Sunday, January 31, 2021
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.
— 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
It’s easy to be a Christian in the company of other Christians. The challenge comes when we are with those who are either not Christian or not devout Christians. Vermont is not one of the most religious of states. Vermont Public Radio (VPR) recently asked, “What's The State Of Religion In Vermont?” According to VPR, a Pew survey from 2014 found only 34 percent of adults in Vermont considered themselves “highly religious” — making Vermont one of the least religious states in the country. The same Pew study shows 41 percent of Vermonters "absolutely" believe in God. And an even higher proportion of people, 47 percent, said that at least once a week, they feel "a sense of spiritual peace and wellbeing." There are plenty of churches (I live next to an Episcopal Church and across the street from a Methodist Church), but they were not often full on Sundays, even before the pandemic. People rarely speak about religion in Vermont, and it is not a subject that comes up in everyday conversations.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, the Apostle Paul tells us to “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” Such simple verses that pack a lot of meaning. Within these two verses, there are five distinct commands for us to follow: be on guard, stand firm, be courageous, be strong, and do everything in love. Many people who consider themselves Christian, especially evangelical Christians, have no problem with the first four commands. Many evangelical leaders are always on guard to tell others when they see something that they feel is a slight to their religion. They stand firm in their perverted views of Christianity, which reject those who are not exactly like them and follow their every word, which doesn’t often follow the Word of God, but what they want the Bible to say. They believe themselves to be courageous when they discriminate against others and attempt to force upon everyone around them their version of the Christian faith. They often strongly condemn those who disagree with them even in the slightest way and refuse to waiver in their beliefs. However, when it comes to doing everything in love, they ignore that commandment. Often their actions are the opposite of love. But let us look more closely at what Paul is really commanding us to do.
The command “be on your guard” is directed at our spiritual wellbeing. We should always be looking for how we can help others and show them love. We should also be alert to those who want to harm us or others with false beliefs and misplaced agendas. We should “stand firm in our faith” and show others the loving and accepting version of Christianity. As Christians, we are responsible for knowing the truth of God’s Word for ourselves, understanding what is in it, and not allow false teachers to lead us astray. We are also commanded to “be courageous.” When there are those out there using Christianity to exclude those with whom they disagree, we have to be brave enough to face the challenges that false Christians present. We can be ready with an answer and be willing to share our faith and belief that God is love. First John 4:16 tells us, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Evangelicals preach that society forces us to be politically correct and not to say anything that might offend someone else. However, those who do not hold their tongue to keep from harming others with their words are not acting in a Christian way. God called us to “be strong” and show His love to everyone whether we agree with them or not. We cannot be weak and pick and choose what parts of the Bible we want to follow and ignore the details we would like to forget so easily. We should be mindful that our words are always grounded in God’s love. If they are, we should be strong enough to speak these truths with confidence, knowing that God’s word never returns void. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” What we say has consequences, and we must be strong in spreading God’s love.
The four previous commands are forceful, but our Christian love for other people is the essential part of this equation. God is very explicit when he tells us to “Do everything in love.” Love is what binds us together, and our love for all humankind is what should motivate us. God does not ask us to be judgmental or to beat people over the head with a Bible. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Our kindness and love for humankind will go a lot farther than the browbeating we often get from anti-LGBTQ+ ministers who claim to speak for Christianity. God wants us to show acceptance and love. Together we can show the love of Christ to those who need Him the most. With our love, we can be the beacon of light that shines the way to Jesus.
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Friday, January 29, 2021
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has been in the news a lot this last week as more and more evidence of her support for terror and extremism mounts. CNN reported that Greene “liked” a social media post that suggested “a bullet to the head” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and seemed to approve of a suggestion that other prominent Democrats should be hanged, not to mention similar calls for the death of President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Greene has supported QAnon conspiracy theories about a global pedophilia cabal, approved of suggestions that mass shootings were staged, and made various racist comments. Furthermore, a video emerged of Greene harassing David Hogg, who survived the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day 2018. The video shows Greene following Hogg down the street in Washington, D.C., in March 2019, and badgering him, calling him a crisis actor paid by George Soros, telling him she was armed, demanding he talk to her, and calling him a coward. Hogg walked on without engaging her.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said yesterday in a press conference that, "Assigning her to the Education Committee when she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School when she has mocked the killing of teenagers in high school at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school -- what could they be thinking? Or is thinking too generous a word for what they might be doing? It's absolutely appalling, and I think the focus has to be on the Republican leadership of this House of Representatives for the disregard they have for the death of those children." Pelosi knows that Republicans have known for a while that they had trouble brewing with Marjorie Taylor Greene back in the summer of 2020 when she was running for Congress. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) called the QAnon supporter’s comments about Black people and Muslims “disgusting,” while a spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called them “appalling.” Scalise backed her primary opponent.
So, I am sure a lot of people have questions about how this woman could be elected. I have some thoughts on that because I have always lived in rural congressional districts. In most congressional races in rural districts, especially in the South, candidates often don't get many campaign contributions. Many don't even have websites, and if they do, they are sparse with their information. If multiple people are in a primary, I believe most people just pick the name they like best. Voters don’t really care who they are voting for in these primaries. When the general election comes around, they either vote for the one with the R after their name or the D after their name. As a general rule, I do vote for Democrats almost exclusively. Still, I've known a few Democrats I won't vote for, and on rare occasions, I find someone in the Republican Party or a third party that I want to vote for, but I do my research on candidates. Most voters don't research candidates. Ignorance by the voting public is especially problematic in rural areas where school systems are often the poorest. People are often uneducated or undereducated. Internet access is difficult to come by without paying exorbitant prices, making it difficult to research candidates. If they have a smartphone, they probably get most of their information from Facebook, which is misleading at best but is most often completely inaccurate.
