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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pushing the Envelope

This is what political activists do we push the envelope. We see an injustice, roll up our sleeves, warm up our computers and begin to find support to right a wrong. Buying groceries is not a luxury. However, that is exactly what your healthcare company considers it. You're asking WTF is he talking about. I’ll explain.
Health insurance companies divide services they provide into categories. One of those categories is called Durable Medical Goods (DMG).  DMG covers things like canes, crutches, braces and wheelchairs. How they are covered varies by company and policy provisions. There may be a deductible, or a co-pay or co-insurance payment. Either way these costs are usually, far less than the equipment they cover. My brand of wheelchair can cost between $3,000.00 - $6,000.00. What they do not consider DMG is adaptations of vehicles to haul these behemoths. A quick look at some of the popular brands of power wheelchairs these chairs can run between 250 - 400 pounds.
We've all seen people in wheelchairs using a variety of adaptaions to carry their wheelchairs and scooters. What most people don’t know is that those people paid for those adaptations out of their own pockets or were lucky enough to find a charity to help. This is wrong. These adaptations are durable medical goods. They are as important to the patient’s health as the wheelchair. Without vehicle adaptations, wheelchair dependent people become shut-ins.
That’s the history. This is the future. I plan to change that law. To that end I have begun meeting with lawmakers on the both the state and federal level.
This Wednesday I traveled to Washington to meet with aides for Sen. Cardin & Rep. Sarbanes. Like when I go to Annapolis I didn’t stop at those meetings. I went sort of door to door to pitch the idea. Here’s a quick rundown of those interactions.
First up was Sen. Mark Kirk (R) IL., who is a stoke survivor. He now uses a wheelchair though I believe he does retain some ability to walk or at least to transfer on his own. I spoke to Andrew Vogt the senator’s legislative aide. I would describe his reaction as intrigued. He promised to raise the issue with the senator.
Secondly, I met with Matthew Spikes, Esq. who is the Legislative Correspondent to Sen. Ben Cardin (D) Md. Matt was the first to commit to a meeting so he gets extra kudos for that. I would travel to DC for this one meeting alone but was lucky enough to score another confirmed meeting. Matt was extremely interested in my ideas. His plan is to write a position paper to present to the Sen. Cardin and is Chief-of-Staff.
While still in the Hart Office Building, I stopped by my other senator’s office, the senior senator from Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D). For some reason I am having trouble arranging a meeting with her staff. While there is story there, it is a story for another day. I didn’t get past the receptionist. I did leave my business card.
Next, it was over to the house offices. I had a little extra time and as the Cannon House Office Building was first in line from the direction I was travelling, I stopped by the office of another Illinois politician that should have empathy for our cause, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) IL. Since the House was not in session, there was no one around to speak to except her receptionist. I explained the issue to her and she told me to contact Anthony DeMarino, Special Assistant who advices Rep. Duckworth on disability issues. I will reach out to him next week.
Lastly, I met with Peter Gelman, Legislative Correspondent to Rep. John Sarbanes (D) Md. 3rd Dist. This meeting that took some doing. Not because no one was willing to meet with me but because every meeting time offered was taken on my end. Like Matt Spikes in Sen. Cardin’s office Peter was very interested in the idea. He said he’d speak with the congressman about it and advised that I also contact Rep. Sarbanes’ Chief-of-Staff, Dvora Lovinger. That too is on next week’s calendar.
Next week besides contacting Ms. Lovinger and Mr. DeMarino, I have a meeting with Del. Terri Hill. There are a few other suggested contacts but let’s see where these meetings go first.
It is not easy changing a law but here is what people are agreeing with. Insurance companies make the rules but congress and state legislatures can change those rules. It is all about being the squeaky wheel. When men bitched about the cost of their Viagra, insurance companies changed the rules. However, women are still fighting over coverage for birth control. The system is broken when men get a pill paid for so their dick will stay erect while they court the trophy wife they’re about to leave the mother of his children to be with.
The student with menstrual problems that stands up and demands her birth control pill that will treat her condition be covered is called a slut on national radio but a fat drug addict.
Couples who had tried everything to have a child were told being a parent is a luxury. They were told if God wanted you to have a baby, he’d give you one. When those parents banded together regulations covering the coverage of in vitro fertilization were passed.

Vehicle adaptations should be a right. It is a right not to be a shut-in. It is a right to go to church. It is a right to go to the grocery store. With that, I have to sign off - so I can go to the grocery store. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Enlightenment Did Not End

