The Justice Chronicles, Volume 35: Who Can We Discriminate Against?

Every year the Supreme Court begins its term on the first Monday of October. This year’s docket promises to be important as the Court has accepted several important issues.

I don’t wish to discuss all of them in this post but one of the cases caught my attention. The Supreme Court agreed to decide on whether employers have the right to fire employees who they find to be gay, lesbian, or transgender. The Court consolidated a few cases and I wish to look at two of them: Bostock v. Clayton County and Harris Funeral Home v. EEOC.

Gerald Bostock worked in Clay County, Georgia as a child welfare service coordinator from 2003 to 2013. Mr. Bostock was a gay man but this wasn’t known to his employer until 2013 when he joined a gay softball league. Even though his job performance reviews were positive, when his orientation became know he was fired.

In Michigan Anthony Stephens worked for R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes. After many years of employment, Anthony told his employer that he intended to transition to a woman and be known as Aimee Stephens and was fired.

The Court will decide on a specific point: The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination because of sex. At the time this was assumed to cover only employers who refused to hire women. At the time we knew little of sexual orientation and virtually nothing about men and women who chose to change or merge their sexual identity.

The Court needs to decide whether or not sex discrimination includes gay or transgender Americans. Supporters claim that the 1964 Act includes those who will suffer discrimination in the future. Opponents claim that it protects only straight women who wish to work at jobs reserved to straight men.

Those who know me know that I hold a progressive view of the law. Decisions made today affect future generations in ways that we can’t imagine. And that’s good.

I’ve written about this before but the decision in 1967 of Loving v. Virginia prohibited the ban on international marriage. Before that several states ruled that men and woman of different races couldn’t marry.

In the 50 years since then we’ve needed to confront another marriage issue: can adults of the same sex marry, and can those who wish to change their sexual identity be accepted?

I’m all in with the belief the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects both Mr. Bostock and Aimee Stephens and the Court should find in their favor.

Many remember a time when some thought it would make our lives easier if nobody of different races wanted to marry, but didn’t happen and they needed to accept something they didn’t like. A few decades later these same people were told to not only accept interracial marriage but also accept same sex marriage (or “marriage equality”) and it was a bridge too far.

And many of those who disapprove of marriage equality or transgender status point to a few passages in the Bible.

Well, I read the same Bible and have come to different conclusions: I’m all in with the belief that God is Love and we are called to love each other in a way that goes beyond our understanding. Others are all in with the belief that we are called to follow rules, especially those that make us comfortable.

But here’s my problem: seeing the Bible as a set of rules doesn’t respect the fact that we are adults. Children are supposed to be obedient and adults are supposed to be faithful. Adults should read Scripture recognizing that the authors lived in a place and a time where they dealt with certain realities.

Those who wrote the books we now recognize as Scripture had no concept of different races (though they probably had an understanding of different skin shades) or different sexual orientations. But they did have a concept of a God who loves all of us. The fact that God did not explicitly bless interrational or same sex marriages in the Bible doesn’t mean that God condemns them.

But today we recognize that we live in a world with different skin colors and different orientations. We live in a world where some of us choose to transition from what the Bible says to what the Bible means.

If we believe that God is Love and demands us to love each other, can we look beyond skin color and sexual orientation? I hope so.

And I hope the Supreme Court agrees with me.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 135: Words Matter Mr. President. Your Words Matter

In a previous post I lamented the fact that President Trump shows little or no respect for his office, and does not see himself as a public servant but instead as the undisputed head of the United States

Time and again he has shown recklessness and a lack of sensitivity, but in the last few weeks he has reached a new level. We recently learned that in July the President spoke with the President of Ukraine and many of us heard that our President held up aid that Ukraine needs until they investigate charges of corruption by Joe and Hunter Biden.

As I said a last week this renewed calls for the President to be impeached and removed from office (you can read this here.

We’ve come to expect irresponsible rhetoric from him, as when he referred to the free press as the “Enemy of the People.”

But he called those who gave information to the whistleblower “almost a spy.” He demands to know the identity of this person for a confrontation. He has accused California Representative Adam Schiff of treason.

But a few days later the President ratcheted up to an even more dangerous level. Last weekend he read that evangelical pastor and Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress suggested that if the President were impeached and removed from office it would lead to “a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” It was irresponsible for the pastor, but much worse when the President retweeted it.

