Taking the Politics out of Immigration

I have wanted to write a new blog on immigration for some time now. Especially since I think there are politicians in both parties using it as a political scare tactic rather than looking for real and tough solutions that keep us a rule of law nation without ignoring the human impact of decisions about what to do about the 12 million people here illegally.

Then, today I saw a speech by Marco Rubio in which he said everything that I wanted to say, and much more elloquently and impactfully than I could ever say it. If this isn’t Purple Ground, I don’t know what is.


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High-Speed Rails and Electric Vehicles Driving Us Broke

Warning: This post is rated S for heavy use of sarcasm.

We have a unique brand of crazy here in California – a special hubris that believes that regulators and bureaucrats can change the future and steer technology and the economy by sheer force of will.

Just read California news for 20 minutes and you’ll see what I mean. California has a $26 billion annual budget deficit. Not to mention the $10 billion that we are in the hole to the federal government for loans to cover extended unemployment benefits. No worries though, Governor Brown has a plan to squeeze that money out of job creators by boosting employer contributions for unemployment insurance by 9% next year and 14% the following year. It’s not like increased taxes and a higher cost of doing business will drive more businesses out of California though.

Here are two stories that caught my eye this week that may help explain why California and insurmountable budget deficits go together like… well, like politicians and overspending:

1. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) mandates that 15% of all cars offered for sale must be alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) by 2025. (See LA Times Article).

If you’re like me, the first thing you’re asking yourself is “how can CARB predict / control the number of electric cars that consumers choose to purchase by a date certain?” The answer: They can’t. California isn’t mandating that consumers buy these cars (yet), only that 15% of the cars offered for sale by any dealer at any given time be alternative fuel vehicles. So what if consumer demand doesn’t meet 15% by 2025? (Today less than half of 1% of vehicles purchased in California are AFVs.) Well, either the dealers will be stuck with inventory that they can’t move, putting them out of business, or the government will have to further subsidize the cost of the cars to incentivize demand. Side note, did you know that up to $250,000 in government subsidies (re: our tax money) goes into every Chevy Volt sold? Good thing that Washington isn’t broke.

As a country, there is no doubt that we are moving towards more eco-friendly cars. People want energy independence, to spend less on gas and to be friendly to the planet. But the reality is that the technology for alternative fuel vehicles isn’t quite up to snuff yet. Consumers will buy AFVs in mass when they are price comparable, can go more than 80 miles on one charge, have the infrastructure to recharge quickly on the go (because it now takes 30 minutes), and come in attractive models. The good news? We are well on the way! The wonderful thing about a free market economy is that when the public demands it, the private market figures out a way to provide it. Maybe we will be there by 2025, maybe not. The only ones that know for sure are Carnac the Magnificent and apparently the California Air Resources Board.

2. Governor Brown doubles down on high-speed rail, despite lack of funding and ballooning costs. (See LA Times Article).

In 2008, California voters approved a ballot measure for a high-speed rail in California with a price tag of $25 billion. Today, the final cost is estimated at over $100 billion (not including maintenance costs), with no funding in sight.

Is there demand for the high-speed rail that would make it a profitable or at a least self-sustaining venture? Great question. IDK, no one does, but does it really matter? According to Governor Brown, we need this train to prevent California from becoming a third world country. The governors of Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida all nixed their high speed rail projects over concerns that the projects did not make fiscal sense. They apparently did not understand that without the new trains they will become like Bangladesh or Ethiopia.

Also, we probably shouldn’t use Amtrak as a predictive model. The government spends an average of $32 per passenger subsiding Amtrak and 41 of the railroad’s 44 lines lose money. Does that fall into the category of bailing out failing businesses? I’m just asking….

So anyway, Governor Moonbeam is now the only state leader left in America on the quixotic quest for high-speed rail travel at any cost, whether California commuters will use it or not. Fear not though, Governor Brown is about to close the budget deficit with a combination of $12.5 billion in cuts and $12 billion in tax increases. That is, as long as voters approve those tax increases in the next election. And why wouldn’t we? It’s not like the money could be found anywhere other than tax-payers’ wallets. Matter of fact, the Governor has put together a “Plan B” if the voters reject the tax increases that will take money out of K-12 education, cutting the school year by three weeks. Coincidentally, public opinion polls consistently show that California voters are willing to pay higher taxes if they know the money will be dedicated to public education.

