Shame, Tears, and a Broken Heart

Tonight I was having a bit of fun, working on a post about flying cars, when a news flash came across my screen and I found myself suddenly overwhelmed … with sadness, with tears, with grief for a man I never knew.  Then with rage, and a sense that there is no place left for soft, squishy hearts like mine in this world any more.

Despite the best efforts of humanitarians, lawyers, and courts around the nation, the lowly, trashy state of Arkansas performed its 4th execution in as many days, mainly in order to use up a supply of killing drugs whose expiry date was near.  I’m sorry, but you will have to wait until this afternoon to read about flying cars, for I am still sobbing, broken-hearted, and wishing, not for the first time in the past two years, that I was almost any other nationality.  Right at this particular moment, I absolutely despise my country and what it has allowed to happen.  Tonight my heart is so broken …

“Arkansas executed a death-row inmate late Thursday night in the state’s fourth lethal injection in eight days, concluding a frantic execution schedule officials said was necessary in order to carry out death sentences before one of their drugs expired.” 

I make no apologies for what I am about to say.  I hope … I sincerely hope … that every single person involved in the decision to execute four men, to take four lives, because they did not wish their drugs to reach expiry date … I wish that each and every person involved in this decision dies a slow, painful death within the next month!  I hope they lose limbs, become paralyzed, lose their eyesight, and are left with machines to breathe for them.

I want to hit someone … I want to kick … I want to lash out … but there is only Miss Goose and the Significant Seven, none of whom would choose to murder a fellow human being.

Within the industrialized world, the U.S. is one of only four nations that stubbornly clings to the death penalty.  We are in great company, the other three being Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan. The European Union holds a strong position against the death penalty; its abolition is a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy. Abolition is also a pre-condition for entry into the Union. But the U.S. … oh, the U.S. is so sure it holds the key to righteousness.

The execution of Kenneth Williams tonight came after his attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he was intellectually disabled and not fit to be executed. But the almighty right-white in Arkansas knew better … they are, after all, the almighty right-white. Relatives of one of Williams’s victims pled for his life, calling on the governor to call off the execution. But the almighty right-white persisted.  U.S. Supreme Court justices, shortly after 10 p.m., denied the requests without explanation.

The United States has now shown itself to be the most barbaric nation among the developed western nations, and I am no longer proud of this country.  I have, for the past year-and-a-half railed against the intrusion of a highly unqualified senior administration, starting with Donald Trump and working its way down through advisors and cabinet members.  But you know what?  Tonight, I think perhaps this barbaric, inhumane nation got exactly what it deserves.

R.I.P., Mr. Williams.  I apologize, on behalf of all my barbaric countrymen.  😥  There is obviously more to this story, and Filosofa will be back with … the rest of the story … one day.  But for now, I cannot … just … cannot.

Tax Plan Belongs In The Trash Can

It would appear that Trump’s “top economic advisors” are not too smart.  Either that, or they think we are not too smart.  Either way, his “tax plan” is a piece of garbage that should not stand a chance of passing in Congress.

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When President Reagan did it in 1981, it was called “trickle-down” economics. It looked great on paper … only problem was, it did not, in fact, ‘trickle down’.  It did not work then, and it is just as unlikely to work now.  Economists outside the White House agree that this tax plan would almost certainly raise the federal deficit by as much as $7 trillion over the next ten years. Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, two of Trump’s top financial advisors (both former Goldman Sachs bankers, as it were) claim that the deficit will be offset by economic growth, but that is a fantasy of their own imaginations. The entire plan is designed to benefit large corporations, such as the ones owned by Trump, himself, and the wealthy, such as Trump, himself, as well as Cohn and Mnuchin.

According to a New York Times article, here are the winners & losers under the plan:

Winners:

  • Businesses with high tax rates.
  • High-income earners.
  • People with creative accountants.
  • Multimillionaires who want to pass money to their heirs tax-free.
  • People who still fill out their tax returns by hand.
  • Retailers and other companies that feared a “border adjustment tax.”
  • Donald J. Trump.

Losers:

  • Upper-middle-income people in blue states.
  • Deficit hawks.
  • People who want Congress to pass something.

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One of the most ironic things to note is that under this plan, corporations would not have to pay taxes on their foreign profits, an unusual proposal for a president who has championed an “America first” approach and railed against companies that move jobs and resources overseas. But then, Trump himself has significant overseas interests, so I leave the rest to your imagination.

Nicholas Kristof’s column today said it best:

What do you do if you’re a historically unpopular new president, with a record low approval rating by 14 points, facing investigations into the way Russia helped you get elected, with the media judging your first 100 days in office as the weakest of any modern president?

Why, you announce a tax cut!

And in your self-absorbed way, you announce a tax cut that will hugely benefit yourself. Imagine those millions saved! You feel better already!

This isn’t about “jobs,” as the White House claims. If it were, it might cut employment taxes, which genuinely do discourage hiring. Rather, it’s about huge payouts to the wealthiest Americans — and deficits be damned! If Republicans embrace this “plan” after all their hand-wringing about deficits and debt, we should build a Grand Monument to Hypocrisy in their honor.

This isn’t tax policy; it’s a heist.”