Three hundred sixty five years ago, the world began The Enlightenment. It was never meant to stop. For most of the world, this has been true. We have made great strides having faith and science coexist in society. It’s time to lay down our weapons, go home and make peace. Practice your faith the way you believe you should but leave your neighbor free to practice his beliefs in his home and with his neighbors.
America has fought wars over a great many things in its history but not once have we fought with each other over religion. I am not a church going Christian but I am a follower of Christ.  I know this; the God in the Bible is the same God as in the Quran, as in the Torah. If any of our religions are true than this is a fact. So why the hell, are we fighting each other. Our God surely does not want this.
We have the governments of predominately-Christian nations from Europe to the Americas fighting with a small fraction of radicals out of more than a billion Muslims. Why are they fighting? They apparently are fighting over Holy Land. The most radical in these religions believe the Jews must be returned to Jerusalem. Okay, fine let’s make a treaty to make that happen but oh, wait they want this to happen so God will end the world and all the truly holy people will ascend to have heaven like Jesus Christ and Mohamed did. What, why do we want the world to end?
Again not a theologian but I thought God put us on Earth to live in peace with each other. That when God sees all of us living in peace, He will return to take us all to heaven. Maybe I missed something in CCD classes.
Why are there so many sects of Christianity? The last time Christianity was this fractured Constantine had to convene the Council of Nicaea. However while it was supposed to be a religious conference to reconcile the factions of Christianity it was really a political convention to concentrate Constantine’s power.
Why, if you believe in Christ are you choosing war as the solution to our problem? I have more questions than I have answers. The logic of our wars escapes me. The conflict between Sunnis & Shiites goes back to 632AD and we’re allowing ourselves to be dragged into this fight. Why? The only answer I hear is because (and we’re back to it) America is the Christian nation in this dogfight.
No, America should be the peacemaker in this fight. America should be telling the combatants to lay down their weapons and go home. We should be encouraging courts based on justice not scripture. We should be encouraging loudly that everyone go home and give religious freedom a chance. (I can’t believe I just wrote that). Religious freedom should be everyone’s right no matter where they live. Being the beacon of religious freedom is supposed to be our great gift to humankind.
Instead, we have a wing of the Republican Party that would love to enact laws based on their interpretation of an interpretation of the Bible. Which I thought teaches faith. And we’re back again to, whose faith. In America this is supposed to be everyone’s faith including those with no faith at all. We’re supposed to be supporting religious freedom around the world. This means we support ending belief in religion as a requirement of citizenship. It means Muslims need to begin to get along with each other by ending Sunni – Shiite hostilities. The leaders of Islam need to preach acceptance within their own faith and with other faith’s around the world.
Israel needs to stop thinking it’s entitled to certain lands on Earth based on stories in the Bible. The world did what it could to right the wrong done you by giving you a homeland. While the world was still trying to pacify Muslims who were rightfully upset about their land being given to someone else Israel grabs even a little more land via war. Now it is run with a “papers please” policy to make sure they know where those Muslins are and what they are doing. Wasn’t this how Germans treated Jews in the Ghettos?
No large surprise it was Europeans and Americans telling one nation we are given some of their country to someone else. It wasn’t Europe or America’s land to give to anyone. It was America all over again. It sucks, but is the answer, constant war. War that now includes as a tactic, attacks on innocent civilians by people who believe this is a biblically justified tactic. What will happen when America says enough is enough and stops worrying about civilian casualties? Do we want that kind of carnage with our names signed to it? I don’t.
Some of these Christian Church leaders are scary with their pronouncements. They are scary for the very reason they are popular. They are scary because when we we’re afraid their donations go up. These “ministries” that are run in the name of religion are cash cows for the guy whose face is on their movement, Billy Graham, Joel Olsteen, Rick Warren, and Pat Robertson.
Pastor John Hagee just recently pronounced that the recent “Blood Moon” signals the end of times is coming. And I’m a Leo who likes long walks on the beach… I’m sorry but when the preacher is preaching nonsense than it is time we call them out on it. The problem is for the rest of us to call them out then they yell we’re interfering with the free practice of their religion. They are trying to turn faith into a test of patriotism. Their faith and their patriotism which if they were honest they’d admit is faith in capitalism and the superiority it brings.
Why else would Ted Cruz choose Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University? Why was his rhetoric more of this “take back our country” for those who believe in Christ. Take it back for good Christian Americans so long as they are white Christian Americans, which includes Latinos but only if your family came here centuries ago instead of decades ago. Oh, wait 1957 is okay but no later than that.
