Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why do Republicans keep voting for Republican presidential candidates?

I have quite a few conservative friends, some who identify as Republican and some who don't, and I have noticed something a bit odd about them. You see most of my Democrat friends hold reasonably high opinions of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, even Jimmy Carter, everyone's favorite presidential punching bag, is held in rather high esteem. It seems to me, however, that Republicans aren't as big of fans of the recent Republican presidents. Let's take a look at the recent presidents elected by Republicans.

George W. Bush - Not terribly popular with anyone, especially Republicans. He grew the federal debt (after eliminating the surplus), he got America into a war we had no business being in, and he bailed out the big banks and automakers. Not the favorite president of most Republicans.

George H.W. Bush - During his presidential campaign Bush said "Read my lips, no new taxes!" and as president he broke this promise. This has made him a minor hero among Democrats but not among Republicans. Like father, like son, neither of the Bush presidents is terribly popular among Republicans.

Ronald Reagan - Before you start thinking I have gone crazy, yes, I know that Ronald Reagan is very popular among Republicans. Consider for a second which Ronald Reagan we are talking about though. Republicans love the horseback riding, flag waving, cowboy hat wearing, Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, but they really aren't that big of fans of President Ronald Reagan. Reagan raised taxes several times, he sold arms to Iran, he made the federal debt soar, he created a program to give amnesty to millions of undocumented workers, oh, and he also supported gun control in the Brady Bill. They love the Reagan image, but the actual Reagan presidency? Most of the Republicans I have spoke with don't seem to be big fans.

Gerald Ford - Ford is a bit of an outlier as he was never elected, but many Republicans still don't like him because he pardoned President Nixon. That of course bring us to...

Richard Nixon - Do I really have to say why Republicans, and most everyone else, don't think very highly of Nixon? Of course it just wasn't the national embarrassment of Watergate, Republicans also don't tend to care for the way he made friendly with communist China or his plans for universal single payer health care or some of his other liberal leanings. Again, he is not a hero of the Republican Party.

So who do the Republicans like? Of course they have a high regard for Lincoln, the first Republican president, but often times you will also hear them offering praise for Truman and Kennedy, neither of whom were Republicans. I'm not saying that Republicans love all the presidents the Democrats have elected, let's face it, they don't have many (any) nice things to say about Clinton or Obama, but if they don't like their own presidents and they don't like the Democrats who should they vote for?

I think the time has come for Republicans to finally realize that they just shouldn't vote, that way they can reduce their chances of being disappointed. Plus it will be fairly easy to change over the presses that make the "I didn't vote for Obama!" bumper stickers so they can print out "I didn't vote for anybody!" bumper stickers and they can feel free to complain about whoever gets elected. Seems like it would be a win for Republicans and a win for America as well.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why I support Bernie Sanders for president...

America is a great country, our history is far from perfect, but our people have a hopeful spirit and we believe in our ability to accomplish things and move forward. We believe in entrepreneurship and innovation, we believe in taking risks and doing things differently, we celebrate the success of those who have achieved great things and believe that if our own list of successes is not that vast it is only because our time has not yet come. All of these things have led to America becoming what it is today, the wealthiest nation in the entire history of the world, a place where people have lifted themselves out of poverty to become titans of industry, and a place where we know that hard work combined with ambition and determination can make a real difference. We have freedoms and liberties undreamed of in some other countries and we take great pride in who we are. This is why America is a great country and it fills me with pride to be an American. I am also filled with sadness to see all of this threatened by a government controlled by individuals who care less about what makes America great and more about what increases the size of their personal bank accounts. We are now in the midst of a presidential campaign, one that started off looking as though we would have no choice other than to elect someone who was a wealthy, well connected, member of a political dynasty, one who would continue the status quo and push us further down the path that has led us to our current position. Luckily for America this election has turned out to be much more interesting and lively than anyone could have expected. It looks like we may wind up having a real choice, a real chance to alter the path our nation is on, we might actually find that our votes don't have to be for just one side of the coin or the other. This is a great thing for America, if Americans put the effort into really learning about the issues we face and how the people running for president will respond to these issues. My own research into the issues and the possible solutions and which candidate stands for what, along with some additional information I have that many Americans don’t has led to select Bernie Sanders as the candidate who I think is best for America and her future.

So all Americans are faced with making a very important decision. We are being offered a real choice this time around and the outcome of this election will undoubtedly impact the future of our country in some very important ways. We will turn to the nightly news and our friends and coworkers to get their opinions. We can study the candidate's voting record or history in the business world, we can look for answers in the Bible or the Koran, we can listen to the speeches and late night talk show appearances the candidates make. All of these things can help each of us reach a decision on who to vote for and I have been paying attention to all of them. I also have another set of information that I can rely on that isn't available to the average American and I want to share this information with you so it can be included in your decision making. It might sway you or it may not, but what I have seen and experienced over the last couple of years makes me believe that it is very much worth considering and that if we all included this information in our decision making process it could be very beneficial for America.

The information I want to share comes from living outside of the United States for a couple of years. Specifically I have been living in the Netherlands, a small country in Northern Europe wedged between Germany, Belgium, and the North Sea. The time I have spent here has allowed me to see, first hand, what happens when a country takes a different path than America. To see the results of certain policies and programs with my own eyes instead of just watching what one talking head or another with a particular agenda has to say on TV. I have been surprised by many of the things I have seen here and my mind has changed on several issues. It has affected who I will be voting for, I hope you can find this information valuable to your own decision making process.

