepted in many parts of the country will be kicking themselves for not having thought of it back then. I refer of course to the steps being taken by state legislatures around the country to give religious cover to those who continue to find satisfaction in asserting their superiority to others by invoking whatever God they happen to be worshipping. Those over whom the devout wish to establish their superiority are the members of the LGBT community. As this is written legislators in at least five states are considering legislation that blesses (my word rather than theirs) the actions of those who refuse to make wedding cakes for same sex couples, offer them employment or otherwise assert their right to refuse to serve members of the gay community.
In Georgia two different versions of what is called the “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” are being considered. If enacted they would give Georgians “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person’s religious tenets or beliefs.” The bill has gotten through the senate judiciary committee but has not yet been set for a formal vote. In Mississippi a pro-discrimination bill provides that the state may not “burden” a person’s exercise of religion. The bill was passed unanimously in the state senate. It now awaits action by the state house. In Missouri Senate Bill 916 permits businesses to refuse service to anyone if “the refusal is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief . . . .” If God tells someone in Missouri not to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple the law will sanction the refusal. Notwithstanding the foregoing, not all the news in this arena is bad.
In Colorado a pro-bigotry bill which is described in its preamble as being for “the protection of a person’s first amendment rights in the enforcement of public accommodations laws, and, in connection therewith, protecting a person’s right to not be involuntarily compelled in speech, acts of artistic expression, or acts of religious expression” was defeated in committee. Had it passed the owner of a hotel could have refused to rent a room to a gay couple without being in violation of any law pertaining to making accommodations available to all. It would also protect the baker whose religious belief tells him it is wrong to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. A companion bill was also defeated. It was described as concerning “state freedom of conscience protection act” and specified that “no state action may burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. . . .” This bill, too, would have protected the recalcitrant baker. Colorado was not the only state to decline to follow in the footsteps of Missouri et al.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill presented to her entitled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” She said the vetoed bill that her Republican controlled legislature passed would have permitted business owners to refuse service to gay people on the basis of religious beliefs.
In Arkansas a conscience protection bill was proposed. If a person’s conscience told the person that serving a gay person was wrong the bill provided that the person and the conscience would not be subject to legal penalties for their refusal to serve such persons. Although it was passed by the Arkansas House of Representatives it did not receive the votes it needed in the Senate Judiciary Committee to get it to the full senate. Although it may still get to the Senate it probably is of little importance since Arkansas has no law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Thus, it would seem, in Arkansas discrimination against gays is permitted without the benefit of new legislation.
Thanks to the invocation of religious conviction it is clear that prejudice in the United States is getting new life insofar as the LGBT community is concerned. It is acceptable to those promoting prejudice because they attribute their bigotry not to themselves but to the God by whom they pretend to be guided. It’s safe to say their God probably finds that surprising. He shouldn’t. Much of the evil that takes place around the world is done in the name of the God the perpetrators claim to worship. It must be hard on Him.
Discuss this column 
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?
— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address
It all worked out beautifully and the way it was structured made it absolutely clear that the House of Representatives was not acting out of self interest when it finally decided to fund Homeland Security and put an end to end the stalemate that threatened to defund Homeland Security, an action that would have put the whole country at risk of all manner of bad things from which it is protected by that agency. Members of Congress were acting in the best interests of the entire country which is exactly what we have come to expect from our elected representatives. It also became obvious why it did what it did.
At first observers wondered why members of the House didn’t link passage of legislation to reverse the president’s executive order with respect to immigration, to its own compensation instead of to the compensation of the folk who work at Homeland Security. Almost all of them earn considerably less than members of Congress and it is fairly certain that the President consulted with absolutely no one in Homeland Security before issuing the executive order to which Republicans took such strenuous objection. Why members of Congress did what they did and what members of the House who were the last hold-outs were almost certainly thinking was that if they were threatening to withhold their own pay (instead of the pay of those in Homeland Security) it would make them look bad if and when they finally agreed to approve their own pay without reversing the executive order to which they so strenuously objected. Had they structured the deal so that their pay was tied to overturning the executive order, the impasse might have been short lived. More importantly, however, if their opposition proved to be short lived, people would have assumed it was because members of Congress were more concerned about their compensation than about their principles. Therefore, they decided it made more sense to hold those who work for Homeland Security hostage to its goals so its members would not be accused of having acted out of self-interest when they finally accepted the inevitable.
