Can the Republican Presidential Candidates Do the Math (and Science)?

Last Tuesday was a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation in the House of Representatives. Republicans and Democrats voted 389 to 15 to allow more immigrants with math and science skills to enter America. The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, awaiting Senate passage, tweaks immigration laws that have limited employment Green Cards to 140,000 annually with 7% allotted per country. It’s supported by many interest groups from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to pro-immigration advocacy organizations, as it also doubles family-based Green Cards.

The bill serves as an economic recovery tool. American businesses can tap into more highly-skilled labor pools otherwise demand will move overseas to nations like China and India. Those countries will gobble up the Green Cards because they mass produce engineers and scientists. The USA does not. Americans lag in math and science. Among 29 wealthy nations, America was ranked 27th in the number of college students with degrees in engineering and science. The solution is tough because the problem is formidable. There are different groups involved such as children and teens, college students and the workforce. Time is also a factor, as each group needs a period for development.

With the Republican field minus the Herman Cain distraction, the candidates should focus on the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF, an independent agency, is responsible for promoting science to help America’s health, prosperity, welfare and national defense. By the looks of the recent House bill, the NSF’s effectiveness is questionable. Their most recent analysis, posted on the agency website, about immigrant engineers and scientists dates back to the Clinton administration. For an institution that’s supposed to be detail-oriented, the NSF doesn’t seem so.

They don’t have urgency because they’re too independent. The courts should be free of politics, not bureaucracies since presidents are held accountable through elections. There are other red flags with the NSF. First, their grants budget has been reduced from $8.2B to $6.1B between 2009 and 2011. College students, one of the groups that need math and science reorientation, will suffer because 74% of the 2010 funding went to academia. Second, NSF’s 2010 performance of building new research facilities was barely passing, as they completed 60% of their goal. You can’t innovate if the facilities aren’t in place to experiment.  

The NSF, created at the start of the Cold War, is due for an overhaul. It should be reorganized into the executive branch, as a cabinet-level agency, to narrow the math and science gap. Its counterpart in the medical field, for example, the National Institutes of Health resides within the Department of Health and Human Services. By making the president responsible for the NSF, he can put the priority of math and science directly into practice.  

As the semester winds down in schools and universities, the candidates should spend the holidays drawing up plans to make America competitive again.

 

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Occupy Richmond, the Tea Party is not your friend.

It’s no secret that for the past two months, the Occupy movement has been entrenching itself about as much under the skin of the Tea Party as they have in the nation’s parks and plazas. One of the Tea Party’s most common criticisms has been that the Occupiers are nothing by layabouts whose only ambition is a free ride from big government. It’s this very argument that inspired Michelle Bachmann to argue that ‘the essence of what Occupy Wall Street stands for is having other people pay for their stuff.’ It’s also behind the Richmond Tea Party’s accusation of favoritism from the city’s government toward the three-week encampment of Occupy Richmond.

Their complaint? That they were notified of an audit soon after demanding a $10,000 refund for the $10,000 that they’ve paid in permits and fees for their rallies in Kanawha Plaza—the same Plaza that hosted Occupy Richmond for three weeks before it was raided by city police and the occupants’ belongings were carelessly bulldozed. Not surprisingly, the audit is being used by the Tea Party as further evidence of the city’s double standard in favor of Occupy Richmond. Like most of the Tea Party’s critiques, this one is about as tenuous as it is hostile, and that’s why I was so utterly confounded to read the December 2nd FoxNews.com headline:

“Occupy Richmond to Tea Party: We’re on Your Side.”

Now, I don’t think that even their sympathizers would defend the Tea Party as being particularly well-reasoned critics, so why would their rival movement bother standing beside them now? According to a statement released on Occupy Richmond’s website, it is all about their shared values.

“Occupy Richmond believes in absolute free speech, including the right to criticize the government without fear of retribution … Not only do we call on the city to drop the audit, but we also demand the immediate refund of any money paid specifically to secure the Tea Party’s free speech and assembly privileges.

