Monthly Archives: January 2021

Pic of the Day

 I don’t know what he needs to fix, but I’m broken and he can fix me.


Bible Belt

Bible Belt
By D. A. Powell

if you didn’t mind the bible
you’d surely mind the belt

This may be the shortest poem I have ever posted. I was looking at D. A. Powell’s poems and originally came across “The Fluffer Talks of Eternity.” While it is an interesting poem, I decided it just wasn’t what I was looking for in today’s poem. Then I came across “Bible Belt.” I was so intrigued by the simplicity of the poem but also its deep meaning. Considering that I was born in the buckle of the Bible Belt where in cities there is a church on nearly every street corner or in rural areas where you can hardly drive a mile without passing a church.

In a chat with the Rumpus Poetry Book Club, Powell talked about being born in the Bible Belt. In the interview he said, “I was born in the Bible Belt. My father’s family were all Bible belters. They belted us with the Bible. But despite their abuse of it, it’s a Good Book.” I think there are several ways you can take this poem, whether the second line means “They belted us with the Bible” or if the belt was used for corporal punishment, is up to the reader. You can hear Powell read the poem here.

About D. A. Powell

Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and Cocktails was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His next two books were Chronic(2009), which won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award;and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (2012) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.

Noting Powell’s “open-secret sexiness, his confident collage effects and his grave subjects” in CocktailsNew York Times critic and Harvard professor Stephen Burt says, “No accessible poet of his generation is half as original, and no poet as original is this accessible.” As a teacher at Sonoma State, he noticed that most of his students’ poems were written to fit the demands of the page. His experiments with his students in writing on unexpected surfaces (such as candlesticks or rolls of toilet paper) led to his own breakthrough in “subverting the page:” he turned a legal pad sideways and wrote the first poem for Tea. Powell explains that “by pulling the line longer, stretching it into a longer breath, I was giving a little bit more life to some people who had very short lives.” Powell has also taught at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of San Francisco. 


Pic of the Day


The Filibuster: An Accidental and Archaic Rule

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber just after being sworn-in by Vice President Kamala Harris, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

One of the most misunderstood aspects of the federal government is the arcane Senate rule known as the filibuster. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued against the filibuster, according to whether it is useful to them or not. Considering how little the contemporary version of the U.S. Senate accomplishes, that may be reason enough to kill the filibuster — a tool used by the minority party to keep the Senate in a state of near-perpetual obstruction. There’s another reason. Despite an enormous amount of work to be done now at the start of a new Congress, the Senate can’t accomplish tasks as basic as picking committee chairs because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is using the threat of a filibuster to hold up the rules organizing the new Senate, which is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote giving Democrats a razor-thin majority. Why? Because McConnell wants a guarantee that Democrats won’t bend the rules to eliminate the filibuster. 

At this point in this post, I am going to give all of you a choice. You can watch a 20-minute video of John Oliver explaining in an irreverent but often humorous way the history and structure of the filibuster, or you can read my more detailed and analysis of the filibuster. If you choose the video, then you can skip to the section below the dividing line.

For a little history, the filibuster, contrary to popular belief, is not in the Constitution and the founding fathers never even mentioned it at the Constitutional Convention or in The Federalist Papers, which argued against supermajority required votes in Federalist No. 58 written by James Madison and Federalist No. 22 by Alexander Hamilton. While the Constitution does not mandate it, the framers clearly envisioned that simple majority voting would be used to conduct business. It took seventeen years for the simple majority rule to be changed. In 1789, the first U.S. Senate adopted rules allowing senators to move forward to vote on a bill by a simple majority vote. However, Vice President Aaron Burr argued that voting on whether or not to vote on a bill was redundant, and the Senate had only exercised the procedure once in the preceding four years. He believed the rule should be eliminated, which was done in 1806 after he left office. The Senate agreed and modified its rules; however, filibusters became theoretically possible because it created no means for ending debate. Just an aside, Burr, who accidentally created the filibuster, was later tried multiple times for treason for attempting to establish an independent country in the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. This was after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and Burr ended up fleeing to Europe to get away from the charges of treason. Treason, by the way, is very difficult to prove by the standards set by the Constitution.

