Thursday, March 2, 2017

Made In The STL

Check out the preview for my new Made In The STL Podcast, launching soon! Do you have any ideas of who you'd like to see on the show? Let me know in the comments.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

George Will is Not Happy

I've always appreciated if not agreed with George Will's conservative philosophy. It's well-versed and thought out, even if he contradicts himself or makes gross assumptions. Today, his column in the Washington Post takes aim at Donald Trump's intervention (or really, to be more accurate, Mike Pence's aggressive intervention) to save 800 jobs in Indiana.

Will writes, "There are, however, distinctions to be drawn between creating a favorable climate for business generally and giving direct subsidies to alter the behavior of businesses already operating in the state. And when ad-hoc corporate welfare, including tariffs, becomes national policy, it becomes a new arena of regulation, and hence of rent-seeking, which inevitably corrupts politics. And by sapping economic dynamism, it injures the working class."

I find it interesting that Will is just now coming to this conclusion. Giving tax breaks and tax financing is now a bipartisan trick. Politicians are falling over themselves to reward companies with tax packages to keep jobs, bring jobs, and spur development. Any conservative that doesn't call this what it is on its face - socialism - is fooling themselves. Will is not a fool. He makes and has made this point.

If Trump were a true conservative, a laughing point, he would work to remove all state and local tax financing. Particularly when speaking about sports facilities, where should the incentives versus payoff trade end? Every conservative politician knows that their love of tax breaks has created a monster in public policy. Mayors and governors will, forevermore, trip over themselves, bird in hand, to reward multi-million, multi-national companies to keep jobs or bring jobs. Meanwhile, local companies wishing to expand or relocate are shown a cold fist.

Sorry, Mom and Pop, we just can't help you; we need someone to tax to pay for our schools.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mercy

I wrote the following column for The Record, the student newspaper at Saint Louis Priory School. In the coming weeks, I plan to expand on my thoughts about Catholic social justice and how it forms my thinking and reasoning. As the new administration takes form, I'll post comments about different appointments and policy arguments. As the holidays kick into gear, though, I want to look globally at how I reason through the political spectrum. I hope you enjoy the column, and please, let me know your thoughts!

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Advent has begun, and we are now looking forward to Christmas and the season of joy. I think, particularly in light of this year’s tempestuous election, that we spend time looking back, as well. Just as Advent began, the Church wrapped up its Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis and meant to focus our spiritual energies on prayerfully considering how our individual actions affect those around us. If anything, a lesson to be gleaned from the 2016 political season is that too many of us too often fall short.

I don’t mean to use this space to pontificate or chastise or push a political message. One of my more solemn conclusions from the last 18 months, though, is that we have lost the ability to have mercy for each other. In this political season, we became selfish and scared instead of humble, merciful, and full of joy. Too often our national and local debates centered on “me” instead of “we and “them” instead of “us.” Our debates over economic and security issues pitted classes of people against one another, pointed fingers and placed blame, and sought answers in a vacuum of self-serving platitudes. Neither party nor candidate fully reached beyond their base to cultivate a spirit of togetherness. Our country, fractured by years of social and economic upheaval, couldn’t find in itself the maturity to debate issues with any sense of moral justice.

So where do we go from here? I would answer that in this Advent season we focus inward on how each of us can be more merciful in our everyday interactions. How can we remove our haughtiness and restore a loving humbleness? Where can we confront prejudices and biases that fester in our society? As Christmas approaches, and the greatest gift of mercy is given to us, can we find it in ourselves to act out of love and joy instead of anger and fear? The Jubilee of Mercy was called by Pope Francis because, he said, “It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone, everyone, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.”


After such a volatile political season, can we display mercy to our fellow Americans? Are we able to understand each other as brothers and sisters instead of a zero-sum game of numbers? The election showed us who we are. The question I have is, who can we be?

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Monday, November 21, 2016

On Day One

One of the steps I would like to see President-Elect Trump take on Day One is to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study the federal government and recommend changes to reduce wastes, overlap, and overhead. This has long been a shiny talking point for small government conservatives, but the last major reorganization of the government was in Carter's time.

Trump is a businessman. Because he refused to release his tax returns, I can't say definitively that he is a successful businessman. And, because his companies have routinely declared bankruptcy, I can't say definitively that he knows how to balance a spreadsheet. But I believe he has the acumen and business relationships to look at the federal government from a business perspective and order a restructuring.

I would expect any new CEO to take a hard look at his or her company's balance sheet and things like productivity statistics. It's obvious that some departments have become bloated (Treasury and Homeland Security) while others lack rigorous oversight (Defense) and lack of political will to cut costs and reform processing. I have family members that work in purchasing/ordering for the government, and the system they use is archaic. Trump should bring in former executives (CEO, CFO, COO, CIO) from companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc, to restructure and reorganize the government. He could also take a serious, non-partisan look at the enormous growth of the Executive Branch. And, frankly, since he has cast himself as an outsider, what political capital is there to lose in proposing a major restructuring, Cabinet-by-Cabinet? President Obama has commissioned studies to undertake such a goal, but his ideas have been DOA in Congress.