The Netherlands is a democracy with a very strong work ethic and capitalist background. In its colonial past the Netherlands acquired new territory mainly through making business deals instead of through military force. Its cities and villages are filled with businesses run by large corporations as well as by individuals and families. Making money is considered a very worthwhile pursuit in the Netherlands. If a demand exists, a business will also exist to meet that demand. In many ways it is very similar to the United States, but there are some important differences as well.

Here in Holland everyone has health insurance, it is not typically provided by the government but is instead provided through employers by private health insurance companies. The health care system is effective, efficient, and care is provided with less waiting time than it is in America. It isn't free, but costs are kept under control so that everyone can afford it and everyone is required to be part of the health care system.

The Dutch education system is amazing. Children go to schools that are funded by the government but normally run by private organizations. Often times these are religious organizations or civic groups that are required to meet government regulations while at the same time being allowed to bring their own culture into the educational process. Higher education is also funded by the government through a series of exceptionally high quality universities and technical schools. Higher education is not free, but costs are regulated so that everyone can afford to get an education if they choose to.

The cities and villages around the Netherlands are all very well connected by a public transportation system that makes it easy and affordable to get from place to place and it is well utilized by all sectors of society. This allows many people to have the option of not owning a car saving them large amounts of money they would have spent on fuel, insurance, maintenance, taxes, and parking. Instead they can put this money towards other things that they feel are more important in their personal lives.

Homelessness is very rare in the Netherlands as the government will find places for you to live and make sure you have access to healthcare and food if you can't afford it any other way. Unlike the situation in America, if you are homeless in Holland it is much more likely to have been an actual choice on your part.

Crime rates, when compared to America are exceptionally low in Holland. Muggings and pickpocketing exist, but shootings and other violent crimes are very rare when compared to the United States. You feel safe when walking the streets at night in the vast majority of places.

While the national government of the Netherlands is quite strong it does not hold all of the power. Local governments, the sections of the government closest to and most connected to the people, have considerable power here. The national government may provide funding to local governments that has to be spent on roads or on education or on cultural initiatives but the municipalities get to determine how those funds are specifically spent in their areas. This allows tax money to be spent in the most effective ways possible and so it can benefit the largest number of people possible.

As in much of Western Europe there are more regulations imposed by the Dutch government than in the US. This doesn't mean that business are more highly regulated here than in America though. First of all there are numerous regulations handed down by the government that businesses must follow in America, but on top of that America is a country where lawsuits, sometimes frivolous and sometimes not, are exceptionally common. These lead to a secondary layer of self imposed regulations that most businesses follow. The next time you see a warning label on a product remember that there is a very good chance that it wasn't placed there by the government, instead it was placed there by a group of lawyers doing their best to try and protect the company from getting sued. This, from what I have seen, leads to businesses in America being much more highly regulated and restricted than they are in the Netherlands.

Wages in the Netherlands are higher than in America, this probably comes as no surprise, but they have also instituted a tiered minimum wage system. If you are 16 year old student the minimum wage for you is not as high as it is for a 25 year old. The 25 year old is much more likely to not be living with his or her parents, to have a family to support, to have other additional expenses and so they need to make more money to make sure they are a productive part of society. This allows young people to find jobs easier in entry level positions where few skills and little experience is needed, while making sure that older, more experienced workers can make a real living wage. Do not forget, however, that the 16 year old is still making more than minimum wage in America.

The infrastructure in the Netherlands is amazing. Not just the roads and public transportation systems, but also the electrical grid, internet speeds, telephone service, water and sewage, and airports. No one in the Netherlands lives very far from an international airport. Since all of the phone, internet, and electrical lines (except for high voltage transmission lines) are underground, storms rarely cause outages. Internet speeds that would be too expensive for most to afford in America are commonplace and cheap here. All of this exists because the government is involved. In my hometown of Nashville I had very little choice in who I could obtain high speed internet service from. Here, since the lines are controlled by the government but open for many companies to utilize, I have a wide variety of companies to choose from and the competition keeps the costs down to very affordable levels.

I could go on and on, but this should give you an idea of how the government makes life better for people in the Netherlands. At the same time the Netherlands is a place where you are free to practice your religion, or not. To say what you think, or keep your mouth shut if you choose. To own a gun provided you are willing to meet the requirements for owning a gun. It is a very free country, possibly more free than America in many ways because the elected officials in the government aren't allowed to be bought and sold by billionaires. This means that they respond to the wants and desires of the majority of the people they represent instead of really only representing a tiny minority of the people. The Netherlands is far from a perfect place, but I think there are many things America could learn from it.

People in The Netherlands work hard and take risks not because of a lack of a safety net, but because a strong safety net exists. In America if you start a new business and it fails, you can lose everything. This prevents many people from starting a new business or trying to turn their ideas into great new inventions. The rewards may be great, but the risks are just too high. In Holland you know that if your business fails you at least will still be able to feed and house your family and send your kids to college, this makes taking risks much more worthwhile and means that the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and well in Holland.

In Holland almost everyone speaks English extremely well along with their native Dutch and often times German and French as well. This allows the Netherlands to be very competitive in the global market. This is only possible because the Dutch place great importance on education, schools are well funded, teachers are well paid, higher education is kept affordable. All of this allows the Netherlands to be a center of high tech industry and a world leader in innovation. You need well educated people to compete and lead in the world today, America is falling behind in this area. Sure, we have of the best paid college presidents and coaches in the world, but many students can’t afford college or are forced into crushing debt to attend and our country has suffered as a conequence.