Throughout his campaign, Trump swore to bring down the national debt, ranting that President Obama had ‘doubled the debt’, and that he, Trump, would reduce the deficit.  Trump’s tax plan comes with very few details, so it is difficult to assess, however a number of leading economists have reviewed the framework and here is what they have said:

“We’ve only done the rough numbers, but this looks like a tax cut of a magnitude of about $5 trillion. That is simply unimaginable given our fiscal situation and the size of the deficit, which is already the worst since World War II.Who doesn’t love a tax cut, especially if no one has to pay for it? This is a free-lunch mentality. ” – Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

“Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady must be beside themselves in private. They put in years of work on a tax reform plan that at least tried to be revenue-neutral, and wouldn’t explode the deficit.” – Leonard E. Burman, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

“Mr. Trump’s plan basically is tax cuts for everyone. Real reform, with revenue neutrality, is difficult. There are winners and losers, but Trump apparently just wants winners.” – Steven M. Rosenthal, a business tax expert and senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

“I want a plan that’s focused on growth as much as anyone. But these tax cuts are not going to pay for themselves. If you believe that, you’re kidding yourself.” – Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office and is now president of the American Action Forum

The bottom line is that the tax plan as it was presented to Congress, with unrealistic goals and almost no detail, is not going to be passed in either branch of Congress.  If Trump was hoping for another “achievement” to add to his “first 100 days list”, he is likely to be sorely disappointed.  Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, and Gary Cohn, Trump’s senior economic advisor, are going to have to do a much better job than this.

I suspect that this ‘plan’, if one can call it that, was a rush job, as Trump has actually spent his ‘first 100 days’ more concerned about getting his travel ban executed, deporting immigrants, destroying environmental protection controls, insulting our allies, threatening our enemies, and erasing all legislation passed under President Obama.  This tax plan has no earmarks of a thought process, but merely a fantasy devised in a very short period of time with no link to reality.  Back to the drawing board, Donnie … this one stinks!

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Health Care, Anyone???

med-6They’re at it again. The members of Congress who we elected to represent our best interests have forgotten us.  Remember the health care bill that had so little support in Congress that last month House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill without a vote?  Well, it’s baaaaccckk.  Congress may vote on the revised bill as early as Friday.  Guess what?  As I am given to understand, the revisions do nothing to help you … or me … or anybody who is older, has health issues, or cannot afford insurance.  It will still enable the insurance companies to deny us maternity care, mental health care, and other basic medical services. It will also make insurance cost-prohibitive for those of us with pre-existing conditions. And it will still deny affordable health care to some 24 million people. The only thing that has changed from last month’s bill is that it is even more restrictive to the average citizen. The changes were made, not with We The People in mind, but rather with the far-right “Freedom Caucus” who objected to the original bill, saying it did not go far enough in taking affordable healthcare from the average person.

Fellow-blogger Tea Pain said it best in a recent tweet:  “All it took was proof that more poor people would suffer and the Freedom Caucus was all in.”

On Friday, March 24th, realizing that there were not enough supporters to reach the magic 216 votes required for the bill to pass, Paul Ryan informed Trump that he was pulling the bill from the floor … no vote would be taken.  At the time, Trump said he would ‘walk away from health care reform’ if he did not get a vote.  The morning after, he tweeted: “Obamacare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great health care plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!”  But by the next day he had apparently gotten over his bruised ego and tweeted: “I’m going back to it. I’m not going to give it up,”

Paul Ryan, also seeming to concede defeat, said, “I don’t know what else to say other than Obamacare is the law of the land. It’ll remain law of the land until it’s replaced,” he said. “We’re going to be living with Obamacre for the foreseeable future.”

med-3And most of us breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that now there was an opportunity to make some changes to ACA, to fix what was broken without having to worry that a new health care law would rob many of us.  But alas, it did not take long for Trump to change his mind about that, as he has done so many things. Just last Friday, 21 April, he said, “This is a great bill. This is a great plan. And this will be great health care. It’s evolving, you know, there was never a give-up. The press sort of reported there was, like, a give-up. There’s no give-up, we started. Remember, it took Obamacare 17 months.”

The bill reportedly does not appear to vary significantly from the one proposed in March, but it seems that some re-working was done in order to satisfy the ‘Freedom Caucus’.  It appears to have worked, as Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows is said to be in support of the latest bill.

Now, I have a few observations on this (surprised, aren’t you?).

  • repair-houseIf you own a home, it’s an older home and in need of some repairs, but the foundation is sturdy and the repairs are minor … a bit of plumbing upgrades, some paint here and there, some new weatherstripping, and perhaps a new furnace. Do you repair the home, or raze it and build a new one?  Me?  I repair the old one.  It’s why I was still driving a 1988 Olds until a year ago … I can make a heck of a lot of repairs for the price of a new car.  Or house.  The same can be said of ACA (Obamacare) … it has a strong foundation and has served millions of people well in being able to obtain medical care they would not otherwise have been able to do.  But Trump is absolutely hell-bent and determined to raze ACA and build a health care plan of his making.  The primary reason, I believe, is that he is aware that even with modifications, ACA will always be considered Obamacare, and it is his goal to erase the name of Obama from anything and everything.  We all know that he likes seeing his name on things. This, friends, is NOT a good justification for robbing some 24 million people of their health insurance.  It is pandering to the ego of a 70-year-old child who should have our best interests at heart, but does not.

