Norman Rockwell is dead at the easel, his paintbrush still hanging in the air.  All our traditions are in anaphylactic shock.  We chew together in the eye of the storm.  This turkey-day we gather around the steaming food to defend ourselves against what is outside.  We are seated facing inward, admiring the steaming aroma of the overkill.  We pretend for an hour that we don't notice what is behind us, the climate rattling the windows and the families knocking on our door. We express our gratitude for what?  That we have just a little more time; time for this meal.  The ritual meal gives us a feeling of false momentum; that we are logically coming from 10,000 meals going back through time.  This also suggests that there will be many more such celebrations to follow.  This is a lie and we know it. We all live in a gated community now.  We all live within a militarized zone, in the center of which is an extreme form of retail culture which storms our minds with smiling graphics, actors, anti-depressants, fossil-sourced packaging and carbon shipping.  This bizarre deathtrap is called our mainstream economy.  Here in 2015, after Beirut and Paris; after extinction sweeping through the natural world; after cops shooting unarmed black men sixteen times and cities hiding the evidence; after the language of candidates out-Hitlering the worst of the past - we take another bite.  We use the words of mild-mannered love.  We think of our family as a little culture with borders.  Well, should we be grateful that we can still harbor this fantasy? We hear the wind blowing against the side of our dining room.  We call it a super storm, hoping to make it as manageable as the super bowl or a super mall.  We are watching the geo-political super-storm of ISIS, Putin and Goldman Sachs, but we are belching the gas from the top of our packed stomachs and the problems of the world are on a screen on the wall.  We are not witnesses to the world, we are consumers of it.  It comes as information on a screen.  It is our most violent border.  We have ourselves to thank for corporate media.  Our mature response is to remain in a state of non-protest and keep shopping.  Cornel West is right when he says, “Everything is commodified.  All things are for sale.”  This is a state-sanctioned religion.  Extreme shopping is the psychic heart of modern racism.  The shopping drug makes us the kind of idiots that accept violence.  The Ferguson young people last year were right to march into Walmart and shout "Hands Up! Don't Shop!"  This year is a hard Thanksgiving.  Our thanks must leap from our immediate love all the way over Trump and ISIS and toxin-coated seeds of 200 mile-an-hour wind.  Our thanks flies out to Chelsea Manning, the truth-teller alone in her cell.  Our thanks go to the families who miss their murdered loved ones, the survivors of state violence from bullets, drone bombs or Monsanto.  Our thanks go to the piano player at the Paris theater; to the all-night campers in the Minnesota cold at Precinct #4, and to the police who are beginning to have, in the midst of their thanks, doubts about their leaders.             The sun is rising in our windows on Thanksgiving Day in the USA.  It's getting warmer for the homeless here in New York.  My thanks go out to them, and the 60 million homeless who walk hundreds of miles toward militarized horizons.  We must escape to all of you, cross the borders from the shopping side, and give thanks to you for our freedom. 

I’ve probably met 5000 homeless people. Actually, I’ve probably met way more than 5000, but it’s difficult to count. Don’t believe me? Just ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; they get their count off by millions every year.  But me knowing thousands of homeless people isn’t really surprising; I’ve worked with people experiencing homelessness for years.

In fact, when I ran for Vice President of the United States, after volunteering to help the homeless for a decade or more, I stayed in homeless shelters all across the country. Since then I’ve done a number of cross-country stints with my dear friend and national advocate Diane Nilan. And then there are all those people each of us meets every day just living our lives in the United States. These folks don’t admit to anyone that they are homeless. My guess – a very educated guess – is that 2% of the population of these United States has no home. That’s one out of fifty, in the world’s wealthiest country, that lacks one of life’s most integral necessities. 

Now I’m not just writing this to get you to wonder – the next time you’re at a fast food joint or power retailer – if the person waiting on you has a safe warm place to lay their head. No, I’m telling you this because will all my experience for all these years, I’d never met someone who took a bus to a homeless shelter from another part of the country, until now.

You know, it’s honestly one of those urban legends: Groups or organizations or municipalities load a bunch of homeless people onto a bus and send them somewhere they’ve never been before, just to get rid of them. Nope, most folks in power don’t want to spend even that much money on a homeless person, when they could much more easily ignore them or simply criminalize poverty and drive them further underground.

Of course, I’m not counting people who got a bus ticket to go home. Nah, I’ve seen a lot of that. Most recently, in the autumn of 2014, I was in Williston, North Dakota – where the oil boom draws would be workers searching for living wage jobs but property prices have driven record numbers of these migrants into homelessness. In Williston I spoke with Kristin Oxendahl of The Salvation Army who explained that her largest budget item is bus tickets to send folks home.

Yeah, no. I’m talking about a person or persons who got loaded onto a bus and sent somewhere they’ve never been, where no one they know lives, just so they are no longer a bother to the community where they used to live.

Like I said, I’d never met anyone like that until this week: Thanksgiving week, to be exact. This guy walked into my shelter after the church he belonged to in Sacramento, California bought him a bus ticket to Carlisle, Pennsylvania because "there's a lot of jobs. There's alot farm labor and warehouses."

Has he found work? No. Perhaps his severe mental illness is part of the problem. Or maybe the mental illness that plagues his country is really to blame. You’d have to be some sort of sick SOB to send a mentally ill man clear across the country – to a town where he knows nobody – looking for work. You’d have to be the same sort of crazy “I got mine” character that would deny sanctuary to people who face torture and death in their own country.

And you'd have to be a really derranged freak to build your presidential campaign on such seflishness and ignorance.

So you see, it ain’t just the Syrians we hate. Basically, we hate everybody.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a sprawling, nearly eight thousand-word story detailing for readers the fate of those who die alone in the Big Apple.

Using the life and death of George Bell, who passed away some days before he was discovered in his home this past July, the Times recounts the painstakingly arduous process that New York City public employees embark upon to make certain the estates of people like Bell end up in the hands of its rightful beneficiaries.

In the case of Bell – spoiler alert – distant relatives and friends he had not communicated with in many years inherited his nearly half a million dollar estate no doubt surprised both to have been named beneficiaries in the first place and also that Bell could have had such ample means considering his modest lifestyle.

