black babies’ lives matter…

This post, my first in a long time, is both longer than most previous posts, and far more personal.

The other day, I made the following post on my personal Facebook page:

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 6.33.16 PM

Soon after, an old college friend — whom I’ve known for years to be a devout evangelical Christian — left a comment asking why I considered the meme to be “B-S”.  This started a lengthy exchange that went on for most of the day, and I found myself wanting to express my thoughts on the issue as thoroughly as I could.  I knew I wasn’t going to change her mind — that wasn’t my goal.  I just wanted to be as clear as possible, and I found myself thinking through the issue in greater depth than I have in some time.  So I’ve taken the comments I made on Facebook and pasted them below.  Out of courtesy, I’ve decided to just summarize my friend’s responses.

As I said, she wanted to know why I called “bull-shit” on Sarah Palin’s post —

If there are more PP clinics in minority neighborhoods, it’s because minorities are still more likely to live in economically depressed zones, which is where the need for low-cost access to health services is greatest (and, as [another friend] also correctly pointed out, abortion is but one of the services PP provides, and it is hardly the most frequently provided one at that).

But mostly it’s B-S because of the argument that’s being constructed. This meme is suggesting that we liberals are being inconsistent — if not downright hypocritical — for supporting both PP and #BlackLivesMatter. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is about eradicating the sort of institutional racism that results in the devaluing of black lives. Which probably immediately raises the question, “But isn’t PP an active participant in that, because what could be worse than killing so many black babies?”

The problem with that question is that it doesn’t look deep enough. Why do more minority women terminate pregnancies? It’s not as if they’re being lured into PP clinics and pressured into abortion procedures. No, they, like most women who have this procedure, take a look at their lives and determine that they simply cannot provide an environment conducive to raising a healthy child. The reasons they come to this conclusion could be any number of things: low-income; low-education; poor health; unsafe neighborhood; unstable family; any number of negative circumstances. Interestingly enough, each of those circumstances can, in some way, be seen as the result of systemic, institutional racism — the very thing #BlackLivesMatter is trying to combat.

The great irony is that, maybe, by taking #BlackLivesMatter more seriously, we could remove the very source of the reasons so many minority women feel compelled to end their pregnancies in the first place.

She took issue with my suggestion that Planned Parenthood doesn’t “lure” women of color into their clinics, and instead argued that PP deliberately places clinics where they will have the “most business”.  I replied —

We clearly see PP’s operations from very different angles. I conclude that they establish clinics in minority and low-income areas because that’s where there is the greatest need for services. You see that as picking locations where “they would have the most business”. You call low-cost healthcare “alluring”, whereas I consider it a necessary alternative to no care whatsoever, which is the choice that faces those at the fringes of our capitalistic society. But, that difference in our perspectives is probably inevitable since I consider PP’s work (the whole of it, not merely its abortion services) to be a positive contribution to society, whereas as you view it as participating in a great evil.

Which is really the fundamental chasm that exists between us: I simply do not consider a terminated pregnancy murder. A fertilized egg is not a human being. An implanted fertilized egg is not a human being. I simply cannot believe that and reconcile it with the staggering numbers of fertilized eggs which spontaneously abort, and the number of implanted eggs which miscarry. I cannot.

However, that is not to say that I don’t consider a terminated pregnancy a tragedy. Because what that abortion usually tells us is that a woman found herself in a position where she concluded she could not bring a child to term. I find it tragic, that in a nation this wealthy, with all its resources, that a woman expecting a child would *ever* doubt that there would be enough resources to care for that child. I would much prefer that, should a woman ever find herself unexpectedly pregnant (which would happen less if we wouldn’t make birth-control such a burden to obtain) then she would feel confident in the support made available to her when it comes time to raise her child.

Put another way, I’d take anti-abortion efforts more seriously if they were coupled with an equally ferocious commitment to addressing the conditions that make women feel that abortion is their only choice.

She then asked me the inevitable question — when do I believe a human being is a human being.  She also argued that the “conditions” I mentioned are addressed by the Christian community, citing a number of clinics in her area that try to provide social support services while emphasizing alternatives to abortions.  I left a rather long response —

I’m going to respond in two parts, if that’s okay, and I think I’ll tackle the easier part first.

When I talk about a “commitment to address the conditions that make women feel that abortion is their only choice,” I’m referring to what is essentially a symptom-vs.-cause breakdown of the issue. Abortions are a symptom of a larger problem: social and economic conditions that leave women in a position unable to bear a child healthily and safely. And I feel that there’s a frustrating disconnect between how the Christian community — the portion of it we’re discussing here, at least — approaches these two sides of the abortion issue.