Now these same zealots are trying to replace teaching evolution with Adam & Eve. What’s next? Do we go back to the churches original teaching that Earth is the center of the universe and the Sun revolves around it? Galileo will rise up out of his grave to shout, “Hey I didn’t endure years of persecution so you dolts can take the world back to the Dark Ages.” Galileo wasn’t the only one and Christianity wasn’t the only faith to persecute scientists.
Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī or Rhazes was a pioneer in medicine from Baghdad. Rhazes attempted to compile a volume of all known medical knowledge. Which since he lived from 865-925 CE wasn’t much. Never the mind when a Muslim priest learned of it he had Rhazes beaten over the head with his own manuscript until he went blind.
Michael Servetus was a Spaniard who discovered the pulmonary system. He penned a book explaining his discovery and the changes the Church should make to its doctrine in light of his discovery. After escaping the Spanish Inquisition, he fled to Switzerland where he came up against the Protestant Inquisition. In 1553, John Calvin burned him at the stake on the shores of Lake Geneva and for good measure used his writings as fuel for the fire.
Even Henry Oldenburg the founder of the Royal Society of London was thrown into the Tower of London for several months. His crime you ask, corresponding with other scientists around the world to compile scientific knowledge. His goal was to encourage the development and use of science. His charge was treason.
Last year we were told the story of Alan Turing and his incredible contribution to ending WWII. He was subsequently persecuted and chemical castrated (his choice over jail) for being a gay man. Hitler was kicking our collective asses and without the accomplishment of Turing’s team, we may very well have lost WWII.
Homosexuality persecution is a religious thing. There is no secular reason to object to homosexuality. Yet Alan was persecuted to the point that (spoiler alert) he committed suicide on June 7, 1955.
Think about it if Turing doesn’t beat Germany’s Enigma Machine, Einstein’s warning about Hitler’s nuclear ambitions would have been meaningless because they would have developed the A-bomb first. Without ethical scientists, what would the world look like? Could America have bounced back the way Japan did if Hitler had nuked America’s equivalents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Imagine Baltimore, a leading ship building city & Pittsburgh, a leading steel producing city in 1945 being nuked. Do you think Adolph would have had a German version of the Marshall Plan to rebuild these cities? I sure don’t.
All of that is history, or is it? We’re passing religious freedom laws. These laws which initially at the Federal level protected Native Americans and other fringe religions from prosecution for using cannabis or peyote in religious ceremonies.
Now they are being enacted to allow private business owners discriminate based on their religious beliefs claiming it’s the same principal. These were the same arguments private businesses wanted to use to discriminate against blacks in the South. The good news is this argument still doesn’t work.
Some want to end the Dept. of Education. Why, so there child isn’t exposed to evolution. They prefer to teach the bible story of Adam & Eve. These same parents don’t just want to ignore the science of evolution they question the actual age of the planet.
Scientists put the age of our planet at 4.5 billion years. Theologians (or at least some) put the age of earth at 6,000 years old. However, they say that comes from the bible. The bible says nothing about the age of the earth. The 6,000 years old figure comes from a 17th century Irish Bishop. Hardly the word of God even if you believe the Bible is the word of God.
 Thanks to scientists from every country on this planet, we learn more and more about our planet, our bodies and the universe we live in. However when I listen to the Right Wing Christian Nut Jobs speak about taking America back to when it was the “shining city on the hill” I cringe. However, the whole idea that America is a “city upon a hill” that the whole world is watching comes from a sermon by the Puritan Reverend John Winthrop while still off the coast of Massachusetts. What does it say to you that the Puritan colony of Massachusetts has become the poster child of liberal politics in the eyes of conservatives?
Face it all this talk about what the forefathers were all about is bogus. I had a Twitter troll tell me Islam wasn’t included in America. When I explained that Jefferson not only owned a copy of the Quran he studied it the only response was to point out a typo.
America in the beginning was segregated by faith. Don’t go running off the rails just yet. Think about our history. Puritans were in New England. Quakers had New York & Pennsylvania. Maryland was a Catholic Colony, Baptists and Anglicans populated the South. Each of these communities eventually came to the agreement that we should all be able to worship in our own way.
Now certain GOP leaders want to ignore this history and codify in the laws of this great nation their idea of religious rule. It appears to me that they have reached the conclusion that if Sunnis are going to fight Shiites and both are going to fight Jews than we must be the Christian dog in the fight. Their way to accomplish this is to interject their dogma into the laws of their states. This must stop.
America is a bright shining city on a hill but not a Puritan city, or a Jewish city or Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran or Baptist. We are not even a bright shining secular city on a hill. Our city shines from the hill because it is lit by the beacon of religious freedom. Don’t fall for their theological propaganda. Stand up for religious freedom including the right to be free from religion. America must never be allowed to devolve into one more theological government engaging in war with other theocracies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Crazy Christians & the GOP

