Category Archives: US Politics

Rachel Held Evans — Shedding light on “Biblical” Values


Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I wanted to share with you a statement by the blogger Rachel Held Evans.  I love her way of reading scripture.  Her blog can be found at www.rachelheldevans.com and is well worth checking out.

As an evangelical Christian, Rachel has shown light on some of the more ridiculous claims of fundamentalism.  Particularly, she has shown very clearly how the fundamentalists have tried to usurp the Christian values discussion, and how they are trying to control our courts and legislatures in order to make their distorted values the law of the land.

 
10:00 PM ET

My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’

Editor’s Note: Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee, and author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

On “The Daily Show” recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.

When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”

And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.

It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.

As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.

And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics – that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.

But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations surrounding “biblical womanhood.”

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women in the home, the church and society, each punctuated with the claim that this or that lifestyle represented true “biblical womanhood.”

In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul’s restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent”), while Amish women were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 (“Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”).

Pastors told wives to submit to their husbands as the apostle Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:1, but rarely told them to avoid wearing nice jewelry as the apostle instructs them just one sentence later in 1 Peter 3:3. Despite the fact that being single was praised by both Jesus and Paul, I learned early on that marriage and motherhood were my highest callings, and that Proverbs 31 required I keep a home as tidy as June Cleaver’s.

This didn’t really trouble me until adulthood, when I found myself in a childless egalitarian marriage with a blossoming career and an interest in church leadership and biblical studies. As I wrestled with what it meant to be a woman of faith, I realized that, despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” from the Bible, any claim to a “biblical” lifestyle requires some serious selectivity.

After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives.

So why are some Bible passages lifted out and declared “biblical,” while others are explained away or simply ignored? Does the Bible really present a single prescriptive lifestyle for all women?

These were the questions that inspired me to take a page from A.J. Jacobs, author of “The Year of Living Biblically”, and try true biblical womanhood on for size—literally, no “picking and choosing.”

This meant, among other things, growing out my hair, making my own clothes, covering my head whenever I prayed, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church (unless I was “prophesying,” of course), calling my husband “master,” even camping out in my front yard during my period to observe the Levitical purity laws that rendered me unclean.

During my yearlong experiment, I interviewed a variety of women practicing biblical womanhood in different ways — an Orthodox Jew, an Amish housewife, even a polygamist family – and I combed through every commentary I could find, reexamining the stories of biblical women such as Deborah, Ruth, Hagar, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia.

My goal was to playfully challenge this idea that the Bible prescribes a single lifestyle for how to be a woman of faith, and in so doing, playfully challenge our overuse of the term “biblical.” I did this not out of disdain for Scripture, but out of love for it, out of respect for the fact that interpreting and applying the Bible is a messy, imperfect and – at times – frustrating process that requires humility and grace as we wrestle the text together.

The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.

Now that the Election is over…


While I will confess to be a very partisan person, I chose never to engage in partisanship on this blog during the election.  There was already way too much partisan hatred and bickering.  There was already a cacophony of voices screaming insults and abuse at each other.  This is no way to run an election, or a country for that matter.  But now we need to sort things out and begin our journey forward.  To do this we must take a painful and honest look at our nation’s troubles, and figure out how we can best come together to solve them.

We need to find a way to come together as a nation and discuss our various issues and their best solutions.  In the present political climate any civil discourse seems impossible.

The Republican leader in the Senate said early on that the party’s primary goal was to prevent Barack Obama from being elected to a second term.  Such a stance can only be described as destructive defiance. It seems that the Republicans, and especially those of the Tea Party persuasion, tried to sink the ship of state because they were unable to set its course.  That is partisanship gone rancid.  Every proposal that Obama offered up, including his quest to find acceptable compromises, were shot down by intransigent Republicans.  And then, to add insult to injury, the Republicans viciously accused Obama of having a failed presidency. A failed Tea Party mutiny is a more apt description of the last two years.

In the kinder, gentler times in Washington, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill declared that, “We are all friends here after 5:00 pm and on weekends.”  If only we could recapture such civility in today’s political life.

Our country is still in a mess.  There is no dispute about that.  We have rampant unemployment, soaring debts, a shaky, unfunded entitlement system, a collapse of the middle class, a large and accelerating gap between the haves and the have-nots.  The middle class is hurting and the poor are becoming ever more destitute.

We need tax reform, immigration reform, and regulatory reform.  We need to create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, rebuild our economy, and rebuild our crumbling education system that was once the pride of the planet and the source of our great economic well-being as a nation that once allowed even our working classes to participate in the American Dream.

