Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Meanwhile, in California…

June 23, 2017

California continues to ban taxpayer funded state travel to a growing number of other states.  I’ve tried to determine if other states have a similar practice, but I can’t find any.  I’m not aware that these bans have ever been approved by the voters whose interests they claim to protect. I for one don’t agree with the philosophical basis for implementing these bans, and it seems yet another instance where a small group of people take it upon themselves to claim the representation of their constituency to do what *they* want to do, rather than what the voters actually tell them to do.

Askewed Perspective

June 2, 2017

The news this week is hopelessly cluttered with rival articles about our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and the role of the Russians in the 2016 election.  Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about both of them.  I’d just like to point out two things.

Firstly, withdrawal of participation from the Paris Climate Agreement – participation that was never ratified by Congress as is required to make such participation legal, according to our Constitution – does not necessarily mean a rejection of reducing greenhouse gasses and other environmentally harmful emissions.  The assumption is that if we are not part of the Climate Agreement then we are not going to do anything to try and be more environmentally conscious.  That’s a rather major assumption.  The issue should not be so much whether we are or are not part of an international, non-binding commitment to being wiser about our environmental impact, but rather what are our actual intentions as a nation, as communities, and as individuals in this regard?  As usual, the hyper-focus of attention on the actions of a political leader (whether you like him or not) is an easy substitute for the question of how am I going to live my life and make choices that I believe are healthy for me and the world around me?

That’s a harder question, which is perhaps why so many people prefer to focus on somebody else.

Secondly, I find the outrage over Russian tampering hilarious.  First of all, what does tampering mean?  So far, what I understand it to mean is that the Russians might have helped hack and disclose unflattering information about one or more of the candidates for President.  Once again, this diverts the question from the information itself to how it was disclosed.  Does the potential for tampering matter?  Of course, but I find it ironic considering that we have made little effort to hide our tampering in the world around us (or at least some of our tampering).

The United States hasn’t simply made information available to foreign populations.  We’ve run guns to support rebels against leaders we didn’t like.  Or to support leaders we liked against rebels we didn’t.  We’ve actively assisted in trying to topple or sustain foreign governments.  We have attempted to assassinate political leaders we viewed as dangerous.  We actively engage in espionage around the world against both allies and enemies, perceived or otherwise.  Yet we express righteous indignation and outrage when someone potentially has attempted to influence the political landscape here at home?

The narrative we are taught is that we do these things on the behalf of good, or democracy, or freedom, but when others do it they are doing it for opposite reasons and motivations.  In other words, we are justified in doing these things, and not only justified, it is practically our moral obligation to do them.  But anyone who might try something against us is definitionally wrong.

Do the Russians think they were morally obligated to intervene in our elections?  Perhaps some of them do.  Might we consider such attitudes dangerous or erroneous?  Very likely.  Which ought to lead us to be suspect of our own motives at times.

Some will undoubtedly call me jaded, but frankly, I presume that every government that can is engaged in espionage and manipulation of other countries for its own interests on a regular basis.  Russia is not unique in this, and neither is the United States.  I presume that this has been going on basically since the beginning of human civilization.  We act to preserve our own best interests.  Cain understood this in Genesis 4 when God sentenced him to be a wanderer.  Cain knew that others would act to protect themselves from a perceived threat and so God blessed Cain with some sort of mark that would prevent others from trying to kill him.  Without a community of his own to offer protection, Cain would be vulnerable.

The instinct to protect and preserve by a variety of means both obvious and subtle is part of our sinful, fallen nature.  We should be on guard against how others might seek to subvert or dominate us for their own ends, but we should hardly be surprised at it.  Particularly when we take great pride in our own similar efforts with other peoples and communities.  We will struggle against – and participate in – these kinds of behaviors to various degrees until sin has finally been removed as an issue in our lives, something the Bible teaches me won’t happen until the Son of God returns.  That doesn’t mean I sit passively by until then.  But it also means that I should be critical and evaluative of my own motivations as well as the motivations of others.

Which in turn means that I should spend less time screaming at those who disagree with me on these or other issues.  I will stand up for what I believe, but I pray for the strength and wisdom and integrity not to stoop to the level of those who mistakenly think that their cause justifies their abuse, mistreatment and maligning of anyone who disagrees with them.

Three in a Row

May 31, 2017

Scanning the news this morning I came across three interesting articles.

The first is a not-so-veiled criticism of President Trump’s ban on certain electronic devices in airline cabins – meaning passengers have to put these items in their checked luggage instead.  As I reflected on this  article, it strikes me as one of the dumbest articles I’ve recently read.