When it comes to the symptom — the actual act of terminating a pregnancy — the approach is overwhelmingly focused on public policy. Laws restricting the number of weeks during which an abortion can be had. Or requiring providers to have admitting privileges at the nearest hospital. Or requiring (if you really want to talk about heinousness) that women undergo trans-vaginal ultrasounds before being granted permission to have the procedure done. It’s all about passing laws that make the process damn near impossible to get through. It’s using the power of legislation to burden a woman’s ability to exercise what is still a Constitutional right.

On the other hand, when it comes to root causes — social and economic inequities that disproportionately affect people of color — what is there? You mention clinics in [her area]. And while I’m certainly not about to denigrate the work they do, I will say that it’s not nearly an adequate response to the problem. Systemic issues cannot be solved at the not-for-profit level.

What I’m getting at is that the approach is entirely backwards. When it comes to treating the symptom — convincing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term — that, I believe, is most effectively accomplished at the personal level. And that can be achieved by the type of charities you mention.

But the deeper causes will only be solved through public policy. And so far, to my knowledge, the most anti-abortion Christians have not been the ones pushing for expansions of Medicaid. Or supporting coverage of birth control by health insurance plans. Or advocating for better early education funding and paid family leave. Or demanding a change in mandatory minimum sentencing laws that keep a truly disgusting proportion of young, predominantly black men in prison.

In fact, the same political bloc that works so hard to make abortion illegal seems to me to be the same bloc trying to make life for the poor even more difficult than it already is — by pushing for ever fewer weeks of unemployment benefits; by placing ever more restrictions on the uses of SNAP benefits; by submitting (at a HUGE loss to taxpayers) welfare recipients to drug-testing; and generally making life at the bottom of the economic pyramid as humiliating as possible.

That same political bloc is also at the forefront of every battle to prevent the sharing of information that would enable young people to avoid unintended pregnancies, by opposing comprehensive sex education and insisting instead that teenagers be taught only to abstain from sex altogether.

Ultimately, what I see is pattern in which a certain subset of American Christians are perfectly happy to translate their religious views into law when it will constrain other peoples’ behavior, but are terribly opposed to doing so when it might actually relieve other peoples’ suffering. I would prefer to see the opposite.

Now, for the more difficult question: when do I believe we actually become human beings?

This should actually be a short post, because my main answer is, “I don’t know.” But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it?

First of all, there are two ways that we have to answer this question: the legal, and the spiritual. And yes, I do believe they are different and, more importantly, independent of each other.

The reason for that is a legal definition of personhood requires precision. It requires a clear, identifiable boundary between “person” and “not”. Further, it requires a shared understanding of where that boundary lies. And since it has to be shared among a population with a dizzying variety of viewpoints, it has to be maximally accommodating.

Why? Because only a maximally accommodating law will allow every person to act according to their own belief system. And the decision whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term is, ultimately, a personal decision that should be guided only, and entirely, by that person’s own belief system. (Now, if you want to change a person’s belief system, that is done through your witness, not through legislation).

Unfortunately, our country’s definition is hardly precise. If I remember correctly, it relies on the notion of “viability” which I think tends to be placed at 24 weeks. Personally, I’m drawn to our country’s early standard — that a pregnancy could be terminated up to the “quickening”, when a woman could feel the fetus moving inside her. But that’s hardly more precise, is it?

When it comes to the spiritual understanding of personhood, it gets even fuzzier. I no longer subscribe to the literally-interpreted Biblical standard of conception (ie, “you knew me in the womb”). But I do think there’s a critical point before birth where what’s there should be protected.

What is that critical point? How could I possibly pin it down? It’s like the classic paradox of the heap. You would never call a single grain of sand a heap. But if you keep adding one grain at a time, it eventually becomes something you would call a heap. When did it cross over from a collection of sand grains to an actual heap? When does a collection of splitting cells become something we call a human being?

For me, it comes down to potential. Each fertilized egg has the potential to implant. But not every one does. Each implanted egg has the potential to grow into an embryo. But not every one does. The odds in these early stages aren’t all that great. But as the process goes on, the odds get ever greater, and the potential that this collection of cells will become something we recognize as a human being only gets stronger. There’s a hidden boundary that’s crossed. It’s because of that hidden boundary that I have no problem saying to someone the morning after, “Yeah, you should probably get some Plan B” but would tell someone six months in, “Um, I think it’s a little late to be changing your mind.”

For me, that’s the beautiful mystery of human life. And, in terms of my spiritual life, I treasure that mystery. If this is to be a land of liberty, then our county’s law will allow each of us to counsel others according to our own beliefs.

Our conversation ended there since, frankly, it had gotten quite late and we both needed to call it a night.  In regards to the start of human life, she reiterated her belief that it begins at conception.  And as for what I identified as the root causes of abortion, she acknowledged that we simply disagreed on the role of government in peoples’ lives.  Since it had gotten so late, we couldn’t pursue it any further than that.

