R E S P E C T

We have all had it happen.  We write a post with the best of intentions, with no harm intended, then BAM!  Out of the clear blue, commenters are blowing up our email boxes, chat pages, Facebook pages and blog comments. It can get ugly. Most of my writing is about politics, both domestic and international, and social issues such as bigotry, racism, gun regulation, education, etc.  Those are the things that interest me and the areas that I have the most knowledge about.  I also try to inject a humorous piece once or twice a week, because we all need to remember to take a deep breath and laugh sometimes.  Of late, a large portion of my writing has pertained to the U.S. political scene, because it is an election year, and frankly the craziest one in the history of our nation.  That said, it is inevitable that I will sometimes strike a nerve, step on a toe. Yesterday, I published two posts, both of which stirred volatile emotions, disrespect and the loss of at least one long-time friend, not here on WordPress, but on my Facebook page, on private chats, and via e-mail.  So, I am taking this opportunity to briefly put forth my thoughts on that.

Popeye-2First, I do not ever write with the intention of hurting the feelings of a reader or friend.  In fact, I am very cautious about that and always try to be respectful, use facts and keep emotions to a minimum.  It is why I generally try to avoid religion in my writing. When I do rant, and yes, sometimes I do, I tag the post as a rant, and have even been known to put a comment on my Facebook page to that effect.  Still, the nature of the topics I write about tends to be controversial.  The majority of readers of this blog share many of my thoughts and beliefs, though a few do not.  I welcome all comments, pro, con, or neutral, and I do try to consider all sides.  That is the best I can do, folks. In the words of the immortal Popeye the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam …”

I write about things I care about and things I believe in, and I will continue to do so.   I realize I will not likely change the world, but I will not give up trying. If anybody is ever offended by what I write, I would like to hear about it, hear the other point of view, but in a calm, thoughtful and respectful manner. This election season has been divisive, and with another 90+ days is going to get a lot crazier than it already is.  We each have our own ideas and opinions.  When I ask a person to clarify or expound on an opinion, I do so because I am trying to understand, not because I am belittling that person.  I will never intentionally belittle anybody nor hurt another person’s feelings, but inevitably it happens from time-to-time.

These are things that should go without saying, but after yesterday I thought perhaps they need to be said after all.  We will never all see the world and the issues through exactly the same eyes.  But there is absolutely no reason to be disrespectful, either to a blog writer or commenter.  There is room for reasoned debate, for an open exchange of ideas, but only if we can talk to each other without name-calling, mud-slinging, accusations and disrespect. Again, this is more for e-mail and Facebook readers, but I just thought it was a good time to say these things.  I am certain I am not the only blogger who has had similar situations.  Now … back to work …

Let the South Secede?

Perhaps it is time to let the southern states secede from the United States of America, as they tried to do in 1860-61.  Recently the southern states appear to be determined to destroy the values on which this nation was founded, the notion that “All men are created equal”.

On Wednesday, March 23rd in North Carolina, the legislature convened a special session. A bill was introduced, it passed through both the House and Senate (both Republican controlled) and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed it into law. All inside of 12 hours. This may be a legislative record, but not all records are things of beauty. Just like that, North Carolina became the state with the most hostile laws against LGBT people in the country. The rushed special session was ingeniously planned to avoid all of the various resistance that has held back similar bills from being considered in previous years. For example, the bill’s language was only made public minutes before it was considered, and there was only a total of 30 minutes of public comment, meaning there was basically no opportunity for public input. Businesses had no opportunity to chime in about the economic impact on the state.

The bill came a month after the city of Charlotte passed a measure protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from being discriminated against by businesses.  The state law passed 10 days ago effectively blocks local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules to grant protections to gay and transgender people.  Though the state bill seems to have been triggered by the question of what, if any, public restrooms transgender people should be allowed to use (a subject that I choose not to discuss at this time), the language has far broader implications for the LGBT community, such as the right to equal employment opportunities and being able to be expect service in public restaurants, etc.

In the ten days since the bill was signed into law, there has been a tremendous backlash.  Some 100 national companies have signed a letter objecting to the law. They join the several businesses that had already spoken out against it in the days immediately after it passed. Likewise, several cities and states and have banned all government-funded travel to the state of North Carolina. On Friday, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) added D.C. to a growing list, which includes San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, and Portland, as well as the states of New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Washington. Braeburn Pharmaceuticals was planning to build a $20 million manufacturing and research facility in Durham County, but it announced this week that it is “reevaluating our options based on the recent, unjust legislation.”  Additionally, a federal lawsuit was filed against Governor McCrory and other state officials … the first of many, unless I miss my guess. Governor McCrory and his cronies are standing firm for the time being, but one must wonder how long that will last once the economy begins to feel the pinch of lost jobs and revenue.