In Holland seeing your primary physician never costs you a penny. This means that people are willing to go to the doctor sooner which means a simple problem can be more often kept from turning into a serious condition. This means less sick days and a more productive workforce. Also adding to the high productivity levels here are a minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation per year, paid maternity leave, and higher wages that make employees willing to work harder because they don't feel like they are being cheated every time they see one of their pay stubs. This also allows more families to have a parent who is able to be at home with the kids at all times which of course is better for the children who become the next generation of well educated, well paid, and highly motivated workers and entrepreneurs. Workers in the Netherlands are pretty much just as productive as workers in America but American full time workers put in an average of 46.7 hours a week while Dutch workers average just 29 hours per week. Think about overtime pay and regular pay combined and see if it really seems that American companies are saving money by paying their employees less and offering them fewer benefits?

I know what many of you are thinking, what about taxes? It is true that taxes are considerably higher here in the Netherlands than in the United States, there is no doubt about that. But to stop the conversation there wouldn't tell the entire story. You have to compare the cost against the benefits. For example, if someone could move into a city and be closer to work, have more free time and spend less on fuel because of a shorter commute, spend more time with their family, get an extra hour of sleep every day, and generally live a higher quality of life but they refused because their rent would go up by 10%, something they could easily afford, you would think they are crazy. We should think the same way about taxes. Yes, taxes in the Netherlands are higher, but they result in lower healthcare costs, lower educational costs, lower transportation costs, a higher quality of life, and many other benefits that greatly outweigh the higher tax rates. The problem isn't high taxes, the problem is feeling like you get nothing in return for your taxes. In America we could lower our taxes by 90% but if we didn't feel like we were getting anything for our money we would still think our taxes were too high. This is why the higher taxes aren't a big problem in the Netherlands, they still feel like quite a bargain.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that we could learn a tremendous amount from a country like the Netherlands but so far in the presidential race it only seems one candidate has paid attention to these lessons. Bernie Sanders has stood up for workers and American families, he supports policies that will benefit the middle class and help the poor work their way out of poverty. He is the only candidate who is not being supported by billionaire donors who want to maintain the current policies that are benefiting them in the short term but destroying America over time. This means he is the only candidate who can act on these lessons because he isn't beholden to the 1%. He sees the ripple effects of policies like these, fight poverty and you can't help but be fighting racism at the exact same time. Increase educational opportunities and you increase business opportunities as well. Creating a better public transportation system creates more jobs and gives people more access to opportunities. All of these things could happen in America. All of these things could benefit everyone in America, even the wealthiest among us. Bernie Sanders wants to combine the best ideas from countries like Norway and Denmark and the Netherlands with the drive and ambition of America so that the United States can work better, be more efficient, and make opportunity a concept that is available to everyone.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who wants to help America live up to its potential and he is the only candidate who will be able to do anything other than simply serve the desires of the wealthy. Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who really understands and supports the American dream. That's why I support Sanders for president.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Supreme Court didn't do what you probably think it did...

Kim Davis, the county clerk from a rural Kentucky county, has reignited the arguments over same sex marriage. I will talk later about her demonstrably false claims that she shouldn't have to issue marriage licenses because of "religious liberty". Starting off I want to talk about a claim that the right wing keeps making, that the US Supreme Court created a new right to gay marriage in their ruling.

Many on the right argue that there is no right to same sex marriage, or marriage in general in the US Constitution an so it is a matter left up completely to the states. In a way they are correct. The US Constitution does not address marriage, gay or otherwise, and the Supreme Court can not make new laws. They use this information to try and say that the SCOTUS decision is invalid and some are saying that states, or individual clerks or judges, should not issue marriage licenses if they don't want to. Of course this is an argument without any merit at all.

While I agree that the US Constitution does not directly address marriage, it does address the way states deal with the laws on their books. It does this in one way in Article 6, Clause 2 of the Constitution, a passage known as the Supremacy Clause. This clause states that federal law is the supreme law of the land and that state law can not conflict with federal law or the US Constitution. If state law does fall into conflict with federal law then the Supreme Court can invalidate the state law as it first did in Ware v. Hylton in 1796. The Supremacy Clause is not some esoteric bit of legalese, it is a well recognized and firmly established part of US law. So all of those people who tell you that the Supreme Court can't over turn a state law, well they are 100%, completely, and totally full of shit.

Of course those people will respond by saying in this case the Supremacy Clause doesn't apply because nothing in the Constitution or federal law establishes a right for a same sex couple to get married, and they are kind of right while at the same time being totally wrong and ignorant of what the Supreme Court actually did.

The Supreme Court didn't say that the Constitution grants same sex couples the right to marry. Sorry, they did not do that no matter how much you want to believe that they did. Instead the Supreme Court looked that the facts and found that all 50 states allow and regulate civil marriage. They also found that all 50 states recognize marriages between qualified couples from other states and countries. So every state is in the marriage business. If you look at Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution you will see a few words stating that all laws must be applied equally to everyone. This is known as the Equal Protection Clause. This prevents a state from saying that men can get drivers licenses but women can't. It says that a state isn't allowed to say that a particular ethnic group can't hold certain jobs. It says, in general, that if a state passes a law it has to apply to everyone. Guess what, a law stating that a man and woman can get married but that two men or two women can't get married is not applying the law equally to everyone. The Supreme Court didn't say that there is a constitutional right to same sex marriage, instead it said that we have a constitutional right to be treated the same under the law. This means that all laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman are in violation of the Constitution and were therefore over turned by the Supreme Court. It wasn't really about gay marriage, it was about fairness and equality.

