Monday, May 21, 2012

President Obama will be delivering the valedictory speech today at Joplin High School. If I were writing his speech for him, here's what I would have him say....

 One year ago, here in Joplin, Mo., you folks felt a fury of nature that unleashed unwarranted and wanton destruction and death . It all happened in the blink of an eye, and then it was over, and you were left to face the consequences of nature's fury. You buried your dead. You grieved their loss, and you determined to rise and rebuild in the memory of those who had fallen, and you have done, and are continuing to do just that. It is amazing to see how life can change on a dime, and secure worlds can be turned into chaos with barely a moments notice. As we travel forward on life's pathways, these are often the challenges we face. Disaster, grief, despair, momentary hopelessness..are all a part of life's lessons. The important thing to do is to learn those lessons, as you have, and then, to move forward. Life's greatest lesson is perhaps to never ever quit, no matter what adversity comes your way. We must rise to the challenge that confronts us. You here in Joplin understand that.     And you are not alone, because you see, Joplin has become   a metaphor for America. It is being rebuilt, not from the top down, but from the bottom up. The storm that decimated Joplin , and ripped the heart of the community asunder was the kind of storm that comes along every fifty years. Our financial storm of 2009 and 2010 was not unlike the Joplin tornado, our financial markets were collapsing, our housing market took its deepest plunge in history, and our auto industry nearly folded. We didn't take it lying down, we responded.      In government , you essentially have two choices . Don't just stand there, do something, or don't just do something stand there. We chose to act act to save the auto industry when a free market approach would have meant its certain demise, and today, I can report to you that the American Auto industry is back, and thriving! That comeback is nothing less than miraculous.  Kind of like the Walgreen pharmacy on Rangeline. It was virtually in ruins, but it stayed open, and was rebuilt brick by brick, and is today thriving again .      When I assumed office three years ago , an economic disaster of major proportion was happening and decisive action was needed to bring us back from the brink of the financial abyss. Together, we took those steps, and it has made all the difference, just as together, you took steps to bring back Joplin, and your efforts are abundantly evident today.      Make no mistake, Joplin is not quite there yet, and neither is America, but there is no turning back from what , together we have learned. We can't move forward by moving backward. We can't resurrect a community or a nation by sitting idly by, and waiting for market forces to correct the situation as some have advocated.  Recovery, as you understand here in Joplin,  Missouri , recovery.... happens when you boldly face your challenges, and move determinedly forward, not cower and retreat. You don't get out of a hole until you stop digging. And you don't get out of a hole   by retreating to the policies that put you in the hole to begin with. You folks in Joplin understand that.     We need to harness the spirit of Joplin to refit America, and with your help, and with your can do spirit and never never quit mentality as our model, we will do just that!      So, thank you Joplin, you have shown us the way! As Joplin rises from the ashes of a natural calamity, so too will America rise from the ashes of a self induced and man made calamity which has shaken the very foundations of our free enterprise system.  As you graduate today, and walk out of these high school halls with confidence and optimism, you will find an America that needs your strength, your hope, and your vision for a better tomorrow.  Let's move forward Joplin. And let's move forward America!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Marriage or Smarriage?

Marriage or Smarriage?     Words matter. And,  in the debate over marriage equality, words really, really matter.  I grew up Catholic. So, I am used to hearing the  phrase, "In the eyes of the church....".        And truthfully, in the eyes of the church, same sex couples will never be sanctioned let alone sanctified. Marriage is a sacrament, in the eyes of the Church, and that's ok! Some couples I know were first married by a Justice of the Peace, and later re-married “in the eyes of the church” by a clergyman.  So there are really two kinds of marriage already..religious marriage, and civil marriage.  We can have both, and they are not mutually exclusive.  Religious marriage  carries with it a civil status recognized by the state which alters the rights of the individuals who partake in it.  Civil marriage does not confer any sacramental benefits or status on the participants in the eyes of the church. But, while one may be a blessing, the other is not a curse.  Maybe it is all in how we describe it.       Are words the problem? Because if the problem lies simply in the words we use to describe it.... maybe we just need to give it a different name.      How about “Marriage”  (Heterosexual marriage) and “Smarriage “( same sex marriage) .  I use that example, tongue in cheek,  in discussing the issue with my college aged students.  If it is all about what we call it..why not just call it something different?  Same sex couples who are “smarried” could call their spouses “smusbands” or “swives”... If that is all we are arguing about, maybe that would solve the problem.         You don't have to celebrate someone else's marital status.  You don’t have to throw confetti, or go to the reception.  You need only respect it,  just as you would respect the rights all other citizens have under law.  Gay people are not seeking sacramental solace, or  religious approbation.  They are simply seeking tolerance, respect for their rights, and respect for how they choose to conduct their civil relationships.  Nothing more..nothing less.  This is not an assault on traditional marriage, and anyone who characterizes it as that is truly either misinformed or attempting to mislead.         It would be foolish to argue that someone supporting the sport of Soccer is advocating an end to the game of Football. The fight is over civil marriage, not religious marriage. You can't legislate a change in religious ideology. That would be wrong. Mandating contraceptive coverage by religious employers whose ideology rejects it is wrong.The critics of the Obama administration who said that regulation went too far were right.  As a result, Obama’s administration retreated, and reached a compromise.  So too is compromise possible on the issue of Marriage equality.  But unlike ardent ideologues, we must be wiling to compromise.      Religiosity simply has no place in the legislative world, and legislative mandates have no place in the world of religion. You have the right in this country to be religiously intolerant. You do not have the right to be civilly intolerant of rights which are guaranteed all Americans by the United States Constitution. It's as simple as that!                We just need to realize and respect the fact that in the eyes of the law, same sex couples should be treated no differently than interracial couples currently are when it comes to being accorded basic constitutional rights. ( Interracial couples were banned from marrying before 1967 - In Loving v. Virginia,  the USSC changed that) Current laws banning same sex marriage will no doubt eventually meet the same fate as laws banning interracial marriage.  It is an issue on which many Americans, like the President, are “evolving”.  History is not on the side of reversing the current sociological trend.  The more people get to know the human side of the issue, the less intolerant they become.  Former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s view on the subject is but a  example.  Because he has been affected personally, he sees it differently.  So will many more Americans as time progresses.      And, as for the President’s recent statement about the right of same sex individuals to marry...What did Obama really say? He said he supports equal rights. What's wrong with that?  When is the last time a President of the United States was criticized for advocating equality....  other than Barack Obama?  Come to think of it... the answer would be Abraham Lincoln...and we all know how that turned out.      Here’s hoping for a less drastic resolution of this current controversy.  If using different words will do is at least worth a try. -- 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