On the global front we are in the midst of the largest mass extinction in seventy-five million years.  We need to develop a sustainable economy that does not plunder the earth’s resources or endanger its future to power our economy today.  So, before we build pipelines to move shale oil down from Canada we need to stop and assess the environmental impact.  Sustainability must now be a key component of every decision.

If Mitt Romney ever had a plan to govern this country he refused to communicate it to the general public.  Every question directed to him was answered either by reciting his talking points or by attacking the president.

He spoke repeatedly about tax breaks for the millionaires and billionaires on the grounds that these are the job creators.  But this was also George W. Bush’s line.  It was a failure then and it would be a renewed failure again.  It might be a good idea to give tax breaks that spawn actual job creation.  But without such a linkage many of the rich would simply park their excess cash in their Swiss bank accounts helping no one.

There is already too much idle cash on the sidelines awaiting productive investment opportunities.  What is lacking is not excess cash, but rather consumer demand.  If you want to stimulate the economy and create jobs then put some extra cash in the pockets of the middle class so that they can go out and buy tires and refrigerators, thus creating demand and driving production.

Romney wanted to see financial regulations abandoned to free up business from government interference.  But we have had three major financial crises in recent history that were directly caused by the lack of effective government regulation:

  • The Savings and Loan Crisis in the Reagan era caused by deregulation of the thrift industry.
  • The stock market collapse of 2000-2002 caused by the complete failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate our financial markets.  Elliot Richardson, then the Attorney General of the New York was the only person even trying at that time to regulate the financial markets.  During this time of regulatory abdication, the predators, thieves and con-artists had their field day.  The rogues list includes such names as Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, and a host of others.  The financial losses from this event totaled over $5 trillion.
  • Finally, we had the global collapse of our financial markets due to the “liar loans” in 2008.  Mortgage companies would give loans to anyone who could fog a mirror.  These trash loans were then securitized with “AAA” ratings and sold throughout the global financial markets.  When this house of cards, built on corruption and regulatory abdication, finally collapsed, it created a global recession from which we have yet to extricate ourselves.

Does any of this sound like we need LESS regulation?

Romney never did explain how he could give tax breaks to the rich, increase military spending by two trillion dollars and balance the budget.  Such nonsense is what George H.W. Bush called “Voodoo Economics.”  He did speak of doing away with almost all federal programs that actually benefit the middle class and working poor.  In a frenzy of social Darwinism he would cut funding for Head Start, unemployment insurance, Pell grants and student loans. The millionaires and billionaires would prosper mightily under a Romney administration, while the rest of us would be floundering in debt and despair, and left with no rope to climb. Even Big Bird had his head on the chopping block.  Excuse me, but is not Big Bird about preschool education?  While government subsidies for public television do not pay for the production of Big Bird, they do go to sustain broadcasts of Big Bird to smaller, mostly rural communities where the need for such preschool education is critical.

And then there is the strange case of Obamacare that was at the center of Romney’s attacks.  Obamacare began as Romneycare in Massachusett.   So, how could Romney attack what was essentially his own plan raised to the federal level?

The American health care system before Obamacare was a disgrace.  The U.S. spends 17% of its GDP on healthcare, while no other country spends more than 12%.  And still our health care outcomes trail most of the world. The leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this country is from medical bills.  It would be hard for anyone to argue that our system did not need a major redesign.

Romney claimed that he would repeal Obamacare his first day in office.  But he never told us what he would do to replace it.

The Critical Need for Financial Regulation


FINANCIAL REGULATION

There have been three major financial meltdowns in the United States in the past few decades.  There was the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980’s under President Reagan.  There was the 2002 Wall Street Collapse and the Financial Markets collapse of 2008, both under President George W. Bush.   What these three events had in common was that they were all triggered by a lack of federal regulation of our financial system.

1980

The Savings and Loan Crisis was created by the Reagan era push to deregulate businesses.  Thrift institutions were given the powers of commercial banks, but without the oversight given to the banks.  The result was a feeding frenzy of greed and mismanagement that caused the collapse of 747 out of 3,234 thrift institutions.

2002

The collapse of the financial markets in 2002 was due to a total failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee the nation’s securities industry.  The only person who appeared to be trying to regulate the securities industry was Eliot Spitzer, who was then the Attorney General of New York.

The business failures caused by fraud and mismanagement were legion.  Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Andersen were just a few of the most noted reprobates.

There was a culture of financial greed and deception like this country has never seen.  Most if not all the major money center banks and brokerage houses were knowingly selling trash securities to their customers and charging very high commission rates in the process.  Arthur Andersen was out teaching seminars on how companies could set up shell corporations and operate according to the Enron model.  Energy companies were shutting down power plants, creating artificial shortages of electricity.  They would then sell the “replacement” power on the spot market at enormous costs to relieve the “shortages”.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to stabilized the market, and instead gave the predators free rein.