Don’t get me wrong, I commend Occupy Richmond’s altruism, and I appreciate the good press that can come from their taking the moral high road. The problem I have with the show of support is the damage it does to the Occupy movement by de-politicizing and de-contextualizing their struggle for public space. What this statement implies is that the movements are similar not only in their populist approach, but also in their political make-up and relationship to government. This is simply not so, and something that mustn’t be confused.

Like I argued in an October 23rd post, the Tea Party has emerged out of radically different conditions than the Occupy movement. Namely, they are based on the free and rampant accumulation of wealth, rather than the common good. They are supported by powerful politicians and even more powerful corporations. This is precisely what allows the Tea Party to pay for their legal right to hold rallies without fear of being violently evicted. And it’s precisely the lack of this kind of support that has made the Occupy movement such a moral force in American politics.

It’s not about the money, not that the Tea Party can’t afford it. It’s about what makes a public space into an occupied space, into a political statement in itself. By sticking themselves in the same boat as the Tea Party, Occupy Richmond isn’t just ignoring their contention with the Tea Party, they’re white washing the fundamental antagonism that made them necessary in the first place.

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One Down, Two to Go

On December 3rd the future of the United States got a little brighter. The improvement came with Herman Cain’s no más moment regarding the Republican nomination. One distraction down, two more to go- yes, Michele Bachman and Rick Perry

Herman Cain proved more than once that he is unprepared to hold a conversation about current events, let alone set a domestic agenda and guide foreign policy as our president. Cain’s favored broad-strokes approach is usually code for ignorance in a subject. We are better off without him.

The other two that need to go are Bachmann and Perry. 

Michele Bachmann’s response to the violation of British sovereignty at its Iranian embassy is to call for the closing of the American embassy. Scary. This woman serves on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and she does not know that we have no embassy in Iran?

Bachmann’s staff did claim that she “…was speaking in the hypothetical, that if she was President of the United States and if we had an embassy in Iran, she would have taken the same actions as the British.” So, to be clear, if she was Jimmy Carter in 1979, she would have done what Carter did. OK.

Rick Perry is just as unqualified for the presidency. He has called for, among other troubling things, the overthrow of Iran’s government and the deployment of US troops on Mexican soil to fight the drug war. The specific policy is not necessarily troubling. It is the manner in which he has arrived at the policy. When you figure that out, let me know.

Rather than a series of well thought-out positions, Perry appears to be reading a script. He would implement a no-fly zone over Syria without asking for UN involvement and even questions the wisdom of continued US funding of the international organization. 

Here we have a man that wants to stay involved in Iraq (but not Afghanistan), wants to implement a no-fly zone over Syria, send troops into Mexico and overthrow the Iranian government. Where has he been this last decade? This guy is definitely not paying attention.

The remaining candidates in the Republican field are hardly in step with each other. They do, however, give the impression that their positions are elaborate, nuanced, and stem from knowledge and experience in history and politics. This is extremely important.

If we agree on the facts, then what follows is an informed debate on how to proceed. This should be the American political reality- where everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.

Because of the economy, the prospect of President Obama losing his bid for re-election is quite real. I take great comfort in knowing that the opposing field has begun shedding its uninformed ideologues.  Perry and Bachmann need to go next. That way, after 2012, we will be less likely to antagonize Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, invade Mexico or close embassies that are already closed.

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Jane Austen’s Republican Primary

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, in the GOP primary, no truths last long enough to actually merit universal acknowledgement.

The same might be said of the ascending front-runner Newt Gingrich. Conventional wisdom says he may indeed win the round of musical chairs that will determine the Romney alternative. Even Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight cautiously predicts that Gingrich will win Iowa, given his eight point lead in the polls with only one month to go. But this is not the moment to evaluate Gingrich as a candidate. With a redemption narrative to stoke his ego, and a horde of fair-weather cheerleaders boosting his confidence and adrenaline, this is Gingrich at his dazzling yet all-too-brief best. Like Willoughby or Wickham, he has begun to court voters with great ardor, stoking their passions with debate answers and soundbites just as cleverly coded as any sonnet. As an historian and egomaniac, he no doubt relishes a comparison that casts him as dashing hero to the party’s Marianne, appearing on horseback amidst a rainstorm to come to the rescue of the maidenly electorate.

