Category Archives: Devotional

LABOR DAY 2017—WHERE’S THE PARADE?

To most of us, Labor Day means a long weekend, and the last chance to get away in summer, a quick trip to the beach before school starts, or maybe just a family picnic. Labor Day had some very serious origins. Before Labor Day became an official holiday by President Grover Cleveland in 1894, there was a long, violent struggle for basic worker rights. Back then, the routine workweek was twelve hours a day, six days a week, with low wages, no paid vacation, no sick days, no pensions, no holidays, and no unemployment insurance. In addition, thousands of Americans died in unsafe factories and mines.

Both business and government fought against the labor movement (and some still do). Hundreds of people were killed in riots and battles over worker rights.

One incident particularly inflamed the desire for worker rights. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York. The top three floors quickly were engulfed in flames in the reputedly fireproof building. Most of the workers were Jewish and Italian women, some as young as fourteen, who had recently immigrated. They found themselves trapped in a terrible inferno. Groups of young women jumped to their deaths from the ninth floor. One man dropped women out of the windows. Fire department nets were ripped and torn by jumpers. On the outside, bodies piled up on the sidewalk and blocked the fire engines. On the inside, burned bodies piled up at locked doors, blocked exits, and some burned beyond recognition while still sitting at their sewing machines.

The factors that caused this tragedy were bad management, overcrowding and dangerous working conditions, and bad architecture.

Managers frequently locked the exits to prevent workers from sneaking out for a break, and to prevent stealing. Those locked doors stopped workers from escaping the fire. Other exists were blocked with boxes which had been accumulating for months. The architect had been given special permission to omit one staircase in his design, and exit doors were designed to open inward, making it almost impossible to open the doors when panic-stricken workers rushed them. The poorly built fire escape caused it to collapse when many workers started using it to escape the fire, killing many.

This tragic fire, along with many other bad incidents, fired up the workers and their demands for safer working conditions, and led the public to support them. The labor movement made great gains after these tragic events. Workers organized and formed unions, and Labor Day became a special day to honor the American worker. The day usually consisted of pubic parades to show the unity and accord between the trade and labor unions, and the community. Then, there was recreation and entertainment, and speeches by prominent men and women.

Most all Americans have benefitted directly or indirectly due to unions. Unions fought for these:  1. The weekend–The average work week in 1870 was 61 hours.

  1. Fair wages and relative income equality
  2. The end of child labor
  3. Widespread employer-based healthcare
  4. The Family and Medical Leave Act

President Abraham Lincoln said, “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.” In 1861, he told Congress, “Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Some people say that we don’t need unions today, but I would differ. Whenever 1% of the population possesses 99% of the wealth in America, the middle class has been almost destroyed and large companies are maximizing their profits by reducing or eliminating worker benefits—we need unions. I applaud the working people of America who have, through their unions, brought us so many of the benefits we enjoy. Maybe we need a few more parades to show our appreciation.

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FIVE THREATS TO AMERICAN FREEDOM

Freedom is not free. Thousands of Americans have fought and died that we might enjoy the freedom we have as Americans. It is ironic that we may lose those freedoms without a single shot being fired.

Some people believe that we will lose our freedom to external forces. Among those they list North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. We may be hated and despised by these foreign nations, but most know they would be greatly over-matched in any conflict with America.

The greatest threats to the loss of our freedom are internal, not external. We are a divided nation. We have not been as divided since the War Between the States. We are divided–conservatives vs liberals, democrats vs republicans, Trump supporters vs Trump detesters, the rich against the poor, the uneducated against the educated, and on and on it goes.

These divisions are not as they once were. They are vicious. The arguments against those who disagree with us are so intense that truth is often not a consideration.

Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He learned that from the Bible. That statement is as true today as it has ever been. We need to work hard at trying to find the “we” again. The “we” that says, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” (The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States).

