Sunday, March 31, 2013

COLUMN: JUST A KID by John P. Flannery

I’m just a kid, 16 ½ years old.  The half year matters.  I’m getting older.  I play b-ball and f-ball at Park View High School and can palm a ball.  I like rap, rhyme and rhythm.  I’m kind of square.  I hang with great kids, no h8ers, and I’m blessed that they seem to like me.  My Mom and Dad are fine.  My Dad’s white and my Mom’s black.  So I’m like President Barack although I’m Caleb and my parents are race-reversed.  Like a verse I’d rehearse.  I’m a person of color but don’t feel I’m treated differently. 

We live in a nice home.  The other homes on Pullman Court are like ours - all nice - very much the same.

My friends joke I’m “black Irish” -- so we’re going out tonight – to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.   It’s quiet in my house so I’m going to sneak out now, and go out with my friends.  I kind of know better.  But my parents must have done the same when they were my age.  Huck Finn did this kind of thing.  Right?

We are laughing, going to a party, and got some beers to drink.  I’m feeling like what must be kind of drunk, having a swimming, spinning, swooning feeling like my head or my consciousness is pulling away and then coming back again, and that feeling you get when you drive over the top of a steep hill too quickly – and your stomach’s out of its rightful orbit.

It’s enough.  We’re going home now.  It’s after 2 in the AM.  I can almost feel that soft pillow – if I can get back in the house without getting in trouble.

We’re trying to figure out in the dark which is my house from the rear yards.  My friends are helping – not that much.  We found a window unlocked.  I’m home free.  In a few minutes, I’ll be tucked in, dead to the world.

My steps are unsteady.  My hands are free to steady myself – like the way I’ve felt sometimes in the third quarter when I’ve needed water, suffered from dehydration, and it’s not like that either.

There’s some guy in the hallway on the way to the stair well between me and my room.  He’s acting all upset.  He looks familiar.  Do my parents have a house guest?  Who is this guy?  Why is he up and no one else is?  Why is he upset?  He’s waving his arms.

What was that noise?  Was that a gun?  I’ll just run past him and get to my room, get to bed, and sleep.  I’ll be safe then.  If I’m in my room, then maybe no one will realize I was out at all, if I can get out of my street clothes fast enough.  I’ll just run up to my room.

What is that loud thundering sound?  The sound hurts.  Was that a gun?  God, I’m being pushed so hard and fast on my left shoulder, did I shout, it’s breaking me, twisting me, knocking me down, like no pain I’ve ever felt when shoved roughly while fighting for rebounds.  It’s coming through my shoulder, through me.  My heart!  The pain.  My chest too.  They hurt so.  I can’t breathe.  I feel faint, cool in the face, and this warm wetness washing over my chest.  What’s happening to me?  What has he done to me?  Who is he?  Did he do it?  He’s behind me.  I can’t turn to see.  Are those more gun shots?  I’m losing consciousness, have to break my fall.  So fast this is happening, and yet seems so slowly happening like to someone else.  I want to stay awake, not to sleep.  But there’s this unimaginable mind-numbing suffocating pain.

Now there is nothing.    

I sense silence, calm, and an absence of any feeling at all.  

This must be a dream.

If I could describe it, it’s like I’m in some mid-distance between the window I entered and the sun door I’m entering.

I just know I’ll wake up any moment.

Like through a mist, I see or feel my parents holding each other and crying.  Men are coming, reassuring them, to no good effect.

Does this have to do with me sneaking out for the night?  Was this my bad?

I hear words spoken of warning shots and .40 caliber bullets … that there were more shots aimed at me.  At me?

They say I was in someone else’s home, one lot away from mine; that’s not right; that was my home

I’m having a waking nightmare.

I think I see my body on a shiny metal table torn apart, the left side a grizzly blood-stained mass, things not in their right place, and sense my parents want to see me – what was me – my body – what’s left - but no one will let them.

If only someone would speak for me, say what happened tonight – so everyone could know.

