Author Archives: Denele Campbell

About Denele Campbell

Denele Campbell had her eye on writing from childhood. While pursuing her undergraduate degree in English, she filled her electives with poetry and fiction writing classes. Life then did what it does to everyone, tumbling through love, marriage and children, household and career, pets and pursuits, leaving Campbell to fit in bits and pieces of authorship. Newspaper columns, articles on local history, biographical profiles and small evocative essays kept her writing passion on a low simmer until retirement. Now devoting her full-time energy to writing, Campbell is plowing through thick files of ideas and half-finished manuscripts to produce fiction and non-fiction works.

My Dad

Family of Floyd Pitts at the family home, Cane Hill, Arkansas: Standing back row, left to right: Older brother Harvey, his wife Ina, youngest sister Verna, younger sister Opal, Floyd, oldest brother Noah with wife Nellie holding Betty with Laverne standing. Front row, children of Harvey and Ina, Bobby Ray and Joy Lee. Seated: William “Bill” Pitts and his wife Nora West Pitts.

My dad, Floyd D. Pitts, didn’t fit a traditional male identification, not that he wasn’t fully male. His talent for music set him up for ridicule and bullying by his two older brothers. He hated the fields of cotton where, as a child, he was once flogged with a cotton stalk by his mom for sleeping at the end of a long row with his bag only partly filled. He was eight years old. It was a lesson in working to survive, and he never forgot it.

His high school diploma from Morrow, Arkansas, hardly counted when he entered college on a music scholarship. He’d already been part of a popular men’s quartet with classmates from high school performing regularly on Fayetteville’s KUOA, Voice of the Ozarks radio station. He played piano and fiddle, and also taught singing school. A makeshift piano tuning hammer had been fashioned from a tie-rod end by his blacksmith father because invariably when Floyd showed up at some rural church house to teach shape-note singing, the piano needed tuning.

Band Director, Rogers Arkansas circa 1940

Time in the U. S. Navy during World War II gave him the opportunity to later obtain a master’s degree as well as hours toward a doctorate. After the war, he returned to Rogers (Arkansas) to again teach choir and band. Another forty years would pass in this career, at Fort Smith in the 1950s, then Miami, Oklahoma until 1967, then part time at Westville, Oklahoma and Lincoln, Arkansas, until he retired from teaching.

From the early 1960s on, however, he advanced his moonlighting career of piano tuning and repair, which he took up full time once he left Lincoln schools. And while I had been his student in the Miami schools band, my first opportunity to work at his side came with the piano business. And it was here that we stepped outside the normal father-daughter roles.

He didn’t treat me like a girl. I remember that even as a youngster, when he was trying to remodel an old house we lived in at Fort Smith, he’d show me how to drive a nail or spread mud on a sheetrock seam. When I began ‘helping’ him in the piano business, he didn’t pay attention to whether my nails would get broken or if my feet were cold. He’d say “Come hold this clamp, sis,” or “Get that Phillips and come over here.”

I learned so much this way, not only how to repair and rebuild these complex instruments called pianos, but how to refinish wood whether solid or veneered, how to mix stains to get rid of red tones, how to smooth off delicate veneer edges with 220 grit sandpaper. If I had a shop today, there’s no end to the kinds and numbers of projects I could pursue and conclude with pleasing results.

Most women don’t get that kind of education.

Carmyn Gem Morrow and Floyd Denver Pitts, Benton County Fair circa 1945

Maybe he realized he wasn’t a “traditional” male in the sense of muscles and macho. Maybe he realized I wasn’t a traditional female in the sense of lace and flirting and whatever else defines that sort. Maybe he didn’t realize any of that but rather just moved forward through time with the work his hands could do well and the concept of work as an honorable and necessary pursuit.

I learned more from my dad’s view of the world than from my mom’s. Oh, I washed dishes and hung clothes on the line and changed my little brothers’ diapers. I sewed most of my own clothes through high school. Gardening, milking goats, keeping chickens—those were also part of my education through mom. But none of that really meant much in the greater world of the late 20th century when a woman might need her own income.

Whereas my mom’s social circles didn’t reach much past her extended family, my dad had to learn how to interact with the greater community despite his rural background. He’d have a social drink, laugh at jokes, and recruit band parents and faculty to help sell snow cones to raise money for new band uniforms. It was his charmingly open approach to people that showed me how to build a social network that became an essential part of a thriving thirty-year career as a piano tuner/technician.

If he thought I could lift one end of a 1910 upright piano, who was to say I couldn’t? If he could dig mouse nests out from under piano keys or drill through the cast iron plate to insert lag bolts in restoring a pin block to its correct position, then so could I. I was stronger than I knew, more mechanically minded, my hands—like his—able to tug strings made of cold drawn steel into the right position on a tuning pin.

