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Monday, September 28, 2015

Mexican "Farm-to-Arm Suppy Chain" of Heroin Dooms Ohio Children

"Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office has focused on the heroin epidemic, said he was astonished at how easily pill addicts made the switch.

“"There used to be some psychological barrier to heroin,' DeWine said. 'That barrier is gone today.'

"In Montgomery County, home to Dayton, heroin-related deaths have skyrocketed 225 percent since 2011. Last year, this county of 540,000 residents reported 127 fatal heroin overdoses – among the highest rates in the nation, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“'The coroner can’t keep up,” said Robert Carlson, an ethnographer at Wright State University in Dayton who helps track overdoses. 'There’s not enough room to keep all the bodies.'”

(Todd C. Frankel. "Pellets, planes and the new frontier: How Mexican cartels fuel the American heroin epidemic." The Washington Post. September 25, 2015.)
Mexican cartels with an almost corporate discipline have overtaken the U.S. heroin trade. They grow and process the drug themselves, and the cartels have been increasingly replacing their traditional black tar with an innovative high-quality powder with mass market appeal: It can be smoked or snorted by users as well as shot up by hard-core addicts.

Reporter Todd Frankel called the operation "a sophisticated farm-to-arm supply chain." The delivery system has helped heroin to surpass cocaine and meth and become America's Number 1 drug threat for the first time.

Frankel tells of one courier drug mule's experience ...

"He practiced with baby carrots, swallowing them whole, easing them down his throat with yogurt. Later came the heroin pellets, each loaded with 14 grams of powder, machine-wrapped in wax paper and thick latex. Long gone were the days of swallowing hand-knotted, drug-filled condoms. The Mexican drug trafficking organizations were always perfecting their craft.

"On this trip, Gerardo Vargas would swallow 71 pellets – a full kilo, just over two pounds, enough for as many as 30,000 hits at $10 a pop on American streets. And so before he set off on his 3,900-mile journey from Uruapan, Mexico, Vargas was given the rules: No soda, because it could erode the pellets’ wrapping. No orange juice, either. Drink only water. He was told which airports to avoid, which places to go, his every move orchestrated by his handler in Mexico.

"And don’t eat anything, he was told, until reaching the final destination: Dayton, Ohio, one of the new frontiers of the American heroin epidemic."

(Todd C. Frankel. "Pellets, planes and the new frontier: How Mexican cartels fuel the American heroin epidemic." The Washington Post. September 25, 2015.)

Frankel called Vargas "the perfect drug mule. Vargas was 22 but looked younger. He’d been born in California, moving to Mexico at age 12 after his father was deported, so he possessed a U.S. passport. He also had a spotless record, perfect English and a desperate need for cash: His father had already lost one eye to diabetes. He’d been offered $6 a gram. This job would earn him nearly $6,000.

Vargas had been carefully trained to avoid accidents such as having to use the bathroom unexpectedly or having the pellets burst inside his body.

Vargas began his journeys with visits to a gray stucco house in Uruapan, a city of 315,000 people in the state of Michoacan, which sprawls west from Mexico City to the Pacific Ocean. But Vargas knew almost nothing about Dayton, beyond what seemed to be an insatiable demand for the secret stash he carried.

As If Heroin Is Not Bad Enough

Fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths increased nearly 500 percent across Ohio in 2014, according to preliminary data released recently by the Ohio Department of Health.

The increased presence of fentanyl, an opioid that is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, was a significant contributor in a nearly 18 percent increase of overall overdose deaths in 2014. Of the record-breaking 2,482 overdose deaths, 502 of them involved fentanyl.

Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “As they build up tolerance to drugs they’re using, they may progress, for example, from prescription pain pills, to heroin, to fentanyl, which is often cut into heroin.”

Unintentional drug overdose remained the leading cause of injury-related death for Ohioans in 2014. The majority of overdose deaths, 59 percent, involved more than one drug.

(Jona Ison. "Ohio drug overdose deaths up sharply." Newark Advocate. September 25, 2015.)

And, Even Worse -- The Ohio Children Suffer
Heroin is increasingly being cited in child custody cases, recent data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services shows. In 2010, 3,726 cases noted heroin as a factor. That number almost doubled by 2013 to 6,827. This is an 83 percent increase from three years earlier.

Jennifer Justice, deputy director for child welfare for ODJFS, said, “There are higher numbers of kids and families that have heroin use in their home. Addiction of any kind is a serious problem. It’s hard. It’s hard for the parents. Children can be at risk of harm depending on the severity of the addiction."

Justice continued: “When parents are in the trenches of addiction, they tend to choose a drug over their children."

(Chris Stewart and Arundi Venkayya. "Heroin carving a destructive path." 
Dayton Daily News. July 12, 2014.)                                             

“These kids will have been through so much before they came to us that they’re going to need a lot of treatment themselves,” said Governmental Affairs Director for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio Gayle Channing Tenenbaum. She has been  highlighting the numbers as she lobbies state lawmakers for an additional $20 million for more child-custody caseworkers across Ohio.

According to Tenenbaum, the average stay in foster care is 70 days, but that number jumps to 300 days for children of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol.

As far back as five years ago, Clermont County cited substance abuse in child abuse cases. "Just about every week (2010), we are called about another child born to a heroin-addicted mother,” stated CPS Intake Department Supervisor Susan Grabowski. “This is a situation that is impacting counties and cities across the country.”

“Our caseworkers are finding that the heroin-abuse situation is not only impacting the parents of these children, in many cases the grandparents are also addicted,” said Grabowski.  She said there is a critical need for more foster parents in the county to provide stability and guidance to those children who cannot go home.

("Clermont Facing Increase in Child Abuse Cases Linked to Heroin." Press Release. October 11, 2010.) 

In Coshocton County child custody cases have increased 142 percent within the last 14 years, which officials said is mostly a result of the drug and alcohol abuse that plagues the area. There, officials have neither the budget nor the staff to effectively respond to the children in need.

Much has changed since children services merged with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services-Coshocton in 2000, Director Mindy Fehrman said. Namely, in 2000, most of the children in her agency's custody were teenagers. In 2014, the majority consisted of younger children.

The reason: The majority of parents whose children are in the agency's custody have drug and alcohol issues, Fehrman stated.

As a result, children are neglected, forgotten and left to fend for themselves. Further, without their parents there to guide them, children services has seen more children demonstrating inappropriate sexual behavior, among others things. Fehrman said, "It can, and often does, impact their intimate relationships forever."

Coshocton County Prosecutor Jason Given confirmed that the large majority of child abuse cases there generally have some kind of drug abuse linked into them from the perpetrator's side.

(Eric Lagatta. "Official: Custody cases climb with drug, alcohol abuse."
Coshocton Tribune. May 24, 2015.)

In Geauga County, the number of children in the county’s custody due to heroin or opiate abuse has increased 400 percent since 2011, according to a Children’s Services Committee Fact Sheet.

Geauga County Jobs & Family Services Director Craig Swenson said that the number of children in the agency’s custody has significantly increased over the past four years. In 2011, the average was 27 children per month. In 2014, the average was 66 and Swenson said the number ranges from 50 to 80 children in their custody at any given time.

While the number of children in the agency’s custody has risen, so too has placement costs, which Swenson said has tripled since 2011. He said the agency is expecting the costs to be over $1.3 million in 2015.

So, Geauga County voters will decide in November whether to approve a five-year, 0.5-mill additional levy for child services through the Geauga County Job & Family Services. If passed, the levy is expected to generate about $1,523,206 per year for the agency and would cost property owners $17.50 a year per $100,000 valuation. Funds generated from the levy can be used only for child protective services, child abuse and neglect prevention and foster/adoptive services.

(Andrew Cass. "November 2015 election: Geauga County Jobs & Family Services seeks 0.5-mill additional levy." The News-Herald. September 27, 2015.)