  • Each member of Congress was given that job because We The People voted them into office. And yet, it is not We The People to whom they are listening.  According to the New York Times, “Senior White House officials, led by Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, have relentlessly pressed Republicans to revive the health care push before Mr. Trump’s hundred-day mark.” According to one White House official, “The President was saying, ‘We have to get a win,’ and that was his pitch. He said ‘No one is getting what they want here, but we have to get a deal, we have to get a win.’” Does this sound like a president whose greatest concern is the people of his country? No, for Trump it is about HIM winning, not the country or its people … only Trump.

  • med-4Doubts remain whether the House can muster the necessary 216 votes to pass the bill, since the amendments that satisfied the far right do nothing to ease the concerns of the more moderate Republicans or the Democrats. But even if it does pass the House, it stands a snowball’s chance in hell of passing in the Senate, and Trump is well aware of this.  The margin between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate is much narrower than in the House, and this bill will not pass the Senate.    But that is not the point, for Trump.  Although he claims that the 100-day mark has no meaning, he is, once again, lying.  He cares only that this bill pass the House so that he can add it to what he calls his ‘list of accomplishments’ in the first 100 days.  It will be an empty win, if it passes, but Trump does not care about that at this point.

med-7You will be happy to know that there is a bright spot in the revised bill. One part of the new proposal would protect health insurance for members of Congress. This provision guarantees that lawmakers would not lose “essential health benefits” and could not be charged higher premiums because of their health status.  Meanwhile, back here in the rest of the nation, those of us with pre-existing conditions can be charged up to five times the normal rate for health care premiums.

I plan to make some phone calls and write some letters to my elected representatives today … just to touch base and let them know my feelings on this.

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And Then In India …. Enforced Sobriety?

Monday-no-wineArticle 47 of the Constitution of India states, “….  the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”. The laws which regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol vary significantly from state to state, with only four states implementing full prohibition.  Each state changes from time to time … flip-flopping from full prohibition to modified prohibition to no prohibition at all.  Now, I see you scratching your heads and wondering why Filosofa cares about the state of prohibition in India, but bear with me here …

In spite of legal restrictions, alcohol consumption in India has risen more than 55% over a period of 20 years, and drunk drivers are said to account for as much as 70% of India’s road deaths each year.  So, the government of India decided to make a change.  An Indian supreme court judgment delivered in December and enforced since 1 April has banned the sale of alcohol within 500 metres (about one-third of a mile) of India’s state and national highways. The original Supreme Court ruling in December appeared to apply only to shops. But on March 31, just hours before the ban was due to take effect, the court said restaurants and bars would also have to comply.

Never let it be said that the people of India are not resourceful!

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The maze built outside the Aishwarya Restrobar in Kerala state extends the distance between its entrance and the nearest highway. In Rajasthan, hundreds of miles of formerly state highways have been reclassified as urban roads. Administrators have ordered the same in Mahrashtra, West Bengal and several other states and territories. Roads in Gurgaon, a hub for technology companies, malls and high-rises south of Delhi, have reportedly been barricaded, increasing the “motorable distance” between a major expressway and some pubs and hotels in the city. All efforts to skirt the court’s order are a showcase of what Indians call “jugaad”, their famous ingenuity in the face of legal or physical barriers.

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Now obviously these measures to skirt the new law are doomed to failure if the government is serious about upholding the new law, but business owners and states are claiming that the timing of such changes is purely coincidental.

Shiv Lahari Sharma, an engineer with the Rajasthan government, told the Times of India that the mass reclassification of roads in his state in April was a coincidence. “Our mandate is to construct and maintain roads,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the SC ruling on liquor shops.”

India-peopleIn Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub business park, 34 bars and pubs are awaiting a ruling on whether they can remain open. The entrance to the park was shifted in early April from one side, perilously close to the highway, to another more than 2km away. But this, too, was simply good timing, said Mukesh Yadav, a manager at the site. “It’s not to get around the ban,” he said. Instead the entrance was moved to comply with an underpass that happened to open the day the liquor ban came into effect.

Those who have been less innovative, however, are suffering under the new law. A manager for India’s most acclaimed restaurant, Delhi’s Indian Accent, said daily revenue had fallen by 100,000 rupees (about $1,550).  The restaurant even had to stop serving is chocolate rum ball! Customers have cancelled bookings made months in advance. A spokeswoman for the restaurant said it was appealing to authorities to find another way of measuring the distance.

“Just in [rough] terms we are looking at close to about $10 billion worth of annual revenue loss in front of our eyes right now,” said Rahul Singh, honorary secretary of the National Restaurant Association of India. “We’re talking about hotels and restaurants and clubs and golf clubs and even armed forces [clubs]. We serve beer. Yes, we have food and snacks, but people come to have beer and then they have food with it. Beer first, food later.”

Meanwhile, the Times of India reports that on Saturday night the prohibition and excise department’s enforcement wing conducted surprise raids and booked 58 cases against 30 commercial establishments.