2008

The collapse of our financial institutions has led to a world-wide recession.  This latest crisis was brought on by an institutionalization of corrupt loan practices.  It began with the birth of the “liar loans.”  Anyone who could fog a mirror was given a loan.  With housing prices building a bubble no one seemed to expect a burst.  People were given mortgage loans that they could not afford.  But the banks would tell them not to worry.  After all, with the way that real estate was escalating in price all they needed to do was to hold on to the property for several years and then sell it at a higher price giving them enough money to settle their debts and still have money left over.

Then these “liar loans” were securitized and given stellar ratings by the rating agencies.  It is as if the banks, rating agencies, real estate brokers, insurance companies, investment houses and government regulators were all working in collusion with one another. When the bubble burst there was nowhere to run.  These securitized “liar loans” were ubiquitous throughout the global financial markets.

These three recent financial crises should make obvious the need for strong and effective federal regulation of our financial markets.  We should know by now to resist the call for a reduction of regulation to spur business.  The results of such reductions will be to give the predators free reign to loot and pillage, while crippling our financial markets and destroying trillions of dollars in wealth.

Our 18th Century Constitution


Our Eighteenth Century Constitution

The world, and this nation, was a much different place back in 1787.  The changes over the past 225 years are  indescribable.  It is hard to understand the passion of the Tea Party and other conservatives to return to an 18th Century viewpoint of government.  Do these antiquarians realize that the original Constitution allowed for chattel slavery? And that suffrage was limited to white, male, property owners?  Have we learned nothing in the past 225 years?

Even in its amended state, The Constitution is still showing its age.  What made perfect sense back in the 18th Century makes little or no sense today.  In the 18th Century America was much like the European Union of the 21st Century; it was a collection of sovereign states struggling to work together for security and economic development.  It took the newly minted Unites States of America until after the Civil War to decide that it was one nation, and not a loose collection of states.

The Constitution never mentioned such things as NASA.  We spent much of the 19th Century arguing over whether we could have a central bank or not.  George Washington kept the entire Executive Branch of the federal government in two filing cabinets.  The only communications network was the post office, as established in Article I Section 8.

Some would say that the Constitution has served us well over the past 225 years.  However, there are distinct signs of its increasing dysfunction.  If the Constitution were to be written today it would be a much different document.  Listed below are some highlights of changes that might be in order.

Electoral College

In 2000, the will of the nation as expressed by the voting population was thwarted by the dangerous and antiquated Electoral College.  There were a whole series of problems in the election in Florida.  Because of the Electoral College, Florida got to decide on its own who was to be president.  Just to cite one of the many problems, “butterfly ballots” in Dade County caused 35,000 votes for Al Gore to be mistakenly cast for Patrick Buchanan.  Even Buchanan himself conceded that these votes rightfully belonged to Al Gore.  But there was no way to fix them.  In the final tally George W. Bush won the state and the presidency by 537 votes in the state of Florida.

With a tight and hotly contested election underway now in 2012, the Electoral College may once again thwart the will of the people and elect the candidate that came in second in the popular vote.

There are so many issues with the Electoral College that one scarcely knows where to begin.  One issue is the “unfaithful elector,” who may fail to vote his state’s preference.  This could be done for partisan reasons, or perhaps just to throw a monkey wrench into the entire proceedings.

If you are a Republican in California or a Democrat in Texas there is no need to vote for president at all in 2012 as your vote will not be counted.  The only way to make your vote count would be to transfer your legal residence to a swing state such as Florida or Ohio.

Gun Control

As recently as the Reagan Administration, the Constitution was thought to link the “right to bear arms” to “well regulated militias”.  Indeed, the very wording of the Second Amendment seems to make that point perfectly clear.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

More recently, the Supreme Court on the urging of the National Rifle Association has taken that passage to mean the private use of  unlimited firepower under any circumstances.  While it is understandable that some people would want to own hunting rifles, and guns for home defense, there can be no justification for military assault style weapons, armor-piercing bullets, or large 100-shot magazines such as was used at the Aurora, Colorado shooting.

For the sake of argument, even if we accept the NRA’s position that there is no link between the “right to bear arms” and “well regulated militias,” it seems inconceivable that the “right to bear arms” was ever meant to be an absolute.  Freedom without restrain is anarchy.  The Supreme Court has drifted towards anarchy in the issue of gun control.  What will our future hold if this drift continues?

