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Archive for the tag “trust”

Family Law Tip: Gifts and Child Support

I  post some tips regarding family to my Linkedin page (see here) from time to time, and I thought I should start sharing them here too. Below is one of my family law tips, and you can read my articles on family law here and other posts on family law here and all are cataloged here.

 

Our Declining Empathy and Ability to See God

The somewhat questionable consequences of smartphones, social media, and the many other technologies of their ilk have been well documented. A Psychology Today article, “How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus,” for example, had this to say about the societal effect of recent technologies: “Frequent exposure by so-called digital natives to technology is actually wiring their brain in ways very different than in previous generations.” Terms like “digital natives” and “wiring their brain” can sound vaguely ominous, maybe even apocalyptic. Of course, we could have said something similar about the baby boomers and the advent of their surrogate babysitters: television sets. And to be fair, such recent technologies also offer a lot of in the way of good for our world. Like most things in life, there are “pros” and “cons.”

If we survey the “cons,” the decrease in attention spans tends to be one of the biggest criticisms levied against the tide of technological progress. However, there is another burgeoning criticism that presents some grave implications. A recent article in The New York Times (“Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.”) explores a lesser-known drawback of recent technology: a diminished capacity for empathy. This is worth pausing over, since a society that loses its ability to empathize with others can quickly descend toward the inhumane. The article references a study conducted a few years ago by a team at the University of Michigan led by psychologist Sara Konrath. After reviewing 72 studies conducted over a 30-year period, they found that a “40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000.”

The author of the article, M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle, goes on to affirm such findings, specifically among young children, by detailing her own experience of consulting with faculty at a private middle school.

“At a retreat, the dean described how a seventh grader had tried to exclude a classmate from a school social event. It’s an age-old problem, except that this time when the student was asked about her behavior, the dean reported that the girl didn’t have much to say: ‘She was almost robotic in her response. She said, “I don’t have feelings about this.” She couldn’t read the signals that the other student was hurt.’”

The problem unfolds quite logically: if we can’t empathize with others, then we can’t as easily love them. It’s worth mentioning that we can still will the good of others, and love them through acts of service even if we don’t “feel” for our neighbor, but it becomes harder to do so. (To be sure, there will always remain instances when we’re called to love without the feelings.) By cultivating a more empathetic worldview, we are making it easier to fulfill Christ’s command to heal the sick, set captives free, and spread the Gospel of life. There are times in the Gospel when we not only read about what Christ did to help others, but also about what he felt. Christ had “pity” on those suffering in his midst, which then moved him to loving action. The role that empathy plays is crucial, so any threat to our ability to “feel” for our suffering neighbor is worth taking seriously.

Many of us have been conditioned to rely on technology—be that our phones, laptops, or tablets—as a means of comfort, entertainment, information, and in the case of certain awkward social situations, escape. Honestly, when we’re eating dinner by ourselves in a restaurant, sitting on the bus alone, or waiting for a friend meeting us at a crowded venue, how many of us don’t rely on our phones to fill the empty space?

On certain days after work I head to a coffee shop to write. On those days I grab dinner somewhere quickly by myself. As I’m sitting alone at a table with a sandwich or salad in front of me, I feel the overwhelming compulsion to look at my phone. It feels strange not to be doing something and to just sit by myself, not listening to a podcast, talking on the phone, reading articles on my newsfeed, or doing anything else but eating.

Part of the reason it’s hard to sit alone is because it can be boring. I’ve conditioned myself to receive short rewards for looking at my phone. Each YouTube video, Facebook post, or email notification gives me something to chew on. I’m never bored because I have unmitigated access to something to entertain, inform, or engage me. But the less I’m able to sit in my own presence, the less I’m able to sit in another’s as well. As it turns out, being present to ourselves in the form of healthy solitude is similar to being present to our neighbor. If we can’t do one well, we can’t do the other well, either. Turkle unpacks this in her article:

“A VIRTUOUS circle links conversation to the capacity for self-reflection. When we are secure in ourselves, we are able to really hear what other people have to say. At the same time, conversation with other people, both in intimate settings and in larger social groups, leads us to become better at inner dialogue.”

There is tremendous irony in that often our gratuitous desire to connect with others, via social media for instance, can leave us more isolated. Our desire for connection is valid and worth honoring, but the best way to do this may be limiting time spent pursuing “digital connections” in order to create space for face-to-face relationships. There is something mysteriously sacramental about spending time with someone through in-person conversation devoid of expectation or distraction. When we open ourselves up to relationships with others through our presence—and nothing else—we welcome a level of vulnerability, which can then lead to real and authentic connections. It’s hard to sit in the shared space with someone else and have ordinary, boring, and meandering conversation. There are awkward pauses, moments we don’t know what to say or how to respond, feelings of restlessness and impatience. This is often the case when we’re first getting to know someone, where we have to tread lightly across a plain of superficial and sometimes bland topics in order to set the groundwork to dig deeper. However, if we are talking to others while checking our phone, or thinking about checking our phone, then how can we ever get past that initialnegand superficial level of getting to know someone, and therefore establish real, honest, and empathetic relationships?

