Monday, June 29, 2015

Independence Day

As the parades march down the roads of towns and villages across the county, as we prepare cookouts, and then wander down to our parks for the fireworks it is easy to get caught up in the festivities, our families and our communities.  We may sing some songs, we will drink some beer, and we will wave some flags, but will we spend any time considering how we became a nation and the courage the founding fathers showed?

We get all caught up in the politics of today with distinctions between liberal, progressive and conservative.  I am not sure the meanings we use today would match the definitions used in the past, but I think one thing is unmistakable.  The men who joined together to alter the path of empire, and the individuals in the country who joined with them were bound by a vision of the future we can only envy today.  They were progressive beyond anything we are willing to accept in their willingness to challenge the norm.  They were liberal in a way we cannot conceive where the ideas a new way were debated.  Where tolerance for opposing ideas were shown in every debate and everything was challenged and minds changed in debate as we faced a common hardship.  
 The one thing they were not was conservative in their views of government, but they bent to accommodate those who were, recognizing that change is only institutionalized if the majority agrees.  The religious differences were as strong then as today, but they recognized that to survive and prosper civil government and the church must be separate.

Today those have issue with the churches seek to use the government as a bludgeon against those institutions.

So what do we celebrate this Independence Day?  Is it a time to reflect on our commonality, or demand we recognize our differences?  If we focus on the later, then I am afraid the number of future Independence Day celebrations will be limited.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015


It has been an interesting week.  Just a couple of thoughts on the decisions handed down from the bench by the Supreme Court of the United States.   First in the decision in King v. Burwell the court held by a vote of 6 to 3 that words plainly written don’t really mean what they say and that if necessary can be made to mean what they want.

In Chief Justice Robert’s majority opinion plaintiff’s case rests on the meaning of the term “an Exchange established by the State under [42 U. S. C. §18031]” and as he says “In other words, three things must be true: First, the individual must enroll in an insurance plan through ‘an Exchange.’ Second, that Exchange must be ‘established by the State.’ And third, that Exchange must be established ‘under [42 U. S. C. §18031].’”

The majority finds that “an Exchange established by the State” really means any exchange whether established by the State or the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  They find rational for this in noting that the bill has a number of poorly worded sections leading to ambiguity, because it was written in secret (behind closed doors) and not thoroughly debated, as has been the normal expectation of a law.  I would just point out the reason this law has been challenged is precisely for that reason, the people and their representatives did not have adequate time to vet the law and its impact.

Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Alito, in his dissent notes, “Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is ‘established by the State.’ It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words ‘established by the State.’ And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words ‘by the State’ other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges.”

The court has shown in previous rulings its support of this law, and it continues to do so, reflecting a position that laws its Justices like are treated differently than laws they don’t.  When necessary, they will rationalize away troublesome statements if it furthers a desired social end.

Which brings us to Obergefell v Hodges.  In this case the plaintiffs challenged the states of Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky over their definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  The court held in a five to four ruling that plaintiffs were guaranteed the right to marry under the protection of the 14th amendment.  Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  While Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito all wrote dissenting opinions (with a lot of joining of each other)

Justice Kennedy notes in his opinion, “the history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.  Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.”  The majority further notes “… lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

Chief Justice Roberts offers an interesting dissent that speaks to the overreach of the majority acting in the role of a legislature in defining marriage.  I agree with his closing statement. “If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it. I respectfully dissent.”

Justice Scalia in his dissent also reflects my concern that the court, in order to achieve a desired social outcome has put an end to the democratic process we all have a role in.

“Until the courts put a stop to it, public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best. Individuals on both sides of the issue passionately, but respectfully, attempted to persuade their fellow citizens to accept their views. Americans considered the arguments and put the question to a vote. The electorates of 11 States, either directly or through their representatives, chose to expand the traditional definition of marriage. Many more decided not to. Win or lose, advocates for both sides continued pressing

their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss can be negated by a later electoral win. That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work.”

Justice Scalia points out with this ruling, “No matter what it was the People ratified, the Fourteenth Amendment protects those rights that the Judiciary, in its “reasoned judgment,” thinks the Fourteenth Amendment ought to protect, and therefore the court takes on to itself the moral judge for the nation.  Rather than expect that the People will modify the Constitution or write sound law the nine justices of the Supreme Court will lead the nation.

