Our National Rightness and Wrongness

Posted July 23, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

This essay began as a response to a friend who told me America was in decline. I asked for specifics and this was the response, “Looser morals, more bitterness, more racial tension, less respect for those who hold different opinions, more persecution of Christians, etc.” I may agree on three of the five. Other friends suggested it would be more optimistic to write about what is right about our country. I decided on the words rightness and wrongness. This is not as much about the country as it is about us.

The introduction of sixteen, so far, Republican candidates for President and maybe five Democratic candidates confuses the dialogue with the attempt to interchange right and left and right and wrong, to identify liberal and conservatives political positioning. Left and right seem to be more than directional and relative, but have become standards for absolute ideology and mutual exclusion.

I have been distracted from national politics by our local school board events. In a live interview on Channel 4, prior to the board work session, I made a reference to “mean” people who were trying to terminate the contract of our superintendent. The use of connotative subjective words should have no place in rational debate. Someone asked me if I would have been as emotional if we had a “right leaning” superintendent being opposed by detractors on the left. The “right-wing, or mean people” reference only included the people trying to run off our superintendent and would not include the majority of our parents who are Republican and conservative.

I think it is true that not only the United States, but Williamson County now suffers from “more bitterness, and less respect for those who hold different opinions.” The history of school board elections in Williamson County has usually been one at a time challenges to incumbents considered less competent or less responsive to parents and students. One year, 1992, the entire Franklin Special board was defeated by an angry electorate over two emotional issues. The 2014 Williamson County school board election is hard to explain. The right wing Americans for Prosperity, with or without permission from six candidates, introduced Barack Obama into local elections throughout Tennessee to demonize Common Core State Standards. “Why is our school board letting Obama run Williamson County Schools?” The intent to remove Dr. Looney was prominent in an email circulated among the inner circle of right-wing activists and the candidates. The parents, teachers, and community and business leaders responded and rallied in defense of the schools and the Superintendent. So far the candidates have not been willing to offer any public disclaimer of the mailers.

When President Obama was elected in 2008 we all acknowledged that some people voted for him only because he was black, and some people voted against him because he was black. The accusation of “more racial tension” may be less relevant than “disrespect for those who hold different opinions on race.”

Activists who believe the United States is in decline frequently attack public schools as the cause. This movement is nationwide, but most volatile in southern and conservative state legislatures. One of our school board members warned of a potential “progressive track much of our education has taken.” Some people would make our children crucibles for the forging of young minds in shaping the future of our country. Our teachers and schools, and our superintendents, are under attack. Even Williamson County the highest performing school district in Tennessee, with an upper middle class, highly educated Republican electorate, lost much of its prestige in one election, and is at greater risk of future partisan elections that could diminish our quality of education.

I approach the religious accusation in the original paragraph with moral trepidation. This is not about religious freedom. Religious freedom is alive and well in Williamson County. In one or more incidents following the election, the new board members introduced establishment of religion into school board discussions. In the speech by the board member who resigned there is a reference to “the diminishing influence and positive effect of the Judeo-Christian ethic/principles upon which much of the greatest nation in history was founded.” Much of the conservative opposition to and exodus from public schools, began in the 1950s, and accelerated in the 1960s, and has found a new commonality with advocates of vouchers, charter schools, and home school parents in school districts across the country. Opposition to Common Core Standards was a rallying initiative. Public schools are under attack in 30 or more states, under the label of education reform, cutting funding and transferring funds to non-public schools.

The religious right has had a major impact on conservative politics. Their effort to impose a fundamentalist and literal religion into academia has put at risk the integrity of scientific and historical accuracy and reasoning skills among our students. There is no increase in religious persecution in the United States. I would even argue there is no decline in morality from former times I have known. There is less respect and more bitterness for persons who hold different positions, and don’t know how we get past that. This may be a sufficient identifiable wrongness from which we rally to find our rightness. I was dissuaded from repeating the claims of “what is wrong with our country.” My daughters are teachers in public schools. My grandchildren are students in Williamson County schools. They wear t-shirts that read “Be Nice.” We teach moral values, and ethical behavior. If you believe the United States and Williamson County are in moral decline or mired in wrongness, you probably won’t convince many people in Williamson County. It serves no beneficial purpose to demean the educators, business leaders, people of faith, and creative thinkers who are taking this country and this county to new greatness and rightness.