No worry.  Soon I’ll wake up.  It’s what we all talked about at school, how those 20 elementary school students were killed in Connecticut, that’s what has me dreaming this, that and the drink. Such a thing could never happen in Loudoun! 

Friday, March 22, 2013


I was Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s special counsel when he was chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources; I was especially proud to hear Hatch’s statement last June commending the states to participate in the expansion of Medicaid, to cover adults earning 138 percent of the poverty level, thus providing needed health care for those who were ill who couldn’t afford to care for themselves. 

An income level of 138 percent works out to about $14,856 for an individual and $30,656 for a family of four.  Compare those levels to your income and expenses, and those you may know who could be helped by this legislation.

In Virginia, this provision would cover 400,000 more Virginians, create 30,000 more jobs, bring $21 billion in federal funding over several years into our state.

Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly, in neighboring Fairfax County, put it this way, if we opt in, our state shall receive “$17 in federal funds for every state dollar it spends on its Medicaid expansion program.”

For three years, the federal government pays for extended Medicaid benefits; the state only picks up more of the cost in the later years climbing to 10 percent in 2021 and beyond.

Senator Hatch said, “No state can afford to opt out.  There’s no state in its right mind that wouldn’t take the money because they’re going to have all those additional people they’re going to have to care for.”

Twenty Five States and DC have opted in for those reasons; candidates for office and office holders who had reservations about the program, after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA), came around.  

For example, Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer gave a January state of the state message endorsing Medicaid expansion.  New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie announced his support in February.  Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott announced his state will participate at least for three years; he ran for Governor of the State in strong opposition to this Medicaid program and anything having to do with ACA.

But here in Virginia, we’re slow to the mark. 

For starters, in Loudoun County, our motto is “we byde our time,” and that’s a fine motto but actually “byding” our time in this case costs Virginia billions in lost Medicaid funding.  If we don’t get the funds, we lose the funds to someone else.

Nevertheless, our Loudoun County Board of Supervisors opposed Medicaid.  You’re right, if you’re asking what does our Board have to do with it?  Apparently, Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) just couldn’t stand it ideologically, and she proposed a resolution to oppose expansion by our General Assembly; Ms. Volpe doesn’t “believe” the federal government will actually pay the funds.  No proof of that.  No facts.  It’s just her “belief.”  Our Board is now on record in opposition to these Medicaid funds and the care and jobs that come with the funds.

Our Republican State Senators opposed Medicaid expansion as well.  Senator Dick Black, who represents part of Loudoun County, explained, in defense of his opposition, how he personally contributed funds to a single Medicaid family (sounding empathetic – you know - like he really cared).  But then Senator Black Heart threw the girls in that family under the bus, criticizing them for spending $50 on plastic caps for each of their teeth to guard against tooth decay.  Black said a 50 cent tooth brush and paste was good enough when he was a kid.  Presumably, he considered the cost of these plastic caps to be wasteful Medicaid spending.  Black didn’t go even further to extoll the virtue of General George Washington’s false wooden teeth that so tortured our first President.  I suspect if Washington were here today he’d embrace the advances of modern dentistry that Senator Black apparently decries.

Our Governor and our Attorney General (now running for Governor) oppose extending Medicaid and have, as far as it appears, reneged on a last minute deal that everyone (wrongly) assumed would mean our General Assembly would approve these Medicaid funds – for the good of the people – after some “slight” delay.   Our Governor says we misunderstood what this agreement meant.  I know what it meant.  It was a dodge to agree to get his transportation bill passed.

You may fairly ask, what these opponents of Medicaid are thinking?  Truth is they really are not “thinking.”  Their ideological chimera confound what’s in the people’s best interest.

In the swampy political terrascape that is Washington, DC, the Congressional Budget Committee Chair, Congressman Paul Ryan, back from his unsuccessful run for Republican VP, is doing his best to make even worse the plight of those who are poor, disabled and elderly Medicaid enrollees from middle class households. 