There must be balance in all things.  We must always balance freedom with control to create a well-regulated society where all of us can pursue our own dreams in safety.  What kind of society do we create if we have to worry about being shot to death in a movie theater, or in a house of worship?

The Preamble to the Constitution sets out one goal of government as being to “promote the general welfare,” and to “insure domestic tranquility.”

If we allow private citizens to amass and use military style assault weapons then we risk the loss of government control altogether.  We could become a “failed state”, such as Somalia, Columbia or Pakistan, where power is held by heavily armed war lords and their soldiers, where government is either non-existent, as in Somalia, or unable to govern much of its territory.  Surely not even the NRA would want such an outcome.

Free Speech

Free speech is another area in which we need to balance freedom with restraint. Free speech, very much like the “right to bear arms,” is often construed as an absolute right in the eyes of the Supreme Court.  And such absolutism has created many senseless and preventable instances of abuse that could have been prevented.

Free speech as found in Amendment I of the constitution clearly seems to be tied to political speech.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

My background is not in law, but rather in theology, biblical scholarship, and sacred history.  As a biblical scholar I learned to do exegesis on ancient texts so as to discover their deeper meanings.

When I use my exegetical tools on this passage I find that it is clearly talking about political speech.  It is tied to petitioning the government for the redress of grievances.

There are a few things that should not be considered “free speech” under the constitution:

  • Commercial speech
  • Symbolic “Speech”
  • Hate speech
  • False speech in the public arena

Commercial Speech

If the speech is for commercial purposed than clearly it should be regulated.  There should be regulations preventing specious promises, distortion of facts, and all sorts of deceptions in the public marketplace.

Symbolic Speach

The courts have ruled many form of action are permissible under the rubric of “symbolic free speech.”  Examples include everything from panhandling, to flag burning, to going topless.  Panhandling should be seen as a commercial activity and hence subject to regulation.  Going topless does not seem to be “speech,” and does not seem to involve the redress (no pun intended) of grievances with the government.  Flag burning is the kind of topic that should be discussed as we seek to explore the boundaries of legitimate free speech.

Hate Speech

Europe has very tough laws against “hate speech.”  Hate speech in the US is tragically allowed under the rubric of “Free Speech.”  Hate speech involves such actions as marches organized by white-supremacy groups in order to harass, threaten and intimidate minorities.  Hate speech is made by a sick “church” that disrupts military funerals in order to protest the presence of gay persons in our society.  Can you imaging the pain of losing a loved one who has made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our country.  And then, can you imagine the horror of an anti-gay protest turning a memorial service into a firestorm of abuse?

Hate speech is the taunting and bullying that causes many children, youth and young adults to commit suicide.  Hate speech is the use of racial or sexual epitaphs.

The First Amendment talks about the right to “peaceably to assemble.”  There is a great difference between a protest and a riot.  Similarly, the concept of “peaceably” should relate to free speech as well.  Free speech is meant to engage (peaceably) in political discussion, not to bully, threaten, harass and intimidate.

And once again, the Preamble to the Constitution sets out one goal of government as being to “promote the general welfare,” and to “insure domestic tranquility.”

False Speech in the Public Arena

The “Stolen Valor” law was intended to prevent people from claiming military honors under false pretenses.  One candidate for public office claimed that he held the Congressional Medal of Honor even though he had never served in the military.  The Supreme Court said that his outrageous lie was protected “free speech.” The government should have the right to regulate such egregious misrepresentation of the truth.  Outrageous lies ought not to be given protection under the rubric of free speech.

We have laws against perjury.  No “free speech” defense is allowed as justification.

The Reapportionment of the United States Senate

This is one of the most undemocratic provisions of the constitution.  Individual states that modeled their upper houses after the US Senate were told by the US Supreme Court that this was unacceptable.  Iowa was one such example.  Each of the state’s ninety-nine counties had one state senator.

The apportionment of the US Senate may have made sense in the Eighteenth Century, when we were a collection of sovereign states.  But it is an undemocratic anachronism today. If this style of apportionment is illegal for the Iowa Legislature it should be illegal for the Congress as well.

The Role of Government

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This would be a great time to look at the role of government and what we would like to see it do in the 21st Century.  NASA once again comes to mind.  Should not one of the functions of government be to support basic research?

Our nation was made great due to a free system of public education.  And now that free public education that made us great is under attack.

Preservation of the global environment is a critical issue for our survival.  In the 18th Century the world’s resources were seen as infinite and inexhaustible.  Today we know that we are living on a small green and blue space ship with no chance of replenishment.  If we burn through our resources or poison our habitat we have no chance of survival.

