Gay Marriage in America: Should Straight People Care?

I’m a Christian. I’m also a Democrat, with political tendencies that would be characterized by today’s measures as roughly “left-center.” To be honest, I don’t really know what that means, other than that I’m apparently a heathen anomaly. Overall, I believe liberalism is the stronger ideology for the advancement of the human race, though I also understand that reality bears the requirement of occasional pragmatism. I also believe that, as a big picture, liberalism is far closer to the teachings of Jesus than the bizarre form of conservatism being practiced today. Because of this, my opinions will likely not fully agree with anyone on anything. I don’t expect you to fully agree with my complex stances on the issue of same-sex marriage. In fact, I’m still confused at how big government liberals are the ones standing up for LGBT rights, and so-called limited government and concerned about privacy conservatives are so eager to know what you do in the bedroom and damn you to hell for it.

My hope is not for you to read this and say that I’m right. In general, I encourage dissent, because I’m fully aware that I could be wrong. My real hope is for you to say that I’m fair, and perhaps you will step out of the box with me and see the spectrum of opinions, as opposed to right or wrong, left or right, black or white, gay or straight.

I want to break this into three distinct categories. I intend to show, first and foremost, that this conversation becomes far less controversial, indeed almost non-controversial, if we assume and expect a metaphorical wall standing tall and strong between church and state. I will also show that, as opposed to the popular Christian perspective, the evidence against same-sex marriage is not so clear-cut. In fact, it just might be shaky enough that erring of the side of not dehumanizing another human being is preferable. None of this, however, is as important and impactful as an understanding that the language we use within the controversy makes it far more confusing than it needs to be. All of this can be so much easier, with far fewer words than I’m about to drop on you. I would ask that you reserve your opinions until you’ve read the entire piece and have a few moments to reflect on it. This is not surface-level stuff, so please do not treat it as if you’ll find the answer on a bumper sticker.

Church and State

The separation of church and state, despite popular belief, is not worded as such in the U.S. Constitution.  Rather, it was an interpretation published by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause from the Constitution. Going back even further, the idea was first promoted in writing by the Flushing Remonstrance (not to be confused with the Universal Remonster), which was a statement written by a group of English Citizens in the mid-17th century in response to the governor of New Netherland banning all religions except the Dutch Reformed Church, and the following resulting persecution of Quakers.  None of the signers were Quakers. They just thought it was stupid to persecute the Quakers for being Quakers. Imagine that…they were fighting for the rights of others to worship differently than them.

The wall of separation has since been held up as precedent numerous times by the Supreme Court, namely because the Founding Fathers that were responsible for religious liberty and the Establishment Clause in the Constitution were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of which urged the interpretation using the wall metaphor. The Supreme Court has decided on multiple occasions that because the author of the concept of the wall metaphor was a key player in entering religious liberty into the Constitution (Jefferson), his later writings on the topic can be extended and understood to essentially be part of the Constitution, much the same way that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution in their decisions set Constitutional precedent.

The reason this is important to the current controversy of same-sex marriage is because this wall separates the controversy into two distinct parts that have no reason to overlap: should same-sex marriage be allowed by the state, and should same-sex marriage be allowed by the church. From the state side, the wall makes it absolutely clear. The fight against same-sex marriage comes directly and only from the Bible, and because the religious argument should be separate in matters of state, there is no religious argument allowed in the debate. A same-sex couple going to the courthouse and getting married, filing joint tax returns, being with their partner on their death bed, and enjoying all other benefits our country offers to married couples can be based in no part on anything that establishes religion in a matter of the state. This is undeniable. In this way, the wall of separation protects the state from the church.

It’s important to note, though, that this protection is two-sided. The wall of separation is equally as necessary to protect the church from the state.  The state does not have the right, even if same-sex marriage is legal within the state or even as federal law, to force a same-sex marriage on the church.  In this way, the wall is used to protect the church from the state. It is absolutely necessary, when interpreting the idea of this wall of separation, to understand it from both sides and understand that it is for each to protect from the other, so that neither can exercise control over the other or encourage corruption within the other.

