Human Dignity for Workers in the Global Supply Chain


In the global marketplace, many workers are required to work for long hours at low pay in deplorable conditions and often unsafe settings.  There are various types of forced labor.  Child labor is more common than we would like to admit.  Human dignity is denied to the workers through such injustices as discrimination, sexual harassment, physical and emotional abuse, and levels of compensation that do not allow an adequate living for the workers.

We live in a global market place with a planetary supply chain.  Many around the world are forced to labor to produce our products and services under deplorable working conditions.  Governments often fail to protect their own workers’ rights and human dignity.  Many countries are so focused on economic development through export that the rights of the workers producing those goods for export are ignored.

Have you ever wondered if your clothing was produced in sweat-shop settings, or whether the gold in your jewelry was mined at extreme risk to human life?  Have you ever wondered if those who made your cell phone were treated with respect in their place of employment, or if they were abused and beaten and forced to work endless hours at a pay rate that could barely keep them alive.

Too often, government enforcement of labor laws has been either lax or non-existent.  Underpaid government inspectors can be easily bribed to overlook the most egregious working conditions.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) was formed to deal with this situation.  The FLA is a consortium of companies, universities and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) that have coalesced to improve working conditions on a global basis.

From the FLA Website:  www.fairlabor.org

Our Mission

The mission of the Fair Labor Association is to combine the efforts of business, civil society organizations, and colleges and universities to promote and protect workers’ rights and to improve working conditions globally through adherence to international standards. 

FLA Charter

The FLA Charter outlines the association’s mission, structure and programs. It includes:

  • Participation criteria for Companies;
  • Affiliation criteria for Colleges and Universities;
  • Accreditation criteria for Independent External Monitors;
  • Workplace Code of Conduct; and
  • Principles of Monitoring.

The strategy of the FLA is both simple and effective.  The contracts written with suppliers include the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct.

2011 FLA Workplace Code of Conduct

  • EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP:  Employers shall adopt and adhere to rules and conditions of employment that respect workers and, at a minimum, safeguard their rights under national and international labor and social security laws and regulations.
  • NON-DISCRIMINATION: No person shall be subject to any discrimination in employment, including hiring, compensation, advancement, discipline, termination or retirement, on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, political opinion, social group. or ethnic origin.
  • HARASSMENT OR ABUSE: Every employee shall be treated with respect and dignity. No employee shall be subject to any physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal harassment or abuse.
  • FORCED LABOR: There shall be no use of forced labor, including prison labor, bonded labor or other forms of forced labor.
  • CHILD LABOR: No person shall be employed under the age of 15, or under the age for completion of compulsory education, whichever is higher.
  • FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: Employers shall recognize and respect the right of employes to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  • HEALTH, SAFETY, AND ENVIRONMENT: Employers shall provide a safe and healthy workplace setting to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of work or as a result of the operation of employers’ facilities. Employers shall adopt responsible measures to mitigate negative impacts that the workplace has on the environment.
  • HOURS OF WORK: Employers shall not require workers to work more than the regular and overtime hours allowed by the law of the country where the workers are employed. The regular work week shall not exceed 48 hours. Employers shall allow workers at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven-day period. All overtime work shall be consensual. Employers shall not request overtime on a regular basis and shall compensate all overtime work at a premium rate. Other than in exceptional circumstances, the sum of regular and overtime hours in each week shall not exceed 60 hours.
  • COMPENSATION: Every worker has the right to compensation for a regular work week that is sufficient to meet the worker’s basic needs and provide some discretionary income. Employers shall pay at least the minimum wage or the appropriate prevailing wage, whichever is higher, comply with all legal requirements on wages, and provide any fringe benefits required by law or contract. Where compensation does not meet workers’ basic needs and provide some discretionary income, each employer shall work with the FLA to take appropriate actions that seek to progressively realize a level of compensation that does.

Through the good work of the FLA the global workplace is being transformed.  Suffering and abuse are being replaced with human dignity.  Starvation and forced labor are being replaced by living wages, worker protection and human dignity.

