Most of the years of my childhood saw President Franklin Roosevelt in office. He was elected four times! The only living president at that time was poor old Herbert Hoover who took the rap for the Depression and would not be appreciated until the 1970’s. Now we have a plethora of former presidents – two Bushes, Carter, Clinton and, of course, in office today, Barack Obama.
Austin was honored this week as these presidents convened in the Johnson Library to mark 50 years of the extraordinary progress in civil rights under the leadership of LBJ.
It saddens me that some commentators claim that this program was developed to simply offset the agonizing memory of Vietnam, which perdured throughout so much of the Johnson years. I think that this is regrettable. The Vietnam War was certainly one of the great tragedies of American history and its agony will never be forgotten. However, the magnificent progress in civil rights was a completely separate thing and the president’s memory needs to be kept in high honor in view of what he accomplished in the face of overwhelming odds.
How did a Southern senator ever succeed in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was an earthshattering breakthrough, and then see it followed by the Open Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, the War on Poverty and the establishment of entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and another half dozen accomplishments in the general area of civil rights?
I am glad that the former presidents came to Austin to honor Johnson and his memory. There is much to be thankful for in terms of progress in civil rights, but there is so much more to be done. I will write about that tomorrow.
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When I was a kid, the population of the United States of America was already well over half urbanized, but for millions of adults living in the city their roots and memories were back on the farm. I can remember many expressions back then that were sort of meaningless unless you could see the world through a farmer’s eyes. One of those expressions was “hold your horses!” and another one was “good fences make good neighbors.” That first expression merely was a way of saying “slow down and get control of yourself.” The line about fences was referring to the fact that well-maintained fences kept livestock from getting mixed up with your neighbors or his mixed up with yours. Good fences avoided unnecessary and sometimes dangerous arguments.
What was true in rural America is still true in the world today as far as natural boundaries are concerned. Look at Spain and France. You never hear of a conflict between them because the Pyrenees Mountains are a marvelous divide that keeps these two nationalities not only physically but psychologically separated and divided.
About two weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that there are so many divided countries in the world and that this almost always leads to tension. One of those divisions, and it is dominating the news stories today, is the Ukraine. Russia has already gobbled up the Black Sea Peninsula and the West is concerned that it may go for more of Ukraine proper.
Ukraine is very divided. The western half is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. In the east, the Orthodox Church is dominant. Secondly, the west is composed to a very great extent, as you would expect, of ethnic Ukrainians. While there are plenty of them in the east, there is also the problem of a very large Russian population. These are double dividers and when you have those factors present, there is very real risks of conflict.
Russia seems to be interested in having neat boundaries and there is a real threat that she might occupy eastern Ukraine. At present the tension is very serious but actions like that will remind the West of September 1939. There is a boundary problem but let’s pray that it does not lead to tragedy.
Let’s pray that this conflict passes over and peace will reign supreme.
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We are all used to dealing with people who tend to be extreme, maybe in one area or maybe in another. Some of us over-exercise, some suffer from anorexia and certainly we have many different views in the world of politics. Liberal and conservative are never completely accurate because there can be so many nuances in one’s views, and some of us might be liberal in one area, such as fiscal responsibility, and conservative in another, for example, the government’s role in the economy. But there has always been one word that people respected and tended to avoid any unnecessary tension or conflict. I am thinking of the word “moderate.”
Being moderate describes someone basically in the middle with good judgment and not in any way extreme, but is that beginning to change?
Mark Jones, a Houston political scientist, remarked the other day on the rightward drift of the State Republican party. Jones asserts that, “Only in Texas do candidates feel that it is necessary to vehemently deny claims that they are moderate.” That makes for a difficult situation. If moderation is in absentia, harsh conflict is inevitable.
Let’s hear it for moderation. Thankfully, most people live in the middle!
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I vote in the 10th Congressional District of Texas but I have tremendous admiration for the Democratic Representative of the 33rd Congressional District in California. I am referring to Henry Waxman who is giving up his seat after forty years in Congress. Congressman Waxman is a short, bald-headed man. In appearance, he is certainly not overwhelming but what a great representative for his 33rd District and, in my opinion, for all the people of the United States.
Congressman Waxman was the driving force in passing laws that dramatically cut air pollution, helped reduce smoking, expanded medical coverage for the poor, reduced pesticides in food, made generic drugs more widely available, helped AIDs patients and improved regulations in nursing homes. The average congressman would have been delighted to accomplish even one of those goals during his time in office.
