Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Veteran Died Today

He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And 'tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.

But we'll hear his tales no longer,
For ol' Joe has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer
For a Veteran died today.

He won't be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won't note his passing,
'Tho a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young,
But the passing of a Veteran
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician's stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Veteran,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever-waffling stand?

Or would you want a Veteran
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Veteran,
Who would fight until the end.

He was just a common Veteran,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his likes again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Veteran's part,
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:


H/T: Susie

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Need for Mutual Respect in the Debate of Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights

There seems to be a lot of overblown and heated rhetoric in the news recently pitting gay rights against religious rights, thanks to an irresponsible media whipping up stories where none really existed. Let’s look at two theoretical scenarios of just how such issues could play out.

Scenario 1
Gay man: Hi, I would like to order a wedding cake for me and my husband-to-be’s wedding.

Bakery owner:  I don’t think so.  I don’t serve homosexuals for any event, especially weddings.  In fact, you need to leave my store right now!

Gay man:  Whatever.  I am going to make damn sure your business is boycotted and ruined, you hateful bigot.

Scenario 2
Gay man: Hi, I would like to order a wedding cake for me and my husband-to-be’s wedding.

Bakery owner:  Well, I really am very sorry.  My religious beliefs dictate that I cannot help you out with your wedding though.  I certainly don’t have any animus against you and will be happy to serve you with whatever other needs you might have such as pastries, birthday cakes, and so on.  I do hope that I don’t lose your future business because of this.  I also hope you understand and can respect my position and the fact that I must follow the dictates of my conscience and faith.

Gay man:  Well that is disappointing to hear because you do have wonderful cakes.  I can appreciate that you are trying to live life according to your conscience though. Can you recommend another bakery that might be able to help me?

Bakery owner:  I don’t know for sure.  There is that bakery on Main Street that you might try though. Their cakes are nearly as good as mine.  (laughs)

Gay man:  Okay.  Thanks.  I’ll try over there instead.

For some reason, it seems that collectively we as a human race are losing all common sense and decency when it comes to how we treat and respect each other. These scenario’s present just two options of how the same situation could be handled. Although this begs the question, shouldn’t respect for each other be something that ALL people practice?

Indiana and Arkansas have now passed state versions of a law mirroring the bi-partisan federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which was introduced by former Democrat Congressman, now Senator, Chuck Schumer, which passed the House unanimously then the Senate to win by a 97 - 3 vote, and was then signed into law by President Bill Clinton.  The difference is that the new Indiana law, which is essentially the same as the federal one, has caused nothing but hate and discontent.

Gay rights advocates assume this Indiana law will protect wide-spread discrimination against them. They fear that the new norm under this law that twenty states now have on the books will allow something similar to scenario 1 above to become commonplace.

I am certain there are people in America that would act just like that and there are people of differing faiths with just such a mindset.  However, there are even more people, including Christians, that would not respond in such a way.  I would hope that most people would be sufficiently polite and respectful of each other, even if they have disagreements, to act more like the second scenario. Indeed, in our nation of diverse views and beliefs, wouldn’t it be far better if we could show respect towards one another, even when we disagree?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could behave like the two gentlemen in the latter, rather than the former scenario?

Now if a gay person were indeed to be denied service by a business merely because of the fact that he or she was gay, then a legitimate case of discrimination could be made.   But if a gay person is insisting on service that goes against the conscience of the business provider, then isn’t that a violation of the business owner’s ability to exercise their first amendment right to freedom of religion?   Respect for each other’s rights MUST be a two way street.  Unfortunately, this is not what seems to be happening lately.

Recently in Walkerton, Indiana, a local business named Memories Pizza experienced the wrath of those that were against the business owners abiding by their consciences and faith.  A local ABC news affiliate was trying to create a story by canvassing local businesses after the passage of the state’s religious freedom restoration act. They happened to strike pay-dirt when they asked the co-owner of this family-owned pizza parlor if they would hypothetically cater a gay wedding.  The owner said that her religious beliefs would not allow her to do that.  Even though the business happily serves gay people on a regular basis, the uproar caused by this small business owner simply stating her beliefs, has brought forth chaos, death threats, and even a local high school coach advocating others to march with him to burn the business down.  Needless to say, the family had to close their business and go into hiding for a week until the initial outrage passed.

Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia Law School who helped win passage of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said no one has ever successfully used such laws to override nondiscrimination statutes. He expressed frustration that gay rights advocates seem to be ignoring this in their attack on the Indiana law.  “I don’t know if they don’t know that, or whether they’re pandering to their base,” Laycock said.

States began passing their own Religious Freedom Restoration Acts after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the federal law didn’t apply to states; consequently, twenty states now have their own Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

The Indiana law, the federal law and those of the other 19 states with similar laws do not even mention the words “gay”, “marriage”, or “homosexual” anywhere within them.  It wasn’t drafted to be an “anti-gay” bill, but rather to allow a defense in court for businesses had  they felt  they were being forced to participate in actions that went against their consciences or religious convictions.

Former Senator Santorum summarized the debate quite aptly on Face the Nation two weeks ago.
“No business should discriminate … because of who you are,” Santorum said. “But it should have the ability to say, ‘We’re not going to participate in certain activities that we disagree with on a religious point of view.’” …”If you’re a print shop and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God Hates Fags’ for the Westboro Baptist Church because they hold those signs up?” he asked. “Should the government force you to do that? And that’s what these cases are all about. This is about the government coming in and saying, ‘No, we’re going to make you do this.’ And his is where I think we just need some space to say, ‘Let’s have some tolerance (and) be a two-way street.”

Indeed!  Simply because many Americans have a religious belief that God created us male and female, and that marriage is a sacrament that unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant, really does not amount to a form of bigotry.  We, as Americans, need to respect each other, even when we disagree with each other.  Hatefulness on either side of this debate only serves to exacerbate an already out-of-control matter.  The ultimate victim if we persist with such a lack of tolerance and respect for each other will be our God given and constitutionally protected right to live our lives according to the dictates of our conscience and faith.  That is an America I do not want to live in!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The 150th Anniversary of the End of the Civil War

One hundred and fifty years ago today, the bloodiest war in American history came to an end as General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate cause to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Having lived in Virginia for several years back in the early 1990’s, I was struck upon first seeing Appomattox Court House in how small and unassuming it was, particularly because this was the place where the culmination of our nation’s bloody atonement was concluded for our pernicious sin of slavery.

Many other nations at the time of our Civil War engaged in slavery, and indeed many still do today, but America purged its soul and finally made the first monumental step in keeping the promise of our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”.  More than 700,000 people died in the cause of our Civil War accordingly.

Sadly, the sesquicentennial anniversary of this event that saved our nation and its soul will probably not even be mentioned in most media outlets today.  As Americans, most of us will ignorantly go about our daily lives and not stop to thank God and pray for those men who 150 years ago today ended our Civil War where they fought, bled, and died to save the union and make amends for a great evil.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Exceptionally Dangerous Idea: Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

The terrorism-sponsoring regime of Iran has long sought to build a robust nuclear program for the purposes of electrical power.  (Nod – nod, wink – wink.)  Everyone knows, however, that the truth of the matter is that this program is for the development of nuclear weapons.  Evidently it is not polite to point out this blatant falsehood in diplomatic circles however.

The fact that Iran has been the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism across the globe, even currently, in the days of ISIL and al Qaida, is something that seems to be intentionally overlooked by the Obama administration though.  Iran is an implacable enemy of the United States, and has been since the Carter administration when they stormed our embassy in Tehran taking our citizens hostage.  Iran calls the United States “The Great Satan,” and refers to what was formerly our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East of Israel “The Little Satan.”  Iran’s former president Ahmadinejad stated publically on multiple occasions that Iran’s goal is to wipe Israel off the face of the globe.  It is a goal that is backed by the ruling mullahs of Iran.