Me and my dad, mid-1990s at the piano shop, Pitts Piano Service, Fayetteville

I admit to occasional worries that I had lost all chance of being a ‘real’ woman. What woman crawled under a grand piano to refasten the pedal lyre? In 1982 when I passed my Piano Technician Guild exams for registered tuner/technician status, there were less than two dozen women in the field. Plenty of customers would open their door at the appointed time and express shock at seeing a female tech. My hands weren’t delicate with slim fingers and manicured nails, but rather slightly rough tools used to create a well-tuned musical instrument.

But then, even as a child, I never felt feminine. The mysterious talent by which a female might lure a male into courtship totally escaped me. My body didn’t cooperate with the idea of feminine wiles, but rather expressed itself in somewhat androgynous terms—tallish, fairly flat-chested, angular. Interestingly, my dad too seemed somewhat of an anomaly in his family, handsome, lithe rather than muscled. Did he recognize, at least subconsciously, that we both didn’t quite fit the mold?

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my share of love and marriage, cherish my three children, and never turn down a romance novel–unless it’s poorly written.

As his oldest, I gained my dad’s attention first and perhaps it was only the bond of fatherhood that propelled his urge to teach me what he knew. In his heart, he was a teacher more than anything else. He was also an artist—a bass vocalist who could track any part in a four-part harmony, a clarinetist,  and a pianist who loved to pound out the keyboard version of jump music like “Bugle Call Rag” or marches like “Under the Double Eagle.” He cherished his role as both a composer and a conductor who pushed his students to produce excellent music whether Sousa marches or Copland’s Appalachian Spring. It was natural for him to insist I learn piano, clarinet and oboe and how to sing alto, and to teach me how to shim a cracked soundboard and identify the difference between real ivory and early celluloid keytops.

All five of us kids learned music. Both my brothers earned master’s degrees in that field. Sadly, I was the only one privileged to work with him in the piano trade and see the broader side of him than as just a parent.

Whether by conscious intent or as the consequence of his personality, my father allowed me to be me. He encouraged me in skills that were beyond anything considered traditional for a female. His open-mindedness about the life choices of his oldest daughter freed me from any sense of duty to the stereotypes that so often limit women.

Today, fifteen years after his death, I appreciate him more than I was ever able to express while he lived. Thanks, Dad.

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Why am I furious?

This is about the institutions and businesses we have to deal with on a daily basis. This is about the failure of corporations to serve the people who depend on them for necessities. This is about the breakdown of human civilization.

Today my daughter left home at 8 a.m. to pick up a rental car which would take her on a 200-mile journey to where she would stand for her oral exams to become licensed. When she arrived at the place where she was to pick up the rental car, she found an empty lot. Apparently the corporate representative she spoke with (on more than one occasion) has no idea what’s going on in the real world. The computer told the corporate representative there was a Fayetteville office. The computer told the corporate representative that my daughter could pick up the car at 8:30 a.m. The corporate representative believed what the computer told him. He lives in India.

This is one tiny example of the customer abuse increasingly rampant across the U.S.

Go into a Walmart store. Look for something you bought three months ago. Not only is it not where you last found it, no one in the store knows if it’s been discontinued or if it’s out of stock or where else in the store it might now be located. And since Walmart has been almost universally successful in under-pricing any local competition out of business, there is no place to find that item you want.

Consider my 95-year-old mother who a few years ago agreed to a switch of her phone from Southwestern Bell to Cox since she already had Cox cable. Touted as a money saving move, the switch has meant that when Cox service is down, she has no phone. For the last two days, this woman who will be 96 in August had to walk to a neighbor’s house to use a telephone, and that worked only because the neighbor had a cell phone. Because Cox is out all over town.

Who is responsible? Who cares that this fragile woman can’t use her phone? Will she or any of the Cox customers without phone or cable service be refunded for the days Cox didn’t provide its contracted services? Ha!

Consider my nine-month old refrigerator. As if anticipating the problem, installers set the refrigerator and freezer at their lowest temperature settings. Despite that, the refrigerator has never cooled below 45° even though the FDA says 40° is the highest safe temperature for storing food. Or my new range, also nine months old. The manufacturer saved money by downgrading the controls. The oven light doesn’t come on automatically. Oven temperature is set by ten degree increments instead of five like my former range. Heat pours up from the bottom of the oven door which gaps enough that I see the flames reflected on the floor.

A couple of months ago, I came into the cross hairs of an organized hate group because I said something they didn’t like in a public policy discussion on the Arkansas Times Facebook page. Not content with rationally arguing their views on that forum, they attacked me personally and professionally. One of the places they could harm me was on Amazon.com where my books are for sale. They proceeded to go to each of my books and post 1-star reviews.

In order to report a ‘problem’ with book reviews, you must use certain links. Then the workers (in the Philippines) check the review guidelines and if the reported review violates the guidelines, they are able to remove it. If it doesn’t violate the guidelines, they can’t remove it.

Of the 39 one-star reviews posted to my books on Amazon, fourteen now remain. It took two months and over thirty online requests and repeated phone calls to Amazon service representatives to achieve even this partial success. Amazon service representatives aren’t allowed to remove reviews. That’s only accomplished through a special department which has no phone access.

