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Hell Yes I'm an American! Here's My ID! Print E-mail
by James Reza    Wed, Jun 22, 2011, 07:38 AM

Last week I went to Ace Hardware to buy a water filter for my icemaker.  After buying several items I decided to pay with my credit card.  The cashier, a Hispanic girl, asked me to show her my driver's license.  I asked her, "Hey, are you profiling me because I'm a Hispanic?  She responded, "No, I ask, blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, or Muslims to show me their driver's license when they use their credit cards.  I guess you can say that I profile everybody."  I then told her, "Well, you better not let LULAC, American GI Forum, or La Raza Unida (Hispanic groups) find out that you're asking Hispanics for some ID, or they might just come here and raise hell with you!"  "Who in the hell are they?" she answered angrily.  I just laughed and left.

Just recently the Texas Senate passed the controversial bill SB9, (also know as the Sanctuary Cities Bill) which halts state aid to local governments that prohibit officers from inquiring about immigration status.  My fellow Texans, I applaud the 17 Senators, mostly Republicans who passed the bill and which I'm sure Governor Perry will soon or has already signed into law after my article is published.

Folks, I'm a proud and legal American Hispanic and I must show my ID when: 1. Pulled over by police.  2. Make purchases at department stores with my credit card.  3. When I show up for a doctor's appointment.  4. When filling out a credit card or loan application.  5. When applying for a renewing of my driver's license or passport.  6. When applying for any kind of insurance (auto, home, health, etc.).  7. When donating blood.  8. When obtaining certain prescription drugs.  9. When collecting a boarding pass for airline or train travel.  So now I ask, "Why should people in this country illegally, be exempt!"  I say, "To hell with their unwarranted demands!"

When I worked at General Dynamics, a defense plant, I was screened by the FBI to obtain my Level IV clearance which allowed me to typeset Top Secret materials for the United States Air Force.  Most have no idea of the intense questioning and the intrusiveness into my personal life I underwent to obtain my Level IV clearance.  Nor, was I aware of how much the government knew about my family members and me since they came to this country at the turn of the century from Mexico.  When they told me the date my grandfather crossed legally into the United States I was amazed.

Thus, this nonsense from politicians (mostly Democrats) and political activist Hispanic groups demonstrating in our capitol in Austin in opposition to the Sanctuary Cities Bill (SB9) and having to show a picture ID when voting irritated me to no end.  They sort of remind me of unscrupulous car dealers all along Jacksboro Hwy. that post these ad signs at their dealerships — "Hablamos Espanol" ("We Speak Spanish"), "No Licencia, No Trabajo, No Problema!" ("No Driver’s License, No Job, No Problem!").  I find it so reprehensible that used car dealers will sell an automobile to an illegal alien who can't read English to be able to understand our street warning signs (Slow Children Crossing, Slow Hospital Zone, Men at Work, etc.), doesn't have a license, no job, and probably no auto insurance have no consideration to the well-being and safety of American citizens and their children in our country's streets and highways.  Used car dealers who cater to illegal aliens business remind me of politicians who pander to Hispanics for their votes and to hell with our country's immigration laws!

Just this week I read in my local newspaper that Mexico and 10 other countries have joined the legal fight against Georgia's tough new immigration law, warning that the crackdown could jeopardize close ties between the U.S. and its Latin American neighbors.  Folks, who in the hell needs neighbors like Mexico and other Latin American countries that don’t respect our immigration laws?  With neighbors like that, who in the world needs enemies!  "Why does this irritate you so much James?" some would ask.  My friends, for many years I traveled to Mexico to visit my mother in law's family in Saltillo, Nuevo Laredo, and Monterrey.  Every time that I went there I bought special auto insurance in case I got involved in an accident or hurt someone with my auto.  I also present my birth certificate, driver's license and other necessary papers at the Mexican Consulate in Fort Worth to get a visa that allowed me to go there.  In other words, I respected and obliged to Mexico's laws.  Why can't Mexico's citizens do likewise?  I don't have anything against anyone from wherever to come to my country, but by golly if I have to abide to other countries immigration laws, then abide by my country's laws also.  Is that asking for too much?  I don't think so.

