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May 1st, 2014

Where’s the Action on Other Moral Scandals?

While the NBA shoots and scores, Congress sits on the sidelines


nba-congress1By last weekend, nearly everyone had heard about the racist rant caught on tape, attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and released by the celebrity gossip outfit TMZ.

Right away, anyone who’s anyone was weighing in on Sterling’s rant. Speaking at a press conference in Malaysia, President Obama lamented that the nation still struggles with issues of race, and said that he had “confidence that the NBA commissioner Adam Silver, a good man, will address this.”

Tuesday, Silver did just that, announcing a lifetime ban on Sterling’s attendance at NBA events, a $2.5 million fine, and that he planned to ask NBA owners to strip Sterling ownership rights.

In total, a mere four days passed from the time the world learned about Sterling’s racist rant and his lifetime ban from the NBA.

The mobilization in public opinion, the swift condemnation from public leaders, and the NBA’s punishment shows that things can still get done in this country.
Why can’t our federal government act with the same urgency and efficiency?

Consider three areas where, despite public outrage and political pressure, there’s been no change in law.

In December 2012, just days after the Sandy Hook shooting that left 26 students and teachers dead, public sentiment quickly coalesced around the push for stronger gun control laws. At the time, according to Gallup, 58% of Americans agreed that laws around the sale of firearms should be made more strict.

Legislation was introduced but went nowhere. Last year, the Senate failed to pass even an expanded background check for gun sales. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would bring up the issue in 2014. He hasn’t.

Earlier this year, a group of Democratic representatives urged the president to include a renewed push for gun control legislation in his State of the Union Address. He didn’t.

In fact, across the nation, 30 new pro-gun laws have been passed just this year. In Georgia, a bill was just signed into law that allows concealed weapons in airports, schools, bars, and churches. Churches.

Next, there’s immigration.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle consistently express support for reforming the nation’s broken immigration system, but they’re incapable of coming up with a plan.

According to the Center for American Progress, “five recent polls from January and February illustrate clearly that the public strongly supports immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, rejects approaches that would continue to give unauthorized immigrants second-class status, and will be disappointed if immigration reform fails to pass this year.”

A Fox News poll found that 68% of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for those living in the United States illegally.

The political pressure is there, too.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a possible candidate for the presidency in 2016, recently made headlines when he suggested that those who enter the United States through back channels aren’t felons:

The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.

Bush’s view is that of most Americans. So where’s the action?

Despite mixed signals earlier this year, it appears House Republicans won’t be lining up behind any immigration bills before the break for mid-term elections. In fact, Speaker John Boehner recently mocked his House colleagues who won’t move to draft legislation similar to proposals languishing in the Senate.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican in favor of reform, warned that without action soon, “I don’t think it happens for I think a few years.”

Finally, something seemingly simple.

According to Gallup, more than 70% of Americans support an increase in the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour.

A person working full time at minimum wage earns about $15,000 per year, not enough to pay for basics like food and shelter. As a result, these individuals are often forced to rely on government subsidies to make ends meet. Raising the wage to $10.10 per hour would lift millions out of poverty, reduce the need for government assistance, and help, albeit in a tiny way, slow rising inequality.

Most Americans support raising the minimum wage. Republicans and Democrats support it. Economists and labor leaders, too. Even bishops and nuns are on the same page!

And yet, a bill introduced in the Senate that would raise the wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016 “should win backing from nearly all of the 53 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents, [but] few Republicans are expected to join them, likely leaving them shy of the needed 60 votes to begin debate,” according to ABC News.

Gun control, immigration, and increasing the minimum wage. Despite public support for all three, none will be addressed in any meaningful legislation this year.

What Donald Sterling said was hate-filled and the NBA was right to take swift action against him.

With 30 people dying from gun violence each day in the Untied States, with families being ripped apart by broken immigration laws, and with children unable to eat enough because of low wages, it’s baffling that we as a nation can’t address these scandals in the same fashion.