At the same time, a recent statewide survey shows voters remain deeply suspicious of state spending and believe the government should be doing more with less.

Here’s a crazy notion: how about California legislators do less with less?

  • Less education
  • Less police
  • Less firemen
  • Less unfunded high-speed rails
  • Less mandates on business to sell technology that doesn’t exist yet
  • Less taxes on employers

More common sense.

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What’s the Opposite of Super?

If ever there were a poorly named experiment in political dysfunction, it must be the “Super Committee”. The antonyms of “super” are a better fit for the political pansies in our legislature. Consider that these twelve “statesmen” were asked to cut $1.4 trillion out of the 10-year federal budget of $44 trillion. And they failed.

Here’s the numbers:

  • US annual tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
  • Annual federal budget: $3,820,000,000,000
  • Annual growth in debt: $1,650,000,000,000
  • Total US Debt: $15,034,000,000,000
  • Super Committee target cuts (over ten years): $1,200,000,000,000
  • Annual realized cut: $120,000,000,000
  • US Debt in 10 years with current spending / deficit levels: $30,000,000,000,000
  • US Debt in 10 years with target cuts:  28,800,000,000,000

I know that things get a little esoteric with all these zeros, so let’s scale down these numbers and compare them to a family’s budget:

  • Household income: $43,000
  • Annual spending: $76,400
  • New debt per year: $33,000
  • Existing credit card debt: $300,670
  • Proposed cuts to annual spending: $2,400
  • Credit card debt in 10 years without cuts: $600,000
  • Credit card debt in 10 years with cuts: $570,000

Now the super-blaming and super-spinning begins. And the real losers are the American people. I understand that there are deep philosophical divides between the Democrat and Republican parties, but this fiscal insanity is something that we are truly all in together. Ask the Greeks, the Italians or the Spaniards how fun it will be if we keep kicking this deficit can down the road.

I thought the whole idea of these “triggers” was to force this Super Committee to get the job done with consequences of failure too horrible to abide.  (Keep in mind, we only had a Super Committee because the rest of congress refused to do the hard work of making tough decisions and compromises.) Well, it turns out that the triggers may or may not be mutable and they don’t go into effect until year after next anyway, so congress feels like they have time to wriggle out of yet another deadline. So they punt. Again. And blame each other. Again. I bet if we charged each member of congress $5,000 per day that the deficit wasn’t cut, they would all find a way to make it happen. That would be a real trigger.

Meanwhile, the rest of us out here in the real world know what it is like to make extremely painful budget cuts in our own lives. We know what it is like to have to work with people we don’t like or agree with and make compromises on matters that are important to us.

Where is the leadership in this country? Where are the ones standing up and saying, “I will do what needs to be done regardless of the effect on my poll numbers, whether or not my party’s special interests agree; I will do what needs to be done for the future of this country.” Congress has a 12% approval rating and I am pretty sure that 12% is composed of congressional staffers, family members, friends, well paid lobbyists, the cast of the Jersey Shore and newly awake coma patients.

I for one am disgusted. So I will fight back the only way I know how: I will not contribute to any member of congress or political party; I will vote all the bums out that I can; and I will blog. At least the latter is cathartic. But it’s a sad day when what unites red and blue Americans is disgust for their elected officials.

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The Road to Hell is Paved with Government Intervention

Who decided that all injustices in the world are the responsibility of the federal government to rectify? What makes us think that the federal government is better at managing our lives and our businesses than we are?

Like many people, I am still digging into the details of the President’s Jobs Bill to evaluate it on its merits. However, the bill may be DOA in it’s current form as it doesn’t even have enough support from Democrats in the Senate to pass, let alone the GOP-controlled house.

One thing that I leanred in the last few days may be a small clue as to why: There is a new law in the bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating against those applicants who have been unemployed for an extended period of time. You can read about the provision in the Washington Post’s article.

Apparently some companies and job agencies prefer applicants who already have jobs, or haven’t been jobless too long. Perhaps they have a perception (real or imagined) that the chronically unemployed are lazy, off their game, or not as motivated.