It is anybody’s guess how seriously this law will be enforced.  And the reason for this post?  I just wanted to have some fun and write about something other than the gloomy state of affairs in U.S. politics.  🙂

Good People Doing Good Things – Lots Of ‘Em …

When I first began this Wednesday morning Good People Doing Good Things feature, I wasn’t sure how long I could keep it going.  I feared I would run out of ‘Good People’ after only a few weeks, or that people would find it boring.  Neither of those have come to pass.  The only times I have struggled to find those good people were when my own mood was too dark to open my heart, and my readers have been very positive, some even looking forward to Wednesday mornings for this reason.  Even the posts that I deemed only mediocre garnered enthusiasm.  I think we are at a point, in the U.S. and abroad, that we need to see that there are good people doing good things for others, despite all the gloom and doom of the multiple issues threatening our planet, our nations and our lives.  Moving on … today I am focusing, once again, on people who are not wealthy in terms of material possessions, but who are wealthy in the most important of ways, in their hearts and spirits.


Ever hear of a man named Rick Steves?  I had not until this week, but apparently he is well-known among those who watch travel shows.  According to Wikipedia, he is an American author and television personality focusing on European travel. He is the host of the American Public Television series Rick Steves’ Europe, has a public radio travel show called Travel with Rick Steves and has authored numerous travel guides.  But that is not all Mr. Steves does …

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Young Rick Steves

As a teen backpacking through Europe, a journey he refers to as “Europe Through the Gutter,” he slept on trains, ferries, the pews of Greek churches, the concrete floors of Dutch construction projects, and in barns at the edge of unaffordable Swiss alpine resorts. Early in his life, he came to appreciate the value of a safe and comfortable place to sleep.

Steves worked his way up in the travel business, teaching classes, writing travel guides, consulting, organizing group tours, and a storefront business. Eventually, in 1991, came his first television show.  For all his hard work, Steves was making a decent living, but he never lost sight of the important things in life.

Wed-Steves-1In 2005, Steves constructed a 24-unit apartment complex in Lynnwood, Washington, called Trinity Way and administrated by the local YWCA, to provide transitional housing for homeless mothers and their children. Members of the Edmonds Noontime Rotary Club help maintain the buildings and grounds, providing everything from furniture to flowers. The club also raised $30,000 to build a play structure for the children there.

“Imagine the joy of knowing that I could provide a simple two-bedroom apartment for a mom and her kids as she fought to get her life back on track.”

Steves also raises funds for the hunger advocacy group Bread for the World. A supporter of the Arts, he gave $1 million to the Edmonds Center for the Arts and Cascade Symphony Orchestra. Just this year, on January 20th, inauguration day, Steves donated $50,000 to the ACLU.  This is a man who obviously cares about people more than profit.

Oh, and that 24-unit apartment complex?  He recently donated it to the YMCA to continue the work he began.


This next story has multiple good people doing good things …

Two years ago, a man named Eugene Yoon, inspired by philanthropist talk show host Ellen Degeneres, had a strange feeling that he was being called to do a random act of kindness for a stranger.

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Eugene Yoon

Arthur Renowitzky was paralyzed when shot by a mugger in the parking lot of a San Francisco nightclub in 2007. Refusing to accept a doctor’s assessment that he would likely never walk or talk again, Renowitzky has gone on to become a an advocate for the disabled, founding the non profit Life Goes On Foundation, speaking out against gun violence, and visiting newly paralyzed patients to reassure them that, indeed, life does go on.  “My message is simple: to keep pushing, life goes on and to never give up,” Renowitzky said.

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Wed-PerretteIn 2013, Renowitzky’s wheelchair was crushed by a hit-and-run driver.  Enter yet another good person, Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame, who saw a news story about the incident and bought Mr. Renowitzky a brand new wheelchair!

Fate sometimes moves in strange ways to bring people together.  It happened that one day Mr. Yoon was scrolling around Facebook and happened upon Mr. Renowitzky’s message.  “I reached out to him blindly and told him, ‘I’d like for you to achieve your dream of walking again.’ So, I pitched him this outlandish idea of walking the state of California to help him walk again!” Yoon said.

As it happened, Mr. Renowitzky had hopes of someday being able to purchase a device that would enable him to walk again, an exoskeleton from ReWalk Robotics that was designed to help paraplegics walk again – the only problem was that it cost $80,000.

Determined to earn the money, Eugene Yoon got the idea to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in order to raise awareness and money to help Arthur. He spent months getting into shape for the more than 2,600-mile journey from California’s border with Mexico the Canadian border. Yoon began his journey in April 2015 and reached the Canadian border in October of that year.  When he reached Acton, California, Mr. Renowitzky met up with him and provided some food and other supplies, saying, “There’s no way I can re-pay him. I’m forever grateful,”

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When he was midway through the state of Washington, two weeks before the completion of his hike, Yoon received word that the monetary goal had been reached and Mr. Renowitzky would be getting his exoskeleton.  “I can remember that moment like it was yesterday,” Yoon said. He recorded a video on the spot, screaming “We did it!” at the top of his lungs.

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The story, of course, does not end here.  Mr. Renowitzky continues his non-profit work through his Life Goes On Foundation.  He also spends much of his time advocating for an end to gun violence, having spoken to more than 100,000 youth on the dangers of gun violence and how they must have the strength to be good citizens and find positive ways to overcome their life obstacles.

