We Need Women on the Stage – Church and State

I’ve watched all of the debates and have noticed that there is a distinct difference in the debates when a woman is on the stage. Men are not quit as hostile to each other. Of course, it was far more pronounced with the Democrats who didn’t seem to be willing to destroy the party to win the prize, as was the case with Trump and Cruz. Still, the second Republican debate when Carley Fiorina joined was much more civil and intellectual.

I wonder what would have happened to the Apostles without Mary? Would they have devolved into the squabbling mess the Republican Party has become? In fact, would they become like the Bishops of today; so busy arguing over the role of women in the Church and what the family should be that they cannot see their squabbling is causing Mary to cry for them and the Church to self-destruct around them? Maybe the Republicans should watch the Synod and the Synod should watch the debates and see if they see themselves in the behaviors of the other.

Queen_of_PeaceWe world needs the Church and our country needs two strong political parties to keep us balanced. Both need women on the stage to remind us that we are a compassionate nation.


What Does It Mean to Make a Moral Decision? Declining My 2nd Amendment Right

“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow [wo]men and cooperate with them.” –Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Each of us, man and woman, young and old, of all races, nationalities, religions, and abilities, is meant to exercise stewardship over what God has given us. The exercise of good stewardship requires that we make sound moral decisions. I believe that declining the right to bear arms is a sound moral decision that each of us should make and then we must act. Like faith, moral decisions without works are dead, and we have enough death all around us. From the time I went to bed last night until I turned on the news this morning 5 more people had been shot in St. Louis; five more victims of gun violence.

compassion-caring1

I have never owned a firearm though I grew up around firearms of various kinds. Everything from a Derringer my mother carried in her purse to the gun my father brought home from WWII. There were guns in every room of the house and a reloading station in the basement. I knew how to use them all and how to load my own rounds. I learned to shoot a gun at a young age and then learned about guns in greater detail at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy. My father, who was a NRA member, never understood why I was opposed to guns. After the murder of my twin brother, we rarely discussed guns or my belief about the dangers they pose and the implicit responsibility we must accept for violence involving their use if we choose to own one or many.

I frequently wonder if we give enough thought to what it means to make a moral decision. I worry that we are so stuck in ideology and bound with fear that we cannot find the peace necessary for rational contemplation of the very serious issue of gun violence and violence in our culture. Whether one agrees with my stance or not I invite you to walk through the six-steps in considering the morality of gun ownership. Fill in your own blanks and take the time to contemplate what you learn.

Six-Steps in Considering the Morality of Gun Ownership

  1. Gather the information on injuries and deaths related to firearms.

People will give various reasons for wanting a gun. They list the least benign as a desire to kill Bambi or Thumper. Some genuinely claim a need to defend self or family. The only group I would consider paranoid is those that fear the government. Whatever the stated reason one must consider whether the purchase of the gun to achieve the end is morally right? Do the circumstances (living in a dangerous neighborhood, traveling alone in an unsafe neighborhood, going to school) affect the act? The more I deliberated the more I reflected on Matthew 5:21-26:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

  1. I identified the ethical problem. The ethical dilemma was between the individual rights or good versus that of the community.

It is certainly true that guns are sometimes used for self-defense. This year there have been 922 times guns have been used for defensive purposes. Of course, that pales when compared to 40,387 gun incidents in the same time period. Is the fear one person has for his or her safety more important than the safety of those around who are by all evidence at greater risk due to the presence of the gun? We are one of the nations with the greatest number of guns per capita and we are one of the nations with the greatest gun violence. People can cite urban vs. rural, and this city or that, but in the end we are one nation.

  1. What approaches can I use to analyze the problem?

I first approached the problem from a veil of ignorance, which is to say if I were the person who was the least powerful and the most vulnerable what would I want? I concluded that while I wanted to live and be safe. For that to happen it would be best for no one to have a gun. I also wanted all those around me to live and be safe. The risk to others from a gun in the house was greater than the risk to others and me without one.

I then took another approach using an adaptation of the Crisis Conceptual Nursing Model, which is a mechanism I’ve used to assess disaster risk and planning within nursing. When considered within a framework it is easier to see that there are actions that can be taken, provided the public or individual has the will to do so, to keep oneself safer.

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  1. After gathering the information, determining the moral dilemma, and using a framework to logically examine the problem it was time to make a judgment to determine which means are best under the current circumstances.

There really are only a few practical alternatives: 1) accept the status quo, 2) actively advocate for a rational change in gun laws, and 3) decline the right to bear arms and encourage others to do the same. I do not see repealing the 2nd Amendment as a practical alternative and thus it is not included. The 2nd Amendment is too engrained in the culture, has too big of a lobby supporting it, and would not be supported by the majority.

  1. Act

Once I made the decision to decline the right to bear arms it was time to act. A moral decision occurs when the intellect and the will come together, but without action serves little purpose. First, I am acting for myself in pledging never to own a gun. I decline the right to bear arms. Second, like many other pledges people may take I will develop a pledge to share. Third, one day soon I hope to invite others to join me in taking action.

  1. Evaluate the process and outcomes

The final step is always to determine if the choice and the action was effective. Only time will tell.

I pledge that I will never own a firearm of any kind. My heart will be guided by love and there will be no door opened for fear. When that door of fear is cracked it lets in evil and blots out reason. Not just the reason that comes from a well-developed human conscience, but the reason imparted through faith. When fear enters evil works to darken our souls to the inherent value of all life. That evil convinces us that property is of such great value that we can ignore the commandment not to kill and choose things over people. Fear causes us to listen to evil telling us that there are good guys with guns and that no harm will come from this instrument of death. Arm yourself with reason and faith and there will be no need for a gun.


I Decline the Right to Bear Arms: I Will Not Fear

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

I can’t remember the last time I have gone a day without reading about the tragedy that is gun violence or a month without hearing of a mass shooting. Each time social media is filled with hateful people that cannot, or will not, have a civil conversation about a serious topic. Respectful disagreements can help move people to common ground, but what is most often reflected in society is matched in Congress and the result is more dead bodies and more grieving families. The policy changes that are needed will not be easy, but they are doable without changing the 2nd Amendment. More importantly, we are capable as individuals of changing our neighborhoods and ourselves. We cannot let fear be the enemy of reason.freed-heart-understanding-mind.jpg

For those of us that have lost someone we love to senseless gun violence each new incident is a reminder that brings the pain rushing back. If you love your guns and the 2nd Amendment more than your neighbors then it will be impossible for you to understand my pain and the pain of every other person who has ever been impacted by a gun violence. Each year on September 30 I remember my twin brother who was shot four times (two in the chest, one in the side, and one in the back) and died on my parent’s living room floor.  The bloodstain on the carpet is forever etched into my memory. He was not killed by an intruder, but rather in an argument with our brother. They had fought many times before resulting in typical injuries from fistfights. The problem was that a gun was lying on the table.  Without the gun he would probably be alive. The police called it a “family matter” and did nothing. In fact, because my other brother was never charged with a crime he legally purchased many more guns.

