Category: Politics

What the Elwood Superintendent’s Decision Reveals about Societal Values

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nThere are two words I was never allowed to say when I was in school, “Yeah, but….”

The words, “Yeah, but…” usually accompanied an excuse I had for a misbehavior, a bad decision, or a reasoning for why the other kid should be in worse trouble than me. In fact, in my mind, the other kid’s behavior was often so much worse than mine, that my infraction should be excused.

“Leland, did you just throw that paper ball at Billy?”

“Yeah, but…”

“No ‘buts.’ Out in the hall!”

I never got the opportunity to explain that I threw the paper ball at Billy because he made faces at me, pushed me into the dirt on the playground, or drew an ugly picture of me on manilla paper during art class. Nope. In this instance, the only thing that mattered was that I had violated class rules by throwing the paper ball at Billy, and so I had to face the consequence. Had I followed the correct course of action before throwing the paper ball, like telling the teacher that Billy was bullying me, then I would not be in trouble.

For what it’s worth, my story about Billy is a summary of several elementary school experiences rolled into one with a pseudonym of Billy as my adversary. I digress.

Public discourse today, whether social or political, is largely driven by the concept of “yeah, but.” For example:

  • Donald Trump bragged about groping women. “Yeah, but, Bill Clinton was a predator, too.”
  • “The Republicans expanded the size of the Federal Government and centralized power within it.” “Yeah, but the Democrats are worse.”
  • “Tom Brady cheated by deflating footballs.” “Yeah, but everybody cheats. Tom just got caught.”

Lost in all the “Yeah, buts…” is the truth. There is a standard of morality, a standard of behavior that we are right to expect from one another, especially when one’s actions affect the livelihood and well-being of another. However, the tribalization of America has led to a mentality of “winners and losers” where we feel the need for our side to be the winners, no matter the effect on everyone else. And this is what will ultimately pull our country apart.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated than the case of Elwood School Superintendent Casey Smitherman, whose decision to seek medical treatment for a student while filing it on her insurance led to her facing criminal charges and ultimately led to her resigning her position with the school.

According to the Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind., Smitherman:

  • She didn’t get permission from the boy’s guardian or parents to take him from the house, cart him around town and seek medical care for him.
  • The superintendent was alone with the teen in a car, a major no-no for school staff and administrators.
  • She committed fraud by claiming that the boy was her son so that she could use her health insurance to defray the $233 bill for the clinic’s care and antibiotics.
  • She didn’t report her suspicion that the boy was suffering from neglect. School staff and others who come into contact with youth through their jobs are required by state law to report such suspicion.

These are very serious infractions, not only on a technical level, but on a moral level as well. Yet, the internet is reacting to her actions by lauding her as a hero, and criticizing “big insurance,” Trump, Congress and the Republican Party for what happened.

Instead of looking at the entirety of the case, most of the internet is focusing on the fact that she took a kid to the doctor… and who wouldn’t want to see a kid taken care of? Therefore, she should be a hero.

However, the morality of Smitherman’s benevolence went out the window the second she shifted the cost of her humanitarianism to others, that is, those who pay premiums to her insurance company. When you consider that the cost of the care could have counted against her annual deductible and/or out of pocket expenses, you might even be able to make the case that her actions were a little self-serving.

If Smitherman wanted to provide healthcare for a student and did so out of her own pocket, then I can understand the admiration. However, lying about her relationship to the student to get the insurance company to pick up the tab is insurance fraud, and is not true benevolence.

That action can have widespread consequences to others, such as increased premium costs to other policy holders. Think about it. If it were moral and legal to file a claim on your health insurance by lying about your relationship to the patient, then few of us would need to buy insurance. We could simply find a friend with insurance, and mooch off their policy, the same way many people mooch off of each other’s Netflix accounts. Fewer people paying premiums with more claims means higher premiums, which will drive others off insurance. This is not a good situation.

Again, this is a serious infraction. Yet, many in our society are praising her. “Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but we should’ve had universal healthcare in the first place.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but Congress has failed the American people and should all resign.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but at least she stuck it to a greedy corporation.”

I could go on. The “yeah, buts” are in plentiful supply.

Smitherman has since apologized for her actions, citing a lapse in judgment. I’m willing to forgive and move on. Sometimes decisions do sound good when made, and only after do you realize the full ramifications. However, to justify this behavior by pointing out the flaws elsewhere in our system with a series of “yeah, buts” is to concede that we are to remain on a trail of constant injustice until our whole moral fabric is completely unraveled.

Bad decisions cannot bring about good. Immoral decisions can not bring about morality. Darkness cannot drive out light. And sinful attitudes will not bring about revival.