Just as Miss Dashwood and Lydia Bennett learned the hard way, Gingrich is no gentleman. The two wives he divorced during their respective hospital stays and grave illnesses (cancer and multiple sclerosis, respectively) can attest that he is hardly a noble partner through thick and thin. The same selfishness, fickleness, and volatility were on display throughout his career as leader of the Republican party. Gingrich’s greatest selling point is his ability to weave a narrative, but the main character is always himself. Case in point: Gingrich compares the trajectory of his presidential campaign – which has yet to win any primary contests to date, or remain atop polls for more than three weeks – to those of legendary corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonalds.

Time after time, once the bouquets have died and the harpsichord falls silent, the real work begins and Newt suddenly drops away. In 1997, Republicans in Congress attempted to oust him as speaker. Longtime legislators like Tom Delay, Tom Coburn, and Dennis Hastert criticized him for being disorganized, hyperbolic, and ineffective. Apparently the disrespect runs deep enough for Coburn to go on record regarding the current front-runner and say he shouldn’t be the nominee. Even more recently, his candidacy was known for ill-timed cruises to Greece and endless headlines about Tiffanys credit lines and staff mutiny. 

Not the sign of a disciplined and inspiring leader who can do the day-to-day work necessary to win a primary, much less a general election, or (shudder) the United States. After the novelty that is driving his momentum and headlines dies down, he will still need money, staff, and a campaign organization. Recall that he’s had only six months to attempt to build any such infrastructure. If his recent New Hampshire filing, which the Wall Street Journal called “sloppy!” is any indication, his staff is comprised mainly of ten year olds (he really walks the walk about child labor laws.) But organization and discipline are not the hallmarks of our Austen rogues. They love you and leave you, until eventually you realize that dependable old Colonel Brandon – or Mitt Romney – is truly the sensible choice.

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Missile Shields, Sanctions, and Drones, O My!

The erosion of US-Iran relations rapidly picked up speed this week. A new round of sanctions is under discussion after the Iranian government incited a riot against the British Embassy on Tuesday, on Friday the US Nato Ambassador declared the missile defense shield in Europe was back on, and Sunday the Iranian armed forces reported shooting down a US drone violating Iranian airspace.

It sounds like a bowling ball rolling down a flight of glass stairs. For the President and his potential successors, the Iranian dilemma will continue to remain a salient issue well into the next term. Calls from the current Republican front-runners, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, for a preemptive unilateral military strike are beyond dangerous and will only further agitate relations.

President Obama’s approach towards Iran has been to engage the regime through diplomatic talks. Yet by all measures diplomacy has failed. It may be we need to sweeten the deal more for Iran. Instead the administration has been struggling to convince its allies to put pressure on the regime by pushing through increasingly biting rounds of sanctions.

The success of sanctions are mixed. However, in an authoritarian state with a history of uprisings, and a significant democratic movement, sanctions have shown to be a political catalyst.

Skyrocketing prices and falling availability of products is supposed to generate a popular backlash, culminating in an uprising against those in power. Yet the Iranian security forces have shown themselves more than capable of squashing rebellion, just see the popular uprising following President Admadenajad’s phony reelection in 2009.

Still, sanctions have their limits.

While President Obama has declared military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is not off the table, his rhetoric is significantly less abrasive than Gingrich, who believes not just in sanctions, but in bombing strategic facilities above and beyond those suspected of being involved in nuclear activities. Romney too has stated he wants the Iranians to know there will be no hesitation to use military force.

Them’s fightin’ words – and right now it is not a good idea.

By all accounts, tensions are growing inside Iran and the regime has a dwindling number of resources at its disposal to maintain order, unless it wants to enrage the populous further. Also, political and business leaders are showing signs of frustration with isolation from the world economy.

Hypothetically lets say they do get a bomb. Even so, the only way military force can be used to our benefit and with any degree of legitimacy is through a multilateral engagement involving the UN, or minus that an agreement with NATO and the Arab League.