One service representative kindly explained that if the review change requests aren’t formatted in a specific way, the requests can’t be processed. He took my information and submitted the change requests in the required format and as a result, eight of the 39 reviews were removed. But I never could reach him again because there are thousands of customer service representatives (in Seattle) and the service requests go to whoever is next available and none of the other seven service representatives I spoke with offered any assistance, instead referring me back to the online review report system.

Now I have fourteen 1-star reviews written between March 24 and March 30, 2019, by people whose sole intent is to harm me and there is nothing I can do about it. You would think that any platform presenting itself to the public as a service to authors would carry some responsibility to protect said authors from attacks like this. So far I haven’t found an attorney who knows enough about online entities like Amazon to advise me on whether I can sue Amazon for failing to protect me from this harm.

But I haven’t stopped trying.

The problem, in part, lies with men like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg who believe they can set up an enterprise and replace thinking human workers with lists of guidelines and/or algorithms. Anyone who’s ever had a problem on Facebook knows only too well that THERE IS NO PHONE NUMBER to call if you have a problem.

Zuckerberg has refused to delete a purposefully distorted Facebook video of Nancy Pelosi. His response? “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.” So if it’s not their policy, it must be OK. No responsibility. No morals or ethical standards. Since Facebook is “free,” users have no rights.

I want to sit down with Bezos and explain why a list of review guidelines can never anticipate the myriad problems which might occur. I want him to invest in employees who have the authority to think on their feet. I want to punch him in the face if he doesn’t accept responsibility for the protection of authors whose books are sold on his website.

Companies routinely profit off your crisis whether it’s no rental car, no phone service, or intractable one-star reviews. By refusing to ensure employees are available for customer needs and capable of fully comprehending English and U.S. social norms, corporate moguls like Zuckerberg and Bezos zoom to the top echelons of the world’s wealthiest people along with bankers who can pull off mortgage fraud and the ultra-rich Walton heirs who insist they can’t possibly pay their employees a living wage.

News alert to the Waltons: It’s the employees who earn your fortunes.

Feeling so smug with their “success,” what these greedy MFs don’t realize (or care about) is the steady toll on our society, their contribution to the destruction of the marketplace, the rising level of anger and frustration, or the inevitable outcome when all that bottled up rage manifests itself in violence.

I like to think of a time when vacant big box stores have been converted into housing or indoor farmers markets, when I can wander into a mom and pop store and ask where to find that thing I bought three months ago and they lead me to the shelf where it’s now found. Or they tell me how long it will take for them to get the next order. You know, human interaction, smiles and apologies and gestures of good will.

I like to think of Zuckerberg spending his days sitting face to face with people subject to his data gathering and advertising, to hear real world crises with his genius setup so that he can actually understand the problem. I like to imagine Bezos being subjected to one-star reviews for his books – but then he’s never written a book, so…

I don’t have anything against the people of India or the Philippines or anywhere else where people need jobs. But I don’t think for one minute that the employment of foreign workers is about helping them. It’s about paying the cheapest possible labor in order to generate higher profits for the fat cats at the top.

It’s about pushing customers in need of those goods and services as far as possible toward the brink, of Bezos calculating that authors like me need to market on his website and will continue to use those services even if he doesn’t protect me from hate campaigns. It’s about Walmart knowing they’ve destroyed all the local stores and entire companies and product lines in order to create a monopoly on the majority of consumer goods.

None of this is new. It’s a creeping illness in our society—and the world—that has yet to hit bottom. We’re hooked on what they offer and can’t get off the hook.