Finally, Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer, one of my new found hero's, sums it up to a T with this great analogy!  Seems that the owner of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, Robert Sarver, came out strongly opposing Arizona's immigration laws.  Governor Jan Brewer released this following statement in response to Sarver's criticism of the new law:  Governor Brewer stated:  "What if the owners of the Suns discovered that hordes of people were sneaking onto games without paying?  What if they had a good idea who the gatecrashers are, but the ushers and security personnel were not allowed to ask these folks to produce their ticket stubs, thus non-paying attendees couldn't be ejected.  Furthermore, what if Suns’ ownership was expected to provide those who sneaked in with complimentary eats and drink?  And what if, on those days when a gate crasher became ill or injured, the Suns had to provide free medical care and shelter?"

Don't ya'll just love Governor Brewer?  I do!


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Faith without Fanaticism Print E-mail
by John Seel    Sat, Jun 18, 2011, 01:00 PM

A Review of Robert D. Putnam and David Campbell's American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

"King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter....  As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart  was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had  been."   (1 Kings 11: 1, 4)

Relationships matter, for they shape our loves and our loves direct our lives.

This is the primary conclusion of Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam in his massive study (550 pages) of American religion, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Every several years there is a must read book about the state of American religion. James Davison Hunter's To Change the World and Robert Putnam's American Grace are two that fit this description.

Scholarship is sometimes viewed as thinly veiled biography. Putnam and his co-writer David Campbell's life stories reflect many of the book's conclusions. Putnam was raised in an observant Methodist home, but later converted to Judaism at marriage. His children were raised as Jews. Putnam is best known for his book on social trust, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001). Campbell was raised a Mormon after his mother converted from Catholicism. His Protestant father eventually converted to Mormonism as well. The authors' life stories reflect the "religious churn" that is so common in American religion, a churn that is the central theme of the book.

American Grace is largely a statistical study of the changes in American religion over the past fifty years. Illustrating the points being made analytically through survey research are descriptive congregational vignettes. For a study of its kind, the book is extremely readable, filled with interesting nuggets and factoids, and sweeping in its scope and conclusions. Its focus is predominately U.S., but its  analysis has relevance to the entire North American religious scene. His central question is "How can religious pluralism coexist with religious polarization?"

Putnam finds little decline in levels of American religiosity. "In terms of private religious behavior one finds virtually the same rock-steady levels of religiosity" (71). Unlike Hunter, he uses aggregate individual statistics and does not discuss the institutional social location or cultural capital these religious beliefs or believers have in public life. Hunter might retort that even if individual religious fervor is high, its social location has radically shifted from the past as religion today is being treated as a kind of personal hobby.

Putnam uses a seismic metaphor to frame his analysis: an earthquake with two major aftershocks. The earthquake was the Sixties. "The Sixties represented a perfect  storm for American institutions of all sorts -- political, social, sexual, and religious" (91).

The first aftershock began in the 1980s with an upturn in religiosity characterized by the alignment of religiosity and conservative politics. To Putnam, the rise of the Religious Right was a cultural aftershock stemming from the upheaval of the  Sixties.

This in turn was met with another aftershock beginning in the 1990s and 2000s where young Americans became disaffected from religion because of its political orientation. This reaction is clearly described in David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. "Young Americans," reports Putnam, "came to view religion as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too  political" (121). The consequence of this second aftershock is a large disaffection of young Americans from religion. Today 20 to 30% of post-boomers identify themselves as religious nones (123). The distinguishing characteristic of these new nones among the millennials after 1991 is their stance on homosexuality.

This is the big picture framework of the analysis: an earthquake with two aftershocks. This recent alignment between religion and partisan politics is historically unique, though it is an experience that has characterized the entire lives of post-boomer youths. "Religiosity has partisan overtones now that it did not have in the past. While there are exceptions, the most highly religious Americans are likely to be Republicans; Democrats predominate among those who are least religious" (369).  Saying grace at meals corresponds highly to partisanship, he finds. "The creation of a new coalition of the religious represents a major change in the foundation  of the American political system," and the God gap is widest for those under the age of 35 (377).