Answering Those Who Claim Drug Abuse Has No Innocent Victims

It must become the duty of all Ohio citizens to help stop the opiate epidemic. The generations affected by this abuse will continue to suffer dire consequences unless more is done to lower the insane numbers of those who are dying and becoming disabled because of the substance.

At the current rate, child abuse and neglect due to substance abuse will continue to rise to even more wildly unimaginable levels. Addicts are fostering a new generation of people with potentially severe physical and mental disabilities. We, as responsible human beings, must dedicate ourselves to saving our children, no matter how much some would rather complain about how all the blame for abuse rests with the addict.

Saving The Children 

Poem by James Walter Orr

We cut the budget to the bone
With edicts handed from the throne,
And leave the children all alone,
While we, the children's fate bemoan.
We do not think that it can be
That one can know, that one can see
That all our 'generosity'
Is posturing pomposity.

We throw more poor folk on the street
And pad the rich man's bank account.
We slap our knee, and think it's neat
And hire another man to count.
We all just watch, and make no fuss.
Forget the kids, just coddle us.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bloodmoon and the Supermoon Tetrad Arrives -- What It Is

"I hear hurricanes a blowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers overflowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.
Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.
All right!"

"Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival

It's September 27, 2015, and a supermoon lunar eclipse will occur at nightfall. A sizeable moon, referred to as a “supermoon,” happens because in its orbit, the moon will be closer to the earth than at any other time, just about 385,000 kilometres away. The closeness will make the moon appear up to 14 percent larger than usual.

The lunar eclipse part of this phenomenon is caused by the Earth inserting itself between the sun and the moon. As this happens, the Earth casts its shadow on the face of the moon.

The “blood moon” effect is caused by the fiery ring around the earth with the sun directly behind it, its shadowed face turned to the moon. The thin glimmer from the sunrise-sunset encircling the darkened earth, hits the moon surface and reflects back as a reddish glow. The moon takes on the color of blood.

The last lunar eclipse of this magnitude occurred in 1982, and the next one of a similar magnitude will be in 2033. A lesser lunar eclipse will come in 2018.

Omens of the Blood Moon

The idea of a "blood moon" serving as an omen of the coming of the end times comes from the Book of Joel before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes." The Book of Joel is part of the Hebrew Bible and is part of a group of twelve prophetic books known as the Twelve Minor Prophets.

"I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.".

(Joel 2:30-31)

This phrase is again mentioned by Saint Peter during Pentecost, as recorded in Acts, although Peter says that date, not some future date, was the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy.

"The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord."

 (Acts 2:20)

The blood moon also appears in the book of Revelation chapter 6.

"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

"And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

"And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.  

"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;  

"And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:  

"For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"

(Revelations 6:12-17)

Stories abound about how the supermoon of September 27 will be enormous in the sky, that it could trigger earthquakes, that the blood red color is a sign of doom, and the fact that this one is the fourth in a series called a "tetrad" must mean some kind of apocalyptic ending. A tetrad is a term for four total lunar eclipses happening at six-month intervals.

The number of "blood moons" seen in the past 18 months sparked some conspiracy theories about possible dangers to humanity. In 2014, according to skywatching columnist Joe Rao, online rumors drew a link between the eclipses and biblical prophecies of the apocalypse -- a theory also popularized in a book called Four Blood Moons by evangelical pastor John Hagee (Worthy Publishing, 2013).

Hagee claims that history has shown the last blood moon in a tetrad signals a time period of tragedy. He claims that when a tetrad occurs there is “a sense in the world that God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way.”

(Elizabeth Howell. "Four Blood Moons: Supermoon Eclipse Will Cap Epic Lunar Tetrad."
Yahoo News. September 24, 2015.)

Irvin Baxter runs Endtime Ministries in Plano, Texas. He says, “Some prophecy teachers are declaring boldly that this tetrad just ahead signals that something is getting ready to happen, which will change the world forever."

God has often used “the heavens” for sending signs to mankind, Baxter says. He quotes Genesis, in which God says there should be lights in heaven and says of those lights: “Let them be for signs.”

Baxter warns that previous tetrads have had stark consequences for Jewish people. The Spanish inquisition took place before the tetrad of 1493-94. The tetrad of 1949-50 occurred just after the founding of Israel. The tetrad of 1967-1968 occurred as the Six-Day War was fought in Jerusalem.

(Adam Gabbatt. "'Blood moon' brings prophecies of end times – but Nasa says not to worry." Guardian News. September 27, 2015.)

Last month NASA shot down reports that appeared on alternative news sites claiming an asteroid would hit Earth on September 28, “wiping out most of the Americas.”

Mark Blitz, who leads the El Shaddai Ministries in Washington, agrees the asteroid story was rubbish; he says the end will instead be heralded by the mother of all earthquakes after a blood moon prophecy.

“The number has more than doubled over the last 10 years,” he told his devotees recently. “It was prophesied that there would be earthquakes at increased levels before the return of the Messiah and they were to be likened to birth pangs. … With the increase in activity and the increase in magnitude I definitely see it as being but another sign along with the signs in the heavens that we are at the door.”

Blitz uses Revelation to support his theory. He warns that the dreaded Four Horsemen of the Acocalypse will use these events to reveal their individual missions. 

(Kara Gilmour. "Super Blood Moon 2015 Prophecy Unveils Apocalypse On Sept 28."
NewsOXY. September 25, 2015.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why You Should Vote "No" On Legalizing Recreational Marijuana in Ohio

Election day in Ohio is drawing near. Passage of Issue 3 would grant monopoly rights for the production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes in Ohio. I believe whether you are a voter who has never have smoked pot, who has smoked pot at some time in your life, or who smokes pot now, you should consider that voting "yes" endorses a poorly tested and potentially dangerous product. I feel you should vote "no" on Issue 3. I will give you some good reasons.

I would be in favor of a proposal allowing medicinal marijuana; however, the recreational use of the substance is a vice that can only aggravate health and work and concerns in the Buckeye State. Passage of Issue 3 presents risks that voters cannot allow.

Rich Thompson, director of political programs at the Ohio Chamber, said there are some major concerns with Issue 3. According to Thompson, the large number marijuana sales outlets possible (1,159), which is three times the number of state liquor stores in Ohio and even more than McDonald’s and Starbucks locations in the state, will practically make marijuana "available on every street corner."

The Effect of Issue 3 on the Workplace

Thompson also believes workforce safety, with businesses likely unable to ban marijuana use in the workplace, could be a huge problem. Here are some examples of potential difficulties in the workplace:

* Litigation will be forced to define when and where marijuana can be used, and what businesses can do to maintain workplace safety.

* Workplace marijuana use would decrease productivity and lead to an increase in accidents, injuries, and absenteeism.

* In Ohio communities that already face problems finding workers who can pass a drug test, legalizing marijuana would exacerbate that problem.

* Workers’ compensation issues could also arise for workplace injuries caused by an employee impaired because of marijuana use.

* Issue 3 seeks to specifically list 10 pieces of real estate in Ohio’s constitution as the only property on which marijuana can be grown for commercial purposes. And, these pieces of real estate are already owned by the handful of wealthy investors in the Issue 3 campaign who hope to turn their investment into a billion dollar a year industry. This constitutes and exclusive monopoly.

(Dave Mosier. "Ohio Chamber opposes marijuana issue. The Van Wert Independent.
September 23, 2015.) 

The Effect of Issue 3 on Children

Most alarming about Issue 3 is the threat to our children and youth.

Issue 3 would allow for the sale of brownies, cookies, gummy bears and many other common food items that would be packed with dangerously high levels of THC. These products are inviting to children and have led to severe problems in those states which allow recreational marijuana.

According to Children’s Hospital Colorado, admissions of children under the age of 12 who ingested edible marijuana spiked sharply in 2014.

But the effect on children is not just limited to food. State Representative Bob McColley says since marijuana’s legalization in Colorado in 2012, the state has seen a 56 percent increase in overall marijuana usage among children aged 12-17. The same result is likely to happen in Ohio.

And what about the effect of legalized marijuana on youthful drivers? In Colorado there has been a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths since legalization.

(Rob McColley. "State Rep. Rob McColley: Marijuana legalization would be disastrous for Ohio." September 19, 2015.)

Consider Youth and Vote Against Issue 3

I believe you should share this information with your children. Here are some facts for youth about marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Marijuana can be addictive.

Not everyone who smokes marijuana will become addicted—that depends on a whole bunch of factors, including your genes, the age you start using, whether you also use other drugs, your relationships with family and friends, success in school, and so on. Repeated marijuana use can lead to addiction, which means that people have trouble controlling their drug use and often cannot stop even though they want to. Research shows that about 9 percent, or about 1 in 11, of those who use marijuana will become addicted. This rate increases to 17 percent, or about 1 in 6, in people who start in their teens, and goes up to 25 to 50 percent among daily users.

(Anthony J, Warner LA, Kessler RC. Comparative epidemiology of dependence on tobacco, alcohol, controlled substances, and inhalants: basic findings from the National Comorbidity Survey. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 1994;2:244-268.)

(Hall W, Degenhardt L. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet.

(Hall W. The adverse health effects of cannabis use: what are they, and what are their implications for policy? Int J of Drug Policy. 2009;20:458-466.)

(Lopez-Quintero C, Pérez de los Cobos J, Hasin DS, et al. Probability and predictors of transition from first use to dependence on nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine: results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011;115(1-2):120-130.)

After alcohol, marijuana is the drug most often linked to car accidents, including those involving deaths.

A nationwide study of deadly crashes found that 36.9 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used marijuana. Marijuana affects skills required for safe driving—alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Marijuana makes it hard to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road.

(Wilson FA, Stimpson JP, Pagán, JA. Fatal crashes from drivers testing positive for drugs in the U.S., 1993-2010. Public Health Rep. 2014;129:342-350.)

Marijuana is linked to school failure.

Marijuana’s negative effects on attention, memory, and learning can last for days and sometimes weeks—especially if you use it often. Someone who smokes marijuana daily may have a "dimmed-down" brain most or all of the time. Compared with teens who don’t use, students who smoke marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school.

Research even shows that it can lower your IQ if you smoke it regularly in your teen years. Also, longtime marijuana users report lower life satisfaction, memory and relationship problems, poorer mental and physical health, lower salaries, and less career success.

(McCaffrey DF, Pacula RL, Han B, Ellickson P. Marijuana use and high school dropout: the influence of unobservables. Health Econ. 2010;19(11):1281-1299.)

(Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2012;109:E2657-2664.)

(Zwerling C, Ryan J, Orav E. The efficacy of preemployment drug screening for marijuana and cocaine in predicting employment outcome. JAMA. 1990;264(20):2639-2643.)

High doses of marijuana can cause psychosis or panic when you're high.

Some people experience an acute psychotic reaction (disturbed perceptions and thoughts, paranoia) or panic attacks while under the influence of marijuana. This reaction usually goes away as the drug’s effects wear off. Scientists don't yet know if marijuana use causes lasting mental illness, although it can worsen psychotic symptoms in people who already have schizophrenia, a severe mental illness with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking. It can increase the risk of long-lasting psychosis in some people.

During a 10-year study of 1,923 participants aged 14 to 24 in Germany, researchers found participants who had no psychotic symptoms and had never tried marijuana when the study began and then started using marijuana had nearly double the risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms in the future.

(Rebecca Kuepper, et al. "Continued cannabis use and risk of incidence and persistence of psychotic symptoms: 10 year follow-up cohort study." BMJ. December 31, 2010.)

Smoking marijuana will not make a young person "cool" or better equipped to handle the stresses of maturation. Getting high is merely a chemical escape from reality and from the problems of life. There are much better manners in which to handle social issues than to develop a habit of lighting up a joint. No responsible parent wants their child to become a stoner, and the claims of recreational legalization having no effect upon children who are, by law, unable to consume the substance are simply untrue.

Speaking To Those In Scioto County

I agree that alcohol is potentially more dangerous to youth than marijuana. I have seen firsthand the destruction and death caused by alcohol addiction. Yet, to me, the old cliché of "two wrongs don't make a right" applies to this vote. We, in Scioto County, are considered an addictive population. Add to current fights against alcohol abuse and heroin abuse the potential risks of legalizing recreation marijuana, and we will open ever wider the gates to injury and health problems for Scioto youth.

Let's stick with the facts from the "Monitoring the Future" Pride Surveys -- current information that is part of Ohio's 2015 Conference on Opiates and Other Drugs. The survey is a part of statistics compiled by the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities and Mission Possible 2015. Here are some figures we all -- no matter what our feelings about the legalization issue as it relates to adults -- must consider:

Past 30 days Substance Use by Teens in Scioto County vs. United States (2013)

Alcohol 25.5% of teens in Scioto County used compared to 23.3% in the United States
Cigarettes 19.2% of teens in Scioto County used compared to 7% in the United States
Marijuana 17.3% of teens in Scioto Country used compared to 14.76% in the United States

In the Past 30 Days, Scioto County Teens ...
Used alcohol at a rate 9% higher than the national average
Smoked cigarettes at a rate 93% higher than the national average
Used marijuana at a rate 15% higher than the national average

Drinking, using marijuana, and smoking cigarettes are all illegal activities for teens, yet these are the facts about their current use. Teens in Scioto use these substances now, and at an average rate higher than teens in the entire country. Consider that all three become habits, all three are vices, and the use of all three depends upon the environment of the adolescent -- by the use of their friends and by the use of their loved ones. Inescapable evidence? Ironclad in my experience.
I don't give a damn about selfish reasons to get high promoted by Responsible Ohio and by proponents of recreational legalization -- even about the logical ones that apply to the vote. Why? Because we must protect the future generation by teaching them by better examples. Protecting your precious freedom to get high from a natural substance will selfishly show your unconcern for society.

Just do this: Take a trip to a local grade school and look into the beautiful, lively eyes of the young students there. Watch how they enjoy thoroughly reality and truly experience joy in living sober, creative lives. And then, imagine those same pupils in a stoned, chemically induced haze. Do you want to present even more reason for those young children to smoke dope? Vote no. This is a no-brainer. Do it for the children.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Kim Davis -- A Civilly Disobedient Hero Or A Rebel Without A Cause?

People may view Kim Davis, the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who defied a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively legalizing gay marriage nationwide and who stopped issuing all marriage licenses in June by what she claims is "God's authority," as a hero for her cause, but I disagree. I believe her actions are not in line with the tenants of righteous civil disobedience.

I understand why Davis claims her right to civil disobedience -- the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government. But, civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. She has simply used the system to advance her goals.

I see Davis's real goal is that her personal rejection of same-sex marriage should extend to all in an office bound by a decision of the Supreme Court; thus, Davis refuses to uphold the system of justice most revered in the United States of America.

After a federal judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that order, U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning threw her in jail. This ignited a fierce debate across America concerning religious liberty versus the civil rights afforded to all U.S. citizens.

Howard Zinn -- historian, activist, and Upton Sinclair Award winner -- wrote ...

"There may be many times when protesters choose to go to jail, as a way of continuing their protest, as a way of reminding their countrymen of injustice. But that is different than the notion that they must go to jail as part of a rule connected with civil disobedience.

"The key point is that the spirit of protest should be maintained all the way, whether it is done by remaining in jail, or by evading it. To accept jail penitently as an accession to 'the rules' is to switch suddenly to a spirit of subservience, to demean the seriousness of the protest... In particular, the neo-conservative insistence on a guilty plea should be eliminated."

(Howard Zinn. Disobedience and Disorder: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order, cited in Paul F. Power  On Civil Disobedience in Recent American Democratic Thought. March 1970)

Davis' office issued marriage licenses while she was in jail, but the licenses did not include her name. Bunning ruled those licenses were valid and released Davis on the condition that she not interfere with her employees.

Yet, when Davis returned to work last week, she personally confiscated the marriage licenses and replaced them. The new licenses say they were issued not under the authority of the county clerk, but "pursuant to federal court order."