How long before we revolt? The guillotine comes to mind.

~~~

Michael Douglas in Falling Down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkwQ6EjLdMQ

Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdIXrF34Bz0

We Can’t Hide Behind a Wall

The New York Times — Central American migrants looked through the fence as a Border Patrol agent stood guard near the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

We are responsible for the chaos south of our border. The Mexico tariff plan underway by the Stable Genius and his minions promises to make the refugee/immigration situation far worse. Now not only will the people of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala be forced to flee their countries, but also the people of Mexico. If we thought the immigration ‘crisis’ was bad before, just wait.

Obviously Trump knows nothing of Central American history. He’s apparently incapable of thinking past his juvenile impulse to hit anything he doesn’t like. Now it’s up to Jared Kushner to meet with Mexican ambassadors to work out a plan that, in Trump’s view, would make Mexico responsible for stopping refugees from arriving at our southern border.

Jared Kushner is left to perform many duties for his father-in-law, not the least is to help craft a working relationship between Israel and Palestine. The qualifications for this 38-year-old’s work on behalf of the United States is that he grew up rich, is a Jew, and has experience in real estate. And he’s married to Trump’s daughter who is apparently the only person who can successful manage the Orange Toddler.

Kushner’s resume? “As a result of his father’s conviction for fraud and incarceration, he [Kushner] took over management of his father’s real estate company Kushner Companies, which launched his business career. He later also bought Observer Media, publisher of the New York Observer. He is the co-founder and part owner of Cadre, an online real-estate investment platform.[1]

In other words, Kushner has zero qualifications for his important role in foreign relations. Nor has he been vetted by Congress.

What we absolutely must recognize is that the situation at our southern border is entirely the result of our actions in those countries. Since the 19th century, we have intentionally worked to destabilize their governments in order to profit off their resources.

Guatemala was once the center of a sprawling Mayan empire. Then the Spanish came and destroyed their culture, stole their wealth, and enslaved the people. When the Spanish left,

From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala experienced chronic instability and civil strife. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, authoritarian leader Jorge Ubicowas overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating a decade-long revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms. A U.S.-backed military coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a dictatorship.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a bloody civil war fought between the US-backed government and leftist rebels, including genocidal massacres of the Maya population perpetrated by the military. Since a United Nations-negotiated peace accord, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability.[2]

In El Salvador, corporate agriculture took over the arable land to grow coffee. Peasants were left with few options for sustaining their families. Land reform efforts were brutally repressed with the support of the United States.

From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups.[3]

The fully-fledged civil war lasted for more than 12 years and included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military.[24] An unknown number of people disappeared while the UN reports that the war killed more than 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992… 

The United States contributed to the conflict by providing military aid of $1–2 million per day to the government of El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations. The Salvadoran government was considered “friendly” and allies by the U.S. in the context of the Cold War. By May 1983, US officers took over positions in the top levels of the Salvadoran military, were making critical decisions and running the war.[4]

In Honduras, the third Central American source of refugees seeking asylum in the United States, Spanish invasion was followed by enslavement and occupation of cropland. The U.S. took over where the Spanish left off.

In the late nineteenth century, Honduras granted land and substantial exemptions to several US-based fruit and infrastructure companies in return for developing the country’s northern regions. Thousands of workers came to the north coast as a result to work in banana plantations and other businesses that grew up around the export industry. Banana-exporting companies, dominated until 1930 by the Cuyamel Fruit Company, as well as the United Fruit Company, and Standard Fruit Company, built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925.

In 1904, the writer O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” to describe Honduras, publishing a book called Cabbages and Kings, about a fictional country, Anchuria, inspired by his experiences in Honduras, where he had lived for six months. In The Admiral, O. Henry refers to the nation as a “small maritime banana republic”; naturally, the fruit was the entire basis of its economy. According to a literary analyst writing for The Economist, “his phrase neatly conjures up the image of a tropical, agrarian country. But its real meaning is sharper: it refers to the fruit companies from the United States that came to exert extraordinary influence over the politics of Honduras and its neighbors.”

…During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras to support El Salvador, the Contra guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government, and also develop an airstrip and modern port in Honduras… The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units…[5]

The United States has substantially contributed not only to economic and political instability in Central America, but also to the proliferation of gang and their brutal impact on the people of these nations. Consider, for example, the gang situation in El Salvador.

The Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1979 to 1992, took the lives of approximately 80,000 soldiers and civilians in El Salvador. Throughout the war, nearly half of the country’s population fled from violence and poverty, and children were recruited as soldiers by both the military-run government and the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans relocated to Los Angeles, California. This conflict ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords, but the violence in El Salvador has not stopped since.

