Friday, June 26, 2015

Words of Comfort from the NRA?

Such as do build their faith upon the holy text of pike and gun.
— Samuel Butler, Hudibras

It is always a good idea to avoid making judgments about events involving guns until the NRA has had a chance to join and guide the discussion. That is because the NRA is more familiar with guns than many of us and is, therefore, in a better position to comment on events of note that involve the use of guns. It is also better able, if the events are tragic, as they almost always are, to make proposals as to how future tragic events involving guns can be avoided.

Out of a sense of delicacy (for which the NRA is well known), it often waits a while before commenting on gun inspired violence lest it respond before it has all the information. Thus, for example, following the Newtown school massacre that took place Friday December 14, 2012, the NRA issued a statement December 18 in which it said: “[W]e were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown. Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” Three days later, the full investigation of the facts having been completed to the NRA’s satisfaction, Wayne LaPierre, its Executive vice president and CEO, held a press conference. He suggested that to avoid future tragedies Congress should “put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.” As of this writing that suggestion has not been implemented and since it might require close to a million guards to protect all the schools in this country, it is unlikely that it ever will be.

Following the tragic events in Charleston, South Carolina last week, many words were spoken about the tragedy and the contribution made by guns to the events that took place in that city. President Obama said what many were thinking.: “At some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it [gun violence] and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.” Americans for Responsible Solution, the groups with which Gabriella Giffords is associated, echoed the president’s words: “Once again, a senseless act of gun violence has brought terror, tragedy and pain to one of our communities.” As meaningful as those words were, however, the final commentator on matters involving guns is always the NRA and while grateful to the president and others for their thoughts, we are nonetheless waiting to hear from the NRA. It has not officially responded to the church murders as of this writing.

Echoing comments made by the NRA after Newtown, its spokesperson, Jennifer Baker, said that the NRA would have nothing to say, “until all the facts are known.” One NRA board member, however, did not need to wait for all the facts to come in since he knew what the most salient fact was. Charles Cotton is a Houston lawyer and board member of the national NRA. He explained that responsibility for this tragedy lay on one of the victims. He said that “Eight of his [state senator Clementa Pinckney] church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.” Jennifer Baker commented on Mr. Cotton’s observation saying, “Individual board members do not speak for the NRA.”

It is not possible to know what Wayne LaPierre will say if and when he holds a press conference to help the country get through this latest gun inspired tragedy. It is entirely possible that he will suggest that to insure the safety of worshippers, armed guards be placed in every church in the nation. It is unlikely, however, that he will comment so soon after the tragedy on the effect it will have on NRA membership. That effect, if history is a guide and Mr. LaPierre is to be believed, is that its ranks will swell. At the annual meeting of the organization held in 2013, Mr. LaPierre told attendees that following the Newtown and other shootings that had occurred during the preceding 6 months, membership in the NRA increased by 500,000. He said that: “By the time we’re finished, the NRA must and will be 10 million strong.” He did not explain what the word “finished” meant and there is some question as to whether or not his description of the size of the organization or its growth is in fact accurate. Nonetheless, it does seem to be true that following these tragedies, gun sales to members of the public increase sharply. The buyers and the NRA apparently believe that the solution to acts of violence committed by people carrying guns is acquisition of guns by the rest of us-a sort of “the more the merrier” approach. Those whose lives have been ruined by the errant gun do not consider that solution to be a merry prospect. Quite the contrary.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Banks, Comic Books and Franklin Graham

Deliver me from your cold phlegmatic preachers. . . .
—Abigail Adams, Letter to John Adams (1776)

At first one might conclude that he’s an evangelist who, seeing himself as a representative of the Lord, tries to find good in the unlikeliest of people. That would explain why in 2014 he showed that he could find good in someone like Vladimir Putin. His other actions, however, suggest he is bigotry’s, rather than the Lord’s, representative.

In June 2013 the national parliament in Russia enacted a law designed to protect its citizens from homosexuality. The law bans, among other things, public displays of affection by two people of the same sex holding hands in public. (Parents and children are not included in the ban.) Symbols, such as the rainbow flag, may not be displayed. It is unlawful to discuss homosexuality in front of minors. Penalties for running afoul of the law range from 5000 rubles to 1 million rubles depending on the offenders.

When discussing the new law, Mr. Putin said Russia must “clean up” or “cleanse” itself of gay people in order to protect its people. Evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy, was enthusiastic about Mr. Putin’s actions. Commenting on the Russian law, Franklin said: “In my opinion Putin is right on these issues.” Giving a nod to those who think there is little good to be said for Putin these days, he went on saying: “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.” The charity Franklin showed Putin was not reflected in either his comments about a comic book character or his actions towards a bank.

Comic books are fictional creations that have been popular among the young for generations. A popular comic series today involves a character called the “Iceman.” At the end of April 2015 it was disclosed that in the new issue appearing at the end of the month the Iceman would disclose to his readers that he is gay. This, according to Franklin is an attempt to convince young readers that a destructive lifestyle “full of sin” and as he noted in an entry on his face book page, “another attempt to indoctrinate our young people to accept this destructive lifestyle.” More recently it has been disclosed that Franklin is not only caused distress by a comic book but by a bank. Wells Fargo is the offender.

