Apr 29, 2015

April 29, 2015: Epitaph, Medieval Portal, In The Hands of Fools


"The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams."
(1)

    ----King Crimson "Epitaph" from the album "The Court of the Crimson King"

The lessons taught were most assuredly wrong.(2) The American Madrasa, the Christian version of same as practiced here in the United States, teaches a select history. The Crusades, for instance, were venerated as is, for some unknown reason, the works of the historian Gibbon. Reading Gibbon’s "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" I discovered that not only does Gibbon NOT say that the empire collapsed because the people had strayed from their newly established Christianity; but it was in part because of the adoption of the new religion and the resulting loss of the martial spirit that the empire declined. Moreover, his account of the later Crusades were a marked contrast from the version presented to us by our intrepid schoolmasters. Indeed the Crusades were an act of remarkable barbarity; not on the part of the Muslims, (Saracens as they were then known) but on the part of the Christians themselves.

Gibbon had this to say about the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. "In the pillage of public and private wealth, the adventurers had agreed to respect the exclusive property of the first occupant; and the great mosque, seventy lamps and massy vases of gold and silver, rewarded the diligence, and displayed the generosity of Tancred. A bloody sacrifice was offered by his mistaken votaries to the God of the Christians; resistance might provoke, but neither age nor sex could mollify, their implacable rage; they indulged themselves three days in a promiscuous massacre; and the infection of the dead bodies produced an epidemic disease. After seventy thousand Moslems had been put to the sword, and the harmless Jews had been burnt in their synagogue, they could still reserve a multitude of captives whom interest or lassitude persuaded them to spare. Of these savage heroes of the cross, Tancred alone betrayed some sentiments of compassion; yet we may praise the more selfish lenity of Raymond, who granted a capitulation and safe-conduct to the garrison of the Citadel." (3)

This is but a sample of the atrocities committed during the course of the seven crusades yet we are led to believe that these ‘savage heroes of the cross’ who were guilty of everything from pogroms against the Jews as they made their way East toward Palestine, to roasting and eating young children, to wholesale slaughter, were champions of righteousness. Clearly the man at the head of the class had not read his Gibbon nor, for that matter, much else. When my headmasters moved on to ‘higher’ callings lessons were hardly learned. The name given to our sports teams went from the ‘Royals’ to, I was later to discover, the ‘Crusaders’.

"And you don’t count the dead
when God’s on your side"
-----Bob Dylan "With God on our Side"
Every education is an abbreviation of sorts of the long collective memory. Part of this is by necessity for one cannot, for instance, review every book ever written. But some of it is by design, intentional, and every institution does it. From omitting inconvenient truth to downright falsification a version of history emerges that at some point reaches a certain common denominator defined as our "collective misunderstandings" or, as Voltaire so succinctly put it "the lie commonly agreed upon". And if your instructor hasn’t done his homework, hasn’t brought a measure of curiosity to his profession and is, in effect, an intellectual slacker you won’t get exposed to much more than the standard fare. 

The public schools hew pretty much to the standard fare, especially teachers of History and Social Studies for they tend to be the coaches of the sports teams and that is their true interest in life. Accordingly they work to stay the proverbial one chapter ahead of the student. The parochial schools, however, present us with an entirely different beast.

At base, religious doctrine teaches that man in inherently flawed and evil. It follows from this that nothing human can be trusted, particularly that attribute that best separates him from the beast in the field: reason. By this ‘logic’ it follows that faith always trumps reason, and because this is so reason and its handmaiden science are approached with the utmost suspicion. Accordingly any scientific ‘theory’ this side of gravity itself is viewed as a mere intellectual curiosity at best, or at worst a downright assault on the revealed word of god. Increasingly confronted by inconvenient truth, the parochial retrenches finally presenting Darwin and Einstein to the class between clenched teeth explaining that we need to know these things only because we will be expected to know them when we go on to later public instruction. So badly do the parochial schools function as transmitters of science and natural history that the Grand Rapids, Michigan, public schools at one time were providing the area parochial schools with math and science teachers; a practice later ended by a Supreme Court ruling that such a practice violated the separation of church and state. The experiment was, however, an albeit brief admission of the incapacity of these institutions to provide instruction in these fields. In my particular case, nearly a third of the day was consumed in Bible instruction, memorization, and recitation. Math instruction, such as it was, lagged far behind. Science consisted mostly in the study of birds, and then relegated to only a couple of hours a week. So bad was it that when instructed to present a science ‘experiment’ to the class, we were at a loss, we had no idea where to turn, where to begin. One poor soul, presented the class with a standard highway road map. The inference is quite clear, one is led to the emerging technological and informational age through a medieval portal; as the ‘Generation of Swine’ emerged into the dawn of adulthood through the doors of a "New Frontier".

"Between the iron gates of fate
The seeds of time were sown
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known.
Knowledge is a deadly friend
If no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools."
(1)

Knowledge, like technology and indeed government is fundamentally amoral. It can be used for moral or immoral purposes. It can save lives or it can kill millions. It can save our environment or it can lay waste the planet. It is what we make of it. There is a condition in every society that sociologists call ‘cultural lag’; a condition whereby the society in question lags behind technological and cultural evolution. How far the society lags behind depends upon how well-versed and prepared it is to apprehend and, it is hoped, direct the advances of knowledge and technology. We are a nation and a society that functions under an 18th century political constitution, increasingly heeds the siren call of 19th century economics, and has yet to learn the awful lessons of the great wars of the last century. To wrap our arms about the complexities of the issues, to meet the environmental, economic, political and technological challenges before us, simply cannot be done by a people lost in space and in time. As long as we elect to put these people at the head of the class our fate is in the hands of fools.

I have left Act I for involution and, Act II, mired in complexity....

"Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,"


As I speak the old pubic elementary school that was closed two years ago is being re-opened by something called the "Covenant Academy". Public dollars turned to vouchers transforming a public facility into another American Madrasa. Some of the billion or so dollars that the state is now investing in these institutions.

"Yes, I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying".... (1)

____________

1. King Crimson, "Epitaph" from the album "The Court of the Crimson King" http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kingcrimson/epitaph.html

2. See posting dated September 20, 2014 for another account on the shortcomings of parochial education.

3. See Gibbon, Edward. "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Vol. VI, methuen & Co. LTD, London 1912. AMS Press, New York. Pages 323-324.

Apr 27, 2015

April 27, 2015: The One and Only Billy Shears, Suffer the Little Children, American Madrasa


Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough.

"So let me introduce to you
The one and only Billy Shears"

----The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band"(1)

"Why didn’t you tell me?" Johnny’s dad, changing the subject, drew me up short in the course of the conversation.

"Tell you about what?", I asked quizzically.

"Tell me about that school", was his reply. " I was an elder at the church and I could have done something about it." Plaintively, he repeated the question "Why didn’t you tell me?"