Many of those who had relocated to Los Angeles during the war as refugees had gotten involved in gang violence [as victims of existing L.A. gangs]. During this time, the U.S. War on Drugs and anti-immigrant politics had been popularized. Following these sentiments, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was passed, which called for deportation of “immigrants–documented or undocumented–with criminal records at the end of their jail sentences.” Throughout the years following, thousands of Salvadorans had been deported back to El Salvador. Gangs that had originated in Los Angeles, namely Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, were spread transnationally through this process.[6]

The gangs learned on the streets of Los Angeles how to intimidate, rob, assault, kidnap for ransom, and murder with impunity. Their ability to run rampant over the native populations of Central America has not been addressed. President Obama understood the history of the situation and issued an official apology for our role in the violence.[7] He crafted a plan that addressed our immigration problem at its source. The plan involved aid to Central America and a program to screen vulnerable children there.

Trump not only reduced the aid, he killed part of the screening program.[8] No wonder that the steady stream of refugees only increases at our southern border. We should also not be surprised when Mexicans start to join that stream if the U.S. implements its tariff plan, putting Mexican jobs at risk. These problems deserve far more thought and understanding than Trump or his son-in-law are capable of providing.  

 

 

 

Ma Drake

Excerpt from Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past, “History of Fayette Junction.”

By 1936, the canning business was the dominant regional industry. At Fayette Junction in south Fayetteville, a new facility sprang up right across the tracks from Sligo Wagon Wood Company and began its own railcar shipments of canned goods. The 1936 Sanborn maps document this enterprise as “Thomas and Drake Canning Company Warehouse,” remarking that stated building dimensions had been taken “from plans.” It was a state of the art facility: plans specified iron posts, concrete block pilaster, and gypsum board roof on steel joists. The Rev. Jake Drake and his son Ezra Drake joined with Rylan C. Thomas in this enterprise.

According to the 1939 city directory, “Drake and Hargis Cannery” was located at 605 W. Dickson. Crates of canned tomatoes, greens, and other produce from this cannery would have been warehoused at Fayette Junction. In 1947, the business was called “Thomas and Drake Canning” and had offices at 19 East Center. Several Drakes may have been involved as a venture of the extended Drake family of Drake’s Creek area, Madison County. It is not clear whether the Fayette Junction property built by Drake ever served as more than a storage facility.

Drake’s brother Bill and sister-in-law Vida (Ma Drake) operated a favored local café known first as “Bill Drake’s Place,” no doubt taking advantage of his brother’s access to inexpensive local canned goods.  At some point before 1951, Drake and Thomas was taken over by Hargis. Among the litter later found on the old Sligo mill’s vast dark floor were cancelled checks of Drake Canning Company and Thomas and Drake Canning Company with dates in the 1950s.

Hargis and Drake canneries rode a wave of profitable commerce as Arkansas fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes, captured a significant market share nationally. But by 1950, production and sales of tomato and strawberry crops comprised a mere one-fourth the volume it had in 1930. Disease, economic forces, and stringent new sanitation regulations began to crush the local canning market.

Vida Drake continued the business after Bill’s death. Frequent winner of awards for Best Plate Lunch, “Ma Drake’s” continued her café even after suffering a heart attack in the early 1990s. Her lunches included a meat, mashed potatoes with gravy, three vegetables, salad, and a roll for $3.75. Homemade pies rounded off the menu, usually available in apple, cherry, lemon, chocolate, coconut, and pecan. The café was first located at the northeast corner of Sixth and S. College, but later moved to 504 E. 15th Street. Drake’s closed after her death in 1997.

Where Trump voters come from

Arkansas continues its dereliction of duty in educating its young people with the May 22 announcement by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that he will promote current Education Commissioner Johnny Key to the governor’s new cabinet position of Education Secretary. With this promotion, Key will add another $3,450 per year to his already ridiculous salary of $239,540 and gain ever greater leverage over the hapless citizenry of our state.

Readers may remember the insidious maneuvering required to cram Key into the commissioner position in the first place. Back in 2015, Key’s work history and educational achievements did not qualify him for the job. The law required a master’s degree and ten years teaching experience. When Gov. Hutchinson seized on the idea of putting Key in the post, a bill rushed through the legislature allowed the commissioner to evade these requirements if the deputy commission held those credentials.  Not that the commissioner would be required to obtain the advice or consent of the deputy in any given matter.

Key graduated from Gurdon (Arkansas) High School then received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1991 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He never taught a day in his life. That is, unless you count his and his wife’s operation of two pre-schools in Mountain Home, Noah’s Ark Preschool and Open Arms Living Center, operations that for years applied for and received tax-funded grants while flagrantly teaching religion. Another state legislator, Justin Harris (West Fork) also operated illegally with such dollars for his Growing God’s Kingdom preschool. All three schools received funding from the state under the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program administered by the Department of Human Service (DHS). After complaints were filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the state had no choice but to amend its grant guidelines.

AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith told Church & State. “The administrators of the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program violated the Constitution by funding [these] religious activities.”

According to a 2011 Arkansas Times report, “Sen. Johnny Key gets almost $200,000 in public money a year in support of his Noah’s Ark Preschool in Mountain Home, which also provides Bible lessons and daily prayers. Nearly 300 agencies — many of them with religious roots — receive $100 million a year in public Arkansas Better Chance funding to provide preschool for poor children.”[1]

The stated mission of the Harris preschool was to “share the love of Jesus” with students, and the school operated with a Christian curriculum that included a “Bible time” for verses, stories and prayer. The school’s handbook also assured parents that staff members will “strive to ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.” The preschoolers, it continues, would be taught “the word of God” so that they can “spread the word of God to others.” They also prayed over students with disciplinary problems and laid on hands to “cast out demons.”

