Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Are robocalls "free speech"?

Free speech isn’t free. In fact, what passes for “free speech” today may cost us our freedom.

Those who turned democracy into a money-driven, hate-fueled venture are determined to drive the last nail in America’s coffin. The First Amendment is their hammer. Wyoming is now the battleground to remake our Republic in the image of those with money in their pockets and hate in their hearts.

Recently a Michigan robo-call company filed a Wyoming lawsuit arguing they have a First Amendment right to misinform you with annoying and misleading automated calls. 

Republics are defined by democratic characteristics. Power is located in the people’s right to elect representatives. Inherent is the requirement that voters be sufficiently informed that the process is connected to their interests and those of the nation.

Courts are being asked to make certain those with money control the mechanics of informing the voters.

There’s a fight in our Divided States of America to determine whether voters are informed or misinformed. Like combat units softening up the enemy with mortars before the infantry charges, vilifying the media was the opening salvo. The second stage of this battle is what Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s last genuine republicans, warned us about.

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country,” he said. That future Lincoln saw was one in which “corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

That’s the coffin in which some strive to lay our Republic. To the lasting shame of conservatives, the most sacred of our Constitutional protections is being used to accomplish their goals.

Seven years ago, conservatives persuaded the Supreme Court to lay the groundwork for an oligarchy, a form of government in which the supreme power no longer resides in the voters but in a small group of economically powerful people. It’s money and the power it buys, not votes, that matter.

In a 2010 decision, “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission,” the Court sided with big money over the voters. By a 5-4 vote, the justices said free-speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment allow corporations and political action committees to spend unrestricted amounts of money to “inform” the voters. They also protected “misinformation” under the First Amendment.

These aren’t actual humans volunteering to help candidates by calling potential voters. These are thousands of unsolicited, unwanted, and frequently deceptive computer-generated calls.

Calls made by unaccountable organizations with misleading names, deprive voters of any knowledge of their motives. They make misleading assertions intended, not to inform, but to misinform. A particular subset of voters is targeted after polls show the specific message that might sway them.

The message is seldom fact based.  Evidence in a South Carolina suit showed robocallers falsely tying Democrats running for the state legislature to Nancy Pelosi. Because the caller and the sponsoring committee are basically anonymous, claims are made without regard for accuracy. The process requires lots of money and “Citizen’s United” made sure some had it.

That’s what passes for “free speech” in today’s America.

Conservatives care little that you don’t want your phone ringing incessantly and causing unwanted intrusions at all hours of the day, spewing negative campaigning. It’s their bread and butter.

They believe their right to what they call free speech is greater than your right to be free of their speech.

Some are so committed to winning they are willing to use the constitution against the Republic. These tactics turn off voters, driving them away from the process at precisely the time they need to fight back. That may be the robocaller’s goal.

Wyoming judges must decide whether free speech includes perverting the constitution. Wyoming judges can protect the Republic or become accomplices to burying it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Second thought. I hope my grandsons join the Scouts

Some of my posts about yesterday's incident at the Boy Scout Jamboree have been too harsh toward the Scout leadership. While they might have handled this differently, this was the mainly the fault of one man who happens to be a President willing to dishonor all great American institutions.

This man has ridiculed John McCain’s heroism, mocked a disabled man, bragged about sexually assaulting women, dismissed the heartbreak of a Gold Star family, and lied incessantly about big things and small. But, my level of disgust and disdain for this president reached an all-time high as I watched the video of his speech, heard his vile words, and listened to those young Scouts applaud and boo on que even as one of their so-called adult leaders, the one on screen behind Trump, joined in the inappropriate merriment.

Is there anyone in America who does not now realize who and what this man is?

The great Al Wilson sang a song called “The Snake.” It’s a ballad of a woman who finds a dying snake and brings him into her house, warms him, feeds him and saves his life. Then the snake bites her. As the lay on the floor dying, the two have a conversation starting with the woman’s pleas,

"I saved you," cried that woman
"And you've bit me even, why?
“You know your bite is poisonous and now I'm going to die"
"Oh shut up, silly woman," said the reptile with a grin 
"You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

Scout policy should have prevented this, just as American values should have prevented Donald Trump’s election. The top echelon of the Boy Scouts knew Trump was a snake before they brought him in. But then, American knew he was a snake before they allowed him in the White House.