The folks at Homeland Security probably wonder why they, of all the governmental agencies funded by Congress, became participants in the budget vs. the immigrants fight. The answer is Homeland Security is a very small agency. As of October 2013 the federal government had 2,721,000 employees (excluding members of the armed forces). Only two hundred thirty thousand people work at Homeland Security. Of that number 200,000 are considered “exempt employees” whose work is “necessary for safety of life and protection property.” They are required by contract to continue work even though they receive no pay until the budget is approved at which point they receive back pay. “Exempt employees” include, among others, those who are part of the formal greeters at the nation’s airports as travelers pass through security. It also includes those who are the first to greet illegal immigrants shortly after they have crossed the border into the United States. Since “exempt employees” are required to show up for work even if they receive no pay checks until the standoff comes to and the public would not even notice that they were working for free. Making them work for free inconveniences only 200,00 employees rather than the general public and members of Congress understandably thought that a small price for them to pay in order to reverse the President’s executive order on immigration reform. Only someone unschooled in the mind of the mindless in Congress would be puzzled by the link. (If a shutdown had occurred, the remaining 30,000 non-exempt Homeland Security employees would have been sent home and would have received no pay for their days off.)
The foregoing proves only one thing. The love members of Congress have for the United States and the appreciation they have for the work done by Homeland Security employees, who make them and the rest of the country safe, is exceeded only by their dislike for the President and his executive order. To prove their dislike they were prepared to let Homeland Security employees be the ones to make sacrifices for their country so members of Congress could make political points for themselves.
As we now know, the entire affair had a happy ending. People who work at Homeland Security were not forced to work without pay until the standoff ended or, in the case of a minority, go home for an indefinite leave without pay. The President’s executive order remains in full force and effect and members of Congress can now return to the difficult, but self-imposed task, of governing by doing nothing on the few days they can bring themselves to stay in Washington each month. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Quick, send in the clowns,
Don’t bother they’re here.
— Stephen Sondheim, Send in the clowns
We are in Rudolph Giuliani’s debt. He has given Republican wannabe- presidents something of substance to discuss and has introduced a gentle note into the campaign-love. Until Rudy came along many of the candidates seemed to have no idea what to say other than to attack the Affordable Care Act which they all agree is dreadful because it gives health care to millions of Americans who had theretofore been unable to afford it. Although members of Congress and prospective republican candidates do not tire of raising the issue, the average voter is more than tired of hearing about it. After all, when Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted 54 times to repeal the law knowing the votes would have no effect, for a man hoping to become president to mimic their words suggest he is pretty much out of ideas. Happily, Rudolph has gotten them off the hook. And instead of hate and calumny Rudy has made the present conversation to be all about love. Since it is Rudy who changed the conversation a word about who he is is in order.
Rudolph Giuliani is a former mayor of New York City and a former wannabe himself. He has a deep love of the United States of America. Most recently he made news when he took New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to task for ending that practice of which all who deeply love this country were so proud-inserting spies inside Muslim congregations during worship services. The spies did not call themselves spies even though that is what they were. They were members of New York’s finest, inconspicuously dressed so as not to alarm the people they were spying on. Mr. Giuliani proudly told an interviewer that it was he who, as mayor, increased the number of police in the mosques because, as he explained, “ the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 was organized in a mosque.” By putting more police in the mosques he was taking steps to deter further acts of terrorism. 9/11 proved the success of Rudy’s approach.
In that same interview Rudy’s understanding of the constitution and the right to privacy it bestows on its citizens was demonstrated when he said: “What rabbi, what priest would care if there were police in their service? What are they saying in the service that they should be concerned about?” He could ask that question of anyone who has been complaining about the fact that the government has been eavesdropping on its citizens unbeknownst to them. Unless they are plotting evil, Rudy suggests, they have nothing to fear from such activities. Rudy also has an uncanny ability to judge other people.
In a 2012 iinterview with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow he said of Vice president Biden: “I think the vice president . . . has become a laugh line on late night television. . . .”this guy just isn’t bright. He’s never been bright . . .. Actually he’s just not very smart.” To his observations about Biden he has now added his thoughts about the president.
At an event for Wisconsin’s college-drop-out governor, Scott Walker, Rudy said: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.” In a non sequitur he went on to say: “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. “ Why anyone would love Rudy is certainly a question for the ages and why anyone should love a bunch of wealthy know nothings gathered to celebrate ignorance and raise money for their cause is also a mystery.
Scott Walker who hopes to be the next president seized the “love”moment. Asked about Rudy’s comments he declined to praise or criticize but courageously said: “I’ll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people-Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between-who love this country.” Those words gave lots of listeners goose bumps because they were both profound and heart felt. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the “gist” of Rudy’s nonsense was true and he would not condemn the mayor for his words. Darrell Issa, whose less than savory background before becoming a member of Congress has been well documented, did not want to be left out of the discussion. Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” he proved a skilled wordsmith pointing out that Rudy said he “didn’t believe” that the president loves America rather than stating as fact that the president doesn’t love America.
Although most of us will spend little time wondering about Mr. Obama’s love of country, there is one thing we will surely be wondering about for the next 18 months. Which of the Republican clowns hoping to be the next Republican candidate for president will actually be selected by the party of Lincoln.