~~~

Key began his career in public service in 1997 when he was elected to serve as a justice of the peace on the Baxter County Quorum Court. He was elected to three two-year terms in the House of Representatives, followed by a tenure in the Senate that began in 2008. Term limited out of the legislature, Key served as associate vice president for university relations at the University of Arkansas system, a position he began in August 2014, a half-year before his friend the governor found him a cozy role at the helm of the state’s education system.

Yet even while in the legislature, Key demonstrated his dedication to the extremist religious agenda in education:

He was active in education issues, including responsibility for exploding the number of seats that receive state dollars to essentially finance home-schooling, by qualifying millions in spending on “virtual charter schools” that provide assistance to students who don’t attend conventional brick-and-mortar schools. His special language, never debated on the floor, lifted the cap on such payments from 500 to 5,000 students.[2]

Simultaneously, the state excused itself from any oversight of home-schooled students. There are no tests, no monitoring, no method by which to ensure thousands of Arkansas home-schooled kids are actually learning anything,

Key has also been a champion of public charter schools in the model promoted by the Walton heirs. While first lauded as a path for parents dissatisfied with their children’s education, charter schools have come under increasing scrutiny for siphoning money away from public schools with less than excellent results. Even worse, soon after taking over as education commissioner, Key became the default school board for Little Rock’s troubled schools. The district struggles with low-income, high minority populations where schools routinely earn “D” and “F” ratings in student outcomes. Key’s answer? Charters.

Much ink has been spilled over the Little Rock situation including Key’s desire to terminate the state’s Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act in the 22 traditional schools in Little Rock. As noted by one observer, “In the absence of democratic governance and oversight, Arkansas schools are hiring unqualified teachers without a public disclosure requirement, undermining labor standards for teachers, contributing to school re-segregation, and defrauding the public.”[3]

Tracking the details of the Little Rock fiasco, the Arkansas Times reported that the previous superintendent, Baker Kurrus, who was fired by Key before his takeover, thought charter schools “probably unconstitutional when operated as parallel, inefficient and not particularly innovative or successful ventures in Little Rock. He mentioned then that the loss of 120 students for this latest expansion potentially meant a loss of approaching another $1 million in annual state support to the Little Rock District for lost students.”[4]

~~~

No effort was made by the state to require Key or Harris to refund the millions in tax dollars they had appropriated over a period of years to operate their religious schools. And of course they didn’t honorably offer to do so. The ABC program only marginally amended its procedures for granting funding. The guidelines now require that no religious instruction occur during the “ABC day,” a set number of hours of purely secular instruction. Whether religious instruction occurs before the ABC day commences or after it ends is not the state’s concern. Since children are often picked up by school vans or dropped off by parents before the parents’ work hours and held until the end of the work day, anywhere from two to four hours of religious instruction is usually possible.

And who would know if these schools violate the ABC day with a little prayer at lunch or a few minutes of casting out demons?

The ABC program, as it stands, does not require any kind of viability test where a school would have to prove that its religious instruction could stand on its own two feet without the use of tax dollars. In fact, if tax dollars didn’t support the rent, utilities, insurance, and salaries for general operations, these schools would cease to exist. Repeated questioning of DHS / ABC money managers has yielded zero interest in developing or implementing such a test.

Neither Harris nor Key were censured for their illegal use of public funds for their religious schools. And while Harris quietly served out his remaining term in office before retreating to private life, Key has been awarded one of the highest paid positions in state government. If Key didn’t know he was breaking the law in accepting ABC grants, he’s incredibly stupid. Surely somewhere in his years of college he must have brushed up against the idea of separation of church and state and the hard line between tax dollars and religion. If he did know, he deliberately violated the U. S. Constitution, aided and abetted by the state’s willfully ignorant wink and nod.

Now Key reigns supreme over the state’s educational systems, welcomed with open arms by a governor whose own dedication to religion is no secret. After all, Asa Hutchinson is a proud graduate of none other than Bob Jones University, a private, non-denominational evangelical university in Greenville, South Carolina, known for its conservative cultural and religious stance. Refusing to admit African-American students until 1975, the school lost federal funding and ended up in court for not allowing interracial dating or marriage within its student body. BJU hit the news again in 2014 after a report revealed that administrators had discouraged students from reporting sexual abuse. [See the New York Times report.]

Apparently Johnny Key’s religious beliefs and willingness to breach the Constitution’s bright line between church and state are the primary criterion by which he has been judged the perfect man to be in charge of Arkansas education. It’s past time to assume ignorance as the underlying problem in Key’s malfeasance. The fact is that Hutchinson, Key, and every other complicit authority over our state’s educational systems knowingly evade the Constitutional separation of church and state in order to pursue their “higher calling” to religion.

~~~

See also this recent Forbes article on the failure of charter schools.

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[1] https://arktimes.com/columns/max-brantley/2011/11/09/state-paid-bible-school

[2] https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2015/02/10/whats-afoot-on-bill-to-change-qualifications-for-state-education-commissioner

[3] https://medium.com/orchestrating-change/272-broken-promises-the-lawless-aftermath-of-arkansas-act-1240-a8e26ce751e8

[4] https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2016/05/07/johnny-key-fast-tracks-lr-charter-school-expansion-in-walton-helped-enterprise

The Genie is OUT!

A flood of state laws restricting abortion rights have moved us toward the Twilight Zone, a place where a woman no longer would hold agency over the functions of her body. But that genie is out of the bottle. Women will not give up their hard won freedom.

What are these state laws? Some require the doctor to give a woman information about reversing the procedure (part of the emotion strategy) or show her an ultrasound of the fetus (for an extra charge, part of the money strategy). Some ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be found (part of the medical strategy). Still other state laws have come in through the back door by restricting when or how abortion clinics can operate, or which medical personnel can provide abortion services (part of the access strategy).

