Category Archives: American Culture

No Surprises

German citizens saluting Adolf Hitler at the opening of the 1936 Olympic Games. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Before the sun rose on Wednesday July 24, 2019, before the widely heralded appearance of Robert Mueller before committees of the U. S. House of Representatives, Donald Trump and his cohort had long since established their response. The game plan had been distributed to their colleagues in the Senate and to their buddies at FOX News. Most importantly, the plan had been well-rehearsed by Republican House committee members who would have a front row position from which to attempt to undermine the hearings.

There would be no outrage, no cry over the evidence presented. Republican committee members would discreetly and not so discreetly question Mueller’s competence and motivation. They would grandstand their outrage at the ongoing travesty against ‘their’ president. There would be no acknowledgement of any facts presented either about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to sway the vote or Trump’s various attempts to obstruct the investigation.

Afterwards, the tactic was to shrug off the hearings, ho hum, the Democrats beating a dead horse. Oh dear, how upset they must be after all this hoorah and still Mueller didn’t hand them a smoking gun. A big fat nothing.

In truth, the Democrats never expected a smoking gun from Mueller. Their strategy for Mueller’s testimony was to create a televised iteration of the Mueller report for all the Trump supporters out here in the countryside who never had and never would read the actual report. They wouldn’t even read news summaries of the report, instead willing—even eager—to take Trump’s word for it, whatever it said.

Trump had it right when he said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and no one would care. He took that to the bank. Get cozy with Russians endeavoring to subvert the election? No problem. Pretend it didn’t happen—they’ll believe it. Do everything possible to sidetrack the subsequent investigation? Whatever works. Nobody can prove it if Trump doesn’t talk and the testimony of key players like Don McGahn never sees the light of day.

Democrats should be credited for their effort to pull back the curtain on this shameful and arrogant corruption of American democracy. Their mistake, once again, is assuming that Trump supporters care about our nation more than they care about their boy. Trump legitimizes their ignorance with three-word sentences and double-speak. He shares their terror of “Other” whether other religion, other skin color, or other ethnicity, and they can’t chortle enough over their sense of ascendancy in a nation where religion, skin color, or ethnic background are not supposed to make a difference. A nation FOUNDED on the concept that all of us are created equal.

Democrats forgot that ignorance doesn’t recognize its own ignorance and isn’t eager to discover it.

The thread of idealism progressives have shared throughout our nation’s history has changed faces many times. It ran through the revolution even though many colonists clung to King George. It suffused the push to end slavery, to grant women the right to vote, and to form labor unions whose members sacrificed lives and livelihood to end child labor, gain a 40-hour work week, and ensure safe work environments. The same thread has continued through liberal ideas behind school integration, rights for the disabled, and a woman’s right to reproductive choice.

The same thread colors political discourse today, resisting the onslaught of racism and hate freed from its restraints by Donald Trump. It rises in the election of women, of people of color, to public office. It thrives in the hearts and minds of those who say “Vote Blue No Matter Who” as progressives seek to reclaim the dignity and honor of the presidency.

Trump and his horde of pitiful followers would rather risk the future of the nation than love their neighbors. They would rather spout hate speech than address the problems we face. There are solutions, and we can find them. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

 

Advertisements

Our Ideals: At What Cost?

It’s a noble idea to do whatever it takes to bring out the best in every child. Even nobler is the determination to go the extra mile for children with disabilities. But while those ideals successfully pushed through legislation requiring schools to provide testing and special education for youngsters with such needs, they were less successful in funding those requirements.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975, is still waiting for full funding.

A January 8, 2019 article in Education Week outlines this failure in stark detail:

Congress never funded the IDEA for the full amount that was authorized when the law was first signed. At that time, Congress estimated that it cost states twice as much to educate a student with disabilities as it does to educate a general education student, and the law authorizes the federal government to give up to 40 percent of that excess cost to states.

Congress has never come close to that mark; its $12.3 billion contribution in fiscal 2018 is more like 15 percent of the excess cost.

An additional $85 billion would be required — per year — for the taxpayers to provide full funding for its 40% of the cost. And that says nothing about the 60% of the cost required from the states. When facing a total cost of over a quarter trillion dollars per year for special education, it’s no wonder legislators have shied away from mandating adequate funding.

In poorer states like Arkansas, there’s no doubt that this is an unachievable goal. As noted in my January 2019 blog post, The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion, in many cases, special needs students are placed into regular classrooms without the support they need, leaving teachers and general education students to bear the sometimes outrageous burden posed by special needs students.

For example, schools simply do not have the money to hire a caretaker for every profoundly intellectually disabled (ID) child or tutors who might be able to make some small improvement in the life of an ID child. The end result is that, under force of law, schools must accept these children or risk being sued by distraught parents.

Few dare draw back the curtain on the real story resulting from the ADA and IDEA. It’s not just the finances, which haven’t even been calculated in over twenty years. Assessment is performed unevenly often with minority students on the losing end. Not only is funding inadequate, but distributed as unevenly as the assessments.

A 2014 report by New America, a Washington-based think tank, asserted that the out-of-date, complicated formula that the federal government uses to distribute money to states has resulted in small districts getting more federal money per student than larger districts, and shrinking school systems receiving more federal dollars than school districts that are growing.

No one has calculated present-day costs to teach an ID student, or assessed the impact of increasing numbers of autistic children. No one has figured out how to prepare classroom teachers for the increasingly common occurrence of disabled children in their classes without the caretakers they need.

Should all teachers be required to be trained in special education? Who changes the diapers? What happens to the rest of the students when teachers are forced to spend class time with special needs students?

How much is such well-intentioned legislation misleading parents into holding unreasonable expectations for their child with serious disabilities, that he or she can lead a “normal” life?

This Education Week article should be required reading for every American. We’ve placed the burden of educating special needs children on our school systems without providing adequate funding. All our children are paying the price. Not only the children, but the teachers who are underpaid in normal circumstances, and highly underpaid as well as undertrained for the task of providing proper services to disabled children.

At the very least, it is past time for studies and legislation — with adequate funding — that will reflect the current reality of special education—how many students and how impaired, the actual costs of educating them to the greatest extent possible, and which address the collateral necessity of educating general education students in a manner that advances our society.

 

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

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.

~~~

[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

~~~

[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.

***

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

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