June 23, 2016

On the Revolution in the House

I cheered the sit-in in the House of Representatives led by Representative John Lewis yesterday. I was particularly delighted with the DYI live streaming done by the Democratic protesters after the C-SPAN cameras were ordered shut off.

I am normally a proponent of playing by the rules, and the House rules, for good or ill, put the agenda in the hands of the Speaker of the House. That said, Americans are overwhelming in favor of tighter gun controls and are tired of the House of Representatives reacting to gun massacres with nothing more than moments of silence. Speaker Paul Ryan, however, showed that it was more important to Republicans to allow financial advisors to fleece their customers than to do anything about gun violence in America.

It isn’t clear that, in the end, the sit-in will have achieved votes on the two issues pressed by the Democrats. Even if there are votes, the measures will surely fail, with all, or nearly all, Republicans voting against change. Welcome to a government run by the NRA. Some great Democratic campaign spots will be made from the House revolution, however.

Stepping back, I must admit that denying guns to people on the no-fly list or other terrorism-related lists is problematic. It is unclear how one gets on these lists, and it is even less clear how one gets off. The lists call to mind Minority Report, in which people are apprehended for crimes they are expected to commit. This has more in common with Soviet Union justice than it has with traditional American justice. Although denying gun sales to “terrorists” on the no-fly list is a popular idea, it is, sadly, a bad one.

Universal background checks are another matter. There is no reason why one needs to pass a background check to buy a gun at a gun store but can purchase a gun without such a check at a gun show or from someone in a back alley. Americans are behind this measure, and Congress should be, too. Unfortunately, Republican legislators (and even some Democrats) have been bought and paid for by the terrorist organization known as the National Rifle Association.

Republican congressmen and -women should be ashamed of themselves. (The Senate hasn’t covered itself with glory, either.)

House Republicans: Have you no shame?

Note: I recently wrote two essays on guns, which you can find here and here.

June 19, 2016

Where Is Bishop McConnell’s Signature?

The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette carried the full-page ad shown below on page A-12 of this morning’s newspaper. (Click on the image for a PDF version of the page.) The ad was paid for by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Readers are asked to pledge to end gender violence, specifically to
  • Not use violence of any form in my relationships.
  • Speak up if another man is abusing his partner or is disrespectful or abusive to women and girls. I will not remain silent.
  • Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence.
  • Mentor antd teach boys how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. I will lead by example.
Signatures in the ad include those of Pittsburgh Pirates, the mayor of Pittsburgh and governor of Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh business leaders and leaders of key Pittsburgh institutions. Among the other signers are five college and university presidents, presidents of two Jewish organizations, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh.

Certain signatures one might have expected to see are absent, but I do not know who was asked to sign and who was not. I am sorry, however, that Bishop Dorsey McConnell, Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, is not represented. Perhaps the Episcopal bishop was not considered important enough to be part of this effort, or perhaps Bishop McConnell did not respond to a request for an endorsement. Pity.

June 18, 2016

I Do Want to Take Away Your Guns

Assault weaponsGun control advocates regularly assure gun owners that they only want to tighten gun laws; they do not want to take people’s guns away. This assurance has seemed necessary, particularly in light of the disinformation campaign to convince people that “Obama wants to take away your guns.”

President Obama does not want to take away people’s guns. More’s the pity. I most certainly do want to take away your guns, particularly military-grade weapons, and I suspect that many Americans, in their heart of hearts, would like to do so also.

Australia has shown that substantive gun legislation is possible. (See “Here’s the deal with the Australian gun control law that Obama is talking about.”) That country instituted new controls on firearms after a 1996 massacre of 35 people in Tasmania. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons were banned and, most significantly, a mandatory buy-back program was instituted. The country has not experienced a mass-casualty shooting since.

Admittedly, as long as any guns remain, certain people will use them for nefarious purposes. Absent guns, those same people will find other weapons. Nevertheless, the assault rifle has become the weapon of choice for mass murder because of its ease-of-use, lethality, efficiency, and specificity. It is tautological that removing such weapons from circulation cannot but eliminate the sort of tragedy experienced in Orlando a week ago.

The right to bear arms, like any right in the Constitution, is not unlimited. We do not allow individuals to purchase Stinger missiles, howitzers, or nuclear weapons, all of which are “arms.” There is no reason the government cannot draw the line between lawful and unlawful arms somewhere other than where it is currently drawn.

A few days ago, I suggested what I consider reasonable gun laws that seem meet and proper in light our our nation’s experience with gun violence. (See “Gun Control.”) In that essay, I did not consider implementation. Obviously, a buy-back program would be a fair way of implementing certain provisions of my program.

I found myself curiously undisturbed by the Orlando tragedy. I should have been seriously upset, but mass shootings have simply become business as usual in America. What has followed has been totally predictable, including moments of silence in Congress, followed by a lack of legislative action.

