Worlds Collide in One Man’s Heritage

One wonderful result of writing books is hearing from people who read them. Recently I heard from Jim Terry who was reading my collection of stories about 19th century murders in Washington County, Arkansas – Murder in the County. He wanted to know why a murder involving one of his ancestors wasn’t in the book. Once he gave me more information, it became clear that the murder involved members of the Cherokee tribe. That’s why it wasn’t in my book.

During those early years of Washington County, a steady traffic of bad actors flowed back and forth across the Arkansas-Indian Territory border. Cherokee lawmen attempting to make arrests in Indian Territory had no jurisdiction if the outlaw stood on the Arkansas side of the line. Similarly, federal marshals authorized out of Fort Smith were the only whites who had any jurisdiction in Indian Territory. Local lawmen like the Washington County sheriff couldn’t arrest anyone on Indian land. This made Evansville, Cane Hill, and other Washington County border towns hot spots for outlaw activity.

Jim’s ancestry includes a Cherokee outlaw named Isaac Gann, brother to a woman in Jim’s direct lineage. Not only that, Jim is directly descended from Susannah Harnage, an adopted child of the Harnage family, one of Washington County’s earliest settlers who was subsequently murdered. There’s an irony here and an interesting little story.

The earliest days of our county were fraught with the crisis of the Cherokee people, a powerful detached tribe of the Iroquoian family, formerly holding the whole mountain region of the south Alleghenies, in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee, and northeast Alabama, and claiming even to the Ohio River. By the turn of the 19th century, increasing pressure by white settlers led to efforts by the federal government to force their move. Despite winning a case in the U. S. Supreme Court confirming they held an inalienable right to their lands, the Cherokee were forced to leave by President Andrew Jackson.

Previous to their removal, Cherokee had adopted much of the cultural amenities of the whites and intermarried with European settlers. This was the case of Ambrose Harnage, later a Washington County resident in the area near Cane Hill. Harnage, an ambitious, educated Englishman with clear leadership skills, married a Cherokee woman and built a large dwelling that served as a residence, public inn, and tavern. Located on the north Georgia federal road, the inn was built around 1805 and was designated a federal post office in 1819, earning the location its name of Harnageville.

After the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Harnage and others faced increasing pressure to abandon their property. He and other white men who had intermarried with Cherokee women negotiated for the best possible terms and made the move to new land in what is now Oklahoma. Upon their departure, Georgia passed a law to establish Cherokee County where Harnage’s tavern was chosen as a meeting place to conduct the business of court and county government.

In 1815, another white man, William H. Hendricks, had built his homestead near the Harnage home and married a full-blood Cherokee woman named Sokinny. She and her brother Youngdeer were orphaned at an early age and Sokinny was later adopted by the Harnage family where she was given the name Susannah Harnage. Whether this is the same Harnage family as Ambrose is not proven.

In 1832, William and Susannah/Sokinny Hendricks and the Ambrose Harnage family moved west, part of the first wave of Cherokee accepting the government’s offer to relocate in exchange for logistical and financial assistance for the move. Typically, extended families and neighbors moved to new territories as a group suggesting a close connection between the Ambrose Harnage family and Susannah/Sokinny.  After 1836, the Cherokee who had initially refused the removal order (Indian Removal Act of 1830) were forced west on the so-called Trail of Tears.

Also among Jim Terry’s ancestors was a woman named Ruth Gambold Gann, sister to Isaac Gann and two other siblings. Thanks to Jim’s research into his heritage, the rest of this odd irony comes to light.

In June 1847, twenty-year-old Isaac Ferguson Gann mustered in as private to Captain Enyart’s Company, Arkansas Mounted Infantry, at Fort Smith.  Military service provided a small monthly stipend as well as regular meals, and was the fallback option for many young men without other opportunities. His military records include one from January 12, 1848, that states “deserted from camp near Mier, Mexico, taking holsters and pistols belonging to the government.” Also, the muster roll for June 23, 1848, at Camargo, Mexico, lists him as “deserted.”

Thereafter, Isaac became an outlaw, partnering with a man named Ellis “Creek” Starr. They were active in the Cherokee Nation and Washington County, Arkansas.

Creek was among several members of the Starr clan, a Cherokee family notorious for whiskey, cattle, and horse thievery in the Indian Territory. If the “Starr” name sounds familiar, it’s because by the late 1800s, the family name had become famous for its association with Belle Starr, originally Maybelle Shirley.

In 1880 [after the death of her first husband Jim Reed], she [married] a Cherokee man named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory. There, she learned ways of organizing, planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harboring them from the law. Belle’s illegal enterprises proved lucrative enough for her to employ bribery to free her cohorts from the law whenever they were caught.

In 1883, Belle and Sam were arrested by Bass Reeves, charged with horse theft and tried before “The Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s Federal District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas; the prosecutor was United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton. She was found guilty and served nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan. Belle proved to be a model prisoner and during her time in jail she won the respect of the prison matron, while Sam was more incorrigible and was assigned to hard labor.

In 1886, she escaped conviction on another theft charge, but on December 17, Sam Starr was involved in a gunfight with Officer Frank West. Both men were killed, while Belle’s life as an outlaw queen—and what had been the happiest relationship of her life—abruptly ended with her husband’s death.[1]

Jim Reed and Belle at their marriage 1866

Belle’s first husband Jim Reed was killed in Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War. Reed was friends with the Starrs which was how Belle became acquainted with them. After Belle’s murder in 1889, her daughter Rosie “Pearl” Reed-Starr built a tidy little home at Winslow where she sojourned in between stints at operating her houses of ill repute in Van Buren and Fort Smith.

Long before the heyday of Belle or Pearl Starr, Ellis “Creek” Starr alongside Isaac Gann pursued their own outlaw ways. An 1848 write-up in the Cherokee Advocate, Tahlequah, provides more insight into the efforts of the Cherokee Nation to address such criminal gangs:

We learn that a meeting composed of the persons engaged in the recent killing in Flint District, and a numbers of others, was held at the Court House of said district, some days since, for the purpose of adopting certain measures in relation to that affair.

A series of resolutions, commendatory of what has already been done, and urging the importance of freeing the country of the following persons, to wit: — Thos. Starr, Jas. Starr, Creek Starr, Wm. Starr, Ezekiel Rider, Shadrach Cordery, Isaac Gann, and Tre-gi-ske and Ult-tees-kee, were passed.

Writs have been taken out for the above-named persons. Several companies were organized to cooperate with the whites. These companies are actively engaged in scouting the country. We learn that a deputation was sent down, on last Tuesday, to advise the Executive upon the late proceedings, also with a reply to his protest. A second meeting has been held since this interview with the Executive, and we learn that the whole matter will soon be laid before the public.

