Somebody talk me down



Forgive me for putting on my Debbie Downer hat, but I started the day by reading way too many news stories that, frankly, freaked me out. And when I get freaked out, I share my freak-outitude with you in hopes that we can either commiserate or collectively come up with constructive solutions... or both.

Or maybe you can just do me a favor and talk me down.

Let's start with this one from the Los Angeles Times: White House takes GOP side on church-state case, buttressed by this article from back in May that Paddy sent me, Atheist Invocation Sparks Inevitable Demagoguery. Read the title of that first link again. I'll wait.

Okay, now here's the gist via The Times:

In a potentially far-reaching case on separation of church and state, the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers tell the Supreme Court they support easing limits on prayers at meetings.

The Obama administration and congressional Republicans have found something to agree on: Town councils should be allowed to open their meetings with a Christian prayer.

Lawyers for the administration and two groups of lawmakers from the House and Senate, nearly all Republicans, separately made that argument in briefs to the Supreme Court this week. The high court should relax the constitutional limits on religious invocations at government meetings, they argued.

The case could lead to a major change in the law on religion that would go well beyond prayers at council meetings.

As the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, "A town council meeting is not like a church service, and it shouldn't be treated like it is."

And this happened a few months ago. Keep in mind that Rep. Mendez came out as an atheist:

Republican Rep. Steve Smith on Wednesday said the prayer offered by Democratic Rep. Juan Mendez of Tempe at the beginning of the previous day’s floor session wasn’t a prayer at all. So he asked other members to join him in a second daily prayer in “repentance,” and about half the 60-member body did so. Both the Arizona House and Senate begin their sessions with a prayer and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“When there’s a time set aside to pray and to pledge, if you are a non-believer, don’t ask for time to pray,” said Smith, of Maricopa. “If you don’t love this nation and want to pledge to it, don’t say I want to lead this body in the pledge, and stand up there and say, ‘you know what, instead of pledging, I love England’ and (sit) down."

Essentially, the GOP representative took it upon himself to scrub those icky atheist cooties from the floor. Would you like to know what the evil, filthy non-believer had the nerve to say in his evil, filthy non-believy prayer? USA Today:

A state lawmaker acknowledged that he is an atheist as he gave the daily House invocation Tuesday, urging legislators to look at each other, rather than bow their heads, and "celebrate our shared humanness."

That's right, Republicans apparently feel that encouraging civility and humanity is a bad thing... if suggested by someone who thinks differently from them.

Now hitch that episode up to the report about the Obama administration and our lawmakers pushing for prayer, and you get more potential opportunities for bigotry and a big fat rejection of the separation of church and state.

Why must any religious ritual be a part of government meetings? This opens up a huge can of worms (read the article). Why must religious prayer open those meetings? When did a license to discriminate become synonymous with the First Amendment? What about those of us who do not believe? What about opening sessions with a Muslim or Jewish prayer? Why was an atheist expression of goodwill disdained and discarded like trash? Again, why begin sessions with prayers in the first place?

Instead, call for a moment of silence, and let each person do his/her thing. Why should anyone's god be a priority? I could go on, but I need more talking down from other political ledges, like the disintegration of unions and public schools, the middle class, and the environment:

Re "LAUSD freed of Bush-era rules," Aug. 7

Why do California school districts have to agree that test scores are reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness, a premise that has been disproved, to receive a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law?

From its inception, most teachers opposed NCLB's impossible requirement that by 2014 all students must demonstrate proficiency in every educational standard as measured by one standardized test. Is there any reasonable person who believes that 100% of California's adult population could demonstrate complete mastery of even the fourth-grade curriculum?

Of course, almost all schools are doomed to "fail" under these criteria, and public schools would eventually become for-profit charter schools.

It's time for a more realistic version of NCLB written by those who understand what can reasonably be expected. No waivers necessary.

Kurt Page

Laguna Niguel


Re "Middle-class mayday," Opinion, Aug. 4

Smith's op-ed article displays clearly the problem of the wage freeze on American workers since the l970s, even though their productivity had increased by some 80%.

The great reduction in union membership during the past 30 years has been a very important cause. Without the collective bargaining power that only unions can provide, there's little incentive for employers to raise wages to match productivity.

With increased wages, middle-class workers would buy more of the goods and services produced by American corporations. The U.S. economy would be the ultimate beneficiary of this fairer distribution of wealth.

Edward C. Bayan



Re "A dry and desperate state," Aug. 6

Thank you for the gripping article on the effects of persistent drought in the Southwest, especially New Mexico. This is a dramatic example of the types of extreme weather events that are occurring much more frequently now than half a century ago.

Scientific evidence suggests that these events are a consequence of the gradually rising global temperatures which, in turn, result from the gradually increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

These emissions result from the human use of fossil fuels, and the trend they represent can be decreased only by shutting down the coal- and natural-gas-fueled power plants, which produce the majority of greenhouse gases, and replacing them with alternative energy sources.

Michael Werner


Somebody, anybody, please talk me down.