It’s time to make mass murder rare again by changing our gun laws. Express your outrage to our politicians, and pray for the souls of those gunned down in Orlando.

June 16, 2016

Sincere Bigotry

A number of states have passed laws allowing discrimination against LGBT citizens on the basis of “a sincerely held religious belief.” Apparently, you are allowed to hurt others as long as you do so out of sincere bigotry.
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June 14, 2016

Gun Control

In response to the massacre of club goers in Orlando carried out with an assault rifle, the House of Representatives responded quickly by staging the now obligatory moment of silence. The Republican shills of the NRA  will, of course, do nothing more.

There is reason to think, however, that, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin’. Americans are becoming impatient with the never-ending cavalcade of mass shootings. A Hillary Clinton victory in November will likely be accompanied by shifts towards the Democrats in the Senate and House. And a Clinton administration will have an opportunity to tilt the Supreme Court toward sanity and justice.

The Second Amendment reads
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
There is ambiguity in this provision, and it is significant that the Supreme Court has only recently reinterpreted it as favoring unlimited gun ownership. (I wonder how constitutional originalists justify this. In 1791, this amendment did not countenance AR-15s.) A new court could find a different meaning in the Second Amendment.

I doubt that we will see a change in the Constitution to undo the damage of the Second Amendment, although at least one legal scholar, in response to Orlando, has argued that that must be done. David S. Cohen, writing for Rolling Stone, wrote
But sometimes we just have to acknowledge that the Founders and the Constitution are wrong. This is one of those times. We need to say loud and clear: The Second Amendment must be repealed.
Even if the Second Amendment is not repealed, the Supreme Court could revisit the question of whether there is an individual right to bear arms. I believe that a more liberal court would allow more stringent gun laws.

Here is a proposed list of rational gun laws for the U.S.:
  1. All guns must be individually licensed.
  2. A background check is required to obtain a license.
  3. A gun license is good for three years and may be renewed after another background check.
  4. Guns can only be purchased in person through licensed dealers at a dealer’s permanent place of business. (Guns cannot be purchased through mail order or at gun shows.)
  5. Every firearm requires the owner to carry liability insurance of at least $1 million.
  6. It is a felony to possess an assault rifle and certain types of ammunition. (I am not an expert here. Others can draw up specifications for prohibited items.)
  7. It is a felony to own an unlicensed firearm.
  8. It is a misdemeanor to fail to carry the required liability insurance, and a conviction for such failure results in forfeiture of the weapon.
  9. It is a misdemeanor to carry a gun without having its license on one’s person.
It may take a while to enact such laws, and there will be many Second Amendment martyrs before it’s done. It is my hope and prayer, however, that these or similar laws will eventually be passed.

Update, 6/14/2016. Being Liberal on Facebook has suggested additional regulations, including mandatory training and testing

Update, 6/18/2016. Clarification of item (4): Guns cannot be transferred between individuals. The transfer or sale must take place at a licensed dealer’s. Clarification of item (5): Proof of insurance is necessary to purchase a gun. Clarification of item (6): Prohibited items should not be specified in a list of models or types; it should be based on performance (e.g., muzzle velocity, projectile weight, rate of fire, etc.).

June 12, 2016

A Time to Choose

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;

                                                                     —James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis”
The words of James Russell Lowell are from an earlier time in our country’s history, but they are surely relevant to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It should be clear to thoughtful Americans that Donald J. Trump is a bullying, narcissistic, ignorant, and prejudiced demagogue possessed of a temperament incomparable with public office, much less the highest office in the land. Despite all this, Mr. Trump is apparently going to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

Distressing as the Trump candidacy is, even more disheartening are the attitudes of many voters and, particularly, Republican Party leaders. Increasingly, notable Republicans who clearly appreciate Mr. Trump’s myriad deficiencies are declaring their support, however grudging, for his candidacy. A few have said that they cannot vote for Mr. Trump, and some of these have suggested that they will either not vote at all or will vote for an unspecified third-party office-seeker. No prominent Republican of whom I am aware has indicated an intention to vote for Hillary Clinton.

If, however, a person believes that a Trump presidency represents an existential threat to the Republic (or even only a serious threat), does not that person have an obligation to vote for Hillary Clinton? Even if you believe that Ms. Clinton is flawed and has a distressing habit of pushing the envelope of what is legal and proper, it cannot be denied that she has a sterling résumé and a temperament unlikely to cause widespread anxiety simply because her finger is on the nuclear trigger.

I do not believe that Hillary Clinton is the duplicitous person that Republicans have made her out to be in their years-long attack on her character. But even if she were, it is important for everyone who recognizes the danger inherent in a Trump presidency to vote for her, not to refrain from voting, and not to vote for a third-party candidate. It would be better to elect a reasonable but flawed candidate rather than chance electing an unqualified and unpredictable one. Donald Trump must not become president, and Hillary Clinton is the only realistic alternative. 