From the evidence before us, we are under the necessity of disapproving, heartily, a part of the proceedings of our fellow citizens. Ellis Starr, Wash Starr, and John Rider, it is true, were once engaged openly in the most fiendish deeds that ever characterized any set of men, but by the treaty of 1846, though out-laws, they were pardoned—and by that act were again placed upon an equality with other citizens. And if they have since been guilty of misdemeanor, the law should be pushed against them, — and if, after the most ample opportunity has been afforded to test its efficacy, it should prove inadequate, then, though extremely humiliating to a regularly organized Government, the people may take upon themselves the management of affairs.

We learn that one of the companies above named surprised Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, the supposed murderers of the woman who was killed near Evansville [Washington County, Arkansas] on the 27th ult., at a dance in Washington Cove [probably a misprint of Washington County], Ark., some days since. Gann was killed in the attempt to arrest him. Creek Starr was made prisoner. On the return of the party with him, to the Nation, he made his escape—was fired upon, but supposed, only slightly wounded.[2]

Another source, the Van Buren newspaper Arkansas Intelligencer, reports on this murder in their June 12, 1848, edition.

Foul Murder – Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, half-blood Cherokees, killed a Cherokee woman near Evansville, on the 27th. Gann is a deserter from Capt. Enyart’s company of volunteers, now in Mexico.

This was the murder not included in my book.

This is where the murder of Ambrose Harnage joins the story.  Evidently with a history of seeing himself as a liaison between the Cherokee nation and whites, Harnage gave incriminating evidence against men accused of participating in the notorious 1839 Wright family murders at Cane Hill where a nighttime assault killed the father and several children and burned the family cabin to the ground. Initially, these murders were blamed on Indians. But Harnage overheard conversations between white neighbors that he reported to a committee investigating the murders. Several white men some believed innocent were subsequently hanged.

Whether Harnage’s report led to his murder is not known. No one saw his murder and all “evidence” was based on supposition leading to the accusation of a Cherokee named John Work for the crime. Many loose ends about Work’s supposed guilt for Harnage’s murder remain unresolved.

Harnage was also a close friend to Major John Ridge, a Cherokee leader who had signed the federal agreement to remove to new lands in Indian Territory, thereby earning the enmity of those in the tribe who didn’t agree with the removal act. In June 1839, Ridge spent the night at Harnage’s home before traveling south along the Line Road. En route, Ridge was assassinated.

Harnage’s friendship and influence on Ridge may have earned him a death warrant among the Cherokee. In the investigation of Harnage’s murder, which occurred in 1841, one line of inquiry yielded possible evidence of Gann’s involvement.

[John] Work wished to kill Dr. F. and John [George Ambrose] Harnage and leave the country. In watching the movements of Dr. F., he learned that he fed a lot of hogs near a thicket once every day about the same hour. He told Jake to steal the doctor’s fine mare and a bridle and saddle and to bring them to him a certain night, that he would kill the Dr. the next day and leave the country, leaving Harnage to Mat Feating or Isaac Gann.[3]

Major John Ridge

Whether it was Gann or the man ultimately arrested for the offense, John Work, who killed Harnage, the point is the peculiar heritage of Jim Terry. In his person, he juxtaposes the lineages of Gann and the adopted daughter of Harnage.

Was Ambrose Harnage’s murder a result of his close involvement with the Cherokee chief John Ridge or revenge for the Wright family murder hangings? Was Gann his killer?