A similar bill was being considered in Georgia, though Georgia governor Nathan Deal announced on Monday that he intends to veto the bill, saying “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.”.  If passed, it would have: (1) prevented people from having to perform or attend same-sex marriages (note that nobody is forced to do either anyway) (2) permitted faith-based groups like churches and religious schools to refuse service and employment to individuals if serving said people violated the group’s religious beliefs and (3) allowed those same organizations to deny employment to individuals “whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.” For Georgia, the economic impact would have been catastrophic.  Consider this:  Disney, Marvel, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Apple have all opposed the bill.  Disney & Marvel have used Georgia as a venue for their films in recent years.  They stated in no uncertain terms that they would “take [their] business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”  This alone could have had a negative economic impact of some $6 billion annually.  Additionally, the NFL indicated that they will not consider Falcons Stadium, set to open in 2017 and in contention to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020, as a site for its biggest game of the year. A trio of other Atlanta teams — the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks —opposed the bill as well.  Predictably, there has been praise for Deal from the LGBT community and criticism from religious leaders.  There was an attempt by Georgia State Senator Mike Crane to override the veto, but it fell short of the requisite 2/3 majority in both chambers.

Then there is Mississippi.  I have saved the worst for last.  The bill in Mississippi, titled the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”, goes much further than simple approval of discrimination against the LGBT community.  It would, in essence, allow for discrimination against any person who engages in premarital sex.  In short, it gives business owners and religious organizations wide berth in discriminating based on the three tenets of the bill: “(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”  I could write an entire post on this one, which goes beyond bigoted, beyond despicable … in fact, I cannot find words to express my thoughts about this bill. However I will wait and see what happens when it reaches Governor Phil Bryant’s desk next week.  I hope he is human or at least savvy enough to veto the bill, though early indicators are that he will sign it. If you can stomach it, you can read the text of the bill here.

These bills/laws are called “religious freedom” acts. They would be more accurately called “sanctioned bigotry” acts.  In reality, they are laws that give the right to discriminate.  These laws give anyone and everyone the right to discriminate without being punished under the law.  Discrimination is contrary to the values of this nation.  When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787, slavery was still legal.  African-Americans were considered property.  We came a long way in realizing that to judge any person based on anything other than their behaviour is wrong.  Are we doomed to backpedal?  Are certain religious groups so damn sure that their way is the only right way, that they are willing to deny human rights to people who are different in some way?  Make no mistake … if these laws are allowed to pass and to stand, we are headed back down the road toward slavery.  The Constitution calls for protection of religious freedom, but it also calls for separation of church and state.  With these laws, states are making laws that are contrary to the secularism mandated to governments. It is neither the responsibility nor the right of the state to make any law discriminating against an entire group of people in favor of the choices of a handful of religions.  There is not a single state in the deep south, from Texas to North Carolina that has any state laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment practices.  Not a single one. The states in grey on the map below are those that have no anti-discriminatory employment laws for LGBT:

LGBT_employment_discrimination_law_in_the_United_States.svg

 

Just as the south held on tightly to slavery, just as the south fought bitterly to keep schools, public venues and transportation segregated for more than half of the 20th century, the trend of bigotry and racism continues even now, well into the 21st century. Ultimately, I suspect each of these laws will come under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court and will be struck down.  Meanwhile, an estimated 3.5% of the adult population in the southern states will be discriminated against in the workforce, in public venues such as restaurants, and in such as homeless shelters and daycare facilities and clinics.  I realize this is a long post, but I think this is important and if we don’t speak up, who will? If not now, then when?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions on this topic!

Have We Forgotten How To Be Human?

How many times in the last month have you said “I just don’t know what is wrong with people today”?  Or, “What is this world coming to?”  If you are like me, you say that on a daily basis, perhaps every time you pick up a newspaper, turn on the television, or log onto the internet.  I sometimes think I need a 3-day hiatus from the outside world … no internet, no television/radio, no forays outside the home, just peace.  But alas, SIGH, I am a news junkie and unless forced by either death or an electrical outage, I am not likely to allow myself that break.

So, what is the world coming to and what is wrong with people?  The answer to both questions is the same, in my humble opinion:  a lack of humanity.  Humanity: compassion, brotherly love, fraternity, fellow feeling, philanthropy, humaneness, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance; leniency, mercy, mercifulness, clemency, empathy, compassion, tenderness; benevolence, charity, goodness, magnanimity, love, generosity.  Now turn on your television … any program, any channel … and tell me how many of the above-named traits you can find in a 10-minute period.  I am betting your answer will be zero.