Why we refuse to take our enemy at their word is baffling.  As Americans, including our supposed regional diplomatic experts from the State Department, we tend to look at that type of rhetoric as mere political hyperbole for their masses. However, an understanding of the Middle Eastern mindset of this Shiite nation seems to be completely absent.

This is absolutely not just political bluster on their behalf.  As Americans, we cannot conceive of people believing with such unshakeable faith that they must kill the innocent, let alone understand that these people become homicide bombers in order to become martyrs and thus enter into paradise with Allah.  Shia Islam, which nearly all Iranians practice, tells of the coming of the twelfth imam, an Islamic messiah, to unite the world under Islam and sharia (Islamic) law.  In order for the coming of their messiah, the world has to be in complete and utter bloody chaos, even if that chaos is created by the very practitioners of that faith.  What better way to do this then to launch a nuclear weapon at Allah’s hated enemy of Israel thus thrusting forth a third world war in order to hasten the return of the twelfth imam?

Currently, the United States has crippling economic sanctions in place to try and convince Iran to give up their terrorism and nuclear ambitions.  The assumption is that Iran would negotiate, as any rational nation with a Western mindset would.  After all, they know that if they launched a nuclear attack on Israel, that they would be attacked in return. Are they really that crazy that they would sacrifice themselves? Yes, looking at this situation through their eyes – their beliefs – sacrificing even millions of their own people in order to eradicate Allah’s enemy of the Little Satan and thus bringing their messiah to unite the world under Islam would well be worth their martyrdom.  Their culture does not value life like we do.  Instead, they see death, especially a martyr’s death, as a gateway to paradise.

Iran is now negotiating to conclude an “oral agreement” with the United States to restrict their nuclear weapons program in exchange for the United States to remove these economic and trade sanctions.  The Obama administration hopes to have just such a deal in place with Iran by the end of today.  Secretary of State John Kerry has bent over backwards with concessions in order to ensure that a deal – any deal – is agreed upon before April Fool’s Day is upon us.  The regional, and indeed global, ramifications of such a deal are either non-evident or not important to Secretary Kerry and President Obama.

Due to these current negotiations, our supposed ally, Saudi Arabia, is forming a coalition with other Sunni Islamic countries such as Turkey and Egypt in order to counter balance a near-future nuclear-armed Iran. Many of them want to obtain nuclear weapons of their own, accordingly.  Where Shia Iran and its proxies are already fighting against Sunni fighters in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, the Saudi Kingdom and its allies fear what an unfettered Iran with nuclear weapons will be able to do to the regional balance of power.

“But, T. Paine, I thought the deal President Obama was making with Iran was to ensure that they don’t get a nuclear weapon?” you ask.  Yeah, well, not so much.  President Obama has argued that a “verifiable” deal is the best way to ensure the stability of the Arab states because it ensures that Iran does not get a nuclear bomb.  He argues that even a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would only temporarily set back its program.  This way, he argues, we can engage Iran and know when they begin their weapons program once again.  Oh yeah, and in reward for their temporary restraint in their on-going nuclear program, the United States will remove all economic and trade sanctions that were the cause of bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.

Surely Iran will keep its word and cease with its weapons program though, right?  There is a concept of “taqiyya” in the Quran, Islam’s holy book, which permits faithful Muslims to lie to infidel non-Muslims if it protects the “believer” and/or furthers the cause of Islam.  It is exceptionally likely that Iran is not negotiating in good faith accordingly.  Iran’s Sunni neighbors don’t seem to believe that Iran will keep any deal stuck with the United States, and with distrust growing against America, they will all race to acquire and develop their own nuclear weapons.  It is speculated in some intelligence circles that Saudi Arabia might simply buy nuclear weapons from their Pakistani ally.  Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly pleaded with President Obama to abandon such a deal with Iran, as the state of Israel’s very existence is at stake should Iran obtain a working nuclear weapon.

President Obama has seemingly refused to listen to our friend in Israel and other allies in the Middle East.  Clearly he knows better than they do about what is best, as he continues with this foolish and unverifiable agreement that Iran is, historically speaking,  absolutely certain to break.  Press Secretary Josh Earnest assures us that President Obama is willing to walk away from the negotiating table if a deal cannot be struck.  He would rather have no deal than a bad deal, according to Mr. Earnest.  This, of course, begs the question of just what the hell they consider a “bad deal”.

