Yes, Get Over It — Constructively

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Rep. Steve Womack addressing an overflowing crowd at town hall Feb 21, 2017

Yesterday I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by Rep. Steve Womack (Republican) of our 3rd Congressional District (Northwest Arkansas). The room would comfortably hold thirty people. Over 200 showed up. With the hallways and doorways and standing room thronged, half the people ended up standing outside in the parking lot for the 1.5 hour event. In light rain and a heavy temper.

Womack could have taken charge of the situation by reconvening five blocks away in the much larger community center. He chose not to do so. He could have opened the meeting by immediately taking questions, but instead he spent at least twenty minutes talking about his agenda. His primary concern was the national debt which he elaborated citing numbers and projections intended to shock and awe.

Not surprising for Col. Womack, a 30-year national guard veteran who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, 39th Separate Infantry Brigade in the Sinai, Egypt, between 2002 and 2009. He’s a member of Cross Church, earthly kingdom of Ronnie Floyd who has served in a leadership role of the world’s largest Southern Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 15 million members as of 2016. Womack is a poster child for the right wing.

The Arkansas 3rd district rolled to the Republican side in 1967 following continuous Democratic control since Reconstruction and has remained in Republican hands ever since. Only a couple of times have strong Democratic candidates come close (1992: 47.2% to 50.2%) to regaining the seat while generally Republicans enjoy over 70% majority on Election Day. Womack is serving his fourth term.

Despite this position of strength for Womack, the crowd wasn’t having it. In a surly mood in a room whose temperature approached one hundred degrees due to severe overcrowding, people jostled signs, interrupted, and talked over Rep. Womack in what became the norm for the entire exchange. His temper flared on occasion, telling people to shut-up and reiterating his party line position on issues ranging from the EPA to National Endowment for the Arts to Medicare. Less than a quarter of those who wanted to ask questions were actually able to do so before his ‘drop dead’ quit time of 10 a.m.

Driving home, I kept wondering what people actually expected. Did anyone think for an instant that he would agree to demands that he personally ‘do something’ about the ‘man-child Trump,’ as one speaker requested? Did anyone think that he would suddenly veer off the positions in which the political right has grown increasingly entrenched for the last fifty years?

I didn’t. I know lots of people like him. They’re my relatives and my neighbors. They’re positive they’re right. Nothing is going to change them.

But after a lifetime of advocacy on various impossible causes (women’s rights, environment, and most recently drug policy reform), I remain optimistic that in some small demilitarized zone between right and left, a productive dialogue can lead to some understanding. At the least, a grudging mutual respect.

Few in the crowd seemed to understand that philosophy. They had an ax to grind in their outrage over Donald Trump and his agenda. They wanted to shout and hurl accusations. Whatever ground might have been gained in building a tenuous link of communication died under the stomping feet of those who only wanted to protest what has come to be the current reality: Republicans control the government.

Despite a few well-considered questions that earned a thoughtful response from Rep. Womack, less than a quarter of those who kept raising hands ever had a chance to speak. Womack avoided replying to demands for increasing taxes on the so-called ‘one percent’ as he explaining how government had exceeded its mandate and was spending two-thirds of its income on ‘mandatory’ programs compared to the 1960s when mandatory only consumed one third.

Womack, along with the Republican majority, condemn food stamps and other social support programs as well as protections for waterways and the air we breathe. This isn’t a new conflict. It’s been picking up steam for five decades. Aligned on the side of the protesters are the progressives who—many of them—have worked to enact those very programs. Aligned on Womack’s side are those who see those programs as a symptom of moral decay.

Railing about the national debt is a convenient cover for such moralistic thinking. Every president since Calvin Coolidge had added to the national debt, most recently George W. Bush by 101% and Obama by 68%. The elephant in the room (literally) is the wars started by Bush after 9/11. The cost of the Iraq War tops two trillion and in Afghanistan, over four trillion with no end in sight.[1]

As we all know, financing what we want when we want it ends up with the ugly reality of paying off debt without getting anything in return. With interest. This is the staggering problem keeping Womack and other legislators awake at night, Democrats among them. But while the portion of national revenues dedicated to mandatory spending has increased, military spending now gobbles up fifty percent of discretionary spending. So while Womack et al set their sights on cutting other discretionary spending such as public broadcasting,[2] none of them mention the possibility of letting the Middle East sink or swim on its own.