Which is a shame, because that might be what I find most flabbergasting of all — how do people decide, “I will try to turn my religious beliefs into law for this but not for that“?  In this case, how do you justify pushing for laws that prohibit abortions (knowing full well that outlawing an action certainly won’t keep it from happening), and yet insist that the adverse conditions which compel women to terminate their pregnancies should only be addressed  — insufficiently, no matter how nobly — through charity? I just don’t get it.

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democracy and its discontents…

There are few things I detest more than cynicism.

It’s not that I begrudge anyone’s lack of belief in the integrity of a system or idea.  That, I can deal with (been there myself, more than once).  It’s the inevitable tone of condescension you hear in the words of all cynics, and the patronizing smile those are words are being spoken through.  It’s the smug, satisfied way in which cynics express the presumed hard wisdom of their perspective — and not so much judging others for having a different one, but rather just pitying their naiveté.  It’s the fact that fueling this cynicism is almost always a self-crafted narrative that says, “How adorable that so many of you are still such sincere believers… if only you had my insight, you’d see how pointless it all is.”  It’s defeatist.  It’s downright nihilistic.  And I can’t stand it, in myself or others.

Salon.com‘s Andrew O’Hehir dropped a giant, smoldering bombshell of cynicism this weekend, aimed squarely at those of us determined not to give up this mid-term election without a fight.  The title (leaving nothing to the imagination):  Yeah, the GOP is evil and will win — but the midterms are meaningless.

The reader is then met with a piece of columnizing that perfectly demonstrates the yawning gap that occurs when an intelligent person considers himself (and may, in fact, be) insightful about politics, but has no notion of (or is simply ignoring) the very real challenges of actual governing.

There are three points that I found particularly problematic, beginning with the piece’s tagline–

1.) “It’s the Party of Fear’s turn this year, and that blows.  But the cast of clowns in DC doesn’t really run the show.”

I’m just going to look at the first part right now (we’ll get to the second half later).

There is a fundamental myth of electoral politics that Americans have got to disabuse themselves of, and that is the idea that when one politician, or party, is in power then the responsible thing to do in the next election is give the “other guy” a turn.  Well, to paraphrase The West Wing‘s inimitable Josh Lyman — this is politics, not tee-ball.  The “other guy” doesn’t just automatically get to step up to the plate, they have to earn it.  There should never, ever be any concept of “turns” in American politics (though, admittedly, that does seem to be the GOP’s preferred method of nominating presidential candidates).

Elections should — must — be won based on the party’s ideas, and the GOP’s ideas have been demonstrably proven, time after time after time, to be morally bankrupt and utterly destructive for the country.  Why on earth would we ever give in to the notion they are now due a “turn”?  Especially as the establishment-vs-Tea Party civil war continues unabated and their cohort of candidates seems to get more ludicrous with each passing cycle?

2.) “[The Democratic Party] has no clear mission or agenda beyond being less pathological than the opposition party, whose appeal rests largely on racial panic, xenophobia, and anti-government paranoia, and whose only visible agenda is obstructionism.  It should be obvious to everyone who isn’t a profoundly deluded partisan loyalist that nothing that could possibly happen in the 2014 midterm elections will change any of that.”

First, I fervently contest the notion that the Democratic Party lacks any singular vision other than being the “less crazy” ones.  There are myriad issues — the minimum wage, fair pay for women, the DREAM Act, renewable energy, climate change, gun safety, student loans, women’s health — which show the Democratic Party to be forward-thinking and far more willing to represent the needs of those Americans who lack the lobbying power of Wall Street or the NRA (even if Senator Warren has to drag some her colleagues kicking and screaming along the way).

But let’s move beyond that and consider O’Hehir’s declaration that the mid-terms won’t change anything.  Certainly, they will have no affect on those qualities of the GOP which he enumerates (and his description pretty much nails it).  But maybe — just maybe — the country has a chance to avoid, or at least minimize, the effects of the GOP’s theatrics, which have brought us such hits as just-for-show investigative hearings, constant debt-ceiling brinksmanship, and an all-out government shutdown.  (Remember the shutdown?  It happened just about a year ago.  The GOP stopped funding the government to try and keep the Affordable Care Act from going into effect.  It didn’t work.)

And, as a side-note, I can’t help but notice that disaffected liberal voters seem more interested in punishing the president for his, in their view, disappointing performance than in holding the GOP accountable for the absolute havoc they have wrought upon this country by their infantile, anything-Obama-likes-we-hate approach to governing.  Which is just irresponsible.