Turkle mentions in her article that “the mere presence of a phone” in the periphery of two people in conversation influences what they talk about. With a phone present, two people will tend to only discuss things of which they are willing to endure interruption. It’s okay if the person across from me picks up their phone if I’m talking about a movie I saw or concert I attended over the weekend. However, I won’t risk talking about a struggling marriage, weakened faith, or deep yearning if I suspect that such vulnerability might be met with feigned nodding, eyes glued to a phone.

Not only does the undisciplined use of technology limit our ability to empathize and connect with another, but we ultimately miss out on experiencing God at a deeper level. For the more we enter the inner life of another—one created in the image and likeness of God—the more we come to know about the mystery of God. Charles Dickens wrote in his iconic A Tale of Two Cities that “every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” By keeping our attention on the latest tweet or email alert, we miss out on something of infinitely more beauty and mystery: the person in front of us.

By Chris Hazell and originally published in Word on Fire on March 1, 2018 and can be found here.

 

 

When You Should Accept an Early Retirement Offer

The days of working 25 or more years for the same employer are long gone. Yet many employees cling to the belief that they will have that option until they reach retirement age.  According to Money Magazine (Jan/Feb 2019) companies in 2017 offered 5,000 early retirement and buyout offers. That figure rose dramatically in 2018 when companies announced plans to
cut 46,100 jobs due to voluntary severance, which includes buyouts and early retirement offers.

Buyouts are generally offered to employees age 55 or older, who have spent a decade or more at their companies, but this can vary. It is a good idea never to ignore a buyout offer, because employees who don’t accept an optional buyout may find themselves on a layoff list a year or so later, without any buyout offer included.

So, if an offer comes your way, consider it seriously. Considerations you should take into account are:

  • Will you have the funds to support yourself without a steady paycheck? Even if you have
    a 401k, by invading it early prior to age 59 1/2 you will incur a 10% early withdrawal
    penalty for each withdrawal.
  • Will you have to start collecting Social Security retirement benefits at an earlier age than
    the optimum (70)? Earlier collection could reduce your lifetime benefits by 25%. These
    benefits generally replace only 40% of an average worker’s income.
  • Will you be required to buy individual or family health insurance to replace your company-provided or subsidized insurance? Will your income be too high to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act? Also, premiums and deductibles are likely to rise each year. Some buyouts do include healthcare coverage. Or, you may be able to negotiate a longer period of coverage if you feel you have valid negotiating grounds, such as being the victim of some type of discrimination.
  • Have you correctly estimated the amount of money you will need in retirement? Retirees
    can generally withdraw 4% of their diversified portfolio annually to pay for their
    expenses, and reasonably expect to have enough to last 30 years. The amount of savings
    should be 25 times your annual spending amount. So if you need $60,000 a year to live
    on, plus your Social Security retirement benefits, you will need a $1.5 million diversified
    portfolio to take out 4% a year.
  • Would you consider taking another job, shifting into work you find more rewarding, or
    starting your own business? In these cases, accepting a buyout is a good opportunity to
    retool.

Bear in mind that if you accept a buyout or a severance package your employer may ask you to waive any legal rights you have currently and into the future.

If you want to consider accepting a buyout or a severance package, talking to a knowledgeable employment lawyer can bring clarity to the situation and assist you in making this important decision that greatly impacts your future. The Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. brings 45 years of experience to the legal advice it provides. We may be contacted at 215.563.7776 or at frc@fayerivacohen.com.

By Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and originally published in PBA Labor & Employment Law Section E-Newsletter Fall 2019 edition and can be found here.

6th Circuit Rules In Firefighter’s Claim of Retaliation for Religious Speech

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Hudson v. City of Highland Park, Michigan, (6th Cir., Nov. 22, 2019), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in part reversed a district court’s dismissal of claims by a firefighter that he was dismissed in retaliation for his religious views.  The court summarized the facts:

Hudson worked for the Highland Park Fire Department from 2002 to 2015. Over time, he developed a reputation for two things: being an effective firefighter and being outspoken about his Christian faith. According to Hudson, the other firefighters had reputations too—for watching pornography in communal spaces and engaging in extra-marital affairs at the fire station. All of this created tension. He criticized their behavior, and they responded with disrespectful comments about his religious practices and sexual orientation. The back and forth went on for five years.

Hudson was fired after he claimed extra hours on his time sheet and reported he had worked the same shift for two different employers. The 6th Circuit held, however, that Hudson had shown enough to avoid dismissal on the pleadings of his claim that the Chief had fired him because of his speech. The court however affirmed the dismissal of his Title VII religious discrimination claim, saying in part:

Employees are free to speak out about misconduct in the workplace without subjecting themselves to discharge for rocking the boat…. Employees are no less free to root legitimate criticisms about the workplace in their faith than in any other aspects of their worldview. For many people of faith, their religion is not an abstraction. It has consequences for how they behave and may require them to be witnesses and examples for their faith. That reality does not permit differential treatment of them because they criticize behavior on moral grounds stemming from religious convictions as opposed to moral grounds stemming from secular convictions. “Let firemen be firemen” is not a cognizable defense to Title VII claims based on gender discrimination, race discrimination, or faith-based discrimination.

Even so, Hudson’s disparate treatment claim fails…. He cannot show that the city’s justification for his discharge amounted to a pretextual basis for discriminating against him because of his faith. The fire department put forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for treating Hudson differently. He falsified his time-sheets while other firefighters did not.

