October 2012

The Theology of Rape

This is not just a provocative title. Sadly, it is very real, and was voiced by Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. During a debate this past Tuesday, he stated: “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” No matter the spin, no matter Mourdock’s protestations to the contrary, it still comes across as God’s plan. Is that offensive? Yes. Worse still, it makes God into a monster. It is theological rape.

This is hardly surprising. Mourdock is another member of the ideologically extreme religious right that has taken over the Republican Party. Their position on abortion simply is not tenable. It is built on no scientific, philosophical or even theological foundation. Like all fanatics, when they speak they guarantee absurd and offensive statements.

Let us grant the premise that God is the author of life. Let us grant also that human life begins at conception. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church and some other Christian Churches. Some non-Christians, among them Mormons, believe the same. But what does it mean? God does not author life by the act of conceiving. God’s involvement in the process is to directly create the individual human person, or soul. However, there is no sustainable argument to suggest that happens at conception. In fact, just the opposite is true.

As I previously have reasoned in a
series of blogs, we cannot state with clarity that the individual person is created before day fourteen. In the case of rape, then, use of an emergency contraceptive measure, such as the morning after pill, would not constitute abortion. However, to process these ideas, requires more than faith. It also requires thought.

Unfortunately, the new Republican leadership operates from a combination of laziness and ignorance—a willingness to embrace simplistic concepts about life coupled with an inability to nuance thought. Indeed, there is not much thought present to begin with. That is one reason why Romney and Ryan, McConnell, McCaind and Cornyn continue to support Mourdock.

Paul Ryan gave a good demonstration of laziness when he said: “The method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.” Ryan does not even pretend a willingness to think through the issue.

Romney has an even greater problem. As a Mormon he believes that every person pre-existed prior to conception. Therefore, Romney chooses to remain ignorant about the biological development of the embryo. Why let scientific knowledge interfere with one’s pre-conceived beliefs?

In the movie “Inherit the Wind,” the character of Henry Drummond comments on the human power to think. While questioning the religiously bigoted prosecuting attorney he asks the following: “Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty of man that raises him above the other creatures of the earth, the power of his brain to reason?”

There is more than a touch of irony here, because “Inherit the Wind” is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes trial about the teaching of evolution. Much like the uneducated, religious fanatics of 1925, Mourdock, Romney, Ryan and their ilk seem quite content to shield themselves from a complex world. They prefer hiding in a closet with likeminded simpletons. The real world, however, requires use of God’s gifts. It requires us to think.
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Citizens United--An Amendment

Words, whether spoken or written, are our primary means of communication. For this reason, even as words evolve, it is essential that we agree on their meaning. No one is above the law of definition. The alternative is an inability to communicate with reason, and confusion more disruptive than Babel.

At the Iowa State Fair on August 11, 2011, Mitt Romney made his now infamous declaration: “corporations are people, my friend.” That statement simply does not pass muster. Romney was roundly
ridiculed by citizens in the crowd. In news reports, members of the media chimed in. However, few people took the time to analyze the danger not only of his idea, but also his misuse of language.

In the Declaration of Independence, we read the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
(sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….” Whether or not one believes in God, the point here is that people, not corporations, are so endowed.

The problem is that Romney equivocates on definition and defies the conventions of logic, for a corporation exists only as a legal entity. As such, its rights and obligations do not accrue naturally, as they do with persons. It is true that a corporation is made up of individuals, but collectively it is not a person.

On the one hand, it is easy to see why Romney thinks corporations are people. He has never had to work a real job in the real world. Almost all of his wealth is derived from sitting in boardrooms and deciding which companies are most attractive for the “purchase, dismantle, sell and workers-be-damned” model of business.

On the other hand, Romney is not entirely to blame. He is not known for original thought, and in this case his idea emanates from Supreme Court and its
Citizens United decision of 2010. Prior to that decision, most rational persons would never have dreamed of calling corporations people. But once one accepted definition is dismissed, it is easy to alter the meaning of other words as well. All of a sudden, money is defined as speech.