I had met his son Johnny on the first day of class in second grade. It was Johnny’s first day at St. John’s Lutheran and, being a sensitive young lad, he was already feeling the tension. He had been assigned a seat at a desk just behind mine in Miss Kasten’s class and, since I had some experience surviving in the place, he immediately latched on to me and we became fast friends. It was a friendship that has survived the decades. A friendship that has lasted through elementary school, high school, college and into adulthood. Having moved, in the late 50's, into his neighborhood, we spent a lot of time together. I came to know his parents and family. Johnny’s parents, Herb and Fran, were well into middle age when he arrived, appearing to my young mind like grandparents. Judgmental, as all parents are, but wise. Herb was a foreman at the old Story and Clark piano factory and, given his age and his position, presented a middle class household in a working class neighborhood. His home was, to my eyes, a relatively secure place to be. The Hierholzers were like surrogate parents, Herb even allowed us to build a tree house in a large maple tree in the back yard. It was an ambitious edifice, complete with cantilevered porches extending out into mid-air, cabinets, windows and furniture. Most of my carpentry skills, skills that I would later put to good use, were honed on that project. Years later Herb would smile as he related the sound of that aging structure twisting loudly in the wind when they opened the windows on summer nights to let in the fresh air. It is not often that parents make such sacrifices for their son and his friends. In early 1986, I returned to the old neighborhood to introduce my 3 month old daughter and, while showing off my little bundle of joy, Herb was moved to hauntingly ask "Why didn’t you tell me"?

I first heard of Billy Scheer in the summer of 1954, just prior to entering Kindergarten. In the spring of that year, my father had uprooted the family and, finding employment in the Muskegon area, had moved us from Ludington some 75 miles down the coast to Grand Haven, Michigan. Ripped from the family ‘compound’ on seventh street where we had been living with my great-grandmother, with my grandparents living directly across the street, my great uncle next door and a great aunt several doors down at the end of the block, I found myself on newly ‘developing’ caul-de-sac surrounded mostly by woods but with a few newly constructed homes at the end of the street overlooking Potowatamie Bayou near the Grand River about five miles southeast of the city. I quickly made friends with a couple of boys my age that lived caddy corner across the end of the street right on the water. Leslie Rice became my first real friend in my newly arrived home. Over the course of the ensuing months it was determined that I would be enrolled in the Lutheran School. My family were mostly composed of Catholics and Lutherans and since we had attended a Lutheran Church, by the same name, in Ludington it was quite natural that I would find myself about to enroll in the local Lutheran School. Leslie, it transpired, was also about to go to the same school, joining his older brother. While the adults talked about the arrangements, Leslie, his brother and I, would play in the woods. It was his brother who first presented to my mind the ominous spectre of J. William Scheer, then principal of St. John’s Lutheran School. While off in the woods, far from the earshot of the adults, Leslie’s brother told us about the terrors we were about to encounter. I remember relating these tales to my mother later that summer but she dismissed them as childhood exaggerations and told me I would be just fine. I wasn’t.

I could sense it almost from the first day of class. There was a perpetual tension in the building and I was soon given to understand that it was the better part of wisdom to not be heard or seen and that, by all means, avoid the principal. My earliest memories consist of my first grade class being interrupted as a group of 8th grade boys, representing the principal (who taught the upper classes) barged into the classroom and demanded that all us boys go into the restroom. There we were lined up, slapped around a bit, and interrogated as to who was responsible for plugging up the toilets, as if a first grader would do such a thing. Here was an early example of the terror. Young boys, no more than 12 or 13 taking control from an adult of a classroom. Capricious and arbitrary authority. There was much more of the same. I remember kids, exclusively boys were targeted, being slapped around regularly. Big Bob Hienz, nearly 6 ft tall in seventh grade being slapped by a male teacher along side the head, with his glasses flying across the floor as he walked out of the cafeteria, no one seemed to have an explanation as to why. Then there was the time in sixth grade when we were given time to read. We were all sitting properly at our desks reading silently when suddenly William Scheer walked up behind his son Scott and hit him so hard across the back of his head that he knocked him unto the floor. The explanation given to the class was that he wasn’t reading ‘fast enough’.

The worst of it, as I recall, came in third grade. We had just come in from noon recess and as I moved to take my seat Jackie Nelson and a couple of the other girls were whispering ominously that something shocking and terrible was about to take place. Up before the class was Ernie Melcher, crying and shaking. It had been clear that the authorities had been working him over during recess. Apparently poor Ernie had taken a schoolmate’s model airplane motor, a transgression that called for corporal punishment. Crying and shaking like a leaf, Ernie apologized to his classmate and begged for forgiveness. Notwithstanding it was announced that just punishment was in order and he was instructed to lay across a desk in the front of the class. The teacher, our third grade teacher, who was in his mid thirties at the time with huge biceps, took off is belt and proceeded to beat poor Ernie mercilessly, hitting him so hard that when finished the instructor’s hair was all awry. To this day, I can still hear the screams. "Let that be a lesson", he said as he put his belt back on, "anyone who sins like this will get the same medicine". I looked about the room, every child’s face was ashen white with expressions betraying fear and terror. Ernie was led from the classroom never to be seen again. Word was that he was expelled, which could have been done without the abuse. I prefer to think that his mother, seeing the evidence of his beating had the good sense to get him the hell out of there before permanent damage was done to his body.

Lesson? Medicine? The ‘lessons’ I learned was that authority is capricious and arbitrary and not to be trusted. The ‘medicine’, such as it was, was fit for neither body or soul, for the actions taken and sanctioned by the adults in the room left every child in that classroom emotionally scarred. Many of my classmates, later in life, were to have police records, all of us would have issues with authority; for this is what happens when adults are out of control.

"Suffer the little children to come unto me" says the Bible, along with "Spare the rod and spoil the child". Such sanctions, in a fundamentalist setting, are apt to be taken, as everything else, quite literally. Punishment was swift and often, ranging from slapping to being struck with rulers on the hands; wooden rulers with metal edges. I speak here from personal experience. The hand would sting, often both hands depending on the number of strikes, for hours. The numbness would not go away until well after I had returned home from school. Protesting to my mother, her reply was that "you must have deserved it". Richie Ohlendorf and I had been playing during class by gathering condensation off the windows and rubbing the water into each other’s faces. There was the pulling of hair, ears, and the good old standby of standing before the class and holding heavy dictionaries until your arms felt like they were about to fall off and woe to the young lad who let one drop.

Such was the regimen at good ‘Ol St. John’s during the tenure of William Scheer. So arrogant were the authorities that Johnny himself was struck on the side of his head and knocked into the isle, then taken down to the principal’s office. You see he had to go to the bathroom and, the place being what it was, he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Finally, after about an hour he had trouble holding it, and began to shake at his desk. The teacher–the same one who had beat Ernie–asked him what he was doing. He said he had to go to the bathroom and, nervous and anxious, stuck his tongue out. One has a hard time acting appropriately when one is young in an environment like this. The teacher, in a rage, moved quickly down the isle and hit Johnny so hard on the side of the head that he ended up on the floor. Here was the son of one of the church elders sprawled out at our feet. Surely something would be done now. Scheer, it transpired, would move on having been instructed by God to become a pastor. It is difficult to imagine the joy and hope that he would impart to a congregation but, alas, this was not our concern for his departure was our day of liberation and it took the ensuing principal years to establish order and a sense of normalcy in his place.