Special interest zealots have pushed laws banning abortion if the fetus shows signs of Down syndrome. Other laws would ban abortion after six weeks or 12 weeks or some other arbitrary period which in many cases would cut off access before the woman even knows she’s pregnant or before prenatal testing could discover genetic or development abnormalities.

But wait. Before progressives stroke out over all this, keep in mind this is part of a long struggle over women’s rights that’s been going on since the beginning of time. Women are not going to accept a step backwards.

I grew up in a time when women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex. It was only men who might indulge in multiple partners while retaining their sterling reputations. In fact, experience with multiple sex partners enhanced a man’s reputation. As the receptacle of male seed whether through premarital or extramarital sex, rape, or marriage relations, women were left to deal with the problem of conception and unwanted pregnancies. The child might be put up for adoption, or for those wealthy enough, a quiet vacation overseas lasted long enough to dispose of the entire issue.

Women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex because receiving male seed and laboring to give birth was the punishment for tempting Adam to defy God’s order not to eat that forbidden apple. Of course Adam wasn’t responsible for what he did with the apple, a perfect metaphor for the male’s lack of responsibility for impregnating a woman.

That’s the story, in a nutshell, of the current furor over abortion rights. Men have to relieve their needs. Women have to clean up after them. If she chooses to abort, conservatives want the procedure to be high risk, out of the hands of medical professionals and back in the alleys so that the price she pays might be sterility or death.

The advent of modern medicine and the pharmaceutical industry gave women birth control pills. The basic research for the pill became possible when Russell Marker discovered that generations of Mexican women had been eating a certain wild yam — the Barbasco root, also called cabeza de negro — for contraception. It was from these yams that Marker was able to extract the progestin that Gregory Pincus combined with estrogen to formulate the first birth control pill. That was the 1950s.

It took another twenty years to clear regulatory and legal hurdles so that women could use the pill for contraception. At first, doctors wouldn’t prescribe it to unmarried women. A court case brought by Planned Parenthood finally cleared the way for all women to gain access to the pill.

In 1973, the Roe v Wade decision granted women the legal right to control what happened inside her body. The Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that this right must be balanced against the state’s interests in regulating abortions: protecting women’s health and protecting the potentiality of human life. Arguing that these state interests became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.[1]

Women still have to get a doctor’s prescription to obtain the pill. And religious and conservative groups have murdered doctors, burned clinics, and passed a long string of state laws to fight the Roe v Wade decision. One explanation of this opposition is explained as follows:

Birth control (BC) allows us to separate sex from its “true nature” as a solely procreative act that should be only happen in a heterosexual marriage for the purpose of (or, at least, with ‘openness to’) making babies. When we teach people about BC, allow them easy access to it and condone its use, it divorces sex from this purpose and allows it to become an activity for anyone, regardless of marital status, to partake in for fun, bonding, pleasure, etc. Essentially – because it allows people to have premarital sex without the proper, natural, consequences.

Then, as more people have sex without wanting kids, there is a higher chance that someone will have an unwanted pregnancy as all BC has some failure rate. If all women just practiced abstinence until they were married (which is the only moral and correct path), there would be no abortions…[2]

Never mind that many married women who already have children seek abortions for obvious reasons—more children to feed, clothe, and care for never mind providing suitable education so that each child has a realistic chance at success in life. It also ignores the terrible outcome of fetuses with extreme physical or genetic abnormalities and/or of high risk to the mother’s life.

That is all God’s will, according to the fundamentalists. But so is infertility and that doesn’t keep religionists from seeking artificial insemination. So are cancer and heart attacks and broken bones.

But aside from problems of conception amid the pleasures of sex, the ongoing culture war between conservatives and progressives is about male power and control. Conservative male testicles have been shrinking ever since the female genie emerged from the bottle, since women gained the right to vote, own property in her own name, or seek a divorce. But those little ‘nads have really shriveled since the pill and Roe v Wade.

Under patriarchal beliefs, women were created to serve men, produce his children, and see to their upkeep. This view of women undergirds the current Republican agenda and accounts for evangelical support of a president unfit for office but willing to grant their agenda in order to gain and stay in power.

Thus we have current efforts in various red states to draw the circle tighter around abortion. It’s their belief that the new lineup of SCOTUS justices will find one or more of these state laws as a staging point to overturn Roe. The die is cast. The conservatives finally will have their showdown.

But wait. Does anyone think for an instant that women will shrink back into the shadows and submit to a renewed reign of male authority?

If so, quickly disabuse yourself of that idea. Women will continue to access birth control and abortion, even if the entire industry has to go underground. After all, people drank like fish during alcohol prohibition and smoked marijuana during 90 years of reefer madness.

The genie is out and she’s not going back.

Genie by inSOLense.deviantart.com on @DeviantArt

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade

[2] https://www.reddit.com/r/Abortiondebate/comments/b7clk4/why_are_so_many_prolife_people_against_birth/

100 Years of Hateful Ignorance

James Phillip Womack, age 31, was sentenced to nine years in prison in mid-April 2019 after pleading guilty to drug and firearm related charges. The drug charges included possession of a controlled substance, possession of a counterfeit substance with intent to deliver, and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. The firearms charge had to do with his previous felony conviction which barred him from possessing a firearm.

