Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Walking the Walk

May 3, 2019

Many people  are upset about Facebook’s recent changes.  In addition to banning individuals it considers to be dangerous (and what exactly are the criteria for being labeled dangerous, and who gets to decide them and determine who meets the criteria?), Facebook will ban other users from linking to external sites (such as Infowars) it deems inappropriate.  Repeated attempts by a Facebook user to link to banned sites could or will result in that Facebook user being banned from Facebook as well.

You might think that this is all a good idea or not.  You may like Infowars or you might not.  At the end of the day this is a good reminder that Facebook is not a government entity or some other sort of entity that is required to do things the way we think it should.  It is a business with owners and a Board of Directors and investors.  They are convinced that implementing these sorts of policies will not hurt Facebook’s business.  If they thought it would, they probably wouldn’t do it.  For all the talk about community and connectivity, at the end of the day money talks.

So here’s what to do if you’re upset.  It’s what you should probably do if you’re not upset either, because while you may agree with banning these particular people and sites, one day you may find that other people and sites are banned that you don’t see as problematic.  Pendulums have this nasty habit of swinging back and forth.  Or  even if the pendulum doesn’t swing back, what kind of community and connectivity do you have if you only ever see and hear things that you agree with or that reflect one particular ideological direction?  Are you comfortable cutting everyone out of your life who doesn’t agree with your political or social or religious views?  Many people may be, but should you?

So, here’s what you do.

Go through all those Facebook friends.  Those who are actually friends and you actually keep in touch with, message them and request direct contact information.  E-mails or phone numbers or addresses.   Instagram or  other platform usernames (though these will be less useful  as inevitably, if Facebook succeeds, other platforms will follow suit).  Figure out how to stay in touch one on one without an inbetween entity.

And when you have all that data, then get rid of Facebook.  If you want to send a message, send it this way, but deleting your account.  If enough users were to do this, I’m sure Facebook would notice and perhaps even rethink its policies.  Facebook is a company focused on making money.  As such it is free to do what it wants or thinks is best in this regards within the limits of the law.  But consumers are free to respond to those changes and indicate if they approve of them or not.

Back in the 80’s Coca Cola decided it would change the recipe for Coca Cola to make it sweeter, more like Pepsi.  I and millions of other Coca Cola lovers objected, loudly.  We refused to buy the new product, and raised a pretty big stink about it.  Coca Cola eventually re-introduced the original recipe as Coca Cola Classic.  Companies can make mistakes just like people can.  Sometimes those mistakes can be moved past, other times they can’t.  The question is ultimately what are you going to do about it, personally?  Are you willing to quit using Facebook?  Sure, it will be inconvenient to some extent.  Are you willing to suffer a little for something you believe is right?

More importantly, are you willing to take a risk to find out if it really is inconvenient or painful to live without it?

 

 

 

Protecting Penance

May 2, 2019

I met with some folks earlier this week for a private discussion, which began in part by them querying my responsibilities as a mandatory reporter.

As an ordained minister of religion, the state recognizes that people may tell me things as part of private confession, and that those things should remain private (the eventual fortunately didn’t entail anything controversial!).  But there are folks who think that this should no longer be the case.

California State Senate Bill 360 would remove the clause in the existing Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act that exempts confessional statements from existing mandatory reporting requirements for clergy.  Some clergy members are speaking out against this as dangerous, and for good reason.

As it stands now, I have to report if I think a child is being abused or neglected, or if I come to that awareness by any number of possible ways.  But if someone discloses private information to this effect, I am not required by law to report it to authorities.   In our day, this sounds like pretty important stuff.  Why wouldn’t a priest or clergy member report possible criminal activity – particularly against children – even within the more narrow confines of Confession & Absolution?

The difficulty is in the relationship of a priest/clergy member to someone desirous of and in need of confidential handling of sensitive information.  I like how Father Pietrzky is quoted in the article – The Catholic Church holds that the information received by the priest in confession does not belong to him.  It belongs to God alone.

The current law indicates that any kind of private communication could be exempt from mandatory reporting, not just the more narrow confines of confession and absolution.  I could see an argument being made for a more narrow exclusion to mandatory reporting, but then again that would complicate matters considerably.

