Archive for the ‘Citizenship’ Category

Tax Dollars at Work

March 21, 2017

I’m a proponent of small government and allowing people to govern themselves as much as possible at the local level.  I’m continually amazed at what our Federal government does.  I’m not saying whether this is good or bad – I’m sure that there are defensible reasons for it as well as arguments against it.  But it is surprising.

Legalizing Courtesy

February 28, 2017

Wouldn’t it be nice if we as a people could agree tacitly on common courtesy rather than requiring the government to make courtesy a matter of law?

That’s basically what’s at issue regarding the use of cell phones during flights.  If people could simply understand that it’s rude to hold a conversation with someone who isn’t even there, while surrounded by a bunch of other people, things would be so much more, well, courteous.  Is it illegal to use cell phones in movies?  I don’t think so, yet we all recognize that it’s not appropriate (or at least most of us do).  Simple logistics would seem to dictate this.  If I’m trying to hold a conversation with someone on the phone while the person on either side of me is doing the same, it’s going to be hard to hear my own conversation.  I’ll have to raise my voice.  Which of course will cause the people around me to raise theirs.  It won’t be long before everyone is yelling and still can’t hear their conversation.  Shouldn’t that be obvious?

What an opportunity we have on plane flights to actually get to know someone new without any sense of obligation.  To simply strike up a conversation and learn about them and share about yourself and see the world through another pair of eyes for a short period of time.  If it goes well you can always talk with each other on the phone in the future.  If there isn’t much chemistry, well, you never have to talk with them again.

But can we just agree that it’s impolite – and ultimately very difficult – to have hundreds of conversations going on with people who aren’t even physically present, fully ignoring the hundreds of people who are physically present and sitting incredibly close to you?  Do we really need the government to make yet another law ?



City Liberals

February 21, 2017

My high school best buddy shared this article on Facebook recently.  When we were growing up, he was very conservative.  However these days, while he is probably fiscally still a conservative his other views have grown a lot more liberal than mine.  I’ll talk about the article in a moment, but I’ll give a couple of my own thoughts first to explain our divergence.  What are some other factors – other than where you live – that might contribute to a shift in ideological perspectives over time, particularly from conservative to liberal?

Church or no church?  Granted, there are plenty of very liberal Christian denominations and congregations out there.  But it would be interesting to see a study of how many people who begin at least nominally religious (parents only make them go to church occasionally as a child or more particularly as an adolescent) vs. those who are deeply embedded in church every week (even a congregation with a dysfunctional youth group, as mine had, at least to a certain extent).  Being part of regular Christian worship (and eventually believing it) certainly can and should make us more open to our neighbors, but also should instill some basic concerns about our human capacity to deal with the issues they (and we) face.  My high school buddy rarely went to church from junior high school on.  He claimed he believed in God, but I’m not sure if he would make that same statement today or not.

Who you marry.  My buddy married a very liberal woman.  Her views on almost every issue would, I imagine, be seen as very liberal and progressive.  Now, I don’t really know her at all.  I haven’t spent much time around her in the last 25 years or so.  I would imagine some of that perspective may have been softened by my buddy’s conservatism.  But when they were dating, she was a fire-brand atheist liberal with a very strong personality.  Regardless of the issue under consideration, marrying someone with an opposite perspective from you on it is likely to draw you at least somewhat towards their point of view.

Now, about the article.  I think it’s an interesting article in several regards, despite being one of those fluffy, popcorn-level articles with very little meat to it.  But the observations it makes are worth looking at.  I disagree once again with the automatic division of every issue into liberal or conservative viewpoints.  None of these issues are in and of themselves a liberal or conservative issue.  They are human issues,  citizenship issues, and ought to be addressed as such.   Until we realize that our political system capitalizes not on solving problems but on aligning people into supportive camps, we’re going to keep banging our collective heads against the wall.  Or more accurately others are going to keep banging our heads into the wall so they can blame it on the other party and galvanize us to keep voting a certain way which keeps a particular group of people in power.

