Time to Get Serious

It’s nearing mid-term elections, and the news is full of noise I mostly tune out. But one rainy afternoon I decided to find out what my Congressional representative has been doing to serve his district. There are many websites through which one can peek behind press releases touting accomplishments that members of Congress love to send to their constituents. I began with house.gov, linked to my representative’s web site, and then branched out to opensecrets.org, govtrack.us, votesmart.org, and links beyond links. I should have done it years ago.

I know that statistics alone do not tell the full story of the complex workings of Congress and the difficulties in moving a bill from introduction into law, nor do titles of sponsored bills give much clue as to their value to the voter. But basic facts are quick and easy to come by, and here’s what I learned about my Congressman:

  • Since arriving in office in 2005, he’s MISSED 6.8% of votes, higher than the median 2.4% missed by fellow representatives during similar tenures
  • He is an extremely reliable vote for his party (93.9%) when he votes
  • He serves in NO leadership positions on any committees or subcommittees, after 10+ years in Congress
  • He sponsored ONE bill in 2015, portions of which were incorporated into legislation that was enacted, (which appears to have amended a tariff schedule on bulk cargo.) On his website he claims authorship of two other bills in 2015 that were passed by the House, but I found no indication they moved beyond the House into law.
  • He is a member of the majority party, which controls the calendar of business in each chamber. Nonetheless, during 2018, he introduced 12 bills (placing him 283 out of 450 House members), none of which have made their way through committee to the floor for a vote.
  • Press releases on his website about issues of importance to me are dated from 2015 and 2016.

I am not impressed. I will not support him, and it won’t concern him one bit. He is in a safe seat, helped by the squiggly district borders drawn by the Republican controlled state legislature following the 2010 census. I will turn my attention to the Senate seat up for re-election in my state instead, which offers more opportunity for change.


National Happiness

You may have read that Norway is the happiest country in the world according to the 2017 World Happiness Report (http://worldhappiness.report). I can completely understand that it might consider itself the most beautiful, as its close happiness competitors in Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland could do as well. But happy? Its weather can be grim, taxes are high, and I can imagine considerable financial and physical challenges to living there, having found it an expensive (but fabulous) place to visit.

The World Happiness Report looks at the role of social factors as contributors to life quality and evaluates a data base of 155 countries to reach its conclusions. The United States this year dropped to 14th in rankings, “largely because of poor social support and cohesion” quoting The New York Times in The Week Magazine.

I suspect it is easier to develop cohesion and social support in smaller nations than ours, but I still have to wonder how happiness enters a national psyche when a country tries to achieve those goals, particularly at high tax cost to its citizens. Perhaps our Congressional denizens should review the federal budget from a new perspective and adapt a thing or two from countries who seem to have a novel definition of what “quality of life” means. My guess is it has something to do with different values and ideals than we currently seem to prefer. Norway contributed to my personal happiness; my national happiness has some questions to ask, some pondering to do, and some lessons to learn.NorwaysmallNorwaysmall-2Norwaysmall-3


Just as I stand speechless when privileged to view the natural treasures of this nation, I am beyond words when told that protection of our environment is less important than other economic interests addressed in the federal budget. How can that be? What amount of money, what project, what pressures, what argument for or against climate change, is of greater value than being awestruck by the wonders that have dazzled for centuries? Have we lost our sensibilities for that which is not man-made? Do we feel no responsibility for walking lightly on this earth, protecting humans and animals and plants from the carelessness we seem willing to tolerate from industry? We are fearful of so much these days; why are we not fearful of compromises to our air and water? We want governmental protection of our borders; why do we not demand government protection of our land?

The incredible nature photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) said it for me: “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” Horrifying, and completely unimaginable.


Birds of a Feather

In keeping with the idiomatic expression about flocking birds, I imposed a quote by John Locke (1632-1704) on a photograph of a painted bird house. In general, birds seem fairly content to follow their leader without judgment. I suppose that makes sense for most species.


Reality Show

Had this been a novel, I’d have found the story fiendishly clever and the product of a highly imaginative, complex mind, capable of spinning an exciting yarn with frightening implications. But it isn’t a novel. It’s reality. I have yet to wrap my mind around what has already taken place in our country, and what it portends. Read it and weep, or get very, very angry.


Washington Wisdom

I’m referring to George Washington, of course. A photograph I took several years ago at a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico seemed to me a good host for the powerful sentiment written by our first President. I can only hope that the same celestial spark is alive and well among those who work on our behalf in the city honored with his name.desktop_485_120629

Travel Interlude

NOTE TO READER: Do not be alarmed…this is a generic post.

I was disturbed to read that a recent poll indicated only a small percentage of millennials intended to watch the political debates. I imagine a large number of other adults have no plans to do so either.

I get it. Hate him/her; can’t take another minute of this campaign. Make it go away.

From our travels, I can tell you that citizens of other parts of the world are worried for us and about us, and as a consequence, for themselves. They want clarification about what’s happening in America. Me too.

The New York Times on line helped me focus yesterday by listing 15 questions that the editorial board and others proposed as important issues for the candidates’ attention. Here they are:

What would you do to reduce the extreme income inequality in this country?
Health insurance premiums and out of pocket costs are rising rapidly. What would you do to control them?
What evidence-backed measures should be taken to improve the public school experience for every child?
Where has American policy on Syria failed? Should something be done militarily to stop the slaughter?
What specific actions or tactics will you use to fight the Islamic State that the Obama administration hasn’t already tried?
What should be done to strengthen the Social Security system so it can keep supporting retirees now and in the future?
How will you minimize the domestic threat of home-grown terrorists?
It is widely accepted scientific fact that climate change is real and potentially catastrophic. What specific action will you take in the next four years?
Sanctions and global condemnation haven’t deterred North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. What would you do?
Where would you set the limits on surveillance by the U.S. government?
The racial divide on policing and politics seems wider than ever. How could the next president help turn this around?
How do you plan to get money out of politics?
There are 43 million people living in poverty in this country. What will you do about this?
What would your administration do to reduce gun violence and mass shootings?
What are three important initiatives you could accomplish despite Congressional gridlock?

There is serious business on America’s plate. I think we all deserve thoughtful responses to these questions, and hope the debates provide the forum for changing the tenor of this campaign from rancor to reason.

Easter Message

This letter was part of our church bulletin this Easter morning, and I think it needs to be   shared.

Episcopal Bishops Issue A Word to the Church
Holy Week 2016

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

The Episcopal Church House of Bishops met in retreat March 11 – 15 at Camp Allen Conference Center in Navasota, TX.