The National Employment Law Project did a survey earlier this year that found more than 150 job postings on employment Web sites such as CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com requiring that applicants “must be currently employed” or other requirements for current or recent employment status. Keep in mind, that’s 150 out of tens of thousands of job postings – not exactly an epidemic.

But here I want to point out the arrogance of government to think that they know best who employers should be hiring. Businesses want to hire the best person for the job. Period. Whatever criteria goes into their decision making process is none of the government’s business. To think that some politician on Capitol Hill knows more about who a business should hire than the business owner does is the height of arrogance and government overreach.

Here, the Powers That Be are going to tell businesses not just that they can’t discriminate on things like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability (protected classes in the Equal Employment Opportunity Act); they are actually going to tell businesses that they cannot discriminate against the circumstances or the applicant.

This is how, in their quest to create jobs, government stifles job creation. Because government doesn’t create jobs, private enterprise does. The best thing that government can do is create a good environment for private sector creation, which mostly means getting out of the way.

As the Washington Post article points out, this new law opens up businesses to retribution from disgruntled applicants who didn’t get the job they wanted. Anyone who has been unemployed can accuse the company of discrimination and file a lawsuit.

“The effort to protect the unemployed has drawn praise from workers’ rights advocates, but business groups say it will just stir up needless litigation by frustrated job applicants. The provision would give those claiming discrimination a right to sue, and violators would face fines of up to $1,000 per day, plus attorney fees and costs.

“Threatening business owners with new lawsuits is not going to help create jobs and will probably have a chilling effect on hiring,” said Cynthia Magnuson, spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business. “Business owners may be concerned about posting a new job if they could face a possible lawsuit.”

It seems that government is better at burdening business than empowering it. The new healthcare bill adds substantial costs to businesses.Starting in 2014, businesses with more than 50 employees will be required to either offer healthcare coverage or pay a penalty of $2000 a year per full-time worker. The coverage offered will also have to meet minimum benefits — covering both a specific set of services and 60% of employee health costs overall — or else employers will face additional penalties.

Free enterprise has made America the most prosperous country on earth. The role of the federal government is to protect our right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not to tell business who to hire and what benefits they must offer. Besides being a drain on business, excessive government involvement in private enterprise is a perfect example of the hubris of bureaucrats and elected officials thinking that: a) they know best and b) they can micromanage American business.

From what I have seen, Washington doesn’t run anything very well, including Washington.

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Tucson, We Have a Problem

I realize that I haven’t written a blog in months. It was this whole quit my job, start my own business thing that got in the way. I still think of things that I want to say and I often look for the purple ground on issues when I am watching or reading the news. But I guess it took something extra ridiculous to motivate me to finally get back to the blog.

Here’s the cliff notes version of the story with two short videos that you should watch:

Arizona passed a law that basically said “Pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people. … A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

Sounds like common sense to me.  The law also says that it is not to be applied against portions of curriculum that contain individual lessons about particular groups and historical events such as the holocaust.

Here is where things get kooky. Turns out that the Tucson School District does have a course that may violate this new law: Mexican-American Studies, formerly known as “La
Raza (the race) Studies. This course teaches that the United States stole the southwest from Mexico, that the Pilgrims brought plagues to intentionally wipe out indigenous peoples, and that Thanksgiving should be changed to a day of atonement for the evil that the U.S. perpetrated on the Mexican people.

First of all, I think the more we hyphenate our citizens, the more we replace the concept of
a melting pot with separate pots of hyphenated sub groups. In fact, a dictum on the Seal of the United States and most of our currency says “E pluribus unum” or “out of many, one”. With courses like the one in Tucson, we may have to change it to “out of many, many”

We are a land of immigrants, and that fact has made us strong as a country. Matter of fact, we are such a new country compared to the rest of the world that, Native Americans aside, we could all hyphenate our names back to some other country of origin by going back only a few short generations. What unites us as a nation is the idea that we are all Americans, with allegiance to and pride in this country, even as we honor and respect the many cultures and countries that our families came from.

If the Mexican-American studies course in Tucson were just about Mexican-American heritage, history and culture, I could at least understand the positive intentions of the
curriculum planners. I took a class in Latin American Culture in college and it was a wonderfully enlightening course.

