The Religious Liberty Taskforce
According to Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, addressing a recent Religious Freedom Summit, there is what he called a dangerous movement interfering with religious freedom. Consequently, he announced the creation of a Religious Liberty Taskforce and charged them with enforcing 20 principles which he presented in a DOJ Memorandum. Some of the 20 points seem to place religious liberty over civil liberty, or permit certain kinds of discrimination. According to Session’s speech, religious freedom must come first. So it would appear that in practice if two aspects of the bill of Rights come in conflict, the answer would be simple, religious freedom would trump (no pun intended) any other one.
There is much to be concerned about when one reads these 20 principles, which are listed in this Quartz article and which you might well want to look at. Two main themes emerge. One, they erode the separation of church and state, a hallmark of the US system. And second, in the context of what we know of Mr. Session’s views, they beg the question as to whether this is meant to be a step in establishing a Christian nation.
The task force is a fait accompli, and evangelicals and conservative hail it. For our part we must be very aware of how it will manifest itself and use what is at our disposal to expose the problems it is bound to reveal.
Eagles of The Desert
The Eagles of the Desert–Los Aguilas del Desierto–are a group of volunteers. They are construction workers, maids, gardeners, veterans, immigrants themselves who for the last 6 years gather monthly to comb the desert along the Mexican border in search of bodies, the bodies of those who tried to cross into the US but did not make it. Hundreds die each year in this way. 412 were found in 2017. And forensic researchers say the actual number may be higher. It is hard to know why they did not make it, the extreme heat, drowning in irrigation canals, an accident, murder… often it is unknown. The Eagles’ work brings relief and hopefully answers to anguished family members who do not know what happened. Sometimes they cannot identify the body, sometimes they find someone they know, and there are times when the person they find is a relative or someone close to them. The Eagles use GPS, satellite images, even information they can obtain from border agents and smugglers.
As I kept reading about this amazing group of volunteers, I kept remembering those who accuse immigrants who thus cross the border of coming in to commit crimes. Can anyone truly believe that someone would willingly undergo the hardships of crossing the desert and risk his or her life in order to commit a crime? Regardless of what some may believe, the work of those volunteers needs to be hailed.
The Burn Unit
Someone close to me, an 8 year old girl ended up hospitalized in the burn unit of a large hospital after a serious injury to her arm and chest. We were all so concerned and upset because anyone who knows anything about burns knows how painful they are. The treatment in the hospital at first consisted of pulling off the bandage and scrapping the wound clean. Repressed tears were a constant, since we tried not to cry in front of her. Burn units are full of sad and tragic stories from babies to men who cry in pain. While in the waiting room one day we met Carol, the grandmother of a patient there, Pinky. Pinky then 15 was hanging out with some friends at a recording studio when someone who had a grudge against the studio or its owner torched it. 2 people died and Pinky was burned over 80% of her body including her face. She turned 16 in the burn unit, even after 3 months was still on a ventilator, which means talking was hard, and was expected to be there at least 2 more months. In the children’s playroom a couple of days before, I had noticed a young boy, Julian, who looked to have been burned all over his body. Carol shared his story. He was 9 years old. While in a car with his 2 siblings and parents, the car was hit by a speeding RV and caught fire. His siblings and father died. His mother was injured but had recovered and shared with Carol how she remembered laying there while people around took pictures! Julian was burned over 70% of his body. By the time I saw him however, grafts had taken the rest of his usable skin. His wounds were no longer open and he no longer needed bandages, so he was discharged while we were there after having been in the burn unit many weeks.
The 8 year old did not see Pinky but saw Julian and understood he was hurt far more than she was. I did not see Pinky either, but the whole idea of being a victim of someone’s wickedness is something that cannot easily be dismissed. How often do people snub any of us, are inconsiderate, say unkind words, do hurtful things, how often are we the object of others’ mistakes yet nothing like Julian and Pinky experienced. How would we handle being on the other end of such a situation? Carole said it’s hard not to be bitter and did not talk like a bitter person. How would we deal with those who wrong us in a way that negatively affects the rest of our lives?
