Archive for September, 2009

Winchester helps the homeless

jesus-was-homeless“I was a stranger, and you took me in.”
— Jesus

In the early 1970s, Jim Wallis of Sojourners and other evangelicals went through the Bible with a pair of scissors and cut out every reference they could find to the problem of poverty and the need to care for the poor. What they ended up with was a Bible in tatters.
They did it to make the point that a Christian faith that does not have social justice at its heart is a Gospel full of holes.
I think that could describe the theology of many American evangelicals today.
Some even misinterpret Scripture to defend their lack of interest. For example, they take Jesus’ admonition, “For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8) to mean that we can do nothing about poverty, so we ought to keep our eyes on “heavenly” things.
In fact, Jesus was quoting an ancient Jewish text (he was, after all, a rabbi): “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
It’s encouraging to see that this attitude of indifference to the poor is beginning to change. I think we’re witnessing evidence of it around the country. Here in Winchester, it is evident through work that’s being done to help the homeless — who are the best example of those Jesus called “the least of these.”
Early in the summer, a small group of Christians, most of them from Mount Zion Christian Church, the Fellowship of Believers and Winchester First United Methodist Church, organized Sleepless in Winchester at Lykins Park to raise awareness of the homeless and generate funds to assist them in our community.
Only a few attended the all-night event, but many others eventually supported the effort, and helped Clark County Community Services raise enough money to match a $50,000 grant to provide temporary shelter and other services for the destitute. That, in turn, helped the nonprofit leverage even more grant money.
In addition to the efforts of Community Services to help the homeless with temporary rental assistance and other aid, the Clark County Homeless Coalition is being established to raise money for a permanent shelter for the nearly 600 homeless and precariously housed people in our county who need help at any given time.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended an organizational meeting of this group at First United Methodist and was impressed by their enthusiasm and determination to establish a program that doesn’t just warehouse the homeless, but offers hope of changed lives, with an initial emphasis on helping women and children.
While the group is not affiliated with any church and certainly has no intention of browbeating the poor with religion, their concern is obviously motivated by a faith that is about giving oneself in love and service to others.
This reminds me of the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”
I hope to see a huge outpouring of support for this effort.
Revive us again.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun. Contact him at rpatrick@winchestersun.com or visit http://kyvoice.com to comment.

RFK Jr. on 'Our Environmental Destiny'

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at Memorial Coliseum about sustainability and the environment on Wednesday evening.  Photo by Scott Hannigan |Kentucky Kernel

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at Memorial Coliseum about sustainability and the environment on Wednesday evening. Photo by Scott Hannigan |Kentucky Kernel

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wants a society where “every American becomes an energy entrepreneur and every house becomes a power plant.”

His vision is of a country that no longer gets its energy from carbon fuels like coal and oil, and therefore is cleaner and more prosperous.

And he thinks it can become a reality sooner than we’ve been led to believe.

The environmental attorney and scion of America’s most famous political family spoke Wednesday night at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum on “Our Environmental Destiny.”

The lecture was sponsored by the UK Student Activities Board and the Student Sustainability Council.

Kennedy, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Council, co-founder of Riverkeeper and an environmental law professor at Pace University, called global warming the “greatest crisis” facing humanity and argued that the sooner we shift from carbon fuels to cleaner energy, the sooner we will reduce the threat to our planet and experience strong economic growth as a result.

It will, however, require a national commitment similar to that of the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and a display of moral courage similar to the abolition of slavery in Great Britain in the 1830s, which he believes hastened the Industrial Revolution.

It will also result in a better democracy and a purer free market economy, he explained.

“In a true free market economy, you get rational behavior, and rational behavior is efficiency, and efficiency is the elimination of waste. Pollution is waste,” said Kennedy, who is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

One reason that a carbon-based economy is so expensive, he said, is that it does not internalize all of its production costs but passes those costs along to the consumers and citizens.

Kentucky, for example, is one of the richest states in America in natural resources. “Why do you have the poorest people?” he asked. Among the reasons, he said, are a denuded Appalachian landscape that will not attract investment, higher health care costs due to pollution and political corruption that squanders taxpayers’ money to benefit big coal companies.

On the other hand, countries that have “decarbonized” their energy production, such as Iceland, Sweden, Costa Rica and Brazil have experienced strong economic growth in a short amount of time.

Kennedy is on the boards of directors of several green technology companies, and one of them, he said, is building a solar energy plant — “a mirror farm in the desert.”

“We’re building it for about what it would cost to build a coal plant. … But once you build it, the energy is free forever. Once you build a coal plant … the big costs are just beginning, because now you’ve got to cut down the Appalachian Mountains.”