The important thing to realize is a multitude of perspectives.  City folk see certain things a certain way because of exposure to things like crime and public transportation.  People who live in rural areas see certain things a certain other way.  The problem is the polarization of our society, so that each side thinks that it’s view is the only correct one.  As I’ve argued before, if we focused less on working towards problem-solving rather than working to keep a certain political party in or out of power, this would be  a lot healthier.

I don’t think liberals are stupid.  Many of them have a particular ideological bent that I don’t personally agree with even though I may appreciate their stance or approach to particular things.  Likewise, I don’t think conservatives are stupid.  I may err more towards their side of the fence than not, but they have an ideological perspective that has valid points as well.


Colliding Worlds

January 30, 2017

Last night we sat around our dinner table as we do most every Sunday night, the surface littered with snacks and appetizers and the air filled with conversation.  This particular night was pretty small – only two people joined our weekly Happy Hour.  But these two people were very busy.

One is a politically conservative man with a degree in business administration.  The other is a politically progressive young woman with a degree in the sciences.  They were energetically engaged in an argument over the issue of banning immigrants from our country.  Not surprisingly, the argument echoed much of the rhetoric we read in the headlines and on social media.  Protection and caution vs. mercy and love, as though these two things are mutually exclusive somehow.  While passionate, I appreciated the way these two debated – out of mutual respect rather than mutual derision.

And as with the clash of emotions elsewhere, nothing was accomplished.  Neither one had convinced the other, both remained steadfast in their position.  Although parting amicably is in and of itself an admirable things these days, it isn’t helpful beyond that.  Afterwards my wife and I sat and talked about the evening, trying to determine how we might have guided things towards a more helpful direction.  Not in terms of topic, but in terms of process.

Despite the clear warnings of our Founding Fathers, we’re saddled with a two-party system that is intent on gaining and maintaining power.  Both John Adams and George Washington had pointed warnings against such a system.  As we see, such a system ultimately bogs down into competition.  Neither side is really all that committed to solving the problems facing our nation.  Each is too focused on how to regain control and hold on to it, hoping to prevent minor policy changes or enact minor policy changes without addressing the big issues because doing so might backfire and cause them to lose power.  Add to this  a system where our elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives have no term limits, and you end up with a system where members primarily focus on getting elected and re-elected.

So despite a plethora of needs in our country, these things aren’t ultimately going to get dealt with because both parties are more interested in staying in control or gaining control.  That’s what matters!  Promises are made about how to fix things but of course, as we know, those promises are rarely kept, and poorly implemented even when they are.

Last night’s discussion aired out a lot of ideas on both sides of a complicated issue.  But what it didn’t accomplish was a solution.  How do we balance security with mercy?  If we can rule out both poles of the issue as untenable, how do we find a middle ground?  How do we find an actual solution that addresses both sets of concerns and goals?  If we don’t learn how to do that again, there’s no hope of accomplishing much of anything.

We can quickly outline our basic starting points – national security and the moral obligation to help those in need – and then move on to how do we find a solution that addresses both starting points.  Imperfectly, obviously.  Both sides will have to give a bit, and the solution will undoubtedly be ultimately unsatisfying to both sides, while still accomplishing some of what both sides feel is very important.  I don’t know many people who advocate for national security because they hate refugees or Muslims and have no desire to help people in need.  I know very few people who advocate for more open borders and more generous refugee programs because they hope that they and the people they love will be hurt and harmed by any of these people.  The two sides are not mutually exclusive, in other words, and the issue is mainly one of prioritization.

Perhaps this is what we can try to foster in our Happy Hour discussions.  Practical ways of moving forward so that these practical suggestions could be what people begin communicating instead of simply regurgitating polemical rhetoric ultimately aimed not at solving problems but controlling elections.  I’d much rather see that sort of thing on my Facebook feed, and it’s something far more valuable to our society as a whole.





Respectful Disagreement

January 25, 2017

I’ve followed with curiosity the flurry of Executive Orders from President Trump in the early days of his presidency.  By and large, he is making good on some of his major campaign themes and promises.  I assume these promises are part of why people elected him president in the first place (and yes, despite Trump getting fewer votes than Hillary, he still counts as the elected president, just like four other presidents before him).