But Johnny didn’t go home and tell his parents. Later, much later, he would open up and talk to his father about what life was like at the American Madrasa (2). So powerful and so damaging was the conduct of our schoolmasters that Johnny’s father was raising the issue more than a quarter of a century after the fact. "Why didn’t you tell me?" he implored. "I would have got little Billy Scheers fired".

I responded that we wouldn’t have been understood, that our parents would have seen it as being our fault. I know now that I would have had a hearing with Herb and Fran, but I didn’t know it then and neither did their son. I also know that the place did little to prepare us for life and that the lessons learned, such as they were, were most assuredly wrong.

"I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
and stops my mind from wandering
where it will go
I'm filling the cracks that ran though the door
and kept my mind from wandering
where it will go"

----The Beatles "I’m Fixing a Hole" from the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

----------------

(1). http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/sgtpepperslonelyheartsclubband.html

(2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madrasa The term Madrasa in Arabia means, loosely ‘School’ but in the west it has developed connotations denoting parochialism and intolerance, both of which characterize my early education.

Apr 26, 2015

April 26, 2015: Bottom Dollar, Most Scurrilous of Men, Just Call Me Lucifer


"Turning to a man named Dollar for spiritual guidance is like employing a man named Madoff for financial service." 
                                           ---- from "The Quotations of Chairman Joe"

Televangelist Creflo Augustus Dollar Jr, began his career in College Park Georgia with a ‘ministry’ that began with 8 congregants meeting in an elementary school cafeteria in 1986 to what is now one of the nation’s largest "Megachurches". Housed in what he calls the "World Dome", the 18 million dollar 8,500 seat capacity facility is said to be home to a congregation of some 30,000 members producing a gross revenue estimated in 2006 at some 69 million dollars. (1)

Dollar is one of the more prominent, if not more notorious, proponents of the so-called "Prosperity Theology" which teaches that prosperity, for Christians, is the will of God. Some have traced the origins of the movement, which includes the likes of Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen, back to the ‘New Thought’ movement in the late 19th and early 20th century (2), but its roots may go back further than that.

There has always been, in the Christian tradition, an unseemly connection between wealth, power and salvation. The history of the Catholic church is illustrative with its invention of "indulgences" and other means of separating the parishioner from the fruits of his hard labor. The coming of the Protestant Reformation didn’t give much relief as the "Calvinist work ethic" emerged as a dominant theme in which it was understood that the ‘lord helps those who help themselves’ and that, therefore, to be prosperous is the clearest indication that one has ‘earned’ the favor of the lord.

 It is a small step from here to the movements that emerged in the 20th century leading to the "Prosperity Theology" in which it is held " that Christians are entitled to well-being and, because physical and spiritual realities are seen as one inseparable reality, this is interpreted as physical health and economic prosperity".(2)  A contract of sorts is established between a man and his God in which God materially rewards the faithful and "poverty and illness are cast as curses which can be broken by faith and righteous actions.

"Mainstream evangelicalism has consistently opposed prosperity theology as heresy, and prosperity ministries have frequently come into conflict with other Christian groups, including those within the Pentacostal and Charismatic movements." (2) Critics from across the spectrum from the old main-line denominations to Jerry Falwell to Rick Warren, to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, have repudiated the doctrine. 

Accordingly, "Prosperity churches typically reject Presbyterian polity (or governance) and the idea that a pastor should be accountable to elders; it is common for pastors of prosperity churches to be the highest organizational authority figure." (2) This proves a very convenient arrangement and it is, therefore, unremarkable that several of these self-appointed vicars of Christ revel in an ostentatious display of wealth. Proof positive, it would seem, according to this self-serving logic, of one’s growing favor with the Lord. A perfect theological tautology, in which one assumes one’s conclusions; all one has to do is display the growing evidence of one’s favor, and to do that all the good Shepard has to do is turn to the flock and administer a regular sheering.

Accordingly we find Oral Roberts with his "Blessing Pact" in which he promised that the Lord would return a donation "seven-fold", and faith healer A.A. Allen in the early 1950's "promoted merchandise such as ‘miracle tent shavings’ and prayer cloths anointed with ‘miracle oil’. (2) The history of the movement is replete with shameless huckstering needing no further elaboration. It is sufficient to point out that the happy intersection between church, state and non-denominational religion is a safe harbor for the most scurrilous of men.

This, in due course, leads us to one Creflo Augustus Dollar Jr. Dollar has become, in the course of a few decades the bottom dollar in a universe that makes an absolute ethic of the accumulation and display of wealth. Accordingly, he is reported to own "two Rolls-Royces, a private jet, and real estate such as a million dollar home in Atlanta, a $2.5 million home in Demarest, New Jersey, and 2.5 million home in Manhattan".(2) Good work if you can get it, or find people gullible enough to fund it.

 On November 24, 2014, Dollar's private Gulfstream III jet, N103CD ran off the runway at Biggin Hill Airport, United Kingdom. There were no serious injuries. To replace the old jet, Dollar launched a fundraising campaign to get his followers to pay approximately $60,000,000. For a new Gulfstream G650 jet. He suggested his followers each committ to giving ‘$300.00 or more." The jet he wants is the ‘fastest plane ever built in civilian aviation. After receiving immediate backlash, Dollar ended his fundraising campaign. The project was kept as an option on the donation page of ministry’s website." (1) "Creflo Dollar Ministries received a grade of "F" for financial transparency by the organization Ministry Watch" (1)

He also, in 2007, refused to cooperate with the investigation conducted by the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa into several of these ministries. 

Yesterday a video surfaced on Facebook in which brother Dollar was once again exhorting his congregants to belly up to the bar and fund his new jet, claiming the devil was busy at work preventing him from getting his just reward.

"Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I'm in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste"
                                ----The Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil" (3)

_________

(1). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creflo_Dollar
(2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology
(3) http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rollingstones/sympathyforthedevil.html

Apr 24, 2015

April 24, 2015: Losing My Religion, Oh No I’ve Said Too Much, I Haven’t Said Enough


“That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no, I've said too much
I haven't said enough”

----R.E.M. “Losing My Religion” (1)

Deeply influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr,(2) especially his work “Moral Man and Immoral Society”, Former President Jimmy Carter has spent his life conducting himself according to the principles of ‘Christian Realism’.  The following essay, published July 15, 2009 on the website “The Age” (3)is illustrative of the former President’s theological evolution as it relates to the struggles of a moral man grappling with the immorality of convention.

“Losing my Religion for Equality” — by Jimmy Carter


“I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.” (3)

The long journey from the parochial certainties of youth to the embrace of a much wider universe is indeed the journey of life.

Here Mr. Carter has cataloged his departure from Act I for involution and, embracing the complexities of Act II, he is now writing Act III.

Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough.
______
1. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rem/losingmyreligion.html
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhold_Niebuhr
3.http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html



Apr 23, 2015

April 23, 2015: Corporate Shills, The Untold Story, A Question of Trust.


"The Clintons have been nothing but corporate shills"
                                        —From "The Quotations of Chairman Joe"

The New York Times published an article today written by Jo Becker and Mike McIntire entitled "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation as Russians Pressed for Control of Uranium Company" . The article, here reproduced in part, outlines some of the Clinton dealings with international corporations as they act in the interstices of international corporate interests and intrigue, international political relations, the Clinton foundation and the national interests of the United States. Here then is the article as it appeared in the ‘Times’:

"The headline in Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir V. Putin’s latest coup, its nationalistic fervor recalling an era when its precursor served as the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin: ‘Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.’