Let me make it clear I am not claiming to be some theological scholar. Rather I will attempt to describe my opinion of how we’ve arrived at a place where “Christians” are trying to establish Christianity as the state religion in America, the land of religious freedom. No, they haven’t yet gone as far as actually proposing an amendment to the constitution. Rather they are trying to enact laws that are based solely in Christian doctrine as opposed to English Common Law, which is where our constitution derives.
Where do you begin? Like it or not, I believe you begin with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan following the Civil War. Listen to the rhetoric the Klan used in 1866 and then listen to the rhetoric of the modern Tea Party faction of the GOP. The Tea Party has taken the Klan’s fundamental belief that America is supposed to be the land of white Christians and changed it to America is founded on Christian beliefs.
Right now, the Right Wing of the Republican Party is holding up a human trafficking bill by inserting a poison pill. They are making a condition of the bill that if one these women or girls happen to have been impregnated by one of the “johns” they were forced to have sex with – well they still have to carry that child to term. I can hear them now screaming “Gift from God.” Bullshit! God gave us the ability and the compassion not to saddle a fourteen year old with the child of her rape!
For the last time, we are not a Christian nation; we are the land of religious freedom, which includes the right of a woman to do decide happens to her body. No man has the right to do that to a woman. These politicians are trying to force their conservative Christian value system on a whole nation. Their religious freedoms do not include the forcing of their theological doctrine on an entire nation.
If you look at maps showing, where the GOP is the strongest and where people’s religious views are most conservative it’s as Gomer used to say, Surprise, Surprise, Surprise. It’s the Deep South. It’s what we call the “Bible Belt.” Look at the laws being passed in the Deep South, anti-abortion laws, voter restrictions and now “religious freedom” laws. These are not the legislative measures of a freedom loving party. They are the laws of exclusion, of judging people’s religious convictions, and of laws designed to realize Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent conservative majority. They are Jim Crow on steroids.
Jim Crow laws affected African-Americans. The new legislative agenda of the Right goes much further. They want to deny equal rights to anyone they don’t like. GOP bigotry runs so deep it begs the question, how did this happen?
Any student of history knows that answer. It was called the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Back then, conservative, racist, and anti-sematic Democrats opposed it. The GOP supported it. LBJ had it right when he said signing the Voting Rights Act would cost the Democratic Party the South for a generation. I don’t think he thought they would actually leave the Democratic Party. Rather he believed they would remain Dems but continue to fight the Civil Rights Movement. They didn’t; they flocked to the GOP because they believed the libertarian views of the GOP would provide cover for their racism.
Guess what they still think that way. Problem is Americans (at least those who are actually involved) see right thru their bigotry. They understand that when you pass a law that says your religious freedom is paramount to others’ civil rights you are permitting discrimination.
Look I remember Gov. Ross Barnett ranting that he’d never let a black student enter the University of Mississippi. I remember Gov. George Wallace blocking the door to the University of Alabama to prevent desegregation of that university. I remember Wallace’s promise during his inaugural address, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Bigotry is the bastard son of slavery and it lives in the American Southland.
The only thing that has changed when it comes to bigotry in Southern politics is they stopped electing Democrats as governors in the South. Now when a Southern politician appears on the news or is mentioned in a newspaper instead of a (D) behind his name there’s a (R). Southern racist Democrats looked at the libertarian views of the old GOP and decided they could use this to their advantage. Sadly it’s working.
Today they are back to trying to use the bible to justify their positions. In the past, they said the bible called African-Americans “Mud People”. They believed the bible justified treating blacks as chattel. Now they say the bible says homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, if it is a sin to be gay, than you shouldn’t have any rights in America. Or at the least, they shouldn’t have to allow them in their businesses.
Today they pass voter laws to make sure that linemen playing for the Gators that were raised by liberal Northern hippie parents can’t vote in their state. Can’t have those educated young people screwing up their Southern Heritage of bigotry by electing Democrats again. After all, to many in the South it’s the Dems that sold them down the river of freedom and inclusion. It was Northern Democrats that saw the laws of the South were unconstitutional and set about to change them. “True” Southerners will never forget that.
Justifying an act of discrimination under the cover of religious freedom doesn’t just go against our Constitution – it goes against the teachings of their Lord & Savior. I decline to identify with one of man’s many churches even though I believe I have learned the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus I was taught about was caring, generous & kind to his fellow man.
The Jesus the GOP and the Crazy Christians of the Bible Belt worship is stingy, judgmental, and cruel. Doesn’t sound like a Savior to me, it sounds like money-grubbing capitalist. The poor and downtrodden that populates the bayous and backcountry of the South and the struggling farmers of the corn fields that cover our plains need to make sure their preacher is preaching the word of God. From where I sit, it seems like they’re preaching the Gospel of David – David Koch
Faith is a wonderful thing. It brings us closer to each other. It provides comfort when we face troubles. The problem with modern America is that there are millions of Crazy Christians who have been swindled into believing their government is against them. The problem is it isn’t the government doing the swindling it’s the preachers. It’s the preacher preaching humility and generosity and then refusing to help someone without a spec of food unless they join their church. Afterwards they go home to their mansion.
How can I claim to know this is wrong? Well I guess it’s because when I was told about the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand with but five loaves of bread and two fish, he never asked one of them if they had joined him. It made no matter to Jesus if they believed in him or not. Jesus knew they too were the children of God.
You know I wish these conservative Christians would remember that they once elected an honorable POTUS – his name was Jimmy Carter. Not only is President Carter an honorable man he lives his Christianity thru his many humanitarian projects.
The problem with Jimmy was simple – he wanted to enforce the environmental regulations of the new EPA created by President Nixon. He wanted people to slow down save some gas, put a sweater on to save heating oil and other means to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Guess what it worked. President Carter’s presidency was the only one to achieve a reduction in oil imports. Well, that is until President Obama.
In the South President Carter was vilified for these measures. Despite being from Georgia once he was elected he was suddenly one more Northerner tell them what they can and can’t do. Suddenly the same preachers who had told their congregations to vote for him were telling their flocks he was against them. He was killing jobs in the oil fields. He was killing jobs on the farms.  So when St. Ronnie comes along with his welfare mom lie and his government’s the problem rhetoric they ate it up. They’re still choking on that one.
Since the 1980 election, we have been debating this issue about the role of government in our everyday lives. Tea Party pols say they want to take back the country – from who, me, you, from whom for whom.
Last week Ted Cruz chose to announce his run for POTUS at the ultra-conservative Liberty University founded by Jerry Falwell. You remember Mr. Falwell (I refuse to use the title Rev.) he was the one who said AIDS was God’s wrath for the wickedness of homosexuality. So Sen. Cruz goes to Lynchburg (I’ll let the reader decide where that named comes from) to say, “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.” Again reinforcing the idea that Christians should be running America because the rest of us are sinners – even followers of Christ like me.
Let me make it clear I am not claiming to be some theological scholar. Rather I will attempt to describe my opinion of how we’ve arrived at a place where “Christians” are trying to establish Christianity as the state religion in America, the land of religious freedom. No, they haven’t yet gone as far as actually proposing an amendment to the constitution. Rather they are trying to enact laws that are based solely in Christian doctrine as opposed to English Common Law, which is where our constitution derives.