George Bell lived an obscure life and like thousands of other New Yorkers each year, he had no close family or friends to help settle his estate when the time came. While Bell’s beneficiaries were eventually united with their share of his estate, an untold number of Americans never learn that a loved one who has passed has made arrangements for them leaving behind life insurance policies, bank accounts, and other property.

By law, insurers and banks are required to try and find those entitled to this “unclaimed property.” How hard these companies actually work to carry out the decedent’s wishes is debatable. If they are unable to find the beneficiaries, they are required to turn the money over to state unclaimed property departments.

Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but all too often life insurance companies are unable to find the beneficiaries of a policy. If they fail to turn the money over to state unclaimed property departments and instead choose to sit on it, they are unjustly rewarded with the ability to continue profiting from the investment of someone who is now deceased.

In order to make sure this does not happen, states are authorized to audit these companies and often contract with professional non-government auditors to help assure compliance with state laws.

In a perfect world, that would be the end of this story but powerful corporate interests are working hard to quietly influence a little-known commission with the power to reshape state unclaimed property laws. These interests are single minded in their focus to make it far more difficult for states to return unclaimed property to its owners.

According to its website, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) “provides states with non-partisan, well conceived, and well drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas” of state law. In other words, this arcane non-profit organization gives states model legislation on a host of issues where having similar laws from state to state can be important.

The ULC’s involvement with state unclaimed property law dates back more than 60 years. Most recently, it made revisions to the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act in 1995, stating at the time that the measure was aimed at preventing “ordinary people for the most part, from losing their rights to property that is justifiably theirs. It is theirs because they earned it, inherited it, or were given it. Those entities and institutions that hold property are its custodians, not its owners.”

Now, almost exactly 20 years later, the ULC has convened a drafting committee to revise the Act. If this committee’s first round of suggested changes is any indication, it is the interests of the aforementioned “ordinary people” that appear to be in jeopardy. Since about 40 states have enacted some version of the ULC’s unclaimed property legislation, efforts to water down safeguards that protect hardworking Americans could have a disastrous impact.

A letter sent to drafting committee members by several national consumer watchdog organizations earlier this month detailed several of the “detrimental revisions” being considered noting they “would be harmful to consumers throughout the country, making it more likely that they will lose property that today would be found and reclaimed.”

That such dramatic changes to the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act are being considered is not by accident. Powerful special interests are actively pressuring committee members to alter the model legislation in their favor. Among those leading the charge are the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), whose member companies stand to make a windfall if laws are changed making it more difficult for states to recover unclaimed property and reunite it with its rightful owners. The ACLI’s efforts have the backing of America’s leading corporate special interest group – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, Michael Houghton, a longtime ULC commissioner responsible for co-chairing the this drafting committee has fought to undermine state unclaimed property laws and works as a partner in a law firm whose clients would benefit greatly if the Act is gutted. In fact, a few years ago, Houghton co-authored an article praising state legislation to weaken Delaware’s unclaimed property law, indicating that while it did not go far enough “to completely address complaints [of] the national business community,” it was a step in the that direction “and hopefully the start of a process.”

It is hardly a surprise then that the “national business community” has taken such a keen interest in Houghton’s drafting committee.

The sad truth is that the Uniform Law Commission’s Drafting Committee to Revise the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act is considering a number of changes that would keep beneficiaries separated from property that is rightfully theirs for as long as possible and thus enabling big corporations like life insurance companies and banks to make even bigger profits.

That means, for example, hardworking men and women who do not know they are entitled to a claim on an insurance policy taken out by a loved one who has passed away will not receive money when it might be needed most. Worse still, these loved ones will lose the peace of mind they thought they had purchased with their policy.

Americans win when big corporations hand over unclaimed property to the states. Because states are legally obligated to return property to the owner whenever it is claimed, they make it easier for consumers to search through websites to see if they are entitled to unclaimed property they may not have even known existed.

If the ULC’s drafting committee is guided in such a way that it betrays a conflict of interest in its leadership or succumbs to pressure from industry, it is the “ordinary people” who will lose what they rightly earned, inherited, or were given. And it is precisely this type of corporate excess that this Uniform Unclaimed Property Act was initially developed to guard against.

This past week's FOX primetime debate showcased 10 well-fed stuffed suits bloviating about their talents. A defensive Donald Trump insisted that America's angry because of political correctness. Using this to justify his history of churlish commentary about women, he and the rest of the onstage boys club ratcheted up their attack on a woman's right to govern her own body.

And while several of the candidates' parents are immigrants - Ted Cruz himself was born in another country - they fanned the flames of Trumps recent xenophobic rants. They feigned that it's about undocumented workers, but it's not. If they really wanted to stop shortcut migration, they'd go after the employers not the employees.

Hell, I ain't no brain surgeon (I used to believe it was improper to use ain't in public discourse, but after Ted Cruz used it in the debate, I figure it's ok to employ poor grammar now) but even the brain surgeon on stage - Ben Carson - couldn't come out against torture, even though empirical science shows it doesn't work. So, it would appear that between woman bashing, foreigner hating, and counterintuitive waterboarding, the real winner of the first presidential debate was the selfish, ugly, angry American.  Come out, come out where ever you are. Dust off your drooling chin; it's cool to be cruel in America.

Only one guy on stage veered away from the knuckle dragging pack long enough to voice some sort of compassion for the people in the country he'd like to lead. Ohio Governor John Kasich spoke a word or two about elevating the standards for those not doing so well. Of course he didn't mention that back home, under his administration, food stamp recipients must be employed to eat. Yep, in Ohio, if you're under 50 and single there's a work requirement for the federal food program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Of course even Kasich's not completely heartless. In 16 of Ohio's 88 counties, they've waved the employment requirement, because the unemployment rate is so dang high. 

I work with some of the poorest, least employable people in America. They aren't tough to employ because they're rotten people. They're unemployable because they don't have regular access to transportation, communication, or shelter. And, they aren't even counted in that unemployment rate. They've fallen off the radar, and try as they may, they can't get back on it without help. And in Kasich's Ohio, they can't get food either.

