The Great Myth: Religious Tolerance in America

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or abridging the free exercise thereof…”  So say the first words of the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, those words, in their practical application, have been twisted into a false interpretation of their intent.first amendment

In the United States, these words are meant to prevent abridging the free exercise thereof if it is a Judeo-Christian flavor.

If Ford Motor Corporation refused to allow women employees to drive to work, or buy Ford cars, because of an interpretation of the Quran, what would the reaction be?

If Amazon needed a husband’s approval for any purchase by a woman, what would the reaction be?

If the State of Rhode Island accepted the decree of an Imam on the divorce of a couple and deprived the woman of any child custody or financial support, what would the reaction be?

In the 21st century, our President interjects himself into the personal lives of millions of American women out of concern for “risky sexual behavior” using the cover of supporting religious freedom.

All that one must do is look at the list of organizations that support these latest Dark Ages policy pronouncements to understand the real motivation. These groups miss the days of Biblical imposed male dominance over women. They yearn for a time when men clothed in the robes of priestly garb decided what is moral. They crave the past heyday of influence they once held over American society.

This incestuous intermixing of Christian religious philosophy with secular government is more dangerous to our freedoms than any ISIS terrorist because it comes from within.

No President, in particular, this President, has any place deciding what is moral. Humans have an innate sense of morality. Our problem is we often lose sight in our quest for bigger and better things. Where we’ve failed is in setting examples of responsible behavior for our children. Much of the failure of moral behavior takes place in the halls of Congress and the White House.

Religion does not hold an exclusive on morality. Turning back the clock based on the false memory of a more moral past is self-deception. The purpose of these acts is garnering political support under the false umbrella of religious freedom. Allowing any religious group to set standards is dangerous. How moral was the Catholic Church when faced with the altar boy crisis? And how complicit was our government in ignoring such “moral” behavior?

I don’t watch many TV shows, but I’ve been intrigued by the show The Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith (pun intended) to envision an America where such a society could arise when backed by the power of government.

They would do it for our good because God told them so.

The history of moral standards by organizations, be it governmental or religious, is fraught with examples of disaster. Allowing companies to opt out of specific health care provisions under the guise of religious freedom is disingenuous. An ominous portent of sliding down a slippery slope to Theocracy.

What’s next? We can allow companies to end health care for people living with cancer. God gave them disease, who are we to cure it?

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A Time to Every Purpose

Several readers criticized the timing of a post I wrote the day after the latest mass shooting. Several felt the article was ill-timed and an attempt to politicize the event. Others thought I took advantage of the tragedy to promote an agenda.

Guilty on both counts.

As the news unfolded, the usual parsing of the event ensued.

Those who see gun control as the panacea screaming on one side.

Those wrapped in the Second Amendment on the other.

Some arguing we should wait for the facts to come out before we label this as a terrorist act or lone wolf as if this in and of itself would make it better.

What difference would any of this make except to allow the shock and anger to fade and America to slide back into willful ignorance of the violence within us?

Like it or not, a slight name and skin tone change would radically alter the national reaction. All of which speaks volumes about the realities in this country and our unwillingness to do something meaningful.

Gun control ain’t a solution, it’s an impractical and ineffective band-aid on a severed artery.

First, these harsh realities. There are over 300 million privately held firearms in the US (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf). For anyone to think there is any practical way to eliminate them is foolish and likely to cause more harm than good.

The Second Amendment, for all the criticism it engenders, does not kill people. Lawful gun ownership does not threaten America. The most significant risk of death from a firearm is suicide. This tragedy is compounded when the suicidal individual takes out others before turning the gun on themselves.

In the latest mass shooting, suicide ended the rampage.

If suicide is evidence of mental illness and a considerable number of mass shootings end in suicide, wouldn’t reducing the common underlying characteristic make sense?

America has a problem characterized by violence. Our society suffers more mass shootings (outside of civil war or combat) than anywhere else in the world. Firearms facilitate the problem, they don’t cause it.

As to the timing of my piece causing a few to react with anger, I offer this. If not now, when? When will we realize that mass shootings are the poster child for gun violence, but not the full story?

On October 1, 2017, fifty-nine people killed in Las Vegas made world headlines.

In Chicago, fifty-nine shot dead is called the weekend. One cannot help but wonder if the nature of the victims has an effect on the level of reporting.Chicago homicides

There is the more significant problem. Instead of targeting the symptoms, we must focus on the cause. Gang violence, drug dealing, and crime are all symptoms of desperation and ignorance. Until you treat the underlying cause, the symptoms will continue to flare up.

But in deference to those who say I wrote too soon, how about we do this? Let’s post signs around the country. Big, bold, flashing signs saying,

IT HAS BEEN XXX DAYS SINCE OUR LAST MASS SHOOTING.

Perhaps, we can also legislate a 7 day “waiting period” for articles discussing such matters. We can have a national moment of silent prayer to ask for no more such incidents. It might work this time.

Bless us, history, for we have sinned. It has been years since we made our last try at responsibility.