The argument that the 2nd Amendment is without limit is not true and is usually followed by the statement that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It is reposted without adequate consideration to what this actually means.  In fact, people who own guns are more likely to kill people either accidentally or intentionally. Not all gun deaths come from People with guns do kill people.

This year alone there have been:

  • 40,476 incidents
  • 10,209 deaths
  • 20,731 injuries
  • Of those, 560 were children and 2,209 were adolescents (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/)
  • And how many thousands of grieving families, lost incomes, children with parents, wives without husbands, and parents without children?

Additionally,

In the civilian population deaths from firearms are believed to be a good indicator of firearms violence. The rate of nonfatal gunshot wounds is estimated to be 2.6 times the rate of fatal gunshot wounds. You can find the death rates from firearms by state at http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparemaptable.jsp?ind=113&cat=2.

The 2nd Amendment is our Constitutional right, but it does not mean that one should own a gun.  I have the right to own a gun and choose not to because I believe they are implements of violence and are designed to take life and only bread evil in one’s soul. Yet this isn’t the only right we have that we can and should decline. Let us decline the right all actions that take a life – abortion, the death penalty, and war. If we value life then sometimes we make decisions not because it is our legal right, but because it is morally obligation.

It is true that it takes a person to pull the trigger, but without a gun it is much harder to kill. People do kill people, but people with guns are more likely to do so either intentionally or accidentally. “The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society” (USCCB). The sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person cannot merely be about abortion or assisted suicide, but must include protecting all life and that means stopping gun violence and all violence.  My wish is for a day that no American chooses to avail him or herself of the 2nd Amendment right. Peace is an amazing feeling and it begins in our own homes and hearts. Put fear aside, love your neighbor, and choose life. Don’t let the lust for an instrument of evil that has taken so many lives and caused so much pain replace reason and compassion. Don’t let your fear win.


A Culture of Violence Accented by a Love of Guns, Driven by Self-Importance, Guided by Fear

“Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.”  Mahatma Gandhi.

We all know the statistics or can quickly find them at the Gun Violence Archive http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/. How can one not grieve the 39,650 gun related deaths and injuries that have occurred in 2015 alone. If that doesn’t cause one to pause and say a prayer maybe the 554 children, 1,975 teens, or the 265 mass shooting will wake people up to the fact that we are killing and injuring each other with guns in a way that no war since Vietnam has equaled. Even terrorist haven’t been able to do to us what we are doing to each other.

Mask by B. Brecht

I am a great believer that compassionate policy has the ability to change thousands, if not millions of lives with the stroke of pen. I also know that bad policy has the ability to cause pain and suffering for equal numbers of people. As much as I would love to believe that our Congress and political leaders have the best interest of the people in mind when they do their jobs I have sadly given up hope that it is true when they produce legislation to stop the CDC from actually studying the underlying causes of gun violence. Therefore I believe it is up to We The People to be the change we know must occur and change our families, our neighborhoods, our states, and our country one small community at a time.

I’m interested in hear what people think we could do as small communities to stem violence that does not involve Congressional action since we know they are unwilling and incapable of doing anything. Is there anywhere we can find common ground that doesn’t require a policy change or political action? If you love your guns and don’t want to give them up is there anything you would be willing to do in your community to help eliminate gun violence without discussing the use of more guns? If you share my belief that we should decline our 2nd amendment right to bear arms is there anything you can do in your community to decrease gun violence that doesn’t involve trying to take guns away from those that love them?

We need to put aside our self-importance, our fear, and our love for guns and consider the victims of violence involving guns. Surely there is some common ground at the community level that would allow us to put aside our interest in individual rights and consider the value of human life.

If you are interested in being part of the solution and joining the conversation you can do so here or on padlet.


A Week of Compassion Sprinkled with Grace

It was barley a week ago that we saw hate and tragedy followed by an amazing outpouring of compassion and forgiveness by a strong Christian community. The grace was like an invisible veil that covered us all with God’s love. In quick succession the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality ensuring access to healthcare for millions of people, many poor, and equality for all who love.compassionate HR edited

I feel blessed to live in a country that shows such compassion for the poor and the sick. I feel equally blessed to live in a country where love and equality win. I wish that we all felt the same joy and shared the same convictions about access to care, the poor, and equality. Most of all I wish we all equally valued the faith beliefs of others.

Today I’ve been told I’m a sinner as if that was ever in doubt. If we are Christians we acknowledge we are not perfect and we sin. Sadly, loving my neighbor who is gay or lesbian and wishing them the same happiness I’ve found in marriage isn’t among my greatest sins. If it is a sin then I will gladly say I chose to err on the side of love and equality.

Faith has been part of my life since I was seventeen. It found me in a rural Tennessee church and I accepted it. I have never doubted the importance of faith and still acknowledge that it is all grace. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there will always be those that try and steal the faith of others. They do it when they attack one’s faith or demean it. They fail to recognize that when we are touched by the grace of God no manner of attack will take away that grace. Overtime we grow in understanding, openness to inspiration through prayer, and form a conscience. Faith, hope, and prayer shape the conscience that is a gift from God. It is my conscience founded in faith, shaped by prayer and study, and fine tuned by the hope that God will never let my conscience be deceived.

I firmly believe in one kind and loving God, the holy Catholic Church where all are welcome, and that my conscience will always be true so long as I am open to inspiration. I cannot bring myself to believe that a person who is other than heterosexual is disordered and not deserving of love and equality. I do not believe any person should be denied healthcare or that there is any compassion in putting up barriers to the poor getting care. There is nothing in my faith, my prayers, or my conscience that leads me to believe that I am any more or less deserving of access to care than the poorest person. There is nothing in my being that can not be happy for those that find love. To do so would be to deny my conscience.

I am a liberal Christian and today the President ended this grace filled week by singing my favorite song – Amazing Grace. I wonder if the prayer, forgiveness, and the faith that spread from Charleston, that brought down symbols of hate, and that lifted up a Nation was so powerful that a veil of grace covered our Nation and for this week we chose love, equality, and compassion for the sick and the poor.

It was barley a week ago that we saw hate and tragedy followed by an amazing outpouring of compassion and forgiveness by a strong Christian community. The grace was like an invisible veil that covered us all with God’s love. In quick succession the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality ensuring access to healthcare for millions of people, many poor, and equality for all who love.

I feel blessed to live in a country that shows such compassion for the poor and the sick. I feel equally blessed to live in a country where love and equality win. I wish that we all felt the same joy and shared the same convictions about access to care, the poor, and equality. Most of all I wish we all equally valued the faith beliefs of others.

Today I’ve been told I’m a sinner as if that was ever in doubt. If we are Christians we acknowledge we are not perfect and we sin. Sadly, loving my neighbor who is gay or lesbian and wishing them the same happiness I’ve found in marriage isn’t among my greatest sins, but if it is a sin then I will gladly say I chose to err on the side of love and equality.