I suppose if all those lies about poor people moving to the communities with the best benefits were true, all the destitute hungry people in Ohio would have relocated to the food stamp friendly 16 counties by now. But they haven't.

Last week I drove a 73-year-old man to an appeal hearing. It's my job to advocate for the folks who stay at our shelter. And when a hearing is scheduled for an elderly gentleman that's 25 miles away from where he lives, it only makes sense that he's going to need a ride. He could have had a phone hearing, but he's got a number of disabilities, and he gets confused. 

This old fella's never had a car. He's gone to all 48 states on his bicycle. He loves maps. He collects them, although that hasn't always worked so well because he's been homeless so much and he loses his stuff. His favorite maps are the old ones that gas stations used to give away. 

A kid born with special needs in the 1940's didn't have too many options. His dad had survived the Bataan Death March but died in a factory explosion back home when this old fella was still a young teen. His mom loved him very much, but she had other children who needed her too. He began to drift.

I filed the request for medical assistance and food stamps back in February. He'd gotten the food stamp card, but he told me that often it doesn't work. We walked into the hearing and sat across from an administrative judge and a woman representing the county. 

The county said that the old fella didn't qualify for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) - what used to be welfare before President Clinton's welfare reform - because he didn't have young children, he wasn't pregnant, and as an elderly person he wasn't blind. Only blind old people can get cash assistance in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Oh, and because of his social security benefit, he made too much money anyway. In Pennsylvania you can't get welfare if you make $250 - or more - a month. 

The woman from the county asked him when he started receiving social security. He couldn't remember but it was about 40 years ago, since his seizures got so bad that he kept waking up in a hospital. 

Which brought us to our other question. In April he'd been approved for medical assistance to pay what Medicare didn't pay. But he had a lot of bills from before then. The woman from the county said she could pay back to December and to send her the bills. She didn't know why he hadn't gotten a letter telling him that.

As for his food stamp card not working: the woman from the county said that sometimes cashiers don't tell a person that they've tried to spend too much money. They just tell them that the card won't work. He said it's embarrassing to leave all his food on the conveyer belt. She said to ask the cashier to tell him how much he needs to remove from the total so that he can afford some of the food. You could see the dread in his face, having to beg a clerk for help after he or she clearly hadn't offered any. 

The woman from the county told him that he could just "check his balance on line" before he went shopping and add his purchases up as he went through the store. Well-meaning as that advice was, it was pretty out of touch. 

Mean clerks and elderly going hungry. Poverty and Medicare co-pays. Information on-line and inadequate housing. It's an ugly dysfunctional reality, perpetuated by ugly angry Americans, and now they have a bevy of blowhards begging to be their commander-in-chief.

Ho hum, just another fundamentalist "Jesus Freak” day of joy in the U.S. Air Force, spewing out another major illicit act of despicable denigration towards the Constitution of the United States. This latest anti-Constitutional outrage comes to us from Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), host to the USAF’s 27th Special Operations Wing (SOW), which lies on the outskirts of Clovis in my home state of New Mexico near the border with west Texas. Hold on to your seats, folks, because this situation is “explosive” in the figurative sense of cluster bombs peppering the landscape – where you discover one, you can be sure that dozens (possibly hundreds) of others lie in close range. As far as the combustible mix of unlawful fundamentalist Christian proselytizing and secular military duty is concerned, the USAF is an absolute and abominable minefield – and this latest so-called “Gospel Explosion” at Cannon AFB is a putrid, and sadly typical, example of command leadership streaking haphazardly right through that minefield.

Please permit me to explain. It won’t take long.

At the beginning of this month, the 1st of July, 2015, USAF Master Sergeant Keith L. Lucas e-mailed a flyer to his subordinates promoting an on-base, sectarian religious proselytizing event called “Gospel Explosion” and explicitly "requested” (in other words, ORDERED in military chain-of command parlance) that they “please post everywhere and spread the word… thanks!!” In the email thread forwarded to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (the sole civil rights organization devoted to fighting violations of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state in the U.S. military), various additional senior USAF leaders at Cannon AFB effusively affirm MSgt. Lucas’s original “Gospel Explosion spread the word” directive, with Master Sergeant Marvin Jimerson Jr. even instructing all 27th SOW First Sergeants on base to “Please disseminate within your units.”

Now, taken on its own, we have absolutely NO problem with "Gospel Explosion”(s), implosions, propulsions, or eruptions. “Gospel Explosion” is clearly an Evangelical Christian proselytizing event, and that’s perfectly fine and dandy. Thankfully, this country was founded on the freedom to worship whatever faith (or no faith) we choose, provided, however, that we do so ONLY in the proper time, place, and manner – and this specific stricture especially holds true for the brave men and women serving in the United States Air Force and throughout all of the armed forces and DoD. (Fun Fact: MRFF has had very senior DoD installation commanders directly reach out for our advice and counsel about how to manage such sectarian religious proselytizing events on military bases, well before they even occur, without running afoul of the Constitution and/or the full spectrum of DoD regulations. Whenever we have been asked to provide counsel in managing events just like “Gospel Explosion”, there have NEVER been any issues of unconstitutional breaches at all, and all of these Christian proselytizing events have transpired completely devoid of any MRFF client complaints or incidents.)

However, what we DO have a MAJOR problem with is the fact that the Air Force command leadership has grown accustomed to brazenly violating numerous Department of Defense and Air Force directives, regulations, and instructions in an airy, willy-nilly fashion. If the Master Sergeants at Cannon AFB want to promote participation in decidedly Christian gospel events, they need to leave this task to the USAF chaplaincy rather than unconstitutionally misappropriating that role for themselves. Not only is command staff usurping a position meant for the chaplaincy, but they are also trampling on the vital religious rights of helplessly subordinate Air Force personnel by blanketing them in “invitations" to attend events that are exclusively oriented towards people of the evangelical version of the Christian faith. Indeed, it’s a cluster bomb of illegality.

