Category Archives: History & Government

Reflecting on changes since 9/11

 

Yesterday I tried to gather thoughts for sharing, but I just could not find a thread to bring them together. Today, this day especially, a thread begins weaving thoughts together.

 

As an American, one cannot escape the memories of 9/11.  But there are other days that are cemented in my memory that have bound us together: JFK’s assassination, the OKC bombing, the Challenger tragedy, not to mention the natural disasters such as the hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires that keep us spellbound to the news.

 

Throughout all these historical events, I am constantly reminded about how key a faith system is to the way in which we manage these experiences.

 

The denomination is irrelevant.  The common element is—GOD.

 

I recognize that many of our younger generations—note the plural—struggle to understand the ‘need’ for a faith system, but I also know that there is an underlying curiosity about why faith is so important to their parents and grandparents.

 

On Saturday, the Missouri Methodists held a kick-off event for the three priorities the conference has established for the current year:

  1. Pathway out of poverty: to deepen & grow partnerships between schools & churches
  2. Creating new places for new people: introducing church (faith) to one person not involved in any church for at least one year
  3. Missional leaders: to identify & mentor new leaders in the church

 

Today’s churches are facing the global community that continues to be rocked by disasters whether at the hand of humans or at the mercy of nature.  The challenges each person faces has the potential to destroy one’s security, one’s family, one’s confidence to wake up each morning and start fresh to live a new day.

 

During the kick off event, the question Roger Ross presented sums up the concern the long-established churches must consider:  Why on earth do we start new churches when so many existing ones are struggling?

 

The United Methodist Church is recording losses in membership, but I propose those losses signify a shift in the demographics more than anything.  The denomination has not adapted well to the cultural changes that began in the 1960s when Vietnam was the primary news story shortly after JFK was assassinated.

 

Ross went on to explain why the conference has decided to emphasize the need to reach out to new people in new places:

 

“. . . Over the last 10 years, the Missouri Conference has started 40 new churches—30 of them are still reaching people today.  We’ve found that new people, younger people and more diverse people show up in disproportionately higher numbers in these new churches than our existing ones.  . . . “

 

Today, as we remember the horrific events of 9/11, I cannot ignore the enormous effect that faith has had on the generations that lived through that attack.  Look at all those who raced into the horror to do all they could for all they could reach in any manner that they could—with no regard for their personal safety.

 

These people were images of God incarnate.  They were moved into action by training, yes.  By a sense of purpose, yes.  By an unseen force those in the faith community know as the Holy Spirit, yes.

 

I suggest that every single person has the foundation of faith within his/her psyche.  I suggest that God is within each individual, waiting, struggling, and anticipating to be acknowledged

 

God’s church is not a denomination, but all denominations.  Any church who identifies its purpose and works together to become the arms and legs of God in any way that it can, will shine the metaphorical light to those still searching to know God personally.

 

For Missouri Methodists or any denomination to succeed in making disciples of Christ (remember Jesus’ greatest commandment), the purpose must be defined, and the current disciples must reach out to others to develop relationships with others.

 

The methods to reach out to others should not matter.  Whether meeting at a local restaurant or coffee house or gathering in a cathedral, establishing relationships with one another is the key to others learning about how God operates within their lives.

 

I have walked through the tragedies of life, but I have my faith.  I know that I can manage anything as long as God is my partner in this life. I know that doing all that I can for others—whether in a classroom, within my family, or as I walk in and out of stores.  God is my operating system.

 

This does not mean I am perfect.  I am human. But as long as I keep my eye on God and follow the teachings of Jesus, I should be alert to the power of the Holy Spirit within me equipping me to manage in this life.

 

With my faith system in place, I see glory in the sun’s morning rays shining in my eyes.  I hear the hymns sung by the birds and even the evening insects.  I feel the warmth of the sun, the hug of a friend or family member, or even the warmth of a sweater wrapped around me.  I taste the sweetness of honey created by the bees or the strength of the beef and pork raised by the farmers.  I smell the perfume of the sweet autumn clematis or the spring’s lilacs, the freshly mown grass of summer and even the snow’s freshness as it blankets the grey world.

 

I love God.

 

I love life that God created and gifted to us.

 

I love others, too, and want to love them as I want to be loved.

 

I pray that as we continue to face the evils of this world, that The Church continues to transform into the body of Christ whether it finds a home inside a church or whether it moves into action along the sides of people in need anywhere within our global community.

 

Dear God,

We certainly do not understand everything

     within this enormous world you created.

We certainly struggle to understand the disasters

      that challenge us at any time in our lives.