Religiously fueled partisanship is historically a dangerous mixture. Sociologist James Davison Hunter suggests that culture wars can become much more volatile in his Before the Shooting Begins (1994). Europe's Wars of Religion loom large in the collective memory. Putnam claims that this is not a likely danger in America. First, Putnam sees the current religious coalition unraveling in the coming years as the issues that fueled it wane in importance: specifically, homosexuality is becoming accepted by most Americans while attitudes toward abortion are being met with ambivalence. Putnam sees these partisan issues losing their galvanizing force. The guns are being holstered.

However, there is an even more pervasive reason Putnam believes partisanship will decline and that is due to the everyday lived experience of pluralism. The high  degree of intermarriage, consumer attitudes toward religious choosing, the growing religious diversity of one's immediate social networks have tended to mute religious conflict in America. In short, lived experience has trumped theological boundaries. Americans continue to be religious, but the sharp edges, particularly absolute attitudes of exclusivity, have been worn off. This is in Putnam's mind America's saving grace. "When American's associate with people of religions other than their own -- or with people with no religion at all -- they become more accepting of other religions" (547). The impact of Solomon's wives comes readily to mind.

These finding may be a comfort to Harvard public policy professionals, but they  are hardly a comfort for orthodox believers. It is an indictment more than an encouragement to the church. American Christianity has never been very belief oriented. In general, theological rigor, comprehension, and concern for it have declined since the early 19th century. Religious conviction has become a consumer choice riddled with expressive individualism and couched as therapeutic self-help -- the church of Oprah.

In large measure, the evangelical church has served as an accelerant to these tendencies. "The United States has conservatives aplenty, but it lacks traditionalists, if for no other reason than so many religious conservatives are the inventors of new forms of religious practices" (162). Hip and relevant, evangelicals have simply followed the 1980s over-reliance on politics and now the 2000s tendency to live and let live. The immediate cost outlined in this study is the loss of the coming generation.  Putnam finds that the retention rate of religious nones is higher than that of all major religious traditions. Church members are not passing on their faith to their children.

Another sobering finding is that while high-octane rhetoric has been devoted to  the issue of same-sex marriage, an issue relevant to only a small faction of the U.S. population (the CDC reports about 2-3%, while researchers at the University of California put the number of homosexuals in America as low as 1.7%), meanwhile huge shifts have taken place on attitudes toward sex before marriage -- what the Bible calls fornication. "The best evidence is that the fraction of all Americans believing that premarital sex was 'not wrong' doubled from 24% to 47% in the four years between 1969 and 1973 and then drifted upward through the 1970s to 62% in  1982" (92). Today attitudes toward sexuality are the best indicator of church attendance. It appears that many in the church have taken their eye off a far more pervasive problem among a far larger number of Americans.

So Putnam's cheery "faith without fanaticism" may play well in Boston and in the halls of academia, but in many quarters it sounds closer to "faith without truth" and is a sobering assessment of the integrity of American religious belief and practice.

Originally appeared in The Cultural Renewal Newsletter.

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Romney is What's Wrong With the Republican Party Print E-mail
by Floyd and Mary Beth Brown    Sat, Jun 18, 2011, 12:40 PM

Reading Al Gore's comments on Mitt Romney we were reminded of all of the reason's we don't trust the man: "Good for Mitt Romney though we've long passed the point where weak lip-service is enough on the Climate Crisis. While other Republicans are running from the truth, he is sticking to his guns in the face of the anti-science wing of the Republican Party.

The so-called science of global warming is more media hype and Wall Street attempts to profit on trading carbon credits than it is real science. The scientific community is split on the topic with some climatologist predicting a new mini ice age. Mitt Romney's gullibility on this issue helps us understand why he has been so wrong on most of the vital issue of the last decade.