The last thing we need is a President over eager to draw this countries many shiny guns – again. Especially when we are preparing to wind down involvement in the Middle East, even more so because we have lost all legitimacy in the region and seem just a military strike away from confirming everybody’s beliefs that we really are belligerent imperialists.

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Cain on Pause

Herman Cain’s love affair with the media at times catapulted him into becoming a frontrunner for the GOP Presidential Campaign.  He won the support of many Americans with his simple 9-9-9 flat tax plan, took the moniker of “Cornbread,” and reassured us that his special Haagen-Dazs black walnut blend was not the flavor of the month – okay, I’ll give that to him, at least it lasted a couple of months.

On December 3rd Cain unapologetically announced that he is going to suspend his campaign: “As of today, with a lot of prayer and soul searching, I am suspending my presidential campaign.” And the nation breathes a sigh of relief. He then ended his speech with the same quote he used last August – then, attributing it to a poet – “Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It’s never easy when there’s so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you and me.” This time, Cain acknowledged Pokémon.

Weeks of mounting allegations from several different women regarding sexual harassment claims and the most recent Ginger White confession of having a 13-year affair should cause anyone to turn to “prayer” and “soul searching,” especially – I would hope – for our Baptist Minister.

Nonetheless, I give him credit for opening the debate on tax reform, thereby forcing his running mates to come up with their own versions, even if I disagree with their regressive approaches. He also added much needed humor to our debates, the most memorable being the nickname he gave Wolf Blizter – “Blitz.” However, the media quickly picked up on his lack of political knowledge, giving our late night show hosts ample material. They will surely miss him.

Perhaps to our dismay, Cain is not going quietly into the night. Now that his Plan A has failed, it’s on to the next one. His Plan B is a site called thecainsolutions.com. It’s mysterious in form – having a lonely homepage with the heading: “The People Will Choose.” He claims that through this site he will continue advocating his tax and foreign policy plans. His wife, Gloria, is also chipping in. She runs an online enterprise, Women for Herman Cain. It’s a “national fellowship of women dedicated to helping elect Herman Cain as the next President of the United States.” I wonder if they will change the goal.

But let’s all beware that Cain may make a comeback. He declared a suspension not an end to his campaign. This means that he can continue to raise donations, especially through his website, and receive federal matching funds. So, Cain may still be a powerful force in the 2012 campaign. We will soon see the GOP candidates, except for Ron Paul maybe, competing for his endorsement. I think Gingrich will have an indifferent attitude about receiving such support, but he will most likely be the one to garner it … eventually.

His campaign served him well by propelling his book sales, increasing his fee on speaking engagements, as well as adding another line to decorate his CV. So, don’t worry, Cain will continue milking his stardom.

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The unemployment rate doesn’t need to determine Obama’s re-election fate

On Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell from 9.0 to 8.6 percent in November. However, if it continues to hover between 8.5 and 8.7 percent on Election Day, as the Federal Reserve Board speculates, re-election is looking to be bad news bears for Obama. You see, no president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day was over 7.2 percent (the rate when Ronald Reagan won his second term in 1984).

But does this have to be Obama’s re-election fate? G.O.P. candidates are of course using the unemployment rate to promote their own economic plans of less taxation and regulation, never hesitating to point out Obama’s failed stimulus package and jobs bill. But stepping back from the G.O.P. talking heads and the media headlines we can see that Obama has been and is on the right track to solving the unemployment conundrum, while Republicans have reverted back to their free-market, deregulation loving imaginations.

Case in point, Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus plan was not such a failure after all and could have brought the unemployment rate down even further if it weren’t for republican ideals of less spending and less taxation. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz noted in 2010 on DemocracyNow! that the economic stimulus package did have some immediate effect at bringing down the unemployment rate, but was too small and contained too many tax cuts to make a bigger impact. It was presented this way solely to garner Republican votes.

Obama again tried to remedy the situation with another jobs plan that was voted down by the Senate in October of this year. The House then separately passed 15 of these jobs bills in order to get something accomplished, but their passage has currently stagnated in the Senate so republicans can preserve their message of  “less government, less regulation.” However, in his paper “Regulatory Uncertainty, a phony explanation for our jobs problem”  Lawrence Mishel from the Economic Policy Institute cited that lack of demand, not taxes and regulation, is holding business back from hiring. Why are republicans ignoring the facts?