While Greene was covered in the news as a QAnon candidate, Green and other Republicans tried to distance her from her QAnon conspiracy theories during the general election. Now the crazy is coming out in full force. She should have never been elected, but our previous president and his followers pushed for her election. To top that off, northwest Georgia, which Greene represents, is extremely conservative and backwoods and is over 84 percent white and nearly 57 percent blue-collar. The district leans heavily Republican. Donald Trump carried the district with over 75 percent of the vote in 2016, his eighth-best showing in the nation. Among Georgia's congressional districts, only the neighboring 9th district is more Republican. Since its creation, no Democrat has managed as much as 30 percent of the vote.
When I lived in Alabama, I lived at times in the 2nd Congressional and the 7th Congressional districts. The 7th Congressional district is the “Black Belt” district. The shape of the current district was largely established in 1992 when it was reconstituted as a majority-minority district under provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended in 1982 to encourage greater representation for minorities in Congress. Since its creation in 1843, a Republican has only represented the district once and for just one term from 1965-1967. In contrast, Alabama's 2nd congressional district is majority white, and only one Democrat has represented the district since 1965. That one Democrat, former Montgomery mayor Bobby Bright, only served one term, and most recently switched parties and ran again and lost as a Republican candidate. The current representative from the 2nd congressional district is Barry Moore, who was elected for the first time in 2020. Moore is crooked to the core and has been under near-constant investigation for using his office as a legislator to get preferential contracts and for committing perjury in another corruption case. Moore's opponent, a black woman named Phyllis Harvey-Hall, worked as an elementary school teacher for 25 years before her retirement. Her credentials and clean history of no criminal charges made no difference. She only received 34.7 percent of the vote (the minority population of the district is just 37 percent).
The House of Representatives tends to be more radical than the Senate because of the smaller and more localized districts. While there are moderates in the House, there are more members who are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. There are also more members who are highly unqualified to be in Congress. The Senate has its bad eggs too. Alabama’s new Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville could very well make history as the most unqualified and incompetent, at least in recent memory. There are some awful people in the Senate, such as McConnell, Graham, Hawley, Cruz, etc., but they at least have some brains, even if they continuously make stupid, hateful, and often contradictory statements. Tuberville, however, takes the cake. He was a football coach known for being extremely lazy. Every time it appeared that his job would become challenging, he left the coaching position.
Furthermore, he's a crook who defrauded investors of millions during his ownership of an investment company. His partner in the venture was convicted of fraud and was sentenced to ten years in prison. Tuberville turned on him during the trial and escaped being indicted. The Tommy Tuberville Foundation has also been found to mismanage the funds and lining the pockets of Tuberville. He was only elected because he somehow gained our previous president's support, probably because he sucked up to the former president the most. Voters did not care that he had zero experience that showed he would make a good politician. They cared nothing about his inability to understand the most basic of civic lessons. They cared that he ran as a Republican, was hateful, and had the support of a Republican president. One of his first acts as a Senator was to cast a treasonous vote to overturn a legitimate election.
The point I want to make is that the American electorate is composed of millions of uneducated individuals who are easily swayed by propaganda and hate. Politicians feed on their fears when they actually do tell constituents what their policies are. When NBC News asked Greene's constituents about the awful things she has said and supported, they simply did not care. One woman talked about how Greene was bold and spoke her mind; we heard Trump supporters say the same thing. Another woman said she didn't care what Greene had said or done; she still supported the congresswoman. These attitudes and the radicalization and encouragement of extremists led to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. A lack of education is a dangerous thing because it makes people too impressionable and gullible.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, the bath and beauty company Calgon produced some iconic advertisements. One of the commercials for Calgon brand bath powder from 1978 starts with a woman considering all the hectic and stressful events in her life. She mentions traffic, her boss, a crying baby, and the dogs. Then she said "That does it! Calgon, take me away!" In another advertisement, a woman wearing a fluffy pink robe is seen in her chaotic home. As tension rises, she utters the slogan "Calgon, take me away!" The next scene shows her relaxing in a bath in a quiet room. I remember these commercials when I was a kid, and last night as I was thinking of all the aggravation of the day, the slogan came in my head, “Calgon, take me away!” Yesterday was was not exactly stressful, but it was aggravating. I had a virtual staff meeting that seemed to drone on forever. Then, my mother called which in itself is usually a little aggravating at times.
The most aggravating was dealing with my boss’s insecurities. Yesterday afternoon, I sent some promotional material for some upcoming public programs for the museum to my boss, and he sent them back commenting that he “made several grammatical and wording changes.” I wouldn’t have minded this too much except I knew these were perfect. I’d had an editor, my friend Susan, look over them before I sent them for his approval. I trust her more than I trust anyone at the museum to make sure my writing is error free. Every time I send my boss something that just needs his quick approval, he makes stupid changes. He does this to all of us because he’s so insecure in his own abilities that he uses things like this to exert his authority. It’s aggravating because: 1) I am far better educated than he is, 2) I used to teach English and grammar, and 3) he has the worst grammar of anyone who works for the museum. So, yes, it pisses me off when he makes changes just so he can look like he’s doing something.