 3.) “It’s Political Punditry 101 to view widespread public apathy as both cause and symptom of a diseased political culture, and that’s at least partly true.  But declining to participate in an empty ritual that changes nothing is an entirely rational response…”

Here, O’Hehir cites fellow Salon columnist Joan Walsh’s description of politics as “an endless feedback loop of futility:  little or no policy change leads to a discouraged electorate, which ensures little or no policy change, which guarantees more voter apathy.”  Of course, O’Hehir believes that the lack of progress on matters of policy is not a fault of a broken political system, but is instead that political system’s actual goal (this points back to how “the cast of clowns in DC” aren’t really running things… don’t worry, we’ll get to that at the end).

But regarding the apathy, and the “feedback loop of futility”, there is a question that goes unasked (perhaps because O’Hehir doesn’t believe it’s worth posing):  namely, who bears the burden of breaking that cycle?

My answer, at least, is that it must be the voters.  It is the voters who must constantly engage in the process of weighing and measuring our political representatives, and sending them home when they have been found wanting.  But it is an ongoing process.  Rather than putting all their electoral hopes and dreams into one candidate, or one election — believing that this one, this time will change things “for good” — and then turning away disgusted when those hopes and dreams aren’t fully (or even remotely) realized, American voters have to stay committed to the process, year to year, cycle to cycle, understanding that each election is just one step in an unknowably long journey.  It is demanding, and it is frustrating.  But it is the cross we bear for the privilege of self-government.

*****

Why all this pessimism?  Are elections really so entirely incapable of accomplishing anything?  For O’Hehir, the response is undoubtedly yes, because elections only affect the people occupying Congress and the White House, which are not, in fact, the power centers of our American government.  The real power — and this view is not O’Hehir’s alone — lies in the “deep state”, a semi-official conglomeration of private and government bodies manipulating world events, just barely out of sight, based on a set of priorities that remain unperturbed by electoral outcomes.  (For more information, start with Mike Lofgren’s vital essay on the subject, which O’Hehir cites as well).

This, then, is why the “cast of clowns in DC” — and, by extension, the process by which we put them there — is a gigantic waste of time to O’Hehir.  Because the decisions they make, or fail to make, won’t change the course of events being dictated by the NSA-Wall Street-Silicon Valley ménage a trois.  Further, because the deep state is so inextricably embedded, and it relies for success on continuity in policy (we mustn’t rock the boat!), the American people are guaranteed a lifetime of political stasis.  No proposal of substance that dares disturb the deep state’s steady course will ever be considered even on the table — though we’ll still get pretty diversions like gay-marriage and reproductive rights.

“If we were voting,” writes O’Hehir, “for or against candidates who were willing to address the power of the deep state, or at least to disclose and discuss it openly, then the midterm elections might mean something.”

Really?  Nothing else matters?

I don’t mean to minimize the significance of the issue — the depth and breadth of the national security apparatus in post-9/11 America is, to me, as much a threat to democracy as any external enemy.  But to argue that it is the only issue worth the effort of voting?  That’s simply a bridge too far for me.

*****

O’Hehir calls elections an “empty ritual.”  And he’s entitled to feel that way.  But I maintain that elections only become empty rituals when Americans decide to accept them as such.  And, ironically, it is when Americans have accepted them as such that dangerous institutions — like the deep state O’Hehir is so concerned about — are truly free to do their will, no longer bothered by pesky, educated voters who actually give a shit.

And, as far as I’m concerned, liberals refusing to vote while saying “it doesn’t matter anyway” are just the same as the conservatives who campaign on the ineffectiveness of government then spend their time in office doing everything within their power to make government ineffective — all they do is declare prophecies which they themselves fulfill, and all the while saying snidely, “I told you so,” as the rest of us continue striving for something better.

 

 

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#JeffCo, pt one

There are many things to say about the educational debacle that has unfolded in Jefferson County, Colorado over the past couple of weeks — and I hope to touch on at least a couple more — but I want to start with an observation that has stuck with me from the beginning.

I won’t rehash all the details that have led to this point, because there has been some excellent reporting already — particularly from the Denver Post — and there’s very little I can add in the way of that.  The short of it, though, is that a conservative bloc on this Colorado school board has been considering a proposal that would establish a new curriculum review committee (in addition to the the two that already exist within the district), with its first assignment being a closer look at the new AP US History Framework.  This framework has been bugging conservatives since its release (for largely invalid reasons), and this effort by the JeffCo school board is very much a part of the backlash.  The original proposal — and, in particular, some of the jingoistic language it employed — fired up the student body and resulted in days of walk-outs and protests.  The proposal was initially tabled, some minor revisions made, and it was placed back on the agenda for the board’s October 2 meeting.

Naturally, given the groundswell of student and parent protest, the meeting attracted a sizable crowd and included over two hours of public comment (most in opposition).  The superintendent submitted a compromise proposal, which the minority members agreed was a good first step but requested more time to study it.  The majority then approved the compromise with a 3-2 vote.