Faith has been part of my life since I was seventeen. It found me in a rural Tennessee church and I accepted it. I have never doubted the importance of faith and still acknowledge that it is all grace. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there will always be those that try and steal the faith of others. They do it when they attack others and fail to recognize that when we are touched by the grace of God no manner of attack will take away that grace. Overtime we grow in understanding, openness to inspiration through prayer, and form a conscience. Faith, hope, and prayer shape the conscience that is a gift go God. It is my conscience founded in faith, shaped by prayer and study, and fine tuned by the hope that God will never let my conscience be deceived.

I firmly believe in one kind and loving God, the holy Catholic Church where all are welcome, and that my conscience will always be true so long as I am open to inspiration. I cannot bring myself to believe that a person who is other than heterosexual is disordered and not deserving of love and equality. I do not believe any person should be denied healthcare or that there is any compassion in putting up barriers to the poor getting care. There is nothing in my faith, my prayers, or my conscience that leads me to believe that I am any more or less deserving of access to care than the poorest person. There is nothing in my being that can not be happy for those that find love. To do so would be to deny my conscience.

I am a liberal Christian and today the President ended this grace filled week by singing my favorite song – Amazing Grace. I wonder if the prayer, forgiveness, and the faith that spread from Charleston, that brought down symbols of hate, and that lifted up a Nation was so powerful that a veil of grace covered our Nation and for this week we chose love, equality, and compassion for the sick and the poor.

i hope this vile of grace is never lifted and that our policies continue to be compassionate.


Our Priorities as a Nation May Predict Our Decline

I’m not a fan of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. It vested too much power in one organization. Created to address the inability to share information related to terrorist threats it merged programs that responded to disasters and terrorism. While a gross oversimplification, the point is that it was conceived to improve our national security and response capabilities. One can argue it has been effective, but also that the trade off of personal freedom has not been worth the supposed extra security. What we can’t argue is that DHS is now essential to our national security.

Any federal employee above mid-level management will likely concur that Congressional and Presidential budget wars are disruptive. Personnel are pulled from important work to address the silliness that ensues when Congress holds the budget hostage. Federal employees are human beings. When employees fear not being paid they are less focused and less effective. A less focused and effective DHS leaves us all at risk.

The priorities of a nation are reflected in both the budget and the legislation that is not only proposed, but successfully passed. As I looked at the US Senate Roll call Votes for the 114th Congress – 1st Session I had to ask myself if Congress, and we the people that voted for them, has forgotten what values we hold and lost all ability to set priorities.

While Congress could not agree on a DHS budget they were able to agree to reject an amendment to Keystone XL Pipeline Act to protect private property from being seized through condemnation or eminent domain for the benefit of a foreign owned business. We don’t need to protect the country, we are taking it away from the people and giving it to foreign companies through eminent domain.

I’m curious, what part of the values that make us the greatest country in the world are represented in either not funding DHS for the year or in taking property from citizens and giving it to foreign companies?


Abortion is not Racism

Protests are an American tradition reflecting the passions of people seeking justice. Unfortunately, with protests come counter protests that all too frequently prove true the original protesters’ claims. Unlike the 60s one does not have to march in the street to carry a sign. One can protest through social media and a virtual campaign. It is that kind of campaign that is occurring against people who seek justice. Unfortunately, some are using the serious issue of abortion as a racist attack.

While pointing out statistics in itself is not racism, when one post a photo that only addresses abortions in African Americans and Hispanics it is not a question of whether it will be followed by racist rants, attacks on black male leaders, attacks on liberals, and women being called “sluts,” but how vehement the attacks will be. If one knows this and then allows the posting of such comments that is inciting racism and thus in itself is racist by intentionally demeaning or promoting the antagonistic statements toward a race of people.

Rather than promoting racism in prolife posts it would be better to explore what part white privilege has played in both the abortion rates and the disproportionate placement of Planned Parenthood clinics in minority communities. In general, Planned Parenthood places clinics in close proximity to the greatest need and where they can get affordable space. The greatest demand for Planned Parenthood services is not solely based on abortion, but the need for health care for men and women. In addition to contraceptive services and abortion, they also provide treatment for STDs, anemia testing, cholesterol screening, diabetes screening, physical exams, including for employment and sports, flu vaccines, smoking cessation, high blood pressure screening, tetanus vaccines, and thyroid screening. It is certainly true that Margaret Sanger supported eugenics and was a controversial figure. However, that is not the case with the people at Planned Parenthood today. They sincerely believe that by providing women with options they are helping them to make rational reproductive choice. There aim is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and not to diminish a race. Clearly, this does not justify abortion, but it clarifies the motives of Planned Parenthood. This leads me to the conclusion that bad policy and white privilege is adding to the abortion rates and the success of Planned Parenthood.

Among the leading reason given for having an abortion are the feeling of being unable to afford a child (73%) and not wanting anyone to know she had sex and got pregnant (25%). We should examine why minority communities remain in generational poverty and the policies that are at least partially at fault, such as: zoning that disadvantages minority communities, unequal pay, unequal access to public transportation, and shameful differences in schools to name a few. Look at the differences in public and private funding spent in white and middle class communities and then acknowledge that that inequality is privilege that actually does harm minorities, keep them in poverty, and lead to feeling an abortion is necessary. And then we call them “sluts” for getting pregnant. I wonder, if you knew you were going to be called a slut, would it encourage you to have the baby?

If we really value life then we should show respect for people. Rather than standing in front of Planned Parenthood, we should build healthcare clinics and hospitals in underserved communities. Rather than voting for anyone that opposes new taxes, willing pay them to build community infrastructures that work. Rather than paying an African American less, try paying them the same and ensuring it is a living wage. Rather than saying abortion clinics are racist try working with the city council to change the policies that advantage white communities and disadvantage minority communities.

If you claim to be Pro-Life and you pay women, minorities, or any disadvantaged person less because you can, then you are not Pro-Life. You are Pro-Self. If you think it is acceptable to have substandard schools in minority communities, or inadequate infrastructure then you are not Pro-Life because the policies you accept continue generational poverty and thus encourage abortion. If you call a woman that gets pregnant outside of marriage a slut you are not Pro-Life, but you are encouraging abortion by your actions.

Abortion is not racism. Using the serious issue of abortion as a club to beat up on minority communities and those that actually serve them is.


Privileged and White Benefits Me and Disadvantages Others

I am privileged and white. I examine my conscience and recognize a need to be an active member of my community and committed to social justice, but that is different than recognizing how my privilege negatively impacts others and how it favors me. It is easy to be an active and committed member of a community, but much harder to reject privilege.

Our laws, policies, and practices intentionally, or maybe unintentionally, favor Caucasians and especially those in upper income levels. I can walk the streets, enter a department store, and walk through a neighborhood without anyone questioning my presence. I’ve never feared the police, been served last, or felt excluded because of my race. When I was active duty the uniform alone resulted in me being given preferential treatment from boarding planes first, to free upgrades, to being treated with respect by total strangers.