Because Gann and Starr’s murder of the Cherokee woman fell under tribal jurisdiction, the records never appear in Washington County archives. No one can say how many other similar murders there might have been. This is just one of many stories whose tangled details have forever vanished with the passage of time. My thanks to Jim Terry for bringing this particular episode to light.

~~~

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

[2] Cherokee Advocate, June 19, 1848.

[3] “A Man Named John Work,” Murder in the County. Denele Campbell 2017. 77

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Is American Destiny Manifest?

American Progress, (1872) by John Gast, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Columbia, a personification of the United States, is shown leading civilization westward with the American settlers. She is shown bringing light from the East into the West, stringing telegraph wire, holding a school textbook that will instill knowledge, and highlights different stages of economic activity and evolving forms of transportation. Wikipedia

Oddly enough, I had reached the same conclusion as Robert Kaplan in the process of writing my book on the West Fork valley. It was the West Fork of White River, tumbling northward along our long valley that carved the land where I live and thus the livelihoods and experiences of the people who live here. This is Kaplan’s thesis in his book, Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes American’s Role in the World.

Reading Kaplan took longer than I had expected. His prose forms dense thought clusters embroidered by quotes and references to a wide array of thinkers. But I was motivated soon after starting the book by his storyline which follows his journey from the east coast to the Pacific. And by the fact that from as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved geography.

Oh, not exactly the study of geography—although I’ve learned to appreciate that as well—but rather the experience of it. The varying shades of dirt and sand, the rise of hills and mountains, the sudden drop of arroyos and canyons carved by quick floods and persistent rivers. Rivers, desert, plains – all if it thrills me each with its own particular mood and energy. If I had been able to travel the world in my younger more flexible years, it wouldn’t have been to visit cities or museums, but rather to see the lay of the land.

But I digress. It’s not from that perspective that Kaplan examines geography’s role in the course of American history. Rather, he argues that by the unique circumstance of our nation’s particular framing by the world’s two largest oceans as well as our unique pioneer spirit, we are fated to serve as world leader. I’d have to read this book again—and his other books including The Revenge of Geography—in order to be convinced that I don’t agree with his conclusions, but as of this moment, I really don’t.

A U.S. soldier stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaila oil field, Iraq, April 2003 Wikipedia

Kaplan describes the conflict between America’s urge toward isolationism and the stake (and responsibility) we have in a global community. His narrative journey from east to west parallels (intentionally) the path of the pioneers, providing him the storyline needed to talk about how the experiences of pioneers created the unique American personality. In developing this view, Kaplan cites Bernard DeVoto and his student Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in stating that “…the geography of the American West freighted the United States with a precise and unprecedented international destiny. DeVoto saw dynamic, westering America, in Schlesinger’s words, as ‘the redeemer, spreading its free institutions to less fortunate peoples.’”[1]

…The American character of today is still to some extent a frontier character born of those solitudes [the Rockies]. Our rapacious form of capitalism, as well as the natural, unspoken national consensus to deploy the navy and air force, and sometimes even the coast guard, to the four corners of the earth, are signs of it.[2]

Kaplan’s view of the American story – and the view of many others he cites – is based on the idea of Manifest Destiny:

In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across North America. There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:

–The special virtues of the American people and their institutions

–The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America

–An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty

Historian Frederick Merk says this concept was born out of “a sense of mission to redeem the Old World by high example … generated by the potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven.”[3]

American westward expansion is idealized in Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1861). The title of the painting, from a 1726 poem by Bishop Berkeley, was a phrase often quoted in the era of manifest destiny, expressing a widely held belief that civilization had steadily moved westward throughout history. Wikipedia

In this view, pioneers pushed west in order to escape the exhausted moral fiber of their European ancestors and to carve a new, more honest way of life. Pioneers faced unimaginable hardships that stiffened their spines and led to a national character found today in fighter pilots and bold inventors. Kaplan superimposes this foundation on the world of the 21st century and questions the proper role of our nation in the global community.

He concludes that we as a nation are fated by our geography to be the leader in a “post-imperial world.” Delving into brief analyses of other regions in an attempt to understand the possibilities for U.S. interaction and intervention, Kaplan posits a leadership role of post imperialism for the U.S. but refuses to acknowledge any self-serving intention for such a role. Rather, by our unique position with oceans on both sides and the determined character of our people, we have pursued globally what needed to be done with the same vision as we pursued the western frontier.

Although the book has stimulated intense thought, I could not escape arguments that popped into my mind against his conclusions. With random brief nods to our rampant capitalism, never in these nearly two hundred pages did Kaplan talk about the role of corporations or profit seeking-entrepreneurs in motivating modern U.S. foreign policy or the pioneers. Free land, or the exploitation of virgin forests and wildlife, or the unearthing of precious minerals were what motivated the pioneers as much as seeking freedom to live outside the dictates of European kings and classism. That same motivation for wealth is what governs our foreign policy today, whether it’s the protection of corporate interests in developing nascent oil fields (Middle East, Southeast Asia, South America) or in more obscure resources like the rare earth deposits in Afghanistan. We might appease our consciences about trampling indigenous tribes to build oil pipelines by the idea we’re bringing them the wonders of modern civilization, but it remains to be seen whether modern civilization is superior to millennia-old sustainable traditions.

My limited scholarship on these topics can’t stand against the background of an author and scholar of the stature of Robert D. Kaplan. I’d have to read all seventeen books plus the works of other knowledgeable scholars to even begin to claim any authority. But I’m discouraged by his failure to discuss even for one paragraph the role of wealth-seeking so intrinsic to the American experience or the influence of corporations in our imperialism. His assertion that our worldwide deployment of warships and air power is basically a function of our benign responsibility and exceptionalism strikes me as outrageously self-serving.

Manifest destiny excused the genocide of Native Americans. Kaplan tries to sidestep that reality in quoting Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian (1954):

What destroyed the Indian was not primarily political greed, land hunger, or military power, not the white man’s germs or the white man’s rum. What destroyed him was the manufactured products of a culture, iron and steel, guns, needles, woolen cloth, things that once possessed could not be done without.[4]

I call bullshit.

Caricature showing Uncle Sam lecturing four children labelled Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Cuba, in front of children holding books labelled with various U.S. states. A black boy is washing windows, a Native American sits separate from the class, and a Chinese boy is outside the door. The caption reads: “School Begins. Uncle Sam (to his new class in Civilization): Now, children, you’ve got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that, in a little while, you will feel as glad to be here as they are!”

But Kaplan’s work also forces me to reassess what I’ve been taught throughout my lifetime about our role as a nation. I equivocate on whether to accept that our system of governance is the most enlightened in the world, but I can’t call to mind one that seems superior. I also can’t deny that we enjoy the highest standard of living and that our wealth, indisputably ill-gotten in many ways, has still been a life-saving resource to endangered, starving or sick people around the world. I can’t ignore the accomplishments of our technology in creating a global culture joined through the Internet, telephones, and television which in many ways may serve as the ultimate means of moral arbitration.

I’m bemused by Kaplan’s assertion that our national character and world role stems from our unique continental configuration in having an ocean both to our east and our west. But so does Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Canada, South Africa, Great Britain, Italy, France, India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and more. Could it be that the wealth-building resources of these other nations had long since been exhausted either internally or by other empires before the modern age?  Why doesn’t Kaplan acknowledge that the American colonists stumbled onto a continent virtually untouched by human exploitation and it is from that harvest of Nature’s bounty that our wealth was captured?

Why doesn’t he talk about what might happen when our soil, rivers, and forests are as decimated as those that used to undergird the wealth of Europe or India?

No matter my arguments at various points in his work, I’m glad I read it. I will read it again. Kaplan’s previous positions as national security chair at the U.S. Naval Academy, as a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security means I need to know more about what he knows and how he thinks if I hope to consider myself informed on our nation’s foreign policy. This no doubt has been the rationale for his many readers/reviewers including James Mattis, David Petraeus, Henry Kissinger, and many other prominent Americans not to mention review boards and other authors.

~~~

[1] Kaplan, Robert. Earning the Rockies. New York: Random House. 19

[2] 24

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny

[4] Kaplan 27

The Morality of Abortion

I usually look forward to the Friday evening PBS NewsHour when Mark Shields and David Brooks have a brief time to discuss current news. Not so last night, when both men voiced their dismay over the current effort in Virginia to extend abortion rights through the 3rd trimester.

Neither the so-called liberal (Mark Shields) or conservative (David Brooks) qualified their remarks with an acknowledgement that they were men and didn’t know what it meant to experience pregnancy. Neither one admitted that they had no idea what might force a woman to make such a traumatic decision. They both growled about “infanticide” and “what is this country coming to.”

For shame.

It doesn’t take much intellect or time to discover the reasons a rare late term termination might be needed. All you have to do is read the stories of women who have faced such a terrible choice. But first, let’s get something straight.

Women who go through months of pregnancy are not under any circumstances going to decide on a whim to terminate. Hormonal-driven instinct commands the woman to do everything possible to protect that soon-to-be child. But sometimes hard facts and common sense dictates she make a heart-wrenching decision.

Here’s one woman’s story:

The day of the MRI finally arrived. She was 35 weeks, 0 days. By the end of it, Kate and her husband had the hardest answers they’ve ever received.

Their daughter had moderate to severe Dandy-Walker malformation. But that wasn’t the only diagnosis; Laurel also had a brain condition in which fluid builds up in the ventricles, eventually developing into hydrocephalus and possibly crushing her brain. She had a congenital disorder too, in which there was complete or partial absence of the broad band of nerve fibers joining the two hemispheres of the brain.

What this meant was Laurel was expected to never walk, talk, or swallow. That was if she survived birth.