It is evident to me that Kim Davis lied to facilitate her release from jail and used the opportunity to accomplish her personal, religious objectives. In effect, she demeaned the purpose of her protest by manipulating the law and by taking state and federal matters into her own hands. I believe her recent actions are criminal.

How can a government official (with a yearly salary of $80,000 paid by the citizenry) blatantly usurp power and be said to be exercising civil disobedience?

The lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have written that the validity of the altered licenses is "questionable at best," and the new licenses bring "humiliation and stigma" to the gay couples who receive them. They asked Judge Bunning to order Davis' office to reissue the licenses. If Davis interferes, the lawyers say Bunning should place her office in a receivership for the purposes of issuing marriage licenses.

(Adam Beam and Claire Galofaro. "Kentucky clerk could head back to court over licenses." Associated Press. MSN. September 22, 2015.)

Civil disobedience by Kim Davis? Her resistance is based upon her Biblical beliefs versus the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage. Davis's actions show the need for the often cited "wall between church and state." Her issue is about religion views and the disdain of those, like her, who want more religion in government.

Most often, important acts of civil disobedience involve life-threatening injustices. The decision of the court concerning same-sex marriage does not threaten the life and limb of Americans. It is philosophical -- at the most, it is a moral issue.

Make no mistake, any civil disobedience here is not comparable to attempts to preserve life and liberty. In that respect it is not akin to Gandhi's resistance to British rule in India, to Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent civil rights movement, to Nelson Mandela's fight against apartheid in South Africa, or to student sit-ins against the Vietnam War.

I do not see Kim Davis as a new Rosa Parks refusing to cave to unspeakable injustice. In fact, I think she is acting in opposition to such heroes. Civil disobedience is a precious right that Davis may certainly exercise. Yet, when she chooses to usurp the authority of the courts, to act as God's interpreter of justice, and to misuse her power in her position as a public servant, she is wrong.

In short, not until all people live under conditions in which their human rights are fully met is government acting democratically. Perhaps, Davis could be the model clerk she so desperately seeks to be by simply doing her job and obeying the courts. Or, she has other options -- she could resign or stay in jail. True leaders of civil disobedience may endure such measures. 

For example, Nelson Mandela's actions landed him in prison for nearly three decades and made him the face of the antiapartheid movement both within his country and internationally. I say this with no wish that Davis be incarcerated for any length because I think her purpose pales in the face of that of Mandela's.

Monday, September 21, 2015

You Say Government Is Godless? Well, 92% of Congress Are Christians

"According to the Pew Research Center, the 114th Congress contains 491 Christians, of which 306 are Protestant, split between 13 sects though without any declared Anabaptists, Quakers or Pietists. Another 164 members of Congress are Catholic, while 16 are Mormon and five Orthodox Christian. As well as the two Muslims there are 28 Jewish and two Buddhist members of Congress; there is one Hindu member, one Unitarian Universalist and one 'unaffiliated.'

"Nine members of Congress either told the Pew researchers they didn’t know what religion they were, or refused to answer the question."

("Faith On the Hill." Pew Research Center. January 05, 2015.)

When breaking down percentages, the facts show the following:

* 91.8% of Congress are Christian, and 73% of American adults are Christian
* 57.2% of Congress are Protestants, and 49% of American adults are Protestants
* 30.7 of Congress are Catholic, and 22% of American adults are Catholic
* 5.2% of Congress are Jewish, and 2% of American adults are Jewish
* 1% of Congress are Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, and 2% of American adults are Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus 

Representation Surprises?

To no one's surprise, the 114th Congress is overwhelmingly white, male, and Christian.

As an observer looks at the numbers in Congress and in the U.S. population, he finds that Protestants and Catholics continue to be overrepresented as members of Congress. And, though the percentage of Protestants continues to be the highest in Congress, it is actually down from the 1960s when three-quarters of Congress identified as such.

Yet, the biggest difference between Congress and other Americans is the number of people who say they are religiously unaffiliated. Just 0.2 percent of Congress say they are religiously unaffiliated, compared with 20 percent of the general public. In fact, the only member of Congress who publicly identifies herself as religiously unaffiliated is sophomore Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Time magazine takes into account the research and concludes that "about one-in-five Americans don’t consider themselves members of any particular religion, but in the 114th Congress there’s only one." It is evident that America is getting more nonreligious while Congress is not.

(Maya Rhodan. "America Is Getting More Non-Religious, But Congress Is Not."
 Time. January 05, 2015.)

Party differences?

Two-thirds of the Republicans in the incoming Congress (67 percent) are Protestant, about a quarter are Catholic (27 percent) and 5 percent are Mormon.

Democrats in Congress are somewhat more religiously diverse than Republicans, though, in many small religions groups, Democrats are not as diverse as the population as a whole. Of the 234 Democrats in the 114th Congress, 44 percent are Protestant, 35 percent are Catholic, 12 percent are Jewish, 1 percent are Mormon, two are Buddhist, two are Muslim, one is Hindu and one does not identify with a particular religion.

Domenico Montanaro of PBS says ...

"The bottom line though is that it is very difficult to get elected in most places without having a religious affiliation. And, as is the case with racial and ethnic minorities, candidates are trying to win a majority of a district. That’s why it continues to be difficult for underrepresented groups to win seats in Congress."

(Domenico Montanaro. "Congress is still really religious and really Christian."
PBS Newshour. January 05, 2015.)

Crying Wolf About Lack of Religious Influence

The 114th Congress has a Republican majority in both houses. And, while many conservatives continue to complain about how liberals have driven God and Jesus from public places like schools and court houses, the facts show, at least on Capitol Hill, that is not true. Of the 301 Republicans in Congress, only one -- freshman Representative Lee Zeldin of New York’s 1st District -- is not a Christian. Zeldin is Jewish.

When Congress is overwhelmingly Christian, how can people rant about the lack of religious concern by the government? The people with professed Christian faith are in control of the bureaucracy. Just ask politicians if they are religious: Almost all will contend to be most reverent.

So, could it be that the wall of separation between church and state is being dutifully maintained by Christian politicians despite their pledges before election to the House and the Senate?

The fact is that even if hard-right congressional conservatives want more religious influence in governmental affairs, they are going to have to deal with an electorate comprised of voters 20 percent of which claim to be religiously unaffiliated and 4 percent of which are Jewish, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. That is nearly one-fourth of all ballots.

I am sure their reluctance to lose support for re-election is great, and the risk of having this large opposition keeps many politicians from putting themselves out too far on a religious limb.

My point is that the cries of America being governed by a "Godless horde" are simply not true. If these people want to blame themselves for electing Christians who don't govern according to a belief that religion should play a much bigger part in American government, then fine, but when they point the finger of blame at "heathen liberals," they should really know better.

How about the Constitution and Christianity? Nowhere is Christianity named in the United States Constitution.
Article 6, at the end of the third clause, reads ...

"[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification."

And, the First Amendment reads ...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So, despite the furor over the degree to which religion, particularly Christianity, should govern the laws and rulings of the land, the original intent of the Constitution clearly favored separation.

I believe American sociologist Robert N. Bellah's interpretation is accurate. He contends that although separation of church and state grounded firmly in the Constitution of the United States, this does not mean that there is no religious dimension in the political society of the United States.

Bellah uses the term "Civil Religion" to describe the specific relation between politics and religion in the United States. His 1967 article analyzes the inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy: "Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word 'God' at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension."

Bellah concludes (And, please read this very carefully because the delineation is crucial) ...

"Behind the civil religion at every point lie biblical archetypes: Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem, and Sacrificial Death and Rebirth. But it is also genuinely American and genuinely new. It has its own prophets and its own martyrs, its own sacred events and sacred places, its own solemn rituals and symbols. It is concerned that America be a society as perfectly in accord with the will of God as men can make it, and a light to all nations.