I can already imagine that a conservative Christian would read what I said and bring up the fact that two 5 year olds can't get married and that states have the right to set limitations on and qualifications for marriage. This is of course, well, a stupid argument. You see those five year olds can get married, they just have to wait until they are older, which is something we can reasonably expect them to do. It is not, however, reasonable to expect one of the men in a gay couple to change his gender and so any law preventing them from marrying based solely on their gender would be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

There are some who still won't be happy with this and will say that federal law doesn't regulate marriage and therefore the Supreme Court should have kept their noses out of what is and always has been an issue for the states. Once again they would be wrong. In 1882 President Chester Arthur singed the Edmunds Act into law which made polygamy a felony, not just in the states that agreed with the law, but everywhere in the United States. The federal government said that marriage could only be legal when the marriage consisted of no more or no less than 2 people. It doesn't end there, in 1967 the Supreme Court heard Loving v. Virginia a case which was brought after the State of Virginia exiled a married couple from the state because the man was white and his wife was African American. This was also an equal protection case, and just like the decision discussed above the Court said that everyone had to be treated the same under state marriage laws, no matter what their race. The federal government can and has changed state marriage laws before, either through legislation or by the Supreme Court ruling that those laws violated the rights protected by the Constitution. Nothing here is odd, strange, illegal, or unconstitutional at all, it is exactly how our government is supposed to work.

What about religious liberty? you may ask. Well yeah, what about it? The Supreme Court is not going to issue a ruling that conflicts with the Constitution. This ruling had absolutely nothing to do with religious liberty because it in no way forces a church or a clergy member to take part in a same sex marriage (unless a clergy member is also a government employee or elected official involved with issuing marriage licenses). If someone works for the government in a position that involves dealing with marriages and they disagree with same sex marriage then they are free to resign, no one can force them to issue a marriage license they don't think they should because no one can force them to keep that job. In some states (less than half) there are anti discrimination laws which protect gays and lesbians, in those states a public business must serve the public unless someone is being disruptive or creating some other sort of nuisance. This means, in those states, if you own a bakery and don't want to bake a cake for a gay wedding because of your religious beliefs that you have got into the wrong kind of business. You see there is no such thing as a "Christian business", businesses are legal entities, not religious entities, and they exist to make a profit, not to save souls. If you are in a state that has laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination and you own a bakery that refuses to serve gay customers, well you aren't a religious martyr, you are a law breaker and you may very well suffer legal consequences. But hey, you decided to break the law so that is on you.

I hope this clears a few things up about marriage equality, because really, the issue isn't just marriage, it is also equality.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Symbolic confusion

Today as I was scrolling through my FaceBook feed I saw a link to an article that caught my attention. Not only did it catch my attention, it shocked and disgusted me. The link sent you to an article about a group of people calling on others to do something rather disgusting with the American flag and then post pictures of this act on the internet. The goal was to protest certain aspects of American society that the promoters of this protest disagree with. Just so you will know I think I agree with the protesters in that these specific parts of American society, which aren't very important to this article, are things that we should be working against. I can't say for sure though, because the images they showed didn't allow me to focus on the issues they were concerned with. The images flipped switches in my brain that didn't allow me to think about what they were saying, instead I could only focus on how they were saying it. This, in my mind at least, means that there attempt to draw attention to something has failed. Instead of getting people to think about their issues they will mainly cause people to reject them and only think about the poor way they were trying to get their point across.

Something else about this article disturbed me even more than the images of the American flag being disrespected. When I read the comments left by people who had read this article, or at least looked at the images posted with it, I saw people calling for the protesters to be forced out of the United States or stating that they should be locked away in prison, or worse, that they should be beaten or killed. The protesters were disrespecting the flag, but the people posting these comments were disrespecting it just a much if not more.

The US flag is an important and powerful symbol of the United States of America. It symbolizes the rights and freedoms that the vast majority of Americans claim to hold dear. We look at the flag and remember what it is that makes America as great of a country as it is. But we have to remember, the flag, while it is a symbol of freedom and liberty, is itself not freedom or liberty.

The protesters in the article mentioned above, people who try to make a point by burning the flag, even those who some would say disrespect the flag by wearing it on a skimpy bathing suit, these people are making use of the actual freedoms that the flag represents. To say that they should be jailed or killed or forced out of the country for these acts is saying that freedom of speech is something that you don't really respect. Saying these things, or acting upon them, is the most extreme way I can think of to disrespect the flag. You are saying that the symbol means more than what it symbolizes. You are twisting the meaning of the flag and turning it into something that has no meaning. You are doing more damage to the flag than anyone ever could with a match. If we idolize the flag we diminish what it stands for. If we outlaw the desecration of the flag we turn it into a meaningless piece of cloth that represents nothing. Free speech is one of the ways in which America is truly exceptional, in many other countries that have democratic governments, often times more democratic than the US government, in countries where people have the right to speak out against their government, in places where the media is free to operate as it sees fit, there are still laws to limit speech.

In many Western European nations there are laws against hate speech, there are laws banning the sale of particular book, there are laws outlawing the display of certain historical symbols. We don't have these laws in America because we value the right of free speech to a point that we are willing to put up with distasteful and hateful speech. We protect all speech to guard against a slippery slope of laws that could lead to a great restriction of our speech and expression. We do this because we realize that our own personal comfort and desire to not be offended is secondary to our need to be able to express ourselves. This is, to a large extent, what makes us America.

You will often hear that the flag should not be disrespected because of all of the brave men and women who fought for the flag. I don't think this is true. I hope that these brave men and women were fighting for the rights and liberties and freedoms the flag symbolizes, I hope that they were fighting for the things that truly make America special, I hope that they were fighting for their fellow Americans. If they were actually fighting for the flag, fighting for the symbol instead of what it symbolizes, then they weren't fighting for America, they were fighting for a nice piece of graphic design made out of cloth.