But what we have here is something insidious and that is the reason that I thought it deserved a blog. All Americans, left, right and hyphenated, should be outraged that our public school tax dollars are being used to teach disdain for the United States and the overthrow of our government. “Sowing of seeds of hate” has nothing to do with ethnic studies; it is an attempt by socialist radicals to use our youth as pawns in their war against capitalism and the existing power structures.

Think I am exaggerating?

A concerned parent attended the school board meeting in Tucson to read jaw-dropping
excerpts from the course’s textbooks, including “An Epic Poem,” which states:

I shed tears of sorrow, I sow seeds of hate
The force of tyranny of men who rule by farce and hypocrisy,
In a country that has wiped out all my history, stifled all my pride….
My land is lost and stolen, My culture has been raped
Poverty and city-living under the colonial system of the Anglo has frustrated our people’s culture
One note, especially to those young chicanos, hard drugs and the drug culture is the invention of the gringo because he has no culture.
We have to destroy capitalism…The Declaration of Independence states that we the people have the right to revolution, the right to overthrow a government that has committed abuses and seeks complete control over the people. This is in order to clean out the corrupted, rotten officials that developed out of any type of capitalistic systems.

Another part of the book reads,

Today I have a message….to the children, the students, the workers, the masses, and to the bloodsuckers, the parasites, the vampires who are the capitalists of the world: The schools are tools of the power structure that blind and sentence our youth to a life of confusion, and hypocrisy, one that preaches assimilation and practices institutional racism.”

You can watch the rest of the outrageous excerpts below. Remember, these books are
being used in five different classes with kids as young as 3rd grade.

Here is a link to the curriculum: http://www.tu4sd.com/p/faqs-ethnic-studies_16.html

And to the excerpts read aloud at the meeting:

Matter of fact, at the end of the reading, the concerned parent lists out times where
the book uses foul language, both in Spanish and in English. A school board member asks the parent to please not read the bad words in the public meeting because there are young people in the audience. The irony is not lost on the crowd and someone shouts out “but that’s what they are teaching in the classrooms!”

When truth came to light about the outrageous content of this course, the Tucson
school board held a meeting to vote on whether to make the course an elective
instead of a social studies course that retires general education requirements. The good little soldiers of the Mexican-American Studies program swarmed the meeting chanting “fight back” and chaining themselves to desks in the meeting room. The meeting had to be rescheduled. But things only got worse at the second meeting, when the riot police had to be called in to deal with the protesting youth.

The following video does a great overview of what happened. And you will notice that many of the concerned officials are in fact liberal Democrats. This is not a red / blue America issue. This is a red, white and blue America issue; which flag do our schools teach allegiance to?

So what can we learn from the madness in Tucson? First of all, who the heck was approving these textbooks? Where is the accountability? Second of all, parents have to be
involved in their kids’ schooling. Not everyone can afford private school (biting tongue on vouchers diatribe), and not all parents have the time or resources to home school. Public school is the only option for many parents. But if parents send their kids off to school with no self-appointed oversight on what their children are reading and learning, than the parents have tacitly given consent to whatever indoctrination a rogue instructor or course teaches their children.

I am not a parent yet, so I don’t want to sound preachy on the subject, but do you look through your kids’ textbooks? Do you ask for a class syllabus? Do you discuss what they learned in school today with your children? Do you ever attend school board meetings? Not only will staying involved with your kids’ education make them more likely to succeed in school, parents are the first line of defense against the infiltration of our education system by radicals or wackos teaching your kids values that do not match up to your own.

Note: apparently my videos aren’t working anymore. So I am looking for some others. Here is one that shows the protests at the first school board meeting:

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Governing and the Protests Thereof – the How and the Why

Like many people, I have been watching closely what has been going on in Wisconsin and in other states with public employee pension reform and protests. I understand that most conservatives believe that public employee pensions and benefits are bankrupting our states and that the system is unsustainable. I know that many on the liberal, pro-union side feel that this is an attack on unions and their power to prevent unions from giving so much money to Democratic candidates and causes. Many states are in fact broke and public employee benefits are a part of that. Nonetheless, many of the protestors are just hard-working public employees who feel they deserve  the right to collectively bargain on pensions and receive what they were promised.