We passed laws to protect voting rights not because we wanted to make things equal, but because we needed to end the inequality. No law will end the biases that live one’s soul and so long as that bias is present in human beings there will be those that justify their attempts to keep their privilege intact. No one questions if a Caucasian person should vote, nor are voter ID laws intended to stop people like me from voting. I’ve lived in states that required ID to vote and still haven’t been asked for mine. Voter ID laws are about fear that all others will vote. Essentially we are saying we trust you if you are Caucasian, but we don’t trust others. This may seem like a minor inconvenience that anyone should accept to maintain the integrity of the system, but it also maintains white privilege. I will feel no stress when I go to vote. I know with or without everything I need I will be allowed to vote. Not only does that benefit me, but it disadvantages others. If they, out of stress or fear, do not show up to vote then my vote is favored not just because I showed up, but because my privilege made someone else fear showing up.  How hard would it be to insist that they not only take my ID, but take the time to check it?

Health care is much the same as voting. My privilege results in greater access to care in areas that are convenient to me. Yet, if I lived in a poor or predominantly minority neighborhood almost anywhere in the country I would have less access. The overabundance of health care facilities in predominantly Caucasian areas results in an inadequate number in predominantly minority communities. My privilege has an adverse impact on the access to health care of others. How different would Federally Qualified Health Centers look if all of us had to get our care at one? What impact would it have on health care outcomes if facilities were evenly distributed?

When we consider laws, policies, and practices we need to consider how privilege is not only benefiting us, but adversely impacting others. Standing for justice matters, but not as much as renouncing our privilege.


Lent Approaches: Should we cast out the unclean or bath them in compassion

Lent is a few days away and the readings on this cold and snowy Sunday were about leprosy. The once dreaded disease is now treatable and there is no longer a need to shun people with leprosy, put them in isolated communities, or have them shout “unclean, unclean.” We like to imagine that times have changed and we would never be so uncaring or inhumane, but are we and should we be?

Racism and bigotry are diseases able to infect the young and the old alike. The virus enters trough the brain and infects the soul. It multiplies until where once existed love there is only hate. I often wonder if it is better to isolate the one that is infected to avoid unintentionally spreading the disease through social media contact or if it is better to engage and see if love and compassion will slow the infection or even cure the illness.

Racism and bigotry are far more dangerous than any disease of the body. It is a disease that kills the soul of the infected and takes away the human dignity of all it touches. We have much work to do to cure this plague on our communities, our country, and even our world.

Lent is a good time to pray, sacrifice, and offer our time to change the policies that support racism and bigotry and to join in solidarity with those that stand for justice.

Reading 1LV 13:1-2, 44-46

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,
“If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch
which appears to be the sore of leprosy,
he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest,
or to one of the priests among his descendants.
If the man is leprous and unclean,
the priest shall declare him unclean
by reason of the sore on his head.

“The one who bears the sore of leprosy
shall keep his garments rent and his head bare,
and shall muffle his beard;
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,
since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

 


When Policy Fails: It is a Sad Day for Justice, Freedom, & Equality

“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them.” –Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Recently it seems as if we have had no great days for justice, freedom, and equality. It is a sad day for policy makers when the reduction in teen pregnancy seems to be linked to a reality TV show and not to a change in policy. It is also a sad day when federal policy to provide military weapons to civilian police appears to be resulting in the increased use of force that is disproportionately levied against young black men. We have a few options: 1) let reality TV take over policy, or 2) change our policy model.

There is a plethora of policy frameworks and models that I could adopt to analyze a policy. Hindshaw and Grady (2011) identified three that work especially well for health care policy:

  1. Data-Driven Policymaking (Weinick & Shin, 2003)
  2. Evidence-Informed Health Policy (Green & Bennett, 2007)
  3. The Policy Cycle: Moving From Issue to Policy (Shamian et al., 2002)

Each has distinct advantages and may serve me well, but like many policy analyses I have reviewed they are lacking two fundamental elements: compassion and human dignity. The Policy Cycle did include values and beliefs, but as we all know many of our values are completely devoid of compassion when carefully examined. Compassion and reason should coexist in our policy making. If we are ever going to get beyond the negative influences of policy that is bought and paid for by the highest bidder, forced on the weak by the biggest policy bully, conceived by the person who puts personal success in front of a well ordered society and profits before people, then a broader concept of what a constitutes a good policy must be considered. We must add compassion and ensure human dignity while minimizing negative influences. Maybe then we won’t have to depend on reality TV to solve teen pregnancy or turn our police officers into occupying forces to “protect and serve”.

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Adapted from: Policy Cycle: Moving from Issue to Policy (Shamian, Skelton-Green, Villeneuve, 2002)


What Does Poverty Look Like? Not What You Might Think

What must it feel like to live in poverty? What must it feel like to be the object of scorn?

As I listen to the arguments against a living wage, and even an increased minimum wage, I try to imagine living in poverty. I imagine the constant stress of not having money for food and I don’t mean buying prepared food from Whole Paycheck, but rather being able to put a warm meal on the table. I imagine worrying about paying rent, utilities, transportation costs, and for medical care. The thing I don’t worry about is being able to pay for school, because it didn’t even come close to the top of my priority list even through I know it is why I’m not in poverty. Every worry was in the bottom rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Who are the poor?

  • The poor include those employed or underemployed at low wage jobs.  4.2% of those working full time and 14.4% of those working part-time are among the working poor.  Almost 19% of workers are poor.  The working poor are more likely to be women and minorities. 10.5 million Americans are among the working poor.
  • Families with children are 4 times more likely to live in poverty than those without children.
  • 60-80% of the mentally ill are unemployed and 90% of those with severe mental illness are unemployed.
  • 1 in 7 homeless adults or about 67,000 on any given night is a veteran.
  • 1.6 million children in the U.S. are homeless each year – I’m pretty sure it isn’t because they are lazy.

There is no doubt that the world has a certain number of lazy, shiftless, no accounts that live off of others. Fortunately, they are the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of the poor are people, who through no faulty of their own, are born female, minority, mentally ill, or physically ill. They are children that were not born into wealth or whose parents work full-time at minimum wage jobs. The poor are our brother and our sisters.   They are our neighbors.

I do not know why we fear the poor or feel a need to blame them for their position in this world. Why is it so hard to put aside our fears and address the needs of others? Why can’t we address the poor government decisions, greedy corporations, failing educations system, and lack of adequate mental health care?  Why can’t we insist on the same evidence-based practice in economics and the war on poverty that we do in health care? Are we really so concerned about having another nuclear weapon, another aircraft carrier, another bridge to nowhere, another tax subsidy for a stadium or an oil company that we can’t adequately feed and house the poor until we figure out how to address poverty?