I have a friend who suggested the Supreme Court did not anticipate that their decision would undam the flood of corporate money that has so corrupted the current political season. I am a little more cynical. And for good reason. Even if one were to grant a certain naiveté in the
Citizens United case, the Court revealed its true colors this past June by doubling down in another 5-4 decision, the American Tradition Partnership case. In that decision, the court struck down a century-old Montana campaign finance law that prevented corporations from spending money on political campaigns. This may be a terribly disturbing image, but the truth is that the Supreme Court essentially disrobed and flashed American society.

Like elected officials, the Justices are entrusted with protecting the Constitution. As the final arbiter of law, the Supreme Court’s obligation transcends even that of the President and the Congress. What recourse does society have when the Court, itself, tramples the Constitution and substitutes chaos for the rule of law?

The
Citizens United decision necessitates a constitutional amendment. This is a remedy that I recommend with great reluctance. There is always a danger that fanciful ideas rooted in unrestricted emotion might make their way into constitutional law, as happened with the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting alcohol. To its credit, the United States has passed only twenty six amendments, one of which, the twenty-first, was passed to reverse the foolishness of the eighteenth.

A constitution that is amended too frequently becomes a useless document. Still, a constitution is comprised of words, and the meaning of those words matters. Corporations are not people and money is not speech. If integrity is to be restored to the electoral process, the United States needs a twenty-seventh Amendment that overturns the Citizens United decision.
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Give Romney a Break

Although the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates last for 90 minutes, the tendency of the media, both professional and social, is to single out a sound bite as if it is the only thing worth remembering. As if one sound bite, however clever, is a sufficient reason to vote for someone, or a misspoken comment sufficient reason not to. That would be true only if the sound bite actually had meaning, such as indicating a policy or unmasking a candidate’s true position.

In one sense the candidates, themselves, are to blame with their incessant need to seem cleverer than their opponents, waiting for that precise moment to spring a well-rehearsed “zinger”. Even worse, the candidates’ desire to pander to the voters leaves everyone hoping for a glaring error. In truth, no candidate has ever waffled as much or pandered as much as Mitt Romney. That reality is probably the source of so many of his misstatements. Still, that does not mean that each error should be turned into ridicule.

For example, in last Tuesday’s town hall debate, Romney dodged the question of equal pay for women, refusing to indicate whether or not he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Instead, he referenced his time as Governor of Massachusetts, and spoke of creating flexible hours for one female employee so that she could go home and fix dinner. In the aftermath, he has been skewered by pundits with the claim that he does not respect the equality of women; that he possesses a 1950’s mentality on the role of women in society.

That accusation is supported by the fact that there were no women in positions of authority at Bain Capital when Romney ran the company. The accusation is intensified in Romney’s implication that he did not know of any qualified women to work in Massachusetts’ government. Many commentators have suggested that Mitt Romney has a problem with women, but that is exactly where he deserves a break. It is not his fault.

Most people do not want to address the real issue. However, before I address it let me point out that I have written in the past that a person’s religion should not determine his or her fitness for office. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Like many religions, including the Christian Faith, Mormons have a checkered history when it comes to women.

Time for full disclosure: I am a Catholic and my own Church has not always had a stellar position on women. Women are denied priesthood in the Catholic Church—a position I disagree with and find theologically untenable. On the other hand, many women hold significant positions of authority in the Church. Throughout history women have been some of the Catholic Church’s finest theologians, mystics and missionaries.

The position of the Mormon Church, however, is “woman’s primary place is in the home, where she is to rear children and abide by the righteous counsel of her husband.” That is more than just patriarchal. It is not quite as demeaning or obnoxious as the phrase “barefoot and pregnant,” but it is not far behind.

