Friday, January 29, 2016

So The Letter Came.

As I was preparing to travel to my conference over the weekend, the letter came.  The New York Parole Board is once again going to assess if Linda's murderer is capable of being released back into society.  I am always troubled when the letter comes as many of you already know.  Not just because it brings back all the memories but it calls into question how the criminal justice system operates. While some might disagree, I am an articulate and educated man who has been somewhat successful. I can easily take time to write a letter or even come to parole board to give a victim impact statement. If the victim of a crime didn't have someone to speak for them does that make the inmate more likely to be seen as fine for society.  Two years ago I wrote this letter:

Dear Parole Board,

I am writing this letter as a victim impact statement to be considered at the upcoming parole hearing of Jamie Morton, Inmate number 88C0405. On August 31, 1987 Mr. Morton stole the future I was building with my fiancĂ©, Linda Akers, when he chose to murder her in a senseless and brutal act.   

Mr. Morton violently beat and stabbed Linda for no reason except to vent his anger at a world he felt was unfair.  But more then stealing Linda and my future, he took a light out of the world.  Linda’s work with young children, especially during her time at the Bishop Foery Foundation, was focused on reaching vulnerable and at-risk children.   She wanted to make a difference in the world, especially those who were often unseen or ignored by society as a whole.  She never got the chance to make her mark.  I never saw Mr. Morton show remorse for his crime, in fact at times I felt he was proud of it.

My first reaction is that Mr. Morton should never leave prison; his crime is not one that should allow him to ever enjoy the pleasures of the world that he has made darker by his actions.  But I am torn with what to write. I believe in justice over vengeance; I believe in rehabilitation over the idea of locking people away forever, even for murder.  If Mr. Morton has served his time honorably and without incidents of violence or dangerous behavior, and if he will add to the world’s good as opposed to evil, should he not be released?  But how can we know how he will react if released?

Because of Mr. Morton’s crime, I would not consider him eligible for parole unless there is substantial evidence that he has indeed changed for the better while incarcerated.  I believe the burden of proof rests on him, and that burden is significant. 

When weighing your decision, I hope you see that Mr. Morton took the life of a woman who was dedicating her life to young children in the hope of making the world a better place.   I also hope that you honor the values of the legal system that seeks to not simply be a punishment, but also seeks rehabilitation and reform.  I have moved from Syracuse, I have built my life and while I still have a big hole created in the past, I think I have found peace in the last 2 decades.  But I am haunted by the idea that another person will be put through the same pain I have been through because of Mr. Morton’s actions.  So I hope when you decide on Mr. Morton’s future you do so with Linda’s life lost in mind and the chance that others might be at risk.  I do not envy your position in making this difficult decision. 

Thank you for taking my words into consideration while you deliberate. 


                 George Kelley 

As you can see I included my discomfort with the value of these statements.  So I was surprised by the most recent letter.  In it the statement should reflect the ruling of a NYS Supreme Court Justice Sandra Sciortino in which the parole decision must focus "almost exclusively on the inmate's crime". I am not sure if this is a way of leveling the field and taking the victim completely out of the equation.  Parole should be "future-focused" as the ruling goes.  This has been my thought for a while but then I wonder if sentencing might be refocused as well.  How do we come up with the numbers that we use when we decide how long someone should be in prison?  Seriously, is there a formula? Three decades is a long time in prison and Morton is approaching this milestone.  But during those same years the world has been without a great woman who dedicated her life to children. So the later doesn't matter as much.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  So I will write again and ask them to consider the danger Morton will pose but also any hate he would bring to the world.  There is a no way to know the future.  This is my particular situation but I wonder how many may find freedom with this new ruling.  I hope that justice prevails and that the parole board makes good decisions.  It is suppose to be blind, I just hope it isn't simpleminded as well. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Seriously, What is Wrong With You People

So the storm came.  Elected officials from all over the eastern half of the country have been preparing for what has become a crippling and deadly storm.   Mayor Bill DeBlasio, in a statement to the people of New York, asked people to stay indoors during the storm.  He wanted to avoid people being hurt or trapped because of the wind and snow.  The storm, a blizzard, with wind gusts up to 50 mph.  To put that into perspective this is a tropical storm force wind speed.  Also the snow coming down at a rate of 2 inches per hour is not easy to deal with even for someone like me who lived in Northern New York for the first 20 years of my life.  But the mayor's statement to protect people had to be answered by  John Podhoretz, a member of the right wing noise machine.  He argues that this is another example of the nanny-state and that the mayor or elected officials have no business telling people what to do.  He argues in the city so few people drive that being out wouldn't be a problem for rescue workers and first responders to get around.  He actually complained that this is government overreach.  He wrote:  

To DeBlasio and other pols who tell people to stay indoors during a snow storm: You work for US. Therefore, shut the hell up.