The reality is that priests and ministers have a unique role and relationship both to their parishioners and those who relate to them in their professional capacity.  I’ve heard private confessions from people wracked with guilt over things they’ve done in their lives.  I’ve heard horrible things.  Nothing, thankfully, that was ongoing or led me to believe that anyone was at risk of harm, but still things that are hard to hear.  Just as it’s hard for them to say them.

But it’s my job to hear these things, a direct command from Jesus to those who would become his church.  I am to convey his forgiveness to these people, for these specific sins.  Some might argue that the same thing can be accomplished in general or corporate confession, or through privately praying to Jesus.  But Christians have long understood that we have an enemy who works against the hope and confidence we are given in the death and resurrection of the Son of God through our baptism.  We’re prone to sitting in church, or at home after prayer, and telling ourselves that the forgiveness the priest or minister declares isn’t really for me.  Not for what I’ve done.  For everybody else, sure, but not for me.

Private confession provides very specific assurance of forgiveness by Jesus’ authority and command.  This is exclusively something that has to do with our relationship before God.  Who else on earth can someone go to in complete honesty?  Who else can someone verbalize things to, and then hear forgiveness promised to them due not to the civil or criminal justice system but solely and completely based on the death and resurrection of the Son of God?

I understand people’s concerns – that ongoing harmful or illegal behavior will continue despite confession & absolution.  There may be the idea that crime could be curtailed if clergy were forced to be mandatory reporters for child abuse.  But of course once established for one class of crime it would be a slippery slope towards mandating reporting for any illegal activity.

All I can say is that in over a decade I’ve never heard a confession that involved child abuse or any other major crime (murder, etc.) or anything that would even remotely incline me to report, or wish that I could.  Perhaps it isn’t really crime or child abuse this bill is after.  Perhaps it’s just another attempt to eradicate freedom of religion.

 

 

 

 

 

Slow Moving Train Wreck

May 1, 2019

The Los Angeles Times reported today that for the first time since records have been kept, the county of Los Angeles experienced a growth rate of 0% last year, and California as a whole grew by the smallest amount since we’ve tracked these sorts of things.

The article duly noted a variety of potential causes for this slow in growth rate.

  • Fewer immigrants from Mexico and more from Asia.  Asian immigrants apparently on the whole are better educated than Mexican immigrants, and better-educated people tend to have fewer children.  Tuck this particular detail away in your memory for just a moment – we’ll come back to it.
  • Native-born Americans have been experiencing a decline in birth rates for years.
  • A lack of housing (affordable, of course) is another possible contribution to slower growth rates as people can’t afford to move here.  Or stay here.
  • Economic uncertainties over the past 20 years are also likely to blame as people are less able or inclined to have kids in rugged economic times.
  • Natural disasters such as the devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018 contributed to a rearrangement of population in certain affected areas.
  • California lost roughly a million people between 2007-2016.  Six million people moved out of the state and only five million moved in.

What the article didn’t see fit to note is the popular idea – pushed for the last 50 years – that we are overpopulating the planet.  This idea – pushed in schools particularly – is likely to take psychological root in many people who then decide to have smaller families.  The longer you’re in school (the better educated you are, as per above), the more often you’re going to hear this over-population mantra and will likely feel greater pressure to respond to it by not having lots of (or any) kids.

However the article mentions in passing the completely devastating this false idea is and will continue to have on our society as fewer young people struggle to support a larger population of older people.  Is it any wonder that socialism and a restructuring of our economy is gaining popularity among younger generations?

Also not discussed in the article is the trend for people to wait longer before marrying.  I’d presume that there is a corresponding delay in having children, at least among people inclined to think that those two things are related.  And if you aren’t marrying until your very late 20’s or early 30’s, and need to get your economic ducks in a row before contemplating children, then it’s going to be getting more and more difficult (biologically) to get pregnant and carry to term.

And I wonder about possible links about delaying having children and whether people who have built enjoyable lives without children are having a harder time considering adding children to the equation and spoiling some of the fun.

No conjecture was offered as to why more people are leaving than coming to California, but many Californians will quickly offer some explanations – over-regulation, over-taxation, and a disconnect between the major population centers and the rest of the state.

Lots of factors to consider, both ones that the Times chose to talk about and a few it didn’t think to mention, but which likely have a real impact as well.

 

 

 

Poverty Colored Glasses

April 30, 2019

An essay which recognizes the narrative being pushed in certain segments of our culture and society isn’t just divergent, it completely ignores reality.  It has to, otherwise certain economic and political aspirations can’t possibly succeed.