To be fair, women may also serve as missionaries in the Mormon Church. It is rare, and unlike the men, women are “not invited” to serve, but they are “welcome.” In the rare case of women missionaries, they are accepted only if they have no immediate marriage prospects. Even then it is expected that missionary work will make them better wives and mothers—their true mission in life.

The Mormon Church is driven by the belief that a woman’s place is in the home. So the real question for Mitt Romney is whether he truly respects the role of women in the work place or in government. Does he respect the opinion, decision and work of women legislators, or if he is merely pandering to win election. Now there’s a thought! But I digress.

Mitt Romney is understandably committed to and proud of his faith. As President Obama put it at the end of the debate: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a good man. He loves his family and cares for his faith.” Indeed. But the President’s esteem also misses the mark.

Romney appears to have that blind commitment to faith that does not permit him to question any tenets of his church, no matter how absurd or out of touch. That blind commitment that does not permit him to seek changes in church theology. That blind commitment that does not permit him to think for himself. That blind commitment that enables him to believe men are superior to women.

Mitt Romney does, indeed, have a problem with women, but it is not his fault.
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The Electoral College at 205 Years of Age

When the Constitution was adopted in 1787, one of the key concerns was the election of the President and Vice-President. Contrary to popular belief, the current electoral system was not established to provide equal representation among sparsely and densely populated states. There were only about 4 million people in the U.S. in 1787. Today the United States of America is the third largest population in the world with over 314 million.

The Electoral College, or “Electors” as it is referred to in the Constitution, was itself a compromise system. The Electoral College is an example of federalism as much by accident as by intent. One suggestion under consideration at the time was that Congress should elect the President. The risk there, of course, is that the President would be beholden to Congress, not to the people. James Madison, among others, favored a direct election by total popular vote. However, as he himself wrote, that was an equally unworkable construct due to the restricted voting rights in slave states. Thus was born a compromise known as the Electoral College.

Query: Is this electoral system relevant in today’s world? Unfortunately, it seems that this question is only raised in earnest every four years, during a presidential election. Yes, this is 2012, an election year. Yes, I am adding my voice to this issue, even though it cannot be resolved at this time.

Therein lies the paradox. It is precisely because we are in the midst of an election that the issue is of concern, and the issue will fade from view once the election is over—unless we have a repeat of the 2000 presidential election. Democrats cried foul when Al Gore won a substantial majority of popular votes, but George W. Bush was elected by a single electoral vote. Would the Republicans not have been just as vociferous had the tables been turned? Of course they would. Such is the disingenuous nature of politics. Nobody wants a repeat of that election. Now, then, is the time to seize upon a public interest, and lay the groundwork for a post-election debate.

Everyone in America is well aware of a troubling fact: There are only a handful of states that will determine the outcome of this election. In principle, every vote counts. In reality, every vote does not count equally.

The all-important swing states are created because states like California and Texas are solidly Democratic and Republican, respectively. At least for now. These two most populous states in the nation, together representing 89 electoral votes, are not “in play”. All the attention of the Obama and Romney campaigns is on nine states, each with only a handful of electoral votes: one with only four, and two with only six.

Proponents of the current system suggest that this balances the influence of smaller states; the presidential campaigns must visit these states regularly to court their votes. These states cannot be treated as “fly over” states during the election process. That suggestion does not hold up to scrutiny. There are several other sparsely populated that also possess only a handful of votes each. Yet, these are not swing states. New York and Florida each have 29 votes. Florida is a swing state. New York is not.

What would be the advantage of a popular election? Actually, it would balance the needs and interests of the entire electorate much more than the current system. Each candidate would obviously need to campaign in the large states. To begin with, even though these safe states lean predominantly one way or the other, their votes would be tallied collectively with every other state.

It is conceivable that Republican votes in a Democratic-leaning state might “swing” the election as much as the nine states do under the current system. The same holds true in reverse. The smaller states could not be ignored, because the total of their votes also might alter the outcome of the election. That evens the importance and power of every voter in every state.