 

 

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Where’s the Anger? Where are the Tweets of Outrage?

A Shooter, by another name, would be a cry for action. Change Stephen Paddock’s name to Ibrahim Bin Laden and the entire country would be screaming for something to be done. There would be unity in attacking the terrorists. This terrorist looks back at us in a mirror.

Instead, we get this from the Twittering President. My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!

He joins a chorus of voices calling for “prayers for Las Vegas” when every single prayer to prevent such incidents failed.

And, of course, there is the usual posturing about the Second Amendment.

The problem in this country isn’t guns.

The problem in this country is ignorance.

Until we deal with the growing mental health crisis, the lack of access to health care, and the proliferation of an attitude that I can do whatever I want without consequences or consideration of others, we face more of the same.

Guns are merely the method of choice. Until we as Americans come to terms with our propensity for violence, nothing will change. Every prayer ever prayed, no matter how sincere or well-intentioned, is a Band-Aid on a severed artery.

 

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Anthem Protests and Weaponizing Free Speech

I find the dichotomy between NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem and the outcry of those offended by such actions to be troubling. I think some of those flag-waving patriots miss the contradiction.

first amendmentThey wrap themselves in a flag, raise the Constitution high in the air, and scream at what they perceive as an attack on America. They would substitute “Free” speech for “Free as long as it doesn’t say anything negative” Speech.

They’ve missed the point.

We have an all-volunteer military. Those who choose to serve, do. Those who choose not to, don’t. Neither choice gives one any more right to free speech or authority to deny freedom of expression to others.

Those who serve deserve our admiration and respect. Veterans put their lives at risk in service to the country. But you do not support those who defend our freedom by denying the exercise of free speech to others.

There is a simple explanation for why the players take these actions. Because it works. The issues they seek to point out exist, despite much denial. Suddenly many Americans are paying attention and, sadly, most are missing the point.

The other side of the story is that taking a knee for the time required to play the national anthem is hardly an act of bravery or conviction. It’s what these players do off the field to change things that matter. I think, from most of them, the best you’re going to get is this two-minute photo-op.

If they had the courage of their convictions, they’d refuse to play. Now that would get someone’s attention.

Which leads me to the Russians. You must admire ole Vladimir Putin. He and his cohorts learned lessons from the Cold War. They know challenging a vibrant, diverse, and innovative America is foolish.

They’d have to change that.

If the latest news is correct, they found a way to turn the best of America into a weapon. By perverting free speech through social media, they undermined the election process. Whether they directly conspired with the current President or not remains to be seen. I think it more likely, and more frightening, that they picked the candidate who offered the best chance for turning American progressivism into chaos and ran with him. They saw an opportunity to derail an unassailable America and set it to tearing itself apart. If the twittering tone-deaf tweets and operational disunity emanating from POTUS, the White House, and Congress is any indication, they succeeded.

The Russians weaponized free speech, pointed it at our hearts, and pulled the trigger.

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There’s No Crying in Baseball, There are Tears on Saturn

The Business of Baseball, not in the public interest.

Let me preface this piece by saying I enjoy going to McCoy Stadium to watch Pawsox Triple-A baseball. t533_main_logoYet, public investment into private business is fraught with risk. This is compounded by the incestuous nature of Rhode Island’s political machine.

To engage in such an investment requires transparency, openness, and an informed, involved public. Something our history says we haven’t always practiced.

It would be a shame if the Pawsox left Pawtucket. Forty years of history, memories of so many rising stars refining their skills, and the untold numbers of people entertained there over the years would be a tragic loss.

But baseball, despite the moniker of our national game, is a business. If this were a purely nostalgic emotional choice, the new owners would look for the best place to invest in a new stadium in Pawtucket. Instead, they are holding out the team as a prize to be bid on. They look to the state and the taxpayers to soften the risk.

Government is not equipped or designed for such investment.

There used to be a team called the Brooklyn Dodgers, under baseball’s expansion they moved to LA  and are now the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Washington Senators split into two new franchises; the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers.

No doubt the fans of the original teams mourned the change, but the teams did not ransom themselves to the highest government bidder. The team owners took the risk and reaped the benefit.

This concept of government/private partnerships is complicated. The potential for corruption high. The risk to taxpayers serious. Baseball, while still a favorite sport, is not THE most popular sport. To put public dollars into private business was not part of the purpose of government.  The government should ensure business practice is safe, legal, and ethical. Otherwise, it should stay out of the way.

I’ll miss Benny’s too, but tax dollars cannot be used to shift the tides of an ever-changing business world. Baseball and Benny’s are businesses, let the market make the choices.

Crying over a machine: the end of an Era 1997-2017

I realize most people may have missed this, but one shining example of what used to be the proud American space program died the other day.Casssini

The Cassini-Huygens Saturn orbiter died. Running out of fuel twenty years after its launch and thirteen years after it orbited Saturn, the probe sent the last of its millions of transmissions then burned up in the Saturnian atmosphere.