Mr. Yoon continues helping people, one person at a time.  His latest venture is a man named Alberto who was struggling to make ends meet while taking care of his 24 family members.  Yoon hired Alberto as a seamster to start a clothing line called Kin Lov Gra (stands for Kindness Love Gratitude), which manufactures the Inside-Out T-shirt. The company’s stated goal:

“Every INSIDE-OUT T-SHIRT and INSIDE-OUT DENIM will support a lower-income family whom I met on Skid Row. Every item sold will help fund nine months of food, rent, and necessities. During the nine months, the low-income family will also be given a fair-paying employment opportunity under KIN LOV GRA so they will be able to create a savings for themselves. Once the nine months expire, they will be able to sustain themselves out of poverty through the savings they will have created.”

And as for Ms. Perrette, she supports many charitable organizations, including animal rescue organizations, the American Red Cross, civil rights organizations, and LGBT rights organizations. She once said, “I have learned the best cure for depression is forgiveness & doing random good deeds & acts of kindness to others.”


It really helps to read about people like this … helps put the rest of our worries and troubles into perspective, I think. I had a third story for this post, but I have already surpassed my self-imposed limit of 1,200 words, so I shall save the third for next week (besides which it is after 1:00 a.m. as I write this, and I might like to sleep sometime soon  🙂  )

Breaking News: WH Is Not Cooperating With U.S. Oversight Committee (Mike Flynn)

Never before, even during Watergate, even during Iran-contra, has there been as much blatant disregard for the law, as much blatant conflict-of-interest, as in the current administration. Blogger-friend Gronda has done an excellent job in recapping the latest in a long series of conflicts and ethics violations in the Trump administration. Please take a few minutes to read this synopsis, as I believe this has the potential to turn into a scandal of epic proportions in the coming days. Thank you, Gronda, for your excellent work and for permission to share!

Gronda Morin

Image result for images of elijah cummings Cummings/ Chaffetz

On 4/25/17, both the republican chair Jason Chafftez from Utah and the democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings from Georgia held a press conference to announce that the White House is refusing to cooperate with their investigation into the president’s former National Security Adviser ret. Lt. General Mike Flynn. The U.S, House Intelligence Committee members were requesting documents regarding what information the general disclosed as he was being vetted for this top post but the White House has refused to comply.

As per the 4/25/17 NCRM report by David Badash, “You Simply Cannot Take Money From Russia, Turkey, or Anybody Else’ Chaffetz Says

“House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings say it appears former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn took payments from Russia and Turkey and did not follow the law by asking for and receiving permission to do so. Chairman Chaffetz says if Flynn…

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Will SCOTUS Undermine Separation of Church & State?

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1802

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The case seems fairly simple, fairly straightforward, on the surface.

separation-3In the interest of child safety, Missouri provides a limited number of state grants to playground operators to replace hard surfaces with rubber. All was going well, until 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church, in the town of Columbia, applied for one of those grants and was turned down on the basis of Missouri’s Constitution, which bars spending any money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church.” The church sued, arguing that the prohibition violated both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Now, I could actually argue this one either way … there is no clear-cut right or wrong here … it is truly a matter of conflicting Constitutional clauses.  The church’s argument that to deny them funds for their playground is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, has merit. The Equal Protection Clause states:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

On the other hand, I could just as easily side with the argument of the State of Missouri, whose constitution bars spending public money “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church,” and the state Supreme Court has called for “a very high wall between church and state.” 

It might seem to the casual observer that, for the small amount of money we are discussing, and the fact that the safety of children is involved, it would be a simple enough solution for the State of Missouri to give the church the grant, rather than use precious resources (time & money) to hear the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.  But beneath the surface, this case could open doors that could lead to the erosion of one of the basic principles in the First Amendment, Separation of Church and State.

While it is true that the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, said government should not “force a citizen to contribute three pence only” in support of a religion. If it does, both sides are harmed — religions and sects battle each other for government cash, while the state finds itself forced to meddle in religious affairs, where it has no business. And of course, you can see Thomas Jefferson’s quote at the start of this post.

separation-2What are those doors this case could open?  There are so many.  Let us start with the simplest, the core of this case, grants to upgrade playgrounds.  So, if Trinity Lutheran Church prevails, then others will also seek grants from the state.  Okay, fine, you say … but what happens when a Jewish Synagogue requests a grant?  Missouri is 85% white, 77% Christian, with less than 1% of its population Jewish.  How do you think those white Christians will feel about their tax dollars going to upgrade playgrounds at Synagogues in this day of increased anti-Semitism?  Now let us go a step further … what happens when a Mosque requests a grant in this predominantly white, Christian state, at taxpayer’s expense?

Under newly appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, school vouchers are likely to become an issue along these same lines. The decision in Trinity Lutheran could influence the debate over school vouchers. “For a long time, it was thought that the federal Establishment Clause stood in the way of school-voucher programs that allowed religious institutions to participate,” said Rick Garnett, a professor of law and political science at Notre Dame University. “Over time, in the late ’80s and through the ’90s, the court’s doctrine evolved.” In the early 2000s, he said, the Supreme Court ruled that the Establishment Clause doesn’t allow the government to directly fund religious activities, but it’s not a problem if people use state-funded vouchers to attend private religious schools. That could all change, depending on the ruling of the Supreme Court in this case.