"It has often been used and is being used today as a cloak for petty interests and ugly passions. It is in need—as any living faith—of continual reformation, of being measured by universal standards. But it is not evident that it is incapable of growth and new insight.

"It does not make any decisions for us. It does not remove us from moral ambiguity, from being, in Lincoln’s fine phrase, an 'almost chosen people.' But it is a heritage of moral and religious experience from which we still have much to learn as we formulate the decisions that lie ahead."
(Robert Neelly Bellah.  "Civil Religion in America". Journal of the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences 96 .Winter 1967.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Portsmouth Residents Pay for "Math Errors" and Borrowed Funds -- More Fee Increases

According to Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen, the city is still struggling to get "correct and accurate bills (water and sewer charges) out." Allen said a math error was discovered, but "it had nothing to do with what happened." I'm not sure exactly how inaccurate division and miscalculation did and didn't cause the billing error, but I'll let the City Manager explain ...

"Allen said, when the bills went out they contained a monthly service charge.

“'If you didn’t use any water or didn’t have any sewer, you still had a $21 quarterly charge for water and a $21 quarterly charge for sewer. When we went to monthly that had to be divided by three in order for us not to raise everyone’s bills. So if you take the $21 and you divide it by three, it’s $7 a month for water and $7 a month for sewer. So there’s no rate change.'

"Allen said those doing the billing had divided that number by three and at the same time divided the consumption rate by three.

“'Just because we went from quarterly billing to monthly billing, it shouldn’t affect what I charge for 1,000 gallons of water,” Allen said. 'And what we did was we lowered it from $3 and something down to $1.26 per thousand. So that’s what happened there.'”

(Frank Lewis. "Portsmouth City Manager explains the utility billing snafus."
Portsmouth Daily Times. September 15, 2015.)
Now, as I've mentioned before, everyone knows "math is hard" and far be it from me to understand the complexities of elementary long division. But, something else about the city's conversion to monthly billing must be presenting a real brain buster to those at city hall. And, I wonder if the following information explains the confusion:

Allen said last month the city had "more issues.” He explained:

"It may be a shocker to some people but since 2007 the Sewer Fund has had a deficit condition. And, oh, by the way we signed a Consent Order in 2013 to do millions of dollars of work, and we’ve done it and we borrowed that money and in November or December the first payment comes due and we don’t have that money.”

Allen concluded that “no one should be shocked that the rates have to go up.”

Therefore, I'm assuming that the miscalculation during the conversion to monthly billing is just one part of much higher water and sewer bills in the city. Residents pay and pay.

And ...

Citizens have already suffered many increases in their water and sewer bills during the last decade. According to the Times, here are recent Portsmouth water and sewer rate increases:
  • 2004 - Water 5.7% - Sewer 5.9%
  • 2005 - Water 5.6% - Sewer no increase
  • 2006 - Water 9.1% - Sewer no increase
  • 2007 - Water 3.4% - Sewer 3.5%
  • 2008 - Water 3.5% - Sewer 3.5%
  • 2009 - Water no increase - Sewer 3.0%
  • 2010 - Water 8.0% - Sewer 9.0%
  • 2012 - Water no increase - Sewer 9.0%
  • 2013 - Water 3.0% - Sewer 3.0%
 (Frank Lewis. "Portsmouth water and sewer rates increase."  
Portsmouth Daily Times. July 24, 2013)
And ...

They have already been told sanitation rates are going up again because the city discovered they will be on the hook to the Environmental Protection Agency for an annual fee estimated to be between $75,000 and $85,000.

And ...

They have already responded to the desperate cries of the need for more income tax increases to "keep the City government afloat" -- Portsmouth passed a 0.6 percent income tax increase in 2011 and a 0.5 percent in 2015.

What is going on? First Ward City Councilman Kevin W. Johnson, speaking to members of the Scioto County Health Coalition on November 14 of this year said Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen continues to find things in the city that “are absolutely broken.”

“'I hate to say it but that reflects years of mismanagement, ignoring situations; ignoring problems; ignoring their employee input or employee nothing,' Johnson said. 'I hate to say it that way but it’s just the way, if you don’t have management, employees tend to, "hey, I’m not doing anything." He’s facing some major issues. A lot of them come down to financial issues. We simply cannot afford to pay for what needs to be done.'”

(Frank Lewis. "Johnson: city suffered from mismanagement."  
Portsmouth Daily Times. November 19, 2014)

The "buck" is passed, passed again, and passed again until it stops with the citizens of Portsmouth. People continue to pay more and more for costs and miscues of City Hall. People are tired of opening their meager pocketbooks every time Council cries "Wolf!"

Before the passage of the last income tax increase, this is the question I posed:  

"If a 0.6 percent income tax increase in 2011 has not stopped losses to the tune of $1,405,000 per year to the city budget -- 2012, 2013, 2014, and a projected 2015 -- then why is another increase of 0.5 percent going to have any lasting effect?"

I believe the question is more pertinent today than ever.

Someone must have the ability to do long-range planning that prevents these never-ending financial woes from occurring. I wonder how many problems are the result of miscalculations, of insufficient understandings, and of unfair manipulation? My guess is that all three causes of headaches constantly plague city government. Vision and transparency are not proven attributes at City Hall. I think one small math error cannot explain the money flow.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Despite Denials, Kim Davis Seeks Spotlight -- Why She Should Issue Same-Sex Licenses

The defiant Rowan County, Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, who just served a stint in jail for five days after defying a federal judge for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is back at work and reading from a handwritten statement ...

"I don't want to have this conflict. I don't want to be in the spotlight. And I certainly don't want to be a whipping post. I am no hero. I'm just a person that's been transformed by the grace of God, who wants to work and be with my family. I just want to serve my neighbors quietly without violating my conscience."

(Associated Press. "Kentucky clerk won't interfere with gay marriage licenses." September 14, 2015.) 

Even though I respect Davis's right to her religious beliefs, I find it very difficult to believe anything positive can come from her continued resistance to simply doing her job and authorizing same-sex licenses.

Why Kim Davis Should Issue Same-Sex Licenses

1. I believe Davis is lying.

I believe she does want to have this conflict and be in the spotlight. It benefits her cause as she gains the support of protesters, presidential candidates and news crews from across the county. For her to say that she, personally, wants "to avoid conflict" nullifies other less-offensive remedies to her desire to "serve her neighbors quietly without violating her conscience."

2. Davis makes $80,000 a year for performing the required duties of her elected position. I believe she is obligated to do her job.

It is very common for the requirements of work in any job to change during the course of employment. For example, imagine being a high school health teacher for the last 30 years in the public school system and understanding the necessity of adjusting your lesson plans concerning proper instruction of a sex-education unit. Society changes, research continues, and institutions adopt changes -- then job descriptions require employees to adapt. Stagnant resistance to change is reason for termination. In Davis's case, her elected position requires a recall to force her from service.

3. I believe Davis is still pushing to negate all same-sex marriage licenses for the sake of her particular religious views. To me, this overbearing insistence is directly opposed to her personal stand. She has no right to exert her control upon the county office, nor does she have the right to stop all other certified county officials from issuing same-sex licenses as directed by the Supreme Court.

In her absence, her deputies issued at least seven licenses to gay couples and altered the forms to exclude Davis' name. The deputy clerk who issued the licenses, Brian Mason, said Monday that will continue to hand out the licenses despite his boss's objections.

Davis claims she will not interfere with her deputies if the county keeps issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but she declared they will not be authorized by her and questioned their validity.

Davis' attorneys filed an appeal seeking another delay in issuing licenses.

In their motion to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, her attorneys argued that all the same-sex couples who sued Davis for a license received one from her deputies while she was in jail. Therefore, they said, her office should not be required to issue them to any more couples once she returns to work.

4. And still, Davis returns to work and defies the highest court in the land. She remains in contempt.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning wrote that his mandate to issue licenses applied to all couples, not only those who filed suit. But, Davis' lawyers allege that order was issued improperly, and again have asked for a delay.