Republicans seem hell bent on continuing to wage war on behalf of Israel and oil, throwing in the specter of terrorism and a nuclear Iran for good measure. The truth is, none of these ‘reasons’ hold water. The U. S. could fully withdraw from the Middle East without suffering any real threat here at home.[3] But that would outrage the special interests: military contractors, oil sheikdoms, the Israel lobby, and a hypnotized electorate who equates patriotism and war.

Unless we culturally divest from war, even a massive cut in non-military discretionary spending would do little to offset the debt, much less make a dent in the mandatory side of the scales.[4] And while Social Security and Medicare are theoretically paid for through payroll tax deductions, the increasingly longer projected life expectancy of Americans means that people far outlive the amount they’ve paid in.[5] Fewer workers paying for increasing numbers of retirees leads to the brick wall ahead.

One of the main arguments raised against Womack’s insistence on cutting programs, including ‘restructuring’ mandatory spending programs, was the repeated cry to increase taxes on the rich. He never once acknowledged the question or attempted to answer. The facts are that in the 1950s and ‘60s, the time praised by Womack when mandatory spending only constituted about a third of the national revenue, the wealthiest Americans paid a top income tax rate of 91%. Today, the top rate is 43.4%. In 2014, after deductions, the richest one-percent paid an effective federal income tax rate of 24.7%.[6]

Loopholes which allow billionaires like Trump to pay zero taxes have been skillfully placed into the tax code by cooperative legislators benefiting from generous campaign contributions and other perks. These same legislators prize their own interests above their constituents, catering to corporate profits instead of forcing lower prices on essentials like prescription drugs. This outrages Americans, causes distrust in government, and propels a demagogue like Trump into power.

Meanwhile, in the guise of addressing the debt, Republicans gleefully set about righting the perceived moral decay they’ve campaigned on since Ronald Reagan. They’re eager to cut federal spending for Planned Parenthood (further restrict abortion rights), public radio and television (stifle the progressive agenda), and especially social support programs like unemployment and food stamps (force slackers to work), but such changes promise little more than a drop in the bucket of deficits.

As in yesterday’s meeting with Womack, progressives repeatedly fail to make a strong case for their agenda or provide meaningful solutions to the nation’s fiscal distress. Angry demonstrations only delay what progressives must do to take back leadership of the political spectrum. We must show why improving conditions for the poor, the jobless, and the weakest among us is the only path to solvency, why strong environmental protection must be preserved, why women must be allowed to decide who gets born.

These arguments must be made, and in order for them to gain purchase in the near term, dialogue with elected officials like Womack is essential. Public tantrums are counterproductive. In the long term, refinement of and spirited advocacy for progressive policies will form the platform by which a progressive political party can regain control. Among us, we must find those willing to sacrifice themselves to the public arena as candidates capable of inciting voters’ imaginations with such an agenda.