Trump’s speech is not who the Scouts are. Trump’s presidency is not who Americans are. We have a mentally ill president and if you invite him to take part in anything, prepare yourself for the worst because he will deliver. Wherever he goes, a stink follows. He has now cast his unique taint on one of the nation’s revered institutions.

The top leadership of the Boy Scouts of America should resign in the wake of this incident. That would send a strong message to the young men in Trump’s audience that their chants, boos, and cheers were highly inappropriate and someone is accountable.

The Boy Scouts have had their challenges recently, mostly around issues of acceptance of gays. So have our churches and our lawmakers. Eventually a lot of us have gotten it right. That arc of history has, as Martin Luther King said, been bent inevitably toward justice. While Donald Trump’s arc is bent, it is not bent toward justice.

In my angst, i.e. today’s iteration of my angst, I impetuously said I would not encourage my Grandsons to be Boy Scouts. Actually, I would, with better thought, encourage my Grandsons to join the Scouts. I hope all three will become Boy Scouts, as did I. The unfortunate publicity they received yesterday courtesy of Trump is far from the whole story.

Committed local scout leaders have taught others children and can teach our children a great deal. For me and millions of young men it was a place where we did learn values of which people like Donald Trump cannot begin to imagine. The first of those is country first.

Donald Trump’s election last November proves there is a critical need to continue to teach that to those who will decide the future of the United States.

What happened yesterday should be used by Scout leaders as a teachable moment. It is an opportunity to have a dialogue with these young men about American values. It’s too late for Trump and for those who can watch what Trump did yesterday and defend him still.

The true values of Scouting may yet save America from this awful man.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

God doesn't need your help judging others

Maybe you read the extraordinary story about what one of Jesus’ helpers did last week? Anthony Herb is a well-known atheist who lives in Phoenix. Last week someone threw a large rock through the rear window of his car. The rock had a message attached. It read, “God is good.”

We may never know who threw that rock but we do know Jesus told a parable about folks like him: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So, when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 

He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Collect the weeds first and bind them into bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’
Today Jesus is providing some gardening tips. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a well-tended garden where the gardener has planted good seed. Daisy’s, pansies, maybe a few vegetables like zucchini or peppers, carrots, some peas and lettuce. But a neighbor, an enemy, sneaks over in the cover of night and plants weeds.

Don’t remember a lot from a botany class I took years ago. I do remember the definition of a weed. A weed is a plant out of place, a plant somewhere we don’t think it belongs. A weed may have a pretty flower like dandelions for example but they don’t belong in your lawn or among the flowers or vegetables in your garden.
Sometimes telling weeds from the plants you want to keep can be difficult. No matter how pretty the flower, if it’s not the daisy or the pansy or the zucchini or peppers, carrots, peas and lettuce we planted…if it’s not one of those, it is a weed, a plant out of place and it is out. We know what we like and it’s not you! Pulled up by the root and tossed aside.

In this morning’s parable, Jesus is talking to his helpers. They are eager to rid his garden of the weeds. First, they wonder aloud whether Jesus himself planted those weeds. “Master,” they say, “how come there are weeds in your garden. Didn’t you plant only the best seed? How come there are so many weeds?”

Jesus helpers are eager to pull the weeds out of God’s garden. They think they know which plants belong and which plants need to be pulled out by the roots and tossed aside. BUT Jesus says, “No, no, no. That is not your job. Just let all the plants grow. When it comes time for the harvest, God will figure it out.”

My daughter Meghan is quite into meditation. She is an apple that didn’t fall far from her parent’s liberal tree. Recently she attended a two-hour meditation at her Denver church. As she came out into the parking lot, she saw a car with a bumper sticker that read “Don’t tread on me.” Well, we all know what kind of a person puts that sort of a bumper sticker on their cars. We know what they think, who they voted for. Right?

Meghan’s first thought was, “Why is someone like that attending a two-hour meditation service at our church? Someone needs to pull that weed out by its roots. Right?

As she drove home, it occurred to her the owner of that car…the “don’t tread on me,” guy…was no different from her. He, like she, was there to experience God’s love, to find comfort in a time of spiritual connection. One of them can’t be a weed unless the other is as well.