What I am not talking about is removing Cabinet-level department. This isn't policy, like, "Should the Department of Education be ordering local school districts to test its students?" But a great example is the overlap between Health and Human Services (the FDA) and Interior (USDA). How can some of the web of tangled relationships be reduced? How can communication systems between departments be enhance? How can the government lean less on outside contractors and instead be more efficient from within?

While nothing I have seen from Trump has indicated this is forefront on his mind, I think this is an idea he could pursue that would be bipartisan, productive, and earn him goodwill from the public which sees the government as a massive wastes pit.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Reflections

"Do you know why the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror? Because where you're going is more important than where you've been." - Anonymous

The last week has been one of the most philosophically challenging weeks of my life. Emotionally, there has been a lot to unpack. It's been difficult to internally process my thoughts and feelings, and it's been discouraging to try and externally communicate without becoming frustrated, disheartened, angry. But because I have kept a lot of what I need to say, what I must say, to myself, I am bubbling over with anxiety. And so I write. 

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. It's always been more than a hobby; I have journals and poems and songs that I wrote when I was processing my parent's divorce, experiencing love for the first time, managing complicated relationships and the stresses of growing up. But I've never written pieces that could earn me the vitriol of friends and family.

That's why I have struggled so much with this election. At times I have felt relationships with people I love and respect rip at the seams. I have lost confidence and moral regard for people I once admired. I have questioned my place in society. Quite literally, at times during the last week, I have felt as though I have been smote by naivety. I have had to question the values I hold most dear. 

As anyone that knows me can attest, I am an amateur political junkie. This election wasn't about people like me. In the last eight years, I have completed two college degrees, taken three different jobs, invested money in my future, purchased health insurance; I own a car, an iPhone, and I rent a house; and I don't feel that I pay too many taxes, I feel I contribute appropriately to society, and I'm a white millennial. I do not have economic anxiety. I do not fear being deported. I cannot recall a moment in my life that I felt oppressed. But yet I write. 

I write because I do believe in freedom of speech. I write because I believe the government should not tell a woman what she can and can't do with her body or tell anyone whom they can love and marry. I write because I believe we have a moral obligation to protect our planet, the greatest gift God has given us. I write because I believe in a multi-racial, pluralistic society. I write because I am scared of what is to come. 

It has never been in my nature to be quiet. Now, I feel, would be a bad time to start. I look forward to using this space to make noise, to be loud, to stand up against transgressions aimed at the morals, visions, and theories that I feel our country needs to continue on its path towards a more perfect Union. I will not be silent when my family and friends and neighbors are unjustly targeted. 

My philosophy of what makes America great is my own. It is formed by the experiences I've had, the teachings of parents and mentors, and the basic understandings of a dogma that professes, as we read in Matthew 25, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

We who feel lost now must now comprehend and appreciate the events of the last few months. We who feel confused now must show compassion and thoughtfulness towards those who may disagree. But we must remain strong in our resolve and firm in our commitment to "stronger together."

And so I write.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The guy on the street

I don't know why but I needed to share this.

I don't live far from Busch Stadium. On nice nights, lately, I'll park my car on the street and go walk around the stadium to enjoy the final few innings. The sights and sounds of the game are just cool, ya know?

Well tonight I passed a young homeless man. At least, he looked young. Immediately I thought about the $10 bill in my pocket. I kind of glanced back at him but kept walking. I don't mean to sound dramatic but my wallet felt heavy. Or maybe my guilt did, I don't know. I walked up further, stopped and glanced back, and he gave me a little wave. It was very gentle and kind. 

I turned around. I walked back to him and took out the $10. He seemed surprised by this, but I handed it to him and told him "go get a nice meal." He said what most do, "God bless you."

He may use that money for a tall boy or a cigarette. But you know what, I feel like I made his life maybe just a little more bearable. And in some way, he made my night a little more enjoyable. 

You are not an arbitrary player. What you do matters to each individual you touch. I have no idea what situations or choices or mistakes put this man on the street. He may make another mistake by using the money to buy something extraneous, but I can't honestly say I wouldn't do the same. If I was given $10, at what point wouldn't I buy a lottery ticket in hopes of winning something to reverse my fortune? At what point wouldn't I want a Coke Zero instead of something more important, maybe medicine or a haircut for a job interview. 

I'm not blogging this for kudos. Really, I'm not. But I just can't imagine what put this man there and what he has to do to wake up every day. I worry about traffic; he worries about if he'll have breakfast or have to sleep in the dirt or pouring rain.