Then will be the time to shout.

~~~

 

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/09/cost-wars-iraq-afghanistan/499007/

[2] https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/military-spending-united-states/

[3]  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-faux/why-are-we-in-the-middle_b_7301370.html

[4] https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/

[5] https://www.thebalance.com/current-federal-mandatory-spending-3305772

[6] http://americansfortaxfairness.org/tax-fairness-briefing-booklet/fact-sheet-taxing-wealthy-americans/

 

Treason In The Name of God Is Still Treason

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The United States now faces a Republican government whose members openly state their wish to make the country a Christian nation. Vice President Pence, among others, has proudly proclaimed that his God comes before country. Legislators compete to ‘out-Christian’ each other in conservative Congressional districts.

What are these people thinking?

The Founding Fathers set down rules about this new nation. The constitution specifically restricts government establishment of religion. Do Pence et al not know this? Or are they too wrapped up in zealotry to realize what’s at stake?

A recent Pew Research Center poll delivers the news that while only 71% of Americans identify as “Christian,” over 90% of legislators do so.

Why have the ‘nones’ grown in the public, but not among Congress?” asked Greg Smith, associate director for research at Pew, referring to people who check “none” on surveys asking their religion.

One possible explanation is people tell us they would rather vote for an elected representative who is religious than for one who is not religious.[1]

Evidently voters assume that a religious legislator is more trustworthy, this despite the fact that a long list of religious elected officials have been indicted and/or convicted of  crimes ranging from sexual abuse to fraud. In the Obama Administration alone, the dirty laundry of seven legislators (three Democrats, four Republicans) came to light. Under George W. Bush, six legislators fell from grace (three and three) while five members of his executive branch—all Republicans—also were found guilty of various crimes.[2]

That doesn’t touch the continuing eruption of scandals involving Christian church leaders. In 2015, Christian TV celebrity Josh Duggar was outed for molesting his younger sisters and was soon thereafter found to have joined (twice) an online service for cheating on your spouse. In 2016, just one of many church leader sex eruptions involved another Arkansas preacher, lay pastor David Reynolds, “who in addition to “discern[ing] the will of Christ through study, mutual exhortation and prayer,” to quote his former(?) church’s website, allegedly had a habit of exchanging child pornography on the Internet—with irresistible social media screennames ‘sweetoothcandy3,’ ‘Ethanluvsts,’ and ‘Luvsomecandy.’”[3]

Then there are the Catholic priests and little boys.

You’d think that some of this would tip off the voting public that Christians hold no moral high ground. Religion and morality are not synonymous. Morality does not depend upon religion, though for some, this is “an almost automatic assumption.”[4]

Yet the cognitive dissonance between the reality of Christian misdeeds and the public’s continuing belief that Christians are somehow less flawed than the average human continues unabated. Add that to the decades of Republican strategists wielding hot-button issues like abortion and prayer in schools, and it helps explain how well-intentioned voters simply do not understand that the foundations of our great nation cannot be trusted to Christians.

If Republican voters read a bit more history, they would appreciate the context of our constitutional mandate. They would understand that it was state-sponsored religion that drove early colonists to brave the Atlantic Ocean. History has a lot to teach about our hard-won freedom to live and worship as we see fit.

In 300 AD, the late Roman Empire enforced Christianity at the point of a sword. The useful concept of government empowered by God’s will spread through Europe. Those who wouldn’t swear fealty to a Christian God and the anointed King died a brutal death. Along the way, compulsory tithing (crops, coin, whatever you’ve got) supported both kingdoms.

As Europe descended into the Dark Ages (450 – 1100 AD), only the priests knew how to read and write. People were captive of whatever the priests told them. Religion became a tool of strong men who gained power and wealth at the expense of the working man. It’s a model that apparently hasn’t lost its usefulness.

This week for example, Trump and his Congressional minions installed an education secretary who plans to divert tax dollars toward religious schools that don’t have to meet standards.

… In a 2001 interview for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, [DeVos] and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.[5]

The European religious wars between 1524 and 1648 erupted after Martin Luther protested Catholic corruption such as buying forgiveness and ignoring priestly orgies with prostitutes. In response to this heretical bunch of Protestants, the Catholic inquisition targeted anyone who questioned the teachings or practices of the church. Thousands of Protestants, Jews, and other heathens were tortured and burned at the stake.[6]

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, the uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics …[7]

In 1659, the first enactment of religious liberty in the new colonies, the Maryland Toleration Act, drafted by Lord Baltimore, provided: “No person or persons…shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.”

This became the central theme of the First Amendment which states, in part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

All this is lost in the inflamed rhetoric of today’s evangelical right-wingers. Hard lessons won over the centuries leading up to the founding of the United States are now at risk of being entirely forgotten in a growing rush to create a Christian nation.

The 20th century saw the most rapid social and economic change of any time in human history. Conservatives, by definition, loath change. Spotting opportunity amid the fear provoked by such radical change, Republican strategists began inciting certain segments of the voting public. The so-called Silent Majority elected Reagan on the promise that their traditional lifestyles would once again become the national norm.

Despite the impossibility of this promise, Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech—one of the most significant speeches of the 20th century—was delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. That speech included references to C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, “a great spiritual awakening in America,” America’s own “legacy of evil,” school prayer, the Ten Commandments, and this telling litany: “an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of adultery, teenage sex, pornography, abortion, and hard drugs.”[8]

In the face of such resistance and without pretending to be a religion, progressives have pursued very Christ-like goals for generations. Ending slavery was part of that. Banning child labor was another. The long string of progressive political change has produced everything from a five-day work week to Social Security. There’s no equivalent political agenda whose objective is to benefit the human condition. All the conservatives can offer is an appeal for the good old days.

The great American experiment has been a fraught journey of defining what it means to offer ‘liberty and justice for all.’ The courts have relied on the constitution and its amendments in deciding what those promises meant. Their decisions have confirmed the rights of women, minorities, and homosexuals and sharpened the separating line between church and state.

Not happy with how all that has filtered out, extremists now want a ‘go-back’ option that takes away those rights and blurs the line so that teachers can lead prayers in schools, churches can campaign for candidates, and Christian teachings dictate national policy. Too many have been led to believe this is possible, thanks to Republican strategy in motivating voters through inciting religious passions.

Well, it is possible. We can make the United States a Christian nation. But it won’t be the nation our Founders intended. It would be like primitive nations where students are told what—not how—to think, where nonbelievers are subject to torture and brutal execution, where religion instead of reason dictates policy.

By overturning the fundamental concept upon which this nation was founded, every effort to convert the United States into a Christian nation is an act of high treason.