Infrastructure was mentioned in the Constitution under the establishment of Post Offices and post roads.  Surely it is time to expand our language in this section.

We need to take the Preamble more seriously.  Why do conservatives skip over the wording, “promote the general Welfare.”  Does not this require a lot of government responsibilities that we should take seriously?

America’s Addiction to Violence


This is the aftermath of the tragic and senseless shooting in Theater 9 in Aurora, Colorado.  Our country has witnessed yet again another act of mayhem brought on by gun violence.

This is not exclusively an American issue.  We are not the only country with gun violence, but we are at the epicenter.  Norway, a country with some of the most rigorous gun laws on the planet was targeted on July 22, 2011 when a gun and bomb rampage killed 8 at a government office and another 69 at a Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island.

We must also remember the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995 that took the lives of 168 Americans, including 19 children under age 6.  Here is an example of mayhem caused without guns, but such situations much less prevalent than incidents of gun violence.

We need some serious answers.  We need to move beyond bumper sticker slogans and partisan answers to look unflinchingly at the circumstances that confront us.  Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, has called upon the presidential candidates to face the issue and to off their solutions.  We need to set aside political bickering and to find solutions to a life and death issue.

More Guns More Security?

The NRA would tell us that more guns equal more security.  After every senseless tragedy the NRA will tell us that there “should” have been armed civilians on site in the theater who could have taken out the bad guy.  But such arguments defy the facts, logic and common sense.

The theater was a scene of mass chaos.  There were smoke bombs, lighting issues, noise, confusion, fear and a general lack of situational awareness.  Let us assume that there was an armed civilian who could have returned fire.  Under the circumstances, just what could this armed civilian expected to accomplish?  Is not it likely that the well-intended civilian would simply increase the carnage in a spray of bullets?  Real life seldom follows the movies that we all love to watch.

Also, we need to realize that the gunman was wearing bullet-proof clothing and a ballistic helmet.  Also, he was armed with a series of four guns, including a military assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine.  This gun allowed the gunman to shoot 70 people within minutes. Fortunately this gun jammed, saving the lives of perhaps hundreds more people.  What use would a small-caliber handgun be against such a well-armed and well-protected gunman?  There is no defense against such weaponry save for well-trained SWAT teams carrying sniper rifles and a host of other specialized equipment.

The time to stop these tragedies is before they start.  We need to look at how we can prevent any more of these slaughters.

What Kind of Society do We Want?

Do we really want to live in a society where everyone walks around armed?  Would you feel safer in a movie theater, a grocery store, or a school board meeting, knowing that there are armed people in the room?  Would you really want your children to go to a theater where the gun violence just not be confined to the screen?

Recently there was a robbery in a jewelry store in my county.  The owner of the jewelry store chased the suspects into the central concourse of the shopping center and fired his handgun into the crowd.  It was a miracle that no-one was injured or even killed.  Such vigilante justice puts us all at risk.  What would you say to grieving parents who could have lost their child due to such thoughtless heroics?

Trayvon Martin

The Trayvon Martin homicide was the ultimate argument against armed vigilante justice.  While we do not know the full details and circumstances surrounding the shooting, a few points are clear.  The assailant was carrying a concealed weapon.  He contacted the police to report that Martin was out on the street.  The police told the assailant to stay in his car and not confront the so-called suspect.  But the assailant chose a different course, stalked the victim and fatally shot him.  It turns out that Trayvon Martin’s only crime was to go to the store to buy a pack of Skittles while wearing a hoodie.  But now at 17 years old he was dead.

Perhaps Trayvon Martin did try to fight off his assailant, causing some minor injuries.  But under the circumstances Martin’s potential resistance certainly seems to be justifiable.  Had the assailant only followed police department orders and stayed in his car, this conflict would never had happened and a 17 year old boy would still be alive.

 

Churches, Politics and 501(c)(3) Status


Churches and other non-profit organizations organized as IRC 501(c)(3) organizations are forbidden to support or oppose political candidates, to involve themselves in legislative issues, or to support or oppose ballot initiatives.  And yet this very clear demarcation in the law often goes ignored with impunity.  Some churches appear to operate as national political parties in total defiance of the restrictions of their 501(c)(3) status.

501(c)(3) status is given to the following types of organizations:  Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations.

While there are many forms of non-profit organizations that are tax exempt, donations are tax-deductible only when given to 501(c)(3) organizations.  Therefore, 501(c)(3) organizations have a privileged place in American law and tax code. Your house of worship typically shares this privileged status along with your little league, community theater group, animal shelter, food pantry, and non-profit university.