I’ve refrained from commenting on all of this until now, based on a post from a colleague with a Lutheran spin on all of this.  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) issued a statement condemning Trump’s Executive Order to begin construction of a physical barrier along the US border with Mexico.  LIRS has worked for nearly a century to assist those in need in the midst of physical relocation.  While I applaud the scope of work that LIRS engages in, I vehemently disagree with their press release objection.

Building a physical barrier does not mean that there will be no way into the United States.  There are still plenty of legal entry points.  What it means is that entry will be controlled (at least in theory).  Refugees are different than illegal immigrants and drug smugglers, and I would expect that there are protocols for processing refugees at our borders, rather than simply inviting them to walk in wherever and whenever they like.  I am highly sympathetic to the notion that if we do not control our borders, what is the point of having them?  If we don’t have the right to determine who does and does not enter our country, are we really a country?

Yes, as a Christian I welcome my “new neighbors” and “embrace” them.  But I do so as they follow the laws of this country, and that begins with entering the country in a legal fashion.  The physical barrier is not an issue (or at least shouldn’t be) for refugees and immigrants.  It is intended to address illegal immigration and criminal activity (drug smuggling, human trafficking, etc.).  Yes, I am exhorted to love and care for my neighbors and I will gladly do so.  But there is nothing inherently unChristian about having rules and regulations that are actually followed regarding how someone becomes my neighbor.

If you’re concerned about appropriate help and assistance for immigrants and refugees (as I am), border control should not be your main concern.  Your main concern should be the policies that will be followed at the legal points of entry.  Talk with the people who live along the Mexican border and you’ll find that many of them are very disturbed and alarmed that the laws of our country that help protect them and their families and their businesses have been ignored, putting them directly in danger.  How are we loving and embracing these people as our neighbors?

I am saddened by LIRS’ statement.  I am glad that they are working to help people in need, but their press release is needlessly divisive and ultimately pointless.  Border control is not the issue – immigration reform and clearer refugee policies are the issue.

Realism as Policy

January 24, 2017

America has a long history of swinging back and forth between protectionist and more involved stances in the global community.  I imagine it would take a fair amount of work to come up with a comprehensive list of all the money that the United States currently (or in the last eight years) gives to various governments, groups and agencies in the international community.  As an average citizen, the net upshot of such massive government spending on overseas initiatives gives the impression that if we don’t do it, nobody will.

The reality is that there are other people out there, other nations even, who are willing and able to step up to the plate if they wish to see something happen internationally.  We don’t have to do it all on our own.  As proof of this, in light of Trump’s order to cut off Federal funding to any group that provides abortions or information on abortions the Dutch are stepping up to create an alternative fund for such operations.

Trump did not innovate this stop to funding for such organizations – it’s a conservative policy that routinely gets reinstated during conservative administrations and rescinded during liberal ones.  Considering the source of division that abortion is here in our own country, it strikes me as even more offensive that we are sponsoring it abroad through tax dollars.

I think that a critical examination of how our tax dollars are given away to other governments and international agencies and organizations is well-warranted.  Doubtless there are some programs that are necessary or even good to fund, but I also trust that there are plenty of others that really need to be scrapped as we seek to deal with issues here at home.  I’m not a hard-line isolationist, but if we’re truly facing the massive issues we are told we are in terms of infrastructure and health care, then we need to deal with these first before we spend our tax dollars elsewhere.

Christian Persecution

January 13, 2017

While the American press – allegedly representing a population that is overwhelmingly Christian in one degree or another – fails to talk about this, the reality is that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise.

Two separate reports from two different groups highlight the growing acceptability of Christian persecution.  The first report is from a UK-based group – Open Doors UK – that reports that the rate of Christian persecution has risen around the world for the last four years.  I don’t know how they determine this, though from the use of numbers throughout the summary article, perhaps it’s based on the number of deaths reported world-wide as faith related.