Kate asked her doctor: “What can a baby like mine do? Sleep all the time?”

“Babies like yours are not generally comfortable enough to sleep,” the neurologist said.

“That is when it became very clear what I wanted to do,” she says. “The MRI really ruled out the possibility of good health for my baby.”[1]

Here’s another couple’s experience:

After seeing the ultrasound at UVA, Lindsey noticed the growth had enveloped half of Omara’s face and spread around her neck to the back of her head. When the doctor entered, they expected the worst. Again, the term lymphangioma came up. But so did cervical teratoma. Only an MRI could determine decisively, but whether it was malignant or benign, it could be fatal to the baby.

“You could just tell the energy in the room was like: you should end it, it’s not going to turn out well,” she says. The doctor told them they could terminate the pregnancy since Omara’s chances of survival were slim. Matt and Lindsey were crushed by the prospect. They wanted to fight.

Twenty days after seeing the first signs of trouble, they learned that Omara had an aggressive form of lymphangioma growing out of her neck. The diagnosis came in the form of a dense two-page MRI report. The fast-growing, inoperable tumor had grown into her brain, heart, and lungs. It had wrapped around her neck, eyes, and deep into her chest. It was so invasive, it was pushing her tongue out of her mouth.

Her chances of living to the age of viability or birth were slim. Lindsey and Matt made the heartbreaking decision to follow through with an abortion at about 24 weeks. They were just a few days away from it being an illegal termination.[2]

Or this:

…our child came with technical terms like hydrocephalus and spina bifida. The spine, she said, had not closed properly, and because of the location of the opening, it was as bad as it got. What they knew — that the baby would certainly be paralyzed and incontinent, that the baby’s brain was being tugged against the opening in the base of the skull and the cranium was full of fluid — was awful. What they didn’t know — whether the baby would live at all, and if so, with what sort of mental and developmental defects — was devastating. Countless surgeries would be required if the baby did live. None of them would repair the damage that was already done.[3]

Other severe fetal abnormalities which might occur:

  • anencephaly, characterized by the absence of the brain and cranium above the base of the skull, leading to death before or shortly after birth.
  • renal agenesis, where the kidneys fail to materialize, leading to death before or shortly after birthlimb-body wall complex, where the organs develop outside of the body cavity
  • neural tube defects such as encephalocele (the protrusion of brain tissue through an opening in the skull), and severe hydrocephaly (severe accumulation of excessive fluid within the brain)
  • meningomyelocele, which is an opening in the vertebrae through which the meningeal sac may protrude
  • caudal regression syndrome, a structural defect of the lower spine leading to neurological impairment and incontinence
  • lethal skeletal dysplasias, where spinal and limb growth are grossly impaired leading to stillbirths, premature birth, and often death shortly after birth, often from respiratory failure[4]

One women described being in labor before the doctors discovered her baby had no skull (anencephaly). Data of such malformed fetuses show that:

7% died in utero
18% died during birth
26% lived between 1 and 60 minutes
27% lived between 1 and 24 hours
17% lived between 1 and 5 days
5% lived 6 or more days[5]

These are cases referred to in recent remarks by Ralph Northam, Virginia’s beleaguered governor, as newborns who would be made comfortable until they die of natural causes.

Let me state unequivocally that the ONLY person(s) who should be involved in a decision about abortion is the woman, her partner, and the physician. No one else can possibly understand all the elements involved in such a decision, nor does anyone have any right to a say in the decision. Certainly the government has no right to decide who is born.

These are not only difficult decisions based on a woman’s ruined hopes of giving birth to a healthy child, but also difficult because of outrageous costs involved in keeping a deformed baby alive. Massive expense accrues daily when survival means intensive neonatal care for which most parents are ill-equipped to pay. The expense then falls to the medical community and in most cases is passed off to the government where taxpayers foot the bill.

Why? What is the benefit to taxpayers in keeping alive for a few hours/days/weeks – or in some cases, years—semi-human beings who can never function as a human being? In many ways, we’ve created this problem by advancing science and medicine to a point where extraordinary means can keep a newborn alive when nature would have terminated its life at birth. In many cases, both the mother and fetus would have died.

We as a nation need to get past the idea that every fertilized egg is going to become a normal person.

If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?  I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral. After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments (and if there’s severe mental disability, would never develop such faculties). It makes little sense to keep alive a suffering child who is doomed to die or suffer life in a vegetative or horribly painful state.[6]

We need to encourage women to seek medical opinions in every pregnancy and make use of prenatal testing to the greatest possible extent. When a fetus is found to be compromised, expectant couples should be encouraged to abort instead of shamed for even considering it. Abortion should be available through every gynecologist in every part of the nation.

Already fifty percent of Medicaid dollars are spent on children, many of whom were born with severe defects that can never be cured. These children won’t grow into normal adulthoods no matter how much they’re “mainstreamed” in public schools or how much special treatment they receive. Yet somehow this subject never comes up in discussions about the federal budget and the mushrooming costs of Medicaid.

Is life without mental function “human life”? Is life without capabilities beyond those of a six-month-old “human life?” An advanced civilization should seek quality of life, not quantity. As science and medicine learn more, we become more able to sustain life even in the most vegetative state. At a point where “life” can be created in a petri dish, it’s time we talk about what human life means.