Many of the project scientists and engineers cried. I wonder if they were crying over the demise of the machine, or the knowledge that we’ve seemingly abandoned such efforts?

We have a country fixated on what kind of dresses the First Lady wears to view natural disasters, a President who is more concerned about comments by a sportscaster then dealing with major issues, and a culture that knows more about some B level star dancing with some relic from an old TV show than monumental accomplishments like Cassini-Huygens.

I recall watching every single launch of manned spacecraft in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember being glued to the TV when Neil Armstrong said his first words from the moon. Things that made Americans proud.

I wonder, given the state of our disregard for the value of science, if we’ll ever strive to achieve such goals again.

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DACA: Trump Upholds the Law and Fails the Spirit of America

President Trump’s decision to rescind support for DACA correctly recognizes immigration reform as a responsibility of Congress. Congress enacts laws, the President Trumpenforces those laws, and the Courts ensure the laws meet constitutional standards.

As much as I may disagree with the spirit of the decision, the President, no matter if I support or object to his politics, is not empowered to alter either the Constitution or the law.

If President Trump decided he would no longer enforce equal rights, we would berate him.

If President Trump decided he would no longer enforce fair labor law, we would chastise him.

If President Trump unilaterally decided he would not enforce any of the laws of the country to which he is charged with upholding, we would excoriate him.

Conversely, we should not expect or accept a President who creates or changes laws without Congressional action. What President Obama did with DACA was a temporary measure to address an injustice. Congress failed to act. Our focus should be on Congress to fix this.

While I agree DACA needs revision, Trump’s decision is political pandering at its worst. Even he recognizes the inertia paralyzing Congress. Thus, he can throw it back in their court and at the same time appease the significant number of bigoted jingoists that support him. He has about as much sympathy for Dreamers as he had for any tenants he foreclosed on in his real estate empire.

If the President harbors genuine sympathy for Dreamers, he would summon the leaders of Congress together and formulate a plan to make DACA irrelevant. He would help foster a change in immigration law that recognizes the travesty of visiting the crimes of the parents on innocent children.

Despite claims to the contrary by the simpletons who embrace these lies, Mohammed the neurologist is not trying to take Billy Bob’s job at Seven-Eleven.

Dream on that this Congress, or President, will ever put the needy before their own political survival.

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Reaching the End and Realizing What Really Matters….

I posted this 3 years ago after completing the Appalachian Trail. Once you’ve hiked the trail, Katahdinyou never really leave it. I think it’s important to remind myself, and all of us, or what really matters in this life

September 3, 2014

All along the trail, from Georgia to Maine, I have thought about what I would write after climbing Mt. Katahdin.

How would I explain the trail?

I tried to find words that would capture the trail’s effect on those that hike it.

I wanted you all to feel it.

I don’t have the words.

No one does.

Some things cannot be explained, they must be experienced.

I do have this to share.

In walking the 2185 miles, I’ve had time to think.

Quite a bit, frankly.

It’s given me time to realize I’ve wasted many of the precious moments of my life, pursuing things that didn’t matter, at the expense of things that do.

It’s made me resolve to focus on the important things.

The people in my life.

Family.

Friends.

We spend much of our lives on trivial inconsequentialities.

Pursuing things that no one will remember after we die.

And since we all will die, it’s important to embrace those fleeting moments while you have them.

There’s a Vietnamese expression, “Bui Doi”. Miss Saigon fans will recall it. This translates roughly as “homeless” or “the dust of life”

I think it applies to many of the things we waste time on.

We fill our lives with meaningless technology that segregates, rather than connects.

We stare at our cell phones and iPads.

We text, email, and Tweet.

All at the expense of the truly important things.

Human contact with family and friends.

Or, as I learned many times on the trail, the chance to meet the many good people on this planet.

Walking the trail gave me the opportunity to review my life.

I am a lucky man.

I haven’t always shown, to those people most responsible, that I appreciated my good fortune.

I’ve come to realize the most important moments in my life were never about career achievements, money, or possessions.

They were about friends I’ve known for most of my life and new ones along the way.

It was about meeting my wife Susan, and somehow convincing her to marry me.

It was about seeing my daughter Kelsey open her eyes and smile, moments after she was born.

It was the privilege of watching that brand new life, whose first action on this planet was to bring tears of joy to my eyes just by opening hers, grow into the remarkable young woman she is today.

Those are the things that truly matter.

Thank you, Susie and Kelsey, I am a most fortunate man for having you
In my life. I should have told you more often.

If I can give you anything in return for your taking time to follow along on this journey, it would be that you take a moment to embrace the people in your life.

Tell them you love them.

Tell them you care.

Tell them.

The day will come when that will no longer be possible. Don’t wait.

For that is what truly matters.

Use the time you have to enjoy those precious gifts of family and friends.

Not to be overly dramatic, but there are sections of the trail where one slip, one bad decision, and you end up a news blip of a tragic death.

Those are the moments you see how fragile life really is.

No one knows how much time we have.

Spend your time wisely.

I am determined, from this moment on, to do just that.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu

DONE!

 

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