Be understanding. Be forgiving. But be truthful.

PANIC!!!!!!

nancy pelosi
Photo by: Lorie Shaull

The late comedian Bill Hicks, whose stand-up routines offered fairly profane observations on life in the 1980s and early 1990s, was annoyed by the constant drumming of apocalyptic headlines by CNN.

“War, famine, death, aids, homeless, recession, depression,” Hicks chanted. “War, famine, death, aids, homeless, recession, depression. Then, you look out the window, and *crickets*.

“I want a (happy) Ted Turner newscast,” he continued. “‘Hey, everything’s great, here’s sports.”

Hick’s annoyance today could very likely expand to the Democratic Party, which has promised death and destruction with every piece of legislation, or executive action accomplished in 2017. Some of the farcical claims include:

-If the ACA is repealed, people will die in the streets.

-If net neutrality is repealed, people will die in the streets.

-If the individual mandate is repealed (the tax penalty levied on those who cannot afford insurance), people will die in the streets.

-The tax plan is the apocalypse.

-These tax cuts will have people dying in the streets.

Granted, these are hyperbole, but you get the idea. Still, I drive the streets in my neighborhood, and I haven’t seen one dead body yet. When is this mass extinction supposed to begin?

Now, I don’t mean to be partisan on this blog. In fact, I try to go out of my way to avoid beating the same political drums that form the cadence that is Talk radio and CNN.

Still, I am bothered by the fact that so much anger and fear can be galvanized so quickly by political operatives who have no real connection to the facts. Political action committees put out talking points, as do the leadership of both political parties, as do the political pundits, without really examining the details of the proposal.

The politicians need only give an 8-second soundbite to the news, and the political firestorms follows, all over issues that will have minimal impact on the daily lives of most Americans. Yet, to hear it said on TV, radio, in print, and on the street, “the end is near.”

Those at the top have no real incentive to change this dynamic. The votes of Congress are bought and sold by lobbying firms, regardless of which party is in power. As long as those lobbying firms continue to buy the elections of Congress, those elected have little reason to change, and the firms have no reason to change.

These same firms that buy the Congressional elections also invest in swaying public opinion, and they do so with much style and little substance, providing talking points to the media and members of Congress. So long as this model works, we will continue to see vitriolic political discourse and social volatility.

Therefore, it is our responsibility as individual citizens to break this cycle. It is up to us to demand more, and better information. It is up to us to demand accountability. It is up to us to research the candidates, and vote for the best candidate, not the best publicized candidate. If we continue our failure in this responsibility, then things will continue to get worse, because the current system is a multi-billion dollar industry making thousands of people rich.

Former FCC Commissioner Newton N. Minow once described television as “a vast wasteland,” saying that if you watched TV from sign-on to sign-off, a vast wasteland of sub-par programming is what you would observe. He said it was up to the public to demand better programming, adding that if the public continued to support bad programming, the vast wasteland would remain.

He said that no other bureau or agency could rectify the problem, that it was the duty of the American public to demand better. If they didn’t, then the vast wasteland would be their own fault.

The same holds true for our political system. As long as cable news ratings maintain, and lobbying firms continue to successfully purchase elections and votes, our political discourse will remain volatile, and the mass panic among the rank and file will continue. And we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

Primary election season starts now. Research the candidates, go to their public appearances, ask questions, then vote accordingly. Break the cycle, demand better.

Campaign 2018 – Time to Out-Conservative each other

Texas_State_Capitol_Summer_2005 Public DomainThe filing window hasn’t even opened for candidates to secure a place on the primary election ballots for the 2018 mid-term elections, yet online political ads boasting of their “conservative credentials” are already dotting my Facebook feed.

This again.

In rural Texas, where I live, the Republican candidate in any race is going to win 70-90 percent of the vote. In suburban Texas, the GOP wins with 52-60 percent of the vote. Therefore, he who gets elected in Texas wins that office during the primary elections.

So, a Republican seeking office in Texas doesn’t need to convince his district he’s the right man for the job, he need only convince other Republicans he’s the right man for the job. And how does one do that? He convinces GOP primary voters that he’s not only conservative, but more conservative than the other guy.

Governor Greg AbbottSo, we wind up with candidates from Governor all the way down to city dog catcher running on a platform of “I’m the only real conservative in the race.” Which is bad enough, but once the elections are over and the legislature convenes, the entire 140 day session is dedicated to helping the incumbents compile a conservative resume that will fortify them against any insurgent primary challenges in the coming election cycle.

Proof?

Currently, Texas education is in a pressure cooker. Expenses are skyrocketing due to increasing enrollment as Americans follow economic opportunities in the Lone Star State, and as state and federal regulations and requirements drive up their administrative costs.