Though the option of the filibuster had been created, it remained only theoretical until the 1830s. The first Senate filibuster occurred in 1837. In 1841, a defining moment came at the hands of Alabama senator and future vice president William Rufus King (who I wrote about several weeks ago as being the possible lover of James Buchanan). During debate on a bill to charter a new national bank, Senator Henry Clay tried to end the debate through a majority vote. King threatened a filibuster, saying that Clay “may make his arrangements at his boarding house for the winter.” Other senators sided with King, and Clay backed down. At the time, both the Senate and the House of Representatives allowed filibusters as a way to prevent a vote from taking place. Subsequent revisions to House rules limited filibuster privileges in that chamber, but the Senate continued to allow the tactic. 

Eight decades passed before a rule was created to end a filibuster. In 1917, during World War I, a rule allowing cloture (a motion to end debate through a vote) was adopted by the Senate on a 76–3 roll call vote at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, after a group of 12 anti-war senators managed to kill a bill that would have allowed Wilson to arm merchant vessels in the face of unrestricted German submarine warfare. From 1917 to 1949, the requirement for cloture was two-thirds of senators voting. During the 1930s, Senator Huey Long of Louisiana used the filibuster to promote his populist policies and ushered in the politics of strange speeches that mocked the dignity of the Senate. Long recited Shakespeare and read out recipes for “pot-likkers” during his filibusters, which occupied 15 hours of debate. Senator Ted Cruz more recently read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess, even though the need to continually speak is no longer necessary. The threat of filibuster suffices these days. In 1949, the Senate made invoking cloture more difficult by requiring two-thirds of the entire Senate membership had to vote in favor of a cloture motion. However, that lasted a mere ten years. In 1959, then-Majority Leader and future president Lyndon Johnson anticipated a flurry of civil rights legislation and restored the cloture threshold to two-thirds of those voting to keep Southern Democrats from hijacking the Senate. As presiding officer, Vice President Richard Nixon supported the move and stated his opinion that the Senate “has a constitutional right at the beginning of each new Congress to determine rules it desires to follow,” which is the reason the Senate is currently debating the rules governing the Democratic majority in the Senate.

After a series of filibusters in the 1960s over civil rights legislation, the Senate put a “two-track system” into place in 1970. Before this system was introduced, a filibuster would stop the Senate from moving on to any other legislative activity. Tracking allows the majority leader—with unanimous consent or the agreement of the minority leader—to have more than one main motion pending on the floor as unfinished business. Under the two-track system, the Senate can have two or more pieces of legislation or nominations pending on the floor simultaneously by designating specific periods during the day when each one will be considered. (This might be a possible way for the Senate to move ahead with the current impeachment trial that is expected to come forward sometime today.) This change’s side effect was that by no longer bringing Senate business to a complete halt, filibusters on particular motions became politically easier for the minority to sustain, leading to the number of filibusters increasing rapidly. In 1975, the Senate revised its cloture rule so that three-fifths of sworn senators (60 votes out of 100) could limit debate, with only a few exceptions to the rule.

Whoever was the minority party at the time began to use the filibuster as a way to hold up judicial appointments. In 2005, a group of Republican senators proposed having the presiding officer, Vice President Dick Cheney, rule that a filibuster on judicial nominees was unconstitutional, as it was inconsistent with the President’s power to name judges with the advice and consent of a simple majority of senators. On November 21, 2013, Senate Democrats used the so-called “nuclear option,” voting 52–48 — with all Republicans and three Democrats opposed — to eliminate the filibuster’s use on executive branch nominees and judicial nominees, except to the Supreme Court. In 2015, Republicans took control of the Senate and kept the 2013 rules in place. On April 6, 2017, Senate Republicans eliminated the sole remaining exception to the 2013 change by invoking the “nuclear option” for Supreme Court nominees. This was done to allow a simple majority to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The vote to change the rules was 52 to 48 along party lines.