It’s well known that the President isn’t a student of history, but those of us who are find this chilling. At the end of the Civil War when the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox Court House there was talk that instead of laying down their guns, the Confederate Army should “head for the hills” and begin a guerilla war that would make Union occupation impossible. Confederate General Robert E. Lee stopped it. You can read an excellent article here.

Simply put, our President feels that anyone who opposes him is a traitor and those who support him should take up arms. Already this is being taken up by armed militias.

We are a nation that cares deeply for our future, being led by a man who cares only for himself.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 134: Props to the Whistleblower

It’s been quite a week and there’s lots to unpack. In my last post I suggested that we need to reconsider impeachment, even if probably won’t lead to the Senate removing the President from office.

None of this would have happened had not a civil servant (the whistleblower) read the transcript of a phone call. Our President, never one to care about anyone other than himself, has called this civil servant almost a spy and suggested he (or she) committed treason.

The Republican response is no more responsible. They claim that since the whistleblower was not on the call, anything he says is hersay and this needs some unpacking.

When someone testifies in a court of law, he (or she) can only testify to what he saw or heard. For example, if I witness a robbery I can testify to that. But I can’t testify that I overheard someone tell another person that he committed the robbery. That’s hearsay.

But here’s the problem: the whistleblower isn’t testifying: he’s reporting. His report doesn’t claim there was a crime or an impeachable offense, only that there might be something that bears a look.

Let me draw a parallel from my own life: because of my job as a hospice chaplain I’m known as a “mandated reporter” for elder abuse. If I see or suspect abuse I’m required by law to report it to the authorities. Nobody gets in trouble for what I report and all it means is that someone will investigate.

That’s what the whistleblower did. He reported his concerns to the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

Stay tuned. More later.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 133: Reconsidering Impeachment

Six months ago I wrote that impeaching President Trump probably wasn’t a good idea. At the time (a month before the release of the Mueller Report) we suspected much but knew little.

The report’s release stopped short of accusing the President of a crime, but also didn’t exonerate him. The President, of course falsely claimed it did exonerate him and most Republicans sided with him. I still believed impeachment wasn’t a good idea.

But the events of this week have cause me (and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) to reconsider. In the last week we learned that someone in the intelligence community read a transcript of a phone conversation between the President and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019. This person became so alarmed by what he read that he wrote a report to the Intelligence Community Inspector General raising the possibility that the President implied that he would sell anti tank missals to Ukraine in return for Ukraine investigating Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

These reports are often called “whistleblower” reports and this public servant has become known as the “whistleblower.” We don’t know who this person is.

The “transcript” he read isn’t a verbatim transcript but a report written by someone was listening to the call. You can find a link to the transcript from the White House page.

This is pretty common and most of these transcripts are classified. They aren’t normally shared with the public, but they are shared with members of Congress. But here the administration attempted to block it from Congress. It didn’t work and the White House eventually released it.

So where does this leave the question of impeachment? Good question. Democrats, and even a few Republicans, have reacted with alarm. Not surprisingly, the President insists this is just another witch hunt and most Republicans are ducking for cover or supporting the President. The idea that, if impeached, the Senate would vote to remove him is pretty remote. While the House can impeach with a simple majority, the Senate needs a 2/3 majority to remove him from office.

When President Bill Clinton was impeached, but not removed from office, in 1998 there was a backlash and his popularity increased. The President’s opponents have a well founded fear that this will aid his re-election next year.

But on the other hand, if we allow him to continue with this behavior, I believe we are tacitly complicit. The Republicans in Congress have shown a breathtaking amount of cowardice in the face of wrongdoing. If nothing else, impeachment and removal will force them out of the shadows and explain to their constituents and the American people why they support this President.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 132: Cokie Roberts is Praying For You (and I’m Trying)

Yesterday I posted about the death of Cokie Roberts (1943-2019). As you can imagine people from around the world have posted remembrances and condolences.

President Obama said this: “Michelle and I are sad to hear about the passing of Cokie Roberts. She was a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way. She will be missed ― and we send our condolences to her family.”

President George W. Bush said this: “We are deeply saddened that Cokie Roberts is no longer with us. She covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor. She became a friend. We know Steve, their children, and grandchildren are heartbroken. They have our sincere sympathies.”