Judge Kethledge, dissenting in part, would have affirmed the dismissal of Hudson’s claim that he was fired in retaliation for his speech. Judge Stranch dissented in part, contending that Hudson should have been allowed to move ahead on his hostile work environment claim which the majority held should be dismissed.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Is Busyness Jeopardizing Our Souls?

Today it seems everyone’s favorite response to the common, probing introductory question, “How are you?” is this: I’m busy. Very busy. Extremely busy. I’m guilty of this response more than I care to admit. Of course, many of us are—actually—extremely busy. Many of us are stretching ourselves razor thin, fulfilling the necessary obligations of life: tending to our jobs, families, and children, addressing the infinite list of errands and to-dos, scheduling time for exercise, friends, entertainment, bills, volunteer work. The list goes on. Endlessly.

Technology, despite its aim to lessen our collective human burden (which it no doubt has in some ways), has helped fuel this increasing and widespread condition known as busyness. The ease with which we can connect to the world—be it to our work emails or social media relationships—allows us to be permanently “plugged in.” We can get away from the crowd and commotion of our lives physically to seek rest, but we can still pick up our phones to engage with them just as if we never left.

There is a great Corona commercial from a few years back that comes to mind. The scene begins with the crystal blue of the ocean. The camera pulls back to reveal a woman reclining comfortably in a beach chair. To her left, and mostly off camera, a man throws stones into the ocean, leisurely skipping rocks on an afternoon in some coastal paradise. We’re left with only the lull of the ocean and soft splashing of rocks dancing on the water’s surface. Suddenly we’re interrupted by the buzz of a phone. The man, after a moment’s hesitation, picks up the disruptive object and hurls it into the ocean. He watches it skip a few times before it disappears into the blue. I’m sure many of us at times wish we could do the same and cast away any and all reminders of our stack of obligations, our plethora of duties. If only…Yet, even though tossing an expensive phone into the sea might not be the most prudent of things to do—in fact, in most cases it would be pretty stupid—I think it can be easy to forget that we do still have a choice. We can still, in a sense, turn the phone off.

The New York Times article “The Busy Trap” by Tim Kreider explains that our “busyness” often serves as a euphemism for “exhaustion.” We’ve become so busy with keeping ourselves busy—incurring an endless list of tasks and unchecked boxes—that we’re drained, restless, and, well, exhausted. The article continues, claiming that “busyness,” despite the temptation to believe it’s been forcefully hoisted upon our shoulders—like some compulsory sentence doled out without our permission or desire—is a condition of life we’ve opted for:

“The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.”

The article continues to expose the impetus of choosing such a depleting way of life:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

And so we are left wondering how to combat this “emptiness,” this lurking sense that without our busyness—without being able to point to an impressive life of endless activity—we risk a life of little or no value.

Christianity speaks of the inestimable worth of human life not because of what it does—or even has the potential to do—but because it is made in the image and likeness of God. We are valuable and of infinite worth because God says we are with words that form reality and reveal truth. The rupture then that can occur within our souls is when that subtle lie starts to creep in: the one dictating that our actions make us worthy—that what we do makes us lovable in the eyes of God. To use the secular language of Kreider’s article, we rely on our actions to provide “existential reassurance” that we are worthy. To use Christian terminology, we rely on our actions to provide reassurance of God’s love and approval. And so, it seems, idleness isn’t the only playground on which the devil enjoys playing. He’s quite fond of its opposite as well.

It goes without saying that we’re still called to act. Our actions help reveal who we are, and as human beings gifted with reason, talents, desires, and a noble vocation to build up and spread God’s kingdom, we must do so through action. Yet, rather than our activity being the ultimate gauge of our souls, it serves instead to reflect them more perfectly. Thomas Merton, in his highly meditative and sagacious work No Man Is An Island, brilliantly explores the possible dangers of activity in the life of a soul:

“My soul can also reflect itself in the mirror of its own activity. But what is seen in the mirror is only a reflection of who I am, not my true being. The mirror of words and actions only partly manifests my being.”

Merton recognizes the value of actions—again, we are not called to do nothing, for “faith without works is dead”—but a soul’s state is not based only on the merit of its actions. We can be easily misled to look for proof of God’s love in tangible evidence, saying, “See, look here! I’ve done this, this and this, so therefore I’m a good, worthwhile and lovable person!”

“In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity…The fact that our being necessarily demands to be expressed in action should not lead us to believe that as soon as we stop acting we cease to exist. We do not live merely in order to “do something”—no matter what…We do not live fully merely by doing more, seeing more, tasting more, and experiencing more than we ever have before. On the contrary, some of us need to discover that we will not begin to live more fully until we have the courage to do and see and taste and experience much less than usual.”

Not only does the busyness of our work—even very good work—lead to an emptying of our true selves, but we become confused, bereft of the ability to understand who we are. Activity can clue us in on how we’re doing; yet, we are not what we do. And if we fail to see that, then our good acts can become emptied of love, an attempt to win God’s favor rather than express our love for him and others. Does our busyness keep us from loving? In the words of Mother Teresa, we must “never be so busy as not to think of others.”

