After taking a knee, what next?

In the past few weeks we have seen the controversy surrounding the taking of a knee during the National Anthem. In taking a stand myself, what I notice first is that the original issue of what the protest was about has been lost.  As I understand it, those that began with the protest of taking a knee during the National Anthem were doing so to protest the way that minorities are treated, for example, by law enforcement officials.  The display of “solidarity” that we have seen among NFL players in recent weeks seems to be more a reaction to Pres. Trump’s statements, and less about the actual original protest regarding the mistreatment of minorities.  It’s a shame that the focus has been lost and moved away from the original intent.

The basic premise behind any protest is to bring an issue to the attention of others, when that issue is unknown or ignored by others. At a certain level this is the very reason that protests are never convenient on others, because they are designed to bring awareness.  Yes, protests will disrupt daily activities and ruffle feathers, but this is what awareness does.  There is a delicate balance between the right to protest and respecting the rights of others who may not be directly affected.  With this in mind, I have a two recommendations about protests in general, and then I have 4 recommendations for follow up related to the current protests that are related to the taking of the knee during the National Anthem.

General Recommendation for Protesters:

  1. In general, I believe that all protesters should have a recommendation for action.  It is not enough to simply complain or demonstrate, but our complaint should be followed up with specific recommendations.
  2. No protest justifies violence against others. No protest should result in the creation of victims.

Specific Recommendations for Protesters in the Taking of the Knee

  1. Get us back to the focus on unfair treatment of minorities, specifically from law enforcement professionals.
  2. Recognize that people that have “celebrity” status (i.e., professional athletes, entertainers, etc.) are in a position to be heard.  This implies both a responsibility and an opportunity.  Take advantage of the opportunity.
  3. Create a plan of action that begins at a local community level. For example:
    1. Ask the mayor of a city to create an advisory committee.
    2. Involve “celebrity” status people on the committee.
    3. Involve local residents, police officers, local church leaders, etc. to be on the committee.
    4. Invite committee members to observe police officer cadet training sessions.
    5. Invite committee members to ride along with police officers.
    6. Ask the mayor to establish local town hall meetings and invite committee members to attend.
    7. Based on these activities, ask committee members to offer specific recommendations.
    8. At regular intervals, rotate committee members and start the process over again.
  4. As an aside, I also have a recommendation for the NFL. It’s obvious to me that in the past few weeks we have seen a show of solidarity. If “taking a knee” shows solidarity for protests against the mistreatment of minorities (or perhaps more honestly solidarity against Pres. Trump’s statements), then a “standing with a hand over a heart” could also show solidarity for support, for example, of USA military and traditional patriotism.  It may sound corny, but would be a bold statement of solidarity to have all NFL players also choose a week when everyone stands.

 

 

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Politics – A pretty crazy world

Since I have entitled this blog, “Taking A Stand” it’s probably time to do so as related to the political scene that dances before us on a daily basis.  I write this in September of 2017, nine months into the Donald Trump presidency.

I should begin by saying that I have bounced back and forth between Republican and Democrat most of my adult life, voting on both sides of the fence. Given my generally conservative bend on things and my belief in small government, I have identified with many things Republican. And I should also begin by saying that in the last election I voted for neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton, casting instead a protest vote for Evan McMullin. (And that I did with no excitement or expectation that he would win. It was simply a protest vote where I couldn’t with good conscience vote for either Donald or Hillary.)

Back in November of 2016 President-Elect Trump told us in one of his first speeches that it was “time to heal the wounds of division” and it was time to “come together as one united people.”  Dude, it hasn’t happened, and I have seen no evidence that Pres. Trump has tried to lead with any healing or coming together.

Here’s my basic premise: President Trump is adept a tearing things down (usually with insults, blaming words and name calling), but he seems weak at building things up. His modus operandi seems to be more “my way or the highway” as opposed to “consensus building.” If I define leadership as the characteristic to have a vision, provide others with information about that vision, inspire others to follow, resolve conflicting issues from others, take charge and inspire, then I have seen little evidence of actual leadership.

To wit:

  1. Immigration Reform (e.g. Travel Ban, Wall, DACA)

I have seen travel ban limitations, statements that Mexico will pay for some never-defined wall, and the elimination of DACA. What I have not seen is any concrete plan about immigration reform, what we actually do with millions of people who currently live in this country without proper documentation. Granted, members of congress drags their heels as well, but if Pres. Trump wants to lead immigration reform, we need to hear his proposal for actual reform. To date we have heard statements about what to get rid of, but nothing to build upon. DACA is the perfect example. To simply say that we are eliminating DACA and that Congress should resolve the problem, does not offer me any concrete plan for reform. As a true leader, I would prefer that Pres. Trump present a plan for Congress’ consideration and then inspire people to support his plan.

2. Health Care – Elimination of Obamacare

It seems an easy thing to declare that Obamacare was a disaster. It is another thing to provide us with a new alternative. Nobody was excited to support the half-baked version that was proposed. Issues related to what to do about the uninsured were left unanswered. Again, if Pres. Trump wants to lead, give me something to follow and go out and inspire me to accept it. What I saw instead was a president who nearly disappeared from the discussion.

3. North Korea Threats – I think we got the message that Kim Jong-un is a ‘bad hombre’ who enjoys his destructive toys. I’ve heard statements from Pres. Trump that blame China for not being tough enough, but I have seen no concrete suggestion about how we should deal with Kim Jong-un or help the people of North and South Korea.

4.  Paris Accord – Whether you believe in global warming or not, it seems irresponsible to pull out of the Paris Accord, and then have no strategy or statement about what we should do to balance energy and pollution. Pres. Trump pulled out, with a simple suggestion that some day he will replace it with something better.  I have seen nothing that suggests a strategy to balance energy and pollution. If the US wants to lead in how we use energy, give me a vision of what that will be and then inspire me to support it.

5. White Supremacy / Nazi Groups – No doubt that in our society we have some deep-seeded racist thinking. A true leader will denounce this, and then lead the charge to make sure that hatred and racist actions are not condoned. Lead the charge in this Mr. President. Instead, we were left wondering what your stand actually is.

6.  Transgender Members of the Military -Really? Transgender is the #1 military issue? Eliminating transgender members of the military (who are currently serving) doesn’t tell me anything about what the military will do, only what it no longer can do. If you want to lead the military, give me a specific goal of what the military should be doing. How will its modernization be financed, and what will be built?  Really? Transgender?

7. Staff Changes & Russia Probe – Here we see another example of people that are fired, let go, chastised in public, called names and insulted.  We’ve seen 9 months of changes in the basic structure, with no actual work that gets accomplished. If President Trump cannot even inspire his staff to follow him, how can he lead the whole country? As to Russia probe, my advice would be to say, “Y’all got your job to do, go ahead and do it. Meanwhile, I’ve got more pressing issues to deal with.” Instead of leadership I see sidetracking.

8. Relationship with International Leaders – I don’t think I can name one country with which we have improved relations in the past nine months.  England? No. France? No, Germany? No. Russia? No. China? No. Israel? Surprisingly no. Mexico? No. Canada? No. Venezuela? No. Cuba? No. Saudi Arabia? No. Syria? No. South Korea? No. Japan? No.

9.  Budget – Since I live in the academic world, I feel the sense of uneasiness where everyone is worried about what program (especially for those in Liberal Arts) will no longer be supported by our government. It’s another example of the emphasis on what is eliminated, with no vision for what is going be funded and encouraged.  It seems that the budget proposals are vague enough that specifics are nebulous. Not doubt, a balanced budget implies the need for certain cuts, but leadership implies a vision of where we are heading. I don’t see it.

Bottom line for me, I have seen 9 months of a bombastic style where Pres. Trump easily criticizes and calls people names, but things never go beyond that. It’s time to move on from the silly tweets, petty insults, name calling, and accusations of unfair public scrutiny. Show me some concrete leadership. Give me something to follow. Inspire me with a vision of what can be. Lead the charge, and I, like many, would probably be willing to follow.

 

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Austin Police Department, my personal experience

In the news we have certainly seen many stories about the police.  The tragic shootings, both from police who shoot citizens and from citizens who shoot police, have all been horrible.  We have seen the effect of simplistic stereotyping, and it is causing massive harm in all of our communities.  Knowing there are great and lousy people at every job, I wanted to share some of my experiences in dealing with the Austin Police Department.

A number of years ago I was asked to create a Spanish language program that would be part of the cadet training for the officers of the Austin Police Department.  The intent was not to make everyone totally bilingual, but to minimize the instances when bilingual officers were to be called in.  That way, for example, if a person was stopped for speeding, the officer would at least have enough Spanish to explain the violation and provide basic information.  I personally taught the course to a number of the cadet classes and I even had the opportunity to ride along with them, in order to observe what it was that “linguistically” the officers needed to do.

The whole experience was fantastic.  I gained a first-hand view of their efforts to provide professional training, to choose quality individuals, to demand integrity, to provide a training that focused on serving the public, and to weed out those who were not qualified.  And all of this was done with a eye towards knowing that all the officers represented the city. I have attended many training sessions from many different professions, but none emphasized quality, honesty, and integrity as much as APD did.  I left with increased admiration for all of the cadets and for the program.

I recall one morning (I taught the class at 6:00am) one of the captains entered the classroom and reprimanded the whole group because one of the cadets had been seen driving above the speed limit while driving to training facility.  It didn’t matter that it was 5:30am, it didn’t matter if the officer was on duty or not, it didn’t matter of police were in uniform or not, the captain reiterated the vital importance that they fully obey the law.  It was an important reminder for the cadets that the were duty bound to obey the same laws that they were hired to enforce.

Another morning I recall an instance when the class representative came up to me during a break time and said, “Dr. Kelm, we have not shown you this morning the courtesy that you deserve. So during the break we are going to run Mt. Majerouses” (I believe there was a hill at the training facility with that name and that is where they ran for punishment.) The cadets took their training seriously, and I hadn’t even noticed any lack of respect in class. Certainly, however, this was an educational experience like no other that I had ever taught.

I was also impressed with the number of APD Cadets who were formal military.  Their sense of duty, following orders, showing respect for authority, and focus on doing their best, all were admirable.

There is a part of me that wishes that everyone could have the opportunity to observe the cadet training of officers at the Austin Police Department.  Watch them struggle to learn some Spanish. Listen to them talk about their experience in being pepper sprayed, just to know what it feels like. Share in their efforts to be physically fit for the service. Appreciate their dedication to the laws and to civic actions.  Observe the emphasis on learning how to deal with people.

No doubt, there are fantastic and lousy employees everywhere.  But my experience with APD years ago gave me first-hand observation of their efforts to weed out the bad and train the good.  My experience with APD was years ago, but to this day, every time I interact with a member of APD, my mind goes back to the cadet training and my respect and admiration for the person in front of me is solidified.

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Lives Matter – The Story of German Chocolate Cake

In recent weeks we have seen an uptick in violent actions. Violence seems to promote more violence. Today I write to say that I reject the premise behind what seems to motivate much of the violence: simplistic single-feature stereotyping. I use an analogy of a German Chocolate Cake to illustrate my point.

It is inaccurate to say that a German Chocolate Cake is just cooked rice. Rice isn’t even an ingredient in German Chocolate Cake. No doubt, flour is one of the ingredients of a German Chocolate Cake, but even flour is combined with sweet chocolate, butter, egg yolks, vanilla and buttermilk.  And all of these ingredients go through a chemical change during the backing process. It is  wrong to say that German Chocolate cake is rice and it is unfair to simply categorize German Chocolate Cake as flour.  And to extend my metaphor a bit more, someone who bakes a German Chocolate Cake is not German.

Given that metaphor (knowing that all metaphors have limitations):

  • The police officers are not racist.
  • Muslims are not terrorists.
  • Islam is not radical.
  • Blacks are not hooligans.
  • Hispanics are not drug-dealing rapists.
  • Whites are not supremacists.
  • Immigrants are not law breakers.
  • Americans are not selfish individualists.
  • The media is not out to get you.
  • Mormons are not fanatical zealots.
  • Jews are not money grabbers.
  • Protestants are not naive blind followers.
  • Catholics are not superstitious fools.
  • University students are not drunken party animals.
  • Gays are not sexual perverts.
  • Democrats are not irresponsible socialists.
  • Republicans are not selfish individualists.
  • Those licensed to carry guns are not vigilantes.
  • Hillary Clinton is not an evil lying bitch.
  • Donald Trump is not a violent devil.
  • Barak Obama is not a fear monger.
  • Chinese are not blind godless followers.
  • Germans are not stubborn nazis.

Just as the German Chocolate Cake is composed of a complex mixture of ingredients that have undergone a chemical change, people too are a complex mix that are more than just a blend of many characteristics. We do our society no favors by embolding others with our inflammatory inaccurate stereotypes. Given this, I propose 3 recommendations as follows:

  1. Resolve to never generalize people by forcing their identity into one single category. Even a statement like “black lives matter” although designed with laudable undertones, focuses on a single aspect of who a person is.
  2. Deal with people on a one-on-one basis. I know there is power in a collective voice, but there is also power in personal one-on-one interactions.  Say hello to others, talk to others, invite people to lunch, buy them a drink, focus on the complex mixture of other’s qualities.
  3. For those of you who like me are Christian, if you claim to believe it, incorporate it into your life. “Love your enemies, bless them that cure you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

German Chocolate Cake is not rice!  German Chocolate Cake is not flour!

 

 

 

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Love Wins? How about we try, “Tolerance Wins”

I’ve been thinking about the implication of the phrase “love wins” that has been connected to the recent ruling to allow same-sex marriage. There is an undertone that if a person is opposed to same sex marriage, that this opposition also rejects “love wins.” What this implies is that anyone who is opposed to same sex marriage is hateful, which is easily expanded to accusations of bigotry and racism. In taking a stand, I reject these implications behind the phrase “love wins” and if you are willing to read a bit more, I hope to give a few reasons why.

In my own case, I personally believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. For those who believe otherwise, it is important to understand that I am 100% tolerant of your opposing beliefs. This, in fact, is precisely what makes our society pretty fantastic. We live in an environment where people with extremely diverse ideas and beliefs are welcome to follow their conscience. We are tolerant, even supportive, of the right of others to have strong beliefs that are different from our own. So, you might say, I am a proponent of “tolerance wins” which better describes how we should interact in a society when people have opposing views. (BTW, I write this knowing that historically those who follow a gay lifestyle have not been treated fairly or with respect.)

Myself, at the very core of my LDS religious convictions is the idea that families are eternal, that gender is part of my eternal identity, and that traditional families constitute the foundation of our destiny. Part of God’s plan for his children includes the physical union of a man and a woman who then create an eternal family. For me, marriage is more than a social contract, it is a religious ordinance. In a very literal sense, as a Mormon, I believe that my wife and I continue as husband and wife after this life is over. My concept of family and marriage destiny is simply incongruent with the notion of same-sex marriage. But again, for those who have different convictions and different notions of sexual relations, the beauty of tolerance is that others allow me to hold to my convictions in the same way that they hold on to theirs. There is no demand or expectation that others embrace my convictions. And that is problem I see with the connotation of “love wins” which implies an expectation to embrace (or risk being labeled hateful, bigoted, and racist).

It seems to me that in other areas our society is better at being tolerant in the face of diverse opinions, for example, abortion.  Abortion is legal in the United States.  There are over 1 million abortions performed every year (See Guttmacher Institute for statistics). There are people, both for and against abortion, who have extremely strong opinions about the matter. I personally believe that it is wrong to create life and then terminate it. However, many people have a different opinion. Even in the case of something as extreme as the creation and termination of a living thing, our society (and I include myself) is tolerant when people have different opinions. Some people, of course, are more vocal and even violent in the expression of their opinion, but still society on the whole, accepts that its citizens have differing views about abortion. We can debate and discuss abortion without the implication of being hateful. We simply accept that people have differing opinions. The same applies to our views about the use of alcohol, gun control, religion, political opinions, legalization of marijuana, etc.. There are many areas where we are simply more tolerant of diverse opinions.

So, although “tolerance wins” may not sound as cool as “love wins,” I propose that it is a better vantage point to discuss the issue of same-sex marriage. Diversity is important, but funny thing about diversity, it is only a virtue when there is unity behind it. Just look at the name of our country for example, “The United States of America.” Our name implies that what makes us strong is not simply our diversity, it is not that we agree on everything, but it implies that we are a people who are unified despite our disparate opinions on things.

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Iran, to negotiate or not?

In taking a stand, today I offer a few thoughts on the recent negotiations that have been going on with Iran and the nuclear accord. The irony is that at the same time that we are debating the Nuclear Accord with Iran, the United States is also opening embassy offices in Cuba, something that has not existed for over 50 years.  Of course there is a gigantic difference here. In the case of Cuba, the US is moving to normalize relations. In the case of Iran, there is no pretense that relationships are being normalized.

On one side, people say that by negotiating with those who are untrustworthy, we are in a better position to keep tabs on them (basically the opinion of the Democrats). On the other side, people say that by negotiating with those who are untrustworthy, we are simply giving evil people power (basically the opinion of many Republicans).

In considering these two sides, my basic premise has always been that it is easy to vilify people that we do not talk to. We’ve all seen situations where family members stop talking to each other for some bizarre reason, and then as the years go on, it’s easier to justify why we think those relatives are in the wrong. On the other hand, when we actually meet and mingle with people, it gets harder to hate them. This seems to also happen socially and politically too. It was easy to criticize communists during the cold war years. It is easy think that all immigrants are criminals when we can’t talk to any of those different-looking and foreign-talking folks. It’s easy to divide people based on race when we never interact with anyone from another race. It’s easy to think that Mormons are weird if we have never talked to a Mormon. And it’s easy to talk bad about “those” Chinese when you have never been to China or met any Chinese people. If this is the our logic, then I believe it would be better to negotiate with Iran, to keep the dialog going, and to be in a better position to adjust policy down the road. The more contact we have, the better we can share dialog.

However, we cannot ignore the other side. We learn from history that when we negotiate with people who have a different moral compass, we naively believe that they will follow our moral compass. I’m thinking, for example, about how Neville Chamberlain is thought of today, having negotiated with Hitler to secure the Munich Agreement. World leaders tried to negotiate with Hitler, as if somehow he was going to play by the rules. Given our hindsight, it is hard to imagine that world leaders bought into the idea that Czechoslovakia was to appease Germany. Czechoslovakia must have felt abandoned by Europe, similar, in fact, to how Israel must be feeling now too. (In fact, as I think of it, it is also eerie how similar the rhetoric about the current situation between the Ukraine and Russia today mirrors that of Czechoslovakia and Germany back then. That, however, is a topic for another day). Anyway, following this logic, it would be prudent to not sign the nuclear accord with Iran.

So, where to I take my stand? We should sign the accord. My logic: First off, I think it is unfair to criticize the accord for being anything similar to normalizing relations with Iran and the international community. That is simply not the case. The negotiations and the accord have a very limited focus. They are simply designed to reduce the possibility of Iran’s building and using nuclear weapons. There is no illusion that the international community trusts Iran. That trust will have to be built over time, by abiding to the parameters of this accord. If you are opposed to the accord, oppose it for reasons related to its inability to limit the use of nuclear weapons. Don’t oppose it for all of the other instances of things that Iran does.

Second, sign the accord, but bring a greater number of regional nations into the future negotiations. All countries of the Middle East, including Israel, should have a more official voice in future negotiations. Without their involvement, we are simply repeating history, similar to how France and England negotiated without Czechoslovakia. It is time for the nations of the Middle East to step it up in official capacities.

Third, sign it, but involve Congress earlier in future negotiations. Our Congress seems to have lost the ability to give and take. The all or nothing attitude results in stalemate. It is unfair to reject the nuclear accord without offering any type of alternate solution. But when you are not involved in the process, what other choice do you have?

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Immigration Reform

In taking a stand, I start with a pretty strong bias about immigration because technically I am an immigrant to this country. Of course, all of the credit goes to my German father and my Canadian mother who brought us here, but we can count our family among those who legally immigrated to the USA. So, I am pro-immigration. Our family is the classic story where immigrant parents come to the US, begin from the disadvantage of never having completed even high school, worked hard to make things better for their children, and then a generation later see the results of their efforts.

Also, since I have lived in Utah, California, and Texas, and because I speak Spanish and Portuguese, over the years I have met hundreds, literally hundreds, of immigrants who are in the United States, looking to do the same thing that my parents did, that is, make a better life for themselves and for their families. Some may say, “Yes, but your parents came here legally and nowadays there are too many immigrants who come here illegally.” I simply cannot subdivide people into the two categories of “good guys who come here legally” and “bad guys who come here illegally.” The immigration system is simply too broken, ineffective, unfair, and cumbersome to make such a division.  The vast majority of those who come to our country are simply looking to make their lot in life better, and that includes those who come here, technically illegally.

At the same time, I do realize that we live in a time where evil people secretly plan to commit violence against American citizens. And some of those also enter our country as immigrants or guest visitors, both legally and illegally.  I also realize that our country incurs actual monetary expenses related to non-citizens, and this is a burden for those who are citizens. But it is unfair to lump all immigrants into the same category.

As to reform, the first and most essential element to begin with is that we need to identify everyone who comes into our country.  My basic premise is that it should be extremely easy for all to enter our country, for whatever reason, but to do so, we need to know who you are. Come to our country as invited guests. You may come as tourists, as guest workers, with or without intent to be a citizen, come for whatever reason you want to, but when you come, we need to know who you are.

Make it easy to enter, but also make it easy to identify who comes in.  To do so, we need to look at how credit card companies work.  I am amazed at how easy it is to apply for a new credit card, and then in the instant that I am approved, I can use that card anywhere, anytime. The credit card company knows exactly how much money I have charged and how much money I have paid, instantly. And if I lose my card, instantly I can contact them to take care of issues.  And this, by the way, applies to millions of people who have the credit card.  Additionally, if somebody proves to be a credit risk, who doesn’t pay his or her bill, the credit card company can revoke privileges.  And remember, credit card companies can do this for millions and millions of people. It seems to me that similar technologies could be applied to how we approach immigration and visitors who come to our country.

Second, if this smart-card-like concept were instigated, if a visitor to our country proved to be a lousy guest (didn’t pay bills, required special care, committed crimes, broke the law, doesn’t have an ID smart-card, etc.) that information could be added to the profile. We could then, based on certain standards, send violators home, and reentry would be more difficult because the profile would contain this information.

I realize that there are lots of other details and that this only scratches the surface (e.g., education, taxes, insurance, health care, etc.). However, I take a stand that if we could begin our immigration reform with the premise that we are happy to invite guests to our country, that it is easy to enter, and that it is essential to identify all visitors, this would be a great start.  Looks like our government should be hiring some of those credit card company geniuses!

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