Furthermore, the university where I work is having a COVID outbreak because students broke quarantine, and now we are getting close to the threshold where the state says we will have to transition completely to virtual learning for the semester. If that happens, we will have a huge budget shortfall. We have been told before that if this happens, there will be layoffs. The university is doing everything they can to keep all employees working. Our university president released a message last night saying that he believes the university has the situation under control. I feel sorry for our president because he started in the middle of the pandemic (he was hired before it started); he has never been a university president before; and he followed a president that had been there for 27 years. He’s dealing with a lot for someone new to such a position. As of last night, it’s not clear yet if in-person classes will be able to begin on schedule next week or not.
Add to all of this, I need a vacation. I usually take a vacation or two each year to get away from the stress of life and work. However, the pandemic hasn’t allowed me to travel for over a year. I did not go home at Christmas and New Years, and I haven’t had any other trips. I’d love to head up to Montreal for a few days or down to Manhattan to see my friend Susan. Since I moved to Vermont, I have done more traveling than I have ever done previously in my life. Most of my traveling has been for work, but it was rarely all work and no play. I just want to get away somewhere. However, I don’t think a bubble bath is going to do it. I think we are all feeling this way, so “Calgon, take me away!”
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
I don't have much to say today. A lot is going on in the news. There was a tornado in Fultondale, Alabama. Senator Patrick Leahy was hospitalized last night, but apparently, he was released a short time later. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Fultondale and with Senator Leahy. There are other things I could write about, but as I was writing this last night, I just wasn't up to writing much. Every once in a while, I just need to take a day off.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
By D. A. Powell
if you didn’t mind the bible
you’d surely mind the belt
This may be the shortest poem I have ever posted. I was looking at D. A. Powell’s poems and originally came across “The Fluffer Talks of Eternity.” While it is an interesting poem, I decided it just wasn’t what I was looking for in today’s poem. Then I came across “Bible Belt.” I was so intrigued by the simplicity of the poem but also its deep meaning. Considering that I was born in the buckle of the Bible Belt where in cities there is a church on nearly every street corner or in rural areas where you can hardly drive a mile without passing a church.
In a chat with the Rumpus Poetry Book Club, Powell talked about being born in the Bible Belt. In the interview, he said, “I was born in the Bible Belt. My father’s family were all Bible belters. They belted us with the Bible. But despite their abuse of it, it’s a Good Book.” I think there are several ways you can take this poem, whether the second line means “They belted us with the Bible” or if the belt was used for corporal punishment, is up to the reader. You can hear Powell read the poem here.
About D. A. Powell
Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and Cocktails was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His next two books were Chronic(2009), which won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (2012) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
Noting Powell’s “open-secret sexiness, his confident collage effects, and his grave subjects” in Cocktails, New York Times critic and Harvard professor Stephen Burt says, “No accessible poet of his generation is half as original, and no poet as original is this accessible.” As a teacher at Sonoma State, he noticed that most of his students’ poems were written to fit the demands of the page. His experiments with his students in writing on unexpected surfaces (such as candlesticks or rolls of toilet paper) led to his own breakthrough in “subverting the page:” he turned a legal pad sideways and wrote the first poem for Tea. Powell explains that “by pulling the line longer, stretching it into a longer breath, I was giving a little bit more life to some people who had very short lives.” Powell has also taught at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of San Francisco.
Monday, January 25, 2021
|Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber just after being sworn-in by Vice President Kamala Harris, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.|
One of the most misunderstood aspects of the federal government is the arcane Senate rule known as the filibuster. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued against the filibuster, according to whether it is useful to them or not. Considering how little the contemporary version of the U.S. Senate accomplishes, that may be reason enough to kill the filibuster — a tool used by the minority party to keep the Senate in a state of near-perpetual obstruction. There’s another reason. Despite an enormous amount of work to be done now at the start of a new Congress, the Senate can’t accomplish tasks as basic as picking committee chairs because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is using the threat of a filibuster to hold up the rules organizing the new Senate, which is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote giving Democrats a razor-thin majority. Why? Because McConnell wants a guarantee that Democrats won’t bend the rules to eliminate the filibuster.
At this point in this post, I am going to give all of you a choice. You can watch a 20-minute video of John Oliver explaining in an irreverent but often humorous way the history and structure of the filibuster, or you can read my more detailed and analysis of the filibuster. If you choose the video, then you can skip to the section below the dividing line.
For a little history, the filibuster, contrary to popular belief, is not in the Constitution and the founding fathers never even mentioned it at the Constitutional Convention or in The Federalist Papers, which argued against supermajority required votes in Federalist No. 58 written by James Madison and Federalist No. 22 by Alexander Hamilton. While the Constitution does not mandate it, the framers clearly envisioned that simple majority voting would be used to conduct business. It took seventeen years for the simple majority rule to be changed. In 1789, the first U.S. Senate adopted rules allowing senators to move forward to vote on a bill by a simple majority vote. However, Vice President Aaron Burr argued that voting on whether or not to vote on a bill was redundant, and the Senate had only exercised the procedure once in the preceding four years. He believed the rule should be eliminated, which was done in 1806 after he left office. The Senate agreed and modified its rules; however, filibusters became theoretically possible because it created no means for ending debate. Just an aside, Burr, who accidentally created the filibuster, was later tried multiple times for treason for attempting to establish an independent country in the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. This was after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and Burr ended up fleeing to Europe to get away from the charges of treason. Treason, by the way, is very difficult to prove by the standards set by the Constitution.