It is also important to note that none of this means that a business can refuse to offer services to someone based on a sexual orientation that goes against their religious beliefs. Commerce follows different rules, and frankly, if you’re a business and you’re picking and choosing your customers, you’re doing capitalism wrong. In a strange twist of irony, one of the ways odd ways to combat a bill allowing businesses to refuse to serve the LGBT community would be to reinterpret and extend corporate personhood from Citizens United v. FEC. By establishing the corporation as a single entity unto itself in regards to political donations, the entire concept of the corporation, and all commerce, changes significantly.  And in some cases, hilariously. No longer could corporations and business owners transfer their own religious beliefs onto the entire corporation, because the corporation is its own entity. Corporate personhood has its pros and cons, so perhaps corporations would be less interested in the pros if they are also saddled with the cons, which would be the result of strengthening corporate personhood.  Not saying that’s what I want to happen, but it’s an interesting twist, no? The nerd in me digresses…

What the Bible Says

The Bible, specifically a couple passages in Leviticus, is the absolute foundation for the movement against same-sex marriage, to the point where some people are so excited to share their judgment of homosexuals that they get the verse tattooed on them…apparently not realizing that a chapter later, Leviticus also bans tattoos. This guy is all down with Leviticus 18:22:

22 Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

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Apparently that’s the only important one to him, because if he had read any furtherc he would have come across Leviticus 19:28:

28 Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. (emphasis mine)

Cain Facepalm

Cain Facepalm

And that’s just the start of this hypocrisy. Leviticus also says you shouldn’t cut your hair on the sides or ever shave your beard. It says several times to observe the Sabbath, but that doesn’t keep supposed Christian Republicans from pushing for a legal 7-day work week. You’re also forbidden from mistreating a foreigner in your land. There goes another decent chunk of Republicans. You’re not supposed to hold a grudge or seek revenge on anyone in your land. and since the death penalty is almost 100% based on revenge, most of Texas might as well just throw in the towel and prepare for hell fire.  I could go on with much of the Old Testament, but hopefully you get the point. There was a reason these things were written at the time they were written, and at the time all of those reasons were extremely valid and necessary. But many were changed, or more appropriately, verified and clarified by Jesus. You know, the guy this entire religion is based upon. Read the Beatitudes, and you’ll see a lot of “You have heard that it was said…” followed by the stated law, sometimes from Leviticus, followed by, “But I tell you…” where Jesus clarifies the law. This is not a contradiction, but rather a fulfillment of laws that are perhaps no longer necessary to serve their original purpose. In fact, Jesus almost directly states this in Matthew 5:17-18:

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

So, did he do it? Did Jesus fulfill the law? My guess is that if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be a worldwide religion to celebrate his fulfillment of the law. Think about some of the things in Mosaic Law that were no longer part of the law after Jesus fulfilled it. Do we still sacrifice animals to atone for our sins? Of course not; He was the ultimate sacrifice, fulfilling the law to take the place of animal sacrifice. Every time he pissed off the Pharisees for “breaking” the law, he was actually fulfilling the law. So why assume that Jesus fulfilled some parts of the law, but not others?

Many of the laws in Leviticus, even the ones that seem weird, served a very logical purpose in the context of the time period. A popular one in any Leviticus argument is the ban on eating pork products. Any hardcore Christians out there willing to swear off bacon for the rest of your life?

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I mean, come on, we bake a ham to celebrate the Resurrection. If it seems like it’s a law that God just dropped on us like a troll, just to see us squirm, then it’s time to look at that law from a logical perspective, and within the context of the rest of the Bible. Without proper refrigeration methods, pork products would go bad extremely fast, so God told them to not eat them. Either that’s the reason, and it’s now okay to eat pork since it can be properly preserved, or God has a nasty streak where he does mean things just to screw with us. Occam’s Razor would suggest the former. In much the same way, a ban on homosexuality at the time served a purpose. The Israelites needed to build and grow their population, and quickly, and that can’t happen when people are dying from spoiled pork and engaging in sexual activities that don’t lead to procreation. Now, fast forward to today, where the world is suffering from water shortages, energy shortages, and all kinds of other issues attributable to the ridiculous rate of population growth. Is procreation really as necessary today as it likely was then?