The article ignores the fact that lithium ion batteries are “inherently volatile” beyond wanting to criticize a policy decision.  If they’re that dangerous, why are they allowed on flights at all?  Why are we using them in electronic devices that we carry with us everywhere if they are essentially the equivalent of little time bombs?  Wouldn’t the article be better aimed at critiquing why such a volatile substance is accepted beyond the parameters of certain airline flights from certain countries?

The second article is a great discussion of what may appear to be  rather arcane Supreme Court ruling that actually has a great deal of actual and potential impact for consumers everywhere.  I’ve long been distrustful of the growing trend of virtualizing ownership.  Seen most clearly in computer operating systems and software, it’s the idea that you don’t really own a product, per se.  Rather, you are paying for the right to access something that still belongs to someone else and who has ultimate say over what you do or don’t do with what you’re accessing.  Physical and intellectual property issues are critical not just for their economic implications but in terms of privacy and consumer rights.  Definitely worth a read through!

The final article describes the renaming of a NASA project to send a probe closer to the sun than ever before.  Instead of calling it the Solar Probe Plus (which is admittedly a lousy name!), it is being renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of a scientist.  But the article immediately reminded me of one of my favorite author’s short stories – The Golden Apples of the Sun.  It’s the name of both one of his short stories – about a manned trip to the sun to actually scoop up and bring back to earth some of the sun’s essence – as well as the anthology that includes the story.  Since Bradbury’s story pre-dates Eugene Parker’s solar scientific contributions, I think it’s at least worth considering.  Plus, The Golden Apples of the Sun is a far more beautiful name for a solar probe!

Appropriating Identity

April 3, 2017

Freud convinced us all that our identity is primarily sexual in nature.  Today we’re being programmed to believe our identity is also a matter of citizenship.

A man drowned in our city last week.  He was trying to rescue a young girl who was caught in a rip tide – a powerful current that can prevent people from making it back to shore.  The girl survived but the man in his 30’s did not.  Initial reports said the girl was his daughter.  Later reports claimed that it wasn’t.  It was a tragic situation no matter how you look at it.

But the local paper decided to look at it as a matter of citizenship, proclaiming in the headline that an ‘immigrant’ died trying to save the girl.

The article went on to talk about how the man had come to the US looking for a better life but now was dead.  Really?  This is going to be an immigration issue?

What is this supposed to make me feel?  Am I supposed to feel worse because this was an immigrant or better?  Is this supposed to make me more pro-immigration because this man accidentally died trying to save someone else, or more anti-immigration?  What is the point in turning the story this way at all?  We all know that our nation has plenty of immigrants past and present here.  That is part of our identity as a nation, part of our strength.  The issue isn’t whether or not we have immigrants or continue to have immigrants, but rather how those people arrive here and how they assimilate.  None of which has anything with a man trying to save a life and ending up dead in the process, and it’s a disgusting attempt to politicize a loss of life.

It’s further topped by my state’s ‘glorious’ march towards taking on the Federal government on immigration issues.  Our Senate passed a bill prohibiting local authorities from cooperating with Federal authorities on matters of immigration involving detained individuals.  Since the House is controlled by the same party, it will likely pass there as well before going on to the governor (of the same political party) for signature.

Ultimately, this isn’t going to help legal or illegal immigrants in our state.  It certainly isn’t going to help immigrants gain citizenship.  It’s going to hurt pretty much everyone – even our illustrious leaders.  I hope that the Federal government makes good on threats to cut Federal funding to cities and states that openly flaunt Federal law.  I hope that the cut-off of funding is painful and teaches some important lessons and not simply the idea that you should do what the Federal government tells you.

First of all, I hope it demonstrates the futility and stupidity of simply refusing to obey the law – or demand that the law not be enforced – rather than changing the laws.  The Civil Rights movement was powerful because it challenged the law and sought to change it.  People suffered the consequences of civil disobedience in order to show that the law was wrong and needed to be changed.  But to simply ignore the law and insist that nobody enforce the law?  What does that accomplish?  What victory does that gain?

Secondly, I hope it is a wake up call to people that we rely for a lot of things on the Federal government.  I may not personally think that’s a good idea but it’s a reality.  And states either need to insist on greater autonomy and figure out ways to fund it, or quit whining and complaining and fighting against the Federal government on one hand while putting their other hand out all the time for subsidies, loans, and other forms of support.  The idea that we should get the things we want without having to play by the rules is dangerously endemic in our society at the moment – at least in certain quarters.  It is equally dangerous for our political leaders to have this mindset, for the average citizen to, and for those who come here intent on living illegally.