The American flag is a wonderful symbol that I take great pride in, but not in the symbol itself, but instead in what it symbolizes. The flag you see flying against a bright blue sky was probably made by underpaid workers in a factory in China, the things it symbolizes actually came from America. The flag itself is employed to sell used cars and soft drinks and amusement park tickets, but what it symbolizes is a great country where we respect everyone's right to think and believe and say what they want, even if we disagree with them. The American flag should, in my opinion, not be disrespected, but we have to remember all of the ways it can be disrespected. Making the flag more important than what it symbolizes, valuing a piece of cloth more than the ideals it represents, is the worst way possible to disrespect the flag.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What it means to me to be a Southerner

I may currently live in the Netherlands, but I am an American, more than that I am a proud American. I am more than just a proud American though, I am also a proud Southerner. I was born and raised in Nashville, I have hiked most of the southern half of the Appalachian Trail. I have spent decent amounts of time in most of the South's big cities and many of its small towns, I have experienced my homeland in almost every way it exists and I love its variety and all of its virtues. Don't get me wrong, I know that it isn't perfect, but I also know how close to perfect it can be.

The thing is that the South has a self esteem problem. I lived in Seattle for a while and I was somewhat shocked at how negatively the South was viewed. Many people outside of the South seem to only think of it is an uneducated, ignorant, racist place. There are pockets of those faults in the South, there can be no doubt about that, but there are also areas facing those same issues in every other part of America. Not only do some individuals from outside of the South gloss over their own problems while associating those same issues with the South they also ignore all of the great things about the South. We have an amazing literary, musical, and artistic heritage. No other part of America and very few in the world can claim a culinary tradition as rich and wonderful as the South. Very few places on Earth tend to be as warm and friendly as the South. Still most people think of us as hillbillies who do nothing but make moonshine, walk around barefoot, hate minorities, and marry our cousins. This makes it hard for Southerners to find something to be proud of.

So we rebel. I am not talking about the act of the states succeeding from the Union, but I am talking about the biggest thing the South ever did, breaking away and forming its own country, as something that many cling to as a source of pride. Sure, you can make fun of us but we have already shown that we are willing to set out on our own and make our own way in the world. We decided we didn't need the rest of America and we put our money where our mouth was. We are rebellious, we see ourselves as self sufficient, we are risk takers, and we have the history to prove it. Many take extreme pride in that, because it is seen to be the truth, because it pisses other people off, and because we have not been allowed to be proud of much of anything else. Our pride is just as rebellious as our actions.

The problem is that the thing we take pride in is very complicated. It is all of the things mentioned above, but it is also inextricably wrapped up with slavery and racism and religion and many other things. You can not in an honest fashion remove slavery from the Civil War, the Civil War would almost certainly not have happened if not for slavery. Yes, other issues were also at play, but slavery was, by far, the primary issue.

This is a problem for a lot of Southerners. We want, we need, something to be proud of. The thing that many choose to be proud of has a lot of problems and so they have decided to ignore or deny those problems and focus only on what makes them proud. This is not an honest way of looking at the issue. When we look at the Civil War honestly it becomes something much more shameful than we would like it to be. This is, in all reality, a problem for the South.

I think I have an answer though, it isn't an easy answer, but I believe it is an effective one. We need to find something new to be proud of.

If the South put the hard work into changing the way the South is seen by the rest of the world, if we made it our primary goal to eliminate racism, through not only laws but by looking at our personal actions and beliefs as well, if we made sure that everyone truly had equal opportunities and was equally welcomed everywhere, then we would have something to really be proud of. In taking on this challenge we would have to face our past, all of it, the good and the bad, We would have to also take a good, hard, look at our present and figure out how to make things better for all Southerners. When I say all Southerners I mean all Southerners including all races, nationalities, skin colors, genders, and sexual orientations. We can, and should, be willing to admit to the racism in our past, the racism that still exists, and to do everything we can to eliminate it. If we do this no one could talk bad about us any more. They would have to face their own problems with race and other forms of bigotry and work to eliminate those. They would then probably wind up seeing the other wonderful things that exist and have always existed in the South. To borrow a phrase, if we did this then the South would truly rise again. Not as the old South, but as a new and vastly better South, and we wouldn't just rise, we would exceed and would become the leaders for the entire country. We could help all of America become a better, more welcoming, more fair, and more equal place. This is what Southern pride should be about, not a past where we have to cherry pick things to be proud of.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why I am a Christian...

I am a Christian, some may think that that is an unlikely statement from someone like me, a gay, liberal, same sex married, living in one of the least religious countries in the world, to make, but it is true. I am a Christian.

I wouldn't have always said this. I was raised a Christian, for years I went to church every Sunday with my parents and listened to preachers talk about heaven and hell and sin and righteousness,but it never really clicked with me. I couldn't accept that the Earth was only 6,000 years old when there are 10,000 year old trees in California. I couldn't believe that a flood covered the entire planet when there was no evidence to support that this event ever happened. I couldn't accept that people would go to hell just because they had never heard of Jesus, or if they had they had they may have only heard of him as a myth perpetuated by capitalists in the west. I certainly couldn't accept that I was going to hell for something that I had no choice in and so church and me didn't get along very well.

As I got older I went to church with a few of my friends, here I was either treated like someone they wished wasn't there because my gayness or strange appearance (yeah, I am an old punk) made them uncomfortable or I was embraced by people who seemed to only care about the fact that I was gay and seemed to believe that church was a place to mainly commiserate on how badly we had been treated by other churches. None of this seemed to fit very well into what I had read in the Bible and I came to the conclusion that churches only existed to give people a chance to either wallow in their own misery or as an imaginary high ground that allowed its members to look down on others. Either way I didn't want to be there.