Though the option of the filibuster had been created, it remained only theoretical until the 1830s. The first Senate filibuster occurred in 1837. In 1841, a defining moment came at the hands of Alabama senator and future vice president William Rufus King (who I wrote about several weeks ago as being the possible lover of James Buchanan). During debate on a bill to charter a new national bank, Senator Henry Clay tried to end the debate through a majority vote. King threatened a filibuster, saying that Clay "may make his arrangements at his boarding house for the winter." Other senators sided with King, and Clay backed down. At the time, both the Senate and the House of Representatives allowed filibusters as a way to prevent a vote from taking place. Subsequent revisions to House rules limited filibuster privileges in that chamber, but the Senate continued to allow the tactic.
Eight decades passed before a rule was created to end a filibuster. In 1917, during World War I, a rule allowing cloture (a motion to end debate through a vote) was adopted by the Senate on a 76–3 roll call vote at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, after a group of 12 anti-war senators managed to kill a bill that would have allowed Wilson to arm merchant vessels in the face of unrestricted German submarine warfare. From 1917 to 1949, the requirement for cloture was two-thirds of senators voting. During the 1930s, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana used the filibuster to promote his populist policies and ushered in the politics of strange speeches that mocked the dignity of the Senate. Long recited Shakespeare and read out recipes for "pot-likkers" during his filibusters, which occupied 15 hours of debate. Senator Ted Cruz more recently read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess, even though the need to continually speak is no longer necessary. The threat of filibuster suffices these days. In 1949, the Senate made invoking cloture more difficult by requiring two-thirds of the entire Senate membership had to vote in favor of a cloture motion. However, that lasted a mere ten years. In 1959, then-Majority Leader and future president Lyndon Johnson anticipated a flurry of civil rights legislation and restored the cloture threshold to two-thirds of those voting to keep Southern Democrats from hijacking the Senate. As presiding officer, Vice President Richard Nixon supported the move and stated his opinion that the Senate "has a constitutional right at the beginning of each new Congress to determine rules it desires to follow," which is the reason the Senate is currently debating the rules governing the Democratic majority in the Senate.
After a series of filibusters in the 1960s over civil rights legislation, the Senate put a "two-track system" into place in 1970. Before this system was introduced, a filibuster would stop the Senate from moving on to any other legislative activity. Tracking allows the majority leader—with unanimous consent or the agreement of the minority leader—to have more than one main motion pending on the floor as unfinished business. Under the two-track system, the Senate can have two or more pieces of legislation or nominations pending on the floor simultaneously by designating specific periods during the day when each one will be considered. (This might be a possible way for the Senate to move ahead with the current impeachment trial that is expected to come forward sometime today.) This change's side effect was that by no longer bringing Senate business to a complete halt, filibusters on particular motions became politically easier for the minority to sustain, leading to the number of filibusters increasing rapidly. In 1975, the Senate revised its cloture rule so that three-fifths of sworn senators (60 votes out of 100) could limit debate, with only a few exceptions to the rule.
Whoever was the minority party at the time began to use the filibuster as a way to hold up judicial appointments. In 2005, a group of Republican senators proposed having the presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney, rule that a filibuster on judicial nominees was unconstitutional, as it was inconsistent with the President's power to name judges with the advice and consent of a simple majority of senators. On November 21, 2013, Senate Democrats used the so-called "nuclear option," voting 52–48 — with all Republicans and three Democrats opposed — to eliminate the filibuster's use on executive branch nominees and judicial nominees, except to the Supreme Court. In 2015, Republicans took control of the Senate and kept the 2013 rules in place. On April 6, 2017, Senate Republicans eliminated the sole remaining exception to the 2013 change by invoking the "nuclear option" for Supreme Court nominees. This was done to allow a simple majority to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The vote to change the rules was 52 to 48 along party lines.
The supermajority rule has made it very difficult, often impossible, for Congress to pass any but the most non-controversial legislation in recent decades. During times of unified party control, majorities have attempted (with varying levels of success) to enact their major policy priorities through the budget reconciliation process, resulting in legislation constrained by budget rules. Meanwhile, public approval for Congress as an institution has fallen to its lowest levels ever, with large segments of the public seeing the institution as ineffective, which brings us to the current situation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cannot organize the Senate under his majority rule because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insists that the Democrats commit to leaving the filibuster intact. The Democrats have no plans at this time to kill the filibuster altogether. Quite frankly, they do not have the votes, since Democratic Senator Joe Manchin openly opposes the idea and others are cautious; however, they want to keep the threat of killing the filibuster to prevent McConnell and the Republicans from abusing it and stopping all Democratic legislation.
