Another Fine Mess

In a shocking turn of events President Trump is still acting like President Trump.

For those familiar with the Bachelor reality television series, there is a running claim that host Chris Harrison makes every season. At some point, you can count on him stating that “the current season is the most dramatic and shocking season ever.” He doesn’t even say it with a straight face anymore since everyone knows it’s just something that he always claims, true or not. That’s how the Ukraine “fast-moving” (could be a drinking game every time the press uses that term, scratch that, we don’t condone binge drinking) impeachment story feels.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a serious matter. But please don’t be dismayed if the public yawns a bit at the hyper coverage of the press and the deafening proclamations of the politicians. We have heard this all before, just about every day in fact, since Trump got elected.

The press (excluding Fox News) openly hates the president and maybe with good reason, but it is not their job to openly hate a president. It is their job to play a neutral arbiter of the facts, something for which they seem to have trouble doing. It makes it harder to be on continual “fact check” mode with Trump, and be believed when you have to “amend” too many stories. That gives your enemy (President Trump), an opening to lie even more because he can somewhat rightly claim to his minions that the press cannot be trusted.

At hand is a phone call the president made to the leader of Ukraine asking for help in investigating Biden for wrongdoing. Let me be clear that this is not a good thing, but am I the least bit shocked that this call took place? No. Are the Democrats and the press really asking me to believe that Trump is the first and only President to engage in such underhanded activities? Really?

It would also be easier to buy in to the impeachment inquiries if they were not led by politicians as equally unlikable and idiotic as the President. It’s like an absurdist comedy turned tragedy, as our way of governing is melting down before our eyes, and the press is standing by, gleefully throwing gasoline onto the burning heap of our Republic.

People will say we have to get to the truth of the matter, but the fact is that truth only exists now in the prism of two equally corrupt sides of the political spin machine. The press, unfortunately, has concluded that there are no profits to be made in honest reporting, and so the death spiral continues.

Maybe getting rid of Trump by impeachment is the right thing to do. We can then get back to the way things used to be, where the political natural order can be restored. A place where corruption, lying and stealing can once again be kept more private, within the ruling class. Then we can also pretend that none of the things Trump did ever happened before he came along.

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Jeffrey Epstein’s death calls into question whether his victims will obtain the justice they deserve. Jeffrey Epstein’s recent apparent suicide left much of the world wondering how such a high profile “suspect” could be so mismanaged by the prison system and the Department of Justice. …

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Some Like it Hot

President Trump and the Republican Party don’t seem to mind the heat.

Unfortunately, both parties do it. On specific issues facing the country, one party is extreme with their solutions and the other party counters, not with better, less extreme ideas, but with mocking attacks of the opponent’s proposed solutions. In the end, what we are left with are two clueless political parties and zero good solutions.

That is exactly how the climate crisis debate is playing out right now. On one side, there are wacky legislators and presidential candidates who are trying to outdo one another for the most extreme unrealistic idea award, and the other side that laughs about their opponent’s proposed solutions and then goes blank-stare silent when asked for their own ideas to solve climate change.

Meanwhile back in the real world, we have new hot zones spreading around the globe. Recent in-depth reporting by The Washington Post lays out disturbing details of portions of the earth’s oceans (hot zones) that are reaching the point of no return in temperature increases leading to die-offs of ocean life.

One of the areas spans over 130,000 square miles of the southern Atlantic Ocean that have heated up at more than 2 degrees Celsius over the last century. This increase is more than twice the global average and the temperature increases are even worse at the “hot zone’s” core.

As the waters warm, currents shift, die-offs increase, algal blooms increase and spread, and the bounty of the sea that provides critical sustenance dwindles. These changes will create massive shifts in environmental and economic conditions and are no laughing matter.

Similar hot zones are also being identified in other waters including in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, and Indian oceans. Scientists believe that these increases, in some cases, may have already crossed a threshold that will lead to irreversible consequences. Whether scientists are right or wrong, exactly, is not the point. The point is that the changes are being noticed by non-academics who live near and depend on these waters.