Shock and Awe; Degrade and Destroy

Posted July 7, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

A few days ago, I watched a ten-minute video of our bombing of Baghdad, on March 21, 2003 in what we called shock and awe in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The bombing followed an ultimatum from President Bush for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq. We watched on television the bombardment of the many palaces of despotic splendor and other government buildings. It was a spectacular light show of military pyrotechnics.

This event was a year and a half after we watched the destruction of the World Trade Towers. We have now spent thirteen years of memorial tributes to the brave fire and rescue people who gave their lives on nine-eleven. We have built a memorial to the thousands who lost their lives in this horrendous act of inhumanity, and continue to read their names written in the black granite on which we document the losses of wars and terrorism.

Standing on the rubble of the Trade Towers, President Bush made an appeal to the resolve of the American people and united our country in a patriotic support for a war on terrorism. Thirteen years later President Obama is appealing to the American people and Congress for support of possible military involvement in Syria to degrade and destroy another Islamic group similar to and more inhumane than those who drove the planes into the towers and the Pentagon.

In our 11 year occupation of Iraq, America has grown weary and disillusioned with the series of events in Iraq and Afghanistan and the loss of life and capital and the untold loss of life of Iraqis and Afghanis beyond the losses that have touched our lives and divided our nation politically. We question the decision to invade a country that had done us no wrong, on a deceptive warning of potential risks of mass destruction. We overthrew a dictator, dismantled an army, shifted the advantage of Sunni and Shiite in a religious war, and found no semblance of victory or establishment of a democracy in a world that we do not understand.

Our moment of shock and awe, followed by a decade of boots-on-the-ground combat, has now brought us another political strategy that we call “degrade and destroy.” This is a combination of diplomatic appeal to the Islamic nations and our Western allies to condemn the new Islamic State terrorists and limited missile attacks to destroy those who rape women, kill children, and behead journalists. Our reluctant Commander in Chief, who opposed the two wars, and made a campaign promise to bring them to an end, struggles with the semantics of a war on terror that has no political, religious, or geographic borders.

We are also hearing the voices of those who believe we solve all of our national security problems militarily. We are hearing the same voices of those who gave us shock and awe who were poised and ready to degrade and destroy President Obama for whatever he might have proposed in his speech.

I looked for a definition of “degrade.” I found it to mean “to reduce in rank or status; to dishonor or disgrace; to reduce in worth or value.” This requires diplomacy and some reasoned humanitarian restraint on the part of the President, the Congress, and the military. For this we need the help of the Islamic countries in the Middle East to show some outrage for those who bring dishonor to their religion, and commit acts of cruelty in the name of their god. The more we can degrade ideologically, the fewer we have to destroy militarily in the name of our God. Read the rest of this post »

The Political Divide on Educating our Children

Posted June 29, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

I think I am hearing most, or all, of the Republican candidates advocating school choice. I understand there is inequity of quality of education in many cities and rural areas. I don’t know if you appreciate how fortunate we are to have great school districts in an affluent county with well-educated parents motivated to support public schools.

Most Liberals and Conservatives are advocates of choice in principle, but maybe not in practical application. We are debating what government should do and what should be left to private enterprise and churches. We often think of socialism and capitalism as opposing dichotomies. We learned early in our history that education could not be left to churches, private enterprise, and parents. We decided that it was the role of government to provide education for all children, and require by law compulsory attendance.

School choice allows parents to choose alternatives to public schools—church affiliated private schools, secular private schools, and home schools. With that there are some standards of accreditation and scope of curriculum and subject areas. This is the essence of parental choice.

The first option of choice is to attend another public school. In Williamson County and Franklin Special schools there is minimal difference in the student performance. Our schools are divided by proximity in transportation zones and grade level configuration. Some options of out of zone attendance are available when space is available. We build our schools to accommodate population growth. To allow students to attend their public school of choice is impossible logistically.