Our civil rights foundation has already been contacted by 7 Air Force NCO/Officer clients at Cannon AFB – 6 of whom are of the Christian faith, the seventh of whom was raised in Christian faith traditions – regarding this outrageous travesty. The fact that they reached out to MRFF, rather than to their own USAF chain of command, indicates the pathetically sorry state of the command climate on base.

(Hey, 27th SOW Commander Colonel Benjamin R. Maitre, are you listening there, brother? You’re the most senior Air Force Commander at Cannon AFB. This shameful disaster is on YOU, sport!)

Simply put, our MRFF clients justly fear reprisal and retribution for protesting their military superiors’ illegal, unconstitutional activities. That’s why they come to us for help. As I stated recently in another article written about a similar Constitutional outrage, “To the USAF, regulations and Constitutional provisions appear to mean as much as would a few flies buzzing around at a family picnic; to wit, a mere trifle easily disregarded and ignored with impunity.”

The ignored USAF rules of official engagement here are as clear as the blue skies around Clovis, New Mexico. These official USAF mandates were authoritatively and initially issued years ago by no less than the Office of the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. On September 1, 2011, then-Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, never one to willingly court even an iota of “religious” controversy, nevertheless issued a truly watershed memorandum for all USAF commanders that stated plainly:

“Although commanders are responsible for these programs, they must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion. Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs.”

Do you see how it was NOT the Chaplains, but the Cannon AFB official Command Chain that conducted the unlawful “notifying” here, my friends?

The essence of this aforementioned 2011 memo from General Schwartz was essentially codified into official Air Force orders when it was followed in August 2012 by a similarly crystal-clear set of regulatory standards expected of all Air Force personnel worldwide. In Air Force Instruction 1-1, USAF top brass laid down the letter of the law in regards to religious proselytizing:

“2.12. Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.” (emphasis added)

I ask you all, is it even reMOTELY possible to reasonably and rationally view the Cannon AFB senior leadership’s collective clarion calls to “please post everywhere and spread the word” (as well as “please disseminate within your units”) regarding their evangelical Christian “Gospel Explosion” event as anything OTHER than a direct breach of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12? No. It is not. In point of fact, if this particular disgusting display of unbridled Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism by Cannon AFB’s chain of command does NOT violate this bedrock Air Force regulation then NOTHING ever will.

Look, our fight isn’t to remove all vestiges of religious faith from the ranks of the United States Armed Forces, as our deliberately lying, fundamentalist Christian foes claim. No, our fight remains one for democracy, fairness, equal protection and justice in the face of those who viciously abuse our servicemembers and the sanctity of the oaths taken by those sworn to protect and defend our Constitution. Had USAF airmen asked for MRFF’s help in order to ensure that “Gospel Explosion” was advertised and occurred in a lawful time, place, and manner, MRFF would have utilized all of its efforts to so ensure that result. But that did not happen this time.
Of course MRFF’s aggressive civil rights activism infuriates those hordes in the Christian Taliban. Lest we forget, these religious fanatics are wholly (and “Holy”) devoted towards the furtherance of their seditious agenda of maintaining, at all costs, the unmitigated supremacy of unlawful, theocratic, Christian fundamentalist arrogance, primacy, and oppression. Behold the egregiously unconstitutional time, place, and manner breaches by the Cannon AFB command leadership in promoting “Gospel Explosion”!

This “Gospel Explosion” imbroglio horrendously highlights, yet again, for the entire world to see, a desperately dire crisis of out-of-control, fundamentalist Christian/command climate saturation in the U.S. military in general and the USAF in particular.

Religious extremism, thy name be Cannon AFB and the 27th SOW.

When will Americans FINALLY demand that their armed forces respect the Constitutional religious rights of ALL of its war fighters and not ONLY those who embrace “the right kind of Christianity”?

Perhaps even more importantly, when will Americans FINALLY demand visible and meaningful punishment for those military leaders who willfully savage the religious rights of their otherwise defenseless subordinates with total impunity?

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. "€œMikey"€ Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra"€ Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side"€ (2006, St. Martin'€™s Press) and "€œNo Snowflake in an Avalanche"€ (2012, Vireo).

Color me unsurprised! In the two weeks that have transpired since the Supreme Court’s civil rights “thunderbolt” upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states, the fundamentalist Christian religious right has been in the midst of a very public state of apoplectic hysteria. Within the United States military, a far less public war has been raging – a war that is being one-sidedly waged by extremist religious bigots versus LGB service members whose only desire is to serve their country faithfully while enjoying the rights and protections afforded them by the United States Constitution.

However, these LGB servicemembers have borne the brunt of concerted attacks by the shock troops of anti-Constitutionalism and anti-gay bigotry – many of whom are activist, Evangelical, fundamentalist military chaplains who are scandalously playing the “victim” card, claiming to be guarding against some fictitious “War on Christianity” in which I, the author, have been dubbed a “Field General.”

And now, thanks to my call to sack the faux ‘victimized’ chaplain-cretins within the chaplaincy who uphold bigoted patterns of behavior versus LGB service members, I’ve even earned the opprobrious title of “Mikey Weinstein, longtime pro-homosexual activist.” Oh well, that’s an homage and badge I’ll gladly wear with pride! After all, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) represents 903 LGBT military clients out of a total of 42,054 current Sailor, Soldier, Marine, Airman, Cadet/Midshipman, National Guard, Reserve, and veteran clients, and I am eager to assure anyone that they are JUST as good at their military tasks as their non-LGB counterparts.

However, as important as this fact is, it’s really beside the point. For Constitutional defenders within the military, this whole “debate” – stripped of all hype, hysteria, and prejudice – is an extremely simple question of where the line must be drawn between church and state.

First and foremost, when the publicly stated religious beliefs of a military chaplain cross the linebetween, on the one hand, stating a theological position and, on the other hand, giving his/her military congregation what could reasonably be perceived as 'anti-LGB marching orders', there is an extremely dire Constitutional violation of the highest order of concern. 