We don’t have to be a scientist to see with our own eyes that something is fundamentally changing to our planet, and what we can readily observe is not good. This is not a partisan issue, but, like a lot of other non-partisan issues, our leaders make them partisan to the extreme, and nothing gets done, ever!

The Democrats want to scare people into thinking that we will all die unless we create a socialist “utopia” as dictated by the Federal Government, and the Republicans want to scare us into thinking that the Democrats are all crazy and are the enemy. President Trump wants more of that “good old global warming” anytime there is cold weather and to argue about weather maps with the National Weather Service.

I suppose some really do like it hot. Meanwhile, humanity quietly drifts a little further each day towards possible oblivion while we continue to enable both political parties to “fiddle” while the Earth burns, literally.

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The New Conscientious Objectors

The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at HHS could be highly problematic.

In 2018 the Department of Health and Human Services announced the formation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights. The stated purpose of the division is to “restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”

At the event announcing the division’s formation, OCR Director Roger Severino stated that, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming, and it begins here and now.”

The basic purpose of the division is to protect healthcare workers from discrimination if they refuse to participate in abortions, based on their religious convictions. This seems reasonable enough on the surface. As long as the protections do not block a woman’s adequate and reasonable access to their constitutional right to obtain an abortion, the wishes of healthcare workers based on religious grounds should be not only allowed, but respected without malice. Abortion is a deeply personal issue on both sides of the debate for those truly torn by its implications, as opposed to those that would simply use the issue for political purposes.

Clear distinctions must be drawn however to insure that protecting a healthcare worker’s legitimate opposition to participating in abortions does not become the government’s open door into fostering situations that limit or prevent women (particularly poor women) from finding adequate options for obtaining an abortion.

The proverbial slippery slope comes into play as well. Where does the line get drawn on not treating people based on religious objections? Does this also become a part of President Trump’s covert attacks on the LGBTQ community to prop up his standing with the hypocritical so-called evangelicals? Could physicians now refuse to provide care for transgender people, same-sex couples, and gay and lesbian people, because of religious beliefs? Do they really think that Jesus would refuse care for anyone in need?

If they are to be consistent, would they then also refuse care to anyone who’s divorced, remarried, had sex out of marriage, had an affair? The list of those not to be treated goes on. I consider myself a religious person, so I am not against religious convictions. I am against the staggering amount of religious hypocrisy on display every day by self-proclaimed evangelicals that act exactly like the Pharisees that Jesus spoke out against.

Again, I sincerely respect the true convictions of those that choose to help others selflessly in the healthcare field as long as protecting their convictions doesn’t become yet another avenue to restrict constitutionally protected rights, or to marginalize our fellow citizens based on gender or sexual orientation.

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It’s Complicated

The largest study to date concludes that human sexuality is complicated. I will alert the media.

Pretty much since the beginning of studies, we have, as a species, been trying to figure out human sexuality and same-sex attraction, and many, along the way, have sought to demonize it. Is it genetics? Is it a lifestyle choice (a “wrong” choice as Dan Quayle once asserted)? Is it a “mental disorder”? Can it be “corrected”?

Before delving into the study, I have always been a proponent of common sense takes on issues, so here is mine. Of course, the human body, and in particular the brain, is extremely complicated and well beyond the scope of full human understanding. I think it probably always will be. There seems to be an infinite number of possible gene/DNA/environmental variants that could determine who we each are, as an individual. It would stand to reason, then, that there are many possible degrees in human sexual orientation, making the Kinsey scale seem outdated and oversimplified.

Those additional environmental and social factors further complicate matters, but here is the bottom line: sexual orientation is and has always been varied throughout our history. We need to stop judging and marginalizing others based on faulty biases and misunderstood (both innocent and deliberate) interpretations of religious texts.

Now for something completely different: a scientific study. In the largest study of its kind about human sexual orientation, researchers analyzed the DNA of hundreds of thousands of people. For generations, there has been the quest for the single “gay” gene, but that is not what they found. Not surprisingly, what they found is that sexual orientation is much more complicated than a single gene can determine.