In order to maintain this privileges status, any 501(c)(3) organization must refrain from political activity.  Failure to so refrain from political activity may cause the impositions of sanctions by the federal government, including the revocation of the organization’s 501(c)(3) status, plus the levying of excise taxes under IRC 4955.  The question we must ask is, “Why are these legal sanctions so often ignored?”

There is a big difference between a church and a political party (or political action committee), or at least there should be!  Contributions to a political party or PAC are not tax-deductible, while contributions to churches and other charities are fully tax-deductible. When churches are allowed to operate as political parties using tax-deductible donations, this undermines the whole purpose of the privileged 501(c)(3) status and creates an uneven playing field in the political arena. When most church organizations are respectful of their privileged status and compliant with the restrictions entailed thereby, other church organizations flagrantly abuse their status.

The law is clear that any improper political involvement can trigger sanctions.  Quoting from the IRS website:

An organization does will not qualify for tax-exempt status under IRC 501(c)(3) unless it “does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office”.  http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/eotopici02.pdf (“I. Election Year Issues” by Judith E. Kindell and John Francis Reilly)

501(c)(3) organizations have every right to advocate for issues and causes.  Such issue advocacy might include homelessness, immigration, environmental issues, reproductive rights, spay/neuter campaigns or any other conceivable topic.  However, there is a very clear line of demarcation between advocacy and engaging in political activities.  The following is a partial list of prohibited political activities:  Endorsing or supporting pro-life (or pro-choice) candidates.  Publishing approval ratings of politicians based upon the organization’s objectives.  Support for (or opposition to) any legislation or ballot initiative.  Production or distribution of voter guides.  Any fundraising for or contributing to candidates.

501(c)(3) organizations have been given a privileged tax status.  They have every moral and legal obligation to refrain from violating that status through their elicit participation in the political process.  We need to hold them accountable.

Trustworthy Leadership


TRUSTWORTHY

One of the most important lessons that I have tried to teach my teenage son is that I want him to grow up to be the kind of man upon which people can depend. If he has promised to mow someone’s yard, or fix a computer, or help out at the community theater, then he is expected to carry out that task properly and on time, and with no excuses.  This is the essence of trust.

Personal Integrity

Being trustworthy is a complex attribute with many parts.  The core of which is personal integrity. In mathematics, an “integer” is a number that is whole or uncut.  Integrity means a singularity of purpose, as opposed to working out of ulterior motives (divided allegiances or purposes).

In his early political career, Harry Truman ran Jackson County Missouri (Kansas City area) for many years.  It was a time of Pendergast political machine.  Truman had many opportunities to take advantage of his position of authority for personal benefit, but that was not in his character.  When Truman was elected to the United States Senate, he needed to borrow money just to get himself to Washington.  He could never violate the public trust for his personal gain.

Confidentiality

Closely related to personal integrity is the need for confidentiality.  Information is shared through appropriate channels based on a need-to-know.  I can think of a hairdresser in town that knows everything that goes on.  Telling her anything is like publishing it in the local newspaper. But, if she were a true professional she would understand that her customers’ private chats were never meant for public distribution.  And of course, this situation would be much worse if this hairdresser worked in a field such as banking, medicine, or the law, where any such breach of confidentiality would be unconscionable.

Fulfilling Commitments

To be trustworthy means to be committed to producing the required results.  Excuses are never helpful.  There are no problems, only challenges.  Obstacles are there to be overcome.  If one method does not work then try another until the required results are achieved.  Finishing tasks on time is accomplished by effective time management.  If you are stuck on one project, move on to something else.  One excellent habit is to get used to working ahead on any project where progress is possible at this moment.

Attention to Details

Doing a good job requires doing the full job, giving attention to every detail.  At the start of any project it is necessary to visualize all that this task entails, and to make certain that all the details are successfully managed.  I learned this in the restaurant business.  If a restaurant had great food, but ran out of napkins, that would be a serious problem.  The best organizations practice what is known as Continuous Quality Improvement.  Every transaction is reviewed in order to discern what went well and what items could be improved upon.  

Competence

It is impossible to carry out any job that you are incapable of doing.  What is required to gain competence is training and experience.  Learning is a life-long endeavor.  But in the short run, it is also necessary to know your limits, and to request help when necessary.  Being competent means knowing what is within your capabilities.  There is nothing wrong with telling a customer that you do not know how to help, but that you will find someone who can.  We work together, help each other and train each other.

 

Kaiser Permanente – The Perfect Model for a National Health Care System


Kaiser Permanente has created the world’s most integrated health care system.  It is able to offer tremendous coverage at a reasonably modest price due to a large list of compelling features built into the Kaiser Permanente design.