Proposal for a Mission to Jupiter and Europa


Now that Curiosity is safely on Mars and ready to begin its exploration, an exploration that could go on for decades due to its nuclear power plant, I would like to propose the next major NASA endeavor.

It is time to return to Jupiter.  The Galileo mission (1995-2003) was a tremendous success even though the spacecraft was crippled by the loss of its high gain antenna.  Some 90% of the potential data was lost due to the failure of this vital communication link.

It’s time to go back to Jupiter again.  Only this time the mission will look more like the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn.  The next Jupiter mission should include an orbiter to survey Jupiter and its moons.  But this time let’s add a lander for Europa.  Europa is the most promising venue for extraterrestrial life in the solar system. A rover on Europa could explore the ice floes and run tests on the surface materials.  The reddish-brown gunk that emerges from the cracks in the ice floes and spreads across the surface of Europa may be a life form similar to an algae bloom.  We need to go there to check it out.  Also, the rover could measure the thickness of the ice.  This step would be in preparation for a following mission that will melt its way through the ice to place a submarine into the ocean below.

Preaching on Noah’s Ark Without Falling Into Fundamentalism


I will begin by saying that the story of Noah’s Ark is patently absurd by any standard.  I have no trouble teaching or preaching this story as mythology.  I believe that the most significant portion of this story is the rainbow covenant at the end.  The rainbow covenant is a symbol of God’s grace and redemption, not just for humanity, but for all of creation.

There is no reason to disparage mythology or even a mythological interpretation of parts of scripture.  Myth is often “truer than true.”  The best way to explain this is to point to the American psyche and the Paul Bunyan myths.  What better way to explain a country that invented heavier-than-air flight in 1903 and then went on to land a man on the moon in 1969.

There is nothing wrong with teaching or preaching scriptures from a mythical or mythological basis.  Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?  But that is not to say that we should make up or distort facts in order to “prove” a story.

To try and defend the story as history is simply indefensible.  I am reminded of a fundamentalist preacher who once declared that, “Satan planted all the dinosaur bones just to confound the faithful!”

The story of Noah’s Ark is greatly similar to the Epic of Gilgamesh and several related myths, such as the epics of Atrahasis and Ziusudra from early Mesopotamian literature.  It is possible that the root event for all of these epic legends was the inundation of the Black Sea around the year 5,600 BCE. But this inundation is disputed. And, even if this inundation was the seed of these epics, this certainly does nothing to confirm the historicity of the epics themselves. What these epics do prove is that the story of Noah’s Ark was not Hebrew in origin, but was drawn from the rich soup of Mesopotamian mythology.  One common recurring theme throughout these epics is that people had very long lives before the flood, and shorter, “normal” lives after the flood.

At one point it was believe that the accounts of the Trojan War were thought of as totally mythical.  Later, the city of Troy was found in what is now Northwest Turkey.  But the discovery of Troy does not prove the historicity of The Odyssey and the Iliad.  In the same manner, the new theory of the inundation of the Black Sea does not prove the historicity of the Genesis account of Noah.

Whatever scientific accounts of floods that we might choose to present as background for a sermon, it does not change the fact that the story of Noah’s Ark is simply absurd on its surface, and I will begin with that assumption.

Traditional accounts and depictions of Noah’s Ark seem to contain perhaps a dozen species.  But a literal interpretation of a global flood requiring the rescue of every terrestrial animal requires a much larger effort than that.  There are over ten million species on planet earth.  And beyond that there are many varieties within each species.

To fill the Ark with one (or seven? [Gen 7:2]) breeding pairs of every living creature would involve the capture and containment of as many as tens of millions of breeding pairs.  And, these would need to be captured from every corner of every continent on the earth.  Such an endeavor has never occurred.  We could do perhaps do it today, at least for the known species and varieties.  But the cost and complexity of this endeavor, even with our 21st Century technology and resources, would be roughly the equivalent to building a permanent base on the moon.  I believe that we can safely conclude that Noah and his three sons did no such thing.