Open our minds so that we may hear, see, taste,

     smell and touch all that you have created.

Open our hearts so that we may share in the joys

      of our lives and the pain, too, so we move

      to love one another in all the ways we can.

Open our doors not only of our churches but

       of our homes and businesses so others

       may come to know your love above all else.

Thank you for all that you have given to us.

Thank you for continuing to love us when we err.

Thank you for the promise of eternal life

       because you stepped on this earth with us,

       taught us how to love one another,

       and then died so might live eternally.

In your name,

In the name of your son Jesus Christ.

And in the name of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

 

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In reply: “Gone Missing” Letter to the Editor

In Re: Curriculum for the 21st Century: a reply to C.D. Rinck Sr.’s Letter to the Editor, March 21, 2018.

D. Rinck of Mission, KS, has a valid point. He asked, “ What happened to all those government checks and balances I was taught in high school?”

He goes on reflecting on his own education, “”They must have suffered the same fate as diagramming a sentence as I learned in English Class.”

Rinck should be concerned. Having taught for nearly 30 years before retiring in 2015, I have taught both—how to diagram sentences and the US Constitution. I also taught journalism.

The Constitution provides the clear separation of powers as a means of preventing any one branch from taking control. The checks and balance system is critical to a democracy including the republican democracy of the United States.

At no point should one branch have power over any other branch. In Sen. Jeff Flake’s comments to the National Press Club last week, the same topic of checks and balance is referenced.

Flake said, “Defending democratic institutions ought not to be a controversial idea, and hasn’t been until very recently. But recognizing that our institutions are under threat from within, with clarity, seems to me a basic obligation of the Article I branch of government—the congress, whose power is, in theory, equal to that of the president’s…”

Jennifer Rubin, from The Washington Post, was published in the KC Star editorial, “The problem: Flake can’t win in today’s Trump GOP” also focused on checks and balance.

American textbooks include the principle of checks and balance as a primary theme to be taught in civics and government classes. The class used to be taught juniors not freshmen as it is today. (And as an aside, I question whether freshmen are developmentally prepared to discuss the theory or to fully comprehend the value of the US Constitution.)

The American checks and balance system has also included an additional watchdog—freedom of speech that includes professional journalism. I taught journalism as the social responsibility as I was taught at MU during the mid-1970s. Journalists are to report the news objectively not subjectively, unless in editorials.

Our schools must teach students how to be critical readers, good communicators, and independent thinkers. I am concerned that emphasizing technology education and student achievement testing undermines what education must be.

Language curriculum needs to include sentence diagramming again. Diagramming teaches students how words communicate. Students need to understand value of the word, the difference in denotative and connotative meanings, and how to write clear statements. Sentence diagramming teaches analysis of language.

An example of applying critical reading and understanding language’s structure as evidenced in today’s KC Star article, “Trump’s phone call to Putin raises hackles,” about the President congratulatory phone call to Putin included one biased word: stubborn. Look at the paragraph.

“Trumps comments came five days after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election and other “malicious cyber-attacks.’ It widened what has become a familiar gulf between the Trump administration’s tougher actions and words toward Russia and Trump’s own stubborn reluctance to criticize Putin.”

Let the facts speak without adding the opinion.

Of course, our school’s curriculum and the emphasis placed on education must be a priority for our society, too. Our students will be left behind if the curriculum does not teach the skills to be critical readers, analytical thinkers, and good communicators.

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Read the news carefully

Reading this morning’s KC Star on-line, two articles had paragraphs that need careful reading. Both caught my attention by the words that could easily be skipped yet need careful reading.

First, in the news article, “Where’s Gov. Greitens? Not with Trump this visit” (March 15, 2018, p.4), about one third the way down, after explaining that Greitens did not greet President Trump in St. Louis like he did on the other two Missouri stops, came two paragraphs:

“Trump instead was welcomed by Attorney General Josh Hawley, the state’s top law enforcement official and the Republican front runner to challenge U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in the fall.”

This paragraph is a simple statement of the situation as a news report is designed to be, with the exception of one word “instead.”

That word becomes loaded with meaning when a news report last week stated that Trump asked certain state Republicans not be included—names not included.

In that previous news report, the comment was included that Hawley had not been invited to greet the president. The paragraph in today’s article implies that Hawley was invited to greet the President.

Hmmm. I would like a clarification, at least of when Hawley was included in the meet and greet.

The article continues with the next paragraph that is a quote from Trump:

“The state of Missouri was very good to me, I’ll tell you,” Trump said during a visit to Boeing. “And Josh, I think, is doing a fantastic job. I can tell you that. Just met him at the plane.”