Where do you begin? Like it or not, I believe you begin with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan following the Civil War. Listen to the rhetoric the Klan used in 1866 and then listen to the rhetoric of the modern Tea Party faction of the GOP. The Tea Party has taken the Klan’s fundamental belief that America is supposed to be the land of white Christians and changed it to America is founded on Christian beliefs.
Right now, the Right Wing of the Republican Party is holding up a human trafficking bill by inserting a poison pill. They are making a condition of the bill that if one these women or girls happen to have been impregnated by one of the “johns” they were forced to have sex with – well they still have to carry that child to term. I can hear them now screaming “Gift from God.” Bullshit! God gave us the ability and the compassion not to saddle a fourteen year old with the child of her rape!
For the last time, we are not a Christian nation; we are the land of religious freedom, which includes the right of a woman to do decide happens to her body. No man has the right to do that to a woman. These politicians are trying to force their conservative Christian value system on a whole nation. Their religious freedoms do not include the forcing of their theological doctrine on an entire nation.
If you look at maps showing, where the GOP is the strongest and where people’s religious views are most conservative it’s as Gomer used to say, Surprise, Surprise, Surprise. It’s the Deep South. It’s what we call the “Bible Belt.” Look at the laws being passed in the Deep South, anti-abortion laws, voter restrictions and now “religious freedom” laws. These are not the legislative measures of a freedom loving party. They are the laws of exclusion, of judging people’s religious convictions, and of laws designed to realize Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent conservative majority. They are Jim Crow on steroids.
Jim Crow laws affected African-Americans. The new legislative agenda of the Right goes much further. They want to deny equal rights to anyone they don’t like. GOP bigotry runs so deep it begs the question, how did this happen?
Any student of history knows that answer. It was called the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Back then, conservative, racist, and anti-sematic Democrats opposed it. The GOP supported it. LBJ had it right when he said signing the Voting Rights Act would cost the Democratic Party the South for a generation. I don’t think he thought they would actually leave the Democratic Party. Rather he believed they would remain Dems but continue to fight the Civil Rights Movement. They didn’t; they flocked to the GOP because they believed the libertarian views of the GOP would provide cover for their racism.
Guess what they still think that way. Problem is Americans (at least those who are actually involved) see right thru their bigotry. They understand that when you pass a law that says your religious freedom is paramount to others’ civil rights you are permitting discrimination.
Look I remember Gov. Ross Barnett ranting that he’d never let a black student enter the University of Mississippi. I remember Gov. George Wallace blocking the door to the University of Alabama to prevent desegregation of that university. I remember Wallace’s promise during his inaugural address, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Bigotry is the bastard son of slavery and it lives in the American Southland.
The only thing that has changed when it comes to bigotry in Southern politics is they stopped electing Democrats as governors in the South. Now when a Southern politician appears on the news or is mentioned in a newspaper instead of a (D) behind his name there’s a (R). Southern racist Democrats looked at the libertarian views of the old GOP and decided they could use this to their advantage. Sadly it’s working.
Today they are back to trying to use the bible to justify their positions. In the past, they said the bible called African-Americans “Mud People”. They believed the bible justified treating blacks as chattel. Now they say the bible says homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, if it is a sin to be gay, than you shouldn’t have any rights in America. Or at the least, they shouldn’t have to allow them in their businesses.
Today they pass voter laws to make sure that linemen playing for the Gators that were raised by liberal Northern hippie parents can’t vote in their state. Can’t have those educated young people screwing up their Southern Heritage of bigotry by electing Democrats again. After all, to many in the South it’s the Dems that sold them down the river of freedom and inclusion. It was Northern Democrats that saw the laws of the South were unconstitutional and set about to change them. “True” Southerners will never forget that.
Justifying an act of discrimination under the cover of religious freedom doesn’t just go against our Constitution – it goes against the teachings of their Lord & Savior. I decline to identify with one of man’s many churches even though I believe I have learned the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus I was taught about was caring, generous & kind to his fellow man.
The Jesus the GOP and the Crazy Christians of the Bible Belt worship is stingy, judgmental, and cruel. Doesn’t sound like a Savior to me, it sounds like money-grubbing capitalist. The poor and downtrodden that populates the bayous and backcountry of the South and the struggling farmers of the corn fields that cover our plains need to make sure their preacher is preaching the word of God. From where I sit, it seems like they’re preaching the Gospel of David – David Koch
Faith is a wonderful thing. It brings us closer to each other. It provides comfort when we face troubles. The problem with modern America is that there are millions of Crazy Christians who have been swindled into believing their government is against them. The problem is it isn’t the government doing the swindling it’s the preachers. It’s the preacher preaching humility and generosity and then refusing to help someone without a spec of food unless they join their church. Afterwards they go home to their mansion.
How can I claim to know this is wrong? Well I guess it’s because when I was told about the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand with but five loaves of bread and two fish, he never asked one of them if they had joined him. It made no matter to Jesus if they believed in him or not. Jesus knew they too were the children of God.
You know I wish these conservative Christians would remember that they once elected an honorable POTUS – his name was Jimmy Carter. Not only is President Carter an honorable man he lives his Christianity thru his many humanitarian projects.
The problem with Jimmy was simple – he wanted to enforce the environmental regulations of the new EPA created by President Nixon. He wanted people to slow down save some gas, put a sweater on to save heating oil and other means to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Guess what it worked. President Carter’s presidency was the only one to achieve a reduction in oil imports. Well, that is until President Obama.
In the South President Carter was vilified for these measures. Despite being from Georgia once he was elected he was suddenly one more Northerner tell them what they can and can’t do. Suddenly the same preachers who had told their congregations to vote for him were telling their flocks he was against them. He was killing jobs in the oil fields. He was killing jobs on the farms.  So when St. Ronnie comes along with his welfare mom lie and his government’s the problem rhetoric they ate it up. They’re still choking on that one.
Since the 1980 election, we have been debating this issue about the role of government in our everyday lives. Tea Party pols say they want to take back the country – from who, me, you, from whom for whom.
Last week Ted Cruz chose to announce his run for POTUS at the ultra-conservative Liberty University founded by Jerry Falwell. You remember Mr. Falwell (I refuse to use the title Rev.) he was the one who said AIDS was God’s wrath for the wickedness of homosexuality. So Sen. Cruz goes to Lynchburg (I’ll let the reader decide where that named comes from) to say, “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.” Again reinforcing the idea that Christians should be running America because the rest of us are sinners – even followers of Christ like me.
There you have it. In this country, there is a group of Americans who believe their view of Christianity is the only valid one. They leave out Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians, Lutherans and all the rest. If you haven’t bought into their Brother Love’s Travelling Salivation Show version of Christianity, than you cannot be a real Christian. And if you’re not a real Christian than you cannot possibly be a real American.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Selma, Race & Voting

