Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Pursuit of Happyness

I had the pleasure of watching the Academy-Award winning “The Pursuit of Happyness” tonight.  If you’ve never seen it, it is about a hard-working man determined to make a better life for himself and his son.  It’s about opportunity, yes, but it is also about the hard work required to make the most of our opportunities.  Hard work pays off with success.  The main character, Chris, struggles to get an internship at a local investment firm and competes with 20 other interns for a shot at a full-time brokerage position.  He works hard and after weeks of spending nights in homeless shelters and subway bathrooms with his son, he earns a job as a broker and later sells his own brokerage firm for millions.

What the movie reminded me of is the promise of America.  The promise that if you work hard enough, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to-a higher degree, a promotion, a vacation home, a family, whatever it may be, its all determined by your willingness to work for it.  But part of getting there is having the educational wherewithal to recognize that everyone deserves opportunity to show society what they can contribute, whether its a talent, service, a product, their time or even prayer-all of us have something unique to contribute regardless of our race, class, abilities or whatever other trait of difference we might possess.  Sadly, there is a lot of ignorance in the world-Chris experiences this in his quest for the broker position.  

Aside from the economic conditions,  a lot of people face discrimination every day beccause of their race, gender, sexuality, disability, or other difference.  Employers often don’t look at people’s talents or abilities, but rather people’s appearances or differences.  Sadly, this often leads employers to miss out on a wealth of talent.  I have had my share of experiences too.  Yes, they can be disheartening, but I believe they are signs from God saying he has another position or vocation in store for me, and perhaps it is to educate students and employers about the abilities of all kinds of different people.  The fact is everyone is different in some way.  Some have visible “disabilities,” some may be dyslexic or have ADD.  Some may be a racial minority facing discrimination from bigots.  The beauty of all of our differences is that they are what make each of us unique.  They are what makes the world so full of wonder!

I am thinking of how I can help educate others and defend people’s rights to contribute to society.  Perhaps one way is as a lawyer.  I will figure it out in due time.  In the meantime, I have written a column about these issues which I have posted below. I sent it to some newspapers, but I never heard back, so I have posted it here.  I’ll keep you guys posted-I am thinking of how to maybe start a resource center of some sort to educate people about the importance of valuing diversity, and how to let people know that the promise of America, that all men are created equal, endowed with the right to go in the pursuit of happyness.

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America’s people have made remarkable progress in learning to accept differences among themselves.  America is the only country founded on the premise that “all men are created equal” and Americans embrace many unique cultures, making us the envy of the world.  Over the last five decades, numerous laws have been enacted to advance the cause of civil rights for all.   However, perception is very different from reality.

Growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a town known for its prestigious institutions of higher education and progressive atmosphere, I learned the value of embracing diversity.  I myself represent a diverse population-I have Cerebral Palsy, which affects my speech, hearing and fine motor skills.  Nonetheless, because of the excellent schools in my area, and as well as the hard work of statesmen and disability rights advocates like former Senator Bob Dole and the late Senator Edward Kennedy, I received a top-notch education just like every other child.  Of course, growing up does not come without bumps in the road-I was the target of the occasional bully, but those incidents simply test our ability to remain strong in the face of ignorance.

In 2005, I went off to college at a small private university in Washington, DC.  During this time, I was blessed with the opportunity to intern both on Capitol Hill and with advocacy and media organizations, including the office of former Senator Elizabeth Dole.  I was given those opportunities based on my ability to contribute to those organizations, and never felt discriminated against because of my “disability.”  In fact, most were so wildly impressed with my ability to effectively advance a cause through written word that I had to turn down offers for internships. 

After two years in Washington, I decided to transfer to the University of North Carolina to major in public health.  As a Tar Heel, I served as a member of the Daily Tar Heel editorial board and was on the men’s crew team.