~~~

[1] http://religionnews.com/2017/01/03/religious-make-up-of-the-new-congress-overwhelmingly-christian/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_federal_politicians_convicted_of_crimes#Executive_branch

[3] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/22/why-do-conservative-christian-clergy-keep-screwing-around.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality_and_religion

[5] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wars_of_religion and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

[7] https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.htm

[8] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/juneweb-only/6-7-12.0.html

A Sword Cuts Both Ways

swordFor decades, the religious right has gained access to tax dollars by filling a niche in the education system. In addressing an ‘at risk’ population among children, these religious activists have made great strides toward the use of tax dollars for religious instruction.

It’s a clever end-run around the law. In Arkansas until 2012, a quietly growing swarm of such preschools illegally utilized millions of tax dollars for programs that began each day with prayer and Bible study. (Which they have never been required to pay back.) Classroom activities included coloring images of Biblical scenes, singing hymns, and the occasional time-out at the principal’s office where the recalcitrant child might be prayed over to cast out the demons causing his/her unruly behavior.

Tipped off by thoughtful journalists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) threatened a lawsuit against the state. Specifically cited in the complaint was the Growing God’s Kingdom preschool at West Fork. The Arkansas Times, arguably the state’s only non-rightwing media, reported that “According to the school’s handbook, parents are assured that staff members will ‘strive too [sic] ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.’ The preschoolers, it continues, will be taught ‘the word of God’ so that they can ‘spread the word of God to others.’”

Outrageous not only because the preschool blatantly advertised its religious intent in its name and literature without the state blinking an eye before handing over tax dollars, its owner/operator Justin Harris also served as an elected representative in the state’s legislature. And he wasn’t the only elected official sworn to uphold the Constitution who grabbed illegal tax dollars hand over fist. Similar preschools operated under the leadership of Johnny Key, also a legislator and – incredibly – in 2015 designated by the Republican governor Asa Hutchinson as head of the Department of Education, even though Hutchinson had to massage the state’s rules about qualifications for the department head because Key didn’t meet them.

Specifically targeted by religious preschools in order to boost their standing for ever greater grant funding, potential ‘students’ are rounded up from problematic environments.

  • The ABC Program serves educationally deprived children, ages birth through 5 years, excluding a kindergarten program. The Arkansas Better Chance for School Success Program serves children ages 3 and 4 years from families with gross income not exceeding 200% of the federal poverty level.
  • Eligible children for the ABC program shall have at least one of the following characteristics: § Family with gross income not exceeding exceeding 200% of FPL  § Has a demonstrable developmental delay as identified through screening  § Parents without a high school diploma or GED  § Eligible for services under IDEA  § Low birth weight (below 5 pounds, 9 ounces)  § Income eligible for Title I programs  § Parent is under 18 years of age at child’s birth  § Limited English Proficiency  § Immediate family member has a history of substance abuse/addiction  § Parent has history of abuse of neglect Or is a victim of abuse or neglect
  • An age-eligible child who falls into one of the following categories shall be exempt from family income requirements: § Foster child § Child with an incarcerated parent § Child in the custody of/living with a family member other than mother or father § Child with immediate family member arrested for or convicted of drug-related offenses § Child with a parent activated for overseas military duty

Further enticement for struggling parents is that ABC funded programs provide free child care and pick-up/delivery services for children. What low income parent would not rush to place their child in such a program whether or not they want their child indoctrinated in fundamentalist Christian religion?

State employees at the Department of Human Services, which oversees this particular realm of education and tax dollars and in charge of the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program, could not account for how the money was spent by these schools, citing chaotic bookkeeping methods. The state did not require any particular accounting method. The state then or now does not know whether tax dollars granted to preschools and other educational programs serving ‘at risk’ children actually are used for that purpose, only requiring that grants be kept in a separate bank account.

Despite the wimpy crackdown in 2012, random yet infrequent inspections by state enforcement personnel lack the ability to determine whether prayers, hymn singing, and exorcising of demons might yet continue, stopping only the moment an inspector walks through the door.