Steve Shive, the state presbyter tells of what happened when he searched for and found Wilbourne Markham, a beloved old high school teacher. Wilbourne was living in the same town in which they all went to high school. Steve wrote, asking why he hadn’t stayed in touch, why he had never shown up for a class reunion.

My dear Steve,
It occurred to me that at your age you might not have known why people were calling me a communist. I think you might have been in the third grade in 1963? Well in 1963 a parent who was a member of the John Birch Society and the White Citizens Council went to the Chattanooga School Board and announced that this teacher, it was me she spoke of, was teaching things which smacked of Socialism /Communism. She had a daughter in my civics class.  I was simply trying to help bring about peaceful desegregation in compliance with the Supreme Court decision: Brown vs The Board of Education of 1954.
At this time Martin Luther King was being attacked as a communist. Billboards had his picture on it with that inscription. If you sided with African Americans, you must be communist. The parent also had a very conservative Presbyterian minister with her testifying that my teachings were "definitely unChristian."  
This caused me to have to undergo a four and one-half hour public school board hearing. This was held in the commons of the Chattanooga High school commons. There were lawyers from the Tennessee Education Association there for my protection and the tape recorder was on. I had to face the School board, the superintendent, and the accusers next to me for hours answering questions about my teachings. Quite a task for a young teacher in his second year in the profession.  When it was over the superintendent stated, "We have seen an outstanding teacher go through this hearing."  However, the damage was done and I had to live with it.
I got support from many, but the episode took years to overcome.  I was reminded frequently when students would drive down North Moore Road and yell, "there is that communist," and when rocks were thrown through the windows of our house.  So, you can see why it meant so much to me for you to call to tell me what you did after nearly fifty years.  You will always be held in a special place in my heart.    Thanks again, Wilbourne

Jesus knows that telling the weeds from the plants is a rather subjective thing. The plant that some of Jesus’s helpers may not like could be one that Jesus loves, one for whom Jesus has great plans, one that when full grown has beautiful blossoms and bears great fruit.

Humans have a hard time telling bad from good. Plants out of place may be weeds just because of where we are in our own lives at the moment. Some plants may be out of place because that’s where we put them ourselves in our own prejudices and notions. Plants we think are out of place may be where God wants them.

God doesn’t want us making the choice. God doesn’t want us deciding what is a weed and what isn’t. Jesus’s helpers were eager to pull weeds. They asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘Nope; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and then God will make the call.

Matthew’s parable this week is in one sense a warning. Lest we think we have it all figured out how; that we are so good at judging evil from good, moral from immoral, right from wrong, virtuous from unvirtuous, that we can be in charge of quality control for God. C’mon on God, you are pretty busy with so many other things. Let me help you out a little. I know a weed when I see one. I can make your God-job a lot easier if you’ll let me be in charge of quality control.

In her book “The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship,” Kimberly Bracken Long recalls the 1984 film “Places in the Heart,” set in Waxahachie, Texas, in 1935. Its last few minutes depict a communion service in a small country church. The few folks in the sanctuary do their best to sing “Blessed Assurance” as they prepare to share communion.
But then something remarkable happens. As the bread and wine are passed there somehow appear to be some surprising people in the pews:
The bank president who tried to foreclose on a young widow; the white men who lynched a black boy after he mistakenly shot the town’s beloved sheriff; the players in the honky-tonk band and the floozies who followed them from dance to dance; Moze, the African American laborer who helped the young widow bring in a prizewinning crop of cotton . . . and the Klansmen who drove him out of town; and, finally, the sheriff himself and the boy who had killed him.
‘The peace of Christ,’ the sheriff says to the boy as he shares the bread and wine. ‘The peace of Christ to you as well,’ the boy whispers in return.

“Here, at the Lord’s Table,” says Kimberly Bracken Long, “life triumphs over death, love overcomes hatred, mercy overcomes guilt, and those who could not or would not live together in peace are reconciled in Christ’s name” and I might add, not because the human beings among them were able to tell the weeds from the flowers but because God could. We need to sit back, take a breath, and realize that while God has given each of us a job to do…it’s not his. AMEN