With that comes the obligation of the school district to provide the same quality of teaching skills, textbooks, technology, support services, and academic requirements. The statistical results of standardized tests and extracurricular success are based on student performance. When high performing and low performing students transfer, the test scores follow the students. Charter school test scores are consistent with the students who choose to attend those schools. The obligation of the school district is to provide equal academic opportunities where the students live.

A second option is to transfer tax revenue to religious schools. Most people would agree that this is not consistent with the First Amendment and our history of court decisions. It is not the role or right of government to provide a religious curriculum.
Most private schools, secular or affiliated with a denomination have tuitions that far exceed the cost per pupil expenditure of public schools. This would in effect be a subsidy to upper income parents who have chosen prestigious private schools and academies. These schools do not provide access to low income or special needs students, or students who cannot pass entrance exams.

Full implementation of school choice would also include home schools affiliated with home school providers of curriculum and standards of accountability. Home school students are educated outside the jurisdiction and accountability of the local school district. All parents home school their children with their variable skills and motivation of their children’s areas of skills and interest. Without some oversight and accountability of curriculum and student performance, no public funds should be available to students who choose not to attend public schools.

We don’t want to go back to the days before public education. America has a long way to go to catch up with a few developed countries that have more rigorous academic standards and longer school days and longer school years. The problem is not with teachers unions, or textbooks, or the lack of religious instruction. The problem is with our culture and our desire for academic and intellectual excellence and willingness to fund it.

Religious Freedom, Exemptions, and Concessions

Posted June 16, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The First Amendment codified government neutrality toward religion. The relationship between government and religion is based on the premise that religion is always an instrument for good. Within the religious community, behavior is influenced by the laws in the Bible and other religious writings, and the traditions within a specific denomination or sect. In a secular democracy, public moral or ethical conduct is adjudicated by civil law.

Within our history, conflicts have arisen in several areas in which individuals and institutions have insisted on the right to avoid a law based on religious beliefs. Most of the time, these exemptions from enforcement are consistent with the common good and do no harm. Sometimes the exemption includes a victim of a religious injustice has no recourse under law.

The parental right and responsibility to care for, teach, and punish children, in theory, should not be governed by civil law. Children spend much of their time in school–public, private, or parochial, in compliance with compulsory attendance laws. Children also spend time in a religious environment of influence from parents, youth leaders, clergy, and religious peer relationships.

One of the most notable Supreme Court decisions, Wisconsin v. Yoder, held that Amish parents could avoid the Wisconsin compulsory education law by removing the children from school after the eighth grade. The state argued that limiting education of children was the equivalent of denial of medical care, immunization, nutrition, safety, and survival skills for life. The counter argument was that the state did not have the right to define a level or content of education needed by a student.

That decision became a precedent for other religious parents who objected to public school curriculum, textbook content, dress codes, and the absence of religious instruction. The following is from the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA):

“God has delegated the authority and responsibility to teach and raise children to the parents first. Parents can delegate their authority to teach and raise their children to someone else, but not their responsibility to teach their children. God will hold parents responsible for what education their children receive (from teachers, books, assignments, or peers). We have a free choice in this country to not send our children to an ungodly public school. Our children are souls entrusted to our care.”

The argument for exemption from civil law for moral or religious reasons has been part of our history of civil disobedience. During periods declared or undeclared wars we have made accommodation for conscientious objectors and punished illegal draft resistors. The tradition has been approval of exemptions based on official religious objection, and reluctance of approval for secular moral or ethical objections. This has been the pattern for many government entities—prisons, military, schools, health care decisions, land use, and tax exemptions.

From our laws and judicial decisions, there is a perception of government persecution of people of faith, and a concurrent persecution of individuals by religion. To some members, Christianity is a fundamentalist religion that governs every aspect of their lives. The reference to our being “a Christian Nation” is occasionally proposed by those who would challenge our secular democratic civil government. Unlike orthodox Judaic law or Islamic law, fundamentalist Christianity does not supersede or negate constitutional law.

There has been an ongoing dialectic between religious entities and civil law. There was a time in Anglo-American history in which established religion was sovereign. Today, the rule in the United States is that every citizen, including the religious, is subject to constitutional law, with free exercise of religion, and individual freedom from the imposition of religion.