The supermajority rule has made it very difficult, often impossible, for Congress to pass any but the most non-controversial legislation in recent decades. During times of unified party control, majorities have attempted (with varying levels of success) to enact their major policy priorities through the budget reconciliation process, resulting in legislation constrained by budget rules. Meanwhile, public approval for Congress as an institution has fallen to its lowest levels ever, with large segments of the public seeing the institution as ineffective, which brings us to the current situation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cannot organize the Senate under his majority rule because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insists that the Democrats commit to leaving the filibuster intact. The Democrats have no plans at this time to kill the filibuster altogether. Quite frankly, they do not have the votes, since Democratic Senator Joe Manchin openly opposes the idea and others are cautious; however, they want to keep the threat of killing the filibuster to prevent McConnell and the Republicans from abusing it and stopping all Democratic legislation.

_________________________

The stakes here are interesting because the issues are deeper than just the filibuster. While the new Senate is split evenly, the 50 Democrats in the Senate represent over 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republicans represent. The filibuster means that no legislation can pass Congress without the support of 10 Republicans. What that means is that the fight over the filibuster is a fight not just about the ability of the Democrats to get laws passed, but about whether McConnell and the Republicans, who represent a minority of the American people, can kill legislation endorsed by lawmakers who represent quite a large majority. We are in an uncomfortable period in our history in which the mechanics of our democracy are functionally anti-democratic. The fight over the filibuster might seem dull, but it’s a pretty significant struggle as our lawmakers try to make the rules of our system fit our changing nation.

One of the biggest problems with the filibuster is that it’s held as a hallowed tradition of the Senate, when it was not originally part of the rules of the Senate. Furthermore, it allows for just forty-one people out of the 328.2 million Americans to stop legislation from even being considered. The other major problem is that the Senate, contrary to popular belief, is filled with racists, homophobes, misogynists, and/or stupid people. The stupidity may be the worst of them all because they cause the other three. I will not give the obvious example of the election of a football coach who doesn’t even know the three branches of the government or who the Allies fought in World War II because no one is claiming Tommy Tuberville is a genius. Instead, I want to bring to your attention the stupidity of a man many in the Senate often claim to be a genius, Ted Cruz. The Senator tweeted the following statement on Tuesday:

Many senators, including Democrats and Republicans, have stated that Cruz is a very intelligent man. Yet, he is too stupid to understand that the Paris Climate Accord is named as such because it was signed in Paris, not because it represents the views of Parisians. While he probably does realize this, he is more likely playing to his constituents’ stupidity and the supporters of the previous administration. This kind of stupidity is the reason Chuck Schumer and the Democrats must end the filibuster. If they don’t, they might as well just go back to letting Mitch McConnell be Majority Leader and allow the Senate to continue to prevent any legislation from moving on through the Senate.

In other news: President Biden is expected to sign an executive order today that will lift the Pentagon’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The controversial ban was announced by the previous president in 2017 and reversed the Obama administration’s policy to allow open service by transgender people.


Pic of the Day


Think Before You Speak

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

—James 3:6

While you can delete a tweet, a Facebook post, or a blog post, the spoken word is heard immediately and remembered forever, especially when those words are hurtful. We are tempted to blow up when angry and to let words fly without control. Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” Our mouths can put us in awkward situations. Mine has many times. As a teenager, I’ll admit that I talked back to my parents, especially my dad, far too much. At one point, it got so bad my parents discussed sending me away to a boarding school. The idea of going away didn’t bother me, especially if it was an all-boys school (the fantasy probably was better than the reality would have been). Once my parents realized that I was perfectly happy with the idea of going to a boarding school, they dropped the subject, much to my dismay.