The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with uranium-mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Mr. Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.

But the untold story behind that story is one that involves not just the Russian president, but also a former American president and a woman who would like to be the next one.
At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the Canadian miningindustry, who have been major donors to the charitable endeavors of former President Bill Clinton and his family. Members of that group built, financed and eventually sold off to the Russians a company that would become known as Uranium One.

Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.


As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.

And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.

At the time, both Rosatom and the United States government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company’s assets to the Russians. Those promises have been repeatedly broken, records show.


The New York Times’s examination of the Uranium One deal is based on dozens of interviews, as well as a review of public records and securities filings in Canada, Russia and the United States. Some of the connections between Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation were unearthed by Peter Schweizer, a former fellow at the right-leaning Hoover Institution and author of the forthcoming book "Clinton Cash." Mr. Schweizer provided a preview of material in the book to The Times, which scrutinized his information and built upon it with its own reporting.

Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown. But the episode underscores the special ethical challenges presented by the Clinton Foundation, headed by a former president who relied heavilyon foreign cash to accumulate $250 million in assets even as his wife helped steer American foreign policy as secretary of state, presiding over decisions with the potential to benefit the foundation’s donors.

In a statement, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, said no one "has ever produced a shred of evidence supportingthe theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation." He emphasized that multiple United States agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed off on the deal and that, in general, such matters were handled at a level below the secretary. "To suggest the State Department, under then-Secretary Clinton, exerted undue influence in the U.S. government’s review of the sale of Uranium One is utterly baseless," he added.


American political campaigns are barred from accepting foreign donations. But foreigners may give to foundations in the United States. In the days since Mrs. Clinton announced her candidacy for president, the Clinton Foundation has announced changes meant to quell longstanding concerns about potential conflicts of interest in such donations; it has limited donations from foreign governments, with many, like Russia’s, barred from giving to all but its health care initiatives. That policy stops short of Mrs. Clinton’s agreement with the Obama administration, which prohibited all foreign government donations while she served as the nation’s top diplomat. Either way, the Uranium One deal highlights the limits of such prohibitions. The foundation will continue to accept contributions from foreign individuals and businesses whose interests, like Uranium One’s, may overlap with those of foreign governments, some of which may be at odds with the United States.

When the Uranium One deal was approved, the geopolitical backdrop was far different from today’s. The Obama administration was seeking to "reset" strained relations with Russia. The deal was strategically important to Mr. Putin, who shortly after the Americans gave their blessing sat down for a staged interview with Rosatom’s chief executive, Sergei Kiriyenko. "Few could have imagined in the past that we would own 20 percent of U.S. reserves," Mr. Kiriyenko told Mr. Putin.

Now, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, the Moscow-Washington relationship is devolving toward Cold War levels, a point several experts made in evaluating a deal so beneficial to Mr. Putin, a man known to use energy resources to project power around the world.

"Should we be concerned? Absolutely," said Michael McFaul, who served under Mrs. Clinton as the American ambassador to Russia but said he had been unaware of the Uranium One deal until asked about it. "Do we want Putin to have a monopoly on this? Of course we don’t. We don’t want to be dependent on Putin for anything in this climate". (1)


Should Democrats be concerned? Absolutely. With a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing Hillary Clinton with the backing of 60% of Democrats and her nearest potential rival Vice President Joe Biden registering in at a paultry 10%,(2) it increasingly appears that she will face nearly no serious obstacle to her party’s nomination.

But all should not be well in the Clinton camp, as Chris Cillizza observed today in the Washington Post’s ‘The Fix’, "Hillary Clinton has a baggage problem". (3) Quoting very recent articles such as:

"There's this from the New York Times: "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation as Russians Pressed for Control of Uranium Company."

This from the Post: "For Clintons, speech income shows how their wealth is intertwined with charity."

And this from Politico: "Hillary Clinton struggles to contain media barrage on foreign cash."

Cillizza questions whether the country is ready for another scandal train that was the Clinton years, and make no mistake about it the melodrama that forced itself upon the consciousness of the nation from Monica to Whitewater; from Travelgate to Vince Foster, has taken its toll on the political house of Clinton. Check out, writes Cillizza, " the new Quinnipiac University national poll. More than six in ten (62 percent) of voters said Clinton has "strong leadership qualities." In that same sample, however, less than four in ten (38 percent) said that Clinton was honest and trustworthy. A majority (54 percent) said she's not honest and trustworthy, including 61 percent of independents.

That's a remarkable set of findings -- and speaks to the divided mind the public has about the Clintons broadly and Hillary Clinton specifically. There's a widespread belief in her capability to do the job she is running for. There's also widespread distrust in her personally. People admire her but don't know if she's honest." (3)

 And therein lies the rub, for this is at the heart of the current ongoing investigation not only into the tragedy at Benghazi but her use of a personal private server for her email while serving as secretary of state. Not illegal at the time but against her own policy directives while she was at the helm of the State Department. Given the pig’s breakfast that the Clintons have always made of their personal affairs, finances, and governmental connections questions are going to emerge demanding answers. With growing revelations and questions surrounding the administration of the Clinton Foundation and its relationships, the disappearance of thousands of emails while she was Secretary of State casts new aspersions on the veracity, indeed the integrity, of this candidate. What is certain is that the Clinton record of parsing and dissembling has always been evident; and the Clintons have never been entirely forthcoming.

 
______

(1).http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html?_r=0

(2). http://news.yahoo.com/clinton-rubio-lead-2016-us-election-poll-110848806.html

(3).http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/04/23/hillary-clintons-baggage-problem/?wpisrc=nl_fix&wpmm=1
 

Apr 22, 2015

April 22, 2015: The New Hillary, I’m Unconvinced, The Ultimate Betrayal


Robert Reich, on his Facebook post today had this to say about Hillary Clinton’s campaign: "In the ten days since launching her campaign, Hillary Clinton has said she wants to be the champion of everyday Americans when the deck is stacked in favor of those at the top. She’s come out for curbing CEO pay, raising the minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy, campaign finance reform (including a constitutional amendment to reverse "Citizens United"), federally recognized same sex marriage, and has questioned special tax breaks for hedge-fund managers.

This is an impressive start. I keep getting calls from reporters asking whether this is "enough," and whether she’s simply trying to mimic Elizabeth Warren. I tell them it’s obviously not enough – hopefully, she’ll come out in favor of a minimum wage of $15 an hour, resurrecting Glass-Steagall and busting up Wall Street, making it easier to form unions, and she’ll oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But, I say, she has time do all this, and so far she’s doing great. And if she’s trying to mimic Elizabeth Warren, fine. But instead of personalizing this, the press should understand there’s a large and growing movement out there that wants to take back our economy and democracy. Hillary is responding to it. Good for her.

What do you think?" (1)

My response to the Professor is that I remain deeply skeptical. As I posted here on January 15, 2008:

"The problem with Hillary is not that she is a woman. I have supported and managed political campaigns for women, helped get them elected to office and when elected happily followed their leadership. My problem with Hillary is that she is a Clinton " joined at the hips with the great prevaricator and serial fornicator who, in his 8 years, did little but ratify the radical conservative agenda that has led, by degrees, to the mess in which we currently find ourselves.