The Power of the President and the Supreme Court

Posted June 16, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

As we approach the end of the Obama administration and the impending 2016 presidential election, we are frequently reminded of the ages of our Supreme Court Justices and their health and longevity. The President elected in 2016 will likely have the opportunity to appoint two or three younger justices.

In the Marbury v. Madison decision in 1803, the Court ruled that Congress exceeded its power in a specific act related to the Judiciary. In that decision, the Court established its power to review acts of Congress and declare invalid those acts found to conflict with the Constitution. In theory, persons chosen to sit on the highest court are the preeminent judicial scholars. Nominees are proposed by the President, drawing on the recommendations of other judges and lawyers, and confirmed or rejected by the Senate. History has recorded landmark decisions and the written opinions of legal scholars sitting on the bench at a moment in history in which America advanced or restricted the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution.

Within the current configuration of the Supreme Court, there are four sitting members reputed to be consistently conservative in decisions before the Court; four members considered to be predictably liberal; and Justice Kennedy, the deciding vote in most of the five to four decisions. If a vacancy were to occur before the change in the White House before January of 2017, political pressure will be brought on the President to appoint a liberal justice and pressure on the Senate to reject any liberal nomination.

We like to believe that the Supreme Court is apolitical and justices should be able to render decisions inconsistent with the political views of the President who appointed them. More often we define members by how they have voted on the social issues that divide the electorate. In 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Court ruled “the separation of public schools for black and white students was inherently unequal.” This overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and the separate but equal principle that enabled segregation on railroads and other public facilities.

In the 1960s, the focus of conflict between liberal and conservative decisions on racial equality was overshadowed by landmark decisions in separation of church and state in public schools and the perceived travesty of “kicking God out of schools” in the Court ruling “government bodies could not encourage the recitation of a state-composed prayer in public schools.” The establishment clause and the freedom of religion clause continue to separate liberal Christians from conservative Christians, and Evangelical voters from secular voters on judicial issues.

With the probability that the Republican majority in the Senate will prevail and the Democratic Party will retain the Presidency, we may be facing four or eight years of gridlock in the confirmation of appointees. Consequently, the most divisive issues will challenge new justices. The Court could enable another Bush v. Gore, which may have determined the result of a presidential election.

The march to justice leans toward individual rights, but raises the question, “Whose rights.” Conservatives compete for Second Amendment rights; accommodation for religious exemptions; limiting government regulation and invasion of privacy; opposition to limiting political contributions; limiting access to abortion; and defense of traditional marriage. Liberals contend for safer gun laws; separation of church and state; equal pay for women; reproductive rights; elimination of cruel and unusual punishment; marriage equality; health care issues; and fairness in voting rights. Voters are listening intently to the words of the candidates for President and Congress. The fragile majority of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance in 2016.

Security, Fairness, Fraud, and Voter Equality

Posted June 7, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Hungarian-born billionaire and financier, George Soros, is planning to spend five million dollars to help cover the Democrats’ legal costs of challenging voter laws in Ohio and Wisconsin. Soros has for years been the evil poster image of the Democrats’ equivalent to the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

When the Founding Fathers promoted the idea that the power of government was derived from the consent of the governed, they also conveyed their fear of democracy. In the writings of James Madison, he asks if the right to vote should be limited to property owners. As a republic, most of our laws governing elections are written by individual states through the power delegated to state legislatures. In approximately 21 states, legislatures have passed laws requiring photo identification, reducing the number of polling places, and shortening or eliminating early voting.

This wave of laws passed in states with Republican controlled legislatures has effectively restricted voter eligibility and accessibility, but has also invigorated a battle for voter registration and acquiring voter identification cards. The intent of the laws was to target the persons least likely to own a drivers license and the poorest of citizens. The argument that there was widespread voter fraud, duplication, and false identity turned out to be overstated with no evidence of significant voter fraud. This is the responsibility of local administrators of elections and accurate voting records.

We all know for certain this is a power struggle to permit or deny the right to vote to persons more or less likely to support or oppose specific political parties, ideologies, and economic or demographic interests.