I live in California. I am grateful everyday. For one thing, I am not subjected to the barrage of campaign ads that citizens in swing states must bear. And yet, whether my candidate wins or not, I want to know that my vote counts in this presidential election. I suspect that many citizens in Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Alaska, etc. think the same.

The Electoral College system may have been historically necessary, even if only to secure passage of the Constitution. This process of indirect election of the president is no longer viable. Regardless of how politically divided the country may be today, whoever is elected President of the United States must represent all the people. Maybe all the people should have a voice in who wins.
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Voting Rights and Election Monitors

Throughout the world, mostly in emerging democracies and dictatorships, there has long been a need for independent, international election observers. It is a common occurrence to see vote manipulation and downright fraud in many third world countries. In the western world, one expects a different situation. Voting should be free and universal, honest and accurate.

Maybe it is the ease with which corruption embeds itself in the exercise of power; maybe it is insecurity after an opponent has unmasked one’s vacuous concepts; maybe it is the fear of losing control; maybe it is the dread of a rising and empowered populace; maybe it is merely the fact of human weakness. Whatever the cause, the electoral process as practiced in the Western world is not as elevated as we want to claim. This is one reason that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is called upon to monitor elections around the globe, including longstanding democracies such as France, the United Kingdom, and even the United States of America.

It is a necessary and daunting task. Take for example, the United States, the root of modern democracy. In the current election cycle, fraud rules the day. Not the fraud of unregistered, illegal, or even dead people voting. The real voter fraud is far more pernicious. It is not merely an effort to influence the outcome of an election. It is an attempt to prevent a large portion of the electorate from participating in the first place.

Not surprisingly, this fraud is exercised primarily by elected state officials, specifically Republicans, striving to cement their uncertain grasp on power. In a manner most deceitful, they espouse lofty principles even while they seek to undermine those principles. They use simple sounding words and frame their policies as “Voter ID laws.” That seems reasonable. Everyone would agree that there must be some regulations around the act of voting. Sadly, it’s just not that simple.

These Republicans know it is only a matter of time before their true intentions and their policies come to light. Unable to win by the force of their arguments, they seek to solidify their grip on power through oppression. Will these legions of darkness be allowed to prevail? That depends on whether or not people will see the truth, expose it to the light, and fearlessly condemn it in speech.

Many commentators, I presume unintentionally, play into the hands of corrupt Republican legislators by describing these machinations as disenfranchisement. That sounds almost harmless. Such language, however, is many degrees removed from the very real and deleterious effects of these laws, enabling politicians to disguise their true motives.

This is not the only corruption. Employers such as David Siegel, the Koch brothers and Richard Lacks are pressuring their employees to vote for Romney. Robert Murray forced coal miners in Ohio to attend--without pay--a Romney rally during the summer. The miners were even used a backdrop behind Romney during his speech.

This is where international election observers come in. They cannot affect the outcome of an election, but they can help reveal the truth of corruption. They can expose the real American election fraud to the entire world—on election day when people are turned away from polling places, and before elections begin when minorities are deliberately shut out of voting procedures or when voters’ freedoms are stripped through employer coercion.

The surface question is whether or not the people of America care what others think—does America’s standing in the world matter anymore? The deeper question is whether or not America’s founding values still matter to Americans, themselves.

I don’t know if Americans are gullible, ignorant, or if they just don’t care. This country used to stand for great things: for equality and equal opportunity. The American Revolution started something new in the world. The U.S. Constitution laid the groundwork for modern democracy, and the United States stood as a beacon of hope and progress in a changing world. These new “Voter ID” laws, coupled with employee coercion, crumble the very foundations of democracy.

Every person running for President is required to declare: “The United States is the greatest country on earth.” That kind of hyperbole was never really true, but it soothes the anxiety of a people who are insecure and need to feel important. It should be said, that citizens of most countries share that angst. In the United States it is amplified by this question: Are we as good as the generations who came before us?