I received my degree in May, 2009.  I finally had a piece of paper that proved my ability.  Unfortunately, the assumption that having a degree would largely eliminate misconceptions about my ability to contribute to the workplace has sometimes proved to be unfounded.  Economic troubles aside, during the past year I have experienced discrimination by potential employers, including one local firm that refused to hire me because of my speech impediment, which they thought would hinder my ability to communicate with clients, the majority of which are medical practices, despite having no difficulty understanding me during the interview.  However, they assured me that they would keep me in mind for jobs that required mostly computer work.  I was told I had a great skill set, but rather than giving me the chance to show them my capabilities, I was told I wasn’t fit to interact with clients.  My resume did not matter-my speech impediment did.  After growing up in a community that preached tolerance, I was disappointed to find that some of the very people who preach tolerance and understanding are not willing to look past some things, such as a disability.

Other prospective employers would call to offer me an interview, only to say “we just wanted to thank you for applying” after hearing my speech impediment, which some incorrectly associate with cognitive impairment.  I may wear hearing aids, but I am no fool-employers do not call job applicants simply to thank them for applying.

The irony is that I have successfully interacted with medical professionals and their staff my entire life, both out of medical necessity and out of a desire to give back to a community from which I have received much.  As a middle and high school student, I led efforts to raise money for TelAbility, a telemedicine program at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.   As a public health student, I served as an intern for the American College of Preventive Medicine, where I met with members of Congress in an effort to build support for the “Preventive Medicine and Public Health Training Act,” which is now being reviewed by committees in both houses of Congress.  In short, my Cerebral Palsy does not have any bearing on my ability to be a productive member of the workforce and society as a whole, nor does it hinder my ability to communicate with professionals, business clients or members of Congress, for that matter.

What I have learned is that our courts and legislatures can write laws and administer justice all day long.  Laws are pointless in the absence of an educated public.  My experiences have had a positive effect, however, inasmuch as they have inspired me to apply to law school in hopes of being an advocate and policymaker so that others might not face discrimination in the future.

Minorities, especially the disabled community, face discrimination in all areas, including employment, romance, and the state budget-making process.  People stare.  Individuals make false or hurtful assumptions, or use people with disabilities as the butt of jokes, as Family Guy recently did in a distasteful attempt to poke fun at a polarizing political figure.  While we cannot change the past, we can change the future.  While understanding my speech may require a little extra effort for some, those who take the time to listen to me or get educated about other people with all sorts of disabilities will learn that despite a speech impediment, or impaired physical or cognitive ability, we are capable of contributing great things to the workplace and to society.  So take the time.  Look beyond first impressions, and get educated!

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The Progressive War against the First Amendment

Just this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R., Calif.) told the press corps “But we have to pass the bill so that we can see what’s in it.”  Aside from the alarming, and most likely true, fact that no one really knows what is in the health reform bill, Pelosi, at the request of the President, as agreed to use an arcane parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation and intended only for budgetary matters, to pass a bill whose support only declines as Obama revamps efforts to build support for it.  Both houses of Congress have passed a health care bill, though the two bills differ radically in their substance. 

Two weeks ago, Obama unveiled his own plan for reform, which closely mirrors legislation passed by the Senate.  The President’s plan would make half a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, not to shore  up Medicaid’s  insolvency, but to fund an expansion of the entitlement state by means of heavy insurance subsidies.  Like the Senate bill, Obama’s plan also places massive tax increases on the American people, mandates “preventive care” free of charge-in other words, patient co-payments for regular check ups or preventive tests would be prohibited- and leaves out language prohibiting taxpayer funded abortions.

The House leadership is determined to pass a bill roundly criticized and opposed by a majority of voters.  The plan is to vote on Obama’s version, after which the Senate will then “fix” using reconciliation, which requires a simple 51-vote majority for passage, rather than the standard 60 votes needed under normal Senate rules.  The problem is, Obama’s proposal isn’t even in bill form yet.  To add insult to injury, members who voted “yes” in November have now switched to “no” votes, one member has died and a handful have resigned.  This makes reform extremely difficult to pass through the House.  In a quiet admission of the fact that Pelosi lacks the votes to pass the President’s signature initiative, she has directed Rules Committee Chair Rep. Louis Slaughter (D., N.Y.) to manipulate House rules so that the bill proposed by the president will be considered “passed” without ever having voted on it.  How this is constitutional is anyone’s guess.