Freedom of the press is in danger of being lost. Freedom cannot survive without freedom of the press. That’s why when dictators first come to power, they eliminate the free press and install their own government information bureaus. Controlling the people is easy when the government (dictator, king, leader of the nation, etc.) controls the press. Many nations today do not have a free press (Russia, North Vietnam, Iran, China, and North Korea just to name a few).

We are in danger of losing a free press in America due to the present administration in Washington. Donald Trump has repeatedly blasted the media, accusing them of being dishonest and fake. Senator John McCain has criticized Trump’s stand on the media as dangerous. In an interview with NBC News, he said attacking the press is how dictators get started. He is right.

Donald Trump may be a threat to our freedom. As mentioned earlier, he undoubtedly doesn’t like freedom of the press or freedom of speech, particularly if they don’t flatter him. International writer and political commentator, Art Berman, said of Trump, “His lies about voter fraud are a prelude to massive voter suppression.” He recently wrote in The Nation magazine: “Trump undermined the basic tenets of democracy in ways unseen by any presidential nominee. His supporters explicitly called for “racial profiling” at the polls; and his campaign openly boasted, “We have three major voter suppression operations underway to reduce voter turnout among African Americans, young women, and liberals.” Trump and the Republican party try to justify restrictions by spreading false claims about voter fraud, which is very rare. There were only two cases of voter impersonation in North Carolina between 2002 and 2012, out of 35 million voters.

The decline of religion and moral values is the greatest threat to America. Millions of Americans have abandoned or rejected the faith of their fathers. They don’t live by the Ten Commandments, much less the teachings of Jesus that say, “We are to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” If we continue down this path, our nation will join others in the graveyard of nations that have lost the values which once made them great.

THE WORST HEALTH CARE PLAN

First the worse, second the same, third the worst of all the Republican Health care bills.

There are several ways we can know when something is bad. One way is by watching the behavior of those doing bad. They become sneaky and secretive trying to hide their dirty deeds. The Republican Health Care Plan was developed in just such a way. It was developed by a small group of Republicans and kept secret from even most of their own party. Democrats were totally locked out of the process.

A second way we can tell when someone is trying to pull one over on us is when they try to rush us to sign on the bottom line. They don’t want us to know all the facts, or have time to think about it. Again, that was the way the Republican Plan was presented. They didn’t even want the Congressional Budget Office to have time to study their plan and share their findings. They still don’t.

A third way we can tell when someone is trying to give us something that isn’t good is when they don’t want it themselves. The newest version of the Republican health care bill exempts members of Congress and their staffs from parts of the plan. That means they will have greater coverage and more benefits than the rest of us. In other words, “We, your elected representatives are going to ram this plan down your throats, but we are not going to be in it.” With friends like these—who needs enemies?

Some of us may be asking, “What’s so bad about the bill?” Let’s count the ways.

In effect, it would eliminate the protection of people with pre-existing conditions by allowing insurance companies to sell skimpier plans and charge more to people with those conditions.

It will significantly cut financial aid to low and moderate-income users.

It will cut funding for Medicaid, the governments safety net plan for the sick and poor. It is estimated that 15 million people will lose Medicaid by 2026.

Combining smaller insurance requirements with less financial help for patients will make health care plans unaffordable for millions of sick Americans.

In a joint statement by America’s Health Care Plans, and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Association sent to R. Mitch McConnell, they said the plan was “simply unworkable in any form; it undermines the protection of those with pre-existing conditions, raises premiums and causes many to lose coverage.” At one time, President Trump said, “It is a mean plan.” It still is.

The cuts in Medicaid will force many rural hospitals to close, make it impossible for many to get nursing home care, and harm many others in different ways.

Even though McConnell claims the bill has been adjusted, the adjustments were small and insignificant. Make no mistake about it, if this bill is passed, it will create hardship, pain, and suffering for millions and death for some.

Recently Ted Cruz was taking heat about the bill in a television interview. He said, “We are all in this together.” No, we are not! Most Americans would never do to their neighbors what the Republican Party is trying to do to them in this bill.