At least when it comes to voting rights, the answer is clear. No. We are not.
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Romney's Entitlement Problem

When I was growing up, my parents forbid me to use what they euphemistically called “four-letter words”. I suppose most people had the same experience. As I grew older, however, I realized that longer words are also included in the prohibition. What I did not learn until recently was that “entitlement” is one of those words. In this case it is not only the use of the word that is taboo, but also the meaning. I am left to wonder: How is that right wing politicians have been allowed to turn something good and essential into the equivalent of a four-letter word?

An entitlement program is a guaranteed government benefit, the two big ones being Social Security and Medicare. Romney’s infamous 47% statement—in which he dismisses and treats with disdain half the country—includes many people benefitting from these two programs. Other politicians, including Ryan see these as social evils, and they are twisting themselves into knots in an attempt to pacify seniors, stating that they will preserve the benefits for current recipients while essentially eliminating those benefits for younger Americans. There is something very sinister at work here.

Paul Ryan grew up in a very rich family. Sadly, when Ryan was sixteen years old his father died. As a result, Ryan began receiving Social Security payments. Nothing illegal there. It is the law. It is rooted in the fact that Ryan’s father had paid into Social Security and it is only fair that his son receive some kind of payments until age 21, even if he did not need financial support at the time. Ryan has altered his attitude toward this government entitlement since the days when it benefitted him. Still, it seems to me that the problem is deeper than mere hypocrisy.

Other writers have countered this attempt to roll back entitlements with the observation that these government programs are contracts. They were entered into in good faith. What people receive in retirement and health care is not dependency. It is money and subsistence that they are owed. It is a return on their investment. That is language Romney should understand. Still, the issue goes beyond contracts. This is a question of values and morality.

Romney ridiculed 47% of the nation with the statement that these people “believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” I say ridiculed, because if one listens to the actual recording, Romney’s inflection on the word “entitled” says everything anybody needs to know about Romney and his attitude toward humanity. It is obnoxiously corrupt. Entitled to food? Entitled to health? Entitled to a place to live? Give me a break! Romney is deficient both religiously and politically.

Every major world religion, every humanitarian organization believes that people are “entitled” to these things. At least to food and good health. Although Romney is not a Christian, his Mormon faith includes the New Testament in which Jesus makes clear his preferential option for the poor. Jesus, himself broke the social and religious taboos of his own day. He ate with sinners and he touched the unclean.

The Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to this great nation states that all people “are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Do Romney and Ryan really believe starving, untreated illness and homelessness define the God-given “Right” to life?

Mr. Romney, listen up. Entitlement is not a four-letter word. American democracy is rooted in entitlement. We do not just owe people a secure retirement and good health. They are entitled to it.
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When Politcs Trumps Religion

People hold fast to many different sets of values, perhaps none more tenaciously than those of religion. That is one reason the First Amendment is first—it cements religious freedom in American life and politics.

I have explained in previous writings why Mormons are not Christian. I have also demonstrated that when it comes to elected office, it does not matter. The freedoms in the First Amendment are not just for Christians. All people are guaranteed the right to worship and believe as they choose. Even the freedom not to believe.

Of course the First Amendment cannot guarantee authenticity. Sadly, many religious people in modern America are misinformed, the values to which they cling are false, their subsequent choices counterfeit.

For example, the claim that Barack Obama is a Muslim, simply is not true, and no repetition can make it so. Obama was born and raised Christian. He lived for a period of time in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country. But he is today, as he has been all his life a Christian. That is fact. Still, there are fundamentalist Christians on the far right who will not vote for him because they errantly think he is a Muslim. And they will not vote for a non-Christian.

On the other hand, they do not apply the same principle (one which I reject) to Governor Romney. Romney is Mormon. That also is a fact. But since Mormons are not Christians, how can the far right vote for him?