Merton’s words pluck a very deep chord within me. As someone who is generally motivated and intensely devoted to a routine in order to be productive, I know that I’ve fallen squarely into the trap of relying on my actions to validate my worth in God’s eyes. And just as I’ve falsely assumed I’m “more lovable” because of certain things I’ve done, I’ve also done the opposite: labeled myself unworthy of God’s love because of a failure to do certain other things.

It’s been through prayer and an honest assessment of my actions and motivations in the space of his love that I’ve come to realize the danger of idolizing a life rife with activity. I have to keep reminding myself that no matter what I do—no matter how good or noble the action—it should always be done as a response to God’s love, not a plea for it. Love respects our freedom, gently compelling us to love always in all we do, not coercing us to love in order to be loved. And loving doesn’t always have to take form in obviously good action. It can be leisurely done in a spirit of gratitude, “meaningless” conversations with friends, and even restorative play and sport.

So what can we do to ensure our lives of busyness don’t lead to exhaustion and a loss of self? It’s nothing new: we must build into our lives a space for prayer and fruitful reflection. Even if it’s not much, we must strive to sit in the presence of the Eucharist at Adoration, read scripture and meditate on its application to our lives, or sit in silence listening to the voice of love that speaks words of affection, encouragement, and counsel. We must learn to be more like Mary, and less like Martha, in a world that unremittingly asks, “What have you done for me lately?” If we do not pray, and silently reflect on who we are often and consistently, we will continue to live in a state of exhaustion and boredom. And how can we honestly say we’re Christ’s disciples if we don’t ever allow him to tell us what to do or not do? God may want us to forgo certain activities, no matter how good, so that he can invite us into something else. If we take time to reflect, we will hear the voice of God. As Søren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” So let us take time to review our lives and who we are in prayerful reflection, receiving the nourishment and strength to move forward with lives filled with fruitful, grace-led, and meaningful activity.

By Chris Hazell and published on Word on Fire on February 22, 2018 and can be found here.

 

Proselytizing Does Not Rise To Level of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Trombetta v Kruse, (NY Civ. Ct., Nov. 19, 2019), a New York state trial court held that a proselytizing pamphlet and a subsequent e-mail did not amount to intentional infliction of emotional distress, nor was any injury proven. According to the court:

The pamphlet … shows a cartoon depiction of a catholic who is sent into the “lake of fire” to “burn in hell” for practicing as a catholic, instead of following the version of Christianity promoted by the pamphlet which is evangelical Baptist. The tract urges the reader to reject Catholicism, or be barred from heaven….

… [D]efendant wrote plaintiff an email that included the following statements: … My family does not believe and, if any of them were to die tomorrow, they would not go to heaven but to hell. I sent them tracts because I do not want them to go to hell. I want them to go to heaven. It is what I want for you too.

The court held in part:

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the courts of this State from evaluating the religious beliefs of a church or individual….

While the court understands why the plaintiff found the tract and email disturbing, the court does not find that the conduct rose to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

You can learn more about this issue here.

5th Circuit Upholds Stay of Execution For Buddhist Inmate

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Murphy v. Collier, (5th Cir., Nov. 12, 2019), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a stay of execution granted last week by a Texas federal district court in the case of a Buddhist inmate who challenges the access he will have to his religious adviser prior to his execution. The district court granted a stay to allow it time to explore factual concerns about the balance between the inmate’s religious rights and the prison’s valid concerns for security. (See prior posting.) Christian and Muslim inmates have access to chaplains until the moment they enter the execution chamber.  Members of other religions have access to their outside clergy only until 5:00 p.m.on the day of execution. In his majority opinion for the 5th Circuit, Judge Dennis wrote in part:

We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Murphy’s stay. We agree with the district court’s implicit finding that Murphy has a strong likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that the TDCJ policy violates his rights by allowing inmates who share the same faith as TDCJ-employed clergy greater access to a spiritual advisor in the death house.

Judge Elrod dissented, saying in part:

Because I believe Murphy did not demonstrate that he is likely to succeed on his brand-new, untimely, and unexhausted claim regarding the TDCJ’s pre-execution holding-area protocol, I would hold that the district court abused its discretion in granting Murphy’s motion for stay of execution.

CNN reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Tucker Carlson: Mitt Romney supports the status quo. But for everyone else, it’s infuriating

Newly-elected Utah senator Mitt Romney kicked off 2019 with an op-ed in the Washington Post that savaged Donald Trump’s character and leadership. Romney’s attack and Trump’s response Wednesday morning on Twitter are the latest salvos in a longstanding personal feud between the two men. It’s even possible that Romney is planning to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020. We’ll see.

But for now, Romney’s piece is fascinating on its own terms. It’s well-worth reading. It’s a window into how the people in charge, in both parties, see our country.

Corporate tax cuts are also popular in Washington, and Romney is strongly on board with those, too. His piece throws a rare compliment to Trump for cutting the corporate rate a year ago.

That’s not surprising. Romney spent the bulk of his business career at a firm called Bain Capital. Bain Capital all but invented what is now a familiar business strategy: Take over an existing company for a short period of time, cut costs by firing employees, run up the debt, extract the wealth, and move on, sometimes leaving retirees without their earned pensions. Romney became fantastically rich doing this.