American voters are not stupid. Most have good memories and will remember what Republicans have done to them when they go to the polls. Big changes are in the wind. Can we hear the moving vans coming?

Millions May Lose Their Healthcare

Call Your Senators

Don’t fail to act this time! The Senate is trying to work fast to pass a bill before the public knows what’s in it. This bill cuts Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars. That’s the program which provides healthcare coverage for 69 million people in America.

What senators hear now and in coming days will determine whether they pass their bill which would destroy the system that makes it possible for American’s most needy to have access to healthcare. The 23 million people that will be hit hard by this bill are seniors, children, veterans, people with disabilities, and people suffering from substance abuse and mental health conditions.

The Senate leadership plans to bring this vote without any hearings and very little notice. It would have a terrible impact on millions of lives and our economy. It is important that you speak against this bill right now.

Don’t be fooled by the Senate’s bill. The effects will be horrible. It will still end the guarantee of Medicaid. It will be 80% of what passed the House. The House bill cuts Medicaid by $850 million over ten years and leaves 23 million Americans without coverage.

Some senators may be hoping you’re not aware of these details, but the details of America’s healthcare policies mean life and death for many Americans. We aren’t talking about saving bills, or budgets; we are talking about the lives of men, women, and children, many of whom are your neighbors, friends, or family members, and one day could be you.

In Alabama, 875 million people are enrolled in Medicaid. The cuts in the Senate bill would leave the poorest of our population without healthcare choices.

The Alabama state budget would be hit hard. Alabama gets $3.8 billion from the Federal government for Medicaid. Over time, Federal funding would be cut and the state would be responsible for the difference in cost and funding. This would force the state to cut services, eligibility, or provider payments, potentially leaving thousands without healthcare.

Fifty percent of the Medicaid program goes to help children. One of every two children in the state is enrolled in Medicaid. Children enrolled are more likely to be better in school, miss less days, finish high school, go on to college, and earn more as adults. When we are talking about Medicaid, we are talking about the future of many of Alabama’s children.

In Alabama, the opioid death rate is 6.1 per 100,000. The state’s Medicaid program provides all three drugs used in the treatment of addiction. Cutting the program would hinder the state’s ability to cope with the problem and raise the death rate. In addition, the Senate bill would cause approximately 11,200 jobs lost in the health sector.

People of color will suffer more if the bill passes. They have worse healthcare access and outcomes than do whites. Over half of the non-elderly uninsured are people of color, and the black infant death rate is 2.4 times higher than whites. Medicaid cuts would only increase the gaps.

Rural communities will be hit hard by the bill. Approximately 1.7 million people live in rural areas, and 24% of them are enrolled in Medicaid. They have larger Medicaid populations because more people with disabilities live there, household incomes are lower and unemployment rates are higher.

Any proposal to reduce or cap Medicaid funding would have a terrible impact on women’s health. In Alabama, 61% of the enrollees are women. Cuts would limit access to maternity care, family planning, and other healthcare services such as Pap smears, sexually transmitted disease testing, and counseling for HIV and domestic violence. In our state, 65,000 women and girls are living in poverty. They cannot afford to lose Medicaid coverage.

Due to Medicaid expansion, 11 million low income Americans now have quality healthcare coverage. Don’t let them lose it! Call your senators today and ask them to vote against this bill.

A SAD COMMENTARY ON AMERICA AND DONALD TRUMP

The completion of the Dakota pipeline marks another sad chapter in America’s history. If we listen closely to the pipeline and the events around it, we can learn a great deal about our government and Donald Trump.

The pipeline builder was Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas-based energy company. They built an 1100-mile pipeline to move crude oil from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois. They estimated it would move nearly a half million barrels of crude oil a day. The company said no damage would be done to surrounding water sources or lands.

The pipeline was opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux, whose land is only about a half mile away from the pipeline. The tribe gets their water from a reservoir off the Missouri River along the pipeline route.

When the tribe sued to stop the pipeline they said, “The pipeline threatens our sacred lands and the health of 17 million people who rely on the Missouri River for water. They also claimed construction would destroy burial grounds that are “of enormous cultural importance to the tribe.” How would we like for some company to build a large pipeline across our family cemetery?