It’s important to note that I’m not offering my specific opinion on interpretations of the laws in Leviticus. Though it may seem like I’m pushing you in a direction, it is not my intent. My intent is for you to stop and think for a second. What if you’re wrong, and what would that mean in regards to the way you’ve treated homosexuals in your life? Nothing in the Bible is so clear-cut that you can rely on knee-jerk reactions because you find something icky. For straight people, you could even apply a template of Pascal’s Wager and come to the conclusion that acting with respect towards others has the best chance of preserving your own soul. If homosexuality is a sin, then you have treated a sinner with respect, just as Jesus did. If it’s not a sin, then you haven’t judged someone unfairly.

The Gay Gene and the Myth of Choice

Regardless of how you feel on anything I’ve written so far, if you take nothing else away from reading this, please take this. The question of whether homosexuality is a choice has been phrased poorly from the beginning, and all because of the word “choice.” For decades, scientists have been looking for the “gay gene,” that little part of a homosexual’s DNA that creates homosexual feelings. If it could be proven as a real thing, the entire debate would change dramatically, as this would mean that discrimination of homosexuals is no different than discrimination for skin color, for being born with a disability, or having the nerve to be born as a woman.

**One more thing to think about: hermaphrodites are born the way they are…does that mean God created a loophole around his own law? Even more interesting to think about is how the rules translate in the case of someone that has had a sex change. If a female is attracted to other females, then has a sex change and becomes a male, is that another loophole? I feel like if this law is really so important that not following it will cause hurricanes, God wouldn’t be so ambiguous and leave significant portions for us to just figure out on our own**

Moving on… The evidence of the so-called “gay gene” is generally inconclusive at this point. Both sides of the debate are certain the debate is over and their side is right. I’m not here to tell you which is right and which is wrong. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter. Because even if there is nothing coded in our DNA that decides sexual orientation, it is still most definitely not a “choice.” It’s not as if a young man grows up liking girls, then changes his mind and “chooses” to like guys instead. You’ll find many homosexuals that had earlier relationships with the opposite sex, but ask them if it was because they truly were attracted to the opposite sex. It’s more likely because it was the only way society would include them. So for the sake of argument, let’s use a hypothetical default sans a biological reason, and show that an environmental reason should be equally as powerful in any discrimination discussion as any biological or genetic characteristic.

Start by viewing this through the perspective of someone else. You are not you in this exercise; your new background provides you with a very different childhood and very different feelings on many topics.  Imagine being born into a family where the father is an unloving and terrible person, and let’s just say that this lack of a loving father played some role in your attraction to the same sex later in life. Please note that this is a hypothetical; I’m not trying to somehow diagnose homosexuality. Now, if this situation were to take place, as many who argue against genetic sexual orientation would claim, the decision to be attracted to the same sex is still not a choice by any definition of the word choice. Perhaps it’s the father’s fault, but if so, why punish the son for following a natural inclination that may or may not have been the result of his lack of a father. So either it’s genetic and they don’t have a choice, or it’s environmental and they don’t have a choice, or it’s a combination of both and, shockingly, they don’t have a choice. So please, let’s just remove the idea of “choice” from the debate altogether. It may be genetic, it may be biological, or it may be environmental. For all practical applications, it really doesn’t matter. None of them involve choosing one or the other.

The reason I find this so important is because I think straight people try to simplify sexual orientation so that we don’t have to think too much about it. It’s difficult to have empathy when one can see no circumstance which would require them to make a “decision” about liking men or women. It’s so ingrained in me to be attracted to women…WOMAN, I meant woman, singular. Aw hell, my wife never reads my blog. I think I’m safe.

Examining your own sexual orientation is an important self-reflection. If I’m judging someone for an action that they take or feelings that they have, I’m basically saying that I understand the circumstances because I face the same challenges. But this is extremely and entirely false. I have never had to ask the question: do I like men, or do I like women? It was just natural for me to be attracted to the opposite sex, as it is natural for others to be attracted to the same sex.

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Life is easy being straight. I don’t have to worry about what people will think of me for being attracted to my wife. I don’t have to worry about losing my job or being treated unfairly at work by a homophobic boss. I don’t have to worry about getting beaten up for no other reason than my sexual orientation. I didn’t have to walk around campus during my college years and read signs saying that God hates me. If the love of my life is sick, I get to sit next to her in her hospital bed, and she gets to be with me if I’m sick. It’s too easy for straight people to disregard all of the hurdles and discrimination and pain and humiliation that some people have to go through just because they have a different predisposition, even though, as I feel I’ve shown pretty clearly, it wasn’t their choice. So if you ask me if homosexuality is a sin, my answer is this: I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, and it’s time for Christians to move on. If it is indeed a sin, then you’re not going to change a homosexual by hating them or treating them as though they’re damaged and scary.

I mean, this gets talked about as if you could just toss out the rest of the Bible and base your entire life on this one verse in Leviticus and you’ll be golden with God. Recently, as Indiana passed their controversial religious “freedom” bill, a local florist named Melissa Jeffcoat was asked why she wouldn’t serve to homosexuals. She predictably said because it’s a sin. Then she was asked if she would serve to an adulterer, or someone that didn’t honor their father and mother. Her response, and I cannot make this stuff up, is that she would because adultery is a “different kind of sin.”

Okay, if we’re going to start grading the sins, let’s take a quick look at this. Homosexuality gets a short blurb within a book of the Bible that also tells you not to have sex with your daughter and/or goat (by the way, for those saying gay marriage is a stepping stone towards people being able to marry animals, you’re missing a key contextual point…consent). Not committing adultery is a Commandment…you know, of the infamous Ten Commandments? Charlton Heston? In fact, it was such an important commandment in the Old Testament that Jesus doubled-down on it in the New Testament. Matthew 5:27-28:

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Do you know where it is in the Bible that Jesus says homosexuality is the worst of all sins, or worse than other sins? Of course not, because he didn’t.

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This sin that far too many Christians think is an automatic ticket to hell, no forgiveness here, was so important that Jesus talked about it exactly zero times. But he did say something about how you should or should not judge others, even if you believe what they’re doing is a sin.  Matthew 7:3-5

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Only when you yourself are sinless will you be able to see clearly to help someone else avoid sin. If you are not sinless, then how do your sins compare to mine or anyone else? Have you never lied, cheated on your spouse, even with just your eyes, dishonored your mother and father, placed a celebrity on a pedestal equal to or higher than God, stolen anything, worked on the Sabbath… When you have all of these covered, and are sinless as only Jesus was, then and only then do your judgments carry weight in the eyes of God.

Response from my State Senator on Right to Work

Several weeks ago, I sent a message to my State Senator Robert Cowles regarding his upcoming vote on the Right to Work bill in Wisconsin.  On the plus side, I received a response, so it’s nice to know he’s at least partially engaged.  The problem is that my letter, which can be read here, was not the kind of generic talking point letter that politicians typically expect, which means the response completely ignores the points I was trying to make.  In general, I understand that elected officials at a certain level cannot possibly respond to every email and letter they receive.  Being responsive to constituents is important, and in fairness, Senator Cowles has held multiple public listening sessions on the state budget that has been proposed by Governor Walker.  Sadly, there wasn’t sufficient time on Right to Work to hold such sessions due to the fact that it was shoved through the process so fast that Senator Cowles couldn’t even be bothered to understand what it means.

What bothered me about the response is this: I made very specific points which would have been difficult to refute.  So the letter, being a generic talking points response, seemed an awful lot like a dodge from someone that doesn’t really believe in what they’re doing.  Even worse, he continued to spout the lie that Right to Work gives employees the choice of whether to join a union.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, federal law already accomplishes this.  All Right to Work does is allow employees to be represented by a union without having to pay any fees for that representation.  In other words, Right to Work should really be called Right to Freeload.  The following is the letter I received.  If you wrote to him expressing opposition to this bill, you likely received the same letter.

Dear Travis,

Thank you for contacting me with your opposition to Senate Bill 44, the Wisconsin Right to Work bill.  As you may already know, this bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly and has been signed by the Governor into law.

This legislation simply gives Wisconsin’s workers the freedom to determine whether they wish to join and support a labor organization, while ensuring that they cannot be punished for refusing to join a union as a condition of employment.*

This legislation does not eliminate any unions, void union contracts, prohibit collective bargaining, lower wages, or prohibit workers from organizing a labor organization.**

As I researched the potential impacts of this bill, over the past ten years a number of states have generated compelling economic benefits after passage of Right to Work legislation.***

Thank you again for contacting me with your thoughts on the issue.

Sincerely,

[signature stamp]

Senator Robert Cowles

* – Repetition of a lie does not make it the truth.  Senator Cowles has made this statement several times, as well as many other Republican legislators.  Many of them are even lawyers.  Unfortunately, getting a law degree doesn’t seem to have given them the background to do some simple research and understand why this statement is a blatant lie.

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** – Everything he states here that the legislation does not do is true…sort of.  On the surface, it does not eliminate unions.  But it does weaken them by allowing people to reap the benefits of union training and collective bargaining without having to pay for those services.  It does not prohibit collective bargaining, but it does leave the union in a weaker position at the bargaining table.  Purposefully telling only part of the truth and actively ignoring the other part is a lie.

*** – A number of states likely did generate economic benefits after passing Right to Work legislation.  The fact that the rooster crows when the sun rises doesn’t mean the sun generates because of the rooster’s crow.  Much of these “compelling economic benefits” can be explained by the fact that these states were coming out of a national recession.  Giving credit to Right to Work legislation for a national recovery is as absurd as if someone were to blame Right to Work legislation for the economic crash in the first place.  All research on the success or failure of Right to Work is basically an economic wash, leading to the conclusion that any economic gains or losses are due to factors not connected to the legislation.

The significance of this is in how it displays the true motives of Right to Work legislation.  This was not a move to make Wisconsin more competitive; it was purely and obviously political.  Cracking down on public sector unions in 2011 was supposed to help make Wisconsin more competitive.  Instead, we’re getting crushed by the rest of the Midwest in nearly every economic category.  So what do Wisconsin Republicans do when their legislation isn’t working?  They double-down on it and go after private sector unions.  When an elected official agrees to continue voting for policies that do nothing for their constituents but only serve to hurt their opponents, it’s time for them to move on.  Or for us to vote them out.

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What Part of Israel do you Stand With?

Dear Republicans, 

I get that you #StandWithIsrael …good job. What I don’t understand is which part of Israel you stand with. Is it their universal health care system? Is it because they have perhaps the most liberal abortion laws in the world? Is it because they actively promote immigration?

Oh, it’s because they want to blow up Iran and you’re seeing dollar signs? You might be standing with Israel in trying to start a war, but don’t stand too tall. You might get some liberal on you.

Republicans Dont Actually Want to Pay Off the Debt, and Here’s Why

For clarification purposes:

  • Deficit = Annual deficit = 1 year total of revenues less than expenditures
  • Surplus = Annual surplus = 1 year total of revenues more than expenditures
  • Debt = Full government debt owed to the public
  • Shortfall = Projected budget deficit if all factors stay the same

I hear a lot from Republicans about how scary the $18 trillion national debt is and how we have to cut spending because we can’t sustain that much debt. I hear little about how the structural deficit is now under $500 billion, as compared to the $1.4 trillion structural deficit Obama inherited from Bush the Younger. Oddly, this dynamic is the exact opposite of the concerns regarding state debt.

When Wisconsin Republicans announced a projected surplus of almost $1 billion in the last budget, the first thing they wanted to do was tax cuts. Income taxes, property taxes…didn’t matter. They just needed to have the talking point into the next election that they cut taxes.

Number one on the list of why everything is wrong with this is that the nearly $1 billion surplus projections quickly became a $283 million projected shortfall for that same budget, thanks to the tax cut paired with dismal job growth (wait, weren’t all these tax cuts supposed to trickle down and create furious job growth?). I believe they call this “counting your chickens before they hatch.”

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The other reason cutting taxes due to an alleged structural surplus was a blatantly hypocritical idea in Wisconsin goes back to what Republicans always complain about…the full debt. While they were touting a structural surplus and tax cuts, the actual full state debt in Wisconsin sits at about $16 billion (that’s a very conservative estimate that excludes state pension obligations). If we had a surplus, and Republicans so badly want to pay off the debt, why didn’t that surplus go towards the debt?

This shortfall now puts us at a point where not only is the state debt is not being paid down, we’re actually going to skip a $108 million debt payment to help cover ground from the shortfall that was a result of those tax cuts. Lest you think this was just a blip in the radar, now Wisconsin is facing another projected shortfall of around $2 billion for the next budget. You can agree or disagree on what to do with a surplus…cut taxes, fund programs, or pay down the debt. What you can’t disagree with is that this is piss-poor fiscal management from a group of individuals elected due to their claims of fiscal responsibility.

So why so many contradictions? I’m happy to provide the reason, but if you’re a Republican, you’re not going to like it. It’s because they don’t actually want to pay down the debt. If you’re shocked after reading this, you haven’t been paying attention to the masterful spin politicians have learned to employ. If they pay down the debt and the state starts running surpluses, there’s only so much taxes can be cut anymore, meaning surplus money will have to go towards something, which would pretty much default to funding government programs (which Republicans hate) and expanding government reach (which Republicans really hate).. Probably an even simpler reason is this: what will they talk about during campaigns if there’s no big, bad, scary debt?

I’m sure there are those that think I’m just making up Republican intentions to benefit my own agenda. All I ask is that you look it up for yourself. Look at the full state debt and explain to me how you can support a Republican governor that is skipping debt payments and has to take out another $1.3 billion in new loans to pay for roads and bridge repair? How can you support a Republican governor that sees a structural surplus as free money rather than an obligation to our loan payments? That’s like having a huge credit card debt, and when your boss gives you a bonus, you give it back to him.

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If you need absolute, undeniable proof that Republicans don’t actually want to pay down the debt, look no further than the Bush the Younger Tax Cuts. Have you ever wondered what provoked those now-sacred tax cuts? You may have been told it was because tax cuts trickle down, or because they wanted to give us our money back, or something else that sounds like an excuse for Republican fiscal mismanagement.

By the end of the Clinton Administration, despite its moral ambiguity, we were left with a structural surplus that was projected to grow larger over the next decade, to the point of paying off the entire national debt completely. That was a problem…apparently.

So Republicans passed the Bush the Younger Tax Cuts because (drumroll, please!) they were afraid to pay the debt off completely. Think I’m making this up? Here’s a history lesson for you. Paying the debt off completely would leave the government with continued surpluses and extra revenues that have to be parked somewhere. That somewhere would be in private interests, which Republicans would hate because it would essentially be an expansion of government.

Remember this next time a Republican assures you they can cut your taxes and cut the debt all at once. There’s no proof to show that tax cuts lead to economic growth. What can be proved is that tax cuts at the top lead to more money being stashed in tax havens because you can’t base a market on supply when there’s no demand. They’re lying to you, they always have been, and we now have over 3 decades of proof that tax cut and trickle-down is a failed concept that leads to higher deficits and debt, which then get pinned on “tax-and-spend” liberals when the bottom falls out.

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Quick Thoughts on the Letter to Iran

The most annoying part of modern political journalism is the use of blatant exaggeration to create a louder “voice.”

With that in mind, let’s be very careful about labeling someone as a traitor or having committed treason. These are powerful words that should not be bandied about lightly.

It is possible that these 47 senators violated the Logan Act and/or are guilty of sedition for the letter to Iran. Personally, if it were up to me, I would only go after the author of the letter, Senator Tom Cotton. Then I would heavily scold those senators that signed the letter without reading it because they wanted to beat the storm.

The point is, none of this is treason. Treason has a specific definition and requires specific parts. Most notably, it requires an act of collusion with a foreign government to assassinate the President or overthrow the government. Nothing that we know of has come close to that yet. 

A louder message may travel further, but an accurate message is the only message that will withstand the test of time.

“Right to Work” Republicans Encourage Freeloaders

One of my more prominent aims in sharing my thoughts via blog is to give controversial questions more than a sentence or paragraph.  Most real controversies have many different parts, many different actors, many different consequences, and many different levels in which the controversy affects.  Often I find this aim to be tedious and frustrating, because our political climate so badly underestimates the ability of real people to understand what’s really happening.  If you’re looking for the “elitists” in politics, I submit that they are not those trying to give you all of the information, even when it might seem snobby or pretentious.  The “elitists” are those that only give you a small piece of the information because they think you’re too stupid to handle all of it.  Or they only give you a small piece because they don’t want you to know the larger piece…and they think you’re too stupid to find the answers on your own.  I’ll give it to you straight out – this entire introduction is to make you feel bad if you stop reading halfway through.  The best parts of every story are usually about 90% into the story. So please, hang with me for a bit.  Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip.  Let’s roll down the highway of labor management law, and why “Right to Work” laws are advertised as doing something that is already accomplished by federal law.

Much of this can be hashed out through a proper defining of the four categories of unions: Closed Shop, Union Shop, Agency Shop, and Open Shop.  Actually, the Open Shop is pretty simple.  You can’t be forced to pay anything to the union that trained you and represents you.  And they still have to represent you, even though you’re just freeloading on the dues of actual paying members.  Got it?  Good.

Closed Shop

First off, the Closed Shop is no longer legal in the U.S., and hasn’t been since 1947.  With that said, there is some history that has implications on other forms of unions that are still legal.

The Closed Shop describes a job that requires membership in the union before being able to accept a position.  Such a shop could essentially replace open positions with their own union members, giving the union an immense amount of input in management decisions.

This kind of union became a point of contention in the 1930’s and 40’s.  The Wagner Act of 1935 was a huge win for unions and clamped down on a series of unfair labor practices committed by corporations, but conservative Republicans at the time were concerned that it gave unions too much power over management.  This was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and spurred a flurry of attempts to strip it down for the next decade.  During WWII, most unions said that they would abstain from striking during the war for any reason in order to prevent any adverse economic impact during wartime.  But when the war ended in 1945, all bets were off.  By this point, 25% of the workforce belonged to a union, and they were as strong as they had ever been, which did not sit well with some.

Finally, in 1947, the Taft-Hartley act passed through Congress, was vetoed by President Harry Truman, but then overcame that veto when sent back to Congress.  This law had many far-reaching implications, and among them was making the Closed Shop illegal.  It also sought to balance the power struggle by defining and eradicating unfair labor practices committed by unions (similar to the restrictions the Wagner Act placed on corporations) .  Due to this law, the strongest option for unions became the Union Shop.

Union Shop

The Union Shop has a very unique, very confusing history, so please bear with me.  Originally, after the passing of Taft-Hartley, the Union Shop took over for the Closed Shop because it differed from the Closed Shop for a key reason: a Union Shop does not require membership before hiring, and typically there was a time period set by the union for the employee to join the union.  The most important part to take from this is that, after this law was passed, union membership could still be required for employment; it just gave more personnel power back to corporate management.  This was a small change, but carried a substantial impact that set in motion a series of legislation over the next several decades that pushed more power into the hands of management and away from unions.  The Union Shop is technically still legal, but it cannot exist in the way that it once existed, even directly after Taft-Hartley.

Agency Shop

Due to several Congressional and court battles over the next few decades, the Agency Shop increased in prominence as a way for unions to continue to fund their huge training programs for high-skill positions while not forcing the employee to join the union or have their dues go towards any political candidate or campaign.  What is still taken out in non-Right to Work states is called an “agency fee” or “fair share fee,” and it is necessary because, even though the law now says you cannot be forced to join or stay in a union, the union is still required to represent all employees, union and non-union, under their collective bargaining agreement.  Because of this, Right to Work states are essentially saying that people can work at a job represented by a union, reap all the benefits of the union (including high-skill training, higher wages and benefits, more work protections), but not pay anything to the union.  In a non-Right to Work state, you can receive all of these benefits, pay the agency fees that cover those services, and nothing more.  Unions are even required to be able to prove in their accounting that certain monies are only used towards services and not political campaigns (the case that decided this will be discussed shortly).

At the Courthouse

Those are the shops, but the court history is even more fun.  Seriously, I’m geeking like crazy with this stuff.  After many individual battles, some that made it to the Supreme Court, a few finally made it to the high court that declared a significant change in union membership precedent.

In 1961, Machinists v. Street stated that the Railway Labor Act “denies the authority to a union, over the employee’s objection, to spend his money for political causes which he opposes.”  This is a big deal, and if Taft-Hartley laid the foundation, this set the stage for an avalanche.

For the public sector unions, it came in 1977 from Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.  This case declared agency fees in public sector unions constitutional, but stated that they could not charge agency fees equal to union dues. In other words, they could only charge the amount needed for union activities, not for political campaigns of which the members may have conflicting ideologies, much like Machinists v. Street had done for the private sector already.

Over the next several years, the court was able to better clarify this position through a few other cases.  Then, in 1985, another bombshell from Pattern Workers v. NLRB, which stated that union members should be allowed to resign from the union at any time without notice.  This forbid any consequences to resigning from the union, including termination of employment.  As stated earlier, though, the union is still forced to represent the resigning employee in collective bargaining activities.