Eventually, my Grandmama sat me down as told me that I needed to deal with my father like she did my grandfather. She said, “Just keep your mouth shut, and eventually, he’ll shut the hell up.” It turned out to be good advice, though it was hard to do. My father was one of those people who believed in “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s one of the reasons I hate hypocrisy so much, and it was hard not to point out his hypocrisy. 

But it is not just talking back that kept me in trouble. I often said things I shouldn’t have said, but I have never been a person to intentionally inflict harm on someone with my words. That does not mean I did not inflict damage with my words. It just wasn’t intentional. Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Remember the phrase “open mouth, insert foot?” I’m sure all of us have been guilty of that one. Once you say hurtful words aloud, you can’t take them back. You can only live them down, which is often very hard to do. Hurtful words are more damaging than physical hurt, leaving scars on the soul and spirit. 

A wise man learns to weigh his words before speaking. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” This wisdom comes with age and experience. Anger confounds many people in our world today. We simply don’t know how to handle our anger as we have in the past. Some of that has to do with the anonymity of the internet, which some people use as an excuse to inflict hurt on others with words. I also blame the last four years of having a bully as a president, someone who made fun of a young girl with autism or a disabled reporter suffering from arthrogryposis. He did so for laughs and the enjoyment of his audience. It was not only immature, but it was mean spirited. Because of the example set by our previous president, people felt emboldened and encouraged to show their cruel ways, whether that was through homophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, or any other disgusting and ungodly reasons. We must resist the temptation of hurtful or angry words, and instead, we should show the world God’s kindly words and deeds. 

We must think before we speak. When we pause and consider our words, it is often an excellent remedy for anger. We don’t need to delay indefinitely, but we need to give ourselves time to consider the consequences of our words more carefully. If you’ve got an issue you need to deal with, you need to do so. Anger delayed indefinitely becomes bitterness. That’s worse than anger. Anger isn’t always a sin, as we can be angry over injustice. However, bitterness is a sin because it means we have refused to forgive. If we respond impulsively, we tend to react in anger. If we wait to talk about whatever conflict we’re dealing with, we will be more rational and reasonable when we do. The longer we hold our temper, the better our response will be. We need to give ourselves time to think. 

Setting a guard over our mouth as we are instructed to do in Psalm 141:3 requires that we keep our mouth shut when we are irritated and that we seek the Lord’s help to say the right words with the right tone or, perhaps, not speak at all. When it comes to controlling our speech, it’s a lifelong work. Thankfully, God is working in us, giving us “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).


Pic of the Day


Moment of Zen: Chinos


Pic of the Day


Fighting for LGBTQ+ on Day One

In June 2020, the United States Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The previous administration refused to enforce the ruling. Whether the last president was smart enough to know this little fact, he emulated his “hero,” Andrew Jackson. In 1832, the Supreme Court issued a decision on Worcester v. Georgia in which Chief Justice John Marshall laid out in the opinion that the relationship between the Indian Nations and the United States is that of nations and built the foundations of the doctrine of tribal sovereignty in the United States. Jackson disagreed with the decision and backed Georgia’s attempts to discriminate against and encroach on the Cherokee Nation’s lands. In what was probably a bit of apocryphal history, Jackson reportedly responded: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” While our 45th president neither praised nor criticized the ruling, he stated in response to the decision that “some people were surprised” and said that the court had “ruled and we live with their decision.” Yet, he did nothing to enforce it. In fact, his administration actively interpreted the decision very narrowly to decrease its effectiveness.

The inaction of the previous administration changed on Wednesday. On his first day, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden issued an executive order implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County and repealing guidance from the previous administration related to nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. The Human Rights Campaign issued the following statement emphasizing the importance of Biden’s Executive Order:

Biden’s Executive Order is the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president. Today, millions of Americans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their President and their government believe discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not only intolerable but illegal.