The pipeline says, “America’s new president Donald Trump is not an honorable man.” Honorable men keep their word and they don’t lie. He promised the country he would keep his business interests and his work as president separate, implying that he would not use the office of the president for personal gain. All the while, he was a $100 million investor and partner with the pipeline developers and stands to make several million dollars on the deal.

One of his first acts as president was to sign an executive order which removed all obstacles to the pipeline’s completion. No wonder he smiled while holding up the signed executive order for photographers.

The pipeline says, “When it comes to big money, people don’t matter much.” There were hundreds, maybe even thousands, who came to protest the pipeline. On one Wednesday, over 1.6 million had checked in via Facebook to show their support.

Protesters from the Standing Rock Sioux were joined by many other tribes and many non-Native American friends. Many solidarity demonstrations were held throughout the world. High profile supporters included Senator Bernie Sanders, actor Mark Ruffro, and actress Shailene Woodley. Reporter Amy Goodman and documentary filmmaker Dia Schosberg were arrested for documenting the demonstrations. People showed who and what they supported but in the end, it didn’t matter much.

The pipeline says, “The people had good reasons to demonstrate.” There have been a rising number of pipeline accidents in recent years. Doug Hayes, an attorney at the Sierra Club said, “These are the types of concerns the tribes have, and they’re frankly very well-founded. That’s why the pipeline’s original route which passed near Bismarck, the state’s capital, was changed.

North Dakota officials estimate more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into the Ash Coulee Creek, about 150 miles from the Dakota Access pipeline protest camps on December 5, 2017. True Cos operates at least three pipeline companies in three states. According to their reports submitted to the federal government, they have had 36 spills totaling 320,000 gallons, most of which have never been recovered.

It is commendable that so many people stood up for our native American friends for clean water, and a clean environment. Their courage cost them. They were attacked by police dogs, maced, and even jailed. They were forced to camp outdoors for weeks in bitter cold, snowy weather. But their suffering was not in vain. They made their point. They stood for the right. Our hope and prayer should be for more like them.

Want Change? Vote!

Many people don’t like what exists in their city, state, or nation. But sadly, they make no effort to change it. Some just give up on government and don’t participate in it. Others turn into gripers and complainers.

Citizens of Birmingham, do you like having a mayor and city council who are faced with problems of crime, education, and jobs yet spend most of their time arguing and fighting with each other over petty issues?

Citizens of Alabama, do you like it when your state government has been rated as one of the most crooked in America? The state has some of the best politicians that money can buy. Ethics among lawmakers is a joke. Violations are not clearly spelled out, and there is little enforcement, if any. Besides that, what bribed representative is going to tell on another one?

Citizens of America, do you like it that Donald Trump and the Republican party are working hard to pass a healthcare bill that will leave 32 million Americans without healthcare, close rural hospitals, and in general cause suffering and pain among millions, even death for some?

Do you like it that your government is being run by and for millionaires, rich corporations, and lobbyists more than by the majority of the American people? It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

There is a fix for all these dismal situations. It’s called voting, and a democracy cannot exist without it.

Voting gives you the power to change things. If you don’t like how the government is being run, voting is a simple way to change it. You can replace the old with someone who agrees with your views at both local and national levels.

Voting gets politicians working for you. They often look at voter turnouts before making important decisions. It benefits them to give favorable votes on the issues most voters in their districts support, if they want to be re-elected.

Voting is the only way for you to have a say in your government. By not voting, you are giving up your right to have a say in what is happening to you and your community.

When voters don’t turn out to choose their local and state governments, the government does not represent them. Ferguson Missouri is a good example of this. Not long ago, an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer. Several community groups complained loudly to public officials. However, city government did nothing to get justice for Michael Brown.