This wound up changing when I found a church that seemed to have a greater reason to exist than complimenting or commiserating with its members. You see, quite by accident, I found a church, Hobson United Methodist Church in Nashville Tennessee, that existed for more than this. It exists because people exist that are hurt and left out and disenfranchised for any number of reasons. I didn't know that this place would renew my faith, I didn't know that this place would welcome me, and I certainly didn't know that this place would open my eyes to the world around wider than they had ever been opened before, but it did, and I am very thankful for it.

Hobson is an unusual church, it is a multi-racial church though most of the members are African American. It promotes a theology called "Black Theology" that looks at the words of Jesus Christ and sees not only teachings about salvation and forgiveness but also profound lessons about and a call for justice. It sees all of us as imperfect people, equal in our imperfections but also equally worthy of love. Black theology reaches beyond the selfish reasons many people believe, their quest for personal salvation, and sees that all of us are sinners and that none deserve salvation, so we are, in all ways possible, equal. We can not condemn others unless we are blind to our own faults and shortcomings. We can not see ourselves as superior to anyone else unless we have bought into a lie. Black theology says that God loves us all equally and to deny this is an injustice that must be spoken against.

My church looked at me and didn't see a strange looking gay man, my church looked at me and saw me, George, a man trying to live my life as honestly as I can. One Sunday we had two women preach about a story in the Bible where a man prayed to God to let him win a battle against his enemy and if God let him do this he would return home and sacrifice the first person to greet him. This person turned out to be the man's own daughter. Many preachers see this story and talk about how strong this man's faith was, the two women who preached that Sunday, two women in love with each other, told us there was a different way of seeing this story. They made us aware that what we read in the Bible represented what the men who had written down the story thought of it. They reminded us that this may have not been the way God wanted us to see it. You see a young girl lost her life in this story but she was never named, but God knew her name. At Hobson we know each other's names. You aren't the homeless man at Hobson, you are Victor. You aren't the divorced woman at Hobson, you are Pam. I wasn't the white guy or the gay guy at Hobson, I was George because none of us were different, we were just who we are and God loves us as who we are. We aren't qualified to second guess God and so we love each other as who we are because that's what Christ tells us to do.

Tonight I was reminded of why I am a Christian as I was searching through youtube looking for videos of one of my favorite musical groups, The Blind Boys of Alabama. This is a group of gospel singers that started out at a school for black, blind children in Alabama decades ago and that are still making amazing music. One of the videos I watched was the Blind Boys singing "If I had a Hammer". This is, of course, a well known folk song, but when the Blind Boys sing it there is no doubt that it is also a gospel song. When an elderly back, blind man stands in front of a crowd and sings about a hammer of justice and a hammer of freedom there is no doubt that you are hearing the gospel. Hobson taught me this and for this I am forever blessed. This is why I am a Christian, not because it will get me into heaven, although I hope it will, but because the entire world is just as deserving of heaven as I am and the entire world is as deserving of a decent life and justice while we are here on Earth. Christ didn't teach us to look down on or condemn anyone, he taught us that we are all equal and to do what we can to lift each other up. Christ's message was one of love for everyone and this is why I am a Christian.

If you are in the Nashville area I encourage you to pay a visit to Hobson United Methodist Church some Sunday, it doesn't matter who you are or what you wear, the only thing that matters is that you are ready to be loved and to love others. That's why we are all here in the first place.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Things are changing, in more ways than you might expect.

Gay marriage is a huge topic in America these days. In the past few months the number of states recognizing gay marriage has increased dramatically and currently more than 70% of Americans live in states where gay and lesbian couples can get married. Soon the US Supreme Court will hear a case from my home state of Tennessee along with cases from Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan that should determine the fate of same sex marriage in all 50 states. These seem like pretty good times, but along with the good news there are stories about new laws being passed to allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples based on the religious beliefs of the business owners. The chief justice of the Alabama supreme court is ordering probate judges in his state to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a federal judges ruling. While some local governments are passing non-discrimination ordinances for their cities that include LGBT persons, states are passing laws to invalidate those protections. Obviously not everything is good, but it seems like everything is changing.

One of the main reasons for the changes we are seeing is the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians by the people of the United States. Poll after pool show majority support for gay marriage across the country, but in some places it seems like this support is progressing at a much slower pace than in others.

Christian churches are some of the places where the wave of tolerance and acceptance we see sweeping the rest of the country still seems more like a small ripple. Churches are becoming more accepting or are at least discussing the issue. I am a member of the United Methodist Church which has been having a rancorous discussion about gays and lesbians in the church for years. It seems that lately it has been making some small but positive moves. Several other denominations have moved towards full acceptance and there is even signs of change in a few evangelical churches.

Why are we seeing so much change so quickly when it comes to marriage equality and LGBT rights? Part of it is simple, the Supreme Court ruling overthrowing the Defense of Marriage Act (which didn't defend any marriages, it just hurt some of them) has allowed a group of law suits to move forward and advance through the court system. Greater awareness of LGBT issues in the general public has increased the knowledge that anyone can have gay friends and gay co-workers and gay family members and we don't want to see people we love mistreated or denied their rights. People are changing their minds about what being gay means, even in churches and this is leading to a lot of positive change. These positive changes have been met with varying levels of backlash leading to a few negative changes. But we can't ignore the fact that gay marriage and growing acceptance of gays and lesbians isn't just changing the world for gays and lesbians. Straight folk and straight institutions are changing as well.