Above all else, we need to respect the individuals confronted with terrible decisions about their potential offspring and let them decide what is best. It’s their DNA, their future. They have the right and responsibility to decide. No one else can.

~~~

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/18/late-term-abortion-experience-donald-trump

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/stories/my-late-term-abortion/

[4] https://scienceprogress.org/2013/05/fetal-anomalies-undue-burdens-and-20-week-abortion-bans/

[5] http://www.anencephaly.info/e/report.php

[6] https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/should-one-be-allowed-to-euthanize-severely-deformed-or-doomed-newborns/

The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion

The mythology of bad teachers empowered by entrenched unions is only one part of a national disaster that has crept up on us over recent decades with the passage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Meant to provide legal protections for the disabled, the side effects of these laws has been to undercut funding and appropriate learning environments for normal children.

By stating this fact, I am risking a rain of fire from incensed parents of disabled children. These parents have been a primary inciting force of these laws, alongside adults with disabilities, and have ensured federal and state tax dollars will flow into programs that aid the disabled.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 … assures certain protections to certain students with disabilities. §504 states that:

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .”. 29 U.S.C. 794(a).[1]

One result of these laws has been the “mainstreaming” of students with disabilities into American public school classrooms. IDEA mandates that students with disabilities receive a “Free and Appropriate Education in the Least Restrictive Environment.”[2]  Previously, students with disabilities with conditions such as autism, developmental delay, emotional/behavior disturbance, intellectual disability, orthopedic impairment, learning disability, learning disabilities and speech and language impairment may have been placed in special schools where teachers with specialized training could focus directly on their special needs.

Mainstreaming works for many types of disabled students but does not work so well for many others. School districts face lawsuits from distraught parents if their disabled child is perceived not to be treated “equally” with other students. There’s also a cost factor, with estimates upwards to $100,000 per year per student for a special needs environment, according to one article detailing a situation in Georgia.[3] The risk of lawsuits and soaring costs for special needs education causes school districts to place disabled students into classrooms with “normal” children.

A veteran educator dealing with special needs students for over 30 years in a major metropolitan school district cited one example of the outcome of such policies.

“One of the things we tried was to put her in an art class. She sat there the entire hour voicing this loud moaning cry.” He imitated the sound. “I don’t know how anyone expected her to learn anything. She functioned at the intellectual level of a six-month-old infant.”

What this educator could not quantify was the effect of this person’s behavior on the rest of the class over the eight years this student remained in this secondary level school. Did anyone else learn anything in that art class or was this a wasted hour in their day, an hour when they might have learned how to draw perspective, or blend complimentary colors if not for the loud cries steadily emanating from the severely disabled person in their midst?

What’s been lost in our urge to help those with special needs is the primary mandate of our schools—to educate the next generation of scientists, artists, technicians, educators, workers, and leaders for our nation. The commendable stated objective of the ADA, to make it possible for everyone with a disability to live a life of freedom and equality, is deceptively simple and ignores the reality: people with many types of disability will NEVER be able to live a life of freedom and equality.

This is not something many parents of such children are willing to accept. Many of them believe if their child mingles with regular kids and attends the same classes, they will graduate high school and go on to college. It’s a heartbreaking situation.

In our public policy pursuit of this fantasy, we’re continuing to overlook the collateral damage. Consider one experience of an elementary teacher in a private Christian school in a small Midwestern state. At the start of the 2018 school year, a new student was introduced to her class. Neither parents nor administrators introduced the child to the teacher or explained her needs. Instead, the teacher soon discovered that she would be expected to change the child’s diapers, spoon feed her, and deal with increasingly loud, belligerent, and violent behavior. The teacher’s aide, meant to assist in teaching a class of over 30 young squirmy children, was forced to devote her entire schedule to managing the disabled girl.

“Finally, at the end of the semester,” the teacher remarked, “my documented chronology of abuses by this student forced the administration to contact the parents and the student was removed from the school. I feel like I’ve lost an entire semester with the rest of these kids.”

The decision by a private school to accept ID kids is often a financial one—the school needs the tuition money. Private schools are not under the same federal mandate to mainstream kids with disabilities because they don’t rely on public funding. This helps explain the push to channel tax dollars to private schools and may in part have to do with maintaining the freedom to deny admission to severely disabled students.

Not all disabilities lead to chaos in the classroom. Young people with physical disabilities may require specific desk heights and schools free of stairs, but they can still participate in the learning process alongside non-disabled students. It’s the intellectually disabled who pose the greatest challenge in mainstreaming.

Intellectual Disability (ID), formerly known as mental retardation, is an ongoing and perhaps increasing condition in the U.S.[4]  Criteria for ID include an IQ under 70 in addition to deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors that affect everyday, general living although many variables move the determination up or down these markers. Conditions meeting this definition include Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

Intellectual disability affects about 2–3% of the general population. Seventy-five to ninety percent of the affected people have mild intellectual disability. Non-syndromic or idiopathic cases account for 30–50% of cases [An idiopathic disease is any disease with an unknown cause or mechanism of apparent spontaneous origin.] About a quarter of cases are caused by a genetic disorder, and about 5% of cases are inherited from a person’s parents. Cases of unknown cause affect about 95 million people as of 2013.[5]

Benefits of mainstreaming for both normal students and disabled students include exposure to diversity. But the majority of benefits are exclusive to the disabled: learning socialization skills, exposure to higher functioning children, and the challenge of competition. This says nothing about any benefit to normal children. As the 30-year veteran put it, “Here we’re spending big chunks of our limited budgets to provide an aide to accompany an ID student all day while spending nothing to assist or promote a kid with 140 IQ.”

The loss to our future society is incalculable.

Of equal concern is the inevitable observation by ID students who compare themselves to the social lives and interactions of normal students. ABC’s ongoing (2015 to present) television program “Born This Way” portrays one aspect of this effect by showcasing high functioning Downs syndrome children who aspire to marriage, stardom, and independent living. Many of the stars of this program are closely assisted by their mothers, leaving a question about what they’ve actually accomplished on their own. At times the program seems exploitative, showcasing anomalous humans for entertainment purposes. Encouraging their expectations for a normal life may ultimately prove cruel.

Before dumping severely disabled children into classrooms with normal students, schools need to ensure that teachers are prepared for the challenge. Many of them are not. Teacher education does not include techniques for changing diapers on physically mature ‘students.’

An estimated 1.8 million of the U.S. population are considered severely disabled, yet many of the disabled youth have parents who struggle to ensure their child’s future is as close to normal as possible. What parent wouldn’t?  Yet as observed by one special educator,

“… research also shows that students with disabilities, whether mild or severe, often have poorer social skills and are less accepted by their non-disabled peers. So we have to ask ourselves—who are we really thinking of when we talk about inclusion? Are we thinking of the student with a mild learning disability who may easily blend in and be accepted by their abled peers, or the student with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair and must be fed by a feeding tube, who just may stick out in a mainstream crowd? Speaking from experience, I’ve seen that the best communication skills, motor skills, and social skills are developed when students work alongside peers who are like themselves—peers who share their struggles, who know what it feels like to make huge gains in small steps.”[6]

It’s time to take a fresh look at the ADA and IDEA legislation and come to a new understanding based not only on what parents of disabled children dream for their child but also what is best for the rest of our children and the nation as a whole. The cost burden to schools is enormous. Specially trained aides are required to accompany disabled children through the day, to feed them, change diapers, and physically contain them. School budgets have not increased commensurate to the added expense of adequate staffing for meeting the needs of disabled children, and yet the nation wonders why classroom teachers are buying school supplies out of their own pockets.

Aside from the tremendous cost to taxpayers,[7] there is no real assessment of the cost to teachers, normal students, or society as a whole for these well-intended policies, but it surely is great. Many teachers are leaving the field with its low pay and unexpected demands. Yes, there are lousy teachers out there just as all levels of competence exist in any profession. This isn’t a problem of unions or incompetence—it’s a problem of well-intentioned public policy failing to take the big picture into consideration.