Pro-life leader Rep. Bart Stupak, architect of language in the House bill that prohibits any direct or indirect taxpayer funding of abortion, has vowed to stop reform if the Senate does not adopt more restrictive language in regards to abortion funding.  In an effort to con centrist Democrats into voting for the Senate bill as proposed by Obama, Senate leaders have assured Stupak and his allies that the abortion language would be “fixed” during the reconciliation process.  However, as of Saturday, the House leadership has suspended negotiations with Stupak and his cadre of pro-life Democrats.

To further complicate matters, constitutional law and parliamentary experts say that the Senate cannot use the reconciliation process until the President signs the House-passed Senate bill into law.  Assuming these experts are correct, for anyone who believes that the Senate is going to add an amendment restricting funding to abortion to an existing law, I’ve got swamp land to sell you.

Alas, it is no accident that the Obama/Senate proposal does not expressly prohibit publicly-funded abortions, nor does it protect the religious conscience rights of health care providers.  This is telling inasmuch as the President and Henry Waxman have spoken in favor of publicly funded abortions.  In fact, last summer Obama delivered a weekly radio address in which he declared that “any health reform bill must cover basic care, including reproductive services…”  If this is clearly the will of those calling the shots, including the President and Rep. Waxman, who told Rep. Stupak this week that the Democrats’ aim was to end federal prohibition on abortion funding, which has been in place since 1976.  This follows a quiet negligence by the Democratic leadership to attach the Hyde Amendment to last year’s budget. 

Furthermore,  this dose of intellectual honesty from Waxman is consistent with quiet maneuvers such as ending the Mexico City policy and attempting to overturn federal conscience clause protections for health care workers.  Always wanting to have their cake and eat it too, these are often the same people that vehemently oppose laws that require women to view an ultrasound image of their child before aborting it.  Go figure.

The progressive movement has its heart set on ramming their agenda down the nation’s throat, no matter what the objections of the people they claim to represent.  Their efforts to eliminate conscience clause protections for health workers, publicly fund abortions, and dictate the views and mores of the public know no bounds.  On March 1, the District of Columbia started granting same-sex couples the right to marry.  Aside from the merits in favor or against allowing same-sex couples to wed, the law passed by the DC City Council provided no exemptions for religious organizations, requiring all employers, churches included, to abide by “non-discrimination rules” and recognize same-sex couples in providing benefits, etc.

While the DC law was being debated, the Archdiocese of Washington came under fire for saying that this law, barring the addition of a conscience clause, would hinder the Catholic Church’s ability to provide services to the underprivileged community in Washington while remaining faithful to the Catholic faith.  The Archdiocese and Catholic Charities, who provide a large proportion of services to the DC community, including soup kitchens, shelters, schools and adoption services, came under fire for throwing the poor under the bus in order to continue their “anti-gay bigotry,” with the supporters of the law saying that the Archdiocese would not be required to perform gay marriages.

 The argument has nothing to do with being “anti-gay” or sanctifying same-sex marriages, and everything to do with the ability to fulfill their social mission without compromising core religious beliefs, namely that marriage is between a man and a woman, a tenet central to Roman Catholicism.   The bill may not require the Archdiocese to perform same-sex marriages, but it does require the Archdiocese to recognize these marriages by prohibiting them from declining to provide health benefits to same-sex couples, thus constituting a forced, de-facto recognition and approval of same-sex marriage by the Catholic Church.  Archbishop Donald Wuerl has asked Congress to intervene and amend the DC law, but he has not been successful.  As a result of this flawed law, the Archdiocese of Diocese has ceased providing adoption services and benefits to all spouses.