Think about that for a minute.  He complaining that the mayor of the biggest city in the country telling people to stay home and be safe is a problem.  I could inform Mr. Podhoertz of the dangerous of being outdoors during a blizzard.  Not just driving and getting stuck.  Wind blowing things around at 30mph can do damage, trees in the park can fall, lose branches and fall and kill people.  That has happened.  But John is worried that if you listen to the government the terrorists win or something.  And this is the state of American political discourse now.  We have a leading Presidential candidate who retweets white supremacists on his twitter feed and calls people who don't endorse him losers.  We have so-called journalists who continue to run cover for a Michigan Governor who's actions poisoned and likely killed citizens of Flint.  

I understand that back and forth of politics and I partake in it regularly.  Sometimes it can be fun, you know when two people see the same facts differently can have a valid discussion. But when your politics encourages you to challenge a public declaration for safety and help make people act stupidly because you told them it will fine perhaps  you should take a break. Maybe leave the business and maybe get some help.  Because as I watched the news from New York today, I saw people jogging in center park and I hope I don't hear that one was hit by a falling branch, or that someone in Brooklyn was electrocuted by downed powerline.  I wonder if John Podhoertz would see that as a victory for liberty. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Where Did the Republican Party Go?

Let's face it, the right wing thinkers have taken over the Republican party with real disastrous consequences for the party and in some cases for the people of states they control.  In some of these cases there are much bigger issues that stretch beyond their limit spheres but the is a cancer sweeping the nation and I don't know if there is party leadership to bring it back to a normalcy that is what our country stands for and always has.  Many times they argue they want to take the country back, to what?  Here are some interesting, scary and dangerous examples.  

Gov Rick Snyder of Michigan starting in 2012 began to exert executive power and take over municipalities that were suffering in the down Michigan economy.  He appointed emergency managers and one city was Flint.  In Flint one of the cost savings measures was to take water from the Flint river rather as they had been from the Detroit water system that brings in water from Lake Huron.  The chemical make up of river versus lake water is different and river water has to be treated in a different way to go through the old pipes that deliver water in Flint.  The emergency manager, over the protests of local elected officials, changed to river water and did not pay for the new necessary treatment.  Now in Flint there is a water crisis usually reserved for the developing world but what is amazing is that for a long time the people of Flint were drinking polluted water from their taps which included lead.  Lead is a neurotoxin that will have a lifelong impact on child development and the local water has poisoned these kids.  A pediatrician and hydrologist both warned of this, local elected officials pleaded with the state to do something the Governor was silent.  When challenged he said the water was fine, but he knew it was toxic and recent released emails prove it.  It wasn't until Rachel Maddow brought the story to national attention did the Michigan government work to rectify the situation and still moving slowly. These are all facts.  They still haven't called for Federal help but FEMA has sent a couple of people to monitor the situation even though until the Republican governor calls for help they can do very little.  Meanwhile, children have been poisoned and there still is no water.  This is the result of serious government arrogance on the part of a tea party governor who appeared to wanted to punish the citizens of Flint for questioning his non-democratic practice of overriding local elections.  How is this possible?

Then we have the Republican governor of Maine.  Recently complaining that New York black drug dealers come to Maine and sell their drugs and impregnate white girls saying they have names like D-money and Shifty.  Clear implications of his statement is that black people coming to Maine are going to sell drugs and rape white women.  Amazing.  This is a leader in the Republican party.  