It is evident Davis is interfering with justice by her continued resistance while at the job. She has become a disruptive influence who claims state law and its relevance to her position upon being elected take precedence over the recent rulings by the Supreme Court. I believe the truth of the matter is that the Court rightly upheld same-sex couples' civil rights to marriage. And, resistance to changing the laws of Kentucky to allow same-sex unions is purely political.

5. How does the governmental body issuing a marriage license determine sexual identity when a common I.D. such as a driver's license is all that is required?

There is now a greater understanding of the breadth of variation outside the typical categories of "man" and "woman", and many self-descriptions are now entering the literature, including pangender, polygender, genderqueer and agender. Medically and socially, the term "transsexualism" is being replaced with gender identity or gender dysphoria, and terms such as transgender people, trans men and trans women are replacing the category of transsexual people.

Are agencies peeking into underwear to determine just who is male, who is female, and who is transsexual? I find it impossible to accurately verify traditional sexual roles on sight. And, a birth certificate is a very private document -- one not required for marriage in Kentucky.

I think subjective judgments about sexual identity must be avoided by enforcing the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage as a decent and necessary right under privacy issues. Public servants must obey the rulings of the highest court about issues not directly governed by the Constitution. Court rulings are often necessary to insure equality and justice are maintained in places and in circumstances that stubbornly threaten given rights.

Constitution And Christianity

If you believe Christianity is Constitutionally rooted in governmental affairs, consider this: Religion makes only one direct and obvious appearance in the original Constitution that seems to point to a desire for some degree of religious freedom. That appearance is in Article 6, at the end of the third clause:

"[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

That simple, straight-forward statement applies to all offices in the entire United States, both state and federal. The clause simply means that no public position can be required to be held by any one of any religious denomination. And, that would include Kim Davis's Apostolic Christian sect. Neither can she require others at her position to abide by her views, nor can she "hold" her job simple because of her perceived Christian beliefs.

It would be unconstitutional for there to be a requirement that the President be Lutheran, or even for the mayor of a small town to be Christian. Likewise, it would be unconstitutional for a law to forbid a Jew or Muslim from holding any office in any governmental jurisdiction in the United States.

It should be noted that without exception, the Framers were Christian or, at the very least, deists. But, the truth is that the Christian religion is inherently assumed and implicitly present in the Constitution. Oaths to Christianity are not stated. Why? Disagreements about style and method of worship between them were nearly as vast and incongruous as any seen today between, say, Jews and Muslims, such that the Framers wanted to ensure that no one sect could ever seize control of a government and start a theocracy.

President James Madison, when speaking of the method and manner of the election of the members of the Congress, noted that even "Religion itself may become a motive to persecution and oppression," telegraphing his own desire for no religious test for government service.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tolsia High In West Virginia Closed: Are Bed Bugs an Epidemic?

"A Wayne County, West Virginia high school is closed after a bed bug was found in a classroom.

"Tolsia High Principal Reva Sanders-Wallace says students were dismissed early Thursday (September 10) after a teacher and students discovered the insect in a classroom. The school was closed Friday so an exterminator could treat the building, according to media reports."

(Staff Report. "Bed bug sighting closes Wayne County high school."
Charleston Gazette-Mail. September 10, 2015.)

Of course, news about this tiny pest invading local schools spreads fear and anxiety that rivals a suspected terrorist attack. Even if that fear is largely unwarranted, any hint of bed bug infestation is seen as a real health threat most would have dismissed not that many years ago. Now, people fear any public contact could initiate widespread problems. Is the fear worse than the reality? That is a good question.

The Tolsia High School has taken these appropriate measures to insure the safety of students and staff. Principal Reva Sanders-Wallace said, “It (the bed bug) was secured, sealed in a plastic bag and brought to my attention."

We wanted to address it from the onset, from the very first sighting, before it became an issue,” Sanders-Wallace said. She said the sighting doesn’t indicate an infestation, and it shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of Tolsia High.

“It’s a venue where you have a great number of people convening, children coming from various homes and various environments and various situations, and it is not isolated to us,” she said. “This occurs in many different school districts nationwide.”

Bed Bugs!

America has been reported to be under attack by an unstoppable army of millimeter-sized parasites. Media reports have bed bug "epidemics" plaguing cities from New York City to Bloomington, Indiana, to Los Angeles.

Once believed to be eradicated in the United States during the 1950s, bed bugs are making a big comeback in many states. Now, bed bug populations are definitely on the rise. Few dispute this. But, is this a disturbing, new health epidemic that threatens life and limb, or is it more of a nuisance brought back to life?

"Sleep Tight and Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite"

What are bed bugs? They are flat, reddish-brown, wingless insects about the size of an apple seed that tend to hide in mattress where their victims sleep and are attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat.   During the day, they hide in the cracks and crevices of beds, box springs, headboards and bed frames but come out at night to feed -- on human blood; people wake up in the morning with evidence of bites on their face, neck, arms and hands. They can be extremely difficult to eradicate.

Evidences also suggest that the typical life span of a bed bug is about 12 to 18 months and they are able to live for several months without feeding on a host.

Bed bug bites often appear as small red bumps with a smaller red dot in the middle, usually arranged in a line or cluster, and often quite itchy. 

Bed Bug Epidemic?

Alexis Barbarin, a Ph.D. candidate in entomology at Penn State says, "An epidemic suggests "a mental picture of something huge, serious, and possibly life-threatening." The Centers for Disease Control has hesitated to call the bed bug problem an epidemic because they do not spread disease. "Have bed bug infestations reached epidemic proportions?" Barbarin asks. "In my opinion, no. But will they if we do not do anything about it? Probably so."

(Jesse Hicks. "Probing Question: Why are bed bugs on the rise?"
Penn State News. August 10, 2010.)

Experts say, contrary to popular imagination, infestations are not caused by poor housekeeping or hygiene, nor are the bugs found only in poor neighborhoods. Yet these commonly held misconceptions can prevent people from taking appropriate precautions. They also create a social stigma that can keep people from reporting infestations.

In fact, bed bugs have even been found in New York City's highest-class hotels. They are opportunist bloodsuckers, which make them most disgusting to the public, and they are comfortable in many environments. While bed bug bites can cause redness, itching and allergic reactions in some people, however according to Mayo Clinic, there are no evidence to suggest that bed bugs transmit disease.

According to a new 2012 report in PR Newswire, New York City has been named the third most bed bug infested cities in the United States. This list below shows the top 15 most heavily infested US cities:
  1. Philadelphia
  2. Cincinnati
  3. New York City
  4. Chicago
  5. Detroit
  6. Washington, D.C.
  7. Columbus, Ohio
  8. San Francisco
  9. Denver
  10. New Haven, Conn.
  11. Dallas
  12. Houston
  13. Indianapolis
  14. Miami
  15. Cleveland
("Bed Bugs In New York."

Why Are Bed Bugs Back?

Scientists such as Alexis Barbarin have several hypotheses about the recent increase in bed bug populations. Among them are the following:

* The affordability of air travel has made it easy to reach almost anywhere in the world quickly and cheaply, so some travelers "bring back unintended souvenirs."

* Increased urbanization has pushed people closer together, making it easy for infestations to spread if untreated.

* Attitudes toward pesticides have changed, and routine pesticide spraying has become less frequent, as people became wary of its large-scale environmental effects. While today many consumers want "green" pest-control solutions, in a former era, powerful pesticides such as DDT would have been on the front lines fighting bed bugs. Of course it is now banned due to ecological concerns.

* While some experts suggest bringing DDT back, bed bugs had shown resistance to the chemical as early as 1946. Another class of pesticides, called pyrethroids, has largely replaced DDT—but bed bugs have also shown resistance to these compounds. The only solution to the pesticide-resistance problem, Barbarin says, is more research and more public education.

(Jesse Hicks. "Probing Question: Why are bed bugs on the rise?"
Penn State News. August 10, 2010.)