Which, I have to say, was pretty infuriating to watch (the school board, laudably, livestreams its meetings).  The overwhelmingly negative response to the board’s proposal should have been a giant red flag — a signal to the board that they should slow down and take the community’s concerns into consideration.  Of course, the board president, Ken Witt, had already indicated his lack of interest in the student and teacher response by publicly calling the student protesters “pawns” of the teacher’s unions.

So the student-teacher effort clearly wasn’t going to suffice.  As reported in the Denver Post:

Michele Patterson, head of the Jefferson County PTA… “If the teachers and students don’t move you, do 13,000 angry parents get your attention?” she asked.

The answer, of course, is no.  We know that because the board majority forged ahead in spite of the overwhelming opposition demonstrated at the meeting.  And that is all the evidence needed to prove that these three individuals are more interested in serving their political agenda than in serving their community.

Which brings me to the first observation I made on this whole issue:  if so many people are opposed to the actions of these three board members, who are the people who actually voted to put them there in the first place?  All three members of the conservative majority were elected by exceptional margins — in fact, Julie Williams, the author of the original proposal, won with 61% of the vote! 

But here’s the catch:  that election saw just a 33% turnout.

I have to say — as much as I support the parents and community members who have contributed to this protest, I’d be interested to know how many of them bothered to vote in the board election last November.  Where was this opposition then?

This is a hard lesson that, frankly, I can’t believe we’re still having to learn.  But I hope it sinks in before November 4…

Democracy means showing up.

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(not quite) exposing the Ice Bucket Challenge scam (because it doesn’t exist)…

Two friends of mine from completely opposite ends of the political spectrum shared links with more or less the same information today.  Given the rarity of such an occurrence, I decided to take a deeper look.

The gist of the posts was that all of you naive yet well-meaning folks taking part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have been duped.  While everyone is celebrating the $100 million or so that has been raised as a result of this shocker of a social-philanthropy phenomenon, the foundation that is benefitting is, allegedly, not doing with the money what you think it’s doing.

Here’s the post from PoliticalEar:

ICE BUCKET FRAUD:  ALS FOUNDATION ADMITS THAT 73% OF DONATIONS ARE NOT USED FOR ALS RESEARCH!

We’ve been duped. America is filled with fun-loving and caring people. The viral ice bucket challenge has combined both our sense of responsibility to our fellow human with fun. And it has been fun! Who didn’t love seeing Sarah Palin doused?

But wait? Ice Bucket Challenge donations are nearing $100 MILLION. Where is that money going?

According to the ALS Foundation, not towards ALS.

Over 73% of all donations raised are going to fundraising, overhead, executive salaries, and external donations. Less than 27% is actually used for the purpose we donated for.

The site also includes this handy pie-chart for reference —

als-association-donations* it should be noted, the numbers above add up to only 99% due to rounding

The misrepresentations abound.  Let us begin with the title.

Saying the ALS Association “admits” that 73% of donations are not used for ALS research implies that this was some dirty little secret that has only come to light because the organization was forced to reveal its underhanded operations by the Internet’s never-ending troop of intrepid investigators.

Here’s a little Not-for-Profit 101:  the ALSA is a 501(c)(3) corporation, so-called for the portion of the IRS code that allows for tax-deductible donations.  Such organizations are required by law to make annual disclosures of their financial activities.  Illustrating their expense breakdown by category isn’t “admitting” anything, it’s simply exercising the basic principles of good governance.  The ALSA has not hidden this information.  It’s not a secret.  They have made it publicly available and easily accessible.  In fact, do you know where the handy pie-chart above came from?  The ALS website.  Specifically, the page titled ‘Financial Information’… which is linked to from the website’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – FAQ (featured on their homepage) under the question “Where can I read more about the finances of the ALS Association?”

Then there’s the (admittedly nit-picky) fact that the breakdown is characterized thusly:  “Over 73% of all donations raised are going to fundraising, overhead, executive salaries, and external donations.” (emphasis added)

Wrong.

The combination of non-research spending the ALSA does not constitute 73% of donations but 73% of their total annual operating budget (which, for reference, is just above $25m).  And that operating budget is formed from more sources than just charitable contributions.  Though, just to make a point, donations to the ALSA during the period being reported were $8.412m… which would suggest that roughly 86% of donations raised went towards research.  Except that’s not how donations work — unrestricted donations can be used for any aspect of the organization’s operations.  But any donor can declare that their donation is restricted for a particular purpose, and the organization is legally obligated to abide by that (ie, if you want 100% of your donation to ALSA to go towards research, it is actually your obligation to tell them that).

Now, let’s move on to what the writer believes this 73% is comprised of:  fundraising, overheard, executive salaries, and external donations.  Sounds like a lot of things, right?  Except that “executive salaries” is included in “overhead”, not separate from it.  And both administrative overhead and fundraising together comprise what are called Supporting Activities. By this chart, the ACLA’s Supporting Activities make up a completely reasonable 21% of the overall operating budget.