There’s a good reason for that, but we’re in danger of being lulled into a false depiction of reality.

Listening Matters

April 10, 2019

My family arrived to Lenten soup dinner tonight with tales of anger.  The weekly home-school park gathering was disrupted by a woman screaming at the kids from the other side of the park.  She was apparently irate that the kids were sitting on a low-hanging tree branch.  She screamed that they should get down, that somebody could get hurt, that their mothers surely must not be paying attention.  The moms were paying attention just a few feet away.  The kids were confused, the moms were a bit shocked, and the woman wandered away when nobody immediately met her demands.

One of the mothers went after the woman to talk with her, and ensure that the woman did in fact realize that the mothers were present and monitoring the situation.  The woman had no interest in listening – outright refused to actually talk.  Apparently she had wanted to scream her demands, not engage in an actual discussion.

Listening is getting harder, and rarer.

I was reminded of this by the above anecdote, and like many people in such a situation I clucked my tongue at the woman’s absurdity and inability to engage in actual dialogue or conversation about an issue.

But the below issue demonstrates that I – and perhaps you as well, dear reader – can be just as guilty of not wanting to listen, particularly when we think we know what we’re going to hear or not hear.

Currently there is a bill with bi-partisan support making its way through Congress.  I know.  Shocking, isn’t it?  The bill would ban the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from developing a free e-filing program for itself.  The ban is heavily opposed by big business.  Specifically, big businesses in the business of tax preparation, like H&R Block and Intuit.  These companies have spent millions of dollars trying to ensure that the IRS doesn’t develop any such program as it could hurt the business of private tax preparation services and software.  These companies argue that they already allow people to use their products for free if they are below a certain income level.  And while 70% of Americans would qualify for their free e-filing services, only 3% of these eligible Americans use them.  Presumably another, higher percentage of these eligible Americans end up purchasing services that the companies upsell.

So far, no big deal.  But then I spy this article about liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez complaining about this very issue, and suggesting that the IRS could – and should – provide auto-completed tax documentation free of charge.  The great majority of Americans have simple enough tax returns that the essential data could be auto-filled by the IRS, verified by citizens and then submitted electronically.  Other countries apparently do this already.

I was tempted to skip the article.  After all, I disagree with most everything I’ve heard this person say so far.   I don’t know the larger context of her comments, but at least in this limited sense, until I see a counterargument, I think it’s good that she’s raising the issue.  Since the IRS isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and since any changes to the tax codes result in more confusion, it would be nice to see the IRS develop a system that could help eliminate the headache for many Americans.

I also, however, don’t believe the IRS is capable of developing this kind of system, and that’s pretty depressing.

But the important thing is to keep listening.  Even to people you disagree with.  Disagree with ideas, not with people.  And by all means, look for  opportunities to be reminded that even people we disagree with (rather than ideas!) can sometimes say things we resonate with.  That’s an important thing to remember as more and more people become more and more comfortable with just screaming their demands or objections from a distance.

 

 

Actual News?

March 6, 2019

Remember that big ruckus about the migrant caravan last year, thousands of people traveling from Central America through Mexico to the American border?  It would be understandable if you don’t remember it – the news certainly hasn’t been saying much about it since.  Or about other caravans.  Or about illegal border crossings in general.  After all, to report on such things would be to acknowledge that there’s a problem with people entering our country illegally in large numbers.  Large enough numbers that we ought to take steps – for the sake of both American citizens as well as those who wish to become citizens or live here legally – to clarify immigration policy and ensure that people enter the country safely and properly.

I remember an article a month or more ago talking about how border patrol along the border with Mexico apprehended 3000 illegal entrants in a single day.  That’s a lot, I thought at the time, yet there wasn’t much talk  about it.  After all, politicians of all stripes were working hard to prevent any substantive progress on border security, least of all a wall.  What a ridiculous idea!  Hahahahaha!

Now, all of a sudden, the media is beginning to talk about the reality.  The New York TimesFox News.  Even Al Jazeera.  That number from a month or so ago may not have been unusual.  Homeland Security is now claiming there is a crisis on our border with Mexico, with 76,000 illegal entries last month, and more likely on the way.  And that’s just the people they caught.  Which means that 90,000 entries per month (3000 per day x 30) is not necessarily an outlandish figure.  And for those who won’t take the time to crunch the numbers for themselves, that adds up to nearly a million possible illegal entries into our country every year.