Their study suggests that there are at least five genetic variants that could be related to same-sex behaviors. I will predict, right now, that future studies will undoubtedly find more. The researchers also found that environmental factors play a role and that no one single factor can determine someone’s sexual orientation. Our human experience is so much more complex than what can be identified, even by large and well-executed studies, as this one seems to be. As with most advances in scientific knowledge, we continue to learn that the more we know, the more we realize that we don’t know.

As with prior studies, there are already concerns with this study that its findings will be cherry-picked for items to exploit for political gain or bigotry and hate. Unfortunately, those behaviors from small people will exist with or without studies attempting to better understand ourselves.

While I generally prefer common sense over scientific studies, I completely agree with its overall conclusion, as expressed by its lead author, Andrea Ganna, European Molecular Biology Laboratory group leader at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Finland. The conclusion is simply that same-sex behavior is “a natural part of our diversity as a species.” Makes sense to me. I would add that our diversity is something to be embraced and something we can all take pride in.

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Why All the Hate?

As Marianne Williamson might say, hate has no place in our hearts or our country.

While the argument goes on in a senseless never-ending drone as to whether hate crimes are on the increase or rather it just looks that way because more agencies are reporting them, a very simple point goes ignored: even one hate crime is one too many.

But, why do we hate? Psychologists point to many factors including the fear of others or cultures that are different; fear of aspects of our own selves that we project onto others; our family and cultural histories, portions of which get passed down through generations; lack of compassion, and the need to belong or to fill a void in our lives. Many times, it may be a dangerous combination of some or all these factors.

I also think that there are other contributing factors to the underlying “hatred,” and that each hate crime needs to be analyzed individually to obtain a better understanding of their origins. The speed of societal change may be a contributing factor. For example, there have been great strides over a comparatively short period of time in LGBTQ rights which may prove jarring to some. A majority of people, fortunately, deal with such rapid changes in a manner of acceptance, or at the very least, they keep their biases to themselves and go about their lives. However, the dangers come from those in society that are disenfranchised and irrationally see such rapid changes as threats that need to be combated.

Religious hatred has been around since the beginning of religion, but in this country, it has ebbed and flowed throughout our history based sometimes on world events. For example, I can remember as a kid during the Iran hostage crisis, the hatred spewed irrationally against Iranians in this country who fled the revolution and were very pro-American. The same goes now that, after 9/11, some feel that those of the Muslim faith are trying to destroy the United States from within.

Racial hatred has also been around, unfortunately, for far too long and will take us all, collectively and diligently, to battle the abhorrent ignorance of the belief, held by too many, in some racial superiority fantasy. It is the responsibility of all of us to help raise a generation that can one day be as free as possible to move beyond our racially unjust legacy.

Economics also plays a role in hate crimes. One group has more and wants to keep it or wants more and plans to take it. Too often this can lead to said group demonizing another group irrationally as the reason they don’t have what they “deserve” in terms of possessions or wealth. This twisted economics bias has led not only to individual hate crimes but to genocide as well.

What can we do? We can start by standing up for, helping out, befriending any person who is marginalized or hated because of their ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I may be a dreamer, but hopefully, I’m not the only one.

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Religious Freedom and Citizen Rights

It seems nonsensical to me that we could allow religious freedom to trump a person’s right to work without being discriminated against for their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Trump administration recently announced plans to remove protections for the LGBTQ community by adding religious …

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Baltimore Calling

Following a tired old script, the politicians from both sides argue to score political points while people suffer. The recent weeks have brought on a host of pronouncements, soundbites, accusations, counter-accusations, and canned talking points about how “horrible” Baltimore is to live in. Always missing, …

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Sign of the Times

When we can’t even manage a Woodstock 50th Anniversary concert, you know peace and love are out with today’s generation.

It sounded like a fantastic idea in these times of protests, political attacks, talks of wars, racial tensions and cyber-bullying – a major concert event celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock. You know, the event that defined the era of peace and love; where, for a fleeting moment in time, we all seemed to get along, or at least tried to get along. In that moment, music united instead of divided us.

The impact of Woodstock is hard to overestimate. Not only was it a pivotal moment in music history, but Woodstock also helped define the counterculture generation, and it is still widely talked about today. The site of what has been called “3 days of peace and music” has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Joni Mitchell said it best while commenting on the festival, “Woodstock was a spark of beauty where half a million kids saw that they were part of a greater organism.”