Think back to those churches that have started to change their minds about this issue. This is a difficult thing for them to do, faith and belief are strong things and they do not tend to move quickly. The Bible does have a very few statements about homosexuality that can and normally are taken to mean that homosexuality or homosexual acts are sinful. It is true that the Bible also condemns a lot of other things that most churches seem to be OK with but when you look back it took time for the different denominations to become accepting of these things as well. To further complicate matters today there is a relatively new group within Christianity, fundamentalists.

Fundamentalist Christianity is a fairly new trend when compared to the length of time Christianity has been around. The belief that every word of the Bible is 100% factual has not always been common and the people promoting this idea tend to have a serious problem with homosexuality because it is mentioned in a less than glowing way a few times in the Bible. They are basing their ideas 100% off the text in the Bible and this strikes me as a bit strange. As a Christian I believe that the Bible contains invaluable information on how to live your life and on salvation and forgiveness. So do I follow every word in the Bible? No, I do not, furthermore I don't know of anyone who does. I believe that most Christians understand that the Bible represents a narrative about God. It relays to us the teaching of Jesus Christ. It also talks about a man willing to give his two daughters up to an angry mob so that they will rape them instead of his house guests and that slavery can be acceptable. Most Christians when they read this type of thing realize that it does not follow the narrative about God's love and forgiveness and so they rightly choose to not own slaves or hand their daughters over to people who would harm them. I believe that most Christians realize that a single verse that may have been mistranslated hundreds of years ago or misinterpreted by someone reading it through modern eyes is not as important as understanding the over all story being conveyed to us. Some others don't seem to see it this way. In my opinion they seem to equate the Bible, God's word, with God himself. They forget to worship and praise God and instead spend their time worshiping and praising the Bible. The Bible is a wonderful thing but it should not be seen as God incarnate. To do so would be a form of idolatry which is specifically forbidden in the Bible. We can't turn the Bible into a god made out of paper. It exists to teach us about God, not to replace him. I noticed this in a Time Magazine article linked to earlier in this post;
"The Family Research Council’s vice president Rob Schwarzwalder wrote, 'Those professed Evangelicals who are willing to jettison the Bible’s teaching regarding homosexuality can no longer claim to be persons of the Gospel–Evangelicals.”
Mr. Schwarzwalder doesn't seem to worry about God's teaching of love and forgiveness and acceptance and welcoming, he only seems concerned with "the Bible's teaching" and I have to wonder if those might not be two different things some times?

I give churches some credit though, this is a very hard change for them, this is a subject that has and still is tearing some churches apart. I am more than willing to give them the time that they need to adjust and to reflect and to hear God's answers to the questions they are asking. I just won't let them stand between me and the rights that I and every other American deserve. They need to take their time for thought and prayer and not waste it on hate and supporting ridiculous and discriminatory laws. God loves us all, we should follow his guide and try to love each other, every last one of us. Together we can and will find our way through this, hopefully we won't lose anyone along the way.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A note on political discourse in America and how to make it better...

In America we say that you should never discuss religion or politics, I think the reason why this is said is because no one in America seems to know how to discuss religion and politics. Our ideas about American exceptionalism don't just apply to our nation, we apply them to ourselves as individuals and assume that what we believe is 100% correct and anyone who disagrees is either stupid, crazy, or in need of an education. I am fully guilty of this myself but I know my own faults and I want to improve myself and maybe help you improve yourself as well.

1. If you say you love the Constitution make sure you mean the entire Constitution. If you only love you right to free speech or your right to own a gun don't say that you love the US Constitution as there is a lot more to it than just the 1st and 2nd amendments. Not only is there a lot more text in the Constitution itself but there is also a ton of case law that is used to interpret the Constitution. There is probably no one in America who can claim to have read the entire Constitution because that would involve reading the Constitution itself and every decision handed down by the US Supreme Court which can be used to aid in making rulings in future court cases. Unless you are a recognized and respected Constitutional scholar it is probably best to preface your comments about the Constitution with a phrase like "I believe" or "as I understand it". Having an opinion is fine, trying to equate your opinion with facts is pretty darn dumb 99% of the time.

2. Do not think any person can be defined with a single word like "liberal" or "conservative". I have friends who support legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, and legalizing prostitution. Before you decide you know their political ideology you should also know that they think that medicare and medicaid should be abolished, that no one should get unemployment benefits, and that public school systems across the country should be shut down. There are republicans who support gay marriage and democrats who want to lower taxes on the wealthy. Forcing everyone in America to conform to the platform of one out of two political parties has seriously degraded the state of political discourse in America and we should stop letting ourselves fall victim to it. Stand up for a candidate, lend your support on an issue, avoid supporting a political party whenever possible.

3. Don't use the same defense a five year old would use. Say you saw a five year old named Billy doing something wrong and you decide to confront him about it. There is a good chance that his response will be something to the effect of "Bobby was doing it too!" Of course this is a terrible defense because it in no way makes either child less guilty. Adults do this as well, if you dislike a politician and that politician does something wrong you may find yourself saying something like "I can't believe he/she took this totally unprecedented action!" which of course implies that you think if someone else had done the same thing before it would make the act that you disagree with perfectly O.K. You should also be aware that if you make the above statement to someone who holds a higher view of the politician in question they will likely respond to your claim with a list of politicians who they suspect you will admire, who have taken the same or very similar actions. Again this proves nothing but that you both think the action was bad and that you think the action suddenly gets worse if it is committed by someone on the other side of the political aisle. Oh yeah, it may not be as bad if someone had done the same thing before. In other words none of these arguments are logical and they should be avoided.