Now, I have no idea what the writers mean by “external donations,” but I assume they’re referring to the remaining portions of the expense budget, which comprise the ALSA’s two non-research program activities.

The ALSA makes very clear that its approach to the issue of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is three-pronged.  Their mission statement —

OUR MISSION: Leading the fight to treat and cure ALS through global research and nationwide advocacy while also empowering people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support. (emphasis added)

Research, then, is but one of three primary activities the organization engages in.  This does not undermine the importance of research.  It simply acknowledges that there is a broader range of actions that can be taken to aid those suffering from ALS — such as public advocacy and education, as well as patient and caregiver support (and as someone who has worked as a caregiver for individuals with neurodegenerative diseases, I can attest to the importance of this).

When understood this way, it becomes clear that the ALSA’s primary activities (which include but are not limited to research) amount to 79% of its operating budget, which puts in line with the vast majority of not-for-profit organizations in this country (according to Charity Navigator).

Not only is this amount exemplary by not-for-profit standards, it represents an increase over the last few years, as demonstrated by their annual reports from not just 2014, but also 2013 and 2012 (which includes comparison data from 2011).  And, should you have the chance to look at the last four years of financial data, you’ll notice that while the Program Activities portion of the budget (which includes research) has increased over the last four years, the Supporting Activities (overhead/fundraising) has remained stable over the same period (thus representing a progressively smaller percentage of the overall budget).

And to make one final quibble — we are looking at this organization’s four previous fiscal years.  The ALSA’s fiscal year ends Jan 31.  And the handy pie-chart above is taken from the Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ending Jan 31 2014.  So when the writers of PoliticalEar’s piece are trying to alert the world that the majority of Ice Bucket Challenge donations aren’t going to be used for research, they’re basing it on last year’s budget.  Those numbers do not reflect, nor have any bearing on, the current year during which the Ice Bucket Challenge donations are being received.  Yes, the ALSA administration now faces the challenge of deciding how to optimize the truly astounding amount of financial support the organization has received this summer.  But the decision will have to be made openly and transparently (especially given the spotlight/microscope that has been focused on them as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge).

In sum:  the writers from PoliticalEar are, for some reason, claiming that the ALSA only intends to use 27% of Ice Bucket Challenge donations for research.  But, upon examination, this claim has absolutely zero basis in reality.

*****

There is at a positive moral to this story, however, which is that all of us should strive to be informed donors.  That means taking the time not just to visit an organization’s website, but to dig into the not-so-sexy details.  What do their financial statements look like?  What are the trends from year to year?  Do they even make multiple years’ worth of statements available on their website (hint: if they don’t, that’s a big red flag).  What is their overall mission, and is it one you are actually interested in, and committed to, supporting?

*****

Scrutiny is important.  Vital, even.  But there is a wide gulf between those who wish to do their due diligence, and those who are simply determined to find fraud and deceit around every corner.

 

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marriage equality in the midwest…

I came across this gem of a guest column on Facebook earlier today (it can be found on the Indy Star website here).  The writer takes issue with IU’s president, Michael McRobbie, declaring the university’s intention to join the Indiana Freedom coalition, in opposition to the proposed gay-marriage ban now before the stage legislature:

Higher education once involved the pursuit of truth. Our universities (uni– meaning “one” and veritas – meaning “truth”) were concerned with creating an educational environment where the greatest questions of life could be pursued in an open environment where critical thinking and honest debate were an integral part of the process. And while the outcome might result in a difference of perspective, students were encouraged to demonstrate a healthy dose of tolerance for others who may see things differently. Back then, tolerance meant the ability to respectfully disagree.

It seems those days are long gone. Consider the recent actions of Michael McRobbie, president of Indiana University. McRobbie publicly declared IU’s opposition to the state’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman. Why would the president of one of our leading universities unilaterally express opposition to an institution that has served us well for several millennia? It seems “the lack of tolerance implicit in the proposed amendment runs counter to IU’s deeply held values.” McRobbie says the amendment would “codify an intolerance.”

Welcome to the political left’s new definition of tolerance. Instead of embracing the opportunity to engage the university in a healthy dialogue on this important issue, we simply receive an edict from the emperor. So much for an open-minded discussion and critical thinking about marriage and its vital role in a free society. Forget the invitations to leaders on both sides of the issue who could have been invited to campus to share their unique perspective on the future of marriage and the family. No chance for public policy debates, term papers submitted by students, speeches offered in class and a host of other meaningful educational opportunities that could have been seized. All we get is an edict. Anyone who disagrees is obviously a homophobic, bigoted, mean-spirited moron. End of discussion.

