Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Using Religion as a Cover for Discrimination

This evening the nation is still watching to see if Governor J. Brewer of Arizona will sign or veto a bill that allows for “religious reasons” a business to deny services to anyone they so wish to do so. The rationale is that no business or person should be forced to provide services to a person for whom they view as living a lifestyle, or who has views that are against their religion. While the law is broadly written and makes no mention sexual orientation, gays are its primary target.


While Arizona does not have any laws protecting gays from discrimination with regard to housing, services, etc., three cities within the state have such laws. The law before the governor is an effort to override the laws of the three cities and allow businesses and individuals to discriminate with the State’s blessing.  I am disappointed that similar legislation is working through the Georgia legislature, and likewise under consideration in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Missouri.


The bill is driven by a cluster of "conservative" Christians who view gays as living an unhealthy and sinful lifestyle, and feel gays should be second class citizens. They are uncomfortable with interacting with gays. Their perspective is akin to John Calvin’s views and his rule of Geneva. The viewpoint holds that the Christian faith should govern the law of the land, and no Christians should be forced to work with or provide services to those who they consider to be offensive to them and their beliefs.


Under Calvin’s leadership, Christian values were imposed upon all citizens. Everyone was required to go to church, whether they were part of the elect or not. Swearing, playing cards, playing non-religious music, doing any work on Sunday, even quietly in private were outlawed and could land one in prison. Those whose faith was defined a little more broadly than Calvin, could find themselves in prison for what doing what they viewed as being okay by their understanding of faith, but which Calvin views as sinful.  After seven years, Calvin jettisoned imposing religious laws upon the whole population.


I am against the Arizona law on a number of levels and hope Brewer vetoes the bill. I am against imposing Christian views upon the country as a whole. Whose Christian understanding of faith should prevail, conservative Baptists? Conservative Methodists? Roman Catholics? Are we to outlaw the eating of meat on Friday? The religious beliefs of The Salvation Army which views smoking and alcohol as evil? What about those churches that view eating out on Sunday or filling up your car’s gas tank as sinful?    


I detest laws which set one group above another, giving one group the ability to use their majority to abuse and discriminate against a minority. The strength of American democracy and its Constitution is that it protects the minority and reminds the majority that they must be mindful of the minority and do not live in land where the tyranny of the majority is enshrined.


It infuriates me when people use the Christian faith as the cover for unjust discrimination and prejudice, to grant privileges of one group over another group, and to justify conduct that in other contexts would be criminal and ungodly. Such conduct contrary to the Christian values that I know and value. We have seen religious rationale as justifying the enslaving of other races, as segregating people of different faiths into designated “quarters” with inferior infrastructure, denying people with employment opportunities or advancement or equal pay for the same job, destruction of property, beating and killing, prohibiting people of different ethnicity from socializing and marrying, denying entrance to a college, and turning down bank loans. We are not talking about what has taken place in past centuries for many of these things have taken placed during my lifetime.


My belief system should not be imposed upon others, nor should the beliefs of another imposed upon me and my family. That said, if I am working in the world, I should be able to interact civilly those who have different beliefs and values, and I should not deny them services that I can reasonably offer and which they reasonably can expect. My interaction is part of life, and does not pollute my faith and life.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge

The current saga in New Jersey politics continues to drawn national attention, and may well be there for many months ahead. Heads are shaking, but how they are shaking at the moment seems more tied to one’s political leanings. Many Republicans are standing to the side quietly while a good number of others are saying it is much to do about nothing and that what a large number of Democrats see abuse of power is not so and there is not need for the matter investigated fully.


Those who claim that it is much to do about nothing remind me of those who rallied around Nixon saying that Watergate was not a big deal. If there is wonton abuse of power for political payback by any elected official or those associated with that official, the light needs to be put on it.  Questions must be raised and wrong doing rooted out if the citizens of the nation are to have trust in their political leaders. Therefore, yes an investigation needs to take place. Christie should understand this full well for as the US AG for NJ he took on vigorously high profile corruption cases of elected officials. While I hope it is aggressive I hope that it is balanced.