The West Virginia school closure is not the first closure in recent years. In 2011, other schools in a number of states closed off classrooms -- or entire buildings -- because of bedbugs. That school year Michigan government officials issued a document telling schools how to handle any infestations, complete with a template of a parent notification letter (“Dear Parent or Guardian: We recently found a bed bug in your child’s classroom....”).

In a report revealed by the New York Education Department, there were a record of 1,019 confirmed cases of bed bugs in the 2009-10 school year -- an 88 percent increase from the previous school year.
And in 2011, in New York City, the number of confirmed bedbug cases in the first five months of the school year reported 1,7000 cases. the city’s Department of Education reported.

How do bedbugs get to school? By hopping onto kids' backpacks and clothes. And they don't just hide in beds, so they are hard to locate.

(Valerie Strauss. "Bedbugs at school: The new lice but worse."
The Washington Post. February 11, 2011.)

Buckeye Bugs

Beg bugs continue to be spotted in schools all across Ohio. Here are some sightings:

In October 2012, University of Cleveland Preparatory School was shut down after a few of the creepy critters were spotted roaming the halls.

In January 2013, Parma Park Elementary School was treated for bed bugs after a confirmed case of was discovered.

In October 2013, Whetstone High School in Columbus found two bed bugs inside the building.

In October 2014, Newark High School urged the school district to take action against bed bugs when they were spotted on a teenager in the lunchroom.

Looking at the PR Newswire findings, Ohio is prime territory for the insects with Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland all making the Top 15 List of Most Bed Bug Infested Cities in the United States. Many school districts have developed a protocol for dealing with bed bugs and possible infestations. Click here for a PDF example from Cincinnati Public Schools:

Of course, schools must remain vigilant for bed bugs. Although treating a bed bug infestation may be very difficult and costly, the sooner an infestation is detected the easier it will be to control the infestation. In addition, there are additional steps that can be taken to prevent future infestations.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Good and Evil of Religion: Dogmatic vs. Spiritual Religion

Arguments over religion continue to rage in America, a land founded on religious freedom and a country established "under God." People are quick to anger about their religious views. Some claim America is going to hell because citizens are not adhering to established religious values and teachings. Others blame religion for yoking the populace with Puritan beliefs, and these people fight the insistent demand that government recognize religious tenants.

Steve Taylor, popular author and senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University in the U.K., gives some food for thought about religion and whether it is a force for good or a force for evil. He says ...

"It’s important to make a distinction between ‘dogmatic’ and ‘spiritual’ religion.

"Dogmatic religion... props up the fragile ego. Dogmatically religious people think that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. For them, religion isn’t about self-development or experiencing the transcendent, but about adhering to a set of rigid beliefs and following the rules laid down by religious authorities. It’s about defending their beliefs against anyone who questions them, asserting their ‘truth’ over other people’s, and spreading those beliefs to others. For them, the fact that other people have different beliefs is an affront, since it implies the possibility that their own beliefs may not be true. They need to convince other people that they’re wrong to prove to themselves that they’re right.

‘Spiritual’ religion is very different. It promotes the higher attributes of human nature, like altruism and compassion, and fosters a sense of the sacred and sublime. ‘Spiritually religious’ people don’t feel any animosity to other religious groups – in fact, they’re happy to investigate other beliefs, and may even go to other groups’ temples and services. They usually aren’t evangelical – their attitude is that different religions are suited to different people, and that all religions are different manifestations or expressions of the same essential truths.

"In other words, whereas the purpose of dogmatic religion
is to strengthen the ego, through beliefs, labels and group
identity, the purpose of spiritual religion is the complete
opposite of this -- to transcend the ego, through compassion,
altruism and spiritual practice."

(Steve Taylor Ph.D. "The Psychology of Religion: A Force For Good or Evil?"
Psychology Today. June 12, 2012.)

Although I realize Dr. Taylor is being personally judgmental in his evaluation of religion, I associate with his words. I understand one must never simplify the nature or the role of religion in American life. To diminish the positive impact of all its positive beliefs would be shortsighted. Religion has served to bolster billions of people's sense of self and group identity.

Religion can help people make sense of the world, provide motivation, and bind them together. It is a wonderful rock for so many. "In God we trust" is much more than a hollow statement of faith for the majority of those in the U.S. The affirmation is deeply rooted in government affairs.

At the same time, religion has caused many unnecessary conflicts, deaths, and even warfare. Yes, history shows this to be true -- even in this land of the free, people have chosen to use religion to justify governmental objectives.

Everyone knows the story of the witches of Salem.  The Salem witch trials involved a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, most of them women. Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of those convicted.

And, many fewer are aware of Mary Dyer, a Quaker woman who was hanged on Boston Common in 1660 for the crime of religious nonconformity. For holding religious views that were just slightly unaligned with those of her Boston neighbors, Dyer was strung up and killed along with several others, becoming a permanent symbol of America's rich "religious heritage."

Then, of course, there was a bloody Civil War that ripped the nation apart. This terrible conflict had Confederates who justified slavery by citing both Old and New Testament passages -- preachers and slaveowners insisting that God was on their side as they subjected their fellow humans to the ultimate inhumanity.

Many insist the Founding Fathers intended the United States to be established as a Christian nation with laws obeying biblical rules and commandments.

David Niose, an attorney who has served as president of two Washington-based humanist advocacy groups -- the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America -- puts a clear perspective on the intentions of the Founding Fathers and religion. He says ...

"Because the framers were so secular, religious conservatives give great weight to the Declaration of Independence reference to 'nature's God' and men being 'endowed by their Creator' with rights. These phrases, they insist, are evidence that America is a Christian nation.

"This is ironic, because the Declaration is notable for its intentional omission of any mention of Christianity or Jesus. 'Creator' and 'nature's God' are common deistic references, obviously an intentional effort to avoid Christian rhetoric.

"Thus, almost a century before Darwin's discoveries, in an era when outright atheism was still a crime, the framers took careful steps to avoid validating Christianity. In fact, when they finally drafted the Constitution the resulting text was entirely god-free. Religion is mentioned in the original Constitution only once, and that is in the negative: to ensure that there is no religious test for holding office."

(David Niose. "The Truth About America's Religious Heritage."
Psychology Today. February 27, 2012.)

No doubt, arguments over whether religion should have a major influence on government and court decisions will continue. Both sides of the issue seem polarized and ready to stand their ground. Recent fights over same-sex marriage and abortion continue to focus on rulings by the Supreme Court. Will dogmatic believers or spiritual believers have their way in a nation that constantly judges separation of church and state?

Steve Taylor contends, "As long as human beings experience ‘ego-separation’, dogmatic religion will always persist. And as long as we experience an impulse to transcend our ‘ego-separation,' so will spiritual religion."

I tire of hearing dogmatic stances in relation to decisions of equality -- both stances for religion and anti-religion. Isn't it telling that militant atheism is very similar to dogmatic religion? Taylor says that militant atheists are obeying the same impulse for identity and certainty -- the same desire to possess ‘the truth’ as fundamentalist Christians. They display the same antagonism to those with different belief system, and have the same drive to ‘convert’ the ignorant to their way of thinking.

I believe a comparison of militant atheists and dogmatic Christians is very revealing in that both groups refuse any compromise of their beliefs while insisting the other is dead wrong. This hardheaded abstinence also belittles those whose faith falls somewhere between that of Bible-thumping Christians and diety-denying atheists. I am not an atheist but neither am I a single-minded evangelist. I tire of groups judging me according to their beliefs. I believe a person should be free to believe what he likes without facing condemnation or embarrassment.

To me, spiritual religion is a lifelong journey that requires the traveler to find basic truths. It allows not only for religious discovery but also for religious interpretation and growth beyond the English text of one holy book. To limit people's knowledge by standing on one view and confronting them with it as the absolute truth keeps many interested souls from even considering strong belief.

I am fully aware that after reading the last paragraph, dogmatic Christians are now considering me "a heathen headed for hell" who chooses to make his faith an unfounded smorgasbord of meaningless belief. To the dogmatist, there is only one Word and one Way to believe. He believes the Bible -- and in the singular manner in which he interprets this text -- to be the sole key to the Kingdom.