And then there is another angle. Lambda Legal, the LGBT-rights advocacy firm, argued in a brief that a decision in favor of Trinity Lutheran could lead to discrimination against the LGBT community. Some churches “don’t wish to serve everybody,” said Camilla Taylor, a senior counselor at the firm. If the states provide grants to churches like Trinity Lutheran, “government funds will then be used to provide social services on a discriminatory basis.” 

It is, in essence, a highly-charged slippery-slope argument.  Where do you draw the line?  If government funds are provided to one church … any one single church or religious establishment … then they must equally be provided to all.  Do we really want to start down this slippery slope?  And do we want to tie up state and federal legislators, not to mention the entire court system, debating where to draw the line, or how to deal with these issues?  I think not.

In 2014, the Supreme Court heard the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., in which Hobby Lobby objected to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraceptive coverage to female employees. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby, allowing closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a regulation its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. It was the first time that the court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief, but it is limited to closely held corporations.

There are three central concepts derived from the 1st Amendment which became America’s doctrine for church-state separation: no coercion in religious matters, no expectation to support a religion against one’s will, and religious liberty encompasses all religions. There is also a three-pronged test to determine whether government action comports with the Establishment Clause, known as the “Lemon Test”. First, the law or policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose. Second, the principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.  It is my belief that the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer meets the first two criteria, but not the third.  I foresee future struggles, if this case is decided in favour of Trinity Lutheran, that would lead to far more ‘entanglement’ than would be economical or feasible for this nation, and would only add to the divisiveness that is so prevalent today.  Of course, I am not a Supreme Court Justice, so my opinion does not count, but this will be the first case that newly-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch will hear as a Supreme Court Justice.  There is little doubt how he will vote. The appeals court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case was joined by none other than Neil Gorsuch, who also wrote a separate concurrence. From what I have read, it appears that the outcome is likely to be in favour of the church, as only two of the Justices seemed strongly inclined to rule against.

My hope, if the court rules in favour of the church, is that the decision is written in such a way as to narrowly limit future cases of this nature.  It is one to watch.

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American Civil War Redux

The new American Civil War is not about slavery, but it contains undertones of racism.  It is not neatly divided along an imaginary line such as the Mason-Dixon line, but the divide is a much finer line, splitting homes, schools, families, and workplaces.  As was the case in the 1860s, there is no middle ground.  There are no soldiers in uniforms carrying guns, yet, but there are the media, both mainstream and social.  I have dubbed this war ‘The Great Divide’, and not since the civil rights era has this nation been so ideologically divided.

Trump’s dilemma, of which he is seemingly unaware, is how to unite the people of this nation.  Trump claims that he did not create the divide, and in that he is right.  America has always had a political divide; one that was probably at its smallest in the years immediately following World War II, when the nation came together in relief and the beginnings of a new prosperity.  But since the origination of the so-called Tea Party movement in 2009, the divide has been growing exponentially.  Ostensibly, the movement is in opposition to excessive taxation and government intervention in the private sector while supporting stronger immigration controls.  But beneath the surface, there are undertones of bigotry.  The beginning of the movement can be traced back to 19 February 2009, less than a month after the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president.

With the divisiveness generated by the dissatisfaction of those associated with the Tea Party movement, the gap between right and left, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, began to widen.  The right swung farther to the right and the left pushed back by going farther to the left.  By the end of President Obama’s first term in 2013, there was no longer any noticeable middle ground, no moderates who might have been able to help bridge the gap.

During President Obama’s second term, the gap continued to widen, with Republicans in Congress determined to throw up barricades to any and all of the President’s policies, even those they agreed with in theory.  The term, A House Divided, came to be the reality of the U.S. government, with Congress accomplishing less and less each year, and the President barely able to direct any meaningful domestic policy.

Enter the 2016 election and one narcissistic, demagogue candidate whose only hope to win the election was to “divide and conquer”.  So no, Donald Trump did not cause the divide, however he widened the gap by a very large margin.  He ranted, lied, cheated and stole, figuring either that he would clean up the mess later, or that it would eventually take care of itself.  But guess what?  Since taking office, he has only added to the gap, without the slightest attempt to bring the two sides together.  Now, nearly one-third of the way through 2017, there is more hatred, more disruptiveness, more bigotry, and more divisiveness than at any time in the last 50 years.

Which brings me back to my original point:  Donald Trump has many problems facing him, however perhaps the biggest one is the society that he helped split into two radically differing sectors.  Yet, instead of attempting to be more moderate, to take into consideration the needs and ideologies of both sides, he is as a bulldozer, plowing his way through any who do not agree with him.  Those in his camp applaud, while those outside the camp only get angrier and feel more and more marginalized.

A president needs to be much more than a politician.  He must also be a statesman and a diplomat, for he answers to ALL the people, not just those of his party, not just those who voted for him, and not just those who nod their heads in agreement every time he opens his mouth.  He represents We The People, every single man, woman and child living in this nation, and if he forgets that, he is doomed to failure.  Donald Trump has not forgotten that … he just never understood it to begin with.

We have seen much destruction and devastation within our country in the past three months, and if Trump persists in his goals to build a wall, to deport refugees, to ban immigrants, to defund environmental protections, to defund public schools, to destroy the ACA, and to strip civil rights from minorities, there will indeed be a civil war in this nation.  Where President Obama worked toward creating transparency in government, Trump has pulled the curtains shut tightly.  Where President Obama sought inclusiveness for all, Trump’s policies are clearly exclusionary.