And remember, “less government, less regulation” is what started this mess four years ago under George Dubya and now the economic plans of Republican front runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney look eerily similar to what we have all too soon forgotten. Gingrich, is in favor of “very serious deregulation” while Romney has vowed to “initiate the review of all Obama-era regulations with the goal of eliminating any that unduly burden the economy and job creation.” In lamens terms, Gingrich and Romney would end regulations that were put in place precisely because deregulation didn’t work. Defying logic is always the cornerstone of any good republican economic plan.

So just what will be Obama’s fate on election day? Will we defy history and re-elect a president who is working to get us out of this unemployment conundrum? Or will we vote in Gingrich or Romney, give it a year or two, and then say oops, we did it again?

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Is the Hispanic vote up for grabs by the Republicans?

Republicans haven’t paid serious attention to Hispanics in the United States. I think it has to do with blunt ignorance of Hispanics’ core values.

 “Latinos are Republicans. They just don’t know it yet,” said President Ronald Reagan in 1980 when running for the presidency.

I am not sure whether Reagan knew indeed what he was talking about or if he was just bluffing or just uttering a trivial political statement as politicians do in the heat of a campaign. Perhaps Reagan attempted to commensurate with Hispanics hoping to grab their vote.

What I am sure about, however, is that there are instances illustrating that Hispanics have transcended their over emphasized allegiance to the Democratic Party.  In 2004, they cast roughly 44% of the Hispanic vote to re-elect George Bush President of the United States.  They may be shaped by language commonality, different socio-economic and cultural experiences, and inclination to liberalism.  However, most Hispanics I know are most certainly defined by conservative beliefs encompassing strong family values, self-reliance and firm religious faith.

When I listen to Newt Gingrich’s rhetoric raising concerns about the lack of social values afflicting America today–regardless of his ongoing personal moral ordeals–, the importance of preserving our American faith-based institutions, our civic traditions, our rights to privacy, our visceral gumption for prosperity and self sufficiency, and to live a life free from too much government interference, I feel he is talking to me.

Listening to Gingrich brings me back to those yesteryears when I was a teenager in the 1970s growing up in a poor neighborhood of La Romana, Dominican Republic.   I remember my dusty neighborhood where money was scarce, but my father, my mother and my neighbors went to work every day and to church every Sunday morning to get God’s blessing and strength.

“El que sea saludable y no trabaje, que no coma” (“he who is in good health and does not work, does not have the right to eat”), my father used to say, criticizing those who preferred government handouts and depended on others to survive.

“No pises en rojo; lo que obtengas que sea por merito” (“do not transgress the law and live within your means in accordance to your merit”), my mother often said to me and my brothers and sisters.

Former South-Central Oklahoma Republican Congressman JC Watts’ speeches in the late 1990s and early 2000s also remind me of these sayings. Congressman Watts used to talk about growing up in Oklahoma with similar, values, beliefs and experience as I did in La Romana. I remember myself transcribing Watts’ speeches aired on C-Span, and reading one of his speech transcripts published in the early 2000 by the New York Times. I admit, I related to what he was saying then. He connected with me and my core values.

It is pretty easy for me to continue citing more instances denoting commonalities between Hispanics and Republicans, but I will stop here.  Suffices to say that as a Hispanic, and considering my core values, my vote is certainly up for grabs by Republicans. I think also that the votes of lots of U.S. Hispanics are up for grabs by Republicans as well.

In many respects, Republicans relate to Hispanics and ideologically seem to behave, at times, as if they were Hispanics and vice versa, but both don’t know it yet.

 

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Democrats Aim to Win and, in Doing So, They Lose

It has long been known that far more Americans consider themselves “conservatives” than “liberals.” And considering how far to the right what it means to be a “liberal” has become, it makes sense that President Obama has never been the liberal messiah that grassroots Democrats convinced themselves he would be when they lapped up his rhetoric in 2008, drank the Kool-Aid, and then tried to spike everyone else’s drink with their unrealistic expectations as well.