~~~

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individuals_with_Disabilities_Education_Act#Individualized_Family_Service_Plan_(IFSP) for more details about these laws

[2] https://www.eparent.com/education/mainstreaming-the-education-of-children-with-disabilities-the-teachers-perspective/

[3] https://www.theclassroom.com/the-cost-of-mainstreaming-vs-special-education-classes-12067245.html

[4] Multiple studies show a direct link between pollution and intellectual disabilities. See, for example, http://www.sci-news.com/medicine/link-air-pollution-intellectual-disabilities-06637.html

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_disability

[6] Smith N. Takepart. Op-Ed: An argument against mainstreaming kids with disabilities. A special education teacher shares why she believes students with special needs thrive in schools solely for kids with disabilities. https://www.scoop.it/t/issues-in-special-education

[7] Approximately fifty percent of the current Medicaid budget pays out to children with disabilities. See https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/medicaids-role-for-children-with-special-health-care-needs-a-look-at-eligibility-services-and-spending/

Change II: Gift to Our Future

What will make things better? Here are some ideas.

Social Support Programs: Address the Root

When a person applies for food stamps, unemployment, Medicaid, or other tax-supported programs, they face a stack of requirements to prove they’re worthy of help. Each application and benefit comes with its own separate process. Part of the problem for such applicants might be a lack of understanding about how to meet application requirements.

What’s needed is an advocate to guide the applicant through the process but also, more importantly, to assess the person’s situation, capabilities, and needs and to assist that person in moving beyond their current status. Education, job training, mental health care, and/or medical treatment are among the needs often experienced by those seeking government assistance, but rather than actually helping people get the help they need, current programs throw out random packages of aid without any comprehensive effort at addressing the root causes.

An advocate for such applicants could assist in the process of seeking help whether gaining access to the full array of needed services, completing the application process properly, or assigning a counselor to help the applicant sort out his/her current life situation (in which case the advocate and counselor become a team). Without expert advocates to steer each applicant through an increasingly complex system, we risk wasting billions on systemic inefficiencies and do nothing to solve the problems that cause these people to need help in the first place.

Of primary importance is assisting recipients in teaching them nutrition including cooking lessons.

Dispose of Outdated Laws

Drug laws

The drug war, like alcohol prohibition before it, frames the use of certain natural drugs as a moral failing. The result has been mass incarceration for private behavior.

All natural drugs should be immediately legalized, regulated like alcohol, and taxed. That includes marijuana, coca leaf, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, opium, and Ayahuasca, among others. Persons wishing to consume any of these substances should be able to walk into a retail establishment like a liquor store anywhere in the country and buy a product that’s been certified for purity and dosage. Such products should not be controlled by pharmaceutical companies. Individual production of such substances for personal consumption should be allowed without taxation or regulation. Public venues which serve psychoactive drugs should be licensed in the same manner as establishments for consuming alcohol.

Anyone previously convicted or imprisoned for possession, “manufacture,” or sale of these substances should be released from incarceration and their convictions expunged from the record. Unfortunately, due to the massive numbers of persons involved, any compensation for their loss of income or other social costs is not feasible.

Substance abuse, like alcoholism, can become a serious problem for certain people. Currently, only the very rich can afford treatment programs that address the whole person through nutrition, counseling, and exercise, among other things. Tax revenues derived from retail sales should first provide for comprehensive treatment centers in every community where anyone suffering from addiction can be immediately admitted.

Performance testing for job safety should take the place of current drug testing. A brief interface with a computer terminal for tests tailored to immediately show competency to meet job requirements—attention, dexterity, coordination, etc.—should be part of the employee’s beginning of his/her work day.  A test failure, no matter what the cause of impairment—hangover, intoxication, fight with the spouse—could become part of that employee’s record with appropriate consequences for repeated failure.

Intoxicated driving will be prosecuted.

Sex Laws

Prostitution should be legalized, regulated, and taxed as any other business. If a person wants to sell the use of his/her body for sexual gratification, it should be within his or her right to do so. Government licensing should include regular health inspections to ensure public safety. Houses of prostitution could compete with luxurious settings, the most attractive employees, or the most innovative approach – for example, offer an immersive experience in an establishment with fantasy themes (medieval, harem, S&M dungeon, etc.). There should be no restriction on how houses of prostitution or individual practitioners might combine their services with other services such as massage, restaurants, intoxication venues (alcohol and/or drugs), or even mental health counseling.

Facilities/Resources

Eliminating drug and sex laws will result in decreased need for jails and prisons as well as employees of those criminal justice systems. Freed-up resources should be redirected to improving public defender salaries and providing for persons prosecuted for other offenses.

Reining in Greedmasters

CEOs and other top executives should receive pay based on the pay their workers receive. If the company is profitable enough to pay at CEO $27 million a year, workers should be earning far more than $15 or even $20 per hour. Prices for products that serve a lifesaving role for consumers should be regulated by the government just as utilities and other vital public services are regulated.

Healthcare

Medicare for everyone. Eliminate insurance companies unless they are non-profit. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies must be non-profit. Drugs would be price controlled. Research for new treatments and new drugs would operate under federal grants.

Legal Services

Expand funding for free legal aid so that injured parties have full recourse to legal action.

Everyone is responsible

National service

Everyone reaching age 18 must serve whether Peace Corps, military, domestic infrastructure, civic duties or whatever else would benefit the public at large. No exceptions except for significant disability. Higher education, either college or vocational, can wait until the completion of two years’ public service. Serving in such duties should be in a location away from the family home, should provide food, shelter, and a minimal wage, and should result in free college/vocational training at its conclusion.

Education

All secondary schools should be required to offer a curriculum that includes literature/language, basic math, basic science, state and national history, music, art, and domestic duties including balancing a checkbook, changing a tire, and nutrition/how to cook. Males and females need the same courses. Domestic duty classes would include thorough sex education with a segment where kids have to carry a baby (doll) around 24-7. Dolls used for this teaching experience should be computerized to function as close to human behavior as possible including messy diapers, hunger, and crying. Birth control pills should be freely dispensed at school health clinics with or without parental permission.

Teacher salaries should be competitive with other professions requiring college degrees even in the most impoverished districts.

States which allow religious schools and home schooling should be required to regularly test home schooled and religious school students for the same course requirements as public schools students. Non-public school students who can’t pass the exams cannot receive a diploma. Repeated failure to pass exams would require the student to enter public schools. Public school students who fail to pass exams would be entered into a special unit of the school system and assessed for need of nutrition, mental health, and family problems, among other things, and individually tutored until learning improves.

Vocational training for all trades should be available and affordable as should college.