By fully implementing the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Bostock, the federal government will enforce federal law to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and education, and other key areas of life. While detailed implementation across the federal government will take time, this Executive Order will begin to immediately change the lives of the millions of LGBTQ people seeking to be treated equally under the law.

When I was a teacher at a private school in Alabama, I feared for my job every day of those five years. If my sexuality had become public while I was teaching there, I would have lost my job on the spot. I will always believe that suspicion about my sexuality was why after five years, my contract was suddenly not renewed. At the time, the headmaster was trying to decide between not renewing my contract or another teacher’s contract. (The other teacher was a married heterosexual woman.) The school had hired a new coach, and he needed to be assigned classes to teach. While I had overt problems with the headmaster, it became more and more apparent to me that he did not like me for some reason. He refused to support our drama club, which I served as advisor and was generating money for the school. He refused to attend any of the productions, though he was at every sporting event. I can only assume that he had a problem with my closeted sexuality though he could not prove it. I know it wasn’t my teaching that he had a problem with. Parents (and most of my students) praised my teaching and constantly remarked on how much their children learned in my class. I was told numerous times when I was teaching that students were often excited to come to my class. Many parents contacted me after discovering that I would no longer be teaching there that I would be greatly missed. In the years since, I have heard many lament that the coach they replaced me with never taught anything and only gave worksheets. He also never won a football game. He last only a year or so. With that being said, I know that some students and parents, and apparently the headmaster, were not comfortable with my unspoken sexuality.

Had Bostock been decided while I was there, they may have thought more about the repercussions of not renewing my contract. Luckily, I found my current job in a state whose political climate could not be more different from that of Alabama. The university I work for has a stringent nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual and gender identity. We even had a major donor and transgender woman on the Board of Trustees. However, before Bostock, this could have easily changed as a new college administration took over and new board members took their seats. It was unlikely, but without Bostock, I had no clear protections. The millions of other LGBQ+ Americans also had the same fear of losing their job because of their sexuality, especially teachers in more conservative areas of the country. Yes, some organizations and businesses had protections for LGBTQ+ individuals written in their nondiscrimination policy, but as I said, that could have easily been changed. Now, we have the Supreme Court’s protections and the full protection of the federal government to enforce nondiscrimination for LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.

Biden’s executive order is significant as it extends nondiscrimination protections to millions of LGBTQ+ people concerning housing, education, immigration, credit, health care, military service, Peace Corps service, family and medical leave, welfare, criminal justice, law enforcement, transportation, federal grants, and so much more. While a president’s executive orders are always vulnerable to court challenges, this one is essentially bulletproof. It merely implements the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock, something the previous administration refused to do. Technically, Bostock involved only one statute, Title VII, but, as Justice Samuel Alito pointed out in his dissent, more than 100 other federal statutes also forbid “sex discrimination” in language nearly identical to Title VII. He was attempting to point out that those were not included in Bostock. However, under the court’s reasoning in Bostock, each of these statutes should now be read to protect LGBTQ+ people.

I don’t think I can stress enough how important and groundbreaking this executive order is. Biden’s order directs agencies across the federal government to bring their rules and regulations in line with Bostock. It instructs agency heads to “review all existing orders, regulations, guidance documents, policies, programs, or other agency actions” that involve statutes prohibiting sex discrimination. And it compels these officials to revise each rule and regulation in light of Bostockby extending existing protections to LGBTQ+ individuals. In some instances, this process will simply entail updating language to note that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is unlawful. In others, it will require the agency to write a new rule expressly disallowing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. One landmark law does not forbid sex discrimination: Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination in public accommodations—but only on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” So businesses will not be compelled to serve LGBTQ+ people. However, states and municipalities retain the authority to fill in this gap. Furthermore, Democrats are expected to pass the Equality Act, which would not only preserve Bostock in federal statute but amend Title II to bar anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in public accommodations.

Biden showed us on day one of his administration that he will fight for LGBTQ+ individuals. It is a vital step in the right direction.