Close reading of the President’s quote causes more concern for me as a reader.

First, the President said the state of Missouri was very good to me. The historic records can prove just how good when looking at the election results.

By going to the Secretary of State’s official website for the general election results of November 8, 2016 the results are posted:

Republican Trump/Pence took 56.772% or 1,594,511 votes

Democrat Clinton/Kaine took 38.135% or 1,071,068 votes

Libertarian Johnson/Weld took 3.466% or 97,359 votes

Additionally there were 45,667 votes cast for a total of 2,808,605 votes cast.

Yes, by the numbers, Missouri was good to Trump during the election.

But on with the President’s quote:

“And Josh, I think, is doing a fantastic job. I can tell you that. Just met him at the plane.”

Those short sentences are worth reflection. Look at the sentences in reverse order.

Trump just met him at the plane. Just? At? How much knowledge can one gain in that moment of meeting.

The middle sentence, “I can tell you that”, is clear enough as Trump is being quoted. But, look again at that first brief statement:

“And Josh, I think, is doing a fantastic job.” Even Trump’s own statement creates questions. He just met him. He thinks Hawley is doing a good job. But the qualifier ‘fantastic’ is Trump’s descriptor for what he thinks is the job Hawley is doing.

Where are the facts? Two small paragraphs in the first third of a news article is loaded with implicating statements. The reader has a responsibility to reflect on these words.

Journalism is reporting the news based on various elements such as timeliness, significance, proximity, prominence (i.e. name recognition) and human interest (as identified at http://www.pbs.org/now/classroom/lessonplan-05.html).

The active reader needs to be aware of these elements and to consider them as filters as to how a story is reported. Knowing this, the two paragraphs in this article are just part of the story, but need careful reflection by Missourians.

The second KC Star March 15, article to read carefully is in the Opinion section, “GOP’s Hawley launches campaign we don’t need” by Melinda Henneberger. Remember, this is an opinion or editorial.

Henneberger has an opinion, but she does develop that opinion with facts concerning candidate education and historical quotes. Yet, buried in the middle of the article is a paragraph for careful reading and reflection:

“Yet both there [out East] and here in the Midwest, where I grew up, blue and red bubbles are harder to penetrate because any news we don’t want to hear, we increasingly choose not to hear.”

Regardless of one’s political preference, referred to as ‘blue and red bubbles’, the message in Henneberger’s editorial is that we, the people, are making the conscious decision of what to hear or not to hear.

In casual conversations, opinions are voiced easily. The concern is how solid is one’s opinion based on facts, not hear say.

Read carefully.

Look for concrete support in an article.

Look beyond the headline grabbing attention.

Look at what is not being said.

Read carefully.

Do not just scan the headlines.

Take time to read the full story whether in print or on-line.

If you have questions, ask or look for answers.

Hennenberger’s article is an opinion, but read it carefully. Make the choice to know the facts. Do not choose to you do not want to hear.

The KC Star’s front page includes the teaser headline, but choose to ‘hear’ the story and turn to page 4. The headline develops into more than a story on Greitens non-appearance, but also a story about an election and the President’s knowledge.

Then choose to read on. Read others’ opinions and reflect.

Choose to read carefully.

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1968! 2018 . . . 2068

Yes, I am a little slow tuning in to some of the more contemporary and cultural trends. But in January, I read the article in the USA Today for January 22, 2018. Seeing ‘1968’ on that page I suddenly realized the significance.  Fifty years separated that 1968 from today’s 2018.

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Needless to say, I had to put it into perspective.  I was a freshman in high school and had decided that I wanted to go into journalism–to make a difference.  We were in Vietnam.  We were in the throes of civil rights changes.  And I was growing up in the Midwest on a family farm.

My viewpoint was idealistic.  I have often been accused of being a “pollyanna’ and I accept that.  I probably still am.  I always look for the positives and hate to admit that the realities can be devastating.  I want to see the good.

But I am also a news junkie.  I could watch the news all morning, at noon, during the evening news and even the 10 pm news.  I want to know what is going on.  I have even explained that being a journalist was a way to be legally nosey.

But back to 1968.  I read the USA Today article and saved it.  There is so much in there to absorb.  I do not think we should ignore the enormous changes that have occurred in our society that began there and have defined today.  The article is worthy of rereading.

Then another surprise.  In the mail came a gift subscription to the Smithsonian and what was the cover!  1968!  The headline with the year, “The Year that Shattered America.”  Fifty years ago, events made the news and many were just experiencing the news instantly broadcast–in full color–right into our living rooms.