In the aftermath of unwanted scrutiny by AU, the state allowed these powerful religious entities to fabricate an imaginary line between religious instruction and the so-called ‘ABC Day,’ a block of seven hours where secular education supposedly occurs without any religious indoctrination. While delineating these requirements in a new section of is program codes (see Section 23 at the DHS website), the restrictions on how tax dollars might be used fail to include rent, insurance, utilities, and other overhead expenses of the overall operation. Children bused to the school before the ABC day begins or who remain after are immersed in religious instruction, a convenient sleight of hand since parents’ work hours rarely coincide with ABC instruction hours.

As specifically stated in Section 23.04.4 of ABC Rules:

  • No religious activity may occur during any ABC day and no ABC funds may be used to support religious services, instruction or programming at any time.

Without a viability test by which religious preschools must prove their religious instruction could continue without tax dollars, there is no method to determine if ABC funds are used to support religion. Such a viability test would have to show that without tax dollar grants, these schools generate enough income from other sources to keep the rent paid and the lights on. The state has made no effort to devise such a test.

Now let’s take a sharp turn to a similar situation on the other side of the coin. As the newly installed majority Republican Congress rubs its hands in glee over its sudden ascension to total control over the nation’s lawmaking, no issue is more eagerly addressed than the longstanding thorn in the abortion debate—Planned Parenthood. Early calls for defunding this nonprofit organization cite exactly the same argument as those opposed to tax dollars for religious education.

Recently questioned by CNN’s reporter Jake Tapper, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan explained the need to stop tax dollars from supporting Planned Parenthood.

Well, there is a long-standing principle that we’ve all believed in. And—by the way, this is for pro-choice, pro-life people—that we don’t want to commit taxpayer funding for abortion. And, Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider.

So, we don’t want to effectively commit taxpayer money to an organization providing abortions. But, we want to make sure that people get their coverage. That’s why there’s no conflict by making sure that these dollars go to federal community health centers, which provide these services and have a vast larger network than these Planned Parenthood clinics, which—which are surrounded by a lot of controversy.

And, we don’t want to commit people’s taxpayer dollars to effectively funding something that they believe is morally unconscionable. Not everybody believes that and I understand that. But, that’s a long-standing principle that we’ve had in this country that we want to maintain.

Tapper countered Ryan’s remarks by citing the Hyde Amendment which ensures that federal funding isn’t paying for abortion, Tapper asked “of course, taxpayers don’t fund abortions, right now, right?”

“Right,” Ryan fumbled. “But, they get a lot of money and—and you know, money is fungible and it effectively floats these organizations which then use other money. You know, money is fungible.”

Ah. Money is fungible.

Of course it’s beyond Ryan’s comprehension that anyone would consider early childhood religious indoctrination to be “morally unconscionable.”

If Ryan and his cabal of rightwing religionists pursue their effort to kill Planned Parenthood (and thereby leave millions of women without reproductive health care), their argument goes against them in the wholesale religious perversion of our nation’s youth.

Religionists cite the helpless condition of a fetus and the ruthless medical procedures which may be used to terminate its life all while they discount the agonized decision-making women engage in before choosing such a path. Yet what is more helpless than a barely verbal child relinquished to a daily dose of brainwashing?

More to the point central to any federal legislation, what has longer and more consequential ramifications for the nation? While those terminated in the womb are removed from the overall population, the clear agenda for youthful brainwashing is to “Grow God’s Kingdom.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. The Religious Right will not stop until they have forced the United States of America to fit their definition of a Christian nation.

Compare the two programs: one provides financial assistance for medical care to women old enough to bear children and therefore old enough for reasoned decision-making. The other takes children not old enough to reason or speak for themselves and forces them to undergo religious indoctrination.