When we allow ourselves to believe that we are somehow ‘better’, or more deserving than other people, whether on the basis of race, skin colour, religious beliefs, or culture, we take a step away from the concept of humanity.  It is human nature to live in our own small world, to put our own needs and desires first, and I cannot argue with human nature, as it is no different today than it was 1,000 years ago.  But for a time it seemed that we were on the path to becoming a kinder, more gentle society; a society that was trying to overcome prejudices and see others as different, but not inferior.  But today that trend is reversing.  Today we are regressing back to a society that views all who do not look, act, speak, and think like us as being somehow inferior.  And that is just wrong.  It is a reversal of the lessons learned during the migration from Europe to the New World seeking freedom of religion.  It is a reversal of the lessons learned from the devastation of an entire group of people in the Holocaust. It is a reversal of the lessons learned during the Civil Rights era.  It is a reversal of the hope we once had that human beings might yet be able to learn to live together on this earth in peace and harmony.

Two hundred years ago, people lived in very sheltered, close-knit communities where they might pass a lifetime without ever straying more than 20 or 30 miles from their homes.  Children grew up and took care of their aging parents, neighbors pitched in to help neighbors in times of trouble.  But the globe became smaller, just as our individual worlds expanded, with the advent of communication tools such as telephone, television, and most recently the internet.  And our horizons broadened as access to travel thousands of miles via airplane was made readily available.  This should have been a good thing, should have opened a whole new world of experiences, of learning about other lands, people and cultures to us.  Today, I am not so sure. Perhaps, instead of taking the best of each other’s societies, we have taken only the worst.  Perhaps instead of learning to love more, we have learned to hate more.

Politicians, world leaders, and religious leaders alike, have failed miserably in their jobs to help bring peace among nations.  They scream, they threaten, they bully, and the people eventually follow suit.  Violence is the norm, where it should be the exception.  We believe we have a right to kill another human being, we believe we have a right to deny the basic necessities of food, shelter and medical care to others who are less fortunate than we are.  We believe that we have no responsibility to our fellow mankind.  And therein lies the problem.  We all have a responsibility to others.  But we, as a society, have listened to those who screamed that we must protect ourselves at all costs, even at the cost of another human life.  They would argue that abortion is wrong, yet that it is okay to murder a person because their religion or ideology is different than ours.  They rant that the wealthiest in the land have no responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.  We have been told, in essence, that it is “all about us”, and we believed.

If there is any remaining hope for humanity, it lies with our children.  Children do not see others as black or white, as Muslim or Christian, as Syrian, Mexican, or American … they simply see them as potential friends, playmates.  If only we can stop ourselves from poisoning their young minds with our own prejudices, there may yet be hope for humankind.  I wonder how many of those words that I used to define ‘humanity’ any of us can honestly say apply to our lives today.  Can we do better?  Yes.  Will we?  I do not know.

Can Religion Really be the Criteria for Humanitarian Aid?

I recently saw a posting on a social media site that asked us to “… stop all American aid to countries that persecute Christians.” While this may sound like a good idea, at least to Christians, or even a “no-brainer” to some, let us think about this for a minute. I have two problems with this statement:

1. What about other religions? Are we saying that we should continue to send aid to countries that persecute, say … Muslims? Jews? Hindis? Are those groups of people less valuable or more expendable than Christians? And how can the government of a secular nation justify denying aid based on a single religion?

2. I am generally in favor of denying military aid to any country wherein the government is guilty of human rights violations of any sort, but humanitarian aid is something else altogether. Since the above statement pleads to deny “all American aid”, one must assume that those in support of this movement would deny both military and humanitarian aid to any country where there is persecution of Christian individuals. When we deny humanitarian aid, we are responsible for people, innocent people who have never persecuted anyone, going without food, clean water, medical care, clothing and shelter. Is this what we, as Americans, believe is the right thing to do?

Certainly, each church, as a non-governmental organization, has a right to decide how and where to spend its money, and what causes to support, but I believe the creator of this post was concerned with the issue of government funds derived from our tax dollars. Our government has imposed sanctions against a number of countries and these sanctions have often included the cessation of humanitarian aid. I believe this sends the wrong message to the world about the values of the U.S. government and its citizens. Granted, we cannot save every starving child, provide medical care to every person in need, but we certainly can do better than to choose to deprive innocent citizens of the world based on the actions of their government against a specific religion.

I am certain that some will make the argument that there are people starving in this country and we should use our tax dollars to help our own citizens first. My answer to this is twofold: a) our government, since the administration of FDR and his New Deal, has provided aid programs to assist with food, shelter, clothing and medical care for all citizens below a certain economic level; and b) any U.S. citizen who is struggling to put food on the table or pay the rent is still a thousand times better off than the poor in any underdeveloped nation.

It is my hope and belief that cooler heads prevail in the decision-making process about who we help and where we send aid. We are all citizens of a global community and have a vested interest in helping every citizen of that larger community, without bias toward religion, race, or cultural heritage. Let us put aside our differences and focus on our likenesses. Let us be the example for the rest of the world.