The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46 NIV)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

 


Do We Serve for Love of Country or Love of Money

Congress has proposed a budget that keeps retirement pay of military retirees at 1% less than the Cost of Living Adjustment until the military retiree reaches 62.  This will cost the average retiree between $200,000 and $ 600,000 in lost pay.  However, it isn’t just military retirees that are giving up pay or benefits.  The federal civilian personnel will pay 1.3% more into their retirement in one of the three tiers.  This may seem hard, but is it worse than the cut to food stamps or to unemployment?

I retired at 48 years old after 20 years of service.  I retired at 20 to allow for another full career as a teacher.  Part of the compensation package was lifetime medical insurance and 50% of my base pay for life. I make more in retirement pay than 50% of the households in the U.S. earn even without considering the medical benefits.  My retirement pay was more than the average professor at one university was paid. Since retiring I’ve worked for two universities as a nursing professor and in both cases my retirement medical insurance is better than what is offered by the university and doesn’t cost me $400 or more per month.  It was without question a consideration and did make it easier to follow my conscience and accept less from a faith-based university.

It sometimes amazes me the number of college professors that first served their country in uniform.  It seems as if that desire to serve, the need to be needed, does not go away after one takes off the uniform.  We are hired by all manner of colleges and universities, but are particularly attractive to small faith-based colleges and universities that can’t equal the compensation package of state universities.  Because we have a retirement pay and medical benefits we are generally willing to work for less and to follow our hearts and moral convictions rather than the money.  I owe the ability to work for less partially to my government retirement pay, but more because of the medical benefits.  I also owe it to the government that provided me a free PhD at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences (USU) and arranged the classes so I could attend in the evening after work.

The policy decision that created a PhD in Nursing program at USU did consider that graduates would retire and then help address the faculty shortage by teaching.  Likewise, the decision to promote good pay and medical benefits was to encourage and support fully voluntary uniformed services in the U.S.  Since Vietnam not one person has been drafted.  This has not come without a cost to the taxpayer.  Yet, we must consider if the cost is worth the benefit.

Possible Consequences:

  • Fewer uniformed service retirees accept positions at colleges and universities resulting in their life experience being lost to students.
  • The money saved on salaries will be transferred to more unneeded planes, ships, and bombs and thus no actual cost savings.
  • A shift in the demographics in the uniformed services that is even less representative of the nation than the current military.
  • A less educated uniformed service because fewer are staying in for a full career.
  • Loss of institutional knowledge.

Possible Benefits:

  • A smaller uniformed service with fewer commitments to stay in for 20 year resulting in cost savings.
  • Service member leave younger with a commitment to continued work in public and community service and thus even more years to contribute.

I think we diminish what it means to serve one’s country when we complain about retirement pay that is more than 50% of people in the country earn working.  Granted all retirement pay is not equal. I know we made sacrifices.  I know that every move resulted in my husband giving up his job and starting over and earning less as a result.  I know we moved frequently enough that it was hard to buy homes without loosing money.  My concern is that when we make serving one’s country about money we risk attracting not the people who serve because they love their country, but people who see it as only a job and a good income. We risk attracting only those who want to get ahead and not those willing to risk displeasure for the good of the country.

When Congress votes on the current budget I hope they support the change to retirement pay, but I also think they need to add a provision to assess the impact it has on the number of retired officers and NCOs that choose to work for colleges, universities, and not-for-profit organizations.  If it found that it pushes these highly trained, efficient, and practical people away from these organizations and into the business world then I believe it will have a long-term negative impact on our social fabric and should be revised.

I loved getting up in the morning, putting on the uniform, and knowing that I worked for an organization that was bigger than me. I would have gladly taken the oath and given the country 20 years with fewer benefits because it wasn’t about the money.  It was about service to my country, caring for the poor and suffering, and being part of the mission to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of the Nation.  I carried that commitment with me into my teaching and think it would be a huge loss if one of the adverse consequences were that fewer retired service members are willing teach after retirement.  One John Hopkins professor that came to work for us when I was still with the government said if he knew then (teaching) what he knows now (putting policy into action), he would have taught in a different way.   Likewise, what I have learned since I’ve been a college professor is that professors work harder than most people think and they do it for significantly less than the average officer.   More importantly, I’ve learned that we serve for the greater good and not for financial reward; and, in all we do we are teaching students the importance of service and leading by example.

Let us not be drawn into the greed demonstrated by those who do not understand service and do their job primarily for the financial reward.  I hope that most service members accept this spending bill with grace, knowing that we are and will still be well compensated for our service and have been given much by the taxpayers that fund our salaries and our retirement benefits.  We only need to look at those that are homeless, unemployed, disabled, or immigrants to remind us of how fortunate we are.  By our sacrifice there may be less sacrifice ask of those who have little.  We need to ask ourselves if we served for love of God and country or love of money.

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Women are Human Beings

Time passes so quickly and yet not quickly enough if you are part of a class that doesn’t enjoy the fullness of human dignity.  In 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York an enlightened group of men and women signed the Declaration of Sentiments.  While it spoke primarily of the role of governments it did address the role of the Church.  One must wonder if what was written in 1848 could today be applied to the Church and the role of women.  Consider replacing “government” with “church” below and ask yourself, “Does this describe what we need today?”

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments [Church] long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government [Church] and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government [Church], and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

How far have we come from the resolutions of 1848 in the public and in the Church?  It can be well supported that we have made great progress in changing public laws as they relate to women.   However, we must remember that it was less than 100 years ago that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote was signed into law.  Today we are still fighting for laws such as The Violence Against Women Act because too many in our culture still think it is acceptable to keep us down by beating us, threatening us, and even keeping us from speaking about that which we hold most dear – our faith.

America Magazine published a special edition on women’s issues and when I read it I was impressed by some of the work of amazing women like Carolyn Woo and Sr. Prejean.  Yet, too much of the issue was the same old story.  We are valued because we have wombs and they produce the children of men, as if to say we do it for men and the children are theirs.  I started reading with great hope and when I finished reading the articles I felt that Elizabeth Stanton would be shocked by the lack of progress since she drafted the Declaration of Sentiments.

Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature and of no validity, for this is superior in obligation to any other.

Resolved, that all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature and therefore of no force or authority.

Resolved, that woman is man’s equal, was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.

Resolved, that the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.

Resolved, that inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is preeminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.

Resolved, that the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.

Resolved, that the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.

Resolved, that woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.

Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Resolved, that the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.

Resolved, that the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.

Resolved, therefore, that, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities and same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self-evident falsehood, and at war with mankind.

Read more: The Declaration of Sentiments | Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0875901.html#ixzz2iSKk0h2F

I submit that human dignity is not supported by separate but equal approaches to spirituality.  We learned long ago that there is no such thing as separate and equal.  Separation results in subjugation and as women we need to develop our own Declaration of Sentiments as it relates to our Church and our faith.