Imagine, if you will, religious tax-funded preschools which teach Islam.

~~~

Note: The red herring in Ryan’s argument centers on his theory that community clinics could provide adequate replacement services for those now available through Planned Parenthood. It would take significant expansion and investment for such clinics to equal the services offered by PP to over five million people per year.

This Land Is Mine

map-story-of-palestinian-nationhood

As you may have noticed, I have an opinion on just about everything. I’m moderately well-read and yet readily admit I’m no expert. With that disclaimer in place, I’m about to wade into a controversial subject: Israel.

You’d think that Jewish people suddenly gaining the support of Western nations in establishing the State of Israel after 1948 would be thankful, grateful, and humbled. After all, their return to the Middle East after centuries of diaspora involved shoving aside a mixed Palestinian population that had enjoyed occupancy of those lands for more than a thousand years.

Supporters of Israel would say that Palestine didn’t really exist all that time, that the lands now contested by Israel had never been a Palestinian state. But that’s not exactly true.

  • Palestinians in Ottoman times were “[a]cutely aware of the distinctiveness of Palestinian history …” and “[a]lthough proud of their Arab heritage and ancestry, the Palestinians considered themselves to be descended not only from Arab conquerors of the seventh century but also from indigenous peoples who had lived in the country since time immemorial, including the ancient Hebrews and the Canaanites before them.[1]

In other words, before the 1948 effort to establish a new Zion, people of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faith lived peaceably side by side.

I grant that a traumatized population of Jews needed a safe place to call their own. The so-called Zionist movement among Jews had gained strength since the late 1800s. After World War II, the time seemed right to create such a place amid the political chaos and horrors of concentration camps, and as the most recent controlling power over that region, Britain agreed to portion an area for this purpose.

The question of who has ‘rights’ to the lands designated now as Israel and Palestine quickly runs into quicksand of epic proportions. Britain had no more legitimacy in its occupation of that region than anyone else, so whatever it did stands on shaky ground. Before them, the Ottoman Turks controlled it and before that a series of strongmen and empires dating far before the Romans.

Does the Jewish claim hold any greater merit than the Palestinian claim?

Short answer: No.

In fact, if the same argument were used in the United States, Native Americans have the right to reclaim the entire continent because, after all, they ‘owned’ these lands for thousands of years up until four hundred years ago. For much of the land mass, Native ownership continued until less than two hundred years ago. Europeans committed genocide to gain control, just as many of the Jewish faith have been slaughtered over the centuries. Does that mean that foreign nations, working together, should come into the United States, champion the Native claim, and forcibly remove people from their farms and cities in order to return some of these lands to the Natives?

I’ll let you think about that for a minute.

Like it or not, lands of this planet change ownership. The Celts invaded the British Isles which were then invaded by the Romans then later invaded by Angles, Saxons, and other Germanic tribes, and then by marauding Danes and Norse until an amalgam began calling itself England. There’s no turning back the clock to some theoretical golden age of Israel when the Jewish faith controlled some portion of the Levant any more than Florida can be returned to the control of the Seminoles. So why do those currently in control of Israel’s politics think they have the right to seize ever more Palestinian lands?

More to the point, why would any American think we had a legitimate dog in this fight?

Yet, hearing the slander issuing from the assumed incoming president against President Obama (no doubt using words put in his mouth by his Jewish son-in-law and Christian radicals swarming into his nascent inner circle), you’d think that any criticism or restriction of continuing Jewish invasion of Palestinian lands was an act of treason on our part.

It’s way past time for the United States to join United Nations efforts to chastise Israel for its aggression.

You’d think a people long stigmatized by reputations for greed, insularity, and arrogance would be cautious about validating those prejudices by acting in exactly that way. But what else does the world see but Israeli settlers bulldozing Palestinian orchards and homes to make way for illegal settlements?

  • Three large clusters of traits are part of the Jewish stereotype (Wuthnow, 1982). First, Jews are seen as being powerful and manipulative. Second, they are accused of dividing their loyalties between the United States and Israel. A third set of traits concerns Jewish materialistic values, aggressiveness, clannishness.[2]

The U.S. agenda with Israel isn’t just a benevolent hand-up to downtrodden people devastated by the Holocaust. The mostly silent force behind the U. S. involvement in Israel are certain American Jews and Christians who, based on the Bible, believe that prophecies preordain that Israel will return to Jewish control in the end times, presaging the second coming. It has become a fanatical belief for some Christians (Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for example) that Israel must be protected at any cost.

  • We are living in exciting times when we can witness Bible prophecy being fulfilled before our very eyes. Many of these prophecies relate to the Jewish people and their nation. [See Christian Prophecy]

Aside from the push to implement Christian prophecies (an easy tool of wealth-driven politicos to gain support of credulous voters) and self-serving blather about Israel being the shining light of democracy in an otherwise benighted region, it’s highly likely that some of the U.S. agenda is far removed from benevolence and derives from our thirst for oil. We’ve covertly overthrown legitimate governments in retaliation against oil-rich Middle East nations trying to control their own natural resources.

  • In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected as the prime minister [of Iran]. He became enormously popular in Iran after he nationalized Iran’s petroleum and oil reserves. He was deposed in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, an Anglo-American covert operation that marked the first time the US had overthrown a foreign government during the Cold War.[3]

So much for the shining moral light of democracy.

Other reasons for our support of Israel might be that our money buys cooperation in a place where an imperialist nation like us needs a friend. Spying, meddling, and otherwise keeping oil-rich nations off balance improves the U.S. advantage and assures the continuing flow of oil. After all, why pump domestic when we can use theirs first?

Surely a complex hidden U.S. agenda includes strategies about Russia, China, and other powers that border the Middle East. If there must be conflict, let it happen there, far from our shores. It’s easy to see why we might hesitate about getting too tough on Israel.

Our annual tithing of foreign economic aid to Israel tops $347 for every man, woman, and Jewish child, courtesy of the American taxpayer. In 2013, the last year for which data is available, we gave Israel $2,943,230,000 in military aid alone, more than twice as much as any other country on earth.[4] We’ve ensured they have the latest in modern weaponry and nuclear technology.

When is it ever enough? America’s diplomacy toward the Middle East has favored Israel to the point that we tolerate their continuing arrogance in pushing into Palestinian lands, thus earning us the enmity of Islamic extremists. After all, suicide bombers didn’t spring fully formed from the forehead of Zeus.

While events in the Middle East may be based in part on territorial disputes and conflicts of cultures, the oil markets, and other political and economic realities, underneath it all is religion. At the heart of that is Judaism and its use by Jews to define themselves as a justified and holy people no matter how much blood is on their hands. As the old song goes, “This land is mine, God gave this land to me.” [An astute cartoon rendering of this song says it all.]

Why should the age of a religion be a criterion by which to judge its righteousness and therefore its legitimacy in world affairs? But then, when did righteousness have anything to do with it?

There’s nothing wrong with groups of people holding onto traditional religious beliefs and practices. That is, until those beliefs and practices lead to violence, until individuals, states, or churches use religion to justify taking power and wealth by force. But if religion justifies taking land to form a nation, where is the Catholic nation? Or the Buddhist nation? Or, for that matter, a nation of Wiccan?

Herein lies the inherent evil of religion and with it the current threat to our future. If we’re not careful, the incoming Trump Administration—led by a man who won’t learn or think and given over to his zealot minions to run—will plunge us headlong into World War III.

Over Israel.