Meanwhile, a remarkable number of the companies are now bankrupt or extinct. This is the private equity model. Our ruling class sees nothing wrong with it. It’s how they run the country.

Mitt Romney refers to unwavering support for a finance-based economy and an internationalist foreign policy as the “mainstream Republican” view. And he’s right about that. For generations, Republicans have considered it their duty to make the world safe for banking, while simultaneously prosecuting ever more foreign wars. Modern Democrats generally support those goals enthusiastically.

There are signs, however, that most people do not support this, and not just in America. In countries around the world — France, Brazil, Sweden, the Philippines, Germany, and many others — voters are suddenly backing candidates and ideas that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. These are not isolated events. What you’re watching is entire populations revolting against leaders who refuse to improve their lives.

Something like this has been in happening in our country for three years. Donald Trump rode a surge of popular discontent all the way to the White House. Does he understand the political revolution that he harnessed? Can he reverse the economic and cultural trends that are destroying America? Those are open questions.

But they’re less relevant than we think. At some point, Donald Trump will be gone. The rest of us will be gone, too. The country will remain. What kind of country will be it be then? How do we want our grandchildren to live? These are the only questions that matter.

The answer used to be obvious. The overriding goal for America is more prosperity, meaning cheaper consumer goods. But is that still true? Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones, or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far. A lot of Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country. Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.

The goal for America is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness. There are a lot of ingredients in being happy: Dignity. Purpose. Self-control. Independence. Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would want if they cared.

But our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems.

One of the biggest lies our leaders tell us that you can separate economics from everything else that matters. Economics is a topic for public debate. Family and faith and culture, meanwhile, those are personal matters. Both parties believe this.

Members of our educated upper-middle-classes are now the backbone of the Democratic Party who usually describe themselves as fiscally responsible and socially moderate. In other words, functionally libertarian. They don’t care how you live, as long as the bills are paid and the markets function. Somehow, they don’t see a connection between people’s personal lives and the health of our economy, or for that matter, the country’s ability to pay its bills. As far as they’re concerned, these are two totally separate categories.

Social conservatives, meanwhile, come to the debate from the opposite perspective, and yet reach a strikingly similar conclusion. The real problem, you’ll hear them say, is that the American family is collapsing. Nothing can be fixed before we fix that. Yet, like the libertarians they claim to oppose, many social conservatives also consider markets sacrosanct. The idea that families are being crushed by market forces seems never to occur to them. They refuse to consider it. Questioning markets feels like apostasy.

Both sides miss the obvious point: Culture and economics are inseparably intertwined. Certain economic systems allow families to thrive. Thriving families make market economies possible. You can’t separate the two. It used to be possible to deny this. Not anymore. The evidence is now overwhelming. How do we know? Consider the inner cities.

Thirty years ago, conservatives looked at Detroit or Newark and many other places and were horrified by what they saw. Conventional families had all but disappeared in poor neighborhoods. The majority of children were born out of wedlock. Single mothers were the rule. Crime and drugs and disorder became universal.

What caused this nightmare? Liberals didn’t even want to acknowledge the question. They were benefiting from the disaster, in the form of reliable votes. Conservatives, though, had a ready explanation for inner-city dysfunction and it made sense: big government. Decades of badly-designed social programs had driven fathers from the home and created what conservatives called a “culture of poverty” that trapped people in generational decline.

There was truth in this. But it wasn’t the whole story. How do we know? Because virtually the same thing has happened decades later to an entirely different population. In many ways, rural America now looks a lot like Detroit.

This is striking because rural Americans wouldn’t seem to have much in common with anyone from the inner city. These groups have different cultures, different traditions and political beliefs. Usually they have different skin colors. Rural people are white conservatives, mostly.

Yet, the pathologies of modern rural America are familiar to anyone who visited downtown Baltimore in the 1980s: Stunning out of wedlock birthrates. High male unemployment. A terrifying drug epidemic. Two different worlds. Similar outcomes. How did this happen? You’d think our ruling class would be interested in knowing the answer. But mostly they’re not. They don’t have to be interested. It’s easier to import foreign labor to take the place of native-born Americans who are slipping behind.

But Republicans now represent rural voters. They ought to be interested. Here’s a big part of the answer: male wages declined. Manufacturing, a male-dominated industry, all but disappeared over the course of a generation. All that remained in many places were the schools and the hospitals, both traditional employers of women. In many places, women suddenly made more than men.

Now, before you applaud this as a victory for feminism, consider the effects. Study after study has shown that when men make less than women, women generally don’t want to marry them. Maybe they should want to marry them, but they don’t. Over big populations, this causes a drop in marriage, a spike in out-of-wedlock births, and all the familiar disasters that inevitably follow — more drug and alcohol abuse, higher incarceration rates, fewer families formed in the next generation.

This isn’t speculation. This is not propaganda from the evangelicals. It’s social science. We know it’s true. Rich people know it best of all. That’s why they get married before they have kids. That model works. But increasingly, marriage is a luxury only the affluent in America can afford.

And yet, and here’s the bewildering and infuriating part, those very same affluent married people, the ones making virtually all the decisions in our society, are doing pretty much nothing to help the people below them get and stay married. Rich people are happy to fight malaria in Congo. But working to raise men’s wages in Dayton or Detroit? That’s crazy.