I firmly believe that a person’s faith is not a measure of whether he or she is fit to be president. But for those poor, misguided souls who do think that way, Romney is not a viable candidate. Certainly not a viable alternative to Obama. This raises a deeper question. What is really going on here? Could it be that Obama is African-American and their minds are so small that they cannot tolerate a black man in the White House?

From before Obama took his oath of office, some leaders in the Republican Party decided that their primary goal would be to deny him a second term. As a result, they shouted a petrifying silence when Trump and other buffoons questioned if Obama was born in America. Equally deafening was their condemnation of those who claimed Obama was a Muslim. Two indisputable facts. And yet, these same leaders do not address the fact of Romney not being a Christian.

If far right Christians are to be faithful to their beliefs, they cannot vote for either candidate. That would, of course, be a loss to the democratic process. Then again, if people are ignorant enough to think that Obama was not born in the United States, or to believe that he is a Muslim; if they are ignorant of their own Christian theology and do not understand why Romney is not a Christian; if they do not realize that a person’s faith should not be a criterion for holding office; if they are mired in the mud of racism, then just maybe these people not voting, is not a loss to democracy after all.
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The Governor Brown Vetoes--a Loss for Justice

Jerry Brown possesses one of the most interesting and certainly the most unusual political histories in the State of California. From a member of the Los Angeles Community College District, to California Secretary of State, to Governor, to Mayor of Oakland, to Attorney General and back again to Governor. Agree with him or not, his career has been characterized by principles of equality and justice. Personally, I have long been one of his supporters.

I admired then, and still do today, his principled stand against the death penalty. His veto of legislation to reinstitute capital punishment, along with his commitment to the environment and to workers’ rights were the kind of risks one expects from a leader; from a man of vision; from a governor committed to equality under the law and justice for all. This was the man who championed the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, even calling a special session of the legislature to pass the act which he signed into law on May 29, 1975. Fast forward to September, 2012.

The mainstream media has failed to cover one of the most spectacular stories in the state. Governor Jerry Brown is the victim of a Sci-Fi movie. “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is no longer just an escape of fiction. That is the only explanation I can concoct for the disappearance of the principled politician who used to inhabit Brown’s corporeal form. After all, the values instilled in him through his Jesuit education proved of inestimable value in his political career--until now.

The Humane Treatment for Farm Workers Act--vetoed. This act would have made it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by jail time and fines, to not provide appropriate water or shade to workers laboring under high conditions. To use a popular expression, that should be “no-brainer.”

The Farm Worker Safety Act--vetoed. This would enabled workers to sue employers who repeatedly violate the law. Such lawsuits are the only guaranteed method of enforcing the state’s heat regulations.

The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights--vetoed. This act would have included domestic workers in basic labor protections. Such things as overtime pay, meal and rest breaks. And who are these domestic workers? Childcare providers, house cleaners, caregivers for California’s families.

The Trust Act--vetoed. In a society that is struggling to maintain faithfulness to its immigrant roots and seeking ways to keep families, the governor’s veto will enable law enforcement officers to continue their assault on immigrants. More than 80,000 persons have been deported for minor, non-violent offenses. There is a reason that boundary lines separate California from Arizona. We don’t want the likes of governor Brewer and Sheriff Arapaio.

These vetoes are outrageous. What happened to the Jerry Brown who stood for justice and equality? The United Farm Workers put it in perspective: “It’s unacceptable that immigrants and Latinos in California will continue to live in fear of attacks like Arizona’s SB 1070. It’s appalling that 200,000 domestic workers will continue work without rest or meal breaks. It’s outrageous when abuse of a farm animal is taken more seriously than abuse of a farm worker.”

There is a new outcry in the State of California: “Shame on you, Governor Brown.” If it were only a matter of shame, that would be his problem. It is much deeper than that, however. This is a scandal for the entire State of California. It reduces us to the level of Arizona. I wonder if Brown’s next action will be to wag his finger in disrespect at the President of the United States!
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