Instead of the feds helping the states, Ryan wants to shift Medicaid entirely to the States, and here’s the rub, the apparent reason is to give the states an opportunity to cut back, and even eliminate Medicaid.

If the Governor of Virginia hasn’t found his senses by the time you review this comment, write, call, fax him and let him know that delaying and certainly losing billions of dollars, jobs and health coverage is not a sound government policy for our Commonwealth.

# # #

Thursday, March 14, 2013

COLUMN: Young “Strangers” in a hostile land? by John P. Flannery

My Aunt married an immigrant from Peru who became a US Citizen by volunteering as a young man to fight for this nation in World War II.

Uncle Jack was a hard-working, tall, athletic, and distinguished looking man but his Latino accented English and facial features invited discrimination from Nativist Americans.

Jefferson wrote that “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

About ten years later, the promise of this declaration shrunk in the context of our nation’s constitution, hollowed out by excluding coverage of “these rights” to slaves, to women and, basically, to persons without property.

In the course of our nation’s history, despite our declaration that “all men” are “equal” and “all men” enjoy “unalienable rights,” we violated the promise of our independence.  One need only consider the Indian removal politics of the 19th Century, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Japanese internment camps of World War II, and that, in 2002, we instituted a Special Registration program which required all men from predominantly Middle Eastern and Muslim countries to register in person with the federal government.

Our nation’s policy, as judged by our conduct, is that you are “equal” and enjoy “rights” if we, as a nation, declare you to be “equal” and if we define your presence in this nation as “legitimate.”
In classic literature, particularly among the Greeks, “strangers” are treated as guests when visiting another nation-state, and to do otherwise is dishonorable. 

There is a long tradition in the religious literature to treat strangers as native.  In the Old Testament, it is written, “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).  In the New Testament, Jesus instructs we should welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35), for “what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me (Matthew 25:40).”  The Qur’an says that we should “serve God … and do good to … orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet, [and those who have nothing] (4:36).”  In the Hindu scripture, Taitiriya Upanishad says, “The guest is a representative of God (1.11.2).”

If we could distinguish among the “strangers” in our law, is it not the easier case to consider how we should treat the young who were brought to the United States from a foreign land, and are undocumented through no act of their will?

We have some guidance regarding how we should treat undocumented students when it comes to K-12 public education.   In 1982, in Plyler v. Doe, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brennan, speaking for the Court, rejected a Texas statute that refused public funding for undocumented students, and that required them to pay tuition. 

Brennan concluded that undocumented students – even if unlawfully present in the United States – were “persons” and thus within our constitution’s equal protection clause that provides no State “shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

The Court found classifying these undocumented children as a “suspect class,” and denying them benefits afforded other children, could not be justified, and imposed a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their “disabling” status.

Justice Brennan explained how, “Imposing … condemnation on the head of an infant is illogical and unjust.  Moreover imposing disabilities on the … child is contrary to the basic concept of our system that legal burdens should bear some relation to individual responsibility or wrong doing.  Obviously, no child is responsible for his birth, and penalizing the child is an ineffectual – as well as unjust – way of deterring the parent.”

We cannot ignore the fact that there are about 65,000 undocumented students graduating yearly from American High Schools.  They discover for the first time when they apply to college that, unlike K-12, the door to higher education may be barred to them.

I am a product of a Jesuit education (Fordham) and it’s because, going back to John Carroll who founded Georgetown University (almost as good as Fordham), first and second generation immigrant students gained access to higher education. 

Twenty Five Jesuit University Presidents across America re-affirmed last week that “Catholic Social Teaching makes clear that issues of social justice, the common good, the dignity of every human person regardless of birthplace, and the right of people to migrate and seek social advancement are divinely inspired.” 

On March 7, 2013, these Jesuit University Presidents announced, “We oppose public policies that separate human families living peaceably in our midst, especially those involving students and/or minors, and urge all citizens to recognize and support those inhabitants of our nation who seek to contribute more fully to civil life and the common good through education and personal development.”
It is high time we treated strangers, young and old, as having the unalienable rights that we insisted belonged to us all when we asserted our independence.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Recently, Pastor Don Prange hosted atheists at St. James Church for a dialogue with his congregation on “evolution weekend.”