No matter how you cut the cards, slice it or dice it, the Clinton Administration did not conduct a ‘war on poverty’ as much as an assault upon the poor. Doug Henwood, writing in the November 2014 edition of "Harper’s" Magazine points out that in concert with Dick Morris, she "encouraged her husband to sign the 1996 bill that put and end to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC), which had been in effect since 1935. Indeed, longtime Clinton adviser Dick Morris, who has now morphed into a right-wing pundit, credits Hillary for backing both of Bill’s most important moves to the center: the balanced budget and welfare reform". Throwing "her weight behind Bill’s controversial initiative to (as he put it more than once) ‘end welfare as we know it’", she insisted in her book "Living History" that "welfare reform was designed to be ‘the beginning, not the end, of our concern for the poor’. Really? The whole point of welfare reform was disciplining the poor, not helping them," Henwood concludes. The whole point of ‘welfare reform’ was not only to control but to limit spending.

Indeed "In August 2014, the Center on Budget and Policy priorities published a report on how the Clinton welfare regime, officially designated as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), had worked out over the longer term. They found that TANF is serving fewer families despite increased demand, that the value of benefits has eroded to the point where beneficiaries can’t meet their basic needs, and that it does far less to reduce poverty than its predecessor, AFDC. In addition the report noted that almost all of the early employment gains for single mothers have since been reversed." (2)

The Clinton-era "Welfare Reform" ending, in Bill’s memorable words ‘welfare as we know it’, consisted primarily in changing the formula upon which such social spending was based. Under the New Deal legislation creating AFDC, budgets were drawn up and spending was determined on a needs basis. The Clinton reforms transformed the ‘welfare’ payments into ‘block-grants’ to the states wherein each state would be given a set amount to fund its programs. Welfare spending was transformed from a ‘needs’ based response to a budget based response. The result has been that the federal response to has not kept pace with the rising need (especially during the crash of 2007-9 and its aftermath) to the point where beneficiaries can no longer ‘meet their basic needs’.

Herein is another example of the Clinton’s use and abuse of the progressive legacy. Though they speak as liberals they act as conservatives; though they sound like a reincarnation of FDR they acted not only to ratify the host of ‘Death Valley Days, but to further dismantle the New Deal; though they posture as Democrats they are, in fact, Republicans in drag.

And so the ‘Once and Future Queen" has kicked off her campaign famously traveling by bus through Iowa, as her husband once traveled South by bus after the Democratic National Convention in 1992, posturing as ‘one of us’, engaging in photo-ops and making vague movements to the political left in order to thwart any would-be primary challengers. I’m unconvinced. The litmus test will be where she stands on the upcoming ratification of the TPP and other treaties currently being negotiated by this administration, as well as specifics concerning real Wall Street reforms and anti-trust enforcement. I suspect that there will be very little by way of specifics regarding any such agenda for to do so would commit the ultimate betrayal of her corporate paymasters.

_________

1. Reich, Robert. Post on Facebook April 22,2015.

2. Henwood, Doug. "Stop Hillary! Vote no to a Clinton Dynasty" ‘Harper’s’ Magazine,

August 2014 pgs 31-33

 

Apr 19, 2015

April 19, 2015: Email to the White House, This is not, Mr. President, why we sent you to Washington.


The United States is currently in the process of negotiating two major trade agreements with our Asian and European trading partners. The first is called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the other, currently more controversial agreement, now looming is referred to as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Bill Moyers posted on his website "Moyers and Company" an article on March 20, 2015 by Michael Nevradakis entitled "Proposed TTP Agreement is Profoundly Undemocratic". Citing previous attempts by major national and multinational corporations to end-around various "restrictions" to trade and, therefore, profits, beginning in 1995 under the Clinton administration a group calling itself the Transantlantic Business Dialogue was formed with the intent of creating a "customs union" where they could "trade and invest without any restrictions on their profits". (1) This effort ultimately failed but with negotiations currently being completed we are presented once again with yet another looming assault not only on the middle class but on the very sovereignty of our Republican form of government.

"The first thing to recognize is that TTIP is not your traditional trade agreement. In the past, trade negotiations were about border tariffs to goods, which are exported from one country and imported to another country. But already, the level of tariff barriers between the EU and the US is very low, so this time, it’ll be more about non-tariff barriers, and particularly getting rid of the regulatory barriers, as they call them, to trade. That means any regulations [that] will prevent corporations from being able to maximize their profits when they trade and invest across the Atlantic." (1)

" One of the main areas of contention surrounding TTIP are the so-called "investor-state dispute settlements," which would allow multinational corporations to sue sovereign governments over policies that they do not agree with, in special courts" . These are tribunals, as with the WTO that are not subject to the jurisdiction or oversight of national governments, national courts or, for that matter, the United Nations or any international agency. Rather disputes will be resolved in newly minted legal tribunals consisting of ‘judges’ appointed by the newly created treaty with extraterritorial power. This means that any national, state or local government imposing any regulation could find itself dragged before this tribunal and sued by a national or multinational corporation to be reimbursed for the costs of complying with any said regulation. Similar efforts beginning with the attempts in the mid-90's have been rejected but the momentum is growing for the adoption of this and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement as we speak.


It is difficult to write about these treaties and their details. Both of these treaties have been negotiated in secret with corporate attorneys who have heretofore been mostly employed as lobbyists in Washington now meeting behind closed doors with European and Asian representatives to revamp the rules of international trade in what threatens to manifest itself, like the NAFTA agreements of the 1990's, as yet another assault on the beleaguered working people of all nations so obligated; but it has been done through the most undemocratic and most non-transparent process imaginable.

There are no good reasons for these negotiations to be conducted in secrecy. Not only have the press been excluded but United States Senators cannot get vital information concerning the content of the emerging negotiations. Senators are allowed to view only select documents for limited times and not allowed to bring staff with them.

Secondly there are no good reasons why this administration should seek, let alone demand, so-called ‘fast-track’ authority regarding the passage of this legislation. "Fast-Track" here refers to a process wherein the Senate must vote up or down, without amendment and without conducting any hearings the treaties that are presented to them. Such a procedure is a grievous abrogation of constitutional responsibility on the part of Congress, and profoundly undemocratic inasmuch as the process does not allow anyone else a voice in the outcome.

That the process surrounding these negotiations have been kept so close to the vest, and that the administration is demanding ‘fast-track’ authority means that like the NAFTA and other agreements we are about to be presented with yet another assault on our sovereignly, further limiting the ability of elected governments around the world in their efforts to reign in on the egregious abuses of Capital through the establishment of rudimentary rules and regulations. The time is upon us when our elected officials, be they county commissioners, state representatives, congressmen or presidents will be left with nothing to decide. Our economy will have been privatized, our public domain given over to private administration, and our ability to establish rules and regulations and to sue in our national courts for proper redress will no longer be possible.

No good can come from this. That this administration should not only be involved with these negotiations but openly embrace not only the content but the process by which these agreements are being fashioned is an affront to every American. That this administration should demand "fast-track’ authority to pass these noxious and obnoxious treaties is a deep betrayal of every person who campaigned and voted for this President of the United States.