Kennedy railed against mountaintop removal mining in Kentucky and West Virginia, and recalled that when he visited the region as a boy with his father, the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., he was told that strip mining was a moral issue because not only was it destroying the environment, but it was impoverishing the people, in part by “breaking the unions” and taking away jobs in traditional mining. Since the 1960s, the problem has only gotten worse.

In addition to solar plants, geothermal energy, wind farms in the Great Plains states and other green energy sources could provide all the power the United States needs and more, he said, but the problem is moving it from one part of the country to another. In contrast to Western Europe and parts of Canada, the United States does not have the infrastructure for long-range transmission of electricity.

“We need to rebuild the grid,” he said.

Energy policy also needs to change so that homeowners cannot only produce their own energy, but distribute it, he said.

He noted that at his home in New York, he uses solar panels that produce far more energy than the home uses, and he thinks he ought to be able to sell the excess back at market rates.

He noted that in California, economic growth has increased 96 percent since 1980, but there has been no increase in energy use because the policy now is to reward utilities and consumers for saving energy, not for producing more.

“This is not a radical concept,” he said.

“We can create a marketplace that … rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior,” he said. “Today, the marketplace is absolutely rigged to reward the dirtiest, filthiest, most dangerous, most destructive fuels from hell instead of the clean, green, abundant, safe, healthy fuels from heaven.”

The “cap-and-trade” legislation now before Congress, he said, is “absolutely critical” because it will force CEOs to weigh decisions based on what impact they will have on their companies’ “carbon footprint.”

Kennedy said European countries are far ahead of America in clean energy and energy efficiency because they understand that global warming is a threat, whereas here, energy companies are spending millions of dollars and hiring phony scientists to convince Americans through the media that there is still a reasonable debate about the impact of global warming.

“Every peer-reviewed scientific publication between 1996 and 2006 … every single one,” he said, “agreed on the fundamental principles that global warming is real, that it’s happening to us now, that we are causing it, and that it’s impact could be catastrophic.”

He called those who deny climate change “flat earthers” and “biostitutes.”

Physicians support public option

Physicians overwhelmingly support a public option. NPR graphic

Physicians overwhelmingly support a public option. NPR graphic

One of the most misunderstood and misrepresented parts of the Democrats’ proposals for an ombnibus health care reform bill is the so-called “public option,” which would provide a public safety net insurance plan for those who lose their jobs or are self-employed, or can’t get private health insurance for some other reason.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and others among the opposition say it will lead to a public sector single-payer health insurance plan — something like expanding Medicare to every American. But in his address on health care last Wednesday, President Obama said it probably would apply to only about 5 percent of the population, and that it would be funded by insurance premiums like any other plan, not primarily through taxes. The administration has also said it would consider an alternative, such as nonprofit cooperatives rather than a government plan.

In the past, one of the groups that has opposed expansion of government involvement in health insurance is the American Medical Association. But a recent poll, shows that now three-quarters of U.S. physicians support a public option — including a surprisingly significant number who would favor a single-payer plan — something neither the administration nor the Congressional Democrats are considering.

Read the story at National Public Radio’s Web site, www.npr.org.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112839232

Let us not forget the lessons of 9/11

Americans should stand united. (MSNBC.com)

Americans should stand united. (MSNBC.com)

It was such a bright, beautiful morning that none of us wanted to go back to work. I was riding back from Wilmore to Nicholasville with two coworkers, DeAnna, an Army reservist, and Zoya, a Ukrainian immigrant, when Veronica called to tell us that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.

We thought it was a small plane, of course. But then when Veronica called again to say that a second plane had hit the other tower, DeAnna and I both looked at each other with stunned expressions. We turned on the radio and heard that the Pentagon was on fire. At that moment we knew: We were at war.

Sept. 11, 2001 should live in our hearts forever. It was, to borrow a line from Yeats, a memory of “terrible beauty.” Terrible because of the horror and losses that Americans experienced on that day. Beautiful because of the love, loyalty, courage, strength and sacrifice and faith that were evident that day.

For awhile, we as a people were united as we had not been in a long time, and the world stood with us. From London and Paris to Kiev and Tehran, people mourned America’s loss, respected our resilience, and many said, “We are all Americans” at that moment. There was a renewed interest in patriotism and public service, and an increased reliance on God.

How things have changed. Eight years after 9/11 we are mired in a climate of acrimony. Vitriol fills the airwaves and the Internet, and in our hallowed Capitol, a congressman calls our president a liar on national television. Rather than try to work together to protect Americans from sickness and bankruptcy from medical costs, some are using the health care reform debate for partisan advantage.

