Thursday, August 13, 2020

Good morning Senator Clements,

Good morning Senator Clements,

My name is James Woody, I reside in Senator Pansing-Brooks's district.

I write you this morning, Senator, in direct response to your remarks on the mic yesterday morning during floor discussion on LR 466.

I have posted this open electronic letter on both my personal blog(1) and my social media.
Senator Clements,

I tell a story to nearly anyone who will listen about the most underhanded thing I've ever witnessed happen at the Unicameral in all these 8 years I've spent watching this body's proceedings: How when, after the resignation in disgrace of Senator Bill Kitner, the leadership of the Legislature came to a deliberated agreement to seat his just-appointed replacement onto the powerful Appropriations Committee. And how that replacement senator's very first act in the Unicameral was to demonstrate an utter and blatant disrespect of the long-standing non-partisan budget deliberation process, by sneaking in a budget provision defunding Planned Parenthood into the Appropriation Committee's main budget offering to the Body(2), without telling anyone what they had done or intended for -- because that Senator was dishonest.

And Senator, last year after a certain member of your body chose to gang up with Senator Erdman, Murman, and Lowe, to cowardly torpedo a bill of Senator Cavanagh's off the Consent Calendar(3) - again without telling anyone, particularly Senator Cavanagh herself, beforehand - I didn't accept that senator's mealy mouthed apology afterward on the floor for their actions -- because that Senator was a bully.

And Senator, yesterday morning when a certain member of your body stood and mumbled into the mic that they "didn't agree with the Court's opinion in 'Bostock'"(4), offering no justification whatsoever for their own opinion - legal, philosophical, theological, or otherwise - against a 33 page textbook textualist opinion(5) from competent lawyer and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, an opinion replete with sound legal arguments and thoroughly cited caselaw evidence for all the decision's holdings - I didn't take that their remarks seriously -- because that Senator was ignorant.
Yesterday morning you, Senator Clements, said on the mic that you considered Senator Ernie Chambers to be a friend. I do not know if the Senator reciprocates that emotion or not, but I do know that when Senator Chambers speaks into the Legislative Record that: "Christians are dishonest. Christians are bullies. Christians are ignorant of the Law." - it's your face, Senator Clements, that comes to my mind's eye.

I admonish you to do better. People like me - that believe in integrity, believe in justice, believe in knowledge and the rule of law - we are watching you and the actions you take on our behalf in the State Legislature. Ignore us at your own electoral peril.

James Woody
*address redacted*


(1) blog address

(2) Planned Parenthood defunding provision -

(3) Cavanaugh consent calendar LB 533-

(4) LR 466, "Provide the Legislature affirm the United States Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County which determined that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964" -

(5) "Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia" -

Friday, June 5, 2020


Earlier this week I said I wasn't ready to "add my voice to the rage saturation" going on in social media.  Since then I've been listening a lot, I've been thinking a a lot, and I would like now to try and add something reasoned to our shared conversation.
On a Sunday morning 3 or 4 years ago I was sitting in a Southern Baptist Church listening to a sermon.  As a person who engages in the serious study and practice of rhetoric, sermons are something I listen to very, very closely - they are weekly case studies for me in practical linguistics.  The preacher was talking about homosexuality, and of the proper posture of 'the church/christians' towards it.  He said: "Because we [meaning 'us in the room, people who think and believe like us', who in this particular case were white conservative evangelical people] , because we have a biblical understanding of the world - what the Bible says is right is right, what the Bible says is wrong is wrong - because we have a binary view on certain things, we are set up to be the targets of claims [from the Left] of being intolerant. *They call us bigots* because of our biblical worldview."

From my pew about 40 feet away I could feel his righteous rage at rhetorically being called a bigot because of his worldview and beliefs, which are an integral part of who he is, of his identity.

This week there was a scandal in my state of Nebraska regarding our Governor - who is a white conservative catholic man - and comments he made during a discussion with black clergy in Omaha, a discussion which was in response to the killing of an unarmed black man by a known white racist, a killing in which the City Attorney initially declined to file charges.  During a heated back and forth exchange the Governor at one point addressed the black clergy as "you people" which lead to the clergy walking out of the meeting in disgust.  I'll link to the audio below but I want to analyze what was said because I feel it's vital for understanding some of the complex dynamics at play.

What the Governor was trying to do was to find a shared value amongst the discussion participants when he asked "What do we all want?  I want safety.  I assume you want safety.  Do you want safety?" This of course is in the context of the rioting and looting happening in the city.

A member of the clergy firmly pushed back on that and responded "Yes, we want safety, but we are not talking about the same thing.  When we say 'safety' what we are talking about is that it is safe for us to exist, to not be perpetually terrorized by those who are supposed to be our protectors.  When you say 'safety' you're talking about the ability to keep your lawns neatly manicured."

This is what prompted the Governor's exasperated "Where were you people when ..." the governor was trying to get some piece of legislation that he felt responsive to the clergy's concerns, passed into law through the state legislature.