From Rosie to Title IX We Have a Long Way to Go to Do It

From Rosie to Title IX We Have a Long Way to Go to Do It


Waste and Hunger: The Sadness of Government Disfunction

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  – Matthew 25:35-40

Yesterday I asked my husband to stop at the Commissary and pick up kitty litter.  The Commissary was closed.  I felt sad. Kitty litter can be bought elsewhere and to me it is only a minor inconvenience.  However, I have always had a fear of hunger and homelessness.  When I see waste and excess it makes me sad.

In a press release Joseph Jeu, Defense Commissary Agency Director and CEO said, “We are acutely aware of the hardships placed on all our customers if we cannot deliver their commissary benefit.”  Many retired and disabled veterans shop at over 200 Commissaries nationwide.   The cost savings is approximately 30%.  While active duty members are getting paid many of those with commissary privileges are not.  It is bad enough to not pay people, but then to take away their access to the Commissary increases their expenses.  But, that isn’t what made me sad.

I’m sad because the Commissary is full of food.  Food that isn’t purchased will spoil.  Sure, it is a ridiculous waste of government money to let food go bad, but more than that it is sad when we know there are people who are hungry and poor to whom the food could be given.  I’m sad because I imagine it will all be thrown out.  While Congress isn’t passing the budget to fund WIC, Meals on Wheels, Head Start, and other feeding programs Congress is also causing food to be wasted.  I’m rapidly coming to believe that these men are women are without compassion and the Christian values on which the country was build are lost in a House that is so caught up in worldly desires that they have forgotten to care for least among us first.


What Did 9/11 Cost US

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God. (Matthew 5:1-11)

We all remember.  Only aging brains and senility will ever take the awful memories from us.  The flames, the smoke, people walking around in a daze, and images of people jumping from the building and the Twin Towers coming down are seared into our minds and our souls.  This was followed by the image of the fire fighters digging for their dead – the brave that ran up the stairs knowing that they would never return and did it anyway.  They kissed their friends goodbye.  Big, burly, brave men kissed and hugged and ran up the stairs into the smoke.  I imagine when they stopped and the smoke cleared they realized they were in heaven.

It is so sad that the trauma did not end that day.  We went to war to defend ourselves and make sure that the evil that caused the day was destroyed.  Most Americans, and most of the world stood with us in our grief on 9/11 and felt we were justified in Afghanistan.  Young men and women gladly sacrificed their lives for the safety of the Nation.  We have lost 2271 men and women as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Another 12,309 have been wounded and the number rises each day.

Not satisfied, we went to Iraq and we lost 4486 brave men and women.  Another 32,223 were wounded, many of whom will never fully recover.  I think today most of us believe this was a mistake.  Almost 37,000 men, women, and their families paid a big price because we acted too quickly and with inadequate and faulty intelligence.

I hope we learned from 9/11 and from the mistakes of Iraq.  I hope we learned to make sure we are not acting because we are angry or even because we righteously want to remove evil from the world.  Before we attack another country we need to remember that we lost more people in Iraq and Afghanistan than we did on 9/11.

Today I hope we remember not only the innocent victims of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but those who gave their own lives to try to save others and defend the U.S.  I wish more of us demonstrated the same bravery as the firefighters who rushed up the stairs, the passengers that took the plane back, the staff that stayed in the White House knowing the risks, and all of those who have volunteered to serve in the U.S. military.  I hope we take this opportunity to say we don’t want any more wars.  We don’t want any more attacks on other countries that aren’t threatening us.  Over 50,000 dead and wounded are enough and there still is not peace in the Middle East.  Clearly war and the threat of war have never solved the problems in that region.  Repeating the cycle of violence will not help.

Government policy cannot be to continually declare war.  War does not solve our problems.  The war on poverty left us with even more poverty.  The war on drugs has left us with new and more toxic drugs.  The war on terrorism has resulted in even more terrorist that hate America.  All the “wars” have left us with every growing debt and private sector companies growing fat and wealthy off the suffering of others.  The sacrifice of the brave and endless war cannot be the end result of the government policies we refer to as the war on terrorism.  The end result must be peace and security.  Surely, the way to gain peace and security is not through violence, peril, and spying on our own people.  If it is then we have already lost our identity as a country.


Treason, Oaths, and Policy Review

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

I hated having a security clearance.  I don’t like secrets and once joked that if you don’t want the world to know, don’t tell me.  Then one day my job required me to have a Top Secret clearance and when I was granted the clearance I took an oath and had absolutely no doubt that I would never repeat what I knew even when I realized most of it was already on CNN.

An oath must mean something and we should each recognize that we do not have all the answers or know how all the pieces fit together.  As a Captain, and a fairly senior official, I sat in meetings that sometimes left me shaking my head.  I realized that as much as I knew I didn’t have the full picture. The pieces I had were added to the pieces from other departments, and put together by subject matter experts, and then briefed to senior advisers and Secretaries.  The number of briefings, edits, clearances, and revisions slowly moved up the chain to the White House.  It could be frustrating, but it had a purpose.  Of course, there were many other levels, but the point is, there are those who see the big picture and have studied and been trained by the very best for many years before they can see how all the pieces fit together.  To be clear, a PFC or a low level government contractor doesn’t have a clue about the big picture.  It is the equivalent of having the person that cleans the floor in the operating room decide who needs brain surgery, letting that person choose the tools, and finally when to do the surgery.  The difference is that potentially many lives are put at risk by divulging classified information – real people die.  Just like the bomber pilot that never sees the victims of the bomb, the one with loose lips never sees the victims.

I did not like the Patriot Act, but I wasn’t elected and didn’t get to vote.  Once passed, my job as a government employee (an officer) was to follow orders and do my job.  The people elected Congress to pass laws.  Government employees take oaths to support and defend the constitution.  We are also supposed to refuse unlawful orders.  There are procedures to refuse an order or question an order.  If each individual can make his or her own decisions on what order to follow then there would be mass chaos and we would rapidly become a very large third world country.   Just imagine a country run by FOX news and MSNC where a bunch of self-righteous, talking heads, that have limited knowledge and whom have never worn the uniform of the United States make the decisions.  They have strong opinions, but for the most part have a limited perspective that more and more is biased by political ideology.

18 USC 2381 Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

When one flees to a foreign country and revels secrets that harm the United States it is disgusting, but not treason unless the person is either levying war against the U.S. or providing aid and comfort to a country with whom we are at war.  Treason is a high bar to reach.  It is one thing to make a public speech against the government or to release information to inform the public, and another entirely to do it to aid the enemy.

When we approach policy on how to deal with those that violate our trust or betray their oaths, be they elected official or government employee or contractor, the punishment should never be one’s life.  Taking a person’s life will not get the documents back or take back words.  Our values cannot be that our secrets hold more value than a human life.  Nor should our response be to make every action an opportunity for political finger pointing.  It should be taken as an opportunity to review laws and policies that left us vulnerable.