In early June it was reported that Franklin is moving all bank accounts associated with his Christian organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, away from Wells Fargo bank. The move is not related to the bank’s banking practices. It has to do with the bank’s advertising. The bank has run ads featuring same sex couples who use the services of Wells Fargo. For the bank to publicly announce” the fact that it has customers who are same sex couples outrages Franklin. Franklin believes that same sex couples should do their banking in the closet and should not have access to the same banks used by heterosexual couples. As he explained when commenting on his displeasure, he wants his followers to “speak out as Christians” about the bank’s advertising. In a face book posting Franklin says: “Have you ever asked yourself-how can we fight the tide of moral decay that is being crammed down our throats by big business, the media, and the gay & lesbian community?. . . But it has dawned on me that we don’t have to do business with them.”

Franklin is as good as his word. Announcing the move from Wells Fargo he said: “This is one way we as Christians can speak out. . . . Let’s just stop doing business with those who promote sin and stand against Almighty God’s laws and His standards. Maybe if enough of us do this, it will get their attention.” He did not say where he thought members of the gay community should bank. Probably not where he does.

Franklin has moved the organization’s bank business away from Wells Fargo and given it BB&T. BB&T is a bank that, he says is: “a good solid bank that’s very good at banking.” He forgot to mention that it sponsored a Gay Pride festival fundraising event in early 2015 that took place in Miami Beach at one of the BB&T’s branches. The event celebrated the marriage of a male couple who had been together for 55 years. The bank’s regional multicultural markets officer issued a news release in which he said the bank was proud to “be a part of this day of pride and celebration of the 2015 Legacy Couples.” The event is organized by the Miami Beach Gay Pride Committee to recognize gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender couples who have been in committed relationships of 10 or more years. The bank has been involved in the Legacy Couples program since its founding in 2009.

Franklin may not want to continue banking at BB&T. Perhaps he can take advantage of the fact that since members of the gay community have begun emerging from closets there is lots of closet space available in this country and one is surely big enough to accommodate him and the $284 million that belongs to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association-especially if he refuses to do business with gay customers.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Teacher Training Meets Wisconsin

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
—Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

The fact that Scott Walker is now running for president comes as no surprise to whose who knew him in college. When a student he told one of his dorm mates that he was going to be president of the United States someday. Because of that long held ambition his January proposal caused some to think his self-confidence had failed him. Those people thought he was trying to change the rules so that he would qualify for a job in teaching if, unexpectedly, and contrary to his expectations, he did not become the next president of the United States. A close reading of the January proposal, however, makes it obvious that he was acting selflessly when he made the proposal and was not trying to provide an opportunity for himself.

The suggestion that Mr. Walker made in January that will probably become law in June, though not, as it turns out, because of his efforts, was anyone with a college degree would be qualified to become a teacher of students in grades 6-12 in the Wisconsin school system.

In Wisconsin as well as many other states, in order to become a teacher in those grades it is necessary to undergo courses in teacher training. Under Scott’s proposal this notion was set on its head since it provided that those hoping to become teachers did not need to take any college level teacher training courses. All that would be needed to become a teacher in Wisconsin public schools would be a bachelor’s degree and a demonstrated proficiency in the course the prospective teacher wants to teach.

Scott did not, as noted above, suggest this to benefit himself. He is a college drop out and lacks the qualifications required to become a teacher in the unlikely event that he fails to become the 45th president of the United States. He could, of course, return to school to complete the work he failed to complete before becoming a drop out and then a governor, in which case his proposal would benefit him. That seems a bit far-fetched and unlikely to have been the reason for his suggestion.

Although Scott’s proposal went nowhere when first introduced, thanks to Mary Czaja, a Wisconsin legislator, his proposal has reappeared in greatly enhanced form and in a few days may become law. It made its appearance, appropriately enough, in the Wisconsin state biennial budget for 2015-2017 and was part of a bill reducing funding for higher education and K-12 education.

At a late night meeting of the Wisconsin Legislative Joint Finance Committee during the week of May 24, 2015 and thanks to the quick thinking of Representative Mary Czaja, a provision was inserted into the state biennial budget for 2015-2017 that went even further than the provision proposed by Scott earlier in the year. The provision she inserted would not only eliminate the need for those who would teach to have any teacher training but provides that anyone can teach non-core subjects, even high school dropouts. The only requirement imposed on a high school drop out wanting to become a teacher is that the school wishing to hire such a person makes a determination that the person being hired is proficient and has relevant experience in the subject he or she wants to teach.

Mary’s provision was adopted as part of the budget without a hearing.
Mary admitted that if her provision becomes law it will be easier for individuals in Wisconsin to enter the teaching profession than it is in any other state. However, she is confident that teachers meeting the new standards will be just as qualified as those meeting today’s requirements. In an interview she explained that: “The districts are going to be the ones that hire these people, and I firmly believe that they’re not going to throw somebody in there that isn’t doing a good job. This is just flexibilities. They don’t have to use it.”

Mary’s proposal is not met with enthusiasm by professional educators. Tony Evers, the State Superintendent observed that: “We are sliding toward the bottom in standards for those who teach our students. It doesn’t make sense. We have spent years developing licensing standards to improve the quality of the teacher in the classroom. . . Now we’re throwing out those standards. . . . This motion presents a race to the bottom.” That race, of course, is exactly the race Wisconsin is offering the country by giving us Scott Walker as a possible candidate. Were he to become the Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential election, Wisconsin would clearly win the race to the bottom notwithstanding the fierce competition provided by most of the other Republican wannabes.

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