Meanwhile, our current President (who must not be named) said this: “I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional,”

Way to make it about you.

RIP Cokie Roberts

This morning we received bad news: Cokie Roberts died of cancer.

Some who read this will not recognize her name, but those of us who follow the news recognize how much we owe her. She was a journalist who joined National Public Radio in 1978. At the time women often found themselves without a voice, without a path toward reporting the news. NPR deserves credit for hiring Cokie, Susan Stanberg, Nina Totenberg, and Linda Wertheimer. To this day they are known as the “Founding Mothers” of National Public Radio.

Cokie came from a political family. Her father was famously House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (1914-1972). He served his home state of Louisiana in Congress. He recognized his role in campaigning for other Democrats and on October 16, 1972 his plane was lost in Alaska while he was campaigning for Nick Begich.

Cokie’s mother, Lindy Boggs (1916-2013) took her husband’s seat and served until 1991.

Cokie worked as a journalist with NPR and ABC. Her voice resonated in our living rooms for decades and it informed and educated us. Her voice made us recognize that womens’ voices are not alternatives: her voice told us that her voice mattered. Her passion in the last 40 years taught girls and young women that their voices mattered and they had a place in our national discussion.

For women who now find know their voices heard, please know that the thresholds you step over were walls that Cokie broke through.

God Bless you Cokie.

Remembering This Day Eighteen Years Later

September 11, 2001 began ordinarily for us. It was a Tuesday morning and my parents were in town to see the home we purchased five months earlier. It was a good visit and they expected to return to Virginia the next day.

Shortly before 6AM our alarm turned on the radio and we began to get ready for work. But we soon learned that a passenger plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In the next few hours we learned that another plane crashed into the South Tower, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into rural Pennsylvania when passengers gave their lives to prevent a crash into the White House.

On that day many of us went to work in a blur of grief, fear, and uncertainty. I spent the morning in a meeting. After the meeting we planned to have lunch to celebrate the birthday of one of my coworkers. It was a hard lunch as we spent the whole time watching the television in the restaurant.

I spent the afternoon and the next few days visiting patients who wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor. They recognized the bewilderment and the fear of knowing that outside forces drove us into a frightening future. In some ways their memories comforted me because they told me how this attack drew our nation together and good eventually triumphed against evil.

This is a day to remember those who stepped up: the passengers of United Flight 93 who gave their lives and saved the White House; the first responders in New York who gave their lives running into the fire; the Pentagon workers who ran into the fire to save their coworkers.

Also those who spent weeks and months at Ground Zero digging through the rubble who were lied to about the risk and suffer to this day.

To those who lost loved ones, that day and since, I say this: One day we will all be in Heaven and all will be well.

Evil isn’t powerless but it will never defeat good.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 3: We Have the Lineup For the Next Debate

In June I listed the candidates who were included in the first Democratic debate. As I said at the time in previous elections I listed anyone who announced his or her candidacy and had a web page. Frankly, it drove me crazy as those two criteria included a large population of people who just weren’t adequately medicated.

This year I decided to list only Democrats (as the Republicans have lined up for President Trump’s re-election) and only those Democrats who did well enough to be included in the debates. The first round included 20 candidates split over two days: July 30th and 31st.

Since then a few candidates dropped out and the Democrats have tightened the rules. Today we learned that only 10 candidates have qualified for the next debate on September 13th.

Here’s the list:

Some of those not on this list haven’t given up their campaign, and I know their exclusion angers them, but we need to admit that their chances of winning the nomination defy reality.

As for me, I subscribe to the NPR Politics podcast. Each week they interview a candidate and I find these interviews fascinating. I recommend that everyone who reads this subscribe to this podcast.

Stay tuned.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 131, The Money Chronicles Volume 18: More Tax Cuts?

A year and a half ago I argued against the Republican belief that cutting taxes will benefit the economy and pay for themselves. Granted, tax cuts can increase consumer spending in the short run and that’s good for the economy. But it also balloons the budget deficit and the national debt.

Now, in August of 2019, we see signs of an upcoming recession. This is nothing but bad news for President Trump as a recession would likely doom his reelection.