And finally, 4. Do not claim you want law makers to work together unless you really mean it. Everyday people say this, politicians say this, everybody seems to think it is a great idea. A lot of people, however, seem to have no understanding of what they are claiming to support. All too often someone in one of the two parties will say that both sides should work together when what they actually mean is that the other side should simply bow down and accept whatever their side is promoting. This isn't how compromise works. In real compromise each side brings their ideas to the table and they see what they can agree on and what they can't agree on. They then work to come u with legislation that is acceptable to both sides, sure, neither side gets everything they want, but legislation gets written and passed that holds the possibility of helping Americans. As it stands now the two sides don't talk to each other, they just scream at each other on the cable TV networks that favor them the most, and legislation doesn't get passed. Working together doesn't mean one side gives up, that would be very bad for America. Working together means having real conversations, forgetting about party affiliation for a little while, turning off the rhetoric and spin machines, and working for what is best for America instead of what is best for your party or your own campaign. America needs legislators who will do this and our greatest hope for getting legislators who will do this is for us non-politicians to set an example for them. If you are a democrat you need to stop hating every piece of legislation brought to the floor by someone with an "R" in front of their names. If you are a republican you need to do the exact same thing. Look for something in the legislation you can support and tell your representatives that you support that part of it. If nothing else this will break your habit of only looking for the things you hate. There will be some legislation, no matter which side you are on, that you can't find anything likable and that is understandable. But until you start actively searching for things that you like, or at least can live with, all you are going to do is promote the "us against them" way of doing things that is keeping anything from getting done. Do you want our elected officials to really work together? Then prove it.

These are just a few ideas on how to avoid the traps so common in political discourse in America today. Traps that keep us from hearing good ideas, traps that keep us promoting bad ideas, and traps that keep anything from getting better. So get out there and discuss politics, just do so in a reasonable and logical way because while people will disagree with you, they can't dislike you for being reasonable, well informed, logical, and willing to listen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to look like an idiot before announcing your US presidential candidacy.

First a little background. 

Following the attacks on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by terrorists the Fox News network ran a segment featuring a "terrorism expert" named Steve Emerson who stated that France and England both had areas controlled by their Muslim residents where the laws of the countries were not applied and instead Sharia law was dished out by roving bands of vigilantes who might harass you for not dressing in "Muslim attire" or violating any other tenet of Muslim law. He called these areas "no go zones" (even going as far as saying the entire city of Birmingham is a Muslim controlled no go zone) and even the police would not intervene there. After this many other pundits and commentators and Fox News hosts repeated these claims of "no go zones" which of course are a complete lie and totally baseless. This was such a bad lie that Fox News felt compelled to fess up and apologize for the hate mongering stupidity they had been trying to spread.

Apparently not everyone got the memo. Likely Republican presidential candidate and governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal made comments while speaking in Europe that raised a few eyebrows. Even after Fox News retracted its comments about "no go zones" Governor Jindal kept throwing them out there. He then tried to relate these fantasy zones in Europe with the broader issue of immigration in the United States making comments that basically said if you don't want to assimilate into American culture and learn our language you should not come to America because that's what good immigrants to America, like his parents, have always done.

Wow, someone needs to give Governor Jindal a bit of a history lesson and take him on a trip around the United States. It is hard to say exactly how many different ways he made himself look stupid with those comments, so I will just point out a few. American culture is not really a thing, go to New York City and then to Los Angeles and then to Nashville and then to Miami. Along the way make a stop in Seattle and Troutdale Virginia. Maybe you want to visit Lubbock, TX or Billings, MT. If you visit each of these places you will find that there is no American culture, instead there are lots of different ways of living and thinking in America that all tend to co-exist pretty well. That's the thing about a free country that values individualism, it won't tend to settle on just one way of doing things. As far as language goes maybe Governor Jindal would like to visit the many parts of Miami with large populations of Cuban Americans, or maybe he would like to go to the vibrant and fascinating section of San Francisco called "China Town". In both of these places he will find people talking to friends, conducting business, worshiping in churches and temples and basically living their lives without speaking English. Immigrants should learn our language? The first European settlers in North America and people living here for centuries to come sure didn't feel that way. They didn't learn the languages on the Native Americans, no, they forced their languages on the people who were already here. Of course people coming here and keeping their languages was the norm in all of the Italian and Jewish and German and Polish neighborhoods that you find and have found in large cities all over the US. Why does Governor Jindal seem to think that today's immigrants need to make sure the can speak English as soon as you get here when there is a large group of people in his own state who many of which to this day still prefer to speak their first language which is a form of French? Will the Cajuns in Louisiana take so kindly to his words about assimilation?

If you don't believe me go see for yourself by clicking on this link, Bobby Jindal is trying to tie canned US anti-immigrant rhetoric to a tragic event that happened in France and that has nothing to do with many American's unfounded and false fears about immigration. Instead of painting a fictitious story about how he wishes immigration had happened in the US he could have told the true story about how immigrants built this country even though they were often treated as less than human. He could have told the true story about the way different immigrant groups didn't just assimilate into the existing culture they found but they took bits and pieces of it and mixed it in with their own culture and then gave their new creation back to their new community. He could have talked about how the English language has always borrowed words and grammatical rules from other languages and how as American English began to and continued to develop it incorporated words and phrases from the many different languages that were and are spoken in the United States. He could have shown how proud he is of America's actual history but instead he decided to lie and make idiotic comments designed to instill fear and disdain in Americans towards those wanting to make new lives in the US.

Governor Jindal should be ashamed of his lies and fear mongering, but based on his statements I am wondering if he is smart enough to understand that.