How, in 50 years, could a society change so radically.  I am sure it has to do with the immediacy of news, but also consider all the changes in how families function–or dysfunction.  Think about the changes in industry.  Think about priorities.  Think about faith.

The past 50 years have sped past us and if the magazine Smithsonian is right, we are a shattered culture. I, in my naivety, want to see that in 50 years, we are still a fluid society, shifting and changing to meet our community standards.  The community, now, though really is global and the political boundaries cannot keep the flow of ideas confined.

Today’s 2018 community has the potential of promoting a global culture that finds the value of the individual and the unique cultures that circle this world.  Surely the political and the corporate world should lead by valuing individuals and the cultures from which they come.  If they don’t, then I sadly could see how 2018 could become the year that shattered our global community by 2068.

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no. No. NO! Do NOT arm teachers.

I am a retired teacher.  I retired after teaching in alternative educational program for 20 years.  The President’s statement that we need to arm our teachers, much less to provide them a monetary bonus for carrying a gun into the classroom outrages me.

Teachers work to develop positive relationships with students.

How does a gun demonstrate trust?

Teachers already serve as surrogate parents (known by the legal phrase in loco parentis) while our children–students–are present on school grounds.

How does a gun teach students healthy relationships?

Teachers are coaches for our young people struggling to manage the game of life.

How does a gun teach life skills?

Teachers spend hours preparing lesson plans trying to teach basic knowledge in as many ways possible to meet the individual needs of the students.

How does a gun meet a student’s individual needs?

Teachers are paid only a nominal salary to fulfill all the educational, emotional, social, and basic needs for this country’s future.

How does paying a bonus to carry a gun improve the educational system?

The endless list of questions can continue, but there is absolutely no answer that makes any sense that our teachers should be armed.  Would this lead to colleges of education requiring certification in marksmanship?

The final suggestion that teachers be given a bonus for carrying a gun just appalls me.  We cannot pay our teachers a reasonable salary for all we expect them to do already, why would paying a bonus to carry a gun be appropriate?

Paying bonuses to workers who demonstrate exceptional salesmanship or innovative business skills has long been a practice in the corporate world.  Never, never has such a practice been part of the educational paradigm.

Gifted teachers focus on developing relationships with the students.

Gifted teachers focus on finding ways to teach to the individual needs of the students whether educational, emotional, social, or technical.

Gifted teachers operate out of a sense of unconditional love for the individual students who grace their classroom.

Why would anyone think it is beneficial to arm teachers in the classroom when their full focus is on doing whatever it takes to protect those kids in that critical moment that an armed intruder is storming through the school?  Stopping to pick up a gun and turn away from the kids may destroy the very lives they are working so hard to prepare for productive adult lives of our country’s future.

Do not insult the integrity of the teaching profession by rewarding them to carry a gun into the classroom.   No.  No.  No!  No guns in the classroom.  And absolutely no bonus to encourage these professionals to carry a gun.

Reward teachers by respecting the profession and paying them appropriately for being in loco parentis in those classrooms.

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Journalism training rules

Reading the KC Star’s opinion column from Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times News Service,  I was reminded of some very important rules that the Mizzou’s School of Journalism included in our training.  My degree was in news ed, and the Columbian Missourian instructors really hammered at us to use some very primary rules of reporting:

  1.  Follow the money.  Whenever trying to investigate a story that seemed questionable, follow the money.  Another words, looking at city, county, state, or federal government, follow the money.  If an individual was living differently than one might anticipate for their position, follow the money.  If an organization, especially when using public money, could not explain its budget, follow the money.
  2. Get the story from three different sources.  If a reporter can substantiate a story from three different sources, the likelihood is that there is a true story to report.  Of course, the reporter must be responsible enough to locate three different, unrelated sources to substantiate the story.
  3. Check your quotes.  When taking notes, make sure they are accurate even checking them with the person before walking away.  When using a direct quote, read it back to that person to make sure it is accurate and to let them know that you are planning on using it.  When using an indirect quote, also check it with the person being quoted.

Needless to say, journalists have taken a beating considering the entire tirade calling the news “fake.”  But, I firmly believe that trained journalists who remain faithful to the Canons of Journalism, the Journalist’s Creed, and the principles the universities taught, are reporting real news.  If they are responsible, then no one can support such accusations.