The stakes here are interesting because the issues are deeper than just the filibuster. While the new Senate is split evenly, the 50 Democrats in the Senate represent over 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republicans represent. The filibuster means that no legislation can pass Congress without the support of 10 Republicans. What that means is that the fight over the filibuster is a fight not just about the ability of the Democrats to get laws passed, but about whether McConnell and the Republicans, who represent a minority of the American people, can kill legislation endorsed by lawmakers who represent quite a large majority. We are in an uncomfortable period in our history in which the mechanics of our democracy are functionally anti-democratic. The fight over the filibuster might seem dull, but it’s a pretty significant struggle as our lawmakers try to make the rules of our system fit our changing nation.
One of the biggest problems with the filibuster is that it’s held as a hallowed tradition of the Senate when it was not originally part of the rules of the Senate. Furthermore, it allows for just forty-one people out of the 328.2 million Americans to stop legislation from even being considered. The other major problem is that the Senate, contrary to popular belief, is filled with racists, homophobes, misogynists, and/or stupid people. The stupidity may be the worst of them all because they cause the other three. I will not give the obvious example of the election of a football coach who doesn’t even know the three branches of the government or who the Allies fought in World War II because no one is claiming Tommy Tuberville is a genius. Instead, I want to bring to your attention the stupidity of a man many in the Senate often claim to be a genius, Ted Cruz. The Senator tweeted the following statement on Tuesday:
By rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, President Biden indicates he’s more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh. This agreement will do little to affect the climate and will harm the livelihoods of Americans.— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) January 20, 2021
Many senators, including Democrats and Republicans, have stated that Cruz is a very intelligent man. Yet, he is too stupid to understand that the Paris Climate Accord is named as such because it was signed in Paris, not because it represents the views of Parisians. While he probably does realize this, he is more likely playing to his constituents' stupidity and the supporters of the previous administration. This kind of stupidity is the reason Chuck Schumer and the Democrats must end the filibuster. If they don’t, they might as well just go back to letting Mitch McConnell be Majority Leader and allow the Senate to continue to prevent any legislation from moving on through the Senate.
In other news: President Biden is expected to sign an executive order today that will lift the Pentagon’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The controversial ban was announced by the previous president in 2017 and reversed the Obama administration’s policy to allow open service by transgender people.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
While you can delete a tweet, a Facebook post, or a blog post, the spoken word is heard immediately and remembered forever, especially when those words are hurtful. We are tempted to blow up when angry and to let words fly without control. Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” Our mouths can put us in awkward situations. Mine has many times. As a teenager, I’ll admit that I talked back to my parents, especially my dad, far too much. At one point, it got so bad my parents discussed sending me away to a boarding school. The idea of going away didn’t bother me, especially if it was an all-boys school (the fantasy probably was better than the reality would have been). Once my parents realized that I was perfectly happy with the idea of going to a boarding school, they dropped the subject, much to my dismay.
Eventually, my Grandmama sat me down as told me that I needed to deal with my father like she did my grandfather. She said, “Just keep your mouth shut, and eventually, he’ll shut the hell up.” It turned out to be good advice, though it was hard to do. My father was one of those people who believed in “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s one of the reasons I hate hypocrisy so much, and it was hard not to point out his hypocrisy.
But it is not just talking back that kept me in trouble. I often said things I shouldn’t have said, but I have never been a person to intentionally inflict harm on someone with my words. That does not mean I did not inflict damage with my words. It just wasn’t intentional. Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Remember the phrase “open mouth, insert foot?” I’m sure all of us have been guilty of that one. Once you say hurtful words aloud, you can’t take them back. You can only live them down, which is often very hard to do. Hurtful words are more damaging than physical hurt, leaving scars on the soul and spirit.
A wise man learns to weigh his words before speaking. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” This wisdom comes with age and experience. Anger confounds many people in our world today. We simply don’t know how to handle our anger as we have in the past. Some of that has to do with the anonymity of the internet, which some people use as an excuse to inflict hurt on others with words. I also blame the last four years of having a bully as a president, someone who made fun of a young girl with autism or a disabled reporter suffering from arthrogryposis. He did so for laughs and the enjoyment of his audience. It was not only immature, but it was mean spirited. Because of the example set by our previous president, people felt emboldened and encouraged to show their cruel ways, whether that was through homophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, or any other disgusting and ungodly reasons. We must resist the temptation of hurtful or angry words, and instead, we should show the world God’s kindly words and deeds.
We must think before we speak. When we pause and consider our words, it is often an excellent remedy for anger. We don’t need to delay indefinitely, but we need to give ourselves time to consider the consequences of our words more carefully. If you’ve got an issue you need to deal with, you need to do so. Anger delayed indefinitely becomes bitterness. That’s worse than anger. Anger isn’t always a sin, as we can be angry over injustice. However, bitterness is a sin because it means we have refused to forgive. If we respond impulsively, we tend to react in anger. If we wait to talk about whatever conflict we’re dealing with, we will be more rational and reasonable when we do. The longer we hold our temper, the better our response will be. We need to give ourselves time to think.