So where is the common ground? I would like to believe that we can start out by acting as adults in this discussion and that we can expect our law makers to do the same. I don’t have a problem with the protests. Protesting is as American as apple pie. Tea Partiers and pro-union protestors may disagree on many things, but both should feel empowered by their constitutional right to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition government for a redress of grievances.

What I do find irksome is the Democratic Senators in Wisconsin and now in Indiana that have fled the state and gone into hiding so that they cannot be compelled to vote on the bill. Isn’t that a slap in the face of our constitutional republic? The way it is supposed to work is that the people elect the representatives and the representatives vote on bills. Thus, which ever point of view garners more votes on election day gets more decision-making power in governing. Whatever the elected representatives think of Governor Walker’s bill, they get to offer amendments and then vote up or down. They shouldn’t run from that responsibility just because they are afraid of the result of the vote. 

In 2008 voters ushered in large Democrat majorities that passed bills that Republicans were adamantly opposed to. Now Republican majorities hold the high cards and the Democrat legislators have to deal with their loss of power. That is the way our system works. That’s why they say elections have consequences.  If, or when, the Democrats get power again in Ohio, Indiana or Wisconsin, I imagine they will propose bills to return bargaining power and or benefits to public employee unions. It will be their right to do so. For the most part, political candidates explain their opinions and intentions to voters and the voters decide whose plans they would like to see come to fruition. If voters don’t like how their representatives vote, they have the chance to throw them out of office the next election. Legislators running and hiding from voting is not part of the equation.

On a side note, I am equally perturbed by striking teachers getting fake doctors notes to avoid penalty or termination for their absences. If I were a student in one of their classes I would take that as a clear message that fraud is okay, as long as you believe in your cause. I wonder how that same teacher chides the next student to bring a fake doctor’s note to class for an unexcused absence. Certainly if I was caught lying to my boss about my absence I would expect to be reprimanded or likely terminated.

All Americans, red and blue, most hold ourselves to the highest standards when fighting for what we believe in. The ends do not justify the means. I find tea party signs comparing Obama to Hitler or Stalin as disgusting as the signs in Wisconsin comparing Governor Walker to Hitler and Mubarak. In order for productive debate and effective governance, we all need to disagree with honor. That includes both protestors and legislators. That must be our Purple Ground. We must remember that the “how” is as important as the “why”.

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One Journalist Who Gets It

Today’s column by HuffPost Business Editor Peter Goodman is both inspiring and a breath of fresh air.  His blog is aimed at the role of journalists today, and how media today has contributed to the false notion that the important issues of the day can be divided into Left and Right.  It’s an intelligent look at not only how journalists should cover these issues, but really, how Americans should approach them as well. 

In short, Goodman is saying it’s not about a bogus Left/Right framing. What’s more, it’s also not saying that all issues have a common center where the “answer” lies. It’s about our objectivity.  We, like our nation’s journalists, have a responsibility to not rely on those sources with staked out ideological positions to think for us. Each of us can and should make our OWN ideological position.

There are so many examples, many cited in his column, where the issues of our day are ridiculous to frame as Left or Right.  And it’s just as ridiculous to say there is a safe middle for many of these issues. Here at PurpleGround, we are saying that our issues usually start with most Americans in agreement: The need to reduce the deficit, lower health care costs, reduce dependency on oil, secure our borders, reform education, generate job growth, etc. Goodman’s point is that we are doing ourselves a severe disservice to try and answer these issues in black and white, left or right terms – and it’s a cop-out to say the answer is always half-way between each position.

Rather, by starting on the common ground on the importance of an issue, it should lead to a respectful dialog on the different approaches to the solution. And ultimately, it should mean an individual – be it an everyday American, a journalist/blogger, and especially an elected representative of the people – should make their OWN position based on what they have learned and gathered.

When you fall into the ideological trap, you get backed into corners of believing your side has the absolute truth, and by adopting that truth as your own, you close yourself to alternatives. It is just as ridiculous for any liberal to say we can ignore the deficit, as it is for any conservative to say we should kick out all illegal immigrants. You debase the argument if you maintain that everything labor unions want is fair and necessary, as much as if you maintain that there should be a removal of all business regulations.