The Author : Michael O'Loughlin
Mike O'Loughlin is a writer living in Washington, D.C., covering religion, politics, and culture. In addition to Busted Halo, his writing appears in the Advocate, National Catholic Reporter, Foreign Policy, Religion & Politics, and America. He's also appeared on Fox News and MSNBC. Follow him on twitter at @mikeoloughlin.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • YaraGreyjoy

    We both know why: money. Money is what keeps the status quo safe. Pope Francis is right to take on unfettered capitalism as the new threat to human dignity worldwide. It’s probably why he gets so much less publicity than famously anti-communist JPII – he does not tow a line the current American oligarchy is comfortable with… it shows just how out of touch the politically powerful are with the people by the groundswell of affection directed at the new Pope. We are desperate for the kind of change you mention. Penalizing Sterling costs nothing, to quote the Godfather II “He’s small potatoes.” Industries will not suffer as a result of this, profits unaffected so the politicians are eager to jump on that particular moral issue. Scores easy points with the public (or so they think), and effects the interests they really protect not a bit.

    This is not FDR’s America. This isn’t even Nixon’s America. This is a frightening, off the leash America & we’ve only gotten worse – just follow the tax % backwards and note the decline of the American standard of living & care given to as you mentioned “moral issues.” Things got horrendous with Reagan & ever after be they democrats or be they republicans, the important issues of policy, those that effect human rights also happen to effect the bottom line for big business & they (executive & legislature) have quietly passed the most important, life, nation & world altering legislation all in one direction: against the people & for the corporate interests, those 1%-ers. And they aren’t one bit embarrassed about it. At least they use to have some shame.

  • Sus

    Mr. O’Loughlin,

    Two of the issues you write about – gun control and raising the minimum wage – SHOULD BE states’ issues. They should not be decided on the federal level.

    The Bishops’ cries for immigration reform (Amnesty) are hypocritical given the regulations the Catholic Church requires of someone desiring to receive the Sacraments. How would the church be affected if Sacramental preparations, RCIA, Religious Education, etc. were not required to receive the gifts of the church? What would the Catholic Church look like if ANYONE could receive communion or go to confession whenever they wanted without the proper education about why the Catholic Church celebrates the sanctity of these sacraments? Preparations are required in order to draw people seeking the Eucharist, absolution, etc., to a deeper understanding and commitment to Catholicism and the Church.

    While your and the Bishops’ support for amnesty may appear to be compassionate, it is not a prudent platform. Amnesty does not allow for the education of those seeking citizenship to embrace the greatness of America and the traditions that make our country such a wonderful place to live and work. Granting amnesty negates laws for those seeking citizenship from day one.

    I am greatly concerned by people such as yourself, Father Jonathan Morris, etc. using your positions in the media to represent the Catholic Church while pushing a political or personal agenda. Be careful which political party you openly support, Mr. O’Loughlin. Remember the “Health Insurance For All” mantra the Bishops supported? Now, the Church is in a Supreme Court fight in order to prevent nuns from having to participate in insurance plans that include birth control. Who would have know that the Affordable Care Act isn’t what it was promised it would be?

    • Bobby Warren

      RCIA is a snap compared to the current backlog in the immigration system. RCIA takes approximately one year, compared to numerous years for many immigrants to be allowed in the U.S.

      Moreover, no one is suggesting that undocumented immigrants should just be handed a green card. Instead, there should be a reasonable path for them to work toward permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship.

      I fail to see how amnesty would somehow affect the various issues you mentioned regarding education or American traditions. Many of the people who would be eligible to seek amnesty have been in the U.S. nearly all of their lives. Many of them are college students from top universities. They’re just as American as you or I.

      Also, don’t confuse universal healthcare with the contraception mandate. While both were contained in the ACA, one is not otherwise intertwined with the other. Many, many people support efforts to provide universal healthcare without a contraception mandate.

      The truth of the matter is that the Church often presses for issues consistent with her moral teachings. Government is not apart from society – it is a reflection of all of us. It has an obligation to implement laws that reflect our morals and our values. That includes valuing the dignity of all human persons, not simply those fortunate enough to have been born within certain arbitrary geographic areas or those fortunate enough to have a job that provides health benefits.

      • Sus

        Mr. Warren,

        Why should the Church enforce the RCIA or annulment
        requirements? They are cumbersome, time consuming and may cause financial hardship. It would be much easier for the Church to relax their requirements than for the government to relax their citizenship requirements. But the Church doesn’t relax the obligations.

        If I live in Italy for a number of years (illegally) it does not make me just as much Italian as a person who was born in Italy or sought citizenship through the appropriate avenues. Therefore, I can’t give a pass to those who have come here illegally and have not done what is necessary for citizenship.