Let me state that I have no relationship to Kaiser except as a satisfied patient for over twelve years.  Also, I am not necessarily promoting Kaiser as the exclusive healthcare provider.  Rather, I would like to see the Kaiser model become prevalent throughout the healthcare industry.

Kaiser cannot be described as merely a health insurance program.  Rather, it is a wholly integrated insurance program and health care provider combined.  And as such, it is in a position to offer the most comprehensive care available.

Kaiser owns the hospitals, the doctors and other health care providers, the pharmacies, and the laboratories.  It also owns many specialty providers, such as vision, audiology, physical therapy, mental health practitioners and more.  Kaiser also owns the specialists.  Because of this patients are never thwarted from seeing a specialist when their medical needs require this.

Kaiser doctors can focus on practicing medicine full-time instead of spending half of their time billing insurance companies.  The same thing is true for the other Kaiser health care providers.

Kaiser has a vested financial interest in keeping its clients healthy.  The healthier the patient population the lower will be the cost of healthcare.  Because of this, Kaiser goes to extraordinary lengths to support patient health and wellness.

In more traditional practices, doctors and hospitals are rewarded for treating the critically ill.  Profits are generated not by keeping people well, but in treating extreme illness.  Such a focus is a strong financial disincentive for keeping patients healthy.  Our traditional healthcare systems focus on sick care, and the sicker the more profitable.  There is a lot more money to be made from open heart surgery than there is from cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, nutrition classes, or support for weight loss or exercise plans.

Kaiser has arguably the world’s best medical records system.  Every aspect of patient care in computerized and readily available anywhere it is needed, including in the examination rooms.  The doctor does not need to waste time asking for the patient’s medical history or asking the patient what drugs he or she is taking, because that information is readily available at the doctor’s fingertips.  There is no need to order duplicate tests, a common occurrence in more traditional practices, especially when changing doctors.

Kaiser has a focus on early detection and treatment.  Screenings and vaccinations are important tools for promoting health.

Kaiser offers professional support groups for almost any medical concern.  Patients on blood thinners can contact the skilled nursing staff at the coagulation program for expert help and advice at any time.  Likewise, diabetics have the same sort of expertise available at all times for their questions and concerns.

In the same manner, Kaiser offers a broad range of health and wellness training opportunities.  Everything that Kaiser Permanente does is focused on keeping its patients healthy.

Health Care Crisis in the US


Health Care Issues

The Unites States spends 17% of GDP on healthcare, or over $8,400 per capita, more than any other nation.  No other developed country spends more than 12% of GDP on medical care. And yet our people have some of the poorest healthcare outcomes in the developed world.  Some 46 million Americans are uninsured.  We rank 30th in infant mortality.  Our life expectancy is 50th in the world, behind all developed nations.  Medical expensed is a major factor in 62% of personal bankruptcies.

Spending so much to get so little.

CLICK ON GRAPH TO ENLARGE

Truly we are not getting the maximum value for our health care expenditures.

We need to have universal access to healthcare.  This does not need to be accomplished through a government bureaucracy, but it does need to be done.

Universal healthcare will provide for early diagnosis and intervention, saving billions of dollars in the long run.  As it is now, people without access to health care normally wait until their condition requires emergency room treatment at high cost.  They are forced to wait until their minor medical issues become crises before their conditions can be treated.

Under the current health care system medical care is delayed for those who can least afford it.  Imagine a small child with an earache.  The parent is forced to delay medicalcare due to the high cost of treatment, let’s say $200 for a doctor visit, lab tests, and prescriptions.  Without access to healthcare the child’s condition worsens until the child is taken to the emergency room with a high fever and unbearable pain.  Because of the delay a relatively minor malady that could be treated for a few hundred dollars may now cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.  And on top of this, the child may have become deaf or suffered other permanent impairment requiring a lifetime of special care.

Single payer health care will end the costly paperwork and delays caused by our current multiple-payer system.  Health care professionals would be able to concentrate on providing health care as opposed to figuring out who is going to pay and how to prepare and submit the paperwork for reimbursement.

Pre-existing conditions will no longer be an issue as all will have insurance regardless of their condition.  Everyone can be covered if everyone pays.

Universal healthcare will focus on prevention and early intervention.  Vaccines, blood pressure monitoring, diabetes testing, cancer screening, health education, weight control, nutrition and exercise, stop smoking campaigns, and perinatal care will become essential programs for maintaining health and wellness, and for reducing healthcare costs in the long run. Under universal healthcare the focus will shift from disease care to wellness care.