Romney is often trumpeted by his supporters as having business experience and they love to site this record of taking Massachusetts from a three billion dollar deficit to a one billion dollar surplus. But the cost of his balanced budgets was tough on business. Peter Nicholas, founder of Boston Scientific Corporation, stated it this way: tax rates on many corporations almost doubled because of legislation supported by Romney. Romney's tax policies were not helpful for many small businesses, when Romney took many IRS subchapter S businesses in Massachusetts and almost doubled their tax rates; it was an important disincentive to investment, growth and job creation.

The Cato Institute reports as Governor, Romney opposed $140 million in business tax hikes through the closing of loopholes in the tax code. This led to Joseph Crosby of the Council on State Taxation to say, Romney went further than any other governor in trying to wring money out of corporations.

Romney raised taxes on business by a total of $309 million. He increased taxes on business property. He then tried to raise taxes on hotels, but was stopped by the Democrat legislature. Romney at the time joined a coalition lobbying congress to tax internet activity, and he even supported a tax on out of state commuters.

Romney refused to support the Bush tax cuts while governor, and when campaigning for Governor, refused to sign the â?ono new taxes pledge, calling it government by gimmickry.

Now he wants us to believe he is a born again tax fighter.

But it is on the social issues that we get real heart burn. As star conservative researcher Steve Baldwin has pointed out: Romney changed his position on over thirty key issues as he prepared to run for President four years ago. Many of his conversion experiences are on issues we believe to be vital to the wellbeing of America's families.

As Governor Romney did great damage by unilaterally ordering homosexual marriage be instituted in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Constitution clearly prohibits the judicial branch from specifically changing marriage statutes so when the court issued the Goodridge opinion favoring homosexual marriage, all Romney had to do was to declare the court had no jurisdiction and ignore it. Instead Romney asserted the opinion was now the law and ordered town clerks and Justices of the Peace to marry homosexuals, even though the legislature never acted to codify the ruling.

But the reason we will never support him for President is an action he took in 2005. Governor Romney personally issued special Governor's one-day marriage licenses to 189 same-sex couples, including to a homosexual activist state senator and others of his personal friends in the homosexual community.

We believe he can call a homosexual union whatever he wants, but it will never be a marriage. Marriage is the union of one man with one woman ordained by God for the purpose of creating a family. Even a President Romney can't trump God and God's nature. Let's hope Republican primary voters are smart enough to never let it come to that possibility.

Floyd and Mary Beth Brown are both bestselling authors and speakers. In 1988, working from their kitchen table, they formed Citizens United.

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A Father's Lessons Print E-mail
by John Browning    Tue, Jun 14, 2011, 05:19 PM

On a large bulletin board in the crowded hallway of one of the courthouses in Bexar County, Texas, there is what I refer to as the "Monument to the Unknown Father."  It consists of public notices about a whole host of paternity, custody, and child support orders directed toward fathers who have simply disappeared and cannot be served through more conventional means - their last known address is no good or unknown, and service by public notice is the last resort in informing them about the family law proceeding in which they were named.  As I looked over the long stretch of notices, I couldn't help but think of the children who would grow up without a father in their lives. Not only would such children lack a source of tangible financial support, but chances were good that they'd also miss out on a crucial part of knowing their own identity and learning many of life's lessons.  On another wall, years ago in a museum and cultural center in Ireland, I had seen a sign inscribed with a bit of Irish wisdom; it read "Cuimhnigi ar na daoine a dtainigh sibh uathu," a Gaelic saying that means "Remember the people you came from."


This Father's Day,  I remember the people I came from, particularly my father Walter W. Browning, Jr.  I won't go into how I'm a better person because of the lessons learned from my father; although that's certainly true, in keeping with the spirit of this column I'll focus instead on how what my father taught me made me a better lawyer.  For a lot of lawyers, we find our moral touchstone in the iconic character of Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's book and film To Kill a Mockingbird.  In many ways, my father was my Atticus Finch, despite the fact that he's not a lawyer.