Let's go south, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice has decided the the United States Supreme Court is not a higher authority than himself and has tried to outlaw marriage for people of the same sex. He ordered probate judges in the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a move that defies the ruling of the United States Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex unions. This is the product of people like Senator Ted Cruz and former Gov Mike Huckabee's ridiculous notion that the states can ignore the Supreme Court.  It is remarkable that the leadership of the party on the Federal level have not said a thing about it.  Nothing.  But what do we expect when people running for President in that party have no understanding of civics.

Then we have Texas Governor Greg Abbott.  You might remember him, he sent the Texas national guard out this past summer to keep an eye on the US Military doing training in Texas and other states because conspiracy theorists said it was an attempt to take over Texas.  (let's not forget Texas is part of the US so......)  A military exercise that has happened many times caused Abbott to wring his hands and cry about tyranny.  So this week another great leader of the party proposes a Constitutional Convention to wrestle power from the Federal government.  His proposed amendments basically destroy the power of the federal government to act as a nation when it comes to policies that effect citizens.  One of the issues is the Supreme Court rulings that Abbott doesn't like.  What is funny is that he argues we have to preserve the Constitution but in effect his idea destroys it.  Some, again, running for President under the rules of that Constitution agree with him.  Amazing.  One thing that could be a result of Abbott's proposal if it were to play out is that states could have slavery, limit the right to vote to only certain people (men, land owners, Christians?) It is remarkable that no one in the leadership of the party calls these guys out.  But there it is.  

And these are all elected officials but it is not the only.  President Obama this week unveiled a series of executive actions to limit access to guns by criminals and people with mental illness.  Before anyone knew what he was going to say dozens of members of Congress tweeted that it was unconstitutional and that it was taking people guns away.  Neither were true but of course fact don't matter in this new post-fact world.  But even after the President outlined clear and legal enforcement of existing laws, members of Congress continued to suggest that the President was over stepping his authority and that he should focus on existing laws.  Again, nothing from the party to suggest they were lying.  

Now when we move beyond elected officials we can talk about Fox News, the voice of the right and largest mouthpiece for the nonsense driving this discussion.  When the President spoke about his plans on guns Andrea Tantaros accused him of faking his tears having a cut onion at the podium.  Seriously because talking about dead 5 year olds isn't enough for the people of Fox News to bring them to tears.  This heartless and I would argue evil nonsense that permeates our public discussion is not debate.  It leads to all kinds of crazy.  

Enter Trump.  I won't go on about him but everyone should take a moment and think what a Trump candidacy would look like in say 1980, or even 1992?  Would the GOP have allowed this man even on the stage?  Would the people fight to get to see him?  Would anger and hate drive their decision making?  I think not.  The GOP has abdicated their politics to the hateful nature of right wing radio and a Fox News that hates the President, minorities, Muslims, and women more than anyone loves the country.  We live in a world where a major party is lead by people who poison children, make racist statements in official meeting and want to save the Constitution by gutting it.  And the silence is deafening.  I challenge those who call themselves Conservative to do something about it.  I know this will lead to a second President Clinton and I will be happy to see her inaugurated, but in the end I think it is important that the party of Lincoln sound intelligent and working for all Americans (even if they are wrong) including D-money, Shifty and those of us who cry when we hear children have had their heads blown off by gunfire. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Make a Happy New Year

All day I see people wishing others a good new year when a friend posted on her facebook page that she is has "2016 by the balls".  I think while maybe cruder than many of my friends might say, it is a great attitude.  She clearly wants to take the year on head on become the author of her own fate.  It really is what we can do.  There are plenty of ways that we don't have control of our universe but we always have control over how we react to the random and sometimes not-so-random events that befall us.  However we can set up situations that help make our lives not so random.  I hope that you will take the new year in hand, regardless of how you think about the metaphor, and create your new wonders.  Here are some ways you can change your world for the better. Pick one, a few, all, but help you find a better world.

1.  Tell someone you love that you do if you haven't in a while.
2.  Call an old friend just to tell them about your day.
3.  Have lunch with someone you don't know well who may be a different faith or culture, have not agenda just eat together and let it be organic.
4.  Find out what an old roommate is doing these days if you haven't stayed in touch.  (Facebook will find them I promise).
5.  Eat something you have never tried before, hell, make it.
6.  Stare into the eyes of your partner for at least 2 minutes, say nothing.
7.  Turn off your phone for an entire day if you don't do it already.
8.  Spend time with a toddler, pretend with them.
9.  Or just pretend play on your own...regardless of age.
10.  Go find a place you have never been and go.