We're not in Kansas anymore!

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

    Kansas , it would appear, is becoming the poster child for "electile dysfunction" when it comes to redrawing political district boundaries. It's not, as one might first suspect,  a good old fashioned donnybrook between  Democrats and  Republicans.  It is a fight to the death between the Regular Republicans and the Destructionist Republicans.  It’s GOP vs. GDP (Grand Old Party versus Grand Destructionist Party).

    What has brought about a  state of political impasse is a fight between two kinds of Republicans . It is the right versus the far right. The tension is between the traditional  conservative 'Just say no" (politely) Republicans, and the "Just say hell no" and tear down the building while we're at it "Destructionist" wing of the Republican party.  I say” Destructionist” because, among other goals, they want to repeal the Kansas Personal Income tax, and create a new system which they tout as fairer, but which will result in more money flowing to the top one percent.  They also want to radically re-alter Kansas’ Social safety net.  To do so, they must remove the more recalcitrant of their Republican brethren, who are more main stream than destructionist. .  Woe unto those Republicans who stand for fairness and just distribution of the tax burden amongst the citizenry.  So , war it is!

    There is another way of looking at it.  The Kansas re-districting brouhaha is, at minimum,  a testament to the need for real reform in the way re-districting is accomplished every ten years. Many states have moved away from political gerrymandering to independent re-districting panels which perform the task the way it should be performed, without regard to preserving the hegemony of the incumbent. As long as the politicians are in charge of the decennial re-districting process, it will continue to be a game of who can best rig the system to their own advantage. It is akin to a syndicate of crime bosses dividing up their territories. When the political Cosa Nostra is in command of the process, the result is a continuing grip on the configuration of governmental districts that gives an edge to incumbency, and tips the scales heavily against change.  If allowed to persist, as it has in many states, it results ultimately in the stratification of our legislative districts which reduces competitiveness, and delivers but an illusion of democracy, not the real thing.

   In theory, we as a people have the ability to change the entire House of Representatives every two years, as all 435 seats are up for election.  The problem is that only about 100 of the 435 districts are actually competitive. Three fourths of them have been rigged...drawn so as to protect the incumbents on both sides of the aisle.

    In 335 Congressional Districts, if there is no change by way of defeat of incumbents in primary elections, there is no meaningful election. The system has been designed to avoid what the Founding Fathers viewed as the biennial opportunity of the electorate to weigh in on the state of the country. The illusion of an election is all that is left.

    Hopefully, the continued failure of Kansas' Legislature to achieve a consensus will open the door for the courts to do what the politicians failed to do...draw the lines fairly, freely, and in a way that makes sense geographically, demographically, and democratically.  Just as the excesses of the Pendergast machine in 1940 brought about the Missouri Court Plan in our neighbor state to the east (which selects Appellate judges on the basis of merit, not politics), so too can the impasse in the Kansas Legislature on re-districting lead to a reform of the way Kansas draws its political boundaries in the future. 
     The embarrassment that is the current Kansas State Legislature could give way to real reform if we seize the moment to bring about the change that is obviously greatly needed. As the old saying goes,  “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste!” . If only Kansans were allowed the rights of Initiative and referendum, we could say let the petitioning for a  new way to re-district Kansas begin!   Would that it were so.  Just imagine if we could move from Destructivist Republicanism, to Constructive change.  A better, brighter,  political future for all, could be  just over the Kansas Rainbow.  Clearly, with the way the Legislature is currently being configured, we are just not in Kansas anymore. The winds we really need are tornadoes of change in our governmental structure. How about it Toto?