It is time to review laws and supporting policies related to:

  1. The process for evaluating a person’s access to classified information, the information that should be classified, and the hiring of contractors for jobs that should be held by a person who takes an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the U.S
  2. The hiring and firing a government employ or revoking a contract of a government contractor.  It should not be so difficult that people do not get ride of those that clearly should have been dismissed
  3. The Patriot Act and the access of the media to war zone must be examined.  It is important for the media to have access to ensure that we do not commit acts in war that we do not want to see the light of day.  It is also important to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens.

I doubt there are any of us that want every aspect of lives examined by the government, our ability to speak out of conscience totally restricted, or our jobs at risk for speaking when we shouldn’t have.  That is why we have Facebook, Twitter, and editors.


USA Patriot Act of 2001: The Party-Line

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both – Benjamin Franklin

I have been amused the last week by the public attention given to the Patriot Act and the use of the FISA Court warrants for tracking calls on Verizon and who knows how many other providers that were not leaked.  I’m amused because so many claim they did not know this was happening or did not expect it to happen.  If one doesn’t know it can only be explained through naiveté or forgetfulness.

The USA Patriot Act of 2001 was overwhelmingly and rapidly passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in October of 2001 and a four-year extension, the Patriot Sunset Extension Act of 2011, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in May 2011.  The title alone explains the purpose of the act, which was to strengthen America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism.  The Act implemented or enhanced government’s enforcement abilities in some key areas:

  1. Regulation of financial transactions,
  2. Discretion of law enforcement and immigration to detain and deport individuals “suspected” of terrorism including domestic terrorism, and
  3. Searches without the occupant’s knowledge including searches of telephone, email, financial records, and business records.

Or as the government would describe it:

  1. Allows investigators to use the tools that were already available to investigate crime and drug trafficking.
    1. Allows law enforcement to use surveillance against more crimes of terror,
    2. Allows federal agents to follow sophisticated terrorists trained to evade detection,
    3. Allows law enforcement to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists, and
    4. Allows federal agents to ask a court for an order to obtain business records in national security terrorism cases.
    5. Facilitated information sharing and cooperation among government agencies so they can better “connect the dots”.
    6. Updated the law to reflect ne technologies and new threats.
    7. Increased penalties for those who commit terrorist crimes.

Whether one reads the brief summary of the Patriot Act or the full text it is important to read and to understand.  One then should read the Patriot Sunset Extension Act of 2011. The full extent of the benefits and risks are not as simple as the media and the government would have one believe.

Knowing this why are we finally upset?  The answer is that many didn’t like the law at the time, but there was what can only be described as widespread panic after the 9/11 attacks.  People willingly gave away their freedom for security and we have continued to do so everyday since.  We have done it in little ways.  We willingly walk through metal detectors and have bags searched when we go to a ballgame or a concert.  We first put our items through a scanner at the airport, then ourselves, then took off our shoes, and are now virtually strip searched so anyone can see “all” of us.  There are security cameras and traffic cameras everywhere.  Since we let all of this be done why not our phones, emails, and social medias?

The truth is we give away our privacy everyday.  Most people today do not remember the “party-line” (Dennis the Menace – Party Line) when it meant a shared telephone line and not a political view.  The party line was shared and anyone on one’s line could listen in.  There were few secrets in a neighborhood because the operator could also listen.  We wanted that telephone and so it was worth the loss of privacy.  We sign up for rewards cards and they are tracked. We use credit cards for everything we purchase and the information is sold.  We have gps on our cars and and every place we go is tracked.  All of this we do voluntarily because we want a service. This doesn’t even begin to consider what we put on Facebook, Google, YouTube, and more.  We “check in” willing and enjoy it.  It connects us to people.

The same connections that we love so much are also used for terrorism and to recruit terrorists.  They are used to indoctrinate vulnerable young people and to quickly spread plans.  The USA Patriot Act was an attempt to identify and stop terrorism before it happened.  We knew at the time if we gave away a freedom that it would be a little more, a little more, a little more with the potential of significantly eroding our freedom.  Maybe the most dangerous portion was the redefining of terrorism to include domestic terrorism.  Domestic terrorism is defined as:

Any activity that involves an act that is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive to critical infrastructure or key resources, and is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state or other subdivision of the United States and appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

In other words, virtually anything that is a crime and is dangerous to human life or property is now terrorism.

We gave away our freedom because were scared and vulnerable.  We let the government take from us what we went to war to prevent the terrorist from taking.  There is no doubt that the tools of the USA Patriot Act have been used to protect us from terrorism.  They build a virtual network of potential terrorists.  Unfortunately, within that net there are always innocent people.  The question is, is it worth it?  Is becoming more secure worth having our every move monitored?  Is it worth slowing becoming a police state?  What will be tracked next – your medical record? What freedom is next – religion?


Policy 101 – Never Propose an Alternative (Sequester) With Which You Can’t Live

I wonder if there is a single American that isn’t frustrated with the President and Congress over the sequester.  We need to reframe our approach to fiscal policy.  Specifically, we should seek just policy over mere charity, compassion and equity over profit and special interest, and human dignity over personal preference and convenience. The Sequester is a failure of Congress and the President to seek just policy, demonstrate compassion and equity, and show a preference for human dignity.  I should add, and to do their jobs.  I can’t help but wonder how it came to be that Congress and the President care more about winning than the country and their neighbors?  How is this leadership?

It is clear that the President proposed the sequester, but it is also clear he did it in order to avoid the debt ceiling crisis.  Likewise, Congress went along with it because they, like the President, believed no one was so self-centered and so lacking in judgment as to let it occur.  That was unwise on all parts.

Having spent many years focused on policy in the government and now teaching health policy to graduate students I have one hard and fast rule.  Rule #1 for policy alternatives, never put an option on the table with which one cannot live. Count on the fact that someone will think it is a good idea; even if it is only to eventually make a rival look bad. The sequester was a bad idea.  It was bad policy.  It has proven that one party will follow the other right over the cliff in order not to “tap out” and I use the term because it is mental image I have in my head of Congress and the President.