McRobbie’s actions are a disgrace to higher education and an insult to Indiana University’s faculty and student body. We don’t send our sons and daughters to our state universities to be told what to believe, let alone to be insulted by the president for not sharing the same beliefs about marriage. It’s a crime that the many strong arguments for protecting the institution of marriage will never be heard simply because of the intolerance and bigotry of our university thought police. This is not higher education. It’s indoctrination and bullying. Our students and taxpayers deserve better.

Ron Johnson Jr.

Executive Director

Indiana Pastors Alliance

Did you catch all that?  Because that was a lot of idiotic ruminating crowded into four short paragraphs.

To begin — and given that he’s criticizing the quality of the educational environment here at IU, I don’t consider it pedantic at all to nitpick this — he gets the etymology of “university” wrong.  While veritas is indeed part of IU’s motto (Lux et veritas, if you were wondering), it is not, in fact, a root of the word university.  That word comes instead directly from the Latin universitas, which translates roughly to “all turned into one.”  That is, a group of individuals joined into a single body.  It shares the same spirit as the United States’ former, unofficial motto, e pluribus unum — “from many, one.”

Aside from this stylistic quibble, there are several issues with the substance of his overall argument, all of which stem from this rhetorical question in paragraph two:

“Why would the president of one of our leading universities unilaterally express opposition to an institution that has served us well for several millennia?”

Let’s first consider the notion that marriage — as he defines and defends it — “has served us well for several millennia.”  I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that when he says “us”, he means… well… men.  Because to my knowledge, the institution of marriage has historically served to treat woman as property, keep them subjugated to male authority, make them ashamed of their bodies and inherent sexuality, and turn them into little more than live-in housekeepers and incubators of offspring.  Then there’s his — and so much of the Christian community’s — convenient omission of the fact that “biblical marriage” is much more complicated and sordid than they’d have us believe.

Next, there’s the intriguing assertion that support for expanding the legal definition of marriage is necessarily equivalent to antipathy towards his “biblical” definition.  Which is just nonsense.

Further, Johnson clearly believes that by announcing the University’s opposition to HRJ6, McRobbie has effectively shut down any debate on the subject here at IU.  Which is even greater nonsense.  McRobbie’s announcement has absolutely zero impact on discussions, debates, class assignments or any other learning activities regarding this — or any — public policy issue.  He simply does not have that power.  Really, all McRobbie has done is reflect, and reaffirm, the University’s non-discrimation policy.  IU has a vested interest in promoting and defending an environment in which a multitude of backgrounds and identities are not only welcomed, but treated equally under the law.  McRobbie knows this, and it would be irresponsible of him not to voice opposition to this bill.

Finally — and this is the part I love best — Johnson complains that McRobbie has made this proclamation “unilaterally”.  That the rest of us have simply received and “edict from the emperor.”  As if he awoke one morning and decided to announce the university’s position without telling anyone.  As if the board of trustees would not have been consulted.  I guess it would be appropriate to point out that the University’s faculty council voted unanimously to support Freedom Indiana, and that McRobbie wants the staff and student councils to consider similar resolutions as well.  That hardly sounds like a dictator seeking to cut off debate.

*****

It isn’t news to anyone paying attention that people like Pastor Johnson are on the wrong side of history.  Columns like these — in all their “look at us, we’re victims of a terrible secular world out to destroy people of faith” glory — are little more than the desperate cries of an ideology on the losing end of cultural evolution.

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on election night…

After the last two presidential election cycles ended, I had to put myself in a media blackout.  Particularly after Bush’s re-election.  In the fall of 2004, I had gotten to the point where I was consuming political information at such an overwhelming rate that I wasn’t even processing it even more.  I would eagerly monitor the changing electoral projection map in each new issue of Newsweek.  My evenings began with Crossfire and ended with The Daily Show.  I had a blog then, but my posts ended abruptly mid-October, simply because I couldn’t take the time to stop and reflect on what I was consuming.

So when it all came to a screeching halt after Sen Kerry’s concession speech, it was a complete shock to the system.  I stopped reading the newspaper, and didn’t turn on my television for any type of programming whatsoever until well after Christmas (once the Southeast Asian tsunami hit and I was shamefully reminded that there was more to the world than American politics…).

2008 wasn’t much better.  Up until late October of that year, I had been working nearly full-time as a caregiver for an elderly gentleman who did little more than change the channel between C-Span and CNN.  I didn’t exactly discourage him, either.  I was addicted to the coverage, craved more of it every day, and even when I left his house I’d rush home and check the HuffingtonPost and MSNBC before doing anything else with my evening.  Granted, I had more reason to be optimistic then.  So much so that my husband and I threw and election night party (figuring we’d probably feel the need to drink regardless of the outcome — luckily the drinking was celebratory).  But I still had to cut myself off from most media for several days at least.  I gave myself one exception:  as I cleaned up from the party the night before, I played, as loud as I could stand it, the original Broadway cast album of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s virtuosic masterpiece Caroline, or Change.  I had always loved that piece, but its truth rang more fully that day than it ever had before.

