Thursday, May 29, 2014

VA Scandel - pox on both houses and then some.

For the fifteen to twenty years anyone who has followed veterans affairs issues, particularly with regard to medical care would not surprised by the recent scandal involving the American VA. In the early 90’s funding going into the VA system shrank. WWII vets were becoming fewer and the VA was deemed to be a place to help balance the budget  or free funds for Congress’s pet projects. Yes, the was an aging pool of Korean and Vietnam vets that as they aged would need more support, but they were still years away from needing more intensive support and by when they did need such support the rapidly declining pool of WWII would soon be minimal.

Hence, over the 90s instead of facilities being updated, they were allowed to age, and not always gracefully either. In the mid to late 90s facilities were closing resulting in vets having travel two to three hours further to VA hospitals for treatment and care. Some vets in the areas of the country by 2000 were traveling a half a day or more to reach their nearest VA hospital. The overall strength of the medical staff not only decreased because of the closures of hospitals but also from decreases in medical staff at existing hospitals with aging and sometimes equipment that was not current.

The dedicated medical staff worked hard to care for those who came under their care in the same or greater numbers while having less and less resources to manage their care. And when this country went to war and its youth came home wounded in body and spirit, increasing the annual budget was not a priority of either Congress or the White House. In the 2000s to the present there were some budgetary increases, but they were not nearly enough to make up for the cuts, to modernize facilities, to open new facilities and clinics, to increase staff. The VA continued to serve more and more with inadequate resources.

With fewer and fewer resources, and with more demand, what is the logical result? What happens at a remote busy gas station and half the pumps are turned off? Lines and with longer wait times. And yet we are shocked by longer wait times at underfunded, underequipped and understaffed hospitals?

Earlier this year Congress refused to take up and pass a bill that would have given the VA an extra $2.1 million a year for the next ten years. This has been going on for decades. Congress by its action continued then and still does underfund the VA. Yet many of those who have underfunded the VA have been the first to cry out in scorn at the VA and the President for breaking faith with our veterans as if Congress and they themselves by their votes are blameless. Political commentators cry out in alarm, but the story has been there for decades and they did not cry.

Who has broken faith with our vets? It is not just this President with our veterans! It is the prior President too! It is not just past Congresses who bear a good part of the blame, but the current one as well. And on a personal level, personal blame goes to each Congress member and Senator  who has by their deliberate votes and willfully turned a blind eye to VA underfunding. Add to the mix the political commentators, politicians for their false horror, who push the story for political attack purposes.

Each member of Congress who is pointing fingers elsewhere, who is not accepting a portion of the blame and not saying, “I’m going to join others to do something about the underfunding” are not only perpetuating the problem, they are at the heart of the problem. They are breaking faith with our vets. Shame on them!

The story has been there for years. From time to time over the last decade there have been stories about the VA’s underfunding and growing wait times. Often this is not a new story has been marginalized and yawned at. Now it has finally has gained traction. And finally, I too am part of the problem for not writing my Congressman and Senators more often about the VA’s underfunding.

Dismissals are not the answer. The answer is simple, give the VA the resources that they need to do the job that they are not only charged to do, but want to do.  

The citizens of the United States, including myself, and our leaders who have broken faith with their veterans!!         


Friday, May 23, 2014

Mail Delivered to the Door versus Group Mail Boxes

Today I received from a firm working in the direct marketing field an email about the US House’s proposal to allow the Postal Service to convert 15+ million people to group mail boxes on their street who are currently having mail delivered to their door. The article's tone suggests the proposal was a bad idea and talked how I and my organization should resist the change.

The rationale for moving to group boxes is logical. As the proposal allows those with limited mobility to have mail delivery to their door, the rationale for resisting the USPS efforts in this direction is anemic. I am not downplaying the emotional element but it is more tied to people feeling uncomfortable with change.

I've experienced both, mail delivered to the door and group boxes. By far, for three primary reasons, I prefer to have my mail delivered to a group mail box than to the door.   

1. Mail delivered to group boxes is more secure than mailed delivered to the door. I don't have to worry about someone, maliciously or as a prank, tampering/stealing my mail. One of the vehicles for stealing identities is through the taking mail from mail boxes at the door step.  

2. If I am away for two to four days, the mail does not build up in my door side box and it giving a major clue to a thief that no one is home. Arranging for a neighbor to gather the mail, or arranging for the Post Office hold the mail until I return is diminished.  