Does that sound like a problem to you?  Because it sure does to me.  Not a new, problem, by the way.  Ask anyone living in the Southwestern United States and they’ll tell you that this has been an issue for a long, long time.  An issue politicians have repeatedly failed to address properly.

Does a wall sound that outlandish now?  It doesn’t to me.  It didn’t to me from the beginning – because growing up in Arizona I heard all the time about illegal border crossings.  It was a fact of life – a dangerous one both for Americans as well as those seeking to enter our country.  Some of the illegal entries were drug runners who would kill people (American citizens) who accidentally stumbled across their path on state or federal lands.  Some of the illegal entries came with coyotes, people who took money to get people across the border, but would sometimes abandon them in the middle of nowhere.  In the summer.  In the desert.  With no water or food.  People died.

Since other forms of prevention have not worked, it seems as though a wall would be a good idea for everyone.  For Americans, it ensures that we have dramatically less illegal entries into our country, whether from well-intentioned asylum seekers or drug runners.  It means we are safer, as having a handle on who is coming into your country is a pretty universally understood concept.  It also is safer for those who seek entry, who at this point are being told that they can claim asylum and have a better chance of staying in the country, even if they’re caught entering illegally.

I want people to come to our country.  I want our country to continue to be a place of hope and promise.  I want people who seek a better life or who are fleeing from danger to find a safe place here.  But I also understand that this is only possible if things are done in an orderly manner.  That to not address this problem is to continue to make these things unsafe for people on both sides of the border.

I understand the objection that walls are not foolproof.  Obviously.  But they are remarkably effective all the same.  More effective than border patrol agents alone.  More effective than fences and other half-hearted measures we have tried in the past.

I also understand that the issue isn’t just about controlling our borders and access to our country.  The issue should be about being good neighbors to those areas to the south of us that are dealing with human rights issues, with a lack of protection for their citizens.  We should be every bit as committed to protecting those people and helping them with a better life as we are for people on the other side of the world.

It’s a complicated issue.  It always has been and it always will be.  But obviously something needs to be done to change how it is being handled now dramatically and quickly.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

February 25, 2019

Once upon a time British miners used to take caged canaries into mines with them.  The canaries would die if there was carbon dioxide in the mine.  Because they were so sensitive, it would alert the miners to a dangerous situation before they themselves would succumb to the lack of breathable air.

The canary is still alive this week, despite some pretty life-threatening rumblings in American politics.

New York passed legislation ensuring that abortions remained legal in that state even if Roe v. Wade was overturned in the future.  Not only this, they made abortions easier to obtain, no longer requiring a licensed doctor to perform them.  And they extended thee legality of abortion to the third trimester, theoretically up until labor and possibly into labor.  A similar bill in Virginia nearly passed their legislature, while their governor opined on radio about a situation where a mother and a doctor might discuss – after giving birth, while the baby is “kept comfortable” whether or not the baby ought to live.

The term for that is infanticide.  And this governor apparently thinks it is a viable possibility.  This governor outraged many people in our country with that suggestion.  However the pressure to remove him from office is not related to that comment, as staggering as it is.  Rather, it has to do with yearbook photos from decades ago that surfaced of him in blackface.

But the canary is still alive.

The idea of infanticide has now been publicly floated in our political culture at a very high level and the canary is still alive.  It wasn’t killed by an overwhelming response in our country against it.  Now, at the national level many of  our current lawmakers have refused to vote for a bill that would have clarified even further existing laws that make infanticide a criminal act punishable by law.  Rather than vote for a bill that would have required reporting of any such actions by anyone present, and once again stating that doctors as well as parents would be held legally accountable if they knowingly or intentionally caused the death of a baby born alive after a failed abortion attempt, many lawmakers voted against it.

Some claim that this means nothing, since the bill  really didn’t add much to the existing laws.  Infanticide is already illegal in our country, and this bill would just mandate reporting of any infanticide that might happen.  Say,  in an abortion clinic.  Like, maybe, Planned Parenthood.

The takeaway from this should be crystal clear.  The Democratic Party’s commitment to abortion is not just protecting a woman’s right to her body, while hoping that there will be less and less need for such services (through better contraception, sex education, and other things – not through more responsible sexual choices!  Let’s not be radical here!).  The Democratic Party is now stating publicly that it supports the death of a baby.  They’ve pushed past their own arbitrary definition of human life beginning when a baby is viable outside the womb – definitely third trimester stuff.  It isn’t even really a life after being born – even when professionals are trying to kill it first.