Preaching on the Noah’s Ark story is about presenting it as mythology.  In teaching mythology, the focus is not on the “historic” details, but rather upon the message that the author, in this case the Yahwist, is trying to teach us.

The early chapters of Genesis contain a collection of “sin stories.”  These sin stories begin with the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and continue with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. God sees that the world is evil and considers destroying it.  But then he considers Noah and considers him righteous.

Because of this God decides on a “warm boot” to restart creation.  As any computer user knows, the best fix for a glitch computer is to do a warm boot. With the operating system, software and files reloaded, a myriad of computer problems will simply disappear.

The “sin stories” describe the depth of human sin, and the effect that one righteous man can have.  The Yahwist is teaching us about the struggles of human life, and what it is for us to know God (Yahweh) and to understand what God desires of us.

The Story of Noah’s Ark concludes with the rainbow covenant.  This is God’s first covenant with God’s creation.  In it he promises to sustain the earth and all of its creatures.  And God seals this covenant with the sign of the rainbow.  This frequently observed phenomenon becomes the sign of God’s ultimate grace and redemption over the whole creation.

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’Neil was Speaker of the House, he would tell everyone that, “We are all friends here after 5:00 pm and on weekends.”  If only we could bring such civility back into our body politic.  O’Neil 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

Same Sex Marriage


Below is a comment that I posted to a Roman Catholic blogger and legislator, Rebecca Hamilton, who opposes same-sex marriage.  Her blog site can be found at PublicCatholic.com.

Rebecca,

There are a number of reasons that I will disagree with you profoundly.

1) My wife and I married when we were both in our late fifties. There is no chance of conception or child-birth, and yet we were granted an ecclesiastically and legally sanctioned marriage. Our desire is to spend the rest of our lives loving each other as intimate partners. My question is this: What would be so bad if we were two men or two women seeking the same relationship? Why should government and/or the church oppose such a union?

2) We need to separate church from state. One solution would be for the state to stop talking about marriage altogether. Perhaps the state should only recognize civil unions. If a couple wants to be “married” that could be an ecclesiastical union.

3) Why should the Roman Church be granted any authority over non-Catholics? While I am a Christian and a pastor, I certainly am not under the domination of the Pope or his bishops when it comes to my spiritual life or my personal freedoms.

4) The church should support loving, committed relationships, whether or not that these might be “traditional” marriages. When people talk about the “gay lifestyle,” they are talking about anarchic sexual practices, and not committed intimate relationships. The church should encourage all people to live in committed, loving relationships regardless of any other circumstances.

5) Gay marriage is no threat to anyone not involved. Gay is not a disease that can be caught, not a social trend. Rather, it stems from the profound self-awareness of certain people that they are simply and permanently attracted to members of their same-sex. It will not cause a breakdown of traditional marriage. It will not stop us from reproducing.

6) Gay bashing is neither a Christian virtue nor a family value. The only word for it is persecution. In the past our religious traditions have been used to persecute minorities, women, and the poor. Not too long ago laws against “miscegenation” prevented interracial marriages.  Colonialism was based upon the belief that the world of the white man had a religious obligation to “save” the savages. And so we enslaved them for our own economic gain and prided ourselves on our piety for so doing.

7) Our current marriage laws give a host of legal and financial advantages to couples, including everything from tax breaks, social security payments, tax-free employee benefits, immigration rights, and many more. We need to make sure that same-sex couples can enjoy the same legal and financial rights as opposite sex couples.

8) Jesus never mentioned sex in any of the gospels. Think about that. Just because we are obsessed with people’s private lives, there is no justification for such persecution of those who are simply born differently sexed. It is interesting to note that Jesus talked about eating at every opportunity. He talked about clean and unclean foods, clean and unclean people, because eating was considered to be the most intimate thing that people could do together. Jesus was constantly criticized for eating and drinking with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Perhaps this should tell us of how he would deal with Gays today.

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