3. It cuts delivery costs for the USPS by 25 to 30%. In group boxes more homes can be serviced by one carrier than by someone walking from door to door, particularly in areas where walking to the next house could by 40 or more yards away.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Gay Marriage Battle in Virginia and Defending of the Virginia Amendment - part 2

In yesterday’s post I noted that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard a lower court ruling that Virginia’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, civil unions and gay partnerships was unconstitutional. I am troubled after reading several of the arguments put forth by the lawyers defending the amendment, some of which essentially devalue marriage, the very institution the defenders are arguing that they are defending as having high and sacred value.


Following are some of their primary arguments, the ones I found alarming. While I am far from being legally educated, I brief note why I found several of the key the arguments defending the amendment to be troubling.


Voters by a 57-43 margin approved the amendment to the VA Constitution and their vote should stand: This argument calls for majority rule as the primary rule of the land, that majority rule trumps all including fundamental rights belonging to each person, that a citizen has no preexisting human right to liberty, freedom and happiness. This argument means that any right, even the right to life, can be denied or removed from individuals or a class of people by the state if the majority so decide to do so. The argument means that the claim Americans have proudly proclaimed and boasted about being the nation of fundamental rights is a false assertion. The claim is that a person has a right only if the majority agree to grant the person or class of people a right. The flip side of the coin is that the right can also be taken away at some point in the future if the majority so wills it. The argument means that minorities, whether racial or religious or political or lifestyle, are tolerated only as far as they don’t offend too many outside their group. Hence the only defense against the tyranny of the majority is not the courts, but by either conforming or finding little niches in the nation where your neighbors are tolerant of your kind of minority.  


What I find most interesting is that not only does this mean majority rule as the ultimate principal of the land, and contrary to what I’ve understood as the heart of a founding principle of the United States, is that the argument is akin to the arguments King George and the British Parliament used to deny the Colonies representation in Parliament…that the majority of British Parliament, the British citizenry and the King deemed it appropriate to deny the Colonials basic rights that they enjoyed. The Colonies has no right of representation because the majority wished not for them to have such opportunities. Therefore in a way, if this argument holds, this nation has come full circle, that King George and Parliament were right, and the founding fathers wrong.



Marriage is primarily about procreation, and as gay marriages cannot procreate, such marriages cannot exist:  This argument is simple, that my marriage, and your marriage too, is defined by my wife and my ability to procreate. It means that if marriage is defined primarily by the ability to procreate, there is no reason for the marriage to exist. By extension it means that women who have gone through menopause and men with very low or nonexistent sperm levels should not marry as there is no grounds for such marriages to be allowed. It also means that those who do not have children have marriages of a lesser order than marriages that produce children.


Not only am I extremely uncomfortable with any marriage that is defined primarily around having children, I am firmly against any such argument that devalues, and in a sense even negates the companionship and love elements of marriage. When my wife and I stood before the alter of the Paxton United Methodist Church that June morning, not one word in our vows even hinted at procreation. We testified to our love for the other, our commitment to each other, to be mutual companions and comforters for each other, and to cherish and nurture the other through good times and bad times for the rest of our lives. Our marriage was not a contract about having offspring and raising children together. While alarmed by this argument, I am highly offended that Christians are embracing this argument as being solid and proper.


For anyone who agrees with the argument put forward in the Court I would point out that if you are a Protestant that this argument contradicts what most Protestant churches have taught about marriage since their founding. Protestant churches have traditionally claimed that their beauty and value in marriage and marital sex. The value of marriage is founded upon mutual companionship and love. For Protestants marital relations is wholesome in itself, a beautiful and enjoyable way to express one’s love for one’s spouse. Marriage they have taught is about the quality of the husband and wife relationship, about the loving couple, not about having children. Children are the by-product of the essence of a marriage, not the ground for the marriage’s existence.


If this argument prevails, it does more to undermine the value of my marriage than if the amendment’s defenders lost.  



The State has the right to determine who can procreate and marry: Wow, reading this one sent chills down my back. The lawyers are claiming that the State has the right to say who can and cannot have children.  Are we going to require people to pass a test or gain permission of some government official in order to have children? Are we going to deny people the right to have children if they lack a certain level of intelligence? Lack a certain amount of annual household income? If to have a child and support the children they are having, the mother would have to work outside the home (after all is it not best for children to have mom at home rather than working in the community?), or the father to work a second or third job?  This rationale sounds too much like a totalitarian state argument.