It sure would be nice if we took a few lessons from Woodstock in our current environment. Today, with the help of politicians (including the President) and the press, we are accentuating what divides us to increase those divisions. Music was a unifying force in the sixties and that force attempted to spread love vs hate and togetherness vs tribalism.

Enter the original organizer of Woodstock, Michael Lang. Perhaps trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice, he set out with the goal of organizing a 50th Anniversary version of Woodstock.  What a wonderful idea it was. Unfortunately, the problems began almost immediately for the second go-round. The chief financier of the event pulled out quickly and even went so far as to announce that the concert was canceled. This was disputed by the organizers and of course, lawsuits followed.

Lang then tried multiple attempts to shift the venue and revive the concert, but, alas, no one seemed to want them. Lang still planned to hold the event at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland. I know the venue well as it was a prime concert location for us Washington DC teenagers. Another issue was that all previously locked-in acts had been released from their contractual obligations, and there were no confirmed bands performing. In addition, the concert was then listed as being free – Deja vu. And now, the organizers have thrown in the towel and Woodstock is dead.

All in all, the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock’s failure is analogous of today’s political environment – worthy goals, not being achieved, because of in-fighting, divisiveness, lawsuits, and lack of true leadership. Perhaps in today’s environment, we are not only tired of too much “winning,” we are also tired of music, peace and love.

Maybe it’s not too late to save the day. I believe it is time for Michael Lang to call on our president to take a break from winning. Together, they just may be able to make Woodstock great again. I know what you’re thinking: what have I been smoking?

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A Rainmaker and Criminal Justice Reform

I must admit, we are genius’s when it comes to money-making schemes, even in the justice system.

Like many, I have always been an advocate for much needed Criminal Justice Reform. Mandatory sentences, the way police operate, the prosecutorial process, judges’ rulings on Constitutional protections and unjust targeting of certain classes of people or “crimes” are just some of the problematic areas beginning to see reform efforts come to fruition. As touted by the politicians, and rightly so I may add, these reforms will bring opportunities to those who have found themselves on the wrong side of the justice system.

In some cases the opportunities are to be proven innocent, and, in other cases, the opportunities are for second chances to become productive citizens and to have a better life. Still, in other cases, the opportunities come, not for those accused of committing crimes, but for those in charge of prosecuting crimes.

The District Attorney’s office in Rapides Parish Louisiana saw the opportunity in the criminal justice reform movement and transformed that opportunity into what some might call a rainmaker of sorts. The specific means, in this case, was the rapid expansion of what is known as a pretrial diversion program.

In pretrial diversion, defendants are given the opportunity to pay money to have their charges dismissed or dropped altogether. No expensive trials and time-wasting by any of the parties on either side of the case. As one can imagine, this is a slippery slope initiative with abuse opportunities aplenty. What cases get qualified for this program, what are the fees, and who keeps the fees? Is this another example of the rich buying their way out of the justice system while the poor are stuck in it?

Regarding the fees in Rapides Parish, they can range anywhere between $250 for traffic tickets to $1,500 for felonies. At this point, it should be noted that all these fees are kept by the District Attorney’s office. What could go wrong when the office directly in charge of prosecuting crime can achieve financial gain by not prosecuting crime? In 2017, it is alleged that the District Attorney’s office benefited by “diverting” defendants to the tune of $2.2 million. That is more than ten times what previous District Attorneys had done.

Anyway, this all came to light because the Parrish started wondering why money from fines (that went to the Parrish general fund) was declining while the diversion money (stays with the DA’s office) was drastically increasing, and, of course, now there is a lawsuit between the Parrish leadership and the District Attorney’s office.

Lawsuits aside, diversion programs are nothing new and almost all states have them in some form. The question is whether or not they are justly used to keep those out of the prison system who truly shouldn’t be there. There are accusations in many states that diversion systems are administered in such a way as to hurt the poor and help the politically connected. It’s just another example of how difficult it is to keep the scales of justice in balance.

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