Makes it all seem so trivial, doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Right To Marry

We have reached a historic moment in civil rights in our great country. The movement to provide gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to marry has reached its climax - either the United States Supreme Court will invalidate constitutional amendments in thirteen states [Arkansas (2004, 1997), Georgia (2004, 1996), Kentucky (2004, 1998), Louisiana (2004, 1999), Michigan (2004, 1996), Mississippi (2004, 1997), Missouri (2004, 1996), North Dakota (2004, 1997), Ohio (2004, 2004), South Dakota (2006, 1996), Tennessee (2006, 1996), Texas (2005, 1997] all of which were directly voted on by the people. Both supporters and opponents agree that the case before the Court is as seminal in history as Brown v. Board of Education.

I have long been conflicted on the question of "should gay and lesbian couples have the legal right to marry?" It presents to me a conflict of moral guidance, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and a practical interpretation of the Constitution. This is perhaps the best medium for me to elaborate upon my view and how I have managed to twist myself into - and perhaps out of - a legal pretzel that leads me to pronounce myself as a supporter of the legal right for homosexual couples to wed.

Notice, first, that I said wed, not marry. I definitively believe that a marriage is a Sacrament, a religious institution, provided by a church. This can be a Christian church, and certainly some do provide for homosexual marriage, or any number of faiths. I have been raised and do not stray from the belief that marriage is a sacred union that two people enter into under the guidance and blessing of the church. It is on the church to dictate its laws surrounding their institution; while I do have misgivings about the Catholic limitations on marriage (for instance, the ejection of religious members due to divorce), it is not for the Supreme Court or the voters of the United States to re-interpret the Catholic Church's, or any church's, definition of marriage.

However, our country has a strict boundary in the way that religious institutions affect government policy. It is important, in this case, to refer to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, commonly referred to as the "Equal Protections," amendment because of Section 1: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

That passage, I believe, is dynamite to any argument saying that the States can deny a person the right to enter into a civil union with another willing person. Let me be clear: I do not believe that homosexuals should be guaranteed the right to marry into a religious institution. I do believe that, given the protections of the 14th amendment, all citizens of the United States are guaranteed the benefits bestowed upon civil unions/legal weddings which are acknowledged by the State. The State cannot deny a person the ability to be lawfully wed when so many benefits - tax breaks, adoption rights, medical right-of-attorney - are founded upon spousal privilege. When looking simply at the legal definition of marriage - "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife"- you are clearly denying a population of people their rights to due process and benefits under United States law. That argument is air tight. 

I am also leery of the argument that allowing same-sex unions weakens the institution of marriage. Again, I am very peculiar in my rhetoric; semantically, I am against same-sex marriages in so far as marriage is a religious rite, while I am for same-sex unions, which presents as a legal contract with the State. With these things being separate, but equal, how are religious institutions harmed by two people wedding outside their jurisdiction? Additionally, on the semantic argument, a license is given for heterosexual couples to pronounce their wedding to the State. But, so far as marriages into the Catholic Church are concerned, you also enter into a Holy Sacrament with the Lord, a covenant vested in the power of Christ's mercy and love. The benefits of civil union (custody, visitation, tax benefits, etc) are not dependent on acceptance into any Church. So, semantically, I argue that even heterosexual couples may be only entered into a civil union if they wed before a court instead of a person of faith. Yes, they may be denied the formal blessing of a church, but that doesn't, in my eyes, reduce the couple's love or devotion or importance in any way. I know this seems like I am talking in circles or trying to rationalize a point, but it's the crux of my belief - if marriage is historically defined as a religious institution, let it be that; homosexuals can enter into a civil union with the State and suffer no less than couples married into a church.



(Edit: The reason I labor so much over "marriage" vs. "wedding/union" is this statement from Justice Anthony Kennedy during oral arguments: "This definition [ of marriage being understood as between a man and a woman] has been with us for millennia. And it ­­it's very difficult for the court to say, oh, well, we know better." I think if you separate the terms, you offer a much easier legal argument to accept.)

Furthermore, as Americans, we have the freedom to do many things but we do not have the freedom to remove rights from other Americans. For example, a group of vegetarians does not have the legal right to ban the right to eat meat from omnivorous Americans. Straight Americans would have to prove direct harm - in my opinion a nearly insurmountable task - to justify that homosexuals cannot have the right to enter into civil unions. While various groups have come argued some interesting harms (an increase in abortion rates is my favorite), I do not see a reasoning in which the Supreme Court would agree that heterosexual Americans would be directly harmed by allowing homosexuals to wed.

The only true reason I could see the Court ruling in favor of the defendants (four states that want their ban upheld) is this: should the Court overrule the will of the people? That's an incredibly slippery slope, and I am pleased that the Court has practiced restraint in doing so. However, it absolutely must when Americans are having their civil liberties denied to them. That's a supreme tenet of the Court's mission, after all, to protect the freedoms and equal protections of all Americans. I hope that the Court addresses their view point on this in their ruling.

I understand politics and I understand interpretations of the Constitution, but I do not understand how the Supreme Court could be split on this question. Clearly the 14th Amendment protects homosexuals in their right to wed and participate in state and federal social benefits. I cannot wait to read the decision this June.

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