These incidences are indicative of a clear bias against religion by the progressive movement and an effort to silence opposition to their social agenda.  More objectively, the negligence of the Congress to include conscience clause protections in the health bill, coupled with DC’s refusal to provide conscience clause protections to religious individuals and institutions mark a dangerous trend of running roughshod over the first amendment, which explicitly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

Newsweek Wrong on Bishops, Public Opinion

In this week’s issue of Newsweek, Lisa Miller laments the power of Catholic bishops in the U.S., commencing her excoriation of Roman Catholic influence on the health care debate by proclaiming that the American public “hardly regards the institutional Catholic Church as sacrosanct,” adding that “more than half of American Catholics believe you can be a good Catholic and disregard the bishops’ teaching on abortion,” according to a 1999 poll. Interestingly enough, Miller does not say which poll that is.   These Catholics probably also believe you can go to Mass once a year on Christmas and call yourself a “practicing Catholic”.

In the same article in which she makes the case for the irrelevance of the Church in the eyes of “most American Catholics,” Miller argues that a new cohort of young bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II and committed to a “uncomprimising stance” on abortion hold the power to bring down health care reform.  Miller, like most progressives, want to have it 17 ways from Tuesday, arguing that irrelevant institutions, individuals and opinions have an ungodly amount of influence and hold us captive from what they view as progress.  This is an illogical fallacy-how can you be influential if the American public thinks you’re irrelevant?

Miller also declines to point out that the bishops’ opposition to any public funding of abortions is consistent with 34 years of policymaking influenced by the Hyde Amendment, as well as with numerous polls indicating clear public opposition to taxpayer-funded abortions, regardless of whether they are pro-life or pro-choice.

Rep. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Democrat of Michigan, together with the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, forced Speaker Pelosi to bring his amendment banning any direct or indirect taxpayer funding of abortion in the health care bill before voting on the bill.  The bill passed with wide bipartisan support, including dozens of Democrats who have indicated they will not support a bill that publicly funds abortion.  The Stupak amendment goes beyond the Hyde Amendment in that it is permanent and does not require an annual vote.  The Senate bill does not include the language of the House bill and leaves the door open to publicly funded abortions by allowing insurance policyholders to “write a separate check” for an abortion rider for the policy, and vests enormous power with DHS to determine “basic coverage” for health insurance policies.  However, the Senate legislation does not specifically exclude abortion from being included in that determination.

Miller implies that this is about a concerted effort by conservative religious organizations, such as the bishops, to overturn Roe.  In reality, this is an effort to maintain precedent in keeping “choice” just that-a private decision whose costs is not of public concern or support.  Conversely,  faced with a conservative Court that indicates a willingness to reject faulty precedent, together public opinion, which is increasingly Conservative, especially among young people (who show a marked increase in participation in religious services as well as opposition to abortion rights in poll after poll),  opposition by progressives like Miller to banning public funding of abortion is part of a long struggle to establish abortion-the murder of unborn children-a basic health care procedure that mandates public financing and shield Roe from any possibility of reversal by the Court.  If they thought it wouldn’t kill them politically, progressives would enshrine the Roe decision in a 28th amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Faced with overwhelming public opposition to Democratic plans for health reform, Obama has ordered the House to vote on the Senate version of the bill, with the understanding that the Senate will use reconciliation, an obscure parliamentary procedure intended for budget measures and only requiring a 51-vote majority, to patch the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

With Stupak threatening to kill the bill without language expressly prohibiting taxpayer-funded abortions and progressives opposed to any bill prohibiting them, abortion looks to be the death of health reform.  Senate leaders and the President have asked the House to approve the Senate measure while promising to “fix” the abortion language in reconciliation.  Neither is likely-the fact that health reform is not yet a reality highlights the painful fact that Democrats cannot unite their own party on health reform.  Several members who voted for the House bill in December have announced they are now “no” votes.  Obama has now set a March 18 deadline for getting a bill to his desk-a deadline unlikely to be met with Democrats facing an already tough battle in November.

What would be so hard about adding  the Hyde Amendment language to both the House and Senate versions of the bill and holding a conference committee to reconcile less polarizing differences?  Adding the broadly-supported Hyde Amendment language to he bill and making it permanent would go a long way towards engendering meaningful, bipartisan reform, and Miller would do well to check her facts.