Happy New Year and have a good one.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

Climate Change is Real,And Other Things That We Should Worry About

So a few nights ago I sat up listening a thunderstorm that blew through Indiana a few days before the new year.  It has ignited more conversation about climate change as the weather around the country has been remarkably unusual.  But these flashes of weather are not enough to be considered conclusive evidence, no more than when a dimwitted Senator brought a snowball to floor in the Capital was a sign climate change isn't occurring because it was cold last winter.  But here is the thing, 2015 will likely be a new record for global temperature.  We see massive changing patterns in glaciers, ice fields and over all weather.  At the Paris Climate Conference heads of over 150 countries agreed the climate in changing and that human action is involved.  And yet there is a small group of individuals, mostly in the the United States, who are actively calling this a global decades long hoax.  Some of them are running for President of the United States.

How is this possible?  Seriously, there is a certain level of arrogance to be an elected official to suggest that the massive majority of scientists working in the area of climate studies are just making this up.  People should value skepticism but in this case there is a growing class of people who seem to be angered by information, reality and facts.  We can see it reflected in the way followers of a candidate for President, Donald Trump, justify his factually inaccurate statements as just another strategy.  They seem to feel that being wrong about important issues is unimportant because he makes them feel good.  And that is part of what I think is cultivated by the anti-climate change crowd.  Working to combat climate change will not be easy or cheap.  It is easier to pretend that it is not real and not worry about.

While a majority of the world and virtually all the scientists doing work in the area agree that human activity is causing real problems in world's climate the loud voice of a tiny minority has whipped up a group that is ignorant of reality. Truth becomes fluid in this world.  The leading Republican candidate for President has had his campaign considered the lie of the year, his entire campaign.  He spoke of thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey that he personally saw, when in fact the rumor that this was happening was debunked in real time.  Others have said they have seen videos of live births during abortion procedures only to have the baby's organs harvested.  That didn't occur.  More and more people fall prey to ridiculous ideas because at the highest levels of discourse truth is considered a liability.  So we believe that Mark Zuckerberg is giving money away to people who share post on Facebook, or commenting on a picture will motivate some corporation to donate to the health care of a child or veteran. We have become an uncritical people and there are those who will take advantage of it.  Now forwarding a post on social media is not a big deal, but when people who want to lead our country and by extension the free world just make things up, we should be ready to hold them accountable.

The climate is changing, we have evidence that human action is contributing, the results could be very devastating and we should be concerned.  Facts are important in the world, especially want you want to lead it.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Holidays

There is a meme going around the interwebs that says

If you're Christian, wish me "Merry Christmas!"
If you're Jewish, wish me "Happy Hanukkah!"
If you're Pagan, wish me "Happy Solstice!"
 If you're African-American, wish me "Joyous Kwanzaa!"

I won’t be offended, just happy you took the time to share your joy.  

But here is the problem with this notion.  Wishing someone Merry Christmas who is not celebrating that holiday is like wishing someone Happy Birthday on your birthday.  Think about it.  Why would someone wish me a Joyous Kwanzaa?  Why?  I may recognize it is happening but it doesn't belong to me. Frankly what I think is that we should get to know our neighbor, know who they are and wish them a meaningful holiday for them.  If you are confused by the holiday they celebrate, ask.  It isn't really hard.  Too often we don't take the time to understand the people around us.  That is wrong.  
Now what is missing from this meme is the fact that in many cases you won't know the person well and there is no place to really ask.  If you are a clerk or a customer at a store, when you are in a cab, or simply walking down a busy street.  So the one thing that is a catch all that would plow the way to what might become a conversation is to simply say HAPPY HOLIDAYS.  Many people are celebrating something in our culture from late November to early January.  In more American/Secular holidays take place like Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.  We also slow down as December goes on and people take vacations and celebrate the breaths they can take for a minute before the gearing up again in the New Year.  Saying Happy Holidays opens a door.  It is really that phrase that has caused the most disruption and offense.  Boycotts of stores that use the phrase have been common in recent years, worse for Season's Greetings another wonderful catch all.  Fox News and their army of outrage have said the is a War on Christmas, often citing more inclusive celebrations and expressions this time of year.  All with the intent of trying to homogenize the culture that is deliciously diverse and wonderful vibrant.  
So at this time of year, wish someone a joyful and meaningful holiday they celebrate.  Accept the greetings of others, especially if they try to be inclusive, Attend Hanukah, Christmas, Solstice parties if you wish, or nothing at all.  But remember, the world is full of wonderful people who offer wonderful things and sometimes those things are outside of our normal everyday experience.  Those are the coolest.  
For those who celebrate, may your holiday bring you meaning, joy and perhaps some wonderful treats.  For those who don't have any celebration, may the fact the most do give you a few days of deeper breaths and calm in life.  And to all, each year we strive to do better than the last, take time to get to know someone very different from you.  You may learn something, especially about yourself.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Interfaith, Multifaith, Shared Faith.