This is negligence on a massive scale. Both parties ignore the crisis in marriage. Our mindless cultural leaders act like it’s still 1961, and the biggest problem American families face is that sexism is preventing millions of housewives from becoming investment bankers or Facebook executives.

For our ruling class, more investment banking is always the answer. They teach us it’s more virtuous to devote your life to some soulless corporation than it is to raise your own kids.

Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote an entire book about this. Sandberg explained that our first duty is to shareholders, above our own children. No surprise there. Sandberg herself is one of America’s biggest shareholders. Propaganda like this has made her rich.

We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows.

What’s remarkable is how the rest of us responded to it. We didn’t question why Sandberg was saying this. We didn’t laugh in her face at the pure absurdity of it. Our corporate media celebrated Sandberg as the leader of a liberation movement. Her book became a bestseller: “Lean In.” As if putting a corporation first is empowerment. It is not. It is bondage. Republicans should say so.

They should also speak out against the ugliest parts of our financial system. Not all commerce is good. Why is it defensible to loan people money they can’t possibly repay? Or charge them interest that impoverishes them? Payday loan outlets in poor neighborhoods collect 400 percent annual interest.

We’re OK with that? We shouldn’t be. Libertarians tell us that’s how markets work — consenting adults making voluntary decisions about how to live their lives. OK. But it’s also disgusting. If you care about America, you ought to oppose the exploitation of Americans, whether it’s happening in the inner city or on Wall Street.

And by the way, if you really loved your fellow Americans, as our leaders should, if it would break your heart to see them high all the time. Which they are. A huge number of our kids, especially our boys, are smoking weed constantly. You may not realize that, because new technology has made it odorless. But it’s everywhere.

And that’s not an accident. Once our leaders understood they could get rich from marijuana, marijuana became ubiquitous. In many places, tax-hungry politicians have legalized or decriminalized it. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner now lobbies for the marijuana industry. His fellow Republicans seem fine with that. “Oh, but it’s better for you than alcohol,” they tell us.

Maybe. Who cares? Talk about missing the point. Try having dinner with a 19-year-old who’s been smoking weed. The life is gone. Passive, flat, trapped in their own heads. Do you want that for your kids? Of course not. Then why are our leaders pushing it on us? You know the reason. Because they don’t care about us.

When you care about people, you do your best to treat them fairly. Our leaders don’t even try. They hand out jobs and contracts and scholarships and slots at prestigious universities based purely on how we look. There’s nothing less fair than that, though our tax code comes close.

Under our current system, an American who works for a salary pays about twice the tax rate as someone who’s living off inherited money and doesn’t work at all. We tax capital at half of what we tax labor. It’s a sweet deal if you work in finance, as many of our rich people do.

In 2010, for example, Mitt Romney made about $22 million dollars in investment income. He paid an effective federal tax rate of 14 percent. For normal upper-middle-class wage earners, the federal tax rate is nearly 40 percent. No wonder Mitt Romney supports the status quo. But for everyone else, it’s infuriating.

Our leaders rarely mention any of this. They tell us our multi-tiered tax code is based on the principles of the free market. Please. It’s based on laws that the Congress passed, laws that companies lobbied for in order to increase their economic advantage. It worked well for those people. They did increase their economic advantage. But for everyone else, it came at a big cost. Unfairness is profoundly divisive. When you favor one child over another, your kids don’t hate you. They hate each other.

That happens in countries,  too. It’s happening in ours, probably by design. Divided countries are easier to rule. And nothing divides us like the perception that some people are getting special treatment. In our country, some people definitely are getting special treatment. Republicans should oppose that with everything they have.

What kind of country do you want to live in? A fair country. A decent country. A cohesive country. A country whose leaders don’t accelerate the forces of change purely for their own profit and amusement. A country you might recognize when you’re old.

A country that listens to young people who don’t live in Brooklyn. A country where you can make a solid living outside of the big cities. A country where Lewiston, Maine seems almost as important as the west side of Los Angeles. A country where environmentalism means getting outside and picking up the trash. A clean, orderly, stable country that respects itself. And above all, a country where normal people with an average education who grew up in no place special can get married, and have happy kids, and repeat unto the generations. A country that actually cares about families, the building block of everything.

What will it take a get a country like that? Leaders who want it. For now, those leaders will have to be Republicans. There’s no option at this point.

But first, Republican leaders will have to acknowledge that market capitalism is not a religion. Market capitalism is a tool, like a staple gun or a toaster. You’d have to be a fool to worship it. Our system was created by human beings for the benefit of human beings. We do not exist to serve markets. Just the opposite. Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.

Internalizing all this will not be easy for Republican leaders. They’ll have to unlearn decades of bumper sticker-talking points and corporate propaganda. They’ll likely lose donors in the process. They’ll be criticized. Libertarians are sure to call any deviation from market fundamentalism a form of socialism.

That’s a lie. Socialism is a disaster. It doesn’t work. It’s what we should be working desperately to avoid. But socialism is exactly what we’re going to get, and very soon unless a group of responsible people in our political system reforms the American economy in a way that protects normal people.

If you want to put America first, you’ve got to put its families first.

Adapted from Tucker Carlson’s monologue from “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on January 2, 2019 and can be seen here.

Layoffs and Mergers and Consolidations and Acquisitions … Oh My!