The second report is from a US-based group – International Christian Concern – and it puts the United States on its list of countries where Christians are persecuted.  Obviously this group could be considered somewhat biased since they’re based in the US, and they clearly articulate that persecution in the US is not like persecution in other countries.  But they also want to draw attention to disturbing trends of persecution in the US.

A parishioner gave me a copy of this essay this morning.  It’s important in highlighting a very current example of persecution.  I looked up the video of Kim Burrell’s sermon on homosexuality.  The quality is so poor I can’t understand the majority of it, though enough is clear that she’s preaching very strongly against homosexuality.  The irony is that in trying to discredit Ms. Burrell for her point of view, her co-stars and ‘friends’ claim that prejudice against someone who disagrees with homosexuality is allowable and honorable under the guise of “there’s no room for any kind of prejudice in 2017”.

That is persecution.  Ms. Burrell is being persecuted for her Biblical stance on homosexuality.  Publicly shamed, financially damaged.  I’m fairly certain that if a gay person was rejected from appearing on a promotional tour, uninvited from a guest spot on a television show, and had their radio show cancelled for saying things that are pro-homosexuality, it would be decried as gross prejudice and malice and anti-freedom.  It might be argued that homosexuals have dealt with such issues for a long time.  But that does not allow them to utilize the same techniques against those who disagree with them and claim they are doing so in the name of freedom and anti-prejudice.  If it was prejudiced when it was done to them, it is prejudiced when they do it to others.  We don’t get to redefine the terms.

Please pray for people everywhere who are persecuted, regardless of their faith or the reason for the persecution.  Suffering is evil.   And I pray for Christians who are persecuted.  For those who are more than socially embarrassed or chastised, but who are imprisoned and executed and abused in numerous ways that are – as yet – still somewhat unthinkable here in America.  But beware.  Trends move in directions.  And if the trends in the US are for Christians to be increasingly marginalized, it’s a fantastically short leap from public shaming to death camps, and that reality is demonstrated around the world not just in history but in real numbers and lives today.

Charges Set

December 14, 2016

I read today of the unsurprising conviction of Dylan Roof, the 21-year old man who slaughtered nine African-American Christians during a Bible study in 2015, and severely wounded several others.  He has freely confessed to being guilty, and his defense never argued this fact but rather focused on trying to get him out of a death sentence and into a life-imprisonment sentence.  That decision will be made next month.

I thought it was interesting though, that the Washington Post talked about his conviction in regards to “federal hate crimes”.  This led me to view the actual Federal indictment, a surprisingly short document that summarizes the charges against Roof.

Roof is charged with 33 counts total, summarized as:

  • 9 counts of a hate crime resulting in death
  • 3 counts of a hate crime with the intent to kill (but not successful)
  • 9 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
  • 3 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
  • 9 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence

Technically only a third of the charges are related to hate crimes.  I wonder why the WP chooses to summarize all of the charges as hate crimes.  I wonder why they didn’t summarize all three of the categories of indictments?  Maybe I’m just a tad sensitive, but characterizing the nature of the crime only based on the motivation seems a bit lopsided.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

But we don’t describe or summarize all crimes by their intent or motivation, do we?  Would the WP describe a husband who kills his wife in a fit of rage after discovering her infidelity a “crime of passion”?  Or would they simply say murder?  Why is it that the motivation becomes the definition of the act?  Isn’t Roof basically guilty of murder?  Isn’t that the primary issue?  Yet by classifying it as a hate crime, it makes it sound as though his main offense is his hatred or prejudice.

Of course there are various reasons that people kill other people, and the law recognizes this reality with various types of charges (murder, degrees of murder, manslaughter, etc.).  I believe passionately that Roof was wrong in his ideology and way of thinking, but the main issue is that he committed murder.  By emphasizing the motivation, I wonder if we continue to move down a path towards outlawing certain attitudes and making certain attitudes or beliefs prosecutable, even if no actual criminal offense takes place?