We need a fundamental shift in priorities for healthcare.  Under our current system, approximately 75% of a person’s health care expense comes in the final year of life.  Instead of paying for heroic measures to extend life of the critically ill, we need to shift our resources and our focus towards maintaining health and wellness for all.  In the most extreme cases, our heroic measures do not extend life, but only prolong death at a horrific cost.  Those are healthcare dollars that could better be invested elsewhere.

Healthcare rationing will be required under any conceivable healthcare system.  The old indemnity insurance system failed because plan members could demand essentially unlimited medical coverage.  If the first doctor refused to do a requested procedure, the patient could seek out ten additional doctors, and undergo ten more sets of tests.  Eventually, a doctor would agree to do the procedure, even if it had limited or no justifiable medical value.  And the result was that the insurance company was expected to pay the full cost of the search for treatment as well as the actual treatment.

It is not financially possible to perform all of the medical procedures that we know how to do.  Nor is that always the wisest course of action.  The cost of heroic medical care is paid not only in scarce healthcare dollars, but in pain, incapacity and suffering of the patient as well.  The cost of intensive care is approximately $3,000 per day.

If the patient in such circumstances has a chance of recovery, then the expense as well as the pain and suffering may well be worth it.  But if the patient has no chance of recovery, then what is gained by the expense, pain and suffering? And in gauging the capacity for recovery we must use sober reasoning and not wishful thinking.

But we must also look at the negative quality of life for the patient.  If a patient has no chance of recovery, how long should they be maintained by such heroic means?  And furthermore, what is the quality of life for that patient?  This situation demonstrates the difference between extending life and merely delaying clinical death.  The irony is that under such extreme circumstances we treat our pets more humanely than we treat our parents.

Before making any major medical decisions we must also consider other factors such as the patient’s age, health, his or her capacity to endure the procedure, and the potential for improvement in quality of life that the procedure offers.  For example, an eighty-six year old with congestive heart failure ought not to be considered for a liver transplant.

It Is Time for Civil Discourse


Nothing can be accomplished in government today because of the polarization and dysfunction that has gripped our nation.  It seems like those who seek to steer the ship of state would rather sink it than give up their desired course and heading.  How did we get into this mess, and more importantly, how can we get out of it?

This year’s presidential election will be the most vicious that we have ever seen.  The Supreme Court has opened the door wide to unlimited spending by corporations and billionaires, and political action committees (PAC’s).  High priced television ads will assault logic, truth and the senses with their distorted messages hammered at us over and over ad nauseum.

We can no longer discuss issues, agendas, goals, directions, policies or principles.  The political circus has become a mud wrestling match in a hog manure pit. Instead of discussing the issues and policies, campaigning now is all about the politics of personal destruction.  Character assassination is the order of the day.

Instead of solving problems our main concern seems to be in blaming the other side.  This country is in a mess, and there is more than enough blame to go around.  But blaming will not fix the problem.  It will only prolong the conflict, delay the solutions and deny any hope of returning to normalcy.  There was an editorial cartoon after the earthquake that hit Washington in August of 2011.  The cartoon said, “Some Republicans believe that Obama caused it while other Republicans believe that Obama simply failed to prevent it.”

When Tip O’Neill was Speaker of the House, he would tell everyone that, “We are all friends here after 5:00pm and on weekends.”  If only we could bring such civility back into our body politic.  O’Neill has a simple rule throughout his whole political life.  He would never finish work without taking someone out to dinner.  And, in his thirty-four years in the House, including ten plus years as Speaker of the House, there were a lot of dinners.

There is no better means of getting to know someone than breaking bread together.  Away from the office and its daily grind, O’Neill could get to know people, their families, their interests, their visions for the nation.  He ate with friends and political foes, the entrenched leadership and the rookies trying to learn the ropes.  He built relationships instead of just accumulating contacts. This is an art that is nearly forgotten.

If only we could return to the days of civil discourse based upon mutual respect and shared values.  We can all disagree about the solutions, but we all can agree that there are problems to be solved, and fighting, blaming, attacking will not help.

Let us talk about the economy, entitlements, social safety nets, education, immigration, tax reform, our military, big government vs. small, federal vs. state powers, guns, medical care, regulation, and personal freedom.  But let us have a civil discourse without the name calling and blame storming that has kept us mired in dysfunction.

Let us learn to listen to those with whom we disagree.  None of us has all the answers.  Let us learn anew the value of compromise.  In a time of unyielding radicalism compromise is the only way to come together.  No one will get everything that she or he wants.  But together we can work on solutions for us all.

Are there any patriots left in politics who will put aside their personal agendas to work for the common good?  Are there any brave women and men who will agree to put aside their mutual animosities to rebuild this great nation