Hoping to stave this off, in the last few days he’s suggested another round of cuts to payroll taxes (in fairness, as I write this, he now claims he’s not considering it). Then again, since he reacts to the last thing he saw on Fox TV who can tell what will happen?

There are times when higher deficits make sense, and President Obama’s quick action to recover from the Great Recession added to both the deficit and the debt. Ironically, this led to a recovery that lasts to this day, and a recovery that President Trump claims credit for.

But our economy rises and lowers, booms and busts. Frankly we are overdue for a downturn. President Trump clearly hopes not so much to prevent the inevitable next recession as to delay it until after the election 15 months from now.

But here’s the problem: his proposed payroll tax cuts work like taking cash advances on your credit card. Responsible consumers sometimes use cash advances in a short term crisis. But responsible consumers know that they need to plan a path to their repayment. Maybe the need cash to relocate for a better job or make a necessary purchase. Irresponsible consumers, who don’t have a repayment plan, learn eventually that they’ve dug a hole they can never climb out of.

Unlike the United States, irresponsible consumers can declare bankruptcy. Our nation can’t.

And we are led by a President who has declared bankruptcy six times.

Can somebody tell him that the United States economy can’t?

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 130: You Should Read This Book

I just finished Daniel Okrent’s book The Guarded Gate. Here’s what I’ve learned:

This was not an easy book to read, particularly to those of us who follow the news. In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species that found that plants and animals change and develop to adapt to a changing world. In the decades that followed, many people asked the question as to whether humans do the same.

It’s a decent question and we’ve found that skin color has changed incrementally over millennia based on our distance from the equator and sunlight. We all began in Africa with dark skin because of the sun: we needed dark skin to block skin cancer. But as a species we migrated to areas where the sun was not as intense, areas that we now know as Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Those migrants needed lighter skin because they needed the Vitamin D that the sun provided. And over thousands of years they developed exactly that. The different skin colors between Africans and Scandinavians had everything to do with the sun and nothing to do with anything else.

But in the decades after Darwin this debate took a horrifying turn: a number of Americans took Darwin’s theory to argue that people from certain countries were “good” and some were “bad” based on skin color and where they were born.

From the late 16th Century much of what we now call America saw a huge influx Western Europeans. In 1776 we declared ourselves independent from Europe (England) and opened our shores to all who wanted to come, not thinking much about skin color (except for the slaves we brought here in chains but that’s grist for another post). This lasted until 1882 when we decided that we didn’t want to include people from China.

Shortly after this descendants of Western European immigrants feared they would lose their wealth and their identity because of current Eastern and Southern European immigrants. With calls of “Keep America for the Americans” they decided that some immigrants were good and should be welcomed and some were bad and should be banned. They claimed science on their side and named their belief “eugenics.”

Daniel’s book documents this belief that Europeans could be divided into three groups: Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans.” With no evidence they claimed a hierarchy: Nordics were good, Alpines were suspicious, and Mediterraneans were inferior. In no small part they recognized that Nordics had fair skin and fair hair while Mediterraneans had olive skin and dark hair.

In 1924 Congress passed (and President Coolidge signed) a law that placed horrific quotas on immigration from different nations of Europe. I encourage you to read the book but basically they wrote this law that set up immigration quotas from each nation. Those from Northern Europe and Scandinavians enjoyed generous quotas (including, by the way, President Trump’s mother who came from Scotland in 1930) while those from Italy, Austria, and the Balkans were essentially shut out.

The horror of this law wasn’t realized until the 1930s when Jews from Europe frantically attempted to flee Nazi Germany and were turned away from our shores because of their misfortune to come after their quota had already been met. Thousands were turned back where they perished in concentration camps. If you don’t think this has real consequences, read about the St. Louis.

Today, day after day, we see that men, women and children come to our borders. They are desperate to flee because of the same fear that Jews faced in the 1930s. They don’t face antisemitism but instead face death threats. Their fathers, brothers, sons, and grandsons face threats from local gangs who demand that these young men join their gang or face death.

They don’t want to join gangs and they began a long and dangerous journey in the hope of a place of safety: the United States. They want what our ancestors wanted. But when they arrive at our border they are seen as “invaders” who want to “take our stuff.”

In 2019 we cannot condemn xenophobia in the 1920s and defend xenophobia today.