Setting a guard over our mouth as we are instructed to do in Psalm 141:3 requires that we keep our mouth shut when we are irritated and that we seek the Lord’s help to say the right words with the right tone or, perhaps, not speak at all. When it comes to controlling our speech, it’s a lifelong work. Thankfully, God is working in us, giving us “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Friday, January 22, 2021
In June 2020, the United States Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The previous administration refused to enforce the ruling. Whether the last president was smart enough to know this little fact, he emulated his “hero,” Andrew Jackson. In 1832, the Supreme Court issued a decision on Worcester v. Georgia in which Chief Justice John Marshall laid out in the opinion that the relationship between the Indian Nations and the United States is that of nations and built the foundations of the doctrine of tribal sovereignty in the United States. Jackson disagreed with the decision and backed Georgia’s attempts to discriminate against and encroach on the Cherokee Nation's lands. In what was probably a bit of apocryphal history, Jackson reportedly responded: "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" While our 45th president neither praised nor criticized the ruling, he stated in response to the decision that "some people were surprised" and said that the court had "ruled and we live with their decision." Yet, he did nothing to enforce it. In fact, his administration actively interpreted the decision very narrowly to decrease its effectiveness.
The inaction of the previous administration changed on Wednesday. On his first day, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden issued an executive order implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County and repealing guidance from the previous administration related to nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. The Human Rights Campaign issued the following statement emphasizing the importance of Biden’s Executive Order:
Biden’s Executive Order is the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president. Today, millions of Americans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their President and their government believe discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not only intolerable but illegal.
By fully implementing the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Bostock, the federal government will enforce federal law to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and education, and other key areas of life. While detailed implementation across the federal government will take time, this Executive Order will begin to immediately change the lives of the millions of LGBTQ people seeking to be treated equally under the law.
When I was a teacher at a private school in Alabama, I feared for my job every day of those five years. If my sexuality had become public while I was teaching there, I would have lost my job on the spot. I will always believe that suspicion about my sexuality was why after five years, my contract was suddenly not renewed. At the time, the headmaster was trying to decide between not renewing my contract or another teacher’s contract. (The other teacher was a married heterosexual woman.) The school had hired a new coach, and he needed to be assigned classes to teach. While I had overt problems with the headmaster, it became more and more apparent to me that he did not like me for some reason. He refused to support our drama club, which I served as advisor and was generating money for the school. He refused to attend any of the productions, though he was at every sporting event. I can only assume that he had a problem with my closeted sexuality though he could not prove it. I know it wasn’t my teaching that he had a problem with. Parents (and most of my students) praised my teaching and constantly remarked on how much their children learned in my class. I was told numerous times when I was teaching that students were often excited to come to my class. Many parents contacted me after discovering that I would no longer be teaching there that I would be greatly missed. In the years since, I have heard many lament that the coach they replaced me with never taught anything and only gave worksheets. He also never won a football game. He last only a year or so. With that being said, I know that some students and parents, and apparently the headmaster, were not comfortable with my unspoken sexuality.
Had Bostock been decided while I was there, they may have thought more about the repercussions of not renewing my contract. Luckily, I found my current job in a state whose political climate could not be more different from that of Alabama. The university I work for has a stringent nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual and gender identity. We even had a major donor and transgender woman on the Board of Trustees. However, before Bostock, this could have easily changed as a new college administration took over and new board members took their seats. It was unlikely, but without Bostock, I had no clear protections. The millions of other LGBQ+ Americans also had the same fear of losing their job because of their sexuality, especially teachers in more conservative areas of the country. Yes, some organizations and businesses had protections for LGBTQ+ individuals written in their nondiscrimination policy, but as I said, that could have easily been changed. Now, we have the Supreme Court's protections and the full protection of the federal government to enforce nondiscrimination for LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.
Biden’s executive order is significant as it extends nondiscrimination protections to millions of LGBTQ+ people concerning housing, education, immigration, credit, health care, military service, Peace Corps service, family and medical leave, welfare, criminal justice, law enforcement, transportation, federal grants, and so much more. While a president’s executive orders are always vulnerable to court challenges, this one is essentially bulletproof. It merely implements the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock, something the previous administration refused to do. Technically, Bostock involved only one statute, Title VII, but, as Justice Samuel Alito pointed out in his dissent, more than 100 other federal statutes also forbid “sex discrimination” in language nearly identical to Title VII. He was attempting to point out that those were not included in Bostock. However, under the court’s reasoning in Bostock, each of these statutes should now be read to protect LGBTQ+ people.
I don’t think I can stress enough how important and groundbreaking this executive order is. Biden’s order directs agencies across the federal government to bring their rules and regulations in line with Bostock. It instructs agency heads to “review all existing orders, regulations, guidance documents, policies, programs, or other agency actions” that involve statutes prohibiting sex discrimination. And it compels these officials to revise each rule and regulation in light of Bostockby extending existing protections to LGBTQ+ individuals. In some instances, this process will simply entail updating language to note that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is unlawful. In others, it will require the agency to write a new rule expressly disallowing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. One landmark law does not forbid sex discrimination: Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination in public accommodations—but only on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” So businesses will not be compelled to serve LGBTQ+ people. However, states and municipalities retain the authority to fill in this gap. Furthermore, Democrats are expected to pass the Equality Act, which would not only preserve Bostock in federal statute but amend Title II to bar anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in public accommodations.
Biden showed us on day one of his administration that he will fight for LGBTQ+ individuals. It is a vital step in the right direction.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Joe Biden officiating the wedding of White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie.
We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes — as my mom would say, ‘Just for a moment, stand in their shoes.’
—Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Full of emotion and with tears of joy in my eyes, I watched the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Vice President Kamala Harris. I was emotional because of the social distancing necessary because of the previous administration's inaction. Even more so, I was emotional because of the massive number of troops needed to keep our government safe from domestic terrorists because the former president gave them sanctuary and support. The last four years have been long and horrifying as an aspiring dictator tried to destroy American democracy. That horror ended at noon yesterday, and a new era of hope began. I have never been so proud of a person being inaugurated as President of the United States. He is a truly deserving person who overcame so much to get to this point in history. It took Biden 50 years of public service (he took office as a member of the New Castle County Council on January 5, 1971) to reach the pinnacle of his career, President of the United States, and we will be better for it.
More than just believing in the potential of Biden’s presidency, I think we're entering a period of the most LGBTQ+ friendly administration in the history of the United States. Biden and Harris have been supporters of LGBTQ+ rights for many years. They did not support our rights because poll numbers told them it was okay to do so. They did it because it was and is the right thing to do. Biden has promised to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days as president, launching landmark legislation that will prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system. Describing his support for equality, Biden harks back to a story from his youth when as a teen, he saw two men kissing. “Joey, it’s simple. They love each other,” he says his father told him.
For LGBTQ+ people, visibility has always been the cornerstone of our fight for equality and acceptance, and it was growing by leaps and bounds before the 2016 election. President Obama famously lit the White House in rainbow colors after the historic passage of marriage equality in 2015. LGBTQ+ advocates were invited to White House policy roundtables. Obama regularly congratulated LGBTQ+ notables when they came out and included LGBTQ+ Americans in Pride month and World AIDS Day proclamations. Those leaps forward began being eroded before the last president’s inauguration ceremony ended. From day one, the highest office in our country began a rollback of LGBTQ+ visibility that would soon be paired with rollbacks of LGBTQ+ policies and an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. During that weird inauguration four years ago, the LGBTQ+ page on the official White House website was removed. The previous administration proceeded to ban transgender military service and appointed many anti-LGBTQ+ judges at every level of the judicial system. While some of the previous administration’s attacks were front and center, many of the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community were silent and sinister. The new administration has a lot of work to do to correct the wrongs committed over the past four years and put LGBTQ+ rights back on track for the future. As the Biden administration begins, we must start our healing and vigilance for equality both as a nation and the LGBTQ+ community itself. Yesterday, we inaugurated the most LGBTQ-inclusive administration in American history; we must clean up the mess left behind by the previous administration.
Biden has led the way for national politicians to support LGBTQ+ equality. In 2012, during Obama’s reelection campaign, Biden surprised the political world during an appearance on Meet the Press by becoming the first national leader to support same-sex marriage publicly. At the time, the country was split on whether it should be legalized, and many privately supportive politicians were publicly avoiding the issue. Back then, Biden’s strong statement was seen as another of his political gaffes, primarily because of President Barack Obama’s reluctance to tackle the issue. Biden made history at that moment but faced criticism in some quarters for supposedly putting other Democrats in a tough position. Instead, his remark — that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage — seemed to galvanize progressives and made a case for marriage equality an accessible one for many skeptical moderates. And now, nearly 70 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, including half of Republicans. Yet, far more telling is Joe Biden’s history of support for transgender and non-binary people. A week before the election in 2012, Biden told the mother of a transgender child that discrimination against trans people is “the civil rights issue of our time,” at that moment the most assertive public statement of support by any national leader specifically addressing trans rights. Biden is not a politician who publicly supports LGBTQ+ people then betray us in private. His commitment to equality runs deep. For Biden, what matters is that all people can live and work in their full authenticity and provide for their families without threat to their safety and dignity. To him, we are not LGBTQ+ people in need of enhanced cultural framing but people who happen to be LGBTQ+ and deserve to have an equal stake in society just like everyone else, no better or worse.
Like our new president, Vice President Kamala Harris, a devoted LGBTQ+ rights advocate, fought for same-sex marriage and has promised to end the epidemic of violence against trans people. As California’s Attorney General, Harris led the opposition to California's gay marriage ban in 2008. The Human Rights Campaign has given Harris a perfect lifetime rating. She has turned words into actions and will hopefully continue doing so. Harris publicly backed several decisive moments that benefited the LGBTQ+ community. After marriage equality was restored to California in 2013, Harris officiated the first marriage as a bold statement. As a senator, Harris introduced legislation to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination. In 2018, she introduced the Do No Harm Act to prevent the use of religious beliefs to be used to discriminate against the community. Harris has often been vocal against the former administration, condemning the president’s removal of LGBTQ+ health-related information across federal websites. Harris also vocalized her support for allowing transgender people to have equal access to public restrooms.
Biden and Harris have been clear about their goals for LGBTQ+ equality. On his first day as president, Biden issued an executive order reinforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids the federal government from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a policy that reverses action by the previous administration. The new White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Wednesday that Biden will soon reverse the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. Biden and Harris support ensuring the Equality Act is passed and signed into law, making the act a priority of their administration. Despite marriage equality and employment protections being affirmed by the Supreme Court, LGBTQ+ people still face outright discrimination in housing, credit, education, public accommodations, federally-funded programs, and jury service in most of the United States. Trans and non-binary people — particularly Black women — are experiencing an ongoing epidemic of fatal violence, with 2020 being the deadliest year on record. There is much work to be done.