        Just recently, someone I know became a U.S. citizen. She
        went through all of the necessary paperwork, paid the fees, and jumped through every hoop she was exposed to (on TWO occasions she drove the 1.5 hours each way to take the citizenship test only to find that the governmental testing site
        had closed unexpectedly). It can be done, Mr. Warren, if the desire is there.

        I have spoken with people that are here illegally. They want
        to be citizens for all of the benefits that are afforded to them, but they have no desire to be educated in the history and sacrifice that has made America the wonderful place it is today. They only learn enough English to get by. I was actually told by one person that their child (born in the United States so therefore a United States citizen) will NOT be taught any English or celebrate
        any American traditions until entering the public school system in kindergarten. It is a standard within this person’s culture to educate children of immigrants only in the traditions and language of the parents’ home country. Essentially, it is up to the American taxpayer to educate their child in the English language and American history. I cannot be convinced that ANY bureaucratic “pathway to citizenship” will alleviate the lack of responsibility that is so readily accepted by illegal immigrants. (They are here illegally.)

        My child attends a top university and just this week made a
        presentation for critique to two teaching assistants. The members of the team making the presentation had to have someone translate the critique because the TAs spoke such broken English. These TAs have at least 6 years of college (in the United States) and they can’t speak English? How is that being a
        responsible immigrant?

        I am not confused about the Affordable Care Act and
        universal health care. We have universal health care in the United States. Anyone within the borders of the United States can walk into a hospital and receive care without any concern as to their citizenship status. That is universal health care. However, the US Bishops supported the ACA which requires contraception be mandatory for all those insured (which now is EVERYONE). It
        made them look compassionate to support the bill but not very smart.

        The talking heads of the Church need to make sure their public
        statements are rooted in the teachings of the Church and supported with intelligent discernment. Or they could simply inform their audiences that they’re offering their personal feelings or political ideology.

      • Bobby Warren

        I’ll try to tackle these briefly and in order.

        1) Pastors frequently modify their parish’s RCIA requirements pursuant to the circumstances of each individual convert. You’ll notice that there are no universal rules for this process – the pastor is given wide discretion to determine what is best for the individual.

        2) Your point on Italy makes no sense. Why does entering the country legally or illegally make someone more or less a part of that country?

        3) I am not saying that the process of becoming a citizen is impossible, just unjustly burdensome, particularly on those without the substantial financial means to hire an attorney.

        4) Your point about not speaking English at home often occurs even among legal immigrants to this country. Therefore, it’s completely irrelevant to the issue of amnesty. Also, these children are often exposed to enough English outside of the home to adapt quite well. A friend of mine in law school didn’t speak anything but Vietnamese in her home, yet she graduated from honors from LSU, obtained a graduate degree in Spanish from a university in Spain, obtained a law degree from the University of Houston and actively practices law today. Not learning the language when you first arrive doesn’t mean you can’t thrive.

        5) I bet that TA you mention is present in this country legally (working at a university is pretty hard to do otherwise). What does their lack of English language skills have to do with amnesty? Also, what about the numerous people who were brought to this country illegally at a very young age and speak only English and know only the U.S. as their country? Do they not deserve amnesty? Are they not as American as you or I? Do they not have dignity as a human person?

        6) A visit to an ER isn’t health care. It is emergency treatment. A person who has cancer can’t get chemo at the ER. A person who has high cholesterol isn’t going to get the drugs they need to manage it at the ER. By the way, we pay for that ER care at a far higher rate than preventative care would cost to begin with. Instead of getting chemo, that cancer patient is going to show up at the ER in the last stages of their life. That person with high cholesterol is going show up after a heart attack at a much higher cost. Finally, how is this system at all recognizing the dignity of each person and that we as a society have an obligation to one another. Are we simply to stand by as Cain did and ask “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

        I would be most interested to hear how you believe any of the positions of the U.S. bishops is not rooted in the teachings of the Catholic Church. In so doing, I would like to hear which paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church back up your arguments.

  • Donna Nuce

    Dear Mr O’Loughlin
    Gun control is not the answer to our nation’s shooting problems. Where are mental health issues being addressed? No where! Until we address the mental health issues in this country gun control laws will do very little to stop someone determined to kill.

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