Dogma can divide; it can push belief into a small, compartmentalized boundary; and, it can resist progressive change necessary to keep religion alive. I think that the curious, religious traveler must often go off the boundaries that define the map of dogma and seek goodness in new climates.

Attaining altruism through spiritual religion is a huge order. Still, I believe most ministers, preachers, priests, and rabbis find that, in the real world, their desire to attain selfless concern for the well-being of others leads them to open their minds. After all, only selfless helping is considered altruism, and dogmatic behavior often feeds the ego that keeps religious officials from becoming caring servants. Serving others requires constantly interpreting "the good" as the end of a moral action.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Wall of Separation Between Church and State -- Blame It On Jefferson and Baptists

It may surprise many hardcore fundamentalists that good old Thomas Jefferson was responsible for building the "wall of separation" between church and state -- not by authoring the Declaration or giving input on drafting the Constitution, but by writing a letter to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802, in which he coined the famous phrase "wall of separation between the church and the state." His purpose in this letter was to assuage the fears of the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists, and so he told them that this metaphorical "wall" had been erected to protect them.

Historians such as Dr. Daniel L. Dreisback, professor of Justice, Law and Society in the School of Public Affairs at American University, say that Jefferson was inaugurated the third President of the United States on March 4, 1801, following one of the most bitterly contested elections in history. His religion, or the alleged lack thereof, was a critical issue in the campaign.

(Daniel L. Dreisback. "The Mythical "Wall of Separation: How a Misused Metaphor Changed Church–State Law, Policy, and Discourse." The Heritage Foundation. June 23, 2006.)

In fact, Jefferson's Federalist Party foes, led by John Adams, vilified him as an infidel and atheist. The story has it that the campaign rhetoric was so bitter that, when news of Jefferson's election swept across the country, housewives in New England were seen burying family Bibles in their gardens or hiding them in wells because they expected the Holy Scriptures to be confiscated and burned by the new Administration in Washington.

(Dreisback claims these fears resonated with Americans who had received alarming reports of the French Revolution, which Jefferson was said to support, and the widespread desecration of religious sanctuaries and symbols in France.)

But, the Jeffersonian Republicans in Federalist New England were supported among the Baptists. At the dawn of the 19th century, Federalists dominated New England politics, and the Congregationalist church was legally established in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Baptists, who supported Jefferson, were outsiders -- a political minority in a region where a Congregationalist-Federalists dominated political life.

In order to be precise, allow me to let Dr. Dreisback relate the following important history:

"On New Year's Day, 1802, President Jefferson penned a missive to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. The Baptists had written the President a 'fan' letter in October 1801, congratulating him on his election to the 'chief Magistracy in the United States. They celebrated Jefferson's zealous advocacy for religious liberty and chastised those who had criticized him 'as an enemy of religion, Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.'

"In a carefully crafted reply, Jefferson endorsed the persecuted Baptists' aspirations for religious liberty:

"'Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

(Letter from Jefferson to Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins,
and Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association
in the state of Connecticut, 1 January 1802. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. December 2, 1801-January 1, 1802.)

So, it seems Jefferson's Danbury letter, a principled statement on the prudential and constitutional relationship between church and state, was, in fact a political statement written to reassure pious Baptist constituents that Jefferson was indeed "a friend of religion and to strike back at the Federalist-Congregationalist establishment in Connecticut for shamelessly vilifying him as an infidel and atheist in the recent campaign."

(James Hutson. "‘A Wall of Separation': FBI Helps Restore Jefferson's Obliterated Draft," Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Vol. 57, No. 6. June 1998.)

Throughout his public career, including two terms as President, Jefferson pursued policies incompatible with the "high and impregnable" wall the modern Supreme Court has erroneously attributed to him. For example, he endorsed the use of federal funds to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians.

Dreisback concludes ...

"Jefferson's wall, as a matter of federalism, was erected between the national and state governments on matters pertaining to religion and not, more generally, between the church and all civil government.

"In other words, Jefferson placed the federal government on one side of his wall and state governments and churches on the other. The wall's primary function was to delineate the constitutional jurisdictions of the national and state governments, respectively, on religious concerns, such as setting aside days in the public calendar for prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving. Evidence for this jurisdictional or structural understanding of the wall can be found in both the texts and the context of the correspondence between Jefferson and the Danbury Baptist Association."

(Daniel L. Dreisback. "The Mythical "Wall of Separation: How a Misused Metaphor Changed Church–State Law, Policy, and Discourse." The Heritage Foundation. June 23, 2006.)

So, What's the "Big Deal"?

The Supreme Court has consistently held that there is a wall of separation between Church and State. Yet, it is, indeed, ironic that Thomas Jefferson coined a phrase that has held such historical significance in arguments concerning separation in a political letter, and it is even more ironic that Jefferson did so while defending his Baptist supporters -- a move the Baptists supported because they, at the time, were a much-hassled religious minority.  

Granted, Jefferson was always reluctant to reveal his religious beliefs to the public. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, he made the following recommendation to his nephew Peter Carr in 1787: "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

And, Jefferson's views played a leading role in the first campaigns to separate church and state, which a student of history can see in his writing that became the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. Jefferson stated:

"The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg ... Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error."

(Edited by William Peden. Notes on the State of Virginia.
University of North Carolina Press. 1955.)

It seems nothing about Thomas Jefferson was easily understood from his ownership of slaves to his religious convictions. Some say he was decidedly Unitarian and held no specific creeds concerning Christianity, God, or God's unitary nature while choosing to perceive Christ as human rather than divine.

As time went on, Jefferson confessed to believe that the Government's relationship with the Church should be indifferent, religion being neither persecuted nor given any special status. In Jefferson's March 4, 1805, Drafts of Address of Second Inaugural he stated:

(John P. Foley, ed. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: a Comprehensive Collection
of the Views of Thomas Jefferson1900.)

Yet, many hold onto the simplistic, edited views of Founding Fathers they read in grade school history texts. People are under many illusions that have resulted from the spread of lack of detailed accounts and misinformation. Many historical figures such as Jefferson have been lifted to iconic status without much regard to their real persona.

There is nothing necessarily subversive about this, but somewhere along the line it would seem that learning the truth is essential to modern revision. Thus, to set the record straight, it must be understood that separation is not Constitutional. In fact, the early Republic welcomed public worship. Church services were held in the U.S. Capitol and Treasury buildings every Sunday.

The language of separation was birthed by Thomas Jefferson after the ratification of the Constitution, and, perhaps, a more correct phrase for Jefferson's initial intention of division would be the "separation of state FROM church."

Since then, the highest court in the land has used Jefferson's Danbury letter to expand the meaning for this important but controversial phrase. The Supreme Court not only prohibits any government from adopting a particular denomination or religion as official, but requires government to avoid excessive involvement in religion.

In Reynolds v. United States (1879) the U.S. Supreme Court wrote that Jefferson's comments "may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment." In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), Justice Hugo Black wrote: "In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state."

(Robert Boston. Why The Religious Right is Wrong About Separation of Church & State. 1993.)

Still, the Court does not always interpret the constitutional principle as absolute, and the proper extent of separation between government and religion in the U.S. remains an ongoing subject of impassioned debate.

So, to all of those who say ...

"America has become a Godless country."

Or those who say ...

"There must be an absolute wall of separation between church and state."

I say ...

"I bet you don't remember that the third President of the United States, who was not a professed Christian, wrote a letter to defend Baptists, his loyal political friends, that stated 'American people declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.'"

And, this confusing situation is what started all the fuss about the controls in the United States of America of what "walls" prohibit religions from entering government and what "openings" allow religions to access government.

Enough of arguing total exclusion from government concerning everything religious! And, enough of arguing total inclusion of biblical interpretation in the laws of mankind! I believe there are two kingdoms -- one earthly and one heavenly -- that both possess significant differences, and people have their hands full just trying to maintain justice and order with equal measures of concern for God and for country.