And it isn’t just the right that is at fault. It was shameful when activists demeaned the character of Gen David Petraeus by taking out advertisements in The New York Times calling him “Betray Us,” and when others on the left portrayed President Bush as an imbecile.

In the era before the Civil War, when the country was greatly divided, Kentucky statesman Henry Clay wisely said “let no one who is not above the frailties of our common nature disdain compromises.”

That’s advice that all of us need to heed today. We can have differences, but let’s respect one another and work together for the common good.

On this anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, we should remember the sacrifices that day and how we came together as “one nation under God” — and do so again.

What's really creepy: organized hysteria

President Obama spoke to students Tuesday, urging them to work hard in school and take responsibility for their learning. (Associated Press photo)

President Obama spoke to students Tuesday, urging them to work hard in school and take responsibility for their learning. (Associated Press photo)

Take responsibility for learning. Don’t let your failures define you. If you quit school, “you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”
That was the gist of President Obama’s speech to students Tuesday.
It wasn’t all that sinister a message, was it?
One day last week I was walking through our office when someone stopped to ask if I had heard that “they” were trying “to get Obama into the schools.”
She couldn’t remember the details, but said that if I watched Glenn Beck on TV, I could learn all about it. (I doubted that I could learn the truth from Beck, and said so.)
That was the first I had heard of the protests about the president’s plan to give a talk to students in a national webcast at noon on Tuesday.
In keeping a promise to a young student who interviewed him, the president challenged children to be good students and good Americans.
It’s the kind of message you might expect from a father of two young girls who grew up nearly poor himself and made it to the top of his class at Harvard Law School through hard work and determination.
But to hear some tell it, Obama wanted to “indoctrinate” their children with his beliefs.
Many parents were so alarmed by the presidential pep talk that they took their children out of school on Tuesday. And here in Clark County, Elaine Farris, the superintendent of schools, said last week that kids would be given an alternative assignment if their parents didn’t want them to hear what the president had to say.
The chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party, Steve Robertson, was quoted in the Lexington Herald-Leader as saying the president’s desire to “circumvent parents” and “gain direct access to our children” is “very concerning and kind of creepy.”
And WLAP conservative talk show commentator Leland Conway also “found it creepy” and “too political.”
Encouraging kids to do well in school is “too political”? Since when?
One thing I’ve asked again and again and haven’t gotten an honest answer to is this: Would people be protesting the president speaking to students if the president were still George W. Bush?
Of course not.
In fact, when his father, George H.W. Bush, was president, he gave a similar nationally televised speech to students, and no one freaked out about it. The first President Bush included a line in his speech asking students to help him as president — the same message that made some conservatives fighting mad when they heard Obama was going to use it in his speech.
And have we forgotten that the second President Bush was reading to students at an elementary school on Sept. 11, 2001 when jihadist terrorists struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center? Did anyone see anything wrong with the president visiting students without their parents permission then?
It’s hypocritical to hold President Obama to a different standard just because he’s a Democrat or a liberal. Harry S Truman and John F. Kennedy were liberal Democrats and patriotic Americans, just like Obama.
Even if the president were to make a statement that could be construed as “political” (something about his administration’s support for charter schools, for example) aren’t schools places where children are supposed to be exposed to a wide variety of ideas, opinions and beliefs? If some parents want children to consider only a narrow range of ideas, then it is they, not President Obama, who are indoctrinating their children.
What is really “creepy” is the mindless anti-Obama hysteria that the extreme right has stoked to a fever pitch with blatant lies: that the president was born in Kenya and is a Muslim, that the Democrats’ health care reform bill includes a provision for “death panels” to decide on the fate of elderly people, or that Obama is a “socialist” because he saved the banking industry and General Motors from collapse and wants to reform health care — something several presidents, starting with Republican Theodore Roosevelt, have wanted to do.
I hope that yesterday’s speech was a “teachable moment” and that parents will see how uncalled for these protests were and how wrong it is to teach their children, by their own example, a deep disrespect for the presidency.
As for Leland Conway, Steve Robertson and Glenn Beck, who are spreading this vitriol and undermining our civil discourse with their wild exaggerations, they need to go back to school to learn a civics lesson.

I Hear America Singing

american-flag-2aI thought this poem was appropriate for Labor Day 2009. — Randy Patrick

“I Hear America Singing”

By Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics — each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat–the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench — the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song — the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning,
or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother — or of the young wife at work — or of the girl sewing or washing — Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day — At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

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