My dad was a pharmacist.  He considered it more than just a way of paying the mortgage and putting food on the table.  To him it was a noble calling, one in which you should help the sick or infirm, unsullied by the sidelines of selling candy or greeting cards.  In his perspective, people were patients rather than customers, individuals rather than the numbers they would have been to a large chain pharmacy.  In his independently-owned corner apothecary, he greeted them by name, asked about their families and jobs, and spent large chunks of his time patiently answering their myriad health questions.   At times, this frustrated me; I'd point out to my father how many people came in without buying anything or even getting a prescription filled, only to take up his time getting medical advice for which a doctor would charge dearly.  On each of these occasions, he would simply smile and patiently tell me, "It's not about the money, Johnny."  Illness and injury scare people, he told me; when they strike, people have questions and they need reassurance.  To this day, when the pimply-faced kid (with the grandiose title "pharmacy technician," no less) at the pharmacy I go to (because it's conveniently located within our supermarket) shoves my prescription at me and asks me to check the box marked "Declined Counseling," I have to laugh.  Many of the people working in pharmacies today don't know the meaning of patient counseling.


Yes, my father taught me that my meter doesn't always have to be on, and that there are things more important than money.  Because people don't get sick or go to the hospital just during normal working hours, he kept his pharmacy open 7 days a week, until midnight every night - he was even open Christmas morning (a source of considerable frustration for me and my siblings as we impatiently waited to open presents).


He carried people when they couldn't afford to pay, even when some of these very same people would make the fickle decision to go to one of the chain pharmacies because they charged a nickel less.  Frequently, his late night customers were people who normally got their prescriptions filled somewhere else but which wasn't open.  When I would deliver a prescription (or an oxygen tank, or a hospital bed) to a patient who was behind on their bills, my father would again remind me that it wasn't always about the money.


His words have come back to guide me in every pro bono case I've taken on.  When I've volunteered at a legal aid clinic, staffed a telephone hotline, or represented members of the armed forces and their families in civil litigation, I remember that "it's not always about the money."  When a sergeant getting ready to ship out overseas told me that his allotment would barely cover the household bills for his wife and daughter, and he couldn't really afford to either fight or settle the lawsuit his family was facing, I found my father's words coming out of my mouth - "It's not about the money."  He answered the call to defend our country, I reasoned; what kind of lawyer would I be if I didn't defend him and his family?


My father, the non-lawyer, taught me more than just the importance of serving the underserved and the indigent.  He also imparted to me the importance of knowing your craft.  On a number of occasions, he would correct a prescribing doctor about an incorrect dosage or a drug that was contra-indicated; I'm sure he saved a few lives (and medical careers) in his time.  My dad was zealous about his continuing education hours and keeping up with professional journals.  To this day, when I err on the side of being overly prepared for court, or when I find the brand new court decision that was just handed down and could make the difference in my case, I know I am my father's son. 


He also stressed the importance of giving back to one's profession and community.  My dad was a sought-after speaker who gave of his time to teach and consult about narcotics for local law enforcement, drug task forces, state police academies, and even the DEA.  Yet he did so with humility.  A state trooper who pulled him over to give him a ticket once sheepishly realized my father had been one of his instructors, and gave him the "pass" that my dad never would have demanded for himself.  Because of my father's example of giving back, I find myself boarding planes or taking long drives to speak to audiences of government attorneys, judges, lawyers in private practice, and even elementary students as part of a "law in the schools" initiative.  I serve on state and local bar committees, because my dad instilled in me the importance of giving back to a profession that has given so much to me.


This month, within days of Father's Day, my dad will turn 84 years old.  He's part of the "Greatest Generation" that fought a world war against global tyranny and returned to build America into the giant it is today, a generation that we are losing at an alarming rate.  I didn't grow up with lawyers in the family, and my father didn't exactly encourage me to go to law school.  Yet the example he set of being, like Atticus Finch, "the same in his house as he is on the public streets," and the lessons he taught (it's not always about the money; put the client's needs first; know your craft, give back to the profession and the community) made me a better lawyer.  In keeping with the spirit of the Gaelic saying, I try to remember the people I came from.  Happy Father's Day.