One has to look no further than the stacks of paperwork it takes to get a kid signed up for the school year to see that the bureaucracy has been bloated by federal and state mandates, some of which have no more purpose than to provide political footing for special interests. Who pays for that bloated bureaucracy? The local districts.

The Teacher Retirement System is always on the brink, and with the skyrocketing costs of healthcare (driven by the Affordable Care Act) and infrastructure improvements, the state has no additional funding to offer schools.

It’s a complex problem that will take hearings, investigations and real legislative initiative to unwind. But taking on an issue like that does not build conservative cred, so the legislature argues about bathrooms.

Bathrooms. I find it ridiculous that we even have to legislate this issue. I supported the bathroom bill, but the whole issue is brought up to give conservative lawmakers the opportunity to build conservative credentials for the upcoming election, and to undermine those who aren’t “on the team.”

The Republicans won Texas during the 1990s with a message of limited government, expanded personal liberty, and a cultural revival (through tough on crime initiatives and pro-family initiatives.)

At this point, the Texas Republican Party is at the height of its power in Texas. The party hasn’t wielded this much power since Reconstruction. We have a real opportunity to reform the Texas government in a way that opens up even more economic opportunity, expands and improves public education, and protects the rights of the individual.

We have the opportunity to present, and execute a vision of Texas that will elevate the standard of living for all involved.

However, that vision will never be illuminated nor realized if our political discourse doesn’t progress beyond who is the most conservative. With more blue-state voters moving into Texas, the clock is running out for the GOP to get it together.

Gov. Abbott signs SB 24, church/state controversy reignited

Governor Greg AbbottFormer Houston Mayor Annise Parker drew national outrage in 2014 when attorneys for the city of Houston subpoenaed sermon notes and audio from pastors who had organized a petition to force the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to a public referendum. Pastors who organized the petition said the HERO ordinance violated religious freedoms.

The pastors had collected the signatures needed, but several thousand were rejected when it was discovered that one of the pastors who collected the signatures was not a registered voter. With the signatures disqualified, the petition failed, and HERO was set to be enacted.

That’s when the pastors sued, and during the discovery phase of the suit, lawyers representing the city subpoenaed the pastors’ sermon notes to see if those pastors had violated the law by discussing, promoting, or giving instructions regarding the petition during worship services.

The resulting fallout had pastors, pundits and politicos criticizing the city of Houston to the point that Mayor Parker ordered the city’s attorneys to withdraw the subpoena. The pastors scored a victory, which led to a legal victory, which led to an electoral victory when Houston voters overwhelmingly rejected HERO.

Sunday, at Grace Community Church in The Woodlands, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took a victory lap as the governor held a bill signing ceremony for SB 24 during worship services. SB 24, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), prohibits local and state government entities from subpoenaing sermon notes, audio or video from pastors, and further prohibits those pastors from being forced to testify about their sermons.

The bill, seen as a response to Houston’s 2014 subpoena, went into effect immediately, however, the way the governor signed the bill reignited the debate over the separation of church and state.

Current law prohibits churches from influencing political elections, or the passing of legislation. While churches can weigh in on issues (such as abortion or same-sex marriage), they cannot lobby in favor of legislation on those issues, nor can they endorse candidates who support their views on the issues.

While President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order instructing the IRS to stop enforcing the law that bans church involvement in the political process, critics note that the executive order can just as easily be reversed in the next Presidential administration, exposing politically active churches to prosecution, or loss of their tax-exempt status.

The separation of church and state is one of the pillars that upholds the freedom of the American republic. Historically, whenever the church takes control of the government, persecution against non-adherents follows. Whenever the government takes control of the church, blasphemy and heresy follow. Both situations become ripe with corruption.

That’s why Rev. John Leland, a Baptist pastor who preached in Virginia and Massachusetts, strongly advocated for the separation of church and state, supported James Madison, and was instrumental in promoting the passage of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In promoting the separation of church and state, Leland wrote:

Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.

That was the goal of the separation of church and state. Churches would not run the government. Government would not run the churches. Man would be free to serve God in a way that satisfied his conscience.

Churches should participate in the market place of ideas. When government seeks to regulate religious speech, it seeks to take control over the church. However, if churches become “dark money” organizations for political parties, they have not only violated the separation of church and state, they have also deviated from their God-given mission.

Furthermore, any law that forces a man to violate his religious conscience is a law that violates the very essence of man, and the three founding principles of our nation. So, with SB 24 in place, and Gov. Abbott’s and Lt. Gov. Patrick’s victory lap behind us, let us press onward to a world where man is free to believe, churches are free to preach, and where government governs well, and as little as possible.