Thus far, the only thing that has halted major outbreaks of violence throughout the nation is the expectation by those of us on the left that the investigations into the Russian connections of Trump and his gang will ultimately result in charges of treason, and Trump will be impeached.  In the event that those investigations are somehow stifled, or go by the wayside without satisfactory results, there will be an internal war in the United States.  There will be riots such as have not been seen in 50 years, families will be split asunder, and people will die.

I gave this much thought before writing this post, and searched my own soul, asking myself if I was being an alarmist.  The end result, after weeks of thought, is that no, I am not an alarmist.  I am, just as I have always been, a realist.  I talk to people on both sides of the invisible fence, and I know that both are spoiling for a fight. And the Great Divide goes well beyond politics, beyond even ideology … it goes to the core of who we are.

At this point, there are no simple solutions, no panaceas, and it will require more than our elected representatives can do to fix the problem. It will require that each of us, no matter which side of the partisan aisle we support, find it in our hearts to remember our humanitarianism, to be flexible, to be willing to meet the other halfway.  However, Trump and Congress must be the drivers of any possible solution. If they fail to understand the magnitude of the problem, if they ignore the problem and further divide the nation, if they discount We The People, they have only themselves to blame for being short-sighted.  They will pay the price at the polls next year, but we will pay in the streets this year.  Think about it.

A Toxin Is In The Air!

I am fairly reclusive, but I do venture out now and then.  I like to walk 3-4 miles in the mornings, weather permitting, and on Saturdays, the family and I usually go out for an early dinner, then run errands, and once a week I do go grocery shopping.  Otherwise, I am generally happy to stay at home.  I have concluded, as of this morning, it is no longer safe for me to venture outside the walls of my home, as there is something in the air … something that is apparently highly toxic and quite contagious!  I don’t have a scientific term for it, but I have heard some refer to it as ‘Kool-Aid’, while still others have called it “Ostrich-Syndrome.

I have been reading some of the results of this toxic, presumably air-borne disease, and it is even more frightening than a plague!  The effects of this disease appear to be blindness, deafness, inability to comprehend even the simplest statements, and intellectual regression.  The evidence is in the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll taken this past week.  Let me share a few of the results so you can see what I mean.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?

42% approve, 53% disapprove, and the other 5% were apparently sleeping.  But what is interesting about this is that 48% of males approve, while only 35% of females do.  And men think they are the smarter sex?  HAH!  The other thing that caught my eye was 45% of college grads approve of the job he is doing, and 37% of post-graduate students.  This seriously messes with my previous assumptions that only the un-and-under-educated could possibly support him.

Q: Would you say Trump is doing a better job as president than you expected, a worse job, or what? Is that much better/worse or somewhat better/worse?

35% say he is doing better than expected (What? How?), 35% say he is doing worse than expected, and 26% say his is doing just about as expected, and 4% were still asleep..  Now take a closer look at that 26%. It turns out, about half of those are people who voted for Trump!  Think about that one … they certainly had low expectations, yet they voted for him anyway?  Again, among college grads, 32% think he is doing better than expected, and of those with post-graduate degrees, 27% think so.

Q: Is Trump keeping most of his major campaign promises, or not?

44% said ‘no’, 41% said ‘yes’, 8% said ‘some, but not all’, and 7% had now fallen asleep.  (Would somebody please tell me which ones he has kept?  Not, mind you, that I wanted him to keep them, because they were all bad ideas, but still … ) Of those who voted for Trump, 84% say he is keeping his campaign promises.

Q: Do you think Trump has the kind of judgment it takes to serve effectively as president, or not?

41% answered ‘yes’, 56% answered ‘no’, and 3% remain sleeping.

Q: Do you think Trump has the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president, or not?

38% answered ‘yes’, 59% answered ‘no’, the rest snoozed on.  Now, I am struggling to understand the 3% who think he has ‘the kind of judgment it takes to serve effectively as president’, yet they do not think he has the ‘kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president’??? Does not one rather hinge on the other, or am I missing something here?

Q: Do you think Trump is honest and trustworthy, or not?

38% replied ‘yes’, 58% replied ‘no’, and 4% are now snoring.  How the heck can you reply ‘yes’ to this question and still sleep with a clear conscience?  And how can you be ‘undecided’?  The ‘man’ has told more lies than Pinocchio, yet 38% find him to be ‘honest and trustworthy’!  Perhaps they are using an ‘alternative vocabulary’?

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There are a total of 21 questions, and I strongly recommend you view the entire survey.  It is among the best interactive surveys I have seen, as you can click ‘detailed view’ on any question and then sort the results by a variety of criteria, such as education level, gender, party affiliation, race, age, religion, region, etc.  Take a few minutes to look closer at the results.

In every case, ‘white evangelical Protestants’ answered the questions in Trump’s favour by a significantly higher than average ratio.  My best guess on this is they are pleased with such things as his rollback of some LGBT rights, with Betsy DeVos’ intention to use federal monies to fund private (read ‘religious’) schools, and with the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.  I still find it disturbing … it is almost as though they are not even living in the same country as the rest of us.

Though his overall approval rating remains at a record low and he is the least popular president in modern times, I am nonetheless astounded at those who continue to support him, even though they say he is not ‘in touch with the concerns of most people in the U.S.’  There has to be something in the air, as I know people cannot truly have become this blind to reality in just the past year.