Biden and Harris have not been perfect on LGBTQ+ rights throughout their political careers, but they have evolved on the issue, and they have evolved much quicker than many of their counterparts. There are many issues that the previous administration and many Republicans have used to fuel what Biden referred to in his inaugural address as an “uncivil war.” LGBTQ+ rights are often at the top of conservatives lists, along with abortion rights, to incite their hate-filled audiences. Conservatives, especially the religious right, see us as undeserving of equality because they see us as sinners while ignoring their own sins. They oppose equality for all those who don’t look like them. Biden will be a leader for all Americans, and he is off to a good start in restoring the setbacks of the previous administration. I believe he will expand those rights in his time in office. There is a lot of hope for the future of LGBTQ+ rights.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight” or better yet…just get the fuck out. Donald Trump will be leaving the White House for hopefully the last time this morning, and his reign of terror will be over. He has done everything he could to destroy this country, to take away hard-fought civil rights and civil liberties from American minorities. He has destroyed our relationships with our allies and made the United States the laughingstock of the world. He ignored the pandemic, which has led to the death of 400,000 Americans, more than anywhere else in the world, with his ineptitude and inaction. Now, the disastrous and deadly four years of his presidency are over. For the most part, Donald Trump quit being president after the election. He focused not on the final days of his presidency but conspiracy theories about a stolen election, inciting the destruction of democracy, and probably most important for him, playing golf.
On November 3, 2020, the election of Joe Biden with more votes than any other president in history was a victory for “We the People.” Biden pledges to be a President who seeks not to divide but to unify. The restoration of the soul of the United States begins today at noon. Democrats have won the presidency, they have retained control of the House of Representatives, and they have taken control of the Senate, even if it’s by the slimmest of margins.
Biden brought together the broadest and most diverse coalition in history. He was elected with the support of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, progressives, moderates, conservatives, people young and old, urban, suburban, and rural Americans, gay, straight, transgender individuals, and people of all races: white, black, Latino, Asian, and Native American. Biden will be a president for all Americans, not just those who supported him. He has pledged to be blind to red and blue partisanship. Biden will work to make the promise of the country real for everybody — no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.
Biden is unlike any politician I have ever studied. Many politicians are very self-centered and ambitious. Too many are like Trump and have an emotional void that needs to be filled with the praise and the devotion of others. With Biden, his drive and ambition come from his empathy. Americans often choose the opposite of the previous leader, and no one could be more of the opposite of Donald Trump than Joe Biden. I am not claiming that Biden has been unambitious in his career; he has wanted to be president since he was a kid. However, Biden is a man known for his humility and realism that resulted from his upbringing and the lessons learned from a series of devastating personal tragedies. I firmly believe that Biden is right for this moment in our history. He is a politician driven not by a cause but by his desire to ensure a fair shot, stability, and the two most intimate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom from want and from fear.
With Biden comes some extraordinary people. Kamala Harris will make history today as the first woman, first Black woman, first woman of South Asian descent, and first daughter of immigrants ever elected as Vice President. As Biden’s website says, “It’s long overdue, and we’re reminded [today] of all those who fought so hard for so many years to make this happen. But once again, America has bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.”
Though we do not elect the First Lady and Second Gentleman, we are getting the service of two people who could not be more opposite of the counterparts they are replacing. As an educator myself, today is a great day for America’s educators. We will have one of our own in the White House, and Jill will make a great First Lady. Articulate and elegant, Jill Biden replaces a nude fashion model who could barely speak English. Melania Trump hated and made a mockery of the role of the First Lady. Jill Biden will restore respectability to the role of First Lady. Doug Emhoff will become the first Second Gentleman and the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. Vice President. He is a distinguished visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, meaning our First Lady and Second Gentleman will both be educators. In his role as Second Gentleman, Emhoff plans to focus on equal access to justice and legal representation.
Furthermore, for the first time, a president’s administration will be the most diverse in history. Biden pledged to create a Cabinet that looked like America. He stated, “I’m going to keep my commitment that the administration, both in the White House and outside in the Cabinet, is going to look like the country.” Biden’s nominations are historic will set records in diversity. If confirmed, his nominees will make history as the most diverse group ever to lead America’s federal agencies. The twenty-four-person Cabinet includes thirteen men and eleven women, and, according to Biden, “more than a dozen history-making appointments, including the first woman secretary of treasury, the first African American defense secretary, the first openly gay Cabinet member, and the first Native American Cabinet secretary.”
The United States is at one of its most critical moments in history. As Biden said in his victory speech on November 7, 2020:
America has always been shaped by inflection points — by moments in time where we’ve made hard decisions about who we are and what we want to be.
Lincoln in 1860 — coming to save the Union.
FDR in 1932 — promising a beleaguered country a New Deal.
JFK in 1960 — pledging a New Frontier.
And twelve years ago — when Barack Obama made history — and told us, “Yes, we can.”
We stand again at an inflection point.
We have the opportunity to defeat despair and to build a nation of prosperity and purpose.
We can do it. I know we can.
I’ve long talked about the battle for the soul of America.
We must restore the soul of America.
Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses.
It is time for our better angels to prevail.
With four years of disaster and deteriorating diplomatic relations, the whole world will be watching what Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and the United States do in this moment. They will watch to see if we will get past this “inflection point.” They will watch to see whether Biden will be able to heal the “soul of the nation” and deal with a bitterly divided country. The world will also be watching to see if Trump will continue to be a thorn in the side of American democracy or if he will receive the punishment he deserves for his crimes. Time will tell, but I believe that we are at a point “Of History and Hope.”