At any rate, I’ve deliberately taken a different tack this year.  Yes, I’ve had more than my share of spats on Facebook (who hasn’t?).  And I still definitely spend a disproportionate amount of time at my computer reading as many news sources as I can stand.  But there’s definitely a change.

I’m more willing, and able, to stop.  To shut the laptop and call it a night.  To get up and practice at the piano for a couple of hours instead of trolling Facebook for a fight.  To let the world of political punditry go on without me (I doubt they’ve noticed, anyway).

Today, I was folding and putting away some laundry, and it occurred to me, “No matter who wins this election, I will still have to wash, and fold, and put away the laundry, tomorrow, next week, next year.”  Just like that.  Life will go on.

Now, it might not go on entirely as I’d like it.  I have not lost my conviction that elections can, and do, have a real impact on our day-to-day lives.  But — and this expanding perspective is likely the ONLY thing I appreciate about getting older — I feel more certain than ever that the world will keep turning, and that the human race will keep trying, however haltingly and imperfectly, to achieve a free and just world.

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did i hear that correctly…?

About a week ago, the political commentariat was all in a tizzy over the fabulously candid remarks Mitt Romney made at a Florida fundraiser earlier this year.  In case you have no idea what I’m referring to, you can visit Mother Jones (which first broke the story) for the full video.

What has gotten the most attention over the last seven days is Romney’s “47%” figure, referring to the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income taxes.  Most commentators have gone to great length to analyze just who makes up this “47%” — ie, the elderly, the poor, and veterans.

These same commentators have also pointed out the numerous logical inconsistencies in Romney’s use of the number.  Pointing out, for instance, that not every Obama voter is collecting some form of government support.  Or, that not every tax unit without tax liability votes for Obama.

Or, even better, that not every person who is collecting government assistance sees themselves as “victims” who can’t be convinced to “take responsibility and care for their lives.”

So while the “47%” gets parsed over and over, another part of Romney’s remarks seems to have gotten overlooked.  By which I mean the part where he claims, with an amazing degree of incredulity, that these people consider themselves “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Personally, I find it disturbing just how much Gov Romney finds it disturbing that people feel entitled to basic needs.  But I’m glad he said it.  First, because it accomplishes what the Romney campaign has so far failed to do:  show us what the candidate actually thinks.  But second, and more important, without realizing it, Gov Romney may have actually managed to shift the conversation of the presidential race to what it needed to be all along — the proper role of government in the lives of individual Americans.

See, Americans do feel they are entitled to healthcare, food, housing, and all those other things that make life, well, livable.  As well they should.  In spite of our economic difficulties, we remain the largest, strongest, and most robust economy on the planet, and there is simply no excuse for any American to go without having their basic needs met.

Now, I don’t think that Gov Romney necessarily disagrees with that.  I’m sure he does believe that every American should have these things.  In addition to which, he also believes that every American should be willing to work in order to provide these things for themselves.  That, in itself, is not unreasonable.  What is lacking in Romney’s perspective, however, is the recognition that there are circumstances beyond an individual’s control.  His remarks suggest he believes each and every American collecting government assistance chose to do so, wants to do so, would rather be doing so than earning a paycheck.

Perhaps Romney can’t comprehend not choosing to take advantage of government assistance, since he chooses (we must assume) every year to take full advantage of the tax code to reduce his tax bill to its absolute minimum.  And he chooses to utilize the special status of the Cayman Islands in order to avoid taxation even further.  And he certainly chose to virtually blackmail the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation into writing down his firm’s debt in what amounted to a ten-million dollar bailout for Bain Capital.

But I’m getting off topic.

The point is that, at several points in our nation’s history, we have decided, collectively, as a nation, that it is simply unacceptable that anyone in this country — with its wealth, with its resources, with its alleged espousal of Judeo-Christian values — would be allowed to go without food, medicine, or shelter simply because they are unable to find or perform a paying job.  And furthermore, we have decided that the only way to ensure that these provisions are made to everyone who needs them is to provide them through the one institution that is accessible to every American citizen — the federal government.

I have said this more times than I can count, and I will continue to say it until I die — the government is not separate from us, it is us.  It is the organ through which we act, as one.  We may not always approve of what we do, but that does not change the fact that government, at its best and worst, is nothing more, or less, than a representation of us.  So when the poor are given food stamps and Medicaid, the elderly given Social Security and Medicare, the unemployed given financial support while they find new work — it’s not some foreign entity called “the government” that’s doing these things.  It’s us.  We, the people, using government to act on our common sense that no one should go without.

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