I’ll close by quoting directly from Goodman’s closing thoughts:  “Left and right are the props of the cynical class who use them to convey a sense of sophistication in place of the messy, difficult work of finding things out, uncovering truths and reckoning with social problems in their fullest human dimensions. We need to aim for better.”

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50 Examples of Diversity: The United States of America

I love California. I am typing this blog right now on my patio. It is mid January and it is 80 degrees outside. The sun, blue skies, warm breeze and palm trees are such a part of my life that I used to take them for granted. Then I started traveling for work. It was a slow (albeit obvious) realization for me that the vast majority of the country is not sitting on their patio in mid January getting a tan.

But living in California is not all sunshine and lollipops. We have terrible traffic in Southern California. There are parts of the state where illegal immigration and a decline in farming have caused pockets of third-world-like poverty. Legislators in California have been so irresponsible with state spending that California now faces a 28 billion dollar annual budget shortfall. That makes us worse off fiscally than Greece, and California has the 8th largest economy in the world. The voters themselves have been complicit in the problem by making it easier for our state government to spend and more difficult to raise taxes.

So what’s a Californian to do? Apparently many are giving up on the Golden State. For the last six years California has lost more domestic population than it has gained from other states. The only reason that California’s population has not declined as a whole is the continuing influx of immigrants from other countries to California – both through legal and illegal immigration.

When my sister wanted to rent a truck to move to Texas in 2009, U-haul told her that the cost to rent a truck from California to Texas was three times the cost of renting a truck from Texas to California. Apparently the traffic has primarily been moving one way. Reagan used to say that people voted with their feet, or their U-hauls, as the case may be.

If too many businesses and taxpayers are leaving California for greener pastures in Texas, Nevada, Arizona and Washington state, maybe the Powers That Be in California will learn something from those states that are attracting ex-Californians. The genius of 50 United States over one State is that good state government will be rewarded and bad state government will be culled – eventually.

The states’ differences also allow a more representative democracy. People are not all alike, so why would we want states that are all alike? Texans think differently than New Englanders in many ways. Those differences are reflected in those state’s governments. If California’s government is at odds with my principles, I have the ability to move to a state that more closely mirrors my beliefs. (But oh boy would I miss the weather!)

Finally, states can act as the petri dish for progress. If Maryland has excellent education results, states with failing schools can learn from what they are doing. In the same way, districts within a state can learn from the success or failure of programs in other districts.  If Nevada’s zero tax rate draws a lot of business to that state, other states should consider that a lesson. If California’s AB32 cap and trade system is a success and creates a new green jobs economy that grows revenue and revitalizes California, then I would expect other states to follow suit. If AB32’s new environmental  regulations hurt California’s economy and constrict business growth, then I hope other states learn from our mistake.

The reason the founders wanted so much independence left to the states was that they understood the importance of the competition of thought and approach to governing. The federal government exists in large part to make sure that the states do not infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights. For example, recently the Supreme Court declared Chicago’s ban on guns unconstitutional because it violated the 2nd Amendment. Outside of the power delegated to the federal government by the constitution, powers are “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” 

They say that the best politics are local. Local leaders understand their constituents’ priorities, neighborhood’s challenges, and the area’s needs in a way that Washington cannot. The power in our government should be greatest with those closest to the people they represent and smallest at the federal level, where decisions impact us as one monolithic state.

In America we strive to protect and appreciate diversity of speech, religion, and ethnicity. Let’s not forget to also respect and value the differences in our 50 states. Without it, we have only our own mistakes or breakthroughs to learn from.

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The Importance of an Open Mind

I had a chance recently to catch “True Grit” with the family – the remake of the 1972 classic starring Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role.  Like most, I really liked the original classic, but I was excited about seeing the remake.  I’m a fan of the filmmakers (the Coen brothers – “No Country for Old Men,” “Fargo”) and the film has Oscar buzz, so I was intrigued to see how they would adapt the Portis novel differently.

My point is not a movie review, but to share the conversation I had with a good friend beforehand.  I knew my buddy was a huge fan of the original “True Grit,” but despite being a cinephile AND a fan of Bridges, he wasn’t at all interested in seeing any remake.  His reasoning was that there was no reason to fool with perfection, and a new version was completely unnecessary.  After a few minutes talking, I realized my buddy had completely closed his mind to even the potential that the film could be worth his time.