Justice Thomas takes a more libertarian view of the majorities overreach stating, “Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits.”  He also voices a concern over the inevitable impingement on the religious freedoms this nation has long prided itself on.

Justice Alito also voices his concern over the Court’s decision to interject itself into the political debate and the potential for future overreach based on this decision.

So is this how we begin the destruction of the representative democracy in the United States?  Perhaps, or not, but I am sure of one thing.  Just as we have seen in Roe v Wade, the best intentions of the Justices will lead to conflict and division within the Nation that will not go away just because they will it to.  It will also not end with this definition of marriage as the union between two people.  It is simply a matter of time before some other group seeks a broader definition in the name of personal liberty, makes enough noise, and the court, convinced they know what is best grants it.

What is most disturbing is the belief by the majority that trampling on the meaning of words, specifically the words of our Constitution are justified by the end.  For me this is a parallel to the Senate of Roman anointing an emperor and letting him rule by fiat.  We seem to be heading down the path where majority rule is a quaint but archaic concept.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thoughts on Charleston

It amazes me how easily we become enamored by a catchy saying made by authority figures. We fall into lock step with those who would have things exactly their way and become the vocal army they build the illusion of leading.

In today’s America we see forces building and leveraging the core hatred and racial prejudice that Dr. King gave his life to overcome.

In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” Dr. King notes.

“In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.”

He goes on to describe the difference be just laws and unjust laws as

“An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.”

So we come to the present.  Our federal and state institutions have made strides forward in protecting the rights of the Negro, or Black, or African-American, but still – every day their uniqueness is made the central issue of any story.  Dr. King struggled to bring equality to the African-American community; until those we allow to lead us truly believe in equality it will not happen.  I find neither party truly supports the equality of the races.  The Democrats would have them become wards of the state through dependence on welfare, while the Republicans have lost sight of their foundational beliefs, and having gained the traditional white southern Democrats as members, seek to maintain the status quo. 

Again as Dr. King noted in his letter.

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Between these two factions grows the ignorance and intolerance of racial hatred.

Today Charleston South Carolina grieves because a racist young terrorist or thug went into a house of God and took the lives of nine worshipers. Everyone from the President on down has made comment on this, but what I see is a difference in America that is subtle, and should be unmistakable.  Within hours of this horrific event the authorities identified, tracked down, and captured the perpetrator.  How different than what Dr. King experienced in the church bombings of the 60’s where the state authorities actually helped cover-up the evidence?  Unfortunately, so many choose to use our differences to divide and gain advantage that we are unlikely to appreciate the evolution.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


A Few Thoughts on Education
There is an old adage, “Be careful for what you ask for, you may get it.”  I was reminded of that this morning when I saw a complaint that education budget cuts were leading to the elimination of music from the public school system.
Just for the record, I can’t remember the last time I saw an education budget cut.  Where, on a large scale basis, the funding for a school district was smaller this year than it was last.  As in all things government, if we don’t continuously fund everything, those who are unhappy claim it is a budget cut rather than a funding priority and they are lower on the list then all the other things.
So we come to the issue of music and art education.  For at least the past thirty years there has been a fervent drum beat by educators, industry, politicians and parents that American youth were lagging behind the rest of the developed world in education.  We must focus on improving the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM curriculum, and we have done so at the expense of other programs like art, music and physical education.
We have moved from the principles of Aristotle where we focused on development of the whole.  Today we push almost everyone who will fit -- into one of the neat little STEM pigeonholes.  Competing with this is the cost of education where school districts must make the hard choices on what they will fund with the dollars available.  So given the choice of buying computers, increasing teacher salaries, or hiring a bandleader, too many schools are forced to buy the hardware and sacrifice the latter. 
Then we have the continuing argument over the value of education and what and who should pay for it.  We want the very best, but we ask so much from our governments that they either have to borrow to pay for it, or sacrifice and pay for what they can.  In the case of the Federal government we obviously borrow everything to try and make everyone happy, but local and state governments are not so lucky.
It would be nice if there were a clean, easy to understand, solution but there is not.  Too many competing interests overshadow the individual needs of the student and the value of holistic education versus job training.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...