As I watched President Obama speaking at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, my emotions were raw.  I was remembering the night my child called to ask, “Is it true, is he really going to be our president?” With pride and tears in my eyes I said, “Yes, we did it.” At the same time memories of watching the evening news on Bloody Sunday and the violence that had rained down on people who only wanted their rights. Then yesterday morning I awoke to the news that fraternity brothers at the University of Oklahoma had been videotaped chanting to the tune “If You Are Happy and You Know It” “there will never be any n****** in SAE.” I got to thinking about how we got here.

Their names were Otha and Marshall. That’s it. Those are the only names of African-American’s with whom I went to school that I remember. I recall them over any others because I stood up for each of them at some point growing up.

Whether I was a line cook or even the chef, I was frequently the only white person working in the kitchen. We worked in heat that would drop weaker people. We were a part of a team. However, what I saw frustrated me. If someone from the front of the house had a party they would invite kitchen staff and we would all go. However, if a black from the kitchen held a party and invited everyone to attend I would once again find myself being the only white in attendance. Even when I, the white guy threw a party only my fellow kitchen workers would attend. It made me feel that I was viewed as barely white.

I try to say that I am not a racist. I do my best to treat all people with the respect that all human beings deserve. When I evaluate at how I’m doing I realize a few things. Yes, there are blacks in my neighborhood. Yes, I go out of my way to engage with them. No, I've have never invited them into my home. Not because I’m a closeted racist, it’s just that I really don’t know them. The only thing I know about them personally is that they’re friendly and they live down the block or in the building next door. When I think about this, I get pissed off – at me.

Growing up there were two things that we could count on, dinner would be served at 6:30 and Walter Cronkite would be on the television on its rolling stand in the corner. There at my family dinner table I learned about the world. What I learned was man is incredibly cruel to his fellow man. Beginning on November 22, 1963 I paid attention because I wanted to know what it was that could bring my father to tears.

By March 1965, I had already seen some pretty horrible things. On the Evening News with Walter Cronkite, I had seen the bodies of black men hanging from trees. Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner had been murdered in Mississippi. Bull Connor had already turned his fire hoses on blacks marching for their civil rights. I had borne witness to man’s inhumanity to his fellow man and I was in elementary school.

August of that summer, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even at twelve year old I understood that to whites in the Deep South the Civil Rights Act of 1964 wasn't enough. These goobers needed to have it spelled out for them. I mean if a person’s civil rights were now codified in law why did we have to come back, the next year with a Voting Rights Act saying that voting was a civil right.

In the spring of ’68, the riots that had hit Watts in the summer of 1965 were now in my hometown, of Baltimore Maryland. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead and the city had exploded. I remember sitting on the stoop listening to the sound of the electricity running through the overhead power lines. I would not experience that kind of eerie quite again until September 11, 2001. During the riot, some of the men in our neighborhood had gone to the basement to retrieve the carbine they had brought home from WWII. Fear was everywhere and as kids we didn't know what was next.

No American should have had to endure what blacks in America had to just to vote. If I’m reading the numbers correctly, voter turnout by race closely mirrors the population. That is to say 74% of voters in 2008 were white and 13 % were black. According to the 2010 Census the breakdown of the population was 73% white (only) and 13% black (only). As someone who skipped Statistics 101. I read this as blacks voting at the same rate as whites. Here’s the fucking kicker – only 36.9 of the voting eligible population bother to go to the polls in 2014.

It’s rigged. You waste your time going to vote. Both parties are exactly the same they just say they’re different. I bet you've heard all of these statements before. Sometimes, it’s even your friends or co-workers that say it. I had one neighbor tell me in 2008 that he would vote for Barack Obama if he thought he could accomplish his goals. I asked him if he wanted those things accomplished and his answer was yes. Then came the kicker – he told me he wished Sarah Palin was on the top of the GOP ticket because she’s the smartest one running. I was fine with him skipping the election. Unfortunately too many FoxNoise viewers do vote.

Voter apathy is a disgrace. Uninformed voters are a danger. Tea Partiers that don’t realize that the Tea Party used to be known as the John Birch Society are a danger. Fred Koch called it the John Birch Society, his sons call it the Tea Party by either name they both attempt to do the same thing – impose biblical law over our constitution and convince their sheep it’s God’s will.

We must do better. People have fought for our right to vote. They died at Lexington & Concord, Ft. McHenry, Gettysburg, Pa. San Juan Hill, The Western Front, Iwo Jima, New York City, Shanksville, Pa. and they died in Birmingham, Al. & Memphis, Tn. They didn't give the last full measure so we could sit on our asses on Election Day and then bitch because they don’t like what THEIR government is doing. President Obama said it best, “The single most powerful word in our democracy is “We.”

Federal MMJ Bill to be Introduced

The following comes Dan Riffle of MPP - this is great news for all of us.

Bipartisan Bill to Be Introduced in U.S. Senate Tuesday Would End Federal Government’s Prohibition on Medical Marijuana

Measure sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul, Corey Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand marks the first time in history that the Senate will consider a proposal to make medical marijuana legal under federal law

* Statement below from Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project *
                                                                   
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will introduce a bill in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday that would end the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana. It will be the first time in history that the Senate considers a proposal to make medical marijuana legal under federal law. 
 
Statement from Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project:

“This is a significant step forward when it comes to reforming marijuana laws at the federal level. The vast majority of Americans support laws that allow seriously ill people to access medical marijuana. Several marijuana policy reform bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives. The introduction of this legislation in the Senate demonstrates just how seriously this issue is being taken on Capitol Hill.


“The bipartisan nature of this proposal reflects the broad public support for resolving the tension between state and federal marijuana laws. This is a proposal that Republicans and Democrats should both be able to get behind. It’s a matter of compassion and justice, states’ rights, public safety, and medical choice. There is no rational reason to maintain laws that prevent doctors from recommending medical marijuana, prohibit seriously ill people from using it, and punishing those who provide it to them.”

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Judicial Proceedings Hearing 3/4/2015 - Three Reform Bills

This past Wednesday Maryland’s Judicial Proceedings heard testimony on not one but three cannabis reform bills. The bills heard were, SB 531 Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015, SB 517 Use and Possession of Marijuana and Drug Paraphernalia, and SB 456 Marijuana and Drug Paraphernalia – Medical Necessity. As is always the case there is good news and not so good news to be gleaned from the testimony and questions.