Forcing Equity

December 9, 2016

We like the idea of a level playing field, even though we know that it is rarely practical or even desirable.  Whose job is it to enforce equity in the workplace?  Who gets to define what that even means?

The City of Portland has taken it upon itself to define equity and enforce it by imposing a 10% surplus tax on businesses where the CEO makes more than 100 times the median pay of all their combined employees.  As many as 550 companies based in Portland could be affected by this ordinance – the first of its kind in the nation.  The tax rate would increase if the differential was greater than 100 times.

Now, I agree that executive pay seems ridiculously disproportionate.  But I also wonder about the limited nature of this kind of rule.  Certainly disproportionate compensation is not limited to the realm of business.  What about public servants, legislators and presidents?  Should their compensation – including all the special perks and privileges of security and healthcare and retirement – be linked somehow to what the average city employee gets paid?

What about celebrities?  Why should a big-name music or film star command tens of millions of dollars to make a movie?  Why shouldn’t their salary be determined in relationship to what the lowest-paid positions in the studio or on the project are paid?

Are these environments somehow excluded from the idea of equity?  Should they be?

I’d like to think that industry will be self-correcting, that at some point businesses are going to say, Look, as concerned as we are about the bottom line it’s just irresponsible to pay our top execs these wild sums of money.  Maybe consumers should be made more aware of the wage differential in the companies that they do business with.  Would I buy a different brand if I knew the cheaper price tag was because they weren’t paying their CEO $70 million a year plus stock options?  Would I choose another brand even if it wasn’t cheaper?

What about a situation where every employee gets paid $500,000 but the CEO gets $60 million.  Should the company still get dinged even though the janitor is being paid half a million dollars a year?  And why is it the city gets the benefit of this surplus tax?  Why isn’t it returned to the employees who are making less than the mean of the scale used to assess the tax?  How is that surplus tax revenue going to be used?  Not to fund raises for city employees, by any chance?  Hmm.  What a conundrum.

I get itchy when a small group of people decide that they can define and create equity.  At the heart of things it means that a small group of people outside the company have a better understanding of what is fair than those within the company, or at least those who create and control the company.  Why might that be?  What enables people on the outside to know what fair is better than other people?  How was their education and upbringing different?  Where did they get their source of values from, and how do they know they can trust them?  How well do they understand the dynamics that create this sort of inequality?  I certainly don’t profess to understand, and perhaps nobody else really does either.

I’d be far more comfortable with the idea that we teach kids from an early age that it’s good to be creative and industrious and that you ought to enjoy the benefits of your labor, but that there is a perspective to all of this as well.  You should get a bigger return for taking the risks and pushing the envelope, but at some point, it just seems silly to keep increasing that return while not including others in the benefits.  Life isn’t fair, not by a long shot.  Trying to force it to be fair – and arbitrarily drawing a line that says this is fair and this is not – is often a flawed approach, even if the goal is admirable.

Chew On This

November 30, 2016

An article I ran across a while back in the Christian Science Monitor regarding the amount of food production achievable if Americans went vegetarian.

It’s interesting, and it makes me want to say Hey, this is really a good idea and we should all become vegetarians!

No.  No it doesn’t make me want to say that at all.

The numbers are interesting, but it begs the question – why is it necessary for us to increase our food production to feed 800 million people?  Are there hungry people in the world?  Must assuredly – and at least a few of them live right here in our own country, if we’re to believe the State’s continued insistence on providing not just an education at school but also meals for students and even their families.

But is the reason that we have hungry people that we aren’t producing enough food?  Or are there other explanations for hunger?  I think before you advocate an entire nation change their diet, you look long and hard at why food isn’t apparently getting to the people who need it, whether here at home or around the world.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it isn’t that there isn’t enough food, but rather that we – or others – just don’t care to make sure it gets to the people who need it.  Politics and human sinfulness is the issue, not whether I have a hamburger for lunch or not.

If we solve some of these bigger questions, then we can adjust our food production if that’s still necessary.  But if we don’t solve these bigger questions, it doesn’t matter how much we deprive ourselves and how much food we produce – it will continue to fail to reach the people who need it.