This “oral deal”, as the Iranians are loathe to put anything in print, has been continuously altered over the course of negotiations, and always in Iran’s favor.  Iran is allowed to keep its centrifuges, which are needed to enrich uranium to levels necessary only for weapons grade material.  Its stock of enriched uranium was supposed to be sent to Russia for holding, but that too has been a point that Iran has reneged upon recently.  It is estimated that Iran could have a working nuclear weapon in less than a year, and in all likelihood probably much sooner.

President Obama’s desire for a deal – for some sort of legacy in the Middle East – is exceptionally dangerous.  Like Britain’s Neville Chamberlain negotiating with the Nazis in order to have “peace in their time,” it seems our President Obama is foolishly following the same course and is destined to repeat  history.  We need to stop thinking as Westerners and instead look at the world through the eyes of the Iranians with their perceptions of what America represents.  Only by doing this will we see what a horrifically bad idea striking such a “deal” with Iran will be.

UPDATE 4/1/2015: As a deal was not able to be reached with Iran by the March 31st deadline, President Obama has extended the time line for negotiations to today, April 1st, 2015.  This is despite Secretary Kerry ruling out any extension of talks with Iran back in February of this year, as per the Washington Post.  Evidently, the desire for a bad deal is just too enticing for President Obama to walk away from.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Best Dog in the World

I am a dog person.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that I will like your dog though, mainly because I think my dog was the best canine that ever wagged across the planet on four legs.  Let me tell you the story of the world’s best dog. 

It was a beautiful summer day back in 2002 that my family and I went to the rescue shelter to see if we could find a dog to become a part of our pack.  There were plenty of rambunctious and decidedly loud dogs in the shelter that day. They all rushed the gates as if to say, “Pick me!  Take me home!”  Strolling from one dog pen to the next, no particular dog stuck out at first, and then we saw a sweet puppy in the back of one of the runs.  She wasn’t frightened or timid, but simply well-mannered and hesitant.  It was as if she had been passed over by many potential owners far too many times to get her hopes up again.  Indeed, she had been passed over so many times that if she didn’t get adopted within the week, she would have been euthanized.

We asked the attendant if we could take this sweet dog to the visiting area to see how she would act with us.  She immediately came up and nuzzled my wife.  She did not jump up on us or act like an uber-hyper dog in need of a Ritalin prescription.  She was affectionate but not obnoxious.  Something just seemed to click with all of us and felt very right.  Somehow you just know. She was THE dog. 

She was obviously a mutt and was about six months old.  The veterinarian told us she was most likely a mix of Lab, Sharpei, and Pit Bull.  You could see a little of all three in her.  Whatever she was, she was the sweetest dog I have ever seen, and she was now ours.  The shelter had named her “Star”, which I immediately discarded as her name.  I wasn’t going to give my newest family member some stripper’s name.   She just didn’t look like a “Star.” Her coat was somewhere between a deep tan and auburn color and she had big golden-brown eyes that melted your heart.  We decided that Cinnamon would be our new puppy’s name. 

Dogs are wonderful creatures.  They aren’t like cats, which are the progressives of the pet world, who think that they are entitled and act as if your only purpose is to serve them.  Dogs seem to understand human emotions and react accordingly.  When my daughter or wife was sad, she would come nuzzle and comfort them.  When everyone was happy, she did the silliest things, seemingly just to amuse us.  She was in every way a member of the family. 

Cinnamon was very smart and learned lots of tricks, including the best trick of all, to weasel her way into all of our hearts.  There is nothing quite as gratifying at the end of a long work day as to come home, open the door, and have your dog wagging her tail so hard that it is going in circles like a propeller, just out of sheer joy of seeing you. 