First, let me provide the barest of explanation of what each bill is attempting to accomplish. SB 456 attempts to include paraphernalia in the existing affirmative defense established by SB 308 in 2011. It also attempts to extend that affirmative defense to caregivers. SB 517 is similar though this bill attempts to legalize possession of paraphernalia; reaffirm the medical necessity affirmative defense and most importantly remove the 10gm limit established in last year’s decrim bill signed into law by Gov. O’Malley.

The good news- Proponents of the bills outnumbered opponents by a margin greater than 4:1 (21-5). The better news might be the quality of witnesses testifying in favor of the bills. The following organizations all sent representatives to testify:
Ø  ACLU of Maryland
Ø  Maryland Cannabis Industry Association
Ø  Center of Urban Families
Ø  Marijuana Policy Project
Ø  Drug Policy Alliance
Ø  Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)
Ø  Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)
Ø  Maryland NORML
Ø  Western Maryland NORML
Ø  Maryland State Conference NAACP

The bad news- The same old opponents came to offer the same tired, old and disproven “evidence” for opposing any changes in the current marijuana laws, medical or otherwise. Opponents included one retired police chief, two States Attorneys, SAM and one sobriety counselor whose organization I was unable to hear. Their arguments still sound as if they sat and watched “Reefer Madness” to help them write their testimony.

Some of the highlights – Senators Raskin & Zirkin made great points as they each introduced the bills to be heard that day. Senator Raskin handled the intro for the big one, SB 531 that would make Maryland the next jurisdiction to legalize marijuana for recreational use. He sounded what would become the rallying cry of the day, that being the despite all the proclamations by opponents the sky has not fallen in Colorado or Washington – either the state or DC.

            Sen. Zirkin introduced the other two bills. I wish he had phrased one provision of SB 456 & 517 differently. He could have better explained that the affirmative defense for patients is still in place but his bills would extend that affirmative defense to cover paraphernalia and also cover that person's caregivers. Even some of the aids to other senators & delegates were unclear on how his bills affect our affirmative defense. This has been very important to me personally, as it has provided significant peace of mind about the danger of being arrested.

One major point of contention dealt with the smell of marijuana in a car and whether that alone is cause for a search of the car. Police feel under decriminalization they are losing the right to search merely because they claim to smell weed. The one question I wanted asked was, “Can you personally distinguish between the smell of pot burning and pot still in the baggie?” I think it would have clarified the debate. Under all the laws we are supporting driving while stoned or actively getting high is illegal. However, merely transporting cannabis in your car (provided the amounts are legal) would no longer be a crime.

Another point both sides need to clarify is their definition of “in public.” Lawmakers define it as on the street, in a park, or any other public space. In other words, even after the law changes you won’t be able to light up a joint in the smoking area of Camden Yards. I want to be absolutely certain that “in public” does not include my deck even though I live in an apartment. My goal has all along been the ability to smoke openly my pipe while my wife sips her beer on our deck when she gets home from work.

There were one or two moments that it would have been hard for me not to stand up and cheer (if you’ve never testified – you cannot ever do that). Every time a witnessed urged to the continuation of the prohibition either Sen. Raskin or Sen. Zirkin would ask is it your opinion that alcohol prohibition worked. They all hemmed and hauled as they attempted to answer the question. None of them wanted to say that Prohibition was a success but they were sure that marijuana prohibition should continue.

As I stated before the opposition proudly marched out the same old arguments. The one I hate the most is this idea that cannabis causes schizophrenia. It does not. Schizophrenia is caused by a genetic defect. Furthermore, the idea that it triggers the onset has yet to be proven because the age at which young people begin using cannabis coincides with the age at which schizophrenia onsets.

One of the most irresponsible assertions by an opposing witness was that she knew a teenage girl that went to a party, smoked some weed and had a psychotic break. I find this quite hard to believe. We must understand that the “paranoia” we felt the first few times we used cannabis can be defined as a psychosis. Similarly, when they define cannabis as a hallucinogen, they mean that sensation of colors being more vibrant. Jimmy Buffet once said, I’ve smoked a lot of weed over the years and have yet to hallucinate. Where do I get that stuff? As for the poor young girl who experienced a psychotic break I would be willing to bet someone told her she was smoking pot but since she had no reference she was unaware that her boyfriend had just given her PCP.

Judy Pentz of Maryland NORML passed along a story Ret. Sheriff Norman Stamper likes to tell. I forget which South American nation this occurred in but here’s the gist. Tired of all the brawls breaking out in the stands organizers of a soccer match did not serve alcohol in the stands. However, they invited the fans to partake in the weed they figured they were carrying in anyway. The result of the experiment – not one fight. This goes along with what I and many of my peers commented to their parents during Woodstock. As the news was breaking, many parents were upset by the nudity, sex & drug use being reported. We all told our parents the same thing, put a half a million adults drinking their Jack in one place and it would take 1st Armored Div. to break up the fight that would break out.


Well those are my takeaways from the hearing. I only wish I had been up to coming and testifying myself. The main takeaway I believe is this. Last year law enforcement flooded the hearing room with multiple panels of witnesses. This year their numbers were anemic this is good news. I’m sure you might find other testimony more important. Please watch the hearing for yourself. Here is the link: http://mgahouse.maryland.gov/house/play/154e90ea-8c13-4b8b-b5c9-0c04dc0fa471/?catalog/03e481c7-8a42-4438-a7da-93ff74bdaa4c

Friday, February 27, 2015

America's Wars

Damn, America is involved in a lot of wars. The first war I had to come to grips with was the Vietnam War. It leads to my activism. That wasn't the only war against which I was fighting. The Vietnam Era saw an influx in drug use, not just marijuana but also heroin. In 1970, Pres. Nixon started what he called a "war" on drug use. What many people don't know is that "war on drug use" was aimed at Vietnam vets coming home addicted to heroin. Then Pres. Reagan raised the ante and changed it to a War on Drugs." Oh, how great it would be if this were our only war. It is not. We have in no particular order a "war" on - drugs, terrorism, poverty, the bible, Christmas, and of course a war on liberalism. See our politicians are big on wars, especially the GOP.