Last week many people around the country gathered in interfaith commemorations of the tragic events in Paris earlier this month and at annual celebrations of gratitude around the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  I have a long history of participation and attendance at such events.  I can tell you that one of the most special interfaith service I attended was in of all places the grounds of Georgia College in Milledgeville, GA.  The piece of land owned by the state of Georgia and grounds of a former penitentiary and now a university brought together a variety of religions for a service that honored all and shunned none.  Great attempts were made to be inclusive enough for a Southern Baptist and Jew to stand next to each other and get a feeling of connection.  But that is not the norm. Often through ignorance or cultural myopia there are times that those who are charged to speak for the entire congregation of mixed faiths might pray in the name of, or invoke their vision of godness to the exclusion of others.  Other times there are those who chose to focus on Scriptural passages that exclude or denigrate the other.

Multifaith expressions in services are difficult.  In part because prayer is highly personal even when one is a prayer leader.  Our faith traditions are remarkably segregated when we gather for prayer. Even within a single faith the diversity of expression of prayer can be enormous.  A Hasidic synagogue looks nothing like a typical Reform synagogue but may have expressions different from even other hasidic synagogues.  Think of all the denominations of Christianity.  In that same Milledgeville it took me weeks to figure out the two Baptist churches may not always play with each other on issues of theology.  How then can we expect people to work together on creating something that feeds those who believe in one God, many Gods, No God or are unsure of what God is?  Actually it is quite simple.

The term interfaith is not how we should focus our energies, but on Multifaith.  The true goal of interfaith work is not to blend us all into one lump of an indistinguishable bland worldview, but to celebrate the many paths people take in there pursuit and/or relationship with God or Godness.  So why not celebrate it.  A model would be to allow for many person expressions of prayer in the service.  Have an invocation, benediction and if there is a sermon or message be strictly for all faiths.  Wipe it clean of any sectarian references.  Try to be universal and if a speaker can't or won't then find someone who can.  It is not hard to not make those things about yourself or your faith.  Don't leave someone out.  But then allow room for people to express themselves in their own faith tradition.  Allow for prayers in Jesus' name as long a there are prayers from many places of faith. However make those explicit that these are not prayers that we are looking for the whole group to say "amen".  Diversity is not about simply including minority faiths in a majority service nor is about taking deeply held beliefs off the table but embracing that which we all find comes from our heart.  That which we all find most precious.

I am never comfortable when at a meeting someone prays to Jesus for me or worse expects me to pray to Jesus with them.  But I can understand that they feel the need to pray to Jesus, and it is simple to leave me out of it.  However if the intention is to be inclusive then it would be rude and counter-productive to do that as much as it would be for me to pray the Alenu as a vision of the future.  (A prayer that calls on all the world to believe as we do).

Multifaith is difficult but not impossible if only we can have open dialogue about what it truly means and how we can express it in our actions and services.  People coming together around the idea of being thankful for the gifts we have, giving to those whose cups are less full, or remembering those lost in a tragedy and holding out hands to comfort those grieving are wonderful.  Maybe when we are away from the last time we did it we can think about it seriously and try to do better the next time.  If need help, 20 years ago there were some clergy and lay people in a small college town in Georgia who got it right.  Let's look for that.