It will not be an easy task to get to a reasonable budget and it will require a lot more than political speeches.  A reasonable policy to address our current financial needs should have some key elements:

  1. Assess Needs:  A reasonable assessment of needs should be conducted and not a department wish list.
  2. Respect Spending:  Recognize that a million dollars is a lot of money and stop approaching it as if it is insignificant.  It has caused a mind set that makes cuts harder than they should be by only examining big-ticket items.  It results in many departments ignoring the “small” items.  They do add up and just because they can’t resolve the budget crisis alone does not mean that small wasteful spending should not be stopped.
  3. Stabilize Funding:  Broad policies are needed that address the stabilization of funds, debt limits, and operational mechanisms.  I recognize the government has such mechanisms, but they do not work.  When something isn’t working it is a good idea to take another path or hire people that know how to make it work.  A budget needs to be a multi-year appropriation.  It takes significant time and effort for every department to prepare a budget that then it is rarely passed in a timely fashion if at all.  For example, the President proposes a budget in his or her first year for 4 years.  If Congress does not pass a budget by the end of the first year the President’s budget is automatically accepted and will run through the first year of the next President’s term.  It would require clear priorities and nothing could be added without an emergency appropriation.   It would also mean that the budget would be a significant issue that would require some specificity in Presidential campaigns rather than vague sound bites.  Finally, any funding not used by the end of the fiscal would role over into the next year (or 75% would role over and 25% back to treasury).  This may stop or reduce the absolutely crazy end of year spending many agencies do so that it doesn’t appear the money appropriated wasn’t needed.  This would necessarily require a change in current laws.
  4. Evaluate Performance and Make Necessary Changes:  A mechanism to measure success, reward it, and eliminate what is shown to be ineffective is needed.  Keeping programs because they are pet projects, or have big lobbies, or even because it is a good photo op has to end.  All like programs should be combined.  There are many programs that exist for which there are virtually identically programs in other departments.  People in government are often unaware that another department is doing virtually the same work.  Least anyone wonder why this happens it is usually because Congress does it without recognizing what they are doing.
  5. Revise the Tax Code:  A fair and equitable tax code that is significantly simplified must be created.  This would require completely eliminating the current tax code, which is far too complex (we have more taxes and fees attached to specific items than you can imagine – imports, gas, alcohol, tobacco, etc).  There must be equality for the poor, the middle class, the rich the ridiculously rich, and businesses.  If corporations are people they should be treated and taxed like people.  Likewise, unearned income should not be taxed at a lower rate than earned income nor should inheritance be excluded.  I didn’t earn my parents money, they did.  When it comes to me it is unearned and to me it is income and should be taxed.  I should be able to tell you how much I paid in taxes, but I can only tell you my income tax.  I doubt the government even knows how many ways we are taxed.
  6. Apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:  A consistent mechanism to assess whether the budget ensures the bottom two rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are meet should be implemented – after those needs are meet what is done is what the people are willing to pay for in taxes without incurring greater debt.
  7. Enhance Education:  A priority to ensure the most highly educated workforce in the world should be an automatic priority – good things will follow.  Maybe we can even acknowledge that testing doesn’t make us smarter, but it cost a lot of money.
  8. Public Input – Implement a mechanism to gather public input on budget priorities.  The people pay the taxes and there should be a mechanism for input.  At one time that was by our vote for our representatives at all levels.  This now only allows input of Republicans to Republicans and Democrats to Democrats, neither of which appear to listen.  A letter gets a form letter reply most likely from a twenty something staffer.  That is not input.  The electronic capabilities exist to post budgets, link supporting documents, and provide a period of feedback from the people that pay the taxes.  Ultimately, Congress passes the budget, but it will no longer be able to hide large pet projects.  All budgets should be publically available at all phases of the process, including drafts.
  9. Department Reviews:  Not all departments or agencies are currently relevant.  Let me give you a few expensive examples.  Do we need separate medical components for the Army, Navy, Air Force, U.S. Public Health Service, and Veterans Affairs?  Could we not have one component that serves them all and save all the administrative duplication?  Do we need the Department of Education?  Has our educational system improved as the department has grown or have we fallen further behind?  How many times has it been recommended that the SSBG be eliminated only to have Congress not eliminate it, but add even more money to it?  Does anyone really believe that the retirement age should not be 68 or 70?  Remember, what the life expectancy was when Medicare and Social Security was first instituted and adjust it accordingly.
  10. Human Dignity:  Each budget item should, at a minimum, not harm human dignity either within or outside the U.S.  The budget tells us much about our morality.  It tells us what we truly value.
Maslow's Hierachy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs

The sequester was a colossal lack of leadership by the President and lack of judgment by Congress.  The first to admit they made a mistake and undo it will earn my respect.  Those who cannot admit their errors do not deserve our respect or our votes.

Exempting the Department of Defense and not programs that feed the poor, house the homeless, and ensure education of the children is not acceptable.  As Congress and the President approaches the budget I hope they can keep in mind the Judgment of Nations.

 The Judgment of the Nations.* 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35h For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40i And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41*  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44* Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ 46And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”


Human Dignity in Public Policy

“Those that proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them.”

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

It would seem obvious that human life is sacred and that there is inherent dignity in all humans.  However, a quick look at public policy, media, and even individual human actions reveals that it is not at all obvious that life is treated as sacred or that there is inherent dignity in all humans.  One only needs to ask what it means to respect life and a heated debate may ensue with all parties proclaiming to be the sole holder of truth.  Most such discussions never proceed beyond abortion, the death penalty, war, and guns.

When asked what is human dignity, a frequently provided answer is the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  No it was not a question about the Declaration of Independence.  Yet, it appears that the representatives that signed the declaration understood human dignity and its foundation in our creation in the likeness of God, in stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Why then is this not part of the intellectual reasoning process in making public policy?  And, why for our entire history have we failed to live up to these words in the Declaration of Independence?

On the anniversary of Row v. Wade, let us consider life.  Life is a right.  Unfortunately, it is a right that we appear not to value as a society and a right for which we too frequently fail to give meaningful thought.  Here are a few areas where there is significant disagreement, and where life is either not treated as a right, or the issue gets inadequate public policy attention.

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Culture of violence in video games, movies, and music
  • Death penalty
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug, alcohol, and substance use
  • Health care & mental health care- inadequate
  • Homelessness
  • Genocide
  • Guns
  • Malnutrition
  • Obesity
  • Poverty
  • Sex trafficking
  • Terrorism
  • Torture
  • Violence (rape, hate crimes, child sex abuse, etc.)
  • War

All of these either prevent, end, shorten, or seriously impact life or the quality of life.  There is no public consensus on how to address any of them.  In fact, within the last year each resulted in someone trying to justify the action and/or imply that it was self-inflicted.

The next time someone ask you if you are pro-life be sure to consider whether life is sacred and whether it is the foundation of your moral vision of society.  We can only protect human dignity and have a healthy community if we protect human rights and fulfill our responsibilities to each other.  We cannot shrug off poverty because it will always exist and ignore our responsibility to the poor and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot justify rape because the vagina was not ripped to shreds and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot let our children be murdered or sexually assaulted (or cover up the same) and claim to be pro-life. We cannot turn a blind eye to sex-trafficking and claim to be pro-life.  We cannot fulfill our responsibility without first recognizing the value of sharing ideas, cooperating to advance policy that supports human dignity, and admitting that no one individual is the sole purveyor of truth.

On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade consider whether abortion is blinding us to all other aspects of life and human dignity and whether a sole focus on protecting the unborn has resulted in public policy that ignores the threats to life that are all around us.  Likewise, consider whether treating abortion as a bad decision made under difficult circumstances has impacted our approach to human dignity in other areas.  Advancing the cause of human dignity in public policy requires us to fulfill our responsibilities and that must begin by listening to other people and hearing those perspectives with an open mind.  Maybe we would be more successful if we became pro-human dignity.