The Governor was deeply offended by the suggestion, the mere idea, that he might be casually racist in failing to understand the lived reality for people of color in this country when it comes to the very basic ideal of what "safety" IS for them.  Which might then imply that his particular worldview, one in which he believes that it is right and proper to be "color blind to race", could in fact be directly responsible for part of the suffering of others.
It is my view that these two examples are part of a very complex problem facing our society right now.

How do we respond to behavior that is actively damaging to people in marginalized communities, when that behavior goes to the core of how the person doing the behavior, defines their identity?

I see two possible paths forward:

1) The loving, empathetic way.  To reach out to people where they are, and through questioning and gentle persuasion, attempt to move that person away from ignorance and closer towards love.

2) The Navy Boot Camp Way.  To stand at attention, and with outstretched arm, point directly at the person and declare: "You are wrong shipmate. Fix yourself."

I would offer the observation that path #1 seems to be the default for many of the decent, secular people I know.  And perhaps also people like the Governor and the preacher, conservative religious people.  Path #2 seems to be the default for some activists in Civil Rights/Human Rights advocacy space, such as the much bemoaned SJW's.

I don't know what the correct path is.  Although I do realize that there is a third way, a way whose implications terrify me.

3) To treat people who hold worldviews incompatible with a free and liberal society, as un-teachable.  To collectively turn our backs on them, and instead spend our time rallying up those allies in society, who do understand how to live a loving life toward others in a world that is incredibly diverse, to actions that increase the overall level of justice in our society.

I don't want to believe that I live in a world where it's possible for people that want to be decent, that try to be decent, that fully believe they *are* being not only decent but good - to have chosen a worldview that functionally cuts them off from fully participating in our society.
I'm going to keep working in this problem space because I think it's imperative if we are to create a more just society together.  I'm going to keep listening and I'm going to keep thinking.  And if anyone who reads this would like to talk to me, I stand ready to engage with you.  Hit me up.

Omaha Community Meeting Audio | 6/1/2020 | Omaha, NE.
[The controversial part with the Governor begins at timestamp 1:01:00, and the clergy walked out about 4 mins later]  

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" - Who watches the Watchmen?

Who watches the Watchmen?  This eternal question of power and government could not be more important for the safety and freedom of the American People than today.

In a Police Department it is the Office of Internal Affairs (IA) who 'watches the watchmen'. They are responsible for ensuring that the department-as-a-whole complies with all applicable rules, regulations, and laws, from the Chief of Police down through the ranks to the newest Rookie.  If someone breaks the rules then Internal Affairs is tasked with holding them accountable, and as a consequence, a strong and objective IA can be - very broadly speaking - generally disliked by both the rank and file and the brass.  Human Nature does not like being held accountable because it's uncomfortable and embarrassing.  But when an IA Office becomes corrupted, when they look the other way from wrongdoing for their friends or creatively misconstrue facts to punish enemies, it is the Public that ultimately suffers.  Bad Officers who abuse their powers are allowed to continue menacing the Public, and The Little Guy suffers for it.

In our State and Federal Governments it is the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) who is responsible for investigating allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse by government officials.  This office has always been rife with controversy because it lives on the knife edge of the balance of powers between the branches of government.  Legislatures enact the laws that give the OIG it's oversight authority and the OIG reports to them, but it is the Executive who actually hires and pays the OIG and who physically holds the information that the OIG must access to perform their investigatory duties. --  I don't think I can over-stress just how important the office is to normal people, people who don't have the power to independently protect themselves from a rogue government that might allow dangerous situations to manifest that endanger ordinary peoples lives (Flint MI water crises), or allow unjust procedures to exist that endanger people's liberty (Ferguson MO Police Department).  It is vital to our own well-being that OIGs remain un-politicized, non-partisan, and robustly protected.

There's a lot of politically un-plugged people in America today.  A minority of the public actually votes, which I believe is a sign of a crumbling Democracy, and even fewer people actually pay attention to bills, laws, and court rulings.  Outside the privilege that some are born with, it is the OIGs who provide that security which allows those people not to pay attention, not to care what the government does, because the OIG does that for them.

But right now this Presidential Administration is gutting OIGs across the face of the federal government.  It is true that an Executive has the authority to fire an OIG, but it is not completely an absolute power.  In the legislation that creates those offices, some OIGs can only be fired "For Cause", which is to say there has to be some rational reason for the firing.  Sometimes the generic "Lost the Confidence of the Executive" will suffice, but this is not always the case.  If an OIG is being fired to cover up wrongdoing, that is an Obstruction of Justice. It is the willful misuse of Government Power for Personal Gain.  It is antithetical to the principles of Democracy.

I urge my politically un-plugged countrymen and women to do some research into these recent OIG firings by this Administration.  Because in America it *IS* possible that *YOUR* drinking water can be contaminated and you wouldn't know it, or that the COVID-19 tests the government procured don't actually work, or that evidence won't actually be required to put you into jail or take your property from you, or that dams, bridges, and other infrastructure, can be allowed to deteriorate to the point of catastrophic failure and kill you.  This is not fear-mongering, these things have happened and are happening right now.

If any of this sparks concern in you, you are welcome to reach out to me with questions or for more information.

"The Watchfulness of the Citizen is the Salvation of the State" - Hartley Burr Alexander