~~~

Latest development: Dec 29 comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry on how Israel is committing suicide.

Don’t like the headline map? Check the comments pro and con.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinians

[2] From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_Jews#cite_ref-26, citing Schneider, David J. (2004). The psychology of stereotyping. Guilford Press. p. 461.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran#Contemporary_era

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_foreign_aid

 

 

One Person, One Vote

electoral-college-vs-popular-vote

I live in Arkansas. Arkansas went for Trump in a big way. But wait—34% of voters cast their ballot for Hillary. So before you start defending the electoral college by talking about the great divide between the elites in cities and the downhome rednecks in the nation’s midsection, think about that.

Think about all the conservatives who live in Los Angeles, my brother among them. They voted for Trump.

Think about all the liberal votes cast in Oklahoma (28.9%), arguably the most conservative state in the nation. In Kansas, Hillary got 36% of the vote. Same in Tennessee.

The fact is that everyone’s vote should count. The Founding Fathers could not have conceived of a time like ours with mechanized, industrialized food production and the majority of the population living in urban centers. Their wildest imaginings couldn’t have conjured the internet or all the other new ways of communication and information sharing.

The future of our nation depends on getting this right. We’ve amended the constitution 27 times, ten of those coming right after they wrote it. If the Fathers thought their document was perfectly suited for all future times, they wouldn’t have included a provision for amendments.

I admit there’s an icicle’s chance in hell that such an amendment would be put forth by a power-drunk Congress in the coming session. But any patriot concerned about the nation’s future needs to work for this change until it happens. One person, one vote.

As a side note, I’d like to advocate for a direct vote on state offices as well. No more of this majority win in the county where all the county votes go for that winner.

Representation means all votes count.

Frankenpot

frankenpot-scientist-final

Last night PBS NewsHour featured a story about the new cannabis derivatives. Mostly it focused on 99% pure THC and how dangerous it is. How it can be addictive. How it can be abused.

This is what we do, we humans. We take something that’s pretty much perfect the way Nature makes it then we fuck it up. Gild the lily.

I predicted this, actually. Not that I’m taking in satisfaction in seeing my prediction come true.

The push behind 99% pure THC isn’t from pot heads. It’s from pharmaceutical companies. It’s from doctors who want to prescribe an exact dose of some chemical that they think will provide x-result. It’s from legislators whose balls shrink when facing a question of whether to legalize cannabis for people to use as they see fit—because the culture war is still going on.