This all came to a head in the 1988 case of Communication Workers of America v. Beck, where the Supreme Court ruled that unions could not charge agency fees equal or close to union dues, mostly because it stated that unions need to be able to prove that they weren’t charging agency fees that were used towards political campaigns.  They had to prove how much a union-paying member would pay for only collective bargaining activities, and the agency fee could not exceed this.

Summary, and Why This Matters to You

So here’s the deal.  You cannot be forced to join a union anywhere in the U.S.  In non-Right to Work states, you can be charged an agency fee in order to cover collective bargaining activities performed by the union on your behalf (and from which you benefit), but no part of that fee can go towards any political campaign or candidate.  In Right to Work states, this means you can legally work in a union job as a non-union member and receive something for nothing.  And here I thought Republicans had a problem with freeloaders.

The biggest problem with how Republicans present this law is that they call it a choice to join or not join a union.  It’s pretty clear that the choice to join or not join is ingrained in federal law.  Then they say you shouldn’t have to give money to an organization that funds Democrats…awfully convenient for a Republican to say this.  But this, too, is not true, as you cannot be required to pay an agency fee more than the amount the union clearly defines they need to perform collective bargaining and training activities.  All this law really does is encourage people to get something for nothing, while weakening Republican election opponents.

This matters to you, and me, and all of us.  And just throw out the whole “unions have gotten benefits for us all” stuff because apparently our society has become desensitized to the significance of this.  It’s all true, but it’s a very big picture that not everyone can see.  So let’s put it this way.  A union for a construction company provides training in highly-skilled positions in order to keep their employees as safe as possible.  These are serious, life-threatening jobs. Ever wonder how that guy up on the scaffolding can do it without fear?  Because he did it a thousand times in training provided by his union.  By telling employees that they no longer have to even pay agency fees for the services they are being provided, these services will start to lose funding and become unavailable.

Remember that, Wisconsin.  We’re probably only a week or so away from becoming the 25th Right to Work state in the country.  Remember this, all of this, next time you’re crossing a bridge and see a crane operator moving a steel girder.  He looks kinda young, right?  I wonder how many times he’s done this before.  I wonder how much training he received.  Think this doesn’t matter to you?  Then keep your eyes on the road and cross your fingers.

pro union republicans

P.S. I realize I just put out a post not long ago saying that Democrats cannot make this an issue in upcoming campaigns if we hope to win.  At that time, I was under the impression that this was not actually going to come up in Wisconsin before the ’16 election, especially because Governor Scott Walker outright stated he wasn’t interested and it would just be a “distraction.”  Now that this is inevitably going to happen, I’m hoping more people will be receptive to what it all means.

My Letter to my State Senator on “Right to Work”

Senator Cowles,

I am a registered Democrat living in your district. I was once a Republican, but then I saw what the Republican Party was starting to become. My moderate opinions were no longer welcome in the GOP, so I went to the other side, where my moderate opinions are listened to and debated with respect.

When I moved to this district 2 1/2 years ago, one of the first things I did was look up my elected officials and give them a fair shot, regardless of party. I found many references to your stances being fairly moderate, and was happy to see that you were a strong proponent of public education. I decided that I could live with that, even though we are in opposing parties. I respect conscience and integrity above all else, and I am generally satisfied if I feel my public officials are voting for what they truly feel is best for their constituents.

Then you expressed concern about Act 10, followed by voting for it anyway after multiple sources say you were threatened with a primary. Then you fought back against the expansion of voucher schools, but voted for it anyway. Now I’m hearing that, even though you are skeptical of “Right to Work” legislation, the State Senate has the votes to pass it tomorrow, and you are one of them ready to vote for it anyway.

I’m asking you to disregard party allegiance or the repercussions from your party for voting no on this legislation. I have serious concerns right now about the integrity that I was lead to believe you possess. Your values have been compromised since the Tea Party uprising in 2010, and the more decisions you make like this one make it seem like less and less of a coincidence.

This is my simple plea: do the right thing. You know this legislation is meaningless for the economy, and the statistics on it are, at best, a wash. This is 100% political; another blow to unions and a boost for Walker’s Presidential campaign. I urge you to not be a part of this continued spiral that this radical wing of your party has taken our state down.

I, like many of your constituents, will be watching closely when this legislation is introduced to the full Senate floor. And we’re all hoping that we still have a Senator with a spine.

Sincerely,

Travis Bille