Homeless Population

An estimated 25-30% of homeless people suffer mental illness. Yet few programs addressing homelessness provide for treatment. Often these individuals end up in local jails because they can’t take care of themselves and there are no longer facilities dedicated to treating them.

“…during the Reagan administration, Federal funding for such institutions was shut down so that our wealthy class could pay less in taxes, and that put many thousands of mentally ill people out on the street corner. We have done nothing since to remedy this. A compassionate nation would care for these unfortunate people, and provide the mental facilities to house them where they could get the help they need that their conditions require.”[1]

Most homeless programs exhaust their resources in simply trying to feed and shelter the homeless. Successful efforts to address homelessness are based on meeting physical needs as well as mental health concerns. Addiction is another illness at the root of many homeless situations. Until systemic remedies are put into place, homelessness will continue to plague us.

Successful programs for the homeless are centered in tiny home villages or converted industrial/commercial properties. As shopping malls have become less viable, some cities and nonprofits have converted these sprawling spaces to homeless housing. Facilities serving the homeless would offer food service, counseling, health care, and job training. Refinement of services for homeless might include separation of persons by root cause of their homelessness; mentally ill might be separated from persons suffering addiction, for example.

Taxes

Poverty levels should be adjusted annually to meet the real costs of housing, food, and transportation in the location of each person. Persons earning above poverty level should pay income taxes on a sliding scale. Income at some level should pay a very high rate, as much as 70% of income.

In addition to legalized ‘sin’ transactions (drugs, sex) that would generate significant tax revenues, churches should be taxed like any other business. Penalties and additional taxes should be assessed against any corporation or individual found to be hiding income in foreign countries. No tax shelters.

MERRY CHRISTMAS and a happy future for all!

~~~

Have ideas or arguments about my list? Submit your own list of solutions to me at denele.campbell@gmail.com and I’ll publish reasonable submissions. Limit 1,500 words, one list per person.

 

[1] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-most-successful-homeless-program

Thoughts on Graduation

As I sat in the massive sports arena, outfitted in its overhead screens meant for close-ups to penalty shots, I thought of the other times I’ve joined such crowds for ceremonies deemed important in our society. People of all kinds rubbed shoulders in the steep rows of seats, all of us suffering the interminable wait for things to happen. A brass quintet played, their image projected onscreen so that we could see the puffing of the tuba player’s cheeks, the hand stuffed in the bell of the French horn. August cadences of heraldic composition by Bach and other Baroque composers echoed off the high dome of steel and glass. Attendants rushed from place to place.

Finally the processional began, resonate strains of that long familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1 in D by Sir Edward Elgar (1901). Led by deans and faculty and pages carrying medieval banners announcing the insignia and names of colleges that would be conferring degrees, leadership of the university headed the long lines of graduating students, their robes descended from Middle Age dress just as many buildings on campus continue an ancient architectural tradition.

The caps or tams and variously colored hoods or stoles designated the degree and college—doctoral robes with three velvet sleeve bars, master’s robes with the pointed sleeve extension, or bachelor’s degree regalia with their open sleeves.

Once seated, the 1,700 graduates and attending university trustees, chancellor, and deans joined the audience in standing for the performance of the national anthem and a musical invocation by the university’s Schola Cantorum, yet another name and tradition of the Middle Ages originally organized to perform plainchant in the early church. The music brought a catch to my throat. How many times had I experienced the rush of emotion at this music, each occasion a milestone in my life or the life of someone dear?

Then the speeches, a reminder that from education comes what we value most as a society—the rule of law, the exploration of science, the marvelous inventions of mathematics and engineering, the preservation and creation of language through literature, history, philosophy, the magic of the arts.

Then the graduates, no longer embroiled in intense study and eager to harvest the product of their long labor and expense—a diploma. One by one their eager faces appeared on the big overhead screen, each called by name, each striding toward the dean of their college to accept the red leather folder with its heavy parchment page bearing their name and the title of their accomplishment.

My mother, at 95 hardly able to stay current with the rapid changes of our times, expressed muted shock at all the “foreign” names. “They live here, too,” I whispered.

Later, as I drove her home, I thanked her for coming to this ceremony honoring her granddaughter. “So many people,” she mused. “Nothing like when I went there.”

“No,” I said laughing. “A lot has changed in seventy-five years.”

Old Main, University of Arkansas Fayetteville

Later as I reflected on the emotion still swelling in my chest, the realization came again as it has in the past. Especially in times changing as rapidly as ours, we need our traditions, our ceremonies, to remind us of why we are what we are. Education forms the heart of our civilization. No wonder we house our institutions of learning in buildings modeled on the earliest designs of Western culture. No wonder the prestige of educational leadership appears in the same garment style as medieval Oxford dons wore a thousand years ago.

Graduation isn’t simply the conferring of degrees. It’s a rite of passage into a special tier of human endeavor celebrated by those who have committed to heart and memory the facts, rules, and practices of a particular profession. They have taken the traditions of our ancestors to their own safekeeping in order to serve us all, to preserve and enhance, to invent and expand the talents and knowledge upon which our lives depend.

The fact that a winter commencement at the modest yet ambitious flagship university of a lesser state such as Arkansas has advanced the ambitions of 1,700 individuals gives me good cheer in a time when so much about our world seems dark. From these and thousands of kindred graduates across our land will come the solutions. This is the future. I’m thrilled to see it.

Change: It’s Up to Us

The current conservative narrative revolves around the imagined horrors of Socialism. Apparently without awareness of the many socialist programs upon which they depend, the reactionary segment of the U.S. voting population has taken up the latest incarnation of the old Red Scare.

A “Red Scare” is promotion of widespread fear by a society or state about a potential rise of communism, anarchism, or radical leftism. The term is most often used to refer to two periods in the history of the United States with this name. The First Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War I, revolved around a perceived threat from the American labor movement, anarchist revolution, and political radicalism.  The Second Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War II, was preoccupied with national or foreign communists infiltrating or subverting U.S. society or the federal government…

…the Red Scare was “a nationwide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent—a revolution that would change church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of life”…[1]

If any of this sounds familiar within the context of current political debate in the U.S., well, it should. The same argument has been fomented now for 100 years. Hysteria about the creeping plague of socialism undergirded the Cold War, our disastrous policies in Latin America, and the war in Vietnam. The hue and cry of those terrified of socialism and its big brother communism has motivated the expenditure of trillions of U.S. dollars and spilled the blood of tens of thousands of our young men. The damage worldwide is incalculable.

So what exactly should we fear about these philosophies of social order? For one thing, we should avoid conflating the differing ideas. Socialism is not communism. Democratic Socialism is not Socialism. All Societies employ socialism to some degree. For example as a minimum in the United States: the public library, public works, social security, the military, the fire department, police, health care (state hospitals, Medicaid, and Medicare). All of these functions and more can operate quite well under a capitalistic democracy.

Countries that have a strong central government tend to exhibit more acceptance to social programs. The idea that people can do more as a group rather than as individuals is accepted by the population under a strong central government and are more willing to surrender certain personal rights. In North America, two similar countries can be compared. Canada, for example, has a strong central government as evident in her national gun laws and criminal codes applied across all provinces and territories, and at the political level a healthy socialist political party…

The United States, on the other hand, has strong state rights over a central government resulting in various gun laws and criminal codes across the country, and does not have a party with socialist leanings (although the Democratic Party is often referred to as liberal). Therefore, individualism is a characteristic in the United States that is highly regarded and individuals are less likely to surrender certain personal rights. Social programs greater than the absolute minimum are considered charity at best and at its worst seen as diluting individualism and reducing personal wealth.

Americans, therefore, view socialism as a threat to their individualism and coupled with the McCarthy Era’s effective propaganda have developed an unrealistic definition between it and communism supported by fear.[2]

Face it. We’re no longer a society dominated by small close-knit communities where caring neighbors or a church provided care for those in need. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors. Neither churches nor charitable giving offer systematic methods of determining whether someone is truly needy or simply playing on sympathies. Nor do local charities have a method to ensure that assistance is available to all who might need it rather than the select few who appear at the church house door. Nor is there any assurance that the amount of support provided by a charity is appropriate to the need at hand. Charities themselves are often cookies jars raided by their operators.These are the exact reasons a federal system became vitally important as our nation grew beyond its early days of small rural communities.

While we thumb through our Twitter feed or view video from around the world, why do we expect that despite all the advances in technology and global economies that we’re somehow able to exist socially in a previous century? We are not what we were in 1850 or 1900 or even 1950.

As for that mythical freedom to pursue our fortunes, it’s time to recognize that those days are long gone – if, indeed they ever existed. There is no free land given to veterans of war or government projects, no expanses of virgin timber, no undiscovered gold. Our population in 1800 was 5,308,483. Now it’s 291,421,906.

If a rich man can afford five houses, two yachts, and countless other luxuries, why is it a hardship to take enough of his money so that he can only afford two houses and one yacht? Chances are high that he didn’t create that wealth by himself but rather workers hired at the lowest possible rate of pay in order to profit off their labor. Or he inherited his fortune from someone who did the same.

If a poor man is homeless, what do we do about it—let him die on the street?

If a newborn is the one out of 33 born with a medical problem like a heart defect, spina bifida, cleft palate, clubfoot, or congenital dislocated hip, and her parents have no medical insurance, what’s the right thing to do?

If people don’t have enough to eat, do we feed them?

If we are faced with a life-threatening illness, should we lose our home and everything we own to get medical care?

Is it truly our morality as a nation to allow the pharmaceutical industry to gain billions in profits while forcing the poor to die without the medication they need to survive? To allow doctors to live like royalty? To allow hospitals to generate profit off the sick and dying?

What is socialism, anyway? By its old definition, a socialist economy was owned by the people. Factories, offices, and industry in general were either worker cooperatives or government owned. No one in the U.S. except perhaps the extreme left advocates for such a system. The problems of this approach included worker apathy and potential for corruption, not that capitalist systems don’t suffer similar downsides. The benefit was that everyone had means of support and a job to do.

A new approach to social problems is called democratic socialism. Let’s look at what that means.

…in many of the societies of Western Europe which have adopted progress toward democratic socialism, productivity, standards of living, incentives, and markers of personal happiness and security are very high. Social democracy is a kind of socialism that tries to mix parts of socialism with capitalism. In this system, the government takes wealth (money) from the rich and gives it to the poor… but despite there being more government control and less chance to make a very large amount of money, people can still run their own businesses and own private property. Unlike communism, where all private property is taken to be owned publicly, people and businesses pay taxes on their property, and this money is spent on public services after taking out the costs of running the government and collecting the taxes. [3]

We as a democratic nation have an ongoing opportunity to craft a society that allows for entrepreneurship while also providing a safety net for those who need our help. We’re already pretty far along this path but much more work remains to be done. The question is, do we go backwards now, undo laws governing labor (sick leave, vacation time, 40-hour work week, workplace safety, retirement benefits)? Cancel policies providing food, medical care, and minimal living support for the disabled and poor? Do we go back to subscription schools where only those who can afford it are able to educate their children?

Or do we make clear-eyed decisions about how to best provide an equitable existence for our fellow man? Because, yes, we are our brothers’ keepers. We live in a nation still rich in opportunity. We’re not stupid. We need to approach these questions with open minds and do what we as Americans do best – move forward with meaningful solutions. That’s what will make America great.