There is a HUGE difference between beliefs and the actions that are a result of those beliefs. The former is known as “prejudice”, while the latter is what we know as “bigotry.” For example, let’s say that a military member harbors an intense internal hatred of his or her non-white servicemembers, or of women. It would be one thing to simply HOLD those personal views – thankfully, the Constitution protects Americans from punishment for “thought crimes” – but it is quite another question entirely for that same military member to ACT in their official capacity ON those beliefs. Again, prejudice versus bigotry. In this case, armed forces members can and MUST be held accountable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Another example can be found in recent history, in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, 2009. It was there that Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, then-chief of U.S. Military chaplains in Afghanistan, sickeninglycalled upon service members to proselytize and convert their fellow U.S. service members to his flavor of Christianity, claiming that, like American Special Forces, “We do the same thing as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom.” As an evangelical Christian, of course Hensley is entitled to have those theological beliefs. However, as a an employee of the U.S. government’s Department of Defense (DoD), Hensley’s deeds catapulted him far beyond the realm of professionalism and were absolutely and illicitly unbecoming of an ostensible military “professional” sworn to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Instead, he revealed himself to be a nefarious Constitutional outlaw no less hostile to U.S. values than the Taliban itself. 

The seminal question here revolves around the specific compelling governmental interest that guides the legislative, judicial and executive/regulatory actions of the U.S. government and the DoD. Does the DoD have a compelling interest in coddling the backwards bigotry of fundamentalist Christian dinosaurs who dwell within the dark crevices of the armed forces? Is it THEIR free speech and worship rights that are of paramount governmental concern to the U.S. Armed Forces? Obviously not. Quite on the contrary, the ONE and ONLY compelling governmental interest of the DoD in regards to the U.S. Armed Forces is to ensure the optimization – indeed, the maximization – of military readiness and mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, and safety. In a crystal clear U.S. Supreme Court ruling made over four decades ago, even the ultra-conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist fully agreed opining for the majority:

“This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society… While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. … The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it… Speech [to include religious speech] that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command.  If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected. (Emphasis added)

Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 1974

In other words, what might otherwise be a violation of basic Constitutional rights for civilians may indeed NOT be a violation of the rights of those serving in the U.S. Military due, once again, to the all-critical, compelling governmental interest described above.

What is the compelling governmental interest in retaining the services of a chaplain? After all, chaplains are ostensibly meant to provide comfort, counseling, and to nurture good morale in the temporal hell of modern warfare. HOW exactly does the public preaching of homophobia and the morale-wracking agitation of anti-gay sentiment serve that purpose?

The only Constitutional stance on this issue that makes sense from a legal standpoint is MRFF’soutspoken and forthright demand that if bigoted chaplains are too cowardly to stand by their “convictions” and fold up their uniforms, turn in their papers, and get the hell out of the military chaplaincy, then the DoD must do its job and “expeditiously cleanse itself of the intolerant filth that insists on lingering in the ranks of our armed forces.” 

That said, now please listen up; nobody is trying to interfere with the Constitutional rights of military chaplains to hold PERSONAL views that are racist, sexist, and homophobic, etc. Chaplains preach their views according to their denominational endorsing agencies dictates and precepts, that much is understood. However, if chaplains believe that they MUST publicly and visibly preach to their troops a message that their LGB comrades are sexual-deviant “sinners” because of their “choice” to be gay, then these views are fatally noxious and totally destructive to unit cohesion, good order, morale, and discipline in the armed forces. Why should we tolerate chaplains or ANY other military members who, on the taxpayer’s dime, denigrate and disrespect our fine LGB service members? Some of these LGB service members are Generals and Admirals commanding, in defense of America’s national security, vast numbers of personnel and resources (including weapons of mass destruction). It literally massacres unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline et al. to allow chaplains or any other military personnel to describe LGB leaders at ANY level as hellfire-destined, shameful sinners whose perverted sexual orientation is a matter of having “flagrantly and willfully rebelled as a choice against God”?

The answer is that we have NO reason to tolerate such hateful bigotry masquerading as a Constitutionally protected religious freedom, and we have EVERY reason to decisively root it out in the interests of maintaining the U.S. Military’s Prime Directive – the compelling governmental interest (there’s that phrase again!) of maximizing military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, and safety.

Oh, but my friends we’ve seen this very same crap before. Almost seventy years ago (1948), President Truman ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to become racially integrated. There was this VERY same predictable outrage of currently serving military members, many of them claiming to be devout Christians, including Christian chaplains, that such an Executive Order from the President was sacrilegious and blasphemous to their religious convictions and biblical worldview. Too bad. Truman made it clear that those claiming “religious” violations would either have to alter their vicious prejudices, hold their vile tongues, demonstrably change their attitudes or be voluntary/involuntary separated from the armed forces because a new day of equality, freedom and justice had just arrived at the DoD.

Now, thanks to the United States Supreme Court, yet ANOTHER new day of righteousness dawns for the DoD. It beckons us to remember the DoD’s Prime Directive to ensure its military mission for all Americans; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Sikh, Hindu, Wiccan et al., black or white, male or female, straight or LGB.

Seriously, is this REALLY so hard to understand? It is ONLY by fulfilling this precisely defined and delineated compelling governmental interest that our armed forces can concomitantly maximize its efficiency in upholding American national security and protecting the full panoply of Constitutional rights enjoyed by the rest of us as civilians.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. "€œMikey"€ Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra"€ Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side"€ (2006, St. Martin'€™s Press) and "€œNo Snowflake in an Avalanche"€ (2012, Vireo).

However, as long as these faux “victimized” chaplains insist on accepting a government paycheck from us, the American taxpayers, while nurturing and maintaining the state of antagonism between their religion and the sexual/gender identities of servicemembers, then they don’t belong in the military. At this stage, the only honorable thing that these losers can do is to fold up their uniforms, turn in their papers, and get the hell out of the American military chaplaincy.

The clouds are parting and the sun is beginning to shine today, as great arching rainbows signal the looming departure of a long, violent storm. As anybody who has turned on the television or logged onto the net knows, today’s Supreme Court decision has cracked across America’s sky with the tremendous energy of a lightning bolt, lifting aspirations and opening vistas for the LGBTQ community.