But before any of this happens, a lot of people are going to suffer.  People who rely on programs funded in part by the Federal government.  We’re going to be told by our political leadership that this is because Trump is a mean President who is intent on causing harm.  But that’s a lie.  The truth is that it’s happening because our political leadership isn’t willing to actually do their jobs to come up with an immigration policy that works for those who wish to abide by it, and politely but firmly tells those who refuse to abide by it to leave.  Like every other country in the world does at some level or another.

Coming up with laws that work is a good situation.  Passing resolutions defying the law of the land is ultimately a cowardly cop-out for the harder work of actually sorting through and solving problems.

 

 

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.

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.

 

Practical Immigration

February 8, 2017

Much has been said about hypothetical immigration and immigrants.  I prefer to wonder what my role can be in this complex issue.  Certainly leading a Christian institution, I would consider it our duty and honor to be a blessing if there were immigrants in our midst to minister to.  Particularly if those immigrants were actively seeking us out not just for material assistance but spiritual sustenance.  But how complicated the matter would become were politics also part of the picture – as it almost inevitably would be.

So I found this letter from the Lutheran pastor of a church in Germany who is dealing with this issue firsthand eye-opening and more than a little terrifying.  In Germany, those seeking asylum are evaluated as to their suitability for integration with German culture and society.  One of the evaluation points centers on their faith.  Christians are at least in theory given points in that they share a faith with the historic faith of German culture.

This creates a complicated situation.  How do you tell if someone is simply calling themselves a Christian in the hopes of improving their odds for acceptance permanently in Germany, as opposed to someone who genuinely has converted to the Christian faith?  It’s a question that the Church has had to deal with for two thousand years.

But in Germany, it is politicians and bureaucrats that are deciding who is and who isn’t Christian, and by some accounts, without an ability for themselves to understand what the basic tenets of Christianity even are for themselves.  The result, according to the letter, is that those who have converted to Christianity and received baptism in the Church are being declared non-Christian by the State and slated for deportation.  Despite the fact that some of them are enduring persecution for their conversion from militant Muslim refugees, and despite the reality that they will face greater persecution in their homelands for converting.

How do you sort out a Gordian Knot of this scope and scale?  As a pastor, my emphasis and priority would be on preaching and teaching the Word so that people might come to faith regardless of the repercussions in their lives.  But what a terrible thing to be blessed to proclaim Good News to a people who have been oppressed and persecuted for so long – by their prior fellow-adherents! – and then watch those children of God ordered for deportation.  How awful to be privileged to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, only to have these converts deemed non-Christian, oftentimes by people who are not even Christian themselves but have inherited the blessings of being born in a traditionally Christian culture!

What a terribly important ministry evolves then, the ministry of preparing these people for whatever may come down the road because of their conversion.  The ministry of distinguishing between the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the bad news that inheritors of Christian benefits won’t recognize these converts.

Is it a good idea to make Christianity a determination point for asylum seekers?  It’s a logical one I suppose.  Certainly there will be some percentage of people who claim to have converted but haven’t really, and who will take up their Muslim faith again as soon as they are safely settled for good.  But Christianity has always dealt with those who seek the status of the faith when it mingles with cultural and societal status and ambition.  The Church must be discerning to the best of our ability, but our discernment is necessarily imperfect and limited by sin.

How do I determine whether a person is Christian or not?  I begin by acknowledging this ultimately is not my job but Christ’s.  For the purposes of my work, I look for signs of the faith in a person’s life.  Have they been baptized?  Are they regularly in worship and hopefully also communal Bible study?  Have they been instructed in the basics of Christian doctrine as outlined in the Ecumenical Creeds?  I would not resort to some sort of Christian or Bible trivia game, asking for obscure details from the Bible or complex explanations of Christian doctrine.   If someone comes to me seeking Christian instruction, and after receiving it indicates that they believe this and wish to become a Christian and want baptism, I will baptize them.  If they continue coming to church (or I know they are attending elsewhere regularly), and if they are taking seriously the teaching of the Bible in terms of how they live their lives and make their decisions, then I acknowledge them as a brother or sister in the faith.  My evaluation of that may be off the mark, but it is an evaluation with some solid criteria to recommend it which relies on something beyond an overly simplistic mastery of basic data.