Marriage is a fundamental right that historically has focused on preserving stable families. As such every child deserves a mother and father: It is the later part that bothers me. If every child deserves to a mother and father, what does that actually mean? Are we saying that children should not be raised in a gay household because a parent of a particular gender is lacking from the home? I’ve heard friends and Christian preachers and talk shows argue this point in the affirmative. Pointing to various studies some conservative Christians argue that children raised without both genders present in the home are at much high risk of socially dysfunctional behavior as children and adults than do children in homes where both a mother and father are found. But is this a result of parental disengagement or the lack of two adults of opposite genders? Are not the at risk rates similar in two adult homes where both parents are disengaged from their children? I can readily agree that when parents disengaged, regardless whether there are one or two parents in the home, and are too busy to nurture and care for their children that children from such homes have a significantly higher at-risk rate than those from loving homes where both parents, or even one parent, is supportive and engaged with the children.


While there are studies that support both sides, let’s remember that the body of research into gay households is thin as it has been for the most part lacking. A number of studies are full of unanswered questions, and some are poorly designed, or lack longevity to be reliable. Also we much recognize that some authors of studies have biases, they design studies in a manner and cherry pick data that will help support their desired proof. Further, the general public and politically engaged people tend to pick and choose the studies and data that lend support to their positions while dismissing studies which contradict their position. For me the studies claiming children in gay homes are highly impacted have reliability issues, and at first glance appear to be less scientific than are the climate warming studies those out of my religious tradition so quickly tend to dismiss.


Regardless of the quality of the science behind the studies, for the sake of argument let’s say that there is some type correlation. Even if there was some type of harm, if we deny gay marriage based on this argument are we as a nation then going to remove children from all single parent households which have a similar or greater rate of risk? What about homes where one parent is convicted of a felony for children raised in such homes also are at high risk too? What about removing children from homes where wife abuse exists, whether that abuse be physical or emotional? Are we then going to remove children from two parent homes whose household income are near or below the poverty level since numerous studies over the decades have indicated that those homes too have a high risk rate? If we are to be consistent in our arguments our communities should start removing tens of children from their homes, and if we are not going to do so, why not? If the only reason is that I was not to do so because I am talking about a gay couple, then what does that say about me?



I find myself troubled by the above arguments. Why did the lawyers defending the amendment use such arguments? We did they not craft and put forth more solid and balanced arguments?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Gay Marriage Battle in Virginia and Defending of the Virginia Amendment - part 1

As noted in the prior post of yesterday, Virginia is gay marriage battleground, as well as gay rights in general. Conservative Christians (those who take issue with the use of “conservative Christians” in this context should read the prior post) are staunchly defending the 2006 Virginia Constitutional Amendment that enshrines marriage as being only between a man and woman. The amendment not only prohibits gay marriage but prohibits within Virginia the recognition in any manner of such marriages that occur in other states. If a gay couple is married in another state and move to Virginia, they are not married. Further, the amendment also prohibits “civil unions” and “domestic partnerships”. The message is clear, strong and unapologetic. If you are in a gay relationship, do not come to Virginia for you and your partner will have no recognition in any form.

This week the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard an appeal of a lower court ruling permitting gay marriage.  No matter the ruling of the 4th Court, the case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court and force that Court to deal with the heart of the matter, whether it is unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage.

Conservatives, particularly conservative Christians, are livid that the current Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, is not defending the ban and Constitutional Amendment, leaving the legal team for the two clerks who denied the gay couples wedding licenses to argue the case before the 4th Circuit rather than the Attorney General. It is argued regardless of his reading of the US Constitution and view of the legality of Virginia’s amendment that the AG is duty bound to defend it, and not to do so is commonly described as a betrayal of his oath, a betrayal the demands his immediate removal from office.

At first sight it would appear that not having the AG office arguing in defense of the amendment means a less skilled team has to take over and that the arguments will be less forceful than would be the AG’s arguments. The implication is that lawyers for the clerks are second string or minor leaguers. I not only disagree but argue for the contrary for the team headed by David Oakley is highly skilled, arguing by conviction and are driven as to the rightness of their cause and the amendment, and lastly, they are being well supported by the religious right with funds, research.