In recent months, businesses and institutions in the Philadelphia area have experienced a number of closures, mergers, consolidations and acquisitions that will be devastating to the greater geographic area, and have or will result in major layoffs of skilled employees and elimination of future jobs.

Here are just a few examples:

  • The owner of Hahnemann University Hospital, in existence for 171 years, announced that it would be declaring bankruptcy and closing;
  • Drexel University, announced that about 40% of its physicians and clinical staff of its medical college will lose their jobs in the wake of the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital;
  • Philadelphia Energy Solutions announced that it was closing its South Philadelphia oil refinery due to a series of explosions and a catastrophic fire, and laying off more than 1,000 employees;
  • WSFS Financial Corp. acquired Beneficial Bank, founded in 1853, with 58 locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and is rebranding as WSFS Bank.

It is no wonder that employees are justified in feeling insecure. Mere months after the good economic news that the unemployment rate has dropped significantly, and that employees now have their choice of jobs, salaries and benefits, comes news of major layoffs, mergers, consolidations, acquisitions and business failures.

In addition to the economic impact of such upsetting news, there is the devastating personal impact on the lives of employees and their families, which may result in the permanent loss of long-term jobs and careers, having to accept lower income jobs or shift into gig-economy jobs, or being required to leave the area or downsize their lifestyles.

Having represented thousands of employees throughout my career, the following are my recommendations to employees in order to protect themselves in view of major layoffs or terminations, as no one is indispensable in our current marketplace.

  • Employers prefer it when their workforce is collegial, respectful of each other and aligned behind their company culture, vision and mission. While employers may have “open door policies,” workplace policies outlined in handbooks or online, social media policies and staff human resource departments, I suggest that employees think long and hard about making a complaint and what they hope to accomplish by making the complaint. Complaints about co-workers, getting involved in co-workers’ issues that are not directly related to the employee making the complaint, or disagreeing with managers and supervisors, can often set off an investigatory process, and that process can boomerang, at the expense of the complaining party.
  • The employees making these complaints generally have the burden of proving them, and that often means hiring a lawyer to assist with presenting these complaints. The complaints also mean that the employer must spend time and resources investigating the complaint, and they risk making a decision that may adversely affect them in the long run. The person who is making the complaint and the person complained about have equal rights, so if the person complained about is disciplined or terminated, that person may allege the employer acted wrongfully and the employer will have to defend themselves, costing them more time and money.
  • An employee should consult a lawyer if they are going to need extended Family Medical Leave Act time or they wish to make a claim for short term disability, long-term disability or workers’ compensation. These leave requests and policies are difficult to navigate and often conflict with each other. They can also result in terminations if they are not handled correctly and the specific legal and company requirements to make these leave claims are not followed. Also, employees have to be mindful that recommendations from their doctors do not necessarily control their employers. Employers are not required to provide indefinite leave, or hold an employee’s job open, simply because a doctor does not release an employee to return to work.
  • A lawyer should be consulted as soon as an employee has been given a performance improvement plan (PIP). Few employees survive PIPs and being given a PIP is often a good clue that an employer is seeking to find a reason to terminate an employee. It is important that a PIP is followed by the employer, but even an employee’s best efforts to meet the terms of the PIP may not result in keeping their job. A PIP is also a good opportunity for an attorney to attempt to negotiate a severance package for an employee, as an employer may be interested in offering such a package if the employee voluntarily agrees to leave.
  • If an employee belongs to a union it is still a good idea to consult an independent lawyer. An employee rarely interacts with a union lawyer except for a short time at some later point in a legal process, and that point may be far down the road from when a lawyer should have been consulted. Union lawyers also represent their union, and may have conflicts in trying to divide their representation among a number of union members who have similar issues. Also, not every union represents its members for discrimination complaints and disability issues, so it is important that employees make certain that they meet the often stringent filing requirements involved in these matters.

If an employee has doubts about what is happening in their workplace or with their position, or they have received a performance improvement plan, they should consult a lawyer and not wait until they have been disciplined or terminated. Talking to a knowledgeable employment lawyer can bring clarity to the situation and assist them in how to address their problems with the least risk to themselves.

By Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and published on October 28, 2019 in The Legal Intelligencer and can be found here.

Southern Baptists versus United Methodists

There’s a pervasive narrative today of conservative Christian demographic decline. This narrative is partly based on reality and partly based on wishful thinking by some. But this narrative typically ignores the far more dramatic implosion of liberal white Mainline Protestantism.

The popular conventional narrative asserts that young people in droves are quitting evangelical Christianity because it’s too socially and politically conservative. Of course, the implication is that if only Evangelicalism would liberalize, especially on sexuality, then it might become more appealing.

But all the available evidence as to what happens to liberalizing churches strongly indicates the opposite. Mainline Protestantism is in many ways what critics of Evangelicalism wish it would become. And yet the Mainline, comprised primarily of the “Seven Sister” historic denominations, has been in continuous free-fall since the early to mid-1960s. Its implosion accelerated after most of these denominations specifically liberalized their sexuality teachings over the last 20 years.