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No, “Good Monday Morning” Is NOT An Oxymoron!!!

Good Monday morning, friends!  Did you awaken to the sound of birdies chirping outside your window this morning?  I heard from at least one blogger-friend yesterday who said he spent the first part of the day shoveling snow, so I guess most of us already have something to be thankful for!  I hope you all had a fine weekend.  Mine was pretty laid back, as my daughter was studying for exams, so I had some extra time to write and read … and of course, do laundry!  12-15 loads a week for just three people … sigh.  Anyway, let us see if we can start this week off with some smiles, okay?  Grab your wine coffee and pull up a chair!


I am ‘navigationally challenged’.  I can read a map, given enough time (15-20 minutes) and plenty of light.  I can follow directions … maybe … if they do not involve more than 2-3 turns.  So, when my friend H tried to teach me to use Google Maps, I thought that might be the solution to my directional issues.  And sometimes it is, but other times … well, on my recent trip to Pennsylvania, I set Google Maps for starting and ending points, and asked it to choose the fastest route.  It did its job, but since I could not hear the voice in the phone, I was constantly saying, “huh?”  The voice in the phone never repeated herself … apparently she doesn’t understand “huh?” And, she (I have come to think of my GPS as a ‘she’) helped me hit every toll booth in Pennsylvania!  Then, when I started home on Monday and asked her to reverse the directions, she said, ‘no route found’.  Did I somehow offend her? Fortunately, I am better at finding my way home than I am finding my way there, so I only went ½ hour out of my way!  Anyway, this post is not about me, but about Google Maps.

Monday-GoogleGuess what?  Sometimes Google Maps makes a mistake!  Such was the case in Australia last week when Michael McElwee began receiving mail for a local pizza parlor.  First it was mail, then it was people asking to fill out job applications, and then it was customers wanting to know where their pizzas were.  Turns out that Google Maps had incorrectly labeled his house as Cucina Sotto Le Stelle, a pizzeria located in a park near his home. “My daughter has been approached by people wanting to know what time we open,” he said. “I don’t know how many people have turned up at my house thinking it was a pizza place.”

monday-pizzaNow … wouldn’t you think that a person of average intelligence would look at the residential house and realize that it was not, in fact, a pizza parlor?  Have we come to rely so heavily on technology that we don’t bother to take our brains out of our pockets anymore?  Still, I would have loved to have been a mouse in the corner and seen the expression on his face when hungry people started showing up at his door demanding their pizzas!  Possibly he could have found a way to make a profit from it!


If you’re planning to be in southern California this summer and have some extra money burning a hole in your pocket, you may want to check out the Ice Cream Museum.  The museum features 10 exhibits and each room features the smells and tastes associated with ice cream desserts.  There is, for example, the Pool of Sprinkles …

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And the Banana Room …

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And let us not forget the melting-Popsicle jungle …

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It even features scratch ‘n sniff walls!  And of course there are samples, though each ticket entitles the holder to only two.  And speaking of tickets … the going price is $29 for adults, $18 for children and seniors.  Personally, I’d rather just make a trip to Ben and Jerry’s, but then what do I know?


And speaking of museums …

Opening in the next few weeks in Helsingborg, Sweden, is the Museum of Failures.  The museum is the brainchild of Samuel West, an organizational psychologist (whatever that is) and formerly an innovation researcher (I repeat, whatever that is) at Lund University in Sweden.  West says he tired of hearing about all the success stories and wondered, “So where are all these failures? Why do we only read about the successes?” Hence, he began looking for those inventions that never quite saw the light of day, and after several years, had amassed quite a collection.

The collection includes …

Harley Davidson “Hot Road” perfume

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Colgate Beef Lasagne

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A Monopoly-style Trump Board Game

MUSEUM OF FAILURE

A face mask that electrocutes you to keep you from getting wrinkles

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All in all, it sounds more interesting than the Ice Cream Museum.  I could not find out what the price of admission will be, but I know that it will be too steep for me, since it would include a plane ticket halfway around the world.  If any of my readers live in, or plan to visit Sweden … send me some pictures!


On April 15th, Emma Morano died.  Yes, I know this is supposed to be a humorous post, and yes, I know death isn’t funny, but I’m coming to the humorous part if you’ll give me a chance.  And for goodness sake, the woman was 117 years old and had not left her home for 15 years!  She was, it turns out, the last person alive (until April 15th, anyway) who lived in the 19th century!  Quite an accomplishment to live to be 117, yes?

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In a previous interview with the New York Times, when asked to what she credited her longevity, she replied that remaining single for most of her life is one of the reasons and that eating two raw eggs in the morning every day for 90 years was the other.  And here we’ve been told that raw eggs are bad for you!  Personally, I’m not so sure about the raw eggs … I don’t think I could get them past my lips, but I’ll drink a toast to staying single!


Filosofa’s Tip Of The Day:  Never give the cat watermelon.

Okay, folks … I’ve got work to do and so do you, so let us make it a great week!  Go share some humour with a friend or co-worker, give them a smile too.  Smiles and chuckles are not near as much fun if you keep them to yourself!  Have a safe and happy week!

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Filosofa does this ALL the time!

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