Sadly, the immediacy in which the news is transmitted leads to mistakes–many times a listener’s misunderstanding rather than the report.  At all cost, the headlines need to be direct and unbiased.  Listeners need to turn to fuller reports whether through further web research or through more traditional sources as the written word in newspapers and magazines (which are sadly unable to sustain the cost of publication).

Recently a news article concerning the deportation of a professor more fully explained the circumstances that lead to ICE’s attempt to deport him.  The story continues, but as so often is the case, the full story is not able to be broadcast in the 30-60 second sound bites.  The story is complicated, and it takes study to follow and understand it.  We still do not have the whole story, I am afraid.

But back to Friedman’s editorial, Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all Americans now. Regardless of one’s personal stand, the article reminds us to follow the money.  In our government, serving in an elected position places one’s life under the microscope.  If reporters cannot follow the money, that leaves so many questions unanswered.

My fear is that by the labeling of news as fake, the work of our journalists is compromised.  If the profession of journalism is not allowed to function freely in our democracy, then how can we check the three branches of our government.  We need ethical journalists to keep our elected officials accountable now, just as we did during Watergate.

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Let’s rethink lobbying: What is best?

My friend reminded me that lobbying is a concern.  I agree and had considered making a statement concerning the idea that has now become a profession when it should not.

Before I spoke, though, I thought I should do a little review.  I started with the US Constitution.  I pulled up the full text and did a simple search for these terms:  lobby, lobbying, and lobbyist.  I was not surprised–none of these terms are in the entire constitution.

Therefore, the next step–federal laws.  Yes, there are laws, in fact each state have laws to regulate lobbying.  Interestingly, the laws are very similar and include a monetary limit on gifts that must be reported.

A monetary limit to gifts!  Why should lobbying involve any form of gifting?  Check the definition of lobbying:

 Definition of lobby [Accessed on February 13, 2018 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lobby]:

1 a corridor or hall connected with a larger room or series of rooms and used as a passageway or waiting room
2 a group of persons engaged in lobbying especially as representatives of a particular interest group

Definition of lobby [Accessed on February 13, 2018 at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/lobby]:

1  A room providing a space out of which one or more other rooms or corridors lead, typically one near the entrance of a public building.

 

2  (in the UK) any of several large halls in the Houses of Parliament in which MPs may meet members of the public.  

3  A group of people seeking to influence legislators on a particular issue.

Please notice that I have posted two different sources for the definition.  The first definition in both entries are a location, but it is the 2nd & 3rd entry that pertains to people/organizations influencing legislators.

No where in these definitions is the method of influence mentioned.  Certainly the absence of a monetary reference is obvious, so why has lobbying become so entwined with money or gifts in so many different forms become synonymous with the idea of lobbying.

In my web search, I found another website that outlines how enormously profound lobbying has become as an accepted method of monetary influence.  Checkout this website:  http://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/lobbyist-regulation.aspx  [also accessed February 13, 2018].

The chart is interesting and I did read through Missouri’s, but the entry that captured my closest attention is this paragraph:

“OVERVIEW | LOBBYIST REGULATION

Lobbying—a citizens’ right to speak freely, to affect decisions and petition the government—is a crucial right, and an important part of the legislative process. This right has also created an industry whose numbers have increased dramatically. A 2006 survey by the Center for Public Integrity put the number of paid lobbyists at state legislatures at near 40,000 and growing. State lobbying laws have sprung up in response to the proliferation of the “third house” and the influence that it exerts. The details of each state’s lobbying laws differ markedly, so much so that nearly 50 different versions exist. There are common themes, however. All states define who is a lobbyist and what is lobbying, and all definitions reflect that lobbying is an attempt to influence government action. All states have lobbyist registration requirements, and all require lobbyists to report on their activities. In addition to tracking the above issues, the Center for Ethics in Government has information on lobbyist oversight entities, restrictions on the use of public funds for lobbying, lobbyist contingency fees, lobbyist identification, prohibitions against false statements and reports and legislators’ disclosure of lobbyist connections.”

Here is my concern:  Lobbying is out of control.  Influencing our legislators should not, definitely should not, involve any form of gifting.  Influence is done by word of mouth and by actions NOT by purchasing in any form.  When dollars are added into the formula of influence, then there is no level platform for influencing–those with money get the most attention.

Communicating an individual’s, a group’s, or an industry’s personal agenda is not wrong, but attaching the influence to a gift weighs the playing field.  When lobbying, the key should be what is best for the people?  What is best for the country?  What is best for our land?  Definitely NOT what is best for the corporation, the pocketbook, or any one individual!

Let’s keep the focus on what is best for all individuals, not what is the best way to buy one’s own agenda.  

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