You know, that war where the bulk of an entire generation smoked weed and saw truth no one wanted them to see. That truth about how America talks out of both sides of its mouth—oh, we’re a Christian nation. Oh, let’s go to war. Let’s segregate blacks. Let’s be complete and utter jackasses to anyone not exactly like us.

Weed opened a generation’s eyes to chemicals poisoning our food, air, and water, to the worship of wealth, to our rights to our bodies and our lives, our innate morality. In the epiphany of getting high with friends, we saw love was the answer. Peace was the answer.

We said fuck off to the corporations and war machine and went back to the land.

They didn’t take it lying down. They waded into our pot parties with batons, guns, and arrest warrants. Some of us stuck it out. We grew weed in ditches and creek banks. They came with their helicopters and tracking dogs. We grew weed in spare bedrooms and closets. They came with their infrared cameras.

Then we started the real work—political work, outing ourselves as advocates for cannabis. The result is currently 26 states with laws allowing medical use and a growing tide of states allowing recreational use.

In response, the Establishment has said, oh, grow your own? Smoking weed? That can’t possibly be allowed. It’s not real medicine. Real medicine comes in pills and needles that doctors can prescribe in exact dosage because, as we all know, people don’t know shit about what they need. They can’t tell if one puff is enough. Or three.

This is how it works. You take a perfect God-given plant and make it dangerous. This arrogant strategy has worked with just about every magical plant our ancestors relied on. Only with our clever modern techniques of science, we have made them deadly. Opium – a natural anesthetic used as far back as history takes us. Useful, relatively safe. But let’s improve that, because doctors, science, politicians. Let’s make morphine.

Decades pass. Oh, wait, morphine is addictive. Let’s fix that—let’s make heroin.

Decades pass. Oh wait, heroin is addictive even worse than morphine. Let’s make opiate clones, you know, OxyContin and Oxycodone and all that.

Uh-huh. How’s that working out?

It happened to coca leaf. A simple leaf. Stuff a few in between your back teeth and your cheek and let it work while you hike up the Andes and hoe your potato crop. Then the geniuses got ahold of it. Cocaine! Wonderful—let’s put it in snake-oil tonics and feel-good drinks so we can make money.

Then, no, wait, people get hooked on this feel good stuff. Let’s make it more scientific. Voila! We have amphetamine, methamphetamine, and Adderall we hand out to our kids like candy. Gee, anyone have any idea how we got so many people addicted to meth?

Now we’re on the same road with cannabis. Not enough to take what we’ve been given. No, we’ve got to meddle, ‘improve,’ synthesize and concentrate. Satisfy the corporate agenda to create something they can profit from. Take away a person’s right to grow his own poppy, his own cannabis alongside the tomatoes and peppers. Separate him from his instincts toward health and well-being and put him in the hands of doctors and pills.

It’s always about the money.

And about taking personal responsibility away from individuals.

The cycle of harmful effects from this new Frankenpot is just beginning.  But the harmful effect of this mindset should be familiar by now. It screams to us from our militarized police forces and our overcrowded prisons, from the violent underworld spawned by prohibition, from the desperate alleyways where homeless addicts hide.

What happens when you gild a lily?

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” William Shakespeare‘s 1595 play King John, iv.2

The lily dies.

Food for the Holidays!

cake

A holiday treat might include a big slab of delicious cake with that hot cup of tea. Here’s an easy recipe that’s become one of my family favorites!

Applesauce Cake

2 ½ cups flour
1 ¾ cups sugar, or 1 cup sugar and ¾ cup honey
1 ½ teaspoon soda
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
1 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cup hot water (⅓ c if using honey)
½ cup shortening
2 eggs at room temperature
Optional: 1 cup raisins and ½ cup chopped English walnuts

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour baking pan, either 13x9x2 or 2 round layers 8 or 9 x1½ inches.
Measure wet ingredients into bowl and mix thoroughly. If eggs or water are cold, the shortening won’t blend well. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until well blended, then increase mixer speed and beat three minutes. Pour into pans.
Bake oblong 60-65 minutes, layers 50-55 minutes, until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
When cake has cooled, frost with Penuche Icing.

Penuche Icing

½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup milk
2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Stir in brown sugar. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir over low heat 2 minutes. Stir in milk. Heat to boiling, then remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Stir in confectioners’ sugar then beat with mixer until fully smooth and of spreading consistency. If frosting becomes too stiff, heat slightly while stirring.

For this and many more wonderful recipes, check out my cookbook “Recipes of Trailside Cafe and Tea Room”

Available at AMAZON and SMASHWORDS (all formats)