Last Friday I sent off an email to the White House questioning the administration’s actions regarding these treaties. In it I said that I would expect as much from a Mitt Romney, a John McCain, and especially a Herbert Hoover. This is not, Mr. President, why we sent you to Washington.
 
I have yet to receive a response.
____________

1. http://billmoyers.com/2015/03/20/john-hilary-proposed-ttip-agreement-profoundly-undemocratic/
2. http://billmoyers.com/2015/02/09/robert-reich-worst-trade-deal-youve-never-heard/

Apr 17, 2015

April 17, 2015: Taking Umbrage, A Question of Ours, Fool’s Errand


The following is an exchange set off by a posting on "Facebook" by my counsin Marah Kucaj-Oseland, in which someone she has befriended on the social website took umbrage with my reaction. The exchange was as follows:

Marah Kucaj-Oseland shared Marie Osmond's photo.
It's just that time of year!

MarieOsmond'sphoto."


Joseph Camfield: Perhaps, but it means "Ours". It is money we are investing in ourselves.

Mark: A very small percentage of the money spent by the government could be considered an investment. Investment implies return. What is the return on that investment? Your outlook basically gives them a license to steal. Wouldn't you rather keep most of your money and invest it yourself?

Joseph Camfield:  Mark that is complete nonsense. Tax money goes to educating the young, building the roads, bridges and infrastructure, providing for the national defense and yes as charged by the constitution providing for the 'general welfare'. These are investments in ourselves. Take the Howard Jarvis experiment as a case in point. California had the best school system in the world until the idiot real-estate broker turned tax guru pushed through his tax limitation proposal. Today California ranks among the 10 worst school systems in the United States. What happened to California has happened to America where for the last 40 years the only serious increases in investments have been in military hardware and prisons. The rest of the public domain has either been left to wither on the vine or has been open to exploitation by corporate interests. We had a much higher tax rate 50 years ago, the rich were getting richer, the middle class was growing and the poor were being lifted out of poverty. There is nothing demonstrable in the historical record that giving massive tax breaks to those who are already well to do increases either wealth or employment for those who are creating, through their labor, the real wealth of this country.

Mark:  Spending is not investment.  Of coarse spending is necessary, but spending is spending, not investment. If spending was investment our government would be the richest entity on earth, when in fact it is the most in debt entity on earth; your type of thinking created that debt. Open you eyes and think for yourself, quit listening to liberal politicians that tell you different. Question what they say. Spending per pupil does not equal better education. Ever since the federal government got involved in our schools, their performance has declined. Schools no longer teach how to think, they teach what to think, which is called indoctrination. You use California as a case in point, so I will too. California's massive welfare program has attracted those that wish to suck off of it, and drove away those that fund it, and now California has one of the worst financial positions in the country, along with New York and Illinios; all massive "blue" states. That is not a coincidence. Willful ignorance of the meaning of words and human nature by million of people is how we got in this mess.

Joseph Camfield: Mark, your first lesson in economics was sufficient for your confusion. Everyone from Adam Smith to Karl Marx (with the exception of that idiot Milton Friedman) agrees that labor creates wealth. From this it is reasonably deduced that wealth is created not by the individual acting alone (I can invest in everything better than the society acting through government can) but by individuals acting in concert with the greater society. Wealth, if follows, is socially produced measured in social medium, i.e., money. Now there are certain things that I or you cannot invest in but must be invested for us. Roads and bridges immediately come to mind, as does education, police and fire protection etc., The Friedmanesque mantra that we are using 'someone else's money' when we tax and invest in ourselves is popular poppycock persuasive only to the improperly initiated and the unwashed.

We are the greatest debtor nation on earth it is true. We are so in large measure not because we have spent, but because as I stated before, following the Jarvis model we have refused to tax ourselves. We once had a much more progressive income tax, and were the largest creditor nation in the world. We also were at the vanguard of technological innovation and, importantly, industrial production. We had the best schools in the world, and a rising and vibrant middle class. The last half century has seen a hollowing out of the American industrial base, the exodus of both jobs and capital out of the country and the savaging of the safety net not because we have taxed ourselves but because we have made a fetish of cutting taxes, deregulating industries, and allowing the importation of foreign goods and the exportation of labor and capital, all in the name of 'free markets'.

Secondly the Federal government has long been involved in education and, even today, does not constitute the lions share of resources on education. That is left mostly to the states. To accuse the Federal government of lowering education is laughable. The problem with schools is first the growing option of privatization given a huge boost by the 'voucher' movement, and the underfunding of the public domain that results. Second is the insane mandates, mostly by the states, that require that the schools teach to mundane standardized tests. Third, the schools have always been about teaching certain facts common to our collective experience call it what you will. I would remind you that the greatest threat to 'free' thought is not the federal government but the Texas State Board of Education which determines the content of textbooks, because it uses the same textbooks throughout the state and therefore constitutes a huge market. Texas, you will recall, just edited its history books in order to misrepresent among other things the causes of the civil war, the McCarthy era, and the civil rights struggle. In any case, back in the 'good old days' there was precious little in our books and still is about the great railroad strike of 1877, the anti-abolition riots of 1837, the race riots of 1917-1919, 1943, 1964-68; nor the Pullman Strike or any of the great struggles in the labor movement. History has always been sanitized. You were, as I was, no doubt taught in our history class that we freed the Philippines from Spain and established a beneficial protectorate until that country could raise itself up and become like us. The facts are otherwise, I discovered reading Mark Twain's "The Damned Human Race". In fact the Philippines had freed themselves before Admiral Dewey steamed into Manila Harbor and snatched their newly won freedom from them. Additionally more than a million people died on the islands in the ensuing struggle by the United States to subdue the Islands. I use this as a case in point that, as Voltaire once observed, "history is the lie commonly agreed upon.", and I point this out to demonstrate that we hardly needed 'federal interference' to reduce our civics lessons to the level of our common misunderstandings. The local board of education proved quite sufficient for that purpose.


Finally, it is the so-called 'red' states, principally in America's Southeast and plains that draw most per-capita from the public trough. The 'blue' states have larger populations and, accordingly, larger budgets.


I don't gather information from the speeches of politicians, liberal or otherwise, nor have my views been formed by the likes of Faux News or MSNBC. I read, books mostly, ones that have no pictures, and have been taught through rigorous History and Political Science classes to tell the difference between authoritative sources and popular nonsense. If you would, I would suggest you begin by reading the works of Kevin Phillips "The Politics of Rich and Poor", "Arrogant Capital" among others. Phillips was no wild eyed leftist but the author of Richard Nixon's 'southern strategy' in the1968 campaign, and later worked in the Nixon Justice Department. A died in the wool Republican, until recently, Phillips as early as 1988 began publishing the economic returns on the Jarvis inspired 'Reagan Reaction", and the effect it was having on the middle class in this country. In these works you will find, quite clearly delineated, the effect of the changes in the tax code, the movement from taxing wealth to taxing work, and the results of shifting the base of the economy from industrial production to finance has had on the decline not only of the contemporary United States but also the historical precedents in Argentina, Holland, Spain, and Great Britain. Those who refuse to learn history are damned to repeat it and we are doing our level best to repeat the examples of the aforementioned nations. The conclusion is inescapable that the implementation of breathtakingly myopic public policies since Great Actor became President has squandered the national trust to the point where for the first time since U.S. Grant was President the United States is no longer the world's largest economy. For this we can thank our conservative friends and the Democratic Leadership Council and the other Dems that went along and are currently going along with them.