Cinnamon would always listen to my then-teenage daughter’s stories and troubles that a teenager doesn’t seem to want to share with her parents.  Cinnamon would lay on the floor next to the bed to be close to my wife as she went through countless surgeries over the years.   And she was always wagging her tail. 

Cinnamon loved kids and other animals.  Whenever I would be doing yard work out front, she wanted to run off to play with the neighborhood kids.  Many people, at first seeing Cinnamon from a distance, were afraid of this “vicious” pibble. (“Pibble” was what my daughter misunderstood “Pit Bull” to be.)  After meeting her, folks could tell their fears were misplaced.  Cinny loved everyone and every critter.

Indeed, one day while mowing my front lawn, the neighbors across the street let their new little Chihuahua out front to do his business.  Cinnamon saw this as an opportunity to meet a new friend and went trotting across the street to say hello.  The Chihuahua didn’t like other people or dogs and immediately let Cinnamon know this by biting her on the nose.  Cinny was shocked at the rudeness of the Chihuahua’s reaction and probably assumed it was some peculiar breed of cat.  Anyway, she tucked her tail, yiped loudly, and came racing back to me at full speed.  I was caught in a rather embarrassing dilemma.  It wasn’t like I could call animal control and tell them that the neighborhood Chihuahua just beat up my Pit Bull.  Needless to say, Cinny stayed close by my side whenever that “cat-tankerous” dog was outside thereafter.

Over the years Cinny was there for the good and the bad times we had as a family and we couldn’t have loved her more. Eventually, my youngest daughter grew up and set out on her own adventures. But Cinnamon was always ecstatic with her propeller-wag happy-puppy dance whenever she came back home to see us.  Then suddenly, my wife of 23 years passed away.  Cinnamon and I were both devastated.  But Cinny always seemed to know when I was at my lowest and she would come up to me, sit down beside me, look inquiringly with plaintive eyes, and just nuzzle me.  She was my buddy before, but we really needed each other after my wife passed.

Well, life moves on and I eventually came to terms with the passing of my wife and the family has somewhat adjusted.  It will never be the same but we must move forward.  God is very good and in His love and mercy He brought a new love into my life.  I have asked her to be my bride and she has foolishly agreed.  We decided to buy a new house to start our life together and so we purchased one about an hour north of my old house. 

The day we moved was hectic, as one might expect.   When the movers left our new home that evening, Cinnamon was acting strangely.  She wanted to stay outside in the cold and just didn’t seem to be herself.  I eventually coaxed her into the basement, but the thought of going up the stairs must have seemed like a daunting task to her with her arthritis as she just stayed at the bottom looking up the stairs at me.  As Cinnamon was always such a faithful friend, I figured the least I could do was to bring her dog bed downstairs for her to sleep on.  She got on her bed, but I was concerned with her strange behavior.  I sat in the chair beside her bed and stayed with her until morning.  At dawn, I went upstairs to take care of a few things and when I went back downstairs, just ten minutes later, my beloved dog Cinnamon had passed away.  It just happened to be the anniversary of my wife’s death that day.

Needless to say I was distraught and devastated.  My fiancĂ© comforted me as I wept.  I called my daughter and told her I needed her to come over that day as soon as possible, without telling her why.  When my daughter arrived, I told her the sad news through many tears for both of us.  We then wrapped up the best dog in the whole world in her blanket, and gently lowered her into a grave we had dug in the rose garden at our new home.

Life goes on.  That chapter was now closed and so looking forward, I turned the page and opened a new chapter of my life.  Cinnamon was with me for the better part of thirteen years.  She was a loyal and faithful member of the family whose only response to every situation was love.  There is a prayer, “God let me be the person that my dog thinks I am.”  I know I would be a far better man if only I was what Cinny thought I was.  Cinnamon is gone now, but I smile when I think of her.  

My beautiful fiancĂ© just happens to have a wonderful dog that is now a part of my life.  His name is Luke and he, like Cinnamon, only wants to love and play with us.  Life is good; in fact, it is indeed a dog’s life.  And if there is a heaven for dogs, I know my Cinnamon is sitting beside my wife and wagging her tail in propeller-circle fashion.