The facts of Mainline Protestant decline are easily available. And yet the Mainline, once the dominant religious force in America, has declined so calamitously that for many it’s become almost forgotten. Often, when I speak to young people, I must explain what the Mainline is. Many young people, when they think of non-Catholic Christianity, are only familiar with Evangelicalism, which displaced the Mainline decades ago as America’s largest religious force.

So it’s necessary to repeat what’s happened to the Mainline. The Episcopal Church peaked in 1966 with 3.4 million and now has 1.7 million (50% loss). What is now the Presbyterian Church (USA) peaked, in its predecessor bodies that later merged, in 1965 with 4.4 million, and is at 1.4 million (68% loss). The United Church of Christ peaked in 1965 with 2.1 million and now has 850,000 (60% loss). What is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), in its predecessor bodies that later merged, peaked in 1968 with 5.9 million and now has 3.5 million (41% loss). The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) peaked in 1964 with over 1.9 million and now has just over 400,000 (80% loss). United Methodism, in its predecessor bodies, peaked in 1965 with over 11 million and now has 6.9 million in the USA (nearly 40% loss). The American Baptist Church peaked in 1963 with over 1.5 million and now has less than 1.2 million (25% loss.)

During the Mainline implosion the percentage of Americans belonging to the Seven Sister denominations declined from one of every six Americans to one of every 22. If the Mainline had simply retained its share of population it would stand today at about 55 million instead of about 16 million.

Nearly all the Mainline denominations have liberalized their sexuality standards over the last 15 years, precipitating accelerated membership loss. For example, the Presbyterian Church (USA) overturned its disapproval of homosexual practice in 2011 and declined from 1.9 million to 1.4 million in 2017, losing half a million members, or 25% in just 6 years. The Episcopal Church elected its first openly homosexual bishop in 2003 and declined from 2.3 million to 1.7 million, or 26%. The two Mainline denominations that have not officially liberalized on sexuality, United Methodism and American Baptists, have declined the least.

So the proposal from some that conservative stances on sexuality precipitate church decline is not of itself supported, as the fastest declining denominations in America, and throughout the West, have liberalized on sexuality. Some conservative denominations are declining, but all growing denominations in America and the world are conservative theologically and on sexuality.

Recently I have tweeted some of these statistics about Mainline decline, with respondents insisting that Evangelicals are declining too. But by some counts, Evangelicalism is retaining its share of the American population while liberal Protestantism is plunging.

All growing denominations in America are conservative, including the Assemblies of God, which in 1965 had 572,123 and now has 3.2 million (460% increase), the Church of God in Cleveland, which in 1964 had 220,405 and now has 1.2 million (445% increase), the Christian Missionary Alliance, which in 1965 had 64,586 and now has 440,000 (576% increase), and the Church of the Nazarene 1965, which in 343,380 and now has 626,811 (82% increase).

Common responses to reference of Mainline decline are BUT THE SOUTHERN BAPTISTS! And it’s true that America’s largest Protestant body has been declining for 18 years. But its decline from 16.4 million to 15 million represents an 8 percent loss, not comparable to the average Mainline loss of nearly 50%. Southern Baptists displaced Methodism as America’s largest Protestant body in 1967 and now outnumber United Methodists by two to one.

Southern Baptists leaders commonly bewail their 18-year membership decline and urge more focus on evangelism. Their aggressive church planting resulted in 270 additional congregations in 2017 and a twenty percent increase in congregations over the last 20 years, with a strong focus on creating new black and Hispanic congregations. The Southern Baptist Convention likely is more racially diverse than Mainline Protestant denominations, which are over 90% white. And Southern Baptist worship attendance, even amid membership decline, increased by 120,000 in 2017.

Mainline Protestantism shows no sign of any institutional desire to reverse its 53-year membership decline, instead doubling down on the theological and political stances that fueled much of this decline. Some of its denominations, like the Presbyterian Church (USA), at current rates of decline, may not exist in 15 years or less.

Sometimes the demise of Mainline Protestantism is equated with the demise of American Christianity. Media sometimes report dying Mainline congregations without citing different stories at newer evangelical churches. But just as common if not more so is the narrative of ostensible Evangelical decline. White Evangelicalism maybe in decline, but Evangelicalism is increasingly multiethnic. Some evangelical denominations, like the Assemblies of God, which has no racial majority, successfully reach immigrant populations, while Mainline Protestantism fails to do so.

Here’s my suggestion on why there’s lots of focus on supposed Evangelical decline based on its purportedly unappealing moral stances. Evangelicalism surged during the 1970s through 1990s, including growing campus ministries, creating new generations of evangelical young people, some of whom later recoiled from the conservative religious upbringing of their youths. They sometimes blog and pontificate on the failures of evangelical culture, commending an idealized more liberal Christianity, usually unaware of already preexisting liberal Christianity’s dramatic collapse.

Meanwhile, Mainline Protestantism, when its implosion started in the early to mid-1960s, began losing baby boomers and barely had representation among subsequent generations. In recent decades there have not been many young people left in the Mainline who could subsequently complain or pontificate about experiences in their liberal denominations.

It’s important to reiterate the details of Mainline Protestantism’s long and ongoing spiral as a warning to other churches. Whatever the problems of evangelical Christianity, becoming more like liberal Mainline Protestantism is not a remedy.

By Mark Tooley and publisned on December 14, 2018 in Juicy Ecumenism and can be found here.

 

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