There was a reason the mayor, city council, and police department didn’t respond to the outcries of the community—most of the people in the community did not vote. A board member of the Missouri NAACP said “We warned you about these kinds of things. Who hires police officers? The police chief. Who hires the police chief? The mayor. Who hires the mayor? Who elects the city council folks?” The answer is clear—the voters.

The next time you hear someone griping and complaining about their government, ask them, “Did you vote?” If they say, “No,” tell them, “I don’t want to hear it. When you didn’t vote, you gave up your right to complain.”

If you don’t like it—change it—vote!

Santa’s Disappointing Gift

Have you ever been disappointed by what Santa brought you for Christmas?  One year, as a small boy, I was disappointed.

Ralphie, the little boy in the movie, “The Christmas Story,” and I had a lot in common. He wanted a BB gun, but not just any BB gun. He knew every detail of the gun he wanted. He wanted a Red Ryder, 200 shot, range model, air rifle.

Like Ralphie, I wanted a bicycle, but not just any bicycle. I wanted the one that was pictured on the back pages of the comic book I was reading. It was the most beautiful bike in the world. It was a red Schwinn with white trim. It had a seat over the rear fender where a friend could sit and ride with you. It had a light on the front fender where you could see when it got dark. The handle bar grips set it off perfectly. They had beautiful red and white streamers coming out of them. That bike was beautiful, and it looked fast. It was my dream that Christmas.

Like Ralphie, I told my parents and anyone else who would listen about it. I even made a trip to the downtown Pizitz department store, and rode the escalator to the third floor to talk to Santa. I stood in a long line until I had my chance to sit in his lap and tell him exactly what I wanted.

When Christmas morning came, I was filled with excitement. My mother came into my room and said, “Come on, Bobby. Get up and see what Santa Claus had brought you.” I rushed into the room, fully expecting to see my dream bike. When I saw the bicycle by the tree, the words flew out of my mouth, “That ain’t no Schwinn!” Disappointment reigned supreme.

What I saw was a big green ugly bicycle with the name “Collegiate” on it. It was definitely not the Schwinn of my dreams. When I tried to ride it, I found that my feet could barely reach the pedals, and I fell over several times. Disappointment reigned supreme.

However, as the years went by, I learned to love that big ugly “Collegiate” bicycle. One of my first jobs was delivering shoes for McClendon’s Shop Repair shop on First Avenue North near Woodlawn High School. I delivered shoes all over Woodlawn, and Woodlawn Highlands. When Mr. McClendon wanted lunch, I had to pedal all the way to Mack’s Barbeque stand on First Avenue North and Sixty-Fifth Street where the railroad tracks crossed the avenue. They had very good barbecue. I did all of this on that big ugly “Collegiate” bicycle.

My second job was delivering newspapers for the Birmingham Post-Herald. My route covered part of Woodlawn, and all of Woodlawn Highlands. Once again, that big ugly bike made it possible for me to work.

I kept that bike until I grew out of the bicycle stage. It never broke down, or needed repair. It was the best bike I ever owned and the only one.

As I look back across the years, I learned several lessons from my disappointing gift from Santa. They are as follows:

  1. Everything doesn’t have to be new, flashy, or as advertised in a comic book to be good.
  2. Parents sacrifice for their children, particularly at Christmas. My parents were poor, but I didn’t know it. They bought a used bicycle from our neighbors, and took it to the Woodlawn Bicycle Shop where it was checked out and painted green. This was the bike they gave me for Christmas. It was all they could afford.
  3. I have regretted my words of disappointment on that Christmas morning. My parents must have been disappointed in my reaction to their gift. However, they must have known that over the year, I came to love and appreciate that bike, and the ones who gave it to me.
  4. As a young adult, I became a Christian, and learned that Christmas was snot really about Santa Claus and gifts. It was, and still is, about God, the greatest gift giver, and His greatest gift—His Son Jesus Christ. No one who receives Him is ever disappointed. Merry Christmas!

Dr. Robert Wilkerson is a Christian author, retired minister, and public speaker who lives in the Birmingham area. drbobwilkerson@bellsouth.net