Do you know what all of these wars have in common? They began as political rhetoric. From the time President Johnson declared a "war on poverty," our government has used the word war as a synonym for an intense effort. President Johnson wasn't going to order the 101st Airborne Division to begin dropping food & cash all over Appalachia; although considering how often these folks vote against their own interests that might not have been a horrible idea. It meant he wanted an intense effort to end poverty by solving some of the root problems of the poor. Remember, unlike the Bush family or the Kennedy family President Johnson grew up dirt poor. Johnson knew education was the key and focused on improving education in America, the basic teach a man how to fish strategy.

Equally, Nixon was not going to order the "Screaming Eagles" to bomb Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1970 because there was a lot of heroin dealing going on there. Richard Nixon's original intention was an intense effort to prevent heroin addiction following our soldiers home from Vietnam.

Today Nixon's views on how to handle our drug problem would make him a leading Democratic voice. Following a study he commissioned Nixon realized that our crime problem was connected to drug addictions that began frequently with marijuana. His advisor who did the research told Nixon that during his research heroin addicts told him if pot were legal, they never would have even tried heroin. He was said to have been considering legalizing marijuana. The day after he expressed that idea four guys got caught breaking into Democratic National Headquarters located in the Watergate complex.

President Carter being a pacifist basically never did get caught up in the rhetoric of declaring a '"War on Something" nor did President Clinton. Then comes President W and our rhetorical wars became real shooting wars.

President Bush's declaration of a war on terrorism has divided us, as I have never witnessed before. In my opinion it brings us to where we are today which is embroiled in either the Tenth Crusade or WW III. In fact, I believe if certain advisor's heads hadn't exploded the first time he used the term "crusade" we be waging a Crusade against Terrorism rather than a war. In fact, he called the war on terrorism a crusade in the days immediately after the September 11th attacks.

Since then, the GOP in an effort to divert attention from their crusade have accused Democrats of waging war on Christmas or a war on religious freedom. To counter that rhetoric the Dems have accused the GOP of waging a war on women and a war on unions. We need to stop the war rhetoric, like adding "gate" to every pseudo scandal; it has been way over used by now.

War is hell and rhetoric is just words. Let’s stop confusing the two. Our intense efforts at curtailing drug addiction, or poverty & homelessness are demonstrations of American values. On the other hand, our war on drugs and terrorism has thrown the world into chaos. The problem is the two are both the ideas of conservative politicians. They also are both failing - dismally.

In reality, the war on drugs has been going on much longer than the 45 years of Nixon's war on drug use. It goes back to 1914 when we made cocaine illegal except in limited medicinal use. One hundred years of throwing addicts in jail has accomplished absolutely NOTHING. Well it did provide jobs to lawyers, cops, & prison guards. Any realistic examination of the results will show the war on drugs to be colossal failure.

While our war on drugs has had thousands of casualties on both sides, the war on terrorism has dwarfed those numbers. More concerning is the possibility of more attacks here at home. It is widely accepted that our treatment of terrorists at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and a variety of black sites around the world has created more terrorists than it has kept off the battlefield. Add to that GOP congressional representatives or senators screaming America is a Christian nation and the terrorists are flocking to Syria & Yemen.

It was a mistake to treat the 9/11 attacks as acts of war rather than a crime. In the lead up to the invasion of Afghanistan, our covert troops had already brought down the Taliban and were hot on the heels of Osama bin Laden. Then we made a big show of invading Afghanistan, which in reality was just W's method to get our military in the Middle East in great numbers so he could make the most destructive mistake of his presidency - the invasion of Iraq. A decision we are paying for everyday the world over.

War is an armed conflict between nations or groups. Nations can engage in war. Criminals can wage war with each other as in the Mafia Wars of the '70's. However, you cannot wage war on a behavior like drug misuse. You can treat the problem with medical interventions or you can arrest people for breaking a law but neither course of action can be considered war.

When Irish terrorists in Northern Ireland were attacking the British police and soldiers England didn't go around screaming Catholics are terrorists trying to take over the world. The same cannot be said of the war rhetoric following 9/11. Suddenly terrorists’ attacks are an attempt to take over the world. While it may be true that the leaders of al Qaida & ISIS may want to rule the world with Sharia Law, the reality is they haven't a chance at succeeding. They don't have a nation to supply them with tanks (they don't even have an air force) as Hitler did yet the GOP likes to tell their followers that ISIS is just like Hitler. Bullshit! ISIS survives on war materials left on the battlefields across the Middle East. Terrorism is not a nation; Terrorism is a tactic.

America's wars are perhaps the biggest misnomers ever. Our wars are in fact intense efforts to correct identified problems. Poverty is an economic condition. Drug misuse is a behavior. Terrorism is a tactic. All of which deserve intense efforts to change. For instance, a better education system can stem poverty by giving people the tools they need to get out of poverty.

Drug abuse or as I prefer drug misuse can be controlled, but not by throwing people in jail. It can be controlled with honest frank education about drugs. Marijuana & alcohol use is controlled by a large number of people. However, meth, heroin, all opiates and cocaine can rarely be controlled and the results are devastating to the addict, his family and society. Jail does nothing to curb this problem but treatment can.

Terrorism is the tactic of the weak. ISIS can't really wage war against the US or Israel for that matter, both nations are far more powerful than their ragtag team of religious perverters. Like poverty and drug misuse, force will never end the problem. Diplomacy will. We need to pressure Saudi Arabia and any other predominantly Muslim nations to join us in attempting to be modern progressive nations. War is hell and not a solution to the ills of society.