This isn’t a new problem for James. In 2010 at the age of 21, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance for which he received a ten year sentence. He mitigated that sentence by serving 105 days in a boot camp program where Army sergeant wannabes yelled, threatened, and physically and mentally harassed its inductees in the idea that this would scare them out of repeating the offense.

Clearly, it worked like a charm for James.

He was subsequently arrested for parole violations in 2011 and 2012, probably because he tested positive in mandated drug tests.

So by now James has racked up an extensive record of convictions which will never go away, which label him as a criminal: “lawbreaker, offender, villain, delinquent, malefactor, culprit, wrongdoer, transgressor, sinner.” Not a victim of one of the world’s most insidious illnesses, but rather a person purposefully doing wrong things.

This is typical for persons addicted to a substance of any kind. Incidentally, the substance involved in James’ misadventures is not named in arrest reports because the State of Arkansas records no longer name the substance involved in the arrest. That’s probably because back in the early 2000s, advocacy groups started releasing regular reports of arrests per substance, revealing that despite all the rhetoric about meth, the majority (up to 70%) of “drug arrests” were for marijuana.

Oops.

We don’t know if all this outrage over James is about marijuana. But his outlook isn’t good. He’s the son of Arkansas’ 3rd District Congressman Steve Womack, an ex-military strutting cock with a crewcut and firm ideas about authority. Womack went from thirty years in the Army National Guard to working as a consultant for Merrill Lynch, which pretty much reveals where his values lie.

For a clue to Steve Womack’s personality, consider that as Congressman, he voted against allowing veterans access to medical marijuana per their Veterans Health Administration doctor’s recommendation, even if legal in their state.

As a father, when asked about his son’s most recent conviction, Womack stated that “Phillip is just a young man that has an addiction. His family has been coping with it for years like thousands of other families. They (his family) love him and they have a lot of hope for his future and that he is going to turn his life around.”[1]

Wait.

Where did ‘love’ factor into this? As Congressman, Steve Womack has unlimited access to the latest studies and research findings showing that addiction is an illness, that treatment is the route to averting such tragedy. Punishment through incarceration is not an effective response to addiction. Even a fifteen-minute review of available literature on treatment versus incarceration makes it impossible to ignore the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system in treating addiction.

That’s assuming this growing criminal record for James is about a serious drug like meth or opiates. If it’s all about marijuana, then he should never have been arrested in the first place.  Marijuana is not addictive.

Steve Womack is clearly not interested in learning anything. Anyone who pushes their 21-year-old child into a prison boot camp has only one thing in mind—punishment. Because spare the rod, spoil the child has been the guiding rule for this kind of parent. And Arkansas overflows with similar parenting.

Consider the governor, Asa Hutchinson. Ex-head of DEA, ex-Congressman and prosecutor of Clinton’s impeachment hearings. Disciplinarian, hard-core evangelical Christian. They’re thick on the ground in this state. Maybe that’s why Arkansas’ incarceration rate ranks sixth in the nation.

Hutchinson’s son, like Womack’s, has a drug and alcohol problem.  William Asa Hutchinson III, an attorney, was arrested on his fourth DWI in 2018, having previously been charged in 1996 when age twenty and again in 2001. He crashed his truck in 2016 for yet another DWI. In May of 2016, after receiving the DWI arrest, Hutchinson was arrested in Alabama on charges that alleged he tried to sneak a psychoactive drug into a music festival.

Oh, the outrage.

Congressman Womack, like Hutchinson as congressman and as head of the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency, has had every opportunity to initiate legislation that would direct funding to community treatment centers where anyone can walk in and get the help they need. He has the power to work toward legalization of all drugs so that arrests for drug use don’t put young people on the devastating path to the criminal justice system. Labeling drug users as criminals only amplifies their inner demons, their sense of low self-worth that finds relief only in yet another dose.

Without doubt, these “loving” fathers have ruled their sons with an iron hand, ready to punish for any failing. So the congressman’s lament rings hollow. It’s not that he hopes his son is going to “turn his life around.” It’s that he hopes the authority of prison will succeed where his own personal authority has failed. He can’t see that this forceful approach only drives his son deeper into his need for drugs.

One would think that sooner or later these old patriarchal ideas would come into focus for such men. But no, even though it’s not working, they keep doing it. It’s their children who pay the price, they and the rest of us on the hook for upwards to $50,000 per year for each inmate in our state prisons, a cost that doesn’t include arrests, court time, and parole/probation expenses. It’s a sick system, and the sooner we shift to recognition of addiction as an illness instead of crime, the better off everyone will be.

Except, perhaps, the holy authority dinosaurs who would rather sacrifice their children than change.

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[1] “Womack sentenced to nine years in prison,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Apr 18, 2019. B1