Gene Drives, GMOs and Species Extinction
We all know that the anopheles mosquito causes malaria and that malaria kills half a million people a year. What if we could eradicate the anopheles mosquito and save so many lives, for down the road that would be many people indeed? Well we can. In fact the Bill Gates Foundation which has been so active in fighting malaria has made the technique behind all this a centerpiece of their anti-malaria effort. It’s a form of genetically modified organism called gene drive. Whereas genetic engineering usually affects one generation and may or may not be passed on, gene drive is passed on and as such can lead to extinction. Say you can make the mosquito infertile, in a few years, no mosquitoes. Think of other illnesses like Dengue and Zika which also stem from mosquitoes? They too could disappear. It’s not only illnesses, agricultural pests could also be made to mate to extinction. The Tata Foundation has for example given UC San Diego $70 million to train Indian scientists to use gene drive for agricultural disease control. Labs in Texas and Australia are busy with daughter-less mice capable of conceiving only male offspring. A Biotech firm Oxitec released engineered diamond black moths which were infesting broccoli and cabbage.
What does the extinction of a species mean? Is it all good? What are the long terms implications? Are we paying too high a price for the eradication of diseases like malaria? Critics like Friends of the Earth fear that the gene drive process may end up being used for financial incentives rather than for benevolent purposes as those of the Gates Foundation. I admit I share the critics’ concern, and I feel that the beginning of the answer lies in transparency, for right now so many of these developments are not sufficiently in the open . We need to know, we need to be aware of how these GMOs are being developed and used. Then we need to give all these issues much thought and make our thoughts known.
The Need For Conversation
We text, we call. We email. We use Facebook and Instagram. But we don’t converse. More and more that fact is being noticed by teachers, by intellectuals, and more recently in a book by Celeste Headlee, a radio show host. Her book, “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matters,” sets forth the problem and what to do about it. Key to her solution is how to listen. When we think about it, how often do we listen? We don’t have to the way we currently communicate. And one consequence is that not listening feeds our own point of view, keeps us from better understanding or even knowing that of another. Wouldn’t that fuel the very partisanship that is tearing apart ours and many societies? We talk, certainly we talk. We share our feelings, we share what happened to us, we share our opinions, but the art of conversation is not in our repertory of communication. That is if we define conversation as the sharing of ideas and of thought. It takes listening to do that certainly, something we often are not good at anymore, but it also takes more than that. It takes effort. I must confess there are times when I am reluctant to engage in such an effort, and too I’ll admit that’s because conversation then seems like hard work. Yet looking at those times when I did put in the effort, back in the days when conversation was popular and I did engage, I must say the stimulation, the excitement, the joy the inspiration, the enrichment made whatever effort involved worth it.
Welfare Benefits and Racism
People on the left such as NYT columnist and economist Paul Krugman have long held the view that white Americans resented minorities at least in part because they felt that they received more government benefits than whites did. A new study now shows him and others right. Having been conducted by academics however, the phrasing of the findings is put in more cautious language. Robb Willer professor of sociology and social psychology at Stanford and Rachel Wetts of UC Berkeley call this the welfare backlash. They explain that as minorities make up an increasing percentage of the population, the demographics stoke the fears of lowered social status and increases resentment among whites who then end up feeling that indeed minorities benefit from aid and social programs more than they actually do. The authors warn that this finding may increase the likelihood that as they put it “policies restricting or curtailing welfare programs” may be enacted in the coming years. And given the proclivities of this Congress and this administration, that is a well-placed concern.
Besides highlighting and explaining the reasons for a known concern, the study also helps us understand aspects of racism. Non-whites experience discrimination while whites look at the same situation without understanding how that experience can contribute to racism. It is helpful therefore to have a clearer sense of how certain forms of racism can manifest themselves. It then becomes an opportunity for whites to grasp why non-whites feel the existence of a racial divide so keenly.
To Ponder On
“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower