DNA and the Fourth Amendment

Double helix Is DNA protected from illegal search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment?

If you are arrested for, say, drunk driving, do the police have the right to take a swab of your DNA and put it into police databanks?

The Supreme Court says “yes,” and that answer has set off a predictable firestorm on both sides of the civil liberties aisle.

We’ve been debating this issue most acrimoniously for several years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Proponents of taking DNA from people who have been arrested compare it to taking a fingerprint. Since fingerprints are routinely taken at the time of every arrest and put into databanks, why not DNA? Opponents express concerns about forced self-incrimination and illegal search and seizure.

There is no right answer to either set of arguments. Both positions have merit. Both concerns are valid.

This is the sort of disagreement that good people get into when they try to make laws. For several years running, the opponents of this legislation have carried the day. Oklahoma finally passed a weakened version of the original legislation that allowed law enforcement to take DNA samples from convicted felons.

I understand the problem with putting people’s DNA into police databanks. If it is abused, it can be tantamount to fishing expeditions where police round up “all the usual suspects” in hope that something pops us. On the other hand, I also understand that DNA is more accurate than fingerprints. I doubt that it’s foolproof. Nothing is. But if it is processed and interpreted by people who are both honest and who know what they are doing, it is more reliable than any other kind of evidence we have today.

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Crime Stoppers with photos of crime victims

DNA is particularly useful in solving violent crimes against persons such as rape and murder. It can pinpoint a rapist. It can turn around and free an innocent person who has been wrongly accused. DNA has been used to free a number of men who have been convicted of rapes they didn’t commit, as well as a several men (Everyone I know about who has been freed this way is a man.) who were convicted of murder.

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Joyce Gilchrist, Oklahoma City Police Department forensic chemist.

I voted for this legislation for these reasons, albeit with some trepidation. Police state fears and mis-use of evidence are not paranoia. They are a reality in much of the world and throughout history. For instance, we had a scandal here in Oklahoma in which Joyce Gilchrist, Oklahoma City Police Department forensic chemist, was convicted of falsifying evidence.

It’s difficult to balance the needs of criminal justice to gather the evidence they need to successfully prosecute criminals with the right of the populace to not be afraid of their government. Inserting DNA into this will complicate the situation and require a major re-thinking of what protections are needed.

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Chris Rodgers, (center) wrongly convicted of murder. Freed by DNA evidence. 

When the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement may take DNA swabs from people who have been arrested, it made this job of thinking and re-thinking both imminent and necessary. I assume that when a Supreme Court Justice votes on a ruling, he or she does it with the same awareness that I have when I vote on legislation. I know that no matter how much I try to weigh the pros and cons, I may make the wrong decision. I have made wrong decisions. No matter how hard I try to do my best, I will make wrong decisions again.

Such is the human condition.

Whether or not the Supreme Court was wrong with this ruling depends on how it’s used by law enforcement. Whether it opens the door to abuses, or it ushers in an era of much more accurate prosecutions depends on the integrity of the men and women who use it. Given that we are fallen people living in a fallen world, abuses are inevitable. That is why we need strong safeguards.

Imposing those safeguards is first of all in the hands of state legislators like me. This discussion leads directly to the reason why I pray the Rosary every day. My constant prayer is that God will protect me — and everyone else — from my own stupidity.

I expect I will vote on issues that arise concerning the enforcement of this recent Supreme Court ruling. Legislators all over the country will be doing the same thing. Congress will probably get into the act, as well.

The goal in all this is public safety. Public safety has, as it always does, two components. The first is safety from the bad guys out there who hurt people. The second is safety from the government itself.

 

How Much Influence Does this Christian Basher Have at the Pentagon?

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Remember Michael, aka Mikey, Weinstein?

It’s not a name that falls trippingly off the tongue, but I’m beginning to think it is worth remembering. Michael Weinstein recently penned a diatribe against Christians that hails back to the hate-speeches of every genocidal maniac spawned in the 20th Century.

He is a self-proclaimed “guardian” of Constitutional freedoms in the military. His backers include the usual list of suspects, such as  branches of the ACLU, the former Oklahoma Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and various atheist organizations. 

According to “Mikey,” Christians are (and I quote), monsters, bloody monsters, well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters, carpetbaggers, senseless and cowardly, bandits who coagulate their stenchful subtances in organizations such as the Family Research Council … and who disingenuously bellow mournfully like the world class cowards they are, fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation, marginalizaton, humiliation and tyranny, who have a putrid theology… of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror. 

I could go on, but I’ll bet you get the point. “Mikey” Weinstein is a world class Christian basher and bigot who foments hatred toward a whole group of people and then blames them for his personal moral and emotional viciousness. 

Sound familiar? It you’ve read the history of the dehumanizing language that precedes every mass slaughter of whole groups of people, it should. It’s especially repugnant that Mr Weinstein chose to quote Elie Wiesel at the end of the rant I’m referencing. 

After Huffington Post published this hate-article, an internet rumor sprang up that Mr Weinstein held an official position with the Pentagon under the Obama Administration. I found no evidence of this. However, I did find a sort of denial about it from the Pentagon. 

I decided to leave the question with that. 

The reason I’m taking the subject up today is another Huffington Post article titled The Pentagon Most Certainly is Listening to Mikey Weinstein. A reader sent me a link to this article, and when I read it, I decided that it is something you need to know about. 

The author, Chris Rodda, is the Senior Research Director at Mr Weinstein’s organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. She is also the author of Liars for Jesus.

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Ms Rodda admires her boss. The article she writes seems to be in a race with itself as to whether it will attack Christians or express over-the-top praise for Mr Weinstein. She makes him sound like the kind of guy who can change the course of mighty rivers with his bare hands and jump the Pentagon in a single leap. 

I say this to caution you: This article is almost certainly at least partly hyperbole and self-promotion by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. It claims that an individual representing 22 airmen who, the article also claims, were all Christians of various denominations, contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation because they were offended by a poster or painting (I’m not sure which it was) hanging on the wall of the Air Force base where they work. 

I don’t know what part of this to believe. It comes from an organization whose founder and leader has published hate speech labeling Christians, and by derivation me, my family and just about everyone I love, as “rapacious, bloody monsters.” Just call me small-minded, but that tends to color my opinion of the organization’s integrity. 

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The real question here is not whether or not I admire Mr Weinstein’s assessment of my faith (I do not) but how much he influences things at the Pentagon. The part of the article which is pertinent to that question relays how Mr Weinstein reacted to the appalling threat to the Constitution posed by this painting. The pertinent part of it says (emphasis mine):

Mikey immediately called the Pentagon because, you know, he can do that (to the obvious consternation of the folks at breitbart.comcertain members of Congress, and other modern-day Christian crusaders).

Mikey gave the Air Force an hour to take action.

By the time Mikey talked to the Wing Commander at the base a few minutes later, the Wing Commander had already been contacted by the Pentagon.

Fifty-six minutes after his call to the Pentagon, the image of the crusader, with its odious melding of the crusader flag with the American flag, had been removed from the dining hall.

Nobody is sure exactly how long this utterly inappropriate and blatantly unconstitutional image has been hanging in the dining hall, and whoever should be held responsible for deciding to place it there may very well no longer even be at the base. But the current Wing Commander, although not responsible for the hanging of this now removed dining facility artwork, is responsible for everything that happens on his base now, and to his credit has decided to take action beyond just the removal of this single offensive display.

The question: Is this claim of Mr Weinstein’s personal influence with the Pentagon brag, or is it fact?

Since we are dealing with people who specialize in braggadocio and scalding hot rhetoric, it’s difficult to know for sure. I am assuming that the basic facts of the article are true; that there was a painting which hung at an Air Force base, that there was some sort of complaint and that maybe the complainers may have gone to Sunday school or something and are claiming to be Christians, and that Mr Weinstein complained and the painting was taken down. 

As I said, I am assuming these things are true. I do not believe that this painting was ever a “threat to the Constitution.” Artistic vision, perhaps. But not the Constitution. I also do not believe that you can trust what these people say. 

I believe Mr Weinstein is a Christian-bashing bigot. The language I read in his article is inflammatory, hate-filled and ugly. If he told me it was raining outside, I would get up, go to the window, and look for myself. 

This leads back around to the question: Does this Christian-bashing bigot and his inflammatory, hate-filled rhetoric have some sort of gravitas at and with the people who run our military? That is a sobering question. 

The Real Housewives of the Department of Justice

Seal The document below is a copy of a Department of Justice brochure advising managers to be gay friendly.

Socially conservative commenters have been roasting this brochure while social liberal commenters and most of the media has ignored it.

After reading quite a few comments about the brochure, I decided to look it up and read it myself. I may be just getting blasé about these things, but this brochure didn’t make me angry the way it has some people. I don’t like it, but I’m not outraged by it. My basic feeling is that this is about what I’ve come to expect from the DOJ.

It is certainly a heavy-handed piece of literature. However most of the things it advises are simple courtesy, which, if they’d been put forward in a less intimidating and bizarre way probably wouldn’t offend anybody.

It would never occur to me to call people in my office by degrading names, whatever their affiliations or personal lifestyle. If that is an issue at the Department of Justice for any group of people, or, for that matter, for any individual, it needs to be addressed. However this brochure with is not the way to do it.

The problem with the brochure is that it doesn’t seem to be so much about good office practices so far as courtesy and civility are concerned as it is a vaguely threatening piece “advising” managers to take a particular position on a political/social issue. That is out of line. It’s way out of line, verging on flat-out illegal.

Before I go to the illegal stuff, I want to take a brief detour and talk about the crazy stuff.  Advising managers to turn the Department of Justice into a therapy session for LGBT people and their various problems is not only unprofessional, it is totally out of line, and … well … crazy. That is not the purpose of the DOJ. Behavior like that would destroy the work environment and create an emotional mess which was all about the various employees and their private lives instead of the work to be done.

I’m assuming that the Department of Justice does important work. I know that it’s charged with doing important work, work so important that we need employees who are eminently sane and responsible to do it.

There is no reason I can think of why a manager would be going around inviting employees to “come out” to him or her about their sexuality, or their family life or any other personal matter. That kind of behavior is not only inappropriate and invasive, it is flat-out destructive to a professional environment in the workplace.

What employees do in the privacy of their own bedrooms should stay in the privacy of their bedrooms. The workplace is not a coffee klatch.

It is also out of line — this is where it the brochure leans toward illegality — to try to coerce employees to attend gay pride events or keep gay pride literature and gay pride badges in their offices.

Gay pride new jersey It is wholly inappropriate for the DOJ to instruct managers to attend gay pride events or to encourage their subordinates to do so. This kind of behavior oversteps the bounds of the employee-employer relationship. Since these events are quasi political, it also comes perilously close to a government agency coercing its employees to advocate for political issues as a requirement of their employment. 

The brochure’s advice to “assume that LGBT employees and their allies are listening to what you’re saying … and will read what you’re writing and make sure the language you use is inclusive and respectful” is downright Orwellian. No manager should write or say personally insulting things about any employee. But the way this is worded goes beyond that advice to the world of spying and threats.

A lot of commenters appear to be upset over the advice not to use the phrase “husband and wife” in invitations to office parties (the DOJ sounds like a social club rather than the United States Department of Justice all through this memo.) I agree with these commenters. If someone is offended by the use of the phrase husband and wife, then they are denying reality.

If the DOJ wants to establish a policy that the partners of homosexual employees are to be included at occasions where spouses are also included, then they should establish that policy. There’s no reason to censor the use of language to communicate that.

This heavy-handed, vaguely threatening memo sounds like a caricature of an office memo. I notice that it’s not just a memo, it’s a designed brochure, which means the government spent quite a bit of money and talent putting it together.

What the memo seems to show us is a Department of Justice that is focused on trivialities instead of justice. It sounds like they’ve got quite a party atmosphere going there and that managers are way too involved in their employees’ private lives.

I think an office should be professional and that it should treat all its employees professionally. People form friendships at work and if they want to discuss their private lives within the framework of these friendships and they can do that without it interfering with their work, that is ok.

ComingoutoftheCloset

However, instructing managers to encourage their employees to “come out” to them about private sexual matters and to make their office environments into “safe places” for this behavior is not only unprofessional, it abrogates the purpose of the DOJ.  So far as I know the United States Department of Justice does not have intra-office psycho-babbling as part of its mandate.

This memo seems to be written for a Department of Justice that is being run like a gathering of the Real Housewives of the DOJ.

If our government employees spend their time “coming out” to one another and setting up parties, they’re wasting our money. If government employees come to work in drag or dressed in other inappropriate ways, they are not being professional and should be dismissed.

This has nothing to do with sexual preference. It has everything to do with maintaining a professional, courteous and public work environment.

Our society has gotten so touchy-feely, and so focused on empowering the nuts who reside in it that we’ve lost sight of the fact that workplaces are environments where people do work. If this is how they run the DOJ, I can tell you that I think we the people are probably being ripped off.

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The First First Responders

May 20 dead dog

Oklahoma City spun with activity all weekend. 

Everywhere you went, the sound of chain saws filled the air as people cut fallen trees into kindling. A house not far from mine lost a big part of its roof. I don’t mean that the storm took off the shingles. It lifted the roof off the house like it was a child’s miniature playhouse, and then dumped about 8 inches of rainwater into the interior. It also tore up a tree in the front yard and tossed it in a neighbor’s drive. 

People piled in to help. There were men nailing new beams up and others cutting the tree into pieces. A whole troupe of neighbors pitched in to drag away the rubbish and bail out the water. In a few hours, the house had an ugly blue tarp where its roof had been, but it was reasonably dry and habitable until major repairs could put it back the way it was before the storm.

Almost no one had power, so people were sleeping on sofas in the houses of friends in the few houses that did have power. Relatives and friends had already taken in lots of people from the earlier tornado. Now, we were packing them in tighter. 

We had mass and our holy hour with the Pope without power, and I have to say it was nice. I enjoyed the relative quiet of no organ, no sound system, etc. It was even nice to have the sanctuary door open and hear the buzzing sound of chain saws. 

I think it is very important to go forward with church services in times like this. It doesn’t matter if you have to pray in a parking lot. People need stability. They need the comfort of worship and in the case of mass, the Eucharist. They need one another.

Which gets me to the real point of this reminiscence, and that is the first first responders and how much we need them. 

The tornado on May 20 took out whole neighborhoods. Everything was rubble-ized. Help was coming, and everybody knew it. But minutes were also ticking by in which a trapped person might either smother or be saved. There was no time to sit around and wait for the authorities to come blaring in with their sirens and equipment. 

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Everybody who was alive and able got to work immediately lifting rubble and looking for other survivors. The tornado had no more than passed when neighbors began helping other neighbors to dig out. 

The same thing happened in Boston. As soon as the bomb went off people began moving barricades and going to help other people. 

There are folks alive today in both cities because of the quick action of their neighbors. 

The first first responders are your neighbors. When that first line of defense fails, terrible things happen.

I remember a couple of years ago a young girl was gang-raped at a school event in California in front of a crowd of onlookers who did nothing. There is the horrible story that shocked a nation of a lady named Kity Genovese who was murdered in her apartment while her neighbors heard her screams for help and didn’t even call the police. 

What happens when community breaks down and people stop helping people? The answer to that is simple: We start to die when we would live otherwise. More to the point, the monsters among us begin to reign over us. 

I watched the videos of the aftermath of the savage murder in Britain a few days ago. It was bemusing to see this murdering maniac hopping from one side of the street to the other, standing over the dead soldier’s body like an animal guarding its kill, spouting lunatic rhetoric. They filmed him. One woman went up to him and talked to him. But nobody took him down. 

One reason why he was able to get away with this is obvious: He was armed and they were not. He was covered with the blood of the young man he had slaughtered and he was waving the machete he’d used to do the deed as he shouted his justifications for his actions. 

The by-standers evidently didn’t feel threatened, but they also took no action. Even if they didn’t have a gun — which they clearly did not — couldn’t they have picked up clubs, gotten themselves organized and taken Mister Raving Lunatic Islamic Radical out?

The British are brave people. They’ve proven that over and again. They are also strong and resourceful. I admire them enormously. I don’t know much about British law, but I have a feeling that there must be something in that law which prohibits people from taking action. I know that London is a big city and that people disengage from one another in big cities. The sheers numbers destroy community on a larger scale and leave people isolated in a crowd. 

But, in truth, if we don’t help one another, we are doomed. That’s what civilization is: People helping one another. 

America has suffered almost endless attacks these past forty years on the organizing units which build community and bind us together. The way we have decimated the family is an obvious one. Less obvious is the way we have been encouraged and even pushed to abandon and destroy our community groups. The most recent example of this is the fall of the Boy Scouts to political correctness. 

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If we ever lose this sense of community and fellowship that binds us together, we will also lose our first first responders along with it. Social destruction has a high cost. The cost in crime, psycho-social destruction of individuals, families and organizations, the loss of initiative and national purpose are obvious. But when disaster strikes and people stand around waiting for official first responders rather than taking up the work of going to help themselves, a lot of people will die needlessly. 

People who go into a storm shelter in Oklahoma when a tornado is coming do so with the knowledge that they may end up trapped due to tons of debris landing on their shelter door. They are able to go ahead and go down in that hole because they know that as soon as the winds stop, their neighbors will be there, digging them out. All they have to do is yell for help. 

People who stand and watch while a young girl is raped, who don’t even call the police while a woman screams as she is murdered, who stand around and watch helplessly while a lunatic speechifies over the body of his victim like an animal guarding its kill, have lost pieces of their birthright as human beings. They’ve stopped being neighbors and become a crowd. 

I know the on-lookers in Britain were stunned. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that the law somehow or other added to the helplessness they exhibited. Having said that, I hope they find a way to react more aggressively the next time one of these things happens. 

Because there will be a next time. It may not play out exactly like this did, probably won’t, in fact. But there is an endless supply of murdering maniacs who feel empowered by our Western codependence masquerading as “tolerance” to act out their darker impulses. Western society has been empowering monsters for quite some time now and we are paying the price of our codependence in the face of outrageous behavior with lost freedoms. If you doubt that, just take a trip on one of our airlines.

Tornados come down from the sky. But bombs and machetes are wielded by human hands. 

Whenever and however destruction of human life happens, the first first responders are us. We must help one another without waiting for the authorities to come. Most of the time, when someone shoves back the rubble, opens your shelter door and reaches in to help you out, it’s your neighbor. 

I hope I never see a day when that’s not true. 

This video of news coverage in the first few minutes after the Moore tornado of a couple of weeks ago shows neighbors helping neighbors.

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Pope Francis: Triumphalism Impedes the Church, Impedes Christians

Pope Francis might as well have been speaking directly to American Christians with the homily he gave a few days ago.

“Triumphalism impedes the Church,” he said. “Triumphalism impedes Christians.”

Americans play to win. We are taught from our earliest days that competition is good and that we can make anything of our lives that we want if we just work hard and smart enough.

Triumphalism, the joy in winning, is part of our national psyche. We are, in our own way, very sure of ourselves and our ability to overcome whatever difficulties lie in front of us.

This makes those of us who are Christians a bit “off” in our understanding of the Gospels. Jesus triumphed over Satan. He transcended Satan’s final ploy against humanity, which is death, in an absolute way.

If we’re not careful, we’ll focus on that victory and ignore the way it was achieved and the words Jesus said about what awaits anyone who truly follows Him. The cross did not look like a victory to those who saw Our Lord suffer and die on it. It looked like  an ignominious defeat.

We can, from our vantage point in history, connect the dots backwards and see the progression from Calvary to the resurrection. We know how the story ends. But if we try to skip over the tough parts, or limit our thinking about  them to annual passion plays, we miss the point.

The cross, which Jesus defeated with His resurrection, is still part of this world. We all have our crosses, and as He told us, if we want to be worthy of Him, we must pick them up and carry them. Not only that, but we must bear the crosses of our lives by “following after” Him. I think we need to ponder for a moment what that means.

Pick up your cross and follow after me Jesus instructs us.

I don’t think He means that we must merely endure the hardships of our lives, even though that would be more than enough for most of us. I believe that we are called to “follow after Him” in the way we endure the sufferings that come our way, which is to say we must triumph over them.

But this triumph is not triumph according to the world’s understanding. It is not an aggressive and competitive victory that elevates us in other people’s eyes and gives us status, power and money. Following after Him means that we must forgive those who hurt us, bear with those whose weakness burdens and wounds us. We must be like Him in how we treat one another and in how we view ourselves.

Triumphalism as the world understands it, which is beating the other guy and following up by basking in the satisfactions and congratulations of the winner’s circle, has nothing at all to do with the triumph of the cross. The triumph of the cross is defeat for the Kingdom’s sake. It is loving others to the point that you cast out evil with that love.

It is not easy to be a Christian. In fact, it is impossible for us to do it on our own strength and or our own understanding. This is as true of the officers of the Church as it is for those of us in the pews. Without the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual graces necessary, we can never successfully pick up our crosses and follow after Him.

That is why we need the sacraments. The sacraments — the eucharist and confession in particular — offer a steady infusion of grace into our souls that strengthens and fits us for living life in Christ.

The video below excerpts Pope Francis’ homily about triumphalism and the Church.

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CSPAN Coverage of the Religious Freedom Conference


A reader sent me the link to the CSPAN coverage of the religious freedom conference. If the issue of religious freedom in America is important to you, I think the entire conference is worth watching, even though it does take time.

If you just want to watch me, my part of it begins at 33.30 in the first panel. You can find it here.

The National Religious Freedom Conference and Me

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As usual, Deacon Greg Kandra has the story, even when it’s about me. 

I attended the National Religious Freedom Conference, which was organized by the American Religious Freedom Program, which is affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC. The conference was Thursday.

It was the reason for the trip to Washington that I mentioned in my earlier post lambasting the hapless news commenter who got on the wrong side of my Okie-ism.

If ever there was a reason for doing a back-to-back flight across the country, this conference was it. Except for the basic right to life, there is no human right that transcends our innate right to freedom of conscience and belief. Interfering with an individual’s religious beliefs is tantamount to a form of mind control. It goes to the core of their personhood, of what makes them tick as people.

America, this unique nation which was, as one of the speakers at the conference said, created from an idea, has always held that religion is a matter so intimate that the government may not interfere, either with its existence or with the free exercise of its practices. Freedom of religion is not and never has been freedom from religion.

This is not to say that those who do not believe in any god should have their clear right to their disbelief meddled with. Not at all. Each of us has the right to be wrong in one another’s eyes on questions of faith. 

The troubling trend in this country by certain groups to attack and limit the freedoms of religious people has gone on unchallenged for far too long. It is time that people of faith insist that, whatever social changes may come down the road, none of them should trample other people’s rights to freedom of religion and faith. 

There is much more at stake in this than my religious belief or your religious belief, or even your unbelief. What is at stake is the essential idea on which America was founded and on which all American freedoms exist. That is the idea that all human beings are created equal and that every single one of us has worth. Religious freedom, freedom of conscience, are the wellhead of how this idea is expressed in our government. 

It was no accident that the first freedom America guarantees to individual citizens involves self expression through speech and religious belief. If you can’t believe according to your faith and say what you believe, then there is no freedom at all. 

As a speaker at the conference, I attracted a small amount of attention, some of which resulted in an article by Dennis Sadowski at the Catholic News Service. From what I hear, I also got a shout out of some sort from the 700 Club. 

Needless to say, I’m flattered by this. However, I am much more than flattered to have been part of this conference. I am deeply honored that anyone would think that I had something to contribute to such an august body of thinkers and all-around wonderful people. The American Religious Freedom Program is not designed to replace the efforts of groups like the USCCB or the Southern Baptists in the fight for American religious freedom. It will take a more focused and direct approach which does not involve specific moral issues and which seeks to protect the religious liberty of all faith groups. 

The one and only issue for the National Religious Freedom Conference is religious freedom itself. I think this is a critical approach which has been lacking in the fight for religious liberty up to now. It is a position that no religious group can take, simply because every religious group has specific moral issues on which it must also take positions. 

However, I believe that the freedom of all faiths and faith members to be who we are, with our doctrinal differences intact and fully respected, is something that all faiths can unite around. For instance, as a Catholic, I may not have a problem with eating pork or the social drinking of liquor, but if the government tries to force members of faiths which do have moral teachings against these things to violate their faith, then I will stand with them in the fight. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, I may not agree with what you believe. But I will fight with you to protect your right to believe it. 

Here, from Deacon Greg’s blog, The Deacon’s Bench, is the article from CNS:

Meet a Pro-Life Democrat: Patheos’ Rebecca Hamilton Profiled by CNS

Behold: 

 

 

Oklahoma State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton 

 

sees no conflict between her pro-life views as a Catholic and being a stalwart Democrat who has served 18 years in the state Legislature.

 

 

Hamilton, who represents South Oklahoma City, told Catholic News Service during a break this morning in the 2013 National Religious Freedom Conference

 

 in Washington that her pro-life stance evolved over time after a “powerful religious experience” in the 1980s.

 

It helped, she said, that she became Catholic in 2002.

Hamilton has cemented her pro-life credentials in the Legislature in recent years despite vocal objections from fellow Democrats and other supporters of Democratic politics. She said one labor official told her to keep her beliefs in church and out of the state Legislature when she shepherded one pro-life measure to passage.

All this after Hamilton worked for a stint for the National Abortion Rights Action League in Oklahoma. Back then, she said, she was hardly religious.

These days, in addition to looking out for her district, Hamilton’s focus is on threats to religious freedom that she sees emerging nationwide. She said it will take the Catholic community — a small minority in Oklahoma — working side by side with people of all faiths to be vigilant about legislative attempts to marginalize religious practice and educate the wider community that any threat to religion poses a threat to all.

One of her priorities: helping form a religious freedom caucus with other like-minded legislators to stop incursions on religious practice.

Hamilton was one of four panelists who discussed challenges to religious freedom during a conference session. She told the 150 people in attendance that her fear is that opponents of religion are becoming bolder in their attacks — verbal, through the courts and in state legislatures.

“You dehumanize a group enough, you marginalize a group enough, it becomes easy to do anything to them,” she said.

 

Thank You Mister Idiot Eastern Newscaster

Let me begin this post with 3 caveats.

  1.  I am tired. I attended a series of meetings in Washington DC on Thursday. This meant flying East Wednesday, doing meetings all day Thursday, then flying home Friday. There is no way to get into and out of Oklahoma without connecting flights which means you’re in transit for 8 or 9 hours.
  2. I came home yesterday and stepped right into more weather. My bag is still packed and sitting where I put it when I walked in the door.
  3. I am an Okie, and I love my home.

Now. I’ve dispensed with the caveats. Let me begin the real meat of this post, which is a defense of my fellow Okies.

During last night’s storms a lot of people took to the roads to try to get out of the way of incoming tornados. I’ve been listening to eastern newscasters explaining to the whole wide world what a bunch of dummies they were for doing this. I even heard one prominent newscaster ask why people don’t move away from Oklahoma with its terrible weather. 

Ok, Mr Eastern Newscaster who doesn’t know come here from sic ‘em, let me try to ‘splain a few things to you.

First of all, last night’s storm didn’t behave the way these things usually do. A storm that begins outside El Reno will usually move in a certain track heading northeast. This big bruiser turned and headed south. Worse, it kept trying to spawn tornadoes over its very considerable girth and length. It was like playing a fast game of whackamo to try to keep up with them.

We have some excellent storm chasers and weathermen here in Oklahoma with great technology to back them up. They fought hard to keep everybody informed, but there was so much information and it was so odd that it was confusing. Unfortunately, every little radio station has now got their own storm guys and a lot of “storm chasers” are nothing more than young men in souped up jalopies placing themselves in harm’s way and exaggerating what they see. There were some goofy reports out there with the good ones.

The major problem people had with this storm is that it didn’t make sense. It seemed to be coming at everybody, everywhere. A lot of people — and I mean a lot of people — tried to get out of the line of fire of the incoming storm. This ended up overpowering the capacity of the roadways.

The result was that thousands of people were sitting ducks. They would have been trapped in their cars if a tornado had hit them, and that’s one of the worst places to be. The flooding that came with the storm was not predicted and a lot of people lost their cars in that. I am surprised that more people weren’t killed by the flooding and high winds.

Among the other things I’ve seen on the news this morning is talking heads telling people here that they should “shelter in place.” That, in retrospect would have been a good idea last night. The tornadoes were the kind that you could survive (there is no surety for anyone above ground in a tornado, but the odds were good) but the flooding was serious. However, there was nothing in the warnings people were hearing that indicated this at the time. People were told that the tornado that hit El Reno was a “violent tornado” a mile wide. That sounded like a killer tornado. There were no visuals of it because of the rain. People responded to the verbal descriptions.

There isn’t a big margin for error with these storms. You may have time, but you won’t have much time. Whatever you’re gonna do, you’ve got to do it quickly.

The only people who were killed last night were those who got caught in their cars. So last night shelter in place was good advice. However, based on the reports that were going out, it didn’t sound that way. As I’ve said before, there are tornadoes and then there are tornadoes. A tornado that’s a mile wide and with what one weather caster said were high wind velocities is not a shelter in place tornado. The fact is, it turned out to be different than it sounded.

Contrary to the blather I heard on the tv this morning, people do successfully get out of the line of fire of incoming tornadoes all the time. This is a big part of why the May 3, 1999 tornado only killed 44 people. That storm was on the ground for over a hundred miles. There was tons of warning that made sense and people just got up and got out of its way. I personally know a number of families who ran and saved their lives. Their homes were gone, but they were fine. The same thing happened with the May 20 tornado of a couple of weeks ago. People got out. And it saved their lives.

The problem last night is that there were so many tornadoes and so many warnings of impending tornadoes that everybody in the whole metro felt in imminent danger.

What happens most of the time is that smaller tornados are funky. They pop up and then they go away. They do goofy things. They’re harder to run from than the big ones that come down and stay down. We had funky tornados last night. Running from those is not a good idea. You really are better off to shelter in place with those. However — and I want to emphasize this — that wasn’t what it sounded like early on. A mile wide tornado with high wind velocity sounds like another, more deadly, kind of beast.

The advice to shelter in place which is blaring out at us over the airwaves from those East coast studios is good advice if the tornado is bearing directly down on you. It’s good advice if you’re in a solid structure and it’s a smallish tornado. It’s lousy advice if you have a long window of warning on a big tornado that is tracking clearly. It’s also bad advice if you’re in a mobile home or an automobile.

My advice to Mr Eastern Newscaster is to get his rear end out of the studio and come on down here and try it out. Let’s see how he does with it. After he rides out a couple of these big fellas, maybe he can give us some intelligent opinions about living in tornado alley. At the very least, he may learn some humility.

Now, I’ve people in my district who are in distress and need my attention. I probably should thank this newscaster. I was feeling too tired to face the day. But he’s revved me up and got my blood pumping.

So thank you Mr Idiot Eastern Newscaster who knows nothing but thinks he knows everything. I was tired, but now, I’m completely energized.

As for moving away from Oklahoma because we’ve had a couple of storms, you can forget that. I am insulted by the question.

This is NOT Fair!

Barbara Eden, the star of the old sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie,” donned the harem costume that made her famous. It was for a benefit and all in good fun.

All I can say is that she does 81 years proud.

From UPI.com:

Barbara Eden tweets photo of herself in ‘Jeannie’ costume

Barbara Eden tweets photo of herself in Jeannie costume

Barbara Eden tweeted photo of herself wearing her iconic ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ costume.

Published: May 28, 2013 at 8:45 AM

VIENNA, May 28 (UPI) — U.S. actress Barbara Eden tweeted a photo of herself wearing her iconic “I Dream of Jeannie” costume at Vienna’s Life Ball last weekend.

Eden, 81, wore the pink veil, bra top and harem pants to Saturday’s event, which was attended by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and actress Carmen Electra, MSNBC said.

“Here it is folks! The navel that put NBC on edge! Barbara Eden, Sat. night at the Life Ball!” Eden tweeted Sunday, alongside a photo of herself in full “Jeannie” regalia.

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Entertainment_News/TV/2013/05/28/Barbara-Eden-tweets-photo-of-herself-in-Jeannie-costume/UPI-50771369745142/#ixzz2UdVkMdpB

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Tornados and Doing My Part

Moore Tornado 2 jpg I grew up looking at the remnants of a tornado.

It was an area of acreages and farmland that today is inner city. On the land next to our acreage, the remains of a roof rotted slowly back to the ground. The tornado had stripped it off a house and dumped it there. A half mile or so past that, a tilted grain silo sat where the same tornado had deposited it. It was about a mile from its original moorings.

That particular tornado happened before I was born, before my parents were married. They were both involved in it. My Daddy told me how he watched it take the house where my aunt and uncle lived. He described how the tornado seemed to lift the house off the ground, and then it exploded. That storm jerked trees out of the ground and their roots pulled up with them in long tendrils that left trenches in the earth. It took up grass off the ground.

Daddy said that the canned goods lining the shelves in the neighbor’s cellar where he took shelter vibrated as the storm passed over.

Thirty-five people died in that tornado. They were people my family knew. My mother went to school with a girl who lost her entire family and was terribly injured herself. This lone survivor of her whole clan wore a headscarf after that because she had been scalped by the winds.

Every time I read another comment about how Oklahoma doesn’t have basements for people to shelter in from these storms, I remember the line of graves in the cemetery not far from where my grandparents and my father are buried. This family went to the basement of their house. They were killed — every single one of them — when the tornado dropped the house down into the basement on top them.

In storms like this, you have to be underground, and the top of your underground shelter cannot be the floor of the house above.

Daddy and my Uncle Jimmy dug us a storm cellar when I was a little girl. After what they’d seen, they were adamant about what it took to come through a bad tornado. It had a concrete, steel-reinforced top that you could park a train engine on without any problem.

When my parents went through the killer tornado that killed so many of their friends, there were no tornado warnings. My father watched this particular tornado form. There were two funnels at first, then they got together. The rest was rock and roll. The fact that he saw it happen gave him and his time to take shelter. He even had time to do a stupid young man’s thing and try to drive his car to the shelter. Why he thought it would save that car to move it, no one, including him, ever knew. But it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

He and his brother left the storm cellar, with my grandmother yelling at them to come back and not be such idiots, ran back to their house, got into that car and raced, teen-aged style, for the shelter. All this while a killer tornado was roaring right at them.

I can only imagine what my grandmother must have felt, watching these two young bucks of hers as they risked their lives for no reason at all. The tornado didn’t hit them. But they got enough of a by-blow that it lifted the front end of the car off the ground and shoved it into a ditch. They got out and made the rest of the trek on foot.

The only reason I managed to get born is because that day just wasn’t my Daddy’s day to die.

It was the day to die for thirty-five other people. As I said, there was no warning. The girl who lost her family and ended up wearing wigs and head scarves for life said that the first they knew of it was when they heard gravel from the road, hitting the side of their house. That was the tornado, throwing the gravel as it approached.

Later, when I was a little girl, we had sort of storm warnings. By that I mean the television would make a loud beeping sound and the weatherman would come on to tell us there was a “line of thunder storms” coming at us. He used what looked like a white magic marker on a black board to make little squiggly marks signifying the line of thunderstorms and then he’d draw arrows to show which way they were moving. Nobody, including him, knew if this particular line of thunderstorms would make hail, high winds, deadly tornadoes, or just pass on by without even dropping rain.

We would troop down into the cellar Daddy had built, us and all the neighbors. Before he built it, I remember going to other people’s cellars in the neighborhood. Going to the cellar back then was something of a community event. We took lanterns and the kids took toys. The women and children sat around underground, passing the time and waiting for the storms to get there while the men stood aboveground, gazing thoughtfully at the skies.

You may not know this, but real men always stand guard, even if it’s against a tornado.

After a while the storm would hit and we’d all sit there together, listening to hail as it pounded the cellar door. Many times, it go too loud to talk.

People always take other people in during storms. I remember once we were traveling across the Texas panhandle when the clouds got gnarly looking. We stopped at a farmhouse. There was no one in the house, so we went around back to the cellar and knocked on the cellar door. They opened it, saw us, and invited us in. We rode out the storm with these good people. After it was over, the men shook hands, the women said their glad-to-meet-yous and we we got back on the road for home.

I’ve heard rumors that a branch of a national bank turned people away in the storm last week. I haven’t been able to verify it. But if it’s true, I’m taking my money out of that bank. I think they need to close up and go somewhere else. They don’t belong here. 

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The May 3, 1999 tornado is the worst tornado I have ever personally experienced. 

Warning time is everything when it comes to tornadoes. Without warning, hundreds of people would have died last week. Without warning, many hundreds of people would have died in the May 3, 1999 tornado.

Those early tornado warning pioneers with their magic markers and vague information saved lives. Today’s weather forecasters with their helicopters and doppler radar save many more lives.

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Plaza Towers Elementary, May 20, 2013 

That is not to say that we can’t do more. We must do more.

I have been haunted all week by the fact that I am a state legislator and children died in a public school for lack of adequate shelter. I can not explain why we haven’t built shelters in the schools. There is no reason.

The May 3 tornado hit a school and leveled it. We all shook our heads and said that it was lucky that the tornado hit after school hours. But I don’t guess any of us thought what we should do to prevent a tragedy if one of these things came in a few hours earlier in the day.

I know I didn’t.

I wasn’t in the legislature at the time, and when you’re not in the legislature you think differently. But I am now. I have been for years. Why didn’t I at least try?

May 20 dead dog

The reason, stupid as it sounds, is because I didn’t think of it. I think about tornados in much the same way I think about my own impending death, which is to say, not much. They just are. Tornados kill. Everybody knows it. Even with today’s technology, they are unpredictable in the extreme. Someone I know lost their house last week when the tornado they were watching move away from them suddenly turned and headed toward them. They had time to get out ahead of it, but it was close.

Tornadoes are unpredictable. Even the smallest ones will kill you with a direct hit. I saw a tornado once that looked like a water spout. It knocked over one great big sign in a grocery store parking lot about a block from my house. Not much damage. It didn’t even tear up the sign. But if that sign had been a person, things might not have been so simple.

That was a teeny tornado. It was so small and short-lived that only those of us who were looking straight at it ever knew it existed.

There is no tornado that can’t kill you. Some tornados take out a single house. A neighbor of my Daddy’s best friend lost their house to a tornado. The house sat on a hill. Their daughter had been out riding her horse. She saw it coming and got off the horse, raced indoors and climbed up the chimney. When the tornado passed, the chimney was all that was left of her house. Until like most other tornados, this one didn’t leave a pile of rubble. It cleared the house off that hill and left a chimney, standing tall and alone against the sky.

But the big bad ones that come down and stay down and cover territory are killers that can take out a whole community. They have the potential to kill everyone and everything that is above ground for miles, sometimes for hundreds of miles.

We didn’t do what we should have done about building shelters in the schools. That’s the plain truth of it.

I talked to the House Speaker about this late one night last week. He sort of sees the same thing. He’s still got his Oklahoma blinders on, though. We don’t ever think it’s going to happen again. Until it does. Then we don’t think it will happen again … again.

But this is Oklahoma. We get hit by tornados. These storms go in cycles. You can have years, decades, without a really bad one. Then, the killers start dropping out of those clouds like popcorn popping, one after the other, bang, bang, bang. We’re some place in a cycle of bad tornados right now. We may be half way through it. We may even be at the end of it.

But one thing we can know for sure: It will happen again.

I have to live with the fact that those children who died in that school last week are dead at least partly because we — meaning me — didn’t do what we should have done. There is no choice. I failed in my job so far as this is concerned, and the burden of that is something I have to live with.

But I will not live with failing to do what I should do from here on out. I know the people I work with. There are a lot of them who will have trouble with the state forcing local school districts to do anything, even something as ubiquitous and important as building tornado shelters. There are some of them who will decide this is a nanny state thing. So be it. I’m not responsible for them. They will have to stand before God and explain themselves one day just like I will.

I don’t intend to explain that I didn’t try to stop at least this part of the tragedy we are enduring from happening again. I don’t care who gets the credit, or anything like that. All I care about is that I do my best to save lives.

All any of us ever has to do is our part, and that is my part.

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Huffington Post has some interesting before and after photos of the May 20 tornado damage here.


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