The Church’s long history of discernment on this issue might be of use to the State in seeking to determine who is authentic and who is not.  Again, the results will not be perfect, but they are likely to be better than having the State arbitrarily determine what makes a person Christian or not.

Funding the Wrong Fight

February 1, 2017

Our country is anecdotally being torn apart at the moment over the issue of immigration and refugees.  It’s not as though anybody is doing much on the issue other than screaming at the other side, however.  I don’t see people running out to offer refugees and immigrants a place to live in their own home.  Nor do I see much in terms of actions against immigrants and refugees other than headlines and social media storms.  There’s much room for discussion on this issue, but little substantive discussion seems to be occurring.   And I’ve yet to hear anyone honestly try to grapple with coming up with a solution that would be satisfactory (if not delightful) to both sides.

The issue of sanctuary is one way this fight is playing out on the ground.  Cities have been fond of insisting that they are places of sanctuary – where Federal immigration laws will not be enforced and nobody will be deported from their precincts.  While this issue has gotten attention because of a couple of illegal immigrants who perpetrated violent crimes in the past couple of years, I think that’s ultimately a red herring.  There are dangerous and violent immigrants and refugees just like there are dangerous and violent citizens and people born legally in this country.  Violence is always lamentable but it is a distraction from dealing with the issue at hand – how do we control who comes into our country?  Arguing that we must enforce immigration law because of the possibility of violent people entering our borders, or arguing that such cases are very rare and therefore we should not enforce our immigration laws is a sideshow.  The main issue is our immigration laws.  Either they work or they don’t.  Either they reflect what we as a nation want or they don’t.  If they don’t, we should work to amend or replace them.  If they do, we need to enforce them regardless of whether the people involved are violent or not.

Sanctuary cities are coming under fire from the Federal government, which under President Trump has indicated that it won’t hesitate to cut Federal funding and subsidies to cities that openly violate or refuse to enforce Federal law.  This makes sense to me.  We don’t get to pick and choose which laws we obey or we don’t obey.  Private citizens can’t do this so I don’t see why cities should be able to.  Some cities have reversed their sanctuary stance pretty quickly.  Understandably so.  Talk is a lot less expensive than losing money you need to fund your projects for your citizens.

However, in my progressive state, this attempt to draw cities into line with Federal law is being met with increased resistance, to the point that now the entire state of California could become a ‘sanctuary state’, funded by tax-payer dollars.  SB 6 as I understand it would allow the use of county and city tax monies to provide legal representation to people illegally in our country and state, to prevent them from being deported as per Federal immigration laws.  While this has always been an option through non-profit organizations (which I have no problem with and hope they do their jobs well), the change is that now public tax dollars would be made available for such legal defenses.  I have a huge problem with this.

We’re constantly being told that there isn’t enough money to fund infrastructure projects or education or health care or any number of other important matters.  We’re constantly being subjected to new taxes and bonds in order to pay for these things.  Yet now cities and counties can take the money I pay them in taxes in order to defend people who are breaking the law?

I understand that immigration is complicated.  I understand that people sometimes get caught up in unfortunate situations.  I understand that families are threatened by deportation. I do not like any of these realities.

But if that is what we are concerned about, then we need to spend our money to come up with an immigration policy that works.  Simply throwing taxpayer money down a literally bottomless hole of legislation and legal proceedings on behalf of illegal immigrants will not change policy.  It will not protect the people it alleges to protect, because they will still be at risk of needing such legal representation because the immigration laws don’t change.  At best, this is a delay tactic, a waiting game in hopes that the next president won’t enforce immigration laws.  At worst, it’s a flagrant misuse of taxpayer money that enriches nobody other than the lawyers taking the cases.  Nothing changes, nothing improves, and the problems simply grow and grow and grow.

This is not a new problem.  We’ve been dealing with it for decades.  We still don’t have a good solution.  I should not have to pay more taxes in order to support sanctuary policies that don’t change or improve the situation at all.  This is irresponsible partisan grandstanding.  Both sides are guilty of it, because both sides claim to be unhappy in our current immigration system but are opposed to working in a bi-partisan manner to come up with a solution.  Neither the solution of let everybody/anybody in or keep everybody/anybody out is tenable, nor is it actually desirable by either side, regardless of the polemical headlines.  What we need is a sensible policy that deals with future immigrants while taking into account people who, because of our convoluted policy and enforcement issues, have built their lives in this country.

Close Calls

January 31, 2017

A good reminder of the difficulties Christians face in many parts of the world.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

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.