That’s sad to me. The idea that you would close yourself to a new experience, a different point of view, simply because of some self-pronounced boundary or litmus test.  My buddy simply refuses to acknowledge the validity of the film because of his affection for the original.  And nothing was going to change his mind.  He simply closed his mind to even the idea of appreciating the remake.

Such is my fear about our elected officials and some of our own partisan rhetoric.  There is too much of the thinking that nothing good could possibly come from so-and-so, on this-or-that.  And because of this contempt, too many times we stop bothering to listen or trying to absorb what is being said.  We say we’ll listen to other opinions, but really we’re only listening to those voices that come empirically “pre-approved.”

In a time when America faces tough challenges we must embrace the ability to be open-minded.  As the year begins with newly electeds at every level of government, we must hope both the new and sitting can be open to new ideas, new tools, new solutions, a new way of doing things.  It starts with mutual respect.  It continues by listening to each other.  The common courtesies we’re taught as kids.  

Now the truth of the matter is that there’s no way to remove the biases and self-selection we bring to everything – even if my buddy had seen the movie, it’s very doubtful he would like it as much as the original, or even like it at all.  But maybe, just maybe, he might respect the effort.  Or maybe he might see one thing the new version did just a little better than the old.  At the very least, he would be able to appreciate his beloved original in a different light.

I’d like to think we are on common ground that we insist our elected representatives keep an open mind.  Even though we want them to stand principled in their values, we should also want them to consider new legislation and new proposals with intellectual curiosity.

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Keeping the Season … Free from Politics

Every year we all receive forwarded e-mails with inspirational holiday messages, be it thinking about our troops during the season, “keeping the Christ in Christmas” or remembering the “reason for the season.” They are mostly inspirational messages produced by a stranger, usually with some beautiful photography, Bible quotations and prayers. Nice reminders for any Christian who can appreciate the holiday for more than wrapped presents around the tree. 

But then there are THOSE viral e-mails I could really do without – the “Christmas is under attack” missives. Dire warnings that Christmas is in danger of losing all its spirituality in America because of hell-bound liberals, the ACLU or Democrats in general. Here’s one recent example claiming the White House wanted to rename “Christmas trees” as “holiday trees.”

Our common ground when it comes to Christmas is that we all want to celebrate our holidays however way we want.  We appreciate the personal freedom to put a couple thousand lights on our house, decorate a live tree in our living room, put a Nativity Scene on our front lawn, or ignore the whole thing altogether. And the thing is, I don’t think celebrating Christmas is a big problem in America. I don’t think faith is in any danger of being wiped away from those who want to celebrate Christmas that way. But I do see these viral e-mails as an attempt to USE Christmas spirituality as a political-motivated propaganda tool.

I’ve never had to hide my Christmas faith, and no one I know has ever had to hide it either. From the faith-based Christmas cards we mail out, to seeing our kids in the church’s Christmas play, if you want to inject spirituality into your Christmas, there’s plenty of chances. And no one has ever admonished me for wishing them a Merry Christmas either. But at the same time, most of us don’t have a problem with the secular Christmas either. Santa, Rudolf, lights and presents are all fun traditions many families have adopted while celebrating the birth of Christ. 

Now this doesn’t mean I don’t respect the fact that others may NOT share my perspective on the holiday. To this end, there’s nothing wrong with wishing a generic Happy Holiday.  For my client “Christmas cards,” I pick “holiday greetings” out of respect of the fact I’m not familiar with everyone’s beliefs. In group situations when I’m unfamiliar with the crowd, I will wish Happy Holidays with the same sincerity as I would Merry Christmas. And when I do, I certainly don’t feel my faith is being put into the back seat.

Sure, there are some in the population who are militant in their ANTI-Christmas agenda, and I know there are battles being fought in local jurisdictions. But really, are these isolated cases really enough of a problem that we need to forward the angry e-mail that implies if you don’t, you’re not a real Christian? The real reason for the season is love for your fellow man – and let’s keep politics out of it.

Merry Christmas everyone, and I wish you a very peaceful, safe and joyful holiday.

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