So  when is that baby a human being?

Is there going to be a mass exodus from the Democratic Party for crossing the line?  Are those who deluded themselves into believing – contra science as well as Scripture – that a baby inside a woman isn’t really a human being until some sort of arbitrary timeframe – going to now desert the party for crossing the line clearly into supporting the possibility of infanticide?

Will they kill the canary of infanticide, and perhaps the canary of abortion at long last?  Will they stand up and prove that going down this path is political suicide?  Will they demand that their party protect human life in all stages and forms?

Maybe not.  Maybe they’re the canary that’s dead.

 

I Can’t Quit Laughing

January 17, 2019

Nancy Pelosi’s move.

President Trump’s counter-move.

I score this 0-1 for President Trump.  Let’s see what  the next round brings!

More Politics

January 17, 2019

In case you were under the impression that there is freedom of speech and freedom of religion in our country, or that these rights are valued by some and not others, note this little article.  Our vice-president’s wife  is being criticized for teaching at a Christian school that adheres to Biblical principles and requires employees, students, and their families to do so as well.

I love the spin put on this at the end of the article.  A “religion” professor criticizing “the religious right” for making sexuality a  matter of faith.  Um, actually it’s the Bible that does that, not the religious right, and as such has been making a big deal about this for roughly 3500 years.  The Biblical position is nothing new, and prior to just a few years ago, was the normative understanding in most of American society.  And before that in most of Western Europe.  And still today in large sections of South America, Central America, and Africa.  Just to name a few.

Then the second comment about how the school was forcing people to not be yourself or express support for viewpoints and lifestyles contrary to Scripture.  Again, not true.  This isn’t a public school.  It’s a private school that undoubtedly charges tuition – probably rather steep tuition.  Attendance at this school is completely voluntary, and nobody is being forced to do anything other than acknowledge the truths the school is based on and in.  If they don’t like those truths, I’m sure that there are other school options for them to choose from, including completely free public schools.  A halfway intelligent potential customer might even recognize that it is because of the policies and beliefs of this school that it is desirable as an educational institution to people despite its high price.

Expressing an opinion or a belief is only valid and right and fair if it falls in line with what popular culture or activists are demanding at the moment.  The fact that their stance on this issue is at direct odds with one of the oldest sacred texts in the world is irrelevant.  It is the sacred text and those who believe it who must change.

So, freedom of religion and freedom of speech?  Ditch ’em, apparently.

A Political Day

January 17, 2019

I guess this will be a day for political posts.

First up, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified those who are uncertain about the efficacy or safety of vaccinations as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019.

They’re not going after anti-vaxxers or those who are hard-core opposed to vaccinations.  Even those who are hesitant are a risk.  Those who are less than certain, or may be concerned only about certain vaccinations while they’re fine with others.  No, there must be no doubt, no misgivings, no reluctance, no hesitancy.  The report officially defines this term to mean the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines.  That’s a pretty broad classification.  I take it to mean that the person who doesn’t want to get the annual flu shot or is uncertain about a recently released vaccine is treated as the same sort of threat as the person who doesn’t believe the small pox vaccine was effective.

An advisory group to the WHO identified complacency, inconvenience, and uncertainty as some of many reasons why people might resist or oppose vaccinations.  I’m sure those are some of the causes.  But the WHO finds these causes – or any cause – insufficient and uncredible.

Despite all-too-recent examples that sometimes the public is deliberately misinformed about things, putting their health at risk (Tuskogee, anyone?).  Despite the insistence of state laws that make vaccines mandatory and provide no means for the public to give consent to or even be informed about what vaccines are included.  Despite a dearth of long-term studies on many of the vaccines already available and those still in development.  Despite even just a common sense sort of concern about what gets put into your body and why.

Nobody must question the powers that be – doctors, researchers, policy-makers – none  of them are to be questioned and are to be trusted implicitly and without any means or expectation of transparency.  Those who criticize religious people for blind faith ought to be a more critical of the faith being demanded by secular authorities as well!  Religion can’t compel  faith, but the rule of law can and increasingly does compel people to cede authority over their bodies to bureaucrats and scientists, well-meaning or otherwise.