The second team headed by Austin Nimocks is equally strong and are part of highly conservative traditional marriage defense group, a strongly funded group that is well skilled in crafting its message, and have long had their key arguments well formed. As such neither Nimocks nor Oakley are well skilled and positioned for handling this type of case.

Further, who would you rather have argue your case, a lawyer who does not believe in the strength of the case and lacks an enthusiasm for it, or a lawyer who has deep passion, skill and the depth of resources to put forth your sound argument? I would take the latter any day, as would you.

Regardless of what the attackers of AG Herring may say, I doubt that the defenders of the amendment truly want the AG’s office arguing the case. Though he may not defend the amendment, it should be noted that the AG has not sent out instructions to county clerks to start issuing wedding license to gay couples. Rather, he is allowing existing cases to move through the courts being argued by some of its strongest advocates, and awaiting the results. That I can respect. Advocates defending the amendment and the leading voices attacking the AG know full well that if the AG defended the amendment, he could more readily bring about results in keeping with his views by not using the strongest arguments or poorly phrasing the strongest arguments for the amendment. That would be a travesty. Hence, the statements by the AG’s attackers are more about political posturing, stirring the base, raising funds and bullying than about the righteousness of their case against the AG not defending the amendment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gay Marriage Battle in Virginia and Conservative Christians

For conservative Christians Virginia is the latest battleground over the acceptance of gay relationships and legalization of gay marriage. The issue is a heated one, and for many conservative Christians it is a battle to be strongly waged as if the future of the Christian faith and the church depended on the result. To say that for some it is a highly emotional issue would be an understatement.

This author recognizes many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians take issue with using of the phrase “conservative Christian” to describe them and their stance against gay marriage. They argue with fervent passion that there is nothing “conservative” about them, particularly on this matter. No descriptive term is necessary for they are Christians period, Christians defending their faith against an ungodly dangerous lifestyle and to prevent such relationships from being viewed by the American culture, laws and the church as a whole, as an acceptable relationship equal to the traditional marriage between a man and a woman that has existed from the beginning of time across diverse cultures.


Given that evangelicalism is my faith heritage and education, I understand why many of my friends take issue with my use of “conservative Christians”. The term is used intentionally to distinguish my personal faith background against Christians from faith backgrounds in which there is are higher levels of openness to gay marriages.  I acknowledge that for some of my friends the use of the term “conservative Christian” as related to gay marriage would imply that it is possible for a true Christian, lead and sensitive to God's Spirit, and accept gay marriages at the same time. Such friends would dismiss such openness as being possible, that if these individuals Christians, then they are either deceived by Satan, or they are not being obedient to the Christ.


Some of those in this camp do go as far as to imply, or even state openly, that anyone who supports gay marriage that they are definitely not all Christian but individuals playing with religion. I take a different position. I will not question the depth and nature of another's faith who is not part of my congregation. On a host of issues, whether those issues be about smoking or alcohol consumption, church polity or worship structure, holding that Saturday or Sunday is the proper Sabbath day for Christians, how one dresses at church, going to restaurants or shopping on the Sabbath, views on how and who is saved or the nature of holiness, I will not, and cannot, judge those who are outside my faith tradition. I may not agree with one's beliefs but I have no standing to judge them. 


For decades I have held onto a significant and often overlooked teaching by Paul in I Corinthians 5. In that chapter Paul addresses the issue of a man in their church who is having an ongoing affair with his step-mother. The tense of the verb is clear, it is not a accidental lost control type of thing. Rather than a moment in time affair, it is an ongoing one that started well before and which appears will continue long into the future. After Paul condemns the church leadership for not dealing with the man, he then deals with the man. The passage is clear, the man is the member of that  congregation, the woman is not. Paul judges the man and instructs the church leadership to expel the man least his attitude infect and harm others in the congregation. At the same time Paul states this about the woman, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?...God will judge those outside.”


For Paul the congregational leadership has the right to judge their congregational members only, and not those outside their congregation. If I take that the entire Bible is God's divine Word then I cannot overlook this instruction and go forth to judge and condemn others who are not part of the congregation to which I belong. I have to resist the temptation to put myself in the roll of God. I cannot overlook or find some way to rationalize in my mind the dismissing of what these two short passages clearly state. I shall not and will not judge those who testify to being Christians but who are of a different tradition, who think, believe and live differently on a host of matters.