Looking back at the intent of the Founding Fathers, and their fear of democracy, the right to vote was originally acknowledged for only white, free, literate, male, property owners over the age of twenty-one. That has since been revised and extended in the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments to former slaves, women, and eighteen-year-olds.

When political parties promote and facilitate voter-registration drives they target demographic groups most likely to support candidates and issues of the party. The second phase of this is voter turnout and voter accessibility. Most counties have established early voting periods before and up to five days before the regular election. This process is closely monitored by election officials. This is also a safeguard against voting by ineligible undocumented residents who are not citizens. There is something called a provisional ballot, which is a time-delayed verification of eligibility or questionable identity. It also applies where and when same-day registration is permitted.

State legislatures are empowered to redistrict every ten years following each census. Partisan legislatures can, with carefully drawn boundaries, create enclaves of demographic, racial, and party affiliation voters to create safe congressional and state legislative seats often disproportional to total state population. Safe seats tend to discourage voter participation by any minority, which has a negative effect in local election turnout which perpetuates the power of incumbency.

The question debated by Madison and the Founding Fathers and which continues today is who should participate in the elective process. While we claim to be a compassionate and altruistic people, it is to our individual interest that we encourage or restrict persons more or less likely to vote like we do. This would apply to all of the issues that divide us—party affiliation, liberal or conservative, religious or secular, labor and capital, and the long list of social issues. The history of our Constitution has been moving toward insuring equality and access of voting rights. Partisan state legislatures have intentionally attempted to reverse that tradition and should be challenged.

Visions of Changing Humankind and America

Posted June 3, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

When we discuss education reform, most of the criticism of public education comes from people who identify as conservatives. This isn’t just opposition to Common Core, or opposition to anything associated with the Obama Administration. There is a competition politically and religiously between liberals and conservatives for the minds of our current and future leaders and the election of those who govern. The liberal and conservative divide is in our churches, our schools, our civic clubs, our neighborhoods, and our families. Every family has a crazy uncle who is unabashedly against something, and a teenager or a millennial with visions of changing humankind for the better.

Conservatives appeal to America’s periods of exceptional greatness, the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, a Christian nation, winning two world wars, and a republic of States’ Rights. We understand and respect the competition and differences in these concepts. Some people define America’s greatness as conservative values and some define her greatness in the advancement of liberal values and human rights.

The history textbooks that I studied in middle school and high school were narratives of history from Columbus to the end of World War II. They were factual, and we committed them to memory for exams and parental approval. Today’s high school history textbooks are designed to stimulate creative thinking. New and updated history textbooks have multiple pages of prefatory references and links to everything that has happened in American history from 1492 to the copyright date 2015. The history of America has been a struggle between change and resistance to change. These periods were not always defined as conservative and liberal at the time of political debate. We preferred the terminology right and wrong, fair and unfair, moral and evil, religious and secular, or just things we liked or did not like. As I listen to the many candidates for President and other offices, I hear a plea to take our country back to a former time. We can’t do that, and we really don’t want to do that. We have to start from now. We have to defend what is right, correct what is wrong, and fix what is broken.

Most of us today define our moral values as either liberal or conservative. Even our religion is divided along liberal and conservative lines. So are our political party affiliations and our candidates, our interpretation of the Constitution, our attitude toward the Supreme Court, our economics of free enterprise and government intervention, immigration, national security, military intervention, gender equality, the Second Amendment, our dependence on fossil fuels, and climate change.

Most of the people who live in Tennessee’s rural counties define, defend, and extol the values that they traditionally embrace as being conservative. When you talk to them you will find their values are not too different from the values we embrace as liberals. Southern conservatives will love you, respect you, and be your friend. It is just that they expect and assume you to be a conservative, Republican, church-going fundamental Christian, with some reverence for the Confederacy and the Old South, and its architecture, its history, and its guns and monuments.

Somewhere in their conversation they question your having voted for President Obama and your preference for one of the potential liberal Democratic candidates over a Republican nominee. The fate of all Americans depends on the guarantee and advancement of human rights, economic opportunity, and homeland security. Whether we identify that as conservative or liberal, it is essential that our thinking is logical, our language is civil, our words are carefully chosen, and we respect the equal rights and individual dignity of everyone.


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