Since meeting him two and half years ago I've follow Chris Christie with some interest. He is charismatic, a confronter and speaks his mind. While clearly he is pompous and egoistical, those are common characteristics of those who run for the higher offices in the nation. They have triple doses of self-confidence, pride and narcissism. They are quick to talk about themselves, slow to give credit to others as well as slow to accept blame. The question is the degree to which their egos get the better of them.

If bridge closure is an isolated matter, there will be no other stories about abuse of power. If on the other hand political payback be punishing the citizens of a community has happened, they will likely now come to the surface and have legs.


A significant part of running for and being in a high office is a strong measure of image projection. It is not uncommon to project one image when something else may well be the reality. Christie has projected himself as a man in control of his team, and the one who makes decisive clear decisions and that he is well aware of everything that each member of his inner team is doing and that there is little that they do without him being involved. Is that manly image with little content? In the coming weeks and months we will see if the image was a front with little behind it or if he is truly aware of everything and his team merely carries out his stated or implied wishes.  Out of keeping with the image he has projected, his press conference seems to suggest otherwise. 


What bothers me the most is the grounds of Christie's rage and disappointment in various members of his team. It seems that much of his anger is more rooted to his team lying to him than in the wrongness of creating the traffic nightmare. Yes, one should be angry about being lied to, but the greatest rage should be over the act of shutting down the bridge as a way of sending a political message.

There was an apology to those harmed, but the apology seems to be a side issue to him, a minor matter to be noted, a quick word given and move one. Christie had an opportune moment to identify with the average citizen, to be the people's governor, to cry out on behalf the people their and his anger over the bridge closure. Instead he focused upon his own pain over being lied to. No great anger on behalf of the people and a subsequent apology to the people who were harmed was given.

Let's put this into perspective of a similar event during his governorship. When a scheduling issue created hours and hours of delays on a Sunday at another NJ bridge two and half years ago, Christie’s office pressed the officials to travel to various venues to apologize to the affected communities. One wonders what the inconsistency signifies. Does the silence not speak to how the matter is being emotionally viewed and understood by Governor Christie? I think it does.


We need Governors and Presidents who get more angry over abuse of power, and injustices against the average citizen more than personal insults felt by him/her as the result of the real or imagined actions of others, including her/his team. We need leaders who feel and speak our disappointment and rage because it is theirs too.


For many years Christie has portrayed himself as a straight-shooter, a politician who feels the fears, joys, concerns, loves and desires of the average citizen. He has done a good job of giving this impression. I fear the bridge story and how he has handled it indicates that that image is not accurate. Instead I fear he has created an atmosphere in his administration where closing down those lanes is viewed as acceptable practice. The hardball political payback and bullying, old fashioned politics are more the reality. And if so, this is not a man we need in the White House or as a Governor.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bell Ringer Hit

This week, outside a Phoenix Arizona a woman became actively engaged in the “war on Christmas” and firming affirming her faith by confronting a bell ringer who wished her a “Happy Holidays.” The woman confronted the bell ringer by asking, “Do you believe in God,” and then stating, “You’re suppose to say Merry Christmas.” The irate woman may well have felt that “Happy Holidays” was a threat to her faith and Christmas itself, so much so that she stood up for her faith with both her words and actions for she then proceeded to stress her point home by hitting the bell ringer in the arm, and the walking away possibly comforted by the thought she had born witness for her faith, and the child of peace.

Opposition vs. Loyal Opposition

Years spend observing both the American and Canadian political systems I’ve noticed that there is a concept that is not as firmly embraced in the American system as it is in Canada…the concept of loyal opposition.

In Canada the parties who do not form the government are not just in opposition, but they are the loyal opposition.  In my civics courses in junior high and in high school we were taught that the loyal opposition is not to oppose legislation for the sake of opposing the government. Rather they hold the government accountable and via balanced critiquing advocate for strengthening legislation for overall sake of the nation. The loyal opposition may well strongly oppose one measure while at other times somewhat supporting another while advocating for amendments. The opposition is to serve the government through its opposition. The daily question and answer periods where members of the loyal opposition can arise to directly ask questions of the government ministers and Prime Minister (or Premier) is a critical component of being part of the loyal opposition.