No doubt I have not heard the last of these responses but I fear that I have been, by degrees, drawn to play the fool. For it is a fool’s errand indeed to try to inject some degree of enlightenment into the dark recesses of willful ignorance.


Apr 15, 2015

April 15, 2015: Gun Violence, Fixation with Firearms, Safe and Sound


In an article entitled "The True Cost of Gun Violence", the publication "Mother Jones" probed not only the pain, agony and fear resulting from this country’s gun fetish but, perhaps for the first time, attempted to put a price tag on gun violence in America. It is a revealing study.

Adding together the cost of initial medical attention, long term care, legal and penal costs, as well as lost productivity and quality of life the true cost of our fixation with firearms is staggering. The cost of gun violence is nearly 10 times what this country spends on foreign aid, nearly one and a half times Apple Corporation’s annual revenue, more than we spend on obesity, and nearly what this country spends on Medicaid. The cost to this society of each homicide is roughly four hundred and fifty thousand dollars and this country is presented with 32 of these bills each and every day. "Each gun death averages about $6 million in total costs each gun injury requiring hospitalization costs about $583,000.

The overall data is overwhelming: Guns kill 33,000 Americans every year, and injure 80,000. The total annual cost, both direct and indirect, as tabulated by "Mother Jones" is now estimated to be about 229 billion dollars a year, which factors out to about $700.00 for every man, woman and child now living in the United States. (1) There are other costs, impossible to tabulate such as the cost of fear and the inability of whole communities to rebuild because violence and threat of violence looms everywhere.

It also appears that, contrary to the propaganda put out by the National Rifle Association and other crypto-fascist organs, guns are not making us any more secure. Dick Cheney’s Wyoming, for instance, has "the highest rate of gun deaths despite its small population. It also has the has the highest costs per capita of any state $1,397." Louisiana, another gun nuts paradise where "nearly half the households in the state own a gun" has "the country’s highest gun homicide rate, 9.4 per 100,000 residents." Conversely, Obama’s Hawaii and Kennedy’s Massachusetts present the nation with the best records regarding gun violence; Hawaii with the lowest "costs per capita for gun violence in the country ($234.) followed by Massachusetts. These states also had the lowest gun death rates in 2012." Once again, Liberalism works.

We are now losing, in any given year, more Americans to this insane fixation with firearms than our armed forces have lost since the end of the Second World War. So the next time a conservative tells you that we cannot afford our Medicaid or Medicare, our Social Security or our Food Stamps, calmly suggest that perhaps the most important economy we can achieve would be to disarm America. Not only would we save money, we will sleep more safe and sound.

_________

1. Mark Follman, Julia Lurie, Jaeah Lee and James West, "The True Cost of Gun Violence, A Mother Jones Investigation" "Mother Jones" April 15, 2015.
 

Apr 13, 2015

April 13, 2015: The Once and Future Queen, Ratifying Reagan, Bastard Feudalism


Last weekend Hillary Clinton made the much anticipated announcement that she is once again a candidate for the presidency of the United States. The announcement no doubt set off much celebration through wide swaths of the Democracy for her lead in current polls over potential rivals is prohibitive.

For eight long years she sat at the right hand of King William the Fornicator, while the nation patiently awaited invitations to the Grand Ball. Presenting themselves as the modern reincarnation of Franklin and Eleanor, the Clintons went about the business not of presenting us with a "New Deal" but by and large simply ratifying the Reagan Reaction. The result was that very little was done to thwart the decades long assault on the middle class, and whatever prosperity the 90's presented was largely consumed by the already well-to-do. The 90's were the 80's and the 20's all over again with the much investigated and scandal-prone first couple emerging less like Franklin and Eleanor and more like Warren Harding and the "Dutchess".

The prospect of a ‘restoration’ in which the "Once and Future Queen" is once again ensconced in the palace is proving a difficult acquiescence among certain quarters in progressive circles. "Harper’s" magazine in its November 2014 issue featured a cover story by Doug Henwood entitled "Stop Hillary! Vote No to a Clinton Dynasty". "Hillary: Not So Fast", cried the "Nation" in its December 15/22 2014 edition featuring a front page drawing of Hillary in the foreground and Bill behind her measuring drapes for the White House. Both articles were highly critical of the Clintons questioning whether it is wise for the Democratic Party to acquiesce in what many see as the inevitability of a Hillary nomination, if not presidency.

On close inspection the case for Hillary, as it was in 2008, rests on very thin reeds. Basically, wrote Doug Henwoood in "Harpers" "It boils down to this: she has experience, she’s a woman, and her time has come." (1) Which is to say she’s tanned, she’s rested, she’s ready.

First let’s consider the question of experience. The record, such as it is, is a checkered one with little or no accomplishments. As pointed out in the "Nation" her early life was devoted to promoting the ambitions of her husband. As First Lady of the state she adopted a few causes as first ladies tend to do, but her time was mostly spent working for the Rose Law Firm whose client list included many of the major corporations who were involved with litigation with the state. In fact, much of the investigations of the Clintons financial and legal dealings in those early years, Whitewater included, involved Hillary rather than Bill. Conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest never, it seems, much concerned the First Lady. For years documents relating to these issues were not to be found, locations unknown, only to appear in the waning days of her husband’s administration tucked away in a White House closet. Noone, it will be recalled, could explain how they got there.

Then there are the questions surrounding Hillary’s years on the Board of Directors of Wal Mart Corporation, America’s largest employer, headquartered in Arkansas. For seven years she sat on the board of what was emerging as the largest corporation in America, and one of the greatest exploiters of labor, without uttering a word of protest or even concern. As Wal-Mart was expanding its operations on the backs of its workers, paying so little in wages that the company openly encouraged employees (sorry associates) to apply for public relief, Hillary for years sat silent.

As First Lady, it will be recalled, she was famously put in charge of fashioning a Health Care proposal. Instead of simply calling Ted Kennedy, who had been working on this for most of his adult life, and obtaining a preliminary bill from which to work, Hillary set about holding private meetings around the country spending precious weeks, then months, in the process. By the time the bill emerged the forces of reaction were well organized and financed and, bye and bye, the bill died an ignominious death. After this shattering rebuke she shed her role of Eleanor II and went about playing the traditional role of First Lady.

Her Senate record is equally devoid of accomplishment. Her attendance record is currently being questioned, but her time was mostly spent smoozing with political reactionaries like Jesse Helms, Orin Hatch, and Strom Thurmond. She supported a couple of bills for relief of 9/ll victims, and what Senator from New York wouldn’t, but her role in moving the bills through the Senate is negligible.

Finally there is her record as Secretary of State. Not much can be said of this time in office, Benghazi notwithstanding, for real negotiations were handled by others (George Mitchell in the Middle East as an example). On her website she features the number of miles she traveled as her signature accomplishment.