I would remind people of the 1991 runoff election in Louisiana between former Democratic governor Edwin Edwards and neo-Nazi David Duke. Edwards’ popularity was low and he was widely (and, no doubt, correctly) viewed as corrupt. Nonetheless, even Republicans such as President George H.W. Bush urged voting for Edwards in light of the alternative. The election became famous for the bumper sticker that read “VOTE FOR THE CROOK. IT’S IMPORTANT.”

I will vote for Hillary Clinton because I believe she will make a fine president, even though she is not my ideal candidate. But even if you think she is morally challenged, she must be viewed as the lesser—very much lesser, actually—of two evils. No to vote for her can only help elect Donald Trump.

Those who refuse to choose the lesser of two evils bear responsibility for those who choose the greater of two evils.
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June 7, 2016

We Are Episcopal Relief & Development

Last week, I attended the 2016 Network Meeting of Episcopal Relief & Development. The event, which was held at a hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, was intended to inspire and empower diocesan representatives of the Episcopal charity to bring awareness, enthusiasm, and giving opportunities to the people of their dioceses.

Episcopal Relief & Development logo
The most inspiring presentation—to me at least—was a relatively unlikely one. “The Hidden Meaning of the Ampersand” was presented by Communications Officer Faith Rowold, The talk was about corporate identity and image, and some of the content —discussion of corporate fonts and colors, for example—was not the most obvious to be brought before a room of volunteers. As a writer and designer, however, I was fascinated by this stuff.

Rowold’s most important message was that, although Episcopal Relief & Development began as a relief agency early in World War II, and although activities such as disaster relief at home and abroad remain important, development work has become the organization’s primary focus. This work is carried out using a model referred to as asset-based community development, which might be characterized—my words, not Rowold’s—as a coöperative alternative to simply carrying the white man’s burden.

Episcopal Relief & Development began in 1940 as the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief. Episcopalians may have gotten used to the new name, but the significance of “& Development” may not be widely appreciated. After all, many parishes collect money for Episcopal Relief & Development following major disasters such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The organization may not be mentioned again until the next disaster hits.

Presumably to emphasize the full range of the organization’s mission, volunteers have repeatedly been admonished to eschew the use of the acronym ERD, which had become very common since the current name was adopted. Whenever we refer to the agency, we were told that we must use the complete name: Episcopal Relief & Development. Presenters at the meeting were careful to toe the company line on this matter, but I have always found the prohibition of the use of ERD to be burdensome. Rowold admitted as much by pointing out that the full name contains 11 syllables, whereas the acronym contains only three. Her presentation gave me the opportunity to air my frustrations about the rule.

When speaking about Episcopal Relief & Development, I said, one is likely to need to name the organization repeatedly. Using the full corporate name over and over is time-consuming and, frankly, tedious. It is difficult to resist the temptation to use the full corporate name on first mention and the acronym thereafter.*

This sparked an extended discussion of how one can adhere to what has been laid down as an ironclad rule without one’s conversation seeming stilted. People suggested workarounds, such as using such locutions as “the organization,” rather then “Episcopal Relief & Development.” (Notice that I myself have used such a trick in this essay.)

The most interesting and surprising suggestion was to use “we” in place of “Episcopal Relief & Development” after the corporate name is first mentioned. I had always thought of diocesan and parish representatives for Episcopal Relief & Development as speaking for an external organization, not an organization of which they are actually a part. The organization relies on volunteers to deliver its message and to generate funds, however, and the network meeting I attended was an indication of how important those volunteers are thought to be—most expenses were covered by Episcopal Relief & Development.

Many Episcopalians contribute directly to the support of Episcopal Relief & Development, but Rowold pointed out that even those that do not, support it indirectly if they contribute money to their parish. This is because parishes support dioceses that, in turn, support the general church. The General Convention budgets some money for Episcopal Relief & Development. The value of in-kind contributions from The Episcopal Church are even more valuable. More than $1 million in in-kind contributions are provided in the form of free rent, utilities, and security at the Episcopal Church Center.

In other words, the volunteers (who are now being called network representatives) are very much a part of Episcopal Relief & Development. In a very real way, however, so is nearly everyone who considers his- or herself an Episcopalian. It is time Episcopalians thought of Episcopal Relief & Development as a component of our own parish outreach and time to think of ourselves as part of Episcopal Relief & Development. We are a vital part of Episcopal Relief & Development, and we are such 12 months a year, not simply when disaster strikes.

Spread the word.

We are

* Interestingly, no one seems inclined to use the acronym ER&D. It is both longer than ERD and suggests that the agency name might be Episcopal Research and Development.