Oh, but the ruling doesn’t simply apply to civilians alone – the Supreme Court decision will permit same-sex marriage not only in all 50 states in the union, but on ALL United States Military bases as well. For the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the only organization devoted solely to fighting the scourge of fundamentalist Christian extremism, the monumental importance of this occasion CANNOT be overstated enough. Indeed, our LGBTQ client base of over 900 servicemembers has been ecstatic, and I can scarcely write this opinion piece due to the fact that my phone is absolutely ringing off the hook with phone calls from exuberant servicemembers. Expect to hear wedding bells ring joyously across chapels as same-sex couples are joined in matrimony at military installations across the globe!

Of course, not all are celebrating the ruling. The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer (a big fan of yours truly) has unleashed a torrent of hilariously outraged tweets about “Satan dancing with delight” and how, “from a moral standpoint,” June 26 is equivalent to September 11, 2001.  One Texan preacher has even sunk to the hideously pathetic depths of threatening self-immolation in reaction to the marriage equality ruling. Glenn Beck is promising the martyrdom and self-sacrifice (sound familiar?) of tens of thousands of pastors. Even a solid contingent of right-wing African-American Christian clergy are having a field day displaying their abject shamelessness, pledging “to do the same thing we did for the civil rights movement,” – basically, to begin a campaign of civil disobedience signaling their anger at “the politicians and courts…. [taking] God out of this country.”

Imagine the grinding teeth and anguished moans emanating from the benighted quarters of Christian fundamentalism within the U.S. military! What will become of their once-ironclad dominance of fundamentalist Christian privilege within the Department of Defense? After all, this same Pentagon allows the notorious anti-gay bigot and charlatan “gay conversion therapy expert” Dr. Mike Rosebush to retain employment as a civilian leader at the United States Air Force Academy. The armed forces chaplaincy is deserving of additional scrutiny – witness the fact that bitterly hateful homophobic extremists like USAF Chaplain (Capt.) Sonny Hernandez, 445th Airlift Wing Chaplain Corps was named as “Officer of the Year” just this past April. Hernandez is just one of many chaplains who feel so threatened by equality that they will bitch and moan at every opportunity about an absolutely absurd and fictitious “hostile work environment for Christians” within the military.

These pernicious bigots must stop trying to claim “Christian Victimization” when, in point of fact, what they are seeing is “Christian Equalization”.

What truly troubles these cretinous sentinels of vile prejudice and hate-mongering bigotry is the fact that this ruling will go down historically as the watershed moment which may indeed shatter the spine of the Religious Right in the U.S. military, whose prior viselike grip over the chaplaincy has formed the key obstacle to social progress within the Armed Forces. Cry us a river!

Nobody is arguing that these losers don’t have a right to their religious beliefs – that right is sacrosanct, and is backed by the highest law of the land – the U.S. Constitution. However, as long as these faux “victimized” chaplains insist on accepting a government paycheck from us, the taxpayers, while nurturing and maintaining the state of antagonism between their religion and the sexual/gender identities of servicemembers, then they don’t belong in the military. At this stage, the only honorable thing that these losers can do is to fold up their uniforms, turn in their papers, and get the hell out of the American military chaplaincy. If they are unwilling or too cowardly to do so, then the Department of Defense must expeditiously cleanse itself of the intolerant filth that insists on lingering in the ranks of our armed forces.

The extreme religious right’s resistance to today’s landmark Supreme Court ruling reminds me of the almost identical opposition, also speciously based on bible-based religious grounds, which President Truman faced from within the U.S. military when issuing Executive Order No. 9981, Desegregating the Military on July 26, 1948.  Order 9981 stated “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin”. If it was wrong for military chaplains to protest Truman’s desegregation order in 1948 (and it obviously WAS), then it is just as equally wrong now for them to oppose gay marriage/rights in today’s military.

The struggle doesn’t end here. Illustrating the towering challenges to justice that lie ahead, the Supreme Court ruling that signaled the triumphant right to marriage equality comes on the heels of the tragic suicide of U.S. Air Force Veteran Jess Shipps, a 31-year old transgendered woman who was an active leader in SPARTA, a support and advocacy group for transgendered servicemembers. Her death was largely borne of the type of bigotry enshrined into Department of Defense regulations, specifically DoD Instruction 6130.03, which deems those undergoing gender-confirming treatment to be medically non-adaptable to military environments.

However, today we celebrate. Witness how the tide turns when those suffering from oppression persistently demand and fight for their rights, regardless of the hatred and animosity they face as a result of their unwillingness to tolerate the intolerable! Lady Liberty is truly beaming with PRIDE today.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. "€œMikey"€ Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra"€ Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side"€ (2006, St. Martin'€™s Press) and "€œNo Snowflake in an Avalanche"€ (2012, Vireo).

It should be easy (and very important) to mock the G-7 politicians who put off the conversion from fossil fuels to 2100, which would seem to be after the apocalypse.  NGO’s like Oxfam would counter the national leader’s promise with the usual hopeful-but-scolding public statement.  But it is the artists who needed to respond, especially comedians.  Russell Brand must have said something, god bless him, but I missed it.  What I noticed was a deafening silence.  Extractive corporations everywhere let out a big sigh. 

The crucial mockery went missing because the cultural world is the most established and tragic climate denier.  Why?  Why would the arts be conservative on the climate?  Think of all the performances that challenged entrenched power.   Remember all those revolutions? …the Dadaists and rock and roll, Charley Chaplin in the Great Dictator, the Ghost Dance at the end of the Indian Wars, Sam Cook’s gift of “A Change Is Gonna Come” to Dr. King, the folk-singers and poets of the Peace Movement.

At this moment in time, we have such an overwhelming climate-silence in the United States that you have to look around and wonder – where are the censors?  We hear nothing about the earth for months on end.  No TV, no music, nothing viral.  The public response only comes when a natural disaster hits us so hard that we are forced to look away from the animated disasters in our video games…

Ten months have passed since the Peoples Climate March and the enduring activist event in the USA is Black Lives Matter.  The PCM was officially permitted and had little power.  The movement against racism and militarism in American police is boiling into a revolution. Black Lives Matter is in the streets, flash-mobbing into symphony halls, super malls and Grand Central Station.  The climate movement is officially indoors, law-abiding, not-getting-your-hands-dirty. 