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This is a struggle for power, not Arab Spring Print E-mail
by Leon Hadar    Sat, Jun 11, 2011, 04:28 PM

SKIM through old editorials that were published in the Soviet Communist Party's Pravda newspaper during the Cold War and you'll have a lot of fun, laughing out loud when reading about all those loopy notions that the people in Moscow held about the upheaval taking place in the Middle East at the time. Historians of the Middle East explain that the region was then going through major structural, political and economic changes resulting from, among other things, the collapse of the British and French empires, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the impact of secular Arab nationalism and socialism, the rise of military elites, and various religious, ethnic and tribal conflicts.

But according to the old Pravda and the Soviet officials who published it, things were actually very simple. Whether it was the military coup in Egypt (1952), the periodic unrest in Syria and Iraq in the 1950s, the civil war in Yemen in the 1960s, the Communist narrative of the day saw these and the other crises taking place in the region as the outcome of the grand struggle between the ruling 'feudal elites' backed by 'international capitalism' and the freedom-loving representatives of 'the proletariat'.

And it was not surprising, of course, that the Soviets were supposed to be on the side of the courageous members of the working class while the Americans were supporting the corrupt Arab monarchs and sheiks.

One wonders if 50 years from now, when researchers scan through old issues of The Washington Post and analyse its coverage of the current upheaval in the Arab Middle East they are going to chuckle as they try to figure out what those American pundits were smoking when they kept insisting that this year's military coup in Egypt, the political unrest in Syria and Iraq, and the civil war in Yemen (and in Libya and Bahrain) were all a manifestation of an inexorable drive toward freedom and liberal democracy, including freedom of religion and women rights. These events are a replay of sorts of the kind of changes that took place in Eastern Europe in 1989.

In reality, the so-called Arab Spring consists of a mishmash of anti-government demonstrations triggered in most cases by police over-reaction and fuelled by economic hard times (Tunisia and Egypt), ethnic and religious tensions (Syria and Bahrain) and tribal rivalries (Libya and Yemen) as well as by growing public perception that the global hegemon - the United States - that was helping keep ruling regimes in place is losing its power.

So, while no one denies that Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia were ruthless autocrats engaged in human rights violations, the two were also responsible for liberalising their socialist economies and opening their countries to western investment while resisting the Islamist push to restrict the rights of women and religious minorities.

And there is no doubt that even under the best case scenario, the elections scheduled to take place in Egypt and Tunisia are going to strengthen the power of the Islamist parties. This, in turn, is bound to exacerbate tensions between Muslims and Christian-Copts in Egypt and increase the influence of religion in these two countries and pose a risk to secular women and men.

In addition, the economic liberalisation that has taken place in Egypt and Tunisia in recent years is being threatened by demands, supported by some of the new political forces, to increase government control of parts of the economy. They want this done to improve the condition of the economically distressed middle class and poor.

At the same time, the tribal warfare in Yemen and Libya and the sectarian tensions in Syria (between the ruling minority Alawites and the Sunni majority) and in Bahrain (between the ruling minority Sunnis and the Shiite majority) have less to do with promoting the cause of liberal democracy and more with the struggle for power between identity groups, not unlike what is taking place in Iraq (between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds).

The Sunnis in Bahrain (backed by the Saudi theocracy) discriminate against the Shiite majority (supported by the Iranian theocracy) as they maintain what is the freest economy in the region, while the ruling Alawites in Syria are strongly committed to secular principles as they repress the Sunni majority and enjoy close ties to the Iranian theocracy. And so it goes.

In short, what is happening in the Middle East does not fit into the simplistic liberal democratic narrative aka Arab Spring, in the same way that events in the region during the Cold War could not be explained based on the old Communist storyline. And like the case of Moscow at the time, the ability of the US to shape the events in the Middle East is limited. Perhaps the time has come for the people of the region to start writing their own narratives. It might get ugly and end up being not the kind of narrative that Americans like. But it will still be their own narrative.

Originally appeared in The Business Times.
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