You may fairly ask how one can reconcile an atheist who does not believe in God attending a church where the congregation does believe in God.

Pastor Don explained where he thought there was common ground. 

He preached, “Jesus and his followers were among the first A-Theists, challenging the Theistic claims of Caesar and religious collaborators … affirming a way of life built around the principles of compassion, justice mercy and peace.”

“Collusions,” Pastor Don said, “between religious and political forces have too often created oppressive realities that abound in the world of today … sometimes contributing to a contemporary spirit of Atheism we acknowledge today.”

Stephanie Ragusky, from the Beltway Atheists, explained she “lost religion at 13” and she tried to find faith but she could not get any clear answers as to “which was literal and which was metaphor in the Bible.”  When she studied biology, Christians were “discounting what we were learning in school.”  Stephanie needed another way to talk about these things.  She found Nobel prize winner Bertrand Russell’s philosophy instructive.  Among other things, Russell found that religion impeded knowledge and fostered fear and dependency.  Stephanie said now, “I’m responsible for everything I do.”

“Atheists have been misunderstood,” Pastor Don said, “and have faced hostility in society including right here in Loudoun County, just as Darwin and the science of evolution have been misunderstood and maligned by reactionary religious forces.”

Rick Wingrove, the founder of the Beltway Atheists, said, “Some of you may have heard of me.  Because of the religious displays on the court house lawn in Leesburg, I am either the most evil or most hated man in Loudoun County.”

Rick criticized those “special rights and privileged access granted to religious displays on the court house lawn in Leesburg.”  He said, it was “granting special privileges to adherents of a specific religion, but denying those privileges to non-adherents” and “is fundamentally unfair and patently unconstitutional.”  He made it clear that there must be a separation of State from Church.  The congregation appeared to agree when Rick said, “no one likes having someone else’s religion shoved down his throat.”

Finding a welcome for his sentiments, Rick said, “So this is a great honor for me and a new personal best for irony.”

Pastor Don said, “Science and religion ask and answer completely different questions about the natural world.  There is no reason for them to be in conflict … and we have no reason to be in conflict with those who publicly call themselves atheists.”

Rick said there was a “concerted attack on the science of evolution.” He was talking about “the most adamant of biblical literalists.”  He was quick to add, talking to the congregation, “Not you guys, you guys are awesome.” He asked, “if Genesis is taken literally, and if you do, ask yourself where Cain got a wife.”  Rick also underscored how to reconcile these matters: “Many people of faith do recognize that Genesis is allegory and not a Science book.”

Stephanie told how one Loudoun County Biology Teacher was told by a student that “only atheists believe in evolution.”  The teacher explained that was not true, that there was a clergy letter project in support of evolution, and, otherwise, that the student was attending “a science class not church.”
Larry Mendoza, of the Beltway Atheists, explained he “never felt a spiritual or supernatural connection.”  Larry read a lot about reptiles and brought lizards home, he got interested in biology, had a passion for it, thought everyone accepted evolution, and then he realized “there was a movement to discredit what didn’t fit with the theology.”

“I found not every Christian was the same,” Larry said, “and, if every church was like this one, there wouldn’t be any need for an atheistic movement.”

“I’m told I’m immoral because I have no belief in God,” Larry said, “but morality doesn’t require a belief in God. “

Rick charged, “There is an ongoing and determined effort in this country to remove all teaching of the science of Evolution from the public schools, calling Evolution myth, calling science ‘lies from the pits of hell,’ and replacing it with the biblical creationism story …”

When Rick finished these last remarks, he asked if he could get an Amen – and he did.

The ground common to those of belief and unbelief was that the State shouldn’t impose itself on either by establishing a belief system, and that any legitimate belief system had to accommodate science or it was suspect.