The recent climate drama by an American artist is Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”.   The space thriller accepts the climate apocalypse of the Earth and it is lavishly deathy.  But multiplexes are like museums at this point.  The consumer experience is so dominating that the climate emergency dramatized inside the building doesn’t seem to stick with us as we leave.   Rather, we get purged by all the special effects and stagger from the theater having had all the climate change we can handle.  The outside world of the streets – where social movements have always taken place – is reduced to commuting, headphone-wearing, and the visuals of corporate products.

We know how silent we have been when the cry of a real Planet Crier breaks through.  Suddenly there is Gezi Park with its all-night piano in the 606 trees. Yeb Sano cries in front of the power suits at the Warsaw climate conference.  The Chilean gauchos-and-environmentalists ride horses for days to save the Patagonian Rivers.  Women with trapeze skills hang in bat outfits from refinery towers in New South Wales.  The Maldives parliament holds a meeting underwater in scuba gear.  The Nigerian mothers back down Chevron with their nakedness.  Pussy Riot dances on the altar.

Meanwhile, back in the land of consumerism, we artists aren’t getting that far.  We have crowds of books and docs about the earth and they educate us.  In 2015, activism must follow education, or why learn?  The best artists have work in museums, iPhones, and colleges, but again, it’s 2015 - activism must be the point.  We’ve got a lot of facts, aesthetics, perspective – what we lack is the actual change.  Chelsea Manning has more to do with a climate movement than another teach-in at the Sierra Club.

There was a day when the comedians, songwriters, and writers were the heralds of change in the West.  Now the bullhorn of earth activism has been seized by unlikely citizens who do scary things.  I’m thinking of the band of stalwarts who occupied UK’s Tate Modern, writing the words of Margaret Atwood and Naomi Klein on the floor of the Turbine Room.  Liberate Tate!  Yes!  Overwhelm the big museum with climate scrawlings!

As the basic laws of the planet shift, we will outgrow the laws of our art forms, our careers and our uninvolved consumerism.  Strange-feeling decisions will be made.  “Breaking the frame” is necessary at this time.  Put it plain: we must risk arrest.  The totalizing culture is so complete that to say something unsanctioned, defending the earth, must be illegal.   

The 200 miles an hour wind isn’t legal, and it has the drama we need to get the message.  The mudslides and avalanches and floods do not have permits.  The droughts and fires uproot us, make us move, like good political art.  We have a great teacher.

The explicit embrace of radical-fundamentalist Christianity within the United States Air Force has reached an unprecedented level, disinformation to the contrary notwithstanding. This embarrassingly clear mark of religious extremist shame was revealed in its repugnant nakedness on the cover page of the Flag Day issue of "Commander's Call Topics", an official USAF weekly news publication distributed to USAF commanders across the globe, which is produced by the Defense Media Agency (a U.S. Department of Defense media organization) which is directly e-distributed to literally all USAF commanders across the globe. Please allow me to ever so briefly elaborate and explain this latest unbridled outrage.

This offensive content was featured under the header "Flag-folding Procedure is Uniquely American and Uncommonly Symbolic." Oh yes, indeed we're talking about a phenomenon as "uniquely American" as a three-dollar bill (and equally as symbolic) – a noxious myth ascribing false, sectarian religious origins to each fold in the traditional flag-folding exercise carried out by uniformed, American military personnel. You can watch a sappy, sentimental presentation of this content here. Here's a small taste of this hideously mawkish "Judeo-Christian" screed:

"…The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, ‘In God We Trust'…"

See what I mean? Let the gag reflex commence operations.

According to always dubious Christian fundamentalist folklore as retold by the American Legion website, the piece was allegedly written, initially, by an Air Force chaplain stationed at the United States Air Force Academy (sigh, where ELSE of course!), my alma mater and a hotbed of Christian extremist oppression. As such, the "folding" invocation is read aloud by democracy-despising theocrats at Christian nationalist functions and events for the purpose of lending false gravitas of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism and supremacy to otherwise uneventful gatherings.

However, we never expected an OFFICIAL USAF publication to feature this bible-thumping, psalm-reciting, "amen"-screaming, proselytizing garbage on its freaking front cover! Indeed, "Commander's Call Topics" was distributed globally via e-mail to ALL USAF commanders, stationed ANYwhere on Planet Earth, with the instruction that it needs to be thoroughly promulgated throughout their commands and read aloud at Air Force ceremonies "that don't have a personal preference element"! That latter term of "personal preference element" is naturally left intentionally ambiguous and utterly undefined for the usual obvious reasons of religious tyranny "loophole-age".

After being alerted by an active duty Air Force officer, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the sole organization fighting for the Constitutionally guaranteed separation of Church and State for our U.S. servicemembers, demanded that the unofficial and prohibited religious script be removed. The Air Force DID swiftly take down the original page, so, obviously, we thought that the prohibited flag folding script had been removed to be in compliance with laws and regulations. But, not so fast; shortly thereafter, we discovered that the constitutionally derelict Air Force had merely updated the page and put it back up at a different link.

In the original version of the "Commander's Call Topics" issue, a line states, in reference to the "folding" origin tale, that "Whether this is fact or merely urban legend is unimportant."

Really? Well, that may be the case. However, I can assure you that what is of paramount importance in settling this matter is the Constitution of the United States, as well as numerous relevant Department of Defense and Air Force directives, regulations, and instructions. If we want to talk values, let's talk values – respect for the rule of law being foremost among them.Air Force Instruction 34-1201 (sec. 2.15.) is rather clear on the issue (and by "rather clear" we mean it is SPOT ON, and it simply ends the debate right here and now!):

According to Title 4 United States Code, there is no specific meaning assigned to the folds of the flag.  Although there are flag folding ceremony options offered by various national interest groups, these are not official Air Force ceremonies.  The Air Force developed a script that provides a historical perspective on the flag.  There are no ceremonies in the Air Force requiring a script to be read when the flag is folded.  However, when a flag folding ceremony is desired and conducted by Air Force personnel at any location, on or off an installation, this script is the only one that may be used. (Emphasis added) 

Need I or anyone else need to present any more supporting evidence here? And isn't it most interesting that the term "personal preference element" is absolutely NOWHERE to be seen in this official Air Force regulation? Please pay special attention to the words bolded in the last sentence of this USAF regulation the breach of which is potentially tantamount to a felony under Section 892 of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice!