But the most damning aspect of her public record is Blackwater. Ever since it gained international prominence in 2007 by shooting up the streets in Iraq, (2) the record of ‘private security’ in war zones has been a pressing issue that has gone long unheeded by those in the corridors of power. Having more hired mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan that we have soldiers on the ground has not well served the national interests of this country, with the revolt at Fallujah in which several of these ‘contractors’ were killed, burned and hung from a bridge resulting in a military response that cost more lives and treasure and American prestige than it was worth. Clearly if the executives of Blackwater would not be brought to trial for war crimes, the contract with the company could certainly have been terminated. It was not.

What is not understood is that Blackwater is under contract not with the Department of Defense but with the Department of State. It should have been the first order of business as soon as Secretary Clinton entered her office at the State Department to void the contract with Blackwater. Here was a clear case of ‘privatization’ gone awry. Here is the poster boy for all that is wrong with the plundering of the public domain by corporate interests. I’m not talking here about the ‘no-bid’ contracts of Halliburton and others in the war zones, and the tens of billions of dollars that went unaccounted for during the Bush years in Iraq. Here, with Blackwater, is a clear example of blood in the streets, of senseless slaughter, of unprofessional behavior on the part of those charged with, among other things, protecting our diplomatic mission. Here Clinton had some discretion and, one would assume, enough of a presence to impress upon the new administration the need to rid us of this evil. Here a much needed first step toward reversing this Milton Friedman inspired headlong rush to plunder the public domain by privatizing everything; a step toward reclaiming public administration of the public’s business. Instead she remained silent and nothing changed.

Secondly, there is the argument that she’s a woman. That she is, but this alone is hardly a qualification for the highest office in the land. Perhaps it is the underlying belief that it is time for a woman to become president, ironically made possible by Clinton herself in 2008, that inspired an article in the February 23 edition of "The Nation" entitled "Waiting for Warren", referring to the newly minted Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren. Warren is, of course, demonstrably progressive, advocating and fashioning legislation that created the Consumers Protection Agency as well as much of the "Dodd-Frank" Wall Street reform law. She is also, happily for large segments of the progressive movement, female. But for Clinton to base her campaign on a nakedly sexist appeal without laying out a real rationale will leave her vulnerable come November of next year.

Lastly, she is ready. That is, she is a Clinton, and she’s there. Upon this, I suspect, rests the real foundation of her campaign. As in 2008 it boils down to the inevitability of the "Once and Future Queen" based on an emerging form of bastard feudalism that is our contemporary political culture.

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1. Doug Henwood., "Stop Hillary: Vote No to a Clinton Dynasty", "Harper’s Magazine", November 2014. Page 31

2. See my posting: "September 18, 2007: Blackwater Down, Mercenaries
On Main Street, The Murtha of all Congressmen"

Apr 8, 2015

April 8, 2015: Cat in a Thunderstorm, Well-Oiled Weathervane, Jackass in a Hailstorm


"There's no place where you can call home
Got me running like a cat in a thunder storm
Just a big bed and a telephone
Like the last remnants of a stately home

And it's a pretty hard thing
(It's not easy)
And it's hard
(It's not easy)
Well, it's a pretty hard thing
(It's not easy)
It's not easy living on your own"
----The Rolling Stones "It’s Not Easy" from the album Aftermath (1)
 
 

Nearly two weeks ago Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" touching off a firestorm that had the dear governor "running like a cat in a thunderstorm". Previously Pence has been seen as a ‘moderate’ of sorts, in what passes for moderation nowadays in the bowels of Rescumlican politics; but forced to throw the idiot wrong a bone in the wake of last years’ defeat by the marriage equality movement, Pence thought that he could slip this one under the rug unnoticed. Accordingly, in a private signing ceremony attended only by the leadership of his own party and a few religious fundamentalists, Pence quietly signed the bill into law.

The reaction was devastatingly swift with everyone from "Star Trek"s George Taikai to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association which has its headquarters in Indianapolis) to several high tech companies and those planning conventions a hue and cry went out condemning the action by the state as nothing less than legalized discrimination. Accordingly the governor was seen running like a cat in a thunderstorm, first appearing on a following Sunday’s television talk show saying the law needed to be ‘fixed" but reversing his position later that afternoon on the radio saying that the law was good as written. Hung out to dry and twisting in the political hurricane like a well-oiled weathervane the governor had, by mid-week lost all of his political bearings finding, in the words of Jagger and Richards, that it’s "pretty hard thing...living on your own".

By mid-week the State’s major newspaper the "Indianapolis Star" ran a front-page headline featuring a big black box taking up most of the front page with the words "Fix This Now" in bold white letters. This produced a ‘news conference’ in which the governor after having taken the podium stood in forlorn silence for 29 seconds looking for all the world like a jackass in a hailstorm. Finally speaking he tried desperately to wrap his arms around the incomprehensible, f admitting that although a ‘mistake’ had not been made, the law nevertheless needed amending. Meeting later with several of the legislative cabal responsible for the outrage an amendment, of sorts, was unveiled. The resulting ‘compromise’, of course, pleased no one with critics contending that the revisions didn’t go fare enough. Meanwhile, in states like Arkansas, governor Asa Hutchinson, another Rescumlican stands ready to sign a similar law into effect earning the preemptive condemnation of the likes of WalMart.

What we have here is, of course, bigotry demanding the right to discriminate using religion as a smoke screen. We have seen this nonsense before, as when the country saw an explosion in attendance at religious parochial schools in the wake of court-ordered desegregation back in the late 60's and 70's. Following the well-tread path of using the shield of religious conscience, as well as the ‘separation of church and state’ as rationale for re-segregating the society, the idiot wrong has here extended the argument beyond the church and schools into main street.

It is no coincidence that Indiana with a history, in the 1930's, of being ruled by the Klu Klux Klan, that the first experiment in this form of bigotry should come from the fertile fields of the Hoosier state. Given its history, perhaps Governor Pence thought this a relatively mild concession to the siren voice of intolerance. One, perhaps, will never know.

In any case it is curious that the idiot wrong will argue that there is no state jurisdiction, because of the separation of church and state, over religious conscience but will, in other arenas, argue against such separation. There is, of course, no logical consistency to these arguments moored as they are not in constitutional law nor in New Testament theology but rather in the dark murky bigotry of political expediency.

There is no need for the law. Everyone in America–Indiana included–is free to practice their religion with the number of churches standing in every community a visible witness to the robust practice thereof. Therefore the very name of the act is a misnomer, for there is no freedom in need of ‘restoration’. Others were simply demanding, and have been getting, the same freedoms as the alleged aggrieved. You can almost tell from the very names of these initiatives be it "Religious Freedom Restoration" or "Patriot Act" or the "Fair Tax" proposal often bandied about that whatever the title of the law or the initiative it is almost always a cover for a falsehood. Whatever the proponents call it is almost surely a means of controlling the language so as to control the debate and obfuscate real intent. So it is here. "Religious Freedom" is here conflated with discrimination. Freedom here comes to mean, in practice, discrimination; and, let there be no mistake about it, discrimination leads to persecution

Meanwhile the governor, after all this effort, stands like a jackass left out in a thunderstorm.

____________

1. http://www.metrolyrics.com/its-not-easy-lyrics-rolling-stones.html