Being in loyal opposition is not a game whereby an opposing party using techniques and maneuvers to win a victory or opposes an idea just because it is advocated by the other party. Nor should the party in power use maneuvers to dismiss ideas from the opposition or worse, to marginalize the opposition, is contrary to the loyal opposition concept.

In America Congress is held in low esteem. I would say that the major power brokers, the major lobbyists, should be held in the same low esteem. There is good reason to hold Congress and lobbyists in low regard when the nation sees time and time legislation and ideas rejected, opposed and dismissed as horrible when only months to a few years before, the criticizing party and individual first proposed the idea and they are now rejecting it because the idea is now supported by the other party. That is not governing. That is game playing. Trying to win a game for the sake of the party, versus trying to serve the people and bring about the best possible legislation possible for the nation as a whole.

What would Congress look like, and how would they act if the loyal concept was integral to the process? I wonder what damaged has been done by the concept not being part of the governing process.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Two Party Political System and Extremism

There are a host of structural differences between the American and Canadian political systems due to the difference structures, America being republican with the direct election of the chief executive official and Canada being parliamentary with the indirect election of the chief executive.  Beyond the structural and resulting differences thereby created by the different structures, one of the differences, not created by the founding structure but which has evolved and become well settled is that in the United States there is two party system. In the United States, while a third party is theoretically possible both regionally and nationally, due to the entrenchment of the two party system with rules designed to hinder the formation of a statewide or regional third party, the rise of a third party is functionally impossible short of a split taking place in one of the two current parties.

By contrast, in Canada, and in Great Britain and Australia, multiple parties with regional and national appeal are not only possible but are common. Three or four options is such a common occurrence in Canada that having candidates on the ballet from three major parties is taken for granted by Canadians. While it is theoretically possible for Canada to have dozens of parties with wide national or provincial appeal, having more than three or four nation-wide or provincial-wide parties having broad appeal is rare for when a party becomes too small its effective voice for impacting change is so minimal that the party thereby ceases to be viewed as a viable option.  

A common argument for two having only to parties is that it ensures the winning candidate and party has the support of the majority of the citizenry. Such reasoning is based upon math, but we it does not mean the victorious candidate or party has a mandate. We should not fool ourselves into thinking this way for as evidenced in the current political environment few winning candidates truly has the support of the majority. The 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia is an example of where many voters vote not for the candidate but against the other candidate and for lesser of two poor choices.

This dynamic of voting for the lesser of two evils or poor candidates is more than rarity in America politics due to the extremes having strong sway and/or those with deep money yielding a victor in the local primaries who the general public cannot support. Well motivated organized extremes can readily have significant impact in a primary given that only a limited number of centrist voters become engaged in the primary process. Hence, a small group, a hundred or so, which are well organized and solidly funded, can color the results far beyond what their numbers would at face value indicate.

While in any system a drive to an extreme can occur, a two party system is particularly prone so such a drift. The extremes on the both left and right push their parties to away from being more centrist, and thereby leaving voters voting against a candidate than for a candidate, the lesser of two evils rather than embracing a candidate who reflects for the most part the views of the major of their constituents.  I like other’s too often find myself voting for a candidate that is not close to where I stand. And there are times when I’ve voted against someone who is closer to my economic and social views but cannot support that candidate because the party at large has become too far removed from my position. Hence, in a two party system, the choice sometimes comes down to going o the devil you least dislike.  

Unfortunately, when elected the individual and party come into power they think they have a mandate to do some more extreme things when no such a mandate exists except within the fringe that gave them the primary victory.

An ongoing via third party tends be a brake against extremes heavily influencing the other two parties for if the left of one party takes their party too far to the left while the right of the second party takes the second in the opposite direction, it is highly likely they will discover that they have ceded power to the more centrist party. For a party to remain on the extreme too long invites ongoing marginalization or even extinction as the majority of the voters will look to the party or party that is towards the center. For a party’s survival, the pragmatic center will ultimately pull their party away from the extreme.  Voters will more frequently be voting for a candidate they can affirm rather than choosing between the lesser of three evils.