I always liked him but I was thrilled when back in 1994 he had the ten CEOs of the nation’s tobacco corporations under oath and questioned them about the addictive power of tobacco. All ten CEOs, under oath, declared that they did not believe cigarettes were addictive. Sadly, none of them went to jail, but Waxman won the day and great progress was made towards improving the health of the nation.
May God bless you, Henry. You will be missed.
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It is my opinion that miracles are in short supply and as I look around it seems to me that there is an overabundance of mysteries. Today, I would like to offer you one in both departments.
The mystery is that the extraordinarily important Farm Bill, which raises its head every five years, is beginning to move towards passage. The Farm Bill itself is a mystery with its more than a thousand pages that has something for everyone – farm subsidies for the farmers, food stamps for the poor. We are a complicated country and therefore our economic system is complicated. It seems that Mississippians running catfish farms are not angered because efforts to cut the subsidies of the catfish program in Mississippi has been defeated while out west in California, the threat to chicken ranches was thwarted when the law requiring that all eggs sold in the state come from hens living in larger cages was struck down allowing the bill to continue to move forward in both Houses.
As a city boy, a lot of this seems funny to me but it really isn’t. This soon to be passed law affects everybody in the country. Everybody has a right to defend their interests. That is what makes this struggle to pass the Farm Bill so very difficult and complex. I am glad that it only comes up every five years.
Two weeks ago I complained in this space about the refusal by the Republican House to include food stamps in this bill. Now they are back and they have agreed to restoration of the stamps but with only a 1% cut.
Back to my opening line. The Farm Bill is a mystery but the miracle is that Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of West Virginia have both endorsed this bill and are working to see it passed.
There is a lot of fog out there but we occasionally break through it. We all know that our country is economically the most productive on earth but we have a disproportionate number of poor people than European nations do and I am glad that we are not turning our backs on them at this difficult period.
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I use this small amount of space each day to communicate with my friends as well as those people that I do not have the privilege of knowing personally. It is a wonderful thing and one the things about today’s world that for those who really desire the opportunity to express their views, this modern electronic communications really makes that possible.
I am in my fourth year of running a blog almost daily and while I try not to repeat myself, or at least not to repeat myself too often, it is not always easy. Today, I want to return to the issue of determined efforts by the Republican Party to restrict voter rights in this country. Voter rights – you remember the issue. It is part of a long, difficult, painful and sometimes dangerous effort to expand access to the vote under the Constitution, also that effort towards expansion were wonderfully positive and progressive for 200 years until very recently. At the time the country was beginning, voting was restricted to white male property owners of the Protestant faith. With the establishment of the Constitution it only required that you be a white male. Women and blacks could not vote.
After a long struggle, women received the right to vote in 1920. Black Americans received the right to vote theoretically with the 13th Amendment but not actually until the mid-1960’s.
Suddenly, in the last few years the Republican Party has been frightened by an imaginary threat. “There is voter fraud going on out there.” Careful research has shown this to be a totally imaginary problem. Proven voter fraud is a fraction of a fraction of 1%. Nevertheless, 34 states have recently passed Voter ID laws. In every instance they have been advanced by the Republican Party. Proposed restrictions have taken a number of different forms, Voter ID being the most common. If voter fraud does not actually exist as an issue, why this big push? The answer is very simple. The people that are most affected by these restrictions have a tendency to vote on the Democratic side. Rather than winning these people to the Republican point of view by argument and documentation, the party has taken the very negative and undemocratic steps by restricting one of the basic human rights in the United States of America, the right to vote.
I am happy to see that a reaction is setting in. A state judge in Pennsylvania has struck down the restrictive law in that state. Soon this issue will be moving towards the Supreme Court and we will get a final resolution.
Onward through the fog.
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Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938? It was one of the great legislative achievements brought about by Franklin Roosevelt as he was leading the country out of Depression and through World War II. No other presidents, other than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, ever had a more difficult time to serve.
I am delighted to see a great deal of conversation going on at the present time as to the need to raise the national minimum wage. Currently it is so low at $7.25 an hour that many individual states are raising it for their own jurisdictions. The Democratic Party will be making this a major platform issue as we approach 2016 and while there is a pressing need for raising this minimal standard, politically it is not going to be easy because they will not be as strong as they might have been if Obamacare had rolled out more smoothly. Roll out smoothly it did not.