Obama is aware where the bulk of the voting electorate tends to huddle, ideologically speaking, and he and his party are the heirs to the belief that being in power is preferable to being out of it—regardless of the consequences to the ability of the left to regenerate itself in a real sense. So it’s easier, electorally speaking, to steal conservative ideas than come up with new liberal ones that can inspire a large chunk of the electorate. In the last few years Democrats have proposed cap-and-trade, a healthcare insurance mandate, have lost interest in protecting civil liberties in the face of so-called national security concerns, just to name a few: these policy proposals were, relatively recently, Republican ones.

The problem is twofold here. Most obviously, if you are further left than the average voter, this is problematic because the policies being proposed by the party that supposedly is working in your interest are always bad ones.

However, the real problem is that the Democrats are hindering the entire left’s intellectual and policy development. By accepting as a truism that because most Americans don’t see themselves as liberals now means that they can never see themselves as such, Obama and the Democrats have destined themselves for an electoral future where moving to the right is the only viable strategy. And because much of the American left tends to believe that they have to support the Democrats, this strategy is accepted and reinforced. There may be grumblings, but few lefties will actually threaten to abandon the party.

What Democrats need to do, if they are to ever revitalize themselves as a true left-of-center party, is to be willing spend a few elections in rebuilding-mode while they refashion a liberal narrative that can win over some voters to their position ideologically—not just for a single election, or on a single issue. That type of narrative was successful in the middle 20th century and, with fresh ideas, there is no reason to believe that it can’t be again. And if it really can’t be done, then we might as well despair for the electoral future of even the moderate left in American politics.

Though losing for a few elections has never been popular with the political class, if Obama and the Democrats want to save the electoral viability of liberals in the future, they have to start acting like they actually believe in those ideas. For the center-left to win long term, they may need to stop worrying about winning elections right now.

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Christ the Skier

I love a good bout of righteous indignation as much as the person—and normally nothing makes me more righteous than some bible-thumper trying to impose his deity on me—so I was surprised to find myself on the opposite team as the professionally indignant Freedom From Religion Foundation this week.

It turns out that the Knights of Columbus erected a big Jesus memorial statue on a mountain in federal land over 50 years ago in honor of some war veterans.

Already I can see several great reasons as to why I should be on board with the statue-fighting crowd. First, the big Jesus statue is a dead giveaway for a knee-jerk antitheist like myself. Second, the Knights of Columbus are involved, and on top of being Jesus-related they are named in honor of an asshole partially responsible for kicking off the annihilation of two continents worth of inhabitants. Finally, and most importantly, it involves the church vs. state fight, and I am practically obliged to rattle my saber at any who dares violate the sanctity of our wall of separation.

But I think there is another, equally valid, aspect of the 1st Amendment at play here.

Why do we put up memorials? Because the dead cannot speak, but we feel the memory of their story needs to be preserved. The memorial remembers for us all, when we ourselves no longer learn the particulars of the history, or can recall anyone close who died. How many people would know the story of the 10th Mountain Division and how they marched through the mountains of Italy, statues of Christ looking down upon them from the peaks, were it not for the memorial in question? If that memorial entices just a few of the skiers who pass it each day to Google “big jesus statue whitefish mountain” and they learn about those who served, some of whom died, is it not an effective spokesman for those memories? Has it not spoken for those veterans?

Survivors want to feel that their loved ones’ sacrifice will be remembered. They know that people forget, and the memorial will be a visual memory jog for some people. This is a definite exercise of visual speech. And considering how intimately related most people’s religion is to their understanding of death, it is hard to divorce religion from monuments dealing with death. Add to the fact that, in this particular case, the Christ statue serves as an artistic homage to those of the Italian mountains of the soldiers’ tour of duty as well as religious symbol, and I think you have a pretty strong free speech argument to counter the church vs. state argument.

Maybe Big Mountain Jesus, perching like Flathead Valley’s own Christ the Redeemer, should be taken down because the legal precedent it would set is too broadly religious. But this case helped me to remember why we make memorials—to speak for those who no longer can—and that one 1st Amendment freedom should not be used to bludgeon another.

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