The only official script allowed by Air Force regulations can be found here; it is entirely secular and sufficiently stirring on its own, without any need whatsoever for shameless sectarian preaching, or illegal, unconstitutional proselytizing. 

We all know the fundamentalist Christian, religious right's pathological proclivity for fabricating history, ascribing false beliefs on American national founders and icons, and composing narrative "quilts" out of these moth-eaten myths, deliberate falsehoods, and outright lies. Our MRFF Senior Research Director, Chris Rodda, has brilliantly deconstructed the deceitful, pseudo-scholarship of the self-promoting charlatan David Barton, a "hero" of Christian fundamentalist historical revisionism. And yes, even these filthy lies fall under the category of protected speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

However, that same Constitution also contains a No Religious Test Clause and No Establishment Clause, and the despicable proliferation of this "flag folding" screed, not by a fool like David Barton and his Christian fanatic phonies, but-on the contrary, within the full spectrum of the command ranks of the U.S. Air Force represents an incontrovertible violation of both of those clauses. Let's put things into perspective here; the Flag Day issue of "Commander's Call Topics" was but a simple platform in a broader, comprehensive theocratic assault on our Constitution, which is taking place within the U.S. Armed Forces. Let's remember that this latest anti-Constitutional salvo was launched only a month after an Air Force General defied and defiled these VERY same laws and related DoD/USAF regulatory prohibitions bywitnessing for Jesus in full uniform (in the hallowed halls of the United States Congress, no less) as broadcast on international television. To the USAF, regulations and Constitutional provisions appear to mean as much as would a few flies buzzing around at a family picnic; to wit, a mere trifle easily disregarded and ignored with impunity.

Now more than ever, it is of the utmost importance that Americans loudly condemn and counter the expeditious erosion of our Constitutional protections, unless we want even more Christian fundamentalist contraband to be smuggled into our U.S. armed forces from theocracy-crazed religious extremists.

You know what? A good start might be forcing the USAF to actually ENFORCE its own regulations with visible, public punishment for violators, rather than the current sorry state where its regulations are "complied" with far, far more in their breach than in their adherence.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. "€œMikey"€ Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra"€ Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side"€ (2006, St. Martin'€™s Press) and "€œNo Snowflake in an Avalanche"€ (2012, Vireo).

 

No, I’m not referring to the recent Maine Senate amendment to LD 652 that allows persons over 21 – or 18, if they are active duty military or veterans – to hide a handgun on their person without a permit. I’m talking about the recent Facebook post by the Bangor Police Department admonishing the use of a sharpie to ask for help.

I might remind Maine lawmakers that veterans are killing themselves in record numbers right now. In 2012, a veteran died by suicide every 80 minutes. By 2013, it was every 65 minutes. And the rate is still climbing. Sure, plenty of our nation’s bravest individuals end their lives with guns, but surprisingly, none seem to have done it with a sharpie. And yet, sharpies are the weapon some law enforcement officials want used more wisely.

In a recent Facebook post, a Bangor Police Department blogger commented, “Sharpies can also be used to manipulate the feelings of others.” This no doubt must reference the fact that one may uncap a sharpie, find a piece of cardboard and write an evocative sentence or phrase. While James Madison couldn’t possibly have known that sharpies might one day become a popular writing instrument, he surely believed that all writing implements be employed when exercising one’s free speech. Perhaps if Sharpies had existed in the late 18th century, Madison would have used one when he wrote the Bill of Rights!

The Bangor Police post elaborated on their perceived need to curtail sharpie use in the Queen City, “We are having big problem with panhandling in some parts of Bangor.”

Here’s where more folks get to exercise their freedoms. When someone asks for money, individuals have the option to decide whether or not they want to give said money. Unlike a parking ticket for dallying too long on a public street, a panhandler’s demand for cash can – in fact – be ignored. The person who is approached can even yell, “No, I don’t want to give you my hard-earned money.” While a rude way to respond, it is effective. Mind you, this free speech retort will only work with panhandlers. I have tried it when I’ve gotten a parking ticket and it does no good at all.

Bangor’s finest’s post further admonished, “The folks writing the signs are not always truthful and they are using the power of the written word and the sad face to get you to donate money to their cause.”

The comment didn’t read, “Some of the folks writing the signs are not always truthful.” It read, “the” folks. Well, “the” police are not always truthful either. Take Mark Fuhrman for example. Or Sheriff Joe Arpaio, or that case down in Eliot, Maine in 2012 where a police officer named Kevin Cady testified in York County Superior Court that he gave his chief, Theodor Short, documents proving his cops falsified patrol reports. Chief Short denied ever getting it. They’re both police officers and one of them is clearly lying.

So panhandlers tell lies and police officers tell lies. So do breakfast cereal manufacturers, beauty consultants, and fitness companies. And when corporations tell lies on TV and radio, they do so with the consent of the American people. After all, they’re our airwaves. So, Oil of Olay can fib to get your money, but some poor slob down on his luck better not?

You want to know who else lies? Every person who claims to know people panhandling that have sports cars or make more money than a local CEO.


Here’s the truth about poverty? Bangor has more than her fair share of poor people. In 2013, 16% of Bangor residents lived in poverty. That’s one and a half times the rest of the state. Poverty makes a person desperate. Panhandling is a desperate act. It’s dehumanizing, humiliating, and exhausting: But so is going hungry or losing your home.

When folks resort to making signs and begging for help, they’re using their only weapon. And the Bangor Police would like it concealed.

This Monday, I’ll be in Bangor panhandling. Meet me out in front of the Bangor Police Department’s expensive new building. Bring me some money. Maybe we’ll get enough to buy a sports car and then we’ll give it all to charity.