Last week, Ross Eisenbrey, the President of the Economic Policy Institute, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times. What he suggests is another way to improve the situation and one that can be done by executive authority rather than getting something through the Republican controlled House. Eisenbrey strongly suggests that in view of the president’s speech last week in which he said, “Whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.” Well, Eisenbrey suggests that he use it by raising the overtime rules now held quite low by the Fair Labor Standards Act. This change would make overtime work be more expensive and create an incentive for employers to spread work out among workers. That is an important goal in today’s sluggish economy.
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In a few days, the media will remind us of a sad event in our nation’s history. It was back on January 22, 1973 that our nation’s bitter division over the issue of abortion was launched by the Supreme Court. The response of the Catholic Church was immediate and condemnatory. For a number of years, the public media gave the American people the idea that abortion was generally accepted in this country and it was essentially only the Catholic Church that was resisting. With the passage of time, we now see that the American people as a totality have not accepted abortion but they are very divided on what to do with this painful issue.
While the news media reflects the division and the conflict in the country of intentional termination of pregnancy, they do not do an equally good job of telling the nation that there are tens of thousands of people out there who are not able to stop abortion but who are able to enter into the lives of the distressed women who have endured this agonizing and heartbreaking experience.
In my opinion, the largest and best single response is called Project Rachel. It began in 1984 and it has developed a response to the situation that is gentle, understanding and healing. Most dioceses sponsor Project Rachel ministries and have retrained clergy and mental health professionals to be of assistance to women who are suffering emotionally and maybe physically from the after effects of this procedure.
Project Rachel draws its name from Jeremiah, chapter 31:15-17 when the Jewish mother, Rachel is mourning her children who have been lost. At that time the Lord says to her, “Cease your cries. They have been heard. There is hope for your future.” And that is what Project Rachel is all about – to have people put their hearts and arms around a mother who is suffering and to lift her spirits towards God, reminding her of God’s infinite love for her and the child that has been lost.
May God bless all those who work on Project Rachel and may their number increase in response to the pressing need.
“Cease your cries. They have been heard.”
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Every thoughtful person (and, of course, all my readers are thoughtful persons!) are conscious of the fact that swift, individual actions can on occasion have awesome consequences. By the time you read this, Chris Christie is hoping that he is off the front page but I don’t think that his hopes will be fulfilled. This man who two weeks ago was a strong front runner for the Republican nominee in 2016 is now worried about the fact that his obituary will spotlight that he was the Governor of the State of New Jersey. Actions have consequences!
The story that is being endlessly put before the American public is that the fiasco on the bridge was part of his policy to punish political opposition in New Jersey, or that he did not know anything about it but made extraordinarily bad judgment in choosing his top aides because this possible felony was performed by those aides.
This opens up a never-never-land of what might have been. Christie certainly projects strength, even if it might be the strength of a bully. He could be nominated, and he could be the President of the United States… and what would he be doing in 2021? What type of staff will he have surrounded himself with in the Cabinet and top administrative aides? What type of judgment would he be making if China were suddenly to seem out of control? What leadership would he provide in the growing environmental struggle? How would the world be different if Chris Christie was leader of the free world for eight years from 2016 to 2024? All of that is still a possibility but it is a much smaller possibility than it was last week.
When parents or teachers are working to help small children form their minds and value systems, one of the crucial messages to be learned (though regretfully not everyone does) is that actions have consequences. “B” follows “A,” and the whole alphabet is headed towards “Z”. If a person is going to make good judgments, that six year old or that 14 year old must be on the way to learning that they live in a difficult place, namely reality!!
For the last fifty years, one of my favorite points in counseling people is to say that they must be mature, and my seat of the pants definition has always been maturity is the ability to adjust to reality.
Onward through the fog.
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I knew my paternal grandfather but not for long as he died in 1947. When he was born in 1859, the United States of America permitted three to four million human beings to live out their lives as slaves. That is about 155 years ago. Starting with the Civil War, our shamed nation has slowly plodded forward towards fulfillment of the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
1862 – the Emancipation Proclamation
1865 – the 13th Amendment
1940’s – Jackie Robinson breaks into baseball
Late 1940’s – Marion Sweatt, after having fought for his country, is denied admission to the University of Texas Law School
Early 1950’s – Black youths denied entrance into St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston
1954 – Supreme Court orders end to segregated schools but it doesn’t happen
1964 – The first major civil rights act followed by a half dozen others through the influence of Lyndon Johnson
2004 – Barack Obama elected President of the United States
2014 – Charlie Strong becomes head coach at the University of Texas
This may not mean a lot to many younger people today but any person of my age and who remembers “The Way We Were!” can appreciate this decision with thankfulness that slowly – slowly – slowly we are moving towards the ideals on which this country was founded. For that let us thank God.
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