~~~

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

[2] https://www.quora.com/Why-are-Americans-so-scared-of-socialism

[3] https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism

 

Further reading: Saving Capitalism, by Robert Reich 

“Perhaps no one is better acquainted with the intersection of economics and politics than Robert B. Reich, and now he reveals how power and influence have created a new American oligarchy, a shrinking middle class, and the greatest income inequality and wealth disparity in eighty years. He makes clear how centrally problematic our veneration of the “free market” is, and how it has masked the power of moneyed interests to tilt the market to their benefit.

“Reich exposes the falsehoods that have been bolstered by the corruption of our democracy by huge corporations and the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street: that all workers are paid what they’re “worth,” that a higher minimum wage equals fewer jobs, and that corporations must serve shareholders before employees. He shows that the critical choices ahead are not about the size of government but about who government is for: that we must choose not between a free market and “big” government but between a market organized for broadly based prosperity and one designed to deliver the most gains to the top. Ever the pragmatist, ever the optimist, Reich sees hope for reversing our slide toward inequality and diminished opportunity when we shore up the countervailing power of everyone else.

“Passionate yet practical, sweeping yet exactingly argued, Saving Capitalism is a revelatory indictment of our economic status quo and an empowering call to civic action.”


“What Causes Poverty” by Mike Sosteric

July 8, 2015

“…Poverty causes nothing but hardship and struggle for the people. Children who grow up in poverty have poor health, poor hygiene, poor diet, poor housing, lousy experiences at school (as evinced by higher absenteeism and lower scholastic achievement), more behavioural and mental problems, and long term employment difficulties. Adults who are poor have the same difficulties as their children, getting sicker more often, being unemployed for longer periods, taking more time off work, living shorter lives, and so on. There is no doubt about it, being poor is a liability: it causes disability, disease, and even death…”